A 2000 story for my “Sidecar” column for New Times LA, an alternative weekly published from 1996 to 2002.

Cosmic Masters of Los Angeles

“It would happen. He wouldn’t go out of his way to levitate.”


Say you were walking the dog, just south of Gower Gulch on a Thursday night — you’d hear something peculiar resonating through the stucco walls of a Spanish bungalow at 6202 Afton Place — a long and resonate “Om” — chanted mantras, sometimes laced with a wild, tearful ecstasy.

Strange. But the truth is stranger.

Behind that wall is a roomful of people in red robes charging a “spiritual battery” with energy to be beamed to a spaceship from Mars. These are the members of the Aetherius Society, and while you go about your dull little life walking your dog and picking up dry-cleaning, they are busily preparing for Cosmic Masters to pilot a gigantic spaceship into earth’s orbit on Wednesday, April 18. At precisely 5 pm.

In the exotic world of Aetherius, however, such cosmic dramas are more or less a matter of routine. As I enter the headquarters for an interview, staff members are quietly arranging folding chairs in the building’s chapel, untouched by any sense of urgency or sense of imminent global catastrophe.

Still chuckling over the photoshoot for this article, Brian Keneipp, International Director for the Society, slips out of his ecclesiastical robes and back into a sports jacket. A member for the last 25 of his 44 years, Keneipp breezily explains how this ship — properly referred to as “Satellite Number Three” — actually swings into orbit several times a year for the purpose of sending and receiving spiritual energy. He’s quick with an explanation as to how the ship avoids detection (a “screen” that “flips the photons around 180 degrees”). Were the photons in their proper orientation, however, he says we would see a ship that’s “shaped like an egg or cigar.” A small diorama in a narrow hallway bookstore gives a cutaway depiction of the craft, presenting a sparse geometric interior defined only by a few silvery cones and something that looks like a magic mirror framed in tiny rhinestones.

He walks me into the chapel where chairs now stand in orderly rows. Despite its peculiar appointments, it’s still recognizable as a converted living room. At the front is a raised altar with a cross studded with stones “from the Holy Mountains. Tto the right is under a sort of Tomorrowland-style arch “the Altar to the Adepts.” He stops for a moment in front of painting depicting an antlike human silhouetted before immense flames towering like skyscrapers. “Our Master had the great honor to go and visit the Protectors of the Flame, very evolved intergalactic beings at the center of the Earth.”

The Master is Dr. George King, a London cab driver and western master of Yoga who founded and ran the Society until his death in 1997. His distinguished visage stares from the altar in a hand-colored photograph in which enameled eye whites shine eerily. King’s penchant for titles is represented by the two dozen or so diplomas and plaques scattered over several walls. Various doctorates hang alongside awards like that from the Mystical Order of St. Peter or The International Union of Christian Chivalry. A velvet banner depicting a royal crest, Keneipp says, was given to King when he was knighted by the Byzantine Royal House. “He was first made a count, then a prince.” An Archbishop to boot, King is occasionally referred to as “His Eminence”.

But all these titles pale in comparison to the position assigned King on May 8, 1954. Alone at the time, he heard a loud but disembodied voice declare, “Prepare yourself! You are to become the Voice of Interplanetary Parliament.” The command was issued by the Society’s namesake, Aetherius, whom Keneipp identifies as a Cosmic Master “pretty high up on the level of interplanetary beings.” Another Master who had a lot to say to King identified himself as “Mars Sector 6.” It’s a curious name, and one that Keneipp can’t easily explain. “Well, you know, it’s one of these code things. Another Master was called Zeem Zeem Coefficient,” he chuckles, “Who can say?” Wearing dark goggles and often in a deep trance, King received and recorded over 600 transmissions from these Cosmic Masters. Over the years, these came to form the core of Aetherius teachings.

Suddenly Keneipp’s watch beeps. He fiddles for a second or two with the alarm and then presses a finger against his nose as if catching a sudden nosebleed. “I’ve blocked up one nostril because it’s a holy time,” he says nasally. “It’s the right nostril when the sun sets, and left at sunrise and noon.” After an awkward silence, he explains some related daily rituals including the recharging of “dead” drinking water accomplished by by placing drinking water in a blue glass bottle, exposing it to the sun for 15 minutes, then shaking thoroughly. A sister practice, he says, is an aura recharge, one that involve a copper wire worn running from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head and affixed to a gold plate over the heart. “It’s a way of relieving any kind of pranic blockages,” he explains.

