Volume 3, No.2 (December 1998)
9 Pages (5.719 words)

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»When we enter into my Father's spacecraft«

Cargoistic hopes and millenarian cosmologies in
new religious UFO movements

  • Read the revised version (March 2001)
    Read the Abstract  

    Andreas Grünschloß
    University of Goettingen, Germany

    The following essay is a revised English version of my paper presented to the annual convention of the Deutsche Vereinigung für Religionsgeschichte (DVRG = the German branch of the I.A.H.R.), which took place at the University of Mainz in October 1997 and focused on the topic "Religion within the Change of Cosmologies".[1] The religious groups covered in the text are (or have been) active in the United States. However, since this paper was originally prepared for a German audience, many references in the footnotes relate to source-material that is available in German. A slightly shorter German version will appear in the forthcoming conference-volume ed. by Dieter Zeller (Religion im Wandel der Kosmologien. Frankfurt/New York 1999). All Internet-sources and -data referred to in the following pages have been collected between May 1997 and summer 1998.
    I am planning to continue research on the subject. Therefore, more information might soon be posted trough my homepage at the University of Mainz (e.g. collection of additional material and links, retrieved Internet sources, etc.).

    Note: Because of the relatively bulky footnotes, it is recommended to use this framed version. You can also click on the embedded pictures to view larger images. -- For technical reasons, however, clickable Internet-links in the footnotes have only been implemented in the unframed version.

    There is also a separate file with links and Internet references on the topic "UFO" and "Religion".    link section

    1) Millennial Cargo from outer space?

    The quite sensational suicide of the Californian Heaven's Gate community in March 1997 brought the presence of UFO movements back into public awareness. However, I do not, as the title might suggest, intend to deal exclusively with the cosmology of this particular group. I will be more concerned with comparing it to other forms of apocalyptic hopes for salvation, which also await an imminent extraterrestrial intervention on this planet, and which incorporate the construction of a Homo Novus.

    Millenarian movements are religious movements that await an imminent, collective and ultimate liberation -- usually within this world. [2] This implies the founding of a perfect age (that is: pure, blessed, righteous, free of all suffering and conflict) or of a perfect country or kingdom.[3] The so-called "Cargo Cults" of Melanesia and New Guinea relate in a similar way to a dawning state of material, organisational and spiritual well-being, which is meant to offer a substitute or compensation for present insufficiencies. This is "projected into the imminent future" as a collective salvation or liberation: in particular, the expected abundance of supernaturally acquired or generated western consumer goods and commodities ( cargo; in pidgin kago) can be turned into the central characteristic of a "manifestation of the Millennium"[4].

      "So-called cargoism and millennialism come to overlap as types of collective expectation when the imminent coming of an utterly transformed Cosmic Order is linked with the arrival of a radically different range of material goods. These goods are understood to issue from a 'supernatural' or quite supranormal source -- out of the world of spiritual beings."[5]

    Alongside the expectations, which present themselves as bound up with a kind of supernatural technology, there are eschatological conceptions strongly influenced by the idea of a restitution of the original paradise. As a victory over the present 'inverted world' (ecological crisis, social injustice, spiritual failure), this hope for salvation looks to the restoration of a "natural" and "paradisiacal" harmony. A superabundant "heaven on earth" of the Land of Cockaigne type is at sight, -- and in the ideal case "all suggestions of tiresome work, factory production" (etc.) are "driven out of the 'Heaven-on-Earth'"[6]. A further alternative is found in the idea of the final rapture, where a small band of the "righteous" or spiritually advanced are taken up or "evacuated" -- temporarily or permanently -- to a new level of existence; this often draws on the imagery of the sealing of the 144,000 in John's Apocalypse (Rev 7). Many hybrid forms of these ideas appear in the religious cosmologies of UFO movements and UFO believers. One important distinguishing mark can be found in the presence or absence of particular "cargoisms"[7] connected with the superior technologies of otherworldly and inter-planetary teachers (the latter ones often being identified with mythical culture-heroes or gods of antiquity[8]):

