Throughout history many people have founded religions and sects based on their own belief systems. Some have become infamous for their shady, behind-the-scene practices, whilst others are notorious for their suicide pact endings. Take a look below for our list of 10 of the weirdest sects you won’t believe actually got a following.
The Unification Church of the United States is a new religious movement founded in, you guessed it, the United States. The followers are colloquially known as Moonies – a term they deem offensive. Sun Myung Moon was the founder and leader of the organization until his death in 2012. During the late 1960s and 1970s, he sent missionaries over to the States from Japan to establish the Church.
Despite only recruiting around 500 members in its first years, by 1976 Moon spoke to an audience of over 300,000 followers on the steps of the Washington Monument. Much of the criticism towards the sect comes from their religious beliefs, especially Moon himself being the apparent second coming of Christ, and the lifestyle of its members. After joining, many members give themselves full time to the Church, often at the neglect of their schooling, families, friends and career.
Perhaps the biggest controversy came in 1982 when Moon was sentenced to an 18-month prison sentence and a $15,000 fine for filing false tax returns. Many believed Moon was given an unfair trial due to religious bias, and his freedom 13 months later may have even strengthened the movement.
However, it’s probably best we don’t shed a tear for Moon’s financial loss; not only has he invested approximately $1.2 billion in the Washington Times, a newspaper he believes ‘helps spread the word of God’, but he also had a personal net worth estimated to be over $900 million.
2. Church Of All Worlds
A Neopagan religious group, the mission of the Church of All Worlds is to reawaken Gaia, the personification of the Earth, and reunite with her. Timothy Zell, otherwise known as Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, is the key founder and also serves as the Church’s bishop with his wife, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, who is the high priestess.
The Church is highly influenced by the sci-fi novel ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ by Robert A. Heinlein. Their belief is ‘there is no belief’ and the only sin one can commit is hypocrisy or interfering with another person. Morning Glory founded a research organisation to probe the mysteries of lore and legends. Its first most notable project was the creation of living unicorns, believing they were more goat-like rather than horse-like.
They have also sponsored expeditions to find mermaids which were sadly unsuccessful in their findings. Oberon has also founded and is the current headmaster of the Grey School of Wizardry, an online school which teaches a range of arcane magic.
3. Heaven’s Gate
Heaven’s Gate was a religious organization founded by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles in the late 1970s. After having a heart attack, Applewhite claimed to have had a near death experience where he saw himself and Nettles as the prophets as described in the Book of Revelation.
Mixing Christian doctrine with science fiction, specifically UFOs, they travelled the States recruiting followers. The sect’s core belief was that the Earth was about to be recycled, or ‘wiped clean’, and the only way to escape this was to leave immediately. They saw their bodies as nothing more than vessels and would often refer to them as ‘vehicles’.
All members had to give up any attachment to the planet; friends, family, sexuality, jobs, money and possessions. Only after doing so would they be able to reach the Next Level. In March, 1997, Applewhite convinced 38 followers that the Comet Hale-Bopp would be followed by a UFO and they would have to commit suicide in order for their souls to board the craft.
Drinking a mixture of a sedative, applesauce and vodka, they secured plastic bags around their heads before retreating to their bunks. The bodies were found several days later and each held $5.75 – believed to be for the planetary toll.
4. Order Of The Solar Temple
A secret society founded in 1984 by Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret, the Order is based around the ideas and existence of the Knights Templar. It has several aims; to assist humanity for the Second Coming of Christ as a solar God-King, establish correct authority in the world and unify Christianity and Islam.
They took great inspiration from famous occultist Aleister Crowley. The Solar Temple quickly spread from their founding in Geneva and soon had lodges all over the world including Canada, Australia, Switzerland and a handful of other countries. Jouret was mainly focused in recruiting the wealthy, and it is believed that several high-influencing Europeans were members.
Progression in the Order was advanced through grades and levels, with initiation at each stage advancement in lavish ceremonies. Members bought expensive costumes and jewelry as well as paying initiation fees. A sword was present, which Di Mambro claimed to be an authentic Templar artifact he had acquired a thousand years earlier in a previous life.
