The number of active cults in the world today number in the tens of thousands and attract the people you’d least expect to their secretive rolls. This is why books such as the following recently released account by two Australian brothers about life in a destructive charismatic cult are so crucial for warning others about just how easy it is to fall into the trap of mind-controllers.
John and David Ayliff have published My Brother’s Eyes (John Garrett Publishing) which chronicles the involvement of David Ayliff and his wife Margaret in the Zion Full Salvation Ministry, an extreme religious cult.
The cult was formed in 1974 by a woman named Violet Pryor who claimed to have Christ’s Stigmata and to be the embodiment of God on earth. One can only wonder why anyone would turn their life over to someone like this, especially people as “normal” and intelligent as the Ayliffs, but it did indeed happen.
Their nightmare began many years ago when David and Margaret were young and enjoyed living a kind of “whacky” life. They met at an Anglican church in Sydney’s Surry Hills that was eventually disowned by the diocese because it was performing exorcisms.
“I think we were so young and naive, I don’t think the warning bells really rung loud enough for us to sort of really – to get out,” Margaret said during a 2009 interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
They would go to prayer meetings where people would start shaking and quivering or lying on the floor and “sort of coughing up into little ice cream buckets,” Margaret recalled.
Her husband said they regarded these phenonemon with wonder, thinking “There’s a power here at work, and that power is God.”
It was at this church that they first encountered Violet Pryor, a woman who began to claim in the latter part of 1976 that she had the stigmata and began sporting marks in her hands and feet. Within a year, she managed to convince many of her followers that she was God.
“You know, I should have known better,” David said. “I should have had my eyes really opened. But by that stage, I’d accepted everything along the way. And, to me, this was just, you know, it was just the next step.”
Violet Pryor gradually took control of every facet of her devotees’ lives, threatening them if they tried to leave.
As David recounts, she would say, “If you leave me, I will kill you, and I will kill your wife and children first, and you will see them die agonizing deaths before your eyes. And I can do that because I’m God.”
During this time, Margaret was diagnosed with melanoma, but was told by Pryor to put a banana skin on it. She did so, but when the skin started going bad, they decided to seek outside help and did manage to find a specialist who was able to help her.
“I was lucky to escape with my life,” Margaret said. “I really am lucky to be alive.”
Rev. David Millikan, who has dedicated a quarter century to infiltrating, understanding and busting up cults, confirmed that Pryor was a full-blown cult leader. “There’s no question of that,” he told ABC. “She had no conscience about basically destroying people. A group becomes destructive when it takes on a posture of extreme hostility to the world outside its doors, when it isolates its members from family, friends and from the surrounding culture.”
This was exactly what was happening inside the cult, whose members were stripped of all their money and possessions and set up in what was an almost impenetrable fortress in Sydney’s exclusive Palm Beach section. Pryor herself became increasingly more deluded and reclusive, allowing only her closest “disciples” to see her. David was one of those close disciples who was permitted to visit her three times a week.
In 1989, Pryor was arrested and charged with fraud, but it proved so impossible to prove the charges, they were eventually dropped. Two years later, David discovered her body in her Palm Beach fortress.
Even though she was dead, he would often lay awake at night listening for some noise from her residence.
“If she was God, then, you know, she might have come back again, you know,” he said.
At this, his brother John says, “His mind had been taken over. As I said, it doesn’t start out as mind control, you know. Good people aren’t gonna let themselves be taken over just like that. It’s a creeping thing.”
It took almost two decades for the “creeping thing” to lose its hold on David and Margaret’s minds and allow them to begin to make contact again with the family and friends they had long ago deserted.
“I see a lot of Christian groups, but I also see a lot of New Agey sort of groups that go off in all sorts of directions,” Rev. Millikan said. “Really, I’ve come to the view that there’s nothing so mad in this life that someone doesn’t believe in it.”
For those who might right now be suffering from the loss of a loved one to a cult, John Ayliffe gives three rules of guidance – don’t fight them, give them love, and be patient.
“Never, never, no matter where you are let somebody else take over your – your ability to make decisions,” David warns. “It doesn’t matter who it is. Because the moment you do that, you’re on very dangerous territory.”
For more information about cults, click on our “Blog Index by Subject” button on the navigation bar above and read the articles listed under “Human Potential Movement.”