From 1980 to 1990 I was in a cult. It was called Santeria, an Afro Cuban religion that was granted religious status in 1982 by the Supreme Court of the United States. They wore all white with a bunch of beads around their neck.
One definition of a cult is when there is a charismatic leader and members are discouraged from having contact with former friends and even family members. My own mother was not allowed to go to her parents’ funerals. I know now that I was in a cult.
It started out as a meditation group once a week for an hour, but within two years time it had morphed into something more.
Members were not encouraged but rather told to get initiated, which cost anywhere between $5,000 and $12,000. This entailed some bizarre restrictions, such as not being allowed to walk across a blinking “don’t walk” light. Every member was required to wear numerous beads around his or her neck. If they broke their beads, it meant that your attitude needed adjusting. One member couldn’t eat the ends of food. He would have to cut off each end of a french fry before he could eat it. If you dropped money on the floor you were supposed to leave it for the deities. You’d go into a members’ apartments and there would be coins all over the floor. I couldn’t eat anything that was red.
I’ll tell you, when I finally got out, thanks to my friend Jacques Howlett, I ate all the pizza I could get.
There were 25 members in one group. One of the members who made good money doing costumes for a well-known film director was forced to buy a house in upstate New York where many of us were coerced to work for years. After five days a week of house painting, I had the weekend to look forward to not resting or relaxing, but rather working on this house.
The main mantra was that the leader had given us our inner child, which is another term for soul, and that without him we were destined to a type of hell.
Many members from other Santeria groups partook in the blood sacrifice of barnyard animals such as chickens, sheep and goats. This was and is a bizarre antiquated ritualistic practice, abhorrent to me.
I was also in what I referred to as a cult in what was once an MLM company called Equinox. Again, it had a charismatic leader and members became obsessed with the leader and his health products. It was about greed.
I believe there are other dangerous cults out there. Though everyone must judge for themselves.
MDI is an organization that I joined in 2003. Even with my background of joining organizations that ended up being cults, I have found something different here. A collective that is a community.
I’ve always found it to be teams of men who care about each other and successfully help each other to grow. You can drop out if needed without experiencing the ire of the members. While there are charismatic members, there is no central charismatic leader that the men are beholden to. Men are encouraged to improve their relationships whether it be with friends or family. I guess one of the most important things about MDI for me is how it helps me realize that love really is the most important thing.
When I’m at a team meeting I so often feel love for and love from my fellow members.