Vintage Metric – Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation

While some would say Isaac Bonewit was a cult member, his chart endeavors to rate whether a cult or minority religion is dangerous or not.

By Anony Maker

For further consideration, I offer Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame, one of several scales that provide a way to rate and compare high control groups or cults.

Like a number of similar lists, it’s generally useful, though its specific merits and possible flaws are open to debate.

Most organizations in society will rate at least a couple of points – but it’s the ones that rate higher, that start to become dangerous, and the ones highest on the scale that typically are engaged in significant abuses bordering on criminality, though many abusive groups become quite adept at bending and skirting the law, or even influencing and co-opting the legal and judicial systems to get away with things that seem as if they should be illegal.

Ratings also vary based on context, and the different levels of an organizations with which members become involved. In the case of NXIVM, something like the now-defunct Vancouver center would likely get a lower rating than the NXIVM community around Albany, and that in turn would be eclipsed by very high rating numbers for Raniere’s inner circle, SOP and DOS.

This version is taken from the website:

The Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (Version 2.7)

Item Factors (rated on a scale of 1 to 10):

1 Internal Control: Amount of internal political and social power exercised by leader(s) over members; lack of clearly defined organizational rights for members. _________________________

2 External Control: Amount of external political and social influence desired or obtained; emphasis on directing members’ external political and social behavior. _________________________

3 Wisdom/Knowledge Claimed by leader(s); amount of infallibility declared or implied about decisions or doctrinal/scriptural interpretations; number and degree of unverified and/or unverifiable credentials claimed. _________________________

4 Wisdom/Knowledge Credited to leader(s) by members; amount of trust in decisions or doctrinal/scriptural interpretations made by leader(s); amount of hostility by members towards internal or external critics and/or towards verification efforts. _______________________

5 Dogma: Rigidity of Reality concepts taught; amount of doctrinal inflexibility or “fundamentalism;” hostility towards relativism and situationalism. _________________________

6 Recruiting: Emphasis put on attracting new members; amount of proselytizing; requirement for all members to bring in new ones. _________________________

7 Front Groups: Number of subsidiary groups using different names from that of main group, especially when connections are hidden. _________________________

8 Wealth: Amount of money and/or property desired or obtained by group; emphasis on members’ donations; economic lifestyle of leader(s) compared to ordinary members. _________________________

9 Sexual Manipulation of members by leader(s) of non-tantric groups; amount of control exercised over sexuality of members in terms of sexual orientation, behavior, and/or choice of partners. _________________________

10 Sexual Favoritism: Advancement or preferential treatment dependent upon sexual activity with the leader(s) of non-tantric groups. _________________________

11 Censorship: Amount of control over members’ access to outside opinions on group, its doctrines or leader(s). _________________________

12 Isolation: Amount of effort to keep members from communicating with non-members, including family, friends and lovers. _________________________

13 Dropout Control: Intensity of efforts directed at preventing or returning dropouts. _________________________

14 Violence: Amount of approval when used by or for the group, its doctrines or leader(s). _________________________

15 Paranoia: Amount of fear concerning real or imagined enemies; exaggeration of perceived power of opponents; prevalence of conspiracy theories. _________________________

16 Grimness: Amount of disapproval concerning jokes about the group, its doctrines or its leader(s). _________________________

17 Surrender of Will: Amount of emphasis on members not having to be responsible for personal decisions; degree of individual disempowerment created by the group, its doctrines or its leader(s). _________________________

18 Hypocrisy: amount of approval for actions which the group officially considers immoral or unethical, when done by or for the group, its doctrines or leader(s); willingness to violate the group’s declared principles for political, psychological, social, economic, military, or other gain. _________________________


On the last item in particular, I’d offer some additional nuances: similar to what is stated, what I would refer to as “ends-justifies-the-means” thinking and situational ethics (even if the dogma is non-situational) used as rationalizations to violate everything from the group’s nominal philosophy and policies, to society’s norms and laws, and the extent to which the leadership carries on, particularly with regards to materialism and sexuality, in ways that are in contradiction to what they try to impose on their followers.

I would probably also modify or add to the points to take into consideration the extent to which the group or organization may both hold up its membership as an elect or superior elite; and yet objectify individual members as dispensable, as well as outsiders and the broader society as “others” in an us-against-them mentality.




