Is People of Darkness Based on a Real Cult?

The second season of AMC+’s crime thriller series, ‘Dark Winds,’ takes the audience back to Navajo Nation in the 70s, where Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn discovers a case that connects to the death of his son. It begins with an explosion that claims a Navajo man’s life but turns out to be an elaborate plan that involves several people whose actions have affected the community’s past and will have severe implications for its future. Leaphorn’s investigation collides with Jim Chee’s, who has become a private eye since the events of the previous season.

He is told to retrieve a box that was stolen by a Navajo man. Both cases lead Chee and Leaphorn to an organization called People of Darkness. On the surface, it looks like any other cult, but soon, it turns out to be much more than that. Considering how the show presents a raw and realistic portrayal of the Native American experience, with its themes ringing true on several levels, you might wonder if People of Darkness is also inspired by a real cult. Let’s find out. SPOILERS AHEAD.

People of Darkness is Not a Real Cult

Created by Graham Roland, ‘Dark Winds’ is an adaptation of the book series written by Tony Hillerman. The second season is based on the book called ‘People of Darkness,’ which was published in 1980. While the show makes some changes to the characters and setting of the story, it mostly remains faithful to the source material when it comes to the central mystery. The concept of People of Darkness is also picked from the book and is not based on any real-life cult. However, the writer was influenced by a couple of real-life things when he came up with it.

In the book, People of Darkness emerges as a cult following the explosion at the oil well, which was notoriously predicted by a local man who saw it in a vision and warned a few men not to go to work that day. The prediction creates doubt in most people’s minds, but some take it as a sign and join the cult. Much later, it is revealed that something sinister is going on in the cult, and all of it can be traced back to that explosion. Tony Hillerman, who grounded his stories into Navajo culture, came up with the term “people of darkness” from a Navajo myth that references the mole, “the sacred totem animal adopted by the Navajo peyote cult.”

According to Tony Hillerman Portal, “Hillerman uses the term as an informal reference to a Navajo cult within the peyote religion, a pan-Indian, semi-Christian religious movement. The rituals of the peyote religion involve ingesting peyote cactus buttons containing mescaline, a hallucinogenic substance that produces psychotropic effects.” He combined this knowledge of the Navajo culture with the oil well plot of the story. By the end of the book, it is revealed that the oil well site continued uranium, which was one of the primary motives behind the explosion. Certain people saw profit in mining that uranium, which created a conflict over who should have the land. This is an important part of the first season’s plot and carries over into the second season as well.

The writer most probably came up with the uranium plot from a real-life scenario where uranium became a profitable commodity following the development of the atomic bomb. A lot of people made a fortune in it, and because the story of ‘Dark Winds’ books and the show are set close to that time period, the plot point works well with the overall arc of the story. Considering all this, we can say that while People of Darkness is not a real cult, Hillerman infused it with details that make it look and sound real.

Read More: Is Dark Winds Based on a True Story or a Book?