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16 Real-Life Cult Stories That Are Kinda Messed Up

"At church meetings, they locked the doors so no one could get in or out."

We recently asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to tell us about their experience in a cult. Here are their chilling submissions:

1. This cult that turned a teen against her family:

"My sister ended up in one. She went to a retreat for religious teens with drug addiction in Clearwater. They ended up isolating everyone in the middle of nowhere, made them do church stuff, and took them off their psych meds. They convinced her that no one loved her and that our parents were evil. Eventually, they made her believe my parents hated her, and they didn't talk for a long time. When she came back, she wasn't the same."


2. This cult that frequently forced members to starve:

"When I was in a cult, they controlled our diet. We pretty much were kosher, though they denied all influence or association with the Jewish faith. There were annual days of fasting meaning we couldn't eat or drink. Whenever the leadership could scare up enough drama within the members, they would declare a church-wide fast so we could all get closer to God and resolve our issues. We fasted when the church's income was said to be dropping. We fasted when leaders were ill. We fasted when people died. We had our own personal fasts for the hell of it, or when we felt especially guilty and out of touch with God. Parents were encouraged to get their children involved as young as possible. My parents had me start observing the annual fast when I was 3 years old. I remember one day when my brother was 2 or 3, he just broke down sobbing because he was so thirsty. Looking back, I just don't understand how a parent can behave that way."


3. This cult that predicted the "end of the world":

"I was born and raised in the Family Radio Fellowship, which predicted the end of the world a couple of times. Their last prediction was May 21, 2011. Literally everything in my life was leading up to that day. It was considered a sin to consider living after the rapture, so we weren't allowed to make long-term plans. As a young person, this usually meant dropping out of high school or not going to college. I gave them all of my money. When the world didn't end, I got two jobs and put myself through community college. A lot of the other families ended up homeless and jobless."


4. This cult that ignited a violent riot:

"Back when I was younger, I got involved with a cult of sorts. We had a charismatic leader who claimed to have supernatural powers and promised us gifts in the afterlife. And at that point in my life, I didn't have much to hold on to, and he gave me something to believe in. As the cult grew larger, we started to attract the attention of local law enforcement and politicians. They were wary of the power the leader was amassing in town and they were looking for a way to bring him down. The group had gone into town to watch our leader give a sermon in the main marketplace. His sermons often got angry, but that day was different. That day he was violent and outraged. The sermon reached a fevered pitch and the crowd erupted. They began to riot. They burned cars, looted stores, and just caused general destruction. The police showed up and arrested everyone on the scene. I got caught along with about a dozen or so other people, but our leader escaped the scene before the cops arrived."


5. This cult that convinced members that people with disabilities were possessed by the devil:

"My uncle remarried when I was young and his wife basically brainwashed him into joining this weird church. It was supposedly a born-again Christian church but it was very cult-like. My older sister has a diagnosed disability, and when she was young, he once told my mom that she was possessed by a demon and he could take her to his church and they would perform an exorcism on her. Also a couple years ago, he and his wife adopted this 8-year-old girl with dwarfism and other disabilities from India. My family and I recently found out that his wife performs freaking exorcisms on the child daily because they believe she’s possessed."


6. This cult that broke up married couples and had them pair up with new spouses:

"I was in a cult where the leader wanted to split up all the marriages and take the wives for himself. He wanted to give the husbands of those wives different women to be with. They were basically sharing the women, except nobody had a say in who they were to be with. Many people were deeply unhappy and pained by this, but they had to do as they were told. I was a teen at the time my family and I left this cult, so thankfully I was not pawned off on some random guy."


7. This cult that shipped kids off to a different country:

"In my cult experience, children were separated from their parents and sent away to a boarding school in a foreign country for years. We were neglected and left to grow up way too soon all while being told we were lucky to be part of this awakened movement. Worst of all, if you stopped conforming, you were cut off from everyone you knew."


8. This self-help cult that actually made members completely dependent on them:

"I was involved in a self-help cult for four years. It left me feeling like I couldn't trust my own mind at all. I had no sense of self and was almost detached from reality. I had literally given my free will over to the leader. I was in a vulnerable place in life due to physical and mental health issues and I was taken in by their 'thought system' that seemed to have answers about how to stop suffering. What it really did was provide me with short bursts of strong emotions during 'workshops,' which did nothing to address my real problems and had to be repeated as often as possible to sustain the feeling. It was like a drug — feeling so loved and welcomed and supported. I quit working and cashed in my retirement to pursue this full-time."


