Curiouser and Curiouser: ‘High Strangeness’ UFO Encounters.
Gareth J. Medway

From Magonia 97, April 2008

The term ‘High Strangeness’ refers to those UFO cases where the witnesses do not merely claim to have sighted a mysterious light or unknown object which might have been an alien spacecraft, but also say that a variety of unusual things happened to them afterwards, such as poltergeist outbreaks in their homes, strange telephone calls, and visits from the ‘Men In Black’. You won’t find much about this in mainstream UFO books, but there is plenty of detail in the works of such writers as John Keel and Jacques Vallee. The question which is not often addressed is, are these cases aberrations, or typical?

If high strangeness cases are exceptional, it would have to be asked, why do this particular minority of witnesses choose to report their experiences to one of just a few investigators, such as John Keel? Surely it is more likely that, since most witness reports reach us at second hand by way of the investigators, most of the latter tend to edit out unwelcome details like MIBs as detracting from the credibility of the story. If so, then we ought to be able to find some evidence for this censorship. In the first place, there is no reason to think that the above authors deliberately select the oddest cases for publication. On the contrary, in an interview during the October 1973 wave, Keel remarked: “A few years ago I talked with two young men who had seen an object in a field that resembled exactly one of our space modules and had “US Air Force” printed on the sides. But, of course, one of our space modules isn’t going to be hovering over a field in New Jersey. I never wrote it up because even the UFO buffs wouldn’t believe it.”

Imbrogno and Horrigan’s Contact of the Fifth Kind, which is about high strangeness in the Hudson Valley, mentions that in an earlier book that Imbrogno had co-authored with Allen Hynek, they had avoided mention of abductions: “Only to a handful of people did we admit that there were abduction cases, and plenty of them … Dr. Hynek felt that UFO reports are hard enough to believe without adding the subject of abductions to the discussion.”

Whilst driving home in the early hours of 8 March 1997 journalist Sarah Hall, of the Folkestone Herald, saw a mysterious flying triangle. This event gained some national publicity simply because it occurred near to the home of Tory politician Michael Howard. It later the subject of a long article by Stuart Miller and Chris Rolfe in the penultimate issue of the now defunct [British] UFO Magazine. Among, the illustrations was a reproduction of Hall’s original ‘Witness Statement’, which says that, for about fifteen minutes before the sighting: “I was coming down the road and I felt, I said afterwards to other people since, that I felt really weird. I was really looking over my shoulder on the way home. I was a bit scared, a weird feeling anyway.”

Yet this detail is nowhere mentioned in the article itself. The authors’ hypothesis, the reasoning behind which I am unable to follow, was that what she saw was of terrestrial manufacture, though based upon ‘back-engineered’ alien technology of unspecified origin. Now, there is no reason why someone who happens to see a secret experimental aeroplane should feel ‘really weird’ before the sighting. One suspects that they ignored this precisely because it did not fit with their hypothesis. Had not her statement been incidentally included in the layout by a subeditor, we would never have known of it, and remember, in the vast majority of UFO cases we do not get the witness’s own words, only the interpretations of investigators.

According to Richard Thompson: “…after the Hills’ close encounter on a lonely New Hampshire road, they began to experience poltergeist phenomena in their home. Betty would find her coats unaccountably dumped on the living room floor, even though she had left them in the closet. Clocks would stop and start mysteriously, or their time settings would change. Water faucets [taps] would turn on when nobody was there, and electrical appliances would break down and then work perfectly without repair. On a more prosaic level, Betty Hill also reported that after her UFO experience she was repeatedly followed, her apartment was broken into, and her phone was tapped.”

Of wurse, nothing is said about these things in Fuller’s The Interrupted Journey, nor in any of the other innumerable discussions of the case that I have seen. Even sceptical writers pass over them – I suppose that, if you are going to maintain that everything that happened to the Hills had a straightforward mundane explanation, you are only making it difficult for yourself if you introduce things like poltergeists.

