In the Light of Experience.
Thomas E. Bullard

From Magonia 44, October 1982

In Magonia 42 Hilary Evans and Peter Rogerson take me to task as they speak out again in favour of a psychosocial explanation for UFO abductions. Their interests are friendly, but they leave me in need of saving myself from my friends, and my friends from themselves.

To begin on an agreeable note. I agree with much of what they say. Peter Rogerson is quite right to point out that variation is present in abduction narratives. The beings described are far from copies of one another, the plots and details differ as well. Yet the importance of differences depends on their proportion to the similarities, and similarities prevail throughout my sample of reports. The picture is especially clear among the 103 high information, high reliability cases. The ‘ufological filter’ through which the reports reach the literature is a serious concern, but please remember that those 103 good cases are the work of fifty different investigators or teams. the contributions of Budd Hopkins do not swamp all others. An implausibly large cadre of investigators marches in lockstep to the same tune, if they impose the similarities.

I have to disagree with Rogerson when he takes lightly the failure of abduction narrators to exploit the broad range of science-fiction ideas available today, and would have us believe that abductee narratives have about reached their limits. I would not lay any bets. Human imagination is wonderfully adaptive, and likely to defy any limits or prescribed directions set up by unimaginative scholars – assuming of course that imagination rather than experience sets the course of the abduction story.

Rogerson mentions Edith Fiore’s cases as examples of the more varied accounts that come through a less single-minded ufological filter than, say, Hopkins’s. I would point out the case of Dan in chapter 12 of Fiore’s book as a fine example of what imagination can do. Dan claims 627 abductions (give or take one or two?), and recalls a life of high adventure during his days in the Space Marines. He retired to Earth in the body of a boy, but wants to re-enter active duty now that he is once more an adult. Who says imagination is limited? His story illustrates what I would expect if abduction stories were imaginative – Flash Gordon adventures, extraterrestrial Harlequin romances and ego satisfaction tailored to individual needs of the narrators. What I see instead is largely impersonal and often unpleasant. Even the people who feel they benefit from the experience acknowledge that it is difficult, a challenge, a lesson hard to learn no matter how positive the outcome may be.

So yes, we find variety. At the same time we find a core of stability that is absent in 1950s contactee stories. That observation should alert us that abductions are not just contactee yarns with a forced entry and medical examination tacked on. Abductions are like Old Hag experiences in part, like fairy kidnap in part, like epileptic seizures in part, like 1950s space movies in part. Like many things in part, but also coherent with a uniqueness of their own. Say there were twice the usual number of murders in town last night – one with a gun, one with a knife, one with a blunt instrument, one by strangulation and six by axe and those within a one-block area. We do not need Sherlock Holmes to tell us that those six axe murders are probably related, the other four probably not. This same intuition applied to abductions advises that the coherent reports differ in a qualitative way from the largely idiosyncratic accounts.

The investigator’s dilemma is how to focus on that core phenomenon without prejudging its nature. Discrimination of evidence is a necessary evil, since the alternative is a hopelessly muddled sample. I would suggest that not every encounter is an abduction, not every abduction story is genuine, and not every genuine (whatever that may mean) abductee describes the experience in uniform or even accurate terms. Many stories can pass as ‘abductions’ through a lenient filter. Settle for a few content points as an adequate intersection and the list of ‘related’ narratives will never end. A meaningful understanding of the abduction phenomenon requires stricter criteria, specifically attention to the most unique and puzzling materials. Fifty or a hundred reports with a complexity of details but little inclination to imaginative elaboration is mystery enough. the other accounts need explaining as well, and might lend themselves to psychosocial theories already offered, but let’s not confuse an already difficult issue with obvious hoaxes, probable fantasies, or remote analogies.

Which brings us to Hilary Evans and his solution. I argue from the standpoint of a folklorist that too many abduction reports demonstrate a stubborn and unnecessary consistency to be products of the imagination pure and simple. He seems to have little use for folklorists. A century and a half of scholarship has left us with nothing but a ‘free-for-all’ of amorphous materials imposed upon by the half-baked schemes of scholars, no two of whom are in agreement. Folklorists are prone to keep their heads in books, and abstract stereotypical patterns out of a mass of individual narratives while forgetting that the stereotype is a scholarly fiction. The folklorist loses sight of the individual factor in narratives, and makes up rules about non-existent ideals.

Any candid assessment of folklore theory would have to give at least a partial nod to these criticisms. Much toil has produced few results, and scholarship has torn off in wrong directions all too often. But folklorists are not such a bad lot: some of us love dogs and children, most of us bathe regularly (once or twice a week whether we need it or not), and quite a few of us leave our books from time to time and make contact with the ‘folk’.

One thing we have learned about this ‘folk’ is that its members are seldom old goodwives in chimney corners, such as come to Evans’s mind when I speak of ordinary storytellers who forget or fumble their narrative. No. You and I are the folk. Our role as folk depends on the way we communicate, and not on our social circumstances, while our words acquire folklore status more by the channels we pass them along that by their inherent contents. Folklore needs no validation of hoary age. Jokes and urban legends spring up day by day and go the rounds.


Folklore scholars once drew arbitrary boundaries between folk, popular and mass culture, but we learned our lesson. the folk show no respect for such distinctions. What matters is how narrators use those ideas, not their ultimate origin or nature


Science fiction and forms of communal fantasy are perfectly good sources of folkloric communication, contrary to what Evans implies. Folklore scholars once drew arbitrary boundaries between folk, popular and mass culture, but we learned our lesson. the folk show no respect for such distinctions. What matters is how narrators use those ideas, not their ultimate origin or nature. As long as narrators treat the materials as folklore, they are folklore wherever they come from; old tradition, science fiction, the tabloid press, the TV set, or for that matter, direct personal experience.

The ‘rules’ I referred to certainly lack the status of natural law. Contrary to the title of Alexander Krappe’s famous book, there is no ‘science of folklore’. Folklorists cannot predict how a narrative will change with the certitude of an astronomer who predicts the return of Halley’s Comet. At the same time folklore is not entirely amorphous. If science is not a search for The Truth but, more modestly expressed, a search for order in nature, then folklore scholarship still offers pertinent help in understanding what happens to narratives in circulation. Ultimate questions of why and wherefore may raise conflicts among various schools of thought, but at a lower level of empirical inquiry folklorists have learned something about the dynamics of narratives.

Simple observation makes it clear that narratives vary. People tell the same general story in a variety of ways, whether by accident or design. Some of those old goodwives are formidable narrators who shape their stories into a fine artistic production. Most of the rest of

 us shape them according to our lesser abilities and fallibilities. In either case variation results. We expect to find it in abduction reports because our first reasonable assumption pegs them as products of imagination. The loose construction of the story and the wealth of ideas available from various cultural sources leads us to expect a great deal of variation. When we find a relative lack of it, an anomaly confronts us. An anomaly tells us that something is wrong with our assumption.#

This finding is simply interesting. It does not prove aliens or any other specific explanation, but it calls into question cultural sources working through the usual channels of borrowing and communication. This is a slender sort of conclusion, but it comes about in the right way. It comes from an application of what we know to be a problem, rather than an application of wishful thinking or doctrinaire theory.

I agree that psychosocial theorists attribute abductions to more than folklore, and draw parallels with many form of communal fantasy. I disagree with Evans when he says that folklore ‘rules’ therefore no longer apply. The folklorist’s understanding of narrative dynamics comes from studies of memory processes and the circulation of unofficial communications in society. Much of what happens to folklore as it passes from person to person also happens in the transmission of rumour and gossip, in episodes of mass hysteria, in fads and popular movements – in any human effort to formulate and convey an account of an unusual experience. What is communal fantasy anyway but the action of emotionally charged ideas on a transpersonal scale? Folklorists are at home with these processes, and share an understanding of their regularities with scholars in other disciplines.

Where we truly part company is over his explanation of abduction experiences. He identifies them as a combination of folklore, in the form of shared myth, with deep individual need. The narrator externalises those private needs in a fantasy, but shapes it according to the outlines of some familiar stereotype to give a public legitimacy. Some narrators choose the demonic possession script, others choose abduction, but the underlying cause is the same. The personal factor causes variations, the stereotype or public myth provides stability.

No one would question that a personal element goes into almost every narrative – Freud pointed out the deep motivations behind telling a mere joke, and all of us have recognised more superficial motives in ourselves, like the desire to make others laugh or outdo another narrator. Abduction narratives often engage strong emotions, and clearly express deep needs of the narrator. Yet rather than explaining the minor variations with abduction narratives, this undeniable emotional pressure simply deepens the mystery of why those variations remain so minor. This pressure should crack all containers. The individual with a need to externalise has many cultural frames to choose from, demonological or otherwise, and could choose many abduction-based scenarios to make a fantasy public. Any one of them would serve as well as another. In fact narrators in surprising numbers pick the same scenario. We do not find multiple narrators telling a Dan the Space-Marine story. The space adventurers thrill themselves with a different adventure every time, contactees have a wide range of contacts, but most abductees are stuck in a rut and repeat each other’s abductions like broken records.

Have I led everyone astray by abstracting a stereotypical pattern from the reports, when the pattern is no more than a figment of my scholarly making? I don’t think so. the pattern I found came to light case by case and detail by detail. Examination precedes conference, beings have large heads, and examination rooms have uniform lighting – how abstract can a pattern be when it simply counts specific elements, and recognises some as far more common than others? The pattern emerges because it describes what witnesses report, not because a scholar prescribes what the story ought to be. 



The psychosocial approach has more the characteristics of a faith than a serious effort to explain abductions by wrestling with the data and proposing step-by-step explanations


If anyone is guilty of illegal abstractions it is Evans when he speaks of a ‘shared myth’. The idea of an immutable pattern fixed in the collective mind and capable of shaping consistent abduction reports raises a ghost of scholarship past, and one best left buried. Fifty years ago folklorists might have sympathised with such a notion. Even then patterns like shared myth or tale type were conceived as vague influences, outlines at best, and never floating checklists. The specificity of abduction reports demands no less, if we are to understand how narrators duplicate one another’s stories in so many aspects. A recurrent abduction story that combines shared myth and personal need is a chimera, a monster of instability. Personal needs drive the story away from unity, not toward it. If folklore is so amorphous that it obeys no discernible rules, how can we have a shared myth so static in its pattern, so efficacious in its influence on one narrator after another, that it bonds complex stories together and secures them against the howling forces of variation? Inquiring minds want to know.

