UFO Witnesses, Public Property?
Harry Tokarz

Harry Tokarz was founder of the Canadian UFO Bureau. This article comes from MUFOB new series 11, Summer 1978.

Throughout the past 30 years UFO investigators have amassed a wealth of reports dealing with close encounters by credible witnesses. Many of these reports have proven invaluable to those who have dedicated themselves towards the task of piecing together one of the greatest scientific puzzles of the 20th century. Data has been passed on to scientists and amateur researchers alike by UFO percipients, contactees and abductees, and this information is scrutinised, evaluated and catalogued for reference. In effect, people from all walks of life and from throughout the world have contributed graciously to this ongoing investigation by having the public spirit to step forward and relate their UFO experiences to competent parties. These people have, by working closely with investigators, unwittingly persuaded us to look at ourselves and our universe in a different way.

Although these witnesses have greatly assisted one part of the population, their stories seem to have an adverse effect on another group. Many eventually suffer indignities from those who cannot fathom their claims. Have you ever noticed the behavioural effects that the mere suspicion of the UFO ‘presence’ has on a large proportion of our society? UFO witnesses have been troubled by such manifestations for years.

There is no ‘average’ UFO witness. People from all walks of the population and from various ranks of the military services have been unexpectedly confronted by unusual ariel phenomenon. Subsequent investigations have borne out the validity of their testimony, and they are resentful of the flimsy explanations that are often thrown to the public. These people are in a very precarious position, and there is little they can do, and what happens to the witness after the investigations is unfortunately beyond the control of the investigators or the witnesses themselves. UFO investigators invariably hear a frequently repeated complaint from witnesses: “I wish I had never reported this sighting”.What is behind this regret? Were they so severely traumatised by their UFO encounter that
they could not cope with it afterwards? Some certainly were, but out of a cross-section of 31 close encounter cases studied, 28 were definitely not. What the majority of the percipients dreaded since the day they made that fateful report was the ‘depraved’ public reaction. Since their report they seemed to inherit a wide variety of new difficulties. The emotional impact is tremendous and the UFO incident becomes secondary in this new chain of events.

In many cases the UFO witness stands alone against vast numbers of curious, sceptical and downright hostile people who do their best to make his or her life miserable. Immediately following the press reports and the spate of unwanted publicity, an interesting variety of characters come ‘out of the woodwork’ to converge on the home and privacy of the vulnerable ‘celebrity’. If the hoards of curiosity seekers and ‘little old ladies in tennis shoes’ with tape recorders were not enough to contend with, many witnesses in recent years have been intimidated by a now breed of visitor: the violently disposed. They are awakened by publicity given to a witness and seem to object to the ‘candidness’ of a percipient, sometimes to the extent of threatening death if he continues to repeat his story. The very existence of a significant UFO report or a sighting of ‘entities’ affects the security off many people in different ways. Some turn to ‘hard’ scepticism, and successfully convince themselves ‘It can’t be, therefore it isn’t’. These people become harmless ‘scoffers’, unwilling to recognise that their attitude is emotionally rooted.

But what about the deranged individual who would threaten the witness or attempt to ruin his livelihood because his report aroused some dark emotion? The general public is largely unaware of the continual harrasment incurred by percipients, even years after their report is made public.

Robert Suffern knows he saw an ‘extraterrestrial’ being near his Bracegirdle, Ontario farmhouse on October 7th, 1975, and sceptics be damned! If only it were as simple as that. The 27-year-old carpenter encountered a darkened circular craft in the middle of a gravel road, and nearly run down a small, silver-suited, helmeted figure, while investigating a report that his barn was on fire. Suffern was shaken by the event, but he was a reliable witness and gave researchers some excellent details, and provided a ‘scoop’ for reporters, who considered it good copy. His troubles had just begun.

By October 9th the wire services had picked up his story and many newspapers played up the sensational aspects. Then followed an almost ritualistic parade of investigators, reporters, curiosity-seekers and outright cranks, to the Suffern’s farm. One group set up a night vigil ‘skywatch post’ on the roof of the house. In the weeks that followed, Suffern was inundated with uninvited visitors who tramped around his property day and night. The phone rang continuously at all hours and he eventually had to get an

 unlisted number. As a father of two he became justifiably furious at two men who drove up one day in a Volkswagen and threatened his family if he persisted in talking to investigators. He ejected them from his property but the threat remained in his mind, and caused his considerable mental anguish. Two years later, with the movie Close Encounters rekindling public interest in the UFO phenomenon, Suffern reports that his children have “once again started receiving the treatment at school”. To a parent this represents one of the worst forms of cruelty one can inflict upon a child. Suffern finds it incredible that his children should be subjected to ridicule for an experience he himself had two years earlier, and one to which he does not seem to attatch a great deal of importance. In his own words: “I know what I saw, and seeing is believing but I don’t care whether I ever saw that creature again. If it happened all over again I would never tell anybody!”

To make matters worse, various religious groups have capitalised on his experience, and attempted to convert him to their beliefs. The crank mail keeps rolling in like clockwork.For many individuals the mere mention of the UFO phenomenon stirs up deep-seated fears. For some, the mere hint that ‘their’ world and ‘their’ state of being are not the centre of the universe is enough to release a lifetime of pent-up emotions and frustrations. Chronically unstable individuals may react violently towards any unfortunate UFO witness who crosses their path. Man reacts to a given situation on the basis of habit and precedent. The ‘unknown’ presents a problem. Harmless ‘rejection’ of any subject comes easily if the person has only been fleetingly exposed to it. Perhaps the crank who surfaces after a well publicised UFO incident senses ‘truth’ in the incident, cannot reject it as a hoax and thus appease his fears, so sets out to silence the percipient.

As a matter of note, these individuals should not be confused with the many Men in Black reports, since they have distinct identities and have been tracked down by law enforcement agencies in many cases. In one particular incident a veteran publisher of UFO literature in Toronto received a series of handwritten letters threatening his life if he continued to publish UFO books. The anonymous writer professed intimate knowledge of UFOs and seemed ‘disturbed’ by the accuracy of various accounts being published. The handwriting was eventually traced to a former subscriber who felt it was his duty to harrass researchers and witnesses alike. He was reprimanded by the local police, but the following week the publisher received an identical letter.

In some cases the harrassers, when confronted off guard, seem hypnotically entranced. Some feel they have a mission to accomplish. John Keel has concluded that many individuals are ‘manipulated’ by unseen forces connected with the UFO phenomenon, and carry out ‘assignments’ of which they have no knowledge afterwards. The answers to the immediate problems of UFO witnesses are rather more mundane. One must ask, can public attitudes really be expected to change when our own governments have systematically been contributing to the problem for the last thirty years?

Carmen Cuneo, a worker at the Domtar Mines in Caledonia, Ontario, thinks not. His troubles began after he observed three stationary UFOs at close range one night while leaving the mine to relive himself. In addition to the landed cigar-shaped craft with two smaller disc-like objects hovering close to it, he spotted several small beings moving around the landed object. It was clear that he was watching a so-called “soil gathering party” in progress, and he retreated to get the mine forman as a back-up witness. As he returned with the forman Merv Hannigan they both had time to watch the three craft slowly depart into the night.

The following day, after traces were found and an oily substance discovered in the area, Cuneo and the forman were subjected to a series of insults both from the mine management as well as from their co-workers. The ridicule was tolerable, but then Cuneo received a telephone call at home one day, which was not so easy to ignore. According to Cuneo “the caller knew a lot about me personally and he seemed very up-tight about me telling the story around”. The clincher came when the anonymous ‘military-type’ voice threatened injury to his family if he continued to discuss the case. The perplexed miner took it to be a hoax, but chose to keep quiet and get an unlisted phone number “just in case”. The flow of weird calls then ceased, but Cuneo has never ceased to wonder about what kind of characters he was really dealing with on the phone. Were they capable of carrying out their threats? Those calls still haunt his memory.


He came face to face with a six-foot metallic creature standing in the middle of the road.

The dark-age mentality apparently still flourishes in the twentieth century; we still find self-professed witch-hunters who have not come to grips with the times. If you still doubt that UFO reports don’t arouse man’s vilest emotions, consider the following cases of ‘lynch mob’ mentality.

The first case involves Jeff Greenhaw, another credible person thrown into an incredible set of circumstances. At 23 years old. Greenhaw was the police chief of Falkville, Alabama, with the distinction of being the youngest in the state. One night in October 1973 he received a call from an anonymous woman who claimed a spaceship with blinking lights was landing in a pasture west of town. Greenhaw drove along a gravel road towards the site when, nearly two miles from the police station, he came face to face with a six-foot metallic creature standing in the middle of the road.

“I got out of my car and said ‘Howdy stranger”, Greenhaw related, “He didn’t say a word. I reached back, picked up my polaroid camera, and started taking pictures of him”. Greenhaw took four polaroid colour prints. He then got back in his patrol car, and turned on the flashing police light. A chase ensued, in which Greenhaw eventually ‘spun out’ at 45 mph on the gravel road, claiming that the creature actually outran the car.

