The Rabbi and the Sex Cult: Power Expansion in the Formation of a Cult
Richard Ofshe, Ph. D.
University of California, Berkeley
Two central problems in the study of the development and operation of both religious and secular high-control organizations (cults) are how such groups become established initially and how individuals are induced to cede substantial personal autonomy to the leader or to the group’s normative order. Little is known about the early period in the formation of most cults or about the tactics leaders use to establish sufficient authority to build their organizations. Often, this early history is rewritten as the organization develops and the historical record is lost. Similarly, there are few studies that report on the induction process when the target is recruited directly by the leader. The typical study of cult induction practices follows a recruit through a system that processes large numbers of people and treats the leader as a nearly, if not completely, superhuman figure, rarely glimpsed and distant. This paper reports on the study of a small organization in which the leader was directly involved in the recruitment of new members. It concentrates on techniques used by the leader to get potential followers to cede their decision-making autonomy to him, and on the tactics he developed to effect dominance over them.
This paper analyzes one aspect of the social organization of a small, nameless cult that existed for over a decade in a United States city. It reports on how the effects of certain social-structural conditions, combined with a set of social influence techniques, allowed a cleric to extend the limits of his traditional authority in order to build a cult. The cleric, a rabbi, developed a method for the recruitment of followers for the nascent cult, established a high degree of control over those he recruited, and exploited diem. This report will describe and analyze the tactics he used to induct and exploit one woman, Eve.
The principle, if not the singular, activity for female members of thecult was to participate in the acting-out of the rabbi’s sexual fantasies. Viewed from the outside, the cult seemed to be little more than a vehicle for the expression of these fantasies. In order to create the vehicle, the cleric had to induce his female followers to renounce or suspend their prior values and commitments. This report will describe and analyze the methods that the cleric used to expand the scope of his normal authority. The rabbi’s personal authority allowed his dictates to supercede traditional teachings, caused his followers to redefine moral rules, and induced behavior completely at odds with the moral precepts from which the cleric’s original authority was derived.
Although high-control cult organizations typically start through an expansion of the founder’s established expertise or authority, the literature lacks detailed studies of the first steps of this process. In some cases, the expansion is accomplished by the assertion of a claim to expertise on a new subject by someone who has prestige based on other accomplishments. For example, Scientology’s development was based on science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard’s claim to have discovered a new therapeutic system (Wallis, 1977), and Synanon was built on Charles Diederich’s addition of group psychotherapy techniques to the methods of Alcoholics Anonymous (Ofshe, 1980). In other cases, expansion comes through the assertion of a claim to a methodological breakthrough in the claimant’s area of expertise, as in the development of the Center for Feeling Therapy, where psychotherapists developed methods supposedly superior to those employed in Primal Scream therapy (Ayala, 1985), or by a cult founder’s assertion that his or her personal power and authority extends beyond the traditional limits of their position, as when Jim Jones claimed super-human power in addition to his normal clerical authority. What follows is a study of the tactics used by one cleric to persuade his congregants to allow him to radically expand his power and authority.
Development of the Cult
The Fundamentalist Revival Movement
The cult developed within a group formed as a ‘back to Judaism’ youth movement at the end of the 1960’s. Like other youth-focused fundamentalist movements of the period, it drew its following from young adults who were attracted by the idea of returning to a more traditional outlook and way of life. It was composed largely of individuals who had had varying degrees of prior affiliation with thebroader religious tradition of which the fundamentalist group was a part.
For those who affiliated with the group, acceptance of, or return, to orthodoxy meant embracing a lifestyle as well as an ideology. Conformity to fundamentalist beliefs on matters of biblical interpretation went hand-in-hand with conformity to conservative behavioral norms. For many of those who joined the group, the lifestyle changes were substantial. The group’s norms were markedly conservative relative to other, less traditional Jewish congregations and to the norms of the larger society.
