Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ecology of the Experiential

Hello friends! Mad Doctor Abdullah is away on some secret expedition that involves polar bears, a magic circle and a ridiculous amount of entheogenic herbs and spices. When I inquired about his present whereabouts there was a long pause followed by "Listen idiot, unless you can recite the alphabet backwards in Swahili while fleeing a barrel of buckshot, I don't really have time for your jabbering. Wise up, the dogs are rabid and hungry." I hesitated. "Does that mean you'll meet the editorial deadline?" There was another pause that was immediately followed by the sound of spitting then dial tone. So as you can surmise, I've been preparing articles and PhD work of the academic nature. This mishmash of thoughts and ideas are the initial attempt at putting something on paper that discusses supernatural folklore narratives with a Latourian methodology and utilizing an experiential and phenomenological foundation. The idea is to show how chains of reference provide meaning to a supernatural experience. Keep in mind that these thoughts are largely incoherent, out of sequence and purely an attempt of organize my craziness. In other words, should be a typical blog entry. :)

......the goal of religious ritual is not a re-presentation in order to create a new message. It is not about a sense of renewal or any kind of new message. Although the character of the experience conjures all these things. Instead, the experience of the awe is realized as the great and terrible apotheosis. It is the awe-some that one undergoes as part of the phenomenon. Because of this, the supernatural narrative cannot be wholly relativistic because although society fixes language to the experience, it is the experiential first-person account that serves as both devotee and great interlocutor.
Folkloric narratives of the supernatural highlight the absurd. Within the stories of UFOs, demons, and otherworldly entities, is a variety of non-humans that defy taxonomic or classificatory systems. But should these non-humans be excluded from creation? Are ghosts any less relevant religiously to the idea of salvation or incarnation? Non-humans had a central place in theology, in spirituality, in rituals, and of course in art which they now have almost totally lost. (Bastaire & Bastaire 2004) It is through supernatural narratives that we can include the numinous non-human in creation as a product of experiential return. No longer a paradox of the fantastic or a piece of science-fiction, accounts of the supernatural can be negotiated in a reference chain that begins with the phenomenon itself and is resolved in clarifying the essence or awe of actual experience.

There's a taste of what is going on in my head a good portion of the time. :)  

Monday, December 19, 2011

An introduction to Rational Liminality

Hello everybody! I'm researching possible avenues for PhD research and developing an Anthropological look at supernatural assault narrative under a canopy of Latourian style fieldwork and philosophy. Give this read and stay tuned to for some very compelling discussion of network theories and liminality.

In 1973, nineteen year old Calvin Parker and forty two year old Charles
            Hickson, both of Gauter, Mississippi were fishing in the Pascagoula river
            when they heard a buzzing noise behind them. Both turned and were terrified to
            see a ten-foot wide, eight-foot- high, glowing egg-shaped object with blue lights
            at its front hovering just above the ground about forty feet from the riverbank. As
            the men, frozen with fright, watched, a door appeared in the object, and three
            strange Beings floated just above the river toward them.
            The beings had legs but did not use them. They were about five feet tall, had
            bullet-shaped heads without necks, slits for mouths; and where their noses or ears
            should be, they had thin, conical objects sticking out, like carrots from a
            snowman’s head. They had no eyes, gray, wrinkled skin, round feet, and clawlike
            hands. Two of the Beings seized Hickson; when the third grabbed Parker, the
            teenager fainted with fright. Hickson claimed that when the Beings placed their
            hands under his arms, his body became numb, and that then they floated him into
            a brightly lit room in the UFO’s interior, where he was subjected to a medical
            examination with an eyelike device which, like Hickson himself, was floating in
            midair. At the end of the examination, the Beings simply left Hickson floating,
            paralyzed but for his eyes, and went to examine Parker, who, Hickson believed,
            was in another room. Twenty minutes after Hickson had first observed the UFO,
            he was floated back outside and released. He found Parker weeping and praying
            on the ground near him. Moments later, the object rose straight up and shot out of
            sight.  (Bryan 1995: 115)

            This supernatural abduction narrative is called the Pascagoula incident and is one

of the most famous accounts of supposed extraterrestrial interaction with human beings.

Known as a close encounter of the fourth kind, the abduction narrative is ripe with

terrifying accounts of regular people being accosted by otherworldly Beings that subject

their captives to torturous ordeals. According to UFO mythos, a close encounter of the

first kind involves a UFO sighting that is reported at close range. The second type of

encounter is when there is physical evidence of the UFO. Some of this trace evidence

might include burned vegetation, frightened animals, and loss of electricity. An encounter

of the third kind is characterized by ‘contact’ with an extraterrestrial Being. But the

fourth is clearly the most disturbing because it involves an actual abduction. These

stories of supernatural abduction have a clear structure and  fit into consistent themes.

Typically, the episode begins with an initial capture, which is followed by a sort of

medical examination and otherworldy journey. In many cases, interaction with the Being

produces a theophany in the abductee. The sequence usually culminates with the return of

the victim, but the aftermath of the ordeal lingers sometimes for years after the event.

