The role that money plays in any cult leader’s life should not be underestimated. I definitely underestimated this fact when I was in the cult I belonged to for ten years. I was in the cult for love; I loved the other people in the group, I loved the cause we had been coerced into believing we were working for (saving the world – who could argue with that?) and I especially loved our cult leader. I admired her, I wanted to be like her, I believed in what she said she stood for. I loved her with every fibre of my being and gave her my whole heart.
Of course, it is only in hindsight that I realize that she definitely didn’t feel the same way about me. And just today, fifteen years after the event I’m about to describe, I had an epiphany and can even more clearly see how those of us who followed her were only valuable to her when we had something concrete to offer (money, labour, connections etc.)
When I joined the group our guru ran (which I only realized was a cult years after I’d left) I was young; 21 years old to be exact. I had my first “grown-up” job and was building an adult life for myself; buying furniture, making friends in a new city and getting used to being responsible for myself. The financial bottom line of my life was that I had no money because I had had no time yet to accumulate any. I was earning an entry-level salary and was just happy to be able to pay my rent and my bills and have a little money left over to go to the movies once in a while.
Flash forward two or three years. I am sitting in the coffee shop of the office tower where I work, having a visit with someone else from the cult (the man I call Michael in my book). Out of nowhere, Michael raises the topic of my financial situation. He remarks that he and our guru (I call her Limori in my book) had been discussing me recently and had decided that even though I claim to be broke all the time, I must have some money squirreled away somewhere. After all, I have a good job and no dependents.
My instant reaction to this comment is to feel betrayed. How could the two people I love most in the world talk about me this way behind my back? Moreover, how could they think that I would tell them anything but the truth?
Know this about me: I am transparent and guileless even now at 43 years old. While I was in my 20s you could have multiplied that tenfold. And add clueless to the mix. When I give someone my heart, as I had done with Michael and Limori, I am incapable of keeping secrets, lying or deceiving that person (or persons). I am utterly transparent with strangers. When I love someone? Fuggedaboutit. I could no more have lied to Limori or kept anything from her than I could have punched her in the face.
Flash forward again to today. April 3, 2011. Out of nowhere, as I was waking up from a nap, I remembered this conversation with Michael from years ago and suddenly I am clear about what was going on.
Limori wanted to know about my financial situation, not because she thought I was keeping something from her, but because she wanted to know how my financial situation could benefit her. Rather than ask me directly she went to Michael and raised the subject, knowing he would talk to me about it, since he was my best friend.
Cult leaders need money more than they need almost anything else (although control is pretty high up on their list of priorities). Limori didn’t have a job (other than giving the occasional psychic reading); she lived off the backs of those of us who followed her. In “God’s” name she has been gifted hundreds of thousands of dollars in widow’s benefits, alimony settlements, inheritances and just plain financial donations to her “cause”. For several years, those of us who followed her paid the mortgage each month on the property (fishing lodge and cabins) she owns in the Chilcotin Plateau of BC, because the business couldn’t sustain itself at that time. For perhaps more than a decade, those from the cult who worked at the fishing lodge did so for no compensation, other than the food they ate. Whenever any of us who lived in the city and had jobs balked at the money we were being asked to “donate” she would play the “God” card: “Do you want to serve God or not? Is money more important to you than God? Your ego is really attached to that money, isn’t it? How can you say you love and serve God when you seem to love money more?” etc.
The moral of this story? Those who are in a cult are there because of love. Love for their guru, for the cause they serve and for the other people in the group. (And, most importantly, they don’t know it’s a cult.)
But make no mistake; the guru herself does not love the disciples back. The guru only loves what each disciple can do for her. She will say with her mouth that she loves you, but as soon as you are out of money or don’t serve some purpose in the chess game she calls life, you will be tossed aside like so much week-old garbage.
This wasn’t obvious to me then, because I was distracted by all the “higher purpose and serving God” rhetoric that was being thrown at me. An effective cult leader is like a magician; she will distract your attention and have you watch her right hand while her left hand is slipping your watch off your wrist, your wallet out of your pocket, your self-esteem out of your soul and your life out of your hands. The sleight of hand that went on when I was in Limori’s cult is only obvious to me now, over a decade later.
As my dad is fond of saying, sadly, hindsight is 20/20. When it comes to cults, this could not be more true.
(Photo courtesy of scottchan and FreeDigitalPhotos.net)