The Coastal Post - March, 1997

A Brief History Of UFOs


The mother ship floated over the ridge in the direction of the golf ball on Mt. Tam's west peak, down the wooded hills, bisecting the mesa and out to sea by way of Duxbury Reef. The football field-sized, dark, oblong center was outlined by brilliantly colored lights like rubies, topaz and sapphires, slowly rotating around its edge. It appeared and disappeared into the darkness of the night sky over the ocean in a matter of minutes.

The mystery of unidentified flying objects is no closer to being solved, but the sheer number of sightings, video and photo "proofs," conspiracy theories and mythological complexity is increasing geometrically. Most experts agree that the modern era of UFO sightings began with the "phantom airship" sightings over Europe and America during the 1890s and 1900s, including panics in England and Ireland, then again in the last years of World War II when mysterious lights, "foo fighters," appeared near Allied bombers and "mysterious projectiles" flew over Sweden.

More odd aerial exhibitions were seen shortly after the first atomic bomb explosions when strange lights were seen flying around testing sites in the Southwest. The first "flying saucers" reported in the media were seen by a pilot near Mt. Rainier in Washington State. The Roswell, New Mexico incident was reported by a local newspaper after eyewitness reports from local cowboys about an alien crash with alien bodies, then subsequently by the military as only a downed weather balloon. Rumors and television specials have treated this as the landmark case for a massive government cover-up of extra-terrestrial evidence.

This modern wave of sightings has grown to a crescendo, especially in Mexico, South America, certain areas of the United States, Russia and Australia, as growing numbers of individual and crowd sightings, contacts, channelings, abductions and alien experiments have been claimed, with varying levels of "proof." Confident claims that these reported swarms of UFOs are preparing earthlings for a massive landing sometime this summer, or maybe by the year 2012, are made by psychics, experts, and ancient prophesies.

Some say that the aliens have been psychologically priming us for this event by programming the media to gradually acclimate us to full contact. If so, then last summer's films, Independence Day and Mars Attack would seem to be a regression towards the conquering aliens of Orson Welles "War of the Worlds" theme. That radio broadcast created a hysterical panic in New Jersey before WWII, but aside from a small panic in Spain when ID4's ads were shown on tv, most people seemed to enjoy watching the White House get obliterated by the aliens' death ray. It was still a far cry from the cute, sexy or good aliens of ET, Cocoon, Close Encounters and Mork and Mindy, which dominated the popular imagination in the '70s and '80s.

Others have pointed out the general theme of alien anxiety can be seen as a human need for blaming others. This drive to give outside influences responsibilities for our own unwanted stuff currently promotes immigrant bashing, racial divides and virus fears. Various gods, goddesses, demons, angels, little people, werewolves, vampires and a multiplicity of other chimeras may be hard-wired into human consciousness, with our cultural constructs being the software which determines the appearance of the "alien" in our mind. They point out the broad similarities between old stories of the fairies and elves and succubus and incubus seductions, and more modern, scientific retellings with metallic spacecraft, dog-like, Aryan or ET-like aliens, cattle mutilations and high-tech abductions.

This theory claims that internal insights from brain states such as near-death experiences, dreams of paralysis, and false memory syndrome, along with natural phenomena such a ball lightning, can be interpreted by individuals as various types of aliens or angels or whatever. There is some support for this in the results of a poll which showed the 12% of Americans claimed to have seen an angel or a UFO, with Democrats seeing mostly UFOs and Republicans seeing angels. No word on if they donated to PAC funds.

However,the UFO stories are not entirely a modern phenomenon. Ancient Sumerian clay tablets have been translated as telling of interstellar contact and active influence in earthly affairs, and there are oral and written legends of star people intervening in dozens of cultures along with prophesies of their return. Carl Jung, in his book Flying Saucers, included woodcuts of a 16th century battle of spherical spaceships over Basel, Switzerland. Even though most Swiss were devout Catholics at that time, the woodcuts were clearly not angels, as they're typically pictured. Jung thought the modern reports were archetypal visions signalling a changing of the gods from the age of Pisces to Aquarius.

Other less psychologically-based theories and conspiracies range from actual aliens from different star systems genetically breeding with rampathecines to create humans millions of years ago, either physically the old-fashioned way or with new-fangled techniques of abduction using egg removal and alien baby implants or with radio wave gene manipulations as the novel and film 2001: A space Odyssey conjectured. Others see a more benign observance by aliens as they wait and watch to see if humans can be welcomed into the Galactic Federation in Star Trek and Star Wars scenarios or whether Earth should just be bulldozed to make way for an intergalactic freeway in the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy. Some look back on human history and point to the conquistador role model, their superior weaponry and assumed divinity will be used to enslave humans, strip us of our gold and wealth and load us on the mother ship as sex slaves. The Man who Fell to Earth had David Bowie as alien traveling salesman offering high-tech gadgets for Earth's precious water.

Some think they might be time travelers from our distant future, or interdimensional visitors, while others say it is all a disinformation campaign to cover up the military's development of high tech weapons and aircraft. The X-Files tv show used that as a plot line recently.

In the end, the most satisfying explanation is that they are unidentified, they are a mystery, a conundrum, koan and a paradox which allows for a bewildering constellation of conspiracies, none of which have the definitive answer. Preserving the mystery, the awe and flat-out answer, "We just don't know," is more appealing to most of us than dry, reductionist, rational, scientific models based on Newtonian physics. Since the development of quantum physics, science and the popular imagination have re-emerged into seeing the shimmering enchantment of the universe from out of the dark cave of "modern progress," which the dispassionate, pinched-mouth lab technicians had trapped us in for the last few hundred years. We're humans, not lab rats, and we want our MTV and alien visitors.

The four sightings of mysterious flying lights, including the mother ship sighting above I've witnessed, have preserved that just-don't-know enigma for me. My alien contact may have begun as early as childhood, since several times I remember waking up bathed in blue light, levitated a foot above my bed, with a dark stranger somewhere in the room. I thought it was the devil and crossed myself and prayed Hail Marys until it left. Merely childhood nightmares based on paralysis phenomena? Or typical memories of alien abduction? Who knows?

The brilliant, bobbing light with no sound that my younger brother and I watched from our yard when I was 12 was less than a 1000 feet up, until it streaked away incredibly fast. It showed no wings or metal, just like the two different, brilliant lights moving in extremely odd ways I saw over Maui in the '80s. I admit my brain state was substance-enhanced, but both were witnessed by others. One could have been a group hallucination, but the other was later verified by a non-altered person a half mile away from my location. The mother ship as described above has been seen by other people, although I was alone when I saw it. Ok, I was in a fungal fugue that night, but maybe the aliens are attracted by altered brain states. Or that this warps the fabric of the dimensional barriers. In the end, we see what we believe, and I choose to believe in the Mystery.