            My own interest in UFO narratives stems largely from my fascination with the

esoteric and arcane.  From as far back as I can remember, I’ve had a profound interest in

all things occult and/or mysterious. In terms of the UFO abduction, I’ve always found it

fascinating how somebody could experience something largely indefinable and have their

world-view changed forever. I often wonder what it is about anomalous experiences that

have the potential to spark a life-changing shift in a person’s ethos or societal niche. Also,

popular culture has had an influence on why UFO narratives hold my interest. Television

programs such as the X-Files and Roswell were popular when I was in high school and I

think that their story-lines, coupled with the fact that I was at an impressionable age,

instilled a fascination with the UFO in me. To this day, I try to draw correlations

between the occult and UFO narratives. So as something as mysterious to me now as it

was when I was younger, these stories of the unknown spark my imagination and inspire

me to delve deeper into their structural nuances.

            Of all the imaginings the human mind can produce, those of the supernatural may

hold the most proclivity for individual expression. As part of our unusual psyche, ideas of

the paranormal or supernatural manifest in a variety of ways. Throughout human history, 

ideas of otherwordly or inherently inhuman beings have been used to explain pervasive

or otherwise frightening occurrences. The supernatural abduction, whether by witches,

ghosts, or goblins, is a common staple in all civilizations and is a structural part of a

community’s social organization.  According to Jodi Dean, “abduction stories describe

the interventions of non-human folk in human lives. They are stories of border crossings,

of everyday transgressions of the boundaries demarcating the limits of that define reality”

(Dean 1998:163). The idea of abductions by fairies, for example, is a type of assault

narrative. As described in Western European folklore, a changeling was the offspring of a

fairy or some other supernatural entity that was put in place of a normal human child.

People believed that the abductee could only be returned if the changeling was made to


Nowadays, UFO abductions are perhaps the most popular supernatural assault

tradition to saturate popular media. Due to the plethora of science fiction movies and

television programs, the appropriateness of the UFO abduction as material for academic

study can easily be questioned. Many academic disciplines dismiss the UFO narrative as

pure science fiction.  Nevertheless, Thomas Bullard is correct when he states that “the

question before us is not whether UFOs are folklore. They certainly are, and just as

certainly resemble other folklore in forms and function. The coherency of abduction

reports stands out as the most unequivocal piece of evidence that folklore scholarship

contributes to the UFO mystery” (Bullard 1981: 48). In fact, Bullard himself conducted a

study of 270 abduction cases and concluded that the narratives hold structural similarities

regardless of who the abductee was or who the researcher was (Jacobs 2000). Drawing on

Bullard’s notion that UFO abductions are folklore, in this paper I suggest that UFO

abduction narratives can be interpreted productively by using Arnold van Gennep’s rites
of passage. I will be utilizing what I have come to call ‘rational liminality’ to show that

after the abduction sequence, an ultimate reincorporation into society is achieved by the

abductees’ rational acceptance of his/her liminal experiences that occurred during the

initial event.

             Arnold van Gennep was instrumental in recognizing and discussing the rites of

passage that accompany specific life stages. A French anthropologist and folklorist, van

Gennep coined the idea of rites of passage and used this schema to address various

transitory events in a person’s life. He identified three distinct steps that make up a

typical rite of passage. The first involves a separation from society. This separation is

followed by a complex set of events that are liminal in nature. The term liminal refers to

an in-between state. Something on a threshold or ethereal, the liminal is an intermediate

phase of the event. After the separation and liminal experiences, a period of

consummation or reincorporation into society occurs. Van Gennep utilized these three

gradated steps to explain everything from puberty rites to secret society membership.

In order to thoroughly examine the rites of passage apparent in UFO

abduction narratives, I draw on various abduction  accounts. Drawing on information

from the interviews conducted by Budd Hopkins and C.D.B. Bryan at the 1992

Abduction Study Conference at M.I.T., I will show how most abduction stories have

similar morphology and thematic structuring. Some of the most compelling testimonies

involve abductees named Carol Dedham and Alice Bartlett. These women have been

friends since childhood and both have reportedly been abducted multiple times. I will

also refer to a group meeting taken at Budd Hopkin’s studio that had abductees

Brenda, Erica, Terry, and  Linda Cortile in attendance. Brenda, Erica, and Terry are

multiple experiencers who prefer not to divulge their last names for reasons of anonymity.

These four women have undergone hypnotic regression a number of times and provide

valuable insights into UFO abduction narratives.       

The study of UFO narratives has become more commonplace in academic circles

over the years. One discipline that takes narratives of abductions seriously is

psychotherapy. Many therapeutic psychologists interpret the supernatural assault tradition

as a means to express other ailments. According to Newman and Baumeister, “a handful

of mental health professional are arguing that psychotherapists should be educated about

the UFO abduction phenomenon so that they will recognize the symptoms and be able to

help the victims. Abductees, they argue, are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder”

(1996:100). For many abductees that exhibit post traumatic stress, certain ailments such

as disassociation and depression are prevalent in the victims. Sharps, Mathews, and Astin

state that “depressed individuals might be more likely to believe in ghosts, for example,

because ghosts provide evidence for an after-life in which present stress would be

eliminated. We expect that belief in UFO’s would be another avenue of escape for

depressed individuals” (2006:583).

