In the mid-1990s, I developed an interest in the UFO and alien abduction phenomenon. I set about becoming a somewhat sceptical UFO investigator. Most of my findings led me to meteorological, astronomical or military activity as conclusions for sightings. One rainy night I got on the train to Stirling. It took about forty five minutes from Glasgow. There was a meeting of the group Strange Phenomena Investigations, in the back room of a local pub. I expected to encounter one or two strange individuals. In fact, they were all just ordinary everyday people, but interested enthusiasts of the subject. They were as keen to know what it was all about, as much as I was. I decided to listen without judgement, lest it cloud my view of what was occurring with these people. Malcolm Robinson, the founder of SPI, was there and introduced me to the group. At one point in the evening, someone began speaking about how aliens were our friends and was not here to harm us. Almost immediately another participant forcefully exploded: “How can you say that?” he cried. “You don’t know that! I have no idea what they are or what they want, but I can tell you one thing…they are not our friends!” I swallowed hard. I could tell by the look on this man’s face that he was completely serious. He said that since his encounter he and his friend, Colin, had problems with friends, family and colleagues who didn’t believe their story and his friend had not been back to work since the incident. I realised I was listening to Garry Wood speaking. He and his friend Colin Wright had reported experiencing an alien abduction on the A70, an incident which was investigated by the Ministry of Defence. They had about ninety minutes of missing time. Now, I have no idea what happened that night, but there is one thing I am completely sure of, Garry Wood certainly believed it had happened. The look on his face was that of a man disturbed, terrified and angered by the experience. You can read the full story of Garry Wood and Colin Wright here.
It’s one of the Big Questions, alongside “Why are we here?” and “Is there a God?” Another thing we are all really curious about is: Are we alone in this universe? Or, is there a remote possibility that somewhere, out there, there is another form of life. If there is, what could it possibly look like? If we were ever to encounter it, how would it behave towards us?
This is the 68th anniversary of the “Roswell Incident”. In July 1947, in Roswell, New Mexico, debris was recovered. Authorities claimed it was a top secret surveillance balloon, but conspiracy theorists have always believed the US military recovered an alien spaceship that day.
In 1995, Ray Santilli claimed to have footage of an alien autopsy being performed on one of the Roswell aliens recovered from the crash. Two years later the US Air Force released a report which said the alien bodies witnesses reported seeing were, in fact, test dummies. In 2006, Santilli admitted the autopsy film was not genuine. However, he insisted it was based on real life events. Nevertheless, there has never been any substantial proof that aliens crashed to Earth in 1947.
There were certainly alien stories prior to the Roswell incident. Orson Welles’s adaptation of War of the Worlds, a novel by H G Wells, sent many Americans into a state of mass hysteria, thinking that Martians had invaded. Science-fiction was developing as a popular genre and many scientific discoveries were being made about space. The format of War of the World was news bulletins. With an audience already primed for war, all these things contributed to sending the public into frenzy.
Tune into the original 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds.
Nevertheless, after the Roswell incident, the public imagination about aliens and UFOs went wild. It was round about this time that George Adamski was taking photos of flying saucers. The 1950s then saw a huge increase in sci-fi and alien movies. One of my favourites, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), gives the message that the people of Earth must live peacefully or be destroyed as a danger to other planets. The following year Adamski claimed to have met Venusian alien, Orthon, who warned him of the dangers of nuclear war. There are, of course, many criticisms of Adamski and many holes in his stories, which you can read for yourself here.
In 1957, Antônio Vilas-Boas, a Brazilian farmer claimed to have been abducted by aliens. There are other similar abduction stories, but his is the first to receive proper attention. The incident occurred when Boas was only 23 year’s old, working at night to avoid the hot temperatures during the day. As he was ploughing a field, near São Francisco de Sales, he was approached by what he described as a red star, which as it got closer, became recognisable as a space craft. The full story can be read here.
In 1961, widespread publicity was generated by Betty and Barney Hill, who also claimed to have been abducted by aliens in New Hampshire. The University of New Hampshire have custody of a permanent collection of Betty Hill’s notes, tapes and other items. In 2011, a state historical marker was placed at the site of the alleged encounter. Betty and Barney Hill’s story can be read in full here.
The Hill’s story is highly intriguing, yet many motifs and themes are similar to that of science-fiction being aired at that time. It is thought that these images, coupled with sleep deprivation and false memories recovered during hypnosis were all part and parcel of the overall experience.
As a hypnotherapist myself, I can say that nowadays regression would never be used to recover memories. The likelihood of false memory syndrome would be a huge factor in discrediting the entire encounter. Any information Betty and Barney Hill gave under hypnosis should be dismissed entirely.
A few years later, attention turned to what our relationship to aliens might be. Quatermass and the Pit (1967) is an extraordinary concept of the imagination. It is a fantastic story, surrounding the discovery of an ancient Martian spacecraft in the London Underground, and the realisation that aliens have influenced human evolution and intelligence since the beginning. The spacecraft seems to stir up memories of the aliens which remain deep in the human psyche. Professor Quatermass is convinced that all our beliefs and fears of devils and such like are, in fact, tied up with these memories of our encounters with the Martians.
The term “close encounter” was coined in 1972 by Josef Allen Hynek (1910-1986) in his book The UFO Experience: A Scientific Enquiry. Hynek proposed there were three types of close encounter:
Close Encounters of the First Kind are sightings of one or more UFOs at a distance of 500 feet or less.
