On a Summer’s Day in the Steel City of Sheffield…

Peter Rogerson
Magonia 37, October 1990.

On a summer’s day in the steel city of Sheffield, two cultures clashed, two visions were displayed. Budd Hopkins confronted his critics. Budd Hopkins is a persuasive speaker, with a kindly manner. If he had followed his friend Ted Bloecher into the acting profession, he would be well-cast as the wise, empathic school principal with infinite faith in the possibilities of his problem class. Yet this gentle, slightly greying gentleman was recounting material out of the worst of horror stories.

In two one-hour presentations he told of aliens who could enter our houses through closed doors, steal us away through solid walls, take children for unspecific purposes including playing strange games with 'grey' children. These aliens abuse us, mark and scar our bodies and souls, they place implants in our noses [1], and turn us into laboratory animals. A vast variety of fears and phobias are generated by our contacts with them. Narratives of abuse by the grey aliens fade into stories of sexual abuse, like the woman who had a phobia about sleeping in her bed, or into ghost stories like that of the teenage abductee whose parents heard a typical poltergeist racket in their house.

Hopkins offers no meaning or explanation of this, only a belief in their utterly alien otherness. Because it is absurd, it is true. There is no point in arguing about the claims which, taken to their natural limit, would imply that 'they' could enchant the whole world. Indeed, for just one person to be taken from a city in broad daylight, as Hopkins has claimed, would virtually require the enchantment of the whole world. Nor does he offer any explanation as to why supertechnological aliens still leave bleeding wounds on their victims, because his answer is always the same and echoes the medieval theologians: “Strange indeed are the ways of the Greys.”

If one consults Hopkins’s books [2] there is very little narrative in these stories, rather there are flashes of shattering images. These images come across in the slides Hopkins shows depicting the Greys. The skinny figures with huge staring eyes raise memories of the starving children from Oxfam posters, or even of scrawny, oily birds taken from a dying Alaskan sea.

As we hear Hopkins ascribe all the phobias in the world to the Greys, we begin to understand a little of what is going on: he is giving a name and a face to all our nameless, faceless fears. This surely is the point, for the great abduction fear is part and parcel of a set of fears. It just cannot be separated from other fears which emerged at the same time, especially the ritual abuse fears. They both derive their power from the central fear of the absolute collapse of order and habitat, and the abuse of the helpless, secret victim.

Hopkins compares the 'Secret of the Abductions' to the 'Secret of the Holocaust. as that which is too bad to be comprehended. Some writers see this as a glib statement and thus a blasphemy. Maybe, but perhaps we can see it as the only means of struggling to explain the sense of 'the worst thing there is'. Likewise the prophets of the child-abuse legends also see themselves as the prophets of 'Bad News', the limits of human depravity.

So Hopkins proclaims himself as the prophet of the “Bad News”, of human helplessness before a terrible transcendence. Prophet of a world in which the sacred can only be experienced as rape: encounter with the numinous is never seen as a transformation but as a trauma.

If we ask ourselves what it is that can snatch us from the midst of our friends, at any time, through the most solid walls, while others stand helplessly by, the answer is most surely, Death. That the fairies were equivalent to the dead was an important strand in the old tradition. See the clues in the new fairy faith: the starved, skeletal entities, with their grey, putty-like skin, their aversion to light and day. they are often described as curiously weak and vulnerable, as being light, hollow, unreal. Their home is a barren wasteland. These are the ghostly, drifting dead of Hades or Sheol, who must snatch the living to steal their blood and sex and life. We can see also that their glacial indifference is a reflection of the soulless character of the fairies as creatures of “wilderness” beyond the human domain.

Though Hopkins proclaims that people do not want to believe in his Bad News, the reactions of some of the audience at his presentations suggests otherwise. It is the possibility that the Greys are part of us that we do not want to hear. If all our troubles are caused by 'them', then we are not responsible. Many people want to be helpless victims, for thus they are not the authors of their savage fate (how long before abuse by aliens becomes a standard defence in criminal trials?). Greys thus substitute for less omnipotent scapegoats such as bad parents or “society”.

British examples of abductions as featured in this conference were not very impressive. Elsie Oakenden’s story seemed to me to be a fairly straightforward account of a very severe migraine attack, rather distorted by her absorption of many of the attitudes and beliefs of the ufologists who investigated her story. But there is no drama, no medical examination, no Greys, but a transformation of energies, albeit into highly stereotyped forms.

The other alleged British abduction discussed at the conference was that of the percipient in the Ilkley 'alien photograph' case, who has now resolved contradictions in his original account by becoming an abductee. In a sense, Peter Hough’s problems over this case parallel John Spencer’s over Gulf Breeze. How does one reconcile a charismatic, apparently believable witness who produces hopelessly unsatisfactory physical evidence? The Ilkley entity is clearly modelled on the Hopkinsville goblins, and all common sense tells us that UFO entities aren’t photographable. The Gulf Breeze photographs (now endorsed by Hopkins, Mr Ed being an abductee) strike me as being in the running for the least convincing UFO photographs of all time prize. I simply cannot imagine how any intelligent adult can be taken in by them – but then I also fail to understand how intelligent adults can be impressed by Eva C’s Le Miroir ectoplasmic photographs. My New Age awareness is seriously impaired. In any case, Gulf Breeze has become a tourist resort on a scale which Warminster would envy, with convoys of Greyhound buses conveying eager sightseers to local UFO haunts. [3]

Though Hopkins claims to believe in the literal authenticity of his stories, and denounces those unwilling to accept the physical reality of the Greys and their medical examinations, one curious comment throws a different light on the matter. He claimed that investigators in one case were stalled because the abductee’s family could not come up with the 750 dollars required for the brain-scan needed to detect an implant. Several people talking afterwards thought this very strange. Surely an organisation capable of throwing away (oops, I’m sorry, sagaciously and wisely investing) $16,000 on Stanton Friedman’s MJ12 nonsense (sorry, important contribution to investigative journalism) could invest $750 for what might be the ultimate physical evidence of UFO reality? Or does the wallet inhabit a more down-to-earth reality where we all know people don’t have alien implants? Perhaps cash encourages the recognition that the reality behind alien abductions may not be traceable by microscopes and cat-scans.


From Sheffield one could detect the emerging consensus of British ufology. The UFOs are, in this Green decade, going to be ozone-friendly children of Mother Earth. This approach is perhaps best summed up by Paul Devereux [4], whose lecture consisted of a travelogue slide-show of the natural and man-made beauties of the countryside. Devereux offers, at times, the most radical alternative to Hopkins. A world where the human psyche has a symbiotic relationship with wild nature. The 'earthlight', though superficially a geophysical phenomenon, also signals from a depth where psyche and nature are not clearly separable, and emerges through fault-lines which are not purely geological. Against Hopkins’s image of Victim, we have Devereux’s of the potential Magus – bender of the elements. It was interesting to see what proportion of the audience found Devereux more threatening than Hopkins!

One can perhaps appreciate why Americans, inhabitants of a vast continent covering the icy wastes of Alaska, the heat of Death Valley, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and Mount St Helens, and heirs to an ideology grounded in the taming transformation of the hellish, primeval wilderness into the paradisiacal New World garden, might find earth mysteries ufology a little bit too twee, too English. They may find Jenny Randles’s alternative version of the earth phenomena more to their taste.

Jenny Randles has parallelled Devereux with the development of ideas about unidentified atmospheric phenomena which may resonate with the human psyche, but her UAPs have a distinctly wilder, more savage tone. They are nature in the raw, capable of bringing death and destruction in their wake. Devereux evokes gentler earthlights, Randles, wild fire.

In her lecture Randles predicted the 'death of ufology' by its absorption into meteorology. Based on the book Crop Circles [5] co-authored with Paul Fuller, she has followed Terence Meaden and his vortex theory to a general synthesis which explains almost all outstanding unexplained UFO reports. While the evidence that some of these cases are caused by a previously undescribed natural phenomenon is pretty persuasive, the attempt to link everything to one answer is less successful. Both talk and book proceed in a traditional ufological manner: eyewitness cases, history, rubbishing the opposition, all in an anecdotal fashion. The trouble is that there is no limit being proposed to what a Meaden vortex could or could not explain. What is lacking from Meaden is a clear mathematical model, with testable predictions.

If the editors of Magonia were the desperate cynics and destructive critics we are accused of being, then we would enthusiastically endorse all this as the death-blow to extraterrestrialism. Crop Circles is superficially convincing, especially in the event that Jacques Vallee unknowingly described vortex events in his Confrontations. [6] Yet both John Rimmer and I in the last few weeks have come up with what strikes us as the fatal flaw in Meaden’s hypothesis. This is the non-appearance of crop circles around Warminster in the period between 1965 and 1977. Shuttlewood was still writing in the late seventies. Why aren’t his books full of stories, photographs and strange speculations on crop circles? And again, why didn’t they come to light in 1963 when, in the wake of the Charlton Crater, any old hole in the ground or mark in a field was being dragged into the UFO myth? If Meaden is to be the undertaker, obituary notices for ufology are premature! Today Randles’s vision is one in which psyche is withdrawn from nature, but earlier there were hints of the perils of such a lack of withdrawal. If psyche is not distinguished from a nature which is wild and capricious then we may have real 'Mind Monsters'. [7]

As perhaps befits the topsy-turvey nature of ufological reality the grand summing-up paper at Sheffield was delivered first. This was the talk based on the book Phantoms of the Skies [8] delivered by co-author Andy Roberts. This received a mixed response, as will the book when readers realised that this is the book Magonia might have written a while ago. One veteran ufologist, a true ufological coelacanth, later overheard in a Manchester bookshop spluttered: “Arrogant young buggers, they’re saying it’s all in the mind!”

