Founder: Luc Jouret and Joseph Di Mambro
Dates of Birth: Di Mambro born August 19, 1924; Jouret born October 18, 1947. Both men died October 5, 1994.
Birth Place: Pont-Saint-Esprit , France; Kikwit, Belgian Congo (present-day Zaire) to Belgian parents.
Year Founded: 1984
Sacred or Revered Texts: The group does not have sacred texts along the lines of the Bible or Koran, but Jouret did have a few books and tapes which corresponded to his lectures. These include Medicine and Conscience (a book by Jouret) and Fundamental Time of Life: Death (an audiocassette by Jouret).
Size of Group: At its height in January 1989, there were 442 members. Ninety were in Switzerland, 187 in France, 86 in Canada, 53 in Martinique, sixteen in the United States, and ten in Spain. However, membership was in a decline around the time of the mass suicide in 1994. (Mayer 1996:9)
Very early in life, Jo Di Mambro became interested in the esoteric as well as spirituality. He became a member of the Rosicrucian Order AMORC (Ancient and Mystic Order of the Rosy Cross) in January of 1956, and remained involved with the group until 1969. While he was no longer an official member after 1969, the group's influence was apparent in many of his ideas and practices for the rest of his life (Mayer 1998:8).
Around 1970, Di Mambro got in trouble for swindling and left southern France to settle near the Swiss border. In 1973, he founded the Center for Preparing the New Age, becoming a full-time spiritual master in 1976. His group purchased a house in France, near Geneva, where they practiced communal life and esoteric ceremonies. However, Di Mambro felt that in order for the group to expand they needed a charismatic leader (Mayer 1996:3-4).
Di Mambro had founded the Golden Way Foundation in Geneva on July 12, 1978, and this foundation would be the heart of his organization for several years to come. The officially stated aims of the Golden Way contained the main idea of a "world in transition" as well as the theme of chivalry (Mayer 1996:4).
Di Mambro was still looking for the charismatic leader that would help expand his organization. In the early 80's, Di Mambro was introduced to Jouret by one of the victims of October 4th (Mayer 1996:4). Di Mambro then arranged for Jouret to meet Julian Origas, a supposed former Gestapo agent who had founded the Renewed Order of the Temple (ORT), a group that combined Templar and Rosicrucian ideas. In 1981, Jouret became a member of ORT, and at the time of Origas's death in 1983, became Grand Master. Within a year, however, he was forced out of the group, taking half of the members with him (Hall 1997:291-292). Jouret, already involved with Di Mambro's groups since 1982, was then able to fill Di Mambro's need for a charismatic leader; not only did he have charisma, but he was also a physician, and as such would be taken more seriously. Together the two of them founded the Order of the Solar Temple in 1984, with Di Mambro taking the backstage role and allowing Jouret to put on the show.
This plan was successful to a degree; Jouret would draw hundreds to his lectures and also spoke on the radio. As of 1983, he gave lectures in Switzerland, France and Canada. In 1984, perhaps based partly on the Ergonia workshops started in France by Jacques Breyer, the idea of creating clubs to feed into the group and spread its ideology while leading to more concrete action was solidified (Mayer 1996:5). From 1984 to 1990 the group consisted of three different areas. The first, the external activity, consisted of lectures and seminars given by Jouret and others under the heading of Amanta. Those prepared to go further could join an exoteric structure, the Archedia Clubs. The final level was an initiatory order, called the International Chivalric Organization of the Solar Tradition (Mayer 1996:5).
In the early 90's, some members began distancing themselves from the group, both in terms of attendance as well as financially. Donors began asking for reimbursements. People began to question many facets of the group, including Di Mambro's own son, Elie. Di Mambro had claimed to be only a representative of the "Masters" in Zurich. Elie himself began to doubt the existence of these "Masters" and had discovered the practice of fakery in his father's production of the illusion of spiritual phenomena during the ceremonies (Mayer 1996:9). He spoke openly about this, leading to the departure of at least fifteen members.
Di Mambro's world was crumbling down around him. His loyal members were beginning to question the practices of the group and he and Jouret were not in complete agreement at all times. Di Mambro and Jouret began preparing their group for a "transit" to another world. The beliefs of the group had always taken on a slightly apocalyptic tone (see Beliefs) but now, the combination of the original apocalyptic tone and Di Mambro's fears became deadly.
