Hypnotism, the Illusion of ‘Hypnosis’ and Enhanced Testimony in UFO Reports
Part Three: Message to Magonia
Alex Tsander

Message to Magonia.

Finally,we come to the relevance of this debate to the topic of the UFO: the veridicality or otherwise of the alleged “phenomenon” of regression.

Quite clearly, this question lies at the very heart of many cases in the annals of UFO reportage, dependent as they are upon recovered memory and enhanced recollection. This being especially the case in regards the lore of alien abduction.

Memory is itself a troublesome topic about which there are many outdated notions and popular myths. Key among these being that memory is the manifestation of the brain acting as a kind of tape-recorder. Pause for a moment and wonder whether that idea could have been currency before the invention of the tape-recorder? Before the advent of photography? What then, was memory a kind of illuminated script? In fact, this is perhaps a better analogy than that of a tape recording.

Enough evidence now exists for us to reliably agree that whatever it is, memory is not reliable. It is plastic, malleable, subject to alteration, reinterpretation and corruption. In fact, enough evidence now exists that the notion of people being legitimately convicted of crimes on the basis of eye-witness testimony is coming to seem very questionable. Most readers will be aware of how hypnotic memory recovery procedures can accidentally result in false recollections. But it is also the case that this can happen where no hypnotic procedure is employed.

So the notion of a process whereby the tape recording of memory can be re-wound and replayed is very dubious. We need to consider this in some detail. I am going to cheat by simply pasting in a passage from my aforementioned book, Beyond Erickson. I have made only a few modifications and one addition.

Along with hypnotic anaesthesia and hallucination, regression is one of the central elements of the lore of hypnosis. The idea that a hypnotised person can be ‘taken back’ to an earlier time in their experience like a tape-recording being re-wound has entered into the popular imagination and appears frequently throughout our culture, not merely in the claims of hypnotists but in films, plays and books where it sometimes forms a key to plot and in which its reality is never questioned.

The supposedly “authoritative” Hartland’s reference text, under the editorship of David Waxman credulously asserts the following:

“Sometimes the revised memories of the regressed subject can be checked. It has been reported that when an adult subject, regressed to her seventh birthday, was asked what day of the week it was, she replied ‘Friday’ without the slightest hesitation and subsequent investigation proved this to be true. This is a feat of memory that few of us could achieve in the waking state.” (Hartland’s, Waxman, ed.. 1989, p180).

How misleading this passage is will become apparent when we review the research on this supposed feat. Meanwhile, Harry Aaron’s described the idea in the following terms: “Scientific research has demonstrated that the mind – or the brain – seems to have the capacity for retaining all impressions which enter it, like a giant tape recorder” (Aarons, 1967).

‘Scientific research’ has shown nothing of the kind. Although someone like Aarons might enthusiastically leap to this conclusion on the basis of an interpretation of the work of Wilder Penfield. Penfield, a Canadian neuro-surgeon, performed over a thousand pioneering operations to cure some types of epilepsy. In these operations, the patient was conscious, having been given local anaesthetic to the scalp, cranium and sub-cranial tissue. The skull was opened up but, as noted earlier [in Beyond Erickson], and is indeed well illustrated by this practice, the brain yielded no sensation, let alone pain. In order to locate the specific place at which to work Penfield electrically stimulated selected sites on the cortex of the patients brain. The patient could report what they experienced in response: sometimes sounds, sometimes sights, sometimes other sensations; combinations of these things or all of them at once. In effect, resembling momentary flash-backs in time.

The reporting and popular re-reporting of such events as a patient remarking that she could hear a piano being played in an adjoining room (at home, in the past) when a certain spot was stimulated no doubt did much to help fuel the notion that the brain records everything, electrically, like a tape-recorder. Indeed, that most credulous ‘authority’ on ‘hypnosis’, David Waxman ingenuously asserts: “It was said of these experiments that the recall is total and equal to that which can be achieved with patients under hypnosis” (Waxman, 1981, p42) thereby arrogantly implying that the reality and power of ‘regression’ under hypnosis was actually more certain than the physical effects of an electrode stimulating the brain.

However, as Stephen Rose, in his book the “The Making of Memory”,( Rose, 1992 ) remarks: “… there is the problem of deciding whether what is being elicited by such stimulation is a ‘real’ memory for some event which has actually occurred, or, like a dream or hallucination, some type of confabulation. The very nature of the records means that one can never be sure about this; the Penfield studies remain fascinating, challenging, but ultimately uninterpretable.” (Rose, 1992. P 130).

Even in Hartland’s, edited by Waxman, we find the concession that: “It is a fallacy to believe that every event or experience, however trivial, is somehow registered in the mind, never to be forgotten.”(Hartland, 1989, p467)

Nonetheless, a great many writers and ‘experts’ continue to maintain exactly that. Harry Aarons was very far from unusual in holding ideas such as those expressed in the earlier quote.

Indeed, it remains commonplace for therapists to sell the notion that everything we ever experience is recorded comprehensively and with absolute veracity somewhere in our head. Even a close friend of mine who was at the time lecturer in biology at a leading medical school, in her ex-curricula capacity as a private therapist expressed exactly this dogma. Moreover, the naive conception of memory as a kind of tape recording, which can be rewound in regression has been extrapolated to ever more absurd extremes. Weitzenhoffer (1989) points out how absurd it is for supposedly intelligent professional people to treat seriously the claim that it is possible through this procedure to recover memory of intra‑uterine experience which would not in fact have been subject to processes of memory formation in the first place.

But many who consider themselves ‘hypno-therapists’ go further, and it is not unusual to see in the press or on television, hypnotists billed as “hypno-therapists” claiming an ability to routinely regress clients to earlier incarnations.

Indeed, as a hypnotist doing stage-shows I have found that the number of individuals asking off-stage if I can stop them smoking are almost matched by those asking “Can you do regression”. Invariably, I discover that by this they mean regression to a former life!

There is a need here to distinguish between various ‘strengths’ of alleged regression phenomena. At the strongest we have the metaphysical past-life regression. This is championed as a literal reality and an actual therapeutic tool by a former recovered-memory therapist, B.L.Weiss, in Through Time Into Healing (Weiss, 1992).

Then there is the ‘major’ version of present-life regression that is based on the idea that all experience is remembered and that this recording can be re-played, re-entered, zoomed into, enhanced, etc., exactly as if it were a video, championed by, among many others, the advocate of forensic hypnotism, Martin Reiser (Reiser, M. 1980; Ofshe and Watters, 1995, p37).

Then we have the ‘minor’ version of regression, which accesses repressed material or inhibited recall by giving the patient licence to report it as though really replayed; in which the reality or otherwise of the effect is not relevant to its utility in accessing and ventilating that material. This is as illustrated by William Sargent in his accounts of treating battle survivors during WWII (Sargent, 1957, 1974).

Then there is an entirely ‘soft’ version of regression which is really not even assumed to be a hypnotic reality but is a method of aiding recall and accessing memory. Such that it may not even be referred to or presented as a regression whilst undoubtedly on this same continuum. Into this camp we can put the vast swathe of ‘recovered memory therapy”, illustrated by Bass and Davis (The Courage To Heal, 1988 ). A field thoroughly examined in its full diabolical implications in Making Monsters, False Memories, Psychotherapy and Sexual Hysteria by Ofshe and Watters (Ofshe and Watters, 1995 ).

Into this category we can also place a ‘pure pseudo-regression’, in which it is not even considered important whether the visualised information is a memory or just something immediately imagined, described by one ‘therapist’, Renee Fredrickson, in these extraordinarily shameless terms: “Whether what is remembered around the focal point is made up or real is of no concern…” (Fredrickson, 1992).

Then, beyond this, at the extreme, we have a ‘retense pseudo-regression’ that is not even a memory strategy but is openly an act, as has been in the past used in demonstrations. In other words, the routine of acting as-though of a certain age

Clearly, what we are concerned with here are the “strongest” and “major” versions of the alleged phenomenon. The “minor”, “soft” and “purely pseudo” versions do not entail the necessary reality of a substantive and questionable phenomenon. They do, however, have very serious implications for both those engaged in such processes of recollection and those who the supposedly “recovered” memories involve.

Even without the supernatural or metaphysical dimension of “past-lives” the claims associated with regression are such that they indicate a failure on the part of those who make them to grasp the enormous implications of what it would mean. Moreover, although claims for the veracity of regression are largely accepted by an uncritical public, experimental support for this belief would be remarkable and is as yet unforthcoming.

It would be especially remarkable in consideration of it contradicting everything that is today known about memory. Although at one time it was indeed contended by some speculative psychologists that every experience is recorded for perpetuity, this is now realised not to be the case. The brain contains a vast number of pathways and potential for the registering of ‘N-Grams’. The brain, as everyone knows, is the most complex known structure in the universe. But knowledge from computing tells us that the information storage capacity required to register even one second in any one of our senses is such that even that vast potential would be used up long before we reached adulthood.

This cosmologically immense data encoding and storage requirement would necessitate a truly astronomical tape-recorder indeed. The only way that the idea of every sensation in every moment being recorded could be realised is if our brains were in some way connected to a virtually unlimited storage capacity in another dimension. A kind of neo-dualism.

At the start of the twenty-first century, one can obtain a visceral sense of this problem through our infuriating practical experience of the limitations on digital information storage, transfer and retrieval. Use digital photography, let alone video, and transmit the images over the internet, via optical relays, let alone a mobile phone and we find immediately how even some of our most powerful systems are capable of handling only a tiny sliver, not even a whole stream of the information we experience. This effect will gradually disappear; as processing speeds, bandwidth and memory capacities increase, our experience of information processing will lose the visceral sense of struggling to cope with the sheer volume of data in a picture, a sound, a moment, that at the start of the twenty-first century it is still characterised by. Indeed, compare file sizes for a book and a photograph and you can establish for yourself that a picture certainly paints vastly more than a thousand words!

Although our technology is expanding to ever more immense storage and transmission rates, today even the most powerful super-computers perform equivalent to only a tiny proportion of the work required of a human nervous system to process a single second of consciousness. Even the most extensive computer memory could not handle as much information as is stored in a few minutes of human vision; immensely more subtle than any camera yet devised.

Multiply these ratios to match the data processing and storage capacity requirements of a lifetime and we would also many times exceed the even astronomical scale of capacities of the human brain.

The only way it can manage to complete this lifetime of information-processing is by expending relatively little on memory, re-using cycles of activation and consuming resources conservatively. To do otherwise would be like trying to keep every digital photo we ever take, deleting none, on the memory card the camera came with. It would soon be full to capacity. We are obliged to delete images and re-use the space. The analogy is not precise, but is indicative of the economic principle

One researcher who has devoted a career to studying the biochemical basis of memory put it like this: “I have already made the point in connection with the filtering process of short-term memory. Information stored in such a memory need not be transferred to a more long-term store – and indeed there is a biological necessity that much of it must be filtered out if we are not to collapse with memory overload.”

The reality of human memory is that it is less like a tape-recorder and more like a tradition in a culture. A certain ritual may be passed on from generation to generation – a cultural memory. If the process is not repeated the link is lost. Any society can only devote a finite amount of resources to sustaining the most important cultural memories or traditions in this way.

Each memory is to an extent a record of the last time that it was recalled. Just as each generation of morris dancers repeats what it was taught by the last – although we may wish they wouldn’t! It is an active and dynamic process in which the limited resources available mean that only a tiny amount of the sensory information associated with only a small number of temporal junctures is retained and passed on in this way. It is possible to break the chain or improve the link, alter or insert new ones entirely. As Stephen Rose again puts it:

“Obsessed with the attempt to see how far back in my childhood I can remember, I have taken out these internally filed photographs, redeveloped and reprinted them, cropped them a little differently, made them matt or gloss, black-and-white or colour, enlarged them to fit a new frame just as much as Bergman has transformed his for public viewing. Every time I remember these events, I recreate a memory anew…” (Rose, 1992. p.35).

The fact is that it would be impossible to ‘replay’ with any accurate detail what happened in a single mundane one of your yesterday’s let alone ‘re-wind’ to an event in the remote past and not only ‘replay’ but ‘zoom-into’ and ‘pan-around’ as has often been claimed (Reiser, M. 1980).

I am reluctant to adduce a-priori arguments against the possibility of something, but in this connection there are a couple more which are so obvious that they cannot be resisted.

For a start, human vision is highly ‘hierarchical’. That is to say, at the centre of our optical field is a tiny point of focus and everything around that is progressively less focussed outwards from that centre. We perceive the world in terms of a focussed image because our eyes are continually scanning and our brain synthesises a representation from the data thus gathered. However, we do not scan, focus upon or examine every aspect or possible point of focus in our visual environment. To do so would take an infinite amount of time, because the subject under scrutiny would have changed before the task could be completed. These things considered, it is quite obvious that anyone really ‘regressed’ to a particular time and place would nonetheless still be unable to focus upon, let alone examine every aspect of their experience of that occasion at will. They could only access the same material as would have been stored as regular memory traces. If all we mean by ‘regression’ is therefore enhanced access to such conventional memory traces the core defining aspect of the alleged ‘strong’ or ‘major’ versions of ‘regression’ are passed over in concession to something ‘minor’ or ‘soft.

