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4 Cults You Might Not Know About

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Some cults get all the publicity. The Manson Family, the Branch Davidians, Heaven's Gate—everybody's heard of them. But last week's arrest of Goel Ratzon in Israel reminds us that there are many cults that continue to attract followers and have managed to flourish due to a lack of publicity. Here are four such cults you might not have heard of.

1. The Savior

Goel Ratzon (his first name means "Savior" in Hebrew) was arrested in Tel Aviv last week and charged with enslavement, rape and incest. But his victims weren't the ones who blew the whistle on their savior; it was Israeli social services and police who'd launched an investigation when they'd heard rumors of children living in overcrowded conditions and possibly being abused. They found out that Ratzon had been head of a bizarre cult he'd founded about 10 years ago.

The 60-year-old self-described "healer" had 17 women and dozens of children (all of whom he'd fathered) crammed into in three small apartments in the Hatikvah area of Tel Aviv. (The total count of his offspring may never be known, as some of them were allegedly sired via his own daughters, and they are keeping mum to avoid additional
charges.) He monitored their activities via closed circuit TV, dictated their modest mode of dress, and collected the wages they earned from their day jobs (mostly as cleaning women). Oh, and he issued them cell phones so that they could text him when they were ovulating. A TV documentary aired on Israel's Channel 10 last year presented a tableau that would make your blood boil. The women and children all had Goel's name tattooed on their bodies and took turns brushing his hair and spoon feeding him.

Why wasn't the "Messiah" arrested immediately after that mind-boggling broadcast? Actually, authorities did launch their investigation shortly after the program on the grounds of child endangerment. But what with the women so slavishly devoted to their collective husband and protective of him, it took some time to gather the necessary evidence. While Ratzon sits in jail awaiting trial, most of his harem have remained loyal to their leader and have told the press that outsiders just don't understand their guru, this Perfect Man.

2. Children of God

David Berg, who called himself Moses David, founded the "organization" called Children of God in 1968. The so-called Jesus Movement was gathering steam in the late 1960s and a lot of disenfranchised hippies were ripe for the picking. Berg started his first "colony" in Huntington Beach, California, and similar colonies soon sprung up in other states, as well as Europe and South America.

Members were required to relinquish all their worldly possessions to the commune and cut off all ties with their families. In the beginning, members panhandled or busked to earn money to pay for food and other supplies. But as their numbers increased, Moses decided they needed to earn dollars, not spare change. With so many young attractive women ready to do his bidding, the answer was simple "“ why not exploit the world's oldest profession? Berg called this fund-raising effort "flirty fishing" as a result of his unique interpretation of Matthew 4:17. Flirty fishing was officially banned by Berg in 1987 (mainly due to the escalating AIDS epidemic). Watch Berg's daughter explain the practice:

Children of God has changed its name several times in recent years after a barrage of bad publicity, including accusations of incest and other abuse. Berg passed away in 1994 and the group, now known as The Family International, is led by Steven Kelly (who calls himself King Peter).

3. The Ant Hill Kids

ant-hillThe majority of Canadians consider Roch Thériault to be one of their country's most notorious criminals, but his devoted followers still call him "Moses." In 1979, Thériault set up a safe camp in Burt River, Ontario, in preparation for the apocalypse. Charismatic and politically savvy, Roch attracted a small group of followers he called "The Ant Hill Kids," all of whom were looking for spiritual salvation and a pure existence. The nine female members were his concubine and were required to be subservient to the few male members of the sect. Over 20 children were born to the group in the ensuing years, many of which were sired by Roch.

The group earned money by selling baked goods door-to-door. Because Moses had officially registered his commune as a church, provincial officials were unable to do much about the primitive living conditions the members were subject to; they could only ensure that the children had warm clothing and proper nutrition. Thériault had a drinking problem and a superiority complex and demanded absolute obedience from his followers. Such unquestioning submission led to the death of one of his "wives" when she allowed him to operate on her for a stomach ailment. Another female follower risked his wrath when she fled to a hospital after he chopped off her forearm with a cleaver in a fit of anger.

It was that act of brutality that finally brought authorities swooping down on the Ant Hill. Thériault was found guilty of murder in 1993 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He was denied parole in 2002, but has fathered three more children during his years in jail as a result of conjugal visits with some of his remaining faithful few.

4. The Source Family

cult-4What Jim Baker had that other cult leaders did not was timing and (as realtors say) location, location, location. Retired medal of honor-winning Marine and judo champion Baker first headed to Los Angeles after the end of World War II to work as a movie stunt man with his eye on becoming filmdom's next Tarzan. When that dream didn't pan out, he fell in with a local group of beatniks called the Nature Boys, strict vegetarians who lived according to "Nature's Laws." Baker flourished in the hippie lifestyle to the extreme—he studied philosophy and religion and became a follower of Yogi Bhajan. Like all good gurus-to-be, Baker eventually left Bhajan and formed his own religion. He also adopted a more spiritually-jazzy name, Father Yod. He called his new religion the Source Family and opened an organic vegetarian restaurant in Laurel Canyon called (what else?) The Source.

Religion plus natural food plus nubile young servers in colorful robes equaled celebrity cachet in the early 1970s. Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, Frank Zappa, Julie Christie and many other famous people made The Source the hip place to dine. As a result, Father Yod was able to rent a small home in which to house his devoted followers, which numbered about 160 at its peak.

In addition to the sex and drugs typical of most communes of that era, Yod also embraced rock and roll. He and his faithful formed an ersatz band called Ya Ho Wa 13, which ultimately released nine albums (recorded in a home studio and mostly sold via his restaurant). The recordings were a mixture of an avant garde acid rock-type background while Father Yod chanting his wisdom.

All seemed groovy until Father Yod's natural treatment of whatever ailed his minions failed, and a Source baby had to be taken to a local hospital due to a severe staph infection. In anticipation of The Man swooping down on his kingdom to investigate the possibly unsafe environment in which children were being raised (more than 100 people in a three-bedroom house), Yob moved his "family" to Hawaii. In 1975, a totally inexperienced Baker decided to try his hand at hang-gliding, and his first flight was his last. The Source Family pretty much disintegrated after his death.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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