UFOs and the Imaginal

  • July 29 2019
  • Tag: Fortean
UFOs, Consciousness and the Imaginal

The idea of demonic forces masquerading as aliens in order to deliberately mislead humanity, naturally depends for authenticity on a foundational belief in a specific form of Christianity. The idea of the ‘demonic’ itself is essentially a misreading (or, perhaps, a conscious demonization) of pre-Christian ideas surrounding the figure of the daimon(1) (Plato’s ‘Guardian Angel’ or higher self). The reclaiming of the word in our context has been championed by authors such as Patrick Harpur who posit ‘the daimonic’ as a distinct reality which forms a counterpoint to literalism which is

only one kind of reality, deriving from a superordinate reality – here called daimonic – which is metaphorical rather than literal, imaginative rather than empirical. Literal reality is therefore, if anything, lessreal than daimonic reality. (Harpur, 2003, p. 90)

This daimonic realm has echoes of Henry Corbin’s mundus imaginalis; the Imaginal or liminal space which is the barzakhor gap between the material and spiritual worlds. It is the domain of non-corporeal beings such as angels or djinn that are amorphous but can yet manifest in the sensible world – they are material and non-material… shapeshifters in effect. The Imaginal or Daimonic realm is, in this sense, an area which is simultaneously physical and non-physical – it is wholly ‘other’ and cannot be literalised. Any attempts to do so wildly miss the mark and, at their fullest literalist expression, run the risk of cult formation as in such cases as Heavens’ Gate(2). A UFO can be ‘not really there’ and yet leave physical landing traces on the ground, the phenomena shapeshifts and is impossible to pin down. One thinker who was perhaps the first to notice this factor in relation to anomalous phenomena across the board was that indefatigable cataloguer of strange events; Charles Fort (1874 – 1932). Fort evolved a theory of ‘Intermediatism’, that “nothing is real, but that nothing is unreal: that all phenomena are approximations one way or another between realness and unrealness” (Fort 1974, p. 14) although, for Fort, it seems that the ontological space seen as the Imaginal/Daimonic by thinkers such as Corbin, Harpur and others, is occupied by our own existence – with Fort, our ‘reality’ is the intermediate position; “our whole quasi-existence is an intermediate stage between positiveness and negativeness or realness and unrealness” (ibid, p. 14). Fort was writing at a time before the Arnold’s sighting ushered in the ‘era of the saucers’ but, tellingly, he records many instances of anomalous aerial phenomena which essentially fit the same pattern as the later ‘disk’ reports: i.e. a technology seemingly distinct from our own (i.e. it manifests behaviour that we, at the stage of the sighting, cannot replicate), the craft suggest intelligent control and suggests occupants, sometimes the occupants are interacted with and, when this occurs, they often evince trickster-like behaviour. The examples which most fascinated Fort centred around the ‘phantom airship’ wave during the 1880s and 1890s in the US. The mysterious airships were often large, sometimes replete with ludicrous elements such as large or oversized wings and could traverse great distances at unbelievably high speeds(3). It is likely that many of these reports were hoaxes or the product of the then popular newspaper ‘Liar’s Clubs’ and it is even possible that some of the sightings were of a genuine airship funded and developed by a private group of investors(4). Nevertheless, this leaves a core group of sightings which do conform in pattern to the later UFO reports and which do seem to portray some of the ‘trickster’ element familiar from later UFO lore. Vallee notes this trickster-like proclivity when highlighting the changing face of the mystery (another trickster-esque quality).

UFOs have been seen throughout history and have consistently received (or provided) their own explanation within the framework of each culture. In antiquity their occupants were regarded as gods; in medieval times, as magicians; in the nineteenth century, as scientific geniuses. And finally, in our own time, as interplanetary travellers. (Statements made by occupants of the 1897 airship included such declarations as ‘We are from Kansas’ and even ‘We are from ANYWHERE but we’ll be in Cuba tomorrow’.) (Vallee, 1977, p. 38)

There are other interesting correlations between the airships and later UFOs, a key example being the motif of ‘Lights’. Both UFOs and the airships often presented initially as lights in the sky and, even in their structured form, often featured lights as an integral part of the reported sightings as well as other features commonly associated with the classic UFO encounter

The majority of the stories describe flying objects carrying a dazzling searchlight and often apparently accompanied by a whirring or whizzing sound which witnesses associated with its engines… [these reports are] interesting because of the startling parallels which can be drawn with other “airship” and “phantom Zeppelin” scares of the same period, and with more recent UFO flaps in the modern era. For example, the sightings took place almost exclusively at night; many of the reports emphasise brilliant lights and there is a concentration of stories in certain “window” areas. (Clarke, 1999, p. 27)(5)

Clarke goes on to cite further parallels which place the mystery firmly in the realm of the Imaginal/Trickster; “secret inventors, the discovery of strange artefacts and the appearance of mysterious ‘foreigners’ who are close cousins to the sinister Men In Black or MIB of contemporary UFO folklore.” (ibid.). One of the researchers who has most convincingly linked the Trickster archetype to the paranormal is George Hansen, primarily in his work ‘The Trickster and the Paranormal’. Hansen makes the point that there is a large crossover between various seemingly unconnected paranormal phenomena

