Most Notorious Suicide Cults in History

A search for higher purpose, a need to belong, a belief in the power of a greater being in human form - there can be a lot of reasons for cults to be formed.

New Delhi: With the eerie incident in Delhi’s Burari area, where a 11 members of a family is believed to have committed suicide together in the procedure of attaining salvation, horror tales are being dished out left, right and center. While we wait for the mystery behind this case to unfold, here is a list of some true events filled with death and gore.

Though often brutal and nonsensical, ritual suicide is real and has occurred throughout history. The motives behind mass suicide are varied. In ancient times and during the Dark Ages it was common for entire groups of
people to commit suicide to avoid subjugation to enemy invaders, whilst in the past few centuries ritual
suicide has been seen within religious offshoots and collectives who follow cults of the occult.

The deeply ‘religious’ family in Delhi apparently had no financial troubles and were even seen celebrating a family member’s engagement a few weeks ago. A search for higher purpose, a need to belong, a belief in the power of a greater being in human form – there’s a lot of reasons for cults to come about. Here are some of the world’s most notorious ones.

1. Jauhar of Chittor

The Chittor Fort in India has been the site of three separate instances of Jauhar, a form of ritual suicide performed by women and children whose husbands face insurmountable odds in times of war. This Hindu custom involved intentional self-immolation to escape defilement and/or enslavement by their enemies. Knowing their families were dead, the men had nothing left to lose and could bloodthirstily attack, despite facing certain doom. The massive Chittor Fort was the site of many confrontations. In 1303, 1535 and 1568, with Muslim forces clearly bound for victory, the residents committed Jauhar so that they could obtain death with honour.

2. Order of the Solar Temple

Founded in Switzerland in 1984, the Order of the Solar Temple traced its roots to the medieval Knights Templar but also thought the world would end in the 1990s. Things took a turn in 1994 when OST leader Joseph di Mambro reportedly ordered the murder of an infant in Quebec; later that year, more than 53 members of the group were reportedly dead by suicide, and the group’s buildings were destroyed by fire. Additional members died committing suicide in 1995 and 1997.

3. Heaven’s Gate

Marshall Applewhite was a former music professor who led the Heaven’s Gate cult, a religious group with a special twist. They believed that suicide was a means of transferring their human shells into an alien spacecraft hidden behind the Hale-Bopp Comet. In March 1997, that comet made its closest approach to Earth. Seizing the opportunity, Applewhite and his brethren ingested a poisonous cocktail of vodka and phenobarbital, a decision that ultimately caused the deaths of 39 members. When their bodies were found, they were all dressed the same: wearing black shirts, sweatpants and new Nikes, with armbands that read “Heaven’s Gate Away Team.”

4. Aum Shinrikyo

A doomsday cult founded by Shoko Asahara in 1984, Aum Shinrikyo, which means ‘supreme truth’, is still active today. On March 20, 1995, members carried out a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, killing twelve and sickening 5,500. After that attack, Japanese authorities learned that the group had also been responsible for the murder of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, who was working on a class-action lawsuit against Aum Shinriyko at the time of his death (the group also murdered his wife and child).

5. Jonestown Massacre

There is sometimes a fine line between murder and forced suicide. The most notorious example of this was the Jonestown massacre on November 18, 1978. Jim Jones, the fanatical leader of the People’s Temple Agricultural Project, an American religious cult commune in Guyana, arranged the assassination of US congressman Leo Ryan, whose investigation into the cult was causing trouble. Jones then instructed over 900 members to commit “revolutionary suicide” by drinking poisoned Flavor Aid. How many drank it willingly is something we’ll never know. It was the largest such event in modern history, with 300 of the over 900 victims being minors.

6. Children of God

A seriously twisted cult that delivered an evil message that sex with children was natural and right, The Children of God cult was also known as the Family and was founded by David Berg. Known for turning female cult followers into prostitutes who used sex to entice men into the cult, they were the purveyors of “The System”, a doctrine that included belief in the Apocalypse. Actor Rose McGowan of Charmed was raised in the cult, and so was River Phoenix, who later died after an overdose in front of Johnny Depp’s Viper Room. The cult’s system of sexual abuse and “flirty fishing” (the use of sex to lure new members) makes it a particularly nasty addition to our list.

7. Puputan, Bali

The Dutch military met with some resistance as they invaded the Indonesian province of Bali during 1906, but nothing prepared them for the response they received in the province’s capital of Denpasar. It started calmly, with a procession of Balinese natives clad in ceremonial religious garb marching into view. Upon a signal, the Raja demanded a priest kill him, after which the entire procession engaged in the traditional Balinese suicide ritual known as Puputan. As many as a thousand Balinese may have killed themselves, although Dutch forces soon started mowing down the remaining inhabitants. Adding insult to injury, the Dutch then took everything of value from their bodies.

8. Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God

Founded by Credonia Mwerinde, Joseph Kibweteere and Bee Tait in the 1980s in Uganda, this cult prophesied doomsday. In early 2000, a fire and a series of poisonings killed 100s of members in what was first thought to be a mass suicide, but was later found to be mass murder by the leaders.

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