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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