Well hello again! Thought I'd publish an excerpt of my MS Thesis that is also being included in next month's printing run! UFOs are an amazing aspect of modern folklore and their occult connotations are fascinating! Looking forward to including a plethora of articles that include UFOs and paranormal as part of 'Occult Folklore'. Anyways, here is a sneak peak of the thesis. I'll be finishing and defending the paper next semester so give it a look and wish me luck in the next few months!!!!!
On the evening of July 14, a Pan American airliner, flying at 8000 feet, was approaching Norfolk, Virginia, en route to Miami from New York. Except for a few thin cirrus clouds above 12,000 feet, the night was clear and visibility unlimited. Shortly after 8 PM., Captain William B. Nash caught sight of a red brilliance in the sky, apparently beyond and to the east of Newport News. “Almost immediately,” they later reported,
We perceived…six bright objects streaking towards us at tremendous speed…they had the fiery aspect of hot coals, but of much greater glow- perhaps twenty times more brilliant (than city lights below)…their shape was clearly outlined and evidently circular; the edges were well defined, not phosphorescent of fuzzy…the red orange was uniform over the upper surface of each craft.
All together, they flipped on edge, the sides to the left of us going up and the glowing surfaces facing right…they were much like coins…then, without an arc or swerve at all, they flipped back together to the flat altitude and darted off in a direction that formed a sharp angle with their first course…the change…was acute…like a ball ricocheting off a wall.
Captain Nash estimated that the unlighted exposed edges of each craft were about fifteen feet thick and their top surfaces flat. As two additional craft suddenly joined the six, the lights of all eight blinked off, then back on. Remaining in a straight line, the UFOs zoomed westward, climbing in a graceful arc as their lights blinked out…one by one. The entire display lasted fifteen seconds.
This account of UFOs being witnessed in a common staple in Ufological legendry.
As a form of supernatural narrative, the UFO legend has become a popular piece of
modern culture. Similar to stories about heavenly beings or demonic entities, the modern
UFO legend is both shaped and interpreted by cultural context.
UFO narratives are instilled with numinous qualities that we typically find in
religious studies and the occult. Utilizing imagery of the sacred, sightings of UFO
phenomenon have borrowed from religion and myth in their interpretation. Keith
Thompson remarks that, “classical theologians who adhered to the great chain/hierarchy
of angels model of the universe, and modern-day Ufologists who catalog various types
of aliens, can be viewed as detectives following the same scent” (228). Much like visions
of angels or the terrors of hell, the modern UFO contactee encounters something that
is akin to religious experience.
Mythological themes are also prevalent in the UFO sighting. Much like the use of
angels in religion, ufology touches upon very important myth-motifs in its explanation.
Bullard remarks that, “UFO stories echo unmistakable leitmotifs of the great
mythological themes: culture bearers and saucers from the sky, supernatural enemies and
the end of the world, ritual is initiation and transformation, interbreeding with otherworld
entities, magical events, and trickster figures like men in black” (277). Using the occult
and traditional religious visions, the UFO employs paradigms of the sacred as a template
It is my contention that the imagery of the alien has taken the place of
angels and demons in traditional folklore and fulfils a need for the sacred albeit in
scientific or technological guise. Throughout the course of this paper, I will examine
the religious symbols and imagery of UFO legendry. By better understanding the
religious imagery of this legend, we are afforded a signpost for what the symbols mean
and what kind of reality they conjure up. As part of my research for this paper, I will be
collecting instances of ufology in newsprint and the media. Since newspapers and
tabloids are a perfect platform for legend dissemination, I will show how religious
imagery is prevalent in UFO folklore.
The supernatural has enjoyed an astronomical increase in popularity in modern
times. Between television programs such as ‘Ghosthunters’ and Hollywood films like
‘The Blair Witch Project’, the occult and supernatural have saturated modern culture in a
variety of ghosts, UFOs, and monsters. The news-media has also printed a plethora of
articles that target the supernatural. Much of these stories carry religious imagery or
theological motifs. Bill Ellis remarks that, “Satan is alive and well, and the local
newspaper regularly prints petitions to various saints and divine beings” (115). This
religious imagery is a common characteristic of supernatural occurrences. Made popular
by mass media, otherworldly entities commonly mingle with ideas of the sacred in their
Academia has studied the popularity of the supernatural in modern society. In fact,
many folklorists devote entire books on supernatural narratives and legend formation.
Often times, the supernatural is a college course and professors assign readings and
discussion based upon supernatural narratives. It is no surprise that these classes typically
fill up and even have waiting lists. The popularity of the occult and supernatural is a
rampant force that appeals to our sense of mystery and mysticism.
Much of the popularity that accompanies the supernatural ultimately stems from
our wanting to believe in the phenomenon. For example, Jan Harold Brunvand has
conducted surveys “indicating that the level of “superstition” among American college
students has remained at a steady, high rate since the beginning of the century” (223-225).
