UFOs, Phantom Helicopters and Contemporary Panics.
Peter Rogerson and John Harney

In Merseyside UFO Bulletin, volume 6, number 2, August 1973, Peter Rogerson wrote:


A few weeks ago, in a collection of clippings on UFO events, loaned to me by Nigel Watson, I discovered a very revealing little news item from the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph of May 2, 1972:


Illegal Immigrans Suspected.

Lincolnshire police were alerted to be on the look out for illegal immigrants during the early hours of this morning after an unidentified light aircraft was believed to have landed somewhere between Laceby and Barnoldby-Le-Beck. The aircraft was picked up on the radar screen at RAF Waddington shortly before midnight last night. A few minutes later it went off the radar screen between Barnoldby and Laceby. The police were notified and a number of patrol cars diverted to the area to search for the mystery plane. Within 25 minutes every farm and possible landing strip in the area had been checked, but-police drew a blank. A spokesman said: “If an aircraft were to land, it would need at least a reasonably flat meadow and landing lights, but so far we have found nothing.”

Checking stations

Today the police and RAF experts are studying a report on last night’s sighting, and are checking at other radar stations along the coast to see if they picked up any light aircraft activity in the Humber during the night. The police spokesman added: “If the plane did not actually land, but just went under Waddington’s radar screen, it must have been picked up in an adjoining areas. We are not letting this matter rest.”

It is clear that all that was picked up on the radar were some anomalous blips. There was no evoidence to suggest that these blips were produced by a light aircraft, and certainly no reason to suppose that they were proof that illegal immigrants were being smuggled into the country.

What is very striking is the way in which explanations of random anomalies undergo fashions. A few years ago such an echo would have been eagerly interpreted as an extraterrestrial spaceships now it is illegal immigrants. Neither explanation could possibly be justified on the evidence available.

One of the most terrifying things that people can be confronted with is the randoms disturbing event. Faced with one or many such events, there is a general tendency among people to try to fit them into a convenient pattern. Any pattern, however irrational and capricious is better than no pattern at all. Therefore there is a great impetus to see ‘meanings’ behind world events, to hold, for example, that disturbing social change is generated by malevolent conspiracies or to see portents and archetypes in random lights in the sky.

In his book Folk Devils and Moral Panics the sociologist Stanley Cohen discusses the sort of ‘frame of reference’ by which random events are ‘patternised’. The example he chooses is that of the Mods and Rockers panic of 1964, and he points out that a number of quite unrelated events were incorporated into the Mods and Rockers mythology. For example a perfectly ‘ordinary’ climbing accident was headlined in one paper ‘Death of a Mod’. It was also very difficult for people to accept that the outbreaks were examples of random, spontaneous violence. This led to the development of fantastic rumours to the effect that teenage disturbances were being planned at some secret headquarters, or were being fomented by Russian secret agents.

Similar situations develop in the so-called flap areas, where all sorts of minor, random events which under normal conditions would not be noticed, are interpreted as part of the dominant ‘frame of reference’ which in this case is the UFO phenomenon. Within one flap in the North West of England, investigated by a UFO researcher with whom I am acquainted, a variety of random events, such as the disappearance of a dog, were seen as part of the UFO ‘happenings’. In extreme examples such as Warminster, almost any kind of odd random event is seen in terms of the ‘Thing’, and added to the chronicle of the myth.

However the UFO frame of reference is a relatively weak one, still, in popular consciousness, and is easily replaced by other and more immediate threats. The fear of illegal immigrants is clearly a more powerful ‘folk devil’ than any little green man from Mars, and as such his machinations can be seen behind a variety of phenomena often regarded as ufological. For example, some time last year a motorist reported that he had seen, at night, a helicopter land, a car drive up, and several illegal immigrants get out and enter the car. He claimed he could clearly see that the driver of the car was a Pakistani. Unfortunately, he could not possibly have seen the scene in the amount of detail he gave, at that time of night. Indeed the whole story possessed just that air of ‘mystery’ many UFO stories have.

Later, in MUFOB volume 6, number 4, John Harney reported on a new outbreak of phantom aircraft:


Reports in national and local newspapers about a mysterious helicopter making night flights around parts of North West England seen to have been sparked off by incidents involving Cheshire and Derbyshire police in the early hours of Monday 14 January. Cheshire police had a report of a helicopter and were said to have “kept it under observation for some time”. Derbyshire police were informed when the mysterious machine was thought to be heading their way. They are said to have sighted it in the Cat and Fiddle area around dawn.

During the week following 14 January numerous similar reports were published in the press. The phenomena seemed to be centred around the village of Goostrey, Cheshire (near Jodrell Bank). By 22 January, however, the national newspapers had dropped the subject.In spite of police spokesmen and others insisting that the helicopter was real, and reports that the sightings were being investigated at a high level by the Special Branch, it was obvious quite early on that there was no real helicopter behind most of the reports, as they bore all the characteristics of a typical UFO flap.

An obvious clue to the imaginary nature of the helicopter was the vague and inconsistent nature of the published reports. It was said for instances that the machine was seen only at night, yet reports insisted that the helicopter carried no identification markings. Fantastic theories were put forward to suggest reasons for an unidentified, night-flying helicopter.

The Daily Telegraph of 16 January reporteds

“Yesterday more theories flourished about the phantom helicopter. It has already been linked with sheep rustlings smuggling, illegal immigrants and IRA gun and bomb squads. Now it is thought that it might be a ‘home-made helicopter’ which the owner, unable to obtain an air worthiness certificates is flying, and dangerously so – at night or, it is suggested it might be a modern – and wealthy – lover who finds it the most convenient way to reach his mistress or girlfriend”.

However, an item in the Daily Mail on 21 January reported the increasing doubts by senior police officers as to the helicopter’s reality. It also reports “Professor John Cohen, head of the psychology department at Manchester University, said that the first reports of the phantom may have started a rash of them, It is contagious, he said. ‘Plant an idea and you get a kind of visual epidemic’”.

Newspapers on 19 January, reported a further developments motorists on the A51 near Duddon, Tarporley, Cheshire witnessed the landing of an ‘unmarked’ helicopter just before 5 p.m, on 18 January. Nearby was a farmhouse with a white Ford Escort parked in the driveway. As the helicopter took off the car drove out of the driveway. Unlike many of the other reports this one turned out to be a sighting of a real helicopter. The Manchester Evening News (19 January) reported that the machine belonged to the Ferranti company and had landed near Tarporley on a journey north from London, to drop off a passenger.Some time after the flap had died down, there were reports of helicopters seen or heard flying at night in the Merseyside area. These reports were confirmed when they were identified as military helicopters, engaged on various activities. Apparently military helicopters do quite a bit of night-flying, in contrast with civil helicopters, which rarely do so.

To sum up, a fairly typical UFO flap, with a few real helicopters thrown in to confuse matters still further.


Our Unreliable ‘Eyewitnesses’.
Paolo Toselli

From Magonia 13, 1983

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

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

As remarked by Haines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



The Myth of the Authorised Myth.
Hilary Evans

From Magonia 16, July 1984

By ‘authorised myth’ we understand a belief or set of beliefs which, despite inadequate scientific evidence for its existence, obtains the sanction of widespread acceptance within the prevailing culture. In unsophisticated Catholic communities it may be the prospect of a visit from the Virgin Mary, for the tribespeople of New Guinea an aeroplane bringing cargo, for an ascetic saint in the desert a tempting demon; and so forth.

The most widely accepted of contemporary myths – as evidence such reliable indicators of prevailing cultural beliefs as TV commercials – is the possibility of extraterrestrial intervention on Earth. This comes in two forms. The simple form, authorised by our own space ventures, envisages surveillance and even visits by extraterrestrial spacecraft. The more elaborate form, authorised by the failure of orthodox religion to provide a convincing basis for belief, envisages direct contact with cosmic guardians.

The role of the authorised myth in ufology

It was Michel Monnerie who explicitly specified the authorised myth as a rational explanation for irrational UFO repurts. He proposed that the sighting of an inexplicable object induces the witness, conditioned by the prevailing myth, to exclaim Mon Dieu, perhaps it’s one of those UFO things? and this triggers a waking dream in which his mind constructs a fantasy in which the external sensory stimulus is modified in accordance with the fashionable myth.

Monnerie’s proposals came at a time when some such hypothesis was needed. A few diehards continued to see UFO sightings as a wholly objective phenomenon – subject to misinterpretation, no doubt, but not to unconscious mental modification. But a growing number of ufologists were ready to accept that the mind of the witness plays a more creative role in the sighting experience, and were consequently disposed to entertain a hypothesis which linked an objective stimulus to a subjective psychological process. Monnerie offered just such a hypothesis.

Force est de conclure,” he said, “que le fond émane des themes universels, des archétypes fondamentaux d I’humanité, tandis que la fame est donnée par les acquis inconscients de chacun des sujets, l’ensemble se developpant dans le mythe modern, credible, acceptable.” [Naufrage, 215] (We must conclude that the basis of the sighting derives from the universal themes, the fundamental archetypes of mankind, while the form is supplied by the contents of the subject’s unconscious, the two forming an ensemble which develops within the parameters of the modern myth, credible and acceptable.)

How tempting to nod our heads and murmur, But of course: We know all about archetypes, they have all the blessing of holy writ. We know too about private fantasy and how it can substitute for reality. These are known psychological concepts, it is reasonable to find them operating in the UFO context. All we have to do is say Oui, M. Monnerie, to as raison…

And there is a wonderful bonus. Subscribe to my hypothesis, says the tempter, and you can give up ufology with a clear conscience and go back to being a normal person. For says he, “il devient parfaitment clair qu’on ne peut, a partir d’une construction illusoire de l’esprit, batir use science, l’ufologie, digne de ce nom:’ [Naufrage, 56] (It’s obvious that a science of ufology worthy of the name cannot be built on a foundation of mental illusions)

I shall resist the temptation to argue Monnerie’s logic, beyond questioning his assertion that fantasy is not suscepible to scientific analysis. What concerns us is whether his neat package is really valid?

According to him, a UFO report comprises two elements. First, the basic form, dictated by an archetype of some description. This is no place to discuss the whole notion of archetypes, so I will simply state my opinion that Jung’s concept, however stimulating, has in practical terms only very limited application. True, many UFO sightings can be matched with his archetypes – spheres, eggs, discs, etc. But not every sphere-shaped object is to be interpreted as an archetype: a football is round for physical, not metaphysical, reasons, because it is the ideal shape for kicking and rolling, not because it echos something deep within our psyches.

Well, however he establishes its basic form, the UFO witness – according to Monnerie – proceeds to modify it according to the contents of his unconscious mind. It could well be so. But he them goes on to say that these modifications are dictated by the modern myth, credible and acceptable.

Well now, are they?If a myth is to have a meaning, it must have coherence. If this myth of extraterrestrial spacecraft is to mean anything, then the objects reported should be more or less like what people accept extraterrestrial spacecraft to look like. But if there is one aspect of ufology more than another which drives us all to despair, it is the reluctance of one UFO to resemble another, and for more than a handful to look anything like what we would expect an extraterrestrial spacecraft to look like.

True, the reality – if there is any – is liable to transcend our expectations; but it is with those expectations that Monnerie’s myth is concerned. And the fact is that for every logically shaped UFO there is one that is a shapeless jelly, or a Christmas tree, or a wineglass, or a transparent box like a TV screen – you name it, somebody’s seen it.

The shapeless jelly may be, indeed, what an extraterrestrial spacecraft looks like; it may be what the extraterrestrials choose for us to see; or it may derive from deep down in the witness’s unconscious. But neither way, I submit, does it derive from any authorised myth.To explain why a witness sees a strange object and immediately starts thinking in terms of UFOs, the concept of the authorised myth may be useful. But when it comes to understanding why the sighting experience took the form it does, the concept is quite inadequate, and we must look elsewhere.