      "When millenarism and cargoism are wed, however, at least the images of modern technology and scientific achievement will be retained, so that the prophesied new Order can even be articulated as the very apex of Modernity rather than (exclusively) that of a Great spiritual Return, and at times it can bear a strong ring of Science Fiction (or some 'science mythology') about it." [9]

    Without doubt an important attraction of UFO belief is rooted in its capacity to synthesise elements and system-parts of the esoteric, spiritualistic and theosophical -- or Christian -- traditions and to reconcile them with science, space technology and modern cosmology.[10] Especially the traditional numinous personnel (for example, the so-called "ascended masters" of theosophy or the esoteric representation of Jesus Christ) surfaces quite frequently in the spectrum of UFO movements and UFO publications with a consistent pattern of functions[11]. However, this personnel is considerably extended by inter-planetary newcomers as in the case of the space fleet commander and universal master "Ashtar (Sheran)"[12] and of other prominent members of the "cosmic brotherhood", the light fleet of the star fraternity or the "Galactic Federation".[13] The cosmological map is extended by the existence of inter-galactic or multi-dimensional parallel worlds,[14] and in some cases this is connected with the conception of a spiritual development of souls to a "higher resonating frequency" in other cosmic "spheres" or "realms".[15] The interplanetary light fraternity from these parallel worlds will help earthly humankind during the imminent immense renewal and purification of the earth (for example, by a temporary evacuation in space ships) and by stretching and refining human consciousness. The frequent UFO sightings are taken as a direct sign or proof that this activity is currently increasing. Sceptical or scientific-immanent explanations of these alleged harbingers of the approaching millennium can be readily explained, for those who faithfully insist on such contact experiences, by conspiracy theories.[16]

    If, then, the members of Heaven's Gate were seeking to leave this earthly "classroom" for salvation on a higher cosmological "level above human", a sphere located in certain space ships ("My Father's Kingdom moves or travels in spacecrafts"[17]), a clear continuity with the conceptual imagery of many other UFO faiths and UFO movements seems to be at hand[18]. However, a closer look makes it apparent that the apocalyptic scenario depends on quite distinct cosmological views and expectations.

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    2) The "Brotherhood of the Sun" or "Sunburst Community"

    Garry Trompf, already quoted above and known for his work on Melanesian religion, compared Melanesian cargoism and millenarianism with religious movements on the other side of the Pacific Ocean and concentrated here on the Sunburst community[19] founded in California by Norman Paulsen in 1955 (sic). Included in its syncretistic religious and cosmological worldview are Yogananda's Kriya-Yoga, some Christian elements, several esoteric-theosophical traditions and Erich von Däniken motifs, with the idea of imminent contact with UFOs as the centre-piece of hope for salvation.

    The cosmological belief patterns of the Brotherhood of the Sun were expressed in spatial and temporal forms (41). There must have been a continent called "Mu" twelve thousand years ago in the middle of the Pacific, apart from Australia and New Guinea[20]. This is the lost holy motherland on which all the important events in cosmic sacred history were played out. The ancient culture heroes were beings of other worlds who influenced evolutionary process in humankind through genetic manipulation. About a million years earlier the beings from other worlds escaped from an inter-stellar war and reached the earth (41f). These have been regarded as gods in earthly religions to this day. These so-called builders founded cities on the continent Mu, created people according to their own image (cf. Gen. 1:26): as red, blue, yellow and white[21]. The continual conflict with the enemies of the "builders" dispersed the human race over the earth. Finally, about twelve thousand years ago an asteroid collided with the earth and destroyed the continents of Atlantis (collision) and Mu (a tidal wave).

    The future is seen above all as a return, as a re-actualisation of the 'lost paradise'. The frequent sightings of flying saucers are nothing other than space ships or "Space Mus" of the angelic Builders who now selected Norman Paulsen as primary contact person (43). The divine-mythical culture heroes would return ("The Return of the Ancients") to strike the final blow on their evil foe. Thereby contemporary society in its present form will be destroyed. When this millennium breaks through, its new Cargo will not be manifested in abundance of material wealth of the western kind but as a completely superior technology with special materials hitherto unknown to mankind and with a release of unknown energies of the universe[22], especially of the sun (43). Then again it will be possible to "follow the simple laws of God and nature" (44).

