The self-immolation of the Solar Temple (Temple Solaire), a French occult secret society of the late 1980s and early 1990s, presents one of the most troubling object lessons in the recent history of secret societies. The Solar Temple, also known as the International Chivalric Organization, Solar Tradition (Organisation Internationale Chevaleresque Tradition Solaire), was founded in Annemasse, Switzerland by Belgian homeopathic physician and spiritual healer Luc Jouret (1947–94), who became a successful lecturer in the New Age circuit throughout the French-speaking world and had a sizeable following in Geneva and Montreal, two cities with large occult and New Age communities in the 1980s. In 1983 he founded a group, Club Amenta, to promote his lectures, and the next year members of Club Amenta were invited to join another organization, Club Archedia, a secret society with its own initiation ceremony and teachings. See New Age movement.
In 1981, Jouret himself joined another secret society, the Renewed Order of the Temple, a neo-Templar secret society founded by French right-wing activist Julien Origas. He became Grand Master of the Order on Origas’s death in 1983 but was forced out the next year and started his own neo-Templar order, the Solar Temple, recruiting members from Club Archedia for the new organization. The teachings of the Solar Temple came to focus on a coming apocalypse in which the earth would become uninhabitable due to pollution, and Jouret made contacts with survivalist groups in Canada and elsewhere. By 1991 these beliefs and the occult philosophy of the Solar Temple had become extreme enough that the Club Archedia dissolved in a flurry of media accusations, and the Solar Temple itself became the object of police investigations in Quebec.
In 1993 Jouret pled guilty to firearms charges in a Quebec court and returned to Europe. Most of his closest followers secluded themselves in an isolated farmhouse owned by Jouret in Annemasse. They became convinced that the apocalypse had arrived and they were being called to leave their physical bodies and travel to another world orbiting around the star Sirius. On the morning of October 5, 1994, the bodies of 53 adults and children were found at the Annemasse farmhouse. Just over a year later, on November 16, 1995, 16 surviving members of the Solar Temple vanished from their homes in France; their bodies were found a few days later in an isolated forest. Three more suicides took place in the spring of 1996. The demise of the Solar Temple offers a clear example of the fatal combination of secrecy, paranoia, and apocalyptic beliefs – a mix far too common in today’s alternative scene.
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006