I would define a "modern" cult as being in the age of the internet. This is fair to me; a cult relies upon spreading its message and the internet has changed that. So the earliest cults were in the 1990's. Waco was the earliest. Then there were others like that one in Japan with that blind, bearded leader, and then Heaven's Gate.

The most blatant example to me is the Heaven's Gate Cult. Their website as of July 1 , 2019, is still viewable: Heaven's Gate I'll give a screenshot: Heaven's Gate Website

The myth here is obvious enough; the comet Hale Bopp upon arrival takes people to a spaceship. The cult members - the followers of 'Do' were meant to be those people.

It's not as clear with other cults. Let's take one right now: NXIVM. The one with the women being branded. To me it would be stretching "myth" a bit to say that they followed messages of self improvement that were myths. If this is off topic somehow open to rewording it.

  • 4
    I'd say Scientology definitely has. Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 14:09
  • 1
    I mean, just look at DnD, Lovecraft or GoT, you don't even need a cult to create a myth
    – Calaom
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 12:59
  • @LaurenIpsum Scientology dates back to the 1950's though. The OP seems to be asking about post-Internet belief systems. Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 2:13

1 Answer 1


Frank Zappa put it like this:

The only difference between a cult and a religion is the amount of real estate they own

Compare the advent of the internet to the invention of the printing press: the principle thing that changes is the velocity of myth propagation. The printing press was one of the most important religious "weapons" during the reformation.

All religions started as cults. The main criteria for a cult to survive its early phase and grow into a religion have been studied and identified by antropologists:

  1. Charismatic Authority. This is the emotional bond between a leader and his or her followers. It lends legitimacy to the leader and grants authority to the leader’s actions while at the same time justifying and reinforcing followers’ responses to the leader and/or the leader’s ideas and goals.

  2. Transcendent Belief System. This is the overarching ideology that binds adherents to the group and keeps them behaving according to the group’s rules and norms. It is transcendent because it offers a total explanation of past, present, and future, including the path to salvation.

  3. Systems of Control. This is the network of acknowledged—or visible—regulatory mechanisms that guide the operation of the group. It includes the overt rules, regulations, and procedures that guide and control members’ behavior.

  4. Systems of Influence. This is the network of interactions and social influence that resides in the group’s social relations. This interaction and resultant group culture teach members to adapt their thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors in relation to their new beliefs.

You can check any cult or religion (surviving or extinct), modern or ancient, against this list. The internet is merely a faster carrier used to permeate their specific mythology. It is a means to an end, and though the form(at) may change (like the use of YouTube in stead of text, or agressive use of social media), the goals and messages don't.

So, of course modern cults invent their own myths or tweak/re-interpret existing ones to set them apart and make their group "special" - just like they have done for millenia. It is through the propagation of item 2 in the list that a cult sets itself apart and establishes itself. Without a myth, a cult leader has nothing to fall back on to justify his/her leader position.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.