Extraterrestrial/UFO Religion

Extraterrestrial/UFO Religion

section link


Unidentified flying objects (UFOs)―aka flying saucers―and extraterrestrials (ETs) figure prominently in the soteriologies of many new age religions. Since its origin in the 1950s, UFO religion, what historian of religions Robert Ellwood (1995) calls ‘ufoism’ or, as I prefer, ‘ET religion(s)’, while predicated upon traditional myths of superhuman/supernatural beings, has been nourished by the tensions of the current age, especially (but not only) the Cold War and the threat posed by nuclear weapons (Flaherty 1990). Here ‘religion’ is understood as belief in superhuman beings, ‘any beings believed to possess power greater than man, who can work good and/or evil on man’ (Spiro 1966, 91). In the current article, though, ‘ET religion’ refers not to belief in maleficent superhuman ETs but to new age religions in which ETs figure as saviours and as agents of millenarian transformation.

The eschatology of such ET religions, in which Cold War fear of nuclear war is a frequent motif, while predicated upon traditional mythological themes of world destruction and salvation by otherworldly beings, reflects the dominant concerns of the current age, especially the threat of nuclear destruction. Since the detonation of the first atomic bomb in 1945, humanity has lived with the threat of global destruction, in light of which there arose a myth of ET saviours prepared to prevent nuclear destruction, evacuate a chosen people prior to the nuclear conflagration, or assist a surviving remnant of humanity. Thus, a definition of nuclear war as inevitable and unmanageable in its effects is transformed into a definition of nuclear war as either avoidable with the assistance of ET saviours or inevitable but manageable with their assistance.

section link

UFOs and the Bible

References to the Apocalypse and the second coming of Christ abound in the primary UFO literature. The UFO is often regarded as the vehicle of ascension in which Jesus ‘was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight’ (Acts 1:9, King James Version), the ‘clouds’ in which the believers will be caught up ‘to meet the Lord in the air’ (1 Thessalonians 4:17 KJV), and the vehicle of Christ’s second coming when all the peoples of Earth ‘shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory’ (Matthew 24:30 KJV). As theologian, Presbyterian minister, and ‘ancient astronaut’ theorist Barry Downing wrote:

Previously the Power of Christ was hidden, but in the future his lordship will be made manifest over the whole earth, he will return in some sort of UFO with great power and glory (brightness), ‘and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call’. (Downing 1968, 167–70)
section link

The “ET Hypothesis”

In June 1947 Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot from the US state of Idaho, saw nine flying objects as he flew over the Cascade Range in Washington state. Arnold said later that they moved like saucers skipping on water, and the press coined the term ‘flying saucer’, which was reified in the popular imagination as flying discs of ET origin even though what Arnold saw were not disc shaped; they were crescent shaped. Nor did Arnold believe that the objects he had seen were ET spaceships; rather, he believed they had been unconventional aircraft being developed by the US military. In 1953 the US Air Force introduced the term ‘unidentified flying object’ or ‘UFO’. However, ‘UFO’, like ‘flying saucer’, soon became synonymous in popular usage with ‘ET spaceship’. Donald E. Keyhoe (1897–1988), one of the earliest proponents of the ET hypothesis and previously a US Marine, held that Earth has been surveilled by ETs for centuries but that ‘this observation suddenly increased in 1947, following the series of A-bomb explosions begun in 1945’ (Keyhoe 1950, 174).

section link

George Adamski

In 1953 George Adamski (1891-1965) and his friend Desmond Leslie (1921-2001) published Flying Saucers Have Landed, in which they described how Adamski and his friend George Hunt Williamson (1926–86) saw a flying saucer in California’s Mojave Desert on 20 November 1952, whose occupant, a Venusian named Orthon, telepathically communicated to Adamski the concern of the Space People over nuclear weapons:

He made me understand that their coming was friendly. Also, as he gestured, that they were concerned with radiations going out from earth … I asked if this concern was due to the explosions of our bombs with their resultant vast radioactive clouds? My next question was whether this was dangerous, and I pictured in my mind; a scene of destruction. To this, too, he nodded his head in the affirmative, but upon his face there was no sign of resentment or judgment. His expression was one of understanding, and great compassion. (Adamski and Leslie [1953] 1977, 213–14).
section link

Theosophy and ET Religions

For many years before his alleged meeting with Orthon, Adamski had been deeply immersed in the teachings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–91), cofounder in 1875 of the Theosophical Society. The Theosophical pantheon is dominated by a series of Masters, Elder Brothers of humanity who purportedly live not on other planets but on Earth. The Masters, according to Annie Besant (1847–1933), President of the Theosophical Society from 1907 to 1933, are incarnate human beings who have retained human form long after they might have passed on to higher planes (Besant 1912, 60–63).

