From Magonia 64, August 1998.
In issues 54, 56 and 63 of Magonia, that stalwart of ufological scepticism and scourge of the wooly-minded, Peter Brookesmith, presented his thesis that the imagery and symbolism of the UFO, and particularly the abduction phenomenon, had their roots in the semitic conception of god as mitigated by the ‘American Religion’, defined by Professor Harold Bloom as “a severely internalized Grail Quest whose goal is immortality
Brookesmith further adds that, “experience of that immortality is gained shamanistically – through direct revelation, without mediation, and in solitude. Immortality is already presumed or predicated in an underlying dualistic (Gnostic) belief that the individual harbours a remnant of divinity – the ‘divine spark’ within himself, which is older than creation; it is symbolized by the empty, post-Resurrection cross of American churches. Lying beyond this and informing it … is the motif of America as Eden.” (2)
Brookesmith is an elegant writer and possesses a singular, scathing wit which he has used to good effect against his opponents. His arguments are always pertinent and deserve attention, even if one does not accept them. In issue of 61 of this magazine I attempted to counter some of the more controversial of his statements in my essay, Crashed Cups. This was, however, before the last part of Brookesmith’s original essay appeared, which in turn raised several issues which merit closer examination.
The first is his definition of the American religion. There is much that is true in the above definition – Mormonism, as the quintessential American religion, in particular being replete in Gnostic ideas such as pre-existent souls – but these features are not confined solely to American Christianity. Shamanism itself predates Christianity, and although mysticism and charismatic phenomena – the gifts of the Holy Spirit – have formed a part of the Christian experience since the age of the early church, these phenomena have become less frequent, and often discouraged, except in the case of revivalist sects. We shall return to this theme later as it applies particularly to the Abductionists.
The most important thing to note here is that this shamanistic mystical faith which finds itself situated within a sacral landscape is not confined solely to America, but is also found thousands of miles away, at the eastern extremity of Europe in Russia. While America sees itself as an Eden, thanks to the frontier wilderness encountered by the first settlers, Russia views itself as the Third Rome, the successor to Byzantium through the marriage of Vladimir, the first Kievan Russian King, to Anna, the sister of the Byzantine emperor Basil II in the eleventh century, and the consequent conversion of Russia to Eastern Orthodoxy.
Although Russian Orthodoxy is strongly ritualistic, charismatic phenomena like those found in Mormonism and American Pentecostalism have their counterparts among indigenous Russian sects, such as the Old Believers and the Baptists. The glossalia of the Baptists in particular formed the basis of the ‘transrational’ language, Zaum, as invented by the Russian Futurist poet Alexei Kruchonykh. Similarly, Russian religious faith shows an intense discomfort with the physical body, especially sex. The celibacy of the Shakers has an even more extreme counterpart in the institutional castration of the Skoptzi. Even outside of this Christian milieu, ‘scientific’ cosmists such as the poet Aleksandr Gorsky could maintain that “death is not a law of life; it must be overcome. One must be chaste. Chastity is a precondition for the immortality of the flesh.” (3)
Gorsky himself remained chaste, even within his marriage, seeing the deaths of other people as an unworthy deed they had somehow committed. Paradoxically, this unease with reproduction can lead to libertinage. Its been alleged that the Gnostics of antiquity and the Albigensians of the Middle Ages held their orgies not to celebrate or indulge their sexuality, but to show their contempt for the flesh by giving it to the person next to them at the Sabbat, regardless of gender. Similarly, that quintessential epitome of Russian mysticism and sexual vice, Rasputin, whose very name means debauchee, came from a sect who believed their leader had a spark of the divinity within him, which his followers could only share through sexual union, a doctrine which Rasputin seems also to have applied to himself.
This discomfort with sexuality is not confined to Christianity, nor is Christianity alone in the Virgin birth of its central figure. The Dowayos of Cameroon, although leading healthily adulterous lives, are deeply prudish. They are therefore extremely careful to keep their reproductive organs covered, and sex takes place in the dark. Sex must not be indulged in before important activities like the hunt, while the firewalkers of Fiji had to abstain for about three weeks before walking lest they burned themselves. In recent times the pressures of commercial tourism has reduced this period of abstinence to three days, but the principle remains. Even Buddhism has its ascetic cast, and Buddhist monks are as abstinent as their counterparts in the West.
Chinese religion too has its Virgin births. The great hero Monkey was born from a rock, as old as creation, though one fertilised by the elements. As for supernatural abductions, like our fairies the Japanese oni carry off attractive members of the opposite sex. The Japanese heroes Momotaro, Yoshitsune and Benkei rescued young women who had been abducted by these demons. More recently, the Polish anthropologist Dionysiusz Czubala, has collected a number of contemporary legends in Mongolia in which the tradition of abducting wildmen, like the Yeti, is still very much alive. One of the offspring of such a union between a human woman and these apes is allegedly one of the country’s greatest actors at the national theatre. These countries did not, however, produce the UFO myth. Why not?
In the case of Africa, Polynesia and much of Asia, the answer is simple. The UFO is essentially a technological myth, and these parts of the planet are still largely traditional societies lacking the technological and industrial advances of the West. When anomalous flying objects are sighted, as Cynthia Hind in Zimbabwe has complained, they are likely to be subsumed into indigenous African beliefs concerning their gods or ancestors, and it can be assumed that this is, or has been, much the case with pre-industrial societies outside Africa as well. This does not explain why the UFO myth should not have appeared first in Europe, Russia or Japan besides America. All these areas were as developed scientifically as America, and shared the same scientistic preoccupations. Germany and Russia produced two of the first films dealing with spaceflight – Aelita, 1924, and Die Frau im Mond (The Woman in the Moon), 1929. Outside of America, Italy produced one of the very first SF comic strips, a space opera entitled Saturno Contra La Terra (Saturn Against Earth), which ran in the comic L’Awenturoso between 1937 and 1943.
Although Italy and Russia lagged behind the rest of Europe in industrialisation, the Futurist movements in both countries presented a vociferously and rabidly technophile artistic culture. Japan’s tastes in SF seem less preoccupied with space travel and more oriented towards cybernetics, as shown in the long tradition of films and comics featuring robot heroes, beginning with Masaki Sakamoto’s Tanku Tankuro strip of 1934. This seems as much the legacy of oriental fascination with the automata introduced to the East by European merchants as a continuation of Western literary exploration of such artificial creatures as Frankenstein’s monster. It would appear that while Western technological yearnings sought an additional symbol in space travel, the Japanese primarily concentrated on robotics, at least until very recently when it, too, took up the international trends towards space adventure.
Brookesmith partially qualifies his statement of the essentially Semitic religious nature of the UFO religion by stating that its successful export “may, for instance, be a symptom and a sign that a deracinated and relativistic Western culture has had to generate a new religious perspective to accomodate and resolve its own disturbing and destructive characteristics and their consequences.” (4)
This is essentially true, especially when one takes notes of the powerful fascination many of the earliest contactees had with Eastern philosophy. Adamski and George King are two such examples, not to mention the essentially Theosophical religious views permeating the ideas of William Dudley Pelley’s and Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s Church Universal and Triumphant. Western moral relativism, although widely perceived as a recent phenomenon, actually began in the 19th century and has its roots in the 18th, when Europeans became impressed with the religious traditions of their subject peoples.
It was this fascination with oriental religions which was successfully exported back to the West in the form of Theosophy. It was Theosophy in turn which seems to have permeated the Cosmist ideas promulgated by the Russian rocket pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovskii in the 1920s. Tsiolkovskii spent much of his life in the Russian provincial town of Kaluga, then one of the major centres of Russian Theosophy, and his idea that matter is permeated with a “conscious energy … striving for further development, perfection and happiness” represents “a peculiar synthesis of vitalism and monadology with Theosophical, Buddhist and pan-psychic thought”. (5) This synthesis of visionary science and an occultism tinged with oriental beliefs first appeared in Tsiolkovsky’s 1914 book, Nirvana, 33 years before Kenneth Arnold’s sighting over the Rockies. Other rocket scientists with a pronounced interest in occultism included the German pioneers Hermann Ganswindt and Hermann Oberth, and Max Valier.
This term ‘visionary’ is important. In science it tends to be applied to the great pioneering theorists of space travel and the colonisation of the cosmos. The planetary scientist, John S. Lewis, uses it in his book Mining the Sky to describe such thinkers, especially the great scientists, philosophers and writers J.D. Bernal, Olaf Stapledon and Arthur C. Clarke. (6) The term, with its mystical overtones, encapsulates the almost religious fervour felt by the supporters of space exploration. Tsiolkovkii and the other cosmists, as we have seen, subscribed to a set of beliefs which saw the task of humanity as perfecting itself, conquering death, and resurrecting the dead as well as the colonization of the universe.
These ideas seem to have entered the speculation of other leading scientific prophets independently of Tsiolkovskii’s influence. Thus, scientists and SF writers like David Langford and Brian Stableford in their book The Third Millenium, can forecast a genetically modified humanity with a vastly extended lifespan which expands out into the cosmos. Ian McDonald in his novel Necroville saw the route to immortality as submicroscopic nanorobots which restructured a person’s cells to resurrect them after death, which has its parallels in the belief of many Russians that Lenin’s body was preserved so that scientists could one day raise him from the dead. Even established reproductive technologies such as cloning have this mystical aspect, the religious desire to preserve and resurrect a lost loved one. Rael, remember, is trying to establish Clonaid, a charity which will offer parents the opportunity to clone their dead children. A Russian scientist has also declared that he now has the ability to raise Lenin from the grave using such techniques.
As for discomfort with the human body and its drives and limitations, this is also reflected in the hubristic theorizing of the Extropians and Downloaders, who wish to see human personalities transferred to computers and the human race eventually become a society of civilised machines. One of the leading theorists of the movement, Hans Moravec, sincerely wanted to be a machine at one point, and his predecessor in such strange ideas, Bob Truax, who was also active building his own, DIY passenger-carrying spacerocket, expressed his own dissatisfaction with the engineering limitations of the human body when he said, “What right-minded engineer would try to build any machine out of lime and jelly? Bone and protoplasm are extremely poor structural materials”. (7) Truax himself was utterly convinced that “the core of the human personality was not matter, but mind: ‘It has been called the `soul’, the ‘id’, or simply the ‘self or’identity.’ Certainly it is not the body.” (8)
This technological yearning for a superior, cybernetic man eventually threw up the bush robot, Moravec’s ultimate brain child, which looked like nothing so much as the offspring of a blighted union between a tree and a TV aerial. Nevertheless, its creator loved it, hailing it as a “marvel of surrealism to behold,” (9) and declaring that it would be “an almost omnipotent being … There’d be virtually no task, mental or physical, that it would be unable to accomplish … the laws of physics will seem to melt in the face of intention and will. As with no magician that ever was, impossible things will simply happen around a robot bush. Imagine inhabiting such a body”. (10) The ultimate modification of the human body would be an electron-positron plasma, created billions of years hence to survive the Heat Death of the Universe and the collapse of any survivingg protons.
This proposal is strikingly reminiscent of Tsiolkovskii’s proposal that the human body be adapted to life in space, and that the eventual, final form of the human species would be a kind of radiation, “immortal in time and infinite in space”. (11) Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke have both suggested that advanced civilisations, including our own, may evolve into robotic beings. Baxter expressed this idea in an article for the popular magazine Focus, while the clearest exposition of it in Clarke’s work is the novel of 2001: A Space Odyssey. These writers diverge, however, in their extrapolation of the next evolutionary stage. To Clarke, this is disembodied minds embossed directly onto the fabric of space itself, such as the entity which transforms the hero of 2001 into the Starchild, while Baxter merely suggests that human beings would subsume into programmes run on vast, planet-sized computers.
The imagery of 2001 is replete with religious metaphors of fall, redemption and rebirth. The paintings in the hotel bedroom created by the extraterrestrial supermind in the final scenes are all of the Madonna and Child, while the creature’s remodelling of the hero into the superhuman Starchild could be seen very much as an alien god sending out his spirit on a favourite son, with whom he is well-pleased. Clarke himself was certainly not unaware of the religious symbolism in the movie, and went about sniggering that it was “the greatest religious film ever made”, sentiments echoed in the Soviet film maker Tarkovsky’s statement that “we don’t have religious films any more. We have Science Fiction.”
There are even angels in SF and hard scientific speculation too. Tsiolkovskii believed there existed a class of ethereal, incorporeal sentient beings more perfect than humans who imparted messages to humanity using atmospheric and heavenly phenomena. Carl Sagan’s book, Contact, has an underlying subtext in which the universe is the product of intelligent design, and the aliens with whom humanity make contact hint at the hallmarks of this design contained in the structure of the universe itself. “Thus the aliens play the traditional role of angels, acting as intermediaries between mankind and God, cryptically indicating the way towards occult knowledge of the universe and human existence.” (12)
Furthermore, that long-standing scientific controversialist, Fred Hoyle, has suggested in his book The Intelligent Universe that the special conditions found in our cosmic neighbourhood for the creation of life are the conscious product of advanced intelligent beings. Indeed, he goes further and suggests that the universe is itself the product of a much more powerful superintelligence from the timeless vantage point of the infinite future. Like the ultimate observer in Baxter’s Timelike Infinity, this superintelligence is clearly fulfilling a role ascribed traditionally to God. Davies concludes from these and other examples that the search for alien beings can thus be seen as part of a long-standing religious quest as well as a scientific project.
It is only in this century that discussion of extraterrestrial beings has taken place in a context where a clear separation has been made between the scientific and religious aspects of the topic. But this separation is really only skin deep
This should not surprise us. Science began as an out-growth of theology, and all scientists, whether atheists or theists, and whether or not they believe in the existence of alien beings, accept an essentially theological worldview. It is only in this century that discussion of extraterrestrial beings has taken place in a context where a clear separation has been made between the scientific and religious aspects of the topic. But this separation is really only skin deep. (13)
Frank Tipler’s The Physics of Immortality. attacked by CSICOP, among others, as pseudoscience, was merely an attempt to unite science with its ideological parent. Possibly that’s what angered Tipler’s critics: at some level, at least, he’d given the game away. Sometimes this close connection between science and religion proved particularly uncomfortable for the former. The first scientist to propose the Big Bang theory was a Belgian priest, Joseph Lemaitre, who published it in a 1929 paper. This seemed too close to Judaeo-Christian ideas of creation ex nihilo for Fred Hoyle, who scathingly asked what kind of scientific theory it was, “that had been proposed by a priest and endorsed by the Pope?” (14) Religion may stand dumb in the face of science, but science is itself rapidly taking on a religious, even mystical dimension. If religion is the opium of humanity, then science fiction, as C.S. Lewis once observed, is the only mind-expanding drug.
Does this mean that the ufological religion is based in the Semitic and American religions? Certainly, in some specific instances. Both Maxim Gorky and Nikolai Rozhkov, two of the Soviet state’s most prominent cosmists, had been adherents of God-building, which was an attempt by some Marxists to draw the peasants and workers to their beliefs through their religious piety. It declared that the creation of a Communist world order, a worker’s paradise, was the divine task of all true Christian people to build the body of Christ here on Earth. Tsiolkovsky himself published a positivistic exegesis of the canonical Gospels.
Quazgaa introduced Betty Andreasson to the voice of God, who exhorted her to turn to His son, Jesus Christ, after, significantly, accepting a Bible from her. Bill Ellis has convincingly demon-strated the roots of the Heaven’s Gate cult – some of whose members also castrated themselves – in peculiarly American forms of Christian evangelicalism. (15) This is really not surprising, considering that the sect’s leader, Marshall Applewhite, was the son of a Presbyterian minister. More recent ufological imports to America, such as Hon-Ming Chen’s True Way, have a more Buddhist religious orientation, although the Christian element in their beliefs is still prominent. (16)Apart from this, is the conception of an organising superintelligence permeating the works of certain visionary scientists and SF writers essentially Semitic in origin? Not necessarily. Davies draws a comparison between the aliens and superintelligence in Hoyle’s book The Intelligent Universe with Plato’s Demiurge and The Good, or God, and points out that Hoyle is “quick to concede the inspiration he has drawn from Greek, rather than Judaic, theology.” (17)
That ufology draws upon popular SF for its symbolism seems to me to be well-established. Ufology, however, seems to be remarkable for what it leaves out of its conceptual building blocks, as well as what it includes. Brookesmith notes that although the UFOs and their occupants have acquired some of the aspects of gods, they do not seem to have completely taken over the godlike technology of some of the entities in science fiction. Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe contains an entire artificial cosmos constructed specifically for Zaphod Beeblebrox. Beverley Crusher, one of Star Trek’s heroines, accidentally creates an entire personal universe for herself from a warp bubble created by her son during an experiment in the episode Remember Me? The Sidhe in Greg Bear’s Infinity Concerto are able to create artificial universes, like Sidhedark, through their sorcery, but Bear states in the sequel, The Serpent Mage, that in two centuries’ time humans will be capable of doing the same, though this time through natural science.
Clearly, ufology is lagging behind not only hard scientific speculation, but also its sources in SF. The human mind may conceive of the Visitors as angels and godlings, or at least as gnostic gods positioned halfway between humanity and the unknown God, but they shrink from portraying the aliens as full-scale creator gods them-selves. The Greys may have created humanity, but they are not the cosmos’ ultimate architects.
Scandinavia and Greece were the favoured locations of numerous reports of ghost rockets shortly after the War, and the first reported sexual encounter with an abducting alien was the Villas-Boas case in Brazil. Yet it’s true that “the UFO phenomenon was, at birth, exclusively American”. (18) Why, given that other European countries, including Russia, shared the same Semitic religious heritage, scientific and scientistic preoccupations with a occult subculture tinged with orientalism? The answer probably lies in the innately democratic nature of American society, and the peculiar complex of fears and neuroses surrounding it.
First of all, Germany and Russia were under the heel of totalitarian ideologies jealous of the grip other myths could exert on the minds of their citizens. Religion was severely repressed in Russia, and documents relating to pseudoscience or occultism were either suppressed or destroyed. The influence of pan-German occultism on Hitler was profound, yet he banned the neo-pagan sects when he came to power, fearing that they were sent by ‘dark forces’ to divide Germany. The V2 team at Peenemunde may have harboured secret hopes of space travel and a better use for their rockets, but these enthusiasms were not shared by their Nazi superiors. Von Braun himself was twice interrogated by the Gestapo because it was felt he was too interested in space travel, rather than his patriotic duty of destroying the Allies.
In Russia, many of the earlier rocket pioneers like Sergei Korolev found themselves in Stalin’s gulags, until the necessity of the War years forced the authorities to release them in order to channel their skills into the task of fighting the Germans. Even in the freer climate after Stalin’s death, those scientists in the Soviet Union interested in ufology had to tread extremely carefully, and official disfavour with its attendant penalties was always a major peril. In Italy and Russia the Futurists were effectively sidelined by the authorities, who sought an art with more obvious appeal to the masses. Marinetti did not shoot himself like Mayakovsky, but his influence was severely circumscribed. Besides, the Futurists’ main enthusiasm in both countries seems to have been conventional aviation, rather than spaceflight. After the War, continental Europe was chiefly preoccupied with the task of reconstruction, rather than inventing new myths of its own.
The chief difference between Russia and America, though, seems to have been in the availability of science fiction and occult literature. Before the massive industrialization of the Stalin era, 95 per cent of the Russian population were peasants and the country had an extremely high rate of illiteracy. America was far more advanced industrially, and possessed a large reading public. The readership of the pulps ran into millions. Martin Gardner and John Keel have convincingly proved that the development of the ETH was heavily dependent on the support given to the new phenomenon by Ray Palmer, who bequeathed to it the manichean dualism of the Shaver mystery. Fate, when it appeared, was a national news stand magazine, of a type unknown and impossible in Russia. The American public were primed to accept the ETH because for over half a century previously mass-circulation magazines had carried tales of extra-terrestrial derring-do.
Only one problem remains in this examination of the American origins of the saucer myth. That is the question of why the myth, with its attendant fears and paranoia, occurred at precisely the time when American international influence was at its strongest this century, and when confidence in the government was at its highest? The FBI and other government organizations received many letters from ordinary citizens denouncing ufologists as ‘communistic’ because they were vociferously sceptical of the government. Again, the key seems to be the external threat posed by Communism to democracy and the American way of life.
1947 saw the Communists take power in eastern Europe, and subsequent years saw the transformation of those countries into Soviet satellites. Democracy, and by identification, America, was threatened. Faced with the sudden expansion of a competing ideology vying with America for global influence, 1947 “found many Americans questioning the meaning of their nation and of life itself”. (19)
Sects are primarily protest movements, and the UFO myth has undoubtedly acted as a vehicle for the articulation of intense dissatisfaction with the government, first through a violent revolt against its perceived impotence in the face of the saucer threat, which was seen as deliberate disinformation, and then to its alleged conspiratorial nature as the myth darkened after the Kennedy assassination and Watergate. Many of the SF movies of the 50s use alien invasion as a metaphor for Communist infiltration, an idea that certainly has its counterpart in ufology, especially in early fears that the saucers were some new Soviet craft. Arguably, anti-Communism has been as powerful a force shaping ufology as its origins in formal religion, though perhaps more in the form of a prevailing sense of threat rather than in any expressed doctrines.
Then there is the problem of the alleged Gnosticism of the phenomenon. One of the first things that needs stating is that gnosticism was never an exclusively Christian movement. The ideological ingredients in Gnosticism were taken from Semitic, Platonic, and Zoroastrian and even Ancient Egyptian religious concepts. Although many of the sects were Christian, certain forms should be seen as separate religions in their own right, such as that of Mani of Babylon. Other non-Christian religions with a gnostic basis included the Druzes of Lebanon, whose origins in Shi’ah Islam have been extensively modified by the admixture of Gnostic ideas. Some sects were and are prechristian. These include the Mandaeans, the so-called ‘Christians of St. John’. They, however, are nothing of the sort. The central salvefic figure in their religion is St. John the Baptist, and they revile Christ as a false prophet. Some Gnostic texts, like the Poimandres of Hermes Trismegistus, owe little or nothing to influences from the Semitic world. The Hermetic writings, which include gnostic material such as the above Poimandres, “not only are purely pagan but even lack polemical reference to either Judaism or Christianity”. (20)
The rejection of the material world in Gnosticism is essentially a reaction to the suffering inherent in material existence, and represents a Hellenized monotheism struggling to develop an effective theodicy to deal with the problem of evil. Western, and a very large part of Islamic, philosophy has its origins in ancient Greek thought, and although modern technological civilisation has superceded ancient ideas, philosophy as an intellectual culture still remains saturated with their influence. Some of this may simply be that the ancients were the first to frame many of the perennial problems of philosophy. A number of modern texts on cosmology, for example, refer to St Augustine, who wondered what God did before the Creation, a question raised still now when the universe’s origins are under discussion. It is entirely likely that even if the Roman Empire had not converted to Christianity, and bequeathed its Semitic heritage to the West, Western thought would still have had a gnostic cast through the asceticism in Hellenic philosophy.
The striking similarity between ancient Christian Gnosticism and later Jewish cabbalism is an interesting question which has never been satisfactorily explained. Brookesmith cites Karen Armstrong, saying that the Safed cabbalism of Isaac Luria “can fairly be described as Gnosticism without Christ”. (21) Earlier cabbalists also produced passages strikingly reminiscent of ancient esoteric Christian texts. Joseph Gikatila, a contemporary of the great 13th cabbalist and author of the Zohar, Moses de Leon, wrote an important text, The Mystery of the Serpent, which is strongly reminiscent of the beliefs of the Ophites, a Christian gnostic sect which venerated snakes. (22) The book Bahir which circulated in twelfth century Provence was strongly influenced by the vanished Raza Rabba, or Great Mystery, which itself held much gnostic speculation on the aeons or inferior demiurges. Much Gnostic speculation can, however, be reasonably traced to the same Jewish sources that inspired the cabbalah. The description of the divine throne in the Hypostasis of the Archons or the Book of Norea originated in Jewish speculation about the Merkaba or divine chariot, which was itself developed from the vision of Ezekiel.
