Top 10 Cults

For this list, we've defined a cult as a movement or group that follows a set of beliefs that others find strange or fail to understand, and that praises their leader as a God-like figure. Some, but not all, have negative connotations. Crazy beliefs and practices, crimes, mass suicides and even murder are all things that have been associated with cults due to a few bad groups. In memory of the mass suicide by members of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple on November 18th, 1978, counts down ten of the world’s most well known cults.

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Top 10 Cults

These groups made headlines due to their belief in a higher power. Welcome to, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 most well-known cults.

For this list, we’ve defined a cult as a movement or group that follows a set of beliefs that others find strange or fail to understand, and that praises their leader as a God-like figure. Some, but not all, have negative connotations.

#10 – Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s Communities (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh)

Just ‘cause he’s the “sex guru” doesn’t mean it’s all fun and games. This Indian spiritualist built an international following by criticizing more traditional belief systems, and for his open outlook on sexuality. He drove around his Oregon-based commune in Rolls Royces, but things declined when members committed the United States’ first bioterrorism attack, by infecting salad bars with salmonella in order to swing a local election their way.

#9 – Order of the Solar Temple (Luc Jouret)

Don’t join a religion led by a neo-Nazi. Started as an extension of the Knights Templar, the group was led by Belgian Luc Jouret who claimed to be the Messiah, and sermonized on the approaching end of days that could only be avoided by joining the Temple. Eventually, the group allegedly sacrificed a baby claiming it was the anti-Christ, and many members committed suicide in the days that followed.

#8 – The Raëlian Movement (Claude Vorilhon)

Raëlism is possibly the world’s largest UFO religion. Founded in France in the ‘70s, this group believes we’re descended from aliens, that overt sexuality is awesome, that cloning leads to reincarnation and that mind transfer is a thing. They made headlines in 2003 when a member of the group claimed to give birth to the world’s first cloned human, but it was eventually revealed as a hoax.

#7 – Heaven’s Gate (Marshall Applewhite)

Take Christianity, add a dash of sci-fi, some UFOs, and what do you get? Heaven’s Gate. Leader Marshall Applewhite believed Earth was going to be “recycled,” and the only way to escape was for their souls to board a spaceship following the Hale-Bopp comet. Despite their stance against suicide, he and 38 followers were found dead dressed identically, wearing arm bands that read “Heaven’s Gate Away Team.”

#6 – Aum Shinrikyo (Shoko Asahara)

Shoko Asahara’s group blurred the line between terrorist organization and cult. This Japanese cult started innocently as a yoga class. Soon, it was an official religion with 40 thousand members that meshed together aspects of other faiths. However, negative publicity increased as this “religion for the elite” started hoarding weaponry. Things culminated with a high-profile sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway that killed 13.

#5 – Unification Church (Sun Myung Moon)

Critically nicknamed “Moonies,” Sun Myung Moon’s Bible-based religion gained notoriety for aggressive enrollment practices and alleged brainwashing. However, the God-like Reverend Moon was once arrested for tax evasion, and was briefly banned from Germany due to his supposed negative influence. One of the group’s higher-profile – and less sinister – traditions is a mass marriage called the Blessing Ceremony, which purports to wipe participants’ slates clean of Original Sin.

#4 – Hare Krishna (A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada)

Members of this Hindu-based group lead a simple existence, where sex is for procreation, intoxication and gambling are banned, eating meat is a no-no and chanting is a big deal. During their heyday, bald-headed, robed disciples were at every airport, and even Beatle George Harrison was a member during his lifetime. Though they’ve remained relatively free of scandal, whisperings of problems like child abuse and brainwashing have emerged.

#3 – Branch Davidians (David Koresh)

After splitting from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, this movement came to revolve around the self-proclaimed Messiah, David Koresh, and an imminent Judgment Day. Rumors circulated that Koresh abused underage women and stockpiled weapons at their Center in Waco, Texas. The ATF tried searching the grounds in 1993, but was met with a gunfight and a 50-day siege that ended in a fire that killed 76, including Koresh himself.

#2 – The Manson Family (Charles Manson)

Charles Manson recruited naïve hippies during the Summer of Love, and eventually they were living commune-style on a California ranch where free love, drugs, Beatles tunes and ideas about an apocalyptic race war ruled. Manson ordered his followers to kill for him, and in 1971 they were finally convicted for the Tate-LaBianca murders. After that, they faded into obscurity… Until Squeaky Fromme tried assassinating Gerald Ford in 1975.

#1 – Peoples Temple (Jim Jones)

Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple started as a multicultural communist group out to help the poor. The organization eventually tightened its grip on disciples as it preached the coming nuclear apocalypse. Members followed Reverend Jones to Guyana; but when U.S. authorities came knocking in 1978, members of the Peoples Temple shot first and asked questions later. The next day, 918 drank the Kool-Aid – only it was laced with cyanide.

What all these groups have in common are belief systems that are difficult for outsiders to understand. Which cults do you think we’ve missed? For more top 10 lists, be sure to subscribe to

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