After he related his story and presented his photos on NBC-TV news, he began receiving anonymous threatening phone calls. A man telephoned Mrs Greenhaw stating, “I’m going to get your husband for taking my picture:” More threats rolled in day after day. Three days after the incident, Greenhaw’s car ‘blew up’. Two weeks after that an arsonist set fire to the family’s house-trailer and completely destroyed it. To make things worse his wife decided she had ‘had enough’, left him and sued for divorce. Shortly after that Greenhaw resigned as Police Chief under pressure from the City Council. Before being literaly ‘driven out of town’, the young lawman, a graduate of the Alabama Police Academy, stated bitterly to pursuing reporters: “I’ve been harrassed ever since I photographed that thing. I don’t see how much worse my luck can get.”

Actually, ‘luck’ played no part in these events. Greenhaw’s problems were created, instigated and carried out by the very people he once protected in his line of duty. The emotionally rooted biases of an entire town had destroyed a man whose only crime was to photograph an “alien entity”. As to the authenticity of the incident, a UFO investigator who followed the case closely stated: “Anybody who attempted such a hoax would have been foolhardy to try and frighten a (armed) policeman”. But authentic or not, it is clear that the very idea of an extraterrestrial being spotted near their town completely transformed normally rational townspeople into terrorists with an axe to grind. Time after time it is proved that ignorance breeds fear.

schirmerIn the following case the aftermath was even more dramatic, and the witness was plagued by “seven years of rotten luck”. But, spin, luck seems to have had nothing to do with it, rather a lack of education and emotional instability. Herb Schirmer,[left] like Jeff Greenhaw, also held the distinction of being the youngest police chief in his state. In 1967 he held this rank in the town of Ashland in Nebraska. One December night when on patrol he came upon a massive ‘saucer-shaped’ craft at the side of the highway. Thinking at first he may have been coming upon a truck accident, it soon became clear that he had stumbled upon a ‘flying saucer’. He then saw a glowing humanoid figure moving towards his car, and attempted to draw his gun. At this point he found himself immobilised, although his senses were still with him. He claims that the creature applied an instrument to the back of his neck, leaving an unusual welt, which remains on his neck. He then blacked out.Later he came to his senses and raced back to town. When he reported the bizarre incident, it became obvious that there was a length of time which he could not account for. In the course of investigations Dr Leo Sprinkle put Schirmer under regressive hypnosis, whereupon Schirmer reported that he had been taken on board the craft and had
communicated with the ‘alien’ he had met. A wealth of information was obtained through many hypnotic sessions, but as researchers know only too well, the data obtained is difficult to evaluate, since ‘alien communications’ over the years have been invariably misleading and confusing. Physical traces were found at the site; a piece of ‘shiny metal’ disappeared into the hands of military investigators; the tape of Schirmer’s emergency radio transmission to HQ vanished, and the familiar pattern of controversy began.There was the usual barrage of threatening phone calls, followed by the dynamiting of his car, culminating in the hanging and burning of an effigy of the police chief in the centre of the town. Remember, this was 1967, not 1567!

Schirmer’s wife eventually succumbed to the campaign of terror and divorced him. Like a re-run of the Greenhaw affair, the Ashland Town Council also fired him from his prestigious job. Years of ‘bad luck’ then followed him around as he moved from state to state trying to establish new roots and forget about his experience with the UFO. As fate would have it, his picture and story were well publicised at the time, and he was constantly recognised as “that UFO nut from Nebraska”. At one point he had saved enough money from menial jobs to form a business partnership in the state of Washington, until one day his partner came across a news cutting of the events in Nebraska and absconded with all the funds. For some UFO witnesses there seems no escape from the harrassment and degradation.

A noted psychiatrist involved in the study of UFO witnesses, Dr Berthold Schwarz, has said that: “anybody who’s been in the field for a long time and studied the people part of the UFO equation has got involved in the thing with his own emotions. He’s been ripped up himself”. A well known contactee of the early fifties, Howard Menger, gave an emotional speech in 1967 to sum up his alleged experiences. To the Congress of Scientific Ufolagists he stated:

“I often wonder what would happen to those people who say, well what proof do you have? If I could see a flying saucer or someone step out of a craft, boy, I would make sure people knew about it. Well, I just wonder about that. If you realise what people go through when this happens to them. If you really think you have guts enough to come out and tell people. Of course nowadays it may be a little easier, but in the early fifties it was very, very rough, especially when you are in business and you are trying to act like a reputable citizen and bring up a family and, you know, things like this in your community”.

Time and time again, people who see UFOs and their occupants at short range are victimised. Who can they turn to? The sad answer is nobody. UFO organisations around the word are concerned to elicit information from the witness, to “sort the wheat from the chaff”, and offer a certain degree of consolation. But they are not equipped to deal with the psychological problems that develop from harrassment by misguided people. To make matters worse, the military establishment and law enforcement agencies, whom the public should be able to turn to in Ihis kind of crisis has itself become a symbol of distrust in UFO related matters. Those individuals who desparatly turned to the aimed services or the Air Force in the past, soon came away realising that they would rather face the ‘public nuisances’.

The crux of the matter lies in mankind’s complex belief structures; frames of reference that are squired through human experience, and actions that have always been used in this stimulus. And with his dual nature the actions have been both positive and negative.To the close encounter UFO witness who is prepared to come forward with his experience for us to study, we can offer out thanks… and our condolences.



The Aliens Speak – and Write
Examining Alien Languages
Mark Newbrook

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


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

From Magonia 85, July 2004

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

  5. Other apparently semiotic ma-terial.•

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

  7. Other supporting comment, etc. 


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

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

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

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

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

    Sample of John Dee's 'Enochian' script

    Sample of John Dee's 'Enochian' script

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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. 


The Case of the Little Man of Renève. Hilary Evans

If, ten years ago [1976], you had been a subscriber to the highly reputed Phenomenes Spatiaux, you would have been pleased to find that dramatic sightings were not confined to the sensational media. For here was a case which, while there were no indications of a UFO, certainly seemed to involve an entity not of this world.

As so frequently happens, the case dated from thirty years earlier; though as happens less rarely, the witness gave interesting reasons for the delay, as we shall see. Regrettably it was a single-witness observation: on the credit side was the fact that the solitary witness was the local curé, know in the report at the Abbé X. He served as parish priest in the small village of Renève, a village of fewer than 400 inhabitants near Dijon, from 1936 to 1947. This was his account:

“On a fine afternoon in April 1945 I went out hunting for mushrooms. Towards 6pm I was on my way home when I saw a likely-looking spot, and I was actually on my knees for a closer inspection when I suddenly saw a little fellow 15 to 17 cm tall, running swiftly to one side of me, He seemed out of breath and alarmed, though not so much so as to prevent him passing within 30cm of me, giving me an intense look as he did so.

“My first reaction was to grab hold of him, but I didn’t because of a sort of stalk or spike which he carried, which was taller than him by about 2cm. He disappeared into a nearby copse, without my being able to stop him, much as I would like to have entered into communication with him. I returned home kicking myself for not having made more of my opportunity.”

He planned to return the following day either in hope of seeing the entity again, or at least of seeing if there were any traces, but bad weather prevented him. He described the entity as ‘a miniature man’, with a man’s proportions, seemingly of 70 to 75 years of age. It was grey-haired, bearded, chubby-cheeked and with a very expressive face. It was wearing a one-piece suit, seemingly of rubber, although thirty years later he felt it might have been plastic.

The entity made no sound during the twenty seconds the sighting lasted. The priest had the impression that it was both nervous of and curious about himself. He never felt any doubt that he had seen something ‘real’ – not a ghost or a visionary being, not a robot.

What did he think it was? At the time, influenced by recent reading on the subject of evolution, he felt that he had seen some kind of primitive being related to man, that had failed to evolve. But when he told his story he was met with indifference, even scepticism. “It’s no fun being considered mentally sick or subject to hallucinations,” he said, so he gave up trying to tell people about his experience; but he always hoped that one day a learned society might take an interest in the case.

“Had anyone reported a flying saucer or something of that sort in the area,” he said in 1975, “I would have thought along different lines, and not been sidetracked into thinking it was some offshoot of the human species; instead I would have concluded that this remarkable apparition was an extraordinary being. In such a case, of course I should have behaved quite differently – I’d have hurried to report it to the gendarmes, so that they could investigate it formally.”It was a great relief to him when, having learnt of the existence of GEPA, the French group which publishes Phenomenes Spatiaux, he found people ready to listen seriously and sympathetically to his story and, moreover, provide him with a plausible explanation for what he had seen.

But just how plausible was that explanation?

Enter ADRUP.

Reneve falls within the area covered by ADRUP, the Association Dijonnaise de Recherches Ufologiques et Parapsychologiques. ADRUP consists of a small group of enthusiastic researchers who interest themselves in anomalous happenings of all kinds, publishing their findings in Vimana 21, an excellent review which combines lively writing with solid documentation.

Apart from coping with new cases as they come in, ADRUP also reviews outstanding cases of the past, and carries out such counter investigation as may be feasible. The last time anything remarkable happened at Renève was back in the sixth century, when a Visigothic princess named Brunehaut was punished for her misdeeds by being dragged naked behind an untamed horse until she died. The more recent case of the Abbé X seemed more susceptible to re-examination.