MONNERIE, Michel. Et si les OVNIs n’existaient pas?, Les Humanoides Associes, Paris 1977.
MONNERIE, Michel. Le naufrage des Extra-terrestres, Nouvelles Editions rationalistes, Paris 1979.

The Aliens Speak – and Write
Examining Alien Languages
Mark Newbrook

Inscription allegedly from the shoe of George Adamski's contact, 'Orthon'


Inscription allegedly from the shoe of George Adamski's contact, 'Orthon'

From Magonia 85, July 2004

Many UFO reports involve linguistic or quasi-linguistic phenomena: scripts loosely resembling hieroglyphics or Indian devanagari associated with crashed UFOs, long stretches of ‘speech’ channelled from alien entities or produced by self-described contactees, alleged telepathic messages with specific content, etc, etc. In the ufological literature, however, we seldom find any qualified linguistic analysis of the various claims and experiences.

The main reason for this would appear to be the very limited overlap between the groups of people who (a) are interested in the field and (b) have the relevant expertise. The few comments that are to be found come from writers who are amateurs in linguistics; indeed, some of them display no awareness of the subject. While these people are often well intentioned, their remarks are neither extensive enough nor expert enough to assist in the complex task of analysis and assessment. In many cases they are so scanty and/or so confused that they are of almost no value

In fact, many of these writers are also clearly committed to an interpretation of UFO abductions and contact as genuinely involving extraterrestrial aliens. Their discussions are not only lacking in linguistic expertise; they are also predisposed in favour of this hypothesis.

An important issue at the ’coal face’, which conspires with the low level of expertise on the part of most writers in this area, involves the fact that the reporters themselves – even if wholly sincere, and whether or not they themselves claim the ability to understand or use the systems involved – seldom anticipate possible scientific interest in this area. And, even if they do, they too typically do not have the expertise to produce even first-order analyses (eg, phonetic training enabling them to produce International Phonetic Alphabet transcriptions). This latter is, of course, neither surprising nor disreputable, and researchers can ask only that people who have reported such events do the best they can. But the task of further linguistic analysis is naturally beyond non-linguistically-trained reporters and commentators – although of course linguists will seek to work with reporters in moving towards their own analyses.

Since 1999, Gary Anthony’s Alien Semiotics Project has sought to apply scientific methods in dealing in this context with the broader issue of symbols and communication, including ideographic and artistic as well as linguistic material. More recently, Anthony and I have directed attention specifically at UFO-associated artefacts which are said to be and/or appear to be linguistic in character. This includes both spoken and written linguistic material and the scripts used to write the latter, and could also include modes analogous to human sign language or other, altogether alienmodes (eg, symbolism involving lights, which in fact is often reported). In 2002 we published an article in MUFON Journal, seeking to work with those who claim knowledge of or proficiency in such systems, with a view (i) to determining whether or not each body of material is or might be genuine and (ii) to making progress with the (associated) tasks of description, analysis and theory. (Some of the points here are taken from this article.) We have also been searching the literature and we have assessed whatever material we have found.So far, Anthony and I have had only a few really interesting responses to our article. Some of the people who are active in this area are ‘deep fringe’ and their (typically unsupported) ideas cannot be taken seriously. Other ‘experiencers’ and their proponents may not be enthusiastic about collaborating with a project which may subject their hitherto unchallenged linguistic ideas and claims to rigorous scrutiny and perhaps undermine them. At present, the main part of the project which involves actual interaction with claimants focuses upon Mary Rodwell’s contactee/abductee support group in Perth (Western Australia) – to which we shall return.


Perhaps the most common single form of communication between aliens and humans, as reported, is telepathy or ‘mind transference’, achieved either with or without technological means. If it really is true that aliens are communicating with humans by telepathy this could lead to a veritable revolution in the relevant disciplines. But of course telepathy would be very `convenient’ here in the context of a hoax, because nothing is known of how genuine telepathy would operate and because – on most accounts of telepathy – positing this means would free the (non-linguist) claimant from the need to invent convincing linguistic forms and structures (though, as we shall see, there are other ways of avoiding critical analysis). And we know of no case (whether involving aliens or not) in which telepathy has actually been shown to occur. In any event, even in these cases telepathy is not always said to be used among the aliens themselves.

Other accounts of alien communication with human contactees/abductees feature a range of part-telepathic and non-telepathic modes, involving, as noted, spoken and written communication and other modes. These can be regarded as at least quasi-linguistic. (If any cases at all are genuine, it is of course possible that some attempts at communication in still other modes are not recognised as such or are not noticed at all because of, eg, inter-species differences in methods of perception.

We must ask: among this quasi-linguistic material, are there any genuine alien languages and scripts? Are non-genuine cases always merely matters of misperception or misanalysis, or are there any deliberately hoaxed or invented alien languages? What are the structures and features of all these languages, especially any that at least might conceivably be genuine? How do they compare with each other and with known human languages and scripts, in respect of linguistic typology (the relative frequencies of structural patterns) and indeed of universal or near-universal features of human systems (which obviously might in principle be infringed by non-human systems)? How coherent and extensive are they, especially in respect of structural features such as phonology and grammar? How plausible are they, given (a) general considerations of likelihood involving different genetic origins and home environments and (b) what is reported specifically of their users in non-linguistic terms?

Further: are any human contactees/ abductees really able, as is often claimed, to speak and/or write these languages as well as understanding them? How have they been taught these languages (whether or not they can use them actively themselves)? Why have they been taught these languages?In some cases, the aliens are reported as having been able to learn and use the languages known by the witnesses, or other human languages ancient or modern. If aliens are in general able to use human languages, this would seem to obviate the need to teach difficult, novel systems to humans. And of course there are many cases where aliens reportedly use modes analogous to speech and/or writing but the material is unintelligible and no assistance is given; in some cases this material is similar in general terms to human language and in others it appears anomalous, featuring, eg, musical tones without phonation. However this may be, alleged use of and usage in human languages on the part of aliens is itself an important aspect of this overall issue.

Furthermore, what are the meanings of the alien messages provided in all these languages and language-like systems? Are these in turn coherent or plausible?

In fact, much linguistic material of allegedly alien origin appears highly suspect or worse. I will discuss alleged alien languages themselves later; but some obviously suspect cases arise where aliens are reported as using known human languages. It is probably easier to create a hoax involving an existing human language (if one knows it well) than to invent an alien language which might convince a linguist – although some hoaxers would not realise this and might even imagine that an invented ‘language’ could not be coherently critiqued or challenged. One possible example of anomalies arising from an inadequate grasp of the relevant languages involves the very strange ‘messages’ involving words taken from human languages which well-known abductee Betty Andreasson (now Luca) reportedly received from alien entities. Paul Potter, for one, upholds the veracity of this material (for his material, see http://www.ufophysics.com/ sunsnova.htm). However, those messages which are not in English are simply strings of words familiar or otherwise, drawn or seen as drawn (often with some distortion) from Latin, Greek and other languages. Where a word exists in inflected forms in the source language, the citation (dictionary) form is virtually always the one which appears here. There is no grammar. In fact the sequences do not really exemplify language in use; they are lists of words. Potter translates the ‘messages’, adding grammar as it suits him. They are mostly warnings of impending doom, often through the Sun surprisingly becoming a nova. His own attitude to learning can be seen in his web-site remark that any challenges to his ideas ‘will be ignored with great aplomb’! Butthere is perhaps a plausible source for these texts that involves no aliens: a person who does not actually know Greek or Latin but has dictionaries and a conversion table for the Greek alphabet like that at the start of Greek For Beginners. One wonders why aliens would communicate like this, anyway. If they knew Latin and wanted to prove it, they could surely write in Latin.

There are in fact other cases involving UFOs where a string of the citation forms of words taken from a foreign language is presented as if it were a meaningful sentence. One such case arose in the Garden Grove abduction case of 1975, which was in fact acknowledged later as a hoax. The sequence (allegedly channelled) was nous laos hikano (early Greek: ‘mind’, ‘people’ as in we the people, ‘[I] come’). A gloss ‘I come in the mind of man’ was offered; but all three forms are citation forms, and the grammar has merely been added by the translator. ‘I come in the mind of the people’ would be eis ton tou laou noun hikano (or similar, depending on the dialect).In even more extreme cases, there are outright errors in linguistic material purporting to be in known human languages. One example involves a spelling error in a Greek word found in material associated with the 1995 Alien Autopsy case.

Such cases look most unpromising (even where no hoax has been admitted). However, it should be noted that in contrast reports of ‘genuinely’ alien communication systems (not in known languages) might not necessarily be fraudulent even where the material does not really represent genuine alien communications (and where the reporters are not simply deluded). For instance, some symbols may relate to human psychological archetypes shared very generally across the species (if these exist), but may be misinterpreted, for various reasons, as as sociated with aliens or UFOs.

If we assume, however, that some of these systems may actually be genuinely alien in origin, we must obviously be prepared to deal with structures and phenomena emanating from minds and physical communication systems which are very different indeed from our own. Even if the systems involved are similar to human languages in very general terms, they, and perhaps even more the semantic concepts which they express, are liable to be much more unfamiliar than the equivalents in any human language, however different from one’s own first language the latter might be. In this context, it should be noted that the amount of variety even among human languages (and the intellectual aspects of the associated cultures) surprises some people. There are in fact over 6,000 human languages, which can be grouped into about 200 families; each of these families is not known to be related to any other. On the surface at least, this huge collection of languages varies a great deal; some of them are very different indeed from languages like English (notably in respect of grammar). It can be argued that some of these differences relate to major differences of mind-set/world view. But the scale of this variety would presumably be vastly greater where alien languages were concerned. We should expect to fmd utterly unfamiliar structures and types of usage, as well as utterly unfamiliar sounds (for some of which phonetic symbols might not currently exist).

What are the structure and features of all these languages, especially any that might conceivably be genuine? How do they compare with each other and with known human languages and scripts, in respect of 'linguistic typology'?
What are the structure and features of all these languages, especially any that might conceivably be genuine? How do they compare with each other and with known human languages and scripts, in respect of ‘linguistic typology’?

One important upshot of this is that alien languages reported as being rather closely similar to human languages (even if only in structural terms rather than sharing any specific words, etc) are unlikely to be genuine.Such degrees of difference will surely hinder the analysis of any genuine alien language in the early stages, especially if we have little specific information about the users of these systems (eg, if the system is available only as performed by human contactees). But we might expect to make some progress jointly on both fronts as we learned more. And we could take comfort from the fact that some so-described contactees have apparently managed to learn some such systems – whatever their real origin – despite knowing no linguistics (although of course they might conceivably have learned the systems by currently inexplicable means, as is often reported). We return to these issues later.

Although little work on the issue of very major linguistic differences between unrelated species developing on different planets (etc) has been done in ufological circles, it has been a major focus of attention in SETI circles. But even here the discussion has seldom been adequately informed on the linguistic front specifically. For instance, it is often assumed that core notions in science and especially logic and mathematics – believed to be very generally shared – will permit rapid movement towards overall decipherment/ mutual understand-ing. However, given the diversity of structures and concepts even among human languages and cultures at comparable technological levels, this may be over-optimistic, at least in some respects. (Scholars differ on the degree to which logical systems – or at least workable logical systems – can actually differ, but the grammatical and semantic systems of unrelated languages can certainly differ very dramatically.)

One recent body of rather sophisticated work of this kind in the SETI domain is by John Elliott at Leeds University (see e.g. http://www.nidsci.org/essaycomp/jelliott.html). Elliott has worked extensively in computational linguistics, and (although computational linguists often know too little general linguistics) this would suggest he should have some competence. He is indeed familiar with relevant principles such as ‘Zipf’s Law’ (though linguists are cautious about extrapolating too far from such principles). But his references to linguistics texts are at a rather basic level only, and his program appears over-optimistic and inadequately informed by the vast literature on grammatical typology. He proceeds as if this tradition of scholarship hardly exists and seems to believe that phonological information alone can reveal grammatical patterns, which no linguist known to me would accept or even think plausible.  

