Thursday, September 29, 2011


The Best Time I Almost Joined a Cult

Last year, I was d-e-p-r-e-s-s-e-d. I had just been dumped by my stoner boyfriend (and then rebounded with a dude who asked, in all sincerity, if puppies were born live or hatched out of eggs), my freelance work was drying up, and I thought all of my friends hated me and that my life was descending into a black hole of quicksand.

So at a fancy dinner party over the holidays, I met a cool girl. We’ll call her C.

C and I bonded over music and being vegetarian, and I secretly coveted the way she could get away with wearing thigh-high wooly socks with shorts, all the while shoving tiny pieces of cake into her mouth. She shared my disappointment over our lack of meaningful work, the demise of our dreams, the burdens of modern life. Maybe it was the wine, but I felt like she got me. She just looked at me with her big round eyes, empathizing. You know how you meet someone and you instantly feel comfortable enough to tell them all the weird shit that goes on in your head? I usually do this on first dates (which obviously never lead to second dates).

C told me about a group that she attends every Saturday evening. It’s a group of young women, just like me, burnt out on life, searching for meaning. They talk about their problems and they celebrate their successes. There’s a man that runs the group. He used to be a writer, and then he found that his true calling was helping women find their potential. He was an inspiration, which of course was her word.

“It’ll light your fire for sure,” she said, and I gave her my email address, urging her to keep in touch. Who couldn’t use some new friends and some motivation to follow their dreams?

So, jump to a few weeks later, and there I was inside some yoga studio in lower Manhattan. I saw C, and she seemed so excited that I actually showed up. (“You’ll love it!,” she exclaimed, giving me a big hug.) I took off my shoes and sat down on the floor, feeling slightly relieved that there were indeed plenty of other girls there, too. They were young, friendly, and they looked smart enough. Definitely none of them had a look like, “We are going to dismember your body in the basement later.”

Most of the girls seemed to know one another, so I sat there and awkwardly listened in on conversations about so-and-so’s new apartment, the vintage skirts bought on Etsy, someone’s awful boss. The girl in front of me in a flowery dress with long curly hair turned around and asked who had sponsored me. Sponsor was a new word to me in terms of this whole thing, but I mentioned how I had met C at a dinner party, and she had asked me to come.

All the girls quickly fell silent when the man entered the room, though. Prior to the meeting, the only things I knew about him were that he went by a weird fake name, and he had a creepy photo of himself up on his website, where he's basically making Derek Zoolander’s “blue steel” face.

In his message online, this guru guy described these meetings as a way to utilize “spiritual technology” to tap into “highly targeted information” located at the “level of Divine Intelligence.” I had no fucking clue what that meant, but I once spent a summer in a Taiwanese monastery so I’m usually up for anything.

Anyway, this guy actually seemed like a pretty normal man in person. He was funny and charming, cracking jokes to lighten the mood. He talked for a bit about how you shouldn’t be afraid of things, and how you should always follow your soul’s instincts, whatever that meant. Then he asked some of the girls to come up to the mic and share either their problems or successes of the week.

One girl was beaming when she stepped up to the mic, and said she had a few writing jobs come in since she started doing “the work” and believing in her true potential or whatever. Another girl had gotten up and was about share a problem, but then she started crying a little, and the guy asked anyone who was here for the first time to move to the other room.

A second location? Surely this was where they would cut off my toes as offerings.

So two other new girls and I followed three seasoned members of this… whatever it was. Can I just call it a cult now? It was totally a cult. I sat on the floor of the next room between a nervous goth-looking girl, and another girl who looked wildly unimpressed.

“We just want to talk to you guys for a little bit,” my new friend C said. She made a point to smile at me with her eyes, Tyra-style. I think she was trying to hypnotize me.

The three elders, who had all seemed like normal ladies in the yoga studio, then began to share their stories of how they found this dude, and his cult, and how their lives are so much more rad now. Hey wait, wasn’t C telling me how shit her life was when we met at that party?

The Unimpressed Girl asked a lot of questions, while Goth Girl and I mostly kept silent. The more that the three elder girls talked about “doing the work” and “following the process” and “unlocking their soul’s potential,” the more I started to think that this was getting super weird, and I wanted to leave.

And then they started talking money. For only two hundred bucks a month, you can apparently get this guy’s illustrious message (of… something?) and 25 or so new best friends who will always be there when you need help. If you are, like, totally poor, you can buy a subscription to the podcast, but that does not come with new best friends, thank you very much.

Uhh, I was having trouble just scraping together $750 every month for my Bushwick apartment.

“This all sounds really great, but…” I started, trying to explain that there was no way that I could fork over two hundos every month to this weird dude and his doe-eyed cult of girls. Besides, I didn’t even know what they really did at every meeting. I was ushered out when that girl started to cry. But every time I had an excuse, the three elder girls had a sob story about how this guru dude fixed all of their problems, and how crazy I would be to walk away from this opportunity.

“I was down to my last dollar when I met him,” said my new friend C, who at this point was totally not my friend, and was just trying to get me to open my wallet. “I believed in him, and I signed up, even though I didn’t have the money. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

At this point, I was feeling super uncomfortable and just wanted to get the hell out of that room. Should I excuse myself to go to the bathroom and then climb out a window? "Dammit, my purse is in the other room," I thought,"and what if they locked all of the doors?!"

“If you just believe, the money will find its way to you,” one of the other elder girls said, smiling. Always smiling. “Just sign up, and everything will work out financially. I promise.”

Yeah, no, thanks but no thanks.

In the end, Goth Girl and I did escape the clutches of the lady cult that night (surprisingly enough, Unimpressed Girl signed up). I got a few emails and phone calls from each of the three elder girls urging me to come back again, but then I moved, so at least I knew they wouldn’t be showing up at my door with hacksaws.