In April 1952 Albert K. Bender of Bridgeport, Connecticut, set up the International Flying Saucer Bureau. This grandiose title proved to be justified, as they soon had representatives not only in more than a dozen states of the Union, but also Canada, England, Australia and New Zealand. Yet after just eighteen months Bender shut the organisation down, stating in the final issue of the quarterly newsletter Space Review that “The mystery of the flying saucers is no longer a mystery. The source is already known, but any information about this is being withheld by orders from a higher source.”

Three years later, Gray Barker revealed in They Knew Too Mutch About Flying Saucers  that Bender had stated that he had been visited by three men in darks suits, from which we derive the now familiar term ‘Men In Black’. But, when interviewed by two puzzled colleagues, he said little more, replying to most of their questions only with the words: “I can’t answer that”. The implication was that he had been silenced because he had discovered ‘The Truth’. I suspect that most ufologists assumed that the Truth that Bender had discovered corresponded exactly with their own pet theories. These need not have been too sensational: the story, as told so far, was broadly consistent with the hypothesis that flying saucers were a secret U.S. invention, and that the authorities had requested Bender to keep silent for reasons of national security.

Yet at about the same time, on the other side of the world, the Australian Flying Saucer Bureau was closed down by Edgar Jarrold, who had also had a mysterious visitor. A New Zealand investigator, John Stuart, received a telephone call from a voice who claimed to be ‘from another planet’, and told him to “stop interfering in matters that do not concern you!” Soon afterwards his house developed the classic signs of haunting, with the sound of footsteps when no-one was there, and objects moving by themselves. Finally, he said later, his secretary was physically assaulted by a giant hairy monster, after which he abandoned UFO research.

In 1962 Bender broke his silence with a book, Flying Saucers and the Three Men, of which it is fairly safe to say that it can have matched no-one’s pet theory. He wrote that he had begun to experience poltergeist activity in his home, such as a radio switching itself on, accompanied by an odour of burning sulphur. Then, on 15 March 1953, he attempted to contact the ‘occupants of interplanetary craft’ by telepathy. The result was not the “We come in peace” message he perhaps expected; instead, a voice said “Please be advised to discontinue delving into the mysteries of the universe. We will make an appearance if you disobey.” He wrote this experience up at the time, but his report mysteriously vanished from the box in which he had locked it.

In July he had the first of a series of visits from the three men, who “looked like clergymen” except that their eyes glowed “like flashlight bulbs”, and who materialised in his bedroom, making it clear that they were not from the government, but aliens themselves. Though they had taken on human bodies so that they could pass among us unnoticed (apart from the glowing eyes!), their real forms were hideous monsters. On several occasions they teleported him to a secret underground base in Antarctica, where they told him that came from a planet many light years away. They were visiting earth for the purpose of extracting a certain chemical from our seawater, and did not wish to be interfered with, but after they had left he~would be free to reveal the truth to the world. Indeed, to ensure that he remained in good health, on his last visit to the base he was given a special all-over body massage by three beautiful women, who were presumably in reality hideous monsters.

Though Bender stated that he was able to speak because the saucerians had departed in 1960, UFOs did not cease to be sighted. It was probably not for this reason, however, that his book was almost totally ignored, but because it did not tell anyone what they wanted to hear. Typical of those who noticed it at all was Rex Dutta, who said that it was “often attributed to the hush-hush bag”, i.e. it was itself a part of the continuing cover-up, and that “Not many took the trouble to notice that the book was obviously ‘ghost-written’ – its style was totally unlike that of Bender’s own phraseology in his magazine.”

Where the story is cited at all, it is usually in the more credible version of Barker. For instance in 1974 Brinsley Le Poer Trench argued in Secret of the Ages that the earth is hollow, and that UFOs come from the inside; he suggested that what Bender had discovered is that the earto is hollow, and that UFOs come from the inside.

