Beyond the world religions you’ve heard of, here are some lesser-known belief systems that might surprise you.
While more than half of the human population follows one of three world religions — Christianity, Islam or Hinduism — there are thousands of religions in practice today. World religions like Buddhism, Judaism and Chinese folk religion are well-known and account for a significant portion of the population. But what about some of the lesser-known religions? What are they all about?
Take a look at five obscure religions currently in practice.
1. Servants of the Light
Founded in 1965 by W. E. Butler, a British occultist, Servants of the Light is part of a long line of organizations and groups that believe in the teachings of mystical Qabalah (very similar to Kabbalah, which Madonna has been known to practice). Basically, Servants of the Light espouses that humans can harness psychic powers and accurately perform tasks such as reading tarot cards and derive deep meaning from astrology. Servants of the Light also teaches ritual and ceremonial magic, but its website is vague on these topics. It does state, however, that the world desperately needs “seekers of all ages to resume the Quest for the Grail.” Yes, the Holy Grail, the Arthurian legend.
If Servants of the Light sounds odd to you, it’s likely its purveyors hope curiosity reels you in. Servants of the Light refers to itself not as a religion but instead as a school comprised solely of correspondence. This Western Mystery School claims to have taught more than 6,000 people across the world since its inception. To earn a degree, you must complete 50 lessons that cost a cool 20 bucks a pop. If you work on your lessons every single day, you’ll earn your first degree in four years. Four years!
Created by French race car driver Claude Vorilhon in 1974, Raelism stresses that the Earth was in fact engineered by a group of advanced extraterrestrials known as the Elohim. Apparently, the Elohim adopted a humanlike appearance to trick early humans into believing they were angels and gods. According to Raelism, even Jesus and Buddha were actually Elohim.
Followers of Raelism seem to be at odds about who they believe created life on Earth. Elohim is one of the various names for God in Hebrew scriptures, yet Raelism’s official symbol until 1991 — and it can still be found used today — pictured a swastika inside the Star of David. While historically the swastika did mean “good luck,” now in a post–World War II world, that’s certainly not what first comes to mind.
Those who follow Raelism do not believe in any gods. They claim to be strict believers in science, yet their belief boils down to the conspiracy theory that Earth was created by aliens.
Raelism boasts more than 90,000 worldwide members, making it the largest UFO religion in the world.
Eckankar was founded in 1965 by Paul Twitchell, a pulp fiction writer with ties to the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard. However, ECKists, as they call themselves, believe the religion has actually been around since the beginning of humankind and Twitchell merely rediscovered it.
Like many new age religious movements, the basic principles of Eckankar — which means “co-worker with God” — are easy to comprehend on the surface. ECKists think they can be guided back into God’s light through spiritual experiences.
However, their belief system may leave some scratching their heads. A core tenet of Eckankar states that a person’s soul, their “true self,” can untether from one’s physical form to explore other planes of reality, thus achieving full consciousness. ECKists also emphasize chanting “Hu,” a love song for God that is performed 30 minutes at a time. Through these exercises, ECKists strive toward becoming God’s co-workers.
Eckankar’s membership numbers aren’t easily obtained, but in the 1990s there were more than 50,000 ECKists worldwide.
4. Temple of Set – Setianism
Created in 1975 by Michael Aquino, a former high-ranking official of the Church of Satan, the Temple of Set has been referred to as the “intellectual” branch of satanism, much to the dismay of its followers.
But from an outsider’s perspective, it’s easy to see why it’s associated with satanism. The Temple of Set’s scripture, The Book of Coming Forth by Night, states that Satan isn’t even Satan’s real name. According to Aquino, whom Satan called upon with a ritual, Satan revealed his true form to be the deity Set, which scripture says ancient Egyptian followers knew him as. And even the Temple of Set’s official religion, Setianism, could be mistaken for satanism in conversation.
Setians think the only god is Set, who put humans on Earth not to worship him but to emulate him. Even though Seitians believe Set is the only god, the ultimate goal of Setianism is self-deification to obtain an immortal consciousness.
The Temple of Set has six tiers of enlightenment, so to speak, with few members ever reaching the top level. The Temple of Set boasts 200 to 500 members worldwide.
5. Church Universal and Triumphant
A new age church founded in 1975 by Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Church Universal and Triumphant features an amalgamation of many different belief systems, including mainstream religions such as Buddhism and Christianity, along with more niche philosophies like alchemy and mysticism.
Followers believe the Holy Spirit communicates through a wide array of Ascended Masters, enlightened reincarnations who were ordinary humans in previous lives. While some of the masters are historical figures, such as the Buddha and Confucius, others such as Master Jesus are also derived from previous occult teachings. Prophet even came up with a few of her own, such as Lady Master Nada and Lady Master Lotus.
Over time, Prophet and her husband Mark claimed to be official messengers from the Ascended Masters, which allowed them to detail instructions and wisdom from the Holy Spirit to the church’s congregation.
The church uses a modified form of prayer called decrees. Decrees call out to the “violet flame” to help balance a person’s karma. The church also teaches the Seven Rays, an occult concept that emphasizes the progression of magic and psychic powers.