Unsplash | Rosie Fraser

People Who Lost Loved Ones To Cults Tell Their Stories

Cults are often a source of ridicule for most of us, something which we are aware of but a lot of us never really pay much mind to. Sure, there are prominent cult organizations which are often in the zeitgeist — but, the actuality of joining a cult, or having a loved one join, is a foreign notion to most of us.

However, one person sought out to find out more about the realities of cult-life from those who have lost loved ones to these manipulative institutions. So, they took to Reddit to ask: "Redditors who have lost a friend or family member to a cult, how did it happen?"

Below are some of the most shocking, horrific, and heartbreaking stories from people who have had personal encounters with cults, and have tragically lost loved ones to them.

The Xenos

Instagram | sanctissimatrinitas

"Here in central Ohio, we have a cult called Xenos. They market themselves as a Christian home church group. In reality, you will be pressured into moving into a home where you share a room with others of the same gender in order to prevent premarital sex and masturbation.

"You will be forced to shun all non-Xenos friends and family you have. It's pretty baffling how people keep falling for it. I lost a friend to it years ago. Haven't heard from her since. I saw her at the store once a few years ago and she refused to even acknowledge my existence." — darkstarohio

A person who had grown up as a Xeno explained that while they didn't think that it was as bad as most widely known cults, it still practices questionable ideas. They thankfully escaped during their 20s and are much happier now.

Joined A Cult During A Chess Tournament

Instagram | hectorsaxeparis

"Has anyone heard of cults in Budapest? A family friend of mine was a prominent young chess player (a grandmaster — not a grandmaster, an international master with a GM norm) who, at a stressful crossroads in life, basically had a nervous breakdown at a tournament in Budapest and went outside and somehow came into contact with a cult.

He's been there for a few years, within a couple weeks he withdrew all the money from his bank account and asked his family to not contact him. Apparently they later were allowed to and he spoke broken English and was more comfortable in a Hungarian language....one of the smartest guys I knew." — Young_Neil_Postman

A lot of people sympathized with this story as it shows that you don't just have to be "stupid" to fall into a cult, it can be during periods of desperation.


Instagram | scientology

"My step-aunt, uncle, and their daughter are Scientologists. My step-uncle had a drug problem when he was younger and Scientology said they could help him. Surprisingly enough they did and he got clean but he got roped in. He and his family work for them now. His daughter works on the cruise ship they have. They seem pretty normal but they occasionally send us DVDs to try and convert us. Also when my rather wealthy Grandpa died they wanted to take some of his possessions to sell to Scientology." — fartacuss

It is not surprising that they would have helped him with the drug problem, as a lot of cults will prey upon people who are desperate and provide them with safety and a support network which nurtures dependence. Then, over time, they can brainwash you, under the guise of helping you more effectively.

Multi-Level Marketing

Instagram | mrs_mariabuitrago

"Does losing someone to an MLM cult count? Not only lost a friendship but had to unfollow all their posts. I can't answer their calls, texts, or messages because it's all about me 'being on their life-changing team' and 'supplementing my income' even though my spouse and I both own our businesses, love our jobs, and don't need supplemented income.

If you're reading this and in an MLM think about the friendships you have had with people for many years. Don't throw it away for the small chance you will actually make good money." — condession

MLMs can often employ the same brainwashing tactics and aggressive manipulation as cults and religion; however, as opposed to you benefitting from a supposed spiritual reward, it is a financial one.

Weight Down Ministries

Instagram | weighdown

"It's run by this woman named Gwen Shamblin. A real nut job. She lives in Franklin, TN in this huge mansion where she broadcasts live church webinars multiple times a week. People all over join in and host these 'church gatherings' at their homes. They get you in by introducing it as a weight loss program. [...] Then they slowly introduce the Bible and she'll preach to you through online videos, then you get recruited to a church in someone's home near you where the service lasts for FOUR hours.

"So anyway, my cousin and aunt got sucked into this and now they moved away to live in franklin TN where they worship every breath this Gwen Shamblin woman takes. Everyone that joins ends up marrying someone else inside the cult. My cousin's sister wasn't allowed in her wedding because she wasn’t part of the cult." — iseeaball

Yes, the woman who runs this cult is pictured above and is the unsettling woman on the right with hair big enough to block out the sun.

The Message Cult

Instagram | scttcmpbll

"My father's side of the family is part of 'The Message' cult. My grandmother, aunts, and most of my cousins believe that a man named William Branham was a prophet that spoke to God and he could preform miracles. Branham was part of the post-WWII healing revivals [...]

"Branham died in the 60s but his followers do some crazy sh*t. I've gone to my grandma’s church and the service is usually them listening to a tape recording of one of Branham’s sermons. It's weird. Women are not permitted to wear pants, cut their hair, wear makeup, or practice birth control. Women are encouraged to stay at home and care for children [...]

