Stephen Mather: Hi, welcome to the show. Stephen here, one of your hosts on Cult Hackers. Before we start, we just wanted to let you know that this episode includes descriptions of sexual assault, And child marriage. In this episode, we speak to Tamara Mc, who talks about her experience in a Sufi group. Here’s her interview.
Celine Mather: Hello Court hackers, and welcome to the podcast. Um, I’m Celine, a media graduate with an interest in cults.
Stephen Mather: And I’m Steven Mather, organizational psychologist, also interested in cults, and I was a member of. For around 30 years. So we have the pleasure of having another guest today. So we are very happy to welcome Tamara MC onto our, uh, podcast today.
Uh, welcome to the show, Tamara.
Dr. Tamara MC: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really happy to be here.
Celine Mather: Yeah. So in terms of like you’re being in a, in a group, like, how is it that you ended up in your particular group?
Dr. Tamara MC: Yes. So when I was five years old, my mother actually left me with my father for the summer and she went traveling in Europe.
And while I was with my dad, he walked into a spiritual bookstore. And while he was there, he picked up a book. And he had actually heard of this Sufi leader who had lived in England at the time, and he was in the bookstore, and he opened up a book, and while he opened up the book, the followers of this leader happened to be in the bookstore in Arizona.
So it was this crazy, like, like. Like where it all came together that the leaders were in this random bookstore in Arizona and my father began speaking with some of the followers and they invited my dad to an event at the community center. They had just started a community center in Arizona and that evening my father brought me to the community center and that was kind of the beginning to to this community at that time.
And this was in 1977.
Celine Mather: I suppose from that point on, were you fully in for throughout or did where the times when you were not as fully in the group or like, what was your kind of position at that point?
Dr. Tamara MC: So we, so we joined the group and we spent the whole summer there. And when my mom came back, my dad told her that he had joined and he had asked her to join and she had absolutely no interest in that.
So my mom and dad. Ended up separating. They weren’t legally divorced because they were like 1960s, hippie children who didn’t really believe in the institution of marriage. And my dad, then the group ended up moving. We were very nomadic. So the group ended up moving and my dad kind of found out the day of that they were moving.
He told me that he was leaving. My father then went to the East coast and I didn’t hear from him for probably about a year. And then I did hear from him and he had moved to Texas and that was kind of the beginning of our community began in Texas for
Stephen Mather: how long were you in the group for
Dr. Tamara MC: I left when I was 20 so I was in the group for 15 years.
Stephen Mather: so over that 15 year period, and quite a lot of things happened obviously and there was, I guess, a number of different experiences you had over that time so maybe you could talk a little bit about as a child, what it was like. Um, growing up in that, in that environment and what sort of practices that you observed or were part of?
Dr. Tamara MC: So in the first summer, we had our first leader who lived in England. He ended up returning to England, so he didn’t stay with our group, but he put another leader in power who came from the Middle East. So this new leader then pretty much took over the group and he bought. Close to 300 acres in the hill country of Texas, and he was going to turn it into a religious school that was actually meant for mostly men, so that so he spent, he had quite a bit of money so we built the school, and maybe the school lasted for a year or two, and then it fizzled out.
And then families ended up moving into the space. So a space that was just meant as a dormitory, and there was a communal kitchen and a couple of communal bathrooms. Families now with children moved in and it was never built for that reason. So my dad also moved in. He was actually living there before he was one of the original people.
So our whole family then moved into this space and The second leader didn’t actually live in the community, but he lived on a hill about an hour away with his multiple wives and children. So he would then come into the community and lead services and so on. But the group was maybe between a hundred to a hundred and fifty people at that time, kind of at the height of the community.
And the numbers dwindled throughout the years, and it became smaller and smaller. And as the years went on, The families there were, you know, towards the end there were only a few families, my family included, that remained on the property during this time. And a new leader came in as well because the second leader left after a few years and he sort of put into, he put into place a new leader who was an American and he then led the group and he also came over with many of his followers.
So our community shifted as well at that point.
Stephen Mather: Okay. And, um, can you tell us, are you able to tell us a little bit about what, what sort of things happened in, in the group whilst you were? Yes. Yeah. You’re like day to day.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah. Yeah. So the day to day was very different for men leaders. Women and children and young girls.
So there was very much a hierarchy within the group and the leader and his family were at the very top. And then we’re like the higher echelon of men that were below the leader and then their families, and then kind of. The next men and then women and then children and then young girls, tweens and teens were sort of at the very end of that hierarchy.
And I was a teen or a tween at that point. So for me, I can speak about kind of a typical day for me. We were woken up before the sun came up. So around four or five, and we had to go in pray. And the prayer place was about a 15 to 20 minute walk away from where we slept. And how we slept was actually because it was set up for a dormitory.
