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RAËLIANS . The International Raëlian Movement is the world's largest and best-known UFO religion. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the organization claims a membership of approximately sixty-thousand in ninety countries. As of 2004, Japan was home to the most Raëlians, followed by France and Canada. The Raëlians achieved fame (or notoriety) following the 2002 announcement of the birth of the world's first human clonea claim that was never proven.

The International Raëlian Movement is an atheistic organization that demands recognition as a religion. Raëlians are atheists in that they deny the existence of God and of the human soul, but they are religious in that they worship godlike extraterrestrials, and they participate in rituals designed to link humans to their creators and to infinity. Raëlians call these extraterrestrials Elohim, viewing them as loving creators who will return to earth on or before the year 2035 to endow the human race with advanced technology. The movement's two aims are to spread the message of humanity's extraterrestrial origins and to build an embassy, landing field, and hotel that will be used to welcome the Elohim upon their return to earth.

Raël, the founder and charismatic leader of this movement, is French journalist and racecar driver Claude Vorilhon, who was born in September 1946, near Vichy. Vorilhon has reported that he experienced a close encounter of the third kind on December 13, 1973, in the crater of an extinct volcano called Puy de Lassolas near Clermont-Ferrand in France. He claims a UFO descended through the mist, and that a childlike being emerged and invited him to come aboard. Over the next three days he was taught the true meaning of the Bible, a "scientific" interpretation that he outlines in his 1974 book, Le livre qui dit la vérité (The book that tells the truth).

According to the Raëlians, all life on Earth, including human beings, was created scientifically through the manipulation of DNA. This was accomplished by extraterrestrial beings, called the Elohim (singular, Eloha) in the original Hebrew Bible, who were masters in genetic engineering. The Raëlians believe the term Elohim was erroneously translated as God, and that it actually means "those who came from the sky." Throughout the ages, the Elohim have sent thirty-nine prophets to the earth, among them Moses, Muammad, Buddha, and Joseph Smith. These prophets are born through unions between an Eloha and a mortal woman chosen for her "virgin DNA." One of the prophets, Jesus, foretold an epoch when truth would be revealedthe Age of Apocalypse, from the Greek apocalypsis, meaning revelation. The Raëlians believe that this epoch started on August 6, 1945, with the explosion of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan. The Elohim decided that it was time to contact a final messenger, Vorilhon, whom they renamed Raël (from Is-raël). The Elohim gave Raël the mission of spreading their message worldwide. He was also responsible for building an embassy, preferably in Israel, where the Elohim will descend in a mass landing with the thirty-nine prophets and will officially meet with representatives of the world's nations.

Raël founded Madech (Mouvement pour l'Accueil des Elohim, Créateurs de l'Humanité; Movement for Welcoming the Elohim, Creators of Humanity) in 1974, which was actually more of a UFO club than a religious organization. Raël claims to have encountered the extraterrestrials again on October 7, 1975. This meeting is described in his second book, Les extra-terrestres m'ont ammené sur leur planête (Extraterrestrials took me to their planet; 1975), in which Raël reports that he was given the keys needed to enable humans to fully blossom. He was also introduced to the mysteries of cloning and watched his own double being formed in a vat. The Elohim further taught him about their system of government, called geniocracy, an oligarchic meritocracy in which geniuses rule.

During his trip to the Elohim's planet, Raël was instructed in a meditation awareness technique intended to activate one's brain potential and develop one's sensuality in order to gain the capacity to feel connected to the infinite, and to feel infinite oneself. This technique is outlined in Raël's Sensual Meditation (1980), and it became a group meditation practice during the Raëlians' monthly meetings. On returning to earth, Raël established a political party in France called La Geniocratie, whose aim was to create a one-world government in which leadership was based on intelligence tests. This, coupled with the Raëlian symbol (a swastika inside a Star of David), led to fears that the Raëlians were preaching a form of fascism, and many of the Raëlian leaders were arrested, held for questioning, and had their documents seized. Raël responded by abandoning the group's political project.

