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Unarian Lani Calvert with the Academy's '69 Cadillac, modified with a custom saucer. Peter Gilstrap/KQED
Unarian Lani Calvert with the Academy's '69 Cadillac, modified with a custom saucer. (Peter Gilstrap/KQED)

We Are Not Alone: Unarians Celebrate a Message From Outer Space

We Are Not Alone: Unarians Celebrate a Message From Outer Space

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This fall, contact was made with an alien from another galaxy. Maybe you didn’t hear about it, but it happened in El Cajon, a few miles from San Diego. A middle-aged being, clad in traditional earth garb — a light-brown suit, white shirt and conservative tie — sat in a chair on a stage, closed his eyes, and began to speak in a slow, hypnotic cadence.

“Greetings, friends,” he intoned. “I have been called the name of Kuthumi and I reside on the teaching plane of Orion and I also have a small dwelling on Eros.”

To be specific, Kuthumi was speaking through a human, but his message for Earth in these troubled times was of enlightenment and a positive future, a message that’s the gold standard of a group called the Unarians. Every year they gather for the Interplanetary Conclave of Light, a weekend of events open to one and all, events that include communication with those they refer to as the “Space Brothers.”

But now, some history. In post-World War II America, flying saucers entered popular culture. Some said that peaceful aliens were concerned about the Earth’s use of atomic bombs and their effect on the galaxy. Others believed the aliens were a mortal threat to all of mankind. It was in this atmosphere that the Unarius Academy of Science was born. The Unarians believed the former, by the way. They are all about love, learning and positive creativity.

The group was founded by Ernest and Ruth Norman. He was a scientist, a channeler and follower of spiritualism. She had worked as a fruit packer, a maid, a property manager and restaurant owner, among other things, and was interested in spiritualism. Both in their 50s, they met at a psychics’ convention in Los Angeles.


In 1954, they created Unarius, and took the names Archangels Raphael and Uriel. He was, by most accounts, a shy, retiring man, content to channel the words of beings from Mars and Venus into volumes of teachings, ultimately numbering close to 100. She was quite the opposite, a strong, vivacious presence who loved the spotlight. It was a perfect union.

They claimed their program of reincarnation, spiritualism and self-mastery was channeled from extraterrestrials, and, as it grew from mail-order books into a brick-and-mortar academy with increasing interest from those seeking answers, Uriel blossomed.

She was a striking figure, a woman fond of dazzling wigs and vibrant gowns that evoked a mix of Glinda the Good Witch and Sun Ra. She said she’d lived for thousands of years, in various mortal incarnations. On camera, she often clutched a golden scepter or a single red rose. She appeared on David Letterman’s show. She drove a ’69 Cadillac with a UFO mounted on the roof and “WELCOME YOUR SPACE BROTHERS!” painted on the side. On special occasions, the UFO popped open to release a flock of white doves. Uriel was and is the guiding beacon of Unarius.

To this day, followers grow humbled and emotional when talking about Uriel, who died in 1993.

“She’s a master that came to the planet with a special mission,” explains Unarian Paula Rich Greenwood. “To bring forward these energies and the scientific healing teachings, so that man could learn to heal himself through the understanding of past life therapy.”

Greenwood joined Unarius in 1982. The academy says there are currently about 60 members around El Cajon, but thousands around the planet. What draws them to this group?

“I was going through a phase in my life where I was very depressed and planning my own suicide,” Greenwood says, “and I had a near-death experience with a heart attack.”

A colleague brought her to a healing ceremony at the Unarius Center to remove what she calls “lower astral entities.” It worked. She gave up her interest in the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, moving her allegiance to Unarius.

Nick Sawyer, 25, was 17 when he discovered Unarius.

“I had an experience where my whole body transformed into a radiant vortex of energy and the whole room transformed as well,” Sawyer reveals. “The next day I went to the library as I usually did, and so-called randomly I was taking books off the shelf.”

And he plucked out “The Infinite Concept of Cosmic Creation” by Ernest Norman, a volume to Unarians what the Bible is to Christians.

