From Magonia 2, Winter 1979/80 and Magonia 3, Summer 1980.
Speculation on their extraterrestrial origin has, from the outset of our modern perception of the phenomenon, dominated our thinking about UFOs. Traditionally, ufologists have recorded reports of lights in the sky, daylight discs and a whole range of close-encounter cases under the presumption that UFOs are extraterrestrial spacecraft. This has meant that UFO investigations have concentrated on the alleged physical attributes of the UFOs.However, many ufologists have realised that after more than thirty years of study the physical evidence to support the extraterrestrial hypothesis is painfully lacking.
Recently Donald A. Johnson (1) claimed that: Any attempted explanation of the [UFO] phenomenon based on the current supply of physical evidence would be deemed by most as wholly inadequate.
J. Allen Hynek has been quoted (2) as saying that he is very much afraid that UFOs are related to certain psychic phenomena. And if I say I am very much afraid” this is because at our Center at Evanston we are trying to study this problem from the angle of the physical sciences.
The physical sciences do have their place in the study of the UFO phenomenon, but the tendency has been for other aspects of the phenomenon to be ignored or excluded for the sake of scientific respectability and objectivity . For example, Charles Bowen has related (3) the story of a well-known UFO investigator who interviewed a contactee whose story was so improbable that he listened to the person in an ultra-sceptical vein . The same investigator several years later read the Aveley report (4) and was then staggered to find that the old case he had investigated and then cast aside for fear, presumably, that those details were romantic fabrications was identical in many of these details. In the process of UFO investigation, this kind of conscious censoring of evidence is not uncommon.
Unconscious censorship of the UFO evidence is carried out to a large extent by the witnesses who report their experiences. Jacques Vallee has studied this problem and asks the following question:
Assuming ten people have seen a strange object in the sky, how many of these reports will I be able to obtain? Considering this aspect of UFO reportage Vallee determines that this depends on how willing each of the witnesses will be to tell anyone about his experience, and it will also depend on the person to whom he relates it. (5) This is apparent when we consider that Official investigators such as US Air Force personnel or the police tend to get all the reports of strange lights and aircraft-like objects. Amateur organisations and private researchers receive more landing and occupant reports than do the police. From this premise Vallee develops seven categories of strangeness, each category having a different probability of being reported, and a different person or organisation to whom the sighting might be reported.
In order to examine some facets of ufological censorship, I intend to devote some space to a case which involves a family of UFO witnesses and their experiences of the paranormal. I am in no doubt that the vast majority of open-minded UFO investigators would not give the full details of this case a second glance. Even so, since most of the details of the following incidents are based on and quoted from the correspondence the witness sent to Carol Tonnessen, a UFO investigator, it is interesting to note that they supply only the information that they feel will be of interest to a UFO researcher. This is the trend in most correspondence from UFO percipients to ufologists, and after further probing it usually becomes apparent that the UFO witness has also experienced more than the normal amount of paranormal events.
In this instance the prime witnesses were Mrs Trench and her son Edward (both these names are pseudonyms). Mrs Trench’s first few UFO sightings were not particularly exceptional.
Her first sighting was in the spring of 1957. On a clear bright morning she was taking her son (then aged six months) to a day nursery before she went to work. The time was about 8.15 a.m. and she was walking towards Queens Park, London NW6, when she saw a silver, Saturn-shaped object, motionless in the sky. After a few seconds it glided behind a cloud and disappeared from view. She wrote:
I was scornful of UFOs and I remained scornful until 1959 when a colleague assured me that the object I saw could not possibly have been man-made as our technology was not so far advanced… Even then I was doubtful. Her second observation was at 1.30 a.m. in November 1959. Whilst in her home in London she saw a blue-green flame which was very brilliant, and in shape resembled a horse-shoe magnet. She saw this when I was in bed, my husband was asleep and I was just admiring the bright stars, when the object came into view and quickly out of view. I thought it must be a sputnik crashing to Earth. I expected to hear a crash by the time it passed from view, but there was no sound at all. I wondered how the middle section of the object remained without flame, and years later I had to concede it was a UFO.
In 1967 Mrs Trench became a UFO believer , and in consequence she bought and read a few books on the subject. At about the same time the family moved to Thetford, Norfolk. Here Edward, who was by now about twelve years old, had a couple of UFO sightings himself:
On one particular day a friend and I were standing on top of a garage, plane spotting, wrote Edward, who explained it had been a fairly light evening, as they watched some jet fighter aircraft. These aircraft followed the same flight path, so the two boys knew exactly where to look . Also one would hear some booms (not sonic booms) just before a jet would pass over. The planes were flying over at regular intervals and the booms were regular too.
