From Sun Worship to Alien Apocalypse: Theosophy and its UFO Legacy (Part 1)
Kevin Storrar (2017)
Many modern day UFO sightings may be at least in part an adapted remnant of long established solar worship: mystical lights in the sky that represent a greater intelligence. It is certainly interesting to note that the most common reported shape of a UFO since the mid-1940s has been a circular disk; often they are reported as metallic and reflective of natural sunlight, or able to emit their own bright luminance. Such circular light sources in the sky draw parallel to the Sun, stars, or the Moon. The second most common UFO shape, a triangle, seems also to make reference to a pyramid, often synonymous with solar worship, an idea that, even if not always accurate, has been made common belief through spiritualist and New Age reinterpretations.
As well as established religious practice and scientific investigations, the Sun has continued to play an important role in the development of what became known as the New Age movement, which developed through the late nineteenth and into the twentieth century. Through a revised interpretation of many Eastern religious practices and the influence of spiritualism, ideas such as Theosophy emerged as an alternative to typical Western faith traditions. Theosophy has its roots in 12th and 13th century writings based around Jewish mystical thought, with works such as the Zohar, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that such ideas gained any real following in the West.
Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophy
With Theosophy, the Sun is seen as the Solar Logos, the god of the solar system, and a visible manifestation of the great consciousness. In The Secret Doctrine, a key Theosophical text written in 1888 by Helena Blavatsky, the Sun is described as ‘the nucleus of mother substance’, an entity in its own right, and bringer of life to the world. In a prophecy of sorts, Theosophy describes cycles of humanity that have gone through great waves of development. In such ideas humanity is moving gradually toward enlightenment, and toward the Sun; alleged great events in the past once transferred life from Mars to Earth, and they will again in the future move life on to Venus and then Mercury.[i]
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky came from an aristocratic Russian-German family. Born in Russia in 1831, she eventually moved to New York where, in 1875, she founded the Theosophical Society alongside the lawyer Henry Olcott. This group met with the aim of exploring occultism and the unexplained powers evident within man and nature. She saw people as being divided into ‘god-informed men’, such as Aryans, and ‘less fully-human primitives’, like Africans or Tasmanians. Blavatsky saw evolution as a spiritual process and practices like the Jewish faith as harmful to human spirituality. It is no great surprise that such writings went on to influence aspects of Nazism; indeed, Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf is dedicated to Dietrich Eckart, who claims he introduced Hitler to Blavatsky’s works.
Blavatsky claims she traveled widely around the world, especially the Far East and India, where various masters of ancient wisdom taught her how to develop psychic powers. If she traveled much at all is open to some debate. She wrote numerous texts and claimed to be in contact with mahatmas, saintly Asian masters of ancient knowledge, who spoke to her while she was in a trance. Much of her work aimed to bridge the gap between Eastern religions and modern Western science through a filter of occult ideas and Victorian spiritualism. Theosophy borrowed bits from Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Ancient Egyptian beliefs, and myths like the story of Atlantis. Blavatsky often adapts aspects from a range of beliefs, but frequent motifs involve those that reference light, energy, the development of knowledge, and rebirth – all common in relation to numerous solar deities. The great pyramid at Giza, for example, was, according to Blavatsky, constructed 78,000 years ago by colonists from Atlantis, who used it as a literal path or gateway towards a higher state of consciousness.
Close to a century before The Secret Doctrine, Karl von Eckartshausen wrote about enlightened mystics guiding the development of the human race in his late eighteenth-century book The Cloud upon the Sanctuary, which provided the blueprint for much of Blavatsky’s work. Eckartshausen’s writings about secret knowledge influenced not only Theosophy, but also the occult ideas of English magician Aleister Crowley. Theosophy became a key influence on various New Age religious ideas emerging through the twentieth century, as well as a number of fiction writers such as H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard.
The concepts derived from New Age philosophies like Theosophy allowed for the formation of what could be described as a number of UFO religions, which emerged from the mid-twentieth century onwards. There are a number of these, though many share several variations on recurring themes, such as evolution to a higher spiritual level, guidance from ascended masters of ancient wisdom, some form of spiritual significance to a celestial body both real and imagined, an end times prophecy, and salvation for a chosen few.
The Church of Scientology
One of the earliest groups that could be called a UFO religion was the Church of Scientology, established in 1953 by L. Ron Hubbard. An American author and failed civil engineer, Hubbard became an influential figure and remains the most published writer of all time, with 1,084 works to his name.
Hubbard first introduced his idea of Dianetics in April 1950, in a piece published in the pulp magazine Astounding Science Fiction. Dianetics describes how all of a person’s problems are actually caused by ‘engrams’: subconsciously remembered experiences from the past. The core idea was based around the principle that the brain recorded every single experience in a person’s life (and past life); bad experiences were stored away and could be triggered in later life, causing emotional problems. By carrying out a process called auditing, and using a device known as an E-meter, a person could become ‘clear’. A true clear would be cured of all physical ailments, have an improved IQ, and develop a photographic memory. Dianetics was mostly copied from the writings of Jose Delgado, a Spanish professor of physiology who developed ideas around an invention called a stimoceiver, an EEG monitor that could stimulate emotional responses. Several famous people became involved with Dianetics, including the writers Aldous Huxley and Theodore Sturgeon.
Dianetics morphed from a form of therapy into a religion, and by 1953 Hubbard had founded the Church of Scientology on much the same principles, borrowing its name from a 1907 work by philologist Alan Upward. In 1959, Hubbard moved to the UK and set up headquarters in an old manor in Sussex. By the mid-1960s Hubbard was offering a higher version of auditing, known as Operating Thetan Level III, for a select group of Scientology followers. As auditing is concerned not just with your current life, but also your past life, he developed a narrative that described the evolution of the human race on Earth as descendent from an ancient alien civilization. 75 million years ago, according to Hubbard, the galaxy was ruled by an evil overlord known as Xenu.[ii] As a solution to rampant overpopulation on a number of planets Xenu paralyzed billions of people using ethylene glycol, and transported them in interstellar spacecraft to Earth, then known as Teegeack. Here the people were positioned around the edge of several volcanoes, and subsequently killed as Xenu dropped hydrogen bombs into each mountainside. The souls of the dead became the Thetans, which were then gathered by Xenu and forced to watch confusing images until they came to believe themselves God, the Devil, and Christ. Today an invisible cloud made of the souls of these Thetans engulfs people, and the only way to clear yourself is through the Scientology auditing process. In December 1967, Hubbard became the first to reach Level III.
Such ideas of leveling may owe a debt to the work of anthropologist Gregory Bateson, who had previously described the idea around learning levels throughout the 1940s and ’50s. In his work, learning level III was described as a level requiring high mental experience; indeed, Bateson warned that even to attempt Level III was dangerous, and many would fail at the attempt, but for those who succeed the mental breakthrough, this level offered a vast personal understanding of cosmic interactions.
The alleged apocalyptic event of Scientology may have already happened seventy-five-million years ago, but the religion still relies on using ancient wisdom to guide the chosen through to a more enlightened level.
Dorothy Martin was a housewife from Chicago who experimented with automatic writing, a supposed psychic ability that allows practitioners to channel messages from a spiritual or supernatural source. She was originally involved with Hubbard’s Dianetics movement before branching off on her own. In 1954 Martin claimed she had received a telepathic message from the planet Clarion. She claimed to have received warning from a great intelligence that on 21st December that year, a great flood would destroy the world, though through spiritual awareness, a small group of the chosen few could be saved by a visiting UFO. As a result of her claims a group of believers gave up much of their possessions to begin preparation for departure on the spaceship due to rescue them from Clarion. The date of Martin’s apocalypse is also a key part of the lunar calendar, being the winter solstice.
The Unarius Academy of Science
In the same year that Dorothy Martin predicted the end of the world, Ernest Norman met Ruth Nields, who would soon become his third wife. The two met at a spiritualist convention and quickly found that they held a very similar and somewhat unique view of the world. Ernest claimed that planet Earth was being watched over by an extraterrestrial brotherhood known as Unarius, and that with a bit of practice anyone could make psychic contact with these ‘space brothers’. Later that year in Los Angeles, Ernest Norman founded the Unarius Academy of Science, which aimed to advance a new ‘inter-dimensional science of life’.
Ernest Norman led the Unarius group until his death in 1971 when, in the words of the group, he transitioned to ‘the higher planes of light’. After his passing, Ruth Norman succeeded as leader and ‘primary channeler’ of the group. Adding her own spin to things, she began calling herself Loshanna and claimed she had spent a past life living in Atlantis.
Like Scientology, Unarius followers believe that the solar system was once inhabited by ancient interplanetary civilizations, and that people living today are the reincarnated souls of such visitors. These distant space brother relatives will eventually return to improve humanity. The central prophecy in Unarius is not apocalyptic, but one of salvation. This prophecy has grown over time out of a collection of unfulfilled predictions and adapted narratives, an ongoing process of cognitive dissonance. In early 1974, Norman predicted that the space brothers’ space fleet would soon land on Earth. In preparation, she led the Unarius society to purchase property to serve as a landing site, acquiring an expensive 67-acre plot in Jamul, California. They never came. She blames this error of judgment on a trauma she encountered in a past life. Norman went on to revise the space brothers’ landing date many times.
In other references to Theosophy and Dianetics, the Unarius followers believe in reincarnation, past-life memories, and that the human race will evolve to an advanced state of consciousness. Light and energy is central to their beliefs, and every October the group holds a celebration called the Conclave of Light, which involves releasing doves and having mental conversations with the space brothers.
By 1976 Ruth Norman, who had renamed herself again – to Uriel – was offering psychic group therapy as a form of healing practice and a way of accessing memories of past-lives. Not one to lack confidence, in 1979 she also announced herself ‘Lord of the Universe’, and subsequently began charging followers $5 a time to attend her meetings. The early 1980s saw the group embrace video production and public access cable TV, allowing them to promote messages across America. Ruth embraced the media and began wearing a variety of attention grabbing brightly coloured and elaborate costumes. The videos became increasingly outlandish and theatrical, often involving garish special effects and images of Uriel offering enlightenment to primitive man.
The Aetherius Society
Around the same time that Ernest Norman was developing his Unarius movement London taxi driver George King founded the Aetherius Society. The backstory to King’s narrative is again a variation on those presented by Hubbard, Marin, and Norman. The Aetherius Society believe an ancient planet called Maldek once existed within the solar system; the planet and all of its inhabitants were destroyed by a powerful hydrogen bomb. The millions of lives lost on Maldek were reincarnated on Earth. Only a chosen few know of this secret and must work with other cosmic masters to stop Earth destroying itself like Maldek did. The group embraces the idea of reincarnation and, like Theosophy, is primarily based on the continual spiritual evolution of humanity. Some cosmic masters still live on Earth; they hide within mountains and volcanoes and are here to help guide human evolution along the right path.
King’s mother was a psychic healer who had encouraged her son to explore occult ideas. Later he made claims that his mother had been a passenger on several UFOs, at one time travelling to Mars. King borrowed bits from certain eastern philosophies and religions, and was an active member of some Theosophy-inspired groups operating in London. He was an avid practitioner of yoga, claiming it had helped him to develop psychic powers. The Aetherius Society basically combined King’s interest in Yoga with UFOs, and followers of King spent most of their time channeling positive energy into boxes, or Spiritual Entity Batteries, which could then be sent to ‘those in need’.