    Here the paradisiacal imagery of the perfect "garden" is amalgamated in immediate association with the dream of a scientific miracle (44). Even the "Space Mu" ships provide under their domes "internal gardens" in which all desirable surroundings can be created. "The Motherland" is "returning again", and by this the Garden of Eden will be restored (44).

    A central role was to be played by the Sunburst Ranch to the north of Santa Barbara and its members would be the first to profit from the new 'Cargo': "Young men and women could become space pilots or scientists, or pursue whatever trade they felt drawn to" (55). Paulsen explicitly connected his vision of a "cosmic consciousness" (or "Christ consciousness") with expectations of the cargoist type -- in his own words: "The by-product of living a life of harmony with the Spirit is to have physical abundance" (55). Paulsen first understood himself to be a prophet, but towards the end of the sixties he assumed more strongly the role of Christ (52). He then understood himself to be an ancient Lord of Mu and suddenly remembered his former inter-stellar flights. His style of leadership and clashes with the surrounding population led to the effective break-up of the movement in 1982.

      Important Note (Nov. 2000): It has been brought to my attention recently -- and I am happy to report -- that the "Brotherhood of the Sun" was founded only as late as 1970 (my reference to "1955" is a misconception: Paulsen did teach meditation in the years before 1970, but a real "group" began to surface in the late sixties). -- Furthermore, the brotherhood did not vanish entirely in 1982, but, after some reconstruction, Norman Paulsen and his followers nowadays form a loose community called the "Solar Logos Foundation" (established in 1993 and currently located in southern California, north of Santa Barbara). The religious practice is committed to apply Paulsen's teachings as displayed in his books The Christ-Consciousness (a revised edition of his earlier Sunburst-book) and Sacred Science (a guide for meditation). First-hand information about the community and Paulsen's publications can be obtained via the group's homepage "". It seems, however, that the typical millenarian outlook of the former "Sunburst" era has now vanished almost completely. (Indeed, a revised version of this essay -- with more accuracy in the Sunburst section -- is to appear in a new forthcoming anthology by James Lewis, Alien Gods [working title]).
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    3) The "Ground Crew Project" or "Planetary Activation Organization"

    Groud Crew Home
    A contemporary and still relatively weakly consolidated grouping, especially active in publishing quite similarly designed apocalyptic UFO messages on the Internet, is the so-called "Ground Crew Project" (GCP) of California and Hawaii. I took notice of this group in summer 1997 during an Internet research on UFO faith. On their old homepage they had placed a very detailed description of an apocalyptic scenario involving a mass landing of 15 million UFOs[23]. However, in November 1997 -- shortly after this paper was originally presented to the DVRG-conference in Mainz -- the movement split[24]: into the new "Ground Crew" (GC)[25] under the authoritative care of Valerie Donner and the "Planetary Activation Organization" (PAO) [26]. The latter is closely grouped around Sheldon (recently calling himself Sheldan) Nidle[27] and relies now exclusively on his telepathic messages or channelings which are said to come from the "Galactic Federation". Since the approach of the space ships was announced for the summer of 1997, the "old" GCP stirred up great expectations and the Internet "Updates" were correspondingly very concerned about the delayed parousia. After the split, however, the PAO as well as the new GC adopted a spiritual 'business as usual' approach -- but without giving up generally on the expected intervention of aliens and angels on this earth in the near future.

    The apocalyptic scenario designed by this group or these two groups (and even quite similarly by analogous groups) can summed up briefly as follows: [28]

      - Humanity will be "awakened" and provided with a higher resonating frequency of the physical body ("Light vibration"), and therefore the "higher dimensions" will be visible.

      - The capability of seeing the extra-terrestrials and their other-worldly "ships of Light" -- and of boarding them -- will be offered universally.

      - In the course of a "mass landing", there will be over 15 million of such space ships arriving. Thereby all earthly weapons ("bombs, nukes, ships, and technological weaponry, regardless of its sophistication") will be first neutralised and then "beamed up to the ships".

