Cults, they take on many forms, and almost always have a religious undertone. But what is the magical ingredient that lures both average Joe and celebrities to defend their practices and doctrines? And why has Hollywood fallen under many a cult’s spell, or rather, why is the city of dreams such an easy, or rather, preferred target for the cult leaders?
What Defines a Cult
Understanding what exactly a cult is, might help potential innocent victims avoid the traps set out to draw them into these groups. A short definition explains that it’s a social group that can be identified by its specific spiritual, philosophical or religious beliefs or in other instances, its common interest in a specific person, goal or even object. These groups will claim to be the only ones to tell the truth to its followers. They also don’t want all their teachings to be shared outside of the group, keeping many secrets from the rest of the world. And lastly, they expect non-questioning loyalty and obedience to their leader.
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Best Known Cults in Hollywood
- The Manson Family. Charles Manson, a petty criminal, was both the founder and leader of this notorious and murderous cult, formed in the late sixties in California. The group of approximately 100 followers were mostly young women from middle-class backgrounds who were drawn to the group’s hippy lifestyle, which included communal living and habitual use of hallucinogenic drugs. Members were radicalised by Manson who claimed to be a manifestation of Jesus and whose prophecies included a race war, his Helter Skelter scenario. The Family went on to commit a slew of crimes and murders in 1969, including the killing of film director, Roman Polanski’s then 8-month-pregnant, actress girlfriend, Sharon Tate. Five members, including Manson, would eventually receive the death penalty in 1971, which was reduced to life in prison by 1972. He eventually died of natural causes while in prison, in 2017. He was 83 years old.
- Currently making headlines, this cult is reported as a pyramid with levels of slaves that are headed by masters, and branded with a searing-hot laser-like device. Both the founder, Keith Raniere, and Smallville actress, Allison Mack (who played Chloe Sullivan in the series) were arrested earlier this year on federal sex-trafficking charges. Raniere claims that his followers are consenting adults who have participated in this self-help seminars, but the authorities aren’t buying it. Actresses, wealthy business leaders and even an heiress who provided massive funding to his organisation, have all fallen prey to NXIVM. Mack even reached out to young actress, Emma Watson via social media, asking her to participate in a unique women’s movement. Former Dynasty actress, Catherine Oxenberg’s daughter, India, remains a devoted member, despite her mother’s pleas to leave the group. In light of its mounting legal problems, NXIVM suspended its operations in June.
- The so-called religious philosophy was first launched as Dianetics back in 1952 by American sci-fi author, Ron Hubbard. Being branded a cult has definitely been a point of contention over the last few decades, with Hollywood celebs like John Travolta and Tom Cruise showing support for the church. However, King of Queens actress and former member, Leah Remini, released a documentary series, revealing the truth of the group’s alienating practices. Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath is based on her personal experiences and interviews with other former members, highlighting the abuse and harassment they’ve experienced, even after leaving the church. But it’s not just Hollywood that’s taken notice of Scientology, countries like Germany have classified it as an “anti-constitutional sect”, while France blatantly branded it to be a dangerous cult.
Why do these cults target Hollywood, one might ask? It’s simple. Endorsement. It’s just so much easier to market your cult’s beliefs with the validation and support of a famous figure. And Hollywood has many of them. Another reason? Money. And with many a millionaire roaming the Hills, Hollywood is not short on this commodity either.