Given that unusual sexual practices were at the core of the cult that developed within this fundamentalist group, it should be noted that the group as a whole adhered to very conservative sexual norms and rules for women’s roles. These norms called for highly defined family roles that granted relatively great power to males. Members’ expectations for female-role behavior were also quite conservative by prevailing American standards. Typical of orthodox Jewish traditions, special constraints were placed on married women. The restrictions extended to a total prohibition against physical contact (including handshaking) with men other than their husbands. Extreme modesty in demeanor and dress were also required. Married women, for example, were prohibited from displaying their hair to anyone who was not a family member; hence, women typically wore scarves or wigs in public.
Social organization and theological correctness in thegroup were not separated in any meaningful fashion. The authority of the group’s founder and leader, Rabbi Satyr, over the lives of his followers was diffuse and substantial. Group members were expected to seek Satyr’s guidance on any significant matter not clearly defined by tradition, and they were encouraged to seek him out for guidance on their everyday problems. Although this degree of clerical authority is rare even in orthodox Jewish communities, it is not unheard of in very conservative congregations.
In its early years, the group was organized as a school of between sixty and eighty students. About three quarters were male. Very few were married. The rabbi, as Eve described him:
… seemed to offer the ideal form of everything … He’d have all these wonderful suggestions and ideas … He’d give lectures and everybody was enthralled with him. He seemed to offer a kind of way of life. Since I didn’t know any other orthodox rabbis, I didn’t know if this was how orthodox life actually was at the time. I didn’t scrutinize. I didn’t know of anything else.
Looking back, it seems like he was very dictatorial … Everybody respected him. If he said something, you jumped. That’s how it was.
Over the years, the rabbi’s followers matured, married, and started families. For the most part, they lived lives that were not extraordinary for their predominantly Jewish and orthodox surrounding community. Although the rabbi was somewhat controversial because he was sometimes at odds with other local clerics over matters of religious scholarship, there was no suggestion that he was disreputable or deviant.
The cult that Satyr developed was unknown to the general membership of his congregation. Its members included Rabbi Satyr, his wife, an unmarried woman, Rachel, who lived with the Satyr family, three married women, and two men. It is possible that there were other members prior to the recruitment of those who eventually became informants, but the cult probably never had more than a dozen members. The men did not figure in the rabbi’s sexual fantasies and, therefore, will not figure here.
Defectors have reported that the rabbi’s secret activities started in about 1975 and that Rachel was probably his first recruit. By the time that Eve was initiated into the cult it had developed its own rudimentary rituals and theology, and a social Structure. The rituals were largely centered around Satyr’s sexual fantasies and preferences. One particularly unusual component of the sexual rituals which Satyr developed was the use of hypnosis as a method to enhance experience. He deliberately used trance induction, and suggestion following hypnosis, to alter perceptions and facilitate the acting out of particular fantasies.
Satyr’s exploitation of his female followers was continuous from the time of their recruitment, and the group’s sexual activities were organized solely for his pleasure and around his preferences. It is probable that the cult developed from Satyr’s initial sexual exploitation of one of his congregants, and that he developed his justifying theology after this first transgression. Satyr’s wife was considered a member of the cult and was sometimes, but rarely, present at the rituals. Although Satyr had sexual intercourse in public with only one woman, Rachel, he obliged the others to orally copulate and masturbate him. He would sometimes require several of his followers to dance before him in diaphanous negligees while he had intercourse with Rachel. Sometimes, he would gather the women together, expose his penis, and have them kneel and bow before it. On occasion, Satyr would use one of his followers to arouse him and then have intercourse with Rachel. When Satyr was molesting a woman other than Rachel, Rachel would often be assigned the task of ensuring that he did not penetrate his victim. Satyr’s hesitancy to penetrate women other than Rachel (and presumably his wife) may have been related to the fact that the other women, who were married, did not use birth control because of religious belief.
