How prophecy never fails: interpretive reason in a flying-saucer group
Until recently little was known about the culture of flying-saucer groups, except for a few notable studies (Festinger, et al. 1956; Buckner 1966; Stupple and Dashi 1977; Wallis 1974). Recently the worldview of such spiritual groups have been better documented and inspected (Balch and Taylor 1978; Bartholomew 1989, 1991; Kirkpatrick and Tumminia 1992; Lewis 1995), revealing a complex picture of organizational and interpretive life. Aiming at increasing that body of knowledge from an ethnographic and an ethnomethodological perspective, this study looks into the prophecy of a particular flying-saucer group, Unarius Academy of Science, headquartered in El Cajon, California. The five-year investigation (1988-1993) employed the methods of participant observation and archival research, as well as formal interviews of members and ex-members. Through descriptive analysis, I discuss the events surrounding the Unarian prediction of a mass starship landing. Following this, I will illustrate how contemporary members interpret their failed prophesy in ways that maintain the validity of their beliefs.
Pollner’s (1987) notion of “mundane reason” speaks directly to an analysis of logic and interpretive reason in the presence of irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Social actors must make sense out of contradictory evidence and disputed claims of this or that reality. Simply put, they must solve the interpretive mystery of what really happened using their own socially constructed logic. The explanatory repertoire of Unarians is an instructive example of mundane reason and the power of unfalsifiable belief. In the resulting discussion, it will be shown how present-day Unarians verify the reality of the prophecy’s fulfillment by accounting for errors on the part of outside interpretations. In accounting for interpretative errors, members experience the logic of their adherence to the organization and the rationality of their commitment to its experiential reality.
WHEN PROPHECY FALLS
In trying to solve the mystery of what really happened in Unarius, I began my own speculation with the work that offered the most specificity, When prophecy fails (1956) by Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, and Stanley Schachter. Festinger, et al. (1956) argue that disconfirmation may actually strengthen belief. Five conditions are expected to be present for the heightening of commitment in the face of contradictory evidence: 1) a deep belief must be held and cause a noticeable change in behavior, 2) as a result of this belief, the person must take irrevocable action, 3) real events discredit the belief, 4) the contradictory evidence is recognized by the believer, 5) social support is present after the disconfirmation. Increased proselytizing is expected if the five conditions are met. After major disconfirmatory events, groups presumably seek new converts, reasoning that if newcomers believe, so can the people with shaken beliefs.
A careful reading reveals not one discrete prophecy, but a series of failed prophecies which the group endured. Before the grand prophecy, the leader of the small band of believers, Mrs. Keech, predicted a succession of specific sites to await the landing of flying saucers. Each time the prediction proved fruitless, with the exception that the empty encounters were reinterpreted as being meaningful tests of faith. After the third disappointment, only five members of the original group stayed. Despite this, Mrs. Keech’s steadfast followers, the Armstrongs, spread the cosmic messages to new seekers, who in turn became part of the group that experienced the major disconfirmation event.
While there is much to be admired in Festinger’s classic, the piece has been the subject of criticism by scholars of religion. J. Gordon Melton (1985) strongly criticizes When prophecy fails (1956) for setting the standard for the study of millennial groups. Melton points out that subsequent research (Hardyck and Braden 1962; Balch, Farnsworth, and Wilkins 1983) failed to replicate notions of cognitive dissonance. Melton takes issue with many of the premises upon which the investigation was founded. First, the study’s thesis rests upon historical error; Festinger, et al. wrongly report that Millerites (an Adventist group led by William Miller, who predicted the end of the world and the Second Coming in the 1830s) disbanded after a failed prophecy. Second, the authors state that millennial groups are organized around the prediction of prospective events. As Melton sees it, this one-dimensional view of millenarianism neglects the presence of a complex cosmology or integrated group life. Melton argues that the notion that a single belief organizes millennial groups is commonly held by the media, religious rivals, and distant scholars. Generally speaking, if prophecy were the only organizing principle, its disconfirmation would prove injurious to group life. However, since prediction often springs from a broad context of belief, nonconfirmation provides a “test” which usually strengthens a group (Melton 1985: 20).
