Fairies and Fireballs.
Peter Rogerson

left-frameFrom MUFOB New Series 9, Winter 1977-78

A Moravian fairy-tale communicated to GEPA, the well-known French UFO group, by a Mr Chaloupek, relates how, one day in the mid seventeenth century in the village of Chechy Pod Kosirem, near Prostejov, the village baker’s daughter was delivering some milk-rolls to the castle. In a turning she met a strange little man who sprung up in front of her. He siezed the three rolls, bit into one of them then spat it out in disgust. He did this with the other two rolls, before disappearing back into the woods. Shortly afterwards she saw a fireball rise up into the sky (1).

The little man was probably a water-nix, and there is surely some significance in the mystic three rolls. His rejection of the rolls acts as a mirror image of the traditional need to reject fairy food. Presumably the rolls are as tasteless to nixes as the fairy chocolate was to the unfortunate motorcyclist of Les Routiers

Fairies have been associated with fireballs in more recent times. One wild and stormy night in 1948 a shepherd was sheltering from the storm with his sheep, in a hut near Yaste Monastery near the town of Garganta Il Olla, Spain. He heard voices outside, and on opening the door saw a small man, who he invited in. Only when the being stood warming himself before the newly lit fire did the poor shepherd realise that his visitor had a very develish cloven hoof. He screamed in panic, and ‘Pan’ fled through the door. Only then did he see the fairy fireball ascending into the stormy sky. The poor man was now convinced that he had had a visitor from regions somewhat warmer than sunny Spain! He became a fervent churchgoer! (3)

This, incidentally, was not the first Magonia-inspired conversion in Garganta la Ollo. Fourteen years previously, in October 1934, an old lady saw a strange being in a silver suit, and a voice “in her head” announced the birth of her grandson. As she ran towards this being it vanished. When she found the grandchild had indeed been born, she demanded he be christened ‘Angel’. (4)

In view of the satyr-like qualities of the Spanish fireball fairy, it is significant that Hartland (5) mentions a Moravian tale of a bride who shuts herself up every eighth day. When her husband peeps through a keyhole, he behold her thighs clad with fur, and her feet those of a goat.

The classic case of a fireball fairy is that seen by children of Premanon, who in September 1954 (again on a rainy night) met a walking ‘sugar cube’. One of the startled youngsters receiving an electric shock from this bionic boggart! As at Yuste Monastery, the fairy left in a luminous reddish fireball which left marks on the ground, including a fairy-ring of flattened grass (6).

The fairy fireball is perhaps the traditional will of the wisp, which is also said to signify the presence of fairies. I am sure that there are traditional stories of fairies seeking shelter from storms, though I cannot find any to hand. Perhaps one of our kind readers can help?


  1. Communication from Alma Camard.
  2. FSR, volume 21, number 6, page 20.
  3. Ballester-Olmos. Catalogue of Type I UFO Reports in Spain and Portugal. Case 7.
  4. Ballester-Olmos. op. cit., case 4.
  5. HARTLAND, Edwin S. The Science of Fairytales; an Enquiry into Fairy Mythology. Methuen,1925.
  6. VALEE, Jacques and Janine. Challenge to Science. Spearman, 1967.


Indexing the Machine Elves. David Sivier

From Magonia 90, November 2005

Fairy Tale Motifs in UFO Narratives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


The American Way: A Cock-and-Bullard Story. Dennis Stillings

Originally published in Magonia 35, January 1990

As editor of Artifex, like most editors, I have become something of a clearinghouse for gossip, rumor, and inside information about all sorts of things relating to anomalies, witnesses, and those who investigate them. In regard to the extraterrestrial abduction scene and those involved, I have heard many impressive anecdotes from very reliable sources that have led me to regard many of the abductionist claims and claimants as highly suspect. Furthermore, in my personal interactions with some of the abductionists, I have observed behaviours and heard statements made that have led me to believe that their claims must be taken with a very large grain of salt indeed. A sampling of these statements and observations follows:

Item: Reliable. Source (RS) and Well-Known Abductionist (WKA) went to investigate the report by members of a family that they had seen “aliens in yellow space suits on the road.” There were “several flashing lights.” It was rainy and misty. RS checked on this by calling the county highway department to see if they had any people out at that place and time. Sure enough, a crew had been doing emergency roadwork. They had several Caution signs with them and were wearing the traditional yellow slickers due to the wet weather. RS passed this information on to WKA, who categorically refused to accept the explanation.

Item: RS (with Ph.D. in psychology) witnessed one of WKA’s hypnotic regressions for the purpose of confirming an abduction experience. It was clear to RS that WKA was recursively leading the subject, subtly suing him according to a predetermined programme, which WKA had written out on a notepad held in his hand.

Item: RS told me of a case of a New York woman who became extremely upset over WKA’s attempts to coerce her into believing that she had been kidnapped by aliens when she knew better; she was so upset, in fact, that she flew out to California to see a recommended therapist in order to recover from what amounted to a brain-washing experience.

This particular case, as well as the one just above it, is highly relevant to the issue of who really “homogenizes” the reports of the abduction experience. In spite of claims that these reports – coming directly from the victim – are essentially identical, we have this only on the word of the abductionists. As far as I know, no proof of this exists.

The purpose in bringing these anecdotes to the reader’s attention is to indicate that the level of reliability of American researchers in these areas might not be as high as Bullard implies. In relation to some of these items, Bullard’s invocation of Hufford’s important book [1] and its conclusions seems inappropriate – unless he wishes to apply its lessons to the abductionists themselves. I see little reason to believe that the abductees are “taken at their word” by the abductionists, or that the abductionists are giving us the pure, untouched reports of their subjects. A moderately close reading of Hopkins’ Missing Time and Intruders reveals that the subjects very often try to indicate that their experiences had a dreamlike or imaginary quality.

This is always glossed over or reinterpreted. Jungian explanations for the alleged similarities among the abduction reports depend on the reliability of what we are told by the investigators. I no longer believe that what is claimed by the investigators is reliable, therefore the similarities can probably be accounted for by a much more parsimonious explanation: the similarities are merely an artefact of the Procrustean techniques being used by the abductionists. In addition, much is made of the claim that typical abduction reports have been obtained by individuals not subjected to regressive hypnosis. For some reason, which is not at all immediately obvious to me, this is supposed to be proof of the objectivity of the experience. I am afraid that the significance of this claim needs to be spelled out more clearly.

The as yet ill-defined altered state of consciousness obtained by means of formal hypnotic induction is but one of several altered states available to the individual on his own. Autohypnosis, as well as altered states induced by more or less chance interactions with the environment, must be considered. The entire psychological history of the individual must also be taken into account.

Item: WKA has said to a number of people that he is “on a mission,” and that the abduction problem “is why I’m here.” Actually, having watched him say this myself, he really says it to no one; he sort of gazes upward with unfocused eyes as he says it. Item: I told a Well-Known Skeptic (not specifically a UFO sceptic) that I had heard no reports of abduction cases from any of my paediatrician friends. It seemed to me unlikely that these professionals would not have heard of abduction cases if they are of the ubiquity claimed by the abductionists. WKS said “It’s a cover-up!”

I know a number of paediatricians pretty well. They are sensitive, imaginative people who listen sympathetically to what children have to say, no matter how bizarre the story might be. Paediatricians frequently deal with the wild tales of children and use the imaginative content as part of therapy. It is unlikely that a paediatrician would take a story of alien abduction at face value. They would, however, not suppress such material.

Item: WKA (who is not a professional psychologist or counsellor) cautions victims about whether or not they should have children (due to the genetic experiments done on them by aliens), or whether they might not have to terminate intimate relationships because their ‘significant other’ “will not be able to understand the experience.” Aside from the prosaic fact that such counselling by unlicensed persons is illegal, unethical, and irresponsible, these abductionist recommendations are highly reminiscent of suggestions made by cult leaders to their recruits.

Item: In the little-known ET Bag Lunch Case, Well-Known MJ-12 person finds mysterious items that he is sure resulted from the visitation of an alien spacecraft. Having access to a UFO-buff high up in the administration of an aerospace corporation, he manages to have their laboratories do an analysis. The items turn out to be aluminium shavings, an old insulator, and part of a brown paper bag.

Item: Long before William L. Moore debunked himself at the 1989 MUFON meeting in Las Vegas, he got off to a strong head start, in 1972, by publishing, in consultation with Charles Berlitz, the perfectly fantastical book The Philadelphia Experiment. [2] This book speculates that, during the war, the U.S. Navy was in possession of some sort of relativistic electromagnetic device that would not only render an entire ship and its crew invisible, but teleport it to a distant location as well! Ufologists who have been reminded of the fact of this book have looked at Moore’s claims and reliability through new eyes. (The prominent biophysicist Otto Schmitt was heavily involved in electromagnetic experimentation with the navy during World War II. He has some 60 patents in this area, many of which are still classified. When I mentioned the Philadelphia Experiment to him he claimed [between chuckles and head-shaking] that he had never heard of such a thing, even by way of rumour. For various good reasons, I do not think he was hiding anything. Conspiracy buffs will, of course, think otherwise.)

The above items, in combination with the unwarranted enthusiasm among some American ufologists for the moribund MJ-12 and Gulf Breeze cases seem, in my opinion, to justify European ufologists’ dismay at the current condition of American ufology.

Along these lines, I also do not completely share Bullard’s characterization of European ufology vis-à-vis American ufology. Bullard claims that Americans “work from – the bottom up, wallowing in facts, often content just to accumulate and enumerate them.” They are often “satisfied to cobble together a few unsystematic generalizations and prefer to isolate phenomena rather than relate them.” On the other hand, European ufologists work from the top down, conforming data to theory. With regard to Europeans, I tend to regard this as somewhat true; however, the recent work of Hilary Evans [3] and Terence Meaden [4] – of singular importance to current ufology – do nothing of the sorts. [5]

Persistent objections from sceptics are met with the response that the sceptic is an ‘armchair ufologist’, yet nothing is presented that is the least inducement to get out of one’s armchair.

Both of these investigators proceed by way of gathering data, constructing models, and then allowing fresh data to strengthen or modify their hypotheses. In the case of American ufology, it is hard to see in what way the ETH, which dominates American UFO thinking, is not a ‘top down’ approach. The ‘top down’ approach is also characteristic of the abductionist method. It also characterizes recent American books on abductions that dismiss objections based on the problems of hypnosis, folkloric and mythological parallels, science fiction sources, and psychology, with a mere snort and a wave of the hand. Such objections are never raised by the abductionists themselves in their strongest possible form and then systematically refuted. They are scarcely raised at all. One is instead requested to accept the abductionists’ word that such objections are utterly irrelevant. Persistent objections from sceptics are met with the response that the sceptic is an ‘armchair ufologist’, yet nothing is presented that is the least inducement to get out of one’s armchair.

Budd Hopkins’ paper on ‘stewpot thinking’ [6] which Bullard cites, is an undistinguished and poorly thought-out critique of the use of traditional comparative methods (dismissed as ‘stewpot thinking’) in elucidating UFO and ET cases. Hopkins’ fundamental error in this paper is to compare problem-solving within a paradigm (discovering the source and cause of Legionnaires’ Disease) with problem-solving, where no paradigm exists (ufology). In the former case, one has a well-established and agreed-upon methodology; controversy may revolve around details, but the investigators pretty much all agree on the direction that solution of the problem will take. ‘Stewpot thinking’, in this case, might be inappropriate, but not always. Very often, the ‘stewpot’ thinker, seeing both the trees and the forest, perceives relationships unnoticed by his more linearly thinking colleagues. In nascent science, such as the development of electrical theory in the 18th century, analogies and comparisons with earlier models (hydrodynamics and alchemy were favourites) often prevail until the paradigm is established. It is in no way extraordinary or defective to lay the groundwork for clarifying and understanding a problem by using ‘stewpot thinking’.

Actually, the most important aspect of Hopkins’ essay is that it palingenetically models one of the first steps a cult or religion takes after it becomes established: it denies its relationship to any past religion. The Church Fathers were at pains to deny any relationship between Christianity and the Egyptian religion, but even the Church Fathers had a hard time maintaining this position and finally developed the theory that the Devil had caused other cultures to mimic Christianity in order to undermine the faith. Because of Hopkins’ remarkable recreation of this theological pattern, I strongly recommend that his paper be read.

Bullard’s arguments often seem to undercut his own discipline. As he says, “if the only evidence is a text, fiction counterfeits truth to perfection.” This may be so on occasion, but as a matter of fact, fiction rarely counterfeits truth to perfection, or to anything approaching it. We may not be able to provide an absolute, definitive proof that the story of Little Red Riding Hood is fiction, but there are several criteria of comparative method, long used in textual analysis and literature studies, that may be applied internally to any text that will lead us to regard it as either true, partly true, or mainly fictional. I do not understand what Bullard could mean here, and I sincerely hope that I have misread him. He appears to be making an unjustifiably strong statement that can be true only in the most absolutist sense.

One of the very best criteria for distinguishing between fact and fiction in abduction reports (as in many other kinds of anomalies reports) is the criterion of “information richness.” Let me give you a homely example. A drunk of no great intelligence, teetering on a bar stool, leans over to his buddy and grumbles, “If Tommy Kramer hadn’t busted his knee, we could all be going to the Super Bowl.” If this were overheard by a Martian, he would obtain, in this one sentence, (1) immediate, useful information about the nature of human beings and (2) a number of puzzles that would motivate further investigations, which might lead to additional real information.

The Martian would at least know, or soon be able to know, that a ‘Tommy Kramer’ had something called ‘knees,’ that they get broken, and that circumstances surrounding the physical condition of a ‘Tommy Kramer’ determines whether or not these humans will all go somewhere called ‘Super Bowl’. This level of information richness – and this is a pretty minimal example in human terms – is not to be obtained from ET contact. Nor is much ordinary information about contemporary human life obtained from myth and folklore which, like ET contact reports, tend to have an abstract, formalistic, and timeless character.

It is extraordinary that Bullard, as a folklorist, should fall prey to expressing such a concretism as, “In comparing folklore and abductions, many features fit but at the same time many do not. … Fairies do not fly spaceships or use eyelike scanning devices.” Don’t they? Representations and reports exist in which creatures, not fairies, perhaps, but certainly, creatures very similar to one or another variety of the ‘Little People’ do fly spaceships. [7] And eyelike scanning devices can be traced back a very long time indeed. They have significant representation in early myth and folklore, and have been used by mythical entities for ‘scanning’. [8]

I fully agree with Bullard that merely pointing out mythological or folkloric parallels does not prove that – very strictly speaking – something didn’t really happen. And if a single parallel were the only criterion for distinguishing fact from fiction, we would have great difficulties in certain cases. For instance, the tale of the flight of Mary and Joseph into Egypt with the infant Jesus could well be true, and it is almost a certainty that many ordinary families of three have had to make similar perilous journeys. Yet we also know that the traditional details surrounding Jesus’ birth and childhood closely parallel the circumstances surrounding the birth of many mythological or semi-mythological heroes. Thus one archetypal motif – the flight to avoid persecution by the representatives of the old order – is brought into connection with another theme: the birth of the hero. [9]

The ‘success’ of the rationalizations of the ETHers derives from the fact that once an arbitrary will behind a phenomenon is assumed, anything can count as evidence

Other folkloric themes and motifs may be assembled around a story, each severely reducing the probability of the story being a true and literal account of an historical event. From pursuing this exercise, we can even come up with why such stories are structured the way they are. (Needless to say – I would hope! – such themes and motifs abound in the abduction material.) Furthermore, comparative material having the very same motifs may even be obtained from the dreams of modern people. And if such motifs are the persistent stuff of dreams, I would suggest that they do not deal with matters of objective external reality. There are several other relevant tests for distinguishing real reports from mythic and folkloric confabulations. Bullard is blowing smoke from Freud’s real, cigar here.

