The 5 Strangest Cults in History

Bizarre cults have practised strange rituals and dangerous teachings since time began. Here are some of the best and most obscure cults you might want to get a membership to...
Publish date:
Updated on


The Prince Philip Movement

The Prince Philip Movement are an Island tribe from the South Pacific Nation of Vanutanu. Unlike Jesus their ‘son of God’ didn’t get nailed to a cross but instead set off on a mission to find a wife. Our very own Duke of Edinburgh matched the description handed down by their ancient legends: tall white guy. So, when they heard of him in the ‘60s, he was seen as proof their religious beliefs were true and now they worship him as an actual God.

In many ways the least absurd group on our list they are seen by some sociologists as one culture’s clever way of adapting and preserving itself in the face of contact with the outside world. They are often connected to the ‘cargo cults’ of John Frum, who mythologised a US military pilot, following bewildering close encounters with them during the Second World War. In fact Philip is seen as John Frum’s brother. A documentary crew risked ruining their religious beliefs by flying members of “The Prince Philip Movement” over to go sight-seeing in the UK and, it was implied, actually meet their God. Fortunately it appears their beliefs did not change and they were made into minor reality TV stars along the way.

Although only small, their numbers are bolstered by Britain’s reliance on the remarkably similar idea that our Royal family has been directly blessed by God and patronised by ‘The Divine Right Of Kings’. What I particularly admire about both Royalists and “The Prince Philip Movement” is the tenacity of their beliefs, despite all evidence to the contrary. Like all the groups mentioned in this piece these people would take issue with any suggestion they were part of a “cult”. Largely this is because the word is used as a term of abuse by bigger religions, who appear to believe reality is something you can have a vote on. The more people believe in your God the more true it must be, right?


I, Pet Goat II: Does This Film Predict The Apocalypse?

Burning Bodies And Scattering Souls in Varanasi

The Raelians

I asked Glenn Carter, the UK President of the Raelian movement, if he thought he was involved in a cult:

‘Look, the Raelian movement is a philosophy’ he replied, clearly irritated by the question, ‘I follow it because it makes sense. I’ve been debated on radio and television with many, many, “great minds” and it always boils down to people throwing insults in order to win arguments because the actual debate is easily won by The Raelian philosophy’.

According to Carter, ‘Raelian philosophy’ is one of science, human rights and spirituality. That said it was initially inspired by their leader Rael’s contact with a three and a half foot green skinned alien being called Yaweh. It’s a name religious scholars recognise as one given to the Jewish God who both Islam and Christianity also claim as their own. No co-incidence, according to Carter, because the prophets of those religions were also talking to the same alien: ‘It didn’t only happen to Rael, what do you think ‘an angel that flies in the sky on a fiery chariot’ is?’

In other words the world’s major religions are alike to ‘cargo cults’ but instead built around extraterrestrials and their craft, following apparently bewildering close encounters with them in our past. In a sense they could be seen as our culture’s clever way of adapting and preserving itself in the face of contact with a little green man. Apparently he’s a friendly bloke and he’s bang up for paying us another visit, once we’re ready. The description seemed inconsistent with the major religions, ‘yeah but do you know anyone who has ever met God, no one knows what he looks like, the word itself is a translation of “Elohim” which means “those who came from the sky”’ says Carter.

The Raelians are great fun, mainly because of their history of making major news stories. Initially their use of a combination of the Jewish Star of David, with a Nazi Swastika scrawled over the top, made headlines in the US. More recently, in 2002, they were involved in a debate regarding the world’s first cloned human. Carter, a charismatic speaker and an actor by trade, is proud of the fact that the subsequent public debate forced the UK to look at its rules on cloning and, as a result, we now lead the way in stem cell research.

The Aetherian Society

For me it is often the personalities behind these ideas that fascinate. A similar but admittedly smaller religious group is, The Aetherian Society. They’re a collection of apparently harmless eccentrics who put their faith in the wise teachings of George King. A North London cabbie by trade he claimed to be an ‘ascended yoga master,’ who was in direct contact with extraterrestrial voices, principally a character named Aetherius. When interviewed about this in retrospect he described himself as having been at the time a trance medium who was also in contact with Shakespeare, Sir Oliver Lodge, Sir Thomas Lipton ‘and one or two doctors’. Apparently, while doing the dishes in his flat in Maida Vale, George was chosen by Aetherius to relay messages to the world.