Third, Melton (1985) faults Festinger, et al. for missing the point. He (1985: 20) states that “within religious groups, prophecy seldom fails.” Festinger, et al. took the stance of objective outsiders, imposing a standard for logical action and reasonable behavior, based upon their definitions of the group. The researchers’ standard for logic was not necessarily consistent with the internal definitions of the group being studied. After all, suspension of disbelief is de rigueur in religious groups, if not all groups for that matter. Committed, as well as peripheral members, have a range of unfalsifiable beliefs they can draw upon in the maintenance of group reality.
In lieu of Festinger, et al., Melton (1985) suggests that scholars of religion adopt Joseph F. Zygmunt’s (1972) model of three reactions to prophetic failure: adaptation, reaffirmation, and reappraisal. Zygmunt proposes that a group may admit an error in the date of the fulfillment of its prophecy, then determine a new date, or an ambiguous time frame. Also, a group may transfer the responsibility for nonconfirmation to some agency, either internal or external to the group. Another alternative, which Zygmunt believes most likely, is that the group will dispute the failure of the prophecy, and declare its partial or complete fulfillment.
Elaborating on Zygmunt’s ideas, Melton (1985:21) adds that “the denial of failure of prophecy is not just another option, but the common mode of adaptation of millennial groups following a failed prophecy . . . .” He suggests two additional modes of adaptation which he labels cultural (spiritualization) and social (reaffirmation). The cultural, or spiritualization, mode means that groups tend to reinterpret the promise of a visible verifiable event into the acceptance of a nonverifiable, invisible event. Members will come to believe that the prophecy took place on a unseen spiritual level. This is not to say that members do not experience dissonance and a variety of disquieting emotions. Sadness, fear, doubt, anger, bewilderment, disappointment, or shock can surface. It is exactly for this reason that the prophecy must be reinterpreted. The social, or reaffirmation, mode addresses emotional distress by placing an emphasis on renewing group ties after disconfirmation. The group may turn inward placing emphasis on attendance at meetings, and encouraging discussions of experiences, as members struggle to interpret what is going on.
As the following will explain, the Zygmunt/Melton model better explains the events that took place in Unarius. Unarians would come to explain away multiple prophecies by adaptive storytelling and continuous narrative invention. They also determined a new date for their spacefleet landing. The group transferred the responsibility for the landing onto the students and the “progress” of their fellow earthlings. All together, Unarians continue to this day to deny the failure of their prophecy, declaring and experiencing its fulfillment. Initially, I will discuss the growth of the Unarian prophecy, followed by a description of the reinterpretation and reaffirmation stages in the wake of disconfirmation. Afterward, I will show how the prophecy is interpreted in the everyday life of the group as a success, not a failure.
THE GROWTH OF UNARIAN PROPHECY
Until her death in 1993, Ruth Norman, also known as the Archangel Uriel, led the group of approximately forty-five committed local members (Tumminia and Kirkpatrick 1995). Her prediction of a landing of thirty-three space ships provides an excellent case study of prophecy and collective interpretation. The circumstances surrounding Uriel’s prophecy rest buried in collective memories and haphazard documentation. Since they took place long before my study began, I reconstructed them from Unarian documents (edited films and books), files (local newspaper articles, scrapbooks, organizational newsletters, leaflets, meeting transcripts, and photographs), and interviews. The fragmented and nonsequential documentation made it difficult to tell the exact time order of events surrounding the prophecy. Similarly, Unarians do not remember it well, either by design, or as a consequence of the time elapsed.
One thing was apparent, even from jumbled accounts. The grand Unarian “prophecy” took shape over a large time span, not as a distinct event. A cumulative product of several waves of interpretive activity, the prophecy was not a singular act, but the outgrowth of a multiplicity of improvised stories and unfulfilled predictions. The prophetic anticipation commenced after the death of Ernest Norman, founder of the group (Tumminia and Kirkpartrick 1995). Unlike her husband, Ruth Norman loved the spotlight and the attention she could obtain from constructing a public image. Followers of Unarius are called students. Two in particular, Antares and Cosmon, helped her embellish her persona as the local space goddess, Uriel (Kirkpatrick and Tumminia 1992).
