Unidentified Flying Objects and the Occult

views updated May 21 2018

Unidentified Flying Objects and the Occult

UFOs entered popular consciousness as "flying saucers" the name an anonymous wire-service reporter gave to the silvery discs Americans were reporting by the thousands in the last week of June 1947. At 3 P.M. on June 24 private pilot Kenneth Arnold, passing over Mount Rainier, Washington, spotted nine shiny disc-shaped objects flying in formation at what he conservatively estimated to be 1200 mph. The worldwide publicity resulting from his sighting, plus the other sightings that came in its immediate wake, brought the UFO age into being.

Since then UFOs have been the focus of furious controversy. Many dispute their existence, claiming that unexplained reports exist only because of inadequate investigation or insufficient data. Proponents counter that some of the best cases have withstood the most thorough scrutiny. The debate that began in earnest in 1947 continues, with essentially the same arguments being recycled endlessly.

Early Reports of UFOs

The UFO phenomenon did not spring abruptly into being one summer afternoon in 1947. In fact, the first UFO book, Charles Fort 's The Book of the Damned, was published in 1919. An eccentric social critic and keen satirist, Fort collected accounts of anomalous physical phenomena, including extraordinary aerial objects, and poked fun at scientists' sometimes labored efforts to account for them in prosaic terms. In The Book of the Damned and two subsequent books, New Lands (1923) and Lo! (1931), he theorized that visitors from other worlds are observing Earth.

Although it is often claimed that the phenomenon has been part of human history for many centuries, reports of anything resembling modern UFOs do not appear in print until the early decades of the nineteenth century. UFOs, in other words, seem to be a product of the modern age. In the twentieth century UFOs were called, successively, "airships," "foo fighters," and "ghost rockets" before "flying saucers" and (starting in the late 1940s, in U.S. Air Force memos), "unidentified flying objects" and (in the early 1950s) "UFOs."

Postwar UFO Investigations

Between 1947 and 1969 the U.S. Air Force ran three successive public UFO projects. The first was code-named Sign, followed by Grudge (1949-52) and Blue Book (1952-69). A faction within Project Sign concluded by mid-1948 that UFOs were extraterrestrial spacecraft, but air force Chief of Staff Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg rejected its report. Reorganized as Grudge, the project took a pronounced anti-UFO line. Except for a period between 1951 and 1953, when Capt. Edward J. Ruppelt, neither pronor anti-UFO but committed to open-minded inquiry, directed the project (renamed Blue Book in March 1952), Air Force UFO investigations sought to debunk sightings and to explain them, if not always persuasively, as arising from misidentifications and hoaxes.

In 1966 the Air Force entered into a contract with the University of Colorado ostensibly to conduct an independent investigation under the leadership of physicist Edward U. Condon but in fact to find a way of ridding itself of its UFO albatross. The Condon committee, as it was called informally, soon became embroiled in controversy as Condon's view, which echoed the Air Force's in dismissing UFOs as nonsense, were known. Released in January 1969, the Condon Report (formally titled Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects ) declared the phenomenon nonexistent and further research pointless. The National Academy of Sciences endorsed the report's conclusions, and in December 1969 the Air Force cited them when it announced it was closing Blue Book. To many it appeared as if the UFO controversy had ended.

Yet the Condon Report had its critics, including University of Arizona atmospheric physicist James E. McDonald and Northwestern University astronomer (and longtime Blue Book consultant) J. Allen Hynek, who pointedly observed that fully one-third of the cases in the report were listed as unsolved. They also contended that even some of the "explained" cases had been inadequately accounted for. In November 1970 a UFO subcommittee of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, explicitly rejecting Condon's conclusions, remarked on the "small residue of well-documented but unexplainable cases which form the hard core of the UFO controversy." Hynek's 1972 book The UFO Experience argued for renewed inquiry into what he thought might prove to be "not merely the next small step in the march of science but a mighty and totally unexpected quantum leap."

A wave of sightings in the fall of 1973 served to revive popular interest. By the 1980s much of the fascination focused on abduction stories, reported in such widely read books as Budd Hopkins's Missing Time (1981) and Whitley Strieber 's Communion (1987), and on alleged official cover-ups of UFO secrets, including the crash of an unidentified object near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. In 1994 the Air Force acknowledged its coverup of the so-called Roswell incident but said authorities at the time had been trying to conceal a classified project, Mogul, in which balloons were sent aloft to monitor possible Soviet nuclear tests. Three years later, in a follow-up study, it theorized that the humanoid bodies associated with the crash were "anthropomorphic test dummies that were carried aloft by U.S. Air Force high altitude balloons for scientific research"though such tests had not commenced until six years later.

Though polls have consistently found that a significant plurality of Americans "believe" in UFOs, the scientific establishment continues to treat the phenomenon as illegitimate. In the fall of 1997, however, an international panel of scientists met in Tarrytown, New York, to examine a body of UFO evidence, mostly cases involving physical evidence, presented by a small group of ufologists. The panel's report, released in June 1998, cautiously stated that "unexplained observations" exist though it distanced itself from extraterrestrial theoriesand that further evidence of the best cases is worth science's time.

Nonetheless, UFOs remain a fringe subject. Most scientific investigations of the phenomenon since the Condon period have been conducted by individuals acting on their own or in concert with such civilian groups as the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), the Mutual UFO Network, and the Fund for UFO Research. CUFOS, founded by Hynek in 1973 (Hynek died in 1986), publishes the Journal of UFO Studies, the one refereed scientific journal devoted exclusively to the subject.

Schism: Science vs. the Occult

The controversy about UFOs and their meaning has generated innumerable books, scientific papers, popular articles, specialist periodicals in many languages, and Internet websites. Much of this writing, especially in mainstream magazines, newspapers, and journals, has been from a skeptical perspective. Active UFO proponents worldwide probably number no more than several thousand, and they range from the intellectually careful to the wildly credulous. The literature they have produced since the 1940s documents a variety of approaches to the questions raised by UFO reports.

Early on, active proponents divided themselves into two camps. The first, who in the 1950s started calling themselves "ufologists," held a relatively conservative view. In their reading of the phenomenon, UFOs were unexplained occurrences that merited conscientious study. Scientific procedures and logical analysis of the evidence would eventually yield a solution, which probably would validate the notion of extraterrestrial visitation. Ufologists thought communication with UFO intelligences might occur in the future but rejected claims that such contacts were already taking place.

The second camp consisted of individuals sometimes called "saucerians." Saucerians typically were enthusiasts of occultism and the paranormal. Many had backgrounds as active Theosophists, Spiritualists, or followers of other esoteric doctrines. Some believedeven before the Arnold sighting put flying saucers on the world stagethat contact with otherworldly beings not only was possible but already had been accomplished. Such beings, who lived on other planets, in the spirit realm, or in the astral world (or all of these), were on the whole advanced and benevolent, concerned about the fate of the lowly, violent human race and engaged in efforts to guide our spiritual evolution in positive directions. Believers also acknowledged, however, that evil space and spirit entities, operating in concert with terrestrial allies, sought to exert malevolent influences over life on Earth.

Charles Fort's books, especially the collective omnibus The Books of Charles Fort (1941), influenced many individuals who would go on to become ufologists. If Fort had alerted them to reports of unusual aerial phenomena, he had also piqued their interest in other mysteries of the physical world: falls from the sky, monsters, archaeological anomalies, and more. The Fortean Society continued to collect and chronicle accounts of "Fortean phenomena" after Fort's death. In the early UFO age a few ufological theorists, most notably Morris K. Jessup (in The Case for the UFO, [1955], and The Expanding Case for the UFO, [1957]), sought a sort of unified field theory of anomalistics. Jessup wrote that spillage from "celestial hydroponic tanks" in alien spacecraft causes falls of fish, frogs, and other organic matter, and in his view archaeological evidence indicates that earth once housed an advanced civilization which has now returned to its ancestral home in flying saucers.

Both ufologists and saucerians read Fate magazine, the first issue (Spring 1948) of which featured a long article by Kenneth Arnold. A digest-sized pulp quarterly which went bimonthly in 1949 and then monthly in 1952, Fate became the only national magazine to cover UFOs on a regular basis. It also reported on Fortean occurrences. Its main interest, however, was the psychic. Even ufologists who initially had no particular interest in such matters could not help being exposed to material on ghosts, poltergeists, ESP, and psychokinesis.

The most important early saucerian theorist was California occultist N. Meade Layne, founder of the Borderland Sciences Research Foundation. To Layne, who tied the old occult idea of an "etheric world" to the new phenomenon of flying saucers, UFOs were "ether ships." They and their occupants, the "ethereans," come from a fourth dimension of existence or atomic vibration. They enter our realm by lowering their vibratory rates. Their realm exists as an etheric counterpart of our universe. Its inhabitants are also our ethereal counterparts, but they are far more advanced than we are. In the Borderland publication Round Robin and in his book The Ether Ship and Its Solution (1950), Layne brings forth an eclectic mix of Theosophy, Swedenborgianism, Spiritualism, and Fortean events. Much of the material came from San Diego medium Mark Probert, who channeled teachings from alleged discarnates, among them the 500,000-year-old Himalayan philosopher Yada Di' Shi'ite.

Saucerians embraced Layne's ideas, and favorite Layne phrases such as "mat" (materialization) and "demat" (dematerialization) quickly entered their vocabulary. To southern California's contactee subculture, which arose in the early 1950s in the wake of claimed contacts (physical and telepathic) with space people by George Adamski, George Van Tassel, and others, Layne was an intellectual hero. To ufologists, who despised the contactees and all they stood for, he was just another crackpot. Yet a modified version of his idea, called the 4D (fourth-dimensional) theory, found favor among some ufologists. Here science fiction, another important influence on firstgeneration ufologists, was at least as much an inspiration as watered-down Borderland doctrine.