"Other rules include- No alcohol Men cannot wear shorts No 'secular' or 'worldly' music No playing card games People are encouraged to 'date within their own race' Many strict families won't own a television or computer. Reading books is not encouraged." — snakepoems

The only thing that makes sense to me here is the "No shorts" rule, God I hate wearing shorts.

Preying On Students

Unsplash | Peter Forster

"A friend of mine told me how she lost her friend to Scientology. It was more or less because they were residents of Hollywood and would walk down Hollywood blvd every day to go to school. They'd pass the recruiting center every single day and pay no mind, but one day her friend decided to go in. She said after high school, her friend dissociated with her after realizing she wasn't going to convince her to join." — dougiebgood

According to other people on the thread, there are certain schools in Hollywood which will actively warn students against the dangers of Scientology, and the horrific effects it can have on not only your life but that of your family.

The Church Of Red Flags

Instagram | handletteringbyfaith

"I worked with a guy when I was in my 20s at a gaming company. We were both artists. He told me he went to church. He got pretty insistent about me checking out his church [...] I thought it was a Christian Church since he called it Church of Christ and he carried a bible.

"Well no. It was a big congregation in some big meeting room but it was wacky times. There was a little bit of religious talk but a lot of money talk [...] But I ended up seeing enough red flags to look them up. The International Church of Christ is a cult masquerading as a Christian Church. They squeeze its members dry of funds. Very similar to Scientology except using the Bible instead of Dianetics." — dbx99

This person is still in the cult sadly. To people from the outside, a cult's red flags can seem obvious, however, the people who operate these organizations are adept at brainwashing.

Christian Science

Unsplash | Patrick Fore

"Yes, I was raised in Christian Science and so I know a lot of people who died directly from not seeking medical help, including my dad (in his mid-50s). The coroner said it would have been totally preventable with medical care.

"Both of my parents' best friends also died really young (in their 40s), as did my mom's first husband (in his 30s). A few classmates my own age died too, in their 20s-30s. I also had a few friends who died in their late teens-20s from suicide and drug overdose due to not having psychological help plus the mental problems that just happen as a result of being raised in a cult. I have a relative who is awol with an untreated mental illness also because of CS." — wtf429202

While the church of "Christian Science" does not require its members to not seek medical care, it does teach that Christian-Science prayer works more effectively without medical treatment — y'know, 'cause "science".

Lost Their Mother

Instagram | poppy.w.a

"So I got out when I was 20-21. And by got out I mean was demonized and disowned by my mother. Who then married the cult leader after he divorced his wife 'for having an affair'. Big old pile of sh*t. Cult leader's wife was my ex-step-grandmother (long story, my mom's not great at picking men). But she's still in it now and won't talk to me, though she did try to make me see the error of my ways a couple months back (I'm in my early 30s now). Apparently the cult leader is dying of cancer to the mouth, which is incredibly appropriate." — TopherTots

Hopefully, without the influence of the leader, once he dies this person may be able to get through to their mother. However, it sounds like she is pretty deep in at this point.

"My Uncle, The Cult Leader."

Reddit | athomeonsweetcreek

"My great uncle actually started a cult. He was declared 'too extreme' by the southern baptist church he attended so he packed his bag and brought his family to Michigan to start a hate group. The church is mostly his family members who hang on his every word like a prophet, but he has picked up a few nut jobs he isn't related to. He also repeatedly raped his own daughter and is a piece of sh*t. We see him every once in a while at weddings or funerals. He's a literal psychopath complete with superficial charm and a messiah complex." — Goodeyesniper98

Well, this person sounds delightful. I can't think of anyone worse to be stuck on a table with at a wedding.

Drinking Urine

Unsplash | Luz Mendoza

"My aunt's brother had schizophrenia and joined a cult in which one must worship pagan gods whilst drinking urine through the nose. His father, a 6'6" Israeli soldier, went to the cult leader's house and dropped him off a balcony. It didn't end well for any parties involved" — Crouching-Cyka

This person went on to say that the cult leader didn't die, and was quick to point out that the aunt was not blood-related.

"My mother grew up in the Plymouth brethren"

Wikipedia | Plymouth Brethren Chapel

"Basically they can't communicate with anyone who's not in the religion, no radios or tv's, extremely strict rules, women with long hair, skirts and scarves, etc. Long story short because [mother] would never have been able to go to university, my grandpa decided to get them to shut up (basically ostracized from the community whilst also being in it), then excommunicated entirely. So all was (somewhat) well until my grandpa died, then my grandma went back into the religion.

"They went around a couple of their rules so we could see her now and then, but before she died I hadn't seen her for years. Somebody higher up sent us an invitation to the funeral and mum and I went. Singularly bizarre experience, but I was grateful for the chance to see her one final time." — ebzywebzy

This person went on to say that it still hurts to think of the fact that she ultimately chose religion over her family. Places and organizations like this do tremendous damage to families on a daily basis.

