Our Unreliable ‘Eyewitnesses’.
Paolo Toselli

From Magonia 13, 1983

‘I saw it with my own eyes!’ How many times we have listened to this statement designed to avoid doubt, to reinforce certitude.Usually, but erroneously, one believes that the witness is a perfect recording apparatus, that all that passes before his eyes is recorded and may be plainly reproduced through well-contrived questions. Numerous experiments show, however, that testimony is remarkably subject to error.In order to discuss something as controversial as UFOs, it is first important to realize that the eyewitness is as much a part of the event as is the physical stimulus that led to the personal experience. In fact, an objective stimulus seems to be there in the first place in a UFO experience, but the whole thing is channeled through our own personalities and comes out as an experience with greater or lesser ‘subjectivity’ elements.

Perception is not just a simple reproduction of what we see. Some psychologists have argued that in order to comprehend an event that we witness, various aspects of the event must be interpreted by us. Only part of this interpretation is based upon the environmental input that gave rise to it; that is, only part comes from our actual perception of an event. Another part is based on prior ‘memory’ or existing knowledge, and a third part is inference.

As remarked by Haines:

‘In an honest attempt to reduce the emotional and intellectual uncertainty which inevitably accompanies a novel experience, the witness may add certain types of percepts from his memory and/or delete other types; this helps reconcile the often unreal quality of the original percepts with an acceptable, reality-based, final perception. For instance (…) a UFO witness may add certain visual details gleaned from his imagination or memory. The addition of these details usually makes the object he describes appear more similar to objects he believes others have reported. Thus, what may originally have been the perception of a vague, greenish haze seen hovering silently above an open field late at night, may be reported as a well-defined, light green object which flew slowly and evenly over the field without making a sound.’ (1)

Another process influencing the responses that will be made to an ambiguous, novel (unknown) event is the psychological predisposition (also known as ‘set’) of the witness. Many times the concept of ‘set’ is expressed in the psychological literature with the terms of ‘hypothesis’, ‘expectation’, ‘meaning’, ‘attitude; they are quite similar terms emphasising the general concept that a person is prepared or syntonized to receive some kinds of information; so the perception depends on set and stimulus interaction.

Ron Westrum, in a paper on UFO witnesses, touches upon this matter:

‘A considerable folklore has grown up around UFOs, as I discovered to my surprise (…) in the course of making investigation of UFO sightings. (…) This folk-lore tends to set up an expectation that certain kinds of things will be seen or will happen during a UFO experience and this affects not only what the witness feels he ought to relate to others but also what the witness remembers as happening.’ (2)

The question of ‘mental set’ is especially important to consider when dealing with certain UFO/IFO cases. Because so few data exist, the distortion of only one factor can make an identifiable object apparentIy unidentifiable.

An example of the ‘mental set’ effect is supplied to us by Philip Morrison. It is a case of three radio-astronomers; one of these was a friend of Morrison, who stood outside Washington DC some years ago watching a large cigar-shaped object in the air, perfectly silent, with lighted windows, moving very rapidly past them.’Independently, they told each other they had each certainly seen the most remarkable kind of unidentified flying object. Suddenly the wind changed, and aircraft engines were heard; the distance adjusted itself, and they recognized they were seeing an ordinary airliner, much nearer than they had thought but not audible because of some peculiar sonic refraction of the wind. A change of the perceptual set changed their entire view of the phenomenon.’ (3)

When we experience an event, we do not simply record that event in memory as a videotape recorder would. The situation is much more complex.

Usually, we don’t retain the pure experience, but we elaborate it before storing it. In fact, we store in memory not the environmental input itself, nor even a copy or a partial copy, but only fragments of the interpretation that we gave to the input when we experienced it. A vivid, detailed photographic resurrection of the past is not the most efficient way to remember. Memories of everyday events are more similar to a syllogism than to a photograph; usually we go gradually towards the past and only seldom do we recall it as a ‘snapshot’. A grown-up person usually uses (verbal) symbols, to organize his memory in such a way as to find what he needs. We constantly translate our experiences by means of intervening symbols, store them in our memory and recover them instead of our original experience. When we have to remember, we try to reconstruct the experience from the symbols.

Research indicates that the experiences people remember about an event are influenced by the label associated with the event. Labels are not neutral, they carry explicit and implicit stimuli previously associated with them. As remarked by Michael Persinger:

‘A confounding interaction arises when one uses a label which is already heavily ‘loaded’ with emotionally laden associations. For example, suppose an observer sees a pulsating luminous light with dark stimuli moving within it. If the person labels the observation as a landed UFO, there the observation is no longer ‘neutral’ since the previously learned associations of the word UFO may now contaminate the observation. The operation of this process could result in a report like: “I saw a UFO landed on the hill, it was slowly materializing and de-materializing,, and there were aliens moving within.” (4)

People’s memories are fragile things. The tendency to invent or to introduce new material taken from a different structure can increase considerably with the passage of time

External information provided from the outside can intrude into the witness’s memory, as can his own thoughts, and both can cause dramatic changes in his recollection. Usually, this happens when witnesses to an event later read or hear something about it and are subsequently asked to recall the event. Post-event information can not only enhance existing memories but also change a witness’s memory and even cause non-existent details to become incorporated into a previously acquired memory. (5)

Many people believe that their memories are absolute and constant. But, contrary to apparent popular belief, the evi-dence in no way confirms the view that all memories are permanent and thus potentially recoverable.

A witness’s confidence in his memories and the accuracy of his memories often have little correlation. People are often confident and right, but they can also be confident and wrong. To be cautious, one should not take high confidence as any absolute guarantee of anything.

Memory isn’t the only place where the recognition processes can go on the wrong track. Many psychologists think that the main errors and misunderstandings depend on the retrieval processes.

The conditions prevailing at the time information is retrieved from memory are critically important in determining the accuracy and completeness of an eye-witness account. Reporting is one of the most crucial factors in the UFO problem. There are numerous ways to influence (and often drastically distort) the recollection of a witness.

The manner in which a question is phrased and the assumption it makes have profound effects on the accuracy and quantity of eyewitness testimony. By using leading questions, for example, an attorney can ‘shape’ the testimony of an eyewitness. A leading quest in is simply one that by its form or content suggests to a witness what answer is desired or leads him to the desired answer. We all probably ask leading questions without realizing we are doing so.

Dr Elizabeth Loftus, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle, has demonstrated how altering the semantic value of the words in questions about a filmed auto accident causes witnesses to distort their reports. (6) When witnesses were asked a question using the word ‘smashed’ as opposed to ‘bumped’ they gave higher estimates of speed ant were more likely to report having seen broken glass – although there was no broken glass.

To summarize the issues involved in question type and structure of testimony, the notion of cognitive set, defined in terms of the specificity of the questioning situation, is a useful tool and also helps to illustrate the negative correlation between accuracy and quantity of testimony. When giving unstructured testimony (i.e. free elaboration without the use of any questioning) the witness’s cognitive set is under the least restraint, and witnessesare are likely to give only testimony about which they are somewhat certain, causing accuracy to be high and quantity low. As the questioning becomes more and more specific, cognitive set becomes directed and narrow, accuracy decreases, and quantity increases.

The studies in this area indicate, then, that the witness should first be allowed to report freely, or in a controlled narrative fashion. This free report can be followed by a series of very specific questions so as to increase the range or coverage of the witness’s report. On the contrary, asking specific questions before the narrative can be dangerous because information contained in those questions can become a part of the free report, even when the information is wrong.Summing up, the reported testimony – viz., the UFO report – on which we are bound to work is conditioned by many facts that affect the observation and reporting of an event, whose effect nevertheless we aren’t able to quantify and estimate a posteriori.

It is essential, therefore, that UFO investigators recognize the factors that might influence how well a person perceives, remembers and reports an event.
The purpose of this paper is to present an invitation to probe the numerous problems involved in dealing with eye-witnesses.


  1. HAINES, Richard F. Observing UFOs; An Investigative Handbook. Nelson-Hall, Chicago, 1980, p. 41.
  2. WESTRUM, Ron. ‘Witnesses of UFOs and other anomalies’, in HAINES, Richard F. (ed.), UFO Phenomena and the Behavioural Scientist. Metchen, New Jersey, The Scarecrow Press, 1979, p. 91.
  3. MORRISON, Philip. ‘The nature of scientific evidence – a summary’, in SAGAN, C. and PAGE, T. (eds.), UFOs a Scientific Debate, New York, Norton, 1972, pp. 285-286.
  4. PERSINGER, Michael A. ‘The problems of human verbal behaviour: The final reference for measuring ostensible PSI phenomena’. The Journal of Research in PSI Phenomena, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1976, pp. 80-81.
  5. LOFTUS, Elizabeth. Eyewitness Testimony. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1979, p. 55.
  6. LOFTUS, E.F. and PALMER, J.C. ‘Reconstruction of automobile destruction: an example of the interaction between language and memory’. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour, Vol. 13, 1974, pp. 585-589.



Victims of Memory.
Roger Sandell and John Rimmer

From Magonia 53, August 1995 

Like many other parents in Britain and the USA in the past decade Mark Pendergrast has been accused of child abuse on the basis of recovered memories. However he is a professional non-fiction writer, and instead of writing a ‘personal testament’ or confronting his accusers on a TV talk-show, he has written a wide-ranging survey of the whole phenomenon. [1]

Recently a number of sceptical books have appeared in the USA on the subject of recovered memories, some academic, some popular in approach. Pendergrast’s however scores over all the others by the breadth of his social and historical perspective. Seeking the origins of, and analogies for, recovered memory stories he touches on many topics of interest to Magonia readers, including UFO abductions, reincarnation claims, Satanic cults, urban legends, hypnotism, ‘bedroom visitor’ stories and the witch mania.

Many matters dealt with in this book were new to me. There is a section on ‘facilitated communication, a technique alleged to assist autistic children to communicate by holding their hands over a keyboard and picking out characters. The technique has obvious analogies with Ouija boards and the experiments conducted earlier in the twentieth century in which animals were alleged to be capable of producing messages by picking out letter cards. When a high proportion of ‘facilitated communications’ turn out to be allegations of abuse, further experiments produced clear evidence of subconscious cueing by the facilitators.

Even more bizarre are the claims of multiple-personality disorder (MPD). According to MPD specialists victims of abuse become so traumatised that they distance themselves by splitting into separate personalities, which lie dormant and can be recovered by therapists. Some patients turn out to have a hundred or more personalities, who like American TV wrestlers seem to each have one stereotyped characteristic, and answer to names such as ‘The Zombie’ and ‘Mean Joe Green’. Some therapists think the Satanists deliberately induce MPD so that their victims will carry out activities which they will not remember afterwards, such as murder, gun-running or prostitution. Others think it is the CIA, Mafia or Ku Klux Klan that are responsible. Pendergrast notes the similarity of all this to older demonic possession traditions, but does not note its closest parallel with another contemporary American fad, channelling or claiming to be the voice of some dead figure dispensing cryptic wisdom.

To the best of my knowledge MPD has not, at least so far, been a feature of British recovered memory or Satanic abuse cases, a pretty clear indication of its status as a purely cultural artifact. Its origins probably lie in images from film versions oof Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde and similar stories. One wonders if the popular misuse of the term ‘schizophrenia’ has contributed. This word, literally meaning ‘split mind’ is often misunderstood to mean having two minds rather than simply meaning ‘shattered mind’ (it is slightly regrettable that Pendergrast himself uses the term in the incorrect colloquial sense).

These beliefs are not confined to an occultist influenced fringe, but are signs that psychiatry in the U.S.A. is widely affected by what may be a terminal climate of irrationality

Pendergrast makes it clear that such beliefs as recovered memory are part of a wider climate of irrational therapy. Some therapist believe that their patients have been traumatised by sex abuse in past lives (a development that Peter Rogerson predicted in an earlier Magonia). Others believe that traumas can be traced to memories of experiences while in the womb (a belief that formed the basis of L Ran Hubbard’s pseudo-science of Dianetics in the 1950s).

These beliefs arc not confined to an occultist influenced fringe, but are signs that psychiatry in the U.S.A. is widely affected by what may be a terminal climate of irrationality. One study suggests that about a quarter of qualified therapists accept the validity of past-life regression tales. Other qualified psychiatrists have written books endorsing belief in demonic possession and exorcism, and containing accounts of ‘recovered’ memories of early embryonic stages of development.

After this over-all survey, Pendergrast devotes a major section of his book to interviews with therapists, accused and accusers. This is a grim section, but comic relief comes in an interview with a therapist who not only deals with abuse memories, past lives and UFO abductions, but pregresses her patients into their future lives. Pendergrast may of course be accused of deliberately seeking those who can be held up to ridicule, but my own reading elsewhere supports his claim that, if he had wished to do so, he could have found far more bizarre therapists than those he actually quotes.

Particularly interesting are the interviews with ‘retractors’, the increasingly large group who have repudiated earlier allegations and now, like the accusers, seem to be forming a quasi-religious group with its own networks, counsellors and personal testimonies. One wonders perhaps whether some of the retractors may be over-keen to emphasis the part played by their therapists in the emergence of their stories, and to minimise their own responsibility. As with the stories of the accused and accusers it seems best to suspend judgement on a number of aspects of these cases where more detailed information is not available.

One quoted retractor, in particular, makes serious accusations against a therapist and the most that can be said is that some recent cases Pendergrast relates of scandals involving therapists mean that this story is not necessarily implausible. (When, one wonders, are the first retractor UFO abductees going to appear?)

Pendergrast then looks at the history of psychology, seeking the background to these allegations. He finds many historical parallels 18th and 19th century beliefs in imaginary mental ailments and bizarre treatments. Sigmund Freud emerges from this section as one very much influenced by some of these ideas, and his heritage has meant that their influence has lasted to the present day.

Pendergrast’s examination of the social roots of the child abuse panic highlight the part played by specific factors such as the interactions between private medicine and the U.S. insurance companies that provide a major source of income for therapists, and wider issues such as current obsessions with victim status and the drive to pathologise an increasingly wide range of human behaviour under terms such as ‘co-dependency’, ‘emotional incest’ or ‘sex addiction’.

Of particular interest is the section of ‘survivorship as religion’, which sees many forms of therapy as amounting to a quasi-religious movement based on the worship of self, an analysis which certainly explains the apparent contradictory alliance of mental health professionals, New Agers and Christian evangelicals in the Recovery movement.

