You’ve all probably heard of the Manson Family, Scientology, and the Moonies, but there’s a vast world of bizarre cults and belief systems with very weird beliefs and even weirder rituals that make things like drug use and orgies seem mild in comparison. Fanatical religious groups have suffused humanity since people were able to communicate and share thoughts in huge numbers, though modern scholars frequently disagree about what the exact definition of a cult should be. What one expert considers a bizarre or eccentric organization is often regarded by others as a sect, or a new religion, terms that carry less stigmatization. Here are 10 cults with the weirdest beliefs you’ve probably never heard of.
10. The John Frum Movement
This fascinating cult was founded on the South Pacific island of Tanna and is centered around the image of a 2nd World War serviceman who is intended to bring growth and prosperity to the remote island. The cult originated in the early 1940s when hundreds of thousands of American troops were placed in the area, equipped with tons of cargo and supplies for their mission. The troops, with most of their equipment, eventually left the island, but the John Frum believers hoped that they would come back, even going so far as to erect symbolic landing strips to motivate other aircraft to land and deliver supplies.
The John Frum movement on the island is a prime example of what anthropologists call a “cargo cult,” which sprang up in communities all over the South Pacific during World War II when tens of thousands of American troops descended from the oceans and the air. The villagers had no idea where the foreigners got their endless supplies, and they assumed it could be summoned by magic and delivered through the spirit world. Despite the fact that almost all cargo cults have died out over the years, the John Frum movement has persisted, relying on the worship of an American god that nobody has ever seen or met.
9. Ho No Hana Sanpogyo
This contemporary Japanese cult is known as the “foot reading cult” because its founder – Hogen Fukunaga – who also professed to be the reincarnation of both Jesus Christ as well as Buddha – said that by merely inspecting members’ feet, he could diagnose their issues and that if they weren’t inspected properly, they would die. According to Fukanaga, small toes suggested a short temper, whereas plump toes signified a life filled with luck and good fortune.
Ho-No-Hana Sanpogyo attracted desperate individuals, who were often mothers or housewives with sickly children or husbands, looking for any potential treatment to rescue their family members. These desperate individuals would surrender their entire life savings in return for the assurance that their sufferings would be cured. They were all convinced that they were becoming part of a religion led by the third living messiah. By the time Fukanaga and his fellow cult leaders were arrested for fraud, it was far too late for their unfortunate victims to reclaim any of their lost monies – and numerous loved ones had already passed away.
Raëlianism, or Raëlism, was founded in 1974 by the French race car driver Claude Vorilhon. According to this cult, human life was purposefully created by a group of aliens called the Elohim who later sent messengers in human form to keep an eye on things. According to them, the Elohim included several major historic figures including Buddha and Jesus. At a glance, their values appear to be quite amenable, given that they advocate for world peace, the ability to share, democratic values, pacifism, and a progressive stance on sexuality. But what they have on paper doesn’t quite cover their strange side.
The cult later founded Clonaid, a human cloning research organization directed by senior Raëlian Brigitte Boisselier, in 1997. In 2002, the company claimed to have successfully created a human clone, a child labeled Eve, attracting a great deal of critical scrutiny and press coverage. Raëlianism has gained traction as a result of its public demonstrations in support of causes such as women’s and gay rights, as well as its opposition to nuclear testing.
Today the Raëlian Movement has thousands of followers, the majority of whom live in Western Europe, East Asia, and North America.
7. The Aetherius Society
Sir George King, a British occultist and flying saucer contactee, founded the Aetherius Society in the 1950s. He claimed that he was in his apartment one morning in March 1954 when a voice told him: “Prepare yourself. You are to become the voice of Interplanetary Parliament.” Several days later, he was also informed by an Indian yoga master that the Cosmic Intelligences had chosen him as their “primary terrestrial channel.” During meditation sessions, King began to communicate with a being by the name of Aetherius, who, according to King, claimed to be one of the Cosmic Masters of the Interplanetary Parliament on Saturn.
At a channeling encounter in London, King allowed the being known as Aetherius to communicate via him, gaining a lot of attention during the process. King had gained a significant following in the United States by the end of the decade due to the nation’s interest in UFOs, and American headquarters was established. King conceived the universe as being dominated by an intergalactic hierarchy akin to our own theosophical spiritual hierarchy. Spiritual energy was sent to the world by the alien hierarchy, which could be used to combat bad forces, particularly those from bad or evil alien life forms. He taught his followers that spaceships fly above the planet at specific times during the year in order to send these energies from outer space. The society is still active today and has headquarters in both the US and the UK.
6. Aum Shinrikyo
Aum Shinrikyo, which means “supreme truth,” was founded in the 1980s as a religious group that combined Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, subsequently including components of Christianity’s apocalyptic or end-of-the-world prophecies. Shoko Asahara, the group’s founder, claimed to be both the Messiah as well as the first “enlightened one” following Buddha. At its heyday, the group, which is sometimes abbreviated as Aum, had thousands of followers worldwide and received formal recognition as a religious organization in Japan in 1989.
The cult, which blended extremist and radical interpretations of different faiths, was criticized from the outset for its doomsday prophecies, which included a global War they thought would be staged by the United States. The cult finally grew violent. They were discovered to be performing obscenely dangerous initiation rituals and assassinating members who attempted to flee the organization. When they were determined to be responsible for the planned sarin gas assault on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, during which 13 people died and over 1000 were injured, the organization was classified as a terrorist organization.
