UFOs have been described as the Grail, the soul, God-images, and messengers from the anima mundi or the unus mundus, but also as demons and disinformation. What are UFOs? Where do they come from?
This essay will argue that UFOs are the current projection of what might be viewed as a ‘creative consciousness’, that is essentially an expression of a co-creation on the part of humanity as a whole. No conclusion will be reached as to what UFOs definitively are – as it will be argued that the UFO phenomenon is merely the latest iteration of a series of successive masks (or perhaps even masques) which have presented themselves throughout human history and taken forms which range from fairies, gods, monsters, and latterly aliens and extraterrestrial craft. The essay will take the position that these ‘masks’ are culturally conditioned and, to a certain extent, are formed by existing motifs in the culture and historical period in which they appear. The suggest is that this is a phenomenon that works, at least in part, through the medium of the human imagination but, perhaps more importantly, serves to capture the imagination of the culture in a wider sense. There are thus two aspects of the phenomenon active: the experience of the individual percipient - the initial imparted message - and the secondary experience of the culture at large; the re-transmitted (and perhaps transformed or reframed) message. It will thus be argued that the phenomenon is a transformative one – both for the individual and the greater community who partake of the mystery at one remove – and is essentially more suitably evaluated through a mythopoeic approach. Indeed, it will be noted that the phenomenon itself contains numerous clues and linkages which, should they be apprehended correctly, are liminal and anti-structural in intent and serve to leave open the possibility of approaching the experience in non-literal ways. Finally, it will suggest that the structure of the UFO experience is not only one of a transformative nature but also possesses the characteristics of a form of ‘teaching’ or ‘showing’. That is, demonstrating methods of entering into the world of form and symbol by a rejection of the literal – almost as if the curriculum of a course is based around the convincing presentation of, say, ‘Visitors from Mars’, and yet contains clues that contradict this suggestion – clues that are only available on less than superficial study and via a non-literal approach whether that be mythic, symbolic or religio-mystic.
The modern UFO era, as well as its associated motif of extra-terrestrial visitation of earth and the term ‘flying saucers’ itself, can be traced to specific point in history; June 24th1947. On this date businessman Kenneth Arnold was piloting his Cessna light aircraft above the mountain ranges of Washington State when, at around 3pm, he observed over a period of around two minutes what he described as “a chain of nine peculiar-looking aircraft flying from north to south at approximately 9,500 feet elevation and going, seemingly, in a definite direction of about 170 degrees north to south.” (Arnold, 1948, p. 6)(1). Speaking to reporter Bill Bequette shortly after the sighting Arnold described the objects not as saucers but rather as triangular or crescent-shaped craft which exhibited a movement(2) that he likened to “speedboats in rough water, to flat shiny pie pans reflecting the sun, and to saucers skipping across water.” (Kripal, 2011, p. 151). The reference to saucers was seemingly seized upon by Bequette who is regarded as having coined the term ‘flying saucers’(3), a label which from there passed into common usage as a stand-in for the reports of unidentified aerial craft which were growing rapidly in number. Fuelled by an increasing number of Hollywood B-Movies, Pulp fiction stories and alleged true accounts from ‘contactees’ who claimed to have been taken aboard craft by the humanoid occupants, the term ‘flying saucer’ soon became a synonym for an alien craft of extra-terrestrial origin and the theory of ongoing alien visitation of earth (the extra-terrestrial hypothesis - hereafter ETH) became the default theory as to the origin of the phenomenon across the board. Curiously, the man whose sighting instigated the ‘UFO era’ came to take a different view. Arnold’s daughter, recalling her father after his death, recalled “He never believed that the flying saucers were mechanical in any way at all…but some kind of living organism.” (Wright, 2017). She added in the same interview that he believed flying saucers “were the connection between the living and the dead” (ibid) which is an extraordinary statement that prefigures ideas and research which would not gain common ground until half a century after Arnold’s sighting. Arnold expanded on this belief in an interview with UFO Review(4) quoted on the Phantoms and Monsters website
Arnold has theorized that they (the saucers themselves) may be living life forms and not nuts-and-bolts space ships… “What I see taking place is that UFOs are serving as a link between the world of the living and the world of spirits. There might be two worlds connecting the living and the dead. Maybe you continue living when you die.” (Keller, 2018)
