Book: Cosmic Suicide: The Tragedy and Transcendence of Heaven’s Gate
Authors: Rodney Perkins and Forrest Jackson
Type of Book: Non-fiction, true crime, cults
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It was a look at the Heaven’s Gate suicide when events were still relatively fresh and mass cult suicide is always a bit strange. The book is also listed as a source in the amazing book Strange Creations by Donna Kossy and would be a honorary odd book on that merit alone.
Availability: Published by Pentaradial Press in 1997, you can get a copy here:
Comments: When I began reading this book I thought there would not be much that was new to me. I had already read quite a bit about the Heaven’s Gate cult, those strange, asexual computer geeks in California who killed themselves en masse to be able to board the spacecraft they were sure was traveling behind the Hale-Bopp comet. And in a way, I was correct. The book tells very succinctly the story of how two lost souls – Marshall Applewhite and Betty Lu Nettles – met and fed off each other, creating the New Age death cult that became Heaven’s Gate.
All the details that caught the public’s morbid imagination are there. The androgyny of those who took their lives, the voluntary castrations of some of the men, the presence of Nichelle Nichols’ brother among the suicide victims. It all made for very tawdry television.
The case interested me for a couple of reasons, above and beyond the strange details of the suicide and Art Bell phone call that some believe was the genesis for the belief that there was something following behind the Hale-Bopp comet – later interpreted as a space craft by Heaven’s Gate members. By killing themselves, they thought they would meet up on the space craft with Betty Lu Nettles, who had died, and achieve what they called T.E.L.A.H. – The Evolutionary Level Above Human. All of that was sort of interesting, but strangely bloodless in a way. The way the cult killed themselves was orderly, calm, and without the sort of horror I associate with mass suicides.