Home > Free Essays > Sociology > Sociological Issues > Cult Leaders Characteristics

Cult Leaders Characteristics Research Paper

Exclusively available on IvyPanda Available only on IvyPanda
Updated: Jan 19th, 2020


The word cult has been known to refer to a group of individuals who believe in an abnormal practice. The members of a cult are said to perform ritual practices which in most cases are regarded as dangerous or mind controlling to a normal person (Burns 2). Just like any movement, cult members have a charismatic cult leader to guide them in their practices.

They possess a powerful control over the members to ensure that they adhere to the set out rules and practices of the cult (Streissguth 14). Research that has been conducted indicates that not any person can qualify to be a cult leader.

Cult leaders possess unique characteristics which automatically qualifies one to earn the respect of members. Cult leaders exhibit abnormal characteristics like those of psychopaths hence distinguishing them from morally upright people, and for this reason, they should be done away with completely.

Types of Cult Leaders

Many people believe that cult’s movements are those that conduct strange activities mostly at night and whose members have been brainwashed and believe in the devil.

An example of such strange activities was explained in an interview by a cult victim from Arizona. He narrated his horrifying ordeal where they were accosted by hooded masked people who were believed to belong to a certain cult that related to human sacrifice as they were driving through a desert.

He however took notice of an outstanding scary figure with a skull mask who he believed was the leader. However, they managed to get away and call the police but on arrival at the scene, they could not find them and there was no single footstep or evidence that there was somebody (Osman 2011).

Osman was of the opinion that the leader just wanted to scare them out of sheer pleasure, a tactic that worked. This is a normal characteristic of cult leaders who satisfy themselves by seeing their victims at vulnerable conditions.

Cults fall into four different categories; Religious, Political, Commercial and self help cults (Streissguth 20). Each cult has its own beliefs and practices as will be explained below, and they do not have to necessarily believe in the devil, as it has been perceived.

Religious cults base their belief in a supreme being and derive their religion from a popular one, for example Christianity, Hindu or Islam. The leaders of these cults use similar teachings and doctrines of the original religion making the teachings appear almost the same.

The leaders of these cults however have a strong character that involve psychologically playing with the emotions of their followers and introduce bizarre activities that separate them from the original religion. The victims of this type of class have been known to be the emotional type and those who have lost hope in life. They innocently become engrossed in the religious cult with an aim of regaining the lost hope. A good example of such a cult leader was Jim Jones and People’s Temple.

Another type of cult is the commercial cult in which the leader uses money to increase favor from their followers. He therefore needs to be wealthy in order to serve as an example that the special rituals indeed work to gain wealth. Streissguth (22) argues that these leaders possess a manipulating character on their followers to perform certain rituals in return of monetary gains or any other desirable commercial gain.

The people likely to fall victim to this group of cult are those that need money to be recognized by the society; Harland Stonecipher with his popular company called Pre-paid Legal was such type of leader.

Self-help cults are mostly popular with celebrities with the goal of becoming successful and more productive. The leader of this cult has similar characteristics as those of the commercial cult leader.

They subject their followers to certain procedural rituals such as being locked up in a hotel room to perform some strange activities such as drinking and smearing themselves with animal blood or eating raw meat while chanting slogans (Streissguth 22). The members are brainwashed to believe that their success is as a result of this rituals. A known self-help cult leader was Alfonso Acampora and Waldon House.

The last type of cult is the political cult. Unlike other political leaders, this type of leader is a charismatic one who is said to be overly powerful over his subjects. The leader use excessive force to get what he wants without being answerable to anyone. Most of these leaders are dictators who are worshipped by their subjects. A good example of such a leader is Adolf Hitler with the Nazi Germany regime.

With so many cults in the world, it would be difficult to analyze each and every cult leader. We shall however look at two popular cult leaders and how their cults operated.

James Warren, popularly known as Jim Jones; he led a Christian cult which was deemed to be destructive (Religious Tolerance 1). He built the People’s Temple around 1950 with the aim of bringing together sick and needy people. In the initial stages, he preached a ‘social gospel,’ bringing hope to the needy but later on, he changed his preaching to spread doom to the members. He led the members of his cult to believe that they were bound to die together and reincarnate in another planet where they would live happily ever after. This led to most of his cult members to abuse drugs and commit suicide in large groups. However, this raised eyebrows with members of the government and an intervention of one of the Congressmen led to some shootouts killing of some members of the cult. The rest of the members felt cornered and they all committed suicide as advised by their cult leader. The People’s Temple was later destroyed (Religious Tolerance 7).

