The Age of Infantilism: A Response to Brookesmith.
David Sivier

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.



  1. Brookesmith, P., ‘Communion Cups and Crashed Saucers, Part Three, Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch’, Magonia 63, p.3.
  2. Brookesmith, P., ibid, p. 3.
  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.
  4. Brookesmith, P., op. cit., p. 3.
  5. Hagemeister, M., Russian Cosmism in the 1920s and Today, in Rosenthal, B.G., ed., The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, p. 198.
  6. Lewis, J.S., Mining the Sky, Addison-Wesley, 1997, p. 26.
  7. Quoted in Regis, E., Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition, Penguin, 1990, p. 153.
  8. Regis, E., ibid, p. 154.
  9. Regis, E., ibid, p. 170.
  10. Regis, E., p. 172.
  11. Chizhevsky, A.L., ‘Stranitsy Vospominanii o K.E. Tsiolkovskom, in Khimia i Zhizn’, 1977, quoted in Hagemeister, M., op. cit., p. 198.
  12. Davies, P., Are We Alone? Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life, Penguin, 1995, p. 89.
  13. Davies, P., ibid, pp. 90-91.
  14. Boslough, J., Masters of Time, J.M. Dent, 1992, p. 88.
  15. Ellis, B., ‘American Gothic’, in Fortean Times, no. 100, pp. 35-36.
  16. 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.
  17. Davies, P., op. cit., p. 90.
  18. Spencer, J. and A., Fifty Years of UFOs, Boxtree, 1997, p. 14.
  19. Sounders, D.R., and Harkins, R.R., UFOs? Yes!, quoted in Spencer, J. and A., ibid., p. 16.
  20. Jonas, H. The Gnostic Religion, Routledge, p. 147.
  21. Brookesmith, P., op. cit., p. 4.
  22. See Doresse, J., The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics, Hollis and Carter, 1960, pp. 292-293.
  23. Doresse, J., ibid, p. 295.
  24. Hollingdale, R.J., introduction to his translation of Schopenhauer, A., Essays and Aphorisms, Penguin, 1970, p. 31.
  25. Schopenhauer, A., and Hollingdale, R.J., trans., Essays and Aphorisms, p. 48.
  26. Hollingdale, R.J., op.cit., p. 34.
  27. Chadwick, D.H., ‘At the Crossroad of Kathmandu’, in National Geographic, vol. 172, no. 1, July 1987, p. 64.
  28. Brookesmith, P., op. cit., p. 10.


Strange Fruit: Ozark Folklore and the Continuation of Traditional Witch Beliefs in the Modern Satanism Scare.
David Sivier

From Magonia 91, February 2006 


One of the major problems presented by the Satanism scare of the 1980s and 1990s is the apparent reappearance of a set of beliefs and a persecuting mindset little different from the magic and superstition of previous centuries in the economically and technologically developed world. Indeed, the problem is particularly acute in the case of America, one of the most important crucibles for the forging of the Satanism scare, and a nation that has prided itself on its scientific and technological modernity

In searching for the origins of the modern Satanism scare, historians and sociologists have necessarily paid most attention to the contemporary societal factors stimulating its rise, like the increasingly irrational ideologies permeating psychotherapy, victim culture and the drive to identify as pathological an increasingly wide range of human behaviour seen as shocking or deviant, such as ‘emotional incest’ or ‘sex addiction’, the emphasis of certain sections of American social reformers and some feminists in demands for the children of the poor to be taken into state care, and the breakdown of a moral consensus on issues such as sexual morality, which has allowed Satanic Child Abuse to become an issue that can unite conservative Christian Evangelicals and Feminists and left-wing groups in a moral crusade. [1]

The genesis of the modern witchcraft accusations in the demonology of Middle Ages, including the Blood Libel myth directed at the Jews has been recognised and explored by a number of researchers, and comparisons drawn between the great witch-hunts of the past, such as those directed against the Bogomils in the ninth and tenth centuries, and the great witch-hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. [2]

These have all been identified as having a common origin in the breakdown in the wider Christian community, such as between Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic for the earlier persecution, and Roman Catholic and Protestant for the latter.[3] However, while some historians have effectively demonstrated the origins of modern allegations of satanic ritual abuse in nineteenth century anti-Satanist and anti-occultist propaganda, such as Gareth Medway in his The Lure of the Sinister, few seem to have considered that there may also have been operating an unbroken tradition of witch beliefs that may also have fed into and stimulated the Satanism scare of the last twenty years.

Contemporary sceptical researchers into the Satanism scare have instead traced its roots in the narratives of adult survivors, often converts to Christianity, such as Doreen Irvine and June Johns in the 1960s and 1970s. These authors “presented Satanism (not distinguished much from Wicca) in turns of kinky adult sex, homosexuality, drug taking and suburban wife-swapping, with the now largely vanished phenomenon of the desecration of churches”. [4] The motif of child abuse, however, only entered these narratives because, “as society became more permissive and secular this repertoire ceased to conjure up images of ultimate decadence and evil” [5]

Yet while contemporary historians, such as Dr. Ronald Hutton in his The Triumph of the Moon, have effectively refuted the idea of a Palaeolithic cult of a horned god continuing unbroken into the twentieth century, it is however quite possible that some elements of a witch-cult, in so far as it was believed to exist in socially backward, agricultural communities in America, continued to exist from the sixteenth century onwards to inspire the Satan hunters of the late twentieth century. Indeed, the Canadian historian, Elliot Rose, in discussing the existence of a ‘witch-society’ in the Ozark country of the US, as described by the American folklorist, Vance Randolph, drew explicit comparisons between it and the descriptions of contemporary witchcraft practices by Gerald Gardner. He concluded that “I think we can see in this Ozark testimony the traces of the cult stripped to what its unlearned members considered its essentials, after persecution and enlightened scepticism between them had deprived it of both learned leadership and true continuity of tradition.” [6]

Randolph’s study of Ozark folklore is valuable for the insight it gives on a number of Fortean topics, not just witchcraft. For example, his description of the appearance of spectral lights along the ‘Devil’s Promenade’, a lonely stretch of road in Oklahoma, fourteen miles from Joplin, Missouri, is interesting not just for its description of the lights themselves, but also for the explanations offered for them. These include not only the supernatural – that they are the spirits of a murdered Osage chief, or a Quapaw woman who killed herself after the death of her husband in battle, but also for the scientific and pseudo-scientific. Thus it is suggested that the lights are those of cars driving on Highway 66 five miles away, are marsh gas or “that the effect is produced somehow by electrical action of the mineral deposits in the ground.” [7] 

Randolph’s book was originally published in 1947, about the same time the UFO myth was gestating, and although this explanation for strange lights seems to have been forgotten until proposed in the 1970s by Persinger and Paul Devereaux, its recording by Randolph suggests that the piezo-electrical explanation for such unexplained lights has its basis in the folkloric rationalisations offered for such phenomena, rather than the cold, detached theorising of a laboratory researcher.

The points of contact and contrast between Gardnerian and Ozark witchcraft discussed by Rose was the appearance in both cults of nudity and ritual sex, and instruction in the cult’s mysteries of an initiate by a parent or other family member. In the Ozarks the novice witch was taught the cult’s traditions by a parent of the same sex, while they were inducted into the cult by a member of the opposite sex in ritual coition in front of a naked coven. For Gardner, however, instruction had to be carried out by a member of the opposite sex, and although initiation was – performed naked, it did not involve sex. [8]

Beyond the similarities and differences between the two cults is the question of the similarities of both to the incestuous, satanic cults described in Michele Remembers. In this conception of a modern, satanic cult, as formulated by the social worker, Maribeth Kaye, and criminal psychologist, Lawrence Klein, “membership is transmitted primarily through families” and “sexual child abuse and torture is deliberately employed by Satanist families as a technique to brainwash and program children to confuse evil with virtue, so that they will follow instructions to commit Satanic evil acts without feeling any guilt.” [9]This is similar in concept to the Ozark belief that “the secret doctrines must pass only between blood relatives, or between persons who have been united in sexual intercourse. Thus it is that every witch obtains her unholy wisdom either from a lover or a male relative … A mother can transmit the secret work to her son, and he could pass it on to his wife, and she might tell one of her male cousins, and so on.” [10]

While the transmission of the secrets between family members is not necessarily incestuous, and there were rituals that could transform a woman into a witch which did not involve sex, such as repeating the Lord’s Prayer backwards and firing seven silver bullets at the moon, the important element nevertheless in consecrating the witch in her unholy career was sex: “A virgin may possess some of the secrets of ‘bedevilment’ imparted by her father or her uncle, but she cannot be genuine witch, for good and sufficient reasons.”[11]

According to the tradition, this sexual initiation took place at the family burial ground, at midnight at the dark of the moon, over three consecutive nights. Devils and the spirits of the evil dead did appear, conjured up by the blasphemous incantations of the witches and the recital of the Lord’s Prayer backwards, the person initiating the witch was another mortal human being, not Satan himself. In this respect it differed from some of the medieval and early modern witch narratives, in which the witch copulated with Satan or a demon, [12] but was similar to the recovered memories of survivors of Satanic Ritual Abuse, who were sexually abused by their fellow humans, although the Devil and other demons nevertheless also appeared during the ceremonies. It thus appears that, amidst the basis of such fears of child ritual abuse in the concern over all too real cases of incest and child abuse that were appearing in the 1970s, the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare also drew on traditional stories of witch families and sexual initiation, and conflated the two elements according to the fears of the times.

Appearing with the motifs of multi-generational witch families and satanic sex also was the belief that witches burned the body of newborn children in order acquire further magical powers, and that the ashes were used to make luck charms. [13] While this element of the myth ultimately derives from Inquisitor’s allegation against a group of heretics at Orleans in 1022, that they burned the bodies of children born from their orgies to Satan and used the ashes in a blasphemous parody of the Christian Eucharist, [14] it is also of the same type as the allegations in the modern Satanism scare that women were being used as ‘brood mares’ to supply children for sacrifice to Satan.

This folklore, although fantastic to those raised in a more sceptical environment, was responsible for several Satanism scares even before the appearance of the moral panics several decades later. Randolph knew three women who were not only believed to be witches, but also believed themselves to be witches. [15] One panic concerning an alleged ‘Witches’ Sabbath’ supposedly occurred when a group of young people were photographed dancing nude at the side of a road outside a cemetery, apparently conforming to the pattern of a witches’ Sabbath. Randolph himself considered that they were just drunken young people, and that the photograph of a similar gathering at Forsyth, Missouri, showed a group of Holy Roller religious fanatics outside their camp on the White River, accompanied by thrill-seeking young men from nearby villages. [16] If nudity, either in a Christian ecstatic ritual context or simply done for less elevated pleasures was practiced in backwoods Missouri, then it might explain why the Venusians who contacted Buck Nelson were similarly naked when they landed on his farm and walked into his farmhouse carrying their coveralls. [17]

The supposedly satanic activities carried out in Missouri were not necessarily so spectacular. Even something as relatively harmless as teaching schoolchildren to say their times tables backwards as a learning aid, in such an atmosphere of superstition and fear, could be construed as suspiciously antichristian because of its similarity to the witches’ supposed practice of repeating the Lord’s Prayer backwards. According to Randolph, one ‘pious Baptist lady’ in McDonald County, Missouri, denounced the local schoolteacher for teaching the girls in her care their multiplication tables in such a way, because of the danger that ‘they’ll be a-sayin’ somethin’ else back-lards tomorrow.’ [18]

Again, there’s a remarkable similarity to modern conflicts and attempt to maintain supposed Christian education in schools. This has included not only the topical debate about evolution, but also the campaign by American Fundamentalist Christian organisations against then use of the Impressions curriculum in school. Although designed to introduce primary school children to literature, it has been attacked for encouraging violence, Satanism, occultism, cannibalism and cultural relativism, in tones strongly reminiscent of the earlier concern about teaching the Lord’s Prayer backwards: “We believe there is a desensitisation effect here … Pretty soon, casting and chanting spells will seem so commonplace to kids that, when they’re confronted with the advances of satanic groups on a darker level, it will seem more acceptable.” [19]

At the time Randolph was writing, it was felt that witches were extremely common, with one informant telling him that “witches are thicker than seed ticks”, but that “it’s all under cover nowadays.” [20] A major cause of the growth in witchcraft was the increasingly immoral behaviour of the young, who lived ‘too fast and heedless’. [21] Despite this pervading climate of fear, suspicion and violence – Randolph gives several instances where people were shot or otherwise assaulted as suspected witches – nevertheless the country seemed placid and untroubled to outsiders: “Things happen in these hills which are never mentioned in the newspapers, never reported to the sheriff at the county seat. The casual tourist sees nothing to suggest the current of savage hatred that flows beneath the
 genial hospitality of our Ozark villages.” [22]

Since the days of the pioneering folklorists of the nineteenth century, the folk traditions of backwoods Appalachia have been of interest to folklorists because of the way they have independently preserved British folklore, including traditions that may have become extinct in the mother country. Certainly much Ozark folklore is remarkably ancient. The incidents recorded by Randolph of hill people who believed they had been changed into horses and ridden by witches are of the same type as the seventeenth century British allegations against witches and other heterodox religious groups, like Quakers, such as those made by Margaret Pryor of Long Stanton in 1657. [23] It thus seems likely that the Ozark beliefs about witches represent the persistence of sixteenth and seventeenth century British and European traditional ideas about witchcraft, as adapted by conditions in the frontier settlements of the New World. This is significant, because, as historians of witchcraft have pointed out, popular belief in witchcraft did not die out with the triumph of scepticism amongst the ruling elite in the eighteenth eentury, but still persisted into the twentieth century in some parts of Britain, France and the Netherlands, for example. [24]

It’s something of a truism that the heartland of American Fundamentalist Christianity, with its heavy emphasis on deliverance ministry and spiritual warfare against demons and the human agents of Satan is the traditionally economically backward rural south, and its possible that the ~ appearance and growth of Charismatic Evangelical Christian ministries nationwide during the 80s transmitted traditional southern lore about witches to a broader national audience as mediated by the Evangelists’ own emphasis on the literal truth of Scripture. In this atmosphere, where archaic, premodern ideas exist alongside a parallel, and contradictory belief in technology and progress, it’s fair to say that modern America is indeed a ‘medieval society with modern technology’, a situation ready for the spread of VERY similar medieval irrational fears and superstitions. [25]

It thus appears that the ultimate genesis of the Satanism scare in America was not the concern over new religious movements and cults in the late 1960s and 1970s, such as the Manson ‘Family’ and the activities of various devil worshippers, such as the Church of Satan, but traditional rural witchlore in the rural Deep South. While the rest of America was economically buoyant and felt morally and culturally secure, this folklore was largely confined to that area. With the growth of new religious movements in the 60s and the economic and social dislocation of the 1980s, the social climate nationally became more favourable to the spread of irrational fears of secret satanic conspiracies, lent verisimilitude by the existence of explicitly satanic religious movements like the Church of Satan and Temple of Set, and non-Satanist religions like Wicca, which claimed descent from the medieval witches but did not involve the worship of Satan.

Thus, the witch-hunts and panics Randolph reported in the 1940s became both the model and the precursor for the national and international panics four decades later, though this time led by people from backgrounds often very different from superstitious rural poor of the backwoods hill country.



  1. Sandell, R., Review of Mark Prendergast, Victims of Memory: Incest Accusations and Shattered Lives, Hinesburg, Upper Access 1995, Magonia 53, August 1995, pp. 22-3.

  2. Victor, J.S., Satanic Panic: The Creation of Contemporary Legend, Chicago, Open Court, 1994, pp. 273-90; Sandell, ibid, p. 23.

  3. Sandell, ‘Victims’, p. 23.

  4. Harney, J., Review of Jean La Fontaine, Speak of the Devil: Tales of Satanic Abuse in Contemporary England, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 1988, in Magonia no. 64, August 1998, p. 17.

  5. Harney, J., ‘Devil’, p. 17.

  6. Rose, E., A Razor for a Goat: Problems in the History of Witchcraft and Diabolism, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1989, p. 213.

  7. Randolph, V. Ozark Magic and Folklore (New York, Dover 1964), p. 234.

  8. Rose, E., ‘Razor’, p. 212.

  9. Victor, J.F., Satanic Panic: The Creation of Contemporary Legend, Chicago, Open Court, 1994, p. 97.

  10. Randolph, V., Ozark Magic and Folklore, New York, Dover 1964, p. 266.

  11. Randolph, Ozark Magic, p. 267.

  12. See, for example, the description of a sabbat in the Memoires of Jacques du Clercq, in P.G. Maxwell-Stuart, The Occult in Medieval Europe (Basingstoke, Palgrave MacMillan 2005), p. 126; also J.B. Russell, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages (Ithaca, Cornell University Press 1972), pp. 144-5.

  13. Randolph, Ozark Magic, p. 281.

  14. Russell, Middle Ages, p. 87.

  15. Randolph, Ozark Magic, p. 265.

  16. Randolph, Ozark Magic, pp. 267-8.

  17. Bord, l. and C., Life Beyond Planet Earth: Man’s Contacts with Space People (London, Grafton 1991), p. 135.

  18. Randolph, Ozark Magic, p. 266.

  19. Concerned parent quoted in “Trouble’s Brewing Over Witch in School Reader,” Buffalo News, March 10, 1991, pp. A1, A14, cited in Victor, op. cit., p. 158.

  20. Randolph, Ozark Magic, p. 264.

  21. Randolph, Ozark Magic, p. 264.

  22. Randolph, Ozark Magic, p. 300.

  23. Randolph, Ozark Magic, p. 279, ‘Long Stanton’, in Folklore, Myths and Legends, London, Readers Digest 1973, p. 242.

  24. See Davies, O., Witchcraft, Magic and Culture 1736-1951, Manchester, Manchester University Press 1995.

  25. Porter, B., review of M. Northcott, An Angel Directs the Storm: Apocalyptic Religion and American Empire, London, LB. Tauris 2004, Lobster 49, Summer 2005, p. 35



The Victorian Charm of the Protong, part 2.
David Sivier

The Victorian Charm of the Protong – Part 2.

From Magonia  88, May 2005

Apart from the demonstrably erroneous nature of the claim that the Passion narrative represents human sacrifice in a real, historic lunar cult, is the highly questionable nature of the proof adduced for it. The theory takes as proof facts, or rather factoids, widely separated in space and time from the centre of the Passion narrative in first century Palestine. For example, there is the statement that Christ was crucified on Friday 13th. Friday has indeed always traditionally been the date of Christ’s crucifixion, and the belief that it occurred on the 13th is a common piece of contemporary folklore, though it probably arose to explain why Friday 13th is considered unlucky. It’s unlikely, however, that Christ was crucified on a 13th, as the Jewish Passover, during which the events of the Passion unfolded, begins on the 14th of Nisan. [34] Although Friday was declared a day of penance for Christians by the medieval church, and there was a concomitant fear that it was unlucky, the particular fear of Friday 13th is actually no older than the 20th century. In fact the superstition surrounding the supposedly unlucky nature of the number 13 dates only from the 17th century, when it was felt unlucky for 13 people to be present at a meal. [35] Similarly, Freya was a goddess worshipped by the ancient Germans, not Semites, and Friday and related terms such as Freitag were used only by the Germanic peoples of Northern Europe. To the Romans, the day was dies Veneris, Venus’ Day, while the Hebrew term was different again. Similarly, for Christians, Christ was resurrected on Sunday, not Monday, as the theory states, though because of its place as the day after Easter Day, Monday was declared a holiday by the medieval church.

As for the argument that the 13 disciples represented the 13 months of the lunar year, this, and the assertion that Christ’s Passion represented the death of the sun, is also reminiscent of yet another 19th century anthropological theory to account for the origins of religion, Max Muller’s Solar Mythology. Friedrich Max Muller was one of Victorian Britain’s most brilliant Sanskrit scholars and students of Indian religion. A trenchant critic of Tylor’s theory that fetishism was the origin of human religion and anthropological evolutionism, he considered instead that sun worship was the primal religion of humanity. He came to this view through his study of the Vedas, particularly of Agni, the god of fire, and tentatively applied his theory of religions origins in a solar cult to the other, savage, societies found elsewhere in the world. [36] 

Muller arrived at his theory of solar origins through his grounding in Sanskrit philology, and he attempted to explain the violent, sensual, ignoble and generally barbarous behaviour of the Greek gods through tracing their origins in the gods of the Vedas, the oldest literature of the Indo-European peoples. For Muller, the mythopoeic conceptions of the gods occurred before the rise of civilisation, before human language could convey abstract notions, so that Dyaus, the supreme god in the Veda, could be understood also as meaning sky, sun, air, dawn, light and brightness, while a number of other words, with different associations, could also indicate the sun. [37]

These linguistic associations led Muller to an allegorical interpretation of the Greek myths. For example, the story of Chronos, Zeus’ father, devouring his children before being forced to vomit the younger god’s siblings back up actually stood for the sky devouring and then releasing the clouds. [38] Nor was the solar cult confined to the Indo-European peoples. Muller later expanded his theory to various extra- European peoples, tracing the origin of various Indian, Polynesian and African peoples back to an alleged solar cult through an analysis of the languages of the tales themselves and the etymology of the terms used for the various gods. [39]

Muller’s pupil, Sir George William Cox, pushed the theory even further, viewing the Indo-European myths as allegories of the contest between sun and night, and comparing the Homeric epics thus interpreted with Christianity: ‘The story of the sun starting in weakness and ending in victory, waging a long warfare against darkness, clouds and storms, and scattering them all in the end, is the story of all patient self-sacrifice, of all Christian devotion.’ [40]

Unlike Gooch, however, he did not believe that there was ever a human reality at the heart of these myths, and viewed such heroes as Grettir, King Arthur, Sigurd, William Tell, Roland, Beowulf, Hamlet and the Biblical patriarch David as purely mythological figures representing the sun. [41]

Muller’s intellectual opponent with whom he carried on a lively controversy over the origins of human mythology was Andrew Lang, a former Oxford graduate and supporter of the ethnological, rather than philological, origins of mythology and folklore. Lang’s 1887 Myth, Ritual and Religion amassed considerable anthropological information to show that primitive peoples everywhere had similar myths, legends, and customs, and that elements of these had survived in modern peasant lore and the Classical Greek myths. [42] Lang never denied that solar, lunar and star cults and myths existed, but that they had independent origins in the animist stage of human culture. As for the bloody acts committed in fairy tales and legends, Lang viewed these purely as storytelling formulae: ‘It is almost as necessary for a young god or hero to slay monsters as for a young lady to be presented at court; and we may hesitate to explain all these legends of an useful feat of courage as nature myths.’ [43]

In the end, Lang’s view of the origins of religion and mythology prevailed, partly due to the immense influence of his Myth, Ritual and Religion but largely due to the establishment of the Folklore Society, whose members favoured and who wrote steadily and voluminously to support the evolutionary origin of myth. [44]

As for Christ and His disciples forming a coven of 13 , this is merely the reading back into Christianity of the religious perceptions that led to the view that witchcraft covens always had 13 members in the first place. In fact 13 , representing the total number of Christ and his 12 apostles was considered the ideal number of friars in a community, and the same model was adopted for the number of suffragans under archbishop and monks in a monastery. It has therefore been suggested that the choice of 13 for the number of witches in a coven was therefore made as a deliberate inversion of the Christian norm. [45] The Middle Ages viewed witchcraft as a satanic parody and inversion of God’s church and the natural order, and the reputed ideal membership of 13 for a coven was a further parody, in line with the blasphemies of the Black Mass, of the ideal membership of Christ’s fellowship with the Apostles and orthodox Christian religious communities.

fishyIn the case of the Grail legend and the Fisher King [left] , although some historians have suggested that the central motif of this story — a genitally wounded king — does indeed come from ancient myth, its ultimate source is Brythonic Celtic, not Semitic. If it does have a mythological origin, then it one from Celtic myth, which has been Christianised to fit the dominant religious culture of Europe at the time. Again, the legend is late, appearing in the 12th century with Chretien de Troyes, who was writing chivalrous fiction. Despite the religious elements, and the claims to be based in history, the legend of the Fisher King appeared 1200 years after the rise of Christianity and was never a part of the religion, however enormously influential it may have been as secular literature.

It is possible to go on and list more of the factual errors, inconsistencies and anachronisms in Gooch’s argument, though this would be missing the deeper, and more important point. At its heart is the assumption that modern folklore represents survivals of lore and knowledge of deep antiquity, and the related belief that humanity passes through a fixed stage of civilisation, inherited from Morgan and the other 1 9 th century anthropologists, of which contemporary primitive, or pre- industrial societies, are survivals.

This view was explicitly stated by Tylor himself in his Primitive Culture of 1871, in which he wrote,’Survivals are processes, customs, opinions, and so forth, which have been carried on by force of habit into a new state of society different from that in which they had their original home, and they thus remain as proofs and examples of an older condition of culture out which the newer has been evolved.’ [46] The reliance on outmoded anthropological theories of mythology as sources for its view of the Neanderthals in City of Dreams was one of the major criticisms made of the book when it was reissued in 1996. [47]

In fact, Gooch is not the only contemporary writer to be convinced that contemporary myths and legends are the remnants of a much older, Stone Age religious system. Adrian Bailey in 1998 advanced the view in his book, Caves of the Sun: The Origin of Mythology, that the original prehistoric religion was a solar cult, which also influenced the Neanderthal cult of the bear through the sun’s apparent retreat in winter into caves in the earth. The book was again heavily dependent on 1 9 th century anthropology and dismissive of the psychological and  century interpretations of the origins of religion. [48] John Grigsby, in his Warriors of the Wasteland of 2003, advanced the theory that the original pre-Indo-European, Neolithic religion was that of a dying and rising man/god, which was usurped by the intrusive solar cult. Although Grigsby similarly brought a wealth of information to bear on his subject, his thesis was nevertheless criticised for its reliance on the 1 9 th century theories of Frazer, among others, for its conceptual framework. [49]

In fact, the notion that contemporary pre-industrial cultures are survivals from an ancient state of human culture has effectively been challenged by developments in anthropology during the  century.

