Heavens Gate

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HEAVEN'S GATE , a small American UFO cult, achieved worldwide notoriety in March 1997 when the leader and his thirty-eight followers committed mass suicide in Rancho Santa Fe, California. The bodies, dressed in black uniforms and covered with purple shrouds, were found lying on bunk beds and mattresses throughout the group's seven-bedroom mansion. The suicides had been carefully planned, and law enforcement investigators found no evidence of violence or coercion. After ingesting barbiturates and alcohol to induce drowsiness, the members had pulled plastic bags over their heads and suffocated as they fell asleep. Once free of their human "containers," they expected their souls to be lifted up to a spacecraft that would take them to a physical heaven, the Level above Human. There they would be given new androgynous bodies and assume the task of guiding the evolution of life on other planets throughout the universe.


The leader of Heaven's Gate, a sixty-six-year-old man named Do, claimed to be God's sole representative on the planet. Originally he had shared leadership with a woman, Ti, but she died of liver cancer in 1985. Ti and Do met in Houston, Texas, in 1972. Ti, whose given name was Bonnie Lu Nettles (b. 1924), was a registered nurse and a student of metaphysics, including Theosophy. Do, then Marshall Herff Applewhite (b. 1931), was a former music professor and lapsed Presbyterian.

Applewhite had lost two university teaching positions because of problems stemming from confusion over his sexual identity. In 1965 he was dismissed from the University of Alabama and divorced by his wife following a homosexual affair with a student, and in 1970 he was fired from Saint Thomas University in Houston after his fiancée, a female student, attempted suicide when he broke off their engagement. Applewhite lamented his inability to form a lasting relationship, and though yearning for a soulmate to help him achieve his potential, he contemplated renouncing sexuality altogether.

Shortly after the Saint Thomas incident, Applewhite began having visions, including one in which he was told that he had been chosen for a Christlike messianic role. It was during this period that Applewhite met Nettles. Still active in theater circles, Applewhite offered her an exciting escape from an unhappy marriage, and she gave him the confidence and metaphysical knowledge he needed to begin making sense of his experiences. Believing they had known each other in a previous lifetime, they immediately formed an intense, though platonic, relationship, which led to the breakup of Nettles's marriage.

Early in 1973, Applewhite and Nettles left Houston, hoping to free themselves from worldly commitments in order to discover why God had brought them together. The answer came in a revelation six months later: They were the "two witnesses" in Revelation 11 who, after being martyred, would resurrect and ascend to heaven in a cloud. Like Jesus, they had come from the Kingdom of Heaven to show humans how to achieve eternal life, and like Jesus they would return in a spacecraft. Jesus had failed in his mission, so Applewhite had been sent to try again, this time with a helper because of the negativity on the planet, which was controlled by Satan.

To become eligible for membership in the Next Level, humans would have to follow the same path Applewhite and Nettles had taken by shedding their attachments to the human level, including their sexuality. The overcoming process would initiate a biological transformation of their bodies that would be completed upon reaching the Next Level, where they would become immortal, androgynous beings. Paradoxically, in light of the mass suicide to come, Applewhite and Nettles claimed that seekers had to board the spacecraft in living, physical bodies. Death would ensure another incarnation as a human.

In April 1975, after much fruitless proselytizing, Applewhite and Nettles recruited twenty-four followers in Hollywood, California. Now with a flock, they called themselves Bo and Peep. Their new group came to be known as Human Individual Metamorphosis (HIM), referring to the transformation of the body brought about by the overcoming process.

Bo and Peep began presenting their message in public meetings, and by the end of 1975, they had over two hundred followers. Most were young, single spiritual seekers with weak attachments to conventional institutions, although some had left families, homes, and careers. Typically they vanished abruptly within days of hearing the message, disappearing so completely that even private detectives were unable to find them. The disappearances made national headlines, and syndicated news stories about HIM appeared sporadically for several months.

