Before I address survivor’s stories in later articles, I believe it is important to understand how groups that ritually abuse operate. Cults can be abusive or non-abusive, and there are many fairly benign cult-like groups that exist today. But for the purposes of my article, I want to look at cults that abuse, specifically, in the sense of ritual abuse.
What are the characteristics of an abusive cult? There are many studies that have defined controlling cults. Dr. Margaret Singer, Phd, U.Ca. Berkley, has written one of the definitive articles on cults that employ mind control and their characteristics (1).
She states that thought reform, as employed by controlling cults, involves the entire anthropological/social spectrum of behaviour, including language use, social environment, and influence of the leader and peers on the member. This often involves attacking the person’s self concept.
I would like to take the six conditions that she has identified as being pre-requisites to exerting mind control, and compare them to experiences of survivors in ritualistically abusive groups. The two correlate completely.
1. CONTROL OVER TIME : this is Singer’s first condition. The cult group must get some of the person’s time, as much as possible, and have the individual think about group idealogy. Survivors report spending time during the week in contact with the cultic groups that abuse them. Contact is by phone; by verbal discussion, or going to meetings. Survivors state that group meetings often occur weekly, monthly, or as frequently as two to three times a week for intensive training sessions. The group that I was involved in (the Illuminati) met two to three times a week for normal teaching times, and had large group meetings on a monthly basis (“ritual times”) as well as leadership meetings once a month to plan the activities for the next few weeks.
2. CREATE A SENSE OF POWERLESSNESS Most groups involved in ritual abuse do this to the nth degree. Through pain, degradation, tying up victims, and experiences created to show there is “no escape” from infancy on, the victim of cult control soon comes to believe that he/she is trapped, can never break free, and should just “give in” to what is asked of them.
3. MANIPULATE REWARDS, PUNISHMENTS, EXPERIENCES IN ORDER TO SUPPRESS OLD SOCIAL BEHAVIOR BEHAVIORS REWARDED: Participation, conformity to ideas/behavior, zeal, personal changes BEHAVIORS PUNISHED: criticalness, independent thinking, non-conformity to ideas/behavior From earliest childhood in generational ritual groups, to later childhood or adulthood in other groups, the use of rewards and praise, as well as punishment have a name: training. Cult type groups believe strongly in the use of praise if the person does well, including merit badges, ceremonies of reward, and high status if the person conforms to the expected behaviour, and severe punishment, even death threatened if the person refuses to perform. Often, abusive and coercive groups will take this concept to its outermost extremes.
4. MANIPULATE REWARDS, PUNISHMENTS, EXPERIENCES IN ORDER TO ELICIT NEW BEHAVIOR Models will demonstrate new behavior Conformity: dress, language, behavior Using group language will eventually still the thinking mind I will discuss this from the point of view of my experiences in the Illuminati in San Diego, Ca. Again, “training” in the Illuminati and other highly controlling groups (outside people call it “programming” ) is meant to create behaviour that helps the group to continue. The goal is a member who is absolutely committed to the group; who never questions leadership, who strives to excel, and who scoffs at the weak. Weakness is the displaying of emotion during ritual events; the refusal to perform an act, or the inability to keep up with others in the group during activities. “Weak” members are brought forward, and punished in view of all. During military exercises (the group had a strong military basis, with forced marches at night, and mock “battles” and “hunts” ) if a member did well, they were highly praised and rewarded. This could be being excused from a difficult maneuver, or sexual rewards, or moving up in status at the next award time. Members were highly conscious of their standing in the group, and were constantly seeking to “move up.”
5. MUST BE A TIGHTLY CONTROLLED SYSTEM OF LOGIC There must be authoritarian leaders in control, who inspire confidence and punish questioning behaviour. In San Diego, as well as several Illuminati groups that I belonged to across the country, the leadership looked like a “pyramid”, with the top person being head of “leadership council”, then a group of two “advisors” below him. Below these two were six administrators who coordinated finances, meeting times, and running the groups logistically. Below them were six head trainers. Underneath were the “sister groups” of about 50 members each, with priests/priestesses, and others. All aspired to a leadership role, to being allowed to move up the rigid hierarchy. Questioning of leadership was unthought of, and considered quite dangerous. From earliest childhood on, members were taught that seeking to leave, or questioning the group’s philosophy, would mean isolation, beratement, punishment, and possible death, with “deaths” being staged to convince children of this reality. Survivors of groups outside the Illuminati have also reported similar activities to control members, with a hierarchy of leadership and leaders being given the right to severely punish or discipline nonconformers.
6. PERSONS BEING THOUGHT REFORMED MUST BE UNAWARE THAT THEY ARE BEING MOVED THROUGH A PROGRAM TO MAKE THEM DEPLOYABLE AGENTS
A person is hard to manipulate if they KNOW they are being manipulated. That is why techniques used by ritualistically abusive groups are often based on a sophisticated knowledge of human behaviour and psychology. The member’s peers including family, closest friends, and spouse are ALL members of the group in generational cults. These people all reinforce for the member that the group is good; has the member’s “best interests” at heart, no matter how abusive the behaviour. That they want to “help” the member. Trainers and behaviour programmers also use these techniques, including “bonding” with the victim, convincing the victim that they “care for them” , that “no one else could possibly understand them the way their ‘family’ (the name the Illuminati go by) does”, etc. As a former trainer in this group, I used those phrases frequently during sessions. At one time, I even believed them myself, until I began questioning what I was doing (this will be the focus of another article: why I left). Surrounded by members who all dress alike, act alike, the person in an abusive cult will often question themselves instead of the cult group, if they question at all. After all, in generational cults, this is the ONLY reality the person has known, from infancy on, and not everyone questions what happens to them.
In later articles, I hope to be able to incorporate survivor accounts of the types of groups involved in this kind of abuse. On a personal note, the group that was involved in my ritual abuse was known as the Illuminati, although day to day they called themselves “family”, “the Order”, or “the Society” depending on the circumstances. For thirteen years, at times my abuse occurred in a Masonic temple in Alexandria, Virginia and some of the abusers were Masons, although most of the membership of that group had no idea that some of the members were using the temple for that purpose. All Masons are NOT abusers, most are not, but SOME in my experience were members of the Illuminati and abused me in that context. I was also abused in a small abandoned Baptist church in the country in northern Virginia. One of the abusers was a deacon in a local baptist church. All Baptists are NOT abusers, but in this one instance, some members of the local church were members of a group that abused during the night hours.
In the daytime, these people were respected members of the community, churchgoers, and appeared benevolent. This shows that a person’s daytime “persona” can be quite different from how they act at night or in a different setting. All of the members of the group that abused me were generational themselves, and had been abused in the same way when they were children. This shows how the cycle of abuse, if not healed, will continue generation after generation in some families.
References: (1) Singer, Margaret T. “Conditions for Thought Reform