To the extent that the cult could be said to have had a distinctive theology, it was based on Satyr’s supposedly advanced study and special understanding of the Jewish mystical tradition as expressed in the Cabala. Among Satyr’s innovations on traditional practice were to have his devotees pray to him “as God” and to instruct themto suspend obedience to traditional sexual mores when they were in his private chambers. Satyr also claimed superhuman personal powers which he had supposedly gained through his studies and advanced understanding of the mystical tradition.
The cult’s existence was treated as a closely guarded secret, hidden from anyone who was not a member. In theory, members’ identities were unknown even to one another. But in practice, the cult’s ritual and sexual activities enabled participants to learn the identities of at least some of the other members. Private conversations among members did the rest.
Within the cult, Satyr was the sole authority on intellectual matters and defined the group’s norms. The nature of power relations between the rabbi and his followers is adequately described by thefact that he referred to them as slaves and that they regarded themselves as such. Satyr relied on Rachel to assist him in the socialization of new members and in their management She enjoyed a higher status than the other female members but had no independent authority.
The Social Organization of Eve’s Recruitment
Saul, Eve’s husband, had been consulting Rabbi Satyr because his marriage had become strained. He was concerned that Eve complained too much. Eve felt that she was suffering “cabin fever,” virtually imprisoned as she was by bitter winter weather in a very small apartment with two small children.
One Saturday afternoon, Saul ordered Eve to go to see the rabbi for personal counseling. The rabbi was expecting her. Eve knew that Saul relied on Satyr to an extreme degree and that their marriage was strained. She correctly assumed that her husband and Satyr had made plans. During her meeting with Satyr, the rabbi offered his help. He insisted, however, that in order for them to work together, she “had to be willing to do everything he said” and “be under his direction.” At this meeting, and subsequently, Satyr explained that Eve would be obliged, in her relationship with him, to be absolutely obedient and unquestioning. Satyr told her about the benefits others had supposedly received from his work with them. According to Eve, these people were described as having “grown and developed, and how magnificent they were as people and how capable they were.” Eve agreed to accept Satyr’s assistance, and conditions, because she “felt desperate to change the situation [with her marriage, and felt] that this was the only avenue open … at the time.” Rabbi Satyr instructed Eve not to discuss with her husband, or anyone else, the nature of their work together. He also told her that her husband had agreed not to discuss the teaching with her.
Community Norms, Status, and Expertise
Eve was in many ways disadvantaged by her social circumstances. Her status as a female within orthodox Jewish culture placed her in a position in which obedience to her husband was expected. Saul ordered her to go to the rabbi for assistance. Eve correctly believed that Saul expected her to be obedient to the rabbi and to defer to his judgment. Saul’s desire that she submit to Satyr’s guidance reinforced Eve’s general willingness to do so.
When their special association began, Satyr enjoyed the status, respect, and deference to expertise traditionally associated with a cleric’s position in Jewish culture. In addition to strong traditional support for deference to a rabbi’s judgment, Satyr had an unusual relationship with his congregation. He was the organizer of the fundamentalist youth group that had introduced many of the congregation to orthodox Judaism. Eve, for example, had had no prior experience with orthodox traditions. As she recalled.
In the beginning, when I started going to the school that he ran, I learned what it was to be modest . . . dressing modestly and behaving modestly and [recognizing] an the values that went into a strict orthodox upbringing.
Although in most respects Satyr’s teachings were unremarkable, there were points on which he differed with other clerics. Not surprisingly, his youthful followers preferred his views on the points of difference and judged Satyr to be especially brilliant, scholarly, and able to understand things other scholars missed. In short, he was something of a “guru.”
When Satyr agreed to help Eve, he claimed to have the ability to benefit her quite substantially. He said that his power to transform Eve’s personality and to enhance her abilities came through his special and advanced studies of the Cabala. The assertion that the mystical tradition might yield these results was a claim that Eve was unable to evaluate independently. Although the writings on which Satyr based his claims to expertise are widely known in Jewish culture, Eve was totally ignorant of them because of the orthodox tradition’s gender-based restrictions on esoteric knowledge.
