How to Become a Cult Guru

or, You Too Can Induce Mass Suicide

by Phil Milstein

Becoming a cult leader is not as tough as you might think. All it takes is a little charisma and some insecure, feeble-minded followers. The reasons you might wanna become one are many -- it pays well (and all of it tax-exempt), you get lotsa nookie, you can get other people to do your laundry, etc. As a cult guru, it is kind of tough to get health insurance benefits, but that's really about the only downside to a career as a leader of men, women and bastard offspring. What follows, then, is a set of E-Z instructions by which you can soon amass your own group of pasty-faced, glassy-eyed sycophantic no-hopers who will do your bidding for you.

Rule #1: Confidence = Charisma

To be a messiah you don't have to be big (Charles Manson was only 5'2"), you don't have to be smart (David Koresh had an IQ of 89), and you don't have to be good-looking ('though it doesn't hurt). All you have to be is confident, to the absolute. Once you've established your basic set of core beliefs -- your schtick, as it were -- no matter how ridiculous they may be, entertain no doubts and brook no arguments. They are truth, and by extension so are you. Remember that everyone you meet is, deep inside, like a scrawny branch wavering in the stiff wind of life, just waiting for a big tree to sprout up alongside and protect them. Be that tree.

Rule #2: Charisma is Relative

To be charismatic, you don't have to be JFK or Madonna. There are always people more impressionable than yourself, and as long as you can find those people, you too can have charisma, even if those feebs are the only ones who sense it. This has been the key to the cult equation from Christ to Koresh.

Rule #3: Cultivate Your Schtick

For better or worse, it's no longer sufficient for the potential guru to simply spout chapter and verse from the King James. People can get that kind of stuff anywhere -- there's way too much competition in the straight Jesus field, and most of the others are much better at it than you'll ever be. The trick is to find an angle, some niche, and it needn't even involve the Good Book.

Keep in mind that it doesn't really matter what tripe you feed your troupe, so long as you feed it to them with unswerving conviction. I read about one guru down in Australia who has nine wives and 69 children, and all he ever preaches to them about is equal rights for women and Hawaiian culture! A recent issue of Vanity Fair had an interesting article about cults, which referred to the Rev. Thomas Lake Harris, who founded a colony in upstate New York in the 19th century. According to the article, "Harris believed that a race of tiny fairies inhabited women's breasts, with kings and queens in the left breast and priests and priestesses in the right." And people fell for it.

Armageddon is always an excellent lynchpin around which to hang a schtick. One cult out in California is building several of its own rocketships, the better to escape the coming End Times with. Elizabeth Clare Prophet's Church Universal and Triumphant, like most of the major kook outfits, is also predicting that the end of the world is imminent. She has hundreds if not thousands of followers who have nestled themselves in the mountains of Montana, with an underground fortress that could sustain them for months. They are armed to the eyeballs, and if like the Branch Davidians they decide to provoke their own Apocalypse they will make the scene in Waco look like a Cub Scout jamboree. But Prophet's preachings are nothing more than a pu-pu platter of world religion, grabbing a little bit from Jesus, a little from Mohammed, a little from Buddah. Her many marks buy it, and they eat it up.

There's an audience of willing believers out there for almost any kind of manifesto. Take one that already exists, add a few elements from another, twist it into you own words and presto, you've got a dogma worthy of any small band of mayonaisse-eaters. Try telling people you're the reincarnation of Mahatma Ghandi and you've been brought back to earth to preach the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Or that Albert Einstein comes to you every night to interpret the Quran. Libertarianism and survivalism are red-hot these days, so you might try thinking along those lines. Use your imagination and above all, believe in what you say with everything you've got.

Rule #4: Finding the Feebs

Locating your marks is one of the easiest steps in building a cult of your own, because they practically grow on trees. A favored method is to figure out a particular personality that might be most prone to falling for your schtick, and go after that type exclusively.

To paraphrase Elvis, white trash is as white trash does, there's no in-between, you're either with it all the way or you've blown the scene. In other words, try the laundromat. Down at the local suds parlor you'll find oodles of brain-dead scum, just sitting around twiddling their thumbs and spitting pumpkin seeds. Perfect cult fodder. An idle comment can lead to an innocuous conversation can lead to a subtle introduction to your confidence, your magnetism and, ultimately, your compound. Play your cards carefully and you can put out three or four successful invitations to your next communal dinner and/or prayer session per load of laundry. And before long they'll be doing your laundry for you.

You needn't end your search at the laundromat, of course. Remember the Elvis dictum, and go where the feebs go, especially where they're most likely to have time on their hands and be more susceptible to your interest in them. Bingo parlors are good. Little league games, too. Bowling alleys and pool halls. White-bread church services. BBQ pits. Seek out those who seem to be alone, and those who act like whipped pups. Manson preyed on teenage hitchhikers, 'though you won't find too many of them these days. Koresh went after Australians. Again, use you imagination; think like your potential victims think. Don't rule out ethnics. And above all, remember that no matter how dumb you are, most of the population is even stupider, so almost everyone you meet is worth your consideration.

