Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Cults": Awareness and Avoidance

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 Evaluation 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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