The weirdest part, though, was that maybe a week after the meeting, I got a huge tax refund in the mail. It was way more money than I was ever expecting to get. Did the money really find its way to me after all? Who the fuck knows, but I bought a lot of beer with that cash.

Jamie Schuh lives in Brooklyn and loves cats, whiskey and basketball; she maintains a super awkward blog about her childhood.

198 Comments / Post A Comment


I really want to hear about that summer you spent in a Taiwanese monastery now!


@melis Also, I was inoculated from ever joining a cult by that episode of Boy Meets World where Shawn almost joins one and they won't let Eric join because he's too weird but then Mr. Turner gets in a motorcycle and this fixes everything, somehow.

It was the last time Mr. Turner ever made an appearance on that show.


@melis Unless you count the graduation episode where Minkus made a cameo and referenced the "other side of the school," then ran offscreen, calling out, "Hey, Mr. Turner, wait up!" I don't really think of that as canon, though.


*gets in a motorcycle accident, natch.


@melis so wait, didn't Mr. Turner die in the motorcycle accident? Shit, I can't remember. Clearly I need to re-watch that show.


@melis was the Taiwanese monastery Fo Guang Shan? because if so, I did the same proooogramammmm in 2006

Kerri Mercury Morris@facebook

@melis Turner didn't die. But Feeny almost punched the shit out of Mr. Mac (cult leader) in the hospital waiting room. Or was it Alan who slammed him into the wall? I can't remember. FEENAY-FE-HE-HE-NAY?


@Kerri Mercury Morris@facebook It definitely could have been either one. Either way, it's super weird that Leisha Hailey guested on that show.

jamie schuh

@TooCool4School IT WAS!! Oh man, I did it in 2004. Best experience ever. If you ever want to reminisce, totally feel free to email me -- my name @gmail.com


That tax refund was definitely a result of your working really hard on your spiritual unlocking of the process potential.

jamie schuh

@Jaya My mom was adamant that I not deposit it, because she thought it was a huge mistake and I'd go to jail (moms???). I was like, "TOO LATE!"

Lily Rowan

Wait. His NAME is International??

jamie schuh

@Lily Rowan THEY'RE GONNA FIND ME NOW!!!!! (I REALLY wanted to mention that, too. Best part.)

Lily Rowan

@jamie schuh I'm sorry! I just googled!


@Lily Rowan The young protege on his Founder's Page looks about to make a run for it




Loved this! So weird and sort of sad to think that rackets like this still exist and that there are plenty of lonely, searching people all too eager to give their money away. I've known a couple of people fall for those Landmark seminars, which also promise you eternal self-confidence and the moon and the stars for the simple fee of like 300 bucks per class or something. Nuts.



It's a great story. Thanks, Hairpin!

dj pomegranate

@DickensianCat my ex-bf joined the Landmark Fix Your Life with Rainbows and Dewdrops and Unicorns for Only A Million Dollars. He soon became an Elite Unicorn Member or whatever. Sessions cost I am not kidding $750 for a weekend. A weekend (more like every other weekend, actually) that he was not paying attention to his girlfriend. This drove me nuts because it sounded insane, but what really drove me nuts? Was when we got into a fight because I'd spent $500 on 6 months of awesome personal training sessions. Because *that* was money poorly spent.


@dj pomegranate Holy cow, that's even more expensive than I remember hearing! But what better comeuppance than what you each had to show for your money in the long run--in your case, a rocking body and increased fitness and confidence, and in his case, a hot ex-girlfriend and the hollow promise that he can totally find inner happiness-for just one more measly payment of $750!


@DickensianCat OMG. My first thought was also of Landmark. I had a friend in high school whose whole family was really into Landmark (as well as homeopathy and self-help in general) and I always thought it sounded hippie-dippy and cultish because whenever I would ask my friend what it was, the explanation was highly couched in vague self-help terminology (I remember something about how we all have bad habits called "rackets" and Landmark helps reveal them, etc). Then I went to a visitor/guest night with her and holy shit it was weird. I knew for sure it was cultish craziness when my friend's family started relying solely on Landmark to treat my friend's extreme anorexia. Very healthy!


@DickensianCat AAAAAHHHH one of my friends is really into Landmark and wanted me to go to stuff for awhile. However, I am flaky about going to what sounds like boring seminars and am definitely not into giving boring seminar people my money. How is it not obviously a racket to everyone!? If they're really so amazing, why aren't they a non-profit!


@DickensianCat Wow--I think one of my friends does that? Or she'd done it a couple of times and was really into it? Actually, she was a bit nuts. She'd had a bit of a troubled childhood (basically so hopped up on unnecessary antidepressants she didn't have an adolescence, so she acted like a teenager in her mid-twenties) but she kept saying how Landmark had told her to forgive people and let go of stuff etc etc and despite that she was the most passive-aggressive person I knew. And a lot of the stuff she was supposed to let go of and forgive people for sounded to me like stuff she actually should have spent some time considering and being angry about, so she could work through it, rather than placidly brushing it under the carpet.


@DickensianCat I was just this past week trying to remember what this particular cult was called. About 13 years ago I was encouraged (read: required) to go to one of Landmark's seminars by my employer(!?). Needless to say I left the company within a few months of that experience.


@DickensianCat Argh, one of my friends tried to make me go to Landmark. I said I didn't have two weeks worth of rent to spend on a conference, and she got mad and told me that I should just sign up and the money would come. We had a big fight!


