When Prophecy Never Fails

Diana G. Tumminia. When Prophecy Never Fails: Myth and Reality in a Flying Saucer Group. Oxford University Press, 2005.

The flying saucer group concerned is the Unarius Academy of Science, a UFO based new religious movement founded by Ernest and Ruth Norman in the 1950s. Diana Tumminia was a participant observer of this group from 1988 to 2002, during which time its charismatic leader Ruth 'Uriel' Norman died and a projected millennial flying saucer landing took place.

Ms Tumminia records the day to day activities of this group and her own reactions to it, including her struggles to maintain her professional distance. Unarius is by far the campest religion ever founded, the true spiritual home of Liberace and Elton John, though both may appear dull and dowdy in comparison with Uriel and her disciples. There is a photograph of the author meeting a bedridden Uriel, in which Ms Tumminia looks for all the world like Steph out of Absolutely Fabulous stranded in the world of Edinas and Patsies. Even sociologists have to make public statements like 'I am not one of you, I am just here to study you.'

The author tries to present the strange beliefs of Unarius with a straight face, and to make them intelligible to the outsider. Yet the whole thing is just so kitsch, like a pantomime parody of a new-age movement that she can't hope to succeed. The thought never occurs that perhaps Uriel and her disciples never intended the whole thing to be taken with a completely straight face, that it was always a play reality, in which people could escape from their troubled lives into a fantasy world of outrageous costumes and exciting past lives. Of course the problem with play realities is that sometimes the actors mistake the play for real life. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 92, June 2006

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