From HIM to Total Overcomers Anonymous

The group reached its maximum size in the fall of 1975, but membership declined rapidly because the defection rate was high and fewer people were joining. Early in 1976, with about one hundred members remaining, Bo and Peep stopped recruiting, and the media lost interest in HIM. Bo and Peep inaugurated a new phase called the Classroom, which they compared to astronaut training. Less committed "students" were encouraged to leave, and late in 1976 nineteen were expelled. Bo and Peep changed their names again, this time to Do and Ti, with Ti's name spoken first, indicating her superior position in the "chain of mind" connecting the students with the Next Level.

The Classroom coupled extreme isolation with demanding discipline. Moving every six months, the Class initially lived in remote campgrounds, and later in expensive suburban neighborhoods. Isolation from humans was virtually complete during the camping phase because the Class was supported by a student's trust fund, but members remained insulated even after moving into houses. In 1978, forty-eight members moved into a single house, or "craft," without their neighbors' knowledge. Only certain students were allowed outside and "intercepts" were designated to greet visitors. After the trust fund ran out, some students got jobs waiting tables and doing computer work, but they maintained their distance from other people by identifying themselves as members of a celibate religious order. Not until 1982 were students allowed to call home. Some eventually visited their families, but they divulged few details about their activities and never revealed the group's location.

Everyday life was governed by strict schedules and procedures. The most demanding routine required students to check in throughout the day at a central location in staggered eleven-minute intervals. Arriving two at a time, they would stand prayerfully for one minute, then go back to their business, returning eleven minutes later, and so on until bedtime. This discipline was practiced, with occasional breaks, for months at a time. Procedure manuals prescribed the most mundane activities, from shaving to buttering bread, and each student was assigned a "check partner" to make sure the rules were followed. To help eliminate their humanness, sex and private property were forbidden, and except when sleeping or engaged in "out-of-craft tasks," students wore hooded uniforms that concealed their faces. Lingering human traits were addressed in slippage meetings, a form of mutual criticism. During free periods students studied astrology, worked puzzles, and watched television game shows to exercise their minds. Every night students took shifts scanning the heavens for UFOs.

Early in the 1980s, Ti and Do realized that their students were not, as they had thought, humans who would physically change their bodies into Next Level vehicles. Instead they were members of the Kingdom of Heaven who were temporarily occupying human vehicles for a training mission, which included exemplifying celibacy for humans. This new understanding helped cushion the blow when Ti died of cancer in 1985. Do explained that Ti, having completed her task of getting him started on his mission, had left her vehicle and returned to the Next Level, where she received a new body, like changing clothes. The separation of self and body escalated in 1988 when Do broached the idea of castration as a way for the males to eliminate the sexuality of their vehicles. Eventually eight men, including Do, had themselves castrated.

In 1988 the Class tentatively resumed proselytizing by mailing a statement by Do to UFO experts and New Age centers. Do elaborated on his belief in Satan by describing a "Luciferian" army of evil space aliens pitted against the Next Level. Subsequent videotapes produced by the Class expanded on Lucifer's activities and announced that the end-time was approaching. But not until 1992, in a USA Today advertisement warning that earth's civilization was about to be "spaded under," did the Class stress the urgency of the situation. In 1994 the Class, with only twenty-six students remaining and now calling itself Total Overcomers Anonymous, embarked on a series of sixty-four public lectures to present the message one last time. The group doubled in size, but most of the newcomers dropped out within a few months.

The Suicides

Discouraged, Do grew increasingly concerned about Luciferian interference with his mission. After the 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian residence near Waco, Texas, Do worried that the Class might be under government surveillance, so he moved his students to New Mexico, where they began building a fortified compound. However, the project was never completed, and Do began sending students to other countries in an unsuccessful attempt to find a more compatible location for the Class. Proselytizing continued over the Internet, but the main response was ridicule, and Do admitted to growing weary of his mission.

