This has been a very interesting thread and there are some excellent resources to be found on this site. I guess the final word on whether a group is or is not a cult (in the modern sense of the word with all of its implications, as opposed to simple dictionary definition) will always amount to personal opinion. Though applying the cult evaluation criteria at least gives an indication of whether we should be cautious of certain groups and is worth considering. I see it as a good guide as to what may be cult practices, as outlined by more specialist professionals and academics. I was quite surprised when applying the criteria to certain groups. Surprisingly I found that the “gnostic” group I used scored very highly on the various cult evaluation criteria. If you scored as highly in your exams you would be an A+ student. I say surprisingly, because I know of other similar “new age” groups who appear quite cultish but when applying the criteria do not score nearly as high, and when really considered carefully are far less likely to fit the definition of a cult as outlined.
I have found another resource with simple evaluation criteria to apply to any group you feel may fit the definition of a cult. It pertains to whether they use what could be considered as “mind control” techniques (brainwashing). In this evaluation I find the “gnostic” group in question actually scored 100%. Though I realize in the end this does not necessarily mean they are either a cult, or a mind control cult and it would be unwise for a laymen to define a group as definitely being anything. It means that in a single and very fallible person's opinion they match a certain criteria as set forth by another group. Still, IMO it is worth considering. I also see that these resources are put forth by a Christian based group which also opens the possibility of bias, though as far as the criteria itself goes, it seems impartial and quite reasonable enough. Though possibly the moderators here will know more and have far more experience about whether the criteria itself is worth considering............. [www.howcultswork.com
As a general observation it appears that at a certain stage in the courses/instruction (indoctrination) people often reach a point where they have a feeling that what they are being told, and the way it is being done, is a concern. Some feel this earlier than others, though at this point the vast majority will either drop out, or are simply discarded by the group if they voice concerns strongly enough. Voicing concerns is never tolerated after a certain point. Students will also be given various ideas, pressures and sentiments encouraged from within the group, perhaps inherent in the structure and an outcome of the doctrine itself, that could be seen as instilling fear and manipulation....”it is the darkness within stopping you from moving forward”.....”it is the egos that don't want you to awaken”.....”it is the black lodge controlling you via your egos”........”I am Master Wrongspelling, it will be impossible for you to awaken if you turn your back on me” etc. In every case the student will be considered ignorant, there will always be a ready made answer to this effect along with a healthy dose of fear. In reality this feeling of something not being right might simply be common sense telling them to step back and take a look at what is going on, rather than darkness within taking hold. There is a valid argument that most religions hold "hell" over peoples heads. Though at least they are more upfront with their beliefs, and don't seem to incorporate it in a subtle and progressive type of manipulation where the punch line is "hidden" away from students until they are "ready", the way more cultish groups do. At least the mainstream ones don't seem to. There are considerable differences in the way genuine organisations and cultish ones work, for anyone interested in researching. Then again I definately find some mainstream religions cultish in some ways, though to a much lesser extent.
To move on from here it is required to over ride individual feelings and thought process (common sense), at least to a degree in favor of the teachings and group's ideas. Perhaps even under the illusion of being selfless and spiritual, or wishing to be seen as such...“suffering for humanity”. Especially so as it is both implied and encouraged to “disintegrate” basically all thoughts and emotions as (evil) “egos” while accepting the word of the leader or doctrine as infallibly divine. This could open the way for further manipulation to far reaching levels where the needs of the group, it's master and teachings actually leaves room for little else. Sound familiar? It is ironic that a group who advises destruction of the what they term “ego's”, both subtly and overtly manipulates these very same thoughts and feelings within people to their own advantage. It is not surprising that a very common observation of those who know these groups is that members often appear to be cold and unfeeling, somewhat fanatical and lacking in genuine warmth or spontaneity. Though it is good to dismiss the myth around supposed cult members. They are made up of people, often intelligent, who may even genuinely feel they are helping. Perhaps even cult leaders. The wish to become better than we are at present seems a good one and generally I don't favor attacks on particular people.
It also seems ironic that usually only after people leave these “spiritual” groups, who supposedly work for others out of selflessness and love, that they see these very same finer qualities in action. Though not from the group who simply dismisses them as failures doomed to hell who “could not overcome their egos”....”didn't get the techniques working properly”.....”couldn't overcome their attachments or pride”......”their being wasn't interested” or in the rarer and more distinguished ones, be considered to have “awoken in evil, and for evil” simply for leaving. It really does seem that genuine friendships would be extremely rare in a cultish environment. Often they will see genuine qualities when they turn back to their loved ones who have always been there, displaying genuine support, concern, tolerance and patience out of simple love and genuine wish for the best for them. A warmth that arises spontaneously often from “salt of the earth” type people who know nothing of egos and masters, and who probably couldn't care less about them anyway. If they are fortunate enough to have this support base. These things cannot be imparted from any master, belief in any rigid doctrine, or particular to any group claiming a heavenly franchise. Gnostics imply this type of feeling is simply instinctive, rather than genuine conscious love, though this view seems ridiculously simplistic and in many ways itself might be based on a shallow and rigid belief in a doctrine. Love cannot be feigned, on the contrary it seems unlikely to be born out of fear of an underlying need to save our own @rse from hell.
Sadly many of the subjects broached in new age “gnostic” groups are interesting and valid for anyone so interested IMO. It is the way these groups approach these things and their methods that seems questionable and often less than genuine. From a simple interest in astral projection, meditation or self help type psychology the unwitting could easily find themselves coerced into an all consuming mixture of doctrinal fanaticism, religious fundamentalism and guru worship, full of demands and with seemingly strange and perhaps quite superstitious practices and rules and regulations that must be followed. Where it is understood that friends will be lost and family are seen as an obstacle. Occupation is only important as in a need to pay bills, unless you are one of the many "masters", in which case the generosity of other hard working people might ensure you don't need employment. In fact it is simply encouraged that attachments to these things have to be overcome. In some instances this may be so if common sense dictates, though not when driven by doctrinal fanaticism, when nothing is more important than the master and his words. I wonder how many would remain in these groups if only those that really knew what they taught as being truths were allowed to propagate them, including the many so called “masters”. Perhaps none.
This link gives one insight into the legacy of Samalean gnostic groups. They all have similar views, whether they openly promote them or not. They all see each other as either mistaken or evil, to the point of despising each other. In fact they see everyone else as mistaken or evil.