Kevin McClure’s Abduction Watch



1- Not currently on-line
2 – September 1997  – Driving a stake in the heart of the space vampires
3 – October 1997  Protecting the universe from the scum of the Earth
4 – November 1997  — Remembering that very few wardrobes lead to Narnia
5 – December 1997  — Damning without faint praise
6 – January 1998 – Recovered memory and hypnosis special
7 – February 1998  — Knitting fog around chocolate teapots
8 / 9 – April 1998   — Difficulties with the chosen ones
10 / 11 – June 1998  – Digging up the pavement on the road to Hell
12 / 13 – August 1998  — Gulls and gullibility
14, October 1998  — The crowd of unknowing
15 – November 1998  — Alien implants, a chiropodist speaks
16-17 January 1999  — Are you sure you can’t go back to Kansas?
18 – February 1999  — Superstitious minds
19 / 20 – July 1999  – Dark ages

Declassing the Classics.
‘The Pelican’

This article was first published as ‘The Pelican Writes…’ in Magonia 98, September 2008.

As devoted readers of this column will know, The Pelican has long since solved the UFO so-called “mystery”. There are two separate but related fields of study which may be described as ufology, but very few people pursue them. One kind of study uses the physical sciences to investigate UFO reports to try to discover the physical stimuli which produce them. For example, a ‘strange’ light in the sky reported by a number of witnesses might be identified as the planet Venus. The other kind uses the social sciences and involves psychologists, sociologists and folklorists in the study of ufologists and UFO groups, and their beliefs and motivations.

Both kinds of study, if carried out with appropriate scientific or academic rigour, incur the condemnation of UFO enthusiasts, including those who like to consider themselves to be Serious Ufologists.

Certain cases become known as ‘classics’, sometimes because there were multiple independent witnesses, and sometimes because Serious Ufologists, with impressive scientific or technical credentials, investigated them and solemnly pronounced them to be inexplicable.

An interesting multiple witness event which quickly became a classic took place in Arizona on 13 March 1997. This was in two parts: first, a formation of lights which was seen over Prescott at about 8.15 p.m., over Phoenix at 8.30 and over Tucson at 8.45; then at about 10 p.m. a string of lights appeared southwest of Phoenix, slowly sank down and disappeared.

Because many ufologists rejected possible explanations offered, this attained “classic” status, although it was eventually conceded by some Serious Ufologists, after intensive investigation and much agonising, that the second phase of the sightings was caused by flares dropped from aircraft. Sceptical ufologist Tim Printy noted: “Richard Motzer, of MUFON, had determined … that the lights were flares and said so in the MUFON Journal. He drew a lot of criticism for this and was called, of course, a ‘debunker’ and a secret member of skeptical organizations. Even after the identification of the planes involved, Motzer was still vilified by other investigators when he should have been praised for his good work.” (1)

As for the first phase of the sightings, some Serious Ufologists proclaimed that the V-shaped formation of lights was an enormous triangular UFO. However, Tony Ortega, a journalist who actually investigated the sightings, identified the lights as aircraft flying in formation. He wrote an article in which he criticised the treatment of the case by NBC in a programme titled ’10 Close Encounters Caught on Tape’. (2) In the article, Ortega said that he had interviewed a young man who had seen the V-formation from his backyard and trained his Dobsonian telescope on it, which revealed it to be a formation of aircraft.

He wrote: “When the young man, Mitch Stanley, tried to contact a city councilwoman making noise about the event, as well as a couple of UFO flim-flam men working the local scene he was rebuffed. I was the first reporter to talk to him, and, as a telescope builder myself, I made a thorough examination of his instrument and his knowledge of it.”

Some Serious Ufologists dismissed this explanation, saying that a formation of aircraft could not appear as a solid object, as described by some of the witnesses. Others took the simpler course of just ignoring it.

Does this mean that there was a highflying formation of aircraft observed by Mitch Stanley, who somehow failed to notice the V-shaped UFO, or that he was lying about what he claimed to have seen through the telescope? It seems that having reluctantly agreed to flares as the explanation for the first set of sightings, Serious Ufologists were determined to hang on to the idea of the second set as sightings of a True UFO. Seeing a Classic case being completely junked was just too much to bear. Think of the comfort and joy it would bring to the skeptibunkers and noisy negativists!

Of course, the Serious Ufologists’ error here is to entertain the notion that some UFO reports are sightings of alien craft and that their task is to recognise these and add them to the list of unexplained cases. The notion that the true explanations for sightings that remain unidentified after being investigated by Serious Ufologists is that they are alien craft, is what makes ufology a pseudoscience. The truth, of course, is that there are numerous true explanations and, in some cases such as the Berwyn Mountain incident, three or more true explanations. It is absurd to suppose, for example, that the cause of the RB47 incident will be the same as that of Socorro.

It is not just the nuts-and-bolts ETH Serious Ufologists who are rather flaky, but also those who seek more subtle explanations. As The Pelican has noted in one of his previous columns, all but a very few ufologists do not have a purely objective approach to the subject. And, of course, they usually get away with their dodgy hypotheses and tall stories.

One notable example is ‘respected’ scientist and ufologist Jacques Vallée. The Pelican has noticed that he has several times told a little anecdote about his early work at Paris observatory, tracking satellites. In one interview he claims that he and his colleagues “started tracking objects that were not satellites, were fairly elusive, and so we decided that we would pay attention to those objects even though they were not on the schedule of normal satellites.”

He then goes on to allege that: “And one night we got eleven data points on one of these objects–it was very bright. It was also retrograde. This was at a time when there was no rocket powerful enough to launch a retrograde satellite, a satellite that goes around opposite to the rotation of the earth, which takes a lot more energy than the direct direction. And the man in charge of the project confiscated the tape and erased it the next morning.”

Now this claim raises some questions. The first is the obvious one asked by the interviewer: “Why did he destroy it?” Vallee replied that it was “fear of ridicule”. But, The Pelican’s percipient readers will ask: If these objects could be tracked by the Paris observatory, then surely they could also be tracked by other observatories and, as the one in question was described by Vallee as being of first magnitude and as bright as Sirius, it could also easily have been tracked by amateur astronomers?

Indeed, Vallee claimed that he later discovered that the same object had been tracked by other observatories and photographed by American tracking stations. Other questions which occur to The Pelican ar: how does a moron get appointed as the leader of a team of professional astronomers tracking satellites; why should anyone be afraid of ridicule if they have accurately recorded data, confirmed by a number of teams of professional observers, so that there is no doubt about its authenticity, and is there any truth in this anecdote, or is it just another ufological tall story?

The attentive reader will notice that there is something else about this anecdote which it shares with other amazing UFO stories which apparently demonstrate the truth of the ETH. It is, of course, the lack of technical detail, and the lack of any reference to where this may be obtained. It will be argued, inevitably, that this has been kept secret, despite the alleged mystery satellite’s being “as bright as Sirius” and having been tracked by several observatories.

Indeed, most of the Classic UFO cases are notably lacking in precise details, so that investigators have to make do with rough estimates. There are often multiple witnesses, but rarely multiple independent witnesses.

Some ufologists, then — Serious or otherwise — examine UFO abduction reports in the hope of gaining decisive evidence. These have the advantage that the relevant information is available to the enthusiastic amateur, and can not be kept secret like that obtained by government agencies with their radars and other remote-sensing devices. Many abductionists (abductologists?) ferociously attack the authors of papers which seek to explain abductions in psychological terms, notably as the effects of sleep paralysis, with the details being drawn from popular culture, together with the leading questions asked by the abduction enthusiasts. They object that many abductions take place while the subjects are awake. But couldn’t it be true that, in some cases, the abductees are not really awake when they have their experiences, but only think they are? The following account, which does not involve an alien abduction scenario, should give believers in alien abductions pause for thought:

“This was in Minnesota about 25 years ago. I got up from a nap one day and walked down to a McDonalds where I always went because all my friends hung out there. As I was standing in line to get my coffee I suddenly fell backwards for no apparent reason right onto the guy who was standing behind me. A second later I was lying on my back, back in my bed at home. But I was lying on top of the guy I had fallen onto at the McDonalds. He had my arms pinned and he was sniggering in my ear. I was pretty much paralyzed. There was someone else in the room, too. This guy paced back and forth slowly, not looking at me or the other guy, seeming to be waiting for something to happen. He looked depressed. The guy holding me down kept sniggering in my ear and seemed to be enjoying the fact I was paralyzed. I was completely terrified, to say the least, and couldn’t even struggle.

“This went on only a short time, though, maybe a quarter minute at most, and then they both suddenly evaporated. I was there alone lying on my bed. I could move now, but was completely upset and in shock about what had just happened. It had all been completely vivid in all detail: I could see, hear and feel them perfectly clearly while it was going on.

“I didn’t learn about the phenomenon of sleep paralysis until quite a few years later, and used to just think of the incident as some kind of nightmare. Anyway, I know why ‘abductees’ are loath to assume they are any kind of hallucination: they seem too vivid. We have the false preconception that hallucinations are supposed to be unrealistic somehow, have some dreamlike insubstantiality that gives them away as hallucinations, but they don’t. What was especially peculiar was the ‘set up’: the part where I hallucinated walking all the way to the McDonald’s when I was actually still at home in bed. I suppose I really wanted to go down there but got caught in some ‘interzone’ where my neurotransmitters hadn’t all shifted back into waking mode allowing me to hallucinate I was doing what I wanted to do. “Had it been two grey alien looking things instead of two humans, I’m sure I’d have been seriously considering that I’d been abducted by space aliens.” (3)

Most UFO incidents, whether abductions or strange things in the sky, are not what they seem. Hoaxes, often quite elaborate and well organised, are more common than American Serious Ufologists like to believe. The Pelican can reveal that the US government, and other governments, are not going to disclose the evidence that UFOs are interstellar spacecraft, either now or at any time in the foreseeable future, for the simple reason that they possess no such evidence. It’s true. Trust The Pelican and retain your sanity, and Make Ufology History.

Fear and Loathing in New Hampshire.
Peter Rogerson

From Magonia 96, October 2007.

In September 2000 Karl Pflock and Peter Brookesmith organised a symposium for those interested in the Betty and Barney Hill case, at the Indian Head Inn, New Hampshire, near to the site of alleged abduction. Present were the organisers, Robert Sheaffer, Dennis Stacey, Eddie Bullard, Hilary Evans, Greg Sandow, moderator Marcello Truzzi, sponsor Joe Firmage and a guest appearance by Betty herself, along with her niece Kathy Marden. The proceedings of the symposium have now been published under the title Encounter at Indian Head: The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Abduction Revisited. [1]

The book also includes written contributions by Martin Kottmeyer and Walter N Webb, though it omits Sandow’s contribution.

This was probably the first detailed reinvestigation of the Hill’s story in years, and the various contributors present their own take on the case. Dennis Stacey has trawled the literature to come up with what might be the best consolidated version of the story, there being numerous contradictions in the originals. Right from this early paper there is a surprise. At a crucial point in Barney’s first encounter, where the public accounts have him grabbing a car jack for protection, it is now revealed that he got out a .22 pistol which he had hidden in the trunk (importing guns into Canada is illegal) That’s an important point and one which though commented on briefly is never really taken up by the contributors.

