AstroGnostic: Heaven's Gate's Final Secret?



It's a continuing source of amazement how many of the themes I followed on the blog over the years have re-entered the newsstream since I began blogging again, especially so in the past month. 

I'm sure a lot of you have heard that The X-Files is returning to television as a limited series (something I'd been lobbying for in lieu of feature films since the series went off the air) and from what I've been told that's a done deal, with Chris Carter, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson all coming back. 

Executive Producer Frank Spotnitz probably won't be returning, since he's producing the adaption of Man in the High Castle for Ridley Scott, now airing on Amazon.*

Either way this is a good time for a rewatch- check out The Secret Sun Guide to the X-Files Mytharc, an all-encompassing viewer's guide that includes not only with the alien colonization episodes that were included on the Myth boxsets but all the episodes that deal with government conspiracies, human experimentation, mind control and other parapolitical and paranormal topics.

Which brings us to another recent news story, the publication of a major scholarly text on the Heaven's Gate cult entitled Heaven's Gate: America's UFO Religion By Benjamin E. Zeller, a professor at Lake Forest College (not to be confused with Wake Forest University). 

And although the book is a fairly typical serving of lukewarm Ivory Tower wordsoup, Zeller did uncover a curious detail about the 1997 suicides that ties back to The X-Files mythology in a strange and tantalizing way.

Just don't expect anything that goes against the usual media narrative on the cult.

There's no mention of The Mysterious Two, the absolutely insane 1982 TV movie based on Heaven's Gate's prior incarnation of HIM and their widely publicized disappearance into the Oregon wilderness (a film that had TV megastar John Forsythe portraying Applewhite and Steven Spielberg's future mother in law portraying Bonnie Nettles), the comic story in UFO Flying Saucers and no mention of the work Jacques Vallee did on HIM in Messengers of Deception or Brad Steiger's interviews with Applewhite and Nettles in Gods of Aquarius (Steiger is cited for another, lesser text). 

There's certainly no mention of the fact that the Gate's suicides were preceded by one of the most widely publicized UFO flaps in recent times (given the Gate's Net savvy, they may well have been aware of the Phoenix Lights, even though the story didn't go national until after their deaths) or the bizarre episode of the The Outer Limits that allegorized Applewhite's wildest fantasies and aired the week of the suicides.

Worst of all, he continually describes the Gate's doctrine and practice as being consummately Gnostic, yet the term "Gnostic" never appears once in the text. Zeller: 
By the end of 1996, the members of Heaven's Gate had reconfigured their worldview in a starkly dualistic manner, they upheld two forms of dualism: one a metaphysical dualism that distinguished the body from the true self, found in the mind or soul; the other a second form of dualism that I call "worldly dualism," which distinguished the members of Heaven's Gate and their movement as good, saved, and wholesome, and separated from a bad, damned, and corrupt outside world. 
In other words, Applewhite was preaching good, old fashioned Manichaeism. A first year divinity student could tell you that. Zeller does not.

