Cults try to win souls on the Camino de Santiago

by Deborah Cater
Cults trying to attract new followers on the Camino de Santiago

Ex-members of religious cults warn Spanish police these organisations want to attract followers on the Camino de Santiago. This is Spain’s most famous pilgrimage route that ends in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

According to El Independiente the sects would like to take advantage of the vulnerability of the pilgrims, who are often open to contact or deep connection with others, who are looking for their identity or for personal improvement. Recruiters use this to guide people into their network.

Many people who follow the Camino de Santiago make it a spiritual journey to recover from a busy daily life with loss or problems. They like to leave the issues of the day behind in nature and the small mountain villages along the route.

That element would in advance make these pilgrims easier targets for cults. According to psychologist Miguel Perlado, members of the sects themselves also walk the route to make it easier to win souls for their club.

Not just for the stupid

Perlado says 80% of people who join cult networks are highly educated. That figure indicates that anyone can be susceptible to these emotional scams. He explains it is common for these groups to offer pilgrims “to participate in gatherings, in scripture reading, or in self-help groups”. Over time, these “turn out to be groups with a high degree of control.”

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Members won’t know until they’re in

Luis Santamaría, a member of the Ibero-American Network for the Study of Cults (RIES), explains that cults such as The Order of the Temple of the Celestial Jerusalem “use portals that are not recognisable as cults, such as the pilgrimage website, but also editorial articles or martial arts groups to reach people.” “Then they say they have a hidden knowledge that they only pass on to their members;that they can only access it if they go to another inner level. So the members only really know what there is once they are in.”

“Psychological Abuse and Peer Coercion”

Santamaria, himself an adept of the Order for 15 years, tells about recruited on the Camino and the journey he took within the sect. From meditations and rituals to “reaching an energetic higher level” with a lot of “pressure and guilt”. Later, “sexual techniques”, apocalyptic attitudes, “psychological abuse and group coercion” which made him break with his partner, among other things.

Corona crisis as fertile breeding ground

According to Santamaria, the pandemic presupposes “a fertile breeding ground for cults because people seek hope, a purpose in life. And these groups sell you the keys to understanding reality, promising the ability to magically intervene in it.”

How do I know if someone is trying to win me over to a cult?

Realising you’re standing in front of someone from a cult requires”to think critically and ask a lot of questions”. This according to clinical psychologist and cult expert Laura Merino, who adds, “Cults are very bad at handling doubts and criticism.” The psychologist also emphasises “being suspicious of situations that at first seem like a love bomb, that offer you everything… The sun rises for nothing”.

Perlado in turn emphasises the importance of caution. “Don’t rush, know who offers this service, where it is offered and check the information”. And he warns twice: “Beware of activities or actions that give you a feeling of guilt, but you don’t quite know why. And beware of activities that force you to keep secrets or tell you that outsiders won’t understand anyway.”

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