Mass Suicide: A Religious Act?

Mass suicide is instantaneous suicide of all members of a social group. Some of the mass suicides that have been recorded are religious acts.

mass suicide
Jim Jones ordered his people to perform their revolutionary act of suicide (


Jonestown was a settlement in Guyana, South America. The settlement was founded by Peoples Temple cult leader Jim Jones as a promise to his members that the place is their utopia. Jones founded the Peoples Temple in 1950s in Indiana. He relocated his congregation to California before settling in to the Guyanese jungle in 1977.

However, Jonestown did not turn out to be what Jones had promised. Jones was an abusive and controlling leader comparing himself to Vladimir Lenin and Jesus Christ. He was reported to be addicted to drugs.

On November 18, 1978, Leo Ryan a U.S Representative along with reporters and concerned family members visited Jonestown to investigate reports that people were held against their will. During the visit, some members of the Peoples Temple asked help from Ryan to get them out of Jonestown.  Ryan and his team and some defectors were murdered in the jungle airstrip while they were waiting to leave.

That same day, Jones ordered his people to gather in the main pavilion and performed their revolutionary act of suicide. Jones prepared large containers of grape flavored Flavor-Aid mixed with cyanide and Valium. Babies and children were first to die then the mothers. Guards encouraged other members to drink the poisoned punch by aiming guns at them. On that fateful day, 912 people died, of which 276 were children.

Jones died from a single shot wound to the head.


mass suicide
Heaven’s Gate members wore black shirts and pants and Nike shoes took poisoned drink (



On March 26, 1997, 21 women and 18 men were found dead in a mansion in Rancho Santa FE, San Diego, California. The group were believed to have committed suicide as a pact to their religion – the Heaven’s Gate.

The Heaven’s Gate was founded by a music professor who survived a near death experience.  Marshall Applewhite was recruited by his nurse Bonnie Lu Nettles in 1972. In 1975, the two convinced a group of people to come with them to Colorado. Applewhite who was called “Do” while Nettles called herself “Ti” explained that they should abandoned the human bodies to reach heaven. They further influenced their members that an extraterrestrial spacecraft following the Comet Hale-Bopp would take them to the kingdom of heaven. The cult male members even castrated themselves in preparation for the genderless life.

When comet Hale-Bopp passed near Earth,  Applewhite and his 38 members, wearing black shirts and pants and Nike shoes, took pineapple and vodka mixed with phenobarbital. Three members arranged neatly the bodies in their beds and covered them with purple cloth before committing suicide.

mass suicide
The Order of the Solar Temple claimed that the end is near (



The Order of the Solar Temple was founded in 1984 by Joseph De Mambro, and Luc Jouret. The religious cult was based in Zürich, Switzerland but there were also quarters in Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Martinique and other countries. Sex, money and power became central figures in their cult. Jouret was fixated with sex and required female members to join him in bed before a ceremony. Members were also compelled to give their money and strictly follow the rules.

The founders of The Order of the Solar Temple swayed their members that there would be a worldwide disaster happening in the middle of 1990s. They claimed that the end is near and agreed that some members should desert the earth earlier.

In 1994, Swiss authorities discovered 48 bodies of cult members believing to have committed suicide. Twenty-three of the bodies were found in a secret chamber inside a farmhouse in Cheiry, Geneva. Another 25 bodies including children were recovered in chalets in Granges-sur-Salvan near the Italian border. The lodges were burned.

Some members took their own lives while others were ceremonially slaughtered in Switzerland. The members wore black robes and had plastic bags over their heads.  Some had gunshot wounds in the head. Among the dead were Jouret and Mambro.

In Fribourg and Valais, the cult members either took their own lives or were ritualistically murdered. Some were shot in the head or asphyxiated, some had been drugged. Many wore black ceremonial robes, had plastic bags placed over their heads, bodies positioned in a star formation with feet pointing to the center. Many of the bodies were set on fire.

Overall, 74 deaths including some children related to the cult were accounted from 1994 to 1997.


Sources:   History   Oddee   Bizarrepedia

Further Readings

Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide (Futures)

Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide

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