Given the fact that Zeller is a professor of religion and a self-styled specialist in New Religious Movements (a specialty that's becoming increasing archaic in this age of Borgsong media immersion and suicidalist secularism), it boggles my mind that he can continually describe the doctrine and practice of the most austere and world-denying forms of Gnosticism among the Gate without naming them as such.
Members therefore saw themselves as more alien than human, as engaged in only a temporary sojourn on Earth but destined to return to the Next Level. One of the earliest and most explicit examples of such occurs in a 1994 statement that Applewhite or other members of the group wrote but did not distribute. Using the third person to refer to themselves. they wrote, "[t]hey began 'touching down' on Earth (evacuating their bodies and the crafts they came in) in the 1940s and subsequently began incarnating in adult human bodies in the 1970s and will evacuate this planet within the next year." 
This is Gnosticism 101:
The fundamental difference that separates the Gnostics from their contemporaries is that, for them, their native `soil' is not the earth, but that lost heaven which they keep vividly alive in their memories: they are the autochthons of another world. 
Hence their feeling of having fallen onto our earth like inhabitants from a distant planet, of having strayed into the wrong galaxy, and their longing to regain their true cosmic homeland, the luminous hyper-world that shimmers beyond the great nocturnal barrier. 
Their uprooting is not merely geographical but planetary 
The Gnostics by Jacques La Carriere
Zeller also sees UFO religions as some 20th Century novelty: 
Within Heavens Gate, science played a central role as a rhetorical tool used to understand the movement, its identity. and its relationship with outsiders. As a UFO religion, this is hardly surprising. Historian of new religions John Saliba has postulated, "UFO phenomena are a new type of religion that attempts to formulate a worldview that is more consistent with the culture and technology of the twenty-first century." 
Again, as much as secular minded theology professors want to chalk this all up to some postwar quirk, some glitch in the Matrix of naturalist perfection, these beliefs are ancient. See Fragments of an Alien Faith; the ancient Gnostics may not have understood the "clouds" and "wheels" and "light beings" in the context of science fiction as the Gate did but they certainly couched their visionary experience in the language of the pop culture of the day, which was religion.

Though I've never seen any evidence that Applewhite was reading Gnostic literature (though given the overlap between Gnosticism, UFO lore and conspiracy culture in the 90s, it's difficult to imagine the Gate not stumbling upon it), the developing cosmology came straight out of Hypostasis of the Archons:
The poster indicated that humans today were "enslaved; that all existing religions were "corrupted by malevolent space aliens," and that the Next Level would soon begin "the process of recycling Earth's environment and inhabitants." 
This may have also been the X-Files influence at work. But there's another, more explicit influence; the growing acceptance among the cult of the doctrine of the 'walk-in', the migrating non-corporeal intelligences who travel by starlight seeking out bodies to inhabit. According to Zeller, this doctrine came to dominate Gate thinking in the days leading up to the suicides. 
Although most observers were puzzled or amused by the Gate's language of "exiting their vehicles" and speaking about themselves in the third person, the Gate meant it all quite literally. They believed that they were extraterrestrial wayfarers trapped in inferior human cages. Note that the walk-in concept has also been the topic of the novel The Host (and a feature film) by Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight juggernaut. Zeller:
 By the end of the group's existence members spoke of themselves as something akin to popular psychic Ruth Montgomery's concept of  'walk-ins:' spirits from the Next Level who had long ago been human, but had abandoned their humanity in order to become Next Level creatures, and now returned to complete a predetermined task.
But according to Zeller, the Gate may have gotten the idea from The X-Files.
Member of the Class might have discovered the concept of walk-ins by reading Montgomery's 1979 book on the topic, Strangers Among Us: Enlightened Beings from The World to Come, or they might have encountered the term on the television series The X-Files, which featured multiple episodes exploring the topic. 
 
The X-Files featured multiple episodes on the walk-in theme but only one that aired before the Gate exited their vehicles; 1994's 'Red Museum'. It's known that the Gate watched The X-Files religiously, a fact that confused the show's producers, given the fact that they portrayed aliens in such a negative light. 

But whereas Zeller equivocates, I believe the Gate's devotion to the show proves that it was indeed 'Red Museum' where the Gate first encountered the walk-in concept, or at least where they latched onto the concept as their raison d'etre and the justification for their final exit.

Why?

Because 'Red Museum' portrays a cult that is remarkably similar to Heaven's Gate, so much so that Applewhite may well have seen the episode as a message specially meant for him and the group. "The Church of the Red Museum" is a cult that believed in an apocalyptic event destined for 2012, led by a charismatic preacher who left his profession as a doctor to lead a nomadic, separatist cult that believed they were the hosts of enlightened, non-corporeal aliens who would survive the coming catastrophe.

In the story the Red Museum are first seen as suspects in a series of kidnappings but are later portrayed as heroes, protecting the town's children from a hitman tasked to erase all evidence of experimentation involving alien DNA being injected into the children and to livestock.