While as sociologist David Stupple notes, the idea of ETs was epiphenomenal to Theosophy (Stupple 1984), Theosophist Charles Leadbeater (1854–1934) described a solar system of inhabited planets. Of greatest importance are the inhabitants of Venus, who have guided humanity’s evolution for millennia:

Our terrestrial evolution received a most valuable stimulus from the assistance given to us by our sister globe, Venus. … These august Beings have been called the Lords of the Flame and the Children of the Fire-mist, and They have produced a wonderful effect upon our evolution. (Leadbetter 1912, 131)

Blavatsky’s major work, The Secret Doctrine (1888–93), purports to be a commentary on a reputedly ancient text, the Book of Dzyan, that, according to Blavatsky, was originally written in Senzar, the language that Blavatsky claimed was brought to Earth by Sanat Kumara from the planet Venus (Blavatsky 1888–93, 2:31). In the Hindu Puranas, Sanat Kumara is one of the four kumaras―Sanat Kumara, Sananda, Sanaka, and Sanatana―the mind-born sons of the god Brahma, who in the Theosophical synthesis became the Venusian Lords of the Flame. Leadbeater dated their arrival on Earth to 18,500,000 Before Present (Leadbeater 1925).

section link

The Contactees

Soon after Adamski’s alleged 1952 encounter with Orthon, other ‘contactees’ were claiming encounters with ETs. Daniel Fry (1908–92) claimed to have met an ET named A-lan (Fry 1954) in New Mexico’s White Sands Proving Grounds near the Trinity site, where the first atomic bomb was tested in 1945. Truman Bethurum (1898–1969) claimed to have encountered Aura Rhanes from the planet Clarion (Betherum 1954). Orfeo Angelucci (1912–93) of Burbank, California, was allegedly informed by an ET whom he called Neptune that:

There is still a slight chance to avert the War of Desolation for in the Time dimension nothing is absolute. But if the horror of the War of the End of an Age shall come, our multitudes are at hand to aid all of those not spiritually arrayed against us. (Angelucci 1955, 124)

As historian David Michael Jacobs noted, the contactees were ‘operating within a common fear of the 1950’s―the inevitability of nuclear war’ (Jacobs 1975, 115).

section link

Billy Meier

Eduard (Billy) Meier (b. 1937) of Bülach, Switzerland, claims that in 1975 he had the first of a series of contacts with ETs whom he calls the Plejaran from the planet Erra in the constellation Pleiades. Meier alleges regular contact with “Semjase” and “Asket,” idealized humanoid ETs from the Pleiades, and contends that Adam was created not by Yahweh but by Semjase (see Flaherty 2010). According to Meier, the Plejaran are human; they are not gods. Meier collected Semjase’s teachings in The Contact Notes (1988–95). Plejaran civilization, according to Meier, originated not in the Pleiades but on a planet in the constellation Lyra. War ensued on the home planet, and before its destruction some of the Lyrans succeeded in escaping to planets in the Pleiades and the Hyades (Kinder 1987, 98).

section link

The Doomed Planet

The doomed planet has been a motif of the UFO myth since its inception in the early 1950s. Often the doomed planet is located not in a remote galaxy but in our own solar system, where its debris formed the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The doomed planet has been called Clarion, Lucifer, Lyra, Maldek, and Car. The group that social psychologist Leon Festinger described in When Prophecy Fails held that the planet Car was destroyed in a conflict between ‘the scientists’, led by Lucifer, and ‘the people who followed the Light’, led by Christ (Festinger, Riecken, and Schachter 1964, 53). In 1953 George Hunt Williamson allegedly received a series of channelled messages from a representative of the Interplanetary Confederation. He was told:

You have lately achieved the means of destroying yourselves. Do not be hasty in your self-congratulation for yours is not the first civilization to have achieved and used such means. The ‘lost world’ known to you as the Asteroid Belt is spoken of in your records as ‘Lucifer, the Shining One’. We call this planet ‘Maldek, the Tongue’. (Williamson 1953, 26)
section link

Ashtar, Sananda, and Channeled ET Communications

Adamski claimed that during his 1952 encounter in the Mojave Desert, Orthon had communicated telepathically with him. Soon, other contactees were claiming telepathic communication with the Space People. George van Tassel (1910–78) of Giant Rock, California, was the first to claim telepathic contact with Ashtar. Sociologist Christopher Helland (2000, 2003a, 2003b) has written about Ashtar’s worship. On 18 July 1952, Van Tassel allegedly received the following communication:

Hail to you beings of Shan [Shan is said to be Earth to Ashtar’s followers]. … Some years ago your time, your nuclear physicists penetrated the ‘Book of Knowledge’; they discovered how to explode the atom. … To your government and to your people and through them to all governments and all people on the planet of Shan, accept the warning as a blessing that mankind may survive. My light, we shall remain in touch here at this cone of receptivity. My love, I am Ashtar. (Van Tassel 1952, 29–30)

Soon after Van Tassel began channelling Ashtar, his associate Robert Short (1929–2019) also claimed he was channelling Ashtar. Van Tassel did not accept Short’s experiences as genuine, though, and Short broke from Van Tassel in 1952 to found the Ashtar Command. Others soon claimed to be in telepathic communication with Ashtar. According to Ethel P. Hill (1875–1962), one of Ashtar’s earliest followers, who allegedly received Ashtar’s communications via automatic writing, Ashtar reports directly to Jesus and is the commander of ten million Space Men (Hill 1957).

Ashtar’s followers emphasize that he is not a fallen angel; rather, he is one of the Herald Angels preparing Earth (Shan) for Christ’s return, and Ashtar is second in importance only to Sananda (Jesus):

In the Alliance of the Space Confederation, Commander Ashtar is the highest in authority for our hemisphere. He is also the Commander of the Star Ship upon which our Beloved Lord and Great Commander, Jesus-Sananda, spends so much of His time. (Tuella 1985, 4)

Dorothy Martin (1900–92), known as Sister Thedra (described as ‘Mrs Keech’ by Festinger in When Prophecy Fails), was channelling Sananda (Festinger, Riecken, and Schachter 1964).

section link

ET Religious Movements

A number of contactees have been quite successful in organizing religious movements based on their alleged revelations. Here, chosen as representative, are the Aetherius Society, founded by George King; the Unarius Foundation, founded by Ernest and Ruth Norman; Heaven’s Gate, founded by Marshall Herff Applewhite; and the Raëlian Movement, founded by Claude Vorilhon, aka Räel (Light of the Elohim).

The Aetherius Society

The Aetherius Society was founded in Britain in 1954 by Dr George King (1919–97), who claimed telepathic contact with Aetherius. As sociologist Roy Wallis (1975, 30 observed, King had for some time been immersed in Theosophical teachings. More recently, Scott Scribner and Gregory Wheeler (2003), Simon Smith (2003) has written about the Aetherius Society. Cosmic Masters inhabiting other planets in the solar system have been guiding humanity’s evolution for millennia. Like Jesus (Sanat Kumara to King), Aetherius is a Cosmic Master from Venus. Whereas Aetherius, Jesus, and Buddha are from Venus, Krishna, according to the Aetherius Society, is from Saturn, where the Interplanetary Parliament is based. ‘Jesus came in mystery, but this next Master will come openly in a ‘Flying Saucer’ and the whole world will know of His coming’ (Aetherius Society 1981). King was allegedly chosen by the Space Masters to charge Holy Mountains throughout the world with Cosmic Energy, an undertaking referred to as ‘Operation Starlight’. Nine mountains were ‘charged’ in the UK before King left Britain for Los Angeles. The spiritual energy stored in mountains, according to King, can be released through prayer to avert war and prevent natural disasters.

The Unarius Foundation

In 1954 electrical engineer Ernest Norman (1904–71) and his wife, Ruth Norman (1900–93), founded the Unarius Foundation (Universal Articulate Interdimensional Understanding of Science). Social psychologist Diana Tumminia (2003, 2005) and Tumminia and R. G. Kirkpatrick (1995) have written about the group. The Unarius Foundation teaches that thirty-three spacecraft representing thirty-three planets will descend to Earth, fusing electronically to construct a two-and-a-half-mile-high tower housing ET technicians, who will advise humanity in Unarius. The Space Brothers will construct a second tower to draw energy from the Earth and the cosmos, thereby supplying all the energy needs of Earth. According to the Unarians, a previous attempt to construct such a tower was made by inventor Nikola Tesla (1856–1943), whom the Unarians describe as:

He who could cause electricity to travel across the country or underground with no wires, invent electronic equipment to revolutionize the world; that he could (and does now, freed of the limiting physical) generate such Power that it will change not only this world, but the many worlds. (Unarius Foundation 1974, 5)

(In fact, Tesla constructed a 187-foot-high tower in 1901 that he intended to be part of a world wireless system.)