@DickensianCat Oooh! I had a roommate in college who talked me and a bunch of her other friends into attending her Landmark Seminar "graduation ceremony" which turned out to be just a giant evening-long sales pitch aimed at getting poor college students to part with their precious ramen-and-beer money if we wanted any shot at a fulfilling life. Apparently, locking us in a room and making use connect 4 dots with 3 lines was supposed to acquaint us with the "best bits and pieces of the world's religions and philosophies." I felt so betrayed that I couldn't stand to so much as look at my roommate after that and our interactions degraded into exclusively communicating via post-it notes (the real winner in all this, I suppose, ended up being 3M). Admittedly, looking back, I probably shouldn't have been so shocked. The roommate was raised a Scientologist, so she was probably better conditioned than I to be cool with parting with money she didn't have for the sake of a few new catchphrases and the occasional riddle.


@DickensianCat AAAAAAAH!!!! I totally went to the initial Landmark meeting at the urging of a good friend (who's still majorly entrenched) a number of years ago. I felt so weird and shamed I actually signed up for and paid for one of the workshops (thankfully only a hundred bucks), then talked with my therapist about it who had some experience wit these charlatans. She gently urged me to take a closer look at things, and I never ended up going to the weekend or whatever it was. THANK GODDDD!!!
After spending my 3rd and 4th years in a cult called the "Circle of Light" and doing a midnight run with my Mom and sisters (cause the cult had threatened to find my Mom, kill her and kidnap me and my sisters), I feel I dodged a bullet.
Update: The leader of the "Circle of Light" has since been arrested in California for running a prostitution ring. I think he's still in jail. He may have claimed all of my mother's worldly belongings at one point to further his cause, but at least I'm not some damaged prostitute who thought she was serving "Krishna" or whatever. I have enough problems with my excessive vanity/self hatred/advanced daddy issues/trying to be a grown-ass woman getting shit done.


@dj pomegranate

Man, two of my friends were really heavily involved with Landmark, and they eventually became facilitators. After turning down numerous invitations to go to weekly meetings, events hosted at their apartment, and evading endless phone calls aimed at targeting my insecurities (some of which at times brought me to tears), looking back I can say that it made me so uneasy that it destroyed our friendship and we haven’t talked since.

It’s funny how that program emphasizes how it can make “a positive, permanent shift” in your life and improve your “quality of relationships” with other people.

I still think about that program and a lot of the things that they were coached to tell me, because they were “invested in me”. That shit is seriously way too scary to even believe that it’s real.


@DickensianCat After everyone's horror stories about Landmark, I'm prolly gonna seem super nuts... But honestly, I did the basic course and it was really helpful. It provided a framework for me to transform my feelings about/relationship with my dad (who has a long history of addiction, abandonment & general deadbeatery.) My mom, my sis, my bestie and all my 4 aunts have done it as well in the last few years and it helped a few get out of shit marriages & jobs, and helped others to work through ongoing boyfriend issues and come to way better places in their relationships & career. Years later, we all still use some of the communication strategies.
I was and am still annoyed by their complete lack of analysis of structural inequality... & they clearly have NO critique of capitalism (Hard $ell for further enrollment!!!) The lecture style pedagogical methods would be frowned upon by my educational theorist boo Paulo Freire. But I figure if it helped accomplish what years of therapy would not for myself and people I love, it can't be all bad, right?


Soooo, the message I'm taking away from this is not to open my door to strangers, even if they're sweet, doe-eyed, ladies BECAUSE THEY KNOW WHERE I LIVE??? I read an article on Gawker about this guy who was madly in love with this girl for two years, was going to marry her, and then found out that she was in a cult and wanted him to move to Montana or something with the cult and drink the Kool-Aid. What is it with ladies and cults?


@Kadie They're full of CHOCOLATE!


@Kadie It is not just ladies and cults. I was dating a guy recently who turned out to be a Scientologist, which he insisted was not a cult and that I just did not understand how great it was, so I broke up with him.

jamie schuh

@Kadie Ha! Kadie lives in my old apartment, so they are totally coming for her next.


Methinks the tax refund was the universe's way of saying, "Way to avoid the sketch. Drinks on me."


@applestoapples and also good for you for doing your taxes, and isn't it great that tax people know how to do those calculations so it feels like a Fluevog Authorization Present when you get the check in the mail?


@AnthroK8 i.e., also the government's way of saying, "Thanks for not joining a tax-exempt cult, because we could sure use a chunk of your salary."


@applestoapples As cults go, I think the IRS is a much better option than some predatory dude in a yoga studio in Manhattan. So, yeah.


...Does this mean we can stop sending Janedith our weekly offering of hard cash and tender sweetmeats?

Lady Pennyface

@atipofthehat OK, someone has to have created an account under "Janedith" with that merged photo as the avatar, right? Anyone?


@Lady Pennyface

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley?


I love how this story starts out all sad and ends with you buying beer with The Secret money! I love a happy ending.

But seriously, I work with a young woman who I think is trying to train to be a cult leader? At first I was worried about her drinking the Kool-Aid, but now she's all "certified" in Life Coaching something something Positive Psychology THE SECRET and she's freaking me out. Occasionally one of us will be bitching about a boss or boyfriend problem or something equally mundane and she'll turn on her LAW OF ATTRACTION charms and start doing the smize thing. There's no point to this story, I guess, other than is it OK for me to totally shoot this girl down as being ridiculous? Because I don't buy any of what she's selling.


@KatieWK When you say "train to be a cult leader," I imagine some Rocky-esque montage with pump-up music playing in the background. Is there a cult-leader equivalent to "using a side of beef as a heavy bag"?


@boyofdestiny I think it involves sitting back in your chair with a smug-ass grin on your face, locking your eyes on an inanimate object, and trying to get it to hurl itself across the room, a la Matilda.


@KatieWK MAN, I would love to be a cult trainer person with the smizing and the Laws of Attraction thing. finally, something I'd be good at!

But I hate cults, so I guess this won't happen.


I ran right down here to say:


"There’s a man that runs the group."


Predator off the starboard bow!


