Now, let’s face it, for any modern horror gamer, the phrase “Death Cult” is a grab-bag of potential goodies. They could be creepy mooks to be wiped out in vast numbers, a sinister conspiracy, tentacle worshipping degenerates – they can do and be almost any kind of menace the Game Master wants, according to the needs of the plot.
Actual death cults are rare in the modern world, and it’s always interesting to find real examples, especially ones relatively close to us in time. It’s fairly easy for most people to consider cults born of cultures they have little experience of (such as the Thuggee) or ones from ancient history (such as the child-sacrificing worshippers of Moloch), but modern ones take a greater mental effort. Exactly why do ostensibly normal people go from reading the paper and walking the dog to drinking blood and “making with the stabby”?
The above link details a unique amalgam of death cult and political movement, born out of the economic hardship and social pressures caused by the end of The Great War. Founded by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, the Legion of the Archangel Michael (sometimes called “The Iron Guard”) became the third largest fascist movement in Europe, with explicitly anti-Semetic policies and a curious brand of mysticism that rivals the Nazi SS for sheer brutality and weirdness. The Legion , while sharing the aims of many other fascist movements, was also deeply concerned with spiritual transformation and identified itself as being radically Christian.
The philosophy of the Iron Guard, as espoused by its leader, was political and spiritual warfare as a purifying agent. The Tara (Fatherland) was above all, and believers were absolutely justified in the murder of those who opposed the spiritual redemption of the Nation. Curiously, the Legion didn’t guarantee its martyrs eternal life. Instead, the possible damnation of believers was seen as a necessary sacrifice for the Fatherland, one that should be joyously embraced.
Codreanu was tall and matinee-idol handsome, and apparently shared some of Adolf Hitler’s extreme personal magnetism, which may go some way to explaining how a cult that didn’t promise eternal life to its followers became such a political power. Martyrdom and self-destruction were an almost required element of the Legion’s twisted theology. Their rites involved cutting themselves, drinking each others blood, oaths scribed in blood, and pledges to murder on command. He also had a fine line in “alternative facts”, inflating the number of Jews in Romania by a factor of three in order to convince his countrymen that they were being overrun, declaring that the fabric of Romanian life was “unravelling and disintegrating” and claiming that “politicians are killing us”.
When looking at the end of the Pulp Era, it’s easy to forget that fascism was everywhere in Europe, but enterprising GMs can still surprise their players if they know where to look.