My dad and my step mom. So after my mom and dad separated within a year, my dad married another woman. She had four kids of her own. So I immediately had like four siblings, four step siblings. So they lived across the courtyard. And then I lived in a room with my siblings. So we were very separate. There was no communal house where we would.
Eat meals together or do anything together. Instead, we would just be part of the group. And so very early in the morning, we’d be woken up. We’d have to walk in that we first have to like go into the bathroom and do our, our ablutions like clean before prayer. And then we’d have to walk to the prayer house that was, um, many minutes away and it was dark and there were many snakes in Texas at the time.
And there was like high grass as well. So it was quite scary to be walking alone in the dark. We were also very covered. The girls had to be covered from head to toe. We couldn’t show any skin. At one point, um, we weren’t even allowed to show our feet. So we had to wear socks like with our flip flops. So we couldn’t even show our feet in any way.
We couldn’t show our necks. Our hairs who we were very covered up, we would go to the prayer room, we would generally have supplemental prayers that would happen before the like main prayer. Then we would pray and then we praise them more and then we’d have a talk which would probably last two or three hours and we were very exhausted.
And after that there was a communal kitchen close by to the prayer house so all of the girls would then go into the kitchen and they would begin preparing breakfast for everybody in the community. And again, like the numbers were very different at different times, but there were at least 30 people at all times and the girls were responsible for making all of the food, setting out the table class we ate on the floor, and there was a men’s table there was a women’s table, and we were separate.
So the girls would serve the women’s table, and then at this point, the younger boys would come in and then set the boys table, we would eat and usually food, we didn’t have a lot of food, we were very poor, even though the leader had a lot of money, the, um, we were very poor, so, um, the members were very poor, so we pretty much would just eat oatmeal in the morning with water, we didn’t have access to dairy, we weren’t allowed to eat sugar, there was no fruit, we So it was very limited.
And at that point we would do all of the dishes and the adults would just scatter like they didn’t remain in the kitchen. So we didn’t see them. So that would probably go at least a couple of hours in the kitchen. And then maybe we would have studies, but studies would be religious texts and we would have memorization of religious texts.
We would have singing, chanting, that sort of thing. And then the girls would then have to go back into the kitchen and start preparing lunch. And kind of the whole same thing would happen. We’d be in the kitchen for two to three hours. And for lunch, we mostly ate rice and beans. So kind of like kind of any legume, if it was like a lentil or a black bean, and then brown rice, we weren’t even allowed to eat white rice.
And I remember really wanting to eat white rice because it seemed like such a delicacy. I absolutely love brown rice. So I don’t, I don’t have a problem now. But at the time, and just Very, we had many, very, we had a lot of different diets, but mostly we were vegetarian. We didn’t have meat and we were also macrobiotic.
So with macrobiotics, even within its vegetarianism, like the eggplant and the tomato are like the foods that you’re not allowed to eat. No, we had like these crazy restricted foods, like eggplant and tomatoes, for instance.
Celine Mather: Oh wow. Fetch you my dinner tonight.
Stephen Mather: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a shame. They’re my favorites.
Yeah. Was, was
Celine Mather: there ever reasoning given to you or was it just like you got told and you’re like, Oh, okay. Okay.
Dr. Tamara MC: I mean, we were told it was for health reasons, right? We were under the assumption that it was for health reasons, but looking back, there was just. Diet and restriction and cold is so well known that it was absolutely to control us.
So, but at the time I didn’t think that I thought it was the healthiest thing. We weren’t allowed to eat sugar because of health. Like kids couldn’t eat all of these things because of health, but it was really just a way of restricting us.
Stephen Mather: Yeah, for sure. I was curious about your thinking. So I guess, you know, we’re talking about, um, a very young Tamara here.
So, um, I’m not sure how much you can remember how you felt about. Um, this way of life. And I know as a, as a born in member myself, as somebody who’s raised myself, um, as a youngster, you just sort of take it for granted, don’t you? But I just wondered what you thought about this life that you had found yourself in.
Did you have any thoughts about, were you happy about it? Did you, did you feel privileged or did you want to, um, escape or, you know, what were your, what were your sort of thoughts as a youngster?
Dr. Tamara MC: I think within me, I always wanted to escape, but I knew, like, we were taught that All of our thoughts like God would know and the leaders would know so I was so afraid to even have that thought so I would mask it like because we were told that like God knew everything within us and the leaders knew everything within us.
