What Happens When a Cult Leader Dies?
Posted by: psyborgue ()
Date: July 15, 2013 08:21PM

Sometimes the cult dissolves without a leader. Sometimes, like Scientology, it lives on with a new leader. Sometimes, as in the case of Synanon, followers start their own "clone" groups with the teachings they've learned. This thread is intended for discussion of what exactly causes each outcome, and how these outcomes have played out throughout cultic history.

How is a new leader selected by the group? When a leader dies without naming a sucessor, how is one chosen, and what causes followers to bond with this new leader? To what extent is the new leader limited by the revelations and established doctrine of the old one (how much can change)?

What causes a group to dissolve? Is it because of a lack of instruction/doctrine and too much reliance on the leader's daily orders to maintain the thought reform environment? Is it because the very death of a leader contradicts the leader's beliefs (ex. dying of an illness when claiming to have the cure for same illness). What happens to these followers left without a leader?

What causes followers to create their own groups? Are they acting out of self interest like the often sociopathic cult leaders, or are they merely mindlessly carrying on bringing the one true message of X to the world? How many stick to the doctrine and how many change it? How do the new leaders justify changing the immutable words of the great leader?

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 07/15/2013 08:23PM by psyborgue.

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Re: What Happens When a Cult Leader Dies?
Posted by: GentleStormi ()
Date: July 22, 2013 05:29AM


I love these questions, they are very good ones. I am a survivor of a cult. When the original leader died suddenly in an air plane crash. He began to become even more on a pedastal than when he was alive. they even enshrined his house, his worldly goods on display as a museum in the house he had lived in on the cult compound, and his crashed plane, they put up in at one of their schools as a monument to "a great man of God" ..

after him, no one could match his leadership charisma and grandiosity. no one ever lived up to his supposed greatness. All who came after him, put him on a pedastal to follow blindly and as a leader from the grave, they post his sermons messages and such like... he was conveniently buried across the street from the cult compound in a cementary that had not been there years ago.
but, the cult he started and led, apparently has dwindled. it has become nothing in comparison to it. its dwindled and there is no other personality like him to fill the void. thankfully!

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Re: What Happens When a Cult Leader Dies?
Posted by: psyborgue ()
Date: July 22, 2013 08:49PM

The group I was in was descended from another group was in turn descended from a fairly well known cult that was ultimately split up by the authorities. All of the leaders of the "clones" had been ex-members who had either seen the profitability of the enterprise or had genuinely believed they had the best way to help people. I've never been truly sure what exactly was the mix, but I tend to believe at least some of the new generation of leaders were sociopaths taking advantage of the situation.

The "clone" groups evolved with each new generation. Some stayed very close to the original while other added new things to the mix. For example, one group of the second generation, in addition to the encounter groups / attack therapy inherited from the original, also added on a series of LGAT style seminars derived from the practices of est and lifeSpring (for example, there was the lifeboat game, something very similar to "i trust you, i don't trust you", guided imagery, etc...). This second generation also added on a comprehensive system of reporting on other members (and yourself) via written reports, which would often be used as material to fuel an encounter group, or as a method to get "clean" before entering into an LGAT. The higher echelons of the group used this information to create the impression they knew everything about everybody at all times (they often did). The particular implementation of this practice is similar to "Knowledge Reports", or "KRs" in Scientology, though it's use was a lot more extensive.

Most of the direct second generation groups are now defunct, many as a result of the authorities, however like the first generation, the group spawned children. A third generation (I was in) combined the multiple LGATs into a single marathon seminar (close to 24 hours) and a wilderness trip (again, no sleeping), while at the same time greatly increasing the already frequent usage of these "dirt lists". New methods were also introduced in this third generation to isolate those who expressed displeasure or doubts about the group's motives or efficacy in it's mission.

With the exception of the second generation, which very briefly nodded it's head to it's lineage (this promptly stopped after the arrest of the parent group's leader), most of the cultic children denied their origins, or only admitted them to those who were sympathetic to the goals and methods of the original. Many of the members, however, especially those higher up, are well aware of the group's origins and generally hold it's lineage, and their leaders, in high regard.

As the third generation begins to shut down (in some cases, as the result of intervention by the authorities), I have no doubt that a fourth generation will pop up. I feel this is primarily as a result of the way the groups are shut down (generally by the authorities). The problem with shutting down a group like this is that the members never go through any sort of exit counseling and still feel it as their duty to spread the "good word" to the world. They see their leaders as persecuted, or at most flawed, but ultimately still preaching the truth. They do not realize that the methods they purport to be beneficial were actually designed to break people down and make them dependent on the group.

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