The Myth of the Authorised Myth.
Hilary Evans

From Magonia 16, July 1984

By ‘authorised myth’ we understand a belief or set of beliefs which, despite inadequate scientific evidence for its existence, obtains the sanction of widespread acceptance within the prevailing culture. In unsophisticated Catholic communities it may be the prospect of a visit from the Virgin Mary, for the tribespeople of New Guinea an aeroplane bringing cargo, for an ascetic saint in the desert a tempting demon; and so forth.

The most widely accepted of contemporary myths – as evidence such reliable indicators of prevailing cultural beliefs as TV commercials – is the possibility of extraterrestrial intervention on Earth. This comes in two forms. The simple form, authorised by our own space ventures, envisages surveillance and even visits by extraterrestrial spacecraft. The more elaborate form, authorised by the failure of orthodox religion to provide a convincing basis for belief, envisages direct contact with cosmic guardians.

The role of the authorised myth in ufology

It was Michel Monnerie who explicitly specified the authorised myth as a rational explanation for irrational UFO repurts. He proposed that the sighting of an inexplicable object induces the witness, conditioned by the prevailing myth, to exclaim Mon Dieu, perhaps it’s one of those UFO things? and this triggers a waking dream in which his mind constructs a fantasy in which the external sensory stimulus is modified in accordance with the fashionable myth.

Monnerie’s proposals came at a time when some such hypothesis was needed. A few diehards continued to see UFO sightings as a wholly objective phenomenon – subject to misinterpretation, no doubt, but not to unconscious mental modification. But a growing number of ufologists were ready to accept that the mind of the witness plays a more creative role in the sighting experience, and were consequently disposed to entertain a hypothesis which linked an objective stimulus to a subjective psychological process. Monnerie offered just such a hypothesis.

Force est de conclure,” he said, “que le fond émane des themes universels, des archétypes fondamentaux d I’humanité, tandis que la fame est donnée par les acquis inconscients de chacun des sujets, l’ensemble se developpant dans le mythe modern, credible, acceptable.” [Naufrage, 215] (We must conclude that the basis of the sighting derives from the universal themes, the fundamental archetypes of mankind, while the form is supplied by the contents of the subject’s unconscious, the two forming an ensemble which develops within the parameters of the modern myth, credible and acceptable.)

How tempting to nod our heads and murmur, But of course: We know all about archetypes, they have all the blessing of holy writ. We know too about private fantasy and how it can substitute for reality. These are known psychological concepts, it is reasonable to find them operating in the UFO context. All we have to do is say Oui, M. Monnerie, to as raison…

And there is a wonderful bonus. Subscribe to my hypothesis, says the tempter, and you can give up ufology with a clear conscience and go back to being a normal person. For says he, “il devient parfaitment clair qu’on ne peut, a partir d’une construction illusoire de l’esprit, batir use science, l’ufologie, digne de ce nom:’ [Naufrage, 56] (It’s obvious that a science of ufology worthy of the name cannot be built on a foundation of mental illusions)

I shall resist the temptation to argue Monnerie’s logic, beyond questioning his assertion that fantasy is not suscepible to scientific analysis. What concerns us is whether his neat package is really valid?

According to him, a UFO report comprises two elements. First, the basic form, dictated by an archetype of some description. This is no place to discuss the whole notion of archetypes, so I will simply state my opinion that Jung’s concept, however stimulating, has in practical terms only very limited application. True, many UFO sightings can be matched with his archetypes – spheres, eggs, discs, etc. But not every sphere-shaped object is to be interpreted as an archetype: a football is round for physical, not metaphysical, reasons, because it is the ideal shape for kicking and rolling, not because it echos something deep within our psyches.

Well, however he establishes its basic form, the UFO witness – according to Monnerie – proceeds to modify it according to the contents of his unconscious mind. It could well be so. But he them goes on to say that these modifications are dictated by the modern myth, credible and acceptable.

Well now, are they?If a myth is to have a meaning, it must have coherence. If this myth of extraterrestrial spacecraft is to mean anything, then the objects reported should be more or less like what people accept extraterrestrial spacecraft to look like. But if there is one aspect of ufology more than another which drives us all to despair, it is the reluctance of one UFO to resemble another, and for more than a handful to look anything like what we would expect an extraterrestrial spacecraft to look like.

True, the reality – if there is any – is liable to transcend our expectations; but it is with those expectations that Monnerie’s myth is concerned. And the fact is that for every logically shaped UFO there is one that is a shapeless jelly, or a Christmas tree, or a wineglass, or a transparent box like a TV screen – you name it, somebody’s seen it.

The shapeless jelly may be, indeed, what an extraterrestrial spacecraft looks like; it may be what the extraterrestrials choose for us to see; or it may derive from deep down in the witness’s unconscious. But neither way, I submit, does it derive from any authorised myth.To explain why a witness sees a strange object and immediately starts thinking in terms of UFOs, the concept of the authorised myth may be useful. But when it comes to understanding why the sighting experience took the form it does, the concept is quite inadequate, and we must look elsewhere.

References:

MONNERIE, Michel. Et si les OVNIs n’existaient pas?, Les Humanoides Associes, Paris 1977.
MONNERIE, Michel. Le naufrage des Extra-terrestres, Nouvelles Editions rationalistes, Paris 1979.

Northern Lights: Arendel and Hessdalen.

Hilary Evans

From Magonia 14, 1983

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

IBSEN : Peer Gynt

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

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

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

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

What happened at Arendal

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

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

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

What is happening in Hessdalen

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

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

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

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

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

The geophysical dimension

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

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

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

Manifestations of intelligence

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

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

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

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

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

REFERENCES

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

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

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Variation Enigmas; Folklore Rules. Thomas Bullard & Hilary Evans

In Magonia 41, November 1991 American folklorist Thomas (Eddie) Bullard questioned earlier suggestions that the level of  ‘variation’ in abduction reports was not of great significance. He felt that there was a limit to the variations between dufferent reports and this led to the suggestion that there was an objective source behind them. 


Variation Enigmas, by Thomas Bullard

Dennis Stillings writes (Magonia 39) that “concerns about variation … seem to me to have only peripheral significance when dealing with abduction accounts.” He adds that variation has no bearing on the central meaning of folklore, while personal, social and cultural modifications are irrelevant to the underlying experience. He objects that I have taken both variation and lack of variation in abduction reports to support a case for genuine aliens. I regret that my remarks have been vague and confusing, because I consider the issue of variation has a great deal to do with our understanding of abduction reports. Let me try to explain again why:

Stillings says “it is the mysterious central meaning or experience that we are trying to get to”, and here we agree. Only the professional sceptics know what abductions are a priori, the rest of us have to rely on evidence. Most abduction evidence is anecdotal, the claim narrated by an alleged eyewitness. We outsiders have to evaluate that claim and decide if it is truth, fiction, fantasy, lie, error, or some mixture of these possibilities.

