We usually think of cults revolving around religions and religious groups, though in general, they just require a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing.
There are plenty of situations that don’t technically qualify, but we’re not the FBI here, and we know when we get that icky feeling in our gut.
Here are some things that make our brains scream cult, even if it’s not.
1. And it doesn’t work out that well for most.
Working at Amazon.
Hell, just interviewing with Amazon feels like an initiation with all the leadership principles and what not.
2. Well now I’m curious.
Marching band. If you know, you know.
I was in marching band in high school and just graduated earlier this year. I wanted to do drum corps since 7th grade but decided not to in my last year of marching band. People are paying to learn, thats what it’s about. But I barely have enough money for that after I got a job and would much rather spend those years of my life earning money and planning for my future.
And the hours that they make you rehearse. In high school we would have band camp for 2 weeks and it was 11 hours a day 6 days a week. I think drum corps does more and its for months at a time. I still have friends who wanna do that.
3. You’re not alone.
The Order of The Arrow in the Boy Scouts. Technically an approved organization, but its cultish as hell.
It’s funny, because they make you do this big induction campout, and the day after I got back from mine, my english teacher gave a lecture on how to identify a cult, and it hit a lot of red flags.
4. And it’s on purpose.
Can’t believe I had to scroll this far to find any mention of BSA. Regular scouts can be culty depending on the troop/council, especially when you get into summer camp cliques, but OA is above and beyond culty on purpose.
5. In for a penny…
People who own Thermomix machines.
Spend that much on an over-elaborate food processor and I guess you need to double-down but man, they just won’t shut the fuck up about how it changed their life, oh cooking is sooo different for me now, oh it’s just sooo convenient.
Having said that, I did once go to a ‘Thermomix Party’, where they try to mind-wash you into their not-a-cult, because the lady that invited me was recently divorced and pretty hot and I figured why not give it a shot – I never particularly liked her ex-husband, so could have been a multi-bird stone throw.
I barely made it out alive without my wallet being lightened a couple of grand – man, the sales pressure was intense.
6. They’re not trying to hide it.
The latin, the constant themes of death and impermanence, or the low chanting?
7. At least they work for good.
Some fandoms. Especially K-pop fandoms.
Every time I try to make friends based on my interest in certain things (Lord of the Rings, specific bands, Harry Potter, etc) I feel so pushed out because I’m not into it enough. I enjoy a lot of things and would love to share them with people.
But I don’t care that it’s a specific musicians birthday or what his dogs name is, and I listen to more than one artist and like more than one movie/book.
8. But theater kids are the best!
High school clubs where you spend a lot of time together. Marching band and theater are the ones that come to mind for me.
This is extremely true of theater, even into the professional ranks. Too many gurus, too little pay, too many abuses.
9. It’s…a lot.
My Little Pony, too.
I watched that show for a couple seasons back in the day, after wondering why several of my friends were hyping it up (including one that really surprised me by liking the show). Friendship is Magic. Pretty good show, quite funny.
Took a peek or two or three into the fandom, though, and… Jesus Christ. It was very “Well, no wonder people who watch the show have a bad reputation, goddamn.”
10. They all know.
Used to teach composition at a div I university and for the “persuasion” paper one student wrote this brilliant takedown of everything that was wrong with her sorority. It was her best work of the semester and she got an A.
And I asked her when she was going to share it with her sisters and she turned 12 shades of red and said, “Never. I couldn’t.”
11. Just say no to the MLM.
I recently had a conversation with one of my friends who’s obsessed with being a “girl boss” so she joins all these pyramid schemes all the time.
Her: I just joined blahblah (I already forgot the name)
Me: What is that?
Her: It’s a company that does multi level marketing. It’s so great, you should see how much money the people at the top have, they basically became millionaires in a couple of years
Me: You joined another pyramid scheme?
Her: Ugh, omg it is NOT a pyramid scheme, it’s an MLM. People get those two confused all the time, MLMs are serious this is a real business and it makes lots of money. They taught us all about the difference between MLMs and pyramid schemes during orientation. I hate that people don’t get the difference.
12. It’s awful.
The ones that air on TV with a crowd that rivals sports teams, owns sports arenas and has its pastors fly in private jets.
There, I said it.
13. Not all families are deserving of blind loyalty.
If you’re inside the family, you are accepted no matter what and you don’t question anything.
If you’re outside the family, you are treated politely but don’t really matter much unless you act as part of the family.
If you were part of the family, but “betray” them, you are excommunicated and they spread lies about you.
14. I’m not agreeing, but…
Texas A&M university.
In high school I made a presentation on the traditions at A&M. I covered as many traditions as I could find. My mom went there. My uncle’s went there. My grandad went there. So early on in life I knew I was going to go there.
Right after I finished someone said “that sounds like a cult”.
I didn’t end up going there. My grades were not that good and the university I ended up going to had a better physics program for me
15. Definitely a cult.
If you’ve ever known anyone who has worked at Disneyland, they will talk your ear off about how it’s the happiest place on earth and how lucky they are to work there (well, pre-pandemic)
16. They WILL tell you about it.
The Holy Church of CrossFit.
17. That’s definitely suspicious behavior.
Maybe 10-12 years ago I went to an alumni event for a friend’s college and sat next to a guy who worked for Salesforce. I know this because that’s how he introduced himself.
When I asked what SF was, because it was the early days, he was visibly shocked and just said “I work for Salesforce. Everybody wants to work for Salesforce”.
Still not quite sure what it does, despite being surrounded by SF offices, but whenever I see an employee walk around with a SF-logo’d backpack or hoodie, I whisper “everybody wants to work for Salesforce.”
