Topic Blog 4: Synthesis of Cult Cognition.

Topic Blog 4: Synthesis of Cult Cognition.

My last three blogs have had the topic of cults, specifically, how we perceive cults and what methods cult leaders may use to change how the public perceives them.

The first topic blog I wrote featured Jim Jones, the notorious cult leader of the Peoples Temple which ended in the tragic Jonestown Massacre. Jim Jones used manipulative and horrendous methods to gain followers, retain followers, and put up a facade to the public that seemed innocent and progressive. As his legacy spiralled out of control, his manipulative methods became less convincing, and more coercive, changing from encouraging his followers to leave their families and donate all their belongings to the church, to just flat out forcing them to submit, by making them strip during congregation, and humiliating them, purposefully psychologically beating his followers down until they were helpless against his tyranny.

My second topic blog features Anton LaVey, another infamous leader, and his cult; The Church of Satan. LaVey uses the public’s preconception of paganism and the occult by using its symbols and imagery (images such as the pentagram, the Leviathan Cross, Lucifer’s Sigil and Baphomet) to make his religion seem more unfavorable than it really was. The Church of Satan promotes individualism and questioning reality, and has several rules and regulation in place that are actually quite agreeable, such as policies on drug use, illegal activities and politics. Those who follow LaVeyan Satanism are perceived as being socially deviant because of the advocacy for non-herd conformity, sex, wisdom, responsibility and independence. Due to these distinct differences, majority religions have a strong opposition to the Church of Satan, although if one looks deeper into the beliefs the church follows, they’ll find that they truly can not base their understanding of the religion on its name.

My third topic blog was focused on Wiccan cults. The Wicca (sometimes referred to as Pagan Witchcraft) also follows a neo-pagan belief, which is disrespected by majority-religions and the public, causing the religion to favor the name ‘Wicca’ over ‘Witchcraft’, which it was originally termed by Gerald Gardner. The Wiccan tradition is most commonly one that promotes peace and pacifism, believing that any harm or good a Wicca causes will be returned to them ‘threefold’. As of recent, counselors have become particularly concerned with the mental state of minority religion members, as those in the Wiccan cult tradition are particularly susceptible to being marginalized and can develop stress, anxiety and depression just based on the dissonance they receive from the public, and the internal conflicts they may face.

In summary: Cults are very diverse and unique, in which not all of them end up in tragedy at the hands of a narcissistic and manipulative leader, like the People Temple. Some minority religions and cults need a second and more appreciative look to fully understand the belief system, such as LaVeyan Satanism. In the case of the Wiccans, these minority-religion members should be treated with more sympathy and care as the harsh judgement the public gives them are very detrimental to their psychological health.

Thank you for reading! ๐Ÿ™‚

References & further readings:


5 thoughts on “Topic Blog 4: Synthesis of Cult Cognition.

  1. your blogs were great and they definitely made me think of cults differently. i agree that not all of them are the same and most are more than likely harmless and wont end in a party with some funny tasting punch, but there can still be some psychological effects on the people that end up being involved in cults and more if they decide to leave. i found an article that looks into the psychological harm that happens to the cult members when they are in the cult and also the cult members that have left the cult. most of the article talks about brainwashing and all the psychological effects that comes along with it. it also talks about the feeling of abandonment or emptiness when people are forced out of the cult group or when they leave. it was a good article to read but i don’t think the amount of people studied that left the cult was big enough to fully understand the full effects.

    Freckelton, I. (01.04.1998). Psychiatry, psychology, and law: โ€œCultsโ€, calamities and psychological consequences Australian Academic Press. doi:10.1080/13218719809524918


    1. Thank you for your comment! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m glad you enjoyed my blogs! I agree, I’m sure members engaged in cults experience some sort of mental or personality change, and as you mentioned, those who leave dangerous cults might decide to come out about the psychological damages that might occur. I think its also fair to say that these cognitive changes can occur within members of any religion. In a paper I read a while ago before starting the cult blogs, researchers discuss the religious conversion, and the effects this might have on personality. It was found that religious conversion can “influence people’s goals, strivings and identity”, and that psychologically, those who remained in the majority religion after converting reported feeling better, and that the new religion was more beneficial. However, those that left major religions reported feeling like the religion was detrimental. However, sometimes the choice to stay or leave isn’t up to the individual, like in The People Temple, Jim Jones was the only one who made the decision, so even if they wanted to leave, they were not allowed, further becoming a controlling and detrimental aspect of their lives. ๐Ÿ™‚ thank you again for the comment!


  2. I enjoyed your few weeks of cults and cognition because it shows how diverse cults can be, but that they still use the same cognitive mechanisms such a s conditional love, fear, and psychological manipulation. I think that with what you had focused on what past cults, but I think that there are modern day cults that are mainstream and use the same psychological manipulation that past cults have used. One example of this is with Scientology and even polygamous relationships for people must escape to leave, or even with modern day religion. I believe have similar ties to cults, but maybe not to the same extreme and cults. But very interesting topic none the less.


    Mutch, S. (2016). Religious Cults, Human Rights, and Public Policy: The Secular Perspective. International Journal Of Cultic Studies,, (7).

    Olsen, C. (2014). Pay to Pray: Tech, Immortality and Celebrity in Americaโ€™s Most Secretive Cult.. Presentation.

    whitehouse, H. (2016). Cognitive Evolution and Religion: Cognition and Religious Evolution. Issues In Ethnology And Anthropology, 3(3), 35-47.


  3. I really enjoyed you talk last week, and found your explanation of a cult rather lovely and made me view cults in a different light. As you said they don’t all end in the Jone’s Town massacre. I believe that the Jones Town incident has created a great deal of stigma around cults and I actually came a cross a book discussing the formation of cult and why they have such a bad name. If you still have a great deal of interest in regards to cults I recommend you check it out.

    Iannaccone L. R. (1992). Sacrifice and Stigma: Reducing Free-riding in Cults, Communes, and Other Collectives. Journal of Political Economy, 100(2)


    1. Thank you for your comment, Brittni! ๐Ÿ™‚ I agree! Due to the unfortunate actions of some, many are judged quite harshly, which ends up in quite a bit of damage to those in some more peaceful neo-cults! ๐Ÿ™‚ I believe the same can be said for some majority religions too, where Muslims for example, are often judged and treated horribly due to the actions of ISIS and other extreme islamic groups that in no way, represent the mainstream islamic religion. Perhaps if we were to look at some extreme Christian groups, such as the Westboro Baptist Church, or the Klu Klux Klan, people (especially close-minded rednecks, ahahah) could better understand that one group should not represent an entire tradition, and it’s terribly naive to think so! ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you again for your comment!!


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