The most recent addition to the big world religions (more than 25 million followers) was Sikhism 500 years ago. But, social media notwithstanding, it takes time to get so many followers — and the age of the prophets never really ended. The 19th century saw a flurry of smaller new religions, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baha’i. And the 20th gave us Scientology.
Even today we’re inventing new religions that, in centuries’ time, may outsize Christianity or Islam. They’re all a bit silly, but what religion isn’t? What matters is that people take them seriously — and these 10 they certainly do.
A religion based on the movie, Matrixism arose four years after The Matrix — in 2003, the same year its sequels came out. While adherents, known as Redpills or Pathists, don’t believe we’re literally inside a simulation, they do take other cues from the movies. These include a belief in the prophecy of The One (due to return some time before 2199), and the recognition that reality is subjective.
It’s not a dogmatic religion, though; it’s more of a spiritual path. The freedom of the individual is paramount. For example, Pathists value psychedelics as tools for exploration and, while there is a recommended reading list (including the scriptures of world religions and Huxley’s The Doors of Perception), individuals are free to interpret.
Two days are holy in Matrixism: April 19 (“Bicycle Day” or the day LSD discoverer Albert Hoffman first tried the psychedelic himself) and November 22 (the date Aldous Huxley, C.S. Lewis, and JFK all died in 1963). The symbol for Matrixism as a religion is the Japanese hanji for ‘red’ — ? — a reference to the liberating pill.
9. The Church of All Worlds
The mission of the Church of All Worlds (CAW) is to reawaken Gaia and reunite Her children. Incorporated in 1968 by Oberon Zell, it was the first pagan church founded in the US and was officially recognized by the IRS in 1970. This is despite its basis in the work of science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, and in particular his 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land. It was the concept of a “Nest,” a group of people seeking to know each other deeply, that inspired Zell to found the CAW. In fact, congregations within the Church are themselves referred to as Nests.
Drawing on the ancient Greek Mysteries of Eleusis, the pagan May Royalty, and Zell’s own vision of Gaia as alive, the CAW embraces diverse beliefs and practices. More important is the shared set of values, which includes friendship and “tribal intimacy,” “positive sexuality,” and harmony with nature. That said, there is one rite that underpins the faith. Known as Watersharing, it symbolizes sacred bonds and our place in the web of life.
8. The Elven Spiritual Path
The Elven Spiritual Path draws on Tolkien’s Legendarium (his works set in Middle Earth) and in particular the cosmology of the elves. Its full name is Tië eldaliéva (abbreviated as T-e), which is Elven for “Path of the Star People.”
This isn’t live action role-playing. Followers of the path are genuinely devoted to enlightenment on elvish terms. It’s also a recognized religion, complete with tax-exempt status. Even so, the church (called Yána eldaliéva, the “Sanctuary of the Star People”) meets mostly online with two different websites. They do have their own calendar, though.
To help visitors understand the religion, the FAQs evoke the image of a tuning fork. Vibrating at the frequency of a guitar string, it causes the string to vibrate. And this “sympathetic vibration makes sympathetic resonance possible.” What this means for the Star People in practice is that meditating aligns one with the vibration of higher consciousness, opening one to resonance with one’s full nature.
Founded by Anton LaVey in the 1960s, Satanism is surprisingly atheistic. Neither LaVey nor his followers claim Satan exists. As LaVey put it himself, it’s more of a “state of being … a lifestyle, an outlook, an attitude.” In fact, Satanism isn’t even diabolical. It’s more of an “exultation of self,” offering non-religious people a way to feel religious. A large part of its appeal, therefore, lies in its rituals.
Of course, Satan features heavily in these ceremoneis — as do his cross-cultural equivalents. A list of “Infernal Names” is provided in LaVey’s Satanic Bible, and detailed instructions are given in The Satanic Rituals. Satanism being individualist, however, rituals may be freely adapted.
Unsurprisingly, this individualist religion is still very much thriving today. Although (like all good religions) a rift splintered LaVey’s Church of Satan into various sects, the original is still in operation. Meanwhile, LaVey’s daughter Karla founded the Satanic Breakfast Club, which became the First Satanic Church. And there’s also the Satanic Temple — which the Church of Satan denounces as un-Satanic (and which describes the Church of Satan as “inactive”) — and the Global Order of Satan, an “independent nontheistic rationalist Satanist religious ministry” founded in 2016.
6. Ed Woodism
The official website of the Church of Ed Wood greets every new visitor with a pop-up: “To answer your first question – yes, we’re serious!” You wouldn’t have thought so — despite its 3,000 followers. Founded in 1996 by Reverend Steve Galindo, Ed Woodism sees the pulp science fiction writer/director (whose credits include the laughable Plan 9 from Outer Space) as a Christ-like savior of sorts.
In a world of “easily offended, self-righteous, puritanical people,” adherents look to Wood as a beacon of understanding and acceptance — even of things rejected by society. According to the website, Wood’s example informs frank discussions of “sex, race, drugs, and transvestitism.”
