A darkened road. A rural setting. An abandoned factory. A secluded lovers'lane. Unidentified Flying Objects appear to have an affinity for these places, as if after crossing the vast distance separating one stellar system from another there was the need for a landing spot with a low profile. Already one can see the reader's hackles begin to rise. How silly, he/she thinks. Everyone knows that UFOs are crewed by humanoid scientists from Tau Ceti who've come all this way to study us, possibly to see if violent Earthlings are fit for entering the Galactic Coalition. If they landed in a prominent spot, the argument goes, we would attack them to steal their silvery spaceships. After all, look at what happened to Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still.
The truth of the matter is that we are so blinded by our own frames of reference that when it comes to the subject of UFOs we cannot see beyond the headlines of the grocery store tabloids or the occasional televised documentary. Our frames of reference are Mr. Spock, Dr. Who, hundreds of science fiction films and the occasional story of what Uncle Harv saw the night he went fishing. Rather than casting our eyes skyward, we should look elsewhere for an answer. There has been a rekindling of interest in UFOlogy over the past few years, mainly on account of the phenomenal increase in "abductions" by allegedly extraterrestrial entities. These reports have fired the popular mind through the sobering accounts of Brad Steiger, Whiteley Streiber and Budd Hopkins. Sightings are reported in every state every month, and the "Crop Circle Mystery", the infamous "agrilyphs" which have decorated (or vandalized!) the farmland of a number of countries still goes unexplained. The increase in close encounters with alien beings is on the rise, and new books appear on the stands in almost direct proportion. A field day for the creatures from Outer Space, but what about those from Inner Space?
Inner Space? For the past two decades, many researchers in the field have cooled to the concept of UFOs as visitors from another planet and have quietly shifted their approach to the problem, dealing with them as a paranormal phenomenon, no more distant from us in space than our own shadows are from ourselves. As stated by John Keel in Operation Trojan Horse: "The real UFO story must encompass all of the many manifestations being observed. It is a story of ghosts and phantoms, mental aberrations; of an invisible world that surrounds us and occasionally engulfs us: a realm of prophets and gods and demons. It is a world of illusion and hallucination in which the unreal seems very real, and where reality itself is distorted by strange forces which can seemingly manipulate space, time and physical matter--forces which are almost entirely beyond our powers of comprehension."
It becomes necessary to expand on this idea. UFOs, by this definition, are little better than ghosts, "tuning" in and out of our awareness at random moments. What then of the so-called "hard" sightings? Are the encounters of humans with solid structures of unknown origin in the skies or on the ground also of a paraphysical nature? Even more frighteningly, what can we say about the often mind-bending encounters between humans and nonhumans?
Spiritualism attempts to answer the question by stating that not all souls after the moment of death "ascend" to a higher plane of spiritual evolution, or become reincarnated. Many remain "earthbound", that is, unable or unwilling to develop any further. These "earthbound" spirits are more often than not the manifestations which we call ghosts, poltergeists, etc. Following this line of thought, one can reason that the enigmatic and apparently senseless manoeuvres witnessed by those who have seen extraterrestrials are no different to those carried out by a ghost (It is more romanitc, however, to believe that saucernauts are conducting experiments which defy our comprehension, much like a cat observing its owner balance a checkbook).
How do these manifestations come about? In 1976, a Puerto Rican physicist specializing in electromagnetism, Dr. Ralph Sierra, suggested that a careful study of magnetic anomalies would point to the zones in which UFOs are seen to materialize and dematerialize. To this end, he armed himself with a map from the US Geological Survey showing charted magnetic anomalies and set off to Maricao State Forest on Puerto Rico's southwestern tip.
His theory paid off: more than half of the UFOs observed on the island emerged from the magnetic lines in that very same area on a roughly predictable basis. Ralph and Judy Blum, authors of Beyond Earth: Man's Contact with UFOs, also suggested a similar concept.
The question of what the material composition of UFOs might be is still open, and is a matter of great importance to researchers. But to the disappointment of many, no truly alien elements have been obtained from all the accumulated debris we have collected over the years. UFOs have outrun F-15 interceptors scrambled after them, have been seen emerging from the ocean, and also seen dumping tons of junk onto the ground. Some of these interesting bits of jetsam were placed on exhibit at the First World UFO Conference in Phoenix, Arizona in 1991.
There have also been hoaxes and disappointments:fragments of a UFO which exploded in Brazil in the 1960's, made of ultrapure magnesium, turned out to be residue froma Brazilian artillery shell. A cylinder of 99% pure nickel with an odd rubber strip inside proved to be part of the still controversial UMMO affair (the subject of the book UMMO: Otro Mundo Habitado by Antonio Ribera andRafael Farriols). The mysterious rubber strip turned out to be a piece of TEDLAR, a synthetic made by Du Pont for military applications. The list of litterdropped from above is virtually endless. A detailed analysison the magnesium found at Ubatuba, Brazil, appeared inJim and Coral Lorenzen's UFOs and the Startling Evidence Of Invasion From Outer Space (Signet, New York, 1966).