At bottom, the ‘success’ of the rationalizations of the ETHers derives from the fact that once an arbitrary will behind a phenomenon is assumed, anything can count as evidence. This, combined with what Norman Mailer once referred to as “a logic that doesn’t know where to stop,” takes the ETHer wherever he wants to go. The ETH is extremely difficult to falsify, making it a fertile breeding ground for every sort of fantasy. The knowledge vacuum we confront in contemplating ETs and UFOs stimulates the imagination into providing ‘answers’ derived from psychological and cultural sources. If the imagery has a strong archetypal component, it will be driven by energies that arise from the very roots from which myth and folklore grow. The unconscious always tends to personify its contents and express the psychodynamics involved in dramatic form.

In closing, I would like to address the specific criticisms made against me by Bullard. First of all, I have never articulated to myself, much less published, a comprehensive Jungian theory of UFOs and ETs. I doubt very much that it could be done. The attempts I have seen have been virtually complete failures. I merely believe that there are certain aspects of UFO reports that lend themselves readily to Jungian treatment. Even if the ETH turned out to be true, this would not invalidate a Jungian approach to certain aspects of the subject. Human psychology is, after all, involved.

Contrary to Bullard’s hopes or fears, I do not have any fundamental ‘answers,’ and I have never claimed to have any – nor do I know where Bullard got the idea that I did. Jung, not I, first asserted that the world was in such dreadful shape [10] that a salvation myth, such as the one developed from extraterrestrial beliefs, was needed. I would, however, second his opinion. Nor am I the originator of the idea that there might be a parapsychological component to the UFO and its associated physical evidence. This idea has been entertained by, among others, Jung, I. Grattan-Guinness, Manfred Cassirer, Michael Grosso, Peter Rojcewicz, George Owen, and last, but not least, Jerome Clark. Clark, who now wishes to distance himself from his book on the Jungian/parapsychological explanation of UFOs and UFO reports, is one of only two people I know of who has attempted to put forward such an interpretation in a full-length book. [11]

Not only did Clark write an entire 272-page volume in this vein, but in the course of the work (in addition to putting forward a vigorous defence of the reality of the Cottingley Fairies) he formulated actual “Laws of Paraufology.” The First Law of Paraufology is: The UFO mystery is primarily subjective and its content primarily symbolic; the Second Law is that the ‘objective’ manifestations are psychokinetically generated by-products of those unconscious processes which shape a culture’s vision of the otherworld. Existing only temporarily, they are at best only quasi-physical. [12] Laws, no less!

Now, I appreciate the fact that Clark has disavowed this book, although I believe that this was due mainly to his intuition that its superficial and formulaic use of Jungian ideas for an understanding of UFOs was weak and unsatisfactory. But the point I really want to make is that, if Bullard wants to critique a substantial statement of the Jungian/parapsychological interpretation, why doesn’t he take aim at Clark’s book, rather than at the few very sketchy and tentative remarks I made in the Magonia article? Never mind that Clark no longer believes in what he wrote in The Unidentified, it is still the best example of what Bullard doesn’t like. If I didn’t know better, I would suspect that both Clark and Bullard want to hang Clark’s book around my neck!

I consider my ideas about the role of archetypal psychology and parapsychology in understanding UFO and ET reports to be merely attempts at opening up, and keeping in mind, alternative perspectives – no more than that.

In summary, I have to agree with those European ufologists who consider American ufology to be a frightful mess. Bullard’s paper goes far, in my opinion, toward supporting this view. It does nothing to refute it. I certainly would like to see the American Way return to action: Truth, not uncriticized fantasy; Justice – for the abductees; and the return of the empirical, pragmatic American ufological brain, the real victim of Abduction. There are signs that this is happening.



  1.  David J. Hufford. The Terror that Comes in the Night: An Experience-centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
  2.  The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility. Grosset & Dunlap, 1972
  3.  Alternate States of Consciousness: Unself Otherself and Superself. Aquarian Press, 1989.
  4.  The Circles Effect and Its Mysteries, Artetech Publishing, 1989.
  5.  Actually, when it comes to the gathering of facts, it is rare indeed that no ‘top-down’ hidden agenda is involved – rare enough that may be seriously doubted whether pure fact-gathering ever takes place.
  6.  Budd Hopkins, ‘Stewpot Thinking’, MUFON UFO Journal, 251, March 1989, pp.8-9,12
  7.  Bullard Might well benefit from a perusal of Michel Meuger and Claude Gagnon’s excellent book, Lake Monster Traditions, (Fortean Tomes, 1988). Meuger documents, by actual field studies, the transformation of traditional folklore creatures into machines.
  8.  See Tony Nugent’s discussion of the three Graea in relationship to the Pascagoula case in his paper ‘Quicksilver in Twilight: A Close Encounter with a Hermetic Eye’, in Cyberbiological Studies of the Imaginal Component in the UFO Contact Experience, Archaeus Publications, 1989, pp.109-124.
  9. A very recent example depicting the birth of the hero and the flight into the wilderness may be seen in the television special, Shaka Zulu.
  10.  I leave it to our European friends to evaluate Bullard’s counter: “when has the world ever not been in dreadful shape?” Nietzsche once remarked that “if there was a God he would not allow the twentieth century to have happened”.
  11.  Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman, The Unidentified: Notes Towards Solving the UFO Mystery, Warner Paperback Library, 1975. The other full-length Jungian book attempting to account for UFOs is by Gregory L. Little, The Archetype Experience, Rainbow, 1984
  12. Clark and Coleman, pp. 235ff, 242



The Sun Maiden. Peter Rogerson

An examination of some mythological traditions, with relevance to contemporary ufology

From MUFOB volume 4, number 2, June 1971

Since the publication of Vallée’s Passport to Magonia there has been a growing awareness that the UFO phenomenon belongs to a wider context of events, that possess a deep mythological significance for the human species.

This myth may be summarised as a belief in a fabulous land inhabited by supernatural beings, who can and do intervene in the affairs of men. They may ‘take’ men and women to their land, as either mates or servants or to perform a special tasks. They may live among men for a time, but are eventually called back to their homeland, They can take an interest in the affairs of individuals, families or nations, either to aid or to harm. Above all they are powerful:

We could out off half the human race, but would not… for we are expecting salvation

a member of the gentry tells an Irish seer (1). For this reason they must be held in respect; one should not conduct oneself in an unseemly manner in their presence or in the places sacred to them. A belief which persists to this day:

I favour the idea that the watchers have to be somehow in tune with whatever controls UFOs before they will appear… preferably a small harmonious group should sit quietly and think about UFOs

writes Janet Gregory in Pegasus magazines in a recent discussion on skywatches (2) feeling that the general chit-chat and blaring transistor radios are an affront to the inhabitants of Magonia.

There are many intriguing strands of belief connected with the general myth of Fairyland, as John Rimmer has pointed out. (3) In many respects one of the most important of these myths is that of the divine maid, who can seduce men and take them to the unknown country, or as in the tales we shall explore in this article can impart to them messages of great import. This maiden is simultaneously a mermaid-nereid figure and a sun goddess. The sun is the origin of the archetype of the Mandala, (The radiance of the sun is seen as a symbol of spiritual wholeness) with which the UFO is so identified as is the Grail legend. (4) In this way we can trace a mythological line of profound importance.

In South Uist in the haunted Western Isles, tradition has it that on Easter Day from the peak of Ben More the sun can be seen to dance, to celebrate the Resurrection, according to the Christianised version of the legend, which in fact is far older, and must date from the days of sun worship. One Easter day a widow climbed the mountain to see for herself:

She said the sun came above the horizon a dazzling blaze of gold, and when it reached the crest of the great hills… it began to change colour green it became, then purple and red, a deep blood red and white, clear intense white, and at last white-gold, like the Glory of God Himself. And it was dancing, dancing up and down, stepping it from peak to peak, from hilltop to hilltop.

The price of this mystic vision, as with that extracted from those who see the enchanted secrets of Fairyland, is blindness


From this we are impelled towards the Fatima story (4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11). Here three peasant children [above] encountered in the Cova da Iria, a large creek, a celestial woman. It was the 13th of May, 1917 when, tending sheep, they saw a bright flash of light. then, near an oak tree a woman materialised in a globe of fire. According to the children:

“The wonderful lady looked young, Her dress white as snow and, tied to her neck with a gold band, wholly covered her body. A white cloak with a golden edge covered her head. Near her hands was a rosary of pearly grains. The face was circled by a golden halo.” (8)

The lady delivered a message, then departed in the luminous globe. Again on the 13th of June, 13th July and 13th September the lady reappeared to the children. By the 13th September a good crowd had gathered but only the children saw the lady, Some (but by no means all) saw an ‘aeroplane of light’ coming from and returning to the sun in the east, with strange flakes which dissolved when touched, dropped from the sky. The following month, the cumulation of this fantastic vision came the famous Dance of the Sun. At midday the sun came through the clouds, glowing with a clear brilliance. Suddenly it seemed to spin wildly, and as it did so it changed colour, yellow, green, blue, then deep blood-red, falling towards the earth, the temperature rising. Then suddenly the spell was broken, the sun was back in a cloudless sky. While this spectacle was taking place the lady again appeared to the children, giving them messages they had to deliver to the great ones of the world.

Only the children saw the lady; not all the crowd even saw the dance of the sun. (10) Something Which those who attribute the phenomena to electromagnetic spaceships have failed to account for. About this event Michell writes:

There is a sort of fairy-tale atmosphere about the whole story. The lady appears to have been one of those supernatural figures like the attendant of the Holy Grail who can appear to one person and be invisible to another. She revealed herself above or by a tree like the angels who visited Joan of Arc or like the legendary local goddesses of pre-Christian Portugal. (4)

It is well to bear these views in mind, for such visions occur outside the traditional religious setting. Two centuries before Fatima a strange rumour circulated in the France of Louis XIV. It concerned a wonderful apparition perceived by a Marechal Ferraut (12, 13). Riding home one evening through a dark forest in Provence, he passed a blasted oak. There he saw a strange light.

Between this tree and a sapling, the intervening space consisting of about a dozen yards, stood a tall figure absolutely still and apparently inanimate. It seemed at first to be shaped out of transparent cloud… However, rapidly becoming more and more substantial, It soon developed into a very beautiful woman. She was dressed in white, the most splendid jewels glittered on her arms and breasts and something like a tiara upon her lovely golden hair… (12)

A strange paralysis, such as that which affects UFO percipients, gripped him. The strange figure announced that it was the spirit of the King’s late wife. It commanded him to take a message to the King, This consisted in part of a message about an apparition the King himself had seen in the same forest thirty years before. He promised to deliver the message, under the most terrible threats. Yet Ferrault had greater fear of the King, and he was to encounter the apparition twice again before he carried out the mission. The King, it was said, paid him highly to keep his silence as to the full nature of the message.

The reader will already have seen the parallels with Fatima and other visions of Mary — the tree, the woman of awesome beauty the secret to the leaders. The differences too — the vision of the children is one of quiet beauty, that of the old warrior, awesome and possessing of a terrible power.

Midway in time between these two stories, there occurred in a Maine coastal village near Machiasport a strange vision which seems to create a link between the legends such as Fatima and those of modern psychic research, (14,15). Towards the end of August 1799 a strange voice was heard in the house of a sea captain, Paul Blaisdell, followed a few months later (in January 1800) by an apparition of a beautiful woman clad in brilliant white raiment, who floated’ just above the ground, claiming to be a Mrs George Butler (deceased) and summoned her ‘husband’ and ‘father’ to prove the point. The purpose of the visitations was to force George Butler to marry the captain’s daughter Lydia, a purpose which was eventually accomplished.

The descriptions of what happened during the period are incredible. The apparition herded large numbers of people into the Blaisdell’s cellar (On one occasion there were more than two hundred present,) and delivered sermons, interspersed with prophecies, all of which eventually came to pass. There is a description of one of these lectures. The writer, a young woman guest was awoken by knocks on the door and went to the cellar, where twenty people were already assembled:

“Then I heard a voice speaking… it was shrill, but mild and pleasant.” Then there appeared a shapeless mass of light, growing into the figure of a woman, which then passed between the ranks of the spectators, talking all the time. At last it became shapeless, “expanded everywhere” and then vanished in a moment. The Rev. Abraham Cummings, who published the case, (14) had an even more curious experience. Told of the apparition he was sceptical and went to see for himself:

About twelve rods ahead of him there was a slight knoll or rise in the ground, and he could see a group of white rocks on the slope, showing dimly against the dark turf… Two or three minutes later he looked up… One of those white rocks had risen off the ground, and had now taken the shape of a globe of light with a rosy tinge. As he went towards it ho kept his eye on it for fear it might disappears but he had not gone more than five paces when the glowing mass flashed right to where he was (and) resolved itself into the shape and dress of a woman, but small, the size of a child of seven. He thought, “You are not tall enough for the woman who has been appearing among us.” Immediately the figure expanded to normal size… and now she appeared glorious, with rays of light shining from her head all about, and reaching to the ground. (15)

Struck dumb by joy mingled with terror Cummings stood silent, the figure then faded. The world seemed dull, commonplace, compared to its glory, he later recorded.

The inhabitants of Magonia can change their shape at will: “They are shape changers, they can grow small or grow large; they can take what shape they may choose.” (16) There are parallels to these stories. The Waterdales, Northfleet, Kent, for example, where, in a bedroom, the ghostly figure of a small girl growing to the size of a woman was seen. (17) Again there is Warminster, a maelstrom of embryo mythologies where a member of Shuttlewood’s investigating team was ‘taken’ by tiny beings who grew to normal size, then reduced him, with themselves. (18) (The Sidhe take people body and soul thus transforming them into one of their own.) They returned him but he was never the same again, and began to waste away. In other days it would have been said he was a ‘changeling’, for the Sidhe never give up those they have taken.

Those who are taken go to Magonia itself, the enchanted world, located according to various cultures under the earth, or sea, in the sky, or on strange other worlds, Always it is the Shangri-La, just over the horizon, so near and yet so far Few will go willingly into this paradise, for once entered there is no return. So ‘they’ will take men by force, especially those who have offended against their code, or who have disturbed their secret places. One such tale of attempted kidnapping is told by

Elliot O’Donnell the well-known ghost hunter. (19) A relative of O’Donnell (Mr B.) was driving in his side-car once night along a road from Hospital to Ballynanty in Limerick, a route notorious as a haunt of the Sidhe. He had fallen drowsy when he was suddenly awakened by his driver-servant clutching hold of him:

The horse had come to a dead stop, and was standing still, shivering, whilst the roadside was crowded with a number of tiny shadowy figures that were surging round the car trying to drag the unfortunate drivers who was quite frantic with terror, from his seat. Mr B, however, concluding that what he saw could only be the fairies, of whose existence he had hitherto been very sceptlcal, seized the reins and urged the horse forward. Meanwhile his servant seemed to be still paralysed with fright, and it was not until they were well out of sight that the man found himself once again in possession of his tongue and normal faculties… Then he described what had befallen him… He was driving along quite all right, till the horse suddenly stopped, and when he looked down to see what was the cause of it, he perceived a crowd of fairies, who rushed at him, and tried to drag him off the car. He said their touch was so cold it benumbed him, but by praying hard he held on. The cause of the attack was apparent…

“It was all because we came on them, sir, when they were dancing. They won’t be disturbed when they are at their revels and enjoying themselves. Had they got me down into the road maybe I should have lost my sight or my hearing or the use of my limbs, and in any case my soul.” (19)

Had such a story been told today there would be no doubt that it would be interpreted as a ufonaut kidnapping attempt. It is equally true of course that in earlier times the adventure of Gustafsson and Rydberg for example (20) would have been seen as an attempt by the trolls or watermen to take humans to their underground home.

It is clear that the supposedly simple UFO phenomenon is in fact incalculably complex. Whatever pretty little theory we care to dream up never covers the whole spectrum of events. Pieces of the jigsaw do fall into place; it is evident for example, that the modern UFO legend is an integral part of an immensely old mythological tradition. some facets of which we have presented here. We may in fact regard the UFO as an archetypical symbol derived from the sun at one level of ‘reality’.

