The History Of Exalted Figures

February 8, 2020 Category: Religion

Let’s define a panjandrum as a charismatic leader who has amassed a cult following, and employed demagogy as a tool for ensuring sycophancy.  In assaying the occurrence of panjandra throughout history, in different cultures around the world, it is important to recognize the ubiquity of the phenomena.

It is not difficult to find illustrations of the phenomenon today.  Sometimes circulated in New York City is a pamphlet entitled “Moshiach [Messiah] Is Here”.  It reads as follows: “The Rebbe, M. Schneerson, King Messiah, is the world-renown spiritual leader of our generation.  A proven prophet, his impact on millions of lives and his orchestrating of a worldwide spiritual revolution identify him as the genuine King Messiah.  The real Bible clearly indicates that this is so.  Bestowed with eternal life, the [spirit of] Rebbe King Messiah resides at his headquarters [in Brooklyn].”

While the late Menachem Mendel Schneerson was reluctant to take on the mantle of Prophet, his Lubavitch followers insist that he was the Abrahamic Messiah…even as he himself often downplayed the claim.  In hearing of this, one can’t help but wonder: What’s going on here?  More to the point: What, exactly, was Schneerson doing?  I hope to show that he wasn’t doing anything that hundreds of men (and a few women) hadn’t done before him.

To illustrate the point, we might begin with one of the best-known instances of the phenomenon: Islam’s “Khatam an-Nabiyyin” [Seal of the Prophets].  According to Mohammedan legend: In 610 A.D., a 40-year old man from the Quraysh tribe in Mecca decided to visit a cave in a nearby rocky hill (dubbed “Hira”) to meditate.  Later, this Bedouin (alternately referred to as “H-M-D” / “Mu-H-M-D” and “Bashir” / “Mu-Bashir”) claimed that the Abrahamic deity had spoken to him–via a celestial emissary named “Jibreel” (the arch-angel, Gabriel).  Over the course of the following 23 years, the angel proceeded to deliver (in strategically-timed installments) the final revelation to this man in private…at times and places in which nobody else could hear or see.

A prudent inquiry is: What separated this Hijazi merchant from the countless other men during that era who had made the same claim (“God chose ME to convey his last message to mankind”)?  The short answer: Nothing…except for the fact that, by some fluke of circumstance (like many before him and many after him), the story of Mohammed (as the fabled Bedouin came to be known) managed to “catch on”; and subsequently accrue a substantial following.

In a reminder that history is written by the victors, we might note other aspiring prophets in Arabia at the time: a “nabi” / “rasul” sent to Earth to deliver the Final Revelation.  Four of the most notable:

  • Saf ibn Sayyad of Yathrib
  • Musaylima[h] ibn Habib of Yamama (a.k.a. “Ibn Habib al-Hanifi”; of the Banu Hanifa tribe in Najd) {6}
  • Tulayha ibn Khuwaylid ibn Nawfal (of the Banu As[s]ad, which was already Abrahamic; and already had its own pilgrimage tradition to the Meccan cube)
  • Habbar ibn al-Aswad ibn Ka’b al-Ansi of Najran (a.k.a. “Abhala ibn Ka’b”)

The key difference between Mohammed of Mecca and these men: The former was stupendously successful in his campaign; the others eventually failed in theirs.

Incidentally, Mohammed had three of the above claimants executed, thereby eliminating his competition.  (Rather than die, Saf ibn Sayyad opted to repent and convert.  He was subsequently referred to as “Abdullah ibn Sa’id”.)  Also notable was an Arabian prophetess known as Sajah bint al-Harith ibn Suayd (of the Banu Tamim), who ended up allying with Musaylima…and so perished by his side.  In the Koran, there are tales of a Midianite prophet named Shu’ayb of Midian / Uz (who may correspond to the Biblical “Jethro”, who also hailed from Midian).  There is mention of Saleh of Thamud [the Hijaz] and Hud of Ad [Yemen] as well.

So it came to pass that, by accident of history, one particular person is now known as the “rasul Allah”.  But had any of the other contenders triumphed instead of Mohammed, we would now be hearing about THEM rather than about Mohammed.  And it is Mohammed, not them, who would have subsequently been tarred as a “false prophet.”  That’s how history works. {5}

Suffice to say: Mohammed was neither the first nor the last man to put forth the claim that he was god’s proxy on Earth (or, more generally, the representative of some cosmic super-being).  Soon after the death of the “Last Prophet”, an Ali’d imam named Mohammed ibn al-Hanafiyya [ibn Ali] (a.k.a. “Abu’l Qasim”) would claim to be the “mahdi”.  And about a century after Mohammed’s ministry, an ambitious Berber named Salih ibn Tarif declared himself to be the NEW “Last Prophet” (i.e. the divinely-appointed successor to Mohammed) and thus the “mahdi”. {4}

Tarif’s evangelical campaign was quite successful.  He soon became king of the Berghouata [alt. “Barghawata”] Empire in northwest Africa.  His version of Islam endured for over three centuries…before it was finally eradicated by the Almoravid dynasty.  Tarif’s routine was a familiar one; and would continue to be fashionable to the present day.  Why?  Because it is so stupendously useful.  “I’m doing god’s work” might be called the king of all rationalizations: the ultimate trump card.  For it can be used to rationalize, well, ANYTHING.

“It’s god’s will.”  Such a simplistic omni-rationalization can come in handy for those who seek to justify their (otherwise dubious) actions.  With the imprimatur of the godhead, anything goes.  Hence we encounter some version of “führerprinzip”: the leader’s word takes precedence over anything that comes from normal men; as he is above all that is worldly.  (The normal rules do not apply to HIM.)  Since HIS “logos” is a reflection of THE “logos”, whatever he says is unimpeachable. {52}

In its standard form, the gimmick amounts to the following: “I am uniquely positioned to know MASSIVELY important things.  And I’m doing everyone a huge favor by letting them in on it.  So if you want to be ‘in the loop’, you should trust everything I say.”  Charismatic leaders have used this ruse since time immemorial…usually to staggering aplomb.  Indeed, the routine is ubiquitous throughout human history.  And when mantic in nature, the leader invariably ends up forming a cult following.  The most credulous followers, mesmerized by the figure’s larger-than-life persona, end up drowning in their own servility.  Of course, they don’t see it this way: They construe their subservience as a means of empowerment.  The hoodwink takes the form: emancipation through subjugation.

