16 Infamous Cults in History

By Trista

Cults are notoriously tricky to define. Mainly though, for something to qualify as a cult, it needs to hold a creed that is deviate from the mainstream religious community or have a leader that is somehow deified. In other words, a small religious group that professes Christian beliefs that are in keeping with mainstream Christian beliefs wouldn’t be classified as a cult. A small Christian group that believes its leader is the reincarnation of Jesus almost certainly would. Read on to find out about some of the most notorious, infamous cults in history.

 

Artistic depiction of Hassan is-Sabbah, the founder of the Hashishin. Wikimedia.

16. The Hashishin

When European Crusaders and later Marco Polo returned to Europe after their adventures and exploits in the Muslim world, they carried with them stories of a group of guerrilla fighters known as the hashishin. Marco Polo had actually misunderstood the word “assassins” and interpreted it as being “hashishin,” referring to hashish, more commonly known as marijuana. The assassins were a group of Nizari Ismail Muslims, a splinter group from the Shi’a sect, that formed in response to the First Crusade. Today, their name – which derives from the Arabic word for “principle” – refers to somebody who kills a target in cold blood.

The Assassins were based in Alamut, Iran, and Masyaf, Syria. The order was led by a grand imam, as it was first a religious order, though they largely deviate from the mainstream teachings of Islam. The agents in the order were called upon to engage in what the leaders called self-sacrifice; in other words, they were to engage in guerrilla warfare and even target specific people for assassination at the risk of their own lives. They were highly trained and well-read so that they could blend in with their enemies’ surroundings, even speaking different languages, if necessary. They struck fear in the hearts of both the European Crusaders and their fellow Muslims.