For centuries, our lives have been entwined with rituals. Some are benign and idiosyncratic, like brushing our teeth at night or sitting down to dinner with friends, some religious such as the Catholic Church communion, while others are centered on dark arts and demonology. One way or another, rituals enhance our lives, control them, or have provided a basis for our culture. Native Americans were well known for their customs of death ceremonies, green corn festivals, pow-wows, and vision quests. Before that, pre-Columbian civilizations were equally famed for voluntary sacrifices.
These days, for extremist organizations, gangs, or religious sects, the word 'ritual' connotes a dark practice that either controls members of the group or is used to punish enemies. Twisting the true meaning of the rituals of the ancient Greeks, the Hawaiians, and the Nahua, these modern rituals more often than not involve physical torture or murder.
Today, rituals -- good or bad -- are generally more segregated, meaning where once they were the mainstay of a society, they're now less commonly adhered to and are usually carried out by a zealous minority. But look, and you will find them. Here are some disturbing rituals still enacted across the US today.
15 MS-13 Gang
MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) is a gang with roots in Los Angeles in the 1980s. It continues to terrorize today and has long been associated with devil worship. Gang members are often seen tattooed with satanic symbols or posing with the MS trademark 'devil’s horns' hand signal. According to author Charles E. Goslin, they're also notorious for “their use of violence and a subcultural moral code that predominantly consists of merciless revenge and cruel retributions.”
In recent years, members of the LA-based MS-13 were charged in connection with murders, kidnaps, torture, and rape, many involving young girls. Some of these murders were confirmed as having been part of a chilling satanic ritual. Allegedly, one 15-year-old girl was killed as a sacrifice to the devil. According to a survivor who was a friend of the girl, “after appeasing Satan by placing a lit cigarette on a Satanic statue, he [one of the gang members] said, 'the Beast wants another soul.'" Her friend was then taken away and shot.
14 Ku Klux Klan
The Ku Klux Klan, commonly referred to as KKK (or simply 'the Klan') originated in the United States in the 1860s. The Klan is known for its “extremist reactionary positions such as white supremacy, white nationalism, anti-immigration and especially in later iterations Nordicism anti-Catholicism and antisemitism” (wikipedia.org). Historically, the KKK gained notoriety for physical assault and murder against groups or individuals and was most active in the 1950s and '60s.
All three movements call for a purification of American society and, as such, are considered fascist organizations. Their rituals of cross burning and wearing robes and hoods continue to this day. The group's rule book, called the Kloran, says, “The imperial wizard is the emperor of the invisible empire. A grand dragon oversees a geographic area within the Klan, and an exalted cyclops is the chief officer of a single Klan unit, also known as a 'klavern.'”
13 The Family
The Family International, (AKA The Family, The Family of Love, The Children of God, Teens for Christ) is a religious movement. TFI's recent teachings focus on beliefs and tenets they term collectively as the "new [spiritual] weapons." According to Wiki, the members believe that they are “soldiers in the spiritual war of good versus evil for the souls and hearts of men.” The teachings of the TFI have been around for almost half a century but, in recent years, have gained more relevance, according to insiders.
However, many still regard the organization with skepticism and fear thanks to its dark history. Begun in 1968 by David Berg, the group became known for deviant sexual practices such 'Flirty Fishing,' which saw members taking to the streets with instructions to “use their feminine wiles to draw in new converts” (craveonline.co.uk). The group under Berg was also accused of subjecting children to severe emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse.
12 Twelve Tribes
Formed in 1972 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Twelve Tribes came from Elbert Spriggs’ 'Jesus movement' of the early '70s. Twelve Tribes began as a prayer group for teenagers, with the new group seeking to embrace the '70s values of peace and love, which fit perfectly with the then-hippie culture.
Primarily a religion of the southern states, the group has around 3,000 members, and they have no formal ties with a Christian church. Twelve Tribes has, in recent years, been accused of tax evasion and exploiting the children of their communes for slave labor.
11 Church Of God With Signs Following
Church of God with Signs Following is a unique sect better known as 'snake handlers.' The belief is that snakes are the manifestation of demons; in an attempt to control the 'demons,' churchgoers manipulate the snakes, often allowing them to run around their bodies and over their faces. Many brethren have been killed after being bitten by the snakes, which are, more often than not, highly venomous.