Heaven’s Gate

Probably no ET religion has attracted more attention than Heaven’s Gate. Sociologist Robert Balch (1982, 1985, 1995) and professor of religion Benjamin Zeller (2006, 2010, 2014) have written extensively about the group, originally known as Human Individual Metamorphosis. In 1975 Marshall Herff Applewhite (1931–97) and Bonnie Lu Trusdale Nettles (1927–85) (aka Him and Her, Bo and Peep, Do and Ti, or simply The Two) gave a lecture about UFOs in the US state of Oregon. More than thirty people disappeared with Applewhite and Nettles, who styled themselves the two End-Time witnesses of Revelation 11. Not much was heard from the group until 1993, when they resurfaced as Total Overcomers Anonymous, but they soon changed their name to Heaven’s Gate. Nettles had died in 1985. The members of Heaven’s Gate believed themselves to be incarnate, genderless ETs from The Evolutionary Level Above Human (TELAH).

Like many UFO enthusiasts in 1997, Applewhite and his followers believed that a huge ET spaceship was approaching Earth. In 1996 an amateur astronomer had reported seeing a small, ‘Saturn-like object’ travelling with the comet Hale–Bopp. Hale–Bopp was the marker Applewhite and his followers had been waiting for. The smaller object was the spaceship that would take them home. Having completed their mission on Earth, it was time to return to TELAH. In 1997 the thirty-nine members of Heaven’s Gate committed mass suicide. ‘Planet Earth about to be recycled’, Applewhite wrote in his final message. ‘Your only chance to survive or evacuate is to leave with us’ (Applewhite 1997).

The Räelian Movement

Perhaps the most successful ET religion, though, is the Räelian Movement. Sociologist of religions Susan Palmer (2004) has written about the group. On 13 December 1973, Claude Vorilhon, aka Räel (b. 1946), allegedly saw a UFO land in the caldera of Puy de Lassolas, a volcano near Clermont-Ferrand, France. Vorilhon claims to have met a diminutive humanoid ET whom, Vorilhon alleges, was one of the Elohim, the ET scientists who created humanity. The Elohim are not gods, Vorilhon was told, although they are our creators. Vorilhon was renamed Räel (‘light of the Elohim’), chosen by the Elohim as the Prophet of the Age of Apocalypse.

The Elohim allegedly instructed Räel to create a movement to spread the messages of the Elohim creators worldwide, and to build an ‘embassy’ near Jerusalem where the Elohim spaceships will land (Räel 2005, 176). Räelianism’s embassy will be, according to Räel, the rebuilt Third Temple (Räel 2005, 368) that to many Zionists and Christians is a necessary prerequisite of the Messianic Age.

Räel claims that in 1975 he encountered the Elohim a second time. They took him to the Elohim home planet and to a second smaller planet nearby, the Planet of the Eternals, where he met Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, and Yahweh. On the Planet of the Eternals, people live for seven hundred years. Upon death, individuals are cloned from cells taken from their old bodies. Very soon, according to Räel, humanity will be able to create life as the Elohim created us.

According to Räel, the development of nuclear weapons was a sign to the Elohim that human beings were ready for reestablished contact with their ET creators. Whereas to Räel the sixth seal of the Apocalypse (Revelation 6:12–17) represents the development of nuclear weapons, the seventh seal (Revelation 8:1–6) represents nuclear war (Räel 2005, 299). Räel’s Elohim will not intervene to prevent nuclear war. In the event of nuclear war, though, those who have had their ‘cellular plan’ transmitted to Räel or to a Guide designated by Räel will be re-created on the Planet of the Eternals.

section link

Further Reading

Balch, Robert W. and David Taylor. 2003. ‘Heaven’s Gate: Implications for the Study of Commitment in New Religions.’ In Encyclopedic Sourcebook of UFO Religions, edited by James R. Lewis, 211–38. Amherst: Prometheus Books.

Bethurum, Truman. 1954. Aboard a Flying Saucer. Los Angeles: De Vorrs.

Bullard, Thomas Eddie. 1982. ‘Mysteries in the Eye of the Beholder: UFOs and Their Correlates as a Folkloric Theme Past and Present.’ PhD diss., Indiana University.

Downing, Barry H. 2017. Biblical UFO Revelations. Brunswick, NJ: Global Communications.