Rule #5: Winning Them Over

Since you've already stereotyped your prey, you can now devise a formula approach that will be most effective with that type. Brainwashing is OK, I suppose, but it merely attacks the person's superficial belief system and not their fundamental beliefs, so it is inadequate for long-term devotion. To truly capture the body you must truly capture the mind, and the first step in doing so is to figure out your mark's weaknesses. Think big -- decide if they're insecure, alienated, feeling unloved, etc. A big fat juicy sucker will most likely exhibit symptoms of all of these and more, and be ripe for the picking. The specific weaknesses will differ from person to person, so stay flexible, but you should be able to select one general scheme and stick with it for everyone.

Once you've sussed out the Achilles heal, your formula will practically devise itself. Whatever your potential followers' needs are, give to them in grand, exaggerated gestures. If they want for food and shelter, provide them with sumptuous meals and a comfortable bed, and make sure they know they can stay as long as they like. If it's love they long for, you cannot possibly show them too much of it, and passing a little pooty their way couldn't hurt, either. If it's spiritual fulfillment they're after, go all-out with the holy-holy routine, and don't rule out speaking in tongues -- it's hard to come up with a convincing counter to somebody speaking in tongues. If lack of self-esteem is the problem, tell them over and over again how good they are, how worthy of being alive. Lie as much as seems necessary, and don't be afraid to pounce on any and every vulnerability they might display.

Those already won over to your way will be most helpful in seducing new recruits. Surrounding the mark with love and devotion and making your group seem like the happy family the poor schmuck undoubtedly never had will quickly fool them into believing wholly in everything you say. During the indoctrination phase gradually begin giving them chores to do, thus making some use of them while also keeping them too busy to question what's happening to them.

Before long you will have the poor sap eating out of your hand, ready to do anything you say, even die for you if necessary. Unless you rescued them from the gutter then they should have some money and worldly possessions for you to take over. If they are pleasing to the eye and approximately of the gender of your preference, then so much the better -- you've got another sex slave for your harem.

Rule #6: Sticking Around

You, being a sane, grounded individual, do not want to go up in a blaze of Apocalyptic glory --- not yet, anyway. You have found the perfect occupation to suit your meager skills, and you intend to keep the game in play for as long as possible. Achieving this takes gaining a certain measure of legitimacy, as reaching a breakwater level of antagonism towards the authorities will cause you more trouble than you really want right now.

In the cult game, the simple equation is: Longevity + Growth = Legitimacy. Simply sticking around, all the while gradually adding numbers to your membership tally, is just about all it takes to keep the heat off your back. All the Roman Catholic Church is is a cult that's managed to stick it out a couple thousand years, and as you slide down the cult chronology the legitimacy level slides down accordingly. At the next level are the acceptable Protestant churches: your Lutherans, your Methodists, your Baptists, your Calvinists, etc. Next level down you find those groups that were begun during your grand-parents' and great-grandparents' time, such as your Seventh Day Adventists, your Mormons, your Jehovah's Witnesses, your Christian Scientists. These groups by now have earned a certain grudging respect, whereby society in effect says to them, "We don't really like what you do, but you've gotten away with it thus far so we'll let you keep getting away with it." The longer you get away with it, the less hard time they'll give you.

Down one more step on this evolutionary chain of worship are those formed during your and your parents' day: your Scientologists, your Moonies, your Krishnas, your Larouchites. They are ill-regarded by mainstream society, but groups in this category have grown large enough that they are now difficult to fight. In recent years Rev. Moon and Lyndon Larouche have each been convicted of felonies and done time in the pokey, while the elusive founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, was persecuted, in absentia, for years after he had died! Yet their respective followings continue to thrive.

Finally, we come to the upstarts. These are the groups that are still officially classified as "cults," and are the ones we have mostly dealt with in this guide. They are young, small, hungry, and often nasty. Society hates them. You will be in this category for quite some time, and therefore I recommend you keep a low profile for the duration. If you've got what it takes, you can eventually begin the incremental climb up the ladder of religious respectability. If you do your job real well, perhaps one day your group will find itself joining the world's major religions upon the lofty perch of untouchability. But it can't possibly happen in your lifetime, so don't make it your primary goal.

And that's all there is to it. Six easy steps and you're on your way to a life of leisure and possible immortality. Best of luck, my friend, and may God be with you.

©1994 Phil Milstein
Reprinted from Flatter! The Journal of Oblate Puffery, #3 and Hermenaut: The Digest of Heady Philosophy for Teens, #8.

All design and uncredited content of this website ©2004 Phil Milstein