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UFOs, ETs, and the Millennial Imagination

Abstract and Keywords

The proliferation of the atomic bomb was paralleled by the emergence of another unique development—fascination with unidentified flying objects (UFOs), extraterrestrials (ETs), and objective planetary escape. The publicity of the UFO factor since 1947 coupled with the threat of imminent annihilation, stoked a fury among global millennialists and witnessed the establishment of worldwide neo-millennial organizations, preaching salvation via extraterrestrial means. The explanations for this are many: one theory claims earth to be an abode and under observation of extraterrestrial superbeings that are the original progenitors of humankind who keep visiting periodically to enhance human faculties. A marked tendency is observed to demythologize scriptures and contextualize them against backdrops of objective realities. The Raelian movement exemplifies this trait as founder Claude Vorilhon, claimant to extraterrestrial contact, extensively decrypted the Holy Scriptures as he claimed was done for him by Elohim, an extraterrestrial higher being (not God).

Keywords: unidentified flying objects, extraterrestrial, Raelian movement, annihilation, global millennialists, Holy Scriptures

UFOs (unidentified flying objects) and ETs (extraterrestrials) figure prominently in many New Age soteriologies (see chapter 29 by Phillip Charles Lucas, this volume). Absent hard evidence of ET visitation to Earth, belief in UFOs and ETs has a strongly religious aspect.1 Whereas ETs and UFOs are of central importance to the soteriologies of UFO religions, they also relate to secondary themes in many new religious movements. Mikael Rothstein describes the “marginal incorporation” of UFO beliefs by such diverse religions as the Church of Scientology, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), and the Baha’i Faith (2003a).2 This chapter focuses on UFO religions proper.

Norman Cohn's seminal definition of “millennialism” extends to any religion motivated “by fantasy of salvation conceived to be (a) collective, (b) terrestrial, (c) imminent, and (d) total” (1970, 15). Catherine Wessinger further extends the term to “belief in an imminent transition to a collective salvation consisting of total well-being (salvation), which may be either earthly or heavenly” (2000, 5). Daniel Wojcik describes well the apocalypticism and millenarianism so often characteristic of American UFO religions (2003). Andreas Grünschloss (2003a, 2003b, 2004) distinguishes between apocalyptic UFOism and non-apocalyptic UFOism (quoted in Saliba 2006, 107).

E. B. Tylor's minimal definition of religion as “the belief in Spiritual Beings” (1979/1873) was refined by Melford Spiro to belief in “any beings believed to possess power greater than man, who can work good and/or evil on man” (1966, 91). The term messiah has been extended to refer to the agent(s) of future salvation. “It seems scientifically correct,” Vittorio Lanternari wrote, “to broaden the meaning of this word ‘Messianism’ so that we may include in it a series of manifestations which are homogeneous in their function…. We should use the term ‘messiah’ to designate any (p. 588) being singular or plural, more or less anthropomorphic, expected by a community as the future savior” (1962, 52). “In some cases,” Yonina Talmon observed, “the messianic agency is nonpersonal and nonhuman. The role of mechanical contrivances, such as the flying saucers, as triggering off agencies of the millennium, is a case in point” (1966, 169). As a number of folklorists and mythologists have noted, the ETs of contemporary lore are the gods, angels, and demons of traditional religion(s) euhemerized as humanoid, albeit superhuman, extraterrestrials (see, for example, Flaherty 1990; Thompson 1991; Peebles 1994). As Catherine Wessinger observes, “Increasingly in new religions, extraterrestrials and space aliens are the superhuman agents that act in the roles previously filled by God, gods, angels, and devils” (2000, 16). Evangelical Christians often regard ETs as agents of Satan seeking to lead humanity astray in the final days before the return of Christ (Saliba 1995a; Partridge 2004). As Christian Dispensationalist author Hal Lindsey (see also chapter 25 by Jon R. Stone and chapter 26 by Glenn W. Shuck, both in this volume) asserts:

It's my opinion that there will be a proved “close encounter of the third kind” soon. And I believe that the source of this phenomenon is some type of alien being of great intelligence and power. According to the Bible, a demon is a spiritual personality in a state of war with God. Prophecy tells us that demons will be allowed to use their powers of deception in a grand way during the last days of history (II Thessalonians 2:8–12). I believe these demons will stage a spacecraft landing on Earth. They will claim to be from an advanced culture in another galaxy. (1980, 34)

This distrust is deeply rooted in the millennial imagination. Christopher Partridge describes the roots of malevolent ETs in traditional Christian demonology (2004), but in this chapter “UFO myth” refers to the religious valorization of UFOs and ETs as world saviors and agents of millennial transformation.

The Saucer and the Bomb

While predicated in part upon earlier traditions of superhuman, otherworldly beings, the UFO myth has been nourished by Cold War tensions and formed in compensatory opposition to the threat of nuclear devastation, although other global threats are readily assimilated (Flaherty 1990). Since 1945 the nuclear threat has been, according to Robert Jay Lifton, “the context for our lives, a shadow that persistently intrudes upon our mental ecology” (Lifton and Falk 1982, 3). Derrick de Kerckhove of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology describes nuclear weapons as “the helpless consequence of a grotesque disproportion between the legitimate development of technology and the fairly primitive level of our social development” (quoted in Rowe 1985, ix). Flying saucer religionists frequently assert that the space people are more technologically and spiritually advanced than we are. As Russian-Swiss folklorist Sergius Golowin observes, they are “die Götter der Atomzeit,” the gods of the atomic age (1967).

(p. 589) The “ET Hypothesis”

Flying over the Cascade Mountains in Washington state on 24 June 1947, private pilot Kenneth Arnold (1915–84) beheld nine shining flying objects making a wobbling motion he compared to a saucer skipping over water, a description from which the press coined the term flying saucer. Parenthetically, Arnold described not flying discs but boomerang-shaped objects that he believed were not spaceships but unconventional aircraft being developed by the U.S. military. Initial rumors favored the development of a secret weapon by Germany or the Soviet Union, but flying saucers were soon rumored to be of extraterrestrial origin. Retired Marine Corps Major Donald E. Keyhoe (1897–1988) was an early proponent of the extraterrestrial hypothesis. After his 1950 article “The Flying Saucers Are Real” in True Magazine, he wrote a book of the same title. He maintained:

  1. 1. The earth has been under periodic observation from another planet, or other planets, for at least two centuries.

