The Monster as Metaphor. Roger Sandell

From MUFOB, new series 5, Winter 1976/7

Many of those interested in UFOs are also interested in other branches of fringe knowledge, so it is not very surprising that there have been so many theories, such as those about the Bermuda Triangle and Ancient Astronauts, that link UFOs with other mysterious phenomena. For some years ideas of this nature have been circulating regarding UFOs and ‘mystery animals’. At first these ideas were propounded by those who believed UFOs were interplanetary probes, and took the form of suggestions such as that the Bigfoot of the North American forests was a robot released from a UFO, or that the mysterious puma-like animals reported from various parts of England in recent years were part of a biological experiment by aliens. In the case of Bigfoot these ideas seem to have entered the American popular consciousness sufficiently for them to have formed the basis for one episode of the TV series Six Million Dollar Man. The latest development in this field, according to a press report, is a claim that the Loch Ness monster in an underwater extraterrestrial probe – an idea which was also featured in BBC TV’s Dr Who a year or so back.

Naively mechanistic as such ideas may be, there is no denying the existence of an overlap between the UFO and the mystery animals; the most obvious similarity is the sociological one. The ‘Nottinghamshire Lion’ reports of last summer [1976] followed a progress identical to many UFO waves. A sighting of a lion by two milk roundsmen, seen at close quarters in an open field, was considered sufficiently impressive for press and TV to give it wide coverage, and for the police to be issued with firearms, even though no lion was reported missing. This original report was followed by more dubious claims, including suggestions that patches of flattened vegetation – which in other circumstances would be claimed as UFO landing traces – were places where the lion had rested. Finally, when an alleged rearview sighting of the lion turned out to be a piece of sacking caught on a branch, the whole affair was discredited, even though the original sighting remains mysterious.

The sociological side of one mystery animal is examined in The Meaning of the Loch Ness Monster, by Roger Grimshaw and Paul Lester, a pamphlet published by the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, a group of radical sociologists. [1] The role of the scientist and the independent researcher are analyzed in terms equally applicable to the UFO field. The increasing interest in such fringe beliefs by scientists is seen as a result of increasing controversy about the political role of science, brought about by the ecological movement and protests against the involvement of scientists in war research. In this climate, when science becomes a matter of political controversy and general discussion, many scientists no longer maintain an Olympian detachment from the man in the street. They do not look down on phenomena largely reported by non-scientists, and often reported by the more sensational press, but consider them reasonable subjects for investigation. The independent researchers, or ‘monster entrepreneurs’ as the authors describe them, are seen as often strongly individualistic people seeking a field of study in which knowledge is not the possession of an anonymous bureaucracy can be extended by the efforts of the individual. (It should be made clear that the use of the term ‘entrepreneur’ refers solely to their individuality, and is not intended to imply that researchers are ‘in it for the money’.)

One matter that is not explored by the authors is the equivocal relationship between fringe entrepreneur and the established scientist. The entrepreneur is often uncertain whether he hopes to solve the mysteries of his chosen field himself, or act as a semi-political pressure group to persuade scientists to investigate the matter in question themselves In the UFO field this has led to suggestions that some researchers have censored some of their ‘high strangeness’ data to make reports acceptable to the scientists they wish to impress.

Finally, the pamphlet examines the mechanisms of belief and scepticism. Their conclusions will not be new to [Magonia] readers:

We see in the phenomena of Loch Ness a focussing of a belief in some mysterious force just beyond human control, teasing human comprehension, subject to casual and unpredictable sighting. Just as flying saucers are a space-conquering product of a higher technology, always flying beyond man’s reach, so the creature is felt to be a time-conquering of prehistory, swimming for the most part beneath man’s threshold of vision. An image of magical power presented by the creature as it eludes the grasp of man, the dominant animal on the planet, but so powerless here. Its simple and harmonious relationship with its environment renders it invulnerable and secure … As long as it is a mystery it will symbolise freedom and security for all that is natural and will cast doubt on the omnipotence of an artificial civilization.

However, the belief that the monster is a ‘tourist stunt’ or a ‘silly-season story’ is equally sustained by irrational considerations:

Indulgent contemplation of the phenomenon is countered by hardheaded scepticism – a particular element of an attitude of mind of an urban working-class … resistant to claims of the supernatural or supernormal that would contradict [their] realistic, commonsensical understanding of the world and [their] own urban survival mechanism … Popular superstition on one hand and scepticism on the other are by no means mutually exclusive attitudes.. They often uneasily inhabit the same people, since the urban dweller, no matter how certain he is of commonsense realities that surround him, is still aware however dimly and obliquely, that there are forces inside, and for that matter outside society that lie beyond his control or comprehension … Fantasy and scepticism about the monster sustain one another in the double bond of dependence and incomprehension.

