Members of the Heaven’s Gate cult donned black outfits, new Nike sneakers, and purple shrouds on the day of their deaths. They each had a $5 bill and 3 quarters in their pockets. It was March 1997 and 39 cult members ritually ended their lives in waves. Each cleaned up after the last until all 39 were dead inside a San Diego mansion.
To us on the outside, this was a mass suicide. To families of some of the victims, it was 38 murders and 1 suicide. To the 39 people in the Heaven’s Gate cult, this was their destiny. Marshall Applewhite, their leader, had told his followers that there was a UFO in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet. This comet orbited the earth once every 2,000 years. He told them this was their signal to board the space ship which would take them into eternity. In order to catch this ride, they would have to die.
This tragedy was the culmination of more than two decades of the religious and social development of a religious group that had taken different names over the years. The deaths were the result of years of behavior modification.
At the quiet end today, we’re talking about the origins of the Heaven’s Gate cult, the beliefs of its leaders, and how it appealed to its followers with a religion that fused Christianity, New Age practices, and science fiction. At the time of their deaths, did any of the members have second thoughts or resist in anyway? We’ll talk about the death scene in the Heaven’s Gate mansion and consider the reasons for the dressing and positioning of the bodies.