by William Henry
Taken from the prologue of the forthcoming book
The Keeperís of
Heavenís Gate: The Millennial Madness
Readers may find parts of this book difficult to believe. This is,
however, the true details of the religious beliefs of an
extraordinary group of people. The íilluminationsí drawn from their
beliefs have been selected from the statements, documents and
interviews by cult members. Since the beginning of time, people have
sought to answer the questions raised in this book. It is dedicated
to all who have ever asked these questions, and written in hopes
that all who pursue these questions in the future will do so with
the healthy understanding that perhaps we are not meant to answer
all of lifeís questions. The key of life may be to enjoy it to its
maximum while we are here.
"It is often the fanatics, and not always the delicate spirits, that
are found grasping the right thread of the solutions required by the
Ernest Renan, History of the People of Israel
Rancho Santa Fe, California, March 26,
1997. The day the Heavenís
Gate cult, believing they alone had the answers to lifeís ultimate
question, ceremoniously slipped their mortal coil and escaped into
Their story left the human family stunned, dominating the human
conversation on the Easter weekend that followed. It touched the
eternal spirit in all of us, simultaneously evoking fear, loathing
and compassion. We all know we will die. It is this knowing that
compels us to comprehend this situation, to find a íWeb pageí of
truth in this traitorous and cowardly act. What force, this book
seeks to answer, could cause a misfit soul to want to pull and whirl
itself away from Earth, especially to a waiting space ship?
Despite the fact that their propaganda, offered in highly
sophisticated web pages, suggests they wanted to be free of Earth
life, the actions of the Heavenís Gate cult had a totally opposite
effect. Instead of freedom, the manner of their death created a
silver cord which is now gripped by the imaginations of millions of
people around the world. In their carelessness, they will never be
free of Earth life. Instead of being worshipped as heroes, they are
immortalized as villains in the museum of human consciousness.
This book (The Keeperís of
Heavenís Gate: The Millennial Madness)
deals with the peculiar belief systems possessed by the
Heavenís Gate cult and other notorious cults of the 90ís. In these
beliefs is found the "force" or "unifying agent" which drove them to
extinction. As an investigator of similar beliefs, I too built a
worldview using many of the sticks and stones the Heavenís Gate cult
used to build their temple. Itís okay to believe in UFOís,
reincarnation, and life on other planets.
The striking difference is
the unifying agent holding these beliefs together. Unfortunately, in
the case of the Heavenís Gate cult the Biblical adage íand slime
they had for mortarí applies. This íslimeí separates them from all
the other seekers of the world who chose a more permanent bonding
agent to unify their beliefs and ground them to the Earth.
"The well-adjusted," writes
Eric Hoffer, "make poor prophets. On the
other hand, those who are at war with the present have an eye for
the seeds of change and the potentialities of small beginnings."
Heavenís Gate cult believed themselves to be visionaries not just at
war with the present, but with all of Earth life in general. Early
on they developed the radical idea that for them to achieve peace it
was mandatory that they leave Earth.
"The radical," Hoffer wrote, "has a passionate faith in the infinite
perfectibility of human nature. He believes that by changing manís
environment and by perfecting a technique of soul forming, a society
can be wrought that is wholly new and unprecedented."
Washington and Franklin were radicals. Ghandi in India was a
radical. Martin Luther King was a radical. They sought to revive the
human spirit through the resurrection of an ancient belief in a
golden age, believing in this act we could create a utopia.
The Heavenís Gate cult also believed themselves to be radicals. They
revived ancient beliefs, too, particularly in space beings who
planted the human soul on this Earth. They preached a return to
these ancient beings and their beliefs. The difference is for
Heavenís Gate death is utopia and they believed this utopia was
elsewhere other than the Earth. They passionately pursued this ideal
to its ultimate fulfillment.
Why? The Heavenís Gate cult lived at the top of the material pyramid
of human civilization. They had íarrivedí. In Rancho Santa Fe,
spacious estates with their rolling and wooded lawns huddle together
to form an island in a region that is otherwise a pancake of desert.
Itís one of the worldís richest communities, a private garden in a
world becoming increasingly a maze of concrete and steel: an ideal
place for the wealthy to retire to the Sun and to either contemplate
or forget about the rest of the world.
Despite their accomplishments as talented web page designers, the
misfits of Heavenís Gate never believed they had íarrivedí on Earth.
They didnít even consider themselves earthlings. No accomplishment,
no matter how stellar, would satisfy the titanic needs of their
souls. For them, salvation could only come in the form of total
separation from the prison of Earth. To stay here, their propaganda
professed, was suicide.
For this reason, the garden at Rancho Santa Fe became the perfect
place for a mass suicide. Monday morning, March 24,1997, rose like
any other in the palatial home the Heavenís Gate cult called "our
temple." That day, instead of creating web-pages for their clients,
the men and women who lived here dressed themselves in matching
clothing, packed themselves into their bunk beds and awaited further
instructions. In their pockets they carried cash, perhaps an echo of
the ancient Egyptian belief that the dead had to pay the ferry men,
the keepers of the gates to heaven.
During long years of training they had prepared themselves for what
was to come. By this procedure, all 39 members of the cult would
converge upon a space ship following the comet Hale-Bopp, their true
home. Hale-Bopp was the "marker" the Heavenís Gate soldiers had been
waiting for. It represented the culmination of their mission and the
dawning of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.