As it turns out, there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to case-studies of this phenomenon.  In 1926, the founders of the Cao-Dai Faith (there was one patriarch plus three disciples) claimed to have received direct communications from the godhead…who gave them explicit instructions for establishing a new monotheistic religion.  The scam was astoundingly successful.  Today, Cao-Dai has as many as 10 million followers–more than there are doctrinal practitioners of Judaism.

The time-honored schtick includes all kinds of charismatic leaders; especially Messianic figures.  Hero-worship takes many different forms; but here I am concerned with cynosures who were the touchstones of some kind of cult activity.  The salient feature of such figures is the ability to subordinate a credulous flock through sheer strength of personality.  This is often accomplished by exploiting insecurity while fomenting false hope.  What we find, then, is shepherds fleecing their flocks instead of protecting them.  (Usually, it not a wolf in sheep’s clothing that the flock should worry about; it’s a wolf gussied up as a shepherd.)  This can be especially effective when the myrmidon claims to have preternatural abilities (nay, magical powers).

It should be noted that all the charismatic leaders listed here were–in one way or another–CELEBRITIES. {3}  This means that, if nothing else, they were extremely savvy at self-promotion.  To wit: Every one of the figures enumerated above had prodigious gumption and gravitas.  In modern parlance: every one of them was excellent at BRANDING–a skill which involves things like image-engineering and hype-generation (that is: savvy marketing).

There is a long list of charismatic leaders that have accrued cult followings by making outlandish claims about themselves.  Insisting that he was the embodiment of the Holy Ghost, Anglican reverend Henry Prince started the “Agapemone” church.  His successor, John Hugh Smyth-Pigott, claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus.  As we’ll see, this is not an unheard-of occurrence; the phenomenon is ubiquitous.

Self-proclaimed prophethood is a theme as old as recorded history.  The best-known case in “the West” is, of course, Jesus of Nazareth (a.k.a. the “Kristos”) who’s followers claimed him to be god incarnate (though it is arguable whether he himself ever made such a claim).  Christian lore borrowed from the Zoroastrian idea of “Sraosha”: the godhead LITERALLY incarnated in human form.  As we’ll see, this was a motif that would prove popular in later centuries.

Arguably, the first major cult leader in recorded history was Amenhotep (early 16th century B.C.), who established the “Asauru” (later Hellenized to “Osirica”) in the Valley of the Kings.  Later, the Egyptian Pharaoh, Amenhotep IV (a.k.a. “Akhenaten”) founded the first monotheism (“Atenism”) in the 14th century B.C. 

At some point in the Iron Age, Zarathustra Spitama of Airyanem Vaejah (a.k.a. “Zoroaster”) claimed to be the messenger / representative of the Persian godhead, Ahura Mazda.  “Zoroastrianism” (as it would be codified during the Achaemenid era) would be the first religion to posit the notion of a coming Messiah…who would wipe away the world’s evils and usher in a Golden Age.  The awaited savior was referred to as the “Saoshyant”.  Later, post-Macedonian King Seleucus Nicator fashioned himself as a divinely appointed leader.  He was said to be the “son of god” in the empire’s folklore.  Here are 48 more examples of the phenomenon–from incarnations of deities to their elected spokesmen:

