Society’s freakiest cults! These cult groups use some of the creepiest & most extreme religious practices ever involving bizarre rituals.
7: Heaven’s Gate
Formed in 1974, Heaven’s Gate was a religious group from San Diego that believed planet Earth was going to be recycled & that their survival depended on leaving our planet as soon as possible. So on March 26th, 1997, authorities discovered 39 bodies from the group, who committed a mass suicide. Its group members believed that by killing themselves, they could reach a spacecraft following Comet Hale-Bopp to safety. The group formed in 1974, two years after Marshall Applewhite & Bonnie Nettles met to discuss their beliefs in extraterrestrials, particularly as they related to the teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi, who taught that the world was beautiful & good but needed to be destroyed in order to purify it of sin. Based on this belief, the pair was certain that the world would be destroyed & recycled in the near future. They recruited a number of followers over the years, hoping to someday contact extraterrestrials in order to escape Earth’s destruction. The group began giving up all earthly possessions & earthlike characteristics, soon detaching themselves from all of their belongings & friends. They were under the impression that their bodies were mere vessels in their journey to the “Next Level.” Thus, the 39 cult members killed themselves in order to reach the supposed extraterrestrial spacecraft that would lead them to safety.
6: The Branch Davidians
The Branch Davidians are a religious cult formed in 1955 as an offshoot of the Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists. The group is perhaps best known for their involvement in the infamous Waco siege of 1993, in which 76 of its cult members were killed, including their leader David Koresh. The group was originally formed in 1955 when Benjamin Roden was expelled from the Seventh-Day Adventist for his supplemental teachings, as he claimed he was a prophet. He warned of the second coming of Christ, claiming he could raise the dead. When Roden died, his wife, Lois, took over & had an affair with David Koresh. Upon her death, she named Koresh to be her successor instead of her son, George. The group faced a power struggle & Koresh ultimately won the majority of the support. By 1993, the group continued to radicalize to the point where they were preparing to fight the supposed army of Babylon. It was because of this that the FBI suspected them of owning illegal weapons at their compound in Waco, Texas. After issuing a search & arrest warrant, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (or ATF) tried raiding the compound, at which point the Branch Davidians opened fire & killed two agents while losing four of their own. As a result, the FBI surrounded the compound & laid siege for 51 days. The siege ended in a shootout between the FBI, ATF, & Branch Davidian members. 76 members of the group were killed, including David Koresh himself.
5: The Order of The Solar Temple
The Order of the Solar Temple is a secret society loosely associated with the Knights Templar. While their exact origins are unclear, they are believed to have been inspired by Julien Ortigas, a French right-wing activist in 1968. They were officially formed in 1984 in Geneva, Switzerland by Luc Jouret & Joseph Di Mambro. The Order of the Solar Temple is most notorious for the killing rampage & mass suicides that took place from 1994 – 1995 in which several dozen people were killed. The cult’s belief system was centered on establishing what Robert Chabrier referred to as “establishing correct notions of authority and power in the world.” Joseph Di Mambro, however, convinced his followers that he was a reincarnated member of the 14th-century Knights Templar & that his daughter would one day rule a distant planet. In addition, Luc Jouret claimed to be Jesus Christ & often used his influence to have sex with female members of the cult. Believing the earth was about to be destroyed, many cult members decided to depart from the planet by killing themselves from 1994 to 1997, while others were killed as part of the ritual, including a three-month old infant. Over the three-year period, dozens of bodies were discovered & it soon became evident that many of the cult members were drugged before they were killed.
4: The Vampire Clan
Rod Ferrell was a teenager from Kentucky when he helped from a short-lived cult known as The Vampire Clan in the mid-1990s. He & his friends believed themselves to be real vampires & participated in rituals such as drinking blood. But he didn’t gain worldwide infamy until the day that he & his friends broke into the home of his friend Heather’s parents, Richard Wendorf & Naomi Ruth Queen, and proceeded to brutally murder them. Only 16 years old at the time, Ferrell believed that he was a 500-year old vampire named Vesago, a character which he created for a role playing game. His friend Heather ran away from home, describing her life there as “hellish.” Thus, she, Ferrell, & vampire friend Scott Anderson decided to take revenge. They snuck into the house while the father was asleep on the couch & the mother was sleeping in the bedroom. Using a crowbar he found in the garage, Ferrell beat Heather’s father to death by bashing him over the skull & ribs. When his wife Naomi heard the commotion, she attacked Ferrell by throwing a hot cup of coffee on him. Ferrell responded by beating her to death with the crowbar as well. The teens made their escape with the help of Heather, who was waiting in a car nearby. When authorities found Richard Wendorf’s body, he had a “V” burned into the side of his arm, which Ferrell claimed to be his sign. The cult members ran from the law for four days. But in the end, Rod Ferrell, Scott Anderson, Dana Cooper, & Charity Keesee were discovered by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Ferrell pled guilty to first-degree murder in 1998. The 17-year old was sentenced to death, becoming the youngest death row inmate in the United States. His sentence, however, was later reduced to life in prison. Cooper & Keesee were charged with accessory to murder while Anderson was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the killings. The incident served as inspiration for the 2002 film, Vampire Clan, starring Drew Fuller as Rod Ferrell.
