Living Laboratories.
Peter Rogerson

Published as Northern Echoes, Magonia 47, October 1993

In a rather more serious Northern Echoes than usual I intend to continue the themes of my article in this issue (Fairyland’s hunters), and look at a range of recent publications which span a variety of ideological positions reflecting the increased splintering of the American abduction scene.

New Age journalist Keith Thompson [1] takes the broadest sweep in his historical and mythological overview of the UFO topic. He argues that whether or not individual UFO experiences are misidentifications of Venus, or Martian spaceships “they are profoundly important gateways to provocative mythic horizons and imaginal realms… symbolic worlds [which] are real, vital and filled with significance. The UFO stories hint at realms of ambiguity to which the neat little box reality of believers and sceptics alike does scant justice.”

Ufology, argues Thompson, has many of the hallmarks of a modern mythology – complete with its creation story – Kenneth Arnold’s encounter – which like all dreamtime history remains part of the present past. Arnold himself is often evoked as a foundation hero, with comments such as “if Kenneth Arnold himself were to come to our conference, what would he make of our proceedings?” Revisionist critiques such as Martin Kottmeyer’s can be seen as a parallel to the ‘search for the historical Jesus’ of the rationalist theologians. Vigorous ripostes from traditional believers can be expected.

As an outsider, Thompson takes us through a whistle-stop history of American ufology, with interviews with well-known participants. The problem is that, while Thompson can often view the Byzantine politics of American with a detached, but sometime jaundiced, eye, his actual grasp of this extremely complex subject seems often to be sketchy.

In this sketch Thompson sees reflected figures from mythology: Proteus, who changed shape to avoid being trapped into prophecy; Hermes, the tricky messenger, Trickster himself; Dionysius, the wildness which disrupts ordinary society. Thompson shows himself to be well aware of the connectedness of anomalous experience, and of ufology’s links into a general belief in the power of The Other to intrude and control our lives. He highlights the debate within American ufology as to whether these parallels are coincidental or fundamental.

Pontolillo [2] is equally aware of these parallels, and is equally clear that they are fundamental, concentrating on a much narrower spectrum of events: the abduction reports. Pontolillo is able to demonstrate that these parallels go much beyond superficial outlines. There are often close correspondences between the description of the sexual experiences of abductees and, for example, those who claimed encounters with the incubi’s cold sexual member.

It is in tone that Thompson and Pontolillo contrast most starkly. For the latter, abductions are a mirror of the abuse of women in society, and their message is “women cannot have control of their own bodies, either in this world or an imaginary one”. The abduction experience, for Pontolillo, grows out of an increasingly repressive climate, with attacks on sex education, abortion, and contraception. Perhaps even more relevant is the perceived mechanisation and dehumanisation of conception, pregnancy and childbirth, as documented by Robyn Rowland [3] who sees women being relegated to the status of living laboratories or walking life-support systems for their foetuses, by doctors who employ the rhetoric of agriculture and even industry.

For Thompson however, the encounter, even the abduction, is the start of the grand adventure, the Heroic Quest “venturing forth from the world of common day into a realm of supernatural wonder [...] a fateful realm of treasure and danger” – the journey from secular habitat to sacred wilderness, which journey is a rite of passage. (I was pleased to see that Thompson understands the importance of the ideas of Victor Turner.)

These divisions run across American ufology. Pontolillo’s critique is directed at the ‘standard story’ of Hopkins and Jacobs, which he finds evidentially vacant, a product of the age of anxieties, which reflect what we might think of as the implosion of habitat. The wild and dangerous Other is not just in the street outside the apartment, it comes in through the walls, dragging us out with it. Women in particular are not safe anywhere. In pursuit of this standard story Pontolillo ignores, as do his targets Hopkins and Jacobs, the religious dimension of many of these stories.

Thompson, for whom the Other may be angels or archetypes, symbols of transcendence, skirts over the darkness implicit in the narratives, reflecting the New Age’s inability to confront evil. There is within such stories a connection between abuse and initiation. A study of the initiation rituals of many cultures points to this too intimate connection – scarification, circumcision, clitorectomy. We should also perhaps note the role of masks in initiation rituals, where the neophyte is confronted by his culture’s fearsome demons, then note the similarity between the slit mouth and wrap-round eyes of the Grays with the human face seen through a balaclava helmet – the savage mask of our culture’s demons – the terrorist, bank robber, mugger, the universal outlaw on the fringes of society.

The books of personal accounts also highlight this ambiguity. Bryant and Seebach [4] present themselves as ‘healers of shattered reality’, adding the language of the social worker to that of the contactee and channeler. For those who can plough through the pages of channelled gunge there is an important theme: the identification of their encounter with the unknown as simultaneously religious revelation and a species of rape. We should perhaps bear in mind the etymological common origin of ‘rapture’ and ‘rape’, of being seized and possessed by the Other.

Traumatic events not only have the obvious shock effect, but can also lead to a shattering of the most profound sense of self and reality, which can be more disturbing than the original event. Our reactions to trauma can also be traumatic. Take an example from Bryant and Seebach’s book, in which an abductee/contactee denounces as a ‘screen memory’ what obviously happened in reality, because it offended her sense of self: while out driving one night a speeding car nearly collides with her, going off the road and overturning. Instead of stopping, she speeds away and rather than feeling shocked and shaken as she believed she should, she is exhilarated by the sense of survival. She stops in the middle of nowhere to phone her family and tell them she loves them and remembers the experience as incredibly positive. This euphoria of survival she finds unacceptable; she should have stopped to help. She cannot accept her feelings, so begins to reconstruct reality to fit in with her image of herself. The UFO abduction scenario helps her do this.

Bryant and Seebach clearly belong on the Mack and Fowler wing of abduction research, and implicitly accuse Hopkins and Jacobs of fostering a`victim mentality’. Yet a number of ‘contactees’ discussed by Seebach and Bryant show much more severe psychiatric problems than is generally conceded in the literature, including hospitalisation and drug or alcohol abuse, representing a range of behavioural backgrounds similar to those of many of the self proclaimed ‘adult-survivors’ of Satanic abuse. This considerably blurs the distinctions made by Bill Ellis in Magonia 40.

The response to this traumatic collapse of the given world can be anomie, but another possible response is the reforging of a new sense of reality and identity. Hypomanic responses may include not just the elation of survival, but a sense of power. ‘Victims’ may become public personalities and the tendency of abductees or contactecs to join the lecture circuit should not be taken to imply that they are ‘in it for the publicity’, as parallels can be drawn from many `normal’ traumas.

This does not mean that the trauma producer was anomalous in any trans-personal sense. One only has to read Hendry’s UFO Handbook (as far too few ufologists do today) to see how traumatic a misrepresentation of Venus can be. Abductees are not fonts of wisdom: their revelations are recycled from popular occult and New Age culture, often simply parroting the beliefs of the first investigator they meet.

Pontolillo points out the continuity between the scars of the abductee and witches’ marks and stigmata, as they bear no relationship to known medical procedures. Perhaps one should note the resonances with the scarification of the initiate, or the ‘mental scars’ of the trauma victim. Such scars form a central theme of the second personal narrative reviewed her, that of Karla Turner [5]. Assuming this is not a case of a novel presented as fact, it demonstrates both how abduction beliefs originate and spread, and just how complex the pre-standard abduction narrative was.

It is a haunting reminder of the fragility of the world of daylight reason. During a period of tension in the lives of her and her husband, Karla Turner sets her students a term paper on UFOs and similar topics as an exercise in logic. In the course of this she reads the books of Strieber and Hopkins. After this, dreams in which she sees her husband and friends as vampires take on a new significance. Soon her husband presents her with an abduction narrative, and her teenage son, his girlfriend and disturbed, attention-seeking best-friend are swapping every dream, anomaly and hypnagogic hallucination they experience. Between them they produce an incredible melange of ufological, paranormal and shamanic imagery. There are nightly abductions, sometime the participants examine their bodies two or three times a day for possible scars. There are poltergeist effects, and encounters with ‘The Ancestors’ and the ‘Old Ones’. There are regular hypnotic sessions with a local ufologist.

Reading through this one can sense that in the end all this provides a welcome sense of drama. Furthermore, it diverts attention from their real problems and gives the family a new sense of unity.