Reports of the Men In Black, often known as MIBs, became more common, and provoked the interest of the Pentagon, since some of them were said to have falsely claimed to be Air Force officers, which is a federal offence. Yet no prosecution has ever resulted. It might be possible to explain at least some of these cases as being the result of acute paranoia, but it is easier just to pass over them in silence.

A young woman named Maria spoke at BUFORA a couple of times in the early 1990s. I have lost my notes on what she said, but from memory, she had attended a convent boarding school in the Midlands. One night, she woke up in the small hours and looked out of the window to see a glowing object next to the tennis courts. Various other things happened to her in the following days which seemed to be acausally linked to the first: she had a dream, so vivid that it could not be distinguished from reality, that she was on board a spaceship; one lunchtime she stirred a cup of coffee with a metal spoon which, when she took it out, had bent in Uri Geller fashion; she spontaneously levitated into the air in front of a group of other girls; on a country walk she passed a dead and mutilated body of a deer; finally, of course, she was visited by two men dressed in black, who said that they had been sent by her psychiatrist, whose name, coincidentally, was Mrs. Black. After interviewing her for an hour, they departed in a mysterious black car which made no sound as it crossed the gravel forecourt. Maria spoke twice to BUFORA, and was I believe interviewed by several people, yet so far as I can discover her tale has never appeared in print anywhere.

One Man In Black report that has been printed a few times, e.g. in The Unexplained, is that of Dr. Herbert Hopkins, who in 1976 hypnotised a UFO witness to help him recall his experience. He was then visited by a hairless (not even eyebrows) man in a black suit claiming to be from the New Jersey UFO Research Organisation (there was no such institution), who made a coin disappear, asked him pointedly if he had heard of a local UFO witness who had recently died, and demanded that he destroy the tapes of the sessions. Perhaps fearing that if he did not he would go the way of the coin, Hopkins complied.

Not so many authors relate the encounter which Hopkins had been investigating. The witness was David Stephens of Norway, Maine, who with a friend named Glen Gray went for a drive at three a.m. one morning in October 1975. After a mile Gray, who was driving, lost control of the car, which went down a rough trackway, but, incredibly, at unbelievable speed, so that they travelled five miles in two minutes. It came to rest in a field, where they saw a hovering cylindrical object with bright lights on it. Gray now regained control of the car and hastily drove off, but the object followed them, and soon they fell unconscious, reawakening a mile further down the road. Unable to start the engine, they sat and watched as further glowing objects flew about. From a nearby pond, which seemed to have ‘grown to the size of an ocean’, a thick fog arose and engulfed the car. Then, surprisingly, the motor restarted, and the two men were able to leave. [Read further about Herbert Hopkins HERE]

A few days later, when two local ufologists spoke to them: “Stephen and Gray reported that several peculiar incidents had happened since their encounter: someone (or something) had walked across the roof of their trailer home; both men had suffered sudden bouts of extreme tiredness; both had seen snowflakes and black cubes and spheres flying from the sky and through a wall; ‘golden wires’ appeared in the air above their TV set; and a disembodied voice, audible only to Gray, had intoned the letters ‘U-F-O’.”

Mike Dash, one author who was prepared to relate this story, noted that “the case is not often discussed, even in ufological circles, and is certainly too strange to be included among the handful of ‘classic cases’ that most researchers would cite as evidence of UFOs. Yet this one incident includes almost all of the key elements that distinguish such classics from run-of-the-mill reports.” In other words, though seeming highly bizarre to the average person, once one has been studying the matter for years, it “may be considered fairly representative of the more detailed hard core of UFO reports.” I should like to repeat a matter I raised some years ago, that, as was pointed out in Helmut and Marion Lammer’s MILABS: Military Mind Control and Alien Abduction, which has the kind of content that you would expect of that title, most books by abductees who have written their own books state that they were followed and watched by unmarked black helicopters, whereas in Thomas Bullard’s study of 270 abductions, black helicopters only feature in four cases. The reason is surely that Bullard’s data was derived from abduction researchers rather than the abductees themselves, and that black helicopters seem important to the latter but not to the former

