A search for higher purpose, a need to belong, a belief in the power of a greater being in human form – there’s a lot of reasons cults come about. Here are some of the world’s most notorious ones.

1. Jonestown

Started by the pastor Jim Jones, this cult was located in Guyana and was falsely touted as an integrationist utopia for all. In 1978, over 900 people, including children, committed mass suicide by ingesting poison on the orders of Jones.


2. Dera Sacha Sauda

The leader of this Haryana cult, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, was accused of murder and convicted of the rape of 2 sadhvis. His arrest led to widespread violence and rioting via his followers, which left over 250 injured and 38 dead.



A multi-level marketing organisation with all the trappings of a cult, women who were part of this were branded with the logo and coerced into having sex with founder Keith Raniere. Keith himself has been accused of sex with minors.


4. Thuggee

This was an ancient Indian cult of murderers, and is the source of the word ‘thug’. They’d befriend unsuspecting travellers, strangle them, and steal their valuables. The Guinness Book of Records claims they took over 2 million lives.


5. Children of God

Started in 1968 in California by David Berg, this hippie commune soon turned into a bizarre cult that asked its women to become prostitutes in order to recruit members. The leaders also encouraged sex with minors as young as 4. The cult still exists today, and is called The Family.


6. Heaven’s Gate

This American UFO religious millenarian cult was founded in 1974 and led by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles. Marshall and some others got castrated as part of the cult, and on March 26, 1997, 39 of them committed mass suicide as they believed their bodies would be picked up by a UFO.


7. Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God

Founded by Credonia Mwerinde, Joseph Kibweteere and Bee Tait in the 1980s in Uganda, this cult prophesied doomsday. In early 2000, a fire and a series of poisonings killed 100s of members in what was first thought to be a mass suicide, but was later found to be mass murder by the leaders.


8. Branch Davidians

David Koresh, who ran this cult, believed himself to be the final Prophet, and had over 140 wives. Allegations of severe child abuse and sexual abuse was rampant within the cult, with Koresh himself fathering dozens of children with 12-year-olds. It all imploded during the Waco Siege, where 76 people died.


9. Swadhin Bharat Vidhik Satyagrah (The Jawahar Bagh Cult)

Between 2014 and 2016, members of this sect took over Jawahar Bagh park in Mathura. They stockpiled weapons, had their own constitution, army and prison system where torture was common. They demanded a complete overhaul of the Indian political system. In 2016, they were brought down after a violent effort by the police.


10. Aum Shinrikyo

A doomsday cult founded by Shoko Asahara in 1984, Aum Shinrikyo, which means ‘supreme truth’, is still active today. On March 20, 1995, members carried out a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, killing twelve and sickening 5,500.


Pretty creepy stuff.