Solar Temple

The Order of the Solar Temple. 9. Learning from the Tragedy

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What does the homicides and suicides tell us about which among thousands of pacific new religious and esoteric movements may turn violent?

by Massimo Introvigne

Article 9 of 9

Swiss historian Jean-François Mayer talks to the media after the 1994 tragedy involving Order of the Solar Temple members. Source: Institut National de l’Audiovisuel, Paris.
Swiss historian Jean-François Mayer talks to the media after the 1994 tragedy. Source: Institut National de l’Audiovisuel, Paris.

In the latest article, we insisted that external as well as internal factors contribute to explain the tragedy of the Order of the Solar Temple (OTS). One was the members’ persuasion that the world was approaching its fiery end, and the only way of escaping apocalyptic tragedies was a “transit” to another planet to be accomplished through suicide, for the stronger members, and homicide, for the weaker.

While a similar logic was at work in another mass suicide of an esoteric movement, Heaven’s Gate, it would be of course wrong to believe that all groups announcing dates for the end of the world become violent or suicidal. History and observation of new religious movements illustrate that such a conclusion would not make sense. Thousands of date-setting movements quietly await the end of the world without resorting to violence.

However, unlike the OTS and Heaven’s Gate (or the Peoples  Temple at Jonestown), most of these groups do not produce narratives in which suicide can be interpreted as something else. The OTS documents collectively known as the Testament, which Swiss historian Jean-François Mayer has studied in great detail, claimed that what the OTS was about to do was not suicide, but something radically different. The OTS members, as explained in three videos they wanted to be preserved after the 1994 tragedy, believed that through the force of the Blue Star (connected to Sirius) they would be able to reach Jupiter, where they could eventually become Secret Masters themselves.

A very similar ideology (although with a different background) was present in Heaven’s Gate. The members of Heaven’s Gate who committed suicide near San Diego in March 1997 (probably the same night, between March 22 and 23, when the third suicide of the OTS occurred in Quebec) were persuaded to leave the Earth simply to reach the interplanetary Kingdom of Heaven.

Certainly, in the cosmic vision of the OTS or of Heaven’s Gate it made more sense to become a Master on Jupiter or a god on the planet called Kingdom of Heaven than to remain on planet Earth about to be destroyed.

Such narratives are by no means impossible (as proved by the mass homicides and suicides of a fringe Catholic group, the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, in 2000 in Uganda), but much more difficult to produce in a contemporary Christian context, where there is a strong taboo concerning self-inflicted death.

Other factors may have played a role, including a possible copycat effect connecting one “cult suicide” sensationalized in the media to another. Mayer mentions a disturbing tape found by the Swiss police in Granges-sur-Salvan, on which Jouret and Di Mambro discuss their plans in spring 1994. Jouret complained that “we have been anticipated by Waco,” referring to the death of 82 members of the Branch Davidians movement after a confrontation with federal agents and the resulting catastrophic fire in Waco, Texas, in 1993. Di Mambro replied that in fact “it would have been preferable to leave six months before them.” But, at any rate, “what we will do will be more spectacular.”

Image 2: A cross used in the rituals of the Solar Temple. Source: Collection patrimoniale de la Sûreté du Québec.
A cross used in the rituals of the Solar Temple. Source: Collection patrimoniale de la Sûreté du Québec.

The media had become so important, that “making headlines” was the only way for a suicidal movement to find a confirmation that, far from being marginal, it had an important role to play in this world. In a similar vein, Heaven’s Gate mentioned the OTS and the Branch Davidians in a web posting of September 20, 1996.

The most astute scholarly speculations notwithstanding, we will never know whether the OTS members would have committed their suicides and homicides without what they perceived as their systematic persecution. The external factors did play a crucial role according to American scholars Hall and Schuyler, while Mayer regards the factors internal to the group as primary.

A comparison with Heaven’s Gate—which, in one of its “exit videos” described as “persecution” the “mixture of ridicule and hostility” experienced when the group started posting its apocalyptic messages on the internet—seems to confirm that, when internal factors are sufficiently strong, even moderate external opposition is easily translated into a narrative of cosmic persecution. On the other hand, the opposition experienced by the OTS—while not as obviously harsh as that directed against the Branch Davidians—was not exactly moderate. An international police action might have been perceived as more serious than a number of jokes posted on the internet.

From a video of one of its rituals the Solar Temple left behind. Courtesy of Sûreté du Québec.
From a video of one of its rituals the Solar Temple left behind. Courtesy of Sûreté du Québec.

Cult-watching groups like Info-Secte in Quebec (in fact, one of the most moderates groups of this kind internationally) were right when they alerted the authorities about possible violent developments in the Solar Temple, although they did not suspect mass suicides and homicides. Other anti-cult organizations shamelessly manipulated the tragedies to add the “preparation of mass suicides” to their laundry list of accusations against the groups they label as “cults.”

In Russia, the notorious anti-cultist Alexander Dvorkin falsely accused a good dozen of new religious movements of “preparing a mass suicide.” Similar accusations were directed at the Jehovah’s Witnesses and La Luz del Mundo, organizations not only  firmly opposed to suicide for theological reasons but with millions of members, which would make secretly planned generalized suicides a little bit difficult to organize.

Perhaps the lesson to derive from the tragedies is not only that the OTS was not a “typical cult,” but that the “typical cult” is a fictional construction that does not exist in reality. “Cult” stereotypes do not help in predicting which, among tens of thousands of religious movements, would likely engage in violent or criminal acts.


Massimo Introvigne

Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio.  From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.


Note: Reprint of bitterwinter.org; December/January 2021


The Order of the Solar Temple. 8. But Was It a “Typical Cult”?

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Few days after the 1994 tragedy, Swiss media had already to deal with the problem that it did not look like the average “cult.”

by Massimo Introvigne

Article 8 of 9.

A typical French reaction to the Solar Temple. Source: Institut National de l’Audiovisuel, Paris.
A typical French reaction to the Solar Temple. Source: Institut National de l’Audiovisuel, Paris.

