Encounters with the Fantastic:
The Transformative UFO Paradigm
Paper presented at the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness conference in Berkeley, California, 1995.
Carl Gustav Jung was correct when he recognized the UFO/Flying Saucer phenomenon as the rise of the next great myth of mankind, a modern living myth that promises to forever transform our lives for better or worse. UFO sightings, as well as related anomalous events and encounters with the fantastic, point the human imagination towards new ways of thinking and knowing, towards a new paradigm which integrates mind and matter, ancient mysticism and modern materialism.
Based on six years of intensive research and work with UFO Contactees, this paper explores the experience of UFOs in the context of synchronicity, traditional shamanic journeys, mystical revelatory visions, encounters with the Others, out of body/near death experiences, etc. All of these “encounters with the fantastic” appear to share the same interface: altered states of consciousness that blur any clear distinction between subjective and objective experience. Whether these experiences are interpreted as negative or positive by the individual is irrelevant in light of the ultimately transformative impact on the percipients. UFOs and related phenomena are intimately linked to the psyche of the individual and humankind but also leave very real physical evidence. No singular explanation can account for all of the evidence left by human interactions with these phenomena. The pluralist perspective required to navigate these multiple hypotheses of possibility have only recently come into use through the new physics exemplified by the quantum models of mind and universe.
Any in-depth analysis of the UFO phenomena must address all of its aspects, from its physical effects on the environment (radiation, crushed vegetation, etc.) and the psychological effects on the witness to the cultural impact upon society. The mechanisms of manifestation are ultimately secondary to the effect upon our societies and culture. The cultural impact can be seen in the history of every religion on this planet. Therefore it is imperative that we begin to look at all ancient and modern accounts of contact with this phenomena in order to direct all further interactions with it. In this way we can begin to decipher the mysteries of these phenomena’s origins, effects, and purpose. By executing an on-going cross-cultural study into the linguistic, symbolic and philosophical themes of these contact narratives we may better understand the roles these encounters play in our past, present and future.
Encounters with the Fantastic:
The Transformative UFO Paradigm
by Stephen Miles Lewis – 1995
The saucers are coming and the paradigm is shifting. Since the beginning of the modern ufo era in 1947 humanity has been influenced by the flying saucers’ growing presence in our collective psyche. New myths of mankind are being generated by these swirling vortices of ambiguity. In 1959, Carl Jung saw the rise of the modern flying saucer myth in relation to the widening chasm between scientific reductionism and the human need for spiritual meaning. Today, the saucers, in all their alien Otherness, herald great change that is increasingly resonant with ancient contact narratives and myths of millennial salvation. As we scan our past for clues to our present and future we are confronted with these seeming anomalies of human experience; yet we quickly find that the objects, entities, voices, and apparitions that plague our skies and homes today have plagued our ancestors since the dawn of time. Their presence now, though, seems to have intensified. They are the “signs in the sky” of our age which have appeared again, energizing the planetary zeitgeist toward new paradigms.
Through my work as leader of the UFO experiencer support group in Austin, Texas, I have interacted with people who have encountered a wide range of phenomena. In this paper I will briefly outline some of my findings as they relate to altered states of consciousness, and the paradigm-threatening effects left upon the belief systems of the percipients.
Among the growing ranks of post-modern anomalists the ufo is seen as index to a wide variety of phenomena. With the Fortean cry of “a circle is measured beginning anywhere” we have looked into the phenomenologies of apparitions, voices from beyond, poltergeist activity, and non-physical beings. These inquiries weave a complicated tapestry of demonology, ufology, cryptozoology, eschatology, epistemology, exobiology, etc. What we have found is a continuum of encounters with the fantastic that has existed within every human community throughout time. The encounters often instigate socioreligious movements which can eventually lead to global transformations of belief systems. While these myths can promote community from within, they inevitably come into competition with other myths. In the past, this has led to wars of ideologies which have been the bane of mankind for millennia. This is why we must read the writing on the wall of our present state of UFO affairs.
First let us define our use of the word myth. I use the word myth in the tradition of Alisdair MacIntyre and Ian Barbour. MacIntyre states:
“A myth is living or dead, not true or false. You cannot refute a myth because as soon as you treat it as refutable, you do not treat it as a myth but as a hypothesis or history.”
Ian Barbour defines myth “as a vehicle for ordering [interpreting] experience and structuring reality; for informing humanity about ourselves; and for establishing patterns for human actions and experience.” In this sense myth becomes synonymous with the words cosmology, conspiracy, and paradigm; for they each represent belief systems which are thus irrefutable to persons held by those beliefs. It is blind belief and disbelief which so often characterize the dogmas of warring myths. The believer and debunker have both fallen prey to the UFO’s mechanisms of sociocultural control. The disciplined observer can rise above this and chart the phenomena’s influence while still kindling his or her own intuitive quest for truth.
