A ‘cult’ is a difficult thing to define. Some will argue that some authoritarian regimes, such as those headed by Stalin and Mao, were like giant, secular cults. There’s some validity to that—the loss of individual autonomy, an expected unwavering support for the leader, harsh punishments for those who seek to leave or expose the egregious actions of the regime. But were they cults? Not in the strictest definition of the term. Others argue that Catholicism, Islam and Mormonism are cults. Whilst these religions may skirt the edges of cult-like practices, and certainly spawn offshoot sect that do fall into a cleaner definition of ‘cult, they cannot broadly be categorized as ‘cults’.
The entries in this list are far closer, if not always bang on, the most widely-accepted definition of a cult—a small, often religious group that curtails the autonomy of its members. Coercive and manipulative behaviour, financial extortion and weird sex rituals are the least concerning behaviours in the 10 groups listed below. Murder, madness and mayhem were more the order of the day with these guys.
10 The Rosary Prayer Group
In 1988, a Catholic-sect leader named Lidia Naccarato prophesised the end of the world was imminent. She led a group of 35 individuals to commit some heinous crimes in an isolated farmhouse in Italy.
A victim who managed to escape informed police that a cult had tried to sacrifice him, shooting him in the process. When police raided the farmhouse that housed the cult, they discovered dozens of cultists, all murmuring ‘Hail Mary’ and moving about in a trance-like state. Police noted that a picture of the leader’s dead father, Antonio and one of the Virgin Mary were placed alongside the dismembered body of a cat.
It seemed they could also have been linked to organised crime—a corpse found at the site was bound in the same way the infamous ‘Ndranghetta kill traitors. Guns, knives, ammunition and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of currency were found surrounding the sacrificed victim. Lidia was later studied by noted psychiatrist Mario di Fiorino.
9 The Odaeyang Mass Suicide
Korea is the one East Asian nation that has adopted Christianity in any meaningful way, with around a third of the country practicing the faith. But with the adoption of Christianity, cultish sects will often come too.
In 1987, police in Seoul found the bodies of 33 members of a splinter-group of the Evangelical Church of Korea bound and gagged in the attic of a factory. The Odaeyang Trading Co. who operated the site, was owned by The cult’s leader, Park Soon-ja. She was on the run after swindling over $8 million from her followers. It was surmised that this was a case of murder-suicide, a common practice in doomsday cults. The investigation into the Odaeyang Trading Co. uncovered a paper trail which led to the arrest and conviction of the Evangelical Church’s overall leader, Yoo Byung-eun.
Nobody has ever been arrested for orchestrating the murder-suicides.
8 Satanic Cult In A Seaside Village
People in rural communities will often grumble about how many city folk move into the area—second homes left empty most of the year, not bothering to learn the language (where a different, native language is present), pushing up house prices—all valid concerns, but the debate is nuanced and doesn’t apply to every in-comer. Except when that in-comers are a satanic, paedophilic rape cult, that is.
Such was the case of a group that moved from London to the historic seaside village of Cydweli in West Wales. Once famous for its castle, the site of legendary Welsh heroine Princess Gwenllian’s bloody stand against the invading Normans, the village suffered a different sort of ‘invasion’ when Colin Batley and four female acolytes decided to relocate there in the 1990s. They were all big fans of English occultist Aleister Crowley and his early 20th century sex-cult of ‘Thelema’.
Their crimes were truly awful—33 charges were brought against the cult, ranging from indecent assault and forced prostitution to rape and inciting a ‘child to have sex’. A total of 5 members of the cult (the 4 aforementioned females and another man, 70-year-old Vincent Barden from Kempston, Bedfordshire, England) got sentences ranging from 3 to 13 years in jail. Batley got a minimum of 12 years on his ‘indefinite’ sentence, meaning he could be in jail for life.
7 The Ibadan Forest Of Horror
If decades of separatist conflicts and the Boko Haram insurgency wasn’t enough, Nigerian authorities also find themselves fighting sporadic crimes perpetrated by violent practitioners of folk magic. In 2014, one such group got organised. These particularly chilling crimes, uncovered near the city of Ibadan, are amongst the worst ever recorded in the nation.
A motorcyclist stumbled across a blood-curdling site in the Soka forest, with many decomposing corpses littered all over the place. Police were informed of the grisly discovery in March, 2014, quickly uncovering stashes of clothing—both adult and children’s—and various valuables thought to have been harvested from kidnapped victims, in a building within the forest. They also liberated many captured individuals who were kept there. Authorities, and many members of the public, are convinced that the group of ritualists ran the site as a body-part harvesting farm, supplying customers with body parts, blood and flesh in order to complete rituals.
In 2020, a number of individuals were arrested for the crimes. One, Sunday Shodipe, managed to escape police custody in order to commit another ritual killing on behalf of his 50-year-old fellow ‘herbalist’ named Idris ‘Baba’ Ajani, also held in police custody. According to reports, he succeeded, killing a woman whilst on the run in Akinyele district, north of the city of Ibadan.
6 The Yahweh Cult Of Nebraska
White supremacist Christian identitarians are nothing new in the US. These groups are dangerous, often spreading anti-government conspiracy theories, commit crimes and spread terror. Thankfully, they are small and violent attacks, although horrific, are rare. Michael Wayne Ryan of Rulo, Nebraska held such beliefs. So fervently, in fact, that it morphed into a cult.
Rural Nebraska was suffering from a sharp economic downturn in the 1980s. Ryan, acting as an emissary of the Christian Identity movement’s leader James Wickstrom, gathered a following of impoverished farmers and labourers, tasking them to burglarise properties so they could raise funds. When your leader claims he speaks directly to God, or ‘Yahweh’, there’s no surprise these desperate individuals carried out his every whim.
