Northern Lights: Arendel and Hessdalen

Hilary Evans
Magonia 14, 1983

Norwegian mythology is rich and varied, and could well prove as rich a source of pre-Arnold UFO-lore as that of any other culture. The first major event in Norwegian ufology was the ‘ghost-rocket’ wave of 1946. which remains one of the most baffling enigmas in UFO history. From that time on Norway has had its share of incidents, with one or two highlights like the 1954 encounter of two sisters with an alien entity while out picking berries, and a curious case in which a car temporarily changed colour after a close encounter with a low-flying UFO.
But for the most part the cases have been typical of those seen around the world – one-off incidents of anomalous lights which are convincingly puzzling but contain little for the ufologists to grab hold of.

Within the last two years all this has changed. The pattern of sightings in Norway has been transformed by not one but two clusters of sightings, centred en specific locations and sustained over a period of time — several weeks in one case, many months in the other. This has give UFO Investigators the chance to follow up witness with field observations of their own, with results which may well make the names of Arendal and Hessdalen celebrated when the history of the solution of the UFO enigma comes to be written.

There are obstacles to UFO investigation in Norway, as I discovered when I went there myself earlier this year to see, if not the UFOs themselves, then at least the places where others were seeing them. The mileometer of my car confirmed what the maps indicates Norway is a vast place. (I don’t think I met a single Norwegian who didn’t at some moment point out to me that if his country could be rotated on its most southern point, his most northern compatriots would find themselves living on the banks of the Nile instead of deep within the Arctic Circle!)

Not only is Norway vast, but it is sparsely populated – within that great area live fewer people than in many of the world’s cities. So there is only a skeletal road network, and even that is further hampered by the terrain, as I discovered one day when I foolishly sought to cross a mountain pass which I assumed would have been cleared by late May, only to find it was still blocked with snow, forcing me to make a detour measured in hundreds of miles. Under such conditions investigation would make severe demands on any UFO organisation, and of course Norway’s small population means that its UFO organisations are also small in proportion. Fortunately, they are also enthusiastic and adventurous, and within the scope of their means they have made the most of their opportunities.

What happened at Arendal

Arendal is a picturesque coastal town in southern Norway, in a popular holiday area. During November 1981 many witnesses reported anomalous lights in the sky, inspiring UFO-Norge to set up regular surveillance. Their efforts were rewarded: they obtained 78 successful photos, of which 25 show complex light forms which are manifestly different from the photos of aircraft taken by way of control on the same spot on the same occasions by the same people with the same cameras. Though I am no kind of expert on photographic evidence, I have to say that the Arendal photos are among the most impressive I have ever seen. Not a hint of Adamski-type mother-ships and scouts, but a clear indication of something more complex than a simple light-in-the-sky. Witnesses reported structured shapes, but these do not show up in the photos: they do however suggest cylindrical forms surrounding the blocks of blue, orange and green light.

The Arendal photographs contain information which should be susceptible of analysis. Characteristic is a change in light intensity when the object changes direction. At each of a succession of 90° turns, for instance, the cameras record a big blast of light. It is inferred that this indicates a sudden outburst of energy, though this is not the only possible explanation.

The descriptions and drawings supplied by the witnesses are, of course, considerably more sensational, if less useful from the scientific point of view. What is especially interesting, though, is that some of the objects were unusually low-flying: one of them was seen at a distance of 200-300 metres, with a tree-covered island as a background, making possible a fair estimate of distance, size, speed and so forth. The object in this case was a cigar shape with an unusual light display, and making no sound.

What is happening in Hessdalen

Hessdalen is totally unlike Arendal. It is a remote valley in the vast mainland interior of Norway, nearly 600 km. from Arendal as the UFO flies and a great deal more as the Capri drives. (It is not only distance which separates one Norwegian from another, it is fjells, which tend to keep their snow covering all year round, and fjords, which are too big to be bridged and therefore have to be crossed by ferryboats which spend their lives chugging backwards and forwards in the world’s most beautiful scenery.)About a hundred people live in Hessdalen, mostly in isolated farms along unmade-up (and how!) tracks. From a sociological point of view these people present a curious contrast with the peasant populations of, say, Sicily or Latin America. Norway has a very high standard of living and a full spectrum of social amenities such as education, so the people of Hessdalen are simple people living in a physical environment of stunning severity, yet living with standards of comfort and convenience usually associated with gentler living conditions. I leave it to the sociologists to determine whether this somewhat paradoxical state of affairs may affect their credibility as UFO witnesses.

For UFO witnesses is just what a surprising number of the people of Hessdalen claim to be. Since December 1981 – that is to say, and make of it what you will, commencing immediately after the Arendal sightings – hundreds of UFOs have been reported in the Hessdalen area by several dozen witnesses, several of them being multiple observations. The great majority were nocturnal lights, but a few were seen in daylight and these were all of metallic cigar-shaped objects. The sightings comprised a great variety: distances varied from 10-15 metres to several kilometres, numbers of objects ranged from one to four, movement varied from hovering to great speed, and from a simple trajectory to complex manoeuvres. Only one feature seems to have been absent – a total absence of sound. In this almost unbelievably isolated region, however, this feature takes on a special significance, for any sound such as that of a car or tractor can be heard at many kilometres distance.

In another respect, too, the geography of Norway aids the UFO investigator: Hessdalen is far to the north, which means that in summer it stays light most hours of the day and night. I stood on the mountain-top at 11.30 pm taking photographs: not, unfortunately, of UFOs, but that I hardly dared hope for. A Norwegian journalist, who has recently published a book on the Hessdalen sightings, spent several weeks skywatching before he had his first sighting.