Marcello Truzzi reviews the arguments pro and con the story, and the kinds of inferences which can be made as to what makes a claim remarkable. He makes a very interesting point, if UFO encounters were normal and commonplace, so you could time your watch by the 6:15 from Zeta Reticulli, would the evidence in this case lead to any action (i.e. a demand for extradition from the ZR authorities)? More to the point would anyone prosecute an ordinary criminal where the evidence was as weak as this. Truzzi argues that ufologists are prepared to accept the Hill’s claims because of not in spite of its radically anomalous nature. This seems to be true. If you argue with ufologists as to whether they would accept a claim by a stranger that they were, for example, the simultaneous lover of Princess Diana and Hillary Clinton and knew all sorts of secrets, would they accept it? On the evidence, they would answer no, but that the UFOs are different. In other words the more extraordinary the claim, the weaker the evidence required.

The papers clearly divide between the psychosocial approaches of Hilary Evans, Peter Brookesmith and Martin Kottemeyer, the sceptical approach of Sheaffer and the more believing approach of Bullard, Pflock and Webb. To some degree the writers appear to write past each other, though Brookesmith and Pflock have clearly spent hours pouring over maps and have both driven the route several times themselves. Even after that they still could not agree as to whether or not there was missing time. Hilary Evans shows, through a variety of stories, how people can have a variety of imaginary or virtual experiences, some a good deal stranger than the Hill’s. Brookesmith searches for the mythic meaning of the story in the encounter with the ‘other’, and Kottmeyer continues his hunt for cultural sources. Bullard reprises his old ‘entirely unpredisposed’ arguments, which were refuted years ago. He now tries to wriggle out of the embarrassing fact that the post 1987 abduction stories contain the central motif of the hybrid baby, which barely rates a mention in his own survey, by arguing that there were hybrid baby/sexual abduction themes in the early literature. Sure there were but these were fictional stories in tabloids. The space alien motif in ufology does not come from abductees but from contactees Cynthia Appleton and Elizabeth Klarer.

This might be a moot point because much of the abduction scenario had already been presented in John Wyndham’s 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos, filmed in 1960. Here we have such motifs as missing time, the freezing of whole communities, the alien babies, the hive like mind(s) of the alien children and their strange hypnotic eyes.

If Sheaffer’s skeptical argument contains weaknesses, which Pflock can exploit. Pflock’s contribution is very weak. and I can’t help wondering if he wasn’t just going through the motions because it was part of the contract. Pflock argues that a literal reading of the Hill story leads to the conclusion that they really were kidnapped by folk from Zeta Reticulli. The problem that he has is quite simple, it just doesn’t. The Hill’s aliens are very poor aliens indeed, they are just far too human. They look more or less like us, except for a few minor anatomical differences, far less than the differences between humans and their very close cousins the chimpanzees. They act like people, they have books, and maps, and mutinous crews, they wear uniforms. Their technology was getting old fashioned in 1960, its levers and wall-map positively antiquated by now. Their conversations are self-contradictory. Pflock argues that the aliens translation machine and memory erasers might be working badly, but if the aliens really had a translation machine and a memory eraser then they already know far more about human physiology and psychology than we ourselves do, so why go round abducting people?

Of course someone might try and rescue the ETH by arguing that the real aliens are so alien and what happens to the abductees on board so incomprehensible that their brains can’t process it at all, and substitute more mundane imagery. Of course if you go down that road then you have to use psychosocial reasoning to account for the precise nature of the screen imagery, which makes the aliens redundant. The Hill story reads like a product of the human imagination, replete with human imagery and human concerns, and that is what it almost certainly is. Its story line must be derived from the lives, hopes and fears of the Hills.

There are clues here, some more obvious than others. Right on the surface is the fact that Betty and Barney Hill were not Mr and Mrs Average, they were very unusual people indeed. Even today ‘interracial’ marriage is far less common in the US than in the UK. In 1960, when the Hills got married, they were very rare indeed. The black population of New Hampshire was small, the Hills may well have been the only black/white couple in the whole state. That took a lot of guts, and a lot of risk taking. Betty was a professional woman with a higher status job than her husband, again rare. She had been divorced, and her first husband had also been married before. Was she the cause of his first divorce? We don’t know, nobody has asked. We do know that Barney’s divorce was bitter and that the first Mrs Hill loathed Betty and would not let her children meet her. To have lost her husband to a white woman would, one imagines, have been a very humiliating and enraging experience for a black woman of her time. One can perhaps imagine the insults that were thrown and the suggestions made, for example that Betty and her white liberal friends were using Barney as a token ‘negro’ to show how progressive and enlightened they were.

Unfair no doubt, but such things hurt. Barney is clearly under huge stress: he has the long commute job, the bitter rows with the ex, and Betty, one suspects, was nor the easiest person to live with. There is clearly some extra tension at this time. Betty’s niece remembers Barney becoming withdrawn at around this period. She, who was a child at the time, connects this with the abduction story, but there are hints that the real trigger had occurred earlier.

There were pre-existing problems in Barney’s life. He had had a drink problem which reappeared after the encounter. Heavy drinking is often a sign of stress and distress; was this stress and distress in the past? Then there is the gun, it’s hard to know how much of a clue that is, without knowing how common handgun ownership was in 1961 New Hampshire. My first thought is that I would suspect it was uncommon, compared say with the ownership of hunting rifles. This was not a high crime area. If this is the case, then this might well suggest that Barney felt under special threat. The Hill’s marriage, political activity and her job as a child welfare officer could all have lead to threats. The gun, and its deliberate hiding suggests that Barney felt like a man being hunted.

When the trip starts Barney (and Betty) are already tired out, and the journey was poorly planned, and appears to have been increasingly stressful. Barney feels more and more exposed. We might never know exactly what happened on that night, but stress, exhaustion, sensory deprivation and episodes of micro-sleep and micro-REM seem to have all played a part.

Note also that Barney’s reaction to the light in the sky gives lie to the ‘entirely unpredisposed’ kind of argument. He is clearly in a state of near hysteria and total panic, so much so he cannot clearly remember what happened. If indeed his later withdrawal, return to drinking etc., stem from that night, we need look no further. Far from being the he-man who protected the little woman, he bricked it. The motifs of ‘semen extraction’ and anal probe which occur in his hypnotic regression may have a more mundane cause in that he wet and soiled himself in panic, a very traumatic and shaming experience.

To rub it in, Betty in her dreams becomes the heroine who stands up to the grey meanies, tells them off (after all she is a Barrett of New Hampshire). Don’t these dreams emphasises who wears the trousers and has the balls in this family?

What is Barney afraid of, but which Betty Barrett of New Hampshire can stand up to? Look at the pictures of the aliens with their caps and jackets and trousers, remember those charts and that mutinous crew. Charts aren’t much use in space ships hopping between stars through wormholes, using space warp or the Z-process which no human mind could ever understand. These are images of ships and the sea. These are sailors. What kind of sailors steal people? Slavers of course. We have all overlooked this because we are not Black. This is the central fear which grips Barney, the terrible others who are both us and not us and are going to take him back into slavery. Betty comes from the dominant white culture, she cannot feel the fear of being turned back into a slave. She can stand up to the crew. In her vision the sailors are more like a chaotic pirate crew.

Brookesmith quotes several commentators who hint at this, but not making it explicit. Of course, in a sense slavery has become a motif of the abduction encounter, the idea that they will take away our humanity. Perhaps the abduction narrative reminds us we are all black now.

The alien motif points to the distinctive character of Anglo-American slavery, traditional societies, which did not pay lip service to human equality could treat slaves as subordinate groups of human beings with their own status, allied to that of serfs for example. However, ‘liberal’ individualistic Anglo-American society, with its Christian belief and its lip service to ‘all men being created equal’ could only gets its conscience around slavery by reducing the slaves to a subhuman status.

The ‘medical examination’ and the symbolism for the ‘fertility test’ for Barney are images of the farmyard, the prodding and probing on the auction block. For Betty they are perhaps medical procedures to test for the presence of radioactivity following the resumed nuclear tests. Betty has incorporated Barney’s fear of capture into her dreams but she cannot really understand what it is about. Her aliens let them go, and Barney takes this on board, because it means that he has escaped; these aren’t slavers after all.

Yet is he going to be really free? What for Barney was an event of unadulterated horror, becomes for Betty a grand adventure, one which will take her far from the shores of planet reality. As just about all the participants of this symposium agree, Betty later went into some very strange places indeed, seeing flying saucers all over the place and recounting many an unlikely adventure, becoming a sort of cult leader. To put no finer point on it, she was becoming a contactee. Several of the writers gloss this as a reaction to the grief following Barney’s untimely death, however Jacques Vallee in his diaries shows that Betty was into this mode as early as 1966, three years before Barney died. Though it was always put about that the Hills were reluctant to come forward with their adventure, it is now conceded otherwise, they gave several lectures, or rather Betty did; it was Betty who called the Air Force; Betty who contacted NICAP and so on. As the stories change the aliens become friends and begin to develop supernatural powers, such as putting leaves in a neighbours apartment and appearing over another’s house in answer to Betty’s prayers. The iron wall that some ufologists believe exists between the contactees and the abductees looks more like a paper curtain.

Of course there is much about the story we will probably never resolve, though we could probably learn more by checking the local papers of the period to get a deeper feel of the community in which they lived and how they interacted with it. It would be interesting to know what Barney’s children made of the story, and there is always the possibly that some old diary or letters could send us in another direction.


[1] Karl Pflock and Peter Brookesmith (editors).  Encounters at Indian Head: The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Abduction Revisited Anomalist Books, 2007

(Click on the highlighted title to order this book from Amazon)


“Fire in the Sky”
Film Review by Nigel Watson

walton_travisThis film review appeared first in Magonia 46, June 1993.

Aduction stories are not new to the cinema, indeed many SF films of the 1950s anticipated (helped create?) the obsessions that dominated the minds of ufologists since the 1980s. What makes Fire In The Sky different is that it takes UFOs seriously. Rather than use them as an excuse to wonder at the possibilities of life elsewhere, or reflect the paranoid concerns of Soviet invasion, atomic warfare, the progress of science, etc, Fire In The Sky plays an apparently straight bat.

Travis Walton and his fellow loggers are shown as ordinary blue-collar workers, and unlike the characters in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind they do not have any form of psychic union with the aliens, nor do they start wondering about the marvels of the universe. Though, for other reasons, mainly terrestrial, they are changed by their brush with the unknown.

Significantly, Travis (D.B.Sweeney) is revealed to be a carefree, dreamer. In contrast, his best friend and leader of the logging team, Mike Rogers (Robert Patrick), has financial problems and a rocky marriage. Completing their contract means more to him than it does to Travis.

As they travel to work their pick-up truck is a noisy technological invader of the natural world. The silence of the forest is filled with the noise of their transistor radio, their constant bickering, and by their lethal chainsaws. In particular, there is an ongoing feud between Allan Dallis (Craig Sheffer) and Travis, which culminates in them threatening each other with their chainsaws.

Earlier we are shown Travis trying to persuade Mike to join him in setting up a motorcycle business. On a crumpled piece of paper his dreams are depicted as the ‘MT Motor Shop’ with a picture of a motorbike – he makes a joke that MT stands for ‘empty’ revealing that he doesn’t have a great deal of confidence in this capitalistic vision. Mike, understandably, isn’t too keen on this idea.

