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Author Topic: "Cults": Awareness and Avoidance  (Read 6403 times)

Fagan_the_Pagan

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"Cults": Awareness and Avoidance
« on: December 13, 2011, 04:40:34 pm »
As a student of religion, I know that "cult" is a problematic term, in that it is often used improperly to describe religious or spiritual groups that one disagrees with.  It can artificially create a sense of fear towards "alternative" religions that is usually unwarranted.

Most members of the pagan community are reasonable, sane people, and I suspect most groups are probably likewise comprised of reasonable sane people.  But there are dangerous people out there too.  It is possible to run into toxic and dangerous groups, and sometimes people get sucked in before they realize what has happened.

I thought it would be valuable to have a discussion on what to look out for, and how to avoid getting wrapped up in the groups that are legitimately dangerous.

A while back, I made a new friend who was leading a pagan group out in my area, which was a branch of a larger group centered in Escondido.  But she left soon, before I could investigate it, and had to move to the coast.  She had talked about the center Circle before, but not in too much detail.  I decided rather on a whim that I wanted to meet them and at least see what they were like.  This past weekend seemed the perfect time, as I had an audition in Escondido anyway.  So I met the group, and MOST of them were lovely people.

Then I met the leader, and by the gods, this guy scares me.  His energy seemed to thrust violently into the room when he appeared, he ordered people around, and seemed to suddenly flip a switch from anger to ingratiation.  Add to that references by group members to his "not letting them leave," a plan for a castle with a 20-story underground bunker attached, that he is credited with knowing "everything there is to know about the occult," and the fact that he has fathered children by at least 3 members of the group had me all but running scared.  

Later a friend and I discussed all that had happened, and rated the group as 70-80  range on the Bonewits Cult-Danger Evaulation Frame.

So primarily I want to start a discussion as to what to look out for and how to handle dangerous groups?  Are there other qualifications besides Bonewits' frame that you use?
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Etheric1

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Re: "Cults": Awareness and Avoidance
« Reply #1 on: December 13, 2011, 05:28:06 pm »
Quote from: Fagan_the_Pagan;34588
As a student of religion, I know that "cult" is a problematic term, in that it is often used improperly to describe religious or spiritual groups that one disagrees with.  It can artificially create a sense of fear towards "alternative" religions that is usually unwarranted.

Most members of the pagan community are reasonable, sane people, and I suspect most groups are probably likewise comprised of reasonable sane people.  But there are dangerous people out there too.  It is possible to run into toxic and dangerous groups, and sometimes people get sucked in before they realize what has happened.

I thought it would be valuable to have a discussion on what to look out for, and how to avoid getting wrapped up in the groups that are legitimately dangerous.

A while back, I made a new friend who was leading a pagan group out in my area, which was a branch of a larger group centered in Escondido.  But she left soon, before I could investigate it, and had to move to the coast.  She had talked about the center Circle before, but not in too much detail.  I decided rather on a whim that I wanted to meet them and at least see what they were like.  This past weekend seemed the perfect time, as I had an audition in Escondido anyway.  So I met the group, and MOST of them were lovely people.

Then I met the leader, and by the gods, this guy scares me.  His energy seemed to thrust violently into the room when he appeared, he ordered people around, and seemed to suddenly flip a switch from anger to ingratiation.  Add to that references by group members to his "not letting them leave," a plan for a castle with a 20-story underground bunker attached, that he is credited with knowing "everything there is to know about the occult," and the fact that he has fathered children by at least 3 members of the group had me all but running scared.  

Later a friend and I discussed all that had happened, and rated the group as 70-80  range on the Bonewits Cult-Danger Evaulation Frame.

So primarily I want to start a discussion as to what to look out for and how to handle dangerous groups?  Are there other qualifications besides Bonewits' frame that you use?