Particularly instrumental in attacking the unidirectional development of cultures through specific phases were Boleslaw Malinowski and Franz Boas. Malinowski based his anthropological theories on his experience of fieldwork amongst the peoples of the Trobriand Islands. Here, he developed a functionalist view of society, considering that no matter how strange a custom or practice was, it survived because it fulfilled a contemporary purpose: ‘Savages aren’t half-rational or irrational, but do things because they work. Customs survive not as throwbacks but because they fulfil some function.’ [50] It’s a view that the probably the great majority of contemporary occultists and New Agers, sharing the belief in the efficacy of magic, would endorse. Nevertheless, it challenges the tendency in some circles to view extra-European cultures as irrational, in contrast to the post-Enlightenment rationalism of contemporary European culture. There are elements of this view in Surrealism, for example.

Although the Surrealists ardently championed the rights of indigenous and subordinate colonial people against the oppression of European imperialism in the Caribbean, French Indo-China and elsewhere, their espousal of the art of primitive, tribal cultures such as those of Black Africa was predicated by the notion that they were much in touch with their subconscious, and by implication, more irrational, than Europeans.

The greatest challenge to the unidirectional view of cultural progress, however, came from Franz Boas. Boas’ fieldwork amongst the Kwakiutl peoples of the American north-west coast led him to attack the doctrine that society moved from a matrilineal to a patrilineal organisation, and the theory of totemism as the origins of human religion. He believed that the positing of a uniform scheme of human development overlooked the uniqueness of individual human cultures. Instead of there being a general sequence of cultural stages amongst humanity, there was instead’a tendency of diverse customs and beliefs to converge towards similar forms, and a development of customs in divergent direction.’ [51]

As a German Jew, he was bitterly opposed to the biological reductionism of the Nazis and the racial interpretation of history, which he saw, along with eugenics, as irremediably dangerous. His book, The Mind of Primitive Man was burned in Nazi Germany and unpopular amongst supporters of apartheid and segregation in the United States because of its assertion that there were no pure races, that racial intermixing did not lead to degeneration, and that Blacks would be perfectly able to fulfil their duties as citizens alongside Whites if the legal restrictions against them were lifted. His views have thus been immensely influential in challenging the racist assumptions of White superiority towards other cultures characteristic of 19th century anthropology. While his anti-racism is praiseworthy, his emphasis on each culture’s autonomy, and demand that anthropologists should not make value judgements about the societies they studied, unfortunately has led to the extremes of postmodern cultural relativism in which practices or beliefs which are untrue or repellent are nevertheless defended and declared valid because of their part in a particular culture. Hence the postmodern view that relegates science to the position of only one of a number of possible interpretations of the universe, none more true than the others.

Attempts to posit totemism and shamanism as the origin of human religion have similar been questioned because of their coexistence with apparently more sophisticated forms of religious experience. Tylor himself recognised that primitive peoples, ‘alongside their magic, ghosts, totems, worshipful stones, have a very much better God than most races a good deal higher in civilisation.’ [52] It’s a sentiment with which many of today’s occultists would no doubt agree, contrasting the apparent benevolence of primitive religion with the cruelties of Western institutional faiths, particularly Christianity. Nevertheless, it does undermine the claim that totemism is somehow a more primitive, primal form of human religious experience.

The idea of Christ’s passion as a mythological treatment of real, primal human totemic sacrifice similarly becomes untenable. Although the consumption of Christ’s body and blood in the transubstantiated bread and wine of the mass certainly performs some of the functions of the consumption of a totemic sacrificial victim in promoting a social and spiritual solidarity amongst members of the congregation, this does not mean by any means that a real, human sacrifice was necessarily performed and consumed, beyond the theological view of Christ’s crucifixion as a paschal sacrifice before God, though this certainly would not have been the intention of the Roman and Judaean authorities responsible for it. Furthermore, people do adopt creatures and objects as symbols for themselves, as in mascots and on coats of arms, without these creatures ever being personally consumed by them. Muller himself pointed to his friend, Abeken, whose name meant ‘small ape’ and who therefore had a small ape on his coat of arms, as the possible possessor of a totemic ancestor. He joked, however, that although he had never actually seen him eating an ape, it was probably due to a matter of taste. [53]

Of course, attempts to shoehorn all forms of religion into the pattern of a solar myth, is also open to abuse. It was satirised even during its high point in the 19th century. Sabine Baring-Gould, for example, illustrated its excesses with an essay, originally produced by a French ecclesiastic, which mischievously attempted to prove that Napoleon was the sun god, citing linguistic, historical and figurative parallels with the myth of Apollo. [54]

Similarly, the arguments for the antiquity of shamanism have also been questioned, with scholars pointing out that the Palaeolithic cave paintings of dancing male figures with animal heads could equally be gods, and that the argument for the universality of shamanism across the globe is weakened by the fact that there is not even a commonly agreed definition of the term. [55] Furthermore, as with totemism, shamanism also exists alongside organised religion in some of the societies in which it is found. [56]

Modern anthropology’s rejection of the theory of a uniform, primitive Cro- Magnon culture based on communism, matriarchy and goddess- worship undoubtedly explains why Gooch has looked yet further back into the Palaeolithic, to the Neanderthals, for his utopia. The sheer scantiness of the evidence and its amibiguity makes them an ideal tabula rasa, on to which contemporary scholars can project their own views of their nature.


Modern anthropology’s rejection of the theory of a uniform, primitive Cro-Magnon culture based on communism, matriarchy and goddess-worship undoubtedly explains why Gooch has looked yet further back into the Palaeolithic, to the Neanderthals, for his utopia.

* * *

Much still remains conjectural and the subject of debate. For example, although there are finds of Neanderthal burials, complete with flowers and a sprinkling of red ochre on the dead, as well as jewellery of animal teeth, to suggest that they had a symbolic culture, and so were not the subhuman creatures of earlier views, this view is hotly contested. Its opponents argue that these practices only emerged after the Neanderthals came into contact with the Cro-Magnons, and so were simply copying their practices without truly understanding them, rather than inventing them for themselves. [57]

At present though, recent findings regarding the Neanderthals tend to disprove some of Gooch’s theories. For example, the greater muscular development on Neanderthal skeleton’s right arms suggests they were right, rather than left handed, using that arm to wield the spear in a stabbing motion suitable for hunting animals amongst woodland, rather than throwing them. [58] On the other hand, analysis of Palaeolithic handprints suggest that the Cro-Magnons, by contrast, had a far greater proportion of left- handers than today. Analysis of the chemical composition of Neanderthal bones similarly suggests that they were almost exclusively carnivorous. [59] If true, these findings prove the exact reverse of some of Gooch’s own view of the Neanderthals.

Aside from these specific points, most anthropologists and historians today, following Franz Boas, would baulk at seeing a racial, biological origin for political institutions, and it is mistaken to project distinctly  century political structures far back into prehistory, long before these political philosophies and social organisations had arisen. As for the specific examples of left- handers’ political inclinations today, there are serious problems with these.

(Although there is considerable interest in the apparently different cognitive and social skills developed by left and right handers, with the genetic differences between the two being wider than those of human races, it’s problematic whether any of the individuals Gooch cites as left-handers can be described as socialist. Radical Islam of the type promoted by Osama bin Laden strongly rejects the present world order and the dominance of America as an oppressive infidel power, but it also vehemently rejects atheist communism and secular socialism.

In Revolutionary Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini abolished political parties from a belief that they were divisive, and that’all Muslims should be brothers’. In some respects, particularly urban planning, the insistence on restricting legislation solely to what can be expressly supported by the Qu’ran has meant that some Iranian policies resemble the laissez-faire economic policies of the Victorian West, rather than the state interventionism of revolutionary Communist regimes. Supporters of the Iranian Revolution vehemently denounced comparisons of the revolutionary regime with Western political movements, particularly Fascism, and it’s almost certain that bin Laden and the others in al-Qaeda would also reject comparisons with Socialism, Communism or other Western philosophies for the same reason.

As for China being a Communist country, this is also problematic. Although China is a one-party state whose official ideology is revolutionary Marxism, in practice the country follows capitalist economics. As with the other countries of the former Communist bloc, it’s problematic whether Communism in China can outlive the increasingly aging members of the ruling party. In any case, most scholars would point to distinct, obvious political and social causes for the rise of Communism in China, such as the political and economic chaos and corruption of the Kuomintang, rather than crude biological determinism.

Beyond the errors and inadequacies of the theory of Christ’s Passion as the central ritual of a prehistoric lunar cult, rather more profound points can be made generally about fringe religious history and its methods of proof and investigation. The first point is that much fringe speculation, despite its wide ranging use of facts, rather than opening up new ground, really does little more than attempt to propound and defend earlier, discredited theories. Just as the above theory recapitulates elements of Victorian notions of the origins of human religion and society, so Ron Pearson’s theories of the subatomic origin of the spirit world relies on a rejection of Einstein’s theory of relativity in favour of a revived insistence of the existence of the ether. Secondly, global assumptions of a universal religious cult in antiquity are almost certainly wrong.

Any assumptions regarding the nature of a historical event, including its religion, requires as proof directly relevant facts to support it. In the case of the above theory of Christ’s passion, this would ideally be Roman, Greek or Jewish eyewitness reports that such a sacrifice did indeed occur, rather than inference from unrelated myths or legends recorded thousands of years later and further north. There also has to be an awareness of the wider history and origins of the events investigated, and a clear distinction between causes and effects. In the above example, this means an awareness that the belief that witches’ covens had a membership of 13 was based on the total number of Christ and His disciples, rather than vice versa. Furthermore, any allegorical interpretation of a myth or legend requires high standards of proof directly relevant to the subject of study.

It is immensely easy, simply by a judicious choice of numbers and mythology, to prove an allegorical meaning behind just about any subject one chooses, as Sabine Baring-Gould’s apparent proof that Napoleon was really Apollo clearly demonstrates. In general, unless there is direct evidence that the subject of study was considered allegorical at the time, or consciously used in such a context, allegorical interpretations of specific historical events are probably best avoided.

It also needs stating that when propounding a particular interpretation of history, the researcher needs to consider the academic history of the subject being discussed, and the origins and history of the ideas surrounding it. Professional academic historians, for example, consider previous treatments of their subject in their monographs, and history courses in higher education teach historiography — the theories and philosophies of historical interpretation, and how these have changed over time — as an integral part of the history course, as these may profoundly affect the treatment of a particular historical event or person, including the type of evidence accepted to support the historian’s view of their subject.

The most important point, however, is that biologistic assumptions of the origins of culture or political organisation and views are both wrong, and have been the basis of brutality, oppression and genocide. No matter how well meant, even by liberals keen to rescue their subjects from the images of savagery, like those, which have been characteristic of the treatment of the Neanderthals, such theories should be strenuously rejected.

The recent history of archaeology has shown how there is a place for fringe theorising, and that when this is done well it can make a valuable contribution to the understanding of its subjects. Archaeoastronomy, despite its origins in fringe archaeological speculation, is now academically respectable, and Paul Devereaux’s theories on the Stone Age use of sound to create altered states of consciousness amongst worshippers at sacred sites has similarly been well received, at least in some quarters of academia. To be accepted by academia, however, researchers in the mystical and occult fringe need to adhere to the same rigorous standards of proof and approach, some of whose characteristics are outlined above, that academics use to assess the value of their own views and theories. unfortunately, with the current furore over the Da Vinci Code spawning a plethora of ever wilder pseudo- historical religious speculation, we may have to wait a long time for that.



    • 35. ‘Friday the Thirteenth’ in J Simpson ans S. Roud, A Dictionary of English Folklore, OUP, 2000, p.61
    • 36. R. M. Dorson, ‘The Eclipse of Solar Mythology’, in A. Dundes, The Study of Folklore, University of California at Berkeley, Prentice Hall, 1965, p.61
    • 37. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.62-2
    • 38. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.64
    • 39. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.69
    • 40. G. W. Cox. An Introduction to the Science of Comparative Mythology and Folklore. 1881, cited in Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.72
    • 41. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.72-3
    • 42. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.61
    • 43. A. Lang. Myth, Ritual and Religion, vol.2, p.196, cited in Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.67
    • 44. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.83
    • 45. E. Rose. A Razor for a Goat, University of Toronto Press, 1989, p.158-9
    • 46. E. B. Tylor. Primitive Culture, cited in Bennett, op.cit., p.35
    • 47. Review of S. Gooch, City of Dreams, Aulis, London 1995, in Fortean Times  no. 85, Feb/Mar. 1996, p.61
    • 48. M. Jay, ‘Caves of the Sun, The Origin of Mythology’ in Fortean Times 117, December 1998, p.56
    • 49. N. Rooney, ‘Shadows from a Celtic Twilight’, in Fortean Times, 178, December 2003, p.60
    • 50. Bennet, op.cit., p.65
    • 51. Bennet, op.cit., p.71
    • 52. Bennet, op.cit., p.68
    • 53. Dorson, ‘Solar Mythology’, p.68
    • 54 S Baring-Gould, ‘A Satire on German Mythologists’, in p. Vansittart, Voices: 1870-1914, Jonathan Cape, 1983, p.126-9
    • 55. Hutton, The Shamans of Siberia. Isle of Avalon Press, Gastonbury, 1993, p. 14
    • 56 Hutton, op.cit., p.9
    • 57 S. Mithen, ‘Symbolic Humans Started here’, reviewing J. L. Arsuaga, Neanderthal’s Necklace, John Wiley & Sons, 2003, in Fortean Times,  170, May 2003, p.61.
    • 58. See, for example, the BBC Horizon programme broadcast January-February 2005 which attempted to reconstruct the Neanderthals and their lifestyle from fossil remains.
    • 59. See the BBC Horizon programme as above.

The Victorian Charm of the Protong, part 1.
David Sivier

From Magonia 88, May 2005

One of the strangest responses to the religious furore surrounding the release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in 2004 was that of veteran fringe writer, Stan Gooch. While other writers and academics feared that the graphic depiction of Christ’s suffering would provoke a further rise in violent anti-Semitism amid a resurgence of extreme Right wing political groups in Europe, and the renewed intifada in the Arab world, Gooch took the opportunity of the film’s release to expound his own, very personal theory that Christianity owed its origins to a secret lunar cult.

‘Why,’ he asked rather tetchily, ‘do people not understand that far from being what it is claimed to be, the story of Christ is simply a garbled version of the ancient Moon religion’s chief ceremony? In this ceremony, the Sun (the King for a Year) is sacrificed by the Moon on the last day of the year, his genitals are removed (hence the spear in the side) and the still clearer spear through both thighs of the Fisher King to turn him into a menstruating woman, the blood then drunk and the testicles eaten. (This, of course, is why Catholics eat the body of Christ and drink His blood during Mass.) However, the Moon graciously resurrects the Sun so that life on Earth may continue.’ [1]

As proof of this remarkable assertion, Gooch goes further and states that ‘the cross is the symbol for the Moon in all pre-Christian cultures worldwide and Christ dies on the cross on Friday 13th. Friday is the day of the Moon goddess, Freya.

‘And He is resurrected on Monday, which is again Moon-day. Christ and his 12 disciples constitute a coven of 13. The only 13 which exists in nature (or anywhere else) is the 13 New Moons/Full Moons that occur in each alternate year. The date of Easter (of the sacrifice and resurrection) is of course still today determined by the Moon, which is why Easter is a moveable feast.’ [2]


Of course the simple answer to why his theory is not accepted is because it is utter rubbish from start to finish!


Of course the simple answer to why his theory is not accepted is because it is utter rubbish from start to finish. While there were cults that practiced castration and allegations of human sacrifice committed by others in the ancient world, no cult that combined the two is recorded to have existed. The priests of Cybele castrated themselves, but did not do so as part of a cult of human sacrifice, and did not engage in cannibalism. Indeed, far from being intended to cause their deaths, the castration marked the worshippers’ entry into their new lives as the goddess’ priests. The allegation is even more incredible, and potentially dangerous, when applied to the 1st century Judaism out of which Christianity grew. Despite the weird and depraved sacrificial mixing of semen and menstrual blood by some libertarian Christian Gnostic sects, such as the Cainites, such acts were viewed as abominations in the wider Judaeo-Christian world. [3] It is true that some historians following the Christian apologist Justin Martyr have tentatively suggested that the Roman accusation of orgiastic sex and cannibalism directed at Christians may have come from the activities of some of these sects, such as the Marcionites. [4] Pliny, on the other hand, despite his willingness to execute Christians on the emperor’s orders, found that there was no substance behind the rumour, only ‘a depraved and immodest superstition’. [5]

Furthermore, the allegations of human sacrifice in Christianity at this time, before the religion was completely separate from Judaism, could be seen as substantiating the ‘Blood Libel’ rumours of the ritual sacrifice of gentiles which have produced so much vicious anti- Semitism ever since they first appeared at the court of Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria c.125-96 B.C. [6] In the case of Christianity, most scholars believe that the allegations of cannibal’thyestean feasts’ arose through a Roman misunderstanding of the nature of Eucharist, with some Romans believing that the Christians dipped the host in the blood of sacrificed child. [7]

Despite being totally wrong historically, the theory of Christianity’s lunar origins nevertheless is a good example of the concerns of a certain part of the fringe archaeology/secret history movement, and in particular its origins in outmoded, Victorian views of the origins of religion. In fact, Gooch’s view of the origin of Christianity is part of his wider attempt to trace the origins of modern religious and political systems in the racial difference between Neanderthal and modern Homo Sapiens. In his 1989 book, Cities of Dreams: When Women Ruled the Earth, he stated his case that the Neanderthals were creative left-handed, pacifist, socialist, matriarchal vegetarians whose religion was centred around the worship of the Moon, in contrast with the Cro Magnons, who were patriarchal, violent, right-handed, destructive and capitalistic. Intermarriage between the two produced modern humanity, with the different political and religious beliefs being determined by the relative expression of the Neanderthal or Cro Magnon heritage in various individuals.

Thus, left-handers, according to Gooch, have more Neanderthal heritage, and are thus more likely to be anti-capitalist political leftists. As proof of this, he cites Osama bin Laden, Ayman Zawahiri and Suleiman Abu Ghaith as prominent left-handers, as well as the statistic that left-handedness in China, which ‘just happens to be a Communist state’ is almost double that of Europe. Thus ‘the present world crisis, our political system itself, and the vast majority of our social problems all arise from the fact that we, modern humans, are an unstable hybrid cross between predominantly left-handed Neanderthal man and the right-handed Cro-Magnon, and all possess two sets of opposing instincts.’ [8]

Other fringe writers, such as Stanislaus Szukalsky, would have concurred. A Polish nationalist and founder of the ‘Horned Heart’ patriotic movement, Szukalsky similarly believed that an archaic, prehuman race from which modern humans were partially descended also shared communistic inclinations. Rather than the idealised paragons of antediluvian virtue envisaged by Gooch, however, these were subhuman creatures of violence and depravity. It was their racial heritage that was responsible for the cruelty and criminality in the modern human character. Szukalsky’s views, however, were no doubt moulded by his country’s experience during the post-War years. Newly liberated from both Germany and Russia, the country was nevertheless subject to political instability and armed incursions from its former eastern master after the Revolution when the nascent Soviet union attempted to spread Communism by force.

Similar views of the origin of Communist criminal depravity in a prehuman racial heritage informed the views of many of German Pagan sects whose vehement antisemitism made them precursors of the Nazis. Despite the substantial difference in outlook between Szukalsky and the leaders of the Volkisch neo-pagan sects in Wilhelmine Germany, his view of the Protong as the prehuman originator of evil is of a type with Lanz von Liebenfels’ Buhlzwerge, subhuman pygmies, which the ancients had reared for perverted sexual pleasure. For Liebenfels, Christ’s passion was a garbled account of attempts by these pygmies to rape and corrupt Him on the urging of Satanic bestiality cults devoted to racial interbreeding. [9] 

Liebenfels’ own political views were diametrically opposed to Gooch’s. A rabidly anti- Semitic German Nationalist, whose views may have exerted an influence on the young Adolf Hitler, Liebenfels was resolutely behind the hierarchical, capitalist world, which Communism sought to overthrow. Nevertheless, both Liebenfels and Gooch’s views of the Passion are similar, rejecting the literal meaning of the narrative in favour of an allegorical interpretation of sexual violence.

Liebenfels’ interpretation of the Passion narrative, however, lacks the cannibalism of Gooch’s. Yet this is also present in the 19th century attempt to establish the anthropological origin of religion, though this time in Freud’s discussion of the origin of religion in the Oedipal struggles of the early human community expressed in the murder of a Biblical figure, though this time Moses, rather than Christ. In his Autobiography, Freud declared that the ur-human paterfamilias had seized all the tribe’s women for himself. As a result, his sons banded together against him to kill and devour him. However, as their father was also their ideal, they were ridden with guilt, and so enacted rituals to expiate them of their sin. The result of this was the ritual murder, not of Jesus, but of Moses by his Jewish followers. [10]

Where Freud got this bizarre idea of Moses’ ritual murder is a mystery. The Bible makes no mention of a murder at all. In it, God simply summons Moses to die on Mt. Nebo, because he had broken faith with the Almighty and did not revere Him as holy in Meribathkadesh. [11] Moses complied, dying in full view of the Promised Land, which he was forbidden to enter. There is no mention of any killing by Moses followers, who, far from being filled with hate, spent thirty days in mourning for their prophet. [12]

The Talmud and extrabiblical Jewish legend also makes no mention of Moses being murdered either. There, the short Biblical account of the prophet’s death is supplemented with a longer account of his refusal to die, and the refusal of various angels sent by the Lord to take his soul, until at last the Lord lures his soul out of his body with a kiss. Again, Moses’ death is the cause for great mourning, not just of Israel, but also of the whole of creation. [13]

The Roman Jewish historian, Josephus too makes no mention of any murder, but describes instead Moses being called to die by God, and giving a lengthy sermon stressing the nation’s duty to God and describing the constitution and laws revealed to him by the Almighty before ascending the mountain where he was due to die. Again, rather than being murdered, Moses’ death is the subject of extreme sorrow for his people. Josephus’ account differs from that of the Bible and the Talmud in having the prophet disappearing from under a cloud, which settled over him while still in conversation with the patriarchs Eleazar and Joshua. [14] Freud thus appears to have confused Moses death with the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, which was a revolt against Moses and Aaron’s authority. [15] This ends not with Moses’ murder, however, but with Korah and the leaders of the revolt being swallowed alive by the earth down to Sheol, the Hebrew underworld, and their followers consumed by fire. The overwhelming impression by Freud’s account of Moses’ death as a ritual sacrifice by the people of Israel is of a deliberate misreading of the text in order to make it conform to his theory.

Unfortunately, this certainly was not the last time this was done.

Nor has the fascination with the murder of Biblical figures abated over the past 100 years. While Freud’s theory of the ritual murder of Moses has become one of the lesser-known and obscure parts of his psychoanalytical system, other writers on religion have since moved on to Hiram Abif, the architect of Solomon’s Temple in Masonic legend, who was similarly murdered by his followers, in this case, the other workmen. Such a work is Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas’ The Hiram Key of 1996, which similarly made spurious claims about the origins of religion, including the statement that the secret scrolls of Christ were buried under Roslyn Chapel, and claiming that the mummy of the pharaoh Seqenenre Tao II was the body of Hiram Abif himself. [16] Freud’s theory of the cause of Moses’ putative murder in the enactment of Oedipal conflicts with his people could also be applied to the story of the murder of Hiram Abif, though as yet it doesn’t appear that anyone has actually done so. Clearly religious murder and secret religious history continue to hold a lurid interest for modern, as well as Victorian readers.


Hiram Abif and King Solomon

Writers have since moved on to Hiram Abif, the architect of Solomon’s Temple in Masonic legend, who was murdered by his followers


Regardless of the precise theory anthropological or psychological theory underpinning Szukalski’s, Liebenfels’ and Gooch’s views of the nature of prehistoric humanity and the origins of religion and capitalism and Communism, all are strongly informed by the racial and anthropological theories of the 19th century. Although these have been discredited by later research carried out in the 20th century, they persisted long enough for their influence still to be felt in the modern occult and Fortean fringe. Even when these theories are presented from a liberal perspective, as in Gooch’s attempts to rescue the Neanderthals from their image of savage brutality, they still present considerable dangers because of their biologistic readings of historical and cultural events. Apart from challenging the racist basis of such theorising, it’s also instructive to analyse these theories to reveal just how far 19th century views of primitive humanity and its religion even in today’s far more liberal occult and fringe religious milieu.

Underpinning Freud’s theory of the psychological origin of religion, however, was the nascent anthropology of the Victorian era, which itself was informed by that age’s faith in progress from primitive barbarism to modern, technological, European civilisation. Freud was particularly influenced by studies such as W. Robertson Smith’s Lectures On the Religion of the Semites of 1898, which argued that sacred acts and cults were the essence of religion, rather than doctrines or beliefs. [17]

Liebenfels was similarly influenced by contemporary anthropology, with one article citing more than a hundred references to academic studies in anthropology, palaeontology and mythology. [18] The major influence on Liebenfels’ thinking, however, seems to have been a flagstone at Heiligenkreuz Abbey, where he had been a Cistercian monk, showing a nobleman trampling upon a strange monster, which Liebenfels interpreted as an allegorical representation of the struggle with the subhuman evil present in the world. [19]

Although Freud’s historical account of the origins of religion has been discredited, while Liebenfels, despite his erudition, was never more than an eccentric fringe thinker whose ideas have similarly been thoroughly discredited because of their genocidal racism, they nevertheless shared their basis in evolutionary theory with more mainstream anthropological speculation. The founders of sociology in France and Britain, Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, were firm believers in the progress of human civilisation from out of savagery. Indeed, it was Herbert Spencer who coined the phrase ‘the survival of the fittest’ as a staunch supporter of Darwinism. [20] As a result, 19th century anthropology was infused from its birth with what Boleslaw Malinowski described as ‘enthusiastic evolutionism’. [21]

Both Comte and Spencer attempted to fit the development of religion into their schema of social and biological progress. For Comte, the earliest and most primitive form of religion was animism, when early humanity invested the natural world around them with supernatural presences and powers in order to explain it. For Spencer, this ur-religion was the belief in ghosts and ancestral spirits. The great Victorian anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, viewed by one modern scholar, Jacques Waardenburg, as ‘the actual founder of anthropology as the science of man and his culture’, [22] further refined this view so that the belief in a soul, rather than ghosts, was the origin of religion. It was Tylor who coined the term’animism’ to describe the belief that animals, plants and inanimate objects possessed souls as well humans.

William Robertson Smith, who influenced Freud’s theory of religion and who has been described by the anthropologist Mary Douglas as the real father of anthropology, [23] rather than Tylor, differed from his predecessors in viewing totemism as the origin of human religion. Smith’s views were influenced by his experiences when he visited the Bedouin in North Africa. In the totemic stage of society, he believed, each clan or savage kin-group considered itself related to its totem. Although the totem could be any creature or object, usually it was some kind of animal. When this sacred animal was sacrificed, its flesh and blood, if eaten, united the worshippers with the sacrificial victim. It was this totemism, which was at the heart of modern Christian Holy Communion. It is a view, which is clearly related, if not actually ancestral, to Gooch’s view that Christian Holy Communion is based on a real human sacrifice, whose body and blood was indeed eaten. [24]

These rationalist, evolutionary accounts of the origin of religion remained influential into the 20th century. An edition of Smith’s Religion of the Semites was published in 1927 , while Freud’s account of the psychological origins of religion, where ‘respect and fear of the Old Man and the emotional reaction of the primitive savage to older, protective women, exaggerated in dreams and enriched by mental play, formed a large part in the beginnings of primitive religion and in the conception of gods and goddesses’, was incorporated into H. G. Wells’ own account of the origin of religion. [25]

Later in the century shamanism, rather than animism or totemism, was viewed as the origin of religion, or at least the oldest religious system. Archaeological evidence suggested that it was at least 20,000 years old, meaning that it ‘was the world’s oldest profession and Shamans were probably the first storytellers, healers, priests, magicians, dramatists, and so on, who explained the world and related it to the cosmos.’ [26] In the view of some researchers, the transition to priesthood occurred when humanity found it increasingly difficult to enter the dissociative states necessary for the shamanic experience, and when the shamans’ powers were eroded as they came under the sway of the leaders of the emergent states. Thus, instead of the original, ecstatic experience, priests and diviners used set rituals and procedures instead to bring about the miracles and mystical communion with the gods or ancestors, or to produce religious phenomena and attitudes agreeable to their secular masters. [27] For many in the New Age milieu, it is the apparent extreme antiquity of shamanism, as well as the freedom it offers for direct mystical communion with the numinous, unmediated by the strictures of an organised, dogmatic priesthood or oppressive state structure, that validates shamanism as a contemporary religious path.

A similar attitude also underpins much of the current interest in ritual magic, with adherents and adepts similarly stressing the experience of communion with transcendent powers outside of the restrictions imposed by religion as an important element in its attraction. Although not stressed to the same extent as shamanism, magic has similarly been viewed as the ultimate origin of religion, most famously by Sir James George Frazer in his work The Golden Bough. Like Inglis, Frazer believed the transition to religion occurred when the magic failed to work, though as a rationalist he viewed this as the growing awareness of emerging civilisations that magic could not explain and control the world satisfactorily. [28] Frazer was influenced in his view of magic as the origin of religion by the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel.

Although Hegel’s theory of the emergence of the historical process through the dialectic of thesis-antithesis-synthesis is best known through the left-wing, materialist version propounded by Marx, Hegel himself was a practising Lutheran. The dialectical process of the human journey mirrored the operation of the divine mind. Magic and fetishism were the origins of human religion, a Naturreligion in which no duality was perceived between nature and spirit. This ur-religion had become obsolete in advanced societies, particularly those of Western Europe, through the process of antithesis, which separated spirit from its original, unformed self, so giving rise to Persian dualism. Eventually, however, the highest stage of the process, the synthesis, was achieved in revealed religion, particularly that of European Christianity. [29]

Hegelianism formed the conceptual basis of Marx’s concept of the progress of human society, though he also drew many of his ideas from anthropology. Particularly influential in this regard was Lewis Henry Morgan, whose study of the Iroquois Indians was published in 1851 and which has been hailed as ‘the first modern ethnographic study of a native people’. [30] It was Morgan, taking his lead from Spencer, who proposed that society developed from savagery, through barbarism to civilisation, and identified each stage with a particular technological or social advance. For many Marxist intellectuals, and those influenced by them, the earliest stage of human society was marked by a primitive communism which the growing diversity of function and division of labour and roles in more advanced societies had destroyed, but which would be restored again after the dialectical process had advanced through capitalism and its successor, socialism, to the idyllic true communism of the post- revolutionary world order.

Marxist anthropologists have paid particular attention to hunter-gatherer societies where no one is dependent on others for the weapons that are the sole means of production. [31] It is no accident that radical western socialists, such as London’s former mayor, Ken Livingstone, in an interview with the Sunday Express in the mid-80 s, hearkened back to the primitive communism of the Palaeolithic as a golden age. Despite the Soviet regime’s persecution of shamanism alongside other expressions of religious belief and practice incompatible with its militantly atheist ideology, and the view of Marxist anthropologists that magicians, by their specialist knowledge, make the workers dependent on them and so exploit them, [32] it is probably no accident that many of those interested in shamanism tend towards the political left in their beliefs, and have a similar nostalgia for the lost utopia of Stone Age society.

Such attitudes can be traced further back, of course, to Rousseau and Diderot’s idealisation of the Noble Savage, and especially Tahiti, as terrestrial paradises of primitive communism and sexual freedom, free from the repression, hypocrisy and corruption of aristocratic Europe. Although they too praised the natives as enjoying a natural religion in harmony with humanity’s own nature, the post-modern Neo-Pagan movement has as much in common with Hegel’s view of magic as it does with the Noble Savage of the philosophes. For Rousseau and Diderot, the natural religion was something like European deism, which posited a distant creator, but denied that He took any further action to interfere with His creation. It was an intellectual faith, which lacked the Romantic involvement with the miraculous, which is at the heart of a belief in magic.

Modern Neo-Paganism’s debt to 19th century anthropology is also demonstrated in its concern with ancient matriarchies, which worshipped goddesses, rather than male gods, and where the mediators of female divine power were queens and priestesses. Although in the  century this view of early global culture and religion has been most strongly propounded by Marija Gimbutas, of UCLA, whose book, The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe has been particularly influential, the idea itself goes back to Johan Backhofen in the 19th century. Backhofen, a Swiss jurist, believed that all societies passed through a matriarchal phase, though he termed it Mutterrecht – mother-right — rather than matriarchy. It was an enormously influential view, being taken up, amongst others, by Sigmund Freud and the archaeologists V. Gorden Childe and Jacques Cauvin. [33] Hence Gooch’s theory of primitive Neanderthal matriarchy, and his statement that Christ’s Passion is a mythological treatment of human sacrifice performed by a lunar cult, identified in much modern Neo- Pagan literature, though not explicitly stated in Gooch’s account of Christ’s Passion, as the religion of a moon goddess.


Such attitudes can be traced to Rousseau and Diderot's idealisation of the Noble Savage, and especially Tahiti, as terrestrial paradises of primitive communism and sexual freedom, free from the repression, hypocrisy and corruption of aristocratic Europe


  1. Stan Gooch. ‘Moon Religion, Fortean Times, 185, July 2004, p.75
  2. Ibid.
  3. See for example, Christ’s condemnation of such practices acording to the Pistis Sophia, cited in ‘The Orgy’, in A. Nataf, The Occult, Chambers, Edinburgh 1991, p.70
  4. J. B. Russell, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, Cornell University Press, 1972, p.90
  5. T. Barnes, ‘Pagan Perceptions of Christianity’ in I. Hazlett, ed., Early Christianity: Origins and Evolution to AD600. SPCK, London 1991, p.90.
  6. J. B. Russell, Witchcraft, p.89
  7. J. B. Russell, Witchcraft, p.89
  8. Stan Gooch, ‘Sinister Sinstades’ in Fortean Times, 155, February 2002, p.54
  9. N. Goodrick-Clarke. The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and their Influence on Nazi Ideology, I. B. Tauris, 1992.
  10. Alister McGrath. The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World. Rider, 2004, p.72-3
  11. Deuteronomy 32, 48-52
  12. Deuteronomy 34, 1-8
  13. A.S. Rappaport, Ancient Israel: Myths and Legends. The Mystic Press, London 1987, pp.343-362
  14. Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, trans. William Wiston. Charles Griffin, pp. 95-103
  15. [to be confirmed]
  16. P. Henry, ‘The Hiram Key’, Fortean Times, 192, Novmber 1996, p.60
  17. Alister McGrath. op.cit., pp.72
  18. Goodrick-Clarke, op.cit., p.93.
  19. Goodrick-Clarke, op.cit., pp.91-2
  20. C. Bennett. In Search of the Sacred: Anthropology and the Study of Religions, Cassell, 1996, p29.
  21. Bennett, op.cit., p.36
  22. Bennett, op.cit., p.34
  23. Bennett, op.cit., p.41
  24. Bennett, op.cit., p.42
  25. H. G. Wells. A Short History of the World. Watts & Co., 1934, p37
  26. ‘Shamanism’ in R. E. Gulley, Harper’s Encyclopaedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience. HarperCollins, New York, 1991, p.540
  27. B. Inglis. Natural and Supernatual: A History of the Paranormal from the Earliest Times to 1914. Prism, 1992. p.540.
  28. Bennett, op.cit., p.39
  29. Bennett, op.cit., p.25
  30. Bennett, op.cit., p.31
  31. ‘Marxist Anthroplogy’, in C. Cook, ed., Pears Cyclopaedia, 95th Edition, Pelham, london, 1986, p.F61
  32. Ibid., p.F61
  33. I. Hodder, ‘Women and Men at Catalhoyuk’, Scientific American Special edition:Mysteries of the Ancient ones, vol. 15, no. 1, 2005, p36. J. F. White, A Brief History of Christian Worship, Abingdon Press, 1993, p.63.


Continue to Part Two >>>


Gazurmah’s Sons
The Psychopathology of the Nazi Saucer Myth
David Sivier

First published in Magonia 63, May 1998

The past year has seen a resurgence in the old controversy surrounding the origins of Flying Saucers, though for once it is not the hotly debated ETH. Instead, researchers like BUFORA’s Tim Matthews have provoked debate by claiming that modern UFOs are, or are based on, secret Nazi flying saucer experiments conducted during the Second World War.

It’s an intensely emotive issue as it is intimately tied to the brutality of the Nazi dictatorship, and there are very real dangers to its discussion. First of all, debate surrounding the technology can easily become approval of the technology and its uses. This is something of which Neo-Nazis are well aware, and there is an abundance of evidence to show that the mythology surrounding the saucers’ supposed Nazi origins is being used by Fascist groups for propagandistic purposes. The two main sources for the Nazi saucer myth, Wilhelm Landig and Ernst Zundl, are both Nazis seeking to do precisely this.

Landig’s book, Goetzen Gegen Thule, in particular contains a nasty piece of Holocaust revisionism. A similar motive may underlie Renate Vesco’s book, Intercettali Senza Sparare, translated into English as Intercept but don’t Shoot. Vesco claims to have been a technician working under the guidance of the Italian engineer on the project, Giuseppe Belluzzo. This character seems to be a fiction based on the real Giuseppe Belluzzo, an Italian aeronautical engineer and Fascist senator.

When Vesco’s work appeared, first as a magazine article in 1969, and then in book form in 1971, Italy was beginning a wave of Fascist terrorism intended to bring down the liberal state. By playing up Fascist technological achievement, Vesco may well have been attempting to win support for the renascent Right. There is the problem here, however, of why flying saucers were being used for these purposes, rather than concrete examples of wartime German technological achievements, such as the V2. Why choose machines which, if they were ever built, seem to have been complete failures? Experimental devices allegedly built by Victor Schauberger and Alexander Uppisch either crashed, or completely failed to take off. When a working proto-type was built, it was allegedly destroyed to prevent it falling into the hands of the advancing Russians and Czechoslovaks. The answer must lie in the myth’s ability to fulfil some kind of psychological need both within the minds of Fascists and anti-Fascists.

The first thing to note is that as a myth it is superbly suited for propaganda purposes. Joachim C. Fest notes in his biography of Hitler that up until the very last moment of the War, many Germans were still absolutely convinced that the Fuehrer had a secret weapon which would deliver them from the advancing Allies. Although the modern age of the UFO began two years after the end of the War, it was still close enough to be plausibly claimed as a German secret weapon, especially with its precursors in the wartime Foo fighters. Furthermore, the lack of any firm evidence for their origin as technological objects in the form of wreckage or an unequivocal piece of saucer technology, coupled to the remoteness of the saucers’ supposed bases in Antarctica, means that there is no obvious evidence either against their origin in Nazi technology, except from conclusions drawn from what we know was scientifically possible during the Nazi era. In this vacuum all manner of claims, plausible and ludicruous, can be made, there being just enough material available on aviation experiments within the Third Reich to hint plausibly that such experiments were made. Outside of the Neo-Nazi groups fixated on the Third Reich, the Nation of Islam sees the saucers as a vital part of its racist mythology, though here they serve the movement’s founder, W.D. Fard, in his racial war with the Whites.

There is, however, a deeper psychological dimension to the myth, one that goes to the heart of Fascist notions about technology, gender and sexuality.One of the elements within Fascism has been a fascination with technology. The Italian Futurists, who were one of the movement’s precursors and were later absorbed into it, were obsessed with it. ‘Futurism is grounded in the complete renewal of human sensibility brought about by the great discoveries of science’. [1]

Technology was to be the new, exciting medium by which patriotic Italians would slough off their obsession with the past and become true members of an energised humanity, filled with ‘courage, audacity and revolt’ prepared for the impending and inevitable identification of man with machine’. It was an aggressive, masculine movement whose watchwords were ‘Youth, Speed, Violence!’ and which glorified ‘war – the world’s only hygiene – militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers … and contempt for woman’. [2] From the start the aeroplane was celebrated as part of this new, brave, speedy technocratic world.

marinetti-780588‘We will sing of … the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd.’ [3]




‘The Futurist hero was the man of iron, the aviator and the engineer’. [4] The ultimate expression of these ideas was in Marinetti’s book, Mafarka Futurista (Mafarka the Futurist, 1910), which was the subject of a notorious obscenity trial, thanks to the eponymous hero’s possession of an 11 metre long penis which he curled around himself while he slept. His son, Gazurmah, is a giant invisible mechanical bird with wings that embrace the stars. At the end of the book, Mafarka orders his slaves to build him a sailplane, on which he departs for even greater adventures. The identification of aviation with an aggressive, belligerent masculine sexuality is explicit. For Jung, the UFO could also be a masculine symbol, ‘in accordance of reports of … cigar shaped UFOs’. [5)

In all of this there was a complete absence of women. Mafarka was born without a mother, and he, in turn, conceives and bears Gazurmah by himself, in an act of 'exteriorised will'. Futurism followed its artistic predecessor, Symbolism, in having a strong tone of misogyny. This seems to have arisen through a sense of castration, of loss of a role, produced by Edwardian feminist agitation. They preached '(d)isdain for amore (sentimentality or lechery) produced by the greater freedom and erotic ease of women and by the universal exaggeration of female luxury ... The lover has lost all his prestige. Love has lost its absolute worth,' [8]

This fin de siecle ‘crisis in masculinity’ produced a vicious backlash in the Fascist and Nazi regimes, which sought to restrict women’s roles to the traditional, domestic sphere. The slogan ‘children, church and kitchen’ accurately sums up their attitudes to women, and the Nazis sought to remove women from places at university, the military, the legal profession, politics and general employment. Like Futurism, the Nazis inveighed against luxury in women, reserving their fury in particular for the lady, ‘a frivolous plaything who is superficial and only out for pleasure, who decks herself with tawdry finery and is like a glittering exterior that is hollow and drab within.’ [7]

Female sexuality was always a matter of real fear to the radical Right. The occultist Lanz Von Liebenfels, from whom Hitler took most of his racial ideas, felt that women in particular were prone to bestial lusts and preached their subjection to pure aryan husbands as a necessary corrective. Although Nazi concerns with the proper procreation of the race meant that polygyny and pre-marital sex were encouraged, these were a serious business beyond mere pleasure. ‘Choose a comrade, not a playmate’, German girls were lectured on selecting suitable marriage partners.

The ever-present threat of the Jewish incubus was continually held up before their eyes, as shown in the slogans broadcast at the Bund Deutscher Maidler (German Girls’ League): Der Jude ist ihr Unglueck (the Jew is your misfortune). As a necessary discouragement against sexual misadventure, Hitler himself told the assembled maidens to ‘be pure, be vigilant, behave!’ The Nation of Islam and other Black Islamic sects carry on this Fascist agenda of excluding women from public life. Louis Farrakhan deliberately discouraged women from joining his Million Man March because he felt that their place was at home with their children. UFOs, as Jung noted, could also be a feminine symbol, if they were suitably lens-shaped. In that case, a psychoanalytic approach could consider them as a ‘repressed uterus … coming down from the sky’. [8]

Jung, however, did not accept this view uncritically, posing the problem that if UFOs were an essentially feminine symbol, what did that make their masculine pilots? His solution was that although sexuality played an important part in the saucer myth, it still was only a part, ‘not the whole instigator of the metaphor’ .[9] John Keel, on the other hand, noted that ‘(m)any witnesses have the distinct impression that these entities are actually sexless (androgynous). The males with their long hair, angular faces, and mincing manners suggest they might be hermaphrodites and homosexuals’, [10] before going on to speculate that ‘(e)xcep, for those who might be specially constructed for incubus-succubus activities – it does appear that our angels and spacemen come from a world without sex.’ [11]

This asexuality even finds itself in Nazi and proto-Nazi literature. From his close friendship with August Strindberg, who received a letter from his wife rejecting him because she preferred men with longer penises, Lanz Von Liebenfels considered that possession of small genitals was the mark of the pure Aryan, possibly reflecting his own monasticism and undoubted sexual repression. [12] The Nazi movement as a whole, because of its stress on belligerent hypermasculinity and comradeship, attracted a large number of homosexuals. Allegedly 75 per cent of the SA were gay, an accusation more recently levelled by the former NF leader John Tyndall to his erstwhile national comrades after the movements split in 1980.

Given the tendency towards homosexuality in Nazism, the appearance of the Gestapo officer who imparts ‘philosophical guidance’ to Landig’s heroes in Goetzen Gegen Thule takes on a psychological dimension well beyond that of the mentor-friend. [13] Apart from the long-haired blonde Nordics of the Contactees, the short Greys of the Abductionists lack signs of gender or sexuality, yet this does not seem to prevent their repeated rape of witnesses.

No discussion of Fascistic imagery would be complete without a discussion of the sexual aspect of the abduction myth. If the abduction myth is just a secularized version of the old mythology of the incubus/succubus, so too are the racial theories at the heart of Nazism. Hitler’s predecessor, the neo-pagan racist writer Joerg Lanz Von Liebenfels, produced a secularised version of the incubus myth in his work Theo-zoologie oder die Kunde von den Sodoms-Aefflingen and dem Goetter-Elektron (Theo-Zoology or the Lore of the Sodom-Apelings and the Electron of the Gods). In this he posited that humanity, or at least the primitive Aryan races, had possessed electric organs which gave them the power of telepathy. These powers had atrophied due to the Ancients’ addiction to deviant sex with specially bred Buhlzwerge – love-pygmies. In his warped view of the Easter Story, Christ’s passion was really about the attempts by the ancient Satanic cults to pervert Him into copulation with the pygmies, rather than a straight-forward narrative of His crucifixion.

Liebenfels was viciously antisemitic, and the hatred expressed for these mythical Buhlzwerge soon found a concrete object in Jewry. Hitler and his predecessors fulminated against the way the Jews allegedly sought to adulterate the pure Aryan races with their own degenerate blood, sentiments that find their way’ into contemporary Christian Identity and Nation of Islam verbal assaults on Jews as ‘Khazars’ or ‘Mongrels’. Hitler in particular was tormented by a recurring nightmare in which a naked blonde German woman was held in chains, while a Jewish butcher approached her from behind. The abduction myth too contains the element of sadistic helplessness and bondage while a demonically imagined `other’ rapes and violates to produce monstrous children.

The Greys, in their dwarfishness and perverse sexuality, are a new race of Buhlzwerge, come to tempt andseduce pure Aryans. This time, they’ve got the technological upper hand, and they’re breeding us. Its been said that ‘you become what you fear the most’, and Hitler in his fevered combat with miscegenation was quite willing to see suitably blonde children from the conquered races, such as the Poles, kidnapped and raised by Germans as a way of reclaiming allegedly German bloodlines amongst those peoples. The ultimate expression of the Nazi preoccupation with race and biology were the infamous experiments of Dr. Mengele. When the Abduction myth finally arose four decades after the War, it was on this imagery of depraved experimentation that it drew to give a plausible motive for the Greys’ agenda of rape and miscegenation.

The Abduction hysteria also coincided with a period of governmental crisis when a series of released documents and scientific discoveries seemed to suggest that the government and big business were carrying on the Nazi agenda. This was shown in the notorious epidemiological, radiological and drug experiments carried out by the government on servicemen, Blacks, and the poorest ranks of society in general and the scandal over Operation Paperclip and other governmental actions by which scientists and other servants of the Nazi regime came to work in the US. Finally, advances in reproductive technology, such as cloning, in vitro fertilisation and artificial wombs, have raised the spectre of government sponsored racial manipulation ever closer. Brave New World seems just around the corner.

The attempts by some scientists to produce a technology that would allow men to bear babies, explored humorously in the BBC’s play Frankenstein’s Baby and the Hollywood film Junior brings the spectre of homosexual technological birth qua Mafarka ever closer. Bastards of science indeed! The latest version of the myth, which sees the Greys as being three feet tall dwarfs produced by failed attempts to clone the Nazi leaders merely makes the myth’s metaphorical nature obvious. Even the UFOs’ shape, phallic as it is, suggests its role in procreation, penetrating and fructifying the witness, as Jung realised. (14] This is wholly in line with the essentially religious nature of the phenomenon, as even ‘in ancient times the feeling of being ‘penetrated’ by, or of ‘receiving’, the god was allegorized by the sexual act.’ [15]

Following the example of folklore, however, after the victory of Christianity this experience no longer produced demigods and heroes, as in the ancient world, but demons, cambions and changelings. Intercourse with the alien ufonauts now no longer brings beautiful, heroic suitors such as Mdme. Klarer’s alien lover, nor painless parturition, but painful and terrifying rape. Instead of birth, the body is further violated through caesarian section, the child ripped from the womb. In early mythologies, the daemons responsible for the violation would have been portrayed in human or animal form. In our modern technological age, they become cloaked in the guise of machines, such as aeroplanes, cars, or, as Jung might have realised, flying saucers.Paradoxically, in spite of Hitler’s vaunted triumphs of German technology, science and mechanization was another strand in the Nazis’ web of neurotic fears. At the heart of the Nazi Blut and Boden (blood and soil) ideas were the idealisation of the peasants and peasant society as the heart and soul of the German people. The first Nazi electoral successes were as representatives of the agrarian classes of Schleswig-Holstein during the agricultural crisis of 1929. In spite of the mechanised terror marshalled by the Reich against its foes and citizens, the Nazi ideal remained a primitive, idealised society of peasants. This agenda continues today in attempts by the Fascist International Third Position to found agrarian colonies in France and Spain.

In his early speeches, the newly idustrialising giant of America was invoked by Hitler as the epitome of modem urbanism and mass production, a demonic dystopia which would be Germany’s fate, too, unless National Socialism intervened to save it. The image of the flying saucer as the technological tool of mechanised procreation would have been as much a nightmare to the Nazis as a dream.

Deeply entwined with these ideas is the notion of racial decadence. Martin Kottmeyer has shown how 19th century evolutionary theories of racial decay influenced Wells to produce the first proto-Grey image in the form of the Eloi. [16] Beyond the strict concerns of evolutionary biology, the image fitted in with broader contemporary literary theories regarding ‘Decadence’. This fin de siecle literary movement sought justification for its excesses in the medical and biological literature on hereditary decline and morbid psychological states, such as that offered by Paul Bourget in his Essais de Psychologie Contemporaine, published 1883 and 1885. Taking their cues from Lamarck, Moreau and Lombroso, the Decadents saw literary genius as a species of neurological disorder arising from bad heredity, the type of heredity produced by the decline of former great and noble houses as they decayed from the virile splendour of their founders. With their delicate frames and sociological origins in human aristocracy, there is more than a touch of Des Esseintes in the Eloi, especially as the Decadents exalted apathy and ennui among their virtues.

Wells’ description of this aristocratic future race, small, beautiful, graceful, with pointed chins and clad in sandals and knee-breeches, seems curiously elfin. This actually was quite in line with speculation which was then emerging that the fairies were a folk-memory of an earlier race that existed before the Celts, which in turn perhaps was a secularised version of the belief that the fairies were really the Druids, who were being punished by God for their idolatry by shrinking until they would become no more than ants. Both traditional and modern, scientific explanations for the fairies had the idea of racial senescence in common, the belief that these elder beings, in their racial twilight and dotage, were declining both in physique and mental powers away from a former human or superhuman state. Folklore and modem biology met head-on in Wells’ nightmarish imagination.

Mixed in with these fears of racial senescence may be terror of a more individual type of dotage. Male fairies are usually presented as hideous, wizened old men, like the dwarfs in Disney. Larry Niven’s Pak, who like the Greys are asexual creatures with a large cranium, lipless and toothless beak for a mouth and grey in skin tone, are based on his own exaggeration of human aging. They are the monstrous third age of humanity, the Protector, when, after maturity, the individual consumes the fruit tree-of-life, to awaken as a neuter monster bent on racial preservation.

The alien Pak are similarly like the faeries and the Greys in being an ancient, earlier race. In their nonsentient form they are Homo Erecti. Only the Protectors possess intelligence. Humanity is their children, evolved from mutated forms of Pak breeders after a failed attempt at colonisation. The Paks’ loyalty is to their own brood, though, not to their distant cousins on an alien star. They come in powerful spaceships to reclaim their colony and extirpate their racial successors and usurpers.

It’s thus in Niven’s book, published in the mid-seventies, that a science fictional treatment of the themes raised by the Greys most clearly arises: racial and personal senescence and survival coupled with high technology and ruthless expansion. Oh, and the first Pak to make contact with a member of human-ity experiments upon him, feeding him tree-of-life to see what would happen. The Pak are, however, of normal height, and powerfully built, but they contain most of the elements of the Grey myth, nonetheless. It is this feeling of being at the mercy of racial elders that adds an urgency to the Fascist exaltation of youth: mach platz, ihr Alter (make way, you old one!) can never be viewed on the purely personal level.

Decadence invites reaction, though. Its watchwords of apathy, spleen and powerlessness before encroaching decay are not a comfortable state, and the movements’ sexual ex-cesses and over-refinement produced a loud and aggressive opponent in the Futurists who sprang out of it. These, and similar modernistic movements, as we’ve seen, sought to wrench Italian society out of its ‘thoughtful immobility, ecstasy and sleep’ through the harsh, white heat of a technological renovatio. This renovatio, restoration to a previous state of glory and power, was at the heart of all Fascist movements, from Mussolini’s hankering after a new Roman Empire, Franco’s dream of a Spain of Catholic majesty, and Hitler’s nightmare of the Third Reich. Some Decadents, weary of their jaded pleasures, moved beyond it to embrace this reaction.

George Viereck and Hans Ewers, two of Germany’s most prominent Decadents, became staunch Nazis when the movement emerged in the twenties, The Fairies, with their glittering luxury and languid sensuality as portrayed by the Victorians, were part and parcel of a stagnant order that every good political soldier should seek to overturn. Murder the moonlight!

The same restlessness permeates the end of our century. From the point of view of the puritanical nineties, the sexual and chemical excesses of three decades ago are a source of shame, of bitter political reproach. As the millenium itself looms upon us, the same gnawing desire for a new man, another homo faber, eats away at us, though it’s more likely to be the cyborgs of the Extropians than Nietzche’s blonde beasts. The New Age was here before! Compare Fukuyama’s ‘The End of His-tory’ with Marinetti: ‘We stand on the last promontory at the end of centuries!’ [17] The result is millenial ferment, armed Freikorps against racially decadent 8uhlzwerge and the saucers they flew in on.

The flying saucer is, then, the perfect expression of Fascist and Nazi ideals and terrors, as a glittering example of Aryan technological supremacy and aggressive, belligerent masculinity and misogyny. At the same time, it is merely the latest expression of sick racial, sexual, anti-urban and anti-technological fears from which the Nazis themselves suffered and invoked to gain their hold over the German masses. It is this grim fascination which makes the saucers an excellent propaganda tool for the Fascists, and source of terror for the anti-Fascists. The task of the Ufologist should be to cast the cold light of reason on this mass of fears, separating the truth from the fiction, in the hope that once confronted, these myths will evaporate to haunt the world no more.




  1. Marinetti, F.T., Destruction of Syntax – Imagination without Strings – Words-Freedom, 1913.
  2. Marinetti, F.T., The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism, 1909
  3. Marinetti, F.T., ibid.
  4. Tisdall, C., and Bozzolla, Futurism, Thames and Hudson, 1977, p. 157.
  5. Jung, C.G., Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth Of Things Seen In The Sky, Ark, 1959, p. 55.
  6. Marinetti, F.T., Destruction of Syntax, op. cit.
  7. Rosten, C., ‘The ABC of National Socialism’, quoted in Fest, J.C., The Face of the Third Reich, Penguin, 1970, p. 404.
  8. Jung, J.C., op. cit., p. 30.
  9. Jung, J.C., op. cit., p. 35.
  10. Keel, J., UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse, Souvenir Press, 1971, p. 222.
  11. Keel, J., ibid, p. 224.
  12. See for example the Channel 4 documentary, Hitler Stole My Ideas.
  13. See Thurlow, R. Fascism in Britain: A History, 1918-1985, Basil Blackwell, 1987, p. 282.
  14. Jung, J.C., op. cit., p. 35.
  15. Jung, J.C., ibid, p. 35.
  16. Kottmeyer, M., ‘Varicose Brains: Entering A Grey Area’, in Magonia, 62, pp.8-11.
  17. Marinetti, F.T., The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism, 1909.



Indexing the Machine Elves. David Sivier

From Magonia 90, November 2005

Fairy Tale Motifs in UFO Narratives

One of the most fascinating developments in folklore has been its extension to include UFOs and abduction accounts. Since the rise of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH) much of the argument surrounding them has occurred within the domain of the physical and psychological sciences, examining the question of whether or not they can be considered as visiting alien craft, or, as C.G. Jung posited instead, they are “a modern myth of things seen in the sky”. [1] It is a debate whose basis in the hard sciences is epitomised in the title of Carl Sagan’s and Thornton Page’s book, UFOs – A Scientific Debate. [2] However, scholars from the soft sciences – anthropology and sociology – and humanities, like history, have also been involved, stressing the need for the social and psychological phenomena subsumed under the UFO rubric to be investigated in their proper cultural, political-economic and historical contexts, something not always done or possible in the hard scientific discussions of UFOs. [3]

Since the 1970s however, folklorists have also been involved in the debate, treating the memorates and narratives of UFOs and alien encounters as a variety of modern folklore. Foremost amongst these researchers have been Linda Degh, whose 1977 paper, ‘UFOs and how folklorists should study them’,[4] an attempt to formulate a folkloristic approach to UFOs, and Thomas Eddie Bullard, and Peter Rojcewicz, who have been studying the phenomenon as folklore since writing their Ph.D dissertations, ‘Mysteries in the Eye of the Beholder: UFOs and their Correlates as a Folkloric Theme Past and Present’, and ‘The Boundaries of Orthodoxy: A Folkloric Look at the UFO Phenomenon’. [5]

Although this folkloric approach to UFOs appeared as early as 1950, with the publication of Howard Peckham’s paper, ‘Flying Saucers as Folklore’, the real inspiration behind this were two Fortean authors, John Keel and Jacques Vallee, and their books UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse and Passport to Magonia. [6] Central to their approach was the view that “the modem, global belief in flying saucers and their occupants is identical to an earlier belief in the fairy-faith. The entities described as the pilots of the craft are indistinguishable from the elves, sylphs, and loons of the Middle Ages.” [7] Although writing from the point of view of a believer in the objective reality of the UFO phenomenon, though not that of the ETH, Vallee made his basis in folklore clear in his book’s very subtitle: From Folklore to Flying Saucers. [8]

To demonstrate the similarities between the diminutive fairies of tradition, and the equally diminutive others of the UFO myth, Vallee cites Evans Wentz’s collection of stories of encounters with fairies from the Aran Islands. [9] The parallels and choice of source are not accidental, for one of Evans Wentz’s informants, when asked where he thought the fairies came from, replied, “they are a big race who come from the planets”. [10] The informant here, however, came not from Aran but County Sligo, and added that this was merely his own opinion. As a result of this interest in UFO encounters by academic folklorists, examination of the UFO myth has become a respectable part of academic teaching on folklore courses at a number of institutions around the world, such as at the University of Washington. A talk on UFO abduction reports was included in the module, ‘Continuity in Tradition’, during the autumn 2004 term, for example. [11]

Beyond structuralist attempts to map out the central motifs and sequence of UFO encounters, such as Eddie Bullard’s dissection of the Abduction experience and John Harney’s analysis of the motifs informing the Crash Retrieval myth , [12] is the deeper problem of whether, if UFO encounters really are fairy narratives in a postmodern, technological guise, they can be related to the classic motifs of traditional fairy narratives in Stith Thompson’s Motif-Index of Folk Literature, or E. Baughman’s similar index for British and American folklore, the Type and Motif Index of the Folktales of England and North America.

Although the relationship between fairy lore and UFO narratives is so well established among folklorists and psycho-social ufologists investigating the psychological and sociological background and possible causes of the phenomenon as to be something of a truism, comparison of such UFO narrative motifs with the indexed entries for traditional fairy lore may put such relationships into stark, unambiguous relief, and stimulate further debate into the causes of the occurrence, or transference of such traditional motifs into the new folkloric domain of UFOs. Certainly, very many of the motifs from traditional lore are present. For example, the common, CE1 sighting of a UFO as a travelling light is clearly related, if not identical to E 530.1 – Ghostlike lights. [13]

Nevertheless, there is a problem in using the Stith Thompson and E. Baughman indexes because of the changing character of the societies from which the legends were collected and their motifs catalogued. Although French scholars such as Gabriel Vicaire were exploring the notion of urban folklore as early as 1886 and a decade earlier, in practice folklore was largely collected from lower-class and relatively uneducated rural communities, considered to be static, untainted by urban sophistication, and thus likely to preserve archaic remnants of ancient lore. [14] In contrast, the new folklore of flying saucers emerged in self-consciously modern, urban, technological cultures, whose imagery of machines and high technology defined the phenomenon.

The dichotomy between the two cultures is not absolute, however. Despite the rapid expansion of towns and industry during the 19th century, parts of the United Kingdom remained largely rural into the early 20th century, and folklorists were collecting traditional material from these agricultural areas up to the 1960s, though some of the material cited in their works may date from much earlier. The same is true of the United States, of course, and the Appalachians in particular have attracted interest since the days of Child as the repository of British folk traditions in an isolated, rural American society. It should come as no surprise then, that amongst the space-suited humanoids reported in these encounters are more traditionally folkloric types, such as the ‘goblins’ that assaulted the Sutton family in Kelly-Hopkinsville, Kentucky. [15] To explore the relationship between the rural folktale types recorded in the Stith Thompson and E. Baughman indexes and their translation into the technological folktale of the UFO, a sample of the fairy and supernatural motifs recorded in the folktales of two British rural areas, Somerset and Orkney and Shetland have been selected, as roughly representative of the type of rural, British society whose legendary lore was also transplanted into the New World by the early British settlers in the 17th century.

It is possible to criticise this selection on a number of criteria. For example, it is possible that the UFO encounter narrative contains folkloric elements derived from the traditions of other areas in the United Kingdom which are strictly confined to these regions, and do not appear in those of the above samples. Furthermore, although the United States is an Anglophone country, its ethnic constitution has always been very diverse, including members of African and Asian nations, as well as other European peoples such as French, Germans, Swedes, Dutch and Spanish, as well as the indigenous First Nations. As a result, American folklore contains a diverse and culturally mixed range of motifs and imagery, complicated further by the fact that many of the early Contactees such as George King, the founder of the Aetherius Society, and George Adamski, were interested in oriental mysticism. As a result, there may be a marked oriental influence and parallels in UFO folklore, particularly the abduction experience. [16]


This painting, ‘Troll Hill’ by the 19th century Danish painter J. T. Lundby, presents an image which to the modern eye seems to combine traditional fairylore with elements from contemporary UFO accounts

In fact, it is possible to list a number of the attributes of UFOs and their occupants and the corresponding motif in traditional fairy lore. These include:

Fairies, and many UFO aliens, including the classic `Greys’, are smaller than adult men. A good example of the fairy features of some UFO entities are those reported from the Imjarvi Encounter in Finland, which were 90 cm (35″) tall and with conical, though metallic helmets: Motif F 239.4.2. [17]

The grey skin colour of the now stereotypical alien abductors is mirrored in E 422.2.3, grey as the colour of returning dead. [18] This, however, is just one example of the way traditional motifs associated with the dead have also been assimilated into modern UFO lore, and some UFO encounters are far more like traditional hauntings than encounters with flesh and blood extraterrestrial entities. A particularly good example of this is the ‘ghost that wore a spacesuit’, whose disembodied head and shoulders appeared before a British NCO at Dalakia barracks in 1968. [19] This points to another, common motif in fairylore, that amongst the fairies are human dead. [20]

Other, less common forms of the aliens also have their counterparts in traditional lore. The birdlike alien encountered by Betty Andreasson during her encounter is strikingly reminiscent of E 211.3: speaking bird. [21]

Alien behaviour too shows a marked continuity with fairy traditions. Motif F 261 – dancing fairies, can be seen in the report of two silver-suited entities dancing in the middle of the road reported by Mr. and Mrs Donathan in 1973. [22]

Related to the dancing motif are fairy rings on the grass, F 261, traditionally produced by the fairies during their revels, and to which Crop circles or `UFO nests’ can be assimilated. [23]

The courtship and marriage of particular, favoured humans by extraterrestrials, such as that of Elizabeth Klarer are similar to F 300: marriage with fairy. [24]

The secret underground bases occupied by Greys and their collaborators in government, the military and industry have their prototypes in the traditional motifs F 721.1: underground passages; and is of the same type as F 211: Fairies live in hollow knolls. [25] The location of the underground alien bases as the source of valuable secret technology can be seen as being related to N 511: treasure in ground, particularly N 512 – treasure in underground chamber; F342: Fairies give people money; and F 244: fairy treasure. [26]

This may also be assimilated to the supposed biotechnological and genetic secrets held and revealed by the Greys with the rise of the information economy and genetic prospecting in the late 20th century. The strange, animal-human hybrids, products of the aliens’ genetic engineering campaigns that populated these underground bases can be assimilated to E 423 – revenants in the form of animals, and E 291.2.1: ghost guards treasure. [27] The government’s permission of the aliens to abduct and experiment on humans in return for technological favours is of a type as B 11.10 – human beings sacrificed to dragon, particularly as the aliens receiving these victims are frequently described as reptoids. [28] The association of such artificial hybrids with the aliens recalls motifs G 225 – animals as servants of witches, and G 265.7 – witch controls actions of animals. [29]

The abduction of humans by the UFOnauts can be compared with F 322: fairies steal man’s wife; and the substitution of an android or simulacrum for the woman during her sojourn aboard the spacecraft a form of F 322.1(a) stick left as substitute for stolen woman. [30]

The hybrid children resulting from human-alien crossbreeding are a version of F 305: offspring of mortal and fairy. [31]

Episodes of missing time, or the experiences of Contactees such as Mario Restier, who was taken by people from Orion to their home world, a sojourn which lasted four months, but to him only seemed like three days, are related to F 377: Supernatural lapse of time in fairyland. [32]

Away from the benefits of alien treasure and technology given to the military and industrial complex, individual humans have also received presents of pancakes, such as those given to Joe Simonton by the 3.65m (5ft) tall occupants of the UFO he encountered at Eagle River in Wisconsin in 1961; and odd stones, like the ‘moon potatoes’ produced by Howard Menger, and to the TV presenter Clive Anderson by two Ufologists on British television. [33] These are modem counterparts of F 340: Gifts from fairies, and has obvious, though possibly superficial links with F 809 – fabulous or miraculous rocks and stones, particularly D 931: magic stone. [34]

Less benignly, the cattle mutilation phenomenon ascribed to cruel experiments by the alien visitors are clearly a version of F 366 – fairies harm cattle, though the repeated abduction of the human parents of hybrid children to hold and nurse their offspring aboard the alien can be seen as versions of type F372: Fairies take human nurse. [35]

Researchers have also explored the complex relationship and the apparent similarity between the alien abduction phenomenon and the Near Death Experience, which also raises the possibility that those alien abductions in which the abductee returns bearing a spiritual message for humanity, such as that of Kathryn Howard, are a variety of E 377: return from the dead to teach the living. [36]

Despite these similarities and continuity however, there are also profound differences, which reflect the shift from traditional, paternalistic agricultural society to the mass, industrial society of mid- and late 20” century capitalism, and changing gender roles and expectations. For example, the abducted spouse used for breeding purposes may be a husband as well as a wife, as in the notorious Villas-Boas case of 1957, while the abduction of the adult parents of both sexes to hold and nurse their alien babies reflects the disappearance of the children’s nurse as a common fixture of the middle class family in the mid-20th century. [37]

The identification of the government and big business as the beneficiary of the various Faustian pacts made with malign and predatory alien civilisations like the Greys, rather than individual people, reflects the tensions engendered in the mass society of the 20th century. Governments are seen not only as actively working against the best interests of their citizens, but also as keeping the benefits of alien contact to themselves, so that the abduction mythology in this respect almost acts as a lurid symbolic form of the Marxist theory of surplus labour, where industry and the government expropriate the fruits of working class labour for themselves.

Regarding the mechanism by which such traditional, rural lore became transferred and embodied in the imagery of the new, technological society, there are a number of conduits that may be identified as such. For example, the traditional and literary fairy story gained renewed vigour during and after the industrial revolution as a reaction to the mechanistic values of technological society, in a manner which prefigured John Rimmer’s later identification of the use of the UFO as an antitechnological symbol in the 20th century. [38]

Moreover, in popular literature and entertainment of the day, science-fictional themes could rub shoulders with ghosts and other exotic or supernatural beings in literature and on the stage. Thus, Frank L. Baum could include a Demon of Electricity amongst the fantastic characters in his novel, The Master Key, and the Edwardian stage magician, John Nevil Maskelyne, as well as the matinee demonstrations of stage magic, also staged a full-length play based on Edward Bulwer Lytton’s proto-SF novel, The Coming Race. [39] Scholars examining the appearance of the fictional aliens that populate much modern SF have pointed to the strong influence of the culturally iconic figures of traditional nursery lore about animals in defining these aliens’ characteristics, and suggested that the UFO aliens now encounters by modem Experiencers are comparative to the supernatural creatures of incubi, succubi, witches and ghouls that haunted the imagination of previous ages. [40] This is very much to be expected, as it has long been recognised by neurologists that the content of the hallucinations suffered by severe epileptics and schizophrenics are influence by the cultural and personal background of the sufferer, including traditional myths and folklore, and also literature, thus supporting the contention of researchers such as Bertrand Meheust that literary SF also plays a powerful role in the construction of UFO aliens. [41]

At the level of esoteric religion, during the 19th and early 20t’h century too an increasing number of Spiritualist, Theosophical and Masonic intellectuals and mystics began turning to outer space as the source of their mystical communications. For example, Charles Stansfield Jones, one of the most important disciples of the British occultist and self-appointed `Great Beast’, Alistair Crowley, considered that Aiwass, the entity, which communicated the Book of the Law to his mentor, was an extraterrestrial, rather than merely discarnate entity. [42] For the Theosophical writer Alice A. Bailey, writing in 1922, human evolution was directed by `intelligent forces of nature’ on the `inner planes of the Solar System’, with the `influences which produce self-consciousness in men’ relayed to Earth via Saturn from a Masonic lodge on Sirius, which focussed `the energy of thought’ from a distant cosmic centre. [43]

In the 18th century the Swedish mystic August Swedenborg visited inhabited alien worlds during his astral voyages, Allan Kardec during the compilation of his Spirits’ Book received messages from the spirit world informing him that other planets than ours were inhabited, while Sherman Denton and ‘Helene Smith’ (Catherine Elise Muller) both recounted their memories of astral journey to Mars. In 1926 the veteran psychic investigator Harry Price, sat with a medium, Mrs. St John James, who channelled messages from a Martian civilisation. [44] Thus, at a popular and elite level the extraterrestrials were linked and imagined as mystical entities, an view which may well have trickled down to influence Evans Wentz’s informant from County Sligo.

Additionally, rural tradition itself remained far more vigorous than has previously been considered. Far from being a static, timeless environment, everything changed for the rural villager during the 19th century. The railways brought greater communications, agricultural insurance meant that disease and crop or cattle failure no longer meant instant famine, while greater mechanisation and the centralisation of milk, butter and cheese production in commercial dairies rather than cottage butteries, and the replacement of a barter economy by a general store, meant that the face to face society which generated much of the tensions resulting in accusations of witchcraft simply ceased to exist. Owen Davies’ study of the persistence of the belief in witchcraft after the Witchcraft Act in 1736 has demonstrated that belief in witchcraft remained strong amongst rural Britons into the early 20th century, long after the upper and middle classes had rejected such superstition. In his analysis, the belief in witchcraft declined because there was no longer a compelling economic and social need to identify witches as the causes of misfortune. [45] Indeed, for Davies the persistence of astrology, UFO abductions and belief in psychic powers in the late 20th century forces scholars to re-evaluate the image of the past as a unique locus of irrationality and superstition.

Rather than British society moving from a state of supernatural credulity to scientific rationality, irrational beliefs have merely been translated into different forms, as many people now feel bounded by the universe, rather than the limits of the immediate parish. [46] It is a conclusion which comparison of the common motifs in traditional ghost and fairy lore, and that of the UFO myth, bears out, and is very much line with the introduction of industrial and mechanical imagery in other traditional tales during the course of the 19th century.

For example, The Steam-Loom Weaver, a comic ballad of the 1830s recounting the romance between an engine driver and a female steam loom weaver, was based on an earlier balled of 1804, when cotton weaving was a domestic industry. In this version, the heroine works in her own home, and the lusty hero is an itinerant worker who visits her in order to repair it. The mechanisation of the lovers’ respective occupations reflects the industrial society that had developed in the 30 years or so since its first publication. [47] It thus appears that fairy beliefs acted very similarly, persisting despite the lack of a compelling social need for them into the 20th century, until that need emerged in the late 1940s with the reaction against the technological horror of mechanised warfare, and for a plausible explanation, or framework for experiencing the new, enigmatic objects seen in the sky, whence they were translated into the new, legendary forms of alien contact and abduction.


  1. 1. C.G. Jung, UFOs – A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky, (Princeton, Bollingen 1991).
  2.  S. Sagan, and T. Page, eds., UFOs – A Scientific Debate, (Ithaca, Cornell University Press 1972).
  3. R. Cook, `Anthropology and UFOs: An Introduction’, Centre for Anthroufology,
  4. L. Degh, `UFOs and How to Study Them’, Fabula 18, (1977), pp. 242-8.
  5. T.E. Bullard, ‘Mysteries in the Eye of the Beholder: UFOs and their Correlates as a Folkloric theme Past and Present’, Ph. D dissertation, (Indiana, Indiana University 1982); P. Rojcewicz, The Boundaries of Orthodoxy: A Folkloric Look at the UFO Phenomenon, Ph. D. dissertation, (Indiana, University of Indiana 1984).
  6. H. Peckham, `Flying Saucers as Folklore’, Hoosier Folklore 9, (1950), pp. 103-7; J. Keel, UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse, (London, Abacus 1973); J. Vallee, Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers, (Chicago, Henry Refinery Company 1969).
  7. J. Vallee, cited in P. Cousineau, UFOs: A Manual for the Millennium, (New York, HarperCollins 1995), p. 151.
  8. Vallee, Magonia.
  9. P. Cousinea, UFOs, p. 152.
  10. E. Wentz, The Fairy Faith in the Celtic Countries, (Oxford, OUP 1911), p. 53; cited in K. Briggs, The Fairies in Tradition and Literature, (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul 1967), p. 172.
  11. Scandinavian/Comparative Lit 331: Folk Narratives at University of Washington, at http://courses.Washington.ed/folklore/Scand331.
  12. J. Harney, `UFO Crash Retrievals – A Developing Myth’, in Magonia 58, (1997), pp. 6-9.
  13. K. Palmer, The Folklore of Somerset, (London, Batsford 1976), p. 176.
  14. J.-B. Renard, ‘Old Contemporary Legends: 19th-Century French Folklore Studies Revisited’, Foaftale News 32, (1994), p. 1; ‘Folklore (the Word), in J.Simpson, and S. Roud, eds., Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore, (Oxford, OUP 2000), p. 130.
  15. ‘Kelly-Hopkinsville’ in J. Spencer, UFOs – The Definitive Casebook. Sightings, Abductions and Close Encounters, (London, Hamlyn 1991), p38; `Bulletproof Goblins’ in A. Baker, True Life Encounters: Alien Sightings, (London, Millennium 1997), pp.88-91.
  16. D. Sivier, `Paradise of the Grey Peri: A Literary Speculation on Some Oriental Elements in the Abduction Experience’, in Magonia 69, (1999), pp. 8-12.
  17. ‘Imjarvi Encounter’, in Spencer, Casebook, p. 98; E.W. Marwick, The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland, (London, B.T. Batsford 1975), p. 210.
  18. Palmer, Somerset, p. 175.
  19. ‘The Ghost that Wore a Spacesuit’, Baker, Sightings, pp. 94-5.
  20. Briggs, Fairies, pp. 58-65.
  21. Betty Andreasson’, Spencer, Casebook, p. 51; Marwick, Orkney and Shetland, p. 209.
  22. ‘Flatter/Danathan’, Spencer, Casebook, p. 61; Marwick, Orkney and Shetland, p. 210.
  23. Palmer, Somerset, p. 176.
  24. ‘Elizabeth Klarer’, Spencer, Casebook, pp. 146-7; J. and A. Spencer, True Life Encounters: Alien Contact, (London, Millennium 1998), pp. 93-4; Marwick, Orkney and Shetland, p. 210.
  25. Baker, Sightings, pp. 204-19; Palmer, Somerset, p. 176; Marwick, Orkney and Shetland, p.
  26. 26. Marwick, Orkney and Shetland, p. 212; Palmer, Somerset, p. 178; Marwick, Orkney and Shetland, p. 210; Palmer, Somerset, p. 176; Palmer, Somerset, p. 176.
  27. Marwick, Orkney and Shetland, p. 210, Palmer, Somerset, p. 175.
  28. Marwick, Orkney and Shetland, p. 209.
  29. Palmer, Somerset, p. 177.
  30. Marwick, Orkney and Shetland, p. 210.
  31. Marwick, Orkney and Shetland, p. 210.
  32. J. and C. Bord, Life Beyond Planet Earth? Man’s Contacts with Space People, (London, Grafton 1992), p. 93; Marwick, Orkney and Shetland, p. 211.
  33. ‘Joe Simonton’s Pancakes’, Baker, Sightings, pp. 73-6, ‘Joe Simonton’ in Spencer, Casebook, p. 42; J. Keel, The Mothman Prophecies, (Lilburne, IIlumiNet Press 1991), p. 158
  34. Palmer, Somerset, p. 176; Marwick, Orkney and Shetland, p. 209.
  35. Baker, Sightings, pp. 66-71; Marwick, Orkney and Shetland, p. 211; J. and A. Spencer, Fifty Years of UFOs: From Distant Sightings to Close Encounters, (London, Boxtree 1997), pp. 141-2; Marwick, Orkney and Shetland, p. 211.
  36. Baker, Sightings, pp. 268-72; Cousineau, Manual, pp. 137-9; `Kathryn Howard’, Spencer, Casebook, pp. 94-5; J. Spencer, Perspectives: A Radical Examination of the Alien Abduction Phenomenon, (London, Futura 1989), pp. 130-144; Marwick, Orkney and Shetland, p. 210.
  37. Spencer, Casebook, pp. 181-4.
  38. J. Rimmer, ‘The UFO as an Anti-Scientific Symbol’, Merseyside UFO Bulletin 2, (1969), p. 4. (Repr. Magonia 99, 2009)
  39. F.L. Baum, ‘The Master Key’, in C. Wilkins, The Mammoth Book of Classic Fantasy, (London, Robinson 1981), pp. 345-434; J. Steinmeyer, Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible, (London, William Heineman 2004), pp. 181, 184 & 185.
  40. J. Cohen, and I. Stewart, Evolving the Alien: The Science of Extraterrestrial Life – What Does an Alien Look Like, (London, Ebury Press 2002), pp. 170-186.
  41. W. G. Walter, The Neurophysiological Aspects of Hallucinations and Illusory Experience, (London, Society for Psychical Research 1960), p. 6; B. Meheust, Science Fiction et Soucoupes Volants, (Paris, Mercure de France 1978).
  42. L. Picknett, and C. Prince, The Stargate Conspiracy: Revealing the Truth behind Extraterrestrial Contact, Military Intelligence and the Mysteries of Ancient Egypt, (London, Little, Brown and Company 1999), p. 272.
  43. Picknett and Prince, Stargate, p. 280, 283.
  44. Bord, Planet Earth, pp. 179-184.
  45. Davies, O., Witchcraft, Magic and Culture 1736-1951, (Manchester, Manchester University Press 1999), p. 294.
  46. Davies, Witchcraft, p. 295.
  47. J.M. Golby, and A.W. Purdue, The Civilisation of the Crowd: Popular Culture in England 1750-1900, (Stroud, Alan Sutton Publishing 1999), p. 128.