Flaherty, Robert Pearson. 2011. ‘UFOs, ETs, and the Millennial Imagination.‘ In The Oxford Handbook of Millennialism, edited by Catherine Wessinger, 568–87. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gallagher, Eugene V. 2010. ‘Extraterrestrial Exegesis: The Räelian Movement as a Biblical Religion.’ Nova Religio (14 (2): 14–33.

Grünschloss, Andreas. 2003. ‘UFO Faith and Ufological Discourses in Germany.’ In UFO Religions, edited by Christopher Partridge, 179–93. London: Routledge.

Grünschloss, Andreas. 2003. ‘When We Enter into My Father’s Spacecraft: Cargoistic Hopes and Millenarian Cosmologies in New Religious UFO Movements.’ In Encyclopedic Sourcebook of UFO Religions, edited by James R. Lewis, 7–42. Amherst: Prometheus Books.

Grünschloss, Andreas. 2004. ‘Waiting for the ‘Big Beam’: UFO Religions and ‘Ufological’ Themes in New Religious Movements.’ In The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements, edited by James R. Lewis, 419–44. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jung, Carl Gustav. 1959. Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.

Lewis, James R. 1995. The Gods Have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds. Albany: SUNY Press.

Lewis, James R., ed. 2000. UFOs and Popular Culture: An Encyclopedia of Contemporary Myth. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Lewis, James R., ed. 2003. Encyclopedic Sourcebook of UFO Religions. Amherst: Prometheus Books.

Lewis, James R. 2003. ‘Legitimating Suicide: Heaven’s Gate and New Age Ideology.’ In UFO Religions, edited by Christopher Partridge, 103–28. London: Routledge.

Melton, J. Gordon. 1995. ‘The Contactees: A Survey.’ In The Gods Have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds, edited by James R. Lewis, 1–13. Albany: SUNY Press.

Melton, J. Gordon and George M. Eberhart. 1995. ‘The Flying Saucer Contactee Movement, 1950–1994.’ In The Gods Have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds, edited by James R. Lewis, 251–332. Albany: SUNY Press.

Milligan, Linda Jean. 1988. The UFO Debate: A Study of a Contemporary Legend. PhD diss., Ohio State University

Partridge, Christopher, ed. 2003. UFO Religions. London: Routledge.

Peebles, Curtis. 1994. Watch the Skies: A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Peters, Ted. 2003. ‘UFOs, Heaven’s Gate, and the Theology of Suicide.’ In Encyclopedic Sourcebook of UFO Religions, edited by James R. Lewis, 239–60. Amherst: Prometheus Books.

Rojcewicz, Peter. 1984. ‘The Boundaries of Orthodoxy: A Folkloric Look at the UFO Phenomenon.’ PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania.

Rothstein, Michael. 2003. ‘UFO Beliefs as Syncretistic Components.’ In UFO Religions, edited by Christopher Partridge, 256–73. London: Routledge.

Saliba, John A. 1995. ‘UFO Contactee Phenomena from a Sociopsychological Perspective: A Review.’ In The Gods Have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds, edited by James R. Lewis, 207–50. Albany: SUNY Press.

Saliba, John A. 1995. ‘Religious Dimensions of UFO Phenomena.’ In The Gods Have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds, edited by James R. Lewis, 15–64. Albany: SUNY Press.

Saliba, John A. 2006. ‘The Study of UFO Religions: Review Essay.’ Nova Religio 10 (2): 103–23.

Thomas, Paul Brian. 2010. ‘Bible Lessons with Räel: On Religious Appropriation in ET-Inspired Religions.’ Nova Relgio 14 (2): 6–13.

Thomas, Paul Brian. 2010. ‘Revisionism in ET-Inspired Religions.’ Nova Relgio 14 (2): 61–83.

Thompson, Keith. 1991. Angels and Aliens: UFOs and the Mythic Imagination. New York: Fawcett.

Tuella (Thelma B. Turrell). 1982. Project World Evacuation. Salt Lake City: Guardian Action.

Tumminia, Diane and James R. Lewis, eds. 2007. Alien Worlds: The Social and Religious Dimensions of UFO Phenomena. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Wojcik, Daniel. 2003. ‘Apocalyptic and Millenarian Aspects of American UFOism.’ In UFO Religions, edited by Christopher Partridge, 274–300. London: Routledge.

section link


Adamski, George and Desmond Leslie. 1953/1977. Flying Saucers Have Landed. London: Neville Spearman.

Aetherius Society: Some Basic Principles Included in its Teachings. 1981. Hollywood, California: The Aetherius Society.

Angelucci, Orfeo. 1955. The Secret of the Saucers, edited by Ray Palmer. Amherst, WI: Amherst Press.

