The world's most obscure religions

From motorcycle shrines to Prince Philip being hailed as a god of the South Pacific and alien deities, the world’s religions come in a rainbow hues of shades and beliefs.

Here are some of the more 'unusual' and obscure faiths around.

The Raelian Movement
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Founded by Frenchman Claude Vorilhon in 1973, the religion came about after his apparent encounter with an extra-terrestrial being. The alien gave Vorilhon the name Rael, detailed information about the origins of human life  - apparently we were created by a brainy tribe of alien scientists -  and instructions about the future.

Since 1973, Rael has been busy spreading the word through books, speeches, conferences and regular updates from his masters. 

The Raelian movement advocates love, compassion and non-judgment through everything from sexual liberation for women (female public toplessness is one such campaign) to environmental issues. 

More than 80 celebrities have been appointed honorary Raelians ‘guides’, including Playboy founder Hugh Hefner for “breaking sexual taboos” and Michael Jackson for his “pro-peace and anti-racism songs.”

Followers reportedly number more than 70,000 worldwide, with around 200 in Australia, as local member Roy Tyrrell, a follower for over 25 years, tells SBS.

“We participate in various Raelian actIons, such as “meditate one minute for peace,” spreading the message of Yahweh and promoting Paradism, which is a system of society where science takes over the jobs of people without any corporate control – a world without money.”

At the end of this month, Australian followers will gather for a meditation seminar called the “Raelian Happiness Academy.”

The Aetherius Society
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"We believe the Earth to be a vibrant, living entity and the performance of “Operation Sunbeam” has positive karmic implications for all mankind.”

In the 1950s, British man George King was also apparently graced by an extra-terrestrial encounter with a being called Aetherius. Until his death in 1997, King devoted his life to spreading the teachings of Aetherius and other advanced alien beings known as the Cosmic Masters.

The principles of this religion are based on the concept of spiritual energy and its deficit as the root cause of all unrest in the world.

In Australia, the Brisbane chapter holds twice weekly services and promotes teachings through festivals, local member Rod Middleton tells SBS.

“We are first and foremost a spiritual brotherhood, dedicated to service and enlightenment of mankind,” says Middleton.

“We adopt a combination of eastern philosophy which embraces karma yoga, prayer, mantra and breathing techniques including aspects of Christianity.

“A key legacy left after our Master’s passing is …returning spiritual energy to the Mother Earth as a token re- payment for hosting mankind over the centuries. We believe the Earth to be a vibrant, living entity and the performance of “Operation Sunbeam” has positive karmic implications for all mankind.”

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The Prince Philip Movement
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Unorthodox as these faiths seem, they are positively mainstream compared to some others to be found around in the world.

Try, for example, the Prince Philip Movement. Based on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu, this faith is dedicated to the worship of the Duke of Edinburgh as a deity.

When the royal couple made an official visit to Vanuatu in 1974, the local Yaohnanen tribe inexplicably formed a belief that the Duke was a descendant of one of their spirit ancestors now based in England where he safeguards their culture.

They write letters to him, worship photos of him, and celebrate his birthday on 10 June each year as a religious festival.

Aghori
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A Hindu faith believed to have split off from the Kapalika order in the 14th century, followers carry a kapala – a cup made from a human skull – and reportedly use human bones from graveyards for rituals.

Bizarre practices include eating rotten food and reportedly also human flesh in order to achieve the highest citadel of enlightenment. An Aghori ascetic, Kina Ram, is buried in a tomb, which is a holy site for Aghoris.

Warning: Video below contains graphic content and may be disturbing to some viewers. 

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The Church of All Worlds
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Set up in the 1960s by Oberon Zell Ravenheart and his wife, Morning Glory Zell, followers of this neo-pagan religion worship the Earth in the form of Gaia. As head of the Church, Oberon goes by the title of ‘Primate’, while followers are known as ‘Waterkin’. Their rites are held at Annwfn, their sacred land in North California.

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Pana Wave
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A religion based on a very modern phobia: electromagnetic waves (EM). Why not? Driven to raise awareness of the dangers of EM – think cell phones frying your brains – a Japanese woman Yuko Chino started Pana Wave in the mid-1980s as an offshoot of an earlier group formed in 1977 called Chino-Shoho (“True Law of Chino”).

A mix of Buddhist, Christian and New Age influences, it also involved a heavy layer of paranoia, with followers claiming EM waves were a communist plot to kill leader Chino.

To protect themselves from radiation, they dressed up in white clothes, white masks and drove white vans, looking for “safe” spots from the waves. They also predicted the end of world would come precisely on May 15, 2003. Yuko Chino passed away in 2006 age 72.

Bullet Baba's Motorbike
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According to locals, the motorbike has mystical powers because it mysteriously reappeared several times at the crash site after the police took it away.

This faith is perhaps the only spiritual movement in the world revolving around the worship of a motor vehicle. 

Villagers of Chotila in Rajasthan have erected a shrine for a Royal Enfield Bullet 350 cc motorcycle along with a photo of its owner, Om Singh Rathore, who died in a road accident on National Highway 65.

According to locals, the motorbike has mystical powers because it mysteriously reappeared several times at the crash site after the police took it away. It now stands on a concrete pedestal covered with garlands in a temple known as Om Banna, or more popularly as Bullet Baba.

Iglesia Maradoniana
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And last but not least, there is Iglesia Maradoniana. A retired Argentinian sports star as a divine being? Why not? Otherwise known as the Maradonian Church, it was formed by football legend Diego Maradona’s fans on October 3, 1998 in the city of Rosario.

The symbol for the church is D10S, which combines the Spanish words for God, Dios, and the shirt number of Maradona, 10. 

It has its own commandments and prayers, and claims it has 100,000 members from more than 60 countries.

The symbol for the church is D10S, which combines the Spanish words for God, Dios, and the shirt number of Maradona, 10.  

Watch Shaun Micallef's Stairway to Heaven
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Shaun Micallef's Stairway to Heaven airs on SBS on Wednesdays at 8.30pm from 18 January 2017. Watch all the episodes online after they air on SBS On Demand.

 
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