Off Limits; Ufology and the Deconstruction of Reality

Peter Rogerson
Magonia 30, August 1988
When I wrote my column ‘Northern Echoes’ to mark the 20th anniversary of MUFORG two years ago l practically wrote the obituary for ufology. Recent developments show that this, like so many such laments, was premature. There is, I think, a growing separation between the revived ‘folklore’ of ufology, and the views of ‘serious ufologists’. The folklore is one of secrecy, hidden things and duplicity.

Two recent books, [1,2] have brought home to British ufologists one of the major themes of American saucer ufolklore – the Great Conspiracy/Crashed Saucer Saga. Pages of print are devoted to the minute discussion of governmental ephemera and pseudo-ephemera. Clearly the mental climate of Irangate and Spycatcher holds sway here.

The message is ultimately reassuring – Big Daddy in the White House (or Mummy at No. 10) do know what is going on, even if they do not tell us children – after all, we might panic or loose our innocence. The Freudian symbolism is too obvious to count on: parental figures are not letting us in on the truth about alien intruders like foetuses hidden in secret places.

The tellers of the crashed saucer tales clearly gain kudos: they are an elite, They know where Mummy and Daddy have hidden the Christmas presents, and where babies come from. They are children who have gained a toe-hold in the world of grownups. This is maturity of protected innocence, where the grownups may take over again. Like the children in Lord of the Flies, they still believe grownups to be wise, calm, a all-knowing and protective. There is a fall from innocence still to come.

This fall is perhaps best expressed in the folklore of the abductee, which is just part of the folklore of the secret victim. Budd Hopkins’ book [3] deals with ultimate fears. Children taken from their homes, experimented on, tagged like animals; women made pregnant by aliens; changeling children taken away but returning in dreams. These are the themes of fairylore, before fairylore was domesticated and made safe for the nursery. [4,5]

The Terror comes into a child’s bedroom – visitors from that first Wilderness, the dark place under a child’s bed, or the closet in the corner [6]. Kathie Davis’s son Robbie has a night-terror: “Mummy, a man with a big head came in my wall and went into my closet and kept going back and forth and wouldn’t let me move. And he had lights around his head. The man wanted Tommy, Mummy, he wouldn’t let me move”. [3, p.75]

I said ‘What man?’ and he said ‘The man who ties me up
and puts me in the closet’
This for Hopkins is good evidence, the best spectral evidence we can have for alien abductions. Other adults would use the same narrative as good evidence for rings of satanic child abusers: “He was afraid to go to bed and I asked him why. He said ‘Because of the spiders’. I said ‘C’mon, there are no spiders under there’ and he said ‘Oh yes there are, the man down the street told me there are’. I said ‘What man?’ and he said ‘The man who ties me up and puts me in the closet’” [7]

Similarly we may recall the accounts of those who have had childhood fears of haunted houses and ‘not-quite-right’ rooms, told to Andrew MacKenzie. [8]

For just how easily the categories of abduction and child abuse can run together, take this story from a recent issue of The Observer [9]. A fifteen year old black girl disappears for a few days, and reappears in a small town in New York. She is covered in dog faeces and racist graffiti, and tells a tale of abduction and rape by white men in a black car, like the ones MIB use. But there is no physical evidence, her schoolbooks mysteriously reappear at school; perhaps she has just been hiding in a former flat. And yet … all the old Travis Walton questions come back again. She now refuses to speak, and the case has become a racial and political cause célebre.