A test for authenticity often comes down to comparisons: is the abduction story unique, or suspiciously uniqueness-starved?

Martin Kottmeyer has demonstrated that science fiction parallels abduction on many counts. Other writers have demonstrated the likeness of these reports to folklore, religion and mythology. For example, the pattern of shamanic initiation experience compares step-by-step with abductions: The candidate separates from his usual environment (missing time), suffers symbolic death and rebirth at the hands of powerful unfriendly beings (examination by aliens), gains knowledge and powers from friendly beings (implant, conference), and returns with a magical vocation (psychic powers and a mission). An abduction story that is too much like cultural influences or psychological patterns more probably represents a fantasy based on those sources than a record of genuine alien kidnap.

Case closed and game over? Not quite. If abduction stories can be traced to the patterns and motifs of other stories, or to the psychological underpinning of all stories, these very ties identify abductions as folklore, pure and simple. There is no escape. As long as abduction reports are psycho-social phenomena such as fantasies, lies, errors, or whatever, with a basis in borrowed form and content, these stories share a likeness in kind with other folklore and should obey its rules.

Where folklorists’ methodologies apply, so must their cautions. Over 150 years of experience has made clear to folklorists how easy it is to misuse comparison, and they are no longer eager to charge into a search for origins or deep meanings on the basis of appearances alone. The same pattern of shamanic initiation is also broad enough to cover the student who leaves home for college, dies to old friends and gains new, loses cherished beliefs and learns higher truths from professors intimidating or nurturing, then emerges with a head full of implanted knowledge ready for a new life. No one would conclude that the college student is a fantasy because the initiation pattern fits, but many people would condemn abductions on no better evidence. Now, that’s cheating. We all know beforehand that college students exist, whereas abductions are very much in question and cannot be denied by such double standards for evidence. 

Demonstration of the similarity of abduction to folklore in terms of form and content is necessary but far from sufficient to prove a relationship. If abductions are folklore, in the full sense of narratives based on other narratives or composed from belief, then abduction reports should act like other folk narratives. Herein lies the significance of variation. Folk narratives vary with exuberance, they adapt not only to locale and narrator, but interchange parts until every imaginable permutation of content appears in circulation. Whole new cycles of a given story evolve, with the pattern adapting different content, or the same content outfitting a different story framework. This rapid and vigorous change is the nature of real folklore. Too many people are unaware of this central property of folk narratives, since most people are still victims of the ‘storybook fallacy’ – the misconception that the printed text of the narrative is the only ‘right’ version. Nothing could be further from the truth. That printed text represents the work of the folkloric taxidermist, who stuffs the narrative as it lived for one moment only and shoves a stale carcass in the reader’s face as if to say here is the alpha and the omega, the narrative as it was, is and will be.

Abductions contrast with the expected course of folk narratives by remaining relatively constant from narrator to narrator over decades. Yes, the stories differ here and there. The aliens are not always dwarf greys, or the ships of similar design, or the narratives of equal length. Yet these loosely constructed, complex and bizarre stories have potential for florid variation if they are indeed fantasies feeding off cultural influences. The media have taught us many possible space adventures: the episodes and the events of abductions could change places without harm to the story. It should change all the more if the narrators are gifted fantasizers. Instead, these people curb their imaginations and stay within narrow bounds, never realising the potential of their subject matter, seldom even forgetting or fumbling the narration as most ordinary storytellers do. Abduction reports violate the folklorists’ expectations even when such extenuating circumstances at hypnosis and media influence are taken into account.

The dramatic pattern common to many folk narratives would be served just as well with different content in the same dramatic roles, so this pattern cannot account for the peculiar stability of the reports. Something is clearly peculiar here.

Similarities are important in science, but so are differences. Anomalies signal that something is wrong with our conceptual paradigm, and abduction reports flash that signal to the folklorist by their stability. What I expect is variation; what I see is the opposite. Here at last is some unambiguous evidence. It tells me that these reports do not act like folklore. That may not sound like much of an answer, certainly not the answer I want, but I can hold on to it with confidence.

I too would like to reach into the heart of the mystery and know its meaning, but I must approach by steps and not by leaps. This step does not answer the question of meaning or the nature of the experience, but evidence must come before meaning, and at least now I know something important about the nature of the evidence available to me.

I know that abduction reports do not act like normal folk narratives. This finding weighs against the hypothesis that these reports are psychosocial products in the same class as other folklore. On the other hand, if abduction reports begin in experience and reflect a common experience with some accuracy, then the stability makes sense. So does a degree of difference. Two people seldom describe the same experience in exactly the same way, and abduction reports would only mystify us further if narrators broke this rule too. A modicum of variation reassures us on that account. This is what I mean by some variation being proper for real experience, but the more striking fact is that great potential for change goes unrealized. The narrow variations in abduction reports operate within a remarkable framework of unexpected stability.

Whether the source of folklore lies in eternal psychological roots or some other explanation, swarms of variants are the living manifestation of folklore

The psychosocial solution for abductions requires that the reports be folklore in some sense. Advocates of this idea point for support to the parallels between abductions and other lore, but these advocates cannot play the game by half the rules. They must acknowledge the folklore process as well as the product. An artificial separation of the two equals self-delusion not evidence. In fact the personal, cultural and social modifications are essential parts of that process, integral to its reality and necessary to its understanding. Whether the source of folklore lies in eternal psychological roots or some other explanation, swarms of variants are the living manifestation of folklore. These variants are an empirical fact that theory must accommodate or die trying. Archetypal roots do not abolish the profusion of variety in folk narrative, nor the mystery of too little variety in abduction reports.

I do not claim to know the ultimate nature of the reports, whether the answer comes up aliens or something else. I admit that the consistency of the reports may be an artefact, a quirk of error in my study or the investigations-on which it was based. Maybe cultural influences or the media are to blame, maybe folklorists underestimate the capacity of some narratives to stabilise. I won’t deny these possibilities, but I will doubt them. So much of the abduction evidence is slippery, elusive and ambiguous that a firm anomaly, even indirect in its implication, makes a welcome addition to the argument. Variation – or rather the lack of it – offers one small foothold in a sea of spectacular maybes. I cannot ignore it; those who do are more determined to sink than swim. 

After all, a platypus also looks like a duck here and there, but it doesn’t act like one. The original solution to this problem was to ram the reprobate into unsuitable categories, or dismiss it altogether. Are we ready to break with old tradition and learn at last from past mistakes.


 In the following issue, Magonia 42 March 1992, Hilary Evans responded vigorously to Bullard’s argument:

Folklore Rules; OK?  