  2. 2. This observation suddenly increased in 1947, following the series of A-bomb explosions begun in 1945.

  3. 3. The observation, now intermittent, is part of a long-range survey and will continue indefinitely. No immediate attempt to contact the earth seems evident. There may be some unknown block to making contact, but it is more probable that the spacemen's plans are not complete. (1950, 174)

The U.S. Air Force introduced unidentified flying object (UFO) as a term devoid of the connotation of “extraterrestrial spaceship,” but UFO soon acquired the ET connotation associated with “flying saucer,” reflecting the tremendous appeal of belief in extraterrestrial visitors. As Carl Gustav Jung observed in his seminal booklet Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky, “Anything that looks technological goes down without difficulty with modern man. The possibility of space travel makes the unpopular idea of metaphysical intervention more acceptable” (1959, 22–23).

George Adamski

George Adamski (1891–1965) of Vista, California, was the first to allege contact with ETs, or the Space Brothers, as they came to be called (Melton 1986, 2–4). Adamski claimed to have encountered a flying saucer in California's Mojave Desert on 20 November 1952. Its occupant—Orthon of Venus—telepathically communicated to him the space people's grave concern over the development of nuclear weapons, which could initiate a chain reaction spreading well beyond Earth and endangering the entire universe (Leslie and Adamski 1977/1953, 213–14). Filmmaker Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still (see chapter 31 by Douglas (p. 590) E. Cowan, this volume), about an extraterrestrial come to Earth to enforce nuclear disarmament, had been released in 1951. This theme became widespread in flying saucer lore.

Born in Poland in 1891, Adamski moved to California with his parents in 1893. His interest in so-called “cosmic philosophy” was well established in 1936 when he founded the Royal Order of Tibet. In the 1940s he took a job at the Palomar Observatory in northern San Diego County, and in 1947 he claimed to have seen 184 flying saucers in formation. Writing with British Theosophist Desmond Leslie (1921–2001) after the alleged 1952 Orthon encounter, Adamski published Flying Saucers Have Landed (Leslie and Adamski 1977/1953). In Inside the Space Ships (1955), Adamski claimed that there are twelve planets in the solar system, rather than the seven recognized by astronomers, and that the dark side of the moon is fertile and inhabited.

In the wake of Flying Saucers Have Landed, others soon claimed contact with the Space Brothers, idealized ET humans who, like Adamski's Orthon, were troubled by nuclear weapons on Earth. J. Gordon Melton and George Eberhart (Melton 1995; Melton and Eberhart 1995) and John Saliba (1995a) have provided excellent surveys of the UFO contactee movement. The contactees were, according to David Jacobs, “operating within a common fear of the 1950's—the inevitability of nuclear war” (1975, 115). While laying asphalt in the Mojave Desert, Truman Bethurum (1898–1969) allegedly encountered Aura Rhanes from the planet Clarion, who instructed him to warn humanity of the danger of nuclear war. Daniel Fry (1908–92) of Alamogordo, New Mexico, claimed to have encountered an ET named A-lan in White Sands (a few miles from the Trinity site where the first atomic bomb was tested on 16 July 1945) and likewise was charged with warning humanity. Orfeo Angelucci (1912–93)—the contactee made famous by Carl Jung (1959)—claimed that an extraterrestrial whom he called Neptune told him:

The days that are to come upon earth are well known to me, but they are as yet mercifully veiled from you and your fellows. This I can tell you: the hour of the tragedy is close upon the earth. In history it will be known as “the Great Accident.” Wide devastation, suffering and the death of many will result from it. Perhaps you can guess how man will himself be the cause of “the Great Accident.” If the horror of the War of the End of an Age shall come, our multitudes are at hand to aid all of those not spiritually arrayed against us. (1955, 123–24)

Flying Saucers and the Bible

Rudolf Bultmann (1884–1976) was prominent among twentieth-century Christian theologians who opposed the literal interpretation of biblical eschatology. He advocated “demythologizing” Christianity while retaining the message (kerygma) of (p. 591) Jesus that had been cloaked in myth (1958). Bultmann found especially troubling the acceptance of miraculous biblical events and biblical eschatology as literally true. UFO mythology is a rationalization of such elements. Flying saucers become the pillars of cloud and fire that guided the Israelites to the Promised Land, the fiery chariots that bore Elijah and Enoch to Heaven, the Star of Bethlehem that led the wise men to the Christ child, the vehicle of Christ's ascension, and the cloudlike vehicle of Christ's return. References to biblical eschatology abound in primary UFO literature (see, for example, Downing 1968). Morris K. Jessup (1900–1959) read Matthew 24:29–31 as follows:

The great and powerful mother-ship will appear among the clouds and the Master will dispatch his assistants in smaller craft, and will gather from all parts of the earth those who have survived the brunt of the cataclysm and have reached temporary places of safety and particularly those whom the Shepherd Race deems suitable for the propagation and resurgence of humanity in a new racial generation, and these will be taken to live for awhile in the celestial regions where are the homes of the UFOs in space. (1956, 102)

Flying Saucers and Theosophy

About the same time that Donald Keyhoe published Flying Saucers Are Real, Theosophically oriented UFO enthusiasts such as George Adamski, Desmond Leslie, and George Hunt Williamson (1926–86) (who was with Adamski at the alleged Orthon encounter)3 published a number of books portraying flying saucers in light of the teachings of Helena P. Blavatsky (1831–91), who in 1875 cofounded the Theosophical Society (see chapter 29 by Phillip Charles Lucas, this volume). Blavatsky's major work, The Secret Doctrine (1888), is a commentary on seven stanzas of the purported Book of Dzyan, which, she claimed, antedated the Vedas. Although translated into Chinese, Tibetan, and Sanskrit, all the original stanzas had been written in Senzar, Blavatsky maintained, from which Sanskrit was derived, and which had been brought from Venus by Sanat Kumara and the Lords of the Flame (1888).4

Theosophists believe that the planets of our solar system and Earth's moon are inhabited by superhuman beings. Of greatest importance are the inhabitants of Venus (Lords of the Flame), who direct humanity's physical and spiritual evolution (Leadbeater 1912, 131). The Theosophical pantheon also includes Masters and Mahatmas, the Elder Brothers of humanity who live on Earth (Besant 1912, 60–63). As David Stupple (1984) notes, whereas the idea of extraterrestrials was epiphenomenal to Theosophy, the Elder Brothers, Mahatmas, and Ascended Masters became the benevolent Space Brothers of Theosophically oriented flying saucer enthusiasts.