Applewhite, Marshall Herff. 1997. ‘Heaven’s Gate—How and When It May Be Entered.’ Excerpt from the book How and Why Heaven’s Gate May Be Entered. Phoenix, Arizona: TELAH Services. Retrieved from http://www.heavensgate.com.

Balch, Robert W. 1982. ‘Bo and Peep: A Case Study of the Origins of Messianic Leadership.’ In Millennialism and Charisma, edited by Roy Wallis, 13–71. Belfast: Queen’s University.

Balch, Robert W. 1985. ‘When the Light Goes Out, Darkness Comes: A Study of Defection from a Totalistic Cult.’ In Religious Movements: Genesis, Exodus and Numbers, edited by Rodney Stark, 11–63. New York: Paragon House.

Balch, Robert W. 1995. ‘Waiting for the Ships: Disillusionment and Revitalization of Faith in Bo and Peep’s UFO Cult.’ In The Gods have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds, edited by James R. Lewis, 137–66. Albany: SUNY Press.

Besant, Annie. 1912. The Masters. Adyar, India: The Theosophist Office.

Bethurum, Truman. 1954. Aboard a Flying Saucer. Los Angeles: De Vorss and Co.

Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. 1888–93. The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy. 2 vols. London: Theosophical Publishing House.

Downing, Barry H. 1968. The Bible and Flying Saucers. New York: Avon Books.

Ellwood, Robert S. 1995. ‘UFO Religious Movements.’ In America’s Alternative Religions, edited by Timothy Miller, 393–99. Albany: SUNY Press.

Festinger, Leon, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter. 1964. When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World. New York: Harper & Row.

Flaherty, Robert Pearson. 1990. ‘Flying Saucers and the New Angelology: Mythic Projection of the Other and the Convergence of Opposites.’ PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles.

Flaherty, Robert Pearson. 2010.’These Are They: ET-Human Hybridization and the New Daemonology.’ Nova Religio 14 (2): 84–105.

Fry, Daniel W. 1954. The White Sands Incident. Los Angeles: New Age Publishing.

Helland, Christopher. 2000. ‘The Ashtar Command.’ In UFOs and Popular Culture: An Encyclopedia of Contemporary Myth, edited by James R. Lewis, 37–40. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Helland, Christopher. 2003a. ‘The Ashtar Command.’ In Encyclopedic Sourcebook of UFO Religions, edited by James R. Lewis, 497–518. New York: Prometheus Books.

Helland, Christopher. 2003b. ‘From Extraterrestrials to Ultraterrestrials: The Evolution of the Concept of Ashtar.’ In UFO Religions, edited by Christopher Partridge, 162–78. London: Routledge.

Hill, Ethel P. 1957. In Days to Come by Ashtar: Received through Automatic Writing by E. P. H. Los Angeles: New Age.

Jacobs, David Michael. 1975. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Keyhoe, Donald E. 1950. The Flying Saucers Are Real. New York: Fawcett Books.

Kinder, Gary. 1987. Light Years. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Leadbeater, Charles. 1912. A Textbook of Theosophy. Adyar, India: Office of the Theosophist.

Leadbeater, Charles. 1925. The Masters and the Path. Adyar, India: Theosophical Publishing House.

Meier, Eduard Billy. 1988–95. Message from the Pleiades: The Contact Notes of Eduard Billy Meier. 4 vols. Munds Park, AZ: UFO Photo Archives and Genesis III.

Palmer, Susan Jean. 2004. Aliens Adored: Räel’s UFO Religion. Rutgers, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Räel (Claude Vorilhon). 2005. Intelligent Design: Message from the Designers. Nova Distribution.

Scribner, Scott and Gregory Wheeler. 2003. 'Cosmic Intelligences and Their Terrestrial Channel: A Field Report on the Aetherius Society'. In Encyclopedic Sourcebook of UFO Religions, edited by James R. Lewis, 157–72. Amherst: Prometheus.

Smith, Simon G. 2003. ‘Opening a Channel to the Stars: The Origins and Development of the Aetherius Society.’ In UFO Religions, edited by Christopher Partridge, 84–102. London: Routledge.

Spiro, Melford R. 1966. ‘Religion: Problems of Definition and Explanation.’ In Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion, edited by Michael Banton, 91–98. London: Tavistock.

Stupple, David. 1984. ‘Mahatmas and Space Brothers: The Ideologies of Alleged Contact with Mahatmas and Space Brothers: The Ideologies of Alleged Contact with Extraterrestrials.’ Journal of American Culture 7 (1–2): 131–39.