An exception is David Jacobs, who does mention them briefly in The Threat, stating that most are ordinary helicopters that happen to circle abductees’ houses by chance, but that a few are piloted by hybrids (human-alien cross-breeds), and others are screen memories for UFOs. Budd Hopkins, though thinking it normal for people to be picked up by aliens and genetically experimented upon, evidently felt black helicopters to be a little too outré, and omitted them in Intruders, his account of the misadventures of ‘Kathie Davis’ (Debbie Jordan), yet Jordan herself said that they were, at one time, “almost daily around our houses”. Even so, he did include a few high strangeness events, such as a visit from three mystery men (though dressed in blue), and that when Debbie was pregnant with her second child, she would get a telephone call from an incomprehensible alien voice every Wednesday afternoon.

Sometimes, but not always, these choppers are said to make no sound, for which reason they are known as phantom helicopters. Beckley reproduces a photograph of one that was taken by Betty Andreasson’s husband, though it is obviously impossible to tell from a picture whether it was silent or noisy, or indeed to distinguish it in any way from a real helicopter.

John Keel often refers to mysterious beeping. Usually these occur over the telephone, which is not odd in itself, since beeping is the standard ‘engaged’ tone, though something has clearly gone wrong when the phone rings and you answer it to hear only beeps. (I had two calls of this sort myself one Wednesday afternoon – presumably it was coincidence that at the time I was transcribing a tape of an interview with a UFO witness.) But a fault in the phone network cannot explain the case of the woman who, after seeing a strange object fly overhead, “suddenly heard a loud radio signal … a series of dots and dashes” which however was inaudible to her sister and brother in law.

When Phil Klass interviewed Lonnie Zamora, the police officer in the Socorro, New Mexico case, he told him that the object’s sound was a “Beep … beep … beep … beep”, though a couple who lived nearby heard nothing. Klass mentioned this in his first book (in which he maintained that UFOs were a rare natural phenomenon, and was written before he had reached the conclusion that this affair was a hoax), but so far as I can discover no-one else ever has, not even Ray Stanford in his book on the sighting.

Sometimes high strangeness occurs when there has not been a UFO incident as such, for instance in a case cited by Alex Constantine, conspiracy theorist author of Psychic Dictatorship in the U.S.A., who considers all unexplained phenomena to be the by-product of CIA mind-control experimentation. In 1994 a California journalist named Dave Gardetta interviewed Richard Ofshe, a psychologist who maintained that so-called recovered memories are actually false memories, and that this was the real cause of supposed alien abduction.

A few days later, however, Gardetta awoke “to find a triangular rash on the palm of his hand. This is commonly thought to be a symptom of abduction (though it also happened to Michelle Smith, the classic Satanic Child Abuse victim, and was explained by her psychiatrist and future husband Lawrence Pazder as a ‘body memory’ of her ordeal: “…whenever she relived the moments when Satan had his burning tail wrapped around her neck, a sharply defined rash appeared in the shape of the spade-like tip of his tail.”) Gardetta wrote: “It didn’t surprise me. Things around the house – which sits on a hilltop in a semi-rural area – had been getting weird. A jet-wash noise buzzed some afternoons around the house, its origin impossible to discern. Lights were turning themselves on, and the alarm system’s motion sensor was tripping itself every morning between five and six. One early evening, small footsteps crossed the roof. I ran outside to find the electrical wires leading to a nearby telephone pole swaying in the windless dusk.” I am not sure what conclusion he drew from this. (Constantine, of course, blamed CIA mind-control experimentation.)

