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Law 27: Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cult-like Following 

Law 27: Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cult-like Following

Giuseppe Borri
Giuseppe Borri

“To become the founder of a new religion one must be psychologically infallible in one’s knowledge of a certain average type of souls who have not yet recognized that they belong together.” – Nietzsche 

People need to believe in something. By offering them something to believe in – a new cause or philosophy – you will have overwhelming power over them. The reason cults have always existed and will likely continue to exist is that people are naturally drawn to them. Give your followers rituals to perform and sacrifices to make, and in the dwindling influence of organized religion and major political causes, they will be compelled towards your cause.

The Five Steps to Creating a Cult

According to Greene, creating a large following is much simpler than it looks. Whether you are advocating a new get-rich-quick scheme, technological trend, elixir, or cause, the gullible will flock towards you. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many famous European charlatans mastered the art of cult making.

They recognized that the declining presence of religion in people’s lives created a hole that they could fill – and they did so by promising their followers magical remedies for their health and financial troubles. But their greatest realization was that the larger the group, the easier it became to deceive. Deceiving a single individual was difficult, if not impossible, but when they addressed groups instead of individuals, their jobs became much easier. People are much more likely to lose their common sense when they’re part of a group, as they become more influenced by emotion than reason.

Greene outlines five steps to create a cult.

Step 1: Keep It Vague; Keep It Simple.

The first step was to attract attention through words, not actions. And the more hazy and the deceptive the language, the more effective it was. After getting the attention of your audience through grand, transformative promises, invoke vague language to create an aura of mystery around you. This will inspire dreams and visions in your followers that is of their own making.

Step 2: Emphasize the Visual and the Sensual over the Intellectual.

After building an audience around you, two challenges will become apparent. The first is boredom and the second skepticism. People will go elsewhere once they’re bored, and skepticism will allow them to think rationally about your claims. This will blow away the smoke screen you’ve carefully created and expose your ideas for what they are. It is important to amuse the bored, and dismiss the cynics.

Step 3: Borrow the Forms of Organized Religion to Structure the Group.

Now, after establishing a following you must organize it. Create rituals and hierarchies. Make your followers sacrifice valuable things for you. This will make them more attached to your cause, and will satisfy the religious yearnings within them.

Step 4: Disguise Your Source of Income.

After your group has grown to a large enough extent, and has become organized, you will start to make money from your followers. But never seem that your intent is money and the power it brings you. Your followers want to believe that your magic will rub off on them – that they, through some infection, will grow wealthy. Never make it apparent that your wealth is a result from your followers; make it seem that it is a result of the truth of your methods.

Step 5: Set Up an Us-Versus-Them Dynamic.

Now that you have established a group structure that is now almost sustaining itself by attracting more members without much additional effort on your part, it is now time to create an us-versus-them dynamic. For this to work, your followers must believe that they are part of an exclusive club and that they are unified by common objectives. This is when you create an enemy that is out to get you. Even if no such enemy exists, create one. This will unite your followers further and strengthen the group. They now have a cause to believe in and enemies to fight.

Giuseppe Borri & The Philosopher’s Stone

In 1653, a twenty-seven-year-old Italian named Giuseppe Borri, claimed he had a vision. He told everyone that he had been visited by an angel, and that he was the chosen to become the captain of the Pope’s army, and that he would revolutionize the world.

The angel also told him that he could see through people’s souls and that he would imminently discover the philosopher’s stone – a special  substance that can transform base metals into gold. Borri previously led a life of gambling, women, and wine. The people who knew him saw that he had transformed after claiming to have this vision and were convinced that there must be something to what he was saying.

Eventually, the Italian Inquisition took note of what he was doing, and they had no tolerance for people who delved into the occult. Borri left Italy and travelled across Europe, preaching his message.

He had a simple strategy. Whenever he encountered new people, he told them about his vision that became more elaborate with time. And then he offered to look into the souls of anyone who believed him. Many did. If he liked what he saw in the other person (if they were engaged), he would add them to his cult. Borri made many promises, but he never did anything concrete. And yet, his wealth and reputation grew.

“Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived.” – Machiavelli 

People from all over Europe visited Borri, either to become healed or to accumulate wealth. The Church continued to pursue him – claiming he was a heretic. But this only made his followers more resolute, noting that Jesus Christ too was persecuted by most people in his time. The criticism aimed at him was proof of his greatness. Eventually, the Inquisition caught up with him and imprisoned him in Rome for twenty years. And yet, wealthy and prominent believers still visited him and supported him financially, such as Queen Christina of Sweden.

Borri noticed that people were drawn towards the mystical. The mundane but truthful explanations he had of his transformation (physical exhaustion, boredom), were not spectacular enough. And so, he built a feedback loop with the audience, and would tell them more about what they wanted to hear. As his visions became grander, his following increased. His followers even renounced the Pope as the “Anti-Christ” without him even uttering a word.

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