ADRUP’s members felt that GEPA had come somewhat prematurely to their conclusion that the priest had encountered an extraterrestrial. After all, no UFO had been seen, the entity had never left the surface of our planet; and that though creatures of that size do not normally wear clothing, many dog-owners provide their pets with winter coats, to say nothing of organ-grinders’ dogs and other showbiz canines.

At the same time, ADRUP saw no reason to doubt that the Abbé had indeed seen a very real ‘something’. Their investigations established that the priest was still alive, though no longer living at Reneve; and they were able to interview him. What bothered them was a certain ambiguity about what he thought he had seen. Though he had abandoned the ‘unevolved human’ hypothesis in favour of the ‘extraterrestrial’ according to the report in Phenomenes Spatiaux, and though he now referred the ADRUP investigators to the article there – “You’ve only got to read what M. Fouéré has written, it’s very good” – this seemed to be contradicted by something else he said, to the effect that it hadn’t been an extraterrestrial: “You mustn’t think of it as a little green man”. In other words, even if the entity had come from a flying saucer, it was essentially human in appearance. Even if he had managed to grab hold of it, he told ADRUP, he wouldn’t have exhibited it at fairs, it was a human being …

On the way home, turning over in their minds what the priest had said, the investigators’ minds began to consider possible alternatives. And perhaps it was his remark about fairs which got them thinking on the lines of a monkey that might perhaps have escaped from a circus. For the appearance of some kinds of monkey is remarkably human, and moreover, human in the way that a very old man looks, grey-haired and bearded.

So ADRUP started looking into the possibility that there had been a circus in the Reneve area. But letters to every possible source of information produced negative replies. 1945 was, after all, the final year of the war in Europe, and few if any circuses had got going, and there were none reported in the Dijon area. Additionally, the kind of monkey most often featured in circuses wasn’t the most likely one to match the Abbé’s description.

But further talks with the villagers opened up another line of investigation. M. Huot the butcher, knife in hand, told them that in 1945 a regiment from French North Africa had been stationed in the neighbourhood. A new train of thought suggested itself: African regiment … African continent.. exotic animals… monkeys … What about a regimental mascot?

The next task was to establish which African regiment had been stationed near Reneve; which brought them up against bureaucracy as only the French know it. Each department they contacted dodged the question on grounds of official secrecy or some such, until eventually they found themselves back where they began.Then luck came their way. A local historian, who had previously said he was unable to help them, phoned to say he’s just remembered that there had been a girl of the district who had married a soldier from the regiment that had been stationed locally. The wedding had taken place at a church 7km north of Renève. A visit to the mayor not only confirmed the marriage but produced the present whereabouts of the couple. And a letter brought them some suggestive information.The husband, then in Regiment CTA 154 of the Armée de l’Air, had been stationed at Reneve from the end of 1944, through the early months of 1945 (the Abbé had had his experience in April 1945). And yes, there had been a regimental mascot - a German Shepherd dog.

BUT the dog had been stolen (Query: who in their right minds would steal a German Shepherd dog from a regiment of tough soldiers? But we’ll let that pass …); and to replace the dog they’d found a monkey.

And not just any old brand of monkey, but one of the marmoset type which was most liable to resemble the Curé’s ‘little man’. The grey hair, the beard, the wrinkled face but chubby cheeks, the frightened but inquisitive eyes, all matched. The sticking up spike could have been the creature’s tale; and as for the clothes, yes, said the soldier, they would often dress it up in clothes. And he added that it was perfectly possible that the monkey might have escaped from where he was kept in a mill not far from where the priest had seen his entity.It was, to say the least, a remarkable coincidence that, at the time of the priest’s sighting, there should have been in the vicinity a monkey of the kind most likely to be described as ‘human’ in appearance, wearing clothes, liable to be wandering around on its own, and just the right size.


The Moral

So ADRUP send their dossier to the Abbé for his comments. He wrote back, politely but firmly: “Your theory is ridiculous, and stems from pure imagination. I am sorry to be in total disagreement with your theory, which quite simply doesn’t ring true. So let your little monkey rest in peace, and let the little humanoid of Reneve rest in peace …”Oh yes, there is a moral there.

Once upon a Time in The West.
H. Michael Simmons

From Magonia 20, August 1985

In 1896 and 1897 people throughout the United States reported sightings of mysterious airships. First sighted on the seventeenth of November 1896 in Sacramento, the phenomenon soon appeared in the skies over other California cities. An eastward migration then carried it into Nebraska where reports steadily increased until the first months of 1897. At the end of March a series of spectacular appearances in Omaha, Kansas and Ohio signaled the outbreak of the mystery in the Midwest. Sightings spread rapidly. From Michigan to Texas the question of the day was “Have you seen the airship?”


Press coverage of the sightings varied. Generally the yellow press found the airship stories perfect grist for its circulation mills and printed the majority of reports. More conservative papers treated the reports with caution. The New York Times totally ignored the airship. Papers in sighting areas gave the reports fairer coverage, on the whole, than those at a distance. These latter tended to disregard the sightings or commented on the drinking habits of the populations of airship states. The Texas papers made great fun of the Kansas airship but where more circumspect when the mysterious aerial voyager crossed over into the Lone Star State.

Early reports of airship sightings in a particular area usually received more serious coverage than later reports, due to two factors. The early reports were usually simple accounts of the appearance of strange lights in the night sky, while later reports often contained detailed descriptions of the airship and elaborate accounts of encounters with mysterious aeronauts. Second, when airship sightings were first reported, editors and readers were more open to the possibility that an inventor had perfected one or more flying machines which were being tested in secret. As time went by and no inventor revealed a workable airship, press and public became more sceptical of the reported sightings. The press regarded elected public officials, clergymen and other eminent citizens as more reliable than railroadmen or labourers. Although newspapermen were not always able to judge the veracity of a sighting, they did uncover a number of hoaxes and often added editorial comments to published reports giving the paper’s opinion of the reliability of the accounts. This opinion was often based on the degree to which the description conformed to contemporary ideas of the potential design and performance capability of a flying machine.

The attitudes of competing newspapers towards reports helped determine a paper’s treatment. For example, William Randolph Hurst’s San Francisco Examiner discounted the stories of the airship carried by the competing Call, while Hurst’s New York Journal gave them the sensational coverage which the other New York papers lacked.In addition to the reportage of airship sightings, newspapers also published related stories. The public interest in the mysterious airship prompted the publication of informative articles on the history of aerial navigation, together with speculation on future developments. Articles appeared on the experiments of Langley, Lilienthal, Chanute, and other pioneers of aviation, often illustrated with sketches of proposed airship designs. Merchants capitalised on the popularity of airship stories by using airship themes in their newspaper advertisements, or even by claiming that the airship had been built especially to advertise their products. Political cartoonists used the airship to poke fun at politicians, while other cartoonists mocked the airships and those who reported them. Newspapers carried interviews with professors of astronomy who explained that the airship was only Venus, Mars, or a star. They also interviewed attorneys who claimed to represent the secret inventors. And not a few reporters invented their own airship sightings, producing imaginative journalistic hoaxes with a high degree of credibility.

First reported in Texas on 9th April 1897, by the middle of the month the airship was sighted throughout the northeastern section of the state. Wealthy Dallasites held evening lawn parties in the hope of seeing the mysterious visitor, and the Dallas Morning Post did its part to keep the airship flying. On the nineteenth of April it printed the following article on a page filled with airship stories:

Aurora, Wise Co., Tex., April 17 — (To
The News) — About 6 o’clock this morning the early risers of Aurora were astonished at the sudden appearance of the airship which has been sailing through the country.
It was travelling due north, and muchnearer the earth than ever before. Evidently some of the machinery was out of control, for it was making a speed of only ten or twelve miles an hour and gradually settling toward the earth. It sailed directly over the public square, and when it reached the north part of town collided with the tower of Judge Proctor’s windmill and went to pieces with a terrific explosion, scattering debris over several acres of ground, wrecking the windmill and tower and destroying the judge’s flower garden.The pilot of the ship is supposed to have been the only one on board, and while his remains are badly disfigured, enough of the original has been picked up to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world.
Mr T. J. Weeds, the United States signal service officer at this place and an authority on astronomy, gives it as his opinion that he was a native of the planet Mars.
Papers found on his person – evidently the record of his travels – are written in some unknown hieroglyphics, and can not be deciphered.
The ship was too badly wrecked to form any conclusion as to its construction or motive power. It was built of an unknown metal, resembling somewhat a mixture of aluminum and silver, and it must have weighed several tons.The town is full of people to-day who are viewing the wreck and gathering specimens of the strange metal from the debris. The pilot’s funeral will take place at noon to-morrow. S. E. HAYDON.