At the end of 1966, True magazine commissioned a set of illustrations for a forthcoming article, by John Keel, on unidentified flying objects. The artist drew a number of odd shaped craft purely from his own imagination. One was spherical, featureless except for a single porthole and, underneath, four legs and a propeller. Though no such thing had ever been reported, what one might term ‘the Looking Glass effect’ apparently kicked in. On 19 January 1967, an appliance store manager named Tad Jones was driving to work near Charleston, West Virginia, when he was obliged to stop because the road was blocked by a sphere exactly matching the above description. He watched it for two minutes, after which it rose up into the sky and disappeared. He reported what had happened to the police, and it got written up in local papers.

In the following days, two threatening notes were slipped under Jones’s door warning him to ‘keep your mouth shut’. A local UFO authority, Ralph Jarrett, received one of those ‘beep beep’ phone calls immediately before opening his copy of The Charleston Gazette, where he first learnt of the sighting. Jarrett conducted his own investigation, and learned that the object had been hovering directly over a major gas line. When Keel himself visited the spot, he found a number of strange footprints in the mud beside the road. One set resembled huge dog tracks, but Jones took plaster casts, and no local zoologist could identify them. There were also some prints made by ripple-soled shoes with a ridge around the edge. Keel noted that prints of just this type had frequently turned up at UFO sites around the country. Years later came another ‘Looking Glass’ sequel: when the first astronauts walked on the moon, they wore boots which made identical ripple prints in the lunar dust.

This story, at least as it is narrated in The Mothman Prophecies, appears totally inexplicable. But that did not daunt Steuart Campbell when he wrote The UFO Mystery Solved, which argued that UFO reports are caused by mirages of stars. Weirdly, he even claimed that mirages of stars explained daytime sightings, though most people would suppose that it would be impossible to see a mirage, which is simply a reflection, of a light source that was itself invisible. Anyway, he explained the Tad Jones sighting as having been a mirage of Venus, failing also to explain how a mirage, which necessarily must be near the horizon, could appear to rise up into the sky. Of the threatening notes, the mysterious footprints, and the resemblance of the ‘mirage’ to a piece of imaginative artwork, he had not a word to say.

David Haisell’s The Missing Seven Hours is not (as one would expect from the title) another of those tedious abduction tales, but concerns a British family settled in Canada, who not only claimed to have experienced UFO sightings in both the old and new worlds, but also poltergeists in their home, disembodied voices, inexplicable beeping sounds, low flying unmarked black helicopters, psychic healing, appearances of doppelgangers, enigmatic telephone calls, automatic writing, and that Fortean rarity, a mysterious Woman In Black.

In his account of how he went to interview the ‘Armstrong’ (a pseudonym) family, Haisell remarks: “Much good advice has been written about interviewing techniques and the psychological factors affecting UFO witnesses. Perhaps the best approach if dealing with an intelligent and articulate individual is to let him or her talk freely about the event or events. In this way the investigator’s own biases don’t affect the interview, even though they may interfere with the subsequent analysis of the material … I discovered that they had been disappointed in the past with several UFO investigators who had talked to
them about their experiences. Many of them had been interested merely in the physical aspects of the phenomena.”

I take this to mean that the earlier investigators were solely concerned to collect evidence that UFOs are nuts-and-bolts alien spacecraft from Zeta Reticuli (or the Pleiades, or wherever), and ignored the high strangeness material as not supporting this viewpoint. By contrast, Haisell repeated whatever the Armstrongs told him, often quoting them verbatim from taped interviews, and so produced a totally different picture. Of course, it is the solid interstellar visitors that the book-buying public wants to read about, hence the fact that works promoting this hypothesis are often bestsellers, whereas few people have heard of Haisell.