Although the ETH remained, and to a certain extent remains to this day, the dominant explanation for the UFO phenomenon, the fact that alternate explanations were searched for - and found – is indicative of the degree to which the ETH fails to represent a coherent explanation for the majority of reports. The Scientist and UFO researcher Jacques Vallee has advanced five logical arguments against the ETH, one of which breaks down observed reports statistically and plots known data on a curve which suggests “that the total number of actual events should be 14 times the number of observed phenomena” (Vallee, 1991, p. 245) an equation which, at the most conservative estimate, equates to 14 million visitations in the first 40 years since Arnold’s sighting, a figure which clearly fails to render the ETH as a credible explanation for the totality of observed reports. To be fair, we have no way of knowing how many of the reports in Vallee’s sample represent genuinely anomalous sightings (as opposed to misperceived natural phenomena, military test aircraft or outright hoaxes) so this figure may be slightly skewed, but it is a figure of such magnitude that it is hard to see how even such ‘natural’ explanations would make up a significant enough majority to falsify the calculation. There is also the possibility that the UFO enigma itself does not have one core explanation; we may be dealing with several disparate phenomena with quite distinct origins. Several alternatives to the ETH have been posited – one such is the ‘earth lights’ theory of Paul Devereux who, rejecting the ETH, posits that reported UFO sightings are an amalgam of various intentional or accidental misperceptions, one of which – his ‘earth lights’ - he regards as genuinely anomalous
there is a small rump or residue of sighting reports that DO actually relate to genuinely unexplained phenomena. In my opinion, a percentage of this small rump of sightings relates to geophysical or meteorological phenomena that I have termed ‘earth lights’. These seem to be exotic natural phenomena apparently belonging to the same family as earthquake lights and ball lightning but with their own distinctive characteristics. (Devereux, 2003)
Another approach has been taken by the psychologist Carl Jung who saw UFOs as a psychosocial manifestation with marked connections to synchronicity in as much as they represented an outer expression of a collective societal inner state and which, to Jung, served to portend the end of an era(5)
As we know from ancient Egyptian history, they are manifestations of psychic changes which always appear at the end of one Platonic month and at the beginning of another. Apparently, they are changes in the constellation of psychic dominants, of the archetypes, or ‘gods’ as they used to be called, which bring about, or accompany, long-lasting transformations of the collective psyche. (Jung, 1978, p. 5)
In an echo of Arnold, Jung went on to describe the behaviour of the UFOs as being “not like bodies but like weightless thoughts” (ibid, p. 6), a perspective which shifts the approach away from populist interpretations of the ETH and moves the phenomena squarely into the domain of the psyche. It may be that we do not have proof of the perceived material nature of the UFOs because there can be no proof. Indeed, drawing on the totality of UFO reports, there is a large amount of evidence that, whatever the phenomenon actually is, it possesses an aspect which might be termed ‘self-negating’.That is to say the experience often contains an element which purports to support the validity of the experience but in reality, acts to the opposite effect. For example, some information might be imparted to the experiencer as ‘proof’, (perhaps some form of prophecy, perhaps some other more mundane data) but afterwards is seen to be provably false. This aspect of the phenomenon has been associated with the ‘Trickster’ archetype by several researchers as we shall see below, but it is also one which opens the UFO area as a whole to the argument that the entirety of the phenomenon is one based on deception. On a populist level this belief has manifested through the filter of the person doing the assessing (a similar argument could be levelled against many researchers – it has been argued that Jung’s views on the topic are heavily conditioned by his position as a psychologist) and particularly in the religious sphere. Thus, the evangelist Billy Graham could discuss the idea that UFOs might be angels(6), but perhaps the most prevalent theory of UFOs originating from Christian circles was an opposite perception: that the phenomenon is essentially demonic. This idea was promoted in fundamentalist Christian circles (interestingly, before the modern abduction mythos had become an established part of UFO lore) by books such as John Weldon and Zola Levitt’sUFOs: What on Earth is Happening? (1975) and owed less to any attempt to incorporate the Trickster aspect, but rather, because there was seen to be no mention of extra-terrestrial life in the Bible any apparent example must be false: i.e. demonic.
- Large size scans of the original Fate article in which Arnold detailed his sighting may be found: here
- The peculiar movement of the craft described by Arnold may well be related to a marked common motif of UFO reports; the ‘Falling Leaf’ motion described by many witnesses.
- It should be noted that Bequette denies coining this phrase: “I don’t remember whether or not Arnold used the words ‘saucer-shaped craft.’ I am inclined to credit his version (that he only spoke of objects moving like a saucer if you skipped it across the water), knowing the tendency of journalists to rephrase. I’m sure I didn’t coin ‘Flying Saucers’.” (Lagrange, 1988, p. 15) although clearly in the Fate article referenced above, Arnold doestwice describe saucers’ (“these saucer-like discs were at quite a great height” and “chain of these saucer-like objects”) and the title itself references ‘disks’.
- Original interview in UFO Review 14 (1982). Quoted in part at phantomsandmonsters.com
- It is interesting to note here that Jung is writing before the advent of the counterculture movements of the 1960s which absorbed the UFO mythos (albeit largely through the prism of the ETH) and likewise largely understood the phenomenon in terms of ‘the end of an age’ and beginning of a new era.
- “Some Christian writers have speculated that UFOs could very well be part of God’s angelic host who preside over the physical affairs of the universe.” Quoted in Pittsburgh Press, October 25th 1975