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Nettles, Bonnie Lu - Timeline Biography

Time Period

08-29-1927 - 06-19-1985


Bonnie Lu Nettles, with Marshall Applewhite, started a New Religious Movement known as Heaven’s Gate. Though many refer to groups like Heaven’s Gate as a cult, this word carries negative connotations including the assumption that groups such as Heaven’s Gate brainwash their members. However, there is very little evidence to support the claim of mass coercion. Many scholars of American religion consider Heaven’s Gate a New Religious Movement.

Heaven’s Gate received widespread media attention following the ritual suicide of nearly forty members in 1997. The group and the mass suicide entered American popular culture via numerous television documentaries and books. Many saw parallels between Heaven’s Gate and the mass deaths at Jonestown less than 20 years prior. Heaven’s Gate teachings include a mixture of worldviews including the Christian Millenarian Movement, New Age perspectives, and UFO conspiracy theories, all of which have been utilized separately and/or together by other American religious groups.

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Religious Minorities (Non-Christians)
Women and Religion

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Born in Houston, Texas, Nettles co-founded Heaven’s Gate with Marshall H. Applewhite. Nettles was a registered nurse when she met Applewhite in the hospital where she worked. Nettles was very interested in New Age philosophies, such as the ascended masters. At one point she even wrote articles in an astrology column in a local Houston newspaper. Shortly after meeting Applewhite, the two began developing a theology that would evolve over time, while trying to recruit (often failing to recruit) members to their group. They began referring to themselves by various names, such as Guinea and Pig, Bo and Peep, Ti and Do, and “The Two”. Applewhite and Nettles claimed to be extraterrestrials living in human form and predicted that, following their martyrdom and resurrection, a UFO would appear and carry away them and their followers. While members of Heaven’s Gate, including Applewhite, would go on to commit ritual suicide in 1997, Nettles died of cancer in 1985.


Founding of Heaven's Gate

Related Dictionary Terms

Astrology, Millenarianism, New Age, Resurrection, Theology


Bonnie Lu Nettles photo
Bonnie Lu Nettles photo
Bonnie Lu Nettles

Heaven's Gate logo
Heaven's Gate logo
Heaven's Gate logo

Book/Journal Source(s)

Zeller, Benjamin E., 2014. Heaven's Gate: America's UFO Religion New York, NY: New York University Press.
Wessinger, Catherine, 2000. How the Millennium Comes Violently: From Jonestown to Heaven's Gate New York, NY: Seven Bridges Press.
Tumminia, Diana, 2005. When Prophecy Never Fails: Myth and Reality in a Flying-Saucer Group New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Web Source(s)
"Heaven's Gate,"

Web Page Contributor

Nathaniel Wynne, MSED
Affliated with: The Association of Religion Data Archives

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