Generally speaking, ufologists and saucerians existed in separate universes, the former as would-be (and sometimes actual) scientists, the latter as more or less open occultists. In the 1960s, however, the lines began to blur, and occultism became a major force in ufology. Before then, ufologists had assumed that they were dealing with a reasonably straightforward issue. As they saw it, the UFO phenomenon consisted of credible observations of anomalous lights and structured objects in the sky. A number of prominent ufologists went further and included reports of humanoid occupants (later called "close encounters of the third kind") in their definition of the phenomenon. Unlike the golden-haired, angelic "space brothers" of contactee lore, these entities were both uncommunicative and strange enoughaliento frighten those who encountered them. Such reports were consistent with the conservative version of the extraterrestrial hypothesis ufologists championed.

By the mid-1960s, however, new developments challenged ufology's dominant view that UFOs are space visitors. For one thing, UFO encounters seemed to be getting weirder. Persons of ostensible sanity and sincerity claimed to have been abducted into UFOs and communicated with their crews, who gave odd, conflicting accounts of themselves, their motives, and their origins. Monstrous creatures showed up in areas where UFOs were being seen. UFO witnesses sometimes complained of postsighting visits by odd-looking, dark-suited individuals like the menacing "men in black" in saucerian literature. Some close-encounter percipients told investigators of poltergeistlike infestations in their homes.

Ultraterrestrials: A Malevolent Genesis

Many of these claims seemed incompatible with extraterrestrial theories, which started to fall out of favor in some circles of ufology. The principal figure in this revisionist ufology, at least initially, was writer John A. Keel, whose investigations in New York, West Virginia, and Ohio elicited scores of incredible tales that could not be shrugged off as the creations of lunatics and charlatans. On the other hand, these were extraordinary claims without extraordinaryor even ordinaryproof. Someone more cautious would have hesitated to use such material, which existed only in testimony (admittedly, for all its fantastic qualities, at times compelling testimony), to construct a phantasmagorical explanatory scheme. Brash and opinionated, Keel had no such reluctance.

Keel credited Layne with having "worked it all out in the early 1950s;" unfortunately, Keel added, "nobody would listen to him." But ufologists, Forteans, and psychic enthusiasts were listening to Keel, whose writing and pronouncements excoriated traditional ufology as the domain of "buffs" who lacked the courage, the imagination, or even the mental health to face the truth. The truth according to Keel was that "ultraterrestrials" from the "superspectrum" (Keel's term for the etheric realm) are entering our world and doing terrible things to us. "We are biochemical robots helplessly controlled by forces that can scramble our brains, destroy our memories and use us in any way they see fit," he wrote. "They have been doing it to us forever." Here he parted radically from Layne, who believed the ethereans to be largely benevolent.

To Keel the contact claims loved by saucerians were not the hoaxes suspected by ufologists; they were actual experiences, but not the sort contactees thought they were. According to Keel, "The quasi-angels of Biblical times have become magnificent spacemen. The demons, devils, and false angels were recognized as liars and plunderers by early man. These same impostors now appear as long-haired Venusians."

He holds that Homo sapiens came into existence because of a war waged between ultraterrestrial factions. One faction took on human form so that it could more easily communicate with Neanderthals, whom this ultraterrestrial group wanted to enlist in its "physical army." An unintended consequence of this assumption of physical form was erotic desire. Sexual intercourse between the ultraterrestrials and the protohuman Neanderthals created the modern human race. As Keel tells the tale in Our Haunted Planet (1971), "This produced strange responses in [the offspring's] materialized nervous system. Emotions were born. Frequencies were changed. The direct control of the superintelligence was driven from their bodies. They were trapped on Earth, unable to ascend the electromagnetic scale and reenter their etheric world. With the loss of control they became animals, albeit highly intelligent animals."

The other ultraterrestrials continue to torment us, their former adversaries, and effectively control the world, manipulating our social, political, scientific, and religious beliefs, creating all paranormal phenomena and destroying the lives of individual human beings who interact with them.

Jacques Vallee and Magicland

A more restrained, erudite occult ufology is expressed in a series of books by an equally influential theorist, Jacques Vallee. A French American educated in astronomy and computer science (with a Ph.D. in the latter), Vallee worked at Northwestern University with Allen Hynek in the mid-1960s. His first two books, Anatomy of a Phenomenon (1965) and Challenge to Science (1966, with Janine Vallee), were hailed as seminal works of scientific UFO literature. But soon Vallee's thoughts had gone elsewhere, back to an early fascination with the esoteric. In Passport to Magonia (1969) Vallee holds that UFOs are a modern manifestation of a supernatural otherworld long ago known as Magonia ("Magicland," according to one controversial translation), whose inhabitants other ages experienced as angels, demons, and fairies.

Passport was misread by some as an effort to depict the UFO phenomenon as a modern folklore (folklore here being equated with delusion). More careful reading reveals Vallee's true meaning: an unknowable "other intelligence" plays to human dreams and manifests accordingly; it manipulates human consciousness and seeks to affect human affairs. Though Vallee sees nothing inherently evil in this, his idea is strikingly like Keel's.

If Vallee at first looked less paranoid than Keel, elements of paranoia would show up soon enough. In such subsequent books as Messengers of Deception (1979) and Revelations (1991), Vallee speculates that a shadowy human group, intent on manipulating societal consciousness (for reasons Vallee never explains), may be producing fraudulent UFO encounters and paranormal occurrences. It is even conceivable, Vallee hints, that this group has some kind of link with Magonia itself. This group or the UFO phenomenon or bothagain Vallee is unclearcomprise a "control system" which communicates with us on a subliminal level, employing a symbolic language of "metalogic" as well as a "schedule of reinforcement." In his view, "UFOs can never be analyzed or conceived because they are the means through which man's concepts are being rearranged."

In time, Vallee persuaded his friend and onetime mentor Hynek that the quest for nuts-and-bolts extraterrestrial UFOs was doomed to certain failure. Particularly in his later years, Hynek's pronouncements took on an increasingly occultish coloration, even to the extent of references to the astral world and to elementals. While such talk provided ammunition for his critics and made many of Hynek's friends and colleagues uncomfortable, it also reflected a longtime, privately held interest in the occult.

Journalism on the Fringe

Under Charles Bowen's editorship Flying Saucer Review (FSR ), published in England, carried some of the best ufological writing of the 1960s and became for a time the world's most influential UFO magazine. Two or three years into Bowen's stewardship, FSR 's contents turned more and more to extraordinary claims and extreme speculations. Eventually, as Bowen's health began to fail, Gordon Creightontemperamentally much like Keelassumed de facto (then, in 1982, actual) editorship. Sober material continued to appear, but increasingly Creighton's openly supernaturalist approach dominated the pages of FSR. According to Creighton, the jinn, the demonic spirits of Middle Eastern mythology, are the cause of UFO, Fortean, and paranormal phenomena, and they are doing all manner of harm to the human race. Among other atrocious acts they are responsible for the AIDS epidemic. (Comparable views figure in the writings of Salvador Freixedo, sometimes called the Latin American John Keel, and of California ufologist Ann Druffel.)

By 1984 Creighton's extremism had so alienated more conservative ufologists that one of them, John Rimmer, was led to observe, "No journal espousing the bizarre beliefs that are now emanating from [ FSR 's] pages can be considered worthy to be the literary flagship of British ufology. From now on, it seems, it will be of interest largely to paranoid cultists, conspiracy-mongers, and students of fringe literature." FSR 's readership and influence have declined markedly during Creighton's tenure.

More UFO Theories

Not all proponents of occult ufology and anomalistics went as far as Creighton, but the notion that UFOs and other strange phenomena may be related, and all the product of paranormal forces, continued to have a wide appeal. Two popular British writers, Janet and Colin Bord, argued the case for a unified paranormal theory in a number of books. In Alien Animals (1981) they chronicle worldwide reports of anomalous creatures. All such reports, in their view, "have features in common which suggest they are all aspects of a single phenomenon, together with UFOs and other weird apparitions." These otherworldly entities may feed on electrical power and "earth energies."

Another theorist in what may be termed the paracrypto-zoological school, the late F. W. Holiday (author of The Dragon and the Disc, 1973), held that all through history good and evil entities have fought for the soul of the human race. To the ancients the disc represented the benevolent forces, the dragon the destructive ones, and the two have a sort of symbiotic relationship. Creatures such as the Loch Ness Monster are dragons in the literal sensesupernatural and evil. Discs, of course, are flying saucers. On June 2, 1973, accompanied by Holiday, the Rev. Dr. Donald Omand exorcised Loch Ness and subsequently other British and European lakes in which serpent-like beasts traditionally are believed to dwell.

Parapsychologist D. Scott Rogo offered a different sort of paranormal theory to explain UFO and Fortean occurrences. They are, he wrote, the product of mass psychic energy. If the psychokinetic energy emanated by the unconscious of a single individual can produce something so dramatic as a poltergeist, what might the psychokinesis of the entire human race produce? Rogo speculated in The Haunted Universe (1977) that "our entire culture may be projecting UFOs psychically" in response to our "needs and expectations."