@AnthroK8 "I guess...I guess if you can't afford the introductory fee, we could try to work something out between the two of us. But you really can't tell the other girls."


@melis Do we have to go to a shady yoga studio to... um... make this deal go down?

The Lady of Shalott

A dude who asked, in all sincerity, if puppies were born live or hatched out of eggs?



@The Lady of Shalott I also wish to hear more about this dude.

Ms. Information

@The Lady of Shalott I want to Ask a THIS DUDE!


@Ms. Information I had scrambled puppy eggs this morning. Still full.


@The Lady of Shalott RIIIIIIIIIIIICH.


@zidaane Is it easy to remove the fur?

Ms. Information

@zidaane You should stick to the teacup breeds.

jamie schuh

@The Lady of Shalott He also told me that if you look a turtle in the eyes, it will steal your soul. Just turtles, though. We're actually still friends!


@jamie shuh Did you date my sister's boyfriend? We were in the kitchen eating breakfast last summer when he idly asked while shoving down pancakes, "Have y'all ever seen a squirrel egg?"

They are still together...


1. Go to cult meeting
2. let the money find it's way to you without signing up
3. ????
4. Sudden beer money!


Well, I don't know about y'all but I'M going to sit at the welcome table.


@Pizzahut Would you like to buy a flower?


@Pizzahut I remember things! There's a song... about a table... and we're going to sit. at. it?

john robert wallace@twitter

Very funny. Already made my way to the Future Memoir for additional hilarity. I demand more stories!

jamie schuh

@john robert wallace@twitter Thank you! Childhood is so weird and hilarious, and sometimes your dad takes you to a monster truck rally "to bond" !


@jamie schuh Can you tell the story of your brother's attempted siblingcide? That one made me really curious.


This reminds me of the time Jeri Blank joined a cult on Strangers With Candy, except this has a happier ending (though no video of Stephen Colbert singing "The King of Glory").

Anyone? No? Just me?


@mlle.gateau Me too! (see above!) I get this song in my head constantly, which is pretty creepy.


@Pizzahut me too me too! love that episode.


@mlle.gateau http://community.colbertnation.com/Video/Stephen-Colbert--King-Of-Glory-Liturgical-Dance/0C7E3FFFF01AD6EB5001700BE59E6


@Pizzahut One better: I was raised Catholic, and this is legitimately a song that is sometimes sung in church.

I could never keep a straight face when it was used in the service, because I really wanted to do the Stephen dance the whole time.


@mlle.gateau YESSSSSSSS I was actually thinking about that episode yesterday because I listened to the Carter Family's recording of "I'm Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table." And then this article. And I talked to a crazy Christian Mystic/ex-krishna today. So I need to join a cult.

Katie Scarlett

@skipperdee Sometimes I get that Welcome Table song stuck in my head and I really feel nutso


I wonder what they were doing w/the crying girl in the other room.


I've been really depressed lately and actually went to church last sunday. I found it kinda soothing and this confuses rational me.


@elsbels Ohhh I always find chuirch super upsetting, so glad I don't go any more!


@iceberg *church.


@elsbels my cold shriveled anthropologist <3 warmed at this because CULTURE!

(everyday me says feel soothed now, enquire rationally about why when you aren't being dogged by Grim later.)


@iceberg I mostly quit because you can never tell if you will hear something super interesting and inspiring (a discussion of the Greek origins of the word humility and its changing meanings... or an anti-gay screed... or a social justice preferential option for the poor rant... or some juicepriest making fun of nuns who want to be ordained...)

Speaking of dysfunctional systems.

I figure an instiution that requires you to be able to take the very worst in the hopes of gaining access to the best, no matter how you feel is... a problem.

Also I don't care if God exists. So that is a hitch.


@AnthroK8 Ahhh, yes! Everything you just said! "Also, I don't care if God exists" is now going to be how I end every tortured religion discussion I have with my still-Christian friends.




@KatieWK YES! I am looking for a name for that Lack of Interest In Un/Faith that is as short and easy to figure out as, say, "atheveangelist" or "mainstream Christian" or whatever.

It's so nice not to have a dog in the GOD: Y/N? fight.

(Pssst. Hey, listen. There's this thing I go to where you just have to join and it's so amazing and...)


@melis Because he forgot to send me his check for his dues this month and failed to make an alternate arrangement.


@AnthroK8 Apagnostic.

I think that's what I am, but, eh?


@AnthroK8 Yeah, and I totally feel you on religion being alternately inspiring and revolting. It's great when you feel like you're gathered with a group of likeminded people behind a righteous cause (which, for me at least, never had anything to do with God/the Church and everything to do with human connection and helping the marginalized), but it's scary when you can feel the groupthink vibe but aren't a part of it. Ultimately, God Apathy was the dealbreaker for me as well.

(If we were at a party I would totally sign up for your cult right.this.minute.)




@KatieWK I'd suggest Gapathy, but I'm afraid that Gap scrolling ad will come back to the Hairpin and those were some of the worst days of my life. I didn't mean to roll over it - GODDAMMIT NOW I GOTTA HEAR ABOUT THE SECRET DENIM LOFT IN LA AGAIN


@elsbels This is why I attend hippie church! It started out with the unitarians/universalists (who mainly read philosophy/short stories out loud and sang 60s beatles songs), but now I've moved on to the rebel catholics. We are going to the church that someone in seminary referred to as a "den of sin" - and I thought, sounds like the place for me. They are always in trouble with the diocese for their rainbow paraphenalia and anti-war protests. AND they share the church building with a charter school for social justice. I <3 them.

(this is apparently my cult. but I rarely put more than a few dollars in the collection plate, so it's a hell of a lot cheaper)


@elsbels NY has a thing called The Society for Ethical Culture, which, as far as I can gather, is a secular humanist church kind of thing. http://www.nysec.org/ Maybe there's one in your area, too? The idea totally appeals to me, but I still haven't managed to get up early enough on a weekend morning to make any of their events.


@melis I'm not sold on Gapathy, but The Secret Denim Loft would make a great cult name.


I was trying to explain secular humanism to a coworker (at a very conservative religious school) who asked me what Unitarian Universalists believe. I started by explaining that UU's don't have a set creed and that they tend to be more concerned with taking care of people in this life-- which is when the lady cut me off with, "Oh-- like a mission church."


@elsbels This is my exact philosophy on religion! I'm not an agnostic-- it's not that I "don't know" if there's a god, it's that I just really couldn't care less. I was raised religious, in the Evangelical, goes-to-church-thrice-weekly, attends summer camps that teach how to convert your friends kind of way, and I really feel like I spent so much damn energy thinking about it for the first 18 years of my life that I used it all up. We need a name for this. I propose...apathnostic. (Yes?)


@blily Also: I remember being excited when the book "Good without God" was getting press. It's nice to know there is a community of people who realize morality doesn't rely on a God/afterlife/punishment.


@MissMushkila I love my hippie church as well. We march in the pride parade every year and once hosted a run of the Vagina Monologues in our sanctuary. But even if I didn't go to a liberal, "cool" church, I wouldn't be ashamed of it. If folks want to think I'm a brainwashed moron because I go to church, so be it--I don't really give a shit.


@SuperGogo Yeah, I go to church sometimes with my mom (mostly, though occasionally alone), and I like it. I was raised going to church, but in a very casual, we're always late kind of way, and though I have problems with things that Churches sometimes do, I like my church. I hate that people have to feel like there's something wrong with them for getting something out of going to church.


@sam.i.am exactly. It would take so much ENERGY!


@mirror_father_mirror Yes.


@selkie86 I do understand that. But the thing is, I am appreciative of what religion is and how it works for people. And religions are interesting, and some of the most amazing people I know, and most brilliant thinkers, and most just are the way they are because of what they believe.

Religion matters. What people believe and don't believe matters. Good Without God is taking more of a position than I care to. I am not without God. I am Without Concern for the Existence of God. But I am not without concern for the existence of religion or people who are religious. Or who aren't religious.

I don't not believe, or believe. I just think... Liberation Theology is amazing. And so is secular humanism with Liberation Untheology as its core.

And the Dawkins take on atheism makes me effing crazy. Like, the same way the resurgent traditional catholics make me crazy.

H.E. Ladypants

@elsbels I totally get this. Everything else aside there is something about a safe time and space that is set apart from the rest of the world that you get to use for focusing on other things. I find it exceptionally good to have 1-2 hours a week where I can't fuss about but just have to be present.

hairdresser on fire

@AnthroK8 I love you? Thanks for articulating my position way better than I could have. Anthropologists in the houuuuse (of appreciation for all the different kinds of human lives).

Speaking of anthropology, a professor once said to me, "Short of a group of Neo-Nazis, and maybe even then, I could step back out of myself and find something interesting to learn about." I try to make that my position on the ol' religion thing.


@hairdresser on fire Aw! Love! Yay! And I love your professor. People. Endlessly interesting.


@selkie86 I know, to be honest I have trouble understanding people who think morality DOES rely on God etc -if you need the hope of heaven or the threat of hell to do the right thing, well, you're not really that good a person are you? Why not just act morally because it's the right thing to do, not because God is looking over your shoulder?


@mirror_father_mirror It would be a version of Absurdism. Not caring if God exists or not could be described as an Absurdist state.


@elsbels church =/= cult. I mean, depending on what church you go to. Some of them are culty. But I think cults have to demand money/services and also demand that they are the Only Thing in your Life.


this happened to my best friend! he went to this philosophy for dummies class for over a year and the whole thing was basically leading up to this fake retreat, where they drove out to a mansion in the countryside and were all lead off to separate rooms and told about this guru and that they should pay her money. he thought he was going to be murdered too! that second sentence was really long.


@pollykettle wait, it wasn't the philosophy class they always advertise in these NYC subway ads, was it?
I always see those ads and think "I like that girl's purse--nuts to the meaning of life, where did you get your bag!!"#ohladiesamIright?


@pollykettle i appreciate that you noticed the second sentence was too long yet left it unedited. huzzah!

sam c.

I think this is the website: http://www.ilovetheprocess.com/index.htm

Really interested in these types of things since I lost a friend to a Christian cult a few years back. My parents had an arranged marriage in a similar one in the early '80s and they are still together/not in a cult anymore.

jamie schuh

@sam c. There was another website specifically for these lady events, but when I clicked the link that I was originally sent, it was ~mysteriously~ gone.

That stuff is crazy, though!!


um has anyone been to a Landmark event? i get cult vibes from them but maybe i'm just one of those junkies reading every wikipedia article about Scientology.....PS I mean come on, Beck? Really?

Lily Rowan

@Crockita Landmark is totally culty.


@Crockita I know two people who dropped a significant amount of cash taking these seminars. One got bored after a few, but the other was pretty wrapped up for a few monhts and even went on a Landmark retreat in the hopes of becoming a mentor; I think in the end, luckily, her financial situation kind of forced her out of it, and when that happened all of her proselytizing about her newfound confidence and happiness conveniently fell by the wayside.


@Lily Rowan right?? i've gotten invitations (it's a pyramid scheme?) from some co-workers and random acquantainces. with one of the acquaintances, i wanted to write back to them and tell them how inappropriate I thought inviting me to these things is. but then i felt bad because maybe this genuinely helped them? *i may also be suffering from some PTSD growing up in Utah.*


@DickensianCat perhaps not coincidentally, one of them also claimed she was frequently moved to speak in tongues during church services. It seems like a certain well-meaning but gullible type are a lot more succeptible to this kind of crap than others.


