From Magonia New Series 10, Spring 1978
MUFOB’s tenth anniversary also roughly coincides with the tenth anniversary of my own interest in the subject, sparked off by the British wave of 1967. At the time I was a member of the “nuts and bolts” school looking for extraterrestrial hardware, and automatically consigning contactees, MIBs and similar reports to the waste paper bin. I first realised the inadequacy of this approach when I began to research the Welsh UFO cases of the year 1905. To my perplexity I discovered reports that the “nuts and bolts” ideas seemed to make little sense of: UFOs in conjunction with ghost stories and religious visions, manifestations apparently visisble to some people but not others, and even (most distressing of all to me) an MIB report. Some rethinking seemed to be in order…
That this rethinking seems to have taken place among quite a large number of ufologists may be the major achievement of the years 1968 to 1978. The complete failure of the space programmes to detect any sign of intelligent activity on our neighbours in space has made theories of Martians or Venusians so unlikely that it is hard to remember how totally such ideas once dominated the UFO scene. The results have been twofold; on one hand some ufologists have retreated into irrationalism and see the UFO as a malignant, supernatural, anti-human force. The UFO has in some quarters been explicitily co-opted in the revival of demonology and apocalyptic fantasies. (Like much in Ufology these ideas are reminiscent of earlier science-fiction.)
Other ufologists have attempted to place the phenomenon in the context of religions visions, ghostly experiences, and similar events which have been very real to many people, even though their intrinsic nature makes them almost totally resistant to scientific investigation. Among the ufologists thinking in this way there seems to be a major cleavage between those who see all these as manifestations of some mysterious intelligence external to humanity which has appeared in different guises at different times; and those who see the phenomenon as a product of the human mind itself.
Even among those who, like the present writer, belong to the second group, there is much scope for disagreement and uncertainty as to how this happens. Are we dealing with a state of mind in which visions can not only be experienced, but paranormally impressed on other minds, and perhaps even affect physical reality? Or are we simply dealing with more mundane products of the human mind, such as dreams, rumours and hoaxes? Certainly it is salutary to reflect on the number of cases which the past decade has shown to be hoaxes after they had received the full backing of eminent ufologists.
What of the next decade? It is often pointless to attempt detailed predictions (who, fifteen years ago, would have predicted the revival in the last decade of astrology, gurus, exorcism and the whole paraphernalia of irrationalism?) but unless there is some striking event which will cause a major rethink (such as the discovery of intelligent signals from the stars, or a fossilised TV set) I see the apocalyptic occultist strains becoming more dominant in ufology. Perhaps as in Arthur C Clarke Rendezvous with Rama we shall actually see a church of Jesus Christ Cosmonaut…
In 1968 UFO research was still conceived of in largely mechanistic terms, and some form of ETH was the order of the day. Ten years on, thanks to changing attitudes towards technology, the demystifying impact of space flights, and the growing realisation of just how complex the UFO syndrome is, has changed the situation drastically.
The changes have not always been to our liking; the swapping of an uncritical belief in space-people for an equally uncritical belief in ‘elementals’ and other alleged supernatural beings is not to be encouraged. While in 1968 UFO research in Britain seemed to be divided between a university-trained elite and a rabble of querulous cranks, there has been a narrowing towards a mediocre centre. Whilst the loss of the small cliques of self-seeking eager believers and ‘occultists’ is to be welcomed, the drifting away of the CUGIUFO generation is still keenly felt.
Fashions change in ufology. In 1968 UFO detectors were all the rage. Now the ‘scientific ufologists’ seem to go in more for chemistry sets, map reading and geiger counters.
A measure of the ‘New Ufology’s progress is that it can be used as a basis for articles in the Royal Anthropological Society Newsletter. Even Scott Rogo’s questionable Haunted Universe can get a rave review in the SPR Journal from such an establishment figure as John Beloff.
By now I think we have accumulated enough ufological data to be able to make the first tentative steps towards defining the UFO experience:
- We have accumulating evidence that a good proportion of high strangeness UFO experiences occur in various altered states of consciousness.
- That some encounter experiences, at least, are not objective, in the usual sense of the term
- That the cases most attractive to ‘classical’ ufologists, which seen to be objective, are the most vulnerable to criticism from Klass, Sharp, et al.
- That the collectivity of the UFO record forms a modern folklore which constitutes the base for a ‘contemporary mythology’.
- That analysis of UFO stories in terms of mythological and psychological systems is likely to be fruitful.
- That there is no persuasive evidence that non-human intelligences are intervening in our lives.
This percipient-oriented approach to ufology has made the subject, in theory, subject to experimental test. We should be discussing the type of criteria which need to be fulfilled for an acceptable experimental duplication of a UFO experience, and the ethical issues involved. The statements made above should be testable. For the ETH to be re-established as a major hypothesis, it will now have to be defined in testable terms, or some really unimpeachable evidence to be produced. (For example, an unambiguous piece of ET hardware, or two or more simultaneous movies of a CE-III taken under public conditions, in circumstances totally ruling out fraud.)
At the same time, those who feel that there is evidence of a genuinely new physical phenomenon generating UFO experiences should be encouraged to define their procedures. They might begin to accept that home-made gadgetry in most unlikely to be of such value in dealing with such a presumably complex phenomenon.
There are other areas where procedures and ethics need to be closely examined. I for one view with more than a little concern the growing use of ‘hypnotic regression’ as an investigative tool when used by non-medical personnel. Reading the UFO literature one gets the impression that many of the people involved view hypnosis as a kind of ‘magic’, and a road to an impersonal, objective truth. This in an attitude not shared by Benjamin Simon and many psychiatrists. It is very difficult to regard many of the hypnotic regression from Bridie Murphy onwards, at face value.
