Thursday, May 7, 2009
I know what you guys are probably thinking: "Suicide cults, eh? that sounds like a good idea..."
Let me stop you right there. Suicide cults are NOT a good idea under any circumstances. Usually carried out at the behest of some sort of fanatical tyrant, cult-related mass suicides have taken place at only a few points in history. We'll look at a couple such events in a moment, but first let's differentiate between "mass suicide" and a "suicide cult". Mass suicides are not uncommon throughout the course of history, the earliest known documentation of one being in 102 BC when several hundred Teutonic women killed themselves when their King, Tuetonobod, was captured by the Romans. Usually politically and/or religiously motivated, mass suicide has been used as a form of protest since time out of mind.
But cult suicides are a different concept altogether. Though they can technically be classified as mass suicide, the 3 major suicide cults in the last 3 decades all share some very specific characteristics.
Below you will find brief summaries of the views and actions of these three major suicide cults, with related links and videos. Be forewarned: This is creeeepy shit.
THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE - GUYANA, 1978
One of the largest mass suicides in recorded history and by far the largest cult-related mass suicide ever, The Jonestown Massacre of November 18, 1978 took the lives of over 900 people. Cult leader Jim Jones (above) had embraced Communism during his early years in Indiana, and actually did a lot of very effective work in de-segregating the state during the 1950's and 60's. Jones adopted several multi-racial children and worked hard for the benefit of his community. Realizing that working through the Church was the best way to spread the Socialist word, Jones formed his own sect, which he called the "Peoples Temple Christian Church Full Gospel" (later, just "The People's Temple"). His paranoid world view began creeping in soon after, and in the early 60's he moved his family to Belo Horizante, Brazil because he thought it would be a safe place to wait out a nuclear apocalypse. It was during this time that he made his first trip to Guyana.
After a brief stint back in Indiana, Jones decided that nuclear war would break out on July 15, 1967, and moved his family to Northern California to establish a post-apocalyptic "new Eden". Eventually, he made his way to the Bay Area and established a new People's Temple there. He became well known amongst San Francisco politicians because of his progressive social views, and was publicly praised by both Harvey Milk and Willie Brown. But things started getting really fucked up really fast.
After an investigative report was released accusing the People's Temple of physical and sexual abuse, Jones split for Guyana, where he began building the multi-racial, communal "paradise" of Jonestown. Sensing that some weird shit was going down, Congressman Leo Ryan headed for Guyana with an NBC reporting team in tow. Finding that many Jonestown "residents" were kept there against their will, Ryan & co. attempted to free 15 people from the confines of Jonestown.
Under Jim Jones' direction, Ryan's plane was attacked in nearby Georgetown. Five people were killed in a dramatic shootout, including an NBC cameraman, a reporter, and Leo Ryan himself. He was the only U.S. Congressman to ever be killed on the job.
Realizing that the shit had hit the proverbial fan, and that the USSR - with whom Jones had previously negotiated asylum with - would no longer take them, Jones preyed on the paranoia of the hundreds of residents of Jonestown. He warned of imminent attack from unknown assailants, claiming that government agents were coming to kill their babies. This was the point when Jones handed out the infamous cyanide/Kool-Aid cocktail (it was actually Flavor-Aid, PS), saying that the only way to escape murder was by suicide. Amazingly, 900 people went along with it, among them 276 children. Jones put a bullet in his own head, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Jonestown Massacre was the largest en masse loss of life of United States citizens until Sept. 11, 2001.
Here's an audio clip of the "wise and benevolent" Reverend Jones berating an audience of his followers. Too bad it's censored, this shit would make a great audio sample for a Metal song:
Check out an entire, 10-part PBS documentary on the Jonestown Massacre here.
THE ORDER OF THE SOLAR TEMPLE - SWITZERLAND, CANADA, AND FRANCE, 1994
Officially established in 1984, The Order of the Solar Temple was founded by two masterminds, Joseph DiMambro (right) and Luc Jouret, who conceived it as an offshoot of the ancient secret society known as The Knights Templar. The aims of the OST were as follows:
1) Establishing "correct notions of authority and power in the world".
