The New York Times has taken the forefront of the so-called ‘Disclosure’ movement with their articles focused on the Pentagon’s secret UFO programs –both past and on-going– which started to slowly change the public conversation on this thorny topic since the late 2017. Back in December of that year, we learned that the US government’s interest on ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’ or UAP (the acronym nowadays favored by ‘serious’ researchers) had not disappeared with the cancelation of Project Blue Book, and in 2020 we have now received shocking –albeit unsubstantiated— revelations of alleged recovered artifacts of unknown origin; which may or may not be a central component in a new ‘arms race’ between the United States, and competing superpowers like China or Russia.
But just to remind us that the UFO onion is comprised of many different layers, and not just the ones cherry picked for easy and palatable consumption by interested parties, The NYT posted this week a short video devoted to a remnant of the golden years of the Contactee movement: The Aetherius Society.
The Aetherius Society is, along with the Unarius Society* and the Raelians, one of those groups which can be unmistakably labeled as a “UFO religion” –even though there are many other religious/spiritual movements (perhaps all of them!) which may find their origin linked to what we now call UFOs; like for example The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (a.k.a. the Mormons) or even the Nation of Islam, since their current leader Louis Farrakhan is a self-proclaimed contactee, and according to scholar Dr. Stephen Finley, many elements in their belief system are linked to UFO lore.
Notice how I choose to call the Aetherius Society a ‘UFO religion’ and not a ‘UFO cult’, and that is because to me the difference between the two lies in the effect these belief systems have on their members. Heaven’s Gate was a cult, because it estranged their members from the rest of society, and became internationally famous once they decided to follow their leader Marshall Applewhite to the ultimate renunciation of this world –by way of suicide.
The religion founded by former taxi driver and ‘yoga master’ George King, who was one day washing the dishes when he heard the “calling to become an ambassador for planet Earth” (and, curiously enough, died in the same year as Applewhite and his acolytes) is not devoted to selfish disavowal of Earthly affairs –or poisonous apple sauce. On the contrary, their primary goal is world peace and the uplifting of all humanity. In the New York Times video the viewer can have a rare glimpse of their sacred ceremonies in which they pray and chant to ‘charge’ spiritual batteries that are placed on special locations in order to raise the psychic vibrations of the planet –listening to The Saucer Life’s podcast episode devoted to King and his claims is highly recommended.
When I found this video it sparked in me a wave of nostalgia which transported me back to the Spring of 2017. It was at that time that I, along with some of my best friends and esteemed colleagues, traveled to Los Angeles, California, for our annual ParaMania reunion. ParaMania (a name coined by the incomparable Tim Binnall) was conceived as a gathering of like minded iconoclasts and fellow Forteans without the scheduling pressures of a regular paranormal conference. My friend and mentor, Greg Bishop, acted as designated host and tour guide around his city, and on the penultimate day of our trip he took us to this quiet neighborhood where the Los Angeles center of the Aetherius Society is located.
At first we thought we would only be able to check out the building from outside because the L.A. center is NOT really open to visitors, but we decided to press our luck and rang the bell. The dark, metallic Gothic-meets-Jetsons garage door was opened just enough to show a friendly face with a gentle smile; it was Ernesto, the same young man featured in the NYT video. He asked us what we wanted and Greg put his magic to work: he explained we were a group of students of UFOlogy and that we wanted to know more about the Aetherius society, and to seal the deal Greg used an ace he had up his sleeve: “I met George King.”
At the sound of the Master’s name, Ernesto’s eyes brightened and the doors were fully open: we were welcomed in and allowed to look around and also take photos, giving us full access to the center with the exception of a ceremony hall in which a ‘charging ceremony’ (like the one depicted in the video) was being celebrated. He even offered us a delicious cup of Earl Grey and answered the few questions some of us had, while the rest of us were silently appreciating the collection of weird and beautiful artifacts adorning this most peculiar place of adoration.
The atmosphere inside this dwelling where Angelenos chant mantras and pray to their extraterrestrial guides was the opposite of oppressive: their courtyard –which Ernesto was sweeping before we interrupted him– was impeccably clean, and their lush garden a respite to the harsh Californian sun. Most of the members of the Los Angeles center are senior citizens, a sign that the Aetherius society is not particularly interested in proselytizing to gain new adherents. Nobody asked for our phone number or email address to send us more information, and Ernesto never asked for donations –in fact, I don’t think they even take donations! They did have a small shop selling books and other little souvenirs, and as a token of appreciation my friend Steve Ray and I bought a blue polo shirt with the Aetherius emblem embroidered, which has now become my favorite piece of attire.
In an age in which many people treat their smartphone as their personal god, I often think of the role still played by religions and spirituality in our society. It’s not only the fact that as the world gets ever more littered by materialistic gadgetry, that many of us crave for a true connection with the numinous, but also by the affects our personal beliefs have in our lives and behavior. “By their fruits you shall know them,” as I once read in some book…
So, if praying to ETs and placing their hand on a box, believing they are charging it with positive energy, is helping people like Ernesto be the best version of themselves, I personally have no problem with that. On the contrary, I would ask to the people who may mock such behavior –be they hardcore skeptics or the ‘true believers’ who care only about “moving Disclosure forward” by getting rid of the ‘silly’ Contactee/Abductee legacy of past decades, or any other high-strangeness baggage slowing UFOlogy down– to take a good, hard look at your personal BS (belief system) and ask yourselves this: “Is your given attitude toward UFOs helping to bring out the best in you… or the worst?
NOTE: As stated above, the Los Angeles center for the Aetherius Society is not regularly open for visits. Do NOT expect to be allowed entrance if you stop by. And if you do, be respectful and courteous during your stay.
(*) Nowadays they prefer to be called ‘The Unarius Academy of Science’, because apparently anyone can claim to be a scientific academy nowadays… right?