Here we have echoes of children taken by the fairies or the gypsies or the spirits of the far forest. In Japan this was known as a kamiga-kushi, or abduction by a kami. A boy or young man would disappear from his home, and was believed carried off by a supernatural being to its own realm. Upon the recital of appropriate spells the abductee would reappear days later in some inaccessible place, such as the eves of a temple or the cramped space between the ceiling and roof of his own home. He would lie for days in a stupor, and afterwards may always remain a halfwit. But he may recover to tell of a tall stranger or strangers with gleaming eyes in the form of a mountain sage, or of a flight in the sky, of visions of the Great Wall of China or visits to the sun, moon, or underground passages and caves. At first he may have enjoyed the flight, but later would ask to go home, whereupon he was deposited where he was found. [10]

The myth of the secret victim then has its premise that the most vulnerable are never safe. That we or our children can be taken from the security of the home: that all the while their parents are watching TV in the lounge, Jimmy and Susan upstairs are victims of nameless outrage, that mummy and daddy, secure in the safety of their electric light complacency, know nothing of. Only the specialist, a Budd Hopkins or a Marietta Higgs, by discerning secret stigmata, can uncover the horror.

The folklore tells us that no-one and nowhere is safe from the exotica, not even our own bodies. Hopkins tells us that aliens can take liberties with us, rape us, make us pregnant, steal our babies, implant strange devices in us, like some animals in a zoo. All in secret. The reduction to ‘thing’ status, the humiliation, even such details as Whitley Strieber’s anal rape, can be paralleled in tribal initiation rituals – note also the recent controversy over initiation rituals in the army. This is the liminal realm, the place of reversals – the wild woman who rides the captive male [see also 11], or the pattern of opposites encountered by Strieber (individual/collective, human/insect, male/female, etc.)

This is what an Amerindian shaman called ‘the space of death’ – the underworld, the zone of visions and communications between natural and supernatural beings: putrefaction, rebirth, death, genesis. This space of death Michael Taussig [12] compares with the concentration camps of Chile and Argentina: the places where the ‘disappeared’ are, as true abductees, taken at night by overwhelming force, reduced to a ‘thing’ status, subjected to inhuman ordeal, and pounded down to abject helplessness.

What horrifies about Hopkins’ aliens is not that they are alien (interbreeding with a true alien is, of course, a total biological absurdity) but that they are us. They are neither benevolent or malevolent, they are ‘just doing their job’, doing ‘what is best in the long run’. Their alienness lies in their denial of humanity, to themselves, and to, the patients/victims as they reduce them to client/experiment status.

The ‘glacial indifference’ of the alien who takes Kathie’s baby and her screams of rage remind me of nothing so much as the final scene of the famous 1960′s TV drama Cathy Come Home (nice coincidence of names there!), where the social workers, with icy indifference, remove Cathy’s children through her screams, because it is ‘for the best’.

However, there are situations where a howl of pain and rage is the only appropriate and healthy response. Kathie’s howl of rage when the aliens came for her child: “I screamed 'Don’t take my baby' at them … and the fucker looked surprised”, does not disturb in the same way as the following account from Kenneth Ring.

A woman had a NDE during childbirth and encountered a being of light who said he had come for her child. She felt joy that her child had been selected and grief stricken that she had no child to give. She had a vision of doctors weighing the life span of the baby on a machine which read 80 years. But the being said the machine was faulty and the baby would only live for a few days. She forgot this until the baby did die, when she felt no grief, only joy.’ [My synopsis, PR]

Reading the works of Budd Hopkins is a searing experience, like standing before a furnace of pain
The beings from Magonia, the exotics, the forces of wild nature, must be offered something of ourselves, our own future, our own vulnerability, in the hope that they will be a little less wild, a little less indifferent. Like Lady Gregory’s Visions and Beliefs, reading the works of Budd Hopkins is a searing experience, like standing before a furnace of pain. This is the folklore of humanity in extremis, messages from the spaces of death, the landscape of fear, the realm of total impossibility.

Yet an escape route is offered from this realm; one can see it in these narratives. At the very least they hint at a new race – ‘dark they are and golden eyed’ – waiting in some Magonia offstage. There is more than a hint of the Christ Child in the manger in some of these ‘wise baby’ narratives. Are the abductee women to be the parents of some messiah growing under alien skies; their suffering a mark of supernatural grace? The abductees may be given supernatural powers and gifts which catapult them from the realm of absolute impossibility to that of absolute possibility.