For Bryant and Seebach, and even ultimately for Thompson, the abduction experience is the encounter with the wholly other. Only Pontolillo, correctly in my view, locates the source of abduction motifs within human culture, tracing their origin to Classical times. Yet Pontolillo never seems to unify the point: why did people believe in abductions by gods and fairies or intercourse with demons? They seem to represent humanity’s encounter with wild anti-society, the idea that one can be enticed out of the human circle by the forces of the wild bush. Pontolillo’s interpretation of the abduction narrative as a contemporary form of the misogyny which led to the witchcraft trials, like Dennis Stacy’s abortion trauma hypothesis, relies on the very high proportion of abduction narratives involving women. However, my own count of pre-1980 cases shows 40 involved females only, 24 mixed, and 119 men only – nearly two-thirds. There is a subjective impression that the situation has changed and Jacobs reported a 56% female sample, but in the absence of a comprehensive catalogue for post-1987 cases, judgment is best reserved.

This should not detract from Pontolillo’s case against naive literalism, for he most effectively demolishes the claims of abductionists, pointing out the weakness of their techniques, their misuse of hypnosis and manipulation of data. Perhaps it is most curious of all that we should need to argue against people who claim that abductees can be physically carried through solid walls into invisible spaceships!

Can we present a working model of the abduction experience and what might generate it. Some pointers:

The central theme of helplessness. In an article in the Observer Magazine last autumn Dr John Collee noted that surgery is the most radical experience of helplessness that adults are likely to undergo in Western culture. It is precisely this sense of helplessness which has been identified as a major component of post-traumatic stress. Children are also highly vulnerable to hospital trauma, this being especially so in the less enlightened days of restricted visiting. We can imagine the trauma of a small child who has never been away from their parents for more than an hour, abandoned in a strange place where bizarrely dressed figures perform painful procedures. Fantasies about these procedures, often involving ideas of punishment, may be more traumatic than what actually happens. Is it significant that the genito-urological, nose and throat, and eye examinations which tend to predominate in abduction medical accounts are the sort of medical procedures most likely to be carried out on small children.

The proximate origin of many abduction experiences is a variety of altered states: sleep paralysis, fugue, hypnogogic hallucinations. Sleep paralysis, combined with hypnogogic hallucinations – The Hag – is an especially traumatic experience, evoking sexual assault and a sense of absolute helplessness. The origin of the image of the bedroom visitor are obscure, but at a guess I would suggest it represents the ‘demonic parent’, and contains echoes of the infant’s helplessness before parental wrath. It is hard to resist the notion that hagging may contain imagery of sexual assault, either real or fantasies based on parental sexual activity. Abductors who ‘have the right’ to treat us like property certainly seem to be negative parental images.

There is a pervasive sense of threat in all abduction narratives: the theme that nowhere is safe, not the walls, not the door, not even our own skin can keep out the pervasive Other. The hybrid baby and the implants represent ultimate threats to our physical and psychological integrity. The Other wants to own and use our bodies and our minds. The imagery of foetus and implant show clear evidence of cultural influence, the implants deriving from the publicity surrounding the experiments on
mood-control conducted by Jose Delgardo, while the gynaecological procedures show clear cultural tracking to public discussion of high-tech fertility treatment and related techniques.

Part of this threat is the loss of our world. Whether from external forces which range from bombs to rape to military defeat and rapid social change, or from internal forces such as physical or psychological disease, our given world can be torn down. Then we may experience the implosion of traumatic despair, or the explosive collapse of all structures. We might for a moment or two see that we could be something other than units of production and consumption, living laboratories, being violated by the gods and angels of our own making.



1. THOMPSON, Keith. Angels and Aliens: UFOs and the Mythic Imagination Adison-Wesley, 1991.
2. PONTOLILLO, James. Demons, doctors, and aliens INFO Occasional paper no. 2.
3. ROWLAND, Robyn. Living Laboratories: Women and Reproductive Technologies Lime Tree Books, 1992.
4. BRYANT, Alice and SEEBACH, Linda. Healing Shattered Reality: Understanding Contactee Trauma Wildflower Press, 1991.
5. TURNER, Karla. Into the Fringe: A True Story of Alien Abduction  Berkley Books, 1992.

[Click on the above title links to order the book from Amazon]



What’s Up Doc? Shams and Shepherds: The Seventies and So Forth
Martin Kottmeyer

From Magonia 46, June 1993.

Unless Colman von Kevicsky’s characterisation of the 1973 wave as an invasion should be taken seriously, the last significant expression of the invasion fear occurs in Raymond Fowler’s UFOs – Interplanetary Visitors (1974). [92] It is presented as a possibility among a range of intentions that aliens might possess. The idea of friendly contact is raised, but is muted by concerns over loss of national pride as allegiance is transferred to their superior force. In a chapter archly titled “The Impact – Disintegration or Survival?” the existence of unprovoked hostile acts is pondered as either unwarranted aggression or an amoral act comparable to the swatting of a fly. Fowler believed the American military complex had treated UFOs as a threat, but would be helpless if they proved to be enemies. The blackouts, abductions, attacks, and burns associated with UFOs help to demonstrate that superintelligent aliens are becoming an intimate part of our environment which we will have to resign ourselves to adapting to.[93]

Ralph and Judy Blum’s Beyond Earth (1974) asserts UFOs may be “the biggest story ever”, but they aren”t sure if they are extraterrestrial and paraphysical phenomena or “living holograms projected on the sky by the laser beams of man”s unconscious mind”. The tone is decidedly upbeat, with suggestions that UFOs represent “an almost unimaginable energy source for mankind” and have a habit of unorthodox healing. They quote Hynek”s opinion that ufonauts indulge in “seemingly pointless antics” and also include James Harder”s response to a question about whether UFOs pose a threat:

“If you pick up a mouse in a laboratory situation, it’s very frightening to the mouse. But it doesn’t mean that you mean the mouse any harm.” [94]

Robert Emenegger’s UFOs: Past, Present and Future (1974) also took an upbeat view of UFOs. Contacts were friendly and he concurred with the Air Force that they posed no threat. Understanding UFOs could lead to the discovery of a new energy source and a new relationship to life throughout the universe. Fantastic revelations to questions that have puzzled philosophers throughout history were near and he hoped a reputable organisation like the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the National Academy of Sciences would move forward to study the phenomenon. The immediate future looks promising. [95] Regardless of ones reaction to Emenegger’s opinions the book bears notice for a chapter on how the public would react to The Contact that is the most intelligent in the literature.

In the December 1974 editorial for Flying Saucer Review, Charles Bowen warned that people should endeavour to avoid physical contact because UFOs have been shown to cause harm. There is perhaps a struggle for possession of our planet between good and evil forces, but UFOs may not be greatly concerned with the ultimate welfare of the human race. Noting how much of the phenomenon trades in gibberish, Bowern laments “Hoaxing, we feared, was not the prerogative of earth men”. [96]

Hynek and Vallée’s The Edge of Reality (1975) takes as given “there appears to be no desire for involvement with the human race”. While UFOs are documented as causing harm, it is observed that electrical outlets also cause harm but are not innately hostile. The study of UFOs is regarded as an opportunity to move toward a new reality. New departures in methodology will, however, be needed. The Center for UFO Studies will be set up to serve those ends. [97]

The same general sentiment appears in Vallée’s The Invisible College (1975). UFOs are indifferent to the welfare of the individual and pose no threat to national defence. The primary impact of UFOs appears to be to human belief. Could it be someone is playing a fantastic trick on us? [98]

The Lorenzens answer with a big yes. “SOMEBODY IS PUTTING US ON!” UFO encounters are some sense a charade. They also, however, appear involve coldly scientific experiments on some humans and efforts to stock some distant exotic zoo. There is a threat from UFOs after all, despite government assurances, but not apparently invasion. Fortunately they regard this threat as avoidable. Stay away from lovers’ lanes and isolated camping sites. They argue the time has come to “educate the aliens” with radio broadcasts inviting them to visit openly. [99]

John Keel decides in The Mothman Prophecies (1975) that the battle cry of the Phenomenon is “Make him look like a nut!” It also prompts him to muse after Fort, “If there is a universal mind, must it be sane?” The “worldwide spread of the UFO belief and its accompanying disease” fills him with great consternation. In The Eighth Tower (1975) the dangerous character of the Phenomenon is played up with talk of the high rate of death among contactees and UFO hobbyists, and how “any force that can sear your eyeballs, paralyse your limbs, erase your memory, burn your skin and turn you into a coughing, blubbering wreck can also maim and kill you”. It is dispassionate and ruthless. We are puppets to the superspectrum. [100]