Disassociation and the UFO abduction scenario have even been studied

scientifically in order to find correlations and/or disparities as uncovered through

structured interviewing and questionnaires. The results have overwhelmingly shown that

the abduction sequence does indeed correspond to depressive tendencies. In fact, “belief

in UFO yielded an overall significance (P=.003) regression coefficient against

psychological characteristics, with both depression and hyperactivity yielding significant

associations” . (Sharps, Mathews, and Astin 2006). Psychologists also assert that after

victims speak to a neutral listener, the symptoms of PTSD are alleviated. This is often

why abductees choose to seek out others that have had similar experiences. By

congregating with other victims, the UFO abductee can return to a sense of normalcy.

            Studies of religion and religious anthropology also are relevant to UFO abduction

narratives. More often than not, the extraterrestrial being is imbued with the god-like

powers of omniscience and omnipotence by the abductee, making these narratives quasi-

religious. Aliens are thought to exert complete control over their human captives and

subject them to capricious whims or impulses. In regards to aliens being equated with the

divine, Jacques Arnauld notes “the characteristics of extraterrestrials that are usually

associated with heavenly divinities: transcendence, omniscience, perfection, the power of

redemption. Do they not come from heaven? Do they not claimed to have created us? Are

they not constantly watching us, our actions, our thoughts, with what the ancient called

the all-seeing eyes of gods” (Arnauld 2008:444)? Like most qualities that are attributed to

a divine being, the extraterrestrial being carries connotations of immortality and sacred


            Additionally, the idea of ‘being chosen’ is a prevalent quasi-religious theme in

UFO abduction narratives. For abductees that experience this form of theophany, the

alien shows a beneficence towards the human race. Robert E. Bartholomew has written

about the spiritual dimensions of UFOs in America, stating that, “functionally and

symbolically, these contemporary accounts of otherworldly contact have more in

common with Biblical revelations than profane airship inventors. For instance, the

experience of having been chosen as an intermediary between otherworldly inhabitants

and humanity to impart a vital message is a classic close encounter percipient report

which typically advocates a particular moral position” (Bartholomew 1991:7). In many

abduction narratives, the victim reports the extraterrestrial relaying cautionary warnings

about the future of humanity. In this sense, the aliens can be equated to angels and

prophets of the past.

            Finally, the idea of prophesy and apocalypticism is a prevalent in abduction

scenarios. In many cases, the ‘chosen’ abductees return with visions of the future. It is

these characteristics that spark New Age or quasi-religious movements within UFO

milieus. Anthropologists Susan Harding and Kathleen Stewart explored the phenomenon

of “optimistic apocalypticism” in detail and remarked that, “From their studies of

present-day New Age healing and the ufological prophesy of the Heaven’s Gate

movement, we come to understand both movements in terms of their negotiations of

polarized cultural values in which future events, which are fixed in the known, determine

the shape, the content, and the significance of present events and actions” (Harding and

Stewart 1999:270). These anthropologists of religion have identified a common theme in

UFO abduction narratives. After an initial capture, the victim is sometimes returned with

ideas about the fate of the human race. In fact, many informants report that the aliens

themselves address the need for environmental preservation and global peace.

            Folkloristics also has contributed to the study of UFO stories. Studying the

components that make up these experiences elucidates the similarities of the

phenomenon with more traditional folkloric forms, illustrating that these are traditional

experiences. According to Thomas Bullard, “what matters here is not the ultimate nature

of the reports but their status as narratives, their form, content, and relationship to

comparable accounts of supernatural encounter” (Bullard 1989:148). Bullard identified

eight episodes that usually characterize the alien abduction story. These include the

capture, examination, conference, tour, otherworldly journey, theophany, return, and

aftermath, all of which have structural similarities to other supernatural assault traditions.

Bullard published a study the same year as Whitley Strieber released his bestselling book

Communion in 1988 and cited “a bewildering array of alien abductors, with the typical

grey only one species among a panoply that included mummies, trolls, sasquatches, and

robots” (239). Whitley Strieber is an author who purportedly was captured and taken

aboard an alien craft. In Communion, he relays a personal narrative of being examined

and probed by extraterrestrial ‘greys’. These greys are the prototypical and most popular

alien being in popular culture. Strieber suggests that he experienced supernatural assaults

similar to what we find in Hufford’s Old Hag phenomenon. He states that, “In the wee

hours of the night I abruptly woke up. There was somebody quite close to the bed, but the

room seemed so unnaturally dark that I couldn’t see much at all. I caught a glimpse of

someone crouching just beside the bedside table. I could see by the huge, dark eyes who

it was. It was hell on earth to be there, and yet I couldn’t move, couldn’t cry out, couldn’t

get away. I lay as still as death, suffering inner agonies.” (Strieber 1997:190). The release

of the book made Strieber an instant celebrity and millionaire.   

