An Australian woman who was part of two different religious doomsday cults has spoken out about the experience in an interview with news.com.au.
Claire Ashman, 47, has lived most of her life completely isolated from modern culture. She had never had a bank account, worn jeans, or used an ATM until she was in her late 30s.
This is because Claire had spent most of her life living in a religious cult.
Talking with news.com.au ahead of her TEDTalk presentation, she shares what it was like living in these extreme communities.
‘They told us that the whole world has been on the way to hell for years and it was seriously supposed to end about every six months, for almost a decade while I was in there,’ Claire said.
Only their communities would be spared from the devastating comet that was coming to destroy the planet, or when the world ended in 2000 because of Y2K.
To ‘prepare’ they stockpiled food and tools. They kept animals, and Claire learned how to make bread from scratch, churn butter, and milk animals.
When she was 18 she married a 31-year-old man and became part of the ‘Little Pebble’ cult, also known as the Order of the St Charbel.
It was run by cult leader William ‘Little Pebble’ Kamm, who would eventually do jail time for a series of sexual attacks on young women.
Claire says she was completely sheltered about sex and that it was a shocking revelation.
‘I didn’t know anything about sex and Mum was trying to explain it to me. She would get out her medical books and explain it the way they do in medical school. It was all beyond me. Then all of a sudden she said ‘It’s like how the cows and bulls do it in the backyard’. I was horrified.’
Claire eventually had 9 children, one tragically died in infancy.
She describes the experience as complete brainwashing - it never occurred to her to escape.
‘I was brought up so strictly and told that the man is the head of the house — he works and you’re at home bringing up the children. That was how it worked.
I was brainwashed ... it’s total brainwashing. You just don’t know any different.’
Claire says she eventually managed to escape because of her then-husband’s gambling problem. He would be away for weeks, so she started selling their belongings and arranged divorce papers.
‘When he came back I said ‘You need to sign these papers’ and eventually he did. And we left.’
‘I don’t have anything to do with the followers now. From their perspective I’m awful — I’m divorced and I had sex outside of marriage.'
‘Some of them are still going, some have dropped religion altogether. It’s just toxic, you can’t reason with those people who have been brainwashed.’
Claire is now remarried to a man who was completely separate from her previous life.
‘I think it was a bit mind-blowing for him to learn about, but I’ve been honest about it from the start, and I’m a completely different person now.’