When the shocked loggers, minus Travis, return to the town of Snowflake, they tell the police about their UFO encounter. Only Travis was foolhardy enough to run towards the UFO, the others wisely drove away in their pick-up truck. They are so scared that only Mike has the courage to drive back to see what has happened to Travis, but can’t find him.

The next day there is a massive police hunt The loggers take the sceptical police Lt. Frank Watters (James Garner) to where they saw Travis zapped by a beam of light from the UFO. They assumed that Travis was either killed or knocked unconscious by the beam. The UFO is shown as something like an upside-down volcano and has a passing resemblance to the spaceship in It Came From Outer Space. Although they state that there are traces on the ground nothing can be found, indeed no one is certain about the exact position of the encounter (shades of many real-life cases!).

On 12 March 1993, Philip Klass had a chance to voice his scepticism about the physical reality of the incident. On the Larry King TV show he thought the men had been lying, because, he said: “I’m afraid we have to say that on the basis of the physical evidence – physical evidence that should have been there but was not. Now you heard Travis and Mike Rogers claim that this beam from the UFO was like a grenade exploding, fire, flame… but Travis was knocked 10 feet back. And in his book, he [Travis] claims he hit his shoulders against the rocks. Now shortly after Travis reappeared, he was given a physical examination by two medical doctors in Phoenix… Dr. Kandell and Dr. Saults. They found no bruise marks. They found no burn marks. They found no physical damage. The only thing was like a needle mark in his elbow. So there was no physical evidence.” Travis laughed at this statement saying that Klass didn’t understand the nature of the evidence. In the film, Travis is shown quite badly scratched and bruised by his experience.

The police, and members of their small community think they are either “murderers or liars”. The constant personal disputes between Dallis and Travis, makes Dallis the prime suspect, but he is a gambling drifter who doesn’t care about what others think. It is Mike who is the most sensitive about local public opinion.

The morning after the UFO encounter Mike and his fellow loggers find themselves the centre of media and public attention. A creepy ufologist introduces himself as being from a group called A.F.A.R., and tells him to contact him if he wants to talk about the case. Mike’s wife is particularly upset by all this attention, and Mike becomes totally estranged from her. In addition, the logging contract is cancelled so his financial problems come to a head.

There are two major points where their story is directly challenged. The first, happens at a public meeting to discuss the affair. After initial scepticism Mike makes an impassioned speech that basically states that he and and his mates are telling the truth. Significantly, this speech is made before a stained glass window, which an earlier scene showed was of Christ being hit by a beam of celestial light. This discreetly (!) indicates that Travis can be regarded as a contemporary Christ-like martyr figure, and that his fellow loggers are reluctant disciples who have witnessed a miracle.

Secondly, there is a scene where the loggers each take a lie detector test. The examiner says that “charts don’t lie” but the results of these tests are inconclusive. The police want to take another set of tests but the men don’t want to go through this process again.

Besides being a good portrayal of the social and psychological reactions to a UFO case, the film is probably most important for its depiction of an abduction experience. Here we see (in flashback) Travis waking in a cocoon-like pod that is full of slime. When he breaks through the pod’s membrane he floats to the centre of a cylindrical cave-like room. He grabs a floating cable/rope giving the appearance of a newborn baby attached to its umbilical cord. These images of birth are then under-cut by an image of death – he floats back to a pod which contains a half-eaten human corpse. Since the sides of the room are full of pods, is this a food store-room for the aliens? This reminds us of the carnivorous habits of the aliens in the T.V. series V.

Escaping from the room he enters a brightly lit area full of floating comatose aliens that look distinctly like those described by Whitley Strieber. As he gets closer to them he realises that these are just space suits. Not only are we meant to remember the (in)famous cover of Communion and Transformation but the empty suits are also reminiscent of the suits in 2001 (in the scene where the two remaining astronauts get into a small `pod’ spaceship to get out of ear-shot of the computer HAL).

The aliens that use these space suits are spindly bodied, with skin the texture and colour of a potato; they have a bump where their nose should be. Surprised by the appearance of one of these beings Travis greets it with a kick to the head. He runs down corridors scattered with the debris of former human abductees (e.g. a pair of abandoned spectacles), but is quickly captured by two beings who unceremoniously drag him to the obligatory operating table.

The examination scene is the film’s centrepiece. In a surreal nightmare fashion Travis is stripped naked and bound to the table with sheets of membrane-like material. After being smothered in this, the beings cut a hole for his mouth and his right eye. A glob of black goo is stuck in his mouth quickly followed by a flexible metal tube. A pin is snapped into the side of his neck, and it is connected to a cable. The ultimate in terror is a spherical object with nasty looking drills attached to it that descends from the ceiling. This seems to be aimed at his eyes but it drills near his eye sockets instead. Interestingly the interior of the craft seems almost biological – as in the film Alien – but the surgical instruments are very much like solid metallic terrestrial surgical/torture implements.

The purpose of this examination is never explained. The first flashbacks occur when Travis is taken to hospital, and the director deliberately parallels the experience of going to hospital with having an abduction experience.

When he is found, five days after his encounter, he is semi-conscious, crouching naked next to an ice-machine, reminiscent of the arrival of people/androids from the future in the Terminator movies. Smears of rain on a pane of glass remind of his attempts at breaking-out of the pod on board the UFO. He is terrified and withdraws from Mike who has come to collect him. The ufologist from A.F.A.R says he knows exactly what needs to be done, which means that he wants to get a urine sample! Apparently, the role of the ufologist was added to give a ‘David Lynch’ feel to the film but it seems more likely those involved are really taking the urine out of ufologists. This is typical of the media, which uses the cases ufologists make and help keep famous, engages their support, and then makes fun of them!

After all the fuss, and Travis’ safe reappearance Lt. Frank Waiters leaves the town with this mystery unsolved even though he strongly considers the case to be a hoax. In contrast, the local sheriff thinks there is something to Travis’ story.

fire in sky

“This is a story that speaks to human character and behaviour – about our inclination to presume the worst in someone before considering ideas that challenge our own skepticism.”

An epilogue is tacked onto the film, that tells us the state of affairs 20 years after the event. Now Travis has a smart blue estate car, has married his girlfriend, obviously happy with his life. Suddenly he stops his car near a billboard that states AN AMERICAN LEGEND beneath the picture of a motorbike. Travis’ MT dream has come into reality in a far different manner than he expected, but he is obviously an American Legend. On a whim he drives to his old friend, Mike, who has left his wife and is now living as a recluse in a lonely woodland cabin. They talk about the event that has given both of them nightmares. To comfort his friend, Travis assures him that “They won’t be back. I  don’t think they liked me.” On this note Mike says he will return to civilisation and communal/personal fears and re-build his life.

We have already seen that Klass has contested the physical reality of this encounter. We must also be wary of the ‘facts’ shown in the film even though it boasts it is “based on a true story”, and all the major percipients were consulted. Tracey Tormé, the film’s sceen writer and co-producer, confirmed that rather than depict what Travis reported, they had to conform to Paramount’s opinion that what he saw might be interesting to a handful of ufologists but they had to do something different from the Communion film and the Intruders TV mini-series. Since the Travis case is different from many of Hopkin’s modern-day cases. Tormé certainly doesn’t think it was a ‘real’ abduction incident. He explained: “I think it is more of a hit-and-run accident.. at doesn’t fit any of the other patterns as in the cases that were explored in Intruders. So my personal feeling is that it was really a one of a kind that doesn’t fall into the parameters of Budd Hopkina’ type abduction cases…”

This reveals the absolute faith in Hopkins’ scary abduction stories, so much so that if a case doesn’t conform to his data base it can’t be true! Tormé also acknowledges that most of the aspects of Travis’ experience as shown in the film are untrue or exaggerated or don’t fit Hopkins’ data: “When he [Travis] awakened [in the UFO] he was not paralyzed. He was not naked. He was not being experimented on medically. He has not had any experiences since then. He didn’t seem to have any [experiences] in childhood. He didn’t come back with a lot of scars or anything. So I think all those things break the mould and make this case unique.”

The film neatly uses ideas from contemporary ufology and contemporary films. Its first portrayal of Frank Watters shows him about to encounter what we are led to believe is a UFO, which is a copy from Close Encounters… where Roy Neary is shown in his pick-up truck being followed by a “UFO”. In the diner/saloon where the witnesses tell their story to Watters, the camera pans down from a stuffed owl which implies knowledge of Strieber’s `screen memories’ of owls (see Communion Arrow Books, 1988. p30-31). This will dissatisfy those who want a pure documentary about a real UFO encounter, and it will disappoint those who want the mythologic al hyperbole and action of Close Encounters… but it does aptly meet the intentions of its producer, Joe Wizan:

“This is a story that speaks to human character and behaviour – about our inclination to presume the worst in someone before considering ideas that challenge our own skepticism.” On that basis Fire In The Sky works magnificently and it provides  powerful images of abduction, imprisonment, torture/examination,, birth, death, horror, nightmare, mental breakdown and  As I have already noted in the context of Martin Kottmeyer’s analysis of Invasion of the Star Creatures (in Talking Pictures No. 7, April/May 1993), ‘Rather than being a source of real knowledge the media makes us scared of terrible things, people and events that might be out there, or even worse, within ourselves’. With the success of Fire In The Sky at the U.S. box office we can expect it to help fuel and justify abduction experiences, and we can expect such films and TV shows to help shape such accounts in their image.


Living Laboratories.
Peter Rogerson

Published as Northern Echoes, Magonia 47, October 1993

In a rather more serious Northern Echoes than usual I intend to continue the themes of my article in this issue (Fairyland’s hunters), and look at a range of recent publications which span a variety of ideological positions reflecting the increased splintering of the American abduction scene.

New Age journalist Keith Thompson [1] takes the broadest sweep in his historical and mythological overview of the UFO topic. He argues that whether or not individual UFO experiences are misidentifications of Venus, or Martian spaceships “they are profoundly important gateways to provocative mythic horizons and imaginal realms… symbolic worlds [which] are real, vital and filled with significance. The UFO stories hint at realms of ambiguity to which the neat little box reality of believers and sceptics alike does scant justice.”

Ufology, argues Thompson, has many of the hallmarks of a modern mythology – complete with its creation story – Kenneth Arnold’s encounter – which like all dreamtime history remains part of the present past. Arnold himself is often evoked as a foundation hero, with comments such as “if Kenneth Arnold himself were to come to our conference, what would he make of our proceedings?” Revisionist critiques such as Martin Kottmeyer’s can be seen as a parallel to the ‘search for the historical Jesus’ of the rationalist theologians. Vigorous ripostes from traditional believers can be expected.

As an outsider, Thompson takes us through a whistle-stop history of American ufology, with interviews with well-known participants. The problem is that, while Thompson can often view the Byzantine politics of American with a detached, but sometime jaundiced, eye, his actual grasp of this extremely complex subject seems often to be sketchy.

In this sketch Thompson sees reflected figures from mythology: Proteus, who changed shape to avoid being trapped into prophecy; Hermes, the tricky messenger, Trickster himself; Dionysius, the wildness which disrupts ordinary society. Thompson shows himself to be well aware of the connectedness of anomalous experience, and of ufology’s links into a general belief in the power of The Other to intrude and control our lives. He highlights the debate within American ufology as to whether these parallels are coincidental or fundamental.