It’s possible to conclude from this that Jewish mysticism was developed from Christian gnostic teaching, though it’s more likely that later Jewish mysticism was “so much in accord with other features of authentically Jewish thought which the Gnostics did not know – thought which, for its own part, is almost totally ignorant of any dualistic conception of the universe – that one is tempted to believe that it was the Gnostic sects who received a great part of their theories from Judaism.” (23) This is interesting, for it states that essentially monistic Jewish ideas, taken by ideologues and theologians widely separated in space and time, were independently elaborated into dualistic religious systems.
Inherent in this is the idea of the transvaluation of values, of different value systems superseding each other as society changes. One example of the impact of societal change on religious thought is the shift in emphasis from the preparation for death and the afterlife to the quest for the meaning of life. In the ancient world and Middle Ages, life was indeed, to use Thomas Hobbs’ phrase, ‘poor, nasty, brutish and short’. Most people could expect to live only until the age of 30. The high rate of early mortality meant that death was an omnipresent companion, and so religion acquired a morbid cast, even producing manuals to enable the faithful to breath their last in a suitable manner. The Art of Dying Well was a real book widely read in the 17th century. In the present century the standard of health care in the West has improved immeasurably, and individuals can now look forward to a long life of at least the three score years and ten promised by the Bible. The result has been that religion has increasingly turned away from the rewards of the afterlife, to concentrate on the existential condition of humanity here on Earth.
This existential despair has been an important part of the post-war intellectual climate, largely because of the horrors of the Second World War, such as the Holocaust and bombing of Nagasaki, among others. The other major factor has been the retreat of hu-manity’s place in the universe as mod-em science has revealed a vast cos-mos of immense spaces and nearly infinite time, quite heedless of the may-fly lives of the intelligent beings thrown up by evolution on the surface of an insignificant world. This intense pessimism over humanity’s now meaningless place in the cosmos has undoubtedly drawn certain Western scholars to Gnosticism.
Hans Jonas clearly states that he was drawn to the study of Gnosticism because of its parallels with modern existentialism. This existentialism can itself be broken down into two types – Christian existentialism, the intellectual product of Soren Kierkegaard, and the atheist existentialism of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s philosophical mentor, however, was Schopenhauer, and although he turned Schopenhauer on his head by stressing the joy in life, rather than despair, Schopenhauer’s influence may still be discerned.
Schopenhauer, however, was certainly no fan of the Semitic religions, and took his philosophical pessimism from Indian religious thought. The basis of Schopenhauer’s philosophy of the Will was elaborated from his reading of Plato and Kant, to which he added Anquetil Duperron’s Latin translation of a Persian version of the Upanishads and perhaps something from the great oriental scholar Friedrich Majer, the author of Brahma, or the Religion of the Hindus, whom he met in 1819. The effect of the Upanishads was to increase his pessimistic reading of Kant, so that it became “possible for him to employ the metaphysic of Kant in a sense remote from that in which Kant had employed it”. (24)
A good example of his promotion of a pessimistic orientalism over the Semitic religions can be found in Aphorism 9 in the above translation: “Brahma is supposed to have created the world by a kind of fall into sin, or by an error, and has to atone for this sin or error by remaining in it himself until he has redeemed himself out of it. Very good! … But that a god like Jehovah should create this world of want and misery animi causa and de gaiete de coeur and then go so far as to applaud himself for it, saying it is all very good: that is quite unacceptable.” (25)
Schopenhauer’s orientalism is important. Hollingdale considered that it was an important part of his eventual success, even though he met with a conspicuous lack of it in his own life time. While other German philosophers had used philosophy to justify Christianity’s fundamental assumptions, Shopenhauer recast Christianity “in a pessimistic sense, and then assimilated it to the religions of the East”. (26) It’s also important that Schopenhauer’s philosophy was fundamentally atheist. There’s no God in Schopenhauer, and so the problem of evil does not have to be reconciled to the existence of a benevolent deity. Most important, however, is Schopenhauer’s intense pessimism. In an age which has thrown off the optimism of the 19th century, and become increasingly sceptical of the benefits of modern technological civilisation, Schopenhauer’s pessimism is very attractive.
Modern ufological religions like the Aetherians, UNARIUS and the Church Universal and Triumphant are strongly permeated by Eastern religious conceptions, and it is by no means impossible that the antimaterial, ascetic, pessimistic streak in Buddhism and Hinduism has been exaggerated and more pronounced in the climate of Post-War existential despair. There are, of course, elements in Buddhism which undoubtedly have a gnostic cast, such as the belief that every being, or at least every human, has ‘Buddha nature’ – the capacity to gain enlightenment and enter nirvana like Gautama Buddha. There are a number of oriental religious festivals which celebrate this facet of human religious potential. In Nepal it is the festival of Mha Puja, when one greets one’s fellows with ‘I salute the god within you.’ (26) Something like this entered Science Fiction with the ‘grokking’ ceremonies in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. Although all this certainly has links to the gnostic elements in the American religion, such as the pre-existent souls of Mormonism, within mainstream Christianity, at least, it remains an heretical doctrine.
There’s also a class aspect to the ufological religion to which is paid scant attention. In the typical analysis of class-related forms of worship, middle-class piety stresses discipline, reading and the quiet, bourgeois values. Working-class religion is orgiastic, the worshippers compensating for the harshness of their lives with a form of religious expression which stresses excitement. This is used to explain the charismaticism of Black Pentecostalism and various working-class White sects like the snake-handling cults of Alabama. At the top of the social ladder, aristocratic religious devotion emphasized mysticism, although this has largely vanished since the gentry have largely been absorbed into the upper middle-classes. Nevertheless, it is interesting how many leaders of ufological mysticism had pretensions to nobility. William Dudley Pelley tried to pass himself off as the Prince of Sumadjia, while George King enjoyed numerous chivalrous honours bestowed by the Venusians.
Many of these mystics came from background which, if not exactly bluecollar, were not glamorously middleclass either. Adamski, for all his pretensions of being an astronomer, ran a hamburger stall. George King was, before his sudden elevation to interplanetary parliament, a taxi driver. The popular joke that everyone in the American deep south is married to their sister and has seen a UFO, and that the most frequent victims of alien abduction are bored mid-Western housewives, take on a significance when one realises that the deep south is the most economically backward part of the USA. Clearly, working-class and upper-class spirituality are merging in the new ufological faith which compensates for frustrations and poverty in the here-and-now.
At the same time conventional society is being stripped of anything smacking of spontaneity – and remember, Weber believed that religion was one way society could try to recapture that spontaneity – religion itself is trying to strip itself of the mystical, or at least archaic, in order to appear relevant. The degradation of religious language, and Margaret Thatcher’s omission of the heroic, or human element in praising the soldiers of the Falkland’s War, is all part of the same process. The reaction to this new disenchantment could very well be the trance culture of the underground raves and burgeoning New Age mysticism.
In this analysis, therefore, the new religion of the UFO arises from the pressures and contradictions of modern scientific and industrial society acting on a primarily Semitic religious base, but one that is strongly alloyed with oriental esoterism as an integral part of it.
As for the similarities of Roswell to the quest for the Holy Grail, this seems more like an exercise in literary criticism than a sociological analysis, though it is intriguing
The defining elements are, however, modern science, which is slowly taking over religious discourses of eschatology and language, and post-industrial society which will develop any monistic thought, regardless of origin, into a form of dualism. As for the similarities of Roswell to the quest for the Holy Grail, this seems more like an exercise in literary criticism than a sociological analysis, though it is intriguing. The first thing to note is that many of the parallels with the Grail that Brookesmith cites are those taken from extra-Semitic sources, like the turning wheel of Buddha and Ixion. (28)
Brookesmith doubts that there will ever be a real Sir Perceval to find the ufological Holy Grail. Perhaps so, but there are no end of pretenders. Bob Lazar is one such, and the similarity between him and Perceval is striking. Perceval was blighted by his guilty love for Guinevere, Arthur’s wife, while good ol’ Bob is similarly blighted with sexual misdeeds – like working at an illegal brothel in Nevada.
As for the location of the Grail in a desert or wasteland, that has parallels in a number of non-Westem faiths. In the traditional tribal cultures of Africa, boys are sent into the bush before initiation (which often takes the form of circumcision, another form of genital mutilation) to isolate them from civilised society. Their liminal geographical location – a physical wilderness – is matched by their role in the social wilderness – neither child nor adult, boy nor man. Quite often this is done to protect society, especially women, from the potent mystical powers generated by this indeterminate state. That is why so many tribal cultures cover their boys in wickerwork ‘spaceman’ suits, of the type cited by Von Daniken. To this may be added that the Plains Indians also sent their young men out on vision quests, to seek their identity through a unique personal vision.
The aliens are dangerous beings, and so, like the gods and visions of pre-industrial cultures, are found only in the wilderness. If the abduction experience is a kind of cosmic initiation, a true coming of age in the Milky Way, then the pursuit of the Roswell Grail is not just a quest for a relic to prove the material existence of the entities, but a search of all ufological society for maturity and identity. Without this, and its ‘true name’, ufology will truly remain locked in its age of infantilism.
- Brookesmith, P., ‘Communion Cups and Crashed Saucers, Part Three, Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch’, Magonia 63, p.3.
- Brookesmith, P., ibid, p. 3.
- Antsiferov, N.,’Iz Dum o Bylom: Vospominaniia’, quoted in Hagemeister, M., Russian Cosmism in the 1920s and Today, in Rosenthal, B.G., ed., The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, Cornell University Press, 1997, p. 193.
- Brookesmith, P., op. cit., p. 3.
- Hagemeister, M., Russian Cosmism in the 1920s and Today, in Rosenthal, B.G., ed., The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, p. 198.
- Lewis, J.S., Mining the Sky, Addison-Wesley, 1997, p. 26.
- Quoted in Regis, E., Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition, Penguin, 1990, p. 153.
- Regis, E., ibid, p. 154.
- Regis, E., ibid, p. 170.
- Regis, E., p. 172.
- Chizhevsky, A.L., ‘Stranitsy Vospominanii o K.E. Tsiolkovskom, in Khimia i Zhizn’, 1977, quoted in Hagemeister, M., op. cit., p. 198.
- Davies, P., Are We Alone? Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life, Penguin, 1995, p. 89.
- Davies, P., ibid, pp. 90-91.
- Boslough, J., Masters of Time, J.M. Dent, 1992, p. 88.
- Ellis, B., ‘American Gothic’, in Fortean Times, no. 100, pp. 35-36.
- For a discussion of the beliefs of this particular ufological new religion, see Perkins, R., and Jackson, F., ‘Spirit in the Sky’, in Fortean Times no. 109, pp. 24-26.
- Davies, P., op. cit., p. 90.
- Spencer, J. and A., Fifty Years of UFOs, Boxtree, 1997, p. 14.
- Sounders, D.R., and Harkins, R.R., UFOs? Yes!, quoted in Spencer, J. and A., ibid., p. 16.
- Jonas, H. The Gnostic Religion, Routledge, p. 147.
- Brookesmith, P., op. cit., p. 4.
- See Doresse, J., The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics, Hollis and Carter, 1960, pp. 292-293.
- Doresse, J., ibid, p. 295.
- Hollingdale, R.J., introduction to his translation of Schopenhauer, A., Essays and Aphorisms, Penguin, 1970, p. 31.
- Schopenhauer, A., and Hollingdale, R.J., trans., Essays and Aphorisms, p. 48.
- Hollingdale, R.J., op.cit., p. 34.
- Chadwick, D.H., ‘At the Crossroad of Kathmandu’, in National Geographic, vol. 172, no. 1, July 1987, p. 64.
- Brookesmith, P., op. cit., p. 10.
From Magonia 62, February 1998
In recent times the tragic suicide of 38 American UFO cult members has graphically illustrated the extremes that fixation and identification with alien life forms can have upon certain individuals. For not only did these troubled souls believe that by taking their lives they were also going to rendezvous with an extraterrestrial space ship that was skirting a comet’s tail, but several of them had even shaved their heads and castrated themselves (perhaps in an effort to mimic the purely cerebral, highly spiritual and, presumably, asexual appearance of the space creatures that tthey anticipated meeting).
Other UFO-related cases of unusual human behaviour involve the complete abandonment of highly sensitive listening posts by several US military personnel in Germany, so they might meet with a flying saucer that they believed was coming to Earth to pick them up, as well as the planned radioactive assassination of local government officials in New York State by UFO aficionados who thought that the authorities were covering up information about a saucer that had crashed near Long Island.
Of course, these are extreme examples and it would be totally unfair of me to paint the entire UFO subculture with the same brush. For many saucer buffs are intelligent, hard-working and well-meaning folks and it is, in fact, precisely because of their good intentions and belief in the UFO phenomenon that they can be easily manipulated and exploited by charismatic, unscrupulous and deluded individuals who may be operating within the saucer movement itself.Interestingly, in the early days of UFO charlatanism, the schemes (much like the developing UFO phenomenon) lacked the sophistication of today’s technological-sounding scams, which not only include an array of bogus classified documents, photos, video footage and crashed saucer artifacts, but also the sanction of a growing number of credulous professionals who treat abductees and reportedly help them to deal with the post-traumatic stress and lingering anxiety of repeated experiences with alien beings that had kidnapped and abused them.
All this at the insistence (and, in many instances, the direction) of self-proclaimed UFO abduction experts, who often lack anysort of medical training or certifica-tion in clinical or forensic hypnosis.
ASK NOT WHAT A SUPER-TECHNOLOGICAL ALIEN CIVILISATION CAN DO FOR YOU, ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP STRAIGHTEN OUT THE MESS RIGHT HERE ON PLANET EARTH!
The reported transformational effect of the abduction experience is believed to involve a spiritual, philosophical and intellectual heightening of the individual’s self awareness through a continuing process of contact and educational interaction with alien intelligences that have selected the abductees for some specific purpose.
Several experts believe that the purpose of abduction is grounded in the immediate wants and needs of the aliens who are, apparently, attempting to bolster their own faltering genetic pool through a clone-splicing technique that they have perfected in order to thwart their impending extinction.Several other UFO experts feel that the benevolent aliens are concerned about our own planet’s ever-mounting ecological, sociological and political woes; and that they have been visiting this world and covertly contacting some of its inhabitants in preparation for a kind of social reorganisation which will supposedly take place after the Earth goes through a period of dramatic changes (e.g. the result of a global catastrophe such as a nuclear holocaust, a complete ecological melt-down, a world-wide plague, or a bewildering series of natural disasters). In fact, it has even been suggested that the planet itself may be knocked off its axis by a rogue asteroid and entire continents might be swept away – beneath the angriest of seas.
Still other reported after-effects of contacts with the alien Greys, as they are commonly called in UFO circles, are said to include a sense of cosmic consciousness (or, the magnified awareness of one’s oneness with the universe), the occasional spontaneous cure or remission of various physical, immunological, emotional and psychological disorders, as well as the abductees experiencing marked changes in their career choices, personal interests and long-term goals.
But, beyond all of the above, human contact with the aliens has also produced marked alterations in the way the abductee perceives him or herself, even to the point of their experiencing sexual identity difficulties and/or gross distortions of self, which includes the questioning of their even belonging to the human race or feeling any sort of allegiance to it. That the abductees would identify, sympathise and voice open affection for their captors is not an unknown psychological phenomenon. But, that the abductees would so readily cast off their humanity and profess partial (i.e., hybrid) or total kinship with their alien captors does seem to open the door to much deeper contemplation.
THE LANGUAGE OF THE UNCONSCIOUS
The problem, of course, is that few abduction experts have the requisite medical training to fully comprehend the dangers of hypnotically probing the unconscious mind of the individuals they matter of factly call the abductees – a term which automatically confirms as physically real the very confusing experiences which these perplexed individuals have sought out the experts for. But, even worse than that, the term sets them up for additional experiences, simply because it is common knowledge throughout the UFO community that the Greys always come back for the abductees, and their children too! Perhaps it was this expectation and fear that led a woman in the UK to kill her young grandchildren before they would be kidnapped by aliens?
Beyond this, the UFO ‘experts’ lack of perception regarding the marked psychical background of the so-called abduction experience (i.e., its mythopoeic make-up and dream-like contradictory content) means that the experts must keep coming up with new (and often ridiculous) explanations of how and why the aliens might do something that is obviously nonsensical in character (e.g., the little Greys can reportedly levitate at will, lift and carry the much larger and heavier humans that they have captured – yet, they often walk their victims to their waiting space craft and climb stairs into its hatchway, even though they reportedly filtered through the locked doors and brick walls of the abductee’s home only moments before).
Yet another obvious contradiction pops up in the reports when the dematerialising aliens use metallic instruments to perform invasive surgical procedures upon their human captives, especially when they are also alleged to be capable of inducing the abductees’ bodies to dematerialise as well.
Moreover, today’s medical practitioners can routinely perform similar gynaecological procedures to those that the aliens reportedly employ, but without producing the marked fear and pain which so frequently characterise the medical aspects of the abduction experience.
ENCOUNTERS WITH THE UNKNOWN
In many instances, man’s encounters with the unknown were believed to be real contacts with gods, spirits, or demons of various description, and often involved the experiencer being whisked off to magical realms beneath the Earth or sea, high upon a mountain, deep within the forest, or in the firmament above.
Today’s abduction reports often feature similar mythological settings in their scenarios (albeit with a technological accent) and we even discover reports of UFO interiors which have earthen floors and shag rug wall-to-wall carpeting (Indeed, dirt floors in a supposedly highly advanced and medically sterile space craft.) In fact, the UFO which reportedly kidnapped Linda Cortile (the central figure in Budd Hopkins’s book Witnessed) was said to have plunged into the Hudson River with all hands on board rather than flitting off into the starry sky with its cargo of human captives. So, the question immediately arises – was the craft a sub-UFO from Earth’s inner space or an ill-fated space craft from outer space?
While it seems perfectly normal for modern man to dismiss the idea that wee folks, fairies, leprechauns, and hobgoblins actually existed and occasionally interfaced with our forbears, a great many people living in very sophisticated societies as little as a century ago absolutely did believe that such tales were true. Indeed, some folks even believe it to this very day. The point is that, in a hundred years or so, it may be that our contemporary beliefs in UFOs and the pint-sized creatures that pilot them will also become a curiously amusing fact, especially when one considers that the UFO legend’s tales are so highly characteristic of our society and our times (i.e., an era in which our own space-conquering aspirations have been projected upon an array of alien intelligences that we assume to be flourishing somewhere in the cosmos – a fact that Dr C.G. Jung pointed out over forty years ago in his landmark book Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies).
In short, we may be lifting our eyes, minds, hopes, and hearts to the skies in search of a super-technological deity instead of the supernatural god that our ancestors worshipped. We may be yearning for an answer to our tiny planet’s ever-mounting problems – fantasising and, in so doing, inventing a new-age panacea (or super-advanced technological response) to the dark side of our own sciences and technologies, and the nuclear/ toxic demons that we have unwit-tingly created and unleashed upon ourselves.
That this panacea should take the form of little creatures with swollen heads that are choc-full of intelligence and good will towards mankind (instead of a host of angels with blaring trumpets bursting through the firmament), informs us that a growing faith in advanced sciences and technology has woven its way into our culture’s unconscious, even to the point that UFOs (i.e., the symbol of the panacea) have been invested with the power of bringing salvation to mankind. A power which they do not possess and in no way deserve.
Man has always feared and revered strange and awesome things that he’s seen in the skies – he had recorded his perceptions upon cave walls, clay tablets, and video camcorders. Perhaps knowing what the signs in the skies actually were never was as important as what the observer believed they were, and the tremendous impact that such beliefs have had upon the human psyche.
Perhaps UFOs have always played a part in the living experience of man. Perhaps they have been called soul-sparks by the ancients and space ships by today’s observers. Perhaps, too, their operators have been known as angels, demons, wee-folks, and Greys. Are these creatures from outer space, inner space, or a space and time existing somewhere in between these divisional concepts? Do they seek to contact us consciously, unconsciously, or on a spiritual level?
UFOS AND INKBLOTS
Like many great artists, Leonardo Da Vinci was fully aware of the inner mind’s ability to well up images, and we find that even his friend and colleague Piero Di Cosimo commented in his writings on how many wonderful creatures could be found hidden in the stains of masonry work. Of course, we’ve all had some personal childhood experience with seeing various animal shapes in cloud formations; and, if one tries hard enough, quite a few other imaginary things can be spotted lurking in the shadows of leafy trees too.
In the early 1900s, Dr Hermann Rorschach (a Swiss psychiatric pioneer) effectively demonstrated that extraordinarily meaningful material buried deep in an individual’s subconscious could be brought to the surface by having that person attentively mull over a series of ink blots in an effort to describe what they saw in them.
In most instances, just about everyone tends to see the same kind of things in fluffy clouds and Dr Rorschach’s ink-blot plates simply because the general shape of the visually perceived external object that they are gazing at does bear some degree of similarity to a mentally stored image of some other object that they are comparing it to. But, it seems that after one’s initial comparative or reductive processes have been exhausted regarding Rorschach’s ambiguous ink blots, some unusual things start to happen to a person’s perceptive abilities. This also appears to be the case in many UFO observations, and may even play an important role in the close-encounter experiences that occasionally follow them.
As any seasoned field investigator can tell you, quite often the play of reflected sunlight or cloud shadowing upon an otherwise easily discernible abject (such as a commercial airliner’s fuselage) may create false optical cues that can cause a person to misidentify the aircraft and call it a UFO. What’s more, because the startled UFO observer does not have the opportunity to replay the incident and, therefore, cannot possibly verify his or her observation, they may not ever realise that they have mistakenly identified a fixed-wing aircraft for an unidentified flying object.
Interestingly, it seems that even though an individual undergoing Rorschach testing has the opportunity to take a good long look at a particular Rorschach plate, nevertheless the general shape and even the coloration of the ink blot tends to play an important role in the mental formulation of the kind of things that he or she will see in it. This may be a very important factor for UFO researchers to consider because the changing size, shape and coloration of a fleeting UFO or its pulsating lighting may produce (or induce) similar effects upon the experi-encer’s perceptive skills.
Considering the adverse effect that shadow, distance, darkness, and poor weather conditions might have upon an individual’s optical acuity at the time of their sighting – it seems reasonable to suspect that UFO watching, much like ink-blot gazing, primarily involves the observation of a strange object or some pattern of ambiguous lights that are usually seen against the backdrop of a night-time sky.
So, it is not surprising that one’s best attempts to positively identify the object (or the distant lights) are going to become embellished with subjective (apperceptive) phenomena that form around the object, or may tend to fill in the empty space that is situated in between the mysterious points of light – investing them with not only a structural configuration, but also volition and, in some cases, even questionable intent. Naturally, these attributes are projected upon the unknown object by the observer as a result of their emotional and intuitive responses to the situational and confrontational character of their UFO encounter; and, once that happens, their UFO experience broadens and deepens, taking on a subjective tone which may also in-clude the active influence of very primitive introjective processes (i.e., assuming that the object is intelligently guided or that the UFO operators have specifically selected the observer for some reason).
All of these factors must be seriously considered by the objective UFO researcher simply because one cannot be certain which percentage of UFO reports are generated by the observation of space craft from another world (or holographic imagery that is transmitted by an alien civilisation), as opposed to those that may have their origin in the depths of man’s inner space – that is, his unconscious mind. And, of course, there is also the distinct possibility that the UFO experience is both objective and subjective in nature, and that separation of the two is simply beyond our investigative skills.
This appears to be the case where a physically real airborne object (be it a misidentification of some sort, or a real UFO) is observed and then the observer projects his or her own psychical contents upon it – very much like what happens during Rorschach testing experiences.
