Want to rap with an extraterrestrial?

It's supposed to occur at Unarius gathering

San Diego Union-Tribune, October 15, 1999
By Noble Sprayberry

EL CAJON-- Author Zane Grey's spirit resides in the crystal city of Helianthus on the planet Muse.

Computer woes connected to the year 2000 actually stem from the Empire of Orion, which existed more than 500,000 years ago.

And 33 starships will land in Jamul in 2001 to guide everyone toward a positive future.

Welcome to the world of the Unarius Academy of Science, an El Cajon curiosity weaving its own mythology as the world spins toward the next millennium.

"I've discovered that everyone is searching for answers to life, death and immortality," said Charles Spiegel, the group's current leader. "Unarius is the teaching of spirituality and the science of life."

Longevity may prove the organization's hallmark. Founders Ernest L. Norman and his wife, Ruth, adopted the less-than-traditional concepts in 1954. Forty-five years later, there are an academy at 145 Magnolia Ave., public access television shows, a Web site and an annual three-day symposium that will begin today.

Registration for the 16th Interplanetary Conclave of Light costs $275, and attendees are promised one whopper of a finale: direct mental contact with a space brother living in the constellation Taurus. Lunch and dinner are provided.

Last year's event drew about 150 people, and Unarius, which stands for Universal Articulate Interdimensional Understanding, mailed 150,000 notices to promote the upcoming symposium, Spiegel said.

"Who knows how many people will come this year, maybe thousands," Spiegel said.

For the past four months, William Lovett has managed a Salvation Army thrift store that adjoins the Unarius Academy parking lot. Armed with a video recorder and a curious mind, he intends to watch the gathering from the store's roof.

After spotting the academy's 1965 Cadillac, which sports a homemade, rooftop spaceship, Lovett is eager to see what the weekend symposium will bring. "I think it will be interesting, and everyone's entitled to believe what they want to believe," he said.

Besides, maybe they're right.

"At this point, this close to the millennium, anything is possible," said a laughing Lovett.

In years past, members of the group met in the parking lot dressed in colorful garb and encircled a mock spaceship, said Pauletta Vincent, who works at the thrift store.

"When they come into the store, you wouldn't know them from anyone else," Vincent said. "They're normal people, except when they're dancing around the spaceship."

And their message is nothing if not optimistic.

After the 1997 mass suicide in Rancho Santa Fe of 39 Heaven's Gate cult members who believed they had been called to a spaceship behind Comet Hale-Bopp, Spiegel provided answers.

He told reporters that Unarius had information indicating that the cultists were in a healing ward on another planet.

Unarius beliefs, however, haven't always proved accurate. Ruth Norman forecast an alien landing in 1976. She explained the miscalculation by saying she was reliving a memory from a past life in which she envisioned the landing.

In 1984, word of the 2001 arrival passed through the extraterrestrial ether and made it to Norman, who led Unarius students in spreading the word. She died in 1993, but the Unarians believe that she simply entered the Fourth Dimension, where she joined her husband. He died in 1971. Not to worry, though. Spiegel said he keeps in touch by channeling their thoughts. Adept Unarius students use similar methods to check in on folks such as James Dean and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

"Most people don't have anything in their minds that will allow them to deal with this," said Arthur Reed, who joined the group 30 years ago. "To them, it sounds like someone who is out of their mind or a bunch of loony balooey."

For those who adopt the concepts, including evaluating the foibles of past lives, there are real benefits, Reed said.

During the years of study, Reed said, he was able to shed emotions of superiority and self-dislike.

"It's all about peace of mind and mastery of self," he said.

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