Writers' blog - Episode 7
By David Brechin-Smith
I Was A Teenage Cult Leader
When I was thirteen and in my first year of high school, a friend and I started a cult. It was short-lived, accomplished nothing and didn't make us rich or famous.
We founded our cult after seeing something on TV about the Moonies. Our parents had warned us about these people. They were bad. They were dangerous. They were on drugs. They lurked in airport terminals ready to prey on the young and the pretty. They weren't interested in our parents. It was us they wanted. And when they got you, they took you away and brainwashed you and took all your money and you never saw your family again.
They were, we were told, just as bad as the Hare Krishnas, who also prowled around airports and tempted you to cross to the dark side with flowers and books about a blue man who played the flute.
This parental anti-cult propaganda clearly worked on me. Years later, aged eighteen, I saw my first Hare Krishna street parade. They were singing and dancing and looked pretty happy. It flashed through my mind that they were probably high. They wore loose robes and hand-knitted beanies and didn't look much older than me. They were handing out free slices of coconut ice, homemade, like you'd buy at a school fair.
I was offered a slice and I hesitated, thinking that maybe it was spiked with some kind of drug that would make me brainwashable or, at the very least, high. I took the plunge and ate the slice and waited and... nothing. Well, nothing except a vague disappointment that these people who were banging tambourines and chanting the words of a George Harrison song weren't actually trying to mess with my mind or get me high.
We called our cult The Sons of the Origin Unification Church. The thing on TV about the other Unification Church obviously had an impact on us. As for the "Sons of the Origin" part, who knows? After a morning-long recruitment drive, we ended up with ten members. Despite the sexist name of our organisation, some of them were girls. So, including my friend and me, there were twelve of us. I can't remember if we stopped at twelve because that's how many disciples Jesus had, or if that's how many people signed up before we lost interest in the whole idea.
And when I say "signed up" I mean it literally; we had ten kids sign a document that my friend and I had handwritten on a piece of A4 pad paper. I can't remember exactly what was outlined in the document, but I have a vague recollection that every member had to "believe in the Sons of the Origin". Well, of course. What I do remember is assigning myself the title of "Grand Ayatollah". I think Iran must have been in the news that week.
We kept membership restricted to our class, probably more out of laziness than a fear that our ideas would be ridiculed by non-believers, anti-cult groups and some of the older kids. Maybe we knew instinctively that you have to careful when you start a cult. You have to keep it underground and grow it slowly. Bold ideas take time to grab hold of the mass consciousness.
I know what you're thinking: what freaks. On the other hand, some of you are probably thinking how can I join? Sadly, the Sons of the Origin Unification Church no longer exists. We started with a big idea in our bored little brains, but it was all over by the weekend. As an organisation we failed spectacularly. We had no ecumenical council to discuss and settle matters of church doctrine and practice. We never worked out if it was better to be a destructive cult or a benign cult. Worst of all, we never got the chance to brainwash anyone.
In short, we had nothing except a cool name. We had such potential and we squandered it all in favour of skateboarding and TV. I soon shifted my focus to becoming the next Dylan and my friend found that computers were way more interesting than being the leader of a classroom cult.
So what did I learn from being a cult leader? Well, I believe I made several fatal errors. First, we forgot to strip our members of their worldly possessions. I coveted founding member Bruce Ryan's three-speed chopper and this was the perfect opportunity to acquire it. Second, we didn't have a uniform. Some kind of tracksuit ensemble that would've made us stand out from the other kids. I think that would've helped a lot. Third, we didn't promise our followers that a better world was waiting for them and we knew how to get there. Coming from Invercargill, I think that part would've been easy.
Last, we didn't have a good theme song. I mean, we had a theme song, it just wasn't good. The words were pretty much "we are the Sons of the Origin" repeated ad naseum, like any good chant, but accompanied by a dreary, funereal tune, which reflected my deep angst at the time. How did I ever think this would inspire my people? If we'd had a better song then maybe things would've been different, because it's clear that a good theme song can be crucial to a cult's success. Just look at the Hare Krishnas and Team New Zealand.
In fact, in a later episode of The Cult, the people in Two Gardens sing a rousing song about their movement. Further proof that Edward North, unlike me, knows what it takes to be a great cult leader.