(p. 592) ETs, Channeling, and the Ashtar Command

Adamski's claim of telepathic communication with Orthon became the template for a tradition of channeled ET communications.5 On 12 September 1952 George Van Tassel (1910–78) of Giant Rock, California, allegedly received the following message:

I am Ashtar. Our Center has requested that I advance to you mortal beings of Shan (Earth) the following information. Over your past several months our ventlas have discharged several thousand light beings in certain remote areas upon your planet. These individuals serving the cause of Universal Law are recording numerous occurrences taking place within the people of Shan. It would be advisable to instruct any mortal being who by chance should approach any of our light intelligences to do so with a thought projection of peace, “I am friendly.” Any approach in any other frame of thought will meet with instant defensive conditions. Only under individual protective measures shall we do anything other than retreat. In the records obtained by these beings…we shall determine what actions to take in the very near future. My love remains with you. I am Ashtar. (Quoted in Williamson 1953, 337–38)

Van Tassel was the first to claim contact with Ashtar.6 Subsequently, his former associate Robert Short founded a group called Ashtar Command, and since then numerous individuals have channeled Ashtar Sheran (as he is also known), Supreme Commander of the Free Federation of Planets, who lives in a vast mother ship in space. Ashtar's followers stress that Ashtar is not a fallen angel but rather one of the Herald Angels (Tuella 1985). The Herald Angels did not take part in the heavenly rebellion and are preparing Earth for the return of Sananda (Christ). The Ashtar Command is the Airborne Division of the Great Brother/Sisterhood of Light:

Composed of millions of starships and personnel from civilizations, we are here to assist the Earth through the current cycle of planetary cleansing and polar realignment. We serve like midwives in the birthing of humanity from dense-physical to physical-etheric bodies of light, capable of ascending into the fifth dimension along with the Earth. (Ashtar Command [2008])

Ashtar is second in importance only to Sananda (or Sananda-Jesus, as he is sometimes called).7 Ashtar and Sananda are not the exclusive property of any one religious organization, but the common property of a diffuse New Age Spiritualist milieu. Tuella (Thelma B. Terrell) is a well-known channel of the Ashtar Command (Tuella 1985). Sister Thedra (1900–1992) (“Mrs. Keech” in When Prophecy Fails) channeled Sananda (Festinger, Riecken, and Schachter 1964).8 Ashtar, Sananda, Aetherius (of Venus), Aura Rhanes (of Clarion), Monka (of Mars), and a host of godlike ETs communicate through trance mediums, many of whom also channel the Theosophical Masters. Jamie Sans channels Leah, a Venusian from two thousand years in the future. Darryl Anka channels Bashar from the planet Essassani. Don Elkins, Jim McCarty, and Carla Rueckert channel (p. 593) Ra, a unified group of extraterrestrials. Lyssa Royal has channeled ETs Raydia and Harone.

Walk-ins and Wanderers

Space intelligences are also said to possess human bodies. ET-possessed individuals are referred to as “Walk-ins” or “Blends.” A Walk-in, according to New Age psychic Ruth Montgomery (1913–2001), originates when a person loses the will to live and an ET replaces the human soul. Displaced souls are being sent to vast spaceships until they can return to a renewed and transformed world. Bodies inhabited by space intelligences are being used to prepare for the New Age (1985, 148).

In addition to Walk-ins, numerous ETs have voluntarily incarnated on Earth as human beings to assist in preparations for the New Age. Adamski's friend George Hunt Williamson wrote in 1953 of 144,000 Lesser Avatars, or Wanderers, who arrived with the Elder Brother, the Son of Thought Incarnate.9 Since then the number of Wanderers has grown considerably. According to the Ra group, in 1981 there were approximately 65 million Wanderers (quoted in Mandelker 1995, 2). “If we calculate further,” says transpersonal psychologist Scott Mandelker (an ET-Wanderer believer), “we can assume that the number is much higher today, almost fifteen years later, amidst the ongoing flux of souls coming to help in the transition to the New Age” (1995, 2).

Organized UFO Religions

Sociologist Bryan Wilson observed that the term movement implies a coherence greater than that of collective behavior (1973, 3–4). Belief in UFOs and ETs has never been limited to organized religious movements, but formulated in and diffused through popular media and the folk/popular religious milieu. The flying saucer club ideology described by Leon Festinger and his colleagues “was not invented, not created de novo, purely in Mrs. Keech's mind. Almost all her conceptions of the universe, the spiritual world, interplanetary communication and travel, and the dread possibilities of total atomic warfare can be found, in analogue or identity, in popular magazines, sensational books, and even columns of daily papers” (1964, 54).Nonetheless, a number of contactees have organized religious movements based on their revelations. The Aetherius Society, the Unarius Foundation, Heaven's Gate (see also chapter 2 by Eugene V. Gallagher and chapter 11 by John Walliss, both in this volume), Chen Tao, and the Raelian Movement are examined here as representative.