In October 1994, members assisted in the killing of a 3 month old child, with Di Mambro giving the order claiming that he was the anti-Christ born into the Order to cause harm from within. This was followed shortly by a Last Supper and mass suicide with the belief they were going to a higher dimension.
Amongst the dead, a mayor, a journalist and a sales member were found, showing the Order had targeted people from all walks of life. Records seized by police showed that some members had donated upwards of $1 million to the Order.
Founded by Claude Vorilhon in 1974, Raëlism is another UFO movement. Vorilhon, or Raël as he is now known, teaches that life on Earth was created by extraterrestrials by the name of the Elohim. They appear human and throughout the ages they have been mistaken as cherubs, angels or Gods. Jesus and the Buddha are two examples of this species who spread their message through each era of mankind.
Unlike most religions, Raëlism believes in the freedom of sexuality and does not see it as a sin, but rather a gift to humanity. They accept naturism, masturbation, homosexuality, and promote any type of sex provided it is consensual and legal. They are supporters of same-sex marriage, and many clergy members have performed such marriages.
As Vorilhon has foretold of the Elohim contacting Earth again, he has instructed for the construction of the Third Temple; an embassy for the Raëlian movement which would also feature a landing pad surrounded by acres of camping ground enough for 140,000 people – twice their current membership. The project is estimated to cost over $20 million and, despite reaching the funding goal, no construction has begun.
The movement has been classified as a cult in several countries and has come under scrutiny for their alleged orgies. Raël’s ex-wife has described him as nothing more than a cult leader, who should disband the movement before it causes any more harm.
6. The Brethren
The Brethren, otherwise known as the Body of Christ or the Brothers and Sisters, is a nameless religious movement created by Jim Roberts. He founded the movement in 1971 after believing all other religions had become too worldly. Roberts wanted a wondering discipleship as told in the New Testament. Once again, this sect believes we are ever approaching Armageddon and must take steps to save our souls.
New members must sell all their worldly possessions and break with any friends and families, otherwise they will never earn salvation. All proceeds go to the church to be distributed. Another unofficial name for the sect is The Garbage Eaters, after they were observed many times dumpster-diving for food and clothes. Many of the members also do not bathe, due to their camping lifestyle.
Along with this, members are restricted to have any access to the opposite sex, with men and women being given clearly defined roles. If you thought that was depressing enough, children are forbidden to play; laughing, dancing and any forms of celebration are forbidden until the return of Jesus, a date that has yet to be nailed down.
The movement faced several police raids in the late 70s due to allegations of brainwashing and deprogramming. The group suddenly dropped out of sight 5 years later due to fear of more arrests or members being kidnapped by distraught families. Such family members have formed a group called ‘The Roberts Group Parents Network’, for mutual support and in hope they can locate lost members.
7. Nuwaubian Nation
Founded and led by Dwight York, the Nuwaubian Nation is a religious organisation that has changed its teachings many times. In 1967, York began with a focus on Black Muslim groups. Less than 2 decades later, he abandoned this line of theology and moved towards Ancient Egypt and extraterrestrials, funding an Egypt-themed compound named Tama-Re.
In 1996, York published a 1700 page document outlining all his teachings. Believing himself to be a living god, he spreads his racial doctrine, borrowed heavily from moorish Science. York indicates that certain races are superior. He has gone as far as stating ‘white people are the devils. Always was, always will be’. This has helped the Nuwaubian Nation make the list of known hate groups.
Other wackier beliefs include: Nikola Tesla being from Venus, the T-Rex evolving from extraterrestrial greys, Mars being prepared to evacuate Earth’s elite and an underground railroad connecting New York to London. In 2002 York was arrested and charged with over a hundred counts of sexually molesting children, some as young as four. He was convicted and sentenced to 135 years in prison. Following this, Tama-Re was sold and demolished in 2005, effectively putting an end to the movement.
8. People’s Temple
The People’s Temple of the Disciples of Christ was a new religious movement founded by Jim Jones in 1955. Having become enamoured with the ideology of Communism, yet facing harsh backlash from the United States government, Jones felt the best way to spread his Marxist beliefs was through a church. After moving his headquarters to California, the Church saw a sudden and rapid growth in membership.