So, so like deep deep down I wanted to escape but then. On the surface, I also just tried to be happy and joyful and grateful for the situation that I had. So I think I was balancing both of that. Um, my, I had a, one of my siblings was only a year younger than me, my stepmother’s daughter, and she was the opposite of me.
She was the opposite of me. All she wanted to do was escape and all she spoke about was running away. And we would just spend hours every night talking about all of her plans about leaving and how she’s going to do it and how I’m going to help her and how we’re going to leave. And so we had very different feelings.
She wasn’t afraid of God. She wasn’t afraid of the leader. She was just very She, she just felt very much in Pat. Like she wasn’t afraid. Like I was, I was very afraid and very timid. And she was the exact opposite. She was just like ready to run at the first opportunity and she would eventually run very young.
Stephen Mather: So as you become more aware, I suppose, as a, as an older child, I guess you start to see things, you start to ask more questions to you or, or did you start to become more devout? Cause I know, you know, that can happen too. So what, what was your journey say from that early youngster into sort of early teenage years?
Dr. Tamara MC: I became more and more devout with like every month and every year and I became more fearful. I became more rule following. I, um, yes, no, I, I became much more fanatical as every year went by, but it was very much the teachings that were happening at that time within the community. And I was also kind of put in a situation where I was considered the special child and I was the special girl of the community.
So I had a lot of responsibilities because I was such such a rule follower, whereas the other girls were, like I said, ready to escape at any moment. I was like the one person that they felt that they could trust, um, just because I was so. Timid, like for no other reason than that. So I had a lot of responsibility on me.
The leader, um, had me come live with him in his personal residence and no other child had been asked. So I actually lived with the leader an hour away with him and his multiple wives. And I cared for all of his children. So I had a very, um, special status and I’m using like air quotes when I say that because it was only special.
I thought it was special and I was loved and I was being cared for. But in retrospect, it wasn’t that at all. I was just the most obedient person. And so it was really easy for the leader to have me. It is personal residence because I was also free labor. I didn’t complain. I didn’t speak. I was quiet, anything they asked me to do.
I did. So, so, so that’s pretty much that that was my role within the community.
Celine Mather: Did you feel a lot of pressure at that point? You’re saying you had a lot of responsibility, um, and I guess people expected you to behave in a particular way because that’s how you had been up to that point. Did you feel a lot of pressure because of that?
Dr. Tamara MC: Yes, I had a lot of pressure and I didn’t finish kind of what our days look like and this is kind of what Similar day would look like, but we were also in charge of the girls were in charge of all of the childcare. So after lunch, we would be watching the children and we didn’t usually have dinner, but we’d have to stay up late.
We’d have to go back to the prayer house and stay up very late. But once I joined the leader’s house, I worked seven days a week. And that was pretty much the same in the commune as well. There was never a day break. There was never a day rest. It was getting up before sunrise and going to bed about 10 p.
So there was tons of pressure and I’d have to learn how to keep the baby quiet and how to enter whatever it was. And there was no toys. Like it was supposedly a playroom, but there were no toys. There was just a mattress on the floor. And so I would have to tell them stories and sing to them and whatever I could to, to keep them busy and to keep them from crying.
Stephen Mather: So, um, did you have any time for education? Did you, did you get any schooling?
Dr. Tamara MC: So I was in the unique situation that I went back and forth between my mother and my father. And when I was at my mother’s, I w I had education, I had kind of a regular education. And then when my dad’s The kids were supposedly homeschooled, which mean, which meant that they were only schooled when somebody wanted to actually teach a lesson.
But all of the children had religious studies, so they weren’t taught math and science and reading. They were taught like religious texts and, and like, so, so it was a very, very different education. It wasn’t an education to where they could then join school and be like on track with the other kids, their own age.
Celine Mather: So, were you having an equal split of your two different experiences there? So when you’re like being in the more typical educational system and then when you were dealing with all this, were they, was that equally split or was one weighted more than the other?
Dr. Tamara MC: Timewise, there was more weight with my mother because I was with her about seven and a half, eight months of the year.
Cause I was with her during the school year. And I was with my dad during summers and the holidays. So I was with him about four and a half months of the year. But that being said, my dad’s everything that I was taught at my dad’s, I extended into my mother. So I still brought those practices there. So. It, I never had a break and I felt even had to be more disciplined because I was told that my mother was evil because she didn’t follow this, this way of life.
I was told that she was going to hell. And if I became like her, I was going to hell. And so I was just very, very cautious when I was back in Arizona with my mother that I didn’t mess up with any of the rules because I was so afraid of breaking something. And then God knowing, or the leaders knowing.