After several booms and jets we heard the next set of booms and waited for the next jet to fly over. We waited longer than usual for the jet and by this time we were scanning the whole sky… I saw something coming, which I quickly pointed out to my friend. It took exactly the same route as the jets but was utterly silent except for a kind of swishy noise. It was disc shaped (and at about the same height as the jets) and had coloured lights going around the lower circumference… another set of booms was heard and a normal jet passed by. By this time my friend was scared witless and was struggling to get off the garage to tell his father. I knew there was no danger, since the object had passed. I think this sighting is very important because of the way in which the disc fitted in with the jet manoeuvres, almost as if with the co-operation and/or control of the air force base.
My second sighting was shortly after that. It was about 10.30-11.00 p.m. I was lying in bed looking out at the sky (my curtains were open) and it was still lightish. A disc-shaped object went past at a fair distance, but it was not the same as my first sighting. This had a large circular white light in its underside, flashing on and off at regular intervals. (It was tilted as though changing direction.) Its shape was rather taller than the first.
On several other occasions Edward saw zig-zagging lights in the sky. In fact he claims to have had so many sightings of various kinds of lights in the sky that he has now forgotten many of them. During this period Edward maintained an interest in astronomy, and with his two telescopes he would study the constellations and simultaneously keep an eye open for any visiting UFOs. Mrs Trench became aware of many of the UFO sightings in the district. She spoke to many UFO witnesses, and discovered that one night a young man had been walking home alone, from a school dance, when he saw a UFO. He told Mrs Trench how he had felt compelled to look upwards, and on doing so had seen something (he did not use the term UFO) which had coloured lights about it, and was descending towards him. Alarmed, he ran home as fast as he could.
In the same locality there had been incidents of travelling lights following cars, and one night Mrs Trench, with some friends, saw UFOs like fireflies darting about the eastern sky. On another occasion Edward and I watched a small light trying to catch a large bright light.
At this juncture we might pause to review the present state of affairs. First of all it will be noticed that Mrs Trench’s early sightings took place at a time when there was a great deal of public interest in space exploration, due primarily to the launch of Sputnik I in the early hours of 4 October 1957. More than ten years later Mrs Trench and her son saw UFOs when there was another period of intense public interest in space exploration due to the American Apollo moon missions.
Returning to the experiences of Mrs Trench, who claims that in the early 1970s she was at the kitchen sink, washing up. She glanced through the kitchen window, facing south. Directly opposite there was a block of flats and shops, and to the south-west of these, and close to them, was the full moon, which was at the centre of an enormous cross (crucifix-shaped) of light. Vertically, it covered from 10 to 15 degrees, and the cross-bar in proportion. Each shaft of white light was the width of the full moon.
I was so astonished I called my son (his dad took no notice at all) and together we stared at it for a moment, then with one thought in mind (that it might be caused by the glass of the window) we made for the garden door. from the door it was clearer than ever. Recently I found an article in Edward’s Scientific American on the subject of crosses of light in the sky, which explained the effect of light from sun or moon through ice crystals which, it was said, sometimes form crosses as parts of arcs which cross. However, what we saw were definitely NOT parts of arcs. The shafts were dead straight, almost as bright as the moon itself.
I, myself, have always held the firm conviction that Truth is one and indivisible” but I see no reason to doubt that spiritual truth (if we can ever find the wisdom to understand it) will teach us how causes beyond the reach of material science produce effects which can be evaluated by material science. That is no reason, however, to ignore the latter. The Biblical prophecy The Sign of the Son of Man in the Heavens” could well be as scientific a prophecy as our weather forecasting!
It could well be that technological civilisation which we know has produced environmental changes which affect the upper atmosphere, has thus produced the conditions in which such a cross of light may occur in certain local conditions. And it could be that observation of that cross and the search for the how” of it could draw attention to more profound changes in our environment than science has to date monitored… perhaps it [the cross of light] has always appeared before cataclysms as a natural result of environmental change – as natural as clouds appearing before a thunderstorm…
This sighting reminds me very much of the star or cross seen by two police officers in the early hours of 24 October 1967. Their observations received a great deal of publicity in the media, at a time when the population of England was confronted by many hundreds of UFO reports from across the country. The cross is the natural division of the circle, and is a symbol of psychic wholeness. In an age when the collective unconscious is strained to its limits by: the pressures of the cold war, ecological pollution, and the thousand and one threats to humanity (either natural or man made), it is not surprising that we are observing the results of this psychic imbalance in the heavens. No doubt many ufologists would disagree about this, but we cannot ignore totally the power of the cross, which has its roots in the depths of our collective psyche.