18. Do you want to start your own?
I’m a member of the not quite as well known Church of Orangetheory. If you ask us about proper rowing technique, we’ll all start chanting at you. “Legs, core, arms; arms, core, legs!” “Rowing is 60% leg drive!” “Power, patience, patience!”
When I first joined 2.5 years ago, I came home with my little folder of information and coupons to local businesses, a tote bag, a car magnet, and the heart rate monitor, and said to my husband, “I think I just joined a cult.”
19. I mean they smell nice, but they’re not saving anyone’s life.
We get it, you’re a single mom and you want to work from home, but damn you guys sure drank the KoolAid.
20. No aberrations allowed.
Curly Girl Method groups.
Flat iron: jail. Hair dye: jail. Sulfates: you right to jail. Silicones: right to jail, right away. No deep conditioning: believe it or not, jail. We have the best hair in the world because of jail.
21. Lots of these in the stay-at-home Mom world.
Beachbody especially the “coaches.”
22. Unless it’s Bayside.
School spirit. I can understand it for university, but not for high school or below, which I didn’t have a choice in attending. I went there because it was the school I ended up being sent to, ergo I should be proud of it? I don’t get it.
Also forced school songs that talk about “being a part of the school forever”
23. They really want you to buy what they’re selling.
The Herbalife organization. They were charged with being a pyramid scheme, but they still operate in a similar way. There are several people I grew up with who became hooked on it, and they definitely act like they’re in a cult.
24. I think it needs to be.
AA. I am in AA. I like AA. It saved my life. But it is cultish a lot of the time.
AA is great. If you let it become your new addiction it will be pretty cult like. Some people forget we got sober so we could function in normal society.
25. When you lose friendships, it’s time to take a look.
I’ve had to stop talking to a friend because her bf sells CBD through an mlm.
She makes a sh%t ton of money training and selling horses and is a big name in her profession. Why she lets him do this shit, I do not know.
26. Blind devotion.
I have lived in Pennsylvania my entire life, and it would be hard to convince me that Penn State is not a cult. If you listen to people who have graduated Penn State you’d know.
No other college is as good as Penn State. No other college has sports like Penn State. No other colleges teach subjects like Penn State. No other college has a building like Penn State. No other college allows their students to use the library like Penn State.
No other college lets their students use the bathrooms like Penn State. No other college has a roof that stops rain like Penn State. No other college allows students to walk down the sidewalk like Penn State.
If any other college has anything, you bet your ass Penn State has it at least twice as good. I hate college pride, and Penn State gets the most of it in my area.
27. I have a family.
Some workplaces. The ones that push the “we’re all family here” attitude especially.
I worked in a place that tried to convince the employees we were a “family”. They basically meant that they would abuse you and expect you to take it, because “family”.
They actively discourage current employees from socializing with former employees. If an employee left because he was fired, it was because he was a bad example to the others and had to be excised from the group.
If an employee left because he got fed up and quit, it was because he was a bad apple anyway but they had not legitimate reason to fire him yet. Either way, that former employee is no longer “one of us” and should be avoided at all costs. (One employee was chastised for “liking” too many of a former employee’s FB posts.)
28. Everyone deserves to get paid.
Working for a nonprofit. They tend to refer to employees as a “family” working for a cause, which wouldn’t be culty on its own…but they definitely use it to manipulate employees to work themselves half to death & set a culture where boundaries are thought of as not being invested in the mission.
They also use your passion for the mission to justify working you harder/paying you less. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my job and what I get to do. But I’m old enough to see what’s been done to me over the years.
The rotating door of young employees who are worked to burnout and replaced though, I feel bad for. It’s a hard lesson to learn.
29. Very creepy.
MLMs but especially Mary Kay. I went to a convention once as the guest of a consultant because she was trying to get me to join. It was very stepford.
Also, she didn’t tell me you were expected to dress up so I showed up in jeans and a hoodie.
My “friend” gave me the line and asked me if I’d be willing to be a “practice model” while someone gave me a “makeover.” It ended up being an hours-long award ceremony where the women wept over how MK changed their lives and made them successful business people.
They thought my eyes watering from all the yawning was tears of joy and tried to recruit me. Never did end up getting my makeup done that night, I snuck out as soon as I could.
30. This makes me sick to MY stomach.
Eating disorders and any pro-eating disorder sites. Those who have an eating disorder often view their disorder as their “best friend” giving them names like Ana and Mia. And then there are those sites to make it worse.
They treat eating disorders like they are sacred and often post “rules” in a cultish way. One site I used to visit in my dark days even had the ’10 commandments of ana’ now if that doesn’t sound cultish idk what does.
Don’t even make me start about the “weight loss coaches” on there.
31. Don’t sign on the dotted line.
Please sign here that you’ve seen Debbie Stobbleman and find her to be happy, healthy, and alive.
32. Suddenly, it’s everywhere.
Seriously. My dad hasn’t stopped talking about his since getting it a year ago and went so far as to buy me one for Xmas this year. Which is super generous and my fat ass will totally benefit, but feels like I’m being indoctrinated into something.
The instructors are really intense and say culty things. I think the idea is to physically torture you to the point that you don’t notice you’re being programmed to spread Peloton gospel to anyone who will listen. I’ve been so bored that joining a cult where I get hotter sounds ok though.
33. It’s a whole vibe.
I just went through at least two dozen top replies and shocked Burning Man isn’t listed.
Y’all—burners are fucking weird.
Source? I was one/am one who has critical thoughts about how things work yet have found ideas are only cool if you’re popular.
All of these things give me the creeps!
What else would you add to this list? Tell us in the comments!