After 1972, Ruth/Uriel rapidly increased the number of channeled messages from outer space. The transcriptions of these “transmissions” were published in the Unarian book series, Tesla speaks. This series of thirteen volumes provides some record of the waves of interpretive themes coursing through the community. The seventh volume, entitled Countdown to the spacefleet landing (Norman 1974), contains a “revelation” from outer space dated 17 March 1974. In it, Uriel learns that a “spacefleet landing shall be instituted mainly to inform the earth people of this great Intergalactic Confederation Project now being formulated . . .” (1974:177). On page three, a passage states that the landing will take place before December, 1974. In subsequent years, this passage was concealed by a strip of paper which was pasted over it. Evidently, Unarius first predicted an arrival in 1974. According to the text, the Space Brothers were trying to quell the fears of earthlings, thus they postponed the landing. By the next year, Uriel would come up with an exact date, 27 September 1975. The great starships would touch down in the mountains on the landing site purchased for them by Uriel.
Expectation and Disconfirmation
During the early part of September, 1975, Uriel was prompted by a strong feeling that the landing would occur any day (Norman 1985a). Pressured by inner urgings, she announced the specific day of the month. As anticipation started to increase, Unarians made plans for the arrival of the massive ships. At the Center, one thousand engraved invitations were ordered, as was a large banner for the front of the building, which read, “Greetings, Space Brothers!! Love and Peace!!”
Antares, under Uriel’s direction, ordered several charter buses for the event. Antares did what he was told, although he had a sense of deep foreboding. He scheduled a fleet of buses, which would run relays from the Academy, so that all those who wanted to greet the Brothers could be taken to the landing site. As preparation continued, Antares had the road to the property widened and a fence constructed to keep out unauthorized seekers. Amidst the excited activity and frenzied anticipation, Antares tried to contain his growing fear that thousands of people would come to view the spaceships. Privately he told Uriel that surely she must make contact with the government, and arrange for the National Guard for the safety of all concerned.
But Uriel was somewhat oblivious to Antares for she was in a heightened state of ecstasy, “psychically seeing many of the scenes that were going to take place” (Norman 1985a: 279). She said that when the Space Brothers landed, they would present her with a crown. For this occasion, she had her dressmaker fashion a gown fit for an interplanetary coronation. Other gowns were also hurriedly ordered as the Brothers would surely take her on a world tour.
As Uriel saw the future events unfold in her mind, she described the scene to her students. A luxurious stateroom was being prepared for her on a flying saucer. In its enormous closet, she would put the lovely clothes she had purchased for the trip. Uriel went on extra shopping trips during that time to purchase more trunks and suitcases. Her plans were to move into a spacecraft with style. On the expected worldwide peace mission, she and the Brothers would greet many heads of state. Off they would fly to England, France, and Germany, subsequently they would visit the Soviet Union, China, and Japan. After their world tour, Uriel and the Space Brothers would proceed to contact the President of the United States.
On the home front, Uriel made arrangements to give away her worldly goods. Uriel wrote farewell notes to her dear students. She began the process of incorporating Unarius as a non-profit educational foundation. To Antares, Uriel gave her Space Cadillac with a model of a flying saucer attached to the roof. She began signing over her bank accounts and property to Unarius. As the hour grew near, Uriel gave her farewell speech to her closest students at the dining table in her home. Then later at the Center, she said goodbye to fifty students who softly wept at the thought of her leaving.
According to the Unarian version of what happened next, “Finally on Monday, the 22nd, the great psychic bubble exploded” (Norman 1985a: 231)! Cosmon, Uriel’s close student and fellow channeller, called her from Los Angeles. Cautiously Cosmon told Uriel that he was in tune with the Brothers who wanted her to know that she was not going through a real event. Instead she was experiencing her life as Isis, Queen of Egypt, some 14,000 years ago. In that lifetime, Isis and her husband Osiris (Ernest Norman) rushed toward the landing site of a spaceship that had come to take them home. As they arrived, they were set upon and murdered by a crowd of people. The Brothers hovered aloft in their saucer unable to stop the attack. The very murderers had now reincarnated as Unarian students.
