Mystery. Manipulation. Murder. Cults are associated with all of these. But what really goes on inside a cult? More specifically, what goes on inside the minds of people who join cults and leaders who start them? Every Tuesday, Greg and Vanessa (co-hosts of the podcast Serial Killers) explore the history and psychology behind the most notorious cults. Cults is part of the Parcast Network and is a Cutler Media production.

True Crime
Society & Culture
Cults Daily: “Heaven’s Gate” Marshall Applewhite
He required his members to cut all ties with outside influences. And then in 1997, he convinced them to do the unthinkable in order to enter a higher existence.
6 min
Parcast Classic: Nuwaubian Nation Pt. 1
Founded in 1967, thousands of followers of the Nuwaubian Nation believed themselves to be descendants of aliens, waiting to be beamed up before the apocalypse. Dwight York’s control was so strong, many people still support him now, despite 100+ years remaining on his prison sentence.
49 min
“Vampire Clan” Rod Ferrell
As a sophomore in high school, Rod Ferrell bonded with a group of goth outcasts through their shared love of a roleplaying game called Vampire: The Masquerade.
37 min
“Panacea Society” Pt. 2: Joanna Southcott
She drew both criticism and adulation after announcing that she would be giving birth to the “child of god” in 1864. As it turned out, Joanna Southcott’s prophecies would become the stuff of legend, and outlive her by more than a century.
40 min
“Panacea Society” Pt. 1: Joanna Southcott
Self-proclaimed Christian prophet Joanna Southcott led an ordinary life in England as a domestic servant for years.
39 min
“Chen Tao” Hon-Ming Chen
In 1995, Hon-Ming Chen founded a UFO cult in Taiwan. His followers clung to him because they believed he could save them from an imminent nuclear apocalypse.
44 min
Cults Rewind: Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh Pt. 1
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh felt discomfort with his own mortality from a young age. Over time, his spiritual studies and beliefs about capitalism and sexuality led Rajneesh to become a charismatic cult leader.
52 min
“Christian Identity” Pt. 2: Michael Wayne Ryan
He consolidated his power over an offshoot of the white supremacist group, Posse Comitatus.
47 min
“Christian Identity” Pt. 1: Michael Wayne Ryan
In the early 1980s, Michael Wayne Ryan went from a frustrated, directionless slacker to the leader of a violent cult composed of down-on-their-luck farmers.
40 min
“The I AM Movement” Guy Ballard
Under the backdrop of the Great Depression, Guy and Edna Ballard successfully milked over a million people out of their valuables, life insurance, and savings.
36 min
“The Suicide Catalyst” Teal Swan
In 2011, Teal Swan began making YouTube videos claiming she was an extrasensory alien tasked with healing the world of its miseries.
50 min
Cults Rewind: Anne Hamilton Byrne Pt. 1
Accused of imprisoning and brainwashing children, Anne Hamilton Byrne convinced her almost 500 followers that she was the female reincarnation of Jesus Christ.
28 min
“The House of David” Pt. 2: Benjamin Purnell
In the 1920s, the House of David baseball team was taking the nation by storm with their entertaining style of play.
33 min
“The House of David” Pt. 1: Benjamin Purnell
Benjamin Purnell arrived in Benton Harbor, Michigan in 1913, claiming to be the seventh and final messenger of God.
37 min
“The Virtual Reptilian Cult”: Sherry Shriner
Sherry Shriner believed Satan disguised himself as Jesus and subsequently tricked the world into praising him. So she became the virtual leader of an online Reptilian ET Cult that believed demonic, alien reptiles were sent by Satan to take over the world.
40 min
Best of 2019: “The Source Family” Pt. 2: James ...
When the cult moved to Hawaii, James Baker never expected his penniless followers to find him.
50 min
Best of 2019: “The Source Family” Pt. 1: James ...
When James Baker started his health food restaurant on the Sunset Strip in the 1970s, he had no intention of creating a spiritual commune.
47 min
"Fountain of the World” Pt. 2: Krishna Venta
In the late 1940s, the eccentric Krishna Venta founded the Fountain of the World and claimed to be the embodiment of Christ.
43 min
“Fountain of the World” Pt. 1: Krishna Venta
As a wandering lecturer who opened up a religious compound in the San Fernando Valley in 1949, Krishna Venta claimed to be from a mythical valley in India.
42 min
“Colonia Dignidad”: Paul Schäfer
When former Nazi serviceman Paul Schäfer fled Germany in 1961, he founded a rural community called Colonia Dignidad in Southern Chile.