The increasing breakdown of any overall consensus on sexual morality suggests another line of analysis, in which child-abuse provides a rare example of practices that different sides in cultural wars can unite to condemn. As a historical parallel, the mediaeval persecution of the Bogomils, the first Christian heretics to be accused of worshiping the devil and participating in orgies, not only came after a similar breakdown, the rift between Greek and Roman Christianity, but occurred right in the contested territories. The 16th century disruption of Christendom preceded the witch mania which provided an issue uniting Protestants and Catholics.

One can extend the socio-political analysis of the child abuse panic in other directions. The role played by some sections of the women’s movement in fuelling the panic is reminiscent of earlier social reform movements in the USA which, in the 19th and early 20th century moved from support for slave emancipation, workers’ rights and universal suffrage, to supporting authoritarian measures such as Prohibition and the taking of the children of the poor into state care (an activity that was frequently attacked by early film-makers, not merely in melodramas such as D. W. Griffiths’ Intolerance, but in comedies such as Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid and Laurel and Hardy’s Pack Up Your Troubles).

Peter Rogerson has suggested that now American youth culture has become too de-politicised and commercially dominated to express any revolt against established values, child abuse allegations have emerged as purely individual anti-parental gestures.

Pendergrast ends with a section of advice and recommendations both for individuals caught up in recovered memory cases and for legislative action. Sensible and helpful as this section is, it is hard to believe that calls for licensing of therapists will achieve much since those with genuine academic qualifications have played as dubious a part in the controversy as those with none.

My final verdict is that it is hard to recommend this book too highly. It is essential reading not merely for anyone concerned with this particular controversy but concerned about contemporary culture and society as a whole.


The Father’s Tale: 

Apart from whatever insight it gives into the phenomenon of false memory, and the illumination it throws on the medical, social and historical context of the contemporary controversy, this book is also an intensely moving account of a personal tragedy. It recounts in harrowing terms the estrangement of first one, then both, of Pendergrast’s daughters as a result of ‘memories’ recovered through therapy. However his account is not, as perhaps one would expect, a bitter condemnation of the therapists involved, nor an unqualified protestation of his own innocence. Instead he reexamines with almost painful honesty his relationships with his daughters and his ex-wife, and seeks out those aspects of his behaviour and attitudes which may have led to his current plight, to the extent that many readers might think that he is over self-critical. The account he provides of the childhood and adolescence of his daughters may perhaps reinforce the suggestion that some abuse accusations ore an aspect of a repressed, late developing revolt against parental authority. Certainly Pendergrast’s children, like some of the other children described in the individual accounts, seem to have had remarkably rebellion-free adolescence. More than most other books on the topic this book reveals the personal tragedies behind the sociological and legalistic descriptions. — John Rimmer.


[1] Mark Pendergrast. Victims of Memory: Incest Accusations and Shattered Lives. HarperCollins (rev. edition), 1997.

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Desperately Seeking Satan.
Roger Sandell

From Magonia 42, March 1992 




In November 1991 the Old Bailey’s first Satanic human sacrifice trial took place. Two girls, ten and fourteen, accused their parents and two other people of having forced them to take part in ceremonies in Epping Forest, on the eastern fringes of London, at which babies were killed and buried. In spite of the sensational headlines that greeted the opening of the case it was clear from the start that it had very curious aspects. Despite the unambiguous claims made against them, not one of the accused faced a murder charge but were instead charged with child abuse. The prosecution admitted that digging by the police had produced no buried babies and there was no evidence of any accompanying epidemic of missing babies. After four days the case collapsed when one of the girls stated that she was unsure whether the events described had really happened or were nightmares, and that her grandmother, with whom she was living, has stopped punishing her when she told her about them.

A few weeks before this case took place, the nazi activist Lady Birdwood had been found guilty at the Old Bailey of inciting racial hatred by distributing material accusing Jews of ritual murder, a coincidence which highlighted the way this trial seemed to exploit similar images of Gipsies as child stealers and wizards. The Satanist ceremonies were said to have taken place at a memorial to Gipsy Smith, the Romany evangelist of the 1930′s and 40′s, and the defendants included Gipsy Smith’s grandson George Gibbard, an Evangelical Christian and South Eastern representative on the National Gipsy Council. [1]

Meanwhile hearings into the official handling of the Orkney Satanism case continue. A parent has been cross-examined to explain why she bought a child a video of The Witches (for non-cinemagoers, the recent film of the Roald Dahl children’s story).

Meanwhile in the USA, bizarre trials continue. In North Carolina a day-care centre owner stands accused of sexual abuse and Satanic ceremonies. The evidence includes testimony from children describing the presence of lions and elephants at these ceremonies. In Chicago a judge has dismissed a case against a man accused by a five-year-old girl of murdering five identical girls in a human sacrifice. The defence centred on allegations that the child had been coached by Barbara Klein, a counsellor who apparently gave advice to the prosecutors in the recent Old Bailey case. [2]

The Satanism scare has now been with us long enough to have produced several books. Patricia Pulling’s The Devils Web [3] a US publication sold in Britain in evangelical bookshops, gives a good idea of the different components of the scare. ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ and similar occult-type games are controlling teenagers minds to the point where they murder each other or commit suicide (the book opens with an account of the allegedly D & D related suicide of Patricia Pulling’s teenage son). Records by heavy-metal rock bands not only contain pro-Satanist lyrics, but also subliminal Satanic messages only audible when played backwards. Many unsolved murders are the work of Satanists.

When examined in detail the evidence for most of these claims evaporates pretty rapidly. The alleged backwards messages in heavy metal records seem to be contemporary versions of tales dating back to the ‘sixties of great secrets hidden in rock records or their sleeves. Nothing that is known about record production or the psychology of perception makes them plausible (if it was possible to influence people in this way, why are there no messages like “Buy our next album”?) The whole argument has been reduced to total absurdity by claims of Satanic messages in such places as ‘The Mr Ed Song (the theme from the TV series about a talking horse, not the UFO witness).

Stories of groups of Satanists committing random murders appear to have originated with the US wave of alleged cattle mutilations in the 1970′s when the mutilations gave rise to rumours of cults carrying out sacrifices. Patricia Pulling’s evidence relies on two cases of the last few years. the first is Henry Lee Lucas, a Texas murderer who in 1983 confessed to murdering 360 people as part of the rites of a cult called ‘The Hand of Death’. Although Lucas’s confessions were widely publicised and were seized upon by police forces anxious to improve their clear-up rate, the only supporting evidence linked Lucas to just one murder, that of his mother, and his claims are now generally discounted by law-enforcement authorities.

The second case is rather more substantial: the Matamoros (Mexico) slayings of 1989 in which at least twelve people were murdered by a drug smuggling gang led by Adolfo Constanzo, a practitioner of the sort of supernatural beliefs held by many poor but otherwise respectable Mexicans. At least one of these murders, that of an American tourist named Mark Gilroy, does seem to have been seen as a sacrifice to confer magical powers (the gang was exposed after a member drove through a police check, believing himself to be invisible) but it is not clear where religious beliefs began and the general casual violence of drug gangs towards rivals and informers stopped.

The evidence for the alleged ill-effects for Dungeons and Dragons seems similarly inconclusive. Although some press stories have featured allegations of teenage murders and suicides by the game’s devotees, further investigation has revealed violent homes or other factors that seem at least as relevant than the fact that those involved had played a game with a US following of several million other players.

Patricia Pulling’s account of her son’s suicide after a curse was placed on him in a D & D game is certainly a sad tale, but according to local press accounts he was also depressed by his failure in a school election (and one can only be astonished by the fact that his mother had left a pistol freely available while he was alone in the house). The only other evidence for the Satanic effect of D & D games seems to be some cases of adult D & D players being convicted of sexual offences against younger players, but these fall into a long established pattern of paedophiles cultivating activities and interests liable to bring them into contact with children.

Reading Pulling’s book suggests that one reason for the current US anti-Satanist scare is the fact that it has connected a wide variety of current American fears. Serial killers, the increasing rate of suicide among young people,, the violent messages of some types of popular music, drug gangs, and the increasing presence in the US of immigrants from the Caribbean and Latin America, some of whom maintain traditional non-Christian religious practices, all are linked together in the same way that a few years ago Armageddon theology managed to link a variety of late ’70s and early ’80s concerns about the US and its place in the world.

The fact that most of these scares are specific to the USA probably accounts for the failure of the scare to achieve such resonance in Britain. However Children for the Devil by Tim Tate, researcher for the highly unconvincing Cook Report TV programme on Satanism, attempts to make out a case for the reality of Satanism in Britain and the US. [4]

Tate attempts to distance himself from Evangelical Christian anti-Satanism. He rejects such manifestations of the scare as campaigns against Halloween celebrations, and heavy metals bands, and accepts modern neo-Paganism as a valid religious belief. Indeed he give some interesting information on the background to US anti-Satanism that I was not previously aware of.

Especially striking is the fact that one organisation involved in spreading the anti-Satanist scare is the so-called US Labor Party led by the now-jailed political cultist Lyndon Larouche (Diane Core of ‘Childwatch’ the charity backed by Geoffrey Dickens MP that has publicised anti-Satanist tales, has also spoken at Larouchist meetings). What is significant about this is that this organisation was spreading similar tales in other contexts long before its present anti-Satanist campaign. In 1974 it claimed to have uncovered a CIA-KGB assassination plot against Larouche. Dissident members of the group were subjected to ‘debriefing’ sessions, which later resulted in charges of kidnapping against their accusers. As a result the victims told tales, promoted by the Larouche organisation, of CIA brainwashing that involved details identical to those made later in tales of Satanic child abuse. These involved sex with animals, exposure to pornography and scatological humiliations. One detail especially reminiscent of US day-care centre Satanism tales is the claim made in the confession of one victim who had been living in London that these events took place in an Islington school when it was closed over the weekend. (Incidentally Larouche has been accused of sexual abuse by female former disciples).

While Tim Tate rejects many feature of US anti-Satanism, he nonetheless devotes most of his book to defending the validity of charges of Satanic child abuse (SCA). he begins his argument by claiming that; “Ritual crime. abuse and murder have been reported, investigated, proven and recorded for nearly five hundred years”.

To prove this he devotes nearly fifty pages to a resume of the history of Satanism and witchcraft. It is difficult to speak of this section of the book with restraint. Tate gets just about every historical fact wrong and clearly has not the faintest idea of what he is writing about. He shows no sign of having read any serious books on European witchcraft such as Norman Cohn’s Europe’s Inner Demons, Keith Thomas’s Religion and the Decline of Magic, or Hugh Trevor Roper’s the European Witch Craze of the 16th and 17th Century. Instead the only historical sources cited are Dr Margaret Murray’s discredited writings, H. T. F. Rhodes equally unreliable The Satanic Mass, and a Peter Haining pot-boiler (Were these the only books on the subject in his local library perhaps?)

He begins by distinguishing Satanism from witchcraft, and follows Margaret Murray in seeing witchcraft as a primitive nature religion involving the worship of a horned god and moon goddess. He states that: “By the time of Christ this rural pantheistic religion was well established throughout Europe.” Oh yes? Where exactly? Such a cult bears no relation to classical or Nordic Paganism, or Celtic Druidism, the main religious systems of immediately pre-Christian Europe.

From this unpromising beginning Tim Tate jumps a millennium to give us his bizarre version of the witch trial era, arguing that tales of human sacrifice and sex orgies confirm similar modern tales. He does at one point concede that tales told under torture should be treated sceptically, but promptly disregards his own proviso by treating the trials of the Knights Templar, Gilles de Rais and Father Grandier of Loudon without mentioning that torture was employed in all these cases, neither does he point out that all these people had made powerful enemies beforehand. He accepts clearly absurd details such as the eight hundred or so child victims ascribed to de Rais – enough under medieval demographic conditions to depopulate quite a large area. He quotes the alleged Satanic pact given in evidence at the trial of father Grandier without mentioning that it was supposedly countersigned by a devil.

He totally fails to mention many important areas of the witch-mania that are highly relevant to the Satanism scare. He is totally unaware that British witch-trials were very different from those on the continent. The systematic use of torture and centralised inquisitional bodies were not a feature of British trials. As a result the tales of mass sacrifice and huge witches Sabbaths are found almost entirely on the continent. The British cases involve fewer defendants and much less spectacular organisations.

There is no discussion of the role played in the witch mania by child accusers who testified to manifest impossibilities, and in some cases resorted to conjuring tricks to create the impression of being bewitched, a subject highly relevant to contemporary SCA cases. [5] Neither does he discuss the identical accusations of ritual child murder that were commonly made against Jews. If modern SCA claims are vindicated by similar claims made hundreds of years ago, are modern neo-nazi claims vindicated by similar medieval claims?

Not content with relying on discredited ideas from other writers Tate makes some insupportable claims of his own. He sees modern witchcraft as being largely a Cathar creation and supports this by quoting the confessions of two Cathar witches who confessed to worshipping Satan in fourteenth century trials. The only problem with this is that neither of the witches quoted ever existed. Their confessions are both nineteenth century forgeries, as Tate would have know had he troubled to read Norman Cohn. [6]

Like many dubious writers on witchcraft he seems especially fascinated by the Black Mass, and devotes several pages to the 1680′s ‘Affair of the Poisons’ and allegations of Black Masses at the court of Louis XIV. Although, as usual, most of the more bizarre allegations in this case come from confessions made under torture, the affair seems to have some factual basis. However the Black Mass of the period bore little resemblance to later fantasies. In an age when the Mass was seen as an almost magical ceremony and masses might be said for good harvest and success in war it did not seem a very big step to secretly hold masses for purposes not approved by the Church, such as sexual success or the death of an enemy. Such practices were seen more a testimony to faith in Church rituals than as a blasphemy.

Of course no book of this nature is complete without a lurid account of Alastair Crowley, a figure who in fact, when his more bizarre claims are dismissed, seems simply a not untypical member of the avant-garde of the period exaggerating his own wickedness to outrage convention in a manner similar to Gabriel D’Annunzio and the young Salvador Dali.

A further measure of Tim Tate’s historical ignorance is that he seems to know nothing of Gerald B. Gardner, who in the 1940′s and 40′s originated the ‘Wicca’ cult which Tate seems to think is genuinely ancient and whose rituals involving nakedness and flagellation are a perfectly genuine example of so-called ‘witchcraft’ being used as a cover for bizarre sexual practices.