In coming to grips with a perceived unknown, the mind always searches the recesses of experience for relevant data. Numerous individual investigators have done just that. What they have found are the archetypes of contact with an invisible realm; invisible to us through the haze of history. From neolithic rock art and artifacts, cuneiform tablets, and Phoenician barrel inscriptions, to all major religious texts, the pattern is clear; humanity has always considered itself to be in contact with beings from beyond. From these ancient artifacts and historic narratives, we find the parallels between the contacts of antiquity and those of today. Humans have always encountered monsters and humanoids which are described as residing in another realm normally outside of human perception. When these entities leave their own realm we see them executing the same behaviors over and over again. Their actions categorize them into three basic types: the malicious, the benign, and the helpful. When they appear to us they seem given to theatrics ranging from aerial maneuvers to the maintenance of their forever malfunctioning vehicles. In their helpful aspect, they may prophesy coming events which are to be averted, or bestow food and other material needs to the good at heart. In their malignant aspect they are given to stealing livestock and children as well as perpetrating physical and sexual assaults against whomever should cross their paths. In all their aspects, they sometimes give brief access to their realm of origin to both witting and unwitting humans.
In my own investigations into the modern experience of these phenomena I have met numerous individuals whose narratives resonate with these same archetypal themes. The modern continuum of encountering the fantastic encompasses what have come to be known as UFO close encounters, alien abductions, out of body/near death experiences, etc. These anomalous experiences are woven into people’s everyday lives through the process of meaningful coincidence or synchronicity. This phenomenon manifests when outer events are felt to be resonant with internal feelings and can be experienced as a coincidence of people, places, things, or information, for example when one thinks of a specific book author and then inexplicably finds oneself in contact with that author or perhaps one of his or her books, a synchronistic encounter has occurred which may seem simple and inconsequential to others, but to the percipient it is felt as deeply meaningful. Anomalous encounters such as this have been called EHEs, or Exceptional Human Experiences, by parapsychologist Rhea White. They could also be said to define the broadening boundaries of human potential, for we may be witnessing an increase in the human perceptual faculty.
The myriad variety of experiences which make up this continuum leads us to consider the inevitable outcome of contact with these phenomena. The archetypes of UFO contact/abduction and out of body/near death experiences have been shown to be consistent with the shamanic and gnostic traditions of ritual initiation. The ingression of a novel event into the life situation of the percipient can be seen as a potentially transformative encounter. This is the power of the fantastic. The experiencer must be transformed or perish. The transformative impact of these contacts with synchronicity and the Others is nearly identical to the effects of a powerful religious conversion. The parallels between the traditional shamanic journey and initiation are evident. Experiencers undergo dislocation from their normal environment, often to a ritualistic round room where the limits of their open-mindedness are tested. They are made to endure torturous attacks and/or to ingest ritual food and drink. The shamanic dismemberment tradition has its modern equivalent in these tales of torture by unfeeling doctor-like beings. Joseph Campbell and others have noted this same transformative pattern in the transcultural myths identified as the hero’s journey. These involve the three stages typical “of the formula represented in rites of passage: separation-initiation-return.” The implantation of knowledge crystals under the skin of initiates in certain aboriginal tribes is also paralleled in the abductee implant stories. Individuals who find themselves within these modern myths are alienated from their own communities by these enigmatic experiences. As in shamanic cultures the experiencer is both feared and revered as a dweller on the fringes of two worlds.
Altered states of consciousness play an integral role in the experiencing and investigation of the encounters. They are visible as the “alpha awe” expressed by witnesses to a UFO’s aerial maneuvers and become particularly dramatic in close encounter cases. Close encounter witnesses often relate a change in environmental noise and/or scenery as if they were within a vacuum or outside of time. British ufologist Jenny Randles coined a specific term for this:
“We find it in UFO close encounters, psychic visions and many other episodes. I use the term ‘Oz Factor’ to describe it, and believe that it suggests a sort of inner tuning, as the percipient’s mind blocks out attention to all external sounds in order to note the message that is about to bombard his or her consciousness.”
The now rampant bedroom visitation variety of ufo contact experience centers around those fuzzy realms we pass through on our way into and out of dreamtime: the hypnogogic and hypnopompic states. Though some research has shown the cross-cultural parallels between these modern events and historic accounts of the Hag phenomena it is still not clear precisely what role they play in the broader context of the emerging ufo myth.