Was the Order of the Solar Temple (OTS) a stereotypical “cult”? Many of those who made this diagnosis did not know anything about the OTS before the homicides and suicides. As Swiss sociologist Roland Campiche observed, media in Switzerland and beyond initially had it all wrong. When they learned about the 1994 carnage in Cheiry and Salvan, they described the OTS members as “typical” “cult victims” living on the margin of Swiss society. This position became untenable when it came out that many if not most members were solid bourgeois, including businesspersons, journalists, and wealthy socialites.

In 1994, I was frequenting the Geneva professional milieu for reasons unconnected with my study of religions. I remember the astonishment of several friends when they read the names of those who died in the tragedy, whom they know as businesspersons and socialites more often found busy in Geneva’s business district or skiing in St. Moritz, without even suspecting their involvement in strange neo-Templar rituals.

Unlike “cults” who had been part of previous mass suicides such as the Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana, the OTS, strictly speaking, was not even a religious group. Rather than with religion, it dealt with magic and esotericism. Rather than with the Peoples Temple, it can be compared with Heaven’s Gate, a UFO group 39 members of which committed a collective suicide in Rancho Santa Fe, California, in 1997. Yet, unlike the OTS co-founders Di Mambro and Jouret, Heaven’s Gate leaders and members, while professing certain esoteric ideas, were never part of the esoteric milieu where a great number of Rosicrucian, para-Masonic, and neo-Templar groups kept in touch with each other.

Local San Diego media reporting on Heaven’s Gate suicide. From Facebook.
Local San Diego media reporting on Heaven’s Gate suicide. From Facebook.

The OTS did not belong to any catastrophic millennial tradition, and was part of a larger esoteric subculture in which apocalypticism is not widespread, and violence and suicide are extremely rare. Why exactly, among hundreds of groups in the magical milieu (more than a hundred in the neo-Templar subfamily alone), only the OTS evolved towards suicide and murder is not an easily answered question.

The anti-cult movement and some journalists influenced by the stereotypes of French and Swiss anti-cult organizations initially suggested the usual model of brainwashing. When, however, they took a closer look at the personalities of those who died, they had to recognize that the large majority of the Templars did not fit the usual profile of  “brainwashed cultists.” As mentioned earlier, the Templars were not unemployed poor nor college students but solid middle-class citizens—in some cases, even members of the Geneva jet set.

As Campiche noted, the brainwashing explanation was, thus, converted into the claim that the OTS was not what it claimed to be, but a facade to hide a conspiracy involving secret services of different countries, organized crime, and large-scale money-laundering operations. When scholars, including myself and Jean-François Mayer (who, as I mentioned earlier, participated in the Swiss official investigation), dismissed these theories, they were simply accused of being themselves part of the conspiracy.

Although entire books have been devoted by militant anti-cult journalists to the alleged Solar Temple conspiracies, no hard evidence has emerged, and these theories have been rejected by both the Canadian and the Swiss investigators. Once sensationalist pseudo-factors are discarded, a number of concomitant factors, both internal and external, contributing to the tragedies emerge.

External factors include the campaign started by ADFI-Martinique and Rose-Marie Klaus, and the subsequent police investigations in Quebec, Australia, and France. There is little doubt that this was interpreted by Di Mambro and his closest associates as intolerable persecution. Indeed, the fourth document of the “Testament” they left behind in 1994 was entirely devoted to accusing those organizing the “systematic persecution” of the OTS, including the government and the police of Quebec, of “mass homicide.” Should we, as a consequence, interpret the “Transit” as a response to the opposition?

“Testament” documents sent to media and scholars in 1994. From Facebook.
“Testament” documents sent to media and scholars in 1994. From Facebook.

As American scholars John R. Hall and Philip D. Schuyler observed in their 2006 study “The Mystical Apocalypse of the Solar Temple” (part of the volume edited by James R. Lewis The Order of the Solar Temple: The Temple of Death, London: Routledge), “whether the deaths would have been orchestrated absent the opposition and ensuing scandals is a counterfactual experiment that cannot be completed.”

As we have seen in a previous article, the dates when the first documents clearly hinting at a radical “Transit” were created on the Swiss computer of the OTS more or less coincide with the first police investigations of the group. The question remains why the OTS reacted to the perceived persecution as it did, while a large number of other spiritual movements have endured a much larger amount of ridicule, anti-cult opposition, and police harassment without any violent reaction.

Internal factors should also be considered. The perverse effects of Di Mambro’s threatened loss of charisma have been emphasized by Canadian scholar Susan Palmer (“Purity and Danger in the Solar Temple,” Journal of Contemporary Religion 11,3 [1996], 303–318) and were indeed a key factor. Similar problems seem to have affected Jim Jones (1931–1978) of the Peoples Temple, and Marshall Applewhite (1931–1997) of Heaven’s Gate. All had health problems coupled with disconfirmed prophecies or claims.

Not only may they have re-interpreted their loss of health and charisma as a cosmic tragedy, but the group itself may have collectively read the problems of the leader as a metaphor for planetary illness. Additionally, one is forced to recognize that there are ideologies and doctrines more prone than others to propel a group into violence and suicide. After all, the choice of exiting this world becomes somewhat rational if earth is regarded as doomed, about to be “recycled” or “spaded under” to use the terms of Marshall Applewhite’s Heaven’s Gate internet manifestos, and if suicide is presented as an honorable and effective path to reach another planet.


Massimo Introvigne

Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio.  From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.


Note: Reprint of bitterwinter.org; December/January 2021


The Order of the Solar Temple. 7. Suicides and Murders Continue

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The Swiss tragedy of 1994 was repeated in 1995 in France and in 1997 in Quebec.

by Massimo Introvigne

Article 7 of 9

A sacred book custody with emblems of the Solar Temple found by the Canadian police. Source: Collection patrimoniale de la Sûreté du Québec.
A sacred book custody with emblems of the Solar Temple found by the Canadian police. Source: Collection patrimoniale de la Sûreté du Québec.

As we saw in the previous articles of this series, the leadership and the core membership of the Order of the Solar Temple self-destroyed themselves through the homicides and suicides in Quebec and in the Swiss villages of Cheiry and Salvan of October 4 and 5, 1994.