Now consider the alien encounter of Bruce Lee – not the Kung Fu star, but an editor at Morrow publishers in New York, who had formerly been a ‘respected’ Newsweek reporter – as narrated by Jim Schnabel in Dark White:

“It had been a cold Saturday in February 1987, just after Communion [a Morrow book] had been released, and Lee and his wife had been walking along Lexington Avenue and had gone into the bookshop to see how some of the books he had edited were being displayed for buyers. He had been standing there towards the back of the store when a couple came in and headed straight for the rack where Communion was displayed. The couple were both quite short, and were heavily bundled up against the cold, with wool hats and long scarves and gloves and boots. They each grabbed a copy of Communion and, despite the encumbrances of their gloves, began flipping through the book rapidly. It didn’t seem possible that they could be reading so quickly, and yet they were shaking their heads and saying such things as ‘Oh, he’s got this wrong, and ’Oh, he’s got that wrong.’ Perhaps strangest of all, their accents sounded upper East Side Jewish.

“Lee walked over and introduced himself, explaining that he worked for Communion‘s publisher, and was interested to know what errors might be contained in the book, and the woman looked up at him: ‘She had on large sunglasses which, with her scarf and hat, obscured virtually all of her face’. And yet through the sunglasses Lee could see a pair of enormous dark eyes. Jesus! Lee had been raised on a farm, and those eyes reminded him of the eyes of a rabid dog. They seemed to be telling him to get the hell out of there. The hair on Lee’s neck stood up, and he said a hasty goodbye. He grabbed his wife and went off to a bar and soaked his shock in Margaritas.”

This story seems to admit of three explanations: 1) The aliens learned to speak English from Upper East Side Jews. 2) Lee mistook a diminutive Upper East Side Jewish couple for aliens. 3) It was a hoax. The first possibility clearly raises more questions than it answers. The second pre-supposes that the witness was mentally defective or paranoiac, but there is no warrant for such an assumption. Hoaxes are common in ufology, yet they usually succeed because the hoaxer knows what people want to hear, and supplies it, whereas no-one expects aliens to turn up in New York bookstores. Nor is any motive apparent – if it was a publicity stunt for Communion, it was exceedingly ill thought out.

It is surely significant that the story has appeared only (so far as I am aware) in Dark White, for Schnabel is one of the very few UFO writers who could genuinely be described as impartial. There are, of course, a number of recent books, particularly on the history of ufology, which give the superficial impression of academic disinterest, but if you read more than a few pages, you generally find that they are one of two types, which may be termed A and B: a Type A author will typically conclude a case summary with some such phrase as “Professor Hynek considered that the witness was highly credible”; Type B, by contrast, will end on the lines of “Donald Menzel concluded that the affair was an elaborate hoax”. Even a plethora of proper source references cannot disguise the pro- or anti-ETH agenda. Yet Dark White recounts the various arguments and alleged incidents without trying to judge whether alien abductions are real or not.

In the same way, his account of the experiences of ‘Lucy’ seem to be no more or less than a summary of what she told him in a series of interviews. These did not, initially, concern alien abduction, but non-paranormal misfortunes of her early life, having been born with various health problems attributable to her mother having contracted measles during her pregnancy, and then, at age eight, having witnessed her father’s death in a gun accident. Soon afterwards, she reported, a young man named Steven took her to a remote cabin and raped her.

He continued to visit her over the years, and frequently raped her again. Yet he never seemed to age, suggesting that he was not a real person in the way that most of us understand reality. This is also hinted by the statement that “when Lucy was in her late teens she noticed that her first sexual experience hadn’t been at all painful”, which seems to reflect an unconscious recognition that her earlier sexual experiences, with Steven, had not actually happened; she added that her mother had told her that her hymen had broken in an accident when she was a toddler. Other oddities in her life included electrical equipment malfunctioning in her presence, sleepwalking, and inexplicable memory lapses.

Whilst at university she came across a copy of Communion, and guessed that regular abduction could explain her periods of memory loss. Not long afterwards she was in New York, getting her first regression from Budd Hopkins. Later, she moved to a Washington suburb. “Steven still visited her, as did the greys, and her wristwatches never worked, and the phone would ring and no one would be there, and one night the doorbell rang and she opened it and stepped out to see who was there and she saw her father, her dead father, standing in the bushes.” On a later encounter with the aliens, in the Blue Ridge mountains, her father was amongst a group of (otherwise presumably living) abductees.

