My UFO Cult Adventure
I first saw it on the way to my cousin's house, sitting by itself on the corner of 12 Mile and Evergreen. The small white building looked kind of like a dentist's office, but less kept. There were no windows, no colors, no markings of any kind except a single closed wooden door with black letters which read: AETHERIUS SOCIETY. I passed it many times, and my curiosity grew with each passing. The door was always shut. No one went in or out. Nothing for the senses but those two words against the white silence of the building's face and below them a polished brass doorknob begging to be turned.
I wasn't convinced Aetherius was a real word, but I turned to the A section of my fattest dictionary and there it was. Aetherius: Greek. The embodiment of the sky or air.
A Google search brought me the group's homepage, aetherius.org, where I was greeted with a photoshopped hodgepodge of outer space phenomena accompanied by the words, “Blessed is the Great Being known as the Galaxy.” The site relays the exploits of their Father Founder Dr. George King, a London taxi-driver, yoga fanatic, inventor of advanced technological devices, cult leader, and medium for extra-terrestrial aliens. The Aetherius Society meets every Sunday and Wednesday to study the writings of aliens and charge mystical batteries with spiritual energy which will be used by aliens in flying saucers to heal the world. It was every bit as bizarre as I had hoped. That's it. I said to myself. I'm going.
Me, my neighbor Skyler and my professor Brent piled into a car in our Sunday's best and headed to UFO church. As we pulled up, we wondered how many people would be there. As we approached the parking lot it looked empty. Then we saw a single car. Then two, three, ten. A respectable gathering for a small church. We were at the Society's new location. They're no longer in that tiny white building but a rather nice looking church with red bricks and stained-glass windows. Approaching the door alongside our fellow churchgoers, we silently reminded ourselves of what we decided in the car on the way here. 1) We will not laugh in their faces or otherwise reveal that we think they are out of their minds. 2) No matter how thirsty, we will under no circumstances drink the Kool-Aid.
As we stepped into the doorway, we were greeted by the hungry eyes of two old ladies. Right off, they seemed kind of weird. They had big eyes, very attentive, and very glad to see us. Too glad. To be fair, I've been greeted by similar greeters at several normal, Christian churches. People at the door who are far too smiley. Protestant clergy or UFO nuts, it creeps me out just the same. Behind the two old women with unreal grins was this massive, framed picture.
It is the Christening of the American branch of the Aetherius society. In the middle of a god-forsaken desert on a sunny day, a small crowd in colorful church clothes watch one man, in awe of his godlike power. It is none other than their father-founder George King. Dressed like an odd safari guide, he is facing an odd-looking device on top of a tripod. Tubes and wires protrude from a metal box, though it's hard to see how they connect to each other or what the contraption could possibly do. Before a small crowd of colorful onlookers, the man glares at it and lunges his hands forward dramatically.
They join in the chanting and hand-stretching to share their energies with the rest of the world. You see, if one person sends his energy into the battery for an hour, that constitutes one prayer hour of energy. This is a measurable unit, like a teaspoon or a kilowatt, which turns the effectiveness of prayer into pure mathematical precision. Ten people praying for 2 hours creates 20 prayer hours of energy. This energy is stored in the spiritual energy battery pictured above. It will then be released through a special radiator to a flying saucer which will take it to those in need. Perhaps by being out here all day, they might charge the prayer battery with enough positive energy to at least relieve the suffering from a small mudslide somewhere in the world.
Here is Dr. George King again, looking like the kind of serious, dignified man you might expect to see in a 1950s drama. He looks intelligent and reasonable. But, apparently, he speaks for aliens. I couldn't help but wonder what kind of person he was. I am reminded of another reasonable man, L. Ron Hubbard. He's the science fiction author behind the appallingly mediocre John Trovolta movie Battlefield Earth, as well as a handful of cheesy bargain bin sci-fi novels you've never heard of. At a Sci-fi authors convention in the 1940s, Hubbard blurted, "Y'know, we're all wasting our time writing this hack science fiction! You wanna make real money, you gotta start a religion!” In 1952, he founded Scientology, a bogus religion in which one must pay large sums of money to the “Church of Scientology” in order to receive instruction on how to remember one's true, immortal nature. As of 2005, 8 million people have at least shown enough interest to take the religion's introductory course. Critics said the religion was laughable, but if so, Hubbard laughed all the way to the bank. Hubbard died in 1986, but not before he'd amassed a small fortune from his made-up religion.