After this lamentable ‘historical’ section we arrive at the present day. We are presented with a list of modern self-proclaimed ‘Satanists’ who have appeared in court charged with a variety of offences, chiefly sexual. The list presented is far from exhaustive, Mr Tate’s cases do not include Norman Pasnail, the 1970′s Jersey (Channel Islands) sex killer who was obsessed with Gilles de Rais, or Vic Morris, the neo-nazi Satanist and convicted child molester who various investigative journalists have linked with the search for the killers of Hilda Morrell. [7]

While these cases should serve as a warning that not all cases where allegations are made are baseless, they take us no nearer to the allegations of large scale undercover Satanist cults and human sacrifice. Most of them involve a single person and the only alleged ‘human sacrifice’ Tate can find is a case of two Birmingham fans of the pseudo-Satanist band Iron Maiden, one of whom stabbed the other after a party. Although the police officers in charge of the case talked of human sacrifice this failed to impress the Appeal Court who reduced the murder conviction to manslaughter on self-defence grounds. The cases quoted no more validate the more bizarre allegations than the recent case of a rabbinical student from London’s Hassidic community convicted of child abuse validates tales of Jewish ritual murder.

Nor does Tate consider these stories in a wider context. As has previously been pointed out in Magonia, any form of cultist organisation grouped round a leader seems to be a fertile field for sexual exploitation, whatever its alleged belief. For example the regime of Frank Beck, the Leicester children’s home manager recently convicted of sexual assaults on inmates, seems to have had many cult-like features. Beck appeared to have total domination of his staff and inmates, and justified his sexual abuse as therapeutic. [8]

Tate takes the SCA cases of the last few years back to the book Michelle Remembers. To persuade us to take this book seriously he summarises it in a highly misleading way, omitting to tell us any of the details that make it impossible to take this story at face value. He carefully ignores all the many supernatural claims made in the book, such as the appearance of the Virgin Mary to the abused child Michelle, and the presence at the Satanist ceremonies of Satan himself, speaking in what sounds like fourth-rate heavy-metal lyrics; “Look at my eyes and you can see/ the fire burning inside of me./ Look at the children in them too/ The fire that burns, what is new?”. He ignores the prophecies of an Armageddon brought about by a Soviet/Iranian alliance in the early 1980′s. Nor does he mention the fact that Michelle has two sisters who strongly deny her story. He gives the impression that her account has been endorsed by the Vatican, whereas the quote from a Canadian archbishop given in the book seems carefully non-committal: ‘I do not question that for Michelle this experience was real. In time we will know how much of it can be validated. It will require prolonged and careful study. In such mysterious matters hasty conclusions could prove unwise.”

Other cases cited by Tim Tate are the US day care cases, and some British ones that he has personally investigated. He is convinced of the accuracy of the children’s testimony. Consider these quotes:

“Like many who remain sceptics I tried to write off these children’s disclosures as fantasies or the product of watching too many videos. But neither theory works. Tried and tested psychological research has proved that children cannot fantasize the details … to recall it so vividly they have had to have experienced it in some way … More telling still is the way in which the children disclose these incidents. It causes them real visible pain to talk about their experiences. How do I know? Because I have sat with these children – by their request not mine – as they struggled to share the poisoned memories inside them”

“Of all the reports I’ve received the most personally depressing for me are those dealing with very young children … No matter how familiar researchers become with the details, the knowledge cannot alleviate the horror and confusion of such events – particularly in the lives of the youngest and most vulnerable among us. Yet those provided by three or four-year old children furnish the investigator with valuable evidence concerning the reality of this phenomenon. Since such small children cannot read there is no chance of contamination from written sources. Few TV programmes during early viewing hours have ever offered specific details of this experience… Consequently the details that children relate can be regarded as purer thanthose in adult accounts … But so far our knowledge outpaces our skill in helping people deal with these previously unimaginable experiences. New coping techniques must be introduced, new therapeutic skills must be developed. Much work is to be done if very young lives are not to suffer permanent psychological scarring.”

The first quote is from Tim Tate; the second is from Budd Hopkins, describing his interviews with very young children recounting abduction experiences. [9] In view of the similarity of their arguments we must conclude that either Satanists are holding hideous ceremonies in our midst and aliens are descending to abduct large numbers of people, or that the question of assessing testimony from children (or adults) is rather more complicated than either of these writers allow.

Certain features of the stories Tate looks at underline the similarity between SCA claims and abduction stories. He concedes at one point that some stories contain clearly impossible features and mentions claims of ‘operations’ that are contradicted by medical evidence, and even a case of a child who claimed to have been abused in a spaceship. ‘Natalie’, a teenager returned to her mother after living with her grandmother for ten years, tells of being taken into a big house where children were kept in cages and murdered. But the house also had a more curious inhabitant named ‘Lucifer’:

“He was a sort of friend, at least he seemed to be then … When I was locked up in my room at nan’s he used to be there … I had no friends except him … Now I know he was a spirit or something”

Tim Tate seems to have no very clear idea what to make of such stories. However he insists on the literal truth of all the details of them that are not manifestly impossible in spite of all contrary evidence. He tabulates allegations made in 28 US cases. Practically all of them involve claims of babies being slaughtered and acts of child abuse being videoed, but no corpse has ever turned up, no video been recovered. Satanist never get caught by the sort of mischance that commonly happens to non-Satanic criminals. The serial killer Dennis Neilson was caught when neighbours complained about the smell from his house, the Yorkshire Ripper when stopped for a traffic violation. Serial killers usually work alone and the examples of pairs are rare enough to be notorious for years afterwards (e.g. Loeb and Leopard, Brady and Hindley). However we are asked to believe in large groups of people committing murder and torture of a viciousness surpassing the worst of individual serial killers.

Tate seems impressed by Sandy Gallant, a San Francisco police officer widely credited as an expert on Satanic crime. Some of her notes of advice to police forces are printed in an appendix to The Devil’s Web and they include a quite remarkable list of problems involved in the prosecution of SCA:

“No evidence is found at alleged crime scenes to substantiate statements made by victims. Though homicides are reported no bodies are found. Though children say they saw other children who were kidnapped no record of these children can be found with the National Center for Missing/Exploited Children.”

Is any comment necessary?

The British cases described in detail are Nottingham, and others derived from Tate’s own interviews. Unfortunately his handling of the historical material already examined means there are problems here. When his assertions can be checked Tate can be shown to have ignored the use of duress in producing confessions and ignored parts of stories which are clearly impossible. Since these are also items of controversy in the modern confessions how can we be sure the same process has not gone on in the summaries of his own interviews?

His section on Nottingham gives some further details about the extended family on whom the allegations centred. These seem to have been a horrifying collection of urban hillbillies living on the fringes of society in a nexus of poverty, crime, incest and subnormality reminiscent of the legendary Sawney Beane family. However the idea of such a family being the high priests of some secret cult seems to owe more to H. P. Lovecraft than reality.

This highlights another problem. Tate rejects the idea propounded by evangelical anti-Satanists that all Satanists are part of a world-wide cult hundreds of years old. He believes rather that modern Satanists are simply following information on historical Satanist practices. At one point he remarks the resemblance between one modern Satanist claim, and the case of Gilles de Rais, and demands that sceptics explain how the person making these claims could know such obscure facts. Apart from the fact that de Rais has long been a favourite for ‘World’s Wickedest Men’-type paperbacks, this question is quite meaningless unless one accepts the ancient cult idea that he explicitly rejects. In any case, the Nottingham family do not appear to be the sort of people one can easily imagine researching historic Satanism.

In spite of this, a Nottingham social worker declares herself convinced of the SCA charges when a three-year old produces “a historic Satanist chant”. Ignoring the lack of understanding of anyone who thinks there is such a thing, the claim is, as Peter Rogerson points out, identical with the evidence frequently offered in reincarnation claims.

The villains of Tate’s account of the Nottingham affair are the police, who he depicts as being blind to SCA evidence and refusing to investigate. He does not mention, much less reply to, the police contention that they searched the houses for supporting evidence and found none. Nor does he point out that we are asked to believe in mass chanting, murders and the sacrifice of a live sheep (curiously described by the child as being brought in a plastic bag and killed by someone sticking their fingernails into it) in a terraced house, unnoticed by the neighbours. Does Tim Tate not realise that if such dubious material was introduced into court a defence counsel would have a field day, and the real acts of child abuse that did occur in Nottingham might well have gone unpunished? It may be that the adversarial court system of Britain and the USA is not the best means of sorting out the truth of these cases, but at present it is the one the police have to operate within.

A less tendentious account of the Nottingham case is contained in Peter Hough’s Witchcraft: A Strange affair, a journalistic survey of the development of the anti-Satanic scare in Britain. [10] It includes some dubious anecdotes and is more sympathetic to the idea of the pre-Christian antiquity of witchcraft than the evidence warrants, but is a useful and fair-minded account. It includes interviews with people on both sides of the controversy and gives a much more rounded picture of the subcultures of Satanism and amateur occultism. Hough describes the activities of the anti-Satanist con-man Derry Mainwaring-Knight, providing an insight into the credulity of some Evangelicals to any anti-Satanist claims, however ridiculous. He also gives examples of how the activities of some Evangelical anti-Satanists have caused some disturbed people they have come into contact with to become even more disturbed. He looks at the parallels of SCA claims and UFO stories, but only devotes about a page to this. I would have been interested to see this discussed in more detail, something that Peter Hough’s involvement in UFO fieldwork investigations makes him well qualified to do.

A different sceptical perspective come from In Pursuit of Satan, [11] Written by Jim Hicks, a former US policeman and analyst for the Virginia Department of Justice, he looks at the response of US police departments and the psychiatric and welfare agencies to the SCA scene. The story he tells is alarming. The SCA gospel is spread to local police departments by seminars often organised by Christian fundamentalists. Like sixteenth century witch-finders they seem to define ‘supporting evidence’ so widely as to make in practically impossible for anyone to defend themselves. (Sandy Gallant advises police seeking evidence of Satanism to search houses for objects including I-Ching books, gongs or bells, and chalices, goblets or cruets) They advocate authoritarian measures such as examining library records to see who is borrowing books on the occult, and spread tales of mass Satanic political conspiracies. Their influence on law enforcement seems a scandal reminiscent of the influence of the Ku Klux Klan on some 1950′s police departments.

The promoters of such seminars try to present themselves at ‘anti-cultist’, apparently defining cults as any non Christian-fundamentalist fringe religious belief. Thus concerns about the rise of superstition and irrationality are seized upon to reinforce political and religious authoritarianism, just as the SCA panic seizes upon increased awareness of the reality of child abuse to promote a similar agenda.

The response of the US psychiatric profession seems to have been, from James Hicks account, equally dubious. Psychiatrists are shown to have accepted obviously apocryphal stories and dubious historical accounts in discussions of SCA in professional journals. Elaborate discussions around the day-care cases have sought to explain why the accused corresponded to no known profile of child molesters or why inspectors or visiting parents never found supporting evidence. (From a British viewpoint it would also be pertinent to ask why these day-care cases seem to be a purely American phenomenon with no parallels in the British cases.)

Looking at the conduct of the day-care cases, Hicks depicts investigators leading child witnesses in a manner which seems to approach child abuse itself. His account of the most notorious of these cases, the McMartin affair, bears very little resemblance to Tim Tate’s and the story calls for a complete book of its own (a TV mini-series is not surprisingly planned, but will no doubt simply endorse the view of the affair held by whichever of the protagonists has the most expensive lawyer).

What future developments in this story will be is hard to predict. So far, what it has told us about the continuing ability of irrational panics to exercise wide influence in modern societies in not reassuring.




  1. As is the usual custom in such cases, Mr Gibbard’s name was not given in the press. It is given here because he has chosen to make it public as part of his campaign for compensation for wrongful imprisonment. See New Statesman, November 29, 1991
  2. Economist, August 31, 1991, also Fortean Times, nos. 60 and 61
  3. Also worth considering in this context are the ‘Little Uri Gellers’ of the 1970s, who, following Geller’s TV appearances, fooled parapsychologists with simple tricks.
  4. Norman Cohn, Europe’s Inner Demons  University Press/Heinemann educational, Paladin, 1995. See chapter 4. Pimlico, 2nd revised ediiton 1998.
  5. Searchlight Anti-Fascist Monthly, September 1985. Incidentally local rumours have linked the Morrell case with witchcraft. She was killed on the spring solstice and the wood where her body was found had previously figured in local ‘witches’ sabbaths’ tales.
  6. To be precise, some sort of ‘regression therapy’
  7. UFO Brigantia, November 1991
  8. Peter Hough, Witchcraft: A Strange Conflict  Press, 1991.
  9. James Hicks. In Pursuit of Satan: The Police and the Occult  Prometheus Press, 1991

    Click on the links in the references above to order the book from Amazon 


It Never RAINS but it Pours: Reporting on the Satan Hunters. Basil Humphreys


Although there have been no recent high profile cases like Rochdale or Orkney, the Satanism hunters have not gone away.

BASIL HUMPHREYS reports on recent activity.

From Magonia 59, April 1997

The claims of Satanic Child Abuse hunters are seldom given space in the press nowadays, yet they are as busy as ever. The RAINS (Ritual Abuse Information Network and Support) conference at Warwick University on 13-14 September 1996 had an attendance of two hundred (two-thirds of them women), mostly professional carers of some kind, along with a few vicars, some survivors of Ritual Abuse, and a couple of sceptics who were careful to keep their views to themselves. An informal survey conducted by one of the lecturers revealed that all but about ten of those present claimed to have first hand experience of a Ritual Abuse case, and most said they had several. The speakers included Catherine Could, an American therapist who had had patients recalling Satanic rituals ever since the McMartin case was first publicised in 1984; Valerie Sinason, editor of Treating Survivals of Satanist Abuse; and Tim Tate, who was the researcher for the notorious Cook Report on Satanism in 1989. 

No doubt for security reasons, tape recorders were forbidden, and the only journalist allowed was believer Andrew Boyd. Sceptical Mail on Sunday reporters were given a press conference in a room away from the rest, mainly rhetoric from Valerie Sinason. 

The words ‘Satanic’ and ‘Satanism’ were not actually used. Rather, people tended to refer ominously to ‘them’, leaving it tacit who ‘they’ were, One woman explained the necessity for RAINS like this: “They’re networked to one another, so we have to fight them with their own weapons.” Just how far does she intend to take this principle? 

The words Satanic and Satanism were not actually used, rather, people tended to refer ominously to them, leaving it tacit who they were

The emphasis is now on ‘Multiple Personality Disorder’, This condition was not even recognised until fairly recently, and was at first assumed to be a reaction to extreme trauma. Yet it is now assumed that it is deliberately induced by the cults as a form of mind control. So far as one could tell, it was usually taken for granted that survivors of Satanism would not remember their experiences until they recalled them under therapy or hypnosis. 

