Joseph DiMambro and The Solar Temple
Most of you have a pretty good working knowledge of the Heaven's Gate cult by now if you've been following the blog over the past couple of weeks.
The Gate were part of a very strange and violent period in history when cults, which had once enjoyed the patronage of the intelligence infrastructure for their utility as mind control laboratories (many of the techniques developed by cults in the 60s and 70s were applied to the "megachurch" movement in the 80s and 90s), suddenly seemed hostile and dangerous to the public at large.
Many of the 90s and 00s' most notorious events were cult-related, from the Branch Davidians in Texas (and the subsequent bombing in Oklahoma City), to the murderous Aum Shunrikyo cult in Japan (who perpetrated a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway) to the Fundamentalist/separatist Mormon sect run by Warren Jeffs to the risible Westboro Baptist Church psyop, a walking two-minute hate with a seemingly bottomless travel budget.
There were many more like these, giving outsiders the impression that groups that sought to separate themselves from mainstream society were a danger to themselves and to others.
One cult that many Americans may not be familiar with is the Order of the Solar Temple, a group centered in Francophone countries. They made news in the 90s with a series of ghastly "mass suicides", events that many people believe were anything but self-inflicted.
Their beliefs were essentially Theosophical with Hermetic/Ritual trappings, with a special reverence for Sirius. Although sometimes described as a "UFO cult", their means of travel to Sirius seemed influenced by the teachings of our old friend Alice Bailey:
The International Chivalric Order Solar Tradition was a destructive, doomsday cult founded by Luc Jouret in 1984. It absorbed the Foundation Golden Way led by Joseph Di Mambro (1926-1995). While Jouret assumed much of the public leadership, Dimambro convinced members that he was a member of the 14th Century Christian Order of the Knights Templar during a previous life and that his daughter Emanuelle was "the cosmic child."
Together, Jouret and Dimambro convinced followers that they would lead them after death to a planet which revolves around the star Sirius.The "suicides" took place over a three year period and were committed in several different countries. The death toll was roughly twice that of the Gate. Despite reports of "formations" and the like, interpretations of ritual alignments are just that; interpretations.
The cult's mass murders began in October 1994, in Morin Heights, Quebec, with the murder of an infant believed by Di Mambro to be the incarnation of the Antichrist. The child was stabbed repeatedly with a wooden stake. A few days later in Switzerland, Di Mambro held a last supper for the 15 inner-circle members, who died by poison.
Thirty others died by gunshot wounds or smothering; and eight died of other causes. Many wore black ceremonial robes and plastic bags over their heads, their bodies positioned in a star formation with feet in the center. The structure in which many of the bodies were found had been set on fire. In Vercors, France, 15 more cultists killed themselves in a similar fashion between December 15 and 16, 1995, and five more in Quebec in March 1997. The total number of deaths attributed to these mass deaths is 74 including children.
The alleged justifications for the alleged suicides were remarkably similar to those proffered by Heaven's Gate. The difference is that where the Gate left behind a volume of testimony, writings, videos, a website, the only alleged evidence for the Solar Temple's suicidal tendencies seems to be four notes left at one of the scenes.
Given the fact that this group involved aristocrats and jet-setters, it seems unimaginable that a group whose rituals were so elaborate and meticulous would leave such a paltry and slapdash message to the world regarding their grand voyage to the Dog Star.
The leadership felt that the Solar Temple was being persecuted by various governments. They anticipated the imminent end of the world due to an environmental catastrophe, and felt that they were to play a major role in the collapse. They decided that some members should leave the earth prematurely and "transit" to a better world.
Fire forms an important part of their belief. In order for them to transit to another world, they must die in a fire.After the "suicides", stories began to circulate in the media about the possible motivations for the acts. But family and friends noted that there were few if any signs of the coming self-immolations. On the contrary, vacations were being planned, the general business of life was being looked forward to. As we see in this cult's story, the people blamed for facilitating one of the "mass suicides"-- two socialites -- hardly seem the kind to want to exit their vehicles, or commit mass murder.
