5 signs you’re dealing with a cult leader or manipulator in disguise.

Some people on the Internet only want one thing: control. Don’t be fooled by the promises of spiritual enlightenment.

Lucy the Oracle
8 min readMay 29, 2024
Photo by Vlad Hilitanu on Unsplash

Behind all that glitters… There can be something far worse than fake gold.

I’m actually a bit of an expert in cults — not by choice, unfortunately, but by dealing with these wolf-in-sheeps-clothing manipulators since child. My experience includes being a victim of medical neglect by my mother who would always first go for “alternative medicine” and other snake oil practices instead of giving her own family access to proper care; Escaping, dismantling, and saving a small group from a newly formed doomsday cult back in 2019; And more recently, dealing with a series of mental health professionals who also dabbled in “alternative” stuff and exhibited increasingly controlling behaviour. Today I’ll lend you some of my experience on how to detect cult leader behaviour before it’s too late.

Of course I am not just talking about the newage starseed crowd and similar; I’m also talking about Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Astrology, Neopaganism, the wider Metaphysical community, Philosophy, and even political and corporate cults that pretend to be secular.

Not a single inch of this planet is immune to control freaks with a messiah complex. And I want you to understand these control freaks are not always bad people. Sometimes they’re pretty easy to reason with and do not coerce… But still, nonetheless, play psychological games with you that ultimately intend on undermining your self-reliance, planting doubts about your critical thinking skills, and rendering you dependent on them. These things, my friend, can be done with a wide smile and the friendliest attitude. Don’t be fooled.

The rule of thumb (even if you ignore all else in this article, keep this in mind) is: if someone is making you doubt your own judgement, even if it looks like they’re doing so accidentally, that’s your cue to run away and cut all contact with the person.

Without further ado, on to the checklist. If you said yes to EVEN ONE of the items below, consider it a big red flag. More than 2, and it’s probably time to run away without looking back. Do not underestimate the power of these people’s manipulation skills. I know it’s tempting to give them a chance and not judge, but may I suggest: do that from a safe distance, after cutting all contact. Better safe than sorry. You don’t need to know the reason why someone is trying to groom you into becoming controllable — leave that for investigators who make true crime documentaries. All you need to know is that it is happening, you’re not crazy, it is real, trust your gut and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

1. They want you to kill your ego.

This can be worded in many other ways, such as “let go of your ego’s desires” or similar. It sounds like a wise commandment, and it can be, when it’s coming from your higher self, in meditation, in silence, on your own. If it’s coming from an external person, or with ANY kind of input from this external person, BEWARE.

Your ego can cause problems, but did you know your ego also protects you from falling prey to other people’s egos? It does. That’s the good side of the ego. And how can you know this teacher’s words aren’t coming from an ego place? You can’t. Some things can be said with the purest of intentions, but other things… Could hide a darker agenda of control. It’s very easy to control somebody who doesn’t have an ego, isn’t it? Of course it is! The person won’t defend themselves, will think “it’s foolish”, “it’s petty”, etc. All good and well if you’re just talking to a higher power… But when you’re dealing with A FELLOW HUMAN BEING, always remember human beings have egos. Yes, even your guru. Yes, even your guru’s guru. Yes, even the supreme authority in the religion. All human. They all have egos. And all egos want control over people.

“Lucy, isn’t it rude and judgemental to assume that before I get to know a teacher in more depth?” — The answer to that, sweetie, is very simple: yes. It is rude. Now, tell me: would you rather bet on chance? What if you’re out of luck?

Speaking directly to you here, potential manipulators: Spirituality should feel empowering, not disempowering. When someone’s ego is getting on their own way (for example, with self-destructive behaviour), the person will eventually realise that on their own. A suggestion can be made, to help them have that realisation, but NEVER a commandment or guilt trip. Ultimately, who judges people’s “sins”? The higher power. The gods or whatever you believe in. Not you. So, you don’t like that your disciple has ambitions? Keep that opinion to yourself. God is seeing, god will judge. You will not. And god will let this person know if their ambition REALLY is a bad thing.

I’ve had that happen countless times, receiving messages in dreams and meditation warning me about ambitions I had which were actually harmful. I listened and learned. Higher powers never leave you in the dark, they talk to you and warn you. There’s no need to rely completely on a priest, guru, or alternative therapist who could very well just be jealous of you and trying to get you to give up on your dreams. You think that doesn’t happen? Dear… It’s a wild world. 💅

2. They say you should let go of the past.

Some contextualise it, some don’t. Regardless, it’s all the same bullshit: setting precedent for escaping accountability in the future.

This, like #1, plays on a half-truth that can be conveniently used against you down the line. Isn’t it wholesome to say “✨❤️holding grudges prevents your evolution❤️✨”? Awww, how lovely! UWU. Let’s all give hands and dance together in a circle. Wheeeee! — If only.

