Abductions: Who’s Being Taken for a Ride?

John Rimmer
Magonia 36, May 1990

Are UFO abductions finally moving where they belong, i.e. out of the hands of ufologists? This question is prompted by several recent books, and news of new directions in UFO research which is starting to emerge from the USA. There has been a tendency over the past couple of years to see American UFO research as monolithic and ETH-dominated, especially in the abduction field, which Europeans have seen as being centred on Hopkins and his genetic-experimenting aliens.
Of course, this is a great over-simplification. We only have to look at the writings of Martin Kottmeyer and Dennis Stillings in this magazine and elsewhere to see that alternative viewpoints are articulately expressed.

Perhaps less appreciated in Britain is the split that is developing between Budd Hopkins and a number of researchers who had initially cooperated with him in hypnotic regression of suspected abductees. In the last Magonia mentioned briefly the rift between Hopkins and psychologist Rima Laibow, and in Whitley Strieber’s Communion and particularly his second book of personal experiences, Transformation, his increasing disenchantment with ufology – or to be more precise, Budd Hopkin’s version of it.

In a book recently published in America, Report on Communion [1] by Ed Conroy, Strieber’s contacts with ufologists are chronicled in some detail. Report is intended as an ‘independent assessment’ of the nature of Streiber’s experience, particularly in the light of his life and background. ‘Independent’ is perhaps too strong a word, as the author is a friend of Strieber, and appears broadly sympathetic to his own assessment of his experiences. However, the book provides an interesting perspective an Strieber’s own account, and provides much background opinion to help us confirm or adjust our own opinions.

There are two easy ways of looking at the events described in Communion. One is to say they are pure invention, created by a skilled fiction writer; the other is to say they are a physical reality which happened in real-time. Both these possibilities deserve consideration, although for obvious reasons the former has been debated in a rather circumspect manner, especially in countries where the libel laws are such a Mickey Mouse affair as ours. However, for the purposes of any thorough investigation of Strieber’s experiences there in no need to have to choose between these possibilities, as the number of more likely explanations is legion.

Most of the later part of Report is taken up by a comparison between the Communion events and encounters with traditional folklore entities – particularly Irish – and an assessment of the abduction experience in Jungian terms, and of course these are points which carry on from Strieber’s own speculations in Transformation. At this point, an interesting thing happens. Strieber crosses the Atlantic, as it were, and seems to have far more in common with the worlds of Magonia, Meheust and Maugé than he does with MUFON and Majestic.

And it is here that the largest single gap in Conroy’s assessment occurs. Apart from Vallée, who is quoted extensively and approvingly, Conroy seems to be almost totally unaware that there is an alternative ufological viewpoint to the ETH. This is almost certainly a product of the high profile that the ETHers have now achieved in the USA. Apart from the controversial influence or otherwise of Science and the UFO, the only other European UFO book extensively cited by Conroy seems to be Tim Good’s Above Top Secret, which is a shame as Conroy’s understanding of the mythic content of the UFO and abduction experience puts him far closer to the European researchers than to Good or mainstream USA thought.
Strieber and his friends formed a rocket club, which reached the front page of the local paper when they launched a ‘frognik’ – a home made rocket carrying a frog!
The impression comes across strongly in Communion that Strieber was something of a ufological virgin until his experiences started and he came across Randles and Warrington’s Science and the UFO. This may be so, but Conroy has unearthed some fascinating material about the young Whitley’s extraterrestrial interests back home in San Antonio.

Mrs Ann Hix forms an interesting footnote to the history of ufology. Her husband, Col. Guy Hix was commander of Goodman Air Force Base, Kentucky, in in 1947 at the time the ill-fated Capt. Mantell took off to investigate a UFO, and became America’s first UFO-related fatality. As a result of the legal wrangling which followed this case, Commander Hix and his wife moved to San Antonio, Texas, where their sons became boyhood playmates of one Whitley Strieber. At about this time – the era of the first Soviet sputnik – Strieber and his friends formed a rocket club, which reached the front page of the local paper when they launched a ‘frognik’ – a home made rocket carrying a frog!