And Gillian Bennett has shown that “one fifth of the American population has frequently
experienced paranormal events, including extrasensory perception, clairvoyance, and
communication with the dead” (9-14). These high percentages of belief in the
supernatural indicate the popularity of the genre in modern culture. As a way to delve
into our own ideologies, the occult sciences and supernatural are an enduring aspect of
Along with ghosts, and revenants, the UFO may be the most popular folkloric
narrative in modern culture. Numerous books and movies have detailed the various
attributes and behaviors of these otherworldly visitors. Peter Rojcewicz published an
account in 1987 that shows the almost fanatical devotion UFO believers have in the
phenomenon. According to the narrative:
Instructed by a folklore professor to read a book on UFOs, a graduate student looked up to find a gaunt, pale man dressed in a black suit, shoes, and a string tie inquiring about his reading. When the student commented that he did not find the book very interesting, the man in black screamed, “Flying saucers are the most important fact of the century, and you’re not interested?” The student calmed the stranger down, who placed his hand on the student’s shoulder and said something like, “Go well on your purpose.” It sounded religious, the student later recalled… I didn’t look up to see him go. Within seconds, though, he was flooded with anxiety, sensing that the strange man was “otherworldly”. (1987:148-160)
Whether or not UFOs are the most important fact of the century is open to debate.
Nevertheless, the narrative shows the popularity of UFOs in modern society. It is also
interesting that the student intuits the stranger could be supernatural. Showing just how
ingrained ideas of the supernatural are in the psyche, the student wonders if he himself
just had a ‘close encounter’. These deeply embedded ideas of the supernatural are
perpetuated by the popularity they receive in modern culture.
Newspapers and tabloids are a valuable source for studying folkloric material in
mass media. As a vehicle for consumption and distribution, the news-presses provide
scholars with the ‘very latest’ in legend formation. This is done through the overt and
sometimes fantastic tales of supernatural occurrences and sightings. Degh states that, “the
repertoire of the tabloids is large and comfortably familiar- variants of classic texts,
revivals of old stories, or retellings of those currently in distribution. In other words, the
repertoire of tabloids is representative living legends” (175). Through the popularity and
dissemination of news-stories and tabloids, we see the human need to find meaning in the
Bill Ellis has also discussed the importance of social systems in legendry. He
identifies three levels of an emergent legend. First, they emerge as news. Daily headlines
in our local newspapers or programs are perfect conduits for a legend narrative. Second,
they occur as a result of specific social conditions and roles. Here context becomes an
important facet of where and how legends will appear. Thirdly, they embody an
emergency of some kind. Explicating a social dilemma or crisis, much legendry is
centered around socio-cultural problems.
UFO legends fit perfectly into the paradigm of an emergent legend. In fact, the
news-media has just recently been inundated by UFOs and religious imagery. On January
28, 2011, a UFO was filmed over the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The footage shows
what appears to be a large glowing orb descend onto the Dome. The UFO hovers for a
few seconds before shooting up and out of sight. News-media across the world covered
the spectacular event and the internet became the preferred platform in which to comment
about the occurrence. For example, the UK website www.telegraph.co.uk reported:
UFO HOVERS OVER JERUSALEM SHRINE
TWO DIFFERENT FILMS OF A GLOWING BALL HOVERING OVER THE DOME OF THE ROCK IN JERUSALEM HAS ATTRACTED
HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF INTERNET VIEWERS.
The videos show a bright object slowly descending over the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem-believed to be the holiest spot on earth and sacred to three world religions.
A second video taken from a different spot shows a white light descending slowly above Jerusalem, hang in the air directly above the 2500 year old site, and then shoot up into the sky with a gigantic flash.
The event reportedly occurred in Jerusalem at 1am on Friday morning and has provided an online debate as to whether the footage is real.
(www.telegraph.co.uk, February 2, 2011)
As footage of the UFO spread through cyberspace, bloggers commented on the
sighting. Most of the remarks drew significance on the fact that the UFO appeared in the
Holy Land. One blogger stated, “Most of not all evidence of any contact with UFOs
reveal more of a demonic message than a good one” (2 February 2011, 15:13).
And another anonymous writer remarks, “I grew up in the church too, but it doesn’t mean
everything is demonic. I believe this reasoning makes one deny one’s own spiritual
experiences altogether, hindering our relationship with God and our personal search for
truth. First of all, the assumption that is made is that it’s a demonic alien craft. We saw no
craft. We saw a light. No one knows what it is really: awesome hoax by technically
advanced citizens of Israel, aliens, evil spirits, or a sign from God” (3 February 2011,
These comments are important because they show the rapidity of legend
dissemination across the internet. The newspaper article provided a platform with which
to discuss UFO phenomenon and in doing so, showed the effects mass media can have on
supernatural legendry. Tabloids also fulfill this role in legend study. By their very nature,
the tabloid is a fantastic narrative. Through its sometimes bizarre accounts of
supernatural happenings, the tabloid is a perfect channel for legend distribution. By
studying tabloids of UFO occurrences, it is possible to identify the religious imagery and
connotations attached to the phenomenon and examine the power these legends have on
peoples belief systems.
