Raelian movement in Ireland: ‘Some think it’s a cult but it’s nothing like that’
Moya Henderson leads a religion which claims we are the ancestors of extra-terrestrials
“With the greatest of respect Claude, a lot of people would describe you as a nut,” – it’s a winter’s night in 1988 and Gay Byrne is in full flow.
Frenchman Claude Vorilhon, founder of the ‘UFO religion’ Raelianism, smiles as the Late Late Show host, and the studio audience titter.
The former sports-car journalist is telling the Irish nation that we all actually derive from extra-terrestrials, that they’ve taken him to their planet and that we’re to build an embassy on earth to welcome them back again.
Vorihon (or ‘Rael’ as he’s referred to), dressed in all white with a dark beard and a large pendant around his neck, doesn’t look like your average Late Late guest of the grey 80s.
At its height the Raelian Movement had 200 members in Ireland but the figure today stands nearer 60
It's fair to say that few in the studio, or across the country, take him seriously.
But in a sittingroom in Artane a thirtysomething-year-old civil servant is intrigued by what she hears. She isn’t sniggering – on the contrary Moya Henderson wants to know more.
“He talked of how the bible was written in old Hebrew and then translated into Greek, Latin and other languages but that the word ‘God’ was mistranslated. The word in the original bible was ‘Elohim,” says Henderson, the head of the small Raelian Movement in Ireland.
She continues: “The Elohim means ‘those who came from the sky’ and it was they who made us and the world as we know it.”
Two days after that Late Late Show item she went to Liberty Hall for a public meeting where Rael was selling his book, speaking about his religion of peace, meditation and respect and hoping to sow the seeds of an Irish branch of his movement.
Henderson was soon fully involved and one of the most prominent members. Her friends, and colleagues in the Office of Public Works, warned her to be careful.
“They were worried for me but soon they realised I was still the same old Moya. Some think its a cult, that we all become brainwashed but its nothing like that. It’s not a dogmatic religion. You develop at your own pace, are encouraged to meditate, to blossom and bloom as a human being and to be the best person you can be.”
At its height the Raelian Movement had 200 members in Ireland but the figure today stands nearer 60. Internationally its is claimed the religion has 90,000 followers (though the actual figure is thought to be closer to 20,000) – the majority in Canada where the Raelian Movement is at its strongest.
Sipping green tea in her Dublin home, Moya Henderson explains why the basis of the religion, rather than being fanciful or outlandish, makes perfect sense to her.
“I grew up a Catholic and was told what to believe. I couldn’t interpret the bible for myself because I was told I couldn’t understand it. Raelianism appealed to me because it offered that logical explanation. I haven’t heard a better explanation for who we are, where we came from and where we are going. Most religions are based on faith – ‘you believe us because we are telling you and don’t question us’ – this isn’t like that.”
On the table in front of her is a copy of the Raelian’s The True Face of God – the truth about our extra-terrestrial origins. On the cover is a picture of a flying saucer, a pyramid and the faces of extra-terrestrials.
And around Henderson’s neck is the Raelian symbol pendant – a Swastika encircled by the Star of David.
“The Star of David represent infinity and space and the swastika represents infinity, time and well-being. Some years ago we changed the swastika slightly to a spiral which represents our galaxy. I wear it all the time. I have earrings as well but I lost one of them.”
Rael appeared in a copy of 'Playboy' magazine in 2005 with some semi-naked young women strengthening the notion that sex is everywhere in the religion
One of the corner stones of the religion is the focus on meditation – especially sensual meditation. Indeed, sexual freedom, experimentation and nudity are encouraged.
“When I went to my first seminar in 1991, where I had my baptism ceremony or, as we call it, the Transmission of our Cellular Plan, I was surprised to see so many people in the nude. It was at a camping site in France and initially I was taken aback but sure within days I was running around in the nude as well,” she says.
Rael appeared in a copy of Playboy magazine in 2005 with some semi-naked young women strengthening the notion that sex is everywhere in the religion. The assumption irritates Henderson.
“Sometimes I get older men in Ireland ringing up asking ‘where’s the free sex?’ You’d swear that’s all we were doing. And the tabloids always focus on sex when they report on Raelianism. We do accept that nudity can be important as it helps you to love your body the way it is. And it’s important too to get to know yourself, get to know what you like sexually. But that’s only part of what we’re about.”
But who else in Ireland has converted to Raelianism?
Henderson, a former sprinter with Raheny Shamrocks who now spends much of her week looking after her 96-year-old mother, says members come from across the country.
“We still have some of our original members, people interested in science and a lot of young people. Recently I was down in Killarney speaking with a group of eight young lads who were interested. Now none of them have joined as yet but the seeds have been sown,” she says.
The new bright hope is a 22-year-old genetics student from the midlands. “He’s studying abroad at the moment and we hope he’ll come back and take it over. We’re getting older so it would be wonderful to have his youth and energy.”
August 6th is the religion’s new year and a baptism is expected to take place in Belfast on that date this year. Also the group will be celebrating 30 years in Ireland. Raelians believe in cloning and that when they die there is the possibility they will be ‘recreated’ by the Elohim and taken to their planet. The ‘transmission of cellular data’ alerts the extra-terrestrials to their wishes according to their beliefs.
“Also, if possible, we’re told that when we die there’s a triangular shaped bone, above the breach of the nose, which is to be removed and sent off to head office because that will have our DNA and will be used to facilitate our recreation – but only if we’ve lived a good life,” says Henderson.
I ask is she expects to be ‘recreated’?
“I really hope so, sometimes I think not....but I’m doing everything I can to make sure I am.”