It is interesting to speculate what might have happened if, after his amnesiac tour of Europe Strieber had decided to settle as an American in Paris. Perhaps nothing. Maybe, in a different intellectual climate he would have become a cultural insider, and the ‘visitor experiences’ would have taken a different form, had they occurred at all. If they did happen, would they have developed differently if his first contacts with the world of ufology had been via some of the French ufologists rather than Hopkins? The cultural identity between the abduction experience and North American society is so strong that my suspicion is that Strieber just would not have had these experiences.

It would also be interesting to speculate what might have been the result if Strieber’s first contact with ufology had been via the Swedish researchers described in John Spencer’s Perspectives [2] – Berta Kuhlemam and Arne Groth. Spencer’s book is a plea for abduction research – indeed UFO research in general – to be witness-led rather than researcher-led. The conventional approach to abductees by ufologists, he claims, leads to a story emerging which conforms to the ufologist’s preconceptions and he makes the point that an abductee presented to a past-lives researcher might come up with a variation on a reincarnation story.

This is a fascinating suggestion with links to some recent US research which I shall look at in a moment. He points as an example of witness-led investigation a Swedish abduction case from 1974, investigated by Kuhleman and Groth. Here the initial event seems conventional enough: a man returning home in a lonely country area suffers a missing time period after a close encounter with a mysterious light. An initial hypnotic regression produces a narrative of abduction by four tall, ‘semi-transparent’ beings who communicated by ‘musical tones’. The percipient was not happy with the direction of the investigation, and at this point Grath was introduced to the case. He abandoned hypnotic regression and allowed the witness to move the investigation into the directions he fait happiest with.

The investigations, under the percipient's own direction, began to move away radically from the conventional lines we expect from a UFO-investigator directed case, and into a far more mystically inclined area, with both investigator, percipient, and others engaged in dowsing and the range of activities we think of as ‘earth-mysteries’, and working with such concepts as earth-energies, body-energies resembling kundalini, and the Gala concept. It is hard to see how the investigation might continue, and it seems unlikely that it will ever come to what most ufologists would consider a ‘conclusion’. If nothing else one must admire the sheer patience of Kuhlemann and Groth, who seem to have spent years and years following the whims of their abductee. I guess many ‘investigator-led’ researchers would have given it up as a bad job years ago. It is also apparent that the approach taken by both investigators and percipient is influenced by cultural concepts of society and land that are distinctively Scandinavian.

A major part of the book is an account of the seminal (no pun intended, or was it just a Freudian slip?) Hill Case. Spencer’s approach was outlined in his talk to the BUFORA International Conference in 1988 and a recent series of articles in UFO Times. He concludes broadly that the Hill case arose from Barney’s dream experiences after the sighting of a relatively low-key UFO during the course of their drive. Barney’s experience were shared, consciously and unconsciously. with Betty, until they jointly emerged during the course of the investigation.

It is surprising that Spencer, a long-time BUFORA Committee Member, seems as unaware of the nature of much of British ufology, and its divergence from the American pattern as does Ed Conroy. I find it difficult to accept his constant assertions that British abduction researchers are simply following in the footsteps of the Americans. He seems to imply that most British researchers are simply Hopkins clones – this is happily far from the case; in fact his constant harping on the ETH domination of British ufology is irritating and detracts from his book. Of course, there are British researchers who are still attached to the ETH, just as there are American researchers who have jettisoned it: but the overall picture is very different from Spencer’s caricature.
We are left with the almost certain conclusion that the majority of abductees are going to have their most traumatic experiences, and their lives, explored and explained by a group of poorly trained, amateur hobbyists.
But even in America, attitudes are changing, and Hopkins himself seems to becoming an increasingly isolated figure with his naive scenario of alien interbreeding and genetic experiments. As I mentioned in the Editorial of Magonia 35, the abduction experience in America is now beginning to attract the attention of psychologists, therapists and other mental health professionals, as well as engaging the attention of parapsychologists who have up to now been working in other fields.