The story also reportedly appeared in the newsletter published in Aurora, but no copies of that publication are extant. No other newspaper carried the account or commented on it.In the context of other airship reports the Aurora story is unique only in that it records the recovery of papers “written in some unknown hieroglyphics” and announces the funeral of an extraterrestrial pilot. Other motifs in the story (e.g., crash or explosion of airship, recovery of pilot’s body, recovery of airship parts, and occupants of airship supposed to be from Mars) occur in various reports published before the Aurora incident. For example, on the thirteenth of April the Cleveland World printed the following dispatch:

Mass of wire, bones and a piece of a propellor were found on earth
Galesburgh, Mich., April 13.
Henry Sommers and a friend report that they witnessed last night what appeared to be the explosion of the airship. It was accompanied by a heavy report as if thunder and the scattering of light. Immediately thereafter the machine, which had been visible in the heavens, disappeared from view.
This morning near the scene of the alleged explosion were found a mass of wire that appeared to have been connected with electrical machines and a piece of light propellor wheel that must, when intact, have measured 12 feet in diameter. Carpenters employed on a new house say they found small pieces of bone scattered on the roof. [April 13, 1897]

Variants of this account appeared in a number of other papers, including the Dallas Morning News.

In 1966 Frank Masquelette, a staff writer for the Houston Post considered the incident at Aurora sufficiently unusual to merit inclusion in a series of articles he wrote on the Great Airship Mystery of 1897. His articles discussed the possibility that the airship sightings had been a nineteenth-century UFO flap, a theory with which ufologists were already familiar. He reprinted the story in its original form and attempted to verify it through the editor of the Wise County Messenger, who made enquiries in Aurora.

He discovered only that a Judge Proctor had lived in the area. Since none of the other residents questioned recognised any other parts of the story, Masquelette concluded that the story was “pure fiction”. But his article had put Aurora back on the map.

Aurora is located in southeastern Wise County about 30 miles north of Forth Worth. It was established in 1873 and rapidly became a major centre of cotton production and trade and the largest town in the county. By 1891 it claimed two hotels, two schools, two churches, two cotton gins, a drugstore, a livery stable and a newspaper. In addition it boasted fourteen saloons, three doctors, two lawyers, an undertaker and a brass band. But when the railroads bypassed the town its days were numbered. An epidemic of spotted fever killed or disabled many of its citizens, and fear of the disease started an exodus which was accelerated by other disasters. A fire destroyed the western half of the town and the boll-weevil destroyed the cotton industry. By the end of the century most of the houses and all of the businesses had been placed on skids and moved to the nearby railroad towns. In 1906 with the removal of the post office to Rhome, Aurora became a memory.

In 1966 and 1967 ufologists and reporters flocked to the town to look for the evidence which Masquelette has concluded was non-existent. Investigators located the site of Judge Proctor’s house and well, and questioned residents about the crash of the airship. When no witnesses were found and metal detectors failed to locate any pieces of the airship, investigators associated with Flying Saucer Review pronounced the story a hoax. Aurora’s new found fame rapidly faded away.

In the course of the 1966 investigation, Etta Pegues, a local writer and member of the Wise County Historical Society, be-came interested in Aurora. She wrote a number of articles on the history of the town which were published in local news-papers between 1966 and 1972. In her articles she declared the 1897 article a hoax on the basis of interviews with two former residents of the town who had known Judge Proctor and S. E. Haydon. According to these men, Haydon, the author of the airship story, who was a cotton buyer and newspaper correspondent, had hoped that the hoax would bring some life to the failing town. He was remembered as the writer of satirical verses enjoyed by local residents. One of the men interviewed could still recite from memory one of Haydon’s long poems. Judge J. S. Proctor had served as Justice of the Peace for Precinct Five of Wise County from 1892 to 1902 and had edited a newsletter at Aurora after the local newspaper had ceased publication. As additional proof of the fictional nature of Haydon’s account, Pegues asserted that Judge Proctor had no windmill and that every grave in the Aurora Cemetery was located on a map with complete records for each burial. There were no Martians listed.

A retired railroad telegrapher in Dallas had told Tolbert that railroad telegraphers in Iowa had planned the hoax and that rail-roaders throughout the country had joined in the fun

At the same time that Etta Pegues’ articles were appearing, Frank X. Tolbert, Texas history writer for the Dallas Morning News received an enquiry about the Aurora incident. He answered with a series of articles suggesting that the entire 1897 airship mystery had been a hoax. Some years before a retired railroad telegrapher in Dallas had told Tolbert that railroad telegraphers in Iowa had planned the hoax and that rail-roaders throughout the country had joined in the fun. Communicating by telegraph, the railroadmen were able to produce realistic accounts of the phantom airship’s movements a cross the country. Tolbert proposed that the Great Airship Mystery be renamed the “Great Truthful Scully Hoax”, after Joseph E. ‘Truthful’ Scully, a Forth Worth freight conductor for the Texas and Pacific Railroad who was chosen to introduce the hoax into Texas because of his reputation for honesty. Tolbert explained sightings not connected with the railroad as mass hallucinations or independent hoaxes inspired by the railmens’ creations.

Having settled the question of the Aurora airship, the reporters turned to other matters, and the people of Aurora considered the future. Reincorporated in 1972, the town now consisted of an Arco filling station, a Baptist church, and the Aurora cemetery. The town planned to enter a new era of prosperity as a suburb of the sprawling Dallas-Forth Worth conurbation. After the opening of the nearby Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport, the population of Aurora increased to almost three hundred, and land prices soared. But in the spring of 1973 history caught up with Aurora again.

In March Hayden Hewes, director of the International UFO Bureau of Oklahoma City, arrived in town armed with S. E. Haydon’s story and accompanied by a team of investigators. Bill Case, aviation writer for the Dallas Times Herald and a member of the Midwest UFO Network, decided to cover the investigation. On the 25th of March, Case reported that IUFOB had located the crash site and were interviewing residents about the crash. He also printed a paraphrase of Haydon’s 1897 account which contained errors in date and time as well as interpolations from other 1897 accounts, including descriptions of the shape and colour of the craft.

By the first of April the wire services had picked up the story, and although the IUFOB investigators had no more success than their predecessors, hundreds of sightseers converged on the little town. Souvenir hunters stole twenty headstones from the cemetary. Day and night reporters and investigators bothered everybody in the little community. In the spring of 1897 the question of the day had been “Have you seen the airship?” Seventy six years later that question had become “Do you believe in the spaceship?”

In May a man describing himself as a professional treasure hunter located unusual metallic fragments buried near the alleged crash site. He claimed that his metal detector gave the same readings at a grave in the Aurora Cemetery as it did at the crash site. The investigators sent the fragments to metallurgists for analysis. In the meantime Haydon’s story, or rather Bill Case’s reduction thereof, was reprinted almost every week in area newspapers in the hope that a witness might come forward. In late May a local man who had previously refused all interviews volunteered that his father had seen the crash and told him the story many times. He had been five years old at the time and remembered going with his father to the crash site. His account of what happened agreed in most details with Case’s version of the 1897 story – including errors and interpolations. His account differed in that he did not remember his father saying that there had been anyone killed in the crash.

When his plan was discovered angry townspeople posted armed guards at the cemetery to prevent the desecration of the grave.

Hewes, having concluded that he had sufficient evidence to warrant the opening of what he believed was the grave of an extraterrestrial being, arrived in Aurora one Sunday morning prepared to dig. When his plan was discovered angry townspeople posted armed guards at the cemetery to prevent the desecration of the grave. Later the Cemetery Association was able to prove that the grave belonged to the Carr family. Ostracized by the community and by other UFO investigators because of his rash actions, Hewes soon withdrew his support from the investigation and announced that the story was a hoax.

MUFON continued the investigation dropped by the IUFOB and soon discovered a strange circular grave marked with a rough stone bearing a crude design which appeared to be the outline of a cigar-shaped craft with portholes. Two nonagenarian former residents of Aurora who wished to remain anonymous had reportedly led researchers to the grave under the limb of a gnarled oak tree near the edge of the cemetery. Two additional witnesses then told their stories to the press.

But in Aurora a transformation took place that was not covered by the press. The small community divided in two factions: those who believed in the possibility that Haydon’s story might have been true at least in part, and those who totally rejected it. As the split widened between the two groups rumours developed and spread unaided by the media: Brawley Oates supports the spaceman story for the money; his arthritis was caused by drinking water from the well which was contaminated by radiation from the crash; the mysterious grave is that of a victim of the spotted fever epidemic and the germs are still alive in it; space-man are watching the grave and will remove the evidence before it can be dug up; Bill Case invented the whole story including the testimony of the witnesses. While these and other rumours spread, the investigation continued.

A woman of ninety-one recalled that her parents had told her the story of the crash and the burial of the pilot, whom they had described as a small man. She claimed that she had forgotten the incident until she had read the recent stories about it in the newspapers. A ninety-eight year old man from a nearby town told of hearing of the crash from two friends who had seen the debris from the explosion. Flowers began to appear daily at the mysterious grave. Brawley Oates, the owner of the land identified as the crash site began to receive mysterious telephone calls from people identifying themselves as members of the U.S. Army or the CIA and who were curious about metal fragments and the grave. An Italian journalist sent to cover the story said that in June 1973 Aurora was a bigger story in Europe than Watergate.