42 min
“Lev Tahor” Pt. 2: Shlomo Helbrans
In the 1990s and 2000s, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans and the Lev Tahor preyed on impressionable youths.
39 min
“Lev Tahor” Pt. 1: Shlomo Helbrans
Charming, electric, and persuasive are just some of the ways people described Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans.
35 min
“The International Churches of Christ” Pt. 2: K...
While the church became notorious for its aggressive recruiting practices through the 80s and 90s, it also experienced incredible growth—eventually reaching Los Angeles.
39 min
“The International Churches of Christ” Pt. 1: K...
Before his church became one of the fastest growing—and most controversial—religious organizations in the United States, Kip McKean developed strict beliefs as a Bible literalist in 1960s Florida.
43 min
“New Forest Coven” Pt. 2: Gerald Gardner
Witness the growing pains Wicca went through as it transitioned from a small secret society to a global religion, and explore the fallout from Gerald Gardner’s decision to speak publicly about their practices in 1954.
45 min
"The New Forest Coven" Pt. 1: Gerald Gardner
September 1939: Occultist Gerald Gardner makes contact with what he believes to be a remnant of the long rumored "Witch-Cult."
43 min
“Tensegrity” Pt. 2 - Carlos Castaneda
After he was publicly humiliated when his memoirs were exposed as a hoax, Castaneda retreated into seclusion.
42 min
“Tensegrity” - Carlos Castaneda
In 1960, anthropology student Carlos Castaneda followed a Native American Yaqui guide into the desert.
48 min
“The Fall River Cult” Pt. 2 - Robin Murphy
Members of the Fall River Satanic cult were suspects in the murder of a young woman in 1979, but detectives couldn't find anyone who was willing to testify against them.
43 min
“The Fall River Cult” - Robin Murphy
In 1979, biker and pimp Carl Drew joined sex worker Robin Murphy to create a Satanic cult in Fall River Massachusetts.
41 min
“Church of the First Born of the Lamb of God” P...
In the 1970s, Ervil Lebaron broke with his brother’s church to form his own polygamous fundamentalist sect known as the Lambs of God.
48 min
“Church of the First Born of the Lamb of God” -...
In 1971, Ervil LeBaron received a revelation from God: he had inherited the mantle of Joseph Smith, and was destined to rule over God’s Kingdom on earth.
38 min
“Symbionese Liberation Army” Pt. 2 - Donald DeF...
From within the confines of the Vacaville prison medical center, Donald DeFreeze started recruiting young, idealistic Berkeley radicals for his leftist political cult.
39 min
“Symbionese Liberation Army” - Donald DeFreeze
Donald DeFreeze was a gun-obsessed drifter throughout the 1960s. But he didn't use his guns — he had nothing to fight for.
42 min
“Nation of Yaweh” Pt. 2 - Hulon Mitchell Jr.
In the early 1980s, Hulon Mitchell, Jr.'s Nation of Yahweh became a fixture in Miami's black community.
45 min
“Nation of Yaweh” - Hulon Mitchell Jr.
From the moment Hulon Mitchell, Jr. was born in 1935, he was raised to think he was special.
43 min
“The Brotherhood of Eternal Love” - John Griggs
Just before the Summer of Love, 22-year-old John Griggs discovered LSD and had an epiphany – he would serve as the Hippie Messiah and guide the world to psychedelic revolution.
49 min
“The Wesson Vampire Clan” Pt. 2 - Marcus Delon ...
The more Marcus Wesson retreated from society, the more extreme his behavior became.
51 min
“The Wesson Vampire Clan” - Marcus Delon Wesson
Marcus Wesson was raised between two extremes: his devout 7th Day Adventist mother and his alcoholic and sexually abusive father.
47 min
“The Alamo Christian Foundation” Pt. 2 - Tony A...
Tony Alamo and his wife Susan grew The Alamo Christian Foundation from a few dozen homeless teenagers to over 3000 followers on sophisticated compounds around the United States.
46 min
“The Alamo Christian Foundation” - Tony Alamo
When he moved to Los Angeles in 1960, Tony Alamo was convinced that his big break as a musician was just around the corner.
47 min
“Lord Our Righteousness Church” Pt. 2 - Wayne Bent
In the fall of 2007, Judgement Day arrived on the Strong City compound.
38 min
“Lord Our Righteousness Church” - Wayne Bent
In the early 2000s, Wayne Bent established his following on a compound in New Mexico that he dubbed "Strong City."
40 min
“The Children of Thunder” Pt. 2 - Glenn Taylor ...
