The mind-boggling terminology of NXIVM doesn’t end with the name of the group itself, which has never been fully explained. But while the name isn't clearly defined, there are explanations available for much of the mysterious lingo the group created.
While the multi-level marketing company NXIVM has been around since the late '90s, it was only recently thrust into the spotlight. Several former members blew the whistle on the group’s leader, Keith Raniere, and several of his high-ranking members in 2017 with a New York Times expose, claiming he coerced women into having sex with him. That led to multiple arrests, including Raniere in 2018. He was subsequently convicted for racketeering, sex trafficking, and other charges in 2019.
While NXIVM had branded itself as a group guided by humanitarian principles, at its heart there was a smaller, secret sex cult built on blackmail exercises. Those indoctrinated into the group’s secret society gave up collateral to become slaves branded with Raniere’s initials.
HBO’s new docuseries on the group, “The Vow,” takes a deep dive into some of the widely used terminology within the group. Here are some of the most commonly used terms, explained:
In this case, ESP does not stand for extrasensory perception. It stands for Executive Success Programs, which were personal and professional development seminars designed by Raniere, according to court records. The courses were costly — some classes costs thousands — and students were encouraged to recruit others as they took multiple classes themselves.
The curriculum promised to help people become the best versions of themselves and to get rid of bad habits and “limiting beliefs,” such as a belief that one will always be prone to a certain phobia.
Thousands have taken part in ESP courses and seminars over the years in various locations.
Within the classes, Rational Inquiry was taught. It's a belief that the more consistent a person is in their thinking, the more successful they can be in changing their thinking and behavior. Both individual and group exercises which supposedly alter one’s thinking and behavior for a higher sense of self were created with this belief at their core.
The ESP classes relied heavily on students undergoing EMs, which stands for “explorations of meaning.” It’s a process in which a person is pushed into revisiting a difficult memory so that they can reassess the painful elements of it. They were taught that doing this decreases the negative weight of the recollection and any long-lasting effects it has on them.
Raniere believed that most people suffered from mental and behavioral dysfunctions which hindered their path to enlightenment. He referred to these so-called dysfunctions as disintegrations. The NXIVM curriculum claims that one can be cured of their disintegrations through Rational Inquiry and EMs. Once they are healed of their disintegrations, they can move up higher in the stripe path.
In order to move up the ranks of NXIVM, one had to enter the stripe path. The stripe path was the group’s ranking system. Members received silk sashes which represented their current level. Students received white sashes, coaches got yellow ones, proctors got orange sashes, and senior proctors received a green stash.
Proctors taught ESP courses. A person could become a senior proctor by recruiting enough people to take classes, Refinery29 reports. Coaches would assist Proctors in the teaching process.
Vanguard and Prefect
During classes and seminars, students were asked to call Raniere "Vanguard" and NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman "Prefect." "Vanguard" means a trailblazer of new developments or ideas. "Prefect" typically stands for the leader of an administrative unit or a chief officer.
Salzman pleaded guilty in 2019 to a racketeering charge.
Society of Protectors
Within NXIVM, there were several exclusive groups for high-ranking members and members who were close to Raniere. The men-only group was called the Society of Protectors. Members were required to stick to their word. If they didn’t, all the men in the group would have to be punished for their error, Rolling Stone reported in 2018.
Also within NXIVM, there was another group just for women called Jness (pronounced “jah-ness”).
“Jness is a women’s movement that facilitates an ongoing exploration of what it means to be a woman,” a snapshot of a former website for the subgroup stated. “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.”
Witnesses later testified that Jness taught its members that women are self-absorbed people who naturally portray themselves as victims, Glamour reported last year.
DOS was the name for yet another group within NXIVM, only this was a secret group that even some high-ranking members were not privy to. Many didn’t even know of its existence. Like Jness, DOS was also only for women but it was much more sinister in nature. Those in the group also referred to it as "The Vow."
DOS stands for “Dominus Obsequious Sororium,” which is Latin for “Master Over Slave Women.” It was a whole pyramid scheme of masters and slaves and Raniere was the grandmaster of them all. Its members were ordered to give monthly collateral — dirt on themselves or loved ones — as they made a vow to obey their masters.
Get all your true crime news from Oxygen. Coverage of the latest true crime stories and famous cases explained, as well as the best TV shows, movies and podcasts in the genre. And don't miss our own podcast, Martinis & Murder!