The topic of religion tends to get folks riled up, and it makes sense — beliefs are so personal! But when it comes to the specific practices of extremist groups, specifically cults, it’s even harder to keep an open mind, and oftentimes that’s with good reason. It’s not too hard to imagine that there are some cults out there whose beliefs are so out-of-this-world bananas that it just sounds like fodder for a bad sci-fi flick.
What if it wasn’t all fiction though, what if people believed that they had found enlightenment in their bizarre rituals? And what if they believed it with such conviction that they would do anything to honor and spread their faith? These underground cults may not share what most would recognize as spiritual practices, but they do have one thing in common: they’ll leave you shaken to your core.
1. The Ant Hill Kids: Roch “Moïse” Thériault, who believed the apocalypse would come in February of 1979, was the leader of this doomsday cult, and went on to be one of Canada’s most infamous convicts; which makes a lot of sense once you hear out some of his wild ideas.
Thériault lured a large group of people to partake in his spiritual wisdom. Unsurprisingly, he ordered nine of the women (who essentially became his concubines) to have sex with him and the commune’s other men in order to grow their numbers.
Thériault, AKA “Moses,” brutally chopped off the forearm of one of his followers; she frantically escaped to a hospital, finally getting authorities to investigate the Ant Hill. Thériault was inevitably found guilty of murder in 1993.
2. Ho No Hana Sanpogyo: This “foot reading cult” was started by Hogen Fukunaga in 1987. He boasted to be the reincarnation of both Jesus Christ and Buddha. He also claimed to have the ability to diagnose issues by means of meticulously reading foot soles.
Cult members in Japan shelled out thousands of dollars for bogus foot examinations, bogus bibles, and religious training courses. The cult, which earned millions of dollars, was eventually found fraudulent in the early 2000s. Who woulda thunk it?
3. Order Of The Solar Temple: This secret society mixed beliefs and practices of Christianity, New Age philosophy, Freemason ceremonies, and, oh yeah, UFOs. While they believed in the afterlife, they thought it occurred on other planets.
Seventy-four members involved in oddly ritualistic murder-suicides between the years of 1994 and 1997 put an end to this cult. Corpses were even found on the floor, painstakingly patterned in the shape of the sun.
4. Freedomites: This cult, AKA the Sons of Freedom, took nudist living to the extreme. It originated in 1902 in Saskatchewan, Canada, as a group of zealots who broke away from traditional Doukhobor beliefs.
These Russian zealots partook in nude protests, opposing traditional government-run education, land registration, and anything resembling materialistic life. In the ’20s and ’30s, they even went as far as to violently bomb and burn down several public buildings.
5. National Action: Today, there are anti-Semitic, far-right terrorism death-cults recruiting kids as young as 13 in the UK, and National Action, which was banned in 2016, was the one that inspired them all.
The death-cult was home to a member who planned to murder a Labour MP, one who attempted to decapitate a man in a Tesco, and one who plotted a bloodbath at an LGBTQ+ pride celebration. You get the gist, they’re bad people.
6. Aetherius Society: Former British taxi driver George King founded the Aetherius religion in the mid ’50s after being visited by an extraterrestrial intelligence named, you guessed it, “Aetherius.”
King believed that “Cosmic Masters,” who mostly consisted of aliens from Venus and Saturn, controlled the future of humanity. Together, the Aetherius Society “spiritually charged” the world via prayer to properly ready Earth for its “Next Master.”
This messiah would come down to our planet in a grand flying saucer, bearing magic of strength greater than “the combined materialistic might of all the armies.” The cult’s weirdly charming motto is “Service is the jewel in the rock of attainment.” Well, at least they didn’t believe in murder!
7. Chen Tao: This Taiwanese UFO cult, also called the True Way Cult, was created by former professor Hon-Ming Chen, whose brain clearly housed a mishmash of oddities.
Among many things, Chen proclaimed the Earth was 4.5 trillion years old, our solar system was birthed through nuclear war, humans each have three souls, and that God had come, via flying saucer, to save humanity five separate times.
