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Cults are social groups that are defined by their unusual religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs, or by its common interest in a particular personality, object, or goal. In zombie fiction, cults are composed of people who see a zombie outbreak as a biblical armageddon and they revolve their beliefs around it.

Types of cults

According to the Tennessee State University, there are 9 types of cults.

  • Eastern cults: Eastern cults are usually characterized by their belief in spiritual enlightenment and reincarnation, attaining the Godhead, and nirvana. The leader of these types of cults draws inspiration from and distorts an Eastern-based philosophy or religion, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, or Sufism in order to fit their narrative. Practices and influence techniques include extensive meditation, repeated mantras, altered states of consciousness, celibacy or sexual restrictions, fasting and dietary restrictions, special dress or accoutrements, altars, and induced trance through chanting, spinning, or other techniques.
  • Religious cults: Religious cults are usually marked by the belief in a God or some higher being, salvation, and the afterlife, sometimes combined with an apocalyptic view. The leader of these types of cults reinterprets Scripture (from the Bible, Koran, Talmud, or Cabala) to fit their narrative and they often claim to be a prophet, if not the messiah of these beliefs. Practices and influence techniques include speaking in tongues, chanting, praying, isolation, lengthy study sessions, faith healing, self-flagellation, or many hours spent evangelizing, witnessing, or making public confessions. These cults are one the most popular choices when it comes to depicting cults in the media.
  • Political, racist, or terrorist cults: Political, racist, or terrorist cults are fueled by belief in changing society, revolution, overthrowing the perceived enemy or getting rid of evil forces. The leader of these cults professes to be all-knowing and all-powerful. In some cases, worshippers of these cults may be more drawn to an extreme ideology rather than a leader per se, as they just want to use the cult as an excuse to act on their urges or cravings. Practices and influence techniques include paramilitary training, reporting on one another, fear, struggle or criticism sessions, instilled paranoia, violent acts to prove loyalty, long hours of indoctrination, or enforced guilt based on race, class, or religion.
  • Psychotherapy, human potential, mass transformational cults: Psychotherapy, human potential, mass transformational cults are motivated by their belief in striving for the goal of personal transformation and personal improvement. The leader of these types of cults is self-proclaimed and omniscient, with unique insights, sometimes a “super-therapist” or “super-life coach.” Practices and techniques within these cults include group encounter sessions, intense probing into personal life and thoughts, altered states brought about by hypnosis and other trance-induction mechanisms, use of drugs, dream work, past-life or future-life therapy, rebirthing or regression, submersion tanks, shame and intimidation, verbal abuse, or humiliation in private or group settings.
  • Commercial, multi-marketing cults: Commercial, multi-marketing cults are upheld by the belief in attaining wealth and power, status, and quick earnings. The leader of these cults, who is often overtly lavish, asserts that he has found the “way.” Practices and influence techniques include deceptive sales techniques, guilt and shame, peer pressure, financial control, magical thinking, or guided imagery. These cults are often used to mock religion for being greedy and exploiting the vulnerable.
  • New Age cults: New Age cults are founded on the belief in the “You are God” philosophy, in power through internal knowledge, wanting to know the future, or find the quick fix. The leader of these types of cults presents themselves as a mystical, an ultra-spiritual being, a channeler, a medium, or a superhero. Practices and influence techniques within these types of cults involve magic tricks, altered states, peer pressure, channeling, UFO sightings, “chakra” adjustments, faith healing, or claiming to speak with or through ascended masters, spiritual entities, and the like.
  • Occult, satanic, or black-magic cults: Occult, satanic, or black-magic cults are generated through belief in supernatural powers, and sometimes worship of Satan. The leader of these types of cults professes to being evil incarnate. Animal sacrifices and physical and sexual abuse are common within these groups; some claim they perform human sacrifice. Practices and influence techniques within these cults include exotic and bizarre rituals, secrecy, fear and intimidation, acts of violence, tattooing or scarring, cutting and blood rituals, sacrificial rituals, or altars. These cults are often used in media to criticise or parody Satanists.
  • One-on-one or family cults: One-on-one or family cults are based in the belief in one’s partner, parent, or teacher above all else. In these cults, an intimate relationship is used to manipulate and control the partner, children, or students, who believe the dominant one to have special knowledge or special powers. Often there is severe and prolonged psychological, physical, and sexual abuse. Practices and influence techniques within these cults include pleasure/pain syndrome, promoting self-blame, induced dependency, induced fear and insecurity, enforced isolation, battering and other violent acts, incest, or deprivation. These cults are lesser-known to the media and aren't often portrayed.
  • Cults of personality: Cults of personality are rooted in a belief that reflects the charismatic personality and interests and proclivities of the revered leader. These cults tend to revolve around a particular theme or interest, such as martial arts, opera, dance, theater, a certain form of art, or a type of medicine or healing. Practices and influence techniques within these cults include intense training sessions, rituals, blatant egocentrism, or elitist attitudes and behaviors. These types of cults are the most popular in the depiction of cults due to their beliefs being centred around one person.

Members of the Cult

The cultists themselves are usually people who have experienced the worst of the outbreak and join the leader in order to be spared by Zombies but their leader can manipulate their loyalty to commit inhuman acts such as sacrifices and sadistic rituals. Some cultists may join the cult so that they can avoid being killed by the cult leader or of a general fear of the afterlife. In most cases, however, members are looking for safety in numbers, for sanctuary or for hope, meaning, and purpose in the apocalypse. The ideal candidates are people who fit this criteria.

  • a high level of stress or dissatisfaction
  • lack of self-confidence
  • gullibility
  • desire to belong to a group
  • naive idealism
  • Fulfillment (the cult provides something that they are missing)
  • cultural disillusionment
  • frustrated spiritual searching

Cults act like a spiders web. They lure in potential victims with false hope and promises that will never be fulfilled. As soon as members join, they are trapped there until they show unending loyalty or until they escape. 

Examples

  • There is at least one cult mentioned in World War Z- a religious sect known as Gods Lambs. They believed that the rapture had begun and that the sooner they were infected, the sooner they would go to heaven.
  • In the video game Dead Rising there is a cult known as True Eye and they believe that they should sacrifice non-believers and heretics and that cultists would be spared by the zombies as well as infection for sacrificing others.
  • Kōichi Shidōu from the anime Highschool of the Dead who became the leader of the group of students who survived the zombie attack in the school and manipulated them into sharing his beliefs of the weak not deserving to live and that Shidōu would bring peace for his followers.
  • A non-zombie example would be The Pillars of the Community from Fallout 4. The members of this small-time cult are mostly local residents and drifters seeking hope for a better life, thus they have turned to the cult to find salvation from the horrors of the treacherous wasteland. The cult is actually a scam operation as the leader Thomas steals from the initiates and will use his followers to attack anyone who refuses to give up their possessions.

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