Remarkably the BBC broadcast a wonderfully serious documentary on George’s incredible claims and included a conversation between one of their journalists and Aetherius:

‘I am name is Aetherius,’ intones George in a cut glass British accent. Where do you come from? ‘The planet, Venus’. Unfortunately Aetherius can’t tell the interviewer exactly where he’s located while sending these messages: ‘I wondered simply whether you were in a vehicle of some kind ... but you can’t tell me that?’ asks the interviewer, ‘err, no’ comes the reply.

Nowadays King has passed on and The Aetherian Society are estimated to number at less than a thousand. They spend their time blessing various landmarks, including recently The Old Man of Coniston in The Lake District, leaving magic batteries full of positive energy in key locations. If you’re interested they’ve got offices in America, London and Barnsley.

The Church of Satan

Most of these small groups attach their ideas to already existing religious doctrine, King once told his followers he’d been to a hill in North Devon and met ‘the master Jesus’ who naturally popped by in a flying saucer. Satanists take this idea of association to a whole new level by advocating the most infamous supernatural being of all as their mascot. Peter H Gilmore is the head of ‘The Church of Satan’, I asked him if he actually worshipped The Devil:

‘Satanism is atheist. We Satanists think that neither God, nor the devil, nor angels, or demons, exist. Satan, for us, is taken in the sense of meaning “the adversary” or “the opposer” and we stand in opposition to all spiritual doctrines whether they be Eastern or Western’.

‘We ourselves are our own Gods’ and an adherent of Satanism places themselves at the centre of their universe. Responding to my disappointment that he seemed so reasonable, Gilmour chuckled, ‘we’re a rational philosophy, we’re pragmatic, if you don’t like people who are rational and pragmatic that’s, err, I guess your own issue?’. The worst I could get from him was that he thinks selfishness is a good thing, doesn’t condemn hatred and they consider stupidity a sin: ‘Satanism is for the few who can take responsibility for themselves’.

Although his arguments fly in the face of the bad press my local Sunday school teacher gave to the devil his fan club put over a surprisingly good contrary point of view. It’s difficult to work out if their ideology is an elaborate put on or not but on one level it’s widely recognised that Satan is the guy who punishes criminals by torturing them in hell, unlike Jesus who will forgive people like Hitler and Myra Hindley if they simply say sorry for their crimes. I asked Gilmour about his fictional mascot’s PR problem ‘if you read Mark Twain, or you read Lord Byron, or you read the French decadents, Satan’s got great press from them, he’s the spirit of liberty and joy and reason and criticism’.

Although they try to set themselves up as almost entirely counter to Christianity according to Gilmour Satanists are ‘law abiding folk’ who adhere to the ‘social contract’ of society. In fact in 2007 it was announced by the associated press that Gilmour had even reported a follower who sent him a letter saying he planned to kill someone in the name of the devil.

From the sounds of things The Church Of Satan doesn’t have regular meetings and like me doesn’t really classify themselves as a religious.

The Discordian

Taking this to a whole new level are, The Discordian society, one of the first of the parody religions. Its adherents openly admit their religion is a joke not unlike The Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster and the more recent Jedi movement. Invented by 60’s pranksters, while drinking at a bowling alley in America, the world’s first joke religion came to prominence when it was picked up and fictionalised by Robert Anton Wilson and Bob Shea in their cult masterpiece ‘The Illuminatus Trilogy’. Hooked around the Greek Goddess of Chaos Eris, Discordianism, is now becoming old enough as an idea to have gathered a certain amount of ‘credibility’. Often misunderstood to in fact be an actual religion, rather than a clear piss take, various people have been drawn to it and added to the ideas it represents. Its core idea is that the world is chaotic and nonsensical in nature and we only imagine it makes sense ultimately seeing what we want to see.

Robert Anton Wilson’s ideas are synonymous with it, as are the various counter culture philosophies advocated by its late founder Kerry Thornley and his friend Greg Hill. Furthermore people who adopt it often find that they inevitably become fascinated and possibly directed by these ideas and philosophies, Bill Drummond from The KLF is one example. Their work was littered with references to “The Illuminatus trilogy” and their most infamous moment in the world of pop culture, the burning of a million pounds, is now considered to have been inspired by Discordianism. A study of this has recently been penned by the writer JMR Higgs in the critically acclaimed book “KLF: Chaos Magick Music Money”. Pretending such a religion is real might be taking the joke a bit too far but when you consider some of the other ideas our society tolerates as scared, perhaps it’s only a logical response to laugh at the madness that is religion.

My podcast, where you’ll find my interview with Gilmour and Glenn Carter, is here: