Heaven’s Gate Event Poster, 1975

Exhibit / February 9, 2017


Object Name: Event poster for Human Individual Metamorphosis (later known popularly as Heaven’s Gate)
Maker and Year: Human Individual Metamorphosis (“H.I.M.”), 1975
Object Type: Poster
Image Source: Messengers of Deception: UFO Contacts And Cults, by Jacques Vallée, 1979 (this image from 2008 Daily Grail edition)
Description (Michael Grasso):

This poster appeared in the San Francisco Bay Area in the summer of 1975 and advertised an upcoming visit from the UFO group “Human Individual Metamorphosis,” or H.I.M. H.I.M. spent much of the mid-1970s recruiting at college campuses and in other communities with large populations of young people. The group’s philosophy and theology was a combination of Christian millenarianism and postwar UFO contactee myth. Their central precepts were that humanity and human civilization were going to be “harvested” by UFOs, and that only those who had elevated themselves to the “Evolutionary Level Above Human” would be able to survive the event. H.I.M.’s leaders, a man and woman who called themselves “the Two,” were the first to experience this imminent metamorphosis, and sought to find a “crew” to accompany them on the journey to the stars in new bodies.

This group, of course, became infamous in 1997 as the “Heaven’s Gate” cult, 39 of whose members committed mass suicide in their San Diego compound, including co-founder Marshall Applewhite. They believed their final exit from Earth was found in a companion UFO accompanying the Comet Hale-Bopp, and they shed their mortal shells in order to join it. In the 1970s, Applewhite and his companion Bonnie Nettles were still trying to grow their group’s initial membership. Applewhite met Nettles, a psychiatric nurse, during a stay in a Houston-area mental hospital. The Two, as they soon became known, read from mystical literature, theosophical writings, and American Christian eschatology. Applewhite’s contribution to the group’s beliefs came through his love of science fiction. Their public recruitment drive in the spring and summer of ’75 led to a host of new followers, whom the Two then took “underground,” paired off into twos, and forced into public proselytizing. As the group more or less dispersed from public view, the media panicked as to where the UFO cult had gone. Many of the fresh recruits brought into the group during the tour quickly fell away, put off by the ascetic requirements (i.e., no sex or drugs, a restrictive diet, etc.), especially when compared to other new religious movements of the mid-’70s. But the core of the group remained loyal: two-thirds of the cult members lost in the mass suicide of 1997 had joined during the main period of recruitment in 1975-1976.

Famed UFO author Jacques Vallée spent much of the 1970s investigating UFO contactees, both individuals and newer religious groups popping up around UFO contact, for inclusion in his 1979 book Messengers of Deception. Vallée personally attended a Bay Area H.I.M. recruitment meeting, where an unnamed spokesperson for the cult answered questions on behalf of “The Two.” Vallée noticed the group’s aggressive recruitment tactics preyed on individuals hungry for metaphysical answers and an excuse to leave everyday life—or, as H.I.M. called it, the “human game.” Vallée observed at the meeting that Applewhite and Nettles were looked upon as paragons who were on the verge of undergoing the titular “metamorphosis”; members of the audience could take the same trip, the recruiter promised, if only they joined the group! As Vallée states presciently in his chapter on H.I.M., “[The appearance of H.I.M.] taught me a serious lesson: such a group can acquire very significant power over apparently ‘rational’ people.”

8 thoughts on “Heaven’s Gate Event Poster, 1975

  1. Totally bizarre. I remember when that mass suicide hit the media in ’97. It was creepy to see the footage of the cameraman wandering through the house and passing by the various bunks where the Nike-clad members laid still, with their faces covered. I couldn’t get over the fact that underneath those sheets, those people were dead.

    It’ll forever remain a mystery to me how some people can be lured into such cults, ideologies and such. I guess it works on those who are really seeking “what it all means,” beyond what “conventional” religions offer. But where can one draw the line between the rational and irrational?

    On that note, have you heard of Braco the Gazer (pronounced BRAHT-zo)? This guy says absolutely nothing and all these people are convinced that he heals them with his gaze alone!

    • I definitely have long been fascinated with cults and New Religious Movements and I think studying them and their ways of preying on the credulous is even more important now that it was in the ’70s and ’80s when they were at their height.

      I was a senior in college when the Heaven’s Gate suicides happened and I remember it being one of the first news events I primarily experienced through the internet rather than cable news, mainly because of the group’s website being so hit by traffic that someone had to set up a mirror site. I do also remember seeing some of their recruitment chain emails on Usenet groups for Star Trek and The X-Files that I used to visit back in the mid-’90s.

      Haven’t seen the above documentary but one I have been meaning to check out is Holy Hell, about the Buddhafield cult. I also highly recommend The Source Family documentary which I think is still on Netflix.

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