The trouble about Eddie Bullard, he’s such a nice fellow, we all want to help him in this distressing situation he’s in: the situation, that is, of not sharing the same view on abductions as the rest of us. He’s such a reasonable fellow, we feel, surely we have only to murmur a few reasonable words to have him come over to our way of thinking? And when he doesn’t, we tell ourselves it’s only because he keeps bad company. Left to himself…

Should we bother? Why don’t we leave him with his delusions, if he’s happy with them? Except he obviously isn’t; it clearly distresses him to see the rest of us so wrong-headed in our ideas. And we, for our part, if we are honest (and we are, chaps, aren’t we?) we ask ourselves: if someone so fair-minded as Eddie Bullard doesn’t share our ideas, could our ideas just possibly be mistaken?The fact is that, irrespective of our concern for Eddie Bullard’s peace of mind, he is the perfect object to bounce our ideas off and see if they come back to us intact.

What Bullard believes:

Bullard’s argument can be summarised as follows:

  • 1: those who favour a psychosocial explanation for the abduction experience (‘PS-proponents’ from here on) refuse to accept the abductions-are-real hypothesis (AAR from here on) because of the parallels with folklore.
  • 2: their argument is invalid, because it does not conform to the rules of folklore.
  • 3: therefore, in the absence of any reasonable alternative, the AAR-hypothesis is the more probable explanation

I think he is mistaken on three counts:

  • First, I don’t think there are any such rules.
  • Second, even if there were, I don’t think we would be obliged to respect them.
  • Third, PS-proponents do not base their position solely on the parallels with folklore.  

Rules? What rules? I see no rules…    

It doesn’t surprise me that Bullard, as a professional folklorist, wishes to think of his subject as possessing what, if it lacked them, might leave him feeling improperly dressed: namely rules. So he wags his finger at the PS-proponents, accusing us of seeking to ‘play the game by half the rules’. But from what I can see of folklore, it is the most amorphous, least defined of subjects. School-of-thought after school-of-thought has sought to impose its scheme of things on the subject, and to no avail. Folklore remains a free-for-all field where hardly any two players are wearing the same shirts.

We can see this in a matter particularly relevant to abductions, the question of diffusion: how does folklore – myth, rumour etc. – proliferate? Do they spread by some subtle contagion? Do they manifest spontaneously here and yon triggered by some Jungian archetype mechanism? Is some Sheldrakean process at work?

In her classic work, Mythes de Guerre, Marie Bonaparte presents us with a shoal of foaftales from WW2, showing how the same stories (with variations) arose – seemingly spontaneously and simultaneously – on both sides of the line. She is inclined to account for both the synchronicity and the variations on psychoanalytic grounds; others will prefer to think that some kind of diffusionist process is at work; yet others will have yet other suggestions. The point is that as things stand, it’s anyone’s guess how myths are created: the field is wide open.

And so it is, I suggest, with the similarity con variazione which so disconcertingly distinguishes the abduction experience. There is no user’s guide which presents us with a handy set of rules. 

On not having too much respect for the rules

Even if there existed a set of rules bearing the imprimatur of the Folklore Society or some such recognised authority, it is by no means certain that we could, or even should, respect them. Folklore, as Bullard recognises, is a constantly developing thing; and even if rules could be derived from past experience, they might well need to be modified in the light of later experience.

This is especially likely to be true of abductions, because for all the parallels with folklore, they display many features which have no precedent in the past. Bullard concludes this is because abductions are not folklore at all, but real experience. But this conclusion is not the only one possible. There are at least two valid alternatives. Abductions may not conform to traditional folklore for either, or both, of two reasons: first because they represent a new development in this constantly developing field of study; and/or second, because they are not just folklore, but folklore-plus, and it is this plus which is responsible for their unprecedented character.

Goodbye Goodwife…

“Something is clearly peculiar here,” says Bullard in the course of his paper, bothered by the ‘peculiar stability’ of the reports. Indeed it is. But couldn’t it be that abductions – even to the extent that they are folklore experiences at all – are not the kind of folklore Bullard is used to? He speaks of the abduction experient as ‘seldom forgetting or fumbling the narration as most ordinary storytellers do’ (my italics) – conjuring up an image of the old goodwife in the chimney corner sending the young ‘uns at her knee to their beds trembling at the tale of Johnnie Rimmer’s hairbreadth encounter with the Mersey Devil…But suppose abductees aren’t like that? Suppose they are telling their stories not as spine-tingling winter’s tales but out of some gut-churning inner need? Why should we expect them to do as ‘most ordinary storytellers’ do?

See, once again, the pitfalls into which Eddie-Head-in-Book is liable to trip if he doesn’t look up from his How To Be A Folklorist manual. For when he says ‘these reports do not act like folklore’ what he is really saying is ‘these reports do not act like the folklore I’m used to’.

Not just folklore, but folklore-plus

But Bullard is on the wrong foot anyway if he supposes the PS-proponents interpret abductions solely in terms of folklore. This of course is nonsense, and I can’t believe Bullard really thinks so. But what other conclusion can we draw from his definition of what he supposes to be the PS position:

If abduction stories can be traced to the patterns and motifs of other stories, or to the psychological underpinning of all stories, these very ties identify abductions as folklore, pure and simple.

Neither Vallée nor Méheust – to take the two most prominent exponents – has ever offered or would ever offer so simplistic an interpretation.Rather, folklore is to them as to all PS-proponents just one of several realms of experience which contribute to our understanding of abduction stories. We look also to other forms of communal fantasy. Méheust’s first book, after all, was about flying saucers and science fiction, an avenue which Kottmeyer too has explored with convincing results. Science fiction has much in common with folklore, but it cannot possibly qualify as folklore despite the obvious links and relevancies.

Other parallels have been drawn with witchcraft, with convent hysteria, with the convulsionaries and the visionaries, with demon possession and revivalist epidemics, with all kinds of communal fantasy.

So – and I think I speak for all who prefer some kind of PS explanation, however much we may diverge as to which particular form of it we may espouse – the abduction experience is never simply folklore: it is always folklore with an admixture.

‘swarms of variants’ (?) 

Bullard states – and surely we all agree – that ‘swarms of variants are the living manifestation of folklore’. It could hardly be otherwise: for what is folklore, but the accumulation and distillation of lots and lots of bits of individual lore. From a host of one-of-a-kind instances, the individual elements are filtered out and the shared elements retained, so that a stereotypical communal experience can be abstracted and defined. But this stereotype is no more than a convenient fiction: it is a Platonic ideal, which never exists in its pure form except in the minds of those who fabricate it, never more than a part of the overall experience – the ‘highest common factor’ as we were taught at school.

Each abduction is at once a shared ‘story’, broadly conforming to a pattern, and an individual experience, whose relevance is only to the individual’s needs, preoccupations, hopes and fears. To suggest that the individual abduction is a ‘folklore experience’ would be nonsense – but then no one is making any such suggestion. What the PS-proponents are suggesting is that the composite abduction experience – the depersonalised and sanitised abstraction – can be paralleled with certain folklore themes, and that this can help us understand what is happening in individual instances.

In the section devoted to the PS approach in his Encyclopedia of UFOs, Jerry Clark was both fair and perceptive. It is an excellent position statement, particularly since it is made by someone who does not share that position. But he makes a fundamental error – which Bullard also, albeit only implicitly, seems to be making: Clark speaks of the PS hypothesis, but this is as much an abstraction as the stereotype abduction.