Although his previous claims to special knowledge and understanding of sacred documents had been far less dramatic, Satyr’s latest assertion was consistent with these prior claims. Eve had accepted the rabbi’s superior knowledge and understanding of theological issues for years. His new claim was, in a sense, merely a statement that he knew even more things of which she was ignorant.
Because Saul had arranged a meeting for her with their rabbi, it was obvious to Eve that implicit in Satyr’s offer of help was a demand that she accept. His clerical status and authority made acceptance of the offer a foregone conclusion. Had she rejected his offer to transform her, or had she even suggested that such a transformation was unrealistic, it would have amounted to nothing less than a wholesale rejection of all of Satyr’s teachings. Satyr had straightforwardly asserted that his study of sacred documents had yielded the methods he was going to use. Eve had no basis for distinguishing this claim from any of Satyr’s prior assertions that his instruction about scriptural and philosophical interpretations were correct. Therefore, she had no basis for rejecting this new claim without, in effect, simultaneously rejecting Satyr’s authority and expertise in its entirety.
By basing his claim to skills as a psychotherapists and to be a guide to the attainment of superhuman powers, on the same traditional wisdom on which his clerical authority was based, Satyr was able to solicit Eve’s deference. His authority in spiritual matters was simply and directly extended to support his demand for recognition as an expert on a new dimension, in matters of a psychotherapeutic nature.
Satyr was not merely proposing to engage in “pastoral counseling,” e.g., advice-giving to a troubled parishioner. The help he offered was supposedly based on a specialized body of knowledge that gave him technical expertise and thecapacity to produce predictable results.
When Satyr first offered to help, Eve had no reason to suspect his motives or his extravagant claims. It appeared to her that his actions were completely consistent with his role. Crucial to her acceptance was her perception that his offer was legitimate, proper, and motivated by his duty to her family. Had she doubted any of this she would likely have rejected his help, or been more guarded in her early interaction with him.
The Process of Eve’s Induction
The social structural factors identified above contributed to establishing Eve’s initial special relationship with Satyr. Clerical authority and status conferred credibility on his claim to be able to transform her into a superior person. His demand for absolute obedience as part of this process was at least consistent with Eve’s expectation that she owed obedience to males in positions of authority. Satyr’s demand was unusual but then so was what he promised in exchange.
Satyr began the process of actively inducting Eve into the cult by first testing her willingness to conform to rules that would both keep his activities secret and effectively cut her off from the advice of others. He tested Eve’s decision to grant him absolute authority and to keep their activities secret by violating a norm that was significant to her. At the conclusion of the first session he warned that “if you don’t listen to me you’ll be punished,” and he slapped her across the face.
Ordinarily, the slap would have been a serious act for two reasons. It was obviously violent, painful, and meant to demonstrate that future punishment was possible. Also, it constituted a violation of the prohibition against physical contact between a married woman and a man other than her spouse. But it was the kind of infraction that Satyr could have survived if it turned out that he had misjudged his power over Eve and she reported the slap to her husband.
Eve’s reaction to her first meeting with Satyr was mixed. She responded positively to the idea of the benefits promised in his offer of help. She commented that she
felt a lot happier. I remember feeling a lot better about myself as a person and feeling that things were going to move well for me.
Part of her positive response was attributable to the significance of attention, of any kind, from the rabbi and by
the fact that he gave me such special consideration, whereas before, he wouldn’t go near me . . . He, in fact, had told my husband that just like he would not contact himself with mud, he would not go near a person who is constantly complaining. So that’s the position I had before . . . All of a sudden now that he’s . . . making time in his life to work with me . . . [It] made me feel very happy.
The slap was a significant part of the meeting for Eve. Its meaning as a normative act was far more important than the blow itself. She explained her response:
In Jewish orthodoxy, this physical contact is not to occur in any form,shape, or manner as this, from a man touching a woman that is not his wife … I knew I had to do whatever he said because of this feeling of obligation, and that I could do nothing else but listen to him I also liked the picture he painted of me, that I could reach new capable levels of development
The slap also led Eve to take seriously theidea that in order to continue working with Satyr she would have to accept the requirement of total obedience and secrecy. It also made her fully realize that if she attempted to report that Satyr had acted improperly, it would do no good.