Although the authors confine their analysis to the Loch Ness Monster their observations apply if anything more strongly to the reports and rumours of abominable-snowman type creatures in the USA. An extra dimension is given to these reports by the semi-human appearance of the creatures. Taken as symbols they can be seen as a myth appropriate to modern ecological consciousness; a dream of humanity freed from the constraints of civilization, once again living by instinct in a natural environment. In this they recall other mythic inhabitants of the forest, such as the Greek god Pan whose worship was attended by orgiastic rites; Robin Hood, representative of an older, pre-feudal England who emerges from his forest to strike terror into the hearts of the leaders of organised society; and Puck, who in A Midsummer Night’s Dream submits those who wander into the woods to a night in which their sexuality becomes uncontrolled and focussed on what they would normally despise.

Another recent publication, Bigfoot, by Anne Slate and Allan Berry [2], contains data that supports this analysis by strongly suggesting that rather more is involved than a simple hunt for an unknown animal. Some items included will be familiar to anyone with knowledge of UFO contactee stories. Witnesses encounter Bigfoot after being drawn into the forest by impulses they are unable to explain. One witness submitted to hypnosis to elicit details of his experience, and claimed while in a trance to be in telepathic contact with Bigfoot, and delivered a warning that “we are ruining the planet”. Another witness, when interviewed by researchers uttered animal-like noise and delivered an incoherent prophecy of the doom of America before the Bicentennial.

Weirder still, there are cases in this book which if accurately reported suggest that Bigfoot sightings, unlike most Loch Ness Monster reports, have an apparition-like air to them. There are cases where a particular individual or family seems to have been singled out for attention over a long period. There are other cases where a creature seem to have vanished after the sighting in circumstances where it was hard to imagine any large animal disappearing. In one case a witness after his sighting is visited by a mysterious Man-in-Black figure who asks for money for a telephone call. When passing over the money the witness is unable to feel his visitor’s hand.

Most striking of all are the cases where the Bigfoot witnesses state that even before the creature was encountered the whole forest landscape seemed somehow wrong and unsettling, and without the normal forest sounds. This detail is similar to the experiences of witnesses in apparition cases and has led to the suggestion that in these cases the witness is hallucinating not merely the apparition, but his whole field of vision. [4]
As always, one is faced with the problem of how seriously or literally to take these reports. In the authors’ forward it must be said that they themselves seem for the most part puzzled by the odd and inconvenient nature of many of their cases. In any event, the fact that such stories are circulating is eloquent testimony that for some people the Bigfoot mystery has taken on overtones very far removed from the mere hunt for a mystery animal. When we read of people propelled by strange impulses to a weird, silent part of the forest to meet a monster, we are surely not in the realms of natural history but in the magic forest of a fairytale inhabited by supernatural beings, such as in Keats’ Belle Dame Sans Merci:

Oh, what can ail the knights at arms
So pale and loitering?
The sedge hath withered from the seeds
And no birds sing.

If some at least of the Bigfoot sightings belong to the realm of apparition, such a phenomenon would not be unprecedented. The ghostlore of Britain has many examples of apparitions such as Demon Dogs and the giant, shadowy ‘Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui’ in Scotland, descriptions of which are strikingly similar to some Bigfoot reports.

In the 1950s when reports of the Himalayan Abominable Snowman were appearing in the press, the dramatist Nigel Kneale (creator of Quatermass) wrote a play about an expedition to hunt down the animal. When a hunter closes in on the creature it turns to look at him, and its face is seen to be identical to his own. In their very different ways the two books reviewed here show that however they may be explained, mystery animal reports tell us much about the way we perceive reality, react to it, and transmit it to others.

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References
1. Roger Grimshaw and Paul Lester. The Meaning of the Loch Ness Monster. Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham, 1976.
2. Anne Slate and Allen Berry, Bigfoot. Bantam, 1976.
3. This case is detailed in ‘Bersek’, by Dr. Berthold Schwarz. FSR.
4. Celia Green and Charles McCreery. Apparitions, Hamish Hamilton, 1975.

 

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