Ed Wood isn’t God, though. For Ed Woodists, God is a movie producer: he “built the sets, got the casting ready, and financed our great, big movie masterpiece.” He just wants us to make a good movie, but he’s not the director. “We are the director of our lives.”
Founded in the 1970s, Raëlism (the International Raëlian Movement or the Raëlian Church) says humans were created not by gods but extraterrestrial aliens — the so-called Elohim, which happens to be Hebrew for ‘gods’. Although atheistic, Raëlians (or Raëlists) revere the prophets of theistic religions — e.g. Jesus, Mohammad, Joseph Smith — as well as the Buddha and 35 others as Elohim/human hybrids. The fortieth and final prophet is Raël himself (Claude Vorilhon), the Frenchman who came up with the faith.
According to Raëlians, this is the Age of Apocalypse — which begun with the bombing of Hiroshima. The only way we’ll ever meet our makers is if we learn to wield technology for good. The Elohim won’t return until we do. The job of the Raëlian Church, therefore, is to spread this message and prepare for their arrival — which means building a Raëlian embassy.
Sexual experimentation and meditation are both encouraged — as is human cloning to realise our destiny as immortals. In 2002 the Church actually claimed to have cloned a human — a baby girl they called Eve.
Cosmicism rejects theism for a nihilistic outlook and “a fear of the cosmic Void” — based on the writings of Lovecraft. It’s also known as the Cult of Cthulhu, the oldest of Lovecraft’s malignant Great Old Ones, or dormant primordial gods.
While not all cultists think Cthulhu exists (as anything more than a metaphor), they all believe they’ve been called. The Call of Cthulhu is a personal thing that can manifest through dreams, synchronicities, or simply one’s fate or desire. But it sets one apart from the masses. According to the religion’s website, “only a select few are even worthy of The Cult and its teachings.”
Another key doctrine is Ascension — the belief that within every called cultist there’s an Elder God (benevolent ancient deity) seeking transcendence. And, as Lovecraft was a science fiction writer, it should come as no surprise that Cosmicism is a science religion drawing on multiverse theory and quantum decoherence.
3. The Church of Maradona
To say the Argentinian footballer Diego Maradona has a loyal fanbase would be an understatement. What he has are religious devotees. For all his flaws — drug addiction, involvement with the mafia, etc. — he’s revered as a saint. There’s even a physical church dedicated to his worship in the city of Rosario, Argentina. Congregants gather to share stories about Maradona’s effect in their own lives, as well as to celebrate his birthday (October 30) like Christmas.
In fact, Maradona’s association with the divine goes back further than the founding of the Church in 1998. Just four years after they lost the Falklands War, Argentina was again doing battle with Britain — this time for the 1986 World Cup. They had to win. And it was Maradona who scored the decisive goals, one of which earned him the name the “Hand of God.” He was also hailed as a saint — Saint Gennaro’s second-coming — in Naples for drawing attention to the city’s impoverishment after joining its football team.
Despite Maradona’s reluctance to be seen in this way, the Church of Maradona has half a million devotees across several countries. Its entrance is flanked by soccer balls in vases and covered in photos of the man. It even has its own version of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Diego, who art in Earth / Hallowed be thy left leg / Thy magic come, / Thy goals are remembered, / On Earth, as they are in Heaven.”
2. The Prince Philip Cargo Cult
It’s not known why modernity-rejecting villagers on the Vanuatuan island of Tanna came to worship the Queen of England’s consort Prince Philip. But somehow they came to believe he was the pale-skinned son of a mountain spirit. According to ancient prophecies, he’s supposed to have traveled to a distant land to marry a powerful woman before one day returning to Tanna. They also believe he was the brother of the original cargo cult figurehead John Frum, who entered their pantheon in the Second World War.
Although Philip visited Vanuatu in 1974, he wasn’t aware of his status. But when he was told, he unsurprisingly embraced it — exchanging photos and gifts with the villagers. He sent them an official photograph, and they sent him a pig-bludgeoner. He responded by sending them a photo of himself holding it. In 2007, five of the villagers were invited to Britain to meet him.
But he never returned to the island.
1. The Creativity Movement
Not to be confused with Creationism, the Creativity Movement doesn’t care about dinosaur bones and evolution. All it preaches is the advancement of white people and the inferiority of “coloured mongrels.” It started in 1973 with Ukrainian Ben Klassen, who wrote about his hatred of Jews and non-whites.
After his suicide 20 years later, student Matthew Hale took over. His aim was to take control of the government to forcibly deport all “inferior races” to Madagasdcar. But they wouldn’t stop there; under his leadership the Creativity Movement seeks to incite a “racial holy war” similar to China’s Cultural Revolution, in which any “non-white” elements of culture are annihilated. That would include rap music, which Creativity describes as “gruesome.”
Although it seems like just another bunch of racists, the movement sees itself as a religion. They don’t believe in God, but they do see whites as “nature’s highest creation.” Active in many of the most politically white countries — the US, Russia, Australia, France, Germany, Canada, Austria, Poland, and Switzerland — the movement even has its own White Man’s Bible. It also has more than 30 associated web sites, along with mailing lists, forums, and chat rooms.