This is the realm of the charismatic urban shaman; the contactee. The image of the contactee has begun to make a comeback. Billy Meier is a typical example [14], on fire with the energy of creation and destruction. Like H P Blavatsky [15], L Ron Hubbard [16] or Tony Wedd [17], he creates not only for self expression, but for power.

The manipulation of fictional characters can never satisfy, only the deconstruction and reconstruction of reality as a gigantic novel, with themselves as grand hero and all the rest as cardboard sidekicks. Meier uses his modelling abilities as Hubbard did his writings, to impose power over others – the more ridiculous the charade and the more self-important the victim the better. The parallel with the ‘Psychic Questing’ episodes are clear. The urban shaman can escape from powerlessness by the radically dissocialising identification with the limitless power and total freedom of wild nature. The shaman seeks to ride this power, to harness it. If he fails the grim fate of Louis Riel beckons. [18]

The abductees may rarely reach such heights, but most have experimented spontaneously, with what many societies seek to recapture by ritual and pharmacology – at least enough to know that fairyland was never a place where ‘gentle folks and graceful fairies dance` [19], but rather a place of dead babies and lost women.

The average run-of-the-mill UFO experience of course, does not have this power. But when ‘Valerie of Peckham’ sees a star and reports it as a UFO, it is a kind of revelation, a seeing for the very first time. She is seeing the world without our usual mental maps. A logical chain of thought is set up which runs: “I would not feel like this is I were looking at a star, but I might feel like this if I were looking at a spaceship, therefore probably I am looking at a spaceship”

These logical chains are in psychological terms ‘secondary delusions’, attempts to rationalise the primary sense of ‘otherness’ and uncanniness. There is a stripping away or shift of meaning of perception. The percipient is momentarily lost in a wilderness of raw perception, bereft of the normal psycho-social maps. [20]

It is not surprising that percipients resist ‘rational explanations’, for such explanations do not correspond with the percipient’s own experience. Valerie knows that it was not a star she saw. Any map, however defective, is better than no map at all.

The dominant folklore in British ufology at the moment appears to be Earthlights or Spooklights. The powerful appeal of this concept lies in its romantic roots. It is a folklore of open spaces, where tales still survive of the eerie secrets of wild nature, before TV and streetlights robbed them of their wonder. It remains a useful antidote to the rather theory-bound nature of much ufology, which carefully screens itself from raw narrative behind masses of computerese and pseudoscience.

On the other hand the Earth Lights hypothesis seems to combine reductionism and romanticism in equal amounts. There is implicit in some of the arguments of Persinger et al, a view of social phenomena which seeks to explain them in terms of physical, environmental factors. One writer – I forget who – tried to ‘explain’ the 1906 Liberal landslide in terms of sunspot activity. This can lead to arguments of the type ‘If it wasn’t for the lead in petrol our children would be nice and docile’, which can easily develop into more sinister lines.

And is not the Romantic view of the past expressed in this lore, close to the ‘preserve the dark satanic mills’ type of heritageism which blocks out the reality of past pain and suffering? I note particularly how in his treatment of the Pendle witches, David Clark subsumes the reality of social strife and persecution into a landscape romanticism, by projecting terror from the human community onto the wild landscape.

There is within Devereux’s presentation a hidden agenda. Many people have criticised his ideas about mental manipulation of subtle energies as seriously detracting from an otherwise ‘reasonable’ theory. But is not the manipulative claim close to the heart of this ideology? This is what transforms the percipient from being a helpless victim of environmental or social forces, into a manipulator, an artist on a grand scale, sculpting the landscape, exercising his will over wild nature. One up on Billy Meier indeed!

Is there not in psychosocial ufology, too, something of this? A determination to assert the autonomy, self-reliance and creativity of human beings against the bleak, impersonal forces of the cosmos, and much of our society. Does not the idea of the alien encroaching on human affairs imply a gigantic ‘no say’, an arbitrary veto on human possibilities.

We can thus see that ufological folklore oscillates between visions of human helplessness before a limitlessly powerful ‘other’, and visions of limitless power and individual creativity. Ufologists will have to be very careful how they handle this folklore. Perhaps accepting that they are folklorists, recorders of stories – and not freelance geophysicists, intelligence agents or psychiatric social workers – will be the first step on the road to wisdom.