(p. 594) The Aetherius Society

The Aetherius Society was founded in 1954 in Britain by George King (1919–97), who claimed telepathic contact with Aetherius, who, like Jesus, was a Cosmic Master from the planet Venus. Roy Wallis (1975) studied the group extensively in the 1970s. More recently, Simon Smith (2003), Scott Scribner and Gregory Wheeler (2003), Mikael Rothstein (2003b), and John Saliba (2003) have written about the group. As Wallis notes, the Theosophical Society's teachings on the Masters are the clear basis of King's alleged revelations (1975, 30). The solar system, according to the Aetherius Society, is governed by a Cosmic Hierarchy or Interplanetary Parliament responsible for its evolution. Whereas Jesus, Buddha, and Aetherius come from Venus, Krishna comes from Saturn, home of the Interplanetary Parliament. The Cosmic Masters have come to Earth to help humanity

prepare for the New World and to bring about a great millennium of peace. A few of these Masters now live on Earth and “shortly” another will come. It has been revealed through Doctor George King that this Master's “magic will be greater than any upon Earth—greater than the combined materialistic might of all the armies. And they who will not heed His words shall be removed from the Earth.” Jesus came in mystery, but this next Master will come openly in a “Flying Saucer” and the whole world will know of His coming. (Aetherius Society 1981)

The Unarius Foundation

Ernest (1904–71) and Ruth Norman (1900–1993) founded the Unarius Foundation in 1954. Sociologist Diana Tumminia has studied the group extensively (2003, 2005; Tumminia and Kirkpatrick 1995). After Ernest died, Ruth continued to promote their teachings until her death. The Unarians predict that thirty-three spacecraft will descend to Earth and fuse electronically—the largest ship at base, the smallest on top—to form a 2.5-mile-high academy housing technicians who will advise humans in the science of Unarius.

The Space Brothers will construct a second tower, a 2,000-foot-high Power Tower of gold and crystal that will draw energy from Earth and the cosmos to supply all of Earth's energy needs. Unarians claim that a previous attempt to construct such a tower was made by Nikola Tesla (1856–1943), inventor of the Tesla coil. In fact, in 1901 Tesla did erect a 187-foot tower on Long Island as a component of what he hoped would become a world wireless system, but it was demolished in 1917 (Tesla 1982). The Unarians describe Tesla as “he who could cause electricity to travel across the country or underground with no wires, invent electronic equipment to revolutionize the world; that he could (and does now, freed of the limiting physical) generate such Power that it will change not only this world, but the many worlds” (p. 595) (Unarius Foundation 1974, 5). Whereas Ruth Norman is held by Unarians to be the incarnation of the Archangel Uriel, and her late husband Ernest that of the Archangel Raphiel (sic), Tesla is regarded as the incarnation of the Archangel Michiel (sic). Unarians are not alone in their admiration for Tesla, who is widely revered by flying saucer enthusiasts.

Heaven's Gate

In September 1975 Marshall Herff Applewhite (1931–97) and Bonnie Lu Nettles (1927–85)—known as the Two, or Him and Her, as well as Bo and Peep—gave a public lecture about UFOs in Waldport, Oregon. Styling themselves the Two Witnesses of Revelation 11, their group would ultimately become known as Heaven's Gate, whose thirty-nine members in 1997 committed group suicide, poisoning themselves at their residence in Rancho Santa Fe, California (Lewis 2003b; Peters 2003). The son of a Presbyterian minister from Texas, Applewhite studied for the ministry but changed his major to music. Throughout Applewhite's life “Christian material permeated his thought” (Zeller 2006, 77). Applewhite eventually proclaimed that he was “in the same position in today's society as was the One that was in Jesus” (1997). When Nettles met Applewhite she had long been immersed in New Age religion and Theosophy, and Heaven's Gate soteriology became a syncretism of New Age beliefs and Christian elements (Zeller 2006).

Several days after the 1975 Oregon lecture more than thirty people disappeared with Him and Her. News services described people who had given up everything—families, friends, jobs, their homes—to follow the Two, who claimed to be extraterrestrials, in hopes of being taken in flying saucers to a higher plane of existence. Little was heard of the group until it resurfaced in 1993, reinvented as Total Overcomers Anonymous.

Sociologist Robert Balch studied the group extensively for decades (1982, 1985, 1995; Balch and Taylor 2003). While the group's general beliefs had changed little during their underground years, Balch notes that their 1993 full-page ad in USA Today “had an apocalyptic tone that was much more dramatic than anything I heard in 1975” (1995, 163). In 1997 the thirty-nine members of Applewhite's group, now renamed Heaven's Gate, ended their lives in the belief that the comet Hale-Bopp, visible during the spring of 1997, was “the marker we’ve been waiting for” (Applewhite 1997). In 1996 Chuck Schramek, an amateur astronomer from Texas, telephoned Art Bell's radio program Coast to Coast to report he had seen a “Saturn-like object” traveling with Hale-Bopp. Subsequently, Courtney Brown, a professor of political science at Emory University, and novelist/UFO enthusiast Whitley Strieber (b. 1945) appeared on Bell's program to announce that an extraterrestrial spaceship was trailing Hale-Bopp. Like many UFO enthusiasts that year, Applewhite believed that a huge spaceship was approaching Earth, concealed from view by the comet.

(p. 596) “Planet Earth,” said Applewhite (now known as Do), was about to be recycled. “Your only chance to survive: Leave with us” (1997). Nettles (now known as Ti) had died in 1985, after which Applewhite's millennialism had become increasingly catastrophic (Zeller 2006, 85). Heaven's Gate left a note saying, “We came from the level above human in distant space.” Having completed their work, it was time to shed their bodies and return home. Do (Applewhite) now taught that Ti (Nettles) would take them in the spaceship to the next level, The Level Above Human (TELAH). Applewhite posted a message on the group's website hinting at their impending suicide. “Hale-Bopp brings closure to Heaven's Gate.”

Whether Hale-Bopp has a “companion” or not is irrelevant from our perspective. However, its arrival is joyously very significant to us at “Heaven's Gate.” The joy is that our Older Member in the Evolutionary Level Above Human (the “Kingdom of Heaven”) has made it clear to us that Hale-Bopp's approach is the “marker” we’ve been waiting for—the time of the arrival of the spacecraft from the Level Above Human to take us home to “Their World”—in the literal Heavens. Our 22 years of classroom here on planet Earth is finally coming to a conclusion—“graduation” from the Human Evolutionary Level. We are happily prepared to leave “this world” and go with Ti's crew. (1997)

As Yonina Talmon observed, millenarian movements range from the relatively passive, in which adherents are encouraged to purify themselves and watch for signs of the Millennium, to extremely activist, aggressive, and sometimes violent movements (Talmon 1966, 179–80). As in the case of Heaven's Gate, a group might introject its aggression and commit suicide. Mass suicide, psychoanalyst A. M. Joost Meerloo wrote, “is more than a passive surrender to fate because of a guilt reaction; it is also a primitive, mystical means of escaping into the comfort of death, in order to find a new and better life” (1968/1949, 95).