In bizarre contrast Hans Holzer rejects ‘monster’ theories of aliens bent on destroying us. They may regard themselves as potential saviours. Their attempts at cross-breeding suggest we are “not totally unworthy”. [101] Brad Steiger believed UFOs would be a transformative symbol that will unite our entire species into one spiritual organism. They would be the spiritual midwife which brings about mankind”s starbirth into the universe. [102] Paris Flammonde takes the view that man will never achieve intercommunication or a symbiotic relationship with extraterrestrials in UFO Exist (1976) [103]

The Hynek UFO Report (1977) reflects the emerging consensus. UFO study could perhaps “be the springboard to a revolution in man”s view of himself and his place in the universe”. But they also appear to be “playing games with us”. [104] D. Scott Rogo similarly felt UFOs demonstrate that our world plays host to a force that seeks to mystify us. [105] Bill Barry”s account of the Travis Walton controversy evaluates the phenomenon as having never expressed hostility towards any of its alleged victims. Abductees are treated merely as guinea pigs. [106]

As in his book in the fifties, Leonard Stringfield’s Situation Red: The UFO Siege (1978) is a portrait in confusion. Commenting on aircraft accidents, disappearances, and persistent spying, he admits to being stumped by the pointless harassment. UFO activity resembles a military strike force, but the randomness and absence of widespread destruction falls short of open hostility. If they wanted to destroy our civilisation, clearly they could. Their effects are sometimes deleterious and sometimes beneficial. The paradox may be sinister or profound, but it is still unresolved. [107]

Art Gatti’s UFO Encounters of the 4th Kind (1978) involves sexual incursions and arguably falls into hypochondria. The sexual manipulation he chronicles proves at minimum the beings involved are questionably motivated. Maybe they are curious. Maybe they are milking our emotions like cattle. Maybe they include two forces; one benevolent, the other wicked. Maybe they are seeding Earth with warriors for a future Armageddon. [108]

Brad Steiger’s Alien Meetings (1978) represents a curious regression into the hypochondriacal mindset. Chapter 9 warns “UFO Encounters May Be Hazardous to Your Health!” and catalogues the usual troubles. Motives for aliens include invasion, domination, territorial acquisition, and commercial exploitation, but he dismisses the war of the worlds idea as “paranoid mutterings”. It would surely have been easier to mash us when we were hurling rocks around instead of nuclear weapons. Whether they are on a spiritual mission or pursuing history lessons, they at least seem to be intensely interested in us. [109]

D. Scott Rogo and Jerome Clark’s Earth’s Secret Inhabitants (1979) sees the Phenomenon as a source both of good things like raised IQs and healings plus bad things like burns and radiation effects. It provides us with visions of things humans want to believe. “In fact, up to a certain point it may be good for us to believe in these things – providing, of course, that we don”t become so superstitious in the process that we lose our grip on common sense”. Maybe they are clues to some larger truth. [110] Vallee in Messengers of Deception (1979) essentially shows that losing one”s grip on common sense is the usual result of UFO belief. As such it could be a useful political tool and agent of social control. On the brighter side, UFO study might clarify exciting theoretical and practical opportunities to understand energy and information.[111]

In 1979 Yurko Bondarchuk saw imminent, before the year 2000, contact with extraterrestrials. “It is inconceivable that their journeys to a peripheral planet are merely haphazard or mindless.” They are surveying our self-destructive capabilities and our resource base. He expects the contact to lead to the emergence of a ‘new world order’ in which existing territorial and ideological conflicts will be gradually eliminated and eventual creation of a restructured world economic order. A universal re-evaluation of spiritual convictions could also be expected. [112] Raymond Fowler similarly speculates that UFOs represent a “much-needed bridge between science and religion”. The events of The Andreasson Affair (1979) strike him as a stage-managed religious experience by interstellar missionaries. Betty Andreasson and others like her have been primed subconsciously with information which might burst into consciousness all over the planet. [113]

D. Scott Rogo in UFO Abductions (1980) confesses the whole UFO abduction syndrome appears to be “slightly ridiculous”. There is too much misinformation which appears designed to make the abductees appear to be “total fools”. His guess is that these experiences are an elaborate facade, a camouflage forcing the individual to confront a secret aspect of himself. [114] Rogo’s book includes an article by Ann Druffel, written a couple of years earlier titled ‘Harrison Bailey and the Flying Saucer Disease’ and which involved the medical misadventures of a man who said he was told his internal organs were three times older than they should have been. Druffel diagnoses his problems as resulting from microwave radiation in a UFO encounter. [115] Druffel doesn’t know if Bailey was harmed accidentally or deliberately, but Bailey thinks it was unintentional. In The Tujunga Canyon Contacts (1980) she opts for a view of UFOs as looking after man”s continuing evolution. They take special interest in our procreative abilities or they are interested in expanding our consciousness. [116]

The Proceedings of the First International UFO Congress (1980) presents a portrait of seventies ufology identical to what we’ve chronicled so far. Leo Sprinkle thinks contact messages are seemingly reliable because of their similarities to each other and thus offer information on the scientific and spiritual development of humankind. [117] Berthold Schwarz thinks the messages are garbage. [118] Frank Salisbury remarks that UFOs seem too irrational and perverse – they verge on the truly diabolical. [119] Stanton Friedman expresses his disagreement with Jim Lorenzen”s characterisation of the phenomenon as an insult to human intelligence. [120]

In their study of several abduction cases, Judith and Alan Gansberg reported there wasn’t one where the extraterrestrials were cruel to humans. Indeed, one abductee felt the aliens are angels. They conclude, in contrast to Vallee, the concept of extraterrestrials is doing man no harm and could potentially be helpful. [121]

Raymond Fowler continues ruminating about the Andreasson affair in Casebook of a UFO Investigator (1981) but in a somewhat larger context. He thinks that superintelligent beings have possibly been nurturing man along his evolutionary way. We are under intense attention, perhaps as potential candidates for the intergalactic community. They love mankind. [122] The Andreasson Affair – Phase Two (1981) basically reaffirms the religionist slant of phase one and includes the millennial expectation that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will happen during the adult lives of Bob and Betty Luca. [123]

UFO by Milt Machlin with Tim Beckley is an interesting minor work with a hypochondriacal flourish or two. An odd case of a UFO murder is recounted in which people were killed either because they knew too much or they were being experimented upon. It closes with a UFO health warning that is charming in its simple tone: Do not approach UFOs. People get shocks or even end up in the hospital. You could also get hit by a ray gun. [124]

The appearance of Budd Hopkins’s Missing Time (1981) represents a significant, albeit ambivalent, return to the hypochondriacal mindset. Hopkins regards abduction cases as an epidemic, but because people are protected by an induced amnesia it may be almost entirely invisible. He writes: “I do not believe the UFO phenomenon is malign or evilly intentioned. I fear, instead, that it is merely indifferent, though I fervently hope to be proven wrong.” He adds: “For all any of us know the whole UFO phenomenon may be ultimately blissfully benign – there is firm evidence for this position – and so having been abducted may turn out to have been a peculiar privilege.” Even so, he is “thoroughly alarmed” and calls for an official UFO investigatory arm to be established through the United Nations so everyone would recognise UFOs as a serious reality to the governments of the world. [125] The contradiction between his alarm and the consensus of the prior decade he has trouble abandoning is unresolved.

Of Brad Steiger’s The Star People (1981) and The Seed (1983) we will only comment that it is basically contactee literature for the eighties crowd. (126) John Magors Aliens Above, Always (1983) also has the paternalistic quality of contacteeism – they are watching us for our benefit [127] Cynthia Hind offers the speculation in passing that aliens are here to be entertained or to blow our minds a little in African Encounters (1982). [128]

Lawrence Fawcett and Barry Greenwood in Clear Intent (1984) border on the hypochondriacal in saying the human race could be in danger, but the laconic counterpoint that we haven”t yet been conquered seems to be a call for ennui rather than concern. [129]

George Andrews in Extraterrestrials Among Us (1986) offers up my all-time favourite hypochondriacal speculation: “It is an odd fact that among the viruses there are some that look like UFOs, such as the virus T. Bacteriophage. Some UFOs may have the ability to operate in either the macro-dimension of outer space or the microdimension of viruses, switching back and forth between them at will.” [130] Andrews frets that our survival as a species may be at stake. “Have we been transforming our planet into a cancer cell in the body of the galaxy instead of making it the garden of the universe?” he asks. [131]

Terry Hansen, in a 1981 article, offered a more appropriate somatic metaphor for the upbeat ufology of this period. He suggested UFOs may be a sort of “liver medicine” to make us function normally as part of a cosmic organism. [132] Night Siege (1987) drifts along the borders of hypochondria in its chronicling of power blackouts, surges, interferences, and pain associated with a UFO flap. [133]