The “reliving” started to spread throughout the community, first by word of mouth, then during the Center’s night classes. According to testimonials, the students were experiencing considerable stress. They had come to believe that Uriel was leaving them. At the same time, they were prepared to meet the Space Brothers, the extraterrestrial architects of the New Age. Now it was clear that the Space Brothers were not coming for Uriel was still there among them.
They had come face to face not with a Space Brother, but with the issue of Uriel’s credibility. Would they abandon their student roles because of the disconfirmation of the prophecy? Many had doubts about continuing in Unarius. A few students left immediately, while most struggled with their consciences, now that they heard they were reincarnated murderers. Students Sanosun and Helen reported in class that their bodies ached all over; they experienced terrible physical pains (Norman 1985a). Crystal, another student, gave this testimonial in class.
. . . I got all mixed up and I thought ‘Gee, maybe this means that some of the Science isn’t true,’ but then I thought, ‘How can that be? This is ridiculous; how can you face that?’That was the battle that was going on! (Norman 1985a: 249).
In her testimonial, Unarian Sanosun said that she had to force herself out of bed each morning, because she could not face herself or her fellow students. She explained that she moved through the day like a zombie, “distrustful and unloving.”
My attempted withdrawal and lack of interest, seemingly started after the spacecraft failed to land on the’ spot of the Lemurian property near El Cajon, when we were all reliving the Isis-Osiris cycle, when They [Ernest Norman and Ruth Norman] were killed by the mob before the spacecraft could take them aboard. Fear has always been riding high in my makeup, but now I was closing my ears to the sound of voices, I was seeing within a very small radius of the space in which I moved, I was no longer interested or enthusiastic and all joie de vivre was gone (Norman 1978: 58-59)!
Uriel had alerted The National Enquirer before the event, but media were not called in for the aftermath (Norman 1985a). Rather the group chose to come together in classes and personal interaction, discussing their feelings within the interpretive context of having a “reliving” of the Isis-Osiris Cycle. Although the students struggled with their new revelations, little free time remained because the Unarian Mission had to proceed. At the beginning of November, Unarius staged a two-day seminar, “The Psychic Age,” in conjunction with San Diego State College’s Continuing Education Department.
As 1976 began, Unarians were experiencing another “reliving,” the Lemurian Cycle (Unarian Students and Norman 1976). Crystal was plagued with bad dreams. A psychic reading revealed her past life during the destruction of Lemuria. According to the reading, the evil Lemurian Masters had controlled the masses by implanting electronic devices in their foreheads; the people lived as robots. During classes, everyone was drawn into the cycle as they discussed their own experiences. They too had memories of torture and pain from their past lives on the lost continent.
A New Date
In March, 1976, shortly after the first anniversary of the Center, Uriel and some of her students wagered $4000 with Ladbrokes, a British bookmaker that the spaceships would land on earth within one year (Norman 1985b). Ladbrokes asked to release the information to the press and Unarius gave them permission to do so. The prophecy of the landing became news again in the tabloid press. Tom Snyder interviewed Uriel on the television show Tomorrow. Uriel described this time.
This half-hour appearance did indeed serve to a good advantage. Many persons contacted Unarius, as a result. Moreover, what with all the news media coverage of my activities, especially that of interplanetary communication, things really began to pop. About 70 radio and television stations made contact and many were the recorded tapes that I made for them over my telephone right at home, and which, in most instances, were aired live, as I gave them! … Some remarked of the strong healing powers that were not only sensed, but also seen (Norman 1985b: 6).
In mid-September, Uriel and Cosmon (Norman 1985b) traveled to Canada to make personal appearances and engage in a small-scale media campaign. According to the photographic record, the publicity trip to Canada appeared lighthearted. Back home, the prophecy lived on. Nevertheless, Ruth eventually lost her bet, for after all the preparation to receive the great flying ships, they still did not appear. Unarius simply pushed back the date to the year 2001. I could find no public record of distress over the second failure. To some extent, this may be due to face-saving, then again, Unarians had gone through the experience before, so they were probably taking things in stride. Their newsletters state that Unarians were absorbed in “Project Mars.” All attention was focused upon Uriel’s psychic trips to Mars, and the latest information on how Martians would also participate in the landing. The students were engrossed in building miniature replicas of Martian cities. The Project Mars movie production gained momentum. By May, Unarius lavishly celebrated the completion of their first movie about Mars, Uriel Speaks.
