Ed. Note – Before we begin today I have an apology to make, yes, another one…
In the Editorial “Persona non grata in effect” I initially, incorrectly, attributed the authorship of a certain work quoted in the piece. Fortunately one of our wonderful friends came along and said, “Hey guys…” upon which my esteemed 2IC immediately remedied the situation.
I apologise sincerely for any embarrassment or inconvenience caused by my error and I promise I’ll try not to let it happen again.
Groups, Orders, Havens, Sects and Cults
Researched, Written, Edited and Presented by
We move, in the GVC, in many, many circles simultaneously, we inhabit various organisations both online and offline and we come to recognise, over time, sometimes disastrously, what our chosen associations actually stand for and mean. At that point we have a choice. The choice is whether we can continue calling our chosen “friends” and associates family or whether it has been a product of our hope that there is something that can give us answers we have been searching for or whether we have simply fallen in with an idea, or set of ideas, that seem to give us that integral piece of our personal jigsaw.
So, what do we see when we look around us?
We all know what “Groups” are, collectives of people that come together to discuss ideas, debate ideas – be they the quintessential “heated debates” or sensible, calm and orderly discussions. In general groups, in this sense, contain many different views and opinions and are representative of the general manner of things that give the participants a certain sense of social involvement. Such organised gatherings may, or may not, ascribe to one of several viewpoints or they may be “focus” groups of people who come together for a specific purpose and, in this respect, foster often productive discussion. It’s an ideal that many look for but, unfortunately, don’t always find.
Beyond these “general population” groups we find a strata of gatherings that comprise Havens, Covens, Houses and the like. The change in identification will generally indicate a more secular and focused approach and ideal. The rules become a little more stringent and designed to preserve the peace, calm and order within the body for the benefit of all the members – again an ideal. It’s not a bad idea to have a set of governing regulations which members agree to abide by. This provides for the body to focus more directly on specific ideas and hypotheses, to focus more directly on the welfare of its members and, very often, you will read that the members refer to each other as family, as brother and sister, thereby engendering a closer knit unity between the members which for many can enhance the feeling of actually belonging somewhere in a world that no longer focuses on what’s best for the “family unit”. Again, not a bad thing at all… as long as it doesn’t slide across the next line.
Sect is not a dirty word…!
Sect noun [ C ] UK /sekt/ US /sekt/ (usually disapproving)
A religious group that has separated from a larger religion and is considered to have extreme or unusual beliefs or customs.
Hmmm… curious thought. Generally we can find solid reasons for a schism in religious orders… differences of opinion in interpretation, in practice, in application of religious tenets and a whole gamut of others. I would, and do, take the view that everyone talks to their God/s in their own way, in their own time and within their own framework of belief. The thing about that is that there is No One who has the right to tell them otherwise.
The only thing that I do object to, and I think many will agree, is any religious organisation, or institution, that causes harm to anyone in the name of their beliefs. The definition above, from the Cambridge English Dictionary, asserts that these “Sects” have either “extreme” or “unusual” beliefs or customs. Well, the Bantu Tribesmen in Africa have strange and unusual customs and beliefs… DON’T MEAN THEY’RE WRONG… just different to, say, Orthodox Jewish beliefs, Catholicism or the Anglican faith.
Don’t get me wrong here, a “Sect” that does bad things to people is just as bad as a cult but if a sect doesn’t hurt anyone aren’t they allowed to believe that the sky is green if they want?
Cults… an ugly truth?
In referring to “cults” many people will, automatically, associate the word with likes of Jim Jones and Charles Manson but is this necessarily the case?
I have long held the belief, about any structured belief system, that whatever gets you through the hard times is fine. What about the not hard times? What about the groups, societies and organisations that we choose to belong too? Why are we in them? What do they offer? What do we derive from them? Are they beneficial or toxic to us?
All questions that have been widely raised about a wide range of well-known institutions. The web resource Religious Tolerance.org has an extremely well written discourse on the matter that clearly spells out the differences in both accepted most used terminology and the concepts behind the terms. It is, it seems, a matter of some confusion and discussion when it comes to defining a cult.