Isaac Bonewits, who created his chart in 1979, said this about his “Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame” “or the “ABCDEF” (because evaluating these groups should be elementary). …  I realize its shortcomings, but feel that it can be effectively used to separate harmless groups from the potentially dangerous ones and distinguish harmful ones from those that are merely unusual to the observer….

“The purpose of this evaluation tool is to help both amateur and professional observers, including current or would-be members, of various organizations (including religious, occult, psychological or political groups) to determine just how dangerous a given group is liable to be, in comparison with other groups, to the physical and mental health of its members and of other people subject to its influence. It cannot speak to the ‘spiritual dangers,’ if any, that might be involved, for the simple reason that one person’s path to enlightenment or ‘salvation’ is often viewed by another as a path to ignorance or ‘damnation.’

“As a general rule, the higher the numerical total scored by a given group … the more dangerous it is likely to be. Though it is obvious that many of the scales in the frame are subjective, it is still possible to make practical judgments using it, at least of the “is this group more dangerous than that one?” sort. This is if all numerical assignments are based on accurate and unbiased observation of actual behavior by the groups and their top levels of leadership (as distinct from official pronouncements). This means that you need to pay attention to what the secondary and tertiary leaders are saying and doing, as much (or more so) than the central leadership — after all, “plausible deniability” is not a recent historical invention….

“It should be pointed out that the ABCDEF is founded upon both modern psychological theories about mental health and personal growth, and my many years of participant observation and historical research into minority belief systems. Those who believe that relativism and anarchy are as dangerous to mental health as absolutism and authoritarianism, could (I suppose) count groups with total scores nearing either extreme (high or low) as being equally hazardous. As far as dangers to physical well-being are concerned, however, both historical records and current events clearly indicate the direction in which the greatest threats lie. This is especially so since the low-scoring groups usually seem to have survival and growth rates so small that they seldom develop the abilities to commit large scale atrocities even had they the philosophical or political inclinations to do so.”


It is interesting to note that Isaac Bonewits was a member of what some would call a cult and he would call a minority religion. He was a pagan or warlock. Yet he argued against the coercive behaviors of other groups and religions. And was rather interested in preserving the rights of minority religions – including some that others would call cults.

So he devised his metric to show which groups were dangerous and which – although different – were not a threat to members or society.

According to Wikipedia, “Phillip Emmons Isaac Bonewits (October 1, 1949 – August 12, 2011) was an American Neo-Druid who published a number of books on the subject of Neopaganism and magic. He was a public speaker, liturgist, singer and songwriter, and founder of the Neopagan organizations Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Aquarian Anti-Defamation League. Born in Royal Oak, Michigan, Bonewits had been heavily involved in occultism since the 1960s.”


Image result for isaac bonewits

Image result for isaac bonewits


Isaac Bonewits – like Keith Raniere – preached some unusual things. But does not appear to have blackmailed, starved, imprisoned, or branded women.

About the author

Frank Parlato


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  • Anybody remember the old Smuckers jam commercial that went “with a name like Smuckers, it has to be good” – the point being that the name was so ridiculous that the quality of the product had to make up for it. For some reason I’m reminded of that when I hear “Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame”. Go figure.

  • No, Isaac most assuredly was not a warlock. He was a Druid. Warlock is a not a synonym for Pagan; in fact, most of us consider it a slur. No Pagan is a ‘warlock’ unless he specifically so labels himself, and my 46 years as a Pagan I’ve known maybe two.

  • I seriously don’t think Issac branded himself a warlock. He was a Druid, pagan and other things. Warlock means oath breaker and he wasn’t that

  • Bonewits may indeed have been a member of a cult in the traditional sense of “a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion” (Websters’).

    One of the reasons that terms like “high control group” (HCG) are now preferred, is they’re clearer as to their meaning in regards to exploitative, abusive and even dangerous groups.

    Plus one of the reasons not to use “cult” is that in the scholarly debate and public relations sparring around what are called (or hypothesized as) New Religious Movements (NRM), controversial or even proven abusive groups like to muddy the waters by trying to claiming that they are cults in the classic, legitimate, sense, not with the perjorative connotation of recent times.

    And the framework is indeed dated in a number of ways, but it’s also still one of the more common sense and easy to use ones.

    p.s. Frank added all the background on Bonewits – thanks Frank!

  • In am not sure but I think Bonewit maybe Gandolf’s illegitimate child…
    ……all though he does have Merlin’s eyes……

    It’s all so confusing…..

