John Humphrey Noyes so fervently believed sleeping around could lead to immortality that he convinced 300 people to join him in a utopian socialist community built on that very principle, in upstate New York. As he saw it, promiscuous “interlocked contact” between men and women—in the form of a polyamory scheme he called “Complex Marriage”—would generate enough spiritual energy to propel the human race into some sort of electrically powered, divinely connected eternal life. And that’s only the beginning of the 19th-century Oneida Community founder’s randy theology.
Some terrifying cults are so well-known they can be described with a single word: Manson, Waco, Jeffs, Jonestown. Others may not be as iconic—at least in America—but still provide plenty of nightmare material.