Psychologist Michael Grosso calls these psychokinetically generated entities "psychoterrestrials." Their function is to affect the evolution of human consciousness, specifically to break down modern humanity's excessive focus on materialism and rationalism. Grosso borrows here from the prominent Swiss psychologist-philosopher Carl G. Jung who, in Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies (1959), characterizes the appearance of UFOs as indicative of "psychic change which may be expected when the spring-point enters Aquarius." According to Grosso the UFO image inspires fantasies and dreams and, more profoundly, draws archetypal material from deep within the collective unconscious. Symbolically the disc shape of the flying saucer represents psychic wholeness, a resolution of the conflict between rational (conscious) thought and intuitive (unconscious) feeling.

To Jung, however, the notion of a "materialized psychism"Grosso's "psychoterrestrial""opens a bottomless void under our feet" and "surpasses our comprehension." It is absurd to propose that "psychic projections throw back a radar echo." Since some UFOs seem to do just that, Jung wrote it is more probable that the "appearance of real objects affords an opportunity for mythological projections." These "real objects" may be spacecraft whose presence only now is being noticed because our "earthly existence feels threatened [and] unconscious contents have projected themselves on these inexplicable heavenly phenomena and given them a significance they in no way deserve."

But in Grosso's more radical version of Jung's hypothesis, psychic projections do show up on radar. "If UFOs are mythic constructs," he writes, "it is not surprising that their physical effects fit the UFO construct. To look like real spaceships, they obligingly affect radar." Psychoterrestrials also manifest as religious visions, monsters, men in black, angels, and moreall "forces of rebirth" in the service of the consciousness transformation that will save us from otherwise certain self-destruction.

Unlike Jung, but in common with Grosso and other occult-oriented theorists, folklorist Peter M. Rojcewicz rejects extraterrestrial UFOs in favor of the psychoterrestrials Grosso describes. "In the narrative accounts born of the ongoing human interaction with other worldliness," he writes in The Boundaries of Orthodoxy (1984), "we see the articulation over time of a mental argument, both for a more cooperative and harmonious existence on the one hand, and on the other, [for] a transcendent dimension of human will and imagination." Rojcewicz defines "UFO phenomenon" as virtually any sort of encounter with paranormal entities. He argues, "The 'UFO Phenomenon,' so Other, so here and now, reveals to us ourselves triggered by the intensity of unanswered longing and passionate collective desire."

As UFO abduction stories came into prominence in the 1980s, they inspired a new round of both extraterrestrial and occult hypotheses. Among proponents of the latter, Grosso, Rojcewicz, and Dennis Stillings quickly identified the abducting entities as psychoterrestrials, while Whitley Strieber, Kenneth Ring (The Omega Project, 1992), and John E. Mack (Abduction, 1994) believed them to be genuine otherworldly supernatural intelligences bent on human betterment. In this view, abduction experiences were a variety of contact claim. The aliens may be odder-looking than the ones who figure in classic contact tales, and they may not come from outer space, and their methods may be bizarre and even cruel in the short term, but their mission is the same.

Not all ufologists have embraced occultism. Indeed, occult ufology reached its peak in the 1970s, and by the turn of the century, with Keel and Vallee growing less active and publishing little, it was no longer a significant element of mainstream ufology. Meantime, extraterrestrial theories underwent something of a revival.

Just as significantly, by the late 1970s and early 1980s some disillusioned proponents of paranormal ufology had radically altered the occult model in a way that made it possible for them to deal with extreme experiential claims without also having to embrace unverifiable supernatural explanatory schemes. Thus was born the "psychosocial" school, which proposed what were represented as psychological solutions to entity encounters. Though these solutions were themselves often speculative, they were certainly not occult-based; yet they borrowed ideas from Vallee, Grosso, and Rojcewicz, especially the relationship between alleged human needs and encounter experiences. Essentially the psychosociologists disagreed with the occults on only one point, albeit a crucial one: they did not believe dreams and visions could have physical properties.

Over time the psychosocial approach has evolved into more conventionally defined skepticism. It is more popular in Britain and the European continent than in the United States. Criticisms of occult ufology within the UFO literature have focused on its speculative nature and unfalsifiability. Beyond that, Keel and Vallee have been accused of using dubious material, including rumors and claims later exposed as hoaxes, to argue their cases. Critics have also objected that the evidence linking UFOs to other anomalous and paranormal manifestations is slight. In the Journal of UFO Studies Thomas E. Bullard writes of Rojcewicz and others:

"Claims about reality demand proof on the same terms that we treat other scientific claims. What do we find instead? The phenomenological theories of alternate realities handicap themselves with a well-nigh fatal combination of poor comparative methodology and unsound structural components, and no algebra of apologetics can transform these two minuses into a plus. Speculations about the psychoid properties of archetypes will not explain the physical effects of UFOs. If those physical effects are genuine, then prove to me first that archetypes exist and can have physical effects, or I will look for simpler and more direct solutions elsewhere. Using one unproven theory to support another is just a more sophisticated tautology, more verbose but ultimately no more informative about the physical world than identifying a bald man as hairless. In one sense this tack is even less informative. It clouds the basic questions with confusing masses of theory, distracting participants in the dialogue to talk only about theories and forget the real issues. The very proliferation of phenomenological theories with no way to sort out the right from the wrong simply underscores the danger that we may become more deeply mired in sophistry than the Athenian Academy."

Another critic complained (in International UFO Reporter, January/February 1994) that occult theories turn the UFO argument on its head. The extreme experiential claims on which occult ufologists have been fixated comprise the least compelling evidence for the existence of UFOs. The best evidencein the form of radar trackings, landing traces, photographs suggests that at least some UFOs may be technological devices. The extreme claims, even when related by apparently sincere persons, amount only to stories. He went on:

"The fantastic entities describedfairies, merfolk, Blessed Virgins, apparitions of all kindsdo not bless us with physical evidence or even coherent pictures of themselves, their behaviors, and their missions. Of such things we can say only that experiences of them are possible, but the question of whether these experiences are events is another matter altogether. If eventsin other words, occurrences amenable to incorporation into consensus acceptance via traditional methods of scientific documentationthey would force us to reinvent the world, and they would give us real reason to believe fourth dimensions, ethereal realms, superspectrums, and Magonias are more than words without meaning or attempts to redefine God. Nothing we have seen so far calls on us to embark on so daring an undertaking."

Meanwhile, the saucerian movement, which in its present form began in 1952 with contactees Adamski and Van Tassel, goes on. The flamboyant figures of the early years, often suspected (and often with reason) of conscious charlatanry, are gone, but channelers and visionaries in the thousands still claim to commune with space and extradimensional personalities. An enormous literature of contactee lore and philosophy circulates in books and newsletters and now on the Internet.


Bord, Janet, and Colin Bord. Alien Animals. Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1981.

Bullard, Thomas E. "Fresh Air, or Air Castles in Folklore Theories?" Journal of UFO Studies 4 (n.s., 1992): 165-73.

Clark, Jerome. The UFO Encyclopedia, Second Edition: The Phenomenon from the Beginning. 2 vols. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1998.

. "Wagging the Dog." International UFO Reporter 19, 1 (January/February 1994): 3, 22-24.

Gillmor, Daniel S., ed. Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects. New York: Bantam Books, 1969.

Grosso, Michael. Frontiers of the Soul: Exploring Psychic Evolution. Wheaton, Ill.: Quest Books, 1992.

Holiday, F. W. The Dragon and the Disc: An Investigation Into the Totally Fantastic. New York: W. W. Norton, 1973.

Jacobs, David M. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975.

Jung, C. G. Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1959.

Keel, John A. The Eighth Tower. New York: Saturday Review Press, 1975.

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Layne, N. Meade. The Ether Ship and Its Solution. Vista, Calif.: Borderland Sciences Research Associates, 1950.

Mack, John E. Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994.

Reeve, Bryant, and Helen Reeve. Flying Saucer Pilgrimage. Amherst, Wis.: Amherst Press, 1957.

Ring, Kenneth. The Omega Project: Near-Death Experiences, UFO Encounters, and Mind at Large. New York: William Morrow, 1992.

Rojcewicz, Peter M. "The Boundaries of Orthodoxy: A Folklore Look at the UFO Phenomenon." 2 vols. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, Ph.D. dissertation, 1984.

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Stillings, Dennis, ed. Cyberbiological Studies of the Imaginal Component in the UFO Contact Experience. St. Paul, Minn.: Archaeus Project, 1989.

Stupple, David M. "Historical Links Between the Occult and Flying Saucers." Journal of UFO Studies 5 (n.s., 1994): 93-108.

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. Revelations: Alien Contact and Human Deception. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991.

UFOs in Ancient Times

views updated May 23 2018

UFOs in Ancient Times

Since primitive humans first crawled out of their caves and gazed up in awe at the star-filled night, humankind has been intrigued by the unexplained mysteries of the universe. Early myths and legends tell of mysterious objects roaring across the heavens. Scraps of ancient documents reveal phenomenal, unexplained manifestations in the skies. Virtually every religion relates visitations from angels, demons, devils, and gods who descended to Earth in ancient times.

With the highly publicized arrival of the "flying saucers" in the earth's atmosphere in 1947, modern humans were confronted with what they thought was a new celestial mystery. However, in their efforts to interpret this phenomenon, a band of scholarly individuals dug through old documents and musty records and discovered that the UFO phenomenon had appeared periodically throughout history. Gradually, some UFOlogists believed humankind's gods, angels, devils, and demons were nothing more than alien visitors from some superior civilization on some far planet in a dark corner of the universe.

The hypothesis of ancient astronauts received its most popular expression in Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods? (1970), which led to the formation of an international Ancient Astronaut Society in 1973. While many find the premise that "gods" from outer space may have guided developing humankind in its evolutionary ascent, critics find fault in the propensity of such theorists to attribute any ancient, unexplained mystery to extraterrestrials who supposedly seeded, propagated, and still maintain watch over the planet. Despite these shortcomings, certain researchers have amassed an impressive stack of evidence to support their beliefs that ancient astronauts visited Earth in prehistory, and old historical accounts, ancient legends, and myths are brought forth and given fresh interpretations.