The fairy realm which  Clarke and Roberts remind us of, is not the gentle place where Tinkerbell and the Cottingley Fairies live
- but a zone of terror

Not quite right. For Clarke and Roberts the numinous is located in both psyche and nature though perhaps in a slightly different way than posited by either Randles or Devereux, though Clarke can be as rhapsodical as Devereux in his evocation of the mysterium of the countryside. However, his greater emphasis lies in the mysteries of human perception, the unguessable depths of psyche and alternative states of consciousness. This is no more “knocking copy” than Magonia’s own enterprise; it is the statement that in looking to extraterrestrials as your source for awe and wonder, you are looking in quite the wrong direction.

Clarke and Roberts point out that abductions are part of a continuum of altered states of consciousness, that narratives of abduction, out-of-the-body experiences, near-death experiences, and other such interior journeys, merge. Rather more controversially they suggest that such experiences are natural events that one should be allowed to have. The experience of many of Hopkins’s subjects suggests that this could be like arguing that sexual abuse is a road to personal growth. It might well be that certain forms of altered states of consciousness should only be entered after careful training and much cultural and individual support. Our culture, as Bertrand Meheust has pointed out, has no training courses for shamans. Those who have shamanic experiences are likely at worst to develop severely psychotic responses and at best into non-consensual belief systems. These will appear to the outside community as slightly silly, with a stereotyped, information-free vocabulary.

The fairy realm which Clarke and Roberts remind us of is not the gentle place where Tinkerbell and the Cottingley Fairies live, but a zone of terror. Earlier I said that one could view fairies, both traditional and the contemporary Grey variety, as the dead. But the Greys are not quite the equivalent of traditional fairies. Indeed they can be polar opposites – coldly efficient, over cultured, over controlled, over adult. A sharp contrast with the uncultured, capricious, childish fairies of former times. Whereas in traditional society “loss of soul” was equal to a reversion to the animal, in our world “soullessness” means loss of any emotional response. In traditional iconography the most prominent features of a demon were the mouth and phallus. Not with the Greys, they have slits for mouths and no external sexual organs. They are perhaps not so much Death as a force of Anti-Life.

But gentler, more traditional fairy motifs can be found, even in Hopkins’s accounts. Take Virginia Horton, who encounters a deer which may be a fairy in disguise in an enchanted forest, and under hypnosis recalls an imperfectly modernised fairy revel. “In reality” we might suggest that the blood which covered her came from the deer, which was wounded: that she held and comforted a dying deer, that the fairy quality was either a denial of the brute facts of death and blood, or a vision of transcendence – depending on one’s own beliefs. Anyway, the story of Virginia and her deer is profoundly moving, and Hopkins’s reduction of it to “nothing but” a cover story for medical examination by Greys is a sign of the loss of soul in American ufology.

Peter Rogerson added these comments when this piece was first published on-line in 1999:

This review of the great BUFORA Sheffield conference of 1990, gives a fairly good picture of the state of ufology at the beginning of the 1990′s. It highlighted in very dramatic terms the contrasts between British and American ufologists at the time. For Hopkins transcendence lay in technology, for most of the British ufologists it lay in the forces of wild nature, whether in the form of Meaden vortexes or earthlights. Hopkins technological transcendence was a malign one however. The greys great power and supernatural technology was a form of fairy glamour, which hid their tin hearts, and hollow lack of souls. For the Brits the landscape was benign, the LITS and BOLS being metaphors of the spiritual transcendence of wild nature. (It should be recalled that this period of was close to the zenith of the Green movement in Britain, the Greens having had their 1989 Euroelection breakthrough). Note that in the 90′s the greys were to move from their sexless cold imagine, and with Dr Jacobs hybrids, they were, as the saying goes, if not over paid, at least oversexed and over here.

  1. Apparently two implants have been recovered already. One came out when the abductee sneezed. The other worked its way out through the skin. They are like little metal coils.
  2. Hopkins, Budd. Intruders, Sphere, 1988
  3. Walters Ed and Frances. UFOs: The Gulf Breeze Sightings, Bantam, 1990
  4. Devereux, Paul. Earthlights, Turnstone, 1982. Earth Lights Revelation, Blandford, 1989
  5. Randles, Jenny and Fuller, Paul. Crop Circles: A Mystery Solved, Hale, 1990
  6. Vallee, Jacques. Confrontations, Souvenir Press
  7. Randles, Jenny. Mind Monsters, Aquarian, 1990
  8. Clarke, David and Roberts, Andy. Phantoms of the Sky, Hale, 1990.