I think this is an excellent discussion to have.  I'd say it might even be worth putting into the beginner forms so there could be more likelihood of someone avoiding getting involved with a dangerous situation when they are just starting out.  I think during those times people can be at their most vulnerable.

I have not heard about Bonewits frame, I'm going to check that out when I'm done with this post.  

One of the things I think people should keep in mind with joining ANY group, not just a religious one, is the impressions of the people there.  Do they tolerate individual thoughts and freedoms?  How can we teach ourselves to spot manipulative behavior from group leaders?  This group leader you mentioned probably has considerable skill and practice at getting people to behave as he wants.  Glad you got the hells out.
« Last Edit: December 13, 2011, 05:28:51 pm by Etheric1 »
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Etheric1

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Re: "Cults": Awareness and Avoidance
« Reply #2 on: December 13, 2011, 05:33:13 pm »
Quote from: Etheric1;34593
.

Ok I have to say I'm very impressed by that list by Bonewits!  Only thing I would add to it would be a question about how certain things discussed might encourage actions that strike a member as potentially psychically dangerous or uncomfortable.  Bonewits kind of touched on that, but it might be worth making a question that address that issue directly.
« Last Edit: December 13, 2011, 05:34:05 pm by Etheric1 »
No matter how dark the fur, the bunny is still fluffy. - Mel\'s Law of Dark Fluffs.
Nothing is more despicable than respect based on fear. – Albert Camus
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Shine

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Re: "Cults": Awareness and Avoidance
« Reply #3 on: December 13, 2011, 05:49:05 pm »
Quote from: Fagan_the_Pagan;34588
So primarily I want to start a discussion as to what to look out for and how to handle dangerous groups?  Are there other qualifications besides Bonewits' frame that you use?

 
I basically use Bonewits' framework and my own gut. If I get the feeling of "ALERT, DO NOT APPROACH", then I tend to stay away. I also do a lot of poking around on the internet to see if anybody else has anything to say.

I think the best way to handle a dangerous group is not to get involved in the first place. Of course, we all make mistakes and get sucked into stuff that's not good for us. How a person handles getting away from a dangerous group will vary depending on the particular group.

Some groups you can just walk away from with a flurry of invectives on your head, other groups will be more. . . persistent. I must say that I've been lucky enough not to get this far, so I don't have much perspective on it.
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RandallS

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Re: "Cults": Awareness and Avoidance
« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2011, 05:59:46 pm »
Quote from: Shine;34604
I basically use Bonewits' framework and my own gut.

More my gut than Bonewits' framework, but if my gut is giving mixed signals I'll rely on the framework. However, as I'm not a trusting soul to begin with after about 40 years in the Pagan community, I can usually smell a rat when a group I'm interacting with is "cult-like".
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Re: "Cults": Awareness and Avoidance
« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2011, 06:57:58 pm »
Quote from: Fagan_the_Pagan;34588
So primarily I want to start a discussion as to what to look out for and how to handle dangerous groups?  Are there other qualifications besides Bonewits' frame that you use?

My favorite approach was the Coven Abuse Self-Help Index (CASHI) which was online for a good while, but is no longer readily available (it was by a psychologist with a lot of Pagan group experience, and who collected examples from a lot of other people, as well.)

I did my own version of it on my website - index at http://gleewood.org/seeking/care/. There's both a simple question version (which I'll quote below) and then a much more detailed one, that highlights specific kinds of red flags. (Though, um, your post brings up a couple I didn't explicitly have in there. Editing the whole thing and doing the commentary is on my list of sooner-than-later projects.)

[begin quote from http://gleewood.org/seeking/care/simple/]
The important questions

   
  • Does this person, this group, this community, treat you well?
  • Do they care for others in the group, and treat them well?
  • Do they treat themselves well?
  • Does this group’s religious and magical work call to you?
  • Does the group challenge you to grow and learn?
  • Do they respect your choices and boundaries, and let you know how those fit with their group so you can make informed choices?
  • Do you look forward to your time with them?
  • Do you wish to become more like them in the ways the group shares?
  • Would you feel comfortable inviting them to your home? Why or why not?
  • Do they seem centered, balanced, focused on a healthy religious life?
If these things aren’t true, you want to look very closely at this group and the individuals in it to figure out why – and what you can do about it. That’s what this document is for – to help you decide what to look for, and where you should be particularly careful and watchful.