Unfortunately, his 160 devoted disciples lost all faith when Chen ensured them God Himself would appear on a particular North American TV channel, whether or not you paid for cable, at exactly 12:01 a.m. on March 31, 1998. God didn’t get the memo.
8. Raëlism: More aliens! French sports-car journalist Claude Vorilhon created an alien-based religion in 1974. He believed that aliens created the human species. While this is a bit cuckoo, Raëlism also involved advocating for peace, democracy, nonviolence, and a liberal view on social issues, such as gender and sexuality.
All That’s Interesting
But Vorilhon, AKA Raël, also insisted that shapeshifting alien messengers would come to check up on Earth, appearing in human forms that included the likes of Jesus Christ and Buddha. Um, okay.
Despite the cult’s sex-positive attitude, its women were paraded around like objects. Some of the members even posed with Raël for Playboy in 200!
While basically everything about Raëlism is bizarre, nothing is more bonkers than Raël’s claim to have cloned a human baby in the early 2000s. In case you were wondering, there was zero proof of this.
These cults were all started by charismatic men. It begs the question, why is this the path that they chose, and how much does our lifestyle at age three impact our adult lives? Probably more than you’d think.
Harry Potts / Flickr
In fact, countless studies show the details of your childhood play a major role in your adult personality. Also, it’s possible to use this knowledge of childhood development to better understand the ins and outs of adults, too. Even the really despicable ones.
In the case of Jim Jones—propagator of the infamous “Jonestown Massacre,” which saw the mass suicide of 918 people via poisoned Kool-Aid—early childhood is a useful lens through which a little clarity about his future is found. The clues were seemingly there all along…
Nancy Wong / Wikimedia
As a boy, Jones loved rituals and would regularly lead his schoolyard friends in bizarre funeral processions for mice. These funerals were no half-measures, either, and often featured lit candles, altars, shrouds, and all manners of holy rites…
Stephen lliffe / Flickr
As an adult, Jones was a smooth talker, able to charm and win over nearly anyone and everyone he spoke with. Even his vocal inflections, which were said to recall those of a spirited preacher.
He developed this command of language in his early childhood, as he was known to deliver sermons to his classmates in a barn behind his house. There, he provided his guests with something telling of the future…
ARC’s Photos / Flickr
At his gatherings, Jones’ love of ritual was on full display. He wore a bedsheet that served as a makeshift robe, and he read from an old Bible. As a refreshment, the future cult leader would provide lemonade or sweet punch, a haunting foreshadowing of the future massacre.
The greatest indication of his monstrous future, however, started with a gift from Jones’ mother. Holding big dreams for her charismatic son, Lynetta Jones bought young Jim a medical kit, which he put to horrifying use.
Mars Lander / Flickr
As just a boy, Jones would use the kit to perform medical experiments on rodents, cross-species blood transfusions, and on time he even amputated a chicken’s leg in order to place it on a duck. Red flag, mom!
Even though he wasn’t shy by any means, Jones felt like an outsider as a kid, readily aware of how different he was from his classmates. Later on, this influenced his tendencies to flock to and “recruit” people he perceived as being marginalized, such as African Americans and even hobos.
Nancy Wong / Wikimedia
Despite living in a secular family, Jones sought comfort in churches throughout his neighborhood. He found a home in the Gospel Tabernacle, a house of worship where people spoke in tongues.
There, an influential woman at the church helped him nurture his gifts as a speaker. The older Jones grew, however, the less influence he found his sermons having with this crowd…
Indytnt / Wikimedia
Fewer and fewer friends and classmates showed up to his barnyard sermons, which Jones took personally. It’s no surprise, then, that when people started leaving his People’s Temple cult, he took that personally as well.
Obviously, signs of the future tragedies were observable from an early age for Jim Jones. Would it have been possible to foresee what he would become — and save 918 lives?
Nancy Wong / Wikimedia