Considering the above also should give one pause to consider the fact that our perception of the world and our experience in time is a construct of our nervous system, integrating various sensory inputs according to diverse biological parameters and prior experiences. We do not store the original inputs. This can be illustrated by analogy to digital photography once again. Some cameras have a RAW facility which records the original data as it arrived in the processor from the imaging sensor, before processing. We can take this RAW data to our computer and then adjust it according to our desired interpretation to produce a finished image file, a JPEG. However, from this JPEG it is not possible to reconstruct the image in others of the many thousands of possible alternative forms from which it could have been constructed using the data in the original RAW file. Although it can still be slightly altered it is relatively fixed. This is one reason why professionals typically prefer a camera that produces a RAW file to one that immediately makes one of the possible versions of the image from that data and stores it solely as a JPEG. (Another reason is that of avoiding compression, which is not relevant here).

By analogy, the human nervous system is one of the latter variety of devices, lacking a RAW storage capacity. It stores as ‘memories’ the processed cognition, analogous to the JPEG. Without the existence of the analogue of a RAW file, comprising the unprocessed sensory data, it is impossible to zoom, pan and enhance even if regression were real.

All this leaves is the possibility of enhanced recall, which is a lot less than the proponents of regression try to sell us. Strictly described as hyperemnesia, this is discussed further, below. Suffice for the moment to mention the dominant question thereat being not whether psychological techniques can enhance recall, which is not disputed, but whether ‘hypnosis’ contributes anything to such techniques that would constitute evidence for its reality.

Experimental demonstration of the phenomenon of the ‘strong’ or ‘major’ versions of regression would require a complete re-think of the relationships of consciousness, memory and our connection to the physical universe.

Nonetheless, attempts have been made to obtain such evidence. In 1949, R.M.True published a report of a study in which subjects were regressed to the ages of 11, 7 and 4 years and correctly named the day of the week in which their birthday and Christmas Day occurred. Barber points out that it is possible for a determined subject to calculate this and, more importantly, that the method employed by True of eliciting the date via a yes or no arrangement (in which the experimenter asked, “…is it Wednesday, …is it Thursday,…is it Friday…” and so on) allows the subject to discern cues for the appropriate day unwittingly given by the questioner in their tone of voice. However, the damning verdict on the study is that numerous researchers have attempted to replicate the positive findings and obtained only a negative, contradictory, outcome. Including:

  • ‘Living Out ‘Future’ Experience Under Hypnosis’. Best, H.L and Michaels, R.M., in Science (1954, Issue 120, p1027)
  • ‘Experimental Evidence for a Theory of Hypnotic Behavior: 2: Experimental Controls in Age-Regression’, by T. X. Barber in The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (1961, Vol. 9, pp181-193 b)
  • ‘Problems of Interpretation and Controls in Hypnotic Research’, by Fisher, S., in Hypnosis: Current Problems. (1962, Ed G.Estabrooks, Harper, New York,
  • ‘An Investigation of Hypnotic Age-Regression’, by Leonard, J.R. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Kentucky. (1963)
  • ‘Accuracy of Specific Days Given during Hypnotic Age-Regression’, by Cooper, L.M. and Morgan, A. Hawthorne House Research Memorandum, (1966, no 44)

These studies all yielded negative findings for the supposed reality of “regression”. Which poses the question, ‘How true was True?’

Gidro‑Frank and Bowersbuch (1948) famously claimed to have restored in adults by means of hypnotic regression the ‘Babinski Reflex’, supposedly exhibited by infants of between four and six months of age. This finding has since been touted by some authors as proving that regression is real, for example by Karle and Boys (1987, p17). This Babinski Reflex was the alleged tendency of infants of that age to flex their toes in a certain manner when touched upon the sole of the foot. It is sometimes called the Plantar Reflex. It follows that, if major regression was the veritable reality that it has been claimed to be, adults who have been hypnotised and regressed to that phase of infancy should exhibit this reflex. Gidro‑Frank and Bowersbuch claimed that this is exactly what happened. However, as Barber (1969) has pointed out, the supposed Babinski Reflex” had already been shown by that time to be mythical. In a 1921 survey of nine infants no clear sign of such a reflex was found (Burr,1921). In another study from nine years later 389 infants under seven months of age were tested and only thirteen showed what might have been described as the Babinski Reflex (Wolff,1930). There is no such invariable pattern of response peculiar to that period of infancy.

It seems, observes Barber, that various authors copied their description of the mythical reflex from each other without making any critical observations of their own. Ironically, therefore, the fact that some subjects exhibited that reflex when supposedly regressed actually casts doubt upon the authenticity of what actually took place! In other words, the positive result was negative for the hypothesis! The experimenters scored an own-goal, they ‘shot themselves in the foot’, or worse.

According to Wagstaff (1981) Sarbin discerned that the subjects in the Gidro‑Frank and Bowersbuch experiment had discovered the expected outcome and had sought to deliberately satisfy what they thought of as the experimenters expectations of them. Ironically, they evidently did “no favours” for evidence of “hypnotic regression”.

A study by Parrish, Lundy and Liebowitz ( 1969 ) entailed regressing adults to the ages of 9 and 5 at which they reportedly exhibited the response to Ponzo and Poggendorf illusions appropriate to those ages. However, no fewer than three separate attempts to replicate these findings proved negative: Ascher, Barber and Spanos (1972); Porter, Woodward, Bisbee and Fenker (1971) and Perry and Chisholm (1973).

To these studies we should add the coup de grace for ‘major’ regression in the guise of an experiment reported by Barber and Calverley 1966: ‘Effects on Recall of Hypnotic Induction, Motivational Suggestions and Suggested Regression’, by Barber,T.X. and Calverley, D.S., Journal of Abnormal Psychology (Issue 71, pp. 95-107. In this experiment ‘regression’ in its various convincing and impressive aspects was successfully simulated by non-hypnotised control subjects. Those who believe in the reality of hypnotic regression could have long ago tried several simple, obvious, experiments by which they could have proven their case

Firstly, one could place subjects in a specific environment, exposing them to particular occurrences. Then, several days, weeks or months later, induce a ‘regression’ to that occasion and ask them to report what they see and what occurs. They can be asked to ‘zoom in’, ‘pan’ and ‘enhance’ just as has been done in many contentious instances of forensic regression

Secondly, subjects could be ‘regressed’ to a distant time in their own life and these various evaluations performed. They could then be regressed to that time again, after a lapse of several years, and their new accounts compared with their original accounts.

Thirdly, several subjects who had been at a given place and time could be ‘regressed’ and their accounts compared.

In each case, there would of course need to be control subjects given a matching task without ‘regression’. There are also numerous variations of these possible formulas controlling for different aspects of the situation. That we have not heard of such obvious studies having been conducted appears to indicate that either they have not been attempted or they were negative for the supposed veracity of ‘regression’.

One study that came close to such a project was only in 2002 de-classified by the CIA. Not published in any scientific context, it was conducted in 1954 in a hotel suite under the supervision of Sidney Gottlieb (who later became the head of various CIA assassination projects). Code-named ‘Monkey Ward’ the study involved a version of the first of these exercises and the last. The name of the hypnotist remains classified (it is actually inked-out on the released documents). Arguably, this study was more about hypemnesia than regression, but in any case, the results were negative. Undoubtedly, the potential for use of regression as a tool of intelligence would have been immense had it been found to have any basis in reality (Gottlieb, 1954, 2002). Presumably the truth or otherwise of memories is more important for spies than it is for therapists.

Studies of the regular memory of real-life events and its subsequent retrieval without the hypnotic element serve to demonstrate how fallacious ‘vivid’ recall tends to be. For example ‘Phantom Flashbulbs: False Recollections of Hearing The News About Challenger’ by Neisser, U. and Harsch, N., in Affect and Accuracy in Recall: Studies of Flashbulb Memories, Ed. Winograd and Neisser, Cambridge, 1992. (Neisser, 1992

This study referred to the concept of the ‘Flashbulb Memory’, an event of significance burned into the memory permanently with everything associated with it. For example, illustrated by the idea that everyone who heard contemporaneously of the death of John F. Kennedy remember what they were doing at the time. The senior author realised that the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 constituted a similar event. The very next day, he had his students fill in a questionnaire into every aspect of the circumstances under which they had heard the news. These questionnaires were then filed away, unseen, for three years. Then the same students were gathered, asked to fill out the same questionnaire again and to express their confidence in their recollection on a scale of 1 (Just guessing) to 5 (Absolute certainty). The new answers were then compared to the original forms and scored for accuracy on a scale of 1 to 7 according to an impartial system.

Of the 44 students only three scored 7, whilst fully eleven scored zero! The average score was a pathetic 2.95. The memories were not simply wrong, they were utterly wrong: remembering having been in totally different places and engaged in completely different activities at the time of the incident. Moreover, it was those who were the most confident in the accuracy of their recall who’s memories were the most dramatically wrong!

The study developed on these findings when, the following spring, the students were each interviewed about the questionnaire and shown how wrong their memories were. In spite of this, they exhibited a shocking insistence that even though they now had the evidence in front of them, they all the same could not help remembering things according to the false memory!

Factor in a subject’s belief in ‘hypnosis’ and ‘regression’ and we can understand the powerful conviction that the procedure can induce in what may actually be entirely inaccurate recollections! In fact, this set of beliefs is undoubtedly very dangerous. Offshe and Watters (ibid) examine the case of a man now serving a life sentence in the U.S. for a murder of which there was no evidence of it having occurred, for which there was no body, nor any record of the alleged victim having ever lived, merely on the basis of his having ‘confessed’ and pleaded guilty on the strength of his belief in the reality of the ‘recovered memories’ of his estranged daughter, extracted in ‘regression’ by a cult leader! The man so believed in the truth of hypnosis and regression that he insisted that his daughters vague images of his having killed an imaginary friend in her childhood must be true and insisted on going to prison!

Over time, he too began to ‘remember’ things. One of the authors visited the man in pre-trial and was able to prove that he could easily cause him to imagine that he remembered things that definitely had not occurred but had been made up for the purpose! This is a case that anyone contemplating the question of dangers of hypnosis should study. For it illustrates that it is not the imaginary ‘state’ of hypnosis but the continued belief in ‘hypnosis’ that is dangerous.

I would agree that the ritual of ‘regression’ may provide an effective pretext for the ventilation of repressed material and as such may be a potent therapeutic tool. No better account of its power as such a tool can there be than William Sargent’s description of his work with men suffering post-combat stress. His patients were often severely afflicted with the anxieties provoked by recent immensely distressing experiences that were repressed and unaccessible by normal means. Such experiences as being trapped in a burning tank. He found that by using hypnotism he was able to overcome resistence to the access of such material and discharge a portion of the after-effects of such experiences through their re-living them in a ritual of regression. An abreaction exercise. (Sargent, 1957). However, it must also be accepted that regression is a fantasy, albeit a useful one. To deny this is dangerous and not in the psychological sense usually associated with the ‘dangers of hypnosis’.

In the United Kingdom forensic regression has been prohibited. Indeed, a committee formed to evaluate its use lead to the declaration by the UK Home Office that “There is no real proof that you can obtain information by hypnosis that could not be obtained in other ways … We do not think it is a practicable weapon for the police to use against crime.” (Inglis, 1989, p178). In the United States the practice of regression to ‘zoom’, ‘pan’ and ‘enhance’ some extremely poor witness memories into Technicolour vividness has been championed by Martin Reiser, one-time director of the Behavioural Sciences Services department of the Los Angeles Police. It has resulted in some very suspect and serious convictions. In particular the case of People versus Kempinski (1980), in which alleged regression, zoom and light-enhancement lead to the ‘identification’ of a man seen momentarily at a distance of 270ft in a dark alley at night, and on this testimony alone his trial for murder. He spent five months in custody. At the trial, an ophthalmologist testified that it would not have been physically possible to identify a person under those conditions. Fortunately, the regression testimony, shown on video, was so ridiculous and inconsistent that the accused could only be found not-guilty.

Moreover, the uncritical acceptance of ‘regression has resulted in the substantive cultural phenomenon of False Recovered Memory Syndrome. This, too, has resulted in some dreadful miscarriages of justice. These issues have very real consequences and are far from academic.

This chapter deals specifically with scientific studies and so I shall reserve observations made on the basis of my own conduct of ‘past-life’ regression until later.

There is a final point to be made, an important one, in relation to ‘soft’ regression or memory recovery in therapy. Such therapy usually entails relaxation, whether with the rituals of ‘hypnosis’ or not. There is reason to believe that relaxation aids recall (Higbee, 1988. Pp64-67, citing Yesavage, 1984; Yesavage and Jacob, 1984; Kirkland and Hollandsworth, 1980).


Perhaps the name most deeply associated with the use of recovered memory testimony and the idea of alien abduction is John Mack. Mack was professor of psychiatry at Harvard. An authoritative position, to be sure, yet inspection of his writings, conduct and thinking soon reveals him to have been a marvellously extreme example of the phenomenon which I described at the top of this essay. An ‘expert’ who is either very ill-informed or tells whoppers!

Specifically, Mack has gone a very long way out on a limb in declaring his belief in the literal truth of the claims of many of his clients, that they have been abducted by aliens. When I refer to Mack’s ‘clients’ I am, in particular, avoiding reference to them as ‘patients’. The majority of them, it appears from his published cases, are not referring to him for therapy but exegesis. He has declared the reality of the testimony of such people on the basis of seventy-six such clients, the cases of thirteen of whom were presented in detail in his best-selling book Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens (Mack, 1994). Mack is at pains to emphasise that it is not possible to make generalised statements about ‘abductees’; that they come from all walks of life. As one of his clients put it, with being chosen by aliens comes “…a feeling of specialness”. The relevance of which becomes apparent when we evaluate Mack’s declaration that “None of the efforts to characterise the abductees as a group have been successful. They seem to come as if at random from all parts of society.” (p16); an assertion which an audit of his declared cases flatly contradicts.

