What “Cult” Are You a Part of? 6 Women on the Secret Tribes That Pulled Them In

We’re all a little brainwashed sometimes

Collage of "cultish" activities including yoga, Montessori and a sorority rush group.
Paula Poudes

We know—“cult” is a loaded word that conjures every Netflix documentary involving sadistic leaders, unhinged followers and major downfalls. But not every cult is worthy of streaming. As Merriam-Webster defines it, a cult can be as simple as “a great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or [work.]” And if we’re being honest with ourselves, most of us aren’t immune to holding certain things up on a pedestal—whether it’s to wield a little more power, gain access to new environments or simply to feel a sense of belonging. It’s human nature to want to be part of something—even if that something is access to wholesale groceries. We talked to six women about their secret cults, why they “joined” and what they got out of it. From Costco to Montessori, here are the tales of everyday cults creeping among us.

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1. The Cult of Costco

The Background: A 33-year-old mother of two in Charlotte, N.C. who can’t get enough of a good deal.

Status: Active member

The Cult: “The public-facing conception of Costco is that it’s a massive discount warehouse for soccer moms who are too frugal to buy grocery store bananas and Lululemon leggings—they’re going to buy Kirklands bananas and Kirklands leggings and use their savings to trick out their minivans. This is not wrong!! But I would also argue that it’s actually for people who simply get off on thinking they just got a serious deal. Because, trust me, you’re never going to leave Costco without spending at least $300 to $400 a trip, so I wouldn’t call it a budget store. So actually Costo is for rich people???”

Initiation: “I kept hearing about it through friends and family and internet memes. My evolution from city bitch to suburban mom opened the door mentally and emotionally, and then when someone let me hold a Kirklands diaper to prove how they’re basically the same as Huggies, I let myself step through that door and was inducted within a week.”

Why She Stays: “I came for the diapers and stayed for the absolute thrill of not knowing what insane deal or shocking product I was going to find next. They have Poppi prebiotic sodas—are you kidding me?! There’s something new every time you go, and I just can’t resist that. It’s got that same sort of appeal as a HomeGoods, only you can also do your grocery shopping. You’re never going to leave with nothing and that’s beautiful.”

Future Plans: “The more kids I have the more diapers I need!!”

2. The Cult of Yoga

The Background: A 50-year-old sales exec looking back on her time in the L.A. yoga scene in her early 30s.

Status: Former member

The Cult: “I think 15 years ago in L.A., yoga was just absolutely exploding, and everyone was doing it. I think the stereotype of very fit, healthy Angelenos walking around with their yoga mat on the way to class is spot on. Behind the scenes, people became very obsessed with certain teachers. While I never was into Bikram yoga, I had friends who worshiped him. Personally, I had two teachers I went to religiously. In fact, one of the two teachers I went to was a guy, and he had a FOLLOWING of women who absolutely competed for his attention. He would come by to ‘adjust’ you and put his hands on your body, and I don't think any of that would fly in 2023. My other go-to teacher was a woman, and she also had a little male following. Kind of a cult within a cult.”

Initiation: “Went to yoga, got sucked in ASAP. Did not take long at all. I do love group fitness classes (former instructor), so I really loved the community aspect. It was fairly common to see the same people every class, and definitely became part of my daily routine, a little community. I went with the same friend every day.”

Why She Left: “After I had my first child, I could not carve out 2.5 hours a day to get to the studio, park, take a class and get home. It was too time consuming. Also my body changed, and so I needed to do other types of exercise besides yoga.”

3. The Cult of Montessori

The Background: A 40-year-old mother of two in Minneapolis, M.N. who sends her oldest to a Montessori-based school.

Status: Active member

The Cult: “Montessori Education is a method of teaching children. Folks might picture Scandi-inspired shelving units with age-appropriate activities, cute little kids in hand-knit sweaters farming kale, or tiny metal cups being polished by tiny little hands. This is all happening. It's so adorable it hurts. Behind the scenes, it's even cuter than you could imagine. We've created a new language for our f*cking perfect world. Learning is ‘work’. Teachers are ‘guides’. Sitting in a circle is ‘a collective’.  Older children are ‘leaders’. That weird kid picking his nose in the corner is ‘observing’. We all agree to take ‘nacho work’ seriously, because learning to make nachos is a life skill every 3 year old needs to learn. Just like they need to learn how to polish silver, write in cursive, and hand-sew buttons. Counting, letters, maths, this all falls into place once the nacho work is complete.”

Initiation: “It probably happened because I’m a white woman with children and a little money.”

Why She Stays: “I just assume everyone knows that I'm the best mother in Minnesota.”

Future Plans: “Honestly, I'm into it. I'll send my younger child to this school. If they would let me polish the silver, I would. I think it's wild we make kids sit still and NOT polish tiny metal cups. Childhood should be whimsical and free and sorta bullsh*t. MARIA MONTESSORI KNOWS WHAT'S UP!”

4. The Cult of Dance

The Background: A 34-year-old attorney and mom in the Chicago suburbs who leaves the world behind to break it down with a hot instructor.