After establishing the society in London, King came to Los Angeles in 1959, eventually acquiring three bungalows and garages to be transformed into a temple, classroom, offices, and print shop, as well as private quarters –residence for himself, his wife, and a sister. Also regarded as private were rooms involved in engineering the devices used to contain and direct spiritual energies. “Well, actually more sacred than classified,” says Keneipp, “but there are certain parts of the machine we do keep classified.”

The machine in this case is the Spiritual Energy Radiator (insiders call them S.E.R.s). The Spiritual Battery is likewise a mystery. From the outside, it’s a baby blue Plexiglas box the size of a car battery. Its inner workings? According to Keneipp: “extremely accurately ground crystals” and 25-carat gold. He also mentions a silk barrier used to contain energies. The device is the product of radionics, a hybrid of mysticism and mechanics related to dowsing or Wilhelm Reich’s manipulation of so-called orgone energy. Radionics is not a subject lending itself to rational or scientific debate.

The lights are dimmed, the glitter in the ceiling plaster gleams, and spacey New Age music drones in the background. Roughly two-dozen smartly dressed people file in, greeting each other in low tones. Some slide into seats facing the battery, while others slip into red robes and arrange themselves to stand in two rows flanking the devise. The crowd is mostly white and mostly old, but there are a couple twenty-somethings, as well as a black face or two, one being a tall wiry Cameroonian who sits at a desk with a stopwatch and ledger. Keneipp whispers an explanation: he’s logging prayer-hours. Yellow robes are worn by a couple of the older members, one so shrunken with age, she seems almost lost among the folds.

The service begins with breathing exercise, a chorus of synchronized sniffing, followed by guided meditation. “I am now filling my mind and body with the mighty power of God,” Keneipp majestically intones. The congregation repeats with one voice, precisely duplicating the melody and rhythm of Keneipp’s syllables. The effect is startling, and is followed by equally vigorous recitation of other holy mantras.

At a key moment, Keneipp dons white gloves and gingerly slides a cover plate off the back of the mystery box. He moves aside as a robed woman steps forward, and thrusts an open palm toward the exposed surface. Throwing her entire body into the gesture, a prayer erupts from her lips, an improbably passionate utterance, hissing and exploding like water in hot oil. Rising and falling amid ecstatic sobs, the words, though mostly inaudible, seem to echo the many “Blessed are’s” of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.

Several robed members tag-team the battery in this fashion, each theatrical as the last. The frenzy with which it’s all conducted is certainly worth a goosebump or two. The sense of mystery is enhanced by a congregant sporadically arising to make knowing adjustments to another devise on a tripod, this one shrouded in black velvet.

I will have plenty of questions tomorrow.

The following morning Keneipp is opening the day’s mail, including a check mistakenly made out to Unarius, a flamboyant group of UFO mystics in El Cajon awaiting the arrival of the Space Brothers in 2001. Dubious about these prophecies, Keneipp says that New Age tourists in California “will often have us on the itinerary right next to Unarius. It’s sort of a drag, but that’s how it is.” Being painted with the broad brush of California Kookdom is a familiar problem, as is a lack of spiritual discernment. “It gets frustrating. It’s just like people wake up from their sleep and say, well, yeah, I just had a communication from the Master of the Sun, and they’ve never even had any yogic training or anything. It’s more like a hobby with them. We went to a conference recently, and I’m sitting around talking to people — normal nice people — and this lady turns to me, and says, “well, I’m a Garlic Head you know, yes, I’m from the planet Renon and we all look like garlic heads.   If you’re just Joe Orthodox or Joe Science, and you hear someone talk about the Garlic Heads and you hear us talk about Jesus from Venus, it could easily be the same thing!”

Yes, Jesus is a Venusian. And while we’re at it, mankind originated on the planet Maldek (but blew up that home leaving the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars. Same mistake with our lost civilizations of Lemuria and Atlantis

“We don’t necessarily start off by saying, swe believe that Master Jesus came from Venus,” Keneipp says. “You want to encourage people, not scare them off. By the end of the day it doesn’t matter where he came from. What matters is what he said or what he’s given, and the power of prayer.” In this case, Keneipp is referring to Jesus’ update on the Lord’s Prayer channeled through Dr. King as The Twelve Blessings, recited in part during the battery-charging.