What there is, is a psychosocial approach: but though there are many who favour that approach, there are probably as many PS-hypotheses as there are PS-proponents.

As I see it, the abduction experience is an admixture of ‘folklore’ – in the form of a shared myth – with a deep and often very serious individual need. The individual draws on the folklore themes to give his private experience the necessary public ‘credentials’. By creating a fantasy scenario whose broad outline will be recognised by the consensus as ‘an abduction story’, he obtains a degree of legitimacy for the experience as a whole – and therefore for those elements which are purely personal to himself: just as in other forms of behaviour such as seeing visions, dissociation of the personality, trance communication and channeling, stereotypes have come into being, which serve as sustaining structures for individual experiences which lack the strength to stand on their own. 

A choice of scripts

Some see visions, some are possessed by demons, some are abducted by aliens. Each of these behaviours is chosen, subconsciously, because it is felt by the individual to be an appropriate way of externalising an internal dilemma, crisis or whatever. And it is this internal, personal core which causes the variations, so the abduction experience of Kathie Davis will conform to the folklore model only so far as it is necessary for it to qualify as something that others will recognise (or, it may be argued, where she herself can feel justified in distancing herself from the experience, in effect saying it wasn’t me, it was THEM).

If the PS approach is correct, what we would find is that all abduction experiences tend to share a number of common factors, and to differ in individual details. Which is just what we do find.

This doesn’t by any means imply that the PS approach is correct. There are still other problems: for example the remarkable specificity of some details which, it is argued, could not by any reasonable explanation have been known to the individual, and which can therefore only be the result of a real experience. If this is so, it is a formidable challenge to those of us who question the AAR position: but such extraordinary claims need to be supported by something more convincing than the Gee-Whiz assertions of the Believers.

If such support should be forthcoming, many of us might have cause to rethink our positions, just as we would do if a UFO were to touch down in Mortlake churchyard. Bullard may turn out to be justified in his AAR belief. But if so, it will need to be on stronger grounds than by appeal to the rules of folklore. 

As Phil Klass reminds us, abductions are a dangerous game: one of the greatest dangers comes from those who play the game thinking they know the rules.

 Bending the rules

As Phil Klass reminds us, abductions are a dangerous game: one of the greatest dangers comes from those who play the game thinking they know the rules. Hopkins tells us he has consulted a number of leading psychologists, and one and all have assured him there is no known psychological model for abduction behaviour. Therefore, according to the psychological rule-book, no psychological explanation can be valid; therefore – the reasoning goes – abductions must be real.

But psychology, like folklore, is concerned with drawing communal conclusions from individual experience: and while it can formulate helpful guidelines in respect of what is communal, what is individual defies formal rule-making – which is why, even after 100+ years of psychology as a formal field of study, we have on-going controversies about psychoanalysis, about hypnosis, about possession, about multiple personality. Hopkins’s touching faith in the psychologists’ faith in their rule-book has led him into the AAR cul-de-sac: Eddie Bullard’s similar faith in the folklore rule-book has led him into the same dead end.

But there is more to abductions than the rule-books know of. Seen en masse, it may look as though a huge communal game is in progress on the abduction playing-field. But look more closely, and you will see that each player is playing a little game of his own, and if there are any rules, they are of his or her own making. 


 

More Pieces For the Jigsaw. Hilary Evans

From Magonia 30, August 1988.

oxford-all-souls-collegePossibly the questions which UFOs pose are ultimately no different from those debated over port and cheese by professional academics at the High Table of All Souls

 

If there is one kind of article ufology could do with fewer of, it’s the kind where researchers sit back and meditate on what ufology is fundamentally about, debating whether it’s a science, defining its theoretical parameters, when they could be more profitably engaged tramping over muddy fields in search of traces or fault-lines, or taping statements from witnesses who’ve actually had experiences the investigators have never had and never will.

But inside every feet-on-the-ground empiricist there’s a head-in-the-clouds idealist looking for the chance to indulge in abstract speculation; and maybe, just once in a while, he should be heard from, if only in the interests of maintaining a healthy perspective.

For a while back there, I was at the centre of the cyclone, the still (well, actually not all that still) point of the turning world of ufology. From all round the world leading researchers were sending me their contributions to BUFORA’s 40-years-on symposium. if I didn’t get to see the subject steadily and see it whole at least I got as global a view as anyone is Likely to get. [4] I was impressed.

Above all by the dedication. A dedication inspired by the conviction felt by my contributors that what they are engaged in is more than a private obsession like train spotting or philately, but a study which could lead mankind to insights and knowledge. A dedication which provides the adrenaline for uncounted hours of work which would be unrewarding if it were not its own reward. A Ballester-Olmos picking every little nit in hundreds of Spanish landing cases: a Behrendt painstakingly working out the implications of witness reports for his UFO propulsion model: a Chalker laboriously sifting the dust of hundreds of trace cases in the hope of finding a few specks of gold – and all the rest of these wonderfully dedicated people.

It would have been enough to make me ashamed, were I not conscious of being similarly obsessed myself – in my case by a curiosity which will not be satisfied until I know what’s really happening to people like Siragusa, Strieber and their kind. Even if I’ve chosen a different hobby-horse from Ballester, Behrend or Chalker, I’m still riding on the same merry-go-round.

This sense of dedication has of course characterised ufologists ever since the whole thing began, two score years ago; you can feel it in the earliest pages of the BUFORA Journal, of the Merseyside UFO Bulletin, of the hundreds of ephemeral journals catalogued – himself displaying just the same kind of dedication – by Tom Lind.

It is this dedication which keeps us going, the Klasses no less than the Creightons, the Randles no more than the Campbells, even though all the evidence goes to show that the phenomenon is largely if not entirely mythicical. It’s the dedication which makes a researcher like Méheust, even when he has demonstrated how UFOs are related to science fiction on the one hand and to folklore on the other, continue to study the subject, recognising that those links add to rather than detract from its interest.

For others of us, it is the parallel with witchcraft which fascinates. It is now some centuries since witches were a living phenomenon, as UFO witnesses are a living phenomenon for us today: yet witchcraft is currently being studied more widely and more profoundly than ever. Why? Because we realise that the witchcraft phenomenon offers us unique insights into how people behave under certain conditions, and how other people respond to their behaviour.

So it may be with UFOs. Maybe it’s not so much what they are in themselves, or indeed whether they exist at all. Maybe it’s what they reveal about ourselves and the universe we inhabit. Possibly the questions which UFOs pose are ultimately no different from those debated over port and cheese by professional academics at the High Table of All Souls: what’s new is that thanks to UFOs they are being posed by retired engineers in the American Midwest, by librarians on Merseyside, by Ford executives in Spain, by computer analysts in Italy.

