More Pieces For the Jigsaw. Hilary Evans

From Magonia 30, August 1988.

oxford-all-souls-collegePossibly the questions which UFOs pose are ultimately no different from those debated over port and cheese by professional academics at the High Table of All Souls


If there is one kind of article ufology could do with fewer of, it’s the kind where researchers sit back and meditate on what ufology is fundamentally about, debating whether it’s a science, defining its theoretical parameters, when they could be more profitably engaged tramping over muddy fields in search of traces or fault-lines, or taping statements from witnesses who’ve actually had experiences the investigators have never had and never will.

But inside every feet-on-the-ground empiricist there’s a head-in-the-clouds idealist looking for the chance to indulge in abstract speculation; and maybe, just once in a while, he should be heard from, if only in the interests of maintaining a healthy perspective.

For a while back there, I was at the centre of the cyclone, the still (well, actually not all that still) point of the turning world of ufology. From all round the world leading researchers were sending me their contributions to BUFORA’s 40-years-on symposium. if I didn’t get to see the subject steadily and see it whole at least I got as global a view as anyone is Likely to get. [4] I was impressed.

Above all by the dedication. A dedication inspired by the conviction felt by my contributors that what they are engaged in is more than a private obsession like train spotting or philately, but a study which could lead mankind to insights and knowledge. A dedication which provides the adrenaline for uncounted hours of work which would be unrewarding if it were not its own reward. A Ballester-Olmos picking every little nit in hundreds of Spanish landing cases: a Behrendt painstakingly working out the implications of witness reports for his UFO propulsion model: a Chalker laboriously sifting the dust of hundreds of trace cases in the hope of finding a few specks of gold – and all the rest of these wonderfully dedicated people.

It would have been enough to make me ashamed, were I not conscious of being similarly obsessed myself – in my case by a curiosity which will not be satisfied until I know what’s really happening to people like Siragusa, Strieber and their kind. Even if I’ve chosen a different hobby-horse from Ballester, Behrend or Chalker, I’m still riding on the same merry-go-round.

This sense of dedication has of course characterised ufologists ever since the whole thing began, two score years ago; you can feel it in the earliest pages of the BUFORA Journal, of the Merseyside UFO Bulletin, of the hundreds of ephemeral journals catalogued – himself displaying just the same kind of dedication – by Tom Lind.

It is this dedication which keeps us going, the Klasses no less than the Creightons, the Randles no more than the Campbells, even though all the evidence goes to show that the phenomenon is largely if not entirely mythicical. It’s the dedication which makes a researcher like Méheust, even when he has demonstrated how UFOs are related to science fiction on the one hand and to folklore on the other, continue to study the subject, recognising that those links add to rather than detract from its interest.

For others of us, it is the parallel with witchcraft which fascinates. It is now some centuries since witches were a living phenomenon, as UFO witnesses are a living phenomenon for us today: yet witchcraft is currently being studied more widely and more profoundly than ever. Why? Because we realise that the witchcraft phenomenon offers us unique insights into how people behave under certain conditions, and how other people respond to their behaviour.

So it may be with UFOs. Maybe it’s not so much what they are in themselves, or indeed whether they exist at all. Maybe it’s what they reveal about ourselves and the universe we inhabit. Possibly the questions which UFOs pose are ultimately no different from those debated over port and cheese by professional academics at the High Table of All Souls: what’s new is that thanks to UFOs they are being posed by retired engineers in the American Midwest, by librarians on Merseyside, by Ford executives in Spain, by computer analysts in Italy.

Between them, they and their kind have shown that UFOs are not only a mystery story which makes those which challenged Hercule Poirot hardly more devious than the difficulties surmounted by Noddy, but also a spiritual exercise as effectively purgative as any DIY course in spring-cleaning the psyche. It’s not possible to seriously study the phenomenon as it currently presents itself and not be brought against such consciousness raising brainteasers as What is Reality? What is Truth? What is the Ultimate Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything?

Indeed, as much as the elusiveness and ambiguity of the phenomenon. It is the far-reachingness of its implications which may account for the reluctance of professional scientists to get involved. Scientists like finite answers which can at least be conceptualised. With UFOs there is no knowing where they will carry us. One thing is clear enough: the research of the old days is already out of date, and not simply because our standards have improved so much that the data our forerunners bequeathed us is virtually useless. We’re not just asking more questions, we are asking different questions. Even if it should turn out that UFO reports have a basis in reality, it is evident that it is a different kind of reality than the one we are used to in our daily lives.