In this context, the Class began discussing the possibility of "exiting" their vehicles, as Ti had done. The discussion was hypothetical at first, but it turned serious in September 1994 when Do asked the students how they would feel about leaving their bodies if this required nothing more than drinking a pleasant-tasting liquid and falling asleep. A few balked, but only one left the Class. In 1996 the Class began posting messages on its website that strongly implied that suicide was imminent. Erroneously, Do had come to believe that, like Ti, he was dying of cancer, and in November the Class liquidated nearly all its possessions.

By 1997 the number of students had dropped to thirty-eight, all of whom would die by suicide along with Do. The Class, now calling itself Heaven's Gate, had rented a hilltop mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, a wealthy suburb of San Diego. While several students still worked at out-of-craft tasks, many now worked "in-craft" for the group's web design business, Higher Source. Neighbors were generally unaware that a religious group lived in the house, and the few outsiders who became acquainted with the students described them as friendly, but reclusive.

Finally, in March, a flashing "RED ALERT!" was added to the group's web page announcing that the moment of departure was imminent. Although the medical examiner was unable to determine exactly when the suicides began, they appear to have started on March 23, the day after the Hale-Bopp cometthe brightest of the twentieth centurymade its closest approach to earth. Do had concluded that Ti was coming back in a spacecraft concealed behind the comet's tail. Given Do's belief that he had been sent to complete the task assigned to Jesus, it may be significant that Easter, symbolizing Jesus' departure, was just seven days away.

Consistent with the group's meticulous attention to detail, the suicides followed a written plan. While some details remain unclear, it appears that the deaths took place over a three-day period, and that Do was among the last to die. In a videotape made just before the suicides, the students overflowed with gratitude toward Ti and Do, relieved and excited to finally be leaving their human containers for the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Aftermath

As the largest mass suicide on American soil, the deaths triggered sensational headlines around the world. Most ex-members were shocked by the suicides because only a few were aware that their former classmates no longer believed that a physical body was required to enter the Next Level. Subsequently two ex-members took their lives in hopes of joining the Class aboard the spacecraft, bringing the death toll to forty-one. Although a few ex-members continued to believe that Ti and Do had come from the Next Level, none expressed any desire to carry on the Class. Only another Representative from the Next Level could do that. In their minds, Heaven's Gate ceased to exist when Do and his students exited their vehicles.

See Also

Branch Davidians; New Religious Movements, article on New Religious Movements in the United States; Theosophical Society; UFO New Religions.


Balch, Robert W. "Bo and Peep: A Case Study of the Origins of Messianic Leadership." In Millennialism and Charisma, edited by Roy Wallis, pp. 1372. Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1982. Discusses how Applewhite and Nettles came to believe they were the "two witnesses" and develop their original belief system.

Balch, Robert W. "Waiting for the Ships: Disillusionment and the Revitalization of Faith in Bo and Peep's UFO Cult." In The Gods Have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds, edited by James R. Lewis, pp. 137166. Albany, N.Y., 1995. Discusses how Ti and Do changed the original group's beliefs and structure to stem defections and create highly committed followers.

Balch, Robert W., and David Taylor. "Salvation in a UFO." Psychology Today 10 (1976): 5866, 106. A participant-observer description of the beliefs, membership, and everyday life of Heaven's Gate in 1975.

Balch, Robert W., and David Taylor. "Seekers and Saucers: The Role of the Cultic Milieu in Joining a UFO Cult." American Behavioral Scientist 20 (1977): 839860. Discusses how and why people joined Heaven's Gate.

Balch, Robert W., and David Taylor. "Making Sense of the Heaven's Gate Suicides." In Cults, Religion, and Violence, edited by David G. Bromley and J. Gordon Melton, pp. 209228. Cambridge, UK, 2002. A short history of Heaven's Gate, beginning with the founders' backgrounds and revelation, and concluding with the suicides and their aftermath.