In the growing anti-governmental paranoid mindset of the Gate, this episode must have seemed like a bolt from the blue. Applewhite may well have thought the aliens were using the show to send messages to him, since the cult then started down the road that ended in March of 1997. 

What's ironic is that 'Red Museum' may have been initially inspired by Heaven's Gate's 1994 recruiting campaign, in which they held their final public conferences. A classic feedback loop. But knowing that were so would have only strengthened Applewhite's resolve.

But we're left to wonder- how did a tiny, monastic cult with zero influence on the world outside leave such a large footprint in Hollywood, even long before the suicides?

Aside from a few scattered USENET postings, the Gate's legacy is a forlorn, archaic website, adrift in the Sargasso Sea of Cyberspace. No one is inspired by them, no one follows in their footsteps, no one sees them as anything but objects of pity or contempt. Yet they linger out there, like pixelated ghosts. So what was their appeal to the alpha males of Tinseltown?

I've heard baseless theories of the Gate being used as MK guinea pigs and all manner of silliness following the suicides, but none of it adds up to much. The cult were indigent and nomadic for most of their existence and their literature was as paranoid and conspiracy-minded as anything that circulating on alt.militia back in the day. They were true outliers. Maybe that's why they persist.



When the walk-ins were revisited after the 1997 suicides, Carter cast Kim Darby as their prophetess and curiously portrayed her in the androgynous style of a female Heaven's Gate cultist, with the bowl cut, lack of makeup, etc. Darby starred in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, directed by Andrija Puharich's comrade John Newland but more significantly- and synchronistically- with William Shatner in The People, another Gnostic parable made for television in the Magonian 70s.

In the end, the Gate's fate was inevitable. Those of you who've read Messengers of Deception saw a cult that made unbelievably outrageous promises, promises it could never, ever keep, in the childish hope that the power of wishing would make it all so. 

Though the Gate held Gnostic tenets, it did so in a reductive, simplistic, literalist fashion more akin to the Fundamentalist milieu Applewhite and Nettle emerged from than the Sethians or the Ophites.

They never seemed to question the nature of reality, indeed they took the bread and butter of consensus reality for granted. They simply plugged the sci-fi elements of Gnostic doctrine into their naturalism and tried to will it all into reality. 

But the archons and the aeons are only part of the equation; hacking the nature of reality itself is hardwired in the Gnostic worldview as well. That offers more constructive solutions to the human dilemma than exiting your vehicle.




*Carter's apocalyptic series The After was picked up and then dropped by Amazon, and I have a feeling that the X-Files revival had something to do with that decision.



Prisoners of the Atom

We wanted Pluto, We Got Plutocracy

Watching that 2001 promotional video was extremely poignant because it was yet another reminder of all the expectations we no longer have. 
In the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of people were employed- mostly in the state of California- in and around the space program. These were very good paying jobs that raised families in middle class comfort, creating a new gold rush to a new California dream.
Today, California leads America into a new feudal nightmare, a bifurcated garrison state in which a small cognitive elite sit atop a vast ocean of poverty. It's become so segregated by class that most upper class Californians have no idea their state is the poorest in the nation.
It all began to fall apart in the early 1970s, as the Apollo program ended and NASA's sights were set ever lower.  Thousands of jobs were lost, beginning a middle class exodus from California that continues to this day.
Apollo skeptics have gleefully pointed out the fact that every mission since the moon landings were low earth orbit shuttle missions, the proverbial walk around the block in outer space terms. 
But the incredible cost (and danger) of space in relation to benefit- and the bludgeoning recession and oil shocks of the 1970s- made the numbing yet practical (someone has to maintain all those spy satellites) shuttle program a gimme for Congress.
Now Internet billionaire Elon Musk is trying to rekindle the old rocket flames. His SpaceX startup has been making a fool of NASA and has become the hottest name in rocket technology. Others are following his lead, most notably Amazon honcho Jeff Bezos. 
Musk realizes that you have to do something with all that hardware so he proposes a Mars mission with all the Red Bull-fueled gumption of a Silicon Valley startup.
"I'm hopeful that the first people could be taken to Mars in 10 to 12 years, I think it's certainly possible for that to occur," he said. "But the thing that matters long term is to have a self-sustaining city on Mars, to make life multiplanetary." 
He acknowledged that the company's plans were too long-term to attract many hedge fund managers, which makes it hard for SpaceX to go public anytime soon.

