Monday, June 8, 2015

Saucers and the Sacred: The Folklore of UFO Narratives



Preston C. Copeland

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree





Logan, Utah





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

initial event.

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

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

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

transitory events in a person's life. 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"

(1982, 234).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

novitiatory status that ultimately leads to the priesthood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the fact some man had been able to control me, brutally beat me, almost kill me?"

(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

crisis event.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

event that separates her from ordinary surroundings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mainstream in American culture.

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

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

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

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

in the 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. 

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