According to Ranker, the group also practices “aesthetic holiness, shunning flamboyant dress and alcohol, practicing foot washing, and speaking in tongues.” Although the snake handling (which stems from a misinterpreted passage of New Testament) has been banned for religious purposes, the sect still practices this even in the present day. Unfortunately, if someone is bitten by a snake, their religion forbids medical intervention, trusting instead in God’s power to save the victim.
10 Sorority Tortures
Hazing, which is like a baptism for new recruits into a group, is illegal and disallowed in places like college campuses and universities. It was outlawed because of the often physical or psychological abuse included in the ceremony. Despite its illegality, hazing is still enacted across the country behind closed doors. It can refer to rituals, challenges, and other activities involving harassment, abuse, or humiliation.
At its worse, it may also include nudity or sexual assault. In an article for ABC News, journalist Courtney Crowder reported, “One example was a girl named 'Arika' whose pledge class had to answer trivia questions and drink straight vodka when they got a question wrong. They were also presented with a sharpie, a knife, a hammer, and a dildo, and the sisters said if they got enough wrong, they would be violated with one of those four.”
9 US Mafia
The first accounts of initiation into the Mafia date from around 1877 and originate from Sicily. Becoming a 'man of honour' is an important step for anyone wishing to become part of the world’s largest crime syndicate. Wiki describes the initiation ceremony as usually involving, “significant ritual, oaths, blood, and an agreement is made to follow the rules of the Mafia as presented to the inductee”.
There's a usual sequence of events surrounding the ritual. As with the Freemasons, the new recruit is introduced by a member to the others. Then, “his finger is pricked with a needle by the officiating member; a few drops of blood are spilled on a card bearing the likeness of a saint; the card is set on fire; finally, while the card is passed rapidly from hand to hand to avoid burns, the novice takes an oath of loyalty to the Mafia family.”
8 Cal State, LA
Another horror story of sorority initiation, this time, from the West Coast. In 2007, two would-be pledges, Kristen High and Kenitha Saafir, were, as Cosmopolitan reported, instructed to “do hours of calisthenics on the beach and then walk backwards towards the ocean.” The girls did as they were told, but Saafir was swept out by a wave. When High went in to try to rescue her, both girls drowned. Although the sorority denied the girls died in a pledge ceremony, High’s mother, Mrs. Strong-Fargas, filed a lawsuit.
Although no criminal charges were brought in light of the death of her daughter, Strong-Fargas continues her fight for justice. Remembering her daughter’s behavior before the incident, she said, “The weeks-long process of pledging was more grueling than Kristin had imagined. She'd straggle home late at night, exhausted and edgy. She wouldn't talk about what was going on."
7 Frat Boy Hazing Rituals
Just like sorority tortures, fraternity rituals carry on despite being outlawed. One online story from news.com.au in 2016 headlined, “Students were locked in cages and forced to lather their genitals in hot sauce in depraved hazing rituals.” The report included disturbing images from Sigma Pi fraternity at New York’s Hofstra University that showed rituals executed by a group of boys, which included “forcing students to vomit on each other.”
Pictures taken in secret emerged of three pledge ceremonies from autumn 2015. The boys are seen lying on the ground with their bodies immersed in flour. Another picture is of a student trapped in a small animal cage – apparently set aside for the smallest person in the pledge class. In light of the undercover report, the Sigma PI Grand Council revoked the charter of the Eta-Gamma Chapter at Hofstra University but for “unspecified violations.”
6 Rutgers University
Rutgers University is a leading national research university in the state of New Jersey, but it, too, has come under fire for its students’ ritual initiation ceremonies. In 2010, it was reported that a girl pledging to the school’s Sigma Gamma Rho sorority was hospitalized after allegedly being beaten with paddles. Unlike many other instances, the injured student pressed charges, and six girls were arrested.