Psychosocial theories differ considerably in specific contents, emphasising the psychological side or the sociocultural side to explain abduction narratives. Folklorists adopt this same approach when they explain narratives of extraordinary experience as ideas drawn from tradition, or false experience provoked by tradition-based expectations. Since folklorists have long excluded any other explanation, they deserve recognition as diligent and loyal psychosocial proponents in their own right. Only thanks to David Hufford’s studies of Old Hag tradition has the experience-based narrative re-entered the folklorist’s conceptual vocabulary. He establishes that exclusive reliance on psychosocial answers inadequately accounts for reports of extraordinary encounters.

Yes, our concepts of folklore might need to change even further. Folklore may be developing in ways hitherto unknown, and abduction reports may not behave like folklore as we know and love it. As a folklorist I can take an interest in abductions on the basis of this possibility alone. But if the psychosocial approach is right, these reports must act like creations of the human imagination, be driven by human motivations and derive from human creative processes. If so, these narratives cannot differ in their dynamics from other such creations, folk narratives amongst them. If experiences count for anything, then abduction reports should vary more than they do. To deny the findings of folklore scholarship in this evaluation is to deny experience, a great deal of it by many scholars after long years of enquiry, not into books but into the practice of narrators. On what else but experience can we base our conclusions? Discount it and then we know nothing about any narratives and all theories are worthless. We might as well bring back the mating hedgehogs and mix comic relief with our bemusement.

The psychosocial theorists who dismiss the experience of folklorists offer little in its place. A communal container for an expression of individual needs sounds like a reasonable description, but it leaves too many questions about how it stabilises the narrative. 

I have shown, one element at a time, that stability exists among a sizable sample of abductions reports, and folklorists have shown that variation is rife around narratives such as folk tales and urban legends. These conclusions are limited but demonstrable. From the psychosocial camp I hear many assertions but little proof. The claim that shared myth and personal need can coexist in narratives as stable as we observe runs counter to experience or intuition, yet we must accept this claim as self-evident. I can understand why “there are probably as many PS-hypotheses as there are PS-proponents.” A failure to provide convincing demonstrations for any hypothesis leaves them all unpersuasive. The psychosocial approach has more the characteristics of a faith than a serious effort to explain abductions by wrestling with the data and proposing step-by-step explanations. Those of us who prefer reason to revelation won’t bite.

The abduction phenomena is a genuine anomaly. Whether similar strange experiences provoke similar strange stories, or personal needs somehow motivate people to select the same few story elements out of all the possibilities available to them, the problem remains provocative. Blame aliens, something akin to the Old Hag, Kenneth Ring’s imaginal realm, Jacques Vallée’s control system, an unexpected property of narrative transmission, hedgehogs or anything else. Folklore scholarship certainly cannot pick the winner. It can only point out some probable losers.

Something more than narrative processes, shared myths, media influences, or investigators leading the witness seem necessary to explain the consistency of the narratives. On the other hand experience could hold a body of narratives together, and gets my vote pending any more persuasive alternative. I am presently cataloguing reports from 1986 to the present, and I will be anxious to see if the consistencies I found in the earlier sample hold up in the latter. I will also be interested to see how widespread the genuine differences, such as descriptions of the beings or evolving episodes like the baby presentation, prove to be. The answers will follow as a consequence of evidence, not as an article of faith.

Saving sinners is a bit out of my line; nevertheless, let me step out of character and end with an exhortation to psychosocial proponents, that they do their ideas justice. I object less to the ideas themselves than to their cavalier presentation. Speculative assertions and random examples cannot substitute for consistent arguments backed with convincing evidence, and with the exception of Martin Kottmeyer, psychosocial proponents seem to disdain both. I’m slow-witted. Show me step-by-step how your explanations work, and I’m perfectly willing to believe. As matters now stand, you have accumulated a huge explanatory debt, and like the U.S. budget, the weight of that debt threatens to sink you down the tubes of history unless your repent. There’s still time, brothers.


Roswell: The Search for the ‘Real’ UFO
John Harney

Magonia 41, November 1991

Most European ufologists have long since given up naive interpretations of UFO reports in favour of psychological explanations. The Americans, however, are not satisfied with this; they want the space aliens and they are determined to persuade us of their reality.

For many years they have argued that many abduction cases are real experiences — not real in the sense that the abductees really believe the events happened to them as reported, but interactions with real extraterrestrials (ETs). Yet another book on this theme by Raymond Fowler, about Betty Andreasson, has recently been published. (1) The theme and general treatment will be too familiar to most of our readers to be worth summarising here. But another recent book, by Kevin D. Randle and Donald R. Schmitt, marks a new approach to the ETs. (2)

This book is about the Roswell incident of July 1947. Much nonsense has already been written about it, but Randle and Schmitt have made valiant attempts to cut out the lies and fantasies, and to try to arrive at the truth by tracing and interviewing as many witnesses as possible, as well as searching contemporary newspaper reports and other written records. Their work is very far away indeed from armchair ufology, as a great deal of time, money and effort has been invested in it.

The official explanation appears to be that some wreckage picked up on a ranch near Corona New Mexico, was, after some initial confusion, identified as a weather balloon with a radar reflector attached to it. The authors argue convincingly that this explanation is absurd, and was advanced to conceal the true nature of the wreckage. So far, so sensible. But the authors go on to insist that the wreckage was that of a crashed saucer from some other planet, which contained pilots, of the type generally known as the Greys.

Now there is nothing inherently absurd in the idea that a piloted device from another planet might crash while surveying the Earth. The reasons why such stories are not generally taken seriously are: the lack of physical evidence; and the rather incoherent nature of the reports of such alleged incidents. The reports investigated by Randle and Schmitt concern two apparent crashes. The first lot of wreckage to be discovered was scattered in small pieces over a large area; the second crash site was allegedly found a few days later, a few miles south-east of the first one. This consisted of a somewhat battered saucer with the decomposing bodies of three (four?) ETs lying beside it.

The weather balloon explanation was released before the discovery of the second site, apparently in an attempt to damp down the excitement caused by the initial official news release announcing that a ‘flying disc’ had been recovered. To avoid getting hopelessly confused, it is convenient to consider the two crash sites separately. The wreckage was said to have been taken to Roswell, then flown to Fort Worth. There a reporter was invited to take pictures of wreckage scattered about the office of Brigadier General Roger Ramey.

Reporters were told that this wreckage was the remains of a weather balloon rig. It certainly looks like a device known as a corner reflector – the pieces are the right sizes and shapes – although why it has apparently been trampled on and torn to shreds is not made clear, even though it is a rather flimsy object. Now, unlike most photographs concerning UFOs these appear to be genuine. If the stuff which appears in the photos is the same stuff that was brought from Corona to Roswell and then flown to Fort Worth, then one wonders what all the fuss was about. Major Marcel stated, many years later, that some of the original stuff was laid out in Ramey’s office, but while he and the general were out of the room for a short time, someone switched it for the ruined radar target. Unfortunately, Marcel is also said to have stated that the stuff he was photographed holding in Ramey’s office was the real stuff. (3)

Also, according to an interview published in Mufon UFO Journal (4), Colonel DuBose (Ramey’s chief of staff) said that the wreckage was not switched, and the genuine stuff appears in the photographs. The weather balloon cover story was devised later. If this is true it means that the saucers are cleverly designed to assume the appearance of battered weather balloon rigs if they should crash. There are numerous other disagreements, but all those who claimed to have been involved in the recovery of the wreckage stated that there was a great deal of it, far too much to have been something attached to a balloon.

There is even more confusion over the authors’ attempts to unravel the reports of the bodies of ETs recovered from a second crash site, a few miles from the first, according to their findings, but much farther away according to other accounts. The controversy over where the ETs were found, and in what condition is continuing, with the recent publication of details about a new witness to the alleged incident.(5) According to the Randle and Schmitt version there were three decaying bodies; and according to the other versions there were four ETs, two dead, one badly injured, and one uninjured. Descriptions, apart from minor details, fit in with other accounts of the ‘Greys’, as described in various American abductee stories.

So what really happened at Corona, New Mexico, in July 1947? Randle and Schmitt argue that an alien spacecraft with ETs aboard crashed, and that the bodies and widely scattered debris – all of it – were recovered by the US Army, taken to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and that this evidence has been kept under conditions of close secrecy from that day to this. The authors give evidence of incidents being kept secret for many years, but these concern matters over which the government has some control, such as the testing of military aircraft or weapons. In the case of visitors from outer space, they might hush up such an incident only to have the aliens landing in Washington next day asking for the bodies to be handed back.

The authors’ efforts should not be belittled, though. They have obviously tried very hard to get at the truth of the matter, and they intend to continue their work. If they could put the ET to one side and try to look for more reasonable explanations of this incident, they might eventually find the true, but perhaps not very exciting, solution to the mystery.



  1. FOWLER, Raymond E. The Watcher The secret design behind UFO abductions. New York, Bantam Books, 1991
  2. RANDLE, Kevin D. and SCHMITT, Donald R. UFO Crash at Roswell. New York, Avon Books, 1991
  3. SHANDERA, Jaime H. and MOORE, William L,’3 Hours that shook the Press’, MUFON UFO Journal, No. 269, September 1990.
  4. SHANDERA, Jaime H. ‘New Revelations about Roswell Wreckage: A General Speaks Up’, MUFON UFO Journal, No. 273, January 1991
  5. O’BRIEN, Mike ‘New Witness to San Agustin Crash’, MUFON UFO Journal, No. 275, March 1991


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Northern Lights: Arendel and Hessdalen.

Hilary Evans

From Magonia 14, 1983

I seem to see lights in the distance -
What is it that’s glistening there?

IBSEN : Peer Gynt

Norwegian mythology is rich and varied, and could well prove as rich a source of pre-Arnold UFO-lore as that of any other culture. The first major event in Norwegian ufology, however, was the ‘ghost-rocket’ wave of 1946. which remains to this day one of the most baffling enigmas in UFO history. From that time on Norway has had its share of incidents, with one or two highlights like the 1954 encounter of two sisters with an alien entity while out picking berries, and a curious case in which a car temporarily changed colour after a close encounter with a low-flying UFO. But for the most part the cases have been typical of those seen around the world – one-off incidents of anomalous lights which are convincingly puzzling but contain little for the ufologists to grab hold of.

Within the last two years ail this has changed. The pattern of sightings in Norway has been transformed by not one but two clusters of sightings, centred en specific locations and sustained over a period of time — several weeks in one case, many months in the other. This has give UFO Investigators the chance to follow up witnesswith field observations of their own, with results which may well make the names of Arendal and Hessdalen celebrated when the history of the solution of the UFO enigma comes to be written.

There are obstacles to UFO investigation in Norway, as I discovered when I went there myself earlier this year to see, if not the UFOs themselves, then at least the places where others were seeing them. The mileometer of my car confirmed what the maps indicates Norway is a vast place. (I don’t think I met a single Norwegian who didn’t at some moment point out to me that if his country could be rotated on its most southern point, his most northern compatriots would find themselves living on the banks of the Nile instead of deep within the Arctic Circle!)