The dichotomy between suicide and murder is only part of the story, if we believe four documents sent by the OTS to the press, to former members, and to scholars through Patrick Vuarnet (1968–1995), a member of the OTS and the son of French former skiing champion turned industrialist Jean Vuarnet (1933–2017). The documents were accompanied, in some cases, by videos and by a fifth document in which Di Mambro deplored “the barbarous, incompetent and aberrant conduct of Doctor Luc Jouret” who had transformed in a “veritable carnage” what should have been a glorious Transit.

The documents, collectively referred to as “the Testament,” mentioned that some “traitors” had been “executed.” However, they also suggested that together with the killed traitors (including the Dutoits in Quebec, Di Mambro’s son Elie, and possibly Falardeau) and the core members strong enough to understand the full implications of the Transit, there were also weaker Templars. The latter did not disagree with the idea of the Transit (although they may have figured it as something different from a suicide), but needed some “help” in order to accomplish it. The Testament’s description of the different types of deaths was consistent with the findings of the Swiss official investigation .

Interestingly, very few former OTS members re-interpreted the OTS within the frame of the anti-cult worldview. Those few included Thierry Huguénin, who barely escaped the Swiss killings. The majority of the former Templars continued to express sympathy for the OTS, and some explicitly told the Swiss judges that they regretted not having been “called” by Di Mambro to participate in the Transit.

In fact, it seemed that Di Mambro had planned the survival of some “witnesses” by establishing in Avignon on September 24, 1994, yet another organization, the ARC. ARC’s meaning was Association for Cultural Research for the external world, and Alliance Rosy-Cross for initiates. The idea of having both a “public” and a “secret” name for the same organization was consistent with Di Mambro’s style and his paranoid need for secrecy.

Footage of OTS ritual. Courtesy of the Sûreté du Québec.
Footage of OTS ritual. Courtesy of the Sûreté du Québec.

One of the speakers at the Avignon meeting founding ARC was Michel Tabachnik, the musical conductor we had met before as a friend of Di Mambro. Despite his personal dislike for Luc Jouret that, he later claimed, prevented him from formally joining the OTS, Tabachnik had been an occasional speaker for the movement in Quebec and had kept in touch with Di Mambro. The only public figure to survive the 1994 tragedy, Tabachnik subsequently was accused by the anti-cult movement and by some media of being the hidden leader of the OTS or at least the successor of Di Mambro. His musical career was temporarily compromised.

In 1996, a criminal action was started in Grenoble, France, against Tabachnik regarded as a possible ideological source of the tragedies through his speeches and writings. He insisted that he never approved the suicides and homicides, and regarded himself, rather, as a “scapegoat.” He was eventually acquitted of all charges.

Notwithstanding the continued police interest in what was left of the OTS, a second tragedy happened in 1995. On December 23, sixteen members of the OTS, including Patrick Vuarnet and his mother Edith Bonlieu (1934–1995), a former Olympic skier like her husband Jean Vuarnet, and three children of the members were found dead in the Vercors mountains near Grenoble. The first findings of the French investigation concluded that at least some of the dead (and certainly the children) were murdered. At any rate, all died by pistol shots.

The organizer of the tragedy, and the leader of what was left of the OTS in Europe after Di Mambro’s death, appeared to have been Swiss psychotherapist Christiane Bonet (1945–1995), seconded by two French policemen in active duty who were members of the OTS, Jean-Pierre Lardanchet (1959–1995) and Patrick Rostan (1966–1995). French investigators concluded that the victims were killed by Lardanchet and by a Swiss OTS member, André Friedli (1956–1995), who finally shot themselves.

The house of the third suicide in Saint Casimir. From Facebook.
The house of the third suicide in Saint Casimir. From Facebook.

In a third incident discovered on May 23, 1997, in Saint-Casimir, Quebec, five members of the OTS committed suicide. These were Bruno Klaus (1947–1997), the former husband of vocal apostate Rose-Marie, Pauline Rioux (1943–1997), Didier Quèze (1957–1997), his wife Chantal (née Goullot, 1955–1997) and his mother-in-law Suzanne Druau (1934–1997). Druau was suffocated by a plastic bag (a trademark of OTS deaths), while the others asphyxiated from the smoke before being reached by the fire set to the home.

According to the Quebec police, there was no evidence of violence or poisoning although the victims had consumed significant doses of tranquillizers. The three children of the Quèze couple were permitted to choose whether they would participate. They decided not to die, were drugged during the adults’ suicide, and survived.

The third incident basically destroyed the OTS. Former members who survived and remained loyal to Di Mambro’s idea are still alive today, but despite occasional media claims to the contrary no organized OTS activity has continued.


Massimo Introvigne

Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio.  From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.


Note: Reprint of bitterwinter.org; December/January 2021


The Order of the Solar Temple. 6. Tragedy in Switzerland

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On October 5, 1994, the police found 48 dead bodies in the villages of Cheiry and Salvan.

by Massimo Introvigne

Article 6 of 9

Hastily covered dead bodies in Cheiry. From Facebook.
Hastily covered dead bodies in Cheiry. From Facebook.

In the previous article, we saw how internal dissent started manifesting itself in the Order of the Solar Temple (OTS) in 1993, the same year the Canadian police arrested some members of the group for having acquired illegal weapons. Probably in the same year, OTS leader Joseph Di Mambro started preparing for a “transit” that should have taken the core members of the movement to another planet—through mass suicide.

At that time, Di Mambro was experiencing problems with his personal dignity and his leadership, who was based upon revelations he claimed to receive from the secret Masters of the Temple. He had serious health problems and was compelled to wear diapers. A number of French and Swiss members had left the OTS in 1993, wondering whether their money had not been spent to support the leader’s luxurious lifestyle.

Worst, dating back to 1990, rumors were circulating that the most secret and sacred experience of the OTS—visible manifestations of the Masters of the Temple—were, in fact, holographic and electronic tricks stage-managed on behalf of Di Mambro by Tony Dutoit (1958–1994). It looked like a modernized version of the claim that Madame Helena Blavatsky (1831–1891), the co-founder of the Theosophical Society, had fraudulently organized the apparition of written messages from her mysterious Masters, in India and elsewhere.