So how exactly is this battery deployed?

“What we do is when the third satellite’s in orbit, we discharge a certain amount of energy every week for discretionary use by the Cosmic Master.” The battery can be discharged locally against specific threats, as it was against wildfires threatening Los Angeles in the early ‘90s, when he remembers. “Things happened, like it would start to rain or the winds would stop, or all of a sudden a big blockage would be broken down, and the fire fighters would get access to a critical spot.” The device under black wraps, he explains, is a classified design, a radionic enhancer containing a special stone from one of Earth’s 19 Holy Mountains, the closest of these being Mt. Baldy, where the group frequently hikes to manipulate these energies. The Aetherius ideal of service and the chance to participate in global or spiritual healing, Keneipp believes, is a major selling point for the Society. But for him, it was intellectual appeal that drew him to the group.

While a student at Southern Illinois University he happened to hear a tape by King and sought out King’s book, The Nine Freedoms. “It just answered all my questions. I’d been studying metaphysics and parapsychology and UFOS and Christianity and eastern religion, and it explained how everything interrelated.” Ordering other books from the Society, and enticed by the steady stream of event announcements from Los Angeles, Keneipp eventually transferred his college credits to UCLA. Driving his beat up VW from Chicago to Los Angeles in 1976, he arrived at Aetherius headquarters and fell in love with the classes, the community, the bustling print operations and woodworking shops where radionic pendulums and icons are churned out.

Keneipp never went back to school. Instead he took a day job at AT&T for 6 years, all the while “slowly committing more and more time and energy. It’s a gradual process,” he says, “because you don’t want to all of a sudden give up your free will. It had to be slow, and it was balanced by greater experiences — psychic experiences, greater powers of concentration, greater ability to express yourself in artistic ways — all this so you actually don’t miss the free will. Eventually I was virtually with the Master 24 hours a day. And I realized that I was happier than I’d ever been before.” In 1987, Keneipp joined the staff full time, living on the property until he married his wife, Anita, a fellow member he met at King’s1977 funeral.

But what was it about King that was so compelling?

Keneipp praises the man’s intelligence, mastery of yoga, and humility, but ads that King was “not the kind of person you think of as an Archbishop. He had a good time. He drank. He joked around. And in fact, he’d always say ‘at least no one can accuse me of being a saint.’ He would try all kinds of ways to shock people or push people, cajole people or threaten people — anything at all to get them to work, to work for God. He expected you to work hard, as many hours as you possibly could.”

King’s authority was grounded in his having achieved “the pinnacle of evolution on this planet” the samadhic, or ecstatic, trance, during which Keneipp says, “he was dead. He had no pulse — sometimes as long as an hour an hour and a half. When he came out of that, it took a lot of massage and oxygen to get him back up to speed.” There are also stories about King levitating, but Keneipp plays this down. “It would happen. He wouldn’t go out of his way to levitate. He would just levitate because that’s what happens when you pray real hard.”

Keneipp admits he had a tough time initially with the concept of corporeal extraterrestrial life, but is quick to point out that since the 1969 Initiation of the Solar System, the tall brown-skinned Martians described in King’s early writing have been bumped up to a higher, spiritual beings.

Today, he says he has no doubts, “because it’s been proven to me over and over.” Early proof came in the form of experiments suggested in King’s books. “It would say, go into a forest and send energy to the devas (spirits controlling natural forces), so I would walk thru the forest trying this, expecting nothing, and suddenly I’d feel this tremendous wave of energy returned. When I sat down, all of these animals would come to me. Squirrels would come to me, chipmunks would come, birds would fly right to me. Within a couple months, all these things kind of came together. Just before getting The Nine Freedoms, I had an extremely vivid dream, so vivid I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote down three pages. It was about the end of the world. I saw Florida flip over and huge land masses in flames.”

Maybe you’re not convinced.   That’s fine. Keneipp encourages people to investigate for themselves. “Not just kind of run away from us since we have a belief that’s a little bit different. People always like to say we’re a cult. But are we really doing anything bad? Are we really interrupting peoples’ families? Is anyone here out of coercion? Why be scared of what is different? Try to be comforted by what is similar to what’s been taught for thousands of years, similar but maybe just with a little different spin on it.”

He is also concerned that certain specifics regarding radionic devices not get out, since “it could be dangerous — if used in the wrong way.”

If not convinced by now, at least you have been warned.