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Scott Robert Scribner
© Scott Robert Scribner 2003
All Rights Reserved.
To my parents,
George Charles Scribner
Annette Hamilton Chase Scribner
Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter IX.
Chapter X.
Chapter XI.
Along with popular awareness of unidentified flying objects (UFOs), reports of
alleged alien abduction of humans achieved considerable social and intellectual
prominence during the late twentieth century. The literature on alien abduction
demonstrates many proposed explanations for the phenomenon; most interpret it as some
type of literal physical, psychosocial, or religious event. A critique of existing
approaches revealed methodological weaknesses. The author proposed a StorytellerNarrator model for alien abduction narratives (AANs) (Scribner, 1999), including a nonlinear chronological structure to explain their social salience. AANs share three
characteristics: altered consciousness (trance); the presence of traumatic fears; and
therapeutic social responses (such as hypnosis). The use of hypnosis was criticized, and
a phenomenological-narrative approach was proposed as a more objective method. The
AAN “common denominator”--the presence of fear--necessitated an appropriate fear
model. This study applied a phenomenological framework developed by Robert Sardello
(1999), whose geography of fear describes nine realms of presence, which are also found
in modern literature, cinema, and television.
Five prominent AAN texts were examined for the presence of Sardello’s nine fear
realms. All realms occur in varying degrees, with some trends observable over time. The
most pervasive fear-related images and disclosures pertained to the human body, human
emotions, and human relationships.
The study concluded that alien abduction narratives are created and propagated
through society because they constitute a human fear matrix that addresses personal as
well as social concerns for their Storytellers and Narrators. A hypothetical emotional
model was proposed for the initiation stage of these narratives. The significance of social
awareness of technology and cosmology for this phenomenon was considered.
Directions are proposed for further research on media imagery, ghosts and apparitions,
and religious experiences.
A young boy propels his skateboard down Main Street wearing a T-shirt showing
a terrified person being examined by large-eyed “grey” aliens. Nearby shops sell alien
pins and curios, including votive candles for protection against alien abduction. Major
corporations such as AT&T, Ford Motors, Pepsi-Cola, and Mars Candies produce
expensive television commercials showing aliens coming to Earth to steal our desirable
consumer products. A six-year-old boy watches a television program about UFOs and
becomes terrified that they will attack Earth. At a clinic for abused children, a little girl
reports nightmares about “outer space men”.
During the second half of the twentieth century, public and media interest in
reports of unusual or anomalous phenomena, including unidentified flying objects
(UFOs), crystallized around what this author has termed alien abduction narratives
(AANs) (Scribner, 1999). June 24, 1947, is considered the beginning of the modern UFO
era, because that is the date that Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot, reported seeing nine
metallic craft traveling at high speed near Mount Rainier, Washington. The focus of this
study is not UFO sighting reports or the forensic investigation of alien abduction claims-both topics with a rich existing literature--but rather the presence of fears in modern alien
abduction narratives as they are formed and disseminated.
Although reports of visitations and even abductions of humans by strange
creatures have occurred throughout recorded history, modern researchers agree that
attention to these reports has dramatically increased since 1947 in the case of UFO
sightings, and since 1966 for alien abduction narratives (Vallee, 1965; Bullard, 1987;
Thompson, 1990). 1966 was the year of publication of John Fuller’s The Interrupted
Journey, the abduction story of Betty and Barney Hill, which is considered paradigmatic
for the modern form of the AAN.
An AAN can describe a single experience or a group of experiences. AANs
involve a claim that strange beings took the storyteller out of a bed or automobile-usually at night--and subjected them to quasi-medical examinations and other bizarre
treatment. Frequently, these accounts include expressions of terror as the victim is
kidnapped and undergoes painful or humiliating procedures. An AAN storyteller may go
public by themselves, or may contact and be interviewed by an AAN researcher. The
resulting narrative consists of a report of being seized, transported and experimented
upon by alien creatures. Based on a controversial interpretation of data from a Roper
Poll, some UFO abduction researchers claim that two million Americans may have been
abducted by aliens (Hopkins, 1992).
Considering such extraordinary claims, one might ask why the study of AANs
could be important in this modern world where “real” social problems need attention.
This author’s response is that a claim that a personal report is simultaneously “strange”
and “true” underlies both scientific and religious inquiry. Strangeness--a term of art in
ufology--reflects a degree of deviation from what most people would consider the normal
world picture (Weltbild). Truth implies a possibility of new knowledge and implications
for the accepted worldview (Weltanschauung). A method that can improve our
understanding of alien abduction narratives might be generalized to shed light on other
types of controversial narratives and claims, including those that influence the
development of belief systems. Such a method could be termed intersubjective, a way to
evaluate so-called subjective experiences and related claims while remaining within the
paradigm of accepted scientific consensus. Many theories have been proposed to account
for the occurrence of alien abduction narratives (see Chapter II). Explanations for AANs
are legion. There are actually too many possible explanations rather than too few.
Instead of taking up a position for or against any single interpretation, this study
focuses on the AAN “common denominator”: the shadings of fear which pervade these
accounts (Fowler, 1979; Hopkins, 1981; Strieber, 1987). By means of such
consideration, it may be possible to discern some of the critical human implications of the
controversy over the status of alien abduction accounts. This study approaches the alien
abduction narrative from a new perspective that seeks to transcend the limitations of the
positions outlined in Chapter II. This is accomplished by applying a method for
understanding the phenomenon that draws upon the spiritual psychology of Robert
Sardello (1999). This author believes that Sardello’s approach brings fresh insights to
narratives which assume or allege events that cannot be independently corroborated, or
which claim to challenge the consensus reality of our society. In addition, this study
intends to increase the appreciation of unusual narratives as a key to understanding the
development of belief systems and worldviews.
Chapter II presents a thematic review of the extant explanations offered for alien
abduction, and for the UFOs that are usually presumed to carry it out. Chapter III
describes the common elements in AANs, including the central role of fear, which
necessitates an appropriate fear model for their study. Chapter IV introduces the
geography of fear developed by Robert Sardello. Chapter V proposes a StorytellerNarrator approach to AANs, and introduces the five primary AAN sources selected for
this study. Chapters VI through XIV explore each of Sardello’s nine fear realms within
these narratives. Chapter XV summarizes the findings of this study, discusses
interpretive hypotheses, and proposes directions for further research.
“I would like to take you--if I may--on a very strange journey.”
The Criminologist (Charles Gray), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
According to Jacques Vallee (1988), “The UFO mystery mirrors our fantasies and
expresses our secret longings for a wisdom that might come down from the stars.” The
mystery is not new. Reports of fear and awe during wondrous events in the sky have
occurred throughout human history. Stories of human contact with mysterious beings are
universal across cultures. The Celtic cultures of Europe have their leprechauns (Vallee,
1969; Conroy, 1989), and American Indians talk of “the little people” from the stars
(Eliade, 1964; Hirschfelder & Molin, 1992). These apparent cultural parallels inspired
Thomas Bullard (1982) to investigate whether the narrative structure of AANs resembled
traditional folklore. Contrary to his own expectations, Bullard found that modern AANs
are not as culturally diverse as folklore, suggesting a common source or influence.
In the 1950s--a busy period for UFO sightings--Carl Jung wrote Flying Saucers:
A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies (1958). Although Jung took the UFO
phenomenon seriously, his use of the term myth was characteristically misunderstood by
our utilitarian culture. To the Western mind, a myth is a kind of lie. “That’s not true.
It’s a myth.” “Those are the myths. Here are the facts.” We do not see myths for what
they are: sources of shared human meaning, which convey personal identity as well as
membership in a group.
Sociologists who study cult development are aware that affiliative results occur
when groups of persons share “conversations”1. Any belief system or worldview
(Weltanschauung) can rapidly become a matter of ultimate concern, resulting in clashes
with differing worldviews in its environment. Failure to understand and properly respond
to the powerful influence of myths as social forces has led to numerous catastrophies,
from Hitler’s National Socialism to Waco to the “Om Supreme Truth” cult implicated in
the nerve gas attack on a Tokyo subway, and the terroristic “Islamism” of Al-Qaeda
today (Lifton, 1999). In anticipation of future ideological struggles, our society needs to
develop a better understanding of worldview conflict in order to develop appropriate
interpretive strategies and responses.
French computer scientist Jacques Vallee has written extensively about the cultic
potential of AANs. In his book Dimensions (1988), Vallee expressed concern that the
activity of UFO cults makes it more difficult to study the “core phenomenon”. He
theorized that some UFO narratives have been created by secret groups as social
experiments, while others are cover stories for military activities. Regardless of the
merits of his personal views, Vallee cautions us to take seriously the AAN’s seductive
power to influence mass psychology.
Some AAN researchers are loathe to hear psychosocial interpretations of AANs
(Jacobs & Shermer, 1998). If AANs are demonstrated to be a type of psychological
Lewis, J. (1997). Personal communication.
phenomenon--subject to theories of cognitive and emotional development--they might
lose their appeal as either “real” physical science or “true” spiritual revelation. Despite
psychology’s hundred-year quest for acceptance, its explanations are still perceived to
hold a lower credibility than those of the physical sciences. However, deep
psychological roots are tapped by AANs, and current psychological tools may not be
adequate to investigate their underlying spiritual implications. It is important to consider
personal identity and social development when seeking to understand the enduring power
of AANs. Self-worth can be enhanced through identification with superior beings (alien
or otherwise). The belief that “I’ve been selected since childhood” implies specialness
and provides a cosmic context for a unique individual life.
An intense debate has arisen among those who believe claims of alien contact but
who differ about the intentions of the “visitors”. One faction fears imminent invasion or
human-alien conspiracies or both (represented by Budd Hopkins, Jacques Vallee, and
David Jacobs); another camp appears to welcome alien “salvation” (Leo Sprinkle, Edith
Fiore, Richard Boylan, and perhaps John Mack); and a third group remains neutral about
alien intentions (Raymond Fowler and Whitley Strieber). These differences may presage
a form of UFO denominationalism. The religious issues have been discussed at length by
Lewis and others in The Gods Have Landed (1995).
Attitudes toward UFOs and AANs
Before considering the wide array of explanations for UFO-related phenomena, it
is useful to consider the different attitudes that exist toward them. Attitudinal
differences--and perhaps temperament--help to explain a wide variety of beliefs that
appears both within and among explanatory contexts.
Many UFO believers accept the existence of UFOs and aliens as physical realities
(Friedman, 1996). Other believers assert their reality, while conceptualizing the UFOs or
aliens as non-physical (Strieber, 1987). Members of this latter group may hold to some
spiritual explanation--part of the religio-spiritual hypothesis (RSH) described below--or
prefer the more secular paranormal hypothesis (PNH). Believers in non-physical UFOs
tend to be philosophical dualists. Some propose that UFOs (and alien abductions)
constitute a bridge between matter and spirit (Thompson, 1990).
UFO agnostics (called skeptics) believe that UFO sightings (and by implication
alien abductions) are probably the result of misperception, confusion, delusion, or mental
illness (Sagan, 1995). They almost always profess a belief in the possibility of alien life
elsewhere in the universe, but they do not believe that UFOs visit Earth. Skeptics include
all those who offer various rational explanations of AANs without prejudice, but with the
clear implication that they are chimerical (i.e., “not real”) events. Skeptics differ on the
question of their cultural importance. Some believe that the AANs have major
sociological significance. This group includes anthropologists who observe the UFO
beliefs of others with empathy for the psychological (but not physical) reality of the
UFO atheists (called debunkers) believe that UFOs and alien beings do not come
to Earth, and they also believe that UFO reports and AANs are pernicious to society, or at
least may threaten the mental health of the individuals who become involved with them
(Klass, 1989). Since debunkers “know” that alien abductions are not real (if they were,
they would be investigated as kidnappings by the FBI), they believe that the
dissemination of UFO stories constitutes a potentially dangerous irrational trend, if not
outright deception or fraud. Debunkers tend to be philosophical materialists. Many
debunkers also tend to discount reports of paranormal events and disdain religious
Debunking (the primary stance of the dominant scientific worldview) has proven
ineffective in discouraging the proliferation of AANs or even in slowing claims for the
transforming effects of such “experiences”. As in the history of religious disputes--or
twentieth century attempts to eradicate belief in communist countries--confrontational
approaches may tend to strengthen believers’ resolve. It might be expected that belief
systems growing out of AANs also can produce powerful defensive protections-fundamentalistic and even cultic--to ward off criticism.
In the midst of their disputes, many believers and debunkers alike impose implicit
materialist interpretations on the same phenomenological gestalt. Both sides attempt to
hold their ground as champions of common sense, whether about flying saucers or swamp
gas. However, each side focuses its energies on some specialized forensic and scientific
method or theoretical framework, which narrows their attention away from the totality of
the human experience. In other words, all sides can become hypnotized by their
Ironically, some conservative Christians also practice UFO debunking on the basis of their belief that
supernatural events ended in New Testament times.
The following sections sample the proliferation of offered explanations for UFOs
and AANs. Every category of explanation constitutes a worldview in its own right; each
imposes assumptions on the data and sets rules for what is real.
“What Is Happening?”: Explanations of AANs
There is a qualitative difference between modern UFO sighting reports and alien
abduction stories. The former focus primarily on questions such as “what is happening?
what is causing this?” but the latter bring to the fore questions of meaning and response
(“what does this mean? what must be done about it?”)3 These different but interrelated
perspectives highlight the distinction between (1) a phenomenon “out there” that both
reflects and impacts our continuously evolving views of the universe, and (2) human
events “down here” that simultaneously mirror and influence our way of life. Wheeler
(2000) identified this distinction as the difference between Weltbild (world picture) and
Weltanschauung (worldview), respectively, which interact to form a dynamic cosmology.
In the context of AANs, Wheeler’s model distinguishes between causal explanations and
human responses; and between UFO sightings and alien abductions.
Forensic and Natural Science Explanations (Causes)
As described above, the Weltbild perspective is exemplified by the predominant
American belief about UFOs: that they are some kind of physical phenomena that will
While the early UFO sightings stirred wide general interest, it is significant that most responses originated
from the military and private hobbyists. It took the increased prominence of AANs to reflect a level of fear
comparable to that caused by Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds (1938), which was broadcast on the eve of
World War II.
eventually yield to scientific study. Possible physical explanations include spaceships,
military aircraft, weather phenomena, or other naturalistic events.
Extraterrestrial Hypothesis
UFOs come from other star systems, may have visited Earth many times in the past, and
may be abducting human beings now.
The most familiar theory of UFOs and AANs, and the one that most closely fits
the modern scientific worldview in its popular form, is called the extraterrestrial
hypothesis (ETH). This hypothesis proposes that visitors from other physical places in
the universe come to Earth in spaceships. They may have been visiting throughout
human history and might even have created the human race through genetic engineering.
They abduct humans for their own scientific purposes, much like humans capture animals
for study. The main scientific problem with this theory is that it does violence to our
current understanding of physics. The distances to Earth from other star systems are so
great that the amount of technological effort and fuel required seem insurmountable to us,
and hardly justifiable for the purpose of zoology. A range of attitudes prevails within the
ETH, from skeptical but curious such as Drake (Drake & Sobel, 1961) and Sullivan
(1960), to believers like Hynek (1972) and Friedman (1996).
Terrestrial Hypothesis
UFOs originate on Earth.
The terrestrial hypothesis (TH) proposes that UFOs originate somewhere on or
inside the Earth. A terrestrial origin for UFOs would not violate our current physical
assumptions about travel to distant worlds. These craft may be vehicles piloted by
strange (earthly) beings, or they may be UFO-shaped biological creatures (Brookesmith
& Truzzi, 1992). The vehicles may fly from hidden bases, from under the oceans
(Sanderson, 1970), or even from inside a hollow Earth (Bernard, 1969).
In the “non-belief” version of the TH, there are no alien beings, but instead topsecret vehicles flown in Earth’s skies by human military forces. These groups may be
kidnapping human beings, who remember alien images because they were drugged or
hypnotized to do so. This explanation contradicts the suggestion that the victims are not
intended to remember at all.
Naturalistic Theories
UFOs are natural phenomena, and aliens are hallucinations caused by natural
Some non-belief theories seek to explain UFO sightings as naturalistic events
such as natural electromagnetic phenomena (Rutkowski, 1988). Similarly, alien
abduction experiences have been attributed to seismic movements within the Earth that
create electrical fields leading to strange experiences, or other microwave or ionizing
radiation that have similar effects (Burt, 1970; Budden, 1995).
Neuropsychological Models
UFOs and aliens are hallucinations caused by internal neurochemical or electrical
Neuropsychologists view all human awareness as anchored in organic structures
and processes. Neurophysical explanation of AANs is exemplified by the work of
Michael Persinger (1992), who found that identifiable deformations of perception
occurred in cases of deliberate disruption of cortical function, particularly in the temporal
AANs as Psychosocial Phenomena
UFO sightings and AANs are reports of complex false memories or waking dreams.
AANs can occur when a person’s need to feel special is met by membership in a shared
belief system.
The psychosocial hypothesis (PSH) comprises all attempts to understand AANs in
terms of social science. For example, it considers the limitations of the hypnotic
regression method and the possibility of cogent alternative psychological explanations
(Newman & Baumeister, 1996). This view demonstrates why regression hypnosis and
abduction reports are far from convincing evidence of alien contact when seen from the
perspective of conventional research psychology.
Deception Explanations
UFOs and AANs are hoaxes or frauds.
This non-belief position views UFO reports and AANs as hoaxes or criminal
activities. Examples include controversial cases such as Gulf Breeze and Travis Walton
(Klass, 1989; Gordon, 1995). Debunkers believe that narrators are either hoaxers or
dupes, spreading stories for financial gain or publicity. Examples of such deceptions
include the Philadelphia Experiment (Moore, 1995) and the “men in black” (Barker,
Psychological Explanations (Causes)
Experimental psychologists such as Nicholas Spanos (1996) proposed that AANs
are complex false memories arising from the interaction of human needs and our specific
cultural period when technology seems so dominant over all of life. A recent Harvard
study (McNally et al., 2002) attempted to explain the emotional distress of abductees. It
found that people who believed they had been abducted by aliens had the same
physiological responses as persons who had experienced “real” traumas.4
Although he is not a developmental psychologist, Alvin Lawson’s birth trauma
imagery studies (1984, 1989) also fall into this category. Lawson hypothesized that
AANs originate in the experience of one’s own birth or other traumas in early life.
Social psychologists interpret human behaviors in terms of--or as influenced or
imposed by--social interactions. This category includes the work of Roy Baumeister
(1989) and Daniel O’Keefe (1982). Socially based theories include the study of rumor
and urban legends (Allport & Postman, 1947). The creation of unusual stories can
originate from different motives (psychological disturbance, entertainment, boredom,
anomie, power, financial gain). Strange stories can also result when people are affected
by technological changes (Kipness, 1997). Conspiracy theories can arise from the
conjunction of personality styles and social trends. Persons and groups with political and
religious motives add more ingredients, and so on. Some social movements set up selfreferential peer groups who iteratively reinforce a shared worldview (“the agreement to
Because the Harvard study’s governing assumption was that alien abductions are imaginary, its findings
are not likely to end the controversy.
agree”). Examples include Budd Hopkins’ Intruder Foundation, Whitley Strieber’s
Communion Foundation, and John Mack’s PEER organization.
Consciousness researchers investigate anomalies of awareness, even to the extent
of creating them through meditation, drugs, or sleep deprivation. Tart (1969), Lilly
(1977), McKenna (1998), and Strassman (2001) represent this field. However,
consciousness research raises serious questions about how our critical faculties might be
compromised by either the states of consciousness or the methods that these researchers
propose. If we alter or modify the very instrument that makes our understanding of
reality possible (the mind), how can we have confidence that any finding has validity or
meaning? AANs appear to include perceptions of realities that are dramatically different
from normal awareness.
Sociocultural Models
Sociologists consider AANs as a form of social contagion under some model of
explanation such as the theory of memes, which posits a genetic model of social ideas
that propagate, compete and survive as genes do in the biological realm (Lynch, 1996;
Showalter, 1997). Some sociologists see AANs as a subset of a peculiarly American
narrative construct, the kidnap narrative,5 such as portrayed in the John Wayne movie
The Searchers (1956).
Social anthropologists see AANs as examples of imaginary social relationships,
such as occur in non-Western cultures with ancestors and spirits (Caughey, 1984). In
American society as elsewhere in the world, imaginary relationships can be formed with
Lewis, J. (1997). Personal communication.
celebrities, television and film actors, and fictional characters. Such relationships can
have significant emotional consequences. Caughey’s approach is promising because (1)
it is cross-cultural, (2) it helps explain disagreements on the reality status of strange
stories, and (3) it proposes the American media culture as a global channel for imaginary
social relationships.
Cultural anthropologists view AANs as primitive spiritual phenomena in the
tradition of shamanic initiation rites (Eliade, 1972; Harner, 1975; McKenna, 1998). This
viewpoint sees AANs as modern shamanic journeys, arising from deep structures
developed in man’s past but now exposed to technological change and urban conditions.
Religious anthropologists have studied the contactee movement extensively and
see AANs as the narrative basis for new religions (Lewis, 1995). The anthology The
Gods Have Landed (1995) characterized the UFO myth as millenarian, that is, concerned
with the “end of time” both as historical movement and perceptual dynamic. A related
explanation states that UFO stories constitute the basis of a new mythology that is
developing in our highly technological age (Jung, 1958). One of the most influential
examples of the “new myth” position is described in the book Angels and Aliens (1990),
by Keith Thompson. Thompson proposed that aliens originate in an “imaginal realm”
that mediates between the “worlds” of matter and spirit. One problem with this concept
is that if the dualistic conception of reality is incorrect--possibly the production of our
own misperceptions--then an imaginal realm introduces a third factor that may prove to
be a kind of double unreality. Another weakness of the neo-Jungian position is its lack of
emphasis on the social dimension. For example, Thompson’s discussion makes almost
no mention of the potentially negative consequences of a UFO mythology in a world
armed with nuclear weapons.
Other Cultural Interpretations
AAN cultural interpretation also has taken the form of literary criticism.
Combining social criticism and politics, Jodi Dean’s book Aliens in America (1998)
interpreted AANs as the expressions of dispossessed political groups, who use the
narrative form to dissent from modern bureaucratic institutions and an impersonal “Big
Science”. In ethnic studies, the essay “Alien Abductions and the End of White People”
(Newitz, 1993) proposed that the “grey” alien imagery bespoke white fears of losing their
racial identity (their “whiteness”) in an integrated and intermarried culture. In the field of
literary criticism, Kelley (1999) studied the forms of rhetoric used in alien abduction
stories. Using a “narrative/mythic analysis” that looked for relationships between the
form and function of the narratives, she found them to be highly significant (a “living
myth”) to those who told them.
Religious Explanations
The religio-spiritual hypothesis (RSH) suggests that AANs are modern religious
texts. AANs describe visits by the same heavenly beings that have interacted with
humans throughout history. They may or may not be from other physical places in the
cosmos. This hypothesis is based on similarities between AANs and traditional religious
narratives, such as the Christian Gospels (Downing, 1968). Even within evangelical
Christianity, leading spokesman Billy Graham-- in his book Angels (1995)--proposed that
UFOs are angelic vehicles sent by God.
Hindu religious traditions contain many tales of beings from the heavens
(Thompson, 1993). Traditional Buddhism cautions about encounters with “skandha
demons” from the heavens (Hua, 1996). Some religious interpretations concentrate on
one theological view of anecdotal material. For example, Richard Thompson’s Hindu
perspective in Alien Identities (1993) asserted a single orthodox religious meaning for
AANs. Such apologetical approaches do not validate or invalidate AANs, because they
only “work” if one is open to the chosen belief context (in Thompson’s case, Hinduism).
In The Imagination of Pentecost (1994), Richard Leviton expands on Rudolf
Steiner’s ideas about forces or “beings” from the future that are introducing images and
ideas to humanity “before we are ready”. Leviton holds that UFO reports and AANs
indicate that our human future interpenetrates the present time, but appearing to us as
advanced beings or higher consciousness.
In some metaphysical conspiracy theories, UFOs and alien abduction are plots
carried out by cabals of the military, secret societies, fugitive Nazis with Atlantean
technology, and so on (Kanon, 1997). Such theories tend to resemble violations of
Descartes’ “Evil Genius argument” (Eaton, 1927).6 The idea that the “absence of
evidence is evidence of a conspiracy” can lead to a cycle of self-reinforcing paranoia.
AANs can share with religion a similar narrative status when viewed from the
perspective of secular science and ordinary common sense. When someone talks about
visions or other highly personal experiences which have led them to a religious
conversion (an activity called witnessing), their testimony constitutes personal knowledge
In effect: even if we believe that the Devil (or some all-powerful conspiracy) can deceive us totally and
completely, we should still think (and act) rationally.
based on perceived events that are real to them. AANs differ from traditional witnessing
in that they assume a modern technological worldview capable of acknowledging UFOs,
but they are similar in bypassing the normal verification requirements of scientific or
social consensus. As long as the physical basis of UFO abduction claims cannot be
corroborated after the fact (even the New Testament Gospels are similar stories in this
sense), the different sides cannot agree on what “really” happened and might not agree
even if they all had been present. This is also the case with so-called past life regression
and other types of hypnotically obtained recollections, which are just as vulnerable to
aggressive scientific critique.
“What Is To Be Done?”: AAN as Social Condition or Problem
Along with the many explanatory (Weltbild-oriented) models for UFOs and
AANs, there exist a number of medical, social, and spiritual approaches that emphasize
amelioration. Each of these models sees AANs as symptoms of some kind of social or
health problem to be addressed. In this sense, they illustrate the Weltanshauung-oriented
approach (“how should we live?”).
The profession of psychiatry applies the medical model to psychological issues
and also emphasizes the chemical management of behavior. Psychiatrists attempt to rule
out identifiable disruptions of consciousness due to subictal seizures, drug and alcohol
use, sleep disorders, transient psychoticism, and other causes. Within a traditional
psychiatric framework, AANs are considered hallucinations and delusions rooted in some
form of psychopathology. They may be manageable with medication. There may be life
in outer space, but it is not visiting our patients.
Psychoanalysts have active ideas about alien abduction accounts. AANs reflect
intrapsychic conflicts rooted in the nervous system. They are a new kind of dream.
These theories include object relations theories (e.g., infantile longing for a “mother
ship”), or the problem of fear and paranoia as initial alienating conditions resulting from
identity confusion, health problems, abuse, failure of adaptation, or a sense of threat.
Storytellers are hypersensitive “watchers” whose inner images derive from paranoid
ideation (Slater, 1983). Some attribute the experience to dissociation.
Clinical psychologists may consider AANs to be screen memories of actual abuse,
such as child sexual abuse. Individual psychotherapists emphasize treatment of AANrelated distress, symptoms and emotional problems.7 Psychiatrist John Mack (1991) and
social worker John Carpenter (1991) fall into this category. However, their conclusions
about the absence of psychopathology on standard psychological tests overlook the
weakness of such measures for detecting many conditions, such as dissociative identity
disorder, borderline personality, sociopathic personality, and other conditions that are not
easily measurable. In the view of most psychotherapists who work with abductees,
AANs are expressions of some kind of trauma. Therefore these therapists conclude that
it is more important to empathize with Storytellers than to argue about reality.8 In such
an approach, the reality status of aliens appears to be set aside without judgment, but over
the course of many therapeutic interactions, belief in their existence is likely to become
implicit. Some researchers like John Mack claim objectivity or neutrality, but their
That is, until their professional license is suspended, as happened to Richard Boylan in 1995 and Edith
Fiore in 1997.
Mack, J. (2002) Personal communication.
activities--such as attending American Indian rituals and New Age conferences--indicate
movement toward the UFO believer camp.
Archetypal psychologists such as James Hillman (1972; 1979) and Robert
Sardello (1999) examine the role of fears in the modern psyche. Within this framework,
AANs can be symbolic dreams or spiritual visions that reflect the spiritual crisis of
modernity: humankind alone, cut off from Nature and therefore the true self, sees forms
and images which reflect and enact this crisis. This model is promising because it
employs the phenomenological method, which recognizes that the total human
experience must not be set aside in the service of any specific interpretive framework.
Research on unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and alien abduction narratives
(AANs) has always been controversial. There is a general consensus that ufology--the
study of unidentified flying objects and related phenomena--has failed as a science
(Sturrock, 1999; Jacobs, 2000). The field has become so polemical that promising
investigators are discouraged or even driven out. When a Stanford University scientist
said that UFO data would be “better” when it is “scientifically collected”, the implicit
message was that the last fifty years of study had produced little of value. In Wheeler’s
terms, there still is no agreement on what constitutes a legitimate first contact science
(Wheeler, 2000).
Some of the issues raised by AANs are similar to those encountered in areas
identified by sociologists as “wild psychotherapies” (O’Keefe, 1982). These include
near-death experiences (NDEs) (Ring, 1992), out-of-body experiences (OOBEs)
(Monroe, 1973), reincarnation and so-called past life regression (Fiore, 1989; Weiss,
1992), satanic ritual abuse (SRA) and multiple personality disorder (Friesen; 1997).
As social science, ufology remains on the margins along with research on past-life
regression and satanic ritual abuse. Marginalized fields issue scientific disclaimers when
they say “Take a look at the evidence and decide for yourself”. This presentation may
cloak an in-group agreement to agree instead of promoting critical scrutiny, because
what constitutes “evidence” has been predetermined by the social context. Sociologist
James Lewis asserts that such intra-group knowledge comes about through
“conversations”.9 To the in-group, the “evidence” is what new arrivals are supposed to
accept by initiation into the group agreement.
There are an almost unlimited number of possible explanations for the AAN
phenomenon, and most of them are non-disconfirmable. The problematic nature of AAN
research derives from approaching the phenomenon from any context that includes a
predefined set of assumptions: physical, psychosocial, or religious. In almost fifty years
of AAN research, these approaches have produced a blind alley instead of additional
clarity. Yet even the possibility of hoax and deception does not cause interest in the
phenomenon to go away. To be objective, a psychological approach should be based
what is known: human narratives, human values and human behaviors, not speculation. It
must consider these narratives in terms of what is human within them, rather than shift
from one theoretical context to another--ground much treaded by others--without
Lewis, J. (1997). Personal communication.
“It’s not what happened. It’s what you can get a jury to believe happened.”
Philip Gerard (Raymond J. Barry), CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2002)
Instead of presuming to discover “what happened”, this study must first
understand the phenomenon as it presents itself and then propose an investigative method
appropriate to such an understanding. Alien abduction narratives (AANs) share three
common characteristics (the three “T’s”):
trance - indications of changes in awareness in written descriptions and in
storyteller behavior during later interviews, retellings, and hypnosis sessions.
traumatic fears (often cited as proof of the narrative’s “reality”).
therapeutic social responses to the storyteller from family, friends, and others.
These factors are outlined in more detail below.
“Are you now--or have you ever been--asleep?”
