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Mass suicide

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Title: Mass suicide  
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Subject: Heaven's Gate (religious group), Articles for deletion/Cult suicide, Masada, Bad Dreams (film), Articles for deletion/Log/2005 March 10
Collection: Mass Suicides
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Mass suicide

Mass suicide occurs when a group of people commit suicide simultaneously.


  • Examples 1
  • Historical mass suicides 2
  • Religiously motivated suicides 3
    • Known suicides 3.1
      • Peoples Temple (1978) 3.1.1
      • Solar Temple (1994–97) 3.1.2
      • Heaven's Gate (1997) 3.1.3
      • Kuwaiti Satanic sect (ongoing) 3.1.4
    • Disputed religiously motivated suicides 3.2
      • Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God (2000) 3.2.1
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Mass suicide sometimes occurs in religious settings. Defeated groups may resort to mass suicide rather than being captured. Suicide pacts are a form of mass suicide that are sometimes planned or carried out by small groups of frustrated people. Mass suicides have been used as a form of political protest.[1]

Historical mass suicides

  • During the late 2nd century BC, the Teutons are recorded as marching south through Gaul along with their neighbors, the Cimbri, and attacking Roman Italy. After several victories for the invading armies, the Cimbri and Teutones were then defeated by Gaius Marius in 102 BC at the Battle of Aquae Sextiae (near present-day Aix-en-Provence). Their King, Teutobod, was taken in irons. The captured women committed mass suicide, which passed into Roman legends of Germanic heroism: by the conditions of the surrender three hundred of their married women were to be handed over to the Romans. When the Teuton matrons heard of this stipulation, they first begged the consul that they might be set apart to minister in the temples of Ceres and Venus; then, when they failed to obtain their request and were removed by the lictors, they slew their children and next morning were all found dead in each other's arms having strangled themselves in the night.[2]
  • At the end of the fifteen months of the siege of Numantia in summer 133 BC most of the defeated Numantines, instead of surrendering, preferred to commit suicide and set fire to the city.
  • The 960 members of the Sicarii Jewish community at Masada collectively committed suicide in AD 73 rather than be conquered and enslaved by the Romans. Each man killed his wife and children, then the men drew lots and killed each other until the last man killed himself.[3] Some modern scholars have questioned this account of the events.[4][5]
  • The occasional practice of mass suicide known as Jauhar was carried out in medieval times by women of the Rajput communities in India, when the fall of a city besieged by Muslim invaders was certain, in order to avoid capture and dishonour. The best known cases of Jauhar are the three occurrences at the fort of Chittaur in Rajasthan, in 1303, in 1535, and 1568.[6]
  • In 1336, when the castle of Pilėnai (in Lithuania) was besieged by the army of the Teutonic Knights, the defenders, led by the Duke Margiris, realized that it was impossible to defend themselves any longer and made the decision to commit mass suicide, as well as to set the castle on fire in order to destroy all of their possessions, and anything of value to the enemy.[7]
  • During the Great Schism of the Russian Church, entire villages of Old Believers burned themselves to death in an act known as "fire baptism".[8]
  • During the Turkish rule of Greece and shortly before the Greek War of Independence, women from Souli, pursued by the Ottomans, ascended the mount Zalongo, threw their children over the precipice and then jumped themselves, to avoid capture – an event known as the Dance of Zalongo.[9]
  • Germany was stricken by a series of unprecedented waves of suicides during the final days of the Nazi regime. The reasons for these waves of suicides were numerous and include the effects of Nazi propaganda, the example of the suicide of Adolf Hitler, victims' attachment to the ideals of the Nazi Party, mass rapes already committed mostly by the Red Army, a reaction to the loss of the war and, consequently, the anticipated Allied occupation of Nazi Germany. Life Magazine speculated about the suicides: "In the last days of the war the overwhelming realization of utter defeat was too much for many Germans. Stripped of the bayonets and bombast which had given them power, they could not face a reckoning with either their conquerors or their consciences. These found the quickest and surest escape in what Germans call selbstmord, self-murder."[10]
  • On 1 May 1945, about 1,000 residents of Demmin, Germany, committed mass suicide after the Red Army had sacked the town.[11]
  • A Balinese mass ritual suicide is called a puputan. Major puputan occurred in 1906–1908 when Balinese kingdoms faced overwhelming Dutch colonial forces. The root of the Balinese term puputan is puput, meaning 'finishing' or 'ending'. It is an act that is more symbolic than strategic; the Balinese are "a people whose genius for theatre is unsurpassed" and a puputan is viewed as "the last act of a tragic dance-drama".[12]
  • Japan is known for its centuries of suicide tradition, from seppuku ceremonial self-disemboweling to kamikaze warriors flying their aircraft into Allied warships during World War II. During this same war, the Japanese forces announced to the people of Saipan that the invading American troops were going to torture and murder anyone on the island. In a desperate effort to avoid this, the people of Saipan committed suicide, mainly by jumping off the nearby cliffsides.