A very interesting report by the Near Death Experience researcher Kenneth Ring has recently come our way. In it he summarises a psychological profiling exercise amongst abductees, NDE experients, and as control, researchers into these subjects. He finds, as will be no surprise to faithful Magonia readers, a considerable degree of similarity between the two groups of experients. He also claims that the results do not show any significant degree of ‘fantasy proneness’ amongst the two experient groups. I am rather doubtful about the significance of this finding, as the questions designed to determine fantasy proneness not only seem extremely subjective – “Did you day-dream a lot as a child?” – but in many cases suggest the answer the researcher would like to hear. They seem to be making the respondent choose between “Are you a dull, uninteresting little bore”, and “Are you a sensitive, fascinating human being who has had lots of exciting things happen to you?”

Just as interesting as the responses of the experients are the responses of the investigators. As Ring describes them they are hardly a ‘control group’ – a real control would surely be a random group of people with little or no interest in the subjects. Indeed, they show responses often remarkably similar to the experients. It would appear that becoming interested in NDEs or UFOs is almost as life-changing an experience as having an NDE or UFO experience. It is also of note that UF0 researchers’ responses are consistently more to the ‘strange’ side of the equation than those of NDE investigators – sometimes in fact more ‘strange’ than NDE experients. perhaps reflecting the fact that NDE studies are a more ‘acceptable’ topic for academic research than UFO

In The Evidence for Alien Abduction [3] I put forward the suggestion that the abduction experience is a symptom rather than a cause of personality change. It now seems that becoming interested in UFOs may be a symptom of a similar process!

Ring’s interest in ufology, via abductions, is significant, and is an example of the ‘professionalisation’ of UFO research, particularly abduction research. This trend has got farthest in America, where psychologists, psychoanalysts and therapists are moving into the field. One of the leading figures in this move is the aforementioned Rima Laibow, a psychotherapist who is one of the prime movers of the semi-mysterious TREAT – Treatment and Research of Experienced Anomalous Trauma.

In the last Magonia editorial I welcomed the appearance amongst abduction researchers of professional psychologists, therapists, etc., particularly as current research is continuing to show some sort of connection between the abduction experience, and a history of childhood sexual abuse towards the abductee (a finding which is reinforced by the Ring survey mentioned above). But there is another side to such involvement which will also need to be addressed.

In an article in the January 1990 issue of MUFON UFO Journal, Rima Laibow looks at the complementary roles of the amateur ufologists and the professional therapist. Much of the article is a sensible analysis of how these two groups can work together – the therapist looking after the interests of the individual concerned, the ufologists putting the individual experience into a wider perspective. Towards the end however, her paper turns into a plea for the therapist to be able to charge a fee for her/his work with the abductee. The ufologists, she argues, are allowed to profit from the books and articles they write on abductions (well, some do, most don’t), so it is only fair, isn’t it, that the professional therapist should also turn an honest penny without charges of ‘profiteering’ from the UFO community?

One American correspondent has commented that there is already the suspicion arising in the USA that the growing hostility between abduction researchers and professionals (such as that between Hopkins and Laibow) is because the latter see the former as ‘siphoning off’ potentially lucrative cases.

Despite that, the professionals do have a fair argument. We are dealing with highly trained people whose time is money and there is a limit to the amount of unpaid work they can do on a charitable basis. But here we have the fundamental question: who pays? The abductees themselves? In any other case where people are undergoing private treatment by a medical specialist this is the case, but how many abductees could afford it? Are those who can’t to be left, as now, to the tender mercies of the untrained ufologist? Or should the ufologists pay? Fine if there is chance of a profitable book in it, but I can’t see too many ufologists forking out the fees that any qualified psychiatrist or psychotherapist would be asking – especially in America where they are paid almost as much plumbers.

So we are left with the almost certain conclusion that the majority of abductees are going to have their most traumatic experiences, and their lives, explored and explained by a group of poorly trained, amateur hobbyists.

Someone’a being taken for a ride, but I can’t for the life of me work out who.

  1. Conroy, Ed. Report on Communion. William Morrow & Co., New York, 1989
  2. Spencer, John. Perspectives. Macdonald, 1990.
  3. Rimmer, John. Evidence for Alien Abduction. Aquarian Press, 1984.