      - Each space ship will be accompanied by "at least one Angel": "Angels will be in charge and Earth is to be a Paradise."[29] With their special "training programs" and their "advanced technology" they will be able to raise people to "full consciousness" within sixteen hours.

      - World government will be taken over by "The Spiritual Hierarchy" and all communication systems are to be replaced by their "advanced technologies". With this help the whole atmosphere of the earth will be transformed and purified.

      - A photon belt will hit the earth ("like a massive tornado of energy") and within a few years (by 2012) the earth will become a "galactic showcase". The consequences will be ecological and sociological equilibrium, progress in five dimensions and immediate awareness of God.

      - The earth will then become an incomparable paradise: "'We are bringing this creation to its end. We are now creating a galactic society.' This will happen before the end of this year!"

      - Finally, the "dormant" Pineal Gland will be activated and all the bodily DNA of human beings will be altered; an immediate healing process (depicted with biblical allusions[30]) will be brought into play.

      - In the end everybody and everything will attain full consciousness ("The entire solar system will become fully conscious, even the planets"). Human beings will finally achieve a superhuman level, and thus the promise is: "You can make reality whatever you want it to be".

    "It is now the Millennium."[31] The earth will be changed back into its original condition of "Heaven on Earth"[32]. Unusual geological and climatic phenomena (e.g. the flooding of the River Oder in Poland and Germany in 1997) are recognisable 'signs of the times'. Since the changes are going to be dramatic, the friends from other planets will have to evacuate the human beings, at least temporarily, in their space ships with "holographic" environments. After a spiritual "ascension", complete consciousness will prevail and people will be able to design their own appearance, to be perfectly healthy, to create theirown dwelling place and "to live for hundreds or thousands of years"[33]: "As they say in the film 'Star Wars': 'the force is with you!'"[34] -- In this critical time, the Galactic Federation and the angels will provide "counsellors, supplies, teachers and new technology"[35].

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    GCP Logo
    The logo[36] of the original GCP brought the integration of these various religious and cosmological aspects very clearly into the picture. Under the rainbow there is a UFO, then the dove of peace and two angels with apocalyptic trumpets and, beneath, the earth held in two protective hands. The wreath surrounding the lower part (including planet earth) reminds of the emblem of the United Nations and appears to stretch these out into inter-stellar space (the "Galactic Society").

    In their cosmology, these groups (GCP, GC and PAO) agree with the spectrum of New Age or esoteric movements, and their ufological variants[37] (Ashtar-Command, etc.): a completely new era is coming to birth. This implies a massive transformation of cosmic dimensions. Since everything hangs together, outer objective events interlace with the inner and spiritual. The other-worldly culture heroes and spiritual masters of antiquity ("Ascended Masters", "Angelic Realms", "Spiritual Hierarchy", etc.) will come again and help to set up the paradise on earth with the help of their spiritual and technological advance. Then the earth will again be what was intended in its creation: a "Heaven on Earth". In spite of the consistent references to other-worldly life forms, the worldview is decidedly geocentric: this earth is something special, the jewel among the planets. As if in a "people's pilgrimage to Zion", space ships are hastening here from all regions of the universe in order to share in experiencing the transformation of the earth and its civilisation. The earth then will be a "galactic showcase". A great work of multiplication falls to all earthly "light-workers" and "star seeds"[38]: humanity must be prepared for the time to come and must be gathered (for example, by world-meditation days) until enough "critical mass"[39] of spiritual energy is accumulated to harmonise all earthly vibrations towards the peaceful future. The inevitable woes and symptoms of the end time are registered with anxious but joyful anticipation[40] because a great evolutionary change is imminent just as the space ships finally land.

    Then, a Big Beam will protect humans from harmful consequences of the earth changes. What the groups say here is not unanimous. Sometimes it appears necessary to be "beamed up" to the space ships for protection, but on the other hand the ships might eventually make a direct landing since the transformation of the earth will not be so dangerous, but will produce immediate full consciousness and various paranormal capacities. In any event, the Big Beam will only be a short intermezzo, a brief rapture, since life will continue on "Mother Earth" which is meantime being changed into paradise.