The other cult leader worth noting is Charles Manson who has notoriously been compared with the devil due to his evil deeds (Secret Writers 1). He formed a cult and named it the Manson Family during the 1960s in California. He revolved his teachings around the Book of Revelations, Armageddon and Scientology.

It is claimed that it was trough this evil teachings that led the cult members to commit numerous murders though most of the cult members were released by the court due to lack of evidence. Though he did not directly participate in the murders, he was convicted for giving orders to his members to commit the murders (Secret Writers 5).

Cult Leaders as the Master Manipulators

Cult leaders have the ability to attract attention and they possess a unique charm that commands respect. They actually possess the ability to brainwash their followers to engage in weird activities which they chair and serve a supreme being to those followers who act like children responding to their mother. The leaders are also highly suspicious of anyone who they view as a threat to the group and they will do anything in their power to eliminate the threat (Pavlos 19).

Most of the leaders portray their ability to rule the world single handedly without any fear. Psychological tests conducted on the individuals’ however reveal that most of them who appear strong and intelligent in the face of their followers are indeed cowards on the inside and inwardly possess vices such as rage, fear and most were depressed.

The Authoritarian Power Dynamic

A cult leader is said to possess enormous power for the followers to worship him. The main aim of a cult is to ensure that the needs of the cult leader, be it sexual, wealth or emotional needs have been met. He should therefore possess the authoritarian trait and personality to lead his flock.

Some of this personalities include a drive which is characterized by power, a tendency to interpret any act of kindness as weakness, giving a one sided judgment that favors the one in power and incapable of being satisfied. It is for this reason that cult leaders take advantage of their followers and abuse their loyalty in order to satisfy themselves.

Characteristics of a Cult Leader

Cult leaders possess certain characteristics that make them outstanding from a normal human being (Kaslow and Sussman 16). He has the capability and power to control minds and manipulate his followers by using persuasion techniques to unknowingly convince them.

This enables him get his way around his followers and at the same time earns their trust. He is also a charismatic leader who demands unquestionable respect at all times. He achieves this by claiming to possess special skills or knowledge over his subjects that he uses to manipulate them. He is a charmer and command discipline in order to meet his expectations by his cult followers.

A cult leader lies through his teeth to get what he wants. This character of deception enables him to recruit members with hidden motives without necessarily disclosing the true nature of the cult. These leaders do not put their promises in writing as they are bound to change the rules of the game once the member has been integrated into the new cult.

They are very exclusive in everything they do and they require utmost secretiveness by the followers on the activities that takes place. The followers are put on oath not to disclose any of the activities that takes place unless the leader gives permission to disclose the activities. Cult leaders are exploiters without remorse as that is the purpose of coming up with a cult.

Exploitation can be in form of money, sex, power and killing other people for self-satisfaction. However, the cult leaders do not engage in direct acts but exploits his members to get what he wants. He brainwash the members to think that something will happen in return of their acts (Danny 3).

The Cult Leader as a Psychopath

Cult leaders have been known for their strong ability to win a crowd and create in them a sense of security. Many people view them as abnormal due to the weird activities that they engage in to quest their satisfaction. They have been labeled ‘psychos’. There are numerous researches that have been carried out to determine if cult leaders are indeed psychopaths due to their characteristics (Yablonsky 24)

Numerous definitions of who a psychopath is have been given. Psychopathic is a diagnosed personality disorder where an individual portrays weird characters from that of a normal human being. Dr. Hare Robert, a psychopath expert defines the people with this disorder as ruthless and manipulators who get what they want without a care of how their acts will affect others (Kaslow and Sussman 22).

They are nevertheless very selfish people who do not suffer guilt or regret regardless of the broken hearts they leave behind.