The possibility of ancient space visitations was explored by Dr. Carl Sagan (19341996) as early as the 1966 convention of the American Astronautical Society. "Our tiny corner of the universe may have been visited thousands of times in the past few billions of years," Sagan stated in Intelligent Life in the Universe (1966), coauthored with I. S. Shklovski. "At least one of these visits may have occurred in historical times." Sagan, both an exobiologist and an astronomer, theorized that Earth may have been visited by various galactic civilizations many times during prehistoric times and that it is not out of the question that artifacts of such extraterrestrial visits might still exist, or even that some kind of alien base is maintained within our solar system to provide continuity for successive expeditions.

Such a hypothesis coming from a respected scientist encouraged many UFO researchers to theorize that Homo sapiens may have been seeded on Earth, for despite the many theories put forth by conventional scientists, it is still not known how humans originated on this planet. The Darwinian theory of evolution remains a fascinating, yet unproved, hypothesis, simply because the elusive "missing link" remains undiscovered. The alleged link between humans and their anthropoid cousins may have been provided by visitors from another world.

Some believe that not only did the ancient astronauts carefully guide the evolution of humankind, they also assisted early builders in erecting great monuments as testimony to their presence. For instance, there is the Cheops Pyramid, the tallest structure in antiquity, which, discounting a number of skyscrapers in the United States, still ranks as the ninth tallest architectural marvel in the world today. It has been estimated that more than 2,300,000 stone blocks of an average weight of two and one-half tons went into the construction of this last resting place for the pharoah Cheops, c. 2800 b.c.e. The Pyramid of Khafre, near Cheops, stands 442 feet high and covers 12 acres. The third pyramid in the massive triumvirate, Mycerinus, is 215 feet tall and 346 feet wide on each side. Those researchers who favor the ancient astronaut hypothesis protest that the classic picture of teams of men roped together and tugging away at moving the massive stone blocks up the ramps, tier by tier, may be feasible, but such a method of construction would call for such unlikely figures as 100,000 slaves struggling in torment for 20 years to shape one pyramid. It seems illogical to such theorists that any governing agency, no matter how tyrannical and all-powerful, could ever conscript that many workers over that long a period of time without causing a revolt or draining off too much manpower from other tasks, such as raising food. In addition, it seems unlikely that the government would be able to convince the populace that the pyramid was necessary in the first place. Would supplying tombs for dead pharoahs be considered a worthy task on which to expend so much time and manpower? Would ancient Egypt, with a population of only a few million, stand such a drain of numbers for long periods of 10 or 20 years?

To those who espouse the ancient astronaut theory, such massive works as the pyramids of Egypt were built by intervening extraterrestrials, who used the power plants of their flying saucers to hoist such tonnage into place. Spaceships of vast proportions may have brought extraterrestrial colonists to various parts of Earth and may also have supplied the heavy lift power for erecting great stone works before returning to the home planet.

The earliest civilization of which contemporary science has any records flowered among the Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia. For many years the reason for this sudden onset of culture in Sumer had remained a mystery. It wasn't until the 1980s that science determined just how such a miracle of seemingly instant progress had occurred. Now it is known that this quantum leap in humankind's intellectual development occurred in Sumer 6,000 years ago when cuneiform writing was developed to record a dramatic starburst. Literally overnight in evolutionary terms, the Sumerians gave the world the first love song, the first school system, the first directory of pharmaceutical concoctions, a law code, and the first parliament. The roots of the Judeo-Christian religious beliefs grew from the "tree of knowledge," the Garden of Eden, which tradition places in that same area. The origins of Western culture were nursed in Sumer, and it has come to be acknowledged as the cradle of civilizationall because of a starburst.

Astronomers recognize that the nearest and brightest supernova that has ever been witnessed by humankind was Vela X, now a faintly flashing pulsar about 1,300 light-years from our solar system. George Michanowsky, a specialist in Mesopotamian astronomy, saw how the first and most fundamental symbol of Sumerian script was one which represented "star." He went on to show how the very first word ever written by a human hand soon became linked with the symbol for "deity," thus communicating "star god." Michanowsky saw the death-blaze of Vela X to have been such a dramatic sky show that it became a profound cultural organizing principle that forced human knowledge to take a giant leap forward. But was there something more that took place at that time?

The Babylonian priest-historian Berossus chronicled the coming of Oannes, an entity described as being half-man, half-fish, who surfaced from the Persian Gulf to instruct the early inhabitants of Mesopotamia in the arts of civilization. Before the advent of Oannes, Berossus stated, the Sumerians lived like beasts in the field, with no order or rule. The Sumerians lived exactly as their primitive forefathers had existed until Oannes, the bizarre "beast with reason" appeared in their midst. The gifted alien entity was endowed with superior intelligence, it is written, but its appearance was frightening to behold. Oannes had the body of a fish with humanlike feetand a head that combined the features of fish and human.

Berossus explained that the Fishman walked about on land during the day, counseling the Sumerians, but returned to the ocean each evening. Oannes gave the Sumerians insight into letters and sciences and every kind of art. He taught them to construct houses, to found temples, to compile laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge. He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth, and showed them how to collect fruits. In short, he instructed them in everything that could tend to soften their manners and humanize them.

Sumerian astronomers became so accurate in their science that their measurements on the rotation of the Moon is off only 0.4 from modern, computerized figures. One pictograph depicts the planets revolving around the Sunsomething that Copernicus and Kepler postulated only 500 years ago. At the height of the Greek civilization, the highest known number was 10,000. After that sum, the Greek mathematicians could only fall back on "infinity." A tablet found in the hills near ancient Sumer some years back contained a 15-digit number:195,955,200,000,000.

Many ancient cultures have legends of amphibians or serpent people who, like Oannes, the half-human, half-fish, instructed the early inhabitants of Mesopotamia in the arts of civilization. There was Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent of the Aztecs, who descended from heaven in a silver egg, and there are the Nagas, the handsome, semidivine Serpent People with supernatural powers who figure in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Throughout the dim corridors of history, there are frequent mentions of legendary "sky people," who were considered to have been emissaries of the "flying serpent." The snake-worshiping Aztecs and Mayans are not far removed from the Chinese, who worshiped a celestial dragon. Both cultures may have been contacted by emissaries from another world, a highly advanced extraterrestrial reptilian species that has been observing the evolution of Earth for millions of years and has returned in the "Grays," the UFOnauts of modern times, who are described by contactees and abductees as reptilian in appearance.

If, as those researchers who champion the ancient astronaut hypothesis believe, extraterrestrials constructed so many of the architectural wonders of the ancient world and may even have guided the evolutionary path of humankind, the great question remains whether the "gods" of old have returned in their chariots as our benefactors or our owners.

Delving Deeper

Drake, W. Raymond. Gods and Spacemen in the Ancient West. New York: New American Library, 1974.

Shklovski, I. S., and Carl Sagan. Intelligent Life in the Universe. New York: Dell Books, 1968.

Sitchin, Zecharia. The 12th Planet. New York: Avon, 1978.

Von Daniken, Erich. Chariots of the Gods? New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1970.

. Gods from Outer Space. New York: G. P. Put nam's Sons, 1971.

Space Visitors in the Bible and Other Holy Books

One of the most beloved stories in the Christian tradition concerns the Star of Bethlehem that hovered over the stable where lay the infant Jesus (c. 6 b.c.e.c. 30 c.e.). In recent years, some UFO researchers have suggested that the "star" was actually a spaceship from another world, thus raising the controversial question of whether the Holy Bible, the most revered book in the Western world, contains references to UFOs and alien visitors. Provoking even greater controversy are those researchers who make reference to the Christian Apocrypha, books banned by church censorship from services and religious reading, and the claim that Jesus was brought to Earth in the Star of Bethlehem, which is described in the ancient texts as being winged, with various colored rays shooting out from behind it.

According to those UFO researchers who scour the Scriptures for descriptions of extraterrestrial visitations, the writers of biblical times were at a disadvantage in describing sophisticated spacecraft. For lack of a better term, they resorted to their own known word for a vehicle of transporation"chariot." Those UFO researchers who have conducted a careful analysis of biblical texts have found three types of cosmic conveyances employed as vehicles of transportation for celestial beings:

  1. The wheel, or disc-shaped object described by Ezekiel;
  2. the chariot of fire mentioned in the second book of Kings;
  3. the cloudy chariot found in the writings of Moses, Daniel, David, Matthew, Paul, and John.

In II Kings 2:1112, 6:17; Psalms 68:17; and Habakkuk 3:8, the Old Testament writers describe cosmic craft identified as a "chariot of fire" powered by engines called "horses of fire" with "charioteers" (pilots). The chariot's lift-off is described as a "whirlwind." In II Kings is written: "And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgalandbehold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven"

In Zachariah 6:17, four cosmic pilots are dispatched in as many chariots (spacecraft), which come out from between two mountains. The prophet Zachariah is informed that each charioteer had flight orders to go to a different part of the country. According to the Scripture, the four UFOnauts had been ordered to "walk to and fro through the earth." The Con-fraternity Version of the Bible reports that the orders were to "Go patrol the Earth."

Moses frequently mentioned the presence of the cloud chariots: "The Lord descended in the cloud"; "The Lord came down in a cloud"; "The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them the way and by night in a pillar of fire." The prophet Daniel was another who described the use of a cloudy chariot for cosmic transportation.

