The Time I Failed To Join A Cult
I owe you guys some catch-up posts. I promised one about the time last year I failed to get recruited into a cult, and it’s been almost exactly a year since then (it was at Burning Man) so I really need to pony up.
Our first day out in the playa we ran into a scale model of the solar system. Well, we ran into Jupiter, I guess technically the whole site was the model. Uranus was out by the trash fence and of course that leads one to think…. “what’s at the Sun?”
(you know where this is going. The Sun is God, just like in real life)
The planets are on a line, so we follow them back to the Sun, which is the center of an astronomy camp. (Technically at the location the sun should be was a sign saying “Our camp has been moved, find us one block over at [these coordinates].” The camp was moved at the last minute by the Burning Man Organization, which really bummed them out because their model wasn’t perfectly accurate anymore. Their camp lead is a professional astronomer IRL. Nonetheless, it was a cool gimmick!)
The camp is absolutely stoked that we’re there. We are the first people who have followed the planets in to find them, it’s actually working! They give us a “metaphorical model of the solar system” as a gift to wear. They said to come back in two days at a given time wearing this in order to partake in a fun ceremony.
We returned to find a beautiful temple-style tent playing soft hippie music, and a lot of beautiful people in extremely white ceremonial dress. The sort of clothes you’d picture sun worshippers living in the desert wearing - light, flowing, showing lots of skin, with some sheer wraps. Like most cults they put their most attractive people up front to entice outsiders. Everyone there was fit and young. They all smiled and met your eyes, very inviting smiles, like they were happy to see you but wanted to give you space to get comfortable.
Every now and then one of these liaisons would come crouch by you, often placings a hand on your hand or your shoulder gently, and speak in clam, warm tones asking “Can I offer you an experience?” If you said no they would graciously move on. If you said yes they’d take you aside and you got personal attention and some neat thing. A tuning fork placed on your elbow, giving you neat vibrations. An interesting narrative game. A small incense pouch custom made for you based on your aura and interests and so forth. It was really neat, and extremely calming. After forty minutes of this I was deeply at peace. Everything was wonderful and floaty. I wanted to be in this place, where everyone is glad about everyone being here, and everyone talks in soothing calm tones, and people touch each other lightly and bask in beauty.
But then, the grand finale. All the beautiful people lined in up a long double row. Each of us outside participants was individually blindfolded and nudged into the hallway of people to walk between them. As you go, every single person you pass cuddles up to you and whispers something amazing and affirming to you. The touch is fantastic, the whispers are very ASMR, and the things they say… “We welcome you. You are accepted. You are loved. I want you to stay. You are beautiful.” etc etc. One of them remembered my name from one of the experiences, and used it. It was a love bomb. A real, actual, legit love bomb. And it was fucking amazing. I wanted it to go on forever. I wanted this every day.
After this is done they thank us all for coming, and they let us know that if we come back after dark there will be a astronomy lecture and star-gazing, with laser pointer.
I do not want an astronomy lecture, I want more love bombing, and/or peaceful warm happiness.
So I approach the head priest guy and ask him if I can find their organization out in the default world. He says something non-committal about a university website. He thinks I mean the astronomy stuff. I try to be a little less subtle, to drop some hints that I’m interested in their culture and their presence as a community, to insinuate that I would be happy to contribute to the group.
I’m trying to get recruited by this cult, because this cult is fucking awesome.
I can understand how some people might think this is a bad idea, but cults got a bad rap in the 80s IMO. Sure, maybe they want some labor and some money. But look at what they’re offering in return! Community, belonging, happiness. You know, the stuff that people are desperately searching for every day of their lives, and killing themselves in despair after decades of not finding. You know how much that’s worth? Easily some labor and some money! A few hundred a month would be a bargain, and I want to spend my free time with these people anyway, that’s literally why I’m here. Hell, if there’s a compound I get to live in, then well over a thousand a month would still be cheaper than rent in any place worth living in Denver. To be honest, I’d be exploiting the cult more than they’d be exploiting me, I’d be coming out on top here.
Plus, I’m no stranger to leaving cults. I’ve done it twice already. Once in my teens, when I rejected the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and once just a few years ago when I slipped free of the current mindvirus and lost my soulmate to it. I am extremely confident in my ability to leave a cult if it looks like it’s going to start trending net-negative utility for me.
Dear reader, I failed to be recruited by this cult. I failed spectacularly. I managed to confuse the cult leader I was speaking to, and he moved away from me quickly. Because as it turns out, this was not a cult. This was a theater group, that was doing their best to give us a great cult experience, and succeeding wildly. They really were just some astronomy grad students with a theater hobby on the side. This slowly dawned on me as they returned to nerding out about space stuff. The music changed back to standard Burning Man EDM, and a few of the serene clergy began jumping around to the beat, laughing and trading jokes, and just being normal people.
I was a bit embarrassed, and a bit sad. Of course there isn’t really a place like that in this fallen world, the best we can do is imitate it for an hour or two. Call it into existence in the pretend lands between ego and dream, a shimmering soap bubble reflection of reality. It was wonderful while it lasted. I’m thankful I was there to experience it.