Of the thirteen, at least eight were ‘into’ the UFO culture before manifesting as abductees. This including attending UFO conventions, reading Whitley Strieber’s Communion, watching the film of the same, and watching the CBS TV series about alien abduction, Intruders, to which Mack was a contributor.

With such a small group it is easy to overlook the statistical implications. Eight out of thirteen is 61%! Again at least eight of the thirteen were drawn to Mack as a direct result of either seeing him on television, reading newspaper articles about him or being referred to him by others who knew of his belief in alien abduction. To some extent, this in itself indicates that Mack is creating a circular process of first directly or indirectly suggesting the ‘phenomenon’ in some individuals, then confirming that which has been suggested by recruiting them to ‘regression’ and in turn re-iterating the suggestion with these cases as new material.

The desire to meet aliens was explicitly stated aforehand by several of the abductees, including ‘Catherine’, of whom Mack says:< “Ironically [sic] she had recently been reading about UFO’s and ‘halfway hoping to see one and halfway hoping I don’t’” ( p143 ).

‘Carlos’ appears to have devoted much of his life to seeking contact with aliens before reporting such experiences, along with a lot of other material of a paranormal nature. The one highly successful entrepreneur whose case is discussed but whose identity is shielded seems to have been obsessed with a longing to meet aliens and, essentially, do business with them, but of an ecological and messianic kind.

Given that in at least ten of the cases (76%) the abduction experience entailed metaphysical, ‘spiritual’ or environmental messages to humanity it must be considered significant that at least twelve of the cases (92%) involved such people, with a manifest tendency to ruminate upon metaphysical, ‘spiritual’ and paranormal topics prior to presenting as abductees. This including a ‘health care worker who’s experience in Tai Kwon Do lead him to believe that he was struggling with immense powers in the form of an almost uncontrollable personal abundance of “Chi” and who sought Mack to help him ‘work through’ this challenge. He also believed that he had an alien girlfriend called Velia.

The aforementioned artist, poet and writer, called ‘Carlo’, claiming to be “of mixed Spanish, Scottish, Irish, German and German-Jewish extraction” with a surname “…somehow related to the Spanish Armada” yet who grew up in a Catholic family in Pennsylvania, sought to relate his special alien-reincarnation connection to the Hebridean isle of Iona.

At least two others harboured a belief in their recollection of past-lives, including a company secretary who ‘remembered’ having been a wealthy North African trader, ‘Omrishi, in the fifteenth century. She believed herself to be “An energy form given a body to carry out a certain mission” (p259). A hotel manager stated that he had a “dual human / alien identity”, whilst yet another man had been maintaining a sexual relationship with a “human-alien hybrid”.

If we leave aside the use of cognition-affecting drugs by 15% of the group (one of them connected the abductions to using LSD, and at least one other used cannabis) the abductees can clearly be characterised as largely composed of people with fantasy prone personalities. The measure of this being perhaps the fact that in spite of all these assembled flights of metaphysical, ‘spiritual’ and apocalyptic ruminations in which they engaged, not a single individual so preoccupied reported having actually read metaphysics or theology, practised a formal religion or studied the environment. Their ruminations were thus of the vague, ‘woolly’ or ‘alternative”’kind that indeed characterise the important ‘messages that these abductees were in turn instructed by aliens to convey to the rest of us.

Such cosmic messages of absolute importance as that which ‘Ed’ received telepathically at the moment of orgasm from a female alien who had sex with him as a teenager: “The way humans are conducting themselves here in terms of international politics, our environment, our violence to each other, our food and all that.” (p53) About which Mack comments “Although the information was largely new to ‘Ed’ it somehow ‘made sense’ to me.” (p54) Presumably Ed wasn’t “up to” Mack’s intellectual standard, seeing as “his father was a machinist”, he was “working class” “and all that”. So maybe, in Mack’s conception of the world, such a fantastically original critique of international politics, ‘our food and all that’ would be beyond Ed’s capacity to invent.

Mack is keen to emphasise that the abductees do not as a group appear to exhibit pathological morbidity. He excuses the lack of psychometric testing of any but one of the cases on the grounds that it is an expensive procedure; something which sales of the best-selling book ought surely have rectified in time for later editions. However, ruling out pathological traits as a characteristic of the group does not eliminate psychodynamic processes as the latent source of presenting attributes in the individual case. In other words, we need not imagine the abductees to be mentally ill in order to recognise that their idea’s about being abducted by aliens may be a manifestation of other, possibly repressed topics in their lives. Topics that in conventional terms might be thought of as the unconscious reality underlying the manifest content of the clients imaginings.

Although of the thirteen cases, nearly all sought Mack specifically with the declared intention of unearthing experiences of alien abductions in the past, and some even begun to have them to order, as it were, after starting to see him, they nonetheless mostly presented with latent problems of a personal nature. In not fewer than eight cases (77%) there can be identified personal problems that relate directly to the imagery and manifest content of the “alien-abduction” scenario. For example, in at least five of the cases (38%) there was at least some indication of having been sexually abused in childhood (relating directly to the sexual abuse by aliens). In one case the abduction episodes were reported in regression to begin at about the same period of her childhood at which her parents separated. Thereafter her family moved continuously, prompting the remark “Perhaps we were Gypsies at heart”: (like the aliens, thought to wander space and time perhaps!) A ‘psychotherapist’ began to present with dreams of alien abductions ten days before the birth of his first child.< Another client who had lost an eye in his youth ‘remembered’ violent deaths in the adolescent years of former lives.

Several other cases involved recent bereavement crises. One social-worker began to have alien encounters ten days after her mothers death. In another case ‘abduction’ experiences began one year exactly after the death of an important relative. In two cases bereavement in adolescence related clearly and directly to the manifest content of abduction episodes obtained by regression to the same period.

In one case, a woman who referred to her grandfather as a ‘benevolent’ figure in her past, when regressed to the same period as his death and to the same geographical location ‘recovered’ a memory of an encounter with a wise and benevolent alien. A striking parallel offering a very straightforward explanation of the content of the regression but which Mack nonetheless does not consider. Instead, he creates the implication that the grandfather might actually have been some kind of illusion created by the aliens

So whilst Mack may fairly rule out mental-illness as characteristic of abductees, we cannot ignore the fact that most of the cases that he recounts exhibit strong correlations between the manifest-content of their alien encounter tales and distressing events in their personal life. Indeed, I use the term ‘manifest content’ with specific reference to the psychoanalytic interpretation of dreams. The irony here being that Mack actually does with his clients’ dreams the very opposite of what previously a psychiatrist would do. Instead of taking the bizarre images in a dream and interpreting them in terms of the dreamers real life-events, he interprets the mundane aspects of those dreams as a mask for truly bizarre experiences. Connections which in some cases the client had not previously considered. It is in itself very worrying that a professor of psychiatry at a leading medical school would have done this

Although Mack is at pains to emphasise that the abductees are not suffering from a mental illness and he does not explicitly raise the obvious psychological processes underlying the alien experiences reported in many of the cases, he nonetheless finds it significant that the subjects make vivid expressions of distress during regression to the alleged episodes. In particular, he boasts that a film which he made of one of the regressions was so distressing that some among a group of sceptics whom he showed it to turned away. Whilst not questioning his version of events I would wonder if those who turned away would agree with his interpretation of why they had done so?

Moreover, the most that such a display of anguish might feasibly prove is that the subject believes in the reality of the supposed recollections, or perhaps only that they can vividly imagine the experience being described. After all, as a hypnotist, one is able to induce a great range of apparent emotional states. Then again, someone merely watching a movie can be induced to tears, anger or distress. Additionally, the subject who presents with a problem in terms of an alien abduction experience that may be masking real psychological objects of distress will naturally be inclined to express the pain in terms of any regression to that supposed occurrence. Here then are at least three commonplace explanations for Mack’s subjects displaying distress, the citation of which displays evidently proves nothing.

In a way, I take pride in the fact that a part of me has never grown up. Too big a part of me, some might say. But I can take my mundane peculiar experiences and construct from them as baroque an elaboration of fantasy as anyone: involving reincarnation, aliens, conspiracies, secret experiments, etc, etc, etc. The difference is that I know that these are only fantasies. Whereas, that section of the population referred to as having a ‘fantasy prone personality’ (Wilson and Barber, 1982) often fail to distinguish between these flights of imagination and the reality around them. I have conceived fantasies of being the reincarnation of a thirteenth century Albigensian martyr and thought how odd it is that Arthur Guirdham found through regression so many who truly believed this of themselves in close geographical proximity to where I live! (Inglis, 1989). I have known a Siberian ‘Princess’ who I could have imagined to be the reincarnated form of the mummified warrior-priestess of Alma Ata. When it comes to imagination and flights of fancy, Mack and his abductees have nothing to hold a light to my creativity, yet I am not even a professional fantasist. Interestingly, Whitley Strieber, author of the best-selling first-hand account of alien abduction, Communion was already a professional fantasist. His previous work included Wolfen, a tale of mysterious killings in a derelict ghetto wrought by a pack of intelligent wolves. The film version, starring Albert Finney as a Mack-like investigator into this ‘unexplained’ – in a sense alien ‘phenomenon’, used a distinctive wolf’s-eye-view technique. This visual conceit was later copied in the alien-murder abduction movies Predator and Predator Two.

These considerations present us with a rich context of creativity rife with alien imaginings against which backdrop the written-as-though-true tale of Communion, itself turned into a film only eight years later, takes on a different complexion. To be fair though, the garbled narratives full of arid cliche and fetid B-movie grand-guignol that comprise Mack’s ‘cases’ are bereft even of any spark of originality or invention. They are quite so obviously a feeble regurgitation of third-rate books and movies that it is hard to understand how an intelligent man could take them seriously for even a moment. The supposedly profound ‘spiritual’ messages conveyed are the stale generalities of Seventies’ sub-Rousseauesque Eco-Politics. The ‘clinical’ procedures described are the clumsy bumbling-about of extra’s in a fifties space movie or the Roswell Autopsy film. The spaceships and costumes resemble cheap props, silver and gold-spray-painted and made from egg-cartons. The ability of aliens to fly through walls yet their need to peer primitively through windows is but one of many contradictions that pepper these scripts like holes in a Swiss cheese.<

The elaborate “explanations” of the perpetual suspension of linearity and chronological, spatial and physical consistency as symptomatic of a ‘higher reality’ is like a pathetic attempt by a talent-less film director to rationalise a lack of plot by attributing to it a spurious artistic profundity!

His example illustrates the mutual self delusion of hypnotist and subject in yet other ways. A strong factor at play throughout Mack’s case accounts is that of his directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, suggesting abduction experiences to his clients. This, as I mentioned earlier, can be seen in the way that his appearances in and influence upon the media, convey suggestions to potential abductees. Their attention is captured, rapport created by his deploying references to various trivial and commonplace experiences that a minority of subjects will recognise that they have had. Among these, those who are easily suggestible will be liable to attach to these experiences certain significance that the ‘good doctor’ asserts, regarding his status as legitimising the indicators of having had abduction experience.

Suggestions are floated onto this rapport base and what is in effect an open-ended set of pacing statements. What are known to magicians and mind-readers as Barnum Statements (after P.T.Barnum the circus impresario). These are statements so calculated as to maximise the likelihood of being coincidentally applicable to the individual they are addressed to, like a weather forecast. His vivid description of the paradigms of abduction experiences constitute the ideational content that he is suggesting.

This all taking place before he even meets the subject. From among that pool of potential subjects so reached, those who are sufficiently suggestible as to have already bought-into the scenario on offer, whether as a result of his suggestions or beforehand, will be the minority exhibiting extreme predisposition to acceptance of this fantasy who actually make the effort to meet him. Thereafter, the process with any subject so extremely predisposed is inevitably going to be easy.

Moreover, not only does Mack accept and reinterpret under his own imprimatur the claims of those who present him with the manifest belief that they have been abducted by aliens (most of the cases) but he also displays an ample ability to convert a ‘neutral’ client to such an interpretation of events. Indeed, he represents a very powerful example of the way in which an operator employing hypnotic regression can influence the content of his clients supposedly recovered memory.

This is clearly demonstrated in his own account of the case of ‘Catherine’, a 22 year old music student. As quoted earlier, she recounted having already been reading about UFO’s and harbouring a desire to have an alien encounter. On the day after she had gone out for a drive at night there were local press reports of aerial activity, being some form of meteor shower in the region in which she had been driving. Moreover, she declared a period of forty-five minutes during that drive which she could not account for. These are the kind of coincidences that typify Macks cases. They are used to imply the desired interpretation of events yet actually beg certain questions that rarely get asked. Such as, how frequently did Catherine go out for a drive by night (perhaps hoping to see her UFO)? Surely this occasion was not unique. And if she was liable to go for such drives it ceases to be a notable coincidence that she did so on an occasion preceding a meteorite fall. Does Mack have any idea how frequent and common-place meteorite showers are? The total mass of celestial material raining down on the Earth is of the order of several thousand tonnes a year! Moreover, of any evening selected at random, how likely is it that Catherine would have been able to account for every minute. In other words, how numerous in reality would be periods of forty-five minutes or more that cannot be accounted for? Indeed, ask yourself, how hard would it be to find a period of forty-five minutes of which one can remember nothing in any evening of a day or two ago. Especially involving a car journey! One can really only remember something when there is something there to remember. Forty-five minutes of vague rumination on an empty country road furnishes us very little to recall later.

So commonplace is the inability to recall the events of a car journey that M. H. Erickson used this as an example of an ‘everyday trance’. Or would Mack say that those frequent periods of ‘hghway hypnosis’ as it has often been called, are all incidents of alien abduction? So that we would have to count even the estimable Dr Erickson among America’s millions of abductees!