Pontolillo [2] is equally aware of these parallels, and is equally clear that they are fundamental, concentrating on a much narrower spectrum of events: the abduction reports. Pontolillo is able to demonstrate that these parallels go much beyond superficial outlines. There are often close correspondences between the description of the sexual experiences of abductees and, for example, those who claimed encounters with the incubi’s cold sexual member.

It is in tone that Thompson and Pontolillo contrast most starkly. For the latter, abductions are a mirror of the abuse of women in society, and their message is “women cannot have control of their own bodies, either in this world or an imaginary one”. The abduction experience, for Pontolillo, grows out of an increasingly repressive climate, with attacks on sex education, abortion, and contraception. Perhaps even more relevant is the perceived mechanisation and dehumanisation of conception, pregnancy and childbirth, as documented by Robyn Rowland [3] who sees women being relegated to the status of living laboratories or walking life-support systems for their foetuses, by doctors who employ the rhetoric of agriculture and even industry.

For Thompson however, the encounter, even the abduction, is the start of the grand adventure, the Heroic Quest “venturing forth from the world of common day into a realm of supernatural wonder [...] a fateful realm of treasure and danger” – the journey from secular habitat to sacred wilderness, which journey is a rite of passage. (I was pleased to see that Thompson understands the importance of the ideas of Victor Turner.)

These divisions run across American ufology. Pontolillo’s critique is directed at the ‘standard story’ of Hopkins and Jacobs, which he finds evidentially vacant, a product of the age of anxieties, which reflect what we might think of as the implosion of habitat. The wild and dangerous Other is not just in the street outside the apartment, it comes in through the walls, dragging us out with it. Women in particular are not safe anywhere. In pursuit of this standard story Pontolillo ignores, as do his targets Hopkins and Jacobs, the religious dimension of many of these stories.

Thompson, for whom the Other may be angels or archetypes, symbols of transcendence, skirts over the darkness implicit in the narratives, reflecting the New Age’s inability to confront evil. There is within such stories a connection between abuse and initiation. A study of the initiation rituals of many cultures points to this too intimate connection – scarification, circumcision, clitorectomy. We should also perhaps note the role of masks in initiation rituals, where the neophyte is confronted by his culture’s fearsome demons, then note the similarity between the slit mouth and wrap-round eyes of the Grays with the human face seen through a balaclava helmet – the savage mask of our culture’s demons – the terrorist, bank robber, mugger, the universal outlaw on the fringes of society.

The books of personal accounts also highlight this ambiguity. Bryant and Seebach [4] present themselves as ‘healers of shattered reality’, adding the language of the social worker to that of the contactee and channeler. For those who can plough through the pages of channelled gunge there is an important theme: the identification of their encounter with the unknown as simultaneously religious revelation and a species of rape. We should perhaps bear in mind the etymological common origin of ‘rapture’ and ‘rape’, of being seized and possessed by the Other.

Traumatic events not only have the obvious shock effect, but can also lead to a shattering of the most profound sense of self and reality, which can be more disturbing than the original event. Our reactions to trauma can also be traumatic. Take an example from Bryant and Seebach’s book, in which an abductee/contactee denounces as a ‘screen memory’ what obviously happened in reality, because it offended her sense of self: while out driving one night a speeding car nearly collides with her, going off the road and overturning. Instead of stopping, she speeds away and rather than feeling shocked and shaken as she believed she should, she is exhilarated by the sense of survival. She stops in the middle of nowhere to phone her family and tell them she loves them and remembers the experience as incredibly positive. This euphoria of survival she finds unacceptable; she should have stopped to help. She cannot accept her feelings, so begins to reconstruct reality to fit in with her image of herself. The UFO abduction scenario helps her do this.

Bryant and Seebach clearly belong on the Mack and Fowler wing of abduction research, and implicitly accuse Hopkins and Jacobs of fostering a`victim mentality’. Yet a number of ‘contactees’ discussed by Seebach and Bryant show much more severe psychiatric problems than is generally conceded in the literature, including hospitalisation and drug or alcohol abuse, representing a range of behavioural backgrounds similar to those of many of the self proclaimed ‘adult-survivors’ of Satanic abuse. This considerably blurs the distinctions made by Bill Ellis in Magonia 40.

The response to this traumatic collapse of the given world can be anomie, but another possible response is the reforging of a new sense of reality and identity. Hypomanic responses may include not just the elation of survival, but a sense of power. ‘Victims’ may become public personalities and the tendency of abductees or contactecs to join the lecture circuit should not be taken to imply that they are ‘in it for the publicity’, as parallels can be drawn from many `normal’ traumas.

This does not mean that the trauma producer was anomalous in any trans-personal sense. One only has to read Hendry’s UFO Handbook (as far too few ufologists do today) to see how traumatic a misrepresentation of Venus can be. Abductees are not fonts of wisdom: their revelations are recycled from popular occult and New Age culture, often simply parroting the beliefs of the first investigator they meet.

Pontolillo points out the continuity between the scars of the abductee and witches’ marks and stigmata, as they bear no relationship to known medical procedures. Perhaps one should note the resonances with the scarification of the initiate, or the ‘mental scars’ of the trauma victim. Such scars form a central theme of the second personal narrative reviewed her, that of Karla Turner [5]. Assuming this is not a case of a novel presented as fact, it demonstrates both how abduction beliefs originate and spread, and just how complex the pre-standard abduction narrative was.

It is a haunting reminder of the fragility of the world of daylight reason. During a period of tension in the lives of her and her husband, Karla Turner sets her students a term paper on UFOs and similar topics as an exercise in logic. In the course of this she reads the books of Strieber and Hopkins. After this, dreams in which she sees her husband and friends as vampires take on a new significance. Soon her husband presents her with an abduction narrative, and her teenage son, his girlfriend and disturbed, attention-seeking best-friend are swapping every dream, anomaly and hypnagogic hallucination they experience. Between them they produce an incredible melange of ufological, paranormal and shamanic imagery. There are nightly abductions, sometime the participants examine their bodies two or three times a day for possible scars. There are poltergeist effects, and encounters with ‘The Ancestors’ and the ‘Old Ones’. There are regular hypnotic sessions with a local ufologist.

Reading through this one can sense that in the end all this provides a welcome sense of drama. Furthermore, it diverts attention from their real problems and gives the family a new sense of unity.

For Bryant and Seebach, and even ultimately for Thompson, the abduction experience is the encounter with the wholly other. Only Pontolillo, correctly in my view, locates the source of abduction motifs within human culture, tracing their origin to Classical times. Yet Pontolillo never seems to unify the point: why did people believe in abductions by gods and fairies or intercourse with demons? They seem to represent humanity’s encounter with wild anti-society, the idea that one can be enticed out of the human circle by the forces of the wild bush. Pontolillo’s interpretation of the abduction narrative as a contemporary form of the misogyny which led to the witchcraft trials, like Dennis Stacy’s abortion trauma hypothesis, relies on the very high proportion of abduction narratives involving women. However, my own count of pre-1980 cases shows 40 involved females only, 24 mixed, and 119 men only – nearly two-thirds. There is a subjective impression that the situation has changed and Jacobs reported a 56% female sample, but in the absence of a comprehensive catalogue for post-1987 cases, judgment is best reserved.

This should not detract from Pontolillo’s case against naive literalism, for he most effectively demolishes the claims of abductionists, pointing out the weakness of their techniques, their misuse of hypnosis and manipulation of data. Perhaps it is most curious of all that we should need to argue against people who claim that abductees can be physically carried through solid walls into invisible spaceships!

Can we present a working model of the abduction experience and what might generate it. Some pointers:

The central theme of helplessness. In an article in the Observer Magazine last autumn Dr John Collee noted that surgery is the most radical experience of helplessness that adults are likely to undergo in Western culture. It is precisely this sense of helplessness which has been identified as a major component of post-traumatic stress. Children are also highly vulnerable to hospital trauma, this being especially so in the less enlightened days of restricted visiting. We can imagine the trauma of a small child who has never been away from their parents for more than an hour, abandoned in a strange place where bizarrely dressed figures perform painful procedures. Fantasies about these procedures, often involving ideas of punishment, may be more traumatic than what actually happens. Is it significant that the genito-urological, nose and throat, and eye examinations which tend to predominate in abduction medical accounts are the sort of medical procedures most likely to be carried out on small children.

The proximate origin of many abduction experiences is a variety of altered states: sleep paralysis, fugue, hypnogogic hallucinations. Sleep paralysis, combined with hypnogogic hallucinations – The Hag – is an especially traumatic experience, evoking sexual assault and a sense of absolute helplessness. The origin of the image of the bedroom visitor are obscure, but at a guess I would suggest it represents the ‘demonic parent’, and contains echoes of the infant’s helplessness before parental wrath. It is hard to resist the notion that hagging may contain imagery of sexual assault, either real or fantasies based on parental sexual activity. Abductors who ‘have the right’ to treat us like property certainly seem to be negative parental images.

There is a pervasive sense of threat in all abduction narratives: the theme that nowhere is safe, not the walls, not the door, not even our own skin can keep out the pervasive Other. The hybrid baby and the implants represent ultimate threats to our physical and psychological integrity. The Other wants to own and use our bodies and our minds. The imagery of foetus and implant show clear evidence of cultural influence, the implants deriving from the publicity surrounding the experiments on
mood-control conducted by Jose Delgardo, while the gynaecological procedures show clear cultural tracking to public discussion of high-tech fertility treatment and related techniques.

Part of this threat is the loss of our world. Whether from external forces which range from bombs to rape to military defeat and rapid social change, or from internal forces such as physical or psychological disease, our given world can be torn down. Then we may experience the implosion of traumatic despair, or the explosive collapse of all structures. We might for a moment or two see that we could be something other than units of production and consumption, living laboratories, being violated by the gods and angels of our own making.



1. THOMPSON, Keith. Angels and Aliens: UFOs and the Mythic Imagination Adison-Wesley, 1991.
2. PONTOLILLO, James. Demons, doctors, and aliens INFO Occasional paper no. 2.
3. ROWLAND, Robyn. Living Laboratories: Women and Reproductive Technologies Lime Tree Books, 1992.
4. BRYANT, Alice and SEEBACH, Linda. Healing Shattered Reality: Understanding Contactee Trauma Wildflower Press, 1991.
5. TURNER, Karla. Into the Fringe: A True Story of Alien Abduction  Berkley Books, 1992.

[Click on the above title links to order the book from Amazon]



Hunters, Gatherers and Secret Abductors
Peter Rogerson

From Magonia 45, March 1993.

We are about to go on a long journey to seek the origins and driving power of the abduction stories. This first article starts with a review of the legend as it stood in the opening years of the last decade of the millenium.

AS exemplified by David M Jacobs’ book Secret Life: first-hand accounts of UFO abductions, the abduction narrative is a heady brew of sexuality and apocalyptic; of missing babies and women’s fears. Jacobs opens his narrative proper with a cine-cliché evocation of women’s fears: a lone woman is preparing for bed, she reads a book for a while then turns out the light, settling down to God’s own sleep, virginally secure in the locked, bolted, sealed habitation of her room. Then, by magic, the room and her body are to be violated by the supernatural forces of the wilderness. She awakens in a sleep paralysis, while a light in the room coalesces into the spectral shape of a Gray.