Former minister Stephen Collins, a Unarian since 2009, flanked by portraits of Unarian co-founder Archangel Uriel.
Former minister Stephen Collins, a Unarian since 2009, flanked by portraits of Unarian co-founder Archangel Uriel. (Peter Gilstrap/KQED)

“What happened was when I walked through the door, I knew this is where I was supposed to be, just knew,” says retired minister Stephen Collins, who says he preached in Watts during the 1965 riots. “There was something missing and [Unarius] filled that. ‘Where did I come from, why am I here and where am I going?’ This answered it all. I don’t ask those questions anymore.”

Collins found comfort in the idea of reincarnation.

“There’s a peace of mind that comes over you. You no longer have that big fear of death.”

These and other Unarians are attending the Conclave of Light, gathering at Unarius headquarters in a building that was a post office in a former life. Step inside, and it’s clearly not a post office anymore. The decor features the bold union of Greco-Roman and 1950s UFO iconography. Doric columns, statues of gods and nymphs, and ropes of plastic flowers hanging from chandeliers, along with flying saucer models and a painting of the galaxy that lights up.

And there are plenty of portraits of Uriel, in all her garish majesty. In fact, many of the women here are wearing the Archangel’s shimmering gowns — stored in specially built closets at the site — for a fashion show. Ask them about how they feel clad in the Archangel’s garments, and they visibly choke up.

“It makes me feel uplifted when I wear her dresses or her jewelry or her wigs,” says Paula Rich Greenwood. “It’s like I’m floating on a cloud.”

Unarian members model the costumes of the late Archangel Uriel, co-founder of the Unarius Academy of Science, at the group's Interplanetary Conclave of Light.
Unarian members model the costumes of the late Archangel Uriel, co-founder of the Unarius Academy of Science, at the group’s Interplanetary Conclave of Light. (Peter Gilstrap/KQED)

Lani Calvert, who became a Unarian in 1983, describes the Uriel-owned dress she’s wearing, a formidable task.

“Oh my gosh, it’s like an ocean of blue and turquoise leaves with gold streaks of leaves — I guess they’re almost like seaweedy leaves  running through it.”

And then there’s the hair.

“Yes, the hair is blue. On many of the planets they match the hair color to the dresses.”

At this point, there’s probably a certain question in your mind. Is this whole thing a cult? You would be wrong, says Calvert.

“We’re not here to convert, it’s not a cult. Religion could be considered more of a cult than we are. This is a spiritual school, a nonprofit educational foundation. Unarius gets into so many things. It’s a science but it’s an interdimensional science. It’s outside the box.”

Far beyond the box is the group’s long-held prophecy of an interstellar palace of learning that will last for eternity. It’ll be erected by aliens on 67 acres of scrubland purchased by Uriel in the 1970s, a few miles from El Cajon. The Unarians ritually visit the site during every Conclave to look to the skies and wait.

Their belief is that 33 starships made of crystal and gold will arrive from 33 planets, landing one on top of the other, stacking into the sky like a towering, cosmic wedding cake. Each ship will carry 1,000 professorial beings, each specializing in some form of the arts.

“And it basically will become a university for the earth world,” says Nick Sawyer, “more advanced than any university that we presently have.”

Unarius may not be a cult, but it has a cult following. In recent years, their staggering canon of films, TV shows, costumes and music  including the Unarius choir, And the Angels Sing — have gained unironic attention from artists and alt-culture fans in their 20s and 30s.

Writer Jeff Gauntt and actress Julianne Tura fit into that demographic. They’ve driven down from Los Angeles, curious about the Conclave. After witnessing an entire weekend of all things Unarius — crowned by the channeled communication with Space Brother Kuthumi — they are impressed.

“I don’t want to be cynical enough to analyze it, I just want to sort of experience it on the level that they’re presenting it,” says Gauntt. “I do really appreciate the kind of sincerity and total faith they have in what they do. So I’m not going to be the logical person who’s going to say, ‘I don’t believe in this.’ ”

“My mind was really blown,” admits Tura. “This whole weekend was just one kind of mind-blowing thing after another. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”

And so, six decades in, Unarius continues, spreading its message of love. And, though she has departed to a higher plane, through the magic of film you can still hear Archangel Uriel spreading her message, as she will forever.

“And ever seek within thee, the love that I give unto thee, for I am infiniti … infiniti … infiniti …”

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