At first, the testimony of the former cult member on the social journalism website Medium in March 2018 comes across as quite comical. Describing an alleged claim by American spiritual guru Teal Swan, they said, “[She] told me her cat, Cosmos, was actually a holographic soul projection from the planet Sirius, and he had been sending me telepathic images of my pancreas, to tell me that my blood sugar was off…” Indeed, such a declaration from the up-and-coming cult leader would be deserving of laughter and derision if some of the 34-year-old Swan’s controversial views were not so downright dangerous.
According to a 1981 study by renowned psychologist Robert Lifton, cults have three defining characteristics. Firstly, the followers are led by an authority figure with claims to higher knowledge. Secondly, the sects use brain-washing techniques to control their members. Thirdly, the groups actively exploit their adherents, usually for financial gain. In fact, cults have been around for millennia, but the internet is now changing the ways that they recruit and indoctrinate their vulnerable targets.