Celine Mather: that was that was literally going to be my follow up was Yeah, how did that kind of affect you mentally having to split your, your, your life into two very drastically different portions. Exactly. It’s like, you know, when we talk about the dissonance, just even, you know, when you’re fully in, and you’re the dissonance on the day to day I think that’s gonna But I guess, would that be, yeah, putting more pressure on, as
well, for you?
Dr. Tamara MC: I think so, and I think that’s probably why the other children felt a little bit freer, because they were there all year long, and It was just their lifestyle that they could rebel like it didn’t feel like, like they weren’t trying to fit in. They already lived there, but I was always trying to fit in and like, like I didn’t want to be like my mom and I wanted to be like my dad.
And so, so that pressure was so much more there. And I think that that’s why. You know, I did follow rules so much because I just wanted to be long because I just, the lives were so different that, that like when I was shuttling back and forth, back and forth, just as I’d get used to my mom’s at three and a half months, the next morning I fly to my dad’s and my dad would.
You know, the community would say after 30 days you become like the people and which is like the saying that it’s like a terrible thing. Like if I was with outside of the community for 30 days, I would become like these people. And so I was always battling that, but they would always say, but you can make that different, but it’s in your behavior and your actions.
And so you have to behave like you behave here when you’re at your mom’s. Um. This is as I’m going through elementary school, middle school, high school, that I was acting like I was living in this Colton, Texas, while I was just in regular school. And like, none of my siblings had to go to regular school.
Like they didn’t have to, they didn’t have that challenge at all.
Celine Mather: So was that difficult as well then when you were at school, like was, um, was that a difficult experience with like, cause kids. Kids can suck. Was that, like, difficult during the school, like, studies as well?
Dr. Tamara MC: It was really difficult. Nobody knew what was happening.
I kept my life a secret. So on the outside, nobody ever said anything. But I think now, like, in this day, like, now people would kind of see, oh, wait, something’s up with this girl. Like, why is she acting like this? But at that time. Nobody really cared. My teachers never mentioned anything. Nobody ever mentioned anything.
I didn’t care about school, even though I was in school, I actually didn’t hear anything that happened. I was always in my own world and I didn’t think education was important. All I wanted to do was, was like be married and have children. And cause that’s what I was taught and to be a mother and to be a housewife.
And so being in school was completely meaningless to me. And that’s what I was taught. So. So I had like no motivation. I didn’t study. I got decent grades, but only because I would just like memorize things that I needed to for tests or whatever, but not because I was at all engaged. I wasn’t engaged at all.
Stephen Mather: I was going to ask you a question Tamara. Um, and if you don’t want to talk about this, it’s absolutely fine. But, um, how you felt about your being told that your mother was going to go to hell. Um, that’s not a very nice thing for a child to believe about their parent. Um, I was going to ask how you kind of coped with that feeling, how, how that was for you.
Dr. Tamara MC: It was a really scary feeling because. The scariest thing for me was going to hell. So to think that my mother, the person who I loved most on earth was going there and that there was nothing I could do about it. I felt very out of control. Part of why they would tell me that too is to try to continue to convert her and like have her come to the other side because my dad couldn’t do it.
So in that way, I also kind of had this responsibility that I was supposedly like I had the responsibility of bringing her over and saving her from hell. So I had this responsibility of saving her as well, but I didn’t, I really had no idea how to do that. And so, so I was just really stuck in the middle.
I also became rebellious at that point against my mother and. Just pretty angry at her, like why she wasn’t living this devout life that my dad was living, you know, on the commune, we were part of purity culture. Like nobody had intimate relations without marriage. We weren’t allowed to have boyfriends.
We weren’t allowed to be at the opposite sex. And you know, my mom was a single mom and had boyfriends. So I thought, Oh my goodness, my mom’s having a boyfriend. What’s going to happen to her. And so. So it really did tear apart. I mean, it did, it just really like, like my relationship with my mom at that point just was really severed, which I don’t think is really that unfamiliar with kind of at that point, like being 13 and 14 and 15.
I think that’s pretty typical for teenagers. But ours was like in a different way. Like, I wasn’t rebelling because I was trying to do drugs and have boyfriends and stuff. I was rebelling because I wasn’t doing those things and I didn’t want my mom to do those things. Not that she was doing drugs, but what I’m saying, I wanted her to be very religious.
Stephen Mather: Yeah. And when you believe that, um, yeah, you, the weights that is being put on your shoulders, that is far too much for a young person to, to be expected to shoulder, isn’t it? Um, uh, I know I’ve talked about this in my own experience where you have this belief that you’re blood guilty. If you don’t, if you don’t preach and even as a child, um, You get that sort of feeling, and that’s not really fair for Children to have to experience that.
