Strictly speaking, there aren’t a lot of cults out there doing stuff we’d consider “normal.” The moment the label cult is applied, things get weird. But not every cult is created equal, and some are very much more bizarre than others.
10. The Coconut Cult
The world produces about 62 million metric tons of coconut per year. It’s safe to say that it’s a pretty popular food item. But basing an entire cult around them seems sketchy at best. Nevertheless, German nudist and cult-leader August Engelhardt was devoted to the coconut, and went far out of his way to make it central to his belief system.
Engelhardt, being a nudist, was a fan of being out in the sun, so he decided to set up a community of like-minded individuals in Papua New Guinea. For 18 years, Engelhardt stayed on the island eating almost nothing but coconuts. Engelhardt had become convinced that the sun was the source of all life and the coconut, because it grew at the top of palm trees closer to the sun than any other food, was clearly the best food in the world.
Using money from an inheritance, Engelhardt published literature about his beliefs. He wanted to develop an Order of the Sun, so that followers could come and worship the sun with him. And it worked, especially since he was using his money to ship people there.
At its peak, the cult had 30 members, but they had a bad habit of dying. Illness and accidents plagued the cult, which was not surprising given that they had no doctors and ate almost nothing but coconut on a tropical island known for tropical disease.
Near the end of his life, Engelhardt was in horrible physical condition. He couldn’t walk, was severely malnourished, and afflicted with ulcers. He weighed under 100 pounds and was having seizures, all thanks to a diet of non-stop coconut and generally poor living conditions.
9. Raelism Cosmic Orgasms
Raelians are one of the few UFO cults that have achieved mainstream media attention for some years and still have not imploded or faded into obscurity. The cult, known formally as the International Raelian Movement, dates all the way back to 1974.
At its core, Raelism teaches that mankind was created by an alien race and is very much concerned with sex. In fact, part of the church involves what is called the Order of Rael’s Angels: women who are meant to be sexual partners for the aliens when they come back to Earth. They’re not supposed to have sex with other humans. There is an exception, of course, as the women can have sex with each other and they’ll be taught how to please the aliens by Rael himself, a 75-year-old Frenchman named Claude Verihon. These women are all hand-picked by Rael for their beauty.
All Raelians are encouraged to engage in various sensual practices with one another. They have regular sensual meditation workshops in the wilderness toward the goal of attaining something called the cosmic orgasm. You can see how this might entice some new members and, in fact, there are well over 100,000 Raelians worldwide.
8. No Soap and No Sex
The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God was a cult founded in Uganda in the 1980s. What at first seemed like an eccentric and maybe even goofy take on Christianity quickly and tragically escalated into an absolute nightmare. The end of the cult is one of the most shocking stories ever and it’s a painful reminder of how far some people can take beliefs.
The cult was founded after two men believed they had a vision of the Virgin Mary. They founded their group under the guise of following the teachings of Christ and were, by their own understanding, adhering to the Ten Commandments. As a part of their curious interpretation of scripture, members were not allowed to have sex or bathe with soap. Even talking was forbidden lest someone break the ninth commandment of bearing false witness. Many members learned how to use sign language as a result, which was somehow considered a loophole.
Cult members lived an agrarian lifestyle, growing things like beans and potatoes. Despite this, fasting was also a ritual and on Mondays and Fridays, they were only permitted a single meal. And members were also required to sell their possessions, including their homes, and give the money to the cult.
For many, being worked like a slave, malnourished and stressed, took its toll. The endgame was the apocalypse. Members had been assured that Armageddon was approaching on New Years in the year 2000. When that didn’t happen, things took a dark turn.
People who sold everything wanted their money back. Cult members quit en masse and wanted answers. The apocalypse was pushed back to March and a massive party was held. They slaughtered everyone. The building held over 500 people; they sealed the windows and doors, and blew it up. When police investigated, they found hundreds more dead at different locations, many stabbed or poisoned as much as three weeks earlier.
7. Eating Trash
The Brethren is the unofficial name of a cult started by a former marine named Jimmie Roberts. The main motivation behind the group is to shun material things, which means, in the eyes of most, cult members are simply homeless vagrants. They don’t own property; they don’t have anything more than the clothes on their backs. When they need things, they are permitted to do random jobs to make money but part of their survival methods may include eating out of the trash. This netted the group the name Garbage Eaters in some places.
The cult so far sounds remarkably eccentric but relatively harmless; however, that was not necessarily the case. Roberts was the absolute ruler of the cult and had strict rules. Men and women had to be separated. No images were allowed on anything and those that existed were to be covered. Children were not allowed to play. New converts had to give up all earthly possessions and accept that they were in the End Times.
Members were divided up into smaller subgroups with no knowledge of the other groups. Roberts died in 2015 and little information is available on what became of his followers.
6. The True Way Cowboys
Known as Chen Tao, the True Way cult is a UFO cult from Taiwan. Their central belief system was one of those confusing UFO ones about how the world is trillions of years old, our souls have existed for almost as long, and God sometimes visits us in a UFO. They achieved some infamy in the world at large thanks to their misfire apocalypse plans in the late 1990s.
