This image is an exploration of the psychological trauma inflicted on young people, especially women, born into cults as their personhood is diminished via a coercive demand for purity. The red hood and robe that conceal the figure's identity act as the projection of a perceived sinful nature. Furthering the religious visual language, the alabaster skin acts as a symbol of purity.
Within a cult, children are often raised to cut off from their intuition, feelings and senses in order to be better indoctrinated. Because many of these cults also don't let their children assimilate into the larger world there is no counterpoint to the culture of the group. This image explores the perceived danger of navigating the temptations of the world when you're cut off from your own sense of self.
While some young people leave cultic groups of their own accord, many are shunned because they were not able to break their own spirits enough to fit the confines of the group. Rejected, they are plagued with fears that they will be subjected to bodily harm or death now that they are no longer protected by the group. Many carry a lack of self worth because they were unable to fit the group's mold.
This image explores the loss that young people face when leaving behind their homes, families and communities when they leave cults. Oftentimes they are cut off forever from the only society they have ever known.
Many high control, cultic groups use patterns of circular logic to entrap their members. This is particularly problematic when raising children who are subjected to these same patterns. This image is about the struggle to practice critical thinking when you're surrounded by false information and everything is designed to bring you back to the group's conclusion.
This photograph deals with an overarching theme from my religious childhood and the ways in which women were raised and treated. We were valued for our purity of mind, our virginity of body and our malleability.
To fall from grace and lose your virginity before “The Blessing” marriage ceremony, literally "to Fall" in our culture, was to lose your value and be consigned to the deepest hell. You were considered worse than a murderer in our religion.
In that sense, many of us had blood on our hands. Each crush, each flirtatious look was a stab inward at ourselves.
This photograph addresses that strange bind that the faith of my childhood put women in. By emotionally gagging and binding them, they were marginalized, objectified, and deeply injured. More specifically it memorializes the final breaking moment for me in my damaged life of faith.
When leaving a cult, many young people who were born and raised within the group are dealing with complex, long term traumas. These are heavy burdens to bear as they navigate an outside world that is alien to them. Often they have no survival skills as they try to integrate into this world. This image acknowledges that burden.
A feminist reading of the Arachne mythology brings up the theme of women who are punished when defying the patriarchal, religious constructs of the world around them. This image explores a similar punishment inflicted on the young people, especially the women, who fought for self identification or deviated from the group's dictates.
When young people leave the groups that they were born and raised in, there is no pre-cult identity to return to. Often they are faced with judgement when their background is known. This image is about the fear of our past being exposed as we try to assimilate into the outside world.
When I was growing up in the cult, my sister and I would try to talk to our mother about what we saw as dysfunction in our family. We were always looking for ways for our family to heal and feel stable. Our mom’s response was to ask “how far back would I have to go to make things right?” Some of her most destructive crossroads, joining a cult and later assenting to an arranged marriage to a stranger, were also her most cherished choices. They were things she would never have wanted to change.
As I’ve studied about the conversion experience that many Moonies underwent, Ive learned how their original personalities were systematically cracked through persuasive brainwashing techniques. Those original personalities were then replaced by carefully crafted cult substitutes. So to ask my mom to have foreswear her conversion experience would have been a denial of the only self she was allowed post conversion.
Now as an adult I retract my own steps, and try to examine hers as well to find healing for choices that cannot be undone and to find strength to make new ones that are in line with my healing self.
Some cults will try to pull defecting members back in with rituals such as forgiveness ceremonies, where ex-members must spiritually prostrate themselves in order to regain access into the group. Because it can be so hard to survive in the outside world, these rituals are seductive to young people who wish to return to the safety of the fold. But they are a double edged sword in that this "forgiveness" comes at a high price.
Although it can take years, or decades, to heal from the trauma of being born into a cult, eventually assimilation and the creation of a healthy life and identity can occur. But this requires a sometimes painful process of shedding layers of identity that were imposed upon us.