Um, I was also curious about at school tomorrow. Um, so I guess you did talk a little bit about that. But in terms of friends and friends inviting you around for birthday parties or other events and things like that, were you able to do any of that? Or were you just separate from all of that?
Dr. Tamara MC: I separated myself from all of that.
I didn’t allow myself to go to parties. I didn’t, I just completely isolated myself because I, because I, that’s what I was taught. I had to do. I was taught that I couldn’t have friends that I couldn’t go to parties. And if I went to a party, there would be alcohol there and we weren’t allowed to drink alcohol.
And so there was so many things in that, you know, boys and girls. Sleep together and all this stuff. So I really isolated myself. Um, but like a part of me just wanted to do those things. Like I wanted to be normal. I wanted to fit in and I wanted to enjoy, like everybody was having so much fun. It seemed on the outside and I was not having fun at all.
Celine Mather: And like, yeah, you you’re in. a uniquely difficult position there as well in that a lot of people in the groups are told you’re kept very separate you’re told these people aren’t having fun and they’re actually having the worst time and they’re miserable and so unhappy and I guess they keep you from seeing them having a fun time but you’re saying you were seeing people having a fun time so you’re having to build even more yeah I guess Yeah, that just sounds like a really exhausting process for you to go through all the time.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah, we were also taught that, that yeah, on the outside it looks like these people are having fun, but on the inside, like they, you know, they’re not having fun at all. But, but I mean, I would see them, I would hear them, and they were clearly enjoying their school years. I was clearly not. And my mother wanted me to be a typical teenager.
So she would say, honey, why don’t you have friends? Why don’t you go to parties? Why not? So it’s like I had my mom like trying to, you know, have me reach out and be part, you know, be part of regular school. But I just kept holding myself back and restraining and restraining myself.
Stephen Mather: I suppose.
Celine Mather: So I guess this point might be a good moment to ask because as you talked about, kind of, yeah, becoming more devout and holding on to that even despite all of what you’re talking about going on here and, you know, kind of having to be in the world but keeping yourself separate from it and that sort of thing.
And I guess, at what point for you. Did the doubt start properly creeping in and you had to start listening to them?
Dr. Tamara MC: I don’t think, that’s a really hard question for me, as I don’t think that there was Like a day or a time that suddenly doubt came in, um, I was so much part of the community that I still like 30 years later, I still sometimes have those beliefs that I have to catch myself in.
So. I was so invested in this community that it wasn’t as if doubt was creeping in. I, yeah, I don’t see it as that. I just think it was such a slow, slow, slow, like progression of me learning and researching. And, you know, before I began to see things more clearly and honestly, I think like really in the past few years is when I’ve seen like, where I’ve really been able to kind of see my past in a new light.
So that took over 25 years.
Celine Mather: Yeah, it is a process, isn’t it? Um, I’m sure dad can, can
Stephen Mather: talk to that. Well, yeah, although I think, um, I, I’d had sort of doubts for quite some time, but I’d push them down. So I think that’s what I was trying to do. And then, so in that respect, it was easier thinking that I just.
Allowed myself to ask those questions for the first time. And that’s for me, I can, I can think back to that time, but obviously for your experience tomorrow, that’s different. You’re what, what can I ask you? What prompted you then to do the research or to do the study, or was that just something that happened or did you purposely want to understand more?
So what, what was the. catalyst for that.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah. So we didn’t touch on kind of a big part of my story, but when I was 12 years old, right after seventh grade, I went to go live with, with my father and the leader had asked that I go live with him on his, it on the hill with him and his wives. And that’s when I began living with him.
But within a week, the adopted son of the leader began sneaking into my room, began sexually assaulting me. And he was several years older than me. And then after he realized that he was Behaving unreligious, like he wasn’t behaving religiously. He then. said that he needed to marry me. And so when I was 12 years old, I ended up marrying this person.
And it was a religious spiritual marriage that he conducted just with the two of us alone in the middle of the night, probably at midnight. And it was a secret marriage because in this particular marriage, there are no witnesses there, like no witnesses had to be there. Um, I didn’t tell my father. I obviously never told my mother.
And this was a secret marriage I had for the whole summer. I went back to my mother. I started eighth grade. I didn’t tell her what happened. And so that’s also where I think I became more and more devout because now I was considered a married woman. So I even had additional like ways that I had to behave.
And, um, and so I stayed married to this person until I was 20 years old. And, um, Again, it was like, it was He ended up leaving the country. So we like had, we, we, we wrote letters for many years and then he’d come back and visit. So we had a marriage that probably nobody could understand and not really a marriage that, that, you know, a traditional marriage that anybody could kind of say, Oh, this was a marriage, but it was considered a religious marriage.