In 1976, dissatisfied with the direction of Madech's executive, Raël orchestrated a schism, from whence emerged the new Raëlian Movement, to which Raël added all the building blocks of a viable religious movement: baptism, clergy, a system of values, annual festivals, and a meditation ritual that induces altered states of consciousness.

In August 1998 the movement's name was changed to the "Raëlian Religion" in the United States, where they achieved legal recognition as a religion. A subsequent application to Canada's Supreme Court for recognition as the "Raëlian Church" was denied. According to the legal definition of a religion in Canada, Raëlianism did not qualify because its "gods" were material beings with no transcendental status.

Organizational Structure

Raëlian membership is divided into two levels. The committed core group, made up of a hierarchy of guides, is called the Structure. More loosely affiliated members are called simply Raëlians ; they must pay an annual membership fee ($100 in Canada) and receive the Raëlian newsletter, Apocalypse. New members must sign an "act of apostasy," which stipulates a renunciation of one's former religious beliefs, before they are eligible for initiation or baptism. Raëlian baptism, also called "the transmission of the cellular plan," is a formal act whereby initiates recognize the Elohim as their scientific, loving creators. Only adults can become Raëlians; the movement strongly discourages inducting children into any religion until they are old enough to understand it. New initiates are encouraged to sign a contract giving a local mortuary permission, upon their death, to remove one square centimeter of their frontal bone. This is done in hope of eventual re-creation through the cloning process. Thus, all Raëlians aspire to achieve physical immortality. These pieces of bone are stored in a bank vault in Geneva, Switzerland.

The International Raëlian Movement, as well as affiliated national organizations, are nonprofit and voluntary. Members are encouraged, but not required, to pay a 10 percent tithe. The national membership tithe is 3 percent after tax per annum, and the international membership tithe is 7 percent of net income.

The six levels in the Structure represent different stages of responsibility: assistant animator, animator, assistant guide, priest guide, bishop guide, and guide of guides (Raël himself). The bishop guides have the power to reelect the guide of guides every seven years. A "council of the wise," composed of bishops, controls heresy and sanctions rule breakers. A "council of discipline" sanctions rule breakers and promotes loyalty to the guides and allegiance to the chain of command. The ethics committee handles the movement's business affairs. All members of the Structure are required to abstain from recreational drugs, alcohol, nicotine, coffee, and tea out of concern for protecting the purity of the genetic code. Every summer Raël reviews the performance of the members of the Structure and promotes or demotes them based on their level of harmony in three areas of life: philosophical, professional, and sensual.

Practices and Beliefs

The Raëlians are often portrayed as libertines due to an apparent antinomian streak in their ritual nudity and sexual practices. However, Raël has forged a distinct ethical system that is strictly enforced, at least among the members of the Structure. Raëlian values include absolute respect for life, self-respect and self-love, respecting and tolerating differences (whether racial, ethnic, or philosophical), nonviolence, pacifism, equal distribution and sharing of resources, strict birth control, democracy, and responsibility. The Raëlian Revolution (an alternative name for the group) aims to contribute to the conscience of humanity, mobilizing individuals and groups to action for positive changesanything that improves human freedom, rights, and justice among individuals, minorities, or majorities.

Raëlians celebrate four festivals during the year, occasions where baptisms are performed. The Raëlian calendar begins on August 6, 1945, in commemoration of the Hiroshima bombing. Raël's two close encounters are celebrated annually on October 7 and December 13. In addition, the Elohim's scientific creation of the first humans (Adam and Eve) in a lab on earth is commemorated on the first Sunday in April.

Members also participate in Awakening seminars held every year on every continent. These seminars present the teaching of the instruction manual given by the Elohim on how to awaken one's potential, open one's mind, and lead a happy and fulfilled life. Seminars feature daily lectures, sensual meditation, one-day fasting, nonmandatory nudity, sensory awareness exercises, and an evening cabaret featuring artists from all over the world. A second seminar follows for those who wish to become part of the Structure and earn a level of responsibility within the organization.

