One of France’s most fascinating imports of late is also one of its most controversial: the world’s largest UFO religion of Raëlism, which decrees that life on Earth was scientifically created by a species of extraterrestrials. Founded in 1974, a reported 70,000 members reportedly follow the order today, which enjoys tax-exempt status in the US while claiming that sexuality is a gift of pleasure from aliens to mankind. As descendants of the angelic extraterrestrials known as the Elohim, we can prepare for their return to Earth (expected in 2035) with sexual meditation, genetically modified foods, human cloning and meet-ups in Las Vegas.
Followers call it a religion, but critics underline it as a sect or cult. The official symbol of Raëlism is a curious hybrid of the Zionist community’s Star of David and the swastika notoriously hijacked by Hitler. They call it the hexagramme: a symbol that represents the “infinite and cyclical nature of life” for the Raëliens. It’s also the crowning feature of the so-called Embassy they’re hoping to build to welcome the aliens when they return for the “Apocalypse/ Revelation”. At this time, the final messengers will pay us a visit in their flying saucers and establish political and economic ties.
They don’t believe in god, but rather the progress of science (and a dash of the supernatural). Moses, Jesus, Buddah — for Raëliens, they were all chosen prophets like their leader, a 71-year-old Frenchman named Raël. The founder and self-appointed messiah claimed he was visited by the UFOs and chosen as the prophet to spread their message. He describes the extraterrestrials as having “faces full of love,” when they offered him a book of their teachings, Le Livre qui dit la vérité (The Book Which Tells the Truth), which now acts somewhat like the Raëlien bible.
In 1994, before being escorted out of the Vatican city for implementing their own version of baptism inside St. Peter’s Basilica, Raël purportedly managed to slip a copy of his book to Pope John Paul II. Among his many interpretations of biblical events, he asserts that the Great Flood from the old testament was in fact a byproduct of a nuclear missile explosion sent by Elohim. According to Raël, the Elohim’s earthly visits have been less frequent since biblical times to allow humans to progress on their own.
Raëlism follows its own calendar which marks Hiroshima as the New Year and Raël’s alien visitation when baptism ceremonies can be performed. “There is no mysticism in it,” explains follower Marc Rivard, “everything can be understood by science. We just can’t understand it all now because science isn’t advanced enough.” There’s also a six-level hierarchy, and an elite group of women called the “Angels of Raël,” who promise to defend Raël’s life with their own bodies. One of their other jobs is to fulfil their leader’s “sexual meditative needs,” and their rankings are represented by the kinds of feathers worn around their necks (i.e. pink or white).
There is another group known as “Raël’s Girls” solely consists of women who work in the sex industry and believe “there is no reason to repent for performing striptease or being a prostitute”. This organisation was set up “to support the choice of the women who are working in the sex industry”. In 2004, Raël and his girls appeared in the pages of Playboy magazine, featuring in a pictorial called “The Raël World,” with the coy subtitle, “Prepare for a close encounter of the nude kind.”
It all ties into Raël’s philosophy, he says, of cultivating a sex-positive community and the practice of “sensual meditation” (which he also wrote a book on). In 2006, he also started an organisation called Clitoraid to combat female genital mutilation in Burkina Faso.
Critics of the order have raised a brow at his implementation of sexual acts in ritual, as well as his very vocal plo-cloning stance. Raëlians happen to believe that humanity can attain eternal life through the science of cloning and Raël even went before Congress to testify in a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight Panel on human cloning. In 1997, he founded a for-profit called Clonaid that explores the possibilities “further scientific development.”
The company has ruffled feathers since its creation. In 2001, the church suggested that Hitler should be cloned and tried for war crimes before Raël’s announcement the following year of the successful cloning of a girl named “Eve” (that the world has yet to see). It has also been suggested that members of the church not only provide sexual pleasure for Raël, but also donate their eggs to Clonaid.
The French government is known to have a low tolerance for cult activity. In 2001, France became “the first country in the world to introduce specific legislation aimed at controlling the activities of cults,” says The Guardian, with the state transparently backing anti-cult watchdogs. Their concern was primarily Scientologists, who the government took to court for almost a million dollars in fraud that year. Exactly where the funding for the church of Räelism comes from is not entirely clear, but Raël’s personal “spaceship” is currently for sale here. The US tax-exempt religion that champions a communist robot proletariat as the future of US politics, has reportedly raised over $20 million for the construction of their alien embassy. But the Raëliens see themselves as a kind of ‘happy-go-lucky’ version of Scientology with more transparency, starting with Raël himself.
Their all-knowing leader isn’t exactly your typical messiah. An average guy from French farming country who dreamt of becoming a pop-singer, Claude Maurice Marcel Vorilhon was busking on the streets of Paris at 15 when he was approached by a talent scout. He took the stage name “Claud Celler,” but when his music producer died (along with his career) in 1970, he turned to his second passion: racing. Vorilhon went into sports car journalism, and even founded the magazine Autopop.
In Winter of 1973, Vorilhon was on a work assignment by a volcanic crater when he claimed he was stopped in his tracks by what looked like a spaceship for the first time. “These were extraterrestrials who had come to earth a very long time ago,” he explained in a 1980 French Television interview.
He later met the same extraterrestrials from his first encounter when they landed behind a bush near his home. “After a few words, he was taken up in that spacecraft with the Eloha and sent to a remote base relatively close to the solar system where he was given a resort-style relaxation treatment including an organic breakfast and over an hour in a jacuzzi of warm blue liquid, slightly thicker than water.” He also sat through a three-hour lecture from one of the aliens about religion, philosophy and how genetically modified foods and nanotechnology would allow us to eliminate the obligation to work, and embrace science and technology.
Whatever happened on the volcano or behind that bush, Vorilhon was a changed man. He took the name “Raël,” meaning “messenger of the elohim” (elohim=aliens) and his Raëlien movement was born, with the first conference held in Paris in 1974 to 2,000 people. Today, he has an estimated 70,000 followers in over 90 countries.
Raëlism is still on the fringes of society, but it also continues to become impressively widespread; they have regular meet-ups that can be found all over the web, and a “Happiness Academy.” They’re also big in Japan. “I’m doing what I think is right,” Raël told The Guardian a year earlier, “With my strange beliefs and my weirdness, I consider myself to be an educator.”