Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Righteous Indignation: Social Theory and Mysticism: An-Other Paradigm: www.magusmagazines.com Hello friends! Mad Doctor Abdullah is away on some secret expedition that involves polar bears, a ma...
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 myself and hoping for a MDA miracle. 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. :)
Social Theory and Mysticism: An-Other Paradigm
Many take the occult very seriously and regard it as a real threat to the fabric of society. Perhaps remnants of the reason-driven war on the occult arts during the renaissance or the rumor-panic of Satan in our neighborhoods in the 1980s, the occult is a very feared enterprise. Moreover, academia has trouble finding a category in which to place the subject. The natural sciences back away slowly at any mention of the word. The psychologists smirk and identify a dozen neuroses that could explain any and all of the mystery of supernatural processes. The psychiatrists simply get giddy. Only the anthropologists and folklorists will explore the occult in situ and on its own terms. But even then, the subject is a complicated matter. As Folklorist Gillian Bennett remarks,
The main trouble for folklorists is that we have got ourselves into not one, but no less than three vicious circles. Firstly no one will take the subject because it is disreputable, and it remains disreputable because no one will tackle it. Secondly, because no one does any research into present day supernatural beliefs, occult traditions are generally represented by old legends about fairies, bogeys, and grey ladies. Furthermore, because published collections of supernatural folklore are thus stuck forever in a time-warp, folklorists are rightly wary of printing the modern beliefs they do not come across for fear of offending their informants by appearing to put deeply felt beliefs on a par with chain-rattling skeletons and other such absurdities. Thirdly, because no one will talk about their experiences of the supernatural there is no evidence for it and because there is no evidence for it no one talks about their experiences of it. (1987 pp13 Gillian Bennett. Traditions of Belief: Women, Folklore, and the Supernatural Today. London. Pelican Books.)
As Gillian has correctly surmised, the occult is in an academic conundrum. Ironically, much of these questions of validity and reputability have been grossly perpetuated by occultists themselves. Since antiquity, the occult processes has been intertwined with advances in science. For example, as astronomy and chemistry became more advanced, their occult counterparts in alchemy and astrology lost favor and in turn, lost validity. But its been the occultists themselves that have continued to try and make their arts a natural science. For the most part, the scientific community has been content to leave well enough alone. It s been practitioners of the occult that have continued to be concerned with science. It’s no coincidence that famous magus Aleister Crowley named his particular form of ceremonial magic: Scientific Illuminism.
Perhaps it’s time to leave the never-ending subdivisions and cul-de-sacs of the natural science community and venture into the small towns and country of the social sciences. The occult can be right at home without being concerned with the natural sciences. And that’s not to say that the supernatural cannot be endowed with a robust philosophy or even dip its foot into quantum theory and other like-minded scientific theories. It’s just time for a change. Throughout this sojourn, we will be venturing into these uncharted and unexpected places. We’re creating a trail that will be followed by any and all who want a fresh approach to occult study. Instead of focusing on what can be empirically proven, we will show why its unnecessary to validate in this matter. Instead of trying to prove the logic and rationalism of the supernatural, we will embrace a metaphysics based on experiential happenings. Instead of trying to convince the academic community of the occult’s relevance, we will let anomalous entities be their own informants and inquire into how these creatures re-present themselves continuously. And in so doing, we will re-discover what it means to be an occultist in the modern world. Like the black hole in the center of a galaxy or the spider at the center of its web, we will explore the series of connections and correspondences that make this world and showcase its place in the center of a truly intricate and delicate network of the numinous.
In ‘Religion, Philosophy, and Psychical Research’, Charles Dunbar Broad introduced a theory for God’s existence that had anthropological connotations. In essence, it stated:
1) People cross-culturally have reported experiences in which it was seemed to them that they experienced God.
2) If people cross-culturally have reported experiences in which it seemed to them that they experienced God, then people cross-culturally have seemed to experience God.
3) People cross-culturally have seemed to experience God.
4) If people cross-culturally have seemed to experience God, then there is experiential evidence that God exists.
5) There is experiential evidence that God exists.
This theory is remarkable cogent and fits well into anthropological discourse. It is especially good for occult studies. In fact, if we replace the word God for Old Hag, or Demon, or Extraterrestrial, we have a workable theory of occult experience. And the fact that it accentuates ‘cross-cultural’ experience gives it multiple avenues for social scientific research. It at once gives credence to narratives of the supernatural while it simultaneously suggests that this sort of phenomenon is experiential and found in a multitude of cultural scenarios.
