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Cult

Membership Has Its Privileges


Some Cults are all about the mental manipulation and brainwashing in order to inspire devotion to a leader. Other cults, however, are all about the demon worship.

Let's face it. Secret societies make good villains because you can do almost anything you want with them. If your story needs some hidden group to be the bad guys, you can't go wrong with a shadowy cabal of masked demon worshippers.

The members of such groups meet in the middle of the night, and when they meet are almost always garbed in cloaks that hide their body shape, along with identity-concealing masks. The leader of the cult, of course, will almost always be wearing a much more extravagant, often differently colored cloak (red is a popular option), and his mask is usually more elaborate as well.

Expect black robes, Human Sacrifice (especially of the virgin kind, and usually in a painful manner), and dark plots to destroy or conquer the world. Synchronized chanting, bonfires (including the occasional burning cross or wicker-man), odd sexual practices, and blood sacrifice is popular among such groups, but not always necessary. The members of the group itself will be loyal to various degrees. Some will end up being Punch Clock Villains, others in it for the money or murdering, while others will be hardcore true believers.

Don't expect much of a detailed, coherent religious philosophy beyond "serve the God of Evil in return for power (or to keep him from smiting us)," a bit of Pseudo-Nietzschean nihilism, and perhaps a bit of Social Darwinism with special focus on "culling the weak."

A Subtrope of Religion of Evil. May overlap with The Omniscient Council of Vagueness. Often found in works of Religious Horror. Has connections with the Department of Redundancy Department. Often a form of Mystery Cult or Breeding Cult.

Examples of Secret Circle of Secrets include:


Anime and Manga

  • The Cult of Kira, seen at the end of the Death Note manga, don't get much screentime, but they fit the bill.
  • The Litchi Hikari Club has shades of this, especially in the opening, which depicts them from the perspective of an outsider.

Comic Books

  • In Teen Titans there are two: the Church of Brother Blood, and the unnamed cult that worships Raven's demon father, Trigon.
  • In Spider-Man comics, the Cabal of Scrier, which worships an ancient alien, and a breakaway cult led by Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin) called the Order of the Goblin.

Film

  • The sex cult in Eyes Wide Shut (see picture above). Exactly how sinister they really are is left somewhat unclear.
  • A lot of Hammer Films productions featured cloak-wearing demon worshippers of one stripe or another.
  • 1957's Night of the Demon was all about an investigator who discovers one of these groups.
    • The 2009 Sam Raimi film Drag Me To Hell took a lot of inspiration from this film.
  • Demon Lover has the former leader of a devil-worshipping cult summons a creature from the depths of Hell to carry out his revenge against the coven's members.
  • The Devil's Rain was advertised as giving the audience "the first real look into the world of Satanism. Despite the presence of several LARGE HAMS (including William Shatner and Ernest Borgnine), it has all the thrilling scares of cardboard box convention.
  • The 1987 film parody version of Dragnet featured the P.A.G.A.N.S. (it stands for "People Against Goodness And Normalcy"), a motorcycle gang-cum-satanic cult whose leader chants in really bad rhyme.
  • The "vampires" from The Omega Man wore cloaks and engaged in mystic rituals as per this trope, but also were the brainwashed minions of a charismatic leader too.
  • The cultists in The Final Sacrifice are a bunch of machete-wielding madmen in black tanktops and hoods out to Take Over the World by summoning the spirits of an extinct Native American civilization. Mike and the bots can't decide if they're pro wrestlers or if "Canadian rules football is quite different."
  • Damien from The Omen has a secret cult of devil-worshipers that serve and protect him. When they're not murdering people or attending black masses, they're care-takers, teachers, priests, and Cub Scouts. Since there doesn't appear to be any influential people in this cult, it could almost be a Milkman Conspiracy if their plan wouldn't revolve around ending Christ's life as soon as possible. All of the cultists have ample access to children.
  • Demonstrated in the opening of the latest Sherlock Holmes film.
  • Subverted in the short film Rings of The Ring franchise. Instead, the groups consist of "rings" of teenagers who watch Samara Morgan's cursed videotape and record the supernatural things they witness, this ritual of sorts passing to each group member when the previous panics. One group in Astoria, Washington seem more than willing to sacrifice one member to see the events of the inevitable Day Seven when the victim is killed by Samara's ghost.
  • The cultists in Race with the Devil, who chase the heroes across Texas after they witness the cult carrying out a Human Sacrifice.
  • Hilariously subverted in Hot Fuzz - black robes? Check. Meeting in secret? Check. Killing people off? Check. Being generally evil? Big damn check. Having anything to do with a reasonable, normal, evil bunch of black-clad homicidal night-meeters' goals? Noooot quite...