Notes and References:
  1. GOOD, Timothy, Above Top Secret; the world-wide UFO cover-up. Sidgewick and Jackson, 1987.
  2. RANDLES, Jenny. The UFO Conspiracy; the first 40 years, Blandford, 1987,
  3. HOPKINS, Budd. Intruders. Random House, 1987.
  4. BIGGS, Katherine. The Vanishing People, Batsford 1978.
  5. GREGORY, Lady. Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland, Colin Smyth, 1976.
  6. ’Wilderness Under Daddy’s Bed’, quoted in NASH, Roderick, Wilderness and the American Mind, Yale, 1982.
  7. RAPPLEYE, Charles, ‘Satanism and Child Abuse’, in Fate, April 1987.
  8. MacKENZIE, Andrew, The Seen and the Unseen, Weidenfeld, 1981.
  9. PYE, Michael, ‘When the Victim Refuses to Speak’, The Observer, 1 May 1988, p.35.
  10. BLAKE, Carmen, ‘Other World Journeys in Japan’, in DAVIDSON, Hilda R G, The Journey to the Other World, D S Brewer for the Folklore Society, 1975.
  11. DAVIS, Natalie Zemon, ‘Women on Top; symbolic sexual inversion and political disorder in early modern Europe’, in BABCOCK Barbara, A Reversible World; symbolic inversion in art and society, Cornell U. P., 1978.
  12. TAUSSIG, Michael, Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man, University of Chicago Press, 1981.
  13. RING, Kenneth, Heading Towards Omega; in search of the meaning of the near-death experience, William Morrow, 1984,
  14. KINDER, Gary, Light Years, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987.
  15. MEADE, Martin. Madame Blavatsky, the woman behind the myth. Putnams, 1980.
  16. MILLER, Russell, Bare-faced Messiah; the true story of L Ron Hubbard. Michael Joseph, 1981,
  17. HESLETON, Philip, Tony Wedd, New Age Pioneer, Northern Earth Mysteries, 1987.
  18. FLANAGAN, Thomas. Louis ‘David’ Riel; prophet of the New World, Goodread Biographies, 1983.
  19. VALLEE, Jacques, Passport to Magonia, Regnery, 1969.
  20. REED, Graham, The Psychology of Anomalous Experience, Houghton Mifflin, 1974.
  21. Illusion des soises’, in which friends and relations, though perceived as being physically identical, are not perceived as being ‘really’ that person, but viewed as though they were a double or changeling.

Peter Rogerson added these comments to the first on-line publication of this article in 2009:

This article was written for the Magonia UFO Conference held at East Sheen Library in Spring 1988. It contains my first reactions to the new 'alien baby' tales of Budd Hopkins, and to the growing stories of secret child abuse. The Fate article mentioned was one of the first sceptical pieces on the satanic abuse scare in the United States. This reminds us that at a time when much of the mainstream media lapped up these tales uncritically, Forteans were the ones asking all sorts of pertinent questions.

The story of the 14 year old girl, allegedly abducted was that of Tawana Brawley and there are good summaries of the affair here
and the full text of a grand jury hearing on the case here

Compare with the story of Elizabeth Canning

Marietta Higgs was one of the paediatricians in the Cleveland child abuse case, some basic background is here, but please note this article has clearly been compiled by groups of people with competing agendas. There are no truly objective sources on this affair, and it looks as though this will have to be a task for future historians.

In later abductionist writings, most particularly that of David Jacobs, the equation between the realm of the abductors and the concentration camp is even more explicit. Of course, if you still doubt the greys are us, think of Guantanamo Bay and “extraordinary rendition”.

The last part reminds us that religions are not founded by saintly old gentlemen like Desmond Tutu or Basil Hulme, but in large measure by the sort of scary people you would normally cross the road to avoid, the mad, bad and dangerous to know, the tricksters, the con artists, the narcissists and the utterly deluded.