But there's a force not even a Valley whizkid can resist and that's the power of entropy. We are so used to rapid-fire technological and scientific progress, we're not going to know what to do now that the rate of progress is beginning to slow. 
Some believe we've picked all the low-hanging fruit, that all the big, flashy breakthroughs have been made and now humanity is like late-period REM or U2, continuing to record and tour long after the blockbusters have come and gone, watching the audience age, watching the returns diminish.
Kirby predicts Google, 1958
I recently read Jacques Vallee's memoirs of his time during the heady days of Silicon Valley and it was shocking to me how much of the great gizmos we see as novelties were all in prototype long before most of you were born. 
What is touted as the apple of the American economy these days? Well, there's Facebook, which is nothing more than a souped-up America Online, which itself was just a fancier version of the dial-up BBS systems in use since the 60s. 
We've all seen the videos from the 60s, showing off the prototypes of the Internet as we know it today. 40 years ago Silicon Valley was putting the basic architecture into place. What are they doing out there today? Besides creating hedge fund pirateware and Facebook games, I mean?
2015 looks nothing like I imagined it would when I was a kid. But we didn't realize that gravity, entropy--and rapacity-- would all get such a megaphone in the debate. 
Another Internet whiz kid, Peter Thiel, has diagnosed the problem- we have had great success in the world of electrons, not so much in the world of atoms.
"We live in a financial and capitalist age, not a scientific or technological age," investor Peter Thiel said at the Gartner Symposium in Orlando yesterday, echoing themes he has been talking about for several years now. 
In the 50s and 60s, science and technology meant not only computers, but also space, underwater cities, energy, nuclear power, etc. Now, he said, when we talk about technology, we pretty much just mean computer technology. 
He doesn't question that we're doing great things in the Internet and in mobile, and that's enough to dramatically improve business efficiency.  But he reiterated the subtitle manifesto of his Founder's Fund: "We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters." That's not meant as a critique of Twitter as a company, but "it's not clear it's enough to bring our civilization to the next level," he said.
This speaks to a theme I've been banging on all along. Just because something exists on paper, doesn't mean it exists off of it. Science fiction films conditioned us to expect a lot of great things that required expenditures of resources that simply made them untenable. Star Trek can't exist without energy and lightspeed travel that goes way beyond most physicist's wildest speculations.

And then there is the inconvenient fact that after a long period of technological stasis (the 17th Century AD isn't all that technology dissimilar to the 17th Century BC), we had a burst of creativity, but now the default setting of 'painfully slow, incremental progress' seems to be reasserting itself.
Air travel is nearly identical today as it was in the 1960s- in fact many 1960s airframes are still in use. Some cars drive themselves, some use electricity, but they don't fly. Hovercraft are not consumer products. Pops doesn't take the minicopter to work every day. There are some very interesting bullet and maglev trains out there, but that's old technology and most commuter trains still use diesel or electric engines.
Some of the futuristic technology that does make it to market fails simply because it offers an awkward consumer experience- Google Glass has been discontinued, for instance. Others- such as virtual reality- require such labor-intensive market prep that they become financially untenable.
You may have noticed you don't hear much about Transhumanism lately. Again, another case of concept failing when it came to the application stage. The Singularity may well come, but unless major breakthroughs are made, breakthroughs that require sums of money there's no evidence are being spent, it will come and go without us. 
Who really wants to go first when you think about, being carved up like a turkey in hopes of some promised digital immortality?
For the foreseeable future, we'll still be fragile bags of meat, subject to the same limitations- and not a few new ones- that our ancestors were. This probably helps to account for the continuing popularity of the superhero mythos, as well as the popularity of genres like urban fantasy, while science fiction itself recedes to a small and increasingly fractious priesthood. 
Hell, even the growing popularity of Gnosticism is a byproduct of the Atom's dictatorial rule. I mean, they called it first, didn't they?
How to deal with the tyranny of the Atom is going to be a major conundrum. It's going to take the best minds of the future to overcome, and it probably won't be an elective debate. I think circumstances will force us to confront these issues once and for all. We haven't changed our basic, workaday technology- not really- because it's been easier not to. 
That most likely will not be an option in the near future.

