HBO’s nine-part documentary about the upstate New York sex cult NXIVM is a doozy. Over its more than two decades in existence, it is estimated that about 20,000 people took courses and intensives through them be it at the Albany headquarters or through its chapter locations throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. HBO's The Vow chronicles the stories of members’ experiences both inside NXIVM and as it falls apart under the immense pressure of criminal investigations and tell-all exposés.
NXIVM was founded as Executive Success Programs in 1998 by co-founders and co-conspirators Keith Raniere and Nancy Saltzman. Its purpose? Well, according to its now-defunct website, it was supposedly “a community guided by humanitarian principles that seek to empower people and answer important questions about what it means to be human.” It was exposed in 2017 as the furthest possible thing. Now, after trials and guilty pleas, many of its core members await sentencing for their crimes which range from racketeering to identity theft to sex trafficking.
Like any highly exclusive organization, NXIVM comes with its own set of terminology and jargon, not all of it straight forward. There were reportedly over 60 companies that operated under the umbrella of NXIVM, some of which housed some of the cult’s darkest transgressions under the guise of being groups aimed at empowering people to become their best selves. Within each workshop or course offered by the organization, there are a variety of processes and activities used to control NXIVM members. Naturally, they all come with their own unspecific names to draw people in, because if you called them what they really were — coercion and manipulation — people would be less inclined to get involved. Many of the terms used in The Vow come in rapid succession and in order to track with all of the dark cult activity going on, an index is here to help. As you watch the series, you may want to keep this page open to refer back to.
The self-described multi-level marketing company’s name is a bit of a mystery. The organization is pronounced “nex-e-um” and members are called Nxians, pronounced "nex-ians." Many online have speculated as to the meaning behind the now-ousted cult’s name. There are theories that the name is made up of roman numerals which equate to a satanic symbol based on numerology, but that theory has not been proven.
ESP (Executive Success Programs)
Before becoming known as NXIVM, Keith Raniere designed a series of workshops known as Executive Success Programs. According to its promotional literature, the workshops were created to “actualize human potential.” Courses could cost thousands of dollars and attendees were encouraged to take multiple and recruit people to take classes themselves.
The secret women’s group within NXIVM is named DOS which stands for “Dominus Obsequious Sororium.” In Latin, that phrase translates to “Master Over Slave Women.” Some members referred to their allegiance to the group as the Vow.
Consumers’ Buyline Inc.
Another company within the network of organizations beneath the NXIVM label, Consumers’ Buyline Inc. was a members-only buying club. It was run by Raniere himself through the first part of the 1990s.
Underneath the umbrella of NXIVM, Jness (pronounced “jah-ness”), was a subgroup aimed at women. “Jness is a women’s movement that facilitates an ongoing exploration of what it means to be a woman,” the now defunct website once read. “Through open dialogue and development of friendships, Jness engages women from all over the world and allows them to discover the true essence of womanhood.”
Society of Protectors (SOP)
Like Jness, the Society of Protectors or SOP falls under the NXIVM umbrella of over 60 companies. Just as Jness targeted women, the Society of Protectors set its sights on attracting men as prospective members. It was exactly what it sounds like it was.
Taught through intensives where students would take five to 16 classes, some lasting for 14 hours a day, Rational Inquiry involved individual and group exercises that used “patent-pending technology” to change thinking and behavior.
Disintegrations were part of the methodology of Rational Inquiry. It presupposed that most people suffered from mental, emotional, and behavioral dysfunctions which were the result of Raniere called “disintegrations.” He believed that the only way someone could be cured of disintegrations was through the systematic application of Rational Inquiry through which a person could become integrated and therefore healed of their dysfunctions.
Integration is when, through explorations of meaning, coaching sessions, or workshops, a member is able to examine self-perceptions and experiences and make sense of them in the context of NXIVM’s ideologies. The point of integration was to reach “unification” which is seen as a theoretical or goal state similar to enlightenment.
Within NXIVM, members had different ranks based on seniority. Each of these was denoted by a specific color of sash, according to testimony from a former member, Mark Vicente. In Raniere’s case, he wore a white sash that matched those with the rank of student. It was a subtle message that he was an eternal student, but because it was twice the length, it also symbolized his superior knowledge. Proctors wore orange sashes and senior proctors wore green ones.
Proctor is a rank within NXIVM. Indicated by either an orange or green sash based on seniority, Proctors were able to teach courses. Members advanced in seniority by recruiting people to take classes.
Similar to a Proctor, Coach was a rank within NXIVM. While lower in seniority than a Proctor, Coaches would assist Proctors in teaching courses and intensives.
The Stripe Path
As members took more courses and recruited people to take classes, they advanced through the ranks outlined within NXIVM which was referred to as “the stripe path.”
EMs, “explorations of meaning,” was a means with which Raniere exerted his control of women as part of the abusive secret society, DOS. In addition to endless training sessions and required coaching, “explorations of meaning” involve revisiting a memory and discovering misperceptions that may make that memory painful. In doing so, the memory holder supposedly decreases the power the memory has over them.
The first episode of HBO’s nine-part documentary The Vow airs on August 23 at 10:00 p.m. ET.