This article was published in the “Cults and Gurus” issue of Tribe, our digital magazine. It’s a better reading experience in the app. You can read Tribe now on Android or iPhone.
So, you want to create a cult? You’ve come to the right place.
I’m going to tell you how to do it in five easy steps.
No matter what kind of cult you want to create, this template will work flawlessly.
Then, all that’s left to do is put the icing on the cake: branding, logos, secret cult hideouts, mantras, making friends in law enforcement, recruiting celebrities to your cult, and so on.
As you know, Tom Cruise is already taken, but there are plenty of other miserable celebrities out there looking for the truth and needing a guru to rescue them!
That’s where you come in, my friend. But, before I go on, one precaution:
Keep in mind that this is purely for informational purposes. Most experts strongly recommend you do not try this at home.
Back when people still went to malls, there were stores called Build-a-Bear, where you could assemble your unique teddy bears. This is sort of like that.
You decide what kind of cult you want, and then you expand it into something unique and hopefully mostly legal.
Here is how to create a cult in five easy steps.
1) Let the people come to you
There is a common misperception that you (as a cult leader and founder) have to brainwash or “force” members to join.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
At least, not at first.
What you want to do is create an aura of mystery for your cult. Send out rumors about what you’re up to, and create a real vibe.
“Hey, have you heard of X? He’s kind of weird, but, I dunno, some of his ideas are pretty cool actually.” This should be something that normies are saying daily about you and your cadre.
Get a famous musician to wear your brand on his shirt. Then, refuse to answer calls from the media.
Issue a 30-second viral recording on social media that barely makes sense but seems deeply inspiring and apocalyptic and refuses to elaborate.
Tell people you can save them, but only if they want it badly enough and are ready to fully commit.
Exploit people’s vulnerabilities and wounds ruthlessly to control and addict them to your teachings and presence. Of course, this is only for their own good.
Make ‘em work for it.
You’re not here handing out freebies!
You’re here offering salvation to a world of lost, damaged peons who don’t deserve your wisdom and beneficence.
Make sure you never actually offer solutions to people.
Keep them blaming themselves and over-analyzing, stuck on the hunt for that one elusive “answer” that will “fix” everything.
Make sure they don’t ever actually confront themselves or face their pain head-on.
Keep them looking for band-aids (you’re the band-aid)!
Put a quota on how many new members can join per month and leak a copy of a secret initiation ritual involving vaguely ancient chanting and a trial by fire.
Don’t explain what a trial by fire is, but hint that it may be sexual.
You want to play hard-to-get.
As Rudá Iandê notes, his “messianic” search for truth was really a form of self-hypnosis where he imagined his spiritual teachers and comrades were purer than what they really were.
The best way to get someone to fall for your cult isn’t to convince them; it’s to allow them to convince themselves.
2) Claim divine or supernatural authority
No matter what kind of cult you’re trying to create, it’s important that you claim divine or supernatural authority.
It’s also crucial that your cult has a hierarchy with you at the top. You should be the guru, savior, or the one top mystic with access to God, spirits, eternal wisdom, secrets, and so on.
Play the ball as it lies.
If you feel that you could really get into the messianic role, then go for it. However, if you want to be more of a glorified message boy or message girl, this can also be a promising path.
Either way, you must be at the top.
You also must have a core group of insiders who are absolutely loyal to you.
This doesn’t necessarily mean friends or family. It means people who you know beyond a shadow of a doubt will never stab you in the back, even if you start taking multiple wives or husbands and run naked in circles howling nightly.
What is the best way to ensure loyalty? Blackmail, obviously (if it’s good enough for politicians, it’s good enough for cults).
Ensure you have some real, disgusting dirt on everyone in your inner circle. It should be something they would never want anyone else to see or know about. Keep at least two copies in different locations. You can’t be too careful.
3) Make strict rules that only you can break
We all know that society would descend into chaos without strict rules.
But, the best thing about rules is that you get to break them if you’re powerful enough while still applying them mercilessly to everyone underneath you.
I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning!
It gives me this little rush that nothing else can; I don’t know how to explain it.
So, when you design your cult, ensure that you make some super strict rules that only you can break.
No drinking (except you, whenever you want, served by maidens clad in lavish furs).
No fornicating (except you, whenever you want, with whoever you want at least twice a day, as recommended by your personal … uh … physician … Svetlana).
No swearing (except you, whenever you goddamn fucking want to, and don’t let any followers dare question your motherfucking authority).
No extravagant spending (except you, since nothing is “extravagant” for the ancient sage of wisdom chosen by the cosmos).
No talking to outsiders (except you, because your outsider friend Mike is actually really cool and kind of “gets it” and … well … how dare they probe into your personal business anyway!)
You get the picture.
4) Design a structured environment based on reward vs. punishment and shun outsiders
People are merely sheep who go “bah, bah,” and they need rewards and punishments to keep them in line.
Keep a jar of candy or give out allowances and phone calls to family. Then, cut the rewards off and make them do more manual labor if they step out of line.
Give blessings to good members and tell them they’ll be healed and happy if they keep following the rules.