The rumors led Di Mambro’s son, Elie, to quit the OTS. Dutoit and his wife eventually confirmed that the accusations were true, distanced themselves from Di Mambro, and in 1994 named their newborn baby Christopher Emmanuel (1994–1994). The naming was particularly intolerable to Di Mambro, who regarded the name Emmanuel as a reference to the Cosmic Christ and had reserved it for his own daughter Emmanuelle (1982–1994).

She was female but was addressed in the OTS as “Emmanuel” as if she was a male, and presented as conceived by Dominique Bellaton (1958–1994), Di Mambro’s mistress, through cosmic intercourse with a discarnate Master. Emmanuelle was also worshiped as the embodiment of the Cosmic Christ. As he had usurped the name “Emmanuel,” Di Mambro become persuaded that the infant Christopher Emmanuel Dutoit was the Antichrist.

Order of the Solar Temple: Di Mambro with Emmanuel/Emmanuelle, the Cosmic Christ. From Facebook.
Di Mambro with Emmanuel/Emmanuelle, the Cosmic Christ. From Facebook.

Apart from theories about the Cosmic Christ, that the apparitions of the Masters of the Temple were due to electronic tricks became public knowledge in the OTS. While some members explained this away as an unfortunate but necessary way to keep weaker souls within the fold, others left the OTS.

Di Mambro’s threatened loss of charisma within the OTS explains his paranoid reaction to the different police investigations. In 1994, his lawyer informed him that, due to a number of “political and legal” reasons connected to “a pending criminal investigation,” the passport of his wife might not be renewed.

Di Mambro reacted with a document concluding that “all the polices in the world are focused on us. Our file is secret, nobody could access it but the leaders.” He claimed that OTS was “the hottest file in the planet, the most important of the decade if not of the century.” Di Mambro concluded that “the game is afoot, and the concentration of hate against us will supply the energy needed for our departure.”

The “departure” took place in October 1994. It is unclear exactly when messages from the Masters and from a “Heavenly Lady” channeled by Di Mambro and by Camille Pilet (1926–1994), the most prominent and wealthy businessman in the OTS and the alleged reincarnation of Joseph of Arimathea, started preparing the Templars for a “transit” outside of this world (probably around 1990). It is also unclear when exactly (probably in late 1993) at least an inner core of members learned that the “transit” would not involve a spaceship or other extraterrestrial vehicles but a mystical suicide.

On October 4, 1994, fire destroyed Joseph Di Mambro’s villa in Morin Heights, Quebec. Among the ruins, the police found five charred bodies. Three of these people, the Dutoit couple and their “Antichrist” baby son, had been stabbed to death before the fire was started. Two Swiss members of the OTS, Gerry Genoud (1955–1994) and his wife Colette Rochat (1931–1994), ignited the villa and voluntarily died in the fire.

Having perpetrated or at least supervised the murders in Morin Heights, which probably took place on September 30, Joel Egger (1959–1994) and Dominique Bellaton (the mother of the “cosmic child” Emmanuelle Di Mambro) joined fifty-one members and children of members of the OTS in Switzerland.

Canadian police and firefighters in Morin Heights, October 4, 1994.
Canadian police and firefighters in Morin Heights, October 4, 1994. From Twitter.

In the early morning of October 5, the police found all of them dead in two OTS centers, one in Cheiry (canton of Fribourg) and one in Granges-sur-Salvan (canton Valais). 23 bodies were found at Cheiry and 25 at Granges-sur-Salvan along with the remains of devices set to start the fires that almost destroyed both centers. Among the victims at the Cheiry farm was its owner, Albert Giacobino (1932–1994). Regarded as a traitor, he was suffocated to death with a plastic bag. Renée Pfaehler (1914–1994) and Camille Pilet appear also to have died by suffocation in plastic bags. Both were faithful members of the OTS and their deaths were probably voluntary.

The other victims in Cheiry were killed by pistol shots. Those dead in Salvan were poisoned (or poisoned themselves) with a lethal mixture of drugs, with the possible exceptions of two teenagers, the cosmic child Emmanuelle Di Mambro and Aude Séverino (1979–1994) and three adults: Elie, the apostate son of Joseph Di Mambro, Madeleine Brot (1956–1994), and Pauline Lemonde (1938–1994), who may have died in the fire without first having been poisoned. The lengthy investigation by the Swiss police and judiciary confirmed that most of those dead at Cheiry were murdered, while at least a good half of those found at Granges-sur-Salvan committed suicide.


Massimo Introvigne

Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio.  From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.


Note: Reprint of bitterwinter.org; December/January 2021


The Order of the Solar Temple. 5. Under Attack

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In 1993, the Solar Templars had to confront both a persisting disgruntled ex-member and suspicious Canadian police officers.

by Massimo Introvigne

Article 5 of 9

A Canadian police officer discussing the Order of the Solar Temple investigations. From Facebook.
A Canadian police officer discussing the OTS investigations. From Facebook.

In the previous article, we discussed the foundation in 1984 of what would later be called the Order of the Solar Temple (OTS) and its relationships with Jacques Breyer, whom the OTS leaders Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret recognized as the revelator of some of their neo-Templar doctrines after a mystical experience he had in 1952.

According to Swiss historian Jean-François Mayer, the OTS, between the late 1980s and the 1990s, distanced itself from Breyer by de-Christianizing its message and de-catholicizing its ritual. OTS rites included a mass, since Jouret had in 1984 been ordained as a priest by Jean Laborie (1919–1996), a bishop of a small fringe Catholic splinter group, the Latin Old Catholic Church. By comparing similar rituals of the OTS and of Breyer’s group, the Sovereign Order of the Solar Temple (OSTS), Mayer concluded that Jouret and Di Mambro had de-catholicized both the mass and other neo-Templar rites, and had included references to non-Christian occult traditions.

These references included UFO and extraterrestrial lore, a feature already present (but certainly less important) in Breyer’s OSTS. When the public discovered the OTS apocalyptic worldview behind the facade of Jouret’s motivational speeches, the group started to experience some opposition.