Wessinger, Catherine. How the Millennium Comes Violently: From Jonestown to Heaven's Gate. New York, 2000. See pages 229246 for additional information on circumstances contributing to the suicides.

Robert W. Balch (2005)

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Heaven's Gate

Marshall Herff Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Nettles founded Heaven's Gate, which was a cult that "combined Christian and some Theosophical doctrines with beliefs in UFO's [and] extraterrestrials" (Wessinger 2000, p. 233). Applewhite and Nettles went by many aliases during their time together. They went by Guinea and Pig, Bo and Peep, Ti and Do, and collectively they were referred to as the "Two." Applewhite and Nettles met at a hospital where Nettles worked in 1972. After the meeting, the two became close friends and Applewhite felt that he had met the "platonic helper he had longed for all his life" (Balch 1995, p. 142). Although they met in 1972, the cult really did not form until they began attracting followers in 1975.

The psychiatrist Marc Galanter argues that Applewhite and Nettles may have suffered from "the psychiatric syndrome of folie à deux, in which one partner draws the other into a shared system of delusion" (Galanter 1999, p. 178). They believed that they had come from the Next Level (i.e., heaven) to find individuals who would dedicate themselves to preparing for the spaceship that would take them there (Balch 1995). Their belief that they were from the Next Level is evidenced by both their assertions that they were the two witnesses referred to in Revelation 11 who had risen from the dead after being killed for spreading the word of God, and their belief that Applewhite was the Second Coming of Jesus Christ incarnate, and Nettles was the Heavenly Father.

Applewhite and Nettles believed that evil space aliens called Luciferians had kept people tied to the human level, and therefore incapable of moving to the Next Level. Because Applewhite and Nettles were from the Next Level only they could provide the insight needed to prepare their followers, which made the followers extremely dependent upon their leadership. The process of preparing for the Next Level involved giving up all human attachments and was called the "human individual metamorphis" (Balch 1995, p. 143). Some of the human attachments that cult members were expected to give up included family, friends, sexual relationships, and gender.

The Followers

Sociologists Robert Balch and David Taylor and religious scholar Catherine Wessinger have noted that the members led a very regimented, monastic lifestyle within the cult. First, platonic male-female partnerships were formed, so each member could develop an "awareness of the human qualities each person had to overcome" (Balch and Taylor 1977, p. 842). Second, group members wore uniforms that were designed to conceal their human form in general and, in particular, their gender. Third, Balch notes that the cult had a number of rules and guidelines that "discouraged contact with the outside world" (e.g., do not contact parents or friends), "eliminate[d] old habits and identities" (e.g., no jewelry, no drugs), and "prevent[ed] the formation of interpersonal attachments within the group" (e.g., no sexual relationships) (Balch 1995, p. 149). Additionally, seven members, including Applewhite, had themselves castrated in order to control their sexual urges. Fourth, Applewhite and Nettles had group members engage in a series of activities or rituals that kept them busy for nearly all parts of the day. For example, Balch outlines an activity called "a tone," where group members were to keep themselves focused on a tone produced from a tuning fork at all times while doing other activities. The idea was to keep the group members focused on the Next Level, while ignoring human thoughts.

Many scholars provide commentary on the Heaven's Gate mindset. Marc Galanter points out that although the ideas that Applewhite and Nettles proposed are delusional and unreasonable, many of these concepts taken in isolation are relatively accepted by mainstream society. Balch and Taylor report that most of the people who joined Heaven's Gate accepted many of these ideas in isolation and were particularly intrigued by the way that Applewhite and Nettles had combined them. Moreover, Wessinger reports that those who left the cult still believed its ideas, but could not "adhere to the monastic discipline" (Wessinger 2000, p. 237).

The Suicide

In 1997 the Heaven's Gate members were living in a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, California, where the group had been earning a living as web page designers. Applewhite became convinced that Nettles, who had died of cancer in 1985, was piloting a spaceship in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet to take them to the Next Level. However, they could not go in their human form, so they committed suicide to shed their "physical containers" (Lewis 1998, p. 2).