9. This cult that held bizarre church sermons:

"There are a lot of churches in my town, but this one church was really bizarre. Once when I was new in town, a coworker invited me to go. They locked the doors with actual chains and padlocks when the service began. There was no music, no singing, nothing at all but talking. During the preaching, people were whooping and babbling in strange voices. They were barking like dogs and rolling on the floor. After two solid hours of this, I was beyond ready to get out of there, but the doors were still locked, and I couldn’t ask my coworker anything because she was in some kind of trance."


10. This cult that cut people off from the outside world:

"This religion did some pretty weird and interesting things. We couldn't say 'God bless you.' We had to track how much literature we were handing out and how many people we were converting. We couldn't have friends outside of the religion and if you did not meet the guidelines of the religion, you got 'disfellowshipped.' That basically meant your family, friends, and anyone you knew from the church could not contact you or have any social interaction with you. We had to go to church up to five times per week, and at the church meetings, they locked the doors so no one could get in or out."


11. This cult that preached hate:

"My sister and her husband were in a cult for over a year and didn’t even realize it. They started hanging out with the adult groups in a church near their neighborhood and started to attend services. One day a guest preacher came in and started to rant about the sin of women and the 'colored man.' My sister said it was like someone hit her on the head and she finally noticed all of the odd things about everyone in the church. The women only ever wore modest dresses. All of the families lived in houses surrounding the church and they all homeschooled their kids."


12. This cult that had members with diabolical secrets:

"I did National Citizen Service in the UK, which is basically where kids volunteer during the holidays. We were learning photography and were supposed to be photographing a local soup kitchen. Instead, the people invited us to their commune and tried to persuade us to join their cult-like church. We googled them afterward and found that people of their faith had been involved in cases of torture and even murder. When we came back, they were immediately struck off the list of suitable charities."


13. This cult that stalked potential new recruits:

"There is a church in my hometown that is widely recognized as a cult. They are very closed off from the public, but if they find out that you are considering joining or if you just go to one of their services, the head of the church and his wife begin showing up wherever you go as a 'coincidence' and inquire when you’ll be returning."


14. This cult that forced kids to take out student loans and give the money to the church:

"I was born and raised in a small communal bible-based cult in the US. I was a part of the cult until I was 27. The children were raised to be workers in the church and to give their lives for what the leader wanted. My siblings, mother, and I were once one of nine families but it dwindled down to roughly three or four families. As kids grew up and went to college, we were discouraged from getting jobs to pay for school, but instead were coerced to max out student loans and give the money to the church. Students' class schedules were denied or approved as the church leadership saw fit. The single-family unit was destroyed and everyone was pressured into viewing the group as one big family."


15. This cult that terrorized members who didn't act as they expected:

"In my opinion second-generation cult kids have it the absolute worst. We didn't ask for it and we literally didn't know any better because we were born into it. Abuse was so much a part of my life that when I left and started socializing with regular folks, I couldn't process what real socializing, dating, or an active sex life really was. I couldn't understand, couldn't believe it, and couldn't accept it. There were times where I had been locked in a room for three days and nights to fast and pray. I've been denied contact with other humans for weeks, or even months, to 'get closer to God.' I was given to men by request. I was once held down by four men, while a group of maybe a dozen other men exorcised me. They believed I was possessed by a demon because of my inability to be like them. I was spanked, beaten, and whipped most my life. Simply put, I was terrified my entire childhood. I lived every second of my life in fear."


16. This cult that believed medical issues were the cause of sins and nonbelieving:

"When I was a kid, my family left the Baptist church to go to a spinoff because the lead pastors got into a fight so we followed the more eccentric one. Things started getting weird when they were teaching the book of Revelation. The pastor started preaching about the end of the world and that we were the only true Christians in the whole world. My parents moved us to a rural town and prepared us for the end. The end didn't happen. When my brother broke his wrist, instead of going to the hospital, we just went to the pastor, 'cause he had 'all-healing powers.' My grandma was brought to our neighborhood and isolated till she died because of lack of care. This was because 'Jesus would heal her if she only believed.' When I was a teen, my sister got pregnant with her fourth child, who we found out had a lot of medical issues. My parents ignored it. Until one day I told my mom I was sad about it and she suggested we call the pastor to ask forgiveness of all my sins. He yelled at me and stated I was the entire reason for my nephew's problems because babies aren't born that way unless someone has committed a terrible sin. Eventually I left and now my parents won't let me see my little brother."


Some of the stories in this post have been sourced from Reddit.

Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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Do you have any firsthand experiences with cults you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments below.