I had surmised before I went, and once I went I knew, that my husband did not know what was going on and was not supposed to know. Furthermore, if I would even tell him he would not believe me, and probably go back to Satyr, in which case there would be tremendous repercussions for me.
In expressing why she felt thatshe would not be believed, Eve revealed theawe in which she and her husband held the rabbi.
I was not in a position to be believed as [was] Satyr . . . He held all the keys so to speak. He was worldly in all . . . secular aspects of life. Besides . . . I was led to believe he was brilliant, more thanbrilliant in areas of Jewish study . . . my husband trusted him explicitly [sic]. He just did. There was no question. If there would ever be, at any time, something that I thought or believed, myhusband would tell me that Satyr says just the opposite. Well then, no matter what I thought or believed or felt Satyr was right.
Eve’s sessions with Satyr were weekly, on Saturday afternoons. After she demonstrated her obedience by tolerating the slap and, through her silence, her willingness to keep Satyr’s transgressions secret, the rabbi moved forward with his induction program. He next worked to expand the scope of his personal influence and authority, seeking to establish the dominance of his views on any subject, no matter what contradictory information Eve might have possessed. Satyr capitalized on his clerical status and authority to redefine the moral meaning of his actions. He used his self-proclaimed expertise as a psychotherapist to justify bizarre actions and demands, as being necessary for Eve’s transformation.
Anticipating future demands he would make of her, Satyr began to undermine Eve’s confidence in her ability to distinguish right from wrong. He told her that what happened while she was working with him was outside the domain of ordinary Jewish law as she understood iL He informed her that he operated on a level of spiritual development and understanding far in advance of hers. His more evolved understanding of the Cabala allowed him to correctly judge right from wrong. He flatly informed Eve that she was incapable of even understanding the issues.
Satyr was careful to link his demands that Eve suspend her critical abilities and judgments to his authority as her rabbi. He claimed that his right to suspend decision-making rules that he had previously taught was based on information about which she had no knowledge and which she was incapable of understanding. Eve was thereby prevented from being able to identify any basis for concluding that Satyr’s instructions were improper.
Satyr also linked his special expertise at “transformation” to the study of the Cabala. He said that he was teaching her the “experiential Cabala.” As had his other students, Eve would be transformed into a person who was more estimable and possessed of paranorrnal psychic abilities. She would supposedly acquire extrasensory perception as well as the ability bothto heal and to inflict pain with mental power alone.
To strengthen Eve’s belief in his abilities, Satyr periodically arranged demonstrations which seemed to prove that he and others of his students had psychic powers. During one session, for example, Rachel entered the room and claimed to have had ‘a picture in her mind’ of the activities that had transpired several minutes before. The ‘picture’ she described, of Eve undressed and lying next to Satyr, was sufficiently specific thatthere could be no doubt Rachel had knowledge of what had recently occurred.
Satyr also used hypnosis to affect Eve’s decision-making. (See below for a discussion of Satyr’s substantial use of hypnosis.) Compared with his other uses of hypnosis, thisapplication was relatively minor. Satyr structured certain experiences to increase Eve’s confidence in his ability to confer on her paranormal abilities. He used post-hypnotic suggestion to make her believe that he could communicate with her paranormally. Eve recalled that at certain times she would experience a sudden realization that she was supposed to perform some novel act. She explained that these realizations would be preceded by a certain look from Satyr. In describing one event, Eve reported that
he gave me a certain look and was staring at me and I realized that he wanted me to take off my clothes.
Use of a similar tactic on another occasion confirmed for Eve Satyr’s claim that he could read her mind. He appeared to Eve to be able to continent on her unspoken thoughts.