Many members of the group moved to Garland, Texas. Allegedly, this was only because “Garland” sounds like “God Land.” Once in Texas, members were encouraged to dress like all white cowboys, complete with white cowboy hats. Again, this seemed to just be a “when in Texas” situation.
Over 150 members moved into the same community to wait for God to return to the house of their founder in March 1998. God did not show up.
Many members returned to Taiwan and a few of them stuck together and moved to New York where they continued to wear cowboy hats and await God’s return, pushing back the date of the apocalypse every time it failed to materialize.
5. Kopimism Piracy
The Church of Kopimism plays a little fast and loose with the definition of a cult, but it’s apparently a recognized church in Sweden, so even if it’s something of a joke, it’s a well-structured one.
While things like taking the sacrament are sacred to Catholics, taking files is sacred to Kopimists. Basically, it’s a religion based around file sharing and/or piracy on the internet. The church has long denied any relation to The Pirate Bay, another Swedish group dedicated to anti-copyright laws and file sharing.
The Copy and Paste symbols are sacred, and the only real tenet is that all information should be freely copied and shared. So basically you should pirate things like games, books, movies, and music. In their parlance, it’s fundamental to communication and the spirit of information that it is freely accessible to all.
4. Aetherius Society Prayer Batteries
Another UFO cult, the Aetherius Society dates back to 1955. Not nearly as apocalyptic as far too many other cults, Aetherius began when its founder, George King, was contacted by aliens who told him he was supposed to lead an interplanetary parliament. This began his relationship with Aehterius, a Venusian who, contrary to what you might think, lived on Saturn.
Basically, Aetherians believed that there are planetary masters out there; beings who worked in a kind of intergalactic government. These masters are masters in a spiritual sense, and people like Jesus and Buddha were also in their ranks. Their goal? Just make the universe a better place. That’s not so bad!
Part of their belief is that spiritual energy can be harnessed and stored and used for good. That means we could prevent natural disasters and other bad things like war. So, group members get together and pray and direct those prayers into spiritual batteries. The batteries collect the prayer power and it can be let out, as needed, to prevent bad things.
Now this may sound goofy to many of us, but keep in mind, this seems to be as extreme as the Aetherius society gets. Compared to most other groups, they seem relatively harmless and well-intentioned.
3. John Frum Military Parades
Cargo cults date back to WWII and are strange phenomena to consider. The people in Melanesia, places like Vanuatu and New Guinea and thereabouts, had very limited contact with the outside world at the time. But during the war, Allies were arriving on the island, often with a lot of gear in the form of air drops. So try to imagine if you were living your life and some group of people far more advanced than you dropped their technology on you from the sky. What would you think? For the cargo cults, it began a fascinating culture of religious worship.
Soldiers would interact with islands and trade with them, offering the kinds of things islanders had never dreamed of. It must have been a lot like the idea of humans and Vulcans first meeting in Star Trek. After the war, all the soldiers left, but the islanders really had no idea why or where they went. So, they started engaging in rituals they hoped would bring them back.
On the island of Tanna, locals had met a man named John Frum, and he became central to their belief system. They fashioned their own military uniforms and led parades to try to bring him back, believing Frum would bring gifts and abundance from beyond. Some believe there never was a real John Frum – he was a delusion, or even a local pretending to be a Westerner. But whatever the truth of the matter, the fact is the locals built airstrips and more to bring him back. Each February 15, also known as John Frum Day, they hold parades and ceremonies in the hopes Frum will return with things like TVs, medicine, and Coca-Cola.
2. The Foot Readers
Dating back to 1987, the Japanese cult known as Ho No Hana was very into feet. Leader Hogen Fukunaga could read your fortune based on your feet, or so he claimed. More importantly, if he didn’t read your fortune, things could go badly real quick. Members of the cult needed their feet inspected or else they risked death. Also, a foot reading would cost $900 or so. Apparently, some people paid him nearly $1 million.
Members were encouraged to spend on scrolls and other healing items. They’d drop thousands on 5-day long seminars and other wastes of money meant to help heal or otherwise improve their lives.
Fukunaga himself would read feet, as would other high ranking members. At some point, people began to suspect that this was shady, and the man was just taking money and spending it on himself instead of whatever else people expected him to do with their foot money. He was eventually sued for fraud and ordered to pay back millions.
1. Freedomite Pacifist Nude Bombings
If you really want your cult to stand out, consider basing it in some fundamentally contradictory ideals. Originally from Russia, the Freedomites were a group who had fled Russian intolerance and persecution for the freedom and good times of Saskatchewan, Canada, in the early 1900s. They then set about blowing things up and espousing a belief in anarchy, all of which they did in the nude.
One of the group’s central tenets is pacifism, which, when combined with anarchism, somehow led to various acts of arson in the 1920s and 1960s. In 1958, two of the members were killed by their own bombs. They bombed schools and the local rail bridge and all of that was done in the nude as well. They were very much against materialism and government interference in everyday life… and also clothing. Nearly everything the group did reflected that in some way.