There is one further aspect of the UFO mystery which firmly places the phenomenon into the territory traditionally occupied by religion: the connection with the dead. As seen above, researchers such as Vallee and Harpur have pointed out the parallels between the UFO phenomenon and, folkloric and mythic motifs. A primary correspondence here is with that of traditional fairy lore. For example, the fairy themes of abducting humans, coming from ‘another magical realm’ where time passes differently as well as the idea of the ‘changeling’ are all mirrored by contemporary UFO motifs. The connection between fairies and the dead has long been recognised by folklorists “in studying fairy-lore and ghost-lore alike we are haunted and teased by the resemblances between them… there are many interconnections between them, and (that) some classes of the dead were undoubtedly regarded by the old people as inhabitants of Fairyland (Briggs, 1970, p. 81). Evans Wentz likewise observes “that Fairyland is a state or condition, realm or place, very much like, if not the same as, that wherein civilized and uncivilized men alike place the souls of the dead, in company with other invisible beings such as gods, daemons, and all sorts of good and bad spirits” (Evans Wentz, 2011, p. 18). If then, the connection between fairies and the dead is acknowledged, we should expect – following Vallee, Harpur et aland their argument for a fairy-UFO connection - that such a crossover would be discernible in the UFO phenomenon itself. And indeed, we do find such parallels. These motifs can be widely broken down into three key areas: the presence of deceased humans as an integral part of a UFO encounter, crossover phenomena that are central to UFO/visionary/fairy/afterlife or ghost experiences and symmetries between the UFO experience and that of the Near-Death Experience (NDE). Author Whitley Strieber ,whose 1987 book Communionis presented as a true account of his personal abduction experiences, claims to have received thousands of letters from people alleging that they have not only experienced and abduction encounter but one that involved the presence of a deceased person, often in the company of ‘alien beings’. Strieber himself had undergone a similar experience “I had seen a friend with the aliens… I had attempted to find him, only to discover he had died the previous March. So I was among those who had seen a dead man with the aliens” (Strieber and Kripal, 2016, p. 74). It should be noted that the motif of seeing the deceased among the fairie-folk is distinct from their reputations as harbingers of death or ill-omens – the link seems to be on a deeper collective level and to betoken some similarity of status or situation. Indeed, it has been observed that ancient burial mounds in Britain and elsewhere in Europe do have a marked folk connection to fairy lore(1). Other similarities may be found in the cases relating to ‘missing time’ – where the percipient (fairy or UFO) visits ‘elsewhere’ and experiences a matter of hours having elapsed but, on return, is surprised to find that a much longer period of time has passed.
The third parallel is that of the NDE which can also be seen as an analogue of the UFO experience but not in any linear sense. Kenneth Ring, a researcher into NDEs, has researched both phenomena in tandem and observed that although “on almost every point of comparison [the two experiences are] the polar opposite”(2) (Ring, 1992, p. 108) nevertheless, they both have the same structure: that of the “archetypal journey of initiation with its familiar invariant triadic sequence: separation, ordeal, and return.” (ibid, p. 64). Ring also notes what he calls “mixed motifs” where someone is describing their NDE and segues into talking about UFOs or vice versa. Whitley Strieber has a classic example of a mixed motif in this sense when he describes undergoing a ‘life review’ (a motif almost exclusively found in NDE reports) whilst in a meditative state (Strieber and Kripal, 2016, p. 254).
A final possibly significant factor is that of ‘light’. We have seen above how with both UFOs and the mystery airships, light and light-beams was a significant -and perhaps unnecessary, somewhat ‘staged’ – element, and of course this is also a motif of fairy lore where faeries are believed to signal their arrival by lights or be capable of transforming into ‘fairy lights’. A similar capacity is often assigned to UFOs which are often seen to present as anomalous lights. Jeffrey Kripal points out that many religious and mystical thinkers have seen light, along with consciousness and energy as “expressions of the same underlying super-reality” (ibid, p. 268) and points to the mystical theology of Gregory Palamas of the Eastern Orthodox tradition who sees light “the knowledge of the ‘energies’ of God, but never the ‘essence’ of God, which remains unknowable to us as creatures” (ibid, pp. 268-269)(3). This stance may well serve as a fitting summation of the UFO mystery its many differing manifestations. The true ‘face’ of the phenomenon may not be given to us to see. Researchers such as Jenny Randles have even suggested that not everyone has the capacity to see the outer face and that to even be capable of having a paranormal experience one must be of a distinct ‘imaginative’ (i.e. imaginal) type . Ring has seen these ‘imaginative’ as being at the vanguard of a new phase of human evolution, what he calls “the shamanizing of modern humanity” (Ring, 1992, p. 239). This is a view implicit in Strieber who sees his ‘visitors’ as in some sense acting as spiritual teachers, and his role equating to a psychodramatic initiation into a form of ‘mystical school’. Vallee too, can approach the idea of the UFOs representing some form of ‘control mechanism’ which operates with the aim of engineering human thought and perception and Arnold himself, referring to his famous sighting, never doubted there was a spiritual ‘God’ component to the mystery. In the final analysis ‘mystery’ may be the key word. It is perhaps no coincidence that this term is often used in the context of mysticism and esoteric schools. We may need mystery – a ‘not knowing’. Paranormal phenomena may function on one level as maintain that – keeping the sense of awe alive and resisting the ever-present human tendency to literalise – to grasp incessantly for ‘knowing’ – by incorporating within itself elements of anti-structure and self-negation. The ‘truth’ of the many masks may not be possible to grasp because it is designed not to be grasped. The ‘not knowing’ might, after all, be the message.
- An interesting discussion on this issue, as well as descriptions of folk tales where the dead and faeries intertwine can be found at the “Dead But Dreaming” blog
- Ring cites the fact that NDEs are reported as ‘more real than real’ and UFO experiences generally as dreamy and unreal. He also draws attention to the fact that the settings and contexts are vastly different.
- An interesting note here ties back into Corbin and the Imaginal as discussed earlier. Corbin drew heavily on the Sufi mystic Suhrawardi who also developed a theory – Illuminism – of God’s attributes expressed via light.
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