When the analysis of the metal fragments revealed that it was an aluminium alloy which could not have been manufactured in the US before 1920, MUFON announced that the extraterrestrial origin of the metal had been proved and asked permission to open the circular grave. The Cemetery Association on the other hand saw the metallurgical findings as proof that the fragments had been planted, and blocked the exhumation request in the District Court. In July a MUFON investigator stated that person or persons unknown had probed the grave and removed the metal. In August MUFON suspended the investigation without reaching a conclusion, and Bill Case privately admitted that the story was probably a hoax.

In 1974 a state historical marker which gives a brief account of the legend was erected at the gate of Aurora Cemetery.

It’s All In The Mind. Peter Rogerson

From Magonia 15, April 1984

This article was originally a paper presented at the second Anglo-French UFO conference held in Brighton, 30th March – 1st April 1984

It would appear that in certain quarters this magazine has gained the reputation of being part of the ‘it’s all to the mind brigade’, whatever that might menu. It seems worthwhile therefore to give a résumé of the sort of ideas about which Magonia Editors are speculating.

First, it must be realised that Magonia is not a monolith. Although we exchange ideas so much that it sometimes becomes impossible to say with certaintly who first thought of what, the Editors do have different views, and fit what follows I can therefore only speak for myself.

When I first became interested in the subject as a schoolboy in the early 1960′s I naturally supported the ETH, and was a hardcore supporter of the ‘nuts and bolts’ school. Having been weaned on Aimé Michel and Donald Kehoe I had no time for contactees. During these early years I read most of the old books on the subject, and swallowed most of the ufological clichés.

My parents were none too happy about my chosen hobby, and warned that many people who believed in ‘flying saucers’ were cranks. With the rashness of youth I disregarded their warnings; but when, in the autumn of 1968, I and a couple of school-friends joined the local flying saucer society I found my parents were right, and that many ufolologists were cranks!

My parents were none too happy about my chosen hobby, and warned that many people who believed in ‘flying saucers’ were cranks

Not only that, but I soon discovered that by reading a dozen or so books on the subject I had obtained as good, or better, a grasp on the subject as people who had allegedly been studying UFOs for 25 years. Many of the members appeared to have read nothing beyond George Adamski, and appeared to have been entranced since about 1952. It occurred to me that many seemingly impressive cases may actually have been investigated by people like this. My doubts grew. It was probably the Apollo 8 moonshot that destroyed my naive faith in the ETH. The idea of electromagnetic spaceships visiting the Earth seemed somehow absurd.My disillusionment made me increasingly open to the ideas of John Keel, whose articles had been appearing in FSR; and John Michel’s Flying Saucer Vision had reawakened an interest in folklore. It was in this climate that I encountered MUFORG Bulletin, and its successor, MUFOB. I was an instant convert!

By now I had also examined Fort’s data for 1904/05, which set UFO reports in a radically new context. I had also begun to take a serious interest in parapsychology, and I soon realised that serious psychic researchers thought along very different lines from the occult gibberish which circulated In UFO groups. The final synthesis was easy. Ufologists had argued that the UFOs had always been with us, and deeply involved with human culture, and acted like apparitions. The answer seemed simple. UFOs were created by people, they were products of the human imagination, and were hallucinatory, like apparitions.

I still thought along fairly radical lines, involving collective hallucinations, psi, idea patterns and a collective unconscious possibly able to alter the physical environment. Over the intervening years I have been forced to de-escalate hypotheses as it became clear that a far wider range of cases can he explained in ‘normal’ terns than was once thought possible.There are however still a fair number of cases among the 5000 or so in INTCAT which resist interpretation in terms of simple misidentification. These are cases in which an object (with or without humanoids) is observed in someone’s backyard for example, where if the record is a true one, and the report is not a hoax, then it must be either a subjectively real or an objectively real occurrence.

At this point it might be useful to lay aside one of the great red herrings which still crop up in such discussions; the notion that only the mentally ill have hallucinations. There is little evidence to support this idea, which has recently been resurrected by Ian Cresswell [1]. On the contrary, it is generally recognised that psychotic subjects tend to have auditory hallucinations [2], rather than visual.Though interpretation is a matter of dispute, there is no doubt that many people have apparitional experiences [see 3,4,5,6]. Similarly, there is no doubt that people have ‘out of the body’ experiences [see 7, 8] which are also best thought of as being hallucinatory in nature.

The hallucinatory theory of apparitions developed historically because ghosts wore clothes, and were sometimes accompanied by animals or artifacts. Also ghosts could sometimes be seen by one person but not by another. Clearly this tended to dispute the traditional idea of ghosts as temporarily materialised spirit forms, as spirit clothes and spirit carriages are most unlikely. Furthermore, anything actually perceived by means of photons reaching the retina would he visible to all ably sighted people in the vicinity. So if apparitions are not perceived by means of photons, they are by definition hallucinatory.

Various psychic researchers have tried to find ways of accounting for apparitions by non-hallucinatory means [9,10] but without success. On critical exarnination their theories turn out either to mean nothing at all, or to introduce hallucinations by the back door, albeit hallucinations of a rather particular kind.Everyone has one kind of hallucination – dreams, which can be intensely vivid. It is usually assumed that one can tell the difference between sleep and waking, but this might well depend on context. If one wakes up in bed, the previous out-of-context experiences can easily be judged to be dreams.Certain kinds of hallucinatory experience account for a high proportion of apparitional lore. The most common of these are hypnogogic and hypnopompic imagery, and false awakening. These experiences are discussed in the various works of Dr. Peter McKellar  [11, 12, 13].

They were perhaps first extensively treated in a ufological context by John Rimmer and myself in the study of ‘Miss Z’ [14]. The most complete exposition of hypnopompic and hypnogogic experiences in a UFO context is that by the Australian researcher Keith Basterfield [15]. Though Basterfield’s arguments are probably too compressed to convince those who have not closely followed the same lines of reasoning, they are still impressive.

Some critics of Basterfield have tried to argue that hypnogic and hypnopompic experiences are so fleeting that they could not possibly generate UFO experiences. However, an examination of both the standard works by McKellar, and the literature on apparitions, clearly suggests that some of these experiences can be quite prolonged. One critic has gone so far as to suggest, apropos of false awakenings, that people who can’t tell the difference between their dreams and bring awake are stark staring bookers – or words to that effect! Not having had a vivid false awakening, myself, I put this view to a friend who has. He was quite emphatic that the only was to distinguish a false awakening from ‘reality’ was by context. A false awakening was not a hazy dream, but absolutely realistic.

My friend’s false awakening, involved him getting up, shaving, having breakfast, going to work, exactly as in ‘real life’. Eventually he became able to recognise minute differences in a clock. He then realised he was dreaming, and was able to initiate a ‘lucid dream’. If such a false awakening had happened whilst he was sleeping in a chair, and the dream had ended with him ‘returning’ to the chair, there would have been no way in which he could have determined that it was in fact a false awakening.

After a long drive the motorist will commonly report that at some point in the journey he ‘woke up’ to realise that he had no awareness of some proceeding period of time

Other circumstances in which hallucinatory effects can occur include driving at night, piloting a jet plane and watching a radar screen [16, 17, 18]; all circumstances in which UFO experiences are known to occur. ‘Highway Hypnosis’ is a recognised psychological description, as is the ‘time-loss’ which leads motorists to fear UFO abduction. As Graham Reed points out: “After a long drive the motorist will commonly report that at some point in the journey he ‘woke up’ to realise that he had no awareness of some proceeding period of time” [19, p.18]. Reed relates this experience to a loss of attention to surrounding scenery which tends to occur on long, straight stretches of road. It is not difficult to envisage this happening if the subject’s mind was preoccupied with other topics – a frightening UFO experience, say?

A very high percentage of close encounter cases involve people driving through rural areas at night, when conditions are just right for illusions, distortions of judgement, and hallucinations. Although very few such cases are publicised, conversations with motorists will often elicit details of a variety of hallucinatory / illusionary effects, including bizarre distortions of the landscape (compare with the Biet Bridge case), hallucinations of figures crossing the road, etc. No doubt the famous ‘phantom hitch-hiker’ of popular folklore has its origins in the ‘phantom companions’ experienced by fatigued drivers.

The nocturnal driver’s UFO experience is often initiated by a sense of either physical danger (‘a plane’s going to crash on me’) or social danger (‘the cops are after me’). In such situations an explanation in terms of ‘flying saucers’ can be a temporary relief. Since the publicity given to the Betty and Barney Hill story, however, the fear of abduction by space people has grown considerably, and may run in definite, media inspired, social panics.

As Allen Hendry has shown (20] the presence of multiple witnesses in closed groups can lead to mutually reinforced fantasies and panic. In many such cases the published summaries may obscure rather than illuminate the process of mutual reinforcement. An excellent example of this is provided by the Travis Walton case [21]. My interpretation of this is simple: I believe that Walton and colleagues saw some sort of light. Walton jumped out to investigate, whereupon the others, seeing a dash of light and Walton fall, drove off. They then began, probably unconsciously, to escalate the solidity and ominous nature of the threat, in order to justify their panic. By the time they reached the authorities they had no doubt convinced themselves that they had seen a detailed, structured object.

The explanation of Walton’s own experience, I would suggest, was rather similar. Clearly he received a shock of some kind and went into a fugue state, from which he recovered a couple of days later. The abduction sequence was probably a dream triggered by the same fears – though it was probably embellished and polished at a later date.