Intruders (1987) shares the same quality of unresolved contradiction as the prior Hopkins book. Aliens are committing a species of rape in their activities related to an unthinkable systematic breeding experiment to enrich their stock, reduce our differences and acquire the ability to feel human emotions. What they do is “cruel” and each case is “a personal tragedy”. Yet he also avers: “In none of the cases I’ve investigated have I ever encountered the suggestion of deliberate harm or malevolence.” They don’t realise the disasters they are causing because of an ignorance of human psychology. [134]

Richard Hall titled his 1988 book Uninvited Guests. It is one of the more flaccid titles in the literature and more connotative of pushy salesmen than an alien menace. Hall finds little evidence of overt hostility and suggests harm is accidental or self-defensive. Encounters probably represent mutual learning experiences. There is a strong interest in us and he hopes this means we are beginning a new phase and maturity, and perhaps a new relationship to the universe. [135]

When Tujunga Canyon Contacts was reprinted in 1988 Ann Druffel modified her views in the light of new developments on the abduction scene. Aliens were now malevolent and traumatising, wily and harmful. The good news was that humans have the ability to battle them off – prayer, move your toes, or make your own sound. [136]

Vallée’s Confrontations (1990) tallies up 12 cases of fatal injuries attributable to UFOs and announces the phenomenon is more dangerous and technologically complex than we thought. He feels “a renewed sense of urgency” about UFO study. [137]

Raymond Fowler’s third book on the Andreasson affair, The Watchers (1990), seems to represent a falling back to the hypochondriacal state we saw him in at the beginning of this period. He feels “like a medical researcher who has inoculated himself in order to experience and treat a disease under study. To his horror, he finds the UFO phenomenon linked to the extinction of mankind by sterility. It is inconceivable, but he also believes it to be authentic. [138]


Credit first where it is due. The Air Force got it right and told it straight. No material threat to national security existed. The invasion never took place. Mirarchi’s Pearl Harbor, Riordan’s knockout attack, Keyhoe’s final operation, Wilkins’s death ceiling blockade, Michel’s Sword of Damocles, Lorenzen’s mass drugging, Edwards’s imminent “Overt Contact”, Fawcett’s disaster beyond all imagination, Steiger’s annihilation threat, Hynek’s Russian breakthrough, Palmer’s ongoing titanic war, and Fowler’s cultural disintegration were concerns with more basis in fantasy than in reality.

The sense of urgency, the sense that it may be too late, the sense that our existence was dependent upon a correctly performed investigation was irrational fear. The Air Force repeatedly tried to get across the message that ufologists were wrong but they were in no mood to listen. It is dogma among ufologists that the Air Force was incompetent or worse, yet if that is accepted as a proper, measured evaluation, what word is proper to describe the body of thought presented by these ufologists? The Air Force did not perform flawlessly in the details, but they had the big picture in more than sufficient focus to understand it was a nuisance problem and not one of life and death significance.

The same cannot be said of ufologists. The big picture for them keeps changing. In the fifties the aliens were considerate and peace loving. In the sixties they were a source of danger and death. In the seventies they were both perversely irrational and a source of hope and maturity. The eighties saw them as a source of trauma. Are these interpretations progressively getting closer to the truth? Are they changes in fashion? We can dismiss the notion this is scientific progress. The sixties were worse than the fifties. The eighties are clearly headed into a blind alley with the ideas of alien genetic sampling and implants. Fashion connotes enthusiasm, but ufologists profess dread over the implications their studies are leading them towards.

The changes are reminiscent of changes known to happen in paranoia over time. I confess a degree of puzzlement why ufologists first regarded aliens as potential benefactors. Science fiction stories generally portrayed them as malevolent back in the thirties and forties. Possibly there were science popularisers pushing the notion, but I can’t prove it. Irregardless, the interpretive drift toward malevolence is consonant with the darkening world. view as paranoids withdraw from social contact and turn inward. The stage called hypochondria is entered as the ego collapses and the fear of death asserts itself in a variety of forms such as world destruction fantasies and imaginary persecutions. These persecution fantasies have led some workers to term this the `pursuit” stage of paranoia. The sixties of course did have such themes. The Men-in-Black fantasies flourished in this period. [139] Stories of UFO chases and UFOs shadowing people were also a commonplace occurrence. They, however, are a subset of a wider range of fears and less central to the core manifestations of approaching death.

Robert Jay Lifton, who has offered an exploratory investigation of death symbolism based on study of the aftermath of Hiroshima, has made some suggestive comments on the relationship of a genre of outer space invaders films in Japan to radical impairment of life-death balance and helplessness spawned by the threat of nuclear annihilation. [140] This impairment also led to Godzilla and fellow monsters tramping all over Tokyo. Such films are of course mirrored in America’s alien invasion genre and the giant insect fear films of the fifties. The apparent absence of similar genres springing up elsewhere may point to the crucial cultural significance of responsibility over Hiroshima as the nexus of fifties’ paranoia.

That the invasion fears of ufology may be rooted in this emotional nexus is a hard idea to get away from. Donald Keyhoe’s book M-Day and articles like ‘Hitler’s slave spies America’, ‘Spies are laughing’, and ‘Rehearsal for death’, bespeak a paranoia preceding Hiroshima for him. One could also argue Mantell’s crash had more to do with stirring up an emotional resonance to a crash Keyhoe experienced which led to his leaving the Air Force than to nuclear fears. It could contrarily be argued, though, that such articles express a gung-ho identification with the war effort and the nation which would intensify guilt over Hiroshima which inaugurated a new cycle of collapse. All very possible, but clearly hazardous given the scanty details of Keyhoe”s biography. [141]

One can occasionally view the personal dimension of UFO fears with less ambiguity. One of the more fascinating exercises of the hypochondriacal style is Alvin Moore’s Mystery of the Skymen. Though published in 1979 it was conceived in 1953 under the title The Spaceisland Menace and retains the flavour of that early period in ufology. The book tallies at splendid length an immense number of strange injuries, vehicle crashes, murders, and puzzling disasters which he lays to the activities of the skymen. A whole section is devoted to a variety of mysterious diseases around the country and world which he ties to fogs of sky-chemicaLs laid down by the flying saucers. The most amazing part is the pages he devotes to the ill effects he personally experienced from flying saucer gas. Moore concluded that a massive invasion, though possible, was not happening because of our great numbers and their failure to reduce us to a manageable amount. They also had no defence against A-bombs. The situation, he admits, had lightened since the fifties. [142]

Wilhelm Reich similarly believed in an alien menace and saw physical evidence everywhere of a ‘DOR emergency’. Aliens were withdrawing life energy from our planet. It could be seen in the decay of vegetation, the crumbling of rocks, a feverish atmosphere, and the activities of neurotic, ‘dorized’ individuals at the FDA who were against his orgone cures. Reich suffered ill effects directly from the aliens. One instance of nausea it wasn’t flying saucer gas causing the trouble, but Deadly Orgone Energy (DOR), that was sapping the life out of him. [143]

Labels of the UFO problem as a malady and a virus are delightfully apt expressions of the hypochondriacal style. If it is wondered if this is reading too much into what could be termed a mere literary device, the examples of the style provided by believers in the Jewish world conspiracy should allay any doubts. Their writings often referred to their enemies as bacilli, syphilis, the plague, and viruses. They entertained poisoning fantasies such as the belief that mass inoculation programmes were plots to inject Gentiles with syphilis. The concomitant appearance of world destruction fantasies can be seen, for example, in Mein Kampf where Hitler warned that if the Jew gained power “his crown will be the dance of death for mankind, and as once before, millions of years ago, this planet will again sail empty of all human life through the ether. [144]

Hypochondria is not a permanent condition. The ego attempts to reintegrate itself eventually through the building of psychological defences against the masochistic attacks of the conscience. Ideas of reference form to disown the contents of the mind and retrospective falsifications form to rewrite one’s personal history and form a new identity. Conspiracy logic organises the chaotic social reality around the subject with delusions of grandeur arising to overcompensate for the prior self image that caused shame. The case of Howard Hughes provides a well-known example. Hughes was a psychogenic cripple with intense germ phobias. Elaborate Kleenex rituals were just a part of his weird behaviour. He feared poisoning, demanded daily reports on radioactivity in the air, and ordered surveillance on girls he knew. The roots of this psychotic episode are probably twofold; the first a 1946 air crash which friends believe he never emotionally recovered from and the second a breakdown when he lost control of TWA, his prized toy in his collection of companies. Toward the end of his life he emerged from the illness sounding “calm and sober” and no longer whining. He stated a mission to join the fight to outlaw all nuclear testing. [145]

It would have been nice to be able to point to someone even who expressed relief that the invasion had been called off.