Many are turned off the subject for precisely this reason. If you are a hard-headed person who has quite enough difficulty with old-fashioned consensus reality, parallel realities are something you need like a puncture on the motorway. And If UFOs were the only phenomenon threatening to upset our everyday thinking, we could be excused for dodging the issues they raise. But UFOs are not unique, in this or any other respect. We don’t have to go back to the witchcraft age for parallels is. Read for instance Graham McEwan’s study of mystery animals in here-and-now Britain: all the evidence is that many of our fellow citizens are having ongoing encounters with unreality – in the form of animals which quite simply defy reason just as disconcerting in their implications as our UFOs. [6] So how do we set about undisconcerting ourselves?

Our easiest course is to reject the evidence. Some of us have tried that: the trouble is the more we filter out the noise, the more bizarre is the signal we’re left with.

Next best: find explanations within the structure of our existing knowledge. Well, we’ve tried that too, but even hunting in the remotest crannies of William Corliss’s catalogues or unearthing the weirdest case histories of the psychologists’ textbooks, we can’t find precedents for everything that’s happening.

Another thing we’ve tried is to shunt the awkward material to one side and deal only with that which we feet capable of handling, like NICAP did with the contactees. Trouble is, you can’t draw hard and fast boundary lines. Even the simplest case involves a witness, and we have painfully learned that even the most plausible witness requires evaluation: which leads into the whole psychosocial scene.

Likewise, thousands of reports feature beams of light: we can’t dismiss the fact that anomalous beams of light have been a standard folklore item from way back, but again that leads us into a vast new territory, this time the wide, unmapped faerie-filled wilds of Magonia.

Up to a a point it’s a healthy instinct to keep things simple if we can. If every time someone reported a light in the sky we had to consider not simply the possibility of misidentification and misinterpretation, and the meteorological and astronomical implications, but also the psychological, parapsychological, cultural, mythological and any-other-logical parameters, we’d bog down in a morass of data knowing some, maybe most of it, is irrelevant.

But also knowing, from painful experience, that one man’s UFO is another man’s satellite, planet, advertising plane, hallucination, visiting space brother, you name it … Again, it’s like witchcraft. At the time, many highly intelligent minds grappled with the data that flooded in; they did what they could in the light of their belief systems, and the result was – as we now know – disastrous. Only now, thanks to the spadework of Charcot, Janet, Freud, can we start to comprehend the nature of what really happened during the witch mania. Indeed, many of us still have these lessons to learn, as witness the continued manifestations of ‘demon possession’ and ‘channelling’, not to mention the ongoing abduction craze.

We now know that witchcraft was a reality, but not the reality of the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum. In the same way, it is likely that the UFO phenomenon is a reality – but not the reality it seemed when Kenneth Arnold touched down at Yakima.

Thanks to Keel and Randles, Rimmer and Méheust, and many others, there’s not much chance that any of us will ever again take a UFO report at face value, not looking before or after. Even if it should turn out that there really are alien spacecraft at the back of the phenomenon, they have triggered a multi-dimensional response in us humans which will – like witchcraft – have lasting implications.

Knowing that UFOs are not what they seem to be, we incline to be suspicious of any attempt to demonstrate that they are anything at all

Unfortunately, one of the insidious effects of ambiguity is to discourage study. Knowing that UFOs are not what they seem to be, we incline to be suspicious of any attempt to demonstrate that they are anything at all. An understandable attitude, and up to a point admirable. Indeed we should be sceptical when a fellow researcher claims to have broken through the reality barrier.

But being sceptical shouldn’t lead to being negative. We UFO researchers pride ourselves on being so much more open minded than scientists in more conventional disciplines. Yet when a colleague comes along offering a brand-new fresh off the drawing-board insight into the process of the UFO experience, he is liable to spark off an almost hysterical reaction.

Lawson’s work, for example [5]. OK, so we’d all like to see more replication, independent confirmation of his finding. So some of us find his birth-trauma hypothesis hard to take. But our reservations shouldn’t blind us to the fact that while we’re standing here at the crossroads, wondering which way to turn, here’s someone offering to show us a new path. To refuse to even try his road just because he’s not wearing an AA uniform or because we can see potholes in its surface, or because it’s not headed in the direction we think it ought to be headed, is ridiculous.