Not only is Norway vast, but it is sparsely populated – within that great area live fewer people than in many of the world’s cities. So there is only a skeletal road network, and even that is further hampered by the terrain, as I discovered one day when I foolishly sought to cross a mountain pass which I assumed would have been cleared by late May, only to find it was still blocked with snow, forcing me to make a detour measured in hundreds of miles. Under such conditions investigation would make severe demands on any UFO organisation, and of course Norway’s small population means that its UFO organisations are also small in proportion. Fortunately, they are also enthusiastic and adventurous, and within the scope of their means they have made the most of their opportunities.

What happened at Arendal

Arendal is a picturesque coastal town in southern Norway, in a popular holiday area. During November 1981 many witnesses reported anomalous lights in the sky, inspiring UFO-Norge to set up regular surveillance. Their efforts were rewarded: they obtained 78 successful photos, of which 25 show complex light forms which are manifestly different from the photos of aircraft taken by way of control on the same spot on the same occasions by the same people with the same cameras. Though I am no kind of expert on photographic evidence, I have to say that the Arendal photos are among the most impressive I have ever seen. Not a hint of Adamski-type mother-ships and scouts, but a clear indication of something more complex than a simple light-in-the-sky. Witnesses reported structured shapes, but these do not show up in the photos: they do however suggest cylindrical forms surrounding the blocks of blue, orange and green light.

The Arendal photographs contain information which should be susceptible of analysis. Characteristic is a change in light intensity when the object changes direction. At each of a succession of 90° turns, for instance, the cameras record a big blast of light. It is inferred that this indicates a sudden outburst of energy, though this is not the only possible explanation.

The descriptions and drawings supplied by the witnesses are, of course, considerably more sensational, if less useful from the scientific point of view. What is especially interesting, though, is that some of the objects were unusually low-flying: one of them was seen at a distance of 200-300 metres, with a tree-covered island as a background, making possible a fair estimate of distance, size, speed and so forth. The object in this case was a cigar shape with an unusual light display, and making no sound.

What is happening in Hessdalen

hessdalenHessdalen is totally unlike Arendal. It is a remote valley in the vast mainland interior of Norway, nearly 600 km. from Arendal as the UFO flies and a great deal more as the Capri drives. (It is not only distance which separates one Norwegian from another, it is fjells, which tend to keep their snow covering all year round, and fjords, which are too big to be bridged and therefore have to be crossed by ferryboats which spend their lives chugging backwards and forwards in the world’s most beautiful scenery.)About a hundred people live in Hessdalen, mostly in isolated farms along unmade-up (and how!) tracks. From a sociological point of view these people present a curious contrast with the peasant populations of, say, Sicily or Latin America. Norway has a very high standard of living and a full spectrum of social amenities such as education, so the people of Hessdalen are simple people living in a physical environment of stunning severity, yet living with standards of comfort and convenience usually associated with gentler living conditions. I leave it to the sociologists to determine whether this somewhat paradoxical state of affairs may affect their credibility as UFO witnesses.

For UFO witnesses is just what a surprising number of the people of Hessdalen claim to be. Since December 1981 – that is to say, and make of it what you will, commencing immediately after the Arendal sightings – hundreds of UFOs have been reported in the Hessdalen area by several dozen witnesses, several of them being multiple observations. The great majority were nocturnal lights, but a few were seen in daylight and these were all of metallic cigar-shaped objects. The sightings comprised a great variety: distances varied from 10-15 metres to several kilometres, numbers of objects ranged from one to four, movement varied from hovering to great speed, and from a simple trajectory to complex manoeuvres. Only one feature seems to have been absent – a total absence of sound. In this almost unbelievably isolated region, however, this feature takes on a special significance, for any sound such as that of a car or tractor can be heard at many kilometres distance.

In another respect, too, the geography of Norway aids the UFO investigator: Hessdalen is far to the north, which means that in summer it stays light most hours of the day and night. I stood on the mountain-top at 11.30 pm taking photographs: not, unfortunately, of UFOs, but that I hardly dared hope for. A Norwegian journalist, who has recently published a book on the Hessdalen sightings, spent several weeks skywatching before he had his first sighting.

What the prolonged daylight means, though, is that there is a very long period of half-light which an enterprising photographer can exploit. If the UFO is good enough to stay still for a while, it is possible to obtain a photograph which includes some background, and indeed the UFO-Norge investigators were able to obtain two such photographs, in which the object is seen in front of the facing slopes.

As at Arendel, the witness reports are considerably more exciting than the photographs. The farmer who owned the wooden hut where investigator Leif Havik and I spent the night, Lars Lillevold, saw an egg-shaped object hovering about 30 metres from his house, and this is just one of the structured objects which Hessdalen witnesses have reported. These sightings have been confirmed by the investigators too, which is just one of the ways in which these incidents are of unique interest. Leif Havik has watched are oblong object passing slowly along the valley in front of the facing mountain; it was silent and with a strange light configuration. He was lucky enough to obtain a photograph of his sighting; just one of many dozen photographs which, though they do not give much of an idea of shape or size, resist any interpretation in terms of conventional phenomena. Even if all witness testimony is set aside – which when there is so great a quantity of it would be a very high-handed course to take! – the photographs present clear evidence of some sort of anomalous aerial phenomenon which is repeatedly manifesting in the skies above Hessdalen.

The geophysical dimension

The country around Hessdalen is a geologist’s dream: the land is stuffed full of minerals of many kinds, and copper mining was once carried out nearby. The magnetic field is the strongest in the whole of Norway. These features can hardly be coincidental, but that does not mean that their significance is self-evident. They support the extraterrestrial hypothesis as much as they do the ‘earth-lights’ hypothesis.

If the witnesses are really seeing structured objects with lights and windows, as so many of them claim, then we don’t have much choice but to suppose that alien visitors are taking an interest in the region for reasons connected with its geological make-up. If we suppose that, however sincere, the eye-witnesses are being deluded, either by their own psychological processes or by induced external forces of the control-system type, then we can rely only on what the camera reveals, which by no means requires an extraterrestrial origin. At the same tune, the phenomena reported from Hessdalen manifest a degree of complexity which is a far cry front the earth-force-generated transient light phenomena hypothesised by Persinger, Devereux, et al.

Leif Havik and Arne Thomassen have seen and photographed luminous objects of massive size moving slowly across a distance of many kilometres, hovering and changing direction from time to time, and low enough for terrain to he seen behind the object. No object on the ground could move that fast over such rugged ground and great distances. No man-made aerial object could manoeuvre like that, except a helicopter which could not conceivably go unheard (apart from the fact that none of Norway’s limited population of helicopters was in the are at the time); but no known natural phenomenon offers so complex a form and conducts itself in so complex a way over so great a distance and over so sustained a period of time.

Manifestations of intelligence

Leif Havik: “The main reason why I think the phenomena are under some control is this: five times I have seen a UFO just when I arrived at the mountain, and before I had time to set up my camera. On all five occasions I was less than 100 metres from where I meant to set up my observation position”.

None of us feels very comfortable with subjective impressions of this kind, but at the same time it would be intellectually dishonest to dismiss them. Readers of Rutledge’s Project Identification will of course be aware that comparable incidents occur in the course of the American research: Rutledge will surely derive some comfort from the fact that his controversial findings have been spontaneously replicated here in Norway.

Once again, it is a finding which can be interpreted different ways depending on the hypothesis you are evaluating. Those who are familiar with the ‘BOLs’ hypothesis proposed by me last year in Probe Report may suspect that I am an interested party
in this matter; yet I must insist that it is only with the utmost reluctance, and because I believe that we must go where the evidence leads us, that I feel we arc obliged to take this evidence into account. That evidence, combined with the rest of the testimony, points towards a controlled, purposive and intelligently, guided phenomenon, which we must suppose to be motivated in some way by the geophysical character of the Hessdalen area. (I do not have sufficient information about the geology of the Arendal area to know whether the same holds good there, but all of Norway seems to be as geologically as it is scenically striking.)

Really, there is nothing unique about the Norwegian sightings except their unusual disposition to keep on happening, thus enabling UFO investigators to collect their equipment and set up observation posts. The only parallel know to me is the Rutledge project, and the two sets of sightings have much more in common. But just as Rutledge is sceptical of any reductionist geophysical explanation for his sightings, so the ‘earthlights’ hypothesis will have to be substantially extended before it will even begin to fit the Arendal and Hessdalen sightings.

At the same time, I don’t think anyone questions that at the basis of the Norwegian sightings, as of the Missouri UFOs, there is a fundamentally physical phenomenon. It may have other dimensions which differentiate it from other types of physical object, but that doesn’t mean the physical dimension isn’t there. And since we ufologists are physical beings, it would seem only reasonable to approach these enigmatic phenomena on a physical level, as three-dimensional, objects with mass and duration and so on. The paraphysical aspects, if such there be, can come later.


The Arendal sightings were written up in the English-language Nordic UFO Newsletter 1982, 2; the Hessdalen sightings will be given similar treatment in the next issue. These who read Scandinavian will find fuller accounts in UF0-Norge’s fine journal, confusingly named UFO. A book-length account of the Hessdalen sightings (in Norwegian) has just been published by a freelance journalist, Arne Wisth: entitled UFO mysteriet i Hessdalen it is published by Bladkompaniet of Oslo. It includes many photographs, including 17 in colour.

The other books referred to are, of course, Harley Rutledge’s Protect Identification essential reading if ever there was such a thing; and Paul Devereux’ Earthlights which also merits serious study. Persinger has published snippets of his work in obscure (so far as the average uflogist is concerned) academic journals. He has written a book embodying them but has hitherto failed to find a publisher. When it does come out, it will – to judge by the chapters I have read – be essential reading for every one of us.


Not the E.T.H.
Jenny Randles

This articles was first published in Magonia 17, October 1984, which was a special issue reviewing the current status of the extraterrestrial hypothesis. Related articles include:

I was surprised but very pleased that MAGONIA has decided to descend from the heights of psycho-social theorising (at least for one issue) and face the very real problems still proferred by the possibility that some UFOs just might be alien. I have a feeling that we have all rather got carried away with our theories regarding a wholly subjective solution to the UFO enigma. We are getting dangerously close to the point where we were willing subconsciously to distort the facts if they challenged our newly won and much vaunted theories. Anything which even hinted at some sort of exotic UFO reality was not to be regarded with the slightest trust, nor afforded more than a cursory or derisory glance.