By the mid-1950s, King began conducting ‘skywatches’ around Avebury with UFO enthusiasts, after having an alleged experience with a Cosmic Master from Venus in his flat in London. Soon after, he claimed to be in contact with an alien intelligence called Aetherius who represented an ‘interplanetary parliament’. Through cosmic telepathic transmissions (which he recorded on reel-to-reel tapes), King disseminated Aetherius’s wisdom for the benefit of humanity. King began to develop a following when he regularly performed his trance-like communications in London’s Caxton Hall in the mid-1950s. Here he made contact with cosmic masters, such as Saint Goo-Ling, allegedly a member of the Great White Brotherhood.
On 21st May 1959, King appeared on the BBC TV programme Lifeline to demonstrate his ability to communicate with beings from other worlds. He managed to channel an extraterrestrial intelligence hailing from ‘Mars Sector Six’. The Aetherius Society have since claimed this event was a historic occasion, when the message of Aetherius was shared with millions. Complaints to the BBC suggested general viewers didn’t quite share the view of this being a momentous happening, with several questioning why the channel was taking advantage of a confused and deluded individual, or giving airtime to a con-man and hoaxer.
VIDEO: (The 1959 BBC programme Lifeline, featuring George King):
Claude Vorilhon founded Raëlism in France in 1974, another UFO group that followed a similar template to Aetherius and Unarius. Vorilhon had some success as a singer at a young age, releasing ‘Le miel et la cannelle’, which became a minor hit in France. He was later editor of the sports car magazine Autopop, and then became a part-time racing car driver. According to Vorilhon, he was out for a walk in the mountains close to the Clermont-Ferrand region in France when he witnessed a UFO emerge from the Puy de Dôme volcano. Soon after, the UFO landed and an alien disembarked the craft, allowing the two to then begin a conversation. In a later account, Vorilhon claims that the alien’s first words to him genuinely were, ‘Do you come here often?’ He was then invited aboard the spacecraft and given a scented bath by female robots. The alien informed Vorilhon that a race of creatures from the planet Elohim had created the humans from their own DNA around 25,000 years ago. After the event, Vorilhon soon changed his name to Raël, and announced that he had been given a mission to inform the world of humanity’s true origins. Then forming the Raëlian movement, he began making preparations for the return of these extraterrestrial ancestors. According to Raëlian belief, the scientific wisdom of Elohim is not supernatural but can allow, through science, abilities such as reincarnation and telepathy. Elohim will return at the age of Apocalypse and allow humanity to progress and to colonize other planets by way of the great scientific wisdom that would be made known by their return.
Since the mid-1970s the Raëlian movement has targeted members on a global scale, setting up missionary activities in parts of Africa, Japan, and America. The International Raëlian Movement suggests that their influence is spread across ninety countries and has membership in the region of 90,000 followers. However, independent sources claim membership to be closer to a couple of hundred at best.[iii]
The Raëlian movement, like Unarius, the Aetherius society, Scientology and Dorothy Martin’s group all have their own emphasis but share basic ideas that can be traced back to Theosophy. In Theosophy, a central premise is that the wisdom of the ascended masters will allow for a spiritual evolution of humanity. The Raëlians believe Elohim will bring greater scientific wisdom, allowing humanity to colonize other planets. Unarius waits for the space brothers to arrive and improve humanity. The Aetherius society expects an alien race to bring wisdom for the benefit of humanity. The spiritual cleansing of auditing will allow followers of Scientology to reach a higher level of existence. Dorothy Martin hoped cosmic travellers would offer salvation. The comparisons are many. In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky discusses the continent of Lemuria, a fictional landmass with a similar fate to Atlantis. According to Theosophy, Lemuria was destroyed by a number of volcanoes. In Scientology, Xenu used volcanoes as an aid in the destruction of the Thetans. The Aetherius Society believed cosmic masters were hiding in volcanoes, and Claude Vorilhon claimed to have his fist meeting with an alien on the edge of a volcano. In the same book by Blavatsky, Atlantis is described as being destroyed by a great flood. Dorothy Martin predicted the end of the world would come about via a great flood. Ruth Norman believed she lived a past life in Atlantis.