UPDATE: Well, we're getting Pluto. After a fashion.

Telling Tales Out of School: Wavelength Revisited





In June of 2013 I wrote about Wavelength, a very strange and disturbing low-budget sci-fi feature, written and directed by China Syndrome screenwriter and longtime political activist Mike Gray and financed by Maurice Rosenfeld, the pioneer of the class-action lawsuit. Gray's resume was interesting to say the least, showing a serious interest in aviation and astronautics but also a commitment to causes like fighting drug laws, nuclear power and the death penalty.

I speculated that Gray may have had other things on his mind than mere entertainment with this film and a recent news story seems to confirm that suspicion.

Wavelength was seen by some as an ET clone but was actually produced before the Spielberg film was released and fits more into the 70s conspiracy genre. It also marked a strange detour for Gray, in which he later produced a TV series based on the John Carpenter film Starman (which borrowed special effects techniques Gray developed for Wavelength) and even worked on Star Trek: The Next Generation as a writer/producer during its troubled second season.

Wavelength later became grist for the UFOlogical rumor mill when an individual who claimed to be a physicist at Laurence Livermore National Laboratories in California said this during an interview with Project Camelot, the conspiracy web channel:
What can you tell us about the ET presence?

Look up the movie Wavelength. It’s based on a totally true story. Have you seen it? It's based on an incident that took place at Hunter Liggett. This is a hot one. 

You shot down a disk?

[shaking head] We should never have done it. It wasn't me personally, but the group did. Between us we had all this gizmo weaponry and I guess they panicked and thought they were in a movie or something.  
Hunter Liggett entered the world of the High and the Weird several years before the making of Wavelength, when it was used for Leslie Stevens' incredibly strange, occult-drenched art-horror film Incubus, a film that referenced the ghost lights seen throughout history on and near the now deactivated military base. 

That film also has the dubious distinction of boasting a death count, leading one to wonder what kinds of entities make Hunter Liggett their home after all.

That's just the tip of the iceberg with Wavelength. The film is a virtual Whole Earth catalog of parapolitical and High Weirdness themes and references. In fact, the exteriors for the secret base featured in Wavelength are actually shots of Lookout Mountain, home of the 1352nd Motion Picture Squadron, the military's secret movie studio where dozens of propaganda and training films and photographs were produced, most notably during the Atom Age.

What's more, the disastrous effects unleashed on the secret base by the captured aliens as they emerge into consciousness in Wavelength directly parallel a nearly identical event that allegedly befell a team of military remote viewers involved in a "psychotronic warfare unit" when they were tasked with contacting NHEs, or non-human entities, sometime before Wavelength was made.


According to Nick Redfern's landmark expose Final Events, a MUFON director (and Anglican priest) was shown photographic evidence of the deadly aftereffects of this attempted contact in 1991 by a pair of mysterious intelligence agents.

Not content with this little revelation, Gray hired two actors who were ringers for MK Ultra honchos Sidney Gottlieb and Ewan Cameron to play very similar roles, and used very Kubrickian tricks to signal to savvy viewers that he was indeed referencing the notorious CIA program. But he also seemed to be working from deeper information about the program than what is generally assumed, even among the conspiranoid cognoscenti. 