  1. Vardhamana of Bihar (a.k.a. “Mahavira”): the 24th and last “Tirthan-kara”
  2. Tavl Tarchunus / Pava Tarchies [son of Tarchon / Tarchuna] (a.k.a. “Tages”): son of the sky-god, Jove; prophet of the Etruscans
  3. Yeshua ben Yussef of Nazareth (a.k.a. the “Kristos”; “King of the Jews”): Abrahamic Messiah, and physical incarnation of the godhead; alt. “son of god”
  4. Simeon bar Kosevah of Judea (a.k.a. “Simon bar Kokhba”): Abrahamic Messiah
  5. Nissim ben Abraham of Avila [Castile]: Abrahamic Messiah
  6. Mahavatar Babaji: “Great Avatar” of the Buddha
  7. Mazdak “the Younger”: messenger of “Ahura Mazda”; prophet of the Mazdaeans and Khurramites  {7}
  8. Mani of Ctesiphon / Seleucia: the Last Abrahamic Prophet (the “Paraclete”)
  9. Mena[c]hem al-Ruhi of Amadiya (David the Shepherd; alt. “David Alroy”): Judaic Messiah
  10. Sephardic Kabbalist, Sabbatai Zevi of Smyrna (a.k.a. “King of the Jews”): Abrahamic Messiah  {8}
  11. Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (a.k.a. “Mansur”): proclaimed by Ad-Darazi to be god incarnate
  12. Dasni (Yazidi) prophet, “Shaykh” Adi ibn Musafir al-Umawi of Beqaa: Avatar of Tawuse Melek‎, emanation of the godhead
  13. Syed Muhammad Mahdi Mau’ood of Jaunpur: the “Mahdi”
  14. Siyyid Ali Mohammad of Shiraz (a.k.a. the “Bab” [“Representative”]: the “Mahdi”
  15. Ghanshyam Pande (a.k.a. “Nilkanth Varni”; “Sahajanand Swami”; “Swami-Narayan(a)”): the incarnation of the supreme being: the “Purushottama” aspect of Vishnu
  16. Telugu sage, Vallabha of Andhra (a.k.a. “Sri-pad Sri Vallabha”): incarnation of Datta-treya
  17. Arnold Potter (a.k.a. “Potter Christ”): as Abrahamic Messiah
  18. Joseph Smith: Abrahamic messenger  {9}
  19. Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri (a.k.a. “Baha’u’llah” [Glory of God]: Abrahamic messenger
  20. Sudanese “samaniyya” [prophet], Muhammad Ahmad of Dongola: the “Mahdi”
  21. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (a.k.a. the “Mu-Jaddid”): Abrahamic Messiah; the “Mahdi”  {10}
  22. Jakub Lejbowicz (a.k.a. “Jacob Frank”): reincarnation of the Messiah, Sabbatai Zevi; and/or of Jacob; and/or King David
  23. Nakayama Miki (a.k.a. “Oyasama”): Abrahamic messenger
  24. Hakka savior, Hong Huoxiu [alt. “Renkun”] of Guangdong (a.k.a. “Hung Xiuquan”): “Heavenly King”, “brother” of Jesus Christ
  25. Rishi Kuthumi (a.k.a. “Koot Hoomi”): the “Mahatma”
  26. Kim Il-Sung (a.k.a. “Eternal Leader”): deified potentate of the Choson  {56}
  27. Sun Myung Moon (a.k.a. the “True Parent”): quasi-Messiah
  28. Jung Myung Seok (a.k.a. “Setsuri” / “Joshua”): quasi-Messiah
  29. Cyrus Reed Teed (a.k.a. “Koresh”): Abrahamic Messiah
  30. Kurdish sultan, Sahak (a.k.a. prophet of “Bayabas-e Pirdiwari”): messenger of “Haqiqat” (ergo of “Ahl-e Haqq” / “Yarsan”)
  31. Simon Kimbangu (a.k.a. “special envoy of Jesus Christ”): embodiment of the Holy Spirit
  32. Ariffin Mohammed (a.k.a. “Ayah Pin” of the “Kerajaan Langit” [Sky Kingdom]): the Malay reincarnation of Shiva, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed; the “Mahdi”
  33. Riaz Ahmed Gohar Shahi (a.k.a. “Kalki Avatar”): Abrahamic Messiah; the “Mahdi”
  34. Hue Dang Trinh (a.k.a. “Ching Hai”): the “Supreme Master” / “Suma”
  35. Sathya Narayana Raju (a.k.a. “Sai Baba”): the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi
  36. Chizuo Matsumoto (a.k.a. “Shoko Asahara”): the “Christ”  {11}
  37. Mahagandare Weikzado Apwegyoke (a.k.a. “Bodaw-his”, leader of the Burmese messianic buddhist cult, “Gaing”): the “Maitreya”
  38. “Ahn” Sahng-hong (a.k.a. “Prophet Elijah”): incarnation of Jesus Christ {12}
  39. “Zahng” Gil-jah: Heavenly Mother of the New Jerusalem  {12}
  40. Merwan Sheriar Irani of Pune (a.k.a. “Meher Baba”): Avatar of god
  41. Hulon Mitchell, Jr. (a.k.a. “Yahweh ben Yahweh”): prophet for the Nation of Yahweh
  42. Ethiopian cynosure, Haile Selassie (a.k.a. “Janhoy”; a.k.a. “Ras Tafari”): quasi-Abrahamic Messiah
  43. Hong Xiu-quan: incarnated “brother” of Jesus Christ (founder of the “God-worshipping Society”)
  44. George Baker (a.k.a. Reverend “Major” Morgan Jealous Divine; a.k.a. “The Messenger”): Abrahamic Prophet
  45. Jacob Paul Twitchell (a.k.a. “Peddar Zaskq”): the “Mahanta”
  46. “Moses” David Berg (a.k.a. “King David”): Abrahamic messenger / Last Prophet (founder of “The Family International”)
  47. José Luis de Jesus Miranda (a.k.a. “Melchizedek”): Abrahamic prophet, for Creciendo en Gracia
  48. Sergey Anatolyevitch Torop (a.k.a. “Vissarion”): the reincarnation of Jesus of Nazareth; the second coming of “Christ”

What we often find is cult activity that is centered around a charismatic figure who commands a high degree of devotion–nay obsession–amongst his followers.  As is plain to see here, this phenomenon has occurred around the world, throughout history.  In every case, we find the same KIND of thing: An idolized–even deified–leader surrounded by fawning acolytes.  In the above list, 34 of the 50 were in the Abrahamic tradition.  ALL of these figures couched their prophet-ness in the same vein as Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, Daniel, Isaiah, Elijah, Jeremiah, Job, et. al. {13}  And like myriad contemporaries of Jesus of Nazareth during the pre-Christian Roman Empire.  One cannot fully understand ANY ONE religious movement–be it Christianity or Islam or anything else–without a rudimentary understanding of what all these figures have in common.

We might bear in mind that the term “Messiah” derives from the Old Semitic term for “anointed one”: “Mashia[c]h”.  In Babylonian Aramaic and Mishnaic / Classical Hebrew, this was simply another way of saying “melekh” [“king”].  Therefore, in Judaic tradition, it was an alternate appellation for the (earthly) king of the Jews.  Even the Persian king, Cyrus, was once referred to as “mashiah” when he agreed sanction the construction of a temple for the Jews in the city of David.  (King of the Jews rendered in Koine Greek was “Basileus ton Ioudaion”.  In Vulgar Latin, it was rendered “Rex Iudaeorum”.)  Here’s the catch: When rendered in Koine Greek as “Kristos”, the Semitic moniker took on supernatural connotations.  Consequently, for Pauline Christians, the transition to “god incarnate” was not an unsurmountable taxonomic hurdle to make. {14}

The Abrahamic tradition has a long history of positing a coming Messiah, who will inaugurate the “eschaton” (End Times).  Most notable were the fabled “four craftsmen”: Messiah ben David, Messiah ben Joseph, Elijah, and the so-called “Righteous King” [a reprise of “Melchizedek”].  Various candidates have been equated with one or another of these prophesied figures…who, it is supposed, will be the one who–at long last–builds the third temple in Jerusalem.