In his landmark psychological exploration of the UFO phenomenon, Dr C.G. Jung identified the basic discoidal (or round) UFO configuration as being similar to that of a meditative mantra and several other symbolic manifestations of the self which, as we know from our studies of depth psychology, is a very important archetype that tends to spontaneously appear to individuals when there is a profound emotional need present in their lives, or when they are caught up in a seemingly hopeless or overwhelming situation. Both of these prerequisites seem to fit the above mentioned UFO experience model which speculatively describes the UFO encounter as being a kind of display or the symbolic equivalent of some internal conflict that is unconsciously troubling but, nevertheless, affecting the observers at the time of their UFO encounter.
I am not alone with this estimate of the UFO situation, for several other researchers have come to similar conclusions regarding a display factor in UFO events and, quite recently, Dr R. Leo Sprinkle (noted psychologist/ufologist of Laramie, Wyoming) has presented a paper on the psychical analysis of UFO experiences which echoes Dr C. G. Jung’s assertion that the UFO may be (at least in part) a symbolic representation of the observer’s self. But these guestimates are based upon present-day UFO reports and the investigative data that today’s researchers are gathering. It would also bee interesting to attempt to determine what impact the presence of such ambiguous aerial objects may have had upon our forebears.
CAVE ART AND UFOS
Curiously, UFO-like shapes and forms have been discovered amidst the human and animal forms depicted in Palaeolithic and Neolithic cave art which is generally thought to have been created during the time when man’s consciousness was first developing (i.e., roughly one million years ago). These, too, are believed to have been produced while early man was involved with welling up mentally stored images of the many animals that he hunted and feared. But, unlike the beautiful deer, bison and horses that appear to have been repeatedly drawn in the same area of the caves and were apparently used for some kind of hunting magic ritual, these unusual circles, braces and chevrons were not drawn in layers and are believed by many experts to have had an independent mythology connected to them. Interestingly,squares, chevrons, and a series of circles and dots commonly called recall-benders frequently pop up in Rorschach testing too.
Although there may be a number of possible explanations for the existence of the UFO-like cave drawings, two seem to be the most plausible. Either the cave man recorded his real-world encounter with such objects, or he dreamed of such forms and the dreams had such a profound impact on him in the waking state that he wanted to share his experience with his contemporaries.
In either case, it appears that these UFO-like shapes were considered important enough to merit separate space upon the cave walls, for they are not pitted and marred like the animal depictions which have obviously been subjected to many missile impacts that probably occurred during a hunting magic ritual. In other words, the UFO-like drawings have been afforded a separate space within the caves, and they probably had an entirely separate mythology associated with them.
The experts on cave art seem to be somewhat perplexed by these drawings and, of course, opinions vary quite a bit regarding their possible meaning. The so-called brackets are often thought to be a stylised version of the female form about to receive male sexuality, while some experts feel that the brackets may be related to the sexual aggression of the cave man himself.
One thing seems certain. These forms are totally unlike anything that is thought to have existed in the cave man’s natural environment. They appear to be symmetrical, possibly aerodynamic in design, and they also have a modern-day technological look about them. While they may not actually be depictions of UFOs, one must admit that they certainly do look a great deal like sketches that today’s observers produce regarding their en
counters with alien space vehicles.
Dare we ponder the notion that contact with alien intelligences could be channelled through the vast reaches of man’s inner space (i.e., his unconscious mind) and that such contacts may have been going on since mankind’s conscious dawning? Dare we believe that human inner space is just as vast, wondrous and awesome as outer space and that we have barely touched the surface of the mysteries and wonders that lie within its depths? Indeed, depths from which the UFOs themselves may hail?
No matter how far we reach out amongst the stars, we must always bear in mind that in our outreaching lies a human motive, and that the further we reach the deeper the want, the need, the fear, or the desire is to touch the face of the unknown.
As we are about to enter the 21st century, we might do well to note that despite our new sciences and great technological advance
ments we are still linked to our distant ancestors and carry the essence of their being within us. Have we become so estranged from this primal fabric that signals from it are thought to be attempted communications from an alien world? What is the signal in the noise of UFO reports? And, even more importantly, why is it being picked up by so many people at this particular point in human history?
Although Hermann Rorschach’s work with the phenomenon of human perception (its alteration or distortion) is generally applied to the diagnosis of pathology, some experts feel that it might be an error to assume that it is not also a viable method for studying the workings of perceptual phenomena in normals too. Dynamic UFO Displays may be one of many such phenomena, for the sudden and oft-times riveting perception of a Dynamic Display or close encounter may trigger a projection function that displaces some of the excess psychical energy (libido) assigned to an internal conflict that may be adversely affecting an individual. Thus, the Dynamic Display variety of UFO experience may bethought of as a self-regulating function of the psyche which is induced into activity by intrusive sensory stimulation (i.e., the impact of encountering a UFO) as opposed to the tranquil meditative process of Rorschach plate scrutiny.
Even in cases where the UFO investigator is completely unable to resolve the UFO report as a misidentification of a conventional airborne object (or perhaps an atmospheric anomaly of some kind), he or she is still left with the opportunity to examine the observer’s recollection of what the unidentified flying object looked like, how it appeared to operate and, of course, how it may have interacted with them.
This is most valuable information because, if we are correct about the UFO’s image and its interactive performance being dramatic representations of the observer’s self condition , we can learn something about the UFO experience’s meaningfulness in regard to the observer’s wants, needs, fears and expectations, along with something about the general make up of their defensive shielding. Indeed, we might consider a Dynamic UFO Display as a form of self-perception and communication that is triggered by the UFO’s presence in our skies – and even more importantly – in ouy lives.
IS THE SIGNAL SYMBOLIC?
In order to interpret the symbolic materials that well up during the subject’s observation and interaction with the UFO, the investigator must attempt to determine what the UFO (as an image) may actually represent on the one hand (e.g., a misi-dentification of some physical and external airborne object/s, or perhaps a totally unknown anomaly) and how that object’s image and behaviour might be symbolically linked to the psychology of the observer/s on the other hand. It is also apparent that what is observed during a UFO experience and how it is emotionally perceived and responded to is not solely determined by the observer’s conscious estimation of his or her UFO encounter, but also by the active influence of a mixed bag of intrapsychical forces that come into play during the event.
Since we suspect that the primary sensory stimulation (which is visual in most UFO cases) and the observer’s logical estimation of the experience concerning the size, shape, colouring and nearness of the object, is also backed up by emotional, intuitive and instinctual inputs that quickly flow across intrapsychic structures during the event, the UFO researcher should be on the look out for any bits and pieces or archetypal and/or instinctual debris that may be clinging to the observer’s account of their encounter with an unidentified flying object or its occupants.
In regard to this process, it seems that the altered or distorted form of perception which is instigated into activity by the ambiguity of the ink-blot plates in the case of Rorschach testing, and the often-times equally ambiguous, though obviously much more shocking, process of UFO watching primarily involves the subject’s complete fixation with the object, and a general falling away (or perhaps the total absorption) of their reality testing during the experience (e.g., Well, it was quite dark that night and at first I thought it was an aeroplane, or maybe a helicopter … but, then, as it hovered just above my head, I slowly realised that it was something unlike I’d ever seen before ).
Dynamic UFO Display case studies graphically illustrate that UFO researchers do have the ability to identify the symbolic contents in UFO reports which relate to both the observer’s personal life conflicts and even those that may be considered to be far more rudimentary (or archetypal) in character.
THE UFO SIGHTING AND ITS POTENTIALLY BENEFICIAL EFFECT?
If certain visually perceived imagery such as that found in Rorschach’s plates and some UFO configurations do have the ability to deeply penetrate the human psyche and induce the displacement of archetypal symbols, subconscious contents, and psychic energy, we are obliged to further examine this remarkable phenomenon in an attempt to determine if there may be some therapeutic application for such a process.
Perhaps the cinematic replication (i.e., animation or computer animation) of UFO-like imagery which may be custom-designed from the information gathered by the therapist during counselling sessions with his or her patients might be as effective a tool as the purely mentally generated images that guided imagery practitioners presently attempt to direct at an array of physical, emotional and immunological disorders. Perhaps the sudden impact on perceiving a Dynamic UFO Display may enhance or surpass the effectiveness of the passive guided imagery techniques because of its highly confrontational character and deeply penetrating impact on the observer(s).
Perhaps, too, this same sort of psychical shock was the driving force that first nudged early man to conceive of things that did not yet exist, but surely would some day, simply because he could create them.
From Magonia 92, June 2006
While attacking the `Nazi UFO’ myth a few years ago, I found that many of the sources assuring us that the Nazis went to Mars, or the Antarctic, or used their ‘foo fighters’ to shoot down 200 Allied bombers in one (oddly unidentified) raid also had much to say about the ‘Spear of Destiny’. This led me to concentrate on what is probably the greatest one-book occult hoax ever – Trevor Ravenscroft’s highly successful, highly influential, The Spear of Destiny (‘Spear‘ hereafter). Ravenscroft died in 1989, so I haven’t been able to check this piece with him.
You’ll probably have some idea of the story, because it’s at the heart of most of the belief in Hitler and the Nazis being involved with the occult, and possessing supernatural powers. Pauwels and Bergier, in The Morning of the Magicians, did some of the groundwork, but it is Ravenscroft who has promoted Hitler as not just fascinated by the occult from his time in Vienna onwards, but hugely knowledgeable about it, and imbued with its power through ritual and through his possession of the ultimate magical object. The object concerned is a tatty, much-repaired old spear, constructed from disparate bits, that Ravenscroft says cut short the life of Jesus on the Cross. It didn’t. The most accurate analysis of the ‘Hofburg Spear’ dates its very earliest component to the seventh century.
Ravenscroft’s Hitler fantasy is complex, lengthy, and when analysed utterly implausible. It is a total fabrication, and even the background history he provides is, as recorded in Ken Anderson’s Hitler and the Occult (Prometheus, 1995) wholly undependable.
Like many fantasists, Ravenscroft pretends that he has a source for his story, a source with a unique, personal knowledge of both Hitler and the occult who, for reasons never explained, told only Ravenscroft about what he knew. The name of the source is Walter Johannes Stein, an Austrian and a devoted follower of Dr Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Anthroposophical movement. He had a Ph.D but was not, contrary to the impression Ravenscroft gave at times, a medical doctor. His thesis appears to have been predominantly mystical, as was most of his life’s work. It is likely that Ravenscroft never met Stein, though he may have met his widow, and may also have believed that he had contacted Stein psychically himself, or through a medium.Stein died in 1957, and the first edition of Spear appeared in 1972. In it, Ravenscroft claimed that:
“In 1911 Stein had found a copy of Parsifal that had been annotated with occult insights by the young Hitler, tracked him down, and was impressed by his vast knowledge of the occult and his desire to own the Spear, which they went together to see. As Hitler rose through the ranks of the Right in Germany he was progressively initiated into magic, and the same day that the German army invaded Austria, he went to the Hofburg to take possession of the Spear, which somehow facilitated his power and his conquests Stein left Germany in 1933 because Himmler was going to force him to join the ‘SS Occult Bureau’.”Stein was a British intelligence agent who brought with him from Germany the plans for the German invasion of Britain [in 1933?], and advised Churchill on occult matters throughout the war.”
And much more besides. But Stein never was, and never did, any of those things.
The Internet is of little use – the Ravenscroft version of Stein’s life will take years to expunge – but Stein’s The Death of Merlin (Floris Books, 1990) reprints the autobiography he published in his own magazine The Present Age in 1936. It covers his time in Vienna, but makes no mention of Hitler or the Spear. In The Ninth Century and the Holy Grail (originally published in 1928 but now Temple Lodge Press, 2001) Stein refers to the ‘Holy Spear’ or ‘Lance’ in its role in the Grail Legend. No mention of it in the 20th century, or of Hitler. And in the substantial W J Stein – A Biography (Temple Lodge Press, 1990), Johannes Tautz makes no reference to any of the key elements of Ravenscroft’s account. Spear might be a biography of somebody else entirely. Actually, it pretty much is.
Spear was first commissioned and published by Neville Spearman, the British publisher responsible for so much core ‘alternative’ writing. In his ’part-autobiography’ Catching Up with the Future, Neville Armstrong describes Ravenscroft as “rather a foolish, twisted chap who had considerable esoteric knowledge wrongly used”, and notes that the only time he took drugs was when Ravenscroft gave them to him. After receiving a £2,000 advance Ravenscroft disappeared, providing nothing in return. Eventually, Armstrong tracked him down and paid him weekly until the book – clearly not yet written more than a decade after Stein’s death – was finished. Armstrong sold the American rights alone for over $50,000, a great deal of money thirty years ago. The wretched thing has been in print, and making money, ever since.
I found that the story wasn’t even Ravenscroft’s idea. It originated in an article by the well-known journalist Max Caulfield, published in the Sunday Dispatch in 1960, apparently using information from Stein’s archives provided by his widow (presumably this was Yopi, his second wife, of whom his Anthroposophist friends do not seem to have approved). That article, too, is wildly inaccurate. In it, the Spear really is the one used on Jesus Christ, an imaginary ‘SS Colonel Conrad Buch, personal adviser to Adolf Hitler on occult matters’ is heavily involved, and Streicher, Himmler and Goering perform ‘blood lodge’ rituals using Hitler’s blood.
But its headings are critical to Ravenscroft’s later claims. Its title is ‘`The Spear of Destiny’, and the sub-headings read, ‘How Hitler lived by the weapon thrust into Christ’, ’Revealed for the first time the incredible truth about Hitler’s worship of the Devil’, and ‘This talisman, he thought, would bring to his aid all the Powers of Darkness.’
One persistent clue to the standard occult hoax is the appearance of gratuitous, imagined cruelty. Two examples will suffice here. First, Ravenscroft pretends that Stein told him about “… the Jews or Communists … sacrificial victims who were murdered … as part of the ritual magic in which Dietrich Eckart opened the centres of Adolf Hitler to give him a vision of and a means of communication … they were incredibly sadistic and ghastly.’”
Eckart never opened Hitler’s centres, and there is no evidence that any ritual sacrifice was made. Yet Ravenscroft creates an even worse, sickeningly violent fantasy. He claims that Stein discovered that Himmler, wanting to continue the Final Solution and rid Europe of Jews, copied a non-existent pseudo-homeopathic experiment he claimed was conducted by Rudolf Steiner to drive rabbits off an estate in Silesia by distributing across it the ‘potentised ashes’ of rabbit testicles in solution.
He explained that The Spear of Destiny had been researched using a combination of empirical techniques and use of a psychic medium
Ravenscroft’s develops his fiction, stating that Himmler ordered experiments in which the ashes of Jews were injected into other Jews. These victims were, he asserts in a cruel, fictional, aside, ”kept inside by the prison foreman Arthur Dietzsche witha cat-of-nine-tails.” The experiments were complicated, says Ravenscroft, because “the potentised ashes only achieved their maximum functional effect at particular times of year, for apparently such potencies were sensitive to extraterrestrial influences in the manner that the phases of the moon affect plant germination and growth.”Then, says Ravenscroft, the potentised ashes of concentration-camp Jews were spread “across the length and breadth of the Reich”. Of the exodus of surviving Jews from Europe he asks, “Was it the result of this diabolical form of pest control?” No, it wasn’t, but the unremitting darkness of Ravenscroft’s fantasies is underlined by this extraordinary passage.
When, in 1980, Ravenscroft successfully sued the horror writer James Herbert for copyright infringement in his novel The Spear (the case reference is Ravenscroft v Herbert  RPC 193), he explained that The Spear of Destiny had been researched “using a combination of empirical techniques and use of a psychic medium”, and was awarded substantial damages.
The 1973 UK edition of Spear says of Ravenscroft, ”He was captured on a raid which attempted to assassinate Field Marshal Rommel in North Africa.” And he told the court the same. But as the respected war author Michael Asher explains in Get Rommel (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2004), Ravenscroft was already a POW when the raid took place, having given himself up when an earlier reconnaissance went wrong.Recently there have been suggestions that Ravenscroft knew about the importance of Rosslyn Chapel years before the current theories became fashionable, and that his wife had for some unexplained reason had chained herself to the Apprentice Pillar. It’s easy to forget how recent the Rosslyn story is, but even Holy Blood Holy Grail gives it only a brief mention. It will be interesting to see whether Ravenscroft becomes to the Grail/Templar/Mason writers what Stein supposedly was to Ravenscroft.
For anyone who might want to believe that Ravenscroft had the least idea what he was talking about, I’d like to finish by sharing with you his prophecy of the end times, vouchsafed to us at pages 143-144 of the relatively obscure follow-up to Spear, The Cup of Destiny (1982):
“At the end of this century the Order of the Knights Templar will re-emerge to change the whole existing social order. This will take place in the period immediately following the coming world catastrophies, which will commence in 1982 and continue in three terrible waves of destruction up to the year 2001 on an apocalyptic scale. During the struggle to rebuild the civilised world, the anti-Christ and the great dictator will attempt to seize world power. Their adversaries will be the reborn Templars and the souls they shall choose to join them in rebuilding a new world order in which the freedom of the individual spirit will find its true place. Throughout this period, that mighty spirit behind the figure of Parzival will be their heroic and beloved leader.”
Gareth Medway looks at the writers who developed the Ancient Astronaut concept, and why that belief system proved so popular. (From Magonia 57, September 1996)
R.L.Dione’s God Drives a Flying Saucer (Corgi, 1973; 1st ed. 1969) sneers at traditional metaphysics: “… no system of logic yet devised can resolve the inconsistencies and paradoxes inherent in the belief that man is inhabited by a mystical, supernatural and immortal something called a soul.”
Turning to the Bible, what is to be made of the miracles recorded there? Dione can find no reason to doubt the Bible’s accuracy: “…if it were not for the references to miracles, the Bible would stand unchallenged as a monumental achievement in historical reporting.”
The possibility of supernatural powers he finds absurd, therefore the only explanation is that flying saucer technology was at work. After that, everything becomes simple: Adam and Eve were created by genetic engineers working under the direction of God, who is the “leader of the master technologists”; angels were spacemen; Ezekiel’s vision was of flying saucers; as to the Immaculate Conception, it is “reasonably certain” that Gabriel was a “biological specialist” who artificially inseminated Mary with a hypodermic needle; and “it may well be that the sperm used was God’s making Jesus the Son of God just as the Bible teaches.”
Yet in the end Dione’s super-technological God is hardly different from the supernatural one of the Catholics. We don’t have souls, but technology can make our minds, which are electromagnetic in nature, immortal: “God will choose which of us will survive as angels in heaven … by analysing the references of our guardian angels and by studying the monitoring tapes which are at this moment recording our lives.”
Dione’s original background was evidently in the Roman church, since he gave a whole chapter to Fatima, and quoted the Bible in a revised version of the Douay translation. David F. McConnell, in his Flying Saucers of the Lord (Economy Printing Company, Miami, Horida, 1969) used the King James translation (and so was presumably brought up a Protestant), but his interpretations were very similar to Diane’s:
“Exodus 13:21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way,- and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light, to go by day and night. This was a case of a flying saucer or saucers of the Lord leading the children of Israel through the wilderness of the Red Sea…. Psalm 97:3 A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about. The flying saucers of the Lord with the angels go before the Lord and burn up his enemies.”
A Question of Faith
Up until about 1950 religion seemed to be everywhere in decline, whilst science and materialism increased, apparently in the direction of universal atheism. One of the standard objections to religion was that the Bible is full of miracles, which the progress of science had indicated to be impossible. The Book of Joshua records that God, at the request of Joshua, stopped the sun in its movement for the space of a whole day. In ancient times this did not seem odd; after Newton, it was difficult to believe.
1950 saw the publication of Immanuel Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision. Though its author may not have consciously realised it, the intent of this book seems to have been a reconciliation of science and religion.
Velikovsky being Jewish, for him religion meant the Old Testament. He suggested that many of the Biblical wonders could be explained in wholly scientific terms as being catastrophes brought about by the wanderings of the planets Venus and Mars. He considered that Venus only came into existence a few thousand years ago, when it was blown out of Jupiter. About 1500 BC it came close to Earth, causing various dramatic gravitational effects such as the parting of the Red Sea, and the halting of the motion of the sun mentioned above. Eventually it reached its present orbit, which was then occupied by Mars. Venus settled in Mars’ orbit, and Mars was driven away from the sun, passing Earth during the middle of the period covered by the Biblical Book of Kings, causing various further apparent miracles.
Dr Velikovsky was a friend of both Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein, and evidently expected that his name would one day stand alongside theirs. He was disappointed: though Worlds in Collision was first issued by the respected academic publishers Macmillan of New York, not only did scientific writers denounce it, but universities threatened to boycott Macmillan’s entire book list so long as Velikovsky’s work remained on it. So they transferred the rights to Doubleday, who did not have a textbook business, and despite all the criticism it sold well for decades. Though there were perfectly legitimate objections to Velikovsky’s theories on astronomical grounds, this excessive reaction leads one to suspect that his opponents were unconsciously aware of the book’s hidden religious agenda, and that was what they objected to.
The idea of Ancient Astronauts was toyed with as far back as 1919 by Charles Fort in The Book of the Damned.
* * *
In a sense, Velikovsky was firmly within the Rabbinical tradition, which is that anything and everything can be found in the Torah (Law of God). In the 12th century, when Aristotelian philosophy became popular amongst the Jews, Rabbis claimed to find it all in their scriptures. Aristotle taught that there are three parts to the soul: the animal soul, the rational soul, and the divine soul. Now, the Biblical Hebrew word for ‘soul’ is nephesh, but once or twice ruach and neshamah, both of which mean ‘wind’ or ‘breath’ and are used in the sense ‘breath of life. (Genesis 2:7: “And the Lord God formed Adam of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the neshamah of life; and Adam became a living nephesh.) So it was explained that nephesh was the animal soul, ruach the rational soul, and neshamah the divine soul. Having by such means discovered the whole of Aristotle’s system within their sacred books, they declared that Aristotle must have travelled to Jerusalem and learnt from the Jews.
The idea of Ancient Astronauts was toyed with as far back as 1919 by Charles Fort in The Book of the Damned. It also become a regular theme in science fiction. Notably, in November 1947, Fantastic Stories had a short story ‘Son of the Sun’, in the form of a message from an extra-terrestrial, who tells the human race that the craft now being seen in the skies (this was a few months after the start of the first flying saucer wave) have visited the Earth long ago: their occupants were formerly confused with gods. They left behind “certain landmarks” in Egypt and elsewhere. The author of this piece, ‘Alexander Blade’, was none other than Brinsley le Poer Trench, subsequent author of a series of books on the theme, from The Sky People (Neville Spearman, 1960) onwards.