I would suggest that a good number of people have seen at least one of the television documentaries that have been made about L. Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology, we, on the outside, may see it as a cult but if you talk to anyone from within they will swear up and down that it’s not that at all… it’s only when someone comes out from the controlled “within” that we can begin to get some rational and real perspective on the subject.
One resource that has been widely applied within the Pagan communities is the The Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (Version 2.6, 2.7) which can be found at neopagan.net
The evaluation framework clearly defines the questions that need be asked in order to demonstrate whether a group is actually a “cult-like” entity or not. The results are yielded on a sliding score scale with the lowest score possible being 18 and the highest score possible being 180, therefore the mean is 81 – the cutoff point between, say, sect and cult. If we break down the possible range between 18 and 180 we might say that from 18 to 54 is a “group”, 55 to 109 is a “sect” and 110 and above is a “cult”. Of course, you may wish to break it down further but as long as you honestly and accurately evaluate what you’re looking at and apply the evaluation clearly and in a totally unbiased way that’s fine.
Although there is no actual “result table” offered by the framework it tells you how far toward the “danger zone” you are treading.
The biggest problem with utilising this framework is that you can only do it if you have a completely clear, logical and unbiased view of the thing you are assessing… let’s assume, for example, if The Framework had been given to Susan Atkins  in 1969 when she aided Manson in the Tate-LaBianca murders would she have returned a clear, logical and unbiased result? Don’t believe so myself…
So, if you were asked to sit down with The Framework and apply it to a group that you are in would you be totally objective, clear and logical about it or would you give the answers that you have led to believe?
Could you take The Framework and apply it, in the same fashion, to a group that you were a member of in the past? If you had good experiences I would suggest that the result might be skewed in that way, if you had bad experiences – which are usually remembered far longer than good ones – could you give an accurate and completely unbiased response?
Let’s look at a couple of examples;
In a nutshell you will see, from the two examples given, that one represents a group with very few cult-like traits whereas the other example, at the “Cult” end of the spectrum, exhibits many of the major characteristics required to identify a cult.
What sort of groups are you in?
If you can stop for a couple of minutes, sit down, clear your mind of everything else and just think about the group you are in. Think about what happens in the group, how is it run? Who runs it and why? How do you feel when you are interacting within the group? (No matter what medium) Do you feel safe? Unsure? Comforted? Guarded? Is it something you would rather not be involved in but don’t know how to break with the group without losing all your friends?
There are many things that a group should be, controlling, dominating, censoring, disapproving and forceful… well, maybe it’s not a group at all… maybe it’s a “sect” or a “cult” but the ONLY way you’re going to know that is if you are prepared to be open minded, brutally honest and completely unbiased.
Cults, sects, organisations, social groups and specific interest clubs have been around since dawn of mankind pretty much, even though the word “Cult” originated with the ancient tongues, and was defined, early on, and still today, as the worship of a divine being or beings, whether that divinity be accorded by the worshippers or by mythology makes no difference, a “divine being” is not necessarily a mythical being, it can be a person, a psychological construct simply a fixation with someone or something… hell, I know people who pray to the God of Football during the English Premier League Football season… just a quiet word here, there actually isn’t a God of Football but you can find him regularly referred to in the pubs or at Finals time.
Wherever you have a focused and fixated system of recognition of an object or person as being divine you run the risk of finding a Cult. Get informed, stay informed and watch for the danger signs. The Cult Education Institute provides a clear and concise listing of the warning signs.
As I said, the big trick here is to be honest, clear headed, objective and unbiased when you do it. If you think you can do that why not give it a go? See how your “group”, “Order”, or other organisation fares under scrutiny?
Hey, you may not want to believe what comes of it, you may not want to accept what comes out of it but at least you’ll be better informed on what to watch out for in order to avoid coming unstuck and that has to be a good thing – right?
Copyright TB & RVL 2018
- The Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (Version 2.6) Copyright © 1979, 2008 c.e., Isaac Bonewits.
- Oxy Gen Crimetime http://www.oxygen.com/blogs/where-are-the-members-of-charles-mansons-killer-cult-family-nowNB: Where used, quoted portions of other works are reproduced by permission, or under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, wherein allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.This article may be linked to but may not be copied or reproduced, nor redistributed in any manner, including electronic without the express permission of the copyright owners.
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