Mrs Trench regarded her cross sighting as … the sign of the Son of Man in the Heavens… and then expressed the feeling that our technology has provoked the conditions for the appearance of the cross. To her the cross is a warning that unless we respect and understand the earth our greedy vandalism will result in a cataclysm.
Certainly the environment of the collective unconscious is reflective of our preoccupations and worries. The cross is indicative of a sign that by coming to terms with our environment , both physical and mental, all will not be lost for mankind. Conversely it is noteworthy that she remarks that Edward’s dad took no notice at all [of the cross] , aware that her husband, and rational science, are blind to the fate of humanity. She can only try to come to terms with the impending cataclysm alone.
It was appropriate that the cross of light was superimposed on the full moon, revealing clearly the symbology inherent in the division of the circle into four. This symbol of psychic wholeness is further reinforced when we consider that the surface of the moon is itself a unity of opposites, between the black coldness of the dark side and the bright heat of the side reflecting the sun’s rays.
The fact that other UFO witnesses have reported similar sights, and given importance to them, adds relevance to the interpretation of such visions. Such a report was made by the Shade family who live in Louisiana, USA. During a partial eclipse of the moon on the evening of 26 July 1972, they saw a perfect gold cross on the moon , according to Mrs Shade, who added that the road was lit up bright as day from the cross . (9) Not only had the Shade family been witness to UFO activity but they also interpreted their cross observation as an omen from heaven.
The strange influence of the moon and its fascination is amply shown in this anecdote by Thomas de Quincy:
Nine o’clock it was – and deadly cold as ever March night was by the keenest of black frosts, and by the bitterest of north winds – when I drew towards the gate of our huge and hospitable friend. A little garden was there before the house; and in the centre of this garden was placed an arm-chair, upon which arm-chair was sitting composedly – but I rubbed my eyes, doubting the very evidence of my own eyesight – a huge man in his shirtsleeves, positively not sunning but mooning himself – appreciating himself in the occasional moonbeams; and as if simple star gazing from a sedentary position were not sufficient on such a night, absolutely pursuing his astrological studies, I repeat, in his shirtsleeves! (10)
The extremities of the lunar environment are reflected in the legendary characteristics of the werewolf. The impact of the theme of human transmutation brought on by the influence of our celestial neighbour can be gauged by the success of the many cinematic productions based on this superstition. Through these films modern man is reminded of the potency of the lunar cycle, and the animal within.
Doris Lessing, in her novel Briefing for a Descent into Hell (11) puts the very concept of consensus reality into question. The percipient in the story sees a crystal disc which abducts his comrades, leaving him to survive alone. At each full moon the disc returns, but he must banish the beast within him before he can commune with this intangible phenomenon. the dilemma of the survivor can be seen in this passage from the novel:
The thoughts of the moon are very cold and hungry, I know this now. But then enamoured and obsessed, I simply longed. I merely lay and let myself be drunk. But that cold crumb that waltzes and swings about us so wildly is a great drinker of men’s minds. By the time of the first quarter, when the moon had again moved a fourth of its journey around the earth, and there was a week to the full of the moon and the expected landing of my crystal visitor, I was lunatic indeed. I did not sleep, oh no, I could not sleep.
Finally, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Paul Whetnall, a British ufologist, has informed me that he has been in communication with one contactee who has a predilection for making blancmanges on the night of a full moon!
Mrs Trench was talking to a friend, late at night. they were walking to a bridge which lay between their two homes when her friend suddenly gasped Good Lord, what’s that!”:
I looked and ran to the middle of the bridge to get a better view, Teresa following. It changed course then and came towards us. It may have been coincidence, but when it reached the half-way stage towards us I felt uneasy and thought at it Please don’t come any closer” and it blinked out immediately. I then regretted my cowardice, and it blinked on again, now in the woodland, boughs dashing across it as it moved. Again it changed course and came at us, and again at the half-way mark I felt uneasy and thought That’s far enough” and immediately it blinked out again. Teresa was now willing to go home; all the way home I felt something behind me and, indeed, just after leaving the bridge I instinctively spun round but there was nothing to be seen. I never felt uneasy before on that route, or since.
With this sighting Mrs Trench was no longer a passive observer. She apparently had the power (or thought she had the power) to actually manipulate the UFO phenomenon. Similar instances have been recorded in the ufological literature – and although they might support Jung’s hypothesis that some UFOs are projections of the collective unconscious, we cannot give much validity to this idea without better investigation of such (alleged) events, or through controlled experiments.
