UFOs: The Return of Supernatural Narratives


Lachlan Bannister

Believe it or not, in between destroying western civilisation with cultural Marxism, renewable energy and safe schools, academics spend a lot of their time researching obscure social phenomenon. A hallmark of this obscure research is UFOs. While you may believe many reports of UFOs to be caused by Cold War paranoia, and admittedly in a lot of cases you’d be right, there still are stunning cases of encounters with supposedly extra-terrestrial life.

Currently, studies into the phenomena surrounding unidentified flying objects (UFOs) have conflated both their structural and phenomenological nature. This problematic conflation can be attributed to inadequacies in both the definition and cataloguing of the subject matter. Today, ‘flying saucer’ is a widely accepted synonym for the term UFO. A ‘flying saucer’ is a mechanical product of extra-terrestrial origin; however, the reduction of UFOs to a purely mechanistic phenomenon has had a negative effect upon understandings of the epistemology, ontology and cultural significance of UFOs. Current definitions fail to acknowledge any similarities between ‘flying saucers’ and different spiritual traditions.

In the study of supernatural events, the failure of contemporary terms to discriminate between personal accounts and personal understandings of supernatural events represents a major obstacle in the creation of coherent definitions. Currently, the term UFO represents an assumption rather than a description. The term ‘unidentified’ encompasses a spectrum of events that is so broad that it is vague. The term ‘flying saucer’ is also problematic, as it has mechanistic connotations and is really an explanation disguised as a description. Additionally, the term ‘object’ raises numerous issues, as it implicitly assumes that verifications must be made on case-by-case bases. The confusing nature of these terms creates great challenges in reaching an accurate definition of, and classification for, UFOs. Currently, there is no formally accepted morphology that outlines the primary functions of UFO experiences. Consequently, no precise definition can be applied to distinguish between experiences of UFOs and experiences of other supernatural phenomena. Astronomer Allen Hynek created a classification system for UFOs; however, while this schema works well for physical sightings of UFOs, it fails to address the paranormal and psychological features of UFO interactions. It also fails to acknowledge any descriptive and phenomenological connections among the criteria. To move beyond such problematic definitions, it needs to be acknowledged that these terms seek to communicate experiences of significant supernatural events. Thus, the definitive components of UFO experiences lie not within their perceivable anatomy, but in what they express and how they occur.

The key experiential elements of UFOs are experienced during sittings and abductions and via communications. Encounters with nonconventional life forms involve different themes, physical phenomena, experiences and beliefs. Traditionally these themes have been divided into separate categories; however, they are often presented simultaneously in the accounts of those who have claimed to have experienced extra-terrestrial phenomena.

The reasons for the convergence of beliefs are multifaceted and can be attributed to the following: the themes are related to one another by traditional beliefs within a cultural body; the themes contain phenomenological similarities that affect interpretations of experiences, despite the connections not occurring simultaneously or even belonging to the same spiritual tradition; and the themes occur simultaneously independent of tradition. Thus, UFOs represent a unique area within the supernatural field. The complexity of UFOs give them the appearance of being independent of supernaturalism; however, this is not the case. Indeed, many historical parallels can be drawn between descriptions of UFOs and historical descriptions of supernatural beings (e.g., fairies and dwarfs).

A pertinent example of the historical roots of UFO experiences can be found in the Reformation period. During this time, many religious scholars were influenced by the belief that fairies and elves were either illusions or demons and wrote extensive accounts on the intentions and morality of these creatures. Fuelled by this scholarship, the official doctrine of Protestant scholars ultimately contended that it was useless to distinguish between good and bad fairies, as Satan controlled the intentions of all fairies and was the sole reason for their magical trickery. The common contemporary academic perspective on accounts that link Satan to fairies contends that these events took place because the participants held specific biases before they engaged in any supposed interactions with supernatural creatures. A similar theme appears within UFO stories. A continuity of described features are part of a shared language that forms a frame of unconscious cultural reference. This narrative structure remains poignant even in more recent developments in supernatural beliefs. Thus, individuals’ recounts of UFO encounters are informed by a common and shared tradition rather than a consistent, formal and distinct experience. Consequently, recounts of UFOs are much closer to supernatural narratives that combine contemporary and historical beliefs than independent and distinct phenomena.