Other UFO researchers say that if one were to read the creation story in Genesis from the historical perspective of our current awareness of genetic engineering, the interaction between the Sons of God and the fair daughters of men assumes a rather different interpretation: "And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men were fair; so they took them wives of all whom they chose.There were giants on the earth in those days; and also after that, for the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them, and they became giants who in the olden days were men of renown" (Genesis 6:14).

If those fallen angels of Genesis should actually have been extraterrestrial scientists conducting experiments on female members of the developing strain of Homo sapiens, they were carrying out a directive of the Star Gods to provide early humankind with a genetic boost. The Hebrew word to describe demigodsor men of great renown, those who were said to be the offspring of the Sons of God and the daughters of menis Nephilim. Interestingly, the word used to denote true giants, as far as great stature was concerned, was rephaim. The Israelites found such giants among the Canaanite inhabitants of Palestine. Among these were the Anakims of Philisa and the Emims of Moab. Goliath was a Gittite, a man of great stature and bulk, but he was not a Nephilim.

In the apocryphal Book of Enoch (7:12), one learns more of the nonterrestrial entities who desire the daughters of men for their own interests: "It happened after the sons of men had multiplied in those days, that elegant, beautiful daughters were born to them. And when the angels, the sons of heaven, beheld them, they became enamored of them, saying to each other: Come, let us select for ourselves wives from the progeny of men, and let us beget children."

Those researchers who believe that the Bible contains many passages relating to extraterrestrial visitations often state that "gods" from other worlds may have prompted the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, suggesting that the two cities were devastated by an ancient nuclear blast. They also mention other ancient texts that describe flying machines, advanced technology, and awesome weapons wielded by the gods.

The sacred Hindu hymns, the Rig-Veda, constitute some of the oldest known religious documents. The splendid poetry tells of the achievements of the Hindu pantheon of gods, and one passage tells of Indra, a god-being, who was honored when his name was turned into "India." Indra, who became known as the "fort destroyer" because of his exploits in war, was said to travel through the skies in a flying machine, the Vimana. This craft was equipped with awesome weapons capable of destroying a city. The effect of these weapons seems to have been like that of laser beams or some kind of nuclear device.

Another ancient Indian text, the Mahabharata, tells of an attack on an enemy army: "It was as if the elements had been unfurled. The sun spun around in the heavens. The world shuddered in fever, scorched by the terrible heat of this weapon. Elephants burst into flames.The rivers boiled. Animals crumpled to the ground and died. The armies of the enemy were mowed down when the raging elements reached them. Forests collapsed in splintered rows. Horses and chariots were burned up.The corpses of the fallen were mutilated by the terrible heat so that they looked other than human."

Many old traditions speak of a war between the forces of light and darkness that raged in humankind's prehistory. Perhaps there were rival extraterrestrial forces that fought for dominance over prehistoric Earth. According to some traditions, the Sons of Light vanquished certain Dark Magicians who sought to enslave developing humankind. Whatever may have caused such a violent conflict, physical evidence exists on Earth indicating that someone was exercising power of formidable energy. There are accounts of sand melted into glass in certain desert areas, of hill forts with vitrified portions of stone walls, of the remains of ancient cities that had been destroyed by what appears to have been extreme heatfar beyond that which could have been scorched by the torches of primitive human armies. Even conventionally trained archaeologists who have encountered such anomalous finds have admitted that none of these catastrophes have been caused by volcanoes, by lightning, by crashing comets, or by conflagrations set by humankind.

Delving Deeper

Downing, Barry. The Bible and Flying Saucers. New York: Lippincott, 1968; Avon, 1970; Marlowe, 1997.

Drake, W. Raymond. Gods and Spacemen in the Ancient West. New York: New American Library, 1974.

Ginsburg, Irwin. First Man, Then Adam! New York: Pocket Books, 1978.

Jessup, M. K. UFO and the Bible. New York: Citadel Press, 1956.

Von Daniken, Erich. Chariots of the Gods? New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1970.

Unidentified Flying Objects

views updated Jun 11 2018

Unidentified Flying Objects





Any discussion of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) invokes multiple, often contradictory, meanings. In popular culture the UFO is an emblem of atomic-age anxiety and desire. Nonetheless, there were unidentified airship sightings in late nineteenth century America and scholars have documented striking parallels between UFO encounters and traditional fairy lore. Some UFO believers describe UFOs as prophetic missives from spiritual realms while other equally passionate believers locate UFOs in scientific and political quests.

An aura of marginality is an essential feature of UFO believers. Simultaneously, however, fascination with UFOs is mainstream. A 2002 Roper poll sponsored by the Science Fiction Channel suggested that a majority of Americans believe in the existence of UFOs. Groups based on interest in UFOs (such as the research oriented Mutual UFO Network; support groups for alien abductees; and Internet communities) encompass multiple aesthetic and epistemological affinities spanning generational, class, racial, and geographic boundaries. Interpretations of UFOs are made to fit into larger patterns of belief ranging from anti-government conspiracies to Christian eschatology (i.e., the end of the world). UFOs are said to be involved in unknown phenomena such as mysterious patterns appearing in grain fieldscrop circlesand cattle mutilation. Perhaps the only fixed feature of the UFO is its openness as a symbol; always remaining unidentified has made the UFO an icon for uncanny elements of life in a rationalized age.

A major theme in UFO discourse is the paucity of official scientific research into extraterrestrial visitation. (UFOlogy is the study of UFOs.) Reports of UFO encounters have been studied through official venues, though these results tend to further the division between UFOlogy practiced by amateurs and authoritative forms of power and knowledge. In 1947 the Army Air Force began one of three investigative studies into reported UFO sightings. The final investigation, Project Blue Book, ended in 1969 with the conclusion that natural phenomena accounted for most UFO sightings. As with many UFO-related conclusions, however, this one remained open. One of its own participants, astrophysicist J. Alen Hynek, was dismayed by the investigations lack of scientific rigor and open-mindedness, especially regarding ambiguous reports that could not be explained as natural phenomena ([1972] 1998). Hynek assumed the rationality of most UFO witnesses and renounced his initial skepticism to become a major figure of UFOlogy.

In social science UFO belief has been studied for insights into religion, memory, psychology, and culture. Scholars of new religions make no claim as to the reality or falsity of UFOs but track religions or cults that arise out of the belief. In recent studies in psychology and memory at Harvard, researchers found abduction memories were linked to common brain states between sleeping and waking (Clancy 2005). Scholars in anthropology and cultural studies have also studied UFOs in the context of larger social and cultural meanings (Dean 1998, Battaglia 2005). Beginning with psychologist Carl Jung (18751961) to the beginning of modern UFO belief in the mid-twentieth century, scholars of psychology, religion, and culture emphasized the mythic elements of UFO belief. UFO history itself is organized through large stories of events that come to function like origin myths. Such narratives include the first sighting, the first crash and the first abduction.


UFOs are often said to enter American life through Kenneth Arnold, a respectable businessman and pilot who was flying solo in Washington State on a clear afternoon, on June 24, 1947. After Arnold saw nine unidentifiable objects flying over the Cascade Mountains he told a reporter the objects moved in the sky like saucers, thus coining a lasting term. Although other strange flying objects had been reported in the year before Arnolds sighting, his sighting became the originary narrative of UFO culture and was the impetus for the militarys first UFO investigations. In the U.S. government, there was worry about both extraterrestrials and a possible secret weapon in development. From this beginning, UFOs were entangled with technological military development.

Weeks after Arnolds sighting a crashed flying saucer was reported from Roswell, New Mexico, the only military base with an atomic bomb unit. A rancher named Mac Brazel had discovered mysterious wreckage scattered over the countryside, including pieces covered in what appeared to be hieroglyphics. Sometime in the next few days, amid the excitement of flying saucer talk around America, Brazel reported his find to the local sheriff, who in turn reported it to the Army Air Fields (AAF) intelligence officer, Jesse Marcel. The AAF issued a press release that led the Roswell Daily Record to report on July 8 that a flying saucer had been captured by the Air Force near Roswell. But within a day, Brigadier General Roger Ramey called the press, changing the UFO explanation to that of a crashed high-altitude weather balloon.


The incident receded. Its uncanny and conspiratorial elements emerged in the late 1970s when Stanton Friedman, a UFO researcher with a background in nuclear physics, happened to meet Marcel and began to investigate the case. Friedman claimed that the government had been hiding evidence of this crashed UFO for decades. In subsequent research by Friedman and other researchers, one part of the story grew especially salient: Alien bodies had been recovered and hidden by the government for research. Reports grew of the military threatening witnesses. Friedman used testimony from a recently-emerged witness to propose that two extraterrestrial crafts had crashed in the area, and the government had secreted the crafts along with the alien bodies. In another twist, a former Pentagon official and army colonel named Philip Corso claimed not only that he had seen alien bodies from the Roswell crash but that the United States had developed modern technology, such as the integrated circuit and the laser, by studying the extraterrestrial craft. There was speculation that the UFOs had made their way to Area 51, a top-secret high technology military base bordering the Nevada nuclear test site.

In 1994 Representative Steven Schiff of New Mexico requested the release of government files on Roswell under the Freedom of Information Act. To Schiff, the files were unsatisfactory, containing scant and redacted pages. Finally, however, Schiffs appeals to the Congressional General Accounting Office led to revelations about a secret cold war program in 1947 called Project Mogul. Scientists from New York University had launched balloons in New Mexico carrying devices meant to track nuclear tests by the Soviet Union. One of these had disappeared near Roswell during the appropriate time period. The balloons had some of the physical qualities described by witnesses fifty years earlier, such as tape containing symbols that could have been mistaken for alien hieroglyphics. This explanation has created controversy among UFO researchers, some of whom are convinced and some of whom still believe in the extraterrestrial hypothesis.