David Hufford also asserts that UFO abductions are a modern version of more

traditional assault traditions. He states that, “UFO legends display a continuity of

described features because the narrators are drawing from a common language and

otherwise share a frame of reference which enables them to appropriately set up similar

narrative structures combining similar contents” (1985:119). Like more traditional

folkloric forms, UFO narratives utilize a common language with which they can be

identified. These continuities were apparent in Hufford’s study of sleep paralysis and the

Old Hag phenomenon. His study used a methodology largely based upon verbal

accounts and survey techniques to document the consistencies of supernatural assaults

across different cultural contexts. In many of the narratives, victims describe waking

up from a sound sleep and “feeling as it someone is holding you down. You can do

nothing but cry out. People believe that you will die if you are not awakened”

(Informant Data 1982). Much like the UFO abduction, paralysis is a common feature of

the Old Hag assault. Also, cultural models determine the way the experience is

interpreted. As context changes, the interpretation of these experiences adapt to meet

current cultural settings. Hufford concluded that Old Hag phenomenon occurs

independent of cultural conditioning and regardless of whether or not the victim is aware

of this type of supernatural attack. Hufford states that, “The Old Hag, then, can be as

easily assimilated to UFO beliefs as it can to Vampirism, witchcraft, or anxiety neurosis”

(1982, 234).  

As noted earlier, Van Gennep’s formula for rites of passage include rites of

separation, rites of liminal experience, and rites of reincorporation. Rites of separation 

largely mark a transition in somebody’s life. In most cases, the separation stage is a

preparatory period that readies the initiate for rites of transition. These separation rites

manifest in a number of ways. For example, most initiatory systems involve separation

from what is comfortable, or the ordinary surroundings. Van Gennep uses the example of

the Hindu Brahman to show the tripartite structure of a rite of passage. He says that,

“within the sacred world which the Brahman inhabits from birth there are three

compartments: a preliminal one lasting until the Upanayana (beginning of a relationship

with a teacher), a liminal one (novitiate), and a post liminal one (priesthood)” (Van

Gennep 1960:105). In this circumstance, the separation prepares the Brahman for

novitiatory status that ultimately leads to the priesthood.

            Lisa Gilman has applied Van Gennep’s tripartite model to physical assault. She

considers the actual physical assault a rite of separation because this horrific event

proved to be the catalyst that separated her from society. The details of her assault

“clearly demonstrate how I was separated from all my previous conceptions of self and

my social and physical worlds. Faced with my own weakness and mortality, how could I

return to my social group and continue functioning as before if somehow I did not know

that that accepted me, that they still liked me, recognized my strength, my beauty despite

the fact some man had been able to control me, brutally beat me, almost kill me?” (101-

102). Through the isolation that occurred as part of her trauma, Gilman suffered a clear

separation from society. She remarks how aside from telling a few of her close friends

what had happened, none one else in her social group mentioned the experience. Gilman

attributed this silence to their discomfort with her transformation. By suffering the terror

of an actual assault, Gilman was separated from what she had become accustomed to.

The event removed her from what the world she inhabited and crossed all social


Within UFO abduction narratives, which are supernatural assaults rather than

actual, physical assaults, the rite of separation occurs in a number of ways. The

preliminal rites of separation begin well before the actual abduction, yet, as in Gilman’s

example, some form of trauma separates the victim from his or her environment in many

cases.  Newman and Baumeister state that, “one reviewer of UFO abductions noted that

calamities are often preceded by some sort of personal crisis, such as a breakup of a

marriage” (Newman and Baumeister 1996:117).  Situations like this are common in both

UFO literature and in Van Gennep’s schema of separation. In cases such as rape or

divorce, the victim experiences a clear separation from normalcy and in many

circumstances, the liminal state and ultimate reincorporation can only be achieved by

confronting the trauma of the attack and working through it by means of a group or some

other therapy. An example of personal crisis preceding a UFO abduction can be found in

the interview of Alice Bartlett conducted by C. D. B Bryan. When asked if she was as

happy child, Alice states:

                        “No, I felt abandoned as a child. I was convinced my parents didn’t
                        love me. My father was very authoritarian. We always had more fun
                        when he was gone, because he’d be abroad for a year or so. But then
                        it was always ‘wait until your father gets home.”
                        “So it was primarily physical abuse?” I ask. (Bryan)
                        Alice starts to say “yes”, then hesitates. She glances at Carol and then
                        back at me. I go the impression she is deciding how far she should go.
                        What follows next is a confusing account of a fishing trip Alice took
                        in Florida with her father when she was twelve and her suspicions
                        that he raped her on the banks of a canal.  (Informant interview: 224)

 Alice Bartlett experiences a sexual trauma that forces a separation

from society. Her subsequent abduction by extraterrestrials follows this initial

crisis event.

            Along with child abuse, unplanned or inexplicable pregnancies also can be

considered as traumatic events  that separate the victim from her social system. In many

cases, a UFO abduction occurs either directly before or after one of these traumatic

experiences. In abduction literature, the phenomenon is called “missing embryo/missing

fetus” syndrome and according to David M. Jacobs, “the problem of unplanned or

inexplicable pregnancy is one of the most frequent physical after-effects of abduction

experiences. Usually the woman feels pregnant and has all the outward signs of being

pregnant. She is puzzled and disturbed because she has either not engaged in sex or has

been very careful with birth control. She has blood tests and the gynecologist positively

verifies the pregnancy. Typically, between the discovery of the pregnancy and the end of

the first trimester, the woman suddenly finds herself not pregnant” (Jacobs 2000:78). For

a woman who experiences either an unplanned pregnancy or miscarriage, the trauma of

the experience separates her from society. Although pregnancy occurs after the abduction

experience, her rite of separation occurs with the pregnancy itself. Whether or not she

attributes the pregnancy to extraterrestrial influence doesn’t deter from the fact that it is a  

event that separates her from ordinary surroundings.    