Invisible, impalpable, she is taken through closed windows and locked doors, taken on a night ride to an invisible ship in some unknown sky. Sometimes she is taken in body or in spirit, she knows not which, straight to her destination; on other occasions she must undertake at least part of her journey on foot, through the mean streets and the forests of the night. On reaching her destination she is taken to a place of ordeal, where she is subjected to medical examinations, degrading and often painful, or forced to play in grotesque psychodramas in which Grays, disguised imperfectly as human beings – often partners or ‘significant others’ – enact scenes from the drama of her life. Her body may be impregnated with implants by means of nasal penetration amounting to rape.

Above all she may be forced into loveless congress with strangers, while the ‘other’ forces sexual imagery into her mind. Here the ‘other’ seems to be a blind, urgent force or reproduction; the desperate longings of hormones and genes given human or semihuman shape. There is no romantic midsummer’s night euphemism in the realm of these fairy guardians of fertility. In what is probably the most disturbing image in the entire book we are presented with a fifteen-year-old girl being forced into sex with a middle-aged man who gives the impression of being drugged: “absolutely out of it, his mouth is hanging slack and his hands are loose at his side like an ape, eyes glazed over, unfocused, cloudy” (p.205). This is an image taken straight from Satanic abuse tradition.

If there is any fruit of this unholy union it is aborted from the womb and grown in the factory farm incubatorium, like an image from Huxley’s Brave New World. Foetuses are reported as being put in drawers or stored in glass retorts like monstrous exhibits in a medical museum. In the best fairy tradition the woman may be needed as a nursemaid, if not to give literal milk, then at least some little milksops of human kindness to the strangely wan and sick fairy child, which the enchantment can make appear beautiful, but true sight renders horrific.

It is not only the listless child, “sick and palely loitering”, but the grim abductors themselves which hail from the realms of the dead. Jacobs’ descriptions of Grays which neither breath, not eat, not excrete, nor, lacking genitalia, reproduce, nor experience any feeling, is that of the dead, exiled from the organic round and lusting after the living, needing their emotions and their wombs to experience a simulacrum of life.

That the place the woman has been taken to is to be regarded as an antechamber to Hell is further emphasised by comparisons with Auschwitz, and imagery of corridors “silent save for the clanking of machines, the shuffling of feet and the occasional moans of victims”.

There are however, other images, which Jacobs finds difficult to comprehend. There is the immersion in the ‘breathing pool’, a liquid in which the captives can breath easily, a sort of baptism in the living waters of the womb. There are travelogues of apocalypse, given to the naked captives, herded into pens, while the Tannoy-voice of God over the public address system of the mind, gives a commentary on scenes of the new heaven and new earth that the changeling children will inherit. There are messages which come in dreams, which no waking mind can hold. There are images of a paradise too good, too fine, too glamorous.

Jacobs suggests that abductions can occur on an almost daily basis, leaving the victims with symptoms he ascribes to post-traumatic stress. The only defence against the Grays is the videotaping of the sleeping victims.

To investigate these stories, and to offer some relief from the traumas, Jacobs sets himself up as a charismatic ‘therapist’. Like other therapy gurus he lays claim to a unique cause for human suffering. In Jacobs’ case it is as ‘abduction-finder-general’: he claims to have pioneered the ‘correct’ way to interrogate potential abductees in order to reveal the `true’ nature of the abduction encounter.

Jacobs’ technique is to secularise and standardise the stories as much as possible. If the narrative I have presented above seems suffused with magic, the original stories – which Jacobs does not permit us to learn of in detail, but of which hints creep out – are even more fay. They are of magical animals, night-flying in the company of angels and dead relatives, channelling and visions of apocalypse. Who knows what else might lie in the raw narratives, as anything which does not fit Jacobs’ preconceived, standardised model is dismissed as confabulation, or the result of hypnotic techniques by the Grays.

Although downplayed here, Jacobs continues to believe against all the evidence in real abductions by real space aliens into real spaceships. Magonia readers know otherwise They will see in the opening scenario a typical case of sleep paralysis, the Gray materialising from an amorphous light is an echo of many a ghost story, the night ride recalls the witches night ride with Diana in the army of the dead. Both in style and substance Jacobs’ narrative echoes those of the Satanic abuse hunters. Within the frame of the narrative they were originally sceptics driven to believe in ‘the worst thing there is’ by the pain and trauma of the victims; by the ‘numerous small details’ in geographically separate stories. By these means they are pursuaded to believe in the impossible. They appeal to the deep fear in us all of loneliness, of not being believed, of the terrible, unshareable secret.

Both sets of explorations start with the unknown trauma, the nameless, faceless, fearful dread which peoples the sinister dark. The therapist turns the key which opens the floodgates of the unbearable memory of ultimate abuse: abuse so secret it is largely hidden from the victim herself. Both evoke dramas of desperate, loveless sexuality, women being forced to bear children of hate (one of the worst of the claimed atrocities in Bosnia has been the raping of women and then holding them hostage until the enemy’s children are born), the forced abortion, the rows of incubators, even the bizarre ceremonies, the images of the sacred perceived as a malignancy, even such small details as the ‘dreadsome drink’.

If this book is a meta-story in which the Grays can only be seen as the deceitful dead to whom the living must be sacrificed, then the introduction by John Mack hints at an alternative tradition, seen in some of the writings of Whitley Strieber, Ray Fowler, Ann Druffel, Ken Ring and even, at times, of Jenny Randles. This is the tradition of the abduction as theophany, the intervention of the divine in human affairs. For Mack they are God’s bankers and chartered accountants, come to place the Earth under receivership and to bring new stewardship over our mismanaged and polluted world, heralds of the Second Coming. Thus as AIDS meets the millenium, are eros and thanatos united in the myth of our age


Manhattan Transfer:
The Ethics of the Linda Napolitano Case
John Rimmer

From Magonia 45, March 1993.

In Magonia 44 I mentioned in the ‘Hold the Back Page’ feature the latest controversy setting U.S. ufologists at each other’s throats – the Linda Napolitano case. Presently being promoted by Budd Hopkins, Linda’s story tells of her being abducted from her twelfth floor apartment on Manhattan’s lower east side.

Linda had first contacted Hopkins in April 1989 after reading Intruders. She claimed that thirteen years before she had discovered a bump next to her nose, and that a doctor had told her that she had undergone surgery, a thing which she had never remembered. You will recall that a major feature of many of the abductions Hopkins investigates is the use of nasal ‘probes’ and ‘implants’ by the alleged aliens. After being in touch with Hopkins for some months, Linda called him on November 30th to report that she had been abducted in the early hours of that morning. Subsequently hypnosis ‘revealed’ that she had been carried out of her bedroom, through the window, and into a waiting craft which was hovering above New York City.

So far, apart from the untypicallocation, this was a fairly typical sort of abduction case. In February 1991 the case took on a dramatic new turn, alluded to briefly last issue. Two policemen, calling themselves Richard and Dan (surnames apparently not revealed) wrote to Hopkins saying they had witnessed the abduction whilst waiting in a car under the Frankin D Roosevelt elevated freeway, near Linda’s apartment block. In later letters they changed their story, now alleging that they were working for a security agency and were guarding a ‘senior political figure’, who is now believed to be Javier Perez de Cuellar, the former Secretary General of the United Nations. (Perez de Cuellar’s office states that their man was safely home in bed at the time, but, as Hopkins would undoubtedly say, they would do, wouldn’t they.)

There then began a curious campaign of harassment by Richard and Dan against Linda Napolitano. According to Linda they visited her apartment, expressing relief that she was alive and safe. It’s not clear why they waited a year after the event before checking up on someone they claimed to be concerned about, when they were apparently able to identify Linda’s building, and the window she was transported from. Curiously, although they made themselves know to Budd Hopkins in their first letter, they seemed strangely unwilling to meet him in person, and to date it would appear the only person who claims to have met them is Linda herself.

Subsequent meeting were not so friendly; as reported last issue Linda was allegedly kidnapped by the two men, threatened, sexually propositioned and threatened witha gun. She also received a bizarre letter from Dan, who now claimed to be incarcerated in a mental institution. It was following these claims that the suggestion was madeby ufologist George Hansen that these matters, if accurately reported, constituted a criminal act and should be put in the hands of the police. He argued that the interest of a private citizen who was being threatened by agents of the security services was more important than the pursuit of a UFO investigation, and that ufologists like Budd Hopkins, Jerome Clark and Walt Andrus, who wanted to put the whole matter ‘on hold’ to see how the ufological aspects of it developed, were being irresponsible. A circular expressing this viewpoint was sent to a number of ufologists in the US and Britain, including myself.

The story now takes a detour from Linda, and gets us involved in the political undergrowth of American ufology. Hansen’s first circular was rapidly followed by one from Jerome Clark, headed ‘The Politics of Torquemada or, Earth Calling Hansen’s Planet’. This is an incredibly ill-tempered missive, comparing Hansen with Torquemada, the chief persecutor of the Spanish Inquisition (I did not notice any suggestion in Hansen’s letter that Hopkins, Clark, et alshould be burnt at the stake). This has been followed by responses from Hansen and Willy Smith, and a further circular from Clark entitled ‘Wasting Away in Torquemadaville’. For those of us who in the past have had a great deal of respect for Clark’s writings, the intemperate tone of these letters is worrying. No doubt like most great American ufological feuds, this one will run and run, and end up… well, this is a magazine intended for family reading.

Back in Manhattan, Hopkins had found another witness to the abduction event. A year and a half after the alleged incident Hopkins received a letter marked on the envelope ‘Confidential, Re: Brooklyn Bridge’. (This external warning seems to have been called for as Hopkins apparently never opened a previous letter from the same person.) This came from a retired telephone operator to whom Hopkins has given the nom-deplume Janet Kimble. She claims to have been driving over Brooklyn Bridge when her car stopped and the lights went out. She saw a brightly lit object over a building, and although the light was so bright she had to shield her eyes, and was over a quarter of a mile away, she was able to see four figures emerge from a window and move into the object. ‘Kimble’ was frightened by this, and reported that other drivers whose cars had stopped were running around on the bridge and screaming in panic.

Curiously, none of these other people have come forward to confirm her story, and in her letter to Hopkins ‘Janet’ says she thought the incident might have been someone making a film of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs! Willy Smith in his circular on the case comments: “[she] was a former telephone operator, familiar with what to do under the circumstances. Did she call the police, then or later? No. She chose to report the incident to abduction expert Budd Hopkins – after a lengthy process to locate him – by writing to him the following summer”.

The latest document to be received on this case is a long report by George Hansen and two other researchers, Joseph Stefula and Richard Butler. Curiously, in his first ‘Torquemada’ letter Jerome Clark distinguishes between the what he sees as the inquisitional style of Hansen’s contribution to the debate, and the `honorable’ approach of Stefula and Butler. This joint document suggests their attitudes to the case are closer than Clark admits.

