Proving that anything men can do women can do better, these ladies have entered leadership roles that have given them power. For centuries, people thought of cult leaders as brutal or charismatic men who brainwash the gullible into following their doctrines. However, for decades now, women have been stepping into the cult leader spotlight that was once only reserved for their male counterparts. For some, the thought of having money and power makes them tingle all over; for others, they want to control the intimate lives of others; but there are those few women who get off on having people bend at their will and help them commit heinous murders.
The world was introduced to the Heaven's Gate cult that committed mass suicide in the 1990s believing they were going to be taken away on a UFO. Did you know that the group's true founder was a woman who began recruiting members in the 1970s? We often hear about New Age weight loss programs where speakers hold seminars to sell their books and inspirational audio recordings, but were you aware that many of those organizations were fronts for cult churches that taught people to cut off ties with unbelieving family and friends and to starve themselves? We found 15 of the world's most influential cult leaders, many of whom are still alive today. For those who aren't, such as the ax murdering Clementine Barnabet who slaughtered families hoping for immortality, their teachings are still being spread to new members around the world. Hopefully, not to your neighbors next door.
15 Bonnie Nettles's Cult Attempted To Reach A UFO Via Mass Suicide
Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles embarked on a spiritual journey together as they jointly believed they were the two important figures mentioned in the Book of Revelations in the Bible. Bonnie was raised as a Baptist and believed she had a spiritual guide who helped her make astrological charts and communicate with the dead. The married mother of four met Applewhite in 1972 and divorced her husband the following year. The two went on the road recruiting members for their cult. They amassed 200 members who believed their mumbo jumbo, but in 1985, Bonnie passed away from cancer, and Applewhite took her place and named their group Heaven's Gate (sound familiar?). Twelve years later, the 39-member cult made headlines after they committed mass suicide in order to reach a spacecraft they believed was following Comet Hale–Bopp.
14 Anne Hamilton-Byrne Stole Children And Kept Them Isolated From The World
In the 1960s, yoga teacher Anne Hamilton-Byrne formed the highly controversial Australian cult, The Family. Anne began recruiting medical professionals to hear her speak at these small meetings in Melbourne. Her teachings were a mixture of Eastern and Western religions, including Christianity and Buddhism. The Family's inner circle called themselves the reincarnations of the apostles of the Bible and believed that Anne was a living God, more specifically a reborn Jesus Christ. There were 14 children who were added to The Family between 1968 and 1975 by members giving birth or through illegally stealing them through back channels. Their hair was dyed bleach blonde, their last names were changed to "Hamilton-Byrne," and they were kept secluded, and basically imprisoned, from other people. The children endured starvation diets and were often beaten without provocation. They were given drugs that include, but not limited to, Anatensol, Diazepam, Haloperidol, Largactil, Mogadon, and Serepax. The Family was investigated by the FBI, and Anne was arrested. She paid out large sums of money after being sued by many members of the cult.
13 Jasmuheen Encourages People To Live Off Air; Followers Have Starved To Death
Just recently a story about a couple went viral after they openly stated they practiced Breatharianism, a belief rooted in Hinduism and believes it's possible for people to live healthy, vibrant lives without food. The head of this movement is Jasmuheen, real name Ellen Greve, a New Age spiritual leader who gives conferences and seminars about the controversial subject. She claims that she lives on only 300 calories a day and has been for fourteen years. She boasts that she's fully healthy, but when Australian "60 Minutes" challenged her to prove it, things got a tad sketchy. They documented Jasmuheen's everyday life but also asked that she consult with a doctor. Days into filming, the doctor found that her pulse had accelerated, her pupils dilated, and her speech slowed dramatically. It was his conclusion that if the experiment continued, they would be risking the woman going into kidney failure, so the show called the entire thing off. Even with the medical evidence, Jasmuheen stated that she felt great and that nothing was wrong with her, blaming the doctor's reports on "polluted air." She has thousands of followers who buy her books and follow her practices, including a handful who have starved to death.
12 The Flamboyantly Rich Supreme Master Of Meditation
If you happen to ever meet Ching Hai, make sure to address her as Supreme Master. With an estimated 20,000 followers worldwide, Hai is known for her teachings of the Quan Yin Method. She founded the Light Meditation Center and the Way of Sound Contemplation in Taiwan in 1986. Hai abandoned her Buddhist upbringing and told people they could find their "inner light and the inner sound of God" through meditation. The Supreme Master prides herself on being an artist, an author, a spiritual leader, and a fashion designer. Hai also owns stores and restaurants around the world, and some of them play videos of her teachings as visitors dine. Her followers regale her as the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and Buddha, and she operates one of the largest cults on the planet.