I know that I nearly fell into that trap myself, for I swam with the torrents of raging subjectivity for several years, up to the last two or three. In working on my last couple of books I went back to basics and reappraised a few things in my own mind. I also started to listen to UFO witnesses for a change. That was a rather eye-opening thing to do; for I discovered that I had been preaching to them, largely from ignorance, saying “Sorry – despite what you think you saw that night two years ago you did not really see it at all, you only imagined it, but in such a way that it seemed very real”. Again and again witnesses would stare back at me and say, “But if you had been there, you would know:”

Then it occurred to me that I was foisting my conviction that their encounter could not be describing reality, onto them. But with what right? A dozen witnesses who were generally fine observers, clearly sane and intelligent, and obviously sincere, were telling me each year that what they saw was as real as the nine o’clock bus. And a dozen armchair theorists (me included) were telling them that this just could not be.
If you really think through this situation you may get a hint of the magnitude of error I believe we have been making. But I think I now understand why we have been making it. Quite simply we have always assumed that the world comprises black and white choices. In truth it rarely does. The question of UFO reality does not consist of either John Smith saw a real, objective, exotic craft that flew through the air, landed somewhere, and then stayed there until its next flight past an unsuspecting witness; or else he merely dreamt/hallucinated/imagined/archetypally reconstituted/birth trauma dramatised this, when nothing was actually there at all.

Whenever you keep hedging around a question in many different ways but still end up with paradoxes in return, then quite simply you have asked the wrong question. That is a basic scientific principle. We have never resolved this clearly because exotic UFOs are neither objectively real nor subjectively real. They are something else altogether. They are what I call ‘Quasi-Conscious Experiences’. They form their very own niche on the spectrum of reality.

We, as ufologists, have been acting rather like chemists in the last century, struggling with the embryonic periodical table of elements. We have this ‘thing’ called mercury which is a whopping great anomaly. But we have only two elements on our table clearly defined: hydrogen at the ‘light’ end and lead at the ‘heavy’ end. Mercury has certain characteristics of lead so we might choose to call it ‘funny lead’. Others may argue that it is too ‘light’ to be lead and call it ‘funny hydrogen’. The debate rages and goes nowhere.

From our cushion of years this looks stupid because we know mercury is mercury and not any sort of hydrogen or lead. But only the clear development of the table of elements demonstrates this. I think we are now similarly failing to see that the UFO close encounter, as a facet of QC-Experience is neither a strange kind of subjective reality, nor an extreme form of objective reality – but something in between and altogether different.

Once we accept this gradation of reality some remarkable things start to happen. We can slot particular experiences into their correct little niche and clearly define their parameters. What is more, we can predict sorts of experiences and their properties which seem to fit into the gaps in our gradation – just as the chemists were able to define the properties of rare elements which completed the Periodic Table. It is in this way that the QC-Experience is seen to be a necessary feature of the spectrum of reality. If nobody had ever experienced anything like it, we would be rather puzzled because the way phenomena blend into one another, as we move from objectivity to subjectivity, clearly shows that it ought to exist.

If we take total objectivity at one extreme, for example posting a letter in a bright red postbox. This is objective, everybody who approaches it sees the same red box. But the complete extreme of total objectivity is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve, because our mind and perceptions experience the box, and (however slightly) distort our interpretation of it. We may perhaps feel a strong empathy, or antipathy, to the colour red. This will distort our view to some extent.

At the other extreme of the spectrum is total subjectivity; again hard to achieve in practice, but most dreams come close. The imagery is wholly imagined and personal to us. But just as emotions affecting our colour concept of the postbox produce a slight step down from total objectivity, so can external data intrude into our dreams, and thus create a step down from total subjectivity.

These two step-downs enable us to see how the extremes begin to blend together, and the image of the spectrum of reality becomes clear. At some point, of course, there needs to be a 50/50 halfway house, where there are equal levels of subjectivity and objectivity. But there are also many shades in between.

Our present need is to slot the vast wealth of what we call ‘paranormal’ phenomena into their correct places on the spectrum of reality.
One phenomena we can place is the lucid dream [1], that strange experience where the person knows they are dreaming as the dream unfolds, and this realisation allows a certain conscious control over the dream imagery, and also sharpens the focus of the dream-making: it becomes dramatically more ‘real’ or lucid – hence the name.

It was my own personal experience of these magical things, plus later reading and research into them, which helped clarify my ideas about the spectrum of reality. The lucid dream has a place between the subjective end of the spectrum and the halfway house. It may be perhaps 60% subjective and 40% objective – although these are no more than figures at this stage of the game and ought not to be taken too literally.

The lucid dream seems so real because it contains such a relatively high degree of ‘objectivity’, but it is still recognisable as a dream because it lies on the subjective side of the halfway house. We can define it as a subjective experience with a (say) 40% level of objective data intruding; thus allowing the ‘waking consciousness’ to partly control and adapt the environment created by the ‘sleeping unconscious’. In other words, the dreamer emerges from a sleep/dream state, close to 100% subjectivity, with the dream landscape thus intact, but the new level of objective override moulds and shapes this.
Now, if you have accepted my argument so far you will see that some sort of phenomenon must exist that fits the point on the spectrum between halfway house and the objective end of the spectrum. In many respects this is a mirror-image of the lucid dream, and it is what I recognise immediately as the Quasi-Conscious Experience. The term ‘waking lucid dream’ may well be apt.

Here the person emerges from normal waking reality, and steps down towards the subjective end of the spectrum, with the intrusion of a 40% subjective over-ride. Consequently the landscape which finds itself moulded and shaped is originally an objective one – the ‘real’ world. In the QC-Experience, or Waking Lucid Dream, the percipient finds subconscious data flooding in to a 40% level, to such an extent that it changes the perceived environment to a considerable extent.

In the lucid dream the balance favoured subjectivity and the step down occurred from the dream state, so the percipient believes the new experience to be a dream, but much more real. In the QC-Experience the opposite is true. The balance favours object
ivity and the step down was from the ‘real’ world. Now the percipient believes the new experience is real, but more dream-like.
UFO close encounters display this dream-like aura well – I call it the ‘Oz Factor’ [2]. It is, in my view, just the symptom which denotes the stepdown towards subjectivity.

I have tried to put these ideas across to ufology for the last couple of years, but with limited success. This is probably because it is a complex thing which is much easier to grasp in my case because: a] it has developed over a long period, and b] I have experienced several of the different niches on the spectrum of reality.

But I am quite excited by it, because it seems to be making sense out of so much that previously left me baffled and confused. In no way am I suggesting this as some sort of dramatic discovery. To me it is only something reasonably obvious that many people must have seen before. Nor does it solve the problem of precisely what UFOs are (except that they are neither real nor unreal – but a bit of both. However, I think it opens up new
avenues of exploration.

You see, UFOs are many things, and I want it clearly understood that I am here discussing what I term ‘Exotic UFOs’ (principally close encounters). UAPs – Unidentified Atmospheric Phenomena – are entirely different, and are objective. They really exist, in every sense of the word real, and are natural physical mysteries on the threshold of science. There are almost certainly several different UAP types that are reported as UFOs; earthlights may well be one, extreme forms of ball lightning are another probably kind. I need to make this very plain, because certain reviews of my two latest books – including one in Magonia – have referred to my alleged theory that UAPs are alien. That is nonsensical, UAPs are earthbound, natural and in no sense controlled by intelligences of any description. The evidence that they exist is, to me, irrefutable.

The ‘Exotic UFOs’ are actually a very small residue out of the total of UFO reports; a fairly obvious fact when you realise that up to 90% of UFO reports are IFOs, and possibly up to 90% of the remainder are UAPs. The left-overs are few and far between, but in global terms they are still a large number of experiences.

Exotic UFOs are not spaceships. That fact is reasonably obvious once you see that, a] we have no photographs of UFOs landed or involved in creating close encounters and b] we have no photographs of alien entities, and c] nobody has yet witnessed somebody else undergoing an alien contact of any kind. You can backtrack as much as you like with convoluted hypotheses, but there is really no way out.

Similarly, Exotic UFOs are not totally subjective experiences of any kind. I say that because they contain far too many obscure but repetitive motifs; because they generate real physiological effects which are unlikely to be psychosomatic; because there are physical effects (e.g. car stops) which demonstrate some form of energy exchange; and because animals get disturbed by them too. I leave aside the thorny question of multiple witness close encounters, although enough exist with sufficient overlap to worry any truly open-minded adherent of the psycho sociological school.

What we end up with is something in-between. A QC-Experience does have heavy subjective overtones, simply by definition. The very thing which makes it different from normal objective reality is the over-ride by subjective data. What we have to do now is to decide the origin of this subjective over-ride.

It may come from inside ourselves, I accept that option. In a lucid dream the intrusion of objectivity is essentially self-oriented. But there is, to my mind, ample evidence that this is not always the case. Precognitive dreams, for example, seem to involve external objective data from the ‘real world’ (or ‘real universe’) – and this in a sense beyond the normal confines of space. In other words, information from an alien civilisation somewhere ‘out there’ is received subconsciously and intrudes into objective reality as a subjective data over-ride, thus changing our perception of reality, to create an alien or UFO reality.

The only reason I am taking the alien origin of the subjective data over-ride seriously is that it explains what we see much more simply. It explains why there are patterns and consistencies (the source is consistent); it explains why there are individual differences (the degree of pick-up and the way we integrate it into our experience will vary from person to person). It explains the form of the QC Experience – it is alien, because that is what lies at the heart of the message; I think it even explains the physical and physiological effects. It is my viewthat UAPs, or ambiguous IFOs, are at the root of most, if not all, close encounters. When UAPs are involved energy will be associated.

We have a situation like the following: Witness A sees a UAP and thinks “Oh my, a UFO”. Energy is emitted and may or may not harm the witness or the environment. Meanwhile because he is naturally susceptible to switches of location on the spectrum of reality (in other words he is psychic) or because of some other unknown trigger, he steps down into a QC-Experience. The Oz Factor takes hold and he later describes his strange sensations and maybe even describes a time-lapse, due to his temporary slip out of normal objective reality into UFO Reality, where time is not as easily delineated. In the QC state the subjective data flows in from the alien source and moulds the external reality. If it is an orange ball of light (a UAP) this may become a spaceship, symbolising the information he is receiving in terms familiar and acceptable to his subconscious, just as when we receive objective facts in a precognitive way in a dream we tend to express them in dream symbols.

As the QC-Experience unfolds the witness believes he is perceiving reality exactly as before, unaware that he has slipped into another niche on the spectrum, where he is now subjectively dramatising received data and superimposing this on the UAP. The experience eventually ends, possibly when the UAP disappears, the aircraft flies away, or the satellite reentry burns up, or when whatever had been the initial stimulus no longer exists.