Altered states of consciousness--and the possible predisposition for them--make
up the psychological dimension of AANs and underlie the kinds of variables that
scientific psychology has attempted to measure (see Chapter II). AANs contain many
indications of alterations in consciousness, such as perceptual anomalies,1 visions, sleep
paralysis, and dreams. Accounting for a psychological phenomenon is made more
complicated when hypnosis is used to acquire and to explore these stories. Fear can
appear within any disturbance of the generalized reality orientation (Shor, 1958). In
trance, persons become more open to fears, whether as the fear of hypnosis itself (even
deep relaxation), disturbing emotions released in an undefended or dissociative state, or
fearful dreams. Finally, preoccupation with pervasive media images can promote such
altered states and therefore may act as a pervasive public source of hypnotic suggestion.
Traumatic Fears
“Are you now--or have you ever been--afraid?”
The presence of fear presents the phenomenological dimension of AANs. The
chronological development of the AAN controversy from the late 1960s through the early
1990s paralleled other repressed memory controversies involving explorations of child
sexual abuse, satanic ritual abuse, past life therapies, reincarnation and so on. A primary
presenting symptom of these other claims is also fear, although it is sometimes more
generally described as “strong emotion” (Mack, 1994).
Judging any perception, impression, or experience as anomalous implies an existing framework against
which it contrasts. Otherwise, it would merely be “normal” or unperceived (which may be the same thing).
There are many signals or patterns we attend for deliberately (such as seeking a familiar face in a crowd).
Anything we notice involuntarily or unexpectedly may be anomalous to some degree, especially if its
meaning cannot be resolved soon enough to avert anxiety, fear, or panic.
Therapeutic Responses
“Are you now--or have you ever been--a victim?”
The identification of victim status and attempts at its amelioration invoke the
social dimension of AANs. In order to address the presence of fears, anxiety and
alienation (sic) reflected in AANs, psychotherapy resources and support groups have
been marshalled and made available. Some of these take the form of organized
foundations set up by AAN researchers.2
Fear as the Common Denominator
The role of fears has been acknowledged as the central factor in AANs (Fowler,
1979; Hopkins, 1981; Strieber, 1987), serving as both significator of alien presence and
as “proof” of reality status.3 However, fears have not received sufficient attention. They
should be the focus of AAN study for three reasons:
Fears appear in all AANs, even those attributed to “good” alien beings.
Fears constitute a significant presence regardless of whether a story is “true” or
Fears can propagate in groups and culture, among individuals and through media
This study examines the occurrence of fears in five of the most prominent public AANs.
Before discussing the method chosen for this study, it is important to take a side
journey into the world of hypnosis. All five AANs analyzed in this study treat hypnotic
These include Budd Hopkins’ Intruder Foundation, Whitley Strieber’s Communion Foundation, and John
Mack’s PEER group.
UFO believers claim that even debunkers’ attitudes are attributable to their fears (Hopkins, 1981; Strieber,
regression as an essential method for discovering the truth about alien abduction. This
author’s position is that information obtained using hypnosis may be fascinating, but it is
unreliable as a source of information about reality. Unlike many research psychologists,
many hypnotherapists believe that hypnosis is a “royal road” to the retrieval of accurate
memories stored in the “subconscious”. As a result, sometimes material obtained under
hypnosis is treated as valid on its face. Because hypnosis is an important technique in
AAN research, it is important to review this technique in order to understand that neither
the content of an alien abduction story nor the attendant emotions are necessarily the
proof they may appear to be.
The Problem of Hypnosis in AAN Research
In Hollywood’s version of the hypnotic induction, the procedure for placing a
subject into a hypnotic trance begins with the phrase “You are getting sleepy...”. Its
trance state takes many forms, but the one most exploited by stage hypnotists and fiction
writers alike is the heightened suggestibility that is demonstrated when an otherwise
modest and intelligent adult clucks like a chicken in front of strangers. Such
demonstrations can suggest that a hypnotic subject is completely under the control of any
opportunistic Svengali. Over time, the public has come to believe (or fear) that a
hypnotist can take over a subject’s mind and make them do just about anything.
Unfortunately, hypnosis has also become the tool of choice to pry the lid off a Pandora's
box of UFO abduction narratives.
Hypnosis (from Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep) involves increased suggestibility
and a feeling of involuntary movement while in a “trance”. It was first recognized by
19th Century French psychiatrists (ironically called alienists) such as Anton Mesmer
(hence the term mesmerize), the Marquis de Puysegur, Braid, and Charcot and his
brilliant student Janet. They treated patients who, even before being hypnotized,
exhibited signs of “missing time”, along with disturbing recollections and dramatic
changes in personality. These were the symptoms that Charcot called grand hysterie
(“major hysteria”).
Puysegur (1751-1825) was first to identify the key relationship between hypnotist
and subject when he coined the phrase croyez et veuillez! (believe and make it so). In
today’s terms, as motivational speaker Tony Robbins says, “whatever the mind can
conceive and believe, you can achieve!” Puysegur recognized that an ineffectual or
skeptical “magnetizer” fared poorly as a hypnotist, while a strongly confident practitioner
with abundant “animal magnetism” (what the Greeks called charisma) could produce
deep trances and dramatic healing effects. No true hypnosis could occur unless the
subject conformed to the expectations of the hypnotist, and charismatic individuals had
the “right stuff”.
James Braid--who coined the term hypnosis--recognized that suggestion could
affect a subject’s awareness long after the session was over, and this eventually led to an
important therapeutic goal: post-hypnotic suggestion. The hypnotist would instruct the
subject to recall or do something after coming out of the trance but believe that they were
doing it voluntarily. Unfailingly, readily hypnotized individuals could perform very
complex actions or recall completely fabricated memories with no conscious awareness
that they had come from the hypnotist. Post-hypnotic instructions, and post-hypnotic
amnesia for those instructions, became important techniques in the therapeutic use of
hypnosis. The success of hypnosis with cases of hysteria eventually impressed another
student of Charcot, a man named Sigmund Freud.
One historical result of the demonstration of post-hypnotic suggestion was the
development of theories of dissociation, the process by which there is “a disruption in the
usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity or perception of the
environment...sudden or gradual, transient or chronic” (DSM-IV, p. 766). This disruption
suggests a level of cognition apart from direct awareness, a sort of mental “black box”
that radiates motivations, ideas and behaviors into awareness. Janet and Freud both
formulated theories of mental disorder which featured the dissociative process. Freud
viewed dissociation as one of the mind’s defenses against undesirable impulses, but today
we recognize that the dissociative state is a complex constellation of disruptions of
consciousness, which can have a variety of organic and psychological causes.
The history of hypnosis should have led to extreme caution in its use in UFO
research. Instead, since its first reported use in the Hill case, hypnosis has produced so
many fascinating reports (and books about them) that no one dares stop the show. In the
19th Century, the great showman Professor Charcot regularly filled his Amphitheatre in
the Salpetriere with the intelligensia of Paris, seeking new demonstrations of hypnotic
trances and miraculous cures. Today, television talk show hosts provide the stage, and
the mistakes of the past are being repeated.
For both the researcher and the clinician, the primary problem with hypnosis is a
loss of validation for the accuracy of recollection. All personal memory is a
psychological synthesis created by interacting contexts, perspectives, emotions, attention,
and goals. In addition to the originating influences of physiology, personal identity, and
social expectation, memories then change across the life span as these factors vary. In
the hypnotic state, extraneous information can mix with subjective recollection of actual
experiences and appear as if entirely “real”. The severe limitations of the hypnotic
regression method, and the existence of a cogent alternative psychological explanation,
were discussed by Leonard S. Newman at the national convention of the American
Psychological Association in Los Angeles in 1994. Newman is cited not as the last word,
but only to show that regression hypnosis and alien abduction reports are far from
convincing evidence of alien contact when seen from the perspective of conventional
research psychology.
Newman asserts that because there is not yet evidence of alien visitation that is
convincing to conventional science, the origins of UFO abduction reports must be
considered terrestrial and psychosocial. This is merely the null hypothesis of scientific
study (although not especially pleasing to the UFO believer). This author believes that it
should be embraced by American ufological studies, just as it is in Europe. The fact that
Newman confidently asserts that UFOs are not of extraterrestrial origin succinctly
illustrates the weakness of fifty years of UFO research. Newman believes that a
combination of personal phenomena and cultural processes parsimoniously explains the
psychological symptoms reported by abductees. Newman accepts Mack’s assertion that
most “experiencers” are psychologically sound, and he does not deny the emotional
power of their reports. Newman takes a different social psychological approach and
interprets the experiencers’ stories as narratives with a purpose.
In terms of social psychology, the term narrative was defined in the 1994 paper
by Newman and his mentor Roy Baumeister. Narratives can be understood as a natural,
everyday process of making sense out of one’s experiences. Telling stories is a
fundamentally social activity. Baumeister asserts that when we construct narratives about
our lives, we operate out of four specific needs for meaning:
we seek to find purpose for the events which befall us.
we seek value and moral justification.
we seek evidence of efficacy by showing a level of control over the environment.
we seek self-worth and affirmation.
How much power does a logical and factual recounting have when compared to
the narrative version? A person can recall the jokes of the Nobel laureate Richard
Feynman but may not remember his facts about thermodynamics. Narrative speech is the
preferred mode for most people, and narratives can be subject to powerful social effects.
Only a minority of people normally report their experiences abstractly, in what is called
paradigmatic speech.
According to Newman, AANs--whether obtained under relaxation or hypnotic
regression--are subject to many motivations and influences. Newman addresses the
question as follows: if UFO abduction reports are not about actual UFO abductions, why
would people recall something that did not happen to them in consensual reality, and in
particular, why would they recall something as traumatic as an alien abduction?
Psychiatrist John Mack, who uses “deep relaxation” and hypnosis in his work,
defends his methods in an appendix to the paperback edition of Abduction (1994). He
asserts that “the material recalled during the [hypnotic] regression seemed more likely to
be accurate than that reported in face-to-face interviews... (Mack, 1994, p. 430)”. This
study includes Mack’s work, but it is important to state that he continues to rely on
hypnotic regression data. Mack defends himself by saying that he does not use leading
questions, set any expectations, or influence his subjects’ stories in any way. He claims
that he even tries to mislead his subjects by inserting his own details, but these are
rejected by his subjects. “I have no basis for concluding as yet that anything other than
what experiencers say happened to them actually did.” (Mack, 1994, p. 434). In the new
preface, he proclaims that “No plausible alternative explanation for the reports of
abduction experiences... has been discovered.” (Mack, 1994, p. xi).
It is interesting that despite Mack’s belief in the experiential reality of the
abduction regression reports, he does not conclude that contact has been made with
extraterrestrials. Instead, he equivocates: “I am reporting the experiences of the
abductees as told to me and not presuming that everything they say is literally true.”
While one may share Mack’s concerns about the nature of human consciousness, the
ecological crisis, and the potential importance of UFO phenomena, research findings
should not substitute mere equivocation in place of an earlier lack of appropriate
scientific tentativeness.
Mack has said that the power of the experiencer's emotional reactions is so great
that “even the most determined skeptic would be hard-pressed to conclude that something
quite extraordinary and reality-shattering did not occur” (Mack, 1994, p. 430). Newman
finds the narratives of abductees less compelling and believes that such stories reflect
mechanisms of ordinary but powerful human motives for psychological escape, most
profoundly from self-esteem and efficacy demands.
Hypnotic regression and other dissociative methods constitute an open doorway to
fantasy and confabulation, and such methods invite the narrative process to enter
uncharted waters without a compass. Consequently, abduction narratives are to be
expected from sessions conducted by abduction researchers, just as researchers in other
fields find equally convincing subjects. Fiore and Weiss (1978) found powerful and
convincing regressions into past lives. Catherine Gould and others (1992) found an
epidemic of satanic ritual abuse, for which the F.B.I. could not find a shred of physical
Stanislav Grof, M.D., who first interested John Mack in the abductee “problem”,
has written extensively about regression therapies. In his book LSD Psychotherapy
(2001), Grof states “Observations from LSD psychotherapy provide ample evidence that
transpersonal experiences are more than just curious phenomena of theoretical interest.
In many instances, specific clinical symptoms are anchored in dynamic structures of a
transpersonal nature and cannot be resolved on the level of psychodynamic
[intervention]...” (Grof, 2001, p. 287). However, Grof reports regressions which include
reliving the lives of ancestors, animals and even the “vegetable consciousness” of a tree
(Grof, 2001, p. 290).
Hypnotic induction flings open the narrative process and promotes a context for
the recall of any and all accessible impressions as one’s own experience. Any hypnotic
regression can contain impressions from actual events, imagined events, other people's
stories, the lives of characters from books and television, magazines, comic books and
video games, and even the implicate structure of language. These recollections can be
embedded with fragments of everyday culture and laced with fact and fantasy from one's
own mind and that of every other person in contact with them, personally or through the
media. Images and ideas are stripped of their origins and appear seamlessly woven into
one’s own ongoing narrative.
No one familiar with psychology can be surprised at the inventiveness of the
human mind. The ability to imagine ourselves taking many forms and going fantastical
places is arguably a great asset to our species. Once it is recognized that hypnotic
regression is one avenue to this resource, its particular usefulness for exploring memories
of “real” events drops dramatically, but we can better appreciate the ubiquitousness of
altered states of consciousness.
In clinical work, the ability to re-frame awareness as a composite reconstruction
of real experiences is quite valuable. If a therapist can help a patient to reinterpret a
traumatic experience and promote a new way of looking at events, perhaps a person's
subjective distress can be alleviated. Take the example of “Linda”, from the book
Through Time into Healing (Weiss, 1992). After only two hypnosis sessions, the 35year-old attorney from a small town in Pennsylvania reportedly moved past her early
childhood memories into an experience in which she saw herself guillotined. Her real
father (in her present life) had been a murderous husband in this past life. “Now it made
sense to her...She was cured.” (Weiss, 1992, pp. 96-100). In this case, powerful, awful
and traumatic recollections (facts) were re-woven to her personal benefit by being given
different meanings. Therefore, it would not be surprising if alien abduction narratives
might also fulfill the mind’s healing agenda.
This author considers the use of hypnotic regression as a primary research tool by
UFO investigators to be a flawed approach. This position is shared by other researchers
(Randles, 1994; Brookesmith, 1998). The data obtained from such procedures, while
fascinating and even compelling, cannot further illuminate the UFO mystery. By its very
nature, hypnotic regression leads farther away from a consensus reality (one that we can
talk about among ourselves) and deeper into a questionable subjectivity. What is already
known about memory establishes that whether a witness is reporting a UFO sighting or
an automobile accident, memories involve a dynamic re-integration of external and
internal contexts. No two witnesses are likely to agree when describing a criminal
suspect, let alone a highly anomalous experience such as a UFO encounter. Researchers
contradict themselves when they claim simultaneously that a high level of agreement
among abductee stories implies their validity, and also that the elusive aliens may alter
human memories through the use of an advanced “amnesia technology” that has failed.
High abductee agreement is not suggestive of a typical memory process, nor is it
consistent with memory tampering.
Hypnotic regression methods are imprecise even when compared to the ambiguity
of consciously recalled memories about ordinary events. Given sufficient time and
research funding, the relationship between hypnotically regressed narratives and
externally validated events might be mapped with greater precision. But until this occurs,
all social scientists, and especially ufological investigators, should abandon hypnotic
regression and devote further effort to defining evidentiary standards that can withstand
scientific scrutiny.
Science focuses on the reliability of evidence. In cases of hypnotic memory
retrieval, most minds are made up about the status of evidence. AAN storytellers’ voices
have never been mechanically recorded during an alleged “experience-event” of alien
abduction. All reports are retrospective. In this sense, they initially carry the same
epistemological status as dream narratives. The storytellers also report that their ability
to move and attend to events is severely interrupted during the experience. Perhaps we
need to take this aspect of their testimony as seriously as they do. As real as they may
believe that their accounts are, they are reporting an event during which they were not in
normal consciousness.
The claim of an altered state of consciousness can also be a statement about social
influence. For example, a person under hypnosis may believe that they are someone else
(in a past life) or somewhere else (on a shamanic journey). In fact, they have placed
themselves under the influence of another person and--for their own reasons and needs-may be choosing to form a belief system based on this relationship (Sardello, 1999, p.
Within AANs, reports of “missing time” also strongly suggest dreams or trance.
Shaeffer (1998) has noted the prevalence of hypnagogic imagery in AANs. One might be
concerned that involvement with hypnotic suggestion when exploring a UFO experience
could initiate and reinforce an addiction to hypnagogic trance. Sardello (1999) identifies
the greater danger as the loss of the soul in trance, which can be seen as the suspension of
faculties of the self and one’s critical thinking.
Alternatives to Hypnosis
If information gained from hypnosis may not be reliable, what other methods of
study present themselves? As discussed in the previous chapter, many promising models
In a practical sense, a belief in Christ functions similarly although it could be stated that placing oneself
“in Christ” could be safer than hypnosis, provided it was not only done under the direct influence of a
church leader.
of explanation from the psychological and social sciences have been applied. Using
quantitative methods and what Sardello calls its “medical suppositions”5, mainstream
psychology has investigated UFO abductees using psychodiagnostic tests and
independent operationalized variables such as masochistic tendencies, fantasy-proneness,
hypnotic suggestibility, and schizotypal behaviors (Newman & Baumeister, 1996;
Spanos, 1996; McNally et al., 2002). While each of these factors showed early promise,
all were eventually found to be unreliable. In the 2002 Harvard study conducted in
response to the controversial work of John Mack, the experimental assumptions
presuppose the unreality of the AAN, so its findings are unlikely to help resolve the
reality question?6
Among qualitative methods, cultural ethnography (Caughey, 1984) has
demonstrated advantages in its distinct respect for differences in worldview, crosscultural sampling, and a provocative analysis of Western media culture in parallel with
non-Western spirit beliefs. However, Caughey’s cultural perspective presupposes that all
“imaginary” social worlds are a purely subjective means of social rehearsal and
Both classes of methods described above applied an objective framework that
seeks to explain the phenomenon from a distance. Is there a method available to study
these stories with less detachment, while preserving in tension any prejudgment about
their reality status? Yes, if they are considered straightforwardly as narrative facts
transmitted through public media, that is, as phenomenological descriptions of a Weltbild
Sardello, R. (Steiner, 1990, p. 28).
In effect, the abductees were declared harmless.
type (as discussed in Chapter II); and as narrative acts with Weltanschauung
consequences for their audiences. This process will be developed further in Chapter V.
The central factor in all AANs is the presence of fear. In order to understand how
fear is working in these stories, this study must employ a workable model of fear. The
approach which presumes the least is one which takes the narratives as received texts that
represent phenomenal claims and also interact with their readers’ phenomenal field. In
terms of a phenomenological approach, AANs require no single explanation or cause.
Participants in AANs involve themselves in lived experiences which are part of the
“thrown-ness” or the “given” of being human. Alien beings “participate” in human
reality as soon as they enter into human conversations. The question of their physical or
epistemological status remains open for those who desire to invoke such specific
contexts. A phenomenological approach does not seek to deny or remove such questions.
A phenomenological method is one that emphasizes intentionality and the analysis of
“immediate awareness and lived experience”. It rejects scientific detachment in favor of
the role of human participation in the subject matter and strives to avoid abstraction in
favor of direct observation. Sardello has already applied his phenomenological approach
to the understanding of fear, resulting in a model that can be used to explore AANs
without prejudging them.
The phenomenological-narrative model of fear chosen for this study draws from
the spiritual psychology of Robert Sardello, who combines the Jungian tradition--in
particular the archetypal psychology of James Hillman--with the psychological concepts
of Rudolf Steiner. In addition, Sardello’s cautionary views on hypnosis are consistent
with the critique of hypnosis presented above, and informative for understanding the
critical relationships among the participants. The next chapter describes Sardello’s model
of the operation of fears in human life.
This study reviewed and analyzed the five most prominent published AANs of the
past four decades, using Sardello’s framework, the “geography of fear”. These narratives
and the reasons they were selected as primary source material for this study are as
John Fuller’s book The Interrupted Journey (1966) tells the story of Betty and
Barney Hill. This was the first book-length published account of alien abduction
and received wide circulation, went through many printings, and continues to be
cited as paradigmatic by all UFO researchers.
Raymond Fowler’s book The Andreasson Affair (1979), which tells the story of
Betty Andreasson, was the first of a number of books by Fowler on Betty
Andreasson and other abductees. Fowler’s publication was the first major alien
abduction study published by a ufologist.7
Budd Hopkins book Missing Time (1981) was the first published collection of
different alien abductee accounts and the first attempt to propose a systematic
structure and explanation for the “typical” abduction scenario.
Whitley Strieber’s book Communion (1987) was an autobiographical account of
his own alien encounters. It remained on the New York Times bestseller list for
many months, reaching more readers than any other abduction story before (or
Fowler was research director for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON).
probably since), and its striking cover portrait of an alien being had a profound
effect on many readers. Communion also was made into a major motion picture
(1991), starring Christopher Walken as Strieber.
John Mack’s Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens (1994) presented the
detailed accounts of thirteen abductees (also called “experiencers”), selected as
representative of his sample of seventy-six abductee patients. As a Harvard
Professor of Psychiatry and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Mack is the most
prestigious and credentialed researcher in the UFO field.
For each of the nine fear worlds identified in Sardello’s model (see Chapter IV),
this study analyzed fear occurrences in the texts of the primary sources described above.
In most cases, the expressions of fear were directly attributable to an “abductee”
(identified in this study as a Storyteller); in most cases, an author (identified in this study
as a Narrator) observed, paraphrased or interpreted the Storyteller’s fears. This study
considered the context in which the story was presented, the methods used to elicit the
information (e.g., hypnosis), patterns of occurrence, common themes, inconsistencies and
omissions, social responses to the abduction disclosures and similarities between the
Storyteller accounts and media images such as television and movie portrayals of similar
Sardello states that a person’s response to fear can be either spiritually
constructive, leading to growth and maturity, or spiritually destructive, leading to
obsessions, emotional incapacity and “doubling”. The use of Sardello’s method is also
appropriate because many AAN researchers claim that these are spiritually significant
experiences (Mack, 1994). However, these researchers provide little in the way of
criteria or guidance to evaluate the psychological or spiritual effects of these experiences.
Of the approaches considered for this study, Sardello’s is the most focused
consideration of the presence of fears as a central factor in human experience, not simply
as psychopathology, reactions to external events, or imaginary cultural drama. This
author hypothesized that the alien abduction narrative (AAN) constitutes a specific
creative synthesis of human fears--both personally and socially meaningful--rather than
merely a psychological reaction to either a human or non-human stimulus. Using this
approach, this study examined the AANs as primary source material according to the
perspective offered by Sardello.
Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray
from the straight road and woke to find myself
alone in a dark wood. How shall I say
what wood that was! I never saw so drear,
so rank, so arduous a wilderness!
Its very memory gives a shape to fear.
Dante Alighieri, Inferno, Canto I
In Freeing the Soul From Fear (1999), Robert Sardello offers a
phenomenological understanding of the operation of fear in today’s world. His approach
is informed by the analytical psychology of Carl Jung and the archetypal psychology of
James Hillman. In addition, Sardello has been particularly influenced by the thinking of
German philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Issues which Sardello addresses
include the following:
Fear is the central cultural and spiritual task for our time.
Fear is increasing in our time and culture.
Fear can arise in the context of accelerated cultural and technological change.
Traditional religions address similar concerns, but their strategies derive from-and by implication relate to--settings and worldviews in the past.
Persons with fear-based disturbances (such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or
posttraumatic stress disorder) should be viewed as cultural guides and not just as
victims or sick individuals.
Problems with Modern Approaches to Fear
Sardello identifies fear as a real presence in the world that affects human beings in
a variety of ways, some of which are necessary for our spiritual development. He asserts
that what modern psychology defines as fears--phobias, physiological changes and so on-actually consist of individual responses to fear itself. Even realistic threats are in and of
themselves bearers of fear, rather than causes. For example, the modern concept of
signal anxiety (de Becker, 1997) misses this fundamental role of fear. Cause and effect
approaches to fear do not address its effects upon the soul. In effect, they attempt to
strengthen the human ego, resulting in more fear. When fears are not faced, they can
grow in strength and even overtake the human personality. The result can be fear-based
reactions that insert more fear into the world. Such reactions include increased security
measures, such as those taken in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The real problems of fear are more subtle. Fear removes context, which defines
the connection between the individual and the world. The key to fear’s power is its direct
action on the human body. This is signaled by physical changes such as tunnel vision
and other forms of bodily constriction (Sardello, 1999, p. 8). The constrictive impact of
fear alters the body, resulting in disturbing images in sensitive people. Sardello describes
how fantasies of torture and persecution can occur as the result of the continuous effect of
fear on the body. These can include vivid dreams of being trapped, bound, tortured, and
chased (Sardello, 1999, p. 37). As this study shows, these images are characteristic of
alien abduction reports. Sardello even identifies fear as an alien presence (Sardello,
1999, p. 14). Living under a continuous situation of fear can result in the formation of a
double, a compartmentalized ego-personality that experiences no fear. This phenomenon
is recognized in literature as well as psychological research (Lifton, 1999).
Sardello identifies a psychological geography consisting of nine realms within
which fears manifest to human beings. These can be differentiated phenomenologically
by the way fear appears in the different realms of human life. When Sardello refers to a
particular fear as a realm or “world”, he is emphasizing the immediate awareness that
takes possession of the person, which constitutes the palpably real presence of fear. The
sections below describe this geography of fear.
I. Fears and the Natural World
The first fear realm that Sardello describes originates from within the natural
environment. In particular, these are fears of disruption and chaos that manifest within
the natural order. These fears are related to a Nature that sustains and nourishes us
(Mother Nature), but also can turn against us (“nature red in tooth and claw”) or break
down (chaos). In aboriginal myths such as those of the American Indians, natural
disruptions occurred in relation to the actions of human beings. Examples of natural
world fears include fears of animal attack, storms, earthquakes, forest fires, floods,
meteors, and cosmic events. Such fearful images occur in the Book of Revelation in
descriptions of the moon turning to blood and the sky falling.1
Revelation 6:12-13.
In cinema, the disaster movie genre is the carrier of fearful natural world images
in our culture. Examples include the films Earthquake (1974), Dante’s Peak (1997),
Armageddon (1974), and Deep Impact (1999), and books such as A Perfect Storm (2000)
and The Coming Super-Storm (2000), the latter co-authored by an alien abduction
storyteller. Increasing concerns about the ozone layer, global warming, and the
extinction of species both provide material for and interact with these images.
II. Fears and the Human Body
The main channel through which fear operates is the human body. By its effects
on the body, fear acts on the human imagination, affecting it in specific and significant
ways. Initially, the imagination is stimulated, sometimes to an unhealthy degree,
resulting in nightmares and the expectation of potential danger in more situations
(Sardello, 1999, p. 36). If the fear persists for a longer time, the imagination adjusts to
this overstimulation by shutting down. The fearful person may even become unaware of
real dangers in the immediate environment. The body continues to be affected
negatively, and this further reduces the person’s effectiveness in the world.
Modern urban people are less in touch with the processes of the natural
environment than their ancestors. With medical and social advances, we also grow
farther apart from the original context of our physical bodies within nature. We inhabit
artificial structures (wood is becoming a scarce commodity), live under artificial
illumination, and communicate over artificial channels (“exchanging information”).
Many of today’s diseases are considered environmentally induced or psychosomatic. We
live longer than ever (double the life span of so-called primitive humans), and enjoy
better medical care, but fears still increase. As a result, people consume higher amounts
of food and mood-altering substances and pay large sums for body scans, vitamin
supplements, medications, and diet regimens.
In the absence of a life that interpenetrates the natural environment in which our
bodies developed, we can come to perceive that the only natural world we experience is
the one that lies inside our skin. Thus the effects of fears on the body and life processes
can become amplified, manifesting as fear of disease, fear of cancer, fears of contagion,
and even fear of the creation of human life in childbirth. The presence of bodily fears
consists of the immediate awareness of dis-ease in the physical body or distortions in our
physical processes. These fears are carried in images associated with wounding and
disease. In Sardello’s fear geography, these images are distinct from those of suffering
and death, which are described in Chapter XIII.
In our storytelling culture, images of bodily fears are carried by the horror movie
genre: stories and films that involve physical decay, mutants, zombies, corpses, the return
of the dead, and man-made monsters (Frankenstein, 1932; Night of the Living Dead,
1968). This type of fear is also related to current concerns about test-tube babies, genetic
engineering, and the cloning of human embryos and animals (The Island of Doctor
Moreau, 1977; The Boys from Brazil, 1978; Gattaca, 1997).
III. Fears and Human Emotions
These fears reveal themselves in the disruption and distortion of human emotions,
including disturbances such as nervousness, obsessions, fixations, unmodulated anger,
and feelings of persecution. In such cases, emotions are cut off from their natural role as
the bodily language of the world and human reality, and become more like possessions
(my sadness, your anger). These fears are distinct from fears involving the more
powerful human passions, which are discussed in Chapter X.
Many novels, plays and films carry themes of conflict driven by emotions
distorted by fear. Franz Kafka’s works (The Trial, 1995; Metamorphosis, 1972) address
the effects of fears concerning bureaucracy and personal identity. The existentialist
perspectives of film noir emphasize feelings of emptiness and confusion as an individual
protagonist struggles to find meaning in a world which appears meaningless.
IV. Fears of Violence and Terror
On September 11, 2001, when fear came from the sky in the form of our own
flying machines, Americans were plunged into the full consciousness of terror. Terror is
a fear that has affected other nations for many years, while Americans came to feel
immune. Now we too are less able to defend against these fears. Sardello describes at
length the effects of violence and terror on human life.
Terrorism emerges from the disruption of the feeling world by means of the impersonality of the human double. The result is hyper-rationality and a total conviction of
truth, combined with a dissociated rage; a disruption of both cognition and emotion.
What the terrorist is trying to do is to send a message. “You had better hear me or I will
kill you. I have the perfect truth.” Terrorism is both physical and mental attack.
Along with fear of terrorism comes guilt. Whether rational or not, the issue of
responsibility arises: how did we create these people? We begin to feel that we are in a
symbiotic relationship with the terrorist. We feel attached to the terrorist because they
claim we have wronged them; and because we have our own guilt feelings to resist, we
also become enraged (see the next chapter). Fear of terrorism is both fear of the other’s
hyper-rationalized rage and refuge within our own anger (the “war on terror”).
These fears are expressed in our culture by stories and movies about serial killers,
assassins, and attacks by machines. This includes movies with all types of violence:
blowing up buildings, planets, almost any Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Examples
include Silence of the Lambs (1991) and The Terminator (1983).
V. Fears Related to Time
Humans evolved in a natural environment that imparted its own rhythms. Today,
our civilization imposes a much different time experience. The result is identified by
Sardello as an imbalance between duration (the temporal life and lasting effects of
objects in the world) and tempo (the rates at which natural and human activities occur).2
Today, durations have become shorter. Products wear out rapidly and must be replaced.
The effects of this style of human life can be seen in our impact on nature. When oldgrowth forests are cut for lumber, they may be replanted for future harvests but can never
regain the grandeur they developed during their original life’s duration. Life’s tempo has
speeded up. Since the Industrial Revolution, assembly line production, and computers,
human work and life moves at an increasingly punishing pace. A modern slogan captures
this unbalanced feeling of time in both senses as: “live fast, die young” (an even more
nihilistic version adds “and have a good-looking corpse”).