Between them, they and their kind have shown that UFOs are not only a mystery story which makes those which challenged Hercule Poirot hardly more devious than the difficulties surmounted by Noddy, but also a spiritual exercise as effectively purgative as any DIY course in spring-cleaning the psyche. It’s not possible to seriously study the phenomenon as it currently presents itself and not be brought against such consciousness raising brainteasers as What is Reality? What is Truth? What is the Ultimate Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything?

Indeed, as much as the elusiveness and ambiguity of the phenomenon. It is the far-reachingness of its implications which may account for the reluctance of professional scientists to get involved. Scientists like finite answers which can at least be conceptualised. With UFOs there is no knowing where they will carry us. One thing is clear enough: the research of the old days is already out of date, and not simply because our standards have improved so much that the data our forerunners bequeathed us is virtually useless. We’re not just asking more questions, we are asking different questions. Even if it should turn out that UFO reports have a basis in reality, it is evident that it is a different kind of reality than the one we are used to in our daily lives.

Many are turned off the subject for precisely this reason. If you are a hard-headed person who has quite enough difficulty with old-fashioned consensus reality, parallel realities are something you need like a puncture on the motorway. And If UFOs were the only phenomenon threatening to upset our everyday thinking, we could be excused for dodging the issues they raise. But UFOs are not unique, in this or any other respect. We don’t have to go back to the witchcraft age for parallels is. Read for instance Graham McEwan’s study of mystery animals in here-and-now Britain: all the evidence is that many of our fellow citizens are having ongoing encounters with unreality – in the form of animals which quite simply defy reason just as disconcerting in their implications as our UFOs. [6] So how do we set about undisconcerting ourselves?

Our easiest course is to reject the evidence. Some of us have tried that: the trouble is the more we filter out the noise, the more bizarre is the signal we’re left with.

Next best: find explanations within the structure of our existing knowledge. Well, we’ve tried that too, but even hunting in the remotest crannies of William Corliss’s catalogues or unearthing the weirdest case histories of the psychologists’ textbooks, we can’t find precedents for everything that’s happening.

Another thing we’ve tried is to shunt the awkward material to one side and deal only with that which we feet capable of handling, like NICAP did with the contactees. Trouble is, you can’t draw hard and fast boundary lines. Even the simplest case involves a witness, and we have painfully learned that even the most plausible witness requires evaluation: which leads into the whole psychosocial scene.

Likewise, thousands of reports feature beams of light: we can’t dismiss the fact that anomalous beams of light have been a standard folklore item from way back, but again that leads us into a vast new territory, this time the wide, unmapped faerie-filled wilds of Magonia.

Up to a a point it’s a healthy instinct to keep things simple if we can. If every time someone reported a light in the sky we had to consider not simply the possibility of misidentification and misinterpretation, and the meteorological and astronomical implications, but also the psychological, parapsychological, cultural, mythological and any-other-logical parameters, we’d bog down in a morass of data knowing some, maybe most of it, is irrelevant.

But also knowing, from painful experience, that one man’s UFO is another man’s satellite, planet, advertising plane, hallucination, visiting space brother, you name it … Again, it’s like witchcraft. At the time, many highly intelligent minds grappled with the data that flooded in; they did what they could in the light of their belief systems, and the result was – as we now know – disastrous. Only now, thanks to the spadework of Charcot, Janet, Freud, can we start to comprehend the nature of what really happened during the witch mania. Indeed, many of us still have these lessons to learn, as witness the continued manifestations of ‘demon possession’ and ‘channelling’, not to mention the ongoing abduction craze.

We now know that witchcraft was a reality, but not the reality of the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum. In the same way, it is likely that the UFO phenomenon is a reality – but not the reality it seemed when Kenneth Arnold touched down at Yakima.

Thanks to Keel and Randles, Rimmer and Méheust, and many others, there’s not much chance that any of us will ever again take a UFO report at face value, not looking before or after. Even if it should turn out that there really are alien spacecraft at the back of the phenomenon, they have triggered a multi-dimensional response in us humans which will – like witchcraft – have lasting implications.

Knowing that UFOs are not what they seem to be, we incline to be suspicious of any attempt to demonstrate that they are anything at all

Unfortunately, one of the insidious effects of ambiguity is to discourage study. Knowing that UFOs are not what they seem to be, we incline to be suspicious of any attempt to demonstrate that they are anything at all. An understandable attitude, and up to a point admirable. Indeed we should be sceptical when a fellow researcher claims to have broken through the reality barrier.

But being sceptical shouldn’t lead to being negative. We UFO researchers pride ourselves on being so much more open minded than scientists in more conventional disciplines. Yet when a colleague comes along offering a brand-new fresh off the drawing-board insight into the process of the UFO experience, he is liable to spark off an almost hysterical reaction.

Lawson’s work, for example [5]. OK, so we’d all like to see more replication, independent confirmation of his finding. So some of us find his birth-trauma hypothesis hard to take. But our reservations shouldn’t blind us to the fact that while we’re standing here at the crossroads, wondering which way to turn, here’s someone offering to show us a new path. To refuse to even try his road just because he’s not wearing an AA uniform or because we can see potholes in its surface, or because it’s not headed in the direction we think it ought to be headed, is ridiculous.

Or take Rutledge [9]. OK, so his work suffers from shortcomings – but we all live with the fact that that’s something we must accept so long as UFO research is carried out by non-professional researchers, funded only by themselves and in their own time. Despite these disadvantages, Rutledge’s Project Identification remains the most comprehensive attempt at field investigation ever carried out: yet when did you ever see it given a serious hearing?

Perhaps because they are literally more ‘down to earth’, the various earthlight approaches of Perssinger [8], Devereux [2] et al have had a somewhat more positive reception. Critical comment by such as Rutkowski, Clark, Maugé and others has been sympathetic, even though this has not always been apparent to the leading exponents of the ideas. These latter have tended to display the tendency of theorists in all fields of research, to suppose that their ideas explain more than they do: but Devereux’s recent presentation of his work {at the BUFORA London Congress) showed that when presented in proper context, here are findings of very great potential. You’d think it would be impossible to read any serious discussion of UFOs without reference to the earthlights approach: in practice you’re far more likely to find it entirely ignored.

Or take something quite different: many researchers (I am one) would list among the studies they rate most highly the 1975 paperback The Unidentified, subtitled ‘notes towards solving he UFO mystery’. But other researchers are more hostile; and few more than Jerome Clark, which is somewhat surprising since he is one of its authors. I suspect he would like to burn every copy he could lay hands on – yet in this splendidly free-ranging study, two highly intelligent and well-informed researchers opened up new paths of speculation for us.

Lawson Lane, Rutledge Road, Persinger Path, Devereux Drive, Clark’n'Coleman Crescent – admitted, any of these could prove to be dead ends or false trails. But when the most obvious characteristic of UFO research is than none of us knows the way out of the maze, we can’t afford to be rejective of any suggestions.