The emotional reactions encountered in the regression of ‘abduction’ victims is very closely paralleled by those who have undergone regression to ‘past-lives’ [22]. In both these cases such fantasies can generate real physical effects – weals, scars, etc.

Celia Green and Colin McCarthy, in their studies of apparitions, out of the body experiences and lucid dreams, connected these together as examples of ‘metachoric experiences’, in which the percipient’s whole environment is replaced by an hallucinatory one. It is interesting to divide these experiences into two types:

1. ‘Magonia’ intruding into the percipient’s real (apparitions, religious visions, CEIII’s)

2. Percipient intruding into ‘Magonia’ (OOB’s, near-death experiences, abductions, past lives).

The second type involves a much more complete break with consensus reality, and can generate profound symbolism and powerful emotional responses.If metachoric experience can be generated by external stimuli then we may have a clue to some of the truly extraordinary cases of misperception in which the moon and Venus appear to generate extreme effects. Could a misperception of the moon induce a metachoric experience in which all sorts of bizarre effects could be encountered? I think it highly probable that the ‘true’ UFO experience is this subjective experience which manifests itself along a continuum from misperception, triggered hallucination, metachorlc experience, dream, hoax, fiction.

If profound subjective responses can be generated by the moon or advertising planes, then they can equally be produced by plasmas, earthquake lights, or a wide spectrum of poorly understood phenomena

Before outraged readers object that this does not account for XYZ, let me make it clear that I am not placing any real limitation on the kind of phenomena both physical and psychological which might trigger such experiences. If profound subjective responses can be generated by the moon or advertising planes, then they can equally be produced by plasmas, earthquake lights, or a wide spectrum of poorly understood natural phenomena. If so, then scientific advance may be able to isolate further ‘core’ phenomena.

Nor can a discussion of mechanism really dispose of matters of ultimate causation. I cannot prove, for example, that demons are not giving people metachoric experiences, or causing them to misinterpret the moon as a spaceship; although I don’t think they are. Nor could anyone prove it: some areas are beyond rational analysis, and must presumably be taken as articles of religious faith.

It must be further emphasised that the UFO experience is not ‘all in the mind’ in the sense of being the product of the imagination of isolated individuals. It is a social and cultural phenomenon much more than a psychological one. The whole problem of the content of the kind of experiences I have been discussing is wholly unresolved. Why, for example, should hypnogogic imagery involve ‘faces in the dark’? What are the reasons behind the transcultural stereotyping in UF0 experiences?In recent years the interests of the Editors of this magazine have been increas-ingly concentrated, not on individual anomalous experiences, but on the social context within which such experiences take place, and which generates them. The experiences both condition, and are conditioned by, the beliefs of society by a process of mutual feedback. Within a social context many apparently ‘absurd’ beliefs and experiences have depth and meaning.

Research along these lines is still severely hampered because so many people in different academic disciplines remain ignorant of each others’ work and ideas. So long as this situation persists there will be a role for the non-specialist, who is not tied to a rota of routine professional reading, and who can speculate freely where academic reputations fear to tread.


  • 1. CRESWELL, Ian S. ‘Objections to the BT Hypothesis’, Magonia 11.
  • 2. WEST, Donald J. ‘Visions and Hallucinatory Experiences; a comparative appraisal’, International Journal of Parapsychology, Winter, 1960.
  • 3. TYRELL, G N M  Apparitions, Duckworth, 1953.
  • 4. GREEN, Celia and Colin McCREEERY, Apparitions, Hamilton, 1975.
  • 5. McKENZIE, Andrew, Apparitions and Ghosts. Barker, 1971.
  • 6. McKENZIE, Andrew, Hauntings and Apparitions, Heinemann, 1982.
  • 7. GREEN, Celia. Out of the Body Experiences, Ballantine, 1973.
  • 8. BLACKMORE, Susan. Beyond the Body, Heinemann, 1902.
  • 9. HART, Hornel, et. al.  Six Theories of Apparitions
  • 10. ROGO, D Scott  An Experience of Phantoms, Taplinger, 1974.
  • 11. McKELLAR, Peter. Imagination and Thinking Cohen A West, 1950.
  • 12. McKELLAR, Peter. Experience and Behaviour, Penguin, 1968.
  • 13. McKELLAR, Peter. Mindsplit, Dent, 1979.
  • 14. ROGERSON, Peter and John RIMMER. ‘Visions In the Night’, MUFOB, ns.4.
  • 15. BASTERFIELD, Keith. Close Encounters of an Australian Kind Reed, 1981.
  • 16. WILLIAMS, R. W. ‘Highway Hypnosis, an hypothesis’, International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 1965.
  • 17. LUWIG, Arnold M. In TART, Charles (ed.) Altered States of  Consciousness, Wiley, 1969.
  • 18. BROWNFIELD, C. Isolation: Clinical and Experimental Approaches, Random House, 1968.
  • 19. REED, Graham. ‘The Psychology of Anomalous Experiences Random House, 1968
  • 20. HENDRY, Allen. The UFO Handbook, Doubleday, 1979.
  • 21. BARRY, Bill. Ultimate Encounter, Pocket Books, 1978.
  • 22. WILSON, Ian. Reincarnatlon, Penguin, 1902.

 Read this article in conjunction with Jacques Scornaux’s presentation at the same conference, ‘The Rising and limits of a Doubt’

The Rising and the Limits of a Doubt. Jacques Scornaux

From Magonia 15, April 1984

This article was originally presented as a paper at the Anglo-French UFO Conference held in Brighton in February 1984

Over the past few years a growing number of French ufologists have become increasingly doubtful about the existence of UFOs as a genuinely original physical phenomenon. I should like to analyse briefly the origins and limits of this doubt.

The first French ufologist to have said “the emperor has no clothes” was Michel Monnerie, in two hotly debated books. [1] He was until then a very classical ufologist, and a member of the editorial board of Lumieres dans la Nuit, the leading UFO magazine in France, from which post he was fired after publication of his second book. Monnerie’s reasons for doubting can be Summarized in two main arguments:

1. The non-specificity of the residue of unexplained cases – in other words the lack of distinction between explained and unexplained cases: exactly the same patterns and the same characteristics appear in both sets of cases. Indeed, cases with typical UFO effects have been explained: electro-magnetic effects, landing traces, humanoids, effects on animals, physiological effects, etc. I personally have investigated with friends a case which involved two witnesses, a burnt trace in a field and a howling dog – it was the rising moon: The unexplained cases have no unique peculiarities.

2. The continuity between the trivial and the extraordinary: for any phenomenon it is possible to define a set of median, or most probable characteristics (for size, colour, speed, etc.). But all these parameters are distributed about the median, and sometimes the appearance of a phenomenon is very far from the median, because of the inherent variability of the phenomenon, because of had sighting conditions or misrepresentation by the witness. It follows that the further the characteristics are from the median, the less will people be able to recognise the true nature of the phenomenon. For Monnerie, UFOs are situated at the ends of the distribution function, at the ends of a bell-shaped curve. They are thus ‘fringe phenomena’ of a larger set of phenomena, but their peripheral location is not perceived as such because ufologists remove the more central part of the curve, where the less strange phenomena are identified by the witnesses themselves or by the field investigators. Ufologists, Monnnerie says, arbitrarily call the minor misinterpretations ‘false UFOs’ and the major ones ‘true UFOs’, and do not realise that there is a perfect continuity between the two series, and that the difference between them is of degree not of nature.

But by what process does a well-balanced person (even sceptical ufologists accept that psychological cases are rare) interpret an unrecognised phenomenon as a high strangeness UFO? According to Monnerie, when there is a lessening of attention or if the witness becomes anxious, he lives in a sort of daydream. He distorts the observed phenomenon and transposes it through the unconscious influence of a rumour or myth. One of the great myths of our time Monnerie says, is the extraterrestrial concept, because it is so well suited to our scientific and technological civilization. But it must be emphasised that this type of serious misinterpretation is not pathological, and can happen to anyone. A physical support, a real object which is not identified, is always necessary; it is not a perception without object, it is not an hallucination.

Monnerie’s hypothesis was not exactly welcomed by French ufologists. But now, some years later, the situation has markedly changed. Why? It happened that as time went by an increasing number of allegedly “hard” cases – great “classics” of ufology – have been explained, not by sceptics, but by ufologists themselves. Let’s quote some examples: the well-know Leroy, Kansas, “calfnapping” case of 1897 has been explained by Jerome Clark as a hoax [2]; the famous photograph from Salem, Massachusetts, 1952 has been explained by Hynek as a reflection of lights on a window [3]; the very complex case of San Jose de Valderas, Spain, which involved two allegedly independent photographers and an object left on the ground by the UFO has been explained by Claude Poher and myself as a hoax [4].

There are serious doubts also about the renowned UFO accident case at Ubatuba – it might be an accident indeed, but involving a rocket launched by the Brazilian Army [5]. Almost all of the often quoted sightings by American astronauts have received very mundane explanations, and Hynek himself has admitted it [6]. The complex set of sightings in the north of France on October 3rd, 1954 was in fact caused by the moon (in one of these cases the moon allegedly landed, and later took off!) [7]. As a last example, the intricate French case of Taize in 1972, which had the honour of being published in FSR [8], has recently been explained by Bertrand Meheust as powerful lights around a house on the other side of the valley.