Catherine Wessinger (2000, 229–46) describes Heaven's Gate as a fragile millennial movement whose members reacted to internal stresses caused by the threat to their ultimate concern (the transformation of their finite human bodies into eternal, neuter extraterrestrial bodies) prompted by the death of Ti in 1985 and Do's anticipation of his own imminent death, as well as perceived opposition in the form of negative media attention and reactions to their message on the Internet in 1997.

Chen Tao

Needless to say, not all millenarian UFO religions are suicidal. In 1998 Chen Tao, also known as God's Salvation Church and as God Saves the Earth Flying Saucer Association, predicted that the United States would be spared in a 1999 nuclear war in which four-fifths of humanity would perish (Wessinger 2000, 253–63). Chen Tao was based on the teachings of Chen Hon-ming (b. 1955), a former sociology professor (p. 597) from Taiwan, who brought his followers to the United States to escape nuclear holocaust. Initially they lived in San Dimas, California, but they moved to Garland, Texas, because Chen thought Garland sounded like God's Land. Apart from a central belief in God's flying saucers, Chen Tao was a syncretism of Buddhism, Christianity, and Taiwanese folk religion (Wessinger 2000, 255).

Teacher Chen (as he was known) predicted that God would appear on television worldwide on 19 March 1998, and then in person on 31 March, when, according to the Chen Tao manual of religion (God's Descending in Clouds [Flying Saucers] on Earth to Save People), God would descend in a flying saucer and assume the form of Teacher Chen, at which time there would be two Chens. Teacher Chen also made predictions for the following year: in January, China would invade Taiwan; in February, war would break out on the Korean peninsula; on 25 March, followers would rendezvous with flying saucers in Gary, Indiana, on the shores of Lake Michigan (where in 1997 they had performed a purification ceremony) and be borne first to Mars and then to Heaven; in June and July East Asia would suffer economic collapse; in August, three nuclear power plants would explode in Taiwan; and in October nuclear war would begin in the Middle East. According to Chen Tao, Earth had experienced four previous cataclysmic nuclear wars, and God's chosen had been removed by flying saucers, returning after war and living underground until safe to return to the surface (CESNUR [2008]).

When God failed to make his scheduled TV appearance on 19 March, rather than committing mass suicide (as the public had feared, given the demise of Heaven's Gate the year before), Teacher Chen told the press: “Because we did not see God's image on television tonight, my predictions of March 31 can be considered nonsense” (CNN Reports 1998). Nevertheless, people gathered in Chen's front yard to see if God would appear as predicted. Teacher Chen and his followers subsequently left Garland, and a number of members returned to Taiwan (Wessinger 2000, 262).

The Raelian Movement

Perhaps the most successful organized UFO religion is the Raelian Movement (Palmer 1995, 2004). Raelianism is based on the teachings of Claude Vorilhon (b. 1946)—a.k.a. Rael, Light of the Elohim—who on 13 December 1973 saw a flying saucer descend near the volcanoes of Clermont-Ferrand in central France. A door opened in the craft and a human-looking being emerged whom Vorilhon first thought was a child. Although small, the being was adult and one of the Elohim, extraterrestrial scientists who created all living things on Earth. Rael's Elohim are not gods but human beings, albeit of an elder race and our creators. In fact, according to Rael there is no God, and the church is useful only insofar as it will enable the Elohim to be recognized as our creators when they return.

(p. 598) Rael: Light of the Elohim

The Elohim, Vorilhon claims, had been watching him all his life and had prepared him as the Prophet of the Age of Apocalypse. Initially the movement was called MADECH—Mouvement pour l’accueil des Elohim créateurs de l’humanité (Movement for the Welcome of the Elohim Creators of Humanity) or Moise a devancé Élie et le Christ (Moses Preceded Elijah and Christ)—but in 1975 the Elohim authorized that the name should be changed to the Raelian Movement (Rael 1986, 119). Until the 1980s Raelianism diffused primarily through the international French community. Under the influence of Japanese Raelians, English translations of Rael's books were first published in 1986.

The Embassy

According to Rael, the mid-1940s development of nuclear weapons signaled to the Elohim that humanity was ready for reestablished contact with their creators. The beginning of the Aquarian Age, according to Vorilhon, coincided with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1946, the year Vorilhon was born.10 Of course, Raelians are not alone in their enthusiasm for the Jewish state. The Jews’ return to Palestine has long been heralded by Christian Dispensationalists and many Jewish Zionists as a prerequisite to the Messianic Age (Weber 1987, 204–26; see also chapter 26 by Glenn W. Shuck and chapter 34 by Yaakov Ariel, both in this volume). Rael claims the Elohim instructed him to build an embassy near Jerusalem where they will officially meet with the political leaders of Earth. Raelians are encouraged to contribute at least 3 percent of their income to help build the embassy, which should be “the only preoccupation of true Raelians” (Rael 1989, 51). Rael's embassy is the clear reflex of the rebuilt (third) Temple in Jerusalem, regarded by many Christians as necessary for the Second Coming and by many Zionists as requisite for the Messianic Age.

Cloning, Immortality, and Resurrection

Rael claims to have been taken in a flying saucer in 1975 to the Elohim home planet and to the smaller nearby Planet of the Eternals, where he met Moses, Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad, as well as Yahweh, who rules the Elohim home planet and presides over the Planet of the Eternals. On the latter, humans live some seven hundred years and at death are re-created—cloned from a single cell taken from their old body prior to death. On the Planet of the Eternals, Yahweh and Jesus told Rael that his father was Yahweh, who also fathered Jesus by impregnating an Earth woman aboard an Elohim spaceship.