Literature

  • Quite a few examples in various Conan the Barbarian works, by Robert E. Howard and other authors: Golden Peacock, Hanuman the Accursed, Set, Tsathoggus, Yama, Yezud.
    • Some in Fritz Leiber's Nehwon stories, too: Earth God, Gods of Trouble, Hate, Rat God, Spider God, Tyaa.
    • In fact, these are quite common in Sword and Sorcery, even relative to their frequency in Fantasy generally. Convenient Obviously Evil villains.
  • Pretty much any group of worshippers of an Eldritch Abomination, such as those found in H.P. Lovecraft and his imitators' works. "Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!"
    • "Phn'glui mgl'wnafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!"
    • "Iä! Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Black Goat of the Woods With a Thousand Young!"
      • Listen to a "wax cylinder recording" of that last here and watch the cat when the other voice speaks up.
  • The Satanists in Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's Good Omens Lampshade Hanging and parody this concept, with a coven of secretly Satanist nuns who are doing their best to fulfill the prophecies leading to the conception of the Antichrist, but are otherwise just decent people following the tenets of the religion they were raised in, not that different from anyone else.
  • The satanic cults in the works of Dennis Wheatley (mostly based on Aleister Crowley and company), plus Hammer Horror versions thereof.
  • In the Discworld novel Guards Guards the Unique and Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night are a secret society behind the plot to summon a dragon and overthrow the Patrician. While the leader is a cunning manipulator, the members are pathetic petty-minded lower-middle class losers who mainly want to get back at people. (What they have going for them is anger.) But apparently they aren't as unique as they think... there's a whole street full of secret societies, with all the trimmings.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian novel The Hour of the Dragon, the cult of Asura is portrayed as this. While they are secretive, Conan refused to persecute them without actual crimes, and they assist him in regaining his throne. And do not, in the course of the novel, show any sign that the accusations are anything but Malicious Slander.
  • The Darkfriends of The Wheel of Time. Since they are all about helping the Dark One bring about The End of the World as We Know It (in exchange for personal power and immortality), membership is banned on pain of death throughout the world, and their cells are even called "circles".


Live Action TV

  • Showed up at all the time in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Moloch the Corrupter apparently auto-generated them wherever he went. A frat house sacrificed people to a demon snake in exchange for the power and wealth of their families. The Mayor was a particularly effective single person version of this, to the point that most of the demons that appeared were working for him. The Harbingers of the First Evil probably qualify, a group of high school cultists tried to sacrifice a fellow student in exchange for money, and on and on. Even Giles was a member of one when he was younger.
  • Doctor Who has the worshippers of Azal and the Cult of Demnos, though the former leans more towards a Religion of Evil.
  • The Regents from Warehouse 13 invoke the general idea of this trope as an acerbic jab at Artie's expectations.

Real Life

  • The Ku Klux Klan follows this trope more than you'd expect from a real-world organization. Night-time meetings, bonfires and burning crosses, and not to mention the all-enclosing robes and masks (complete with differently-colored masks and robes to distinguish the leadership from the common members).
  • Media portrayals of Satanism also tend to fall into this trope, especially during the so-called "Satanic Panic" of the 1970s and '80s.
  • The Druids, at least according to many Greek and Roman writers. There is, in fact, more evidence for the horrible human-sacrificing Druids than for most other views of them. On the other hand, it comes from the pens of their enemies.
  • Keith Thomas [1] points out that the stereotype of devil-worshippers as black-robed figures chanting in Latin in a ruined abbey originated with Tudor propaganda against the banned Catholics. Only after Catholics had ceased to be figures of fear was it applied to more obscure cults.