@Crockita Landmark is totally a cult. A friend invited me to the tail-end of some 3-day intensive where everyone was all sleep-deprived and loopy and stupid and talking about how much their lives had changed that weekend. Then we got split off to talk with the True Believers one-on-one, and the tried to get us to register for the next thing.

This little cult sounds kind of hilarious though...how can one crash a cult?


@Crockita my mom lost her best friend to it. (as in, her best friend gave so much money to them that she couldn't pay her rent and when my mom tried to talk some sense into her, her friend stopped speaking to her) TLDR--it's a cult.


@Crockita I heard about Landmark years ago from this girl who's boyfriend was forcing her to go because she wanted to work her way up the Macy's corporate ladder. I had no idea what it was about until she and the boy left and everyone unloaded the truth on me. I wanted to run after her and save her. I think she'd lived in NY for 6 weeks or something and she'd already fallen into two traps.


One of my roommates in college was raised in a cult! She's out of it now...I wouldn't call her normal, but she's no more of a weirdo than any of the other weirdos my weirdo self knows.


Reminds me of how a friend of mine got invited to a meeting about what he thought was a start-up. It was totally Amway. Being a little older and having less patience than I would, he just told the girl he knew what it was and just couldn't stay. But he walked out of the house feeling a little dirty anyway.


I bet the unimpressed girl was a ringer, like she was planted there to act all unconvinced and huffy and then miraculously buy into it at the end so you'd be like, "well if SHE'S convinced then it must be legit!"
Or am I thinking too much into this?


@paperbuttons that is a really smart observation and i bet it's true! you'll never get tricked into joining anything wierd i bet.



Exactly what I thought. She was the "objection handler."


You should go hang out with some Unitarianas. Not a cult, not a preachy religion. Just cool people, because it sounds like you might need some community in your life :). Also, this was really creepy! Because this COULD HAVE BEEN ME. EEEEP.


@whimseywisp Unitarians* - I CAN'T SPELL, APPARENTLY.


@whimseywisp I totally mentioned the Unitarians upthread. They are awesome. At Christmastime last year they spent a service reading hilarious poems/short stories bitching about the dark side of holidays (they did a happy winter holiday one too). They also would hold little study groups about Thomas Jefferson and Epicurious and stuff.


@MissMushkila: As someone who grew up among the Unitarians, I must warn you that if you go too involved, you will eventually end up on a committee and die of soul-killing boredom. You will also see a lot of ugly sensible shoes.


@whimseywisp I grew up attending a UU church. My grandmother's UU church had summer sermons where they'd take turns giving the main talk-- she did on about plants, but I remember one being on viagra. We also had summer water ceremonies and sang a variety of songs. Not too long after 9/11 we had a discussion about the Islam and a Muslim speaker delivered the sermon.


@selkie86 Me too! And the best part was not only that we got to celebrate Hanukkah and make maple syrup, but that the minister was totally OK with chatting theology with an agnostic 8-year-old.


@whimseywisp You just don't know when to stop spelling Unitarians.


@Ophelia I grew up in a reformed protestant church (different from evangelical, more sedate) and my Dad was the pastor and he would have been TOTALLY down to discuss theology with an agnostic 8 year old. All the pastors I respect would also be down.


@Crockita Landmark, Forum, and The Basic are what I call west coast cults, I think they all grew out of EST? Every few years some friend wants me to go to their "graduation", etc where you get the hard sell to join up. To me they are slightly different than "regular" cults, in that you don't have to move in with your new bffs...but I get really into reading about cults (Synanon, various groups called The Family, FLDS, Scientology, etc)
I have a few different friends who were raised in cults, it's fascinating to me since midwestern reform judaism is pretty sedate (and you don't even have to believe in "god", just the divinity of life/the earth, these days)

Magpie Shinies

@dokuchan The only thing I remember about EST is that you couldn't use the bathroom! That's just a deal-killer for religion right there.


@dokuchan oh man, est. My Mom has hilarious stories about people she knew back in the 70s who were really into that. It was all part of that whole... human potential movement stuff. est begat the forum which begat Landmark.


One more reason, not that it was needed, not to become a vegetarian.


@Kneetoe All the upvotes for you today!

dracula's ghost



@dracula's ghost



Future Memoir is fantastic... I grew up around the same area so I creepily stalked you on facebook and we have a friend in common! Small world.

Sorry for creepily stalking you on facebook. if that is even you.

jamie schuh

@BuffyBot Really?? OMG, friend me, because now I am curious! My profile is Facebook.com/MY NAMEEE

Lady of the Spring

@jamie schuh So...totally stalked you, and I grew up in same area too (actually, the town where you went to college, which I promptly left as soon as humanly possible, aka after graduating high school). Weird!


Iiiiii have a story!!!

Okay. So a friend of a friend is a little bit fruit loops. Or a lot bit. She couch surfs and fasts and sells hemp products. Got it? Anyway, she started training with this... group... to get certified so that she, in turn, could train other people! And she was paying a LOT of money to do this. It's a sort of love/sex/orgasm... group (it's a cult! okay, it's a cult) where they talk about intimacy and have, you know, meditation and word association and such. Neat. Okay.

Then. She starts telling us about this practice of meditation that they do where they couple off and spend 15 minutes with the man part of the couple (so heteronormative, I know, fucking sex cults) using the tip of his right index finger and pressing on the upper right quadrant of the woman's clitoris (!!!) with varying amounts of pressure. And they all do this. And she told us that you could really feel the energy rise and fall in the room. My friends and I who were listening were all sitting there with a look of shock until one friend asked "so wait... everyone is just sitting there naked?" and she responded "NO! Just from the waist down!"