Anytime they question why they are not happy or healed, blame them and tell them they are not “manifesting” a positive enough world, and it’s their fault.
Ensure you make a public spectacle out of particularly disobedient members. One good way is to make them roll heavy rocks uphill all day for no reason.
Just be cautious that members who are given strong physical labor punishment don’t become overly muscular and then manage to foment rebellion and overthrow you — this would be an unforeseen disaster.
Also, ensure you always shun outsiders.
You obviously need to let new members in now and then. However, do not allow random strangers to lurk around your commune gardens or intimate “healing” sanctuaries under any circumstances.
In no event should you ever let members speak with outsiders either, unless they are part of the designated Conversion Squad or your personal retinue that accompanies you to casino nights and your spiritual rejuvenation sessions at the special strip club in Miami.
What? It’s called Tantra. It’s clearly spiritual! Do you want to roll rocks uphill again?
5) Invest in media messaging and twist the narrative in your favor
You may have your members in line and the cash flow running like wine, but it’s important that you also neutralize outside threats.
The best way to do this is to hire expensive lawyers and public relations consultants to massage messaging and scare off any media lackeys or random normies who start criticizing your cult.
It also works to deal with any apostates who leave and start causing a fuss.
No. You clearly were not whipping three women at a pool party orgy ceremony dedicated to Horus. That was all a misunderstanding. It was entirely a “symbolic” act.
You aren’t the leader of a “cult.” You’re a deeply philanthropic person (yes, possibly one of the highest bodhisattvas in the universe, but nobody likes to brag), leading a mass effort to revitalize civil society and feed the homeless.
No. You won’t answer questions about whether you’re really considering running for president. You need to consult your spirit guides first.
And to put this other hideous rumor to bed:
No. You didn’t “steal” Mike’s wife after he joined your group. His wife left him. Sorry if Mike can’t handle disappointment, but that’s because his chakras look like a portapotty after a day at a Rolling Stones concert, and he’s full of Negative Energy Vibrational Excretion Rays (NEVERs). Mike needs help!
You’re simply a wonderful individual, leading a group of highly conscious individuals who are too good for this world and give you everything they own for their own good.
Those who don’t understand that just don’t get what your community is all about.
So, you started a cult. What now?
Now that you’ve started a cult, you may be wondering: what next?
You may be wishing to explore your post-cult options or check out some local golf clubs and retirement properties.
The good news is you have a lot of stellar choices on the menu. Here are the top three options you can do with your cult:
1) Hang up the gloves
All good things must come to an end.
If you feel your cult is reaching that point after many good years and your villa and servants are all becoming a little bit old, it might be time to hang up the gloves.
With all the Swiss bank accounts you’ve racked up, it won’t be hard to seek out greener pastures.
Additionally, you’re just getting tired of everyone looking up to you so much. It’s exhausting to be so benevolent. If God does exist, he must get so tired of people constantly expecting him to fix everything.
You finally understand how God feels.
It’s time to retire and live out the rest of your life writing New Age books and enjoying the attention of your top two or three wives.
You can pass the cult on to one of your henchmen or progeny and merely answer emails to help them every now and then.
2) Pivot and expand
Instead of ending your cult or passing it on to the next generation, you can switch formats or grow.
If you’ve been mainly a sex cult with some doomsday aspects, you could switch things up and get political. Start running candidates for office and develop a political platform.
If you’ve mainly been an alien cult waiting for little green guys to come to beam you up, flip the script and become a survivalist cult. Now, the only aliens are the feds and immigrants encroaching on your property.
As for expansion, if your cult has mainly been in one or two cities or towns, consider sending out a couple of missionaries to open new centers.
If you have a solid name ID, then put it under your cult brand.
However, if you’re still too controversial, get them to mask the cult by opening an accounting office in another city called something like “Deep Prosperity International” or a therapy center called “Healing Springs Holistic Oasis.”
3) Defect and prosper
The third option is to defect from your own cult if things have gotten a little dramatic.
Suppose God or the aliens or your spirit guides told you to step down. In this case, start going on Oprah, writing books, and talking about how sorry you are for every possible way you might have possibly, maybe, potentially hurt people very unintentionally.
Make sure to never actually look within yourself or consider your own ego that’s seeking out status. You’re just trying to help!
You really had no idea that taking the life savings of Mr. and Mrs. Owens would negatively impact them once they ran into ill health in your commune and had no health insurance.
You also had no idea Svetlana was not a licensed medical physician. Absolutely unacceptable!
You’re now a man or woman of reason and temperance. You’ve renounced your old ways and no longer want power. Your humility is inspiring. You cry on TV frequently and just want people to love one another and stop being greedy, racist sheep who only follow their worst instincts.
People begin following you again and, even though it’s the last thing you ever would have wanted, you speak to a sold-out crowd in downtown Los Angeles.
Many weeping people come to ask you to heal them, crying tears of joy. One is a beautiful former supermodel that you spent much of your teenage years fantasizing about.
Now, you finally see that she’s a real, flawed human being just like you, and she needs your help. She needs it deeply.
It looks like you might have to open a new healing center again.
The burdens of life are truly unending.