Close Encounters of the Second Kind are sightings of a UFO which were accompanied by physical effects such as heat, electrical interference etc.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind involve the sighting of an animated being (presumably alien but not specifically defined as such).
Other categories have since developed, including having contact, being abducted, those involving death, those involving hybrid creations and sexual encounters. There are also sub-categories to the Third Kind according to whether the perceived alien is inside or outside their UFO, there are any other witnesses, the alien is injured or captured etc. All categories can be read here.
Following this initial categorisation by Hynek, Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) explored the phenomenon. It turned out the aliens were quite nice really, and usually returned abducted children happy and uninjured. I jest. It’s actually another of my favourite films, quite unnerving in parts, but ultimately a “feel good” ending. Spielberg carried on with his view of the alien as the good guy with E.T. The Extra Terrestrial in 1982, which had everyone in love, and saying a tearful goodbye to their favourite alien, by the end of the movie.
The same year, Bill Lancaster (son of Burt) wrote the screenplay for The Thing (directed by John Carpenter), which assured us that we were in mortal peril from E.T. Here the alien is a parasite which assimilates other lifeforms and imitates them. Who can you trust? That is the Big Question this time. Someone might look like your friend, or your pet husky, but are they in fact an alien in disguise…?
By 1993, we were sticking with the alien as foe. Fire in the Sky is possibly one of the creepiest and most unnerving alien abduction stories, not least of all because it’s based on the events depicted by Travis Walton who claimed to have had a real life encounter. What actually happened that night is largely undetermined and many still believe it was one big hoax. The film is certainly an exaggeration of Walton’s own account from his book The Walton Experience.
On the evening of 5th November 1975, logger Travis Walton and his co-workers, on their way home, encounter a UFO. Travis gets out the car, is hit by a beam of light, the others take off in their car. One of them, Mike Rogers, returns to the scene later but Travis is nowhere to be found. Initially the incident is investigated as a murder enquiry. The boys take a lie-detector test, which is inconclusive and five days later Travis turns up disorientated and hysterical at a gas station. Travis initially fails his first polygraph, which is claimed to have used out-dated methods. Two subsequent ones revealed him to be telling the truth. The entire story can be read here.
Various invasion films have been made over the last ten years or so: Independence Day (1996), War of the Worlds (2005), The Invasion (2007). Then in 2009, The Fourth Kind came to cinemas. It is a mockumentary science-fiction thriller based on disappearances in Alaska. It’s a fairly good film, though not an exceptionally good advert for hypnosis (once again!), and it’s supposed realistic background gives the viewer plenty to think about. Similar to Quatermass, the alien life-forms are tied to an ancient civilisation. This time the Sumerians. They are bound up once more in our beliefs of supernatural beings, including God.
We do indeed live in a strange world, full of seemingly inexplicable occurrences. It would do a great injustice to both science and victims if I were to simply cast aside all accounts of alien abduction as mere hallucinations. However, the truth is often stranger than fiction and every bit as intriguing. Similar supernatural experiences have happened since practically the dawn of time and they all bear remarkable similarities to one another. Supernatural kidnappings, abductions and attacks have been reported going right back into ancient times, passed down through folklore. Faery kidnappings and alien abductions contain some terrifying parallels. Even ancient Gods, in mythology, were known to
Kidnap mortals. Noise of some sort often accompanies such abductions. In faery lore it might be music, in alien accounts it’s usually humming or buzzing sounds.
As someone who has experienced a very realistic encounter of a supernatural entity, during what is termed by psychologists to be sleep paralysis (with hallucination), I know what it feels like. I know, too, that most experiences happen during the sleeping state, and have been linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). My experiences most often happen during stressful times. These “visitors” most often terrify us at night, be they incubus/succubus demons, fairies or aliens, and there is often a sexual element to them. There is also an association with missing time, which is reported not just in the Hills or Walton cases, but also in ancient folklore. For example, there is a Welsh folk tale of Rhys and Llewellyn who heard music when they were walking home one night. Rhys follows the music, whilst Llewellyn goes home. Months pass without Rhys being seen, until finally Llewellyn goes to the spot where they heard the music and finds Rhys dancing in a faery ring claiming to only have been there for five minutes (1). It’s also common for those who have experienced the abduction phenomenon to have marks on their bodies: faery bruising witch’s marks placed by the Devil and alien needle marks; all seem to be very similar occurrences. What they actually are is very difficult to say.
In fact, could all of these experiences be entirely natural phenomena, triggered by stress? Does stress release certain chemicals in the brain which interferes with normal functioning, causing people to experience supernatural encounters? (Stress and sleep deprivation both trigger off my own sleep paralysis, but thankfully I’m quite big on relaxation, yoga, meditation and self-hypnosis these days!). Or do we, somewhere in our psyches, have the key to communicate with other realms, as Terence McKenna has suggested, linking the ingestion of certain kinds of hallucinogenic mushrooms to the ability to see other realms which are always there anyway. Perhaps polar magnetism makes a difference – as areas in the north, such as Iceland and Scandinavian countries, seem to find the existence of faery and troll entities a completely normal part of life. Are alien encounters a more scientific equivalent, more prevalent in other parts of the world?
I leave you with this, and the thought that in the scale of the universe Earth really is very tiny indeed. In that vastness we called “space” can we really possibly be the only significant life forms….?