And in the eyes of God, if we had a baby, it would not be considered illegitimate, and that was the main purpose of this marriage was, was to protect the child should it be born. Because a child born out of wedlock had all sorts of issues. So, so that was the main purpose of the wedding. So I was married to him until I was 20.
And at that, I graduated from high school when I was only 16 years old. I went to go live with the community full time when I was 16. And I then went to go live in England with the leader. And his wives, cause they had then moved. So I was living in England and caring for, he had even more children at this point, so I had two new babies that I was caring for and I was there for a couple of years during this time, my husband.
Was partially in America, and then he, we were letter writing when he was in America, and I was in London, and he stopped writing me very often, and so I got concerned because he was usually the main letter writer, and I was trying to ask him, like, what’s happening, is everything okay? He wouldn’t answer me.
He ended up moving to England full time, and it was then that he told me that he had taken on a new wife. So now I was in a polygamist marriage. So, uh, 20 years old, I was now, yeah, so I’d been in this marriage for 8 years, and now I was suddenly in polygamy. And our community was polygamist, and it was something I knew I never wanted to be part of.
And that was really, it wasn’t doubt in the religion. But it was doubt in my experience of how I wanted to live my life. And that was the first time that it just hit so hard because I knew that I could not live in a polygamous marriage. I lived with the leaders, three wives, and they were constantly battling each other and buying for his attention and the competition.
And I just knew that I could not live like that for, you know, for, for my life. So when I was. 20. I decided I, I begged him for a year to please leave her and he wouldn’t. And he said that he loved us both and that we were going to be best friends and that everything was going to be fine. And I just spent a year just heartbroken.
And then just knowing that I had to leave and I had, I just had to leave. So I booked a flight and I flew back to America. And it was just this severance, like it just happened like that, like, and that was, that was when I left. I left the cult. I left the leader. I left my marriage. I had intended to come back to England to work for the leader still, because I still didn’t see like, I didn’t know that I was like being human trafficked, and I didn’t know that I was free labor.
I didn’t know I was a modern day slave. I didn’t understand any of that at the time. But I came back to America, and within a semester, I enrolled in university, which was something I never planned to do. And that was how I began studying and researching. And my first semester, I was like in a history or political science class.
And out of nowhere, I decided to write a term paper on cults. I, and because my biggest question was, did I grow up in a cult? And my whole life, my mom used to say, your dad’s part of a cult. And I would be like, no, he’s not. No, he’s not. And I would think she was so, you know, how dare she say that. And you know, the whole community would say, everybody thinks we’re a cult, but we’re not a cult and they don’t know anything and dah, dah, dah.
And so I guess that that was my first question and I had never studied anything about a cult before. I just heard the word and I studied about a cult and this was in like 1991 or 1992. And so obviously the research wasn’t nearly as much as there is now, because that was such a long time ago. But according to everything, when, you know, I would list what a cult was, and our community fit within every single parameter, there wasn’t one single thing that was missing.
That at the end, I was like, yes, I grew up in a cult. Yes. Wow. And that was very
Stephen Mather: difficult. Yeah. So that, that must’ve been really hard. Um, how did you reconcile all that in your, in your mind as you realize you have this realization that yes, all of that time was spent in the cult. How did you make sense of that?
Dr. Tamara MC: It’s hard to say that I made sense of it because it’s so hard to think of like what you believed in so much that all that’s now being put into question, like, and so. I, like, took that in, but I just kind of kept it within myself, and then I just kept studying so many other things that weren’t necessarily about cults, but that was always there in the back.
Like, it was always there, like, weighing very heavy, um, and so, yeah, I, I, I guess kind of the way I dealt with it was not dealing with it, like, just kind of trying to go on with my life and being like, okay, I figured that out, but that’s just too heavy that I just need to, like, move forward.
Stephen Mather: Were you able to do that successfully then at least to start with?
Were you able to just to say, right, I’m going to park that and now I’m going to get on with the rest of my life because that’s, I think that’s what I tried to do. Um, so did you do that successfully? And if so, for how long? Uh, so tell us about that.
Dr. Tamara MC: So in university, my junior year, I met somebody, we ended up marrying and had two children and I was married for 18 years.
I’ve now been divorced for about 12 years. So for 18 years, I was I was a wife. I was a mother. I was so invested in my children’s lives and their school and giving them the most normal life I possibly could. So I didn’t really touch my past. I just created a whole new life for myself. I didn’t really talk about my past.
It was just there. And, um, yeah, I, it wasn’t, I think that was the way it was just. being completely consumed with my children’s lives. And I was also going to school at that time. I went on for a master’s. I also went on for a PhD. So I was also very much in my education. And so while I was in my education, I was, I was a social scientist.