A working legend uses belief to transmit meaning in a narrative. Linda Degh
has done extensive work on the study of legend and belief. In fact, she coined the term
‘belief legend’ and by the 1970s, this term became the preferred vernacular on the subject.
According to Degh, all legends are based on belief. She asserts that “belief makes its
presence felt in any kind of legend” (306). Suggesting that legends are stories about
belief, the degrees of belief do not alter this quality of the genre. Degh and her
proponents suggest that belief is not a narrative but the symbolic core of a legend and
because of this, all legends are necessarily “belief legends” (Ward 1991).
Many academics utilize different means to express the quality of belief in a
legend. Largely differing only in semantics or subtle discrepancies on the importance of
the word ‘belief’ when discussing legendry, folklorists such as Gillian Bennett and Otto
Blehr prefer to use ‘story’ instead of ‘belief’ when discussing this subcategory of legend.
Their reasoning lays in the argument that “belief legends” represent “antiquated traditions
about beliefs that have been handed down in relatively fixed form. “belief stories”, by
contrast, were narrative illustrations of still living belief traditions” (Ward 1991, 360).
Bennett’s “belief story” addresses current community beliefs whereas the “belief legend”
is a fixed narrative that belongs solely to the past.
Although Degh and Bennett have engaged in discourse concerning beliefs and
legendry, other folklorists have also criticized the “belief legend” for contextual reasons
as well. Lisa Gabbert states that, “I completely agree with Degh and others that the
underlying essence of legends is religious belief or ‘the unknowable’, but disagree that
this is solely what legends scholars should focus on” (114). Gabbert goes on to reiterate
the importance of explicating how belief legends work and why they are important. She
suggests that legend scholars focus too much time on content and not enough on
contextual “everyday” or general belief” (Gabbert 2000).
UFO-lore shows numerous instances where ‘belief’ has changed traditional
narratives due to contextual circumstances. The most obvious concerns the shifting of the
divine into flying saucers. What was once the domain of angelic beings has now become
the realm of otherworldly space-men. Tumminia has addressed this when she writes that,
“flying saucers have become postmodern myths. With the dawning of the rational
technological age, social scientists expected secularization and science to wipe out
supernatural and magical religions. Instead, a magical enchanted worldview subverted the
scientific paradigm into an animistic account of space beings what was readily available
for our mass consumption” (115). In other words, traditional legendry of heavenly beings
has shifted into our perception of extraterrestrial visitors due to changes in context.
Furthermore, the communal need for the sacred promotes changes in legendry in
order to satisfy the social status quo. Lindahl has remarked about this when he states that,
“modern society has shed a good deal of its reliance on the divine, and replaced it with
faith in technology. The sky, once invoked as the home of the gods, was now filled with
aircraft” (7). As times change, legends also adapt to fit the needs of society. Carl Jung
also studied religion and legendry and in regards to UFOs, called the phenomenon a
visionary rumour. He states that, “it is closely akin to the collective visions, of, say, the
crusaders during the siege of Jerusalem, the troops at Mons in the First World War, and
the faithful followers of Pope at Fatima” (8). In other words, UFO legendry works
because of the human need for the sacred. Fulfilling a spiritual role in society, the
otherworldly visitor provides an avenue for the numinous in its various manifestations.
UFO narratives are full of religious imagery. Acting as a template, biblical
allegories show many of the characteristics that we see in modern Ufology. For example,
the bible tells us that the prophet Ezekiel saw a burning wheel in the sky. The narrator of
the sacred story states, “The appearance of the wheels and their work [was] like unto the
colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work
[was] as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel (Ezekiel 1:16). This wheel is very
similar to the saucers made famous by Kenneth Arnold in 1947. Both describe a round
object emitting a supernatural light and performing unconventional maneuvers in the sky.
UFO folklore also makes use of the wheel or halo symbol in its literature. For
example, the UK tabloid ‘The Sun’ published on October 11 2009, an account of a
circular formation in the Moscow sky. The article describes:
This glowing halo in clouds over Moscow looks like an Independence Day style of attack.
This astonishing ring was spotted over the city and captured on video by stunned locals. It has been described as a “true mystery” by a UFO expert. Scores of supernatural enthusiasts have been gripped by the astonishing footage and speculated it could be an ALIEN MOTHERSHIP. The sighting in the clouds is reminiscent of scenes from the 1996 Hollywood blockbuster Independence Day.
“Whatever it is, its one of the most beautiful and spectacular things I’ve ever seen.”
“Speculation is fever pitch on the internet.”
“This is being discussed in forums, blogs, and email lists all over the world. Some people say it’s a bizarre meteorological effect. Theories range from it being an alien mothership, proof of Russian weather modification technology or a weather weapon- even a sign of the end of the world” (Vince Soodin. The Sun. Oct. 11, 2009).
This account of a round, seemingly supernatural formation is very similar to what we
read in biblical scriptures. Both describe inexplicable objects that are spectacularly
beautiful. There is also a sense of mystery attached to both the biblical wheel and the
halo-like cloud formation that resembled an “alien mothership”. Both narratives make use
of preexisting cultural information to assess what the object is and how it should be