@insouciantlover "fucking sex cults."


This all reminds me of the time a sorority tried to recruit me in college. The selling points were basically the same.


A sister who got sucked into Scientology (out now), a very close friend who went through EST and tried to get me doing it, another friend who keeps hounding me to do some Avatar thing, an Uncle insisting Amway (cult or pyramid scheme?) is the only way. My life seems a bit cramped with cult action. I find it a bit worrying but also fascinating - from a detached distance!

Nicole Cliffe

These comments make me feel better about buying a scam charity magazine subscription from door-to-door conmen last week.


@Nicole Cliffe Nooooo what happened??

Nicole Cliffe

@melis UGH, so humiliating. I'm alone in the house, and stupid, and these two guys show up, and I would have ignored them if they were white, because then it would have been missionaries, but they weren't, and it's all "we're selling magazine subscriptions to get our lives back on track," and I could have them sent to the VA, or whatever, and the markup is WHOA, but for charity! And my dog is barking like "MOM, THIS IS NOT LEGIT," and I write a check, and they leave, and I google, and it's Exactly What You Think.


@Nicole Cliffe I gave an Underprivileged Youth $10 for his team to go to Las Vegas! He had a clipboard! Upon leaving I was like "wait... why would a 2nd place team get to go to a championship? ARGH!"

Nicole Cliffe

@insouciantlover Clipboards! Why are they so convincing??

The Lady of Shalott

@Nicole Cliffe I am 100% convinced that with a clipboard and a big jangly key ring, you can get into anywhere. You can probably make your way into the Pentagon if you have a clipboard, a big jangly key ring, and a suit on.

dracula's ghost

@Nicole Cliffe one time I gave a crazy man on the street $80 even though I knew he was lying to me. I let him LEAD ME TO AN ATM. I was emotionally mugged! It was horrible. The psychological genius of those people is totally epic, it's like once they get one little fingernail under your skin / once you've stopped just long enough for it to be for some reason awkward to just start walking again, YOU'RE DEAD.

Magpie Shinies

@Nicole Cliffe AND THEY COME INTO YOUR HOUSE. A girl stopped by our apt selling this a while ago, and she just walked IN and asked for a pen to sign us up, and would NOT leave. Keep in mind, I'm on chemo and am obviously ill, and she just kept going on about the other sick people she knew and "did we want Mechanics' Weekly?"

We finally had to straight up ask her if it was a school sales, because she kept intimating it was. Even after that the only thing that got her to leave was for my husband to start smoking. Hilariously, that worked.


@Nicole Cliffe I totally also bought one once. I fell for the hard luck story. I didn't even need a subscription to Fast Company that was REALLY EXPENSIVE.

sarah girl

@Magpie Shinies This is why you get a cat who desperately wants to escape the house whenever you open the front door, so that you can only open it a little crack to keep the cat from darting out. Keeps cats in, keeps solicitors out!


@Nicole Cliffe Knock Knock. Who's there? Guilt. Oh, come in why don't you. I've been waiting forever...

H.E. Ladypants

@insouciantlover I apologize and tell those kids I've got diabetes. Usually that turns the guilt tables around enough that it throws them a bit off balance.


@Nicole Cliffe Any time they come to my door I just tell them to send me more information about the charity. They have my address since they're at my door. In addition if they're "High School Students" earning money for college / high school field trips / school uniforms I tell them to have their recruiter / high school teacher / coach send me a letter asking for a donation and I'd do it in a heartbeat.

They never, ever send anything. *clue!*


@Nicole Cliffe It's like the guy in Office Space! Who comes to the door selling magazines and ends up helping with their scam!


Do any of you New Yorkers know about this thing called Momentum Education? One of my not very close friends joined it and I was getting a serious cult/pyramid scheme vibe from all her new "friends" in it. But my friend would never clarify what exactly they do at their meetings, beyond that I "could really benefit from it" and I should "keep an open mind and just come check it out!!" (I wouldn't, and I won't).


And I can't stop, won't stop with the SWC references.

"'faaather, faaather, faaather, faaather' 'who's that?' 'father!'"



@insouciantlover "Thank you, Bill!"

"I remember there was this one song, about a welcome table, and people liked to sit...at...it."

"Fudge - trust - friends - fudge."

"If you want to go, go! There are no bars on our electrified fences!"

And my favorite: "No Orlando, they're my friends. If they weren't why would they have offered to wash my brain?"

I can totally do this all day long


@KatPruska hahaha, I totally posted that same quote "there was a song?" just above. And I wrote it out in almost exactly the same way.

SWC is on par with Best in Show, for me, in that I could quote them both for hours and just sit and laugh with my mouth hanging open the entire time.


@insouciantlover Well, you OBVIOUSLY don't know my dog.

Wookiee Hole

@insouciantlover Oh my God it's Alan Tudyk! He can be my cult leader any day!


@Wookiee Hole. Wait, where do I sign up for the Alan Tudyk Worshipful Cult of the Right Thinking? I'll just get my bank account info handy...


@meaux Okay, but you'll have to live with the rest of us in Safetrap House.


Is anyone familiar with Art of Living? I have a family member who has been a part of it for a few years and it has literally taken over her life. She's generally a little lonely and quirky, so initially we were happy that she found a group of people to do things with, but it's beginning to sound kind of cult-ish to me? She seems to give A LOT of money to it. I don't know much about it though - I have absolutely no experience with anything cult-like except a sorority I was briefly in during college.


@OsGirl this is a decent place to check up on various cult-y types.... http://www.rickross.com/sg_alpha.html

Magpie Shinies

Something like this almost happened to me, only it was in sales and not religion. Other than that, exactly the same.

Word to the wise - you should never have to pay into a religion OR a job.