Ufology hasn’t quite reached the stage of having a sense of mission yet, but there are numerous indications that it has moved out of the hypochondria stage and into later stages of projection and conspiracy logic. As we pass from the sixties to the seventies the word ‘urgent’ seems to drop out of the literature. Calls for investigation decrease and the mass drugging idea is heard from no more. As the ego reintegrates, the view of outer reality gets more upbeat and aliens are seen as less monstrous and more caring. The bizarre properties of alien nightmares, dreams and fantasies become more evident and efforts are made to discount them on some level. The sense that aliens are behaving irrationally is a hopeful sign of increased reality-testing, but is foremost a defensive strategy to deny inner torment. The recognition of trauma in eighties ufology is a double-edged revelation. The removal of denial opens up ufology to regression or resolution. Time will tell, but the flowering of conspiracy theories in recent years augurs well that reintegration is still proceeding.

It is human nature that people don’t often go around proclaiming their mistakes and I won’t feign surprise in observing I failed to find any ufologist reflecting on the remarkable misjudgements, the spectacle of error that took place in sixties ufology. It would have been nice to be able to point to someone even who expressed relief that the invasion had been called off. It is an open question whether ufology learns from its past mistakes or not given such silence, and perhaps it is one best left unasked for the implications include the likelihood that ufology is systemically an irrational enterprise conforming to stereotyped forms of psychological eccentricity. There have been crueller ways putting that.

Doc Condon may also have been right.



93. VON KEVICSKY Colman, ‘The 1973 UFO Invasion – Conclusions’, Official UFO, Fall 1976, 20-21. FOWLER, Raymond E., UFOs: interplanetary Visitors, Prentice-Hall, 1974, 286-300,327.
94. BLUM, Ralph and Judy, Beyond Earth, Bantam, 1974, 226, 225, 216, 25.
95. EMENEGGER, Robert, UFOs: Past, Present and Future, Ballantine, 1974, 171, 150-55.
96. BOWEN, Charles, Encounter Cases from Flying Saucer Review, Signet, 1977, 215-17.
97. HYNEK, J. Allen and VALLEE, Jacques, The Edge of Reality, H. Regnery, 1975, 5, 9, 159, 249.
98. VALLEE, Jacques, The Invisible College, E. P. Dutton, 1975, 30, 208, 59.
99. LORENZEN, Coral and Jim, Encounters with UFO Occupants, Berkley, 1976, 393, 399.
100. KEEL, John A., The Mothman Prophecies, Signet, 1975, 145, 143. KEEL, John A., The Eighth Tower, Signet, 1975, 145, 157.
101. HOLZER, Hans, The Ufonauts, Fawcett, 1976, 262, 290-91, 304.
102. STEIGER, Brad, Gods of Aquarius: UFOs and the Transformation of Men, Berkley, 1981, v-vi.
103. FLAMMONDE, Paris, UFO Exist, Ballantine, 1976, 419-20.
104. HYNEK, J. Allen, The Hynek UFO Report, Dell, 1977, 27, 181.
105. ROGO, D. Scott, The Haunted Universe, Signet, 1977, 146.
106. BARRY, Bill, Ultimate Encounter, Pocket, 1978, 199.
107. STRINGFIELD, Leonard, Situation Red, Fawcett, 1977,176.
108. GATTI, Art, UFO Encounters of the 4th Kind, Zebra, 1978, 191.
109. STEIGER, Brad, Alien Meetings, Ace, 1978, 209.
110. ROGO, D. Scott and CLARK, Jerome, Earth’s Secret Inhabitants, Tempo, 1979, 39, 201.
111. VALLEE, Jacques, Messengers of Deception, Bantam, 1980, 240-41, 232.
112. BONDARCHUK, Yurko, UFO Sightings, Landings and Abductions, Methuen, 1979, 194-96.
113. FOWLER, Raymond, The Andreasson Affair, Prentice-Hall, 1979, 204,202-203.
114. ROGO, D. Scott, UFO Abductions, Signet, 1980, 226, 240.
115. Ibid., 122-37.
116. DRUFFEL, Ann and ROGO, D. Scott, The Tujunga Canyon Contacts – Updated Edition, Signet, 1989, 225, 227, 229.
117. FULLER, Curtis G., Proceedings of the First International UFO Congress, Warner, 1980, 304.
118. Ibid. 309.
119. Ibid. 117.
120. Ibid., 334.
121. GANSBERG, Judith and Alan, Direct Encounters, Walker, 1980, 52, 142, 176.
122. FOWLER, Raymond, Casebook of a UFO Investigator, Prentice-Hall, 1981, 233.
123. FOWLER, Raymond, The Andraasson Affair – Phase Two, PrenticeHall, 1982, 262.
124. MACHLIN, Milt, UFO, Quick Fox, 1981, 112-15, 131.
125. HOPKINS, Budd, Missing Time, Richard Marek, 1981, 20, 22530, 238, 24, 237.
126. STEIGER, Brad and Francie, The Star People, Berkley, 1981. STEIGER. Brad, The Seed, Berkley, 1983.
127. MAGOR, John, Aliens Above, Always, Hancock House, 1983, 18.
128. HIND, Cynthia, African Encounters, Gemini, 1982, 209.
129. FAWCETT, Lawrence and GREENWOOD, Barry, Clear Intent, PrenticeHall, 1984, 186-87.
130. ANDREWS, George, Extraterrestrials Among Us, LLewellyn, 1986, 208.
131. Ibid., 256.
132. HALL, Richard, Uninvited Guests, Aurora, 7988, 138.
133. HYNEK, J. Allen, IMBRIGNO, Philip J. and PRATT, Bob, Night Siege, Ballantine, 1987.
134. HOPKINS, Budd, Intruders, Random, 1987,163,190,122-23, 792-93.
135. HALL, op. cit., 195, 223-24.
136. DRUFFEL, op. cit., 288-90.
137. VALLEE, Jacques, Confrontations, Ballantine, 1990,15-17.
138. FOWLER, Raymond, The Watchers, Bantam, 1991, 351, 357.
139. ROJCEWICZ, Peter M., ‘The Man in Black Experience and Tradition’, Pursuit, 20, 2,1907, 72-77.
140. LIFTON, Robert Jay, Death in Life, Random House, 1967, 467-64.
141. Current Biography 1956, 338-39.
142. MOORE, Alvin E., Mystery of the Skymen, Saucerian, 1979, 111-16.
143. REICH, Wilhelm, Contact with Space, Core Pilot, 1957, 44-46.
144. COHN, Norman, Warrant for Genocide, Harper & Row, 1967, 186-87.
145. MATHISON, Richard, His Weird and Wanton Ways, Wm Morrow, 1977.






Abductions: Who’s Being Taken for a Ride?
John Rimmer

From Magonia 36, May 1990

Are UFO abductions finally moving where they belong, i.e. out of the hands of ufologists? This question is prompted by several recent books, and news of new directions in UFO research which is starting to emerge from the USA.

There has been a tendency over the past couple of years to see American UFO research as monolithic and ETH-dominated, especially in the abduction field, which Europeans have seen as being centred on Hopkins and his genetic-experimenting aliens. Of course, this is a great over-simpification. We only have to look at the writings of Martin Kottmeyer and Dennis Stillings in this magazine and elsewhere to see that alternative viewpoints are articulately expressed.

Perhaps less appreciated in Britain is the split that is developing between Budd Hopkins and a number of researchers who had initially cooperated with him in hypnotic regression of suspected abductees. In the last Magonia mentioned briefly the rift between Hopkins and psychologiat Rima Laibow, and in Whitley Strieber’s Communium and particularly his second book of personal experiences, Transformation, his increasing disenchantment with ufology – or to be more precise, Budd Hopkin’s version of it.

In a book recently published in America, Report on Communion [1] by Ed Conroy, Strieber’s contacts with ufologists are chronicled in some detail. Report is intended as an ‘independent assessment’ of the nature of Streiber’s experience, particularly in the light of his life and background. ‘Independent’ is perhaps too strong a word, as the author is a friend of Strieber, and appears broadly sympathetic to his own assessment of his experiences. However, the book provides an interesting perspective an Strieber’s own account, and provides much background opinion to help us confirm or adjust our own opinions.