Religiously motivated suicides

Known suicides

Peoples Temple (1978)

On November 18, 1978, 918 Americans died in Peoples Temple–related incidents, including 909 members of the Temple, led by Jim Jones, in Jonestown, Guyana.[13] The dead included 276 children. A tape of the Temple's final meeting in a Jonestown pavilion contains repeated discussions of the group committing "revolutionary suicide", including reference to people taking the poison and the vats to be used.[14]

On that tape, Jones tells Temple members that Russia, with whom the Temple had been negotiating a potential exodus for months, would not take them after the Temple had murdered Congressman Leo Ryan, NBC reporter Don Harris and three others at a nearby airstrip.[14] When members apparently cried, Jones counseled "Stop this hysterics. This is not the way for people who are Socialists or Communists to die. No way for us to die. We must die with some dignity."[14] At the end of the tape, Jones concludes: "We didn't commit suicide, we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world."[14]

The people in Jonestown died of an apparent cyanide poisoning, except for Jones (injury consistent with self-inflicted gunshot wound) and his personal nurse.[15] The Temple had spoken of committing "revolutionary suicide" in prior instances, and members had previously drunk what Jones told them was poison at least once before, but the "Flavor Aid" drink they ingested contained no poison.[16] Concurrently, four other members died in the Temple's headquarters in Georgetown.

Solar Temple (1994–97)

From 1994 to 1997, the Order of the Solar Temple's members began a series of mass suicides, which led to roughly 74 deaths. Farewell letters were left by members, stating that they believed their deaths would be an escape from the "hypocrisies and oppression of this world." Added to this they felt they were "moving on to Sirius." Records seized by the Quebec police showed that some members had personally donated over $1 million to the group's leader, Joseph Di Mambro.

There was also another attempted mass suicide of the remaining members, which was thwarted in the late 1990s. All the suicide/murders and attempts occurred around the dates of the equinoxes and solstices, which likely held some relation to the beliefs of the group.[17][18][19][20][21]

Heaven's Gate (1997)

On March 26, 1997, 39 followers of Heaven's Gate died in a mass suicide in Rancho Santa Fe, California, which borders San Diego to the north. These people believed, according to the teachings of their group, that through their suicides they were "exiting their human vessels" so that their souls could go on a journey aboard a spaceship they believed to be following comet Hale–Bopp.[22] Some male members of the group underwent voluntary castration in preparation for the genderless life they believed awaited them after the suicide.[23]

On March 30, 1997, Thomas Nichols, younger brother[24] of actress Nichelle Nichols, was discovered dead in his California trailer, with a note nearby that read in part "I'm going to the spaceship with Hale–Bopp to be with those who have gone before me." Using propane gas to end his life, Nichols, like the members of Heaven's Gate, had his head covered by a plastic bag and his upper torso covered with a purple shroud. Nichols' connection with the group is unknown.

In May 1997, two Heaven's Gate members who had not been present for the mass suicide attempted suicide, one succeeding, the other becoming comatose for two days and then recovering.[25] In February 1998, the survivor, Chuck Humphrey, committed suicide.[26]

Kuwaiti Satanic sect (ongoing)

According to Kuwaiti media, there is a Satanist sect active in the country which is managed from abroad. The group's leaders reportedly encourage two or three members every month to commit suicide in order to promote Satanism. Those who commit suicide for this reason are primarily teen boys. [27]

Disputed religiously motivated suicides

Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God (2000)

On March 17, 2000, 778 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God died in Uganda.[28] The theory that all of the members died in a mass suicide was changed to mass murder when decomposing bodies were discovered in pits with signs of strangulation while others had stab wounds.[29] The group had diverged from the Roman Catholic Church in order to emphasize apocalypticism and alleged Marian apparitions.[30] The group had been called an inward-looking movement that wore matching uniforms and restricted their speech to avoid saying anything dishonest or sinful.[31][32] On the suicide itself locals said they held a party at which 70 crates of soft drinks and three bulls were consumed.[33]