@Magpie Shinies For me it was Cutco knives. Sold some knife sets to family members and quit. My best demonstration was when trying to cut a penny in half for a neighbor and not being able to do it.

Melissa Murray Dunning@facebook

@heyladies Cutco wouldn't let me quit! I had to make up a story about my parents taking away my car so I couldn't drive to appointments anymore before they would stop calling me.

dracula's ghost

OK, has anyone heard of the cult called "People Unlimited?" My sister-in-law's brother is a member. This cult does weird all-family sex-meditation style stuff, they all live together in one big house as sort of a vaguely FLDSy Big Love kind of thing, but they are also insane gym devotees, like part of the cult is they all have to just have the most ripped bodies imaginable. So it's all these incredibly hot, fit, healthy people living in a house with all their parents and brothers and sisters, doing weird sex meditation?

AND, they DON'T BELIEVE IN DEATH. They think that people who die are just weak and don't get it. So it's amazing, it's a cult in which everyone is always already doomed to failure, and to see everyone they love fail, again and again. Because obviously all of them do die eventually.

But it's like, if you get cancer or something and are physically faltering/fading, they reject you as a loser.


My sister-in-law says Christmas is "really awkward."


@dracula's ghost Ah their website!!! Not to be all racist and ageist or anything but I feel like anytime you see a website with several moderately attractive middle-aged white people who look just a TINY bit too well-groomed, bad news is in store. So far this holds true for the Presbyterian church I once attended in Texas, and the People Unlimited cult. I'm sure there have been more.


1. This thread has given me reading material for the next month.
2. My gift to you: ECKANKAR. I accidentally walked into one of these meetings as a teenager, and have been able to share my very own best time I accidentally walked into a cult meeting story ever since.


@heb Do tell!


Arrrggghhh my old housemate was a Landmark cult member. She was basically the most evil, f-ed up passive aggressive I've met. She has a threesome of other Landmark girls in her room - I mean not as a sex thing but as a RELATIONSHIP thing which they had to all get out and announce to their families, Landmark-style. Obvs she was only in love with one of the girls (who looked like a troll) and did it to split them up.

The troll moved in after 2 weeks (no rent paid, of course) and was given the key - I did not know any of this. When I voiced my concern I was attacked. Soon after that the troll moved all her stuff into the loungeroom, and was seen every other day crying and having crises. Like every other day. One the phone line I paid for. She used my toothbrush. They used to leave their sex toys, harnesses etc lying around the house. They'd come in every night at midnight, banging doors and get up at 6am again banging doors etc with their first phone calls to the other cult members to teach them how to live their lives. The cat she brought into the house was abandoned - I looked after it. Her parting shot to me (after 8 months of this sort of increasing insanity) after I said get the hell out was that I was planning to kill her cat - she also reckoned she called the cops on me.

They were the most disgusting immoral people I have ever beheld. Don't get me started on Landmark.



Buy the well-used La-Z-boy recliner.
Do not clean it.
Give it to them as a present!

Queen of Uncool@twitter

It was lost on me as soon as you said this GUY realised he wanted to help ladies.. yeah, ok. Just ladies. Uhuh. I also want to know about the monastery!


From the 'The Process' cultsite, regarding their meetings: "It's kind of like exfoliating your belief systems with an invigorating salt-scrub." *Finally* a cult that uses similes we lady-types can totally understand. Spiritual salt-scrub: *now* I get it!


I am clearly in the wrong line of work.

Also, let's all sing it together: duhnuhnuhnuhnuhnuhnuhnuh LEADER. duhnuhnuhnuhnuhnuhnuhnuh LEADER. LEADER, LEADER, BATMAN, I mean, LEADER.


@kayjay man, i was waiting for that FOR SO LONG


I did not realize how many cults were in New York!

Also once my friend joined a cult. It sucked. He gave away all his stuff and cut his hair off (shockingly badly) and I was allowed to see him, in an alley outside the cult's residence, once, long enough to hug him and say, "I MISS YOU GET OUT OF THIS," and then some months later he walked seven miles to my house and I made him soup and he wasn't in the cult anymore. Did I mention that it sucked?

Julianna L Powell@facebook

@Pixley Whoa! How incredibly harrowing! And what a wonderful friend (life-saver?) you are. I hope he is doing great now, and I just bet that soup was delicious... :)


When I got dumped last year, a friend persuaded me to spend a week with her at a "retreat." It involved listening to a senile Indian guru tell repetitive stories to rapt audiences of his devotees. This dude has five "Mothers" - American women who have given up their lives to follow him around the world, feeding and taking care of him. Lots of chanting, too. So broken-hearted and lost was I that I actually wired money to his cult in India, and then the guru called me out in front of all the culties for not giving enough. I walked out of the room and never looked back.

Ironic Hipster Meme

So, new theory! Every time a girl I think is my friend suddenly disappears, I'm just going to assume they joined a cult. That works, right?


Ok, but like...a group of women getting together to support each other sounds awesome? Right? Oh my god I think I'm this cult's demographic.


ITT : Absurdist Revival! Bless you all (or not, who cares!)


@scrawler - was that employer Lululemon? They require employees to go to Landmark, aka The Forum, aka est. Which is why I don't buy their clothes. That, and they are OVAH-PRICED.

in high school, when anyone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said "cult deprogrammer." Secretly, I just really wanted to go inside and be a fly on the wall.


Damn it. I guess it's time to finally start that cult I've been thinking about.


Cults come in many different forms. There are the obvious ritualistic ones and then there are the slightly cleverer ones which entice you in by using different methods....beware of any social grouping which makes you feel great as though part of a family but only if you follow certain rules or certain persons and which also carry an implied risk of TOTAL rejection/cut off if you disagree with anything or leave. Real, true, honest friends/family/groups just don't operate like that. Hard to find sometimes but they are out there.


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