That the Satanists can wield mind control to this extent is used to explain away the lack of evidence. Valerie Sinason mentioned a case where police searched for evidence to back a survivor’s story, and found none: she said they had “interviewed the wrong alter [personality]“. Two policemen from Congleton in Cheshire, who have had several Ritual Abuse cases in their town, have repeatedly dug up gardens where Ritual Abuse survivors told them the bodies of sacrificial victims were buried (I feel sorry for the gardeners of Congleton), but mysteriously enough, they have never found anything. It has not occurred to them that the survivors might be telling porky-pies: rather, there must be an incredibly efficient conspiracy to conceal the truth, Were some of their fellow police amongst the ranks of ‘them’? Masonic conspiracies, inevitably, were mooted. Then another possibility was suggested: the survivors have been subjected to cult mind-control which is still operating. After giving information to the police, the survivors are programmed to telephone ‘them’ immediately and repeat it, so that ‘they’ are able to remove the evidence before the police can get there. 

A similar point was made by Catherine Gould: patients may move to another part of the country, but the Satanists manage to find them. One reason is that: “some alters are programmed to telephone the cult and tell them their new whereabouts when they move home.” 

All this was illustrated by the Californian therapist Caryn Stardancer, editor of Survivorship, who is herself a survivor of ritual abuse and “a member of a multiple-self system”. Having announced herself as such, she briefly slipped into one of her little girl alters. She kept two stuffed toys on the front of the podium as she talked, which apparently were so useful in her therapy that she now takes them everywhere. 

It is a myth, Stardancer said, that “survivors are neurotic people with empty lives who invent stories to get attention”; in fact, they haven’t got the attention that False Memory Syndrome has (everyone in this field thinks that it is only their opponents who are getting the media attention). She knows it is a myth because she herself suffered, back in the 1940s and 1950s when she was a small child, and the hands of an inter-generational, multi-perpetrator cult, actually at least five cults who were conspiring together. These included: a Satanic Cabal hiding under the cover of a Fundamentalist church; a Dionysiac group (who had survived underground ever since the days of ancient Rome) who “specialise in political manipulation through crime and blackmail”; a feminist Pagan coven; a youth gang who used Satanic imagery; and military mind-control experts who were affiliated with the Masons. She was able to bring in several other favourite conspiracy theories by giving them as part of the alleged cult’s teachings: she says they claim the cult hierarchy dates back to Hermes Trismegistus, an early Grand Master, they built the pyramids, and they are in touch with extra-terrestrials, as is proved by the eye in the pyramid on the US dollar bill. Many survivors, she says, are programmed to believe that social unrest at the turn of the millennium will enable the group they are in to take control. 

This talk won a minute’s standing ovation, In response to a question from the audience, she said she was given the surname Stardancer twenty years ago by an Indian medicine man she met at a conference on adolescent schizophrenia. 

Curiously, some of the patients supposedly continue in Satanism even while in therapy. Joan Coleman’s first survivor once had to postpone her sessions by two days because she had been summoned to a Satanic court in France, When she got to the delayed sessions she described how two ‘hoods’ had taken her to a chateau, where a black cockerel was sacrificed, she was urinated on, smeared with excrement, and all the usual stuff, questioned, then apparently let off. Valerie Sinason has a Multiple Personality Disorder patient who, as a child, was made Satan’s daughter and had “a goat’s horn shoved up her bum”. Her ‘adult alter’ still goes to rituals, returning with injuries, and she is now in a wheelchair. Though Sinason and her colleague Rob Hale at the Portman Clinic were doing an NHS-funded study of SRA, asking “what corroboration?”, it did not seem to occur to her that surveillance of such a patient could readily provide proof, if her story were true. 

Sinason also stated that certain crimes are committed at the full moon, mentioning the horse mutilations of a few years ago. Presumably this is meant to prove that they occur on cult holy days, yet the same observation has also been taken as proof that astrology is true. The first thing that ought to be investigated is whether or not some crimes really are committed more often at the full moon.

The weekend was rounded off by Marjorie Orr, the astrologer and founder of ‘Accuracy About Abuse’, who devoted her talk to attacking belief in ‘false memory syndrome’, which she says has led to the silencing of adult survivors, and is in danger of wrecking psychotherapy. There may be “a little exaggeration” on the part of survivors (those who describe mass murder, perhaps), but no more. The British False Memory Society, she considers, is an umbrella group for organised paedophile rings. 

It is likely that such conferences as this are self-propagating. One presenter related how in 1994 she went to a study day at Southampton University presented by Valerie Sinason: ‘Ritual Abuse: Does it Exist.’ At first she felt “total disbelief” at what she was hearing, but by the end of the day she believed in ritual abuse. The following years one of her patients started ‘disclosing’ having been made to take part in Satanic rituals (during which devils and humans flew about in the air), hence by the time of this conference she was herself an authority on the subject. 

Finally, it may be remarked that one piece of actual physical evidence was produced in the course of the weekend, A woman who was in the process of remembering the Satanic rituals she had been made to attend as a child awoke one morning, so she said, to find a box of voodoo dolls on her doorstep, obviously a curse placed there by the Satanists to warn her to keep her mouth shut, The voodoo dolls were shown, They were Guatemalan ‘Worry Dolls’, as sold at charity shops all over the country. 

Some recent developments:

Several recent news items have shown that the debate over ‘Satanic’ abuse and ‘False Memory’ is no closer to resolution. The Daily Telegraph (March 25, 1997, p.6) reports that the British Association of Counselling has issued guidelines to its 14,000 members warning them of the dangers of creating false memories in therapy. Chairman Alex McGuire is quoted as saying that the number of people with recovered memories which proved false was low, “but we don’t know what `low’ means. It could be tens, hundreds or even thousands. There is no doubt that it is a genuine hazard.” 

The Observer, (March 2, 1997) reports on a case where a 38 year old woman, Susan Lees, is sung the NSPCC and Birmingham Social Services for withholding evidence of abuse she suffered as a very young child at the hands of her father. She was taken into care and adopted at the age of five, and claims that memories of the abuse returned after hearing news reports of torture in Bosnia, then obtained Social Services records which confirm much of her story. Critics of False Memory Syndrome are claiming that this demonstrates that victims can forget their abuse then recover the memories much later, However this case seems to have little in common with others reported. The abuse happened when Ms Lees was a baby, stopped when she was adopted, and did not continue over many years, even into adulthood, as is alleged in SRA claims. 

In the Guardian‘s Saturday magazine section (March 15, 1997) a writer who appears to have links with the relevant Social Services department mounts a criticism of the action taken by a judge in Scotland in dismissing a ritual abuse prosecution in Ayrshire. Not having seen court reports it is difficult to know what happened in the case, and to what extent ‘recovered memory’ played a part. The implication in the article is that serious abuse did occur (an allegation which would presumably be impossible to make without the anonymity of individuals in such cases) but that prosecutors and judges were unwilling to accept the ‘Ritual’ elements, so the case fell. As in the conference reported above, mention of ‘Satanic’ abuse is carefully avoided. It is also apparent that the Guardian’s writer disapproves of the lifestyle of the family concerned – ‘travellers’ who can afford a large house through exporting expensive cars to Thailand and the Far East, The fact that Thailand is a centre for paedophile pornography is carefully pointed out. 

The recurrence of cases like these serves to emphasise the concerns expressed in Magonia by John Harney and Kevin McClure about the dangers of involving children in alien abduction stories. –  John Rimmer


He Can remember It For You Wholesale:
Thoughts on Budd Hopkins’ ‘Witnessed’.
John Harney



 From Magonia 59, April 1997

The worrying thing about UFO abduction stories is not that people like Budd Hopkins insist that we should take them seriously – we do. 

Over the years a number of thoughtful articles on the subject have been published in Magonia. Martin Kottmeyer discussed the types of people who report such experiences and their possible subconscious motivations. (1) Kevin McClure expressed his concerns about the effects of the techniques and lines of questioning and speculations indulged in by investigators on children involved in abduction cases. (2) John Rimmer wrote a book in which he showed, amongst other things, how UFO abduction experiences were related to similar, but more traditional, experiences and beliefs, (3) People certainly do have subjective experiences which often seem to involve being abducted by aliens, demons, fairies, or whatever. Such experiences can seem very real to the percipients. They therefore should be heard sympathetically, and if they suffer continuing distress it is perfectly reasonable that some suitably qualified person should attempt to alleviate it.

If Hopkins were advocating counselling or psychotherapy for people troubled in this way and sought to place the notion of abduction by aliens in flying saucers in its social and historical context then we could only applaud his efforts. However, as you all no doubt know, that is not his position at all. He insists that people are really being abducted by real aliens and token aboard real flying saucers.

Now if he were the sort of wild-eyed person who goes around spouting incoherent nonsense – you know, the sort of fellow who persecutes librarians or who comes and sits next to you in an almost-empty bus – then we could safely ignore him. But he is not like that at all. He is well educated, highly intelligent and can call on a wide circle of experts to help him with his investigations. He it was who introduced Dr John Mack to UFO abductions. (4) He has demonstrated, over the years, that he is capable of persuading other highly intelligent professional people that UFO abductions are a physical reality, as well as persuading many people, directly or indirectly, that they really have been and are being abducted. Thus he cannot be safely ignored.

It is therefore advisable to take a close look at his assertions, arguments and working methods, as they are presented in his latest book. The case he discusses caused a great deal of comment and controversy before the book was published, so it is advisable to look at some of the other publications on the subject also.

It is easy to get bogged down in the complexities of the story presented by Hopkins, and to be diverted by the mud-slinging between believers and sceptics which has appeared in various UFO journals, so I propose to concentrate on the two central issues. These are: Hopkins’ assertion that the abduction of Linda from her New York apartment was a physically real event, seen by independent witnesses; and the methods used by Hopkins to enable abductees to “remember” their experiences.

Anyone who had not read the book might assume that Linda contacted Hopkins and told him about being abducted from her bedroom by aliens and taken into a saucer, and that Hopkins then conducted a detailed investigation. But it was not like that. Linda wrote a letter to Hopkins, dated 26 April 1989, which expressed her anxieties about what are obviously not unusual sleep disturbances – waking up, or seeming to wake up, with the feeling that there is some other person present in the room, and not being able to move. The familiar ‘sleep paralysis’ routine.

Linda begins the letter by saying that she has never seen a UFO, but that she has read part of Hopkins’ book Intruders. She also said that she had consulted a doctor about a small bump on her nose and was told that it was cartilage caused by a surgical scar. She become even more worried about this as she insisted that she had never had any operation on her nose. (Not surprisingly, to anyone who has read any abduction stories, this bump on the nose, which Hopkins admitted was “almost invisible” soon become evidence of an alien implant.)

Only a few days after receiving the letter Hopkins interviewed her. He explains that he keeps his interviews informal initially, to put his subjects at ease. Only “when an atmosphere of calm and trust has been established” does he conduct more formal interviews, taking notes or using a tape recorder.

This is all very well, but it means that there is no record of what was said. When Linda first met Hopkins she was obviously aware of his obsession with UFOs and aliens, and it seems not unlikely that he took the opportunity to inform her in more detail of his ideas and theories. Only a few days passed before he conducted his first hypnotic regression session with her. This unearthed a memory of her seeing a strange bright figure or object on a roof outside her bedroom window one night when she was eight years old.

Now we come to the momentous events of 30 November 1989, Linda phoned Hopkins to tell him what happened to her earlier that morning and a meeting was arranged for 2 December during which she told him of being abducted through her window and up into a saucer where there was a table… But wait. Let us look at Linda’s own account of this event, which was published in MUFON UFO Journal. (5)

Linda describes how a “peculiar feeling” came over her as she prepared for bed. “There was a strong presence in the room. Steve [her husband] was snoring away, so it wasn’t him.” When Linda had these peculiar feelings previously she didn’t know what to make of them. But this time -

“I began to feel the familiar sensation of numbness that I’d felt periodically over my lifetime, creeping up slowly from my toes. Only this time, having known Budd and the abductees for some seven months, I knew what it meant.” (emphasis added)

She claims to have seen a strange being, but she does not describe it; she merely says: “…it was there, standing at the foot of my bed, staring at me!” She goes on to say that she remembered white fabric flowing up over her eyes and a sensation of something pounding on her back, then of falling into her bed. So, no abduction, despite having spent seven months being primed by Budd and his abductees.

When she retells this episode to Hopkins under hypnosis, the number of beings increases to four or five, but she still seems unable to describe them in any detail, despite prompting

  • B: [Budd] You said there were four or five. I don’t know what you mean.,.. Four or five what?
  • L: [whispering] Black. They shine. I can see a reflection in them.
  • L: [Linda] Four or five of those things… people.
  • B: What do they look like?
  • L: They’re short. They’re white and dark.
  • B: Are their clothes white? Is that what you mean?
  • L: They look like a lighter colour than the picture screen on my TV set.
  • B: What else do you notice about them?
  • L: [in a quavering voice] Their eyes. Very intense eyes.
  • B: What colour ore their eyes?
  • L:[Whispering] Blck. They shine. I can see a reflection in them

Of course, at this stage, Linda must have known what Budd was expecting and she does not disappoint him. She gives him a story of being taken through the window and into a hovering saucer. She doesn’t have too much difficulty with the details, as these have no doubt been supplied over the previous months by Hopkins and his associates. At this point I think it is legitimate to wonder what sort of account Linda would have given if neither she nor Hopkins had ever heard of UFO abductions and if Hopkins were obsessed with some other interpretation of the disturbing experiences which many people sometimes undergo when suffering from various kinds of sleep disturbances. (We are told that Linda is a chronic sufferer from insomnia, as well as these other problems.)

Take, for example, the case of Dr Arthur Guirdham, a British psychiatrist. One of Guirdham’s patients was a woman who suffered from nightmares. She eventually told him of her ‘memories’ of a previous life among the Cathars, a Christian sect in 13th-century France which was declared heretical and brutally stamped out by the Albigensian Crusade. It so happened that Guirdham already had a fascination with that particular historical episode, and under the influence of his patient he came to believe that he, too, had not only lived a previous life as a Cathar, but had also known his patient in that life. This obsession developed to a stage where he gathered about him a group of people who all claimed to have known one another and suffered together in 13th-century France, and who could help one another to ‘remember’ their dramatic experiences. (6)

Hopkins, though, is not only unwilling to consider other interpretations, conventional or otherwise; he insists that Linda’s story is true because the abduction was seen by independent witnesses. The whole book seems to hinge on this crucial point.

