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It would be difficult to exaggerate
the degree to which we are
influenced by those we influence
                    Eric Hoffer

Cults: Master and Organization

On this page:
 The Master |
Superior knowledge | Authoritarian personality | Charisma

In the West, we tend to think of the 'leader' operating alone. This is especially important to recognize because we tend to assign blame to the leader. In doing this we do not look too closely to the organization itself, but also those who are high up in that organization.

For example, we blame Hitler for the evils of WWII. But how many people dismiss the other monsters around him as mere 'henchmen?' These people weren't lackeys. They were full blown monsters in their own right ... and they were more directly responsible for the deaths of millions than Hitler. And speaking of huge numbers, there were literally a million people trying to claw their way 'up the organization' within the Nazi party.

That old homily is true: Birds of a feather, flock together. The leader however, is the one who excels at a certain behavior. but that doesn't mean he's the only one. Those who both rise in -- and strongly influence the culture of -- the organization are lesser versions of the same monster.

The leader and the organization are a symbiotic being. And although for communication purposes we need to separate them as two, as you read these pages, keep in mind how deeply intertwined these elements are with everything else.

The Master
 A recurring point all experts agree is one of the defining marks of a cult is a single, charismatic, authoritarian leader. It is his personality that not only determines the nature of the group, but binds the group together. This is a key point, because very seldom will the cult last beyond the death of such an individual. What will usually happen is after the death of the Master is that the group will splinter into smaller cults, each claiming to hold the "True" teachings of the Master. Some will survive and mutate, most will dissolve (1).

These so-called masters have three recurring points: 1) claims superior knowledge 2) charisma and 3) an authoritarian personality. The supposed superior knowledge will be used as appeal to bind old cult members and attract new recruits, while the charisma will hide the manipulative and authoritarian personality. Although these issues are addressed individually, they are intermixed and strongly support each other.

A thorough psychoanalytical assessment of cult leaders can be found here, in a essay by Daniel Shaw. An excerpt from  Captive Hearts, Captive Minds by Madeleine Landau Tobias and Janja Lalich can be found at
While they basically say the same thing the second one describes these tendencies in less technical terms.

There are three main identifiers that will help you spot the Master of a martial arts cult.

Superior knowledge
The Master isn't just offering any old truth, he is offering THE TRUTH™. His inspired knowledge on the subject (which he will reveal to you for all your money and control of your life) is beyond the keen of any other person in the field. What's more there is a good chance that it is beyond the understanding of mere mortals. And that is a big part of the appeal to the insecure ... are you worthy of such enlightenment?

Authoritarian personality  
Another charming trait of cult leaders and those surrounding them is the concept of the authoritarian personality. Although not a recognized DSM IV personality disorder, it is an ugly blend of Narcissistic personality, Paranoid personality, Obsessive-Compulsive, Histrionic Personality Disorders and about sixteen different ugly disorders.

Often when people hear about cults and their behaviors they wonder "How could anyone fall for that?" Aside from the fact that there is a huge number of followers with either Dependant Personality Disorder or Narcisstic Personality Disorder among the ranks, the simple fact is these leaders could charm the socks off a snake. They are that charismatic. This and the offer to solve all your deep-seated insecurities and self-esteem issues make them very appealing to the above mentioned mindsets

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1) The only notable exception to this is Scientology. However, that is a very specialized set of circumstances where L. Ron Hubbard had not been seen by rank and file cult members for at least 10 years. Control was slowly transferred to the cult bureaucracy, who maintained the impression that the founder was alive, but on an extended retreat. Messages, books, decrees and memos were continually produced by the Church with his name on it although no new images or recordings of him were produced during that time.
Then, the IRS went after him. What resulted was a few years of stalling and working through intermediaries (lawyers), until he was ordered to personally appear in tax court. A few days before he was to appear, he conveniently died ... his death certificate signed by a Scientology doctor.
No one outside the cult's upper management really knows when this hack science fiction writer who had founded a cult really died. The extended absence of Hubbard and transference of power during that time, however, makes Scientology one of the few cults that survived the death of it's founder. Return to text

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