That ‘Catherine’ sought out Mack to confirm her ruminations about the possibility of having had an alien experience is not then remarkable. Specifically, she presented him with no actual indications or recollections of such an event other than these. Plus the fact that she had since experienced “…an unexplained nosebleed, the first in her life.” I would wager that most nosebleeds are ‘unexplained’ to the person having them, and possessing no explanation for a commonplace event does not make it unusual. Nor of course does it mean that it cannot be explained by someone with the appropriate information. Whilst the implication of Mack’s stating it to be the first in her life is that it was unusual, he elsewhere cites frequent nosebleeds as also unusual. Moreover, we do not know whether ‘Catherine’ would have attached any significance to or remembered the nosebleed had it occurred at any other time. How many nosebleeds has one had in ones life? When? Would she really be able to say with certainty that it was the first?

Mack then found that ‘Catherine’: “scored positively on most of the questions indicative of possible UFO encounters in a book about abductions.” Yet, apart from these vague points, there was nothing to indicate that any such thing might have happened. Delving further, Mack found that she had a fear of needles! Not normally assumed to be due to nasty experiences at the hand of aliens. But in this case so assumed to be. Finally ‘Catherine’ said she “… was in something of a career crisis, feeling that ‘I’m not using all of the skills that I have’

Is a “career crisis” an odd thing for a student to have?

Nonetheless, she as yet did not claim to remember an actual alien encounter. Until Mack had been to work on her. This started with his instructing her to: “…see what other memories would surface in the days to follow and asked that she call me in about a week.”

This is clearly a suggestion to her that she should create such ‘memories’. For a start, it constitutes an Ericksonian ‘presupposition’. Secondly, he is implicitly declaring that as a figure of authority he not only endorses her manifest desire to move on to detailed imagining of such an event but expects that very thing of her. This is implicit in his expectation that she would have something to tell him when she called as instructed a week later.

It happened that she did not call back a week later but wrote to him nine months later ( ! ) to report, as she carefully put it: “…impressions (memories is too strong a word)…” Plus, the report that she had become ‘panicky’ whilst watching the movie version of Communion (the supposedly true story of an alien abduction saga, so told as to hopefully make viewers feel uneasy, as such movies are intended to). Also, she had “seen an odd light” and, to splendidly round things out she had discovered a small ‘unexplained’ scar under her chin.

These few scraps of whispy, ethereal rumination are recounted on p144 of Mack They were enough for him to invite her back to begin a series of five hypnotic regression sessions spanning eight months. Such that by p147 she was recounting vivid ‘recovered memories’ of alien abductions, full of lurid detail and long, complex plot-lines involving her childhood and that “…feeling of specialness” attached to the attentions of the aliens (the attentions of the top alienist, as seen on TV). Moreover, these tales not only encompassed all of the usual stereotyped clichés that Mack expects to find but went on into tales of pregnancies caused by aliens, babies in incubators and a guided tour of rooms full of alien foetuses kept in towering banks of a kind of automat sandwich-vendor.

Mack concludes his discussion of ‘Catherine’s’ case with the observation that “…it raises more questions than it answers”. Quite! Leaving aside the fact that an explanation of a clients situation should by definition leave fewer questions at the end, not more, yet other questions arise along the lines of:
1) Is Mack aware of what he is doing?
2) If he is, why is he pretending not to be?
3) If he is not, how can he be so obtuse?
4)Is he really as susceptible to believe those fantasies which he foments in others as he seems?
5) What are the implications of his example for all other procedures involving hypnotism and regression to ‘recover memory’ of events that are part of the usual operators’ set of expectations?

It has been established that regression does not in reality constitute the objective and literal re-winding of a hypothetical ‘tape’ of memory as it is so widely pretended to be. Yet it is nonetheless a powerful device for the exploration of issues concerning either the subject or operator or both. It is capable of facilitating the articulation of sensitive repressed material, overcoming the social barriers to the expression of such material: fears, delusions, imaginings, ruminations and indeed memories. But it does not in reality fulfil the claim to objectively recover otherwise non-accessible memory nor can it permit the replay of, or going to, the remembered occasion as is so often pretended.

What it can do is facilitate the ventilation of material in terms of such a notion. This can result in the subject becoming convinced of the objective reality of their own thought content and also that which has been suggested to them as well as that which the operator, consciously or more often unconsciously, leads them into imagining.

Curiously, Mack even describes one case involving a very disturbing young man who had earlier induced the suggested response of an alien experience in a poor unwitting therapist in whom he inspired terror. The therapist had initially refused to accept his reports of alien abduction but after intense interaction possibly engendering an amount of counter-transference and a high degree of rapport, she began to relate to him terrifying experiences that had been occurring after their meetings and which she could not explain. Clearly, if Mack’s client was not fabricating this tale the therapist in question must have lacked a sense of professional detachment from her patient and the development of dyadic interaction involving suggested alien experiences makes an interesting parallel to that between the client and Mack himself.

I have written extensively and in some detail in Beyond Hypnosis, about Mack, his book and his cases. Having done so, came an incident which I recounted therein as follows:

I find it an immensely entertaining and apt fact that whilst working on this section, Mack’s vivid descriptions of his cases eventually induced me to have a suggested alien-abduction experience! It went as follows:

Logicus-Interruptus: A Suggested Abduction Experience.

I awoke in what seemed to be the middle of the night, with a sense of an eerie presence. “You aren’t fooling me…” I thought “… I read too much of that John Mack last night, is all.” Then I dosed off slightly. Then I was suddenly aware that there were three creatures alongside my bed, standing shoulder to shoulder and apparently trying to lift me up. They were about three feet high and had oblate heads like the eponymous protagonist of Hey Arnold. My subconscious must have made an oversight here, because, as I later realised, given my preferred style of Japanese bed, very close to the floor, even such ‘little fellers’ would have been towering over me. Yet, at the time this didn’t occur to me and instead I decided that I should scream out aloud for help, the warning cry “Alieeeeee…” At which point, my ‘Hidden Observer’ unwilling to ‘cry uncle’ for any bunch of floating midgets, I awoke, realising swiftly that in some sense I had been ‘had’. As I lay back, now fully awake and aware of the inconsistencies in the dream, I reflected on how very easy it had been for John Mack, through a book, never having met me, to have induced such a vivid experience by suggestion. In a mind ruminating upon the topic and fertilised by the myriad symbols and metaphors that litter the accounts of ‘abductees’ testimony that he had assembled, I could not have been the only person to be so affected …

Of course I cannot prove that I had this experience and you may choose not to believe my testimony. But why on Earth would anyone choose not to believe such a modest claim as to have had one,s dreams influenced by a book and yet be willing to believe the extremely lurid and bizarre claims of the supposed abductees that they have had their lives influenced by alien creatures from another dimension?

Then I turned on my bed-side television finding Scooby Doo and Scrappy. The Great Dane Scooby, along with his drug-addled friend Shaggy, tried to infiltrate a gang of villains by donning monster costumes: So the dog was convincingly behaving as a human in order to impersonate something non-human, then was discovered by real humans who reacted as if he were one of them. Then, to chase some villains, the dog Scooby inhaled into a mail-bag, inflating it to gigantic proportions and thereby creating a balloon that carried him and his friends into the air, zooming after the fugitive truck. Later, Scoob’ again impersonated a human to go on a date with a short-sighted girl who’s glasses were in for repair and thus believed his odd way of talking was due to his being a Dane! When she finally saw how right her brother was that someone had “fixed her up with a real dog” she kissed him anyway and the hound was flattered.

Scooby Doo lives in the same universe as John Mack. Mack’s ideas and his book represent superb illustrations of the processes of the folies a deux. The term first used by Orne to describe the dyadic interaction of hypnotist and subject in which each fuels the others fantasies. Moreover, those instances of the use of hypnotic regression which he specifically recounts illustrate clearly the tendency for the technique to serve as a vehicle for the induction of confabulation in others, reinforcing such flights of fantasy in the operator.

There are many cases to illustrate this in the annals of forensics, therapy, and ‘past life regression’. The data accumulated over decades of research endorses this interpretation. Mack and his case accounts serves as a point of intersection between these considerations and the topic of UFO investigation.

In my opinion, recognition of the confabulatory nature of hypnotic ‘regression’ would in no sense hinder the discussion of UFO cases. On the contrary, the repeated citing of material recovered using ‘hypnosis’ does a great deal to discredit the testimony of such witnesses as are interviewed using such techniques. As in many law enforcement jurisdictions (such as the UK, the use of ‘recovered’ testimony or that ‘enhanced’ by “hypnosis” should be excluded from investigations. It contributes nothing of factual substance. It reveals a naiivete (at best) on the part of the investigators. It muddies the waters!