Of course, the essence of the episode lies in the witnesses mind, clothed in symbolism, and he may not, consciously, even realise that fact. When questioned he will tell what he believes he ‘really’ saw, but that is not terribly important. What is important is the inner substance of the message – the data which was responsible for the over-ride.

Perhaps we ought to be analysing UFO encounters rather like Jung analysed dreams. But we should do so recognising that we may be seeking something much more interesting than our own deeply hidden wishes or desires, or some archetypal facet of the human race. We may be decoding messages from an alien realm.

And so finally to answer the question really posed by this article: are the UFO phenomena alien in origin? If we mean in the traditional sense of gravity-powered space ships from Alpha Century my answer must be no. The ETH in that sense is dead. But I have a growing suspicion that the ETH in a more subtle – or Quasi Conscious) sense may yet provide a few surprises. 

1. Celia Green;Lucid Dreams. (Proceedings of the Institute of Psychophysical Research. vol. 1.) Institute of Psychophysical Research, Oxford, 1968.

2. Spencer, Lawrence R. The Oz Factors: The Wizard of Oz as an Analogy to the Mysteries of Life AuthorHouse, 1999

Venus With Her Trousers Down!
Nigel Watson and Granville Oldroyd

From Magonia 17, October 1984

WHILST researching newspaper files for reports of phantom airship sightings made between 1909 and 1913 some interesting incidental material has been collected. In particular we have noticed that the rumoured activities of German secret agents were very much linked in the public mind with the airship sightings [1,2]. This kind of link, and other stories recorded during these periods appears to be very similar to some of the more bizarre aspects of the contemporary UFO scene. For instance, Carl Grove has noted the case of two ‘foreign’ strangers who observed the home of an airship witness for several hours [3]. Also, we have revealed how a stranger who took an interest in chickens during the 1909 airship flap might easily be compared to some entities who were seen exploring chicken runs in a Puerto Rican yard during 1980 [4].

For some people the obvious conclusion to be made is that what were thought to be inquisitive strangers or German agents were in fact MIB. As most readers of this account will be aware, the MIB are regarded by the more credulous members of the UFO fraternity as terrestrial agents of the UFO forces, who are either aliens who disguise themselves in order to infiltrate human society, or they are ‘brainwashed’ humans who are controlled by the aliens.

An example of a MIB-type event which is worthy of mention, since it can easily be compared to a contemporary event, was exposed in the 11th March edition of the [Hull] Daily Mail. The report tells of how a stranger was given a room for the night at a Newport Inn, on Sunday 9th March. Apparently:

He had not been long in the house, when he bolted to the canal with no covering but his shirt. His host got him back to the house, and again
 made him comfortable on the couch for the night. No sooner was his benefactor asleep than he made off again, leaving all his clothes but his shirt behind. Information of the missing man was given to PC Jewett, who searched for the missing one until 6 o’clock on Monday morning. In the early hours of the morning he had knocked at the doors of several cottages in the North Cave district and asked for a pair of trousers. Temporary clothes were provided him and he was escorted by PC Jewett to Newport, where he again donned his own clothes, and as he had broken no law, he was allowed to go on his way.

North Cave is situated to the west of Hull. Over at Wavertree, Liverpool, in the spring of 1977, a woman called Mrs Lilian Owens saw a man with the same peculiar predilection for requesting trousers. It was 8.30 am when she saw the stranger at her kitchen doorway:

He wore brand new clothes, a small green check suit, white shirt and green tie, and had blonde hair, and piercing blue eyes. His skin had a deep tan (despite it being only spring). He said “Have you got any trousers?” a question Mrs Owens thought odd. She said “No”, and went to shut the door but he blocked it with a shiny new black shoe with a steel toecap. She said she would call her son (who was not in) and he left. She shut the door but on looking through the window he was not in sight [5]

Later, the same man suddenly appeared in her living room and asked her for a drink of water. As she went to telephone the police the stranger disappeared. In the summer of the same year Mrs Owens saw a UFO in the early hours of the morning.

Two reports in the Occult Review [6] relate to sightings of MIB which were seen in the early 1900s. The first involved a 13 year-old girl who was trimming a hat one Saturday night when:

As the clock struck twelve, the front door opened, then the parlour door, and a man entered and sat down in a chair opposite to me. He was rather short, very thin, dressed in black, with extremely pale face, and hands with very long thin fingers. He had a high silk hat on his head, and in one hand he held an old-fashioned, large silver snuff-box. He gazed at me and said three times, slowly and distinctly, “I’ve come to tell you.” He then vanished, and I noted that the door was shut as before.

Two years later a visitor to the girl’s home was given the same room to sleep in. At exactly the same hour he saw the same vision, and we are told that he had never heard of the girls earlier experience. A few years later the house was demolished and a skeleton with a silver snuff box was found beneath the room where the MIB had roamed.

These experiences, and those of Mrs Owens do not permit us to easily identify the stimulus for them. However, like the case of the North Cave trouserless stranger, the following incident was probably caused by a flesh-and-blood person rather than a ghoul from the Twilight Zone:

It was late at night. A deeply religious 23-year-old headmistress of a private school for girls was marking papers when a man called at her door. She said: He was well dressed, in black, and I thought he had probably come about placing a pupil with me. We began to talk about the school and my aims and methods. There was something about him that drew me out.

Recalling her troubles and anxieties to this quiet stranger cheered her up to such an extent that after he left she believed that he was the Lord Jesus Christ; consequently every time she prayed she visualised the mysterious stranger in her mind’s eye. Some time later she felt that her opinion regarding the identity of the man was confirmed when during a dream she said that her eyes:

were attracted to a place of glory, and there seated upon a throne was the man who had visited me and whom I had been praying to as the Lord Jesus Christ.

If this encounter happened today we might speculate that a young woman would interpret her visitor as a space brother whom she would later see inside a flying saucer in classic contactee fashion.

Just as modern-day ufologists have acknowledged the importance of ‘bedroom visitors’ [7,8] in perpetuating today’s UFO stories, we can make reference to several historical bedroom visitations.

The first, and most intriguing reports of such visitors are mentioned by the vicar of Weston, Yorkshire, Charles Lakeman Tweedale. In a book titled Man’s Survival After Death or the Other Side of Life [9a] he detailed the many bedroom visitations that were seen mainly by his wife at the vicarage. The first occurrence of this type was on the night of 19th December 1907. After being woken by a strong, cold breeze she perceived a shaft of cloudy white light at the foot of their bed which reached to the ceiling and illuminated the bed coverlet. The vicar noted that:

She described the light to me when I awoke as like a column of muslin wrapped in spiritual swathes, with a strong electric light in the midst and shining through it.

The sight of this phenomenon induced her to hide her head under the bedclothes until after a long period of time when she had the courage to look round the room again and discover the sight had vanished.

Approximately half an hour before dawn on the 7th April 1908, Mrs Tweedale woke and saw a light the size of a large orange on or enclosing the brass rail at the foot of the bed. It was positioned on her husband’s side of the bed. Over a period of a minute the light expanded to a height of 3 feet, and the width of a man’s body. Terrified at the sight of this bright light she shook her husband until he awoke. At that instant the light collapsed like a camera bellows and vanished from view. On searching the room the Rev. Tweedale could find nothing to account for the phenomenon.
The most dramatic incident happened at 5.30 am on the 8th November 1908. It began when Mrs Tweedale was woken by a blow delivered to the underneath or top of the bed. Thus alerted she sat up and saw at the foot of the bed:

The figure of a man dressed in black with a calm, grave face, his clenched hand resting upon the brass rail as if he had just struck it. [9b]

This apparition gave off a light which illuminated the room, and not surprisingly Mrs Tweedale quickly woke her husband. As before the phenomenon made its exit when he awoke. She saw the head and then the trunk of the figure resolve themselves into a luminous cloud which floated up to the ceiling and disappeared. But this time the Rev. Tweedale did wake soon enough to see the last part of this act. He claimed that on awakening:

At the bed’s foot was a beautiful cloud of phosphorescent light about four feet in diameter, suspended in the middle of the room. It was close to me, not more than five feet away. Even as my eyes rested upon it, it began to ascend just like a small balloon. With a steady motion it seemed to go straight up and right through the ceiling.

The vision reminds us of the man in black seen on three successive nights in her bedroom by a young woman. Her experience was associated with the 1904-05 Welsh Religious Revival when lights in the sky, a few MIB, and even a black dog were seen. [101


A "Spirit photograph" taken by the Crewe Circle, and the known paranormal hoaxer William Hope. Taken between world war I and II, this picture purportedly shows Reverend Charles L Tweedale, his wife, and the spirit of her deceased father.

Just before the British 1909 phantom airship panic reached its height, Mrs Tweedale on the 15th March 1909 saw the figure of a man standing next to her husband as he slept soundly beside her. On waking him the figure disappeared in a flash of light. After the airship panic on the 22nd June 1909, the Rev. Tweedale reported what looked like a man with a light brighter than a normal lamp in his hand, was seen in the passage of the vicarage at 11 pm.

Yet another apparition was seen when the Tweedales were in London on the night of 2nd June 1912. In their bedroom Mrs Tweedale saw star-like lights and a tall white form. Later, in the night, she told her husband she could see the lights again, and that “there is someone by the side of the bed trying to attract attention”. Looking round he was able to see what he detailed as “a bright, elongated light at the foot of the bed, but no distinct form”.

At other times, most notably on 10th December 1911 in front of seven witnesses, and on 4th October 1917 in front of two witnesses, strange bright lights were seen in the vicar’s study.

As the title of the reverend gentleman’s book suggests, he tended to regard these kinds of manifestations as proof that we can survive after death. In this state our spiritual bodies are able to materialise from a radiance of light into a solid, tangible being, and can return to a small point of light and disappear and disappear to whence they came.

To reinforce this view he mentions several incidents involving other people who saw lights in their bedroom which transformed into figures who had the appearance of dead or unconscious relatives. In two cases he claims that a luminous light was seen hovering over a person at night, who in the morning reported having met (or vividly dreamt of meeting) a dead relative. These were quoted from the Proceedings of the SPR, and from private contacts.

We should also add that not only lights and MIB were seen at the Weston vicarage: a whole variety of events were said to have occurred. Too many to recount here, but an idea of the type of events experienced may be gained from the statement:

…messages, consolations, warnings by the direct voice and unsought; things moving of themselves, marvellous singing and amazing manifestations at the moment of the ‘death’ of a relation of whose sickness we did not even know; sounds of beautiful music, instruments hanging high up on the walls playing by themselves; scores of articles thrown; hands melting in the grip when seized were just some of the things which presented themselves month after month. (11]

Not surprisingly the vicar was not too popular with his parishioners, who were not charmed by the reports of all these strange events, or by the fact that he was a convert to Spiritualism.