    The task of the earthly "Ground Crew" is to cooperate with this process or even to hasten it, to hold themselves ready as a mediation and contact team and to prepare humankind for the revolutionary changes.[41] -- For the Melanesian Cargo Cults, the consumer goods and commodities of western civilisation became objects of religious concern. However, here it is the supposed superior technology of the aliens (passing between parallel worlds, velocity beyond the speed of light, teleportation or "beaming", etc.) as well as the higher or paranormal spiritual faculties (spiritual awakening, full consciousness; time travel, bilocation, telepathy, etc.) which, together with other gifts and "supplies", exercise an exotic charm.[42]

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    4) The Heaven's Gate group

    The cosmological framework is quite different for this group which has already been active for a long time[43]. To be sure, the millennium is breaking in but with other portents. Here the Big Beam is the only "last chance" to leave the world "before it is recycled"[44]. Certainly the world is to be transformed, but not into a galactic paradise: it is to be "spaded under", "annihilated", "recycled" or changed for something else[45]. It has reached the climax of its 'depravation'. It has been a holographic "classroom", a kind of "garden" for the cultivation of spiritual transplants from the Level Above Human. The harvest has been gathered now, following a repeated bi-millennium rhythm, by Jesus and his Father -- alias Marshall Herff Applewhite (*1931) and his "older member" Lu Trusdale Nettles (1917-1985), alias Do and Ti, or Bo and Peep (the "UFO Two") -- and there is no immediate further use for this earth.

    In the "Statement of an ET Presently Incarnate",[46] already composed in 1995, it is explained that in the previous sixteen years two individuals from the "Level Above Human" (LAH)[47] were "incarnated into (moved into and took over) two human bodies" in order to be used as new "vehicles" (§1)[48]. For a long while, the earth was being used (as were other "fruitful" planets) for the spiritual formation of souls: it is a "garden" for a "harvest of souls", a "transitional training ground" for potential new members of the heavenly kingdom. Every two thousand years the harvest is gathered, when the LAH makes renewed contact with the earth through representatives[49]. These as well as other human bodies, which are made available for incarnating LAH individuals, will be implanted with a special computer chip (by designated space crews) to prepare them for this function of incorporation. The significance of the earthly garden or "classroom" is that humans make themselves available as a "container" for LAH souls and are raised to maturity "while in the physical presence and tutorship of a Representative(s) sent from that Kingdom"[50]. This is the only "future" for human beings since the earth is from time to time "spaded under" and "recycled"[51].

    Consequently the esoteric or New Age vision of an approaching "Heaven on Earth" is explicitly rejected![52] However, such a rejection seems to correspond 'biographically' with statements that Ti and Do had once been involved with esoteric groups and teachings -- something which they gave up eventually and which was then reconstructed and depicted as a "temptation" by Satan[53].

    Here the Luciferian space aliens come into play who always intervene on earth with intention to sabotage.[54] For example, they found "religions", they imitate the role of "gods", they lead people astray and manipulate them, they arrange a subversive transfer of genetic technology onto earth, etc. As distinct from the LAH, they are not without sex. To be sure, these space aliens are in some way analogous to the culture heroes of antiquity -- but with negative portents: they are fallen from LAH, they play(ed) the part of gods and lead people into error. They are antagonists to the LAH, to the Kingdom of Heaven which is really elsewhere in the endless reaches of outer space. They belong to Satan, to "Luci's camp"[55], and divert people into an earthly life which is, thus, inevitably bound to death.

    How a member of the LAH might appear
    The kingdom of the LAH is, in contrast, "not of this world": Only the one who consciously loses his life will gain eternal life.[56] If salvation for the "little flock" depends on the correct procedure of beaming up to the space ship of the divine Father, then clearly there is no challenge to do anything to change the world. Now, there is only a final "disconnect"[57] -- like removing one's computer from the periphery or network. The earthly human bodies, nothing but empty "containers", can finally be scrapped. No tears are wasted over them: they have been enough of a hindrance. Other, perfect bodies[58] will be provided, much more suited to LAH souls. The pictorial representation of such a Homo Novus can be found on the Internet-site under the heading "How a Member of the Kingdom of Heaven might appear"[59].