What makes this form of occult study particularly exciting is that it asks us to question what is real based upon what we can empirically verify. And that’s the rub isn’t it? It’s also the main criticism of Broad’s theory. If people are seeming to experience God or the Occult, then there must be some way to test these experiences. In true Popperian fashion, we must find way s to falsify or verify the experience in the same way sensory input can be falsified or verified. If we subject the experience to ‘checking’, then what people seem to experience is not evidence of the reality presented.
Perhaps an elegant way to resolve this conundrum is through the ‘inferences’. We can accept the validity of occult experience by inferring their non-causal properties while carefully recording the causal properties and sensory data that accompany the event.
We should probably explicate exactly what we mean by folklore of the occult and supernatural. Typically lore is transmitted verbally and passed on from person to person via stories. Telling stories is the perfect conduit to disseminate folklore – especially of the supernatural variety. They provide a suspense that can’t be matched by reading the account or watching it on television or at the movies. The face to face interaction requires a personal exchange. It’s much easier to relay ‘how something seemed’ by being able to tell it how it happened. And we all love a good story. Whether it be a ghost story, UFO experience, or banishing ritual, supernatural stories are the best stories. And we’ll be exploring these various forms of folk belief throughout this book.
The supernatural is also, more often than not, believed narratives. There is something about believing the unbelievable that is attractive to both the storyteller and his audience. Perhaps due to the exotic nature of supernatural belief, we want to include these experiences into our worldview. Anybody who has claimed to be a UFO abductee or seen a ghostly visitor will swear absolutely and without reservation that what they experienced was real. Most have no doubt as to the ontological relevancy of these entities. The “I have seen it with my own eyes” is a popular catchphrase for this type of contemporary legend.
As well as believability, these narratives also hold structural similarities that make them especially easy to group together. There are motifs, and morphology that capture what I call likeminded essences in the narratives. Moreover, not only are these various contemporary legends similar but they also echo traditional supernatural assault traditions of the past. In the stories of fairies, angels, changeling, gnomes and other creatures of the past are the prototypes of modern myths and monsters. It’s no surprise that the modern UFO movement is so full of religious imagery. These re-presentations of the numinous follow society and take on new meaning as times change. But even though their faces may change or the narratives many show variations in plot or action, the terror that is evoked surpasses time and space.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
SAUCERS AND THE SACRED: RELIGION AND THE UFO ...: SAUCERS AND THE SACRED: RELIGION AND THE UFO EXPERIENCE www.magusmagazines.com On the evening of July 14, a Pan American airliner,...
SAUCERS AND THE SACRED: RELIGION AND THE UFO ...: SAUCERS AND THE SACRED: RELIGION AND THE UFO EXPERIENCE www.magusmagazines.com On the evening of July 14, a Pan American airliner,...
SAUCERS AND THE SACRED: RELIGION AND THE UFO EXPERIENCE
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. (Bryan 1995: 137)
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 newsstories
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 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 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
“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
Furthermore, the Bible also describes how Elijah left the earth in a chariot of fire.
In 2 Kings 2:11, the Bible reads, “And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked,
that, behold, [there appeared] a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both
asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” This chariot of fire is explained
by proponents of the ancient astronaut theory as being a UFO narrative. Ancient astronaut
theory is the idea that extraterrestrials visited Earth in antiquity and made contact with
humanity. Those people that adhere to ancient astronaut theory propose that ancient
aliens influenced the development of premodern technologies and religion. Some of the
proponents of ancient astronaut theory include writers David Icke, Robert Temple and
Zecharia Sitchin. For example, Sitchin attributed the creation of ancient Sumerian
civilization to an extraterrestrial race called the Anunnaki. These aliens come from a
planet past Neptune called Nibiru and influenced mankind thousands of years ago
(Sitchin 1976). To proponents of the ancient astronaut theory, Elijah’s chariot is
equated to a mechanized saucer based upon information borrowed from already
established cultural knowledge. Thomas Bullard states that, “UFOs are coded into
schemes of cultural knowledge, they acquire meanings borrowed from traditional cultural
themes like a threatening outsider, a coming apocalypse, or saviors from the sky”
(Bullard 2010: 11). By making use of already established traditional themes, ancient
astronaut theorists interpret Biblical stories in a way that supports their own ideas.