An Alien Vice: Human Sexuality and the Pornography of Abduction. Part 1. David Sivier

From Magonia 72, January 2001 

Part One  

The following essay is an attempt to establish the parallel role and content of the abduction narrative and pornography. By this I do not mean that the numerous books, articles and documentaries allegedly reporting the true abduction and sexual abuse of humans by extraterrestrial beings are deliberately written to provoke sexual arousal. Indeed, I sincerely I hope this is not the case. Nevertheless, like pornography it is a literature with a strong sexual content, using many of its themes and motifs, originating squarely to address human psychological needs and fulfilling some of its social functions. The explicitly sexual elements of the abduction phenomenon also have more than a whiff of obscenity. Not only are they repellent, but, by encouraging the more impressionable of their readers to believe that they could be the victims of similar assault by aliens, it could be argued that it depraves or corrupts. Perhaps this is too strong. There are, mercifully, no examples yet of someone citing it in court as encouraging the perpetration of sex offences. Nevertheless, the number of abductees who read this type of material before experiencing abductions of their own, including, inter alia, Whitley Strieber, strongly suggests that it is potentially highly dangerous for a certain type of vulnerable mind. Even if not technically obscene within the accepted legal definition of the term, its detrimental effects on certain individuals’ mental health may strike some as an indication of obscenity within the broader sense of the term, as literary material “intended to shock or disgust.” (1)

The essay also tends to consider the abduction narrative largely in terms of female sexuality and pornography. This is not an attempt to be sexist or exploitative. Although the most notorious abduction case after the Hills’ was that of Antonio Villas-Boas, which undoubtedly informed and influenced the course of later abduction fantasies, most abductees are women. There are male abductees, of course, and there is much male pornography which describes scenes of passive rape, or masochistic abuse by a strong, sexually aggressive woman. The sheer preponderance of women in the abductee underground, however, suggests something profound and deeply disturbing about female sexuality and gender relations and roles in modern society.

Finally, if investigating pornography in the context of alien abductions appears morally dubious, or inappropriate, consider Gershon Legman’s comments on sexual folklore: “Sexual folklore . . . concerns some of the most pressing fears and most destructive life problems of the people who tell the jokes and sing the songs . . . They are projecting the endemic sexual fears, and problems and defeats of their culture . . . And they are almost always expressing their resistance to authority figures, such as parents, priests and policemen, in stereotyped forms of sexual satisfaction and scatological pranks and vocabulary.” (2) Legman is describing the intentionally humorous quality of most bawdy traditional material, but this description does fit the abduction narrative, with, of course, the exception that there is precious little intentionally funny about alien abductions.

To the sceptic, the most repellent feature of the classic abduction narrative is its strong similarity to certain forms of sado-masochistic pornography, especially in the accounts of the alleged abduction and sexual abuse of children. Indeed, “(s)ome of these accounts, if separated from the context of a purported real event, could be mistaken for paedophile fantasies of sexual torture, and regardless of whether or not these accounts have any basis in reality, it is clear that a number of publishers and magazine editors think there is nothing wrong in publishing detailed accounts of violent sexual assaults on children.” (3) To this the standard reply of many abductionists is that the scenario is too fantastic, too horrific, to be the product of human imagination or fantasy. It’s an assertion which is easily countered. Not only can the technological and exobiological imagery of the abduction narrative be linked to that of science fiction, but the central motif of gynaecological or andrological examination and sexual abuse can also be clearly proven to have its own connections to the murky world of contemporary pornography.

The most repellent feature of the classic abduction narrative is its strong similarity to certain forms of sado-masochistic pornography, especially in the accounts of the alleged abduction and sexual abuse of children

“Abduction scenarios closely resemble women’s pornography, from the soft-core rape fantasies of bodice busters to the masturbation fantasies recounted by writers like Shere Hite or Nancy Friday. Many of Nancy Friday’s stories from the 1970s even have similar imagery of gynecological examinations with faintly masochistic overtones, often with occult or medical details.” (4) Apart from the better known accounts of abuse by the aliens themselves, many of the abduction narratives also contain episodes in which the percipient is is raped, or forced to have sex with, another apparently “switched-off” human being. (5) Regardless of David Jacobs’s comments that “This is not a sexual fantasy situation, most men and women feel that it is an uncontrollable and traumatic event”, (6) it does have strong parallels in some people’s sexual fantasies. As an illustration of the pseudo-medical, masochistic nature of many of the fantasies recounted by Friday, in her encyclopaedic collection of such material, My Secret Garden, she includes one woman’s fantasy of being displayed for the erotic satisfaction of a football crowd while strapped to a dentist’s couch. She is then wheeled into another room where her ex-husband does have sex with her, but shows no emotion whilst doing so. The parallels to the abduction narrative are immediate and striking.

First of all there is the pseudo-medical nature of the encounter itself – a surgical table in the abduction narrative, and the dentist’s chair in the fantasy, the passive, physically restrained role of the female percipient, and the unemotional, impassive demeanour of the man, or alien, who finally copulates with her. Of course, there are also important differences. The most important is that the fantasy recounted by Friday is presumably that of a healthy woman who felt largely in control of her life and imagination, whilst the abduction scenario is perceived and recounted by individuals who feel themselves totally humiliated and helpless before their alien or human tormentors. Outside the abduction milieu, much of the pornography now written for women consists of stories of sexual abuse or degradation. The Captive, one of the overheated works published by Silver Mink, a publisher of “erotica” for women, is explicit in the particular form of the sexuality within its pages, both in its title and cover illustration of a naked woman bent over in some kind of stocks.

A disturbing amount of female pornography allegedly contains incest motifs, to the point where it has been somewhat cynically said, “(I)ncest has also become the standard plot twist in women’s pulp fiction. Reviewing the latest batch of Black Lace offerings – pornography for women – Maureen Feely notes that “the deep, dark secret that you have to plow through hundreds of pages to discover is always – but always – what the blurb writers like to call “society’s last taboo”.” So it’s not much of a surprise any more.” (7) A few years ago, the Femail section of the Daily Mail ran an article on how women betrayed themselves through such pornography took the publishers to task for encouraging, at least psychologically, their sexual abuse. At first glance, this is strange, even perverse.

Over the past thirty years society has made a determined effort to stamp out sexual abuse and give women greater control, not less, in their personal, professional and sexual relationships, a situation which has found its counterpart in much male pornography. A sizable chunk of the male sexual underground revolves around their abuse and subjugation before whip-wielding dominatrices, to the point where that image has arguably become the standard, uncontested symbol of forbidden pleasures – at least those pleasures which society chooses not to ban, but place on the top shelves of bookstores and the seedier type of newsagent. It’s therefore extremely problematic why contemporary women, enjoying more freedom than previous generations, should generate and consume fantasies of their abuse and domination. The link between such pornography and the abduction experience clearly points to a deeper psychological phenomenon, one that requires greater investigation than it has hitherto received.

The group of male Venusians who walked stark naked out of Buck Nelson’s barn told him they did so to reassure him they were just like him. They then departed in their flying saucer, but did not attempt to persuade Nelson to go with them, or otherwise do anything which would elicit the interest of Budd Hopkins

Although pseudo-medical examinations appear to have been an element of the UFO phenomenon almost from the very beginning, like that experienced by Harold Chibbett’s female hypnotic subject in her 1947 psychic voyage to Mars, (8) by comparison with today’s fraught abductee panic the contactee era is remarkably lacking, or benign, in its sexual content. Samuel Estes Thompson may have been lectured on reincarnation, vegetarianism and other mystical topics by a UFO crewed by naked male Venusians, but apart from favouring him with their religious opinions they made no attempt to assault him. Similarly, the group of male Venusians who walked stark naked out of Buck Nelson’s barn told him they did so to reassure him they were just like him. They then departed in their flying saucer, but did not attempt to persuade Nelson to go with them, or otherwise do anything which would elicit the interest of Budd Hopkins. Mr G.B. may similarly have been abducted while walking along the North Canal in Marseille by tall, slender beings dressed in diving suits, but apart from sitting, weeping in their spacecraft before being allowed to leave, nothing happened to him. No medical examination, extraction of sperm or any of the other fetishistic favourites of the contemporary abduction narrative. Clearly something changed between the heyday of the contactee – the late forties and early fifties – and the onset of the modern abduction hysteria in the late seventies. The question is just what?

Possibly the lack of explicitly sexual elements within the close encounter experiences of the later forties and fifties stems from the repressed nature of contemporary society. The Lord Chamberlain’s office continued to censor stage material of an explicitly sexual nature until the late sixties, and literature was subject to much the same extensive strictures. As a result, much of the material from that period which caused a furore because of its supposedly dangerous sexual nature now seems remarkably tame, even inoffensive. The early attempts at cinematic pornography, at least in Britain, tended to be salacious exposes of life in nudist camps, featuring nothing more shocking than naked people, usually women, running around playing volleyball or tennis. Rape, homosexuality and paedophilia were taboo subjects, and simply not discussed. Many members of the older generation can remember how they were in their late teens or even early twenties before learning incredulously that homosexuals existed. One female journalist for the Observer wrote at the tail end of the 80s that women and children were probably no more at risk today from sexual assault than they were during her childhood in the fifties. The difference was that people were now far more aware of the possibility of sexual assault, and responded by curtailing their children’s freedom, restricting them to places where they could be safely watched instead of allowing them to wander abroad as in previous decades.

Within ufology, the key episodes introducing the motifs of medical examination and sexual contact were the abductions of Betty and Barney Hill and Villas-Boas, while the turning points for the milieu as a whole were the assassination of JFK and Watergate. Under the impact of these traumatic events, the ufological narrative turned from one of benign contact with omniscient, compassionate Space Brothers, albeit with rumours of government cover-ups, to the Darkside scenario of rape and abuse by callous, indifferent monsters with the express collusion of the civil and military administration. This occurred, however, at a time of rapid change in western sexual mores which sought to establish a more tolerant, liberal attitude towards sex. The result was the gradual establishment of pre-marital sex as the norm, rather than a dangerously aberrant form of delinquency, the legalisation of homosexuality, gradual relaxation of censorship permitting a more explicit depiction and discussion of sexual issues, and the appearance of an increasingly tedious variety of pornographic magazines, beginning with Playboy.

Of course, most of this pornography was aimed squarely at a male readership, but women weren’t far behind. Hugh Hefner launched a companion magazine for women, Playgirl, while Cosmopolitan in the 1970s carried a series of nude male centrefolds for their female readers. Unlike its male counterpart, female pornography has met with mixed success. Playgirl eventually folded through lack of interest, and the author is reliably informed by his female friends that Cosmopolitan no longer carries its centrefolds. The attempts of tabloid newspapers like the Sun and Star to introduce a “page seven fella” for their female readers have similarly vanished without a trace. These attempts have had an effect though. There have been more recent attempts to launch further pornographic magazines for women, and glossy magazines like Cosmopolitan, and their counterparts in the “lad mags” usually have at least one article per issue on sensational sex tips along with photographs of scantily clad members of the opposite sex.

This drive towards a more sexually tolerant, even indulgent, society has not gone unchallenged, however. Despite its legalisation in 1969, many people are still deeply uneasy about the acceptance of homosexuality to the point where its legalisation in the armed forces and Clause 28 are heavily contested, emotive issues. Mary Whitehouse’s Viewers and Listeners’ Association was instrumental in challenging much sexually explicit material in broadcasting, and the religious Right, particularly in America but also elsewhere in the world, regularly condemns such liberal sexual attitudes as an assault on decency and pure family values. Nor are they alone. Elements of the feminist left have also attacked sexual permissiveness and liberalism, after initially supporting it, because of the way in which it is felt it has been used to exploit and violate women, rather than benefit them. These ideas carried a greater urgency after the feminist campaigns in the 70s against rape and domestic violence in which some of the most vociferous protagonists in the debate claimed vastly inflated statistics for instances of child abuse and saw dangerous subtexts of domination and abuse in nearly all forms of heterosexual contact. Furthermore, the advent of AIDS in the early 80s provided a strong link between sex and disease paralleling the social panic surrounding syphilis at the end of the 19th century.

This darkening of social attitudes to sex is reflected in the content of the contemporary media. The early British attempts at pornography were either the inane and prurient documentaries about nudist camps, or else comedies in which the hapless hero found himself the object of uncontrolled female desire. More recent films and literature have stressed the darker elements of human sexuality, usually with a subtext of domination, subordination, control or death. For example, 9½ Weeks contained strong sado-masochistic imagery while The Silence of the Lambs contained particularly shocking and disgusting images of sexual aberration. At the level of popular literature, the Batman comic strip, particularly in the Dark Knight and Arkham Asylum graphic novels, stressed the aberrant, dysfunctional, even schizophrenic nature of Batman himself, and hinted strongly at a sado-masochistic and even homosexual undercurrent to the character. The result has been the transformation of society’s view of sex, from something fundamentally healthy and natural, to a dark, obsessive force driving people towards increasingly bizarre forbidden pleasures. The uncomplicated hedonism of the Playboy clubs has been replaced by the bizarre, violent and transgressive sexuality of the fetish milieu.

This increasingly dark view of human sexual relations has its reflection in the tortured imagery of alien abductions. All fantasy, whether pornography or innocent day-dreaming, is an attempt by the human psyche to obtain experiences which would be otherwise impossible in reality. This naturally includes scenarios which the reader or dreamer would find repulsive or otherwise unpleasant in real life. War films are, for example, perennially popular at the cinema, but few people would willingly choose to experience the full horror of armed conflict, and those that do may well have compensatory fantasies of a quiet life of office work. The abduction fantasy has arisen to address deep, if obscure, human social, psychological and spiritual needs, just as pornography addresses the deepest, most basic drive of the human psyche. It should not be surprising that the imagery of one carries over into the other.

The content of much abduction material – the dehumanising medical examination and rape – shows a deeply ambivalent, even hostile attitude to sex

The content of much abduction material – the dehumanising medical examination and rape – shows a deeply ambivalent, even hostile attitude to sex, an attitude which is shared by the incest survivors’ milieu. “Although some women who tell Jacobs and Bryan their stories belong to puritanical religious groups or are celibate, this imagery is a normal part of women’s sexual fantasies. The abductees, however, seem particularly uneasy about sex . . . these desires for touch, gazing, penetration have to come from very far away, even outer space.” (9) Ellen Bass and Laura Davis’s influential book, The Courage to Heal, a popular guidebook aimed at the female survivors of incest, contains a checklist of 78 effects of sexual abuse, and explicitly asks its readers whether they are aroused by fantasies of violence, sadism or incest. “The assumption that sexual fantasies are improper, incorrect, sick, is at the heart of the recovered memory phenomenon. Many women feel they must disown these fantasies, and blame them on something or someone else.” (10) In the science fictional post-space age, this something or someone else naturally includes aliens or creatures from parallel worlds.

This extreme discomfort about sex may also explain the masochistic elements within the abduction experience. Most human cultures, even those which have struck westerners as being remarkably open and tolerant about sexuality, have strong taboos and prohibitions regarding sex. Strong feelings of guilt and shame, including, naturally, those surrounding sex may, in turn, take on a particular sexual form. “Moral masochism is regarded as an important form, being linked with an unconscious sense of guilt, with a paramount need for suffering.” (11) At least one contemporary sex manual suggests that some women’s desire to be spanked during sex possibly comes from subconscious guilt about the act and childish feelings that they are somehow being naughty and need to be punished. Needless to say, such feelings are by no means confined to women, as the scandals which continue to erupt over those prominent literary and political figures who choose to indulge themselves in le vice anglais demonstrate. From this point of view, however, the abduction experience appears to be an extremely unpleasant fantasy experienced by those who are brutally alienated from their own sexuality and feel that they must suffer for, and within their pleasures.

The pseudo-medical content of the abduction narrative is also easily explained within the context of pornography or romantic fantasy. Members of both sexes may fantasise about erotic liaisons with their doctors or nurses as an extension of much romantic material. Mills and Boon, who for decades have been synonymous with harmless romantic escapism, have had as their stock in trade an almost unceasing catalogue of hospital dramas. Such material has also provided the plots of much television medical drama, and girls’ comics. Every now and then, one of the more popular tabloids announces that doctors are the favourite subjects of women’s sexual fantasies, while some men on the other hand fantasise about nurses. There is a even a technical term, iatronudia, for a woman’s desire to expose herself to her doctor. Since the seventeenth century, an awful amount of pornography has been published masquerading as medical texts.

The reasons for this aren’t hard to find. Members of the medical profession enjoy a uniquely privileged access to their patients’ bodies and minds in their professional role and it is only natural that some individuals should thus respond by making such intimately caring figures the object of fantasy. Adolescents are, at least in the mythology surrounding childhood, which, amongst other things, stipulates that “schooldays are the happiest days of your life”, supposed to acquire sexual knowledge and awareness through games of doctors and nurses with members of the opposite sex. In psychiatry, both Freud and his predecessor Breuer noted the strong tendency of their women patients to fall in love with them. Freud eventually concluded that this was a result of their displaced incestuous feelings for their fathers, although possibly a better explanation was that Freud and Breuer, to particularly neurotic members of the stiflingly bourgeois Viennese upper-middle class, represented caring, omniscient male authority figures to whom their patients could confide their deepest problems and desires, and therefore suitable subjects for their affections. Sadly, as recent scandals have also shown, many doctors are all too willing to exploit this intimacy with their patients and abuse them sexually. This new element of fear and sexual suspicion in an essential relationship of trust is undoubtedly responsible for the humiliating nature of the medical examinations recounted in the abduction narratives, and the overt motifs of rape and abuse which permeate the abduction experience as a whole.

Central to much female pornography, and certain abduction narratives, is the heroine’s sexual subjugation by a dominating, charismatic male authority figure. One of the directors or leading writers for Mills and Boon stated on the chat show Wogan over a decade ago now that the most important element in any romance was the hero, who should be an “alpha male” – strong, ambitious and competitive. This may explain the appearance of the Tall Grey Being in the abduction narratives collected, or suggested, by Jacobs. The featureless Greys, almost devoid of individual identity, may represent fears of the loss of individuality before the collective, but as a narrative device they are psychologically unsatisfying. Star Trek found this out when they were forced to introduce the character of the Borg Queen despite the undifferentiated, collective nature of the fictional Borg society. For the characters to interact satisfyingly with their enemies, the Borg had to have a personal, individual representative. In the abduction narrative, the equally characterless, undifferentiated Greys are joined by the Tall Grey Being whom “many female abductees intuitively feel is male, a doctor, and an authority figure . . . gazing deep into her (the victim’s) eyes like an extraterrestrial Heathcliff or Fabio, filling her with love and eagerness to give herself completely”. (12) This strongly suggest that at the root of the abduction phenomenon is a distorted, perverted medicalised sexual fantasy, which as a matter of course must include submission before an authoritative and caring medical alpha male.


1. Thompson, R., Unfit For Modest Ears: A Study of Pornographic, Obscene and Bawdy Works Written or Published in England in the Second Half of the Seventeenth Century, Macmillan, 1979, preface.
2. Legman, G., The Horn Book, New Hyde Park, 1964, pp. 245-6, quoted in Thompson, R., op. cit., p. 13.
3. McClure, K., “Bogeymen”, Magonia 55, p. 4.
4. Showalter, E., Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Culture, Picador, 1997, p. 196.
5. See J. and A. Spencer, True Life Encounters: Alien Contact, Millennium, 1997, p. 148.
6. Ibid, p. 148.
7. Freely, M., “Blowing Hot and Hotter”, The Observer Review, 16 July, 1995, p. 12, quoted in Showalter, E., op. cit., p. 91.
8. Rogerson, P., “Fairyland’s Hunters: Notes towards a Revisionist History of Abductions”, Magonia 56, p. 4.
9. Showalter, op. cit., p. 196.
10. Showalter, op. cit. p. 150.
11. “Masochism”, in Paxton, J., ed., The New Illustrated Everyman’s Encyclopedia, Octopus Books, 1985, volume 2, p. 1040.
12. Showalter, E., op. cit., p. 192.

Link to Part Two

An Alien Vice: Human Sexuality and the Pornography of Abduction. Part Two. David Sivier

Part Two

Evolutionary psychology suggest such men have an attraction for women because of the advantages they offer them and their children as strong protectors and providers. The negative aspect to this is that there are women who are attracted to violent, domineering men. It is unfortunately a sad fact that such women tend to move from one such bully to another and may even block and frustrate action taken by the police or social services on their behalf by taking their lover’s side. There is absolutely no need to claim, as Eve Frances Lorgen in her `Alien Love Bite’ article for MUFON has done, that the tortured, abusive relationships of many abductees have their origin in their rape and abuse by aliens. [13] It is too close, too similar, to the experiences of the victims of real human abuse on Earth to be coincidental. Its origins lie instead in the brutalised psychology of abused and dysfunctional individuals, rather than in putative invaders from the stars.

That great ufological pretender George Adamski met a number of vivacious extraterrestrial women on his interplanetary travels.

Then there is the question surrounding the abduction scenario itself. Why should apparently healthy individuals fantasize about such a traumatic event? While the apparent scenario of intergalactic explorers gathering and examining specimens from Earth lends itself to themes of abduction and medical examination, there are other forms the contact narrative could take. Real interstellar explorers would be more likely to recover
and dissect a recently deceased corpse, like the human explorers in Gregory Benford’s SF novel Across the Sea of Suns, or break into the anatomy facilities of university medical departments or teaching hospitals. As a sexual fantasy, there’s similarly little apparent need for such abusive, violent imagery. That great ufological pretender George Adamski met a number of vivacious extraterrestrial women on his interplanetary travels and even as late as 1975 Elizabeth Klarer could recount her intimate relationship with an alien spaceship captain. Nor is Klarer an isolated example of a consenting, romantic relationship between human and alien. At roughly the same time Marvel was running a short-lived strip based firmly on the then emergent mythology of alien abduction and hybridisation, it was also publishing Starlord, a superhero comic whose main character was the half-human child of an Earth woman and a crashed alien starship captain.

These benign fantasies, however, are far outnumbered by the countless films, short stories and novels about alien invaders descending to carry off human females, and occasionally males, for nefarious breeding purposes. Of course, rape as one of the most horrific forms of human violence exerts a powerful fascination for the human psyche. It can be depended on to sell newspapers and ‘true crime’ books, magazines and television series. Part of its fascination stems from disgust and a desire to protect and avenge the traditionally most vulnerable part of the population. There is, however, a strongly atavistic element to these fears.