He also makes various naive and/or wrong statements. Eg: he does not (it seems) distinguish adequately between languages and systems of communication more generally: in this context, in his discussion of bird communication he totally misinterprets the key structural notion of duality (I am assuming that he is not erring further by including here confusion between birds’ ability to mimic and real language-learning, or uncritically following Irene Pepperberg’s claims); he assumes a strong interpretation of dolphin activity in this area; and he repeatedly confuses scripts and phoneme systems, or rather naively thinks in terms of the former (especially where he refers to Latin). There are certainly serious problems with this work as it stands, for all the apparently impressive material from his own area of specialisation (which others would have to assess).Elliott is by no means alone. Other material has been produced by Anthony Judge and Allen Tough; their sites are linked and are at http://laetusinpraesens.org/docs/alien.php and http://members.aol.comlwelcomeeti/5.html (etc) respectively. The material is very interesting but as usual there is too little focus on the linguistic issues and too little linguistic expertise is found in the relevant teams of scholars. But Judge does have a link to Justin Rye’s survey of SF languages (http://ww.xibalba.demon.co.uk/jbr/lingo.html). Rye in turn has links to non-fictional and allegedly non-fictional proposals near the fringe of the SETI world. He is linguistically well informed, although at times covertly contentious. There have also been many fictional treatments of this theme; one famous one is in ‘Omnilingual’ by H Beam Piper. But once again error is frequent in this body of writing.


For our own project, Anthony and I requested samples as long as possible. Frequently samples of alleged alien speech or writing are not long enough to make substantial linguistic or other analyses. Shorter samples are useful only if translations – preferably ‘literal’ ones – are available, and of course even longer ones arc more useful with translations than without. As noted later, many people who say that they can understand such material report that this understanding is ‘holistic’; they understand whole messages rather than individual words or phrases. This makes linguists’ task much more difficult, but if they can work with the people who report the usage they may still be able to analyse the language systems involved. Specifically, we asked for instances of the following:

  1. Alien scripts and texts written in these scripts, with a description of how they are written, eg, left to right or right to left, top to bottom or bottom to top, starting where on the page, etc. We also need to know if each symbol is a logogram (representing something like a whole word, as in Chinese script) or represents a phoneme or the like (as in an alphabet) or a syllable, or whatever. If words are generally made up of two or more symbols (as in an alphabet), we seek to know where the various words in each text begin and end (if this is known).

  2. Translations into English (or other human languages) of texts written in such scripts.

  3. Spoken alien language, ideally recorded on tape but, if this is not possible, in the form of transcriptions either into ‘imitated spelling’ (where sounds are represented by the reporter as best they can, using the spelling of English or of their own strongest language; it would help here if we knew which language each reporter had in mind and/or which English or other accent they had) or (better) into standard phonetic script, if a reporter knows it.

  4. Translations into English (or other human languages) of spoken material.

  5. Other apparently semiotic ma-terial.•

  6. Information on the circumstances in which the material came to be known, including any proc
    ess of later recovery using hypnosis or the like.

  7. Other supporting comment, etc. 


    rodwellAs noted, one major manifestation of apparently linguistic material allegedly associated with aliens and UFOs involves Mary Rodwell’s Perth-based group. Some of this material is presented in Rodwell’s video productions and in her book Awakening: How Extra-terrestrial Contact Can Transform Your Life. This book is aimed principally not at researchers but at those who believe or suspect that they themselves have had experiences of contact (including abduction) involving UFO-associated entities. The author promotes the view that these experiences represent actual physical happenings and offers supportive acceptance of the stories told by those who report them (or can be led to report them). She develops a complex `theory’ of extraterrestrial intervention in human affairs and its consequences for the individuals who are directly affected and for the species. I will examine Rodwell’s book as an extended example of the ufological literature in this area.

    Rodwell has extensive experience of UFO reporters. But her expertise in the intellectual disciplines involved is not so obvious, and the upshots of her approach are quite damaging in respect of any critical assessment of her claims. The book inevitably has a popular and in places an emotional tone which militates against skepticism or even neutral scientific analysis and discourages the consideration of alternative hypotheses. Indeed, Rodwell’s view of the issue involves one-sided acceptance of this particular (highly dramatic) type of interpretation of the reports. This is presented as much the most plausible interpretation and is seen as ‘honouring’ the reporters by regarding them as reliable and of undoubtedly sound mind – and indeed as often having advanced psychological abilities and attributes. In places Rodwell recommends procedures which would more or less exclude alternative views, eg, she states that any ‘professional’ consulted after an experience should be ‘someone who is educated in Contact reality’ (which surely restricts selection to believers). Unfortunately, this is typical of theliterature in this area; the only gain here is that Rodwell does at least treat the linguistic issues at some length (though not competently).

    In many cases, too, the facts are arguably distorted here; they are certainly presented with a massive slant. Rodwell and her collaborators accept more or less without debate many alleged psychic and similar phenomena which are heavily disputed for want of persuasive evidence and in some cases are rejected by almost all the relevant scholars. The bibliography is in a similar vein, presenting pro-UFO literature as ‘scientific’ and listing many fringe works on various themes, without any counter-balancing references to skeptical or mainstream-scientific literature in these areas.

    Furthermore, Rodwell often provides little or no solid evidence for her own claims – which is at times a matter of urgency because of the dramatic nature of these claims. And she admits so many types of event or subjective experience as indicators of possible alien contact that almost anyone might be able to persuade themselves that they have experienced such contact – but have forgotten it, as is often supposed to happen. There is of course evidence that surprisingly high proportions of people report or can be induced to report UFO abduction experiences or to manifest some of the associated behaviour, without there being any corroborating evidence of any actual events. Rodwell does not discuss this kind of evidence adequately. Neither does she take adequate note of the vast literature on the reliability of memories ‘recovered’ under hypnosis and the like. It is quite clear from this literature that at least some ‘recovered’ memories are factually erroneous. In addition, the book is also (again almost inevitably) short on `academic discipline’.

    Rodwell deals with abduction/contact on a broad front; but the linguistic issues are potentially important in this area and some comments are in order.  

    Sample of John Dee's 'Enochian' script

    Sample of John Dee's 'Enochian' script

    Some claims are repeated from other sources which are so dramatic that strong evidence is required if they are to be accepted. One excellent example of this involves Leir’s claims regarding the advanced linguistic abilities of some human infants identified as ‘Star Children’. Some of these claims would, if
    true, revolutionise the study of child language acquisition; the most dramatic of all is the claim that some babies are able to read. But I know of no properly conducted experiments which would demonstrate or even suggest that such things occur, nor of any child language acquisition experts who take these claims at all seriously.Forms presented as spoken and written alien language used by adults are discussed in the (largely self-reported) case studies, notably that of Taylor, who also appears prominently on Rodwell’s video. Taylor includes this material in an account of her life-long pattern of experiences. Much of the discussion is again subjective in tone, involving Taylor’s ‘feelings’ about the meanings of her experiences and her artistic and (quasi-)linguistic responses to them. The material is generated by means of automatic writing, however this may be interpreted, and Taylor links this process with an intuitively and experientially derived ‘theory’ of the nature of the aliens whom she regards as responsible.

    The written material produced by Taylor and another contactee and provided here in plates (more is seen on the video) is described as ‘hieroglyphic’, although it is not clear what Taylor thinks this term means generally or what it is supposed to mean in this context (see also below). It has the appearance of text written ‘grass-stroke’ style in a range of large alphabets, syllabaries or (parts of) logographies (there is too little material in each sample to be more confident, especially in the absence – see below – of useful translations).

    Taylor is reported as being able to write in more than one ‘unusual’ script (presumably in otherwise, unknown languages; but few non-linguists make this distinction clearly). She can also reportedly speak in several ‘strange’ languages and can ascribe meaning to some of this material and to her experience-inspired artwork (but see below). She gives further details, claiming that she and other experiencers regularly acquire such languages and in due course the ability to translate them into human languages without conscious learning. Unfortunately, evidence that these claims hold up and that these languages are genuine is not presented here, which is again a huge omission given the very dramatic nature of the claims.The corroboration reported by Taylor from other members of her groups is too vaguely and informally reported to be taken seriously. For instance, the comments about ‘ancient symbols’ found in temples and pyramids and about similarities between Taylor’s material and ‘hieroglyphic text’ are far too vague to be of use, and it is not at all clear that the people who were commenting had any intellectual authority in this area.

    The samples of Taylor’s spoken material on Rodwell’s video appear to resemble glossolalia (‘speaking in tongues’), in which case the material is probably merely phonetic rather than linguistic and thus is not meaningful (though such phenomena are still very interesting in themselves). It is striking in this context that some of the sequences are reminiscent of Japanese, a language to which Taylor has been exposed. (I actually identified this as a possibility before learning that Taylor had lived in Japan.) It is characteristic of glossolalia and the like that the vast majority of the sounds produced are drawn from languages known or familiar to the speaker. A further reason for supposing that this present case involves glossolalia or a similar phenomenon rather than a genuine alien language involves the fact that all the sounds used are familiar from human languages and indeed not even confined to obscure languages unlikely to be known to speakers or their acquaintances. As noted earlier, genuine non-human (and non-terrestrial) lan-guages would be expected to mani-fest different phonetic ranges.

    If useful translations (preferably morpheme-by-morpheme) were provided for any of this material (spoken or writ-ten), it is possible that this kind of negative judgment might be proved mistaken. In this case, the material might be deemed genu-inely linguistic and the issue would then be whether the lan-guage was indeed from an alien source as claimed believed or was of human invention. However (as will be seen) this sort of evidence appears unlikely to be produced.

    In a most damaging passage, Rodwell quotes Taylor as making a claim which has very dramatic upshots. She states that in these alien languages `there is no preconceived idea or concept about what a particular sound ac-tually means because this type of language is not structured in the way the English language is’. This is badly confused: one has to assume that she means here to contrast the alleged alien lan-guages with all human languages rather than with English specifi-cally, because the gist of this claim is that these languages can-not be analysed as human lan-guages can; and by sound here she clearly means `word’, not `pho-neme’. But, given all this, the idea is clear; and Taylor then in-dicates (in her own words) that this means (as indeed it surely would mean) that the meaning of each utterance could not be related to that of earlier utterances and would have to be (somehow) ar-rived at intuitively (?) and pre-sumably `holistically’ on each occasion.

    The most damaging aspect of this passage is that it is implied (and indeed this is further hinted at by Rodwell herself) that analysis of these alien languages u no matter how sophisticated and free of advance assumptions based on the nature of human languages u is most unlikelyy to succeed. Such analysis would be more or less impossible, because these supposed languages would lack anything that a linguist could identify as a stable or well-defined structure within which morphemes with a constant meaning could be identified and larger morphologi-cal and syntactic structures with more complex meanings could then be analysed as composed of these morphemes in significant specific orders and relationships (linear or other). (This is the normal practice in analysing pre-viously unanalysed human lan-guages or u suitably modified – other communication systems.)

    However, all this appears unlikely in the extreme. Any system which is recognisable as a language in the first place must thereby (by definition) have a complex and largely stable and well-defined structure of this kind (in general terms). That is the kind of thing that a language is. Languages (and indeed most other kinds of communication system) depend upon the repetition of meaningful units. No `holistic’ interpretations unrelated to earlier texts are possible (although some-times nave non-linguists using their first languages may perhaps have the subjective impression that this is happening). It is difficult to see how even a genuinely alien language could differ in such a fundamental respect and still be usable for its native speakers or for anyone else. Members of another species which really had the psychological abilities which this implies (assuming that these are possible in principle!) would presumably not need or use language, and it is not clear how they could succeed (or why they would expect to succeed) in using systems of this kind to communicate with humans, given our own psychological and linguistic capabilities and habits.