Unlike many cult leaders at the time, Jones gained some modest public support as well as contact with prominent politicians and officials. Just days before the 1976 Presidential election, he met privately with Vice President candidate Walter Mondale, a move which led to Mondale publicly praising the People’s Temple. However, with the increased growth and public support also came media scrutiny. Reporter Marshall Kilduff published an expose containing interviews with many former members of the Temple. There were claims of sexual, emotional and physical abuse.
Jones, along with several hundred members, abruptly fled to their compound in Guyana, a settlement they named ‘Jonestown’. In 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan led a fact-finding mission to Jonestown on the allegations of human rights abuses, accompanied by members of the press. Upon leaving, he took 15 members of the Temple who wished to leave. However, upon their journey to the airstrip, they were ambushed by Jones’ armed guards, known as the ‘Red Brigade’, who shot and killed five members, including Ryan.
The first few seconds of the attack was caught on tape. Later that same day, Jones gathered the 909 inhabitants of Jonestown, including 304 children, to commit mass suicide by drinking Kool-Aid poisoned with cyanide. Jones himself was found in a deckchair with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The fallout led to the Temple declaring bankruptcy and its members scattering. To this day, the United States government has over 5,000 pages of classified information in relation to the cult and its members. Despite multiple requests, they have refused to release any information.
9. Aum Shinrikyo
Shoko Asahara founded this Doomsday cult in Japan 1984 and it wasn’t long until the sect was designated a terrorist organisation by several countries including Canada, Kazakhstan, and the United States. Asahara believes himself to be the Christ and has taken it upon himself to clear the Earth of its sins; members are told they will gain spiritual power and any bad deeds they have committed will be washed away.
He describes an Armageddon apocalypse readily approaching and only members of Aum will be saved. Like all good and legitimate religions, this requires the payment of membership fees. In the late 1980s, Aum was gaining serious media attention after it was reported they held members against their will and forced donations. In February 1989, a member was murdered after he tried to leave the organisation.
Asahara saw every other religion as corrupt and was even enlightened about dark conspiracies involving the British Royal Family, the Jews, Freemasons and the Dutch. Following on from this, the cult began plotting assassinations, including the heads of Buddhists sects, and TV commentators and cartoonists who were criticising Aum and its followers. The cult began manufacturing the nerve agent sarin and VX gas.
After apparently being tipped off about a forthcoming raid, Asahara ordered unleashing the nerve agent on Tokyo’s subway system, in an effort to divert attention – 13 commuters were killed, 54 were injured and over 1,000 were affected. His plan had the opposite effect and his compounds across the country were raided simultaneously. Police found mounds of explosives, chemical warfare agents including anthrax and Ebola cultures, and even a Russian military helicopter.
It was believed there was enough stockpiles of chemicals to kill over 4 million people. Asahara was convicted of the Tokyo killings as well as numerous other crimes and was sentenced to death in 2004. However, he remains with a postponed execution due to the continuing investigation and arrest of other members of his Church.
10. The Manson Family
Charles Manson is a convicted felon, notorious for the ‘Helter Skelter’ and other killings carried out by his ‘Family’ in 1969. He held a firm belief that The Beatles song was a warning about an impending race war. By committing these murders, he believed it would precipitate that war. After having spent almost half his life in prison for various offenses ranging from burglary to pimping, Manson established himself as a guru in San Francisco, borrowing philosophy from other churches, including the belief that Satan would reconcile with Christ and, together, would judge humanity at the end of the world.
He soon had a bunch of followers, his Family, most of whom were female. Their most notorious murders happened on the night of August 8th 1969 at the home of film director Roman Polanski and his wife, Sharon Tate. Charles Watson took the helm and was instructed to kill the inhabitants as gruesomely as possible. Manson falsely believed the home was still lived in by Terry Melcher, a record producer who had severed ties with Manson not long before, causing immediate anger.
Polanski was not present, but his pregnant wife and 3 friends were soon overcome by the Family and suffered over 100 stab-wounds between them. Manson was soon apprehended and faced trial for the murders along with the rest of the Family. Midway through the trial, he shaved his head, giving his reasoning that he was the devil and the devil is always bald. Unsurprisingly, he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. His next parole hearing will not occur until he is 92.