Marriage in many technologically primitive societies is frequently by abduction. The Amerindians of Tierra de Fuego sought their wives in this way. Although many such cultures now have elaborate rules concerning betrothal and courtship, among the Kagora and Kadara tribes of northern Nigeria, for example, ‘(a)ll secondary marriages begin with wife abduction’. [14] Nor are they isolated examples. Similar abductions of women for wives also occurred in First Nation North American, Celtic, Papuan and the earliest formative period of the Graeco-Roman cultures of antiquity, to name but a few. Although western concepts of warfare no longer encompass the abduction of women for marriage, tragically rape and the sexual abuse of the female, and sometimes male population occurs with disgusting regularity amongst the world’s armed conflicts. In the relatively stable West which has not experienced war for over fifty years, the abduction phenomenon may express deep fears of the forcible appropriation of the tribal gene pool by an aggressive other produced through millennia of tribal and personal competition for women.

The victims of these abductions, following Herodotus’ claim that ‘no young woman allows herself to be abducted if she does not wish to be’ [15] – a statement apparently on a par with some of the idiotic comments about rape by the more senile judges – are not necessarily merely passive victims. In Ona Fuegian society, for example, ‘it was not considered proper for a new wife, whether a young girl or mature woman, to give herself away too cheaply. On the contrary, she would frequently put up a good fight and, on his next appearance, the bridegroom might have badly scratched face and maybe a black eye as well.’ [16]

Despite risking a beating or worse from their new husbands, abducted wives `were wooed and made much of, to prevent them from running away’, [17] which, as Bridges himself noted in Tierra del Fuego, many did. If the abduction phenomenon represents a fantasized expression of deep human fears of tribal raiding for wives, then its incorporation into female sexual fantasies may represent a kind of sexual Stockholm Syndrome, in which those abducted women remaining with their new husbands saved themselves from further violence at the hands of their abductors by developing feelings of love for them. It may also be a female response to the curious mixture of violence and genuine love in this particular form of male sexuality. This process is clearly exemplified in Ann Carol Ulrich’s novel, Intimate Abduction, advertised in the August/ September 1991 issue of UFO Universe under the by line ‘What happens when you fall in love with your abductor’. [18] It’s possible that this is one of the dafter and more dangerous popularisations of the abduction phenomenon, but I doubt it. There’s so much other obnoxious trash to choose from.

Another point to be made regarding the abusive content of the abduction is that a large proportion of romantic fantasies feature women as victims. Whether these are the classic formulae of adventure stories, in which the hero must rescue the heroine from the vile schemes of her enemies, or the heroines of ‘weepies’ like Love Story, who as often as not die young, the tragic heroines of classic romance are nearly all victims. There may be a biological component to this. There is evidence to suggest that women are neurologically more inclined to depression than men, just as there is evidence that women are more prone to UFO abductions and demonic experiences because of the greater development of the left hemisphere in the female brain. [19]

On the other hand, the lower status traditionally afforded to women, the relatively limited career and educational opportunities offered to them, and social conventions that emphasize emotional display may constitute concrete social influences creating the greater incidence of depression amongst women. Regardless of the precise social or biological reasons, it is clear that some women do feel they can only achieve attention, dignity, and possibly drama and excitement through some tragedy. The abduction experience appears to fulfil those needs.

If the imagery of abduction phenomenon shares a common origin with much conventional pornography and sexual fantasy, its literature diverges sharply from much modem erotic literature, at least in apparent intent. First of all, regardless of their content, most erotic fiction presents itself as fantasy. There are one or two pieces of dire porn which make spurious claims to reveal the hidden secrets of a particular milieu, but much of it is honest about its fictional nature. Moreover, such material is written explicitly with the reader’s sexual enjoyment and arousal in mind. Indeed, Hite and Friday’s books can be considered celebrations of female sexuality as much as an investigation of it.

The opposite is the case with abduction literature. It’s not writ-ten to celebrate such contact. Indeed, the events described are traumatic and the percipients explicitly wish them to stop, or that they had never begun in the first place. A few may consider they have established a meaningful rapport with creatures from another world, but this is very much a consolation prize after the trauma of abuse and violation they have experienced, and continue to experience. Far more than science fiction, it is a literature of warning: that we are powerless before our violators, from whom we can only expect more abuse and torment. Their might be an additional message urging us to care for the environment, and adopt a more pacifistic, spiritually enlightened lifestyle, but the explicit message is that the human race is being collectively raped while our military and political leaders stand by and collaborate. Fear the stars. Fear your government. Trust no one.

In actual fact, in this respect the abduction literature is fulfilling one of the social roles accorded to pornography, though that of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries rather than late 20th – early 21st. To the modern reader, one of the most bizarre features of the clandestine literature of pre-revolutionary France is the seemingly incongruous mix of pornography and political message. Amid tales of sexual debauchery and the systematic abuse of the lower orders by the royal family and aristocracy, the genre also featured the exploits of sexually and politically liberated heroines whose nocturnal and diurnal adventures were interspersed with lengthy expositions of political philosophy. The result can read rather like Karl Marx would, if he had written for Playboy instead of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung.

De Sade’s lengthy and tedious descriptions of just about every cruel and abusive act imaginable are interspersed with equally lengthy and tedious expositions of revolutionary philosophy

The most obvious example of the genre are the turgid works of the Marquis de Sade, in which lengthy and tedious descriptions of just about every cruel and abusive act imaginable is interspersed with equally lengthy and tedious expositions of his revolutionary philosophy. Again, the central character of at least one of his works, Justine, ou la Philosophie dans le Boudoir. is female. A woman abused and humiliated by the aristocracy, she becomes an abuser herself, gaily killing and torturing her servants with the same cruel abandon her noble guardians did to her, justifying her cruelties with philosophical arguments on the superiority of the truly liberated individual to conventional slave morality. As a moral philosophy, it predates Nietszche by almost a century. It might have influenced him too. though there is an important difference. Nietzsche always maintained that his writings were a gedankenexperinrent: ‘I write for people who like to sit and think, no more’.

This politicised porn was not a break from established tradition either. From the seventeenth century onwards, pornography fulfilled a distinctly political function, as a scurrilous vehicle by which the disaffected attacked established authority. One of the most notorious 17th century pornographers, Ferrante Pallavicino. has been described as ‘an angry young man, who in his short life lambasted the hypocrisies of society, the Roman Catholic church, particularly the Jesuits, tradition and the idea of religious belief in general. He paid for his critical stance by being beheaded at Avignon in 1644.’ [20]

After Cromwell’s victory in the Civil War, the Puritan was satirised as a hypocrite and sexual pervert, who ‘crept to brothels, where his special predilection was for flagellation or even sodomy.’ [21] The essentially passive role of the male Puritan in this pornography links it to the descriptions of abuse recounted by male abductees, which may also have undercurrents of homosexuality. Male Puritans were so caricatured, not just because of their supposed hypocrisy in stressing marital fidelity and chastity, but also as a reaction to much of the feminist activity within the English Revolution. The sectarian milieu boasted a number of strong-minded, charismatic and influential women and Puritanism as a whole was rather more egalitarian than the rest of English society. As a result, Puritan women, especially the preachers, were vilified as promiscuous, adulterous termagants, who abused and cuckolded their husbands.

The rape and homosexual abuse of male abductees may also stem from deep antifeminist sentiments, including the fear of female sexuality. Certainly the Far Right political milieu which has most vociferously supported it has a distinct antifeminist orientation and is strenuous in demanding a return to more traditional gender roles. After the Restoration, much pornography was written in the form of scurrilous satires directed against leading politicians such as Rochester, Dorset and Sedley, who were politically aligned with the Whig opposition in the 1670s.

From the Henrician reformation onwards, another favourite target of satire was the Roman Catholic church. The Catholic clergy were subject to the same accusations of hypocrisy and sexual licence as the Puritans of the Interregnum, including sexual cruelty. Several were based on real scandals, such as the excesses of the Borgian popes, and Cornelius Adriaensen in Bruges. Adriaensen was the founder of a secret order among the women of Bruges, who were persuaded to meet him in secret, undress, and be chastised for their sins. The order was eventually betrayed to the local authorities by two unwilling novices, Betteken Maes and Celleken Pieters. Although Adriaensen fled Bruges in 1563 and died in Ypres in 1581, his exploits were still making the rounds as late as 1688, when he appeared as the anti-hero of the ballad The Lusty Fryar of Flanders. The sadistic abuse of the orders ‘sisters’ is an obvious parallel to the female abductees abuse at the hands of the Greys and secret government. Needless to say, child abuse was also the standard staple of these vicious attacks. The vicious anti-Catholic book An Anatomy of the English Nunnery in Lisbon alleged that the bones of the nun’s illegitimate children were kept hidden in a place in the wall of the convent garden. Sadly, this libel is not confined to previous centuries. In Jack Chick’s pathologically anti-Catholic ‘Christian’ comic, Alberto, the same assertion is made of the murder and concealment of the remains of the illegitimate children born to monks and nuns.

During the 19th century much low literature, even if not exactly pornographic, fulfilled much the same function. These frequented chronicled the adventures of pure, virtuous women victimised and abused by members of the nobility with cruel or vicious tastes. Although not necessarily socialist or even politically radical, this type of literature did demonstrate the sharp alienation of certain sections of the contemporary urban working class to the aristocratic order.

For example, one passage of contemporary literature with an immense appeal to its largely illiterate audience of costermongers, described the heroine’s imprisonment within specially designed armchair, from which sprang manacles and steel bands. Naturally, the heroine possessed ‘glowing checks, flashing eyes and palpitating bosom’ and her manacles and steel bands were ‘covered with velvet, so that they inflicted no positive injury upon her, nor even produced the slightest abrasion of her fair and polished skin’. The reader of this particular lurid passage noted the galvanising effect it had on his audience. “Here all my audience … broke out with – “Aye! that’s the way the harristocrats hooks it. There’s nothing o’ that sort among us; the rich has all that barrikin to themselves.” “Yes, that the way the b—– taxes goes in,” shouted a woman.’ [22]

The literature of alien abduction, like this antiquarian porn, performs exactly the same social function: it documents and promotes an increasingly radical alienation from the state. Like their predecessors of previous centuries, the leaders and senior bureaucrats of the modem state are engaged in a massive campaign of victimisation and exploitation. They may, with the exception of the royal family, no longer be the aristocratic seigneurs of the ancien regime, but the bourgeois politicians and mandarins of Whitehall and Washington still fulfil the same functions within this particular pornographic discourse. They are cruel and sadistic abusers, intent on perpetuating some even more secret, hideous conspiracy. It’s this aspect which allows the abduction hysteria to blur and merge seamlessly with the recovered memory scandal into one gigantic conspiracy theory.

As is to be expected from conspiracy material of this type, at the heart of the Monarch programme are the allegedly Satanist royalty of Denmark, The Netherlands, Spain and Britain.

The works of Hopkins, Mack, Jacobs and Streiber are of a type, and an influence on, the equally bizarre narratives of Cathy O’Brien and her deprogrammer, Mark Phillips. O’Brien’s memories, as recorded by Phillips, are about her programming and abuse as a sex slave for a series of American presidents and senior political figures as part of the Monarch mind control programme. As is to be expected from conspiracy material of this type, at the heart of the Monarch programme are the allegedly Satanist royalty of Denmark, The Netherlands, Spain and Britain, Nazi and Italian scientists working for the US military after the War and, of course, our old friends the Illuminati. Despite the lack of any documentation for all this aside from O’Brien’s testimony to Phillips, it’s been enthusiastically taken up by certain elements in the American extreme Right.

It’s discussed extensively in Contact, the magazine of the dubious revelations of Hatonn, a 9 1/2 foot tall reptilian from the Pleiades, who utters his tedious comments and daft insights through Doris Ecker. [23]  Hatonn, or Ecker, declared sometime ago that there really was a Jewish plot to enslave gentiles, like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and that Flying Saucers were built by the Nazis. Ecker’s has connections with Bo Gritz, one of the leading figures in the American militia movement, and has clearly influenced Texe Mars and David Icke. Unfortunately, O’Brien is not the only victim of memory obsessed with the alleged reptilian nature of the royal family and their rapacious thirst for human blood. There’s also Arizona Wilder and Christine Fitzgerald. Unsurprisingly, Fitzgerald also claims to have been a friend and confidante of Princess Diana for about nine
 years. [24]

The great concert by Jean-Michel Jarre marking the Millennium at the great pyramid of Giza, according to Marrs, wasn’t harmless entertainment, but a ploy to divert attention from Masonic rituals conducted by former President Bush and the British royal family to usher in the Age of Horus. [25] Marrs cited as his authority for this ridiculous statement David Icke, already notorious for including holocaust denial material and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in The Robots’ Rebellion and later tomes.

There is, however, a profound difference between the political use of this type of material and the politicised porn of the 18th century. The heroines of the ancien regime’s pervy books were spirited, liberated women adopting an active role in support of democratic, libertarian ideals. The right-wing conspiracist of the latter fin de siecle may claim to act in the name of democracy and liberty, but their ideals are distinctly authoritarian.

Liberte, egalite, fraternite were the watchwords of the French revolution, but this has long since departed from the far Right. All Marrs and his fellows offer is religious and racial intolerance. The women narrating this discourse are entirely passive. They have no role except as the victims of the new political elite. In this it mirrors the worst of Restoration pornography, which was expressly misogynist. Within its discourse, `women … are frequently epitomised as their sexual organs.’ [26]

While this is undoubtedly influential in the development of the image of the cruel and debauched aristocrat, it also attests to the perennial antifeminist use of much pornography, especially that involving violence, in reducing women to objects. The violently misogynist pornography of the Restoration came after the feminist upheaval of the English revolution, during which women became preachers, left their husbands for other men, and which increasingly stressed mutuality, companionship and affection within marriage in the theology of the more progressive and radical of the sectarians. This was in sharp contrast to the traditional, medieval conception of matrimony as a social contract for the procreation of children in which the female partner was firmly subordinate to the male. The modem narrators of such tales of perversion and exploitation are no different. The Gnostic knowledge retailed by Icke claims to set people free, but its narrators remain located firmly in their delusionary bondage. As self-professed victims, it’s not surprising that they claim kinship with Princess Diana, who since her death has arguable become the most powerful image of feminine suffering in the late 20th century.

The parallels between the abduction literature and pornography, in both form, content and social function, are too close to be disregarded.

These differences aside, the parallels between the abduction literature and pornography, in both form, content and social function, are too close to be disregarded. Regardless of its alleged intention to inform, rather than arouse, contemporary abduction and close-encounter literature is the modern equivalent of late 18th and 19th century gothic and Decadent erotica. Describing it as such is one thing. Dealing with it is another.

At the societal level, the masochistic elements of the abduction fantasy are profoundly contrary to contemporary trends. Most of the heroines of popular science fiction in recent years, for example have been active, even aggressive figures: Buffy, Xena, and Ripley of the Alien movies, to name but a few. Even the mass merchandising launched on the back of the abduction craze tries to play down the victim’s passivity. One of the t-shirts advertised in one of the less discerning magazines described its central image of a woman surrounded by her alien captors as ‘their willing victim’, presumably in an attempt to avoid the accusation that they were encouraging rape. It’s almost as if the percipients, or their hypnotists and interrogators, were wilfully and perversely trying to retreat from their more active role into a more traditional discourse of feminine victimhood and passivity.

As traditional masculine roles and status is challenged by feminism, it’s a role which an increasing number of men feel compelled to accept. Their apparently active role in the rape of female abductees is illusory. As meat puppets under the control of the Greys’ telepathic will, they themselves are passive objects of lusts and desires not their own. Their experience as traumatised prisoners in their own bodies, passively observing while something else rapes and abuses through their flesh could represent a fantasticated form of alienation from their own sexuality in which the morally censorious superego, impressed with feminist suspicions of male sexuality, tries to distance itself from the appetites of the flesh by projecting its actions onto a rapacious, omnipotent other. It may also represent a form of the terror of losing control which habitually assault many obsessive-compulsives.

Although obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterised by the intense compulsion to perform repetitive, ritualised acts, usually to ward off some threatened disaster, it may also take the form of obsessive ruminations in which the sufferer speculates obsessively on what would happen if he lost control and performed some abhorrent, usually violent or sexual act. Cases from the 19th century include that of a man who surrendered himself to the police, fearing that he was about to murder his sister. The man stated firmly that he was devoted to her and that she was more precious to him than anything else in the world, yet he feared being overtaken by a violent, pathological mania which would result in her destruction. More recent examples include a woman who sought medical help after imagining that she was eviscerating her husband while gutting fish, for the same reason as the above Victorian gentleman. She feared that she was about to lose control, and give in to a savagely irrational urge to harm the person closest to her. Of course, it could also be that the reports of rape by ‘turned off’ males are projections of the aggressive elements of the investigators’ personalities which produced the confabulations of abuse and rape within the abduction narrative.

The psychological trauma and distancing of the human puppets in this part of the scenario could be a form of passive resistance, in which the male abductee attempts to shrug off the role dictated for him by the investigator. Regardless of the precise cause for this retreat into passivity, it represents an attempt to evade the danger of responsibility for one’s own actions, something of which the percipient, female or male, can be absolved through their status as victim. It’s clear from these fantasies’ content that many of the percipients are uncomfortable with their sexuality. One solution may be for health professionals to reassure those vulnerable to such false memories that their sexuality is a normal, natural part of their psychology. It goes without saying that care should be taken not to encourage socially unacceptable forms, such as paedophilia, or where the percipient may act out extreme sadistic or masochistic fantasies.

A change in the broader discourse of pornographic narratives could be beneficial as well. Although much pornography is misogynistic, it was not always so. The School of Venus, published in English in 1680, which took the form of the sexual education of a young girl, Fanchon, by the older and more experienced Susanne, has been described as being ‘not a piece of escapist pornography but a realistic glimpse of sexual happiness’ in contrast to ‘the neurotic and sadistic pornography of the last two centuries.’ [27] Human nature may not be as biologically fixed and determined as the evolutionary psychologists consider. Contrary to the predictions of the sociobiologists, it now appears ‘that promiscuous women can be perfectly happy and enjoy it, and that well-paid female executives have abandoned the old, supposedly hard-wired female preference for men with resources.’ [28]

It may be that as society changes a more female-friendly form of pornography will once again emerge. In this context even the abduction narrative may be altered for the better under the influence of porn. One anonymous female correspondent to the Fortean Times Hierophant column noted the display of ‘an alien probe’ in one of New York’s sex shops. ‘While reluctant to road-test the implement in question, she did confide that she now feels significantly less alarmed at the prospect of abduction.’ [29] This could be seen either as the further contamination of women’s sexuality by the misogyny of much contemporary sexual discourse, or as women subverting this misogyny by appropriating it for their own sexual amusement. I prefer the latter.

For most abductees, I would suggest, much could be done by simply reassuring them that their sexual or emotional problems do not stem from abuse by aliens. It is with this object in mind that the above essay was written.

It should be incumbent on all researchers to challenge and submit claims of abduction and sexual assault by aliens to close scrutiny; any published investigative material on abduction should be subject to the ethical constraints informing the publication of medical material

At the level of ufology, it should be incumbent on all researchers to challenge and submit claims of abduction and sexual assault by aliens to close, searching scrutiny. If possible, any published investigative material on abduction should be subject to the ethical constraints informing the publication of medical material. Most contemporary accounts of alien abduction are published by amateur investigators with little or no formal, recognised medical training, in a form designed to be populist and accessible. With the exception of sex manuals and other material written by doctors, gynaecologists and obstetricians with a view of encouraging people to enjoy a more fulfilling sex life, most sexological material written by academics is strongly antaphrodisiac. It’s dry, clinical, considered and as about as erotically arousing as a tax form. And rightly so: the material is written to inform, not arouse. Its writers and researchers are also under the strict supervision of ethical review boards.

One American academic who runs a course investigating human sexuality and body language was reported in the pages of the Telegraph’s Sunday supplement over a decade ago as insisting that her students take an oath to prevent them abusing their knowledge. This was after one of her students used the insights in the course to summon a strange man to her side from the other side of an airport bar and then ignored him for the rest of the evening. To the ethical researcher, the dignity of individual human beings far outweighs the possible value of his research or its publication. Any abduction material should therefore be subject to the same process of peer review, professional ethical codes, and published using the same deliberately anodyne discourse. Failing this, I would suggest that it should not be published at all. And none of it should be aimed at children.

In the meantime, if you’re stuck in Waterstones facing a long and boring railway journey and your literary choice is either something by Mack, Hopkins, Jacobs et al, or the latest bonkbuster from Jilly Cooper, I’d go for the Cooper. It’s probably better written, doesn’t claim to be anything more than a work a fiction. and there’s usually a happy ending, something which rarely occurs in the context of abductions.


13. See Lorgen, E. F. The Alien Love-Bite January 1999, cited in McCluer, K: ‘Dark Ages’ in Fortean Times, no. 129, p.39
14. Smith, M. G. ‘Differentiation and the Segmentary principle’, in Douglas, M and Kaberry, P. M. Man in Africa. Tavistock Publications, 1969, p.154.
15. De Selincourt, A. trans. Burns, A. R. Herodotus, The Histories. Penguin, 1972, p.42
16. Bridges, L. Uttermost Parts of the Earth Century, 1948, p.359.
17. Bridges, op cit., p.223
18. Beckley, T. G. ed. UFO Universe, vol. 1 no.4, p.63
19. See Schnabel, J. Dark White, Penguin, 1995, p.276
20. Thompson, R. op. cit., p.34
21. Thompson, R. op. cit., p 41
22. Mayhew, H. Mayhew’s London. Bracken books, 1984, p.67
23. See Fritz Springmeier, ‘Project monarch: How the US Creates Slaves of Satan’, in Parfrey, A. Cult Rapture, Feral House, 1995, pp.241-248
24. McClure, K. ibid. p.31
25. See The Sentinel (Arizona) of 15/11/99, reproduced in Victor Lewis-Smith’s ‘Funny Old World’ column in Private Eye, 24 December 1999, p.24
26. Thompson, op. cit., p.26.
27. Thomas, D. quoted in Thompson, op. cit., p.26
28. Burne, J. ’Just desserts for jealousy’, review of Buus, D., The Dangerous Passion; Why Jealousy is as Necessary as Love or Sex, Bloomsbury, 2000, in Financial Times, Weekend June 3-4,  page V.
29. ‘The Hierophant’, Fortean Times, no. 117, p.61.

The Limners of Faerie. David Sivier


From Magonia 71, June 2000

Since the dawn of the New Ufology in Keel’s Operation Trojan Horse and Vallee’s Passport to Magonia, the equation between the humanoids of the flying saucers and the elves of folklore has become something of a truism. So accepted is it that the Fortean Times’s long-running cartoonist, Hunt Emerson, could mischievously suggest in his Phenomenonix strip that the ufonauts were indeed really fairies, flying about in fake spaceships in order to avoid the humiliation of dressing up in butterfly wings and gossamer as part of their repertoire of haunting, without drawing upon himself the wrath of angry readers outraged at having a cherished belief mocked. (1)

The similarities between the UFO phenomenon and the European, and even extra-European, fairy cult is so strong, especially in the subtexts of sexuality, abduction, rape, and the substitution of otherworldly changelings for human babies, that this magazine’s own Peter Rogerson entitled his revisionist history of abductions, beginning in issue 46, ‘Fairyland’s Hunters’. After Keel and Vallee, many, though not all books on ufology examine the connection between the Wee Folk of tradition and their high-technological cousins. The relationship between the two is increasingly examined from the other side as well, as recent books on fairy lore, such as Janet Bord’s Fairies – Real Encounters with Little People, (2) also include chapters examining the strange links to the ufonauts. Outside ufology, the European fairy cult is of increasing interest to historians researching the European witch craze. In the view of scholars such as Gustav Henningsen, the fairy cult, as deformed by inquisitorial demonology, supplied the ecstatic experiences and imagery at the heart of European witchcraft. (3) In view of these strong links to a variety of Fortean phenomena, it is worth examining the fairy cult itself, as propagated and amended by the Victorians.

While folk belief about the ‘Good People’ had provided artists, musicians and poets with inspiration and raw material for a variety of works ranging from bucolic idyll to political metaphor since before Shakespeare and Spenser, it was during the Victorian era that fairy lore exploded across the arts in the form recognisable to modern audiences. It was the Victorians, for example, who produced the classic image of the fairy as an ethereal being graced with butterfly wings. Diminuitive height had been an established fairy trait in most, but not all, European traditions since the Middle Ages, but they lacked the characteristic wings, instead flying through the aid of spells. This changed under the Victorians and in a process similar to that whereby the angels became graced with their astral pinions, the Wee Folk acquired the insectile airfoils they’ve sported ever since.

Another powerful, though less tangible, link to the modern fairy cult is the background of the most notable advocate of the Cottingley fairy photographs, Conan Doyle. While it’s recognised that Conan Doyle’s interest in the photographs arose from his Spiritualist beliefs, few commentators have remarked upon the strange continuity they added to his family history. Both Conan Doyle’s father, Charles Altamont Doyle, and his uncle, Richard ‘Dicky’ Doyle, were accomplished and noted painters of fairy scenes. Doyle himself may have created a surrogate father figure of super-rationality in Sherlock Holmes to compensate for his own father’s madness, yet nevertheless Doyle pére seems to have bequeathed to his son an interest in the occult and mystical which clouded his judgement on that particular case. It’s especially remarkable that the alleged fairies, which even before the confession of one of the sisters to an awful lot of people, appeared to be cardboard cut-outs from a book went unrecognised as such by Doyle. It was his beliefs, not artistic discrimination, which seem to have been passed down the family line. As for the reality of the fairies themselves, like the X-Files’s Mulder, Doyle wanted to believe. The result was controversy and ridicule.