Tuella (Thelma B. Turrell). 1985. Ashtar: A Tribute. Durango, CO: Guardian Action.

Tumminia, Diana. 2003. ‘When the Archangel Died: From Revelation to Routinisation of Charisma in Unarius.’ In UFO Religions, edited by Christopher Partridge, 62–83. London: Routledge.

Tumminia, Diana. 2005. When Prophecy Never Fails: Myth and Reality in a Flying Saucer Group. New York: Oxford University Press.

Tumminia, Diana and R. G. Kirkpatrick. 1995. ‘Unarius: Emergent Aspects of an American Flying Saucer Group.’ In The Gods Have Landed, edited by James R. Lewis, 85–104. Albany: SUNY Press.

Unarius Foundation. 1974. ‘That Incredible Hierarchy of the Universe.’ El Cajon, CA: The Unarius Foundation.

Van Tassel, George. 1952. I Rode in a Flying Saucer: The Mystery of the Flying Saucers Revealed. Los Angeles: New Age.

Wallis, Roy. 1975. ‘The Aetherius Society: A Case Study in the Formation of a Mystagogic Congregation.’ In Sectarianism: Analyses of Religious and Non-Religious Sects edited by Roy Wallis, 17–34. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Williamson, George Hunt. 1953. Other Tongues—Other Flesh. Amherst, WI: Amherst Press.

Zeller, Benjamin. 2006. ‘Scaling Heaven’s Gate: Individualism and Salvation in a New Religious Movement.’ Nova Religio 12 (10): 75–102.

Zeller, Benjamin. 2010. ‘Extraterrestrial Hermeneutics and the Making of Heaven’s Gate.’ Nova Relgio 14 (2): 34–660.

Zeller, Benjamin. 2014. Heaven’s Gate: America’s UFO Religion. New York: NYU Press.

Article information

Robert Pearson Flaherty. 2021. "Extraterrestrial/UFO Religion." In James Crossley and Alastair Lockhart (eds.) Critical Dictionary of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements. 15 January 2021. Retrieved from www.cdamm.org/articles/extraterrestrial.

Downloaded: 2021-03-06

Provided under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0

Share Article



144,000 refers to a belief in an elect group, often at end times or in an imminent transformation of the world. The usage typically derives from the book of Revelation. In Revelation 7:1–8, 144,000 refers to the twelve tribes of Israel who have the seal of God on their foreheads. They are also presented as virgins, blameless, ‘redeemed from the earth’, and expected to sing a new song at Mount Zion (Revelation 14:1–5).


In popular usage, 'apocalypticism' refers to a belief in the likely or impending destruction of the world (or a general global catastrophe), usually associated with upheaval in the social, political, and religious order of human society—often referred to as an/the 'apocalypse'. Historically, the term has had religious connotations and the great destruction has traditionally been seen as part of a divine scheme, though it is increasingly used in secular contexts. See the Apocalypticism article for a more detailed discussion.


In popular use, ‘Armageddon’ involves ideas of great cataclysmic events or conflict. The term has long been used to refer to a future battle or ongoing war at the end of time or civilization, whether understood generally as a cataclysmic final battle or specifically as a battle at a place called Megiddo (a location in modern Israel), or a more flexible understanding of Megiddo as a coded reference to an alternative location. ‘Armageddon’ derives from the book of Revelation where it appears just once (Revelation 16:16) with reference to the location of a great cosmic battle associated with the end times. See the Armageddon article for a more detailed discussion.

Beast of the Apocalypse

In popular terms, the 'Beast' or the 'Beast of the Apocalypse' refer generally to a violent and destructive creature that emerges at end times. Such understandings of an end-time beast or beasts derive from the book of Revelation (also called the The Apocalypse) and its long and varied history of interpretation. Revelation refers to 'beasts' on different occasions, including beasts in opposition to God: one emerging from the sea or a pit (Revelation 11:7; 13:1; 17:8; cf. Daniel 7), one from the earth (Revelation 13:11), and another scarlet in colour (Revelation 17:3). The beast from the earth is also associated with the number 666 (alternatively: 616) (Revelation 13:18) and Revelation 19:20 claims that the beast will 'thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur' (New Revised Standard Version).


‘Eschatology’ concerns the study of end times and is derived from the Greek term ἔσχατος (eschatos), meaning ‘final, ‘last’, ‘end’, etc. Eschatology is a label that can incorporate a cluster of related beliefs which differ according to tradition (e.g., end of the world, resurrection, regeneration, Day of Judgment, Antichrist).