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  • No Cargo is expected here to change the world, for the "spirit" is the only precious good which is to be "saved" onto the Next Level. The world, and all that belongs to it is to be given up -- since it is literally a virtual reality[60]. Who does not see this cannot be helped. The "Away Team" of the Heaven's Gate group recognises its isolation. They are a committed company, and mostly members of long standing. "Luci's camp" has infected the earthly holographic programme with computer viruses -- the whole world is effectively manipulated by a Luciferian programming.[61] All religions seem to have got a massive computer virus: their files suffer from irreparable data loss[62]. So there is only one last resource: the LAH who started this world must press the Reset key and restart or "reboot" the experiment anew. But, before this, the intact software data[63], that is, every spiritual LAH implant must be "saved"[64] -- like a spiritual data recovery onto the head computer of the heavenly "Father's spacecraft".

  • The reinterpretation of cosmology by means of this massive computer metaphor indeed resembles the scenario in Fassbinder's film "The World on the Wire" (1973).[65] We imagine we could live our lives and eventually simulate the world around us in a grand computer. But indeed we are only the software in a virtual world which is programmed at will and shaped by some Level Above.[66] Salvation, therefore, is breaking out of a cosmological computer game, out of "virtual" holographic reality onto the "higher" reality, a saving (or even: data-saving) step up from one level to the next.

    Anlody, a member of the group, in the Online Book of the movement, makes this point very precisely: "Everything else here is subject to crashing once the program of this hologram gets rebooted", and so the "invitation to exit Earth is an invitation to go home"[67]. The cosmological pessimism concerning the development of this world[68] is -- in a way quite analogous to Indian cosmological speculation along the Yugas[69] - compensated for by a special divine dispensation. As in the times of 'bad dharma'[70], it is a distinctly easy form of religion which can bring salvation now (cf. the Indian bhakti-religions). One clings to the "Rep[resentative]" who has 'come down' (cf. the Indian avatâra) from the transcendent Level Above and goes up with him to his 'pure land'. As is stated by Stmody, another group member, in the Online Book:

      "[...] the situation regarding religions today is like having all computer files (all original Next Level messages) corrupted by a space alien computer virus that only the Next Level Rep can restore to readability. And the only reality is to connect with the Reps from the only real potential future, while they visit in the present, and go out on their coattails, while the door is open. It's that simple."[71]

    Religious reconstructions of history involving depravation are often in mutual interaction with evolutionary views on salvation: the universal fall from grace in all other religious systems is contrasted with a restitution of truth; that is to say, a new path to salvation is set up in the midst of universal illness (Un-heilsgeschichte). In March 1997 thirty nine members of Heaven's Gate accepted their "invitation to go home" and left their earthly containers or vehicles. They "discarnated"[72] while the "Heaven's Gate" was standing open for them. They are now, in their opinion, secure while for all other people the great cosmic Reset is imminent and the real truth-data will be further "corrupted"[73]. They left behind them about five megabytes of Internet-data -- like a digital fossil.

    The massive computer-metaphoric or computer-cosmology used by this group appears consistent with the fact that they finally used the Internet as a primary medium for religious proclamation, although with little success. They even earned their money by doing web-design, and in this specific professional area they presented themselves under the name "Higher Source"[74]. However, it is not astonishing that some of the UFO- and science fiction-themes surface again among the graphic examples presented on the Internet-pages of Higher Source as a suggestion or stimulation to eventual customers[75].

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    HS Q-haul
    The most striking example is probably the witty graphic "Planning a Future Move?" designed for a fictitious inter-galactic removal organisation named "Q-Haul" (an allusion to a well-known US-American removal service). The picture shows a flying saucer-shaped starship leaving planet earth. For effectively improved "moving technology and service" the accompanying text refers to the local "Continuum Rep" of Q-Haul InterGalactic, who will work out an "instantaneous relocation plan". -- Thus, the Higher Source-graphic is already a playful pictorial allusion to the Heavensgaters' final move under the apocalyptic signs of the comet Hale Bopp.

