Many want to believe in creatures from outer space. The belief that aliens are abducting people seems a moderate assumption compared with the promulgations of UFO cults such as the Raelians.
The belief that aliens are abducting people seems a moderate assumption compared with the promulgations of UFO cults such as the Raelians. Claude Vorhil, a.k.a. His Holiness Rael, alleges that humans were genetically engineered by extraterrestrials known as Elohim (the Hebrew word for "God" that Rael says is a mistranslation of the term "those who come from the sky"). Rael argues that religious leaders from Buddha to Jesus are merely alien ambassadors, and he is not alone in this revisionist cosmology: Cults have always infused existing religious traditions with esoterica known only to the leader.
Historically, these spiritual leaders bolstered their claims to divine intelligence with travel to exotic locales, especially the Far East. But in the global village of the 20th century, gurus turned to other worlds. Followers of the Heaven's Gate sect committed suicide to join forces with a UFO heralded by the Hale-Bopp comet in 1997. A group known as the Order of the Solar Temple staged mass suicides in Europe and Canada during the 1990s; members planned to relocate to a satellite of the star Sirius.
This is not to say that all so-called UFO cults are self-destructive. Many have origins in benign gatherings of alien enthusiasts, so-called "client cults" in which individuals--many with New Age leanings--follow a charismatic figure, minus the indoctrination and brainwashing.
Astronomer-turned-UFO-chronicler George Adamski was the first alien "contactee" to build a worldwide following in the 1950s, according to Robert Ellwood, Ph.D., a professor emeritus of religion at the University of Southern California. "The contactee movement was fairly amorphous until it gained a more solid, cultlike form in the Aetherians (a group founded by a British mystic who claimed to communicate with the Cosmic Master Aetherius) and later, Heaven's Gate and the Raelians,"says Ellwood.
But Roswell enthusiasts are inevitably lumped together with predatory cults, according to Eugene Taylor, Ph.D., Harvard historian and author of Shadow Culture: Psychology and Spirituality in America: "Once you get into the folk counterculture, everything from the Dalai Lama to Jim Jones gets filtered through the same lens, as far as the media is concerned."