The first substantial treatment was by Desmond Leslie in Flying Saucers Have Landed, which appeared three years after Worlds in Collision. After some account of modern UFOs, Leslie suddenly jumped back thousands of years to Atlantis, In those days people flew around in machines called vimanas, of which it was written: “… their outside surface was apparently seamless and perfectly smooth, and they shone in the dark as if coated with luminous paint.” (FSHL, p.81, quoting W. Scott Elliott, The Story of Atlantis)
These were not the earliest flying saucers: in fact, human life was first brought to Earth from Venus by the Lords of the Flame, on whom Leslie, quoted from the Stanzas of Dzyan:
The Lords of the Flame arose and prepared themselves … the Great Lord of the Fourth Sphere (the Earth) awaited their oncoming. The lower (Earth) was prepared. The upper (Venus) was resigned …” Their arrival was described thus: “Then with the mighty roar of swift descent from incalculable heights, surrounded by blazing masses of fire which filled the sky with shooting tongues of flame, the vessel of the Lords of the flame flashed through the aerial spaces. It halted over the White Island which lay in the Gobi Sea, Green it was, and radiant with the first blossoms as Earth offered her fairest and best to welcome her King.” (FSHL, p.166, quoting Besant and Leadbeater, Man: How, Whence and Whither) Leslie commented: “In this fragment we have the first account of the landing of a great space ship or flying saucer … Incredible as it seems, there can be no other meaning to this passage,”
He dated this landing to the year 18,617,841 BC…
In view of the sensational conclusions, one might ask, just how reliable are the sources? This question did not seem to occur to Leslie, His main authorities are given as the Stanzas of Dzyan, along with the writings of Annie Besant, Charles Leadbeater, W. Scott Elliott and Alice Bailey. The Stanzas of Dzyan were first published in Madame Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine, introduced with the description: “An archaic Manuscript – a collection of palm leaves made impermeable to water, fire and air, by some specific and unknown process – is before the writer’s eye.” Unfortunately, this book does not seem to have lain before the eye of anyone else, and Madame Blavatsky herself probably only saw it with clairvoyant vision. It can therefore be reasonably objected that it is a matter of faith, rather than historical record, to accept its account of the Lords of the Flame. Furthermore, the information given by Besant, Leadbeater, Scott Elliott and Bailey was also obtained by psychic investigation, (The date 18,617,841 was “according to the Brahmin Tables”.)
“As soon as we abandon our own reason, and are content to rely upon authority, there is no end to our troubles. Whose authority? The Old Testament? The New Testament? The Koran? In practice, people choose the book considered sacred by the community in which they are born, and out of that book they choose the parts they like, ignoring the others .,. No Catholic, for instance, takes seriously the text which says that a Bishop should be the husband of one wife.” (Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays, 1950, p. 108)
Now, Leslie’s main authorities were Theosophical writers, and though the Theosophical Society might deny it, Theosophy is in effect a religion, with the writings of Blavatsky, Besant and Co. as its scriptures. Desmond Leslie was evidently a Theosophist, and he was merely updating his Victorian religion to encompass the new phenomenon of flying saucers.
To be fair, he was also able to cite some unquestionably ancient books, notably the Mahabharata, which mentions flying ships and lethal armaments such as the “Brahma Weapon” described in terms comparable to a nuclear bomb. Yet the Mahabharata is itself a sacred book to the Hindus. Some years ago I met an Indian Guru who was on his way to California. He said his original home was a cave in the Himalayas, which was equipped with its own television set. He explained that they had to get one in order to see the dramatisation of the Mahabharata, as it was a religious duty to watch it.
For most westerners, of course, religion means Christianity and scripture the Bible. The 1956 appearance of Morris K. Jessup’s UFO and the Bible (Citadel Press, New York) was overdue: he began by saying: “Scarcely a week goes by without some alert reader sending me suggestions that I should expound on the Biblical references to UFO and related phenomena of a so-called miraculous type.”
Jessup started from the position: “I believe that it is time for Church and Science to bury their respective tomahawks and let the pipe of intellectual peace glow as both parties mellow around the camp fire of tolerant and objective inquiry.” As an example of the reconciliation of these two sides, take Kings 2:11: “And it come to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” Jessup quoted a “skilled and thoughtful student of the Bible” a Mr H. Lawrence Crowell, as saying that “the Aramaic words ruach cearah should be translated ‘power blast’ instead of ‘whirlwind’.” He could thus offer a new version:
As they walked and talked there suddenly appeared a bright UFO, emitting electric sparks and blasts, and it parted them: Elijah was snatched up into the sky with a blast of power.”Having once hit on this principle of interpretation, other miracles are easily explained. Considering such passages as: “… and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17): “And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind” (Psalm 18:10), Jessup commented: “No longer can we afford to laugh off these references as merely ‘quaint’ and allegoric, for they begin to sound more and more like accurate descriptions of the UFO.”
Pertinent here is the furore, created by Honest to God (SCM Press, 1963), written by the Bishop of Woolwich, John A.T. Robinson, which proposed a mild revolution in theology. He began by asking if it made sense to speak of God “up there” in a Copernican universe. Though his argument was not set out clearly, he went on to propose displacing “supranaturalism” with “naturalistic” religion. This meant getting rid of miracles and such-like, which in the scientific age had become regarded as a bar to faith, though he was unsure with what they should be replaced.
The original print-run of Honest to God was for 6,000 copies, but before the end of the year more than 350,000 had been sold, showing that the questions it raised already bothered many people, Inevitably there was controversy and calls for the Bishop’s resignation, but it is significant that the critics did not agree among themselves. One man wrote to him “I have, and many thousands have, an image of God in the heavens. The parsons have always spoken of a God up there, but now the parsons ore contradicting everything they have said … These new beliefs will smash Christians in believing there is a God and it could be the Church in general will break up. The words of the creed will mean nothing. It is suddenly like telling a youngster who believes whole-heartedly in Father Xmas, ‘there isn’t a Father Xmas, it’s your Dad,’ The whole world would collapse beneath them.” (This quotation, and other comments from The Honest to God Debate, SCM,1963) C.S. Lewis, by contrast, thought that the Bishop was making a noise about nothing: “We have long abandoned belief in a God who sits on a throne in a localised heaven.”
Voices of praise were far more common: a vicar’s wife told the Bishop he had “made the Church seem alive again, when for years it has seemed so unbearably dead!” Letters expressing agreement came from priests, theologians, doctors, headmasters and businessmen, “A well-known politician” wrote: “Reading it, and hearing you speak it, has done more to make the basic validity of the Christian message seem relevant to me than all the sermons and services I have ever heard or attended.”
Until the debate on the ordination of women, this affair was the biggest religious controversy the Church of England had seen this century. It suggests that, generally speaking, the British felt unable to believe in a comforting God the Father ‘up there’, just as they could not believe in Father Christmas. Yet they did not simply turn to atheism (as most materialists expected they would) but felt the need for some new kind of religion or belief, something to replace the old supernatural God.Bishop Robinson remarked that he had never experienced “being born again” (Honest to God, p. 27). Since then, the most notable development within the Church has been the rise of “born-again” Christianity. A former “born-again” tells me that it is perfectly fair to say that born-again Christians are taught not to think. Instead they are meant to rely on the authority of the Bible, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For this growing section of the Church, there can be no conflict between science and religion, since they do not think about the question.
But for the rest of the ‘Body of Christ’ the problem has remained, and the conventional, non-born-again churches have continued to decline. And, so, the Space Gods have been able to manifest to help fill the vacuum left by the departure of God the Father from his throne in heaven
Return of the Gods.
A few years later appeared the most successful of the Ancient Astronaut books, Erich Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods? 1969 (1st ed. as Erinnerungen an die Zukunst, Econ-Verlog, 1968. The original title meant ‘Memories of the Future’). The first thing that would strike anyone familiar with the literature is this book’s lack of originality. Despite his continual references to ‘my theories’ (etc.), almost everything in his book had already been noticed by Desmond Leslie, Robert Charroux, Pauwels and Bergier, W. Raymond Drake and others. Indeed, van Daniken’s quotations from the Ramayana and Mahabharata are simply lifted from Flying Saucers Have Landed (he translated the 19th century English renditions into German, whence Michael Heron turned them back into English, so that the versions in Chariots of the Gods? have been translated thrice). Likewise, when van Daniken wrote: “Seen from the air, the clear-cut impression that the 37-mile-long Plain of Nazca made on me was that of an airfield!” (Chariots, p. 32), he was most likely influenced in this impression by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier’s The Morning of the Magicians (Mayflower, 1971, p.117; 1st ed. Paris, Editions Gallimard, 1960): “Photographs taken of the plain of Nazca remind one irresistibly of the ground-lighting of an airfield.” It would be tedious to analyse the whole book in this way, but nearly all of it had been said before.
So why did this book greatly outsell its predecessors? Part of the reason is no doubt that van Daniken wrote in a fluent and popular style (more than one can say of the average UFO author), he appeared (if only superficially) to be scientific, and he had actually bothered to visit many of the sites he wrote about.
Unlike Desmond Leslie and many of the others, his treatment was simple and unmystical. Readers of Brinsley le Poet Trench’s The Sky People, for instance, might have been able to take in the Garden of Eden (a Galactic cross-breed experiment carried out on Mars), Atlantis, Osiris and Isis, Abraham, Red Indian folklore, Sodom (destroyed by nuclear weapons), tektites, Jericho, the 1908 Siberian explosion, and the star of Bethlehem, but maybe it all got too confusing
when he added Madame Blavatsky, Kundalini, Gnosticism, etheric nature, mediumship, the significance of the cross, telepathic powers, and the “‘journey back to godhood’.
Perhaps the main cause was simply that he published at the right time and place to influence those who, like the disaffected readers of Honest to God, wanted a non-supernatural God ‘up there’. For instance, Darwin had made Christians uncomfortable about Genesis, and Bishop Robinson hardly bothered to defend it:
A hundred years ago the Church was forced to clarify whether it accepted the Adam story as history or as myth. Until then there had been many theologians (St Paul probably among them) who, if pressed, would not have thought the truth of the story depended upon Adam being an actual historical individual. But the point is that they were not pressed. There was no compelling need to distinguish between the categories of history and myth. But with the Darwinian controversy on evolution it became a vital necessity. It was imperative for Christian apologetic to be clear that Genesis was not a rival account of primitive anthropology. If the distinction had not been made it would have been virtually impossible to continue commending the Biblical faith to modern scientific man.
The Bishop himself settled for myth, regarding Adam and Eve as metaphors for Everyman and Everywoman, who are always subject to temptation (the Serpent). “Go back as far as you will, human nature has always been like that. That’s why in the myth they are put at the beginning.” (John A.T. Robinson, But that I can’t believe!, Fontana, 1967)
How much happier are those who can take a myth to be absolute truth! The born-agains, as always, adhere to the Bible on this question. Many of them suppose that the world was created in 4000 BC, hence that radioactive dating is all wrong, dinosaurs and Neanderthal man never existed, and Darwin is condemned to hell. Some even suggest that God created fossils, as they were found, with intent to deceive (“God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie”, 2 Thes.2:11) in order to test Christians’ faith in the scriptures.
Return to the Stars offered, again, a reconciliation of scripture and science: it took the Garden of Eden as an accurate record, not of the doings of a supernatural Lord God, but of genetic manipulation by which unknown cosmonauts created homo sapiens from ape-men. Even outlandish verses could thereby be believed in: And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof, and the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. Von Dianiken: “Eve must have been produced in a retort. Now a number of cave drawings showing objects like retorts in the vicinity of primitive man have been preserved. Could foreign intelligences with a highly developed science and knowing about the immune biological reactions of bones have used Adam’s marrow as a cell culture and brought the sperm to development in it?”
It say so in the Bible
Miracles aside, the accuracy of the Bible has been a matter of dispute since the 18th century: until then, it had apparently never occurred to anyone to doubt it. Thomas Paine, author of The Age of Reason, objected to the Bible on the grounds that it often depicts God as a mad tyrant. He backed this up with critical arguments against the Bible’s supposed textual perfection: The Book of Kings (“little more than a history of assassinations, treachery, and wars”) actually contradicts itself: as to the Kings of Judah and Israel who were both called Joram, “one chapter (2 Kings 1:8) says that Joram of Judah began to reign in the second year of Joram of Israel; and the other chapter (8:16) says, that Joram of Israel began to reign in the fifth year of Jorom of Judah”. Such mistakes are enough to disprove the old contention that it is all the word of God, dictated by the Holy Spirit to scribes incapable even of ordinary clerical error. The born-again Christian response is that it is not possible to understand the Bible properly unless you are born again in Jesus; anyone who raises objections like the above is still under the influence of Satan.
UFO writers are divided on the issue. Some, like Dione, regard it as wholly accurat, and merely in need of scientific interpretation. By contrast W. Raymond Drake’s Gods and Spacemen in the Ancient East (Neville Spearman, 1968, Sphere, 1993), though happy with The Secret Doctrine, Sanskrit romances, Oahspe (produced through automatic typewriting by a New York dentist), the Egyptian and Tibetan Books of the Dead, and the revelations of Aetherius through Dr George King, was dubious about the historical value of the Bible: “Egyptologists, Assyriologists, archaeologists of renown, men of science, who should know the facts, find no evidence whatever of the Exodus … no Egyptian text refers to the miraculous deliverance mentioned in the Bible … the Book of Exodus is not a factual, critical record of events, history as we write it today … With all due respect to the learned Moses, this hotch-potch of religious narrative in such turgid style does his great mind ill-justice; it is doubtful whether its literary merit would attract any publisher today.” (Mayflower ed., pp 157-8)
This attitude is understandable: anyone attempting a revolution in thought will tend to challenge the accepted standards they were brought up with, and if that included ‘The Bible is true’, the independent thinker grows up to question that. Ancient Eastern literature and modem inspirational works were not mentioned in childhood, so there is not the same motive to doubt them.
Howsowever, the texts he relied on were mostly religious works of one kind or another. The same is true of Robert Charroux, the cover of the original French edition of whose Le livres des Secrets Trahis (Robert Laffont, 1965) promises it is “from documents older than the Bible”. These are primarily The Book of Enoch and the Popol Vuh, Enoch treats of the “fallen angels”, who descended to earth, married human females, and taught various arts and sciences: this indicates “a colonisation of our world by cosmonauts” (p. 127); conventional scholarship, though, assigns the book to the intertestamental period. The Popol Vuh relates that a woman named Orejona descended to earth from Venus, and gave birth to the human race by mating with a tapir. Charroux apparently accepted this because it was in a book he supposed “older than the Bible”.
On the subject of the Virgin Birth, Bishop Robinson summarised the modern sceptics’ position thus: “But you can’t really believe that lot, can you? Stars hopping over cribs, angelic choirs lighting up the skies, God coming to earth as a man – like a visitor from outer space? You couldn’t really believe it today.” (But that I
can’t believe! p.27)
The Bishop’s response was vague, suggesting that the star and the angels and the Virgin mother were “poetry”, a way of saying “God is in all this”. Yet he unwittingly suggested the new solution of ‘a visitor from outer space’, that would be so enthusiastically adopted by some. “The only celestial object to appear suddenly close enough to the Earth to be visible within only a small radius, which moves guiding followers, then stands still, is an intelligently controlled Spaceship.” (W. Raymond Drake, Gods and Spacemen throughout History, Sphere, 1977, p. 184) “The arrival of the infant Christ on earth from a spaceship is less fantastic, more credible, logical and acceptable, than the ethereal dogma taught by the Christian Church.” (Robin Collyns, Did Spacemen Colonise the Earth?, Mayflower, 1975, p, 163) By 1976 W. Raymond Drake could declare: “Today the only persons prepared to accept those New Testament wonders as literally true appear to be our believers in Flying Saucers,” (Gods and Spacemen in Ancient Israel, Sphere, p. 11)
The question of the resurrection is a tricky one even for UFO writers, but it did not daunt Paul Thomas (Flying Saucers Through the Ages, Neville Spearman,1965; French ed., 1962, Thomas was actually Paul Misraki, a well-known French popular musician) who was a Catholic (like Dione he gave a chapter to Fatima), as was his English translator Gavin Gibbons. However, his interpretation of Jesus’ return from the dead would not have commended itself to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He suggested that Jesus Christ was a ‘biological mutation’ produced by alien genetic experimentation. In fact, the Astronaut Angels’ interest in the Children of Israel, from the time of Abraham, was as a gene pool from which to breed the first specimen of the next phase of evolution: humans who could die and then naturally come back to life, as was demonstrated after the crucifixion.
If this was true, one would expect that Jesus would have been encouraged to have as many offspring as possible: but, as Thomas/Misraki admits, he left the world childless (The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail to the contrary); so it seems that for some reason the aliens decided on a delay before making the benefits of immortality generally available.
The life to come
The other key feature of a religion is its teaching on the future, in which, nearly always, present wrongs are to be set right in some way. Either there is a life after death in which rewards and punishments will be given out, or future lives assigned on the basis of past behaviour, or else there is to be a Second Coming, in which the Divine Kingdom will be brought to Earth, and (after the wicked have been thrown into the fiery pit which burns forever) universal peace and happiness will reign for eternity. One of the best-known prophecies to this latter effect is Mark 13:26-27: “And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.”
Morris K, Jessup produced his own version:
”Shall we paraphrase it a bit? (such as combining verses 26 and 27)
“The great shining and powerful mothership will appear among the clouds and the Master will dispatch his assistants in smaller craft, and will gather from all parts of the earth those who have survived the brunt of the cataclysm and have reached temporary places of safety, and particularly those whom the Shepherd Race deem suitable for the propagation and resurgence of humanity in a new racial generation, and these will be taken to live for a while in the celestial regions where are the homes of the UFO in space.
There isn t much more to say, is there?”
Some people would conclude from all this that there is no reason to believe in Gods or Astronauts. Actually all it proves is that people a have a very strong need for some kind of religion, and if one is taken away from them they will hasten to locate another. Even the most severe secularists would admit that the creed of the Astronaut Gods is harmless, as religions go: believers are not expected to obey every command of a priesthood, or burn heretics at the stake. Science might one day be able to provide a testable explanation for the religious impulse: until then, the frontier between science and religion must remain uncertain and disputed territory.
From the Pulpit
Barry H. Downing, a Presbyterian pastor in Endwell, New York, was one clergyman (probably speaking for many) who came out in favour of such interpretations with The Bible and Flying Saucers (Sphere, 1973; 1st US ed., 1968). Downing was able to salvage a more traditional God from the work of Space Angels by means of the following construction: “Suppose that in five hundred years humans on earth should advance technologically in the space age to the point where we are able to travel to another world in a spaceship and discover intelligent beings who were scientifically primitive. Suppose that Christian missionaries were to travel in space to this planet to try to convert these primitive people to Christianity. How would these people talk about our missionaries? The Bible seems to suggest that angels are very much like missionaries from another world.”
The starting point of Robert Temple’s The Sirus Mystery was the Dogon, a Sudanese tribe whom French anthropologists learnt to have traditions about being visited by beings from Sirius.
Temple reproduced their findings, then tried to prove that the same information was known to the ancient Egyptian priests as a secret tradition, and later to various Greek philosophers who were initiated into their mysteries. Of course these traditions were never written down, and Temple had to guess at them from scattered clues. His main authorities were Wallis Budge’s The Gods of the Egyptians, the Mesopotamian epics, the Hermetic books, Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths, Plutarch On Isis and Osiris, and the neo-Platonists. These are all either sacred writings of the Pagans, or modern summaries of such. At a guess, one would take Robert Temple to be a Pagan himself, particularly since he ignores the Bible altogether, and his only reference to Christianity is this: “The perversions of Christianity have always seemed to me to incorporate a perversion of the notion of ‘sin’ and the means by which ‘sin’ can be exploited as a means of temporal blackmail over other human beings.”
Drawing of an amphibious creature which, according to Temple, gave the Dogon information about the solar system.
- This article refuting many of the claims made in Larry Warren’s book Left at East Gate, appeared in Magonia 61, November 1997. It may not represent Jenny Randles’ current thinking on the Rendlesham affair.
I first came across a young American called Larry Warren in the spring of 1983. He was 21 going on 22, living in New England and had just given a statement to authors Larry Fawcett and Barry Greenwood for their forthcoming book about American government UFO documents. This was to be published in 1984 as Clear Intent.
Warren was alleging that he was an eyewitness to what are now the infamous Rendlesham Forest encounters from December 1980. He was ex-USAF then based in the UK and had chosen to speak out once back home. In 1983 this was major news, because he was the first military witness to publicly do so. Indeed the case was not yet widely known to the British public and virtually unknown in the USA.
The only published references had come from my stories in Flying Saucer Review and a more detailed summer 1982 set of articles in the part-work The Unexplained. This was based on little more than a set of anecdotes collected from villagers in Suffolk by local paranormal researcher Brenda Butler and her friend (and BUFORA member) Dot Street.
Pretty well all we knew for certain was that in the few days immediately after Christmas 1980 something strange had been seen in the East Anglian sky, cutting the coast near Lowestoft. Civilians had witnessed it. Watton [radar station] had tracked it disappearing off screen into Rendlesham Forest as it went below radar coverage. Several locals had stories to tell of unusual military activity in the woods and of damage to the trees. However, the British government had constantly rejected all my efforts to get them to admit anything in writing between early 1981 and 1983. As a result much of the British UFO community thought Brenda, Dot and I were mad to keep pressing this case.
However, Brenda did have one USAF witness from the twin NATO air bases (Bentwaters and Woodbridge). He had befriended her and knew of her interest in the paranormal. On 6 January 1981 – only ten days or so after the events – he had confided in her about his alleged involvement in the amazing series of events that hid behind those tales of lights in the sky and holes in the forest.
This witness has always been a huge problem for me. To this day I have never met ‘Steve Roberts’ - as Brenda insisted we call him in our writings. He talked to Brenda but was reluctant to come forward afterwards, even though he was in Britain for several years. But there are some very interesting things about this mystery man’s story. Roberts told Brenda what he did a full week before Charles Halt penned the now-famous memo to the British MoD about this case. He also gave the date of the first set of events in that conversation as the early hours of 26 December. This conflicted with all later testimony and I only became sure myself that the true date for the first sighting was indeed 26 December years later. One of the key witnesses (John Burroughs) assured me when we, met in Arizona that this was the correct night and Halt simply got his report wrong because he filed it from memory some weeks later. So Steve Roberts initially fed Brenda the correct date – even though (intriguingly) he altered it to 27 December in later conversations.
According to Roberts he was one of a security patrol that went out into the forest in response to a UFO that had “crashed” there. Once in the woods he saw a landed craft with strange little child-like beings suspended in beams of light. The overall wing commander – Brigadier General Gordon Williams – was out there in the woods and communicated with these beings using sign language as the USAF guarded the damaged craft. This was eventually repaired by the aliens and took off again.Frankly absurd as this story sounds, it struck a chord with me. When Brenda told it to me she could not have known that it matched precisely the story told to the staff at RAF Watton on Monday 29 December 1980. This was when USAF intelligence officers had visited them. That visit was to take away for study the film of all their radar trackings for the preceding weekend. I still have my notes penned from my first conversation in late January 1981 with that operator at Watton.
The radar operator explained how the intelligence officers had described the UFO coming into the forest, the aliens, the contact with the base commander and other details that mirrored the story told to Brenda eight days later and independently by Steve Roberts. But the American intelligence guys also added various other things when talking to Watton. For instance, they told how a commanding officer was taken from a party on base and went into the woods to investigate. His equipment suffered electrical interference but he tape recorded live the encounter with UFOs. All of this evidence was only established as fact years later when Charles Halt became publicly associated with the case. In January 1981 it was as dubious as the aliens talking to Gordon Williams by sign language.
When Barry Greenwood first wrote to me in the spring of 1983 he sent me a copy of Larry Warren’s statement. It was obvious that what Warren had to say was a close match to the stories fed to Brenda (via ‘Steve Roberts’) and to me (via Watton radar and USAF intelligence). Warren – to whom Greenwood and Fawcett were ascribing the pseudonym ‘Art Wallace’ because of fears for his safety – had a more graphic account to relate and mentioned no aliens at first. But in essence his tale of the landed craft and the high number of military personnel was consistent. Indeed, not long afterwards Warren added the involvement of little aliens and of the presence of Gordon Williams standing by them. These further enhanced the strangeness of his tale, which included interrogation in some vast underground complex, sighting an “alien” behind some screen, being shown film of the USAF links with aliens and much more that turned his story into possibly the most incredible UFO tale ever placed on record.
