A Fatal Illusion.
Matthew J. Graeber

From Magonia 62, February 1998

In recent times the tragic suicide of 38 American UFO cult members has graphically illustrated the extremes that fixation and identification with alien life forms can have upon certain individuals. For not only did these troubled souls believe that by taking their lives they were also going to rendezvous with an extraterrestrial space ship that was skirting a comet’s tail, but several of them had even shaved their heads and castrated themselves (perhaps in an effort to mimic the purely cerebral, highly spiritual and, presumably, asexual appearance of the space creatures that tthey anticipated meeting).

Other UFO-related cases of unusual human behaviour involve the complete abandonment of highly sensitive listening posts by several US military personnel in Germany, so they might meet with a flying saucer that they believed was coming to Earth to pick them up, as well as the planned radioactive assassination of local government officials in New York State by UFO aficionados who thought that the authorities were covering up information about a saucer that had crashed near Long Island.

Of course, these are extreme examples and it would be totally unfair of me to paint the entire UFO subculture with the same brush. For many saucer buffs are intelligent, hard-working and well-meaning folks and it is, in fact, precisely because of their good intentions and belief in the UFO phenomenon that they can be easily manipulated and exploited by charismatic, unscrupulous and deluded individuals who may be operating within the saucer movement itself.Interestingly, in the early days of UFO charlatanism, the schemes (much like the developing UFO phenomenon) lacked the sophistication of today’s technological-sounding scams, which not only include an array of bogus classified documents, photos, video footage and crashed saucer artifacts, but also the sanction of a growing number of credulous professionals who treat abductees and reportedly help them to deal with the post-traumatic stress and lingering anxiety of repeated experiences with alien beings that had kidnapped and abused them.

All this at the insistence (and, in many instances, the direction) of self-proclaimed UFO abduction experts, who often lack anysort of medical training or certifica-tion in clinical or forensic hypnosis.


The reported transformational effect of the abduction experience is believed to involve a spiritual, philosophical and intellectual heightening of the individual’s self awareness through a continuing process of contact and educational interaction with alien intelligences that have selected the abductees for some specific purpose.

Several experts believe that the purpose of abduction is grounded in the immediate wants and needs of the aliens who are, apparently, attempting to bolster their own faltering genetic pool through a clone-splicing technique that they have perfected in order to thwart their impending extinction.Several other UFO experts feel that the benevolent aliens are concerned about our own planet’s ever-mounting ecological, sociological and political woes; and that they have been visiting this world and covertly contacting some of its inhabitants in preparation for a kind of social reorganisation which will supposedly take place after the Earth goes through a period of dramatic changes (e.g. the result of a global catastrophe such as a nuclear holocaust, a complete ecological melt-down, a world-wide plague, or a bewildering series of natural disasters). In fact, it has even been suggested that the planet itself may be knocked off its axis by a rogue asteroid and entire continents might be swept away – beneath the angriest of seas.

Still other reported after-effects of contacts with the alien Greys, as they are commonly called in UFO circles, are said to include a sense of cosmic consciousness (or, the magnified awareness of one’s oneness with the universe), the occasional spontaneous cure or remission of various physical, immunological, emotional and psychological disorders, as well as the abductees experiencing marked changes in their career choices, personal interests and long-term goals.

But, beyond all of the above, human contact with the aliens has also produced marked alterations in the way the abductee perceives him or herself, even to the point of their experiencing sexual identity difficulties and/or gross distortions of self, which includes the questioning of their even belonging to the human race or feeling any sort of allegiance to it. That the abductees would identify, sympathise and voice open affection for their captors is not an unknown psychological phenomenon. But, that the abductees would so readily cast off their humanity and profess partial (i.e., hybrid) or total kinship with their alien captors does seem to open the door to much deeper contemplation.


The problem, of course, is that few abduction experts have the requisite medical training to fully comprehend the dangers of hypnotically probing the unconscious mind of the individuals they matter of factly call the abductees – a term which automatically confirms as physically real the very confusing experiences which these perplexed individuals have sought out the experts for. But, even worse than that, the term sets them up for additional experiences, simply because it is common knowledge throughout the UFO community that the Greys always come back for the abductees, and their children too! Perhaps it was this expectation and fear that led a woman in the UK to kill her young grandchildren before they would be kidnapped by aliens?

Beyond this, the UFO ‘experts’ lack of perception regarding the marked psychical background of the so-called abduction experience (i.e., its mythopoeic make-up and dream-like contradictory content) means that the experts must keep coming up with new (and often ridiculous) explanations of how and why the aliens might do something that is obviously nonsensical in character (e.g., the little Greys can reportedly levitate at will, lift and carry the much larger and heavier humans that they have captured – yet, they often walk their victims to their waiting space craft and climb stairs into its hatchway, even though they reportedly filtered through the locked doors and brick walls of the abductee’s home only moments before).

Yet another obvious contradiction pops up in the reports when the dematerialising aliens use metallic instruments to perform invasive surgical procedures upon their human captives, especially when they are also alleged to be capable of inducing the abductees’ bodies to dematerialise as well.

Moreover, today’s medical practitioners can routinely perform similar gynaecological procedures to those that the aliens reportedly employ, but without producing the marked fear and pain which so frequently characterise the medical aspects of the abduction experience.


In many instances, man’s encounters with the unknown were believed to be real contacts with gods, spirits, or demons of various description, and often involved the experiencer being whisked off to magical realms beneath the Earth or sea, high upon a mountain, deep within the forest, or in the firmament above.

Today’s abduction reports often feature similar mythological settings in their scenarios (albeit with a technological accent) and we even discover reports of UFO interiors which have earthen floors and shag rug wall-to-wall carpeting (Indeed, dirt floors in a supposedly highly advanced and medically sterile space craft.) In fact, the UFO which reportedly kidnapped Linda Cortile (the central figure in Budd Hopkins’s book Witnessed) was said to have plunged into the Hudson River with all hands on board rather than flitting off into the starry sky with its cargo of human captives. So, the question immediately arises – was the craft a sub-UFO from Earth’s inner space or an ill-fated space craft from outer space?

While it seems perfectly normal for modern man to dismiss the idea that wee folks, fairies, leprechauns, and hobgoblins actually existed and occasionally interfaced with our forbears, a great many people living in very sophisticated societies as little as a century ago absolutely did believe that such tales were true. Indeed, some folks even believe it to this very day. The point is that, in a hundred years or so, it may be that our contemporary beliefs in UFOs and the pint-sized creatures that pilot them will also become a curiously amusing fact, especially when one considers that the UFO legend’s tales are so highly characteristic of our society and our times (i.e., an era in which our own space-conquering aspirations have been projected upon an array of alien intelligences that we assume to be flourishing somewhere in the cosmos – a fact that Dr C.G. Jung pointed out over forty years ago in his landmark book Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies).

In short, we may be lifting our eyes, minds, hopes, and hearts to the skies in search of a super-technological deity instead of the supernatural god that our ancestors worshipped. We may be yearning for an answer to our tiny planet’s ever-mounting problems – fantasising and, in so doing, inventing a new-age panacea (or super-advanced technological response) to the dark side of our own sciences and technologies, and the nuclear/ toxic demons that we have unwit-tingly created and unleashed upon ourselves.

That this panacea should take the form of little creatures with swollen heads that are choc-full of intelligence and good will towards mankind (instead of a host of angels with blaring trumpets bursting through the firmament), informs us that a growing faith in advanced sciences and technology has woven its way into our culture’s unconscious, even to the point that UFOs (i.e., the symbol of the panacea) have been invested with the power of bringing salvation to mankind. A power which they do not possess and in no way deserve.

Man has always feared and revered strange and awesome things that he’s seen in the skies – he had recorded his perceptions upon cave walls, clay tablets, and video camcorders. Perhaps knowing what the signs in the skies actually were never was as important as what the observer believed they were, and the tremendous impact that such beliefs have had upon the human psyche.

Perhaps UFOs have always played a part in the living experience of man. Perhaps they have been called soul-sparks by the ancients and space ships by today’s observers. Perhaps, too, their operators have been known as angels, demons, wee-folks, and Greys. Are these creatures from outer space, inner space, or a space and time existing somewhere in between these divisional concepts? Do they seek to contact us consciously, unconsciously, or on a spiritual level?


Like many great artists, Leonardo Da Vinci was fully aware of the inner mind’s ability to well up images, and we find that even his friend and colleague Piero Di Cosimo commented in his writings on how many wonderful creatures could be found hidden in the stains of masonry work. Of course, we’ve all had some personal childhood experience with seeing various animal shapes in cloud formations; and, if one tries hard enough, quite a few other imaginary things can be spotted lurking in the shadows of leafy trees too.

In the early 1900s, Dr Hermann Rorschach (a Swiss psychiatric pioneer) effectively demonstrated that extraordinarily meaningful material buried deep in an individual’s subconscious could be brought to the surface by having that person attentively mull over a series of ink blots in an effort to describe what they saw in them.

In most instances, just about everyone tends to see the same kind of things in fluffy clouds and Dr Rorschach’s ink-blot plates simply because the general shape of the visually perceived external object that they are gazing at does bear some degree of similarity to a mentally stored image of some other object that they are comparing it to. But, it seems that after one’s initial comparative or reductive processes have been exhausted regarding Rorschach’s ambiguous ink blots, some unusual things start to happen to a person’s perceptive abilities. This also appears to be the case in many UFO observations, and may even play an important role in the close-encounter experiences that occasionally follow them.

As any seasoned field investigator can tell you, quite often the play of reflected sunlight or cloud shadowing upon an otherwise easily discernible abject (such as a commercial airliner’s fuselage) may create false optical cues that can cause a person to misidentify the aircraft and call it a UFO. What’s more, because the startled UFO observer does not have the opportunity to replay the incident and, therefore, cannot possibly verify his or her observation, they may not ever realise that they have mistakenly identified a fixed-wing aircraft for an unidentified flying object.

Interestingly, it seems that even though an individual undergoing Rorschach testing has the opportunity to take a good long look at a particular Rorschach plate, nevertheless the general shape and even the coloration of the ink blot tends to play an important role in the mental formulation of the kind of things that he or she will see in it. This may be a very important factor for UFO researchers to consider because the changing size, shape and coloration of a fleeting UFO or its pulsating lighting may produce (or induce) similar effects upon the experi-encer’s perceptive skills.

Considering the adverse effect that shadow, distance, darkness, and poor weather conditions might have upon an individual’s optical acuity at the time of their sighting – it seems reasonable to suspect that UFO watching, much like ink-blot gazing, primarily involves the observation of a strange object or some pattern of ambiguous lights that are usually seen against the backdrop of a night-time sky.

So, it is not surprising that one’s best attempts to positively identify the object (or the distant lights) are going to become embellished with subjective (apperceptive) phenomena that form around the object, or may tend to fill in the empty space that is situated in between the mysterious points of light – investing them with not only a structural configuration, but also volition and, in some cases, even questionable intent. Naturally, these attributes are projected upon the unknown object by the observer as a result of their emotional and intuitive responses to the situational and confrontational character of their UFO encounter; and, once that happens, their UFO experience broadens and deepens, taking on a subjective tone which may also in-clude the active influence of very primitive introjective processes (i.e., assuming that the object is intelligently guided or that the UFO operators have specifically selected the observer for some reason).

All of these factors must be seriously considered by the objective UFO researcher simply because one cannot be certain which percentage of UFO reports are generated by the observation of space craft from another world (or holographic imagery that is transmitted by an alien civilisation), as opposed to those that may have their origin in the depths of man’s inner space – that is, his unconscious mind. And, of course, there is also the distinct possibility that the UFO experience is both objective and subjective in nature, and that separation of the two is simply beyond our investigative skills.