However this certainly is not the whole meaning behind the myth or the reality. Can we interpret the phenomenon as subjective? If so, can the human sub-conscious create such a complex hallucination, or would it have to be implanted by some extra-mundane intelligence, and what kind of mind could accomplish that, and for what purpose? If the phenomenon is objective even more questions seem to be raised, among the simplest being: how could any objective phenomenon be visible to only a limited number of people contiguous to one another. Certainly if the phenomenon is a result of the activities of an extra-mundane intelligence it is operating at a far more complex and subtle level than most exponents of the ETH are prepared to concede.



  1.  Evans-Wentz, W.Y. The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, quoted in Jacques Vallée, Passport to Magonia, 1969.
  2.  Gregory, Janet. Letter to the Editor, Pegasus, vol.2, no.8.
  3.  Rimmer, John. ‘On the conceptual connection between fairies and UFO entities’, MUFOB, vol. 2, no.1.
  4.  Michell, John. Flying Saucer Vision, 1967, especially chapters 4, 5 and 6. The quotations are from chapter 5.
  5.  Swire, Otto F. The Outer Hebrides and Their Legends, 1966. Quotation from chapter 7.
  6.  Vallée, Jacques. Anatomy of a Phenomenon, 1966.
  7.  Thomas, Paul (i.e. Paul Misraki) Flying Saucers Through the Ages, 1965.
  8.  Ribera, Antonio. ‘What happened at Fatima?’, Flying Saucer Review, vol.10, no.2.
  9.  Inglefield, Gilbert. ‘Fatima: the three alternatives’, Flying Saucer Review, vol.10, no.3.
  10.  Paris, S. A. ‘Fatima again’, Flying Saucer Review, vol.12, no.1, letter to the editor,
  11.  Stearn, Jesse. The Door to the Future, 1964
  12.  O’Donnell, Elliot. Family Ghosts, 1965
  13.  O’Donnell, Elliot, Ghosts With a Purpose, 1963.
  14.  Cummins, Abraham, Immortality proved by Testimony of Sense, 1859. Quoted in:
  15.  Stevens, William, Oliver, Unbidden Guests, 1949
  16.  Gregory, Lady Augusta, Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland, 1920; quoted in ‘The UFO is alive and well and living in fairyland’, MUFOB, vol.3, no.6.
  17.  Sims, Victor, and George Owen. ‘the case of the haunted council house’, Sunday Mirror, November 20, 1961.
  18.  Shuttlewood, Arthur. Warnings from Flying Friends, 1968
  19.  O’Donnell, Elliot. Ghostland, 1925
  20.  Steiger, Brad. Strangers from the Skies, 1966

For a review of a more recent discussion of the Fatima phenomenon see: http://magonia.haaan.com/2008/god-and-the-sun-at-fatima-stanley-l-joki/ 

The books listed in bold above may be ordered from Amazon by clicking on the cover image here:


The Phantom Ship and the UFO. Peter Rogerson

From Magonia New Series 1, 1976

Note to Archive publication: This is one of my very earliest pieces for MUFOB, much of the material had been collected, and the basic idea thought of in the early 1970s, before the article was written up, probably in the late Spring of 1974. It is a piece of old fashioned romantic folklore, reflecting its mainly antique sources.


Since this article was written, I have discovered that a syndicated article or articles about phantom ships, probably based on the old sources used in this article, was published in US newspapers during the 1897 airship epidemic, and clearly this directly influenced tales such as Merkel. Alas I do not have the reference to hand. 


Among the archetypal themes of folklore which has had a moulding influence on the UFO myth, is that of the ‘Ship of Souls’ the phantom ship, which sails in the clouds, and ferries the dead to the western paradise

The tradition of this aerial ship existed throughout Europe until the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and either arose spontaneously or was carried by European immigrants to North America. There are reasons to believe that the idea is of very great antiquity. It has provided the basis for the legend of the “Flying Dutchman”, and certainly many features of the myth are to be found in the 1897 airship reports. In Britain phantom ship legends were especially common in Cornwall. As late as the eighteenth century phantom ships were said to have been sailing in the clouds above Porthcurro Harbour. (1) In the coastal area of Yorkshire “the clouds at even[tide] sometimes take on the form of a ship, and the people call it Noah’s Ark, and observe if it points Humber-ways as a weather prognostic” (1). In 1743 at Porbio near Holyhead a farmer saw this aerial ship; it resembled a packet ship and was sailing in the clouds .(2,3). The aerial ship was inhabited, as witness this American story:

“A strange story comes from the Bay of Fundy, that ships have boon seen in the air … Mr Barrow stated that they were said to be seen at New Mines near Mr Ratchford’s, by a girl about sunrise. The girl cried out, and two men who were in the house came out and saw them. There were about fifteen ships, and a man forward with his hand stretched out. They made the eastward. They were so near that people saw their sides and ports.” (4, quoted in 5)

Strange stories were told of this aerial crew. It was said that they were drowned by the air, as a human sailor was drowned by the sea. Irish legends told of persons at worship who saw an aerial ship, whose anchor became caught in the church. When a sailor was sent down to free it, he was soon gasping for air like a drowning sailor, so that the anchor had to be cut and he was taken on board again (6). Gervaise of Tilbury (7) told a similar tale set in England (1). What is especially interesting to note is that a like incident set in Merkel, Texas appeared in the Houston Post of April 28 1897 (Rogerson Catalogue, Case 45), The sailor was even described complete with a blue sailors’ suit, a remarkable example of folkloric survival. One of the fullest accounts of the “cloud ship” was that related by Archbishop Agobard of Lyons (8), Vallee quotes Agobard as follows (9):

“We have however heard of many men plunged in such great stupidity, sunk in such depths of folly as to believe that there is a certain region, which they call Magonia, whence ships sail in the clouds, in order to carry back to that region those fruits of the earth which are destroyed by hail and tempests; the sailors paying rewards to the storm wizards and themselves receiving corn and other produce. Out of the number of those (who) believe those things possible, I saw several exhibiting in a certain concourse of people four persons in bonds – three men and a woman like they had said had fallen from those same ships, and they had brought, them before the assembled multitude to be stoned. But truth prevailed.”

This legend, which has entered deeply, into the ufological myth, contains a number of significant themes. The aerial region, Magonia, in the western land of the dead the Isles of the Blessed, the land of the setting sun; it is Atlantis and Hy-Brazil, the mystical land which haunted European culture for millennia, and which provided the psychological drive behind many feats of exploration (10). From this unknown land in the west, ships come on the air. The ships bring the dead who destroy the crops of the living to take to their own realm. The belief that crops destroyed on earth are used as food by the dead are common to most archaic societies. It is the basis of the rite of sacrifice in all cultures. The storms that destroy crops are the dead, who are transfigured into the elemental spirits of the storm.

“… the dead of the ancient Aryans were believed to possess astounding powers. They travelled like the wind, sometimes as the wind. Good winds were the souls of of the good dead, ill winds of the bad dead who raged through the wild sky, jealous, angry, and vengeful.” (1)

The memory of such beliefs can still be traced in the belief that the appearance of the phantom ship is a warning of storm. In the picture of the Flying Dutchman by Gustav Doré these themes are clearly drawn out; the phantom ship with her skeletal crew roars up, borne on the storm, the sailors whom her appearance has doomed are cowering in terror. The victims of the mob mentioned by Agobard were very possibly human sacrifices to the gods of the storm, for it was not just crops that the cloud ships took, but the souls of men also. The ship came to the dying to take their soul to the land beyond the west or to the undersea world of ‘Fiddler’s Green’. When the one whose soul was to be taken was of evil character the event could be awesome indeed, as witness this tale of the death of a Cornish wrecker: (11)

“…his death was, more terrible. still. It was harvest-time and the gentle breeze scarcely stirred the ripe wheat in the fields, while in his lonely cottage the pirate, now an old man, lay at the point of death, with the parson, the doctor and two fisherman as his sole companions. Suddenly a wind arose, whistling round the cottage while from the sea a voice could be heard crying: ‘The time is come but the man isn’t come’ … Then a black ship appeared on the horizon moving steadily towards the shore. As it hove into view it became clear that it had no crew, while hovering directly above it was a curious dark cloud which moved with the ship. Suddenly the cottage of the dying pirate grow dark as if an evil spirit had entered it. Vainly the parson attempted to exorcise it. There came a crash of thunders and as the dying man scroamed ‘The devil is tearing at me with the claws of a hawk’, a stream of lightning shot from the sky and the cottage began to burn. Not even prayers could save the situation and, led by the parson, the sick man’s companions fled from the building, abandoning him him to his Fate.On reaching the churchyard, yet another storm broke and and the coffin was ignited by forked lightening. Then all afire, it was lifted up by a whirlwind and conveyed like a great burning log through the sky to the Wrecker’s Hell”
Standing in the open they witnessed a terrifying sight. The small dark cloud slowly detached itself from the ship and drifted over the land like a hideous jellyfish until it was actually hovering over the cottage of the dying man, It then decended, snatched up his soul, and drifted back to the ship which sailed rapidly out to sea, Returning to the cottage, the visitors discovered the the pirate was dead, his face, transfixed by terror, was awful to look upon, On the day of the funeral, the bearers were surprised to discover that the coffin was almost weightless.

For the good dead, the coming of the ship is a gentle release. It is the boat which takes Arthur to Avalon. In the traditions of some families such beliefs are found in modern times. Take for example this account in Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book (12):

“Lord Archibald Campbell died at Easter 1913 … Mr [Niall] Campbell … told me the ‘Galley’ had appeared on Loch Fyne. When I asked him to explain, what this was, he told no that the ‘Galley’ was a little ship like the one in their [coat of] arms’ and that when the Chief or one near to him was dying it appeared on Loch Fyne with three people on board, one of whom is supposed to be a Saint connected with St Columba. When his father was dying the ‘Galley’ was seen to pass silently up the Loch and to come to land at a particular point. It then passed overland and finally disappeared at the site of a holy place associated with St. Columba and given to the church by the forebears of the Campbells. A great many people saw it on the occasion of his father’s passing, including a ‘foreigner’, that is to say one who was not a Campbell or even a Highlander, but a Saxon. When the ‘Galley’ was soon to pass over the land this man called out “Look at that funny airship”.

Readers of MUFOB will recall that this story appears in our catalogue as R37. Thus we can see this particular account as a bridge between the “phantom ship” and the UFO myths.

A very few of those taken by the phantom ship survive; they find themselves transported to a beautiful land of eternal youth, such as the Irish Tir n’Og. Often the return from this land is by some magical means such as a waterspout. (20).

The taking of souls by the phantom ship is paralleled by the seizure of the living by the dead who ride on the wild storm wind. In Norse mythology this storm wind is the “Wild Hunt” (Wilder Jagd) led by Wotan, who with his pack of demon wolf-dogs pursue the sinner through eternity (11). The unwary are seized by the hunt generally to be lost forever, but occasionally to be deposited, like the victims of the Latin American teleportation, miles from home. In the Scottish islands the host of the dead, the sluagh, is seen in the form of a black cloud which seizes the living (21), also depositing, them far from home. Some writers connect the wild hunt with the UFO. (22).In England the wild hunt is associated with notorious local characters such as Herne the Hunter who are compelled to lead the hunt to expiate their sins on earth. A variant on this theme is the demon black carriage drawn by headless horses, pursued eternally by baying demon hounds. The Flying Dutchman theme is clearly identical with the above; it is an expression of the archetypal theme of eternal unrest caused by the violation of a taboo, the myth of the Wandering Jew. The crime of the captain of the Dutchman was in violating a taboo of the sea, a crime which brought down the Guardian Spirit of the oceans. This figure was perhaps a sea goddess such as appeared to Captain Brown of the Usk and ordered him to return to port (23,24). [See the foot of this posting for further information about the Usk]

As the phantom ship passes there is sometimes the sound of wild carousing. Such jollities were also associated with the l897 airship, as testified by William McGiveron of Pine Lake (R33) among others. Other witnesses of the airship however heard ‘religious songs’ and alleged that the occupants handed out temperance tracts. Those will be the good dead on the boat to heaven, (as in the spiritual ‘Sit down you’re rocking the boat’). This latter point highlights the Christian modifications of the archetype.

If we examine some modern phantom ship reports, we can see the similarities to the UFO more clearly highlighted. Take the following story related by a psychiatrist Glenn Thomasson. (25) Thomasson was on a fishing boat in the Gulf of Mexico in August 1970.

“That night (August 8th)… an hour before sunrise I was sitting on the bow of the boat when a large ship, illuminated clearly by the moonlight, appeared approximately 150 yards directly in front and perpendicular to our boat. It was only later when I thought about it that I realised that there were no running lights visible. After I had spent about ten minutes observing the ship through the captain’s binoculars I noticed the name but could not road it. All I could see was a large ‘I’. the first letter, The rest seemed to be rusted over. Suddenly a man walked to the railing of the ships lifted his arm and waved back and forth in a gesture of greeting. I caught myself just as I was about to yell agreeting in return but thinking of the sleeping crew I waved instead. He lit a cigarette but even in the glow of the match I could not see his face clearly. Then he reached down and picked something up and dropped it into the water. I saw the object shine in the moonlight but could not see what it was.Several minutes later I walked into the cabin to pour a cup of coffee, then returned to the deck, took one look and gasped in astonishment. The ship was gone …”

A few hours later the crew of the fishing vessel picked up a bottle with a message in from a German ship lost in 1943. The letter was yellow with age but the bottle appeared to be quite new. The similarity to UFO reports is striking – the same dream-like quality, the behaviour of the vessel and its occupants, the same equivocal “physical evidence” left.

The phantom ship comes to shore at certain anniversaries:

“In Normandy the phantom boat puts in at All Souls. The watchman of the wharf sees a vessel come within hail at midnight and hastens to cast it a line, but at this same moment the boat disappears and frightful cries are hoard that make the hearer shudder, for they are recognised as the voices of sailors who were shipwrecked that year.” (1)

A story is told of how one night at Dieppe, a ship La Belle Rosalie, which had been missing for many months came in. The people of the town gathered joyously about the ship, which clearly had suffered hard in storms, for her rigging was torn. As the people waited they were struck by the strange behaviour of the crew who were silent, not leaping to the shore as was the custom. Then just as men were about to disembark, a strange mist came from nowhere and obscured the ship. Moments later when this mist had lifted, the ship had disappeared. It was then that the townspeople remembered that it was All Souls, the day when the drowned sailors return, briefly, to their homes. (14)

The same thing happened in New Haven, Connecticut in 1647 (15). Sometimes the occupants of the ship disembark, to take their loved ones to their own land. Such a belief is at the centre of the ‘Ballad of the Devon Lover’, who seduces a human woman, taking her on a phantom ship to the ‘Mountains of Hell’. Sometimes the boat appears as a warning. The dead are jealous of the living, and seek to take them to their own country. Woe betide the mariners who attempt to cone to the aid of the phantom ship. During a wild storm, a ship was seen floundering, so the crew of the vessel which sighted the distress made out in a small boat to attempt rescue. As they reached the spot the phantom disappeared and a great wave came and drowned her would-be rescuers. To even see the Flying Dutchman is an indication of disaster.