In the French-speaking world, the anti-cult movement is much more prominent than elsewhere. It had experienced, well before the first Solar Temple deaths in 1994, which added fuel to the fire, a degree of governmental support unknown in the English-speaking world. The OTS, however, barely caught the attention of the French anti-cult organizations in the 1980s although it was occasionally mentioned.

The situation changed in 1991. In that year, the Martinique branch of ADFI (Association pour la défense des familles et de l’individu, the largest French anti-cult organization), ADFI-Martinique, denounced the conversion of wealthy Martinicans to the OTS and their eventual move to Quebec. ADFI-Martinique was able to join forces with the Swiss Rose-Marie Klaus, a disgruntled OTS ex-member. Her husband Bruno (1948–1997) had left her within the frame of “cosmic” marriage rearrangements allegedly dictated by the secret Templar Masters.

Rose-Marie Klaus contacted the Canadian cult-watching association Info-Secte, and was eventually invited to speak in Martinique at the end of 1992. Gradually, Klaus’s determined opposition made inroads, and Jouret found it increasingly difficult to be invited as a motivational speaker by respectable companies.

In November 1992, members of the Canadian Parliament received death threats from a mysterious terrorist group, Q-37 (allegedly including 37 members from Quebec). Q-37 announced the intended murder of Quebec’s Minister of Public Safety, Claude Ryan (1925–2004), accused of adopting a political line too favorable to the claims of Native Americans. Although it was later admitted that Q-37 most probably never existed, the Quebec police suspected a possible involvement of the OTS. While Jouret occasionally expressed views hostile to the claims of Native Americans in Quebec, this was by no means an important concern for the OTS. There were many right-wing organizations more likely to be associated with Q-37.

Minister Claude Ryan.
Minister Claude Ryan. Credits.

It was, as a consequence, probable that the information leading to the opening of an investigation of the OTS on February 2, 1993, came from cult-watching organizations. Within the frame of this investigation, two OTS members, Jean-Pierre Vinet (1939–1994) and Hermann Delorme, were arrested on March 8, 1993, as they attempted to buy three semiautomatic guns with silencers, illegal weapons in Quebec. An arrest warrant was also issued against Luc Jouret, who was at that time in Europe. In fact, the arms deal had been arranged by a police informant engaged in a sting operation. The prosecution ended with a “suspended acquittal” and a minor fine for Jouret, Vinet, and Delorme. The latter left the OTS following the incident.

Jumping on the news about OTS, Rose-Marie Klaus managed to have lurid accounts of the “cult of the end of the world” published in some daily newspapers and tabloid magazines. Vinet was fired from his position at Hydro-Québec, and police investigations were launched in France and Australia, where Di Mambro had some financial interests, later grossly exaggerated by sensationalist accounts in the press.

It is not easy to determine whether the preparation for a “transit” of the core members of the OTS to another planet (which Di Mambro, but perhaps not many other members, knew would be a mass suicide) was started before or after the first Canadian police actions in 1993. According to Mayer, who has participated in the Swiss official police investigation and has studied the files left on OTS computers in Switzerland, dates of creation of documents show that the first versions of the texts about the “transit” were written almost at the same time when the Canadian investigation was started in February. By that time, Rose-Marie Klaus had already launched her public campaign.

Ritual jewelry used by the Solar Temple in Quebec. Source: Collection patrimoniale de la Sûreté du Québec.
Ritual jewelry used by the Solar Temple in Quebec. Source: Collection patrimoniale de la Sûreté du Québec.

In Quebec, Jouret had proved not as effective as a manager of the different Templar activities than as a public speaker. Dissension erupted, and Robert Falardeau (1947–1994), an officer with the Quebec Ministry of Finances, replaced him as Grand Master. Jouret founded a new organization called ARCHS (Academy for the Research and Knowledge of Higher Science).

Jacques Larochelle, the lawyer of the defendants in the Canadian case, first called the separation a “schism” in a 1993 press conference. While Larochelle was understandably attempting to protect his clients, things were more complicated. According to Delorme, although the new organization had a distinctive style, several persons remained members of both ARCHS and OTS. Both groups acknowledged the ultimate authority of Di Mambro.


Massimo Introvigne

Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio.  From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.


Note: Reprint of bitterwinter.org; December/January 2021


The Order of the Solar Temple. 4. Waiting for the End of the World

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By the late 1980s, the Solar Templars’ message was becoming increasingly apocalyptic.

by Massimo Introvigne

Article 4 of 9

Order of the Solar Temple: publicity for a conference by Luc Jouret. From Twitter.
Publicity for a conference by Luc Jouret. From Twitter.

In the previous installment of this series, we discussed the emergence of the French former jeweler and esoteric teacher Joseph Di Mambro within the milieu of neo-Templar organizations, and his encounter with the Belgian homeopathic doctor Luc Jouret. They will become key characters in the foundation of the Order of the Solar Temple.

In the 1980s, Jouret’s reputation as a homeopathic doctor became international, but he also established himself as a respected lecturer on naturopathy and ecological topics in the wider New Age circuit. In 1981, he established the Amenta Club to manage his speaking engagements. After 1982, the Amenta Club (later renamed Atlanta) became a vehicle to disseminate Di Mambro’s ideas about secret Masters.

With Jouret, Di Mambro not only gained a trusted associate, but also a charismatic and popular speaker, much younger and energetic than the sixty-year-old former jeweler. Di Mambro introduced Jouret to Julien Origas, the leader of the Renewed Order of the Temple (ORT), an organization discussed in our previous article, and the Belgian doctor quickly ascended to a leadership position there.

Documentary evidence exists indicating that before his death in 1983 Origas designated Jouret as his heir and future Grand Master of the ORT. Jouret’s claims originally were not disputed by ORT’s members. However, it soon became clear that Jouret was introducing into the ORT new teachings inspired by Di Mambro, which were quite foreign to Origas’s ideas. This generated a reaction by the Origas family and the Grand Prior of the ORT, who was by then the Italian Gregorio Baccolini (1913–1997), an ex-Catholic priest who had joined several different non-canonical Orthodox jurisdictions, one after the other. Later media accounts of the Order of the Solar Temple would make him the confessor of Benito Mussolini (1883–1945), a totally fantastic claim.