This appears to be the case where a physically real airborne object (be it a misidentification of some sort, or a real UFO) is observed and then the observer projects his or her own psychical contents upon it – very much like what happens during Rorschach testing experiences.

In his landmark psychological exploration of the UFO phenomenon, Dr C.G. Jung identified the basic discoidal (or round) UFO configuration as being similar to that of a meditative mantra and several other symbolic manifestations of the self which, as we know from our studies of depth psychology, is a very important archetype that tends to spontaneously appear to individuals when there is a profound emotional need present in their lives, or when they are caught up in a seemingly hopeless or overwhelming situation. Both of these prerequisites seem to fit the above mentioned UFO experience model which speculatively describes the UFO encounter as being a kind of display or the symbolic equivalent of some internal conflict that is unconsciously troubling but, nevertheless, affecting the observers at the time of their UFO encounter.

I am not alone with this estimate of the UFO situation, for several other researchers have come to similar conclusions regarding a display factor in UFO events and, quite recently, Dr R. Leo Sprinkle (noted psychologist/ufologist of Laramie, Wyoming) has presented a paper on the psychical analysis of UFO experiences which echoes Dr C. G. Jung’s assertion that the UFO may be (at least in part) a symbolic representation of the observer’s self. But these guestimates are based upon present-day UFO reports and the investigative data that today’s researchers are gathering. It would also bee interesting to attempt to determine what impact the presence of such ambiguous aerial objects may have had upon our forebears.



Curiously, UFO-like shapes and forms have been discovered amidst the human and animal forms depicted in Palaeolithic and Neolithic cave art which is generally thought to have been created during the time when man’s consciousness was first developing (i.e., roughly one million years ago). These, too, are believed to have been produced while early man was involved with welling up mentally stored images of the many animals that he hunted and feared. But, unlike the beautiful deer, bison and horses that appear to have been repeatedly drawn in the same area of the caves and were apparently used for some kind of hunting magic ritual, these unusual circles, braces and chevrons were not drawn in layers and are believed by many experts to have had an independent mythology connected to them. Interestingly,squares, chevrons, and a series of circles and dots commonly called recall-benders frequently pop up in Rorschach testing too.

Although there may be a number of possible explanations for the existence of the UFO-like cave drawings, two seem to be the most plausible. Either the cave man recorded his real-world encounter with such objects, or he dreamed of such forms and the dreams had such a profound impact on him in the waking state that he wanted to share his experience with his contemporaries.

In either case, it appears that these UFO-like shapes were considered important enough to merit separate space upon the cave walls, for they are not pitted and marred like the animal depictions which have obviously been subjected to many missile impacts that probably occurred during a hunting magic ritual. In other words, the UFO-like drawings have been afforded a separate space within the caves, and they probably had an entirely separate mythology associated with them.

The experts on cave art seem to be somewhat perplexed by these drawings and, of course, opinions vary quite a bit regarding their possible meaning. The so-called brackets are often thought to be a stylised version of the female form about to receive male sexuality, while some experts feel that the brackets may be related to the sexual aggression of the cave man himself.

One thing seems certain. These forms are totally unlike anything that is thought to have existed in the cave man’s natural environment. They appear to be symmetrical, possibly aerodynamic in design, and they also have a modern-day technological look about them. While they may not actually be depictions of UFOs, one must admit that they certainly do look a great deal like sketches that today’s observers produce regarding their en
counters with alien space vehicles.

Dare we ponder the notion that contact with alien intelligences could be channelled through the vast reaches of man’s inner space (i.e., his unconscious mind) and that such contacts may have been going on since mankind’s conscious dawning? Dare we believe that human inner space is just as vast, wondrous and awesome as outer space and that we have barely touched the surface of the mysteries and wonders that lie within its depths? Indeed, depths from which the UFOs themselves may hail?

No matter how far we reach out amongst the stars, we must always bear in mind that in our outreaching lies a human motive, and that the further we reach the deeper the want, the need, the fear, or the desire is to touch the face of the unknown.

As we are about to enter the 21st century, we might do well to note that despite our new sciences and great technological advance
ments we are still linked to our distant ancestors and carry the essence of their being within us. Have we become so estranged from this primal fabric that signals from it are thought to be attempted communications from an alien world? What is the signal in the noise of UFO reports? And, even more importantly, why is it being picked up by so many people at this particular point in human history?


Although Hermann Rorschach’s work with the phenomenon of human perception (its alteration or distortion) is generally applied to the diagnosis of pathology, some experts feel that it might be an error to assume that it is not also a viable method for studying the workings of perceptual phenomena in normals too. Dynamic UFO Displays may be one of many such phenomena, for the sudden and oft-times riveting perception of a Dynamic Display or close encounter may trigger a projection function that displaces some of the excess psychical energy (libido) assigned to an internal conflict that may be adversely affecting an individual. Thus, the Dynamic Display variety of UFO experience may bethought of as a self-regulating function of the psyche which is induced into activity by intrusive sensory stimulation (i.e., the impact of encountering a UFO) as opposed to the tranquil meditative process of Rorschach plate scrutiny.

Even in cases where the UFO investigator is completely unable to resolve the UFO report as a misidentification of a conventional airborne object (or perhaps an atmospheric anomaly of some kind), he or she is still left with the opportunity to examine the observer’s recollection of what the unidentified flying object looked like, how it appeared to operate and, of course, how it may have interacted with them.

This is most valuable information because, if we are correct about the UFO’s image and its interactive performance being dramatic representations of the observer’s self condition , we can learn something about the UFO experience’s meaningfulness in regard to the observer’s wants, needs, fears and expectations, along with something about the general make up of their defensive shielding. Indeed, we might consider a Dynamic UFO Display as a form of self-perception and communication that is triggered by the UFO’s presence in our skies – and even more importantly – in ouy lives.


In order to interpret the symbolic materials that well up during the subject’s observation and interaction with the UFO, the investigator must attempt to determine what the UFO (as an image) may actually represent on the one hand (e.g., a misi-dentification of some physical and external airborne object/s, or perhaps a totally unknown anomaly) and how that object’s image and behaviour might be symbolically linked to the psychology of the observer/s on the other hand. It is also apparent that what is observed during a UFO experience and how it is emotionally perceived and responded to is not solely determined by the observer’s conscious estimation of his or her UFO encounter, but also by the active influence of a mixed bag of intrapsychical forces that come into play during the event.

Since we suspect that the primary sensory stimulation (which is visual in most UFO cases) and the observer’s logical estimation of the experience concerning the size, shape, colouring and nearness of the object, is also backed up by emotional, intuitive and instinctual inputs that quickly flow across intrapsychic structures during the event, the UFO researcher should be on the look out for any bits and pieces or archetypal and/or instinctual debris that may be clinging to the observer’s account of their encounter with an unidentified flying object or its occupants.

In regard to this process, it seems that the altered or distorted form of perception which is instigated into activity by the ambiguity of the ink-blot plates in the case of Rorschach testing, and the often-times equally ambiguous, though obviously much more shocking, process of UFO watching primarily involves the subject’s complete fixation with the object, and a general falling away (or perhaps the total absorption) of their reality testing during the experience (e.g., Well, it was quite dark that night and at first I thought it was an aeroplane, or maybe a helicopter … but, then, as it hovered just above my head, I slowly realised that it was something unlike I’d ever seen before ).

Dynamic UFO Display case studies graphically illustrate that UFO researchers do have the ability to identify the symbolic contents in UFO reports which relate to both the observer’s personal life conflicts and even those that may be considered to be far more rudimentary (or archetypal) in character.


If certain visually perceived imagery such as that found in Rorschach’s plates and some UFO configurations do have the ability to deeply penetrate the human psyche and induce the displacement of archetypal symbols, subconscious contents, and psychic energy, we are obliged to further examine this remarkable phenomenon in an attempt to determine if there may be some therapeutic application for such a process.

Perhaps the cinematic replication (i.e., animation or computer animation) of UFO-like imagery which may be custom-designed from the information gathered by the therapist during counselling sessions with his or her patients might be as effective a tool as the purely mentally generated images that guided imagery practitioners presently attempt to direct at an array of physical, emotional and immunological disorders. Perhaps the sudden impact on perceiving a Dynamic UFO Display may enhance or surpass the effectiveness of the passive guided imagery techniques because of its highly confrontational character and deeply penetrating impact on the observer(s).

Perhaps, too, this same sort of psychical shock was the driving force that first nudged early man to conceive of things that did not yet exist, but surely would some day, simply because he could create them.


The Victorian Charm of the Protong, part 2.
David Sivier

The Victorian Charm of the Protong – Part 2.

From Magonia  88, May 2005

Apart from the demonstrably erroneous nature of the claim that the Passion narrative represents human sacrifice in a real, historic lunar cult, is the highly questionable nature of the proof adduced for it. The theory takes as proof facts, or rather factoids, widely separated in space and time from the centre of the Passion narrative in first century Palestine. For example, there is the statement that Christ was crucified on Friday 13th. Friday has indeed always traditionally been the date of Christ’s crucifixion, and the belief that it occurred on the 13th is a common piece of contemporary folklore, though it probably arose to explain why Friday 13th is considered unlucky. It’s unlikely, however, that Christ was crucified on a 13th, as the Jewish Passover, during which the events of the Passion unfolded, begins on the 14th of Nisan. [34] Although Friday was declared a day of penance for Christians by the medieval church, and there was a concomitant fear that it was unlucky, the particular fear of Friday 13th is actually no older than the 20th century. In fact the superstition surrounding the supposedly unlucky nature of the number 13 dates only from the 17th century, when it was felt unlucky for 13 people to be present at a meal. [35] Similarly, Freya was a goddess worshipped by the ancient Germans, not Semites, and Friday and related terms such as Freitag were used only by the Germanic peoples of Northern Europe. To the Romans, the day was dies Veneris, Venus’ Day, while the Hebrew term was different again. Similarly, for Christians, Christ was resurrected on Sunday, not Monday, as the theory states, though because of its place as the day after Easter Day, Monday was declared a holiday by the medieval church.

As for the argument that the 13 disciples represented the 13 months of the lunar year, this, and the assertion that Christ’s Passion represented the death of the sun, is also reminiscent of yet another 19th century anthropological theory to account for the origins of religion, Max Muller’s Solar Mythology. Friedrich Max Muller was one of Victorian Britain’s most brilliant Sanskrit scholars and students of Indian religion. A trenchant critic of Tylor’s theory that fetishism was the origin of human religion and anthropological evolutionism, he considered instead that sun worship was the primal religion of humanity. He came to this view through his study of the Vedas, particularly of Agni, the god of fire, and tentatively applied his theory of religions origins in a solar cult to the other, savage, societies found elsewhere in the world. [36] 

Muller arrived at his theory of solar origins through his grounding in Sanskrit philology, and he attempted to explain the violent, sensual, ignoble and generally barbarous behaviour of the Greek gods through tracing their origins in the gods of the Vedas, the oldest literature of the Indo-European peoples. For Muller, the mythopoeic conceptions of the gods occurred before the rise of civilisation, before human language could convey abstract notions, so that Dyaus, the supreme god in the Veda, could be understood also as meaning sky, sun, air, dawn, light and brightness, while a number of other words, with different associations, could also indicate the sun. [37]

These linguistic associations led Muller to an allegorical interpretation of the Greek myths. For example, the story of Chronos, Zeus’ father, devouring his children before being forced to vomit the younger god’s siblings back up actually stood for the sky devouring and then releasing the clouds. [38] Nor was the solar cult confined to the Indo-European peoples. Muller later expanded his theory to various extra- European peoples, tracing the origin of various Indian, Polynesian and African peoples back to an alleged solar cult through an analysis of the languages of the tales themselves and the etymology of the terms used for the various gods. [39]

Muller’s pupil, Sir George William Cox, pushed the theory even further, viewing the Indo-European myths as allegories of the contest between sun and night, and comparing the Homeric epics thus interpreted with Christianity: ‘The story of the sun starting in weakness and ending in victory, waging a long warfare against darkness, clouds and storms, and scattering them all in the end, is the story of all patient self-sacrifice, of all Christian devotion.’ [40]

Unlike Gooch, however, he did not believe that there was ever a human reality at the heart of these myths, and viewed such heroes as Grettir, King Arthur, Sigurd, William Tell, Roland, Beowulf, Hamlet and the Biblical patriarch David as purely mythological figures representing the sun. [41]

Muller’s intellectual opponent with whom he carried on a lively controversy over the origins of human mythology was Andrew Lang, a former Oxford graduate and supporter of the ethnological, rather than philological, origins of mythology and folklore. Lang’s 1887 Myth, Ritual and Religion amassed considerable anthropological information to show that primitive peoples everywhere had similar myths, legends, and customs, and that elements of these had survived in modern peasant lore and the Classical Greek myths. [42] Lang never denied that solar, lunar and star cults and myths existed, but that they had independent origins in the animist stage of human culture. As for the bloody acts committed in fairy tales and legends, Lang viewed these purely as storytelling formulae: ‘It is almost as necessary for a young god or hero to slay monsters as for a young lady to be presented at court; and we may hesitate to explain all these legends of an useful feat of courage as nature myths.’ [43]

In the end, Lang’s view of the origins of religion and mythology prevailed, partly due to the immense influence of his Myth, Ritual and Religion but largely due to the establishment of the Folklore Society, whose members favoured and who wrote steadily and voluminously to support the evolutionary origin of myth. [44]

As for Christ and His disciples forming a coven of 13 , this is merely the reading back into Christianity of the religious perceptions that led to the view that witchcraft covens always had 13 members in the first place. In fact 13 , representing the total number of Christ and his 12 apostles was considered the ideal number of friars in a community, and the same model was adopted for the number of suffragans under archbishop and monks in a monastery. It has therefore been suggested that the choice of 13 for the number of witches in a coven was therefore made as a deliberate inversion of the Christian norm. [45] The Middle Ages viewed witchcraft as a satanic parody and inversion of God’s church and the natural order, and the reputed ideal membership of 13 for a coven was a further parody, in line with the blasphemies of the Black Mass, of the ideal membership of Christ’s fellowship with the Apostles and orthodox Christian religious communities.

fishyIn the case of the Grail legend and the Fisher King [left] , although some historians have suggested that the central motif of this story — a genitally wounded king — does indeed come from ancient myth, its ultimate source is Brythonic Celtic, not Semitic. If it does have a mythological origin, then it one from Celtic myth, which has been Christianised to fit the dominant religious culture of Europe at the time. Again, the legend is late, appearing in the 12th century with Chretien de Troyes, who was writing chivalrous fiction. Despite the religious elements, and the claims to be based in history, the legend of the Fisher King appeared 1200 years after the rise of Christianity and was never a part of the religion, however enormously influential it may have been as secular literature.

It is possible to go on and list more of the factual errors, inconsistencies and anachronisms in Gooch’s argument, though this would be missing the deeper, and more important point. At its heart is the assumption that modern folklore represents survivals of lore and knowledge of deep antiquity, and the related belief that humanity passes through a fixed stage of civilisation, inherited from Morgan and the other 1 9 th century anthropologists, of which contemporary primitive, or pre- industrial societies, are survivals.

This view was explicitly stated by Tylor himself in his Primitive Culture of 1871, in which he wrote,’Survivals are processes, customs, opinions, and so forth, which have been carried on by force of habit into a new state of society different from that in which they had their original home, and they thus remain as proofs and examples of an older condition of culture out which the newer has been evolved.’ [46] The reliance on outmoded anthropological theories of mythology as sources for its view of the Neanderthals in City of Dreams was one of the major criticisms made of the book when it was reissued in 1996. [47]

In fact, Gooch is not the only contemporary writer to be convinced that contemporary myths and legends are the remnants of a much older, Stone Age religious system. Adrian Bailey in 1998 advanced the view in his book, Caves of the Sun: The Origin of Mythology, that the original prehistoric religion was a solar cult, which also influenced the Neanderthal cult of the bear through the sun’s apparent retreat in winter into caves in the earth. The book was again heavily dependent on 1 9 th century anthropology and dismissive of the psychological and  century interpretations of the origins of religion. [48] John Grigsby, in his Warriors of the Wasteland of 2003, advanced the theory that the original pre-Indo-European, Neolithic religion was that of a dying and rising man/god, which was usurped by the intrusive solar cult. Although Grigsby similarly brought a wealth of information to bear on his subject, his thesis was nevertheless criticised for its reliance on the 1 9 th century theories of Frazer, among others, for its conceptual framework. [49]

In fact, the notion that contemporary pre-industrial cultures are survivals from an ancient state of human culture has effectively been challenged by developments in anthropology during the  century.

Particularly instrumental in attacking the unidirectional development of cultures through specific phases were Boleslaw Malinowski and Franz Boas. Malinowski based his anthropological theories on his experience of fieldwork amongst the peoples of the Trobriand Islands. Here, he developed a functionalist view of society, considering that no matter how strange a custom or practice was, it survived because it fulfilled a contemporary purpose: ‘Savages aren’t half-rational or irrational, but do things because they work. Customs survive not as throwbacks but because they fulfil some function.’ [50] It’s a view that the probably the great majority of contemporary occultists and New Agers, sharing the belief in the efficacy of magic, would endorse. Nevertheless, it challenges the tendency in some circles to view extra-European cultures as irrational, in contrast to the post-Enlightenment rationalism of contemporary European culture. There are elements of this view in Surrealism, for example.

Although the Surrealists ardently championed the rights of indigenous and subordinate colonial people against the oppression of European imperialism in the Caribbean, French Indo-China and elsewhere, their espousal of the art of primitive, tribal cultures such as those of Black Africa was predicated by the notion that they were much in touch with their subconscious, and by implication, more irrational, than Europeans.

The greatest challenge to the unidirectional view of cultural progress, however, came from Franz Boas. Boas’ fieldwork amongst the Kwakiutl peoples of the American north-west coast led him to attack the doctrine that society moved from a matrilineal to a patrilineal organisation, and the theory of totemism as the origins of human religion. He believed that the positing of a uniform scheme of human development overlooked the uniqueness of individual human cultures. Instead of there being a general sequence of cultural stages amongst humanity, there was instead’a tendency of diverse customs and beliefs to converge towards similar forms, and a development of customs in divergent direction.’ [51]

As a German Jew, he was bitterly opposed to the biological reductionism of the Nazis and the racial interpretation of history, which he saw, along with eugenics, as irremediably dangerous. His book, The Mind of Primitive Man was burned in Nazi Germany and unpopular amongst supporters of apartheid and segregation in the United States because of its assertion that there were no pure races, that racial intermixing did not lead to degeneration, and that Blacks would be perfectly able to fulfil their duties as citizens alongside Whites if the legal restrictions against them were lifted. His views have thus been immensely influential in challenging the racist assumptions of White superiority towards other cultures characteristic of 19th century anthropology. While his anti-racism is praiseworthy, his emphasis on each culture’s autonomy, and demand that anthropologists should not make value judgements about the societies they studied, unfortunately has led to the extremes of postmodern cultural relativism in which practices or beliefs which are untrue or repellent are nevertheless defended and declared valid because of their part in a particular culture. Hence the postmodern view that relegates science to the position of only one of a number of possible interpretations of the universe, none more true than the others.

Attempts to posit totemism and shamanism as the origin of human religion have similar been questioned because of their coexistence with apparently more sophisticated forms of religious experience. Tylor himself recognised that primitive peoples, ‘alongside their magic, ghosts, totems, worshipful stones, have a very much better God than most races a good deal higher in civilisation.’ [52] It’s a sentiment with which many of today’s occultists would no doubt agree, contrasting the apparent benevolence of primitive religion with the cruelties of Western institutional faiths, particularly Christianity. Nevertheless, it does undermine the claim that totemism is somehow a more primitive, primal form of human religious experience.

The idea of Christ’s passion as a mythological treatment of real, primal human totemic sacrifice similarly becomes untenable. Although the consumption of Christ’s body and blood in the transubstantiated bread and wine of the mass certainly performs some of the functions of the consumption of a totemic sacrificial victim in promoting a social and spiritual solidarity amongst members of the congregation, this does not mean by any means that a real, human sacrifice was necessarily performed and consumed, beyond the theological view of Christ’s crucifixion as a paschal sacrifice before God, though this certainly would not have been the intention of the Roman and Judaean authorities responsible for it. Furthermore, people do adopt creatures and objects as symbols for themselves, as in mascots and on coats of arms, without these creatures ever being personally consumed by them. Muller himself pointed to his friend, Abeken, whose name meant ‘small ape’ and who therefore had a small ape on his coat of arms, as the possible possessor of a totemic ancestor. He joked, however, that although he had never actually seen him eating an ape, it was probably due to a matter of taste. [53]

Of course, attempts to shoehorn all forms of religion into the pattern of a solar myth, is also open to abuse. It was satirised even during its high point in the 19th century. Sabine Baring-Gould, for example, illustrated its excesses with an essay, originally produced by a French ecclesiastic, which mischievously attempted to prove that Napoleon was the sun god, citing linguistic, historical and figurative parallels with the myth of Apollo. [54]

Similarly, the arguments for the antiquity of shamanism have also been questioned, with scholars pointing out that the Palaeolithic cave paintings of dancing male figures with animal heads could equally be gods, and that the argument for the universality of shamanism across the globe is weakened by the fact that there is not even a commonly agreed definition of the term. [55] Furthermore, as with totemism, shamanism also exists alongside organised religion in some of the societies in which it is found. [56]

Modern anthropology’s rejection of the theory of a uniform, primitive Cro- Magnon culture based on communism, matriarchy and goddess- worship undoubtedly explains why Gooch has looked yet further back into the Palaeolithic, to the Neanderthals, for his utopia. The sheer scantiness of the evidence and its amibiguity makes them an ideal tabula rasa, on to which contemporary scholars can project their own views of their nature.


Modern anthropology’s rejection of the theory of a uniform, primitive Cro-Magnon culture based on communism, matriarchy and goddess-worship undoubtedly explains why Gooch has looked yet further back into the Palaeolithic, to the Neanderthals, for his utopia.

* * *

Much still remains conjectural and the subject of debate. For example, although there are finds of Neanderthal burials, complete with flowers and a sprinkling of red ochre on the dead, as well as jewellery of animal teeth, to suggest that they had a symbolic culture, and so were not the subhuman creatures of earlier views, this view is hotly contested. Its opponents argue that these practices only emerged after the Neanderthals came into contact with the Cro-Magnons, and so were simply copying their practices without truly understanding them, rather than inventing them for themselves. [57]

At present though, recent findings regarding the Neanderthals tend to disprove some of Gooch’s theories. For example, the greater muscular development on Neanderthal skeleton’s right arms suggests they were right, rather than left handed, using that arm to wield the spear in a stabbing motion suitable for hunting animals amongst woodland, rather than throwing them. [58] On the other hand, analysis of Palaeolithic handprints suggest that the Cro-Magnons, by contrast, had a far greater proportion of left- handers than today. Analysis of the chemical composition of Neanderthal bones similarly suggests that they were almost exclusively carnivorous. [59] If true, these findings prove the exact reverse of some of Gooch’s own view of the Neanderthals.

Aside from these specific points, most anthropologists and historians today, following Franz Boas, would baulk at seeing a racial, biological origin for political institutions, and it is mistaken to project distinctly  century political structures far back into prehistory, long before these political philosophies and social organisations had arisen. As for the specific examples of left- handers’ political inclinations today, there are serious problems with these.

(Although there is considerable interest in the apparently different cognitive and social skills developed by left and right handers, with the genetic differences between the two being wider than those of human races, it’s problematic whether any of the individuals Gooch cites as left-handers can be described as socialist. Radical Islam of the type promoted by Osama bin Laden strongly rejects the present world order and the dominance of America as an oppressive infidel power, but it also vehemently rejects atheist communism and secular socialism.

In Revolutionary Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini abolished political parties from a belief that they were divisive, and that’all Muslims should be brothers’. In some respects, particularly urban planning, the insistence on restricting legislation solely to what can be expressly supported by the Qu’ran has meant that some Iranian policies resemble the laissez-faire economic policies of the Victorian West, rather than the state interventionism of revolutionary Communist regimes. Supporters of the Iranian Revolution vehemently denounced comparisons of the revolutionary regime with Western political movements, particularly Fascism, and it’s almost certain that bin Laden and the others in al-Qaeda would also reject comparisons with Socialism, Communism or other Western philosophies for the same reason.

As for China being a Communist country, this is also problematic. Although China is a one-party state whose official ideology is revolutionary Marxism, in practice the country follows capitalist economics. As with the other countries of the former Communist bloc, it’s problematic whether Communism in China can outlive the increasingly aging members of the ruling party. In any case, most scholars would point to distinct, obvious political and social causes for the rise of Communism in China, such as the political and economic chaos and corruption of the Kuomintang, rather than crude biological determinism.

Beyond the errors and inadequacies of the theory of Christ’s Passion as the central ritual of a prehistoric lunar cult, rather more profound points can be made generally about fringe religious history and its methods of proof and investigation. The first point is that much fringe speculation, despite its wide ranging use of facts, rather than opening up new ground, really does little more than attempt to propound and defend earlier, discredited theories. Just as the above theory recapitulates elements of Victorian notions of the origins of human religion and society, so Ron Pearson’s theories of the subatomic origin of the spirit world relies on a rejection of Einstein’s theory of relativity in favour of a revived insistence of the existence of the ether. Secondly, global assumptions of a universal religious cult in antiquity are almost certainly wrong.

Any assumptions regarding the nature of a historical event, including its religion, requires as proof directly relevant facts to support it. In the case of the above theory of Christ’s passion, this would ideally be Roman, Greek or Jewish eyewitness reports that such a sacrifice did indeed occur, rather than inference from unrelated myths or legends recorded thousands of years later and further north. There also has to be an awareness of the wider history and origins of the events investigated, and a clear distinction between causes and effects. In the above example, this means an awareness that the belief that witches’ covens had a membership of 13 was based on the total number of Christ and His disciples, rather than vice versa. Furthermore, any allegorical interpretation of a myth or legend requires high standards of proof directly relevant to the subject of study.

It is immensely easy, simply by a judicious choice of numbers and mythology, to prove an allegorical meaning behind just about any subject one chooses, as Sabine Baring-Gould’s apparent proof that Napoleon was really Apollo clearly demonstrates. In general, unless there is direct evidence that the subject of study was considered allegorical at the time, or consciously used in such a context, allegorical interpretations of specific historical events are probably best avoided.

It also needs stating that when propounding a particular interpretation of history, the researcher needs to consider the academic history of the subject being discussed, and the origins and history of the ideas surrounding it. Professional academic historians, for example, consider previous treatments of their subject in their monographs, and history courses in higher education teach historiography — the theories and philosophies of historical interpretation, and how these have changed over time — as an integral part of the history course, as these may profoundly affect the treatment of a particular historical event or person, including the type of evidence accepted to support the historian’s view of their subject.

The most important point, however, is that biologistic assumptions of the origins of culture or political organisation and views are both wrong, and have been the basis of brutality, oppression and genocide. No matter how well meant, even by liberals keen to rescue their subjects from the images of savagery, like those, which have been characteristic of the treatment of the Neanderthals, such theories should be strenuously rejected.

The recent history of archaeology has shown how there is a place for fringe theorising, and that when this is done well it can make a valuable contribution to the understanding of its subjects. Archaeoastronomy, despite its origins in fringe archaeological speculation, is now academically respectable, and Paul Devereaux’s theories on the Stone Age use of sound to create altered states of consciousness amongst worshippers at sacred sites has similarly been well received, at least in some quarters of academia. To be accepted by academia, however, researchers in the mystical and occult fringe need to adhere to the same rigorous standards of proof and approach, some of whose characteristics are outlined above, that academics use to assess the value of their own views and theories. unfortunately, with the current furore over the Da Vinci Code spawning a plethora of ever wilder pseudo- historical religious speculation, we may have to wait a long time for that.



    • 35. ‘Friday the Thirteenth’ in J Simpson ans S. Roud, A Dictionary of English Folklore, OUP, 2000, p.61
    • 36. R. M. Dorson, ‘The Eclipse of Solar Mythology’, in A. Dundes, The Study of Folklore, University of California at Berkeley, Prentice Hall, 1965, p.61
    • 37. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.62-2
    • 38. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.64
    • 39. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.69
    • 40. G. W. Cox. An Introduction to the Science of Comparative Mythology and Folklore. 1881, cited in Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.72
    • 41. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.72-3
    • 42. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.61
    • 43. A. Lang. Myth, Ritual and Religion, vol.2, p.196, cited in Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.67
    • 44. Dorson. ‘Solar Mythology’, pp.83
    • 45. E. Rose. A Razor for a Goat, University of Toronto Press, 1989, p.158-9
    • 46. E. B. Tylor. Primitive Culture, cited in Bennett, op.cit., p.35
    • 47. Review of S. Gooch, City of Dreams, Aulis, London 1995, in Fortean Times  no. 85, Feb/Mar. 1996, p.61
    • 48. M. Jay, ‘Caves of the Sun, The Origin of Mythology’ in Fortean Times 117, December 1998, p.56
    • 49. N. Rooney, ‘Shadows from a Celtic Twilight’, in Fortean Times, 178, December 2003, p.60
    • 50. Bennet, op.cit., p.65
    • 51. Bennet, op.cit., p.71
    • 52. Bennet, op.cit., p.68
    • 53. Dorson, ‘Solar Mythology’, p.68
    • 54 S Baring-Gould, ‘A Satire on German Mythologists’, in p. Vansittart, Voices: 1870-1914, Jonathan Cape, 1983, p.126-9
    • 55. Hutton, The Shamans of Siberia. Isle of Avalon Press, Gastonbury, 1993, p. 14
    • 56 Hutton, op.cit., p.9
    • 57 S. Mithen, ‘Symbolic Humans Started here’, reviewing J. L. Arsuaga, Neanderthal’s Necklace, John Wiley & Sons, 2003, in Fortean Times,  170, May 2003, p.61.
    • 58. See, for example, the BBC Horizon programme broadcast January-February 2005 which attempted to reconstruct the Neanderthals and their lifestyle from fossil remains.
    • 59. See the BBC Horizon programme as above.

A Panorama of Ufological Visions
Peter Rogerson

From MUFON, new series 3, Summer 1976

When the last article I wrote for MUFOB was being written in the Autumn of 1973 a great wave was about to break in the USA. That wave at a time of great crisis, marked a turning point in our perception of the UFO phenomena. I look back on those days as the last days of innocence when one could believe that some simple, rational, explanation of the phenomena was possible. In the two and a half years since I have corresponded with a former doyen of ‘scientific ufology’ who believes that all intellectual speculation on the subject is pointless; with a ufologist who has faced Magonia, and perhaps seen behind its mask: with members of the ‘Invisible College’, and UFO researchers who feel there is an answer round the corner.

John Rimmer and I have spoken with a young woman who has encountered a UFO and its occupants in her bedroom, I have heard from a man who believes disc jockeys are reading his mind, and entered the boundary of a UFO flap area. I have spoken there with a ‘silent contactee’ to whom has been revealed the secrets of the Cosmos, which he may not reveal; listened to tales of miracles and poltergeists, of a young girl driven almost to suicide by the psychic impressions which overwhelm her.

Look at the films of the two years past: Earthquake, Towering Inferno, Jaws, The Exorcist – visions of a chaos to come. Who, in the days of innocence, would have believed that the whole of Western rationalist tradition could be threatened by a movie; or that a man could kill his wife, inspired by a medieval world view. In no sense can this dark artistic vision be separated from the matrix of folklore in which it is germinated. 1973 was the year of Uri Geller, that strange charismatic figure who set the spoons spinning, bent forks, and read minds. Geller incarnated our secret desires of omnipotence, the power to dominate things to our will, to liberate ourselves from the laws of physics – and other rules too? Uri was the voice of SPECTRA, the idiot computer god of our worst fears. The computer is god, the mad computer god rules our poor alienated lives. The game, the experiwent, the rat in the maze become the symbols of the new humanity “beyond freedom and dignity” in a universe where the ultimate secret is an absurd scientific formula.

As rats in the maze, Hickson and Palmer were imprisoned in the strange inhuman machine, where the all-seeing eye of God or Big Brother surveyed them. ‘Laboratory rats’ is what Dr Harder said, rats in the maze to be examined by the robots of the dark future.

And 1973 was the year of Bigfoot, the archaic force that resides in the recesses of our soul. He comes with the UFOs, too. The law of gravity is shattered, the dream laughs at us. Bigfoot comes with trickster god raven on his shoulder.

A new rumour arises, from Utah to Rhodesia – a young couple driving in some deserted place enter a strange shadow, where all the streets are deserted, strange figures prowl the landscape. The journey is into the badlands, a wasteland of the soul, where the sun never rises. The car behind you has no driver but eyes are on you. Or you find yourself in a strange alien landscape, the sky all wrong. A sort of machine speaks in your mind, telling of wonders untold. But no bird is in the sky, and no human figure to be seen.

The day of judgement is at hand, next year if not this. But we are the prophets, there is a paradise awaiting you in the hollow womb of mother earth, and you are the chosen ones.  The flood is coming, but we are the emissaries of the space brothers, say the two. Like the cosmic twins, they will lead the chosen ones to the new place of emergence, a paradise derived from a syncretistic vision of Kurt Vonnegut and L Ron Hubbard. Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughter House Five – remember Charles Manson. Rumour has it that some who follow The Two will never reach paradise, they lie beneath desert sand.

Helicopters fly the night sky, what do they carry – terrorists who will blow up our cities, foreigners who will take away our way of life; Russian agents who stir up trouble, or Satanists who will drink the blood of our cattle. Whatever, it bodes no good, fear is contagious. Maybe the greenies will come in time? Another rumour, the real reason that the Condon Committee failed: a strange being landed in a New Mexico airfield, and has already established communication with leading scientific and military figures. Yet another rumour: alien forces have already seized control of our centres of power, an outside force directs our history. Rumours, dreams of alienation and loss of control. Time is short, the clock on the wall of AVB’s spaceship has no hands. “What time is it” asks the spaceman. “2.30″, the witness replies. “You lie, it is 4.30″. “I know they’re spacemen”, says Cathie Ropers, “They touch their watches end the memories come back”. The evening is nearer than you think.

The poetry of the absurd: a ufologist hands round a photograph of a cog-wheel in a flower bed. A hoax? or unconscious art? Another ufologist has a photograph of a rock: “Can’t you see the faces on the rock?”. A strange metal sphere lands on a Yorkshire moor, inside is a scroll. By some magical means it is deciphered to reveal a pseudo-scientific cosmic scenario. A contactee is taken from a hilltop, shown around the solar system, then deposited at his back-door. A few years earlier he was a central character in a poltergeist case. He is levitated, a voice speaks through him: “I am monk who has left something undone.” Levitation and ascents to cosmic regions are traditional feats of the shaman; our contactee is a shaman and healer.

Ghosts walk through walls, poltergeists throw chairs. A giant flying saucer lands on a bridge, which spans a river haunted by a phantom ferry, near a road on which a white lady walks, and a phantom rider rides. The building is haunted, a shadow crosses a girls mind, the air goes cold. Like a shadow obscuring consciousness, a shadow across the sunlight.

We come from Kansas – everywhere, says the air-ship captain. Tomorrow Cuba. Cuba is fighting for the new world against the old, the future is coming, liberation is at hand. We are free, we can fly, we can drop bombs, napalm. The airship people are nice people, an old man, a couple and a child… or are they? They are talking about a new gun, 60,000 rounds a minute. They begin to look different: Japs, the Yellow Peril. Then they are very different, angels or devils, butchers. Perhaps that is not the road to freedom after all…

In the quiet of the country the ship of souls lands, Adam and Eve as they were before the fall. They are a celestial couple. Perhaps they are the sky father and the earth mother, a vision of the eternal counterpointing, the fall into chaos. The ship of souls comes from a unknown country – “The Mountains of Montezuma”, there is a hint of another liberation, ancient America is about to throw off its colonial history. “We are the lost tribes of Israel, we live at the South Pole”, a lost part of our humanity returns.

“I am from Venus”, says the visitor, the messenger from the morning and evening star, guardian of the boundary between night and day, the conscious and the unconscious. The watcher at the threshold is a symbol of transcendence. Only by transcending the gulf between the conscious and the unconscious aspects of the psyche can man find a solution, warns Jerome Clark. Otherwise the Dionysian aspects of our spirit will sweep aside our safe, rational world. Humanity is on the brink of a chasm, says Charles Muses… a flying saucer hovers above… our only home. “Do you want a lift?”

The vision of Fatima, the great Earth Mother, Isis, Pachemama the lady of the corn, lady of creation and destruction. The sun spins in the sky, falls to earth – a dance of fertility, the lord of heaven torn from his high place. Phaeton having lost control of the power that is beyond his cope. In the name of Fatima the armies march: Salazar, Franco, the Spanish Civil War, the Legions of the Virgin. In the name of Fatima the lords of misrule burn up Europe. In the name of Fatima the Ustasi of Croatia create to most barbaric regime in all history. As I write this I begin to wonder if the final “blessing” of Fatima will be the race war which may engulf all Africa.

I have a vision, says Idi Amin, I have had a call from Allah; a great mission has been entrusted to me, a UFO has landed on Lake Uganda; this is a confirmation of my mission. I know when I shall die, until that appointed hour I am indestructible.

“A great ball of fire came from the sky, it entered my body, then I saw all things clearly, as if from a great height. Thus I knew that I was to be a shaman”. The durne-fire, bringer of the gifts of tongues and healing, the beam of light which struck Uri Geller, or Edgar Cayce. “I saw a light through the wall – I was afraid ’cause I thought it was burglars, but they said they were from Christ”.

When I was a child of two I had a dream. I dreamt there was a sort of light on the wall and a voice was talking in my head. No memory remains of what was said, but I awoke in terror, and the vision had remained ever since.

When he was a young child the Polish medium, Iduski, retreated into a sort of tent made of household furniture. There a great mole came and initiated him into the mole-kingdom. When his playmates went with him into the tent/womb they heard strange knockings and voices.

Celia Green and Charles MoCreary have proposed a new theory of apparitions – not only is the apparition the hallucination, but so is the whole experience; they argue there is no essential difference between apparitional and ‘out of the body’ experiences.

A couple drive through Yorkshire. They see in the early hours a sort of glow in a field by the road. They stroll out to investigate. Only a few yards away is a huge cylinder, “like a melon”. Suddenly an opening appears, giving off a light “like a sustained photographers flash”. They run away end drive off. During this experience they noticed a strange thing, there was an absolute silence, no night sounds at all. This little-commented feature appears in UFO story after story.


By now many readers must he wondering what on earth all that was about. It was an attempt to define the scope of what the UFO phenomenon has become. I am not saying that the stories and extracts above are ‘true’ in the sense that the scientist in his laboratory uses the word. Rather they are of the truth which is expressed in myth, dream, art and poetry. I further argue that UFO researchers who debate as to whether a certain story is ‘true’ or ‘false’ are posing a false dichotomy. I think that hoax, ‘lies’, fiction, and dreams may contain on ocassion a ‘higher’ truth than historical reality. I will also argue that we should evaluate contact stories, for example, as naive art, rather than evidence for the intervention of space people, and that the failure to recognise this has lead greatly to the sterile acrimony surrounding the subject.

Thus those writers who burn up pages of ink on arguing as to whether the claims of such charismatic figures as Uri Geller or Arthur Shuttlewood are ‘true’ or ‘false’ are asking the wrong questions. The real questions we should be asking are: “What is the appeal of such people” and “What effects do the myth-dreams they weave have on us and our culture?”

For myself, I think that Charles Muses and Jerome Clark are correct, and that the UFO is a bridge across the chasm. Not in the literal sense that nice space people are going to rescue us, but in a symbolic sense. The UFO appears to be a symbol of the ‘transcendence of opposites’, the mediator between the consciousness and the unconscious aspects of our psyche. It offers a way out of the twin nightmares of either a sterile, soulless ‘scientific future’, or a return to barbarism that the success of The Exorcist and its imitators has shown to be possible.

I sympathise with those UFO researchers who argue that we must not dirty our hands with stories such as ‘The Two’, or the schoolboys who claim to have encountered monsters in deserted railway tunnels, (on the grounds that such stories bring ridicule on the subject) but I must reluctantly disagree with them. I am forced to the view that we should consider such subliminal rumours as constituting a core of the phenomenon.

A vision in the night; the playground rumours of schoolchildren; the dream of a seer, the songs of a folk-singer; the ravings of a mad-man; the adventures of Everyman, unbidden and fearsome, what can it all mean? The only guide left to us is the saying of a Bushman to Van der Post: “A dream is dreaming us”. Maybe we are both the Dreamer and the Dream?


Uri Geller

  • Puharich, A. Uri. Future, 1974
  • Ebon, M. The Amazing Mr Geller. Signet, 1975

Computer God

  • Dione, R L. God Drives a Flying Saucer. Corgi, 1975.

Rats in a Maze

  • Michel, A. in FSR, volume 20, no. 3.

Hickson & Parker

  • Blum, R & J. Beyond Earth. Bantam, 1974
  • Eszterjaz, J. in Rolling Stone January 17th 1974


  • Schwarz, B E. “Berserk”, in FSR 20, 1.
  • Gordon, Stan in Skylook 75,77,78.

Badlands Journey

  • Clark, J. “A weird encounter in Utah” in FSR 16, 5.
  • Van Vlierden, C. “Escorted by UFOs” in FSR, 21, 2.


  • MUFOB, 6,4.
  • Hall, Mark, in The News, number 7.


  • Vallée, J. Passport to Magonia. Regnery, 1969.
  • Vallée, J. The Invisible College. Dutton, 1975
  • Gemini, volume 1, number 1.


There are many sources for airship date. John Keel’s Operation Trojan Horse; Jacob’s UFO Controversy in America and Clark and Colman’s The Unidentified summarise most of the data.


  • Thomas, Paul. Flying Saucers through the ages.
  • Vallée, J. The Invisible College.
  • MUFOB, 4,2 has a bibliography.
  • There is a new study by J-M Corbe which I have not seen. Needless to say, none of these document the political repercussions of Fatima.


  • Eliade, M. Shamanism, archaic techniques of Ecstasy
  • De Martino, E. Magic, primitive and modern


  • Green, D and McCreery, C. Apparitions. Hamilton, 1975


  • Sanders, Ed. The Family.

I have not quoted directly from the above sources. The purpose of this piece was not reportage, but to create an impressionistic word-picture of the whole panorama of the UFO vision.


Godships. Matthew J. Graeber

From Magonia 52, May 1995

Although we might expect to make little headway towards resolving today’s UFO enigma by comparing it to past mysteries, we may, nevertheless, examine both present and past UFO events as being comprised of optically perceived images or imagery that occasionally have an extraordinary effect upon the individual(s) who either observe or come into close proximity with them. Such effects may be emotional, physical, psychophysiological, or psychological in nature; and the mechanisms by which they are produced upon the observers by the UFOs are unknown, as is the composition, origin and intent (if any?) of the Unidentified Flying Objects themselves.

Several ufologists have described the UFO experience as a form of “display” (Jung, Alnor, Evans, Sprinkle, Salisbury, Graeber, et al.). Theoretically speaking, this display may be directed at an individual observer or a particular group of individuals, or it may even have collective significance. The effect of observing a UFO display may be likened to the intrapsychical process involved during the perception of a Rorschach plate (ink blot), with the exception being that the UFO experience is not contemplative and passive. Rather, it is sudden, shocking, and often overwhelming to the observer’s senses.

Primitive man feared, revered or was awestruck by things that came from the sky – probably because he had little or no power over such things as lightning, tornadoes, thunder, whirlwinds, etc., and did not understand what these natural phenomena really were. In fact, many people of ancient cultures even believed that gods and a host of demons also inhabited the skies and that they could swoop down upon them at any moment. So, it is not uncommon to learn of cross-cultural legends and myths about sky people who rustled livestock, abducted humans, mated with earth women, and even switched their offspring for human infants. Today’s UFO abduction reports may be a technologically accented version of this ancient myth;, but, instead of the aliens snatching babies from their cradles, they now surgically remove the unborn foetus from the abductee’s womb. Obviously, today’s social experimentation, unrest, andnear obsession with the abortion issue has activated an unconscious or perhaps instinctual response to the “split-mindedness” of our society concerning this issue. Perhaps that is why the “new age” variety of sky people (i.e. the little grey aliens) are reported to look very similar to a human foetus.

Modern day ufologists, especially those of the hypno-abductionist persuasion, would do well to keep these things in mind as they plumb the depths of the human unconscious for proof of alien interactions with humans. For mythological ideas and beliefs such as the above mentioned are, in fact, the end products of unconscious psychic processes that autonomously appear when there is a great emotional need present. So, simply because UFO abduction stories sound very much alike, we shouldn’t believe that indicates that they are “real experiences”, that is, “real” beyond the realms of the human psyche and its fantastic power and effect upon the individual.

Since we are primarily discussing the optically perceived “display factor” of the UFO encounter, we would probably do well to select a specific UFO configuration to examine for its potential archetypal character and symbolic meaningfulness to modern man. The UFO I have selected for this cursory probe is the gigantic cylindrical craft which are commonly called “motherships” by UFO researchers. I have chosen this particular UFO with the hopes that its size and unusual performance will afford us some insights regarding its origin.

Although motherships have been rarely observed in the last couple of decades, they represent an important facet of the UFO legend’s ongoing development because they were considered by many ufologists to be the vessels that the aliens use to traverse the stars; while the smaller discoidal craft that they carried were thought to be excursion vehicles primarily used to survey the Earth or to collect terrestrial soil, flora and fauna samples. In this case, it is obvious that man’s own space-conquering aspirations and techniques have been directly projected upon an assumed alien technological presence in our environment.

In the early days of UFO activity, these transporters were rather rapidly moving craft and were occasionally involved in the highly publicised airliner pursuit cases of the 1950s and 1960s. But, in more recent times, not only have they slowed down considerably, they also have become rather unstable aerostats frequently said to be observed bobbing, about in the sky because of the buffeting effect of high winds.

The descriptions of these sky-tubes tend to vary a great deal, and there seems to be some confusion amongst the UFO groups regarding how they should be categorised. For some of the great ships are said to be rigid forms (metallic looking) and hollow like a conduit of some sort. These UFOs are usually reported to be silvery or quite dark in colour, while others appear to be translucent or luminous objects that closely resemble a red-hot poker that is occasionally sheathed in a veil of white light or smoke.

Then, of course, there are the “cloud ships” or “cloud cigars”. These are often said to be detected by the witnesses because they move against the prevailing winds and do not tend to dissipate like the regular clouds in which they take refuge. Interestingly, these carriers also display the ability to land, which is an extremely rare occurrence for the other type and, although they appear to lack any sort of metallic structure, they still manage to maintain a particular shape, such as a loaf of French bread or an enormous cigar.

If we search the ancient writings of man and examine a few of his mythological concepts, we will discover that these motherships probably should be called the god ships. (1) For, certainly these carriers are easily associated with Biblical epiphanies of fire and light, pillars of fire, whirlwinds, and other miraculous manifestations such as the great luminous cloud which was said to have led and nourished Moses and his followers during the time of their flight from Egypt.

We might also find interest in the fact that these cylinders as “a symbolic phallic form” compare quite nicely with the ancient worship of the generative power of nature (and God), which was depicted as a phallus. (2) Such religious rites were practised in several ancient cultures (especially in the Orient), and also appeared in the Dionysiac festivals of ancient Greece. (3)

Symbolically speaking, one might say that the god ship is a colossus (pregnant) and is said to launch (give birth to) many zip-zapping smaller craft (spheres or discs; i.e., female symbols) which wildly scoot about the troposphere like sperm cells in search of an egg to fertilise. Even more interestingly (according to the reports), the cylinders tend to assume a provocatively youthful erection attitude when the ejaculation of the smaller craft takes place (roughly 40 to 45 degrees off the horizontal plane); and to further compound their male sexuality, they quite often take on a reddish glow that quickly engulfs the entire interior of the cylinder (as if to suggest that blood was surging through the tube).

Dirigible landing at Mineola, NY, July 1919

As an androgynous (phallic-uterine) symbol, the god ship is then a sort of “dual-singularity”, or, what Jung might have called “a union of opposites”, which has the ability to carry/eject and absorb smaller UFOs. It is at once a sort of visual aid, projected upon the atmosphere, which symbolically explains, according to the level of man’s thinking or belief, that:

  • 1) That God has the power to create and reclaim;
  • 2) That the natural pulse of life (nature) is a cyclic phenomenon eternally replenishing itself;
  • 3) That energy is conserved.

Curiously, the followers of the ancient Hindu faith will tell you that Matha-Vishnu (second person of the Hindu trinity) can, by merely breathing in and out, create or destroy entire spiritual universes, and we know that this thought closely parallels the remark made by a little sylph to Facius Cardan, [4] which asserted that God’s creation was not a singular event but rather an ongoing, from moment to moment, occurrence, and that if God should desist for even a moment, all would end. 

These notions seem to have anticipated quantum theory, just as surely as the phallic forms appeared in the skies long before the 20th century. What’s more, the phallic also influenced the artists of antiquity, for such forms frequently appear in drawings and carvings which were not only intended to symbolise nature but were also believed to invoke the fructifying powers of the gods at the time of planting. The phallic symbol also appears to have had directional meaning (5) and was possibly believed to have had threatening powers over one’s enemies.

Besides being threateningly penetrating, it can also single one out or offer direction to us in the form of a very penetrating dream or dream message. Interestingly, Dr Jung noted that many of his patients encountered this archetypal symbol in their slumber and it was obvious these dreams had very diverse meanings; but, generally, they come through in what he called “big dreams” – that is, dreams of tremendous power and influence. The kind of dream one thinks about a great deal upon awakening, wondering what in the world it might have meant.

One such commentary appeared in Jung’s landmark book on UFOs and I would like to elaborate on it here because it illustrates how the phallic UFO is perceived in the unconscious mind which is, of course, extremely important to any serious study of the UFO enigma; simply because we are not certain how many of these mysterious objects hail from man’s inner space, that is, his unconscious.

Dr Jung’s patient’s dream: 

“I was out walking, at night, in the streets of a city. ‘Interplanetary machines’ appeared in the sky and everyone fled. The machines looked like steel cigars. I did not flee, one of the ‘machines’ spotted me and came straight toward me at the oblique angle. I think Professor Jung says that one should not run away, so I stand still and look at the machine. From the front, seen close to, it looked like a circular eye, half blue, half white.

“A room in a hospital: My two chiefs came in, very worried and asked my sister how it was going. My sister replied that the mere sight of the machine had burnt my whole face. (6) Only then did I realise that they were talking about me, and that my whole head was bandaged, although I could not see it”

I have selected this dream for study for a couple of reasons. First of all, it touches upon the process of selectivity frequently attributed to the phallic symbol and UFOs, and, secondly, because it had the remarkable burning characteristics found in quite a number of UFO cases, in particular, a case on file at UFORIC, (7) which was investigated by Mr Michael McClellan, formerly of APRO.

Mike’s report on that experience starts off with the witness’s (Mrs Flagg’s) letter to him relating her sighting particulars and reads as follows:

“Dear Mr McClellan, Having read an article in the Times News about the UFO sightings in Mahoning Valley that took place – I thought perhaps it might be a good idea to tell you what I have seen Friday A.M. on October 26. I saw something very unusual in the sky. It wasn’t anything like a flying saucer but rather three large silver planes that looked like jets and they sparkled like three large diamonds in the sky. They also had a flickering light that kept blinking at a speed which I have never seen in all my life.

“The three flickering lights kept blinking so fast and each one had a rod attached to it. In other words, from down here, to me, they looked like three wands with a large star at the tip of each rod. The three planes (as I call them) were huddled so close together and I thought for a minute they would crash if they bumped into one another.

“The objects were all lit up and could be seen from all parts of the world. One couldn’t miss them. It seemed to me as if they were being held in the air by magnets. They weren’t moving there. All of a sudden, the UFO in the center made a quick turn just as a fish would swish its tail (8) and headed towards the opposite direction from the others. This scared me, as I thought for a minute it was going to zoom down here at me. I ran in the house so fast that I almost fell, I turned out all the lights and I went for my binoculars but when I looked up into the sky they had disappeared. I have seen other things (other times) with rays or beams of light emanating from them but it would take a book to write all these and furthermore I always kept this to myself because there are people who think one is a nut. But I was always in fear of these UFOs because I found the tips of my dog’s ears all burned as though someone burnt them with a match. I’m just beginning to wonder if the UFOs are doing it?

“Oh yes, on another occasion one came very close to my home when I happened to be looking out of the window, and this thing from the sky kept coming closer and closer. Well, I got inquisitive and watched. All of a sudden it came real close to my window, gave a turn and a beam went out. It was dark and I didn’t see anything more that evening but as the ray of light hit my windows I heard them crack. The next morning I looked at the windows and, sure enough, they were cracked. I have three windows and they are still cracked from that time.”

Psychophysiological aspects of a close encounter

According to Michael McClellan’s investigative report, the witness became quite ill after the incident and she also suffered a cluster of reddish-coloured skin eruptions and some general discolouration on her entire face which was thought to be a direct result of being exposed to the UFO’s ray. The pimple-like cluster (9) was treated medically as was the illness (nausea) and their sudden emergence remains as much a mystery to Mrs Flagg as it does to the UFO investigator. (10) It should be mentioned that Mr McClellan is a reliable and thorough researcher, who stressed that he had no doubt concerning the sincerity and mental stability of the witncss. However, a clue to the origin of the witness’s UFO experience might be found in her rather cryptic references to the UFOs as the “big three” (11) which she thought were about to crash (i.e., clash) together and would be seen by or otherwise involve the whole world. For, the lady was obviously very concerned about mounting international tensions, and had even felt compelled to compose some patriotic music.

Quite interestingly, in cases of this type we must ponder the thought that a distinct psychophysiological process may be affecting the observer. How this occurs remains unclear, but that does not deny the fact that marked physical effects upon the UFO experiencers and close encounters with UFOs (or their operators) do coincide. For evidence such as nausea, temporary paralysis, unusual skin discolourations and bouts of memory loss are quite often the only physical proof that the UFO investigator can point to to show that a genuine UFO experience has occurred.

Such evidence is, of course, well documented in the responsible saucer literature and can be verified by the physician’s records concerning the observers treatment(s) after the event. But, evidence of this kind should not be considered as some sort of proof-positive concerning an extraterrestrial visitation. However, it does offer the researcher an excellent opportunity to study the possible workings of psychophysical processes (12) in relationship to the perception of specific UFO-like imagery or psychic symbols.

Anyway, if we look at the motherships’ performance record in modern times – we find that they first appeared in the skies as “mystery rockets” over Scandinavia just at the close of World War II. Usually these rockets were heard as well as seen. Moreover, when they were witnessed (as objects with and without vapour trails) the reports indicated that they did not seem to zigzag or hover; rather, they coursed steadfastly through the skies much like the dreaded V-2 rockets and flying buzz bombs that the German military had developed.

Needless to say, many people suspected that these “ghost rockets” were actually Russian devices slapped together by some Nazi scientists who must have fallen into Stalin’s hands. So, quite naturally, the Allies (American and British) immediately dispatched military investigators to search for their launch sites, but the effort was in vain because the sightings suddenly dropped off.

So, it wasn’t until the Cold War year of 1952 that the “motherships” really earned their status in UFO legend. For it was there, high above the French towns of Gaillac and Oleron, that the sky cylinders started dishing out little saucers all over the heavens while also spewing large clumps and fine strands of “angel hair” over power lines, trees, buildings and fence posts. This gossamer substance has rather fascinating characteristics of its own; for it is said that it quickly evaporates, especially when touched; and quite naturally, one is immediately reminded of the Biblical accounts concerning the heaven-sent manna; for this, too, had a protective coating with similar dissipating qualities. Moreover, the emission of the angel hair has also occurred over several cities of the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s and it seems that the smaller disc-like objects can also produce similar effects.

UFO investigators specialising in “angel hair cases” advise that we should not think of this substance as hair lightning – nor are we to entertain the rather ludicrous notion that high-flying (wind borne) spiders were responsible for the strands as was asserted by several non-believers in the press. But, on the other hand, one must say that this sperm of the gods appears to be just as elusive as the chariots they drive. For, to date, no one has produced a sampling of either for scientific analysis.

Of course, any discussion of the “motherships” would be terribly incomplete without mention of the “great airship flap” that swept the USA just before the turn of the century (1895-97). Apparently, these “antique UFOs” also emitted bright light beams and were piloted by both normal-sized human-like entities and a smaller variety which are often called humanoids. Many saucer experts tend to lay a great deal of emphasis on these sightings; (13) and, although it seems perfectly obvious that such airships were almost exactly like the anticipated method of conquering the sky during the era some saucer enthusiasts tend to see them as a sort of alien introductory model.