Apart from facts like these, more theoretical studies also reinforced sceptical attitudes. Several authors pointed out the many analogies of UFO sighting details with the occupations, the psychology and the fields of interest of the witnesses involved, or with traditional and classical symbols (9]. Let us also mention Alvin Lawson’s experiments: imaginary abductions induced by hypnosis gave the same details as the allegedly real abductions aboard UFOs (10]; this Is a good example of non-specificity [11].

Above all there was, for French ufologists, Bertrand Meheust’s book [12]. Meheust is not a sceptic, but the many similarities he points out between science fiction and UFOs in fact support the psycho-sociological hypothesis: almost all the UFO patterns were already present in SF novels before the Second World War (shapes, behaviour, types of entity, solid lights, physical effects, etc.). Why then search for an exotic explanation, if human symbolism and inventiveness are quite sufficient?

Firstly, it goes without saying, but goes even better for saying it, that the kind of doubt I am speaking about has absolutely nothing in common with the attitude of the lifelong sceptics

But this new and pervasive form of scepticism has its limits. Firstly, it goes without saying, but goes even better for saying it, that the kind of doubt I am speaking about has absolutely nothing in common with the attitude of the lifelong sceptics. The doubt of some French ufologists is only based on a thorough analysis of the facts and not on prejudice. No-one amongst these new French ufologists has any scientific or philosophical prejudice against the possible existence of extraterrestrial visitors or paranormal phenomena. I am certain that they are ready to reverse their attitudes if the facts require it.

Secondly, I and most of my colleagues continue to believe that there remains a small residue (although much tinier than we believed some years ago) of unexplained sightings (or perhaps we have to say more cautiously “not yet explained sightings”). But if explained and unexplained cases reveal the same patterns, what distinguishes these residual cases? Well, essential characteristics which are external to the phenomenon: number and quality of witnesses, multiple independent witnesses, psychological circumstances that exclude a hoax, or the absence of a suitable support for a misinterpretation.Let’s recognise that the reasons why we consider such and such a case as genuine are often difficult to make explicit: it is more a feeling than clear-cut reasoning. This is not to say that it is pure belief, but it may alas appear as belief to sceptics, for we have no real proof. Statistical evidence, as presented by Jacques Vallee, James McCampbell, or Claude Poher, is no longer valid, because many cases on which they are based have now been explained, and we often lack sufficient information on the remaining ones [13].

As I wrote some years ago [14], our ufological quest is a quest for the non-transmittable: although we may squire a personal conviction, we cannot pass this conviction on to ‘good faith’ sceptics (or at least not to many of them). All cases, even the ‘hardest’ ones, contain elements that legitimate a doubt. For instance, the famous Boianai, New Guinea, sightings appear at first glance to be very ‘hard’: many witnesses, object seen at short distance for some time, with humanoids and many observable details. However, Hynek had to concede that a doubt remained, because the position in the sky, and the time of disappearance of the main UFO fitted the movement of Venus [l5].

This continuing absence of really convincing proof (the problem is the same in parapsychology) is too general in this kind of phenomena to be merely bad luck. To me, it has only two possible explanations: either there is no new physical phenomenon – this is the psycho-sociological hypothesis described above – or we are faced with a phenomenon which deliberately escapes proof, that is, a phenomenon characterised by what my friend Bertrand Meheust called – in English in his French book! – “elusiveness”.

To try and solve this dilemma, I think that one of the most urgent tasks for ufologists is to attempt to determine whether the non-specificity is really total. Are there patterns which would be unique to the unexplained cases? Perhaps some details which do not appear in science fiction may be unique, like some types of physical traces, or sudden disappearances or the fusions and dislocations of UFOs. This is one of the main reasons why French ufologists recently launched the ‘Concreting Operation’, that consists of defining new and more severe credibility criteria for selecting really solid cases. Indeed it appeared that cases which figured high in the usual credibility scoring were nevertheless explainable.These new criteria, which are presently being developed by a small group of French researchers, fall into four categories: criteria concerning the phenomenon characteristics, concerning the sighting conditions, concerning witnesses, and concerning the field investigation.

More generally speaking, ufologists have now to think about the following question: what methods would allow us, on the basis of UF0 sighting reports and without prejudice about the solution, to distinguish phenomena relevant to behavioural sciences from phenomena relevant to physical sciences, and to distinguish, in the two subsets, known from new phenomena?

In any case, there is no reason to despair. I see at least two certainties in the present state of ufology: 

1. Ufologists are unanimous, even the most sceptical, on the fact that most UFO sightings have at their base a real physical stimulus that was genuinely not recognised by the witness. Hoaxes and hallucinations are rare.

2. In any event, UFO reports remain an unresolved problem and testify to the existence of at least one unknown phenomenon. Indeed, even if all the reports were triggered by the misperception of a known phenomenon (this is the minimal hypothesis) the distortion of reality would be so great and so frequent that this particular type of misperception would be in its own right an important new phenomenon, which would deserve a thorough study. This remains true even if there is a physically originated residue, because the numerous serious misrepresentations have to be explained in any case.

Because of this second certainty, ufology would not disappear if there were no new physical phenomenon. A psycho-sociological phenomenon of misinterpreted and distorted perception may be less appealing than an extraterrestrial or parapsychological one, but when it has the extent and persistence of the UFO phenomenon, is nevertheless revolutionary from the standpoint of present theories in the behavioural sciences. This, is clearly emphasised by the near absence of thorough studies of UFOs in the human sciences literature. Apart front Jung’s hook, there are practically no books, PhD theses or scientific journal articles about sociological aspects of UFOs [16]. This absence is quite strange in view of the rich study material UFO reports provide for behavioural sciences. Some sociologists even manage to write whole books on modern myths, of rumours in our society, without any allusion to UFOs! It is as if UFOs were put, as Meheust puts it, into “semantic-brackets”.

The extent and persistence of the UFO phenomenon, is revolutionary from the standpoint of present theories in the behavioural sciences

I think that this profound reluctance stems from the central dogma of the most influential school of thought in present day sociology, namely that man is an essentially rational being, whose behaviour is in most cases entirely predictable. The UFO phenomenon is an ideal case to point out the pervasiveness of myths, of irrational behaviour, even in our technological society (and to demonstrates the falseness of this dogma) because it is new (so new we can study its origin and development), frequent and perceptive (that is, based on a false perception, contrary to most myths and rumours which are based only on false reasoning and which can he qualified as cognitive). For these reasons it is also ideal for understanding the function that myths fulfil in our society. This is really revolutionary, but perhaps more in a political than a scientific sense, because both capitalist and Marxist theories are based on the assumption that man is rational. Both give a pre-eminent role to economic causes in human behaviour, and economic reasons are essentially rational.

Thus we ufologists are in any event revolutionaries! However, let us not exaggerate our power: of course we cannot seriously shake the rationalist or “economistic” dogma of our society, but we may and must be watchers, collecting and preserving as much information as we can, in the hope that sometime in the future mankind will be sufficiently adult to study these data without any prejudice in either direction [17].

References for this article will be added shortly

The Mystic and the Spy: Two Early British UFO Writers. Philip Taylor

From Magonia 61, November 1997

Looking back over 50 years of the UFO phenomenon, it is easy to forget just how few books were written on the subject in the early years, compared with their almost daily publication now. The early Flying Saucer story unravelled almost entirely in the pages of newspapers and magazines in the USA and the UFO scholar has to search hard to find anything on library bookshelves that comes from the first 5 years of the 1947 era. UFO material from this period published outside the USA is even more elusive.

One of the best known early UFO books was published in Britain in 1953: ‘Flying Saucers Have Landed’, the first and most famous book by the contactee George Adamski, co-authored with British writer Desmond Leslie. For many people this will have been the first British UFO book they were aware of – but in fact two previous books had been published in Britain in the previous 5 years, both very different books by very different authors. Both authors were once famous in areas quite unrelated to UFOs but, strangely, both men seem to have been largely forgotten in recent years: their lives and contribution to the early history of UFOs deserves to remembered.

1. The Flying Saucer, by Bernard Newman (1948)

flyingsaucerThis fictional book, published in the UK by Gollanz in June 1948, was possibly the first in the world to deal with the topic of Flying Saucers. Although said to have been ‘well- received in the American press’ on its publication there in 1950, it seems to have rapidly fallen into complete obscurity. The book never seems to have been referred to in subsequent UFO books, nor have I seen it listed in any published UFO bibliography.

