Cultists chose fiery graves after UFOs didn't show up: expert

GRENOBLE, France, April 23 (AFP) -A psychiatrist told a French court that adepts of the Solar Temple cult, 74 of whom were found dead and burned, wanted to die on blazing pyres after flying saucers failed to come and take them.

Jean-Marie Abgrall was explaing the evolution of the sect's thinking at the trial of one of its members, Michel Tabachnik, a Franco-Swiss orchestra conductor accused of pushing cultists towards committing murder and suicide.

Tabachnik and the order's creator Jo di Mambro, who was one of the 74 cultists who died in a series of killings between 1994 and 1997, were both founder members of a previous sect, The Golden Way, the court was told.

The Golden Way, founded in 1978, initially taught that its members were to be taken to a better world by extra-terrestrials in flying saucers, but by the time it became the Solar Temple in 1990 had begun to think of the journey in terms of a transformation into vital energy to link up with the cosmos.

Abgrall, who has made a lengthy study of cult belief, said that the order believed that "man is a parcel of cosmic energy. Through rituals, training and alchemy, he can be reintegrated with the primordial cosmic energy in going through ordeals of physical and spiritual alchemy".

In 1993, Tabachnik fell ill and the cult began to believe that the end of the world was imminent. By this stage the adepts had fixed on fire as the key to making the leap back into their spiritual forms, Abgrall said.

On October 5, 1994 the bodies of 20 cultists who had been shot dead and burned were found in a remote Swiss forest. Some were tied up up, but others appeared to have consented to take part in a ritual mass suicide

It was the first of a series of such slayings to be discovered in Switzerland, France and Canada. In all 74 mainly middle-class and educated people were killed, including di Mambro. Tabachnik survived.

The 58-year-old conductor is on trial in France accused of "membership of a criminal organisation" and of writing soime of the texts that served to condition the cultists and create a "dynamic towards murder".

Tabachnik denies the charges. The trial is expected to last until April 30.