Like the alchemists with their lead-into-gold shuck, I've long believed MK Ultra's pitch was just window dressing for the rubes on the Hill. I think the real goal was a Space Age update on that old black magic*, goals far more esoteric and unspeakable than mind control (such as contact with NHEs). 

It's important to note that the MK Ultra paper trail (such as it is) starts to go cold as the Fundamentalist movement starts to heat up in the late 60s, a sure sign that Congress was growing impatient with Gottlieb's mindfuckers and realized the old control methods were still the most reliable.

In my previous post on Wavelength, I wrote that as in many sci-fi movies, the aliens in Wavelength may have been stand-ins for real-life victims:
The fact that the "aliens" are taken home to the Mojave Desert leads me to believe their real-life counterparts were Navajo or Hopi children abducted by this post-Ultra op for their perceived psychic powers. We see this when they take part in a religious ceremony by the Native Americans who help them escape, reminiscent of a rite of passage ceremony for boys. 
Sure enough, this story made the news recently. A Duke University parapsychology team conducted ESP experiments on First Nations kids in Canadian Indian Residential Schools, believing them to be more psychically gifted than other children†:

One Winnipegger said he was shocked to stumble on a report that shows experiments were conducted on children at Brandon's Indian Residential School in the 1940s. 

“This is incredible, especially when you take into account the other studies, medical tests that had been conducted at residential schools,” said Maeengan Linklater. 

Linklater was reading "Mysterious Manitoba" by Chris Rutkowski when he saw a passing reference to experiments on extra sensory perception, or ESP, on students at the school in 1941.
 But it turns out this wasn't a new story, it had been published more than 70 years ago in The Journal of Parapsychology (actual paper included at link):
The article was published in 1943 by a scientist named A.A Foster. A librarian friend found the actual scientific journal article and sent it to him. 

The study was trying to find a better way to test ESP using special cards. The author of the study said the 50 children that participated did so willingly. 

“It's not like these kids knew what they were participating in, because if these kids were starving already, a little bit of candy would go a long way,” said Linklater.
The "experiments" themselves were guessing games more accurately, but it raises questions as to what kinds of other experiments were going on under Ewan Cameron with First Nation children, or Native American kids under MK Ultra. Disturbing questions.
Unfortunately, as has become the pattern, finding new, credible documentation on MK Ultra's abuses has become nearly impossible as the topic has been buried in cut-n-paste disinformation and hysterical confabulation. 
Gee, you'd almost think that was intentional.
Gray is no longer with us, but he seemed to have something to say about this in Wavelength, something that may have been too dangerous to say in documentary format. Either way, I had no idea of the Duke experiments when I wrote the previous article and it's a surefire bet that there were more where they came from. Much, much more.
It's also important to note that Gray made Wavelength after producing The Rocket Pilots, a TV documentary filmed at Edwards AFB (a favorite whistle stop on the UFO railroad, site of Astronaut Gordon Cooper's Road to Damascus moment), and self-produced a very weird and paranoid film about UFOs. Nothing about the movie smacks of cash-in, in fact it seems to go out of its way to, umm, alienate, the popcorn 'n' sodapop crowd.
It should also be noted that Gray's Starman series, although as inert and arid as 80s network strictures demanded - was a lot more politically pointed than the Carpenter film. In the film, the alien is pursued by a benevolent SETI scientist (played by the almost supernaturally amiable Charles Martin Smith).
In the TV series, he's pursued by a vindictive intelligence agent (played by Michael Cavanaugh, who looked the part), who ultimately wants to capture the alien and his hybrid son in order to subject them to the kind of experimentation Gray depicts in Wavelength
Interesting.
For symbol junkies, note that an entire episode of the (Starman) series revolved around a peregrine falcon.

* It's important to note that LSD wizard Owsley Stanley condemned the famous Acid Tests, held by MK Ultra test subject Ken Kesey and his cohort, as 'black magic'.
† Your humble host is one-eighth Native American, my great-grandfather having been adopted from an "Indian Orphanage." He was born the year the US Army captured Geronimo.