Halloween is on its way and feeble horror tales are being dished out left, right and center. The following true stories, however, are not only filled with death and gore; they actually happened. Though often brutal and nonsensical, ritual suicide is real and has occurred throughout history. The motives behind mass suicide are varied. In ancient times and during the Dark Ages it was common for entire groups of people to commit suicide to avoid subjugation to enemy invaders, whilst in the past few centuries ritual suicide has been seen within religious offshoots and collectives who follow cults of the occult.
10. Puputan, Bali
Honor and pride were the pillars of ancient kingdoms throughout the world, to the point where death was preferable to subjugation. In 1906 a Balinese ritual mass suicide, known as Puputan, was committed so that its practitioners would avoid being captured and enslaved by the Dutch invaders. The Raja commanded that all valuables be burnt and that everyone from the youngest child to the wives and priests be marched ceremoniously towards the aggressors. When face to face with the Dutch regiment, the head priest thrust a dagger deep into the Raja’s heart signaling the commencement of Puputan. From here the entire group simultaneously began to kill one another while the women mockingly flung money and jewelery onto the stupefied troops. Over 1000 Balinese people committed suicide on that warm September afternoon, leaving little for the Dutch to do. Today children are taught about Puputan and the day is commemorated with make believe street reenactments.
9. Order of the Solar Temple, Switzerland and Canada
The Order of the Solar Temple, headquartered in Switzerland and operating in Canada as well, is the secret society that believes in the continued existence of the Knights Templar. Their aims are to establish correct notions of authority and power in the world, to prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus, and to unify the Christian and Islamic faiths. Their activities include a blend of early Protestant Christianity and New Age philosophy. For many years, murders and suicides have been associated with the cult, including the 1994 Canadian murder of a 3-month-old boy, who was ritually sacrificed because he was identified as the Anti-Christ. Then in October of the same year, 48 adults and children were found dead, shot through the head, victims of a mass suicide in a Swiss underground chapel that was found lined with items of Templar symbolism.
8. Harakiri, Japan
A true tale of terror involving blood, guts and gore comes in the form of the Japanese ritual suicide, known as Seppuku or Harakiri. As part of the Samurai Bushido code of honor, suicide by disembowelment was practiced to retain honor or lessen shame. The individual would take a short sword known as a tanto and plunge it into his abdomen, making an excruciatingly painful and lethal cut. Lastly, to ensure certain death the Samurai’s assistant would decapitate him. It was a common custom during battle by means of which warriors avoided death or torture by the enemy, though it was also used to punish serious offenses. Although capital punishment was abolished in 1873, voluntary Seppuku was recorded well into the 1900s – notably at the end of WWII, when numerous soldiers and civilians publicly performed Seppuku to avoid surrender. Then, in 1970 a group of rebels committed public Seppuku at the Japan Self-Defence Forces headquarters after an unsuccessful attempt to stage a coup d’etat.
7. Sicarii Rebels, Masada, Israel
In 60 AD, a time when spears and catapults were the weapons of war, the Roman conquest of Judea forced 960 zealot Jews to first seize and then barricade themselves atop King Herod’s fortress. The citadel, built on a rock plateau in the Judean Desert, was (and still remains) the site of ancient fortifications and palaces. The group lived there for half a decade, building homes and slowly expanding, until the Roman siege of 72 AD, when Emperor Lucius Flavius Silvius commissioned an enormous ramp with which to breach the walls of the fort and capture the rebels. Little did he know that at its summit were smoldering buildings and the rotting cadavers of those who chose death over surrender. Only two women and five children survived to tell the story of how their people had been exterminated – summed up in the words of the zealot leader, Eleazar ben Yair, in his final speech: "Let our wives be killed before they are abused, and our children before they have tasted slavery, and after we have slain them, let us bestow that glorious benefit upon one another mutually...”
6. Jauhar, Rajput, India
A similar story unraveled in the depths of the Indian subcontinent. Jauhar describes the practice of female mass suicide that occurred in Rajput kingdoms during Mughal times so that women could avoid capture and dishonor at the hands of enemy invaders. In the 14th century, Rani Padmini, the queen of Chittor, led all the royal ladies and their children to jump into a bonfire in order to protect themselves from the Sultan of Delhi’s lustful army. Whilst the women and children would perform self-immolation, the men (fathers, husbands and sons) would charge against the attackers, facing certain death, a practice intended to protect both the sexes’ honor. A second and third Jauhar took place in Chittor during the 16th century, which saw the obliteration of entire Rajput lineages.