The implication is, of course, that the extraterrestrials are so intelligent and considerate that they were conditioning us earthlings to their presence by promoting the shape of things to come. The problem with this line of thought is, quite naturally, that the aliens failed to anticipate that airships were not to be this planet’s sky kings in spite of their superior technology and intellect. In short, the ufonauts and most earthlings of that time period suffered from a very serious kind of techno-myopia and it was only a few far-sighted fellows like the Wright Brothers who were soon to develop and launch the better idea.

Ironically, if we search the 1890s airship flap data we will discover only one reported UFO configuration vaguely resembling a contemporary aircraft or an early glider-like contraption, even though much glider experimentation was occurring in the United States and Europe during that period.

Obviously, the human expectations of the times regarding manned flight involved the lighter-than-air airship simply because most people, including the lead-ing writers and scientists of that era, tended to believe that anything heavier than air could not possibly fly. Apparently, this ancient desire to see the phallic airship in the skies was pushed well into the 20th century and even finds some very serious proponents today. (14)

One is compelled to think that it is not that the airplane isn’t a truly marvellous invention, for it most certainly is, but there is something awesome and captivating about the mere sight of great airships just as there is something truly unique about the sensation of soaring in a glider.

Dare we suggest that it feels more like the man himself is flying – rather than riding in an engine-powered machine which is being thrust about the sky. Moreover, can we seriously entertain the thought that this “soaring feeling” satisfies one at a much deeper level, possibly a level which we have somehow lost touch with, but still yearn to experience?

For we know that man’s ancient fascination with flight and his dreams of flying under his own power has not been entirely lost to today’s technological advancements; for even in this age of supersonics and space shuttles we still find individuals gleefully leaping off the edges of cliffs while dangling on the flimsy wings of gliders; and more recently, there comes the news of the successes of a few diehards who have finally realised Leonardo’s dream of true man-powered flight.

One is compelled to think how wonderful this age truly is; the radio has fulfilled one of man’s oldest dreams (to send his voice across great distances); TV expands this dream come true and even allows him to see those distant places; while the telephone adds selectivity and privacy to the process. So, too, remarkable flying machines have shrunk the globe to a point where no place is very far away any more.

In addition to all of this, human organs are being transplanted, life spans prolonged, and several men have even walked upon the face of the moon. But, despite all these miracles and man-made wonders, we still wish to somehow escape this tiny planet with all its dreadful problems. On the conscious level, we seek tropical vacations to relieve the chilling effects of the stress loads we accumulate. Unconsciously, the “escape wish” takes on the fantasy of a flight from the oppressive weight of reality – and escape from the planet itself becomes desirable.

If the “escape/flight wish” should emerge in its “all-too-human form”, that is, as an archetypal symbol catapulted through the unconscious, the instincts and emotions, then man, the flyer (the phallic UFO), and not his contemporary aircraft would be the vision men see in the skies.

For the phallic UFO, which is the aerial extension of man’s inner being on the wing is what we mistakenly call the mother-ship. It is a primitive symbol in the technological guise of the times. This is as obvious a statement as that which is boldly proclaimed by the extended wheels which dart from between the legs of the motorcycle gang member, for his machine ‘comes off’ as being as much of an extension of his manhood as does the image he tries to project with his garb, body language and speech.

We also recognise that more sophisticated individuals express their manhood with far more socially acceptable symbols, such as the long hoods of expensive limousines and shiny sports cars. Yet, we fail to see that the phallic UFO is man, the dream flyer.

Undoubtedly, the sky cylinders are meaningful, for in ancient times they were thought of as gods. But we cannot prove that they mean exactly the same thing to men today. All we might cautiously consider about them is that this type of recurrently reported object may indicate that an archetypal symbol of cyclical, selective penetrating, threatening and/or directional potentiality is evident. (15) If we wanted to find a more familiar concept which touches on these potentialities, perhaps some of the characteristics attributed to the current Christian idea of God as the Third Person of the Trinity (the Holy Ghost) would fit quite well – especially since the Holy Ghost is said to be the conduit between heaven and Earth (or God and Man) and the method by which God implants His seed on Earth too. Something quite similar to the Roman god of healing, Mercury, or the Greeks’ messenger of the gods, Hermes.

We as people of this secular age fail to recognise this because we are not as tuned in to the archaic modes of mythological thought as our ancestors were. I think it would be reasonable to say that an ancient man of moderate intelligence and educational background would have had little or no difficulty in the assimilation of this type of vision, for visions of this sort were prayed for and fully anticipated in their times.

What’s more, if our minds were so conditioned through a kind of mental reverie built up over generations of relative unchange, as were our ancestors’, then the modern day visions would be read without much difficulty too. But today’s man is living in a time of tremendous uncertainty and fear caused by volatile social transition, mounting political, economic and intellectual turbulence, along with fantastic technological advancement. Indeed, in a generally “non-spiritual” but, nevertheless, so-called “enlightened age” when even the most brilliant of theologians tend to ignore and/or completely fail to interpret the signs that men are seeing in the skies.

To summarise, the god-ship UFO (a specific archetypal symbol) is reported to be the carrier, ejector and retriever of smaller UFOs. As if to suggest that, on the one hand, a complex nucleus is expelling some of its components (packets of power) or on the other, is absorbing additional energy.

Our search of the reports gathered and investigated by UFORIC probers and that of “the good UFO literature” indicates that, generally speaking, many smaller objects are expelled or disbursed; but only one or two seem to be recovered, if any at all. This may be an important psychodynamic display, for it illustrates that the energy levels are being spent, reduced, or divided as we have proposed by describing the Dynamic Display as psychically therapeutic.

The UFO sightings and the elation factor

UFOs perform all sorts of marvellously preposterous feats – they wobble, spin, glide, and flit about at blurring speeds. They perform bug-like aerobatics, hover, blink off, blink on, and then completely vanish before one’s eyes. They apparently do not behave in a logical manner while operating; but yet, they manage to elude capture, overt contact attempts and our most sophisticated aircraft.

Through a marvellous mixture of sensory stimulation and emotional responsiveness, they tend to excite and delight us because they routinely overcome the obviously threatening, and make a mockery of statistical probability. In short, they either beat or cheat the odds each and every time.

They are, quite simply, a joy to behold and provoke very powerful emotions in their observers; for, not only are they consciously perceived, but they are also “unconsciously recognised” as the observer’s fears problems on display. Most importantly, these problems (as symbols) are shown to be overcome, split up, or reduced in power, perhaps this is why some adult UFO witnesses proclaim that ‘their’ UFO sighting somehow changed their lives – although they haven’t the foggiest idea why they feel that way about it, while, on the other hand, some youthful witnesses often say that their sightings seemed too much like a fantasy (which is, of course, a process of active imagination that has not yet been educated out of them or lost to the advancement of the ageing process); and they, too, would really like to know exactly what they did observe.

Artist's impression of a 'mothership' launching UFOs

And finally…

This cursory probe into the probable meaning behind the observation of the cylindrical type of UFO still falls far short of what is required, for it has only touched upon that fact that the symbol, whatever it finally represents in consciousness, is only one side of its potentiality, for all psychical symbols are two-sided and extraordinarily multi-faceted.

However, the symbol is not ‘complete’ at its source; in fact it is not an image at all, but rather only the potential of one that develops, much like a photo negative as it moves into the light of consciousness. And it is in consciousness that a person’s need to find some relief, a saviour or mentor – or conversely their fears of meeting with the very devils that are tormenting them – may become affixed to any kind of strange occurrence like rumours about the appearance of UFOs in the sky. It is because of this all-too-human factor that UFOs become endowed with all sorts of awesome, miraculous and magical powers.

Perhaps we have discovered enough about the mythical, sexual, and marked psychic background of the god-ships to determine that their origin is most likely the human unconscious, and not some alien planet situated at the edge of the cosmos. For it seems highly unlikely that a visiting alien intelligence would be so human-like as to possess similar intrapsychical processes regarding the development of their technology, their exploratory aspirations, and their myth-making tendencies.

It also appears that, while we may have been actively seeking a better understanding of some aspect of the UFO phenomenon’s interaction with humankind while examining the god ship legend, we probably have uncovered a great deal more about humankind’s projection upon the rumours of UFOs appearing in our skies.

This type of human interaction with the UFOs is ‘a reality’ – whether or not UFOs (i.e., extraterrestrial space craft) actually exist and are visiting our planet.



  1. Dr Carl C. Jung Informs us that the Berliners call the motherships “Holy Ghosts”, while the Swiss military have managed to came up with a much more earthy description for the spherical objects they emit.
  2. Early Christian carvings often portrayed the Trinity as a thrice-phallus.
  3. The phallus is still an object of veneration in some areas of Japan.\
  4. Faaius Cardan – father of mathematics and philosopher, Pierre Cardan, as reported by Dr Jacques Willis in his book on UFOs, Passport to Magonia.
  5. In ancient Greece, a stone herm (or psycho-pomp) was often placed at crossroads symbolising the god’s role as a mediator between the spiritual and physical worlds.
  6. UFO light beam and propulsion emissions are often said to produce burning effects upon the faces, hands and arms of the observers. In some cases, the skin appears as if sunburned – while in other instances the skin just feels hot to the observer and no siscolouration is apparent.
  7. The UFO Report and Information Center of Philadelphia founded by the author and his wife (operational from 1972 to 1980)
  8. A commonly reported characteristic of UFO flight behaviour.
  9. This may be similar to the ring of skin eruptions that formed in the general area of Barney Hill’s groin after he and his wife, Betty, had a close encounter with a UFO in 1981.
  10. Mrs Fiagg’s physician thought she had the Hong Kong flu, but Mrs Flagg dismissed his diagnosis entirely.
  11. The big three could be the USA, USSR and Red China.
  12. The author is currently probing this aspect of UFO experiences.
  13. There is a popular trend in ufological thought which embraces the notion that the UFO operators have had an active influence on the advancement of human spiritual and/or technological development.
  14. The Piasecki Aircraft Company of Philadelphia was developing a helistat for forestry use by the Department of the Navy in the mid-1970s. It consisted of a central gas bag and four modifiedhelicopters for load lift and propulsion. The project was scrapped when the test vehicle crashed and its pilots were killed.
  15. Dr Sigmund Freud effectively demonstrated that any pointed object appearing in a dream may take on phallic significance. But it was Dr Carl C. Jung who first noted that the phallic symbol had significance beyond the sexual.