Another type of bedroom encounter was experienced by 32-year-old Samuel Flecknoe. He suffered from a paralysis of the legs for four-and-a-half years until the morning of Sunday, 19th January 1913. When he awoke in his Nottingham home: “Something seemed to tell me, ‘get up and walk downstairs’. So I did” [12,13] He walked for several days until the Friday evening, when he collapsed going to bed, though his doctors hoped he might walk again. [14, 15]

The power of belief can also be seen in a couple of stories from France at this period. When a woman went to clean a statue of the Virgin at the old cemetery in Beziers, it came alive. It return for the act of kindness the statue blessed the woman’s handkerchief. When she got home she placed it on the bed of her sick child who had been paralysed for several years; instantly her daughter got out of bed and walked. [16, 17] (Coincidentally, this happened the day before Flecknow arose from his bed).

What was called mystical madness caused the death of a woman during 1909 at St Julien, near Chalon-sur-Saone. After hearing a sermon about Jeanne d’Arc, she locked herself in a disused chapel, doused herself with inflammable spirit, and set fire to herself. Neighbours found her kneeling, praying amid the flames, but even their aid was unable to save her from an agonising death. [18]

Interestingly, the 1913 cases come at a time when another religious revival was said to have erupted in Wales. Miraculous cures were claimed, and an inspired message told an evangelist to hold meetings in Penylont, Radnorshire. [19, 20, 21]

If we make the mistake of lumping these cases together with the phantom airship sightings as a way of ‘proving’ that our contemporary knowledge of the UFO situation is accurate, we become the victims of our own biases. Instead, we prefer to highlight these cases in order to show that making order out of a chaos of disparate stories is very easily done, but is due to factors other than a grand UFO masterplan for manipulating humanity.

A case that could easily be connected with the phantom airship sighting of 1909, occurred on the morning of 22nd June. In a quiet part of Owder Lane, Canton, near Worksop, PC Swain found a young man. He was aged about 18 and was well-dressed. The policeman was unable to get any sense out of this person, whose ‘manner was very

 strange’. At Worksop Police Station he was examined by a doctor; apparently the man had lost his memory. No name or address was found on him and the police could only speculate that he came from the Sheffield or Doncaster region. He was consigned to the local workhouse.
If we accept the UFO manipulation theory, we might propose that this Yorkshire Kaspar Hauser could have been delivered to Earth by a UFO disguised as an airship – who would ever suspect that he was an alien up to no good!

Finally, a young person who did not mind being regarded as an alien was a three year old girl who was found in Willesden, London. She told the police that her name was Venus. When her parents claimed her as their own daughter it was revealed that her name was Mary Brown. [23] It is anticlimactic to discover she was not the Venus responsible for most of the British 1909 and 1913 phantom airship sightings!


1. WATSON, Nigel. ‘Airships and Invaders’, Magonia 3.
2. LOWE, Charles. ‘About German Spies’, Contemporary Review, Jan. 1910, pp.42-56.
3. GROVE, Carl, ‘The Airship Wave of 1909′, FSR, 16, 6.
4. WATSON, Nigel, ‘Are the Ufonauts Fowl Plotters?’, FSR, 28,1.
5. CHEVEAU, Danny, ‘A New MIB Encounter?’, Northern Ufology, 75.
6. Occult Review, March 1918, pp.129-31.
7. ROGERSON, Peter, and RIMMER, John, ‘Visions of the Night’, MUFOB, ns 4.
8. BASTERFIELD, Keith, ‘Strange Awakenings’, MUFOB, ns 13.
9a. TWEEDALE, Rev. Chas. Lakeman, Man’s Survival After Death, or the Other Side of Life (3rd Ed.) Grant Richards, London 1925, pp.235-42. The two earlier editions appeared in October 1909, and January 1920.
9b. See also Sunday Chronicle 30/3/1913.
10. McCLURE, Kevin and Sue, Stars and Rumours of Stars, privately published, pp.25-6.
11. The Wharfedale & Airedale Observer, 4 Apr. 1913, p.7.
12. Bradford Daily Argus, 24 Jan. 1913.
13. Nottingham Daily Express, 24 Jan 1913.
14. Ibid, 27 Jan 1913.
15. Ibid, 28 Jan 1913.
16. Sunday Chronicle, 26 Jan 1913.
17. Bradford Daily Telegraph, 21 Jan. 1913.
18. Louth and North Lincolnshire Advertiser, 29 May 1909.
19. Bradford Daily Argus, 11 Jan. 1913.
20. Ibid, 27 Jan 1913.
21. Nottingham Daily Express, 25 Feb. 1913.
22. Retford, Worksop, Isle of Axholme and Gainsborough News, 25 June 1909.
23. Hull Daily Mail, Hull Packet and East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Courier, 28 May 1909.


The Galileo Fallacy.
John Harney

From Magonia 21, December 1985


We all agree, don’t we, that Christians in general. and Catholics in particular, ought to cringe at the name of Galileo, because of the way he was treated by the Church. Galileo, as we all know, was persecuted by the Church, and attempts were made to suppress his theories and discoveries because of the stupidity, ignorance and general fat-headedness of the Pope and his henchmen. 

This is more or less the generally accepted view, but is it true? Actually, it is a view which conveniently ignores the facts of the case. Galileo’s troubles with the Church were largely self inflicted, as I shall attempt to show, beginning with the background to the case. 

The development of Christian thought was strongly influenced by Greek philosophy, to the extent that the Church Fathers had adapted their interpretation of the Bible to fit in with the Aristotelian world picture. The basic principle of this picture was that the Earth was stationary at the centre of the universe and that the Sun, Moon and planets revolved around it with uniform, circular motions. Surrounding them was the sphere holding the fixed stars which had a daily rotation and which bounded the universe. This, together with other notions concerning the nature of the universe, became inextricably entwined with Christian thought to the extent that it came to be generally believed that they were confirmed by Scripture, if properly interpreted. In 1546 the Council of Trent decreed that the general consensus of the Church Fathers should not be deviated from when interpreting Scripture. 

copernicus-stampAlthough astronomy was profoundly influenced by the Aristotelian world picture, the astronomers did not feel that they were entirely bound by it. Theirs was a practical art which had as its main purpose the prediction of astronomical events for astrological use, for adjusting calendars, and for navigation. The observed motions of the planets did not fit in with the accepted cosmological model and the astronomers had various mathematical devices by which they manipulated the conventional model in ways which made their calculations less cumbersome. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) was an astronomer who was not content with mere mathematical devices, and he devised a Sun-centred system which he believed to be a true picture of the universe. He attempted to forestall criticism by pointing out that he had restored the principle of uniform, circular motion and by arguing that the stars were so far away the Earth was practically at the centre of the universe anyway. 

Although Copernicus published his theory in 1543 it did not lead to any serious conflict with the Church until Galileo began to make a name for himself. 

Galileo Galileo (1564-1642) was a mathematician who supported the Copernican theory. He too wanted a theory which gave a true picture of the universe and he believed that he had found this in the theory devised by Copernicus. Not content with convincing himself he was determined to publicise and defend his theory until it became generally accepted and he expressed his arguments in a forceful manner. 

He first became widely know as the result of publishing a book called The Starry Messenger in 1610. In this he argued against the Aristotelian system and in favour of Copernicus, and supported his arguments with accounts of his observations with the recently invented telescope. He described the Moon’s craters and mountains and thus disposed of the classical idea that all the heavenly bodies had perfectly smooth surfaces. 

He also presented other material which discredited the Aristotelian system. However, and this is an important point, he did not prove the correctness of the Copernican theory. Tycho Brahe’s alternative hypothesis was available, and according to this the Earth was at the centre of the universe with the Moon revolving around it, and further out the Sun also revolving around the Earth, with Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn revolving around the Sun. Galileo never got around to refuting this theory; he simply did not accept it, although it was not logically inconsistent with his observations. 

If Galileo could not disprove an alternative hypothesis it thus followed that he could not prove the Copernican theory or even demonstrate that it was the most plausible model of the universe of those that had been devised up to that time. Another important point about the theory which was not emphasised by Galileo was that it could not be squared with accurate observations of planetary motions without introducing a complicated system of epicycles. He does not seem to have considered Kepler’s simplifying assumption that the planetary orbits were elliptical because he was, like Copernicus, strongly attached to the principle of uniform circular motion. 

Galileo was first in trouble with the university professors who were naturally appalled at the prospect that the Aristotelian cosmology they were teaching might be dismissed as nonsense and rapidly replaced by a radically different model of the universe, which would make them look rather foolish. Those of them that claimed that his observations were illusory did have a point though. Galileo’s telescopes were very crude compared to modern instruments and it is hard to believe, for instance, that an uneducated eye would clearly see the phases of Venus through them. The observers would have to know what they were looking for to make any sense of the tiny blurred images presented to their gaze. Even with a modern small telescope it is difficult to see Venus clearly, because of the dazzling brightness of the planet. 

However, when Galileo visited Rome in 1611 he had a very friendly reception from Pope Paul V. The Jesuits favoured intellectual pursuits and their authority on astronomy, Father Clavius, had informed Cardinal Bellarmine, head of the Roman College, that he could confirm that Galileo’s telescopic observations were genuine. 

At this point we may ask if Galileo could have avoided his eventual conviction of heresy and his humiliating recantation. Almost certainly he could have. There is no reason why he should have become involved in any serious quarrel with the Church had he been more circumspect and had he only realised that he was unwittingly forcing the Church authorities into a position where they would have to take decisive action on the matter. Certainly, Galileo had enemies, but this is the lot of all persons who become well-known. He also had many influential friends in the Church; after all, he was a Catholic and as much a member of the Church as any other. Also an increasing number of natural philosophers in the Church were gradually coming to realise that Aristotelian cosmology was becoming untenable. 

As for Galileo’s enemies, there is evidence that they were not taken very seriously by the Church. Lodovico delle Colombe organised opposition to Galileo, and one of his methods was to try to persuade priests to preach sermons against Copernicanism. (Colombe’s supporters were known as the ‘pigeon league’ because Colombe is the Italian word for dove.) Colombe’s men influenced the Dominican Father Caccini, who preached a sermon in somewhat immoder-ate terms, against Galileo, Copernicanism and mathematicians in general, accusing them of being enemies of Christianity. The important point about this incident is that Caccini’s outburst was firmly disowned by the Church. The Master-General of the Dominican Order wrote to Galileo to apologise for it. The opposition of the ‘pigeon league’ and its clerical supporters was not to be taken too seriously; we must look elsewhere for the real causes of Galileo’s tribulations. 

The real causes, I suggest were Galileo’s own argumentative character, the relative weakness of the arguments with which he attempted to bolster the Copernican theory and, above all, his forcefully expressed views on the correct interpretation of Scripture with respect to scientific matters. 

It is customary to look at the controversy from Galileo’s point of view. However for the Church’s point of view there were a number of practical considerations and these were clearly expressed in a letter which Cardinal Ballarmine wrote in reply to the Carmelite friar, Paolo Foscarini, who had sent him a copy of his book which asserted that the Copernican system was literally true. Ballarmine pointed out that acceptance of the idea of a sun-centred universe as being literally true would not only irritate the theologians and scholastic philosophers, but would injure the faith of many by making the Bible appear to be false, bearing in mind the interpretation of the Bible agreed by the Church Fathers and endorsed by the Council of Trent. He agreed that the Scriptures would need to be reinterpreted if the truth of the Copernican system could be demonstrated, but pointed out that such proof had not yet been forthcoming. 


Pope Urban VIII was an admirer of Galileo's work


Galileo, apparently insensitive to such considerations, went to Rome in 1615 and debated his cause so energetically that Pope Paul V felt the need to request an official statement on the matter from the Congregation of the Index. Not surprisingly their judgement confirmed the established teachings of the Church. Galileo tried again in 1624, hoping that the election the previous year of Maffeo Barberini as Pope Urban VIII might have made the climate more favourable to his views, as Barberini was an admirer of Galileo’s work. However, he found that the new Pope upheld the same attitude and Galileo was again told that he was quite free to discuss his ideas, provided he made it quite clear that they were mere hypothesis, and did not purport to give a true picture of the universe. 

Again, he failed to take the advice, and finally went too far, so far as the Pope and his advisers were concerned, in his book Dialogue Concerning the Two Principle Systems of the World. In this, by the use of irony, he insinuated that the Church’s attitude was based on foolishness and ignorance. It was typical of him that he obeyed the summons to Rome to be tried by the Inquisition, instead of taking up an offer of asylum in Venice, presumably still determined to convert the Church to his way of thinking. 

Perhaps his greatest error was to see that one of his major arguments worked both ways. He argued that the authors of the Bible accommodated their writings to everyday speech and common beliefs in order to put their religious message in a manner understandable to all, yet he failed to realise that the Church had to do the same to express its teachings in terms that could be understood by ordinary people, and not just by philosophers and intellectuals. The Popes and others in the Church who bore heavy responsibilities for the spiritual welfare of millions were obviously aware of this. They realised that any sudden change in the Church’s teaching would cause great harm by throwing the faithful into confusion. They were also no doubt aware that it would be very rash to make such drastic changes to accommodate a scientific theory which might. yet be shown to be false and be superseded by yet another theory. 

Had Galileo realised this, and taken the Church’s advise, then perhaps the new astronomy could have gradually and painlessly taken hold of popular awareness and the cosmology of Aristotle would have died a natural death. 

The French Pterodactyl: a Fortean Folly.
Mick Goss

From Magonia 21, December 1985

When Professor Challenger wanted to prove to zoological sceptics that pterodactyls weren’t extinct after all, he merely arranged an expedition to an unknown plateau in the Matto Grosso and caught one. The sight of the gargoyle-faced nightmare filling London’s Queens Hall with the “dry, leathery flapping of its ten-foot wings” and with a “putrid and insidious odour” as it circled overhead left Challenger’s enemies in no doubt: the pterodactyl tribe most certainly was not extinct!

 But of course this was only a fictional scene in a novel: the climax to the evocatively-titled The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And as Challenger’s pterodactyl quitted the Queens Hall via an inadvertently open window and was last seen over the Atlantic apparently homing towards South America, we’ve two good reasons for not seeing it in any museum. But what possible explanation can there be for the amazing absence of the French pterodactyl?

The French Pterodactyl – let us use that term rather than the more general ‘pterosaur’ that is applied today – was, in the words of the Illustrated London News for 9 February 1856, a “discovery of the greatest scientific importance”. This value judgement did not prevent the report from being relegated to an obscure corner of the weekly where it could have been easily missed. Those who did not miss it learned the following.

Workmen engaged in cutting a railway tunnel through the Liassic rocks at Culmont, Haute Marne were breaking up an enormous block of stone when “from a cavity in it they suddenly saw emerge a living being of monstrous form.

“This creature, which belongs to the class of animals hitherto considered to be extinct, has a very long neck, and a mouth filled with sharp teeth. It stands on four long legs, which are united together by two membranes, doubtless intended to support the animal in the air, and are armed with four claws terminated by long and crooked talons. Its general form resembles that of a bat, differing only in its size, which is that of a large goose. Its membranous wings, when spread out, measure from tip to tip three metres, twenty two centimetres. Its colour is livid black; its skin is naked, thick and oily…”

Few modern readers would have trouble tying this French ‘discovery’ in with the prehistoric creature that Conan Doyle (just over half a century later) depicted turning a zoological meeting into a near riot. In case some Illustrated London News readers werenot so well up in recent zoological researches – and especially those concerning the fossilized oddities of remote antiquity – the reporter made things a good deal easier for them:

“On reaching the light this monster gave some signs of life, by shaking its wings, but soon after expired, uttering a hoarse cry. This strange creature, to which may be given the name of a living fossil, has been brought to Gray, where a naturalist well versed in the study of palaeontology, immediately recognised it as belonging to the genus pterodactylus anas.”

With a pertinent reminder that the sedimentary strata holding this unique relic dated it at “more than one million years”, the article ends. The epoch making specimen had become the property of Science, leaving its discoverers with only the mute testimony of that cavity in the stone block it had but lately filled with airtight precisions. Today we have even less evidence of the famous French Pterodactyl; for all the use Science appears to have made of it, the thing may as well not have existed. Which is only to be expected, because the French Pterodactyl did not exist.

"The skies of this Lost World would be strangely empty without these snaggle-toothed, bat-caped creatures"
“The skies of this Lost World would be strangely empty without these snaggle-toothed, bat-caped creatures”

More miraculous than the preservation of the Culmout anomaly is the way in which the story surrounding it has survived the eroding powers of time. From a secluded end-of-page slot in a Victorian weekly it has become a Fortean classic, a favourite of the ‘Amazing Unexplained Mysteries’ school. Writers hard pressed for material are prone to resurrect the Pterodactyl as mercilessly as the tunnel-builders in the original Illustrated London News.

In some ways the reluctance shown by both writers and readers to discard the story is wholly comprehensible. We want to believe in the kind of Lost World called forth in Conan Doyle’s novel and in the films based on that powerful motif. We want to retain the merest sliver of hope that somewhere the prehistoric monsters of our childhood reading may be holding out in spite of the scientists’ disbelief. Any evidence is avidly seized upon, be it a reported sighting of a saurian in West Africa or the lesson of the coelacanth. If a fish that was already old when the first dinosaurs were born could survive and remain unknown as a living form until as late as 1938 – can’t we entertain hopes for the still more exciting creatures we’ve grown up with since our infant reading days?

The skies of this Lost World of printed page and cinema screen would be strangely empty without the snaggle-toothed, bat-caped animals we know as pterodactyls. They are among the best- or most widely-know members of the prehistoric menagerie and among the first to be discovered, scientifically named and studied. Even as early as 1843 a by no means credulous naturalist like Edward Newman, editor of The Zoologist, could ponder on the mysteries of these animals which he rather defensively liked to think of as “marsupial bats”.

Modern researchers would hardly blink at propositions which Newman admitted were not only controversial for his time, but unlikely to sway zoologists from the opinions of palaeontological heavy-weights like Cuvier and Buckland. He correctly guessed that ‘pterodactyles’ were a large and diversified group encompassing insect-eaters, fish-eaters and meat-eaters. His theory that they may have been clothed in hair has apparently been borne out in one case and appears likely to apply to many more, if not to all; he also seems to have been moving towards the position held by many today that the pterosaurs were warm-blooded animals. But how many would go along with his gently-dropped bombshell:

“I merely hint as a matter of surmise… that the race may yet probably exist; that representatives of the fossil pterodactyls may yet be found amongst the bats that abound within the tropics. Species or even genera become extinct, but it rarely happens that a vast group like the pterodactyls is wholly lost, and left without a representative”.

If this article had not fixed its sights on one celebrated report of a pterosaurian survivor a good deal closer to home than the tropics, some fascinating material that goes part-way to justifying Newman’s outrageous idea could be analysed. The native traditions from various parts of Africa might be examined; the ‘Pteranodon’ sightings half buried inside a spate of ‘Big Bird’ reports from Texas in early 1976 would be spot-lighted. Not least interesting amongst these was the circumstantial account of three San Antonio elementary-school teachers interviewed by Fate’s Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman. It see doubly strange that such sightings of what had formerly been called the largest Pterosaur known to science should come so close in time and space to the announcement of the fragmentary remains of a new and even larger specimen discovered at Big Bend National Park in the same state. (With an overall estimated wingspan of up to 39 feet, Quetzalcoatlus represented a genuine upstaging of Pterandon’s 26 feet. Both make the French Pterodactyl of 1856 seem insignificant at a miserly ten-foot-plus from tip to tip.)

But it my be more profitable to concentrates on pterosaurs and the Victorians. In the intellectual climate of their period – in the very language of that period – is the key to the fact that the French Pterodactyl could only have been a playful hoax.

The Victorians had a profound respect for Science with a capital S: not purely for its practical applications, but in the abstract too. It this meant the creation of an atmosphere of ‘seriousness’ in which the foundations of many 20th Century sciences were laid, it also bred a suspicion that academicism was taking too much of the wonder out of life. The often pedantic and dogmatic tone of many scientists – an intolerance towards anecdotal evidence from unqualified observers, for example – was also offensive to outsiders. One way of evening the score was to perpetrate hoaxes which took in (or burlesqued the manner of) these self-appointed experts.

No area of science at this juncture was more fluid than zoology. By 1856 there were still discoveries to be made, exciting new animals amongst them. Palaeontology was still a developing and controversial field; Owen had only coined the term ‘dinosaur’ as recently as 1841 and the major percentage of large, sensationally-bizarre prehistoric animals with which we populate our own visions of primeval landscapes would remain unknown for another 30 years. Above all, these sciences had not yet reached a point where the observations of intelligent but untrained amateurs were totally excluded.

So on the one hand there was the optimistic hope that new forms were to be discovered and on the other a growing rigidity of scientific attitude which stated that the opinions of the professional scientist could not be contested. In this climate any incident which restored the sense of wonder by contradicting the dogmatism of the experts assumed huge importance. It is no coincidence that some of the most ambitious hoaxes which found their way into the early-Victorian publications featured some aspect of zoology.

As the opinions of Edward Newman indicate, the pterosaurs were a legitimate object of speculation. For all practical pur-poses they were scarcely known in 1856 and the ones which attract most attention today – Pteranodon, for instance – were still buried in the rocks. The first, discovered in c.1784 and properly described by Cuvier in 1801, came from the fine lithographic limestone of Solnhofen in Bavaria which was to become famous as the cemetery of these ‘flying reptiles’. Dimorphodon, a cumbersome looking pterosaur whose appearance seems to have influenced Conan Doyle’s impressions of what pterodactyls looked like, was found at Lyme Regis by England’s famous fossil-hunter Mary Anning in 1828. However the public did not see reconstructions of it until almost 50 years later. Popular awareness of what a prehistoric animal was supposed to have looked like is of crucial significance, as we’ll consider in a moment.

To the annoyance of most professional zoologists and palaeontologists, the fossilized evidence of the prehistoric world led encouragement to certain ‘irrational’ beliefs that they could well have done without. Most patent of these was the hypothesis that perhaps the great saurians were not a memento of bygone days but the living, breathing answer to certain conundrums that men of science had signally failed to explain. The Great Sea Serpent was less an object of derision if you presented it as a plesiosaur that had survived for millions of years in the deep and unexplored ocean. And if reptilian monstrosities were being unearthed in the world’s quarries, was it not just possible that the tales of living toads found immured in blocks of stone or coal – a phenomenon reliably reported by numerous observers, it seemed – were far less unlikely than zoologists would admit-?

The infuriated scientists shouted “No!” to both propositions, yet the propositions would not go away. As late as 1915. E. Ray Lankester – the man whose popular lectures and book on Extinct Animals (1906) had done so much to inform laymen on what the prehistoric menagerie looked like in the flesh – was still combatting the idea that toads-in-stone were marvellously preserved survivors entombed when their ‘prisons’ were laid down millenia ago. Lankester was the “gifted friend” whose “excellent monograph… the standard work” was acknowledged by Professor Challenger (and hence by Conan Doyle) in The Lost World, but he was no friend of the ‘prehistoric survivor’ theory. Having forcefully pointed out that these imprisoned amphibia had not even evolved when the sediments and coal measures said to contain them were laid down, he styled the concept as worthless as:

“… the similar but perhaps bolder  statement indulged in from time to time by an inventive transatlantic Press… that some workmen blasting a rock in quarries at Barnumsville were astonished by the escape from a cavity within the solid rock of a large flying lizard or pterodactyl which immediately spread its wings and flew out of sight.”

Several Fortean writers have shared Lankester’s belief that a connection exists between toads-in-stone stories and the French (and possibly other?) pterodactyl(s); but not his conclusion on the invalidity of those accounts. If we choose to disagree with him, however, we have to concede it sheerly amazing that the unique specimen identified so positively by the “naturalist well-versed in the study of palaeontology” is not the star exhibit in some world-famous collection. As far as the Illustrated London News report goes, it did not spread its wings and fly out of sight, as per Lankester, but it should have been available for study and acclaim. Only it most clearly wasn’t. Inconceivable thought – could someone have … mislaid it?

pterodactyl-1“People don’t stumble upon enormous discoveries and then lose their evidence”, Tarp Henry cautions Malone, when he mentions that Prof. Challenger lost a freshly-deceased pterosaur carcase in a boat accident, “Leave that to the novelists.” But supposing we could accept that evidence – including French pterodactyls -  can on occasions go missing, The story contains enough errors to destroy its own credibility even so.

Taking the Illustrated London News account as a starting point, a modern-day palaeontologist would frown with bewilderment at the description of the French Pterodactyl. As a journalistic attempt it might pass muster, but as a scientific guide to the animal it is hopeless – and the few details emerging from it are very ambiguous. The size (“which is that of a large goose”) and wingspan (“ten feet plus”) make it sound suspiciously larger and hence more dramatic than any specimen completely known at the time, but they are not beyond the realms of belief. “Naked, thick and oily skin”, however is a lot less likely; it would have provided no insulation against heat-loss in flight. Back in 1856, though, ‘pterodactyles’ were always depicted in reptilian nudity because no-one had yet found evidence to support the widely held modern view that some kind of hair or down covered their bodies.

These complaints aren’t simply academic trivialities. The French Pterodactyl does not sound right for our times because the animal it describes doesn’t match the picture we have of pterosaurs. But it is perfect for the picture of pterosaurian morphology that prevailed at the time the account was written. The typical pterosaur of the 1850′s was a repulsive combination of bird, bat, lizard and medieval dragon – a gargoyle come to life. The loathsomeness of this unappetizing blend was stressed at every opportunity till it attained an almost metaphysical dimension, with added disgust arising from the indecent nakedness of the monster.

This is the pterosaur described by the Illustrated London News’s man in France: not a real impression of an actual living creature, but a mechanical attempt to reproduce a standard (and to us anachronistic) portrait conforming with readers’ expectations. But the errors caused by the attempt to translate into words the popular imagery of the day do not stand in isolation when we examine certain literary/artistic standards of the society that produced the report. As fitted one of the ‘golden ages’ of popular literature, early Victorians had keen ears for language and (perhaps even more so) an eye for double meanings to words. Puns – many of them too dreadful, forced or elaborate for our taste – proliferated; in certain circumstances they were held to be the height of witticism. With the same grand catholicism that could be found in most areas of 1850′s life and culture, readers loved not just the puns that only a classically-educated person could be expected to construe, but likewise ones based on slang and street-talk.

For a researcher in the 1980′s this kind of playing upon words can be an etymological maze. The sense of a joke may depend on some piece of slang which has been defunct for over a century and therefore almost as unintelligable as Martian. Classicals puns may be less formidable to a student of Latin or Greek, but even there no defence exists against the ‘macaronic’ pun where the double meaning is at one or more stages removed, perhaps from one language to another, via a third.

The French Pterodactyl account contains clues illustrative of all kinds of Victorian punology. There is aa straightforward slang pun and a Latin pun leading into the convoluted two-language ‘macaronic’ variety. In fact, the main clue depends heavily on a subtle movement from Latin to French and thence to contemporary slang – not an easy process to anticipate as you read a purportedly-authentic newspaper report!

In his Strange Creatures from Time and Space (1975) John Keel has outlined the ingenious suggestion that the motive behind the Culmont story may have contained a flavour of nationalistic pride: a hoax to put France’s old rivals across the Rhine into the shade. Quite likely recent finds at Solnhofen and the burgeoning fame of that South German site may have given some Frenchmen grounds for jealousy. Nor is it impossible that some Gallic hoaxer decided to go a giant step beyond Germany’s stony remains of pterosaurs by offering the savants something far better – the tantalizing hint of a living one. Even so, he or she had a perfect understanding of the kind of linguistic wizardry required to ‘sell’ the story to the British newspapers. Despite the French news agency credited at the end of the ILN report, this could have been a quite ‘British’ affair, with clues inbuilt to entertain the cognoscenti who were so vulnerable to the challenge of these punning games.

Few of the books which have lifted the story verbatim from the ILN bother with the original title to the piece: ‘Very Like a Whale’. In chosing this pithy piece the magazine wasn’t quoting Hamlet gratuitously, but letting everybody know how they felt about the veracity of the story. Then as now, British readers knew that a ‘whale’ of a story was a ‘whopper’, something too big to be swallowed (i.e. believed). And the complete phrase was, by the 1850′s, applied liberally to anything considered to be far less than probable. That was how the ILN regarded the French pterodactyl; no doubt readers were expected to take it in the same spirit.

But even without that title, the text contained a sophisticated philological multi-pun that must have given its inventor more than one chuckle of satisfaction.

The palaeontologically-aware naturalist of Gray, we are told, lost no time in identifying the unwholesome-looking, newly-expired corpse as that of Pterodactylus anas. Every specific name attached to an animal – here ‘anas’ – has a meaning which can be translated from the original Greek or Latin. This meaning can be descriptive, or may commemorate the name of a place or person, perhaps the animal’s discoverer.

Pterodactylus anas is not one of the species listed in Henry Govier Seeley’s authoritative Dragons of the Air (1901) which concentrates on the more important specimens found during the previous century; nor could the Natural History Museum locate it as a superseded term. Yet ‘anas’ must have some meaning.

Indeed it has, though when we take down any comprehensive Latin dictionary the results don’t seem to promising. ‘Anas’ simply stands for ‘duck’ – the bird not the verb; on the face of things a description presumably based on the size of the pterodactyl, as there’s little to choose between a duck-sized bird and the ILN’s assertion that the specimen was the size of a large goose.

But there is more to it than that. Besides being Latin for duck, ‘anas’ was the root for several other words for that bird in European languages, notably French – le canard. Here is where the punster comes into his own, for in English popular speech, ‘canard’ has a highly amusing meaning: it means ‘false news’ or ‘hoax’.

The French have been talking about “halfselling a goose” – a venture so self-evidently impossible as to stand for fooling somebody – since the early seventeeth century. The derived use of the more compact ‘canard’ had certainly crossed the Channel to Britain before 1850. At the time of the ILN story it was becoming an increasingly common expression in print. The ILN’s ‘whale’ of a tale could just as easily have been called a duck of a yarn or an exercise in old-fashioned duck salesmanship, French-style.

Quite conceivably the punster whose choice of ‘species-name’ was a direct comment on the bogus quality of their own story never expected the thing to achieve very much. It might indeed delude a few gullible ones and perhaps generate enough curiosity for those stuffy, patronising experts to find themselves on the end of many time-wasting questions about living pterodactyls. The modestly-cultivated reader with his classical education would hover for a few minutes, but soon would be wearing a broad grin as he saw the pterodactyl for the ‘canard’ it really was. The inventor wouldn’t have dared imagine this little fabrication would last for over a century and continue to retain a place in the Amazing Mysteries literature of the 1980′s. For if the joke is on anyone, it has to be on us. What the Victorians were offered as a jest, we have taken as solid, mirth-free fact. We have swallowed the whale, and half-bought the duck…

One reason for this state of affairs is that we don’t share our so-literate-forefathers’ love of puns. Nor is Latin seen any longer as an inevitable acquisition of schooldays, which makes us even less likely to to see the point when a writer tells us in one breath that a living pterodactyl is on offer, and in the next that it belongs to a certain species named the Pterodactyl Hoax! We are locked still more firmly to straightforward assessments – a thing being either Fact or Fiction – by reading the account in Fortean or Riplyesque books which encourage us to believe it’s Unbelievable but True.

Having considered all that, there is something endearing about the French Pterodactyl that makes us want to believe in it. The most incredible aspect of the story is that it not only survives but shows no sign of vanishing into dinosauric extinction.