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"I have no doubt [my encounters are] real," she says firmly. "I've had contact, face-to-face, this close" -- she holds her hand a few inches from her eyes -- "with another life form that's not human, whose mind doesn't work like a human. It's not a question of if -- the rest of the world is grappling with if. To me, the greatest mystery is why we have been allowed to believe we're alone in the universe for so long."
Schafer says her new career isn't profit-driven, that she had a far better income in health care. But her newest venture, Beyond Zebra (www.beyondzebra.com), is definitely business-oriented. You've heard of e-commerce? Schafer says she can help companies prepare for g-commerce.
"Look how fast the Internet has grown in the past few years," she says. "The same thing is going to happen in terms of galactic commerce. There are certain ways you need to think differently to be on the forefront. Look at the eBay and Amazon.com. If you can establish a presence in certain key areas, it makes a difference. There's a potential for many Microsofts to be out there right now."
Her intuitive business consulting hasn't taken off as well as Schafer would like. Not like similar consulting companies in Japan, where it's common for businesses to employ psychics. But Schafer is hopeful.
"Look at all that's happening -- computer chips in the mind, telomere studies to slow aging -- there's a lot going on. You cannot deny our lives are going to be very different within three to five years."
So what, then, are these new niche markets going to be?
"You gotta pay me for that," she says, then laughs, a bit shocked at herself.
If Schafer's ideas seem too on-the-fringe to be popular, it may come as a surprise that Schafer is tapping into a powerful niche market herself.
The new wave of New Age -- as touted in books such as Art Bell's The Quickening, on dozens of Web sites, in national seminars such as the Prophets Conference and by Marcia Schafer -- combines two seemingly contrary belief systems.
The first involves outer space. Mainly, belief in the existence of extraterrestrials, alien abductions and in the alien ancestry theory -- a creation myth first popularized by Sumerian scholar Zecharia Sitchin in 1976 that maintains that an alien race called the Anunnaki created humans by merging their genes with Homo erectus to create Homo sapiens. (See accompanying story)
The second belief system concerns the conquest of inner space -- traditional New Age consciousness raising through meditation, where one attempts to accelerate spiritual evolution and obtain psychic ability.
These belief systems have been combined and are now frequently infused with millennial anxiety about the recent rapid advances of technology, such as genetic engineering, virtual reality, modern surveillance and nano- and bio-technology.
For further pop-culture examples, New Age futurists point to films such as The Matrix, The Sixth Sense, Pleasantville, The Thirteenth Floor and The Truman Show, wherein protagonists challenge their traditional view of conscious reality, and films like Mission to Mars, Stargate, Contact and, of course, The X-Files, which either promote the alien ancestry theory or assert that we are, as Schafer puts it, "in the middle of an evolutionary growth spurt."
The idea is to turn away from dependence on technology and materialism, and toward developing untapped spiritual potential. Schafer and other proponents say that most humans use only 10 percent of their brains (a widely disputed figure), and that 97 percent of human DNA is inactive (likewise).
"The human condition can ascend to a higher plane faster than many other biological life conditions," says Schafer during her seminar. "So it's almost like a high-speed elevator; we have a flip-switch in humans that a lot of other species have to work harder to reach."
In other words, human beings -- like computers -- are eminently upgradeable.
"We definitely are evolving," says Dionne Eskelin, one of Schafer's fans. "And I definitely don't want to be left in the dust."
Part of the imaginative appeal of such beliefs is reminiscent of the science fiction boom during the Mercury space program. Suddenly, so many things that had once seemed impossible are real. Tales of cloning humans or radar-evading aircraft or cyborgs are now on the cover of Wired. So who's to say, for instance, that we weren't genetically engineered if anthropologists still can't find the missing link?
"These beliefs are very common now," says Paul Saffo, director of the Silicon Valley forecasting group Institute for the Future. "Technology has invaded people's lives to the point that modern religion has been left blocks and blocks behind. People are desperate for meaning, so they're inventing new religions of their own. At the turn of the last century in Japan, they were being assaulted by new technologies and there was an explosion of new religions. So I think what we're seeing are new, secular religions."
The most extreme and tragic manifestation of New Age futurism occurred in 1997, when 39 members of the Heaven's Gate UFO cult in San Diego committed suicide upon hearing on Art Bell's radio show that a UFO was trailing the Hale-Bopp comet.