Talk of dreams among ufo experiencers and researchers alike leads to ever murkier waters. Many ufo narratives have the quality of dreams. Some people have dreams of abduction which trigger memories of UFO encounters. Others awake from dreams that feel more like memories of reality. Fred Alan Wolf has even investigated individuals claiming to experience life in other bodies in other worlds when they go to sleep. On top of that is added the distinct possibility that technologies exist to implant sensory impressions into the minds of unknowing victims. Abduction researcher Karla Turner has termed these encounters Virtual Reality Scenarios, and the technology is commonly described as psychotronic.
The most obvious presence of altered states of consciousness among ufo research is the use of hypnosis. Though many still debate whether it truly represents an altered state of consciousness, hypnosis is increasingly used to uncover hidden memories of contact. There is much misuse of these techniques, but the warning cry has been sounded and researchers are heeding the call to exercise greater care in their use of this tool.
Meanwhile the cry of False Memory Syndrome has also been sounded signaling the renewed debate over what memory really is and how it works.
There is also past and present psychedelics research to consider. Millennial messenger Terence McKenna has been describing the effect of DMT (dimethyltryptamine) on human consciousness as a “UFO experience on demand.” As a UFO contactee, he has been promoting several myths of contact as catalysts for a positive apocalypse. Government research into the DMT trip has revealed the consistent experiencing of an alien Other. How this relates to the whole of ufology is unclear, but McKenna’s message is receiving wider and wider audiences every day.
The enigmatic UFO confronts us most often when our minds are open to other fields of perception via altered states of consciousness. Undoubtedly then, some of these encounters must be more mental than physical. Yet we must immediately concede that the perception of a ‘real live alien’ would be laden with the imagery of the collective unconscious, as well, because the signal always passes through this biased filter. The human mind throws its unconscious expectations upon its experiences, particularly those of a numinous nature.
There is no better example of UFOs as reflectors of our collective societal problems than the abductors’ appearance as body-abducting, hybridizing, fetus-stealing medical technicians, alienating us from community and selfhood. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that certain themes within the UFO mythos have their origins in humanity’s collective loss of self and modern feelings of medical alienation. These beings seem to deliberately manipulate the mind and emotional state of the experiencer. Abductees often describe their abductors as emotionless doctors perpetrating barbaric violations upon the percipient’s body and mind. A number of reports detail the aliens’ interest in the abductee’s reproductive system and sexuality. Reports sometimes involve the apparent implantation and subsequent removal of hybrid fetuses from the wombs of female abductees. These and other psychically resonant symbolisms of the collective unconscious are found throughout the ufo literature.
Though the presence of these and other altered states of consciousness lead some to entertain purely psychological explanations, the fact remains that UFOs and related phenomena leave very physical evidence in their wake, from crushed vegetation, radar blips, and radiation traces on the environment to the scars, eye burn, and trauma of the close encounter percipient. Beyond this “skin deep” residue, the presence of the ufo enigma causes profound psychophysical changes within the witness. Many experiencers manifest symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, for this phenomena often totally contradicts their concepts of reality. The trauma and confusion left upon the UFO experiencer is real. Though all attempts at categorizing abductees and experiencers as mentally unstable have failed, the public perception of them remains brutally skeptical and cold. Several astute studies have found small consistencies across this contacted population but the interpretations of these findings varies greatly. The need for academic assessment of the people in closest contact with these phenomena remains great. “Healing Shattered Reality” is a difficult task for experiencer and therapist alike. But if we handle it carefully and openly, we can get beyond these difficulties and start looking for answers. Experiencers and therapists both hunger for closure and meaning, but the ufo phenomena, by its very nature, defies all attempts at any final reckoning.
This is the nub of the matter; experiencers of these phenomena, having encountered an unknown, have only a few possible responses. The most common reactions are to deny the encounter in toto or squeeze the experience into some preexisting frame of reference, such as a religious context or the surface literalist interpretation as visitation by extraterrestrials. These are the ways most people have reacted in the past. For if their experience falls outside of the norms of accepted social life, these seem to be their only options. But there is a third choice that I am happy to say is finally being chosen; the option to think in a new way. We must look for new frames of reference, new paradigms which accommodate these anomalies. This is precisely what is occurring.
UFO contactees and abductees are confronted with visions and experiences which confound our minds and institutions. Increasing numbers of experiencers are reporting conflicting messages from their abductors. The multitude of mythological conflicts within their experiences is causing them to opt not for the either/or choices of the past but for a new both/and interpretation; an open-ended, pluralistic, ambiguous acceptance of possibilities. New models of reality are being utilized by experiencers to better integrate their experiences. Some accept multidimensional concepts of spacetime, while others entertain the notion that these beings are our future selves.