The Accidental Cult Joiner

Flickr | nithiyabhaskar

"I had one friend who kept accidentally almost joining cults. He was smart enough to recognize cults and be very against them. At the same time, he was into meditation, yoga, veganism, etc.. He kept going to things like 'yoga retreat with free vegan food,' and would realize half-way into the weekend retreat 'Hey, this is a cult!' He would start speaking up during the retreat trying to warn the others.

"Because of this, he was actually persecuted by cults in both the United States and India. He still falls for the initial recruiting methods, but never actually joins, it's kind of hilarious actually. Hopefully one day he'll get that these free weekend retreats have ulterior motives." — gaslightlinux

This one is pretty funny really, it just sounds like this guy is just perhaps a little too trusting of people!

"My family almost lost me to a cult."

Unsplash | Wu Jianxiong

"I started moving away from my family as I got closer to the cult, by influence of the cult leader. My family at first got really worried about me and tried to get me out, but seeing that they couldn't do it, they tried to keep me as close to them as possible, by not being totally against the cult and at the same time not getting too close either.

"We had some pretty serious fights, especially regarding some family events that I wasn’t allowed by the cult leader to go because of some religious reason. I also had a girlfriend before joining, and after some years trying to bring her closer to the cult, we broke up. I ended up finding a girlfriend inside the cult and ended up marrying her. My family was always very supportive and receptive of her.

"Fortunately for me and my family, both me and my wife ended up leaving the cult after 10 years of my first contact with them." — halliday42

This one really shows that it is possible to get those you love back from a cult over time and patience. Also, this one has a fortunately happy ending, as they are still happily married.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Unsplash | Kelly Sikkema

"I grew up as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. They will argue all day that they aren't a cult, but they are.

"I divulged to my family that I was having doubts about a few of the beliefs. I tried to explain my logic, did it extremely diplomatically, and just in general tried to help them understand that I wasn't sure yet, I was open, honest, but not disrespectful. They informed me that they would stop talking to me until I 'come back'. That was 2 years ago. I have no intention of going back, so I've basically lost my family." — gambiter

There was a staggering amount of responses on this thread that came from people who were ex-Jehovah's Witnesses or had lost people to this organization. Any religion that is so controlling over your life, should inspire caution.

The Cult Of God

Unsplash | Rosie Fraser

"She wasn't permanently lost, but my aunt joined the Children of God in the 70s. She was down in Texas doing student teaching and one day her roommate called my grandparents to say she hadn't seen her in a couple days and was pretty sure some people took her to Mexico.

"My grandparents immediately drove down to Mexico, hired a cult deprogrammer, and rented a house near the cult compound. They basically blew as much money as they could afford, but never saw her before they had to give up and go back home.

"A little while later, my aunt called home to tell her parents she was getting married. They told her to wait until spring break and they would come down for the wedding, but she said she couldn't. A few months after that, she brought her new husband to the US to meet the family." — AllAccessAndy

The aunt did eventually escape the cult, however, she is now invested in MLMs instead.

Just Out To Buy Cigarettes


"Two of my college housemates went out one evening to buy cigarettes and came back converted to Scientology. One eventually got out of it, but it took years. The other, I have no idea.

"It was like a horror movie about pod people taking them over." — GraceMDrake

I guess smoking really is bad for you! Apparently the person who wrote this never found out exactly what had happened, only that they came back with a copy of Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction author often credited with founding Scientology.

Groomed By A Christian Rock Band

Instagram | marynikkel

"In the 80s my mom and I were invited to move to Sweden by a prominent Christian rock band. She sold all of her valuables to buy 1 one way tickets. She was given a scholarship to attend live ord bible college. Her goal was to smuggle Bibles and other religious contraband into the soviet union. When she tried to get support for her trips, they offered her only copies of their leader's books and music by the rock band Jerusalem.

"They kept us houses with faithful members and were expected to give as much of our money to them as we could. I was 11 and had demons of sex drugs and Satanism cast out of me in front of thousands of people...ironically I started doing drugs and playing satanic board games shortly after we returned...would have loved sex too...but dungeons and dragons stunted that chance" — Ethandrul

"I had two cousins who went to Jonestown."

Instagram | covencle

"They joined in San Francisco. It began as a utopian community, which followed the teachings of Christ [...] Then they started asking for money. Always under the guise of feeding the poor, or something like that. [...] Eventually this was how he isolated his members from their family. If the family kept giving money, then the members could keep in touch. If the money dried up, the family was blamed, the members were cut off from contacting them.

"In the end, Nancy freely took the Kool-aid, Ronnie was injected with cyanide. Their deaths have been ever-present in my family." — notthefakehigh5r

The Kool-Aid that they are referring to here was a grape-flavored concoction, laced with many drugs including cyanide, which some members of the Jonestown cult willingly drank.