The failure of the saucers to land did not significantly reduce membership; in fact new members were attracted by the publicity (Norman 1985b). Students worked out their feelings by redefining their emotions as guilt over the murder of Isis. Hopes of the landing were still kept alive, yet the members learned to balance the institutionalized rigors of past-life therapy with the impulsive pursuit of predictions. Uriel and Antares kept giving readings that the saucers were going to land throughout the late seventies and early eighties. This prompted certain students to go on all night vigils out to the landing site, although occasionally they organized comparable slumber parties at the Center.
Searching the dark skies, they continued to watch for the coming of their radiant “Vehicles of Eight.” Despite disconfirmation, Uriel had become a small-time celebrity. The influx of fresh mythopoeic material had stimulated homemade movies and past-life therapy sessions. In sum, the failed prophecy did little to damage Unarius’s credibility with most of its students. This segment of Unarian history illustrates how adaptive leaders and members were in a series of disconfirmation events. They set back dates. They added to their own mythology. They could continued to meet and comfort each other with their testimonials about overcoming doubt. At the core of all this activity was the presupposed perfection of the people on the flying saucers and the imperfection of the members. All activity emerged from the cooperative interpretive procedures and practices which reconstituted the unfalsifiable reality of the Space Brothers.
CONTEMPORARY INTERPRETATION AS MUNDANE REASON
Years after the grand prediction, Unarians remembered few of the chronological events of the prophecy; they instead referred me to the books on the subject, simultaneously telling me that I misunderstood what had “really happened.” Students who had joined after the spring of 1977 said it really did not matter to them that the spaceships had not arrived as predicted. In their view, publicity surrounding the event was preparing Earth to accept the spacefleet when it actually did arrive. Moreover, all students gave strong accounts of the public misconceptions of the event and of the planetary errors that caused the saucers to stay away.
Melvin Pollner’s concept of mundane reason (Pollner 1987; Mehan and Wood 1975) looks at maintenance of intersubjective reality as reflexive activity based upon socially constructed beliefs. Mundane reason, as an ethnomethodological concept, examines the interpretive process involved in unfalisiable belief. It addresses Melton’s concern for the disparate definitions of the situation held by insiders, as opposed to outsiders. A disconfirmed prophecy comes close to Pollner’s (1975, 1987) concept of a reality disjuncture, or a puzzle. What appears to be seemingly irrefutable evidence of irreconcilable contradictions to outsiders, like Festinger, can instead become evidence of the truth of the prophecy to insiders, like the students of Unarius.
Accounting for Errors in Outsiders’ Understanding
On the subject of Unarian prophecy, Unarians are similarly sure of what really happened, although they may not recall the exact details of the events. When confronted about discrepancies about the prophecy, Unarians find evidence of error on the part of critics or the questioners, rather than in the “Science” itself or the actions of Uriel. Unarians find errors in others’ reasoning and not their own. Thus the separation of reality from non-reality is maintained through clearly delineated interpretive boundaries based on socially verifiable understandings.
According to Unarius, errors in an outsiders’ understanding stem from their lack of competence in the Unarian Science. Competent Unarians see no trouble with this puzzle of the prophecy, while incompetent questioners, such as myself, flounder in interpretive errors. By identifying the source of interpretive errors with logical incompetence, they explained away the charges of false prophecy. First of all, it was explained to me that there was no prophecy. The media called the event prophecy, not Unarius. Prophecy implies a prediction that could fail, and that is not what transpired, say Unarians. Uriel had a “reliving,” not a prophecy. She relived the time when she was Isis. Furthermore, it was pointed out to me that Unarians do not say “prophecy” if they can help it; they say “future viewing” or “seeing the future.” Anyone using the term “prophecy” was suspect as lacking the capacity for logical discourse.