I’m not talking of blind acceptance. We need to be sceptical, but in the true sense of the word: neither believing nor disbelieving, nor accepting nor rejecting, We need to be critical, but constructively critical, trying the various paths.

For example, in my recent study of encounters’, I tried matching Lawson’s Birth Trauma ideas against my speculative model. I found – and I’ll be honest, I was a little surprised to find that they fitted in remarkably neatly, providing a reassuring confirmation that my model was a viable one. For another: current abduction research focuses on the abduction experience as though it is necessarily part of the UFO phenomenon.

But suppose it is nothing of the sort, suppose – as the psychosocial crowd are saying – it should really be seen in the same light as witchcraft, past-life regression, channelling and other phenomena which are not generally taken into account in UFO research? We had confirmation that this is valid just the other day when Jim Oberg demonstrated, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Jose Inacio Alvaro’s 1978 abduction-with-sex encounter had been triggered by the Russian communications satellite Molniya 1-39 [7].

Where we are is sitting in front of a table onto which someone has spilled out the pieces of a jigsaw. The box has no picture on it, and we have no guarantee that in the end these pieces will form a picture – there’s the possibility that these are pieces from a dozen unrelated puzzles, all jumbled up together.

But one or two, pieces do seem to fit together, the edge pieces seem to promise some parameters. We are reassured by occasional familiar details, encouraged by consistencies in the colouring. For a dedicated puzzle-solver, it’s a game worth playing.

REFERENCES

  1. CLARK, Jerome & COLEMAN, Loran. The Unidentified Warner 1975.
  2. DEVEREUX, Paul. Earthlights, Turnstone 1982.
  3. EVANS, Hilary; Gods, Spirits, Cosmic Guardlans, Aquarian 1987.
  4. EVANS, H. & SPENCER, J. (Eds. ). UFOs 1947-1987, Fortean Tomes/BUFORA 1987.
  5. LAWSON, Alvin. ‘The Birth Trauma Hypothesis’, Magonia 10, 1982.
  6. McEWAN, Graham J. Mystery animals of Great Britain and Ireland, Hale. 1987.
  7. OBERG, James. ‘UFO Update’ , Omni, August 1987.
  8. PERSINGER, Michael, in Haines, UFOs and the behavioural scientist, Scarecrow 1979.
  9. RUTLEDGE, Hartley. Project identification, Prentice Hall 1981. 

 

The Case of the Little Man of Renève. Hilary Evans

If, ten years ago [1976], you had been a subscriber to the highly reputed Phenomenes Spatiaux, you would have been pleased to find that dramatic sightings were not confined to the sensational media. For here was a case which, while there were no indications of a UFO, certainly seemed to involve an entity not of this world.

As so frequently happens, the case dated from thirty years earlier; though as happens less rarely, the witness gave interesting reasons for the delay, as we shall see. Regrettably it was a single-witness observation: on the credit side was the fact that the solitary witness was the local curé, know in the report at the Abbé X. He served as parish priest in the small village of Renève, a village of fewer than 400 inhabitants near Dijon, from 1936 to 1947. This was his account:

“On a fine afternoon in April 1945 I went out hunting for mushrooms. Towards 6pm I was on my way home when I saw a likely-looking spot, and I was actually on my knees for a closer inspection when I suddenly saw a little fellow 15 to 17 cm tall, running swiftly to one side of me, He seemed out of breath and alarmed, though not so much so as to prevent him passing within 30cm of me, giving me an intense look as he did so.

“My first reaction was to grab hold of him, but I didn’t because of a sort of stalk or spike which he carried, which was taller than him by about 2cm. He disappeared into a nearby copse, without my being able to stop him, much as I would like to have entered into communication with him. I returned home kicking myself for not having made more of my opportunity.”

He planned to return the following day either in hope of seeing the entity again, or at least of seeing if there were any traces, but bad weather prevented him. He described the entity as ‘a miniature man’, with a man’s proportions, seemingly of 70 to 75 years of age. It was grey-haired, bearded, chubby-cheeked and with a very expressive face. It was wearing a one-piece suit, seemingly of rubber, although thirty years later he felt it might have been plastic.

The entity made no sound during the twenty seconds the sighting lasted. The priest had the impression that it was both nervous of and curious about himself. He never felt any doubt that he had seen something ‘real’ – not a ghost or a visionary being, not a robot.

What did he think it was? At the time, influenced by recent reading on the subject of evolution, he felt that he had seen some kind of primitive being related to man, that had failed to evolve. But when he told his story he was met with indifference, even scepticism. “It’s no fun being considered mentally sick or subject to hallucinations,” he said, so he gave up trying to tell people about his experience; but he always hoped that one day a learned society might take an interest in the case.

“Had anyone reported a flying saucer or something of that sort in the area,” he said in 1975, “I would have thought along different lines, and not been sidetracked into thinking it was some offshoot of the human species; instead I would have concluded that this remarkable apparition was an extraordinary being. In such a case, of course I should have behaved quite differently – I’d have hurried to report it to the gendarmes, so that they could investigate it formally.”It was a great relief to him when, having learnt of the existence of GEPA, the French group which publishes Phenomenes Spatiaux, he found people ready to listen seriously and sympathetically to his story and, moreover, provide him with a plausible explanation for what he had seen.

But just how plausible was that explanation?

Enter ADRUP.

Reneve falls within the area covered by ADRUP, the Association Dijonnaise de Recherches Ufologiques et Parapsychologiques. ADRUP consists of a small group of enthusiastic researchers who interest themselves in anomalous happenings of all kinds, publishing their findings in Vimana 21, an excellent review which combines lively writing with solid documentation.

Apart from coping with new cases as they come in, ADRUP also reviews outstanding cases of the past, and carries out such counter investigation as may be feasible. The last time anything remarkable happened at Renève was back in the sixth century, when a Visigothic princess named Brunehaut was punished for her misdeeds by being dragged naked behind an untamed horse until she died. The more recent case of the Abbé X seemed more susceptible to re-examination.

ADRUP’s members felt that GEPA had come somewhat prematurely to their conclusion that the priest had encountered an extraterrestrial. After all, no UFO had been seen, the entity had never left the surface of our planet; and that though creatures of that size do not normally wear clothing, many dog-owners provide their pets with winter coats, to say nothing of organ-grinders’ dogs and other showbiz canines.

At the same time, ADRUP saw no reason to doubt that the Abbé had indeed seen a very real ‘something’. Their investigations established that the priest was still alive, though no longer living at Reneve; and they were able to interview him. What bothered them was a certain ambiguity about what he thought he had seen. Though he had abandoned the ‘unevolved human’ hypothesis in favour of the ‘extraterrestrial’ according to the report in Phenomenes Spatiaux, and though he now referred the ADRUP investigators to the article there – “You’ve only got to read what M. Fouéré has written, it’s very good” – this seemed to be contradicted by something else he said, to the effect that it hadn’t been an extraterrestrial: “You mustn’t think of it as a little green man”. In other words, even if the entity had come from a flying saucer, it was essentially human in appearance. Even if he had managed to grab hold of it, he told ADRUP, he wouldn’t have exhibited it at fairs, it was a human being …

On the way home, turning over in their minds what the priest had said, the investigators’ minds began to consider possible alternatives. And perhaps it was his remark about fairs which got them thinking on the lines of a monkey that might perhaps have escaped from a circus. For the appearance of some kinds of monkey is remarkably human, and moreover, human in the way that a very old man looks, grey-haired and bearded.