After the explosion at Hiroshima, we decided that the time had come for us to send a new messenger on Earth. He would be the last prophet, but the first one to address mankind asking them to understand and not to believe. We then selected (p. 599) a woman, as we had done in the time of Jesus. This woman was taken aboard one of our ships and inseminated as we had done with the mother of Jesus. Then she was freed after we had totally erased from her memory all traces of what had happened. (Rael 1989, 23)

144,000: Sealed in the Forehead

Only those individuals who have had their “cellular plan” transmitted to Rael or a designated Raelian Guide will be re-created (cloned) on the Planet of the Eternals. This will be accomplished by being “sealed in the forehead…by manual contact between our prophet and their frontal bone, which contains the purest and the exact genetic code. The total of those who will be ‘sealed in the forehead’ will be close to one hundred and forty-four thousand” (Rael 1989, 125–26), in fulfillment of Revelation 7:1–8 and 14:1, 3–5, where it is prophesied that 144,000 chosen ones who bear the seal of the living God on their foreheads will reign with God.


Humanity, according to Rael, is on the threshold of a biological revolution in which we will be able to create life as the Elohim created us. In 1997 the Raelian Movement established Clonaid, whose director, Brigitte Boisselier (b. 1956), a Raelian bishop with a doctorate in biomolecular chemistry, announced in 2002 that a cloned baby girl had been born, whom they named Eve. Rael teaches that we must show our Elohim creators that we are proud of having been created in their image by one day being able to create human beings in our image.

The ET Sons of God

Rael is not the first to claim that the biblical Elohim were the ET creators of humanity. Many UFO enthusiasts believe that “Elohim” refers to a race of godlike ETs, pointing (like Rael) to Genesis 6 for evidence that ETs interbred with early humans or an early hominid to produce hybrid offspring:

When men had begun to become plentiful on the earth, and daughters had been born to them, the sons of God, looking at the daughters of men, saw that they were pleasing, so they married as many as they chose. Yaweh said, “My spirit must not forever be disgraced in man, for he is but flesh; his life shall last no more than a hundred and twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth at that time (and even afterward) when the sons of God resorted to the daughters of man, and had children by them. These are the heroes of days gone by, the famous men. (Genesis 6:1–6, Jerusalem Bible)

(p. 600) Whereas in Genesis Elohim speaks in the plural—“Let us make mankind in our image and likeness” (1:27)—biblical scholars generally see this not as a plurality of gods arising from a biblical subsoil of Mesopotamian myth, but as a plural of majesty or as Elohim addressing his angels. The Elohim of UFO myth are the bene ha’elohim, the sons of God of Genesis 6. The Ethiopic Book of Enoch portrays them not as the creators of life on Earth but as the Watchers, guardians of terrestrial creation. Led by Semjasa and Azazel, two hundred descended to Earth on Mount Hermon (Enoch 6:6–8), where Syria, Lebanon, and Israel now meet. Not only did the Watchers interbreed with human women (Enoch 6:1–6), they also imparted the arts of civilization to humanity (Enoch 8:1–3).

Swiss contactee Eduard “Billy” Meier (b. 1937) claims regular contact since 1975 with Semjase, an idealized ET human from the planet Erra in the Pleiades. Meier's Semjase is the euhemerized reflex, it would seem, of the Angel Watcher Semjasa (a.k.a. Samiasa, Samyaza, Shamyaza, Semihazah, Shemihazah, Shemyazaz, etc.), leader of the bene ha’elohim. Contending that Adam was created not by Yahweh but by Semjase, Meier collected Semjase's teachings into book form, Contact Notes, over eighteen hundred pages detailing cosmogenesis, the history of the universe, human life on other planets, humanity's place in the cosmos, reincarnation, Earth's history dating back some 22 million years, the lost continents of Atlantis and Mu, Pleiadean beamship technology, Jesus, God, and Semjase (Kinder 1987).11

Christian myth, of course, divides angels into those loyal to God and those loyal to Satan. George Hunt Williamson distinguished between two groups of Space Intelligences, those originating from the Pleiades and those from Orion. Whereas the Pleiadeans are our space friends, the latter (the Intruders) are hostile to humanity (1953, 387, 399). On the basis of the Book of Enoch, Elizabeth Clare Prophet (1939–2009), cofounder with her husband Mark Prophet (1918–73) of Summit Lighthouse and the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT), describes ET fallen angels who seek humanity's ruin (2000).12 As Evangelical Christians John Weldon and Zola Levitt write:

Not all “sons of God” are positive spirits, obviously, and the generally accepted theological interpretation of this passage is that the “sons” are the angels who rebelled against God. Christ referred to them as unclean spirits and demons. As such, their coming down from the sky to intermingle with men is reasonable in the Biblical orientation. The devil himself is spoken of as a heavenly rebel, deriving his supernatural powers from his original position as one of God's angels. Is it surprising, then, many civilizations noted in their literature and artifacts the presence of supernatural beings, usually emanating from the skies? It is perfectly reasonable, from a Biblical point of view, to expect that the UFOs represent demonic activity. Contact with them will grieve God, as it did in Genesis 6, and he will remonstrate with man in a disastrous way. (1975, 22–23)

Zecharia Sitchin (b. 1922) equates the Annunaki, the gods of the Babylonian Enuma Elish, with the bene ha’elohim, the sons of God of Genesis 6, and asserts that Nephilim properly refers not to the hybrid offspring but to the godlike ETs themselves, who came to Earth from an undiscovered twelfth planet in the solar system (p. 601) (recall that George Adamski also described twelve planets), which Sitchin calls Nibiru or Marduk (Nibiru is generally thought to have been Jupiter, the fifth planet of our solar system, and was associated by the Babylonians with the god Marduk). In the Enuma Elish, Marduk created the first humans from the blood of the slain Kingu to serve the Annunaki. Modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiensis), according to Sitchin, were laborers created by the Nephilim through genetic manipulation of Homo erectus, the mythic prototype being Enkidu of the Epic of Gilgamesh (1976, 357).

New Age religionists and longtime flying saucer enthusiasts Brad and Francie Steiger refer to the ET ancestors as the “Starsowers” and to the Nephilim-dominant descendants of ET-human hybridization as the “Starseeds.” Rather than directly intervening in humanity's affairs (landing en masse), the Starsowers have interacted with us genetically, encoding their spiritual knowledge and teachings in DNA information packets that are being disinhibited in the Nephilim-dominant descendants as the New Age dawns (Steiger and Steiger 1981).