From the late eighties onward there were stories that Warren was planning a book, but its publication kept getting postponed. It finally appeared in June 1997. Since its publication I have been swamped by requests to comment on this 490-page epic – not only because of my long firsthand association with this case, but because it is generally less than favourably disposed towards my own involvement on the few occasions that it is discussed. The only “rival” book that seems to exist in so far as Warren and Robbins are concerned is Sky Crash – which Brenda Butler, Dot Street and I published in 1984. That has been out of print for a decade so is hardly a threat. Although they express several derogatory remarks bordering on the libellous (even calling it Sky Trash at one point!) there is a remarkable omission. In almost 500 pages there is not one reference by these authors to my own more recent book about this case – From out of the Blue. This is very odd. They certainly know about it, for it is listed by them in the bibliography (under an incorrect title!). This book was never published in the UK but is hardly unknown in the USA. It was reviewed in depth by the US UFO community and had two editions (a 1991 softback and a 1992 mass market paperback).
Whilst biased, of course, I have to say that I find it incredible that anybody could write such a huge text about this case and yet totally ignore the content of one of only two previous books penned about the matter. The total omission of any discussion of the second book (which I regard as far more accurate than Sky Crash for many reasons) is a serious indication of the shortcomings and bias of Left at East Gate.
Here I should add that I do have a third book about Rendlesham coming myself. This was written before I ever saw Left at East Gate (although I have added a few notes at page proof stage). My submitted title is Friend or Foe? – although I fear the publishers (Blandford) intend to give it a more zippy appellation. This is due to appear in early 1998 and is an expression of all that I can offer on this case from my 17 years of study. [This was published as UFO Crash Landing - Friend or Foe? in January 1998]
I was asked to write this new book. At first I said no, because I was aware of the coming of Left at East Gate. But I was persuaded that a book reviewing the wider range of evidence was needed and for a tiny sum spent a year putting it together. having now read the book by Warren and Robbins I am very glad that I was talked into this. Whilst there are some things I may have said slightly differently if I had read that book first, there is much that needed to be reported about this case that simply is not in Left at East Gate.
Is he a genuine witness to a peripheral event, one of these ‘wannabees’ or someone exaggerating the truth or even making it up?
Now that I have a very clear view of the case I can look back at Sky Crash in a new light. It is obvious to me that some of it went astray, but we did have quite a bit that was right in there as well. Unfortunately, I suspect we simply did not have the evidence from the key witnesses at that time because they were still in the military.In fact it is a fascinating exercise re-reading Sky Crash in the light of what we now know. One of the key witnesses – John Burroughs (the only man involved on both main nights) – told me in 1989 he had not read the book until then because another witness (I can guess who) told him it was ‘trash’. When he did so he stayed up all night to finish it. He told me he was very surprised to find that the truth was in there mixed with bogus yarns that we had been told by ‘wannabees’ off base who were not involved in the case but wished that they had been. Later Charles Halt told me something similar.
Placing Larry Warren’s story into the right slot is far from easy. Is he a genuine witness to a peripheral event, one of these ‘wannabees’ or someone exaggerating the truth or even making it up? From out of the Blue is more accurate than Sky Crash because it was written later with the evidence of more witnesses. I have the chronology more correct in there (although I now know not exactly correct) and the general outline of the two main events is fairly set. But there is much that I now have in more detail and that is why Friend or Foe? puts the case into what I believe to be the true perspective. I leave open precisely how we should slot Warren’s account into the story – largely because his tale does not well match the bulk of the evidence from all the other witnesses with whom I have spoken.
Whilst it would be impossible to briefly describe this huge case, here is a summary of what I believe to be the key features. These can then be compared with the story in Larry Warren’s book and its readers can try (as I have had to try) to figure out where he fits in. The scenarios that follow are based on my conversations with about half a dozen key military and a similar number of key civilian witnesses. There were more people involved that I have not talked with, but my sources include two of the four USAF personnel who saw the UFO on night one, for example, and are, I believe, sufficient to be reasonably certain that I now have a picture very close to what took place.
From 9.08 p.m. on 25 December to 3 a.m. on 26 December 1980 numerous light phenomena appeared over East Anglia. All of these events are related in my view. There were various civilian witnesses. Between 2 and 3 a.m. the main military encounter occurred outside Woodbridge. There were four military witnesses and I know the names of them all. Two of these four went into the forest and encountered a UFO just above the ground. I have spoken with them both. The UFO was tracked on radar by several sites and seen on departure. The men were disorientated and a search was mounted after radio contact was lost on base. There is a possibility of a time lapse. NO aliens were seen, but the UFO was extraordinary and distorted space and time as well as swamping the forest with an electrical field.
Early on 26 December the British police visited the traces found in the forest. Infra-red radiation was detected by an A-10 sent on an over-flight. The official investigation began. There may have been sightings that night, but I have not talked to any witnesses (unless Warren is one).On Saturday 27 December an officers’ party at Woody’s was interrupted by the return of the UFOs, as reported by night security chief Lt Bruce Englund. Colonel Halt was charged with the responsibility to go into the forest and sort things out because the commander (Ted Conrad) ordered him to do so. He took Englund, Greg Nevells (from the disaster preparedness team) and several others. John Burroughs – one of the two key witnesses from the first sighting – went out there too. He had haunted the woods all weekend convinced the UFO would return. Halt took light-alls and a tape recorder to gather notes more easily because it was windy. They took samples and photographs of the traces but the lights seen that night had now gone. UFOs returned at 1.48 a.m. and 90 minutes followed during which Halt and his team chased them through the forest. These included ‘laser beams’ beamed towards the ground – including into the secured area on the base. Again no aliens were seen and no solid craft – just amazing light phenomena.
Where Warren was (along with the witnesses that he cites in his support) is not clear from any statements given to me by the witnesses that I have encountered. They all say he was not with them and some are doubtful he was out there at all. Halt, for instance, notes that Warren could not have been on duty after only three weeks on base because it was a NATO regulation that a six-week training course be followed before this status was approved. Halt told me he has seen the records that confirm this, but Warren publishes contrary reports in his book which appear to refute Halt’s claim. This is a huge impasse.
I have preferred to build my outline of what occurred around the testimony of those witnesses who all tell me a consistent story
In Left at East Gate Warren quotes Halt as expressing doubts about his story. Halt has had similar things to say to me. He told me that before reading the book he knew Warren was not involved with him on the night of 27/28 December, nor on duty. But he gave him the benefit of the doubt and thought he might have been there on the less well known third night. However, after reading the book the Colonel says it is clear that Warren is alleging that he was there on the same night as Halt. This he struggles to accommodate.
I have preferred to build my outline of what occurred around the testimony of those witnesses who all tell me a consistent story. Halt says that this is his primary concern as well. He and these men know they saw fantastic things. It is hard enough living with that in the military and trying to be believed. Halt, Burroughs, Penniston (in my view the three crucial witnesses to this case) are all adamant that there were no aliens, that the craft was less solid than some media yarns profess and that Brigadier General Gordon Williams was definitely not there. “If he had been it would have changed everything,” John Burroughs told me. Halt adds that he talked to Williams afterwards and he was as keen as anyone to discover what happened. He acted in no way like a witness. Halt knows this man was not anywhere near the base at the time, he argues.
Left at East Gate is a strange book. I con understand why people unfamiliar with the case will be awed by it, because Warren and Robbins tell a fantastic tale that is just what people want to hear. It is exactly what you would expect to be turned into a movie. But will this benefit ufology?The big question is why the three initial sources of information – Steve Roberts, Watton radar and Larry Warren all provide the more fantastic version of events. My guess has always been that Roberts fed his line to a paranormal enthusiast hoping that a wild version of the truth would kill off any immediate serious attention from people who mattered. Ufologists are not people who matter since they are generally only listened to by other ufologists and tabloid newspapers. The staff at Watton would – in my estimation – never have been told about aliens communicating with a wing commander whilst repairing their craft if this had really happened. They had absolutely no need to know and the radar film could have been taken from them on any pretext. To be told this was to me a dead giveaway that this story was disinformation.
Of course, when Warren came forward the only military versions of the case on record (thanks to me!) were those from Roberts and Watton. Warren says he had not read them, but Barry Greenwood had. That’s how he recognised Warren’s story and why he wrote to me. You could – I guess – suggest that Warren saw the tales from Roberts and Watton and decided that his version would have to match them to be believed. He utterly refutes that and we must accept his word. But his account did match Roberts’s account – an account that I now consider discredited. All the other versions I have have heard since follow a different – less ‘extraterrestrial’ – path. This leaves me with a real problem evaluating Warren’s story today.
Whilst I must judge the conflicting claims of Warren and the others without knowing who is right and who is wrong, that is not the case with some other aspects of Left at East Gate. For there are things in there which I can definitely refute from my first-hand perspective.For example, he makes the fantastic allegation (p. 128) that “two of the Sky Crash authors were affiliated with Britain’s anti-nuclear movement”. This ties in with his disbelief at our idea that the story about aliens might be disinformation to hide an accident with a nuclear weapon. Later the authors add (p.217) “Randles chooses to state and reiterate this theory and I could only speculate as to why”.The clear impression gained from passages such as these is that I was in league with CND to use the Rendlesham case for some obscure purpose. That is outright rubbish. I can state assuredly that I am not – and have never been – associated with the anti-nuclear movement in even the most minor of ways. I cannot say whether this is true of Brenda or Dot, but in all the years I have known them it has never once come up in conversation and certainly had no role to play in the writing of Sky Crash. I wrote that book – turning my own knowledge and reams of hand-written notes from my colleagues into some sort of sense. If what they had written was influenced by anti-nuclear views I would have seen it and reported it. But there was never any trace of that.
Besides which, as Warren notes in his second quote above, the nuclear mishap theory was mine – nobody else’s – and was referenced by me on several occasions between 1981 and 1984 (e.g. a comment in OMNI magazine which is also discussed in Left at East Gate). This is firmly attributed to me personally.
My reasons for theorising along these lines were simple, yet at no time has Warren or Robbins ever asked me about them (as they have not asked me to confirm their ridiculous CND story).
Firstly, we had been told by numerous sources come 1983 that there were nuclear weapons on the base. This was emphatically denied by the USAF. That denial was a lie. More than ten years later (after the cessation of the Cold War and the closure of Bentwaters-Woodbridge) the truth emerged. This had indeed been one of the biggest nuclear stores in the UK. This amply demonstrates my feeling at the time that – with the huge public outcry over bringing Cruise missiles into Europe – it might have seemed appropriate to cover up an accident by creating a diversionary story so ludicrous nobody would be-lieve it.
There had in fact been a near disaster in 1956 at a USAF base nearby when a store of weapons caught fire after a plane crash. the fact that nuclear weapons were at risk was denied for decades but finally admitted years later on retirement of one of the key players in the cover up. Nuclear bombs at risk are less likely to explode that to have their casings crack and leak radiation. This fitted the scenario in the forest as well.
When I developed this theory there were no public revelations from any of the military eyewitnesses – just the dubious saga fed out to Watton and Brenda Butler that smelled to me exactly like disinformation. But if UFOs were disinformation then what was this story trying to hide?
Moreover, forestry workers told me that they had heard about a “plane crash” from staff on the base and local man Ron Gladwell had told us about finding a crater in the forest indicating that something had fallen from the sky and hit the ground with a thump. Base staff were evidently filling this in. In Left at East Gate (p.216) Warren and Robbins use the fact that nobody supposedly saw a crater in the forest to denounce our ‘silly’ theory of a plane dropping a bomb. Evidently they missed Gladwell’s story even though it is in both Sky Crash and From out of the Blue.
I submit that – right or wrong – this idea about a nuclear accident was a wholly legitimate speculation to make in 1983 based on these incidents (plus the various signs of mild radiation being present in the forest). It is not a theory that I adhere to today, having now had the chance to hear the detailed stories of witnesses like John Burroughs and Jim Penniston. They got within a few feet of the UFO on the first night and it was no discarded bomb. But it was wholly appropriate to bring this idea into the debate at the time to show the problems with the evidence fed out to the UFO community.
There is also a series of claims about how Barry Greenwood sent me the Halt memo secured by CAUS in the USA. This was obtained wholly thanks to Warren, he says. Yet wicked Brenda and Dot (I don’t feature in this one – ironically – as you will see in a moment) – “sold the Halt document to the News of the World for £2000 – nearly five grand here… After that we broke off all contact with them”. (p.102).
Well, here are the facts. Barry Greenwood sent me the Halt memo and in exchange I sent him my letter from the MoD received a few weeks earlier and dated 13 April 1983. This was some weeks before the USAF admitted there was a case and it was used by CAUS to help in their quest for documents. The MoD document admitted for the first time anywhere that there was an incident in Rendlesham Forest and that “no explanation” had been found for it. Far from one-way traffic we exchanged data. I have maintained a correspondence with Barry ever since and we had dinner together when I was in Boston a year or two ago.
Brenda, Dot and I were given permission to use the document as we saw fit to press for the truth andI also was happy for them to use my MoD letter in whatever way they wished. What we did was to take it to the MoD in London and confront them directly with a file they had been denying to me (despite at least three written requests). I also set up a seminar at the next BUFORA conference to present the evidence to the UFO community (including Allen Hynek and many others). This basically let Brenda and Dot have their day after two years of ridicule from the UFO community chasing “the case that never was”.
Nor was this story sold for £2000. It was a lot more than that!
As a result of that seminar – attended it seems by a journalist incognito – the media discovered the existence of the memo and decided to go public. Harry Harris, a well-known figure in UFO circles, persuaded Brenda and Dot that the best option was to negotiate a deal with the paper keeping control of the story as otherwise they would print a garbled version of the truth picked up from the UFO community rumour mill. I agreed to go with Harry to the News of the World and brief them on the case. That is how the story on the front page of the News of the World in October 1983 came about.
Nor was this story sold for £2000. It was a lot more than that. But this money went to many people who were paid for their information on many subjects given to the paper. To my knowledge the document itself was not sold, since it was obviously not anyone’s to sell. I do know that the money Brenda and Dot received (a fraction of the overall sum the paper paid) was used by them to fund further research into this case. Over the years they – and I – have spent far more than any of us have ever got back. In this instance I see nothing wrong in what we did. It was the only way to keep control of the story.
In any case, the Halt memo was released by the MoD once they realised the document was in the public domain. That occurred when I showed it to them in Whitehall two months before the News of the World story ever ran. Consequently, many ufologists wrote to the MoD and were sent their own copies quite freely. It is disgraceful that these authors have painted a picture of Brenda and Dot cheating American ufologists. I was just as ‘guilty’ and so was Harry Harris. But I bet they would not dare challenge him! The truth is this was an inexcusable misreport as to what really took place.
Something similar is seen on page 133 where Warren infers he gave the Halt audio tape to the American UFO community after getting it from a Japanese man who had been sold it by the British researchers for a large sum of money. I do not know if the tape was ever “sold to Japan” but I do know that I got a copy many months before this date that Warren here cites. Almost the first thing I did was to freely send a copy to Ray Boeche and MUFON in the USA – who will confirm that to anyone.
An even more absurd yarn appears on page 203. Here we see the claim that all attempts to talk to me were scuppered when I ran from Warren in fear at a UFO conference because I had discovered he called our book Sky Trash! Any reader of Magonia will no doubt see the flaw in that little fairy tale. From the number of letters I have blitzed upon the magazine after critical comments on one of my books my desire to defend my writings is very obvious. The very last thing I would do is flee from a critic. [I can vouch for this, Ed.]
Interestingly, the reader of Left at East Gate is left with the idea hanging that I could not answer the challenge so I simply ran away and that was the end of the matter. The conference involved was in June 1987 in Washington, I believe. It is never clear because Warren’s chronology in the book can be out by months or years. I did find myself wondering how accurate were his records or his checks into the past if he cannot date MUFON conferences when these must presumably be well documented.What I do recall of Washington is being briefly introduced to Warren as I was rushing off to do a lecture and saying “hello” and promising to speak later. Which we did. In fact, I have had several meetings with Warren and have some on video tape. At none of them has he ever asked the questions I evidently ran from being asked at this conference nor has he sought to clarify any of the points he got so fundamentally wrong about my role in this case. Warren never makes clear to his readers that after I “fled” in terror we have had such productive conversations. Why?
Whatever his reasons it is not justifiable that he should lead his readers into a false impression of this situation. There is much else I could say – for example, his claim that Dot Street’s interviews with him were grossly misreported in the book. What he may not know is that Dot taped these interviews and so his words from those early 1983 conversations are – it would seem – not the invention of Sky Crash as he alleges. If he believes otherwise he must presumably now charge Dot with faking these tapes. But why would she do it, since she was on very friendly terms with Warren at the time, as he admits in the book?
Other things that bothered me include the dating of Warren’s encounter. I am as certain as I can be that the second night, when Halt was out there with a tape recorder, was the Saturday-Sunday 27-28 December. Warren has it here as the following night but says that he spent the prior afternoon in an Ipswich music store. I did find myself wondering whether Sunday opening of a small store would have been the practice – although the post-Christmas sales might have been a factor. Shops in 1980 were certainly open much less often on a Sunday than they are today.
There is also a curious attempt in the book to suggest that parts of Rendlesham Forest were flattened in 1987 as a result of not a hurricane (as most of us recall) but some sort of Orgone energy experiment. This seems to be building on Andy Collins’s fantastic scenario as to the true origin of that fabled storm which he perceived as being due to a black magician (although curiously Collins followed that book with an attempt to link Orgone energy to UFOs and crop circles). All I will note is that to my recall the hurricane devastated large parts of southern England – not just Rendlesham Forest.
There are also several worrying errors in the text. Some of these (Major Dury several times instead of Drury) might be typographical. Others seem not – e.g. Oxford lighthouse (not Orford) – or even more hilariously – RAF Bodzy (when it is in fact RAF Bawdsey – as a glance at any map of the area would show). These to me represent both sloppiness and the real failing of this book. If the lighthouse explanation for this case were discussed (it is merely dismissed in passing) errors such as this would be unlikely. If the strange goings on at Orford Ness and at RAF Bawdsey were debated (as they ought to be since they are relevant to the case) the background to these places would presumably have been researched.
This is the problem; key theories tied to the case are not refuted by evidence. As with my nuclear weapons idea they are merely sneered at or ignored altogether. I assume that we are meant to believe that this was a bona fide alien contact – although with mind warping by the NSA, the Orgone energy excursion and one or two rambling diversions on the way I am not as clear on that as I should be. What exactly does Larry Warren believe happened on that night? After almost 500 pages I am not certain that I understand.Larry Warren’s story is either truth or fiction or – possibly – something in between the two. He even speculates himself about his memory being altered by secret service interrogations. The sad thing is that Left at East Gate does not really help us to make an easy decision as to which is the most likely of these possibilities. Each option is also fraught with serious ramifications for the rest of the case.
I remain convinced that there is a significant close encounter at the heart of the Rendlesham Forest case. But I am far from convinced that any aliens were floating in light beams beneath a starship. And I am as sure as I can be that other – non-UFO – factors enter deeply into the equation as part of a remarkable set of events. The real key to this story does indeed lie on Orford Ness but not in the lighthouse.
I was mostly saddened by this book because it promised much and delivered little. I ended up more confused than when I read the first page. If I only ever had the chance to read this book on the incident I would probably agree with most people that this case is a load of nonsense. I can see why people would jump to that conclusion. Unfortunately, they would be very wrong to do so.
- Larry Warren and Peter Roberts, Left at East Gate, Michael O’Mara, 1997.
- Jenny Randles, Dot Street and Brenda Butler, Sky Crash, a Cosmic Conspiracy. Neville Spearman, 1984.
Randles, Jenny, From out of the Blue; the Incredible UFO Cover-up at Bentwaters NATO air base. Global Communications, 1991
From Magonia 56, June 1996
For almost ten years a horrible story has haunted the world’s media: in Latin America children are robbed of their kidneys and corneas for the benefit of wealthy Americans. On closer examination these horror stories turn out to be based on rumours and legends. Organ-napping, the contemporary version of an age-old and universally known legend.
The first images of the documentary show a man with a wispy beard rocking his head back and forth as if he is in a trance. The camera zooms in on his face, showing us that his eyes lack irises and pupils. The next shot is an indoor scene. A younger relative asks in Spanish: “What did they remove?” The blind man answers: “My corneas”. The boy pulls the eyelids of the right eye apart. Superimposed on the cloudy white tissue the title floats into view: Organ Snatchers.
The name of the blind man is Pedro Reggi. He is 26 years old and lives in a small village 60 miles from Buenos Aires. His corneas, the voice-over says, were stolen during a period he spent in the Montes de Oca mental institution.
Organ Snatchers (‘Voleurs d’yeux’) is directed by French journalist Marie-Monique Robin, one of the most influential disseminators of the shocking message that in Latin America the organs of the poor are stolen for the benefit of the rich. The recipients may be wealthy Americans, but stolen corneas are also procured by transplant surgeons in France. Robin’s message does not fall on deaf ears. Her documentary has been aired in a number of countries and shown three times at United Nations meetings. A re-run on French television in January 1995 drew more than three million viewers.
Robin also sold her story to foreign magazines. In Life (October 1993) she describes Reggi as having “the emaciated face of Jesus Christ”. In a Dutch weekly  Reggi features as “the angel-faced boy” who “once had a pair of beautiful brown eyes, where now only two gaping holes remain”.
This last statement is an exaggeration: Reggi’s eyes may look horrible, but anyone can see that they are not gaping holes. What’s more his corneas are still there too, as someone with expert knowledge of eye surgery might tell you. I watched Organ Snatchers with Dutch ophthalmologist Mrs H. Volker-Dieben, board member of the Dutch Cornea Foundation. “The corneas are clouded”, she told me. “This looks like scar tissue caused by old infections, as far as I can judge from the video images. To be completely sure, I would have to examine the eyes myself, using the right kind of lamp”.
So Reggi’s corneas have not been stolen? No, the alleged theft would indeed have left his eye-sockets empty. Normally, to remove the cornea from a deceased donor a transplant surgeon will extract the eyeball in its entirety, replace it with a plastic ball of the same size and eventually glue the eyelids together.
The Dutch ophthalmologist’s observation tallies with medical records that became public after Reggi’s appearance in a previous British-Canadian documentary about organ traffic, The Body Parts Business: Reggi was born with bilateral glaucoma. He lost his eyesight due to eye diseases. 
The story of Pedro Reggi is not the only controversial episode in Organ Snatchers. On closer inspection the documentary’s emotional climax, the story of 10-year-old Jeison Cruz Vargas, the photogenic little blind boy with the flute, turns out to be equally doubtful.
In the documentary Robin meets Jeison in the Institute for the Blind in Bogota, Colombia. His mother Luz recalls taking Jeison to a hospital in the slums when he needed treatment for diarrhoea; when she saw him again the next day, his eyes had been removed. Her son’s medical file had been destroyed, she says. “It is a hospital for the poor, that’s why things like this are happening here. It’s the worst hospital in the world.”
Ever since Robin went public with Jeison’s story, this version of events has been vehemently contested by both the hospital involved – Salazar de Villeta – and the Colombian government. According to a statement (February 4, 1994) by the Colombian ombudsman for Health and Social Security, Jeison never underwent an eye operation. Barely four months old, he was hospitalised, suffering from severe malnourishment, dehydration and a number of serious ailments, including infection of the eyeball with Pseudomonas and infection of the cornea. Probably because his parents were very poor, they stopped the treatment and took the infant to a herb doctor. The infection destroyed his eyesight.
The row over Jeison’s eyes reached a climax after Robin’s documentary was awarded the Prix Albert Londres in May 1995, the most prestigious distinction for French journalists. Conscious of the fact that statements by Colombian doctors and officials do not carry much weight in France, the Colombian embassy had Jeison (now a 12-year-old) flown to Paris in August 1995 in order to have his eyes examined by two renowned French specialists in ophthalmology and infectious diseases. A pediatrician assessed the boy’s medical records. 
In their report the French doctors note that the eyeballs, although atrophied, are still there, as are parts of the cornea. The infection that irreparably damaged his eyesight is quite common for malnourished infants in the Third World. Again, Jeison’s eyes have not been stolen.