In July of 2001, this cult declared war on Satan and the forces of darkness.
41 min
“The Children of Thunder” - Glenn Taylor Helzer
Taylor Helzer believed that the voice in his head, which he called "Spirit," was the voice of God.
43 min
“Church of Jesus With Signs Following” Pt. 2 - ...
In 1980 he quickly grew his flock through acts of extreme religious affirmation, such as handling poisonous snakes and drinking poison in front of his congregants.
48 min
“Church of Jesus With Signs Following” - Glenn ...
He spent most of his life in a boxing ring, trying to prove his worth with his fists.
49 min
"The Process Church" Pt. 2 - Mary Ann MacClean ...
After fleeing from a destructive hurricane, in the late 1960s, Mary and Robert de Grimston led their followers on a nomadic journey around the US in search of more converts and the site of their new church.
48 min
"The Process Church" - Mary Ann MacClean and Ro...
Mary and Robert de Grimston created a flamboyant cult in 1960s London that attracted outcasts and celebrities alike.
43 min
“The Blackburn Cult” Pt. 2 - May Otis Blackburn
In 1925 Willa had been dead for months, and yet she wasn't laid to rest.
43 min
“The Blackburn Cult” - May Otis Blackburn
Many actors wait tables while they're waiting for their big break; May and Ruth Blackburn started a cult.
47 min
“Eastern Lightning” Pt. 2 - Zhao Weishan
After the cult was dogged with rumors of violent conversion tactics, the Church of the Almighty God blamed the Chinese government for the negative press.
38 min
“Eastern Lightning” - Zhao Weishan
The Church of the Almighty God preached that Jesus Christ had been reborn and walked the Earth.
40 min
“The Source Family” Pt. 2 - James Baker
When the cult moved to Hawaii, James Baker never expected his penniless followers to find him.
50 min
“The Source Family” - James Baker
When James Baker started his health food restaurant on the Sunset Strip in the 1970s, he had no intention of creating a spiritual commune.
47 min
“New Vrindaban” Pt. 2 - Kirtanananda Swami
For roughly 15 years, this guru was a beloved spiritual leader with hopes of opening a worship oriented theme park.
42 min
“New Vrindaban” - Kirtanananda Swami
For 26 years, he was the guru and leader of the New Vrindaban cult in West Virginia.
45 min
“The Workers' Institute” Pt. 2 - Aravindan Bala...
By the 1970s, Comrade Bala's small collective had gone completely underground.
48 min
“The Workers' Institute” - Aravindan Balakrishnan
After two "members" escaped in 2013, it was revealed Aravindan Balakrishnan was enslaving women in the basement of his London flat.
42 min
“The Sons of Freedom” - Peter V. Verigin
This Cult’s beliefs often steered members to protest against the Canadian government.
46 min
“River Road Fellowship” Pt. 2 - Victor Arden Ba...
Reigning over Shepherd’s Camp throughout the 1990s, Victor Barnard was the king of his own Eden.
41 min
“River Road Fellowship” - Victor Arden Barnard
Victor Barnard started his own cult in the early 1990s and moved off the grid to an isolated campground in Minnesota.
40 min
“Fellowship of Friends” Pt. 2 - Robert Earl Burton
Robert Earl Burton used elements of mysticism to lure vulnerable followers to his group, but his shaky past threatens their future.
42 min
“Fellowship of Friends” - Robert Earl Burton
In 1970, his fellowship began with just two members huddled around a dining room table in Northern California.
37 min
“Kashi Ashram” Pt. 2 - Joyce Green
What started as a mission preaching tolerance and empathy, quickly turned sour when rumors of drug abuse and financial impropriety started to swirl.
40 min
“Kashi Ashram” - Joyce Green
Controversy would eventually strain Kashi Ashram, turning some of Joyce’s closest allies against her.
41 min
"Freemasonry" Pt. 2 - The cult that built America
Masonic ideals helped shape one of the most powerful nations in the world.
37 min
"Freemasonry" - The cult that built America
One of the oldest secret organizations in the world that dates back to 1425.
39 min
“The Way International” Pt. 2 - Victor Paul Wie...
By 1980, The Way International was one of the largest and wealthiest cults on Earth.
46 min
“The Way International” - Victor Paul Wierwille
“The Teacher” appeared to be devoted to God, but actually wanted sex, money, and control.
46 min
“Church of Satan” Pt. 2 - Anton LaVey
How did the Church of Satan fare after his death in 2001?
