In 1997, 39 members entered ‘The Next Level.’ Four remain.
It’s hard out there for a cult, especially when you’re best known for wearing matching Nikes during a notorious mass suicide. Although that’s the image that comes to mind when we hear the words “Heaven’s Gate,” the cult has a much more storied past.
The group was founded in 1974 by two Texans: Marshall Applewhite, a music teacher and Army vet, and Bonnie Nettles, a nurse and spiritualist who reportedly met Applewhite at a drama school in the early 70s. The pair, who were known to cult members as “Bo” or “Do” (for Applewhite) and “Ti” or “Peep” (for Nettles), hit it off talking about religion, aliens, life after death and more.
The core belief of the cult they created was that our bodies were merely vessels to get to the “Next Level” or “The Level Above Human,” which exists in a separate world within our universe.
Applewhite and Nettles required Heaven’s Gate members to erase their sense of identity and cut off ties with friends and family.
In March of 1997, 39 members of the cult recorded farewell messages and then, apparently, entered the “Level Above Human” — leaving eight members behind, four of whom have since passed away.
What are the remaining members doing, 20 years later? Still running the Heaven’s Gate website.
HeavensGate.com has been mostly untouched since 1997, and looks like a macabre cousin of the infamous Space Jam site. At the top, in large text, the site reads “Red Alert,” which might sound familiar to my Trekkie brothers and sisters out there.
This isn’t the only thing the cult borrowed from Star Trek. On the day of the mass suicide, each member wore a “Heaven’s Gate Away Team” patch:
The website goes on to give information about the Heaven’s Gate cult, including Bible verses, writings by Applewhite and a photo of how a member of the next kingdom might appear:
The website also answer emails and letters from those that would like to learn more about Heaven’s Gate, which (obviously) included me. So I reached out to them for an interview.
It felt like a shot in the dark. But not only did they respond in under half an hour, they answered every question I asked:
Me: With whom am I speaking and which gender pronoun do you prefer? [Note: Heaven’s Gate members strive for androgyny and celibacy. Some male members have even volunteered to be castrated.]
Heaven’s Gate: We joined the Group in 1975 and there are two of us here in Arizona, so the term is “we.”
In past interviews, you said there were eight remaining members, now four. Did those other four pass? And if so, what does that mean for entering Heaven’s Gate?
Yes, four have passed. It means that the opportunity will occur, like it always would, in our future reincarnation on this planet.
When was the last time you were contacted by The Next Level, and can you describe it?
We received boxes of information, keys and codes, bank accounts, legal documents, tapes, diskettes and book galleys on March 25, 1997. It spelled out what they wanted us to do and we have followed through with everything they’ve asked.
Has there ever been a time you regretted being left behind?
No, we have our task, and will be taken care of.
What do you feel is the biggest misconception about Heaven’s Gate?
That the individuals involved were weak-minded and gullible.
What would you like to tell the public about Heaven’s Gate?
The simple understanding is that there is a real, physical level above the human one here on earth. It is not a spiritual existence. It is real individuals, in real bodies, in real crafts taking care of the issues of their planet. The Next Level, as it is called, created this planet and all the life on it. The Next Level are the caretakers of not only this planet but all the systems of the universe. From that, all the other understandings follow. They periodically come down to this planet to check in on this civilization’s development. The last time they took a very close-up observation, in human form, was from about 1972 to 1997. The time before that was 2,000 years ago. At those times they talk to those interested about the opportunity of The Next Level and how a very select few can enter into it only after a long period of transition and instruction. The Group came to an end in March, 1997. There is nothing to join but the information is always timeless.
In your time since 1997 have you kept up with worldly things like pop culture? If so what have you enjoyed/not enjoyed?
Do the remaining members continue to vote? If so — who were their last presidential picks?
We really don’t speak to that.
This isn’t the first time the people behind the website have given an interview to the media. But these days, it feels like Heaven’s Gate has become little more than the butt of the joke. However you feel about the group, you gotta be a little grateful that their website still exists, serving as a living time capsule for one of the strangest moments in American history.