Moreover, the doctors argue, it is impossible to remove the corneas from a live donor without causing a severe haemorrhage, and no surgeon in his right mind
would use Jeison’s infected corneas for transplantation as they would kill the recipient. It might be added that with its 28,000 violent deaths per year, Colombia has no shortage of donors anyway. According to Colombian law, everyone is a potential donor unless the family objects. 
Embarrassed by the outcome of the medical examination, the Albert Londres jury suspended Robin’s award and promised to take a second, more thorough look at her documentary.  Robin, meanwhile, does not budge. To maintain that Jeison’s eyes have been stolen she has resorted to increasingly unlikely conspiracy theories and ad hominem arguments. The files could be forged – after all why did it take the Colombian hospital two years to produce them? “What is worth more” she asked, when confronted with the report, “a mother’s oral testimony, or the word of a group of experts who intervene twelve years after the fact and in whose interest it is to make people doubt the existence of organ traffic (for reasons of professional solidarity, a proven taste for secrecy, international friendships established during the course of their careers)?” 
Nor does she think the medical establishment is the only culprit. When I spoke to her in February 1995, Robin claimed that Jeison’s mother and other witnesses and authorities have all withdrawn their accusations under pressure from the United States Information Agency. 
In fact the USIA, a government institution that fights anti-American propaganda, does wage a campaign against Robin. Since 1988 it has published a number of reports systematically repudiating allegations of organ theft. This started out as a reaction to cold-war KGB propaganda, in which the United States were held responsible for the murder of South American children. The KGB has vanished but the atrocity stories are still with us and so is the USIA’s anti-rumour campaign. Robin blames the responsible USIA staff officer Todd Leventhal for much of her setbacks, and has even suggested that he was implicated in the theft of her car. She later received death threats by phone and on the Internet. As she repeatedly said to me: “It’s like a thriller.”
Hansel and Gretel
Marie-Monique Robin was not the first to call attention to the organ mafia. Stories about organ-napping first appeared in the world press in 1987.  On January 2 of that year a Honduran paper reported that disabled children were sold in the USA as a source of `spare parts’. Thirteen child victims had been discovered in four casas de engordes (`fattening houses’ – shades of Hansel and Gretel). The source of these reports was Leonardo Villeda Bermudez, secretary general of the Honduran committee for social welfare. On January 3, however, this official retracted his allegations, explaining that he had merely repeated the unconfirmed assumptions of social workers.
Later cases in Guatemala and Peru followed the same pattern: alarming but unsubstantiated reports which were withdrawn as soon as they were published. As bad news is more newsworthy than good news however, the initial disclosures were often reported by the press, whereas the subsequent denials were ignored. This is a professional vice of journalists, which may be even stronger in those who have an ideological axe to grind. Unsurprisingly, in the late eighties the horror-stories about organ theft were eagerly picked up and published by the Soviet media, which in the same period gave weight to the rumour that the HIV virus had been artificially created in an American biological warfare laboratory. 
The European Parliament too has twice spoken out against organ theft. In 1993 it passed a resolution condemning organ traffic. The resolution was based on a report by socialist Europarliamentarian Leon Schwartzenberg. In this report the former French minister of public health describes the medical, ethical and social consequences of the lack of donor organs and stresses the existence of a homicidal organ mafia.
The very idea that cynical traffickers literally sell the flesh of third world children evokes strong feelings of dismay and compassion. This does not make a detached, clinical took at the facts any easier. Schwartzenberg even disqualified sceptics by classing them with Holocaust deniers: “To deny such traffic is comparable to denying the existence of the gas chambers in the last war.”
In general, organ theft is implausible because clandestine transplantations require numbers of highly skilled medical personnel and sophisticated equipment that are not to be found in the countries where the organ thieves are said to operate
Nobody denies that in some countries (for instance Brazil, India and Egypt) poor people offer their organs for sale. In this respect organ traffic is a reality. Transplantation experts however are not prepared to assume the existence of a large scale mafia-controlled organ trade. Individual cases, like Pedro Reggi’s and Jeison’s do not stand up to scrutiny. In general, organ theft is implausible because clandestine transplantations require numbers of highly skilled medical personnel and sophisticated equipment that are not to be found in the countries where the organ thieves are said to operate. As Eurotransplant’s medical director Guido G. Persijn told me:
Of course it is possible to kidnap people, anaesthetise them and steal one of their kidneys, but to do that you also need a recipient, the recipient needs to have a matching blood group and tissue group. You need an HLA-typing… And how can you be sure that this Mr. X you’ve snatched off the street makes a suitable kidney donor in the first place? Isn’t he suffering from a renal disease, nephritis, HIV? You would need an immense organisation. It’s just not worth it.
Even the strongest evidence for organ theft, such as the reports of kidney-napping in India that emerged in February 1995 , is ambiguous at best. Poor inhabitants of a Bangalore village applied for jobs in the city and were robbed of their kidneys under the guise of a routine medical check-up. A specialist, a GP and two middlemen have been arrested. The German magazine Der Stern broke the news with an article headlined ‘Organ theft in India proven for the first time’.
Actually, Der Stern’‘s pictures of Indian men and women sporting huge scars merely prove that India has a markedly higher proportion of inhabitants with only one kidney than richer countries. By March 1995 more thin eighty alleged victims had registered with the Bangalore police. Yet according to the town’s police commissioner only a small fraction of those have really been robbed; the others supposedly sold one of their kidneys and are hoping to receive a higher remuneration by lodging a complaint. 
But why wait for conclusive evidence to be found? When I called him in February 1995, Stan Meuwesse, Director of the Dutch branch of the Defence for Children International (an organisation that fights child labour, child slavery, child prostitution and other forms of child abuse) asserted that organ theft is a reality. “The accepted facts and figures about child abuse are so overwhelming, that this has to be true too”, he argued, repeating an argument voiced by other representatives of Non-Governmental Organisations in the human rights field. Who would believe, Meuwesse asked, that 6-year-old Pakistani boys are forced to work as camel-jockeys in the Arab Emirates? Still, this is an undisputed fact.
Meuwesse emphasised that he had never seen a “consistent, reliable, clear” report about stolen corneas and kidneys. All there was to go on are the stories that are being repeated over and over again: stories Meuwesse said, that convince everyone in the children’s rights community.
In Organ Snatchers one of those recurring stories is told by Mexican parliamentarian Hector Ramirez, a member of the parliamentary commission charged with the investigation of illegal organ traffic. Ramirez recounts the case of a little boy who was kidnapped on the market in the Extapalapa quarter and turned up two months later on the same spot, a scar on his back marking the place where one of his kidneys had been extracted.
Ramirez: “His mother had him examined by a doctor. This confirmed her suspicions. When the little boy returned to her family, he brought $2,000 with him. I contacted his mother, but she wouldn’t tell anything at all. She was very scared. With the money she could take care of him.
For lack of names, pictures or documents, it is impossible to check this story. The official report by Ramirez does not mention it. Robin’s team could not locate a single victim or witness in Mexico. The story sounds improbable: why didn’t these supposedly ruthless criminals simply kill the eye-witness instead of delivering him to the scene of the crime with $2,000 – for pocket money? Random acts of kindness like this one have never been reported from other branches of crime.
If this story is convincing at all, the appeal lies not in its realism but in the moral point it makes. The story graphically expresses a message that speaks to the hearts of both poor Mexicans and human rights activists worldwide: Americans think that they can use the inhabitants of Latin America any way they like in return for a little pocket-money.Everything points to Ramirez’s story being a contemporary legend: a tale that surfaces time and again in different forms, but always appears to have happened recently just round the corner from where the story-teller lives. Unreal stories like this one can have real consequences though. In Colombia, Argentina, France, Switzerland, The Netherlands and other parts of the world, organ donations have dropped off as a result of these rumours, claim transplant organisations.
And “it has had a devastating, effect” on international adoptions, says Susan Cox, president of Holt Adoption Services in Oregon, one of the agencies that annually help place about 8,000 children with US parents. In Turkey, officials outlawed foreign adoptions after the organ-thieves myth took hold.  As sociologists are wont to observe: Whenever people experience a situation as real it will become real in its consequences. The truth of this dictum is brought out even more dramatically by the Guatemala organ theft scare of 1994.
Lynch Justice for Child Snatchers
Guatemala, March 8, 1994.  American tourist Melissa Larson (37) is sipping a glass of pineapple juice in the market of the village Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa. Suddenly she finds herself surrounded by angry villagers and accused of being a child snatcher. To protect her from the mob, Larson is arrested and smuggled out of the village by the authorities. When the inhabitants find out that she has gone, they turn on her protectors, burning down the police station and setting fire to ten cars. It takes five hundred riot police, army reinforcements and armoured cars to restore the peace. Larson, after 19 days in prison, has a lucky escape.
Less fortunate is 51-year-old June Weinstock, who came to San Cristobal to watch the Easter celebrations. On March 29 villagers spot her photographing children in the market and caressing a little boy. A woman who has lost sight of her 8-year-old son in the bustle looks at Weinstock with suspicion. “Maybe the gringa keeps the boy in her suitcase,” the ice-cream vendor jokes.
Weinstock becomes the centre of an increasing crowd: there is an American child stealer in town! She too needs police protection, as one thousand inhabitants lay siege to the police station. Five hours later she is dragged outside and brutally beaten. Weinstock lapses into a coma and has to be hospitalised. She suffered eight stabwounds, a fracture of the base of the skull and two broken arms. By then the lost boy has been back with his mother for some time.These incidents would never have happened without the rumours that preceded them. Long-haired foreigners were said to prey on children. A street urchin had been robbed of his corneas; his pocket was stuffed with US dollar bills. Eight babies were found with their hearts cut out. One had a hundred dollar bill stuck in the gaping wound with a note saying “Thanks for your co-operation”.
Graffiti warned Americans that they were not welcome: “Gringo child stealers go home”. Hysteria was fuelled in La Prensa Libre (March 13, 1994), Guatemala’s largest circulation daily, depicting the organ trade in the form of an advertising pamphlet. Ten usable organs are displayed like meat in a supermarket, with the prices they would fetch in the United States. The price-tag on the heart reads $100,000; a kidney is worth $65,000 and a cornea would fetch a mere $2,500 on the black market.
A Children’s Exodus
So, where do these stories come from? How did Jeison’s and Pedro Reggi’s families come to believe that their child’s blindness was caused by thieves? Apparently these stories have not been inspired by actual crimes. So, could they be leftist propaganda spread by deceitful journalists, as the US Information Agency has repeatedly suggested? In its most recent report on The Child Organ Trafficking Rumour (December 1994), the USIA does not come down as hard on ‘Soviet front groups’ as it used to; it provides much useful information but still does not explain the phenomenon.
Both parties – humanitarian believers and US Government sceptics, but most of all the believers – underestimate the power of the people themselves to develop and circulate unofficial explanations as a reaction to actual circumstances and tensions. In other words they underestimate their ability to create rumours. These stories originated in Latin American cities, not in a communist-era Russian ministry.
The most detailed study of these rumours has been made by folklorist Véronique Campion-Vincent of Paris. Campion-Vincent, who has been monitoring the organ theft rumour for years, maintains that it is much more than cynical propaganda. Rather, the rumour is the unreal synthesis of two real consequences of the poverty that afflicts Latin America: adoption and organ traffic. 
Children from Latin American countries are much in demand on the adoption market. At the times of the attacks on American tourists in Guatemala, on average twenty children per week were adopted from that country, half of them by Americans. Not all requests from American and European couples for the adoption of a Latin American child are met by legal means. Documents are forged, mothers sell their babies and even kidnappings occur. Clandestine foster homes do exist and are frequently discovered by the authorities. The people themselves regard this children’s exodus with mixed feelings: what will the future of the children be like? Do they not rather belong in our country?
As we have seen, the selling of bodyparts belongs to the reality of third world countries too. Rumours about organ theft, says Campion-Vincent, posit an imaginary connection between the two phenomena: according to the rumour, the adoptions serve the organ trade as well.
A third fact of life in Latin America that feeds the rumour is the high level of everyday violence, vividly described by anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes in a chilling chapter of her book Death Without Weeping.  Scheper-Hughes shared the life of the poor in a community in North-East Brazil, a region where ‘disappearing’ is a frightful and by no means imaginary way of departing this world. The anonymous bodies of the victims may turn up on the side of the road, their genitals cut off and their eyes plucked out. Violence is such a routine feature of the world these people live in, that they cannot even take ownership of their own body for granted. And so, starting in the mid-1980′s, the anxiety of the poor produced rumours of organ traffic.
It was said that the teaching hospitals of Recife and the large medical centres throughout Brazil were engaged in an active traffic in body parts, a traffic with international dimensions. Shantytown residents reported multiple sightings of large blue or yellow vans driven by foreign agents (usually North American or Japanese), who were said to patrol neighbourhoods looking for small stray children whom the drivers mistakenly believed no-one in the overpopulated slums and shantytowns would ever miss.” 
According to Scheper-Hughes, inhabitants of the first and third world hold incompatible views of organ donation:
“While Western Europeans and North Americans persist in thinking of organ transplants as ‘gifts’ donated freely by loving and altruistic people, to the people of the Alto, whose bodies are so routinely preyed on by the wealthy and powerful (in economic and symbolic exchanges that have international dimensions), the organ transplant implied less a gift than a commodity [...] The Brazilian rumours express poor people’s perceptions, grounded in an economic and biotechnomedical reality, that their bodies and the bodies of their children may be worth more dead than alive to the rich and powerful. 
These feelings of powerlessness in the face of ruthless exploitation predate the introduction of transplant su-gery. In fact, stories of white killers stalking poor South Americans for their bodyparts fit a native tradition which already existed long before adoption and transplantation became important issues. One of the white ogres that abound in these traditional legends is the ‘pishtaco’ of the Andean Indians, a night prowler who collects human fat.  He sells his booty to factories (as a lubricant) or to pharmaceutical companies (as a basis for medication). Indian fat was also said to be used to start up jet engines. The monsters have kept up with the times and are presently hunting for corneas and kidneys.
The EuroKidney Gang
The fear of cutthroat physicians that thrives under the corrugated iron roofs of South America exists as well in American and western European luxury apartments. Although emotions do not run as high as in the third world, the Dutch, for instance, have their own rumours about stolen bodyparts. In 1990 a contemporary legend circulated in The Netherlands that is the mirror image of the Latin American versions. A widely known and believed story told how a businessman or tourist visits Brazil (or Tunisia or Turkey), is anaesthetised by kidnappers and on recovery finds that one of his kidneys is missing. 
Since 1992 a new version is doing the rounds, this time starring a child rather than an adult victim. On a daytrip to Disneyland Paris parents lose sight of one of their children. After a while the little boy  is found on a bench, pale and dazed, with a big scar marking the spot where his kidney has been extracted.
Such stories surfaced within two weeks of the Paris theme-park opening its gates in 1992. They do not only scare Dutch parents: German, Swiss, Austrian and Swedish parents too fear for their toddlers’ safety in EuroDisney. In spite of this, not one single victim – or his parents – has ever come forward. Disney denies that the incident ever took place (but they would, wouldn’t they?). The story is a textbook example of a contemporary legend. 
Typically legend-like too, is the way the story adapts itself to its surroundings. The EuroDisney kidnap scare does reflect a certain amount of xenophobia, but it is not the expression of a people that feels exploited. So, like their Mexican counterparts, the Parisian kidney thieves kindly return their victims to the scene of the crime, but in contrast to their Latin American colleagues, they never give them thousands of dollars for pocket money.
The Blood Carriage
Moral panics caused by tales about strangers who kidnap and kill children have been around at least since the Blood Libel legend accused Jews of mixing their Passover matzo dough with the blood of Christian children. Among those numerous historical rumour panics there is one that is the spitting image of today’s organ theft scare. 
Paris, May 1750. The city is in uproar, because under the eyes of the populace police are arresting children on the streets, taking them away in shuttered carriages, destination unknown. The people resist; riots ensue. Police officer Labbe is caught redhanded as he grabs an 11-year old boy. The boy is liberated by the mob and Labbe has to run for his life. He enters a house and tries to hide under a bed, but his pursuers drag him out into the street. Guards come running, prise him from the hands of his captors and take him toa police commissioner’s residence. The people lay siege to his refuge and demand those inside to surrender the kidnapper. In the end, they kick in the door. There is an exchange of gunfire, the furious crowd wrestles Labbé away from his guards and puts him to death with sticks and stones.
In a way the Parisians are not mistaken: policemen do randomly arrest boys and put them in jail without granting them a proper trial. This is part of an operation to clear the streets of vagabonds. As the police receive a reward for every arrested child, they are not particular about the ones they arrest; even those whose age, behaviour or social status does not fit the description run the risk of being apprehended.
Ambiguous situations like these are ideal breeding grounds for rumour, and indeed, in no time rumours do emerge. The children are cut open, it is said, and bled to death in a tub because an ailing prince – or a princess or even the King himself – has to bathe in children’s blood. This story did not originate in Paris in 1750. It was already told about the Emperor Constantine, who refused to be cured in this un-Christian way and saw his health restored by God as a reward for his righteousness.
In Paris, the then king, Louis XV was one of the targets of the rumour. For his atrocities he was compared with Herod, the murderer of the innocent children. According to the French historians Arlette Farge and Jacques Revel, the fact that the people pointed to King Louis as the perpetrator reveals their hatred of a ruler who had turned from a benefactor into a Herod.
The rumour was known in 18th century Antwerp too.  Parents used to warn their children against staying out late by telling them about the ‘Blood Carriage’, a beautiful horse-drawn carriage. Inside is a rich lady who offers sweets to children playing in the street and asks them to accompany her to her castle and play with her daughter. If this approach does not succeed, she’ll just drag them inside. In her castle, their big toes are chopped off and they bleed to death in a tub for a king who suffers from a severe illness and can be cured only by the blood of children under seven.
Parisian children forced to donate their blood for an ailing member of the royal family find an exact counterpart in Third World children who are robbed of their organs for the benefit of rich Westerners – in fact, the rumour had not really changed in two and a half centuries. One version of the rumour, that stirred trouble in 1768 Lyon, even involved transplantations.  To provide a mutilated prince with a fresh arm, a new child was kidnapped each day. Day after day surgeons tried to graft a new arm, but each time the operation failed.
Earlier versions of this article appeared in the Dutch magazines Wetenschap, Cultuur & Samenleving (April 1995) and Skepter (September 1995), and in my collection of contemporary legends and rumours, Der Gebraden Baby (Amsterdam 1995). Véronique Campion-Vincent, Todd Leventhal and Eduardo Mackenzie were very generous in sharing their opinions and research materials.
- Panorama (no. 50, 1993)
- Report by Dr Patricia Rey, Buenos Aires, 6 Dec. 1993
- Renard, G., M. Gentilini, A. Fischer, Rapport d’examen de i’enfant Wenis Yeison Crus Vargas. Paris, 10 August 1995. For reactions of Robin and other parties involved see: Gillot, Nathalie, ‘Polémique sur l’enfant aveugle.’ France-Soir, 12 August 1995; Nau, Jean-Yves, ‘Un reportage sur les greffes de cornées en Colombie suscite un polemique.’ Le Monde, 17 Aug. 1996; Proenza, Anne, ‘Un document violemment critiqué a Bogota.’ Le Monde 17 Aug. 1995; Bantman, Beatrice, ‘Jeison, aveugle mais pas victime.’ Liberation, 18 Sept. 1995; Fritisch, Laurence,‘C’était une maladie,’ France-Soir, 19 Sept. 1995; Nau, Jean-Yves, ‘Un rapport medical contredit un reportage sur un traffic d’organes en Colombie.‘ Le Monde, 19 Sept. 1995.
- Proenza, op. cit.
- Mackenzie, Eduardo,’Suspendido premio a Marie Monique Robin.’ El Espectador, 26 Sept. 1995
- Bantman, op. cit.
- This is contradicted by her one-time collaborator, Colombian human rights activist Hector Torres, who agreed to keep an eye on Jeison’s mother. According to him she has not been threatened. (Proenza, op, cit.)
- The most comprehensive overviews of the rumour’s history have been written by Campion-Vincent: ‘The Baby-parts story: a new Latin American legend’ Western Folklore 49, (Jan. 1990), pp.9-25 and Leventhal, Todd: The child organ trafficking rumour: a modern ‘urban legend’. USIA, Dec. 1994
- Soviet Active Measures in the Era of Glasnost, USIA, Washington, July 1989, pp.12-13. For a less patriotic perspective on the Aids rumours, see Turner, Patricia A., Heard it through the Grapevine; rumour in African-American culture, Berkely [etc.] 1993, pp. 151-164.
- Penberthy, Jefferson, ‘An abominable trade’, Time 20 Feb. 1995; Ulli Rauss & Jay Ullal, ‘Nieren-Klau in Indien’, Stern, 23 Feb. 1995.
- Leventhal, Todd, ‘The illegal transportation and sale of human organs: reality or myth?’ Paper read at the annual meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Ghent, 25 Apr. 1995.
- Frankel, Mark, John Barry & David Schrieberg, ‘Too good to be true.’ Newsweek, June 26 1995.
- Main sources for the Guatemala organ theft scare: ’Foreigners attacked in Guatemala.’ New York Times, 5 Apr. 1994; Carol Morello, ‘A nation in the grip of panic’. Philadelphia Inquirer, 10 Apr. 1994; Mark Frankel & Edward Orlebar, ‘Child stealers go home’ Newsweek, 18 Apr. 1994; Laura Lopez ‘Dangerous Rumors’, Time, 18 Apr. 1994; Gleck, Elizabeth, ‘Rumor and Rage’, People, 25 Apr. 1994; ‘Body parts panic in Guatemala’ FOAFtale News 33/34 (June 1994), pp.17-18; Shonder, John A., ‘Organ theft rumors in Guatemala, some personal observations’, FOAFtale News 35 (Oct. 1994), pp. 1-4.
- Campion-Vincent, op. cit.
- Scheper-Hughes, Nancy, Death Without Weeping: the violence of everyday life in Brazil, Berkeley [etc.] 1992, chapter 6: ‘Everyday violence. Bodies, death and silence.’ pp. 216-267. Pages 233-239 deal with rumours of organ traffic.
- Op, cit, p. 233
- Op. cit. p. 238-239
- Oliver-Smith, Anthony, ‘The Pishtaco, Institutionalised fear in highland Peru’, Journal of American Folklore 82 (1969), pp. 363-368; Caro, Frank de. ‘The body parts panic and the Peruvian pistaco tradition.’ FOAFtale News 36 (Jan. 1995), pp. 1-2.
- Burger, Peter, De Wraak van der Kangoeroe. Sagen uit het Moderne Leven. Amsterdam 1992, pp. 23-2620 Whenever the tellers specify the child’s gender, it’s always a boy. Why?
- Numerous collectors of contemporary legends in all parts of the world have recorded versions of the kidney heist legend. See, for example, Brednich, Rolf Wilhelm, Sagenhafte Geschichten von Herute. Munchen 1994, pp 215-217, 310-311; Brunvand, Jan Harold, The Baby Train and other Lusty Urban Legends. New York 1989, pp. 149-154; Czubala, Dionizjusz, ‘The “Black Volga”: child abduction urban legends in Poland and Russia’, FOAFtale News 21 (March 1991), pp 1-2; Goldstuck, Arthur, The Leopard in the Luggage. Urban legends from Southern Africa, Johannesburg, 1993, pp. 99-101; Klintberg, Bengt af, Den Stoma Njuren, Sagner och Rykten i var Tid. Norstedts, 1994, pp. 15-22, 66-68; Seat, Graham. Great Australian Urban Myths, Sydney 1995, pp. 133-135; Toselli, Paolo, La famosa invasione delle vipere valanti e altre leggende metropolitane dell’Italia d’oggi. Milan 1994, pp. 149-164.