The original story of the first abduction contained themes that set a pattern for subsequent cases. In September 1961 a couple from New Hampshire named Betty and Barney Hill experienced missing time while driving in the White Mountains. Strange dreams and Barneys anxiety prompted them to seek out hypnotherapy, which revealed memories of having been abducted. According to the Hills, the couple had seen a UFO approaching and their car engine had failed. Like most alleged abductees, the Hills described a medical violation of their bodies, especially their sexual organs.


Since the case of the Hills, many abduction narratives have followed a similar pattern of clinical experimentation and violation based on human reproduction. Some people recall seeing hybrids, offspring between humans and extraterrestrials.

Budd Hopkins (1981) and David Jacobs (1992) have been at the forefront of this narratives circulation for twenty years, often relying on hypnosis to elicit traumatic abduction memories. Symptoms of abduction that might lead one to seek hypnotic regression include missing time, unexplained marks on the body, unexplained mechanical failures, strange dreams, and screen memories of things representing extraterrestrials. In one famous case, logger Travis Walton says he was abducted from Arizona by extraterrestrials for several days. In most instances documented by Hopkins and Jacobs, however, the missing time is hours, not days, and there are rarely witnesses.

While many people who claim to be abductees portray abductions as terrifying, it is often more complex. A belief in benevolent spiritual extraterrestrials, prevalent in the mid-twentieth century, became an ambivalent, complex discourse of personal transformation. The process of post-traumatic spiritual enlightenment undergone by alien abductees is best known from the work of two men: Whitley Strieber, who in the 1980s turned from writing best-selling science fiction and fantasy novels to writing a nonfiction account of his own encounters with extraterrestrials; and John Mack, a Harvard psychiatrist who, late in a distinguished academic and clinical career, began working with people who said they had memories of alien abduction and experienced great spiritual growth.

SEE ALSO Cults; Ethnology and Folklore; Lay Theories; Myth and Mythology; Popular Culture; Science Fiction


Battaglia, Debbora, ed. 2005. E.T. Culture: Anthropology in Outerspaces. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Bullard, Thomas E. 1989. UFO Abduction Reports: The Supernatural Kidnap Narrative Returns in Technological Guise. Journal of American Folklore 102, no. 404 (April/June): 147170.

Clancy, Susan A. 2005. Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Corso, Philip J. (with William J. Birnes). 1997. The Day After Roswell. New York: Pocket Books.

Dean, Jodi. 1998. Aliens in America: Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspace to Cyberspace. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Friedman, Stanton, and Don Berliner. 1992. Crash at Corona: The US Military Retrieval and Cover-Up of a UFO. New York: Paragon House.

Fuller, John G. 1993 [1966]. The Interrupted Journey: Two Lost Hours Aboard a Flying Saucer. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books.

Harding, Susan. 2005. Living Prophecy at Heavens Gate. In Histories of the Future, 297320. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Hopkins, Budd. 1981. Missing Time: A Documented Study of UFO Abductions. New York: R. Marek Publishers.

Hynek, Allen J. [1972] 1998. The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry. New York: Marlowe and Company.

Jacobs, David. 1992. Secret Life: Firsthand Documented Accounts of UFO Abductions. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Jung, Carl Gustav. [1953] 1979. Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Korff, Kal K. 1997. What Really Happened at Roswell. Skeptical Inquirer, (July/August). http://www.csicop.org/si/9707/roswell.html.

Lepselter, Susan. 2005. The Flight of the Ordinary: Narrative, Poetics, Power and UFOs in the American Uncanny. Doctoral Dissertation: University of Texas at Austin.

Lewis, James R., ed. 1995. The Gods Have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Mack, John. 1999. Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformation and Alien Encounters. New York: Crown Publishers.

Patton, Phil. 1998. Dreamland: Travels Inside the Secret World of Roswell and Area 51. New York: Villard Books.

Peebles, Curtis. 1994. Watch the skies!: A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Rojcewicz, Peter. 1987. The Men in Black: Experience and Tradition - Analogues with the Traditional Devil Hypothesis. Journal of American Folklore 100: 148160.

Saler, Benson, Charles A. Ziegler, and Charles B. Moore. 1997. UFO Crash at Roswell: the Genesis of a Modern Myth. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Sci Fi.com. Roper Poll: UFOs & Extraterrestrial Life. September 2002. Sci Fi Channel. http://www.scifi.com/ufo/roper.

Strieber, Whitley. 1988. Communion. New York: Avon Books.

Vallee, Jacques. [1969] 1997. Passport to Magonia: On UFOs, Folklore, and Parallel Worlds. New York: McGraw Hill.

Susan Lepselter

Abduction, UFO

views updated Jun 27 2018

Abduction, UFO

During the 1980s, ufologists began to give a significant amount of their time to consideration of accounts of individuals who claimed to have not just seen various forms of spacecraft, but to have been forcefully taken aboard them and forced to undergo various kinds of medical-like procedures, the most typical being different types of body probes. The UFO community had to deal with accounts of people having direct contact with entities in control of spacecraft. These were most often stories of friendly contact with extraterrestrials who brought a message of warning about the current trend of society which should be countered by a new awareness of the Earth's role in the larger world of spiritual realities. The people claiming these kinds of relationships with extraterrestrials were labeled contactees and largely dismissed by ufologists.

The first reports that fit what was to become the general pattern of abduction stories came in the 1960s. In 1961, a New Hampshire housewife, Betty Hill, reported a UFO sighting to NICAP (the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena). During the course of the follow-up interviews by NICAP investigators, unclear parts of the account came to the fore. Among these were a missing two hours. The sighting had taken place while Betty and her husband were returning home. They arrived two hours later than they should have. Eventually the couple went into psychotherapy and under hypnosis described their meeting with a group of beings described as approximately five feet tall, with a large hairless head, greyish skin, large slanted eyes, a slit mouth, diminutive nose and ears, and long fingers. They were taken aboard a spacecraft and examined. A needle was stuck into Betty's stomach. Before they left, they were told to forget the experience, and as the space-ship left the ground, their recollection of what had just occurred faded.

The Hill's story would possibly have been lost amid the vast files of UFO reports if writer John Fuller had not discovered the Hills and authored a book detailing the story that had been revealed in the string of hypnotic sessions. Fuller's 1966 book, Interrupted Journey, along with the condensed version of the story published by Look magazine, placed abductions on the UFO community's agenda. Admittedly, other accounts of forced contact with extraterrestrials had been reported to various UFO organizations. One, the story of a young Brazilian man, Antonio Villas Boas, who claimed to have been abducted in 1957, was published in 1965 in Flying Saucer Review, the respected British UFO periodical. It was given a thorough review following the publication of the Hill case. Taken aboard the saucer, he allegedly had a blood sample taken and was forced to have intercourse with a human-like woman, after which samples of his sperm were retrieved and saved.

Though two thoroughly documented cases were now on record, additional accounts were slow in coming. It was not until the 1970s that a series of cases attracted renewed attention to the abduction phenomena. In 1973, two shipyard workers, Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker, were abducted as they were fishing in Pasacagoula, Mississippi. Several others also occurred that year. Then in 1975 six men in Arizona reported that a coworker had disappeared as he approached a hovering UFO. Travis Walton reappeared five days later and began to recount his story of a forced encounter with the being aboard the craft. Again that year, other less notable abduction cases were reported, but equally important, a made-for-TV movie about the Hill case ran on NBC on October 20. An increasing number of cases were reported annually through the end of the decade.

As the abduction reports often included an element of memory loss, the encounters themselves were frequently years if not decades prior to any investigator hearing of the abduction incidents. Typical was the Betty Andreasson case. Though her reported abduction occurred in 1967, the investigation by Raymond Fowler did not begin until 1976 and his book recounting the story did not appear until 1979. However, his The Andreasson Affair (1979) and The Tujunga Canyon Contacts (1980) by Ann Druffel and D. Scott Rogo prepared the UFO community for a fresh consideration of the abduction stories during the next decade.

Abduction stories would take center stage in the 1980s. Leading the demand that ufologists pay attention to the abduction cases was Budd Hopkins, a relative newcomer to the field, whose 1981 book, Missing Time, recounted a number of abduction cases he had uncovered. He also noted the similarities in the cases: the gray humanoids who conducted the abductions, the physical examination that included the taking of blood or skin samples and attention to the reproductive organs. Hopkins' work called attention to the fact that there were a large number of cases with a number of similarities that could be quantified. Growing interest in the work reached a new high in 1987 when popular horror fiction writer Whitley Streiber issued a book, Communion, in which he told the story of his own abduction. The book became a best-seller and brought attention to the UFO community that it had not enjoyed since the days of the Condon Report (1969). That same year, in a catalog of cases issued by the Fund for UFO Research, folklorist Thomas E. Bullard reported the existence of more than 300 cases. As a result of the attention given to abductions in 1987, the number of reports would rise considerably.

These hundreds of cases, which have arisen from people independently of others or awareness of abduction stories in general, while varying immensely in details, tell a very similar story. The abductee's life is interrupted by strange beings and their will to resist is impaired. They are taken aboard a space-ship, sometimes levitation being an instrumental part, and are subjected to an invasive physical examination. Generally, the victim is forced to forget the incident and only years later, prompted by troubling emotions possibly manifest in nightmares, the victim engages in psychotherapy or hypnosis, during which the memory of the abduction emerges.