Magonia readers, conditioned by 25 years of insidious scepticism will already have dismissed the Napolitano claims outright, but they are worthy of more detailed consideration. Stefula, Butler and Hansen’s report is important, as none of the authors can be considered ‘knee-jerk debunkers’. Hansen has written a considered critique of the failings of the CSICOP organisation, Butler claims an abduction experience himself, and Stefula was, until his recent resignation, the MUFON State Director for New Jersey. Nor are they armchair ufologists, as they have interviewed Linda Napolitano, and done on-the-spot investigations. It was during one of their on-the-spot visits to the Lower East Side that they noticed an important piece of information that was not offered to us by Hopkins and his apologists: that the supposed location of this event – blinding light, hovering UFO, people floating through windows, – was directly opposite the night loading bay of the New York Post, the city’s leading sensationalist tabloid daily. Surely even tabloid hacks could not get so tired and emotional that they would miss this earth-shattering event taking place on their back doorstep? The loading bay manager, who is on duty to 5.00 a.m. recalled nothing of these events.

Stefula, Butler and Hansen (SBH from now on, if they will forgive me) give an account of their interviews with Linda, whch revealed further information not available from Hopkins. At a meeting on February lst, 1992, Linda stated that Hopkins had received a letter from ‘the third man’ (now believed to be Perez de Cuellar) which Linda was able to quote from memory. It discussed potential ecological disaster, claimed that aliens were involved in ending the Cold War, and warned Hopkins to stop searching for the `third man’ because it could harm world peace.

SBH discuss at length the many problems involved in this case. None of the other 1600 residents of the apartment block complex saw anything, nor did any of the night duty security guards. At a meeting withHopkins, David Jacobs, Jerome Clark and Walter Andrus on October 3rd 1992, a number of disturbing features of Hopkins’ investigation came to light. For instance, he had not bothered to check on weather conditions on the night of the abduction, although this could have been vitalin assessing the evidence of the Brooklyn Bridge witness (in fact the night was clear). Nor had he bothered to check, as SBH had done, withthe apartment block security guards to see if anyone else had witnessed the event. It emerged also that Hopkins and his associates now believed that there was a large motorcade carrying Perez de Cuellar and other world figures through NYC in the early hours of 30th November 1989.





By the nature of the endeavour, those trying to be helpful can be vulnerable to deception.”






 Linda’s husband made a significant contribution to the meeting, but significant in the manner of the dog in the Sherlock Holmes story which did not bark in the night. He answered a few questions, but, as SBH say: “he seemed to have difficulty with some of them, and Linda spoke up to ‘correct’ his memory. He left the meeting very early, even though Linda was under considerable stress, and despite the fact that she was overheard asking him to stay.” They conclude: “His leaving raised many questions in our minds.” This ‘semi-detached’ attitude by spouses of witnesses and abductees, when one might expect them to have a clear picture of what was happening to the person they shared their lives with, seems to be a feature of many encounter and abduction cases on both sides of the Atlantic.

At the same meeting reports were presented from two psychologists. They sing a popular refrain: Linda’s intelligence is ‘average’, but to plan and execute such a ‘complex hoax’ (oh dear, that again) would require the brain of chess Grand Master Bobby Fischer, and Linda was not capable of “orchestrating such a massive, complex operation”. Oddly, the names of the two psychiatrists who came up with these conclusions were not given at the meeting – maybe not surprising if such facile comments are typical of the standard of their work.

SBH’s paper is too long and detailed to quote at much greater lengthhere, however, I would like to finish witha lengthy quote from part of their conclusion, in which they debate the psychosocial aspects of the investigation, particularly the reaction of American ufology’s ‘establishment’.

“Do these leaders,” ask SBH “really believe, as they said, that they accepted the report of attempted murder? If so, they seem not to have acted as responsible citizens… We believe that other motivating factors and concepts providea better explanation for understanding these seemingly bizarre actions. We would suggest that perhaps, at some semiconscious level, these individuals do not really believe their UFO investigations to be fully engaged with the ‘realworld’. Rather, their behaviour and statements seem more consistent with somthing like fantasy role playing, perhaps akin to the game Dungeons and Dragons.

“Both ufology and D&D allow direct, immediate involvement with powerful ‘other-world’ beings and mythological motifs. Both endeavors have been known to overtake (possess?) the participants, though only occasionally to their detriment. Most players are able to successfully detach themselves from involvement, but occasionally the game become obsessive and interferes with ‘real-world’ pursuits. This role-playing taps archetypal images that hold great psychological power. The archetypes can become immensely attractive, even addictive to those playing the game…

“In the Napolitanocase the ‘other-world’ figures include not only the ET aliens, but also the pantheon of agents of an unreachable, evil government conspiracy determined to prevent humankind’s knowledge of the ETs. Intermediaries between flesh and blood humans and the powerful masters of the mystical higher orders are ubiquitious in the realms of religion. Angels and devils serve the centers of ultimate good and evil. So here we see the largely invisible minions ‘Dan’ and ‘Richard’ and the mysterious witness on the bridge furthering the cause of `Truth’. Likewise, Hopkins discerns the skeptical investigators as agents of a secular satan.

“Thus the interactions of Hopkins, et al, with these players are seen to conform to the rules that historically control the interactions between humans and gods. Humans question and provoke the gods only at the greatest peril. The proper approach is to appease, mollify and supplicate these `entities’. It should be no surprise that the simplest reality tests of the Napolitano story were not made in this case. Hopkins’ failure to check the weather conditions during the abduction actually makes sense in the context of this cult-like thought process…

“The roles of high priest and acolytes are only too obvious when examining the behaviors of personages Hopkins, Clark, Jacobs and Andrus. These aging white males patronizingly refer to Linda’s `average’ intellect, perhaps to reassure themselves that they are indeed in control. Yet the high priestess has, in effect, achieved the godhead (metaphorically speaking, of course).”

They conclude this discussion: “We are not denigrating ufology by such comparisons… nor are we attacking the existence of ‘other-world’ entities. Regardless whether entities or ET aliens exist, the comparisons are useful and the consequences and insights are applicable. Such a comparative analysis should not be limited to only D&D players and ufologists; similar comparisons could be made for virtually everyone in the ‘real world’. they can help serve as warnings about becoming too complacent regarding beliefs in our own `rationality’”

This is a valuable lesson in many contexts, and in Magonia we have already pointed out the comparisons that can be made between D&D fantasy roleplaying, and the ‘psychic questing’ phenomenon which dominates much fringe research in this country. We leave Magonia readers to consider who are the ‘aging white males’ and who the ‘godesses’ in our own contexts.
Surprisingly, after an efficient demolition job on the Napolitano case and Hopkins’ investigations, Stefula, Butler and Hansen conclude on a magnanimous and sympathetic note, recognising the difficulties and complexities of Hopkins’ relationship towards his ‘clients’:

“The outsidecritic who is not directly involved in such activities almost never recognises how difficult it is to serve as both a therapist and as a scientist. Those persons trying to help abducteesemotionally need to provide warmth, aceptance and trust. The scientist, however, needs to be critically open minded and somewhat detached and analytical. The two functions are not altogether compatible. We cannot realistically expect one individualto be 100% effective in both roles. By the nature of the endeavour, those trying to be helpful can be vulnerable to deception.”



Abductions: Who’s Being Taken for a Ride?
John Rimmer

From Magonia 36, May 1990

Are UFO abductions finally moving where they belong, i.e. out of the hands of ufologists? This question is prompted by several recent books, and news of new directions in UFO research which is starting to emerge from the USA.

There has been a tendency over the past couple of years to see American UFO research as monolithic and ETH-dominated, especially in the abduction field, which Europeans have seen as being centred on Hopkins and his genetic-experimenting aliens. Of course, this is a great over-simpification. We only have to look at the writings of Martin Kottmeyer and Dennis Stillings in this magazine and elsewhere to see that alternative viewpoints are articulately expressed.

Perhaps less appreciated in Britain is the split that is developing between Budd Hopkins and a number of researchers who had initially cooperated with him in hypnotic regression of suspected abductees. In the last Magonia mentioned briefly the rift between Hopkins and psychologiat Rima Laibow, and in Whitley Strieber’s Communium and particularly his second book of personal experiences, Transformation, his increasing disenchantment with ufology – or to be more precise, Budd Hopkin’s version of it.

In a book recently published in America, Report on Communion [1] by Ed Conroy, Strieber’s contacts with ufologists are chronicled in some detail. Report is intended as an ‘independent assessment’ of the nature of Streiber’s experience, particularly in the light of his life and background. ‘Independent’ is perhaps too strong a word, as the author is a friend of Strieber, and appears broadly sympathetic to his own assessment of his experiences. However, the book provides an interesting perspective an Strieber’s own account, and provides much background opinion to help us confirm or adjust our own opinions.

There are two easy ways of looking at the events described in Communion. One is to say they are pure invention, created by a skilled fiction writer; the other is to say they are a physical reality which happened in real-time. Both these possibilities deserve consideration, although for obvious reasons the former has been debated in a rather circumspect manner, especially in countries where the libel laws are such a Mickey Mouse affair as ours. However, for the purposes of any thorough investigation of Strieber’s experiences there in no need to have to choose between these possibilities, as the number of more likely expianatiocis is legion.

Most of the later part of Report is taken up by a comparision between the Communion events and encounters with traditional folklore entities – particularly Irish – and an assessment of the abduction experience in Jungian terms, and of course these are points which carry on from Strieber’s own speculations in Transformatio. At this point, an interesting thing happens. Strieber crosses the Atlantic, as it were, and seems to have far more in common with the worlds of Magonia, Meheust and Maugé than he does with MUFON and Majestic.

And it is here that the largest single gap in Conroy’s assessment occurs. Apart from Vallée, who is quoted extensively and approvingly, Conroy seems to be almost totally unaware that there is an alternative ufoiogical viewpoint to the ETH. This is almost certainly a product of the high profile that the ETHers have now achieved in the USA. Apart from the controversial influence or otherwise of Science and the UFO, the only other European UFO book extensively cited by Conroy seems to be Tim Good’s Above Top Secret, which is a shame as Conroy’s understanding of the mythic content of the UFO and abduction experience puts him far closer to the European researchers than to Good or mainstream USA thought.

The impression comes across strongly in Communion that Strieber was something of a ufological virgin until his experiences started and he came across Randles and Warrington’s Science and the UFO. This may be so, but Conroy has unearthed some fascinating material about the young Whitley’s extraterrestrial interests back home in San Antonio.

Mrs Ann Hix forms an interesting footnote to the history of ufology. Her husband, Col. Guy Hix was commander of Godman Air Force Base, Kentucky, in in 1947 at the time the ill-fated Capt. Mantell took off to investigate a UFO, and became America’s first UFO-related fatality. As a result of the legal wrangling which followed this case, Commander Hix and his wife moved to San Antonio, Texas, where their sons became boyhood playmates of one Whitley Strieber. At about this time – the era of the first Soviet sputnik – Strieber and his friends formed a rocket club, which reached the front page of the local paper when they launched a ‘frognik’ – a home made rocket carrying a frog!

It is interesting to speculate what might have happened if, after his amnesiac tour of Europe Strieber had decided to settle as an American in Paris. Perhaps nothing. Maybe, in a different intellectual climate he would have become a cultural insider, and the ‘visitor experiences’ would have taken a different form, had they occured at all. If they did happen, would they have developed differently if his first contacts with the world of ufology had been via some of the French ufologists rather than Hopkins? The cultural identity between the abduction experience and North American society is so strong that my suspicion is that Strieber just would not have had these experiences.