Ongoing ET-Human Hybridization

ET-human hybridization is not restricted to prehistory, according to many UFO enthusiasts, but is ongoing. From the alleged 1961 alien abduction of Betty and Barney Hill (1919–2004; 1923–69) (Fuller 1966) and the 1967 abduction of Betty Andreasson (Fowler 1979) emerged the template for a tradition of abduction, examination, revelation, and return to the world forgetful of experiences subsequently recalled through hypnosis. John Whitmore (1995) and Christopher Partridge (2003b) have described the religious dimension of this abduction tradition.

In the 1980s and 1990s this tradition was influenced by novelist and UFO enthusiast Whitley Strieber's immensely popular book series: Communion (1987), Transformation: The Breakthrough (1988), Breakthrough: The Next Step (1995), and The Secret School: Preparation for Contact (1997). Strieber describes his repeated abduction by small, gray-skinned humanoids (“Visitors”) resembling those described since Betty and Barney Hill's report. Rather than engage in mass landings and open contact, the Visitors repress human memories of their existence that will be released into conscious awareness as the New Age dawns, when the Visitors’ existence and purpose will seem perfectly familiar and nonthreatening.

Like Rael's Elohim, the ETs of current lore are very interested in human reproduction; like the sons of God in Genesis 6 and Angel Watchers in the Book of Enoch, they are intent on creating a hybrid race. According to historian David Jacobs, who has become a UFO believer, “one of the purposes for which UFOs travel to Earth is to abduct humans to help aliens to produce other Beings…. The focus of the abduction is the production of children” (1992, 305–6). Psychiatrist John E. Mack (1929–2004), who also became a UFO believer, writes on the basis of hypnotherapy (p. 602) sessions with self-identified UFO abductees: “My own impression is that we may be witnessing…an awkward joining of two species, engineered by an intelligence we are unable to fathom, for a purpose that serves both of our goals…. I base this view on the evidence presented by the abductees themselves” (1994, 413–14). The current hybridization project, according to evangelical Christian UFO watch groups, is what Jesus meant when he said that in the final days it will be “as it was in the days of Noah” (Luke 17:26). According to Watcher Website:

By genetically manipulating human genetics, whether through the guise of “alien abduction” or by supplying willing mortal accomplices with the proper technology…there is currently being created humanoid hybrids who are not-quite-human. These genetically altered humans are no longer Sons of Adam, and no longer able to be saved by the Kinsman Redeemer. (Watcher Website [2008])

Many New Age ET/UFO religionists, on the other hand, see hybridization as a convergence of opposites heralding the New Age (Flaherty 1990). Raydia, reputedly a fifth-dimensional being from Arcturus, was channeled by Lyssa Royal (1988) as saying:

Now, in relation to the hybrids…‘Tis not just for the purpose of creating another race. ‘Tis also for you and them to integrate the polarities of the self. As you interact with them on a soul level, you will begin to integrate the idea of individuality within a collective group, and they will learn individuality…. It is a blending, it is a sharing, it is representing that the time has come for both of your civilizations to embrace the other polarity that it has been hiding. That is what communion is all about. It is a very strong spiritual communion, a communion that will rattle the universe.

UFOs and Harmonic Convergence

In early 1987 José Argüelles announced that on 16 August 1987 Earth would enter a twenty-five-year Mark Age preceding the New Age, which would begin in 2012 with Earth's admission to the Galactic Federation (Argüelles 1987; see also chapter 29 by Phillip Charles Lucas, this volume).13 Humans would be given the choice between the New Age or global destruction, the latter being averted only if 144,000 people gathered at sacred places around the world. That event was known as the Harmonic Convergence.

The gatherings were to create trust and a deepening relationship with ET intelligences. The Mayan calendar, according to Argüelles, is a “galactic calling-card” left by the Maya, who were extraterrestrials. Argüelles credits their seemingly sudden disappearance (long a matter of debate among archaeologists) to having been “called home.” Why haven’t the ETs made open contact with humanity yet? Argüelles responded to the Los Angeles Times: “They haven’t been asked. Moreover, they don’t (p. 603) trust us. Would you? One of the reasons for harmonic convergence is to establish a field of trust” (“Resonating” 1987).

While the present cycle of the Mayan calendar began in 3114 b.c.e. and ends in 2012 c.e., there is no indication that the Maya believed the twenty-five-year period prior to the calendar's end to be a period of spiritual preparation. Needless to say, the Maya were not ETs, and more recent archeological evidence indicates that they simply abandoned their ceremonial centers. Reason aside, heightened UFO religious enthusiasm and greater New Age millenarian fervor can be anticipated around the year 2012 (Sitler 2006).

Conclusion: ET Saviors, UFOs, and the Historical Moment

Sigmund Freud observed that religion is born of “the need to make tolerable the helplessness of man” (1957, 29). UFO religion is no exception. Celestial deities, according to Mircea Eliade, are invoked “in cases of extreme distress…especially in cases of disaster proceeding from the sky” (1959, 126). Israeli folklorist Raphael Patai notes that belief in flying saucers is nourished by a desire for planetary escape (1972, 319). A belief in ET saviors who will avert nuclear holocaust (see chapter 4 by Daniel Wojcik, this volume), evacuate a chosen people, or help a surviving remnant restore Earth after nuclear disaster is a rationalization of the biblical myth of the Rapture and Apocalypse, and a compensatory mythological response to the threat of nuclear destruction (Flaherty 1990).

Other global crises are also subject to compensatory resolution in soteriological myths of extraterrestrial intervention (see chapter 32 by Robin Globus and Bron Taylor, this volume).14 “Information about ecological disaster with powerful apocalyptic imagery,” according to John Mack, “is also commonly described as being transmitted by the aliens to human subjects” (1994, 52). In the 1980s Whitley Strieber alleged to have received information from the Visitors regarding eco-disaster: in particular, ozone depletion and increased ultraviolet radiation of Earth. In the early twenty-first century the perceived threat is not so much ozone depletion as global warming. In 2007 a former Canadian defense minister was quoted as saying that ET technology holds the key to solving the crisis: “Climate change is the No. 1 problem facing the world today. I would like to see what (alien) technology there might be that could eliminate the burning of fossil fuels within a generation…that could be a way to save our planet” (Lackner 2007).

