Spoiler alert for Once Upon a Time seasons 1-5
Isolating is physically or socially separating the recruit from people who care about them. This can look like a remote compound with armed patrols, accountability standards that require members to report every conversation to a superior, or story crafting which we’ll get into shortly.
Red Riding Hood’s mother Anita is a werewolf like Red. She teaches Red to embrace her wolf side, while demanding she reject her human side. Anita employs us v them thinking, casting humans as monstrous and threatening outsiders, forcing Red to choose.
Peter Pan keeps a kidnapped Henry on the move, and deceives him into thinking no one is coming to his rescue. By physically isolating him from more reasoned opinions and healthier expressions of love, Pan is able to secure Henry’s loyalty. This holds true in reality. Many cults use retreats to convert curious recruits. A weekend is sometimes enough time.
Complicity is making the recruit or member complicit in a legal or moral crime, in reality or perception. Cults break a variety of laws from gun laws to welfare fraud to child neglect and labor laws to assault. Members are usually not in a position to object to or change things from within and may feel they have no choice but to comply with these crimes. If you’re a cult member reading this, know that prosecutors have granted immunity to ex members in exchange for testimony before.
Rumpelstiltskin forces a blackmailed Captain Hook to participate in a mystical murder. This creates guilt and shame in Hook, as well as fear of reprisal if his actions are discovered. Combined these factors deter him from seeking help or telling anyone of Rumpelstiltskin’s crime.
Regina’s mother Cora waits until she’s at her lowest point to frame her daughter for murder. Cora points to everyone falling for her frame up as proof no one else can ever love or accept Regina like she can. Once she has Regina convinced of this lie, her attentions turn to seeking more power, not loving or comforting her daughter.
Elsa’s aunt Ingrid uses a nearly identical tactic, framing Elsa for her spell so that others would reject her, and she could be all Elsa had left. Going further, she cursed the whole town to only see the worst in each other, so that no one but her and her chosen followers would have love, and no one else would love them.
Before moving on to the conclusion, become a patron.