There are two easy ways of looking at the events described in Communion. One is to say they are pure invention, created by a skilled fiction writer; the other is to say they are a physical reality which happened in real-time. Both these possibilities deserve consideration, although for obvious reasons the former has been debated in a rather circumspect manner, especially in countries where the libel laws are such a Mickey Mouse affair as ours. However, for the purposes of any thorough investigation of Strieber’s experiences there in no need to have to choose between these possibilities, as the number of more likely expianatiocis is legion.

Most of the later part of Report is taken up by a comparision between the Communion events and encounters with traditional folklore entities – particularly Irish – and an assessment of the abduction experience in Jungian terms, and of course these are points which carry on from Strieber’s own speculations in Transformatio. At this point, an interesting thing happens. Strieber crosses the Atlantic, as it were, and seems to have far more in common with the worlds of Magonia, Meheust and Maugé than he does with MUFON and Majestic.

And it is here that the largest single gap in Conroy’s assessment occurs. Apart from Vallée, who is quoted extensively and approvingly, Conroy seems to be almost totally unaware that there is an alternative ufoiogical viewpoint to the ETH. This is almost certainly a product of the high profile that the ETHers have now achieved in the USA. Apart from the controversial influence or otherwise of Science and the UFO, the only other European UFO book extensively cited by Conroy seems to be Tim Good’s Above Top Secret, which is a shame as Conroy’s understanding of the mythic content of the UFO and abduction experience puts him far closer to the European researchers than to Good or mainstream USA thought.

The impression comes across strongly in Communion that Strieber was something of a ufological virgin until his experiences started and he came across Randles and Warrington’s Science and the UFO. This may be so, but Conroy has unearthed some fascinating material about the young Whitley’s extraterrestrial interests back home in San Antonio.

Mrs Ann Hix forms an interesting footnote to the history of ufology. Her husband, Col. Guy Hix was commander of Godman Air Force Base, Kentucky, in in 1947 at the time the ill-fated Capt. Mantell took off to investigate a UFO, and became America’s first UFO-related fatality. As a result of the legal wrangling which followed this case, Commander Hix and his wife moved to San Antonio, Texas, where their sons became boyhood playmates of one Whitley Strieber. At about this time – the era of the first Soviet sputnik – Strieber and his friends formed a rocket club, which reached the front page of the local paper when they launched a ‘frognik’ – a home made rocket carrying a frog!

It is interesting to speculate what might have happened if, after his amnesiac tour of Europe Strieber had decided to settle as an American in Paris. Perhaps nothing. Maybe, in a different intellectual climate he would have become a cultural insider, and the ‘visitor experiences’ would have taken a different form, had they occured at all. If they did happen, would they have developed differently if his first contacts with the world of ufology had been via some of the French ufologists rather than Hopkins? The cultural identity between the abduction experience and North American society is so strong that my suspicion is that Strieber just would not have had these experiences.

It would also be interesting to speculate what might have been the result if Strieber’s first contact with ufology had been via the Swedish researchers described in John Spencer’s Perspectives [2] – Berta Kuhlemam and Arne Groth. Spencer’s book is a plea for abduction research – indeed UFO research in general – to be witness-led rather than researcher-led. The conventional approach to abductees by ufoiogists, he claims, leads to a story emerging which conforms to the ufologist’s preconceptions and he makes the point that an abductee presented to a past-lives researcher might come up with a variation on a reincarnation story.

This is a fascinating suggestion with links to some recent US research which I shall look at in a moment. He points as an example of witness-led investigation a Swedish abduction case from 1974, investigated by Kuhleman and Groth. Here the initial event seems conventional enough: a man returning home in a lonely country area suffers a missing time period after a close encounter with a mysterious light. An initial hypnotic regression produces a narrative of abduction by four tall, ‘semi-transparent’ beings who communicated by ‘musical tones’. The percipient was not happy with the direction of the investigation, and at this point Grath was introduced to the case. He abandoned hypnotic regression and allowed the witness to move the investigation into the directions he fait happiest with.

The investigations, under the percipients own direction, began to move away radically from the conventional lines we expect from a UFO-investigator directed case, and into a far more mystically inclined area, with both investigator, percipient, and others engaged in dowsing and the range of activities we think of as ‘earth-mysteries’, and working with such concepts as earth-energies, body-energies resembling kundalini, and the Gala concept. It is hard to see how the investigation might continue, and it seems unlikely that it will ever come to what most ufologists would consider a ‘conclusion’. If nothing else one must admire the sheer patience of Kuhlemann and Groth, who seem to have spent years and years following the whims of their abductee. I guess many ‘investigator-led’ researchers would have given it up as a bad job years ago. It is also apparent that the approach taken by both investigators and percipient is influenced by cultural concepts of society and land that are distinctively Scandinavian.

A major part of the book is an account of the seminal (no pun intended, or was it just a Freudian slip?) Hill Case. Spencer’s approach was outlined in his talk to the BUFORA International Conference in 1988 and a recent series of articles in UFO Times. He concludes broadly that the Hill case arose from Barney’s dream experiences after the sighting of a relatively low-key UFO during the course of their drive. Barney’s experience were shared, consciously and unconsciously. with Betty, until they jointly emerged during the course of the investigation.

It is surprising that Spencer, a long-time BUFORA Committee Member, seems as unaware of the nature of much of British ufology, and its divergence from the American pattern as does Ed Conroy. I find it difficult to accept his constent assertions that British abduction researchers are simply following in the footsteps of the Americans. He seems to imply that most British researchers are simply Hopkins clones – this is happily far from the case; in fact his constant harping on the ETH domination of British ufology is irritating and detracts from his book. Of course, there are British researchers who are still attached to the ETH, just as there are American researchers who have jettisoned it: but the overall picture is very different from Spencer’s caricature.

We are left with the almost certain conclusion that the majority of abductees are going to have their most traumatic experiences, and their lives, explored and explained by a group of poorly trained, amateur hobbyists.

But even in America, attitudes are changing, and Hopkins himself seems to becoming an increasingly isolated figure with his naive scenario of alien interbreeding and genetic experiments. As I mentioned in the Editorial of Magonia 35, the abduction experience in America is now beginning to attract the attention of paychologists, therapists and other mental health professionals, as well as engaging the attention of parapsycologists who have up to now been working in other fields.

A very interesting report by the Near Death Experience researcher Kenneth Ring has recently come our way. In it he summarises a psychological profiling exercise amongst abductees, NDE experients, and as control, researchers into these subjects. He finds, as will be no surprise to faithful Magonia readers, a considerable degree of similarity between the two groups of experients. He also claims that the results do not show any aignificant degree of ‘fantasy proneness’ amongst the two experient groups. I am rather doubtful about the significance of this finding, as the questions designed to determine fantasy proneness not only seem extremely subjective – “Did you day-dream a lot as a child?” – but in many cases suggest the answer the researcher would like to hear. They seem to be making the respondent choose between “Are you a dull, uninteresting little bore”, and “Are you a sensitive, fascinating human being who has lots of exciting things happen to you?”

Just as interesting as the responses of the experients are the responses of the investigators. As Ring describes them they are hardly a ‘control group’ – a real control would surely be a random group of people with little or no interest in the subjects. Indeed, they show responses often remarkably similar to the experients. It would appear that becoming interested in NDEs or UFOs is almost as life-changing an experience as having an NDE or UFO experiernce. It is also of note that UF0 researchers’ responses are consistently more to the ‘strange’ side of the equation than those of NDE investigators – sometimes in fact more ‘strange’ than NDE experients. perhaps reflecting the fact that NDE studies are a more ‘acceptable’ topic for academic research than UFO

In The Evidence for Alien Abduction [3] I put forward the suggestion that the abduction experience is a symptom rather than a cause of personality change. It now seems that becoming interested in UFOs may be a symptom of a similat process!

Ring’s interest in ufology, via abductions, is significant, and is an example of the ‘professionalisation’ of UFO research, particularly abduction research. This trend has got farthest in America, where psychologists, psychoanalysts and therapists are moving into the field. One of the leading figures in this move is the aforementioned Rima Laibow, a psychotherapist who is one of the prime movers of the semi-mysterious TREAT – Treatment and Research of Experienced Anomalous Trauma.

In the last Magonia editorial I welcomed the appearance amongst abduction researchers of professional psychologists, therapists, etc., particularly as current research is continuing to show some sort of connection between the abduction experience, and a history of childhood sexual abuse towards the abductee (a finding which is reinforced by the Ring survey mentioned above). But there is another side to such involvement which will also need to be addressed.