The phenomenon continues apace around the world, in myriad traditions.  Note, for example, the Sudanese “mahdi”, Mohammed Ahmad in the late 19th century.  Today, more than 3,000 “Mahdi” claimants are imprisoned in Iran.  (Suffice to say, they were all unsuccessful in accruing a significant following.)  Note that one of the better known contemporary “Mahdi” claimants was the Shia fanatic, Dia Abdul Zahra Kadim (a.k.a. “Ali bin Ali bin Abi Talib”), imprisoned in Iraq until his death in 2007.  Also note the Persian mystic, Mahm[o]ud Pasikhani of Gilan, who not only claimed to be the “mahdi”, but the very reincarnation of Mohammed HIMSELF. {4}

A full catalogue of all of history’s Messianic figures would be a massive undertaking.  The question is: ON WHAT BASIS are we justified in categorizing the likes of Joseph Smith (the Church of Latter-Day Saints), Sun Myung Moon (Tongil-gyo; a.k.a. the “Church of Unification”), and L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology) scam artists…yet refrain from calling more “mainstream” religious figures scam artists?  (After all, a religion is a cult with widespread sanction; and a cult is a religion without widespread sanction.)

Let’s look at another example.  A collection of verse (entitled the “Ofudesaki”) purported to be composed by the one true god (“Tenri-O-No-Mikoto”) was transmitted to the world via a designated mouth-piece.  In this case, the “messenger” was a Japanese woman named Nakayama Miki (re-christened “Oyasama”) in the 19th century.  The book is now the foundational sacred scripture of the “Tenrikyo” religion.  “Oyasama” currently has well over TWO MILLION followers.

To reiterate: These were not just obscure crackpots making outlandish claims.  For each and every figure listed here, and appreciable number of people BELIEVED them.  The attribution of Messiah-hood (i.e. “anointed one”) happens to this day–sometimes in vain, sometimes to resounding success.  Note, for example, Sergey Torop (“Vissarion” mentioned above), considered by the Church of the Last Testament to be the second coming of Christ.  He has accumulated over ten thousand followers.  Such numbers are unsurprising.  After all, Harlemite Reverend “Jealous Divine” would accumulate MILLIONS “Peace Mission” followers over the course of the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s, and into the 60’s.  That it is so obvious to the rest of us that such demagogues are frauds is a moot point to their fawning disciples.

As we saw earliers, Mohammed of Mecca pulled the same kind of stunt in Yathrib-cum-Medina in the 7th century (where his numbers eventually swelled to the tens of thousands).  He was doing nothing novel when he said what he said; and his immediate followers were doing nothing new when they caricatured him as they did.  As we’ve seen, the phenomenon has been commonplace throughout recorded history.

Indeed, the pantheon of professed “prophets” is endless.  In each case, we encounter some variation on the claim: “I have the inside scoop.”  It’s an old game that has worked for millennia, and will most likely continue to work into the foreseeable future.  For, so long as there are existentially disoriented mobs looking for a beacon, there will always be opportunity for exploitation.

To pull of this stunt, the con-man does not even have to proclaim him/herself a full-fledged prophet.  Simply claiming that one is uniquely-positioned to bestow secret wisdom upon mankind will often do the trick.  This can be done with an inherited tradition–as with, say, Gerald Gardner: impresario of “Ordo Templi Orientis”.

The evangelist, Saul of Tarsus (a.k.a. “Saint Paul”) is the most well-known case in point.  In his era, he almost single-handedly inaugurated the movement that would eventually become “Christianity”.  Saul was not the first to pull off this stunt, though; and he was certainly not the last.  Consider what Zhang Tao-Ling of Jiangsu did to Taoism in the 2nd century.  He proclaimed himself “Celestial Master” and turned Tao-ism (founded as a philosophy in the 6th century B.C.) into a religion.  He then established his own scripture and effectively instituted a Sichuan theocracy.  In other words: Zhang Tao-Ling appropriated a non-dogmatic spiritual tradition and rendered it a hyper-dogmatic, authoritarian system.  The routine is a familiar one (as anyone knows who juxtaposes the ACTUAL teachings of Jesus of Nazareth with the catechism of the Roman Catholic Church).

Here are 48 MORE infamous instances of figures who commanded cult followings:

