Tuesday, November 29, 2011

UFO folklore and religious imagery

 Here's another excerpt from my MS thesis and future Magus Magazine article. I've put everything on hold till after the thesis defense but we're looking towards a publish date of early January. I'll keep you posted but in the meantime, here's something worth spouting crazily about. Give it a read and feel free to to comment or send me an email.

Extraterrestrials also relay overtly religious messages in many UFO contact

narratives. This idea of aliens delivering religious argot can be seen in a Weekly World

News article authored by Ragan Dunn. According to Dunn, a French Journalist named

Vincent Black conducted a 25 minute interview with an extraterrestrial named Barten.

The manuscript states that, “the creature had blonde hair and blue eyes and looked like a

three-year-old child. He spoke in a high pitched monotone and answered a series of

questions before he glowed bright blue and disappeared” (Weekly World News, July

19, 2004).

The interviewer asks:

                        Q- Have you come to steal from us, to plunder the earth?

A-    We have come to share with you, to cure your illnesses, to relieve your strife, to bring you heaven on earth. We also bring you the wrath of hell. The choice is yours to make.

Q- Why haven’t you contacted us before?

A-    Your leaders are aware of our presence and we have engaged them in negotiations. I emphasize that we come in peace. We ask you to prepare for us.

The concept of heavenly figures coming to alleviate illnesses or share knowledge is very

prevalent in UFO literature. Like the curing power of saints and prophets, these

otherworldly beings are infused with powers of healing. Moreover, the alien visitors

reiterate time after time that their presence is one of beneficence. Again we see this idea

of supernatural healing in a Weekly World News article. According to Ann Victoria,

Andorra Spain- Space Aliens are appearing in the hospital rooms of dying children, gently touching their foreheads- and curing them of terminal cancer!

That’s the incredible conclusion of 14 highly respected doctors and staff members at Pyrenees Hospital de Los Ninos who have seen the 4-foot-tall extraterrestrials work their magic on four terminally ill youngsters in the course of a month.

When the creatures entered the room of 7-year-old, terminally ill cancer patient Juan Guijarro, nurse Montoya alerted security guards and Dr. Thomas Ruiz. “Little Juan’s room was bathed in a bright golden light when I got there,” Dr. Ruiz recalled. “The aliens were standing by his bedside. There seemed to be a mystical bond between them and the boy. (Weekly World News, July, 29 2004)

The article goes on to state that the young patient went into spontaneous remission and all

traces of cancer disappeared. Much like the behavior of heavenly persona, the

extraterrestrial becomes a conduit for healing human illnesses.

Another characteristic that UFO contactees display after meeting with

extraterrestrial beings are psychic or otherwise supernormal powers. Much like prophets

and saints in Biblical times, these stories speak of extra-human abilities. According to

Fuller, “the fact is that many people who have been abducted do subsequently have

psychic and sometimes psychokinetic ability. In many instances, it seems to have

preceded the UFO sightings but also seems to have been enhanced afterward” (Fuller

1983: 354). In these cases, the extraterrestrial imparts mystical talents or insight. This

supposedly occurred in 1908 when writer and mountain climber Aleister Crowley came

into contact with a being that dictated a book to him. Called The Book Of The Law,

this tome is used by various religious groups that assert it to be of divine origin. Allen

Greenfield remarks that, “when Crowley engaged in magical working, these

praeterhuman intelligences would consistently arrive on the scene. One of them, calling

itself Lam, was sketched by Crowley and is the prototype of the current alien types seen

in present-day abduction cases” (Greenfield 1994: 24). Much like the knowledge related

to Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and Ron Hubbard, the inventor of Dianetics,

a “spiritual being” provided the inspiration for a new religious movement. This new

religion was called Thelema and included aspects of occultism, kaballah, yoga, and

Western mysticism. Thelema emphasizes the ethical code of ‘Do what thou wilt shall be

the whole of the law’ and relies on identifying with one’s Holy Guardian Angel to

achieve the True Will.

Although many reports of contact with extraterrestrial accentuate the loving

actions of angelic beings, there is also a darker side to UFO folklore. Adopting religious

axioms, for there to be angels full of god’s light, there must also be devils that represent

the wrath of hell. These more sinister motifs find their way into legends about Men In

Black and UFO abductions. Greenfield states that, “Men In Black terrify people, and the

Heaven’s Gate cult lured its followers to commit suicide. Such efforts betray the classic

tactics of demons as they confuse and mislead their victims to win their souls for hell”

(Greenfield 1994: 216). Most accounts of Men In Black occur after a UFO sighting or

contact. Men In Black are a prevalent part of UFO conspiracy theory. Most often, they

appear as clandestine government agents who appear to contactees and demand absolute

silence about what they experienced. Sometimes they appear alien themselves and move

in awkward or discomfited ways. Rojcewicz states that, “MIB have on occasion

displayed a very unusual walking motion, moving about as if their hips were swivel joints,

producing a gliding or rocking affect, often with the torso and legs seemingly moving

into opposite directions” (Rojcewicz 1987: 151). Reminiscent of traditional demon-lore,

the MIB are a class of supernatural entity apart from the usual extraterrestrial narrative.

