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10

Raised in a Doomsday Cult

In the mid-1960s, Anne Hamilton-Byrne established a religious cult called The Family in Melbourne, Australia. Their beliefs mixed Christianity with Eastern mysticism, and held that Hamilton-Byrne was an incarnation of Jesus Christ. She collected children, both by sketchy adoption practices and by appropriating the children of her followers. Ben Shenton was one of those children. He was told that Hamilton-Byrne was his mother, and she controlled the children by beatings, drugs, and an ingrained suspicion of outsiders. In 1987, police executed a raid and took the children into custody.   

Lying in bed that first night away from Lake Eildon, Ben combed through everything he had said that day, making sure he had divulged nothing that could get him in trouble. Suddenly, he realised - it didn't matter any more. He was not returning to Anne. "I think for the first time in my life, I realised I was free," he says.

But then the real work began.

Ben learned that his mother was not Anne, but an "auntie" he disliked named Joy. The children were not his brothers and sisters - some were the children of other cult members, others were orphans Anne had adopted. He was 15, not 14 as he had been told. And of course Anne was not the reincarnation of Christ.

"Now I'm trying to work out, 'Well, this world I'm in, what are its rules? How do I function, what do I do?'" he says.

Ben Shenton tells of his struggle to adjust to living with people he'd been taught to avoid, and how he worked out his relationships with his biological mother and with Hamilton-Byrne, at BBC News.  -via Digg

(Image source: Ben Shenton)


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