This is where Richard and Dan come in. The letter they wrote to Hopkins claiming to have seen a woman being token out of an apartment window near Brooklyn Bridge by three “ugly but smaller humanlike creatures” in “late November, 1989″ was postmarked 1 February 1991, some 14 months after the alleged event. Commentators have wondered why it took them so long to take action. The answer is fairly obvious; they had only recently learned the details of the story. If, as they claimed, they had noted which window the woman had emerged from, so could easily find out who she was, why did they wait 14 months before getting worked up to a great state of excitement about the incident?

Richard and Dan were allegedly accompanying another person, referred to as the “Third Man” when they had their amazing and unlikely experience, (It is widely believed that this person was Javier Perez de Cuellar and Hopkins refuses to confirm or deny this.) However, they were supposed to be independent witnesses, but it was revealed, in a letter purporting to be from Dan, that they also were abducted. It seems they were instantly transported to a beach where they were confronted by Linda and a group of Greys (the “Lady of the Sands” episode). Hopkins claims to have confirmed this story by subjecting Linda to another dose of hypnotic regression during which (of course) she managed to remember it.

So this left Hopkins without independent witnesses, but in November he received a letter from a woman, referring to an earlier letter which she had sent him in July, This he retrieved from his “box of unopened correspondence” (!). This woman claimed to have witnessed the abduction from her car on Brooklyn Bridge. Hopkins interviewed her but apparently without any hypnosis business, presumably because he didn’t want to find she had also been abducted and lose his only independent witness. Dr John Mack remarks: “This is, to my knowledge, the only documented case where an individual, who was not him or herself abducted, reported witnessing an abduction as it was actually taking place.” (7) It is not true, however. Abductions are sometimes witnessed, in a sense, by others, but they are usually rather unspectacular. For instance, in a case investigated by BUFORA, described by Nigel Watson: “Mr L had no known psychiatric history. The psychiatrist thought that he had been experiencing hypnagogic hallucinations. This was partly based on the testimony of Mr L’s wife who was present during these alleged events, and confirmed that he appeared to be asleep during his ‘contacts”‘, (8)

If we take this idea to its logical conclusion, then our whole world could be an illusion created by the aliens

Hopkins has answers for those awkward persons who ask why only some people had their cars stopped near Brooklyn Bridge and witnessed the abduction whereas others either apparently saw nothing or remembered nothing. He tells us that the aliens control who sees what and who remembers what and when they remember it. Thus all apparent inconsistencies can be dealt with by attributing them to the amazing powers of the aliens.

It does not seem to occur to him that if we take this idea to its logical conclusion, then our whole world could be an illusion created by the aliens. They could also dictate what would or would not be published about them, whether credulous or critical.

Hopkins points out what will be obvious to most readers – the highly theatrical nature of the events described. He is referring to the abduction scene, but there are a number of others, mainly scenes involving Linda, Dan and/or Richard.

Hopkins wants us to believe that the theatricality is provided by the aliens, but others take the more plausible view that it is provided by the abductees, witnesses and investigators. George Hansen, Joseph Stefula and Richard Butler, in a paper circulated among ufologists a few years ago, likened the whole business to a kind of role-playing fantasy game. If we look at it that way, then we don’t have to go along with Hopkins’ assertion that either the story is literally true or that Linda has organised – and paid for – a gang of conspirators to to aid her in perpetrating an extremely elaborate hoax. Both of these alternatives are equally absurd, of course, but Hopkins thinks only the latter one is.

Hopkins was somewhat annoyed by this paper and he wrote a reply to it in which he devoted much space to character assassinations of the trio, with sideswipes at “such dubious personages as Philip Klass and James Moseley”. Apparently anyone who doesn’t go along with Hopkins’ absurd abduction theories, and says so bluntly, is a “fanatic”. (9)

The principal “fanatic” is Philip Klass. Hopkins obviously loathes him. He quotes him as saying to the media that abductees are “little nobodies, people seeking celebrity status” and that this had discouraged some of them from coming forward to tell the world about their traumatic experiences at the hands of the aliens. He also remarks; “Science can only be damaged by the present level of McCarthyite intimidation.” (10) Science? What do the activities and ludicrous speculations of Hopkins and the other abduction enthusiasts have to do with science?

What does Klass, this “… dinosaur in the evolution of public awareness” who “…bares his hatred for UFO witnesses ever more nakedly” (according to Hopkins), really think about the abductees? His views are set out clearly in his book on the subject, published in 1988, (11)

Klass is not concerned with criticising the witnesses, apart from a few of them who are obviously seeking money or notoriety, but with the techniques used by Hopkins and the other abduction investigators. He points out how they have ignored the opinions of professionals concerning the limitations of hypnosis as a method of establishing the truth about past experiences. He discusses their technique of repeatedly hypnotising UFO witnesses until they get the the abduction stories they are hoping for. He gives examples of abductees who later insist that they really did see a UFO but they have no good reason to believe that they were abducted.

Hopkins was particularly annoyed by Klass’s challenges to him that if he really believed that people were being abducted and had any reliable evidence to support these claims then he should inform the FBI. Klass and other sceptics continue to pose awkward questions whenever they get the opportunity.

One of the most disturbing features of the work of Hopkins and his followers is the tendency for children to get caught up in the fantasies. Hopkins seemingly makes no attempts to exclude them from his investigations in order to protect them from ideas and beliefs that could cause them alarm and distress. He is quick to seize any opportunity, Take the case of the nosebleeds, for example.

Nosebleeds? Yes, I’m afraid it’s all rather complicated; perhaps Hopkins thinks that if we are sufficiently bemused and baffled by the complexities we will give up trying to unravel the story and just accept what he reports at his own evaluation.

We are told that Linda woke up with a bad nosebleed in the early morning of 24 May 1992, and was soon joined by the other four persons present in the apartment; her husband, her sons Steven and Johnny, and Steven’s friend “Brian”, who all sat around the living room trying to stem the flow from their bleeding noses. The next day, Linda phoned Budd, who reassured her that “…this was no one’s fault, that if it was UFO-related it was outside her control.” According to Budd, this sort of thing is not unusual: it seems it was one of those things that abductees just have to learn to live with.

Ufologists should spread the word that the UFO abduction game, like certain other activities, is definitely unsuitable for children

A few days later, Budd called Linda back to question her in more detail about the incident. He reports: “Since she said she still remembered virtually nothing but waking up with a bloody nose, I asked about Steve and her sons.” (emphasis added) She then handed the phone over to her six-year-old son Johnny.

Johnny ‘remembered’ the nosebleed incident all right, but of course Budd could not know what Linda had said to the others about the night in question, And there is no testimony on this incredible event from Linda’s husband Steve. It should be noted that there is very little mention of Steve in the book, One gets the impression that he thinks Linda is somewhat neurotic and that Budd is some sort of psychiatrist.

Budd went on to question Johnny about his dreams that night and found that he was dreaming about his imaginary sister, Naturally Budd seized on that and, to cut out the endless details, it developed that this girl was not imaginary after all, but Johnny was constantly being abducted by the Greys and brought to meet this girl, also an abductee.

I find it difficult to read such stuff without becoming nauseated. When I was a small child I suffered from nightmares, but my parents comforted me and reassured me that the monsters in them were not real and that they were only dreams. I believe that most children are treated in this way. Imagine the effects, then, of making it plain to children that not only are the dream-creatures real, but that there is no escape from them. Such an approach hardly seems therapeutic, to put it mildly, but this is the line taken by Hopkins and company. If they can persuade intelligent and more or less sane adults to believe such nonsense, the long-term effects on children hardly bear thinking about.

John Mack goes even further in this respect. Some of his subjects ‘remembered’ not only their abductions right back to early childhood but even in previous incarnations. Thus there is no escape from the Greys, even in death!

What is at issue here is not the sincerity and good intentions or otherwise of the abduction enthusiasts. It is the long-term effects of their work on the people they deal with.

The important question is: What can be done about it? Well, persons active in ufology can do a great deal. They should spread the word that the UFO abduction game, like certain other activities, is definitely unsuitable for children. Magazine editors should eschew the practice of giving fawning interviews to abductee researchers. A particularly sickening example appeared in MUFON UFO Journal where the interviewer of Hopkins takes the attitude of one sitting at the feet of a Master; there is not a single probing or critical question. (12) If abduction believers take part in UFO conferences they should be balanced by others who take a more rational and scientific view of these stories.

Sceptics are not always helpful in the fight against the irrational, ego-boosting activities of abduction enthusiasts. They tend to pursue trivialities, to criticise matters on which scepticism is inappropriate or meaningless, or to carefully dissect writings which were never meant to be taken literally. On the issue of abductions, they should focus on the main point, which is the harm being done to impressionable people by the likes of Hopkins, Mack and Jacobs, egged on by cheering crowds of supporters (most of them sufficiently educated and intelligent to know better) at UFO conferences.

However, until the abduction game results in some tragedy which gains widespread publicity, I doubt if anything much will happen.  


  1. Kottmeyer, Martin. ‘Abduction: The boundary deficit hypothesis’, Magonia, 32, March 1988
  2. McClure, Kevin. ‘Bogeymen’. Magonia, 55, March 1998
  3. Rimmer, John. The Evidence for Alien Abductions, The Aquarian Press, 1984
  4. Mack, John E. Abductions: Human Encounters with Aliens, New York. Ballantine Books, 1995 (revised paperback edition). The dedication reads: “To Budd Hopkins, who led the way.”
  5. Cortile, Linda. ‘A light at the end of the tunnel’, MUFON UFO Journal, No. 302, June 1993
  6. Wilson, Ian. Mind out of Time?. London, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1981, pp 35-48
  7. Mack, op. cit., p. 20
  8. Watson, Nigel. Portraits of Alien Encounters, London, Valis Books, 1990, p. 135
  9. Hopkins, Budd. ‘House of Cards: The Butler/Hansen/Stefula critique of the Cortile case’, International UFO Reporter, Vol. 18, No. 2, March/April 1993
  10. Hopkins, Budd. ‘Losing a battle while winning the war’, MUFON UFO Journal, No. 314, June 1994
  11. Klass, Philip J. UFO-Abductions. A Dangerous Game, New York, Prometheus Books, 1988
  12. Casteel, Sean. ‘Earwitness: An interview with Budd Hopkins’, MUFON UFO Journal, No. 341, September 1998 

Witnessed, the True Story of the Brooklyn Bridge UFO Abductions is published in the USA by Pocket Books, and in the UK by Bloomsbury. You may order a copy from Amazon by clicking this cover image:



Flying Saucers From Hell. Bill Ellis

Alien Abductions and Satanic Cult Abductions

from Magonia 40, August 1991

There are unquestionably, as John Rimmer states, ‘disturbing parallels’ between UFO abduction research and Satan-hunting. And folklorists are good at finding parallels among widely separated stories and traditions. We can suggest ways in which these coherences represent common human responses to stresses or represent revivals of motifs from the past. But we should also be aware of why we are looking for such continuities. By discussing such stories as folklore, are we explaining or explaining away?

The late 1980s brought many Americans’ attention to two similar claims: people were being abducted and abused by extraterrestrials, and ‘cult survivors’ had been abducted and abused as children by devil-worshippers. Budd Hopkins (1) uncovered and detailed several puzzling cases in which witnesses reported a close encounter with a glowing light, then found they could not account for a period of ‘missing time’. Regressive hypnosis often filled in this gap with experiences in which the witnesses were levitated inside some kind of craft, given medical examinations, then returned to where they had been.

Michelle Smith reconstructed an influential cult abuse story with the help of her psychiatrist (and husband-to-be) Lawrence Pazder. (2] She described in detail how she had been taken by her devil-worshipping mother to many gruesome rituals during which babies were murdered, animal blood drunk, and children forced to lie in graves with dead animals. She was followed by several other dramatic ‘survivors’ who claimed to have been the victims of similar cults. This claim, in fact, has become accepted as standard among many fully accredited psychiatrists treating patients with multiple-personality disorder, now widely assumed to be caused by satanic ritual abuse during childhood. (3)

These scenarios share many motifs with older Anglo-American beliefs and legends focusing on abductions, and they can be historically linked to each other and to older folk traditions. But are they identical claims? If the dynamics and the content of alien abductions and satanic survivor stories are structurally identical, isn’t it reasonable to assume that they are reflections of a similar cultural process that produces or encourages delusions? I believe that the differences between the two types of claim are more important than the parallels: one is empirical, the other is mythological. And this distinction, in social and political terms, is hardly trivial.

Satanic abuse and UFO abductions do have much in common, particularly the contexts out of which they arise. Generally speaking, both kinds of abductees do not initially recall any unusual event. Most UFO abductees recall only seeing a bright light, followed by disorientating nightmares and flashbacks. Likewise, cult survivors ‘present’ with generalised feelings of anxiety and recurring dreams, like Michelle Smith’s vision (familiar to urban legend scholars) of an itchy boil that, when lanced, proves to be full of little spiders. (4) In both cases, the

abduction or ritual abuse is reconstructed with the help of a therapist, often using regressive hypnosis. And in many instances, the moment of ‘recall’ is marked by a cathartic moment of screaming – as in the case of Michelle Smith and Whitley Strieber. (5) And in both instances, follow-up therapy sessions recall these stories in increasing detail. The internal consistency and sincerity of such accounts lend both kinds of accounts credibility, and in both fine details from one victim’s story are apparently corroborated by others interviewed independently. (6)

But we must also admit significant contrasts. UFO abductees generally focus attention, at least initially, on a recent puzzling encounter that can be to some extent corroborated by others present: the glowing light and other puzzling sounds or traces do apparently point to some specific event that occurred in some specific place. By contrast. satanic abuses are more frequently placed in a distant past, and survivors frequently concede that they have no direct witnesses or physical proof that would link their experiences to any specific time or place. This need not be taken as proof that UFOs landed in Whitley Strieber’s backyard: only that the apparent abduction was linked to some identifiable incident in his and his acquaintances’ immediate past; by contrast, Michelle Smith’s ritual abuse took place more than twenty years before she sought medical help and was corroborated in no way by her friends and relatives.