            Problematic race relations can also serve as a means of separation from society.   

Betty and Barney Hill were a mixed race couple in the Civil Rights Era. According to

their testimony, the Hills were driving from Quebec to New Hampshire on September 19,

1961. An African-American postal worker, Barney and his Caucasian social worker wife

Betty reported to have witnessed a strange glowing light outside of their car. Confronted

by what appeared to be a uniformed man at a road block, the Hills experienced a period

of missing time, developed amnesia, and suffered nightmares for reasons neither could

accurately explain. Upon returning home, the couple decided to consult a therapist and

underwent hypnotic regression by an army psychiatrist. What was revealed through the

regression were nearly every abduction motif in UFO narratives. Details included a

thorough medical examination as well as a pregnancy test administered by the alien

beings. The idea of race plays an obvious role in the Hills narrative. For example, Barney

recalled stopping at a diner and being waited on by a rude, African-American waitress.

Also, during the stop at the roadblock, they were accosted by what appeared to be a “red-

headed Irishman” and a German Nazi. Curiously, all manners of race were included in

the narrative, yet the Hills had difficulty identifying the perceived aliens’ race. Wrought

by racial anxieties of the 1960s, they experienced a separation from society and then an

abduction. Although the Hills sparked the modern UFO abduction craze, the emphasis on

race in their case is not unique in the literature. Christopher F. Roth states that “put

simply, Ufology is in one sense all about race, and it has more to do with terrestrial racial

schemes in social and cultural constructs than most UFO believers are aware” (Roth

2005:41).What is unclear from this example is whether or not the Hills could ever

achieve complete reintegration into society until mixed-race tolerance became more

mainstream in American culture.

            To sum up, rites of separation can occur for a UFO abductee well before the

actual abduction experience. It’s likely that Alice Bartlett could just as easily have

experienced an Old Hag episode or demonic possession instead of UFO abduction. Race

relations can also correspond to a victim’s rite of separation. Being a mixed-race couple

in the 1960’s, the Hills’ separation occurred long before their experience with

extraterrestrials. It has become apparent that both contextual circumstances, and personal

crisis delineate how the rite of separation will manifest and what measures must be taken

in order to ultimately reincorporate into society.              

Rites of transition are the second stage in the overall structure of rites of passage.

Van Gennep states that, “for every one of these events there are ceremonies whose

essential purpose is to enable the individual to pass from one defined position to another

which is equally well defined” (Van Gennep 1960:3).

These rites are a means to move from one social status to another. In many cases, some

form of initiation accompanies the change of condition that a neophyte experiences. For

example, van Gennep discusses the puberty rites of the Kurnai tribe of Australia. He

remarks that, “in some tribes the novice is considered dead, and he remains dead for the

duration of his novitiate. It lasts for a fairly long time and consists of a physical and

mental weakening which is undoubtedly intended to make him lose all recollection of his

childhood existence” (Van Gennep 1960:75). After being separated from his mother and

childhood games, the young man is instructed in his duties as a man and his

responsibilities in the community. These rites of transition prepare the person for his

change in status and help to define his position in society. Another common example of

rites of transition involve pregnancy and childbirth. For example, “in the ceremonies of

the Muskwaki (commonly known as Fox) the sex group also plays a part; the pregnant

woman is separated from other women and, after delivery, is reintegrated into their midst

by a special rite. A particular woman who is important in other ceremonies acts as

intermediary” (Van Gennep 1960:44). In this circumstance, the rite of transition is

facilitated by an intermediary agent that helps to achieve the change in status. By

inducing a gradual removal of barriers, the young mother is eventually reintegrated into

social settings thus completing the rite of transition.

            The quality of liminality characterizes rites of transition. Commonly understood

as in-betweenness, people in the liminal state experience a vulnerability that can produce

both terror and spiritual elation. Turner states that “the attributes of liminality or of

liminal presence (threshold people) are necessarily ambiguous, since this condition and

these persons elude or slip through the network of classifications that normally locate

status and positions in cultural space” (Turner 1969:95). The nuances of social status are

blurred during this transitory stage, and it is difficult to outline a specific taxonomy of

liminal characteristics.  By being “betwixt and between” the social norm, a person in a

liminal state holds a status of non-identity. They are outside of society and therefore

outside of normal categorization. This is important because somebody experiencing

liminality frequently is perceived as dangerous to society and needs to be controlled.  

This perceived dangerousness explains the taboos or prohibitions of those undergoing the

rite of transition. However, there is also creative potential for somebody in the liminal

state. At the culmination of the transitory rite, the initiate emerges with a new sense of

Self and status. Holding a new position in society, the person emerges as different from

who they were before the initial separation.

