The Seekers (rapturists)
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The Seekers, also called The Brotherhood of the Seven Rays, were a group of rapturists or a UFO religion in mid-twentieth century Midwestern United States. The Seekers met in a nondenominational church, the group originally organized in 1953 by Charles Laughead, a staff member at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. They were led by Dorothy Martin from the Chicago area (also called Sister Thedra), who believed a UFO would take them on December 21, 1954. They are believed to be the first such group to exist. They were the subject of the book When Prophecy Fails by Leon Festinger; Laughead was given the pseudonym Dr. Armstrong and Martin given the name Marian Keech.
Leon Festinger infiltrated the Seekers with the goal of studying their cognitions and reactions when their beliefs failed, hence the name of his book When Prophecy Fails. He focused on them primarily to study a thought-process known as cognitive dissonance. Festinger and his colleagues essentially wanted to study cult members’ reactions and coping mechanisms when the UFO did not come to get them on December 21st, 1954. When the UFO didn't come, a majority of the members became convinced that the UFO would come on Christmas Eve. It was the second time around that the members experienced the greatest amount of dissonance. In the book, Festinger and his colleagues write "The experiences of this observer well characterize the state of affairs following the Christmas caroling episode—a persistent, frustrating search for orders." After this incident, many of the members returned home and abandoned their initial belief. Those who did not claimed that their group's belief and faith had saved the rest of the world from the disaster the aliens had warned them of.
From this study, Festinger and his colleagues developed the Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Cognitive dissonance is when two cognitions contradict each other, creating psychological discomfort. People are motivated to maintain consistent cognitions and will do what they can to relieve the discomfort. There are four main principles on which cognitive dissonance is based. The most important is whether any two cognitions are relevant or not. If they are relevant, then they're either dissonant or consonant - if dissonant, psychological discomfort arises. People are ultimately motivated to diffuse this arousal.
There are a few ways to reduce dissonance. For starters, one can change their behavior to bring it in line with dissonant cognitions. Alternatively, one can change the dissonant cognition. One can also add new consonant cognitions, or subtract dissonant cognitions, thus either reducing the perception of choice or the importance of the conflict. We saw this in The Seekers, where members changed their dissonant cognition the first time the UFO didn't come, and reduced the importance of the conflict by going home the second time that the UFO didn't come.
- The Atlantic 2015.
- Jenkins 2013, p. 60.
- Tumminia 2005.
- Boyett 2005, p. 50.
- Collins 2010, p. 130.
- Festinger, Leon. (2017). When Prophecy Fails : a Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World. Dancing Unicorn Books. ISBN 978-1-5154-1510-7. OCLC 990616768.
- Beck, Julie (2015-12-18). "The Christmas the Aliens Didn't Come". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
- Collins, C. (2010). Homeland Mythology: Biblical Narratives in American Culture. Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 978-0-271-04724-9. Retrieved 2019-01-19.
- Boyett, J. (2005). Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse. Relevant Books. ISBN 978-0-9760357-1-8. Retrieved 2019-01-19.
- Tumminia, Diana G. (2005). "How Prophecy Never Fails". When Prophecy Never Fails: Myth and Reality in a Flying-Saucer Group. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517675-8.
- Jenkins, T. (2013). Of Flying Saucers and Social Scientists: A Re-Reading of When Prophecy Fails and of Cognitive Dissonance. Palgrave pivot. Palgrave Macmillan US. ISBN 978-1-137-35760-1. Retrieved 2019-01-19.
- Julie Beck (December 18, 2015), "The Christmas the aliens didn't come", The Atlantic