The Raelian Movement is often labeled a “UFO cult” because of the primacy is places upon extraterrestrials. However, it is more accurately described as a UFO (atheistic) religion (new religious movement) that has, through some of its claims and beliefs, received media publicity,
“The order’s belief in (and practice of) sexual freedom, their extraordinary account of humanity’s original creation in the laboratories of alien super-scientists, and their enigmatic claim to have accomplished human cloning, have all made them a journalistic bonanza” (1).
Raelianism was founded by the race-car driver and journalist Claude Vorilhon (later renamed “Rael”) in 1973. Vorilhon claims to have been taken up in a spaceship by an alien who instructed him to write a book revealing the identities of the aliens as the creators of human beings.
Through these extraterrestrial encounters, Vorilhon received a series of messages. In the first, the Eloha (the name of the extraterrestrials, plural: Elohim) appeared to Vorilhon at an isolated volcano park in the center of France known as “Puy de Lassolas” (2). This Eloha confirmed that he was visiting from another planet. He spoke French and all the other human languages, had visited Earth several times but had come specifically to talk to him (3). This encounter was followed by an intensive week of Bible study for Vorilhon after which he concluded that he was the messianic prophet and the Earthly ambassador of the Elohim. The Eloha had also changed Vorilhon’s name to “Rael” symbolizing his new, prophetic status (4). Vorilhon narrates this interaction as follows,
“You, Claude Vorilhon, you will spread the truth under your present name, which you will progressively replace with RAËL, which means literally “light of God” and if we translate it more accurately, “light of the Elohim” or “Ambassador of the Elohim,” because you will be our ambassador on Earth, and we will come officially to your Embassy. RAËL can be simply translated as messenger” (5).
Vorilhon further legitimized his prophetic status by drawing parallels between his experiences and those of ancient prophets like Ezekiel from the Old Testament. In a second major encounter, he meets several Elohim face-to-face. An Eloha called Yahweh takes him to the planet where the Council of the Eternals dwell and he sits down to a meal with some of those assembled. Vorilhon describes a description of some of those at the table, which included “a young bearded man, very handsome and very slim. He wore a mysterious smile and an expression filled with fraternal feeling. To his right was a man with a noble face sporting a black beard that was very thick and very long. To his left was a more corpulent man with an Asian face. He had a shaven head” (6). Yahweh informs him that these people are Jesus, Muhammad, and the Buddha, among others. Yahweh also says that he is joining 40 men and women who are “all representatives of the religions created after our contacts on Earth” (7). This second encounter is significant for it elevates Vorilhon from a prophet to being like Jesus, Muhammad, and the Buddha, namely the founder of a new religion.
Today Vorilhon is the central charismatic leader of the Raelian religion and he is viewed as both prophet and messiah. He is the only person in contact with the Elohim.
Raelianism’s Sacred Scripture
The Raelians hold that the sacred scriptures of the world’s religions document the aliens’ ongoing activities. Of these scriptures, the Bible enjoys a central role, although some Buddhist texts also feature. However, Vorilhon claims that the Bible has not been translated properly and thus he makes attempts to provide his own interpretations inspired by the Eloha. One scholar reveals the role the Bible and its stories have in Raelism,
“Interpretation of the Bible has played a central role in the origins and development of the Raëlian movement. Claude Vorilhon’s first encounter with the “Elohim” was immediately followed by an intensive week of Bible study that gave him a new identity as the messianic prophet “Raël,” a new direction for his life as the earthly ambassador of the Elohim, and a new doctrine that would serve as the intellectual foundation of a new religious movement… Raël’s message focuses overwhelmingly on the biblical narrative, from Genesis to the end of the world as outlined in Revelation. Raël’s extraterrestrially-inspired exegesis focuses on biblical figures like Ezekiel, Moses, and Jesus, and the true identity of the biblical Yahweh. Raël’s carefully crafted charismatic persona legitimizes a specific way of interpreting all of those figures and events” (8).
Vorilhon has authored several other texts too. The Book Which Tells the Truth (1976) consists of an interpretive re-reading of the Christian Bible, thus anchoring Raelianism in Christian scripture. Some interpretations include, for example, Christ’s resurrection being accomplished through him being cloned by the Elohim. In his Intelligent Design (2005), Vorilhon records his encounters with the Elohim and provides a new detailed explanation of human origins and how humans should organize their future. InExtraterrestrials Took Me to Their Planet (1978), he provides further experiences confirming his message. His books attempt to answer probing questions that skeptics might ask, such as on what grounds should one believe his message, accept his authority, or that these aliens even exist? His books also include the enthusiastic testimony of some members of the Raelian movement to bolster his claims. Let’s Welcome the Extra-Terrestrials (2003) evidences striking similarities between himself and the story of Jesus Christ. Vorilhon teaches that his exalted status is confirmed after Yahweh tells him that his birth had been arranged by the Elohim beforehand. He also claims to be the actual son of Yahweh and the brother of Christ.