For members, the correct solution to the Unarian puzzle of the purportedly disconfirmed prophecy is found in the intersubjective understanding of the sensibility of Uriel’s actions. In a 1989 interview, I asked a student about Uriel, the time of the prophecy, and the problems connected with seeing the future. According to the student, legitimate interpretation of that or any event depends on one’s competence in the “Science.” Errors of interpretation can also spring from past-life karma. As a redemptive act, said the student, Uriel set the example on how to handle past-life information, further evidence to Unarians that she had not erred.
Q. Well, can the future be seen incorrectly? I mean, can mistakes be made?
A. Yes, a student can see something that isn’t accurate, especially if obsessions, or a past life gets in the way. An error in viewing of the future just points to the places inside yourself that need to be worked on. Usually people are just seeing their past, and that’s where their karma is. But that’s not what happened to Uriel. You see, you just don’t understand the infinity of Uriel, this infinite being. She didn’t make a mistake; she had a reliving to show us how to work out our past lives. We’re not running around here gaa-gaa, chasing flying saucers. We’re working on ourselves. That’s the teaching of the Science.
Reality maintenance in groups invokes embodied enactments of articulated understandings (Preston 1988; Griffin 1995). I asked several Unarians how they knew it was a reliving, not a false prophecy. Their general response was that they experienced its healing power. Furthermore, they could still experience it, even if they joined the group years after the event took place. “Facing the past” of the Isis-Osiris Cycle brings powerful transformations, I was told. One of the ways Unarians face the past and experience a reliving is through filmed psychodrama. In the late seventies, Uriel took the students up to the landing site to work out their psychic scars over Isis-Osiris. The edited film of this event airs regularly on public-access television where I viewed it several times during the study. The films and testimonials by students are always cited as irrefutable evidence of the reality of the prophecy.
Prior to the filming, members worked on assembling their Egyptian costumes and collecting kitchen knives as props in the big murder scene. In a 1989 interview, Billie explained how much the psychodrama helped her.
Once Uriel took us out to the landing site in Jamul. She put on makeup which made her look like she had been beaten. They guided us a little, but there was no set script. We said whatever came out of our mouths. We had to go through this to remember the emotions of this past life. If you had the guilts over this past life, you would just cry. I cried all the time in psychodramas because of my negative past. She went to this extent to help us drag up what was inside. When you finally get through this and feel the remorse, there is a freeing inside of you. A psychiatrist can only take you back through this lifetime You have to go back many lifetimes to work these problems out. This goes back thousands of years.
The student Thomas reminded me that he was one of the many members who had a healing during the same filming at the landing site. He pointed me to his testimonial in a Unarian text.
. . . Uriel came to me and told me to lie down on the ground. I looked into the eyes of this Infinite Being and went out! She removed the hordes and hordes of religious obsessions. My hands and arms shot straight out to the sides and I looked like a cross! My arms and legs repeatedly beat and pounded the earth (Norman 1984b: 351-52)!
Memories of the Isis-Osiris Cycle were more than just a cognitive experience. When students talked about their experiences with the Isis-Osiris Cycle, and the subsequent times “it came back through” to be relived again, their bodies sometimes shivered with somatic memory. To them – the “Science” heals; that is the message of the saucers. Healings are expected as part of using the “Science.” I was told that if I would use the “Science,” then I would be healed, then I would understand. Subsumed in the mystery of the Isis-Osiris cycle lay the “truth” of the confirmed prophecy. By embodying, “reliving,” and acting out the “truth” of their reality, Unarians clearly sustained the experiential integrity of their interpretation.
Errors from Misrepresentation
Some of the misunderstanding about the prophecy and Uriel’s work on earth, according to students, came from the lies told by the press and by the government. Although the media played a hand in advertising Unarius, it also ridiculed Uriel by mocking her mannerisms and motivations. A local newspaper once ran a headline about Uriel which read, “The Gods Must Be Crazy.” Maury Povitch of the tabloid TV show, Current Affair, equated the Unarian activities to “stupid pet tricks.” In fact, the media often covered Uriel in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. Using mundane reason, students interpreted these events by pointing out the errors of misrepresentation. They questioned the methods and motives of the media. They took issue with particular journalists and television commentators, explaining their misconduct as evidence of “many negative past lives.”