    As noted earlier, it is true that even human languages vary a great deal in structural terms, and a genuinely alien language might well be very much more differently structured, perhaps in some relatively fundamental respects in respect of which human languages do not differ. Analysis of such radically novel systems might be very difficult and error-prone (especially without access to native users). But this would not necessarily be an impossible task in principle. The point that humans who are naive non-linguists can allegedly learn and use such languages would itself suggest that the differences would not be as great as might be logically possible or even probable or as great as Taylor and Rodwell suggest in denying that the languages are morphologically structured. In this context one should note that (as stated) the phonetics, which can be observed directly and thus described readily without any comprehension, are not dramatically unusual.

    However, it is also true that any ‘system’ which was presented as a language but which in fact really did have no largely stable and well-defined structure could not be analysed (or at least could not be analysed using any techniques currently known). In such a case, no quasi-linguistic claims made about this ‘language’ (eg, about the meanings of sequences in it) could be empirically tested, and all such claims would be immune from scientific scrutiny (unless and until wholly new principles of analysis could be developed; but this would appear unlikely to occur). The most that could be achieved would be that one could examine whether different human learners of the same ‘language’ interpreted an identical given passage used in the same circumstances in (more or less) the same way, in test conditions, as listeners or as speakers. Even here, however, only a positive finding would be decisive; a negative finding could be countered with the claim that even in a case such as this the meanings might vary. The claims would thus remain immune to empirical disconfirmation.

    One cannot be blamed for suspecting that claims of this kind might have been developed with the aim of preventing scientific analysis of this material and thus blocking any possible demonstration that the nature of the material was (or might very well be) not as described (non-linguistic, concocted, etc). This would certainly be the actual effect of adopting such a position; nothing useful could be said about such material, other than about the phonetics. (This would, then, place the same kind of constraint upon analysis as is placed by claims about telepathic communication; see above.)

    However: once again, the onus is, in fact, upon those making these dramatic claims to justify them or at least to cooperate in rendering them testable. If the systems identified as alien languages are such that the associated claims can be tested, they should be so presented. If the claims are really untestable, their advocates must realise that these systems will be of limited interest to linguists and other scientists, and that these scholars are likely to adopt (legitimately) the default interpretation that the alien languages are not genuine. In order to determine the real situation, one must obtain a reasonably sized corpus of data in each such language and be allowed to work with those who claim ability in it, so as to determine its actual structure.Rodwell does refer to the critical work of Antony and his associates, one of whom is of course myself, on the linguistic aspects of her case. But she seems inclided to fluctuate between what may be an over-optimistic expectation that work of this kind will validate, her claims, and a defensive stance grounded in the evasive-sounding claims mentioned above.


    As we have repeatedly observed, these shortcomings are widely shared by writers in this area. Their presentations are one-sided, and most crucially, they lack linguistic expertise. Advocates of the reality of alien languages and of communications from aliens in human languages will need to provide much better evidence a including evidence arising from such analysis as Anthony and I might conduct, if we are given access to reporters before the balance of probability renders their case sufficiently interesting to warrant further focused attention. Nevertheless, Anthony and I stand ready to engage with any suitable material. In the meantime, we continue to scour the archives for other material which is at least amenable to linguistic analysis.



America Strikes Back
Further Rumblings from Across the Atlantic
Thomas E. Bullard

From Magonia 37, October 1990

Little did I imagine that my ‘American Way’ article in Magonia 34 would provoke such an uprising of criticism as I find in Magonia 35. Peter Rogerson, Martin Kottmeyer, Hilary Evans and Dennis Stillings take aim at my article or other writings with lethal intent and often deadly effect. Surrounded from every side, like any good American I must circle the waggons and defend my scalp.

The apparent stability of abduction reports poses a genuine puzzle from my perspective as a folklorist. A fixed sequence and similar content recurred far more than chance would allow among 300 cases I examined in my comparative study of published reports. (1) Growing evidence suggests that abduction reports vary more than the received literature would suggest, and how far this trend will go is an important indicator to watch. Even allowing for as much increase in variety as I have seen, the sterility of these narratives still exceeds all expectations for folklore obeying the familiar dynamics of oral literature. If these narratives are folklore in any usual sense, they manifest unique properties and stand apart as remarkably uncharacteristic.

The capacity of forms and contents to persist in tradition through time and distance is a defining characteristic of folklore. Similar jokes and legends turn up thousands of miles apart after passing among dozens of narrators along the way. Folk-tales like Cinderella recur in recognisable form all over Europe, and even the Zuni Indians tell a story about a poor but beautiful girl who aquires rich clothing through supernatural help, then loses her finery by violating a time limit. The cultural players change so that a friendly herd of turkeys replaces the fairy godmother, but the plot similarities are unmistakable. (2)

Larger patterns like the life of the hero shape the biographies of Moses and Jesus, the ‘epic of defeat’ pattern lends its form to accounts of such recent historical events as Custer’s Last Stand. (3) A recognised collection of motifs drifts in and out of folk narratives of all sorts: fictitious, told for true, even personal-experience stories. The types, themes, patterns and motifs of folk tradition become old friends to the folklorist. They peep out in different guises, adapted to their circumstances and times but always familiar; a timeless link uniting past and present in one unbroken tradition.

Stability is one hallmark of folklore, but variation is another. The mercurial alterations of folk narratives as told by the folk often slip out of mind even amongst folklorists who have often centred more on a dead, literary text than on living, functioning cultural products. (4) In scholars’ schemes of classification folktales exist as ideal types, but in reality each tale is a unique creation, drawing on recurrent plots and motifs, but arranged in an idiosyncratic and creative way by each narrator. (5) Legend characteristics are looseness of form and content unified only by a core of belief. (6) Living folklore is always fluid, and few narrators serve as mere relay stations. Each teller adds, leaves out, or modifies some part of everything he tells. Every narrative we hear reflects a more or less lengthy history of the improvements, alterations, rearrangements and embellishments of many narrators. Stability does not mean that a complex narrative endures as a monolithic whole. The stability of living oral tradition is a far more modest concept, and amounts to two or more narrative’s sharing some elements of form and content. These shared elements may loom large in the sight of whoever recognises them, but differences often far outweigh similarities.

Too much emphasis on stability and too little on variation is a common misconception fostered by the traditions of folklore scholarship. Rogerson speaks of a set pattern for stories and songs enforced by a critical audience. This ‘Law of Self-Correction’ he alludes to is respectable folkloric theory, but limited in application. Self-correction depends on an unchanging society where everyone knows the tradition and prizes it for its aestheticvalue. Then the audience may correct deviations and guard the stability of the tradition, but such suppression of variation could work only locally, among groups that meet face to face. Each locality and group would differ slightly, with variation the outcome. (7)

Genres like the legend actually encourage disagreement (8). Studies of live legend-telling sessions have found that the lifeblood of these narratives is dispute, where people argue over facts and their interpretation. Consensus is foredoomed in such a situation, but the climate is ideal for variation in form and content to flourish. As a general principle in folklore it is safe to say that whatever can vary, will vary. It is even safe to say that what should not vary, probably will vary. Jokes have an exacting structure of set-up and punch line: they allow for little tampering if the humour is to succeed, yet we all know how often jokes fail. the variation may be accidental or deliberate, but it is a constant process in the narration of folklore.

Rogerson points out a false analogy when I compare long-traditional folklore with narratives spread for 20 years and largely via electronic or printed media. Folklorists have long treated the history of any tradition as a settling-down process. (9) The longer a narrative type has been around,the more it will demonstrate such classic properties of oral tradition as variation, widespread distribution and refinement of form and content so that the idiosyncratic disappears and general patterns come to the fore. Now we know that time is not the vital element. We have watched folklore in formation, seen it pass from oral tradition into the media and back out; followed the lightning spread of narratives and their equally rapid evolution from raw idea or vague rumour to polished joke or urban legend. (10)

Good narrators may serve up a well-structured story from the start. Twenty years may be 19 years and 12 months longer than a narrative needs to become fully ‘folklorized’. The dynamics of folklore apply to the new and the vintage alike. Media involvement has proved only another ‘voice’ in the process of oral transmission, a way to speed up folk processes (including variation) rather than an agent of homogenization.

Another ‘tradition of scholarship’, to use David Hufford’s term, can explain the apparent information poverty of abduction reports noted by Stillings. He finds ordinary conversation to be information-rich whereas myth and folklore say little about contemporary human life. The folklore he is most likely referring to is the folklore presented by folklorists. They have traditionally denatured their texts, rewritten them to purge the unique or topical and emphasise those universal but faceless elements the folklorist thinks should be there. This correction process has drained the cultural life out of countless published collections. Living folklore pulses with the currents of contemporary existence. Urban legends of poodles that explode when placed in a microwave to dry express fear of technology, accounts of earthworms in hamburgers express uncertainties about the trustworthiness of business and the safety of food. (11) Jokes are immediately topical, drawing on politics, fads and mores for humour. The hopes, fears, values of narrators are embodied in their folklore. So sensitive is folklore to its cultural milieu that collectors usually meet with disappointment when they return to an area after a period of years. (12) If abductions lack a personal touch, this condition is atypical of folklore, and the reason must be sought in abductees, their experiences or the presentation of their narratives.

Scholarly tradition emphasises stability over variation in folklore when in fact variation constantly revolves the order of any narrative type. The same should be true of abductions if they are folklore. These narratives are long and complex, fantastic in context, controversial in nature, and the personal claims of individual abductees. If any kind of story should generate a luxuriant profusion of variants, this is it. What we find instead is a surprisingly unchanging narrative type. Folklore should not behave this way. My critics propose two reasons to account for this stability.

Both Rogerson and Stiilings raise an important question of how selective the published sample of abduction reports may be. If the authors have selected, rewritten and homogenised these themes, we readers may read a story much less varied than the abductees actually told. I confess that the same question bothered me. I also admit that I am in a poor position to give a judicious answer. My comparative study treats published sources, so its reliability depends on their representitiveness and accuracy. The only response l can offer comes from an account of the investigators of 103 high-information, high reliability cases. I found that 17 cases included Leo Sprinkle in the investigation, ten Budd Hopkins, nine Ray Fowler, five James Harder and five Ann Druffel. Two teams or individual investigators dealt with three entries each, another seven with two each, and the remaining 37 cases came from individuals or groups independent of investigators in any other entry. Six investigators are associated with 46 cases, nearly half the total, though few cases represent solo effort.

Looking at the numbers another way, the investigators differ in 51 cases. That’s quite a few hands to dabble in the pot and still serve up a consistent story. Critics may argue that investigators, hypnotists, writers, editors, and anyone else in the chain from report to publication have helped impose conformity on these texts, and they may be right. The fact is that no investigator records slavishly duplicate abductions. Sprinkle finds ‘nice guy’ aliens and also the torturers of the Casey County case: Hopkins has cruel aliens but also the friendly beings who met Virginia Horton. And so it goes – the skeleton remains the same but the flesh differs somewhat from case to case. My bottom line of doubt remains that that any group of even fifty or so individuals could maintain the coherence of such a complex narrative as the abduction story without careful and deliberate collusion.

The mystery of abductions from a folklorist’s standpoint is still the dozens of reports, alike in sequence and details. Rogerson counters that contactee yarns from the 1950′s had similarities and accounts of witches sabbats included a wealth of similar details. True up to a point, but contactee stories were highly individualistic despite some efforts by the principles to support one another’s tales.

Witches sahbats scatter considerably in events and details, despite investigators’ manuals and singularly persuasive ways of leading the witness. No, the stability of abduction reports has a qualitative peculiarity. If they are fictions or fantasies the glue holding them together is an unusual one. No matter how unrepresentative the sample of reports called abductions proves to be relative to all UFO close encounters, this subgroup stands by itself as large enough and self-coherent enough to challenge conventional interpretation.

The second explanation for stability in abduction reports appears in Kottmeyer’s article, certainly one of the most effective and devastating critiques ever offered against the abduction phenomenon. He says that the reports assume the sequence they do because this sequence is the right way to tell a story. The episodes in abduction reports and narratives from many other cultural contexts align according to a dramatic structure because this order best realises the emotional potential of the story elements. When the episodes are properly played against one another for contrast and suspense, the arrangement optimizes the impact of the whole.