Or take Rutledge [9]. OK, so his work suffers from shortcomings – but we all live with the fact that that’s something we must accept so long as UFO research is carried out by non-professional researchers, funded only by themselves and in their own time. Despite these disadvantages, Rutledge’s Project Identification remains the most comprehensive attempt at field investigation ever carried out: yet when did you ever see it given a serious hearing?

Perhaps because they are literally more ‘down to earth’, the various earthlight approaches of Perssinger [8], Devereux [2] et al have had a somewhat more positive reception. Critical comment by such as Rutkowski, Clark, Maugé and others has been sympathetic, even though this has not always been apparent to the leading exponents of the ideas. These latter have tended to display the tendency of theorists in all fields of research, to suppose that their ideas explain more than they do: but Devereux’s recent presentation of his work {at the BUFORA London Congress) showed that when presented in proper context, here are findings of very great potential. You’d think it would be impossible to read any serious discussion of UFOs without reference to the earthlights approach: in practice you’re far more likely to find it entirely ignored.

Or take something quite different: many researchers (I am one) would list among the studies they rate most highly the 1975 paperback The Unidentified, subtitled ‘notes towards solving he UFO mystery’. But other researchers are more hostile; and few more than Jerome Clark, which is somewhat surprising since he is one of its authors. I suspect he would like to burn every copy he could lay hands on – yet in this splendidly free-ranging study, two highly intelligent and well-informed researchers opened up new paths of speculation for us.

Lawson Lane, Rutledge Road, Persinger Path, Devereux Drive, Clark’n'Coleman Crescent – admitted, any of these could prove to be dead ends or false trails. But when the most obvious characteristic of UFO research is than none of us knows the way out of the maze, we can’t afford to be rejective of any suggestions.

I’m not talking of blind acceptance. We need to be sceptical, but in the true sense of the word: neither believing nor disbelieving, nor accepting nor rejecting, We need to be critical, but constructively critical, trying the various paths.

For example, in my recent study of encounters’, I tried matching Lawson’s Birth Trauma ideas against my speculative model. I found – and I’ll be honest, I was a little surprised to find that they fitted in remarkably neatly, providing a reassuring confirmation that my model was a viable one. For another: current abduction research focuses on the abduction experience as though it is necessarily part of the UFO phenomenon.

But suppose it is nothing of the sort, suppose – as the psychosocial crowd are saying – it should really be seen in the same light as witchcraft, past-life regression, channelling and other phenomena which are not generally taken into account in UFO research? We had confirmation that this is valid just the other day when Jim Oberg demonstrated, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Jose Inacio Alvaro’s 1978 abduction-with-sex encounter had been triggered by the Russian communications satellite Molniya 1-39 [7].

Where we are is sitting in front of a table onto which someone has spilled out the pieces of a jigsaw. The box has no picture on it, and we have no guarantee that in the end these pieces will form a picture – there’s the possibility that these are pieces from a dozen unrelated puzzles, all jumbled up together.

But one or two, pieces do seem to fit together, the edge pieces seem to promise some parameters. We are reassured by occasional familiar details, encouraged by consistencies in the colouring. For a dedicated puzzle-solver, it’s a game worth playing.


  1. CLARK, Jerome & COLEMAN, Loran. The Unidentified Warner 1975.
  2. DEVEREUX, Paul. Earthlights, Turnstone 1982.
  3. EVANS, Hilary; Gods, Spirits, Cosmic Guardlans, Aquarian 1987.
  4. EVANS, H. & SPENCER, J. (Eds. ). UFOs 1947-1987, Fortean Tomes/BUFORA 1987.
  5. LAWSON, Alvin. ‘The Birth Trauma Hypothesis’, Magonia 10, 1982.
  6. McEWAN, Graham J. Mystery animals of Great Britain and Ireland, Hale. 1987.
  7. OBERG, James. ‘UFO Update’ , Omni, August 1987.
  8. PERSINGER, Michael, in Haines, UFOs and the behavioural scientist, Scarecrow 1979.
  9. RUTLEDGE, Hartley. Project identification, Prentice Hall 1981.