Friday, October 3, 2008

Cult Nuts Roasting on an Open Fire

by Christian Walters

One problem facing your modern cult is diversification. People today want one-stop psycho-sexual repression with a touch of religion. This is a huge hurdle for your small start-up cult: a shaggy beard and a dozen adolescent wives won't cut it anymore. If all you're bringing to your gibbering rants are demands to nuke Israel, summon Jesus, and start the Apocalypse, you might as well go back to poisoning squirrels and mailing their pelts to Benny Hinn.

Modern wish lists for cults are growing longer.

  • I want to live on a different planet

  • I want ties to ancient shady organizations

  • I want to be able to call myself a Christian with a straight face

  • I want to kill people, including myself

  • I want to shock even the Scientologists with the audacity of my beliefs
Finding groups that meet one or two of those criteria is as difficult as finding John Grisham novels in paperback. But all of them? Your 21st-century cultist on-the-go would despair, and a despairing cultist is a time bomb in home-sewn burlap clothes. But their prayers/sacrificial offerings/ritual scourgings/paramilitary-style death chants have been answered!

Meet the Order of the Solar Temple! It's a GNC store for crazy pills.

Joseph Di Mambro was a member of the Rosicrucians from the mid '50s to the late '60s. After he left them (for reasons I can't verify, but I think they weren't Ren Faire enough), he started a couple of new groups you never heard of over the next fifteen years. But something was missing... something about not enough spittle covering the front few pews. He needed a charismatic leader with a moist, back-of-the-throat accent. Di Mambro himself was the Idea Man, and you don't want your Research and Development team doing your PR.

Along came Luc Jouret, a French physician. He oozed charisma, and got to be frontman while Di Mambro stayed behind the curtain. So was born the Order of the Solar Temple, dedicated to bringing around the Second Coming and restoring proper notions of authority. (I'm not sure what that last part means, but I bet it's not good news for the ladies.) Personal checks accepted at the door, but God help you if they bounce.

To be a member, you have to be not only paid up but you have to believe you are but a traveler on this planet, reincarnated to perform a specific task. (Di Mambro claimed to be a reincarnated Knight Templar, which is something he picked up by hanging with the Rosicrucians.) Solar Temple members thought they had to return their consciousness to the "source," which is the star Sirius. To quote one of them:

"26,000 years ago, the Blue Star [Sirius] left on the earth 'Sons of the One'; it appears in the sky every time it is needed and responds to magnetization when humanity lives its crises of transmutation."

Also, you have to have sex with the French guy before the sermon. Rules is rules.

That's a lot of crazy packed in there. Almost too much crazy to handle, which might be why they [SPOILER ALERT] killed themselves in 1994.

The group started to fray around the edges quickly, even before they killed themselves. The miraculous light show and accompanying gunpowder smell that would occur during the sermons were starting to make some members suspicious, including Di Mambro's son Elie. Perhaps some of them looked it up and saw that Sirius was a star, not a planet -- in fact, the brightest star in the night sky, and easily visible regularly, not just when it's responding to magnetization when humanity lives its crises of transmutation. Very pretty star, but not the best retirement home.

Lots of people started to ask for their money back. One ex-member began to speak out publicly against the group, until he was murdered in his home with his wife and infant son. (At least, that's the most likely reason they were murdered. It might also have been because the son's name was Emmanuel, and Di Mambo had already called dibs on the name Emmanuelle for his future "cosmic daughter.")

Then, on Oct. 4, 1994, fifty-three people were found dead after a fire in Chiery, France, including Di Mambro and Jouret. (Coincidentally, death by fire was necessary to make the trip to Sirius. But not all of those fifty-three people burned to death. The twelve people who died by suffocation and the twenty-one who were shot didn't go to Sirius. Isn't it sort of a dick move to kill them without fire, basically canceling their retirement plan? Are we the Order of the Enron Temple?) Sixteen more Cajun blackened each other in December of 1995, and five more in March of 1997.

OST's natural enemy for multiple reasons.

Oh, wouldn't it be embarrassing if they got their paths crossed with the Heaven's Gate people? All those poor Heaven's Gate folks standing on Sirius watching their sandals melt, and the OST guys squatting sourly on that comet, rubbing Bactine on each other?

You might wonder why I'm bothering with this some fourteen years later. It's because Brian has my sex tape, and I promised Shakira it wouldn't be made public. But also because this was just a temporary setback for the group. Like a rose bush that's been pruned in a massive fire after being smothered and shot, the Order came back healthier later. There are some 30 members living in Quebec, with another 200-500 still around the world. Seems odd, but there are still Branch Davidians in Waco, too. No doubt they're planning to visit Sirius by setting fire to their deathbeds when they're very old. Or perhaps an evolutionary quirk has made them flame retardant.

Just be careful, folks. If you flick a lighter open in Quebec, you could very well be dogpiled by two dozen French Canadians. ("Duh!" you are thinking, but this time they will be fiftyish, weeping, and smelling like aloe.)

Christian Walters lives, loves, and drives in the Atlanta area. He's a technical writer by training, and a Rock Band Adonis by nature. He has honed his reviewing skills on bad movies, which are as rare as pollen grains these days. He has always been a fan of science, and has studied it as much as he could by flinging a Frisbee around campus while getting a liberal arts degree.

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