This distinction can be seen to parallel that between Weltbild and Weltanschauung discussed in Chapter
Time fears contain images and patterns of time changing, being distorted,
breaking down, being disrupted, or even ending altogether. Time is coming to an end. It
can be a fear that time is speeding up, ever faster and faster. Humans are losing any
sense of control; losing a sense that time is natural or any part of them. First came
machines, then computers, and then faster computers. Computers and the electronic
world are driving the brains of human beings to live at a new and speedy pace. People
feel pressured by time, and also feel that time itself is under pressure; they use alcohol
and drugs to manage time. These substances alter time further. A person who works at a
high pace may drink, thinking that will slow them down. What further drives the pace is
the fear that time is breaking down.
In our culture, the theme of disruption in time is carried in movies with
apocalyptic themes (Deep Impact, 1998), time paradox (Somewhere in Time, 1980), and
time travel (The Time Machine, 1960). We’ve run out of time; time is thought to be
speeding up. Judgment day is here; the world is coming to an end. We face a deadline.
In time travel stories, depiction of the past and the future reflects opposite perspectives;
either the past feels safe and familiar while the future is frightening, or vice versa. Such
representations reveal our needs for security and the fears within “what happened before”
or “what happens next”.
VI. Fears and Human Passions
According to Sardello, the human passions arise from intensified expressions of
emotion that take control of a person. One of the most significant passions that people
recognize today is an intensification of anger that borders on (and sometimes reaches) the
level of rage (for example, road rage). When we are able to examine our rage responses,
we find that they were triggered by the presence of fear. This finding also indicates that a
cognitive mediation process has become established through which fear first hides itself
from our awareness and eventually overtakes our awareness itself.
Sardello’s description of the passions takes into account their dualistic nature.
Sardello writes:
The word passion covers a great deal of psychic terrain. Anger is an
emotion, but as it modulates into rage, it takes on qualities of a passion.
We are not able to control our passions to the degree we do our emotions.
But there is also passionate love, passionate thought, passionate action. Is
passion just emotion intensified? Something additional seems to be
involved. What factor accounts for why, when emotion rises to a certain
intensity, we no longer have that emotion but become it?
(Sardello, 1999, p. 83)
Sardello identifies violence and rage as the predominant contemporary passions.3
He further shows how road rage (“anger that seems to have no source”4) exemplifies an
unleashed anger engendered by fear. Crimes can be committed “in the heat of passion”;
such was the motive attributed to O. J. Simpson at his murder trial. The images that
accompany the passion of rage represent autonomous forces destroying everything in
their path.
VII. Economic Fears
On September 11th, terrorists attacked our economy because they knew that
economic fear is more potent to Americans than a military threat. The World Trade
Although terrorism and war dominate the headlines, explicit rage rarely shows its face within the fear
world of terrorism because it has been sublimated into a kind of hyper-rationality (for example, religious
fundamentalism). Similarly, military actions embody violent acts within a legalistic framework, such that
military language is highly rational and euphemistic.
Sardello, 1999, p. 79.
Center we depended on has collapsed. Economic fears are insecurities related to money-and what money is used for--to support our life, security and status.
These fears are expressed in our culture in numerous ways. There is the fear of
poverty, losing money in the stock market, or indebtedness. Fear of the vulnerability of
all the social networks we depend on for our safety and security and that we depend on to
protect our families. Gun ownership may be a response to economic fear (as well as
other fears). Advertising uses economic fear to get people to buy things, suggesting that
you will not have power, status, or attractiveness if you do not buy. The word economy
comes from the Greek oikonomos, meaning care of the household. Our normative
experience of economic security includes the boundaries of our home (walls, locks,
doors, roofs). The entire structure of personal and family security involves the home and
money, including the fear of someone coming into your home.
Economic fears are an accompaniment of the American myth of rugged
individualism, and many classic films develop the theme of economic insecurity,
including It’s A Wonderful Life (1942), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and Pennies From
Heaven (1981). In the Michael Douglas film Falling Down (1993), an engineer goes into
a murderous rage because he was laid off from his job.
VIII. Fears in Human Relationships
Relationship fears involve the breaking down of all intimacies. Personal
relationships are fraught with anxieties. All sorts of fears exist whether there are grounds
for them or not. Fear of infidelity and abandonment. The anxiety, fear, paranoia of a
husband that his wife is cheating on him. The fear at work that you could say the wrong
thing and get fired. The fear that you won’t be politically correct enough at work and
will be fired. Sardello describes the state of today’s relationships as characterized by
many opportunities for fear.
Relationships of every sort today are filled with a great deal of
apprehension. A teacher dare not touch a child, even in the most innocent
manner, for fear of accusations of sexual abuse. One must be on guard at
work, constantly vigilant of what one says in case it could be construed as
harassment. An intimate relationship can turn into terrible, codependent
battering. Marriages have less that a fifty-percent chance of lasting.
Today’s friend becomes tomorrow’s enemy. Husband turns against wife,
child against parent, parent against child.
(Sardello, 1999, p. 97)
The relationship fear theme is expressed in our culture in movies such as Fatal Attraction
(1987), In The Bedroom (2001), and Unfaithful (2002), which depict fears that intimacy
with another person can lead to death or the total ruination of one’s life.
Relationships are the very stuff of spirituality. In his book Imaginary Social
Worlds (1984), John Caughey described the ways in which Americans experience intense
relationships with images of celebrities they have never met, and he compares these with
relationships with spirits in other societies.
IX. Fears of Suffering and Death
This is the fear of the final countdown leading to the meeting with the Grim
Reaper. There are two aspects to this domain: the fear of non-existence and the fear of
suffering. These two fears are reflected in religious imagery by the loss of eternal life
(heaven) and the prospect of eternal punishment (hell). The fear that one’s existence will
be obliterated by death is the fear about the meaning of one’s whole life, including
whether one will be remembered. This aspect of death became the subject of Man’s
Search for Meaning (Frankl, 1997). Sardello describes how this fear is exploited by
terrorists. However, Sardello says that in today’s world, the fear of death has changed the
mask it is wearing. During a long human history filled with the ever-present reality of
suffering, the fear was death itself and the meaning of what lay beyond it. In today’s
more secular climate, the fear is of suffering, horrible and lingering pain, the
dehumanization of hospital procedures, and loss of physical and mental capacities.
During our lives, we see much less physical death than did our ancestors. We are
isolated from death, and our death rituals have been sanitized. We live long enough to
require expensive technology and procedures to keep us alive at the end (itself a
terrifying prospect). Some 80 to 90% of medical expenses occurs during the last six
months of life, when we struggle to prolong it artificially. There is a greater awareness of
hospices and groups--such as the Hemlock Society--that support “death with dignity”.
Only a short time ago, issues of death and dying were still controversial, such that
the film comedy The Loved One (1965) was considered shocking in its satirical depiction
of our culture’s rituals surrounding death and funerals. Recently, this theme has been
explored in more plays and movies in our culture; for example, Wit (2002), Terms of
Endearment (1983), and John Irving’s The World According to Garp (1994).
Applying Sardello’s Method to AANs
Sardello’s spiritual psychology of fear is a modern psychological method that was
developed specifically to address the activity of fears in human life. This method takes
what is usually considered a unitary phenomenon (fear) and explores its different
manifestations. The central role of fear in the AANs is acknowledged by most
researchers of alien abduction (Hopkins, 1981; Strieber, 1987). Fowler (1979) calls fear
the “common denominator” in the narratives. Even before becoming a prominent AAN
storyteller and researcher, Whitley Strieber gained fame as a best-selling author of books
intended to scare readers out of their wits. Thus it is either ironic or highly interesting
that his prominence derives from disclosure of his own fears as embodied in his own
This study examines the psychological and spiritual aspects of fears found in the
most prominent modern AANs (those of Fuller, Fowler, Hopkins, Strieber, and Mack),
each of which contributes elements to the so-called “typical abduction story”.
Irrespective of its scientific status, the development of an AAN constitutes a narrative act
within the Weltanschauung of its originators, and its reception by others constitutes a
narrative fact that impacts the recipient’s Weltbild. The geography of fear developed by
Robert Sardello is applied to the examination and classification of the fear descriptions in
the narratives. It is proposed that this method is qualitatively different from previous
approaches, which centered on (a) the forensic, scientific or philosophical status of the
alleged “events” or “experiences”, (b) psychological evaluations of individual
storytellers, or (c) social and cultural analysis of “imaginings”.
The goal of this study is to delve into aspects of the AAN phenomenon that
impact all those who are affected by these stories: the original storytellers who bring
AANs to the world, the collectors and narrators who carry them to a wider public, and the
human beings who are impacted by their words and images in books and the media.
Such a new type of understanding has implications for psychology (both as a science and
as a healing art) and also for the study of belief systems (traditional and new) which are
frequently based on controversial narratives that describe “strange” experiences and
“anomalous” perceptions.
“This is a very weird story, isn’t it?”
Barney Hill, in The Interrupted Journey (1966)
Ensuring that the terminology in a particular field is appropriate to its subject
matter is a key theoretical responsibility for psychology (Slife & Williams, 1997).
Unfortunately, traditional UFO terminology presents serious difficulties for the
researcher. Several different labels have been advanced to identify persons reporting
alien encounters. These are described and critiqued below, and corrective terms are
Starting in the early 1950s, some AAN storytellers were called contactees. These
include George Adamski (1955) and George King (1964). The characteristics of their
narratives include:
Storyteller is an ostensibly ordinary individual who may have been on some
spiritual quest.
Benevolent or at least friendly beings present themselves by means of a sighting,
apparition, or just voices (e.g., George King). These beings may conduct the
contactee on a tour of some kind, during which he or she is lectured on
humanity’s future, morality, and other topics.
Visitations or tours are repeated over a period of time and may increase in
duration, complexity, and the importance of subjects revealed. It is worth noting
that this pattern of visitation is also associated with some traditional historical
figures such as Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church.
The term contactee has gradually narrowed in meaning to denote persons
claiming to have received religious or prophetic messages from alien beings that may
include religious awe, but not terrifying experiences. In some contexts, the use of the
term contactee implies that either mental illness or fraud is implied or suspected (Gordon,
1995). In addition, the term carries an implicit assumption that someone was contacted
by a “real” being or entity. To consider the entire question scientifically, we must
attempt to avoid embedding any such conclusions in the initial terminology.
Another contactee category can be seen in the walk-in or host body narrative.
While its behavior sometimes engenders fear in others, self-reports rarely include fear,
because--they claim--their original personality has been replaced. A recent example is
Marshall Applewhite, founder of the Heaven’s Gate group that committed suicide in
Marshall Herff Applewhite may have been affected by a double (Lifton, 1999;
Sardello, 1999). Applewhite--leader of the Heaven’s Gate UFO group--claimed that his
body was the host for an alien personality. Before dismissing this as merely the ravings
of a lunatic,1 a pseudo-explanation that serves to satisfy society’s need to classify him as
unlike us, we must consider whether he might be a reliable source of information about
his own mind. He may have been telling the truth. When his successful academic career
was destroyed in 1970 by the revelation of a homosexual affair, friends who knew him
said he became unkempt, pale, and glassy-eyed. From that time, he was on a mission that
included controlling the lives of dozens of people, having himself and some male
followers castrated (symbolically attacking the source of his personal crisis), and
eventually leading them to their deaths by group suicide.
Contactee and walk-in narratives are different from AANs, since they lack the
required elements of coercion and fear (except perhaps in their audience). It’s not just
contact or presence, but abduction and accompanying fears that imply unwilling
selection, victimization, and terror. Contactee narratives and the activities that
accompany them have more in common with channeling.
Since the Betty and Barney Hill case in the 1960s, documented by John Fuller in
his book The Interrupted Journey (1966), the term abductee has increased in usage. It is
still in general use today by those who hold to the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) in the
ufology field, whether skeptic, believer, or neutral. Abductee is a term that carries with it
the ideas of fear and unwillingness. It is said that not every abductee tells their story;
some refuse to talk at all. But the main problem with this term is the way it presupposes
Ironically, this literally means someone influenced by the Moon (Luna).
the reality status of an event. Once someone is identified (or identifies themselves) as an
abductee, the conversation proceeds on the basis that an abduction has occurred.
In his controversial work Abductions: Human Encounters with Aliens (1994),
psychiatrist John Mack chose to call his patients “experiencers”. By adopting this term,
Mack sincerely attempted to remove some of the assumptions mentioned above, but by
doing so he created an even more serious problem. This is because while one might
conceivably disconfirm the event reality of a “contact” or an “abduction”, the implicit
claim of an “experience” lies beyond all scientific scrutiny. Although Mack’s term
appears to be an attempt at neutrality toward alien abduction claims, it makes the
unscientific assumption that an experience has occurred, when there are no independent
means of verification that this was the case. If we remain focused on storytelling
behavior and its narrative elaboration, no experience is required.
Call for a New Approach: Storytellers and Narrators
The terms discussed above contains implicit biases about the epistemological
status of the “events” or “experiences” in question; they have seriously hampered the
scientific understanding and investigation of the AAN phenomenon. To admit the limits
of our knowledge at the outset, this study identifies the original sources of alien
abduction material as Storytellers, and those who compile and edit their stories as
Narrators. Narrator is the appropriate term for an individual or group that introduces an
AAN to the greater society, usually through publication of an edited manuscript. This
term is also consistent with the running commentary and interpretive frameworks
(“narration”) with which authors Fuller, Fowler, Hopkins, Strieber, and Mack accompany
their subjects’ reports (in Strieber’s case, his own). This structure is further explained
and developed in the next section.
It could be argued that by setting the event reality question to one side (at least
initially), Storyteller-Narrator terminology prejudges the truth status of the accounts; and
if such prejudgment is perceived as prejudicial (n.b.), it can have a detrimental
psychological effect on traumatized individuals (i.e., victims). However, remaining
neutral about the sources of a narrative is a legitimate approach that in no way prejudges
that a Storyteller did not have an experience or participate in a real event. This neutrality
is an important admission about the researcher’s lack of direct access to the subject’s
experiential field. It is more honest, and hopefully productive, to consider narratives we
do have access to, instead of speculating about events or experiences which we cannot
The Non-Linear Chronological Structure of an AAN
Widespread publication of the major AAN accounts has disseminated their words
and imagery throughout global media and culture. In the course of the attention paid to
their sources and content, the complex layering that led to their formation has been
largely overlooked. The actual development of an AAN follows a discernable process:
1. An individual or group of individuals is motivated to distinguish, identify and
describe a “strange experience”.2 AANs have different degrees of strangeness;
the strangeness of a disclosure is defined by the social context. We are not
“Strangeness” is also a term of art in ufology; it denotes the degree of anomalous content in the story.
required to analyze or discern the human motivation for the disclosure in order to
appreciate the story as an event in the world. The Storyteller’s disclosure places a
new story into a local (emic, or folk) setting. The implied stimulus for such a
disclosure (when presented as a report of an event) is always in the past. This is a
social necessity because an anomalous event report in real time would be
disconcerting to any witnesses who were not perceiving the same events. In a
secular culture, such witnesses would be likely to attribute the disclosure to
mental instability. In a more traditional religious setting, the disclosures are more
likely to be appreciated as seership or spiritual election.
2. A private conversation ensues inside a local social circle, where the story
develops further. It becomes more elaborated and refined as the individual and
the local social group seek understanding or other forms of resolution. This
development may produce transcriptions or other records.
3. For reasons relating to the story’s strangeness and its impact on the Storyteller’s
well-being, professional contacts are made outside the immediate social circle.
There can be multiple contacts (e.g., police, medical, journalistic). At this stage,
hypnosis may be employed in an attempt to recover more memories.
4. At a certain point, the story is considered significant enough to require a Narrator
role. A Narrator creates a concerted project to organize the “evidence” into a
form of communication which becomes etic (public). There can be various
motivations for a Narrator to do this task, including intellectual interest,
psychological need, publicity, or economic gain. A Narrator can be the original
Storyteller (e.g., Whitley Strieber), a journalist (John Fuller), a private researcher
(Raymond Fowler, Budd Hopkins), or some prestigious professional figure
(Harvard psychiatrist John Mack).
5. The alien abduction narrative (AAN) is released to a public (undergoes publication), typically in the form of a text. This may occur in less costly forms initially
(local press, magazine serialization, Internet), unless the Narrator already has
access to expensive media and copyright control of the material. In the latter
case, the communication’s release is both more refined and controlled (e.g., major
book publication).
6. At the pinnacle of public media impact, the AAN may be reformed into a
television production or motion picture.
Like any “true” story, an AAN can be mapped as the following chronological
S is the Storyteller: a person or group who through verbal report, writing, or other
behaviors places a story into the world. The Storyteller’s motivations may vary, but the
story itself typically involves some category of anomaly--otherwise it would not be
remarkable enough to be noticed.3
CI is any contact inside the local social circle of the Storyteller, such as family members.
Their participation further shapes the story’s development through the dynamics of their
reception and responses.
This principle is the basis of carnival sideshows, which display outlandish--not mundane--“attractions”.
CO is any contact outside the local social circle of the Storyteller and, more specifically,
those specialized professionals who are called on for assistance. They supply specialized
contexts that can impact the story dramatically.
N is the Narrator--a person with some combination of communication skills, social
prestige, and media contacts--who casts the story into the form that is presented to the
wider world outside the previous (private and professional) social contacts.
P marks the publication of the narrative, as packaged by the Narrator and disseminated
by the media apparatus. Initial publication may occur in text form, in the press,
magazine, book, or on the Internet. Publication may include selected images (which can
play a critical role in the Story’s salience), but its main constituent is text.
I marks the transformation of the story into more widely available media images, whether
on the Internet, television, or film.
It is important to recognize that the dissemination of words and images
constitutes events or experiences in the lives of all those who encounter them. Thus the
transmission of AANs within society is non-linear and iterative. Since this is the case,
what about the evidence of the story’s original “truth”, the “pure” initial event or
experience? Any search for such evidence is likely to fail. The social reality of the
story’s content is embedded in its form and transmission, the “message in the medium”
(McLuhan, 1964). If we allow for this fact, the AAN schema must be modified as
This added consideration of the implicit predecessor conditions, triggers, and motivations
indicates that--at each stage in its development--the story always looks backward in time.
This fact is evident even if nothing about these conditions, triggers, or motivations is
known. In the diagram above, Ex is the retrospective experience (Experience) implicit in
the story (x denotes its unknown aspect). Like most ordinary events, it is not subject to
objective verification. A search for the causes of such an Experience is likely to be
fruitless, yet such searches are the focus of most UFO and AAN research, which employ
either forensic/scientific techniques or hypnosis.
En represents the potential for an unspecified number (n) of encounters
(Encounters) by other witnesses with the AAN’s words and images.
The structure proposed above meets the requirement for a more objective AAN
specification than is found in the current research literature. Theoretically, any single
element of the narrative’s chronological structure (except Ex, S, and En) is optional or
can be combined with others. These structures inhabit periods and streams--not single
points--in time. Metaphorically, these story structures constitute linguistic neurons
within the cultural nervous system, which continuously propagates words and images (the
elements of magic) throughout the world. These structures are to memes what DNA is to
genes: the observable medium of an informational or linguistic reality.
In this study, Narrator is the term given to an author-researcher who has chosen
to assemble and disseminate specific alien abduction stories (and not others). In this
sense, an author adds a point of view (often as explicit narration) alongside Storyteller
accounts. The distinction between Storyteller and Narrator is important because of the
many layers of meaning that can be added to an account between the original testimony
(with its own complex aspects including psychological experiences and retrospective
memories of events), through the interviewing process, to the publication (in its double
sense of being public and published), and--in several cases--leading to the release of the
television dramatization or motion picture.
The importance of the special relationship between Storyteller and Narrator is
reflected in the very existence of the AAN. The Narrator becomes one of the most
important influences in a Storyteller’s life, essentially witnessing the significance of that
life for all others.4 Narrators are the vehicles through which Storytellers are selected and
their stories are told.
The following sections introduce the Narrators and Storytellers who make up the
cast of characters for this study.
Narrator: John Fuller (Journalist)
The Interrupted Journey (1966)
[Experience/event attribution: September 11, 1961]
Storytellers: Betty and Barney Hill
CI Contacts Inside social circle: Betty’s sister and work associates.
CO Contacts Outside social circle: Law enforcement and UFO researchers.
Narrator: John Fuller
Publication date: 1966
Encounters: Images and media penetration: Alien drawings, “Star Map”, UFO
documentaries, television production.
John Fuller wrote The Interrupted Journey, his narration of the alien abduction
story told by Betty and Barney Hill. Although Fuller’s book is written in the
The writers of the four New Testament Gospels (Christian Bible) are Narrators in this sense, although
other ancient writers such as Tacitus and Josephus also corroborated some historical details.
chronological manner of a unitary retrospective narrative, it mixes verifiable facts,
suppositions, and unsupported personal testimony.
Fuller’s Storytellers: Betty and Barney Hill
Betty and Barney Hill were a New England couple who told a very strange tale.
Barney was a postal worker who had served in the U.S. Army. Betty was a social worker
employed by the State of New Hampshire. In 1961, Barney had been having trouble
sleeping for many weeks and may have had a rash on his abdomen. Betty had recurring
nightmares, which she wrote down and told her sister. The persistence of these
symptoms led Betty and Barney to seek the services of a prominent Boston psychiatrist,
Dr. Benjamin Simon of Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Simon used hypnotic regression to
aid in recovering memories of a vacation drive through New Hampshire. The Hills told
differing accounts of a bizarre event. They said they noticed a bright light near the
Moon. They thought the light seemed to move and behave in an unusual manner. At
some point during their drive, they pulled their car off to the side of the road and heard a
strange beeping sound. They remembered continuing their drive and arriving home in the
early morning hours. Having arrived home, they noticed some unusual things. First, they
felt uneasy. They believed that the drive had taken longer than on previous trips. They
also reported strange marks on the trunk of their car. They were both agitated, but
Barney was especially upset.
Under hypnosis, Barney said the bright light in the sky approached them, and he
saw a flying vehicle with many windows. He said that he saw people looking at him. He
became very frightened and became convinced that someone was after him. He made
two comments about their appearance. He said that one of them had “Red hair like an
Irishman” and that “They had uniforms on; they looked like Nazis”.5
Barney’s story continued to the point where he was pursued, captured and taken
into the vehicle by these people. Betty’s story was far more elaborate (one of the
problems is that these stories evolve and change over time.) Not only did Betty have a
number of dreams she reported to her sister before seeing the psychiatrist, but she had
been reading UFO material for years before these events occurred.
Under hypnosis, Betty said that she was taken into the ship by strange creatures.
She was placed on and examining table and subjected to painful medical procedures. She
said the beings also showed her a map of many stars with lines drawn between them. The
story element of the map became more significant as it was analyzed within the UFO
community. A number of AAN researchers claimed that the map showed all the major
star systems near the Earth and that Betty could not have had this kind of astronomical
knowledge. However, there are alternative interpretations of the map that argue that its
patterns are inconclusive if not meaningless.
The Hills permitted Dr. Simon to disclose their treatment records to author John
Fuller for use in his book. Although Dr. Simon wrote the forward to the book The
Interrupted Journey, he always maintained that in his opinion the Hills had not been the
victims of an alien abduction, but instead were storytellers of an extremely imaginative
account that he interpreted as similar to a shared dream. There is evidence that Betty
talked with Barney about her unusual dreams even before their trip.
These original descriptions suggest the possibility that Barney had suffered racial prejudice--and possibly
physical assault--while in the military.
Narrator: Raymond Fowler (Amateur Ufologist)
The Andreasson Affair (1979)
[Experience/event attribution: January 25, 1967]
Storyteller: Betty Andreasson Luca
CI Contacts Inside social circle: Immediate family
CO Contacts Outside social circle: UFO researchers
Narrator: Raymond Fowler
Publication date: 1979
Encounters: Images and media penetration: UFO documentaries
Fowler’s Storyteller: Betty Andreasson
Betty was a conservative Christian housewife who lived in southern New England
during the 1960s. Betty Andreasson’s alien abduction alleged occurred on January 25,
1967, although it was not reported until 1974 (when the National Enquirer solicited alien
abduction stories). After she wrote to the National Enquirer in 1974 and to another
ufologist in 1975, she told her story to the Raymond Fowler in 1977. The story’s
attribution back to 1967 also means that the events would have taken place during the
first season of the science fiction television program Star Trek.
Fowler’s book The Andreasson Affair was published in 1979. Raymond Fowler
had studied UFO cases for several years before he met Betty Andreasson. He employed
the services of a professional hypnotist to try to elucidate Betty Andreasson’s memories.
The events she described under hypnosis were even stranger than those of Betty Hill. In
January 1967, there was anxiety in the Andreasson household because Betty’s husband
was seriously injured in an automobile accident and laid up in the hospital. Betty said
under hypnosis that as she and her daughter were in their home, several strange beings
floated into the house thought the walls and took Betty on a very unusual journey.
Betty’s journey included trips to distant planets, where she saw beautiful cities. She was
transported great distances through tubes of liquid. She was introduced by her captors to
a great, Phoenix-like bird.
The Andreasson affair is notable for the large number of investigators interacting
with the family as interviewers and hypnotists. The “controlling hypnotist” Harold
Edelstein (Fowler, 1979, p. 30), made controlling and leading statements to Betty such as
“I’m by your side constantly.” (Fowler, 1979, p. 40) and “Do you need a little refreshing?
To the incidents leading up to where we left off?” (Fowler, 1979, p. 95). Besides
Edelstein, the personalities of Fred, Jules, Joseph, Virginia--and even Narrator Fowler-all join in the hypnosis sessions. Little wonder that the interaction with the aliens is
described as a “strange hypnotic-like influence” and even includes religious-like gestures
such as “laying on of hands” (Fowler, 1979, p. 119). Fowler makes a significant
statement late in the narrative, regarding Betty’s remarkable recall of strange events ten
years earlier:
We tend to forget that prior to her recall via hypnosis, Betty had
remembered little of the UFO incident.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 131)
Fowler and his hypnotist associates interviewed Betty over a period of years and
wrote four more books about her.6 One serious problem with the hypnosis sessions is the
The Andreasson Affair, Part Two (1982); The Watchers (1991); The Watchers II (1995); and The
Andreasson Legacy (1997).
highly leading questions put at numerous points by the investigators. Interviewers
consistently appear to confabulate her remarks. It has been alleged by Klass (1989) that
under their encouragement her accounts became more and more elaborate and quasireligious in content.
Narrator: Budd Hopkins (Artist)
Missing Time (1981)
[Experience/event attributions: 1966-1980]
Storytellers: Five primary cases (pseudonyms listed below):
“Steven Kilburn”
“Howard Rich”
“Denis ‘Mac’ MacMahon”
“Virginia Horton”
“Philip Osborne”
CI Contacts Inside social circle: varies with Storyteller
CO Contacts Outside social circle: UFO researchers
Narrator: Budd Hopkins
Publication date: 1981
Encounters: Images and media penetration: Additional books, Intruders Foundation,
Roper Poll, UFO conference presentations, television production.
After the publication of The Andreasson Affair, the next major public milestone in
abduction awareness was Budd Hopkins’ book Missing Time. Hopkins is an established,
award-winning New York artist. In the late 1960s, he began coming in contact with
people who reported bizarre experiences. He interviewed these people and became
interested in their stories and began writing about them. Hopkins introduced abductees to
each other and encouraged them to form support groups for sharing their experiences.
His work with abductees led him to form The Intruders Foundation, through which he
recruited licensed mental health professionals to assist victims of alien abduction. His
stated motive for this was altruistic. As he stated “There are many of these people and
they need help. They are not taken seriously by the mainstream mental health
This author, accompanied by two licensed clinical psychologists, attended one of
the first Intruders Foundation meetings in Los Angeles in 1994. An ordinary-looking
young man7 spoke about driving in his car and noticing that he always felt nervous about
driving on a particular stretch of road. Through hypnosis, he recalled being kidnapped by
aliens on that stretch of road multiple times. At the same meeting, Hopkins distributed a
hypnosis protocol to guide mental health professionals in assisting their clients with
memory retrieval for abduction experiences (Hopkins, 1992). Also presented at this
conference was a survey study of unusual experiences that has been used to imply that
millions of Americans have been abducted by aliens.
Hopkins was the first major Narrator to focus on patterns derived from a selected
sample of Storytellers, in contrast to previous studies, each of which focused on a single
case. Initially, Hopkins obtained abduction stories from within his own social circle and
by word of mouth. He also solicited the services of a specific team of professional
hypnotherapists and psychiatrists to assist him in interviewing his subjects. Hopkins’
“Steven Kilburn”
book changed the form of the abduction narrative. He identified common elements in the
accounts of a number of different Storytellers and postulated the existence of a common
abduction experience.
The passages below reflect the frame of reference that Hopkins brings to each of
his encounters with a Storyteller:
Hopkins: The question, then, is what we should do about the disturbing
mass of material [italics added] which makes up this ubiquitous8
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 1)
Hopkins: The investigator would then ask the witnesses if they would like
to undergo hypnosis with a professional psychologist to help them recall
the details of their encounter that they cannot consciously remember.
Herein lies the final and perhaps biggest “if” of all. Many people,
possibly a majority who find themselves in this position, refuse to explore
the matter any further, and for a variety of reasons. First, they are
frightened [italics added] of hypnosis…
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 10)
Hopkins was one of the first alien abduction investigators to promote support
groups that brought Storytellers together into a community of persons with common
anomalous experiences and beliefs. Hopkins’ book also included a formal invitation
which resulted in the subject pool for subsequent study. The invitation read:
If you believe you may have had the kind of experience dealt with in this
book you may wish to write your recollections in detail to:
Bud Hopkins
c/o Ballantine Books
201 East 50th Street
New York, NY 10022
As time permits an investigator will be in touch with you. All letters will
be kept strictly confidential.
This comment presages the Roper Poll commissioned by Hopkins in 1992. Although the poll’s statistics
do not support the hypothesis of widespread UFO abduction, it is frequently cited as proof that UFO
abduction is indeed “ubiquitous”.
This overt solicitation of alien abduction stories evoked a response from the readership
that resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of reported abduction stories along with
increased prevalence of fear images and themes. One of those who answered Hopkins’
invitation was the next major Narrator, Whitley Strieber.
Narrator and Storyteller: Whitley Strieber (Author)
Communion: A True Story (1987)
[Experience/event attributions: October-December 1985]
Storyteller: Whitley Strieber
CI Contacts Inside social circle: Immediate family
CO Contacts Outside social circle: UFO researchers
Narrator: Strieber himself
Publication date: 1987
Encounters: Images and extensive media penetration: Vivid alien head on book jacket,
major motion picture (1993).
In presenting an AAN as an autobiographical account, Whitley Strieber brought
the topic of alien abduction to broad public attention. Already a best-selling writer of
horror novels, Communion: A True Story (1987) thrust the subject of alien abduction into
popular cultural awareness. His descriptions of the aliens are the most fearful images up
to that time.
Whitley Strieber’s most unique role is as the very means of production of his
AAN. With the publication of Communion, he became both a Storyteller--a hapless
victim of alien intent--and also his own Narrator. This situation provided Strieber with
complete control over his material as a “finished product”, as well as a critical readymade relationship with a wide reading audience.