Prior to his attempt to induct Eve into the cult, Satyr knew that he was able to influence her moods and emotional reactions. He was aware that Eve was a highly responsive hypnotic subject. Fully a year before her recruitment began, Satyr had conducted a series of sessions with Eve because she had been feeling “blue.” He had hypnotized her and told her at the close of the session that her mood would be changed and that she would feel very much better. The sessions had been quite successful. Eve reported that she would feel substantially improved for days following a session with Satyr. During her recruitment into the cult, Eve experienced similar feelings of well-being and elation after leaving Satyr’s study.
I felt sparkly, like an inner peace, and yet feeling bubbly. I felt a glow, an inner glow that transformed itself outwardly. I felt very beautiful and very, very special.
Hypnosis as a Tactic of Influence
Clerical authority, cultural norms, and the network of relationships connecting Satyr with Eve, provided the power base from which he carried out Eve’s induction. His ability to assert his dominance over Eve’s decision-making with respect to sexual behavior spring from these variables. But Satyr also attempted to influence Eve’s decisions indirectly, through the use of hypnosis. He employed hypnosis to reinforce her resolve to accept his dominance and, in all likelihood, to influence the quality of her post-session moods.
It is clear thatSatyr used hypnosis as a tactic in establishing control over Eve’s behavior. At each session he worked with her for at least two hours after first inducing a trance. Sessions began with a naturalistic trance induction. This was followed by a prolonged period in which Satyr gave Eve suggestions about her obligations to him. She recalled that during the firstsession she listened at length as the rabbi spoke.
. . . I found myself looking in his eyes . . . I was staring, transfixed on his eyes. I realized I could not move my eyes off of him. Icouldn’t move to the right or the left . . . he spoke slowly, in a persuasive tone, a low tone . . . he went on to discuss with me that I will have to listen to him in order that he work with me.
Satyr’s justification for the procedure he used with Eve was that these stylized conversations were part of what he needed to do to carry out her personality transformation. (After Eve was fully inducted into the cult, Satyr identified the techniques he used as intended to induce trance.)
Shortly after obtaining Eve’s agreement to be totally obedient, Satyr assigned to her the title and status of “slave.” She was given a necklace to remind her of her status and obligations. In the early sessions, her position as a slave was a subject about which Satyr spoke often following the trance induction period. He reinforced Eve’s sense of obligation to him and attempted to diminish her sense of self. She reported that:
In the beginning, he wanted to work on me in terms of getting certain things he didn’t like in my personality out . . . In doing this, he would stare at me and tell . . . me that . . . there is no Eve, that there is only this slave, that I have no will. [He did this] in a very persuasive tone of voice. At the same time I remember him touching my temples.
During another of the early sessions Eve recalled Satyr’s drilling her as follows:
While he talked to me … he told me that there is no will, that there is only his slave, and that there is no Eve. He would have me repeat it to him. This would go on for what seemed to me at least a quarter of the time [of thetwo hours of post-trance induction activity].
As discussed above, Satyr was aware that he could manipulate Eve’s mood through post-hypnotic suggestion. Although Eve was not able to recall Satyr’s giving her direct suggestions to this effect during her involvement in the cult, she found that she was elated after the sessions. These periods of elation resembled her moods following the previous year’s sessions with Satyr, when he had been treating her for depressed feelings.
remains supposition that Satyr again used post-hypnotic suggestion to affect Eve’s moods during her induction into the cull If he did, as assumed herein, the tactic would likely have had two effects. One would have been to influence her perception of her own reaction to thesessions. Finding herself with a sense of well-being bordering on euphoria would have tended to influence Eve to infer that the sessions were pleasing rather than upsetting. The second result would have been that her mood state provided her with evidence that her relationship with Satyr was beneficial.
Satyr used hypnosis to reinforce Eve’s belief that his clerical authority and therapeutic role granted him the right to command her and that his methods worked. His suggestions during hypnosis reinforced a decision she had made for the apparently valid reason of facilitating her treatment Sometime later, after she became an active participant in the cult, Satyr taught Eve to use, on her own, the trance induction methods that he employed. That these techniques were intended to induce trance was recognized and openly discussed between Satyr and fully involved members. They knew that Satyr had studied hypnosis. Among initiates, the use of these techniques was discussed as “putting [someone] in a trance” or “taking a person.”