Raëlians believe that there are infinite levels of life. The infinitely "large matter" of which humans are a part (the planets, stars, and galaxies) is similar to the infinitely "small matter" (atoms, quarks) that people are made of. The Elohim explained that the earth is just one particle of a gigantic being that itself is watching another sky. The particles that compose atoms are themselves universes in which there are galaxies, stars, and planets with others living beings, ad infinitum.

Raëlians believe that during this age of scientific revelation, humanity will come to understand its true origin. Raël's theology holds that, with the Elohim's guidance and humanity's right choice, this age holds marvelous potentials: liberation, power and immortality once the Elohim arrive (before 2035) and bequeath to their creation scientific knowledge that will enable humans to travel through space and colonize virgin planets in their image. Raël also argues that:

Ethics is simply a last-gasp attempt by deist conservatives and orthodox dogmatics to keep humanity in ignorance and obscurantism, through the well tried fermentation of fear, the fear of science and new technologies. On the contrary, let us embrace Science and the new technologies, for it is these which will liberate mankind from the myth of god, and free us from our age old fears, from disease, death and the sweat of labor. (Rael 1987, p. 81)

According to Raël, gender is an artificial construct because the Elohim designed men and women as biological robots programmed to give each other pleasure, and only incidentally to procreate. Raël emphasizes the essential androgyny of the human being and the fluidity of gender as a result of different combinations of X and Y chromosomes. Men and women are considered equal and indistinguishable in their intelligence, abilities, and emotional makeup. Raël condemns the marriage contract as a proclamation of ownership of a person, and he argues that "when one has signed a contract one feels like a prisoner, forced to love and sooner or later each one begins to hate the other" (Rael 1978, p.285).

Raëlians favor short-term, spontaneous sexual relationships, although free choice is strongly emphasized. Homosexual relationships are respected, and homosexual experimentation is encouraged. Raël advises members to postpone parenthood, and for those who aspire to be cloned, to forgo reproduction altogether. It is rare to find new parents among the members of the Structure. Women can attain the high ranks of priests and bishops, although women are generally outnumbered by men at the higher echelons of the Structure. Still, Raël announced in January 2003 that his successor will be a womanDr. Brigitte Boisselier, a Raëlian bishop.

The status of women within the organization changed profoundly in July 1998 when Raël announced his latest revelation at the Raëlian summer camp, held that year at Valcourt in Quebec. Raël reported that the Elohim had asked him to create an "Order of Raël's Angels," a cadre of beautiful women, trained by Raël to act as hostesses to the Elohim and the thirty-nine prophets, in preparation for their landing. Two ranks of Angels were created, Pink Angels and White Angels, distinguishable by pink or white feathers on their necklaces. Pink Angels reserved their sexuality for the Elohim, although they could have sex with Raël and with each other. White Angels were permitted to have other lovers, and their role was to act as missionaries to bring more women into the movement.

Unlike many new religious movements, the Raëlian Movement has always courted the attention of the media. The Raëlians even established a "Planetary Week," to be held every April, to publicize what Raëlianism stands for. Raëlians have demonstrated against nuclear testing and in support of such issues as gay rights and genetically modified foods. Raëlians have also long supported genetic engineering. But by far the Raëlians' best-known platform has been their support of efforts to clone human beings.

Cloning Efforts

On March 9, 1997, shortly after the successful cloning of a sheep by Ian Wilmut in Scotland, Raël announced the creation of Valiant Venture, through which the Raëlians hoped to mobilize potential investors, customers, and scientists interested in cloning projects. Later that year, Raël announced his creation of a company called Clonaid at the Las Vegas Hilton. Pope John Paul II had issued a statement condemning cloning as against the will of God, and in defiance of the pope, Raël set up a company to promote cloning and facilitate access to this technology when it became available. Clonaid hired a team of geneticists, biologists and in vitro fertilization specialists, whose main goal was to offer reproductive human cloning on a worldwide basis to infertile couples, homosexual couples, people infected with the HIV virus, and families who had lost a beloved family member. Clonaid also offered a range of cloning-related services with such names as Insureaclone, Ovulaid, and Clonapet, and proposed to cultivate personal stem cells for customers. Raël handed directorship of the Clonaid project to Boisselier, who holds doctoral degrees in both physical chemistry and analytical chemistry.