Whereas the Gate was filled with socially-awkward nerds, the Solar Temple seemed more an elite sex cult with esoteric trappings. These people enjoyed their lives.
This scenario may seem consistent with the different ways in which the victims in Switzerland and in Canada died, and with the results of the investigations, which seem to indicate that the murders in Morin Heights and Cheiry were carried out by two members of the Temple, Joel Egger and Dominique Bellaton (a manicurist turned socialite), who later joined the other leaders in the suicidal act in Les Granges-sur-Salvan.
In Morin Heights two Swiss members, Colette and Gerry Genoud, may have committed suicide, while Antonio and Nicky Dutoit were savagely murdered with their three-month-old son Emmanuel.Make note of this detail here, since it will pop up in one of the allegorical retellings of the Solar Temple's story.
According to the Quebec police report of November 1994, the Dutoits were also included in the traitors' list because they had named their son Emmanuel. ..By calling their son Emmanuel the Dutoits had usurped the unique position of Emmanuelle Di Mambro, the "cosmic child," and had in fact transformed their baby son into the Antichrist.
And again, the very short trail of evidence for "suicide" here, four notes which seem to be hastily written, since they contradict each other.
On the other hand, there seems to be a contradiction between the first three documents and the fourth one. From the first three documents it seems that the tragedy was prearranged, as part of the Grand Lodge of Sirius's "Plan," and as a preparation for the end of the world, which is at any rate impending for all humanity. The fourth document--on a more "political" note-presents the suicide as an act of protest against persecution by the government of Quebec, which the document accuses of "mass murder."
Family members were furious with the authorities for what they saw as a lax and intentionally sloppy investigation (see this documentary on the Satellite, which is skeptical in regards to the official story. There are other videos on YouTube which are even more skeptical to the point of outright accusation). But even within the confines of the investigation, the forensic evidence doesn't support the mass suicide theory at all.
While it at first appeared to be a mass suicide, the bodies at Chiery told a slightly different tale. Autopsy reports showed that two of the victims died of suffocation while another twenty-one were administered sleeping pills before being shot to death. According to a Time Magazine article of 1994, some of the victims had as many as eight bullet wounds in the head.
Another ten victims were found with plastic bags over their heads. There was also evidence that several of the victims had shown signs of struggle, which indicates that the deaths were far from a willing suicide pact.The late, great Philip Coppens investigated the Temple's story and found that the suicide explanation was greatly lacking, and is still a major source of contention in France. Coppens traced the deaths to elements within the European fringe right:
One of the experts in the story of the Solar Temple is the French journalist Maurice Fusier. In one of his books on the subject, Secret d’Etat? (“State Secret?”), he explains where his lines of enquiry have taken him. For example, it has become clear that police and investigators purposefully neglected clues that showed that unknown persons aided if not executed the “collective suicides.”
The theory of collective suicides has also been heavily contested by Alain Vuarnet, René and Muguette Rostan, Willy and Giséla Schleimer, who are relatives of the victims, and Dr Alain Leclerc, their lawyer.
Star Trek: Deep Space (the) Nine also seemed to reference the Solar Temple in the episode "Covenant". In it, arch-villain Gul Dukat created a cult around the Pah-Wraiths, the evil discarnate aliens who inhabit the fire caves of Bajor and are the enemies of the
So we've discussed the Gate's presence in pop culture, what about this more esoteric and troubling story?
On further reflection, I believe Chris Carter based "The Church of the Red Museum" on The Order of the Solar Temple and not on Heaven's Gate, even if Marshall Applewhite was so inspired by that episode.
The fact that the group was led by a doctor, the ritualism, the emphasis on health and vegetarianism and the walk-in motif (which leads us back to Sirius, via Ruth Montgomery's influential work) all point to the Solar Temple, who would have been in the news at the time Carter was working on "Red Museum". He wouldn't be done with the Solar Temple, though. Not by a long shot.
It seems to be yet another of these strange thought contagions that float around Hollywood, hiding in plain sight.