  1. Malki [t]Zedek of Salem (a.k.a. “Melchizedek”): High Priest of El Elyon, the first Abrahamic Prophet
  2. Azar Hooshang of Iran (a.k.a. “Mahabad”): pre-Zoroastrian prophet
  3. Y’hez’qel of Anathoth (a.k.a. “Ezekiel”): Hebrew Prophet of the New Jerusalem
  4. Montanus of Phrygia / Mysia: Christian Prophet of the New Jerusalem
  5. Zhang Daoling of Jiangsu (a.k.a. “Ancestral Celestial Master”): messenger of Lao-Tzu (deified as “Taishang Laojun”); founder of the “Way of the Celestial Masters”
  6. John of Patmos (often conflated with “John the Apostle”): Abrahamic Prophet; author of the “Book of Revelation”
  7. Zhang Jue / Jiao of Eastern Han (a.k.a. the “Great Teacher”): the “General of Heaven”  {15}
  8. Linji Yixuan (a.k.a. “Rinzai Gigen”) [Japanese rendering within the Chan school]: divinely-appointed Zen Master
  9. Akiva ben Joseph (a.k.a. “Rosh la-Chachamim”): Abrahamic Prophet
  10. Yehudah ha-Nasi (a.k.a. “Judah the Prince”; “Rabbeinu ha-Qadosh”): Abrahamic messenger; author of the Mishnah
  11. Yitzhak Saggi Nehor (a.k.a. “Isaac the Blind”): Abrahamic Prophet
  12. Moshe ben Nahman [Girondi] (a.k.a. “Nachmanides”): Abrahamic Prophet
  13. Hamza ibn Ali ibn Ahmad of Khorason: deliverer  {16}
  14. Mohammad ibn Ismail Nashtakin ad-Darazi of Bukhara: deliverer  {16}
  15. Abu Isa of Isfahan (a.k.a. “Ovadiah”; whose followers were known as the “Isawiyya”): Abrahamic Messiah
  16. Abu Shu’ayb Muhammad ibn Nusayr (a.k.a. the “Bab” [representative]): proxy for the Mahdi  {17}
  17. Sikh guru, Nanak of Punjab: quasi-Abrahamic Prophet
  18. Pothuluru Veerabrahmendra of Andhra Pradesh (a.k.a. “Srimadhviraat”): Telugu prophet
  19. Michel of Nostredame (a.k.a. “Nostradamus”): medieval French reprise of the Oracle at Delphi
  20. Moshe ben Shem-Tov (a.k.a. “Moses of Leon”): Abrahamic Prophet  {18}
  21. Shimon bar Yochai of Meron: Abrahamic Prophet
  22. Yisro-El ben Eliezer of Podolia (a.k.a. “Baal Shem Tov”): Abrahamic Prophet  {19}
  23. Jehan Cauvin (a.k.a. “John Calvin”): Abrahamic Prophet
  24. Hazreti Hunkar “Haji” Bektash Veli of Anatolia: Abrahamic Prophet
  25. Choe Je-u of Seorabeol / Gyeongju (a.k.a. “Su-un”): Abrahamic prophet  {20}
  26. Lee Man-hee of Cheongdo: Abrahamic messenger  {21}
  27. Kondratii Selivanov of Oryol (a.k.a. “God of Gods and King of Kings”): Abrahamic prophet {22}
  28. Yang Xiang-bin of Henan (a.k.a. “Lightning Deng”): Abrahamic Messiah  {23}
  29. Shyama Charan Lahiri (a.k.a. “Mahasaya”): messenger of Maha-avatar Babaji
  30. “Mother” Ann Lee (as “The Word”): Abrahamic messenger
  31. Bernhard Müller (a.k.a. “Count de Leon”; the “Lion of Judah”): Abrahamic Prophet
  32. Joseph Bates [and his protege, Ellen G. White]: quasi-Prophet; promulgator of Remnant theology (founder of Sabbatarian Adventism; later dubbed “Seventh Day Adventism”)
  33. Edward Alexander Crowley (a.k.a. “Aleister Crowley”): Messenger of the “Aeon of Horus”
  34. Samuel Morris (a.k.a. “Father Jehovia”): Abrahamic Prophet
  35. Lafayette Ronald Hubbard (a.k.a. the “Commodore”): as deliverer; founder of Scientology
  36. Franklin Albert Jones (a.k.a. “Adi Da Samraj” / “Da Avabhasa”): “Avadhoota”; avatar of “Amrita Nadi”
  37. Zulu (Nazarite / Zionist) prophet, Isaiah Shembe: Abrahamic messenger
  38. Elijah Robert Poole (a.k.a. “Fard Muhammad”): deliverer (for African Americans)
  39. Credonia Mwerinde and Joseph Kibweteere: deliverers
  40. Jim Jones (a.k.a. “Father of all”): deliverer  {24}
  41. Temitope Balogun (a.k.a. “T.B. Joshua”): Abrahamic Prophet
  42. Claude Maurice Marcel Vorilhon (a.k.a. “Raël”): Messenger of the Elohim  {25}
  43. Marshall Applewhite (a.k.a. “Do”): deliverer
  44. Vernon Howell (a.k.a. “David Koresh”): deliverer
  45. Mukunda Lal Ghosh (a.k.a. “Paramahansa Yogananda”): divinely-anointed “Kriya Yogi” master
  46. Chandra Mohan Jain (a.k.a. “Bhagwan Rajneesh”, later known as “Osho”): the “Acharya” of Buddha
  47. Abhay Charan De (a.k.a. A.C. Bhaktivedanta “swami” Prabhupada): the “Acharya” of Vishnu / Krishna  {26}
  48. Menachem Mendel Schneerson (a.k.a. the “Rebbe” / “King Messiah”): Abrahamic Prophet

Whether proxies for the godhead or divinely-appointed deliverers: same shtick, different brands.  (Once again, 34 of the 50 were a Judeo-Christian offshoot.)  Every one of these impresarios of cult activity–charismatic, self-aggrandizing, exploitative–were essentially the Jim Bakkers of Antiquity.  The modern technology at the disposal of the televangelist only alters the mode of presentation.

NONE of the figures listed thus far are recorded of having said an intelligent thing during their tenure as demagogue.  Indeed, the vast majority seem to have never once articulated even a single profound insight over the course of their entire lifetime.  Most never did even one significant deed worthy of plaudits.  Time after time, we find that a savvy leader needn’t say or do anything estimable to accrue prodigious amounts of prestige.  Idolatry is rarely–if ever–based on merit.

A full survey of so-called “prophets” in the broader sense would include figures from antiquity such as:

  • Zarathustra Spitama of Airyanem Vaejah (a.k.a. “Zoroaster”)
  • Siddhartha Gautama of Lumbini (a.k.a. the “Buddha”)
  • Li Er of Chu (a.k.a. “Lao-Tzu” / “Lao-zi”)
  • Kong Qui of Zou / Lu [alt. Kong-zi of Qufu] (a.k.a. “Confucius”)
  • Gaius Julius Caesar (deified progenitor of the Roman Empire)

Now that we’ve surveyed over a hundred examples, we can adduce certain things about what is broadly defined as demagoguery; and see how Mohammed of Mecca is but one instance of a ubiquitous phenomenon.

Mohammed of Mecca–as messenger of the Abrahamic deity–was just another in a long list of exalted paladins.  In each instance, we see a charismatic figure revered by fawning acolytes.  In each instance, the person effectively said: “I–and I alone–have the inside scoop.”  (“And so I alone hold all the answers.”)  The question is not how that Hijazi merchant was different from these figures.  (That’s easy to answer.)  The question is: How are they SIMILAR?  Even as each is sui generis, it is prudent to ask: What is the common thread?  In the end, every demagogue claims: “I alone can solve all that ails you.”  The schtick is the same whether on is an illiterate Bedouin from the Dark Ages or an urbane popinjay from last week.