The book was obviously not intended to be factual, nor a particularly substantial one: it appears to have been another in the long series of thrillers written by the prolific and versatile British author and lecturer Bernard Newman (1897-1968). Newman published over 100 books, at his peak publishing 4 or 5 every year. Many were non- fiction, with travel, current affairs, global politics and real-life espionage books featuring heavily. On the fiction side he concentrated on spy and detective stories, sometimes writing under the pseudonym Don Betteridge. [1]

Newman’s book The Flying Saucer is a tale of how a group of scientists, taking on the mantle of world peace-makers, stage a series of crashes of ‘Flying Saucers’ with the aim of uniting the world’s leaders. The idea that saucer crashes themselves have been staged or that stories have been deliberately manufactured as part of a Military ‘Disinformation’ campaign is one that has been around at least as long as the modern saucer retrievals stories have been current. The theme of an alien threat leading to world peace and unity is one that has cropped up on many occasions, a recent example being the often-quoted remark of Reagan to Gorbachev in1985. Newman’s inspiration was a speech by Sir Anthony Eden, who in 1947 said: “It seems to be an unfortunate fact that the nations of the world were only really united when they were facing a common menace. What we really needed was an attack from Mars 85″ The idea of a fake saucer crash serving this purpose is probably original to Newman’s book, but is one which may have been absorbed almost unknowingly into the popular folklore of UFOs. Despite the more recent amnesia regarding this book, it was once described as being one of three books for which ‘Newman is possibly best known in the United States’. Newman dismisses the book briefly in his autobiography but mentions that Anthony Eden was ‘very amused by the book’.

Newman’s book begins with an initial series of mysterious saucer crashes occurring first in England, then (where else but) New Mexico, and thirdly Russia. The crash sites are chosen carefully to involve all the three major powers of the post-WWII world. Then, as their grand finale, the scientists decide to include an alien occupant in the next crash. In modern tales of crashed saucers, the alien occupants seem to remain surprisingly unscathed, apparently sustaining nothing more than a grazed grey knee in the course of a high-speed crash. By contrast, Newman is gruesomely realistic with his staged crash: the alien ‘victim’ is apparently pulverised by the impact and this enables the scientists behind the scenes to confuse investigating pathologists by presenting them with a ‘body’ consisting of a grotesque melange of exotic animal remains.

An international league of scientists springs into action and with remarkable speed the differences between the world’s governments dissolve under the ‘Martian’ threat. The final chapter sees every international political problem speedily resolved, from the Middle East to Northern Ireland. This 1948 fantasy is very much of its time: it was published in the very month of the Russian blockade of Berlin. Newman’s heroes find a way around the frustrating limitations of the new United Nations, with, in the background, the emergence of the super-power blocs and the omniscience of the atomic scientists all playing their part.

Newman’s book, now nearly 50 years old, presents familiar themes to us today: a saucer crash in New Mexico, an alien autopsy (albeit a particularly messy one). In the background, an ultra-secret military disinformation campaign designed to create a New World Order hidden from the general population. In 1948 the New Order that Newman envisaged was that of brotherhood & peace to all men and is plotted by pipe- smoking, back-room boffins, fresh from their successes in the War.

With his fondness for writing books, both fiction and non-fiction, on espionage themes it is reasonable to assume that Newman had first-hand experience of the secret intelligence world. Several writers have alluded to Newman’s probable connections with the British Intelligence service, including Peter Rogerson who has speculated in Magonia on a possible intelligence connection with the Roswell incident of 1947. As one might expect, Newman’s intelligence career remains shrouded in obscurity and deceit. In his unrevealing autobiography Speaking From Memory [2] he describes how from 1919 onwards he was apparently employed in an undemanding Civil Service job in the Ministry of Works. Somehow he seemed able to take extremely long and, for those days, exceedingly adventurous holidays, including lengthy stays in Eastern Europe and Russia. His destinations invariably seemed to include areas of particular political interest: for example several extended holidays to Germany in the 1930′s.

However, one of his more remarkable claims remains a puzzle. He claims to have made a report on the secret Peenemunde rocket site in 1938, which he sent to the Foreign Office, but the report ‘was ignored’. This clearly contradicts Dr R.V. Jones description of the legendary ‘Oslo Letter’, received from an anonymous informant in 1940, which was said to be the first information that British Intelligence had of the significance of the rocket development site.[3]

To add to the mystery, an article in the New York Times in 1945 described Newman as having spent the three years from 1915 operating as a double agent in the German Intelligence Service.[4] Newman was indeed fluent in German, his mother having come from Alsace and he grew up speaking English, French and German. But the idea of an 18-year old boy spy operating within the German forces and influencing senior officers is stretching credulity and an addendum to Newman’s obituary in the Times contains a reference to the alleged episode that relegates it to the realm of fiction.[5]

Whether true or not, no hint of any such exploit is mentioned in Newman’s autobiography. The resemblance between incidents described in The Flying Saucer and the Roswell crash remains intriguing: we are left to speculate and can perhaps, one day, hope to learn some of the real facts about this enigmatic author.

[NOTE: Newman's book was republished in 2010. See details HERE]

2. The Riddle of the Flying Saucers, by Gerald Heard (1950)

heardBy contrast to the Establishment figure that Bernard Newman presents, Gerald Heard (1889-1971) was a determinedly individualistic Anglo-Irishman who began his career as an academic at Cambridge and then Oxford. He first became well known in the 1930′s as an author of books on philosophy and as a BBC broadcaster on popular science and was acquainted with many of the leading intellectual and literary figures of the day. Having become a committed pacifist, Heard, along with Aldous Huxley, emigrated to Los Angeles in 1937 and became a devotee of a Hindu religious order there. The writer Christopher Isherwood was attracted to follow Heard to California and soon he also joined the Hindu order, led by Swami Prabhavananda. Due to his avowed pacifism, he never became a US citizen, despite living in California until his death 34 years later. [6]

Unlike Isherwood, Heard never produced any well-known literary works and all his books are now out of print. Heard was a polymath who wrote about whatever interested him: about 30 books in all, on a wide-range of subjects, ranging from esoteric philosophy to an early book entitled Narcissus: An Anatomy of Clothes.

Heard never flinched from dealing with subjects that bordered on the taboo including nonconsensus reality, psychic research, mysticism, pacifism, synchronicity, homosexuality, madness and criminality. He resorted to a pseudonym for many of his works, for example the “Mr. Mycroft” detective thriller series published under the name H.F. Heard and a utopian science-fiction novel by “Auctor Ignotus”, which has only recently been attributed to him. A particular theme, which he explored in a number of books, was that of the evolution of human consciousness, which was developed most fully in the 1963 book The Five Ages of Man. After 1947 he became fascinated by the new Flying Saucer phenomenon. On the one hand he saw the reports as presaging a New Age of increased cosmic and spiritual awareness and on the other he developed an original, but quirky, nuts-and-bolts hypothesis as to who was piloting the flying vehicles.

riddleHeard’s book The Riddle of the Flying Saucers was published in the UK in 1950, and in the US the same year under the title Is Another World Watching?. The book follows a now-familiar pattern that was to be repeated in endless books during the next 30 years. The book begins with a series of chapters presenting the USA Flying Saucer reports of 1947-1949, presented at face value, with little or no context or critical analysis. The reports are a familiar litany: Arnold, Maury Island, Mantell, the New Mexico green fireballs. As was usual for those days, there is no suggestion of the Saucers ever descending from their lofty paths, whether to land deliberately or in a crash. This story was yet to come: Frank Scully’s book Behind the Flying Saucers, with its story of alien bodies recovered from a crashed saucer, was published in the same year, as well as Keyhoe’s first book The Flying Saucers are Real.

Heard reviews many of the then current theories about the Saucer’s origins: various countries, not only the USSR, are considered and discarded, as the builders of the craft. Inevitably, each solar system planet is considered in turn, until the planet Mars is selected. After a lengthy rhetorical argument, Heard concludes that giant bees from Mars pilot the craft! This remarkable theory, seldom promoted by any subsequent author, seemed to have been based on Heard’s belief that only bees could both survive on Mars and also withstand the immense G-forces sustained by the Saucers’ flight manoeuvres.

Heard as a flying saucer writer is a lot less interesting than Heard as a philosopher, and his book can be viewed as the result of just one of the many enthusiasms of a free- thinking and enquiring mind. Heard did not return to the subject in print and enthusiastically welcomed Jung’s contribution to the subject a few years later. Heard has only recently begun to be recognised as a Californian New Age pioneer, not only inspiring major developments in the human potential movement but also as a user and evangelist of psychedelic drugs for spiritual enlightenment. Along with Huxley, Heard experimented with both mescaline and LSD in the early 50′s, years before Kesey and Leary began their crusades in the 60′s. An evaluation of Heard’s contribution to modern thought and culture awaits the publication of his biography; meanwhile we can ponder on Isherwood’s remarkable epitaph: “Gerald Heard is one of the very few who can properly be called philosophers, a man of brilliantly daring theory and devoted practice. I believe he has influenced the thought of our time, directly and indirectly, to an extent which will hardly be appreciated for another fifty years. Gerald was a rare creature altogether; he breathed another air, in a way.” [7]



  1. Current Biography 1959, p319.
  2. Bernard Newman, Speaking From Memory (1960).
  3. R.V. Jones, Most Secret War.
  4. New York Times, January 9 1945.
  5. The Times, 27 February 1968.
  6. Gerald Heard, by J.V. Cody: Article in Gnosis magazine no. 26, Winter 1993.
  7. Christopher Isherwood Diaries, Volume One 1939-1960 (1996).