Kottmeyer’s insights converge on folklorists’ thinking about form in urban legends (13), which manifest a cunning organisation based on dramatic structure and the withholding of key information to build suspense and spring a surprise at the end. These tales circulate in sloppy and well-structured versions, with some narrators able to pick up the bare elements and recast them into a good form, with an unconscious intuition for what makes a ‘good story’. But the same research that confirms Kottmeyer’s general principle also underscores the peculiarity of abduction reports. Just because people know how to tell a good story does not mean that they exercise their skills often or well. An examination of the variants of urban legends shows that these narratives are highly volatile, subject to frequent change and likely to fall short of their aesthetic potentials. Narrators scramble the parts, ruin the form, and settle for inartistic presentations as a matter of course. Drama remains a goal only sometimes achieved in everyday practice. In this light the stability of abductions once again rises to anomaly status, since we should expect more stories told the wrong way than we actually see.

He also assumes, and rashly I think, that everyone assigns the same emotional values to the various episodes. Even given the same elements, two story-tellers may may focus on different parts as the most important or emotion packed. One narrator’s climax becomes another’s footnote.

The idea that there is only one good way to tell a story harks back to the perception of tradition as a prison, whereas folklorists have come to regard tradition as a framework conducive to creativity. Not every creative choice is as easy or necessarily as effective as another, but good narrators make the differences work. If abductions are fictitious, narrators have different options to explore, arrangements to try and ways to dramatize them all.

Kottmeyer limits his explanations to the overall sequence of episodes, when in fact the sequencing of events within episodes complicates the abduction story even more. The ’capture’ episode and especially the actual procurement of a captive by the beings, follows a lengthy itinerary. So does the examination episode. Here too we find remarkable stability, despite so many added opportunities for variation. With so much variety among much shorter urban legends, the relative invariance of long, loose abduction narratives comes as all the greater surprise.

The bulk of Kottmeyer’s article goes to uncovering parallels between science fiction and abductions. Legitimate extraterrestrials should be independent of culture and mark a discontinuity with the past. Culturally derived stories of aliens should have cultural antecedents. In support of this principle he demonstrates with ample evidence that abduction ideas are nothing new under the sun, but are represented with considerable fidelity in the SF movies and literature to which many people have been exposed. Themes of reproductive concern and dying planets, practices like organ removal and medical examination, descriptive details such as large crania and short stature have ready examples in the movies. The comparison requires no gymnastics of the imagination. Some of the ideas are quite literally interchangeable from one medium to the other.

He details possible influences on the Hill case at greatest length, partially motivated by my claim that the Hill’s underwent their abduction ‘entirely unpredisposed’. What I intended to say was that their abduction story was new to the UFO literature, but Kottmeyer notes that Donald Keyhoe discussed short beings with kidnap on their minds in the very book Betty read shortly after the ‘interrupted journey’. Moreover Keyhoe’s assumption that aliens would
visit on a scientific mission lent credibility to ideas like medical examination. While the synthesis of the abduction story may rest with the Hills, Kottmeyer makes clear beyond doubt that the pieces were already there for taking off the cultural shelf.

Not all of Kottmeyer’s identifications are equally convincing. The derivation of the needle-in-the-navel incident from an image in Invaders from Mars me as clever but unpersuasive. The Invasion of the Saucer men aliens are short and big-headed, but the eyes, ears, mouth, veined cranium and general expression are all wrong. Such differences of opinion in no way detract from the overall case that abductions owe much to cultural influences.

One of the most powerful arguments involves the Kenneth Arnold sighting. Arnold described an odd form, half wedge, half disc, but it was the term ‘flying saucer’ that captivated the public imagination. People reported saucers – nice regular shapes which have so dominated reports that a concept of cultural origin seems certain to have determined the 1947 sightings. I do not intend to refute the cultural-influence explanation, since I quite agree that this force is hard at work in the UFO phenomenon. Rogerson allows that abductions may have an experiential basis, though the experience is a consequence of cultural influences. This is the way folklorists have explained extra-normal encounters: traditional beliefs raise expectations, and expectation shapes ambiguous stimuli in its own image. (14) Certainly most UFO reports fall into this category.

My intention is rather to show that cultural influence may not be the whole story, whereas primary experience or a combination of experience and influence may provide a better explanation. Folklorists have begun to bend their rigid stance of the supposedly one-way relationship of cause and effect. David Hufford’s research with ‘Old Hag’ traditions has established that sometimes experience comes first and tradition develops later as a human response to an experiential fact. This possibility is reasonable enough, but acceptance has come slowly. (15)

The prospect of facing an unusual and unfamiliar experience raises some interesting problems. How do you describe it? How do you understand it? The terms of description and conceptual structure of understanding are themselves traditions. We rely on past experiences to deal with the present, but old acquaintances break down before novelty. When nothing quite fits, we must turn to approximations and metaphors as ways to get a handle on the puzzle, however partial and slippery our grasp. Familiar terminology and classifications may not do the job, but rather than leave a phenomenon uncomprehended and ineffable, most of us opt for positive categories and communication with others even if our choices require a compromise of observational integrity.

Applying this principle to the 1947 saucers, Arnold believed that he saw experimental military aircraft and could describe what he thought they looked like without firm cultural obligations. Those who followed were not so lucky. For them the ‘flying saucer’ image set a powerful precedent. A desire to conform, eagerness to join the excitement, and the pressure of expectation influenced many people to convert vague stimuli into flying discs. What if someone saw something that was not a disc? The same pressure would come to bear on him, driving him to simplify his observation towards the `norm’, perhaps even to recast his memories in the orthodox mould. Where a stubborn individual might resist, the media would soon round off the edges of his report for him, and he would go on record as seeing a saucer in spite of himself. The fact is, we do not know for certain the proportion of saucer shapes to Arnoldesque shapes amongst 1947 reports. Ted Bloecher’s admirable study lists shapes only according to general category, so the finer points get lost. Newspaper writers mediated in most of the reports he cites, and the noise-to-signal ratio necessarily runs high among these accounts, even if a real signal exists. Given these handicaps and the consequent shortcomings of evidence, and firm conclusion that the 1947 wave is all cultural noise amounts to a leap of faith instead of a logical step.

Abductions pose a far more formidable challenge to the witness. The event is more complex, far stranger, personally threatening and viewed in a state of mental impairment according to most reports. An abductee would hardly return fluent in the language of the unknown. He wouldd stumble to describe it and lean on every verbal or visual crutch. Even Barney Hill’s alien with wraparound eyes need not wholly be a product of influence. If John Fuller conveys a faithful summary of the Hill’s conscious memories, then we know that the eyes troubled Barney before hypnosis and before the Outer Limits episode was aired. Is it so strange that he would grope for a handy visual simile, and grasp one from a recent TV show? I doubt it. Most of us do the same all the time, enriching our stock of expressions and humour with borrowings from the media. Even if his description bent towards the image of the television alien, this fact does not negate the reality of his basic observation. Television seems not to have planted a preoccupation with
strange eyes in his mind.

Experience seems to have taken the lead in that.

An argument along these lines may explain why no paediatrician known to Stillings has reported abductions, a puzzling situation if they are as common as ufologists claim. A child could not identify an abduction by name or describe unfamiliar sights in precise terms, and a paediatrician might not be familiar with the abduction phenomenon, or sensitive enough to connect it with a child’s clumsy approximations even if aware. A paediatrician used to hearing the whimsical yarns of children might dismiss abduction evidence without ever recognising it. Paediatricians conform to their professional traditions as well as anyone else.

If proponents of cultural influence accept that it equips the imagination to counterfeit an entire experience, they can also allow it a more limited role as modifier of real experience. An overlay of terminology or conceptual filter based on prior knowledge would channel the report to the realm of the familiar. The influence argument cuts both ways, Influence based fantasy or influence-modified experience could both account for abduction reports, and such an argument loses its edge.

Kottmeyer attempts to resolve the issue with an appeal to simplicity: is there anything in the abduction story without an antecedent in science-fiction? I would have to give a negative answer. Even if modified reality could account for the culturally derived patterns and content in reports, simplicity throws the decision to a subjective origin.

This line of reasoning is formally correct, but I distrust it because the critics have a vast reservoir of parallels from which to draw. Science fiction has generated so many images that some of them are bound to match up with abductions. In fact why limit the search to science fiction? the pool of influence grows into an ocean if we include every possible cultural source, since we can find strange, penetrating eyes among fairies, or demons that torture with sharp pointed objects in the popular vision of hell. The hunt for parallels is a search that never fails. Folklorists have overindulged from time to time, especially in the heyday of solar mythology. One caution against setting too much store in parallels came when a folklorist applied the hero pattern to the life of Abraham Lincoln, and found that Lincoln promptly dissolved into myth. (The American educational system has since achieved similar results using ignorance as the salvent) The moral (in both cases) is that too much laxity of application may look proper enough, but still leans to false results.

Stillings denounces me for such concretist statements as “fairies do not fly in spaceships or use eye-like scanning devices.” Even valid parallels do not duplicate one another exactly, so he rightly notes that I overstate the case. The point I wished to make nevertheless deserves repeating – with the terms of comparison abstracted enough, anything can look like something else. Abstraction only exacerbates a situation where many analogues are available. For comparisons to be truly persuasive they must relate homologues rather than analogues. Homologues are likenesses based on deep genetic relationships and not mere surface appearances.

Establishing homologies reprrsents no easy task but for a start the confidence in a comparison rises when the terms are specific, complex patterns match, and near-parity of elements prevails (that is, most elements correspond and few are left over). A genuine case of cultural influence may not fulfil these stringent criteria, but they set a worthy standard for evidence. It should be clear that an argument founded on stray resemblances and abstracted patterns falls well short of this goal.

The wonder then is not that every element of the abductions story has its antecedents, but that the story-tellers use so few of the available possibilities. Science fiction aliens come in all shapes and sizes, science fiction storylines diversify well beyond any single plot. Even if the Hill report has become the guiding light for abductees, they have gone through life exposed to other ideas that would play well within an abduction framework. If the Hill’s vivid fantasy was born out of science fiction influences and little else, surely these same images have power enough to break the stranglehold of this story and stimulate other narrators to a little creative adventurousness now and then. The power of science-fiction ideas should destabilise abduction reports, or else cultural influences are not
  not so influential after all. 

Stillings claims that Americans start with ETH beliefs and dismiss without due consideration all explanations based on psychology, cultural influence or hypnotic confabulation. This statement stings my pride, since I thought I had given some consideration to just these issues. My comparative study of reports explored the folkloric affinities of abductions and my investigation of hypnosis inquired into its potential as a solution. (l6) In both cases I examined a great deal of evidence, and in both cases I found the subjective answers wanting. Nor do I mean to hog all the credit. Elizabeth Slater’s evaluation of abductees, June Parnell’s tests of close-encounter experients, and Rima Laibow’s studies of post-traumatic stress disorder have set the psychological study of abdwctees on a sound evidential footing. At the heart of the matter, American investigators have worked closely with abductees, a great many abductees, probing their stories in depth and following up on life changes and consequences.

Rogerson raises the psychological issue by citing Charles Hickson’s emergence as a contactee, and sees here an example of reality at odds with the image of normalcy promoted by ufolagists. What we can say about abductee psychology is that Keul and Phillips have found evidence for mental disturbance and social dissatisfaction among close-encounter claimants. Slater found no psychopathology among the nine abductees she studied, rather a set of characteristics that could mean either fantasy-prone personalities or traumatic victimisation. Parnell found no evidence for psychopathology or above-average capacity for imagination among close-encounter witnesses, while abductees proved to be among the least imaginative subjects in her sample. (l7) The picture remains vague and inconclusive. With such evidence, is American reluctance to jump upon a psychological bandwaggon surprising?