There can be little doubt that most of the figures enumerated in the present essay were very impressed with themselves.  Certainly, some of them KNEW they were full of shit; while others may have sincerely believed their own balderdash.  But whether they were con-men or deluded is rather beside the point.  For either way, they had legions of ardent followers who were eating out of the palms of their hands.

The present survey is instructive.  For each and every one of these men are instances of the same phenomenon–a phenomenon of which mainstream “religions” are a (more successful, more widely accepted) manifestation.  There countless case-studies in what amounts–at root–to the SAME PHENOMENON. 

In modern times, there have been innumerable traffickers in esoterica who have inaugurated their own cult movement–as with Irish cleric, Laurence Dermott and Scottish cleric, James Anderson–who sought to revive Freemasonry.  Here are FORTY MORE examples (of widely varying degrees of success, prevalence, and malignancy) from around the world, across myriad cultures:

  1. Persian mystic, Azar Kayvan of Estakhr / Fars (a.k.a. “Zu’l-Olum”): Ishraqiyyah (a.k.a. “Illumination-ism”)  {27}
  2. Persian mystic, Mansur al-Hallaj of Fars: heterodox Sufism  {28}
  3. Persian mystic, Najmuddin Kubra of Urgench / Khwarezm: Kubrawiyya Sufism.  {29}
  4. Sephardic (Aragonese / Navarrese) Judaic mystic, Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia: Prophetic Kabbalah
  5. Bavarian (Judaic) preacher, Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg: bellwether for [c]Hasidei Ashkenaz (Hassidism)
  6. Palestinian (Judaic) mystic, Isaac Luria ben Shlomo of Safed / Galilee (a.k.a. “Ha-ARI”): Lurianic Kabbalah  {30}
  7. Bohemian rabbis, Isaiah HaLevi Horowitz (a.k.a. the “Shelah”) and Judah he-Hasid Segal ha-Levi: Levite mysticism; bellwethers for Hassidism
  8. Polish rabbi, Yisroel ben Eliezer (a.k.a. “Baal Shem Tov”): bellwether for Hassidism  {31}
  9. Greek revolutionary / mystic, Theophilos Kairis of Andros: Theosebism
  10. Armenian mystic, Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff: The Fourth Way  {32}
  11. Bulgarian evangelist, Victor T. Houteff: “Davidian” Seventh Day Adventism
  12. Israeli (Satmar / Hassidic) cleric, Erez Shlomo Elbarnes: Lev Tahor
  13. Palestinian (Christian) evangelist, Toufik Benedictus “Benny” Hinn: Miracle Crusades  {33}
  14. Swiss-German occultist, Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (a.k.a. “Paracelsus”): Hermetic “Paracelsian-ism”
  15. German prophet, Melchior Hofmann: apocalyptic Anabaptism  {34}
  16. Thuringian (German) occultist, Christian Rosenkreuz: Rosicrucianism
  17. Bavarian (German) sage, Johann Adam Weishaupt: the Illuminati
  18. German (Catholic) cleric, Heinrich Walpot of Bassenheim: Ordo Domus Sanctae Mariae Theutonicorum Hierosolymitanorum (a.k.a. the “Teutonic Order”)
  19. German occultist, Walter Nauhaus: Thule Society
  20. German / Bohemian neo-pagan, Franz Sattler (a.k.a. “Doctor Musalam”): Adon-ism
  21. Austrian occultist, Guido von List: Arman-ism  {35}
  22. Russian Judeo-Supremacist, Vladimir Yevgenyevich Zhabotinski of Odessa (a.k.a. “Ze’ev Jabotinsky”): Bellwether for Revisionist Zionism
  23. Russian occultist, “Madam” Helena Blavatsky: Theosophy; Agni Yoga
  24. Russian mystic, Grigori Rasputin: Marian occultism
  25. Russian prophetess, Marina Tsvigun (a.k.a. “Maria Devi Christos”): the Great White Brotherhood (a.k.a. “YUSMALOS”)
  26. Russian (Hassidic) cleric, Shneur Zalman of Liady: [c]Habad-Lubavitch
  27. Swedish mystic, Emanuel Swedenborg: the New Church
  28. French (fascistic) cynosure, Maximilien Robespierre: Cult of the Supreme Being
  29. Czech mystic, Ivo A. Benda: the Universe People (a.k.a. “Cosmic People of Light Powers”)
  30. British (Christian) panjandrum, Richard Brothers: British Israel-ism
  31. British “Avatar” / “Cosmic Master”, George King: Aetherius Society
  32. British Wiccan, Alex Sanders (a.k.a. “King of the Witches): neo-Wicca
  33. South African con-man, Bernard Poolman: Desteni  {36}
  34. German-Chilean panjandrum, Paul Schäfer Schneider: Colonia Dignidad [Colony of Dignity; later renamed “Villa Baviera”]
  35. Bolivian sage, Oscar Ichazo: Arica
  36. Korean sage, Lee Seung-heun (a.k.a. “Ilchi”): Dahn-hak
  37. Vietnamese messengers, Pham Cong Tac, Cao Quynh Cu, and Cao Hoai Sang: Cao-Dai
  38. Japanese sage, Mokichi Okada: Sekai Kyusei-Kyo [Church of World Messianism]
  39. Japanese (Shinto) mystic, Kawate Bunji-ro (a.k.a. “Akazawa Bunji”): Konko-kyo {37}
  40. Japanese (Shinto) mystics, Deguchi Nao and Deguchi Onisaburo: Kinmei Reigakkai (now “Oomoto-Kyo”)

The proliferation of pseudo-Christian sects in Asia (especially in Korea and China / Taiwan) is jaw-dropping.  Most of it is simply a money-making scheme–as with evangelical businessman, Yoo Byung-eun’s notorious “Salvation Sect”; and Filipino pastor, Apollo Quibuloy of Davao (who has made a fortune claiming to be the second coming of Christ).  There are even nationalistic religions, such as the quasi-fascist Korean movements like Na Cheol’s “Daejong-kyo” (a.k.a. “Dangun-ism”). {56}

The emergence (and proliferation) of quasi-Christian cults in China is largely due to the government’s suppression of religious activity.  Five notable examples:

  • Xu Wenku’s “Three Grades of Servants”
  • Xu Yongze’s “All Ranges Church”
  • Zuo Kun’s “Bloody Holy Spirit”
  • Li Sanbao’s “The Disciple Society”
  • Li Changshou’s “Living Stream Ministry” (and it’s offshoot, Zhao Weishan’s “Almighty God” sect)

…etc.  All of these “churches” are shams; yet they each attract a significant following–as they operate in a country starved for spiritual alternatives to the stale idolatry of Maoism.

