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General Twelve Secrets Of Cult Leaders


Aug 17, 2010
World citizen!
Dr Heather Kavan is drawn to religions, cults and ‘altered states’. In the past decade, this senior lecturer at the School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing has journeyed deep into a landscape shunned by most academics, turning her dispatches into journal articles and conference papers.

Kavan takes an intensely practical approach to her investigations. In 2008, for example, she spent close to a year rising at dawn to meditate with Falun Gong practitioners. She sat in court for six weeks during the high profile trial following the exorcism-leading-to-death of Janet Moses, which led to five manslaughter convictions .

Along the way, Kavan has observed first hand how cult leaders control and often sexually dominate their followers. At a staff talk in March, Kavan drew on this knowledge to explain how such powers work in practice, categorising them into what she whimsically but seriously termed ’12 tips for seduction’.

In a reference to the shocking example of Jonestown, Guyana (where 900 followers of cult leader Jim Jones voluntarily swallowed poisoned soft drink in 1978), Kavan said, “The tips are reasonably safe – none of them involves spiked Kool Aid”.

People like Jones seemed to wield an invisible power that made people take an irrational liking to them, she said. “Few cult leaders have, for example, the charm and good looks of Pierce Brosnan or the musical ability of Bono, much less the media attention these celebrities attract.”

Setting out her ‘12 tips’ in turn, Kavan said the first prerequisite for a cult leader was to radiate self-love.

One: Adore yourself
“A cult leader is usually comfortable describing himself (I say ‘himself’ because they’re usually male) as the greatest genius, the highest world leader, the most cosmic lover, and – by some secret spiritual logic – the only person in the world who doesn’t have an ego problem.”

Two: Lift your vibe
“Charisma has been defined as a mysterious, exceptional quality by which a person appears to be endowed with supernatural or superhuman powers. In my experience, the mysterious quality is an ecstatic energy the charismatic leader emanates, which arouses a feeling of stoned-out bliss when you’re in the person’s presence.”

Three: Be thrillingly unavailable
“The old principle that ‘the more difficult something is to obtain, the more it is valued’, applies here – the more James Bondish you come across, the more valued you are. You can’t fake it, unless you’re Daniel Craig – so it’s not about ‘playing hard to get’, but about genuinely having so much in your life that you’re ecstatically happy regardless of anyone else.”

Four: Link the seduction to a greater cause
“A common cult leader tactic is for the leader to claim that his purpose is to free people from their enslavement to others, including partners and family. The person then bonds emotionally with the leader instead, who feels free to take as many wives as he likes, while pretending to liberate everyone.”

Five: Get an iconic photo of yourself
“Most cult leaders sell flattering pictures of themselves, which they encourage members to carry round with them, place on an altar or wear on a necklace. Rajneesh, aka Osho (the guru whose group did the bio-terror attack in Oregon, USA) went even further and used to give disciples boxes containing cuttings of his hair.”

Six: Practise mind reading
“A cult leader often focuses like a laser beam on the pining devotee, making them feel like they’re the only person in the room and their heart is an open book. As the leader appears to be able to read the devotee’s consciousness, they hang on to every word, feeling that at last someone truly understands them.”

Seven: Give the occasional breath taking compliment
“A charismatic leader not only reads a person’s needs and desires, they access ones you didn’t even know you had. Therefore the most important criterion for a powerful compliment is that the speaker has read the person at a deep level. Another important criterion – and probably the trickiest one – is that the compliment has got to show the recipient something they never consciously realised about themselves.”

EighT: Load your language
“When I read Charles Manson’s prison interview, what stood out most for me was how frequently he used the word ‘love’. According to his former followers he was ‘always preaching love’. Even after masterminding nine brutal murders, he says in the interview: ‘Anything you see in me is in you… If you see me as your brother, that’s what I’ll be. It all depends on how much love you have’.”

Nine: Imply you’re on the verge of fame
“Cult leaders often suggest they’re on the brink of success and fame and imply that followers will go down in history as part of the greatest story ever told. To get a share of the recognition, devotees then start vying to be their closest disciple. The lesson from this is that a well timed suggestion of impending success can intensify attraction.”

Ten: View any rejection as superficial or short term
“Cult leaders see themselves as the fountain of all love, so it follows that everyone, whether they realise it or not, is craving them. According to this logic, any rejection is superficial or short term. I’ll never forget the leader who said to me, after I’d decided against pursuing a research interest in his group, ‘That’s all right, you’re not ready for me yet’.”

Eleven: Show unshakable conviction
“There’s a whole bag of tricks behind this certainty, usually involving travelling to mysterious places to gather superior wisdom. The performance of an extraordinary or heroic feat also helps, although this can be difficult to contrive.”

Twelve: Become a receiver
“In one of the pieces of research I did, the leader stayed in my house and, through that proximity, I experienced another key to charisma – gurus are very good at receiving from other people. In fact they seem to expect everyone to run around anticipating their every need and giving them presents.

“And so my final cult leader tip is: Become so open to receiving presents and acts of kindness that the thought of giving to you just lights up the pleasure centres in people’s brains.”



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