The Hickson example resurrects the problem of what is cause, what is effect in the abduction phenomenon. The possibilities that certain psychological manifestations are consequences of an experience deserves more serious consideration than my critics appear to have given. An individual with the right psychological predispositions might report contact with aliens and later undergo profound life changes akin to religious conversion, all as part of his psychological makeup. Yet it is no less reasonable to believe that an unpredisposed individual might change in drastic ways as a result of a real and deeply disturbing experience. John Rimmer’s editorial mentions Laibaw’s finding that abductees report a high incidence of childhood sexual abuse. Before jumping to any conclusion that abductions serve as screen memories for actual abuse, another clue should be noted: Abduction memories do not relate to abuse memories in the right way for a screen, since the abuse memories screen the abduction. (l8) So which is cause and which is effect? Such evidence by no means proves aliens, but it means that the problem is more convoluted that psychological proponents have acknowledged.

One criticism levelled by Stillings is undeniable: ETH supporters can rationalise anything with their theory. It is flexible enough to accommodate all sorts of phenomena, and difficult to falsify. Anyone who has taken abductions seriously and found psycho-social reductions unsatisfying must trouble over this difficulty in the ETH positign.

At the same time psychosocial advocates set their house in little better order. I agree with Evens that European ufological investigations have been both extensive in effort and excellent in quality. I apologise for giving the inadvertent impression that I considered them anything less. However I still find the present psychosocial theories as much a Procrustean Bed as Stillings regards the efforts as American ufologists.

We can thank the psychosocial school for a surfeit of explanations, few of them developed beyond the stage of vague suggestiveness. I found that reports obtained by hypnosis similar to reports remembered spontaneously and concluded that hypnosis played little part in shaping the abduction story. Stillings questions this conclusion on the grounds that hypnotic and other altered states can occur without formal induction. He is right, but sceptics (and Stiilings himself in the same article) usually advocate a facilitative and not a causal role for hypnosis in abduction making. Hypnosis enhances susceptibility to influence so a subject readily follows the lead of the hypnotist. When a hypnotist is a believer he may confabulate and abduction with the subject. Consistencies in the reports then trace to hypnotists who want to hear the same abduction story and pass their expectations along to a receptive subject. This argument suffers if people tell a similar story without benefit of leadership, which happens in the case of spontaneous recall.

If Stillings wishes highway hypnosis or some other altered-consciousness condition to account far abductions, he has an established natural phenomenon on his side, but he must still explain how natural hypnosis produces a story like other abduction stories. If a hypnotist who leads a witness is all important in one explanation, where is the leader in the other? Though one solution goes down in flames, plenty more wait in the wings. Perhaps the witness is a fantasy-prone or boundary-deficit type? If I point out that these people should tell the most varied stories instead of the most stable my opponents have fresh arguments: perhaps an over-zealous, Svengali-like investigator or a well-intentioned but fatal bias in establishing the sample of cases. Perhaps the answer lies not with research errors but with life conditions or mental states that predispose the witnesses, or the blame may lie with TV, movies, SF images; when hard pressed electro-magnetic fields from seismic events may come to the rescue.

This leaves an impression of ad hoc arguments addressed to one or another aspect of the phenomenom rather than to the whole problem. Each explanation may succeed in one area but fail in another. Too many explanations undercut the credibility of any one, and only Kottmeyer states his case in depth. Psychosocial proponents seem to take their answers too much for granted and with few exceptions fail to nurture an embryonic case to full term.

In the end abductions present a sort of orthoteny in reverse. This time we have the straight-line of consistent story given to us, and seek the points on which it rests. The field is crowded with possible alternatives; explanations pile layers deep. Somehow the line stays true. What makes the situation so striking is itself a psychosocial argument. The knowledge that comes from folklore research and demonstrates the likelihood of variation. Whether folklore sprouts from the deep psyche or takes root in cultural influences, the resulting narratives blossom with creativity and individuality within traditional frames. Personal experience accounts bear a richness of personal idiosyncrasies. Abduction reports simply mismatch other folklore in these significant respects.

I sympathise with Evens when he says that an ETH explanation for abductions is riddled with contradictions and simply does not work. Michael Swords makes a thoroughly compelling case against hybridisation, and no-one has yet solved the problem of how aliens in vast numbers can cross light years of space to reach earth then find nothing better to do than repeat the same old lab exercises. (19) If I truly believed that aliens could seize me I would spend my life in the company of a hundred other people, all armed to the teeth and ready to demonstrate to any short grey house-guests that happiness is a warm AK-47. I do not, therefore deep down I do not believe. A literal reading of abductions clashes with commonsense and learned good sense alike, but that reason in itself gives me licence to question but not to close my eyes. The evidence as I see it shows me a puzzle that I cannot solve with reference to conventional phenomena known to me, nor have the alternatives offered by psychosocial advocates proved adequate to the task. On the other hand a literal reading best fits the story line. I may not believe that abductions are real experiences, but we have no better answer for now.

After all, I was under the impression that proper young Victorians discovered ladies’ legs by experience, perhaps for a monetary consideration or otherwise, but without the need for an intermediary. In Europe as in America, experience is the best teacher.



  • 1. Bullard, Thomas E. UFO Abductions: the measure of a mystery. Fund for UFO Research, 1987.
  • 2. Thompson, Sith. Tales of the North American Indians, University Press, 1968: pp.225-231.
  • 3. Dundes, Alan. ‘The hero pattern in the life of Jesus’ in Dundes, Interpreting Folklore. Indiana University Press, 1980; Rosenberg, Bruce A. Custer and the Epic of Defeat, Penna. State Univ. Press, 1974.
  • 4. Dorson, Richard M. ‘Folklore in the Modern World’ in Dorson, ed, Folklore in the Modern World, Mouton, 1978; Hufford, David J. ‘Traditions of Disbelief’, New York Folklore 8 (1982) 47-55.
  • 5. Degh, Linda. Folklore and Society. Indiana University Press, 1969.
  • 6. Degh, Linda. Processes of LegendFormation’, Laographia 22 (1965): 8.
  • 7. Thompson, Stith. The Folktale. Univ. of California Press, 1977.
  • 8. Degh, Linda, and Andrew Vazonyl ‘The Crack on the Red Goblet or Truth and the Modern Legend’, in Dorson, Richard M. (ed.) Folklore in the Modern World.
  • 9. Degh, Linda, and Andrew Yazonyl ‘The Memorate and the proto-Memorate’, Journal of American Folklore (1974) 225-239.
  • 10. For example: Mullen, Patrick B. ‘Modern Legend and Rumor Theory’, Journal of the Folklore lnstitute 9 (1972) pp.95-109  Klintberg, Bengt, ‘Modern Migratory Legends in Oral Tradition and Daily Papers’ Arv, 37 (1981): 153-160; Grider, Sylvia, ‘The Razor Blades in the Apple Syndrome’, in Smith, Paul (ed.) Perspectives on Contemporary Legend, Univ. of Sheffield, 1984.
  • 11. Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Vanishing Hitchhiker, Norton, 1981.
  • 12. Bennett, Gillian, Traditions of Belief, Penguin (NY), 1987.
  • 13. BARNS, Daniel R. ‘Interpreting Urban Legends’, Arv 40 (1984):67-78; Nicolaisen, W F H, ‘The Linguistic Structure of Legends, in Bennett, Gillian, Perspectives on Contemporary Legend, v.2. Sheffield Academic Press, 1987.
  • 14. Honko, Lauri, Mernorates and the Study of Folk Beliefs’, Journal of the Folklore Institute I (1965) pp.5-19.
  • 15. Hufford, David J. The Terror that Comes in the Night, Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
  • 16. Bullard, Thomas E ‘Hypnosis and UFO Abductions: a Troubled Relationship’, Journal of UFO Studies n.s. 1 (1989}.pp.3-40
  • 17. Keul, A. and Ken Philips. ‘Assessing the Witness’ in UFOs 1947-1987, Fortean Tomes, 1987; Final Report of the Psychological Testing of UFO Abductees, Fund for UFO Research, 1984; Parnell, June O. ‘Personality Characteristics on the MMPI, IGPF and ACL of Persons who Claim UFO Experiences’, Laramie, University of Wyoming dissertation, 1986.
  • 18. Laibow, Rima E.’Dual Victims; The Abused and the Abducted’, International UFO Reporter, 14/3 May-June 1989) 4-9.
  • 19. Swords, Michael. ‘Extraterrestrial Hybridization Unlikely’, MUFON UFO Journal, 247, No, 1988, pp6-10.




In the Light of Experience.
Thomas E. Bullard

From Magonia 44, October 1982

In Magonia 42 Hilary Evans and Peter Rogerson take me to task as they speak out again in favour of a psychosocial explanation for UFO abductions. Their interests are friendly, but they leave me in need of saving myself from my friends, and my friends from themselves.

To begin on an agreeable note. I agree with much of what they say. Peter Rogerson is quite right to point out that variation is present in abduction narratives. The beings described are far from copies of one another, the plots and details differ as well. Yet the importance of differences depends on their proportion to the similarities, and similarities prevail throughout my sample of reports. The picture is especially clear among the 103 high information, high reliability cases. The ‘ufological filter’ through which the reports reach the literature is a serious concern, but please remember that those 103 good cases are the work of fifty different investigators or teams. the contributions of Budd Hopkins do not swamp all others. An implausibly large cadre of investigators marches in lockstep to the same tune, if they impose the similarities.

I have to disagree with Rogerson when he takes lightly the failure of abduction narrators to exploit the broad range of science-fiction ideas available today, and would have us believe that abductee narratives have about reached their limits. I would not lay any bets. Human imagination is wonderfully adaptive, and likely to defy any limits or prescribed directions set up by unimaginative scholars – assuming of course that imagination rather than experience sets the course of the abduction story.

Rogerson mentions Edith Fiore’s cases as examples of the more varied accounts that come through a less single-minded ufological filter than, say, Hopkins’s. I would point out the case of Dan in chapter 12 of Fiore’s book as a fine example of what imagination can do. Dan claims 627 abductions (give or take one or two?), and recalls a life of high adventure during his days in the Space Marines. He retired to Earth in the body of a boy, but wants to re-enter active duty now that he is once more an adult. Who says imagination is limited? His story illustrates what I would expect if abduction stories were imaginative – Flash Gordon adventures, extraterrestrial Harlequin romances and ego satisfaction tailored to individual needs of the narrators. What I see instead is largely impersonal and often unpleasant. Even the people who feel they benefit from the experience acknowledge that it is difficult, a challenge, a lesson hard to learn no matter how positive the outcome may be.

So yes, we find variety. At the same time we find a core of stability that is absent in 1950s contactee stories. That observation should alert us that abductions are not just contactee yarns with a forced entry and medical examination tacked on. Abductions are like Old Hag experiences in part, like fairy kidnap in part, like epileptic seizures in part, like 1950s space movies in part. Like many things in part, but also coherent with a uniqueness of their own. Say there were twice the usual number of murders in town last night – one with a gun, one with a knife, one with a blunt instrument, one by strangulation and six by axe and those within a one-block area. We do not need Sherlock Holmes to tell us that those six axe murders are probably related, the other four probably not. This same intuition applied to abductions advises that the coherent reports differ in a qualitative way from the largely idiosyncratic accounts.

The investigator’s dilemma is how to focus on that core phenomenon without prejudging its nature. Discrimination of evidence is a necessary evil, since the alternative is a hopelessly muddled sample. I would suggest that not every encounter is an abduction, not every abduction story is genuine, and not every genuine (whatever that may mean) abductee describes the experience in uniform or even accurate terms. Many stories can pass as ‘abductions’ through a lenient filter. Settle for a few content points as an adequate intersection and the list of ‘related’ narratives will never end. A meaningful understanding of the abduction phenomenon requires stricter criteria, specifically attention to the most unique and puzzling materials. Fifty or a hundred reports with a complexity of details but little inclination to imaginative elaboration is mystery enough. the other accounts need explaining as well, and might lend themselves to psychosocial theories already offered, but let’s not confuse an already difficult issue with obvious hoaxes, probable fantasies, or remote analogies.