- Forge, Arlette & Jacques Revel. Logiques de la Foule. L’affair des Enlevements d’enfants Paris 1750, Paris 1988. (English translation The Vanishing Children of Paris, Cambridge, MA, 1991)
- Roodenburg, Herman. ‘The autobiography of Isabella de Moerloose: sex, childrearing and popular belief in seventeenth century Holland.’ Journal of Social History 18 (1984/5) pp. 522-524; ‘More on body parts abductions’, FOAFtale News 32 (Feb. 1994), p.10.
- Campion-Vincent, op. cit
These responses to Martin Kottmeyer’s article Gill Again, appeared in Magonia 55, March 1996
It was so reassuring to be told by Martin Kottmeyer that although the Gill case is “an impressive anomaly”, it is “of course not impressive enough to make me believe in visiting extraterrestrials”. After all, we would not want the armchair readers of Magonia to be disturbed in their complacent view that everything can be explained by recourse to the social sciences and folklore.
But my confidence in Kottmeyer faltered when I saw that although he mentions Cruttwell twice he does not seem to have consulted the Rev. Norman Cruttwell’s exhaustive investigation of the Papua and New Guinea sightings of 1958 – 59, for if he had he would have realised that the Gill sightings of the 26th and 27th June were but two of over seventy reported UFOs during the wave, which ranged from lights in the sky to seemingly structured solid objects.
It would be disappointing if Magonia were to be no different from all those other UFO magazines busy bolstering up the belief systems of `New Agers’, abductees, etc. all too willing to be economical with the facts when they don’t suit the dogma.I am still convinced that despite our growing sophistication concerning earth-lights, altered mental states, psychosocial forces etc., there is still a signal behind the noise that says that the most convincing explanation for the Gill case is that they all saw exactly what they said they saw up there.
In case anyone is interested the Rev. Cruttwell’s report was printed in full in Flying Saucer Review special issue number 4, published August 1971.
Yours sincerely, Michael Buhler, London E.l.
I read with great interest Martin Kottmeyer’s article about the sightings of Father Gill of Papua New Guinea (Magonia 54). Let me bring forward some comments.
The elevation of the phenomenon is perhaps the major pitfall of the boat hypothesis. Note that Father Gill stated the following: “Venus was in its proper place, and then further up, more or less overhead, was another Venus” (Basterfield, p.21). By the way, another mention can be found in the text omitted in one of Kottmeyer’s quotations (paragraph taken from reference 17 in Magonia, page 13). The missing fragment reads “Well, why not wave to people up there? So we did.”
Concerning the location of Giwa and Boianai, I am not sure that Kottmeyer has it right for I have seen these places located differently in other articles. Is there a Magonia reader with good enough cartography as to settle the matter? [Editor's comment: The map was taken from the Readers' Digest World Atlas]
Finally it would be interesting to take a closer look at the details of the drawings and the circumstances in which they were made. We are told that the witnesses did the sketches independently. But why are the drawings of Rarata and Guyorobo so similar? And what about the way the witnesses choose to represent the upper shaft of light so conventionally with a broken line?
Has it any relevance that the object depicted by Father Gill is literally a `flying saucer’ while the sketches of Rarata and Guyorobo seem to be more akin to the spaceship of Adamski? By the way, is there any clue as to what the three rods on top of Rarata’s and Guyorobo’s drawings mean? Light rays? People? Aerials?
Manuel Borraz Aymerich, L’Hospitalet, Barcelona
Martin Kottmeyer’s articles are usually watertight, but his explanation of the Father Gill sighting as a boat at sea springs too many leaks to float:
1. The UFO of June 27 was an all-terrain vehicle, crossing both land and sea. Though most descriptions are unclear, Rev. Gill said in a talk, four months after the event that the object “wandered over the sky a bit”. passed behind a hill, came back, then “shot right across the bay” (Keith Basterfield, An in depth review of Australasian UFO related entity reports p.27). Allan Hendry’s illustration (UFO Handbook p.274) approved by Rev. Gill, shows the UFO over land during the waving incident.
2. Even assuming gross error and the ‘UFO’ really was a boat, it had to lie close to shore. Gill’s distance estimate of 300-400 feet suits the proportions of the beings in his illustration, if they are of average height, and a location in the northwest or west assures that the boat stayed close to the westward-running shoreline. The sea is not a lake and seldom becomes mirror-smooth. A boat near to shore would have breakers and the unsettled weather of a night with intermittent rain to spoil the illusion of doubling or a false horizon.
3. Why would a squid-fishing boat work the shallow waters of a bay, if the purpose of the bright lights is to lure squid from the depths?
4. The most important point is that the UFOs were clearly seen in the sky. Gill describes the craft appearing above Venus, and Hendry (p.134) cites a 45-degree angle of elevation during the waving episode. Even allowing for a great deal of error in angle estimates, the witnesses would have to be remarkably disoriented to mistake a horizontal for an elevated line of sight. On the 27th it was not even dark, and given a background of shore and mountains two miles away to the west, opportunities for disorientation were minimal. The witnesses knew they were looking up.
Too many irreconcilable facts scuttle the boat theory.
Thomas E. Bullard, Bloomington, Indiana
Despite my long-standing admiration for Martin Kottmeyer, I must challenge his inadequate characterisation of my views on the Rev. Gill New Guinea UFO case of 1959 in his article in your November issue. According to Kottmeyer, “Klass suggested it was a hoax”. A more accurate characterization, as detailed in my book UFOs explained is that I believe the incident was a practical joke that went astray.
Gill’s associate, Reverend Norman Cruttwell had become very interested in UFOs and had been named an official UFO observer in New Guinea for Flying Saucer Review. Crutwell asked his other missionary associates in New Guinea to assist by reporting local UFO sightings and many did so promptly. But it was almost six months before Gill reported his first UFO sighting to Crutwell, who gently chided Gill for not being more attentive.
On the night of June 26, 1959, Gill reported sighting a bright light in the sky around 6:45 p.m. and he reported that he and some natives spent more than four hours observing this UFO and what appeared to be human-like creatures atop it. The next night around 6 p.m., the natives alerted Gill that the UFO had returned and he joined them on the beach. As Gill later reported to Cruttwell, they could see human-like figures on the UFO. Gill reported that when he waved at one of the creatures, “the figure did the same”. Soon the UFO appeared to be approaching the shore, as if it were going to land.
What an exciting moment that must have been – perhaps Gill and his native friends would be the first Earthlings to shake hands with extraterrestrials! But then, according to Gill, “at 6:30 p.m., I went to dinner”. ETs could wait, the ‘inner man’ needed to be fed. At 7 p.m. Gill returned to the beach, but now the UFO had moved away and so he departed for church services.
Gill reporting these exciting events to Cruttwell in a letter that began: “Dear Norman: Here is a lot of material – the kind you have been waiting for, no doubt; but I am in some ways sorry that it has to be me who supplies it. Attitudes at Dogura in respect of my sanity vary greatly, and like all mad men, I myself think my grey cells are O.K…:”
It is my view that Gill was pulling Cruttwell’s leg, and never suspected that Cruttwell would take his fantastic (for the 1959 era) tale seriously. Once Cruttwell had publicized Gill’s story, it would be awkward for Gill to admit that he never dreamed that his associate would be so credulous. I do not believe that Gill intentionally created a hoax tale to try to embarrass his good friend and associate.
Sincerely Philip J. Klass, Washington, D.C.
In Magonia 57, September 1996, Kottmeyer replies to his critics:
Looks like I have some objections to deal with. Let’s start with Bullard’s four points.
1. Bullard asserts that the UFO of June 27 was an all-terrain vehicle, crossing not just sea but land as well, the latter being inconsistent with a ship. In the talk some four months after the encounter the object “wandered over the sky a bit”, passed behind a hill, came back, then “shot right across the bay”In the original report these quoted behaviours are not associated with the events of the 27th, but the 26th. The wandering behaviour was reported in association with all the UFOs, and sounds consistent with autokinesis. In saying the object shot across the bay the original report adds, “It diminished to a pinpoint and vanished” which suggests the motion was not across the field of vision but along the line of sight. This vanishing would have involved speeds of thousands of miles per hour, but “there was no sound”, i.e. no sonic boom. This probably proves the interpretation was wrong. The description seems suggestive of the light just meeting the horizon as the boat was dropping below the curvature of the Earth. The closest thing I can find to something passing behind a hill in the original report refers to events in the 8:35 entry: “Another one over Wadobuna village”. (Seers, p.47) Cruttwell describes it as an object that “swooped up and away over the mountains”, (p.52) As the word ‘another’ indicates, this is not the same object that had the figures walking around on top of it.
The artist’s depiction of the object over land in Hendry’s Handbook was approved by Gill, but this may only indicate that he was satisfied the UFO was drawn correctly, The drawings in the original report are not framed by reference points in the locale of the observations, nor are there any verbal references to the object with the figures ever being seen over land.
2. Seas rarely are mirror-smooth, but I am not asking for miracles. Consider the miracle implicit in the assumption that Americans actually had silent flying platforms on manoeuvres in Papua in 1959. Consider the miracle of an alien vessel crewed by humans gratuitously levitating over the water for hours with no visible propulsion, no disturbance in the water beneath it attracting attention, and no deafening noise.
I suspect the postulated light-to-calm wind conditions necessary for the illusion may be reflected in a curious little detail that caught my attention in re-reading the report. Gill indicated there was a glow about the craft with figures. “The glow did not touch them, but there appeared a little space between their outline and the light”. (Seers, p.50) This is less mysterious than it first reads. What I believe is happening here is that exhaust was forming a cloud of smoke to the side of the boat and the light from the centre of the deck was casting shadows forward onto the cloud. Wind conditions would have to be minimal or the exhaust would have dispersed quickly. For a sharp thin space to be present the cloud had to be close and not enveloping the crew itself, making it unlikely the cloud was meteorological in origin.
3. I confess I know too little about squid to argue about whether or not they avoid shallow waters. Any squidologists out there in our readership?
4. Bullard quotes Hendry as giving an elevation of 45 degrees during the waving episode. Hendry was not quoting Gill in that passage. It is a blatant mistake. He was confusing the angle made by the blue beam of light with the angular elevation, In the IUR report Gill’s estimate was only 30 degrees. Bullard would inevitably reiterate that this is still much too high. I would agree if we could trust its accuracy. There is however no angular elevation in the field notes or Cruttwell’s report. This detail emerges first in the lUR re-interview and this makes it a decades-old memory. Even outside the issues of reliability of such memories, angular elevations are generally very inaccurate. Ask people to point to the mid-point between the zenith and the horizon and they don’t point at 45 degrees but down around 30 or 20 degrees and, rarely, even as low as 12 degrees. (Minnaert, pp.153-4)
One point of clarification: Bullard uses the word disorientation in describing the illusion I propose. In general usage this is thought to be synonymous with vertigo and I just want it understood that I don’t assert the involvement of vertigo.
Aymerich’s point about Gill saying the object was above Venus is a more substantial objection. If one regards the observation as infallible, then there is no ready explanation for it that I would risk offering. The observation is not in Gill’s field notes and is not signed onto by the other witnesses. It thus comes down to one man’s word. As such it is vulnerable to the standard doubts about memory (See Drake’s remark about the rapid decay of accuracy of memory encountered in investigating meteor reports in Sagan & Taves, p.254). It may involve a transpositional error or an unintentionally leading question like what Elizabeth Loftus found in her investigations of memory. There are other possibilities. I concede in advance there are no independent grounds for affirming Gill made such an error. Acceptance of the possibility hinges on how much one wants a solution or how much one wants the case to remain a mystery.
Acknowledging their oddness, I share Aymerich’s interest in wanting to know what those three rods drawn by Guyorobo and Rarata are.
Buhler proclaims his faith that the most convincing explanation for the Gill case is that they saw what they saw. Did he notice that Gill said he saw “a strange new devicee of you Americans”? This isn’t a problem for you?
If I am guilty of sins of omission, let me reply that my critics are not innocents either. None take up the challenge to offer a better explanation. None acknowledge, let alone answer, the objections raised by the alternatives. Bullard wants a water-tight explanation which satisfies an absolute standard of correct vs. incorrect. None of the solutions advanced to date, even the fuzzy one of it being a part of the UFO phenomenon, squares perfectly in every detail. My failure to offer one is less a reflection of my incompetence than the intractability of the case itself. Frankly, I was simply trying to get an answer that floated better than the competition.
Buhler’s insinuation that I dodge uncomfortable details and ought to have discussed the other seventy plus cases in the Cruttwell report is to me a damn irksome thing to say. Can you show me any believer in the case who ever acknowledged any difficulties in their assumption this case involves an alien visitation or how different it is from all the other cases they hold dear? I am hardly alone in ignoring the rest of the report. Some I suspect fear the implications it was part of a general hysteria, an assumption which would be strengthened if they assessed the very much lower quality of those other cases. For the record, I ignored them because I had my hands full with just the Gill case.
- M. Minnaert. The Nature of Light and Colour in the Open Air, Dover, 1954.
- Carl Sagan and Thornton Page. UFOs – A Scientific Debate, Norton Library, 1954.
- Stan Seers. UFOs: the Case for Scientific Myopia, Vantage, 1983
Originally published in Magonia 54, November 1995
In a 1979 survey of ninety leading ufologists, Ron Story found the case of Father Gill of Papua New Guinea was most mentioned when he asked for the strongest UFO evidence. 
Jerry Clark had acclaimed it as “History’s Best Case” in an article for Fate magazine the year before.  J. Allen Hynek termed it a “classic” and said he was impressed by the quality and number of witnesses and the character and demeanour of Reverend Gill.  In The UFO Experience he gave it the highest probability rating among the close encounters of the third kind.  Jacques Vallee thought it “one of the great classics in UFO history”.  The Lorenzens include an assessment of it by one of their APRO representatives as “one of the most important ever recorded” in their Flying Saucers: The Startling Evidence of the Invasion from Outer Space. 
It wasn’t hyperbole. There are 38 witnesses. No other entity case comes close to that number. Twenty-five signed their names to a detailed report. Five of them were teachers and three were medical assistants. There was agreement the object was circular, had a wide base, a narrow upper deck, a type of legs, four human figures, and a shaft of blue light which shone upwards into the sky at an angle of 45°. It was visible for hours. The Australian Air Force, while able to explain away some details of the case as astronomical bodies, confessed they could reach no definite conclusions and granted the seeming presence of “a major light source of unknown origin”.  Sceptics, including Donald Menzel, Daniel Cohen and Phil Klass, have not fared well in their criticisms of the case.  Gill answered the major charges convincingly when he was interviewed by Hynek. There’s been no confession or revelations pointing to a solution. While we don’t hear it mentioned much these days amid the din of things like Roswell and the Greys, it is not because of any resolution of the puzzle or the discovery of stronger evidence for UFOs. It’s still an impressive anomaly.
It of course isn’t impressive enough to make me believe in visiting extraterrestrials. Indeed the high point of the case highlights one of the core paradoxes of the UFO phenomenon. The figures on the deck waved back at the witnesses on the beach leading them to think it would soon land. Yet it didn’t. Why no contact, given this seeming friendliness? The case invites question after question about it that seem to cast doubts on a veridical extraterrestrial interpretation. Of all the places in the world to reveal themselves to this maximal extent, why Papua New Guinea? Why 1959 and never again? Why did it float about in the air for hours, slowly drifting, especially when most saucers of that era went blazing about at great speeds? Why do the drawings show a UFO much thicker than most of the saucers of that era? Why are the figures walking about on top of it; something we don’t see much of in reports nowadays? Why are the figures so human-looking; so unlike contemporary Greys? Guyorobo’s drawing shows branching legs that seem unlike anything else in the UFO literature, why? What is with that 45° shaft of blue light? Why is it pointed up instead of down as they usually are in cases with light beams? If it is a laser, as some suggest, what is it firing at, illuminating, or connecting? The case is so singular, one wonders if it even belongs with the rest of the UFO phenomenon.
Yet what is the alternative? Klass suggested it was a hoax.  This has its difficulties. Gill was an ordained Anglican priest. Even granting religious authority has lost some of its lustre in recent years in the wake of televangelism scandals, this is still a good mark in the case’s behalf. The involvement of five teachers similarly suggests a group of people likely to have a higher moral standard than average. The story told by Gill is oddly banal set next to most of the hoaxes in UFO history. The figures on deck seem only to be working and their interaction with the witnesses is limited to waving. There is no dramatic conflict, no sense of danger, no sense of horror, no indications of cheekiness. Gill’s field notes have an authentically clipped style of someone briefly noting events he is observing. There is a notable lack of narrative quality to the notes. They don’t build up to a climax and lack adjectives, superlatives, or flourishes of an imaginative sort.
Klass proclaims his disbelief over the Gill case mainly on a single point. He cannot accept that Gill would go to dinner with the prospect of a landing at hand. Gill acknowledged this seems odd to him in retrospect in his interview with Hynek. Yet the field notes provide a ready explanation:
Waving by us was repeated, and this was followed by more flashes of the torch, then the UFO began slowly to become bigger, apparently coming in our direction. It ceased after perhaps half a minute and came no further. After a further two or three minutes the figures apparently lost interest in us, for they disappeared below deck.
At 6:25 two figures reappeared to carry on whatever they were doing before the interruption. The blue spotlight came on for a few seconds, twice in succession. The two UFOs remained stationary and high up – higher than last night, or smaller than last night.
6:30 P.M. I went to dinner.
There was no longer any forward motion to indicate a landing was imminent. There was no more interest by the figures in Gill or the others on the beach. This suggests simple reciprocity. With the figures showing lack of interest in Gill, Gill probably lost interest in them in turn. He had watched them for four hours the previous night with no sign of a landing; why stand around another four hours when he could be eating? Indeed the point can be flipped around; why would a hoaxer include such a banal detail as figures going below deck and then returning to do unspecified work involving “occasionally bending over and raising their arms as though adjusting, or setting up something (not visible)”? Why doesn’t Gill claim they landed, exchanged greetings and moral platitudes, and invited him on board for a ride? That would be more in line with the stories we saw in the fifties.
Then there is the matter of motive. What would possess 25 people, including teachers and medical people, to risk potential scandal? What would possess Gill to drag so many people into a hoax and risk having them giving the game away? Even he could get a consensus to play a joke on Cruttwell, we are told by Cruttwell that the witnesses had told their stories to other Papuans who passed the news on to him. Did Gill ask them to lie to all these other people as well? With these people making up a religious community, one would expect any hoax to more likely involve an effort to supply miracles to buttress the faith. There is no religious detailing to Gill’s story at all. It makes too little sense for the hoax explanation to be credible.
This leaves us with the idea of a misinterpretation. Donald Menzel proposed that Gill had been viewing the planet Venus. It was near maximum brightness and “roughly in the position indicated by Father Gill”.Menzel saw the obvious objections: “Planets don’t appear to have men standing on them. Planets do not send out search lights.” His way round this was by assuming Gill had myopia and astigmatism. The men would be “slightly out of focus images of [his] eyelashes”. The search beam “could easily have been the effect of clouds”. He states we have no way of knowing whether the other people who signed Gill’s report actually saw what Gill saw.  Evidently Menzel did not see Cruttwell’s report for there was verbal confirmation of agreement by the witnesses of these details to the investigator and a drawing by Stephen Gill Moi also has four figures visible. Worst of all, Menzel asserts Gill “never even mentions” Venus as a point of reference, when he most certainly did: “I saw Venus, but I also saw this sparkling object…”  In a later account for a lecture Gill mentioned that he had seen Venus set on the prior night, but on the night of the sighting he became aware of the UFO because “there wasn’t one Venus, but two”.  When Gill met with investigators in the seventies, he provided them with his documented optometric history which effectively refuted Menzel’s scenario. 
Allan Hendry toyed with a variant of Menzel’s scenario, suggesting that Gill’s Venus was Mercury and the UFO was still Venus. “On all three nights, the time of disappearance of the main UFO never exceeds the time Venus sets … the coincidence of the disappearance of the main UFO and the time of Venus setting is provocative.” The long duration of the sighting is consistent with other cases involving astronomical misinterpretations. Against this, as Hendry was quick to point out, we have Gill saying the apparent diameter was five times the moon’s width, the bearing of 30° altitude in the WNW, and the basic similarity of the drawings by four of the witnesses.  His final assessment was that the case couldn’t be pushed any farther in terms of investigation: “At least we feel confident that the sighting was generated either by an extraordinary UFO as described, or by Venus distorted in size and shape by (amazing) atmospheric distortions (and memory spanning 18 years by Father Gill) … BUT NOTHING ELSE” (emphases and punctuation by IUR).
More recently Steuart Campbell has added a characteristically wild twist by suggesting the “sparkling object” involved a mirage of Mercury at first, and then later, tricked by discontinuities in observations created by clouds, the object was confusedly mistaken with mirages of Mars and Venus.  He doesn’t even try to account for the four figures or how dozens of people could be fooled by mirages for hours.
The case is probably even worse than you might guess. None of the sources give the coordinates of Venus that evening. When I finally got someone to provide the data, I learned Venus had an azimuth of roughly 285° when it set that evening – that’s 15° north of west. In the field notes of 26 June, we have an observation at 9:30 p.m. reading “‘Mother’ gone across sea to Giwa – white, red, blue, gone.” That’s the last it is seen that evening. Giwa is located along a line running 70° north of west (340° azimuth) giving a substantial disparity of 55°. This is pretty hard to argue away as normal eyewitness fallibility.I suspect most ufologists might accept that one person alone could hallucinate seeing a group of people inside or on a flying saucer, but not two. Having 25 people sign a report claiming they saw this and having them agree this is what they saw in the follow up is totally without parallel in the literature and without clear precedent in either abnormal psychology or Fortean history. It might be possible; perhaps they all drank from a keg of something spiked with an hallucinogen and Gill became accidental guide, but it hardly seems probable. This approach seemed as clearly counter-indicated as the hoax and ETH ideas. In saying “BUT NOTHING ELSE”, Hendry seemed to close the book on the case and it would be hard to deny that assessment was completely fair. No other alternative was obvious. I can’t say it troubled me much. Unexplained means unexplained. It happens sometimes.
Last year  I read a couple of papers by Paul Rydeen which compared UFO belief to cargo cults.  I’d seen the idea before, but they put me in the mood to acquire Lamont Linndstrom’s new treatise Cargo Cult to see if it might be a fruitful subject to explore. It was, but in a way I didn’t count on.
Papua was where cargo cults first sprung up. Cargo cult belief involved the expectation that ships sent by one’s ancestors would some day arrive bearing cargo that would make them as wealthy as European colonisers. The Europeans perpetually spoke of cargo shipments from their distant home that were running late. World War Two escalated and shifted cargo expectations because of the immense sea and air traffic involving American shipments of troop supplies. GIs had spread the wealth around during their stay. Cargo rituals soon involved planes, airstrips, control towers, and radios. Could this milieu have been involved in the Gill case?
Gill said there was initially no thought that the sightings involved extraterrestrials. It was felt to be “a strange new device of you Americans”. Critics tried to paint Gill as a believer because the phrase Mothership was current in UFO lore, but the phrase is older than that and was used as a term denoting the boat in a fishing fleet to which the catches of smaller boats were centrally relayed. The original field notes confirm Gill thought the figures were “human”. Besides their friendly demeanour, indicated by their waving at the witnesses, the activities of the figures resemble the normal work you would see on a ship deck. Drawings and verbal descriptions include the presence of portholes and railings like you’d see on a ship. Was this all some kind of Cargo vision? The emotions seemed suggestive:
We all thought it was going to land. We were hoping it was going to land. We were in a state of what you might call anticipation. They came down and then they seemed to stop… And spontaneously, almost, we started to wave, just as though – we’re used to waving at people, boats are coming in all the time, small craft, and naturally we’re used to waving at people on these craft… To our surprise and we really were surprised, these people waved back. 