Jouret’s nemesis: Gregorio Baccolini. From Facebook.
Jouret’s nemesis: Gregorio Baccolini. From Facebook.

Jouret had never been consecrated as Grand Master in a formal ceremony, a matter of considerable importance in esoteric circles, nor was he an officer of the legal ORT structure incorporated under French law. Jouret, thus, was excluded from the ORT in September 1984. The ORT went on under the leadership of Origas’s widow, Germaine (1924–2020), and Gregorio Baccolini, and survived for years with several hundred members who were in no way involved in the subsequent events of the Solar Temple.

Jouret, who had no legal right to the name ORT, had to create with Di Mambro a new splinter organization called in 1984 ORT–Solar Tradition and later International Order of Chivalry–Solar Tradition, or Order of the Solar Temple (Ordre du Temple Solaire, OTS). Asked to mediate, the man whose mystical experiences in Arginy were recognized as a source of neo-Templar doctrine by both Origas and Di Mambro, Jacques Breyer, suggested that ORT and OTS separate amicably, seeing no harm in multiplying the movements within the Arginy Renaissance. Breyer, however, could not prevent the development of bitter feelings between the two orders.

At this stage, Breyer strongly suggested that Jouret’s and Di Mambro’s branch relocate in Canada. Both OSTS and ORT had some members there, and Di Mambro’s friend, musical conductor Michel Tabachnik, had moved to Toronto for professional reasons. Breyer hoped that his brand of neo-Templarism would thus eventually spread to the United States and the whole of the Americas.

Di Mambro and his wife Jocelyne (1949–1994) settled in Toronto in 1984. In 1987, a book was published in English, The Templar Tradition in the Age of Aquarius (Putney, VT: Threshold Books), under the pseudonym “Gaetan Delaforge,” with the aim of disseminating Di Mambro’s ideas into the United States. By this time, Di Mambro’s movement was like a system of Chinese boxes.

People initially attended Jouret’s speeches organized by the Amenta and Atlanta Clubs. Those most interested were invited to join the Archédia Club, an occult (but not truly secret) organization with a quasi-Masonic initiation ceremony. The most dedicated members of the Archédia Club were eventually invited to join the true secret Templar organization, the OTS. But, contrary to Breyer’s prophecy, very little recruiting success was obtained in the English-speaking world.

Fishing for new members: “Gaetan Delaforge”’s book.
Fishing for new members: “Gaetan Delaforge”’s book.

In 1989 (possibly the year of its maximum success), the OTS had, according to Swiss historian Jean-François Mayer, 442 members. Ninety were in Switzerland, 187 in France, 53 in Martinique (in the French-speaking Antilles), 10 in Spain, 86 in Canada (mostly in Quebec), and only 16 in the United States. Quebec became, on the other hand, a focus of OTS activities, and by 1984 a number of members were living communally in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pérade.

Jouret had considerable success in French-speaking Canada as a motivational speaker, especially at Hydro-Quebec, the public hydroelectric utility of the Province of Quebec. There, he recruited fifteen executives and managers for the OTS between 1987 and 1989. By this time, an apocalyptic element was a central part of OTS teaching.

The theme of the “end of the world” had been introduced into the neo-Templar tradition by Breyer. His 1959 book on esotericism, Arcanes Solaires, ou les Sécrets du Temple Solaire (Paris: La Colombe) ended with a study of the “secret of the Solar Temple,” presented as an “alchemical” chronology of humanity. The human race had passed through six ages, each dominated by a different religion, and Christianity was “the last religion.”

The end of the age of Christianity would be “the end of the world” for us. Humanity would move to “the New Earth, a celestial extension of humanity” (not another planet, as the OTS would later claim, but a transformed planet Earth). For the end of Christianity and thus the end of the world, Breyer proposed three speculative and alternative dates: 1999, 2147 (or 2156). and 2666. He noted, however, that although these three dates were the most probable, a number of other dates could be proposed. At any rate, dates were less important than an appropriate spiritual preparation.

Apocalyptic roots: Breyer’s Arcanes Solaires.
Apocalyptic roots: Breyer’s Arcanes Solaires.

Jouret combined Breyer’s doctrine with New Age fears about destruction of our planet by pollution and ecological resource mismanagement. The OTS was also influenced by a number of survivalist themes. In 1986 the OTS privately published two volumes of Survivre à l’an 2000 (How to Survive the Year 2000), which included both occult doctrine and practical advice in the style of American survivalist literature. While Breyer was originally responsible for indicating that catastrophic events were threatening Europe, and that Canada might eventually become an ark of salvation, he was not enthusiastic about OTS date-setting. In the 1990s, Breyer increasingly kept his distances from the OTS.


Massimo Introvigne

Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio.  From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.


Note: Reprint of bitterwinter.org; December/January 2021


The Order of the Solar Temple. 3. Joseph Di Mambro and Luc Jouret

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A French jeweler turned esoteric teacher and a Belgian homeopathic doctor were at the origin of the murderous organization.

by Massimo Introvigne

Article 3 of 9

Luc Jouret.
Luc Jouret. From Facebook.

To understand the suicides and homicides in the 1990s of the Order of the Solar Temple (Ordre du Temple Solaire, OTS), we started with a survey of the neo-Templar tradition to which the OTS belonged, while emphasizing that other neo-Templar groups obviously carried no responsibility for the Solar Temple crimes.

In the previous article, we discussed the mystical revelation French esoteric author Jacques Breyer claimed to have received in 1952 in Arginy, when secret Masters ordered him to establish a new neo-Templar order, and the activities of the Sovereign Order of the Solar Temple (OSTS), established by Breyer, and the Renewed Order of the Temple (ORT), founded by two well-known characters in the French esoteric milieu, Raymond Bernard and Julien Origas, as part of the “Arginy Renaissance.”

On March 21, 1981, the leaders of OSTS and ORT converged in a ceremony in Geneva to swear allegiance to a “once and future” supreme secret Master of the Temple. They met on the premises of a third organization, also associated with the ceremony and recognized by Breyer as part of the Arginy movement: the Golden Way Foundation established by Joseph Di Mambro (1924–1994), the future leader of the Order of the Solar Temple. The ceremony of March 21, 1981 was, according to Di Mambro, at least as important as Breyer’s 1952 Arginy experience, and was later cited as the founding date of the Order of the Solar Temple.