Satyr and Rachel taught Eve how to induce trance so that she could participate in sexual rituals in which hypnosis was used to enhance the fantasies that were played out. Eve offered the following as typical of her training.
Satyr or Rachel would put one or the other in a trance to show me, have me observe . . . Satyr would put her into a trance, lying down, tying to tell her to become something else . . . like a baby or a young child. Often, he would have her do the same thing to him being a hungry animal, or a baby animal, or a young boy or something of thisnature . . . After a while he got me to do it to him, but I found that he liked me to just put him to sleep, just to get him to relax and just give him the whole thing about how he feels more rested and he feels better.
Eve described how hypnosis figured in Satyr’s sexual rituals.
He would have me lie down on the couch, undressed, and he would put me into a real heavy trance. It would be like I was asleep but still had awareness of what was going on. My eyes would be shut. He laid [sic] down on me but did not penetrate me. He had his penis between my legs. I remember that during this time he told Rachel to control his mind, to make him . . . be like a hungry animal, a wild animal . . . She was sort of like between his legs, kneeling, and he told her before he went into . . . this trance, that he was never to enter me, never to have actual intercourse with me . . . she told me later that she had to grab his penis so that he wouldn’t actually go in.
On another occasion, Rachel hypnotized Satyr and directed him to take on the personality of a baby
while he was underneath her on the couch. I would be right there by his head. She would direct him to suckle from my breast or from hers. She would move her body and give him her breast to suck on . . .
Satyr’s initial sexual advances toward Eve first took the form of touching her and subsequently of exposing himself. These activities were staged in a manner designed to create the impression that they were connected to her education in the teachings of the “experiential Cabala.”
Eve’s initiation into active sexual involvement was facilitated by Satyr’s use of Rachel as a model and instructor. The first dramatic sexual act Eve witnessed started with no hint that anything unusual was to occur. Without any preliminaries Satyr simply instructed Rachel to remove her undergarment and proceeded to have intercourse with her while Eve looked on. Throughout Eve’s socialization into the cult, Satyr used Rachel as an instructor to train Eve in comportment and in responsiveness to his desires. She would often lead Eve into the performance of thesexual acts which Satyr desired.
Eve remained aparticipant in the cult for nearly two years. Throughout her involvement Eve was conflicted about her participation. Althoughthis paper has not detailed the techniques Satyr used to maintain her silence and compliance after induction, Eve was carefully controlled. She found herself doubting that she would physically survive if she broke with Satyr. Her fears were based on supernatural considerations as well as on Satyr’s threats to the physical safety of others who wavered. She doubted that her husband would believe her, given the enormity of Satyr’s transgressions. At one point, she considered fleeing both Satyr and her husband. Throughout her active involvement, she felt hopelessly trapped.
For reasons too complicated to explain hem Eve eventually broke Satyr’s rule of secrecy and sought advice from her sister. This led to defection from the cult.
Satyr was able to combine the power and authority inherent in his clerical role with historical and cultural circumstances to structure a situation that allowed him to grossly manipulate members of his congregation. Although his clerical role certified Satyr as an expert on certain theological questions, it did not confer on him expertise on psychotherapeutic matters. It is, however, a common observation in the literature about social influence and decision-making that relatively high status, especially when based on technical expertise, can easily be used to gain deference in areas beyond the scope of actual competence. Assertiveness and a demand for deference are often sufficient to achieve this even when there is no relationship between the dimension on which expertise has been earned and the dimension on which it is claimed. When there is a relationship between the two dimensions, or when one can be fabricated, the conversion is easier and more certain (Ofshe and Christman, 1986). Satyr hit upon the strategy of expanding the scope of his authority by linking his acknowledged expertise to a claimed expertise. It was a well-chosen strategy.