In the town of Chiery, Switzerland, the night of October 4 to October 5, 1994, residents became aware of a fire on the edge of town. In another town, Granges-sur-Salvan, another fire was burning. By dawn, 53 people were dead in Switzerland and Quebec, where the group had expanded to, the result of a mass suicide with a hint of murder. In December of 1995, another sixteen followed suit. Investigations ensued, with historian Jean-Francois Mayer assisting the Swiss police. Media coverage ran rampant, with many theories appearing as to why this had occurred. Inevitable comparisons to Waco and Jonestown were brought up, but after further research took place, slowly the story began to settle and become a bit clearer. Finally, in March of 1997, five more people died in Quebec, leaving behind three teenagers who refused to participate, but who were able to partially explain how it happened. They were able to attest to the victims' willingness. Their final message to the media makes it appear that they felt that they were the last ones ready to take that final step (Mayer 1998:7-8).
The Order of the Solar Temple combined many Neo-Templar beliefs, with esoteric, as well as environmental concerns. In order to best understand these beliefs, it is important to take a closer look at the Neo-Templar tradition.
The Neo-Templar Tradition
What the Neo-Templar groups are today is the result of years, centuries of evolution. The original order was the Order of the Temple, a monastic-chivalric Catholic Order founded in 1118- 1119 by Hughes de Payens and dissolved by Pope Clement V after the persecutions by King Phillip (the Fair) of France, in 1307. Theories insisted that there was a continuation of the Order, but academic scholars have criticized this as "totally insane" (Introvigne 1994:1). This theory was mainly supported by French and German Freemasons, who said that the knights hid out with masons to escape persecution.
During the French Revolution, dissention appeared. The first was in the Lodge of the Knights of the Cross, in Paris. They argued that the Templar Order precedes Freemasonry and that the Masonic order is therefore subordinate to the Templar ones. This theory was promoted primarily by a Paris physician, Bernard-Raymond Fabre-Palaprat. In 1805, he re-organized the Templar Order and proclaimed himself the Grand Master. This new organization was fairly well-accepted in the occult sub-culture and even Napoleon showed interest (Introvigne 1994:2-3).
The Catholic Church, however, still remained hostile. Fabre-Palaprat called the Roman Church a "fallen church" and founded in its place an "esoteric," so called "Johannite," church (Introvigne 1994:3). From the 1830's on, Neo-Templar groups have been very intertwined, usually with "independent churches."
After Fabre-Palaprat's death in 1838, the groups experienced many schisms. In 1942, Antonio Campello Pinto de Sousa Fontes was elected "Regent" of one of the groups (Sovereign and Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem). He opened "Priories" in almost every Western country, allowing the movement the potential to spread (Introvigne 1994:4).
A second branch came about from the mystical esoteric experiences of Jacques Breyer. He met Maxime de Roquemaure, who claimed to be a descendant of a branch of the medieval Order of the Temple and the two of them joined to form the Sovereign Order of the Solar Temple in 1952. This group, along with AMORC, would be the two strongest external influences in Di Mambro's Solar Temple.
Neo-Templar groups still exist today, in many locations around the world. They are not all the same, however. "They vary greatly, from apocalyptic associations to 'cover-groups' for espionage and political machinations, from organizations dealing with sex magic to others that are little more than clubs where one dresses as a Templar mostly to cultivate social and gastronomical interests" (Introvigne 1996:8). Lumping them all together would be doing them a disservice; however, it is important to look at what distinguished the Solar Temple from the other Neo-Templar groups.
Di Mambro's Solar Temple
The history and the beliefs of the Solar Temple appear very convoluted at times. Evidently, Di Mambro liked the repetition of parallel overlapping structures; to him, every new structure was a way to "redynamise" (Mayer 1996:9). The goals and practices are good examples of this. The goals of the Solar Temple (as presented by Jouret in two lectures in October 1987) seem to be almost identical to those of the Sovereign Order of the Solar Temple (OSTS). These are:
Re-establishing the correct notions of authority and power in the world.
Affirming the primacy of the spiritual over the temporal.
Giving back to man the conscience of his dignity.
Helping humanity through its transition.
Participating in the Assumption of the Earth in its three frameworks: body, soul, and spirit.
Contributing to the union of the Churches and working towards the meeting of Christianity and Islam.
Preparing for the return of Christ in solar glory.
Peronnik (pseudonym of Robert Chabrier), Porquoi la Resurgence de l'Ordre du Temple? Tome Premier: Le Corps (Why a Templar Revival? Vol. One: The Body) 1975, pp. 147-149.
The practices of the Solar Temple help demonstrate the differences of the two groups, as well as the beliefs of the Solar Temple (Mayer 1996:8)
The OSTS Templar ritual would begin with a confession of sins, while Di Mambro's began with a kind of guided meditation where participants visualized luminous particles which flowed in and out of their bodies, purifying and regenerating; then they recited Alice Bailey's "Great Invocation," followed by a preparatory prayer. The structure of the second part, called "preparation" are more or less alike and comprise the reading of the beginning of the Gospel of John; but close attention to the two versions of the Essenian rite reveal significant differences.