The element of memory loss coupled with the intrusive invasion of the body during the examination has given rise to comparisons of the abduction stories with a very similar story of Satanic ritual abuse in which under psychotherapy and/or hypnosis, stories emerge of people having been forced to participate in a Satanic ritual where they were raped. Subsequently they forgot the incident (s). Together, the abduction and the Satanism tales have created a new designation of the forgotten memory syndrome.

As basic research on abductions occurred, investigators sharply divided over their interpretation. Many ufologists, such as historian David Jacobs, followed Hopkins in arguing for the basic truth of the cases and saw the cases as the best evidence of an extraterrestrial presence on Earth. More extreme elements wove increasingly paranoid tales of government conspiracies and compacts with hostile aliens. However, most abductees have only sought to discover what had happened to them, and have been happy to learn that others have had a similar experience. Over time, they have sought for some larger meaning in this incident. Most investigations have concluded that there is no psychopathology in the abductee's life and that he/she has no reason to tell such a negative story.

Criticism of the literal acceptance of the story as indicative of extraterrestrial contacts begins with the large number of reported contacts. Given the present state of interstellar travel, there is more than a little doubt that the number of spaceships could or would come to earth to account for all of the contacts. The many examinations, focused on reproductive organs, also raise questions of the purpose of the body probing. What is to be gained? Also, the stories, while supported by their consistency, are quite free of independent supporting evidence. In many cases, related to accounts of incidents far in the past, evidence may have been lost. But over all, there has been little collaboration. Some hoped for supporting evidence in items implanted in the bodies of contactees, but such foreign items discovered in abductees' bodies have proved to be purely mundane in nature. The lack of supporting evidence for the tales again emphasized the similarity of abduction and Satanic abuse stories.

Others, both supportive and critical of the abductees, have adopted alternate interpretations. Some UFO debunkers, led by tradition critic Philip Klass, have dismissed the abduction stories as either hoaxes or fantasies. Some psychologists have supported a purely psychological interpretation. The most appealing explanation, in that it also accounts for the very similar Satanic abuse stories, grows out of the definition of the forgotten memory syndrome. This theory suggests that the abductee has experienced a real trauma, usually sexual abuse during his/ her childhood, but during attempts to recover the memory, a story is constructed that both confirms the trauma but also disguises it either in a Satanic cult or spaceship.

During the 1990s, an additional significant factor was added to the abduction storiesthey began to merge with the contactee stories. Whitley Strieber called attention to this aspect of abduction stories in the sequel to Communion, Transformation: The Breakthrough (1988). In the latter volume, Strieber told of a series of contacts with the "Visitors" that began in childhood and his growing belief that their intrusion into human life was essentially benevolent. He was eventually joined in this appraisal by Leo J. Sprinkle, who had been conducting annual gatherings for contactees each summer at the University of Wyoming. As abductees joined the gatherings, over time, he discovered the boundaries between their stories blurring. In like measure, psychiatrist John Mack also found the stories of the abductees whom he counseled also yielded to explanation when set in a larger context of personal transformation and changes in consciousness. They came to feel that the experience was best seen as a harsh but necessary lesson leading to change and spiritual growth. Both Strieber and Mack found a large audience in the New Age community.

One cannot speak of a consensus in the consideration of abductions, though through the 1990s, ufologists lost some of their focus upon the accounts, possibly due to the lack of new information. Research appeared to have reached somewhat of a dead end. Like other areas of UFO research, they have not led to hard physical evidence of extraterrestrialsa spaceship, alien materials, or an alien.


Bullard, Thomas E. "Abduction Phenomenon." In Jerome Clark, ed. UFO Encyclopedia. Detroit: Apogee Books, 1999.

Druffel, Ann, and D. Scott Rogo. The Tujunga Canyon Contacts. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1980.

Fowler, Raymond. The Andreasson Affair. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1979.

Hopkins, Budd. Missing Time: A Documented Study of UFO Abductions. New York: Richard Marek Publishers, 1981.

Jacobs, David J. The Terror That Comes in the Night: An Experience-Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.

Klass, Philip J. UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1988. Mack, John E. Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994.

Pritchard, Andrea, et al., eds. Alien Discussions: Proceedings of the Abduction Study Conference. Cambridge, Mass.: North Cambridge Press, 1994.

Strieber, Whitley. Communion: A True Story. New York: Beach Tree/William Morrow, 1987.

. Transformation: The Breakthrough. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1988.


views updated May 18 2018


The modern UFO phenomenon began in 1947 with the eyewitness account of pilot Kenneth Arnold of nine flying disks near Mount Rainier in Washington. The newspapers called them flying saucers. UFO is the more technical term, standing for unidentified flying object. A sighting acquires this designation only after scientific attempts to identify it as a star, meteor, balloon, aircraft, or hallucination have failed. UFO refers to what is unidentified after attempts to identify it.

Types of sightings

As a phenomenon of perception, scholars study both the perceiver and the perceived, both the UFO and its witness. Sightings are classified as: (1) daylight disks; (2) nocturnal lights; (3) radar sightings or combinations of radar and visual sightings; (4) close encounters of the first kind, when the witness is within 500 feet of the object or craft; (5) close encounters of the second kind, when physical traces of the object or craft are left for investigation; and (6) close encounters of the third kind, when witnesses claim to encounter beings connected to a flying craft. Investigators give higher credibility to multiple witness sightings, especially when witnesses are independent of one another. Such categorizing is itself part of the UFO phenomenon, reflecting the scientific attitude investigators take to their work.

Government evaluations of UFOs

Seldom has the academic community taken up the subject of UFOs for research and analysis. The U.S. government sponsored various investigative programs from 1947 through 1969 such as Project Sign and Project Bluebook; but the government's interest was primarily national defense. Convinced that UFOs provided no threat to national security, these efforts deliberately sought to debunk public claims to UFO sightings in an attempt to reduce the quantity of reports various governmental agencies would need to process.

From 1967 to 1969, Edward U. Condon at the University of Colorado conducted a federally funded study, Final Report of the Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects. What became known as the Condon Report concluded that "nothing has come from the study of UFOs" that would warrant "further extensive study." On this basis, the U.S. Air Force dropped Project Bluebook and ceased collecting data. J. Allen Hynek, the principal astronomer and scientific debunker for Project Bluebook, converted, so to speak, and began his own private research organization, the Center for UFO Studies at Northwestern University.

Social and cultural aspects

As a social phenomenon, since their first appearance following the Second World War, two elements have been present in public perception: an association of UFOs with the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligent life, and vociferous criticism of the U.S. government for allegedly withholding vital secrets from its citizens and the world. In addition, UFO research organizations, such as the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), have been established, and new religious movements such as Heaven's Gate, the UNARIUS Society, the Aetherius Society, and the Raelians see great significance in UFOs.

The UFO phenomenon is frequently confused with science fiction, although no relationship exists between the two, which followed separate paths in the first decades after the Second World War. Science fiction literature and films generally depicted extraterrestrials as enemies, invaders threatening earth and against whom earthlings would have to unite in self-defense. In contrast, within the UFO community extraterrestrials were viewed as either benign or, in many cases, as benevolent, as celestial saviors coming to Earth to rescue humanity from self-destruction. Two notable Hollywood films portrayed the UFO experience as UFO believers interpret it: Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

For the first forty years of the phenomenon the space visitors were pictured as benign or benevolent. Then in the late 1980s reports were published of abductions in which the UFO abductors behaved much like abusers. Attributed to them were plots to impregnate earth women with extraterrestrial sperm to raise a hybrid race that unites heaven and Earth. After a decade of such reports, subsequent interviews of alleged abductees revealed a shift in interpretation. Abductees who originally reported a sense of violation by their space captors began to interpret extraterrestrial motives as spiritually beneficial and healing.

As a cultural phenomenon, UFOs have picked up surface and subtle sublimated meanings. On the surface, they are strange objects seen in the sky. Below the surface, UFOs function symbolically to bear religious meaning in a secular culture imbued by natural science and secular self-understanding. Sublimated religious meaning expresses itself in at least four forms: transcendence, omniscience, perfection, and redemption.

Transcendence. In many archaic religions the sky was a natural symbol of transcendence, and in the modern world outer space has replaced the sky in this role. Sky gods were powerful gods, wielding thunderbolts and scorching the earth with a blazing hot sun. With airplanes and weather reports mastering the sky, modern people have lost the sense of celestial transcendence. The apparent infinity of outer space, however, revives this lost spiritual sensibility. Because UFOs are seen in the sky and associated with outer space, they allegedly have mastered travel over unfathomable distances. They come from beyond, a physical beyond that easily slips over to become a spiritual beyond.

Omniscience. The worldview of modern society includes evolutionary theory in its self-understanding, and when the question of extraterrestrial life is raised, evolution is exported to outer space. Although biologists see no scientific basis for progress in biological evolution on earth, the popular mind identifies evolution with technological advance. When projected onto possible beings in space, they are thought to be more "advanced" than earthlings. Their technological knowledge is superior. In UFO religious groups, extraterrestrials are said to have gained telepathic powers so they can read earthlings' minds, a quality previously attributed to angels.

Perfection. Again, projecting evolution understood as progress infers that the extraterrestrials who have evolved for a very long time not only have perfected technology but have also perfected bodily health and social morality. They have conquered disease, live for extraordinarily long periods, and, most importantly, they are pictured as living in peace, especially peace with nuclear power and without ecological deterioration.

