By Anna Kira Hippert
The Raëlian movement, also called Raëlianism or the Raëlian religion, is a new religious movement (NRM) based on a belief in UFOs and extraterrestrial life. The movement was founded in 1976 in France by Claude Vorilhon. The movement has 65,000 members worldwide, with 50,000 in Canada and France and 100 in Britain
Claude Vorilhon, born in France in 1946, claims he encountered extraterrestrial beings on 13 December 1973 and received a message for humanity stating that humanoid extraterrestrials called Elohim (“those who came from the sky”) came to Earth 25,000 years ago and created life with their ability to control human DNA. Vorilhon says he was told that humans were implanted on Earth by the Elohim, created in laboratories from the Elohim’s DNA. The Elohim gave Vorilhon the name Raël (“who brings the light of the Elohim” or “messenger of the Elohim”) and appointed him as their ambassador on Earth. His task is to warn mankind that it entered the Age of Apocalypse after the first nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. Humanity was then at a point where it had to decide whether to destroy itself in a nuclear war or learn to live together peacefully.
In 1974 Vorilhon, a journalist and former racing driver, published his first book, Le Livre Qui Dit la Vérité (The Book Which Tells the Truth). On 7 October 1975, Raël claimed to have had another encounter with the Elohim, in which they revealed to him the rules of a valuable life, which inspired him to write Les Extra-terrestres M’ont Emmené sur Leur Planète (Extraterrestrials Took Me to Their Planet). In it, Vorilhon provides descriptions of his visit to the Elohim’s (nameless) home planet. During this encounter, he learnt about the society of the Elohim, including their political system and lifestyle. In their society only the most intelligent were chosen to be leaders and to govern the planet. Raël was also introduced to the “sensual meditation technique”, which was later practiced by Raël’s followers.
How is the Raëlian movement structured?
All members of the Raëlian movement are asked to donate 10 per cent of their income, to finance the construction of an embassy for the Elohim in Jerusalem to welcome them. Raël also introduced ground rules for food and drugs. With the intention to maintain a pure genetic code, Raëlians are not allowed to consume caffeine, smoke cigarettes, or use recreational drugs. Most members strive for a healthy vegetarian lifestyle. Within the movement there is a hierarchy, a structure with different levels of membership, from 0 to 6. The highest position can be achieved only by Raël (Vorilhon) himself, as the guides reelect Raël every seven years in a “vote of confidence”. Over time, a council was founded to ensure that members followed the rules around diet and lifestyle. Before Raël introduced the different levels and the new structure, the number of members fluctuated greatly, but they later stabilised.
What do Raëlians believe?
Raëlians believe that life on Earth was created by the Elohim in a scientific manner. Extraterrestrials have access to advanced technologies that help them to create humans, animals, landscapes and even atmosphere. The Elohim themselves are said to be a race of their own and, individually, comparable to small humans. Raëlians believe that through the scientific technologies of the Elohim, humans will be able to achieve relative immortality by cloning and travelling through the universe, creating life from DNA. Individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to humanity — these do not have to be Raëlians — will be considered worthy to be recreated by the Elohim.
Emerging from the Abrahamic traditions, Raëlianism takes up the strands of Jewish messianism and prophecy and also reinterprets the Book of Revelation. Raël claims that during his encounter it was revealed to him that the Elohim sent the commonly known prophets, such as Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and the Buddha, to Earth to help mankind survive and to guide them into the future. These prophets were conceived as the result of sexual intercourse between a human woman and one Eloha as a result of DNA synthesis and genetic engineering. Raël is said to be the last prophet and was sent by the Elohim to Earth.
It is believed that in the year 2035, the Elohim will return to earth on the condition that humanity fulfills the main goals of the movement — namely spreading Raël’s teachings and building an “embassy” to welcome the 39 prophets and extraterrestrial scientists, who then will reveal their scientific knowledge to humanity.
To become a Raëlian, a novice must be baptised. This baptism is called “transmission” or “the cellular plan” within the Raëlian movement. This initiation rite is performed only by upper-level members — priests or bishop guides. The transmission rite is bound to the Raëlian Calendar and is carried out four times a year. The ritual is performed for the first time in the year on the first Sunday in April and commemorates the initial ritual, which took place on the first Sunday in April, 1976, when Raël baptised 40 new members. It is also said to be the anniversary of the day when the Elohim created Adam and Eve. The second date is 6 August, the day on which the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and reminds members of the destructiveness of humankind and that the Age of Apocalypse is in progress. The third date is 7 October, the day Raël says he met prophets such as Jesus, Muhammad and the Buddha on board the spacecraft during his second encounter. The last date is 13 December, which is the date of Raël’s first encounter with the Elohim and his anointing as the chosen prophet. It is celebrated as a holiday by members.