Elsewhere in the Far East, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh mystics have spawned a plethora of sects.  Here are fifty:

  1. Kagyu[d] (Buddhist) sage, Nagar-juna; and his disciple, Sabara (a.k.a. “Shavaripa”): Madhya-maka
  2. Madhya-maka (Buddhist) sage, Santi-deva: Avaivartika Sangha
  3. Vajrayana (Buddhist) sage, Drogon Tsang-pa Gyare of Ralung: Druk-pa
  4. Loka-yata (Buddhist) sage, Ajita Kesa-kambali: Charvaka
  5. Sikh “sat-guru”, Ravidas “Ji” of Varanasi: Ravidassia (neo-Sikhism)
  6. Vaishnava (Hindu) sage, Ramananda: Rama-nandi Sampra-daya
  7. Hindu sage, Ayya Vaikundar of Kanniya-kumari [Tamil Nadu]: Ayyavazhi
  8. Hindu “swami”, Vishnu Tirtha: (Shakti-pat based) Siddha-yoga
  9. Bengali sage, Atisha of Bikram-pur [Pala]: progenitor of “Kadam” (Tibetan) Buddhism
  10. Bengali sage, Tilopa; followed by his disciple, Naropa: Anuttara-yoga Tantra
  11. Bengali sage, Gadadhar Chattopadhyay (a.k.a. “Rama-krishna Para-mahansa”) [who claimed to have been visited by Kali; then by Lakshmi’s avatar, Sita]: Advaita Vedanta
  12. Bengali “raja”, Ram Mohan Roy: Brahmo-ism (alt. “Brahmo Samaj”; “Divine Society”)
  13. Bengali sage, Vishvambhar Mishra (a.k.a. “Chaitanya Maha-prabhu”; “Gauranga”): Gaudiya Vaishnavism
  14. Tamil sage, Yadava Prakasha and his student, Rama-nuja: (non-Alvar) Vaishnavism
  15. Vajrayana (Buddhist) sages, Sukha-siddhi and Nigu-ma / Nigupta: Shang-pa Nagyu
  16. Gujarati (Hindu) “swami”, Mulshankar Karasandas Tiwari (a.k.a. “Dayanand[a] Saraswati”): Arya Samaj
  17. Hindu sage, Nirmala “Sri-Vastava” Salve (a.k.a. “Sri Mataji Nirmala Devi”): Sahaja Yoga  {38}
  18. Vedanta (Hindu) “acharya”, Madhva of Karnataka (a.k.a. “Purna Prajna”; “Ananda Teertha”): Tattva-vada
  19. Indian “Dada”, Lekhraj Khubchand Kripalani of Hyderabad (a.k.a. “Brahma Baba”): Brahma Kumaris
  20. Indian sage, Makkhali Gosala (5th century B.C.): Ajivika [alt. “Ajivik-ism”]
  21. Thai monk, Sodh Mikaewnoi (a.k.a. “Sodh Candasaro”; “Phra” Mongkhonthepmuni): Dhamma-kaya  {39}
  22. Indian (Buddhist) sage, Mahesh Prasad Varma of Jabalpur (a.k.a. “Maharishi”): Transcendental Meditation
  23. Gelug-pa (Buddhist) sage, Lob-sang Chupon-pa of Tibet (a.k.a. “Kel-sang Gyatso”): the New Kadampa sect
  24. Tibetan sage, Lo-sang Drak-pa (né Künga Nyingpo) of Tsongkha / Amdo (a.k.a. “Je Tsongkha-pa”; “Je Rin-po-che”): the “Guleg” sect [of Tibetan Buddhism]
  25. Tibetan sage, Gendun Drup: inaugurating the line of Dalai Lamas in Tibetan Buddhism
  26. Tibetan sage, Dromtön (disciple of “Atisha”): Tibetan “Kadam” Buddhism
  27. Hindu-Sikh “sat-guru”, Shiv Dayal Seth / Singh of Agra (a.k.a. “Soami-ji Maharaj”): Radha-swami (a.k.a. “Sant Mat”)  {40}
  28. Shaivi yogi, Matsyendranath[a] / Macchindranath[a] of Kamarupa: the “Nath” sect
  29. Advaita Vedanta [Tamil] sage, Adi Shankara of Kerala[m]: Dashanami Sampradaya (with Shaivi, Vaishnavi, Shakti variants)
  30. Vaidiki [Telugu] sage, Vallabha-Acharya of Brij: the “Pushti-marg” sect of Vaishnava
  31. Sikh guru, Gobind Singh [Ji] and “Baba” Deep Singh of Amritsar: Damdami Taksal “Jatha”  {41}
  32. Shaiva sage, “Baba” Siddharth[a] Guatam[a] Ram[a] [Ji] (putative reincarnation of Baba Keenaram of Varanasi): the Vaishnavi “Aghora” sect
  33. Korean panjandrum, Gan Il-sun (a.k.a. “Kang Jeung-san”): Jeung-san-kyo [alt. “Jeung-san-Do”]
  34. Korean nationalist, Choe Je-u (a.k.a. “Su-un”): Cheon-Do-kyo [a.k.a. “Donghak”]
  35. Chinese sage, Li Xiu-yuan of Hang-zhou (a.k.a. “Ji Gong”): Tung Cheng Yuen
  36. Chinese sage, Mo-Di [alternately referred to as “Mo-zi”, the name of his magnum opus] (5th century B.C.): Mohism
  37. Chinese sage, Wang Sen: Wen-xiang-chiao [incense-smelling sect of Messianic Buddhism]  {42}
  38. Chinese (Qi-gong) sage, Li Hong-zhi of Jilin: Falun Gong
  39. Chinese patriarch, Kui Sheng of Shan-dong (a.k.a. “Zhang Tian-ran”; reincarnation of Ji Gong): Yi-kuan-Tao  {43}
  40. Chinese sage, Wang Jueyi of Qing-zhou / Shandong: Yi-kuan-Tao [a.k.a. “Zhen-li Tian-Tao”]  {43}
  41. Chinese sage, Zhang Jiao / Jue: Tian-Tao [Way of Heaven]  {43}
  42. Chinese patriarch, Duan Qirui: Sheng-Tao [Holy Way]  {43} {44}
  43. Taiwanese sage, Yu-Xia Chen: Chen-Tao [True Way]  {45}
  44. Taiwanese (Tendai) sage, “Grand Master” Lu Sheng-Yen (a.k.a. “Living Buddha Lian Sheng”): True Buddha School
  45. Taiwanese mage, Sung Chi-li: Dharma-kaya
  46. Japanese (Shakyamuni) mystic, Zennichimaro (a.k.a. “Nichiren”; as reincarnation of “Visista-charitra”): Nichiren Buddhism
  47. Japanese panjandrum, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi of Hokkaido: Soka [Kyoiku] Gakkai
  48. Japanese panjandrum, Kawase Kayo: Tenchi Seikyo  {46}
  49. Japanese panjandrum, Takashi Nakagawa (a.k.a. “Ryuho Okawa”): Kofuku-no-Kagaku [Happy Science]
  50. Japanese sage, Yoshikazu Okada (a.k.a. “Kotama”): Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyodan (a.k.a. “Ma-Hikari”; True Light)  {47}