So I was still studying all of this, but just within myself. And then like on my research papers, like, you know, all my professors would, would, you know, they’d have access to kind of what I was experiencing, but in my social life, nobody could really know what I was going through. And then when I got divorced.
For many years, I was just my, my, my boys were both teenagers when I went, got divorced. So I got them through high school, then I got them past high school. And it wasn’t until eight years after my divorce, you know, until really like three or so years ago that for the first time I became an empty nester.
My boys are doing very well. Everybody in my life is doing well that this is the first time I’ve actually been able to go back and really look at my life before I was 20 years old. And really dissect it. So, so that’s, so that’s how long it took me.
Stephen Mather: And how did you find that? I mean, that’s a big question, but, um, what, what was that like, um, looking back on that time and, uh, dissecting it, as you say,
Dr. Tamara MC: It’s shocking, like, to actually, and now there’s so much out, there’s so many resources for, for cult survivors, there’s, you know, I didn’t even, it’s like I knew I was married at 12, but I didn’t have like, oh, I was a child bride, I didn’t even have that terminology because I was taught that you’re supposed to get married young, like all of this stuff.
So now there’s so much research out about child marriage, there’s so much research out about human trafficking. I, I never, I, you know, I heard human trafficking. I thought it was so different than, than actually when you look at the definition, it’s exactly what happened to me. Like I, I was brought to the leader’s house.
I was working for him without pay, like all of this, I was an indentured servant. So all of this, I didn’t have the vocabulary for. So reading that it’s extremely painful. Like I don’t want those terms associated with me. But they are sadly, or they were definitely part of my past. Um, So it is, it’s very difficult and I’m still struggling with it and I think now I’m struggling with it more than I did in my earlier years because I had so many distractions, but now I don’t have that distraction.
It’s just me.
Stephen Mather: Yeah, I’m trying to identify with that and I feel like I really can, but obviously my experience completely different, very different sorts of experience, very different group. But that, um, revisiting it many years later, um, completely identify with that. I mean, it is only really a couple of years ago.
I’m 55 now. So, you know, I’ve been left 25 years and, um, it’s only really in the last few years that I’ve started to grapple with it. And it’s, um. It opens up a lot of things that you don’t necessarily expect, I think. And, um, yeah, I can definitely identify with that, but yeah, one thing, an observation I was going to make tomorrow is, um, it is, is your ability to pick up your education later in life, which, um, you know, that, I think that’s really inspirational you, you, you, you completed your bachelors, your masters, your PhD, um, All with, I think, a pretty bad start, you know, with the education you had as a, as a youngster.
So, um, how do you feel about that? You know, do you feel proud, pride in that accomplishment?
Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah. So I think for me, education was never like, this is what I like. I want a degree at the, I didn’t begin like that. It began with I had a curiosity about what happened to me in my life, and I thought education and research and libraries were going to be the way that we’re going to help me like, like be able to delve into this aspect of my life.
And they absolutely were like, that was the very beginning of everything. So it began with curiosity and I didn’t expect to get a bachelor’s degree, but I just loved all of my courses in history and political science and just going back as far as I could into history and looking at dates and like looking at all these things that I had been taught and then being able to look at it through my own eyes and be like, well, is this right?
What I was taught historically, is this what really happened? And. Then I just was taking like 24 units a semester, which is a whole lot or 33 credits a semester. So like, like crazily. So I ended up graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I think in three years, which would normally take four years. So I was.
Going so fast into that, but it was just like I wanted to know more like it here. Oh, this class. Oh, they’re teaching this class. I gotta get into that class. So I had a so I so I ended up getting a bachelor’s degree. And then after my bachelor’s, I was like, well, I still want to learn more. What can I do? Oh, there’s this master’s degree.
Okay. And then I finally thought, okay, after the master’s degree, I really want to become an expert in this. And so I applied for a PhD got in. And then spent another seven, eight years after my master’s just working on my PhD. So I think I had maybe 24 years of education, which is, that’s a lot. And I still, I’m always educating myself.
I’m always in courses now. Like it’s nonstop. Like, like, I think that’s the way that I have saved myself is, is by learning. I feel that I have control over my life.
Celine Mather: So obviously you’ve said like delving into this stuff again is obviously difficult but also have you found it’s been, you know, you have found it to be beneficial and it’s worth doing even though it’s difficult.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yes, yes and and now I think I’m, I’m kind of on the other side where I feel that now I can. I’m not just a survivor, but now I’m an advocate and an activist and I can help other people. And so now I’m just, I, I’ve studied so much and, and I feel really confident in what I know, not to say that I’m not learning every day, but I feel that now I’m much more in a leadership role.