ALNOR, W.M., UFOs in the New Age , Banker House Company, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1992
DIONE, R.L., God Drives a Flying Saucer, Bantam Books, New York, NY, 1973
EVANS, H., Gods, Spirits, Cosmic Guardians, Aquarian Press, UK, 1987
EVANS, H., Alternate States of Consciousness, Aquarian Press, UK, 1989
GRAEBER, M.J., ‘UFO sightings as ‘vision-like experiences” which may produce beneficial effects on the observer(s)’, AASMI Conference, 1991
JESSUP, M.K., UFO and the Bible, Citadel Press, New York, NY, 1956
JUNG, C.G., Symbols of Transformation, The Bollingen Foundation, New York, NY, 1956
JUNG, C.G., Flying Saucers a Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky, Rascher & Cie, Zurich, 1958
JUNG, C.G., Synchronicity, An Acausal Connecting Principle, The Bollingen Foundation, New York, NY, 1960
LE POER TRENCH, B., The Sky People, Award Books, New York, NY, 1960
McCULLY, R.S., Jung and Rorschach, Spring Publications, Dallas, Texas, 1987
SALISBURY, Frank B., The Utah UFO Display: A Biologist’s Report, Devin-Adair, Old Greenwich, Ct., 1974
SPRINKLE, R.L., ‘Psychological implications in the investigation of UFO reports’, in LORENZEN, L.J. and C.E., Flying Saucer Occupants, Signet, New York, pp 160-186,1967
SPRINKLE, R.L., ‘Psychical analysis of UFO experiences’, International Symposium on UFO Research, Denver, Co., 1992
VALLEE, J., Passport to Magonia, Henry Regnery Company III., 1969



Indexing the Machine Elves. David Sivier

From Magonia 90, November 2005

Fairy Tale Motifs in UFO Narratives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Originally published in Magonia 35, January 1990

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



The Curious Connection Between Helicopters and UFOs.
Dennis Stilling

First published in Magonia 25, March 1987

During the past three or four years, as I was reviewing the more recent literature on UFOs and the cattle mutilation phenomenon, I became aware that so-called ‘phantom helicopters’ were often seen in connection with these phenomena. In addition these usually unmarked, usually black, helicopters demonstrated some rather remarkable properties: they move silently or with sound unlike those of normal helicopters: they fly at abnormal, unsafe, or illegal altitudes: they appear both shy and aggressive.

They are reported to carry ‘oriental-looking’ people; their passage sometimes ‘blisters’ the dead and mutilated animals; they direct abnormal brilliant beams of light; the hover over missile sites and military bases; often they are heard distinctly and very loudly but not seen; sometimes they look like helicopters but sound like airplanes; they sometimes flash multi-coloured lights; they are observed in association with nocturnal lights; they are sometimes seen flying at abnormally high rates of speed.

All of this sounds very much like the sorts of behaviour typically reported of flying saucers. Strangest of all is that UFOs are occasionally reported to change into helicopters, or the helicopters are seen shortly before or after sightings of UFOs.

It was this combination of reported abnormal characteristics, and especially the reports of apparent transmogrifications, that prompted me to ask myself the following question: if such phenomena were reported as occurring in a dream, how would such a dream be interpreted? Such a dream would indicates that in some sense, an equivalence or, at least, a very close relationship between helicopters and UFOs was being suggested. In reality, of course, helicopters are not identical with UFOs, and so the relationship must be of a different sort.

It was my hypothesis that, if there was a deep-rooted psychological connection between helicopters and UFOs, evidence of this connection would appear in the experience and activities of individuals preoccupied – not with UFOs necessarily – but with helicopters. Since the work of these individuals predates the so-called modern era of UFO sightings, reliable naive material could be expected.

It so happens that one of the engineers most involved in early helicopter design was Arthur Young and, as luck would have it, Arthur Young published in a book called The Bell Notes, the record of his thoughts and activities during the time of his most intense efforts to design the Bell Model 47 helicopter.

In Peter Dreyer’s forward to the book, and in the very first paragraph he states that Arthur Young “had come to see the helicopter chiefly as a metaphor for the evolving spirit – the winged self which he now began to call the ‘psychopter’.” In Young’s own words “the many headed dragon of the helicopter seemed to be growing more heads all the time, and “I am working on the psychopter within the helicopter. I experimented with the self instead of with the machine.” Using an image borrowed from alchemy he writes: “Bell has become a laboratory in which I try to distil myself. The helicopter is only the vessel … I am constantly directing myself towards attainment of the psychopter”. Arthur Young went on to become intensely involved in psychic phenomena and metaphysics.

I also checked on Igor Sikorski. In 1900, at the age of 11, Sikorski had a dream that affected him deeply. The details of the dream are very much like a Jules Verne conception of being aboard a UFO:

“I saw myself walking along a narrow, luxuriously decorated passageway. On both sides were walnut doors, similar to the staterooms of a steamer. A spherical electric light from the ceiling produced a pleasant bluish illumination. Walking slowly, I felt a slight vibration under my feet and was not surprised to find that the feeling was different from that experienced on a steamer or on a railway train. I took this for granted because in my dream I knew that I was onboard a large flying ship in the air.”

Sikorski wrote several books of a theological and metaphysical nature. In 1947 he published The Invisible Encounter, a rather despairing book on the morals and fate of the twentieth century.

Another, very suggestive, dream illustration of the connection between UFOs and helicopters may be found in a letter to C.G. Jung in 1959. The writer was not, as far as I know, deeply involved with helicopters, but this is not certain. The dream is as follows:

“An aeroplane appeared from clouds of smoke or fog [The appearance of smoke or fog is often reported to be seen prior to encounters with UFOs and UFO abductions]. Then a contraption like a helicopter descended towards the dreamer to fetch him [There is an apparent transformation of the aeroplane into a helicopter, a type of phenomenon also reported in the UFO literature]. He saw shadowy figures which he knew to be higher types of man, with greater knowledge and absolutely just, visitors from another world”.

The years 1946 and 1947 were notable for other events of relevance to this discussion. On March 8, 1946, Arthur Young’s machine, the Bell Model 47 helicopter, was awarded the world’s first commercial helicopter licence. The helicopter thus became part of the general culture.

Considerable speculation was given to the possibility that everyone might own their own device for “genuine three-dimensional travel”. In the very next year, 1947, atmospheric straight-line flight achieved another sort of freedom: the sound barrier (sometimes referred to as a demon in the sky) was broken by a Bell X-15 rocket plane. In addition the world groundspeed record was established in 1947. Following Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech of the previous year, 1947 was termed the ‘Year of Division”. And 1946 – 1947 marks the beginning of the modern era of flying saucers.

The theme of splitting was not only a feature of post-war science and politics, but manifested in the technology of the time as well. It seems as though the flight characteristics of the UFO – enormous straight line velocities combined with the ability to hover and move at right-angles and in all directions – were reproduced by us in the best way we could, by means of our rockets and helicopters. Unable to combine the astounding performance characteristics of the UFO in a single device, we produced two quite different technologies, each of which mimicked only one set of UFO flight characteristics.

One is tempted here to view the UFO as the visible representation of a background dynamic that is stimulating us to produce technologies that are partial representations of something that is, in its essence, irrepresentable and paradoxical.

This is reminiscent of the behaviour of the hero in Close Encounters of the Third Kind who feels compelled to reproduce in material form a vague and elusive unconscious image. One may further speculate that the level of accomplishment achieved by the production of supersonic rocket planes and reliable helicopters in some sense caused this background dynamics to reveal itself in the form of the irrational and myth provoking UFO. It was as if this hidden element were saying “No, that is not exactly it, that is not the whole picture. A merely technological representation is not ultimately satisfactory, so here is something for you really to think about!’. The UFO thus emerges as a sort of tertium quid, a transformative element of the mind related to human creativity.

Arthur Young addresses himself to this point several times in his book. He writes:

“What is the psychopter? The psychopter is the winged self. It is that which the helicopter usurped – and what the helicopter was finally revealed not to be. Fundamentally, I am trying to get out of the helicopter not because of what it is but because I believe in the psychopter. The construction of the psychopter is not advanced by plunging again into the helicopter. It is advanced by trying to distil the helicopter. So that from the point of view of the psychopter, which is the important one, the only commitments toward the helicopter which should presently, be stressed are indirect ones”.

Young refers to The Bell Notes as:

“[A] notebook on [a] machine that is much more complicated and subtle than the helicopter. The machine is my mind and body, with which I experiment every day, through which I will eventually achieve the end I seek, for I always knew it was not the helicopter. Here is a great experiment indeed.”

From these quotations we rather gather that this individual, Arthur Young, who was deeply involved in the problems of designing the helicopter, felt machine to be an inadequate external representation of an inner driving force to which he was totally committed. He saw the psychopter/helicopter problem as related to the nature of his own mind and body It is of interest here that Jule Eisenbud has referred to the UFO phenomenon as an “into-the-body-experience”.

The biophysicist Otto Schmitt asks us to consider such experiences as apports, and, by extension, the phenomena of UFOs, to be considered as examples of what he terms “matrix-inversion” – i.e., that instead of arising from the action of an external object on the sensorium, the ‘perception’ event may be primary, with the external object arising as a secondary phenomenon – a point of view not inconsistent with traditional teachings of Eastern philosophy.

We already know that certain forms of mental disorder are accompanied by the loss of the sense of bodily boundaries. Often this condition is accompanied by a view of the body as an extended machine or as being invaded by a machine. This condition has been well conceived by the UFO-naive artist who produced this lithograph.



This UFO-like image has clear resemblances to a machine, yet it is obviously of a very organic nature. It is composed of sinews and skeletal tissues that strongly suggest the parts of one or more human bodies. This ‘flask’ or vas hermeticum of tissue is surmounted by a pair of wings in the position of the rotors of a helicopter. The whole of the object seems to be emerging out of the metaphysical background of existence. The work was done in 1973, and is entitled Air Machine.

A very interesting mythology has been built up around the helicopter in popular culture. Recently a surrealist novel has been published called God’s Helicopter in which a demonic god terrorises the main character by means of a helicopter and its disembodied noise. Ron Westrum reports an ‘abduction case’ in which the sound of a helicopter figures as a fear-provoking element.

The helicopter has taken on near-mythological proportions in television and movies. Blue Thunder and the spin-off TV series Airwolf come immediately to mind. In these shows the helicopters possess such advanced technology that they take on a kind of personality. In the movie Apocalypse Now! helicopters are portrayed as Valkyries who attack the Viet Cong to the music of Wagner. In this film a cow is hoisted by helicopter to supply a barbecue held by the fliers of the machines, clearly mimicking reports of cattle abductions and mutilations. I doubt if this was the conscious intent of the film makers.

Perhaps the most outstanding of the many examples of modern helicopter mythology comes from the movie Iceman. In this, a resuscitated Neanderthal shaman sees the helicopter as a divine being. The consulting anthropologist in the movie attempts to explain the relationship of a helicopter to the Neanderthal as follows:

“The helicopter is the bird, the messenger of the gods, but also a Trickster – supposed to take you to heaven, but if you’ve done wrong, it takes you somewhere else, where you’re judged for your sins.”

Here the helicopter is given the alternate roles of devil or angel as expressed in the Trickster figure, prominent in the folklore of North American Indians for his considerable ability to change into many forms. In this way he is analogous to the alchemical figure of Mercurius, who may be said to stand for the collective unconscious itself. Trickster/Mercurius is the source of both creative activity and gross deception.

I am not claiming a complete solution to the problem of UFOs or cattle mutilations. The UFO problem is far too rich to be encompassed by one solution. I am suggesting that there are fruitful areas of investigation, not usually explored, that may give us a different perspective on what we are trying to see. The peculiar relationship between UFOs and helicopters may well provide such a different perspective.


REFERENCE: Arthur Young.  The Bell Notes: A Journey from Physics to Metaphysics, Delacourt Press, 1979. (Click on the title to order from Amazon)



The Phantom Ship and the UFO. Peter Rogerson

From Magonia New Series 1, 1976

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The phantom ship comes to shore at certain anniversaries:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

The Story of the USK

Fife Herald  30 October 1862  p4  


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

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

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


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

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

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

Westmorland Gazette 22 November 1862


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things turn a bit spookier with this story:

Dover Express 23 January 1864  p4


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taken to the Limits, Part 2. Peter Rogerson

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


The Limners of Faerie. David Sivier


From Magonia 71, June 2000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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