Which brings us to Hilary Evans and his solution. I argue from the standpoint of a folklorist that too many abduction reports demonstrate a stubborn and unnecessary consistency to be products of the imagination pure and simple. He seems to have little use for folklorists. A century and a half of scholarship has left us with nothing but a ‘free-for-all’ of amorphous materials imposed upon by the half-baked schemes of scholars, no two of whom are in agreement. Folklorists are prone to keep their heads in books, and abstract stereotypical patterns out of a mass of individual narratives while forgetting that the stereotype is a scholarly fiction. The folklorist loses sight of the individual factor in narratives, and makes up rules about non-existent ideals.

Any candid assessment of folklore theory would have to give at least a partial nod to these criticisms. Much toil has produced few results, and scholarship has torn off in wrong directions all too often. But folklorists are not such a bad lot: some of us love dogs and children, most of us bathe regularly (once or twice a week whether we need it or not), and quite a few of us leave our books from time to time and make contact with the ‘folk’.

One thing we have learned about this ‘folk’ is that its members are seldom old goodwives in chimney corners, such as come to Evans’s mind when I speak of ordinary storytellers who forget or fumble their narrative. No. You and I are the folk. Our role as folk depends on the way we communicate, and not on our social circumstances, while our words acquire folklore status more by the channels we pass them along that by their inherent contents. Folklore needs no validation of hoary age. Jokes and urban legends spring up day by day and go the rounds.


Folklore scholars once drew arbitrary boundaries between folk, popular and mass culture, but we learned our lesson. the folk show no respect for such distinctions. What matters is how narrators use those ideas, not their ultimate origin or nature


Science fiction and forms of communal fantasy are perfectly good sources of folkloric communication, contrary to what Evans implies. Folklore scholars once drew arbitrary boundaries between folk, popular and mass culture, but we learned our lesson. the folk show no respect for such distinctions. What matters is how narrators use those ideas, not their ultimate origin or nature. As long as narrators treat the materials as folklore, they are folklore wherever they come from; old tradition, science fiction, the tabloid press, the TV set, or for that matter, direct personal experience.

The ‘rules’ I referred to certainly lack the status of natural law. Contrary to the title of Alexander Krappe’s famous book, there is no ‘science of folklore’. Folklorists cannot predict how a narrative will change with the certitude of an astronomer who predicts the return of Halley’s Comet. At the same time folklore is not entirely amorphous. If science is not a search for The Truth but, more modestly expressed, a search for order in nature, then folklore scholarship still offers pertinent help in understanding what happens to narratives in circulation. Ultimate questions of why and wherefore may raise conflicts among various schools of thought, but at a lower level of empirical inquiry folklorists have learned something about the dynamics of narratives.

Simple observation makes it clear that narratives vary. People tell the same general story in a variety of ways, whether by accident or design. Some of those old goodwives are formidable narrators who shape their stories into a fine artistic production. Most of the rest of

 us shape them according to our lesser abilities and fallibilities. In either case variation results. We expect to find it in abduction reports because our first reasonable assumption pegs them as products of imagination. The loose construction of the story and the wealth of ideas available from various cultural sources leads us to expect a great deal of variation. When we find a relative lack of it, an anomaly confronts us. An anomaly tells us that something is wrong with our assumption.#

This finding is simply interesting. It does not prove aliens or any other specific explanation, but it calls into question cultural sources working through the usual channels of borrowing and communication. This is a slender sort of conclusion, but it comes about in the right way. It comes from an application of what we know to be a problem, rather than an application of wishful thinking or doctrinaire theory.

I agree that psychosocial theorists attribute abductions to more than folklore, and draw parallels with many form of communal fantasy. I disagree with Evans when he says that folklore ‘rules’ therefore no longer apply. The folklorist’s understanding of narrative dynamics comes from studies of memory processes and the circulation of unofficial communications in society. Much of what happens to folklore as it passes from person to person also happens in the transmission of rumour and gossip, in episodes of mass hysteria, in fads and popular movements – in any human effort to formulate and convey an account of an unusual experience. What is communal fantasy anyway but the action of emotionally charged ideas on a transpersonal scale? Folklorists are at home with these processes, and share an understanding of their regularities with scholars in other disciplines.

Where we truly part company is over his explanation of abduction experiences. He identifies them as a combination of folklore, in the form of shared myth, with deep individual need. The narrator externalises those private needs in a fantasy, but shapes it according to the outlines of some familiar stereotype to give a public legitimacy. Some narrators choose the demonic possession script, others choose abduction, but the underlying cause is the same. The personal factor causes variations, the stereotype or public myth provides stability.

No one would question that a personal element goes into almost every narrative – Freud pointed out the deep motivations behind telling a mere joke, and all of us have recognised more superficial motives in ourselves, like the desire to make others laugh or outdo another narrator. Abduction narratives often engage strong emotions, and clearly express deep needs of the narrator. Yet rather than explaining the minor variations with abduction narratives, this undeniable emotional pressure simply deepens the mystery of why those variations remain so minor. This pressure should crack all containers. The individual with a need to externalise has many cultural frames to choose from, demonological or otherwise, and could choose many abduction-based scenarios to make a fantasy public. Any one of them would serve as well as another. In fact narrators in surprising numbers pick the same scenario. We do not find multiple narrators telling a Dan the Space-Marine story. The space adventurers thrill themselves with a different adventure every time, contactees have a wide range of contacts, but most abductees are stuck in a rut and repeat each other’s abductions like broken records.

Have I led everyone astray by abstracting a stereotypical pattern from the reports, when the pattern is no more than a figment of my scholarly making? I don’t think so. the pattern I found came to light case by case and detail by detail. Examination precedes conference, beings have large heads, and examination rooms have uniform lighting – how abstract can a pattern be when it simply counts specific elements, and recognises some as far more common than others? The pattern emerges because it describes what witnesses report, not because a scholar prescribes what the story ought to be. 



The psychosocial approach has more the characteristics of a faith than a serious effort to explain abductions by wrestling with the data and proposing step-by-step explanations


If anyone is guilty of illegal abstractions it is Evans when he speaks of a ‘shared myth’. The idea of an immutable pattern fixed in the collective mind and capable of shaping consistent abduction reports raises a ghost of scholarship past, and one best left buried. Fifty years ago folklorists might have sympathised with such a notion. Even then patterns like shared myth or tale type were conceived as vague influences, outlines at best, and never floating checklists. The specificity of abduction reports demands no less, if we are to understand how narrators duplicate one another’s stories in so many aspects. A recurrent abduction story that combines shared myth and personal need is a chimera, a monster of instability. Personal needs drive the story away from unity, not toward it. If folklore is so amorphous that it obeys no discernible rules, how can we have a shared myth so static in its pattern, so efficacious in its influence on one narrator after another, that it bonds complex stories together and secures them against the howling forces of variation? Inquiring minds want to know.

Psychosocial theories differ considerably in specific contents, emphasising the psychological side or the sociocultural side to explain abduction narratives. Folklorists adopt this same approach when they explain narratives of extraordinary experience as ideas drawn from tradition, or false experience provoked by tradition-based expectations. Since folklorists have long excluded any other explanation, they deserve recognition as diligent and loyal psychosocial proponents in their own right. Only thanks to David Hufford’s studies of Old Hag tradition has the experience-based narrative re-entered the folklorist’s conceptual vocabulary. He establishes that exclusive reliance on psychosocial answers inadequately accounts for reports of extraordinary encounters.

Yes, our concepts of folklore might need to change even further. Folklore may be developing in ways hitherto unknown, and abduction reports may not behave like folklore as we know and love it. As a folklorist I can take an interest in abductions on the basis of this possibility alone. But if the psychosocial approach is right, these reports must act like creations of the human imagination, be driven by human motivations and derive from human creative processes. If so, these narratives cannot differ in their dynamics from other such creations, folk narratives amongst them. If experiences count for anything, then abduction reports should vary more than they do. To deny the findings of folklore scholarship in this evaluation is to deny experience, a great deal of it by many scholars after long years of enquiry, not into books but into the practice of narrators. On what else but experience can we base our conclusions? Discount it and then we know nothing about any narratives and all theories are worthless. We might as well bring back the mating hedgehogs and mix comic relief with our bemusement.

The psychosocial theorists who dismiss the experience of folklorists offer little in its place. A communal container for an expression of individual needs sounds like a reasonable description, but it leaves too many questions about how it stabilises the narrative. 

I have shown, one element at a time, that stability exists among a sizable sample of abductions reports, and folklorists have shown that variation is rife around narratives such as folk tales and urban legends. These conclusions are limited but demonstrable. From the psychosocial camp I hear many assertions but little proof. The claim that shared myth and personal need can coexist in narratives as stable as we observe runs counter to experience or intuition, yet we must accept this claim as self-evident. I can understand why “there are probably as many PS-hypotheses as there are PS-proponents.” A failure to provide convincing demonstrations for any hypothesis leaves them all unpersuasive. The psychosocial approach has more the characteristics of a faith than a serious effort to explain abductions by wrestling with the data and proposing step-by-step explanations. Those of us who prefer reason to revelation won’t bite.

The abduction phenomena is a genuine anomaly. Whether similar strange experiences provoke similar strange stories, or personal needs somehow motivate people to select the same few story elements out of all the possibilities available to them, the problem remains provocative. Blame aliens, something akin to the Old Hag, Kenneth Ring’s imaginal realm, Jacques Vallée’s control system, an unexpected property of narrative transmission, hedgehogs or anything else. Folklore scholarship certainly cannot pick the winner. It can only point out some probable losers.

Something more than narrative processes, shared myths, media influences, or investigators leading the witness seem necessary to explain the consistency of the narratives. On the other hand experience could hold a body of narratives together, and gets my vote pending any more persuasive alternative. I am presently cataloguing reports from 1986 to the present, and I will be anxious to see if the consistencies I found in the earlier sample hold up in the latter. I will also be interested to see how widespread the genuine differences, such as descriptions of the beings or evolving episodes like the baby presentation, prove to be. The answers will follow as a consequence of evidence, not as an article of faith.

Saving sinners is a bit out of my line; nevertheless, let me step out of character and end with an exhortation to psychosocial proponents, that they do their ideas justice. I object less to the ideas themselves than to their cavalier presentation. Speculative assertions and random examples cannot substitute for consistent arguments backed with convincing evidence, and with the exception of Martin Kottmeyer, psychosocial proponents seem to disdain both. I’m slow-witted. Show me step-by-step how your explanations work, and I’m perfectly willing to believe. As matters now stand, you have accumulated a huge explanatory debt, and like the U.S. budget, the weight of that debt threatens to sink you down the tubes of history unless your repent. There’s still time, brothers.


Not the E.T.H.
Jenny Randles

This articles was first published in Magonia 17, October 1984, which was a special issue reviewing the current status of the extraterrestrial hypothesis. Related articles include:

I was surprised but very pleased that MAGONIA has decided to descend from the heights of psycho-social theorising (at least for one issue) and face the very real problems still proferred by the possibility that some UFOs just might be alien. I have a feeling that we have all rather got carried away with our theories regarding a wholly subjective solution to the UFO enigma. We are getting dangerously close to the point where we were willing subconsciously to distort the facts if they challenged our newly won and much vaunted theories. Anything which even hinted at some sort of exotic UFO reality was not to be regarded with the slightest trust, nor afforded more than a cursory or derisory glance.