Whitley Strieber’s account presents unique problems for distinguishing between
basic Storyteller emotional material and Narrator interpretation. As both Storyteller and
Narrator--as well as an accomplished author in the horror fiction genre--Strieber’s bestselling book presented a complete synthesis. Except for some transcribed material from
hypnosis sessions, he both summarized and interpreted his own memories. The critical
initial interviews took place in the presence of Budd Hopkins, at a time when Strieber
considered him as a confidant and mentor.9
In 1987 Whitley Strieber published Communion: A True Story, an account of his
personal encounters with strange beings. Strieber had started out as a subject of Budd
Hopkins, but they had a major personal falling out over the publication of Strieber’s
book. As a best-selling author, Strieber’s publication of his own story far overshadowed
Hopkins’ book, which was due for publication around the same time. Communion was
on the New York Times bestseller list for many weeks, thus becoming a breakthrough
publication in the alien abduction genre. Both because of its wide dissemination and
because its cover jacket had an unsettling alien face, it has probably had stronger impact
on the general public than any other abduction narrative. Communion later became a
major motion picture starring Christopher Walken in the Strieber role.
Whitley Strieber is a professional author. Before writing Communion, his body of
work consistent mainly of fiction in the suspense and horror genres. Following
Communion, Strieber wrote more books about his encounters with strange beings. Since
Their later disagreement and falling out is discussed in Chapter XII.
the Communion series, Strieber had devoted his energies to his Communion Foundation
which promotes research on unusual experiences. His literary activity has since turned to
other topics. He wrote a book with talk show host Art Bell claiming that the weather is
changing dramatically and will devastate the earth and society. In effect, Strieber became
a purveyor of natural world fears. Strieber first told his alien abduction story to Budd
Strieber’s sequels to Communion place him in the category of the “good alien”
camp, in the sense that Strieber describes the alien manipulation of human beings as
serving to expand human consciousness. One of the first thing Strieber states in
Communion is that his life’s goal had always been to expand human consciousness.
Strieber now believes that the strange beings have visited him since childhood. He does
not believe they are extraterrestrials.10
Narrator: John Mack, MD (Psychiatrist)
Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens (1994)
[Experience/event attributions: 1960s-1992]
Storytellers: Thirteen selected by Mack (from sample of 76)
CI Contacts Inside social circle: unknown, varies
CO Contacts Outside social circle: UFO researchers
Narrator: John Mack, MD
Publication date: 1994
Encounters: Images and media penetration: PEER, UFO conference presentations
John Mack, MD, is Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard University and thus holds
some of the top credentials of our society. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of
T. E. Lawrence (The Prince of Our Disorder, 1978). The Storytellers in his book
contacted and trusted him because of his eminence as a professor and psychiatrist. Mack
became interested in alien abduction reports through contact with Budd Hopkins, and
eventually published his own book Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens in 1994.
His book is a series of case studies about people that Mack describes as “experiencers”.
Mack changed their names to protect their identities.
As a psychiatrist, John Mack is the only licensed clinician to have acted as a
Narrator in an AAN chosen for this study. He does not debate the reality of their stories
but rather gives his patients “...the respect of believing them”. This is a key to
understanding Mack. He states “As a clinician, I owe my subjects respect, so it is not my
job to question the reality of their stories. It is not the role of a compassionate and caring
clinician to judge the reality of a subject’s report.” However, his viewpoint implies that it
is not the job of a healer to help a person understand or adapt to a wider consensual
reality, whether social or scientific. This potentially leaves a troubled person lost in a
subjective world of their own creation, or moored to a small group with shared views.
Mack founded a non-profit research foundation called Program for Extraordinary
Experience Research (PEER). Consistent with Mack’s credentials as a professor of
psychiatry at Harvard University and a Pulitzer Prize winning author, his organization
took an academic approach to research with his “experiencers”.
At a UFO conference in July 2001, Mack was a featured speaker and offered his
current view of abductees. There Mack called the Storytellers “witnesses”. “Whether or
not their stories are literally true,” Mack believes “they are testifying to something our
society desperately needs to hear.” Mack believes that our society is headed for disaster,
a belief which is related to his long time activism in the peace and nuclear disarmament
movements. Mack understands his patients within the context of his social and political
The next nine chapters each apply one of the Sardello’s fear worlds to the primary
sources selected for this study, in order to determine that fear world’s role in the
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat!”
Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), Jaws (1976)
Alien abduction narratives (AANs) frequently include descriptions of unusual and
often fearful phenomena originating from within the natural world, that is, from the earth
(including underground), water, sky, and their living organisms. Storytellers identify
various indicators that they associate with the fearful expectation of impending
abduction. These environmental cues include changes in light, sound, and animal
behavior. Signs or indicators that something “unnatural” is about to occur include:
A moving point of light in the night sky.
Bright lights or flashes of light.
Buzzing or beeping sounds.
Sudden silence, including cessation of bird and animal sounds.
Unusual weather phenomena.
Appearances (or later recollections) of “animals”, “people”, or strange living
Natural events can be awesome and threatening. The fragility of human existence
within Nature gives rise to realistic fears and anxieties, which are often attributed to our
animal heritage. However, there also is an awareness of nature that cannot be explained
by fear reactions or even phobias. The phenomenon of fear as an autonomous entity was
illustrated by the public response to the Steven Spielberg film Jaws (1976). Following
the release of this movie, otherwise sensible people (including this author) found
themselves becoming nervous anywhere near a body of water. This high degree of fear
cannot be explained either by the actual incidence of shark attacks or by the idea that the
film “conditioned” the viewer to fear the water in just one viewing. It is more likely that
the movie potentiated an existing reservoir of fear within the public. The movie was
released during an economic recession at a time of great uncertainty following the
Watergate scandal and the first resignation of a U.S. President.
How are we to understand reports of unusual or fearful phenomena in the natural
world that occur in AANs? Betty and Barney Hill’s abduction story took place in a
natural setting (the New Hampshire forest) and illustrated the role that natural world
phenomena of light and sound can play as precursors to the abduction experience.
To the left of the moon, and slightly below it, was a particularly bright
star, perhaps a planet, Betty Hill thought, because of its steady glow. Just
south of Lancaster... [She] was a little startled [italics added] to notice that
another star or planet, a bigger one, had appeared above the other. It had
not been there, she was sure, when she looked before. But [it] clearly
appeared to be getting bigger and brighter... They drove on, glancing at
the bright object frequently, finding it difficult to tell if the light itself were
moving, or if the movement of the car were making it seem to move.
[italics added] 1
In his work on highway hypnosis, psychologist Ronald Shor (1970) described how light reflecting
through a row of fence posts or off the broken center line of the highway can induce trance in drivers. This
author suggests that in an isolated night setting, attending to almost any kind of light might have such an
Delsey, the dog, was beginning to get slightly restless, and Betty
mentioned that perhaps they should let her out and take advantage of the
road stop to get a better look...There were woods nearby, and Barney, a
worrier at times [italics added], mentioned they might keep an eye out for
bears. [Betty] noted that the star, or the light, or whatever it was in the
September sky, was definitely moving.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 6)
Then suddenly a strange electronic-sounding beeping was heard. The car
seemed to vibrate with it. Barney said, “What’s that noise?” Betty said,
“I don’t know.” They each began to feel an odd tingling drowsiness
[italics added] come over them.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 17)
Betty Andreasson’s story described bright light and stilling of sound as the abduction
Betty A: Suddenly the lights were off [her house lights] and we wondered,
what was it? And we looked over and there was a... by the window, the
small kitchen window...I can see like a light, sort of pink right now. And
now the light is getting brighter. It’s reddish-orange, and it’s pulsating... It
seemed like the whole house had a vacuum over it. Like stillness all stillness [italics added].
(Fowler, 1979, p. 15)
Strieber’s abduction story began with unusual weather and colored light.
The night of October fourth was foggy...over the next hour, the fog grew
thicker and thicker. When I turned out my reading light I was enveloped
in absolute blackness and total silence... I do not remember what I had
been reading that night but it wasn’t frightening [italics added]...I slept
dreamlessly for some period of time...Then I was startled awake and saw,
to my horror [italics added], that there was a distinct blue light being cast
on the living room ceiling. I was frightened [italics added], because it
wasn’t possible for there to be any light there.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 43)
After his abduction experience, Strieber described a troubling memory of the
presence of an animal:
I awoke the morning of the twenty-seventh [December, 1985] very much
as usual, but grappling with a distinct sense of unease [italics added] and a
very improbable but intense memory of seeing a barn owl staring at me
through the window sometime during the night. I remember how I felt in
the gathering evening of the twenty-seventh, when I looked out onto the
roof and saw that there were no owl tracks in the snow. I knew I had not
seen an owl. I shuddered, suddenly cold [italics added] and drew back
from the window...withdrawing from the night that was falling so swiftly
in the woods beyond.
But I wanted desperately to believe in that owl.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 30-31)
As described above, alien abduction narratives frequently begin in a natural--or at
least ordinary--setting. However, after the abduction per se has taken place, when the
Storyteller finds him or herself among the aliens, a natural environment (as we
understand it) rarely exists. Alien activities with humans are described as occurring in an
artificial environment, such as a brightly lit room or vehicle.
Barney Hill: I saw a hospital operating room. It was pale blue. Sky blue.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 126)
Betty stared in disbelief. In her backyard, resting on its own struts, was an
oval object with a raised central portion... [She] stood awestruck [italics
added] at the silent presence of the strange craft in the yard. Her initial
shock quickly gave way to fear and apprehension [italics added].
(Fowler, 1979, p. 34)
The small circular chamber had a domed, grayish-tan ceiling with ribs
appearing at intervals of about a foot.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 26)
Rarely do contemporary Storytellers report being transported to an alien planet or
otherworldly natural environment.2 The one notable exception within the narratives
selected for this study is Betty Andreasson’s descriptions of small lemur-like creatures,
strange and beautiful alien vegetation, and a large mystical bird (see below).
In earlier historical periods, narratives about journeys to strange worlds often included descriptions of a
fantastical natural environment, as in Gulliver’s Travels (Swift, 1726). Such narratives are the subject of
Jacques Vallee’s Passage to Magonia (1993).
Some AANs include descriptions of graphic apocalyptic images in which the
aliens show the human beings the destruction of the Earth and the natural world. Since
the late 1970s, themes of environmental degradation and destruction have developed into
a central element of alien abduction narratives. A careful consideration of threats to the
natural world--and the presence of fears inherent in such a prospect--involves a number
of factors. On a materialistic level, we can consider what kinds of harm are involved, and
the amount of damage they represent. On a scientific level, what are the possible causes
of the damage, and are there methods of amelioration? Beyond these instrumental issues,
what are the additional implications of such a threat? For example, on a moral level, is
there a human responsibility for it? Does our Promethean worldview define all threats as
potentially ameliorable, whether they are seen as random (such as an asteroid impact) or
behavioral (such as the spread of AIDS)? Or do we still believe at some level (as do
many traditional cultures) that cosmic catastrophes reflect a higher judgment on our
human condition?
In terms of the considerations above, the various scenarios of major natural
catastrophe (with examples of their expression in literature, cinema, or television)
Degradation of the environment by human activity (Silent Spring, 1962)
Decimation/destruction of humanity by disease (Andromeda Strain, 1971)
Deep Impact, 1999)
Decimation/destruction of humanity by natural disasters (Armageddon, 1999;
Self-destruction of humanity (On the Beach, 1958)
Destruction of humanity by higher powers (X-Files, 2000)
Destruction of the Earth by cosmic cataclysm (moral/biblical: Book of
Destruction of the Earth by higher powers (moral: Day the Earth Stood Still,
1952; bureaucratic: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 1979)
Each of the AANs in this study was reviewed for accounts of fear or awe
originating in the natural world, including images of environmental destruction or threat
reported by the Storyteller. The selections below demonstrate that the occurrence of
natural world fear in AANs increases over time, suggesting that AAN content parallels an
increasing level of natural world fears in society (for example, fear of environmental
Fuller-Hills Narrative (1966)
Review of the Hills’ story as described in Fuller’s The Interrupted Journey
reveals little natural world fear imagery. The following isolated passage refers to fear of
an animal but primarily illustrated Barney’s fear of being attacked or pursued (see
Chapter IX):
Barney: ...And this object that was a plane was not a plane. It was-oh, it
was funny. It was coming around toward us. I looked up and down the
road. And I thought: how dark it is. What if a bear was to come out?
(Fuller, 1966, p. 79)
On the surface, this remark expressed fear of a potential animal threat. However, it is
more likely that Barney’s preexisting fear of being pursued and threatened was
generalized to the forest setting. Traditional narratives of encounters with strange beings
occur in natural surroundings that were dangerous or feared, such as caves (trolls and
This theme is implicit in von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods (1956) where a cosmic cataclysm is posited
to explain Earth’s history and myths. This scenario contains the implicit fear that such events might occur
goblins), deep woods (Hansel and Gretel’s abduction by the witch), deep water (Jonah’s
abduction by the whale or “fish”), or fantastical lands (J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, a
Victorian abduction story).
Fowler-Andreasson Narrative (1979)
Betty Andreasson described aliens transporting her to an underworld setting.
There was no evident fear in this description of entering an alien world:
Betty A.: “…going through a tunnel. Looks like a dark tunnel. They have
hoods over their heads. And it’s a very dark tunnel.”
…the aliens’ silver suits glowed in the dark, barely illuminating their way.
But the soft glow lighted the tunnel enough for Betty to see that it had
been chipped out of stone…
Jules Vaillancourt: “Did it seem like a tube, like the inside of a garden
hose, or did it seem chipped like a coal tunnel?”
Betty A.: “Chipped like a coal tunnel”
(Fowler, 1979, p. 74)
Fowler asked her where she thought she was:
Fowler: “Do you think you left this earth and went to another world, or,
was this all someplace on this earth?”
Betty: “Not on top of this earth. I could have been inside the earth, but I
went someplace else other than the outside of the earth.”4
(Fowler, 1979, p. 86)
Betty described being transported to different locations in an alien natural
environment. Over the course of these passages, Betty’s response was transformed from
fear and agitation to religious awe.5 In the alien “world”, she saw alien animals, plants,
and a phoenix-like bird that appeared to be an object of worship. The animals were
lemur-like creatures.
This possibility of visiting life inside the Earth occurs in literary journeys such as A Journey to the Center
of the Earth (1867), by Jules Verne, and At The Earth’s Core (1913), by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
In the Old Testament, five different Hebrew roots (gur, chathath, yare, arats, and pachad) denote both
fear and awe; as do the Greek words phobeo (phobos) and deos in the New Testament.
Betty A.: There was land and there were buildings, but there was no
vegetable life. Just land, and buildings... And now we are passing--oh,
boy, we are coming to were there’s some beings! ...And these beings are-got two eyeballs...and there are loads of them. Oh, they’re scary! [italics
added] And they’ve skinny arms and legs and kind of a full body. And
their eyes can move every which way, and they can climb just like
monkeys. They can climb up quickly and swiftly and down and around
and in and out of windows. They are all over the place!
The weird creatures were headless. They had two eyes located on the tips
of stalks that emanated from the tops of their bodies, and the stalks moved
independently of each other.
Betty became agitated as they passed by the frightful animals. [italics
added] “Who are these? Who are these?” she cried. The entities
wouldn’t tell her.
The alien vegetation appeared as the atmosphere changed to the color green:
Betty A.: It’s beautiful here. Oh, it’s so beautiful here...and now that we
are in the green atmosphere, they [alien entities] are taking off those black
hoods...It’s getting brighter green and beautiful. Oh, it’s so beautiful.
That [alien entity] in front of me told me, “See, I told you not to be
afraid.” There’s a lot of different stuff I’m seeing, but I can’t describe it.
It’s just unusual and different. Plants are different. It’s like--long stems
that come out in loops and the different colors. But they are green!
The bird was a creature of awesome power, surrounded by a fire so hot that it would have
destroyed Betty except that the bird protected her.
Betty A: I’m seeing something like a large bird...It is standing with its
wings and the light in back of it...whew! It is hot. I’m so hot. [panting]
I’m so hot! I’m standing before that large bird...And that bird looks like
an eagle to me...It has a white head and there is light in back of it--real
white light. Very, very big. and it has brown features...and it’s very, very
hot here...[heavy breathing] The bird is just standing there, and it looks
like it is holding back the light somehow...The bird, the feathers are just
fluffed out. The light seems so bright in back of it. It’s beautiful, bright
light...The light just keeps sending out rays...There’s a fire in front of me.
My hands feel...they hurt so much! They just keep on vibrating, as if they
feel like fire...That fire is burning down, and there are like coals there. I
feel cold [shivers] [italics added]...That coal is just dying down to a
reddish color. It’s getting grey, grey with red mixed with it. Now looks
like a worm, a big fat worm...Then from somewhere to her right, Betty
heard what sounded like many voices blended into one booming voice...
“You have seen, and you have heard. Do you understand?”... “I have
chosen you”... “I have chosen you to show the world.”
(Fowler, 1979, pp. 96-99)
The fire imagery recalls that alien entities told her that their form of nourishment was
“knowledge refined by fire” (Fowler, 1979, p. 27).
In terms of threats to the natural world, Betty only reported one alien message
regarding the environment. Some AAN researchers have interpreted such warnings as a
motivation for humans to become environmentally conscious:
Betty A.: You keep saying you have come to help the world. Why?
Alien Entities: Because the world is trying to destroy itself.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 32)
Hopkins Narratives (1981)
Budd Hopkins’ first book Missing Time (1981) does not contain the catastrophic
natural imagery or messages that appear in later narratives. However, two of his
Storytellers describe natural world situations where fear or awe is present. Hopkins’
subject “Steven Kilburn” reported fear associated with a particular place.
Steven: Something may have happened to me when I was in college. I
can’t remember anything specific, but something has always bothered me
about a certain stretch of road. [italics added]
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 52)
This fear reaction to a particular physical location served as the motivation for the full
investigation of Kilburn’s abduction account, which was “recovered” using hypnosis.
Hopkins concluded that Steven’s fear stemmed from an actual traumatic event (abduction
by aliens) at that location. If this is accurate, his fear reaction could be understood as an
indication of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, Hopkins was not a
psychotherapist and he did not consider other possible sources for the fear.
Hopkins’ subject “Virginia Horton” described a natural world experience with
awe rather than fear.
Virginia: I said the only thing I could remember is that I saw a beautiful
deer in the woods. It was almost like a mystical deer... it was very
strange... I just went on and on about that deer, though, that beautiful deer
I had seen.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 131)
Hopkins: That incident in France at the picnic. Have you thought much
about it?
Virginia: Well, I just thought about it, but nothing came back to me,
except to remember again the sense of wonder that I had at the time at the
beautiful, beautiful deer that I saw. You know, it was as though I had
walked out of the woods and claimed that I saw a unicorn. There was that
sense of excitement and wonder [italics added]. And when I think about
the visual memories that I had, there wasn’t anything unusual about the
deer, except that it was looking at me...and it was looking at me in a very
conscious kind of way, but it could just as easily have been that I was
hypnotized and thought I saw a deer to make it easy to have a story to tell
[italics added].
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 186)
Virginia: We had all gone for a family picnic and my brother and I took
off to look at the fields, the woods and stuff...And I described this deer.
And they way I remember it is that the deer was looking at me and saying
goodbye. The deer was saying goodbye telepathically to me...
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 195)
According to Hopkins, among his subjects only Virginia Horton received some
type of visual presentation related to Earth’s environment, in particular concerning
“biological diversity”. Although Hopkins implied that environment issues are central to
the aliens’ intentions--and referred back to earlier Storytellers like Betty Andreasson for
validation of this assertion--the importance of this topic was not supported in his
Strieber Narrative (1987)
Strieber’s Communion (1987), in which he acts as both Storyteller and Narrator,
included several major elements concerning environmental fears, including:
Degradation of the Environment
Destruction of the Earth By Natural Disasters
Destruction of the Earth By Nuclear War
In his professional life as a fiction writer, Strieber manipulated fear images for a
living. All of his literary work was suffused with images of natural world fears, running
the gamut from animal threats to nuclear destruction. Prior to his 1985 encounter with
aliens, Strieber had written fiction books about super-intelligent wolves (The Wolfen,
1978), vampires (The Hunger, 1981), and nuclear war (Warday, 1984); the latter book
was written in a pseudo-documentary style. Following his series of books on alien
encounters, he continued writing horror novels--for example, The Wild (1991) about
werewolves. He also became interested in changes in Earth’s weather patterns and wrote
a book with radio talk show host Art Bell entitled The Coming Global Superstorm (2000)
about the Earth’s weather becoming highly destructive over the next several years.
Strieber believes that the aliens told him of the destruction of the ozone layer before its
problems were publically known.
During Strieber’s first hypnosis session with psychiatrist Donald Klein (March 1,
1986), he said that an alien had revealed apocalyptic imagery (back on October 4, 1985):
Interviewer: Tell me what you see?
Strieber: When [the alien] sees I see him he comes over to the bed. He
looks mean... [italics added] He’s got a ruler in his hand. Has a tip of
silver. Touches me. I see pictures [long pause] I see pictures of the world
just blowing up... [italics added] And there’s a dark red fire in the middle
of it. And there’s white smoke all around it... I think he showed me
images of the future of our world, is what he showed me... You know, I
had a dream, back in November, of Cleveland blowing up. [italics added]
It was me remembering this image of the explosion, trying not to be scared
of that image.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 64-66)
Mack Narratives (1994)
John Mack’s narratives, assembled in the early 1990s, contained numerous
references to fears originating within the natural world. However, his interpretation of
the stories tended to be abstract, using terms like “apocalyptic” and “environmental
awareness”. Dr. Mack was an anti-nuclear and environmental activist previous to his
alien abduction research, so when he selected particular stories for publication from a
larger sample of unpublished alien abduction stories, they may have been selected in part
based on his specific interests.
Six of Mack’s thirteen storytellers described natural world fears. Samples of
these are given below, categorized by their specific fear scenarios.
Degradation of the Environment
“Catherine” said that the aliens communicated the need to “stop the pollution”
and they seemed to have a preoccupation with “messing up the planet”. Catherine said
her ideas came from “impressions”.
[Catherine] said, “What’s wrong with my planet?” [The alien] said, “the
damage from pollution.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 149)
Destruction of Humanity by Disease
“Scott” reported apocalyptic visions, natural catastrophes, and “scientific
destruction” of the environment. The aliens told him there would be widespread plagues
on earth, similar to AIDS (page 104).
John Mack: Scott’s memories moved then into the apocalyptic vision I
have heard increasingly from abductees [italics added]. Major changes in
the world are coming. The aliens will only come “when it’s safer.” But
that will not occur until there are “less and less” of us as we die off from
disease, especially more communicable forms of AIDS that will reach
plague proportions. This material was frightening and very sad for Scott
[italics added]...Scott felt “sick” inside and sobbed as he told of how
science “destroyed our planet.” (Mack, 1994, p. 104)
Destruction of the Earth by Natural Disasters
“Arthur” was a successful businessman with a high level of ecological awareness,
who attributed his environmental attitudes to a message given to him by aliens at age
nine. He said he was told that “a big blob of darkness like a massive water flood is going
to go over the entire planet and just kill everything”. The blob is like a great “water
balloon, black and huge, that will cover the whole planet and suffocate it.”6 Arthur said
that he felt “the fear and the smothering and the sense that everything’s gonna die.” After
showing him the blob, the aliens took this image away. Notably, Arthur believed that he
was shown the blob in order to make him afraid and that the blob also will come about
because of fear” [italics added] (Mack, 1994, p. 380).7 Arthur recognized this as a kind
of paradox and then revealed that the aliens acknowledged it as such. This could indicate
This type of “blob” imagery also appears in literary works such as A Wrinkle in Time (L’Engle, 1962),
and C. S. Lewis’ Perelandra trilogy (1938-45).
Caughey mentions “blob monsters” in his discussion of dreams (Caughey, 1984, p. 91).
that the aliens’ messages were reflections of Arthur’s thoughts, or it could have been an
intuitive realization that fear grows by feeding on the human response to it.
“Ed” said that the aliens told him about “destruction to the humanoid’s planet.”
The aliens’ communications included some apocalyptic images, volcanic eruptions, and
“pillaging of the planet” (Mack, 1994, p. 63). The being communicated to him
telepathically in what Ed called “allegorical terms” a message of “instability on your
planet, eco-spiritual, emotional instability...volcanic eruptions are a sign...” The belief
that natural catastrophes reflect social instability or violation of social order is associated
with animistic and aboriginal cultures, not with modern (i.e. “Western”) thinking (Mack,
1994, p. 60).
Mack: I expressed lack of clarity as to whether Ed meant “cataclysm” in a
literal, physical, or metaphoric sense. He said there would be “a series of
geological and meteorological convulsions...I remained confused about the
literalness of all this and of the various distinctions at work between
spiritual and physical catastrophe.
(Mack, 1994, p. 64)
Destruction of the Earth by Nuclear War
“Jerry” reported dreams of nuclear war. She had several dreams of nuclear war in
which there was general panic and she heard herself say ‘It must be Armageddon.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 129)
The threat of nuclear war presents the modern world with the ancient idea that our
society’s spiritual imbalance is linked to disaster for the natural world.8 The impact on
nature occurs as the result of moral or immoral action. As our lives have become less and
less affected by the “caprices” of nature, fewer consequences are attributable to nature
For example, in the Book of Revelation.
itself, and more to man’s activity (e.g., global warming). On the other hand, this view
overestimates the significance of our willful, rational action. As the scientific discussion
interacts with implicit moral beliefs, environmentalism can come to resemble a religion.
As discussed in Chapter II, Narrators who take the physical existence of alien
entities seriously tend to divide into “good alien” and “bad alien” camps. This distinction
has implications for the interpretation of fears for the natural world. In his book The
Threat (1998), Narrator and abduction researcher David Jacobs criticized the “good
alien” Storytellers that he calls Positives:
Taken as a group, the Positives’ message is that humans have conducted
their affairs in a way that will lead to the degradation of the planet and the
end of the human species. Humans have caused poverty, ignorance, and
overpopulation, and they risk environmental catastrophe and atomic
annihilation. The concerned aliens are ‘educating’ abductees to warn us of
what is to come if we do not change our behavior. (Jacobs, 1998, p. 213)
Jacobs also raised the possibility of instilled memories about the natural world as
a problem in “learning the truth about abduction events”. These are “images aliens
purposely place in the abductee’s mind”. As he described:
During visualization procedures, the aliens might show an abductee a
multitude of images: atomic explosions, meteorites striking Earth, the
world cracking in half, environmental degradation, ecological disaster,
dead people bathed in blood strewn around the landscape, and the
survivors begging the abductee for help. Or the aliens might show
abductees images of Jesus, Mary, or other religious figures. These images
have the effect of being so vivid that the abductees think the events ‘really
happened.’ Or that they ‘really saw’ the religious figures.
(Jacobs, 1998, p. 45)
Perhaps unintentionally, Jacobs’ concept of instilled memories undermines his case for
the reality of alien abduction, which depends heavily on the reliability of Storyteller
memories. His reasoning resembles an interesting variation on Descartes’ Evil Genius
argument: Jacobs implies that his subjects are deceived because their seeing (a subjective
perception) is believing (a subjective reality), but he is also deceived if he thinks he can
tell the difference. One does not have to be God to understand that vivid images are not
necessarily physically real.9
Historically, narratives of encounters with strange beings took place in natural
settings (for example, caves or forests). In contrast, modern AANs report a fearful
technological setting resembling a hospital or laboratory, which are settings more
characteristic of modern urban life. Fear appears in the world when a natural disaster
occurs, but the equivalent focus of modern fears has shifted to the technological settings
in which we live, work, and travel: apartments, tall buildings, airplanes. For example,
when a natural calamity such as an earthquake damages a building, we experience the
fear as present in the building. We are born, live, work, and die within a technological
world, so that, for example, the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11,
2001, takes on a significance once reserved for “natural” disasters.
The exploration of this realm of fear raises the question of the absence of natural
world fears in the earlier accounts. Barney Hill died in 1969, and subsequent AANs may
have integrated these environmental fears because the theme became too important in
In the New Testament, Jesus says to the Apostle Thomas, “Now you believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen me, yet believed.” (John 20:29). Perhaps we must also consider the
alternative perspective that “blessed are those who have seen, yet do not believe.”
cultural awareness to leave out.10 This is also an important issue to consider because
environmental and anti-nuclear themes were central concerns for John Mack prior to his
involvement with alien abduction stories.
Natural world images and fears in AANs may be interpreted according to the preexisting beliefs of the Narrator regarding the natural world. John Mack had a history of
environmental activism before he began his work with his “experiencers”, so it may not
be surprising that his Storytellers (who in some cases are also hypnotic subjects) report
benevolent alien concerns about the natural environment. When the images and
messages provided by Mack’s Storytellers match his own concerns, these stories are
selected as paradigmatic.
When recent AANs (after 1980) described alien messages to human beings, their
messages included warnings about nature, images of natural disasters, and apocalyptic
concerns. It is not clear from the stories whether aliens show humans images of natural
world destruction in order to warn humanity or just to frighten them. In the sense that
space aliens are attributed with spiritual interest in human beings (which may be an
anthropomorphic conceit), their warnings resemble Old Testament threats rather than
modern religious concerns involving personal moral responsibility and behavior. The
concerns of the aliens do not appear personal in nature, but instead collective and speciesoriented. In this sense, the aliens assume the role of spiritual messengers. Although
claims are made by Mack and others that these encounters lead to greater social and
Betty and Barney Hill attribute their original experience to September 1961, before Rachel Carson’s
Silent Spring (1962) alerted the public to environmental dangers, but the Hills did not tell their story until
after that date. Their abduction story was told prior to the first Earth Day in 1971.
ecological awareness, no evidence for this claim is offered, and they do not offer criteria
that could be used to determine substantive changes in attitudes or behavior.
“He has his father’s eyes.”
Dr. Saperstein (Ralph Bellamy), Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
All alien abduction narratives contain descriptions of aliens manipulating people’s
bodies against their wills, although individual stories differ on the nature of the
procedures and the degree of distress they cause (painful or otherwise). As Budd
Hopkins puts it, “one finds that every experience has its quasi-medical aspect.”1 Based
on the narratives selected for this study, human physiology is a major focus of alien
attention. The incidence of body-related fear descriptions in these narratives
approximates the total for the other eight fear worlds combined. Storytellers have
persistent fears that something has been done to their bodies and preoccupations that their
physical processes continue to be tampered with over time.
This study attempts to understand the dynamics of fear in AANs, what the
Storytellers express as personal responses to such fears, and how the narratives
disseminate fearful “alien” images in popular culture. Because most alien abduction
researchers and narrators believe that these events are physically real, they search for
Hopkins, 1981, p. 216.
physical signs such as scars, scoop marks and objects (called implants) inside
Storytellers’ bodies. This literal focus on the search for physical evidence of alien
abduction neglects the compelling activities of fears that can be observed in the accounts
themselves. This chapter identifies and discusses the occurrences of body-related fears in
these prominent alien abduction narratives.
