by Stephen Dafoe © 2002
It was in 1120 AD that nine knights met in Palestine under the noble purpose of protecting Christian pilgrims on route to the Holy Land. Assembling themselves around such knightly virtues, the order took as their role model the Temple of Solomon, which they mistakenly believed the Al Aqsa Mosque to be. Soon after these nine poor and noble knights would be a part of a much larger and richer order that would sweep through Christendom. Such would be the case of this glorious order until that fateful day in 1314, when Jacques de Molay, the order’s last Grand Master was burned at the stake as a heretic. 680 years later another group of Templars called The Order of the Solar Temple would meet a fiery death, albeit with an entirely different set of circumstances. On October 5th, 1994 the bodies of 53 members of this apocalyptic cult were found in Chiery and Granges-sur-Salvan, Switzerland as well as in the Province of Quebec, Canada, thus ending a decade long rein of this tragic neo-Templar order.
The Order of the Solar Temple or “International Chivalric Organization of the Solar Tradition,” as it was officially known, was founded in 1984 by Luc Jouret and Joseph Di Mambro. Di Mambro, a jeweler by trade, had a life long interest in matters esoteric and in 1956 became a member of the AMORC, better known as the Rosicrucians. He would remain a member of the AMORC until 1969. A year later in 1970, Di Mambro encountered some problems arising from a swindling charge and left the South of France, settling near the Swiss border. It seems his specialty was posing as a psychologist and he had made a good career of it until he was caught and charged. From the early to mid 1970’s Di Mambro was involved in a variety of minor esoteric societies and in 1978 became the founder of the Golden Way Foundation in Geneva. The Golden Way, in Di Mambro’s estimation, needed to expand and in order to do that he would need to find a charismatic leader; a prerequisite for any growing cult. He found such a leader in 30 year old Luc Jouret, whom he met via one of the members of his flock who would latterly be one of the victims of the 1994 murder / suicide. Some time after their initial meeting, Di Mambro introduced Jouret to one Julian Origas, who was the founder of the “Renewed Order of the Temple;” a group that combined Templar and Rosicrucian themes. Jouret soon joined both di Mambro’s and Origas’ groups. Following his mentor Origas’ death in 1984, Jouret became the Grand Master of the ORT. Although the reason is not known, a year later, Jouret was forced out of the ORT and took with him, half of the order’s membership. As he was already a member of Di Mambro’s Golden Way Foundation, Jouret was clearly the charismatic leader Di Mambro had been looking for. Together the two leaders would form the Order of the Solar Temple in 1984.
The 1980’s saw the charismatic Jouret, a doctor by trade, which added an air of credibility to his presentations, lead a very successful lecture tour that took him throughout Switzerland, France and Canada. The result of the recruiting drive lectures was that the order was divided into three distinct groups or levels of membership. The first, called “Amanta” consisted of those brought in by Jouret’s lectures and seminars. The next level “The Archedia Clubs” consisted of those who wished to go a little further with the ideas and teachings of the order. Lastly was the initiative arm of the order, “The International Chivalric Organization of the Solar Tradition.”
The Amanta, the organization that funded and promoted his lectures, was quite successful at setting up speaking engagements for Jouret. These lectures, according to Jean Francois Mayer of the University of Fribourg, were innocent enough in their advertisement, “Luc Jouret, Physician. Love and Biology.” This innocent message of the lecture flyer soon turned to both a spiritual and apocalyptic tone, with Jouret speaking of environmental disasters such as the erupting of volcanoes and dying forests. While this seems innocent enough, the real impetus behind the group was to find a core of people that would be strong enough to survive the ecological apocalypse that Jouret and his group believed was forthcoming. At this early stage in the cult, there appeared to be no indication that the group wished to leave the planet, as would be revealed in the order’s final days.
Jouret’s more advanced members believed that he was a Knight Templar in a previous life and that he would lead his followers to a planet orbiting Sirius. The Solar Temple founder also believed that he was a third reincarnation of Jesus Christ, or at least that is the image he put forth to the rank and file member. The beliefs of the Solar Temple, which changed from time to time, seemed to be a blending of neo-Templarism, New Age philosophy, Christianity and survivalist paranoia. The cult taught that life was an illusion and that followers would be reborn on a planet revolving around the Dog Star Sirius. This is most evident in a quote of Jouret’s own words; “Liberation is not where human beings think it is. Death can represent an essential stage of life.” The group under Jouret’s teachings believed that the end was neigh and that the world would end by fire; concepts that were an undercurrent in Jouret’s earlier lecture circuit.
As leader of the cult, Jouret became increasingly eccentric. Prior to the order’s ritual he would have sexual relations with one of the women in the flock in order to supposedly give him “Spiritual Strength” to enact the ceremony, which consisted of a “dog and pony show” where spiritual beings seemed to appear. These apparitions were nothing more than some expensive electronic projection devices operated by Di Mambro. Di Mambro, although a backstage member, was not behind the scenes when it came to his own share of authoritarian tendencies. He, like Jouret, was fond of engaging in sexual liaisons with the female members of the order, whether they were married or not. They complied willingly and unquestionably as members of a cult often do. There were many instances of couples being broken up by Di Mambro and Jouret if they were found not to be “cosmically compatible.”