This is consonant with the sentiments of cargo expectations, but it is rather explicitly normal everyday behaviour as well. It’s hardly proof.There are also blatant difficulties. Why should an Anglican priest get caught up in the enthusiasms of Papuan religiosity? A missionary ought to be immune to some degree to the influence of a competing faith. One could perhaps wave this off with appeals to empathy in Gill. Turn around the charge that the natives would be pliant to his will and say he was pliant to their charms and mass psychology.
More troubling is the objection that Papuan expectations should have yielded an image more consonant with American aircraft. Aircraft don’t have deckhands roaming about topside. They don’t have railings. Where are the wings and tail section? Why is there this confusing mix of sea vessel and hovering aerial platform? form? Aerial platforms, moreover, were pretty much a theoretical fancy back then with a doubtful history in experimental trials. About the only source of the image in mass culture worth mentioning was the old Johnny Quest cartoon series and that came after the Gill case not before.
Then another oddity – Stan Seers reports a discussion he had with Gill about the shaft of light that emanated from the top of the craft. Gill “emphasised it was pencil thin and parallel, that is to say it did not spread, or increase in diameter as does an ordinary beam of light.”  Seers, writing in 1983, identifies this as a laser, which in 1959 was terrestrially unknown. Must be extra-terrestrial! He forgets, however, that laser light normally isn’t visible from the side without something to disperse it like particles or fog. It dawned on me then that this could make sense in the context of the other ship motifs. The 45° lines of light in the drawings of Gill, Stephen Gill Moi, and Ananias Rarata would simply be ship’s rigging, brightly illuminated. Yet that’s paradoxical if we are dealing with visionary construction of the image. Gill shouldn’t have been puzzled – it should be self-explanatory. Looking at the drawings again, Guyorobo’s branching legs suddenly made sense to me as also ship-related. They were fishing nets dropped into the water. But, same paradox, why wasn’t it self-explanatory if it was part of a vision? Solution: Forget about visions – this is a real boat!
But, that can’t be right. These drawings don’t look like the Flying Dutchman. Fishing boats don’t fly. Magonians are obliged to grant the idea of ships floating in the air is centuries old. Theorists in the field of meteorological optics have noted that the illusion of ships floating in the air is sometimes created by mirages. They are formed by light being bent and distorted in sea air which has stratified into layers of differing temperatures and thus differing refractive indices. Could that be the case here? I thought so for a while, but I bounced the idea off someone more knowledgeable about meteorological optics and was flatly told it was impossible. The problem is with the figures on the deck. The ship would have to be miles away over the horizon for the illusion to work and at that distance the figures could not be optically resolved. To the suggestion I made that mirages magnify images at times, he countered that mirages only stretch images in the vertical dimension. Looking at various drawings of mirage apparitions in the literature, it was clear this mechanism would not work. 
I put in some observing time at a nearby lake to double check the limitations of visibility of humans on ships. For Gill to be able to observe humans waving at him, the ship definitely had to be well under a mile in distance. Forget mirages.One of the days I picked for observing involved very calm conditions. The sailboats crept very slowly across my field of vision. The surface was close to mirror-like. The ship hulls doubled. The sails only partly doubled. This I expected and felt would explain the thickness of the saucers drawn by Guyorobo and Rarata. The sky’s blueness was mirrored in the water and I noticed the horizon was virtually invisible, so well did the colours match and nearly blend. At night, one could imagine the horizon completely lost. I also observed on this occasion discontinuities in the water that ran at a mostly horizontal angle to the real horizon. They were undoubtedly related to a slight wind. Some ran across the field of vision between me and a sailboat. One of these discontinuities was fairly close to the shore and seemed rather stable over the period of observation of roughly an hour. I am unaware of the precise reason for this stability – if it involved a miniature sea-breeze effect, water currents, or whatever. Move this into the night, illuminate it by boat light, and one might get the effect of a false horizon.
We do know that there is a type of night fishing that takes place in Pacific regions. Squid fishermen rig their boats with powerful incandescent lamps of many thousands of watts to lure squid up from great depths.  Such a boat could account for the observation “It was sending a bright white halo – throwing it up on the base of the cloud”. That’s hardly typical of Venus! Such a fishing vessel would also account for the slow drifting motion of the object and its long presence in the area. Other types of boats would have traversed such an area in a much briefer period of time.We have here, I think, most of the elements needed for an acceptably unparadoxical resolution to the Gill classic. It is basically a real-world example of one of those double-interpretation perceptual puzzles. Look at a drawing one way, you see a duck; look at it a different way and you see a rabbit. Look at the Gill saucer one way and you see a hovering saucer decked out in lasers, landing legs and windows. Look at it a different way and you see a brilliantly lit squid-boat with rigging, fishing nets draped in the water, portholes, and men too busy to do more than wave at the natives they see onshore. Nobody is hallucinating or lying or behaving stupidly. The situation simply invites two interpretations and Gill’s party locked into the wrong one, tricked by a false horizon which led them to think the image was hanging in the air.
Can we be certain this is what really happened? There are still things we might feel uneasy about. Could dozens of people really be fooled this way for hours without somebody on site tricking out the correct answer? How likely is it that squid-boats visit the region so rarely that Gill and everyone else never were able to put two and two together on a later occasion, like when wind conditions were different? Though I consider these unanswerable, my retort must be. “Well, do you have a better solution?” Hoaxes, Venus-induced hallucinations, and extraterrestrials seem a good deal harder to swallow than this scenario.
That this is a disappointingly unrevolutionary solution, I fully concede. It is also rather boring from a psycho-social perspective. My hope that Cargo belief would provide a key to the case was thoroughly dashed in the end. I almost feel obliged to apologise for what feels more like tying up an old loose end than the offering of useful insights into the nature of the UFO phenomenon. Still, it was history’s best close encounter. Excelsior, I suppose.
STORY, Ronald D., UFOs and the Limits of Science, Wm. Morrow, 1981, p.23
CLARK, Jerome, “Close Encounters: History’s Best Case”, Fate, February 1978, pp38-46
HYNEK, J. Allen, The UFO Experience, Ballantine, 1972, pp.167-172, 270. HYNEK, J. Allen, Hynek UFO Report, Dell, 1977, pp.216-223
The UFO Experience, op. cit., p.270
VALLEE, Jacques, UFOs in Space, Ballantine, 1977, pp.156-159
LORENZEN, Coral and Jim, Flying Saucers: The Startling Evidence of the Invasion from Outer Space, Signet, 1966, pp.175-178
HYNEK, 1977, op. cit., p. 217
CLARK, ibid. HENDRY, Allan, “Papua/Father Gill Revisited”, IUR, 2, #11, November 1977, pp.4-7 and December 1977, pp.4-7
KLASS, Phil, UFOs Explained, Vintage, 1976, pp. 277-289
SAGAN, Carl and PAGE,Thornton, UFOs: A Scientific Debate, Norton Library, 1974, pp.148-163.
SEERS, Stan, UFOs; The Case for Scientific myopia, Vantage, 1983, pp.48-49
BASTERFIELD, Keith, An In-depth Review of Australian UFO Related Entity Reports, Australian Centre for UFO Studies, June 1980, p.21
HENDRY, December, op. cit., p.5
CAMPBELL, Steuart, The UFO Mystery – Solved, Explicit, 1994, pp.66-67
RYDEEN, Paul, “Cargo of the Gods”. Anomalist, 1 (Summer 1994), pp.83-88. RYDEEN, Paul, “UFOs and the Cult of Cargo”. Strange Magazine, 9, (Spring-Summer 1992), pp.6-9, 52-53
BASTERFIELD, op. cit., p. 26
SEERS, op. cit., p. 36
CORLISS, William, Rare Haloes, Mirages, Anomalous Rainbows and Related Electromagnetic Phenomena, Sourcebook, 1984, and chapters in the Condon report.
SHEAFFER, Robert, The UFO Verdict, Prometheus, 1981, p. 216.
From Magonia 58, January 1997
What lies at the core of the growing number of UFO crash retrieval stories? John Harney checks out three widely reported cases to see if there is substance behind the stories
Ufology as a separate field of study depends on the hypothesis that some UFO reports are genuine descriptions or instrumental records of objects or phenomena unknown to modern science, It is generally agreed that the vast majority of UFO reports are wrongly interpreted sightings of objects such as aircraft or meteors, for many of the stranger reports, convincing psychological explanations are available.
Many ufologists have always been convinced that a small percentage of UFO reports are sightings of craft from other planets. It is not acceptable to them to say that because most reports can be attributed to more mundane causes, then the remainder can also be, given sufficient information.
Such ufologists hove a desperate craving for unequivocal physical evidence which would prove their case. Some of these people are keen on science and technology. They have little time for myths, unless they can be given rational, literal interpretations. They also have little taste for UFO abduction stories. They see the purpose of ufology as the general acknowledgement of the reality of alien spacecraft surveying our planet. They are not interested in giving psychotherapy to people who apparently believe that they are constantly being abducted from their bedrooms through solid walls into enormous glowing craft which are unaccountably invisible to their neighbours. Such things are the stuff of dreams and delusions; their space people may have advanced technology but they are not to be granted any magical powers such as those possessed by the characters in fantasy novels.
Stories of crashed saucers which leave wreckage and occupants, dead or alive, have been around for a long time, in various forms. The American 1897 airship wave is a familiar example. The problem is that all these stories lack credibility, and investigations have revealed that, while some witnesses were undoubtedly sincere but mistaken, most of the stories were simply crude hoaxes.
Then came Roswell. As the story developed it was quickly seen as a boon to the nuts-and-bolts ufologists, tired of vague lights in the sky and accounts of life on other worlds received by telepathy or other occult means. A physical object had crashed, its substance was not of this world, and it did not dissolve into nothingness when picked up. Therefore it must still exist, hidden away on some US Air Force base. The final proof.
This makes it seem simple. Just exert enough political pressure and the sensational truth will eventually be revealed. However, it is not so simple.
Although the Roswell case is undoubtedly based on a real incident involving the recovery of the wreckage of something from a ranch near Corona, New Mexico in July 1947, it received only brief, if widespread, publicity at the time. After the bizarre press release about a flying disc being recovered caused a worldwide sensation, the cover story designed to damp things down – that it was, after all, only a weather balloon with a radar target attached – was generally accepted (at least by those whose opinions on such things mattered) and the story died. It was mentioned by Frank Edwards in his book flying Saucers – Serious Business (1), but it was apparently not publicly discussed again until the late 1970s, when Jesse A. Marcel, who had been the intelligence officer at the 509th Bomb Group at Roswell in 1947, decided to publicise his version of the affair.
This resulted in a reawakening of interest and investigations by ufologists gradually became more intensive and better organised. Eventually a very detailed story emerged and was published in various books, articles, reports and television documentaries.
This publicity stimulated many ufologists to probe old cases which seemed somewhat similar, but had not been taken very seriously. This process unearthed details which had not appeared in the original reports, such as the alleged recovery of the bodies of aliens, as well as wreckage. Many other, often trivial, details emerged and I hope to demonstrate that crash retrieval stories, as they are now discussed, tend to fall into a pattern, which takes the Roswell accounts as a model.From the Roswell story we can extract a number of motifs, many of which are not essential to the story, but can be seen to be repeated in accounts of other incidents. It is interesting to note that other crash retrieval stories are compared with Roswell; so far as many ufologists are concerned this is the standard by which they are assessed.
Crash retrieval stories, as I have said, are remarkable for the absence of accounts of paranormal or visionary experiences which are involved in so many UFO reports, But do they form coherent or consistent narratives with their own internal logic? Do they, when closely scrutinised, make any kind of sense? I don’t think so.
Let us look at two other cases as well as Roswell and we shall see that it would be quite crazy to interpret them as evidence of alien visitors crashing their saucers but perfectly reasonable to see them as part of a developing myth within the framework of UFO reports, beliefs and criticism by sceptics.
Although the Roswell object was almost certainly not a weather balloon, and there are serious doubts about the recent suggestion that it may have been a much larger balloon carrying equipment designed to monitor, distant atomic explosions (Project Mogul), it could have been some other secret military device. There wasn’t much more to the story until rumours of aliens, dead or alive, being recovered from another crash site began to emerge. According to some reports it was only a few miles away, but the most detailed accounts gave it as being on the Plains of San Augustin, more than 150 miles away. However, some pretty compelling evidence has been presented that this story is untrue. (2)Various accounts of the recovery of the aliens allege that those still alive offered no resistance to capture, being unarmed and quite helpless, but they were cruelly treated by the military. This is a theme which recurs in other crash retrieval stories.
According to the Roswell reports, a considerable amount of time elapsed before the aliens were captured. This raises an obvious problem of internal logic if we choose to believe such stories. We are apparently supposed to believe that the organisers of such missions to Earth send craft into our atmosphere which use some advanced means of propulsion, but are somewhat less mechanically reliable than our airliners. The aliens, being somewhat backward in the technology of automation, remote control and remote sensing, have to pilot the craft themselves. If they crash, there are no back-up craft to rescue them; they simply have to wait for the inevitable arrival of the military and shipment to some secret base where their bodies are dissected or, if still alive, they are incarcerated indefinitely.
It can be argued that there is much confusion and uncertainty about Roswell because the events happened so long ago. More recent reports should provide a clearer picture. But do they? Take the incident in North Wales in January 1974, for example. At 8.34 in the evening of 23 January a violent explosion was heard in the area of Bala and Llandrillo, followed by an earth tremor which was was strong enough to be recorded at Edinburgh University. Witnesses reported seeing lights around a nearby mountain. It was at first thought that an aircraft had crashed on the mountain, but the Royal Air Force (RAF), which sent a team to search the mountain, later said that there had been no crash and they had been looking for debris from a meteor fall. (3) However, it was said that the area around the mountain was sealed off for several days and that even the police were not allowed there. The media failed to follow up the story and when Jenny Randles attempted to investigate it she found the local people unwilling to discuss it. (4)
At this point the story, whilst intriguing and rather puzzling (why would the RAF want to go looking for meteorites?) was hardly a crash retrieval case. Like Roswell, the story died when the media accepted official explanations.
Almost 20 years later, ufologist Margaret Fry moved to North Wales and began to unearth a number of witnesses, one of them being a nurse who said that she hod driven to the mountain with her two daughters on that night because she thought that an aircraft had crashed. She claimed to have seen a large, circular object, glowing orange, on the ground, but no evidence of bodies or wreckage. She also claimed that she was stopped by police and military personnel, who ordered her to leave the area. (5)
Perhaps it should be mentioned that Margaret Fry has been interested in UFOs for many years and has made ‘countless sightings’. Perhaps it should also be mentioned, as it has been by Jenny Randles, that the brilliant meteor seen crossing North Wales on the night in question was timed at 9.58, more than an hour after the explosion. (7)
Confused? So am I. But there’s more. Tony Dodd (one of Britain’s most active UFO investigators) hasrecently published on article covering much the same ground as covered by Jenny Randles. (8) But he goes on to reveal that a witness, described as a retired Army officer, has come forward to claim that alien bodies were retrieved from the scene. This man claimed that he was ordered to drive to Llandderfel (near the area in question), with four other soldiers, where they loaded ‘two large oblong boxes’ into their vehicle and were ordered to take them directly to the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment at Porton Down, Wiltshire. When they got there, the boxes were opened in their presence to reveal the bodies of alien beings. Other soldiers had also transported aliens to Porton Down, but these were alive.
The ex-soldier claimed to have arrived in North Wales on 20 January 1974 and the bodies were delivered to Porton Down some time the next day. But, wait a minute. Dodd gives us the time of the explosion – 8.39 p.m. – as well as the year and the month, but for some reason he omits the date. I wonder why? Perhaps it is because of the difficulty of resolving the paradox of the aliens arriving at Porton Down on 21 January, two days before their saucer crashed on 23 January.
Anyway, we have no reason to believe this ridiculous tale. For instance, if soldiers were delivering some secret cargo and it was not considered necessary or desirable to tell them what it was while they were transporting it, is it even conceivable that it would be revealed to them when they had safely delivered it and their task was completed? Of course not. It is a pack of lies, but it is an important part of the crash retrieval myth: crashed saucers usually have aliens in them.Another point. As one of the principal witnesses claimed to have seen an apparently undamaged saucer on the ground and others have claimed to have seen one take off, there must have been at least two involved. There must also be wreckage and I eagerly await the inevitable yarns about the people who picked up chunks of it only to have it confiscated by military authorities just as they were about to have it analysed. It is inevitable – well, almost inevitable – because it is one of the more important motifs of the developing myth.
It is all very unsatisfactory. If only we had a crash retrieval which took place recently in a place where there were lots of people around to see what occurred. Then the Truth would surely be revealed. How about a suburb of a large town? Well, it’s actually happened, that is if you can believe the reports. In Brazil, arguably the most saucer-infested country on earth.
On 20 January 1996, at about 3.30 p.m. three girls walking home through Jardim Andere, a suburb of Varginha (9) saw a strange creature, humanoid in appearance, with brown skin. It was about 1.6 metres tall, had three humps on its head and large bright red eyes. It was naked and apparently had no genitals, nipples or navel. The girls were terrified and ran to the home of two of them, where they told their mother. The story spread rapidly and when ufologists Vitorio Pacaccini and Ubirajara Franca Rodrigues began to investigate they found that witnesses spoke of there being at least two aliens, both of which were captured by the local fire service, the army, or both together. These beings were allegedly taken to a local hospital, but did not survive and their bodies were later moved elsewhere.
During the previous night there had been a sighting of a submarine-shaped UFO, about the size of a small bus, flying at about 5 metres above the ground and emitting smoke or vapour, at a farm about 10 km from Jardim Andere. The witnesses had been alerted by noises from the farm animals.
The first detailed account of the case which I saw was an article by Graham Birdsall, based on information he had received when he went to a UFO conference in Curitiba, Brazil in June and met Pacaccini and Rodrigues. (10) I have also read many reports and comments which have been published on the Internet. (11) With so many witnesses and such intensive investigation by experienced ufologists one would have expected a coherent story to have emerged by now, nearly a year after the events.
The reports are a confusing mixture of eyewitness testimony, rumour and speculation. The army, police, fire service and hospital authorities allegedly involved in the capture and removal of the aliens deny everything.
It is said that one of the bodies was taken to the University of Campinas, where an autopsy was carried out by Dr Fortunate Badan Palhares (who is apparently famous for having carried out the autopsy on the Nazi, Mengele). Dr Palhares denies this, of course. According to another report eight aliens were captured. One was dead, two were injured and one later died, and five were uninjured. Another report alleges that the six living aliens were flown from Campinas Airport in a Brazilian air force plane to Sao Paulo, There they were ‘marched aboard’ (!) a US Air Force transport plane and flown to Albrook Air Force Base in Panama.
The Brazilian ufologists insist that the confusion is caused by a great international cover-up operation but that in the case of Varginha they arrived on the scene too quickly for it to be fully effective as it usually is. Authorities involved are ordered to deny that anything unusual hashappened, and witnesses are silenced by threats or bribes.
For those who want to believe in crash retrievals there are a number of serious logical problems. The most important one is this; if there are only a handful of cases, this would seem highly unlikely to most people, but not impossible. However, if it is thought that UFO crashes are by no means rare, then it would be impossible to conceal the truth for very long. It is also hard to imagine aliens flying around in such unreliable craft. Or do they crash them deliberately?
One way of getting around this problem is to say or imply that there are very few UFO crashes, This is the approach taken by Kevin D. Randle, who devotes a book to listing UFO crash reports, labelling all but a few of them as hoaxes. (12) The alternative is to say that governments are in collusion with the aliens, and that the aliens are operating in such a way as to enable them to continue concealing the truth from the public. However, this does not deal with the problem of the crashes.
All this does not mean that UFO crash retrieval reports are based on nothing at all. Normally there is some unusual event which somehow sets in motion a process of rumour and speculation. The crashed UFO myth has by now received so much publicity that it is readily available to provide a framework for the elaboration of such reports. Pathological liars and publicity seekers are always available to provide further amazing information. The myth can be broken down into motifs, which can then be modified and reassembled to provide the details of different crash retrieval stories. I here present a tentative list of the usual motifs, in the hope that others will develop it more fully, so that we end up with a model for a typical crash retrieval and thus know what to look for in future reports.
The crash retrieval report usually seems to develop from some central event, to which the above motifs are added as investigation and discussion get under way. In the Roswell Case this was the finding of wreckage on his ranch by Mac Brazel. In the North Wales case it was the sound of a violent explosion, followed by an earth tremor. In the Varginha case, it was the sighting of something which they took to be ‘the devil’ which frightened three girls walking home through a suburban street. It is quite likely that there is no connection between these three cases, but the myth took over and the stories were built up from the motifs by a pick-and-mix process.
All of this is not to decry the hard work put into investigations by many ufologists. It is not their investigations that are at fault but their absurd theory of clapped-out saucers full of helpless aliens.
The precursor; e.g. something seen in the sky, an explosion heard, or mysterious object tracked by radar
Crashed UFO; almost always in a remote placeAliens, dead or alive, in or near crashed UFO
Arrival of military
Civilians expelled from crash area
Aliens cruelly treated by military
Aliens helpless and unarmed, and apparently not very intelligent
Military personnel sworn to secrecy
Civilian witnesses threatened or bribed to keep silent
Authorities give unconvincing cover story to media
Authorities remove all wreckage from crash site, usually on a flat truck covered with a tarpaulin
Witnesses pick up bits of wreckage but authorities always recover all of it from them
US Air Force nearly always get involved, sometimes allegedly by putting pressure on government of country where crash occurs
Long after event, persons contact ufologists to claim they were involved in recovery operation
Such persons claim to have seen alien bodies or worked on UFO wreckage.
Official photographs, films or videos of aliens which are never made available or are obvious fakes
Edwards, Frank. Flying Saucers – Serious Business, New York, Bantam Books, 1966.
A good summary of this story and the reasons for disbelieving it are given in: Randles, Kevin D. History of UFO Crashes, New York, Avon Books, 1995, p.28-58
Randles, Jenny. UFO Retrievals, London, Blandford, 1995, p. 112-121
A high proportion of the people in that area speak Welsh. I believe that a Welsh-speaking investigator would have been able to obtain more information from them.
Randles, op. cit.
Randles, Jenny. ‘Britain’s Roswell?’, Sightings, 1,3, (1966), pp.10-15
If any readers have any information as to the truth or accuracy of these timings, would they kindly let us know.
Dodd, tony, ‘UFO Crash in North Wales?’, UFO Magazine, Sept/Oct 1996, pp.34-37. (This is the British UFO Magazine, not to be confused with at least two others with the same title).
Varginha is located at 210, 33″S, 450 25″W.
Birdsall, Graham W. ‘Incident at Varginha’, UFO Magazine, op.cit. 8-13, 57-59, 66.
I am grateful to Mark pilkington for obtaining these reports.
Randle, Kevin D., op.cit.
In the most recent number of Northern UFO News (157, Autumn 1996), Jenny Randles returns to the subject of the 1974 Llandrillo incident. She considers the possibility that the original incident may have been caused by the crash of an RAF plane carrying a nuclear weapon, and the UFO connection was introduced as deliberate ‘disinformation’. ‘Disinformation’ is a popular recourse by ufologists when they find that their cherished cases are fasting apart in their hands. The idea that military authorities have deliberately used and promoted UFO rumours to discourage journalists has been put forward to explain aspects of the Roswell and Rendlesham cases which do not fit conveniently in the crashed spaceship theory. In both cases a supposed nuclear accident has been suggested as the root of the story.
When asked by US and German TV companies for her views on the `recovered bodies’ at Llandrillo, Randles replied “I told all of the TV companies… that I was not about to help the government cover up the truth about this incident by acting as a disinformation agent on their behalf.” — John Rimmer.