43 min
“Church of Satan” - Anton LaVey
Anton LaVey would go on to publish the first Satanic Bible which continues to influence people all over the world today.
45 min
“The Church of the Last Testament” Pt. 2 - Serg...
Would you follow a cult into Siberia?
39 min
The Church of the Last Testament - Sergey Anato...
This traffic cop turned cult leader got his followers to believe he is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.
41 min
The Kirtland Cult Pt. 2 - Jeffrey Lundgren
What would happen when the "murmurs" he heard indicated that some of his followers were having second thoughts?
51 min
The Kirtland Cult - Jeffrey Lundgren
He believed that he could talk to God and that he alone could bring about Zion in Kirtland.
50 min
Mankind United Pt. 2 - Arthur Bell
After being shut down by the FBI, Arthur Bell returned and established a tax-exempt church that would allow him to extort his followers for millions.
40 min
Mankind United - Arthur Bell
Imagine only working four hours a day, four days a week, eight months a year.
49 min
The Hernandez Brothers' Cult
The Hernandez Brothers Cult was founded by Santos and Cayetano Hernandez in the early 1960s in a small, northern Mexico village.
42 min
Lumpa Church Pt. 2 - Alice Lenshina
By 1960, the Lumpa Church was the most influential religion in Zambia and seen as a political threat by Prime Minister Kenneth Kaunda.
36 min
Lumpa Church - Alice Lenshina
After a life-changing vision turned her into a prophetess, Alice Lenshina rose from one of the minor tribal houses of Zambia to become the founder and leader of the Lumpa church, one of the most powerful organizations in the entire country.
42 min
Sahaja Yoga Movement Pt. 2 - Shri Mataji Nirmal...
How has the cult managed to remain so strong and what role did the death of Shri Mataji play in that success?
43 min
Sahaja Yoga Movement - Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi
Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi is the founder of the Sahaja Yoga Movement, a form of meditation meant to help practitioners unlock an inner awareness.
46 min
Church Universal and Triumphant Pt. 2 - Elizabe...
Elizabeth Clare Prophet was the charismatic leader of the Church Universal and Triumphant who had no problem recruiting members.
46 min
Church Universal and Triumphant - Elizabeth Pro...
When Mark Prophet died suddenly of a stroke in 1973, Elizabeth Clare Prophet usurped his position as the leader of Summit Lighthouse, and changed its name to Church Universal and Triumphant.
50 min
Raëlism Pt. 2 - Claude Vorilhon
Raël recruited members through his media appearances.
53 min
Raëlism - Claude Vorilhon
While on a nature walk in his native France, 27-year old Claude Vorilhon saw a small, alien spacecraft land in front of him.
51 min
Order of the Solar Temple Pt. 2 - Joseph Di Mambro
Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret founded The Order of the Solar Temple.
41 min
Order of the Solar Temple - Joseph Di Mambro
Joseph Di Mambro was no stranger when it came to new religious movements.
40 min
Leopard Society
For the past 150 years, members of the Leopard Society in West Africa dressed in leopard skins and brutally murdered over six-dozen victims.
45 min
The Narcosatanists Pt. 2 - Adolfo de Jesús Cons...
Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo founded the Narcosatanists in Mexico City in 1985.
53 min
The Narcosatanists - Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo
Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo spent his early life training in the mystical religions of Santería and Palo Mayombe.
52 min
The Moonies Pt. 2 - Sun Myung Moon
Sun Myung Moon's church used a well-practiced set of tactics on each prospective cult member.
51 min
The Moonies - Sun Myung Moon
Sun Myung Moon was the son of farmers who converted from Confucianism to Christianity when he was about 10 years old.
59 min
Oneida Community Pt. 2 - John Humphrey Noyes
John Humphrey Noyes’ Oneida Community practiced polyamory long before the free love movement of the 1960s.
49 min
Oneida Community - John Humphrey Noyes
John Humphrey Noyes grew up crippled by social anxiety.
47 min
Twelve Tribes Pt. 2 - Elbert Spriggs
The Twelve Tribes has numerous communities still active around the world.
38 min
Twelve Tribes - Elbert Spriggs
Elbert Eugene Spriggs Jr. felt he could never live up to his strict Christian father's expectations.
44 min
“The Brethren” Pt. 2 - Jimmie T. Roberts
Jimmie T. Roberts lead a religious cult known as 'The Brethren' and targeted vulnerable college students looking for belonging.
48 min
“The Brethren” - Jimmie T. Roberts
Although he had a lonely childhood and grew up impoverished, Jimmie T. Roberts found feelings of comfort and belonging in religion.
35 min