Claire Harris

How to start a cult…in five easy steps!

Starting a cult sounds great. Getting started, not so much. No problem, though, as there are five things you should know before you start mixing the Kool-Aid.

 

 

I have a confession to make: I’m obsessed with cults. I’ve been on a bit of a binge on movies about cults lately – from the Scientologists, Raëlians and Branch Davidians to the Orange People and The Family. By watching these films, I think I’ve figured out the formula for how cults actually get started. So if your career goal is to become a cult leader but you’re not sure how to get your foot in the door, it’s really no different to setting up any other business. Here’s how to start a cult in five simple steps.

 

1. Create a unique selling point

First, decide who your target market is so you can tailor your message to them. A common mistake for first-time cult leaders is to develop an ideology, only to find that it doesn’t attract a following. Instead, identify people who are disaffected with mainstream society – the marginalised, the friendless, the religious fanatics – and determine what you can offer them.

While the Bible is a useful starting point, it can be limiting so you may want to consider adding your own texts. (Pro tip: science fiction tends to be a popular genre.) Orgies can also be a drawcard but if this is unsuccessful, try proscribed celibacy for everyone except yourself. One or the other usually works.

 

2. Build a visual brand

When it comes to cult success, appearances are far more important than a coherent belief system. You want your cult to be instantly recognisable to the ignorant bystander – so think carefully about the best visual representation of your brand. This could be anything from red jumpsuits to matching blonde bob haircuts. However, it helps to think laterally – for example, a fortified compound block will cry “cult” as readily as a uniform dress code.

As leader, you’ll want a unique outfit that commands respect: nothing gains authority like a robe and spaceship but some sort of eye-catching headwear can be equally effective. Or a rad mullet.

 

3. Get the right team

While you’re busy slaving over your nine-volume manifesto and delivering interminable speeches over the speakers as your minions (ahem, followers) are engaged in physical labour, you’ll need a sidekick who can actually put in the hard yards of running a cult. You may be surprised at the high level of tedious admin involved, from HR and recruitment through to surveillance and punishment.

On the marketing side, it helps to have a charismatic spokesperson – ideally Tom Cruise. Pending his availability, anyone who can say “tough titties” with conviction may be considered a viable alternative.

 

4. Stand out from the competition

The surefire way to make a splash in an overcrowded marketplace is to physically move your cult to somewhere that is less crowded. A quick Google search will uncover numerous small towns dotted across midwest America that are perfect spots for getting your cult up and running.

If that doesn’t garner instant attention, have a go at stockpiling arms and getting into spats with the locals – your face will be splashed across the media faster than you can say “Jonestown”.

 

5. Define what success looks like

So you have a handful of dedicated followers – congratulations! But before you descend from your UFO or relocate to a South American jungle, you need to figure out what your end goal is. This could be anything from staging a spectacular showdown with the FBI to spreading worldwide and becoming registered as a mainstream religion with tax-exempt status. Once you have an objective in mind, it’s easier to break it down into smaller manageable steps.

 

Finally, remember that every cult leader started right where you are now…so don’t give up! Good luck!

 

Claire Harris

Claire Harris is a writer in exile who has spent the last decade travelling and working around the world. This is not nearly as glamorous as it sounds and usually involves scraping by on a diet of muesli and cheap wine. Occasionally together. You can find her at www.clairejharris.com

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