Ghostly phenomena have much in common with UFOs, encounters with demons, Bigfoot sightings, bedroom visitors… There is often overlap across these phenomena. Bigfoot sightings are sometimes reported in the same area as UFOs… Apparitions of the dead sometimes occur in UFO encounters. Poltergeist phenomena sometimes occur after ET abduction experiences… Previously mediums communicated with “spirits of the dead”; now some channel ETs. (Hansen, 1992, pp. 140-41)

Such observations clearly speak against the ETH as a fitting explanation and naturally open up conceptions of the Imaginal, almost as if such phenomena themselves were suggesting – or presenting – such a perspective. Strangely, Hansen seems to shy away from fully embracing such an approach, particularly in relation to Corbin’s understanding of the mundus imaginalis. Of Corbin’s Imaginal Hansen makes the somewhat extraordinary summation: “its description is couched in mystical and mythological terms, in language almost impenetrable to a rationalistic mind” (Hansen, 2001, p. 402) and “his writings are vague, grounded in mysticism and lack substantial links to scientific theories… he insisted the Imaginal is distinctly separate from fantasy… He was wrong. Reality, the Imaginal and fantasy blur into one another. Fantasy and reality are perhaps carved out of the Imaginal”(6) (ibid. p. 403). Hansen’s seeming benchmark of paranormal phenomenon needing to be addressed by rational scientific methods may be one which is not sustainable in the intermediate liminal spaces that we, as researchers, are required to venture into. Certainly, Fort would not have resorted to such a yardstick and there is ample evidence that UFO experiences are essentially visionary in nature (i.e. they may well be a form of mystical experience, certainly an argument can be made for a religious one in many cases). The researcher Jenny Randles, in her book 1983 ‘UFO Reality’, coined the term ‘the Oz Factor’ to describe an altered state of reality experienced by some witnesses to High Strangeness cases. On her website Randles describes experiencers reporting.

time slowing down and local sounds such as birdsong fading away or disappearing altogether. Other enigmatic things can happen like messages flowing into their mind and a weird atmospheric tingle in the air. It is as if they are temporarily removed from our world into another reality where everything is out of kilter. Much as Dorothy experienced when visiting Oz in the Frank L Baum stories. (Randles, 2018)

Essentially a trance state, Randles’ ‘Oz Factor’ does indeed seem to be a significant component of many UFO sightings (as well as other strange experiences such as Bigfoot encounters and Phone Calls from the Dead) and as such argues strongly for a visionary aspect to the experience itself. Very little research has been done on this specific area but it may be there is a connection with other non-paranormal states such as ‘Flow’ and ‘being in the zone’(7) as experienced by elite athletes. It may be that coherent explanations to the UFO and other paranormal mysteries are not forthcoming because of an exclusive focus on the subject of the experience – i.e. the ghost, UFO etc – and not the state of the experiencer themselves. The ostensible subject matter of such an experience may not be the ‘point’ of the experience at all… the Trickster and self-negating aspects of various anomalous phenomena may serve in part as pointers to such a possible deeper perspective.


  1. Generally supposed to derive from the Greek daēmōn (δαήμων) meaning ‘wise’ or perhaps – and more interestingly in our context – from daiō (δαίω) which means ‘to divide’.
  2. A New Religious Movement led by Marshall Applewhite which ended in the mass suicide of 39 members who believed that in doing so they would reach salvation by ascending to an alien craft.
  3. It seems that the ETH was also advanced as a solution to the airship mystery with invaders from Mars being the primary explanation of choice. See D. M. Jacobs “The UFO Controversy In America” (1975)
  4. Two recent books – Busby (2004) and Danelek (2009) - have made a convincing case for the ‘secret inventor’ argument.
  5. Clarke’s article is focused on British airship sightings which occurred during the ‘wave’ of 1909 and which mirrored the American reports to a marked degree. Thus the US reports are not of an isolated local phenomena.
  6. One can’t help here but to feel Hansen has failed to grasp something fundamental about both Corbin’s understanding of the Imaginal and the usage in which the term has been applied by researchers into the paranormal (Corbin was not interested in this aspect). Corbin, and certainly not the Sufi philosophers he drew on, would in no way disagree with Hansen’s statement “Fantasy and reality are perhaps carved out of the Imaginal” as this is foundational. Our ‘reality’ is a non-reality. A ‘quasi-reality’ as Fort has it. Hansen, in decrying lack of ‘proof’ and ostensibly criticising mythopoeic approaches, here seems to be taking a materialist approach rather than a Fortean/Intermediatist one.
  7. Interestingly this phrase seems to have been adopted by the tennis player Arthur Ashe from the TV series ‘The Twilight Zone” to refer to a heightened state sometimes reached in sport which shares many characteristics with the OZ Factor minus any paranormal component. The latter might be difficult to judge however as the athlete is invariably focused exclusively on his action under these circumstances and would not be aware of anything anomalous necessarily in his immediate surroundings.
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