5. The Freedomites
The Freedomites were founded in Saskatchewan in 1902 after the splintering of various religious sects escaping persecution in Russia. They mainly insisted on three things: communal life, nudity, and anarchy. Despite the fact that Canada had a better understanding and more tolerant religious atmosphere than the Russian Empire, conflicts arose, most notably over children’s education and land registration. The majority of Freedomites refused to send their children to government-run schools, and regrettably, the authorities of Saskatchewan and subsequently British Columbia did not address the concerns of parents, instead choosing to charge many of them legally for not sending their children to school.
The cult became known for a variety of public protests, including publicly burning their own money and belongings and parades in public while naked. Nudity had a doctrinal justification: human skin, as God’s creation, was more flawless than clothing, which was the imperfect work of human hands. As a protest against materialistic life, a small fraction of the Freedomites were known for their arson campaigns. They went after personal items and other valuables. The attacks took place throughout the twentieth century, with the most intense activity occurring in the 1920s and 1960s. Arson and bombs were both utilized, the majority of these crimes were committed in the nude.
4. True Way Cult (Chen Tao)
Known by some as the True Way Cult, Chen Tao was founded by an obviously deranged former professor. His new religious sect blended Taoism, Buddhism, and UFOlogy into one new belief system. Chen Tao believed in reincarnation and the transmigration of souls (believing there could be up to three souls inside each of us) and the importance of psychic abilities. Its true believers also accepted the existence of “outside souls,” that could present themselves as evil fortune, bad habits, or even as demonic entities in our world.
Chen Tao claimed that the Planet had gone through five tragedies since the dinosaur era. Each of these tragedies was overcome by North American humans who’d been delivered by God in a spaceship/UFO. They claimed that the entire universe is 4.5 trillion years of age (or approximately 300 times the age as approximated by popular science) and that the Universe was formed after a nuclear holocaust. After an unfulfilled prophecy in 1998, when leader Hon-Ming Chen declared God would materialize on a particular TV channel in North America at 12:01 a.m. on March 31, whether or not you had cable, the 160-member group virtually disintegrated.
3. The Order Of The Solar Temple
It was once widely assumed that only illiterate persons from low socioeconomic backgrounds were recruited into cults. Extreme beliefs, it was argued, were born of desperation. This fallacy was disproved in “The Order of the Solar Temple.” This cult was dominated by aristocrats. The majority hailed from a high socioeconomic class, which makes sense given the high cost of its membership. The Order of the Solar Temple included a number of millionaires, French police officers, distinguished civil workers, doctors, and others.
The beliefs and practices of this cult were a blend of early Christianity, New Age philosophy, UFOs, and Masonic rites. Up to the day that the infant son of one of its followers was murdered inside one of the cult’s lodges as he was suspected to be the Antichrist, they were really a mainly nonviolent society with some unique teachings (for example, that death is only an illusion and that we continue to live on other worlds after death). Several members of the innermost circle decided to commit mass suicide shortly thereafter, while some were found inexplicably shot or suffocated to death while still dressed in their ceremonial clothing.
2. Movement For the Restoration of the 10 Commandments
This unusual cult was conceived as a breakaway faction from the Roman Catholic Church in Uganda in the late 1980s. It was primarily focused on rigid compliance to the Ten Commandments of the Christian Bible as a way of escaping eternal damnation at Armageddon. The sect had two main objectives: to enforce the Ten Commandments and to spread the word of God. Because the cult was so fixated on the Commandments they would specifically forbid people from talking too much for fear of breaking the 9th Commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” and sign-language was their only means of communication on some days. Fasting was a regular undertaking and the cult’s followers would only have one meal on Mondays and Fridays. For some reason, even the use of soap and sexual acts (whether a couple was married or not) was forbidden.
The sect established a hierarchical network of visionaries, with retired priests serving as theologians and explaining their messages alongside them. Despite the fact that the group had broken from the Catholic Church, made use of Catholic icons, and had excommunicated nuns and priests in its leadership, their ties to the Church were flimsy. After the universe did not end at the beginning of the new millennium (as prophesied by their leaders), the cult began to collapse, culminating in a mass murder that included stabbings, poisonings, and a large church fire.
1. The Creativity Movement
The Creativity Movement, also named Church of the Creator (COTC), was founded in 1973 by a man called Ben Klassen. Its followers put race above religion and believe that it is the epitome of undeniable truth and absolute fact, that the white race is the pinnacle of civilization and culture. Non-whites and the Jewish are regarded as innately inferior “mud races” that are constantly plotting to oppress the white race. Although Klassen’s “religion” initially drew only a few supporters, a growing percentage of white supremacists were attracted to his Nazi-like belief system by the late 1980s, which could be bought and read in a whole series of Klassen books with titles like: “This Planet is All Ours,” “Nature’s Eternal Religion,” and “The White Man’s Bible.”
Creators, as members of the Creativity movement like to refer to themselves, have oftentimes taken up the group’s calls for RAHOWA, or “racial holy war,” by perpetrating brutal and severe hate crimes. Although a lot of their set of beliefs is based on a naturalistic perspective and the adherence to a very healthy lifestyle, their highest value is that the highest good is ultimately that which is good for the white race. Their special brand of thinking has secured them a spot on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of Neo-Nazi organizations.