So, I just finished reading Banana Yoshimoto’s The Lake and Murakami’s IQ84, as well as watching both Mary Last Seen and Martha Marcy May Marlene. Cults have always been a weird little interest of mine, I’m not sure how or why I started becoming intrigued in them, but it seems like I’ve always been.
I’ve had my brush with quiet a few of them in real life, almost joined one or two, had friends raised in them, etc, etc. I think part of the draw for me is the fact that I could be in one at any moment, I find myself pulled and drawn to them and know that deep down inside, I could easily slip into that other world and drown in it.
I’ve written about them before- the Werewolves book sees the pack as a cult. I have several short stories involving those 1890’s utopian societies, which were cults at the basic level. (Those are interesting too- but in different ways). Maybe that’s it- maybe there is some part of me yearning for the new age appeal of these things- the giving oneself over to a larger dynamic, to seeing the world with spiritual eyes. Of giving oneself over to every aspect of it…
In a way its’ fantasy, in a way it’s reality, in a way it’s a dream or walking through unseeing things. I’m not sure. But the rituals of them and the appeal of them is pulling and yanking, a tide at the center of me. Some days being an atheist is more difficult than I like to pretend. Doesn’t some part of us just want to escape from the rational world?
Even Conan the Barbarian (the first movie) was about cults. Cults hang around in our mind. We see violent things inside of them. We compare them to Manson and Aum Shinrikyo. I wonder if all cults lead to violence like this. A lot of books I’ve read in the past few decades talk about kids of hippy cults, being raised in communes in the sixties. Like Shampoo Planet, where the kid even goes and sees his dad who still is trying to live that life out on a farm by himself. This one seemed the most unique- there wasn’t violence or terror in the cult. Just an existential realization of the myth of his childhood and his father.
Or The Saskiad. This one ends with the father, who was the leader of the cult, showing himself to be unhinged yet charismatic. How he committed seppuku and wished he’d died. It’s always like most of these stories are warnings about that life. Warnings about cults gone wrong, cults gone bad.
I think in reality things are more complicated than that. That not every cult exploded or want mad or turned to violence or madness. I wonder sometimes, thinking about things. What about ones that do good and no harm? Did they ever exist? Or like communism, they never reach the last stage and only create monsters out of the people they wished to free?
Scientology of course is the worst example of a cult still lasting. It seems to be horrible and degrading and dehumanizing. But what about beyond all of it? What about at the core of it? How complicated can I make things? How sympathetic can things be?
I’m thinking about fiction here, of course. I’m thinking about looking at it, looking at books and novels and movies from so many different angles. I wonder if there is all darkness. I wonder if there is any light. It’s an interesting thought, and a very dangerous one at the core of it all.