The group displayed apocalyptic tones early on, although they were slightly disguised by the more public image of the group. Jouret would speak of health problems, but he spoke also of the deteriorating health of the world (Mayer 1998:10). The Solar Temple seemed to be looking for a group of people who would be strong enough to survive the time of disasters (Mayer 1998:11). Both Jouret and Di Mambro showed strong concerns about the state of the environment. Di Mambro even had a so-called "Drager" suitcase, a set of reactive tubes used to measure air pollution, in his home to monitor his living space (Mayer 1998:11). While these concerns seem very valid, in the 80's, there was no real indication that the group wanted to leave the planet, especially by means of suicide (Mayer 1998:11).
The development towards suicide is much more evident when the doctrinal elements of the group are looked at. Members believed that they were "noble travelers" on this planet. They felt they were reincarnated with a specific mission to fulfill in their time here. They felt that they were just passing through here, awaiting their return to their true home (Mayer 1998:11-12). This itself may not seem a plausible explanation for the suicides, however. Many groups express some type of variation of this belief. Therefore, further inspection must be taken. The Solar Temple members believed that they had to bring back to the "Source" the "Consciousness" that they had gained while experiencing life in this world (Mayer 1998:12). Mayer quotes a testament left by a 1995 victim he questioned a few days after the incident in 1994:
I, a Lightbearer since the most remote times, the time which was given to me on Planet Earth is completed, and I go back freely and willingly to the place from which I came at the beginning of the times! Happiness fills me, because I know that I have fulfilled my duty, and that I can bring back in Peace and Happiness my capitalized energy enriched through the experience which I have lived on this Earth -- back to the Source from which everything comes. It is difficult for the man of the Earth to understand such a choice, such a decision -- to leave willingly one's terrestrial vehicle! But such is it for all those who carry with them Light and Cosmic Consciousness and know where they go back.
"According to the Solar Temple, 26,000 years ago, the Blue Star (related to Sirius's energy) 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" (Mayer 1996:20).
Was this enough to precipitate the suicides of these citizens? Most analysts say no. Di Mambro exercised almost complete control over the group, although he claimed to be only an agent for "Masters in Zurich" (Mayer 1998:13). Research, primarily of Jean-Francois Mayer and Swiss authorities, has shown that these "Masters" did not exist. Some members of the group had begun to question this aspect of the Solar Temple. Di Mambro's own son Elie had evidence that Di Mambro's phenomena was manufactured. Elie's questioning of the group was a major source of conflict, because Elie was believed to be a child of exceptional destiny. Di Mambro said Elie, born November 18, 1969, was a product of theogamy. Di Mambro had spent 1969, "according to the Master's orders," in Israel in order to "conceive a son on March 21 who would be called Elie." (Jouret's son, born in 1983, was supposed to become the first Grand Master of the Temple of the New Age of the Era of the Virgin" but the child's mother refused the destiny assigned to him and raised him as a normal child.) Elie's separation from the group only helped accelerate Di Mambro's panic (Mayer 1996:3).
Notwithstanding the occurrence of several incidents of mass violence during the 1990s, mass suicides of religious groups remain a rare occurrence. When such incidents have occurred, they have understandably given cause to extensive media coverage. As can happen with fast breaking stories, news coverage has typically involved a good bit of misinformation, punctuated with ideological commentary by professional anti-cultists. In addition, those groups where violence or suicides have occurred have typically not been very visible. Thus, even scholars know little about the group in question.
There are also the inevitable comparisons with other religious tragedies -- whether or not the facts warrant such comparisons. The case of the Order of the Solar Temple does bear one clear resemblance to other groups where tragedies have occurred. Cognitively cut off from the world that surrounds them, they create realities that are very much at variance with the "real" world. Joseph Di Mambro, notes Jean-Francois Mayer, "had created his own virtual reality. His was a world with secret masters, miraculous phenomena during impressively staged nightly ceremonies, an elite of Knight Templars gathered around him in order [to] fulfill a cosmic mission" (Mayer 1998:15).
Di Mambro's world was beginning to crumble around him, and the cosmology-theology he and his associates had created, provided both an account and a resolution of the impending crisis.
Critics of the group were beginning to grow in number. There had been little negative media coverage of the group in Europe, but negative press was beginning to grow in Canada and Martinique. On September 10, 1991, Lucien Zecler, president of the ADFI (Association for the Defense of Families and Individuals), an anti-cult organization, began inquiring about the Solar Temple. Several citizens of Martinique had decided to sell their worldly possessions and move to Canada to escape coming catastrophes. In December of 1992, a former Solar Temple member, Rose-Marie Klaus, traveled to Martinique with ADFI paying for it. Klaus had been an active participant in the anti-Solar Temple movement in Canada. In 1991, Klaus went to the offices of Info-Secte. She told them the story and the anti-cult movement escalated in Canada (Hall 1997:296-301).
