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Exit Heaven's Gate - Helle Meldgaard

Heaven's Gate / Higher Source

What Can We Learn from This?
Do and Ti
The Sect's Ideas
"The Cult above All Cults"
Death Struggle
Higher Source
Internet as a Missionary Field
Similar Thoughts in Other Sects

Now that the corpses have been carried away there is a need for analysis and evaluation of the Heaven's Gate cult.
After Heaven's Gate's exit to another, heavenly world - The Next Level Above Human or The Kingdom of Heaven, according to the sect's own teachings. In the millionaire's villa in Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego it is tidying up time. Together with and in obedience to their leader, Marshall Applewhite, 39 people between the ages of 26 and 72 years took their own lives just before Easter 1997. A post-mortem has been performed on the corpses that were found lying on their beds, all dressed in black clothes, black Nike shoes and covered with a purple cloth. The world is left with many questions. After the end of Heaven's Gate the time has come to get some answers - what really happened? First of all Internet - the worldwide, anarchistic information network - has come into focus as a "poison spreader". The great number of computers found in the sect's luxurious resort will also undergo a "post-mortem" examination. Maybe more bizarre details will be uncovered in the near future.

Could a similar tragedy happen in Denmark? In principle, it can happen anywhere even though Europe does have a different tradition than the USA in the practice of freedom of religion. We should rejoice in our freedom. But perhaps at this time we are actually jeopardi zing our freedom by becoming possessed by cyberspirits, sectarian, secluded milieus and cults whose similarity to Heaven's Gate entice people with their message: "I - the leader - am the one who has the keys to Heaven."
What Can We Learn from This?
Marshall Applewhite
The tragedy in Rancho Santa Fe reminds us once again of people's vulnerability in the realm of religion. The Internet has, as well as passing on Heaven's Gate's messages, been an important aid in communicating information about what took place. In the course of 24 hours primary texts could be found on the net from the cult itself, objective information from Reuters Bureau, comments from theologians, perspectives pertaining to the science of religion and psychologi cal viewpoints. But also comments from a "distorted" viewpoint like from one of the USA's best known magicians James Randi and his Sceptic Society. He doesn't beat around the bush when he says in his text that the whole tragic incident may to a large extent be due to some journalists' careless use of the assumption that there was a spaceship in the tail of the comet Hale-Bopp. This idea wasn't unimportant to the Heaven's Gate people who had been waiting for a long time for a spaceship which was supposed to take them away from the Earth.


Everyone should agree that it is difficult to accept incidents of this nature. But what can we do to prevent similar situations from arising? President Clinton has perhaps said the magic words:

"We will now have to uncover all details in this incident, so that we might understand why they thought the way they did and thereby prevent others from beginning to think in the same way."

It could be added here that first of all we ought to conduct ourselves soberly and responsibly when dealing with the world of religion and cults. Nothing less than life and death are at stake. We need to learn how to handle our religiosity just as well as we need to practise safe sex in these times of AIDS.
Do and Ti

But let's try to look a little closer at how the Heaven's Gate people thought about life here on Earth - and especially uncover their method of enlisting new disciples. "Do you wish to go to Heaven? I was sent to fulfill the mission." "Whose side are you on? Do you want to move on to the Next Level, or will you become dust?" "I am desperate in helping you to get away."
- The founder of Heaven's Gate, Marshall Applewhite, among his followers called Do, asked rhetorical questions like these, on the cult's presentation page on Internet and on various video tapes.

Originally, Marshall Applewhite taught music but was laid off at some point because of a homosexual relationship with one of his students. Later he was also divorced. In 1970 he ended up in a mental hospital with hallucinationss about "sexual demons", and he heard voices as well. He claimed that he had had an "out of the body" experience. At the mental hospital he met the nurse Bonnie Lu Nettles who later became his new wife. "De To" as they called themselves soon developed complicated theories about life on Earth and especially about how to get away from here. She started to call herself Ti. Do and Ti claimed that names didn't matter. Just like so many other things gradually became unimportant.