  • Aarons, H. 1967. Hypnosis in Criminal Investigation. Power Publishers, New Jersey.
  • Ascher,L.M; Barber,T.X. and Spanos, N.P. 1972. ‘Two Attempts to Replicate The Parrish-Lundy-Leibowitz Experiment on Hypnotic Age Regression’. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. 14. Pp178-185.
  • Banyai, E.I. and Hilgard E.R. 1976. ‘A Comparison of Active Alert Hypnotic Induction with Traditional Relaxation Induction’. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. 19.
  • Barber,T.X, 1961. ‘Experimental Evidence for a Theory of Hypnotic Behavior: 2: Experimental Controls in Age-Regression’. The International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. Vol. 9, pp181-193 b.
  • Barber, T.X. 1969. Hypnosis: A Scientific Approach. Van Nostrand Rhineholdt
  • Barber, T.X. and Calverley, D.S. 1964. ‘Experimental Study in Hypnotic Behaviour: Suggested Deafness Evaluated by Delayed Auditory Feedback’, British Journal of Psychology, 55.
  • Barber,T.X. and Calverley,D.S. 1971. ‘Effects on Recall of Hypnotic Induction, Motivational Suggestions and Suggested Regression”, Journal of Abnormal Psychology . Issue 71. Pp95-107.
  • Barber, T.X; Spanos, N.P. and Chaves,J.F. 1979. Hypnotism, Imagination and Human Potentialities. Pergamon.
  • Bass,E. and Davis, L. 1988. The Courage to Heal. Harper and Row.
  • Best, H.L. and Michaels, R.M.. 1954. “Living Out “Future” Experience Under Hypnosis”. In Science, Issue 120, p1027.
  • Bickman, L. 1974. ‘Social Roles and Uniforms: Clothes Make the Person’, Psychology Today. April.
  • Burr,C.W. 1921. ‘The Reflexes of Early Infancy’, British Journal of Childhood Diseases. 18. Pp152-153.
  • Churchland, P.S; Ramachandran, V.S. and Sejnowski, T.J. 1994. ‘A Critique of Pure Vision’, in Large Scale Neuronal Theories of The Brain. Edited by Koch, C.  and Davis, J.L. M.I.T Press, 1994.
  • Cooper,L.M. and Morgan, A.H. ‘Accuracy of Specific Days Given during Hypnotic Age-Regression’, Hawthorne House Research Memorandum, Stanford University (1966, no 44)
  • Erickson, Elisabeth.M. 1962. ‘Observations Concerning Alterations in Hypnosis of Visual Perceptions’. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. October.
  • Erickson, Elisabeth.M. 1966. ‘Further Observations of Hypnotic Alterations of Visual Perception’, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. January.
  • Erickson, M.H. ‘The Appearance in Three Generations of an atypical Pattern of the Sneezing Reflex’, in The Collected Papers of Milton H.Erickson,  Volume 2, p213.
  • Erickson, M.H. 1965. ‘Acquired Control of Pupillary Responses’, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. January.
  • Erickson, M.H and Rossi, E.L. 1981. Experiencing Hypnosis: Therapeutic Approaches to Altered States, Irvington, New York.
  • Frederickson,R. 1992. Repressed Memories, Simon and Schuster.
  • Fisher, S. 1962. ‘Problems of Interpretation and Controls in Hypnotic Research’, in Hypnosis: Current Problems, ed. G.Estabrooks, Harper New York.
  • Gidro-Frank,L and Bowersbuch,M.K. 1948. ‘A Study of The Plantar Response in Hypnotic Age Regression’, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 107. pp443-458.
  • Goffman,E. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, New York. Doubleday Anchor.
  • Gottlieb,S. 1954. ‘Monkey Ward’, CIA memo dated 20th April. Marked ‘Top Secret’, reduced to ‘Confidential’ 6th June 1977. Declassified 21st January 2002. FOA Case Number F-1995-00057. www.foia.cia.gov/search.asp.
  • Haygarth, J. 1801. Of The Imagination as a Cause and a Cure of Disorders of the Body. R. Crutwell. Bath.
  • Haley, J. and Erickson, M.H. ( editors ) 1967. Advanced Techniques of Hypnosis and Therapy: Selected Papers of Milton H.Erickson, M.D. Grune Stratton.
  • Haley, J. 1977. Uncommon Therapy. Norton, New York.
  • Haley, J. ( editor ), Bateson, G; Erickson, M.H. and Weakland, J. 1985. Conversations With Milton H.Erickson. W.W.Norton, second edition: Triangle Press, New York.
  • Heillig, R. and Hoff, H. 1925. ‘Beitrage zur Hypnotischen Boeinflussing der Nierenfunktion’, Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift. 51.
  • Higbee, K.J. 1977,1988, 1989, 1990. Your Memory, Simon and Schuster.
  • Hull, C.L. 1933. Hypnosis and Suggestibility: An Experimental Approach. Appleton Century Crofts.
  • Inglis,B.1989. Trance: A Natural History of Altered States of Mind. Grafton Books, Collins.
  • Karle,H.W.A and Boys, J.H. 1987. Hypnotherapy, A Practical Handbook. Free Association Books. London.
  • Kirkland,K. and Hollandsworth, J.G. Jnr. 1980. ‘Effective Test Taking: Skills AcquisitionVersus Anxiety Reduction Techniques’, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 48. Pp431-439.
  • Knowles, H and Rowe, D. 1994. ‘Hypno Show Began as Fun But Ended in Sex Shame!’ The Sunday Mirror. December 18th.
  • Kuhn, T.S. 1962. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press.
  • Laurence, J-R. and Perry, C. 1988. Hypnosis, Will and Memory. Guilford Press.
  • Leonard, J.R. 1963. ‘An Investigation of Hypnotic Age-Regression’, doctoral dissertation, University of Kentucky.
  • Ludwig, A.M. and Lyle W.H. 1964. ‘Tension Induction and the Hyper Alert Trance’, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 69.
  • Mack, J.E. 1994. Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens. Simon and Schuster, London.
  • Mesel,E. and Ledford, F.F. Jnr. 1959. ‘The Electro-Encephalogram in Hypnotic Age Regression in Epileptic Patients’, Archives of Neurology. 1. pp 49-59.
  • Milgram, S. 1963. ‘Behavioural Study of Obedience’, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 66. pp371-378.
  • Neisser, U. and Harsch, N. 1992. ‘Phantom Flashbulbs: False Recollections of Hearing the News About Challenger’, In Affect and Accuracy in Recall: Studies of Flashbulb Memories, Ed. Winograd & Neisser, Cambridge.
  • O’Connel,D.N; Shor,D.N. and Orne,M.T. 1970. ‘Hypnotic Age Regression: An Empirical and Methodological Analysis’, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, monograph supplement.76.3.2. pp 1-32.
  • Ofshe, R. and Watters, E. 1994. 1995. Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy and Sexual Hysteria. Andre Deutsch.
  • Parrish, Lundy and Liebowitz. 1969. ‘Effect of Hypnotic Age Regression on The Magnitude of The Ponzo and Poggendorff Illusions’, Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 74. pp693-698.
  • Perry,C. and Chisholm, W. 1973. ‘Hypnotic Age Regressionand The Ponzo and Poggendorff Illusions’, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.” 21. pp192-204.
  • Porter,J.W; Woodward,J.A; Bisbee,T.C. and Fenker,R.M. 1971. ‘Effect of Hypnotic Age Regression on The Magnitude of The Ponzo Illusion’, Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 79. pp189-194.
  • Reiser, M. 1980. The Handbook of Investigative Hypnosis. LEHI Publishing Company, Los Angeles.
  • Roet, B. 1986. Hypnosis: A Gateway to Better Health. Weidenfeld and Nicholson.
  • Rose, S. 1992. The Making of Memory. Transworld, Bantam.
  • Rossi, E. ( editor ) 1980. Innovative Hypnotherapy: The Collected Papers of Milton Erickson. Irvington. New York.
  • Sargent, W. 1957. The Battle for The Mind. Pan. London.
  • Sargent, W. 1974. The Mind Possessed. Harper and Row.
  • Sheridan and King. 1972. ‘Obedience to authority with an Authentic Victim’, Proceedings of the Eighteth Annual Association of The Psychologists of America.
  • Sutcliffe, J.P. 1961.’Credulous and Sceptical Views of Hypnotic Phenonmena: Experiments in Ethesia, Hallucination and Delusion’, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 62.
  • Temple, R.K.G, 1989. Open To Suggestion. The Aquarian Press
  • Thornton, E.M. 1976. Hypnosis, Hysteria and Epilepsy. Heinemann.
  • Tsander,A. 2005. Beyond Erickson: A Fresh Look at The Emperor of Hypnosis. Summitother.
  • Tsander,A. 2006. The Art and Secrets of Stage Hypnotism. Summitother.
  • Tsander,A. 2005b. Beyond Hypnosis: Hypnotism, Stage Hypnotism and the Myth of Hypnosis. Summitother.
  • Underwood. 1960. ‘The Validity of Hypnotically Induced Visual Hallucinations’, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 61, 1960.
  • Van Pelt, S.J. 1958. Hypnotism and the Power Within. Hutchinson Grey Arrow .
  • Wagstaff. G.H. 1981. Hypnosis, Compliance and Belief. Harvester Press.
  • Waxman, D. 1981, 1984. Hypnosis: A Guide for Patients and Practitioners. Unwin.
  • Waxman, D. 1989. Editor. Hartlands Medical and Dental Hypnosis, 3rd Edition. Bailliere Tindall.
  • Weiss, B.L. 1992. Through Time Into Healing. Simon and Schuster.
  • Weitzenhoffer, A.M. 1989. The Practice of Hypnotism. Wiley and Sons.
  • Wolff,L.V. 1930. ‘The Response of Plantar Stimulation in Infancy.” American Journal of Diseases in Childhood. 39. Pp1176-1185.
  • Yesavage, J.A. 1984. ‘Relaxation and Memory Training in 39 Elderley Patients’, American Journal of Psychiatry. 141. pp778-781.
  • Yesavage, J.A. and Jacob, R. 1984. ‘Effects of Relaxation and Mnemonics on Memory, Attention and Anxiety in The Elderly’, Experimental Aging Research. 10, p211-214.
  • Zimbardo, P.1972. Stanford Prison Experiment: A Simulation Study of the Psychology of Imprisonment. Philip G. Zimbardo, Inc.

Abduction Absurdities
Willy Smith

From Magonia 52, May 1995

Dr. Willy Smith discusses John Mack’s new book with a passing Devil’s Advocate:

One more book (1) about abductions has appeared, but this time with a significant difference: the author is a distinguished Harvard psychiatrist and has the background and credentials that previous dilettantes (2,3) lacked. Thus, one would expect a more precise and scientific presentation of a controversial issue, establishing a solid platform from which a rational treatment of the subject matter could be launched.

Unfortunately, that is not the case, perhaps because the topic itself is unameanable to scientific discourse. As in previous attempts, all we find is a collection of anecdotes obtained mostly by hypnotic techniques from witnesses whose personalities, occupations, training and position in our society are barely sketched. The narratives are interesting, unusual, bizarre more often than not, with an abundance of detail that, instead of increasing their ontological validity, only emphasises the absurdity and physical impossibility of what we are told.

As in previous works, not a shred of evidence is provided to substantiate the stories, even in instances where apparently corroborating information could have been obtained. As one of Mack’s critics (4) has perceptively indicated, the author is content with whatever he obtains from the witnesses in his office and does not go into the real world to validate his contentions. In fact, one has reason to doubt that he has done his literature research with enough care, when, for instance, he uncritically repeats (Ref.1, p.12) that abductions have taken place in 17 countries, among others, France, Spain and Uruguay. The truth is that only one totally discredited abduction report in France is found in the literature, that the three or four cases allegedly occurring in Spain are very dubious and that – as far as I know – no abduction has ever been reported in Uruguay. The reality is that the abduction aspect of the UFO phenomenon occurs typically and predominantly in the US, not surprisingly considering that its main advocate, former artist Elliott Budd Hopkins, is a resident of that country.

The absurdities

From the viewpoint of the hard sciences there seem to be two options mutually exclusive: either the whole abduction structure has no foundation in reality, in which case we are wasting our time, or, alternatively, the stories reflect real events, although at times they may be somewhat distorted and diffuse. We will assume that the latter is true, and see where reductio ad absurdum will lead us.

(a) Provenance: The basic tenet of Hopkins et al.’s ideas is that we are presently visited by aliens whose world is coming to an end, and who are engaged in an all-out effort to save their race from extinction by applying their more advances genetic knowledge to engineering a hybrid race that eventually will take over Earth.

Since our spatial probes have visited most of the planets able to support life in our solar system and found no indication of life, it follows that the aliens must come from exterior space, bringing into focus the difficulties of interstellar travel. The abductees describe huge crafts, sometimes of the order of hundreds of yards, with large crews of at least two types of aliens, which have to be fed and lodged. But more important, the energy requirements to displace such a craft through distances of the order of light years would be staggering. Yet, we are led to believe that more than one of those interstellar crafts prowl in our atmosphere.

What does the Devil’s Advocate say about this?


  •  i) The crew could travel in suspended cryogenic animation, thus requiring few provisions;
  • ii) fuel could be obtained by sweeping hydrogen atoms from space while travelling;
  • iii) or, the ship could transit through a white hole, except that the magnitude of the gravitational forces would make survival impossible;
  • iv) a planet threatened with final obliteration would not hesitate to use all the available resources in a last interstellar fling, or even to mount expeditions to several neighbouring stars of the right spectral type; but it would be against its interest to send all crafts to the same destination;
  • v) the aliens arrived in the solar system a long time ago (ref. 1, p. 227) establishing a base on Mars (don’t forget that alleged head there!) or on the moon, and have to travel only short distances, an easy feat that even we, with our chemical fuels, can perform.

Only (v) above has some merit, but then the expectation would be to see smaller crafts better adapted for the Earth-Moon milk run, contrary to the data. The first absurdity is thus firmly stated.

(b) The familiar aliens: Since the pioneer work of artist E B Hopkins, passing through the entertaining book of historian Dr David Jacobs, and terminating with the respectable efforts of psychiatrist John Mack MD, we have been confronted with a parade of aliens having some surprising common characteristics: i) they are overwhelmingly humanoid, exhibiting two arms, two legs, one head, two big wrap-around black eyes, and the rudiments of mouth and nostrils; and ii) they move unencumbered in the Earth’s gravitational field, without requiring breathing apparatus.

Probabilistic considerations indicate that it is quite likely that among the large number of stars which form the galaxy, many will have the correct conditions to harbour planets capable of supporting life. But life, as we know it, is possible only within a very narrow range of physical parameters, and a small percentage change, say in the value of the solar constant, would wipe out life from our planet. Consequently, humanoids as described by the abductees must come from a planet almost identical to Earth, another absurdity. Such a planet indeed can exist, but can be anywhere in the galaxy, and the question is: why would the aliens select our insignificant star in a remote galactic arm as the destination of their quest for a new home?

D.A.: If the aliens reached the solar system many millennia ago, and settled in a base on Mars or the moon (say), they had a long adoption period, and only in modern times were capable of implementing their genetic plans.

(c) Alien multiplicity: The aliens described by the witnesses studied by each researcher (Hopkins, Jacobs, Mack) might be similar in form but the three authors make quite clear that their attitudes toward the abductees are remarkably dissimilar, although their genetic efforts seem to be the same.

We can safely reject the notion of three groups of aliens from the same remote planet, but having diverse philosophies, not only because of its absurdity, but also for the fact that the aliens described to each specific researcher seem to have the same attitude in spite of the random witness selection process.

D.A.: The descriptions of the aliens seem to be similar, thus establishing a common origin, which could be even a single planet, but might equally well result from the fact that latter-day abductees have unquestionably read previous books (Hopkins, Jacobs) and have subconsciously adjusted to the pattern.

Each abduction book is the end product of the interaction of a certain group, the abductees, with one specific analyst. An exact statement of the protocol is not given, but since the hypnotic sessions were lengthy and extended over many months, the influence of the
analyst is not only expected but unavoidable. This influence is not reflected in the physical descriptions of the aliens, but in their moral and ethical attributes, mirroring the political or other bias of the authors. While Jacobs’s aliens are indifferent to issues not related to the breeding activities, in the words of one critic (5) “the abductors have the same relationship to abductees that laboratory technicians have to white rats”. Mack’s witnesses are terrified by the entities, which inflict intense physical pain and torture with sadistic unconcern.

This dichotomy is an absurdity. For if the aliens have a common provenance and a common operational goal, it would inflexibly control their behaviour in all cases. Thus, the diversified perception of the entities by their victims, not randomised but sorted out by researcher, only decreases the potential reality of the abduction experiences.



The aliens are by far more advanced than we are in biology and particularly in genetic engineering, and have no difficulties in inter-species breeding, as shown by their activities, which otherwise would be senseless. It is anthropomorphic to attribute to them our own limitations.



(d) Technical contradictions: The abduction researchers have asserted that the aliens are able to penetrate solid obstacles such as walls, (6) specifically during the initial stages of the events. There is no evidence for this except the testimony of the witnesses, but when one abductee arrives at the waiting craft, she is brought inside “through a hole in the floor”. (7) When the same victim is ready to be returned, the floor “sort of disintegrates beneath us”, (8) which is not the same as penetrating solid matter.

The main and apparently only objective of the aliens is the creation of a hybrid race, and to that effect they have mounted a vast operation to obtain sperm and ova from human victims, selected at random and transported to their ship(s) for the purpose. This implies not only a great deal of effort, but also entails a definite operational risk of detection. Yet, the same ends could be obtained by raiding a sperm bank or similar facilities where the desired items are stored without stringent security. This would be easy to accomplish by aliens capable of transversing solid walls, and yet, we don’t see any signs of such activity.

D.A.: The aliens endeavour to keep their activities covert, and the sudden disappearance of stock from a sperm bank would undoubtedly trigger an in-depth investigation. Forensic examination of the place would reveal the visit by non-human entities, something the aliens can’t afford. Besides, time is on their side, and their present method is less likely to attract attention, as so far there is no incontrovertible evidence of the abductions.