The dead feature in UFO reports more often than one might expect. The day after his demise, George Adamski turned up in Devon in a flying saucer to converse with a handyman named Arthur Bryant. Whitley Strieber reports the case of a boy of seventeen who was killed in a road accident. A week later his parents were sitting in their living room, about ten o’clock at night, when their dog became nervous and began to pace. Though he had already been walked that evening, the wife decided to take him out again.

“As she opened the front door, two things happened simultaneously. The first was that an orange ball of light swept away from the house, disappearing across a nearby line of trees. The next second, the couple’s ten-year old son came running downstairs yelling excitedly that “little blue men” had brought his older brother into the bedroom, and the older boy had a message: tell his mom and dad that he was okay.” The dead have, of course, been appearing to the living all throughout history, the motive, if any, usually being to provide evidence that there is indeed an afterlife. This, in fact, would seem to have been the purpose in the above instances. But they are of no value to someone who wishes to prove the existence of spacecraft from Andromeda.

Enthusiasts of ‘Ancient Astronauts’ likewise make surreptitious alterations in their source materials. Erich von Daniken referred to this South American legend: “It tells of a golden space-ship that came from the stars; in it came a woman, whose name was Oryana, to fulfil the task of becoming the Great Mother of the earth. Oryana had only four fingers, which were webbed. Great Mother Oryana gave birth to seventy earth children, then she returned to the stars.”

Von Daniken’s source was certainly Robert Charroux’s One Thousand Years of Man’s Unknown History, since the story was one that Charroux had collected orally: it specified that Orejona gave birth to the human race by mating with a tapir. This story has been suspected of being a modern invention, but in fact it is probably genuine, since surely no twentieth century author would have had a woman interbreed with an animal. Be that as it may, Von Daniken omitted the tapir, also the statement that Orejona came from Venus (as opposed to the stars), since this too was no longer believable by the 1960s.

The vision of Ezekiel has been widely discussed in UFO literature. It is unclearly written, but the gist is to the effect that, sitting by the river Chebar in the land of the Chaldeans (modern Iraq) some time in the sixth century BC, he saw a glowing whirlwind in the north, out of which came creatures with four wings and four faces, those of a man, bull, lion and eagle. (Statues of composite creatures of this sort were common in Chaldean temples.) Then he saw four flying wheels “full of eyes round about them”. Above them was “the likeness of a throne”, on which sat “the appearance of a man”, whom Ezekiel took to be God. He then heard a voice which gave him a lengthy lecture upon the sins of the children of Israel.

As early as the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the four wheels had been interpreted as belonging to a celestial chariot which bore aloft the throne of the Lord, somewhat in the manner of the wagons which were used by Pagans to transport the images of their Gods in procession. Though this is not implicit in the text, in the Middle Ages a great deal of Jewish mystical literature was devoted to “the work of the chariot”. This ‘chariot of Ezekiel’ came to be illustrated in a number of Renaissance engravings.

The first modern UFO author to draw attention to the passage was Dr. Donald Menzel, who wrote: “Occasionally a sundog makes a complete circle of light surrounding the sun with four bright patches, one above, one below, and one on either side. Sometimes two circles will appear, one within the other, surmounted by an inverted arc and traversed by a cross, like the spokes of a wheel whose centre is the sun. The complicated structure of a fully developed mock sun – which is extremely rare – can suggest to the imaginative an enormous chariot in the sky and can terrify the superstitious. There is little doubt that this phenomenon inspired the two visions of Ezekiel described in the Bible.”

It will be observed that Dr. Menzel omits to mention the glowing whirlwind, the four creatures, the throne, the figure seated on the throne, and the voice explaining what was wrong with the nation of Israel: no doubt because none of these things can readily be explained as a sundog.

