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Cult recruitment majorly occurs through friends, family members, teachers, co-workers, highly trained professional recruiter, or even complete strangers. They perform the recruitment exercise in school, home, refreshment joints, churches, workplace, or any other public venue. The Heaven's Gate group also made it known that recruiting was also successful over the Internet. These cults usually attract their audience by promising to fulfill most of the people needs, happiness, provide a friendly home, a safe for their wealth, and even out-of-the world promises such a fulfilling life after death. The members are then forced to adhere to the rules and lifestyle of the cult which, in most cases, are weird and demeaning. The requirement was that they had to cease living a normal life like the others, isolated from their families and communities, and even forced to surrender their wealth. Most of these cults comprise of toxic practices that inflict harm and destruction to their members, who have been blindly fallen into the persuasion of believing that these toxic effects have fruitful results (Lalich, 2004). The Heaven's Gate cult is a perfect example of a toxic cult, where its members believed that they needed to abandon their physical bodies and board a spaceship to the next level of existence. This made them commit cult suicides that lead to many deaths. This report seeks to analyze the history of the Heaven's Gate cult, as well as the toxic effects it had on its members.
A cult is a movement or group that exhibits excessive dedication and devotion to an individual, thing, or idea. A cult uses a program of thought-reform in order to socialize, control and persuades its followers or members into integrating into the group's beliefs, practices, and values. The group leaders systematically induce a notion of dependency to the members that they need to sacrifice or give in their families and possessions in serving the cult. They exploit the unknowing members and can even cause toxic effects or harm to its members, their families and the community (Langone, 1993; Hassan, 2000). Heaven's Gate is an example of a major, destructive, doomsday cult in the US, based in California. They claimed to be a syncretistic religion or group, which combined the principles of Christianity and some strange beliefs of the UFO nature.
History of the cult
Heaven's Gate was a UFO cult founded by two members, Marshall Herff Applewhite, commonly called Do, and Bonnie Lu Nettles, known as Ti. They met in Texas in the 1970s, where they formed the cult then moved to settle in Southwest. They lived in seclusion while trying to preach the gospel of the cult and finally managed to attract and recruit more than 1000 followers (Niebuhr, 1997). The two founders preached that they were like the messengers from God or extraterrestrials that on a mission to save the world and take its occupants to heaven. They spoke a spaceship that would transport the true believers of the group to anther high level of existence. They branded themselves the name "Two Lampstands" that as prophesied in the Bible. The group used materials such as pamphlets and print publications in attracting more followers. They then moved to California, in the 1990s, where they dominantly used the Internet to relay their messages and invitations. The website for Heaven's Gate contains secret codes or keywords for different purposes. The followers of this cult were able to post their messages in this website, and could control these messages at different levels, though the reception of their audience could not be figured out. From the posted messages, it is quite difficult to explain if members of this cult staged their suicides for the mere reason of laughs or as a publicity stunt. Their suicide page is one of the most read open letters to people who access the Internet. Many people described these messages as incomprehensible despite their redundancy (Howard, 1997).
Heaven's Gate attributes and its modes of action
This cult got its inspiration from the story found in Revelation 11 which talked about the killings of two messengers who were the restored to life, and then ascended to heaven in a cloud. They believed that the earth was full of evil forces with only this group being the most elite that could get a direct gate-pass to heaven. They also believed that the physical body was just a temporary housing for the inner soul that was a superior entity. This led them to believe that the process of separating from human to the heavenly kingdom was to separate or disconnect from the physical body then ascend to heaven. This belief to one of the most condemned cult suicides in the American history. In 1997, 18 men and 21 women died after committing suicide in a rented mansion located in San Diego. Preparations for this suicide involved members ritually cleansing their bodies of impurities by drinking citrus juice. They then took a mixture of Phenobarbital with vodka, along with plastic bags covering their heads to induce asphyxiation (Wessinger, 2000).
The dead bodies were covered with purple clothing with each member carrying some money in their wallets. They were dressed in identical clothes and shoes including armband patches that read "Heaven's Gate Away Team". The members lived like siblings while abiding by the rules of the cult that made them is like monks and nuns. A key requirement was that the members had to cut links with their neighbors and families of origin, while others even abandon their children and close relatives before joining the group. They were also to dress in similar clothing comprising of black shirts and pants. They also committees themselves to celibate lives with eight of the members going further to perform castration (Chryssides, 2011). All these rules were a form of preparation steps for their departure to heaven, which they believed to their next level of existence, free of sexual identity, gender, and sexual activities. Members of the cult believed that if they left their physical bodies behind, gotten into the spaceship, they would eventually end up in heaven for a new life (O'Leary, 1997).
The toxic effects of the cult
The founders of Heaven's Gate, Do and Ti emphasized on the importance of sexual negation rather than sexual expression, which they believed was just a mere aspect of the physical body that could be surpassed as they proceeded to the next level of existence. Because of this principle, the members adhered to a standard dress code that diminished the differences in sexuality. Some of them even underwent castration, including one of the founders (Do), in order to get rid of their sexual desires (Chryssides, 2011). The group also feed the minds of its members with the notion of dualistic cosmology, where the world exists in two categories of profane and sacred realms. This notion stated that the heavenly life promised freedom, purity and eternal life, unlike the human life on earth that is full of empty existence, sinful activities, and a meaningless death controlled by Lucifer. The members, therefore, agreed to cut off the earthly ties which included social and economic ties, as well as overcoming the humanly lifestyle. The worst toxic effect was that the members agreed to the preaching of preparing to leave their humanly bodies, get into the spaceship, and eventually proceed to heaven. This led to the cult suicide in which the members took poison and suffocated themselves. Most of the members died including the founders through this massive suicide plan (O'Leary, 1997).
The cult suicides by members of the Heaven's gate in March 1997 made the news headlines for a long time. The death numbers and their ritual methodical formula were shocking. Cults exist as sections of frayed edges in the society (Bromley & Melton, 2002). A substantial number of people have confessed to have faced persuasion into joining a cult, or reported having a close friend, or sibling to be in a cult. It is entirely up to the society together with its different components, and parties to try and prevent their members from falling victims to such toxic and destructive groups that are on the prowl. Zimbardo (1997) suggested that a solution to these predicaments could be to create an alternative "perfect cult" so that the society can deliver the promises that the real cult groups preach. This perfect societal cult can opt for appeal and does not have any distortion, deception, and potential harm or destruction to its members.