Fuller-Hills Narrative (1966)
When compared with later AANs, the body fear images in Fuller’s narrative of
the Hills’ abduction story are few in number and--with one notable exception--seem
relatively emotionally detached. Speaking under hypnosis, Betty expressed more
curiosity than terror, and at times Barney seemed to feel relatively comfortable while in
alien custody. This calm in the face of such an ostensibly traumatic experience is
sometimes attributed to alien control of human emotions (Hopkins, 1981). However, a
more prosaic explanation might be that in the Hills’ account, the role of body fear had not
yet developed to the extent seen in later AANs.
The following material from the Hills’ narrative illustrates their body-related
fears. Most of the alien activity resembles human medical procedures, as well as more
mundane human activities. In the first example, Barney seemed emotionally distant, in
comparison with Betty’s more engaged descriptions. In response to the hypnotist’s
questions, his attention lingered on memories of a childhood hospital visit before
returning to a curious sexual disclosure:
Dr. Simon: You opened your eyes and what did you see?
Barney: I saw a hospital operating room. It was pale blue. Sky blue. And
I closed my eyes.
Dr. Simon: Do you remember the operating room when you had your
tonsils out?
Barney: I remember the hospital, and I was in there because they thought I
had appendicitis. And I stayed there for thirteen or fourteen -- no it was
thirteen days... And I used to walk down the corridor and peek into the
operating room. And I thought of that. It wasn’t when I had my tonsils
Dr. Simon: Was that operating room in the hospital blue? [the room in the
UFO is described as blue]
Barney: No, it was bright lights.
Dr. Simon: Did you feel you were going to be operated on?
Barney: No.
Dr. Simon: Did you feel you were being attacked in any way?
Barney: No.
Dr. Simon: Did you feel you were going to be attacked in any way?
Barney: No.
Dr. Simon: You said your groin felt cold.
Barney: I was lying on a table, and I thought someone was putting a cup
around my groin2, and then it stopped. And I thought: How funny.
Dr. Simon: Speak a little louder, please.
Barney: I thought how funny. If I keep real quiet and real still, I won’t be
harmed. (Fuller, 1966, p. 126-127)
Betty’s description was more detailed, but initially lacked emotion. First, a medical
scene occurred:
Betty: “So I’m sitting on the stool, and there’s a little bracket, my head is
resting against this bracket. And the examiner opens my eyes, and looks
in them with a light, and he opens my mouth, and he looks in my throat
and my teeth and he looks in my ears, and he turned my head, and he
looked in this ear... (Fuller, 1966, p. 161)
Then a hair-cutting scene:
Oh, and then he feels my hair down by the back of my neck and all, and
they take a couple of strands of my hair and they pull it out...then he takes
something maybe like scissors, I don’t know what it is, and he cut, they
cut a piece of it...and then he feels my neck, he starts feeling behind my
ears, under my chin, and down my neck and in and through my shoulders,
around my collarbone, and ...
Hillman (1972) described just such a sexual image as characteristic of the activity of the god Pan.
Finally, another description called to mind the activity of a beauty salon, except for the
mild fear response:
Oh-and then they take off my shoes, and they look at my feet, and they
look at my hands, they look my hands all over. And he takes-the light is
very bright so my eyes aren’t always open. I’m a little scared, too. [italics
The unified sequence above resembles a combination of impressions from a human
medical examination, a haircut, and pedicure and manicure respectively. Betty then
described a non-invasive procedure that resembles preparation for an electrocardiogram
(EKG) or electroencephalogram (EEG):
Betty: “...and he brings over this-oh, how can I describe it? They’re like
needles, a whole cluster of needles, and each needle has a wire going from
it...and they bring the needles over, and they don’t stick them in me. No,
not really like sticking a needle into a person, but they touch me with the
needles. It doesn’t hurt...They touch me with these needles, somehow or
Betty had not yet encountered the full presence of fear, but then the situation changed
So then they roll me over on my back, and the examiner has a long needle
in his hand. And I see the needle. And it’s bigger than any needle I’ve
ever seen. And I ask him what he’s going to do with it...And he says he
just wants to put it in my navel, it’s just a simple test. (Sobbing) I tell him,
‘No, it will hurt, don’t do it, don’t do it.’ And I’m crying and I’m telling
him, ‘it’s hurting, it’s hurting, take it out, take it out!’ And the leader
comes over and he puts his hand, rubs his hand in front of my eyes and he
says it will all be all right. I won’t feel it. And all the pain goes away.
The pain goes away, but I’m still sore from where they put that needle. I
don’t know why they put that needle into my navel.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 162)
Betty’s account included alien attention to, first, her head and then her lower
body. The abdominal procedure resembled amniocentesis and was also similar to a
biopsy for uterine cancer. In the passage above, fear--in Sardello’s sense of an
autonomous presence--introduced itself for the first time in Betty’s story. Betty’s intense
fright signaled that something qualitatively different had occurred, relating to the
invasion of her reproductive organs.
Some female Storytellers report that aliens have impregnated them during
abduction and later stole their fetuses. Alien abduction researchers engage in extensive
theorizing about why human fetuses might be cultivated and then taken by aliens. One
point of view is that the aliens are trying to interbreed with humanity in preparation for
colonization, or are sterile and need human DNA to reproduce (Jacobs, 1998). Another
theory is that the aliens are experimenting with human genetic material to develop a new
kind of creature, a popular hypothesis on how the human race developed (Sitchin, 1976).
All these ideas take the alien images literally, as though they are physical creatures
preoccupied--as humans are--with biological concerns such as reproductive technology.
Later, Dr. Simon asked Barney about the couple’s experiences and got the first
indication of Barney’s discomfort with alien medical procedures:
Dr. Simon: Now, you and Betty have been talking to each other about
what’s been going on, you’ve been remembering things.
Barney: Yes.
Dr. Simon: About being on board, being examined, and all those things?
Barney: Yesterday, at the breakfast table, we were talking about it. And,
gee, I get chills. I get chills even now. [italics added] Ugh.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 234)
Barney’s chills expressed fear regarding their story, which he acknowledged that he and
Betty are “remembering” together in their discussions. His “cup around the groin”
report--along with the alien interest in Betty’s reproductive system--provided an early
example of the sexual aspect of the body fears that continued to develop and become
more elaborate in later AANs.
Fowler-Andreasson Narrative (1979)
Betty Andreasson said that her alien apparitions began on January 25, 1967, while
the Andreasson household was already preoccupied with a medical crisis. On December
23, 1966, Betty’s husband James had been severely injured in an automobile accident and
required weeks of hospitalization. As part of her story, Betty Andreasson reported
images of alien medical procedures similar to those described by Betty Hill. Betty
Andreasson was familiar with Betty Hill’s story from the Life Magazine article in 1966.
The imagery of an amniocentesis-like procedure in the Betty Andreasson story resembled
similar imagery in the Fuller-Hills narrative published ten years earlier. As a UFO
researcher, Fowler (Andreasson’s narrator) was intimately familiar with that account.
Betty: and they inserted another long silver thing through my belly
button-my navel...
Joseph: Did they tell you what the purpose was for the penetration of your
navel? What was that examination for?
Betty: Something about creation, but they said there were some parts
Joseph: Can you explain to us what that meant?
Betty: It was because I had a hysterectomy, I guess.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 52)
The account above closely resembles Betty Hill’s report of an alien reproductive
procedure. While Betty Hill was terrified and sobbing, Betty Andreasson did not report
the presence of fear from her similar experience. The full presence of fear appeared
when the aliens added a new element to the procedure: immersion in a tube of liquid for
transportation purposes. Andreasson’s account contains intense and fearful imagery of
full body immersion in a liquid, including her fear of drowning.
Terror filled Betty’s heart when she was told she was to be immersed in a
liquid. The entities assured her that provision would be made to prevent
her from drowning.
Betty: They’re telling me that there are three tubes. That they are going to
put liquid in here with me in it!
Fowler (narration): Betty became hysterical [italics added] and said, “I’ll
drown if you do that.”
(Fowler, 1979, p. 71)
The Fowler-Andreasson narrative also introduced body imagery of a “nasal probe” which
reoccurred in later narratives.
Betty: There is a big block, long block thing they had me on. And ...
lights coming from the walls. And ... wires, needle wires. They took
those long, silver needles -- they were bendable -- and they stuck one up
my nose and into my head!
Jules: Did you feel the pain?
Betty: Yes, but they touched the top of my head and took it away.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 51)
Betty: When they stuck that needle up my nose, I heard something break,
like a membrane or a veil or something. Like a piece of tissue or
something they broke through...
Jules: Which nostril?
Betty: My left . . .left.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 52)
Hopkins Narratives (1981)
The following selections give examples of body fears from Hopkins first book,
Missing Time (1981). The body images and themes in these accounts express greater
concern with physical pain than with the presence of fear. In some cases, fear is implied
but not overtly communicated. Storyteller “Steven Kilburn”, for example, described
physical pain in the shoulder and back:
[Steven] lay absolutely motionless in a deep trance state. His voice was
soft and his words slightly slurred as he described standing alongside the
car and looking uneasily towards the metal fence. There was a long pause
and he seemed afraid to go on with his account. He was obviously
confused and frightened. [italics added] Suddenly, he cried out as if in
pain. “It’s on my shoulder ...a hurts. I can’t move.”
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 57)
Steven: Oh! They put...they put a thing on my back. I’m sitting on a table
in the middle of this room. Oh! (arches back, as if in pain) Oh....(arches
back) when I think about what they did it really hurts. [italics added]
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 78)
It seems noteworthy that Steven reported pain when he remembered what aliens did,
rather than reporting pain or fear during the actual event. Although the Narrator
(Hopkins) described him as frightened, Steven’s own words seemed detached from fear.
He appeared to be one step removed from the immediacy of emotion as he recounted
these events.
Storyteller “Howard Rich” reported having an abduction experience while
watching television in his mother’s house one evening. Like Steven, Howard described
pain in the back and also in the neck area. Although not as overtly stated in the story,
fear elements are suggested by the Narrator’s description of Howard’s agitated breathing,
shivering, and physical distress:
Howard: That bright light again. It’s all around me. I feel like I’m
floating. They’re like dark black shadows in the light. There’s light all
around and the shapes are just black...just black...the shapes...the figures.
It’s cold, too. It’s very cold. (Shivers and crosses arms over chest.
Agitated breathing, and then he arches his back and bends his neck as if in
sudden pain.) [italics added]
Oh...there’s a pain in the back of my neck....oh, God! It
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 96)
In the following passage, Howard elaborated on his pain by reporting that his stomach
hurt and that people were touching him. Howard’s final comment suggests that he might
have been sleeping at the time these experiences occurred.
Howard: They’re coming for me again.
It’s’s stomach really really hurts. (Inaudible
words, then HR arches his back, stretching, as if in pain.) People [italics
added] are touching me. Why are they touching me? (Sighs deeply.)
Oh...I want to wake up...I want to wake up. [italics added]
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 98)
Denis MacMahon’s account included the common paradigm of a medical examination by
aliens with intense physical imagery:
Hopkins: Do you remember any physical pain?
MacMahon: No. A sense of numbness. That is definitely remembered.
Except... there was no pain... I felt normal, except I don’t remember the
actual thing that happened. It felt like I was being ripped to pieces, and
put back together again, and I can tell you that, though there was no pain
accompanying that memory.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 121)
MacMahon reported being “ripped to pieces” but denied any experience of physical pain.
It is noteworthy that neither MacMahon’s story nor Hopkins’ accompanying narration
reported this vivid recollection as including the presence of fear.
Both MacMahon’s and Horton’s accounts seem to differ from most other
published testimonies in the notable absence of physical pain and fear. Hopkins
rationalized Horton’s lack of fear in the following manner:
One of the differences between Virginia’s account and the other abduction
reports we have been considering is her apparent lack of any fear. It is
important, first of all, to remember that her story begins when she is
already inside the examining room of the UFO. The reader will recall that
the most consistently frightening time is at the outset of the experience
when the abductee is simultaneously paralyzed and approached by the
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 151-152)
While Hopkins and this author may differ on which experiences reveal the
greatest fear, his theory acknowledged the central role of fear in alien abduction
stories. He considered it important enough to propose an explanation when the
observed pattern of fear did not fit his theory.
Storyteller “Philip Osborne” introduced an important body experience in
his account: the sensation of paralysis. He reported two separate incidents of
paralysis, which he suspected were due to--and which Hopkins attributed to--alien
abduction. There is a strong similarity between the events described and the welldocumented phenomenon of sleep paralysis. The significance of these events for
both Philip and Hopkins lay in their agreement as to the cause.
A few weeks after the NBC program, [Phillip] had awakened in his
apartment in the middle of the night absolutely paralyzed. He could not
move, could not turn his head, could not even call out for help. This
terrifying state lasted a minute or so [italics added] and only gradually did
he regain control of his body.
Almost immediately, he recalled the earlier, very similar,
experience. It happened when he was attending Carnegie Tech in
Pittsburgh, probably in 1964....He awakened one night and found himself
totally paralyzed. He had not been dreaming; there was nothing to prepare
him for this total usurpation of control. He could not call for help. Worst
of all, he sensed someone or something--a presence--in the room with him.
His fear lessened as the paralysis ebbed away, but so frightened was he
still that he got up, put on his clothes, and went outside to take a walk.
[italics added]
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 155-156)
Scars of unknown or alien origin also play a significant role in modern AANs.
Hopkins’ storytellers Philip Osborne and Virginia Horton provided early accounts in
which a body scar was attributed to possible alien encounter.
“I’ve always had this scar since childhood,” [Philip] explained, “and no
one can remember how I got it. My mother can’t remember and neither
can I. It just seems that one day, there it was.” The scar was about three
inches long and perfectly straight. It was located at the outer juncture of
his thigh and hip...
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 157)
Virginia: I think my leg was cut with a scalpel. It was really just sharp
and clean... as if somebody made a nice, clean quick incision... and I don’t
think that it hurt, but I think I expected it to hurt.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 138)
Virginia: I think they did take some blood from the inside of my nose...
They used the same instrument. It was like it had a handle that could just
come out. It was like a touch on the inside.
Dr. Clamar: Was it put into the left or right nostril?
Virginia: I’ve been going like this (touching the left nostril) so I think it
must have been there.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 205)
Significantly, these reports of body scars and the surgical procedures that might
have created them were described with a singular absence of pain or fear.
Alien abduction stories with images of experimentation on human bodies began
prior to 1981, as seen in the Hill and Andreasson stories. But the full expression of fear
as a central part of these accounts did not occur until after Hopkins’ first book was
Strieber Narrative (1987)
The Strieber narrative is rich with bodily references, preoccupations and fears.
On his own initiative, Strieber underwent extensive medical tests to explore the
implications of his experiences.
Strieber introduced his abduction experiences with a report of body paralysis and
lack of sensation, accompanied by intense fear:
The next thing I knew, the figure came rushing into the room. I recall
only blackness after that, for an unknown period of time. I don’t
remember falling asleep or lying awake. What I do remember is far, far
more disturbing. My next conscious recollection is of being in motion. I
was naked with my arms and legs extended, as if I had been frozen in midleap. I was moving out of the room. There was no physical sensation at
all. Not of being touched, not of being warm or cold. I could feel myself
as a shape and a mass, but not in terms of sensation. It was as if I had
become profoundly paralyzed...
(Strieber, 1987, p. 24)
“Whitley” had ceased to exist. What was left was a body in a state of raw
fear so great that it swept around me like a sick suffocating curtain,
turning paralysis into a condition that seemed close to death. [italics
(Strieber, 1987, p. 26)
Strieber described an alien medical procedure that produced intense fear:
...a tiny squat person... had been given the box and now slid it open,
revealing an extremely shiny, hair-thin needle mounted on a black
surface... I became aware--I think I was told--that they proposed to insert
this into my brain. If I had been afraid before, I now became quite simply
crazed with terror [italics added]... The next thing I knew, there was a
bang and a flash, and I realized that they performed the proposed
operation on my head.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 28-29)
Strieber described a sensory perception in which touch by the aliens elicited
distress and fear. This description was followed by a bizarre procedure that has
become closely identified with alien medical procedures in popular culture, the
“rectal probe”:
My fear would rise when they touched me. [italics added] Their hands
were soft, even soothing, but there were so many of them that it felt a little
as if I were being passed along by a row of insects. It was very
Soon I was in more intimate surroundings once again. There were
clothes strewn about, and two of the stocky ones drew my legs apart. The
next thing I knew I was being shown an enormous and extremely ugly
object, gray and scaly, with a sort of network of wires on the end. It was
at least a foot long, narrow, and triangular in structure. They inserted this
thing into my rectum. It seemed to swarm into me as if it had a life of its
own. Apparently its purpose was to take samples, possibly of fecal matter,
but at the time I had the impression that I was being raped, and for the first
time I felt anger [italics added].
(Strieber, 1987, p. 30)
Strieber identified a number of physical sensations that triggered his recall of
abduction memories:
On the afternoon of January 3, we were skiing when I got a pain behind
my right ear. It was a sensation similar to what happens to one’s jaw
when Novocain [sic] wears off after a session in the dentist’s chair. My
skull ached and the skin was sensitive. In the middle of this sensitive area
my wife could see a tiny pinpoint of a scab. I believe that the combination
of the infected finger, the rectal pain, and the aching head were what
finally brought my memories into focus.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 35)
Except for the medical-like procedure involving a rectal probe (described above),
Strieber’s recollections of alien attention to his body primarily consisted of alien
intrusions or operations on his head. Initially, Strieber reported worrying that he
might have a mental illness or brain tumor as he tried to make sense of these
I thought quietly and calmly, you may be going mad, or you may have a
brain tumor. You’ve got to find out which it is and take whatever steps
are necessary. And then I rested my head on the desk and, quite frankly,
cried. For a couple of days I lived with it, maybe “the symptoms” would
(Strieber, 1987, p. 36)
Strieber also described an electrical procedure to his face, but without any
indication of fear:
He took a little thing like a stick--a needle--and when he moved it even
slightly in the air I could see it spark at the end. And he went like that
[makes striking motion] and it went bang and spread a tingling all over my
face... But it had a deep undertone to it; it had a very electrical quality to
it. If you could make a tiny bolt of lightening in someone’s face, you
would create thunder right in their face. That’s what was done.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 72)
Like Betty Andreasson ten years earlier, Strieber also described a nasal probe
I had the distinct impression that there was something in my left nostril,
and that it was slowly being moved far up my nose. When I tried to
struggle, I heard a pop like an apple crunching between my eyes. The next
thing I remember it was morning.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 127-128)
So far no hypothesis would explain the motive of the visitors--or the selfconfidence they showed by inserting their probe through my germ-filled
nasal cavity and into my brain. No doctor would ever do that, which also
means that these are not buried childhood memories of operations. There
is no operation that proceeds as the visitors do, jabbing their needles up
the nose.3
(Strieber, 1987, p. 130)
Strieber speculated at length about the meaning of his experiences, in
which the role of the body was central to his fears:
Running through my experiences there is a consistent flavor of intense
terror. But is it only my terror, the terror of the body, biological terror?
[italics added]
(Strieber, 1987, p. 163)
I had thought to call this book Body Terror because of the extreme
physical sensation of fear I had felt on December 26 [1985].
(Strieber, 1987, p. 215)
Strieber’s AAN provided the most elaborate and almost obsessive preoccupation with
body concerns and fears up to that time. The success and widespread acceptance of his
story laid the groundwork for a great proliferation of AANs, which were also facilitated
by his Communion Foundation, an organization which went well beyond Hopkins’
activity in terms of the solicitation of alien abduction stories from the general public.
In fact, there are human medical procedures into the nose when it is necessary to measure brain wave
activity using nasopharyngeal electrodes.
Mack Narratives (1994)
As described above, body fears were identified by Betty and Barney Hill,
Betty Andreasson, Strieber, and Hopkins’ Storytellers. However, none of these
contained the quantity or richness of the body fear material produced by Mack’s
Storytellers. Mack’s previous eminence in both the psychiatric and literary fields
lent a credibility to his narratives that propelled him to the forefront of AAN
researchers, surpassing the publishing success of Strieber. Mack provided an
expansion and elaboration of alien interest in the human body. This interest is
particularly significant for the body parts and fears included, as well as how they
reveal a lack of interest in one significant body region: the human heart.
From these accounts, it appears that Mack’s researchers gathered medical
information in the interviews with Storytellers. However, since Mack disclosed only a
minimal personal history of these Storytellers in the published narrative, it is difficult to
correlate any of their reports with actual accidents, injuries, surgeries, or other medical
insults that may have occurred apart from alien intervention.
The body-related material drawn from Mack’s Storytellers is greater in
frequency and detail than any previous collection. In order to discuss these
occurrences, it is helpful to organize the material into a cephalocaudal sequence
based on location on the human body. Using this approach, it becomes evident
that Storytellers report greatest alien interest in the human head and reproductive
system. As one studies reports of alien encounters, one must wonder why
Storytellers report extensive alien experimentation on the body parts described
below, with the notable exception of the heart.
The following passages illustrate some general medical concerns reported by
some of Mack’s storytellers.
Ed has had a number of frightening experiences which are probably
abduction related... from early childhood Ed was unusually fearful of
doctors offices and operations--“anything to do with medicine”--even
before his tonsillectomy at about age nine.
(Mack, 1994, p. 51)
Similarly, Scott, another experiencer, reported neurological and perceptual anomalies,
including visual hallucinations:
Beginning when he was eight, Scott was taken repeatedly to physicians,
especially neurologists, for the evaluation and treatment of frequent
throbbing headaches that had begun when he was six, and some sort of
“spells” or “seizures” that were poorly described as attacks of “strange
feelings,” “spacing out,” or “confusional episodes.”...An initial
electroencephalogram (EEG) during this period was read as mildly
abnormal, followed by others that were normal. But over the next several
years Scott was treated with substantial doses of several anti-convulsive
medicines that had little effect. An outpatient note from when he was
fifteen records “visual hallucinations” from age twelve or thirteen in
which Scott reported seeing a spinning, colored triangle and “images such
as a woman leaning over his bed...”
(Mack, 1994, p. 94)
While medical professionals might attribute Scott’s unusual experiences to
cortical immaturity, combined with hypnagogic hallucinations, Mack considered
these perceptions to be suggestive of alien abduction.
The Human Head
Consistent with earlier narratives, Mack’s storytellers reported keen alien interest
in the human head, which in our culture is considered the seat of intellect and personality.
Some of these accounts of alien procedures on the head included reports of pain or
anomalous experience, but lacked responses that would indicate the presence of fear.
The needles were stuck “right in my forehead.” At first this was painful,
but “then I just relaxed.” The needles in her head seemed to cause her
right hand and arm to become “numb.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 82)
Next Dave felt a sharp object was stuck by a different, tall being against
the left side of his head near the center of his temple, which, surprisingly,
hurt only ‘a little.’ ...
(Mack, 1994, p. 277)
In the letter she said that a couple of years previously, in the course of
massage treatment for pain at the base of her skull, “I had the experience
of small beings communicating with me telepathically.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 201)
In other accounts, such as the following alien abduction reports from Catherine,
Eva and Ed, the presence of fear is implied or explicit:
Also troubling to Catherine and contributing to her contacting me was an
unexplained nosebleed--the first she recalled in her life--that occurred
shortly after the above episode, and the fact that she had found herself
answering positively to most of the questions indicative of possible UFO
encounters in a book about abductions.
(Mack, 1994, p. 143)
After this I asked Catherine if anything else was done to her body on this
occasion and took a kind of “inventory.” She described a metal
instrument, “maybe a foot long,” that was inserted perhaps “six inches”
into one nostril. Somewhat shocked, I said that would have gone into her
brain. “That’s what it’s supposed to do,” she responded.
(Mack, 1994, p. 155)
She was “in shock” and defenseless as the beings poked her legs, spine,
neck, and brow with “sharp things,” as if “they were trying to understand.”
She could see a silver instrument with a round tip that was inserted in her
forehead. A white or yellow fluid dripped onto her nose.
(Mack, 1994, p. 248-249)
As Ed described “drifting off, going into my thoughts,” he felt “some
tingling” in the area of the base of his head or upper neck and then found
himself “getting frightened” as the memories of that time began to come
back to him.
(Mack, 1994, p. 57)
Finally, three of Mack’s storytellers (Scott, Peter, and Jerry) gave accounts of
medical procedures to their heads with an overwhelming presence of fear or
At this point Scott had a kind of out-of-body experience from fear, as he
looked down on himself and saw his head on a blocklike pillow and four
prongs being pressed into his neck, high up just below the scalp, which he
also felt pushing against him. Scott believed these were like “electrodes”
that were used to manipulate and control his movements and feelings.
(Mack, 1994, p. 99)
The smaller being lifted up the light, “holds it there and hits me in the
head with it.” After that Peter felt cold, shaking and shivering on the
couch in terror as control of “my functions” was “shut down.” A shift
occurred then--both at the time of the incident and in the session--and he
felt more peaceful. “My body feels like it’s cut off from my neck, from my
(Mack, 1994, p. 297)
He felt waves of terror but wondered “why doesn’t this hurt” when one of
the beings “was doing something to my eye and I can still feel eye
really ached the next day...”
(Mack, 1994, p. 302)
Relaxed now, he is in “like a dentist’s chair,” where the same
machine...was used to probe inside his nose. “They drilled. They moved
something. They put something in my nose...It’s way up in here. It feels
like there’s something there.” This reminded Peter of how he had refused
to go to a hospital when he broke his nose in a car accident at the time he
was a freshman in college.” It just dawned on me that this is why I didn’t
go.” It was not only the association to the fearful procedure [italics
added], but also “I think I knew there was something in my nose that I
shouldn’t go to the hospital.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 305-306)
At first, Jerry [female] was not frightened during this episode, and was
pleased that she was able to converse with the beings. The leader asked
“how the medication has been so far,” and she made the mistake of saying
“fine.” For after this a procedure was done to the back of her head above
the neck that caused the most excruciating pain she had ever experienced,
“even worse than childbirth...I thought they were killing me,” she said and
remembers screaming, “how could you? You asked me how my
medication is.” In addition to the raw pain, Jerry felt muscle spasms that
were out of her control and extended in rapid succession from her legs to
her facial muscles. She screamed for them to stop and was filled with hate
and rage. [italics added]
(Mack, 1994, p. 119-120)
Nine of the thirteen Mack Storytellers reported the head to be a primary focus of alien
experimentation. Two-thirds of these Storytellers implied or directly reported the
presence of fear. The question remains as to why three of Mack’s Storytellers did not
appear fearful in the face of similar experiences.
Neck and Throat
While there are only two references to the neck and throat in the Mack narrative,
material, both storytellers (Eva and Jerry) reported experiences that reflected the presence
of fear. In Eva’s account, Mack’s descriptions of her as being “in shock” and
“defenseless” indicated that she was paralyzed by fear:
She was “in shock” and defenseless as the beings poked her legs, spine,
neck, and brow with “sharp things,” as if “they were trying to understand.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 248-249)
Jerry’s report was more graphic and added the aspect of fear of death (see chapter XIV),
as she described fear rising as she sensed being strangled:
The being told her that “he’s just going to do a few things and then I can
go home.” Then she felt a squeezing sensation at her throat, as if from the
alien’s hands, and she was afraid that “he might kill me.” [italics added]
(Mack, 1994, p. 136)
Upper Extremities: Arms and Hands
Like the neck and throat references, only two of Mack’s storytellers
reported alien interest in the arms and hands. Scott described an event that many
might find frightening (unexplained needle marks on his arms), but there does not
appear to be fear present in his account.
Before beginning the regression we talked about Scott’s apprehensions
and his possibly abduction related experiences...which we agreed would
be our focus. He had no recollection of discrete abductions, but spoke of
vaguer “cloudy kind of stuff,” a blue light coming into his room one night,
unexplained needlelike marks that had appeared on his arms several times,
and how on some mornings his left sock would be mysteriously missing
from his foot.
(Mack, 1994, p. 97)
In contrast, Catherine described the aliens as trying to cut her to obtain a blood
sample and the presence of fear is evident in her distressed reaction:
Inside the room the “little man” went to another room to get something
and bring it back. “I said, ‘What are you going to do with that?’ and he
tells me, ‘I’m just going to make a little cut.’ I say, ‘Why?!!’ and he said,
‘Because we need a sample.’ I said, ‘NO!! NO!! You can’t cut me!!’ and
he said, ‘We have to.’ I said, ‘No, you don’t have to!! That’s mean!! You
don’t have to do it to me!!’ He said, ‘It’s for scientific research.’ I said,
‘Well, why can’t you cut something else?’ He said, ‘Because we need
blood.’” He made a little cut on the fourth finger of her left hand, which
hurt less than Catherine expected.
(Mack, 1994, p. 148-149)
Back and Spine
Three of Mack’s storytellers reported alien procedures to their back or
spine. The first of these (Joe) is noteworthy for its lack of fear. In fact, Joe
described an unusual reaction that includes a perception of energy release, a
divided sense of self, and implied sexual arousal:
He remembered the ETs hands on him and felt he was “pupating or
something” as blocked energies were released. He was seven or eight
years old and in a vast space, as if underground. He experienced himself
as if split between his ET and human selves. The ET part has got “his
hands on my kidneys, my lower back,” and his human self is “trying to
relax and open and to connect to him. Oh, God! It’s almost sexual.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 189)
Eva’s description of events clearly implied the presence of fear, as she reported an
awful physical discomfort, followed by shock:
“I remember ‘them’ (?) or me, I’m not sure which, wearing a dark gray
garment/robe with many buttons going down the back. I was in a fetal
position, my back to them. They were doing something to my spine. My
entire spine was stinging and cold. It was awful! It felt as if they were
going inside my body with some very sharp instrument (syringe?) and
inserting it between my flesh and skin.
(Mack, 1994, p. 246)
She was “in shock” and defenseless as the beings poked her legs, spine,
neck, and brow with “sharp things,” as if “they were trying to understand.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 248-249)
Even more overtly fearful is Jerry’s report of a spinal injection accompanied by a
feeling of terror that the aliens would harm her. It may be significant that she
associated this memory with an actual medical event, the birth of her son.
Jerry then recalled that when the anesthesiologist tried to give her a spinal
injection to reduce pain during the delivery of [her son], she screamed
loudly, for it seemed now to be “a similar thing” to what she had gone
through on the ship.
(Mack, 1994, p. 124)
Another being pushed her over onto her side and seemed to be staring at
her back....”I don’t like them touching me,” she said as she remembered
being touched repeatedly all over the back. It felt like many “little
needles” and “a little pinch.” Her terror derived from the fact that unlike
“going to the doctor’s office when they tell you and you know what’s
wrong and your Mom’s with you,” in this situation “I don’t know what’s
going on, and I feel that at any moment they’re going to hurt me.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 136)
Stomach and Abdomen
Three of Mack’s storytellers reported alien procedures to their stomach or
abdomen, with mild reactions, but no overt indicators of the presence of fear:
There were now a lot of beings “coming and going. It’s hard to count them
because they’re all over.” Sheila felt she had been forced to “lie down”
and said that the beings “took my energy... there is power in those eyes,”
she declared. Something touched her on the abdomen and “they won’t let
my arms go. They always do that.” Then she felt the “horrible pressure”
and pain of “something square” pressing into her body through the lower
abdominal wall.