Alien visits to specific indoor spaces are sometimes a daily occurrence, as was the case with Melissa Bucknell, Dr Jacobs’s star witness. (9) An attempt was made to record the event using a TV camera, but it failed, as could be expected considering how easy it was for the aliens to circumvent the trap. It would have been a completely different story if someone had thought about doing an in-depth forensic sweep of the “scene of the crime” after the fact. Yet, absurdly, this was not done, perhaps because negative results would have been the kiss of death for abduction research.

D.A.: Indeed, immediate examination of the location of an abduction by forensic techniques could provide incontrovertible proof of an alien presence in a room But the staggering cost indeed was and is a powerful deterrent. Perhaps the Fund for UFO Research should consider setting aside the necessary resources and have them available at once if the occasion presents itself again.

(e) Craft size and multiple humans: Abduction researchers (Hopkins (10), Jacobs (11)) have repeatedly asserted that the crafts described by the witnesses are extremely large and display a constellation of lights. The huge dimensions are confirmed when the abductees tell the investigator that they were taken into gigantic rooms, with hundreds of tables where they saw other humans, “between one hundred and two hundred”, on whom procedures were being done (Mack (12)).

The absurdity of such a possibility is twofold. First, a large illuminated craft hovering over a fixed location for the duration of the procedures – which we are told is of the order of an hour or so – hardly would have escaped detection not only by the public at large but by the authorities monitoring our air space. And second, if the craft remains at a fixed place, the simultaneity of the procedures for ‘a hundred or more persons seems to demand that the abductees were taken from a limited geographical area, again an event that could hardly go unnoticed.

D.A.: The craft doesn’t have to remain stationary at a given location, but moves continuously to lift and return the abductees. If the lights are off, and the aliens have stealth technology, those motions will not be recorded by radar, and their chance of escaping detection is excellent.

The absurdity is then in the scheduling. To collect and return each abductee of necessity requires some time that, from the given narratives, one could estimate at two minutes, each individual at a different location. Thus, 100 abductees demand 200 minutes, to which a prudent man would add a transit time between stops, say another 2 minutes, for a grand total of 400 minutes, or more than 6 hours, just for the logistics of the operation. No matter how we look at it, the concurrent presence of one or two hundred abductees in a single room in an alien craft is almost a physical impossibility.

The hybrid question

According to Hopkins et al., we are being visited by one or more alien races in decline, whose purpose is to shore up their genetic pool by using the human reservoir. The abductions are aimed at obtaining sperm and ova for hybridisation processes.

Two things do not seem to fit this hypothesis. First, in the accepted view of present-day science the issue of mixed species is not fertile, and thus the resulting human-alien hybrids would not represent a definite solution for the long-term survival of the aliens. But perhaps the real purpose is different as, for instance, just to create a work force which could easily adapt to local conditions and perhaps eventually melt into the earth’s population and go undetected. This would explain the need for the continuous aggressive programme that the abduction experts believe is taking place.

The second point is just an observation. In subsequent visits to what are apparently the same craft, the abductees are often shown human-alien babies which are their own, but no mention has been made in the published material of full-grown hybrids. There are two possible explanations for this omission: the alien breeding programme is failing, and babies do not reach adulthood or, on the contrary, the programme is a success and the grown-up hybrids are shipped elsewhere to do what they were designed to do in the first place.

I am not a biologist and only offer the above suggestions for completeness, in an attempt to give sense to those relentless activities which the abductionists believe are covertly taking place in our midst.

D.A.: The aliens are by far more advanced than we are in biology and particularly in genetic engineering, and have no difficulties in inter-species breeding, as shown by their activities, which otherwise would be senseless. It is anthropomorphic to attribute to them our own limitations.

ConclusionsThe absurdities loom in spite of efforts by the Devil’s Advocate to eliminate them, a clear indication that the interpretation given by the abduction experts to the bizarre narratives of their clients must be ontologically incorrect. Until such a time when and if physical evidence of the abduction phenomenon becomes available, those events have only anecdotal value at best, although the many books on the topic, even if of dubious scientific value, make entertaining reading and are a source of revenue for their authors.


  1. MACK, John E., Abduction, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1994
  2. HOPKINS, Budd, Missing Time, New York, Marek Publishers, 1981 and Intruders, New York, Random House, 1987
  3. JACOBS, David M., Secret Life, New York, Simon & Schuster. 1992
  4. CLARK, Jerome, ‘Big (space) Brothers’, International UFO  Reporter, March/April 1994, p. 7
  5. Reference 4, p. S. col. 2
  6. Ref. 1, p. 170: “she described passing through her window, the porch and a tree” riding the beam of light.
  7. Ref. 1, p. 170
  8. Ref. 1, p. 174
  9. Ref. 3, p. 258
  10. HOPKINS, Budd, ‘The Woman on the Bridge’, MUFON UFO Journal,  298, December 1992, p. 8. Since the alleged witness (known only as Janet Klmble) “stated that it was wider than the size of the building”, an estimated diameter of 100 ft is conservative.
  11. Ref. 3, p. 82. “Abductees describe UFOs that range In size from thirty-five to hundreds of feet in diameter.”
  12. Ref. 1, p. 182. ‘Catherine’ was led naked into an enormous room “the size of an airplane hangar”.


Blue is the Colour: The Hypno-Show Controversy. Michael Goss

From Magonia 53, August 1995

“Y’know… Hypnotism is Not Just About People Making Fools Of Themselves On Stage,” confides the head-and-shoulders caricature, speaking word balloon-wise from the bottom right foreground of the “Biff Weekend” cartoon strip. “It’s Also About Flogging Videos.” (1)

Sure enough, there are the self-help home-hypnosis videos cascading down from the top of the frame like comic gifts from a benevolent Creator. But as far as many of us are concerned, hypnosis is not about them. It is about shows in which our conspecifics make fools (nay, prats) of themselves, with more than a little help, we’re led to believe, from a vibrant young man who is billed as a stage hypnotist. (Brief digression in acknowledgement of political correctness: I dare say there are also vibrant young women stage hypnotists, but they don’t seem to make the headlines. Again, my remark should not be construed as evidence of prejudice against vibrant, not-so-young stage hypnotists, though it’s true they don’t get on TV so often) (2) 

The aforementioned head-shoulders/bottom-right-foreground Biff caricature had a more than accidental resemblance to Paul McKenna. As purveyor of both self-improving home-hypnosis videos and a superior TV-friendly hypno show (reputedly watched by 12 million viewers each week) he has earned the tribute of being turned into a cartoon caricature. This isn’t a comment on his act, nor upon the man himself. What it means is that he’s so well known as to be instantly recognised even when reduced to cartoon character format. If Mr McKenna’s rise to celebrity and (also reputedly) astronomical wealth is unparalleled in the annals of TV history, it is mainly because he was the first to crack the televisual tabu against broadcasting shows such as his. In consequence he has become a household name. Another, more predictable consequence has been the swarm of stage hypnotists (vibrant, male, young or youngish) anxious to acquire some of what he’s got vis-a-vis the celebrity, the cash, the overall kudos. This is where the trouble starts, if it starts anywhere… 

The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna is, as I just wrote, TV-friendly – which means it is tailored to be suitable for TV and specifically for peak-viewing times. What he makes his subjects get up to is seldom more than risqué; if you want something more “adult”, try Brookside. ‘Adult’ shows are what many of his would-be, yet-untelevised rivals earn their living from. When not billed as ‘comedy hypnotism’ (to distinguish it from ‘tragic hypnotism’, of course) their acts may be advertised by that very term: adult. Some titillate with by-lines like: “not for the easily outraged” – nudge-nudge, wink-wink… say no more. (3) Basically, these are acts that span the gulf between the sexually implicit and sexually explicit.  

Taking the susceptibility, amenability or even the collusion of volunteers for granted, the content of a hypnotic stage act may seem unpredictable: determined or limited, that is, only by the inventiveness of the performer (and perhaps what or how much he thinks he can get away with). In practice, it tends to be the very opposite – predictable or predictable within a little. As Paul McKenna once admitted, all the performer can present are variations upon certain well-known themes. Certain stunts with or without minor variations have become stereotyped ingredients of hypno-shows: The X-Ray Specs (where giant lens-less joke spectacles cause subjects to ‘see’ everyone about them in the nude), negative hallucination scenarios, the When You Wake Up You Will Be Elvis/Madonna/Michael Jackson, et cetera. (4) When it comes to sex routines, aficionados may expect the following: 

  • Being More Than just Good Friends with a Stranger: this has to be classed as potentially embarrassing for the subject(s) but otherwise innocuous. Even safe-as-milk TV shows may feature suggestions which have entranced volunteers cuddling or fondling one another, unscreened variations may involve more vigorous gropings, fumblings, kissing. As the wily hypnotist may word the suggestion so that the focus of each subject’s amorousness is the person beside them – and as that person may belong to the same sex – this shades over into:
  • Homoerotic Behaviour: again, TV performers may engage in modified versions of this, male is told to stroke another’s knee… and so forth. (For maximum effect, pick two macho types for this experiment. Oh, won’t they look disgusted at themselves and each other when you snap ‘em out of it?!) The macho-man is also useful for: 
  • Cross-Dressing: the subject is handed female attire (the saucier the better) and puts it on in the hypnotically inspired belief he’s getting into his own clothes. Illustrative example: one recently reported show ended with “a tattooed trawlerman” in fishnet tights and Basque; for good measure he was told to respond to a musical cue by leaping into the air with a cry of, “I believe in fairies”. (5) .The direct opposite to having subjects dress in specially provided and uproariously inappropriate clothes is to have them take off their own, hence:
  • The Striptease: this, as far as I’m aware, is not judged suitable for television although mostly restricted to (a) male subjects only who even then (b) strip down to their underpants only and (c) usually as a finale to the show. (Perhaps once you have reduced a bunch of guys to their underwear, the audience won’t expect you to cap that achievement. There again, they might hope you’ll try.) In some venues, however, the strip may continue and become absolute, witness the reported comment of one subject’s embarrassed girlfriend: “You saw everything when Jack took his clothes off.” (6) A kind of sexual-discriminatory code operates to protect female subjects from exposing themselves in the same way or to the same extent. Still, under the ever-popular hypno-illusion they are the World’s Greatest Stripper, they may lose all except bra/pants and some reports speak of women going topless. (7) Arguably and assuming he could find a subject who would comply, a hypnotist who went beyond these sartorial confines would be risking more than a few cancelled bookings. However, he could always fall back on good old:
  • Simulated Sex: most definitely not suitable for TV as we know it today and an easy target for journalists composing one of the “sick sex hypno show” pieces in which this article of mine is interested. Subjects engage in what critics of 1920s Negro dance styles referred to as ‘dry screwing’ with a variety of unlikely objects, in which cuddly toys frequently figure. In one case summarised by Magonia, the female victim thought she was enjoying the services of Patrick Swayze when in fact what she was enjoying was whatever services you can expect from an inflatable doll when you haven’t taken your clothes off. (8) On the same (low) level is:
  • Oral Sex: well, not really, but the female subject who thinks she is sucking at a lolly/ice cream is actually gobbling away at a vibrator. (9)

Before the atmosphere steams up completely, a few things ought to be conceded. These reports all come from papers consciously, industriously and mayhap deviously constructing “sick sex porno-hypno show” articles. This may not disbar them as evidence, but it should be taken into account. More important are the non-hypnotic suggestions of those who claim that hypnosis has little if anything to do with anything that the subjects do (or did … or are alleged to have done). Their argument would be that nothing occurred here that might not have occurred without hypnosis. Also, there is a difference between acted-as-if (simulated) acts and actual, for-real (performed) acts. Even agreeing that some hypno-shows may include volunteers who are capable of gross exhibitionism, people who don’t need to be hypnotised to perform in a “hypnotic” manner – admitting also that for them hypnosis may be a fair excuse for behaving irresponsibly and coarsely – I would still question a too-general application of this hypothesis. 

Let’s leave that difficult question for the moment. The published evidence affirms that certain stage hypnotists spice up their acts with routines which are sexually implicit or explicit.

In most cases, the sexuality remains a hint. The hypnotist implies he can make his subjects do anything (‘sexual things’) but is careful not to risk putting that notion to the test. This is a sort of verbal lubricity, the audience being invited to think that if the performer can get his volunteers to behave as outrageously as they are seen to do then he could also get them to do a lot more outrageous (‘sexual’) things besides. Such appears to have been the ploy utilised by the hypnotist re-christened by the Sun of 12 January 1994 ‘Watt Sleaze’. His opening address to the audience implied he was willing to live up to such a soubriquet, holding out the promise that anyone who took part might have their greatest sexual fantasies realised. “If you want a sex orgy”, the headline quotes him as announcing, “well shut the doors and start right away.” (10) Disappointingly from the reporter’s point of view, perhaps, nothing in the act that followed came close to the orgiastic. The performer merely pointed the audience’s collective imagination in one direction and then headed off in another.

Elsewhere, though, stage hypnotists appear to sell the idea of their power over the subjects by frankly sex-orientated routines. It is hard to think otherwise about a recent Sunday Mirror report of an ‘adult’ show staged by Alex Tsander in which we are told of women instructed to think they were having sex on a train, copulating with a pink toy elephant (not that the colour makes much difference), having the biggest orgasm of their lives and licking the hypnotist’s boots every time he cued them with the word, “Grovel”. (11)

It was, in the opinion of Dr Sue Blackmore who accompanied the reporters, “a tawdry display of manipulation”, wherein the hypnotist “exploited his power for too long… Many of the tricks seemed designed for his own gratification”, and were “more like humiliation than entertainment”. Then we have the delightful scene in which, by way of a change, the hypnotist became the one to suffer from an induced suggestion. Under the spell of thinking that he was negotiating a future booking, he handed the undercover reporters “a sick album of snaps of his past stunts at pubs, clubs and private parties”, encouraging them with the promise that if hired, “I can make it as blue as you like”. 