11 Brigitte Boisselier Believes Humans On Another Planet Created Earth
Claude Maurice Marcel Vorilhon, the French founder of Raëlism, developed his doctrine in 1973 after he claimed to have had an alien encounter. He detailed the experience in one of his books and said that a being stepped out of a UFO and told him, in French, that the visit to earth was done specifically to meet and speak with Vorilhon. It was revealed that Earth and all of its life forms were created by advanced human scientists from another planet. The scientists sent about 40 prophets to Earth in order to tell them about their history, but humans have muddled up the stories, including texts from Buddha, Jesus Christ, Moses, and Muhammad. French chemist Brigitte Boisselier joined the Raëlism movement while investigating cloning. She made claims that she created the first human clone, but she hasn't offered up any evidence. She and Vorilhon connected over ideologies, and in 2003, he announced that if and when he dies, Boisselier, who already acts as a religious leader, will be the top dog of Raëlism in his place.
10 Hak Ja Han And Her Husband Are Known As The 'True Parents' Of Humankind
Sun Myung Moon and his wife, Hak Ja Han, are known as "True Parents" to their followers of the Unification Church. If you ask anyone who is devoted to them wholeheartedly, they would describe Han as being the "perfect woman" and most likely refer to her as the True Mother. Group members are known as "Moonies" and see Moon and Han as being the mother and father or humankind, so during services, everyone bows down to them. The cult was founded in 1954, and Han married Moon six years later. (He was 40; she was 17.) But early members claimed that Moon would preach that purification would only come through having sex with him. The couple would also perform mass weddings that went into the thousands, and couples had to remain abstinent for 40 days following. Then, they would engage in a three-day sex ritual that involved using specific positions chosen by Moon. In 2008, the couple's estimated wealth was more than $600 million, and they're known to rub elbows with royalty and heads of state worldwide.
9 'Queen Antoinette' Ordered Followers To Starve 16-Month-Old For A Bizarre Reason
Toni Sloan, also known as Queen Antoinette, only had about a dozen or so followers in One Mind Ministries, but they all lived together in a home in Baltimore, Maryland. The group didn't bring any real attention to themselves until 2007 when 16-month-old Javon Thompson mysteriously died. An investigation revealed that the cult leader, Queen Antoinette, ordered everyone in the cult to not feed the child because he refused to say "Amen." Ria Ramkissoon, Javon's mother and a follower, testified in her case of child abuse resulting in death that Sloan said the boy had a "spirit of rebellion." Ramkissoon believed every word her leader said and went along with the starvation. After he died, Sloan ordered the mother to pray for her son in order to "nurture him back to life." She stayed with her son's dead body for weeks praying and fasting, and when that didn't work, the group relocated and brought the boy's remains along in a suitcase. Sloan received 50 years in prison.
8 Reyna Marisol Chicas Is Suspected Of Nearly Leading A Mass Suicide
Some say that rapper Afroman put Palmdale, California on the map, but Reyna Marisol Chicas brought attention to the north Los Angeles community for being the head of a religious sect. The 33-year-old was once a part of the Iglesia De Cristo Miel Christian congregation but, along with a handful of others, separated themselves. Many people believed that the members were being brainwashed with teachings that the end of the world was coming soon. In 2010, a husband showed up at the sheriff's station with a purse in hand. He told officers that the bag was left by one of the women in the cult with a note telling him to pray over it because "they were all going to heaven to meet Jesus and their deceased relatives." The items inside of the bag suggested that there might be a suicide on the horizon. The search only lasted for 24 hours because the next day, the 13 members — five Salvadoran women and eight children — were found praying in a park. Chicas's mental state was so disturbed that she had to be hospitalized to be kept safe.
7 Gwen Shamblin Forces Members To Cut Off Friends And Family Who Don't Follow Her
Before she became the leader of her own religious organization, Gwen Shamblin worked as a nutritionist and dietitian. After creating the Weigh Down Workshop, a series of teachings that blend Christianity with weight loss, Gwen founded the Remnant Church in 1999. Here's where things get a little sticky: Gwen teaches that it's a sin if followers don't abide by her Weigh Down diet. Members of the church are recruited from her workshops, and once they're roped in, she pressures them to leave their churches and follow her doctrine. They're only allowed to read from the NIV Bible because all other scriptures aren't from God. If you have friends or family members that aren't involved with or apart of Remnant, members aren't allowed to associate with them. Even if it's obvious that Gwen is misinterpreting scripture, it's believed by her followers to be the truth because it comes from her mouth. Though she preaches out of the Bible, Gwen doesn't believe Jesus is God or that the Trinity exists. As convoluted as it all is, Gwen still has amassed 130 fellowships in the U.S. and the Bahamas.
6 Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi's Followers Worship Photographs Of Her
It's true that the majority of human beings that are born onto this planet don't remember their time in the womb or even what was going on during birth, but not Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi. She's the founder of the meditation group Sahaja Yoga which has its origins from an incident in 1970, when she said, "I saw my kundalini rising very fast like a telescope opening out, and it was a beautiful color that you see when the iron is heated up, a red rose color, but extremely cooling and soothing." She has claimed that alcohol is evil, that meditation is the only way to grow spiritually — and that much of that time for meditation is for followers to spend worshiping in front of a photo of Shri Mataji.