It would also be interesting to speculate what might have been the result if Strieber’s first contact with ufology had been via the Swedish researchers described in John Spencer’s Perspectives [2] – Berta Kuhlemam and Arne Groth. Spencer’s book is a plea for abduction research – indeed UFO research in general – to be witness-led rather than researcher-led. The conventional approach to abductees by ufoiogists, he claims, leads to a story emerging which conforms to the ufologist’s preconceptions and he makes the point that an abductee presented to a past-lives researcher might come up with a variation on a reincarnation story.

This is a fascinating suggestion with links to some recent US research which I shall look at in a moment. He points as an example of witness-led investigation a Swedish abduction case from 1974, investigated by Kuhleman and Groth. Here the initial event seems conventional enough: a man returning home in a lonely country area suffers a missing time period after a close encounter with a mysterious light. An initial hypnotic regression produces a narrative of abduction by four tall, ‘semi-transparent’ beings who communicated by ‘musical tones’. The percipient was not happy with the direction of the investigation, and at this point Grath was introduced to the case. He abandoned hypnotic regression and allowed the witness to move the investigation into the directions he fait happiest with.

The investigations, under the percipients own direction, began to move away radically from the conventional lines we expect from a UFO-investigator directed case, and into a far more mystically inclined area, with both investigator, percipient, and others engaged in dowsing and the range of activities we think of as ‘earth-mysteries’, and working with such concepts as earth-energies, body-energies resembling kundalini, and the Gala concept. It is hard to see how the investigation might continue, and it seems unlikely that it will ever come to what most ufologists would consider a ‘conclusion’. If nothing else one must admire the sheer patience of Kuhlemann and Groth, who seem to have spent years and years following the whims of their abductee. I guess many ‘investigator-led’ researchers would have given it up as a bad job years ago. It is also apparent that the approach taken by both investigators and percipient is influenced by cultural concepts of society and land that are distinctively Scandinavian.

A major part of the book is an account of the seminal (no pun intended, or was it just a Freudian slip?) Hill Case. Spencer’s approach was outlined in his talk to the BUFORA International Conference in 1988 and a recent series of articles in UFO Times. He concludes broadly that the Hill case arose from Barney’s dream experiences after the sighting of a relatively low-key UFO during the course of their drive. Barney’s experience were shared, consciously and unconsciously. with Betty, until they jointly emerged during the course of the investigation.

It is surprising that Spencer, a long-time BUFORA Committee Member, seems as unaware of the nature of much of British ufology, and its divergence from the American pattern as does Ed Conroy. I find it difficult to accept his constent assertions that British abduction researchers are simply following in the footsteps of the Americans. He seems to imply that most British researchers are simply Hopkins clones – this is happily far from the case; in fact his constant harping on the ETH domination of British ufology is irritating and detracts from his book. Of course, there are British researchers who are still attached to the ETH, just as there are American researchers who have jettisoned it: but the overall picture is very different from Spencer’s caricature.

We are left with the almost certain conclusion that the majority of abductees are going to have their most traumatic experiences, and their lives, explored and explained by a group of poorly trained, amateur hobbyists.

But even in America, attitudes are changing, and Hopkins himself seems to becoming an increasingly isolated figure with his naive scenario of alien interbreeding and genetic experiments. As I mentioned in the Editorial of Magonia 35, the abduction experience in America is now beginning to attract the attention of paychologists, therapists and other mental health professionals, as well as engaging the attention of parapsycologists who have up to now been working in other fields.

A very interesting report by the Near Death Experience researcher Kenneth Ring has recently come our way. In it he summarises a psychological profiling exercise amongst abductees, NDE experients, and as control, researchers into these subjects. He finds, as will be no surprise to faithful Magonia readers, a considerable degree of similarity between the two groups of experients. He also claims that the results do not show any aignificant degree of ‘fantasy proneness’ amongst the two experient groups. I am rather doubtful about the significance of this finding, as the questions designed to determine fantasy proneness not only seem extremely subjective – “Did you day-dream a lot as a child?” – but in many cases suggest the answer the researcher would like to hear. They seem to be making the respondent choose between “Are you a dull, uninteresting little bore”, and “Are you a sensitive, fascinating human being who has lots of exciting things happen to you?”

Just as interesting as the responses of the experients are the responses of the investigators. As Ring describes them they are hardly a ‘control group’ – a real control would surely be a random group of people with little or no interest in the subjects. Indeed, they show responses often remarkably similar to the experients. It would appear that becoming interested in NDEs or UFOs is almost as life-changing an experience as having an NDE or UFO experiernce. It is also of note that UF0 researchers’ responses are consistently more to the ‘strange’ side of the equation than those of NDE investigators – sometimes in fact more ‘strange’ than NDE experients. perhaps reflecting the fact that NDE studies are a more ‘acceptable’ topic for academic research than UFO

In The Evidence for Alien Abduction [3] I put forward the suggestion that the abduction experience is a symptom rather than a cause of personality change. It now seems that becoming interested in UFOs may be a symptom of a similat process!

Ring’s interest in ufology, via abductions, is significant, and is an example of the ‘professionalisation’ of UFO research, particularly abduction research. This trend has got farthest in America, where psychologists, psychoanalysts and therapists are moving into the field. One of the leading figures in this move is the aforementioned Rima Laibow, a psychotherapist who is one of the prime movers of the semi-mysterious TREAT – Treatment and Research of Experienced Anomalous Trauma.

In the last Magonia editorial I welcomed the appearance amongst abduction researchers of professional psychologists, therapists, etc., particularly as current research is continuing to show some sort of connection between the abduction experience, and a history of childhood sexual abuse towards the abductee (a finding which is reinforced by the Ring survey mentioned above). But there is another side to such involvement which will also need to be addressed.

In an article in the January 1990 issue of MUFON UFO Journal, Rima Laibow looks at the complementary roles of the amateur ufologists and the professional therapist. Much of the article is a sensible analysis of how these two groups can work together – the therapist looking after the interests of the individual concerned, the ufologists putting the individual experience into a wider perspective. Towards the end however, her paper turns into a plea for the therapist to be able to charge a fee for her/his work with the abductee. The ufologists, she argues, are allowed to profit from the books and articles they write on abductions (well, some do, most don’t), so it is only fair, isn’t it, that the professional therapist should also turn an honest penny without charges of ‘profiteering’ from the UFO community?

One American correspondent has commented that there is already the suspicion arising in the USA that the growing hostility between abduction researchers and professionals (such as that between Hopkins and Laibow) is because the latter see the former as ‘siphoning off’ potentially lucrative cases.

Despite that, the professionals do have a fair argument. We are dealing with highly trained people whose time is money and there is a limit to the amount of unpaid work they can do on a charitable basis. But here we have the fundamental question: who pays? The abductees themselves? In any other case where people are undergoing private treatment by a medical specialist this is the case, but how many abductees could afford it? Are those who can’t to be left, as now, to the tender mercies of the untrained ufologist? Or should the ufologists pay? Fine if there is chance of a profitable book in it, but I can’t see too many ufologists forking out the fees that any qualified psychiatrist or psychotherapist would be asking – especially in America where they are paid almost as much plumbers.

So we are left with the almost certain conclusion that the majority of abductees are going to have their most traumatic experiences, and their lives, explored and explained by a group of poorly trained, amateur hobbyists.

Someone’a being taken for a ride, but I can’t for the life of me work out who.



  1. Conroy, Ed. Report on Communion. William Morrow & Co., New York, 1989
  2. Spencer, John. Perspectives. Macdonald, 1990.
  3. Rimmer, John. Evidence for Alien Abduction. Aquarian Press, 1984.


Objections to the Birth Trauma Hypothesis.
Ian S. Creswell

From Magonia 11, 1982

While one must congratulate Dr Lawson for a most original and mentally stimulating piece of theoretical writing  [link here]  on the apparent similarity between relived birth image traumas and the reported observations of abduction percipients, a number of very clear and important objections to this theory come to mind.

Without completely rejecting the general ideas put forward in Dr Lawson’s paper, grave doubts enter the picture, both from the area of psychoanalytic psychology, from other more general sections of psychiatric medicine and from ufology itself. Although not wishing to be absolutely negative, upon careful thought the regretful opinion must be that there is no real basis for assuming that the images involved in close-encounter experiences of the third and fourth kinds are either partly or wholly the result of relived images associated with the so-called trauma of birth.

The results of so-called test situations we find unconvincing and the means by which these were brought to light in general highly unsatisfactory. While by no means denying the possibility that psychological processes are at work here, in fact quite the contrary, what we would rather suggest is that research and investigation is directed down other paths than images of birth trauma or other forms of psychopathology.

Before any particular theory is proved to be factual every part of the content of this group of ideas must be compatible with other valid knowledge and evidence in the area that one is writing about. Some amount of deviation is allowed, as no scientific subject can remain stationary for long periods of time without becoming stale. The very centre of Dr Lawson’s theory of a universal birth trauma is based upon the work of Otto Rank and the psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, a follower of Rank. Their theory of mental imagery reappearing later on in thF individual’s life as the cause of later neurosis and general behaviour disorders has now been almost completely rejected within psychoanalytic and psychiatric medicine. It is now mainly of interest for its historical place within psychological thought and is rarely if ever employed within the treatment of the psychoneuroses. (1)

Rank died in the United States in 1939, and outside America his theories are no longer the subject of discussion, although many of his suggestions have influenced others. Dr Nander Fodor, a New York analyst, makes use of the Rankian theory of the birth trauma, which he claims to have based upon clinical rather than philosophical foundations, in his extraordinary books, The Search for the Beloved and New Approaches to Dream Interpretation. Since nearly every aspect of human behaviour – not excluding constipation – is traced back in these books to the trauma of birth, it is a little difficult to see why they needed to be written at all.

But if Dr Fodor is somewhat lacking – in imagination as to origins, nobody can accuse him of lacking ingenuity in his interpretations. He informs us, for example, that children may start life with a handicap owing to prenatal influences, one of which is the violence of parental intercourse, the memory of which is said to be clearly apparent in the dreams of adult life. The fact that there exist no nerve connections between mother and unborn child does not trouble Dr Fodor, who postulates that communication takes place by telepathy. According to this theory, then, prenatal influences and the trauma of birth play a major part in the formation of character and determine mental health in adult life.

A more scientific exposition of this view has been put forward by Phyllis Greenacre, who believes that constitution, prenatal experience, birth, and the situation immediately after birth together play some part in predisposing the individual to anxiety. She notes that loud noises, maternal nervousness, and similar stimuli increase the rate of the foetal heart and the frequency of foetal movements, and supposes that these may fairly be taken as signs of anxiety. Such ‘anxiety’ is, of course, without mental content, but Dr Greenacre believes that it supplies an organic potential which may influence later anxiety reactions.

Turning now to one of the most highly critical reviews of birth trauma and its possible cause of future neurosis we have to turn to what Freud thought about this very speculative theory, bearing in mind that he had changed his own mind about the theory of birth trauma over the years, as can be clearly seen by reading some of Freud’s works. (2)

In the act of birth there is a real danger to life. We know what this means objectively; but in a psychological sense it says nothing at all to us. The danger of birth has as yet no psychical content. We cannot possibly suppose that the foetus has any sort of knowledge that there is a possibility of its life being destroyed. It can only be aware of some vast disturbance in the economy of its narcissistic libido. Large sums of excitation crowd in on it, giving rise to new feelings of unpleasure, and some organs acquire an increased cathexis, thus foreshadowing the objectcathexis which will soon set in. What elements in all this will be made use of as the sign of a ‘danger situation’?