Dukat prays alone in his quarters and asks for guidance. Later, at a sudden prayer meeting, Dukat then makes a great announcement: the pah-wraiths have asked everyone to shed their corporeal existences. To accomplish this, he says that everyone, including him, will commit suicide.The writers claimed they were inspired by the Heaven's Gate suicides but given the details of the story, it seems more likely they were processing the Solar Temple in this story and perhaps letting us know they don't buy the "suicide" story either.
Connecting us yet again to the Nine, Stargate SG-1 also worked a similar story in the episode "Seth." In this episode the Egyptian villain is tracked through history by the suicide cults he left in his wake. Interesting clues abound: Canada is referenced when the cult is said to be located "north of Seattle." The cult wears similar garments to the ritual gowns worn by the Solar Temple. There's an investigation by ATF having to do with the cult's weapons. The leader uses women sexually in rituals as did Luc Jouret.
Unfortunately, McGyver isn't punched repeatedly in the face, which I wait to see in every episode of Stargate.
The X-Files would return to the Solar Temple motif in the fifth season with "Patient X"/"The Red and the Black," when assemblies of abductees are immolated by rebel aliens. As with the Solar Temple there are a number of these mass murders in different geographical locations. The overlap between the Gate and the Temple is referenced in the dialogue:
SCULLY: Your mother called us about the incident in Virginia. She said that she knew some of the dead.SPENDER: Of course she did. They were in the same ridiculous cult that she used to be.MULDER: There you have it.SCULLY: She was in a cult?SPENDER: A UFO cult believed they were going to be carried to immortality in some kind of flying motherwheel.
As late as the ninth season (and beginning in the ninth episode), the Temple would appear in The X-Files, this time as a UFO cult led by a Josepho (read: Joseph DiMambro) who like Jouret and DiMambro believed in a cosmic child who would lead the world into a new age (in this case the child was Scully's baby).
As in the Solar Temple drama, there's an attempt made on the child's life, and just before the cult's deaths (by immolation) a curious detail. From Erik Davis' 1994 article on the Temple.
A circle of corpses arrayed in a wheel around a triangular altar, heads aimed outwards like rockets ready to launch.In the episode, we see that very same arrangement just before the spaceship they are standing on launches away.
And then a curiously late example: "Shooting Stars", an episode of CSI. We start off investigating what appears to be a Heaven's Gate situation, though in this case the cult is unlike the Gate or the Temple; it's just a bunch of scruffy slackers living in some kind old fallout shelter.
Gil Grissom is on the case, just to throw in one more bizarre Hollywood fixation. (Bonus 9 factoid: the Grissom character announced he was leaving the CSI unit on the ninth episode of the ninth season, which also saw the introduction of Laurence Fishburne's character)
As it turns out the cult was led by a "Joseph Diamond," a conman whose name lets us know which cult is actually being referenced here (this cult also was big on sex, another hint it's not the Gate).
We later find out that Diamond didn't really intend for the cult to commit suicide (on the night of the Orionids, no less) but he was simply planning to dose them with sleeping pills and make off with their parents' money.
When one "Abby Spencer" (misnamed Abby Sinclair at a CSI fansite, strangely enough) realizes the deception, she kills
DiMambro Diamond and poisons the cult for real.
"Abby Spencer" is interesting enough for our purposes. Someone did their homework; their Templar homework, specifically.
Bisham Abbey is a manor house in Buckinghamshire, England, parts of which are the remains of a Ternplar Preceptory. After the suppression of the Templars, Edward II gave the manor to his 'favourite', Hugh de Spencer.
Yes, that's the same Spencer as Diana Spencer, who met her own end the same year as Heaven's Gate and the Solar Temple.
What a year.
Jeff Buckley also died in 1997 and just to make this totally insane, "Shooting Stars" features a track I wrote about during the Siren series.
UPDATE: Reader Syd points us to a 1995 Dave Emory broadcast in which he too doubts the deaths were suicides.
UPDATE: Reader Syd points us to a 1995 Dave Emory broadcast in which he too doubts the deaths were suicides.
TO BE CONTINUED