In her analysis, Lisa Gilman considers the liminal phase of a physical assault as

the period after assault, which was marked by emotional turmoil and uncertainty. She

makes the point that silence can characterize the liminal stage because of the

uncertainties about with whom somebody should tell their story. She states that “During

the liminal phase (especially if one doesn’t see a therapist), a person may become

overwhelmed with the experience as she has no outlet for her emotions or for working

out her problems. Though she may think that by not talking about the trauma, she will

eventually stop thinking about it and the feelings will go away, she may find that the

opposite is true” (109). Gilman understood silence may be detrimental to the

reincorporation process. By not sharing her traumatic experiences with others, she would

ultimately remain in a liminal stage. Narration became an integral part of her healing

process. However, the narrating of the story is also a rite of liminality because the teller

has no idea how the audience will react to the narrative. Not knowing what the result of

telling her story will be, the victim risks personal embarrassment as well as a failure to

reincorporate by sharing her experience.

UFO abductees typically ‘cross a threshold’ into the liminal state. This threshold

is frequently marked by strange lights.  Most abduction narratives begin by seeing

anomalous lights in the sky. Oftentimes, the victim watches the lights for an unspecified

duration of time only to ‘awaken’ aboard the craft. The presence of the lights mark the

beginning of liminality; or in-betweenness. C.D.B. Bryan narrates how Carol Dedham:

Put on the car’s warning blinkers, rolled down the side window the rest
            of the way, and leaned out to get an unobstructed look across the road at
            the lights. Even though it was wintertime and the leaves of the deciduous
            trees had fallen, there were enough pines in the grove to prevent an
            unimpeded view. Still, the lights were so bright the whole area was lit up.
            Carol decided to leave the car to get closer (Bryan 1995:205).

This aspect of anomalous lights is so common in UFO narratives that it appears in

nearly every abduction account. The lights mark a transition between reality and the

supernatural, as well a transition into the liminal state.

Strange weather also may function as a boundary between the

profane and the liminal. Again C.D.B Bryan narrates how abductee Richard J. Boylan

witnessed a kind of strange fog while driving the New Mexico desert. He states that,

“The air was crystal-clear; there was no moisture to make fog out of. There was no body

of water around. The road he had been driving was gradually rising, so he wasn’t in any

sort of pocket where moisture could collect. And there he was at a dead stop in the right-

hand lane of a two-lane blacktop highway crossing a desert enveloped in what, in his

car’s headlights, appeared to be a grayish-white odorless cloud. Boylan got out of his car

to investigate” (1995:246). In both Carol and Boylan’s experiences, they leave the safety

of the car in order to investigate the phenomenon. Much like their initiatory counterparts,

they are separated from their previous environment and enter a state of liminality.    

            Accounts/motifs of body mutiliation and dismemberment are common UFO

abduction narratives. Many victims endure forced medical examination. For example,

Bryan narrates how Boylan, was “led into the next room and placed him in what felt, he

thought, like an astronaut’s chair in a pulled-back position, so that he was reclining

but not quite flat. His ankles seemed held in place as if by a force field, and then Boylan

felt an intense pressure as though something was being pushed far up into his nose. As

soon as the object had been implanted, Boylan’s ankles were released and he was free to

go” (1995:247). Carol Dedham is another person who claims to have endured a forced

medical exam. During a hypnotic regression with Budd Hopkins, she recounts how the


            “…want me to go over to those tables…to get on the table,”
            Carol says, “I don’t do that anymore…It has things for the feet…I don’t
            Want to turn my head.”
            “They want you to turn your head?”

            “No, they just said they want to turn my head…No, I don’t really want
            to do that.”

            “Do what?” Budd asks.

            “Because he’s going to” – sharp inhale “Put that thing-“ another sharp inhale
            “in my ear. Please don’t put that thing in my ear!” Carol cries out in pain.
            “They put something in my ear!” She whimpers, near tears. (Carol Dedham
            interview 1995)

The significance of a medical examination amongst UFO narratives is important

for several reasons. First, the medical examination parallels more traditional rites of

transition. When describing a ritual of the Congo tribe, Van Gennep writes that “the

novice is separated from his previous environment, in relation to which he is dead, in

order to be reincorporated in his new one. He is taken into the forest, where he is

submitted to seclusion, lustration, flagellation, and intoxication with palm wine resulting

in anesthesia. Then comes the transition rites, including body mutilations and painting of

the body” (Van Gennep 1960:89). In both cases, the body is invaded, mutilated, or

otherwise transformed. Second, like all rites of transition, during medical procedures the

abductee loses complete control..........

Friday, December 9, 2011

Saints or Satanists? The Ritual and Symbol of Ordo Templi Orientis

Hello my lovelies! Here is a rough version of an article/essay that I'll be including in issue 2 of Magus TBD- It's needs to be cleaned up ie citations and biblio. but the essence is there. Feel free to read and giggle wildly.


            The distinction between formal religious institutions and alternative religions has

become blurred in modern times. No longer is the spirituality of the Western World

solely dominated by traditional Christian ideology. Nowadays, there is a plethora of

alternative belief practices finding legitimacy in both academic and non-academic

settings. The socio-cultural nuances that permeate these less identifiable religious

institutions are now respected and recognized by secular powers and many enjoy

federally recognized tax exemption as a religious entity. Such is the case with Ordo

Templi Orientis. A religious group that now claims over 1600 members of the flock,

The O.T.O. is a steadily growing religious organization that has its own credo,

ritualization, and symbolic system. Throughout the course of this paper, I will be

discussing the many facets of the O.T.O. in an attempt to glean some insights into this

mysterious society. It is my hope that by delineating some of the ritual and practices of

this group, a better understanding of more obscure religious movements will arise.