UFO “contactees” also find their place in Biblical settings. Oftentimes,
descriptions of supernatural experiences found in the Bible mirror descriptions of
experiences of contemporary UFO folklore. For example, Biblical legend states that St.
Theresa of Avila experienced levitation, and St. Joseph of Cupertino is said to have not
only levitated but experienced mystical rapture over one hundred times. Such tales of the
supernatural are found in many of the Bible stories. Keith Thompson states that, “we
should note certain parallels between the lives of contactees and the lives of the prophets.
The old testament prophet Moses had an unusual birth and childhood experiences, and
later journeyed to a remote area where he received a supernatural calling. Saul of Tarsus,
through a profound epiphany on the road to Damascus, converted to the very Christian
faith that he had persecuted” (Thompson 1991: 145). Much like UFO contactees today,
people of the Bible experienced the numinous in a variety of ways. Although the imagery
is different, the cognitive processes used to interpret these experiences are both based
upon already established contextual knowledge.
Many UFO contactees find continuity between extraterrestrials and religious
figures. Rojcewicz states that in UFO folklore, “the conjunction of anomalous factors can
take the form of a “spirit guide” or “etheric master” possessing an extraterrestrial
connection” (Rojcewicz 1986: 136). These extraterrestrial visitors sometimes touch upon
the sacred when they talk to contactees. This was the occasion in 1978 when Rex Allred
relayed a UFO narrative that occurred to his friend and fellow LDS church member.
“This guy, just before getting married, was working in a remote mine for a
company to earn money for his upcoming marriage. While he was inside
the mine, he heard a noise much like you’d expect a UFO to make. His
curiosity was aroused so he went to the cave entrance and saw a spaceship
settling to earth with landing legs and pods extended. The guy got up
enough nerve finally to go down and investigate. There were men down
there that looked just like us and one spoke in English. They wore silvertype
suits and the guys started talking to the spacemen. The guy asked
questions about Christ and the gospel and the priesthood, but the
spaceman said he couldn’t talk about that-it was against the rules. He said
it with a twinkle in his eye like he knew all about it but also knew that
there had already been enough witnesses set up by Christ for earth and he
wasn’t supposed to meddle with that situation” (Allred 1978).
Such accounts of extraterrestrial knowledge of the divine is prevalent in much UFO
literature. Often times, the alien visitor exhibits behavior traditionally associated with
angels. Thompson states that, “we begin to glimpse common ground between the modern
imagination of aliens and the traditional imagination of angels and demons” (Thompson
1991:150). By associating aliens with the divine, modern contactees reaffirm their
spiritual beliefs. Because both angels and aliens are imbued with otherworldly qualities,
it is easy for contactees to reference the sacred when in contact with these beings.
The Stith Thompson motif-index of folk literature includes a motif called the
“Heavenly Messenger” (F403.2.0) that has characteristics reminiscent of modern UFO
narratives. Many traditional “Heavenly Messengers” take the form of angels, fairies, or
the Japanese Tennin. Oftentimes, they relay information about future events and a World
Savior. This “Heavenly Messenger” motif also appears in the guise of extraterrestrial
beings. In many contactee narratives, mention is made of aliens deliberately saving the
planet from catastrophic destruction. We see this aspect of UFO-lore in the May 27, 2009
issue of “The Sun.” The tabloid reports:
A Scientist is claiming a UFO deliberately crashed into a meteor to save
Earth from destruction 100 years ago!
Dr. Yuri Libuin, President of the Tunguska Spatial Phenomenon
Foundation, insists an alien spacecraft sacrificed itself to prevent a
gigantic meteor from slamming into us above Siberia on June 30, 1908.
He claims the result was the Tunguska event-a massive blast estimated at
15 megatons that downed 80 million trees over nearly 100 square miles.
Eyewitnesses reported a bright light and a huge shockwave, but the area
was so sparsely populated no one was killed. (The Sun, May 27, 2009.)
This classic account of extraterrestrials interacting for the benefit of mankind is a
common staple in UFO narratives. Taking on the persona of “guardian angels,” the alien
being works on behalf of humanity to preserve the earth and its occupants.
The “Heavenly Messenger” in UFO narratives also takes the form of
environmental conservation. According to Thomas Bullard, many contactees “see a
devastated or underground environment and perhaps experience a religious or mystical
ceremony underscoring the preciousness of life” (Bullard 2010: 74). Here the contactee
experiences dire portents of the future of mankind. Many narratives warn of pollution
and/or thermonuclear disaster. Harvard professor John Mack interviewed an abductee
named Susan at the Abduction Study Conference held at Cambridge in 1992. He asked
Q- Is the contents of your abduction related to ecology?
