*Post written by James Wethington, senior library assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.
Over the next couple of weeks, the communal studies collection touches on various types of communes such as eco-villages, religious life, collective settlements, and many more. Some groups in the collection were cults. According to Merriam-Webster (2018), a cult is “… a great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (such as a film or book)”. Followers of the Order of the Solar Temple definitely showed their “undying” devotion to their leaders.
Established in 1984 in Geneva, Switzerland, by Luc Jouret and Joseph Di Mambro. Solar Temple traced their lineage back as a revival of the Knights Templar. The order had a strict structure with a thirty-three member council with regional lodges located throughout the world such as Australia, Switzerland, Canada, and France (‘Joseph Di Mambro’, 2014; Melton, 2015).
This was not Joseph De Mambro’s first time dealing with cults. In 1978, he established Golden Way in Switzerland, where he met Jouret. They worked together to establish the Order of the Solar Temple using their talents and abilities: Jouret held lectures while De Mambro took control of finances and ran the order. Their beliefs included “… astrology, medieval legends, and Christianity”: by the late 1980’s, the Order had over four hundred members (‘Joseph Di Mambro’, 2014).
The order started to unravel in the early 1990’s under Jouret and Di Mambro’s leadership. Word began to spread the apocalypse was upon them. Just before the world ending event, Jouret and Di Mambro “… orchestrated a dramatic exit for themselves and their followers. Believing in the transformative powers of fire, they thought that they could be reborn on Sirius, another planet in another universe” (‘Joseph Di Mambro’, 2014). Sadly, their plan went into effect on October 4 and 5: fires were set to their compounds and their members committed suicide. From 1994 to 1997, seventy-four members committed suicide or died in the set fires (‘Joseph Di Mambro’, 2014; Melton, 2015).
At the University Archives and Special Collections, there are over six hundred and fifty communities available in our communal studies collection. On our online digital gallery, the Order of the Solar Temple have a finding aid available and materials can be requested at firstname.lastname@example.org or in-person. Stay tuned for our next blog in “Cults of the World”.
Joseph Di Mambro biography. (2014, April 2). Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/joseph-di-mambro-235990
Melton, J. G. (2015, January 9). Order of the Solar Temple. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Order-of-the-Solar-Temple
Merriam-Webster. (2018). Cult. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cult