Obsessing with the past is bad for you and (depending on belief system) prevents your evolution indeed. But not every retainment of memory is an obsession, karen. Sometimes it’s just your good old common sense shouting on your ear that you should “leave this dodgy teacher behind” because maybe there’s a pattern of controlling and manipulative behaviour you’ve been noticing over time.

And what will the person say when you confront them? Oh, you’re too vindictive. You need to purify your mind some more. Yeah, right. How about purifying this goddamn place out of narcissists with a god complex?

3. They act dogmatic, without scriptures to back that up.

This is something I’ve noticed especially in the white dudes of the West who self-proclaim Buddhist teachers but don’t speak Tibetan, Pali, or even Japanese. I’d have no issue with that fact if they weren’t full of certainties about what they’re teaching. For example, there is an entire library of Buddhist material in India where most documents haven’t been translated into western languages. Did you know that? Now you know. Anyone who does not have access to those texts — or at the very least speaks the language — cannot (and I’ll repeat: CANNOT) be fully certain that the information they DO have is “all that matters” in any individual topic of spiritual studies. AND THEREFORE, THEY CANNOT coerce you into thinking in terms of absolutes.

“Oh, this thing is always bad; that thing is always good; this is always done one way; that can never be reached by a different pathway”. Whoa, that’s a whole load of always and nevers! Beware.

Not even the Bible is completely made available to everybody. What makes you think other religions can be fully comprehended by… some random guru you found? Honestly. Let’s have common sense.

“But I never said I fully comprehend anything”, the manipulators will say — yeah, sure, not outwardly. But you implied, when you acted so certain with the above “always” and “never” assertions. If you were genuine, you’d be transparent and say “according to what I know”, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, you wouldn’t immediately dismiss any disciple’s question for being too out-of-the-box. The answer to that question could be in a manuscript you haven’t ever read or seen. Stay humble.

Bottom line: this isn’t just “a quirk” some teachers can have. It also often indicates that they’re a-okay with dishonesty. And that, my friend, can lead to real problems down the line.

4. They can’t name their own teachers or sources.

…Which tends to imply, pardon my French, they took information out of their arse.

I’m not here to discriminate sources of wisdom. You could have learned something the traditional way with a master, or simply studying canon scriptures, or even through visions and other experiences (IF it’s spiritual. Not valid for science or politics). All I’m saying is a genuine teacher or alternative therapist will name their goddamn sources. It’s not rocket science.

Some of these manipulators will get specific that “I follow this specific lineage of Buddhism / this sect of [insert religion here]”, etc. That’s nice. Now, tell me: who, on Earth, taught you? I want name and surname. I want to look them up and see they’re not an invented character. — That’s the minimum you, too, should investigate before trusting anyone’s guidance.

There are far too many fake sages out there.

5. They say you should be “coachable”.

INTERESTING how this word — “coachable” (or similar) only exists in the Metaphysical industry.

Ever seen a school teacher tell a parent “sorry I can’t help your child, they’re not teachable and keep getting distracted in the classroom”?

Ever seen a doctor tell a patient “sorry, I can’t help you any further, you’re not diagnosable with that attitude”?

Or a mental health professional say “sorry, you’re not counsellable. Keep your depression, I give up”?

Yeah. Exactly. You DON’T hear any of the above. It would be unthinkable. In some cases, it would be grounds for a lawsuit. But somehow, in the areas of Religion, Philosophy and Spirituality… Suddenly it’s ok (commonplace even) to blame it on the learner when you’re unable to help. Why could that be?

My best theory follows: “be coachable” is an understatement. What it really wants to imply (but doesn’t — because if it did, nobody would be manipulated into buying it) is “abandon your critical thinking and don’t listen to your gut”.

Contrary to what you might think, no, not only coaches (and not all coaches!) use that maxim. I’ve personally met and have a casual friendship with one life coach who NEVER uses it and hates it as much as I do. She says (rightfully) “challenging students are masters for my own growth. They don’t owe me ease or comfort”. Anybody who is genuine should have a similar attitude. In the end of the day, the people you can’t help don’t have an obligation to adapt to you. Maybe you should adapt to them instead; Or maybe it wasn’t meant to be…

Some of the lessons in here are recent; other ones, far older.

For example, there was a (recent) time in my life when I still tolerated the “be coachable” maxim — until I learned it’s best not to. It’s not helpful. The only thing is helps with is letting the coach/teacher/guru get away with dubious behaviour.

In fact, all 5 signs listed here are arguably used to escape accountability — even when they can, and do, have a nobler meaning in specific contexts. After all, they’re being used by people who are as human as you and I… And with humanity, comes power lust.

Stay alert. Stay safe. I hope this helps.

--

--

Lucy the Oracle

Oracle learner / spirit worker based in Ireland. Buddhist/polytheist. I don't read minds. I don't change minds. I don't sugarcoat. Take my message or leave it.