A- These particular events were. I did notice a parallel concern for the
environment from the beginning of my abduction experiences, and I
really prefer not to call them abductions…
Q- On the part of these…
A- No, I had the underlying sense of environmental importance that was
growing. It’s these particular events that seemed high in importance to
me, related to environmental concerns” (Bryan 1995:153).
As a way to raise ecological awareness, the alien delivers warnings about the future of the
Extraterrestrials also relay overtly religious messages in many UFO contact
narratives. This idea of aliens delivering religious lingo 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
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
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
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
“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 noncommercial
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 described 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 sum up, UFO narratives are replete with religious and occult imagery. As
disseminated through tabloids, the UFO legend complex shows evidence of
millennialism, angel and demon lore, and even apocalyptic awareness. Utilizing
traditional supernatural folklore forms, the UFO has attributes of religion but in
technological guise. Fulfilling a need for the sacred in modern times, these legends
perpetuate the motifs long associated with traditional belief and make them assessable to
modern society. These motifs include halos, heavenly messengers, and demonic
abductions. A popular piece of world culture, the tabloid disseminates UFO-lore and
through its distribution ensures that this form of folklore will stay viable for years to
come. Folklorists should pay more attention to tabloid newspapers. Generally, these
publications are thought to be a poor source for scholarly material because they are not
considered to be “true.” However, throughout this paper I have illustrated how tabloids
draw on very traditional folklore forms. It is important for scholars of legendry to
reference these fantastic periodicals because although they seem too far-fetched to take
seriously, they are an excellent source for supernatural narratives and should be of
interest to folklorists.
There are a myriad of avenues future UFO research could take. Perhaps the most
compelling would entail a study of the networks and mediations UFO narratives utilize.
For example, philosopher of science Bruno Latour has done extensive work on actornetwork
theory and how it pertains to scientific study and epistemology. According to
Luckhurst, “Latour sees value in the productive tension between the centered actor and
the de-centered network, enabling the critic to move across different scales of
explanation” (8). These ideas of multiple arenas to achieve better scientific understanding
could be applied to folklore study as well. For example, by examining the folklore
narrative, cultural reactions to ufology, archaeological evidence of alien craft, soil
samples at purported alien sites, UFO conferences, science-fiction, and the media, we
have a plethora of mediations with which to study ufology. These many areas provide
movement in a circulating reference of study and provide keen insights into the UFO
Another place where UFO discussion would be welcomed is in philosophical
milieus. A study of metaphysics and phenomenology is essential to understanding the
mindset of the UFO abductee. In a thorough look at studies of perception, ontology, and
first-person experiential accounts of the UFO experience, there is real opportunity to
grasp the many philosophical nuances that accompany UFO narratives. I would also
suggest further study involving the question “What is real” as it pertains to Freedom and
Deterministic frameworks. Perhaps by discussing UFO-lore and the philosophical
implications of non-human agency, we may grasp a better understanding of what it means
to be human.
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Tuesday, June 9, 2015
ISIS and Mimesis: Why the Islamic State really isn't 'Savage' at all
Time and again, we see the horrors of religious extremism. Even before Sept. 11, the maladies of radicalism have deliberately attacked Western culture in an attempt to instill a new world paradigm. Lately, this extremism has taken the face of the Islamic State. The mainstream media tries the best it can to define this constant threat. They report on the atrocities of beheading and rape. They provide as much information as possible and genuinely want to get a handle on what this evil looks like in modern times. But the problem lays in their designation of the word ‘Savage’. We constantly hear the word Savage by anchors and correspondents when trying to describe the behavior and motivations of the Islamic State. And that’s understandable. Their actions are unspeakably cruel and more often than not debris from an era of the past.
But they’re not Savage.
The Savage ideal comes with a set of assumptions that make it a legitimate form of reality. Usually, there is a set of circulating references that connect the Savage with more modernized value systems. Michael Taussig touched upon this in his exploration of Colonial State and native Indians of the Cauca River in 1931. He describes how the Indians would create imitations of the Nation State’s Army and through mimesis have healing power amongst their people. The fetish-like power increased their social status. In addition, the Indians would ingest a medicine having hallucinogenic properties thought to ensorcel and ultimately provide a supernatural healing. The healing would come through a “painting” or vision through which the recipient was granted the power to heal.