Even though they looked like human beings on the surface, each of them came from some distant planet. They had been sent here by a spaceship from The Next Level Above Human, The Kingdom of Heaven. Their mission was to take as many "home" as possible.
The Sect's Ideas

Do and Ti had continuously written about their visions in various UFO-magazines. They also traveled around a great deal and held meetings that might be dealing with UFO ideas as well as ecological crisis etc. They managed to get into contact with a lot of different people. Do and Ti never concealed the fact that the person who wanted to come along to Heaven had to give up everything that bound him or her to life on Earth. Among other things this included castration and a very simplified life style in accordance with Do's day orders. The disciples lived like "cyber monks and cyber nuns", believing that in cyberspace one is freed from all bodyliness. Even their "soul" wasn't their own but had descended from an Older Member on The Next Level Above Human.

The physical body was considered a container or a "ship" in which one dwelled temporarily. They called themselves body-snatchers, because "the souls" could at any time move in and take over a physical body. Applewhite himself claimed that he was reincarnated in 1975. For Heaven's Gate reincarnation was actually not linked to birth. Besides, Do and Ti believed that they had already visited the Earth for the first time at the beginning of the Christian era. At this occasion they claimed to have made deposits, which they were now ready to use in the last period of their lives. Note the similarities with the movie, Cocoon 1988!

Do, Ti and their disciples believed themselves to be representatives that had been sent to the Earth as teachers and counsellors for humanity. Do also believed, as mentioned before, that he had already been here 2000 years ago. Most likely we find here in Do a type of Jesus identification.
"The Cult above All Cults"

Overall, "Heaven's Gate" embraces many known ideas and thoughts within the world of religion, even though they at the same time didn't call themselves a religion. "Every religion is less than the truth," Applewhite said. One of his disciples is quoted as saying at a recruiting meeting:

"We are the cult above all cults and therefore we cannot be compared with anything known."

The mythology of "Heaven's Gate" has echoes of both classical Hinduism, Christian ideas and not the least clear Gnostic traits. All of it is connected with UFO concepts.

When we read the movement's pages on Internet and their text materials, nothing indicates that the cult was particularly occupied with "millennial ideas" such as some commentators have later claimed - i.e. concepts about a thousand year period of happiness in a born again and better terrestrial world. For instance, Applewhite says in a farewell note:

"We came from The Level Above Human in distant spaceland, and we have now exited the bodies that we were wearing for our earthly task, to return to the world from whence we came - task completed."

Elsewhere one can read: "We are at the end of an Age, or the end of another civilisation... judgment time... Our accumulated choices during our time here, determines our Judgment."

Heaven's Gate looked forward to an exit from this world, not the re-birth of the world. The earthly life was something members were to put behind them, not something that could be saved.
Death Struggle

One gets the feeling in the texts that the mass suicide was a well-prepared act. The time had come. There is reason to be prepared for more instances of this phenomenon in the coming years towards the turn of the millennium.

"Heaven's Gate" believed that the world we know today had come to the end of the road in its last cyclic development. Ahead a spading under and recycling was awaited, if we didn't listen now and let ourselves be exited. It was our last chance to listen to those representatives who were an important prerequisite for our further development here on Earth. Without contact with them we were lost.

Cult members saw many signs that the time had come. For instance, some cult members had passed out leaflets a few days prior to the earthquake in Los Angeles in 1994 with a message of the above-mentioned nature. A few hours after the earthquake cult members were out again. This time with leaflets that read We told you so.

But also Ti's death in 1985 got Applewhite's thoughts going about an approaching end. He just awaited a sign so he could resign together with his terrestrial crew. It has also come out that Do had thoughts of being terminally ill. It is thus easy to imagine that it was his own death struggle that pulled his disciples away from life. Post-mortem examinations have not confir med, however, that Do suffered from any disease. But texts with a similar "death struggle motive" reached the public when Moses David, leader of The Family (formerly called "Children of God") was presumably lying on his deathbed. Here one could also have feared a tragic exit - considering the wording of the texts.

The members of "Heaven's Gate" were quickly convinced about rumours that there was supposed to be a spaceship in the tale of the comet Hale-Bopp. This statement had been put forth by an amateur astronomer, Chuck Shramek, who claimed he had seen a "Saturn-like object" in the tail of the comet. This claim was repeated uncritically in a popular radio program in the USA.

