“Structured” vs. “High Demand”

You know, at this point I think it may be useful to talk about the difference between highly structured religions and high-demand religions, because I realize the terms sound very similar but have very different meanings, which may be confusing for newcomers.

Highly structured religions are exactly that — religions with a lot of internal structure. That structure may take the form of othrodoxy (authorized theory or practice) and/or orthopraxy (correct conduct or action). It may take the form of very formal, highly structured rituals — the Catholic mass is a good example of this type of formal ritual. It may even take the form of a system of authority, such as clergy. None of this is inherently good or bad, and many people find highly structured religions have a deep, positive effect on their lives.

There are several pagan religions that are highly structured, including Traditional Wicca/British Traditional Witchcraft, Thelema, and many forms of Hellenic, Roman, and Kemetic reconstruction. These are all beautiful and meaningful faiths that enrich the lives of their followers. High structure is simply one of many approaches to spirituality, and if that’s how you best connect to the divine, more power to you.

High-demand religions are a subset of high-demand groups, a.k.a. cults. These groups are about control, not structure. Members are asked to give unhealthy amounts of time, energy, and emotion to the group, until they lose touch with their individual identity and become lost in the group identity. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) is a modern example of a high-demand religion. So are Jehovah’s Witnesses. So is the Church of Scientology. These groups destroy lives, eat people up, and destroy their senses of individuality and self-sovereignty. 

High-demand groups are not always religious, and the actual beliefs of the group are less important than the means used to control members. Some of the most dangerous cults in history have been non-religious — just ask anyone who lives in the United States and has experienced the Cult of Trump. High-demand groups usually do have some sort of shared beliefs, but those beliefs may be religious, political, social, or even fandom-based. 

High-demand religions may or may not employ some of the highly structured elements I mentioned earlier, but any belief system can be used as a cult recruitment tool, whether that system is highly-structured or not. Again, the markers of a high-demand group have less to do with belief and more to do with the way they treat members.

Here are some of the warning signs of high-demand groups. If a group checks off all or most of these, stay far away:

  • The group has a living leader whose authority is beyond question, and whom members are expected to give unquestioning commitment
  • The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members, often through recruitment or missionary work
  • The group is preoccupied with making money, or demands money beyond the basic cost of running the group (tithing is a good example of this)
  • Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or punished
  • Mind-numbing techniques such as meditation, trance, chanting, speaking in tongues, debilitating work routines, or lack of sleep are used to suppress doubts about the group and its leaders 
  • The leadership dictates how members should think, act, and feel, including controlling dress, behavior, language, and interactions with those outside the group.
  • The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leaders, and/or its members that makes them “above” others
  • The group has a black and white, us vs. them mentality
  • The group’s leaders are not accountable to any human authority
  • The group induces feelings of guilt or shame in members in order to better control them
  • Members are expected to limit contact with those outside the group, possibly even cutting ties with family and friends
  • Members are expected to give up personal goals such as education and career goals
  • Members are expected to devote an inordinate amount of time to the group

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully you get the idea of what these groups are like. Stay safe out there, y’all. 


  • “Checklist of HDG Characteristics” from the Cult Awareness Network 
  • Steven Hassan’s BITE model at freedomofmind.com
  • “The Bite Model: QAnon Analysis” on freedomofmind.com
  • “1442: Was I Raised in a Cult or High-Demand Religion? A Self-Assement” on mormonstories.org
  • Recovering Agency by Luna Lindsey

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