So, so I’m really happy that at this point, like my first half of my life, I was like, Being the student and, and I was being, you know, I was getting through all of these things that happened to me, but I really hope in the second half of my life that I can be much more in the teacher role and the leader role and, and the activist role.
Stephen Mather: Um, I was going to ask about your. From an academic perspective, your view on the current sort of state of play, if you like, when it comes to cults, um, research and what we understand about cults and that the field itself, um, have you got any thoughts about where we’re up to and what we, what we still need to know, what we still need to learn?
Dr. Tamara MC: Let me think about that for a minute. So, so you’re saying like, like maybe what you think research hasn’t covered yet. Yeah.
Stephen Mather: I mean, with this, obviously when you were doing your original research, um, I suppose I can think of, of a couple of books, like there’s probably Margaret Singer’s book around and Lifton’s and so on.
Um, but now obviously we. We have more work from, from various authors and researchers, you know, Janja Lalic and, um, Alexandra Stein and Steven Hassan and, um, lots of others. Um, but it feels to me like there’s still so much we don’t know as in all social sciences, really. But, um, I, I, I think it’s quite an exciting, um, field because there is still so much to learn.
And I just wondered what your take was on that, you know, where, where you think we need to put our. Our research dollars into over the, over the coming decade, really.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah. So for me, I think a lot of the research that has been done has been from cult survivors who were adults who joined cults and. That is such a different experience from my experience, like being born into and being brought up in a cult is completely different.
And so when they are kind of butted up against each other, it feels very problematic to me because both people came into cults in a very, very different way. And so for me, I think what’s really important is really children brought up or born into cults. I think their stories are really. For me, the most important stories because they really had no agency.
They had no, I could, you know, I couldn’t say, yes, this is something I choose for my life. Whereas somebody in their twenties who joins a cult was able to make that initial decision and. So the abuses that happen to somebody born into or raised in a cult, um, far exceed, in my opinion, somebody who joins later because there are children involved.
And so for me, that’s a space that I’m really interested in, and I’m really interested in speaking in survivors and those areas, like in that area.
Stephen Mather: That’s really interesting. I think that is the, um, that is the area of growth, I think. I mean, yes, I suppose, um, during the 1970s, eighties, nineties, it was, it was all these groups that were recruiting young people.
It was, I guess, the period of rebellion and all of that. So you had these, these groups, um, sort of new age type groups or hippie groups, if you like. And, um, um, and so a lot of that was recruitment, but. But clearly those that hang around, um, and also those that from the previous century, like, like Jehovah’s Witnesses and so on, um, that they’re now, you know, generations, I’m third generation born in.
Um, so, so yeah, there’s, there’s more and more of, of us who have experienced that. Um, but yes, you’re absolutely right. Reading a lot of the literature, it doesn’t really. Describe that or talk about as much as it needs to in terms of the psychological processes that go into being raised mean that we used to, um, that the Bible passages to inculcate your Children, you know, and that was, that was what we were.
We were inculcated, which is a word that I think is so telling really.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yeah, I mean, being born into a race and we didn’t have an identity before. So. There’s somebody who came into the cult later has an identity to return to, but we often don’t have that identity. So we have to completely create it later in life, which is the exact opposite way of like, uh, like how it’s supposed to happen.
And for me in. So like my dad’s generation, the 1960s, you know, that wasn’t multi generational, but there were a lot of cults that began then. So my dad’s generation was kind of part of this movement where a lot of young people were joining, you know, in their early twenties. And then they had children in these communities.
And so now these children are grown and now there’s this certain distance that I feel that now, like my age, I just turned 50 this year. But I have seen that a lot of people are now coming out with their stories at 50 years old. You know, when they’re in their mid 40s. And so now I think there’s this whole new burgeoning group of people that are finally ready to tell their stories.
And so I think that’s incredibly interesting. These are stories that have never been told and nobody’s ever heard. So I think that that that’s really the most interesting research for me.
Stephen Mather: Totally agree. Okay. So, um, yeah. And you’ve obviously been able to tell your story today on our show. We’re so very, very grateful for that tomorrow.
This is absolutely fascinating. Um, thank you very much for joining us today on call hackers.
Dr. Tamara MC: Yes. Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed my time with you. And please feel free to reach out. Um, Tamara MC PhD on social media. I’m on Twitter. My messages are open. So feel free to, to contact me as well.
If you have a question or you want to chat. So, so I am open for that.
Stephen Mather: Great. I’m sure people will want to do that. Thank you again.
Dr. Tamara MC: Okay. Take care. Bye
Stephen Mather: bye.
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