Over many years I have found some items that have added to my understanding.
Persuasions of the Witch's Craft by Tanya Luhrmann.
Luhrmann is an anthropologist
and this book is based on participant observation she did on various
groups - covens and esoteric lodges. She was interested in how members
combined their pre-modern beliefs with the need to live and function in
evidence based society, and the strategies they used to make sense of
their own participation and in defending themselves in relation to outside
Luhrman also noted a process she terms "interpretative drift".
The longer the time one spent in a group, the more one's perspective shifted. No formalindoctrination was needed. One 'goes native"(Corboy's choice of words)
Richard F Burton noted how in the 19th century, Brits who spent a long time in India and Egypt often came to believe indigenous superstions or at least lost their intellectual discipline and and became just a bit more credulous.
One spent time in company with people, shared
the rituals and discussions, and ever so slowly adopted the rationalizing
strategies. Luhrmann noted somewhere that her own dream material became
pervaded with symbols commonly discussed in the groups.
Corboy can vouch that during my days as a Catholic, my dream life was
full of Catholic imagery. When I shifted to Zen Buddhism, my dreams
began to refer to quandries about keeping Buddhist precepts.
If one regards dreams as proof, one will take this all very seriously indeed.
If one suspects dreams are influenced by one's social context, one
will be a bit less inclined to use dreams as proof.
Luhrmann also tells how the practitioners of magic used levels of
reality as a defense.
In the old days people believed in a multi level universe and that one
had to purify oneself to ascend the levels, each level requiring
greater holiness and preparation.
Today, as observed by Luhrman, the modern practitioners use their multi level
(or multiple plane) model of "reality" to protect themselves from
their own doubts and from the doubts they know society has toward their
work. They argue that there are levels of reality "beyond" what is recognized
by modern science, levels of reality "beyond" what most people (the uninitiated, the insensitive) can appreciate. The other levels of reality
are those where normal standards of logic and evidence do not apply and
must be intuitively understood. Subjectivity is given free reign here.
Corboy learned a lot from Luhrmann's book, especially her concept of interpretative drift, and the use of multi level reality for protection.
Another concept Corboy has found useful comes from sociology: "Cultic Milieu"
Cultic milieu was first named and described by sociologist Colin Campbell.
It is not a cult, not in Robert J. Lifton's sense of the word. Cultic
milieu is a social scene, and also in Campbell's description, an oppositional
subculture. Persons are in this to varying degrees. What is current in
the cultic milieu are ideas and notions that are rejected outright by
mainstream society or are "on probation" and not fully accepted by
mainstream society. Campbell notes that ideas are treated as fungible,
that is to say interchangeable and making distinctions and critical thinking
are not welcome at all.
Corboy welcomed discovery of this concept because it may account for why
barmy ideas show up so very often in situations where one is trying to
reform or draw attention to injustice in mainstream society.
Persons in the cultic milieu may be very receptive to recruitment into cults,
especially if they already have the attitude that making distinctions,
doing background research are "wrong".
**Persons trying to make sense of cult involvement are often socially
marginalized and this may increase the risk that those willing to listen
to us are also socially marginal --and at risk of believing marginal
ideas that are not helpful at all -- such as conspiracy theories.
The Narcissistic Family by Pressman and Pressman. Slim and readable, describes in family systems how a family unconsciously seeks to preserve its image of itself at expense of honesty and children's normal development.
The authors made zero reference to cults, but Corboy suspects that some of their
insights may be extrapolated to narcissistic organizations, such as Subud.
The authors also note that when a child is small, biddable and looks sweet
all may be well in a narcissistic family (or cult) because the child or children make the family or cult look good to the public.
But as the child becomes adolescent, forms his or her own opinions, expresses
doubts about the family and the group, the narcissistic family or group goes
cold and the child may have a ghastly feeling of what has gone wrong?
Memoirs of an Addicted Brain by Marc Lewis
(Some excerpts are quoted here on the CEI message board)
(Could Latihan generate endogenous opiates in the human brain? One former
heroin addict tells how one feels all is right with the universe.)
Others who have studied Transcendental Meditation note an increase in
serotonin, the anti depressant/stress buffer neurotransmitter.
And Marc Lewis refers to the neurotransmitter dopamine, writing that
"dopamine gives thrust" -- that sense of focused purpose. Maybe thats
how people when they want to go to Latihan.
Professor Marc Lewis describes his own life as a drugs addicted teenager and young man.
Then he became a neuro scientist and with that, is able to take the reader
on a tour of the human brain and nervous system and describe the neurological
events that occur with each dosage of drug and why people seek again and yet
again to regain that state.
Corboy suspects that non drug methods used in cults to create altered states
of consciousness may be the same as those triggered by addictive drugs and
that may be why many persons cling to organizations and social networks
that seek these states through prescribed ritual, such as the Latihan.
Corboy's theory is that what some experience through Latihan is no different
from what others seek when they purchase illegal substances from the drugs
One thing I learned is that groups that avoid public appearance of eccentricity/barminess, take care to present a respectable appearance in
public, never disturb the neighbors, and have highly selective methods
of recruitment, especially into their upper levels, are likely to be durable.
Because of the facade of respectability, the public will be less willing
to believe warnings that something is amiss. If a group has some few well
chosen members who are upper class, have social connections and money, this
may enable them to form well entrenched and quite useful social connections that
add to long term social stability.
Another matter Corboy has discovered is that persons may be in trance
thrall to a leader or group, yet present a quite normal appearance in
public, and even function with distinction in thier occupations.
It is only behind closed doors and when the leader steps into the designated
position that these persons will go into the group trance.
Finally if life in a group becomes more and yet more demanding, that is to say the 'social commute' between cult life and the outside world become more and more demanding, persons may become buried in the group and gradually shed their outside relationships.