            Aside from the MIB phenomenon, the UFO abduction experience also conjures

images of hellish beings. In many cases, the abductee awakens in the middle of the night,

paralyzed and stricken with fear. Sometimes they are transported to a saucer where

torturous medical experiments are conducted on them. These accounts are suggestive of

Old Hag narratives that have been studied by folklorist David Hufford. In the classic Old-

Hag experience, the victim wakes up paralyzed and deeply afraid. Many times there is

pressure on his/her chest and a feeling of helplessness. According to an informant

interviewed by Hufford, “You are dreaming and you feel as if someone is holding you

down. You can do nothing only cry out. People believe that you will die if you are not

awakened” (Hufford 1982: 2). Hufford found Old Hag experiences bled into UFO

abductions. Hufford remarks that “the Old Hag, can be as easily assimilated to UFO

belief as it can to Vampirism, witchcraft, or anxiety neurosis” (Hufford 1982: 234).

            UFO abduction examinations are also similar to the descriptions of hell that are

illustrated by Renaissance artists. For example, Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych of ‘The

Last Judgment’(1482- See Appendix) shows the demons of hell torturing sinners in Hell.

Much like people in UFO abduction narratives, the victims are forced to undergo

tormenting procedures. Thompson remarks that, “the piercing instruments used by aliens

in their examination bear a similarity, albeit genteel, to the piercing tortures which devils

inflict on sinners in Christian art and fundamentalist belief” (Thompson 1991: 147).

Borrowed from religious imagery of hell, the UFO abduction illustrates the suffering that

occurs as part of the supernatural assault. Weekly World News correspondent Michael

Forsyth reported a supposed abduction caught on film. According to the article:

Convincing new proof of UFOs has finally surfaced: The first verified photo of an alien abduction in progress.

The bone chilling image, captured by a home security camera in the bedroom of victim Catherine Nuburn, clearly shows the New Mexico woman being hauled screaming from her bed by a bald, bulbous-headed “gray-type” alien. The 31 year old divorcee hasn’t been seen since August 7-the date recorded in the videotape-and relatives fear the worst. The tape has since vanished, and the missing woman’s loved ones say it was taken by operatives from an unnamed agency, the notorious Men In Black. The attractive Canadian-born Nuburn first reported she was abducted by aliens in November 2002.
“She said it was simply terrifying,” recalls sister Dana, who still lives in Toronto. “Cathy told me she was stripped nude and suspended in midair by powerful rays. These robotic sensors that look like vacuum hoses probed every orifice of her body while small electrodes attached to her head seemed to be monitoring her brain” (Weekly World News, August 26 2003).

Verifying all our terrors of the supernatural, this account is very similar to attacks by 

demons or the devil. Within the UFO abduction is a pattern of motifs and themes that

have long been associated with religious ideas of hell.

            Finally, many accounts in UFO folklore have apocalyptic themes. Just like the

horror and devastation of the Bible’s book of Revelation, UFO-lore carries fears of the

‘end of the world’. This has been very popular in recent years with films such as

‘Skyline’ and ‘Battle LA’. Both of these films imagine what it would be like if aliens

came to take over the planet. As a way to address the fears about the apocalypse, the

UFO attack is similar to the idea of angels coming to earth in order to exact retribution

and divine punishment. Tabloids also make use such ideas. On February 18,

2011, Frank Lake reported that:

                                    Alien spaceships to attack earth in 2011!
                                    Three giant alien spaceships are heading for earth. Scientists
                                    predict they will arrive in early 2011. UFO encounters continue to
                                    increase as documented in WWN. And today scientists at SETI
                                    (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), an independent non-
                                    commercial organization made a major announcement:

“Three giant spaceships are heading toward Earth. The largest one of them is 200 miles wide. Two others are slightly smaller. At present, the objects are just moving past Jupiter. Judging by their speed, they should be on earth by early 2011,” said John Malley, the lead extraterrestrial expert at Seti. (Weekly World News, February 18, 2011)

Religions all around the globe have described ‘The End’ coming in some catastrophic

occurrence from the heavens. The mystery of what exists outside of our little terrestrial

planet has always fascinated theologians and philosophers. In the past, the apocalypse

was describes as coming in the form of fire and brimstone. Today, the UFO has taken the

place of angels as arbiter of Earth’s destruction......(To be continued)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

UFOs and religious imagery.

Dear, readers

As editor of this filthy monstrosity, I thought I'd give you a sneak peek at a piece discussing UFO narratives and religious imagery. Gonna be included in Issue 2- Give it a read. If you begin foaming at the mouth, gnashing teeth, and develop an ugly disposition, STOP immediately. Further thought could lead to serious medical complications. Contact your physician. 

And whatever you do, for god-sake don't follow the bright yellow light. Keep a safe distance and hide if you have to. There's no cowardice in fleeing. Remember the shovel, the unbearable cold, and Ms. cRaZy face.   You better hope the bright yellow light just passes by. Hide under a table or otherwise find solid shelter. Life preservers will not be sufficient when the wind comes. And the screams.        