(Mack, 1994, p. 80)
Jerry felt “embarrassed” before the aliens as they took off her pajamas.
“It’s like they think they’re doctors or something. I don’t think they’re
doctors.” Lying on her back now, Jerry felt somehow more “relaxed” and
less afraid. One of the beings put his hands over her eyes and pressed
something that “looks like a tube” through the wall of her abdomen above
the umbilicus.
(Mack, 1994, p. 126)
At the end of the session, Jerry had me look at a small, circular, indented
scar on her abdomen which she associated with the procedures just
recalled. Until this session, she had not known “where it came from,” but
seemed to feel confident that it was the result of one of her abductions.
(Mack, 1994, p. 129)
Finally, Dave believes that “they put something in my stomach,” a
“circular sensory device” about eight inches in diameter for “checking
something in made a little bit of vibration. It wasn’t unpleasant,”
he said.
(Mack, 1994, p. 277)
These accounts are puzzling because Storytellers report quasi-medical procedures on the
stomach or abdomen with no apparent fear response.
Sexual and Reproductive Organs
Men’s Reports
According to Mack, the forced taking of sperm for some sort of poorly understood
inter-species breeding program is characteristic of male abductions. Five of Mack’s male
storytellers reported alien sexual intrusions. For example, Scott described sexual
manipulation by the aliens and said that they took his sperm to create alien/human baby
In several hypnosis sessions with his therapist, Scott recalled that during
this abduction he was terrified as a faucetlike device was placed on his
penis, “wires” or “leads” applied to his testicles, and a sperm sample taken
as he lay terrified [italics added] and paralyzed on a table in a UFO.
(Mack, 1994, p. 96)
The beings then placed a “faucet thing, like a suction” over Scott’s penis.
This device was connected by a tube to a box at the side of the table. At
this point Scott had a kind of out-of-body experience from fear [italics
(Mack, 1994, p. 99)
Joe reported similar experiences:
Joe has had dreams of contact with alien beings as far back as he can
remember. Sometimes he would wake up with his penis feeling sore. In
his regressions he recalled experiences in which sperm was “extracted
mechanically,” and “I’ve also seen infants that I felt they were showing
me because they were, in part, my own.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 179)
Dave’s account paralleled that of Scott and Joe, but added an element even more
distressing for Dave: the anal probe (which figured prominently in the Strieber
On July 23, Dave and I spoke on the telephone and he reported more
conscious memories of his abduction experience two weeks earlier,
including the feeling of something being stuck in his anus...
(Mack, 1994, p. 265)
He spoke then of a flexible instrument, perhaps four feet long, with “a
little wire cage” on the end, inside of which was a small spherical object.
About “half” of this was inserted in his anus, as the female being
continued to reassure him.
(Mack, 1994, p. 276)
Next, a suction-type device at the end of a tube was placed over Dave’s
penis, which he found difficult to speak about but not as humiliating “as
the thing being stuck up my ass...They made me ejaculate...”
(Mack, 1994, p. 277)
Peter was also subject to a frightening anal probe with the added element of an
implanted “information chip”:
Then he was taken to another table, a “cold, icy metal” one contoured to
his body...Then, using tools that reminded Peter somewhat of a dentist’s
fiber optical instrument, the beings probed his groin, right here where the
bone comes in,” going “right through the skin.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 299)
The most humiliating and frightening part followed [italics added]...The
tube was passed deeper into his rectum and Peter felt that they left “an
implant” or “an information chip” inside of him.
(Mack, 1994, p. 300)
In contrast to the individually focused sexual procedures on Scott, Joe, Dave, and Peter,
Ed reported alien interference into his marital relationship.
[Ed and his wife are] childless, although they have been trying to have
children. There have been a number of fertility problems, which may or
may not be abduction related, including three or four spontaneous
terminations of Lynn’s pregnancies. Lynn herself has had a missing time
episode and other experiences that make her suspect that she has also had
(Mack, 1994, p. 55)
There are individual differences in the men’s responses during reports of sexual
procedures by aliens. While Scott was terrified of the sperm sample procedure, none of
the other men appeared to be. Peter found the anal probe to be terrifying, but Dave
reported it as simply “humiliating” and was reassured by the presence of an alien female.
Women’s Reports
Three of Mack’s female storytellers reported sexual procedures by aliens.
Eva’s account identified a dream experience that lacked any overt fear:
...she had been having “feelings night and day of entities...dreams” of
beings in her room that are still there when she wakes up, and recalled
incidents from early childhood and late adolescence when she could not
move as her vagina was probed by “midgets” who had somehow gotten
into her room.
(Mack, 1994, p. 241)
Jerry described events that would be expected to elicit fear, but she seemed
detached and resigned to the experience:
It felt to Jerry as if something had been placed deep within her body,
beyond the vagina, perhaps through the cervix. As an adult, she had had an
abortion and this felt something like the D & C procedure.
(Mack, 1994, p. 127)
Jerry described how the beings separated her legs “like in a regular
gynecologist’s office” but because she was paralyzed no stirrups were
needed. Then a long tube was inserted in her vagina and she felt “a pinch.”
She knew this was one of the times that an embryo was inserted into her
“because I’ve been through this before and I recognize the routine.” The
leader had taken an embryo out of one of the drawers and brought it over
to her. “The other way” (when they remove a fetus from her body) is
“worse than putting it in,” for then she feels painful cramping.
(Mack, 1994, p. 132-133)
In contrast, Catherine was nearly overwhelmed with fear in an experience that
seems similar to the one reported by Jerry.
Catherine became increasingly distressed [italics added], panting and
crying, as she described how one of the beings spread her legs apart on the
table and the examiner stared at her face and genitals...Although she did
not see anything definite, Catherine had the strong impression that “tissue
samples” were taken from “the uterus lining,” the cervix, and perhaps the
fallopian tubes.
(Mack, 1994, p. 155)
The tall being inserted “a big metal thing” in her vagina, which was
intensely upsetting. The he took a longer and thinner “version” of this
“and put it up inside me!” She felt that he was trying to reach something
inside her body in order to cut it off. Sobbing forcefully, she said, “Oh,
God, Oh, God. He’s taking it. I can feel him cutting...He’s got it. He takes
out this hunk...he takes out the thing he put in and there’s something
attached to the end of it. It looks like a fetus...I can see it.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 163)
Alien manipulation of the male and female reproductive systems is a
prominent aspect of most modern AANs. Stories of powerful, non-human entities
are also historical expressions of this basic human fear.4 These fears of alien
interference with human sexuality appear to run deeper than ordinary sexual fears
such as fear of intimacy, pregnancy, rape, or homosexuality. These more
alarming fears contain images of the interbreeding of humanity with something
alien and unnatural. The contemporary fear of having an alien baby is a modern
parallel to the medieval fear of witches mating with the devil and giving birth to
the “Devil’s spawn”.
Lower Extremities: Hips, Legs and Feet
Three of Mack’s storytellers (Eva, Sheila and Paul) reported alien medical procedures to
their lower extremities. As in the previous section, Eva’s experience implied fear,
indicated by her shock and defenselessness:
She was “in shock” and defenseless as the beings poked her legs, spine,
neck, and brow with “sharp things,” as if “they were trying to understand.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 248-249)
Sheila reported severe pain, fear and desperation as the aliens inserted a needle in
the hip to the bone:
For example, the Nephilim of the Bible favoring the fair daughters of the Earth; Greek myths of gods
mating with mortals; and the incubi and succubi sex demons of the Middle Ages raping people in their beds
at night.
...[Sheila]... had another electrical dream in which she had been paralyzed
with great pain in her hip where she felt a needle had been inserted into
the bone. She felt intense fear [italics added] and desperation and I agreed
to meet with her as soon as my schedule permitted.
(Mack, 1994, p. 76)
Paul provided an intriguing account of a medical examination and apparent
anesthetizing of his leg in which he experienced pain, but he did not overtly
describe fear. This was followed by a description of alien surgery on his leg, in
which he experienced fear so extreme as to be terrifying, but has no physical
sensation of pain.
Then Paul looked down and saw that “he’s started doing something to my
leg” with “long, long fingers. He or she--I don’t really know--it looked
like two fingers with a thumb and he was just like feeling my calf, real
lightly going up and down, and then all of a sudden I really felt my leg,
my calf, it was like, it was pain, and I was like, “Ow, my calf really
hurts.’” Paul does not recall seeing an instrument but remembers that the
leg felt “numb” and as if the being “injected something into it.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 219)
The beings wanted Paul to lie down on a table, which he did. He had no
clothes on, could not move, and felt cold. “I don’t understand,” Paul said,
and felt terrified and confused. “They’re cutting me open.” Using what
appeared to be some kind of light the beings made a seven or eight-inchlong cut in his right leg above the knee. The “loose” flesh opened about a
half inch, exposing muscle, ligaments, and bone but creating little
bleeding...The procedure did not hurt, but the sight of his leg opened up
was terrifying to Paul. [italics added]
(Mack, 1994, p. 233)
Dreams, Nightmares and Sleep Paralysis
One of the major scientific theories of alien abduction stories is that they result
from distortions of perception and hallucinations that accompany sleep disorders. Three
of Mack’s storytellers reported nightmares and sleep paralysis, a condition often
accompanied by fear. Their accounts are included in this chapter because of their
occurrence during sleep, a vital body process, as well as because they include reports of
physical sensations.
In an account reminiscent of the well-known phenomena of hypnapompic
(“waking”) awareness, sleep paralysis, and kundalini (the sensation of energy in Hindu
yoga), Peter described the following experience:
The most powerful experience that Peter recalled consciously before we
met, occurred in the Caribbean during the 1987-1988 period. During this
time he remembers he would sometimes go to sleep afraid and then be
awoken by a touch or something “hitting me right at the base of my
spine.” In our first conversation he recalled experiencing terror, rage,
and a loss of control as light filled the room and he felt a “presence”
around his bed. [italics added] “I remember my whole body vibrated and
shook maybe for a second, two seconds, three seconds.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 295)
Sheila reported many dreams in which she experienced her body as full of electricity.
She also began to have recurring dreams in which she would experience
terror, be unable to move, and her body would feel as if it were vibrating
or “full of electricity.” [italics added]
(Mack, 1994, p. 70)
Jerry reported abduction experiences that were dismissed as nightmares by her family:
In the years that followed, Jerry had a number of “nightmares” in which
she would awake paralyzed, hear “buzzing and ringing and whirring”
noises in her head, and see humanoid beings in her room. “They were
really causing me to lose a lot of sleep,” she wrote.
(Mack, 1994, p. 119-120)
She has always known that the experiences that were so readily labeled
nightmares by her mother and others were powerfully real for her... The
appearance of scoop marks, scars, bruises, and other small lesions
following abduction experiences helped Jerry affirm the actuality of what
she has undergone throughout the years before she found a community of
experiencers and investigators who were familiar with the phenomenon.
(Mack, 1994, p. 117)
Jerry’s belief in her experiences originated in sleep-related hallucinations, but over time
she sought and found further confirmation in bodily imperfections.
It can be seen in these narratives that Storytellers consistently report alien
interference with their bodies and life processes. This fact is recognized by all AAN
researchers and has become an independent focus of study. While many AAN
researchers seem to concentrate their efforts on investigating physical injuries and traces,
and matching evidence to a “typical abduction scenario”, this study asserts that the
“examination of the examinations” must look beyond the literal meaning of the alien
Different Storytellers recount the same kinds of procedures with different levels
of fear, or none at all. In contrast to the theory of a “typical abduction scenario”, this
variability in the presence of fear suggests important individual differences among
Storytellers that may derive from their respective human relationships, sexual histories,
medical histories, and even religious or metaphysical beliefs. While most AAN
researchers seek convergence and agreement about what is common to the alien
abduction “experience”, this author proposes that these individual differences are highly
Although the reported situation and settings of the alleged physical examinations
appear similar to each other (and to some human medical procedures), they differ
markedly in the involvement of different parts of the body. Although mention of the nose
and nosebleeds (a common occurrence, particularly in childhood) are especially common,
other parts of the body include the head, neck, shoulders, back, stomach, abdomen,
sexual organs and legs. Most notably, however, fear enters particularly into the
storytellers’ awareness primarily by way of two areas: the human head or brain, and the
human reproductive system.
Reports of alien medical activities reflect similarities and differences among
individual Storytellers. Some sets of Storytellers report procedures on the same regions
of their bodies, while others report attention to different regions. Overall, the highest
alien interest is focused on the human head and reproductive systems, with a notable
absence of interest in the region of the human heart. Interpreted symbolically, this
pattern of alien physiological interest parallels recognized cultural dichotomies: mind and
body, Apollonian and Dionysian.
Sardello identifies this split in consciousness with the loss of awareness of the
centrality of the heart in the spiritual psychology of the human being.5 In his view, heart
awareness was overlooked by the psychological descendants of Freud (in favor of
sexuality and power) and the behaviorist, neuropsychological, and cognitive psychologies
(which favor the brain). This is metaphorically consistent with occurrences of body
images in the AANs, which include no mention of alien interest in the human heart. Such
an omission is particularly unusual considering the belief of some AAN researchers that
the aliens are fascinated with human emotional life (Jacobs, 1992).
Sardello, 1995, page 147.
This recognition is described poignantly by a Storyteller whose account is not
found in the narratives analyzed here:
I have found [the aliens] to be, with one singular rare exception..., totally
impervious, disdainful, and uncurious of those very things which make us
uniquely human, namely; the ability to freely love, to bless with
compassion (or passion), to transmute with patience, to cry and laugh and
share joy in dance. In short, all the matters of the heart. [italics added]
(Clarke, 1996)
Tyrell figured eventually the replicants would develop
their own emotional responses.
Deckard: Memories. They gave the damn skin jobs memories.
(M. Emmett Walsh and Harrison Ford), Blade Runner (1982)
Human emotions constitute the third realm within the geography of fear identified
by Robert Sardello. Normal emotions include anger, sadness, grief, happiness, joy,
anxiety, desire, disgust, sexual attraction, and others. Emotions (also called feelings)
constitute a critical source of information about our relationship with our natural and
social surroundings and ourselves. Feelings arise naturally within our awareness unless
they are disrupted by disturbances within the body (such as physiological disorders),
trauma reactions, or substance abuse. Such pathological conditions interrupt the growth
of the imagination and spiritual awareness necessary for appropriate responses to fears.1
If not corrected, these disturbances can play a role in the creation of the double, an
autonomous pseudo-personality that is psychologically adaptive to the extent that it does
The physical processes whereby trauma interrupts normal adaptation within the body and nervous system
have been explored by van der Kolk, McFarlane, and Weisaeth (1996). These processes can result in either
(a) hypersensitivity, or (b) numbing to the presence of fear.
not experience fear. In effect, a bargain is made by which fear is “eliminated”2 in
exchange for the loss of a spiritual sense.3
Sardello writes:
A third sphere invaded by fear is the world of feeling. The main
indication that our feeling life has been split apart is found in the way we
consider feeling. We look at it now as a possession--I have my feelings
about this or that, and they are all mine. We have completely personalized
a domain that rightly belongs together with the surrounding world. Once
feeling is torn from an ongoing, sensual embodied relation with the world,
the need to feel becomes an insatiable addiction, or it disappears
altogether... The subjectivizing of feeling signifies a flight from the
sensuous world,4 prompted by a full-fledged entrance of fear into the
feeling world... We go to the movies [to be] moved to tears, laughter, joy,
sadness, disgust, rage, eroticism.
(Sardello, 1999, pp. 137-138)
Emotions inform us about our context and help us to integrate what is happening
both inside and around us. Normal emotions are critical to a normal thinking process;
emotions “inhabit” and motivate thoughts, as well as provide a bodily mediated
corrective when thinking loses touch with (sensuous) reality. Emotions can be
unpleasant and disquieting and therefore can have profound effects on our perceptions.
For example, when someone close to us dies, our perceptions and worldview can become
distorted. Experiences such as seeing the deceased person in a mirror are not uncommon
(see Chapter XIII).
Fear first affects the body and then the emotions, because the body is the vehicle
of the emotions. Continuous constriction of the body leads to deformation of emotional
capacity. Part of this process involves becoming less aware of one’s basic emotions as
Only the subjective awareness of fear is blunted, while its objective presence still acts on the submerged
self and on other persons.
This includes the loss of conscience discussed by Lifton (1986) in his study of Nazi physicians.
This flight from the sensuous (real) world that Sardello identifies can occur by means of dissociation,
doubling, or the more literalist preoccupation with idealized “other worlds”.
they form naturally within consciousness. When such a critical modality of information
about our surroundings and ourselves is cut off, one possibility is that a passion can
overcome us when we least expect it (see Chapter XI). In the face of a powerful emotion,
persons can dissociate or can be overcome (possessed) if they cannot literally “make
sense” of the emotion as it forms.
We find ourselves in the presence of fear whenever we encounter a sentient being
that lacks emotion, just as we do when we confront a dangerous animal. Humans who
lack normal emotions include sociopaths, sadists, and so on. When dealing with a person
who lacks normal emotion, one should feel fear--the fear engendered by the presence of
the im-personality that is characteristic of the human double.5 Extreme sociopaths--such
as serial killers--derive pleasure from using their acts to stimulate intense bodily
sensations as substitutes for emotions they do not feel, or which they perceive only as
compulsions for their heinous acts.
The Problem of Emotional Language in AANs
The increased personalization of feeling identified above by Sardello can also be
seen in the contemporary misuse of feeling language that actually refers to the other
modes of awareness: thinking, sensing, and intuition. A common example occurs when a
person says something like “I feel he is mistaken”; they are actually stating a belief,
thought or opinion (each a form of thinking). There is a great deal of “feeling talk” in
AANs, but much of it does not reflect emotional experience. An example of this
confusion occurred in the testimony of Betty Andreasson’s daughter:
Jules: Are you afraid?
These signals can be masked. Many sociopaths are good actors and can feign emotional responses.
Becky Andreasson: Yeah, I’m afraid because he scares me by the way he
looks, but I can’t do anything--can’t move. I’m not afraid of him, because
there’s a feeling [italics added] that he’s not going to hurt me. He scares
me just by the way he looks.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 31)
Becky’s conviction of personal safety reflected her thinking, not emotion, and actually
contradicted the feeling tone of the scene (“I’m afraid”; “he scares me”). Peter, one of
Mack’s Storytellers, used feeling language when describing an even more complex
thought that included the attribution of emotion to his captors:
[Peter] had “the feeling” [italics added] that the [alien] beings are afraid of “the
power that we may possess.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 296)
Similarly, Hopkins’ subject “Howard Rich” referred to a complex cognition--awareness
of guilt--by using the language of sensation:6
[Howard Rich] told [Hopkins] later that he had suffered from a powerful
sense [italics added] of having done something forbidden, of having
betrayed an important injunction not to remember and not to tell what
happened to him.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 103)
In the passage above, Howard has disturbing thoughts of guilt and betrayal.7
The second confused use of emotional language occurs when describing
sensations. The comment “I felt [italics added] a presence in the room,” actually
describes a sensing.8 Some Storytellers use such feeling language to describe their
sensation of an alien presence:
Jerry felt “so weird because earlier that night I had the feeling [italics
added] that [the aliens] were around.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 115)
This misconception is also reflected in the colloquial phrase “guilt feelings”.
So if alien beings implanted the prohibition to tell, their memory technology failed again.
This concept of sense is subjective. Whether anyone else in the room also sensed a presence is a separate
problem. Whether the second person sensed the same presence is a third problem.
[Dave] had a feeling [italics added] “that there might be a being standing right
behind me, and I was afraid to turn around and look.”
Once more he feels “their presence,” the “sense (sic) that they’ve arrived…it’s
like a total all-encompassing, very powerful feeling.” [italics added]
(Mack, 1994, p. 274)
Hopkins’ Storyteller “Steven Kilburn” used similar feeling language when he said:
I don’t remember whether I actually saw something in the sky—I believe
(sic) I did—and it was there that I first felt that—something. I felt very
strange, for some reason. I don’t know why. It was that feeling someone
is watching you as you wake up, that sort of thing. [italics added]
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 54)
The third type of misuse of emotional language occurs in descriptions of intuition.
For example, Barney Hill attributed the very credibility of his alien abduction experience
to a “feeling” which was actually an intuition:
The only thing I can say is I have a strong feeling [italics added] that this
experience might have happened…
(Fuller, 1966, p. 289)
When discussing his Storyteller “Peter”, Mack used feeling language to describe Peter’s
intuition of an impending event:
Under hypnosis Peter recapitulated the setting of his house and the hotel
restaurant where they’d eaten that night, what he had for dinner, and going
upstairs to bed feeling afraid “something was going to happen.” [italics added]
(Mack, 1994, p. 296)
Peter indeed may have been afraid on the night he described--or his remembered fear
may be distorted under hypnosis--but the presence of fear is different from an intuition of
an impending event.
Hopkins missed this language confusion when he used it to describe his
Hopkins: Each case is in some way intertwined with another involving a
young man who was abducted in his early twenties, but who, like the
others had absolutely no conscious memory of a UFO sighting; all that he
had to go on was the “feeling” that “something may have happened”
[italics added] to him one night in 1973, on a particular road in Maryland,
as he drove home from his girlfriend’s house.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 23-24)
Finally, Hopkins used feeling language to express his own beliefs (thinking) about
the reality of alien abduction:
Hopkins: As I read about the [Betty and Barney Hill] case in detail—I
finally bought Fuller’s book, The Interrupted Journey—I began to feel
[italics added] that the Hills were recalling precisely what had happened to
them, and the fact that it emerged the way it did, under hypnosis, in two
separate accounts, gave it unusual validity.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 28)
In order properly to consider the interaction of fear and the emotions in AANs,
the investigator must first filter out the “noise” created by this misuse of feeling
language. The confusion implicit in such linguistic distortions reflects both the
personalization of awareness (“you have your reality and I have mine”) and the increased
social salience of “feelings” as the touchstone for reality in our culture. In effect, when
feelings become overvalued--relative to thinking, sensing, and intuition--we find
ourselves claiming feelings rather than respecting and acknowledging the other modes of
Understanding Emotional Language in AANs
Once the mistaken uses of feeling language have been filtered out, it can be seen
that there are three primary ways in which human emotions participate in the narratives
chosen for this study. The first is the Storytellers’ emotional disclosures that are
associated with their narratives, especially those made in the presence of fear. The
second factor is in the indicators of psychological defenses that reveal how a Storyteller
responded to fear. Finally, there are displacements of emotion, lack of emotion, or
emotional manipulation onto the alien captors.
Since emotions convey information about physical and social context, it is
important to examine whether the emotions found in AANs might be related directly to
their settings, even if no alien intervention had occurred at all. A wide variety of settings
are known to be associated with the presence of fear, ranging from wartime combat
through other degrees of physical vulnerability (being in a high-crime area, or lost in the
woods); sensory deprivation such as low light and sound conditions (at night, especially
in remote areas); and many forms of physical or social isolation (including just “feeling
alone”, which can occur while driving in an automobile or being asleep in bed).9
Fuller-Hills Narrative (1966)
The setting of the Betty and Barney Hill story is consistent with some of the
physical and social conditions described above. On their “interrupted journey” home
from Montreal, Canada, the Hills travelled alone in an automobile, at night, through a
remote area. While on their trip, they watched and discussed lights they saw in the night
sky. These factors--combined with an upsetting confrontation with “hoodlums” in
Montreal--created an emotional background that is important for understanding their later
Most of the Storytellers in this study were hypnotized. Notably, the prospect of being hypnotized is also
known to be feared by many people.
disclosures. Whether or not they encountered alien beings, the Hills returned from their
trip carrying the awareness that they had been in the presence of fear.
Betty Hill initially attributed her anxiety and fear to frightening dreams, which
she wrote down after their trip but before the disclosures that led to the “actual” AAN:
Betty: Two events happened of which we are consciously aware; these
are also incorporated in my dreams [italics added]. First we sighted a
huge object, glowing with a bright orange light, which appeared to be
sitting on the ground. In front of this, we could distinguish the silhouette
of evergreen trees. Our reaction was to say, “No, not again,” and then we
consoled ourselves with the self-assurance that it was the setting moon
[italics added]. At this point in the highway, we made a sharp turn to the
left. Second, at the termination of this, I asked Barney if he believed in
flying saucers now? He replied, “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course
not.”...My emotional feelings during this part was of terror, greater than I
had ever believed possible… I was terrified. [italics added]
(Fuller, 1966, pp. 297-298)
In Fowler’s narrative structure, Betty’s language (“events happened of which we are (sic)
consciously aware... [and these] are also incorporated in my dreams”) misdirects the
reader while stating truthfully that her dreams (which were quite elaborate) followed her
initial memories (which were very vague). The actual chronological sequence is: (1)
interest in UFOs,10 (2) fragmentary memories of fears during her trip, (3) dreams of
UFOs after arriving home, (4) recovered memories of her trip, and (5) belief that the
details in (4) also preceded her dreams (3). For the explanation of the chronological
formation of an AAN, see Chapter V.
Spanos et al. (1993) proposed that “belief templates” act to shape ambiguous, diffuse, or imaginative
stimuli. Their research demonstrated that pre-existing UFO beliefs were the major predictor of reality
attribution among those reporting UFO sightings.
Remarkably, by the end of her dream account, Betty’s initial terror was transformed into
joy and awe:
Betty: Suddenly the ship became a bright glowing object, and it appeared
to roll like a ball turning over about three or four times and then sailing
into the sky. In a moment it was gone, as though they had turned out the
lights. I turned to Barney, and I was exuberant. I said that it was the most
marvelous, most unbelievable experience of my whole life. [italics added]
(Fuller, 1966, p. 304)
Traditional psychological theory would consider Betty’s ability to move from
terror to exuberance as a successful psychological defense. In existential terms, she
found meaning in a stressful experience. However, some individuals are not able to
transform their awareness in this manner. Fear can overwhelm a personality, creating a
separation between a person’s thinking and their awareness of their body. In psychiatric
parlance, this phenomenon is known as dissociation.11 Sometimes this disconnection is
experienced quite literally, as described by Barney Hill:
Barney: I felt that I had never known what this feeling was like. And I felt
dissociated. As if I had my body moving, and yet my thinking was
separate from it. And I had never felt like this before in my life… And I
never experienced this feeling again until I was in your office [italics
(Fuller, 1966, p. 200)
The psychological definition of dissociation is as follows:
The essential feature of a Dissociative Disorder is a disruption in the usually integrated
functions of consciousness, memory, identity, or perception of the environment. The
disturbance may be sudden or gradual, transient or chronic. In other words, an event is
processed in a way that breaks up the pieces of the event into differing states of
consciousness. Dissociation is common and nearly everyone experiences mild
dissociation from time to time. If you have ever had the experience of driving
somewhere, and suddenly you realize that you have little or no memory of driving the last
few minutes. Perhaps you even passed your exit. Your driving ability wasn’t hindered
because the mind was still utilizing the part of the brain that was needed to drive the car.
However, instead of your thinking-mind focusing on the driving, it was somewhere else.
That is dissociation. Daydreaming is a very mild form of dissociation. (
It is also revealing that Barney specifically associated his dissociation with the hypnosis
session, because hypnosis itself can induce a dissociated state. In effect, his immediate
sensation under hypnosis was interpreted (by him) as further validation of an earlier
dissociative state. A short time later, Barney appeared to contradict himself:
Dr. Simon: Did you feel “dissociated” about this part of the experience?
Barney: I did not feel dissociated. I just didn’t think about it. I did not
feel anything except I had to have driven [the car], and that is all I felt.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 201)
The issue of dissociation is made more significant because of his denial. Barney Hill did
not remember being abducted. Under ordinary circumstances, this would indicate that he
had not been abducted. But Betty insisted that Barney was abducted with her, and that he
was unconscious when he was taken aboard the alien ship. It seems unlikely that Barney
volunteered the term dissociation on his own; it is more likely that he acquired it from the
psychiatrist.12 However, this term frequently describes a Storyteller’s emotional state
while telling an alien abduction story. Hypnosis is specifically employed to foster
constructive forms of dissociation from intrusive thoughts (“I want a cigarette”), negative
feelings (“I’m no good”), and pain sensations (in anesthesia). In spite of his good
intentions, Dr. Simon engaged in interpretive speculation that might have influenced his
It also seems unlikely that Barney acquired this term from his wife. Although Betty Hill was a trained
social worker, she did not appear inclined toward psychological explanations of their experiences.
Amnesia is a form of dissociation. However, in the absence of evidence that amnesia can result from a
fantasy, his remarks such as the following can be considered a form of social influence:
Dr. Simon to Barney: You might say the whole sighting was a frightening experience…
Now, the question evolves here: is this an amnesia in the sense of wiping out of a real
experience, or amnesia related to the wiping out of a fantasy—an intensely painful
fantasy? (page 277)
As described in the introduction to this chapter, strong emotions can cause
perceptual distortions. Even after public disclosure, psychiatric examination and
hypnosis, Barney Hill expressed doubts about his wife’s story, suspecting that it
contained such distortions:
Barney: I still question whether Betty actually conversed with these
people [sic]… Several things Betty has said have caused me to question
it… I feel Betty has created other distortions in her mind.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 267)
Betty Hill went on to become a central figure in the UFO movement, speaking at
many conferences and conveying a positive view of the aliens and their intentions. As an
early paradigmatic occurrence of the modern AAN, the Hills’ story suggests that gender
differences may exist regarding attitudes toward “remembering” an AAN; that is, women
may be more receptive and optimistic, while men may be more fearful or paranoid. This
distinction is partially confirmed in the Andreasson narrative below. Betty Andreasson’s
joy in nature and her belief in the angelic nature of the alien visitors are reminiscent of
Betty Hill’s joy in her “marvelous, most unbelievable experience” (Fuller, 1966, p. 304).
Fowler-Andreasson Narrative (1979)
Referring to her childhood, Betty Andreasson expressed a sensual joy related to
nature. In this and later in her ultimate response to her alien visitors, she described a
sense of newness, freshness, and a childlike quality similar to Betty Hill.14
Betty A.: Every season felt so alive to me. I felt as if I was part of it.
Even now, I feel total recall. The joy of standing by the cool rushing
stream, with soft white dew-colored flowers, and skunk cabbage clustered
Betty Andreasson reports that she read the Hills’ account in 1966, the year before the “experience”
(1967) that she reported retrospectively seven years later (1974).
in the swamp close by… I would go deep into the woods and stay almost
till dark. I was never afraid there. It was so peaceful.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 13)
At the time of her reported experience, Betty Andreasson was under considerable
emotional stress, precipitated by her husband’s serious automobile accident and
hospitalization. The whole family, including Betty Andreasson’s daughter Becky,
became intimately involved as witnesses to her story, despite indications such as those
highlighted below that suggest the story originated in a disturbing dream.
Fowler: Where does someone go to report a UFO experience so bizarre
that one hesitates to discuss it with either family or friends? Where does
one turn when government officials have publicly decreed that UFOs do
not exist? Such was the plight of the Andreasson family. During the
following years, the hazy yet vivid experience [italics added] had weighed
heavily on the thoughts of Betty. Her daughter Becky thought it had been
a bad dream, and yet it seemed so real [italics added]. At times, Betty
would receive mental flashbacks concerning the weird episode.