  • I wish, when I was 11 years old and played Dungeons&Dragons, I had known Isaac Bonewit a Druid human Half-Hippie. Bonewit could have made an excellent player character.

  • Bonewits looks like a normal kinda guy, from In 2017, Moira Greyland, the daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter H. Breen, published a book entitled The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon. In it she recounts a harrowing tale of a childhood with two parents who sexually abused both her and her brother. She also writes about Isaac Bonewits asking her mother’s permission to have sex with her when she was six years old, telling her mother that another girl her age who lived in his commune “had sex with all the men there” and was “free” and “uninhibited”.[10]

    Too bad he never bumped into Heidi, they would have been a perfect match.

    • Scott,

      Bonewits looks like such a normal guy. I am sure any peer of Anoy Maker is a God fearing wholesome individual…..

      Why did I make fun of Bonewits?

      Typically you should never judge a book by its cover then there are individuals like Issaac Bonwits, who you know are guilty of something horrible and f*cked up.

    • That’s an interesting twist on things, alright.

      I poked around a bit, and it sounds like the subject of quite a bit of controversy. Apparently she’s just recounting a conversation, not anything that was acted on, and no one else has come forward to corroborate the account or Bonewitz having such tendencies or acting on them. I was actually rather impressed that even people who are nominally Bonewitz’ defenders, including two of his wives and sons, took care not dismiss the reported allegations out of hand, either.

      Regardless, I don’t think it reflects on the Framework itself. An argument could be made that the belief that children may be able to consent to sex at early ages – which goes hand-in-hand with disdain for the laws of broader society – or otherwise should be treated like adults, ought to be added as part of an item, because it shows up in some groups including NXIVM and, for instance, the FLDS, and most infamously the Children of God, though it’s not a critical missing point.

      Also, I don’t think it’s relevant to this particular example, but is worth noting on a related point, that a number of groups such as Scientology, engage types of regression therapy in an attempt to heal past traumas (and sometimes, just imagined past traumas) that can result in inaccurate or even entirely false supposed memories. This was most infamous in the case of the allegations of ritual child abuse made against daycare providers, after therapists had elicited supposed “recovered memories” from children, and the phenomenon of False Memory Syndrome has since been researched and proven. Past life regression, which Raniere incorporated and exploited in a sort of tangential way, has been similarly proven to be entirely a spurious product of the imaginative processes of the brain.

      • Flag that topic of past life regression with regards to the NX cult’s manipulation of members and others within its purview. IDK why you say “tangential” when it was used so well as a dead-on tool to manipulate and destroy (some) nearly all their targets?

        • Heidi, the only references to past lives I’m familiar with in relation to NXIVM, are the cases where Raniere reportedly told someone who they had supposedly been in a previous incarnation – acting as a sort of channel, if I have it right – and then used that to try to convince them that it provided a justification for actions that he wanted them to take.

          That seems to be in contrast to classic past life regression, as used in Scientology, where the subject is in a relaxed, effectively suggestive or hypnotic state, and guided to imagine past incarnations – which can stimulate the subconscious and imaginative functions of the brain to create convincing-seeming “memories.” If anyone wants to look it up, the classic case from the 1950s, which seemed convincing to many observers but which was then debunked and disproven by research and analysis, was that of Bridey Murphy.

          In the case of Scientology, it’s typically leveraged in an indirect way, to convince members that reincarnation is real, and then to get them to sacrifice their interests in this life, to the benefit of the organization and its leadership, in expectation that they will live again and again in the future. Can you briefly tell us more about what you are referring to as regards how it was used in NXIVM?

          • I’ll have some time later today to add deets but from what I experienced, witnessed first hand and what is evidenced and witnessed by others:

            NXIVM inner-circle performed past life regressions with the subject often put in a twilight, trance-like, at least “meditative” State. Kristin Keefe, my sister, Gina, and some of the other girls were trained by Keith in NLP. Some were trained or gifted at meditations and, later, Nancy Salzman brought her hypnotic, NLP, EST skills to induce this receptive state.

            KAR — who claimed to possess the same powers of the highest ranking Buddhist holy men to “recognize” the lucky, venerated reincarnated leaders — or a gifted minion such as Kristin Keefe working with the subject would interpret whatever “visions” the subject had (or imagined) and determine (or declare) who the subject had been in one or another of their past lives.