Redemption. Having achieved transcendent travel, ultimate technological knowledge, and social perfection, the space travelers are in a position to save the earth from the threat of nuclear war and ecological disaster. The extraterrestrials are Gnostic redeemers because, as new religious groups forming around UFO belief testify, their mission is to teach citizens of Earth to pull together into a single planetary society that lives in peace, prosperity, and harmony with nature. This entire belief structure is a modern mythwhat Carl Jung called a "myth of things seen in the sky."

The UFO phenomenon, which includes both believers and what is believed, provides a gate into understanding the dynamics of a culture totally imbued with natural science, so much so that religious sensibilities must make their appearance in sublimated form.

See also Exobiology; Extraterrestrial Life


condon, edward u. final report of the scientific study of unidentified flying objects. new york: dutton, 1969.

hynek, j. allen. the ufo experience. new york: ballantine, 1972.

jung, carl. flying saucers: a myth of things seen in the sky. new york: bantam, 1959.

klass, philip. ufos explained. new york: random house, 1974.

lewis, james r. the gods have landed: new religions from other worlds. albany: state university of new york press, 1995.

peters, ted. ufosgod's chariots: flying saucers in politics, science, and religion. louisville, ky.: westminster john knox, 1976.

peters, ted. "heaven's gate and the theology of suicide." dialog, a journal of theology 37, no.1 (winter 1998): 5766.

ted peters

Unidentified Flying Objects

views updated May 23 2018


UNIDENTIFIED FLYING OBJECTS. The UFO phenomenon consists of reports of unusual flying objects that remain unidentified after scientific inquiry. It first came to public attention in the United States in 1947, when a pilot reported seeing nine unusual objects flying in formation in the state of Washington. Since 1947, the U.S. federal government, private research institutions, and individual scientists have collected data about the phenomenon. Although UFOs are not a phenomenon unique to the United States, American organizations and private individuals have taken the lead in collecting, analyzing, and publishing sighting reports.

The most publicized collection agency was the U.S. Air Force through its Projects Sign (1948), Grudge (1948–1951), and Blue Book (1951–1969). The Air Force also sponsored research by the Battelle Memorial Institute in 1955 and the University of Colorado in the late 1960s. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and other U.S. government agencies also looked into the phenomenon. Congressional hearings were held on the subject in 1966 and 1968. The goal of the U.S. government was to determine whether the UFO phenomenon was a threat to national security. Unable to find the threat, the government stopped collecting reports from the public in 1969.

Private research institutions, including the Aerial Phenomenon Research Organization (APRO), the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), the Mutual UFO Network, the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies, and the Fund for UFO Research, have collected and analyzed reports since 1952. Even the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) conducted a study in 1971.

Nearly all research efforts have determined that a small but significant number of sightings remain "unidentified" after scientific investigation. This is especially true with reports made by the most articulate witnesses and containing the most data. Although the primary objective of private UFO researchers was to collect and analyze reports, they also sought to convince the public and the scientific community of the legitimacy of the subject. Their task was made all the more difficult by ridicule, caused in part by the perceived unlikelihood of the phenomenon's extraterrestrial origin, and in part by publicity hungry charlatans and self-promoters ("contactees") who, beginning in the 1950s, made fictitious claims about meeting "space brothers" and traveling to distant planets, or hinted darkly about secret government conspiracies with aliens.

In addition to the problem of ridicule, serious researchers found it difficult, although not impossible, to gather "hard" evidence of the unconventional nature of the phenomenon. They amassed photos, films, videotapes, radar tracings, and great numbers of multiple witness reports of objects on or near the ground. They reported studies of UFO effects on electrical and mechanical devices, animals, and humans. They studied soil samples

purportedly altered by landed UFOs. In spite of all this, they were unable to present artifacts of a UFO—the hard evidence that most scientists demanded.

Since the late 1940s, the UFO phenomenon has entered U.S. popular culture, and it has become a staple of motion pictures, television shows, advertising copy, and media images. As early as 1950 it proved to be one of the most recognized phenomena in Gallup Poll history, and it has continued to play an important role in popular culture.

In the early 1960s, people began to claim that they were abducted into UFOs. Although UFO researchers at first considered these reports to be an "exotic"—and probably psychological—sidelight of the main sighting phenomenon, abduction accounts grew steadily in number. Evidence for abductions was mainly derived from human memory, usually retrieved through hypnosis. But the people who reported being abducted were not "contactees" or self-promoters and appeared to be genuinely concerned about what had happened to them. In the 1980s, the numbers of people who came forward with abduction accounts had begun to rise dramatically, and a 1998 Roper Poll of 5,995 adults suggested that as many as a million Americans believed they had been abducted. By the end of the twentieth century, the abduction phenomenon had come to dominate UFO research.

In spite of extensive efforts in the second half of the twentieth century, attitudes toward the legitimacy of the UFO phenomenon and the research into it changed little. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, researchers had failed to convince the scientific community of the phenomenon's legitimacy, they had not developed a standardized methodology to retrieve alleged abduction accounts, and no UFO organization had gained the academic backing to professionalize both UFO and abduction research. Yet after half a century of study, UFO proponents had advanced knowledge of the subject greatly, and some even claimed that a solution to the mystery of UFO origins and motivations seemed possible.

In the twenty-first century, the UFO phenomenon persisted, apparently unaffected by societal events. It continued to maintain a ubiquitous presence in popular culture, researchers continued to study it, and, although scientists and academics still scorned it, ordinary people continued to report both sightings and abduction accounts.


Clark, Jerome. The UFO Encyclopedia. 2ded. Detroit, Mich.: Visible Ink, 1998.

Dean, Jodi. Aliens in America. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997.

Hopkins, Budd. Intruders. New York: Random House, 1981.

Jacobs, David M. The UFO Controversy in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975.

———. Secret Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.



views updated May 23 2018


Unidentified flying objects (UFOs) have been noted by observers of the night sky since people first raised their eyes to gaze at the stars. However, the idea that these unidentified objects might be visitors from other planets originated with the age of science and technology that followed World War II (1939–45). The excitement and fear caused by this new technological age led to an exciting and frightening new belief: that there are intelligent beings on other planets who wish to communicate with us. Some view this belief as simple common sense: in all the vastness of the universe, there must be other planets with beings similar to humankind. Others see the belief in life on other planets as superstitious nonsense with no scientific proof to back it up. These skeptics insist that UFOs can always be explained as military aircraft, research balloons, unusual weather phenomena, or simply as hoaxes, fabricated by their so-called observers.

One common response of those who believe in visitors from outer space has been fear of attack. In 1898, H. G. Wells (1866–1946) published his science-fiction work The War of the Worlds (see entry under 1930s—TV and Radio in volume 2), about an attack on Earth by aliens from Mars. When his work was broadcast as a radio play in 1938, it caused panic among many who heard it. Radio listeners believed it was a newscast about a real assault. Fears were heightened during the wartime 1940s, when UFO sightings began in earnest, as U.S. citizens were encouraged to scan the skies for enemy aircraft. Along with the usual airplanes and weather balloons, watchers began to report sightings of objects they could not identify or explain. New rocket technology developed during the war seemed to increase the possibility of space travel. The 1947 sightings of "flying saucers" over Mt. Rainier in the state of Washington and rumors of alien bodies recovered from a spaceship crash in Roswell, New Mexico, gave further support to the idea that human beings were not alone in the universe.

The Cold War (1945–91; see entry under 1940s—The Way We Lived in volume 3) years fostered the idea of hidden enemies. The number of UFO sightings continued to rise throughout the 1950s and 1960s. These sightings led to the creation of organizations for believers like the Unaris Educational Foundation and the Mutual UFO Network. The Mutual UFO Network still publishes a monthly journal and seeks volunteer UFO investigators.

Another element of the UFO phenomenon is the idea of alien abduction. There have been many books on the subject, notably The Interrupted Journey (1966) by John G. Fuller (1913–) and Communion (1987) by Whitley Strieber (1945–). These books tell the stories of those who say they have been kidnapped and experimented on by aliens. The mystery of UFOs continues to intrigue people worldwide.

—Tina Gianoulis

For More Information

Cohen, Daniel. A Close Look at Close Encounters. New York: Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 1981.

Collins, Jim. Unidentified Flying Objects. Orlando, FL: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1983.

Evans, Hilary. Coming from the Skies: Our Neighbors from Above. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2001.

Jastrow, Robert. "The Case for UFOs." Science Digest (November-December 1980): pp. 82–86.

Mansueto, Anthony. "Visions of Cosmopolis: Belief in UFOs." Omni (October 1994): pp. 64–71.

Mutual UFO Network.http://www.mufon.com (accessed February 26, 2002).

Netzley, Patricia D. UFOs. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2000.


views updated May 11 2018

u·fol·o·gy / yoōˈfäləjē/ • n. the study of UFOs.DERIVATIVES: u·fo·log·i·cal / ˌyoōfəˈläjikəl/ adj.u·fol·o·gist / -jist/ n.


views updated Jun 27 2018


Computerized files of reports of UFO s and related material, maintained by the Center for UFO Studies and Dr. Donald A. Johnson. UFOCAT99 contains over 109,000 UFO reports and related information, which may be retrieved by date, geographic location, and special features. The files are available at minimum cost to serious researchers. Inquiries concerning UFOCAT should be directed to the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies, 2457 W. Peterson Ave., Chicago, IL 60659.

unidentified flying object

views updated Jun 11 2018

unidentified flying object (UFO) Any flying object that cannot readily be explained as either a man-made craft or a natural phenomenon. Reports of UFOs have been documented since ancient times. With the development of aeronautics and astronautics, the number of sightings increased enormously. The majority of supposed UFO sightings have various rational explanations, including spy planes, optical floaters (in the observer's eye), weather balloons, and artificial satellites.