Outsiders often laid claim to hallucinations on the part of Unarian seekers. According to the students, exactly the opposite was actually taking place. By citing the authority of the “Science,” a competent practitioner could see through the falsity of this claim. Clearly, it was the reporters and so-called scientists, like myself, who were having the hallucinations, thereby leading the public astray with false reports. The hallucinations stemmed from the illusory deception of past-life karma, which distorted the mind and the objectivity of outsiders’ assessment of reality. Furthermore, they accounted for any credibility gap with charges of malicious interference by those bent on misrepresentation. Unarians report they had often tried to enlighten the media, even top levels of government about their “Mission,” but the information was intercepted by the Men-In-Black, the legendary shadowy figures who appear only to whisk away “true” information about flying saucers.
Unarian mundane reasoners saw the reality disjuncture of the prophecy disconfirmation as an easily solved puzzle. Caught in a moment of doubt, but unable to attribute the disjuncture to the unreality of the “Science,” Unarian Jeff corroborated his classification of error by clairvoyantly communicating with Polarity Denios, an extraterrestrial contact on the Planet Rey. Polarity Denios confirmed for Jeff that the fault lay not in Uriel, but in the dishonesty of government officials, who did not want the public to know the “truth” about extraterrestrial visits. This is an excerpt from a testimonial in which he explains how he resolved the conundrum.
Now, a lot of publicity has been made for Unarius by Uriel by virtue of the wagers at Ladbrokes of London that space craft will land on Earth. It is interesting because at the time, I wondered: Why did Uriel state the bet that a space ship would ‘land or crash’ before a certain date? Denios answered the question for me: A space ship crashed here in Northern California some years ago and was taken to Edwards Air Force Base for inspection. There have been rumors about the space ship; that there were actually five bodies aboard. During the autopsy, they found that the convolutions of the brain indicated these people must be about 300 years old. So, when the government does release this news, you will find Uriel winning every one of those bets! She hasn’t lost a nickel. They are just a little behind on their payments (Swanson 1981:15-16).
In Unarius, the taken-for-granted interpretations of the invisibility of the flying saucers over the years attests not to duplicity in their beliefs, but to the sources of bad faith on the part of other people. Unarians presuppose the objective reality of the flying saucers, appealing to their irrefutable existence when they explain that the only motivation the Space Brothers have in coming, is to bring the “Science” in all its fullness to the people of Earth. Some students are of the mind that spaceships have already tried to land, but have been driven away. As they see it, the spaceships normally eluded capture, nevertheless some ships may have crashed only to be secreted away by the CIA, or the former KGB, in order to conceal the existence of the Space Brothers. Unarians say there is enough evidence that space vehicles have already visited our planet, although they might not make contact. One of the reasons why the fleet could not, or would not land is that our collective “frequency vibration” is exceedingly low. Moreover, at their present level of consciousness, human beings “put out” many negative emotions that create a bad climate for the reception of the Space Brothers. After all, the Brothers have already landed here in the distant past, only to be killed by those they came to help. That is why the relivings are so important to Unarians; by “clearing the past” they make way for the time when the Brothers can land without being attacked.
In examining the interpretative course of Unarian prophecy, most of the historical data confirm a model that emphasizes adaptation and periodic reinterpretation that is based upon a foundation of unfalsifiable belief. By looking at the context of events, we can glimpse the group’s explanatory process which averted disconfirmation through collaborative reinvention. Early in its history, Unarius shifted the burden of failure from leader to follower. As they say, students fail the “Science.” The “Science” does not fail the student, thus reaffirming the infallible power of Uriel and her Space Brothers. Students “logically” infer the impediment of karma in their perceptions. They attribute any distress over disconfirmation to the “guilt” of past-life karma. This ever-present causal agent explains why Unarians act in perfectly logical, rational ways, although this is not apparent to the outside world.