When members were arrested in 1993 for buying handguns, the Solar Temple began to feel pressure. Some members began to experience lack of confidence in the group. Jouret and Di Mambro were extraordinarily concerned with their public image. Without this, they would have trouble recruiting new members as well as keeping current ones. One former member of the group, Tony Dutoit, spoke out against the group. Just prior to the mass suicide, Dutoit and his wife and baby were murdered in their home in Morin Heights, Quebec. Dutoit had been one of the very first to speak out that some of Di Mambro's phenomena were actually faked. Some people claimed that the death was part of the group's beliefs; that the baby was the anti-christ. The Dutoits had named their baby Christopher Emmanuel, even though Di Mambro had reserved the name Emmanuelle for his "cosmic" daughter (Hall 1997:303). The common consensus seems to be that the murder was due primarily to the fact that Tony Dutoit spoke out against the Solar Temple, and Di Mambro and Jouret's paranoia was getting to be very serious.
It appears that Dutoit's may not have been the only murder. At Chiery, two people died of suffocation, twenty-one had received sleeping pills before being shot to death, and ten bodies were found with plastic bags over their heads. Several of them showed signs of struggle. On his last day of life, Jo Di Mambro gave Patrick Vuarnet a short letter which said, "following the tragic Transit at Chiery, we insist on specifying, in the name of the Rose+Cross, that we deplore and totally disassociate ourselves from the barbarous, incompetent and aberrant conduct of Doctor Luc Jouret. He is the cause of veritable carnage" (Hall 1997:307). This also helps demonstrate the rising conflict between Jouret and Di Mambro.
Thus, the tragedy of mass suicide is preceded by a series of events both within the group and outside that add up to impending disaster for the group and its leaders. These events provide the context for the grand cosmic exodus. But clearly, the evidence left behind in this world would point to the conclusion that many did not willingly make the passage to the world beyond.
Research continues today on the Solar Temple. This research would seem to take on even more significance as the millennium approaches. The Solar Temple had apocalyptic tendencies, but ultimately, "the Solar Temple was engulfed in illusion and its pride led only to nothingness: believing that they would become gods, the blind disciples followed the flute player in a dance of death and hurtled towards their end" (Mayer 1996:24).
One interesting side bar of the investigation of Solar Temple is knowledge of the demographic composition of the group. Cults are typically perceived as largely consisting of young people, and/or people who are overly susceptible or even stupid. Solar Temple members simply don't fit these stereotypes. The typical member was middle-aged and middle class Swiss and Canadian citizens (Introvigne 1996:3). There were also several persons who were accomplished citizens including Camille Pilet, a recently retired director and international sales manager for the Swiss multinational watch company, Piaget. Other members included Patrick Vuarnet, son of the president of an international fashion company and former Olympic champion Jean Vuarnet, and Robert Ostiguy, mayor of Richelieu, Quebec (Introvigne 1996:3-4). There were reports that Princess Grace of Monaco was involved, but Introvigne disputes that in a press release for CESNUR.
Hall, John and Phillip Schuyler. 1997. "The Mystical Apocalypse of the Solar Temple," in Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem. Thomas Robbins and Susan J. Palmer, eds. New York: Routledge, pp. 285-311.
Introvigne, Massimo. 1995 "Ordeal by Fire: The Tragedy of the Solar Temple," Religion, 25:4 (July), 267-283.
Introvigne, Massimo. 1995 "Armageddon in Switzerland: The Solar Temple Remembered." Theosophical-History, 5 , pp. 281-298.
Mayer, Jean-Francois. 1999. "Our Terrestrial Journey is Coming to an End: The Last Voyage of the Solar Temple," Nova Religio 2/2 (April).
Mayer, Jean-Francois. 1998. "Apocalyptic Millennialism in the West: The Case of the Solar Temple." Lecture at the University of Virginia sponsored by the Critical Incident Analysis Group, (November 13). Lecture & response
Mayer, Jean-Francois. 1996. "Myths of the Solar Temple." Presented to the ISAR/CESNUR symposium on "Violence and the New Religions." Nashville, Tennessee.
Palmer, Susan J. 1996. "Purity and Danger in the Solar Temple," Journal of Contemporary Religion. pp. 303-318.
Created by Jennifer Sloan
Soc 257: New Religious Movements
Spring Term, 1999
University of Virginia
Last modified 07/24/01