Updated: Mar 1
Somewhere on my forehead, I have an invisible tattoo that reads ‘if you’re a bonafide mental, come talk to me.’ I’ve been searching for years for a foundation to cover up this affliction, but alas, without avail so far. Back in the early 2000s, I was at University and as a result of having a mortgage had to commute every day between my university and my nightshift on the train.
Sitting so close to other commuters often meant that the resident nutter on public transport would actively hunt me out and heaven help me if the seat next to me was empty. Even wearing huge headphones did not put them off, and I’d regularly be tapped on the shoulder for someone to come out with something random and try and engage me in conversation. During my first year of university, the daily train journey became a hunt for not just a spare seat, but a safe space away from the creepy anorak bloke who wants to talk about the specs of my mobile in a very high volume, or the drunk women whose boyfriend has left her and clearly wants to actively cry at the nearest human being.
It was only when I started the second year, I realised what my mistake had been, and I’d clearly underestimated the power of books. During the first year, like a good student, I’d sit on the train with my nose in a textbook and swot up for an hour or so until I got to my nightshift job at the other end of the journey. That had been my downfall. Textbooks - especially ones about the history of the BBC or whatever - actually attracted these strange fish and seemingly encouraged them to approach me.
In the second year however, I was tumbling down a rabbit hole that had absolutely nothing to do with my course. Instead of reading about broadcasting and semiotics, for reasons unknown, I became obsessed with reading about cults. As any university student past or present can attest, your grant arrives three times a year, and in the second year, I smashed all of my grant on books. Not books related to my degree, but instead a whole stack of tomes for me to learn all I could about cults.
Anton Zandor LaVey is the founder of Satanism, and I’ve read many of his books and essays, particularly on that daily rail commute, and it’s him that saved me from the traveling nuts and crackpots. My new routine became a breeze; climb on the train, sit down, whip out a copy of The Satanic Rituals and boom! Everyone would avoid you. For. The. Entire. Journey. It was bliss.
Funnily enough, in my third year, I had signed up for a class all about banned movies and censorship, and one of our class exercises one day was to form our own cult. The lecturer sorts us into groups and asks ‘who knows what it takes to make a cult?’ and from the back of the room, I held aloft my latest read and said ‘I’ve actually got the list of how it’s done, right here!’ Funnily enough, not a lot of people on my course spoke to me, but whatever.
Anyway, I’m digressing as always. The boys are talking about Jonestown this weekend, and out of all of the cults, it’s probably my favorite. I wrote a post ages ago about it, with links to video footage and other gubbins, after spending a good couple of weeks digesting everything I could find online about it (It’s not ‘being obsessive’! I think you’ll find it’s being ‘passionate’ or ‘enthusiastic’).
So, in case you were wondering, the steps for starting a cult are all pretty similar, so join me as we go forth and create The Church of No Straight Answers.
1. Choose the Theme
What is your cult all about? Pick a subject and roll with it, as this is the bones of your cult. We’re gonna go with listening to Gaz and Taylor talk about weird stuff on Spotify. The subject should ideally be something that benefits people in some way; many cults such as Heaven’s Gate and The People’s Temple make out that their followers enjoy a better quality of life as a result of subscribing. With that in mind, our followers - should you wish to join us, that is - enjoy a better quality of life because we spend our spare time learning about random, off-the-wall stuff about conspiracy theories and mysteries, and as a result, we’re shit hot at pub quizzes.
Finally, you need to be obsessive about your subject, as heaven knows you’ll have non-believers in the future that may challenge you, and you’ll also need to impress potential new recruits. So get researching! We’ll need you Space Monkeys to know the difference between the Philadelphia Experiment and Bohemian Grove, the Illuminati, and Chupacabra.
2. Choose a Leader
You now need to choose a king to lord it over the flock. If you look at actual cult leaders like Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, and Shoko Asahara, fictitious cult leaders like Tyler Duerden, and even business cult leaders like Steve Jobs (God, I hate that guy) they’re all charismatic characters who can command a room. That’s the kind of person you’re looking for. Someone who can inspire, who can cope with excessive adoration but also incite fear in their followers too.
Given, Gaz and Taylor could probably do the above. As for the inciting fear, I’m not too sure, so I’ll kick the telly in when they let me out the cupboard again and note down their reactions.
3. Formulate the Text
Every cult needs rules, that usually consist of total and utter submission to the cause. This can be something relatively simple like ‘your marriage stands for nothing, therefore we’ll all sleep with your wife’ (The Children of God), or something more challenging, such as ‘cut your willy off’ (Heaven’s Gate) or the more extreme ‘kill your parents, then your children, then finally yourself’ (The People’s Temple).
Your rules should ideally be built onto a larger body of text to act as your bible for your Space Monkeys to follow. Some cults are very, very loosely based on the bog-standard bible, whilst others (I’m looking at you, Scientology) are based on a story that was pulled from thin air and written down.
Here at the Church of No Straight Answers, it’s the weekend, so we’ve not yet formulated some rules. I’ll get Taylor onto it - he’s good at things like that, and I’m sure there are some crayons knocking about somewhere.
4. Make your Church
The next task, now you’ve got your leader and written your text is to find a place for your followers to worship. Theoretically, it can be anywhere, but a space purpose-built for your new religion is ideal - the Sistine Chapel and the Taj Mahal are your goalposts here, though we’re gonna make do with Gaz’s livingroom as the pulpit and Spotify as the pews for now.
5. Create some Values
You need to get some words to use as your values and slogans so people can get the gist of what your cult is about in seconds. You don’t have to go with out-and-out hatred like ‘God Hates Fags’ (Westboro Baptist Church, as if you didn’t know that one already!), but let’s face it, it is inflammatory enough to provoke a reaction and stick in people’s minds. I’ll consult the boys and get the fridge magnets out for this one. All together now: ‘thou shalt shout out to thy followers at the end of every show. Hail NASA!’
6. Recruit Followers
Now you’ve got the meat and bones of your religion, you’re ready to let your leader inspire people to encourage them to join the flock. Many cults begin by doing community and outreach type stuff, such as raising money for needy causes. You need to slowly grow your believers, ensuring that each knows their place and behaves in such a way that newer members would find them aspirational, though not as much as your leader. You can exercise greater control over people with promises of elevated status, no matter how imagined.
Also, give props to Jim Jones here - that guy was hammering back speed to keep him awake for hours and demanded the same from his followers without the amphetamines. When people are tired, stressed and half-starved, they’re a lot more pliable and flexible to your demands and conditions.
Thankfully, at the Church of No Straight Answers, we’re relying on Spotify and iTunes to spread our gospel and recruit followers. We each have regular day jobs and aren’t able to go knocking on doors or yelling our values in shopping centres over the weekends thankfully.
Remember, whatever you do, your aim is to increase followers and grow your cult. If you can get them to willingly donate their time and money to your religion too, you’ve cracked it.
7. The One Truth
Finally, as your flock bulges with willing participants all vying to spend a moment being blessed by your Great Leader, make sure that you all refer to your religion as ‘the one truth’ and ‘the only way’. This will help cement your followers to your cult and prevent them from even vaguely considering escaping back to freedom.
So, if you want to worship at the Church of No Straight Answers, come and join us on Spotify and iTunes. Worship your lords Gaz and Taylor as they speak the true gospels of mysteries, sciences and the paranormal. Make the right decision and choose to better yourself learning about the unexplained and the bizarre and you too can be a Pub Quiz Champion.