Tabletop Games

  • Chaos Cultists from Warhammer (and Warhammer 40000 qualify. Khorne's worshipers often organize into martial brotherhoods or murder cults, orders devoted to Tzeentch tend to be influential secret societies or sorcerous cabals, cults of Slaanesh are at best bands of artistes and hedonists or at worst mobs of depraved sex-crazed sadomasochists, and Nurgle's followers are nihilistic groups spreading disease and despair.
  • Vampire: The Requiem features the Shadow Cults, an invention of the Mekhet that allows them control over humans (and other fringe benefits) by promising to unearth the secrets of existence. One of them, the Moulding Room, promises to reveal the power behind modern pop culture but is explicitly revealed to be a Situationalist prank -- in other words, founded entirely For the Evulz.
  • Dark Matter, a roleplaying game for the Alternity system based enormously on contemporary conspiracy and X Files-like science fiction, had the Final Church, THE worldwide conspiracy for demons and satanists - basically, pretend that every paranoid rumor regarding Satanism mentioned in the 'Real Life' section was actually true, and you get the gist. There was even a web book devoted solely to the group at the end of Alternity's run, and the group makes a comeback in the D20 Modern Menace Manual.
  • Many Call of Cthulhu adventures have them, in accordance with the original Cthulhu Mythos source material.
  • Subverted with the Lords of Waterdeep from the Forgotten Realms D&D setting, who dress like this trope, engineer secretive political schemes, and conceal their membership from the public, but aren't actually evil and work to ensure their city's security and prosperity.

Video Games

  • The Cult of Kefka in Final Fantasy VI. They have given their souls to Kefka, and spend all their time walking around thinking about him.
  • The story in Resident Evil 4 revolves around rescuing the daughter of the President of the United States from a cult called "Los Illuminados". Interestingly, the most obvious example of this trope is only in one particular level. The rest of the game involves you fighting villagers and soldiers that have been infected by the cult.
  • Dead Rising had the Raincoat Cult. As the name says, they didn't wear cloaks, but they did wear masks.
  • The Warcraft universe's Cult of the Damned is a group that worships The Lich King in order to achieve eternal life through undeath. In contrast, the apocalyptic Twilight's Hammer cult exists to awaken the Old Gods sealed beneath Azeroth's surface, knowing full well that doing so will bring about the end of the world.
  • City of Heroes features The Circle Of Thorns, a group that one poster to the COH forums characterized as "a bunch of demon-worshipping asshairs". Missions where the players go against the Circle of Thorns are never popular.
    • That's at least partially due to the Scrappy Level maps the missions tend to use.
  • In a subversion of the "cult leader wears red" thing, the Cult of the Mythic Dawn in The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion has the mooks wearing red. The leader wears blue. Also, the mooks of the Black Hand wear black robes, but their leader wears a green overcoat for no apparent reason whatsoever.
  • The first Discworld videogame is based on Guards Guards, mentioned above, and so has a similar secret society.
  • The Silent Hill series has an evil cult which has a large role in every game except arguably Silent Hill 2. Hints to some sort of actual religious theory beyond "serve the evil god in exchange for power," appear in the third game (for example: that Alessa is both the mother and daughter of God). The third game also has examples of true believers (Claudia) and people mostly in it for power and money (Father Vincent).
  • The Keepers from Thief are a rare heroic example, using their ancient knowledge and secrecy to protect the ordinary people from great evils.
  • The Order of the Blessed Agonies in The Chzo Mythos.
  • When the fans get a hold of the Black Cloak Society in King's Quest, they usually get this treatment. AGD Interactive's Fan Remake of King's Quest II has several hints that they're prepping to survive The End of the World as We Know It - possibly the events of King's Quest Mask of Eternity. AGD puts another example in their version of the game by having the benevolent monk from the original turn out to be running a Fur Against Fang racket against what turns out to be the Friendly Neighborhood Vampire
  • The Evil Spaghetti Cult from Kingdom of Loathing's Nemesis Quest, as it plays out for Pastamancers. They worship your Nemesis, an evil spaghetti elemental. There's a brief Shout-Out to Project Chanology (which devolves into a general spoof of 4chan memes), although otherwise the cult doesn't have much in common with the Church of Happyology.
  • The Masquerade in Persona 2: Innocent Sin certainly qualifies. In this case, they even have different robes to indicate which leader commands them, though they will all take orders from the Joker.

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