Heaven's Gate (cult)

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Heaven's Gate was the name of a UFO cult co-led by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles until Nettles' death. The cult's end, coinciding with the appearance of Comet Hale-Bopp, created a sensation in the United States in 1997. Applewhite convinced 39 followers to commit suicide so that their souls could take a ride on a spaceship that they thought was hiding behind the comet; members reportedly believed themselves to be extraterrestrials. Such beliefs have led some observers to characterise the group as a type of "UFO religion".

Contents

Origins and history

Heaven's Gate was a secretive New Age religion. Knowledge of their practices is limited. Upon joining the group, members often sold their worldly belongings in order to break their attachments with earthly existence. For many years the group lived in isolation in the western United States. Members often traveled in pairs and rendezvoused with other members for meetings or presentations they gave to recruit new members. For a time, group members lived in a darkened house where they would simulate the experience they expected to have during their long journey in outer space. A publication produced at this time that received some press attention was titled "How to build a U.F.O." and purported to describe an interplanetary spacecraft out of materials such as old tires. Much of what is known about the group comes from the research of Robert Balch and David Taylor, who infiltrated the group in the 1970s.

The members of the cult added "-ody" to the first names they adopted in lieu of their original given names. For a few months prior to their deaths, three of them, Thurston-ody, Sylvie-ody, and Elaine-ody, worked for Advanced Development Group (ADG), Inc. (now ManTech Advanced Development Group), or MADG (http://www.mantech-adg.com), a small San Diego-based company that developed computer-based instruction for the U. S. Army. Although they were polite and friendly in a reserved way, they tended to keep to themselves. They lived a communal lifestyle in which everyone had the same things and received the same treatment. They believed Star Trek to be actually true. (One of their members was the brother of actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura.) When they quit working for ADG, they told their supervisor that they'd completed their mission.

On December 12, 1996, a usenet posting by "lah" (later revealed to be the account of one Sister Francis Michael) in the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology applauded Scientology for their "courageous action against the Cult Awareness Network" [1], which she blamed of "promoting all sort of lies" including "cult activities".

A few weeks later, they were dead.

Structure

The structure of Heaven's Gate resembled that of a medieval monastic order.

Group members gave up their material possessions and lived a highly ascetic lifestyle devoid of many indulgences. Several male members of the cult voluntarily underwent castration as an extreme means of maintaining the ascetic lifestyle.

The cult funded itself through offering professional website designing for clients. The group was tightly knit and everything was shared communally.

Suicide

In preparation for their suicide, members of the cult drank citrus juices to ritually cleanse their bodies of impurities. In the wake of the cult's suicide, some of the members attributed their ability to attract new members to the growth of the Internet. The thirty-nine bodies of the cult members were found in a rented mansion in the upscale San Diego community of Rancho Santa Fe, California on March 26, 1997. Their suicide, conducted in shifts, was accomplished by ingestion of phenobarbital-laced applesauce and vodka, not (as is commonly believed) Kool-Aid. (However, Flavor Aid, a product similar to Kool-Aid was used for the purposes of mass suicide in the famous 1978 Jonestown massacre.) A video of the bodies in bunkbeds, covered neatly with purple blankets and wearing identical brand new Nike sneakers, was shown repeatedly during the media coverage following the suicides. They had also packed suitcases and money, presumably for the UFO trip.

On May 5, 1997, two remaining members of the group, Chuck Humphrey (known as "Rkkody") and Wayne Cooke ("Jstody") also attempted to "exit their human vehicles" (commit suicide) in a motel room in Encinitas, CA. Cooke's attempt was successful; Humphrey was comatose for two days but recovered, and started a website that continued to promote the Heaven's Gate beliefs, and also selling memorabilia such as mousepads, T-shirts, and Away Team patches. In February 1998 Humphrey made another attempt to "exit", this time successful. While Humphrey previously referred to himself as "the sole survivor of Heaven's Gate", he and Cooke had previously held a press conference, along with two others known as "Juan of Venezuela" and "Crlody", to explain the beliefs of Heaven's Gate. Who the other two representatives were and where they went is not known.

Among the victims was Thomas Nichols, brother of the actress Nichelle Nichols, from the series Star Trek. Applewhite was a fan of Star Trek, and episodes of the show and its spin-offs were often shown to members of the cult.

Heaven's Gate in Popular Culture

The vast media coverage of the Heaven's Gate incident brought about a huge public awareness of the religious cult. In a sense, it was also an Internet phenomenon, since the web was in its early years and the notion of being able to view webpages featuring and created by persons who had recently died was very much a novelty.

This wide coverage would eventually spill over into the entertainment industry, especially among television shows that were inspired by a cult (not always necessarily Heaven's Gate) to create stories that parodied, or otherwise explored, this particular subject.

Well known examples include:

See also

Bibliography

External links

Copyright

"Original data received from Wikipedia on April 21, 2006. Credit given to original authors can be seen Here."

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