Do you ever wonder how cults make money? Milton Friedman famously proclaimed that the business of business is business. And even cults can’t be all about rituals and brainwashing. They need to make money too.
The way a cult organizes itself isn’t unlike a business. Often, there is a business front to a cult, whether they are selling a product, service, or their lifestyle brand. “Common symbols, common culture, common vocabulary, common rituals, and a common hero icon. Am I talking about a cult or a brand? I’m talking about all of them,” said Prince Ghuman, a researcher and professor of neuro-marketing at Hult International Business School to Refinery29.
Cults can’t just survive on good feelings alone. After all, all organizations need a way to sustain themselves. So how do cults make money? Unsurprisingly, no two cults are exactly the same, though there are some persisting organizational structures prevalent throughout cults as a whole. Some cults subsist on donations from their followers, several institute membership fees, and others start businesses of their own. Frequently, it is a combination of some or all of these approaches.
How they choose to spend their money is another thing entirely. Cult leaders such as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and Herbert W. Armstrong spent the money on dozens of Rolls Royces and private jets. Others keep their overhead low, like The Brethren who have been given the name “The Garbage Eaters” for their practice of “freeganism” – a portmanteau of “free” and “vegan” – which involves collecting discarded food to eat. The money they can make is no joke though: The Rajneeshees, brought back into the cultural zeitgeist with Netflix’s multipart documentary, Wild Wild Country, brought in an estimated $130 million to their ranch in central Oregon between 1981 and 1985.
Get a cult-by-cult breakdown over at Refinery29