In 1970, his fellowship began with just two members huddled around a dining room table in Northern California. But within a few short years, Burton’s influence would reach across the globe, preparing thousands of members for an apocalypse. And while their eyes were turned towards the heavens, he stole their children behind their backs.
With Greg Polcyn & Vanessa Richardson
Mystery. Manipulation. Murder. Cults are associated with all of these. But what really goes on inside a cult? More specifically, what goes on inside the minds of people who join cults and leaders who start them? Every Tuesday, Greg and Vanessa (co-hosts of the podcast Serial Killers) explore the history and psychology behind the most notorious cults. Cults is part of the Parcast Network and is a Cutler Media production. Ad-free archives of episodes six months or older are now available through Stitcher Premium.
What started as a mission preaching tolerance and empathy, quickly turned sour when rumors of drug abuse and financial impropriety started to swirl. The majority of what we know about Kashi Ashram surfaced during a bitter divorce between the ex-public relations director of the group, and his wife, who was serving as a monk in the group.
What do Julia Roberts, Ivanka Trump, and Arlo Guthrie all have in common? They were all financial backers of the charismatic housewife turned cult leader, Joyce Green. She founded Kashi Ashram in 1976 in Sebastian, Florida and began community service projects to help the LGBT and HIV-positive communities. Controversy would eventually strain Kashi Ashram, turning some of Joyce’s closest allies against her.
Masonic ideals helped shape one of the most powerful nations in the world. The Declaration of Independence was signed by at least nine Freemasons. Yet, the secret society has long been associated with political controversy, witchcraft, and even murder.
One of the oldest secret organizations in the world that dates back to 1425. The movements developed by the Freemasons changed the course of history. Originally founded as a working union, it evolved into one of the most exclusive international clubs controlling world politics.
A disgruntled pastor of the Evangelical and Reformed Church creates his own religious group in 1942 after claiming he received Biblical secrets dating back from the First Century AD. By 1980, The Way International was one of the largest and wealthiest cults on Earth. Despite it’s tremendous growth, Victor Paul Wierwille’s paranoia and institutionalized methods of control ultimately led to the cult’s demise.
After creating a live radio show in 1942 to broadcast his sermons, an out-of-work preacher from Ohio was quickly throw into the spotlight of an international spiritual movement. Through his hypnotic Power for Abundant Living (PFAL) course, Wierwille bought the Way International to a large farm in Ohio during a time of revolution in the 1960s. “The Teacher” appeared to be devoted to God, but actually wanted sex, money, and control.
The rapid rise to power and fame went to Lavey’s head resulting in followers abandoning him and a loss of control over the Church. How did the Church of Satan fare after his death in 2001? The results will surprise you.
He is known as the real-life incarnation of the devil and would be responsible for spreading satanism into the mainstream during the 60s and 70s. Anton LaVey would go on to publish the first Satanic Bible which continues to influence people all over the world today.
In an attempt to gain freedom from the government, Vissarion’s followers disregarded their material possessions and built a remote village for their God.
This traffic cop turned cult leader got his followers to believe he is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Sergey would go on to start the religious movement known as the Church of the Last Testament.
Through skilled eavesdropping, Jeffrey Lundgren convinced his followers that he could read their minds. What would happen when the "murmurs" he heard indicated that some of his followers were having second thoughts?
He believed that he could talk to God and that he alone could bring about Zion in Kirtland. All he had to do was gain complete control over the members of his cult.
After being shut down by the FBI, Arthur Bell returned and established a tax-exempt church that would allow him to extort his followers for millions. As they lived in coarse conditions, Bell would live a lavish lifestyle funded by his members.
Imagine only working four hours a day, four days a week, eight months a year. On the heels of the Great Depression, Arthur Bell used his charisma to convince people to follow him and join Mankind United. He promised that a group of wealthy, good people called the Sponsors would create a Utopia for anyone who joined, only the Sponsors wouldn’t offer the program until Mankind United had reached 200 million members. Then his cult spread like wildfire.
The Hernandez Brothers Cult was founded by Santos and Cayetano Hernandez in the early 1960s in a small, northern Mexico village. What started out as a simple scam for power and money from uneducated villagers descended into blood orgies and human sacrifices after the brothers hired a sex worker to impersonate a Goddess.
By 1960, the Lumpa Church was the most influential religion in Zambia and seen as a political threat by Prime Minister Kenneth Kaunda. To avoid escalating violence, the Lumpa Church moved out of the villages to establish new settlements, but Kaunda demanded they return. When they refused, Kaunda destroyed the settlements and murdered its residents.
After a life-changing vision turned her into a prophetess, Alice Lenshina rose from one of the minor tribal houses of Zambia to become the founder and leader of the Lumpa church, one of the most powerful organizations in the entire country. At its height, it had over 150 thousand followers, until it became too big a political threat for the government to ignore.
Sahaja Yoga continues to prosper with more than 30,000 members worldwide despite allegations of child abuse, tax evasion, and harassment from ex-disciples. How has the cult managed to remain so strong and what role did the death of Shri Mataji play in that success?
Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi is the founder of the Sahaja Yoga Movement, a form of meditation meant to help practitioners unlock an inner awareness. She began with good intentions, as an activist in the Indian independence movement of the 1940s. As she gained a reputation for healing the sick, she grew in prominence as a spiritual leader. How did this spiritual role model turn into the leader of a cult?