The greatest achievement of the Victorians in the realm of fairy lore was simply its preservation and transmission to succeeding generations, in whatever form, during the industrial revolution. As industrialisation and mechanisation gathered pace, the old English agrarian traditions gradually withered as the populations which had previously supported them moved into the expanding towns. It was against this background of urbanisation that the Victorian folklorists moved in their efforts to preserve what they saw as valuable remnants of the old traditions. Especially influential among the books of fairy lore of the period were Crofton Croker’s Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland, 1826, whose illustrations by Daniel Maclise effectively launched that artist’s career. Thomas Keightley’s Fairy Mythology of 1828, Mrs Bray’s Legends from the Borders of the Tamar and Tavey, and the Fairy books of Andrew Lang. Beginning with the Blue Fairy Book of 1889, Lang’s books re-established the popularity of fairy stories after they had largely been supplanted in popularity by stories of contemporary children’s lives and adventures, such as those by Juliana H. Ewing and Mrs Molesworth, and continued in print in various forms until the 1920s, long after the hey-day of the Victorian fairy cult.

These fairy books, much sought after today by collectors, also show the strong links between children’s books and the wider artistic milieu. The principal illustrator of the books, Henry J. Ford, was a friend of Edward Burne-Jones, and there is a marked Pre-Raphaelite influence to his illustrations. Like the famous works of the Brotherhood, his colour plates for the books boast vivid, rosy colours, and all his illustrations are strongly detailed, with the “dreamlike air of fantasy which pervades much of [Burne-Jones's] work”. (4) Without the renewed interest in folklore and faery engendered by Romanticism, what little British fairy lore would remain after the industrial revolution would be confined largely to the works of Shakespeare, Spenser, and 17th-century authors like Sir Simeon Steward’s Description of the King and Queen of Fayrie, their Habit, Fayre, their Abode, Pompe and State of 1633, and Robert Kirk’s The Secret Commonwealth, and so of interest primarily to students of literature and history, without any apparent relevance beyond these disciplines. Aside from the pleasure of the stories themselves, the sources for popular historical and Fortean research would have been greatly impoverished.

Ford’s relationship with Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelites links him, and fairy painting, to the larger world of continental Symbolism. Fernand Khnopff, the Dutch Symbolist who sported a suitably Decadent amorous fascination with his sister, was strongly influenced by Burne-Jones. It was the Romantics who had first developed the notion of the artist as a rebel against the stifling strictures of society. This alienation became acute when combined with the morbid cast of mind characteristic of Symbolism.

Symbolism was a way of saying “no” to a number of things which were contemporary with itself. In particular, it was a reaction not only against moralism and rationalism but also against the crass materialism which prevailed in the 1880s.” (5)

Symbolist art celebrated the sublime dream, the fantastic, the mystical and, occasionally, the horrific, against banal reality. It was a line of escape for aesthetes into other, different, mystical worlds, and a number of the most prominent Symbolists had strong mystical beliefs. Burne-Jones had read theology at Oxford, while the Salon Rose+Croix and the Nabis, prominent French Symbolist groups, had strong links to the demi-monde of occultism and magic. All of these tendencies are exemplified in miniature in the Victorian fairy cult.

As with later continental Symbolism, the British Victorian fairy cult was predominantly a “reaction against the prevailing utilitarianism of the times. It was a celebration of magic in a period predominantly concerned with establishing facts”. (6) Darwinism and the rise of materialist science and psychology cast doubts on traditional religious certitudes, at a time when the landscape itself was changing under the impact of mechanisation. Factories and mills sprang up, embodying the new scientism and rationalism of the age. The result was an acute sense of the “loss of an indefinable quality which they had found in the former cultural system, in the values and meanings signified by what we might call its “emblematic order”". (7) As Andrew Lang put it, describing the childhood reading which eventually led to the publication of his books: “I read every fairy tale I could lay my hands on, and knew all the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and all the ghosts in Sir Walter Scott, and I hated machinery of every description.” (8)

This Romantic revolt was not confined merely to fairies. Gothic Horror forms an important part of it, especially as a studied medievalism also informs Victorian painting. All aspects of the supernatural received a new impetus as part of the Romantic convulsion, including vampires. Dr John Polidori’s tale, The Vampyre, anonymously published in 1819 and popularly attributed to his patient, Byron, was translated into French and German, and adapted several times for the stage, most notably in James Robinson’s Planche’s The Vampire; or the Bride of the Isles, first performed at the English Opera House in August 1820. By 1824 one French critic complained that the reading public was assailed by vampires from every side. Polidori’s grisly tale formed the basis for James Malcolm Rymer’s epic Varney the Vampire, “without a doubt the best-known of all “penny dreadfuls”, after Sweeney Todd, and the most successful vampire tale until Bram Stoker’s Dracula“. (9)


Malcolm Rymer’s epic Varney the Vampire, without a doubt the best-known of all penny dreadfuls after Sweeney Todd, and the most successful vampire tale until Bram Stoker’s Dracula

The trend towards supernatural fantasy penetrated the world of ballet, which had been intimately bound up with the elfin since its ancestry in the Stuart masque. In the 1820s the heavy costumes and high heels of the 18th-century stage were abandoned in favour of gauzy dresses and silk tights. Dancing on points first appeared in 1821, and themes were increasingly taken from legend and fairy tale, such as La Sylphide and Giselle, first performed in 1832 and 1841 respectively. Maria Mercandotti, the 1820s child star, was acclaimed as a “divine little fairy sprite”, and Marie Taglioni, who played the leading role in La Sylphide, was described as having a “sylph-like airiness scarcely palpable to human touch”. Musicians composed, performed and published innumerable pieces of fairy music. On stage and in art, the favourite subject of the genre, par excellence, was Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Theatrical productions of these became increasingly lavish and spectacular as the century wore on and increasingly impressive stage effects were developed to keep audiences spellbound. Charles Kean’s 1856 production of the play was so successful it ran for 150 nights. It’s been rightly said that modern science fiction has superseded the fairy tale as the fantasy form of the 20th century. Aliens and robots have replaced previous centuries’ elves, ogres and goblins as objects of fear and wonder. Given this literary development, it may be truly said that the 19th-century Shakespearian plays were the Victorian version of big budget SF blockbusters like Star Wars. A tone of atavism seems to be creeping back into the cinema, however. The Cottingley Fairies have formed the basis for one 90s film, and a cinematic adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is promised for the autumn [2000]. After the technological excesses of this century, fantasy is turning back to its folkloric roots

Much has been made of the debt that George Lucas owed to Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces in delineating the mythic archetypes around which he crafted Star Wars’ characters, but this urge to discern common mythological types has never been confined solely to sophisticated 20th-century post-moderns. Fuseli, best known for his eerie and disquieting painting The Nightmare, made clear the strong parallels between Classical mythology and the fairy faith in his lectures at the Royal Academy. “Scylla & the portress of Hell, their Daemons & our spectres, the shade of Patroclus & the ghost of Hamlet, their furies & our witches, differ less in essence than in local, temporary, social modification; their common origin was fancy . . . & the curiosity implanted in us of divining into the invisible.” (10) It is a lesson that contemporary SF cineastes have learned well.

Outside of the academies, the Victorian fairy cult represented a democratisation of the fantastic in line with the values and attitudes of the new industrial bourgeoisie. In many ways it was a peculiarly British phenomenon. While the German Romantics collected edifying Marchen and wrote poetry about the Lorelei and Kobolde, depicted on canvas by artists such as Moritz Von Schwind, the genre was far less represented in France than in England. England’s medieval heritage had survived better than across the channel. Although the Gothic revival was certainly not confined to England, and its greatest British exponent, Augustus Pugin, was an ardent admirer of continental Catholicism, the “insular spirit of the 19th century inspired an image of fairyland in art as an ideal world which existed somewhere in the heart of the British countryside”. (11) This, however, did not rule out continental influences. Prince Albert introduced the British public to the art of the German Nazarenes, an intensely Romantic movement infused with nature mysticism whose exact depiction of nature and medievalism also influenced the Pre-Raphaelites. The fairy painters shared this devotion to nature, and their works thus form a fantasticated part of the Romantic landscape tradition. Patriotism played a strong part in promoting the genre, and artistic patrons took a delight in purchasing works based on Shakespeare and other great, national authors. At the same time, the genre’s subject matter had a broader, more popular appeal than the traditional subject matter of classical mythology favoured by the aristocracy. It could be readily understood by the new,self-made men of industry, who may not have shared the cultivated backgrounds of the landed gentry.

The genre was also well suited to Victorian notions of domesticity. As ‘Home Sweet Home’ became the quintessential celebration of domestic bliss, and Austrian Biedermeier artists turned to painting the solid values of the home, British fairy artists began portraying the fairy lifestyle as their celebration of homely virtues. The metamorphosis from savage nature spirits to the twee sprites of Victorian fancy was the artistic counterpart of the taming of the wild, natural world by industry and human rationality.

This democratisation of the fantastic was given a strong impetus by the vast increase in literacy and improvements in printing technology in the 1830s and 40s. The new steam presses and machine manufactured paper meant that quarto and folio magazines could be produced at a price which the new industrial working class could afford. Although priced at a penny, these new magazines were hardly cheap, costing about a hundredth of the average weekly wage. There was thus intense competition to produce literature which would appeal to the masses. By and large they favoured tales of the gruesome and fantastic as a means of escape from the gruesome realities of their own existence. The result was a plethora of tales of Gothic Horror amongst the early penny dreadfuls, though by the 1840s they had been largely superseded by equally grim tales about real criminals, especially highwaymen. In contrast to this, fairy art seems to have survived a little longer, until the 1870s, while the fairy tale itself is still with us, although now mainly the preserve of children’s stories. In its adult form, vestiges of the fairy cult lingered on until finally slain by the carnage of the First World War. The reasons for this persistence against the demise of other types of fantastic and supernatural literature are convoluted and instructive.

Firstly, vampire fiction in the form of the dreadfuls was low-cost, ephemeral sensationalism. Although Varney’s influence proved enduring and pervasive, during the 1840s the arena of action in the dreadfuls expanded into more contemporary settings. Grisly tales of true crime, and then stirring tales of adventure in the American West and the Empire provided fresh opportunities for escapist entertainment. There was also a conscious decision by many ‘dreadful’ publishers to take their products upmarket and make them more acceptable to a family readership. Thus, although magazines like The Calendar of Horror and Terrific Tales continued into the 1840s, there also appeared lines of boys’ stories, intended to provide good, wholesome fun for the young audience at which they were aimed. Although initially only slightly less gruesome than the horror and crime stories they replaced, these gradually improved until they reflected the values and aggressive patriotism of the more respectable members of society, as expressed in tales like Jack Harkaway in the Transvaal. The darkness and socially subversive nature of Vampire fiction, whose heroes serve as “a measure of hostility to all authority” (12) made the subject entirely unsuitable as children’s literature, leaving the field to be explored by horror writers like Le Fanu and poets maudits like Charles Baudelaire.

Fairies, however, were eminently suitable subject matter for children and adults alike. Shakespeare had already invested Queen Mab with the characteristics of the classical Diana and Venus by transforming her into Titania, and the Victorians continued this classicising process. Paradoxically, while the eroticism in most vampire fiction of the period remained largely suggested, overt eroticism is apparent in the vast majority of 19th-century fairy paintings, which show naked or near naked fairies engaged in amorous adventure. The painters of such pieces were saved from censure, mostly, because of the respectable nature of the genre as a whole. Like scenes from classical antiquity, nudity was permitted while it would have been scandalous in more contemporary settings. Fairies thus provided an acceptable outlet for repressed Victorian sexuality.


Violence and cruelty were evident in many Victorian paintings and tales, especially Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’

They were also far more suitable for children, suitably clad, of course. Reduced to the level of ants and insects, their adventures had a comic and mock-heroic quality, although violence and cruelty were evident in many Victorian paintings and tales, especially Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market. The heroes of many traditional fairy stories were young children, especially boys, giving them a traditional appeal to a young audience. Bruno Bettelheim has stated in his The Uses of Enchantment that these stories contributed greatly to children’s mental health and self-confidence as they showed them confronting and triumphing over fearful monsters, which were themselves metaphors for the darker aspects of the human psyche. This, presumably, was after the Grimms and Perrault had cleaned the stories up.

Like the horror stories of working class literature, however, Victorian fairy culture began to wane in the 1870s. The painstaking realism of fairy painters like Maclise and Paton, the latter a close friend of Millais, was part of an urge “to give fairyland yet more tangible and credible form” (13) in the new, technological, positivist age. Fairy painting declined with the rise of spirit photography in the 1870s, which pulled the ideological rug out from under the painters’ feet by seeming to provide real, incontrovertible proof of a separate, spiritual realm. Modern art is essentially a reaction to the iconoclasm caused by the instant, objective capture of reality by photography. It is somewhat ironic that the first casualty was the vogue for realistic paintings of the fantastic. Like the lower class fantasies of the ‘dreadfuls’, they also declined in the face of the new social realism which was sweeping painting, and avant garde artistic movements like impressionism. Fairies soon became consigned to the nursery as subjects suitable only for the imagination of the very young.

This process did, however, provide a spur to brilliant children’s artists such as Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, the Robinson Brothers and Kate Greenaway, who ushered in the Golden Age of book illustration. The last traces of the adult cult were annihilated by the mechanised horror of the First World War, before which the refined aestheticism of fairy art and Symbolism was entirely impotent. Cynicism replaced idealism, and a violent reaction set in, expressed in anti-artistic movements such as Dada and Surrealism. The controversy surrounding the Cottingley fairies was the swansong of a Victorian past long since dead.

The Victorian fairy cult has, however, left a powerful legacy. Modern fantasy novels, particularly Tolkien, derive at least in part from the fairy stories of the Romantics. William Morris, for example, wrote several, as well as translating heroic tales from other languages, like Icelandic. As the British countryside and the global ecosystem once more seem under threat, the bucolic idyll of Tolkien’s shire against the technological desolation of Sauron’s empire has provided a powerful image informing much New Age ecological radicalism, a phenomenon prefigured by Blake and the other Victorian fairy artists against their century’s ‘dark Satanic mills’. Aside from Tolkien, fairies have influenced other writers and artists in the SF and fantasy genres. Patrick Woodroffe and Rodney Matthews, two of the most noted fantasy illustrators with strong fan followings, cite Arthur Rackham as an early influence. Woodroffe paints fairy worlds similar to his 19th-century predecessors’, while the scenes of insect revelry painted by Matthews for the band Tiger Moth also share some of the themes and style of last century’s fairy paintings.

In literature other authors apart from Tolkien have delved into the realm of faerie. Clifford Simak, for example, made fairies the servitor races of an ancient race existing before this universe in his book The Goblin Reservation, while Paul McAuley, a former biologist, made them a transgenic species composed of mixed human and primate genetic material with a consciousness rooted in nanotechnology in his book, In Fairyland. Aside from these technological approaches, other authors have turned to more traditional material. Angela Carter’s retelling of old fairy tales had a modern slant, informed as they were by her feminist beliefs. Neil Gaiman, however, adopted a more traditional approach in his treatment of fairy themes in his comic strip The Sandman and later novels. Both Carter and Gaiman display in their tales the raw cruelty evident in much traditional fairy literature, undoubtedly as a reaction against the prettification of the tales after Disney. Gaiman himself started as a music journalist and has strong links to the Goth music scene, which consciously tries to recreate the Symbolist and Decadent milieu for a modern youth audience. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that songs by the Goth band Bauhaus included ‘Hollow Hills’, about fairies and ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’, about the most celebrated portrayer of Dracula on screen and stage before Christopher Lee. Vampires and fairies have a perennial appeal to an overlapping audience.

The genre and subject also has a more mystical appeal to modern, disenchanted youth. The new Romanticism of the late 20th century has bred a dissatisfaction with consensus reality as defined by the political and scientific establishment. Science fiction articulates fears about science, as much as the desire for technological progress, and there is a strong element of the mystical, even Fortean, in much popular SF. Greg Bear’s fantasy, The Infinity Concerto, took its name from the piece of avant-garde music mentioned in the works of Fort as having deprived a number of composers of their ability to write music after hearing it performed. In the hands of Bear, it became the sole weapon of the human prisoners of Sidhedark against their Fairy captors.

The popular comics writer Alan Grant in an interview with the fanzine Dog Breath cited “anything to do with UFOs, alien abductions, New World Order conspiracies, lost civilisations, apocalyptic visions, prophecies and the human mind” (14) as some of his favourite personal reading. 2000 AD’s long running strip, Slaine, drew extensively on Celtic legend, including elements of modern Wicca and Theosophy in its portrayal of a science fictional, antediluvial Britain. Mills, the writer of that particular epic, stated in an introduction to the strip that he deliberately gave the domain of the alien villains the name of the Welsh Celtic hell, Cythrawl, and based the diluvial servitor race on one of Blavatsky’s Root Races. The fairies took the form of malign and benign extradimensionals. The strip articulated powerful ecofeminist sentiments, and I’ve personally come across a number of people who have developed an interest in Wicca and modern occultism through reading it. Mills has himself said that one of the things he set out to do in the strip was “to try and correct . . . the insidious lies most of us are still taught about our ancestors . . . you know, the crap about them being woad-covered savages brought the wonderful benefits of ‘civilisation’ by the stern-but-fair proto-Thatcherite Romans with their central heating and their straight roads where the chariots ran on time”. (15)

Although far from the bucolic, classicised fantasies of Merrie England characteristic of Victorian art, the strip nevertheless shares its urge to depict fairyland as a mystical, British ideal world, though in the case of Mills one darkened by real barbarism and violence. It also demonstrates the enormous appeal for an indigenous British mystical tradition separate from classical myth and Christian mysticism. Classical mythology has largely fallen out of favour, although Roman epics still possess a certain popularity on stage and screen. Elements of Christian religious lore, such as angels and the Devil, may permeate low culture such as comics, but the central tenets of the faith itself do not lend themselves to the type of violent entertainment required in modern fantasy. Many Christians would also be unhappy with the portrayal of Christ and the apostles in works of entertainment, while others would no doubt object to the pious didacticism of overtly religious works, at least in certain fields like the comic strip. In postchristian, secular Britain fairyland provides an accessible mystical elsewhere known and recognised to most Britons which can be adapted to serve particular narrative or political roles without incurring the vicious controversy attached to religious debate. The same psychological processes which favoured the democratisation of fairy art in the 19th century show themselves equally powerful in the 20th.

It is also perfectly suited to the post-psychedelic exploration of the human subconscious. Fairy art celebrated the sublime dream, expressed in images of Titania sleeping, guarded and watched by Oberon and his armoured retinue, or charging across the brows of recumbent mortals. Fuseli, the Principal Hobgoblin Painter to the Devil, was supposed to eat raw beef at night to give him the strange, otherworldly dreams which provided the raw material for his work. In Surrealism, which also explores the dream and subconscious, painters like Max Walter Svanberg continued to paint fairy ladies not so far removed from their Symbolist predecessors. More technological artists, such as Jurgen Ziewe, use computer graphics and virtual reality to create the “paradises artificiels” of which the Decadents dreamed. Ziewe’s art is also informed by Theosophical and mystical beliefs, and his works can therefore be seen as a technological version of the otherworld desired by the fairy painters. Finally, there are the machine elves encountered by Terence McKenna and other explorers of psychedelia in the hallucinogenic world of DMT. Many of the hippies consciously modelled themselves on their forebears in Surrealism and 19th-century Romanticism, citing Thomas De Quincy and the Club de Haschichins as illustrious predecessors.


Millais’s ‘Ferdinand Lured by Ariel’ was rejected by the dealer who commissioned it because of strong reservations over the green colour of the fairies depicted. Was this simply disquiet at a convention of naturalistic fairy pigmentation being broken, or fear that the picture was a reference to the ‘green fairy’ of absinthe, the sinful drink?

Fairyland, whether portrayed by dreamy Romantics or the tortured aesthetes of the Ecole Symboliste, offers the attractive prospect of personally encountering the strange inhabitants of the human neurological landscape. In the hands of underground comic artists such as Pete Loveday, the relocation of fairyland to the interior of the human psyche, accessible primarily through drugs, is complete. (16) Tellingly, Millais’s Ferdinand Lured by Ariel was rejected by the dealer who commissioned it because of strong reservations over the green colour of the fairies depicted. Was this simply disquiet at a convention of naturalistic fairy pigmentation being broken, or fear that the picture was a reference to the ‘green fairy’ of absinthe, the sinful drink of Baudelaire and the poets maudits?

The desire to escape from this world to a parallel universe of fantasy and delight is constant and pervasive, especially in times of radical change. Fairyland is the quintessential “Land of Heart’s Desire”, the pleasures of which can be terrible. SF has been described as the literature of change, and so has taken over the role, and frequently the subject matter, of traditional fairy stories, while modern technology tantalisingly offers the possibility of giving these fantasies concrete form. All these modern, technological fears and fantasies were first articulated through fairyland by the Victorians as they entered the first industrial age.

Now, with the disruption of the second, fairyland in its traditional guise and in the technological trappings of aliens and androids, is reaffirming its hold on the human psyche, as expressed in the imagery and themes of otherworld experiences. The Cottingley fairies and subsequent elfin encounters drew extensively on Victorian fairy iconography, as ultimately does much of the Close Encounter phenomenon. As more traditional fairy narratives once again find popularity, perhaps we shall see a resurgence in fairy encounters closer to the Victorian source material, or at least the imagery of the tradition’s modern interpreters. Regardless of the precise form, the power of the fairies to shape our modern myths is by no means exhausted. It is perhaps the strongest and least recognised of the Victorians’ contribution to the human imagination.



1. Rickard, R. and Sieveking, P., eds, Fortean Times, No. 71, October/November 1993, p. 21
2. Bord, J., Fairies – Real Encounters with Little People, Michael O’Mara, 1997, as reviewed by Mark Pilkington in Magonia, No. 60, August 1997, p. 17
3. Henningsen, G., “The Ladies from Outside”: An Archaic Pattern of the Witches’ Sabbath, in Henningsen, G., and Ankarloo, B., Early Modern European Witchcraft; Centres and Peripheries, Clarendon, 1990, pp. 191-215
4. Dalby, R., ‘Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books’, in Dean, J., Book and Magazine Collector, No. 81, December 1990, p. 61
5. Lucie-Smith, E., Symbolist Art, Thames and Hudson, 1972. p.54
6. Philpotts, B., Fairy Painting, Ash and Grant, 1978, p. 4
7. Gibson, M., Symbolism, Taschen, 1995, p. 17
8. Dalby, op. cit., p. 58
9. Anglo, M., Penny Dreadfuls and other Victorian Horrors, Jupiter, 1977, p. 15
10. Philpotts, op. cit., p. 5
11. Philpots, ibid., p. 4
12. Ryan, J.S., ‘The Vampire Before and After Stoker’s Dracula’, reviewing Senf, C.A., The Vampire in 19th Century Literature, in Smith, P., Contemporary Legend, Vol. 3, 1993, p. 151
13. Philpotts, op. cit., p. 4
14. Kear, B.A., Dr., ed., Dog Breath, No. 3, p. 6
15. Mills, P. and Fabry, G., introduction to Slaine the King, Special Edition, Titan Books, 1987
16. See especially the chapter “An Error of Judgement” in Russell’s Big Strip Stupormarket, John Brown Publishing, 1995


Visions Before Midnight: Witchcraft, Folklore and the Prehistory of the Abduction Phenomenon. David Sivier

Ever since Vallee and Keel put pen, or typewriter ribbon to paper in the 1970s, it’s been an axiom among proponents of the psychosocial hypothesis that the UFO phenomenon is merely the modern variant of a range of paranormal encounters and visitations by supernatural others. Despite their technological trappings, modern UFO sightings are merely the scientistic expression of deep religious and mystical impulses from within the human psyche, impulses, which have given rise to previous ages’ myths of encounters with angels, demons, elves and ghosts. Far from being encounters with objectively real, nuts and bolts extraterrestrial spacecraft, UFO visitations, and much of the culture surrounding them, is a twentieth century technological religious experience. This is, and always has been, explicit in the case of UFO religions such as the Aetherius Society of George King and the Unarius sect founded by Ruth Norman in California. Although King and Adamski have passed on, the era of the Contactee with his or her extraterrestrial message for mankind still continues, with channelled messages about impending ecological and planetary catastrophe from 9-foot tall Pleiadian reptilians, Ashtar Space Command and any number of communicating entities, or given to those unfortunates who believe, or are led to believe, that they have been abducted and medically tortured by the aliens aboard the spacecraft.

Furthermore, attempts to interpret and communicate with the underlying entities by occult means are still carried out today. One of the most notorious examples of this is arguably Allen H. Greenfield’s Secret Cipher of the Ufonauts, which used Qabalistic numerological systems derived from Aleister Crowley to plumb the cosmic mysteries behind the phenomenon. (1) Thomas Bullard’s research into the ‘Old Hag’ phenomenon, and Persinger’s now notorious hypothesis that such encounters originate in disturbances of the brain’s temporal lobes have added further weight to the psychosocial view that alien encounters are essentially an internal, psychological experience, despite Bullard’s own view that the Old Hag phenomenon is an objectively real, rather than folkloric experience.

Although the above short summary of the psychosocial position is now so well known as to appear trite, particularly to its opponents, it’s not often appreciated how closely the UFO and Abduction experiences come to their traditional predecessors in religion and folklore. The lengthy comparisons of a few years ago of alien abduction investigators and medieval witch-hunters by James Pontolillo and others, while immensely controversial, were almost literally accurate in their analysis of the relationship between the two. In itself, this was not particular revolutionary. Janet and Colin Bord in the 1970s researched the similarities between the entities reported from UFOs, and the demons of medieval theology, based on their reading of Nicholas of Remy’s sixteenth century Demonlatry. In confirmation of their research, they note that during a conversation with six alien beings that a composer from Malvesi, in Narbonne, France, had on 12 December 1987, one of the beings in answer to his question `So you’re extraterrestrials then?’ replied ‘ciel, demon’ (sky, demon). ‘The use of the word demon goes some way towards confirming what some researchers have long suspected: that the UFO entity phenomenon is not peculiar to the twentieth century but has occurred throughout history, the origins and intentions of the entities being understood in accordance with the dominant beliefs of the age.’ (2)

Pontolillo, however, took the comparison one step further to include the conduct of the abduction researchers themselves, presenting an image of their activities, including the willingness to inflict emotional pain on the victims of such supernatural visitations, which the abduction researchers naturally found abhorrent. Nevertheless, the similarities between these witch-hunters, past and present, are very strong and can provide profound insights into the nature of the phenomenon. For example, the writings of John Sterne, the friend and fellow witchfinder of the notorious Matthew Hopkins, contains numerous cases of witchcraft they discovered during their reign of terror in East Anglia during the Interregnum, cases which parallel the contemporary abduction experience, though with the obvious difference that these lack the technological imagery characteristic of the Twentieth century.