Despite elaborate efforts to connect their stories to abnormal psychological patterns, UFO abductees stubbornly test in the normal range. Experienced psychologists like Rima Laibow and John P. Wilson have noted that such patients do often show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, but this seems a reaction to the apparent abduction rather than a cause of it. (6) And integration into a support group of fellow ‘abductees’ and sympathetic researchers seems to have been therapeutic rather than destructive: the detailed survey conducted by Kenneth Ring and Christopher J. Rosing among UFO abductees shows that ‘on the whole it has made a positive difference in their lives’. (7)

Satanic cult abductees arrive at their ritual abuse memories only after a long string of previous extravagant claims have been tried and found wanting

By contrast, satanic cult survivors normally appear with long histories of psychosis: substance abuse, self-mutilation, previous fantasies, and so on. ‘Lauren Stratford’, or Laurel Rose Willson, one of the most visible American ‘survivors’, arrived at her story of being a cult ‘breeder’ after impressing a series of pastors and church members with detailed stories of abuse and personal illness. Her acquaintances recalled numerous times when she faked suicide attempts, making superficial cuts on her arms, to provoke sympathy. In fact, before she was adopted by the anti-Satanist network, she was living on total state disability benefit due to her mental problems. (8) Alien abductees, in short, construct their experiences as the explanation of a recent, intense state of disorientation; satanic cult abductees, on the other hand, arrive at their ritual abuse memories only after a long string of previous extravagant claims have been tried and found wanting.

Likewise, the contents of these ‘experiences’ show interesting but superficial parallels. Both show victims incapacitated in same way – a drug, a strange ray, perhaps even brainwashing – that reduces their will to resist. They are removed to another place: Michelle recalls being put on a bed and ‘flying’; other witnesses recall ‘mystery planes’ or ‘tunnels’ that took them into some mysterious place, where some kind of symbolic or actual rape took place. Strieber, like many others, recalls being levitated into a small room, where, among other discomforts, he was subjected to some kind of anal probe. Both victims return, frequently with some mysterious mark on their bodies, besides which there is no physical sign of the abductors’ presence. Among cult survivors, the killing of a baby seems the most common climax to such events; a growing number of UFO abductees sense that sperm or ova – even a developing foetus – had been removed by aliens as a personal sacrifice to some scientific purpose. We could say that the one is a technological transformation of the other.

These parallels noted, the obvious difference remains: alien abductions are caused by superhumans; cult abuse is carried out by humans. True, satanists show nearly superhuman powers in the way they can carry out the most gruesome ceremonies without leaving any physical evidence. And since many of the survivors’ accounts include demonic manifestations caused by the cultists, we could say that the difference is academic. But is it? I think not, if we put the two phenomena in full historical perspective.

Since space aliens by definition do not inhabit the same world as humans, abductees must deal with them as part of a mythical otherworld. The main problem, as expressed by many victims, is not merely how to avoid further contacts, but to accept them as genuine but unbelievable experiences. Such a process obviously puts pressure on abduction victims to reduce their experiences to good form. By forming networks to exchange ideas or perceptions of the aliens, abductees follow a pattern of group therapy similar to that studied by folklorists as women’s ‘rap groups’. (9) Whether the trauma of the abduction is empirical or imagined, the folk process that it initiates is essentially one that integrates members into a self-supportive group.

Alien abduction, as many commentators have noted, is a modern cognate to earlier supernatural attack traditions, most notably fairy kidnaps. These bodies of lore also focused on queer experiences in which individuals were ‘taken away’ into another plane of existence in which normal time was disordered. But they were self-regulating, including also a broad range of ritualistic activities intended to keep away these unwelcome guests or limit their power over humans: carrying cold iron, whistling, turning pockets inside out, a broom placed in the chimney upside down. (10) As I noted in an earlier essay on UFO abductions, the common Old Hag or ‘bedroom visitor’ experience has much in common with abductions, (11) and indeed Budd Hopkins took on a person who had had such a ‘hagging’, repeatedly regressing him until the witness eventually produced a suitable abduction memory. [12) But while the Old Hag generally could be kept at bay by sleeping with a sharp knife under the pillow, I expressed fears that abduction researchers might not provide any proper 'superstitions' to dispel fears of aliens.

But now it appears that the network is generating these new folk beliefs. Fetishistic or ritualistic ways are emerging to control the threat of abduction. In Transformation, Strieber describes a series of personal and communal rituals that he participated in as part of his acceptance of 'the visitors': these ranged from refraining from certain foods (chocolate in particular) to holding a group invocation in a Wiccan or neo-pagan sanctuary. (13)

Another 'new age' channeler has circulated the useful knowledge that, if aliens are really after our 'glandular secretions', then we can defeat them by eating things that they don't like, specifically 'sugar, sweet foods, and spinach and rhubarb, hot spicy foods, such as chili peppers'. (14) Even Philip Klass ends his debunking of abduction research by telling readers that ufonauts will never abduct a 'True UFO-Skeptic': 'To assure that you are a TUFOS, and thereby completely protected against ufonaut abduction, it is suggested that you read my earlier book[s])…’ (15) Though a jest, Klass’s remark points to an insight shared by several folklorists examining cultural responses to the paranormal – that the sceptical response frequently mirrors the uncritical reasoning of believers. (16)

Supernatural attack traditions are responses to a specific, directly remembered psychological crisis. Certainly the details of this crisis, as reconstructed in memory and shared with others rely on acceptable cultural models. But are abductions simply subsets of of popular culture antecedents like alien invasion movies and comic strips? (17) The direction taken by most abductees, as with those who have experienced near-death experiences, has been to challenge and move outside of mainstream institutions like organised sciences and religions. To that extent, UFO abductions marginalise victims, but living in the margins also impels many of them to create novel myths and rituals to reorder their world views. These alternative world views may offend mainstreamers, but the fact remains: abductees form their own alternative networks and resist being subsumed by mass-culture movements.

Satanic cult survivors, by contrast, assume that the actions they have witnessed have occurred in real time and in the real world, not in some otherworldly fairy hill. This is why police and vigilantes have, on several occasions, gone so far as to excavate sites named by survivors, looking for graves or signs of secret tunnels. (18) The agents of ritual abuse, even if they have superhuman powers given them by the devil, are still mortals who live in the same community as we do. This point is made quite clear by the Satan hunters: ‘A coven … is set up so that no one knows more than one or two members involved at the next level of its hierarchy … And because many of the people involved hold respectable positions in the community, few are willing to believe what often are considered ravings from a troubled mind.’ (19)


Witches could not hide when they were pointed out by afflicted girls or professional witch-finders executing the will of God almighty

Alien abductees may report real-time contacts with strange ‘men in black’. but these characters often betray their extrahuman natures by their odd appearance and tendency to vanish. The cult members who harass survivors, on the other hand, are assumed by therapists to be real people who can be identified and arrested. In fact, the Satanists cannot vanish; however secretive they may be, they can and must be disarmed by decisive social action. And the actions projected by the two groups’ beliefs point in quite different directions. At worst, the UFO abduction camp demands respect for non-standard myths and beliefs; the satanic abduction camp, on the other hand, wants to hurt the people responsible for their experiences. By its nature, the cult mythology is reactionary and aggressive. It exorcises a generalised, poorly defined fear by projecting it outward on to other members of the community.

Its proper cognate is not fairy lore but witch-hunting. Witches, too, had superhuman abilities given them by the devil: they could enter people’s dreams, afflict their bodies, kill their children and cattle. But they could not hide when they were pointed out by afflicted girls or professional witch-finders, executing the will of God almighty. Susanna Martin, one of the accused witches in the Salem, Massachusetts, panic of 1692, took one farmer, Joseph Ring, from his bed, flew him to a nearby field, and forced him to take part in black sabbats. Before returning, she would ‘strike him dumb’ so that he could not tell of what he had seen. This continued for more than two years, but by the grace of God he recovered his memories in time to participate in the testimony that put Goody Martin’s head in the noose. (20)

In many cultures and times, witch-hunts have led to acts of violence against marginal classes – women, Jews, Gypsies, African Americans, Socialists, any group who can serve as ready targets for the generalised fears of the mainstream. In short, alien abductees seek to create a marginal world view; satanic cult abductees seek to eliminate marginality.

Is it surprising that the two bodies of information share motifs? Both grew organically out of the cattle mutilation panics of the 1970s, which were widely linked to devil-worship ceremonies. The abduction scenario received an infusion of new blood from two simultaneous abduction mutilation experiences elicited by ufologist Leo Sprinkle through hypnotic regression. These recollections, helpfully reprinted in extenso by Linda Moulton Howe, include a number of motifs common to satanic cult lore, including aliens in cult lore, including aliens in black hooded robes and with eyes ‘red, like the devil’, who bathe in tubs of blood and excised organs. (21) It should also be noted that Michelle Remembers was published at the height of Canada’s own cattle mutilation panic of 1979-80, which the Royal Canadian Mounted Police openly attributed to a sinister cult called ‘Sons in the Service of Satan’ or ‘S.I.S.S.’ (22)

The ‘missing children’ moral crusade likewise took hold in the early 1980s, while psychopathic mass murderers, according to the media, haunted neighbourhoods and roamed the Interstates. (23) And this crusade has hardly been confined to Americans but affected the Communist Bloc: while cattle mutilators roamed Colorado in the 1970s, strangers in a mysterious black car prowled Russia and Poland, abducting children to drain out their blood or pluck out their eyeballs and vital organs. (24) This kind of story is a universal cultural myth, found in some form in nearly every continent, especially when Europeans were perceived as a threat to Africans, Asians, or Latin Americans. (25) Overall, such patterns indicate broad bodies of cultural language, that would affect any anomalous claim.

Is one simply a more sophisticated form of the other? Michael Goss implies this when he notes that ‘The Georgians, and the Victorians after them, were too sophisticated to fear that their children might be kidnapped by fairies. But as they had nomadic gypsy bands the loss was not felt’. This comment seems close in spirit to Jan Harold Brunvand’s confident explanation that when ballads containing references to fairies, ghosts and the like where brought over from England to the US, Americans dropped out the supernatural elements, ‘presumably because they (Americans) are hard-headed and practical’. (26)

A close reading of Hilary Evans’s Intrusions (27) would show that the Victorian period was an extraordinarily active period for supernatural beliefs and research at the most sophisticated scientific levels. Spiritualism, table-tapping, and ESP were seriously entertained by figures of no less import than William James, Sir William Crookes, and Sir Arthur Coma Doyle (whose arguments for the existence of fairies continue to mystify the hard-headed American fans of Sherlock Holmes). In fact, sociologists have recently noted, the outbreak of the witchcraft hysterics in Europe matched precisely the emergence of modern scientific methods that removed fairies as a ‘sensible’ explanation for phenomena later used to burn witches. (28)

Supernatural attack claims and witch-hunts have coexisted at every cultural period, however ‘sophisticated’ it might have been. Romans believed in lamia that might snatch children’s spirits to the underworld, and they also believed in Christians that kidnapped babies and ate them during their love feasts. They appeased the former and burned the latter. The medieval English believed in fairies that might abduct children or adults into underground neverlands; they also could be convincedthat Jews were using Christian babies as a Passover sacrifice. Bowls of milk were left out for the fairies; the Jews were dispossessed and burned.

And in our own time alien abductions and satanic cult abductions emerge, both equally drawing on contemporary beliefs and concepts to refurbish equally ancient structures. ‘But doesn’t it scare you that abductees are forming these networks?’ one popular press reporter demanded during a phone interview. No, I responded: the marginality of ufology in general and doubly marginal place abductionology holds even there, it seems unlikely that it will ever have the clout to appeal to more than a minority of New Age seekers. True, Edith Fiore blatantly uses hypnosis to cure Californians’ anxieties by helping them construct satisfying ‘abduction experiences’ and gives the reader helpful hints on building your own UFO experience by dangling a crystal over your wrist while asking it leading questions. (29) But like past-life therapy (in which Fiore also dabbles), such tactics may offend sceptics’ sense of logic, but they do produce cures (like shamanism) when the therapist and patient share similar world views and when the patient expects the therapy to make him better. (30)

The question is: how much social damage can abductee networks cause? Anecdotal accounts circulate about victims who consider suicide and murders to keep themselves and children from being abducted by extraterrestrials. These ‘horror stories’, however, have not yet been accompanied by names and dates. On the other hand, the satanic abduction network has the desire to damage individuals and institutions and possesses the clout of academic and political institutions. Consider the coalition as we have experienced it in the United States: the producers of ABC-TV’s 20-20 News programme, the members of the American Psychiatric Association who organised and participated in the international conferences on Multiple Personality/Dissociative States; at least three archbishops of the Roman Catholic Church; the District Attorney of Los Angeles, who pursued the McMartin Preschool satanic abuse case despite a lack of objective evidence, even, for several years, the US Government’s Federal Bureau of Investigation.

And to what positive end? The MPD/satanism therapy, like others, works when therapist and patient agree on the reality of cults. Many ‘survivors’ find relief from their psychoses in becoming widely demanded ‘experts’ on ritual abuse. But the benefit of the patient must be balanced against the staggering cost of careers and reputations damaged by innuendo, And, as Mulhern has pointed out, many patients diagnosed as victims of ritual abuse, are further traumatised by being convinced that they are in continual danger from real-life Satanists. Given the role that Michelle Remembers played in initiating the McMartin prosecution in Los Angeles (the model for Rochdale), Michelle Smith could have done a lot worse than contact Budd Hopkins. And, ironically, the saddest toll must be numbered in real child victims, which can be documented by name and date.

Angela Palmer, 4, burned to death in an oven in Lewiston, Maine, 27 October 1984: Her mother’s boyfriend was trying to exorcise a demonic image from the mother, put there by her father who had abused her as a child. The exorcism went awry when Lucifer manifested himself in the child. (31)

Kimberly Jackson, 4, died of starvation in Milton, Florida, 8 February 1987: her mother, concerned about her daughter’s ‘defiance’, had consulted an evangelist, who ordered her to punish her child by beating and starving her, and forcing her to sleep under black blankets representing the death of the soul. (32)

Eric Cottam, 14, died of starvation near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, 4 January 1989: their parents, afraid that the children were being subjected to satanic abuse in a local Seventh-Day Adventist school, took their children to psychiatrists at a Pittsburgh children’s hospital, who elicited detailed accounts of animal sacrifices and sexual abuse. After the specialists determined that it was ‘reasonably realistic that those acts did occur’, the Cottams fled into seclusion and, lacking money, waited for God to save them from the satanists. (33)

Folklorists can’t decide if extraterrestrials exist or if any given accusation of ritual abuse is valid or not, but they can and should help people keep phenomena like this in perspective. History repeats for those unwilling to learn it.



