Conductor tells court how New Age guru inspired doomsday cult

GRENOBLE, France, April 25 (AFP) - Conductor Michel Tabachnik told a French court Wednesday that he had been drawn into a world of occult belief by a charismatic guru and gone on to found a sect which later killed 74 of its members.

Tabachnik is accused of being a leading member of the Order of the Solar Temple and of having contributed to the brainwashing of cultists who willingly went to their deaths in a series of ritual killings between 1994 and 1997 in France, Canada and Switzerland.

Tabachnik denies that his writings, which were inspired by a mixture of New-Age mysticism and Rosicrucian and Templar traditions, could have provoked the killings.

Called to give evidence at his trial for membership of a criminal organisation, the 58-year-old Franco-Swiss musician explained that he had founded the Golden Way, which later became the Solar Temple, after joining a community run by Jo di Mambro, a charismatic guru figure.

"The fervour, the enthusiasm, the love between its members moved me," he said.

Through the seventies Tabachnik and his wife Christine had dabbled in "Buddhism, Hinduism, macro-biotics, yoga and communal living," he said. "At home we ate wholemeal rice."

Di Mambro and his wife Jocelyne introduced Tabachnik to their beliefs and the two men made a trip to Egypt, where di Mambro interpreted ancient carvings for his acolyte, telling him that the god Sothis, later Sirius, represented knowledge.

"He explained that man has to refind his original knowledge, which he has lost along with his free will," Tabachnik said.

In 1978 the conductor, a pupil of Pierre Boulez, founded the Golden Way as a cultural association that mixed New Age ceremonies with invited scientific speakers and singers.

During their rituals sect members saw visions of "The Masters" -- extra-terrestrial beings -- and the Holy Grail.

"Everyone believed in them, and there was a well known physicist among us," he said.

Later di Mambro warned him not to go to Berlin where he was to perform at a lucrative series of concerts. "He said: 'You will never go to Berlin because the The Masters will put you on an anvil and beat you', I replied: 'Don't talk rubbish'."

Soon afterwards Tabachnik fell down the stairs and hurt his back, forcing him to abandon his planned trip, he said. "I don't know if anyone could have resisted this build-up of events."

Prosecutors allege that Tabachnik's cult writings, which were sold to believers for large sums, convinced cultists that they would find fulfilment in dying and rejoining a primordial cosmic energy.

The court has heard that Tabachnik announced the end of the cult shortly before the first of a series of massacres in which cultists, including di Mambro, were shot dead by fellow believers who then shot themselves.

The case continues.