The suicide began on March 22, 1997. On day one, fifteen members ate applesauce or pudding laced with Phenobarbital and drank vodka, and then other members helped fasten plastic bags around their heads to asphyxiate them. After their deaths, the plastic bags were removed and they were covered with a purple shroud. On the second day, the process was repeated for another fifteen members, followed by another seven members. Finally, the mass suicide was completed when the last two members killed themselves (Wessinger 2000).

In total there were thirty-nine people (20 women and 19 men) who committed suicide. The group members ranged in age from their twenties to age seventy-two. When the bodies were discovered, they were all dressed in black and covered with a purple shroud. On their left shoulders group members had a patch that read "Heaven's Gate Away Team," which was an apparent reference to the television show Star Trek: The Next Generation. Additionally, "Each person had a $5 bill and quarters in the front shirt pocket" (Wessinger 2000, p. 231).

Differences from Other Forms of Cult Violence

Wessinger notes that Heaven's Gate was different from other cults that have decided to commit violence (e.g., Solar Temple, Jonestown) in that there were no children involved. Heaven's Gate members believed that only adults were prepared to make the decision about whether or not to go to the Next Level.

In Jonestown, Guyana, it is unclear how many people committed suicide versus how many people were murdered. In the Solar Temple cult, primarily a European cult, a number of the members were killed if it was felt that they were too weak to make the decision to kill themselves (Wessinger, 2000). However, Wessinger (2000) argues that there are several lines of evidence that suggest the members of Heaven's Gate were highly committed to voluntarily taking their own lives. First, the highly coordinated suicide (i.e., a farewell tape, preparation of the bodies) suggests that this was a well-thought-out plan. Second, the suicide took several days, yet no one tried to escape, unlike Jonestown where some members hid or escaped into the jungle. Moreover, two group members of Heaven's Gate who did not commit suicide in March later killed themselves in a similar ritualistic manner.

See also: Cult Deaths; Jonestown; Waco


Balch, Robert W. "Waiting for the Ships: Disillusionment and the Revitalization of Faith in Bo and Peep's UFO Cult." In James R. Lewis ed., The Gods Have Landed. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

Balch, Robert W., and David Taylor. "Seekers and Saucers: The Role of the Cultic Milieu in Joining a UFO Cult." American Behavioral Scientist 20 (1977):839860.

Galanter, Marc. "The Millennium Approaches." In Cults: Faith, Healing and Coercion, 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Lewis, James R. "Introduction." Cults in America. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1998.

Wessinger, Catherine. How the Millennium Comes Violently: From Jonestown to Heaven's Gate. New York: Seven Bridges Press, 2000.


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Heaven's Gate

Heaven's Gate is the popular name given to a small UFO contactee group that gained international notoriety in March of 1997 when 39 of its members committed suicide in an effort to ascend to a higher level of consciousness. The group had been in the news in the 1970s when the founders, Marshall Herff Applewhite (1931-1997) and Bonnie Lu Truesdale Nettles (1924-1985), had made a widely reported tour across the United States in their initial recruitment drive to gather people in the expectation that they would soon be taken from Earth in a flying saucer. However, they had dropped out of sight for several years and their continued existence through the mid-1990s remained known to a relative few.

Heaven's Gate appears to have been born on the minds of Applewhite and Nettles in the years following their meeting in March of 1972. They operated a metaphysical center called the Know Place in Houston, Texas, for a while during which time Nettles, who was quite knowledgeable of occult lore, introduced Applewhite to theosophy. They closed the center at the end of the year and left Houston for the West Coast in January of 1973. As they began to speculate on their role in life, they concluded that they were the Two Witnesses mentioned in the biblical Book of Revelation, chapter 11, who would appear at the endtime and be murdered and then resurrected. This self-understanding would be the source of the names by which they would be popularly known, "The Two" and " Bo and Peep. " They believed that the Earth was about to undergo a renovation and that their job would be to locate a select few who would be taken off the Earth to The Level Above the Human (T.E.L.A.H.) in a flying saucer.

