You guys remember a few weeks ago when I was fangirling really hard over Struck by Jennifer Bosworth? And the cults within? Well, I kind of hit the jackpot with this blog tour because Jennifer agreed to do pretty much the greatest guest post OF ALL TIME for me on her research about cults. Friends, this post is RIVETING. Without further ado, I’d like to welcome Jennifer Bosworth to Good Books & Good Wine!
I’ve been obsessed with cults for as long as I can remember. I was born in 1978, the year the Jonestown Massacre occurred, so I wonder if my lizard/baby brain remembers everyone talking about that tragic event. When I was a little older, I started having recurring nightmares that a cult had formed in our town, nightmares so real I started to believe they weren’t dreams at all. I was in high school when the Waco siege went down, and also when Aum Shinrikyo attempted to kick-start Armageddon. Shortly after that, the Branch Dividian siege in Waco, Texas went down. Add to that, I grew up in Utah, where we were always on the lookout for renegade fundamentalist polygamists. They were easy to spot. For the most part, they look just like the polygamists who live on the compound in Big Love.
With all this cultiness abounding as I grew up, it’s no wonder I ended up including, not one, but two rival doomsday cults in STRUCK.
To create my own cults, I did a lot of research into the origins of some of the most infamous cults, the people who became their leaders, and why so many of them focus on the end of the world. There are striking parallels between many of these cults.
- Auspicious beginnings – When you think cult, you think crazy, right? I certainly did until I started researching them. But what I discovered is that a number of the cults that became the most destructive actually had well-meaning origins. Take, for example, Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple of Jonestown Massacre fame. This is where the expression “don’t drink the Kool-Aid” came from. Jones instructed his followers to commit mass suicide by ingesting cyanide, but the taste was so awful he had it mixed with Kool-Aid first. Nearly a thousand of Jones’s followers committed suicide. Two hundred were children, many instructed or forced to take the poison by their parents.
Now, I can’t think of many things more horrible than this scenario. Watching a documentary about the massacre nearly turned my stomach. But it might surprise you to learn that the man who ordered the mass suicide is also the man who founded the Peoples Temple as a movement toward social justice. Jones preached racial harmony, and became a prophet for the oppressed. His ideology was revolutionary at the time when he began preaching. Unfortunately, the megalomania that seizes so many of these self-proclaimed “prophets” soon claimed him, and his peace/love church became a deathtrap.
This reminds me of the parable about how to boil a frog. If you drop them directly into a pot of boiling water, they’ll leap back out. But if you drop them into a nice, tepid bath and slowly turn up the heat, they won’t realize they’re cooked until it’s too late.
- Naughty Prophets – Whether every self-proclaimed prophet of a cult actually believes he is the “chosen one” is difficult to assess. It stands to reason that for a person to convince others he is a true prophet, the one with all the right answers, that person must first convince himself of the same thing. And here’s where things get dirty.
“Prophetitis”––as I like to refer to it––comes with a variety of megalomaniacal and narcissistic symptoms. In the case of many faux-prophets––Jim Jones, David Koresh, Charles Manson, Warren Jeffs, and Shoko Asahara––power is used for personal, sexual gain. David Koresh entered into a number of “spiritual” marriages with women on his compound. Warren Jeffs’ “celestial” wives numbered 78 (that we know of) and 24 of them were underage when he married them. Jim Jones was accused, not only of using his power to command sexual favors from both the men and women in his church, but also of kidnappings and beatings for those who tried to leave him, or for those who disobeyed or questioned his teachings. Shoko Asahara preached sexual abstinence as a way to achieve supernatural powers, while indulging with mistresses himself.
- The only way to save the world . . . is to destroy it –– Self-proclaimed prophets can’t seem to resist predicting the end of the world, and of course the end has to come within their lifetime. Otherwise, how would they protect their followers? Jim Jones moved his entire congregation to Redwood Valley, California, claiming that it was the safest place in the world to be in the event of a nuclear disaster, which he predicted would occur on July 15, 1967. The Heaven’s Gate doomsday cult combined elements of Christianity with science fiction, and ended up interpreting a section in the Book of Revelations to mean that earth was under control of evil forces, and the Heaven’s Gaters were the only ones who would attain heaven.
Unfortunately, some of these cults not only predict the end, but attempt to bring it about. In 1995, Aum Shinrikyo, a fanatical doomsday cult out of Japan, released a deadly nerve gas on five subway trains during Tokyo’s rush hour. Eleven people were killed, up to five thousand injured. Had Aum procured a purer form of the gas (he did try), the death count would have been in the hundreds of thousands. Aum Shinkrikyo just couldn’t wait for the end of the world. They wanted to jump start it.
Fortunately for us––and just as unfortunately for self-proclaimed prophets like Shoko Asahara––the world isn’t going down without a fight!
Oh and friends this book trailer is LEGIT!
Giveaway: To enter for my ARC of Struck, just leave a comment relevant to the guest post! Contest is open internationally until May 31. I will pick a winner randomly.
And the winner is Brookea_2006! Congrats!!!