This is a repository of all the cult-related reading, listening and watching I have done that I would recommend to others. This includes everything from large and well-known cults (Jonestown, Rajneeshees) to newer, underreported cults (self-help “gurus”) to tiny, seemingly-inconsequential ones (Larry Ray). Look around and fall into my rabbit hole – and if you know of any specific pieces or even just individual cults in general you think I’d be interested in, get in touch.
None of the listed items here are my own except for some cult descriptions and the about pages. They are all the work of talented reporters, content creators, and survivors. I put in as many content warnings as I can remember, but be aware that in any discussion of cults there is a decent chance of encountering brainwashing, violence, sexual assault, suicide, and abuse in general. Tell me if I missed any.
I can’t remember when I first became interested in Scientology. It may have been around 2008 when the hacktivist group Anonymous put on their major protests around the death of Lisa McPherson. It may have been when the surprisingly accurate (if mean-spirited) episode of South Park about the Scientology creation myth aired and was passed around my middle and high school for years. It may have grown organically as both these things percolated in the back of my mind. Regardless, it has been a fascination of mine for over a decade, and eventually it grew into an interest in all cults – big and famous or small and outwardly inconsequential.
It is all an offshoot of a broader interest in power: how it works, how it can be corrupted, how people seek it and (in the case of cults) voluntarily give it up. Cults are a microcosm of power dynamics – they are often funny and sometimes even ridiculous, and it can be hard from the outside to understand how anyone can fall victim to one. But in the end, they are all stories about exerting power over the vulnerable.
Why is [insert here] on this site?
This site is created and maintained by one person, who judges each organization by her own standards. While there are certainly standard cult signs, by 2021 I feel strongly that the definition of “cult” in popular understanding is outdated and must be broadened to consider newer predatory organizations that encourage isolation and groupthink. QAnon and MLMs are the most notable examples, but cults are cropping up around Tiktok stars and Youtubers as well. Most importantly, cults do not need to be large, externally weird or funny, or centered around one leader to qualify for my reading. I think victims of cults like Teal Swan‘s or former QAnon adherents would agree.
Why is [insert here] not on this site?
There are many groups/trends I think are culty but haven’t had a chance to look into yet; until I can, they won’t appear here, as this is only a repository of my research. If you know of specific pieces and/or places to start, I want to hear about them.
What’s up with all the Scientology?
In its earliest iteration, this was a simple one-page list of what I considered to be the foundational texts in the amateur study of Scientology. As the first cult* I got interested in and still one of my passions, I have done the most reading on the subject and it is the most represented. That page sprouted another for cults in general, but being frankly hard to edit, I let it go untouched for years. This remedies that situation – but it means that Scientology is still the one for which I have done the most research.
I would never join a cult.
Yes, you would.
Cults prey on the vulnerable. Everyone at some point in their life is vulnerable. If they hit you at the right time with the right message, you would join up – unless you are prepared with some humility and awareness, and try to notice the signs of a cult when approached. Also, arrogance makes you susceptible to a cult; groups like flat earthers and QAnon are borne of those who think they know better and are confronted with facts that challenge that worldview.
Education is the best defense – humility is the second.
“Cultwatch” is a term coined by my friend that I adopted during our conversations and then shamelessly stole for this website. Shoutout to Venus.
*I do believe Scientology is a cult, but acknowledge that some disagree with me, including the Church of Scientology itself (obviously). However, even without stretching the traditional definition as I sometimes do, it fits many signs: forced exclusion and shunning, encouraging isolation and destruction of outside relationships, loyalty and devotion to a single leader who can do no wrong, a unique language designed to make it difficult to communicate with the outside world, financial exploitation… the list goes on. Most of this applies to the Sea Org, of course, and there are many Scientologists (but not as many as the church would claim) who do not participate in this pattern of behavior. However, the structure of the church exists to bring them into the fold of this groupthink-y, exclusionary, rigid and unquestioning environment… if it’s not a cult, it definitely quacks like one.
As stated, none of this is my own work besides this page, some of the the cult definition page, and some of the cult descriptions, which I write based on Wikipedia, articles I’ve read, and synthesized knowledge. I am not affiliated with any of these organizations. All suggestions of cult behavior made by myself are my opinions only. The name “Cultwatch” and this site is not associated by the site of the same name. I am not affiliated with any of the writers/sources of the content listed here. Inclusion on this website is not a definitive statement that a group is a cult, merely an opinion. The word “cult” here also is a shorthand for “high-control groups,” “cult-like groups,” “high-demand groups,” etc. While I have read/watched/listened to all the pieces I put on this site, I do not necessarily endorse all aspects of all the content referenced herein.