            Ordo Templi Orientis is a religious group that traces its spiritual origins to the

foundation of the Order of Knights Templar in 1108 and more historically, to the 18th

century Rosicrucian Orders. ( In 1902, Karl Kellner and

Theodore Reuss founded the O.T.O. in Germany and made its primary base of operation

in Luga, Switzerland. According to Bill Heidrick, “It is documented that O.T.O. sprang

from the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light as the creation of Karl Kellner, a member of that
fraternity. The Hermetic Brotherhood of Light continued independently of O.T.O., its

own right, and was still in existence in Oakland, California as late as 1970”

( Between 1902 and 1932, the O.T.O.

appropriated many Masonic and occult societies into its teachings and continued to grow

in social and ritualistic complexity. Utilizing the influence of Rosicrucianism, esoteric

Christianity, and Judaic mysticism, the O.T.O. became an amalgamation of occult


            Perhaps the most significant event that occurred within the O.T.O. timeline was

the 1910 admittance of Aleister Crowley into the Order. A magician infamous for

heretical ravings and sorcery, Crowley completely restructured the O.T.O. by putting an

emphasis on Thelemic philosophy. Thelema is a magico-religious philosophy that holds

the axiom: ‘Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law’. According to Legend,

Crowley was given the Book Of The Law in 1904 by an entity named Aiwass in the

Egyptian desert. Crowley recalls that “his guardian angel Aiwass appeared to him and

dictated the Book Of The Law. The Book Of The Law concerns the dawn of a third aeon

of mankind: the first aeon was that of the goddess Isis, centered around matriarchy and

the worship of the Great Mother; the second aeon was that of Osiris, during which the

patriarchal religions of suffering and death-ie-Judaism and Christianity-rose to power.

Finally, with the revelation of the Book Of The Law, a new aeon of the son, Horus, was

born” (16). This book is an ideological treatise that puts focus on magic and adherence to

one’s own Will. The idea is that by accepting the Law of Thelema, you are accepting

Liber Al as a spiritual foundation but under no obligation to follow any specific religious

study or ritual. According to Urdan, “the Law of Thelema avows and justifies selfishness;

it confirms the inmost conviction of each one of us that he is the centre of the cosmos”

(Urban year: 16). As a way to cultivate the Self, this methodology works well as an

organizational tool and many O.T.O. initiates practice the Thelemic system.

            Ordo Templi Orientis is an initiatory society that teaches the mysteries of the

ancient past. Although they don’t teach a system of magic per se, many local lodges do

offer classes and seminars on various aspects of magical tradition. It is thought that the

initiations of the ancient mysteries offer “both practical and theoretical value to the

serious student of magick” ( Moreover, the O.T.O. belief system

does not restrict initiates various belief systems. In fact, you can be Christian, Buddhist,

Muslim, Druid, or Sikh and still be an O.T.O. initiate. Luhrmann states that the OTOs

“relationship to that larger culture (Christianity), is curious, for the rituals are a syncretic

porridge of widely varied motifs” (Luhrmann year: 154). Through the fusion of various

belief systems and ideologies, the O.T.O. showcases a plethora of initiatory paradigms

the initiate can use to develop their True Will. Also, implicit in the O.T.O. ethos is the 

idea that a background spiritual knowledge or foundation is beneficial to an initiates

progress within the Order.

            O.T.O. ritual is laden with theatrics and dramatical recreations of ancient mystery

ritualization. For example, the Greco-Roman rites of Eleusis have been performed at

various times since 1910. Although these rites are purported to be based on the

Eleusinian mystery rituals, research has shown that the O.T.O. rites of Eleusis differ

greatly from their ancient Grecian counterparts. In fact, the only similarity between

O.T.O.’s Eleusis and the rites of the ancient mystery religion is in name only.

            Furthermore, perhaps the most popular and well-known O.T.O. ritual is the

Gnostic Mass. According to Lingam, “members of the O.T.O. value the Gnostic Mass as

one of the most significant Thelemic rituals, and it is regularly practiced by O.T.O.

lodges worldwide” (Lingam year: 29). The Gnostic Mass is a highly elaborate and

stylized ritual that involves liturgy, attention to gestures, and costumes. Typically, a High

Altar is set up with two pillars adorning either side. These pillars are symbolic of the

bronze pillars Boaz and Jachin which stood at the entrance of Solomon’s Temple. On the

Altar rests the ‘Stele of Revealing’, an Egyptian painting that Crowley saw before his

encounter with the entity called Aiwass. Throughout the ritual, a priestess who is

traditionally nude kneels before a priest holding a lance and strokes the phallic symbol

several times. An overtly erotic gesture, the priest and priestess are meant to symbolize

male and female energy in the universe. Reverence is shown to The Book Of The Law

and a Eucharistic meal of wine and cake are consumed at the culmination of the rite. As

the most important O.T.O. ritual, the Gnostic Mass is a cherished performance and one in

which every initiate is encouraged to participate.