Unfortunately, far too little is known about the mental make-up of a newborn baby to make a direct answer possible. I cannot even vouch for the validity of the descriptions I have just given. It is easy to say that the baby will repeat its effect of anxiety in every situation which recalls the event of birth. The important thing to know is what recalls the event and what it is that is recalled.

All we can do is to examine the occasions on which infants-in-arms or somewhat older children show readiness to produce anxiety. In his book on the trauma of birth, Rank has made a determined attempt to establish a relationship between the earliest phobias of children and the impressions made on them by the event of birth. But I do not think he has been successful. His theory is open to two objections. In the first place, he assumes that the infant has received certain sensory impressions, in particular of a visual kind, at the time of birth, impressions, the renewal of which can recall to its memory the trauma of birth and thus evoke a reaction of anxiety. This assumption is quite unfounded and extremely improbable.

It is not credible that a child should retain any but tactile and general sensations relating to the process of birth. If, later on, children show fear of small animals that disappear into holes or emerge from them, this reaction, according to Rank, is due to their perceiving an analogy. But it is an analogy of which they cannot be aware. In the second place, in considering these later anxiety situations, Rank dwells, as suits him best, on the child’s recollection of the traumatic disturbance which interrupted that existence – which leaves the door wide open for arbitrary interpretation.

There are, moreover, certain examples of childhood anxiety which directly contradict his theory. When, for instance, a child is left alone in the dark one would expect it, according to his view, to welcome the re-establishment of the intrauterine situation; yet it is precisely on such occasions that the child reacts with anxiety. And if this explained by saying that the child is being reminded of the interruption which the event of birth made in its intrauterine happiness, it becomes impossible to shut one’s eyes any longer to the far-fetched character of such explanations.

I am driven to the conclusion that the earliest phobias of infancy cannot be directly traced back to impressions of the act of birth and that so far they have not been explained. A certain preparedness for anxiety is undoubtedly present in the infant-in-arms. But this preparedness for anxiety, instead of being at its maximum immediately after birth and slowly decreasing, does not emerge till later, as mental development proceeds, and lasts over a certain period of childhood. If these early phobias persist beyond that period one is inclined to suspect the presence of a neurotic disturbance, although it is not at all clear what their relation is to the undoubted neuroses that appear later on in childhood.

Only a few of the manifestations of anxiety in children are comprehensible to us, and we must confine our attention to them. They occur, for instance, when a child is alone, or in the dark, or when it finds itself with an unknown person instead of one to whom it is used – such as its mother. These three instances can be reduced to a single condition – namely, that of missing someone who is loved and longed for. But here, I think, we have the key to an understanding of anxiety and to a reconciliation of the contradictions that seem to beset us.

Where the theory for birth trauma appears to fail as the cause of all future anxiety in a purely psychological sense is that a newborn baby just can’t function in a very developed conceptive-perceptive mode. The newly born infant, we assume, can only experience its environment by way of sensations of different types and sensory impressions of one sort and another, and by no other means. The sense of self is not present at birth to any great extent, with the young child not aware of the fact that he is a separate personality. His outward world is totally mixed in with his inner world. There is no ego state of personality, for this is still to come.

We just don’t know what kind of mental images are present (if any) in the newly born child. This being the case, logically we can’t say what is in the mind of the developing child in the womb either. Therefore to even hint at the possibility that the conceptive contents of the CE (close encounter) reports are nothing more than relived flashbacks to the area of time before, during and after birth on the part of the percipients is just assuming far too much.

Another factor that we are not very happy about is the part that hallucinations are being made to play in this particular theory. If a person is suffering from any of the different forms of sensory hallucinations then he or she is in a state of very serious mental confusion in which the borders of reality become totally obscured. This is mainly a state that is associated with psychoses rather than neuroses (although the line between them can become very thin in certain cases). A person suffering from a psychotic disorder is usually pretty obvious, as hallucinations don’t exist in a state of vacuum but along with other serious symptoms of psychosis.

Hallucinatory states do not occur just once or twice and then never again but rather recur pretty frequently, usually matching in with whatever particular individual delusional element is present at any given time in the mind of those so disturbed. Yet another feature of most psychotic states is that normal life becomes nearly impossible as the person gets more and more out of touch with reality. How many close-encounter percipients can really be classed as being in this particular category?

We are not happy either with the manner in which the comparison material was collected from artificially created situations involving the use of hallucinogenic drugs, hypnosis or sensory deprivation. Just how often are close-encounter experiences of the third and fourth kinds of this nature?

It is not very unusual to see all kinds of strange entities while under the influence of various hallucinogenic drugs. Pain-killing drugs also at times produce hallucinations of a visual nature when patients suffering from serious illnesses are given large amounts of certain kinds of these drugs. To suggest that these people are reliving images associated with the trauma of birth is far-fetched indeed. These people are not psychotic but only display hallucinatory indications when under drugs and not at other times.

In cases of loss of sensory impressions hallucinations frequently occur but, once again, they don’t when the person is again fully aware of his or her external environment. To assume, as Dr Lawson does, that the images assoicated with these particular states and the close-encounter images are all of a birth-relived image state is very hard to accept. It appears more like science fiction than the close encounters do.


To suggest that there is any likeness between a human foetus and the type of entity that Betty Andreasson saw during her experiences is taking the imagination to its limit.


We would also view very doubtfully the apparent similarity between the humanoid and the human foetus. There does not appear to be any real link here at all, which becomes only too clear if one checks out the relevant books on gynaecological medicine. To suggest that there is any likeness between a human foetus and the type of entity that Betty Andreasson saw during her experiences is taking the imagination to its limit.

We can find no confident proof in Dr Lawson’s statement: “It is beyond question that there are extensive similarities between perinatal imagery and UFO abduction narratives, as the presentation of parallels from both areas and an analysis of a prominent abduction have shown”. Dr Lawson’s theory, mainly based upon the work of Grof, fails to explain the category of reports known as CE4, rather it makes an understanding of these human experiences harder to form. It is not a very good practice to take a minor and mainly discarded theory from its original subject and then transfer it into the field of another subject which is itself highly controversial, to say the least.

Dr Lawson’s speculative arguments against multiple witness CE3 and CE4 reports ~, seem to be very strange indeed. Firstly, he quotes Allan Hendry’s excellent book on UFOs, but appears to make the mistake that Hendry classifies CE cases involving multiple witnesses as being very doubtful. It appears to me that Hendry is meaning this to apply to mass sightings of a low-definition variety, which are much more likely to have conventional explanations than ufological ones.

To regard encounters involving more than one person as being due to such causes as multiple hallucinations (I have not yet been able to find out just what this means in a psychiatric sense. I have not come across any cases that feature this unusual symptom of mental disorder in literature dealing with hallucinations), folie a deux, imaginary companions and mass hallucinations (really more like mass hysteria which is due to the spread of rumour and the desire to believe something to be true and which correctly belongs in the study of human behaviour) is bordering on the ridiculous.

To further make the point, as Dr Lawson does, that testimony of this type is no guarantee or proof of an objective event, but rather of its subjective psychological validity for those experiencing it is of course fair up to a point, but if taken too far is again illogical. If this is so then no one should ever be trusted who gives evidence in a court case on behalf of someone else in support of them because of possible subjective motivation.

Dr Lawson’s theory appears to pay very little attention to any sort of physical factor involved in close-encounter reports, dismissing them too casually and seeing no link between the events experienced and the physical factors involved. No doubt a great deal of so-called physical evidence is rather ambiguous and can indeed be open to many interpretations. But to make the sort of statement which follows is going to far:

“The inescapable fact is that no abduction case has thus far presented unambiguous physical or physiological evidence which compels us to conclude that a UFO landed in that spot, or left that mark on the abductee’s skin, or abducted that family. I am speaking not of probabilities or possibilities but of certainties.”

There are a number of close-encounter abduction reports which do appear to have a clear physical result, either to the environment or to the percipient, and other closeencounter reports show the same thing. Just what this might mean as to the nature of the experiences we are dealing with is another matter.

Dr Lawson does not seem to distinguish between close encounters of the third and fourth kinds but tends to regard them as being the same thing, which they may not be at all! There does appear to be, however, a subjective factor present in most closeencounter reports of all types, but I don’t feel that this subjectiveness is at all pathological. Rather, it may be more the result of some natural process of the human psychical structure interacting with the electromagnetic-chemical fields of energy both within the percipient’s brain and the environment to produce a manifestation
which is both objective and subjective in its cause and effect.

Again one must question the validity of Dr Lawson’s contention that in CE3 reports the dominant creature type is humanoid and that it resembles the human foetus, especially such entities as observed by Betty and Barney Hill, and Travis Walton. It is true that there are more reports of humanoid entities than of other kinds, but the latter are not rare and one must have very good imaginative ability to see any likeness between them and the human foetus. What would Dr Lawson make of a report of the fourth kind that involved more than one type of entity, we can only wonder?

No doubt taking the full range of ufological manifestations into account only tends to lead one to conclude that there is more than just a single cause at work here. I am classing only reports (all across the board) that are unexplained, with the cause of unexplained low-definition reports beina different from that of medium reports and so on, with perhaps the cause of the closeencounter cases being something else again. These ufological manifestations can not be put down to images associated with birth trauma. They are world-wide and are reported by all social groups, and are generally not the result of any pathological syndrome of either a physical or psychological nature.

Dr Lawson’s theory poses more questions than it answers, leaving too many strands untied and open. He admits that “a causal nexus between specific events of one’s biological birth and particular images has yet to be established”, and that “we cannot yet explain what stimulates the sequence of visual imagery and events which makes up an abduction”.

Another weakness, we feel, lies in the unproved assumption of Rank and others that the presence of birth trauma elements are universal in their manifestations, that it has always been present, that it is something which sets the pattern for future anxiety. Yet not everyone is affected? If what Dr Lawson writes is correct then we all should be having CE4 encounters, yet this is not so. Nor are the percipients of these strange images repeating their subjective manifestations time and time again, which they should be doing if these images really are the long-lost memories of life in the womb, of birth and just afterwards.

Turning to reports of CE3 and CE4 which involve EM effects. Just how can the birth trauma theory fit in to try to explain them, because a birth memory of great anxiety can not stop a motor car’s engine, put out its lights and cut out radio reception?

Turning lastly to historical factors associated with UFO manifestations and the possible appearance of birth trauma effects, we must pose the question: Why did not the present-day images of CE3 and CE4 encounters occur to the extent they do today, taking as true the age-old and universal nature of the birth trauma?

Why did people see airships, mystery aircraft, ghost rockets, all of which do appear to be prototypes of present-day ufological manifestations, instead of just seeing UFOs and their occupants? There can’t have been all that many airships present at birth to give rise to early infant anxiety, or strange unmarked aircraft flying about in the womb prior to birth to cause pre-birth nightmares to the unborn child!

Lastly, a question: how is it possible for the unborn child in the womb to know just what its own appearance is, in order for this to be later superimposed in adult life as part of a close-encounter abduction experience?



1. Brown, J.A.C. Freud and the Post-Freudians, Pelican Books, 1971, pp. 54-55.
2. Freud, Sigmund. Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety. pelican Books, 1979, pp.291-293