2) Unification of Christianity and Islam.
3) Assisting mankind through some sort of "great transition".
4) Affirming the dominance of the spiritual, rather than the temporal, world.
5) Preparing for the Second Coming of Christ, who would appear as a solar god-king.
Based upon the teachings of many Hermetic groups from the Rosicrucians to The Order of the Golden Dawn, the OST established lodges in Quebec, Canada, Australia, Martinique, and western Switzerland. With Jouret acting as recruiter and DiMambro acting as the religious nut, the Order soon gained a large following, rumored to include many rich, powerful, and famous people.
Left: An OST necklace.
DiMambro claimed to have lived several lives over the course of the last few millenia, and carried a sword that he claimed was an actual Templar relic. Taking advantage of his position of power within the growing organization, he ordered the murder of a three-month-old baby in October 1994 who he identified as the Anti-Christ. His orders were carried out dutifully, and the child was stabbed to death with wooden stakes by OST members.
Soon after, DiMambro performed a ritualistic "Last Supper", preparing his followers for what he claimed would be a transdimensional death-trip to the Sirius Galaxy. No one questioned his word, and soon after 15 members (including DiMambro) were dead by poison while almost 40 were found dead of either gunshots or suffocation at three separate sites in Quebec and Switzerland. Fires were started post-mortem by setting timers (an allusion to the Order's belief that fire was a symbol of change), and bodies were arranged in a cryptic star pattern, representing the Order's alliance to the cosmic world.
Even with DiMambro dead, another mass suicide occurred in France 14 months later, again attributed to the OST. 16 people, including 3 children, were found dead and burnt in the forests of Greenoble (in the French Alps), again arranged in strange star patterns.
After his death, it was revealed that DiMambro made over $1 million off of donations to The Order, which he used to buy real estate in several locations around the world.
CBS news report on the second wave of suicides attributed to The Order of The Solar Temple:
HEAVEN'S GATE - SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, 1997
The notorious Heaven's Gate suicide cult was based on a premise that was pure Southern California. Part acid trip, part Star Trek, and part fractured Christianity, the cult was led by Do (pronounced "d'oh"), aka Marshall Applewhite. After suffering a heart attack in the 70's, Applewhite claimed to have had an out-of-body experience, and soon teamed up with his nurse, Bonnie Nettles, to peddle New Age-y books and preach about mankind's need to ascend to the "next level". They believed they were "the Two", i.e. the two witnesses spoken of in The Bible (Rev. 11:3). Although Nettles passed away in 1985, Do claimed he was still in contact with her soul and proceeded to form the Heaven's Gate cult.
Based on the assumption that the world was soon to be swept clean and that the only way to survive was to ascend to space (actually, to a spaceship/UFO that was following the Hale-Bopp Comet), the cult found members among the disenchanted computer programmers and office workers in and around San Diego, CA.
Applewhite purchased a house in Rancho Santa Fe and encouraged his followers to move in and follow a monastic, highly ascetic lifestyle. Several members (including Do) were voluntarily castrated in Mexico to prevent temptation, and a complex surveillance system followed everyone's daily habits. Reportedly, every utensil, object, lightswitch, and appliance in the house was meticulously labeled to prevent members from having to think too hard. This, in effect, allowed them to concentrate better on their ascension to the stars.
On March 26, 1997, in tune with the passage of Hale-Bopp, the Heaven's Gate suicide cult carried out their plan. 39 people (including Do) were found dead from phenobarbitol overdose in Applewhite's mansion , each wearing a matching sweatsuit, brand new Nikes, and an armband that read "Heaven's Gate Away Team". Each had a square of purple fabric placed over his or her face and chest and $5.75 in their pocket. A few months later, two more Heaven's Gate followers killed themselves in the same fashion. It is not known if they managed to catch their spaceship or not.
An independent director takes a documentary look at Heaven's Gate. Note: At about the 1:50 mark, the cult visits Eureka, CA to recruit members. I was in high school, and remember seeing their flyers.
Heaven's Gate, in its members' own words:
Amazingly, the original Heaven's Gate website, established in 1992, is still intact. You can view it here.