Status: Active member

The Cult: “Publicly, my cult is just a fun cardio funk Zumba-style workout dance class led by a woman who loves to dance. Behind the scenes, we worship the instructor. Her movement, looks and style absolutely defy her age (not sure how old she actually is, but she doesn't look a day over 35 and has the ass of a 20 year old); and we will all do anything to secure a future that looks like hers. The class has become so popular that there is essentially a one-in-one-out policy for space in the class each session. We come together to dance out our emotions of the week and get in touch with our inner sass, all while fighting for a front row spot (it gets very territorial, everyone wants to be close to her!). Leave the kids and husbands at home!  They'll never understand. Class is truly the highlight of my week. It is so freeing to dance like no one is watching.”

Initiation: “My dear friend pushed me to join the class when I moved from the city to the suburbs. I needed to start moving my body after having a kid. She was obsessed with the class and had several friends already in it.”

Why She Stays: “I hadn't had this much fun or felt this way about myself since I had danced on poms in high school. Learning/memorizing the dances on the fly with no instructor explanation became a badge of honor, the music was happy and poppy, and everyone in the class was having the best night of their lives. To top it off, REDACTED TEACHER NAME was impossible to stop watching! After my first class I gushed to my friends about how gorgeous and cool she was. I think she has to have a secret fountain of youth in her backyard. I want to be her.  Plus, missing bedtime once a week is a plus.”

Future Plans: “I don't think I could ever distance myself from this cult. It brings me way too much joy. You can bury me in the dance studio. The energy in class is like medicine.  It is like coming to church to pray.  Everything gets left at the door.”

5. The Cult of Sorority

The Background: A 26-year-old 2020 Pi Beta Phi, Indiana University alum.

Status: Technically still a member

The Cult: “At a Big 10 school, Greek life was synonymous with your social life, and being accepted into a top house on campus was like making it to the Olympics. It felt like you were accomplishing something important while validating that you're enough to hang with the cool kids. Who needs a bachelor's degree when you're accepted to a sorority that can get into any frat on campus? My particular sorority had a reputation for being fun, smart, respectful and social—all without the 'slut' undertone of other sororities on campus. As a PNM (potential new member), I had to go through four rounds of rush, receive a bid to become a member, and wait two months to be officially initiated. Then, once I was in, I paid thousands in dues and live-in fees each year. I also had to attend weekly chapter meetings, volunteer at Panhellenic events, volunteer to be “sober designated driver” for older members and volunteer to rush PNMs ('volunteer' meaning 'not optional').”

Initiation: “When I got to college, it was a desire for 'belonging' that defined my first few months. Not only was it difficult to make friends in large lecture halls with little student interaction, but I was also yearning for a sense of identity. Joining a sorority promised just that, where it was touted as a place for connection—and it even came with a convenient Greek symbol to represent who I was. Plus, the frats wouldn't allow entry unless you were in a sorority (and even then, you had to be in a top house to get into the top frats), and the bars were really strict with fake IDs. With nowhere to party—­at a school that was known for partying—sororities were the answer to making new friends and socializing where you please. At the time, this was of the utmost importance to my adolescent brain. ”

Why She Left: “I joined a sorority with social status in mind, but by junior year, I needed something deeper, especially as I discovered a passion for fiction and creative writing. I wished for a group of friends pursuing a similar career path. But by the time I came to this realization, it was almost too late. The cinephiles had already found their crew, and I often felt like the outsiders in my classes. I had somehow taken on the persona of silly sorority girl who's never read Tolstoy (untrue), and it felt impossible to break out of that box. Looking back, I realized that what first drew me to the sorority is what ultimately pushed me away.”

Future Plans: “I keep in touch with four of my sisters (ironically, I became closer with them after we graduated/left the sorority). I have nothing but positive things to say about the rest of my sisters, they were really nice girls and I enjoyed living with them in the house. As for the sorority itself, I don’t have much to do with Pi Phi anymore … I never officially disaffiliated so I am (technically) still a member. That said, I wouldn’t be caught dead walking down 5th Ave in my Pi Beta Phi sweatshirt.”

6. The Cult of Colonics

The Background: 50-year-old energy healer from the Midwest.

Status: Active member

The Cult: An annual pilgrimage to a detoxification retreat where juice fasting, daily colonics and quiet reflection is adhered to by Lululemon-clad women from a long weekend to over a month at a time.

Initiation: “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and came here 30 years ago. I’ve mostly kept coming ever since.”

Why She Stays: “I fell down on my self-care since the pandemic, so I’m back for a refresher. I do work that has me in close proximity with people’s strong emotions and needs. I really have to take care of myself so the emphasis on clean living that this retreat has really re-sets me to have vitality for my life.”

Future Plans: “I’ll keep coming as long as I am able. It’s not easy and not inexpensive, but really what’s more important than a healthy mind and body?”

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Executive Editor, Frazzled Mom, Bravo-Holic

Dara Katz is PureWow's Executive Editor, focusing on relationships, sex, horoscopes, travel and pets. Dara joined PureWow in 2016 and now dresses so much better. A lifestyle...