1. See his Intruders, Ballantine, 1987, and Missing Time, Ballantine 1988

2. Michelle Remembers, Pocket Books, 1981.

3. Particularly influential among these has been; Stratford, Lauren; Satan’s Underground, Harvest House, 1988. For further background see: Mulhern, Sherrill, ‘Satanism and psychotherapy: a Rumor in Search of an Inquisition’, in The Satanism Scare

4. Smith and Padzer, p.9. See Brunvand, Jan harold, The Mexican Pet, Norton, 1986, pp. 76-77. ‘The spider bite’, he notes has been a popular urban legend in North America and Europe since the mid-1960s

5. Smith and Padzer, pp. 22-23, Communion, p. 54.

6. For this claim on ritual abuse see: Mulhern and victor; for a similar claim for abductions see: Bullard, Thomas E., ‘Hypnosis and UFO Abductions; a troubled relationship’, in Journal of UFO Studies, 1, 1989, pp 3-40.

7. Laibow, quoted in Conroy, Ed., Report on Communion, Morrow 1989; Wilson, ‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Experience Anomalous Trauma (EAT): similarities in reported UFO abductions and exposure to invisible toxix contaminants’, Jornal of UFO Studies, 2, 1990, pp.1-18; Ring, Kenneth and Rosing, Christopher, ‘The Omega Project: a psychological survey of people reporting abductions and other UFO encounters’, Journal of UFO Studies, 2, 1990, p.82. Ring and Rosing, while admitting that their data cannot resolve the empirical status of abduction experiences suggest that a psychosocial explanation is the most likely.

8. Passantino, Gretchen and bob, and Trott, John, ‘Satan’s Sideshow’, Cornerstone, 18: 90, 8 December 1989, pp.24-28.

9. See particularly Kalcik, Susan, “…like Ann’s gynaeocologist or the time I was almost raped”, personal narratives in ‘Women’s Rap Groups’ Journal of American Folklore 88, 1975, pp3-11. About twice as many women as men are willing to admit an abduction experience, although hard data on this are laking. See Ring and Rosing, p.65.

10, See my ‘Abduction’, in Hand, Wayland, The Encyclopedia of AmericanFolk Beliefs and Superstition, University of California Press.

11. ‘The Varieties of Alien Experience’, The Skeptical Inquirer, 12,3, Spring 1988, pp. 263-269. See also, Hufford, David, The Terror That Comes in the Night, University of Pennsylvania, 1982.

12. Missing Time, pp. 145-175

13. Streiber, Transformation, Avon, 1988, pp.242-244

14. Nevada Aerial Research group, The Leading Edge, November 1990, p.26. One suspects that garlic too might be effective.

15. Klass, p. UFO Abductions, a Dangersour Game, Prometheus Books, 1988, p.194

16 – 19. These referenves to be confirmed.

20. Starkey, Marlon, L. The Devil in Massechusetts, Anchor, 1969.

21. An Alien Harves, Linda Moulton howe prods., 1989, pp247, 371

22. See: Adams, Thomas A., ‘The Cult Connection’, Stigmata, 11, 1980, pp10-13, and Kagan, David and Summers, Ian, Mute Evidence, Bantam 1983.

23. A useful introduction to this crusade is: Best, Joel, Threatened Children, University of Chicago press, 1990.

24. Czubala, Dionizjusz, ‘The Black Volga’. Foaftale News, 21. 1991. See also: Stilo, Guiseppi, and Toselli, Paolo. ‘Gli Arcchiappa-bambini e l’Ambulanza Nera’, Tutte Storia, 1,1, March 1991, pp9-11. The same story was circulating in Southern italy in November 1990.

25. See: Campion-Vincente, Véronique, ‘The Baby-Parts Story’, Western Folklore, 49, 1990, pp.9-25; and Stevens, Phillip,’The demonology of Satanism’, The Satanism scare.

26. The Study of American folklore, 3rd. edition, Norton, 1986, p.258

27. Routledge and kegan Paul, 1982.

28. Ankarloo, Bengt, and Henningson, Gustav (eds.). Early Modern European Witchcraft, Centres and Peripheries, Clarendon Press, 1990.

29. Encounters, Macmillan, 1989.

30. See: Rogo, D. Scott, the search for Yesterday, Prentice-Hall, 1985.

31. UPI release, October 1984; Portoland (ME) Press-Herald, 27 November 1985. These cuttings were made available to me by the kindness of CHILD Inc., Sioux City, IA., America’s leading advocates of childrens’ right in the face of genuine religious abuse, mainly committed in the name of recognised religions.

32. FOAFtale News, no. 17, p.12.

33. FOAFtale News, n0. 15, p.7

The Strange Case of Mr Esther Rantzen and the Demon Headmaster.
John Rimmer

First published in Magonia 66, March 1999 as “Ah yes, I remember it… Well…?”

For well over twenty years Esther Rantzen has been a dominant figure in British television, at one time being spoken of as a possible candidate for the post of Director-General of the BBC, although her star has declined recently. In the 1970′s her programme That’s Life was the top-rated non-soap programme on BBC television. With its combination of consumer campaigning and a seemingly endless search for phalliclly-shaped root vegetables, it became a pioneer of ‘victim television’ in this country. Amongst its many campaigns it took on the issues of bullying at school, and ME. 

In recent years it has emerged that Esther Rantzen’s daughter is an ME sufferer. And now, according to a newspaper story last year, Rantzen’s husband, the television producer and broadcaster Desmond Wilcox was allegedly a victim of school bullying. In November newspapers carried a story that at the launch of a telephone helpline for stammerers Wilcox revealed that he too had been a stammerer when a boy at Cheltenham Grammar School. 

“Stammering was the first disabling condition of my life”, he is reported as saying (Daily Telegraph, Friday, November 13th., 1998). 

“I stammered so badly until the age of thirteen that I was almost locked into silence. It was wartime and very little sympathy was available. He then went on to make a remarkable allegation: “The onlyteachers who were left behind were women who had not volunteered and men who were drunk and a Jesuit priest who was the headmaster. 

“I can’t remember his name but I have his face in my mind. I don’t know why I’m protecting him or the others as it is more than they offered me … The school I was at thought stammering could be beaten out of people. I held the record for the number of times I was caned. The headmaster was the beater but it was not unusual in those days to be caned. As a stammerer you were thought of as a malingerer and a faker.” 

A deplorable story, and it is certainly true that many children have been put through an experience of total misery by parents and schoolteachers who have thought that stammering could be cured by such crude methods. The only problem with Wilcox’s experiences though, is that they appear never to have happened. Three days (16th November) later this account of life at Cheltenham Grammar School was challenged in the correspondence column of the Daily Telegraph by another Old Boy, a Mr Peter James of Cheltenham: 

“Sir – Desmond Wilcox’s claim to have been beaten by the Jesuit headmaster of Cheltenham Grammar School in the 1940′s for stammering must be a mental aberration. the Headmaster at the time, Geoffrey Heywood, was a gentle caring man who led a dedicated staff and was certainly no Jesuit. For the sake of surviving teachers and their families, Mr Wilcox should think again.” 

The next day the Telegraph returned to the subject. In a piece by their entertainment reporter Jessica Callan (chosen to cover the story presumably on the basis of Wilcox’s occupation) more Old Boys and teachers challenged Wilcox’s version of events. Bob Beale, the school’s deputy Head from 1976 to 1986 told the Telegraph that many former pupils and teachers were upset by the allegations: 

“It has caused a lot of distress. He mentioned that there were drunken staff during his time but there was only one teacher, a botanist, who liked to drink. He was never drunk during the school day but he was quickly removed from his part-time post. I don’t know what Mr Wilcox is thinking of.” 

Others recalled that the headmaster, Mr Heywood, was the very opposite of the enthusiastic beater Wilcox described, and was not a Jesuit. In the letters column of the 19th November more former pupils join in to defend Mr Heywood. After pointing out that the headmaster before Heywood, and well before Wilcox’s time at the school, was a strict disciplinarian, Lord Christopher of Leckhampton recalls: 

“As a disciplinarian Geoffrey Heywood was the other side of the coin. If he had a weakness it was perhaps that he was not quite hard enough on us. His toughest punishment was a letter to one’s parents suggesting that the school and his son were wasting each other’s time.” 

Another correspondent denied that the headmaster at the time was a Jesuit, noting: 

“Geoffrey Heywood was a caring headmaster, an active member of the Church of England, who must have been proud of the excellent academic record of his school” 

A retired physics teacher, Julia Edwards also dismissed the claims, saying “The headmaster certainly was not a Jesuit. I can safely say no teachers were drunk when I was there. It was an excellent school”. (The suggestion that the teacher was a Jesuit is interesting, as in largely Protestant Britain Jesuits have a sinister reputation as teachers, brainwashing the children in their charge into an unquestioning Catholicism: “Give me a child until he is seven…”, etc. and many people would readily accept that a Jesuit would behave in such a way.) 

However, despite this flood of contrary memories Wilcox was sticking to his side of the story. In his conversation with Jessica Callan he denied that his recollections were at fault: 

“I am afraid my experience was one I remember vividly as you might imagine. The headmaster wasn’t Geoffrey Heywood. I can’t remember his name and wasn’t in a position to remember it at the time. My memory is my memory. He didn’t wear Jesuit robes. He may have been trained by Jesuits, but he was fond of telling us he was a Jesuit, which is why I remember it clearly. I don’t think many schoolboys can remember the name of their headmaster 50 years later.” 

He then makes the very significant remark that “no-one invents this kind of experience from their childhood.” 

Apart from the fact that I think many schoolboys (and girls) can remember the name of their headmaster fifty years later (a point that a number of other Telegraph readers made – in my case, L. W. Warren, Alsop High School, Liverpool, 1955 – 1959) it is certainly true, as any Magonia reader knows, that people do “invent that kind of experience from their childhood”; in many cases experiences far more remarkable and traumatising than being caned by a drunken Jesuit. Wilcox, like many others, fails to distinguish between ‘inventions’ that are the deliberate work of the conscious mind, and unwitting ‘inventions’ that arise through complex and hidden psychological processes. 

One of the factors behind such processes is that we are increasingly living in a victim culture, where being victimised is seen as in itself conveying some sort of moral authority. This is an attitude which Desmond Wilcox’s wife Esther Rantzen has probably done more to promote in Britain than almost anyone else. The essence of victim culture is that any of the many misfortunes of life are the fault of someone else: parents, teachers, the government, authority figures of one kind or another. Being a victim also delegitimises any criticism or examination of the claims of victimhood. We see this in the protests of ‘victims’ of alien abduction and their investigator/promoters, that their claims are not amenable to critical examination, and that any attempt at sceptical analysis simply prolongs their ‘abuse’ at the hands of the aliens. This reached its obscene apotheosis in Budd Hopkins’ declaration in Intruders that rejection of the claims of alien abduction was comparable to Holocaust denial.

Being a victim also allows you to identify with others who perhaps have more justifiable claims on that status. Wilcox’s apparently quite genuine childhood stammering did not prevent him from becoming a successful television presenter, a role in which it is rather difficult to appear as a victim. Now we must assume that Mr Wilcox has not just made up his memory of traumatic schooldays – we would soon be hearing from Messrs Sue, Grabbitt and Runne if we assumed otherwise – as apart from anything else it would be foolish to invent a scenario which could be so easily checked. So obviously he does genuinely believe that these beatings happened, just as many people believe they are victims of violent Satanic abuse or UFO abductions. 

This was not a memory induced by hypnotic regression or prolonged interviewing by an obsessed therapist, but it appears to be as false as those that are. In the context in which Desmond Wilcox ‘recalled’ these events it clearly helped him to empathise with those suffering from stammering who would make use of the helpline he was inaugurating. It could be that an identification with a successful public figure who had undergone a traumatic experience as a result of stammering and had ‘survived’ and ‘recovered’ would encourage other sufferers to come forward who would not otherwise have done so. It could seem that if these memories were unconsciously fabricated the motivation behind that process might have been to identify with and help stammerers; a few uneasy memories, misplaced recollections and overwrought might-have-beens were woven together to produce a moral fable with Wilcox as the hero overcoming misfortune and an example to other victims. 

However, the Daily Telegraph’s conclusion, in an Editorial on 18th November was not so accommodating. Drawing a comparison between Wilcox and disgraced MP Ron Davies of Clapham Common infamy, it concluded: 

“Ron Davies denounced his violent father before the Commons, and justified his own misconduct with the all-purpose excuse ‘we are what we are’. So to Mr Wilcox: ‘My memory is my memory’. That might be a suitable motto for Mr Wilcox, but the desire to be seen as a victim of child abuse does not make the claim true … Mr Wilcox is not the first to demonise a headmaster. What is new is the therapeutic maligning of the dead in the name of self-righteous, self-validating memory. Perhaps we need a new term for cases like Mr Wilcox’s: recovered psychobabble syndrome.”



Facts, Fraud and Fairytales.
John Rimmer

From MUFOB New Series 9.

In recent articles in this Bulletin (1), Peter Rogerson has promoted the idea that some features of the UFO phenomenon can be seen as works of ‘naive art’, through which percipients may externalise subconscious and semi-conscious ideas and beliefs. Such a theory acknowledges the ambiguous and equivocal borderlines between real UFO experiences, exposed and admitted hoaxes, and totally fictional experiences. In each case the stimulus for the expression would be the same: a need to create an external, concrete experience in order to identify or communicate a nebulous, and in many cases almost totally non-understood, emotional or philosophical feeling. Only in deliberate works of fiction or imaginative art does this expression manifest itself in a way which is acceptable to society at large.

When these artistic visions are enacted in the form of a ‘real’ UFO experience, they are less widely accepted than the legitimate forms of artistic expression; but are still acceptable to a variety of specialist students, who will generally tend to see such events in the framework of ‘consensus’ reality. In the UFO context this usually involves a straightforward acceptance of the extraterrestrial hypothesis, or at least some external influence on the human brain. However, the hoax falls beyond the pale of even these specialist students, who see it merely as a stumbling block in the investigation of real events, to be discarded as soon as it is identified. The out-and-out work of fiction will not even be subject to any consideration by the specialists, who would dismiss it as being entirely without objective value in the real world.

If however we consider fiction, hoax, and real experience as different parts of a spectrum of experience, a new set of patterns begins to emerge. Loran Gross has pointed out the similarities between some American science fiction stories of the thirties and forties, and many of the ostensibly genuine contact stories of later years. One in particular (2) depicts a car stoppage scenario with many of the details that have become familiar from subsequent reports; yet it would be impossible that any significant proportion of the people involved in these cases could have read the story in the small circulation SF magazine where it appeared. The science fiction story is a culturally approved ‘art-form’ in which many philosophical ideas on the nature of power and energy, man’s relationship to machine etc., can be expressed and debated in a popularly understandable fashion. Due to the general cultural environment in which most potential UFO percipients live (even in fairly remote parts of the world) these concepts and ethical questions are widespread in the human psyche, in more or less coherent forms. Consequently, from time to time they will require some form of external expression from the individuals who ponder them. In cases where either the intellectual ability, or the cultural opportunities available to the person attempting this self-expression are in-adequate for this to take a generally acceptable format, it may emerge in a manner only fragmentarily understood by the ‘artist’ himself.

