Although the origin of the word “cult” refers to a religious or social group with a set of beliefs and practices, the mass culture often associates this word with a derogatory connotation. The concept of cult includes a vast community for like-minded people, connections with the spiritual self, and an opportunity to contribute to a society. However, these established movements also include mind controlling techniques that demand total, consistent compliance and conformity. Through the use of extreme persuasive techniques and emotional manipulation, cults are able to recruit people who are in an uncomfortable transition in their life. Whether it be a divorce, new job, or isolation, members of a cult are able to sense the desperate need for a community and acceptance.

Most of the charisma and charm illustrated in the presence of a cult is orchestrated by the cult leader. In the late 1960s, Charles Manson convinced his followers to commit heinous murders in his name. On November 18, 1978, Jim Jones led more than 900 men, women, and children to their deaths in a mass suicide via cyanide-laced punch. The common thread that ties some of these cult leaders together is their ability to conspire and deceive the masses through manipulation of pathos and logos. The deception begins at an emotional level, attracting the need for a sense of belonging. It then works its way up to the logical level by convincing others of the success resulting from working under one “spiritual father.” In the documentary film, The Source Family, Father Yod (also known as James Baker) created his own philosophical movement based on Western mystery tradition. As the patriarch of the commune of young people, the group adopted a lifestyle that promoted natural health and utopian ideas. Although some of the doctrines of the Source Family were kept secret, Father Yod appeared to lead a peaceful commune. In contrast with that of Charles Manson and Jim Jones, this commune did not promote submission through violence and crime.

Many members of the Source Family were also musicians and integrated music as an important activity within the commune. Father Yod was the lead singer of a psychedelic rock band called YaHoWha 13, and produced nine albums. Eventually, the commune’s outlandish beliefs and unconventional ways of life caused controversy with local authorities. As a result, the commune fled to Hawaii and tried to establish their ways of life into a new environment that embraced them with a hostile and cold respect. After the unfortunate demise of Father Yod during a hang gliding accident, the commune and all of its members dispersed across the country. Despite their dramatic departure, most of the former members continue to describe their experience with the “cult” with fondness and good will. In contrast to other infamous cults, such as the one led by Charles Manson, the Source Family strived to prosper and share their radical beliefs, even after the death of their leader. In the documentary, the former family members banded together to relive their time with Father Yod. They described how his presence shaped their lives in the most unexpected ways.

Extreme religious or social groups offer simple and clear messages in an increasing complex world. The group leader takes advantage of the corruption in the world and offers a message of hope to those daunted by insecurity. Most of the members in the Source Family did not see themselves belonging to a “cult.” Instead, they found comfort and peace with a spiritual father who promised them prosperity in this world and the next. For that, many of the family members attribute their success and survival to their father, James Edward Baker. Decades after his death, they remember the positive effects of their involvement with the Source Family, however, most remain reluctant to do it all over again.


#charlesmanson #cults

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One thought on “Don’t Drink the Kool-Aide

  1. Although I’m not a crime fanatic, my fascination with cults and cult behavior is probably the closest I will get to enjoying true crime. This is only because I totally get the concept of joining a cult and if I was alive in the 1960s/70s, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was also in a cult. Despite that, looking at it from a 21st-century point of view, it’s both awful and incredible how if you find someone in desperate need of direction or a community, and you’re manipulative enough, you can get them to go as far as to take their own life.

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