Story by Alexis Canelo Photos by Natalie Miranda
Men and women draped in crimson robes, deeply entranced in prayer and mantra surrounded a spiritual power battery channeling their energies toward it to be released at a later time. They are participating in Operation Prayer Power.
Worshipping beings from another planet sounds like something from a sci-fi film. However, this is a reality for the thousands of members in the Aetherius Society.
The religion was formed in the mid-1950s by George King, according to the Aetherius Society website. King acted as a medium and would share messages given to him by higher beings.
Life outside our planet remains a mere speculation, but for the Aetherius Society it is religion.
According to Life, Here and Beyond by Marc Kaufman, published on the Astrobiology page of the NASA website, extraterrestrial life is possible but has not been proven.
“No life beyond Earth has ever been found; there is no evidence that alien life has ever visited our planet. It’s all a story,” Kaufman said. “This does not mean, however, that the universe is lifeless. While no clear signs of life have ever been detected, the possibility of extraterrestrial biology the scientific logic that supports it has grown increasingly plausible.”
Paul Nugent, a priest at the Aetherius Society, explained some of the beliefs.
“We believe in the Aetherius Society that these masters, these gods from space, would include Jesus, who we believe came from Venus, would include the Buddha, who we also believe came from Venus, and Sri Krishna, who we believe came from the planet Saturn, which is the most evolved planet in our solar system,” Nugent said.
Steven Medway is the son of a Sunday School teacher and a priest at the Aetherius Society. Medway said the Master Aetherius, one of the higher beings, would communicate through King.
“It was the Master Aetherius, who the society is named after, he would actually forecast where flying saucers would be time and place a week before,” Medway said. “They appeared in the reports or in the papers. And so it kind of proved that they were who they said they were.”
Incidents like these helped strengthen Medway’s beliefs.
“Nobody knew about Chernobyl for weeks until they started picking up the radiation and questioning where it came from,” Medway said. “Nobody knew about that, probably even the CIA didn’t know this. This cosmic being on a spacecraft was monitoring it and there was a report in ‘Pravda’ [Soviet newspaper] about thousands of people witnessing a flying saucer hovering over Chernobyl for hours. It looked like it was absorbing the energy. So you get correlations like that.”
After Medway’s father died, he was left with unanswered questions. Even the Methodist Church that he was a part of could not help. Medway’s primary question was why his father died when he did.
“They just quoted the Bible, but they didn’t really give realistic or down to Earth answers. So that’s when I started to get disappointed and looking elsewhere,” Medway said.
Medway’s older brother introduced him to the relatively new religion.
“My older brother found the Society in England first and told me about it while I was still at school. When I was 18 I left school, I left home and joined him on the other side of London and became a member. That was in 1971,” Medway said.
The Society helped answer the questions Medway had.
“I found the Society answered all the questions about reincarnation and the law of Karma. Everything is meant to be as it is,” Medway said.
The Society organizes pilgrimages to what they call holy mountains.
“I first went to a holy mountain when I was 17, one in Scotland, north of the northern end of the British Isles,” Medway said. “ In those days, hippie days, they used to call it being stoned, but I hadn’t smoked anything. It was just like, wow, that’s just bliss.”
Ernesto Villacís, who was raised Catholic, had been researching numerology and astrology when he took the advice of a friend to go to a metaphysical study class. It was at that class he discovered the work of King and he said he began curing his heart condition. Attending the class was the beginning of a journey for Villacis.
“I feel so at home in this class. Like everything they’re saying to me makes sense,” Villacis said.
The practices resonated deeply within Villacis.
“I started delving into it more and I read The Nine Freedoms. That was one of the first books I read, which had a huge impact on me,” Villacis said.
Villacis was looking for ways to cure his heart condition and get off his prescription medication.
“I wanted to heal myself naturally. So he [the organizer] said, if you practice these exercises and you’ve practiced them good and you do other things like prayer, mantra, good diet and that sort of stuff, then you probably won’t need medications anymore,” Villacís said. “So I took his advice, I took the practices very seriously, and within a year and a half, I was off medications completely.”
Senior Director of Physical Plant Management at CSUN Jason Wang studied cult and cult behavior while in graduate school. Wang believes that cults are not inherently bad.
“I don’t think cult behavior is negative and I want to start from
that as a premise,” Wang said. “Being in a group where you’re connected
with things, there’s rules and rituals, things you have to know that you become once you gain that knowledge and participate in those activities or rituals and you become a part of a group. That’s what we crave.” Nugent said the
Society is commonly characterized as a cult, which carries a negative connotation.
“I think people would call us a cult, which in the correct sense we are. I mean a cult is any non-mainstream religious organization. Unfortunately, though, it’s developed a very negative connotation because there have been various, bizarre religious groups that have done ridiculous things,” Nugent said. “People sort of tend to go ‘Oh, it’s a cult, therefore it’s got to be bad.’ We would contest that.”