Psychopaths are also believed to portray these signs during their childhood and adolescence and the general signs include being withdrawn from their peers among others. It is easy to pick out a one during early stages of childhood as they appear abnormal compared to other children their age. Distinction should be made between psychopaths and anti-social personalities.

Though the characteristics may seem to be the same, the former portrays more extreme behaviors and is more deviant than that of an anti-social. It is also important to note that not all cult leaders are psychopaths but they still exhibit some of the following characteristics;

Captivating charmers: Cult leaders use charming words to entice their followers. They confuse and convince their followers by exuding inner confidence and pull them to their web. They are very persuasive and are able to disarm their followers emotionally.

Self-centered: A cult leader is very selfish and believes that he has a right to own everything that he desires. He is willing to go to any length to get what he wants regardless to the fact that other people will be hurt along the way. He appears to be humble and enlightened on the outside but he is very cunning.

Manipulator: Cult leaders are also very domineering while appearing to be helpful to others. He is able to manipulate his followers to do what he wants indirectly. The followers are willing to do anything to please the cult leader even if it means infringing on the rights of the others.

Pathological liars: Cult leaders lie easily and shamelessly to get what they want. This is evident mostly during the initiation stage as they conceal most information to the new recruit. They have a way of making the member believe that good things are bound to come out from his involvement in the cult be it power, wealth or success. They are brainwashed to believe anything that comes out of the cult leaders’ mouth.

Lack of Empathy and Inability to love: Cult leaders avoid being emotionally connected to a person in anyway and in most cases, they disentangle themselves from relatives, friends and even close members of the family. They are not afraid or even sorry to hurt a close person if it takes to achieve what they want.

Promiscuity and sexual indulgence is another character trait of a psychopath and which most cult leaders possess through indulgence in lots of sexual activities which cannot be deemed to be normal. They are known to indulge their followers in all kinds of promiscuity behaviors to satisfy their inner needs (Snow 23).


From the research conducted, it is evident that cult leaders are psychopaths who tend to live a life of their own. Though not medically tested and diagnosed with psychopathic, they possess all the characters of a sick person. They pose as a danger to the community and the state should act so as to save the poor people indulged into the dangerous cults innocently.

Though it has been established that not all cults are dangerous, the cult leaders of the said cults still exhibit some, if not all, of the psychopaths’ characteristics. Therefore, strong action should be taken against the leaders in charge of the cults. By doing this, people will be assured of safety of the evil deeds portrayed by these movements.

Works Cited

Burns, Karen. Cult Leaders. Texas: Lucent Burns, 1999. Print

Danny. Psychopathy and the Characteristics of a Cult Leader. N.d. Web.

Kaslow, Florence and Sussman, Marvin. Cults and The Family. New York: The Haworth

Press Inc, 1982. Print Osman, Lori. Personal Interview. 1 May 2011.

Pavlos, Andrew. The Cult Experience. Michigan: Greenwood Press, 1982. Print

Religious Tolerance. Jim Jones People’s Temple. N.d. Web.

Secret Writers.The Charles Manson Cult. N.d. Web.

Snow, Robert. Deadly Cults: The Crimes of True Believers. London: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001. Print.

Streissguth, Thomas. Charismatic Cult Leaders. Minneapolis: The Oliver Press Inc, 1995. Print Yablonsky, Lewis. Fathers and Sons. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984. Print

This research paper on Cult Leaders Characteristics was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.
Removal Request
If you are the copyright owner of this paper and no longer wish to have your work published on IvyPanda.
Request the removal

Need a custom Research Paper sample written from scratch by
professional specifically for you?

801 certified writers online

Cite This paper
Select a referencing style:


IvyPanda. (2020, January 19). Cult Leaders Characteristics. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cult-leaders/


IvyPanda. (2020, January 19). Cult Leaders Characteristics. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/cult-leaders/

Work Cited

"Cult Leaders Characteristics." IvyPanda, 19 Jan. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/cult-leaders/.

1. IvyPanda. "Cult Leaders Characteristics." January 19, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cult-leaders/.


IvyPanda. "Cult Leaders Characteristics." January 19, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cult-leaders/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Cult Leaders Characteristics." January 19, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/cult-leaders/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Cult Leaders Characteristics'. 19 January.

Powered by CiteTotal, online essay citation maker
More related papers