Everyone knows the bullet points about Marshall Applewhite and his cult, Heaven's Gate. But what life was like in Heaven's Gate? Were their days all that different from the day to day of normal society? Short answer: yes. Life in a cult completely centers around the cult, its leader, and their teachings. The whole point of a cult, be it a doomsday cult or otherwise, is to keep members around so the leader can siphon their pocketbooks and so those same people can bring in new members who are fresh forms of income. While the Heaven's Gate cult was one of the most “pure” cults that the media has focused on, they still tore families apart, and Applewhite’s teachings brought 39 people to death over the course of three days.
What you’ll come to find out about the day-to-day life of the members of Heaven’s Gate is they were focused on preparing their souls for what they thought was the next stage of spiritual evolution. And Applewhite, like most cult leaders, had a very specific way that he wanted that preparation accomplished. The leader of Heaven’s Gate controlled the members down to the clothes they wore and the haircuts they received. He even convinced many of the men to receive a group castration in order to curb their sexual appetites. The Heaven’s Gate cult is one of the darkest and most misunderstood cults of the 20th century. Keep reading to learn what their lives were like on a day-to-day basis.
Members Knew They Were In A Cult
There are so many strange things about the Heaven's Gate cult, but one thing that's worth a few eyebrow raises is the fact that the members of Heaven's Gate knew they were in a cult. Most cult leaders, whether it be Jim Jones of Jonestown or Joseph Di Mambro of the Order of the Solar Temple, deny their organizations are cults and pretend it's a new religious movement or something to that effect.
But on Inside Story's episode about Heavens Gate, former member Lee Anne Wolfe (who was in the cult from 1975-1991) says that the members would joke about how they were "the cult of cults," and how they were "[in Heaven's Gate] to beg to be brainwashed."
Marshall Applewhite Was Incredibly Paranoid
No matter how peaceful your doomsday cult is, the leader is always going to be paranoid, and that was definitely the case with Marshall Applewhite. From as early on as the late '70s, Applewhite tried to shy away from the press that sniffed around the cult and forced the members to sleep in campgrounds in "good energy states" like Colorado and California.
According to the Heaven's Gate documentary on History TV, some of the parents of cult members had created a newsletter that kept outsiders up on the happenings inside the group, and when Applewhite found out about this, he labeled them "meddlers" and said that the people putting the newsletters together were "agents of the lower forces" who were out to "get them."
Followers Had To Change Their Names
When new members were indoctrinated into the cult, one of the first things that would happen is they would ditch their name and have it changed. Usually, they would add the suffix "ody" to their adoptive first name in order to define them as "children of the Next Level."
Marshall Applewhite, the group's leader, was the first member of the group to change his name. He went by "Do" - as in "do, a deer"- which may have been a reference to his past life as a college music professor in Texas. Although the "odyization" of followers doesn't seem to be a hard and fast rule. One of Applewhite's followers who wasn't with the group when they committed suicide, Richard Ford, was renamed Rio D'Angelo (sometimes spelled DiAngelo). Ford is most famous for filming the postmortem footage of the Heaven's Gate cult and selling the rights to their story to a production company.
'The Tone' Kept Members From Thinking Normal Thoughts
One of the most important parts about being in Heaven's Gate was the desire to leave everything about humanity behind. In order to do this, they gave up their possessions, stopped having sex, became androgynous, and tried keep their minds off weird human thoughts like "why does cheese taste like that," or "iguana is a weird word." One activity that helped cult members train their minds was called "the tone."
Members would keep themselves focused on a tone produced from a tuning fork at all times while doing other activities, and supposedly this kept them from thinking normal human thoughts.