Raelianism’s Core Beliefs
Raelianism identifies as an atheistic religion because it rejects the existence of a supernatural God or gods, although it does hold to the existence of the Elohim,
“[W]hile members of the International Raëlian Movement have no difficulty with the designation, “Raëlian Religion,” they make it clear that their worldview is not cast in the mold of traditional religions, in which belief in the sacred or transcendent is dominant” (9).
A foundational Raelian belief is that roughly 25 000 years ago the Earth, then without life, was visited by the Elohim who began creating all life from bacteria to humans using highly advanced DNA technology (10). The Garden of Eden was not a garden paradise but actually a laboratory based specifically on building an artificially constructed continent. The Elohim have, from time to time, revisited Earth to provide more direct moral guidance by inspiring prophets such as Elijah, Ezekiel, the Buddha, Christ, Mohammed, and Joseph Smith, and others. Vorilhon is believed to be the last in this prophetic line. Raelianism is anti-evolution and holds that the Elohim placed life on Earth. They also believe that the Elohim were created by another very ancient race of beings and that it is humanity’s goal to one day do the same on another planet by creating a race in their image.
The Raelians do not believe in life after death or the immortality of the soul but instead that through cloning and the Elohim’s scientific advancements human beings will one day experience eternal life. These human beings will live with the Elohim’s on their planet (11).
Cloning has become an important ideal in the religion. Raelians believe that humans will achieve a form of personal immortality through it and breakthroughs in cloning, such as the cloning of Dolly the sheep, have been viewed as confirmation of the fundamental truth of Vorilhon’s message (12). Indeed the group is serious about this. In 1997 Vorilhon founded a biotechnology company called Clonaid dedicated to human cloning. The company has the goal of producing adult human clones into which the original person’s memories might be transferred. The company offers some services, one of which is called “Insuraclone”. For $50 000 a person can have a sample of his cells cryogenically preserved for future use. These cells have future potential at being a “genetic repair kit” for cloning stem cells and possibly entire organs once the technology has advanced sufficiently. Further future offerings include services to create genetic duplicates of pets or prized racehorses. They also hope to offer a cloning service to homosexual and sterile heterosexual couples who are unable to have children. In 2002, Clonaid controversially claimed that it had successfully cloned a human being, which they named Eve. However, this has been decried by scientists as a hoax (13).
How Many Raelians Are There?
The total number of followers given for this religion has varied. In 2002, the religion claimed to have 55 000 members (14) while The Clonaid Web put the number at 60 000 across almost 100 countries (15). The official website claims to have 85 000 members in 107 countries worldwide today (16). Although an exact number is difficult to come by, the religion enjoys a noticeable presence in France, Canada, and the United States, and is currently the largest and most successful UFO religion (17). It continues to inspire and attract followers,
“So long as Raelianism is in the public eye, it will keep attracting young people alienated from traditionally Catholic Quebec, and intrigued by the alternative Raelian lifestyle, with its continual pleasures, excitements, and stranger-than-fiction interpretation of human life” (18).
1. Palmer, Susan J. 2005. “Aliens Adored: Raël’s UFO Religion.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 9(1):117-118.
2. International Raelian Movement. Rael: Messenger of the Elohim. Available.
3. Vorilhon, Claude. 2005. Intelligent Design: Message from the Designers. London: Nova Distribution. p. 7.
4. Gallagher, Eugene V. 2010. “Extraterrestrial Exegesis: The Raëlian Movement as a Biblical Religion.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 14(2):14-33. p. 19.
5. Vorilhon, Claude. 2005. Ibid. p. 94
6. Vorilhon, Claude. 2005. Ibid. p. 161.
7. Vorilhon, Claude. 2005. Ibid. p. 165.
8. Gallagher, Eugene V. 2010. Ibid. p. 22.
9. Saliba, John A. 2006. “The Study of UFO Religions.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 10(2):103-123. p. 105.
10. Bozeman, John M. 1999. “Field Notes: The Raelian Religion—Achieving Human Immortality Through Cloning.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 3(1):154-159
11. Raelism. Life After Death. Available.
12. Bozeman, John M. 1999. p. 155.
14. Palmer, Susan J. 2005. Ibid. p. 118.
15. Palmer, Susan J. 2005. Ibid. p. 120.
16. International Raelian Movement. Rael: Messenger of the Elohim. Available.
17. Palmer, Susan J. 2005. Ibid. p. 118.
18. Palmer, Susan J. 2005. Ibid. p. 118.