This version of events has been criticized, most notably by Irving Hexham,[34] and a Ugandan source states that even today "no one can really explain the whys, hows, whats, where, when, etcetera."[35]


  1. ^ Holology: Mass Suicide
  2. ^ Lucius Annaeus Florus, Epitome 1.38.16–17 and Valerius Maximus, Factorum et Dictorum Memorabilium 6.1.ext.3
  3. ^ Masada and the first Jewish revolt against Rome: Near East Tourist Industry, Steven Langfur 2003
  4. ^ Shaye J.D. Cohen. The significance of Yavneh and other essays in Jewish Hellenism. p. 143. 
  5. ^ Zuleika Rodgers, ed. (2007). Making History: Josephus And Historical Method. BRILL. p. 397. 
  6. ^ Rajasthan: Monique Choy, Sarina Singh p.231 ISBN 1-74059-363-4, Lonely Planet Publications, Oct 2002 [2]
  7. ^ GEDIMINO LAIŠKAI: The Letters of Gediminas, the Great Duke of Lithuania (appr. 1275 – 1341)
  8. ^ Coleman, Loren (2004). The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow's Headlines. New York: Paraview Pocket-Simon and Schuster. p. 46.  
  9. ^ Memorials and Other Papers:Thomas de Quincey, ISBN 0-14-043015-6
  10. ^ "Suicides: Nazis go down to defeat in a wave of selbstmord". Life Magazine, 14 May 1945. Accessed 10 April 2011.
  11. ^ Lakotta, Beate (2005-03-05). "Tief vergraben, nicht dran rühren" (in German).  
  12. ^  
  13. ^ Foreword, The Assassination of Representative Leo J. Ryan and the Jonestown, Guyana Tragedy, excerpt from: Report of a Staff Investigative Group to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, May 15, 1979
  14. ^ a b c d "Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project." Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple. San Diego State University.
  15. ^ Guyana Inquest of Cyrill Mootoo & Cecil Roberts
  16. ^ Layton, Deborah. (1998) Seductive Poison. Anchor, 1999. ISBN 0-385-48984-6.
  17. ^ THE SOLAR TEMPLE, Religious, Retrieved 2007-10-13
  18. ^ Order of the Solar Temple, Virginia University, Retrieved 2007-10-13
  19. ^ Tragedy Of The Solar Temple Cult Stephen Dafoe & Templar History Magazine, 2002, Retrieved 2007-10-13
  20. ^ Solar Temple: A cult gone wrong, CBC News, Retrieved 2007-10-13
  21. ^ Katherine Ramsland, Death Journey, Crime Library, , Retrieved 2007-10-13
  22. ^ Jonathan Broder, Suicide in San Diego – Were cultists recruited on the Web?, Salon/March 28, 1997
  23. ^ "Some members of suicide cult castrated", CNN, March 28, 1997
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Two More Search For Heaven's Gate", The Associated Press, May 6, 1997
  26. ^ "Ex-Heaven's Gate member is found dead", Associated Press, February 21, 1998
  27. ^ "Teenaged 'Satanists' ending life in Kuwait". 
  28. ^ Cult in Uganda Poisoned Many, Police Say New York Times July 28, 2000
  29. ^ New Vision, "Kanungu Dead Poisoned", Matthias Mugisha, July 28, 2000.
  30. ^ Logan Nakyanzi, Uganda: Religion That Kills- Why Does Uganda Have So Many Cults?, ABC News, Feb. 14, 2000(?)
  31. ^ Massimo Introvigne, Tragedy in Uganda: the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, a Post-Catholic Movement, CESNUR, Retrieved 2007-10-13
  32. ^ Quiet cult's doomsday deaths, BBC News, March 29, 2000
  33. ^ Simon Robinson, Uganda's Faithful Dead, Time, Mar 26, 2000
  34. ^ Irving Hexham, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Calgary, What Really Happened in Uganda? Suicide or Murder, Religion in the News, Vol. 3, No. 2, Summer 2000, pp. 7–9 and 24
  35. ^ Gerald Businge, Seven Years Since the Kanungu Massacre – Are we any wiser?, UG Pulse, March 17, 2007

External links

  • "From Silver Lake to Suicide: One Family's Secret History of the Jonestown Massacre" by Barry Isaacson
  • 39 men die in mass suicide near San Diego – CNN, 26 March 1997
  • Near-Death Experience 19 January 1998
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