But the colonists also made use of the same method of “painting” to evoke power as well. Although in their case, the vision cured sorcery by other colonists. In addition, the colonial “painting” portrayed the Indian as a devil; which is no surprise really. Given the context and agenda of the colonists, it’s feasible that a “painting” of the native as something Other would be within the realm of possibilities. The point to take away here is that the mysterious power that the Indians used to gain supernatural entry was also utilized by Colonists who feared they had a need for supernatural intervention in their lives. As Taussig remarked, “If the Indian gains healing power by virtue of the “painting” of the Nation State’s Golden Army, and the poor Colonist, emergent from that State, gains healing power through the “painting” of the Indian as Devil, then we must be sensitive to the crucial circulation of imageric power between these sorts of selves and these sorts of anti-selves, their ominous need for and their feeding off each other’s correspondence- interlocking dream-images guiding the reproduction of social life no less than the production of sacred powers.” The magic of the Savage way of thinking was given legitimacy and credence as a proven and trusted avenue for curing methods. The network between the Indians and Colonists a reciprocal checks and balances wherein both were established entities and parts of a greater whole. The mechanisms of social life dependent on these cogs in order to function.
It’s not hard to discern the implications of designating the Savage title to ISIS. In the consented reality of a socio-cultural and at least partly, symbiotic correspondence between the Indian and Colonial worldview, the Savage or Primitive way of thinking is given ontological relevancy. It bursts into Being by way of the society created in its wake. Do we really want to bestow this same kind of legitimacy and supernatural agency to the ISIS idolaters? And that’s just one example. Think for a moment on the array of cultures through time that make use of this Savage line of thought.
In reality, ISIS is more reminiscent of Nazi behavior. Yet they too hopelessly used mimetic qualities in an attempt to achieve world domination. According to Horkheimer and Adorno, “The purpose of the Fascist formula, the ritual discipline, the uniforms, and the whole apparatus, which is at first irrational, is to allow mimetic behavior. The carefully thought out symbols, the skulls and disguises, the barbaric drum beats, the monotonous repetition of words and gestures, are simply the organized imitation of magic practices, the mimesis of mimesis.”  It’s common knowledge that Hitler and Goebbels attempted occult practices during World War Two. Although the numinous ones ignored them, they absolutely strived to imitate the magic of the Savage. And in their perversions of occult interaction they ultimately sealed their own fate.
ISIS isn’t even that original. Their actions, in fact, are a mimesis of mimesis of mimesis. As they imitate the behavior and worldview of the Third Reich, who themselves were a festering perversion of the Savage perspective, they illegitimize themselves even further. The Islamic State is a mimetic caricature of a religio-politic entity and more idolater of Islam than anything else. One thing they certainly are not is Savage. The mere idea of gifting them the reciprocal interaction of deitic correspondence does a terrible disservice to every cultural group that successfully integrates the supernatural into their reality. The only thing we should be calling ISIS is ‘terrorist’ and preferably they should be referred to in the past tense. As in a blight or toxic eyesore that we stomped out long ago.
Monday, June 8, 2015
Righteous Indignation: Saucers and the Sacred: The Folklore of UFO Narra...: SAUCERS AND THE SACRED: THE FOLKLORE OF UFO NARRATIVES By Preston C. Copeland A thesis submitted in partial fulfi...
SAUCERS AND THE SACRED: THE FOLKLORE OF UFO
Preston C. Copeland
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree
MASTER OF SCIENCE
UTAH STATE UNIVERSITY
RATIONAL UFOLOGY: THE RITES OF PASSAGE IN ALIEN ABDUCTION NARRATIVES.
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 claw-like 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. 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
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. In his book Rites Of Passage, 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 published 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 who 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"
(Hufford 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"
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?"
(Gilman 1996:101-102). 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 boundaries.
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. (Bryan 1995: 224)
Alice Bartlett experiences a sexual trauma that forces a separation
from society. Her subsequent abduction by extraterrestrials follows this initial
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 1960s, 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" (Gilman 1996:109). 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
"¼want me to go over to those tables¼to get on the table,"
Carol says, "I don't do that anymore¼It has things for the feet¼I don't
Want to turn my head."
"They want you to turn your head?"