Kingdom of God

In the Bible, the ‘Kingdom of God’ (sometimes synonymous with the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’) refers to notions of ruling and kingship which are often understood to have a spatial or territorial dimension, whether in heaven or on earth. According to the book of Daniel, such ‘kingdom’ language is used to describe the claim that God rules the universe eternally (Daniel 4:34) but will also intervene in human history to establish a kingdom for his people (Daniel 2:44). According to the Gospels, Jesus predicted the coming Kingdom of God or Heaven and these predictions have been influential in the history of speculations about end times or the benefits of the kingdom being experienced in a present time and place. Across different traditions, such language has also been used to describe communities deemed holy or places deemed sacred, as well as being understood with reference to personal or ‘spiritual’ transformation.


Messianism refers to ideas about a redeemer figure or figures who transform the fortunes of a given people or the world as a whole. The term ‘Messiah’ is derived from the Hebrew משיח (mashiach), meaning ‘anointed one’. In the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, it is a term used to denote people such as kings, priests and prophets anointed to carry out their duties on behalf of God. In early Judaism, the term took on a more precise meaning as a future redeemer figure, including a king in the line of David. New Testament texts made such clams about Jesus where a Greek equivalent of the Hebrew, Χριστός (christos), became part of his name: Jesus Christ.


In popular and academic use, the term ‘millenarianism’ is often synonymous with the related terms ‘millennialism’, ‘chiliasm’ and ‘millenarism’. They refer to an end-times Golden Age of peace, on earth, for a long period, preceding a final cataclysm and judgement—sometimes referred to as the 'millennium'. The terms are used to describe both millenarian belief and the persons or social groups for whom that belief is central. ‘Millennialism’ or ‘chiliasm’ are chronological terms derived from the Latin and Greek words for ‘thousand’. They are commonly used to refer to a thousand-year period envisaged in the book of Revelation (20:4–6) during which Christ and resurrected martyrs reign prior to the final judgment. More recently the terms have been used to refer to secular formulas of salvation, from political visions of social transformation to UFO movements anticipating globally transformative extra-terrestrial intervention. See the Millenarianism article for a more detailed discussion.


‘Prophecy’ can be broadly understood as a cross-cultural phenomenon involving claims of supernatural or inspired knowledge transmitted or interpreted by an authoritative recipient, intermediary, or interpreter labelled a ‘prophet’. The term is also used in a more general and secular way to refer to individuals who simply predict or prognosticate future events, or those leading principled causes or in pursuit of a particular social or political vision without any special association with inspired or supernatural insight. The language of ‘prophet’ and ‘prophecy’ in English derives from the Greek προφητης (prophētēs) found in the Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and in the New Testament. See the Prophets and Prophecy article for a more detailed discussion.

Son of Man

‘Son of man’ simply means ‘man’ in biblical Hebrew and Aramaic and is a title for Jesus in the Greek New Testament. While the ancient idiom is gendered, some scholars prefer to bring out the generic implications and reflect inclusive language today in their English translations (e.g., 'son of a human being', 'son of humanity'). The phrase sometimes took on a more titular function before Jesus because of the book of Daniel. In Daniel 7, Daniel is said to have had a vision of four destructive beasts representing four kingdoms and who stand in contrast to a human-like figure—‘one like a son of man’. The ‘Ancient of Days’ then takes away the power of the beasts and Daniel sees ‘one like a son of man’ approaching, ‘coming with the clouds of heaven’ (Daniel 7:13; New International Version). Daniel 7 claims that this ‘son of man’ figure will be given ‘authority, glory and sovereign power’, ‘all peoples’ will worship him, and his kingdom will be everlasting. The precise identification of the ‘one like a son of man’ in Daniel 7:13 is not made explicit and there has been a long history of identification with a variety of candidates in apocalyptic and millenarian movements, sometimes without reference to the book of Daniel.


‘Zion’ is an alternative name for Jerusalem and the ‘city of David’ (2 Samuel 5:7; 1 Kings 8:1; 1 Chronicles 11:5; 2 Chronicles 5:2), though it is also used with reference to Israel. Zion can also refer to ‘Mount Zion’, a hill located in Jerusalem which was the site of the Jewish Temple (destroyed 70 CE) and is the site of the al-Aqsa Mosque. Zion and Mount Zion are sometimes interpreted as coded references to an alternative geographical location or to something ‘spiritual’ and otherworldly. In some religious traditions, Zion plays a central role in expectations about end times or the benefits associated with end times being fulfilled in the present.