I first encountered Raëlian priest Marc Letourneau last July at the annual UFO Festival in Roswell, N.M. I planned to attend his talk, originally scheduled at the UFO Museum, before it was abruptly cancelled. The Raëlians' beliefs, it turns out, were considered too out there.

Letourneau had to settle instead for speaking at the Alien Resistance Headquarters across the street. ARH is run by Guy Malone, who says he was routinely abducted by aliens until he turned to Jesus. Asked why he welcomed a Raëlian speaker, Malone explained that, though Raëlians teach that the aliens are our loving fathers--and not agents of Satan as Malone believes--he knew Letourneau would draw a lot of traffic. As Letourneau explained to the crowd of 50 or so, "Guy and I may disagree about extraterrestrials, but at least he supports democracy and freedom of speech."

Letourneau, a bearded, soft-spoken 47-year-old with a thick French-Canadian accent, described the origins of Raëlian belief. On Dec. 13, 1973, Claude Vorlihon spotted a silver UFO hovering near a volcano in the French countryside. The extraterrestrials invited Verlihon aboard their vessel where they explained he'd been chosen to be their messenger. Human beings were created by the extraterrestrials, they told him. They revealed that there is no supernatural God, and that they were the Elohim named in the biblical book of Genesis, a plural Hebrew word that means "those who came from the sky." They gave him the name Raël.

Because the Elohim created us through genetic engineering, cloning is the ultimate technology that allows the Elohim, who store our DNA on their planet, to resurrect us. Curiously, the Raëlians are also biblical literalists. When they say that only the 144,000 are destined for eternal life, it's because that's the number cited in Revelation.

In October 1975, Raël had a second encounter. The Elohim took him to their planet, where he got a foretaste of an Austin Powers-style paradise. Raël's room was "entirely carpeted with shaggy furs," a huge bed, and a sunken bathtub. A robot trotted out six beautiful female human robots and put on some mood music. "I went to bed and spent the most extravagant night of my life with my marvelous female companions," writes Raël in his account of the trip.

I sought out Letourneau again after hearing last month that Clonaid, a cloning concern founded by Raëlian bishop Brigitte Boisselier, had produced the first human clone, a baby nicknamed Eve. I spoke with Letourneau by phone on New Year's Eve.

How long have you been a Raëlian?
I've been a Raëlian for 25 years. I am a guide, or priest. Like any organization, we have a hierarchy. There are five levels, starting with assistant animators, and then animators. Then there are assistant guides, and then two levels of guides, priests and bishops.

How many bishops and priests are there?
There are maybe 20 or 30 bishops in the entire world and maybe 100 priests.

Raël was created specifically by the Elohim to receive their message, right?
Yes, that's the way they do it. They create messengers to proclaim their messages to humans. They created Jesus, for example. They also created Buddha, Moses, Elijah, and Mohammed.

What skills did they give Raël to get the job done?
It's not explained. They always want their messengers to be their offspring. I believe that's to ensure the messenger won't refuse the mission. It's not easy to receive a message like that. Raël went for six to eight months with terrible stress after he received his message.

They shaped him to become a leader. They pushed him early in life to become a good public speaker, and a good writer. He was a journalist who created a leading sports motor magazine in France.

Why have the Elohim kept us ignorant about our true origins?
They never kept that from us! They've always told us who we are, like in the Bible, for example. But we've never understood their message. It is written, "Let us make man in our own image." And it means the extraterrestrials are like us! Our ancestors on earth understood this. Today, the religions have the wrong perception, and [the Elohim] have sent Raël to remove the dust from those texts.

If we're all children of extraterrestrials, why not tell more people? Do the Elohim think we can't handle the truth?
You got it. They understand we could be very, very disturbed if they landed officially somewhere on Earth. So this conception will make its way into the public gradually until we reach a critical mass, at which point they will land.

Only 144,000 of all the people who ever lived will be resurrected?
Yes. And they won't necessarily be Raëlians. In other words, you can be a Raëlian but not do enough with your life. But we learn how to live our lives and to be happy, and not worry so much about what happens at the end. If you're not resurrected, you will never know you weren't. You'll just be dead.

So no one can know for sure whether they'll be resurrected?
Yes. But there are some conditions. If you don't know about Raël's message, there's no further condition than just being good. If you do know Raël's message, you are asked to transmit your DNA code. We do this four times a year in a ritual performed by Raëlian priests. It's a way to tell the Elohim that, "Yes, I believe you are the creators. I agree with Raël." Also, when you die you must leave a will stipulating that you'll have a bone removed from your head so you can later be recreated.

Which bone is this?
It's a small piece of bone where people say the Third Eye is.