"No, they just said they want to turn my head¼No, 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. (Bryan 1995: 206)
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.
Implicit in the forced medical procedures and paralysis that occurs as part of the
liminal stage of an abduction sequence is a continuity of narrative. This continuity of
narrative showcases the temporary disintegration of status that marks the UFO abduction
narrative. As a person's status is defined both by the self and how others interact with
that person, by suffering an event that jeopardizes that status, the victim is left in a kind
of ontological limbo. By questioning the nature of existence and their relation to it, the
alien abductee loses his sense of self and struggles with normal societal processes. Also,
many UFO victims report being taken multiple times throughout their life. This is
problematic because if we attribute temporary differentiation or status loss as an event
that is repeated, then the multiple alien abductee would be forced to reconcile these losses
of status a number of times. This could explain the ontological crisis and fantasy prone
conjectures of the UFO abductee. By constantly being forced to reaffirm their status both
to themselves and to society at large, the victim never really knows who he is or how to
cope with the experience. This is the continuity that characterizes UFO narratives. Each
of the abductees struggle with interpretation of the self and status as part of the liminal
UFO abductees report that it is difficult deciding whether or not to narrate their
experiences to others in society. Oftentimes explaining the event leads to further
trauma because of how the story is received. Alice Bartlett remarks that, "What's
happening is a lot of strange things we can't explain. A lot of things that just seem to
make no sense in what we know as reality. It's very hard to tell whether what we're
seeing, what we're feeling, what we've experienced, is something normal. Especially
when you know in the back of your mind that it's not normal! That there's something
going on that you just can't explain" (Bryan 1995:201). The reluctance to share the
narrative of UFO abduction places the victim in a social limbo. This inability to relay the
experience forces the abductee to stay in a liminal phase of transition and makes the rite
of incorporation all the more difficult.
Self-narrating can prove to be a catalyst that will eventually lead to narrating
within the victim's social milieu. Gilman mentions that self-narrating can help the
victim "come to an understanding of the details of the incident and come to understand
their role in it" (Gilman 1996:106). This is the tone that Strieber uses in his book
Transformation. Written in first-person, the tale reads almost like a series of journal
entries. Throughout the course of the novel, the author slowly comes to a realization
about his abduction experiences and finds solace at the end. Strieber states that, "I do
believe, that behind all the strange experiences and perceptions, behind the lights in the
sky and the beings in the bedroom, there lies a very important, valuable, and genuine
unknown, my hope is that we will eventually face the fact that it is there, and begin a
calm, objective, and intellectually sound effort to understand it" (Strieber 1997:265). This
self-narrating helped Strieber come to terms with the experience and paved the way for
sharing the story with others.
When UFO abductees comes to the realization that what they experienced was
a traumatic event that led to a change in identity, they begin the process of
reincorporation. This step involves the identification of the self and its relation to the
anomalous Other. Jacques Arnauld states that, "the first encounter with the other is the
origin of the knowledge of the Self" (Arnauld 2008:441). If we loosely define the self as
the cognitive processes and distinct representations of one's identity, then knowledge of
the non-Self or Other can be therapeutic when dealing with traumatic events. When
realizing that the supernatural Other facilitated a status change in the abductee, the victim
shows a rationality that begins the rite of reincorporation. This is what I call "rational
liminality." It is a liminal logic that comes from social acumen and personal discernment
of a transitionary period. By realizing that the traumatic event has changed the victim's
identification of his or her Self and his/her place in social settings, the UFO abductee
exhibits reason in their interpretation of the event. This is important because supernatural
assault narratives are considered as irrational by nature. There is nothing reasonable in
believing that alien beings capture people for exploratory purposes. However, even if
people perceive their traumatic experiences in supernatural terms, they may come to
realize that their experience with an anomalous Other sparked a change in Self and status.
When this occurs they are in a state of rational liminality.
Many UFO abductees show evidence of being in a state of rational
liminality immediately before beginning the rite of reincorporation. For example, UFO
abductee Pat, who is described by ufologist Budd Hopkins as being a pretty blonde
Midwesterner, has been abducted multiple times and states that, "You know the person.