These myriad tales of abduction and contact by alien Others are like the superpositions of quantum theory in which all possible paths are extant. It is as if we are seeing the human mind grappling with the very nature of physical causality. Indeed, the messages of the ufonauts and faeries past have seemed to be telling us what mystics have known all along; that there is more to reality than meets the eye. Consciousness may not be bound by time and space the way we have cheerfully assumed for so long.
The underlying physical reality which triggers this emotion-laden myth is ultimately secondary to the effects it causes within our collective psyche via culture. But there is a physical reality to these phenomena that may have a variety of mechanisms of manifestation. Parapsychological explanations proposing large scale stigmata like landing traces and abductee scoop marks or interactions with some sort of natural phenomena that interfaces with human consciousness are but two examples. There really may be intelligences and entities beyond our perceptual range perpetrating certain ufo events as well. The fact that the human mind creates new myths out of old myths should not occlude us from the existence of the phenomena’s physical reality. When we speak of a people’s belief that their gods push the stars across the heavens no one doubts the existence of those stars!
The nature of the acronym UFO is inherently confusing; for once you have identified the objects, if they can even be called that, you have eliminated the UFO and entered a more precise line of dialogue about a particular type of IFO (Identified Flying Object) – archetypal projections of the collective unconscious, extraterrestrial spacecraft, etc. The possibilities are many and varied. To navigate these multiplying threads of ambiguity of meaning we must put away our personal beliefs and sort through these probabilities. Only recently have the necessary models of mind and universe materialized for the job.
The rise of quantum physics and its many interpretations has left most people with a sense of utter confusion as to the ultimate nature of reality. From Schrodinger’s cat, Everett and Wheeler’s multiple worlds, and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle to Bohm’s implicate order and Sheldrake’s formative causation through morphic resonance, we are like Theseus navigating the labyrinth of possibility while avoiding the Minotaur of time. These are some of the perspectives which may aid us in finding a new paradigm that integrates mind and matter, the normal and the paranormal. A pluralist perspective allows for a meaningful dialogue while preserving a certain uncertainty.
In investigating the roots of synchronicity, one finds that the unifying process that concretizes these coincidences is some aspect of consciousness. The unification of conscious and unconscious perhaps holds the key. From a quantum perspective, mind can be thought of as similar to light, having both particle and wave aspects. Magical systems utilize conscious priming to set in motion events which influence the unconscious of others towards specific ends. Modern computer technology has allowed us a new way of conceiving this as an associative informational system. Ufologist Dr. Jacques Vallee described one of his synchronistic experiences as if he had left a message on a cosmic bulletin board and reality itself brought him into contact with the requested information. Through the uniting of the Eastern concept of All is Mind with physicist David Bohm’s conception of the implicate order, we get a new model of universe that is holographic. Within this holographic universe, humans are increasingly able to access the information containing the whole of reality; the implicate order or cosmic consciousness. The interface seems to take the form of altered states of consciousness. If this interpretation is true, it leads to the distinct possibility that the intelligences we contact in these myriad experiences could be from anywhere; indeed from EVERYWHERE. Just as our normal waking state of consciousness facilitates a certain type of linear communication, other states of consciousness allow communication of a different sort.
What if a true alien intelligence were utilizing our altered states of consciousness as a communications channel? How would we recognize that intelligence? We would need a much broader understanding of the symbolic terrains within our own unconscious if we ever hoped to recognize an outside force. A patchy network of investigators is doing just that. Right now they form separate and distinct data-bases ranging from dream and psychedelics research to ufo sightings investigation and contact narrative archiving. As we chart all of these history-haunting phantasms, we are beginning to see patterns and cycles. A global community of Fantastic Encounters research is emerging. Electronic informational networks are aiding in the creation of this community.
Here again is a vital crux of the phenomenon. In its best aspect it causes us to become more intimately social, for there is nothing more intimate than the sharing of our most profound experiences of the sacred and profane. These exceptional human experiences cause us to talk with one another about our deepest desires and fears. They create community through communication, selfhood through storytelling. We may be witnessing what Dr. Kenneth Ring has called the “shamanizing of humanity.”
In the clamor to believe, humans have historically given in to the force of one myth or another, willing to fight and die for the cause of their personal god. That has not changed, although a new breed of contactee is emerging who could be described as a quantum percipient, able to remain balanced between healing belief and healthy skepticism. Perhaps we are finally becoming the humans we’ve always dreamed of being, inhabitants of our physicalized imaginations, possessing the powers of love and compassionate action.
I invite you, one and all, to join this growing community so that we may have an ever richer dialogue on the nature of self, humanity, and our alien Others. Thank you.
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