To help try the unwary, the phantom ship is a shape-changer. Like the UFO she appears in the guise of the vessels of her day. In April 1927 Kristan Jonasson, a port officer at Reykjavik, saw a strange Faeroes drifter towing a row-boat with two men inside. The drifter had the identity letters FD indicating she was registered in Fuglefjord. Jonasson went out with the pilot and the port doctor to examine the vessel. As they approached it disappeared into a haze. No such ship was known to the Danish authorities. (16)

A notorious shape-changer was the Falkenbergs Ship, which was always accompanied by two small yellow lights. In the latter part of winter 1958 the crew of the British Empress, approaching Nykoping in Sweden, saw two strange yellow lights, like steam masthead lights. First one, then the other, came close to the water, then sank. Nothing was detected on radar. The Falkenbergs Ship was said to be responsible for the death of Andrew Black, the skipper of the Pentland Skerries light. In 1937 Black had seen a white distress light during a heavy storm. He went to investigate, and his fellow crew-members testified, seemed to be drawn into the water by some unseen power. No ship was reported in the area. This power reminds one of the alleged abduction of Rivalino Mafra, (17) or the glamour cast over the Venezuelan youth (R7) This particular story evokes memories of the disappearance of the three keepers from the Flannan Isle light (12), which was on ‘haunted ground’ where the inhabitants of Magonia are said to appear. (18,19)

One report of the phantom ship did get into the UFO literature. This was the report of the two Royal Princes in their book Cruise of the Bacchante. At 0400 hrs, on July 11, 1881, according to the account:”

The Flying Dutchman crossed our bow. A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow in the midst of which light, the masts, spars and sails of a brig two hundred yards distant stood out in strong relief as she came up on the port bow. The lookout in the fo’clse reported her as close to the ship, while also the officer of the watch from the bridge clearly saw her. So did the quarterdeck midshipman, who was sent forward at once to the fo’csle: but on arriving there was no vestige or sign of any material ship. The night was clear and the sea calm.Thirteen persons altogether saw her. Two other ships of the squadron, the Tourmaline and the Cleopatra, who were sailing off our starboard bow, asked whether we had seen the strange light.”

This light was felt to be an omen of the death of the lookout. Similar lights in the Western Isles of Scotland are also regarded as omens of forthcoming death. Strange lights in coastal regions are often regarded as phantom ships, burning as they did when destroyed by wreckers like the famous Block Island phantom the Palatine. Some modern accounts of the phantom ship portray it as the Fairy Ship as in this account from the West of Scotland, circa 1910. (18,26)

The encounter took place on the lonely island of Muck off the west of Scotland. The two sons of a local man, Sandy MacDonald, aged about ten and seven, were playing on the beach when they found an unopened tin. As they were trying to open it, they saw a beautiful delicate looking little boy, a stranger to the island, standing beside them. He was dressed all in green. The boy invited then to come and look at his boat, and they saw a tiny vessel floating on the sea a few feet from the shore. A little girl three foot high, and a dog the size of a rat were in the boat, and the girl offered the children some tiny biscuits which they ate. After they inspected the boat, which was beautifully built with everything perfectly arranged the green boy and girl said it was time for than, to leave. They said goodbye to the two boys, and told them, “We will not be coming back here, but others of our race will be coming’

The similarities between the modern UFO and phantom vessel reports, point to their common origin. The folklore of Western Europe testifies to this common origin in the myth of the ‘Ship of Souls’ which takes the dead to the Western nether-world. Such a belief is of very great antiquity and seems to be universal in all cultures. The ship of the dead was identified by the Egyptians as the boat in which the sun-god Ra was propelled across the waters of heaven. The dead were believed to join the sun god in this celestial ship, to be taken to the land of the dead in the region of the setting sun. The sun as the celestial vessel carrying the sky-god is common to many Middle-East cultures (Assyria, Persia, etc.) and may provide the primal archetype of the UFO. (27) At this remote period we can perhaps see that the UFO and phantom ship have common origin as the vessel of the god or gods. The fact that classical and medieval visionary rumours’ have played such a major role in the development of the UFO myth, even to the point of providing a name – Magonia – for the home of such phenomenon certainly backs up this feeling.

Today the mythological structure which gave meaning to the phantom ship has vanished, as has the culture which nourished such a structure, leaving only memories which surface as random anomalies. Such anomalies no longer belong, hence their greut power to disturb. They are intruders from outside history and the world of waking reulity; intruders however which still have great power.


Note from original publication: Since the above was written I have come across the following passage from Jung’s Flying Saucers commenting on one of his patient’s dreams, which involved a vision of the dreamer and another woman standing on the edge of the world looking at a silvery elliptical object peopled by cloaked figures in silvery white:

“The dream then uses the symbol of a disc-like UFO manned by by spirits, a spaceship that comes out of the beyond to the edge of our world in order to fetch the souls of the dead. It is not clear from the vision where the ship comes from, whether from the sun or moon or elsewhere. According to the myth in the Acta Archelai it would be from the waxing moon, which increases in size according to the number of departed souls that are scooped up from the Earth to the Sun, and from there to the Moon in a purified state. The idea that the UFO might be a sort of Charon is certainly one that I have not yet in the literature so far. This is hardly surprising, firstly because ‘classical’ allusions of this sort are a rarity in people with a modern education and secondly because they might lead to some very disagreeable conclusions. The apparent increase in UFO sightings in recent years has caused disquiet in the popular mind, and might easily give rise to the conclusion that, if so many spaceships appear from beyond, a corresponding number of deaths might be expected. We know that such phenomena were interpreted like this in earlier centuries: they were portents of a ‘great dying’, of war and pestilence, like the dark premonitions that underlie our modern fears. One ought not to assume that the great masses are so enlightened that hypotheses of this kind can no longer take root” – Jung, Flying Saucers, a Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky, p.78. (28)



References in bold italic underlined  are links to Amazon book listings (not necessarily the edition referenced)

  1. Baring-Gould, Rev. Sabine. A Book of Folklore, Methuen, 1913 (my current copy is Praxis Reprint 1993).
  2. Reference to be confirmed
  3. Llewellyn, Alan. The Shell Guide to Wales. Michael Joseph with George Rainbird, 1969
  4. McGivern, Fr James SJ, in Tacoma Town Tribune 21 November 1967, quoted in:
  5. Data-Net 9, 5 (May 1970), p12
  6. Wilkins, Harold T. Flying Saucers on the Attack. Ace Books, 1967 (Originally published as Flying Saucers on the Moon, Peter Owen ,1954, and Flying Saucers on the Attack. Citadel Press, 1954.
  7. Gervase of Tilbury. Otia Imperialia: Recreation for an emperor, edited by S. E. Banks and J. W. Binns. Oxford University Press, 2002 (English Medieval Texts) For Gervase see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gervase_of_Tilbury
  8. Agobard “On hail and thunder” translation at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/Agobard-OnHailandThunder.html For more on these topics see Ross, Michael. Anchors in a Three Decker World Folklore Annual 1998 at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2386/is_v109/ai_21250632. For a critical review of the Magonia story and background information see Brodu, Jean-Louis Magonia: a Re-Evaluation. Fortean Studies 2 (1995) pp 198-215
  9. Vallee, Jacques. Passport to Magonia. Henry Regnery, 1969
  10. Ashe, Geoffrey. Land to the West: St.Brendan’s voyage to America""Collins, 1962
  11. Maple, Eric. The Realm of Ghosts. Pan, 1967
  12. Hunt, Robert. Popular Romances of the West of England. London 1865.
  13. Wood, Charles Lindley, Viscount Halifax. Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book"". Fontana. 1961. First published Geoffrey Bles, 1936.
  14. Bassett, Wilbur. Wander-Ships, Folk Stories of the Sea, with notes upon their origin. Open Court Publishing Company, 1917  (Chapter 3)
  15. Brown, Raymond Lamont. Phantoms, Legends, Customs and Superstitions of the Sea. Patrick Stephens, 1972.
  16. Armstrong, Warren (Warren Armstrong Bennett) Sea Phantoms. Odhams, 1963.
  17. ‘The Brazilian Abduction’ in Flying Saucer Review ,vol. 8, no. 6 p10
  18. Michell, John. Flying Saucer Vision. Sidgwick and Jackson, 1967.
  19. Hopkins, R. Thurston. Cavalcade of Ghosts. Panther, 1963
  20. Baring-Gould, Rev. Sabine. Curious Myths of the Middle Ages. Longmans, Green and Co, 1892. 
  21. Campbell, John L and Hall, Trevor. Strange Things. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968
  22. Ledger, Joseph R. Saucers or Ghosts. Flying Saucer Review , no.8, vol. 5 (September-October 1962).
  23. Gaddis, Vincent. Invisible Horizons. Ace 1965
  24. Smith, Susy. World of the Strange. Pyramid Books, 1963.
  25. Thomasson, Glen P. ‘Message from a Phantom Ship. Fate (UK) November 1971
  26. MacGregor, Alisdair. Alpine The Peat Fire Flame. Ettrick Press, 1947
  27. VALLEE, Jacques. ‘Occupant Symbolism in Phoenician Mythology‘. FSR 19, 1.
  28. Jung, Carl . Flying Saucers, a Modern myth of Things Seen in the Sky  Cygnet Books, 1969.

Additional works on the Phantom Ship:
Bassett, Fletcher A. Legends and Superstitions of the Sea and Sailors in All Lands and at All Times. Bedford, Clarke and Co. 1885. Can be downloaded here:

Other relevant books:
Goss, Michael and Behe, George.
Lost at Sea: Ghost Ships and Other Sea Mysteries. Prometheus, 1994.
Hadfield, R. L. The Phantom Ship, and other Ghost Stories of the Sea. Geoffrey Bles, 1937.

The Story of the USK

Fife Herald  30 October 1862  p4  


The barque Usk, ofNewport, which leftSwanseafor Caldera in May last, has just returned toNewportsafe and sound, to the great astonishment of every one in port, having turned back atCape Hornwithout completing the voyage. The ship had been 62 days out then, and a hurricane coming on was threatened with total destruction, so that the crew rejoiced to see it put back in the direction of theFalkland Islands, so as to be out of the gale. But Falkland Islands were passed, and the ship still proceeded on her course leaving theCapefar behind. The mate then came aft and asked Captain Mathias where he was taking the ship, and why he neither took her into a place of shelter, nor prosecuted the voyage to Caldera. Captain Mathias told him that “God Almighty had come into his cabin and ordered him to take the ship back to Newport, threatening him that if he took her on her voyage the ship and all her crew should be destroyed.” He added that a mystery hung over the matter which should never be revealed, but that the vision appeared to him on the occasion of the hurricane off Cape Horn, and “such being the will of the Almighty, he should not place himself in opposition to it for the sake of the owner the ship, or anything else.”

The mate remonstrated and offered to take the command, the captain being put ashore, so as to release him from obedience to the command of the Most High, but this course he declined. It cut him to the heart, he said, to take the ship home and perhaps ruin the owners, yet such being the will of God he could not disobey. The mate appealed to the» crew, but they said they saw nothing the matter with the captain, and they therefore thought it was their duty to continue to obey him. Consequently he ceased all “opposition to the captain’s will and the Usk continued her passage home safe and sound from top to bottom, her captain apparently happy and free from all care, and devoting his leisure hours to the conversion” of his crew. Prayers were held every evening at seven, and from that till nine none were allowed to enter his sanctum, the cabin, where no doubt he passed the time in ghostly studies. On arrivingNewporton Tuesday evening last the news, as may be supposed, spread like wildfire, creating a great sensation. The captain waited on the owner, Mr Benyon and repeated his story about the Most High visiting him. Mr Benyon, we are told, highly scandalised, here told Mathias to “blaspheme no more.” and the conversation took a more reasonable turn. Mathias insisting upon his statement, and the owner listening to the tale as the narration of some strange dream. The captain, on Wednesday morning, took away everything belonging to him from the ship. The” above” account is abridged from a narrative said to be taken entirely from the statements of the mate and the captain themselves.

North London News 1 November 1862 p3,  cf London Daily 27 October 1862


The fine barque Usk, built inBristolthree years ego, and owned by Mr Thomas Benyon, Dock-street, leftSwanseafor with coals, towards the end of April last. After being a short time out, Captain Mathias, the master, put backNewport, and the owner had the vessel thoroughly re caulked and remetalled. She proceeded to sea fromNewportMay, and, after a fine passage, reached Falkland Islands, having been 59 days out, andCape Hornin 62 days. Here gale came on, which rapidly increased to hurricane, and threatened the ship every instant with total destruction. She stood beating about to the southward of the Cape, and at length the captain walked aft and ‘up with the wheel,’ telling the men to  wear the ship.’ The mate was then asleep below, and the crew of course judged that the object of this must have been to get out of the hurricane and into smooth water to the eastward of theCape. They soon found that the ship was speeding along in the direction ofFalkland Islands. This also gave satisfaction. But Falkland Islands were passed, and the ship still proceeded her course leaving theCapefor behind. The mate then came aft and asked Captain Mathias where he was taking the ship, and why he neither took her into a place of shelter, nor prosecuted the voyage to Caldera. Captain Mathias told him that’ God Almighty had come into his cabin and ordered him to take the ship back to Newport, threatening him that if he took her on  her voyage the ship and all her crew should be destroyed. He added that mystery hung over the matter which should never be revealed, but that the vision appeared to him on the occasion of hurricane off Cape Horn, and  such being the will of the Almighty, should not place himself in opposition to for  the sake the owner, the ship, anything else.’ This intelligence must have startled the mate, but he remonstrated with captain with some firmness. said, ‘ Consider the serious loss you will cause the owner by pursuing this course.’ And willing any rate to save the owners, he further, and proposed that Captain Mathias should go ashore, leaving him, or putting some -one else board to take command and prosecute the voyage.

This course, he urged, would release the captain from the consequences of disobeying the commands the Most High. Captain Mathias immediately said, ‘ When my command of this ship is taken from me, take a knife and stab me with till I die It  cuts me to the heart to take the ship home, and perhaps ruin the owners, but such being the will of God, cannot disobey it for the sake-of man.’ The mate appealed the crew, but they said they saw nothing the matter with the captain, and they therefore thought it was their duty to continue to obey him. Consequently he ceased all opposition the captain’s will, Mid the Usk continued her passage home safe and sound from top to bottom, her captain apparently happy and free from all care, and devoting his leisure hours to the ‘conversion’ of his crew. Prayers were held every evening at seven, and from »t till nine none were allowed enter his sanctum the cabin, where no doubt passed the time in ghostly studies.Newportand Newport Docks were reached safely on Tuesday evening, and, as maybe supposed, this extraordinary tale was repeated with a thousand exaggerations and additions throughout the town, with the speed wildfire.

Captain Mathias at once proceeded to Mr Benyon’s residence, and reported his arrival to his amazed owner, who became very naturally somewhat excited, when Mathias said, ‘lf you can’t treat me like a gentleman I shall home.’ Mr Benyon replied that he was his employer, and he merely demanded a report of how had acquitted himself the trust he had reposed in him. Mathias then detailed how the Most High had entered his cabin and warned him against prosecuting the voyage, telling him that he was to back straight to Newport, and if not, the ship and the whole of her crew should perish. Mr Benyon, we are told, highly scandalised, here told Mathias ‘ blaspheme no more,’ and the conversation took more reasonable turn, Mathias insisting upon his statement, and the owner listening the tale as the narration of some strange dream, ‘The captain, on Wednesday morning, took away everything belonging to him from the ship. We may add that the foregoing has been taken entirely from the statements of the mate and captain themselves, and may be relied upon as the correct the extraordinary affair.

Westmorland Gazette 22 November 1862


A lengthened inquiry has taken place before the Local Marine Board, at their offices in Bristol, reference to the following charge against Captain Mathias, late master the barque Usk : —That he, on intended voyage from Newport Caldera, Chili, South America, which commenced about the lst of June, 1862, when the vessel arrived off Cape Horn, was guilty of a gross act  of misconduct, without any sufficient cause reason, neglecting omitting further to proceed on the said voyage, and the ship vessel did then navigate back to Newport. Mr Cathcart, solicitor, was in attendance behalf of the owners of the Usk ; and the defendant was likewise present, but without any legal adviser, and though the investigation lasted several hours his demeanour was perfectly cool and collected. Mr Cathcart having stated the case on behalf of the owners.

David Evans, the late chief mate of the Usk, was called and examined at some length, but nothing beyond the facts recently published was elicited. Mr Benyon, ofNewport, owner of the vessel, stated that Captain Mathias had been the master of the for the last three years. He had no authority return without completing the voyage fromSwanseato Caldera. The conduct of the captain had caused the owners considerable loss. This being all the evidence adduced. Captain Mathias was called upon for his defence.

