I love cults.
Okay, well, I love learning about them. I get obsessed with reading, investigating, and watching footage of the Jonestown saga in the same way most Mormon mommies watch The Bachelor or pick out scrapbooking sheets. I can’t help it and I think a lot of people feel the same way; there’s just some kind of draw to watching the questionable, ludicrous and dark things people do and believe, as well as how cult leaders engage and persecute their sheep.
I won’t go into cult psychology or what I find most fascinating–that would be a whole separate post, but I did want to share a jaunt that Allyn and I made to a cult location earlier this year. When I say earlier this year, I am ashamed to admit I mean January. I have been meaning to blog about this f o r e v e r but it’s August and here we are. Forgive me and know that there will be an even better Utah-cult related post coming up, but the upcoming one will feature an active cult!
We went to Moab for Allyn’s birthday and a hobby of ours, exploring abandoned places, intersected with the location of the Home of Truth. I’ve mentioned it on the blog before, but I’ll give a proper recap in case anyone’s interested. You can also read more in-depth info here and here.
And yes–Moab is beautiful any time of year and we had a WONDERFUL time!
Aaaaanyway, the cult.
Remember the name, it’s important! Marie had zero to do with Utah until she moved there as an adult. She was a rich widow who turned to the occult after her husband died. She traveled around talking about how the world was doomed until she got–via divine intervention I suppose–the idea to make a commune that would survive the last great calamities of the world. Marie and her few followers bought a barren, harsh piece of land in San Juan County and settled there.
Creepily, the setup was comprised of concentric circle areas called “portals”, and buildings were built on these imaginary boundaries. There was an Inner Portal, Middle Portal, and Outer Portal. Like any reputable cult leader Marie required all potential followers to hand over their worldly possessions and anything of monetary value and accept her doctrine. There was no water, no electricity, and no dependence on the outside world, which Marie believed (a bit ahead of her time really) would be destroyed by nuclear war.
Wouldn’t you hand over your checkbook right away?
Impressively, the cult grew from the original handful to around 100 members at its ‘peak’ years of 34-35. They did normal cult stuff like farming, starving, not having cars (except Marie) not ever entering civilization (except Marie, who went shopping almost daily in nearby Monticello), not eating meat, not drinking or using tobacco, and preparing for that apocalypse.
Whoops, Dead Body
While the cult was doing its thing, the Mormon settlers of the area mostly ignored what was happening. I read in a lot of places that Mormons are “tolerant” of cults, but I think it’s far more likely that the Mormon plane of thought is “finally, someone who looks weirder than us!” It’s like the relief of being picked second-to-last in dodgeball. Either way, no1curr about Marie and her weird shenanigans, so Marie got bold and decided she’d take her “God speaks to me through a typewriter” stuff to the local news, because she wanted to convert more people.
Mormons ignored this for the most part as well. She bought the entire newspaper and though I don’t have any articles, I’m sure you could guess the topics–fire, brimstone, God’s anger, death, salvation, come over here and eat no meat with us et cetera. It was shrugged off and no one paid attention until one of the cult members, a miss Edith Peshak, who had only joined in hopes of curing her cancer–passed away and Marie wrote brazenly about keeping the body preserved and feeding it, preparing it for “restoration.” She couldn’t stop her from dying, but by God she was going to bring her back to life!!! Exciting. Apparently the corpse was fed milk and eggs daily–how, I’m not sure, but it was also rubbed with salt and Marie oversaw the process by which her minions desecrated the corpse. I mean, “prepared’ it.
So we trespassed to get to this place, but other than a few startled/confused cows and what I presume was the rancher driving by (I am 99% sure he knew we were there and didn’t mind) it was a quiet, spooky January day. I remember thinking at the time how weird it was that I was hiking through the desert while pregnant, because I didn’t feel pregnant–OH HOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED–and how eerie the entire place seemed. It was so quiet. Nothing like a desert Ghost Town to be absolutely motionless and suspended in time.
The buildings were in a really sorry state, as was the land: there’s an unfinished cobblestone chapel, remnants of a windmill and water cisterns, and a vague circular layout. We didn’t find any treasures MINUS THE ONE other than a couch, some female shoes (WERE THEY MARIE’S?!?!?! I MUST KNOW) and a few other pieces of trash. For some reason, a few of the houses are literally filled with manure–who buys a tract of land with a cult headquarters on it and then shovels the relics full of shit? Ranchers, I guess. Supposedly there’s a cemetery out there but we didn’t find it. We did find something cooler. Read on!
Okay, so ALL credit for this creepy find goes to Allyn. I’d filled him in on the history of the ranch before going, as you do. He was shining his light up in a once-attic—this one, to be particular…and he noticed a familiar name….
The crate reads:
TO: MRS LETITIA C. WHITLEY
C/O MRS MARIE M OGDEN
VIA THOMPSONS R.R. STOP
Isn’t that CRAZY?!?!?! I tried googling the name Letitia Whitley with no result. But we all know she was a cult member, hence the ‘c/o’. Actually SEEING that someone had sent belongings or who knows what, to someone in this strange Depression-era faction of nuclear fearmongers, made the whole thing more real and exciting for us.
I’m assuming I could get some records from Letitia if I were to go to the Family History museum, but I haven’t been. Something to look into though. How cool is that?