I know that I nearly fell into that trap myself, for I swam with the torrents of raging subjectivity for several years, up to the last two or three. In working on my last couple of books I went back to basics and reappraised a few things in my own mind. I also started to listen to UFO witnesses for a change. That was a rather eye-opening thing to do; for I discovered that I had been preaching to them, largely from ignorance, saying “Sorry – despite what you think you saw that night two years ago you did not really see it at all, you only imagined it, but in such a way that it seemed very real”. Again and again witnesses would stare back at me and say, “But if you had been there, you would know:”

Then it occurred to me that I was foisting my conviction that their encounter could not be describing reality, onto them. But with what right? A dozen witnesses who were generally fine observers, clearly sane and intelligent, and obviously sincere, were telling me each year that what they saw was as real as the nine o’clock bus. And a dozen armchair theorists (me included) were telling them that this just could not be.
If you really think through this situation you may get a hint of the magnitude of error I believe we have been making. But I think I now understand why we have been making it. Quite simply we have always assumed that the world comprises black and white choices. In truth it rarely does. The question of UFO reality does not consist of either John Smith saw a real, objective, exotic craft that flew through the air, landed somewhere, and then stayed there until its next flight past an unsuspecting witness; or else he merely dreamt/hallucinated/imagined/archetypally reconstituted/birth trauma dramatised this, when nothing was actually there at all.

Whenever you keep hedging around a question in many different ways but still end up with paradoxes in return, then quite simply you have asked the wrong question. That is a basic scientific principle. We have never resolved this clearly because exotic UFOs are neither objectively real nor subjectively real. They are something else altogether. They are what I call ‘Quasi-Conscious Experiences’. They form their very own niche on the spectrum of reality.

We, as ufologists, have been acting rather like chemists in the last century, struggling with the embryonic periodical table of elements. We have this ‘thing’ called mercury which is a whopping great anomaly. But we have only two elements on our table clearly defined: hydrogen at the ‘light’ end and lead at the ‘heavy’ end. Mercury has certain characteristics of lead so we might choose to call it ‘funny lead’. Others may argue that it is too ‘light’ to be lead and call it ‘funny hydrogen’. The debate rages and goes nowhere.

From our cushion of years this looks stupid because we know mercury is mercury and not any sort of hydrogen or lead. But only the clear development of the table of elements demonstrates this. I think we are now similarly failing to see that the UFO close encounter, as a facet of QC-Experience is neither a strange kind of subjective reality, nor an extreme form of objective reality – but something in between and altogether different.

Once we accept this gradation of reality some remarkable things start to happen. We can slot particular experiences into their correct little niche and clearly define their parameters. What is more, we can predict sorts of experiences and their properties which seem to fit into the gaps in our gradation – just as the chemists were able to define the properties of rare elements which completed the Periodic Table. It is in this way that the QC-Experience is seen to be a necessary feature of the spectrum of reality. If nobody had ever experienced anything like it, we would be rather puzzled because the way phenomena blend into one another, as we move from objectivity to subjectivity, clearly shows that it ought to exist.

If we take total objectivity at one extreme, for example posting a letter in a bright red postbox. This is objective, everybody who approaches it sees the same red box. But the complete extreme of total objectivity is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve, because our mind and perceptions experience the box, and (however slightly) distort our interpretation of it. We may perhaps feel a strong empathy, or antipathy, to the colour red. This will distort our view to some extent.

At the other extreme of the spectrum is total subjectivity; again hard to achieve in practice, but most dreams come close. The imagery is wholly imagined and personal to us. But just as emotions affecting our colour concept of the postbox produce a slight step down from total objectivity, so can external data intrude into our dreams, and thus create a step down from total subjectivity.

These two step-downs enable us to see how the extremes begin to blend together, and the image of the spectrum of reality becomes clear. At some point, of course, there needs to be a 50/50 halfway house, where there are equal levels of subjectivity and objectivity. But there are also many shades in between.

Our present need is to slot the vast wealth of what we call ‘paranormal’ phenomena into their correct places on the spectrum of reality.
One phenomena we can place is the lucid dream [1], that strange experience where the person knows they are dreaming as the dream unfolds, and this realisation allows a certain conscious control over the dream imagery, and also sharpens the focus of the dream-making: it becomes dramatically more ‘real’ or lucid – hence the name.

It was my own personal experience of these magical things, plus later reading and research into them, which helped clarify my ideas about the spectrum of reality. The lucid dream has a place between the subjective end of the spectrum and the halfway house. It may be perhaps 60% subjective and 40% objective – although these are no more than figures at this stage of the game and ought not to be taken too literally.

The lucid dream seems so real because it contains such a relatively high degree of ‘objectivity’, but it is still recognisable as a dream because it lies on the subjective side of the halfway house. We can define it as a subjective experience with a (say) 40% level of objective data intruding; thus allowing the ‘waking consciousness’ to partly control and adapt the environment created by the ‘sleeping unconscious’. In other words, the dreamer emerges from a sleep/dream state, close to 100% subjectivity, with the dream landscape thus intact, but the new level of objective override moulds and shapes this.
Now, if you have accepted my argument so far you will see that some sort of phenomenon must exist that fits the point on the spectrum between halfway house and the objective end of the spectrum. In many respects this is a mirror-image of the lucid dream, and it is what I recognise immediately as the Quasi-Conscious Experience. The term ‘waking lucid dream’ may well be apt.

Here the person emerges from normal waking reality, and steps down towards the subjective end of the spectrum, with the intrusion of a 40% subjective over-ride. Consequently the landscape which finds itself moulded and shaped is originally an objective one – the ‘real’ world. In the QC-Experience, or Waking Lucid Dream, the percipient finds subconscious data flooding in to a 40% level, to such an extent that it changes the perceived environment to a considerable extent.

In the lucid dream the balance favoured subjectivity and the step down occurred from the dream state, so the percipient believes the new experience to be a dream, but much more real. In the QC-Experience the opposite is true. The balance favours object
ivity and the step down was from the ‘real’ world. Now the percipient believes the new experience is real, but more dream-like.
UFO close encounters display this dream-like aura well – I call it the ‘Oz Factor’ [2]. It is, in my view, just the symptom which denotes the stepdown towards subjectivity.

I have tried to put these ideas across to ufology for the last couple of years, but with limited success. This is probably because it is a complex thing which is much easier to grasp in my case because: a] it has developed over a long period, and b] I have experienced several of the different niches on the spectrum of reality.

But I am quite excited by it, because it seems to be making sense out of so much that previously left me baffled and confused. In no way am I suggesting this as some sort of dramatic discovery. To me it is only something reasonably obvious that many people must have seen before. Nor does it solve the problem of precisely what UFOs are (except that they are neither real nor unreal – but a bit of both. However, I think it opens up new
avenues of exploration.

You see, UFOs are many things, and I want it clearly understood that I am here discussing what I term ‘Exotic UFOs’ (principally close encounters). UAPs – Unidentified Atmospheric Phenomena – are entirely different, and are objective. They really exist, in every sense of the word real, and are natural physical mysteries on the threshold of science. There are almost certainly several different UAP types that are reported as UFOs; earthlights may well be one, extreme forms of ball lightning are another probably kind. I need to make this very plain, because certain reviews of my two latest books – including one in Magonia – have referred to my alleged theory that UAPs are alien. That is nonsensical, UAPs are earthbound, natural and in no sense controlled by intelligences of any description. The evidence that they exist is, to me, irrefutable.

The ‘Exotic UFOs’ are actually a very small residue out of the total of UFO reports; a fairly obvious fact when you realise that up to 90% of UFO reports are IFOs, and possibly up to 90% of the remainder are UAPs. The left-overs are few and far between, but in global terms they are still a large number of experiences.

Exotic UFOs are not spaceships. That fact is reasonably obvious once you see that, a] we have no photographs of UFOs landed or involved in creating close encounters and b] we have no photographs of alien entities, and c] nobody has yet witnessed somebody else undergoing an alien contact of any kind. You can backtrack as much as you like with convoluted hypotheses, but there is really no way out.

Similarly, Exotic UFOs are not totally subjective experiences of any kind. I say that because they contain far too many obscure but repetitive motifs; because they generate real physiological effects which are unlikely to be psychosomatic; because there are physical effects (e.g. car stops) which demonstrate some form of energy exchange; and because animals get disturbed by them too. I leave aside the thorny question of multiple witness close encounters, although enough exist with sufficient overlap to worry any truly open-minded adherent of the psycho sociological school.

What we end up with is something in-between. A QC-Experience does have heavy subjective overtones, simply by definition. The very thing which makes it different from normal objective reality is the over-ride by subjective data. What we have to do now is to decide the origin of this subjective over-ride.

It may come from inside ourselves, I accept that option. In a lucid dream the intrusion of objectivity is essentially self-oriented. But there is, to my mind, ample evidence that this is not always the case. Precognitive dreams, for example, seem to involve external objective data from the ‘real world’ (or ‘real universe’) – and this in a sense beyond the normal confines of space. In other words, information from an alien civilisation somewhere ‘out there’ is received subconsciously and intrudes into objective reality as a subjective data over-ride, thus changing our perception of reality, to create an alien or UFO reality.

The only reason I am taking the alien origin of the subjective data over-ride seriously is that it explains what we see much more simply. It explains why there are patterns and consistencies (the source is consistent); it explains why there are individual differences (the degree of pick-up and the way we integrate it into our experience will vary from person to person). It explains the form of the QC Experience – it is alien, because that is what lies at the heart of the message; I think it even explains the physical and physiological effects. It is my viewthat UAPs, or ambiguous IFOs, are at the root of most, if not all, close encounters. When UAPs are involved energy will be associated.

We have a situation like the following: Witness A sees a UAP and thinks “Oh my, a UFO”. Energy is emitted and may or may not harm the witness or the environment. Meanwhile because he is naturally susceptible to switches of location on the spectrum of reality (in other words he is psychic) or because of some other unknown trigger, he steps down into a QC-Experience. The Oz Factor takes hold and he later describes his strange sensations and maybe even describes a time-lapse, due to his temporary slip out of normal objective reality into UFO Reality, where time is not as easily delineated. In the QC state the subjective data flows in from the alien source and moulds the external reality. If it is an orange ball of light (a UAP) this may become a spaceship, symbolising the information he is receiving in terms familiar and acceptable to his subconscious, just as when we receive objective facts in a precognitive way in a dream we tend to express them in dream symbols.

As the QC-Experience unfolds the witness believes he is perceiving reality exactly as before, unaware that he has slipped into another niche on the spectrum, where he is now subjectively dramatising received data and superimposing this on the UAP. The experience eventually ends, possibly when the UAP disappears, the aircraft flies away, or the satellite reentry burns up, or when whatever had been the initial stimulus no longer exists.

Of course, the essence of the episode lies in the witnesses mind, clothed in symbolism, and he may not, consciously, even realise that fact. When questioned he will tell what he believes he ‘really’ saw, but that is not terribly important. What is important is the inner substance of the message – the data which was responsible for the over-ride.

Perhaps we ought to be analysing UFO encounters rather like Jung analysed dreams. But we should do so recognising that we may be seeking something much more interesting than our own deeply hidden wishes or desires, or some archetypal facet of the human race. We may be decoding messages from an alien realm.

And so finally to answer the question really posed by this article: are the UFO phenomena alien in origin? If we mean in the traditional sense of gravity-powered space ships from Alpha Century my answer must be no. The ETH in that sense is dead. But I have a growing suspicion that the ETH in a more subtle – or Quasi Conscious) sense may yet provide a few surprises. 

1. Celia Green;Lucid Dreams. (Proceedings of the Institute of Psychophysical Research. vol. 1.) Institute of Psychophysical Research, Oxford, 1968.

2. Spencer, Lawrence R. The Oz Factors: The Wizard of Oz as an Analogy to the Mysteries of Life AuthorHouse, 1999

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.


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  7. J. Vallee, cited in P. Cousineau, UFOs: A Manual for the Millennium, (New York, HarperCollins 1995), p. 151.
  8. Vallee, Magonia.
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  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.
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  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.
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  37. Spencer, Casebook, pp. 181-4.
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  44. Bord, Planet Earth, pp. 179-184.
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  46. Davies, Witchcraft, p. 295.
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