The ceremony did not imply any merger between the OSTS, the ORT, and the Golden Way Foundation. Although the OSTS leaders Breyer and Marsan were in touch with Di Mambro and Origas, they kept their organizations strictly separate. This point is worth noting since Marsan’s friendship with both Prince Ranier III of Monaco and Di Mambro led in 1997 to the extraordinary claim by some media that Princess Grace (née Kelly, 1929–1982) was a member of the Order of the Solar Temple.

There is no evidence that Prince Ranier III and Princess Grace were members of OSTS either. Princess Grace died in 1982, whereas the Order of the Solar Temple as such was established in 1984. The name of Princess Grace was not mentioned in any of the surviving Solar Temple papers found in Switzerland.

Joseph Di Mambro. From Facebook.
Joseph Di Mambro. From Facebook.

Di Mambro was born in Pont-Saint-Esprit (Gard, France) in 1924. A jeweler by trade, in 1956 he joined the Rosicrucian organization AMORC. He had some responsibilities there and left it around 1970. Di Mambro displayed considerable skill as a spiritualist medium channeling discarnate Masters, and he was looking for experiences stronger than AMORC. He joined the Arginy movement and traveled to Egypt and Israel (where he allegedly conceived his son Elie [1969-1994] on Mount Carmel, a mountain associated with the biblical prophet Elias).

After a minor skirmish with French justice in 1971 for writing bad checks, Di Mambro moved to Annemasse near the Swiss border, and later to Switzerland. There, he started in 1973 a full-time career as a teacher of yoga and occult philosophy. From that time on, Di Mambro established an astonishing number of secret (and not so secret) societies, organizations, and associations, whose names may easily confuse both the initiates and the scholars. His main venture in the 1970s was La Pyramide (1976–1978), in which his closest students lived communally.

In 1977 Nicole Koymans (1928–1994), a yoga teacher in Geneva and a member of Di Mambro’s inner circle, brought to La Pyramide her student Christine Meylan (1944–1994) and the latter’s husband, Michel Tabachnik, already well known in musical circles as a promising young conductor. In 1978 Tabachnik joined Di Mambro’s new venture, the Golden Way Foundation. Tabachnik moved to an apartment within the Golden Way property in Saconnex-d’Arve near Geneva with his second wife, Sabine, a student of Di Mambro who had divorced Christian Pechot (1945–1994).

The latter later married Tabachnik’s ex-wife Christine Meylan, and both joined the OTS and died in the 1994 tragedy. In 1979, Tabachnik became the president of the Golden Way Foundation, whose real leader remained Di Mambro.

Michel Tabachnik.
Michel Tabachnik. Credits.

At this stage Di Mambro’s ideas were still largely derived from the Rosicrucian order AMORC, with little emphasis on Knights Templar or neo-Templarism (although he knew Origas since their AMORC years). The core membership of Di Mambro’s group was composed of the “brotherhood” living communally in Saconnex-d’Arve.

In 1982 the Golden Way was joined by Luc Jouret (1947–1994), a Belgian homeopathic doctor who had established a practice in Annemasse. Jouret was born in Kikwit, Belgian Congo (present-day Zaire), to Belgian parents in 1947. After graduation as a medical doctor in Brussels in 1974 and military service as a paratrooper, his interests had focused on alternative and New Age medicine, particularly homeopathy. He also had contacts with a number of Belgian New Age, Masonic, and occult groups, and had visited the Far East.

Jouret lecturing on homeopathy in 1983.
Jouret lecturing on homeopathy in 1983. From Facebook.

In 1977 Jouret and his wife-to-be Christine Pertué (1952–1994) became affiliated with the World Teacher Trust (WTT), an organization established in 1971 in India by Ekkirala  Krishnamacharya (1926–1984) called “Master E.K.” The WTT combines ideas about the Masters derived from the Theosophical Society and esoteric author Alice Bailey (1880–1949) with a strong emphasis on homeopathic medicine.

Jouret and Pertué visited Master E.K. in India, and were instrumental in promoting the WTT throughout French-speaking Europe. After his meeting with Di Mambro in 1982 and Master E.K.’s death in 1984, Jouret lost contact with the WTT. He also divorced Pertué after five years of marriage in 1985. However, she remained in the OTS and died in the Swiss tragedy in 1994.


Massimo Introvigne

Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio.  From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.


Note: Reprint of bitterwinter.org; December/January 2021


The Order of the Solar Temple. 1. The Neo-Templar Background

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In 1990s, the suicides and homicides of the Solar Templars energized the European anti-cult movement. But where did this group come from?

by Massimo Introvigne

Article 1 of 9

At the origins of the Order of the Solar Temple: two Knights Templar seated on a horse, from a 13th century manuscript.
Two Knights Templar seated on a horse, from a 13th century manuscript. Credits.

The three incidents of suicides and homicides involving the Order of the Solar Temple (in French, Ordre du Temple Solaire, OTS), an esoteric new religious movement based in Switzerland and Quebec, had a crucial role in energizing the anti-cult movements in Europe, and persuaded governments and Parliaments in several countries that “cults” should be investigated through special commissions.

In this way, the OTS crimes, which were very much real, had however a negative effect on the general situation of religious liberty in Europe, creating witch hunts where hundreds of peaceful new religious movements were accused of being “potentially violent” or even “preparing mass suicides.” Reconstructing what the OTS and the tradition it was part of were really all about has thus an interest that goes beyond the tragedy of the Solar Temple. It will also show that the OTS had peculiar features of its own, eluding easy comparisons with other groups labeled as “cults.”

This series is based on my early studies of the OTS and in the landmark study of the movement by Swiss historian Jean-François Mayer, who not only is the best specialist of the subject but also assisted the Swiss judges in the investigation of the first suicides and homicides.