The sorority was adamant that the beatings didn't take place as part of a pledge. However, in response to the crimes, Rutgers suspended their chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho as did the sorority’s national organization. In another Rutgers ritual, female students were humiliated and forced to sit on paper towels naked and watch lesbian adult movies. If the paper became wet, they lost their chance to join the group. This was again denied by the sorority.
5 Branch Davidians
Originating in 1955 after a sect of worshippers branched away from the Seventh-day Adventists, the Branch Davidians is widely known for its mission to “prepare the way for the restoration of [the] kingdom of peace predicted in the Bible” (wikipedia.org). The kingdom of peace is understood to be that of the biblical King David from which 'Davidian' is derived. This Davidic kingdom is to bring about “peace on earth and good will toward men.”
Famously taken over by David Koresh in 1981, the sect was soon linked to child abuse allegations and illegal firearms violations. In February 1993, law enforcement agents attempted to gain access to its compound in Waco. An armed siege followed leading to the death of 86 people, including four officials. The Branch Davidians was renamed "The BRANCH, The Lord Our Righteousness" and follows much the same edicts as its predecessor.
4 The Brethren
The Brethren (AKA Body of Christ, the Brothers and Sisters) was founded in 1971 by Jimmie T. Roberts. It's a radical religious group that advocates a puritan existence in preparation for “the inevitable end of the world” (all-that-is-interesting.com). Its edicts involve giving up all modern comforts instead foraging for anything needed, such as food and clothes. Its communal flock are taught to ignore modern social conventions and have been tagged as the 'garbage eaters' due to their practice of foraging from dumpsters.
Famously, members of the group sever all links with family and friends upon joining. This isolationist need has led to many families across the States trying to find missing family members who they believe have joined the Brethren and are now living in a commune. The movement actively encourages new members to sell everything they own and break ties with their families.
3 The Creativity Movement
Based in Illinois, Creativity is a neo-Nazi group formed in 1973. According to wikiwand.com, it was established to “unite white people through a common racial religion.” The group follows a naturalist philosophy, which means that their lifestyle as such is healthy and well considered. However, their supreme value is that the 'highest good' is what white people deserve. It's this tenet that has led to the group being labeled a fascist organization.
Founded in Lighthouse Point, Florida by Ben Klassen, the church's outlook, according to Wiki, is based on “the veneration of the white race and the supposed safeguarding of its survival.” Its ultimate aim is to have 10 million copies of two books -- Nature's Eternal Religion and The White Man's Bible -- given to white people as part of its belief in "gird[ing] up for total war ... politically, militantly, financially, morally and religiously.... Rahowa [racial holy war] is inevitable ... the ultimate and only solution."
2 Congregation For The Light
Congregation for the Light is a high-profile organization with headquarters in the exclusive heart of Manhattan. Its aim isn't to portray a cult image but rather to be considered mainstream. However, its teachings about “Aryans and Atlantis, doomsday prepping, complex mythology involving owls, strange medical woo about cancer being caused by bad karma,” among others, have suggested to many that it is, in fact, another cult (ranker.com).
The leader of the flock, Tom Baer, shuns anyone who chooses to leave and allegedly has a “powerful grip on the sex lives of members.” The sect, while enjoying tax-exempt status as a religion, is also known for marrying off old men to young girls and looting the estates of dead members in order to make up its funds. The Light has around 200 members, but all are kept in virtual seclusion with a secret meeting each week.
1 United Blood Nation
United Blood Nation -- sometimes referred to as the East Coast Bloods -- is a gang terrorizing the New York area. Their main income arises from human trafficking and the sale of illegal drugs. Members are mostly African-American males, but it's been known to include Hispanic, Asian, and Caucasian members. As of 2005, the number of gang members was around 7,000 nationwide, with 5,000 of those in the New York City area.
In order to join the East Coast Bloods, members have to undergo an initiation of 'blooding in.' This act determines the loyalty of the new recruit and is an important part of the gang’s premise. To 'blood in,' the prospective gang member must draw the blood of another; this is usually performed by slashing the person. “Blood members identifying [sic] an opportunity by yelling '013' before the attack, telling the new recruit to go ahead and draw some blood,” according to insiders.
Sources: apnews.com, timeline.com, abcnews.go.com, news.com.au