3: The People’s Temple
The People’s Temple of the Disciples of Christ, better known as the People’s Temple, was a religious cult formed by Jim Jones, a former communist supporter turned Methodist minister. Jones formed his church in 1955, which initially preached socially progressive ideals such as racial equality & helping the poor by opening soup kitchens & providing job placement services. But despite a seemingly normal start, Jim Jones & his followers became notorious for their mass suicide in 1978, where more than 900 people died. The group broke away from any mainstream church or society by the early 1970s. Jones claimed to have spiritual healing powers. He also stated that his socialist mindset & support of communist leaders such as Mao Zedong & the Symbionese Liberation Army often put him at odds with church & political leaders. He also claimed to have visions of nuclear attacks, asserting that Chicago would one day be destroyed. The People’s Temple also became the subject of media scrutiny after the press released reports of sexual abuse & cult activity. Fearing persecution as well as legal action, Jones moved his followers to Guyana in 1973, where they lived in a commune known as Jonestown. He followed the example set forth by other communist nations by not permitting members to leave after arriving in Jonestown. It wasn’t until 1978 that California congressman Leo Ryan began investigating claims against the group by visiting Jonestown in Guyana. Ryan spent several days there with three journalists. But upon their attempt to leave, they were ambushed & killed by the People’s Temple members. A cult member posing as a defector named Larry Layton was the one who opened fire on the congressman as he was boarding his plane to leave. Nine others were wounded during the gun battle as well. On the same day as congressmen Ryan’s assassination, Jim Jones convinced 909 of his followers to drink cyanide. His reasoning was that he feared the assassination would spark the CIA (or other U.S. government agencies) to attack the commune, killing all the men while torturing the women, children, & elderly. Jones called this a “revolutionary suicide” & told his members that when they die, they would simply pass on to another plane. In the end, all but two members consumed the cyanide & died.
2: The Fall Rivers Cult
October 12th, 1979: Fall River, Massachusetts resident Doreen Levesque is murdered by a Satanic cult. Her body was found the next day lying behind a local high school with her skull bashed in, hands tied together, & signs of sexual abuse. A few months later, while authorities were still investigating the Levesque murder, they found the body of another woman, Barbara Rapoza, who was murdered in a similar manner. Her skull had also been crushed with her hands tied together. It was later discovered that Rapoza & her boyfriend, Andre Maltais, were members of a Satanic cult led by Carl Drew, who told members of his cult that he was Satan. Defecting members of the cult later detailed how Levesque worked as a prostitute & was killed as part of a ritualistic sacrifice Drew had organized. He was also responsible for killing Rapoza & a woman named Karen Madsen as part of the ritualistic purposes.
1: The Manson Family
Led by Charles Manson, the Manson family is perhaps one of the deadliest & most notorious cults to ever exist. During a five-week period in 1969, Manson & his cult followers committed a series of nine gruesome murders in order to help start an impending race war that Manson believed was coming. This supposed war was referred to by Manson as “Helter Skelter.” Manson had a career as a petty criminal living in San Francisco when he began forming the cult. While living as a panhandler, he convinced a recent college graduate named Mary Brunner to let him move in with her. He eventually became known for his philosophical teachings & ultimately lived with 19 women in Brunner’s residence. As his guru reputation grew, he gained followers & formed what became known as The Manson Family. Manson preached that each of his followers were reincarnations of the original Christians & that he was, in fact, Christ. By 1968, the Manson family moved from Brunner’s apartment to a small ranch, where Manson preached about racial tensions & an impending race war. Between May 18th & August 9th, 1969, the Manson family carried out nine killings in response to their leader’s preachings; the most notable of which was the brutal murder of actress Sharon Tate & four of her friends on August 8th. The killings spawned a massive investigation that resulted in the conviction of three Manson followers as well as Manson himself. The trial also became well-known due to the bizarre behavior of its cult members. But in the end, all three women who carried out Manson’s requests—as well as Manson himself—were sentenced to death, which later on was reduced to life in prison.