Provocative insights and alien scenes surfaced momentarily from her
subconscious, only to slip away as her conscious mind sought to retain
them. [italics added]
(Fowler, 1979, p. 18)
During the hypnosis sessions that Fowler’s team conducted, the descriptions of strong
emotions during hypnosis developed into one of the main arguments for the reality of the
phenomenon. This observation applies to all later AANs, as will be shown below. The
idea that vivid emotions could derive from dreams, imaginative fantasy or hysteria is
either ignored or rejected out of hand.
Fowler: During deep trance hypnotic regression sessions, Betty and
Becky relived their traumatic experience in great detail. They each
expressed natural apprehension, fear, wonder, concern, pain, and joy.
Their facial expressions, voice tones, and tears were obviously genuine.
[italics added]
(Fowler, 1979, p. 20)
In the interviews described in Fowler’s narrative, Betty Andreasson’s description
of her emotions followed a progression. The initial emotional tone was one of fear and
Fowler: Betty stood awe-struck at the silent presence of the strange craft
in her yard. Her initial shock quickly gave way to fear and apprehension.
[italics added]
(Fowler, 1979, p. 34)
At the beginning of her alien journey, she experienced further negative emotions such as
the embarrassment of feeling vulnerable and exposed:
Alien entity: There’s a white garment there for you. Would you please
get into it… Please change.
His persistent request drummed in Betty’s ears until she finally relented…
Betty’s modesty clearly manifested itself as she timidly removed her
(Fowler, 1979, p. 47)
As she remembered being subjected to quasi-medical procedures (described in Chapter
VII), Betty sank into isolation and despair. At times, the dreamlike confluence of alien
“doctors” suggested both her own medical history, the hospital visits following her
husband’s accident, and the contemporaneous hypnosis setting in which she was being
Fowler: After removing the needle from her nostril, the diminutive
creatures huddled together as if discussing the results of measuring Betty
physically. Betty watched in utter despair. She felt helpless, desolate, cut
off from all human help and compassion. Her captors exhuded little
emotion, moving and behaving with cool, dispassionate precision. [italics
added] Betty felt like a human guinea pig.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 59)
Her sadness and despair grew until she expressed anger and defiance:
Fowler: Betty sobbed frantically and shouted at them “I don’t want any
more tests! Get this thing out of me!”
(Fowler, 1979, p. 60)
The climax of her journey occurred when the aliens took her to a strange setting where
she saw a giant bird. Her negative emotions were replaced by astonishment at this sight:
Fowler: A vague form in front of the light slowly became more distinct.
Astonished, Betty observed a huge bird standing directly in front of the
dazzling light source. It was too big to be real, and yet it looked as if it
were alive.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 83)
Betty described feeling pain when in contact with rays of the dazzling light:15
Betty A.: When I was before that bird, I felt as if I were in the depths of
weakness... The light in back of it was so living and alive...the rays just
kept--reaching out further and further. And then finally there were specks
of gold flying all over the place, and I was getting hotter and hotter...
It felt as if—I don’t know what that feeling was. It’s horrible. It felt as if
something was permeating right through me. I don’t know what it was. It
was sort of the worst thing I’ve ever experienced... You know how you
can get a lump sum of pain? This was like it had pierced every cell of my
(Fowler, 1979, pp. 100-101)
While she underwent this ordeal, a voice spoke to her:
Voice: Your own fear makes you feel these things... It is your fear that you
draw to your body, that causes you to feel these things. I can release you,
but you must release yourself of that fear through my son [italics in
(Fowler, 1979, p. 100)
At the recognition of the religious reference “through my son”, Betty Andreasson’s
emotions were transformed into joy and religious ecstasy.
Joseph: Do you know why you were crying?
Betty: It was from love.
Jules: The tears. They seemed like elation--happy tears.
Betty: It was that. I really believe it was God that spoke to me.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 102)
This description of a “refining fire” resembles religious visions of a divine light that ignites “dark”
elements within the transparent spiritual body. Such visions are described by religious writers such as St.
John of the Cross and C.S. Lewis.
These emotions--and the transformation from fear to joy--are remarkably similar to those
that occurred in Betty Hill’s dreams.
In the following passage, Betty Andreasson can be seen employing a religious
worldview to interpret her anomalous experience:
Fowler: Betty balked, as her mind frantically tried to grasp some logical
explanation for what was happening. Then her strong Christian beliefs
abruptly surfaced to provide a desperately sought rationale:
Betty A.: I’m thinking they must be angels, because Jesus was able to
walk through doors and walls and walk on water. Must be angels… And
Scriptures keep coming into my mind where it says, “entertain the
stranger, for it may be angels unaware.”16
(Fowler, 1979, p. 24)
After an initial fear response, Betty experienced a blunting of that emotion, which was
then replaced by a different, positive feeling:
Fowler: Betty stood transfixed. But an extraordinary calm settled over
her. An aura of friendliness emanated from the alien intruders, and she
was no longer frightened. [italics added]
(Fowler, 1979, p. 25)
Betty Andreasson’s account also included elements suggesting dissociation:
Fred: At one point, you seemed to be trying to separate yourself from
what was going on, trying to stand off to one side. Is that really what you
were trying to do at that time?
Betty A.: I was thinking of what Dr. Edelstein also had told me. For some
reason, I still have the understanding, you know, of it… I was trying to
separate myself from what they were going to do.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 55)
The following passage suggests her sense that an outside force controlled her:
Fowler: Betty’s mind was in a turmoil. She still found it hard to believe
that all of this was happening to her. Quite involuntarily, her body
snapped to a sitting position and began to float above the table!
(Fowler, 1979, p. 64)
Hebrews 13:2. This psychological reaction also has historical precedent. When Spanish conquistadors
arrived in Mexico, the Aztecs’ first reaction was to consider them to be visiting gods as prophesied in their
Betty Andreasson also described a dreamlike “anesthetic”. She was calmed and soothed
by the introduction of something good tasting.
Fowler: Betty waited expectantly. Soon, she felt a thick syrup seeping
into her mouth through the connecting tube.
Betty A.: It tastes sweet. Tastes good. Oh! This feels good! Oh, so
relaxing… I feel very relaxed—just like a whirlpool.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 72)
This suggests regression to an infantile oral fantasy as a source of comfort. She also
experienced pleasure in her entire body:
The liquid again poured in around her. She experienced the same soothing
Betty: Oh, that feels good. That feels real good. They’re putting, ah, that stuff all
in it. It’s getting, uh--and I’m breathing through the tube. It feels good, and
they’re putting that, like a whirlpool17 on. Oh, this is so good!
(Fowler, 1979, p. 114)
Late in the account, an extreme reaction occurred that contains elements of hysterical
conversion and developed into a channeling episode:
Joseph: What does it feel like, Betty?
Betty: Feels like I can hardly feel them. [Her hands and feet] are so numb that I
don’t have any feeling, like I’m stuck to something.
Betty’s struggle was in vain. Whatever had sought to control her had the upper
hand, and at this point she started talking in an unknown language--mechanically,
as if someone else were speaking through her! [italics added]
(Fowler, 1979, p. 137)
From this point in the narrative, Betty did not express her emotions; instead, she
channelled communications from an alien entity. Betty Andreasson remained passive
and compliant under the controlling context of hypnosis. Her disclosures appeared to
flow with the intentions and interests of her interviewers. She possessed demonstrated
Here Betty Andreasson employs “health spa” imagery, in a way similar to how Betty Hill could have
drawn upon images from a remembered visit to a hair salon (see Chapter VII).
imaginative and artistic abilities, and a facility for dissociative behavior. At a minimum,
this suggests that she synthesized traumatic personal and family situations into an
imaginative form. Betty Hill and Betty Andreasson shared a number of characteristics:
Both women lived in New England during the 1960s.
Both had disturbing dreams that they later attributed to strange events preceding
their dreams.
Both told their stories publicly only after a significant amount of time had passed
(5 years and 10 years, respectively).
Both became revered as modern-day UFO prophetesses.
Hopkins Narratives (1981)
There is little material in the Hopkins accounts that can be considered emotional
disclosure. One possible explanation for the reduced emotional content is that Hopkins’
analytical approach shifted the emphasis from the journalistic view of an individual
abduction story (“how did that make you feel?”) to a more abstract perspective (the
“typical abduction scenario).
“Steven Kilburn”
“Steven K.” was the paradigm for Hopkins’ Storyteller subjects, who initially had
no clear memory of an abduction but “feel [sic] that something happened” to them. As
Hopkins explained:
Each case is in some way intertwined with another involving a young man
who was abducted in his early twenties, but who, like the others had
absolutely no conscious memory of a UFO sighting [italics added]; all that
he had to go on was the “feeling” [italics added] that “something may have
happened” to him one night in 1973, on a particular road in Maryland, as
he drove home from his girlfriend’s house.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 23)
The physical setting of Steven’s experience included factors that lent themselves to the
presence of fear, such as being alone in a car on an isolated road. Steven’s “feelings”
included drowsiness, confusion, and fear associated with a specific time and place:
Initially, Steve [Kilburn] talked about being in the car, driving home, and
feeling drowsy…He told of his car stopping and of his confusion about
what was happening…There was a long pause and he seemed afraid to go
on with his account. He was obviously confused and frightened. [italics
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 57)
[Steven] was driving along the road from Frederick to Baltimore; I don’t
remember whether I actually saw something in the sky—I believe I did—
and it was there that I first felt that—something... It was that feeling
someone is watching you as you wake up, that sort of thing. [italics added]
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 54)
Apart from a mild paranoia, Steven’s emotional disclosures were vague. Steven did not
say that he did not remember when he saw something, but whether. This indicates a
failure of memory (a trigger for belief in “missing time”), and his subsequent words
conveyed a sense of unreality and strangeness.
Steven Kilburn: I almost feel, lying there, I’m almost high, just a little bit
dizzy. But I’m very relaxed.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 84)
Steven’s inability to remember accurately whether he actually saw something suggests
(a) that he did not see anything, or (b) some type of dissociation, such as daydreaming.18
There are suggestive parallels between the characteristics of the interviewer/hypnotist situation and the
remembered trauma, including relaxation and the feeling of being watched.
“Howard Rich”
In contrast to Steven Kilburn, Howard Rich expressed more intense emotion,
describing a reaction more like an anxiety attack. The setting of Howard’s experience
included a late hour, social isolation, and a hypnotic visual stimulus (light from a
television screen).
[Letter from Howard Rich to Budd Hopkins] Last night, I was just
relaxing and watching television. I was visiting my mother in Toms
River, New Jersey, and I was alone in a ground floor bedroom. About
eleven-thirty or so, as I was watching this program, the room started to fill
with light, very bright light, with a bluish tinge to it. It didn’t seem to be
shining in the window—it seemed to be there in the room with me. It got
brighter and brighter, and then it began to diminish.19 The whole thing
only lasted, say, about three seconds, but when it was over, it left me very
frightened. I felt a deep sense of dread. It was really strange. I’ve never
had anything like it before. I was really shaken. [italics added]
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 89)
Howard described an intense emotional reaction, so it was not unreasonable for Hopkins
to posit a stimulus.
Hopkins: I honestly did not think there was much to discover. I felt that
the vivid light might have been some kind of half-dream in the mind and
eye of a drowsy, late-night television viewer. The only thing that I did
wonder about was his intense reaction. On the stimulus side of the ledger,
there wasn’t much—just a bright, momentarily light-filled bedroom. But
on the other side of the ledger, the response side, there was a very deep,
very sustained, fearful reaction that did not seem to have an adequate
cause. I should have known from Steven Kilburn’s case that an intense
reaction with this kind of vague stimulus is itself a definite clue [italics
added], an indication that perhaps there is more stimulus, and that it has
just been effectively blocked.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 91)
Under the ambient light conditions described, this visual phenomenon can result from the dilation and readaptation of the pupils if a person falls asleep and then reawakens. The bluish color is one of the three
chromatics generated by a television tube and can be seen in color photographs of a television screen.
Until his discussions with Hopkins eventually led him to undergo hypnosis, Howard Rich
did not interpret his fearfulness to be the result of an alien encounter. Hopkins introduced
him to Dr. Aphrodite Clamar, the hypnotherapist who had previously recovered Steven
Kilburn’s abduction story. Under hypnosis--with his close friend Hopkins present-Howard discovered an alien explanation for his fears.
Hopkins claims to employ a scientific approach to his subject. However, his
preference for alien explanations suggests a lack of psychological perspective. Howard
Rich experienced an anxiety attack while dozing in front of a suspenseful television
program in his mother’s home late at night.20 Hopkins’ positing of an additional
precipitating event--and a concomitant “blocking” agent based on the Steven Kilburn
paradigm--constituted a further dulling of Occam’s Razor.
Howard Rich also reported psychological reactions that suggest sleep paralysis or
a dissociated state:
Howard Rich: I feel like I can’t move. I feel like there’s some people
there [italics added]…And they’re looking at me…I can’t see it, though.
That bright light again. It’s all around me. I feel like I’m floating [italics
added]…It’s cold, too. It’s very cold.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 95-96)
“Denis MacMahon”
Another of Hopkins’ Storytellers reported that the aliens had no emotions, yet
they “read” emotions from human beings
Hopkins: And you said they were just compassionless, just...
Denis: No feelings. [italics added] The doctor one... peered into my face. I
mean, peered, stared intently. And I mean, the eyes were... he seemed to
Given the precipitating conditions, it is not unreasonable to suggest that it would have been more
remarkable if Howard had not become fearful.
gauge emotion from eye contact. And it was much more steady, intent, I
mean, very, very intense gaze. And it was right into my face, right into
my eyes.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 120)
In AANs, UFO aliens (usually non-humans) are frequently described as lacking human
emotions. However, this perception contradicts many other common attributions about
They can recognize and “read” emotions in humans.
They can become frightened by human emotions or actions.
They can have sexual interactions with humans.21
There is another possible explanation for the pairing of a perceived lack of emotion and a
report of the presence of fear. Denis MacMahon may have been indicating that he
himself felt no emotion, even when he imagined that an alien being stared into his eyes.
Such a disclosure suggests that his thinking became detached from his own feelings
(body) and then he became frightened that this was the case.
“Virginia Horton”
The narrative account of Hopkins’ only female Storyteller lacked overt emotional
disclosures. Its lack of fear even prompted Hopkins to devise an explanation to explain
such an absence. However, Virginia initially reported that her unusual encounter was
with a “beautiful deer in the woods”. Hopkins re-interpreted this as an alien encounter
that was disguised to hide its true aspect. The evocation of a forest setting recalled the
isolated location of the Betty and Barney Hill story, as well as the quality of childhood
This belief is ancient. Genesis 6:2-4 describes humans mating with the presumably non-human nephilim,
which has been translated as “fallen ones” or “ones who came down from the sky”.
delight in nature expressed by Betty Andreasson. Virginia Horton’s memory continued
the pattern whereby female Storytellers associate a more positive emotional outlook with
their anomalous experiences.
Strieber Narrative (1987)
Strieber’s reported experiences were set in a forest cabin, in an isolated setting
possessing many of the characteristics already associated with the presence of fear.
Although he was not completely alone in this setting (family members and, later, friends
were also present), he described pre-existing fears about personal security. When
describing the onset of his experience, Strieber included the kinds of vague impressions
and confusion that Storytellers often associate with the early stages of abduction:
I could not imagine what could be going on, and I got very uneasy. [italics added]
(Strieber, 1987, p. 21)
As his story developed toward an awareness of alien abduction, he reported that he
reacted with strong emotion. However, he subsequently forgot the event and reported
confusion about the cause of his emotional state:
I had the impression that I was being raped, and for the first time I felt anger.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 30)
I had no idea that I was suffering from emotional trauma, or that dozens of other
people had been through very similar ordeals after being taken by the visitors.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 33)
As he continued to explore his feelings, he reported a deep sadness.
A few mornings later at about ten, I was sitting at my desk when things just
seemed to cave in on me. Wave after wave of sorrow passed over me.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 40)
Once Strieber was under hypnosis22, the memories and fears appeared in full force:
No written words...can convey my feelings at that moment. All I can say is that I
relived fear so raw, profound, and large [italics added] that I would not have
thought it possible that such an emotion could exist.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 62)
Despite Strieber’s initial positive reaction, Hopkins warned him that hypnosis can
be traumatic. This may have shaped Strieber’s subsequent emotional response:
Budd Hopkins told me that first hypnosis sessions were often traumatic. These
memories are buried for a reason: they are frightful in the extreme [italics
I felt complex emotions, ranging from the deepest inner unrest to what I can only
describe as an urgency to compliance.23
(Strieber, 1987, p. 77)
Strieber write eloquently self-consciously, and extensively about “his” fears, reflecting
his skills as a horror-suspense author. However, he is less revealing of other emotions.
His focus and precision--combined with his total control over autobiographical material-make it difficult to determine if there are other emotional factors at work.
Mack Narratives (1994)
Compared with Storytellers in previous narratives, Mack’s patients appeared to
have more emotional problems. Mack took more thorough personal histories than other
Narrators and--perhaps because of his clinical perspective--his Storytellers were
described as having a variety of past and present emotional difficulties. Mack saw his
role as helping his Storytellers to integrate their distressing and often fearful experiences
into a positive spiritual identity and source of meaning.
Strieber also acknowledges the fear of hypnosis that can overlay the recollection of any actual
experiences: “I had never been hypnotized before and I was apprehensive about it.” (Strieber, 1987, p. 51)
References to compliance illustrate another parallel between the alien abduction and hypnotherapy
settings. Is the subject experiencing a motivation toward compliance with alien instructions, or with those
of the interviewer?
“Ed” initially experienced distress while walking along the coast of Maine at
night with his girlfriend:
Suddenly Ed found himself becoming tense, moody, and withdrawn. He
became sweaty and worried [italics added] and grabbed Lynn’s hand
tightly. He had no idea what his distress was about.
(Mack, 1994, p. 51)
A week or so later, he began having “flashbacks” of an alien encounter that he had in
high school some thirty years earlier.24 This led him to become involved in UFO
organizations, through which he was referred to Dr. Mack.
Ed’s personal history suggests a number of fear antecedents. From early
childhood, Ed was unusually fearful of doctors and medical procedures. He also reported
experiencing night fears during early childhood:
[Ed] referred to nighttime fears from perhaps age four when he would
wake up in terror, screaming for his parents [italics added], after having
dreamed of going down a path “into a field on some railroad tracks, and
then the railroad tracks would disappear into some sort of starry, black
night.” During the period when he had this dream he had “deep anxiety
about going to sleep at night” and was afraid to be in his room by himself
in the dark. [italics added]
(Mack, 1994, p. 56)
As an adult, Ed was employed as an engineering technician in spite of the fact that he
reported a poor fit with this type of education:
In engineering school [Ed] found himself “frozen emotionally” and
“angry, frustrated, and despondent.” After less than a semester at an
engineering college, he transferred to a small liberal arts college where he
tried “to find out what makes civilization tick, trying to understand the
nature and structure [italics added] of human civilization”... and what he
calls “the bigger quest.”
Mack focused on the timing of Ed’s high school alien encounter, which took place two months before
that of Betty and Barney Hill.
(Mack, 1994, p. 55)
Even after changing schools and majors, Ed approached life with an engineering mindset,
as indicated by the highlighted passages above. Ed experienced considerable
ambivalence trying to reconcile his human feelings and needs with his technological
orientation. In this regard, Mack stated:
When I met Ed he was having trouble finding his proper “niche,” was
“lost in the desert,” and “beating his head against the wall.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 55)
Mack hypnotized Ed to help him recover memories of an adolescent alien
abduction, which allegedly took place in the summer of 1961 while Ed slept in a car near
the ocean on a foggy night. During a recovered memory, Ed experienced the somatic
signals that he was entering a trance state. A surge of anger brought him temporary
relief. However, the continuing awareness of being looked at25 led to dissociation.
As the tingling sensation “at the base of the skull” continued, Ed felt
himself drifting out of the car. He made a growling sound as his anger
came back, but then he felt relaxed and even “happy,” [italics added]
which puzzled him. Two or three of the beings were “looking at me” and
Ed experienced “a sensation of floating, and my whole body is starting to
float...” At this point in the session Ed felt confused and tried to “keep
control of what’s going on.” [Mack] encouraged him to stay with his
actual experience...
Then [Ed] said, “I’m sort of like zapping through all this cellular, atomictype structure [italics added], and I’m seeing, I’m just penetrating through
it. I just penetrate. It just keeps coming and coming and coming.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 57)
As indicated in this description, Ed feared a loss of control and defended against his fear
first with anger, then with dissociation, and finally highly technical and detached visual
“Being looked at” is also characteristic of being hypnotized.
imagery. This process can be seen as related to the identity and vocational issues in Ed’s
life at the time of his interview.
“Sheila N.”
Sheila came to Dr. Mack for “relief from the stress of what she called ‘electrical
dreams’ that had begun more than eight years earlier, following her mother’s death”
(page 69). She had already received seven years of traditional psychotherapy.
During the period following her mother’s death, Sheila was in great pain, felt
unable to grieve, and began seeing many airplanes in the night sky.
She also began to have recurring dreams in which she would experience
terror [italics added], be unable to move, and her body would feel as if it
were vibrating or “full of electricity.” At first she called these “spiritual
dreams,” and they made her feel like someone or something else were
controlling her body, as if she were “possessed” by demons.
(Mack, 1994, p. 70)
Within eighteen months following her mother’s death, Sheila experienced the loss
of a number of other close friends and family members, and also felt betrayed by her
therapist. She became depressed to the point of suicidal impulses.
Frustrated with the lack of progress in her weekly appointments and
feeling unable to trust her therapist, Sheila’s despair deepened... Refusing
to honor Sheila’s requests, her therapist still insisted upon talking with
[Sheila’s] pastor and her husband of her work with him. Feeling
desperately bereft and alone, on July 17, 1985, Sheila bought a bottle of
aspirin and ingested twenty tablets with “every intention of taking them
(Mack, 1994, p. 71)
This episode led Sheila to begin seeing a psychiatrist (Dr. William Waterman), to whom
she confided that she had dreamed about a visitation by alien beings. Later, she wrote to
Dr. Waterman:
Prior to January 1, 1990, I thought all those “whatevers” entering my
bedroom were only symbols in a dream...
(Mack, 1994, p. 71)
After additional treatment with two other psychiatrists, including hypnotherapy,
Sheila was referred to Dr. Mack. Given Sheila’s history and clinical picture, another
traditional psychoanalyst might have focused on unresolved psychotherapeutic issues,
such as loss, abandonment and betrayal. However, Mack moved directly to hypnotic
regression centered on an alien encounter:
Initially [Sheila] appeared to be a rather timid, anxious, and soft-spoken
woman... Her anxiety, I later discovered, was increased by the troubling
elements of her previous experiences with doctors. Her concern with
control and the fear of losing it [italics added] were evident from the
outset... [the] objective [of the first regression] was the recovery of
memories related to the March 1984 experience... Just before the start of
the regression Sheila was talking with me about the changes in religious
faith and feelings of isolation she had been experiencing...
[Sheila] became so frightened [italics added] at this point that [Mack] had
to reassure Sheila that the beings would not come into the room we were
working in. Later she wrote me, “The greatest benefit in this was that I
was certain I was not alone. I knew you were there.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 79)
Sheila perceived Mack to be helpful in the sense that his presence was reassuring.
Sheila seemed more self-confident when she arrived for the second
regression. Despite her fear [italics added], her recollection of the
disturbing emotions of the first session, and a feeling of “tremendous
personal violation” that “someone could enter your home and invade your
space,” she was determined, almost eager, to continue.
(Mack, 1994, p. 81)
After this she saw “a lot” of the beings “standing over me.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 82)
In contrast to her previous therapists (toward whom Sheila expressed suspicion and
distrust), Dr. Mack treated her in a non-judgmental, even approving manner. He was
accepting of her highly unusual ideation and--for the first time in her experience--assisted
her in developing an identity and social support network within his “experiencer”
community, a place where she could belong.
Mack encountered Scott at a fairly advanced point in the development of his alien
abduction story, when Scott expressed interest in joining Mack’s “monthly abductee
support group”. Mack believed that Scott has grown as a result of finding new personal
meaning in his experiences.
Scott’s case demonstrates the dramatic personal transformations that are
possible when an abductee directly confronts the reality of his abduction
experiences and the powerful emotions [italics added] associated with
them. Scott also is one of an enlarging group of abductees who discover a
dual human/alien identity [italics added] in the course of their exploratory
(Mack, 1994, p. 91)
Mack revealed his interpretation of emotional disclosures when, under hypnosis, Scott
described how the aliens extracted some of his sperm. Mack reported the emotional
aftermath of this disclosure and his own response:
Strong feelings of shame came up for Scott at this point, and [Mack]
explained that he had no reason to be ashamed as he had been confronted
by powers or energy forms against which he was altogether powerless.
(Mack, 1994, p. 99)
A traditional psychotherapist might have encouraged Scott to explore his feelings of
shame on an emotional level, or helped Scott to determine what sexual feelings and
attitudes were involved. Instead, Mack chose to reframe Scott’s feelings by diminishing
his personal responsibility for them. According to Mack, Scott reported emotional
benefit from this approach.
After coming out of the regression, Scott was struck by the power of the
emotions he had experienced. “I’ve never had those emotions before,
never, never.” It “felt good,” he said, to give expression through his voice
and body to such strong bottled up affects.
(Mack, 1994, p. 100)
Through his work with Mack, Scott came to accept his “complex double identity” (page
Fear simply does not exist in the “consciousness” of that “side,” and so
there is greater freedom there. Yet it is difficult for Scott and makes him
sad and afraid [italics added] to “acknowledge anything about” the alien
world, especially that he is part of it. For that means “I’m not one of us
(Mack, 1994, p. 105)
In Scott’s normal existence, he experienced the presence of fear, but when he saw himself
as different from other humans, he found relief from this discomfort. In a sense, Scott
was correct in his perception of not being (fully) human. Scott had apparently been
developing a “secret identity” since childhood, in the face of his difficulties with
processing emotions (which may be related to a childhood seizure disorder).
In a letter to Mack, Scott gave himself over to his alien identity in a way that
clearly illustrated the doubling process.
I fear humans more than anything else [italics added],” the letter went on.
“We have tried to change you many times. Many members of our species
have been destroyed in the process... I must say the human being has very
heightened emotions, too much for us to process at times. We are very
sensitive, but our emotions are not as primitive as yours. Your emotions
are recreation in a sense. We are happy to be able to feel more than we
normally feel. Our fascination [with humans] revolves on this. Our
evolutionary process has deemed emotions less important than
understanding, but it’s like candy to a child your emotions to us. It is like
a drug that we enjoy very much. [italics added]
(Mack, 1994, p. 107)
Scott was a person for whom emotions were unfamiliar and more than a little
uncomfortable. One method of dealing with such discomfort is to decide that one’s own
emotions are more “refined” than those of others. However, since this attitude might be
perceived as arrogant and socially distancing, the rationale for Scott’s special emotional
status was placed under the judgment of “superior beings”.
When confronted with people such as Scott who split their identities between
human and alien personas, Mack’s response was to focus on what he saw as the
emotional and spiritual benefits of splitting consciousness between human and alien
modes. His support groups extended this behavior into social life by introducing
“experiencers” to others like themselves.
Jerry came to Dr. Mack reporting “a struggle with many UFO dreams, abduction
encounters, and related experiences dating back to age seven.” She contacted him after
his name and credentials appeared on a television special on alien abduction. In addition,
her mother had read a book by Budd Hopkins and told her daughter that the book
described Jerry’s experiences. Mack highlighted her case as an example of how
“psychosexual” disturbances can be alleviated only when an unconventional “source” is
Life had been difficult for Jerry. In view of her disclosures about family
dysfunction and sexual disturbances, it is possible that Jerry was victimized sexually in
her early life.
Jerry: My feelings during sex are like the feelings I have when I am
abducted. I feel frightened, used, and feeling that I have to endure this
[Mack: at other times she has said that having sex is like “going to the
gynecologist or being raped”]. Also, I think that I will be hurt at any
Assuming that her sexual problem was rooted in early incest or sexual
abuse, Jerry and her ex-husband went to three different marriage
counselors... nothing useful emerged and Jerry broke off the counseling.
(Mack, 1994, p. 113)
In discussing her feelings about her abductions, Jerry stated:
I would like to know how the mind works when a person is subjected to
continual trauma and knows it may not end.
(Mack, 1994, p. 130)
While the issue of continuous trauma is important for understanding fear and doubling,
Jerry’s question was a form of intellectualization that protected her by distancing her
from her emotions. She appeared to be one of the most emotionally troubled of Mack’s
“experiencers” and struggled with emotions of hate and fear.
“[The aliens are] just really odd-looking. Their eyes. I just hate ‘em. I
hate ‘em [italics added]. It’s like they just look right through you... They
go inside you,” which gave her “a real weird unnerving feeling.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 131)
To help his patients cope with powerful emotions, Mack encouraged the use of splitting
and distancing techniques (a form of guided doubling):
Jerry was frightened [italics added] again as she was taken through the
window into a familiar enclosure. “I know this room,” she said. She had
“mixed feelings” toward the leader, whom she knows. “He talks to me.
The other ones don’t,” but she had foreboding feelings about what would
happen [italics added] when he was there. As her fear [italics added]
mounted, [Mack] suggested a device for reducing her anxiety. She would
split her consciousness so that Jerry One, allied with [Mack], would
observe Jerry Two, in the room.
(Mack, 1994, pp. 131-132)
Mack’s confirmation of an alien reality was based on the emotional tone of the account:
It is difficult for someone who has not been present during these hypnotic
regressions to appreciate the emotional intensity of the traumatic
experiences [italics added] an abductee like Jerry had undergone...
(Mack, 1994, p. 139)
By supplying a meaning context for Jerry’s symptoms, Mack attempted to alleviate her
suffering. However, to the degree that Jerry’s problems may have stemmed from
violations by human beings, Mack’s approach modeled a process of denial of her human
Catherine called Dr. Mack for help after a “puzzling incident” when she left work
at midnight one night and drove around to “put some highway miles” on her new car. By
the time she got home, she believed that she could not account for forty-five minutes of
her driving. This “missing time” episode eventually led her to contact Dr. Mack.
Like Jerry, Catherine presented a variety of serious emotional problems and
family dysfunctions, including having had no contact with her alcoholic father. She also
described herself as being “ in something of a career crisis...” (Mack, 1994, p. 144). Her
association of her problems with alien abduction was reinforced by powerful cinematic
images. Mack explained that:
She had become panicky watching the movie Communion, based on
Whitley Strieber’s book...
(Mack, 1994, p. 144)
Her account revealed a tendency to dissociation, as exemplified by her reduction of
painful feelings when “floating”.
Catherine sensed that when she tried to scream for her mother the beings
did something to reduce her terror [italics added], which seemed to
diminish after she started floating.
(Mack, 1994, p. 146)
Mack and Catherine (as well as many other Narrators and Storytellers) shared the belief
that the evocation of strong emotions is prima facie evidence for the “reality” of an
experience or memory.