This group doesn't sound very diabolical, but an ex-member from Switzerland stated there's much more than meets the eye. "Once, they told my Sahaja Yoga brother and I [sic] that we should slap our mother if she argued. As zealous disciples, we followed instructions, and my brother slapped her. Next, we were told to cease all communication with her. I loved my mother, but I forced myself to obey."
5 Hoping For Immortality, Clementine Barnabet Killed 35 People
Not many female cult leaders are murderous, but of those that are, Clementine Barnabet is one of the worst to have ever walked the earth. Clementine and her father, Raymond Barnabet, led a voodoo cult called The Church of Sacrifice. They, along with three other leaders, made up what they called the Human Five who believed that killing sinners would grant them immortality. In the dead of night, entire families, including children, would be slaughtered with an ax. Raymond was known to have a past riddled with violence and became the focal point of the investigation. He was arrested, but while he sat in jail, the Randall Family were killed. Their children were dismembered and mutilated. That made police look into Raymond's family to see if he had an accomplice, and that's how they met Clementine.
She confessed to the murders and said she would dress up as a man so as not to garner suspicion. She's attributed with the deaths of 35 people, including the Broussard family. The Broussard children's blood was drained in buckets and left by their beds with a note. The Barnabets were both in prison at the time, leaving investigators to believe that their voodoo cult was still growing with the help of the remaining Human Five. There may still be The Church of Sacrifice members that exist today.
4 Deborah Geileskey Keeps People Cut Off From The Outside World
The Magnificat Meal Movement in Australia was founded by Debra Geileskey, who says she can hear the voices of not only angels but God and the Virgin Mary. She teaches her followers that there's no such thing as the "end times" and to spend their Saturday Sabbaths practicing something called the Divine Light Presence ceremonies. When you look at their website, their practices don't seem half bad, but a woman named Alison Forden who was a part of the "church" for 14 years says they're one of the most damaging cults out there. She told the television show "A Current Affair" that she was "brainwashed" and cut off from the rest of the world resulting in her marriage falling apart. Members weren't allowed to watch TV, read magazines, or watch the news. The Queensland, Australia members would all live together, and Forden said anyone who wanted to leave needed permission. Meanwhile, Geileskey is reportedly enjoying the spoils of her followers' 10 percent tithe by buying expensive cars and lavish homes.
3 Silvia Meraz Moreno Murdered Her 10-Year-Old Grandson As A Ritualistic Sacrifice
Santa Muerte, a female deity from Mexican folklore, is the cult leader in this particular tale. Crimes and sacrifices have been made in worship and honor of her, including those of serial killer Silvia Meraz, who murdered three people between 2009 and 2012. Silvia believed that she was performing ritualistic sacrifices when she killed her friend, 55-year-old Cleotide Romero Pacheco, 10-year-old son-in-law of sect member Martin Chaparro, and Silvia's own 10-year-old grandson, Jesus Octavio Martinez Yanez. The two children were beheaded. Officials just happened to stumble upon the bodies buried on the outside of town, and an investigation led them back to Silvia and her cult members who were all relatives, including the father of little Jesus. She was sentenced to life in a Mexican prison.
2 Alice Lenshina's Church Engaged In An Uprising Where 1,000 Died
Self-proclaimed Zambian prophet Alice Lenshina founded the Lumpa Church, one of the most famous independent churches in the country. In 1953, she slipped into a coma after battling malaria, and once she came out of it, she claimed that Jesus spoke to her, saying that she would lead a new spiritual movement for African people. Later, there were conflicts between her church and the militant, male-dominated United National Independence Party (UNIP) that resulted in a 1964 shootout between the two groups. The Prime Minister at the time declared the war a state of emergency after nearly 1,000 people were killed. The church was banned from Zambia, and 15,000 members fled to nearby Congo. Lenshina surrendered herself to police and was jailed with her husband Petros Chintankwa. She died in 1978, but sects and factions of the Lumpa Church can still be found all around the world.
1 Valentina De Andrade Got Away With Murdering Children
The Amazon is a beautiful yet haunting place, and in 1989, the small town of Altamira became alarmed when a number of children began to disappear. Police tried to pinpoint the cause but couldn't come up with an explanation. By 1993, 19 children between eight and 13 were missing, and five bodies were recovered mutilated and medically castrated. One boy named Wanderlei Pinheiro managed to escape from his kidnappers and told police a story that sounded as if it came from the depths of nightmares. He said he was raped, tortured, castrated, and mutilated by an underground cult. He also said he witnessed other children being stabbed to death and harvested for their organs while others were sold on the black market. He led authorities to Valentina de Andrade, the leader of Superior Universal Alignment UFO cult. She taught her followers that the world was ending and that they wouldn't survive — meaning the extraterrestrials wouldn't take them away on their spaceships — unless they did what she said. She also said that males born after 1981 needed to be exterminated because they were evil. Valentina faced charges and went to trial where she was found not guilty. Others involved in her cult weren't so lucky and faced lengthy prison sentences. Valentina has her own website and still teaches today.
Sources: Wikipedia, The Week, Independent UK, Blumhouse