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 toward 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 or 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 grateful arc as their lights blinked out…one by one. The entire display lasted fifteen seconds.

            This account of a UFO sighting is a common staple in UFO legendry. As a form
 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 typically found in
 religious studies and the occult. The numinous is a way of describing the power or
 presence of a numen or supernatural. Usually the numinous is something that is beyond
 comprehension or is spiritually elevated. People have borrowed from religion to interpret
 UFOs. 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”
 (Thompson 1991, 228). The modern UFO contactee encounters something much like
 visions of angels or the terrors of hell.
 Mythological themes are also prevalent in UFO sightings. Much like the use of
 angels in religion, ufology touches upon very important myth-motifs in its explanation.
 For example, the use of halos, demonology, and apocalypse are all common motifs in the
 narratives. Thomas Bullard states 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 as initiation and transformation, interbreeding
 with otherworld entities, magical events, and trickster figures like Men In Black”
 (Bullard 2010, 277). Using the occult and traditional religious visions, the UFO employs
 mythological paradigms as a template for understanding.
 It is my contention that images of the alien have taken the place of angels and
 demons in traditional folklore, fulfilling a need for the sacred in scientific or
 technological guise. Building upon the work of Linda Degh, I will examine the religious
 symbols and imagery of UFO legendry. Degh has remarked that, “when prestigious
 authorities such as Harvard psychiatry professor John E. Mack became serious about
 UFO aliens, they are actually joining theologians in the endorsement of the popular
 spiritualist belief in guardian angels among us, and are lending a hand to the evolution of
 a new complex of age-old traditional legendry” (Degh 2001, 262). By better
 understanding the imagery of UFO narratives as religious images, 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 examine UFOlore, newspapers, and the internet, which
 are excellent platforms for legend dissemination.  
 The supernatural has become very powerful recently. Between television
 programs such as ‘Ghosthunters’ and Hollywood films like ‘The Blair Witch Project’, the
 occult and supernatural have saturated modern culture with a variety of ghosts, UFOs,
 and monsters. The news-media has also printed many articles about the supernatural.
 These stories frequently employ 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” (Ellis 2001:101). Made popular by the mass media,
 supernatural occurrences have become commodified and are easily assessable to the
Newspapers and tabloids are a valuable source for studying folkloric material. As
 a vehicle for consumption and distribution, the news-presses provide scholars with the
‘very latest’ in legend formation. 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
of living legends” (Degh 2001:175). Through the popularity and dissemination of news-
stories and tabloids, we see the human need to find meaning in the unexplainable
Academia has studied the prevalence of the supernatural in modern culture. In
fact, many folklorists devote entire books to supernatural narratives and legend
formation. Jeannie Thomas states that, “Like any form of folklore, supernatural narratives
directly or indirectly tell us about culture. However, one of the characteristics that
distinguishes supernatural narratives is that they emphasize mystery and the
indeterminate, which overtly invites interpretation of various kinds” (Thomas 2007: 30).
This is what makes the supernatural so enjoyable as an area of study. One person’s ghost
or UFO sighting is a true event whereas to another person, the experience is a figment of
the imagination or daydream. The supernatural invites discussion and in so doing
becomes a popular part of  tradition.
One way that legends teach about culture is because they are related to belief.
According to Degh, all legends are based on belief. She asserts that, “belief makes its
presence felt in any kind of legend” (Degh 1976: 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).
Largely differing only in semantics or subtle discrepancies on the importance of
the word ‘belief’ when discussing legendry, folklorists such as Gillian Bennett and Ott
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 the current community beliefs whereas the
“belief legend” is a fixed narrative that belongs solely to the past. Gabbert on the other
hand, suggests that legend scholars focus “too much time on content and not
enough on contextual “everyday” or general belief” (Gabbert 2000).
UFO-lore offers numerous examples that show how ‘belief’ has changed due to a
changing cultural context. Traditional legendry of heavenly beings has shifted into our
perception of extraterrestrial visitors due to changes in context. What was once the

domain of angelic beings has now become the realm of otherworldly space-men.
Tumminia states that “flying saucers have postmodern myths. With the dawning of the
rational technological age, social settings 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” (Tumminia 1998: 115).
The ongoing need for the sacred promotes changes in legendry. Lindahl has
remarked about these changes in tradition 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” (Lindahl 1986: 7). As
times change, legends adapt to fit the needs of society. Carl Jung studied religion and
legendry, and, with regards to UFOs, called the phenomenon a visionary rumor. 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” (Jung 1979: 8). In other words, UFO legendry fills 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. Biblical allegories frequently
function as a template for modern UFO narratives. 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 color 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. Arnold was a pilot who witnessed nine disk-like
objects flying near Mount Rainier. Based on his description of the UFOs seeming to skip
like saucers on water, the media coined the term ‘flying saucer’ and this term remains
popular today in describing UFO sightings. Whether perceived as a wheel or saucer, both
of these narratives 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 an account of a circular formation in the
Moscow sky (October 11, 2009). 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. October 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
interpreted.................To Be Continued.