Dr. George King is dead now, too. Heart disease got him in 1997, so we'll never know his motives. But looking at the photo of King in his suit and browsing his grossly overpriced books on Amazon, I can't help but wonder if he belongs to the long and venerable tradition of charismatic men who start cults because they need the money.
“How'd you find out about us?” said one of the old ladies at the door to Brent, who was pretending to be an agnostic named Cyrus. “This guy,” he said, deflecting the question in my direction with a point of his finger. She looked at me, with her crazy, searching eyes. “Well,” I started, not entirely sure what would come out of my mouth in the next ten seconds, though I'd rehearsed it earlier. “I drove past your building before, your old building that is, and I always wondered what it was, so I googled it... and I just thought it looked really interesting.” Interesting is one of those catch-all words that is generally safe to use. I wanted them to take it to mean, “fascinating, and it looks like maybe you have the answers I have been searching for all my life.” What I meant was interesting like schizophrenia or a two-headed cow. Interesting like a freak show.
“And,” I added after a second, “I've always been really fascinated by... UFOs and stuff.” There was a nervous pause before the word UFO, half afraid that they would throw us all out and tell us that they were a normal, respectable church, and not a gathering place for UFO nuts. “Well!” the woman said, “you've come to the right place.” The pleasant matter-of-factness of the statement was at once reassuring and disturbing. She said it as if her words had layers of meaning I did not yet grasp. After meeting and greeting, we were ushered into the sanctuary for service. First was a series of moderately boring, irrelevant announcements about events like barbecues and seminars, just like any protestant church. Then things got weird. We were given a lot of specific instructions.
Put your palms on your knees facing upward. Chant with me: Oom, Rabba Roo, Rabba Ray. Oom, Rabba Roo, Rabba Ray. (This went on for quite some time). Place your hands on our solar plexus, the place of understanding. Close your eyes. Visualize a sphere of light approximately 40 feet above your head. Brent had to look around the room because he didn't remember where the solar plexus was. I tried to picture how high up 40 feet would be, and wondered what the height could possibly have to do with anything.
“A question I am often asked,” the speaker said, “is why don't we run the spiritual energy radiators all the time, if we have a limitless supply of energy? I personally do not agree with that approach.” I wasn’t sure exactly what she was talking about, but the question sounded reasonable enough. We eagerly waited for her reasoning, but there was none. She brought up an important question everyone seemed to want to answer to, but seemed to have no intention of answering it.
“And now,” she said, “we prepare for operation space power II.” She played a tape recording of a very boring, scientific sounding man, who explained for us newbies that operation space power II is the necessary action after the events of operation space power I. You see, a long time ago the Aetherius folks released a ton of spiritual energy from one of the spiritual energy radiators in order to heal something or other. Well, it turns out that the healing energy was not absorbed properly, but was instead wasted. A whole 300 million payer hours were wasted. I did the math. The Aetherius society consists of about 2000 people. Though they are international, they are not very big. If each of those 2000 people prayed into a spiritual energy battery for every minute, 24 hours 7 days a week, it would take them about 7 years to gather 300 million prayer hours. If it wasn't used, if it were wasted, why, that's the most catastrophic loss of a non-existent resource I've ever heard of. I can picture those 2000 aetherius folks, businessmen and what not, on the floor in front of their advanced technological devices wailing and moaning.
Thankfully, aliens came to save the day. According to a boring man on a tape, the Cosmic Masters (including Jesus, Buddah, and other celebrities) gathered the energy “for certain Karmic reasons, and other reasons.” This is not the first horribly vague statement made by this man. He also referred to something as taking “millions of time units.” Time units? Which time unit means the difference between the time it takes to make a diamond or to make a sandwich.
That was operation Space Power I. Operation Space Power II is all about getting the energy back from the aliens. The energy, the boring man tells us, is stored somewhere in space. “We think it’s on one of Jupiter’s moons.” he said, “In any case, it’s very far away.” This 300 million prayer hours also increases at a rate of 2%. I meant to ask if the interest compounded monthly or annually, but I forgot. The boring man confirmed that even if we ran the spiritual energy radiators at full blast constantly, we wouldn't even be able to overcome the rate of interest at which the energy increases. We must thus conclude that either the radiators don't have a lot of output, or that the energy is compounded more often than annually.