He entered into a lengthened statement relative the position the vessel when he resolved to returnNewport, detailed minutely the particulars of the latitude and longitude, as well as the varying state of the weather. then said :

“I have never seen my glass so low before it was then in going roundCape Horn, either going out or coming home. After breakfast l am  accustomed, having been a professor of religion for seventeen years, to read a  chapter of  the Bible to myself in the cabin, and perform my service to my Creator. After that had transpired one morning. I felt a pressure upon my mind such I had not felt before all my life. First I began to ask myself What does this mean ?” I generally felt light and comfortable in all circumstances that have peculiarly happened during my life. I have been thirty-two years at sea. began inquire myself what it all meant, and said that would go, and make point of prayer of it, and found a still small voice speak to me within me telling return to Newport with the ship. But strove within myself, and in my own soul firmly wrestled against it. The more I strove, the more it resisted me, and found the power be so strong as be irresistible.

“I  remained in a state of great excitement, and no one on  board the ship could help seeing my emotion. No  one knew, indeed, what concerned me; and if the truth spoken by  every person ship, the power must have been felt. I remained till the afternoon, and then began consider what it meant, and what it all was for the still small voice spoke audibly and clearly within me, expecting that I would give my purpose, or He would break me without remedy. Visions have not seen; nothing, no bodily shape has appeared to me. Only mv own feelings have experienced, such as every Christian man would feel. With regard returning home I said within myself, Well, I should like have sign to know for certain that may not be deceived in my heart, deceive my own self in the presence of  my Creator. “That voice spoke again, and told me that the glass should rise It said “I will take my hind off you, and the glass shall rise immediately if you are obedient to  the command given you ”

“I implored the Divine compassion to allow me remain till the Sunday morning daylight, as the storm was terrific. I thought that the vessel would be safer in the trough of the sea than running before-Such storm. I could not sleep nor rest. I have doubt that the mate and the man in the cabin must have seen my countenance, and have known that there was something in the expression of my countenance that was never seen before, and could change will, before so determined to accomplish that voyage, that I had two occasions commenced. I  will leave you to judge what it must change the will of a man in such circumstances. I suffered for eight days. On the 8th day  I felt more easy, and turned the ship, and other person had anything with the changing the ship. The mate never dared to take the responsibility from me and no one has taken charge of the ship, and from that moment gave the command square yards and change her head every one of the men has obeyed my orders, and we had a favourable wind. I detected the hand ofProvidence in this, and when we arrived offLundyIsland, said that the ship would be port that night. Everything came I foretold, and the officers of the ship have seen things in that ship that cannot account for. I can see and account for them. The will of the Lord has been accomplished. But do not think I have seen any form, or vision, or bodily shape of any kind. I have known nothing but the Christian feeling, that still small voice, which spoke audibly.”

The Captain declined calling witnesses, saying that he stood entirely his own responsibility ; and, whatever the law inflicted he was prepared to suffer. Mr Britain, on behalf of the board, announced their decision as follows : That this board do report to the Board Trade as follows:—That Captain Henry Mathias, late master the barque Usk, of Newport, on a voyage that vessel from Newport to Caldera, which voyage commenced on about, the lst day of June last, did, when the Said vessel had arrived off or near Cape Horn, whilst under mental delusion, and without any proper or sufficient cause or reason, instead of proceeding on the said voyage, put the said vessel back, and returned with her to Newport aforesaid ; and that this board considers Captain still labouring under such delusion, and incompetent to take charge act as master of any ship or vessel, and this board doth therefore cancel the certificate of the said Captain Mathias.” Mr Brittan then directed the captain to send his certificate to tie offices of the board, and the proceedings terminated.

Things turn a bit spookier with this story:

Dover Express 23 January 1864  p4


On Saturday dispatch from the British consul at Coquimbo was received by the Secretary of the Board Trade, announcing the destruction by fire of the English barque Usk, while on a voyage fromSwanseato Huasco. Before giving the details of the dispatch, it may be stated that this was the unfortunate ship which put back early last year from Cape Horn England in consequence of the captain seeing, as he alleged, a vision on the ocean which warned him not to proceed any further on the voyage, and that in the event of his persisting, both he and the ship would be sent to perdition. The vessel’s return to Cardiff, after lapse of nearly six months, in good seaworthy condition, naturally astonished the owners, more especially when they heard the curious story which had operated upon the captain’s mind in putting the ship back when she had nearly reached her destination.

A Board of Trade inquiry was instituted into the captain’s conduct. The crew were examined, and they spoke of him being a very careful and sober master, although somewhat eccentric in his manner, and when they found that had put the ship back without any reason for so doing, the chief mate remonstrated with him, and endeavoured to take charge, which the captain resisted placing him in irons. The captain was examined he solemnly declared that after what had appeared to him he could not on ; it was the vision the Lord, and he was bid not to go on.

The result of the inquiry was that his certificate was cancelled. A new master was appointed to the ship, and she sailed second time on the voyage. What happened to her will be gathered from the subjoined document:— 44 British Consulate, Dec. 3, 1803. “Sir, have inform you that the barque Usk, from Swansea to Huasco, took fire on the 16th of November last, and was abandoned the following day in lat. 33 S, long. 10. The vessel sailed from Swansea on the 16th of July, and nothing of importance occurred on the voyage up to 5 a. m. on the 16th of November, when smoke was seen coming out of the hatches, and four tons of blasting powder were taken from the hold and thrown overboard.

At p.m. an explosion took place. The boats were then got out, and at 7 p.m. the ship, being full of smoke fore and aft, was put under easy sail, with her head towards the main land. At p.m. the crew left the ship, and the boats were towed all night. At sa.m. of the 17th flames were seen issuing out of the after hatchway, but in conscience of heavy sea, and the vessel being full of smoke, she could not be boarded. Both boats were then cut adrift, and steered for the mainland. The mate, six seamen and a passenger arrived at this port on the 21st ultimo, having been picked up in the long boat by the Chilian schooner Guayacan the previous day. The master and remainder of the crew reached Caldera on the 24th ult. The sole cause of the fire appears to have been the spontaneous combustion of the coal composing the cargo. am, &c.,

G. A. F. Tait,  Acting Consul. The Secretary Marine Department, Board of Trade, Whitehall

This added much to the folklore of the sea and exaggerated stories circulated.  The ever unreliable Elliott O’ Donnell told the tale in chapter 30 of his Strange Sea Mysteries (Bodley Head 1926), which moves the account from the autumn of 1862 to the spring of 1863,  has imaginary conversations, and now the inner voice had become “…a strange sight at sea. It was a great and beautiful spirit form, which he took to be divine, standing alongside the vessel” issuing a pre-emptory command”

This version is summarised in R I Hadfield’s “The Phantom Ship” also published by Geoffrey Bles in 1937, only now suggesting that the mate had also seen the spirit.

I am sure that I have seen even more exaggerated accounts but can’t lay my hands on them. — Peter Rogerson.

Taken to the Limits, Part 2. Peter Rogerson

Taken to the Limits – Part Two (Magonia 23, July 1986, pp. 3 – 12.

The new ‘folk devil’ of the dope fiend or the glue-sniffer carries on the tradition of the demonaic – the addict is ‘possessed’ by the drug and thence radically marginalised; he becomes the embodiment of all those anti-structural indecipherable aspects of the human, which we do not publicly display. The dope-fiend/demoniac is in Turner’s terms in a state of chronic hyper-liminality and closely associated, in many people’s eyes, is the stereotyped ‘brainwashed’, zombie cult member.

J. Gordon Melton has described the conversion and often superficially bizarre behaviour of cult members in terms of liminality [11]. The image of the cult member has been compared with that of the demoniac and ascribed distinguishing marks such as glassy eyes, Moonie Rash, Moonie Odour, ‘thousand mile smile’, monotone voice, reduction of peripheral vision, and in one case “a beam of red light shot out of her eyes”. To rid them of such stigmata, deprogrammers imprison cult members, keeping them away from other family members lest they pollute them, lock doors and windows lest they be enchanted away into wilderness. The return to the cult thus signifies a withdrawal from the psychological habitat of relatives and friends.

The haunted house reverses the stereotype of the home as the bastion of order: the ‘Englishman’s Castle’ keeping the wilderness at bay by powerful psychological and cultural moats and drawbridges. This reversal reminds one of the Fipa notion that the interior of the hut partakes something of the character of the wilderness: a domain of what is private, dark and obscure, cut off from conscious knowledge and control – a region of “women, sexuality and death” and the “secret anti-intellectual life of lawless passions” [2]. The Fipa realise that all too often castles have dungeons. To them there is in the secret heart of every habitat and every person, an interior wilderness.

To understand the full import of the image of the haunted house as a ‘disorderly house’ on the sort of people who corresponded with the early SPR, we must remember that the house as secure habitat was the sign of respectability, of emergence from the wilderness of the rough masses, from whose cheerless habitations escape was to the gin shop and music hall. The ghost, the insistent voice of ‘history’ refusing to remain buried, threatened a reversal of the historical, progressive habitat-creating process, and a reversion to the wilderness of the unacknowledged ancestors.


Mediums like Daniel Home,
halfway along the road from shaman to super-star,
were themselves examples of the chronically liminal

The Victorian seance was an occasion of liminality. Mediums like Daniel Home, halfway along the road from shaman to super-star, were themselves examples of the chronically liminal. Home himself is an excellent example: a strange sick childhood, a history of visions and wild talents, ambiguous sexuality and for much of his life a nomadic, permanent house-guest existence. He floated between the interfaces of Victorian society, occupying the court-jester’s role of confidant and trickster-in-chief to the royal and famous. From his position of chronic liminality, Home became the ‘medium’ between the living and dead.

But for the Victorians all too often the dead came from the secret world of the wilderness, not from the celestial Mechanics’ Institutes. In the seance room the ancestors reanimated the pantomime of the village wakes, rough bawdy and boisterousness. They banged tambourines and hit people on the head with trumpets, in fact played the sorts of jokes that the ancestors as they really were played – not how the bowdlerised Family Bible lists told it. In the liminality of the seance room the boundaries between living/dead, reality/hallucination, possible/impossible, even the boundaries of physical and psychological individuality were blurred, and sometimes fell. The bounds were broken in a sort of carnival in which the living and the dead were joined together. It is hardly surprising that under the enchantment of liminality even sceptics like Sir David Brewster reported signs and wonders – only for them to fall beneath the disenchanting dawn of daylight reason, common sense and structure, when the shipboard romance with the dead was over.

The descriptions of deprogrammers holding the ‘brainwashed’ cult members in sealed cabins where the cult/wilderness cannot seduce them, is more than reminiscent of the procedures used to capture and hold those enchanted by the fairies. It will be remembered that Turner described communitas as nature in dialogue with structure”: our encounter with the wilderness requires mediating figures.

Fairies make excellent mediators. They mediate between matter and spirit, in that whilst they are insubstantial shape changers, they are mortal, give birth and eventually fade away.

They mediate between habitat and wilderness, structure and communitas. They reside either in the wilderness or parts of habitat that have fallen back into the wilderness, such as raths, deserted churches, etc. However, they possess a structured society of their own, often inverted to the ‘normal’ – nocturnal and matriarchal – and maintain an interest in human affairs. They mediate between the polarities of good and evil, encapsulated in the tradition that they are fallen angels, too bad for heaven, too good for hell.

They mediate between the human and divine, as both elevated ancestors (the ghosts of the prehistoric dead) and fallen gods.

The fairies fall into two broad types: the trooping, who maintain their own counter-structure deep in the wilderness; and the solitary, who have little society and can be domesticated by humans.

The fairies take people who are in a state of liminality, at “the time between time”, “between night and day when the Fairy King has power”, people who happen to have strayed into places where the fences between wilderness and civilization are particularly weak. The fairies abduct mortals to Tir-Na-Nog – Magonia – the dreamtime of timeless liminality and communitas – a sort of endless end-of-term party. Magonia seduces men, such as the legendary Fianna of Ireland, from martial duty, and women from housewifely and maternal duty. From the perspective of the society from which they are taken they are either physically or socially dead (‘not the person I knew’: the complaint made by the parents of cult victims). They become wild, wanton, feral, unkempt: they have joined what the Greeks called the ‘exotika’, those from ‘out there’ [25] In our society such people may be called ‘mad’ or depressed, but is this not just the substitution of the vocabulary of one culture for another? In some psychologies, such as Laing’s, madness itself is seen as a creative process, a necessary period of liminality.

The ritual for the recapture of the ‘taken’ (whether in rural Ireland or by modern ‘deprogrammers’ is a reorientation into the world of structure and societas, ensuring that the ‘victim’ returns to his (or more usually her) appointed social role. Of course, given the conditions of the people when the fairy faith flourished it may be doubted if the victim was always happy about such a ‘rescue’! The dream of being taken by fairies, gypsies or demon lovers may have played the role in peasant societies that soap-operas and Mills and Boon romances do in ours: that of a romantic liberation from the drudgeries and routine of a life of structure.

Magonia itself was an ambiguous place. From the enchanted perspective of liminality and communitas it was a golden palace of great aristocrats; from the disenchanted perspective of structure and ‘daylight reason and commonsense’ it was often portrayed as a dank cave or the grave. But the fairy tradition could never agree as to which was the ‘really true’ picture. That would have meant a truly intolerable plumping for either communitas or societas. [29.30]

The descriptions of being taken, the often discontented, half-fey, behaviour of those who are (forced to?) return is extremely reminiscent of the Near Death Experience. Death is the supreme moment of marginality and liminality. The entry into the realm of the dead, down a long tunnel, is a sort of initiation ceremony, a symbolic re-birth. The land of the dead in the majority of these accounts too is clearly Magonia, the land of idealised, happy ancestors, the place of perfect communitas.

The Near Death Experience (NDE) straddles the fence between the world of the living and the dead. The experient has entered the ‘second world’ and on returning gains shamanic powers.

In the traditional, static society, the shaman alone gains power, and is a transformed individual in a static world. In the dynamic, transforming world the returning shaman often becomes a prophet preaching ‘the world turned upside-down’ in transforming liminality in which the rich, powerful, urban and corrupt are swept away, and the saving remnant will establish on Earth the communitas of Magonia.

The ‘solitary fairy’ represents the mirror image of this: it can be domesticated, though will always display tell-tale signs of wilderness, which manifest in secret. For example, the fairy wife may have goat’s legs or a fish’s tale, only visible at certain times when her husband is not allowed to pry. It is his violation of this ‘secret heart of things’ which sends her back into the wilderness.

The sasquatch exists in the liminal zone between socially constructed rational reality and the ‘goblin universe’ of wild anomalies

This solitary fairy is close to the ‘wild-man’, l’homme sauvage, the apeman or Bigfoot. The American Bigfoot is yet another excellent mediating symbol between humankind and wild nature or reality and non-reality. For Marjorie Halpin the sasquatch exists in the liminal zone between socially constructed rational reality and the ‘goblin universe’ of wild anomalies. It is part of the ‘uncanny’ which crashes in on us in marginal situations such as twilight (when the Elfin King holds power), and sensory deprivation. Sasquatch straddles and incorporates boundaries such as being/not-being and mind/matter. A creature of the mind which leaves a huge footprint, a message of man’s animal nature on the ground. [33] Monsters exist in the liminal regions between habitat and the wilderness, mountain peaks, water, and fissures in the ground through which power emerges. Monsters are associated with liminal regions because both constitute ruptures in the fabric of ordinary classification [34].

Monsters manifest their marginal quality by their ‘other-worldly’ elusiveness. In this they mediate between the natural and spiritual – the primitive, hairy, asocial character of the ‘manimal’ signifies the ‘regression’ to brute strength, ‘gross animality’ of man gone to the wilderness, yet the elusive, semi-magical quality hints at the ethereal wilderness of the dark spirits. [35,36]. Bigfoot lives in the ‘waste places’ of the earth, the forests and high mountains. Yet in much folkore he is coming into town, like the urban fox, trading the wilderness.