    Although the group itself was strongly opposed to other (New Age or esoteric) versions of UFO faith, it is not surprising that shortly after their final "relocation" the Heavensgaters are said to have contacted an earthly UFO group named "Andromeda" from their new residence in the LAH, and their "successful transference" is then described in the following "channeled" way:[76]

      "There is a brief darkness, then a sense of moving out of the body rapidly and going upward. The speed of this is incomprehensible. The distance that the invisible part of self goes is not too far immediately. It is as if we went so far, stopped, looked back and knew that we had done it. [...] after we looked back and saw that we indeed had left, we acknowledged that we were still together as a group and went on to our next place of gathering." -- They go on to reassure the earthly humans that "there are real inter-planetary vehicles", and that earth (galactic name: "C-ton") is in an alarming state of ecological imbalance. Already embodied in their new, different "containers", they are now "moving away" from earth; but they promise to stay in contact -- with further "transmissions" and more "specific information" for earthly beings to "advance enlightenment".

    Obviously, the original outlook of the Heavensgaters is here already reconstructed and 'appropriated' in the light of an esoteric "ascension" and earth-"purification" scenario which is shared by most of the UFO believing groups or individuals. The Heaven's Gate group, however, had no further interest in changing the world or in futile attempts to awaken earth-bound souls.

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    5) The millennium within the conflict of cosmologies --
    "Heaven on Earth" or "Level Above Human"?

    In the UFO groups discussed in the previous sections, it is already possible to identify two basic -- if not ideal-typical -- options of millenarian cosmologies:

    • The hope for an imminent restoration of paradise within this world ("Heaven on Earth") prevalent among UFO believers, together with its expectation of a supernatural technology (here in the form of exotic, otherworldly Cargo from outer space), can form a bridge between the scientific technological world view and an ecological esoteric religiosity;

    • Heaven's Gate demonstrates, to the contrary, a cosmology which explains the present world as 'virtual reality' and prognosticates its complete destruction: salvation from this world is to be found only in a radical "disconnect!". Since only a complete removal to the "higher level" -- or a correct beaming up of soul data -- promises salvation, this leaves no place for any kind of world-changing cargoism.

    G.Trompf, using a similar bipolar distinction, commented on the relationship between millenarian cosmologies and world-changing activity: "Some millenarisms conceive the coming Perfection to be on the heavenly plane; those that foresee it to be on Earth are more likely to take concerted action to realize it."[77] Eventually, the Heavensgaters simply prepared themselves for their final departure or rapture, whereas most other UFO believers try to "spread the word", to "activate" more ground personnel, and to improve the spiritual situation ("resonating frequency") of the whole planet, in order to accelerate the coming of the Great Final Transformation in a process of co-creation..

    Both variants of UFO millennialism can equally be interpreted as a repristination of the typological basic patterns from the tradition of Christian apocalypticism. On the one hand, there is the post-millennialist (or dispensationalist) expression of the final establishment of the heavenly kingdom on this earth when Christ, at the end of the thousand year reign (already present but unseen), comes again for the final time and Satan, released for one last time, is ultimately defeated. On the other hand, there is the pre-millennial hope of the rapture of the 144,000 before the onset of the thousand year reign, that is, at the time of The Great Tribulation which comes upon the world and mankind with eschatological necessity and cannot be escaped, but must be endured with faithful trust in imminent and final salvation from this world.[78]

    Apart from Heaven's Gate, in UFO faith both millennial strands sometimes even appear to be merged, with the optimistic post-millennial vision to be more dominant. As in the case of the Ground Crew (Project) or Planetary Activation Organization, many faiths in eschatological space alien intervention fluctuate concerning the lenght of time for the Big Beam or apocalyptic rapture. However, in most cases the original 'thousand year reign' is reduced to a few years -- if not days, or even hours. Since the Paradise is to be restored on Earth, and a joyful, almost hedonistic life in cargoistic abundance is in sight, the Great Tribulation will only be a short intermezzo, and sometimes it can as well be completely neglected.