The origin of some demonic encounters in visions during a hypnopogic state is apparently born out in Sterne’s description of Anne Boreham’s initiation into their company. Boreham ‘confessed that as she awoke out of a dreame she saw uglie men (as she thought) a fighting, and asked them why they fought, who answered that they would fight for all her, and then one vanished away, and then came to her into bed, and had the use of her body.’ (3) There are obviously problems to accepting such statements, along with other confessions from the accused at face value, due to the immense physical and psychological stresses under which those accused were placed by their judicial tormentors in order to extract confessions of guilt. Although torture was not used in England, and so the number of witchcraft cases was consequently small, nevertheless coercive measures such as walking and watching – by which Hopkins and his cohorts denied the accused witches of sleep – as well as leading questions and the unbearable psychological pressures to confess, means that it’s possible that some, at least, of the testimony obtained from suspected witches was formed, consciously or unconsciously, to conform to the witchfinders’ own prejudices and expectations. Nevertheless, Boreham’s statement, along with other ‘spectral evidence’, certainly suggests the origins of some witchcraft cases in encounters with sexually predatory incubi and succubi, demonic encounters of much the same type with the equally sexually predatory aliens, which also rape their human victims. The only difference here is that these latter incubi violate their victims on high-tech dissection tables, rather than their own beds. Even the statements given by the violating entities as explanations are essentially the same. Boreham’s statement that they fought ‘for all of her’ certainly compares with Streiber’s statement that they ‘did have a right’ to carry out their experiments, and indeed Fort’s own oft-repeated dictum of an putative alien presence on Earth, ‘I think we are property.’

The parallels with the Greys of the abduction phenomenon become even closer when one considers that the familiars who accompanied these witches were similarly diminutive. Elizabeth Hubbard confessed that ‘she had three things’ come to her in the likeness of children’, (4) while Edward Wright similarly possessed two imps like little boys. (5) Of course, elves had long been imagined to be diminutive in size, and Lord Berners’ 1534 translation of the fourteenth century French Huon of Bordeaux describes Oberon, the fairy king as about the ‘but of iii fote’ in height. (6)

Given the association between fairies and witchcraft, it was to be expected that the attendant imps should similarly be envisaged as lacking adult human stature. Even the paradoxically asexual nature of the attacking entities themselves is described in Sterne’s case studies, just as modern abduction narratives describe similar highly sexed, but curiously sexless aliens. One of Sterne’s victims, Bush of Banton, confessed that Satan appeared by her bedside as a young black man – traditionally the colour of evil, but not yet the Grey of the abductionists -’but could not perform nature as man’, (7) while Anne Crick stated that ‘the Devill had the use of her body, but she said she could not tell whether he performed nature or not.’ (8) This latter, though, could have been due to the strong social pressures against confessing intimate – and in this case, unnatural – sexual activities in public, as Crick stated clearly that ‘she could not confess before much company.’ (9) Although these encounters probably didn’t arise from the deliberate use of hallucinogens as a means of altering consciousness, nevertheless they bear a strong similarity to the ‘machine elves’ produced by the DMT experience, suggesting that they may indeed be autonomous, but alienated sections of the human psyche, rather than objective, corporeal entities. (10)

As for the confused, and often tortured emotional state of many abductees, this too is paralleled by Sterne’s description of the motivations of the purported witches victimised by himself and Hopkins. According to Sterne, the Devil carefully observed his victims to entrap them when they were psychologically most vulnerable, ‘as when any fall into a passionate sorrow, accompanied with solitarinesse for some losse, a husband, wife, children or such like, the Devil offers himself to comfort such in their sorrowfull melancholy mood.’ (11) Of course, to contemporary Christian fundamentalists searching for real, present day servants of Satan, such melancholy behaviour and the avoidance of human company is very much a symptom of occult involvement, rather than a symptom of a disturbed emotional state that may make an already vulnerable person particular susceptible to the delusion that he or she has been violated and entrapped by predatory supernatural beings.

Here Sterne also has a few valuable lessons for today’s Satan hunters, though his comments, from the background of an explicit believer in the reality of the Devil’s agents on Earth, actually corroborate instead the conclusions of the sceptics. Rather than demonstrating the fire-and-brimstone sermon as a true path to Christian salvation, Sterne describes instances where it has had the opposite effect on its audience: ‘For I have heard many of them say, that the Devil hath inticed them to witchcraft by some sermons they have preached; as when ministers will preach of the power of the devil, and his tormenting the wicked’ after which the Devil approached the novice witch, ‘asking them, How do you think to be saved?’ before promising them that if they gave their soul to him, he would free them of the torments of hell. As a result of this, according to Sterne, ‘(i)gnorant people have been thus seduced.’ (12)

Contemporary sceptical opponents of the Satanism scare have come to similar conclusions, noting that children with low self-esteem may similarly become involved in pseudo-Satanic crime through an overwhelming belief in their own evil derived from an authoritarian, punitive background in which religious threats are used to humiliate and control them. The American sceptical sociologist, Jeffrey S. Victor, noted that ‘Adolescents who see themselves as being “evil” create a psychological environment consistent with their self-concept. They see the world as they see themselves, a place where malicious evil is more genuine than compassion.’ (13) One example where a belief in their own evil has led to the development of pseudo-Satanic beliefs, is that of Christina who used ‘satanism (sic) to rebel against her parents’ religion … When her mother asked her directly about her satanic beliefs, Christina told her mother that there was nothing good in the world that was why she liked satanism (sic).’ (14) Moreover, Victor elsewhere records instances where suspected Satanic criminals have been captured using material from the manuals produced by the Satan hunters themselves as the basis for their perverted beliefs. The conclusion to be drawn here seems to be that an exaggerated, repressive emphasis on Satan and the power of evil, far from drawing people to the saving power of Christ, produces its demonic opposite. As a result, Christian ministers would be best advised to avoid too much hell-fire and damnation preaching in favour of other, more positive aspects of the religion. Unfortunately it’s a message the fundamentalist Satan hunters don’t seem to have received, particularly those fixated on the supposedly demonic influence of Harry Potter.

Back in the world of Ufology, although no doubt the abduction researchers currently interrogating their percipients for details of their supernatural assaults would be shocked and deny the comparison, nevertheless they do seem to be recapitulating the aims and approach of the medieval witch hunters in their pursuit of technological incubi. The main difference between the two groups of inquisitors is that the medieval and Early Modern witch hunters acted as the agents of a persecuting culture attempting to re-establish threatened societal and religious norms. The abductionists, on the other hand, far from being the agents of the state or established church, perceive themselves as essentially opposed, or at least marginalized, by the establishment, and in the case of ‘Dark Side’ ufology with its mythology of government complicity and alien conspiracies, are on the contrary deliberately acting against its interests to expose it as a manipulative and persecuting order.

As for the abductees themselves, their experiences also recapitulate the experiences of the medieval saints, some of whose torments also seem to have arisen from sleep paralysis. The 1438 English translation of the Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine, describes such a nocturnal Satanic assault on Saint Edmund. One night the saint fell asleep at his books before he could meditate on the Passion of Christ. As a result, ‘the feende that had gret envy to hym laye so hevye on Seynt Edmond that he had no power to blesse hym with the ryght honde ner with the lyft honde.’ (15) Nevertheless, the saint was able to triumph over the adversary when he finally remembered, by the grace of God, Christ’s passion, at which the Devil ‘fylle downe anone fro hym.’ (16) Furthermore, the saint was able to gain from the Devil information on how best to defend himself from further Satanic assault. This was indeed meditation on the Passion, which granted anyone so occupied immunity from the Devil’s attacks. (17)

It has been stated that the abduction phenomenon has part of its origins in late Twentieth – early Twenty-first century victim culture, and there is also an element of this in the cult of the medieval saints. Apart from the severe asceticism practiced by them, their saintliness was also vindicated by the spiritual and psychological privations they experienced, such as demonic assault. Although such assaults could continue throughout the saint’s life, his sanctity guaranteed that he would be able to fend them off, and even provide comfort and exorcism to those who also suffered. Indeed, his ability to protect himself from such attacks through his personal religious devotion itself vindicated his saintliness, marking him out as one of the elect rather than a demoniac requiring the mystical aid of a true saint.

The abduction culture also stresses its adherents’ status as the valorous victims of supernatural assault, during which they may also receive messages of spiritual import. Moreover, as with the ‘holy anorexia’ and demonic torments of the medieval saints, some researchers into the abduction phenomenon have detected a similar aetiology behind their supernatural persecutions in hysteria and various dissociative disorders, often expressed in trickery, such as those of poltergeists, fraudulent mediums or shamans. In this view, such experiences are symptomatic of a spectrum of hysterical disorders of which Multiple Personality Disorder and Munchausen’s Syndrome are the most extreme. The classic example of the latter in conventional Western religion is probably Benedetta Carlini, a seventeenth century Italian nun who wounded herself in order to fake the stigmata, as well as suffering demonic attack, as well as possession by Jesus Christ and a cherub, Splenditello. (18) There is one difference, however. The abductees are condemned to be perpetual, passive victims of their tormentors, unable to prevent or defend themselves from their assaults, unlike their medieval predecessors, though some writers on abductions have produced their own solutions to this abject state, ranging from the caricature hats in tinfoil, to Greenfield’s suggested magical techniques for warding off their attacks. (19)

Elsewhere, Kevin and Sue McClure have discussed parallels between nineteenth century religious experience and that of contemporary ufology in his analysis of the 1905 Welsh religious revival, Stars and Rumours of Stars, in which stars were seen to accompany the preaching of Mrs. Mary Jones, ‘the Welsh seeress’ in Egryn. It is possible, however, to find episodes in nineteenth century folklore, which also prefigure the ‘interrupted journey’ of the abduction narratives and encounters with sexually alluring, but dangerous, supernatural entities. In nineteenth century Shetland, for example, the fairies, as well as being short, were described as dressing uniformly in dark grey, (20) a feature shared by the machine elves of the contemporary technological psyche. Unlike these later creatures, however, they were somewhat more colourful, with yellow complexions, red eyes, green teeth and natural brown wool mittens. (21) The yellowish complexions also provide a further similarity with some of the early ufonauts, who were often described as having a swarthy or oriental appearance.

Furthermore, in the 1870s two young men, C. and S., from Deerness in Orkney were returning to the farm where they worked one night through a low valley when they met two girls wearing what looked like white night dresses. When they attempted to embrace them, however, the two girls vanished, one appearing to evaporate into thin air, while the other melted into the ground. Another evening, when they were again passing through the same valley, a bright star, or ball of fire, came towards them. As it passed over their heads, they heard a voice coming from it, saying ‘I’m sent.’ This vision was so terrifying that C. collapsed to the ground, and took some time to recover. Thinking about it afterwards, however, the two young men considered it a sign ‘not to associate with certain girls of dubious reputation.’ (22) While the clerics of the Middle Ages would probably conclude that the vision of the two girls in their night attire were succubi, intent on using their sexual allure to ensure the young men’s damnation, it’s also possible to see them as prefiguring the similarly glamorous alien women of the contactee era, such as Aura Rhanes.

Moreover, while the appearance of the flying light is clearly related to the visions of stars documented in the Welsh revival, it is also curiously reminiscent of the UFO visions of the twentieth century, such as the flying light apparently produced by Paul Solem before reporters in Prescott, Arizona, in 1969. Solem had experienced his own extraterrestrial epiphany in 1948 when he heard the mental message, ‘We are from another planet. You will hear from us later’, as three flying discs flew over his head. This initial telepathic contact was succeeded by a later meeting with a ‘Venusian angel.’ Unlike the two Orkneymen, who felt this was a personal message meant only for themselves, Solem believed his experience was of far wider import and began addressing Indian meetings during which he prophesied an approaching Day of Purification, in which the faithful would be taken by the aliens to safety and happiness on other worlds, while those not so fortunate would perish on Earth. (23) The similarities between this, and other revivalist messages of an approaching apocalypse, are not coincidental, both deriving from an essentially religious impulse.

Other contactees whose experiences paralleled that of the two Orkneymen included the Sicilian, Eugenio Siragusa, who heard an inner voice informing him of the ‘mysteries of creation’ after being struck by a brilliant ray of light emitted by a glowing object in 1951. After eleven years of this mental instruction, he was finally motivated in 1962 to drive to Mount Etna to meet two silver clad figures with long blond hair who gave him a message of intergalactic love, fraternity and justice. Significantly, Siragusa received his extraterrestrial revelation while waiting at the bus stop for the morning trip to work. (24) The gender of the extraterrestrials isn’t noted, but it is significant that many of them, whatever their sex, wore their hair long and blond, or had a peculiar feminine appearance, a further parallel to the spectral girls seen by the Orkneymen.

The islanders’ experience here and that of the ‘interrupted journey’ may have their origins in the stresses and psychological states induced by a long, nocturnal journey, those of contemporary Abductees, like the islanders in the tale, taking place at night. The psychological stresses of a long journey through monotonous terrain can produce disorientation and trance-like states in travellers – horizon fatigue – and is recognised as particular hazard affecting visitors to the wilder parts of the Australian outback. Although Orkney isn’t a barren, isolated, dangerous wilderness on a par with the Australian desert, the two Orkneymen were presumably also tired after a long day of hard agricultural work, and so may have been drifting towards a semi-trance-like state where unusual stimuli from their external environment could also generate bizarre imagery from within their own minds. The bright light they observed could have been a meteor, a briefly glimpsed part of the Aurora Borealis, or even an Earthlight, like those of Hessdalen on the other side of the North Sea, or perhaps the distorted light from a distant farm house. Whatever the precise origin, it may well be that this light, distorted by distance and fatigue, acted on the men’s minds to produce a vision of supernatural imagery and import. The phrase ‘I’m sent’ suggests its origin in traditional religious beliefs regarding celestial omens as things literally sent from Heaven, while stars themselves have always been symbols of the mystic and numinous, either directly through astrology or through images of the Star of Bethlehem in the story of the Nativity. Thus, to religious percipients of such celestial prodigies these phenomena may automatically generate numinous feelings and imagery, thus accounting for the mystical, or supernatural content, of their visions.

Despite the parallels with medieval magic and witchcraft, there is one important point where the contemporary abduction phenomenon differs considerably from its predecessors. While some contemporary ufologists and abduction researchers strongly resist the idea that UFOs are anything except concrete, objectively real extraterrestrial spacecraft piloted by corporeal, organic beings, the churchmen of the Middle Ages, on the contrary, considered that some demonic phenomena, at least, were illusory. The Canon Episcopi, for example, considered the belief that women rode out at night with Herodias as heretical, not that such a night flight objectively occurred. Similarly, the fifteenth century Munich occult manuscript contains spells to produce the illusion of a mighty castle, (25) while a twelfth century grimoire from Rheims included instructions for the summoning of an illusory boat or horse to convey the necromancer to whichever destination he desired. (26) It is possible here to speculate on possible connections between the sky ships of Magonia in eighth century France and these illusory vessels, crewed, according to the Munich manual, by spirits that were neither good nor evil, not in Hell or Heaven, (27) though it could simply come from the use of ships as a familiar and ready means of transport.

The medieval theologians formulated their views of the illusory nature of much supernatural phenomena for dogmatic reasons: demons, as God’s creations, could not be seen to usurp the creative power of the Almighty, no matter how powerful they may have appeared. Such theological niceties have left contradictions in the texts. For example, if the ships or horses were illusory, it could be asked how they could be expected to convey someone anywhere. The answer to that may be that the mortal traveller aboard them either suffered further illusions of the journey to his destination, or perhaps really did go there, but during a fugue state brought on by his occult experiments, similar to the dissociative states during which abuctees and other experiencers have travelled far across America during UFO flaps. The description of such vessels in the Munich manuscript does suggest that the necromancer writing it was thinking primarily in terms of a solid vessel, which he then piously tried to reconcile with the church’s doctrine of the illusory nature of demonic artefacts.

Nevertheless, regardless of the theological origins of their opinions, the medieval churchmen may have been substantially correct as to the illusory nature of many witches’ Sabbaths. Gustav Henningsen has discussed the Sicilian fairy cult of the ‘Ladies from Outside’ – Donas de Fueras – as arising from a dissociative state in which its members compensated for the privations of their poverty-stricken lives by imagining they travelled to feast with the Queen of the Fairies, in return gaining the power to heal, without objectively journeying to any such gathering. (28) This follows similar claims by Carlo Ginzburg in his study of the Benandanti in The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Even in the British Isles, some folk stories suggest this. The fifteenth century account of the exorcism of the fairy king Gwyn ap Nudd from Glastonbury Tor by the sixth-century saint Collen, which ends with the saint alone on the hill top, after Gwyn, his court and indeed his entire palace had vanished, suggests a visionary experience not unlike the grimoires’ description of illusory magical castles produced by demons. If the UFO is merely an updated version of these supernatural flying ships, whose appearance has been modified in line to produce a suitable technological image of an advanced vehicle in line with the scientistic culture of the twentieth century, then it is more than reasonable to suppose that, as the medieval churchmen partly recognised, it similarly shares these ships’ illusory nature.

Not all hypnopogic visions are necessarily malign, however. There was one episode, recorded in the nineteenth century by the folklorist, Robert Hunt, in which a frail old lady in Penberth Cove, Cornwall, sadly rendered bedridden, was entertained throughout the day `day by day, and all day long’ by the Small Folk, who ‘were her only company.’ (29) ‘No sooner was the old woman left alone that in they came and began their frolics, dancing over the rafters and the key-beams, swinging by the cobwebs like rope-dancers, catching the mice and riding them in and out through the holes in the thatch. When one party got tired another party came, and by daylight, and even by moonlight, the old bedridden creature never wanted amusement.’ (30) The permanent confinement of the woman to her bed suggests that her visions were experienced, or partly experienced, while she was sleeping or dozing in hypnogogic state. It is possible here to catch a glimpse of a woman in very poor health, living in abject poverty, for whom, like the Donas de Fueras’ visits to their fairy banquets, the visionary games of her elfin companions were a welcome relief and compensation from the immense vicissitudes of a hard life.

It is a marked contrast to some of the other stories in which the fairies are responsible for the theft of goods and children from their mortal neighbours. Possibly the benign nature of the fairies, who came to entertain this poor lady resulted from the percipient’s own good nature. The woman herself is described as ‘a good old creature’ who, despite her privations, nevertheless enjoyed the support of her relations, ‘who dropped in once a day, rendered her the little aid she required, and left food by the bedside.’ (31) Certainly her recorded good nature, and those of the creatures she observed while in a trance state, who came to keep her company, suggest that the content and character of the creatures produced by the subconscious partake or are strongly informed by the character and the mental state of their unconscious creators. Kevin McClure has suggested in the past that if somehow the abduction hysteria, and social and psychological tensions and fears which inform and support it were somehow removed, then it’s possible that the close encounter experience itself would revert to its earlier form in which a traveller, late at night, encountered a spaceman on a lonely road with a message for humanity. The abduction experience is probably too far gone, too deeply entrenched in the contemporary psyche for this, and the matrix of contemporary fears and terrors too extreme for this too occur. Nevertheless, this episode, and others like it from traditional fairy lore do hold out the possibility of a return to a far more benign variety of ufological visionary experience.

It also suggests that Tibetan Buddhist doctrine as expressed in the Bardo Thodol also known in the West as The Book of the Dead (literal translation: Liberation by Hearing in the After-Death Plane) may also be substantially correct in ascribing the demons and monsters encountered after death not to objective spiritual entities, but as projections from the percipient’s own mind: ‘They terrify you beyond words, and yet it is you who have created them. Do not give in to your fright, resist your mental confusion! All this is unreal, and what you see are the contents of your own mind in conflict with itself.’ (32)

Although the state of the percipients in these circumstances differs considerably – those encountering witches, angels and ufonauts being very much alive, rather than dead or dying as in the case of the audience to whom the Bardo Thodol is addressed, nevertheless it suggests that these visions do originate in subconscious dissociative states. In the latter instance it may well have arisen in the further breakdown of neurological functions in the dying brain, as controversially suggested some years ago by Sue Blackmore. For Tibetan Buddhists, this revelation is liberating as seeing through the troubling visions they may face after death and recognising them for what they are offers the opportunity for the deceased to gain paradise: ‘What you see here is but the reflection of the contents of your own mind in the mirror of the Void. If at this point you should manage to understand that, the shock this insight will stun you, your subtle body will disperse into a rainbow, and you will find yourself in paradise among the angels’. (33) In the case of living, secular encounters with the supernatural, such spiritual advise may be of little help, though it does reinforce the suggestion that such visions can be altered or modified to a more benign version by the percipient mastering his or her internal states. Otherwise, it offers the comfort that however disturbing the visions and their attendant horrors are, they are nevertheless illusions, which will pass, leaving the victim to carry on with their life, hopefully unscarred by the incident.

Thus an analysis of the parallels between the contemporary Abduction phenomenon and its predecessors in medieval and Early Modern spirituality and magical beliefs strongly indicates that both share a common origin in internal experiences and hallucinations arising from dissociative or otherwise disturbed mental states. The theologians of these epochs partly recognised this, though their continued belief in objectively real occult forces responsible for these illusions, which were nevertheless capable of real corporeal and spiritual harm, resulted in the deaths of countless thousands accused of such crimes. While the worldview and methodologies adopted by contemporary Christian fundamentalist witch hunters and abduction researchers may differ from their medieval predecessors, nevertheless their activities recapitulate extremely closely the medieval and Early Modern inquisitors’ attempts to root out supernatural evil and their human victims and agents, the ‘women who copulate with the Devil’, in the words of the Anglo-Saxon witchcraft legislation. An awareness of the essentially illusory nature of the experience, and the dangers of emphasizing the power of evil, is a powerful weapon for combating the extremely harmful claims of both types of modem day witchfinders. Such an approach is no doubt disappointing to supporters of the ETH, for whom close encounters are evidence of objectively real encounters with alien entities, though it also suggests that such experiences, by virtue of their internal nature, thus partake of the rich and complex psychology at the heart of shamanic contact with the transcendent other.


1. See Moore, S., review of Secret Cipher of the Ufonauts, by Greenfield, A.H., Illuminet Press, Lilburn, 1995, in Fortean Times, no. 81, June-July 1995, p. 62.
2. Bord, J. and C., Hide Beyond Planet Earth? Man’s Contacts with Space People, Grafton, London 1991, p. 115.
3. Sterne, J., A Confirmation and Discovery of Witchcraft, William Wisdom, Smithfield, 1648, reprinted University of Exeter, 1973, p. 32. 4. Sterne, op. cit., p. 26.
5. Sterne, op. cit., same page.
6. Edward, G., Hobgoblin and Sweet Puck: Fairy Names and Natures, Geoffrey Bles, London 1974, p. 168.
7. Sterne, op. cit., p.29.
8. Sterne, op. cit., p. 30
9. Sterne, op. cit., same page.
10. Sec Rickard, B., `Watch the Sky-Watchers’, review of Devereux, P., and
Brookesmith, P., UFOs and Ufology, Blandford/Cassell, London 1997, in
Fortean Times, 106, January 1998, p. 55.
11. Rickard, op. cit., p. 5. 12. Rickard, op. cit., p. 59.
13. Victor, J.S., Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend, Open
Court, Chicago and La Salle, 1993, pp. 148-9,
14. Victor, op. cit., p. 149, citing Speltz, A.M., `Treating Adolescent Satanism in
Art Therapy’, The Arts in Psychotherapy 17, Summer 1990, .pp. 147-155.
15. Blake, N.F., Middle English Religious Prose, Edward Arnold, London 1972 p.
16. Blake, op. cit., same page.
17. Blake, op. cit., same page.
18. Schnabel, J., `The Munch Bunch’, in Fortean Times, no. 70, August/
September 1993, pp.23-29.
19. Moore, op.cit., p. 62.
20. Marwick, E. W., The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland, B.T. Batsford, London
1975, p. 42.
21. Marwick, op. cit., same page.
22. Marwick, op. cit., page 98. 23. Bord, op. cit., p. 185. 24. Bord, op. cit., p. 173.
25. Kieckhefer, R., Magic in the Middle Ages, CUP, Cambridge 1989, p.6.
26. Kieckhefer, op. cit., p. 158.
27. Kieckhefer, op. cit., p. 169.
28. Henningsen, G., “The Ladies from Outside’: An Archaic Pattern of the Witches’ Sabbath’, in Ankarloo, B., and Henningsen, G., eds., Early Modern European Witchcraft: Centres and Peripheries, OUP, Oxford, 1990, pp. 191218.
29. Hunt, R., The Drolls, Traditions and Superstitions of Old Cornwall (Popular
Romances of the West of England): First Series: Giants, Fairies, Tregagle,
Mermaids, Rocks, Lost Cities, Fire Worship, Demons and Spectres, Llanerch
facsimile reprint of 1881 edition, Felinfach 1993, p. 120. 30. Hunt, op. cit., same page.
31. Hunt, op. cit., same page.
32. Conze, E., Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin, London 1959, p. 229. 33. Conze, op. cit., same page.