Serious problems include a group or teacher that…

   
  • Tries to control who you talk to, what you read, or how you spend your time outside the group.
  • Dismisses, degrades, scapegoats those who don’t agree with them, or alternately plays favorites and rewards some members unduly.
  • Expects you to make a decision about joining the group on minimal information, or pressures you to make a rapid decision.
  • Wastes group time by showing up late, being unprepared, taking care of personal (non-emergency) tasks during group events, etc.
  • Moves from crisis to crisis, or is having trouble keeping up with basic responsibilities (home, work, family).
  • Has drastic mood swings or changes of behavior.
  • Makes significant decisions suddenly (a matter of hours) rather than after reasoned reflection (when the matter is not urgent.)
  • Treats your or other people’s commitments or boundaries lightly (whether that’s your home, your relationships, your time, or anything else.)

The deeper questions page is at http://gleewood.org/seeking/care/deeper
« Last Edit: December 13, 2011, 06:58:30 pm by Jenett »
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Asch

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Re: "Cults": Awareness and Avoidance
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2011, 09:19:03 pm »
Quote from: Fagan_the_Pagan;34588
As a student of religion, I know that "cult" is a problematic term, in that it is often used improperly to describe religious or spiritual groups that one disagrees with.  It can artificially create a sense of fear towards "alternative" religions that is usually unwarranted.

Most members of the pagan community are reasonable, sane people, and I suspect most groups are probably likewise comprised of reasonable sane people.  But there are dangerous people out there too.  It is possible to run into toxic and dangerous groups, and sometimes people get sucked in before they realize what has happened.

I thought it would be valuable to have a discussion on what to look out for, and how to avoid getting wrapped up in the groups that are legitimately dangerous.

A while back, I made a new friend who was leading a pagan group out in my area, which was a branch of a larger group centered in Escondido.  But she left soon, before I could investigate it, and had to move to the coast.  She had talked about the center Circle before, but not in too much detail.  I decided rather on a whim that I wanted to meet them and at least see what they were like.  This past weekend seemed the perfect time, as I had an audition in Escondido anyway.  So I met the group, and MOST of them were lovely people.

Then I met the leader, and by the gods, this guy scares me.  His energy seemed to thrust violently into the room when he appeared, he ordered people around, and seemed to suddenly flip a switch from anger to ingratiation.  Add to that references by group members to his "not letting them leave," a plan for a castle with a 20-story underground bunker attached, that he is credited with knowing "everything there is to know about the occult," and the fact that he has fathered children by at least 3 members of the group had me all but running scared.  

Later a friend and I discussed all that had happened, and rated the group as 70-80  range on the Bonewits Cult-Danger Evaulation Frame.

So primarily I want to start a discussion as to what to look out for and how to handle dangerous groups?  Are there other qualifications besides Bonewits' frame that you use?

 
I use a mixture of instinct, personal experience, and common sense. I hadn't heard of Bonewits' Frame before but it strikes me as quite useful as a frame of reference for any group working hard on its facade and public cohesion that may otherwise slip past an alert potential participant.

Fagan_the_Pagan

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Re: "Cults": Awareness and Avoidance
« Reply #7 on: December 14, 2011, 12:36:50 am »
Quote from: Etheric1;34593
One of the things I think people should keep in mind with joining ANY group, not just a religious one, is the impressions of the people there.  Do they tolerate individual thoughts and freedoms?  How can we teach ourselves to spot manipulative behavior from group leaders?  This group leader you mentioned probably has considerable skill and practice at getting people to behave as he wants.  Glad you got the hells out.