In an article in the January 1990 issue of MUFON UFO Journal, Rima Laibow looks at the complementary roles of the amateur ufologists and the professional therapist. Much of the article is a sensible analysis of how these two groups can work together – the therapist looking after the interests of the individual concerned, the ufologists putting the individual experience into a wider perspective. Towards the end however, her paper turns into a plea for the therapist to be able to charge a fee for her/his work with the abductee. The ufologists, she argues, are allowed to profit from the books and articles they write on abductions (well, some do, most don’t), so it is only fair, isn’t it, that the professional therapist should also turn an honest penny without charges of ‘profiteering’ from the UFO community?

One American correspondent has commented that there is already the suspicion arising in the USA that the growing hostility between abduction researchers and professionals (such as that between Hopkins and Laibow) is because the latter see the former as ‘siphoning off’ potentially lucrative cases.

Despite that, the professionals do have a fair argument. We are dealing with highly trained people whose time is money and there is a limit to the amount of unpaid work they can do on a charitable basis. But here we have the fundamental question: who pays? The abductees themselves? In any other case where people are undergoing private treatment by a medical specialist this is the case, but how many abductees could afford it? Are those who can’t to be left, as now, to the tender mercies of the untrained ufologist? Or should the ufologists pay? Fine if there is chance of a profitable book in it, but I can’t see too many ufologists forking out the fees that any qualified psychiatrist or psychotherapist would be asking – especially in America where they are paid almost as much plumbers.

So we are left with the almost certain conclusion that the majority of abductees are going to have their most traumatic experiences, and their lives, explored and explained by a group of poorly trained, amateur hobbyists.

Someone’a being taken for a ride, but I can’t for the life of me work out who.



  1. Conroy, Ed. Report on Communion. William Morrow & Co., New York, 1989
  2. Spencer, John. Perspectives. Macdonald, 1990.
  3. Rimmer, John. Evidence for Alien Abduction. Aquarian Press, 1984.


Objections to the Birth Trauma Hypothesis.
Ian S. Creswell

From Magonia 11, 1982

While one must congratulate Dr Lawson for a most original and mentally stimulating piece of theoretical writing  [link here]  on the apparent similarity between relived birth image traumas and the reported observations of abduction percipients, a number of very clear and important objections to this theory come to mind.

Without completely rejecting the general ideas put forward in Dr Lawson’s paper, grave doubts enter the picture, both from the area of psychoanalytic psychology, from other more general sections of psychiatric medicine and from ufology itself. Although not wishing to be absolutely negative, upon careful thought the regretful opinion must be that there is no real basis for assuming that the images involved in close-encounter experiences of the third and fourth kinds are either partly or wholly the result of relived images associated with the so-called trauma of birth.

The results of so-called test situations we find unconvincing and the means by which these were brought to light in general highly unsatisfactory. While by no means denying the possibility that psychological processes are at work here, in fact quite the contrary, what we would rather suggest is that research and investigation is directed down other paths than images of birth trauma or other forms of psychopathology.

Before any particular theory is proved to be factual every part of the content of this group of ideas must be compatible with other valid knowledge and evidence in the area that one is writing about. Some amount of deviation is allowed, as no scientific subject can remain stationary for long periods of time without becoming stale. The very centre of Dr Lawson’s theory of a universal birth trauma is based upon the work of Otto Rank and the psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, a follower of Rank. Their theory of mental imagery reappearing later on in thF individual’s life as the cause of later neurosis and general behaviour disorders has now been almost completely rejected within psychoanalytic and psychiatric medicine. It is now mainly of interest for its historical place within psychological thought and is rarely if ever employed within the treatment of the psychoneuroses. (1)

Rank died in the United States in 1939, and outside America his theories are no longer the subject of discussion, although many of his suggestions have influenced others. Dr Nander Fodor, a New York analyst, makes use of the Rankian theory of the birth trauma, which he claims to have based upon clinical rather than philosophical foundations, in his extraordinary books, The Search for the Beloved and New Approaches to Dream Interpretation. Since nearly every aspect of human behaviour – not excluding constipation – is traced back in these books to the trauma of birth, it is a little difficult to see why they needed to be written at all.

But if Dr Fodor is somewhat lacking – in imagination as to origins, nobody can accuse him of lacking ingenuity in his interpretations. He informs us, for example, that children may start life with a handicap owing to prenatal influences, one of which is the violence of parental intercourse, the memory of which is said to be clearly apparent in the dreams of adult life. The fact that there exist no nerve connections between mother and unborn child does not trouble Dr Fodor, who postulates that communication takes place by telepathy. According to this theory, then, prenatal influences and the trauma of birth play a major part in the formation of character and determine mental health in adult life.

A more scientific exposition of this view has been put forward by Phyllis Greenacre, who believes that constitution, prenatal experience, birth, and the situation immediately after birth together play some part in predisposing the individual to anxiety. She notes that loud noises, maternal nervousness, and similar stimuli increase the rate of the foetal heart and the frequency of foetal movements, and supposes that these may fairly be taken as signs of anxiety. Such ‘anxiety’ is, of course, without mental content, but Dr Greenacre believes that it supplies an organic potential which may influence later anxiety reactions.

Turning now to one of the most highly critical reviews of birth trauma and its possible cause of future neurosis we have to turn to what Freud thought about this very speculative theory, bearing in mind that he had changed his own mind about the theory of birth trauma over the years, as can be clearly seen by reading some of Freud’s works. (2)

In the act of birth there is a real danger to life. We know what this means objectively; but in a psychological sense it says nothing at all to us. The danger of birth has as yet no psychical content. We cannot possibly suppose that the foetus has any sort of knowledge that there is a possibility of its life being destroyed. It can only be aware of some vast disturbance in the economy of its narcissistic libido. Large sums of excitation crowd in on it, giving rise to new feelings of unpleasure, and some organs acquire an increased cathexis, thus foreshadowing the objectcathexis which will soon set in. What elements in all this will be made use of as the sign of a ‘danger situation’?

Unfortunately, far too little is known about the mental make-up of a newborn baby to make a direct answer possible. I cannot even vouch for the validity of the descriptions I have just given. It is easy to say that the baby will repeat its effect of anxiety in every situation which recalls the event of birth. The important thing to know is what recalls the event and what it is that is recalled.

All we can do is to examine the occasions on which infants-in-arms or somewhat older children show readiness to produce anxiety. In his book on the trauma of birth, Rank has made a determined attempt to establish a relationship between the earliest phobias of children and the impressions made on them by the event of birth. But I do not think he has been successful. His theory is open to two objections. In the first place, he assumes that the infant has received certain sensory impressions, in particular of a visual kind, at the time of birth, impressions, the renewal of which can recall to its memory the trauma of birth and thus evoke a reaction of anxiety. This assumption is quite unfounded and extremely improbable.

It is not credible that a child should retain any but tactile and general sensations relating to the process of birth. If, later on, children show fear of small animals that disappear into holes or emerge from them, this reaction, according to Rank, is due to their perceiving an analogy. But it is an analogy of which they cannot be aware. In the second place, in considering these later anxiety situations, Rank dwells, as suits him best, on the child’s recollection of the traumatic disturbance which interrupted that existence – which leaves the door wide open for arbitrary interpretation.

There are, moreover, certain examples of childhood anxiety which directly contradict his theory. When, for instance, a child is left alone in the dark one would expect it, according to his view, to welcome the re-establishment of the intrauterine situation; yet it is precisely on such occasions that the child reacts with anxiety. And if this explained by saying that the child is being reminded of the interruption which the event of birth made in its intrauterine happiness, it becomes impossible to shut one’s eyes any longer to the far-fetched character of such explanations.

I am driven to the conclusion that the earliest phobias of infancy cannot be directly traced back to impressions of the act of birth and that so far they have not been explained. A certain preparedness for anxiety is undoubtedly present in the infant-in-arms. But this preparedness for anxiety, instead of being at its maximum immediately after birth and slowly decreasing, does not emerge till later, as mental development proceeds, and lasts over a certain period of childhood. If these early phobias persist beyond that period one is inclined to suspect the presence of a neurotic disturbance, although it is not at all clear what their relation is to the undoubted neuroses that appear later on in childhood.

Only a few of the manifestations of anxiety in children are comprehensible to us, and we must confine our attention to them. They occur, for instance, when a child is alone, or in the dark, or when it finds itself with an unknown person instead of one to whom it is used – such as its mother. These three instances can be reduced to a single condition – namely, that of missing someone who is loved and longed for. But here, I think, we have the key to an understanding of anxiety and to a reconciliation of the contradictions that seem to beset us.

