Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cult of the Week- Heaven's Gate

There are some smaller less interesting UFO cults, so I am going to break out the heavy hitter, Heaven's Gate. Most people remember this group from the mass suicides in 1997, but what caught my attention was there their theology. They were not lazy like other religions having addendums with the Bible. I mean, how many watchtowers, book of mormons or quran's, or scientolgy materials do we need right? Well Heaven's Gate uses the plain old King James but gives it a UFO spin. For example, when Jesus ascended into heaven, it would be interpreted as Jesus was beamed aboard a space craft. The clouds, was just 1st century language because they lacked the vocabulary to express "space craft".
The UFO 2

Marshall Herf Applewhite, A.K.A. BO AND DO, was the son of a presbyterian minister that became a troubled music professor. He was dimissed from the university due to some inappropriate conduct with some of his male students and he checked himself into a mental instutition to "cure" himself of his homosexual feelings. (Remember this was the 50's). While in the psych ward, he met RN Bonnie Lou Nettles, A.K.A. PEEP AND TI, and they became fast friends. In Nettles, Applewhite found a "platonic helper" who did not threaten his sexual identity. Gradually isolating themselves, they cut off contact with others. During this period, they became "absorbed in a private world of vision, dreams, and paranormal experiences that included contacts with space beings who urged them to abandon their worldly pursuits."
Raised in a traditional Christian family, Applewhite briefly studied for the ministry before electing to pursue a career in music. Nettles had been involved in metaphysical studies and the New Age movement well before the two met. The belief system they invented effectively used traditional Christian teaching as a metaphor or template upon which ideas taken from metaphysical and UFO subcultures were superimposed. According to the teachings of The Two, some two thousand years ago extraterrestrials from the Kingdom of Heaven passed this way to survey their garden Earth and concluded that perhaps it had evolved to a point where it would be useful to send down one being from the "level above." Earthlings, it turned out, were not ready to enter the "Kingdom Level Above Human." The one they sent was killed and Luciferian influences continued to dominate the Earth. (Jesus, the original Bible story)
Bo and Peep came to believe that they were extraterrestrials who offered humans yet another chance to move to a higher evolutionary level. Here, the Christian message of sin and salvation was intermingled with elements of Eastern religious traditions in which seekers attempt to break out of a cycle of death and reincarnation.
The Heavenly Kingdom that Bo and Peep came to tell of was not simply spiritual, but literal. The method of transportation to this Kingdom was a spacecraft. The price one paid for a "boarding pass" to this higher level was a disciplined life which would bring about a bodily metamorphosis they likened to the transformation from a caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly. Called “Human Individual Metamorphosis” (HIM), this process would literally transform human physiology. They developed a detailed folk wisdom that confirmed to them that the process was occurring. For example, headaches were interpreted as evidence of "consciousness explosion," and menstrual pains as a sign that the process of androgyny was at work.

The list of behavioral rules appear to have changed during the life of the group, but from the onset celibacy, abstinence from drugs and alcohol, limited and controlled contact with the outside world, and reduction of "human-level" interpersonal attachments within the group were key behavioral requirements. The changing of one's name, cutting of one's hair, and disposal of one's human possessions were acts symbolic of the abandonment of worldly connections. (might I add, that since Do was a brownie hound he had himself castrated, therefore, some of the followers became eunichs as well).

Initially, Bo and Peep taught that they would be assassinated. After three-and-a-half days their bodies would "ascend up to heaven in a cloud," in fulfillment Revelations 11:12, and the instrument of their ascension would be a flying saucer. This event would be known as "the demonstration."

Early in the life of the group, belief in this teaching as an imminent event was abandoned and the group went "into the wilderness" to better prepare themselves, a process that evolved into a highly disciplined regimentation. Balch characterizes this as a "totalistic" and "encapsulated environment," but also notes that those who did not believe were encouraged to leave the group. How the group's beliefs evolved from this point forward is not well known, but the abundant written record left behind will surely illumine our understanding.
The group apparently developed into a highly cohesive unit. For most of its existence there were few dropouts and few new recruits. Their behavior seems more appropriately characterized as one of internalized self-discipline rather than external regimentation.
It is clear that the group's beliefs changed over the years, but precisely when and how is still being pieced together from the materials they left behind. It is clear that popular-cultural science fiction, especially visions of extraterrestrial life highlighted by movies and television, profoundly influenced the group's worldview. Members were tremendous fans of the Star Trek TV series, as well as The X-Files, both of which featured alien beings in prominent roles.
The methodical, indeed ritual manner in which the group prepared for death is not consistent with the theory that they were leaving this life in desperation, as in the case of the followers of Jim Jones (who committed mass suicide at his command in 1978). Rather, they believed that they were students and that their deaths would allow them to participate in a higher level of human evolution. For them, the coming of Comet Hale-Bopp signaled that their student days were over, and a heavenly space craft was positioned behind the comet waiting to take them to the next level. Do's contention that he would soon die of cancer (a claim which autopsy results proved was spurious) may have primed the group to concerted action lest their second teacher and guide leave without them. In a very real sense, they did not even believe themselves to be committing suicide; they merely saw themselves as abandoning the physical "vehicles" that they regarded as no longer necessary. In the end, the deaths of the Heaven's Gate group were acts of faith; they were graduating to the higher level from which Do and Ti had descended.

Generally speaking their belief system is not inconsistent with traditional judeo christian beliefs, it just has a "unique" interpretation. But that is both the great and irritating thing about religion, that it is subject to interpretation and where logic fails, faith must then fill in the gaps. This group was full of highly intelligent people(they were computer programers) and one guy was the brother of the chick that played uhura on star trek, that fell prey to the charismatic words of someone that claimed to have the same message as Jesus. Go to and read their message, it almost mirrors the Bible except for the UFO slant. Think about it, overcoming your carnal nature, only linking with members of a like faith, giving up wordly pleasures( loosely practised for some), proselstying, believing that the group is greater than yourself, sacrifice now for an eternal reward in heaven... The list goes on and on.

One can only hope that the 39 members of the Heaven's Gate Away Team( those were patches they wore on their matching outfits when they committed suicide), are on board the mother ship in their new bodies with Ti and Do and are finally happy.

No comments: