TEMPLE SOLAIRE . The Order of the Solar Temple, a European esoteric movement, shocked European public opinion with its mass suicides and homicides of 1994, 1995, and 1997, and it had a crucial effect on subsequent anticult activity by various European governments.
The Arginy Movement
A whole group of new religious movements flourish with foundational mythologies connected to the medieval Knights Templars. Most trace their origin to the Order of the Temple founded in 1805 by Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat (1777–1838), a French physician and Freemason. After Palaprat's death, the movement went through a number of schisms, and by 1950 more than one hundred small neo-Templar bodies were in existence throughout the world. New groups emerged during the 1950s, some of them claiming mystical experiences in which their founders were directly initiated as Knights Templars from the spirit world by ascended "Masters of the Temple."
Jacques Breyer (1922–1996), a prolific French esoteric author, claimed to have had such an experience with two companions on June 12, 1952, in the ruins of Arginy Castle in France. These events led to the establishment of the Sovereign Order of the Solar Temple (Ordre Souverain du Temple Solaire, or OSTS). In the 1960s Julien Origas (1920–1983), an interpreter who had served four years in jail for his wartime activities as a Nazi collaborator, became associated with the Arginy movement, and established the Renewed Order of the Temple (Ordre Rénové du Temple, or ORT) as an independent but related branch of the OSTS. On March 21, 1981, the leaders of OSTS and ORT converged in a mystical ceremony in Geneva on the premises of a third organization, also recognized by Breyer as part of the Arginy movement: the Golden Way Foundation, established by Joseph Di Mambro (1924–1994). The ceremony was—according to Di Mambro—at least as important as the Arginy experience, and was later cited as the founding date of the Order of the Solar Temple.
The Order of the Solar Temple
Di Mambro was born in Pont-Saint-Esprit (Gard, France) in 1924. A jeweler by trade, in 1956 he joined AMORC, the Ancient and Mystical Order of the Rosy Cross. He left it around 1970, joined the Arginy movement, and—after a minor skirmish with French justice in 1971 for writing bad checks—moved to Annemasse, near the Swiss border. He later moved to Switzerland, where in 1973 he started a full-time career as teacher of yoga and occult philosophy. He also became the founder of several occult societies. In 1982 Di Mambro's Golden Way Foundation was joined by Luc Jouret (1947–1994), a popular Belgian homeopathic doctor who had established a practice in Annemasse. The Amenta Club (later renamed Atlanta), a circle established by Jouret for his clients and friends, became a vehicle for disseminating Di Mambro's ideas. Di Mambro also introduced Jouret to Origas, and the Belgian doctor quickly ascended to a leadership position in the ORT.
When Origas died in 1983, Jouret claimed to have been designated as his heir and as leader of the ORT, but his claims were challenged by the Origas family. Jouret and Di Mambro eventually left the ORT and established the International Order of Chivalry-Solar Tradition, more commonly known as the Order of the Solar Temple (Ordre du Temple Solaire, or OTS). By this time they operated a system of Chinese boxes. People initially attended Jouret's speeches organized by the Amenta and Atlanta Clubs. Those most interested were invited to join the Arcadia Clubs. The most dedicated members of the Arcadia Clubs were eventually invited to join the true secret organization, the OTS. By 1989 (possibly the year of its maximum success) the OTS had 442 members, most of them in French-speaking countries (only sixteen in the United States). Jouret had considerable success in Quebec as a motivational speaker, especially at Hydro-Québec, the public hydroelectric utility of the province, where he recruited fifteen executives and managers for the OTS between 1987 and 1989.
By this time, the theme of an imminent end of the world (originating from certain ideas of Breyer, but including new elements about UFOs and extraterrestrials) was a central part of OTS teaching. When the OTS apocalyptic worldview was discovered behind the facade of Jouret's motivational speeches, the group started to experience strong and organized opposition.
In 1991 the Martinique branch of ADFI (Association pour la défense des familles et de l'individu, the largest French anticult organization) denounced the conversion of wealthy Martinicans to the OTS and their eventual move to Quebec. ADFI-Martinique was able to join forces with Rose-Marie Klaus, a disgruntled Swiss OTS ex-member whose husband Bruno had left her within the frame of new "cosmic" marriage rearrangements introduced by Di Mambro and allegedly dictated by the ascended Masters. Eventually, Klaus's determined opposition made inroads: Jouret found it increasingly difficult to be invited as a motivational speaker, and in February 1993 the Canadian police started investigating the Solar Temple. On March 8, 1993, two OTS members, Jean-Pierre Vinet and Hermann Delorme, were arrested as they were attempting to buy semiautomatic guns with silencers, illegal weapons in Quebec. A warrant for arrest was also issued against Luc Jouret, at that time in Europe. In fact, the arms deal had been arranged by a police informant engaged in a sting operation. The prosecution ended with a "suspended acquittal" and a minor fine for Jouret, Vinet, and Delorme (with the latter leaving the OTS following the incident). Rose-Marie Klaus managed to have lurid accounts of the "cult of the end of the world" published in the media. Vinet was fired from his position at Hydro-Québec, and police investigations were launched in France and Australia, where Di Mambro had some financial interests, later grossly exaggerated by sensationalist accounts in the press.