The central appeal of the mystery animal is the survival of wilderness – the reminder that there really are savage and unexplored places, holes in the maps which claim the whole world for habitat [37]. In the secret heart of Africa, where even python and pangolin fear to go there are beast of the prehistoric, cousins of the saurians of the watery depths [37,38,39]. Even in England’s green and pleasant land pumas stalk the tidy gardens of Surrey, that most archetypically suburban of counties.

The sea-serpent and the lake monster derive their power in the imagination from their presumed prehistoric survival. Paul Lester and Roger Grimshaw point out that the Loch Ness Monster’s huge body and small head points to an excess of instinct over reason, desire over restraint – heightened by the long, phallic neck [40]. The very existence of such a prehistoric survival in defiance of the scientific establishment challenges the complacency of our view of the world [41].

Yet there is something else about lake monsters which is always overlooked. In the old tradition they were water horses or kelpies which, like the Great Selchie of Sule Skerne, were a beast on the waters but a man upon the land, capable of begetting a child on a human girl. In the traditional tales just such a child – mediator between humankind and the natural world – is killed by a ‘gunner true’, an excellent symbol of structure, habitat, daylight reason and common sense. This murder is a sort of ‘cosmic catastrophe’ which sunders man from the natural world, which regresses into something utterly inhuman, prehistoric and saurian – the protean beast of the waters of the first chaos. Thus alienated from the natural world, humanity sees it as something hostile, alien and ‘other’; to be exorcised as at Loch Ness.

We can draw a table to represent this progressive descent into the wilderness of the past:


Personal past  – Spirits of séance, ‘Ruth’
Remembered Past  – Ghosts
Unremembered Past  – Fairies
Presocietal Past  — Alma, wildman, demons, poltergeist
Prehuman past   – Manimals, Bigfoot. ABS
Premammalian past – Sea serpents, Loch Ness monster

Perhaps, somewhere in the category where we assigned the fairies lie the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary and other religious personages. The BVM is not only a mediator between God and man, but as William Christian [42] points out, she mediates between the local society and the forces of nature, both in terms of weather, devastation and disease, and in terms of the natural round of birth and death. The image of the mother and child is a symbol of the power of nature on the human body.

The Virgin is encountered, or her image found, at liminal spots, such as trees and mountains which connect with the sky; or caves and springs which link to the underworld. In these threshold places energy is exchanged between the supernatural world and the world of man. Most of the supernaturally found images were discovered by domestic animals, a part of nature built in to culture; the overwhelming number of human intermediaries were herdsmen, the most ‘wild’ of humans.

Much of these insights clearly applies to modern visions of the BVM, witnesses often being children of the rural lumpenproletariat, partly wild and close to nature. As in the early Spanish cases, the image of the BVM is only distinguished from the local ghosts and fairies by the adult structure of the church [43]. The Virgin preaches a message of submission to the liminality of poverty, chastity and obedience; as well as the overthrow of the current structure in a period of millenial liminality.

At first sight it appears difficult to fit the UFO into this scheme. After all, as a super-machine it appears to be the epitome of structure and habitat. One could agree with the late F. W. Halliday that the UFO/disc is the natural antithesis to the dragon/sea-serpent:

From the Sky
From the far future
Ufonauts heve big heads, small bodies, representing an excess of reason

Sea Serpent:
From the deep water
from the distant past
Small heads, large bodies, instinct over reason

The iconography on which Holliday based much of his argument represents the struggle of the solar-god against the primal dragon of chaos, the supreme symbol of the struggle of light, reason, order and habitat against darkness, instinct, chaos and wilderness.

But readers of Magonia know that there is much of the wilderness in the UFO. Above all the UFO ‘comes from space’, the ‘final frontier’, the ultimate absolute wilderness. The UFO is therefore the grand mediator between absolute habitat and absolute wilderness, past and future.

Though the UFO represents a technology, it is increasingly observed as part of the wilderness. Humanity is no longer seen as fashioning machines, but machines are seen as fashioning mankind. Modern cities are described as urban jungles. The machine and the urban jungle become the artificial wilderness, which needs mediators. Furthermore, UFOs are super-technology, their silence, ambiguous quality, selectivity and elusiveness speak of the supernatural.

If UFOs are seen as coming from outer-space, they are also seen as coming from such interior locations as the human mind or the hollow-earth; they mediate between outer and inner wilderness, between mind and matter, between dream and reality; between being and not-being.

The car’s habitat role is ambiguous: the sexual activity of courting couples or the aggressive impulses of the lone driver can convert it into every bit as much a zone of interior wilderness as a Fipa’s hut

The typical UFO experience takes place in the liminal time between night and day, either in the wild places, or in the liminal boundary between habitat and wilderness. One chief theme is the night car journey: the car represents a fragment of habitat penetrating the wilderness. As transitions from one place to another, journeys themselves are episodes of liminality. As Rogan Taylor points out [13] all travel tales are recapitulations of the shamans journey to the underworld and back. The Romance of the Open Road, wherein ghosts and ghoulies are met [45] is a secularised version of this heroic journey, phantom hitch-hikers the shaman’s spirit guide or even spirit wife. Furthermore, the car’s habitat role is ambiguous: the sexual activity of courting couples or the aggressive impulses of the lone driver can convert it into every bit as much a zone of interior wilderness as a Fipa’s hut. The car represents a perpetual liminal zone.

There are slower ways habitat can venture out into the wilderness: building developments which encroach on wild nature, such as the Benilee Estate in Staffordshire [46] or Runcorn New Town, or the trailer parks which mark the outer limits of many American cities, prominent in much ufological lore.

Many witnesses in European and South American cases seem to fit Christians’ description of ‘those closest to the wilderness’ – a hallmark of the ‘sincere’ UFO witness being illiteracy and lack of urban sophistication. An excellent example is the French witness discussed by Bertrand Meheust and Thierry Pinvidic [47], who was described as an orphaned outsider living with adoptive parents, barely literate, almost ‘simple’, but wise in the ways of nature and animal tracks, a true homme sauvage like Victor, the ‘wild boy’ of Aveyron, and a shaman-to-be. His UFO encounter takes place while gathering mushrooms in a wild place halfway up a mountain – afterwards he develops shamanic powers.

The UFO experience, let us interpret it as ‘radical misperception’, itself throws the percipient into a state of liminality, sometimes described as conceptual rape. The ‘misperception’ breaks down the fences of socially determined consensus reality, projecting the percipient into the wilderness where they are dramatically confronted with the fact that there is ‘an outside’, a numinous, powerful domain beyond the exorcising power of scientists and newspaper headlines.

It is not surprising that this should lead to spontaneous experiences of classical liminality which are called ‘UFO abductions’ [48]. Remember how Turner described classical initiatory liminality as bing ground down, stripped of rank and possession, subject to the absolute will of an initiation master. It is in the UFO abduction, rather than the saccharine Near Death Experience, where this classic initiation is best represented, and where in our western society we come closest to extreme liminality, as an anomalous, passive patient in an authoritarian medical examination. And where are these liminal experiences recovered? – in a ‘hypnotic trance’ where social expectation reduces the the hypnotised to a state of extreme liminality, passive instrument of the master hypnotist.

The real medical examination is a sort of ritual ordeal, after which the patient is returned to structure having changed states from ‘ill’ to ‘well’, his ‘well being’ proclaimed to the guardians of status and structure.

The abductee is a shaman-initiate, in transition to a new state of consciousness: the one who has been ‘outside’ so as to truly know what it means to be ‘inside’.
One can speculate further on the connections between nuts-and-bolts ufology and structure, as contrasted with the ‘New Ufology’ as communitas. In static periods of retrenchment such as the 1950′s or 1980′s the UFO is seen as a concrete, mechanical force; in liminal periods such as the 1960′s it is seen as diffuse and ‘supernatural’.

Much of what Clark and Coleman in their classic The Unidentified ascribed to the unconscious can btter be seen as expressions of liminality, communitas, and wilderness. The authors took the romantic road, lamenting over society’s failure to acknowledge the secret, Dionysian heart of our own life: we stand in peril, the unacknowledged wilderness may crash in on us so hard that it will sweep all aside.

Fortean phenomena and paranormal experiences, then, are the necessary anomalies which remind us of the limits of the known. They emerge in twilight, marginal situations when either individual or collective crises open up gaps in the fences of social reality to a domain of wilderness. We can slip through the gap, and hopefully return transformed, or power from the outside can ‘crash-in’ and transform our lives. We may react in terror, sensing a threat to the integrity of the rational world, or we may react with joy, believing that we see what is really real, and dream of re-enacting that reality in the world of habitat.

If Fortean phenomena belong to the world of wilderness or to the liminal zone between habitat and wilderness, they are not going to be explained or proven. We can either exorcise them so as to tidy up habitat, try to capture them with ‘explanations’ and ‘proof’ and drag them into habitat where they will loose much of their power, or we can stand wondering facing the breeze from beyond the limits in our face, perhaps trembling at the though of what lies within the interior and exterior wilderness impinging upon the torus of habitat.

Even Charles Fort never thought of that: rationality as a cosmic donut.



1. DUERR, Hans Peter. Dreamtime; concerning the boundaries between wilderness and civilization, Oxford, Blackwell 1985.
2. WILLIS, Roy. Man and Beast, Hart-Davis, Mac-Gibbon, 1971.
3. For these general topics see also any social and economic history; of special interest are: STORCH, Robert D. (Ed.) Popular Culture and Custom in Nineteenth Century England, Croome Helm, 1982 and CUNNINGHAM, Hugh. Leisure in the Industrial Revolution, Croome Helm, 1980.
4. Some of these themes are discussed in: DUDLEY, Edward and NOVAK, Maximillian E. The Wildman Within, Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1972.
5. BERGER Peter. The Sacred Canopy: elements of a sociological theory of religion, Doubleday, 1969.
7. CARRINGTON, Hereward. True Ghost Stories. Werner Laurie, 1916.
8. GUIDHAM, Arthur. Obsession, Spearman, 1972.
9. DE MARTINO, Ernest. Magic, Primitive and Modern, Stacey, 1972.
10. Derived from the account of Bergerian thought in: MARTIN, Bernice. A Sociology of Contemporary Cultural Change, Blackwell, 1983.
11. TURNER, Victor W. The Ritual Processes, Routledge, 1969.
12 This account of liminality was compiled from references 10 and 11, and from MELTON, J Gordon and MOORE, Robert L. The Cult Experience, Pilgrim Press, 1982.
13. TAYLOR, Rogan P. The Death and Resurrection Show; from shaman to super-star, Blond, 1985.
14. ERIKSON, Karl. Wayward Puritans Wiley, 1966.
15. COHEN, Stanley. Folk Devils and Moral Panics, MacGibbon & Kee, 1972.
16. CHIBNALL, Steve. Law and Order News, Tavistock, 1977.
17. WALLIS, Roy Salvation and Protest, F. Pincer, 1979.
18. ZURCHER, Louis A and KIRKPATRICK, R George. Citizens for Decency Univ. of Texas Press, 1976.
19. CONDON, Edward U. ‘Conclusions and Recommendations’ in Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, Bantam, 1969.
20. FORT, Charles. Book of the Damned.
21. PEARSON, Geoffrey. Hooligan; a history of respectable fears, Macmillan, 1983.
22. GAUL D, Alan and CORNELL, A. D. Poltergeists RKP, 1979.
23. OWEN, George, Can We Explain the Poltergeist?, Helix Press, 1964.
24. ROLL, William G. The Poltergeist, Star, 1976.
25. CRAMER, Mark, The Devil Within, W H Allen, 1979.
26. GOODMAN, Felicitas D. The Exorcism of Annelise Michel, Doubleday, 1981.
27. SHUPE, Anson D. The New Vigilantes; deprogrammers, anti-cultists and the new religion sects, Sage, 1980.
28. BLUM, Richard and Eva, The Dangerous Hour, Chatto, 1970
29. BRIGGS, Katharine, The Vanishing People, Batsford, 1978.
30. GREGORY, Lady. Vision and Beliefs in the West of Ireland, Colin Smyth, 1970.
31. RING, Kenneth, Heading Towards Omega, Morrow, 1984.
32 GREY, Margaret, Return from the Dead, Arkana, 1985.
33. HALPIN, Marjorie M. and AMES. Michael (Eds.) ‘Investigating the Goblin Universe’ in Manlike Monsters on Trial, Univ. of British Columbia Press, 1980.
34. BUCKLEY, Thomas. ‘Monsters and the Quest for Balance in Native Northwest California’ in 33.
35. SLATE, B. A. and BERRY, Alan, Bigfoot, Bantam, 1976.
36. CLARK, Jerome and COLEMAN, Loren. Creatures of the Outer Edge, Warner, 1978.
37. HEUVELMANS, B. On the Track of Unknown Animals, Paladin, 1970.
38. The python was a sacred animal of the Fipa, the pangolin of the Lele.
39. MACKAL, Roy. Searching for Hidden Animals, Codogan, 1983.
40. GRIMSHAW, Roger and LESTER, Paul, The Meaning of the Loch Ness Monster, Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, Univ. of Birmingham, 1976.
41. LESTER, Paul, The Great Sea Serpent Controversy, Protean Pub., 1984.
42 CHRISTIAN, William A. Jnr. Apparitions in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Spain, Princton U. Press, 1981.
43. McCLURE, Kevin, The Evidence for Apparitions of the Virgin Mary, Aquarian, 1983.
44. HOLIDAY, F.W. The Dragon and the Disc, Sidgewick & Jackson, 1973.
45. GOSS, Michael,The Evidence for Phantom Hitch-hikers. Aquarian, 1984.
46. STANWAY, Antony and PACE, Roger, Unidentified, Undeniable, BUFORA, 1971
47. MEHEUST, Bertrand and PINVIDIC, Thierry. Presentation to the 1986 Anglo-French UFO Colloquium.
48. RIMMER, John. The Evidence for Alien Abductions, Aquarian, 1983.
49. CLARK, Jerome and COLEMAN, Loren, The Unidentified, Warner, 1973.
50. GINZBURG, Carlo. The Night Battles, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.


Taken to the Limits, Part 1. Peter Rogerson

From Magonia New Series 23, July 1986, pp. 3 – 12.

The origins of this study go back to the beginnings of my association with MUFOB, as an attempt to understand the emotional power behind the extreme scepticism of authors such as Patrick Moore. It is perhaps also a meditation on my own childhood night terrors.

In analysing human societies, anthropologists have often found it useful to study the interaction between human beings and wild nature. They have chosen to call these two realms ‘habitat’ and ‘wilderness’. A term such as ‘habitat’ implies far more than a geographical settlement: it is the ‘fenced in’ [1] zone of rational, ordered life; the domain under the control of human reason and ingenuity – the known, the familiar, the ordered and tame. It is the world of “daylight reason and commonsense”. ‘Wilderness’ therefore is the opposition to the rational, ordered world. It is the world of untamed nature outside the boundaries of habitation, the domain of the unknown, of passion and sexuality, of ‘the unconscious’, the secret heart of things, chaos, disorder and the ‘supernatural’.

Habitat is forged out of wilderness and chaos by a sustained effort. The attitude of the Fipa of Tanzania is typical of many agricultural societies, traditional Christendom, and much contemporary rationalism. The world is divided into the principles of open rationality, symbolised by the head, and secret sexuality, symbolised by the loins. The ideal of the community is the subduing of the forces of nature: this task is delegated to specialist ‘doctors’.

However, the community is haunted by fear of the apostate doctor, who will ally himself with those natural forces he is supposed to subdue. He is black-hearted, carried about upside-down by his wife while working evil in the village, can assume the shape of wild beasts such as leopard or hyena, and commands the bush creatures to invade the huts of his victim. [2]. Powers such as these were later attributed to Dracula.