It is difficult to analyze how a person is drawn into a situation that seems, with hindsight obviously undesirable. Often, when a victim attempts to recount what happened, thetale seems to be the story of someone making a mistake few others would make. The victim is often unaware of how social-structural variables condition and channel action. Often the victim is no more capable than an uninvolved observer of appreciating how influence can predictably bias judgment, how biased judgments can influence decisions, and how a decision once taken prejudices future actions. Abbreviated stories about complex processes often leave out details about the factors that influence choices at key points. Brief accounts may also distort the sequence with which events occurred. A rational individual basing decisions on faulty information may produce behavior that is difficult for an observer to see as the product of rational choice.
In the world of computing, rational information processing is taken for granted because it is a machine function. When wild conclusions are generated the common realization that the fault probably lies with the data being analyzed is captured in the phrase, “garbage in — garbage out.” The phrase applies equally well in the analysis of the choices people make.
This report has attempted to present an analysis of the induction process by laying out the structure of the environment within which Satyr transformed clerical authority into personal power. It attempted to analyze the impact of the claims Satyr invented and the tactics he used to make Eve’s compliance a sensible option for her. The paper has also tried to show that a person’s decision-making during induction should be seen as a process that unfolds over a period of time rather than as a choice made in a single moment. Decision-making in the induction process is not based on anything like full disclosure of all the relevant facts. To a victim, the choices that will be required at some future point are never described by the inductor, and the end toward which the inductee is being directed remains hidden.
When analyzing the process through which people are drawn into thought reforming high control organizations, it would be a grave mistake to lose sight of a basic fact. For the inductee, the experience is novel, and therefore decisions will reflect only the person’s past history and current circumstances. The induction system, however, can be thought of as a strategy that evolved with the benefits of trial-and-error learning and experience at leading people to make certain choices. The inductee interacts with an environment designed to succeed, given decisions that are to be expected from a normal person under definable circumstances. If the system has been well-managed, it win have profited from experience and incorporated into itself ploys which have in the past been successful, and it will have developed replies to the expected objections offered by those being processed.
Satyr structured Eve’s environment to limit her choices. As long as she believed Satyr to be sincere, his early demands seemed reasonable. Once she allowed him to influence her, she came to believe that she had no choice but to continue. Satyr’s crucial tactic was to risk a small problem in order to test Eve’s willingness to tolerate more extreme impropriety. Once he succeeded in getting her to subordinate her judgment of right and wrong about the physical contact that occurred when he slapped her, Satyr effectively established control over the alternatives from which Eve would choose for the next two years.
1. A fictitious name.
2. A fictitious name.
3. A fictitious name.
4. The information reported in this paper is based on interviews with Eve, her husband, and others involved directly with the cult, or with their close relatives.
5. A fictitious name.
6. A “naturalistic” trance induction refers to a method for inducing a hypnotic state without the prior announcement that the state is being induced. For further discussion see Erickson, 1958; Rossi, 1980; and Spiegel and Spiegel. 1980.
7. Satyr mentioned that he had extensively studied various modem methods of psychology. He identified one “school” that he had studied intensively. The name of the method meant nothing to Eve. The program which Satyr identified is a commercial “Mind Development” program that trains customers in self-hypnosis. The program operators claim that by following their procedures, customers will acquire extra-sensory abilities, the ability to do psychic healing, and the capacity generally to attain enhanced mental functioning.
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Ofshe, R. (1980). The social development of the Synanon cult The managerial strategy of organizational transformation. Sociological Analysis, 41, 109- 127.
Ofshe, R. & Chrismm, K. (1986). Two-process theory: a model of behavior production. In A. Harris (Ed.), Rationality and collective behavior. New York: Ablex.
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Richard Ofshe, Ph. D., is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. His recent work includes Attacks on Peripheral versus Central Elements of Self and the Impact ofThought Reforming Techniques (with Margaret Thaler Singer),