The OTS was not born in a vacuum. It is a deviant part of a much larger tradition, neo-Templarism, or the belief that the order of the Knights Templar, disbanded by the Catholic Church in 1307, secretly continued its existence to our very days. Unnecessary to say, other neo-Templar organizations are not responsible for the wrongdoings of the Solar Temple. Yet, while keeping this statement firmly in mind, they should be necessarily mentioned to understand where the Solar Temple came from.

The Order of the Temple, a Catholic monastic-chivalric order whose history is intertwined with that of the Crusades, was dissolved in 1307 by Pope Clement V (1260–1314) under pressure by the King of France, Philip the Fair (1268–1314), who resented the power and the independence of the Knights Templar and was also interested in confiscating their substantial assets.

Knights Templar burned at the stake during Philip the Fair’s persecution. From the anonymous Chronik Von der Schöpfung der Welt bis 1384, 14th century.
Knights Templar burned at the stake during Philip the Fair’s persecution. From the anonymous Chronik Von der Schöpfung der Welt bis 1384, 14th century. Credits.

After the suppression, the Order survived for a few decades outside France, but by the early 15th century at the latest, the Templars had completely disappeared. The thesis of their secret continuation has been denounced by specialists of medieval history as a mere legend.

The idea that the Templars, officially suppressed, had continued their activities clandestinely until the 18th century, spread first of all within the French and German Freemasonry. Freemasonry was born in the United Kingdom, and presented itself as the heir of the trade guilds of the stonemasons. For some, this was too “humble” an origin, which the nobility of continental Europe accepted with difficulty. Thus, the legend was spread of persecuted knights who had “hidden” in the English and Scottish guilds of stonemasons in order to continue their activities.

Especially in Germany, these mysterious knights were identified with the Templars. This is the origin of the Templar degrees of Freemasonry, which were born in continental Europe but quickly spread to the United Kingdom thanks to the work of Thomas Dunckerley (1724–1795), the founder in 1791 of a Grand Conclave (later Grand Priory) of the Knights Templar within English Freemasonry. Today, Masonic Knights Templar are found in several Masonic orders.

Masonic Knights Templar parading in Toledo, Ohio, in 1906.
Masonic Knights Templar parading in Toledo, Ohio, in 1906. Credits.

In the 18th century, however, not all the holders of Knights Templar degrees accepted the idea that their lodges must remain subordinate to Freemasonry. One Parisian lodge, the Knights of the Cross, argued that this should not be the case. If the Templar legend was true, then the guilds of stonemasons had an esoteric interest only as far as within them since the 14th century were hidden the heirs of the Order of the Temple. They concluded that the Knights Templar should have precedence over Freemasonry, and that Masonic organizations should subordinate themselves to the (neo-)Templar ones rather than vice versa.

The origin of this controversy goes back to an adventurer active in the years of the French Revolution, the former Catholic seminarian turned podiatrist Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat (1773–1838). In 1804, he claimed to have discovered a list of Templar “Grand Masters” from the suppression of 1307 until 1792. In that year, he argued, the last “hidden” Grand Master, Duke Louis-Hercule-Timoléon de Cossé-Brissac (1734–1792), had died, massacred in Versailles by the Jacobins.

The Knights of the Cross declared that a document, allegedly found in the drawer of a furniture of the Duke, authorized whomever found it to proceed to the election of a new Grand Master. Thus, in 1805, the lodge appointed Fabré-Palaprat Grand Master (initially “provisional”) of a revamped Order of the Temple. The idea interested  Napoleon (1769–1821) himself, who authorized a solemn ceremony in 1808.

Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat, by Jacques François Llanta (1807–1864).
Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat, by Jacques François Llanta (1807–1864). Credits.

Fabré-Palaprat, however, did not have in mind only a chivalric order destined to re-enter more or less quickly into the orbit of the Catholic Church. His far more ambitious idea, which he began to manifest in 1812, was to use the neo-Templars to establish a new religion. In 1814, Fabré-Palaprat claimed to have fortuitously purchased from a bouquiniste a Greek manuscript entitled Evangelikon, a (largely unorthodox) version of the Gospel of John, preceded by a commentary called Lévitikon. According to modern scholars, these texts, although containing possibly older material, would rather appear to be late 17th– or 18th-century forgeries.

The John the Apostle of the Evangelikon presents himself as an anti-clerical rationalist, who strips Christianity of any supernatural character and reduces Jesus Christ to an initiate educated in Alexandria. Before dying, Jesus Christ would appoint as his successor John the Apostle, whose “Order of the East” would then continue in the Order of the Temple.

The importance of this succession is evident: as Grand Master of the reconstituted Order of the Temple, Fabré-Palaprat proclaimed himself the authentic successor of John the Apostle, and indeed of Jesus Christ himself, vested with all the powers of the priesthood. He could thus proceed to the foundation of a Templar Church, which he called the “Johannite Church” and declared the only true legitimate Christian church. He then approached  a defrocked Catholic priest, Ferdinand-François Châtel (1795–1857), who had founded an independent “French Catholic Church.”

Ferdinand-François Châtel.
Ferdinand-François Châtel. Credits.

In 1831, Châtel joined the Order of the Temple, and shortly thereafter Fabré-Palaprat consecrated him as bishop and primate of the Johannite Church, which gathered a few ex-priests.

The Johannite Church, however, lasted only a few years. Not all members of the Order of the Temple took it seriously. Some did not intend to break with the Catholic Church, and rather broke with Fabré-Palaprat. When the latter died in 1838, the link between the Order of the Temple and the Johannite Church was broken, and the opportunity arose for a reconciliation between his followers and those who had left the Order because of the Johannite Church controversy.


Massimo Introvigne

Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955 in Rome) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. Introvigne is the author of some 70 books and more than 100 articles in the field of sociology of religion. He was the main author of the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia (Encyclopedia of Religions in Italy). He is a member of the editorial board for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion and of the executive board of University of California Press’ Nova Religio.  From January 5 to December 31, 2011, he has served as the “Representative on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination, with a special focus on discrimination against Christians and members of other religions” of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 2012 to 2015 he served as chairperson of the Observatory of Religious Liberty, instituted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to monitor problems of religious liberty on a worldwide scale.


Note: Reprint of bitterwinter.org; December/January 2021