The fear that the special guardians of a culture are secretly in league with the forces destroying it, and are guilty of violating society’s most sacred taboos is still a very present one. Thus members of the State Department were accused of being communists by McCarthy; doctors and clergymen (guardians of our bodies and souls) are accused in Parliament of being child-molesters. (An excellent example of the ambiguous nature of the ‘doctors’ who guard habitat against wilderness is provided by the ‘benandante’ or ‘good-walkers’ of 16th-17th century Fruili in Italy. These were people born with a caul, who when summoned by an angelic bedroom-visitor, went out in OOBE form to defend the crops against bands of witches. The inquisition finally turned the benandante themselves into witches).

The Victorians held similar attitudes to the Fipa. The task of civilisation was to subdue ‘animality’ by ‘reason’. The 18th century enclosures of ‘wilderness’ common spaces was speeded up; habitat in the form of canals and railways thrust deeper into the wilderness; the internal proletariat was subdued by Methodism, temperance, sabbatarianism, factory discipline, the new borough and county police forces; bull baiting, ale-house brawls, etc. were to be replaced by ‘rational recreations’ such as lectures on steam-hammers at the Mechanics Institute, Public Libraries, and vicarage tea-parties with lantern-slides of the Holy Land. Imperialism and missionary activity subdued the ‘dark continent’. Both the aboriginal inhabitants of the colonial territories and the urban poor were ascribed sub-human, ‘animal’ status, and were seen as savage beasts to be tamed. Darkest Africa was paralleled by darkest England [3 a,b, 4].

The scientist was one of the leaders pushing habitat progressively out into the wilderness. However, in the eyes of many some scientists, Darwin particularly, and later Freud, played the role of ‘traitor’, reminding humankind of its essential physical and psychological wildness. The evil scientist was to replace the witch as the ‘dark doctor’ of the imagination.

The sociologist and theologian Peter Berger has discussed this precarious habitat. His habitat is the whole cosmos of ordered, meaningful, socially constructed reality, which he calls the nomos. He argues that

“[In] marginal situations [such as] commonly occur in dreams and fantasy [there] may appear on the horizon of consciousness haunting suspicions that the world may have another aspect than its normal one; that is that previously accepted definitions of reality may be fragile or even fraudulent. Such suspicions extend to the identity of self and others. Every socially defined reality must face the constant possibility of collapse into anomie. The marginal situations, paramount amongst them death, reveal the innate precariousness of all social worlds. Every nomos is an area of meaning carved out of a vast mass of meaninglessness, a small clearing in a formless dark, always ominous jungle. [From] the perspective of the individual the nomos represents the bright ‘day-side’ of life tenuously held onto against the sinister shadow of the ‘night’. Every nomos is a edifice erected in the face of potent and alien forces of chaos [which] must be kept away at all costs. To ensure this every society develops procedures to assist its members to remain ‘reality-orientated’” [5]

To Berger the primary act of ‘reality-orientating’ is the parental reassurance that “everything is all right”, that there really are no terrors in the night, or at least that they do not hold power, and that the world is ultimately rational, orderly and even comforting. That such a reassurance can be give at all in good faith is for Berger evidence of a transcendent meaning to the universe – a ‘rumour of angels’. Much of the power of the supernatural in both ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ lies in the apprehension that the reassurance is fraudulent and that:

“… the terror of the dark which we all have, more or less, from which every child suffers [and] which is, to a certain extent, shared by animals, even by insects [is sustained by] in every truth, a terrible reality … that evil and horrible things lurk about us in the still, weird hours of the night, that there are truly ‘powers and principalities’, a true tyranny of the dark.” [7]

The defence against these ‘evil and horrible things’ from the internal and external wilderness can take extreme forms. There are the obsessive rituals described by Arthur Guirdham as being carried out by patients who felt they were being threatened by objective evil. [8] As Ernest de Martino argues [9] what is at stake in marginal situations is our very sense of being-in-the-world and the very foundations of reality. In tribal societies the ‘promise’ in the world is maintained through the shaman’s ritual. In modern, Western societies it is perhaps guaranteed by parents, priests, scientists, doctors and the whole of bureaucratic education. In our highly structured, literate world we at least have the partial illusion of having a secure reality. For those in cultures where much of day-to-day life is insecure, reality may be more fluid, allowing magic and miracles or occur.

In tribal societies the ‘promise’ in the world is maintained through the shaman’s ritual; in modern, Western societies it is perhaps guaranteed by parents, priests, scientists, doctors and the whole of bureaucratic education

In the Berger/de Martino viewpoint the chaos is literally awe-full, and humankind erects boundaries between itself and the chaos. Nomoi are dikes against infinity and ultimate chaos [10]. It is hard to resist Bernice Martin’s critique that Berger is almost wholly negative [10]; indeed there is an equally important tradition that sees the wilderness as the ‘true’ reality, that of habitat as somehow fake.

This is the view of another East African tribe, the Lele [1]. The Lele are hunters who live in villages that are hot and dusty in the dry season, unpleasantly hot in the wet. They view the village life, with its complex game of social relationships, as inauthentic and subordinate to the forest, the source of all good things, and the zone of  “the secret anarchic heart of man in relation to his fellows” and the “hidden, communal side of man’s nature”. (Or at least Lele men feel this, for the forest is the preserve of men, and to hunt in the forest is a penetration of a secret, feminine place). For the Lele, human affairs are controlled by mysterious forces in the non-human realm of the forest; mediated by the minghe, the spirits that live in the deepest part of the forest farthest from human habitation, or by the sacred pangolin.

Parallels in our own history include medieval Christendom where ‘this world’ is but a poor reflection of the transcendent world of Heaven and Hell; or the Romantic vision of the free, natural man, bound by the chains of society.

A central theme of many cultures is the need to enter the wilderness to gain wisdom and return to the zone of habitat. As Duerr puts it: “In order to live within the order… in order to be consciously tame and domesticated, one had to have lived in the wilderness. One could only know what inside meant if one had been outside ” [1].

In order to explore this theme further an extremely useful guide will be the anthropologist Victor Turner’s concept of liminality. Turner derives his thesis from Arnold von Geunep’s study of rites of passage. In such a rite there are three stages:

1. Separation from the ordinary world
2. Margin – stripping of the previous identity and ritual grinding down of individual differences
3. Aggregation – period of reintegration.

Turner calls the central marginal phrase the liminal period (from Latin, limen – a margin or threshold). The liminal period is a betwixt and between time, the ‘time between time’, a period of flux and transition.

During liminality the neophyte is ground down, made anew, granted special powers. Liminality is often compared with death, being in the womb, invisibility, darkness, bisexuality, wilderness, and eclipse of the sun and moon. In contrast to the outside world of hierarchy, status and structure, those in the liminal period experience society and social interaction as spontaneous, immediate, relative and undifferentiated, and reflecting the deep generic bond between individuals. This experience Turner labels communitas as opposed to the outside world of status or societas.

Turner lists a set of features separating liminality from status society:


  1. Transition
  2. Totality
  3. Communitas
  4. Equality
  5. Anonymity
  6. Absense of property and status
  7. Nakedness or uniform clothing
  8. Sexual continence or orgy
  9. Total obedience
  10. Sacredness


  1. State
  2. Partiality
  3. Structure
  4. Inequality
  5. System of nomenclature
  6. Presence of property and status
  7. Distinction of clothing
  8. Nuclear sexuality
  9. Obedience only to superior rank
  10. Secularity

Pure communitas, experienced as sacred sharing and total community, cannot be planned, it is spontaneous, ‘magical’. Attempts prolong it by creative ‘nomative’ or ‘ideological’ communitas tend to lead into a ‘fall’ into ‘structure’, which tends either to fall apart ‘when prophecy fails’, or to become rigid, highly authoritarian structures.

By now of course the reader will realise that the wilderness, the ‘dark secret heart of things’ the source of man’s ‘hidden communal being’, is the place of communitas.

In today’s society, liminality is diffuse, and will usually only display limited aspects of itself as defined above. Thus recent historical examples of liminality can be seen in such apparently polar opposites as conscripted military service and hippie communes. Most liminality occurs spontaneously, as in courtship, bereavement and reactions to traumatic and marginalising situations.

In the contemporary world liminality may affect the whole of society. Martin argued that the nineteen-sixties were a period of collective liminality: indeed as liminality is the zone of flux and transformation, the whole of our ever-changing society can be regarded as liminal. Being even bolder we might argue that what T. S. Kuhn calls revolutionary science is a prime example of liminality.In the liminal state individuals are either ecstatically expelled from the socially constructed world of status, structure and commonsense into the wilderness to be transformed or bring back power from outside; or the fences of habitat are breached to let the power in. There must be creative balance between societas and communitas, as Turner argues:

“Spontaneous communitas has something ‘magical’ about it [but] it is no substitute for lucid thought and sustained will. On the other hand, structured action swiftly becomes arid and mechanical if not if those involved are not periodically immersed in the regenerative abyss of communitas… Societas is not merely the chains in which man everywhere is bound, but the very cultural means that preserve the dignity and liberty as well as the bodily existence of every man woman and child. From the beginning of man in prehistory it is the very mark of man. That is not to say that spontaneous communitas is merely ‘nature’ [it] is nature in dialogue with structure, married to it as a woman is married to a man” [11]

Liminality therefore is both dangerous as well as addictive, as well as liberating and creative [12].

It seems to me that Turner and his commentators have not emphasised some points. Liminality is usually – if not always – associated with altered states of consciousness, often in traditional societies pharmacologically induced. The similarities between classical liminality and the hypnotic state are obvious. Spontaneous liminality in our culture is best associated with drunkenness. Liminality is often associated with a heightened sense of reality – either an ascent into ecstatic heights or a plunge into abysmal depths: the experience is “more real than real”. In positive communitas the participant feels immense euphoria, power: “great was it that morn to be alive”. Positive communitas seems associated with the ‘crash’ of the wilderness into societas, negative communitas associated with pre-planned ritual.

Turner and commentators also point out that there are, within society, those who are more or less permanently marginal – despised minorities, outcasts, fools, jesters, deviants, and above all, the shaman. Bernice Martin sees the rock star as the major liminal figure of our time, an inheritor of a tradition, according to Rogan Taylor [13], going right back to the shaman. As we have seen the shaman is precisely the ‘doctor’ who guards the borderlines of habitat, who has established a rapport with the incomprehensible, disease bringing forces of nature. He is the one who ventures out into the transforming wilderness of the underworld to guide those who are experiencing spontaneous liminality, and in his seances brings liminality and communitas into the structured habitat.

The shaman is often regarded as a deviant personality, a marginal figure – the outsider, dreamer and visionary, who “must go to another world to live in this one” [13]. It is clear that the shaman blends into the neccessary deviant who “draws people together in a common posture of anger and indignation to express anger and bear witness against the deviant” [14]. The rituals by which the deviant is judged and the places to which he or she is confined contain many features of liminality – courts are places of ordeal and examination, prisons and asylums enforce liminal features such as uniformity of dress and deprivation of will and property. The denunciation of the deviant creates an open declaration of the bounds and values of habitat. The deviant must enter the wilderness so that those left behind will appreciate the benefits of habitat, and control the dark, wild side of their own nature, lest they too be cast out.

Because rapid social change is itself a form of liminality [10, 13] it is profoundly disturbing: “to defenders of ‘structure’ all sustained manifestations of communitas will appear dangerous, anarchical and must be hedged around with prescriptions and prohibitions” [11) Under these circumstances certain kinds of deviant individuals and behaviour become symbolic demonic witch figures, whose very existence poses a threat to the integrity of habitat. They become 'folk devils', the incarnation of society's ills, hounded by the press [15,16]

Those with a high stake in the maintenance of structure are liable to launch moral crusades which often seek to maintain the traditional cultural values of society [17]. Such movements will often appeal to those sections of the community who see their economic or cultural status declining. The victories of the moral crusaders are often symbolic ones: for example it was sufficient for the Yankee puritans who sponsored the Prohibition amendment that “[they] had been successful in getting their law against the challengers publicly proclaimed, and it was their law the ‘drunk’ and ‘such people’ had to avoid.” [18]

The reader will immediately perceive that the Condon Enquiry and CSICOP are moral crusades.

Moral crusaders such as temperance reformers or anti-pornography campaigners see themselves as defending core cultural habitat values such as order, sobriety, rational-ity, self-restraint and respect for traditional values, against the forces of antinomian chaos. The reader will immediately perceive that the Condon Enquiry and CSICOP are moral crusades.

The Condon Enquiry was set up at a time of major student protests in the United States, and at a time when the status of the scientific community was suffering rapid decline. Condon explicitly linked his critique of ufology and pseudoscience with a rejection of permissive educational values:

“A related problem to which we wish to direct public attention is the miseducation in our schools which arises from the fact that many children are being allowed, if not actively encouraged, to devote their science study time to the reading of [sensationalised] UFO books and magazine articles … we feel that children are educationally harmed by absorbing unsound and erroneous material … not merely because of the erroneous nature of the material itself, but also because such study retards the development of a critical faculty with regard to scientific evidence, which to some degree ought to be part of the education of every American … Therefore we strongly recommend that teachers refrain from giving students credit for school work based on the presently available UFO books and magazine articles.” [19]

By the time CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal – now known as CSI, Comitttee for Scientific Enquiry) was set up ten years later the status of the scientific community had fallen even further. CSICOP was in effect an association of the elite constructors and guardians of the socially constructed habitat of status society, which looking back at the quote from Turner, we can see was uniting against the encroaching forces of anti-nomian communitas symbolised by the ‘occult’ rivals to scientific orthodoxy, and the threatening nature of the anomalies themselves.

The anomalies challenged by CSICOP and other ‘sceptics’ are not the kind of technical anomalies with which scientists regularly deal, and with which they maintain an exclusive understanding. No, they are major ‘existential’ anomalies which share a common explicit or implicit denominator, in that they challenge the whole scientific-historical process active in the West since the seventeenth century. This is essentially a process of progressive ‘tidying-up’, enclosing and disenchanting the natural world. These anomalies also challenge the associated metaphysic of ‘possessive individualism’, which asserts the autonomy and power of the individual against the forces of wilderness. They are phenomena which the linear historicism of the Judeo-Christian tradition had already condemned as ‘pagan’ – pertaining to the wild world outside the gates of the celestial city. Both the rationalist sceptics and the romantic believers derive the motional power of their arguments from this rage of the anomaly as the disruptive but creative outsider.
Charles Fort equated his damned and excluded phenomena with the damned, excluded, marginalised, permanently liminal underclass of society, who have the licence to mock the rich, powerful and respectable.

The carnival dance of the marginalised lumpenproletariat, the successors of the shamans [23] is compared to the ‘Furious Horde’ of the dead visiting the community at certain seasons. For Fort, these damned data are what is excluded as habitat forges itself out of chaos. They are part of the primal messiness and are constant reminders of the temporariness, partiality and precariousness of this habitat of fixed structures. At any moment they may gatecrash our reality party bringing reminders of the wild world beyond the walls.

There are a range of terrors which our community half-recognises as the wild forces come in from the bush. Take the continuum hooligan/vandal [21] — poltergeist [22,24] — demonic possession [25, 26], in which the forces of wilderness invade, in turn, the city streets and outer habitat, the interior of the home, and lastly the inner sanctum of the personality.

The hooligan or vandal is frequently called an ‘animal’, their behaviour ‘mindless’ or ‘savage’. The hooligan threatens ordered society and mocks its structure; they break property, symbols of human ingenuity and creativity. So do poltergeists, whose activities are seen as a savage rampage in which the orderly world of the household is overturned. The demoniac represents the most frightening image of all, for the demoniac is wholly taken over by the forces of wild nature and is reduced to a pre-human, even pre-mammalian level, and becomes a ‘break in the fence’ by which the forces of the wild insinuate themselves into the community.

To understand the full import of the image of the haunted house as a ‘disorderly house’ on the sort of people who corresponded with the early SPR, we must remember that the house as secure habitat was the sign of respectability, of emergence from the wilderness of the rough masses, from whose cheerless habitations escape was to the gin shop and music hall. The ghost, the insistent voice of ‘history’ refusing to remain buried, threatened a reversal of the historical, progressive habitat-creating process, and a reversion to the wilderness of the unacknowledged ancestors.