On the cult's homepage on Internet one could read:"The joy is that our Older Member in the Evolutionary Level Above Human has made it clear to us that Hale-Bopp's approach is the "marker" we've been waiting for... We are happily prepared to leave this world' and go with Ti's crew."

The final extent of the movement was linked with the worldwide Internet. By means of this medium the cult was able to win sympathisers far outside of its local community. For instance, we know now that many of its texts have also been spread in German. Perhaps there are German sympathisers who are awaiting further directions? Large advertisements in various newspapers and UFO magazines had from time to time stirred interest in Do and Ti's project, but the financial basis for the activities of the cult was laid through working with the Internet. It was through this that they could afford renting a millionaire's villa in Rancho Santa Fe.
Higher Source

The cult started a business venture, Higher Source, which became known for its skills in designing home pages on the Internet, carrying out system analyses and developing computer security programs.
Cult members devoted their entire life to working with computers - and they were known for their good rum cookies as well! But daily life was spent in a concentrated effort at the screen. It is said that its members looked pale because they were very seldomly outdoors. Only around four in the morning neighbors have seen them standing gazing in a certain direction at the starry heavens, as if they were waiting for something. Applewhite himself has been described as a "pale god".
On Higher Source's own home page there was no direct religious or cultic material. There was, however, a great deal on stars and planets, but this is to be found many places on the net.

Higher Source described itself thus: "We at Higher Source not only cater to customizing Websites that will enhance your company image, but strive to make your transition into the Ôworld of cyberspace' a very easy and fascinating experience."
Internet as a Missionary Field

The cult used the Internet for business as well as for presentation of project Heaven's Gate. Its pages were designed to attract new members. They used buzzwords designed to attract net surfers whose interests might include a number of topics ranging from UFOs and the spiritual realm to technical data on programming. In this way the cult was able to reach others with similar interests and exchange information. Cult members have taken part in many discussion groups on the net. In other words, it was difficult for a net surfer to avoid it. "Encounter of the first degree" could be made quickly, to be followed by encounter of the "third degree" - the actual invitation to receive a boarding pass and meet up in the "ship" in Rancho Santa Fe. In the book New Religions as Global Cultures (by Hexham and Poewe, 1997) it has been pointed out that if a new religion has built a myth relating to outer space and related concepts as spaceships etc., its followers are likely to be highly professional in their use of high techno logy. It is very safe to say that the Higher Source people and their project "Heaven's Gate" confirms this observation.

The exit of "Heaven's Gate" thus forces us to focus on the use of Internet. We have not yet learnt fully how to use this medium - and neither are there any concrete rules of conduct. Whoever surfs around in cyberspace moves through many levels of information. One may well hit on the home page of a Nobel prize winner, and the next thing one hits may be the home page of an amateur. One is exposed to everything ranging from serious information to bizarre imaginings - which may be laid out quite professionally.

Thus it was with the Internet pages of Heaven's Gate. Textually they were shallow and difficult to see through, but they were presented in a convincing design, giving an impression of professionalism. In this way they could easily in time have attracted a larger flock of "third degree burnt" disciples. But as it seems that only a few have followed developments and messages in these pages, we do not know what may have eventually been sowed.
Similar Thoughts in Other Sects

Other movements have a similar ideology of spaceships and "souls" caught in earthly bodies. First and foremost, Scientology is the bearer of thoughts or thetanes (spirits) trapped in the body which are to be freed from this mortal frame. In Scientology there are also concepts of spaceships - although relating more to our past.

The Family ("Children of God") is another movement awaiting a "sign" of the arrival of the big spaceship. A number of posters and folders from this sect describe this expectation in detail. Future studies might uncover further details of the concepts in these movements and may contribute to an enhanced focus on possible "outbreaks of disease".

The main antidote for phenomena as Heaven's Gate is no doubt openness and sobriety. We should objectively attempt to uncover the thoughts of these secluded milieus, present our insight in open fora and pose the question - is it really this kind of society we want? For when it comes to religions, the difference is awesome.
Links to more information on Heaven's Gate:

Links about Heavens Gate - Informative article.

Heavens Gate - Original site.

Heavens Gate - CNN archive incl. video/audio from the movement.

Heavens Gate - CNN archive incl. video/audio with the last speech of Applewhite.