On Sunday morning, 11 members of a family were found dead under mysterious circumstances at their residence in Burari area of North Delhi. Hours after the bodies were discovered, police found two notebooks in the house with details on how to “end life in order to attain moksha (salvation)”. “It contains a step-by-step account of how to surrender life; how the human body is temporary, but the soul continues to live on; how to cope with fear and pain by covering the mouth and eyes with tape or cloth, and tying hands… The last entry on June 25 refers to one of the dead, Lalit, and how everyone must jump off the stools they would stand on at his signal,” said a police source to The Indian Express. The discovery of the two notebooks has led to the suspicion that the deaths are associated with some form of occult practice.
While the nature of the cult practices in connection with the Burari deaths is yet to be confirmed, mass suicides of this kind is hardly a new phenomenon. Historical records show that ritualistic mass suicides were common among religious groups since the early decades of the century. Mass suicides among the Jews of Massada, the heterodox Christian groups of Montanists and also among the Rajput women who committed jauhar are some of the examples of religion and tradition paving the path towards self-destruction. In the past half a century, however, there have been a number of reports of mass suicides among the newer religious groups in western societies. “The mystic delirium created within the sect leads to self-destruction of the group as being interpreted as an act of self-assertiveness,” writes psychologist Ignia Mancinelli in her article, “Mass Suicide: Historical and psychodynamic consideration.”
Here we take a look at four such instances of cult based mass suicides.
On November 18, 1978, over 900 people were victims of a mass suicide that took place in the South American country of Guyana. All of those found dead, were part of a North American religious sect called the ‘People’s Temple’. The group was founded by James Warren Jones who became a religious preacher of the Methodist movement in the 1950s. However, Jones’ religious career in Methodism left him rather frustrated as he kept fighting to include blacks within the movement. Ultimately, he left the Methodist church and started the People’s Temple.
In the mid-1970s, Jones left America on account of a number of personal issues to a place named Jonestown in Guyana and established an agricultural community there. There, his personality underwent a sudden shift and he announced the need for mass suicide. “Perhaps we will not live through this night; we cannot stand this continual harassment, the members of the Temple have decided to remain here assembled until the situation improves or die,” he is believed to have said. Following this announcement, he ordered his group to drink a cocktail containing cyanide as a means of protest against racism. Reportedly though, while some among those who committed suicide, did so voluntarily, there were many who were forced to kill themselves. Jones too killed himself in the event.
The Order of the Solar Temple was an occult organisation influenced by the teachings of Aleister Crowley and Freemasonry. They held on to a firm belief that an apocalypse was near at hand and would be followed by the descend of heaven on earth and that members of their order would then rule the new planet. On being frustrated at their belief not coming true, they decided to take matters in their own hands.
In the years 1994 and 1995, more than 50 members of the group across Canada, Switzerland and France committed suicide through various means including suffocation, gunshot, and poisoning.
On March 26, 1997, thirty-nine top-level computer professionals were found dead in San Diego in California. All of them were part of a sect called WW Higher Source. The members of the group believed their own version of the holy trinity which consisted of the Bible, the computer, and UFOs. All of them were experts in the field of computers and technology and had their own website which went by the name ‘Heaven’s Gate’.
The group believed that apocalypse was close at hand and the only way to attain salvation was to migrate to the other world and be united with their alien creators. In order to achieve their goal, they consumed vodka mixed with poison and suffocated themselves with plastic bags.
An incident of nine members of a family committing suicide in Mymensingh in Bangladesh in 2007 had left the country in a state of shock. Notebooks recovered from their house after the death revealed that they had been trying to kill themselves for the previous five days with the desire to be able to free themselves from the shackles of any religion and live a life as pure as Adam and Eve.
The nine-member family between the age group of nine and 60 voluntarily came under the wheels of a train. Reportedly, they had prepared their own coffins and dug a mass grave in the lawn of their house in preparation for their death. Though they did not appear to have been associated with any particular cult, their neighbours were quoted later as stating that they hardly interacted with anyone around and did not indulge in any religious gatherings either.