Continue to Part Two >>>


1. DUERR, Hans Peter. Dreamtime; concerning the boundaries between wilderness and civilization, Oxford, Blackwell 1985.
2. WILLIS, Roy. Man and Beast, Hart-Davis, Mac-Gibbon, 1971.
3. For these general topics see also any social and economic history; of special interest are: STORCH, Robert D. (Ed.) Popular Culture and Custom in Nineteenth Century England, Croome Helm, 1982 and CUNNINGHAM, Hugh. Leisure in the Industrial Revolution, Croome Helm, 1980.
4. Some of these themes are discussed in: DUDLEY, Edward and NOVAK, Maximillian E. The Wildman Within, Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1972.
5. BERGER Peter. The Sacred Canopy: elements of a sociological theory of religion, Doubleday, 1969.
7. CARRINGTON, Hereward. True Ghost Stories. Werner Laurie, 1916.
8. GUIDHAM, Arthur. Obsession, Spearman, 1972.
9. DE MARTINO, Ernest. Magic, Primitive and Modern, Stacey, 1972.
10. Derived from the account of Bergerian thought in: MARTIN, Bernice. A Sociology of Contemporary Cultural Change, Blackwell, 1983.
11. TURNER, Victor W. The Ritual Processes, Routledge, 1969.
12 This account of liminality was compiled from references 10 and 11, and from MELTON, J Gordon and MOORE, Robert L. The Cult Experience, Pilgrim Press, 1982.
13. TAYLOR, Rogan P. The Death and Resurrection Show; from shaman to super-star, Blond, 1985.
14. ERIKSON, Karl. Wayward Puritans Wiley, 1966.
15. COHEN, Stanley. Folk Devils and Moral Panics, MacGibbon & Kee, 1972.
16. CHIBNALL, Steve. Law and Order News, Tavistock, 1977.
17. WALLIS, Roy Salvation and Protest, F. Pincer, 1979.
18. ZURCHER, Louis A and KIRKPATRICK, R George. Citizens for Decency Univ. of Texas Press, 1976.
19. CONDON, Edward U. ‘Conclusions and Recommendations’ in Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, Bantam, 1969.
20. FORT, Charles. Book of the Damned.
21. PEARSON, Geoffrey. Hooligan; a history of respectable fears, Macmillan, 1983.
22. GAUL D, Alan and CORNELL, A. D. Poltergeists RKP, 1979.
23. OWEN, George, Can We Explain the Poltergeist?, Helix Press, 1964.
24. ROLL, William G. The Poltergeist, Star, 1976.
25. CRAMER, Mark, The Devil Within, W H Allen, 1979.
26. GOODMAN, Felicitas D. The Exorcism of Annelise Michel, Doubleday, 1981.


The Limners of Faerie. David Sivier


From Magonia 71, June 2000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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


Children Of Another God. Peter Rogerson

First published in Magonia 20, August 1985

There recently appeared in that always useful source of ufological folklore, Northern UFO News, an article by Jenny Randles about children who had ‘aliens’ as imaginary companions. She suggested that such children are being taught by non-human forces in an attempt to raise their consciousness. Other writers in this field have evoked images of alien children – ‘space babies’ – possessed of strange talents. Both see these children as leaders of a new age.

The idea of a race of divine children as harbingers of the transformation of mankind crops up in a number of obscure quarters. For example, The famous SPR ‘Cross Correspondents’ (a group of Edwardian ladies who ostensibly received enigmatic classical references from the deceased Gurney, Podmore, Myers, et al) produced scripts relating to the ‘Children of the Spirit’, whose:

“birth, character and destiny are influenced by the spirits responsible for the plan [of world redemption]. Making use of the genetic knowledge of Frances M Balfour [a distinguished geneticist] and the psychological skills of Edmund Gurney. This technique was known as psychological eugenics. They were to be the establishers of a world order of peace, born out of war and sacrifice.’ [1]

This plan was first revealed by W. N. Salter, husband of one, and son-in-law of another cross-correspondent. Salter also includes a couple of examples of the mental imagery associated with these scripts: “St Francis of Assisi in his monk’s robe. Laurels covered with snow… ‘there is always snow on their laurels”. The next image was of a typical Victorian christening party gathering “looking with awe rather than affection on a baby in a cradle. (It] struck me as a realisation that the little creature who will someday rank among the saints is not their own, but some sort of a changeling..:”

The presumed origin of this changeling is revealed in a subsequent vision:

“All sorts of glass retorts, tubes, wheels (especially noted a sort of double wheels). Some of the receptacles were full of clear liquid full of shining bubbles… it ended as far as I am concerned in a most beautiful radiant seraphs head in a large test tube”.

No doubt this vision, partly alchemist’s homunculus, partly Dr. Frankenstein, will be claimed as a precognition of ‘test tube babies’ – of which more later.

Let us note that these visions occurred during World War I, at a time when concern for peace was uppermost in peoples’ minds; and at a time and among a class of people where eugenics was a fashionable doctrine of ‘world improvement’. Today such a vision causes shivers to run up our spines: at least those of us who are not in California MENSA.

Modern contactees have claimed both supernormal powers and extraterrestrial origins for their offspring. Cynthia Appleton, a contactee from Aston, Birmingham, in the 1950s, claimed a spaceman had materialised in her living-room on a day when there was a stressful and stormy atmosphere. In subsequent ‘projected’ and ‘physical’ visitations the figure, sometimes with a companion, delivered the usual contactee platitudes, made vague references to titanium, and uttered various second rate zen-like koans. An example: “The truth of life is living and all that exists in life is not just a matter of good and evil for these do not exist. There is the flow of life only. In this flow one thing shall devour another to be made whole”. Another: “Time is the passing of one thing to another. The beginning of a blossom, its blooming, then fading”.

In September 1958 she was informed that the following May she would give birth to a child – which prediction came true (if we are to believe John Dale’s account [2]) even to within an ounce of the birth weight, and a couple of days of birth. Mrs Appleton explained coyly that although her husband was, of course, the baby’s physical father, the boy was the spiritual son of the fair-haired spaceman. With fair hair, almond skin and blue eyes, the child was to be named Matthew (Gift of God), and would be a leader at the age of fourteen [3]. Stories were told of the curious precocity of his childhood. This story, with its perhaps too conscious echoes of the Annunciation, soon disappeared from public memory; of the fate of Matthew Appleton nothing is know (at least to the present writer, perhaps some Magonia readers know more), clearly he has not been a ‘great leader’ since 1973, his fourteenth birthday.

Elizabeth Klarer actually broke South Africa’s infamous Immorality Act by having carnal relations with a spaceman, with resulting offspring

The South African contactee Elizabeth Klarer went one better. She actually broke South Africa’s infamous Immorality Act by having carnal relations with a spaceman, with resulting offspring [4]. This is a modern version of the folktale of the woman seduced by a fairy, who takes the child to Magonia. This story is best exemplified in the traditional ballad of the Great Silkie of Skule Skerry, in which the child of the earthly wife and the semi-divine seal-man is slaughtered by her husband, “a guid gunner”. Maureen Duffy [5] sees this as the death of a young girl’s fantasy at her first true sexual experience, though one suspects that the anonymous poet may have had a grander vision of ‘cosmic catastrophe’ and fall from innocence, in which a primordial bond between humanity and nature is shattered by the world of adult authority, rationality and metal, which reduces nature to a thing to be shot at.

If Elizabeth Klarer’s child was taken to Magonia, so was the child conceived by Antonio Villas Boas and the wild woman, passion red in her erogenous zones and barking like an animal, on a spaceship with a clock with no hands.

Themes of divine children are the stock in trade of mythology, and some anthropologists relate this to concepts surrounding lineage (fatherless heroes can establish rules for the whole community rather than one line of descent).

In modern science fiction ‘divine children’ play an interesting role. John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos describes a village which is sealed off from the rest of the country, and all women of child-bearing age give birth to identical, fair-haired, golden eyed children. According to Jung, the peculiar parthenogenesis and the golden eyes denote kinship with the sun, and characterise the children of divine progeny. Their fathers seem to have been angels of the annunciation who have come down from a ‘supercelestial’ place, to take off the stupidity and backwardness of homo sapiens [6].

In Arthur Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End the ‘Overlords’ – symbols of rational, scientific progress – arrive from space to end humanity’s squabbles and create a rationalist utopia on Earth. In the closing chapters it is seen that this utopia is sterile; its rationalism a defence against aspects and powers of the human personality which must be hidden until humanity has also gained true wisdom. The release of these powers comes with the birth of a generation of divine children, whose apotheosis marks the end of the race of mortals.

For writers such as Jenny Randles [7] these children may be already amongst us, being educated by non-human powers using ‘psychic toys’ in a sort of up-market Montessori education! On the other hand, Crystal Hogben, of the now defunct Magic Saucer magazine, believed that children suffering from hypercalcaema were some sort of changelings, presumably in an analogy with Midwich Cuckoos.

But our society has much bleaker and more ominous images of childhood, as witness the rash of films such as Rosemary’s Baby, the Omen series, and so forth, and the periodic media fears and social panics over clones and test-tube babies (which included the extraordinarily libelous claim from one extreme traditional Roman Catholic source that Louise Brown, the first ‘test-tube baby’ was a soulless monster with telekinetic powers). Evidently our fears of the changeling and the alchemists’ homunculus still persist.

In tradition the changeling was either an inanimate object or a fairy which replaced a true human child. The changeling must be harshly treated, whereupon it may reappear as a human child. It is a ‘thing’ in the guise of a human. It is usually held that the myth arose as an explanation in response to the birth of Down’s syndrome, hydrocephalic or otherwise deformed babies. However, a broader explanation is more probable: that the myth arose as a means of dealing with the failure of parental bonding, child abuse, and possibly infanticide in a poverty stricken rural economy. In a peasant society such as rural Ireland, where the mother/child bond was held especially significant, parental indifference and child abuse could be denied by the parents’ reduction of the child to ‘thing’ status – a form of social death.

In adults, the explanation of ‘taken by the fairies’ was used to cover both premature physical death, and ‘social death’ through failure to adhere to accepted norms of behaviour. A significant proportion of those ‘taken’ were young women with depressive conditions who refused, or were unable, to perform housewifely duties. The blurring between actual and ‘social’ death often makes understanding of the narratives of such events very difficult.

The myths surrounding children raise important philosophical and theological issues. Children are unsocialised, and as such represent an intrusion of ‘wilderness’ into the adult world of ‘habitat’. Western attitudes to childhood and child-rearing have differed as attitudes to the relative merits of ‘wilder-ness’ and ‘habitat’ have changes. To much of orthodox Christianity, following St Augustine, children were almost literally demonic intrusions, whose human status could only be safeguarded by the exorcising rite of baptism. True value was held by the community, in particular by the Church as earthly representative of the City of God, the perfect, immutable sphere. Children, repositories of original sin, were to be beaten into obedience.

However, from the eighteenth century onwards, Romantics and many Christians revived the alternative, Pelagian view of human nature. Sin was transmitted not by inheritance but by bad example and the corruption of a fallen society. The Wilderness was now seen as a repository of virtue, a divine realm from which children came ‘bearing clouds of glory’. The natural innocence of childhood was glorified by philosophers such as Rousseau and poets such as Wordsworth.

Considerable attention was devoted to the behaviour and attributes of ‘natural’ wild children; whilst Victorian moralists wrote pious tracts about innocent children who died before they could be corrupted by the sinful world.

Such divergence of attitudes still dominate many social and political debates, such as environment v. heredity; naked ape v. social animal; or ‘progressive’ v. ‘traditional’ education.

The ‘aliens’ who guide the young are in no sense truly alien; rather they represent an ideal, utopian future society

It is in the Romantic mode that Randles suggests that children represent the hope for the future. If these children are to be educated by aliens it implies the central failure of our society: adult society cannot be the guide and exemplar for these children, because of its limitless moral turpitude. It is implied that the civilization of the bomb and the concentration camp can produce nothing but hypocrisy when it preaches to the young; but that the ‘aliens’ who are to guide the young are in no sense truly alien. Rather the ‘aliens’ represent an ideal, utopian future society. The moral is that the aliens, and the alien taught children, are only really ‘alien’ to our corrupted world of racial, national, religious and political allegiance.

Similarly we can see that the self-description of any individual as being ‘alien’ suggests a depth of alienation not only from immediate family, but also from society as a whole. Many (perhaps most) children go through a phase of believing that their parents are not their real parents (who are ‘really’ people of position and power). These fantasies can become acute in adopted children [9]. Similarly, outraged parents describe modern fashions as ‘Martian’ or ‘alien’; the generation gap can become unlimited, leading to a radical alienation.

There is an intellectual tradition for this ‘alienation’: the gnostic vision of spirit trapped in an alien and hostile substance, and the case of ‘Gary’, discussed by Randles and Warrington [in 10] is an excellent example of the reappearance of archaic mythic material in schizophrenia.

But ‘Gary’ is an extreme example, and most star-babies must recognise their biological status as homo sapiens, so we are dealing with a psychological alienation, but one so extreme that the ‘as if’ qualification is cast aside. Nevertheless some identification with an idealsied ‘true humanity’ still exists.

These children are, it is claimed, destined to lead new social movements, and the example is given of Gaynor Sunderland, whose home has significantly been compared to a shrine. Children have been at the centre of a number of renovative movements, such as those associated with visions of the Virgin Mary, of whom Bernadette Soubirous is the most famous [11]. The role of the young Fox sisters was crucial in the birth of Spiritualism [12], and the role of teenage children in witchcraft epedemics such as Salem [13], or revivals such as the Great Awakening of 1735 is important.

The fact that many of these movements were lead by young girls, traditionally the most subservient and quietist members of a patriarchal society, is most important. It serves to highlight the radical reversal of social relationships in a movement which rejects the old, corrupt order, as is no doubt reflected in the role of youth in radical movements of the left and right.

The modern ‘New Age’ movement was born out of generational conflict, and a rejection of what it saw as the false consciousness of the civilization of political economy. In the process a comprehensive cult of youth was created in the 1960′s when a strong sense of the world being ‘made anew’ prevailed.

Increasingly, the ‘New Age’ movement in Britain has revived older Romantic themes: the lost rural idyll, the garden where humankind and nature were in harmony. The renovation is also a restoration of the lost pre-historic innocence – supporters of Stanislas Grof and Alvin Lawson may see this as a projection of a personal pre-history, a return to the lost paradise of the womb. The late Nandor Fodor once identified fairyland with the womb; thus the abductee and the ‘taken’ escape from the world of responsibility to at least a psychological equivalent of the womb – or the womb of the grave.

And if Lawson is right, then the alien world from which the changeling child comes is indeed the womb. If so then the ultimate Wilderness and the ultimate Habitat are one and the same.



1. SALTER, W.H. Zoar the evidence of psychical research concerning survival, Sidgewick & Jackson 1961.
2. DALE, John. ‘The Appleton Story’, DIGAP Review, no. 1, 1970.
3. Flying Saucer Review, vol. 5, no. 5, p.5.
4. HIND, Cynthia, UFOs, African Encounters, Gemini (Zimbabwe) 1982.
5. DUFFY, Maureen, The Erotic World of Faery.
6. JUNG, C.G. Flying Saucers, a modem myth of things seen in the sky. RKP, 1959.
7. RANDLES, Jenny. Editorial, NUFON News no. 111.
8. HOGBEN, Crystal. Magic Saucer, no. 17, quoted in Common Ground no. 3.
9. Briefly mentioned in TRISELIOTIS, John, In Search of Origins; the experiences of adopted people. RKP, 1973.
10. RANDLES, J. & WARRINGTON, P. UFOs, a British Viewpoint. Hale, 1979.
11. McCLURE, Kevin, Evidence for Visions of the Virgin Mary, Aquarius, 1983.
12. MOORE, R. Lawrence, In Search of White Crows, Oxford U.P., 1977.
13. BEYER, Paul & NISSENBAUM, Stephen, Salem Possessed; the social origins of witchcraft. Harvard U.P., 1974