This Is How The Order Of The Solar Temple Cult Started

As far as cult names go, the International Chivalric Organization of the Solar Tradition (known to its friends simply as the Order of the Solar Temple) has a lot going for it. It broadcasts a sense of prestige — of dimly lit oaken libraries, thick with cigar smoke, and riddled with secret passageways that even Tom Hanks would be hard-pressed to uncover. One would never play ping pong at an Order of the Solar Temple meetup.

This elegantly named death trap for the gullible of mind and credulous of heart is the spirit child of two very different people: Luc Jouret and Joseph de Mambro. In isolation, these individuals had some ... well, just call them "out there" ideas. Together, they formed an explosive belief system, one that would lure scores of vulnerable people into its fold, and leave a trail of destroyed lives in its wake. 

Who were these people? And how did they build something so destructive?

Meet the Gilbert and Sullivan of Death Cults writes that Joseph Di Mambro was born in rural Southern France in 1924. With a childhood eclipsed by the shadows of two world wars, Di Mambro was no stranger to the morbid realities of life and death. He also reveled in detail. A clockmaker by trade and a strict Catholic by upbringing, Di Mambo's early adult years were filled with ornate iconography, bookish intricacy, and tales of damnation. He began to study occultism, in earnest, in his twenties. As Film Daily relates, this early fascination eventually led to him founding the Golden Way Foundation: Essentially, Meetup for occultists. He also formed the intriguing (albeit heavily fruit-loopy) belief that he was the incarnation of Moses, as well as an Egyptian Pharaoh, and a bunch of other grand luminaries of legend.

Luc Jouret was born in the Belgian Congo in 1947. He studied to become a doctor, and spent several years as a paratrooper for the Belgian Army. At first glance, Jouret's early years look nothing like Di Mambro's. However, Jouret began to delve into alternative medical treatments and, according to CBC, became increasingly drawn to studying spiritual healing. For years, he traveled the world, studying different healing belief systems. Along the way, Jouret acquired formidable skills of persuasion. He brought a flourish of medical rigor to insubstantial pseudoscience — believability to banana oil, a sense of credence to complete crapola.

Together, the men formed two crazy halves to one deadly whole.

What made this cult so compelling?

According to the earlier-cited article, the pair met in the early eighties when Di Mambro invited Jouret to lecture at the Golden Way Foundation. They formed a close bond, eventually finding a way to weld together Di Mambro's macabre, ritualistic occultism with Jouret's odd concoction of New Age self-realization and urbane legitimacy.

Britannica describes the Order of the Solar Temple as a mashup of evangelical Christian doctrine with occult freemasonry. The temple didn't draw zealots to its murderous embrace with tales of horned evil-ones, or doomsday scenarios ... not at first, anyway. Instead, Di Mambro and Jouret talked about "the great transformation of the world," a golden moment where noble Templar principles would usher in a new age of enlightenment. Ultimately, the Order of the Solar Temple would fall back on the whole "apocalypse is coming" schtick (they prophesied the world would end in the mid-nineties, so phew, everybody's out of the woods there) but the public face of the cult was still more about transformation — transforming a nasty world with, for want of a better term, knightly niceness.

Opinions differ on this, but some surmise that this transformation rhetoric was the secret sauce that made the cult irresistible to so many members of the wealthy French elite, law enforcement, and the civil service. And for this pretense of legitimacy, Jouret deserves the lion-share of credit.

The cult's fiery ending

Oh, but there was occult wackadoodliness aplenty, and these wonderful yet horrifying flourishes have Di Mambro's John Hancock written all over them. As Film Daily reports, temple members were promised a luxury trip to Sirius come the end of the world, whereupon they would presumably live out the rest of eternity in a prototypical heaven-scape of all-you-can-eat lobster, rampant shenanigans, and endlessly engrossing hymns praising the Solar God-King. Little wonder it all came at a hefty price tag.

On October 4, 1994, over fifty members of the Solar Temple ended their own lives, or were murdered by other members. Its compounds were burned to the ground, and Jouret and Di Mambro's remains are believed to have been found among the dead, though as the Chicago Tribune reports, there's still some doubt surrounding Jouret's demise. Around a year later, over twenty more members of a satellite sect died under similar circumstances.

The beliefs at the heart of the Order of the Solar Temple probably seem ridiculous to most people from the outside. But Di Mambro's and Jouret's unique brand of occultism, transformation and invocations of an ancient tradition of chivalry was powerful to its followers. It formed a bewitching brew for vulnerable people seeking a dramatic escape from the smallness of life. Ultimately, the Order of the Solar Temple was more like two different cults blended into one. From an odd partnership of minds grew one of the deadliest cults in modern history.