So you give, what, a blood sample four times a year?
No, no. It's like baptism. The guide touches your head with water in his hands. The Elohim, through the guide, read your DNA code, and recognize you in a process that's like entering a name in a database.

So it's merely symbolic?
It's a ritual, but they really do take your DNA code. But you don't see them do it.

They do this, what, telepathically?
Yes. And they do this through guides because the guides are identified already. They touch a person at 3 o'clock four times a year on the holy days of the Raëlian movement.

Why don't the Elohim just give us the technology?
Oh, they will give it to us when they come officially. But when you've been a Raëlian for 25 years like me the wait for the Elohim to come is long. And there's been so much opposition to cloning. When Raël realized it could add another 10 years to the process, he said, "O.K., let's push to create the technology."

How does that mesh with the Elohim resurrecting only the 144,000?
If you own a house, you can invite over whoever you want. That's what they're going to do with their planet. But when we master the technique, we can decide who and how many to resurrect!

Why wasn't Raël trying to acquire cloning technology before Dolly?
Well, because the technology hadn't been developed yet. Also, after Dolly, the pope announced he was opposed to cloning. Raël believes that everything the pope says is negatively correlated to the right thing to do. [Laughs] So when the pope opposes something, you can do the opposite and almost be certain that what you're doing is right!

The Elohim asked Raël to build an embassy for them?
Yes. And they want a special room in the embassy to accommodate seven extraterrestrials. There are seven provinces on their planet, and each one has a representative that will be coming.

The Raëlians have been petitioning Israel for years to allow the embassy to be built in Jerusalem.
We have asked Israel many times to let us build in Jerusalem, and each time they have refused. Sometimes they won't even answer us.

How much money do you need to build the embassy?
We have raised $10 million, and we'll have much more when the stock market goes up! [Laughs.] But the embassy will have to be very high tech, because we are going to have to build septic chambers and stuff like that.

What's a septic chamber?
Oh, you know. The corridor to remove the microbes and stuff like that. And also the roof would have to be hard enough to allow a spaceship to land on it.

So when will all this happen?
Well, Raël did predict 10 years ago that a big event would happen, and that lots of people would call us and join the movement. Today is that day--the cloning stuff is generating a lot of interest in the movement.

When will the Elohim land?
Now I am going to be very careful with my answer. The official answer is before 2035. But that is the maximum. It might be before that, and probably will be. It may be around 2013 or 2015. Maybe it will be in 2010. But it will be before 2035.

I read that the Elohim banned cloning on their planet. Why?
That's not exactly what the message said. They banned the creation of life on their planet because during an experiment some animals escaped and caused some damage. So they stopped, and went to two other planets and created life over there.

Their attempts failed?
They created life on six planets. In one case, the planet was too close to its sun, so that didn't work. On another, the vegetation took over and destroyed all the animal life. And the third planet was destroyed by the Elohim. But three worked, including Earth, and life still exists on the other two planets. In 1978, the Elohim told Raël that one of the other planets may contact us. They probably discovered us around 1978.

What's the name of the Elohim's planet?
Well, they have two planets. There's a planet where normal people live, and, by the way, the normal lifespan on the planet is 1,000 years. They don't age. The Elohim have stopped the aging process. It's a very simple technique, and we will have that on Earth very soon. We too will be living 1,000 years. Scientists have already discovered the part of our chromosomes responsible for aging. They're called telomers. Each time a cell divides we lose part of the telomers. When you find a way to stop the telomers from losing a bit of itself after each cell division, then you've halted aging.

What's the relationship between the Raëlian movement and Clonaid?
Clonaid is not a Raëlian company. But the leaders of Clonaid are Raëlian. Of course, some of the employees are not Raëlian. But there is no corporate or financial relationship between the Raëlian movement and Clonaid. It's not the mission of the Raëlian movement to clone people. Our mission is to spread the message and build an embassy.

Raëlians have views on shaving and haircuts, don't they?
Yes. The Elohim encouraged us to let our hair grow because it optimizes sensitivity. It's like a television set. If you increase the size of the antennae, your television gets better reception. Body hair increases our contact with the universe.

What are the Raëlian views on sex and marriage?
The Elohim encourage us not to possess anybody, so there are no signed papers for marriage. We have to be free to love, not be forced to love. We do have marriage, but it's very open, in the sense that you aren't forced to be with that person forever. And you're not restricted to one person, either. You can choose the sexuality you want, and nobody will judge you.

This must an exciting time to be a Raëlian, what with the human cloning announcement.
Oh, yes. Yes! I've been in the Raëlian movement 25 years now, and people don't take us very seriously. But now they're going to have to.

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