A few months after the above experience Mrs trench was lying awake in her Thetford bedroom at 1.30 a.m. when she saw inside her room a 12-14 inch diameter sphere like a million-faceted ruby, with sharp red gleams from all over the surface . The sighting lasted a few minutes, and describing the encounter she wrote that:
I was trying to get to sleep, my thoughts on tramlines”, I decided to get up for a drink to break the pattern of thoughts, opened my eyes and saw the object described… I felt no alarm whatever… It did not move or do anything at all to keep my interest, and with the train of thought which had been keeping me awake broken, my eyelids just wanted to close. So I turned my back wearily and went to sleep. Next morning I found it incredible, but I wasn’t dreaming or even thinking about anything to do with UFOs.
Mrs Trench’s bedroom encounter was probably a hypnagogic hallucination, which is a common feature in the UFO literature. (18) It is also interesting to note that Mrs Trench’s attitude to this experience was one of uninterestedness, yet during the previous encounter she felt distinctly uneasy and afraid.
Most UFO contactees seem to have an intuitive nature, and Mrs Trench seems no exception. She claims that since childhood she has been prone to precognitive insights. One of her premonitions was of a group of schoolboys falling from a funfair structure; a year later this came true. She wrote that this upset me so much I have taken a long time to get over it and tune in” once again. And in that connection I have to say that in 1964 I began to get the words As in the days of Noah”, until after some years I looked them up in the Bible, and found that other impressions I had been having were confirmed by Biblical prophecy, by Jesus. Which leads me to think that Jesus was a Master of Science (i.e., of that truth which is one and indistinguishable), and that the churches, all of them, missed the point in creating their dogmas, and repressed the very faculties Jesus was trying to awaken. The UFOs are certainly signs and wonders in the heavens”, Jerusalem certainly is encompassed by armies”, etc., etc.
Since childhood Mrs Trench has experienced strange insights and seen wonders in the sky (whether illusory or not is not relevant in our present context). Our current linear viewpoint of reality cannot offer any comfort, or answers to her dilemma (they missed the point in creating their dogma ). However, she is able to seek answers within the Christian Bible.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, the Bible strikes deep mythic chords within the psyche of western man, and its archetypal themes are constantly being repeated in new frameworks.
The Christian dilemma as a result of the UFO phenomenon and its supposed connection with passages in the Bible, caused the Reverend Eric Inglesby and several members of the clergy to form an unofficial Christian UFO Research Association in order to discuss the matter.
Contrary to Mrs Trench, who found solace and vindication in the words of the Bible, the clergy, as represented by the Christian UFO Research Association, has looked on this kind of interpretation of the Bible with considerable trepidation. Eric Inglesby has concluded (12) from a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible that UFOs are demons come to draw mankind into perdition. He is confirmed in these views by a document left to him by his late friend Nigel Wright, who wrote of his strange forebodings about the fate of humanity, after suffering the strains of combat in World War II. This document, far too long to be quoted here, illustrates not only the frustrations of a battle-fatigued officer during the War, but also shows that such fears are archetypal in nature and express themselves through dreams, visions, nightmares and hallucinations, if the individual is unable to discharge such fears by constructive or creative channels.
Wright’s vision, the product of a schizophrenic collapse, was of an inhuman world gone mad . He manages to use the then popular fantastic visions of C.S. Lewis to describe his own psychological disintegration.
Nigel Wright’s vision came in 1938, yet in 1942 he still found it of sufficient importance to cause worry about ghastly jazz music, with sex run riot even in the thick of deadly warfare of an unparallelled nature. Obviously his projected vision of the world was vastly more frightening than the real physical dangers surrounding him. The same can be applied to present-day UFO contactees and visionaries.
The meaning of UFO experiences has caused as much debate among divines as others, though all sides have a decidedly apocalyptic tone. The Reverend Prebendary Victor Pear has even claimed that: These [UFO] sightings could be the gathering of spiritual or angelic forces preparing for Armageddon, the final event.