            In retrospect, I see how KAR ET AL often used this farce as way to manipulate their targets and victims. There are dozens of examples:

            Perhaps most ludicrously Barbara Bouchey, Bronfman money manager, was deemed to be “Dagny” reincarnated — a fictional character who never even lived (!) — the heroine from Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. Nancy Salzman herself was revealed as Hitler. Most poignantly for me, Gina Hutchinson was deemed by KAR to be the vowed eternal consort of a himself, a Buddhist Diety, who achieves enlightenment and rare Goddesshood by suicide.

          • In classic regression, the subject is put in a relaxed, subject or hypnotic state, and just told to go back, and say what comes to them, sometimes in relation to specific feelings or traumas being explored. The imaginings that they come up with are, however, indirectly influenced by everything from the expectations of the milieu or group, to media that they have been exposed to – so it’s not unsurprising that someone would come up with a character from a book.

            Buddhism generally ignores or downplays the recalling of specific past incarnations, though there are a wide variety of traditions. It’s interesting that Raniere emulated one of the ones where masters may determine who people were in past lives, and used that as a hybrid overlay on top of more conventional regression.

          • Scott – I’m interpreting “has been similarly proven to be entirely a spurious product of the imaginative processes of the brain” as another way of saying “this is BS”.

            Of course it is BS. But what isn’t BS is that it was used to manipulate people and the people didn’t know it was BS while it was going on.

  • But most people who first enter a group are *not* going to know that some of these things listed are going on until after they have already invested themselves into the group in some way; time, money, teaching. So the pot is cool and seems harmless and warms up slightly so the frog doesn’t notice. Hopefully they start to see what is happening though eventually.

  • Oh boy, this looks like a nice group of meditators. I’d like to find a group of meditators to sit with in quietness and to work to go deeper into transformative meditation. It ain’t that easy alone. I need to increase alertness and focus. I want to find inner peace. This already extant group could be a great help.

    But you cannot come meditate with them until you take a ten day residential intensive first. For $3,500 you spend 10 days and nights revealing your whole past and all of your troubles to a staff group of bossy, egotistical strangers who try to pretend to be spiritual and WHO ALL KNOW MORE than you. You don’t get to eat much, and you rarely get to sleep. They play loud rock music while the newbies do “floor work.” Floor work involves crying, shouting, puking and essentially humping the floor. You must hump the floor with all of your passion. You must hump it facedown. Otherwise you are not in a position of receptivity. Do not miss. It is all up to you!

    After 9 days of this shit, on the final day there is a huge celebration. Everyone appears absolutely elated, transformed. Many have handed over their credit cards to make donations. At least half of the participants are just partying due to the relief that the intensive is over and that they survived. But for ten days you have been told that “this is it!” This is the ultimate way, the way for the few who are worthy and strong enough to become even more worthy. You have bared your soul and it was exhausting. But at last, triumph! So some are into it hook, line and sinker.

    The exalted and worshipped leader has given her time to you. She has addressed you personally. It doesn’t matter that she sounds somewhat gruff and uneducated. It doesn’t matter that she appears in a black pleather getup for the big celebration and that her ass is hanging out of 2 gaping buttock holes. She is enlightened, for chrissake, and she will push all of those unconscious and repressed buttons for you to get free. Heh-heh.

    Within several years time, the great master of the movement became more and more invasive and dictatorial. You are by now dependent upon the group in every way and you have advanced in rank. Your money, job and family are all in the past. The leader’s wardrobe alone costs $500,000 per year, ya know. She has begun to curse very loudly all of the time, and her closest minions follow suit. In fact no one even remembers having an indoor voice.

    Then the bitch boss dies of chronic pharmaceutical usage via kidney failure. Om, peace, amen. She has been unwilling to speak for 2 years. In fact, all that she would do anymore is sing and cuss. Singing is her new thing. She sings that we are all birds. All birds, all of the time.

    But you were one of the lucky ones who left years ago when she began to get obsessed with how her slaves arranged their closets and she made everyone maintain copious and nonstop notebooks confessing to every vestige of chaotic disorganization. No one was ever worthy enough. That is, unless she decided that you were especially rich or fuckable.

    • There is no humping of the floor.

      You made that up and probably have no idea what the fuck they do.

      You made up everything else too.