Moments later two members of the Heavenís Gate cult entered the
bedrooms of their "brothers and sisters," as they called each other.
This exercise was not a drill. With the comet above them itís all
for real now. Each cup holds a combination of phenobarbital and
alcohol. Phenobarbital is a barbiturate drug that doctors have long
prescribed for its sedative and antiseizure properties. In minutes,
it kills painlessly by producing drowsiness, coma and collapse of
the circulatory system.
As they sipped their "elixers of life," cult members
incontrovertibly believed members of the Kingdom of Heaven were
aboard a craft trailing Hale-Bopp awaiting their return. On the
computer monitors which filled the house, images of the alien-human
hybrids, or Extraterrestrial Biological Entities, who inhabited this
ship watched over them.
With one sip the most intimate and thoughtful act any human can make
was done. From here, the automatic death mechanism within turned the
key and released the soul inhabiting these bodies. Whether or not
they made it past the keepers to heavenís gate is not for us to
Tolerantly hosting misfits is a way of life in California, they
breath life into its image as a cutting edge region of the world.
Itís entertainment and computers that are at Californiaís political,
economic and cultural heart, however - bringing shared experiences
and new frontiers to the world. Together, misfits and computers,
along with a self-proclaimed messiah who indoctrinates with a video
camera, have placed California, and by extension the entertainment
and computer industries, on the furthest fringes of a new shared
experience: millennial madness.
March 26,1997 marked the end of age. From this point forward until
well after the year 2,000 the entire world will be wrapped in the
clutches of the change of millennium. This millennial madness is
what makes Heavenís Gateís story not just another California, or
technology-gone-mad story, however. This madness moves from
California to a mountain retreat in Switzerland, to the vineyards of
France, to Quebec, Canada to Tokyo, Japan.
It was in Quebec, in the days just before the Heavenís Gate suicide,
that several more of the Order of the Solar Templeís membership
evacuated this Earth in an altar of flame. Since 1994, 74 Solar
Temple members have died in mass suicides. Members believed they
were reincarnated Knights Templar, a secretive medieval holy order
founded by nine French knights after they excavated the site of
Solomonís Temple in Jerusalem.
Like the members of Heavenís Gate, disciples of the Order of the
Solar Temple believed death is an illusion and "real" life begins
once we escape Earth life. Heavenís Gate members believed their
death would lead to salvation aboard a UFO trailing Hale-Bopp.
Temple members believed in an afterlife on Sirius, the brightest
star in our solar system, which as we will see, was the key image in
the millennial beliefs of the Christ figure.
There is no known link between the Heavenís Gate and Solar Temple
suicides. In fact, there are glaring differences. The suicides in
Canada and Europe were fiery, ritualistic affairs and the victims
were men, women and children. What links the groups is not the
manner of their deaths. It is their religious beliefs. Both groups
claim access to an advanced, even ancient, cosmology which involves
belief in everything from UFOís, extraterrestrials, soul
transplantation, soul harvesting and reincarnation to stargates. In
the case of Heavenís Gate they claimed answers to such perennial
questions as who are we? How did we get here? What are we doing
here? And, how do we leave?
We shall examine their beliefs, point by point, revealing the
historical, mythological basis for their conclusions. An awareness
of the historical continuity of these beliefs imparts a sense of
sense itself in the senseless acts of suicide. The fact that
Heavenís Gate was founded by a former psychiatric patient has led
many observers to dismiss the cult as just another band of lunatics.
This deprecating attitude denies their humanity. By portraying the
cult members as somehow deformed their story fails to inform us. Our
intent is to show what they believed in hopes that it will prevent
another disaster of this kind from ever happening again.
The Aum Supreme Cult
At the opposite end of the Pacific a man who once claimed to be that
beast awaits trial in Japan. Shoko Asahara, a bearded and blind
charlatan, believed himself to be the reincarnated Hindu god of
death, Shiva. This is the Hindu version of Satan.
Like Heavenís Gate, Asaharaís Aum Supreme Cult was a wired,
high-tech affair run by the brightest of the bright - engineers,
geneticists, pharmacologists - recruited from the best Japanese and
American universities. They ran a billion-dollar empire built on
bucks from their sale of LSD and other drugs which they
manufactured. These same labs worked day and night refining enough
chemical and biological weapons to kill millions.
At the height of his power, Asahara was negotiating with the former
Soviet Union to acquire nuclear warheads to unleash Armageddon. Of
course, only he and his cult members would survive this total
annihilation of the human race. And, of course, once the misfits (the
rest of us) were exterminated the Aum Supreme Cult would rebuild the
human race and colonize the galaxy. Other members were sent to Zaire
to collect the insanely deadly Ebola virus. As a first step, on
March 20, 1995, his disciples poured the deadly nerve gas sarin into
the Tokyo subway system, killing 12 people and injuring 6,000 more.
All of these cults have something in common: a belief in the
Judeo-Christian idea of Armageddon: the end of the world. All of the
Heavenís Gate members are presumed dead. The Order of the Solar
Temple has members in Britain, the United States and Australia. The
Aum Supreme Cult has disbanded, and many of its members are in jail.
Still, questions remain: what did these people believe that would
push them to suicide?