            The importance placed on O.T.O. ritual stems from the idea of becoming that

occurs through being in a liminal state. As a vehicle for personal change, the ritual is

meant to promote a conscious growth in initiates. Tambiah remarks that, “they are

meant by virtue of being enacted, (under the appropriate conditions) to achieve a

change of state, or do something effective” (Tambiah 1973:221). The O.T.O. ritual is a

perfect illustration of Arnold Van Gennep’s ‘rite of passage’. As the veil of perception

is pulled aside and initiates experience the liminal rites, they undergo intense spiritual


            O.T.O. ritualization ascribes meaning in its performance through a combination

of experiential and affective ecology. Adherents are moved by the experience. As

Luhrmann states, “ritually enacting a myth is profoundly different from hearing it told;

doing and listening have a distinctive impact on meaning” (Luhrmann year:157). By

participating in O.T.O. ritual, initiates are emotionally invested in the liminal experience.

As “communication without information”, the ritual experience promotes feelings of

group solidarity and personal engagement.

            Contrary to what many may think about the O.T.O., there is no evidence of

violence, satanic ritual abuse, or sexual misconduct within the Order. Although Crowley

himself was deemed ‘the wickedest man on earth’ and thoroughly enjoyed his reputation

as ‘demon whisperer’, the O.T.O. has sought to dispel rumor panics of Satanism and/or

Black Magic within its organization. In fact, “O.T.O. makes no claims or representations

to be either Satanic or anti-Christian. We find that these characterizations serve no real

purpose in describing what we are about, or our vision for humanity. Rather than being

anti-Christian, we are in fact pro-thelema: We support the thelemic ideals of freedom of

religious and personal self-expression; emancipation from superstition and social

oppression; and the development of a world view which supports and encourages the

age-old vision of the Universal Brotherhood of mankind” (

            O.T.O. literature doesn’t specify any beliefs toward apocalypse, doomsday, or

end-times. As stated before, each individual is encouraged to hold any belief system that

lead to fruition of the True Will. Subsequently, a Catholic’s idea of Revelation or a

Buddhist’s belief in Samsara are both welcomed within the Order. Mention is made that

as long as these religious beliefs do not hinder the development and expression of the

Will, they will be accepted as part of the initiatory process.

            Although O.T.O. refrains from apocalypse and doomsday ideas of end-times, they

most certainly believe that we have entered a kind of Aquarian age. As we traverse

through the aeon of Horus, we are reconciling the dualism that characterized the

matriarchal ‘Great Mother’ and the patriarchal dominance of the aeon of Osiris. It is akin

to being in the age of Christ. A reconciliation of the polarity that occurred in the previous

two ages. And this is a very common occult way of thinking. Each O.T.O. member seeks

to reach the archetypal Horus or perfected Will. It is a becoming similar to P.D

Ouspensky’s Will Action.[1] By living in the age of Horus, each initiate has the opportunity

to experience first-hand god consciousness. Whether this is achieved through ritual,

meditation, or a combination of both, remains in the purview of the initiate.

            Because the O.T.O. regards this age as that of Horus, it is hoped that the future of

the world will be one of great spiritual enlightenment. Within the literature is an implied

sense of utopianism. Since the goal of every O.T.O. member is to evolve the Will into a

new nirvanic consciousness. The Order hopes that if enough members reach this spiritual

ascension, a new global consciousness will emerge. In a post-Horus age of world culture,

everybody would be free to develop their True Will. It is thought that if everybody

developed the Will in this way, there would be no war or famine on the planet.

            The contextual circumstances that led to the formation of the O.T.O. are varied

but there is a kind of paranormal and/or spiritual lineage that made the Order a product

of its time. The spiritualists of the 1850s had a profound affect on the idea of invocation

and evocation to achieve supernatural results. Although cultures have utilized ritual to

compel the supernatural for thousands of years, the spiritualists of the 19th century made

the phenomenon a fad. It became a part of industrialized pop-culture and in doing so,
produced a wealth of various initiatory Orders and congregations. Also, groups like the

Theosophical Society had an impact on the emergence of the O.T.O. and pseudo-O.T.O.

societies. The Theosophical Society was an organization created by Madame Blavatsky

in 1875. Its primary goal was knowledge of God through direct experience of the divine.

Similar to the O.T.O., proponents of Theosophy attempted to know the divine essence

through a study of ancient wisdom teachings and inner contemplation.

            Throughout the course of this paper, I’ve learned a great deal about the

ritualization and symbolic systems of the O.T.O. I was previously under the impression

that the Order was simply a product of the Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn or a

trivial project of Aleister Crowley. Research has gleaned that O.T.O. is a complex and

sophisticated system of archetypal correspondences that utilize a hierarchal methodology

of gradated initiatory teachings in order to reveal esoteric teachings. As a social entity, 

the O.T.O. also conjures a group solidarity that emphasizes personal commitment to

the Self while encouraging participation in various forms of ritual. It has been a pleasure

delving into the nuances and mysticism of this religious group and I look forward to

continuing my study of obscure spiritual milieus.                        



[1] See P.D. Ouspensky The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution (1981).