So ADRUP started looking into the possibility that there had been a circus in the Reneve area. But letters to every possible source of information produced negative replies. 1945 was, after all, the final year of the war in Europe, and few if any circuses had got going, and there were none reported in the Dijon area. Additionally, the kind of monkey most often featured in circuses wasn’t the most likely one to match the Abbé’s description.

But further talks with the villagers opened up another line of investigation. M. Huot the butcher, knife in hand, told them that in 1945 a regiment from French North Africa had been stationed in the neighbourhood. A new train of thought suggested itself: African regiment … African continent.. exotic animals… monkeys … What about a regimental mascot?

The next task was to establish which African regiment had been stationed near Reneve; which brought them up against bureaucracy as only the French know it. Each department they contacted dodged the question on grounds of official secrecy or some such, until eventually they found themselves back where they began.Then luck came their way. A local historian, who had previously said he was unable to help them, phoned to say he’s just remembered that there had been a girl of the district who had married a soldier from the regiment that had been stationed locally. The wedding had taken place at a church 7km north of Renève. A visit to the mayor not only confirmed the marriage but produced the present whereabouts of the couple. And a letter brought them some suggestive information.The husband, then in Regiment CTA 154 of the Armée de l’Air, had been stationed at Reneve from the end of 1944, through the early months of 1945 (the Abbé had had his experience in April 1945). And yes, there had been a regimental mascot - a German Shepherd dog.

BUT the dog had been stolen (Query: who in their right minds would steal a German Shepherd dog from a regiment of tough soldiers? But we’ll let that pass …); and to replace the dog they’d found a monkey.

And not just any old brand of monkey, but one of the marmoset type which was most liable to resemble the Curé’s ‘little man’. The grey hair, the beard, the wrinkled face but chubby cheeks, the frightened but inquisitive eyes, all matched. The sticking up spike could have been the creature’s tale; and as for the clothes, yes, said the soldier, they would often dress it up in clothes. And he added that it was perfectly possible that the monkey might have escaped from where he was kept in a mill not far from where the priest had seen his entity.It was, to say the least, a remarkable coincidence that, at the time of the priest’s sighting, there should have been in the vicinity a monkey of the kind most likely to be described as ‘human’ in appearance, wearing clothes, liable to be wandering around on its own, and just the right size.

common_marmoset011

The Moral

So ADRUP send their dossier to the Abbé for his comments. He wrote back, politely but firmly: “Your theory is ridiculous, and stems from pure imagination. I am sorry to be in total disagreement with your theory, which quite simply doesn’t ring true. So let your little monkey rest in peace, and let the little humanoid of Reneve rest in peace …”Oh yes, there is a moral there.

Allagash, Azande, Abductions and All. Hilary Evans

Thoughts on the ETH as blanket explanation

From Magonia ETH Bulletin, no. 10 December 1998

If it is true that we are by nature an inquiring species, seeking an explanation for everything, it is no less true that the kind of explanation we prefer is the kind that explains as much as possible by as little as possible.

We started by inventing gods, who could be held responsible for pretty well everything from thunder to crop failure. Evans-Pritchard in the 1930s found that life with the Azande was impossible until he adopted their working hypothesis that everything is the result of magic. But little by little, we have learnt that some things can be blamed on natural causes, some on our own misperceptions, until, for many of us who live in the second half of the 20th century, field-theories and blanket explanations have become things we tend to cast a cold eye on.

But the lure is always there – to blame the Government, the Atom Bomb, the Jews, the Papacy: “Them” in this form or that, whichever is convenient.

So, when Kenneth Arnold saw some strange things in the sky, and when several other people said “Me too!”, and when no terrestrial explanation was forthcoming for what they said they saw, the suggestion was made that maybe they were extraterrestrial? And lo! it turned out to be the suggestion everyone had been waiting for. A great big hold-all of a hypothesis into whose limitless folds could be shovelled every shape and size of enigmatic phenomenon that could conceivably be related to visiting alien spacecraft.

If UFOs have fascinated us for 50 years and more, it is because it is such fun trying to fit all those disparate elements into a single category. The aliens fly saucers and triangles, mother-ships and scout-ships. They maintain underground bases in the Antarctic and collaborate with the US government in New Mexico. They mutilate cattle and channel J.Z. Knight. They fly black helicopters and carve circles in crop-fields. They take George Adamski for a ride and get Elizabeth Klarer in the family way. They do unspeakable things to Brazilians and Whitley Strieber. They seek out innocent children and implant monitors under their skins, they rape their mothers and steal their fathers’ sperm. They dress up as Men in Black, they paralyse Maurice Masse with their ray-guns, they grant Betty Andreasson a religious experience. All this – and goodness, there’s much more! – is somehow trimmed and tailored until it can be fitted into the ETH.

And all the time the paradox remains: the ETH is nothing but an idea, an artifact, constructed to meet a contingency and clung to for convenience. There is not a scrap of evidence that it has any substance whatever outside the minds of those who conceived it, nourish it and cherish it.

The only thing going for the ETH is that it offers a refuge of a sort, luring us out of the cold into a kind of security, where those huddling within feel justified in jeering at those outside. “Well, if you knows of a better ‘ole, go to it!” Or in ufological terms, whenever a crucial case comes up – Gulf Breeze, the Strieber abduction, the Manhattan Transfer or whatever – we are challenged to refute the evidence, if any, and to offer contrary evidence, if we can: or, failing that (and so far, it has always been a case of “failing that”), to offer an explanation that has a higher probability rating than the ETH.

Previous issues of Magonia ETH Bulletin have rightly cited the Walton case as a classic exemplar of the UFO enigma. A sincere-seeming primary witness, with a bunch of seemingly no less sincere secondary witnesses, tell a story which ultimately has nothing to stand on apart from what the narrators narrate. If they were telling us about a strange animal they saw in the woods, we would believe them: but the “high strangeness” of their story makes us hesitate.

Of course it isn’t as simple as that. There are a wealth of circumstantial hints which might tip us towards belief or rejection – the fact that Walton always wanted to see a UFO, the fact that after all these years he is sticking to his story, the astonishing unworriedness of his family during his disappearance, such signs point us this way or that, and we either follow them or don’t according as we find them persuasive. But ultimately, it’s a question of trust/distrust.

So did the ancients trust their gods, and the Azande their witch-doctors.