While membership continued to swell to its maximum membership of around 500 in the late 1980’s, the turn of the decade would see some trouble in the order. In 1993 some members were arrested for trying to purchase handguns and the resulting bad press put pressure on the group. Members began to distance themselves from the order, both in a lack of attendance and in financial contributions having lost confidence in the order. Jouret had allegedly told members to stockpile weapons in preparation for the end of the world. He had pleaded guilty in Canada that same year to illegal gun possession and left the country for Switzerland.
The handgun scandal drastically affected the public perception of the Solar Temple and one member, Tony Dutoit, who publicly spoke out against the order, complicated this. A short time prior to the mass suicide, Dutoit, his wife Nicky and child were murdered in their home in Morin Heights, Quebec. The murder was most grisly. Police reports showed that Tony was stabbed some 50 times, while his wife Nicky was stabbed four times in the throat, eight times in the back and once in each breast. Their infant child was stabbed six times. His body was wrapped in a black plastic bag on which was placed a wooden stake. While many have said that the murder was part of the groups peculiar beliefs and that members felt that the Dutoit’s baby, Emmanuel, was the anti-Christ, the evidence seems to support that the murder was the result of the public exposure of the group’s practices. Dutoit had been the first to lay claim that the apparition illusions enacted in the order’s ceremonies were fake and in fact Dutoit had been involved with installing the electronic equipment that enable the carnival show. Dutoit would not be the only detractor on the basis of forged illusions.
Most notably among the detractors and defectors from the order was Di Mambro’s son Elie, who claimed that he had witnessed, first hand, fakery in his fathers supposed illusions during the order’s ceremonies. Elie’s openness and willingness to expose his father as a charlatan caused at least a dozen members to leave the order.
This was a major blow to the beliefs of Di Mambro, since the group believed that Elie was a child of destiny and the product of “theogamy,” which the dictionary defines as a marriage of the gods. Di Mambro made the claim that under direction of the Masters of Zurich, the supposed true leaders of the order and a group later shown to be fictitious, Elie was conceived in Israel on March 21st, the Vernal Equinox. This was a similar situation to Jouret’s son, born in 1983, who was to be the premiere Grand Master of the “Temple of the New Age of the Era of the Virgin.” This was a destiny that did not meet with the child’s mother who raised him in a normal fashion.
As if the defection of Di Mambro’s son was not enough of a blow to the order, the two founders were engaged in a growing series of disputes over the direction of the Order of the Solar Temple. The one thing that the two men seemed to be in complete agreement on was that they needed to start preparations for the “transit” to another world. While the order had always carried an apocalyptic tone in their teachings, this new direction would lead, at the end, to a fiery consequence.
On the night of October 4th, 5th, 1994 residents of Chiery and Granges-sur-Salvan, Switzerland became aware of fires burning in the towns. By the next morning would be found the remains of 53 members of the Order of the Solar Temple. While it at first appeared to be a mass suicide, the bodies at Chiery told a slightly different tale. Autopsy reports showed that two of the victims died of suffocation while another twenty-one were administered sleeping pills before being shot to death. According to a Time Magazine article of 1994, some of the victims had as many as eight bullet wounds in the head. Another ten victims were found with plastic bags over their heads. There was also evidence that several of the victims had shown signs of struggle, which indicates that the deaths were far from a willing suicide pact.
A year later on December 23rd of 1995, at the time of the winter solstice, the bodies of another 16 members would be found in a burned out chalet in the Swiss Alps. The bodies were arranged in a star pattern with their feet towards the ashes of a fire. Among the dead were the wife and son of Jean Vuarnet of skiing and sunglasses fame. Like the murder / suicide of 1994, the victims had been either shot, stabbed or poisoned. Two years later, the beliefs of the order would take a final five lives in St. Casimir, Quebec in the burned home of Didier Queze, a member of the order. Four of the bodies were found in an upstairs bedroom arranged in the shape of a cross. The final body, Didier’s mother, lay on a sofa in the living room; a bag over her head. Unlike previous Solar Temple suicides, the children of these final victims were spared. Awaking one morning to find that their parents had placed numerous propane tanks, hot plates and other paraphernalia to start fires, throughout the house, they realized that something was afoot. They negotiated with their parents to be spared and agreed to take sleeping pills in a workshop near the home, realizing that when they awoke both their parents and the family home would be no more.
In all 74 members of the order met with a fiery and gruesome death at the hands of this neo-Templar cult. While an alleged quote from one of the members, “It is with unfathomable love, pure joy and no regret that we leave this world. Men, do not cry for our fate, but cry for your own,” seems to indicate that the deaths were willingly given for their beliefs of the order, the evidence seems to indicate another direction. If the deaths were the result of murder, then who was responsible?
Michel Tabachnik, a former Conductor with the Canadian Opera Company was accused of contributing to the 74 deaths of the members of the Order of the Solar Temple in 2001. During the nine day trial in Grenoble, France the prosecution attempted to link Tabachnik with Di Mambro, whom he had allegedly founded the Golden Way Foundation with some years before. Although Tabachnik’s name appeared on a list of members of the Solar Temple found in a Quebec chalet, the prosecution was unable to establish a positive link between the cult and the conductor. Tabachnik was acquitted of all charges against him and the mystery of whom murdered the victims of Chiery and Granges-sur-Salvan remains unanswered. Although the victims were shot to death before their remains were burned, no smoking guns were ever found.