During the sermon about all this, I was blindsided by boredom. Somehow, it was not only possible to be bored at the UFO cult meeting, but impossible not to be. Brent, Skyler and I sat in the back looking around, fidgeting, bored to tears. It was just like any number of boring lectures by boring speakers I’d endured in high school college, and church. The fact that he was talking about aliens changes less that you'd think. After about five minutes the novelty of the subject matter had already worn off.
Aetherius members have a tendency to spill a lot of abstract nonsense from their mouths for a very long time. Infinitely, unless you stop them. They say: When you hurt yourself, what do you immediately do? You touch it. It's instinct. Your touch has healing properties. So if you see somebody walking in the street, you could just touch them, like Jesus did. Or you don't even have to touch them. You can just think positive thoughts in their direction and they will be helped. Yes, your energy can physically heal people, just like Jesus did. Jesus was from Venus. A Cosmic Master, he is. Like Buddha. The star of Bethlehem was actually an alien spacecraft. People always just talk about the UFOs, but it's not about the UFOs. It's what's inside the UFOs. Anyway if you want to heal like Jesus you could pray by yourself and send energy to the fires in Australia, or if you really want to be effective you can come to our Wednesday night meetings and pray into the spiritual energy battery. We have advanced technological devices which help. Very advanced. Our Father Founder invented them. What a great man our father founder was. People make fun of him for being a taxi-driver, but if you think about it, taxi drivers are actually among the smartest people around. No, of course we don't have the battery here. We have a transmitter which sends the energy to the battery in California. The idea came from the being codenamed Mars Sector 6...
You have to pull them back to earth, or they will go on like that forever. Repetitive and nonsensical. They're like pre-recorded dummies, which go on on and on about their topic of interest, with no room for conversation. If you listen long enough you will realize that you aren't listening anymore. You're gone. Your attention has vacated the premises, and your IQ is plummeting by the second. All you are doing is staring blankly into their eyes thinking about something, anything real. There was a moment during the woman's monologue when I had to remind myself where I was and what I was doing because I realized I had been sitting there for the past 5 minutes without a single thought in my head, because what she was saying to me was so esoteric that after a while I just couldn’t hold my mind together.
Dr. George king received the power to talk to aliens when he was miraculously visited by a yoga master. George sat alone in his London apartment meditating upon his potential role as the voice of interplanetary parliament when he looked up to see an Indian man emerge from the doorway—the door was still shut and locked, but the Indian miraculously entered anyway. “George,” the Indian said, with a booming, authoritative voice. “You must learn the secret positions which will enable you to make contact with the Cosmic Masters.” Awestruck, Dr. George King watched the Indian fold himself into a bizarre pretzel and rolled out the door, which was still shut and locked. At the Indian's example, Dr. George King spent many days learning to quickly fold himself into a pretzel, in case the Cosmic Masters wanted to contact him on short notice.
Observing that his books claimed he had a doctorate in theology, divinity, and science, and looking at his ridiculous shoebox inventions, I began to wonder just where Dr. George King acquired his doctorate. I asked around. No one seemed to know. Whenever I asked this question, I encountered a horrified look that people get when they're really excited about a single topic and get derailed. “No...” said the woman who said Jesus was from Venus, as if I had suddenly betrayed her. “I couldn't tell you that...” She then changed the subject back to Venus, aliens and reincarnation but I walked away.
Another woman looked at me funny when I asked the question, and then looked down and furrowed her brow as if she knew the answer but it was very confusing or hard to remember. “Um, it's the international...something... I think it's in California. I don't know. I wouldn't worry about the doctorate.” Then added with a chuckle, “he's FAAAAR beyond that.” And then she got her train back on its rails and continued with something about reincarnation and karma and aliens and energy, energy, energy. I found a gap in her incoherent monologues and said I had to leave. Skyler and Brent did the same with their respective monologuers. Safely in the car, we looked at each other and burst into penned-up laughter.
After we left, I put together that the problem with leaving the radiators on all the time is that someone is still going to have to take all that energy to where it needs to go. A Cosmic Master in a flying saucer. And the cosmic masters have better things to do. “They’re not just sitting around in their flight cabins waiting for us to give them energy to transfer,” said the Boring Man with a smug little laugh. “They're busy.” Makes sense to me.