What the prolonged daylight means, though, is that there is a very long period of half-light which an enterprising photographer can exploit. If the UFO is good enough to stay still for a while, it is possible to obtain a photograph which includes some background, and indeed the UFO-Norge investigators were able to obtain two such photographs, in which the object is seen in front of the facing slopes.

As at Arendel, the witness reports are considerably more exciting than the photographs. The farmer who owned the wooden hut where investigator Leif Havik and I spent the night, Lars Lillevold, saw an egg-shaped object hovering about 30 metres from his house, and this is just one of the structured objects which Hessdalen witnesses have reported. These sightings have been confirmed by the investigators too, which is just one of the ways in which these incidents are of unique interest. Leif Havik has watched are oblong object passing slowly along the valley in front of the facing mountain; it was silent and with a strange light configuration. He was lucky enough to obtain a photograph of his sighting; just one of many dozen photographs which, though they do not give much of an idea of shape or size, resist any interpretation in terms of conventional phenomena. Even if all witness testimony is set aside – which when there is so great a quantity of it would be a very high-handed course to take! – the photographs present clear evidence of some sort of anomalous aerial phenomenon which is repeatedly manifesting in the skies above Hessdalen.

The geophysical dimension

The country around Hessdalen is a geologist’s dream: the land is stuffed full of minerals of many kinds, and copper mining was once carried out nearby. The magnetic field is the strongest in the whole of Norway. These features can hardly be coincidental, but that does not mean that their significance is self-evident. They support the extraterrestrial hypothesis as much as they do the ‘earth-lights’ hypothesis.

If the witnesses are really seeing structured objects with lights and windows, as so many of them claim, then we don’t have much choice but to suppose that alien visitors are taking an interest in the region for reasons connected with its geological make-up. If we suppose that, however sincere, the eye-witnesses are being deluded, either by their own psychological processes or by induced external forces of the control-system type, then we can rely only on what the camera reveals, which by no means requires an extraterrestrial origin. At the same tune, the phenomena reported from Hessdalen manifest a degree of complexity which is a far cry front the earth-force-generated transient light phenomena hypothesised by Persinger, Devereux, et al.

Leif Havik and Arne Thomassen have seen and photographed luminous objects of massive size moving slowly across a distance of many kilometres, hovering and changing direction from time to time, and low enough for terrain to he seen behind the object. No object on the ground could move that fast over such rugged ground and great distances. No man-made aerial object could manoeuvre like that, except a helicopter which could not conceivably go unheard (apart from the fact that none of Norway’s limited population of helicopters was in the are at the time); but no known natural phenomenon offers so complex a form and conducts itself in so complex a way over so great a distance and over so sustained a period of time.

Manifestations of intelligence

Leif Havik: “The main reason why I think the phenomena are under some control is this: five times I have seen a UFO just when I arrived at the mountain, and before I had time to set up my camera. On all five occasions I was less than 100 metres from where I meant to set up my observation position”.

None of us feels very comfortable with subjective impressions of this kind, but at the same time it would be intellectually dishonest to dismiss them. Readers of Rutledge’s Project Identification will of course be aware that comparable incidents occur in the course of the American research: Rutledge will surely derive some comfort from the fact that his controversial findings have been spontaneously replicated here in Norway.

Once again, it is a finding which can be interpreted different ways depending on the hypothesis you are evaluating. Those who are familiar with the ‘BOLs’ hypothesis proposed by me last year in Probe Report may suspect that I am an interested party in this matter; yet I must insist that it is only with the utmost reluctance, and because I believe that we must go where the evidence leads us, that I feel we arc obliged to take this evidence into account. That evidence, combined with the rest of the testimony, points towards a controlled, purposive and intelligently, guided phenomenon, which we must suppose to be motivated in some way by the geophysical character of the Hessdalen area. (I do not have sufficient information about the geology of the Arendal area to know whether the same holds good there, but all of Norway seems to be as geologically as it is scenically striking.)

Really, there is nothing unique about the Norwegian sightings except their unusual disposition to keep on happening, thus enabling UFO investigators to collect their equipment and set up observation posts. The only parallel know to me is the Rutledge project, and the two sets of sightings have much more in common. But just as Rutledge is sceptical of any reductionist geophysical explanation for his sightings, so the ‘earthlights’ hypothesis will have to be substantially extended before it will even begin to fit the Arendal and Hessdalen sightings.

At the same time, I don’t think anyone questions that at the basis of the Norwegian sightings, as of the Missouri UFOs, there is a fundamentally physical phenomenon. It may have other dimensions which differentiate it from other types of physical object, but that doesn’t mean the physical dimension isn’t there. And since we ufologists are physical beings, it would seem only reasonable to approach these enigmatic phenomena on a physical level, as three-dimensional, objects with mass and duration and so on. The paraphysical aspects, if such there be, can come later.


The Arendal sightings were written up in the English-language Nordic UFO Newsletter 1982, 2; the Hessdalen sightings will be given similar treatment in the next issue. These who read Scandinavian will find fuller accounts in UF0-Norge’s fine journal, confusingly named UFO. A book-length account of the Hessdalen sightings (in Norwegian) has just been published by a freelance journalist, Arne Wisth: entitled UFO mysteriet i Hessdalen it is published by Bladkompaniet of Oslo. It includes many photographs, including seventeen in colour.

The other books referred to are, of course, Harley Rutledge’s Protect Identification essential reading if ever there was such a thing; and Paul Devereux’ Earthlights which also merits serious study. Persinger has published snippets of his work in obscure (so far as the average uflogist is concerned) academic journals. He has written a book embodying them but has hitherto failed to find a publisher. When it does come out, it will – to judge by the chapters I have read – be essential reading for every one of us.