In March 2001, Raël and Boisselier testified at a hearing on human cloning held by the United States House Energy and Commerce Committee. In December 2002 Boisselier announced at a televised press conference in Hollywood, Florida, that the first cloned human baby girl was born; her name was Eve. Boisselier later announced the births of four other cloned babies and claimed that twenty more were on the way. The journalist Michael Guillen was prepared to oversee an international team of scientists who would test the newborn Eve, but ultimately Boisselier claimed that the parents had moved to Israel and wished to maintain the baby's anonymity. Bernard Siegel, a Miami attorney, filed a suit to place the child under the protection of the state so that her health could be safeguarded. At a subsequent hearing, Clonaid vice president Thomas Kaenzig admitted that Clonaid was not registered as a company and that he knew only what Boisselier told him about the baby. Boisselier then admitted that she had only seen a videotape of the baby. Although the media and scientific establishment have dismissed Clonaid's claim to have cloned a human as a hoax, Raëlians continue to believe that there are clones in our midst. Raël asked Boisselier to build a "babytron," in which cloned babies can be placed to undergo accelerated growth, a technology he claimed was developed by the Elohim thousands of years ago.

The Embassy

Raël receives ongoing revelations from the Elohim, which he experiences as voices or as dictated messages that he receives through his hand. In October 1991 the Raëlian Movement sent out letters to every Israeli embassy in the world demanding that a plot of land in Jerusalem be provided for the construction of the "embassy," otherwise the Elohim would withdraw their protection of the Jewish people. In a stern warning to the State of Israel, Raël claimed that "the Age of Apocalypse has arrived. The long-awaited messiah has come. The fate of Israel is in your hands." According to Raëlianism, the sole purpose of Israel is to recognize the messiah (Raël) and build an embassy (the third temple) to welcome the Elohim and all the prophets of old. The letter claimed that if the people of Israel do not abide by the Elohim's request, Israel will disappear.

In 1990 Raël received permission from the Elohim to change the swastika in the movement's symbol to a more ambiguous, swirling, daisylike form. This was an expression of respect for the victims of the Holocaust and an attempt to improve the prospect of obtaining land in Israel. Since 1991, the Raëlian Movement has repeatedly asked the Israeli government and the chief rabbis in Jerusalem to grant them international neutral territory upon which to build the embassy, but as of 2004 there had been no positive response. In December 1997 the Elohim told Raël that he could address his request of extraterritoriality to other countries.

See Also

UFO Religions.


Vorilhon, Claude. Le livre qui dit la vérité. Vaduz, Liechtenstein, 1974.

Vorilhon, Claude. Les extra-terrestres m'ont amené sur leur planête. Vaduz, Liechtenstein, 1975.

Vorilhon, Claude. La géniocratie. Brantome, France, 1977.

Vorilhon, Claude. Accueiller les ectar-terrestres. Vaduz, Liechtenstein, 1979.

Vorilhon, Claude. La méditation sensuelle. Montreal, Quebec, 1980.

Vorilhon, Claude. Oui au clonage humain: La vie eternelle grâce à la science. Montreal, Quebec, 2001.

Secondary Sources

Palmer, Susan J. "Woman as Playmate in the Raelian Movement: Power and Pantagamy in a New Religion." Syzygy: Journal of Alternative Religion and Culture 1, no. 3 (1992): 227245.

Palmer, Susan J. "Women in the Raelian Movement: New Religious Experiments in Gender and Authority." In The Gods Have Landed, edited by James Lewis, pp. 105136. New York, 1995.

Palmer, Susan J. "The Raelian Movement International." In New Religions in the New Europe, edited by Robert Towler, pp. 194210. Aarhus, Denmark, 1995.

Palmer, Susan J. "The Raelians Are Coming: The Future of a UFO Religion." In Religion in a Changing World, edited by Madeleine Cousineau, pp.139146. Westport, Conn., 1998.

Palmer, Susan J. "I Raeliani." In Collana religioni e movimenti, edited by Massimo Introvigne. Torino, Italy, 2000.

Susan J. Palmer (2005)