Ryan then started collecting wives, referred to himself as ‘The King’, and prophesised the end of days, coming in the form or a massive race war. Any doubts expressed by followers were met with abominable punishments—forced bestiality with goats, sodomy and even forced paedophilic incest. The group also committed several murders in order to silence unruly cult members, all at Ryan’s behest.
In 1986, Ryan was tried for murder (amongst other serious crimes) and sentenced to death. He died in prison 29 years later.
5 The Rise Of A New Cult?
Did the early adopters of the internet think, as they were passing research data back and forth between labs, that the web would be used to create a blood magic-practicing cult?
Well, it has.
Led by a man who considers himself to be the ‘reincarnation of Satan’ (did Satan die? Missed that in the newspapers), a new movement, largely found on YouTube, demands fealty from its adherents by encouraging them to enact a blood-letting ritual, thus allowing them to be a part of the chosen few who will—you’ve guessed it—survive the end times. The ritual, and colloquially the ‘cult’, is called ‘Blood over Intent’.
This emergent phenomenon is something we should all watch closely—we know the signs, and it doesn’t look good. Hopefully nobody has to die in this case.
4 The True Russian Orthodox Church
Founded by Pyotr Kuznetsov, this 30-member-strong sect of the Russian Orthodox Church believed the end was nigh—how very original. In 2007, their intrepid leader informed them that they should all go hide in a cave in the Russian Taiga until 2008 (after Armageddon). Kuznetsov didn’t join them; he was in police custody… red flag?
When authorities tried to extract the cultists from the cave, worried for their safety, they threatened mass suicide. So they stayed put.
One member died of cancer, another from starvation. This prompted a small group of believers to leave, frightened that the fumes from the rotting corpses would kill them also. The rest decided enough was enough when the cave’s roof started to collapse in 2008… the year the world was supposed to have ended (surely that was a better reason?)
After attempting suicide when his predictions didn’t come true (and probably realising that he had coerced 30 people to live in a cave for a year, some of whom died, for no real reason), Kuznetsov spent the next decade in psychiatric care.
3 Black Jesus
Remember reading about when Jesus collected young girls to be in his harem before directing his followers to kill and eat them when he was done? No, that’s not in the Bible? Someone should have told Steven Tari, Papua New Guinea’s self-styled ‘Black Jesus’, because that’s what he did.
As a ‘minister’, Tari had amassed a following of around 6,000 followers into his pseudo-Christian cult. His many ‘flower girls’, scantily clad concubines that were largely under-age, prompted the Lutheran Church of PNG to declare Tari an ‘enemy of the church’.
Tari, aided by the so-called ‘Queen’ of Tari’s flower girls, Bramarhal Herman, raped and killed 13-year-old Rita Herman, Bramahal’s daughter. He is also suspected of further sacrificial murders and cannibalism.
He was eventually arrested in 2005. Tari convinced a Lutheran minister who was counselling him to join his flock, aiding the murderous cult-leader in his escape. What did he do on the run? Why, collect more underage girls for his harem, of course. Sick bastard.
By 2007, some villagers that had grown tired of Tari’s crimes dragged him from his mountain stronghold and beat him to within an inch of his life. By 2010, he had recovered enough to stand trial and was duly sentenced to 20 years in prison.
But the ever-resourceful ‘Black Jesus’ managed to pull another miracle by escaping prison in 2013. After allegedly murdering another woman in the village of Gal, Madang Province, Tari ran out of luck. The enraged villagers hacked him to pieces. He did not rise from the dead.
2 The Eleven
The Chundawat family from Burari, India were a well-respected family that led a very strange double life.
In 2018, authorities were alerted when a family friend, Gurcharan Singh, noticed the Chundawat’s grocery store was closed. He entered the family home to check on them. What he found was truly horrifying—all eleven family members were dead. Ten of them were hanged from the ceiling in the hallway, their hands tied and heads covered in cloth, their mouths and eyes masked. The eldest member of the family, 77-year-old Naryani Devi, was found strangled in an adjoining room.
Having pawed through the diaries the family kept, police came to the conclusion that 45-year-old Lalit Chundawat, who believed that he had become possessed by the spirit of his dead father, had been conducting various rituals in order to bring the family greater prosperity for a number of years. Given the lack of evidence of any struggle, it seems the family willingly hanged themselves, perhaps not considering that this would actually kill them (as written instructions of the ritual suggest—they would all return from the dead). There was a bowl of chana dhal found in the kitchen, suggesting the family were soaking them for a meal the next day.
This is a strange case of mass psychosis that we usually associate with larger, doomsday-style cults.
1 The Zealots And The Natives
A group of lay preachers entered the Panamanian coastal region to evangelise to the native Ngabe people. Their style was less televangelist and more Spanish Inquisition, however; in order to get the natives to ‘repent their sins’, the members of the ‘New Light of God’ sect beat, burned and hacked people to death with machetes. Police descended on the area, freeing 14 Ngabe villagers who had been tied to trees and beaten with clubs and Bibles. These victims included children and pregnant women.
Caches of weapons and cash were found near an improvised church, as were the bodies of 6 children ranging between 1 and 17 years old and the body of an adult, alongside the sacrificed corpse of a goat. Ten people were arrested for the crimes. Like the case of Steven Tari, it is difficult to ascertain where exactly this type of behaviour is suggested in the Bible…
About The Author: CJ Phillips is a storyteller, actor and writer living in rural West Wales. He is a little obsessed with lists.