How to Overcome Cult Superstitions
and Negative Thought Forms
Strategies to fight cult mind control adapted from the book On Tyranny, by Timothy Snyder. Presented at the ICSA Regional Conference, Santa Fe, November 5, 2017, by Nori Muster.
Cults teach their members superstitious beliefs, usually to control their behavior. For example, they may tell members if they leave the group it will lead to personal ruin. In ISKCON, the group I was in, they told us if we left, we would become lonely, and die penniless of a chronic disease. After that we would go to hell, since learning the truth through ISKCON, then turning away, is worse than if we had never seen the truth.
ISKCON taught us the concept of the bhakti-lata-bija. Bhakti means love for god, and it comes in the form of a vine (lata) seed (bija). As you come to love god, you grow a garden of bhakti, but if you offend the gurus, or commit other offenses, it's like inviting a "mad elephant" in to trample your garden. Criticizing the gurus was such a bad offense, it could make the gurus sick. Or it could cause something bad like an earthquake, war, death or illness of someone you care about, or the next bad thing that happens after your offense. They taught us to look within for the cause of anything bad in our lives.
ISKCON was not the only group that taught this form of mind over matter. The Transcendental Meditation group (TM) taught members their meditations could influence world events. They made up statistics to show how the world improved because of their prayers. However, they were particularly edgy if people missed meditations, or arrived late. When they went around the ashram to round up devotees to meditate, they told them "something terrible will happen" if they slack off. Even if people were meditating as required, they would say to each other, "What more can you do?" Meaning, enough meditating is never enough.
The Unification Church, the Moonies, promoted a similar superstition about their Blessed Children. These were the children who were Korean, or born from blessed couples. According to their dogma, the weight of the world rested on the shoulders of the Blessed Children. Anything going wrong in the world was because they were not living up to their mantle.
Always having to explain things to ourselves, based on what religious leaders teach us, is tyranny of the mind. Nearly all cults do this in one way or another. Even mainstream religions do it, although the mind games are usually less severe, and less punishing. For example, the Catholic church and other mainstream Christian churches teach their members the concept "everything happens for a reason." Further, they say it's important to suss out the reason. For example, one friend told me she got lost in her car, but she met a pedestrian who was lost, and was able to give the lost person directions. So helping that other person must have been god's will, accounting for the reason she got lost.
It's not literally true everything happens for a reason - many things happen for no particular reason except chance. If there is a reason why most things happen, it's probably because we didn't learn the first time. It's good to learn from mistakes, but better to have our minds clear for dealing with reality, than trying to solve riddles all the time. For example driving around and hitting a red light. It's useless to sit there pondering why the light turned red just as we were approaching it, even though we were in a hurry. Like, maybe god wanted me to be late?
This is the third time I've given this talk, so rather than focus on describing the problem, I want to share a set of good attitudes we can learn to guard ourselves against tyranny. There's a new book out, On Tyranny, by Timothy Snyder, where he lists twenty strategies to fight tyranny. Each chapter describes one strategy, then he backs it up with historical information about tyranny in the twentieth century. I studied his book and identified about ten of his strategies to apply to ex-cult members.
1. Do not obey in advance. The first chapter is "Don't Obey in Advance." Under tyranny, people anticipate what the leaders will want, then they voluntarily comply. Voluntarily giving up power will alert the tyrants on how far they can go. It just makes them worse.
5. Remember professional ethics. In the fifth chapter, Snyder recommends that we establish a personal code of ethics we follow in all areas of our lives. If tyrants ask us to do unethical things for them, we'll be more likely to resist.
8. Stand out & 20. Be as courageous as you can. Snyder explains under tyranny, people are hypnotized. The learn to conform to what the group expects, and that usually means don't complain, keep your head down, and go along. However, if one person breaks the spell, and stands out as an individual, it can break the spell for everyone else. He discusses this in chapters eight and twenty.
9. Be kind to our language & 17. Listen for dangerous words. Under tyranny, people speak in clichés and phrases dictated by the tyrants. In the cult I was in, you could say things like, "Isn't this festival ecstatic?" or "I'm fired up," or "What's wrong with her, she's in maya [illusion]." Th throw off tyranny, Snyder recommends making up your own way of speaking. Chapter seventeen discusses the same concepts, but warns the reader to be alert to notice the phrases that belie tyranny, and avoid repeating them. If you're an ex-member, and you are around a group that uses clichés, get away.
10. Believe in truth & 11. Investigate. These two chapters are relevant to today's world, since everyone seems to have their own version of the facts these days. Tyrants distort and discount the truth, and that's part of how they manipulate people. Snyder encourages us to know the truth, argue for the truth, and investigate. Don't spread rumors or any information that's not true. Snyder said, "Our integrity makes us who we are. Collective trust in common knowledge makes us a society."
12. Make eye contact and small talk. Snyder recommends that we make eye contact and small talk. He said it promotes freedom, trust, and equality, and breaks down social barriers. He said talking to people makes you a responsible citizen. You get to learn the psychological landscape around you, and learn who to trust and not trust. Under tyranny, a friendly smile or a few friendly words can provide reassurance to people who feel oppressed. On the other hand, looking away and offering only silence promotes fear. He also said having old friends, new friends, and people you can trust will help you survive under tyranny.
16. Learn from peers in other countries. In the book, Snyder encourages Americans to speak with people from countries like Germany or Poland to gain insights on what tyranny is like. For ex-members, I would translate that into learning from ex-members of other groups. It can be enlightening to discuss what you went through with others who had a similar experience.