 
So far as I can tell, openness to ideas was a redeeming factor.  They are, by their assertion, of the belief that all religions hold at least some truth.  So, lacking any evidence of hypocrisy, I will say that individual thoughts and freedoms are indeed tolerated.  

The basic IDEA of the group all sounds good.  There are certainly MORE DANGEROUS groups out there, but from what I have seen so far, even giving them the benefit of the doubt on a number of points, I still don't feel comfortable directly engaging them enough to investigate just how far down the creepy cult path they really go.
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Fagan_the_Pagan

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Re: "Cults": Awareness and Avoidance
« Reply #8 on: December 14, 2011, 12:48:36 am »
Quote from: Jenett;34633
I did my own version of it on my website - index at http://gleewood.org/seeking/care/. There's both a simple question version (which I'll quote below) and then a much more detailed one, that highlights specific kinds of red flags. (Though, um, your post brings up a couple I didn't explicitly have in there. Editing the whole thing and doing the commentary is on my list of sooner-than-later projects.)

 
I like your version quite a bit.  I think the advantage of Bonewits' frame is that it includes a scale to quantify how bad it is.  Of course, examples of high on the scale and low on the scale reference points would be a useful addition.  Of course, making yours quantifiable probably wouldn't be hard either, if one were inclined.
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Rowanfox

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Re: "Cults": Awareness and Avoidance
« Reply #9 on: December 14, 2011, 11:20:50 am »
Quote from: Fagan_the_Pagan;34669
I like your version quite a bit.  I think the advantage of Bonewits' frame is that it includes a scale to quantify how bad it is.  Of course, examples of high on the scale and low on the scale reference points would be a useful addition.  Of course, making yours quantifiable probably wouldn't be hard either, if one were inclined.

 
I used Bonewits' frame for years, and I like Jennets cautions as well.

It is maybe necessary to point out that these cautions can apply to any group, and not just religious ones. I had one daughter join a Christian youth group in High School, and another join a group of rather militant gay rights activists in college.

My cautions to both girls were to be aware of their own actions and feelings. I pointed out that membership in a group should not force you to make personal life decisions that cause you  pain or guilt. And that religion, and activism, shouldn't cause pain, to yourself or others. If you have a cause, always act from the higher ground.

In the end both girls left the "cult-like" groups they had been partaking in. They told me that when they spent time alone, thinking about what I had said, they realized that in fact the groups were forcing on them ideas and actions that were not really their own, and that these were causing a lot of pain an harm to themselves or others.

Fagan_the_Pagan

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Re: "Cults": Awareness and Avoidance
« Reply #10 on: December 19, 2011, 01:55:52 am »
Quote from: Rowanfox;34699
It is maybe necessary to point out that these cautions can apply to any group, and not just religious ones.

 
Of course it is important to bear in mind that the cautions apply to any group.

So, so far it seems that the consensus on avoiding dangerous groups is some mix of the following:

1.) Jennet's set of cautions
2.) Isaac Bonewits' Cult Danger Evaluation Frame
3.) Intuition

Intuition, of course, is a highly important part of avoiding danger.  It is hard to advise on, though, besides "trust your gut."
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Maps

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Re: "Cults": Awareness and Avoidance
« Reply #11 on: December 20, 2011, 07:51:26 pm »
Quote from: Fagan_the_Pagan;34588
So primarily I want to start a discussion as to what to look out for and how to handle dangerous groups?  Are there other qualifications besides Bonewits' frame that you use?

 
Oy. I never thought I'd even have to think about this at all, and then I stumbled upon the site of one of the few (technically the only one I've seen so far) Maya-oriented religious groups that have a web presence: http://pakalian.tripod.com/

Reads like the teachings of some of the more dangerous and creepy cults in American history. Let's hope, if this isn't just the writings of a single person, that nobody gets hurt come "doomsday".

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