5. Self-immolation, Vietnam
Ritual suicide is not always connected to supernatural offerings or salvationist logic as has often been the case in contemporary times. In the case of Buddhist monks in the sixties ritual suicide was a sign of protest against the Vietnam War. Thích Quang Duc fearlessly burnt himself to death in a busy Saigon road in 1963 to protest the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam’s administration. Despite being revered as a Bodhisattva (a being that has attained Nirvana) by the world’s Buddhist communities, the government repudiated the action and punished the monks further, many of whom followed Thích Quang Duc’s example by performing self-immolation in public places. Although self-harm is prohibited in the Buddhist religion, self-immolation was perceived as a selfless action by the monks – an act that spread the light of the Dharma and opened the eyes of those around them.
4. Heaven’s Gate, San Diego, California
This next entry is a real life story of horror meets UFO sci-fi, for the 1970s Heaven’s Gate cult based their belief system on a combination of Christian ideas of the apocalypse and elements of science fiction. If their ideas were to be believed, planet Earth was due to be wiped clean by supernatural forces, and the only path to salvation was to escape to the “Next Level”. According to founder Marshall Applewhite, this escape could be achieved through an ascetic existence, which meant detachment from family, friends, jobs, possessions and other trappings of modern existence. In 1997, however, Applewhite announced a fast-track route to the Next Level: boarding a spacecraft that was trailing the comet Hale-Bopp. On March 26th, when the comet was at its brightest, Applewhite and 38 of his followers committed suicide in order to abandon their terrestrial forms and gain access to the UFO.
3. The Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists, Waco, Texas
The “Branch” is (for it still survives) a Protestant sect born in 1959 during a schism with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, when Florence Houteff announced the Second Coming of Jesus on the summit of a hilltop in Texas. Following the failure of this prophecy, a number of “Prophets” took center stage, the most prominent being Vernon Howell (later renamed David Koresh), who indoctrinated the group into believing that he alone had the responsibility and authorization to prophesize and reproduce the “House of David”. In 1994, after allegations of illegal firearm ownership and child abuse, the ATF obtained a warrant to search the premises; but their offensive strategy was met with barricades and gunfire. After many days of fighting, the FBI was afraid of mass suicides and tried to corner the followers with tear gas. However the compound was set on fire from within, killing 80 people. Whether this was mass suicide or an FBI cover-up remains unclear.
2. Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, Uganda
The MRTC were an apocalyptic Catholic offshoot established in the 1980s after an alleged vision of the Virgin Mary, ordering strict obedience to the Ten Commandments. The sect members spoke very little and sometimes adopted sign language to avoid bearing false witness to their neighbor, they prohibited sex to avoid adultery, and they implemented bi-weekly fasting. As the supposed year of the apocalypse drew near, daily confession was encouraged, the sell-off of possessions was enforced, and work in the fields ceased. However, when 'Judgment Day' failed to occur the followers began to question their leaders’ authenticity, and so a second doomsday was announced for March 17th, whereby all the 1000 followers, adults and children were invited to celebrate their imminent salvation. Little did they know this would culminate in self-immolation and poisoning.
1. People’s Temple Jonestown Massacre, Guyana
This frightening tale of mass suicide was carried out by members of the People’s Temple, a cult born in the 1950s with the supposed objective of practicing Apostolic Socialism. In the 1970s a Caribbean missionary post was established in Guyana; “Jonestown” was allegedly a benevolent communist community and sanctuary for racial and social equality headed by leader and self-styled prophet Jim Jones. However Jones, claiming to be the Messiah, applied mind-control strategies to brainwash the sect and receive full and incontestable devotion; implemented torture holes to solve disciplinary matters (for both adults and children); and had sexual control over women and children.
In November 1978, strange disappearances began to occur, including the murder of inspecting California Congressman Leo Ryan and a number of fugitives from the 'camp'. Afraid of American retaliation, Jones brainwashed his 912 followers into preserving the People’s Temple for eternity by committing the ultimate sacrifice. Poisoning themselves, they thus participated to the largest mass suicide in modern history.