Every bit of them. So you feel perfectly comfortable around these people--I call them
'people' instead of 'aliens', Pat exclaims, "because that is something I want to get
across¼ I don't want nonexperiencers to be afraid. I'd say be cautious, but don't turn
away from the experience" (Bryan 1995:253). Her remark shows a certain rationality
when discussing supernatural assault narratives. When Pat makes the conscious decision
to equate the aliens to people, she has moved her perceptions of the experience from
something purely irrational to something more based on reason. This mental shift from
the supernatural to the more familiar shows that the abductee is beginning a rite of
reincorporation. After all, it's much easier to reenter social systems if your own belief
about the traumatic experience is based on something more earthly than in an
extraterrestrial Other. Pat refers to her aggressors as "people" and in doing so, leaves the
realm of the irrational in favor of more typical social settings.
Whitley Strieber also shows a certain amount of rationality in describing his
abduction experiences when he describes the entire process as a symbolic death and
rebirth, which is exactly how Van Gennep and Victor Turner describe rites of passage.
Joyce Bynum states that, "Throughout the world we also find many rites of passage,
especially at puberty, during which the initiate endures a form of death involving a
journey to the otherworld, followed by rebirth and return" (Bynum 1993:93). This is
exactly what we find in Strieber's abduction narrative. He is physically taken, suffers the
initiations associated with being in a liminal state and experiences the change in status
that accompanies symbolic rebirth. Upon reflecting on the night of his abduction
sequence, he remarks that, "On that night I was freed from something that haunts us all.
How will death feel? What will I do? How will I be as I die? I know how I will be. I have
already died a little. The visitors have had the courage and wisdom to give me this gift,
this singular liberty. Love at its most true is not afraid to be hard" (Strieber 1997:182).
This is a very rational perspective of the liminal stage of a rite of passage. Strieber shows
the optimism and hopefulness that is clear evidence of social reincorporation.
Rites of reincorporation can be achieved in a variety of ways. As noted earlier,
many abductees seek out a credible psychologist in order to come to terms with what they
experienced. Victims may explore various disorders to define the ordeal. David Jacobs
states that "from the academic critics' point of view, recovered abduction narratives
are produced by following a vague cue of 'missing time' plus feelings of distress that
drive the narrator to consult a credulous therapist" (Jacobs 2000:62). It should be noted
that the word credulous might not be appropriate when describing all therapists who treat
alien abductees. Although there are negative connotations associated with psychologists
and psychiatrists who deal with alien encounters, the point should be made that what is
addressed by therapists is a traumatic event. The event need not necessarily be
supernatural in origin. Any traumatic event would suffice to generate a liminal
experience. The fact that the ordeal does include alien visitors shows that some therapists
are simply treating abductions as a class of traumatic event.
Another way in which UFO abductees can reincorporate into society is through
socio-religious activities. Many abductees use their experience to find a cathartic
resurgence of their own spirituality. In many cases, the victim loses his or her own faith
in the divine due to the trauma of the supernatural assault. Believing that no god would
reasonably subject them to torturous experimentation, some people fault organized
religion or even stop attending religious services altogether. These abductees may join
quasi-religious UFO groups, whose focus lies on imbuing religious terminology in
extraterrestrial context. It would be these groups that find camaraderie under a
charismatic figure. According to William Dewan, "the contents of narrative performance,
as well the interpretations of these experiences, reflect the growing spiritual yearning
among some individuals that are satisfied by neither traditional religious ideals nor
scientific skepticism toward the supernatural" (Dewan 2006:184). That's not to imply
that all these groups are nefarious or motivated by greed but the recent past has shown the
potentiality for catastrophic outcomes when conjoining spiritualism and UFO
propaganda. For example, in March 1997, a doomsday cult called Heaven's Gate took
part in a group suicide in San Diego, California. Following their cult leader named 'Do',
21 men and 18 women drank poison in an effort to join a perceived space craft that was
thought to be hidden in the tail of the Halle Bopp comet. In this circumstance, the group
proved to be detrimental by promoting asocial behavior. Therein lies one danger of
religious ufology. What could be beneficial in group settings can prove to be disastrous in
the wrong contextual surroundings.
A certain amount of religious attribution can be beneficial to the reincorporation
process. Some abductees attribute god-like powers to their extraterrestrial abductors.