A Roman Catholic priest who made his opinion known about UFOs is the Padre Domenico Grasso, a Jesuit who teaches theology in Rome. His opinions are contrary to those of the Christian UFO Research Association, because he claims that:
The existence of extraterrestrial creatures does not go against the scriptures. I believe they do exist. …it seems logical to me that there are other worlds with living, thinking beings all created by God. Naturally they are not part of our human family descended from Adam, but they are God’s creations. They exist for the glorification of His immortal being. And they have not sacrificed Christ as we have, so I’m sure they would be much better people than we are. (13)
Dr Larrakas, a Chicago research psychologist, carried out a survey of 378 people regarding their beliefs and found that of the four variables of age, sex, education and religion, religion was the strongest correlation to belief in life in outer space. Those people who had religious beliefs held the highest belief in extraterrestrial life , he commented. (14)
The Reverend Anthony G. Millican saw, with his wife, a UFO in a Bristol park on 27 April 1968. The awestruck observers saw a glowing, dome-shaped object hovering six feet above the ground, until after twenty seconds it faded into obscurity . (15)
A decade later, the Rev. Millican erected a stall in the foyer of the Bristol Odeon cinema in order to persuade viewers of CE3K that the UFOs were coming here to seduce us into the forbidden world of the occult . (16)
Opposing this viewpoint are such people as Barry H. Downing, who regard the Bible as a record of UFO visitations, and believe that Jesus himself was a visitor . With the majority of Jesus was an astronaut pundits, Downing interprets most of the visions of the Bible in terms of present or imagined future technology. It cannot be denied that the Bible contains many accounts of UFO-type phenomena in its pages, the interpretation of which is the main topic of debate.
The reason for this theological confusion boils down to the fact that they fail to have a sufficient grasp of the psychological and sociological factors involved in both the interpretation of the Bible and the interpretation of present-day UFO sightings.
In this paper I have tried to illuminate the experiences of Mrs trench and her son within the context of the wider implications which arose from their own attempts to interpret their observations. In doing so I have attempted also to highlight the confusion, bewilderment and paradoxes inherent in both the individual and society when confronted by the vexed questions which surface due to the multi-faceted nature of what is loosely described as the UFO phenomenon . Indeed, Peter Rogerson has commented that: We should perhaps think of separate social panics, rumours, folklore and contemporary mythologies, all organised around a common structure of the flying saucer” . (19)
When dealing with such occurrences as the 1909 and 1913 airship waves we can study them as isolated social panics, but in the present day the UFO enigma has taken such a grip that ufologists have already taken historical panics and mythology as a foundation and verification for the events which are reported today. As a social phenomenon, the UFO sub-cultures are here to stay, for many reasons.
The consequence is, that through the dissemination of UFO research and studies in the mass media, the public is very well aware of what a UFO encounter entails. Especially powerful are the ufological images evoked by science fiction in films and literature, when the basic elements of UFO lore are integrated into vast, fictional constructs – such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Alternative 3.
In a recent article, (20) Robert Morrell proposed that the extraterrestrial hypothesis scores over so many of the ideas advanced to replace it, in that it is a natural explanation. Paranormal fantasies which are so popular among certain ufologists, and which are thought to be better propositions than nuts-and-bolts concepts such as the ETH, do not satisfy, because at no stage can anyone state when the normal ends and the paranormal commences. This has always struck me as the main weakness of paranormal fantasies, which for the most part are too infantile for serious consideration.
My contention is that the UFO subject can be treated via already existing scientific disciplines, and that the ETH is as much a paranormal explanation as the theories of the odd-ball cults Morrell derides. The ETH cultist seeks space ships, the so-called new ufologists seek relevance, context and understanding of the humanistic aspects of the UFO experience which stand between us an a comprehension of the ufological situation. Only with this enlightenment will we be able to grasp the importance, or relative unimportance, of UFO research.
Due to the editing involved in shortening this paper for publication here, the references in this section do not necessarily have consecutive numbers.
- Johnson, Donald. A Structured Approach to the Analysis of Non-physical UFO Evidence , MUFOB New Series, 10.
- Bowen, Charles. Vexed Questions , Flying Saucer Review, 24, 2.
- Collins, Andrew. The Aveley Abduction , Flying Saucer Review, 24, 1.
- Vallee, Jacques. UFOs: The Psychic Solution, Panther, London, 1977
- Clark, Jerome and Coleman, Loren. The Unidentified, Warner Books, New York, 1975
- de Quincy, Thomas. Recollections of the Lakes and the Lake Poets, Penguin, London, 1972
- Lessing, Doris. Briefing for a Descent into Hell, Panther, London, 1972.
- Inglesby, Eric. UFOs and the Christian, Regency Press, London.
- Suffer Little Green Men , Reveille, 19 June 1979.
- Newman, Jeffrey. Religious people are more likely to believe in outer space life , National Enquirer, 6 June 1978, via Fortean Times.
- Prevost, Alistair. Sighting in a Bristol Park , Flying Saucer Review, 14, 4
- UFOs are the Devil’s messengers, says vicar , Sunday People, 23 April 1978.
- Basterfield, Keith. Strange Awakenings , MUFOB New Series, 13.
- 19. Rogerson, Peter. Towards a Revisionist History of Ufology , MUFOB New Series, 13.
- 20. Morrell, Robert. ETH, some considerations , UFO Research Review (Nottingham), 4, 2