    Big Beam Scenario
    Pictorial representation of the typical Big Beam-scenario: human beings are 'beamed up' (or levitated) by small flying saucers which are released from giant cigar-shaped "motherships". The latter ones are approaching earth in a grand symbolic formation of "crosses"

    (found on an Internet-site dedicated to the Ashtar-Command; also printed as a cover to W. & T.Gauch-Keller, Aufruf an die Erdenbewohner. 1992).


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    Let me close with a final remark regarding the role of Cyberspace and computer technology in relation to the content and study of these movements.

    The Internet seems to be particularly well suited for the presentation of such eschatologies and cosmologies, since its "virtual reality" provides the user with the illusion of a privileged control over all information in the world. The apparent ability to travel easily to Hong Kong or Australia (by "surfing") and to visualise the world in the web-browser at home evokes a feeling of genuine bilocation. The "network of networks" (as it is almost hagiographically called) offers the prospect of a gigantic Akasha Chronicle which the experienced user can tap into in order to "channel" special messages. Esoteric and New Age groups have understood themselves as a spiritual "network" for quite some time, and in the world-wide web this conception now finds an almost unsurpassable technological capacity for its realisation. And it is being eagerly used.

    All this is not without effects for religious studies. Anyone practising religious research amidst the conditions of this rapidly expanding "virtual reality" will eventually become a user, since formerly it was hardly possible to acquire remote authentic material and personal expressions of religion so quickly; never before was it possible to follow the contemporary emergence and sudden disappearance of religious groups as it now happens on the Internet. In contrast to the proverbial "armchair research" or "desk research" (in German "Schreibtischforschung") which was formerly taboo, it seems that a new and long unexpected possibility of doing fruitful "desk-top research" is here, for in this networked brave new world of Cyberspace there exists a great store of undisclosed "cargo" for religious researchers.


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    Millenarian movements await an imminent, collective and ultimate liberation, usually (but not exclusively) within this world. This liberation implies the founding of a perfect age or pure country or kingdom, and the construction of a Homo Novus. In a similar way, the so-called "Cargo-Cults" of Melanesia or New Guinea relate to a dawning state of material, organisational and spiritual well-being, and the expected abundance of supernaturally acquired supplies can be turned into the central characteristic of the "manifestation of the Millennium" (Trompf).

    In many contemporary New Religious Movements, apocalyptic interventions by "space aliens" and UFOs form a central belief. Amidst hopes for a restitution of the lost paradise, one can also find expectations of the cargoist type: alien "supplies" and supernatural "technologies", together with paranormal spiritual faculties like telepathy and bilocation, can exercise a strong exotic charm. The different expressions of such cargoistic hopes shed light on the underlying cosmological framework, which often incorporates basic patterns of the apocalyptic (pre-millennial or post-millennial) traditions of Christianity.

    On the one hand, there are UFO believers who expect an imminent salvation within this world by means of an extraterrestrial transfer of technology and spirituality: millions of space ships "will descend", and "Earth is to be transformed, quickly, into a paradise beyond compare ... Heaven on Earth" (The Ground Crew Project; cf. Ashtar Command, etc.). Only a short rapture or Big Beam into the flying saucers will be necessary to secure the earthly humans during the metamorphosis of "Mother Earth". But finally, there will be an overwhelming physical and spiritual abundance on this precious intergalactic "showcase".

    On the other hand, the "Away Team" of the UFO group Heaven's Gate waited for the imminent departure and "relocation" to an extraterrestrial "Kingdom of the Heavens": "my Father's Kingdom moves or travels in spacecrafts". Here, only the chosen few are able to leave this death-bound earth before it is "recycled". Like in a cosmic computer game, they have to be 'beamed up' or "saved" to the Next Level, before the programme of this 'virtual' holographic world is "canceled" or "rebooted". Since the liberating "disconnect!" implies a salvation from this world, there is no room for any worldchanging cargoism.   «

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    Copyright © Andreas Grünschloß 1998 / 2001

    First published in Marburg Journal of Religion

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