      Your post is worthless. 🙂

  • “Cult” has been defined as “any religion but your own.” Reading through the list above, it seems to apply in spades to several major contemporary religions. The word itself is used as a pejorative, but it’s good to remember historical entities like the Cult of Dionysus. By this I don’t want to imply that because something is a religion, it is okay; I think it’s flirting with danger to allow one’s head to be filled up with irrational faith-nonsense, which is what all religions do. And when claiming that “well, MY religion isn’t like that, it’s all about forgiveness, love, and making the world a better place” one would do well to remember that Allison Mack believed precisely that while committing a host of felonies. The road to hell, good intentions, etc. It has been said that it takes religion to make good people do evil things.

    I can understand why people join cults, it’s the religious impulse. Humans evolved as social creatures, and belonging to a tribe has powerful attractions. Most of us, fortunately, also have a sense of rationality, of self-reflection, and a modicum of independence. And some sense of decency.

  • The above test includes aspects of every religion on the planet. Probably best to stick with alleged illegal actions by Nxivm.

    • That’s the point, those are common traits, or pitfalls and failings, of religions and traditions, and many if not most human organizations, including businesses and political associations.

      But it’s not a checklist, it’s a numerical ranking, of 1 to 10 on each of the 18 items. Most groups will rate a small number of points, but few will approach the full 180 – and those are the ones to watch out for, that are almost certainly abusive high control groups.

        • He may seem something of an oddball, but he was an author, and probably pretty well-read – his framework seems informed by the state of research and study at the time (late 1970s for the original version). It was actually used by several government agencies, and continues to be cited by some of the prominent resources for information on cults.

          We can get into some of the more academic work another time, and see if you find that more satisfactory.

  • Good synopsis. I think it’s really intriguing to consider how everyone really involved in NXIVM went broke. Except for the Capstone at the top of the pyramid – Keith, Nancy, Lauren.

    Clare and Sara already had money. But beyond them, everyone was broke. Classic pyramid scheme.


    • NXIVM and Scientology are both strange like that, if not explicitly espousing vows of poverty like some groups do, and yet effectively leaving most of their followers impoverished. Both nominally promote capitalism, and yet essentially function in a communist-like way in that they have underlying doctrines or imperatives directing members to abandon material acquisition, and contribute their time and resources towards the communal goal of changing human society – with the “first among equals” at the top nonetheless living in luxury and self-indulgence.

      While it’s not on the scale, though hinted at in my additional notes, required sacrifice of time and resources is another aspect of exploitative groups. That is part of what is sometimes called “escalation of commitment” in which members are increasingly drawn into a group, and sacrifice for it, such that it becomes harder and harder for them to possibly admit their mistakes and extricate themselves.

About the Author

Frank Parlato is an investigative journalist.

His work has been cited in hundreds of news outlets, like The New York Times, The Daily Mail, VICE News, CBS News, Fox News, New York Post, New York Daily News, Oxygen, Rolling Stone, People Magazine, The Sun, The Times of London, CBS Inside Edition, among many others in all five continents.

His work to expose and take down NXIVM is featured in books like “Captive” by Catherine Oxenberg, “Scarred” by Sarah Edmonson, “The Program” by Toni Natalie, and “NXIVM. La Secta Que Sedujo al Poder en México” by Juan Alberto Vasquez.

Parlato has been prominently featured on HBO’s docuseries “The Vow” and was the lead investigator and coordinating producer for Investigation Discovery’s “The Lost Women of NXIVM.” Parlato was also credited in the Starz docuseries "Seduced" for saving 'slave' women from being branded and escaping the sex-slave cult known as DOS.

Additionally, Parlato’s coverage of the group OneTaste, starting in 2018, helped spark an FBI investigation, which led to indictments of two of its leaders in 2023.

Parlato appeared on the Nancy Grace Show, Beyond the Headlines with Gretchen Carlson, Dr. Oz, American Greed, Dateline NBC, and NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, where Parlato conducted the first-ever interview with Keith Raniere after his arrest. This was ironic, as many credit Parlato as one of the primary architects of his arrest and the cratering of the cult he founded.

Parlato is a consulting producer and appears in TNT's The Heiress and the Sex Cult, which premiered on May 22, 2022. Most recently, he consulted and appeared on Tubi's "Branded and Brainwashed: Inside NXIVM," which aired January, 2023.

IMDb — Frank Parlato

Contact Frank with tips or for help.
Phone / Text: (305) 783-7083