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Horseshoe Magazine

Sign here, you’re one of us now: An ethnographic view of cult culture 


Their pictures are all lined up in a row across the long wooden table. One by one, every current member gets to choose an initiate to make their own. As the weeks go by, these new young prospects get left notes by their respective elders. Granted gifts and words of encouragement, a connection is formed before each pair even meets face-to-face. “I know we haven’t met yet, but it feels like I have already known you forever,” they proclaim, still anonymous. “Once you become a part of us, you will have a unified family forever.” 

Feeling understood, as if they are meant to be one of them, this one-on-one bond has new members absolutely hooked on a strong sense of security.  

Having already passed a series of tests, prospective new recruits have proven that they have what it takes to perfectly fit the mold. After all, it would be foolish to let just anyone wear the prideful emblem of association, especially if it would taint the establishment’s long-standing image. Constructed intricately over generations, the process of selecting just the right people to reflect the right values is a task not taken lightly. 

After receiving an invitation of their acceptance, ripe new recruits are tasked with a true display of their commitment to the group. On their chest, each individual must wear a symbol of their devotion, loyally representing their fresh addition to the association no matter where they go. If caught without the marking on their chest, they risk sacrificing their initiation into the group. And one cannot forget that while wearing this pin on their chest, they must not associate with any activity that may taint the image of the greater whole. No alcohol. No drugs. No association with anyone who might make the group look as if they associate with the wrong crowds. Again, image means quite a lot. 

Finally, six grueling weeks pass by after being pinned, each individual securely claimed to show every other competing group that they have already solidified their loyalty. Walking around, proudly objectified as an item of the greater agenda; they passed their deepest test. It is an honor to be branded, and they feel that radiate deeply. Those who had been mentors prior to now unveil their identities to their new mentees. All of the initiates are officially welcomed to initiation. 

Throwing up hand signals symbolizing affiliation with the same group, these gestures are telltale nonverbal messages signaling the other members to display that they are now one of them and are able to speak in their code. As the night goes on, they must continue to display their fluency as group chants are recited in unison, and with great, radiant energy. 

Learning the history of the organization is also essential, from the earlier generations to the construction and maintenance of their goals and values. Important information, but after all, each individual has been evaluated and subsequently scored high enough to be gathered here today so there’s no doubt that they will be able to retain and reflect this image with ease.  

Members often think back to the prior weeks of carefully calculating their every step, making sure that they look the most desirable as possible to win over their new family. Exhausted, they realize that they were successful in claiming their place, but looking ahead, it starts to sink in that they will have to follow suit for the remainder of their time here. Remember, it’s worth every long night of mandatory activity to solidify relationships that will protect them for life. 

They walk around proudly wearing a row of Greek letters that now define their newly constructed image. Finding their place in one of the hundreds of almost identical organizations, but welcoming you with open arms, this one, in particular, felt like the right fit. That might just be because they spent weeks molding them to be the right fit, but nonetheless, they’re in too deep to pull themselves out of the mold that was cast for them. 

Students are just looking for a place that will help them fit in. 

College-sponsored, single-sex cults: innocent, right?

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