Each case is a reminder that before one is willing to buy the snake-oil, one must first become smitten with its salesman. {54}  Note, though, that not all mystics are demagogues–as explicated in the Appendix below.

Here’s the problem.  Once people are entranced by a charismatic leader, it is difficult to break the spell.  Put another way: It’s much easier to fool people than to convince people who have been fooled that they’ve been fooled.  After all, nobody wants to wind up being the dupe.  So after having been hoodwinked, people will often commit to the hoodwink purely as a matter of course.  Consequently, attempts to expose the hoodwink will be held in contempt.

In America alone, there have been a plethora of charismatic leaders. {48}  In addition to those already listed (Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, Fard Muhammad, Jim Jones, David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite, Mendel Schneerson, Osho, etc.), there have been countless other demagogues.  Indeed, the “free marketplace” of religion in the United States has served as a veritable petri dish for cult activity.  Most notoriously, Jonathan Edwards was the patriarch of Puritanism, a legacy pioneered by the likes of Cotton Mather and John Winthrop.

Here are thirty more worth noting:

  1. Dutch Theologian, Cornelius Jansen: Jansenism (a neo-Calvinist sect characterized by Augustine-fetishism, which was the basis for various Anabaptist sects in America)
  2. Charles Fox Parham: Pentecostalism
  3. William Miller: apocalyptic Millenarianism
  4. Charles Taze Russell: [Zion] Watchtower Society
  5. Mary Baker Eddy: Christian Science
  6. Guy Ballard: “I AM” (a.k.a. the “Saint Germain” movement)
  7. Herbert W. Armstrong (a.k.a. “Elijah”): Worldwide Church of God
  8. William Joseph Seymour: Azusa Street Revival
  9. Edward Lion: Zion Apostolic Faith Mission
  10. John Ballou Newbrough: Land of Shalam [Salem] (a.k.a. “Faith-ism”)
  11. Anthony Delevin (a.k.a. “Gabriel of Urantia”): Global Community Communications Alliance
  12. Frederick McLaren Charles Adams II: Fellowship of Hesperides (later re-named “Feraferia”)
  13. Timothy Zell (a.k.a. “Oberon Zell-Ravenheart”; who spoke on behalf of the Earth Mother, Gaea): Church of All Worlds
  14. Stephen Anthony McNallen: Asatru Free Assembly
  15. Dwight D. York: Nuwaubian Nation
  16. Howard Stanton Levey (a.k.a. “Anton Szandor LaVey”): Satanism
  17. Pierre Arnold Bernard (a.k.a. “The Great / Omniscient Oom”): Nava-Tantra
  18. Mark Lyle and Elizabeth Clare Prophet: Summit Lighthouse (a.k.a. “Church Universal and Triumphant”)
  19. Victor Paul Wierwille: The Way
  20. Russian-American Neo-pagan, Gleb Yevgenyevich Botkin: Church of Aphrodite
  21. Aimee Semple McPherson and Kathryn Kuhlman: Foursquare Gospel Church and “I Believe In Miracles” (respectively)
  22. Rogelio Alcides Straughn (a.k.a. “Ra Un Nefer Amen”): Ausar Auset Society
  23. Kemetic / Voodoo priestess, Tamara Siuda (a.k.a. “Mambo Chita Tann”): House of Netjer Temple
  24. Jaime Gomez (a.k.a. Guru “Michel”; as the deified “Teacher” of Buddha Land): Buddha Field {49}
  25. Polish mystic, Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy
  26. Heredi rabbi, Shlomo Erez Helbrans: Lev Tahor [alt. the Pure Hearts]
  27. Andrew Cohen: EnlightenNext [alt. Evolutionary Enlightenment]
  28. Richard Kelly Hoskins: Phineas Priesthood [alt. the Vigilantes of Christendom]
  29. William Saunders Crowdy: Black Hebrew Israelites [alt. the Church of God and Saints of Christ]
  30. Norwegian-American evangelist, Abraham Vereide: The Family {50}

Some followings take the form of self-help cults–the most infamous of which was founded by the con-man, John Paul Rosenberg (a.k.a. “Werner Hans Erhard”): “est”…later re-named “The Forum”; then re-branded “Landmark Worldwide”. {51}

There are have been countless other examples around the world (see Appendix).

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