The Unarius Brotherhood were on a radical mission from the late-’70s to the mid-’80s to spread their “interdimensional science of life” and the principles of reincarnation to the masses via some of the most wildly inventive, waaaaay outside-the-box public access TV programming in America. Their cosmic leader, the exuberant septuagenarian Ruth Norman (aka Archangel Uriel), a clairvoyant with a fondness for glittery dresses, rainbow capes and benevolent aliens, permanently altered the minds of tens of thousands across the country—from late-night stoners to seekers leaving behind their lives in order to move to El Cajon, CA, and join the cause. As part of their outreach, the Unariuns created elaborate psychodramatic “documentaries” for the purpose of spiritual healing. Using otherworldly costumes and makeup, guerilla location-filming techniques, elaborate sets and ingenious no-budget special effects, this ambitious collective produced some of the most mind-shattering, oddly uplifting gems of American outsider cinema.
The Unarius Academy of Science was formed by Ernest and Ruth Norman, a couple of dotty New Agers, in the mid-1950s. Unarius is an acronym which stands for UNiversal ARticulate Interdimensional Understanding of Science. The story was that Norman was a traveling psychic medium who put grieving WWII widows in touch with their dead husbands and Ruth was one of his clients. One of his wealthier clients, whose dead husband had left her a restaurant chain…
The two met and were married within weeks. Soon Ernest would start self-publishing channeled books and they began having public meetings in Glendale, CA, ultimately publishing over 100 books and garnering several hundred followers. After Ernest’s death in 1971, Ruth Norman moved Unarius to the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, where she also bought up several parcels of now valuable real estate so that a landing strip could be built for the “Space Brothers” of whom Archangel Uriel (as Ruth Norman now called herself) was their emissary on Earth.
The Unarian cosmology predicted that 33 planets would simultaneously send ambassadors in spacecraft (the space brothers) that would lock together and form a futuristic city. Uriel taught that beings outside of our direct experience and comprehension exist—she was one of them!—and that one day the Space Brothers will help us silly humans evolve, turn deserts into vegetable fields, stop wars and improve our architecture.
After the death of her husband Archangel Uriel really became a loud leader. Bringing together artists and filmmakers from all walks of life to El Cajon where they started producing content. In the early 80s they began to take an interest in making a cable access television program promoting the group’s beliefs: “Everything is energy.” “You, as a form of indestructible energy, possess a soul that has recorded data from past lives.” “All happenings to you currently have their origins in past lives and past actions.” “Negative acts must be compensated for by positive acts.” Some of the shows would just be Uriel talking to her followers and others would be like super low budget “psychodramas”—think Kuchar Brothers, early John Waters, Andy Milligan, etc.
These “psychodramas” were unfuckingbelievable, featuring full outer space costumes, zany make-up and and batshit crazy scenarios. For instance, Uriel might decide that a certain Unarian had been a murderous space captain or an evil sea serpent in a past life. So the group would do these semi-improvised and somewhat elaborate plays, that were designed to “drastically relive” these past lives, so that the Unarian follower would be freed from their karma (more or less). In the one with the sea serpent, they literally videotaped it next to a swimming pool and several people got into a crappy aquatic dragon suit fashioned from floating pool furniture and inner tubes and swam around as the rest of them held a trial and passed judgement on the “creature.” A lot of their psychodramas had a “trial by jury” aspect to them.
Jodi Wille director of the upcoming doc on the group said “these tapes became like collectors items… they were traded in the underground like rare records.” Wille’s short film We Are Not Alone is a brief glimpse into the group but says a full length feature is on the way. In an interview with The Creators Project Wille says “What’s so interesting about working with a group that still exists is that they represent this pocket of quiet America that is either ignored, discounted or ridiculed by the larger culture. But the more I go in, the saner they become.”
The influence of Unarius is profound – from idols like Jello Biafra and John Waters to more recent space brothers like Drab Majesty. What was once a public access phenomena is often seen now via YouTube in a drug induced black hole where you can explore hundreds of archival videos (I urge you too) it’s here you will discover what Unarius is really about and maybe even find something about yourself from a past life.