Banding together throughout the years, old and new followers have continued to produce confirmations of the prophecy’s fulfillment by acting out scenes for filmed psychodramas and giving testimonials at weekly meetings. Unarius still touts itself as the ‘Science of Logic and Reason.” In the contemporary social world of Unarians, members carry on their interpretive work by articulating the intelligence of the normal, orderly, invigorating wisdom of the “Science.” While the society-at-large may scoff at the unreality of Unarian claims, followers will continue to maintain their reality, despite seemingly irrefutable evidence to the contrary, through the process of mundane reasoning.
Balch, R. W., G. Farnsworth, and S. Wilkins. 1983. When the bombs drop. Sociological Perspectives 26: 137-58.
Balch, R. W., and D. Taylor. 1978. Seekers and saucers: The role of the cultic milieu in joining a UFO cult. In Conversion careers, edited by J. T. Richardson, 43-65. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.
Bartholomew, R. E. 1989. UFOlore: A social psychological study of a modern myth in the making. Stone Mountain, GA: Arcturus Book Service.
—–. 1991. The quest for transcendence: An ethnography of UFOs in America. The Anthropology of Consciousness 2:1-12.
Buckner, H. T. 1968. The flying saucerians: An open door cult. In Sociology of everyday life, edited by M. Truzzi, 223-31. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Evans-Pritchard, E. E. 1937. Witchcraft, oracles, and magic among the Azande. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Festinger, L., H. W. Riecken, and S. Schachter. 1956. When prophecy fails: A social and psychological study of a modern group that predicted the destruction of the world. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Griffin, W. 1995. The embodied goddess: Feminist witchcraft and female divinity’. Sociology of Religion 56: 3548.
Hardyck, J. A., and M. Braden. 1962. When prophecy fails again: A report of a failure to replicate. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 65: 136-41.
Kirkpatrick, R. G., and D. Tummmia. 1992. California space goddess: The mystagogue in a flying-saucer group. In Twentieth-Century world religious movements in Neo-Weberian perspective, edited by W. H. Swatos, Jr., 299-311. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press.
Lewis, J. R., ed. 1995. The gods have handed: New religions from other worlds. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Mehan, H., and H. Wood. 1975. The reality of ethnomethodology. New York John Wiley & Sons.
Melton, J. G. 1985. Spiritualization and reaffirmation: What really happens when prophecy fails American Studies. 26: 17-29.
Norman, R. E. 1974. Tesla speaks: Countdown to space fleet landing, or George Adamski speaks again from planet Venus, vol. 7. El Cajon, CA: Unarius-Science of Life.
—–. 1978. Your encounter with life, death, and immortality. El Cajon, CA: Unarius Publications.
—–. 1985a. The Unarius Educational Foundation: A biographical history, vol 1. El Cajon, CA: Unarius Educational Foundation.
—–. 1985b. The Unarius Educational Foundation: A biographical history, vol 2. El Cajon, CA: Unarius Educational Foundation.
Pollner, M. 1975. “The very coinage of your brain”: The anatomy of reality disjunctures. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 5:411-30.
—–. 1987. Mundane reason: Reality in everyday and sociological discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Preston, D. L. 1988. The social organization of Zen practice: Constructing transcultural reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Stupple, D., and A. Dashti. 1977. Flying saucers and multiple realities: A case study in phenomenological theory. Journal of Popular Culture 11: 479-93.
Swanson, J. (inspired by Uriel). 1981. The restoration: Rejoining the 33 confederation planets. El Cajon, CA: Unarius Educational Foundation.
Tumminia, D., and R. G. Kirkpatrick. 1995. Unarius Emergent aspects of a flying-saucer group. In The gods have landed: New religions from other worlds, edited by J. R. Lewis, 85-100. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Unarius Students, and R. Norman. 1976. Lemuria rising. El Cajon, CA: Unarius Educational Foundation.
Wallis, R. 1974. The Aetherius Society: A case study in the formation of a mystagogic congregation. Sociological Review 22: 2745.
Zygmunt, J. F. 1972. When prophecies fail. American Behavioral Scientist 16: 245-67.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Association for the Sociology of Religion
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group