In 1975 and 1976, the group recruited more than one hundred people, mostly young adults, but ceased to recruit more as of April 21, 1976. During this period Applewhite and Nettles were the subject of intense media coverage and one book. They then turned inward and began to train the members of the group in the disciplines that would prepare them to transcend their earthly situation. They were quite mobile for several years but then settled in Texas where they remained through the 1980s. The group's number slowly dwindled, and Nettles died of cancer in 1985.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the group began new efforts at recruitment by producing a video that was shown on community access television. Then in 1993 it ran an ad in USA Today with a "Final Offer." In 1994, Applewhite introduced the idea that transcending the earthly situation might come by way of suicide. The group was on the move again, this time making its way westward. Members finally settled in Rancho Santa Fe, a suburb of San Diego, California. By now their numbers had dwindled to fewer than 50 people.

During the time in Rancho Santa Fe, the group searched for a new home, in a land that would be more hospitable to their monastic lifestyle. They had developed an ordered life that resembled that of a monastic group with its disciplines of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. Some of the men had been castrated as a means of quelling their sexual urges.

The beginning of the end came early in 1997 when a new comet was spotted and rumors were circulated that something was following it as it approached. The group began to think that the spaceship, piloted by Nettles, was on the way. As the Hale-Bopp Comet reached the point in its orbit closest to Earth, which happened to coincide with the spring equinox, the 39 remaining members of the group, including Apple-white, committed suicide. Their bodies were found on March 26, 1997. The group was dressed in black shirts and pants and Nike sneakers. Each member was lying in a bunk bed with a purple cloth over him/her. They had died over a three-day period.

Fifteen died the first day, 15 the second, and the last nine on the third. Of these, eight had been relatively new recruits who had joined in the early 1990s. A month later one additional member, Wayne Cooke, committed suicide. Another member, Chuck Humphrey, spent a year trying to make sure that accurate information about the group was made available and archived, and then in February of 1998, he joined his colleagues in death. He set up a website that is still available (as of June 2000) in several mirror sites on the Internet. It contains the major book published by the group, How and When "Heaven's Gate" May Be Entered.

Of several groups that have experienced multiple violent deaths among its members, Heaven's Gate is unique in that all who died appeared to have been consenting adults who had thought out their act of suicide. Since its end, the group has become an important topic of study for those interested in new religions and violence.


Heaven's Gate. http://www5.zdnet.com/yil/higher/heavensgate/index.html. June 14, 2000.

Hewes, Hayden, and Brad Steiger. UFO Missionaries Extraordinary. New York: Pocket Books, 1976. Rev. ed. as: Inside Heaven's Gate; The UFO Cult Leaders Tell Their Story in Their Own Words. New York Signet, 1997.

Wessinger, Catherine. How the Millennium Comes Violently. New York: Seven Bridges Press, 2000.

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Heaven's Gate

Since the late 1940s, belief in unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and in human contact with aliens from outer space has become a widespread feature of American culture. Religious movements that base themselves on UFO beliefs have accompanied this broader cultural phenomenon, but for the most part these movements have existed at the fringes of American religious life. This relative isolation ended on March 27, 1997, when thirty-nine members of a UFO religion called Heaven's Gate committed mass suicide in the upscale San Diego suburb of Rancho Santa Fe.

Heaven's Gate was the latest name for a spiritual community that had pursued a neognostic path of spiritual transformation since the mid-1970s. The founders of the community were two Texans, Marshall Herff Applewhite (b. 1931) and Bonnie Lu Nettles (b. 1927). Applewhite, the son of a Presbyterian minister, had pursued successful careers as a stage performer and academician before losing his job in the music department at St. Thomas University in Houston because of an improper relationship with a student. Nettles was a married mother of four and a registered nurse when she met Applewhite in 1972. The pair soon came to believe that they were emissaries from a heavenly world called the Kingdom Level Beyond Human. Their mission was to collect those humans who were ready to undergo radical transformation into a higher stage of spiritual evolution. In this activity they believed they were recapitulating the mission of Jesus, who two thousand years earlier had called humanity to a higher evolutionary level without success.

