Way back Wednesday – cults

Every Wednesday Taylor Shelfo shares information from past West Side Story articles.


Taylor Shelfo, Broadcast Anchor

My favorite school spirit day in junior high was Wacky Wednesday. I loved seeing everyone wear mismatched clothes, pigtails and funky colors everywhere. This Way Back Wednesday isn’t about school spirit, but it is definitely wacky.

In 1988, the West Side Story interviewed people involved in satanic cults in Iowa City. It is believed that the 1980’s was a time for the Cult Movement, where cults weren’t taken as light-heartedly as they were in the 60’s and 70’s.

One sophomore had been involved in a satanic cult that met downtown since he was in seventh grade. The meetings were full of people in still attending junior high, high school, and college, as well as a few businessmen in their forties. Activities held in the meetings were reciting the Lord’s prayer backwards, chanting, and discussing Satan’s beliefs and goals. It’s definitely not a small hidden ordeal, it’s huge. At the satanic baptizing, over 100 people attended to be baptized in Satan’s name – not even ten minutes away from our school. These cults are nationwide and largely attended by over 200 people in Des Moines, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

In California, rituals included cutting your forearm and mixing your blood with wine for followers to drink. The sophomore WSS interviewed wasn’t comfortable with this ritual on account of not knowing people’s blood condition (HIV/AIDS), so when he didn’t attend the ritual, people started to doubt his faith, which he then began to believe he wasn’t worthy anymore, and eventually left the cult. He also disclosed that California practiced more “extravagant” rituals that included violence and creature sacrifices.

A junior has been involved for ten years with the Maharishis since her 33 year old brother involved her when he started to attend their university in Fairfield, Iowa. She and her brother became involved by listening to the Beatles and their belief in Transcendental Meditation – which is Maharishi’s main practice. T.M. is a more peaceful approach with cults with help from Guru Mahesh Yogi. Her brother however, is unable to live a normal life without the cult. He chants every day and rarely ever sleeps, he can’t hold a job and still lives with his parents. Her parents have tried to “deprogram him” which is the process of removing someone from their cult and awaken them, because he is believed to be “asleep” until he reaches enlightenment.

One man, Jim Jones began his cult by using mind control to capture and persuade his people to follow, worship, and fund him and his beliefs. This cult didn’t last long, however, because he persuaded majority of his followers to commit suicide (in the name of God of course).

The students interviewed believe their cult is just another form of religion, much like Buddhism or Christianity. Others think it’s a ploy on a false God or Satan. 81% of students at West in 1988 voted they would not participate in a cult, but 19% did. One boy said a cult he attended sacrificed a dog, and he was very sickened by it for a week straight – but the vision didn’t destroy his belief, he said “But I’d do it again for the members of our cult [for] our god.” Back then, West had a conservative view on cults, but we don’t know whether or not if that opinion is based on ignorance or life experiences.

Hope you enjoyed this wacky Way Back Wednesday!