The baptism itself is similar to Christian baptism — one guide member sprinkles water onto the forehead of the new member. An important part of this ritual is telepathic communication with the extraterrestrials. To strengthen the connection, the guides build a human chain holding each other, hand to hand. Raëlians believe that this helps to transmit the genetic code of each new member to the Elohim who record their genetic information and will become recognised when the Elohim return and members will be judged. If considered worthy, the Elohim will be able to ensure the immortality of members, potentially cloning the body of every member. New initiates sign a contract that permits a mortician to cut out a piece of bone from their forehead (the “third eye”) after death, and post it, packed in ice, to Raël, who will take it to the Elohim. It is not recorded whether this procedure has ever been carried out.
Sensual meditation is claimed to be an ecstatic technique that was taught by the Elohim to Raël during his second encounter on their planet. In 1980, he published a book about this technique — a guideline for achieving a “cosmic orgasm”. The first exercise of sensual meditation is introduced during a seminar for beginners. Members lie on the floor in dim light during the monthly meetings. A guide speaks softly through a microphone and leads the participants through a relaxation exercise called harmonisation avec l’infini (harmonisation with the infinite). This exercise begins with deep breathing and travel through different body parts, which seems similar to autogenous training, a procedure that leads to the relaxation of the body. During the routine, members repeat a formula such as “I am very calm” or “My arms and legs are very warm”. This leads to a sense of calmness or warmness. These formulas indirectly address the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for switching between tension and relaxation. Then a guided visualisation seeking a telepathic connection with the Elohim “leads the member back to the planet of the Elohim”. It is not uncommon for members to perform sensual meditation daily with a half-hour tape recording that involves sensual awareness techniques and a guided meditation into the infinity of space and time, envisioned as a kind of macrocosm within a microcosm.
Attitudes toward sexuality
Sexuality is very important in the belief system of the movement. Raël promotes free love and believes that sex is a normal, important, and healthy part of life. There is no homophobic thinking nor is there any discrimination because of sexual orientation in Raëlianism. Raëlians also strongly advocate equality and fight against racism. Gay marches and protests against sexism and racism are part of the movement. For instance, the movement is known for their “topless women marches” for equal rights, as Raël claims that women should have constitutional rights to be topless in public. Raël founded an organisation Firephim (International Federation of Minority Religions and Philosophies), which focuses on the concerns mentioned above.
As Raël has written in his book Let’s Welcome our Fathers from Space (1987), sexuality is a gift of pleasure from the Elohim to mankind. Regarding marriage and relationships in general, Raël advocates polygamy over monogamy. According to him, long-term relationships are not worthwhile, as problems often arise over time. When that happens, separating and remaining friends is the only way to proceed; otherwise, the relationship will become, what Raël calls, “hellish”. The Raëlian approach to having children is similarly radical. His fundamental idea is similar to the one-child policy formerly practised in China, which mandated that families limit their offspring to one as a way to control population growth. There is no specific limit to numbers of children in the Raëlian movement, but this expectation still predominates, because Raëlians believe overpopulation is a world crisis. Therefore, birth control and abortion are highly recommended. Most Raëlians are said to not be interested in having children and do not strive for parenthood. Raëlians also hold summer courses and summer camps to help members discover their own sexuality. The focus here lies on sensual meditation.
In 1997, the Raëlian movement founded Clonaid, an organisation dedicated to human cloning (during this time, cloning was a popular topic for discussion after a cloned sheep, Dolly, was born). In 2002, Clonaid claimed that it had successfully cloned a human being, a baby named Eve. This claim received much media attention, most of it negative, and most independent scientists doubted the claim. Clonaid allow no independent scientists to examine the baby nor did it allow them to see the technology with which Eve was cloned. The organisation has since claimed to have created other cloned babies and it still advertises cloning services to members of the public who can pay for them. However, scientific consensus is that no cloned babies have been created.
Other controversies focus mainly on sexual permissiveness. Since its inception, the movement has been attacked in newspapers, on television, and in anticult literature. The majority of the allegations were related to both sexual abuse of women and brainwashing. Criticism has also focused on the rejection of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and the promotion of the utopian ideal of a “geniocracy” — a system of governments requiring a minimal criterion of intelligence for political candidates. This framework was proposed by Raël in 1977.
Additionally, there were controversies about the official symbol of the movement, which is a hexagram surrounding a swastika. Most Raëlians wore this symbol as an amulet on a necklace. After a protest by Jews against the combination of the Star of David and the swastika, it was replaced by a stylised flower. However, members still hope for worldwide acceptance of the swastika, as they want to restore the original meaning of the symbol, which includes peace, good luck and wellbeing. In 2009, Raël declared 23 June as “Swastika Rehabilitation Day” and, every June (the exact date varies) Raëlians hold events to educate the public about the symbol’s true meanings.
Despite these controversies and criticisms, the Raëlian movement remains active and they have defended their rights through court cases and public demonstrations on numerous occasions.
Susan Palmer, affiliate professor, Concordia University, Canada
Benjamin Zeller, associate professor of religion, Lake Forest College, United States
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Anna Kira Hippert is a research associate at the Centre for Religious Studies, Ruhr-Universitat Bochum, Germany, and a researcher at INFORM, an independent, educational charity based at King’s College London, which provides information about minority religious, spiritual and political movements