Some ufologists (sadly not as many as one would hope, especially in this country) are beginning to realise that ‘subjective’ UFO experiences are of equal validity to the so-called ‘objective’ cases (3). They no longer see the psychological examination of witnesses as a way of sorting out the ‘reliable’ from the ‘unreliable’ witnesses, so that they can get on with the real job of studying the hard physical evidence. However this more inclusive attitude has not yet extended to the ‘hoax’ reports, which are still treated as a nuisance, getting in the way of serious research. Yet in many cases these hoaxes may be desperate attempts to make some sense of the overwhelming barrage of emotional, intellectual, psychic and cultural impressions that are absorbed into the long-suffering human brain.

Consider the remarkable story which came out of Peru in 1965, and was reported in FSR two years later (4). A restaurant proprietress in the La Victoria district of Lima reported that “a little green man” (her literal description) with one eye in the centre of his forehead had come into her restaurant and ordered a chicken, “with plenty of red pepper and saffron”. The proprietress, Señora Dora Nakamura, claimed that despite her astonishment she managed to serve up the order, which was paid in strange coins with undecipherable hieroglyphics on them. An obvious hoax, and indeed when a local UFO investigation group tried to follow up the story they were informed that Senora Nakamura was in “delicate health” and did not wish to say any more about the matter, admitting that it was a hoax.

And that, to most UFO investigators, is that. But consider for a moment what could have prompted such a hoax. Señora Nakamura must have realised that such a claim could only have led to extreme ridicule. To willingly court such derision seems almost masochistic. On a conscious level she must have realised that the hoax would never be even half-way acceptable – the strange coins were presumably never offered in evidence. Her retreat from the consequences of her act through ill-health, whether ‘real’ or psychosomatic, suggests that she could not have intended her hoax as a joke, perhaps to publicise the quality of her chicken and green peppers (although one can perhaps visualise a successful advertising campaign based on the theme “They’ll travel light years for a Nakamura chicken dinner!”).

It seems scarcely imaginable what inner conflicts, what agonies of a confused mind, what mental struggles could force a person to perpetrate such an enormity. Yet in a more skilled, perhaps more educated, individual with a greater capacity for conscious self expression, could they not have emerged as a powerful surrealist painting or poem? Are they not the same inner forces which, in a different type of personality produce a bizarre UFO contact report, perhaps not much less absurd than Dora Nakamura’s hoax; but which, because it is believed in literally by the percipient, is accepted as a legitimate object of investigation by ufologists?

There is a need therefore for some serious and detailed study of hoaxers, on a level with the sensitive and carefully monitored investigations that are at last beginning with the so-called ‘subjective’ percipients.

If the reaction of most students of our subject towards hoaxes is simply to unmask then discard them, it is inevitable that their reaction to out-and-out fiction is even simpler. They just do not regard it as any part at all of the material they are studying. Yet, if our model of the percipient and hoaxer externalising, with varying degrees of conscious control, a confusing welter of internal feelings and imagery is valid, then the artist and writer, producing overtly ‘imaginative’ fiction from the same internal stimuli, is manifestly part of the same phenomenon, and worthy of similar study.

Up to now the study of artistic fiction (5) has been through a series of somewhat conventionalised critical attitudes – ‘fine art’ criticism, Eng. Lit., etc. As most artistic enterprise is designed to fall within the framework of one or other of these critical apparati, the result is something of a closed-shop, and potentially valuable alternative analytical structures are seldom utilised. It is, for instance, only quite recently that art has been subjected to any sort of political analysis. So, just as it is now generally accepted that art and literature are influenced by, and in some cases entirely derived from, their political and social background, we moat recognise that much of the material which up to now has summarily been dismissed as ‘fiction’ is evolved from the same ‘cultural primeval soup’ as our UFO reports and hoaxes. This is perhaps most evident in the field of folklore and mythology, which are increasingly intensively studied to reveal many of the archetypes which structure the UFO experience. This sort of inclusive approach is more readily accepted with myth and folklore, as they are obviously the crystallisation of a collectivity of experience, dream, and impression. What is not so easy to accept is that the artistic vision of one person can, as in the case of the SF story unearthed by Loran Gross, be equally valid as an expression of a collective mythic experience.


Tolkien’s biographer Humphrey Carpenter comments that whenever questioned about a point of detail in any of his works, he would answer as ‘translator’ of a corpus of mythological writings, rather than as author of a work of fiction


Yet how else can we explain the fascination that a writer like J. R. R. Tolkien has for so many people? Here a writer of great talent has created a vast, mythical world in a series of compulsively readable works of avowed fiction. Yet is his achievement so different, except in the manner of its execution, from someone like Adamski, who feeling the same urges for sub-creation produces as potentially great a vision in a series of botched-up, half believed in hoaxes, eventually getting drawn into his own creation to the point of incorporating it into his conscious world-view, and losing sight of its fictional origins? In a fascinating account of a conversation with Tolkien, his biographer Humphrey Carpenter (6) comments that whenever questioned about a point of detail in any of his works, the author would answer in his self-created rôle as ‘translator’ of a corpus of mythological writings, rather than as author of a work of fiction. Yet here there is obviously no question of ‘hoaxing’ as there was when Adamski replied to questions in the role of ‘reporter’ rather than ‘author’. A person like Tolkien, with a secure intellectual foundation in the consensus world view could regard his involvement in his own sub-creation as a literary joke (albeit one of considerable significant to himself); Adamski, without such a secure world-view, could easily be drawn irretrievably into a Magonia of his own making.

When we examine Tolkien’s world it is temptingly easy to see the parallels with Magonia. His concept of the Valar, for instance, as demiurgical entities which, from their land of Valinor, oversee the actions of men and the other beings of Middle-Earth with an occasional nudge and a shove and a word of advice, echoes not only the Norns and the Fataof Northern and Classical mythology, but also the benevolent space brothers of the contactees. The Valar live in a remote other-world, now “removed from the circles of this world” and reached only by mysterious ships crewed by the Elves, tall and beautiful immortals. Yet in the remote past of Tolkien First Age, Valinor was in more direct contact with mortal lands, its inhabitants taking a more direct (and sometimes disastrous) part in its affairs. Can we see here a working of the same archetypal themes that in other hands have resulted in the Ancient Astronaut myth? The Old Gods that have left us as the result of the breaking of a great taboo. In Tolkien’s case this is the attempted invasion of the Blessed Realm by the men of Numenor/Atlantis. But does it matter too much whether this universally felt myth is expressed in a great work of imaginative fiction, or as a message from an apparently real spaceman, or as a lucrative hoax in some paperback pot-boiler. It is certainly the same ore that is being mined, and it is capable of being refined and fashioned into a Faberge Egg or an old tin can!

Yet we must realise that a great deal of the background to Tolkien’s work is drawn quite directly and consciously from a commonly-held store of mythical imagery. His most recently published work, The Silmarillion, (7) outlines the creation and remote history of the world in which the later stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place. In a way it is the mythology of his mythological world. Like the great legends it echoes, The Silmarillion is a collection of stories, They are nor necessarily consecutive or consistent in style and content; they are sometimes repetitive. There is not the formal literary or narrative structure of his two earlier published works, and this has aroused the wrath of the critics in the literary journals who insist on treating Tolkien’s prose and verse with the conventions of the ‘English Literature’ syllabus. The folklorists and ufologists, of course, regard it as ‘just fiction’ and will have nothing to do with it.

Tolkien’s consciously created myth-world, like the contactee’s Magonia, and the hoaxer’s imaginary universe, is fundamentally neo-Manichean, with the vast opposing forces of the Valar and Morgoth/Sauron; neither capable of being totally destroyed. The peoples of Middle-Earth are largely deprived of ultimate control over their destinies, having to throw in their fate with whichever of the Cosmic Forces they choose to align themselves. The hopelessness of individuals in the face of such forces is a recurrent theme in contactee lore, forming the raison d’être for such borderline sects as the Aetherius Society, and has a strong appeal to ufologists such as Gordon Creighton, who explicitly see mankind as ‘belonging’ to one side or other in the eternal battle. Tolkien’s Christian background and one suspects, his fundamentally hopeful character, prompted him to give the ‘good’ forces the advantage in the struggle. But it is only a very slight advantage, and the evil of The Enemy may break through at any moment. In the darker and more insecure world of the contactee and the hoaxer the advantage is not always so clear. The eternal battle, as revealed for instance in the books of John Keel, is for them a terrifying cliff-hanger where, like Middle-Earth’s hobbits, mankind can only sit and await its destiny.

It is often claimed when examining details of a reported UFO experience that the percipient must be genuine, as he is apparently able to give details, similar to those occurring in other reports, but which have never been given wide media coverage. In reports on percipients the observation is often made that the alleged witness had never read any books on UFOs, and was totally unacquainted with the literature of the subject. These facts are adduced as evidence that the experience was ‘real’. On reflection though, why should it be so readily assumed that a hoaxer is incapable of making-up – perhaps ‘creating’ is a better word? – a coherent mythology from the store of cultural and psychological archetypes that we are surrounded with from birth? The difference between hoaxer and genuine contactee may be very slight. Indeed, it could be argued that the hoaxer, through having to some degree the ability to consciously manipulate elements of myth, is of a higher intellectual stature than the genuine percipient who find them so disturbing and confusing that he is only capable of manipulating them on a subconscious level.

Jung has suggested (8) that it is in the more unimaginative personality that the subconscious, unable to break through the ‘cool judgement’ and ‘critical reason’ of the conscious mind is forced to produce a vivid external projection of its contents before they will be taken note of. It is precisely because percipients of these ‘projections’ are noted for their ‘solid common-sense’ that they are taken quite literally by those ufologists determined to find some external stimulus for the phenomenon. It is those more imaginative and creative people who are able to tap directly the contents of their subconscious mind, externalising its revelations in the form of deliberately produced fiction or hoax, who are ignored or vilified by the ufological establishment. We must recognise that it is essential for any understanding of the UFO phenomenon to examine not only the ‘genuine’ reports, which are just one manifestation of this collection of archetypes, but also the other ways in which these constants emerge … be it as hoax, or in the hands of a skilled artist as a work of art. 

Click on the image to read the text

Click on the image to read the text

Let us look for a moment at one way in which the ephemeral borderline between fiction and genuine experience has been crossed. In 1914 the author Arthur Machen wrote a short story called The Bowmen. In it he described how British troops in the retreat from Mons were joined by the ghostly forms of St George and the bowman of Agincourt, who helped them hold out against the German advance. After this story was published in the London Evening News rumours circulated that soldiers involved in the action at Mons had indeed seen not only bowmen, but cavalry, the figures of saints and angels, and knights in armour fighting alongside them. At first Machen thought that these stories were the result of his original tale. However a book published later (9) gave eyewitness accounts of incidents which had apparently been reported before Machen’s story was published.

In an incident such as this there are a number of interpretations which may be put on the facts. Firstly, it is not unnatural that the soldiers of a retreating army would be comforted by the thought of a ‘Heavenly Host’ guarding them. English soldiers would be particularly responsive to such patriotic imagery as St George, Agincourt, etc. Amid the horrors of the First World War the desire for such spiritual intercession would be so strong in the minds of soldiers that, unable to find expression in any more ‘rational’ way, it was projected externally in the form of a memorable vision. Machen, more remote from the grim reality, and as a writer possessing an acceptable way of expressing these deep emotional responses, creates an equally memorable ‘fiction’ from the same set of stimuli.

Yet this itself may be an oversimplification. It would appear that prior to the publication of Machen’s story there were no generally circulating rumours of such spiritual intervention. Indeed, a year after the original story was published it had become so popular that Machen issued it as a booklet, adding a note that the believed that the subsequent rumours were a result of his story. The book mentioned above was an attempt to refute this. Are we to conclude then that the reports made by soldiers after publication of The Bowmen were hoaxes? It seems unlikely that soldiers who had suffered through those harrowing events would wish to lie about it in such a way. Perhaps we should consider the possibility of a retrospectively induced memory, in which people, finding their unarticulated wishes and dreams expressed in such a direct and moving way as Machen’s story, take it to themselves and are impelled quite genuinely to remember events that never took place?

Could it then be that with the continuing diffusion of the UFO myth throughout society, many people are finding it a suitable medium for the expression of their own personal hopes and fears, and are also ‘remembering’ with every degree of verisimilitude events which never took place?

Just as, in the First World War, what now seem the rather naive patriotic visions of Arthur Machen helped crystallise a mood of the time; so perhaps today does Tolkien’s more troubled cosmic vision express today’s zeitgeist, and delves those hidden realms that in the minds of UFO percipients bring forth a gallery of elvish, orcish and dwarvish entities that still stalk a troubled and divided Middle-Earth. Tolkien’s works are a beautiful and skilfully wrought evocation of the dreams, fears and hopes of man. It is here that the answer to the UFO mystery lies. A writer like Tolkien can study and understand these things, and use them to create a great and haunting work of ‘fiction’; yet fiction which is true enough to find a greater response in the hearts and minds of the public than that of almost any other writer this century.


  1. “A Panorama of Ufological Visions”, MUFOB New Series 3, page 11; ‘Doves are Just Middle-Class Pigeons”, MUFOB New Series 7, page 3.
  2. GROSS, Loren. Charles Fort, the Fortean Society and UFOs. Privately published, 1976.
  3. A welcome exception to this general rule is Randle and Warrington’s study of the “Garry” case.
  4. Flying Saucer Review, 11, 6, page 32.
  5. I use the word ‘fiction’ to include all forms of imaginative art, as well as just literature, including poetry, symbolist and abstract painting, music and song, non-realist drama, etc.
  6. CARPENTER, Humphrey. J. R. R. Tolkien, A Biography. George Allen and Unwin, 1977.
  7. TOLKIEN, J. R. R. The Silmarillion. George Allen and Unwin, 1977.
  8. JUNG, C G. Flying Saucers. Routledge Kegan Paul, 1977.
  9. BEGBIE, Harold. On the Side of the Angels – A Reply to Arthur Machen, Hodder & Stoughton, 1915.







Originally published in MUFOB New Series 9, Winter 1977-8