The claims of alleged reincarnation are particularly dubious. In the famous Bloxham Tapes much play is made of the fact that one of the regressees used 18th century maritime phrases, yet none of the other subjects, regressed to the 12th century, or Roman York, spoke anything but 20th century standard English. In any caae, it seems that some of the investigators have used people who have undergone fairly traumatic experiences as some kind of experimental ‘objects’; an attitude which in distasteful, to say the least. Perhaps UFO researchers need training in psychiatric social work.
Other areas of future research include a much more comprehensive study of the historical antecedents. In the past these have tended to be confined to cataloguing unusual incidents. This is clearly insufficient, and a much broader historical study will be needed. Events such as the airship flaps of 1897, 1909 and 1913 cannot be studied in isolation from their general historical and cultural context. Is it coincidence that areas of high airship reportage in 1897 were also areas of populist agitation? What was the exact relationship between the British airship panics and general war hysteria? How did many of the ideas now current in ufology arise; what part did SF of the 20′s and 30′s play in the development of UFO ideology? How did the occultist and spiritualist fantasies of the late 19th century influence science fiction?
By such a study we should aim to discover if there Is any ‘normal’ mechanism by which traditional folkloric and religious images become integrated into the UFO experience. If not, then we may still have clues to ‘extra-normal’ influences, such as Jung’s archtypes. For all this future work a wide variety of specialists will be required, and MUFOB will be only too pleased to provide them with a platform. – For another ten years at least, we hope!
Charles Bowen has a lot to answer for! It was in 1968, during the great British flap that began the year, that I wrote to him asking if he know of any UFO groups in the Liverpool area, Rather than directing me to the Merseyside UFO Research Group, where I would probably have sunk without trace, he gave me the name and address of John Harney. Cautiously I wrote to Mr Harney, and received an equally cagey reply arranging a meeting in a Liverpool city centre bar called ‘La Broche’. This was to be the first of countless regular meetings with John, and Alan Sharp who was billed an ‘Science Editor’ of MUFOB, which at that time stood for ‘Merseyside UFO Bulletin’.
Our editorial meetings were inevitably held in some conveniently situated pub – La Broche (now demolished), the Spiral Staircase [now also demolished], the Grapes (near the Cavern Club, full of rock groups, postmen and Radio City DJ’s), the Court House (excellent Higson’s Ales [now also defunct]) and a wildly out of tune piano). We never actually got around to the Flying Saucer, a pub an a remote suburban estate.
It was the informality of these meetings, and the fact that they led to the publication of a UFO magazine of an extremely high quality that led me to doubt the value of the formalised UFO Group. I became suspicious of those who claimed that a magazine could only be published by a bureaucracy-bound ‘association’. Our occasional visits to the then-surviving MUFORG only served to reinforce this impression. Here they had a chairman, secretary, constitution, minutes – the works. They just never actually did anything!
Expressing views like this in our pages, and also daring to doubt the ETH, which still held the groups in thrall, MUFOB developed its reputation as ‘cynical’ and ‘negative’. Our quite modest comments often produced some amazingly vituperative letters, attacking our alleged excesses in the most immoderate language!
One we treasure, from Arthur Shuttlewood, accused us of “scurrilous attacks on personal character and integrity… out with the scalping hatchets and carving knives to cripple those whose views are more valid, sensible and fair than your own, which are strangled in a onesided web of ignorance.” (A one-sided web?!) He continued: “Why should we suffer the shortsighted, visionless, prejudiced and self inflated pontificating of three stick-in-the-mud scribes… a trio whose pompous and pedantic phraseology is boring and lifeless… Why do they persist in bedevilling instead of aiding the UFO cause in credibility? We know, of course, but are too polite and gentlemanly to speak so bluntly and crudely.”
Further on we are described as an “acid tongued and one-track-minded minority group”, “freaks”, “those people from the North who are blind to reality”, “disbelieving MUFOB MOBsters” and are accused of writing “words crawling over your Bulletin like aimless spiders’ legs”. Perhaps surprisingly, he concludes his letter “mark my words, uttered without malice… Yours not unkindly, Arthur Shuttlewood.”
However, not all our readers we so critical: Charles Bowen called us “Lively… always a pleasure to read”, Gary Lesley described us as “a lot of fun!” John Keel has even threatened to kidnap us with his corps of Oriental-looking aides, as we are “desperately needed on this side of the Big Pond”.
First as a corraspondent, then joining in our meetings, Peter Rogerson became a regular contributor to the Bulletin, bringing a truly creative appreach to the phenomenon. Apart from his articles, which have explored the very limits of ufology, his monumental INTCAT project, now syndicated in a number of overseas magazines, is one of the major reference tools available to the specialist.
A crisis struck MUFOB in 1974. John Harney bad been increasingly involved in local politics, leaving him less time to edit MUFOB. At the end of ’73 I had married and moved to the London area. Two rather desultory issues came out in 1974, then the Great Hiatus. Eventually, by one of those kind strokes of fate, John himself got a job in London. Here we began to meet regularly again, and were joined by Roger Sandell, who had contributed occasional pieces to the old MUFOB.
The re-launching of MUFOB was now a possibility, but it became apparant that it was now necessary, as a result of increased printing and postage costs, to try and operate it on a semi-commercial basis, rather than just sending them out free or on exchange as we had been doing. This gave us the opportunity to have the Bulletin completely litho-printed in its present format.
So you have the story to date. Our ‘organisation’ is still as informal as ever. Our ‘Editorial Meetings’ are still held in pubs (in Richmond upon Thames now), apart from editorial phone-calls with Peter Rogerson in Manchester which help to keep BT in profit. And, I think, we have lasted as long or longer, than many of those who told us that it needed a ‘proper organisation’ to run a magazine.
We think we’ll outlast a few more proper organizations in the years to come!