An example of the combination of cultural narratives can be found in various recounts of encounter experiences. Despite a wide variation in circumstances at the time of supposed contact with extraterritorial beings, the reports of abductees bear striking similarities. A recurring theme during the encounters is an ethereal light. Similar to encounters with fairies, UFO witnesses, such as Betty Andreasson, often recount that a mysterious light played a significant part in their encounters with extraterritorial beings. She recalled under hypnosis that immediately before she encountered aliens, she saw a distant light shining through her kitchen window, ‘I can see a light, sort of pink now. And now the light is getting brighter. It’s reddish orange, and it’s pulsating’. In her account, the prominent theme is light. She associates it with both the spacecraft and the aliens. Light is a common descriptive theme not only in UFO sightings, but also in sightings of aerial chariots, the palaces of Mahabharata and fairy boats. Whether known to Andreasson or not, she describes the function of light in a spiritual manner. When she was being subject to a physical examination by her abductors, they told her ‘We are going to measure you for light. You have not understood the world you have. You are not completely filled with light’. Obviously, Andreasson views the light that the aliens filled her with as the light of spiritual faith. Specifically, she views this light as the presence of God within her soul. As she stated in a later therapy session, ‘I believe I am filled with the light! I believe, I believe that I’m filled with the light’. Light is also a dominant and recurring characteristic in accounts of near-death experiences, shamanism and out-of-body-travel.

In 1977, Robert Monroe prepared himself to induce ‘astral projection’, as a means of allowing his soul to travel to a universe outside of his body. However, he was interrupted by a ring of sparks and a bright light that came out of the sky. This light then struck him. Monroe’s description is not uncommon in UFO accounts. The light that struck Monroe is commonly described as being similar to a ‘tractor beam’. This beam first caused Monroe to vibrate violently and subsequently prevented him from moving. Interestingly, Monroe’s experience is extremely similar to a ritual carried out by Ojibway shaman, called ‘tcisak’. In this ritual, the shaman hear the voices of manitou spirits and see sparks of lights within a shaking tent. Thus, light is a key element of mystical, religious and supernatural experiences in general.

Interestingly, the stories of alien abductions rely on beings who possess advanced science and technology; a technology so advanced it is akin to magic. However, even here, the fallibility of this advanced science and technology is revealed, as witnesses remember their encounters despite being instructed to forget them by the aliens. In these recollections, super science is only a little more advanced than human capabilities or on par with fictional anticipations. Much like fairies, aliens rely on deceptions to fool humans.

On a broader scale, Alvin Lawson notes that, ‘It is likely that dreams, hallucinations, near-death experiences and a variety of other phenomena are related to UFO experiences’. Lawson reaches this conclusion by using his encounter matrix. This matrix refers to the ‘extensive similarities between UFO encounters and religious mysticism, folklore, shaman’s traces, migraine attacks and the operation of creative imagination’. Lawson’s work is further supported by Hufford, who points out the continuities between accounts of UFOs and various accounts of vampirism, witchcraft and classic nightmares. Steiger suggests that the mechanism that gave rise to UFOs is the same as that behind all mystical and religious experiences. Whether or not Lawson, Hufford and Steiger are correct, arguing for the relatedness among the various folk traditions that compose extra-terrestrial contact should not be considered merely as a search for functional equivalences. It would be uncharitable to say, for example, that an out-of-body experience is merely a UFO abduction with a different name. This conclusion would be largely problematic, as it unfairly conflates two separate phenomena. It is not only because folk traditions are related that they should be treated as indicators of an objectively correct form of supernaturalism; rather, it is that the analysis of these events shows that the reports of extraordinary encounters are significant, as they represent a paradigm shift in not only the study of supernatural beliefs, but supernaturalism itself.

In summary, a new form of technological supernaturalism is becoming more prevalent. Under this new form, the possibilities that arise from alien science represent wonders that once would have only been possible with magic. Contact with such creatures proves that they have been lurking in the dark and can render us helpless by capturing, terrifying and harming humanity for their own purposes. Science ejected witches, ghosts, elves and dwarfs from our beliefs; however, this gap was quickly filled by aliens who serve a similar function. Thus, while UFOs may appear to represent a singular and isolated element, this analysis of the nuances in both the recollections of abductees and the origins of UFO beliefs has shown that UFOs represent a paradigm shift in supernaturalism.