While one may grant, as Carl Jung quipped, that it is good for us to believe in angels (1969, 11),15 the danger of UFO religion and New Age ET soteriology is one of religion in general: that a literal interpretation of myth will confirm believers in (p. 604) their helplessness and in their imagined dependence on superhuman beings reified in tradition and the popular imagination.16


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                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (1.) See, for example, Lewis 1995, 2003a; Partridge 2003a; Palmer 2004; Saliba 1995b; Tumminia 2005, 2007. Robert Ellwood refers to the religious valorization of UFOs as “UFOism” (Ellwood 1995).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (2.) Belief in UFOs is even reported to have played a peripheral role in the mythology of Shōkō Ashara's Aum Shinrikyō—the group responsible for releasing sarin gas on the Tokyo subway in 1995—which was reported in Japan (I was in Japan when Asahara was arrested) but not, as far as I know, by Western news media.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (3.) In 1956 George Hunt Williamson moved to Peru, where he established the Brotherhood of the Seven Rays. In 1961, writing as Brother Philip, he published The Secret of the Andes, a classic of New Age spirituality.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (4.) In the Hindu Puranas, Sanat Kumara is one of the four kumaras—Sanat Kumara, Sananda, Sanaka, and Sanatana—the eternally youthful, mind-born sons of the god Brahma. The Theosophical Sanat Kumara is the Ancient of Days and the Eternal Youth, the Lord of the World who rules from Shambhala on the etheric plane above what is now the Gobi Desert. Charles W. Leadbeater dated the arrival on Earth of Sanat Kumara to 18,500,000 Before Present (1925). A. E. Powell dated the arrival to 16.5 million years ago (1930, 216–17).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (5.) Trance channeling and possession have characterized shamanism and ecstatic religion throughout history. Prefiguring the contemporary ET-channeling tradition, Swiss psychiatrist Théodor Flournoy in 1894 met Hélène Smith, a spirit medium who channeled a number of distinct “Martian” personalities (Flournoy 1900, 10). Theosophists have described communications from the Theosophical Masters since the society was cofounded by Helena P. Blavatsky. A former Spiritualist and medium, she “taught that unconscious mediumship was inadvisable and contacted only lower order beings; hence, communications from Theosophical higher beings are usually described as occurring through the ‘overshadowing’ of a fully conscious student” (Catherine Wessinger, personal communication, 2008). Both UFOism and Spiritualism, Robert Ellwood writes, “presuppose an order of spiritually significant beings between the human and ultimate reality, with which one can have conversational and disciplic relationships. Whether spirits or space brothers, interaction with them opens up a sense of expanded consciousness and cosmic wonder” (1995, 394).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (6.) Van Tassel likely derived the name Ashtar from Ashtar, often spelled Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of love and consort of the god Marduk. Phoenicians worshipped her as Ashtarte, Moabites as Ashtar-Chemosh. In Arabia she became the male deity, Athtar, worshiped in Abyssinia as Ashtar. In the Bible the name was corrupted to Ashtoreth.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (7.) Sananda, like Sanat Kumara, is one of the Kumaras (mind-born sons of Brahma), who in Theosophy became the Lords of the Flame. For some, Sananda is the name of the ascended Jesus; for others, the reincarnated Jesus.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (8.) Dorothy Martin, known as Sister Thedra (“Mrs. Keech” in When Prophecy Fails), claimed to have been healed of cancer by Sananda in Mexico in 1954 and instructed by Sananda to go to Peru, where she lived at George Hunt Williamson's Abbey of the Seven Rays until 1961, when she returned to the United States and established the Association of Sananda and Sanat Kumara in 1965. She died in 1992 at age ninety-two.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (9.) The 144,000 anointed ones of God are mentioned in Revelation 7:3–8 and 14:1, 3–5. Christians variously hold that 144,000 is a symbolic reference to God's perfected Church or a literal reference to 144,000 saints who will reign with Christ on (an earthly or heavenly) Mount Zion. The 144,000 chosen ones are a feature of a number of New Age religions as well.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (10.) The United Nations approved a plan to partition Palestine into two states, Israel and Palestine, in 1947. Israel declared itself an independent state on 14 May 1948.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (11.) Pleiadian civilization, Semjase allegedly told Meier, originated not in the Pleiades but in the constellation Lyra. The Lyran home planet was destroyed in a world war, but some Lyrans escaped to the Pleiades and the Hyades (Kinder 1987, 98). The exploded planet has been a feature of the UFO myth since the 1950s, a Warnfikt (cautionary fiction) of the danger of nuclear war and world destruction, a fate we of Earth can avoid with the assistance of the space people. The Unarius Foundation maintains the existence of an exploded planet in the constellation Orion. The group that Leon Festinger and his colleagues described held that the planet Car was destroyed in a war between Lucifer-led “scientists” and Christ-led “people who followed the Light” (1964, 53). Often the exploded planet is not in a remote galaxy but in our own solar system, its debris forming the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The exploded planet has also been called Clarion, Masar, Lucifer, and Maldek.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (12.) For in-depth analysis of Prophet's teachings and the Church Universal and Triumphant see Lewis and Melton 1994.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (13.) The quarantine of Earth and its eventual (re)admission to the galactic federation has been a widespread feature of UFO/ET myth since the 1950s contactee movement and is central to the Urantia Book (1955), the massive channeled/revealed classic of American religion.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (14.) In director Scott Derrickson's (2008) remake of Robert Wise's classic (1951) film about ET intervention, the threat to Earth is no longer nuclear devastation, but environmental degradation.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (15.) “L’ange n’existe pas, mais il est bon pour votre santé que vous y croyiez” (Angels do not exist, but it is good for your health that you believe they do).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (16.) Stephen Gaskin (b. 1935), spiritual leader of The Farm, an intentional community in Tennessee, remarked: “Look, the flying saucer people are not going to come and pick up your mess, you dig that? There ain’t nobody going to pick it up but you, and if you don’t pick it up it ain’t going to get picked up” (1974).