The Order of the Solar-Temple
The Solar Temple was formed in Switzerland in the 1980s by Joseph Di Mambro, a confidence trickster who claimed he had a background in psychology, and Luc Jouret, a homeopath with a strong interest in ancient wisdoms. The pair met around 1980 through the Golden Way Foundation, an occult group started up by Di Mambro. By 1984 the pair had formed the International Chivalric Organization Solar Tradition. They soon began giving talks on medicine and conscience, as well as performing several rituals. The duo became obsessed with ideas of eastern mysticism of the type promoted by Helena Blavatsky, as well as mythologies around UFOs. Di Mambro and Jouret believed they were reincarnations of the Knights Templar, twelfth-century warrior-monks dedicated to protecting pilgrims within the Promised Land.
By 1986 the group had grown more ambitious, soon to rename themselves the Order of the Solar Temple. Their aim was to assist humanity through a great transition and make preparations for the second coming of Christ, who would return as a solar-god king. They began to spread their predictions about the end of the world, encouraging followers to join their group. Only through the practice of certain rituals could such apocalyptic events be prevented, though mostly these ceremonies consisted of members giving money to Di Mambro and Jouret or, in the case of women, offering themselves for sex. Events were enriched by projected images of spiritual beings from hidden electronic equipment, leading followers to believe Di Mambro was summoning spiritual entities.
The group soon became unstable as members began to question the claims of Di Mambro and Jouret. One member, Tony Dutoit, discovered Di Mambro was using the group’s funds for personal gains. In response, Di Mambro declared Dutoit’s infant son Emmanuel to be the Antichrist. In October 1994, selected members from Di Mambro’s ‘golden circle’ stabbed Tony Dutoit, his wife Nicky, and their young son to death. Emmanuel was left with a wooden stake in his chest and wrapped in black plastic. Less than a day later, firemen discovered a burning chalet in a remote Swiss village. Within the basement they found a mirrored chapel containing the bodies of nine men, twelve women and a twelve-year-old boy. The bodies were arranged in a circle with their feet pointing inward, some were hooded with plastic bags, and a large number had been shot in the head. Another farmhouse was found several hours later, again on fire, inside this one was a further twenty-five bodies, dead via the intravenous injection of drugs. Amongst the bodies were Jospeh Di Mambro and Luc Jouret. Writings discovered after these events revealed the ambition to depart through death to the dimension of truth, to the Grand White Lodge of Sirius. An interest in UFOs was only an aspect of the Solar Temple group, and voluntary suicide as a method to reaching the ascended masters in Sirius was perhaps performed by only a handful. Ritualistic murder seemed to be the more common process performed by the group. Certainly, death by eight gunshot wounds to the head, as was the case with one individual, seems unlikely to have been self-inflicted.
As the name suggests, the Order of the Solar Temple saw symbolism and significance in celestial objects. Their legacy clearly had an impact as a number of Solar Temple lodges operated over the world, including in Australia and Canada. In December 1995, another group of fifteen followers of the cult killed themselves in a similar fashion in France and again, in March 1997, a further five also committed suicide, this time in Quebec. The Solar Temple group claimed to believe that an environmental catastrophe would soon bring about the end of the world and that members needed to leave Earth and transit to a better world.
All images © Kevin Storrar 2017
[i] Blavatsky Theosophy Group, ‘The Men From Other Planets’, https://blavatskytheosophy.com/the-men-from-other-planets/
[ii] Alec Nevala-Lee, ‘Xenu’s Paradox: The Fiction of L. Ron Hubbard and the Making of Scientology’, https://longreads.com/2017/02/01/xenus-paradox-the-fiction-of-l-ron-hubbard/