It is not easy to determine whether the preparation for a "transit" of the core members of the OTS to another planet (through suicide) was started before or after the first Canadian police actions in 1993. The first versions of the texts about the transit (proclaiming that the end of the world was near, and that it was eminently reasonable to leave planet Earth in search of salvation on the star Sirius or on another faraway planet) were probably written at about the time the Canadian investigation was started in February 1993. That same year the OTS was confronted by two major factors of internal stress. In Quebec, dissension about Jouret's leadership erupted, and Robert Falardeau, an officer with the Quebec Ministry of Finances, replaced him as Grand Master (with Jouret remaining an important international leader). In Europe, Di Mambro had serious health problems. A number of French and Swiss members had left the OTS in 1993, wondering whether their money had not mostly been spent to support the leader's luxurious lifestyle. Worst of all, rumors began circulating in 1990 that the most secret and sacred experience of the OTS—visible manifestations of the Masters of the Temple—were, in fact, holographic and electronic tricks stage-managed on behalf of Di Mambro by a loyal member, Antonio (Tony) Dutoit. These rumors led Di Mambro's son, Elie, to quit the OTS. Dutoit and his wife eventually confirmed the rumors, distanced themselves from Di Mambro, and in 1994 named their newborn baby Christopher Emmanuel. This was particularly intolerable for Di Mambro, who considered the name Emmanuel to be reserved for his own daughter, who was named Emmanuelle, but was addressed in the OTS as "Emmanuel," as if she were male. Emmanuelle—allegedly conceived by Dominique Bellaton, Di Mambro's mistress, through cosmic intercourse with an ascended Master—was regarded as the embodiment of the cosmic Christ. As a consequence, Di Mambro become persuaded that the infant Christopher Emmanuel Dutoit was the antichrist and another omen of the imminent end of the world.
Within this climate, Di Mambro had a paranoid reaction to the police investigations, and set in motion the chain of events eventually leading to the "departure." It is unclear when exactly messages from the Masters and from a "Heavenly Lady" channeled by Di Mambro and by Camille Pilet (1926–1994)—the most prominent and wealthy businessman in the OTS and the alleged reincarnation of Joseph of Arimathea—started preparing the Templars for a "transit" out of this world, but preparations probably began around 1990. It is also unclear when (probably in 1993) an inner core of members learned that the transit would not involve a spaceship or other extraterrestrial vehicle, but would be a mystical suicide. At any rate, on October 4, 1994, fire destroyed Joseph Di Mambro's villa in Morin Heights, Quebec. Among the ruins, the police found five charred bodies. Three of these people—the Dutoits and their infant son—had been stabbed to death before the fire. Having perpetrated or at least supervised the killings in Morin Heights, which probably took place on September 30, Joël Egger and Dominique Bellaton (the mother of the "genuine" cosmic child) joined forty-six other OTS members and children of members in Switzerland. In the early morning of October 5, the police found all of them dead in two OTS centers in Cheiry (canton of Fribourg) and Granges-sur-Salvan (canton Valais). Twenty-three bodies were found in Cheiry and twenty-five in Granges-sur-Salvan, along with the remains of the devices programmed to start the fires that almost destroyed both OTS centers. From the lengthy investigation of the Swiss police and judiciary, it seems that most of those dead in Cheiry were murdered, while at least half of those found in Granges-sur-Salvan committed suicide. But the dichotomy between suicide and murder is only part of the story. Documents left by the Temple suggest that along with murdered traitors and core members strong enough to understand the full implications of the transit, there were also weaker Templars. The latter did not oppose the idea of the transit (although they may have understood it as something different from a suicide), but they needed "help" to accomplish it.
Interestingly, after the murders and suicides few former members reinterpreted the OTS from the anticult perspective, and the majority continued to express sympathy for the organization. It seems that Di Mambro had explicitly planned the survival of some "witnesses" by establishing the ARC (Association for Cultural Research for the external world, but in fact the Association Rosy-Cross) in Avignon on September 24, 1994. One of the speakers at the Avignon meeting was a well-known French conductor, Michel Tabachnik, who had joined the OTS some years earlier and had been an occasional speaker with Jouret in Quebec. The only public figure to survive the 1994 tragedy, he was accused by a sensationalist press of being the secret leader of the OTS or at least Di Mambro's successor. Although he was acquitted in a criminal trial in France in 2001, Tabachnik's musical career was compromised.
Notwithstanding the continued police interest in what was left of the OTS, a second "transit" happened on December 23, 1995, when sixteen OTS members and three of their children were found dead in the Vercors mountains, near Grenoble, France. In a third incident, discovered on May 23, 1997, in Saint-Casimir, Quebec, another five members of the OTS—including Bruno Klaus, the former husband of vocal apostate Rose-Marie Klaus—committed suicide. While only a handful of persons who regard themselves as members of the OTS or the ARC remain alive in Europe or Quebec after the third incident, further suicides cannot be ruled out as long as some people continue to share the OTS ideology and regard the "transit" as both reasonable and desirable.
Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God; New Religious Movements, overview article and articles on New Religious Movements and Millennialism and New Religious Movements and Violence.
Hall, John R., and Philip Schuyler. "The Mystical Apocalypse of the Solar Temple." In Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements, edited by Thomas Robbins and Susan J. Palmer, pp. 285–311. New York, 1997. An early scholarly approach.
Introvigne, Massimo. "The Magic of Death: The Suicides of the Solar Temple." In Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence: Historical Cases, edited by Catherine Wessinger, pp. 138–157. Syracuse, N.Y., 2000.
Introvigne, Massimo, and Jean-François Mayer. "Occult Masters and the Temple of Doom: The Fiery End of the Solar Temple." In Cults, Religion, and Violence, edited by David G. Bromley and J. Gordon Melton, pp. 170–188. New York, 2002. An assessment of the tragedy's meaning.
Mayer, Jean-François. Der Sonnentempel: Die Tragödie einer Sekte. Updated ed. Freiburg, Germany, 1998. The standard scholarly approach.
Mayer, Jean-François. "'Our Terrestrial Journey Is Coming to an End': The Last Voyage of the Solar Temple." Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 2, no. 2 (April 1999): 172–196.
Massimo Introvigne (2005)