After cutting ties with their families in Houston, Applewhite and Nettles drifted to the West Coast, where they began preaching a combinative belief system containing elements of Theosophy, Christian apocalypticism, and UFO lore. The couple claimed that, like the two prophets from the eleventh chapter of Revelation, they would be killed by their enemies, resurrected three days later on live television, and taken to heaven with their followers in a spacecraft. After successful recruiting drives in Los Angeles and southern Oregon in the mid-1970s, the nascent community numbered about 150 members and enjoyed a brief moment of national notoriety as Human Individual Metamorphosis, the "UFO cult." Members then went on a twenty-year odyssey, wandering through America's remotest campgrounds, living on handouts and inheritances, and gradually becoming a strictly controlled, high-intensity spiritual community with a distinct vocabulary of space-age metaphors and biblical references. Nettles, who claimed to receive the primary revelations for the group, died in 1985.

The community rejected all aspects of conventional human life—what they called "mammalian ways"—including family ties, individual careers, sexual relations, personal friendships, and drug and alcohol use. They believed that the world and its customs were under the control of malevolent space aliens called "Luciferians" and that only a complete renunciation of the world and the body would allow them to move on to the next evolutionary level.

After settling in Rancho Santa Fe, the community set up a successful computer business that specialized in website construction. In October 1996 Applewhite began to predict an imminent "recycling" of the Earth. This "spading under" was necessary so the Earth could serve as a fresh garden for a future human civilization. The only chance to survive this cataclysmic event was to join the Heaven's Gate community and to prepare for rescue by a heavenly spacecraft. The appearance of the Hale-Bopp comet in early 1997 was interpreted as the sign that departure was imminent. Applewhite believed that hidden behind the comet was a spacecraft from the Level Beyond Human, coming to reap the "harvest" of those ready to graduate from Earth's school. On the night of their departure, the community's members drank a lethal cocktail of alcohol and barbiturates, lay down, and tied plastic bags around their heads. The evidence indicates that their mass suicide was planned carefully in advance and undertaken voluntarily in the belief that the moment of ascension was at hand.

The self-destruction of Heaven's Gate dramatizes the dangers faced by religious communities that embrace a worldview of radical perfectionism, utopianism, and apocalyptic world rejection.

See alsoAnti-Cult Movement; Cult; Cult Awareness Network; Extraterrestrial Guides; Religious Communities; Space Flight; Unidentified Flying Objects.


Balch, Robert W. "Bo and Peep: A Case Study of the Origins of Messianic Leadership." In Millennialismand Charisma, edited by Roy Wallis. 1982.

Balch, Robert W. "Waiting for the Ships: Disillusionment and the Revitalization of Faith in Bo and Peep's UFO Cult." In The Gods Have Landed: NewReligions from Other Worlds, edited by James R. Lewis. 1995.

Phillip Charles Lucas

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Heaven's Gate ★★ 1981 (R)

The uncut version of Cimino's notorious folly. A fascinating, plotless, and exaggerated account of the Johnson County cattle war of the 1880s. Ravishingly photographed, the film's production almost single-handedly put United Artists out of business. 220m/C VHS, DVD . Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Isabelle Huppert, John Hurt, Richard Masur, Mickey Rourke, Brad Dourif, Joseph Cotten, Jeff Bridges, Sam Waterston, Terry O'Quinn, Geoffrey Lewis; D: Michael Cimino; W: Michael Cimino; C: Vilmos Zsigmond. Golden Raspberries ‘81: Worst Director (Cimino).