The Happening at Allagash (1)

allagashAnother crucial case is the 1976 Allagash abductions, investigated by the redoubtable Raymond Fowler whose lifelong dedication and manifest sincerity would alone be enough to make us take the case seriously. Four primary witnesses, and many secondary ones, testify to an event which, if it happened as described, seems to offer (in Fowler’s words) “evidence that would demonstrate, beyond a reasonable shadow of doubt, that worldwide reports of humans being abducted by alien entities were really happening”.

As with the Walton case, the events take place in an isolated location where there is no one else around to confirm or deny the story. Four young men go for a boating trip in the wilds, and experience a collective abduction. Their stories jibe. The events open up a series of links to the past, lead on to further incidents, tie in to yet more incidents involving relatives and friends, forming a web of disparate but interlinking happenings. Indeed, it’s with Allagash like it is with Walton: IF what the witnesses say happened DID happen, then there’s no two ways about it, ETs are real, flying saucers are real, abductions are real, all is real as real can be.

So did it happen? There are four primary witnesses, not to mention the various friends and relatives who get drawn into the story: their accounts all more or less agree. If one of them isn’t telling the truth, then none of them is.

Could they be mistaken? It’s hard to see how. Their stories are detailed, factual and mutually validating. Hallucination? Misinterpretation? Folie a quatre? Whatever is true for one must be true for all.

So if their story isn’t true, it has been in some manner fabricated. And if so, the four of them must know it, or at the very least suspect it. So, if we reject their story, do we have any choice but to label them as liars?

Well, we could suppose that [1] something happened which they didn’t understand, which [2] led them to formulate an imaginary scenario to help them understand, which [3] subsequent events encouraged them to perceive as fact. Far-fetched? Yes, but stranger things have been reported in the annals of psychology.

But could they tell so elaborate a story without having any doubts whatever? Is there never, at the back of their minds, some little niggling hesitation as to the factualness of it all? Alan Godfrey, that most bemused and confused of abductees, at least has had the good sense to express a degree of uncertainty as to the reality of his adventure: but the Allagash abductees show no discernable wobble in their story-telling.

Virtual reality?

Some thoughtful students of the UFO phenomenon, reluctant either to accept such stories or to label their narrators as liars, dodge both horns of the dilemma by invoking such abstract concepts as virtual reality, imaginal reality and the like – a middle ground where things which are impossible by normal consensus become possible because they take place on some other level of reality. The believer is placated, the sceptic disarmed.

Intriguing as these ideas are, though, they are only ideas and nothing more. They have no more substance than the ETH itself. There is nothing to support these metaphysical constructs; they float in mid-air with only one thing going for them, that they offer a neat way out of the truth-or-lies cul-de-sac. And, appealing as ever, another catch-all “explanation” like possessing demons or Azande sorcerers.

But whether or not such scenarios contain any truth, they won’t do for us as we confront the Allagash Four. They, like Walton and his mates, are living human beings like you and me, and unless we are prepared to let go of everything that experience has taught us about the universe we live in, we have to believe that if something happened to them, it happened on a touchy-feely physical level. Walton’s earthly body was taken somewhere by some method which enables a human body to be borne safely through the air, and when it got there it was able to continue functioning, breathing, taking in the 2.5 litres of water it requires for daily sustenance, and so on. To invoke a kind of reality in which the processes of nature are suspended is to invoke magic and miracle. If we are willing to accept imaginal reality for Walton or Allagash, we may with equal justification accept it for diabolical possession and Azande magic.

But unless we are prepared to settle for magic, we must continue to seek understanding at the level of human experience. We need to understand why the Allagash aliens choose to manifest, on occasion, as “a white-glowing, robed, bearded figure”, on others as a “horrible looking monster”? We need to know why abduction brings with it so many other anomalous happenings, ranging from balls-of-light to out-of-body experiences? Why do odd lumps appear on bodies, then vanish into nowhere? What are we to infer when witness Chuck Rak says: “In instigating and organising that trip, I knew that the bizarre haunted those twins. If I could get them up there, I knew I could be part of something unusual”? That doesn’t sound like a bunch of all-American youngsters heading for a healthy weekend in God’s great outdoors! Everything anomalous that ever happened to the Allagash Four, or to their kith and kin, is lumped together in Fowler’s account, all seen as part and parcel of alien abduction. Likewise, in Debbie Jordan’s true confessions, (2) the unwinding of a toilet paper roll is ascribed to extraterrestrial intervention. In Ann Andrews’s account (3) of her son Jason’s abductions every inexplicable event (walking-shoes under bedclothes, a smell as of burnt sugar) is attributed to the aliens. We’re back with the Azande ascribing every unexplained event to magic.

Most of us accept that inexplicable things happen every day. To classify such incidents as side-effects of the abduction experience indicates a state of mind in which reality-testing has been set aside: a persecution complex, a touch of paranoia. In which case we have the right to wonder if that state of mind wasn’t responsible for the core experience also?

The late Renée Haynes, of the SPR, invented the phrase “boggle threshold” to define the point at which we exhaust our supply of willingness-to-believe and scepticism takes over. Consider Larry Warren. Seems a nice enough fellow, he comes over well letting it all hang out in his account of his involvement with Rendlesham. (4) But when he tells us he experiences “nonhuman visitations” on an almost nightly basis, and that on the first night of his re-visit to Bentwaters he and his co-author observed 25 UFOs, he raises a boggle threshold so high that only the most agile of True Believers could think of accepting anything he says at face value.

But if we balk at Warren at Bentwaters, or at Linda Napolitano floating out of her Manhattan apartment, that is tantamount to saying, Whatever happened to these witnesses, it wasn’t what they thought happened. And if that is so for these cases, then is it not equally so for Walton and Allagash, Debbie Jordan and all?

If you read the life of Jean-Marie-Baptiste Vianney, the cure d’Ars, you will learn how this unfortunate priest was plagued by the Evil One who sent little demons to pull the bedclothes off his bed at night. The Catholic Church made Vianney a saint, but most of us will boggle at his story, marvelling that Satan, with all the power at his command would use such childish means to harass the poor fellow, and we will think less highly of the Church for accepting his story. We boggle when we hear of spirits of the dead who revisit Earth and can find nothing better to do than float luminous trumpets through the air and bang tambourines in suburban s‚ance-rooms, and we think less highly of Spiritualists in consequence.

If we find ourselves boggling at Allagash, Strieber, Gulf Breeze, Napolitano and Walton, it’s because they, too, offend our sense of the plausible. Extraterrestrial intervention, per se, is logical enough: but these alleged instances of it savour more of magic than matter-of-fact. If we boggle at the ETH, it is because we boggle at the evidence that its champions offer in its support.

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References:

1. Fowler, Raymond E. The Allagash Abductions, Wild Flower Press, 1993
2. Jordan, Debbie. Abducted!, Carroll and Graf, 1994
3. Andrews, Ann and Ritchie, Jean. Abducted, Headline, 1998
4. Warren, Larry and Robbins, Peter. Left at East Gate, Marlowe, 1997