Ever since the days of the animal magnetists, stage hypnosis has passed through cycles of popularity. Each has been accompanied by recriminations and accusations of harm to volunteer-victims.

There is a possibility that the performer thought he had to sell himself – thought that his supposed customers wanted it blue and wouldn’t book him unless he could prove that, as in the Chelsea FC song, Blue is the Colour. What the future holds for acts like his, though, may bring blues of the old-fashioned sort. 

Ever since the days of the animal magnetists, stage hypnosis has passed through cycles of popularity. Each has been accompanied by recriminations and accusations of harm to volunteer-victims. Currently we are seeing the latest and greatest manifestation of this two-way process, with reports of traumas, severe mental disturbances and emotional as well as occasional physical harm done to subjects. (12)

There is no point in pretending this is a non-issue. There is no point in pretending that hypno-act volunteers deserve whatever they get purely because they are volunteers and have therefore exposed themselves to avoidable risks. There is no point in pretending there are no risks or that all the reported cases of harm, physical and emotional, are fabrications. things have started to go wrong. 

 A name of someone for whom it went wrong, allegedly – a name which crops up like a memento mori whenever the press engage in another minatory treatment of stage hypnosis – is that of the late Sharron Tabarn. Her obituary reads: age 24, mother of two – volunteered as subject in unlicensed pub hypno-show at Leyland, Lancashire; instructed by hypnotist that she would awaken from her trance as if 10,000 volts had passed through her (or words to that effect). Found dead in bed five hours later. Coroner’s verdict: epileptic seizure, death by natural causes.

I have been working quite hard to avoid saying that Sharron Tabarn died as a result of that hypnotic suggestion. I feel safe in saying that something of that kind was implied, however, since practically every account I have seen of the case has already done so. Mrs Tabarn’s mother, Margaret Harper, went further than that. Pointing out that her daughter hadn’t suffered a seizure before, she was quoted as stating that “Hypnosis brought on her fit”. Mrs Harper went on to launch the Campaign Against Stage Hypnosis, an organisation which has become increasingly prominent as the newspaper coverage of the hypno-show controversy progresses. This, of course, owes much to the way journalists target useful, quotable persons and organisations when researching their material – persons to whom they can say, “What is your reaction?” and get a usable, quotable reply. (We often get the feeling that the interviewer has a better-than-vague idea of the answer before the question is asked; also that the person concerned has been chosen to respond to that question because the interviewer already has a better-than-vague idea of what the answer will be.) Another obvious source for “reaction quotes” on hypno-shows, was, of course, Paul McKenna. Towards the proposal to implement a ban on stage performances he was, unsurprisingly, not sympathetic, even when reporters laid the fact of the Tabarn case in front of him. “It’s like saying that because only one restaurant is responsible for food poisoning, all restaurants should be banned.” (13)

Mr McKenna’s opinion was sought again in November 1994 when an out-of-court settlement made 25-year-old Ann Hazard about £20,000 richer, though most would agree it was a poor return for what happened after she’d volunteered as a subject during a stage hypnosis show at Glasgow’s Pavilion Theatre some six years before. (14) At one point in the performance, Mrs Hazard asked hypnotist Robert Halpern if she could use the lavatory and was allegedly told to go by the quickest route or exit. (15) Hypnotised subjects sometimes respond with dreadful over-literalness to suggestions. It appears that in Mrs Hazard’s case taking the ‘quickest exit’ involved jumping off the four-foot stage, whereupon she broke her leg in two places. 

Unable to follow her sports interests, given over to moods of irritability and to nightmares, she decided to take legal action. This was not without precedent. In March 1952 a 23-year-old shop assistant named Diana Rains-Bath had brought an action for negligence and assault against a stage hypnotist and had won damages, though the sum eventually awarded to her wasn’t the sort that anyone could retire on. (16) As already mentioned, the Hazard affair ended in an out-of-court settlement – and also a press conference and more calls for a ban on stage hypnosis. Glasgow Council had already pre-empted this, vetoing such displays in all halls and theatres under its jurisdiction. More significantly, the case strongly implied that in future stage hypnotists might be held liable for any proven harm incurred by folk who took part in their acts.

By now it was evident that some newspapers were on the lookout for scandalous, if possible lubricious hypno-stories, inviting readers to contact them at once with personal anecdotes of “life-changing” experiences at stage shows. Typically, these invitations were appended to articles critical of hypnotic entertainments in tone if not in direct statement and it was understood that when they talked about “life-changing” experiences, they meant ones which had changed somebody’s life for the worse.

When challenged by the media on the subject, stage hypnotists have an endearing way of agreeing that there are rascals who ignore local licensing requirements and guidelines, the 1952 Hypnotism Act and much else besides. They freely admit there are a few who get volunteers to perform unsuitable and sometimes dangerous stunts. But of course, the interviewee scrupulously declares that he is not one of the reprehensible band. So far, one of the few stage hypnotists who might say that and be believed was also the best known, Paul McKenna.

Ignoring a few less-than-mesmerised TV pundits, the press had always been good to Paul McKenna. Most found him an ideal subject for cosy ‘human interest’ articles. In the best tradition of celebrity journalism, we heard all about his Kensington flat, his days as a disc jockey, his girlfriend (how he proposed to her – and where); even the man who made his waistcoats came in for a mention. (17) Interest in TV’s latest star was sustained between the end of his first series and the start of the next (autumn 1994) by carefully timed articles of this homely kind. On 1 July 1994 a Sun ‘exclusive’ by Peter Willis announced that McKenna had just clinched a £2.5 million, two-year deal with ITV (designed, it was said, to prevent his defection to the BBC) which would enable him to branch out – “hypnotism will take a back seat for now as he concentrates on more widely ranging family shows”. (Of these, we’ve seen no sign so far.) October brought another Sun ‘exclusive’ revealing that he was holding secret hypnotherapy sessions to combat the Duchess of York’s stress and also her recurring weight problem. (18) In all this time, no hint of scandal. As we’ve seen, McKenna’s only contact with anything resembling it took the form of well-considered ‘reaction quotes’ arising from other folks’ alleged misfortunes or misdemeanours. Writing about him in Fortean Times that same year, I remarked on the odd fact that there’d been so few complaints about him. That disguised the truth, which was that I hadn’t heard of any at all. (19)

Making such a statement probably brought down a curse on me, on Paul McKenna or upon both of us. With his second Carlton TV series at the end of its Monday night run, the dailies for 14 December 1994 named him in the context of what sounded a notably serious hypno-scandal which took on added significance from the coinciding announcement of a governmental decision to review the rules relating to stage hypnosis performances.

Chris Gates (aged 26) had allegedly been transformed from a robust fishing and martial arts enthusiast to someone with the mental state of an eight-year-old after having taken part in a McKenna show at High Wycombe the previous March. Acting and presumably believing he was only eight, the sufferer couldn’t be expected to furnish the press with much information on the matter, but his girlfriend could and did. On stage, Mr Gates had responded to instructions to become a ballerina; he had taken part in one of the most popular seen-on-TV McKenna routines, a spoof version of “Blind Date”. But according to his girlfriend, he had also been left unattended in a ‘regressive’ state throughout the show’s interval and thereafter suffered a noticeable psychiatric deterioration. He complained of headaches – of being scared of God – of someone controlling his thoughts – of voices in his head. He refused to wash his hair or to hang clothes in his wardrobe for reasons plainly outside the realms of rationality. Hospitalised at last for (it was said) acute schizophrenia, Mr Gates was described today as, to all intents, an eight-year-old needing adult supervision and whiling away his time with puzzle-books. (20)

Solicited for ‘reaction quotes’ yet again (but under somewhat less positive circumstances than usual) Mr McKenna denied ever having used regression techniques on stage. He also pointed out, quite legitimately, that Mr Gates’s mental troubles might have surfaced even had he not taken part in the High Wycombe show: “He ‘blames hypnotism’” ran one attributed remark, “but there was never any evidence to prove that.” Evidence notwithstanding, the implied relationship between the two events – between Mr Gates taking part in the hypno-show and the onset of his mental disturbances – seemed suspiciously causal. This was heightened, arguably, by a Charing Cross Hospital consultant psychiatrist’s opinion that the “emotional impact” of the trance may have triggered the subsequent breakdown.

There was an element of glee in some quarters that at last someone had “got something on McKenna”. (Too brash, you see – too self-satisfied. Too successful.) His figurehead role in his profession – and let’s remind ourselves that the public has come to identify Paul McKenna with stage hypnosis and vice versa – gave the allegations immense weight as regards the campaign to ban such shows. How this episode will affect his career as a mass-entertainment celebrity remains to be seen. At the time of writing (February 1995) we are waiting for news of the Government’s assessment of the rules regulating hypno-shows. It seems likely that changes will be introduced; the future for the McKenna wannabees isn’t bright and the Man himself may have to make a few revisions to his act. The question, as always, comes down to whether new laws need to be implemented or whether existing ones could be more effective if they were more vigorously enforced.

For instance and limiting discussion to ‘sick sex hypno-porno shows’ – aren’t these events already covered by existing laws? I confess to being quite confused by all this. What follows are a few random and quite likely refutable thoughts on the topic.

Suppose for a moment that the Hazard case had been settled in court instead of outside one. Suppose also that the verdict had been the same, that is, in favour of the complainant. (As it might have been: the Rains-Bath case could provide a valid precedent, showing as it does that injured subjects can win damages from a hypnotist.) Since it appears that hypnotists can be held liable for actions performed by their subjects against their own safety or against their own interests, could the latter be construed to encompass sexual acts carried out as per hypnotic instigation which the subject retrospectively felt were damaging to his/her emotional health or social status? If so, might a woman pointed out in the streets of her home town as someone who’d publicly simulated sex with a fluffy pink elephant sue on grounds of emotional harm or similar?

I suppose she would have to show that, in a normal state of consciousness sans the specific hypnotic instruction, she would not have simulated sex with said fluffy elephant. That connects with one of the most recalcitrant questions concerning hypnosis: can or can not a person be made to carry out acts other than what would or might be performed in his/her normal state of consciousness? Again, the act of volunteering to be hypnotised might be taken as consent to the act – unless (in a form of diminished responsibility plea) the subject counter-argued that she consented only to the act of being hypnotised, not to the act which came out of it, responsibility for which is down to the suggester, the hypnotist.

So the volunteer-subject argues that she did not know what being hypnotised would lead her into. Might it not be shown that the act of attending an ‘adult’ show and of volunteering to take part in it was tantamount to prior awareness? That anybody attending such a show would have some inkling of the things she might be involved in as a result of volunteering, so that in effect the subject acquiesced in a process which carried a strong possibility of emotional distress?

The Hypnotism Act 1952 clearly states that a licence is required from the local authorities controlling other forms of entertainment before an exhibition, demonstration or performance of hypnosis can take place. (21) Prosecutions arising from contravention of this or other parts of the Act seem rare. Licensing authorities vary in their willingness to think hard before granting hypno-show authorisation; Westminster Council is said to be diligent about examining the content of each performers act but others appear to be less bothered. It has been suggested that not all performers and/or promoters are aware of the need to obtain such a licence and that some quietly ignore it; the Leyland (Lancashire) show in which Sharron Tabarn took part was described in at least one press report as “unlicensed”.

All this may be incidental, beyond indicating that stage hypnosis is regulated under existing entertainment licensing laws. Other laws, notably those regarding public decency, govern what may be staged in places to which the public are admitted. I’ve been talking about suggested actions of a sexual nature; this, after all, is what press coverage of “sick sex hypno shows” presents as one of the chiefest causes for concern. Are these shows not covered by those laws? Realistically, perhaps, those laws may be unenforceable. They may be too expensive in terms of legal costs to be enforced. Many pub striptease acts play fast and loose with the laws of pornography, for example; the offenders could be prosecuted but (unless someone complains strenuously) they seldom are. The same might apply to some stage hypnosis shows.

In any event, all these finicky little problems go away if we follow a particular trend in current thinking about hypnosis, namely that hypnosis doesn’t really exist. A few paragraphs back, I slipped in the phrase, ‘normal state of consciousness‘, the understanding being that the hypnotic state is not normal, but ‘altered’ or somehow ‘different‘. The school of thought just alluded to proposes that it isn’t. “Hypnosis may stand as a term of convenience, but it is not a genuinely distinct state. You may even consider it to be a “cultural invention … a fantasy, like the belief that you are possessed by the devil”. So says Dr Graham Wagstaff of Liverpool University in an interview with a rather unconvinced Peter Hillmore (22)
Dr Wagstaff is not the first researcher to suggest that ‘hypnosis’ is an invention (and perhaps an unnecessary one); the experimental work of Theodore X. Barber in the 1960s aroused considerable discussion as to the extent to which the phenomena put forward to establish the discrete character of the hypnotic state could be duplicated, even simulated, by non-hypnotised persons.
But it is Dr Wagstaff who has emerged as a leading proponent of the idea that we may not need to consider hypnosis as anything more than a spurious name for a collection of psychological mechanisms, not as an authentic or unique condition. Speaking in an edition of Equinox just before Christmas 1994, he went as far as to say that before too long the word would have dropped out of usage and the concept itself out of sight. Along with it, presumably, would go any notion of prosecutions or regulations to do with hypnosis. You can’t prosecute and don’t need to regulate what does not exist.

