The Society was founded by Contactee Dr. George King, and still operates out of a tiny pink stucco in West Hollywood. They're a friendly UFO religion, with no scandals, services that are open to visitors, and a model of a spaceship right in the lobby. A man comes out of the office and shows me around. He reminds me of a Unitarian minister – I know you don't believe this, but maybe we don't either, and hey, the sermons are uplifting and we always have food.
I'm easily the youngest person at the Sunday service. I get the feeling membership is slowly declining. We sit in folding chairs in front of an altar, and listen to a tape of Dr. George King channeling an extraterrestrial from speakers in the ceiling. There's a very relaxing guided meditation, and then we adjourn to the front lawn for tea and cookies.
I return to the Aetherius Society a few days later to sit in on Operation Prayer Power. In this ritual, a group of robed Reverends line up to channel energy into the Spiritual Battery, a wooden box filled with crystals and mounted on a surveyor's tripod. The charge in the Battery will later be transmitted via antennae to an orbiting spaceship, which amplifies the signal and redistributes the positive energy across the earth. The Battery makes me think of the Integratron – inert devices made of natural materials that are supposed to operate along vaguely electrical principals. Simulacra of technology as a focus for prayer. I join hands with the rest of the spectators and begin a chant of "om mani padme hum" as the ministers point their palms at the Battery. They speak in a labored faux-British accent, grotesquely over-emphasizing every syllable. "Blessed are the wise ones" becomes "Buh-less-ssed ahh the wiiiiise wahhns" – an astonishing performance, like vocal Butoh.
The Aetherius Society believes that were it not for this prayer operation, the world would descend into chaos. What if that's true, and these people in West Hollywood are the only thing keeping it all together? What is it like to live with that kind of responsibility?