Where the theory for birth trauma appears to fail as the cause of all future anxiety in a purely psychological sense is that a newborn baby just can’t function in a very developed conceptive-perceptive mode. The newly born infant, we assume, can only experience its environment by way of sensations of different types and sensory impressions of one sort and another, and by no other means. The sense of self is not present at birth to any great extent, with the young child not aware of the fact that he is a separate personality. His outward world is totally mixed in with his inner world. There is no ego state of personality, for this is still to come.

We just don’t know what kind of mental images are present (if any) in the newly born child. This being the case, logically we can’t say what is in the mind of the developing child in the womb either. Therefore to even hint at the possibility that the conceptive contents of the CE (close encounter) reports are nothing more than relived flashbacks to the area of time before, during and after birth on the part of the percipients is just assuming far too much.

Another factor that we are not very happy about is the part that hallucinations are being made to play in this particular theory. If a person is suffering from any of the different forms of sensory hallucinations then he or she is in a state of very serious mental confusion in which the borders of reality become totally obscured. This is mainly a state that is associated with psychoses rather than neuroses (although the line between them can become very thin in certain cases). A person suffering from a psychotic disorder is usually pretty obvious, as hallucinations don’t exist in a state of vacuum but along with other serious symptoms of psychosis.

Hallucinatory states do not occur just once or twice and then never again but rather recur pretty frequently, usually matching in with whatever particular individual delusional element is present at any given time in the mind of those so disturbed. Yet another feature of most psychotic states is that normal life becomes nearly impossible as the person gets more and more out of touch with reality. How many close-encounter percipients can really be classed as being in this particular category?

We are not happy either with the manner in which the comparison material was collected from artificially created situations involving the use of hallucinogenic drugs, hypnosis or sensory deprivation. Just how often are close-encounter experiences of the third and fourth kinds of this nature?

It is not very unusual to see all kinds of strange entities while under the influence of various hallucinogenic drugs. Pain-killing drugs also at times produce hallucinations of a visual nature when patients suffering from serious illnesses are given large amounts of certain kinds of these drugs. To suggest that these people are reliving images associated with the trauma of birth is far-fetched indeed. These people are not psychotic but only display hallucinatory indications when under drugs and not at other times.

In cases of loss of sensory impressions hallucinations frequently occur but, once again, they don’t when the person is again fully aware of his or her external environment. To assume, as Dr Lawson does, that the images assoicated with these particular states and the close-encounter images are all of a birth-relived image state is very hard to accept. It appears more like science fiction than the close encounters do.


To suggest that there is any likeness between a human foetus and the type of entity that Betty Andreasson saw during her experiences is taking the imagination to its limit.


We would also view very doubtfully the apparent similarity between the humanoid and the human foetus. There does not appear to be any real link here at all, which becomes only too clear if one checks out the relevant books on gynaecological medicine. To suggest that there is any likeness between a human foetus and the type of entity that Betty Andreasson saw during her experiences is taking the imagination to its limit.

We can find no confident proof in Dr Lawson’s statement: “It is beyond question that there are extensive similarities between perinatal imagery and UFO abduction narratives, as the presentation of parallels from both areas and an analysis of a prominent abduction have shown”. Dr Lawson’s theory, mainly based upon the work of Grof, fails to explain the category of reports known as CE4, rather it makes an understanding of these human experiences harder to form. It is not a very good practice to take a minor and mainly discarded theory from its original subject and then transfer it into the field of another subject which is itself highly controversial, to say the least.

Dr Lawson’s speculative arguments against multiple witness CE3 and CE4 reports ~, seem to be very strange indeed. Firstly, he quotes Allan Hendry’s excellent book on UFOs, but appears to make the mistake that Hendry classifies CE cases involving multiple witnesses as being very doubtful. It appears to me that Hendry is meaning this to apply to mass sightings of a low-definition variety, which are much more likely to have conventional explanations than ufological ones.

To regard encounters involving more than one person as being due to such causes as multiple hallucinations (I have not yet been able to find out just what this means in a psychiatric sense. I have not come across any cases that feature this unusual symptom of mental disorder in literature dealing with hallucinations), folie a deux, imaginary companions and mass hallucinations (really more like mass hysteria which is due to the spread of rumour and the desire to believe something to be true and which correctly belongs in the study of human behaviour) is bordering on the ridiculous.

To further make the point, as Dr Lawson does, that testimony of this type is no guarantee or proof of an objective event, but rather of its subjective psychological validity for those experiencing it is of course fair up to a point, but if taken too far is again illogical. If this is so then no one should ever be trusted who gives evidence in a court case on behalf of someone else in support of them because of possible subjective motivation.

Dr Lawson’s theory appears to pay very little attention to any sort of physical factor involved in close-encounter reports, dismissing them too casually and seeing no link between the events experienced and the physical factors involved. No doubt a great deal of so-called physical evidence is rather ambiguous and can indeed be open to many interpretations. But to make the sort of statement which follows is going to far:

“The inescapable fact is that no abduction case has thus far presented unambiguous physical or physiological evidence which compels us to conclude that a UFO landed in that spot, or left that mark on the abductee’s skin, or abducted that family. I am speaking not of probabilities or possibilities but of certainties.”

There are a number of close-encounter abduction reports which do appear to have a clear physical result, either to the environment or to the percipient, and other closeencounter reports show the same thing. Just what this might mean as to the nature of the experiences we are dealing with is another matter.

Dr Lawson does not seem to distinguish between close encounters of the third and fourth kinds but tends to regard them as being the same thing, which they may not be at all! There does appear to be, however, a subjective factor present in most closeencounter reports of all types, but I don’t feel that this subjectiveness is at all pathological. Rather, it may be more the result of some natural process of the human psychical structure interacting with the electromagnetic-chemical fields of energy both within the percipient’s brain and the environment to produce a manifestation
which is both objective and subjective in its cause and effect.

Again one must question the validity of Dr Lawson’s contention that in CE3 reports the dominant creature type is humanoid and that it resembles the human foetus, especially such entities as observed by Betty and Barney Hill, and Travis Walton. It is true that there are more reports of humanoid entities than of other kinds, but the latter are not rare and one must have very good imaginative ability to see any likeness between them and the human foetus. What would Dr Lawson make of a report of the fourth kind that involved more than one type of entity, we can only wonder?

No doubt taking the full range of ufological manifestations into account only tends to lead one to conclude that there is more than just a single cause at work here. I am classing only reports (all across the board) that are unexplained, with the cause of unexplained low-definition reports beina different from that of medium reports and so on, with perhaps the cause of the closeencounter cases being something else again. These ufological manifestations can not be put down to images associated with birth trauma. They are world-wide and are reported by all social groups, and are generally not the result of any pathological syndrome of either a physical or psychological nature.

Dr Lawson’s theory poses more questions than it answers, leaving too many strands untied and open. He admits that “a causal nexus between specific events of one’s biological birth and particular images has yet to be established”, and that “we cannot yet explain what stimulates the sequence of visual imagery and events which makes up an abduction”.

Another weakness, we feel, lies in the unproved assumption of Rank and others that the presence of birth trauma elements are universal in their manifestations, that it has always been present, that it is something which sets the pattern for future anxiety. Yet not everyone is affected? If what Dr Lawson writes is correct then we all should be having CE4 encounters, yet this is not so. Nor are the percipients of these strange images repeating their subjective manifestations time and time again, which they should be doing if these images really are the long-lost memories of life in the womb, of birth and just afterwards.

Turning to reports of CE3 and CE4 which involve EM effects. Just how can the birth trauma theory fit in to try to explain them, because a birth memory of great anxiety can not stop a motor car’s engine, put out its lights and cut out radio reception?

Turning lastly to historical factors associated with UFO manifestations and the possible appearance of birth trauma effects, we must pose the question: Why did not the present-day images of CE3 and CE4 encounters occur to the extent they do today, taking as true the age-old and universal nature of the birth trauma?

Why did people see airships, mystery aircraft, ghost rockets, all of which do appear to be prototypes of present-day ufological manifestations, instead of just seeing UFOs and their occupants? There can’t have been all that many airships present at birth to give rise to early infant anxiety, or strange unmarked aircraft flying about in the womb prior to birth to cause pre-birth nightmares to the unborn child!

Lastly, a question: how is it possible for the unborn child in the womb to know just what its own appearance is, in order for this to be later superimposed in adult life as part of a close-encounter abduction experience?



1. Brown, J.A.C. Freud and the Post-Freudians, Pelican Books, 1971, pp. 54-55.
2. Freud, Sigmund. Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety. pelican Books, 1979, pp.291-293





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 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. 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 and (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 ( 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.