So hypnosis does not exist – the stage volunteers aren’t hypnotised – the routines they perform are not “hypnotic”. If there is no concession to the idea that “hypnotic suggestions” are carried out in a state other than normal, surely any indecent act performed is punishable, the offender blatantly transgressing the “Indecency Laws” and without any extenuating excuse, such as the averral that they would not have performed that act in a “normal state”?

Equinox: The Big Sleep was a good programme, if you ignored the unhappy attempt to capitalise on the title by staging it as a Chandler PI case complete with sardonic Marlowesque voice-over. Dr Wagstaff was one of the best things on it, especially in a segment where he replicated a number of ‘characteristic’ or ‘typical’ hypnotic stunts with a man who was not hypnotised. (He freely confirmed that he wasn’t. Ah, but perhaps he’d been hypnotised to say that. Ah, but Dr Wagstaff affirmed that he hadn’t.) The biggest obstacle to his propositions gaining more attention is that most of us persist in wanting to believe that hypnosis is a genuinely unique state. Stage performers owe their living to that attitude. We get a buzz out of supposing that subjects do what they do because of hypnosis, even if sometimes we harbour a few suspicions that they may only be ‘acting’ or ‘pretending’ to be hypnotised. 

The Big Sleep also had Dr Wagstaff at a Blackpool hypno-show and interviewing some of the people who’d taken part as volunteers in it. Since hypnosis doesn’t exist, evidently, it follows that people can’t be hypnotised – so what had caused them to do all the crazy things they did? Compliance … task motivation … et cetera. Dr Wagstaff went over this when he talked to Peter Hillmore, making the point that TV shows like The Generation Game prove “many people are more than happy to make fools of themselves to please the compere”. Does this mean that Bruce Forsyth is really a hypnotist? Is Paul McKenna really Bruce Forsyth? While you’re about it, savour the televisual irony that one of the more amusing routines in the last series of ‘he Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna’was a spoof version of… The Generation Game’.

But then Peter Hillmore came back with what sounds a nice objection pointing towards a distinction. In The Generation Game contestants know what they are doing is making them look ridiculous; they laugh at themselves as they do it. In hypno-shows you rarely see participants laugh at themselves. The laughter is directed at them and they often appear confused by it. Or as Mr Hillmore wrote, the volunteers “continue with their absurd actions in spite of the laughter, not because of it”. (24) 

One more thing: as the audience, we are doing the laughing – not merely condoning the act, but encouraging it. If we’re worried about hypno-shows, we ought to remember that we aren’t forced (or hypnotised) to watch them. There is evidence that audiences, familiarised through what they have seen on TV or elsewhere, expect to be shown certain tricks like the now cliched “X-Ray Specs” routine. ‘All Your Favourites’, promised a poster for a hypno-show in Thurrock recently – implying that we not only knew all about hypnotists’ routines, but have connoisseurs’ preferences among them. Performers sometimes admit to feeling the pressure of their public’s expectations. “Audiences love it”, said Andrew Newton of his men-stripped-to-underpants trick. “When I used to do late-night spots in Liverpool, they used practically to demand it.” (25) And there are some venues where the audience demand tricks more audacious than that. Outside TV’s enchanted circle, more overt sexual stunts may become standard items. People want to see them and they aren’t happy if they don’t. The hypnotist who doesn’t oblige, the hypnotist who doesn’t come up with the simulated sex routines, risks being the hypnotist who doesn’t get many bookings.

Is there a case for redefining where the responsibility for what goes on at ‘hypno-porno’ shows lies? Is there a need for new laws to control what goes on or might go on at these shows? Is this all a waste of time, because hypnosis doesn’t exist?

Is there a lawyer in the house



1. Guardian Week-end supplement, 11 Feb. 1995, p. 6 

2. Female stage hypnotists do not appear to have been over-prevalent at any period in entertainment history. In Mystic London (1875) the Rev. Charles Maurice Davies writes of seeing a Miss Chandos, “a very pretty young lady indeed, of not more than 18 or 20 years of age” with “a Mystic crop of long black curls, which waved about like the locks of a sibyl” and his phraseology suggests there were others who, like her, bid for popularity on the mesmeric public-lecture circuit at this time. Miss Chandos evidently made adroit use of her girlish charm: “When she asked for volunteers I thought the room had risen on masse”, wrote Davies (slightly miffed that he was too far back from the stage to get a go). “Everybody wanted to be mesmerised.” Perhaps the best-known and most successful female stage performer is or was Pat Collins, who enjoyed Hollywood modishness in the early 1960s and capped it with a cameo role in Divorce American Style (where she hypnotises Debbie Reynolds, of all people). 

3. “Not for the easily outraged”: as mentioned in ‘The Human Zoo’ columnist Jon Ronson’s “It’s a trance of a lifetime” (Guardian Weekend, 31 Dec. 1994) which followed an evening at FiFi’s Palace of Dance near Dudley with rubber-clad stage hypnotist Alexxx. 

4. The X-Ray Specs routine was popularised (if not actually invented) by the American George Kreskin. Practically all stage hypnotists currently performing have incorporated it into their acts. Negative hallucinations are ones which prevent the subject from seeing (or appearing to see) any object which the hypnotist designates as invisible, e.g. as where the performer suggests that he himself or some other person will be invisible to the subject. A good way to create the illusion of things moving psycho-kinetically.

5. “Lads Strip for Gay Bathtime” (Sun, 11 Jan. 1994, pp 22-23). This was part of that paper’s three part end amazingly sexsational exposé of stage hypnosis.

6. David Jack, “How hypnotist made my man strip naked for sick sex show …as shocked crowd watched” (Sunday People, 1 May 1994, pp 10-11). Ah, but how many of them walked out? Among the other alleged hypnotic indiscretions of this subject was a confession that he wished his girlfriend would get on top more often and “do more of the work”

7. Until comparatively recently (in most venues, at least) the World’s Greatest Stripper involved female subjects in no-thing more outrageous than mimicking a bump and grind routine, the hypnotist specifying “… but you will not take off your clothes”. (This was traditionally accompanied by a knowing took that told the audience that unless he’d said that, the subject certainly would have taken off her clothes.) In an interesting but questionable incident at the Wallasey nightclub Tramps in 1980, two females instructed to dance to that old favourite “The Stripper” were said to have ignored the hypnotist’s injunction and actually went much further than many professional striptease artistes and had to be hustled off stage (“The Stripnotist”, Sun, 23 June 1980, p. 11). The fact the volunteers were both go-go dancers may or may not have some bearing on these events. Ironically, the hypnotist reported here as distraught (“It was awful… I just want to forget all about it.”) and as taking a pride in having a “family” act was Les Power – a name which featured in the same paper’s “sick sex hypno show” series of Jan. 1994.

8. As reported by John Rimmer (Magonia 51, Feb. 1995, p. 20), taken from the Sunday People, 24 Dec. 1994. (interesting sexological point: can an inflatable doll ever be used for anything other than simulated sex?)

9. Allegedly featured (and condemned, of course) in the Alex Le Roy act described by Chris Blythe in the Sun’s “Dirty Trancing”, 10 Jan. 1994. Mr Le Roy’s tete-a-tete with the reporter elicited much boasting of sexual conquests accredited to hypnosis. By contrast, Andrew Newton’s with Gary Bushel) for the Sun ‘s TV Super Guide (no date, late 1994?) produced the complaint that “The pubs are full of third-rate hypnotists ripping off my act” and also the threat of taking Paul McKenna to court for pirating his ideas. However, it also included a cautionary tale of an unnamed hypnotist whose typically unprofessional act included the vibrator/oral sex stunt.

10. This was the last of the three-part Sun expose cited in Note 5 above.

11. “Hypno show began as fun but it ended in sex shame”, by Hilary Knowles and David Rowe, Sunday Mirror, 18 Dec. 1994, pp 14-15.

12. Since at least 1983 several newspapers have quoted Dr Prem Misra, a psychotherapist who to some extent specialises in treating the negative after-effects of stage hypnosis performances. See, for example, Anthony Howard’s ‘Blunder the Spell!’ (Daily Mirror, 2 March 1994, p. 3) where Dr Misra was said to have handled sixteen ‘severely disturbed cases’ among hypno-show volunteers. This article was published just prior to Dr Misra’s appearance on BBC1′s Here and Now programme in which the dangers of such shows provided the theme.

13. Daily Mirror, 29 March 1994, “The show must go on says McKenna”; cf. “Paul: Stage Ban is Unfair”, by Caroline Sutton, 2 April 1994 – possibly the Sun

14. Many national papers for 4 November 1994 carried reports on this case; my summary uses material from the Guardian, Daily Mirror and Sun of that date.

15. The career of Robert Halpern, perhaps the most oft-publicised Scottish stage hypnotist, has provided the theme for numerous press reports, including some which make him sound worthy of the cliché ‘no stranger to controversy’. It appears a matter of fact that his shows revived the declining fortunes of Glasgow’s Pavilion Theatre; in its 4 September 1980. issue The Stage & Television Today (p. 3) credited him with achieving 95% capacity audiences in the 1400-seater venue over the traditionally dead summer season. Occasionally criticised by older members of his own profession but something of a folk-hero amongst younger Glaswegians, Mr Halpern suffered from a general concern over possible bad after-effects among hypno-show volunteers (News of the World, 24 April 1983, p. 3) and more recently a series of eight scheduled London performances was terminated after just three shows when Westminster City Council reacted to alleged complaints of sexual innuendo, etc. (Sunday Scot, 26 May 1991.)

16. In March 1952 at Sussex Assizes, shop assistant Diana Rains-Bath sought damages for negligence, breach of contract and assault from American stage hypnotist Ralph Slater relating to her participation as a volunteer in one of his Brighton Hippodrome performances in 1948. It was alleged that during the show Slater had jerked her head sharply and painfully forward (presumably to rehypnotise her – Miss Rains-Bath had spontaneously slipped out of trance at the time) and had also forgotten to cancel the successful suggestion that she was a baby crying for its mother. Miss Rains-Bath was subsequently treated for depression and anxiety neurosis by Dr J S Van Pelt of the British Society of Medical Hypnotists who, it transpired, was mounting a campaign against stage performers. This was one detail emergent from the lively exchange between the doctor and Mr Slater, who took over the conduct of his own defence when his counsel withdrew, being unable to concur with the direction in which Slater wished the defence to proceed. Miss Rains-Bath was initially awarded £1,000 damages on the negligence plea, £107 special damages and £25 for assault. However, in July 1952 a Court of Appeal overturned the negligence plea award, allowing only that for damages to stand and in December that same year it was announced that Miss Rains-Bath had dropped the special damages claim. The case is believed to have been a factor in the passing of the 1952 Hypnotism Act which received the Royal Assent on 1 August that year and became operative on 1 April 1953. Most national dailies carried reports of the hearing; this summary is compiled from those in The Times, 1, 12, 14, 21, 25 and 27 March, 20 July and 13 December 1952.

17. “Star Paul Casts A Spell On His Friends” (People Magazine, 21 November 1993, pp 12-13) was composed almost entirely of snap-quotes from persons close to Paul McKenna professionally or socially. In case you were worried about it, the tailor of the McKenna waistcoats at this period in his life was Tom Gilbey.

18. Sun, 20 October 1994, pp.26-27. If we believe the reports of certain papers (which a lot of us don’t) this was not the Duchess of York’s first experiment with hypnotherapeutic weight-loss. Claims of similar ‘secret treatments’ (though not with Mr McKenna) were made in November 1986 – and subsequently denied. Come to think, I haven’t seen any actual confirmation of these more recent (Sun) claims, either.

19. ‘The Hipster of Hypnosis‘, Fortean Times, 74, April/May 1994, p. 53.

20. This summary includes Pascoe Watson’s ‘McKenna’s Trance Left My Boyfriend Like A Child’ (Star, 14 December 1994, p. 11) and – more detailed, if only because there were more pages – ‘My Man Became A Child After McKenna Hypno Act‘, by Roger Kasper and John Chapman (News of the World, 18 Dec. 1994, pp. 13-15)

21. Clause 1 (1) states that “any authority in an area empowered to grant licences for the regulation of places kept or ordinarily used for public dancing, singing, music or other public entertainments of the like kind” shall also have the power “to attach conditions regulating or prohibiting the giving of an exhibition, demonstration or performance of hypnotism on any person at the place to which the licence relates”.

22. ‘Peter Hillmore’s Notebook‘, The Observer, 29 January 1995, p. 25

23. Theodore X Barber, Hypnosis: A Scientific Approach. New York, Van Nostrand, 1969. In his first chapter of Hypnosis for the Seriously Curious, (New York and London, W W Norton, 1976, paperback edition, 1983) Kenneth S Bowers provides a review of the evidence that hypnotic behaviour can (in his words) be faked.

24. Cf the remark from Dr Prem Misra (note 12, above): “The fun is always at the expense of the individual.” I think it may be legitimate to point out that when interviewed in the wake of their hypno-performances the majority of volunteers affirm that they enjoyed the experience, even if they are now aware of having made themselves look a trifle foolish.

25. Roger Tedre, ‘Hypnotism takes the country by trance‘, The Observer, 6 November 1994, p. 13. Andrew Newton was perhaps the first of the ‘younger generation’ of stage hypnotists to attract national publicity. Apart from the success of his late-night Liverpudlian shows (see main text) he managed to obtain a licence that enabled him to become the first hypnotist to perform on a central London stage in 35 years (“All eyes on the hypnotists seeking West End fame”, The Observer, 16 January 1987) and ushered in the TV boom from which Paul McKenna benefited greatly with a one-hour, one-off ITV programme in December 1993. He now has his own series on Sky TV.