Few are aware that an apparently successful "exorcism" of Loch Ness performed by the Rev. Donald Omand in 1978 hasdenied us further sightings of Nessie. The logic behind the Loch Ness exorcism stems from the previously stated assumption that bestial creatures spotted the world over were of an ultraterrestrial nature and therefore vulnerable to therites of banishment employed against such entities. The enigmatic Men-In-Black who accompany UFO sightings and delight inharassing witnesses, have been identified with "earthbound" spirits, those who are allegedly unable to "develop" any further along the lines of cosmic evolution.
In short, we are no closer to solving the UFO question than we were five or ten years ago. The reader--or witness of an actual manifestation--must decide whether it is wiser to assume that an advanced society in another world is sending its spaceships only to frighten airline pilots, or if we are unwittingly playing a game with forces we cannot comprehend and can only dimly speculate upon.
On Tuesday, February 6th, 1990, millions of TV viewers across the country watched A Current Affair, hosted by Maury Povich, as it tackled the one issue that keeps coming back for more: UFOs. The broadcast centered upon a rash of recent sightings in the skies over the U.S., Japan and the alleged landings of garishly-costumed aliens in the town of Voronezh in the U.S.S.R. The Voronezh affair, we were promptly advised, was a hoax, but take a look, America, at what's going on in West Virginia: reports of metallic-smelling monsters endowed with the ability to stop car engines coincided with bobbing lights in the evening sky, captured on home video by the shaky hand of a cold and tired spectator. After a few commercial breaks and coming attractions of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition for the following segment, Mr. Povich bade his audience a good night and the country returned to its regular midweek entertainment. But the content of the broadcast lingered in the air long after it was over: the uninvited had returned again to trouble the night skies.
Which should not surprise us. UFOs have been with us since prehistoric times, as has been pointed out in many books. The verdict on what they were went over the passage of time from gods and their chariots, witches travelling to their sabbats on broomsticks, to spaceships piloted by benign "Space Brothers" or inhuman predators bent on harming mankind. Authors of distinction have over the years added their own theories and provided us with reams of paper on the subject. Not surprisingly, each conjecture only serves to make the explanation seem only more outlandish.Then again, the subject matter is certainly equal to these explanations. Perhaps more importantly than asking where do they come from (another planet, another dimension, the "inner Earth", etc) we should seriously consider discussing what they ARE foremost, even though this contravenes the late Dr. James Mc Donald's observation that we should begin by stating what they AREN'T (Satellites, birds in flight, sundogs, moondogs, atmospheric eddies--whatever they are!--temperature inversions, etc).
By now even the most disinterested observer of the phenomenon has seen either documentaries or motion pictures of the more commonplace theories of what they are, so I will narrow the field to the most intriguing possibilities fielded up to now.
A. THE PLANETARY SPIRIT: This predominantly Jungian notion proposes that just as humans have souls, the planet is endowed with one as well, perhaps composed of the energy of all living things (a very attractive theory for environmental action groups, for sure). Under this concept, UFOs and their occupants would be manifestations of this "Spiritus Mundi", perhaps even its "dreams"; or "nightmares". Granted, this would not account for a host of unexplained cases, but it would explain the intimate knowledge of our planet and its problems which have been expressed by Ufonauts in their encounters with humans. The ecological content of these messages cannot be denied ("You are upsetting the balance of nature", etc). Carrying this concept beyond its original thesis, one could also regard our planet as a singular living being, a host for human "parasites". Could UFOs be antibodies developed by the collective intelligence of nature to keep us in check?
B. REMNANTS OF LOST CIVILIZATIONS: British author Lord Clancarty (Brinsley Le Poer Trench) suggested in an article in the May 1975 issue of the now-defunct UFO REPORT magazine that the remnants of Atlantean civilization which survived the collapse of that continent into the briny regrouped in the Inner Earth to continue their existence. His article requires us to make the leap of logic that would include Atlantis and the Inner Earth concept into the mix, but it is certainly thought-provoking.
Not just Atlantis, but Lemuria, Mu and other civilizations have been proposed as the wellspring of UFOs. Attempting to determine an origin simply leads us away from the initial question of what they are. Plato's dialogues Timaeus and Critias, our sources for the Atlantis saga, say nothing of a technological civilization having existed on the lost continent, but it would not be surprising if they had possessed some means of aerial transportation. The tiny gold delta wing fighter discovered in a Peruvian tomb (and featured prominently in the late Ivan T. Sanderson's Invisible Residents) hints at there having been some memory of aerial transportation in ancient times.