Qualities of omniscience and superhuman strength are all characteristics of the abduction
sequence. For example, Whitley Strieber describes how many alien beings are similar to
angels. He states that "the being sat down on the beside. She seemed almost angelic to
me, so pure and so full of knowledge. As she bent close to me I felt all the tension go out
of my muscles. The being said: "In three months' time you will take one of two journeys
on behalf of your mother. If you take one journey, you will die. If you take the other, you
will live" (Strieber 1997:66). Along with the idea of all-knowing, there are other qualities
associated with the alien being that are no less rare. Ideas of perfection, transcendence,
and redemption are also sometimes associated with the alien abduction. These ethereal
correlations to the esoteric or occult serve to place the extraterrestrial in the role of
mediator with the divine. Many UFO narratives include dire warnings about the
ecological stability of the planet and/or fears about polluting the human body. According
to C.D.B Bryan, "virtually all of Mack's abductees have demonstrated a commitment to
changing their relationship to the earth, of living more gently or in harmony with the
other creatures that live here" (Bryan 1995:421). For these abductees, the promise of
return and the purported warnings about conservation lend credence to feelings of
redemption on account of the abduction.
Ironically, many abductees begin their rite of reincorporation with
conciliatory remarks from their captors. In what could be described as a ufological
version of Stockholm and Lima syndrome, the abductee begins to identify with the
extraterrestrial. Traditionally, Stockholm syndrome occurs when an abduction victim
feels sympathy for his captors. Likewise, Lima syndrome is characteristic of an abductor
developing sympathetic feelings for his captors. This curious dichotomy of captor and
captive is prevalent in UFO literature. In much of the informant data, victims describe
almost gentle exchanges between alien and abductee. Sometimes assurances are made of
eventual release or no further harm. In these circumstances, the reincorporation begins
while still in the liminal realm. By identifying with their captors, the victim has already
begun the process of societal reintegration. Whether or not this identification is itself a
symptom of pathology is open to debate. Nevertheless, evidence does indicate that in
some circumstances, consummation of the rite of passage can begin through the
interactions the abductee has with his captor.
Maybe the most important aspect of reincorporation for a UFO abductee are the
social connections created as a way of consummating the rite of passage.
Since reincorporation is the most important aspect of rites of passage, many UFO
abductees actively seek out other people who can relate to their transitory event. Because
of this, alien abductees, like ritual abuse survivors, join support groups in order to share
their experience. According to Newman and Bausmeister, "among the factors that allow
abductees to maintain their beliefs, one of the most important might be the support
groups they often seek out and join" (1996:110). These support groups serve as a way of
confronting the traumatizing event. For an alien abductee to seek out a support group
illustrates that he/she realizes the need for social interaction. The fact that the Self
innately knows that a communicative event would be beneficial is to actively participate
in the reincorporation into society. This puts control back in the hands of the victim.
After the helplessness and vulnerability that characterizes the initial separation and
liminal ordeals, gaining control over one's body and mind is an important aspect of the
healing process. By identifying with others that have been through a similar ordeal, the
UFO abductee can achieve normalcy and rejoin the social order.
Lisa Gilman experienced the beneficial aspects of reintegration through the
loving care of her own social group. By feeling comfortable enough to share her
narratives, Gilman facilitated the reincorporation process. She states that, "Despite my
pain, my anger, the feelings of chaos which consumed me, I knew that I was not alone,
isolated in my own mind, alone with the images that streamed continuously through my
mind. Because of my friends' response and support, I was able to begin processing and
healing from the assault faster and more effectively than a lot of other survivors of sexual
violence I have known" (Gilman 1996:115). Gilman utilized her personal support system
to quell the anxieties of sharing her experience. Regaining a sense of security, she was
able to reenter social settings.
Finally, attending a conference such as the one at M.I.T. in 1992 may
prove to be central to the reincorporation process. Finding safety in numbers,
this environment provides a place where the UFO abductee can meet others who have
had similar traumatic occurrences. An informant named Mary remarked at the end of the
conference that, "I have nothing to fear because we are all alike. Knowing this has helped
me to control my fear" (Bryan 1995:199). This tends to be the general consensus of all
the abductees that were present. As a viable support group, this milieu of alien abductees
was able to help each other reincorporate into larger social settings. Bryan also remarks
that at the conclusion of the five-day conference, "We begin to file out; little groups
gather together in the hallway or outside in the sunshine on the lawn. I search out Alice
and Carol. They seem hesitant to leave, unwilling to separate from the support and
understanding they have found here" (Bryan 1995:200). The support received by loved
ones and friends is incredibly important to the rite of reincorporation. By finding others
that have had similar experiences, the narrating of stories becomes possible and the
abductees are finally able to leave the state of liminality and rejoin the social norm, with
a new identity with which they have come to terms.