Saturday, December 15, 2018

Cultists of the upper class

This man has no connection to the OST, I just wanted to find a photo of a modern "Templar"! 

“The Order of the Solar Temple: The Temple of Death” is a collection of scholarly, sometimes super-scholarly, articles about the Solar Temple cult and their 1994 mass suicide in Switzerland and Quebec. Alongside the sad endings of the Peoples Temple, the Branch Davidians and Heaven´s Gate, this is one of the most notorious cult suicides (or rather murder-suicides). It´s also a problem for scholars of New Religious Movements, since they usually *defend* cults. This is shown very clearly in this collection, when several contributors claim that (of course) only the underprivileged join cults, so how can the privileged people in the Solar Temple have been cultists, and commit suicide to boot? Why indeed. This class prejudice is actually quite revealing!

I don´t think the contributors ever solve the riddle of why the OST committed mass suicide (perhaps an anti-cultist psychologist could do it?), but some explanations do suggest themselves. Contributing factors seem to have included the waning charisma of the cult leaders Jouret and Di Mambro, embarrassing exposures of the inner workings of the “temple” in the media (including holograms to fake appearances of the Ascended Masters) and a generally paranoid worldview centered on ideas about an apocalypse at some point during the 1990s. The OST claimed to be in touch with “masters” at Sirius. The original survivalist orientation was scrapped at some point in favor of a direct “transition” (or bug out?) to the Dog Star. It´s possible that the murder-suicides were planned years in advance, a similarity to both the Peoples Temple and Heaven´s Gate. The trigger, just as in the Peoples Temple case, was a brutal assassination of perceived enemies of the cult. The entire mass suicide was ritualistic, a similarity with Heaven´s Gate. Some were murdered or tricked into participating (like Peoples Temple). On a deeper level, the events are probably impossible to understand unless you discuss them in terms of “brain-washing” and “mind control”, or perhaps really raving irrationality, which pro-cult scholars obviously refuse to do.

The most interesting articles were those dealing with OST´s complex history and pre-history. The OST combined several different strands of occultism, including the pseudo-Catholic Masonic ritualism of the “Neo-Templar” tradition and the Theosophical belief in ascended masters from other planets. Homeopathy, aristocratic elitism and ecological concerns were also part of the mix. The order had a long string of front organizations. Their lectures were held at both New Age bookstores and expensive hotels. Virtually all members were privileged, including high-ranking civil servants and a mayor in Quebec. The political connections of the OST are somewhat murky. Cult leader Luc Jouret was a Communist in his youth, but then joined the Belgian Army and participated in a raid in Zaire against left-wing rebels. Of course, it´s possible that Jouret was a nationalist Maoist (they supported France and Zaire against “Soviet social imperialism”). Later, he teamed up with “former” Nazi Julian Origas in an occult order. The occult underground in France may have had connections to secretive Gaullist operatives and even the notorious P2 lodge in Italy, but it´s not clear if OST were part of this network. This volume strongly suggests that they weren´t. 

I get the impression that the OST were at bottom a highly aberrant Theosophical-New Age group which used the ritual strapping of Neo-Templar Masonry to attract lapsed or dissident Catholics (Francophone nations are predominantly Catholic). I suppose the references to the Knights Templar are also connected to the “aristocratic” orientation of this particular cult.

The main lesson of the OST episode is the usual one we all heard before: stay away from cults, including secretive upper class cabals. Funny that lesson was lost on the editors and contributors to this volume (which is also grossly overpriced – do I have to be an aristocrat to afford it?)

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