Others, needless to say, think that Ezekiel was the witness to an extraterrestrial visitation, and a vaguely plausible case can be made out for it. Pleiadians, for all we know, may have four wings and four faces, whilst wheels with ‘eyes’ around them could be flying saucers with portholes. Though the ‘voice’ did not proceed to a technical exposition of UFO propulsion systems, but complained about the Israelites worshipping idols, it is conceivable that aliens might be as obsessive about this point as many human religious bigots are.

The figure of God is difficult to fit in, however, which explains why Von Daniken ignores it, and Josef Blumrich described him as ‘the pilot’. Alan Cole commented: “…the few details … that might fit a hypothetical spacecraft, are not the whole of the description: it culminates, not in wheels or in chariot, but in a great throne set above the chariot (Ezek. 1:26), and God, in human form enthroned there. If we take the chariot literally, then all of this, too, must be taken literally.”

The Rev. Cole goes on to use the word ‘chariot’ seven times in all, having failed to notice that it is nowhere found in the text itself, but only in commentaries written many centuries later. Nevertheless, his argument is perfectly sound: an interpretation based upon only those facts that happen to fit it is likely to be worthless.

To Ezekiel, and no doubt to his contemporaries, the creatures and the wheels were not so important as the divine prophecy which followed them, and quite likely he only mentioned the former in order to lend credibility to the latter. The same was true of two flying disc reports from the mid seventeenth century: in 1646, in Gravenhage, Holland, a flying round plate was seen “about the bigness of a table-board, like gray paper”, followed by visions supposed to be prophetic.

Similarly, in 1651, a Mrs Holt of Cheshire was sitting in her doorway when she “perceived the Sun to shine exceeding red, and casting her eyes upwards, she beheld a dark body over the sun, about the bigness of a half moon, and in a short space, the said body divided into several parts, seeming numberless other view, about the bigness of small Pewter dishes, which came swiftly towards her …” This was followed by visions of fighting men and horses in the air, and mysterious birds. In those unsettled times, people looked for signs and wonders in the sky which might presage the future, but flying dishes in themselves were not news and would quite likely have been ignored but for the subsequent visions.

It might be thought that modern UFO reports do not include prophetic visions, but in fact a few of them do, e.g. in 1973, it is said, three people “watched a flying craft cavort through the sky, and then it transformed into a giant image of a bearded man dressed in a long, belted, robe, with his arms outstretched.” Similarly, at Cradle Hill outside Warminster in the 1960s: “there was the time when a Saucer, coming into the copse from the south-west, produced a perfect arch of brilliant silvery light, in the midst of which appeared two giant forms: silhouetted figures, long hair waving as though in the wind, with no visible features, but with fingers and robes well defined.” Once again, I suspect that there is bias in reporting, and that such sightings are quite common, but seldom published.

We should remind ourselves that what may be ‘extraordinary’ to most of us may be quite normal to others. For example, to some people it is an everyday thing to communicate with the dead. A spiritualist friend of mine, a semi-disabled lady who lives alone except for two cats, has told me how her son will help her fix things that are broken in her home, anything from a jammed kitchen drawer to a malfunctioning computer. This would not be remarkable in itself, but her son has been deceased for some years. Significantly, she has mentioned these incidents in the course of informing me about otherwise mundane matters concerning her domestic problems, without any change in the tone of her voice.

This, however, is slightly different from UFO witnesses such as the Armstrongs, who do consider their experiences unusual: the point is that they regard them as a totality, the poltergeist activity and strange phone calls being as important to them as their sightings of mysterious craft. On the other hand, there may be high strangeness UFO cases which have never been reported to anyone, because the experiencers have not thought them in any way out of the ordinary.

To evaluate facts, you have to know what they are. Though people have often accused the government or the Air Force of concealing the truth about UFOs, I think the ufologists themselves have been partially suppressing it. I do not propose to try and explain the causes behind poltergeists or beeping telephone calls from the Men In Black, only to observe that they can hardly have an easily comprehensible explanation in terms of spaceships from Orion.