A kind of decisive indication to Catherine that she was dealing with
something real was the power and authenticity of her emotions for which
we could find no other cause.
(Mack, 1994, p. 154)
This belief reflects a literalistic misunderstanding of the role of emotions, which
frequently can arise from “causes” that are not immediately obvious. In her
characterization of alien responses to human emotion, Catherine revealed her own
emotional difficulty:
Although in her paralyzed state, Catherine could give little expression to
her feelings, “[the aliens] could feel the emotions there and they get kind
of scared because they don’t feel that intensity [italics added]26 so they
don’t really know how to handle it.
(Mack, 1994, p. 165)
In effect, Catherine was frightened by the intensity of her own emotions, and they may
have frightened some people around her as well. In order to avoid the fear of her
emotions, she attributed it to the alien beings:
Recently Catherine has come to the conclusion that the aliens are “more
advanced spiritually and emotionally than we are,” and therefore “they
don’t have the need to be as emotional as we do.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 167)
As seen in other Storytellers, the paradox that “the aliens” are both incapable of emotion yet threatened
by human emotion suggests that the aliens constitute a “doubled” part of the Storyteller’s personality.
The passage above expressed the state of affairs that Catherine would prefer to be true for
herself. Like Scott, Catherine endowed the aliens with power over the emotions. In a
technological cultural setting, this viewpoint mirrors the de facto devaluing of the
emotional life.
When Joe first contacted Dr. Mack, he presented a familiar fear context: he was
afraid of the dark.
[Joe] recognized at the time he contacted [Mack] he was struggling with “my own
fear around the dark.” [italics added]
(Mack, 1994, p. 177)
Joe reported that he was raised in a “cold and ‘emotionally tight’” family. He
experienced the alien part of his identity as granting him permission for feeling:
In the alien form Joe could experience different energies, “dancing drops,
orchestras and music, crash, bang, hard places, dark places, vast, vast,
vast,… I feel bliss. I feel connected. I feel unsafe.
(Mack, 1994, p. 182)
Over time, his identification with an alien identity evolved into a second “existence”, for
which he found justification through its powerful effects:
[Joe] felt “a little incredulous” to discover that he was living “a double
existence,” but the emotional power of the session … convinced him of
the authenticity of what he had just been through. As a man brought up in
an Irish Catholic27 family in which emotion was “squashed,” Joe was
astounded to see how his abduction experiences had become a “conduit,”
opening him to a wide range of strong feelings.
(Mack, 1994, p. 186)
Roman Catholic doctrine cautions against the tendency to split the self. The modern Catholic catechism
emphasizes that “the integrity of the person...ensures the unity of the person; it is opposed to any behavior
that would impair it. It tolerates neither a double life nor duplicity in speech.”
Joe’s alternate self provided emotional relief from what he perceived as his “lonely
Joe likened his lonely struggle to sell himself and manipulate his way
materially, indeed “human existence” itself, to be living in an insane
asylum. “Let’s pretend, pretend everything’s great. Let’s pretend we’re
not all so fuckin’ tight, so tense that we can’t even walk straight …
(Mack, 1994, p. 189)
Joe revealed an immature orientation toward the practical aspects of adulthood.
Mack included Joe’s case as an example of the “integration” of alternate realities in the
face of the impending reality of the birth of Joe’s first child. It is not surprising that such
an event of such physical and emotional immediacy might cause increased stress in a
person who has displaced his emotional responses into alien identities and past life
Sara came to Mack with specific beliefs about what her treatment would provide.
[Sara] was planning to travel soon and wrote that she wanted to be hypnotized
before she left “in order to release some emotions and information that feel close
to the surface and to lessen some feelings of anxiety and confusion that have been
increasing in intensity.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 201)
Mack highlighted Sara’s case for its “degree of spiritual interest”. He stated that “many
details of her file were omitted from the narrative in order to protect her anonymity.”
However, fear was a real presence in her upbringing:
[Sara] witnessed frequent arguments between her parents, and on occasions, saw
her father physically abuse her mother. Frightened by her father’s temper, Sara
would go into another room to avoid being hit.
(Mack, 1994, p. 202)
She experienced powerfully different emotions in her family relationships (see Chapter
XIII). Similarly, her attribution of emotion to the alien beings had a paradoxical aspect:
Although she sensed “a real warmth and benevolence [from the alien]… it is
mixed with a very steely emotion. Serious. This guy is dead serious.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 208)
Mainly, Sara experienced happiness in memories of her alien experiences. These
included a joy in nature also found in previous female Storytellers, as seen in this passage
that resembles the flying sensation of shamanic journeying:
Next she found herself flying in a white space ship with a number of little
windows. It was flying over a desert area—“We’re just whizzing around, and I
can see down below and it’s so beautiful … I don’t know if I’ve ever been happy
like that in this life, just like unreservedly, all the time happy.
(Mack, 1994, p. 209)
When she felt negative emotions, they reflected the sense of loss she experienced in her
own family and personal life.
Sara mentioned that she would sometimes sob because she missed “home” but for
her this has “nothing to do with my Earth parents.” It exists “in a different
dimension.” It was, rather, a deeper sense of connectedness that she missed …
“the content is almost a hundred percent emotional,” she added. It was difficult
for her to describe this coherently. “It’s all about …the emotion of love is the
most …unconditional supportive life. I don’t mean that in human life, but
creativeness …growth-affirming kind of love. It bowls you over. When you feel
that, and when you feel that connection to that, the love feeling is so tremendous.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 213)
Paul met John Mack at a UFO convention. He had previously sought
psychotherapy for “weird” experiences (including a disturbing hallucination after
smoking marijuana) and the suspicion that his paternal grandmother had sexually
molested him. While in psychotherapy, Paul developed the belief that he had had alien
encounters since age three. When his psychotherapist was not supportive of these beliefs,
he terminated therapy after some effort to convince her of their reality. Paul attributed
the therapist’s disbelief to her fear of his disclosures. Mack stated that the previous
therapy was unproductive because of “how few people are qualified to deal with
abduction issues” (page 219).
According to Mack, Paul expressed longstanding feelings that reflected his
“alienation” from society:
Paul spoke of feeling “foreign” (“all my life to my mother I always said I was
adopted. I’m not from here”)…He related this to the negative, hostile emotional
climate he encounters in mainstream society …
(Mack, 1994, p. 220)
However, whereas Joe (see above) responded passively to his feelings, Paul’s response
took a more active form:
At this point in the session Paul seemed to be feeling a great sadness as we
contemplated together how “out of balance” and “lost” we humans were.
(Mack, 1994, p. 227)
As he had attempted to do with his previous therapist, Paul eventually began to
manipulate the relationship with Mack. His strategy appeared successful, facilitated by
Mack’s nonconformity with traditional therapeutic boundaries (e.g. inviting Paul to his
Mack: I tried to take Paul back to what happened... on the [alien] ship, but he
deflected this effort... I felt I had no choice but to let him continue... As a human
being, but identified also as an alien, he has had a great deal of “trouble here.” he
is trying to help human beings but has felt attacked.
Paul spoke further in prophetic tones of human stubbornness, unwillingness to
accept what we have done or to receive help.
(Mack, 1994, p. 225)
Paul spoke of his need to feel confident of the emotional climate in [Mack’s]
house before “being opened” further, and commented on the uneasiness about the
abduction work he had sensed in [Mack’s] wife, which was allayed somewhat by
a brief conversation he had with her before the session began.
(Mack, 1994, p. 230)
Eventually, Paul found what he wanted in the Mack emotional climate, which included
flattery for his sensitivity to “the pain of the world”:
[Mack] spoke to Paul of the “hero’s journey” on which he was embarked, and
[Paul] talked further of “this outrageous doubt and fear that’s here.”… Referring
to [Paul’s] drive to [Mack’s] house that afternoon, Paul said, “I was crying my
eyes out all the way here. I was just feeling everything. Just the pain of this
world …When I pulled up in front tears were just streaming down my face …I
have trouble crying in front of anyone.” [Mack] asked if [Paul] had been able to
cry with his father.
(Mack, 1994, p. 231)
While Mack’s compassion for Paul is commendable, he appears to disregard Paul’s
immature stance of blaming the world for his personal pain. In so doing, he may have
denied his patient a valuable opportunity to grow beyond it.
Eva described a vividly physical expression of alien fear that originated in
childhood experiences. Her description illustrates the difficulty of interpreting the reality
of an event from a fragmented set of remembered perceptions.
In her journal Eva wrote, “[The aliens] walked through the space between the
external wall and the door and disappeared just as my Mom entered the room. I
told her there were midgets in the room, that they just walked through the door.
She looked. Obviously she saw nothing. Told me it was a dream and that I
should go back to sleep. I was scared. Didn’t believe her. I was sure they were
real. I saw them. Heard them. Felt them. The first time I remembered this was
last night. I don’t know what brought it on. I’m writing this now because I feel it.
In my veins. As if it just happened. And I know it’s true because I have goose
bumps all over.” [italics added]
(Mack, 1994, p. 243)
In the passage above, Eva retroactively invested a recovered memory with what would
ordinarily be considered excellent evidence of its reality: sight, sound and touch.
However, she attributed the “ultimate” truth claim of her experience to an immediate
bodily sensation (“goose bumps”). Mainly, she was certain of the presence of fear and its
bodily effects. The memories of additional sensory verification were only recalled
recently (“last night”).
While Eva was on night duty in the Israeli army, she fell asleep and had a
disturbing dream.
At a slow time--perhaps three in the morning--she put her head down to doze and
then “saw myself floating from the ceiling…My consciousness was up there. My
physical body was down there.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 244)
Dissociation from the body means that dissociation from the emotions has taken place.
That is the reason why dissociation is an effective protective mechanism in the presence
of fear. Eva experienced bodily sensations--also seen in previous Storytellers--that
indicate a somatic reaction to her emotions.
As the session was drawing to a close, Eva spoke of continuing numbness in her
hands but otherwise felt well.
(Mack, 1994, p. 251)
She attributed emotions to the alien beings that--as “midgets”--physically resemble the
child she was at the time. She invested them with emotions that were highly desirable to
a child.
I remember those midgets again, the same ones that I remember when I was four,
five years old. The eyes again, were very dark, but I felt a lot of emotion in them,
a lot of compassion, a lot of love.
(Mack, 1994, p. 257)
Eva also engaged in a reversal of roles with her psychiatrist, perhaps as a way of
regaining a sense of power:
Eva spoke of [Mack’s] own extremes of intellect and unconditional love, a
“cosmic tension,” and advised [Mack] to “go to a retreat” in an isolated place
without other people in order to balance these polarities and “connect your being
to the cosmos.” Picking up emotions of sadness and loneliness in [Mack] she
said, “You need to know that you are never alone. Just ask for the connection and
you’ll feel us, all of the nonphysical beings that have been guiding you all along.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 260)
In her alien memory, Eva had “seen” love in “dark” eyes. In seeking help for her trauma,
she transposed her own negative feelings to her psychiatrist, giving him a reassuring
message even as she gave it to herself.
Dave contacted Mack’s office on the recommendation of his martial arts
instructor. While Dr. Mack was initially unavailable, Dave was paired with another
abductee for social support. He was encouraged to write letters in which he described
abductions from age three and expressed the desire “to be hypnotized.”
The first experience that Dave relates to the abduction phenomenon occurred
when he was three years old. He remembered “three motorcycles coming down
the street towards me in an unnaturally fast way …Dave added…that he had felt
gripped by fear [italics added], and that the “riders” were “black”…He also
remembers having the same feelings, “a vibration of some kind, a tingling.”28
(Mack, 1994, p. 268)
Early childhood emotions expressed in Dave’s account include experiencing joy in the
beauty of nature (a theme previously seen mainly in female Storytellers):
Dave’s next recollections relate to when he was about twelve…He remembers
finding himself on a path that led to an intersection with two other paths where
there was mossy ground and a tree overhead. “It was a beautiful spot,” Dave said.
As considered above, this is a statement about a sensation.
“I was looking at it in awe of it, saying ‘This is so beautiful!’ I looked up at the
branch of the tree, and then that’s all I can remember.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 268)
We were coming to the end of the regression, and Dave felt sad as he recalled his
closeness to the mountain as a teenager and how he would try to imagine what it
was like before the white men came. “That’s what started me out in this spiritual
quest in this lifetime …I yearned for those time when it was all big trees and
everything was pure…that’s why,” he explained, after seeing the UFO at nineteen
he began to read the Don Juan books.
(Mack, 1994, p. 287)
After almost a year of psychotherapy, hypnosis, and group participation, Mack agreed
with Dave’s own self-assessment that he was a 39-year-old man with the emotionally
maturity of an adolescent. Both came to believe that this was due to Dave experiencing
multiple deaths during adolescence in past lives.
Like a number of other Storytellers selected by John Mack for his narrative, Peter
sought out Mack specifically because of his focus on alien abductions (“I might have had
that, too,” he thought after hearing about Mack’s work). Peter also described
experiencing the presence of fear from an early age that continued into adult life:
In our first meeting Peter told of remembering consciously going to a storage
space at the end of a long hallway in his home and feeling afraid [italics added] of
what was on the other side of a window which he used to sit by.
The most powerful experience that Peter recalled consciously before we met,
occurred in the Caribbean during the 1987-88 period. During this time he
remembers he would sometimes go to sleep afraid [italics added] and then be
awoken by a touch…
(Mack, 1994, p. 295)
Like others accepted into Mack’s inner circle of “experiencers”, Peter based the reality of
alien abduction on the presence of emotions, even when he had competing thoughts that
the abductions were not real:
Two days after our first meeting, Peter [said] that the only reason he believed
what he told [Mack] “was real was because there were emotions.” He found that
he was “distancing” from what he had told us and “wants to believe it’s his
(Mack, 1994, p. 296)
Peter also expressed the familiar paradox that aliens both control and fear human
emotions. During a disturbing dream:
[Peter] had “the feeling” that the [alien] beings are afraid of “the power that we
may possess.”
Peter saw two beings, the one “that controls my feelings” being slightly taller than
the other.
(Mack, 1994, p. 296)
In these images, Peter expressed an emotional ambivalence that is characteristic of
humans. He also identified an alien with the power to control emotions as possessing
greater stature when compared to an alien who did not possess this power. The emotional
dynamics of the control itself were also described in physical terms (also see Chapter
The smaller being was holding an instrument that looked like “the flashlights
policemen hold with a head on it and it’s pulsing”…The smaller being lifted up
the light, “holds it there and hits me in the head with it.” After that Peter felt cold,
shaking, and shivering on the couch in terror as control of “my functions” was
“shut down.” A shift occurred then…and he felt more peaceful. [italics added]
“My body feels like it’s cut off from my neck, from my head.” Despite his
nakedness, the fear and sense of humiliation were also gone.
(Mack, 1994, p. 297)
In the passage above, Peter’s emotions were under control once his head was “detached”
(as represented by being struck in the head). However, as his story continued, strong
emotions resurfaced:
“I feel like I’m going to cry,” Peter said. “I feel like I’m really afraid. I feel like a
little kid. I feel like I’m going to get abused or something. This is not nice. This
is not fun.” [italics added] [Mack] encouraged Peter to breathe deeply again.
(Mack, 1994, p. 299)
This abduction, Peter thought, “was the one that indoctrinated me. This was the
one that made me one of theirs, one of their beings or one of their animals…I feel
really alone now, and isolated and afraid,” [italics added] he added. “I feel
defeated.” [Mack] argued as best [he] could that these were altogether
understandable feelings, but distinguished between them and actual defeat.
(Mack, 1994, p. 300)
Mack responded above with a rationalization, and Peter was not able to enlighten him
further as to the aliens’ motives for their activities. Once the next scheduled session is
underway, Peter responded more directly to Mack’s desire for information. On this
occasion, the emotional reaction went beyond dissociation into channeling:
At this point in the session the timbre of Peter’s voice changed to a kind of
monotonous droning and he shifted to speaking from the alien perspective.
(Mack, 1994, p. 303)
As the sessions continued and Peter expressed that he feels isolated and alone “because of
the experiences I’m having going through all these regressions” (page 305), Mack stayed
focused on what could be learned from the aliens. In talking about the aliens, Peter
described his own difficult situation rather accurately.
I asked Peter how our loving or open qualities might serve the beings. “They are
human too, he suggested, and in their own evolution have “followed the path of
almost rational intellectualizing” and “lost much of their emotions, and they want
to get that back…
(Mack, 1994, p. 312)
As the disclosures continued, the tension continued between the promised reassurances
(provided both by aliens and therapist) and the actual distress experienced by the
abductee/patient, which triggered additional dissociative episodes:
Two beings have come for him, but it is “subtler now.” A lot of the “formality is
gone now,” and it is “not necessary to be afraid…” Nevertheless, Peter sat on the
bed shaking with fear. [italics added] As if his “spirit” were up in the corner of
the room, he could look down upon his body on the bed.
(Mack, 1994, p. 317)
Throughout this process, Mack commented upon the dramatic insights into the evolution
of consciousness that were being provided by this Storyteller, as evidenced by the
changing descriptions of the abductions. Here is an illustrative sample:
Interestingly, seeds of the next regression seem to have been planted in each
preceding one
If there is an evolving of consciousness evident in the sessions, it means (1) Peter
is perceiving differently experiences that have already occurred; (2) his psyche is
bringing into his consciousness those abduction element that... serve... his
evolution, or (3) a more outlandish thought--his changed consciousness is actually
altering the nature of the past experiences themselves. Since we do not know in
what reality these events have occurred in the first place, it is difficult to choose
among the possibilities.
(Mack, 1994, p. 330)
This chapter began as an investigation of three aspects of emotion in alien
abduction narratives. The findings in these three areas can be characterized as follows:
Disclosures - Storytellers’ descriptions mirror their own emotional issues.
Defenses - Storytellers display psychological reactions typical of responses to
their own emotions (even in the presence of fear).
Displacement - Storytellers attribute human emotional characteristics to alien
beings, which characteristics also mirror the Storytellers’ emotional situations.
Alien abduction narratives appear to reflect disturbances in a person’s emotional life that
are related to the presence of fear. Exploration of key AANs reveal that the emotional
fear realm is one of the most significant of those identified by Sardello. Storytellers bring
specific pre-existing emotional conflicts to their alien encounter. Ultimately, there are
two prominent emotional outcomes for Storytellers: either (a) some Storytellers develop a
spiritual perspective on their abduction memories that allow them to find meaning in their
struggle, or (b) others develop a dual human-alien identity and alternate between the two
as they cope with life. The latter outcome holds the potential for doubling (giving up
human identity), as exemplified by Marshall Herff Applewhite, leader of the Heaven’s
Gate group, who led his followers to mass suicide in order to join the aliens travelling
with the Hale-Bopp comet (Hoffman & Bruke, 1997; Steiger & Hewes, 1997).
The virtualization of the social world through television initially and now the
Internet has been accompanied by an increased distancing from the body, our emotions,
and other people. From these virtual sources, it is possible to find explanations for the
imaginal content of the stories, including:
Media exposure (Mannion, 1998). This may involve a lack of inner imaginal
resources--combined with immersion in media images--that leads to substitution
by media images.
Blunting of emotional responses, leading to a type of addiction to fantasy
Dissociation and doubling, exacerbated by hypnosis (especially evident in cases
where channeling is present).
When the Storytellers discuss their interaction with the alien beings, the alien
beings are frequently described as devoid of feelings and emotionless. This perception is
a source of fear for human beings, who perceive that they are dealing with an intelligent
entity that does not have emotions. An analytic interpretation would suggest that the
person confronts an unemotional introject (an ego fragment or double).
The aliens in a typical abduction narrative are called “greys”, which indicates a
colorless quality associated with lack of emotion, somewhat like doctors or scientists
whose popular image of detachment is represented by laboratory “whites”. The aliens
have large, black eyes, which are all-seeing yet distant and cold. Some of them are thin
and insect-like. Some aliens are perceived as asexual, or they possess a sexuality that
may be indistinct (suggesting psychosexual conflict). The aliens may be attributed with
preoccupation with human bodily processes and human emotions. However, their deep
knowledge of human emotional processes, ability to “mirror” the human emotions
themselves, and the perceived communications presented as “telepathy”, suggest that
Storytellers are actually relating to aspects of their own minds and personalities.
“You can’t reason with it. It feels no pity.
It will never stop until you are dead.”
Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), The Terminator (1983)
On September 11, 2001, the conscious presence of terroristic fear in our daily
lives increased dramatically. Since that day, whenever people fly on airplanes or go to
public places, they scan the crowd for people who look threatening. Prior to Sept. 11th-at least for Americans--suicide bombers, hijacked airliners and the threat of nuclear and
biological attack were mainly the stuff of Hollywood movies. Terroristic fear always
involves an impersonal attack and the ever-present awareness that such an attack could
take place. Because of this impersonal quality, Sardello identifies one of the terror’s
goals as soul-killing.
Other types of intentionally violent acts, such as conventional military operations
or even political assassination, may have terroristic effects, but their goals are to
neutralize or eliminate specific targets. The perpetrators and agents of modern
ideological and religious terror plan and act with deliberate impersonality. Although they
may target people who they perceive to belong to a particular group, their victims’
individualities and identities typically mean nothing to them, and in terms of suicide
attacks, neither do their own. Through this quality of impersonality, the terrorist project
assumes the godlike form of a juggernaut, from the Hindu Jaganath festival during
which a gigantic rolling cart full of deities may crush their own supplicants to death. In
James Cameron’s powerful film The Terminator (1983), the most terrifying dramatic
aspect of the futuristic cyborg was not its own military programming, but our human
response to its relentless stalking and killing of any woman with a specific name, along
with anyone else who got in its way.1
The fear of terrorism is often exploited by politicians and the media for their own
purposes. Before September 11th, violent street crime was the source of most terroristic
fear in the United States. Crime becomes terroristic in nature when the victim selection
process is impersonal and opportunistic (for example, muggings, drive-by shootings,
rape, serial killings). Such criminal acts are motivated by egoistic or materialistic
concerns rather than ideology. In contrast, ideological terrorists believe that their actions
serve a higher purpose. Some of these, such as the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, act on
beliefs that are idiosyncratic and self-generated. Others--such as international terrorists-act on acquired beliefs that are distortions of widely held religious or political ideas.
Both types of terrorists frequently publicize their beliefs and intentions with a hyperrationalistic fervor.
How do people react to terrorist acts? How do they respond to the presence of
terroristic fear? When a person reacts to a traumatic event (stimulus) in terms of their
Terroristic robot threats also embody the Jewish concept of the golem, a creation of man that turns against
him. This has relevance to our understanding of some modern terrorists (including Osama bin Laden),
whom America armed and supported when they fought our enemies. If alien abduction narratives may be
part of a golemic folklore tradition, this suggests that we look for their source in our own activities.
individual psychology, there is a fear reaction (response). In the most serious cases,
psychological problems such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop. When
persons or even whole societies are qualitatively changed by the continuous presence of
fear, this indicates a fear phenomenon. The continuous presence of fears within a society
contributes to spiritual numbing and destructive human behavior (Lifton, 1986; Sardello,
1999). The physical attacks of September 11th caused fear reactions, but their effects
also include increased fear as a continuous presence, which was also part of the terrorists’
A study of New York City schoolchildren (Applied Research and Consulting,
2002) found that psychological vulnerability to the events of September 11 was a
function of:
physical proximity to the attacks.
having a parent or family member at the scene who was killed, injured, or even
one who escaped harm.
the amount of previous trauma the child had experienced before September 11th.
degree of exposure to media images of the events.
With media saturation, proximity to terror expands to include everyone watching.
Research has shown that prior trauma increases both the impact and probability of future
trauma, both in terms of increased vulnerability and actual occurrence. Media saturation
of terroristic fear in response to September 11th has put most Americans in the category
of increased vulnerability to future trauma.
Sardello writes that:
Terror, besides bringing death into conscious imagination, brings images
of being disfigured, paralyzed, maimed, or perhaps imprisoned, tortured.
Terrorism kills the sense that we have a future, a life destiny.2 Once the
possibility of being subjected to this sort of terror enters the soul life, our
capacity to look toward the future with joy and anticipation dulls. Our
interest subtly withdraws from the world; there seems to be nothing of
value to do anymore unless it is for our own immediate benefit or
pleasure. The effect of terrorism is not merely to kill people but to
commit soul murder on those of us not directly affected. It views people
as objects, and we become objects, even to ourselves.
(Sardello, 1999, p. 60)
The long-term result of the phenomenon of terroristic fear is the loss of the ability to feel
safe. Even when personal security measures are undertaken, the result may be more
rather than less fear:
The measures taken to defend against this form of fear also contribute to
the dehumanizing process. We are subjected to guards at the airport, the
courthouse, schools, sports events. Video cameras watch us at the bank,
the store, the parking lot. There to protect us, they nevertheless turn us
into objects and cause a contraction of the soul. They make us all more
mean-spirited, paranoid, mistrustful.
(Sardello, 1999, p. 59)
In alien abduction narratives, the actions of the aliens appear terroristic, in that
people are kidnapped against their will and experimented on. Most Storytellers report
terror when they are first approached or attacked. In order to cope with these feelings,
they seek some meaning in the alien’s terroristic actions, whether the meaning is clear or
not. Storytellers struggle to understand why they were “chosen” and the meaning of the
aliens’ painful medical experiments. Some come to believe that they were selected due
to unique qualities, that the alien intentions were not malevolent, or that the aliens are
doing this “for my own good and the good of humanity.”
See Chapter XIV (Suffering and Death) for more implications of this loss.
Fuller-Hills Narrative (1966)
In the Betty and Barney Hill story, Barney’s account carried fear elements related
to terror. Betty remembered being fully conscious and walking into the space ship, in
contrast to Barney, who did not remember how he got there. Although Betty described
intense body fear experiences (see Chapter VII), she came to view the aliens as
reasonable and sympathetic, almost sociable. They answered her questions, alleviated
her pain (which they had caused), showed her maps, and conversed with her as if she
were a visiting relative.3
Barney Hill was an African American man in a racially mixed marriage in 1960s
New England. A person in this social context was very likely to be the target of prejudice
and discrimination, both overt and covert. Prior to his marriage, Barney had served in the
U.S. military at a time when there was still significant racial prejudice in that institution.
There are many indications in Barney’s story that he was highly sensitive to fears of
being attacked. In the passages below, Barney makes reference to racial tensions
between “Negroes” and the Irish, an ethnic and racial tension that had existed for over a
century. He also referred to German Nazis, the twentieth century epitome of racial
intolerance. In hypnosis sessions, Barney told what appears to be an alien abduction
story, but he used the imagery of Irishmen, Nazis, and young hoodlums to describe the
appearance of his captors. These were the kinds of fears familiar to an African-American
man in the 1950s and 1960s.
This resembles a condition called the “Stockholm syndrome”, in which kidnap victims begin to identify
with and sympathize with their abductors (Symonds, 1980).
Barney: What do they want? What do they want? One person looks
friendly to me, he’s friendly looking and he’s looking at me ...he’s looking
at me over his right shoulder and he’s smiling but...but...
Dr. Simon: What was his face like? What did it make you think of?
Barney: It was round. I think of --I think of--a red-headed Irishman. I
don’t know why. I think I know why. Because Irish are usually hostile to
(Fuller, 1966, p. 90)
Dr. Simon: You saw him through this window? You said there was a row
of windows?
Barney: ...there was a row of windows. A huge row of windows. And the
evil face on the ...he looks like a German Nazi. He’s a Nazi...
Dr. Simon: He’s a Nazi. Did he have on a uniform?
Barney: Yes.
Dr. Simon: What kind of uniform?
Barney: He had a black scarf around his neck, dangling over his left
Dr. Simon: ...You said one was like a red-headed Irishman.
Barney: His eyes were slanted. Oh, his eyes were slanted! But not like a
Chinese. Uh-Oh. Oh. Oh. I feel like a rabbit, I feel like a rabbit. [italics
(Fuller, 1966, p. 91)
Barney: I don’t understand. Are we being robbed? I don’t know.
Dr. Simon: What makes you think you’re being robbed?
Barney: I know what’s in my mind and I don’t want to say it.
Dr. Simon: Well you can say it to me. You can say it now.
Barney: They’re--men! All with dark jackets. And I don’t have any
money. I don’t have anything. [italics added]
(Fuller, 1966, p. 98)
Dr. Simon: When you spoke of the hoodlums back on your trip, did they
wear these black shiny coats that they often do?
Barney: No, they did not.
Fuller (Narrator): The doctor is checking to see if there was any influence
on Barney’s mind from the Montreal experience. [Barney and Betty saw
young “hoodlums” during a visit to Montreal and felt threatened.] Could
the echo of the hoodlums Barney saw be reflected in what he pictures
here? Both represent potential danger, resulting in fear, the common
denominator. [italics added]
(Fuller, 1966, p. 117)
Although Narrator Fuller interpreted Barney’s reports as describing an alien abduction
experience, he admitted that Barney’s memories may be a mixture of “very real” and
“imagined” fears (Fuller, 1966, p. 37). Alien abduction researchers frequently propose
that the aliens control their victims’ minds by using familiar imagery in order to pacify
them (Mack, 1994, p. 127). However, the Irish and Nazi imagery that Barney reports is
not calming for him, but terrifying. Imagery that a person already fears is not consistent
either with a fear reaction in the absence of that same stimulus (Irishmen), nor with an
intentional pacification strategy (by alien beings). Such imagery is more indicative of a
fear phenomenon that evokes pre-existing images.
Fowler-Andreasson Narrative (1979)
Betty Andreasson’s story of alien contact contained remarkably little in the way
of terroristic fear elements. One of the few such expressions occurs in the following
Outside the changing room, the entities awaited Betty. She became fearful
and prayed frantically for help. “Ah,” she thought to herself, “What is this
all about? What are they going to do to me?...Oh, Jesus be with me!”
[italics added]
(Fowler, 1979, p. 48)
Typically, the aliens she encountered were benevolent, even religious creatures. While
she reported that her experience was startling and included fear elements of other types
(such as body fear), she gave no indication of any attack against her person. In contrast
to the impersonal nature of terroristic fear, Betty’s contact with the aliens was personal
and communicative. The aliens repeatedly emphasized their good intentions in
everything they did.
“What are you doing here?” Betty asked.
“We have come to help,” the entities replied. “Will you help us?”
“Oh, Lord,” Betty said softly, “show me what I’m supposed to do.”
“We will not harm you.” The entities repeated, “Would you follow us?”
(Fowler, 1979, p. 32)
We are coming to the earth. Man is going to fear because of it. We love
the human race. We have come to help the human race. We do not want
to hurt anybody, but because of great love we cannot let man continue in
the footsteps he is going. It is better to lose some than to lose all. It is
through the spirit, but men will not search out that portion.
(Quazgaa’s farewell message, Fowler, 1979, p. 200)4
Some of Betty’s aliens had names (Quazgaa, Joohop, Andantio), and although a few of
the aliens in the other narratives selected for this study convey a sense of individual
identity, personal names are quite rare.
Hopkins Narratives (1981)
One of Hopkins’ key Storytellers, Steven Kilburn described his alien encounter
using phrases that Sardello identifies as communicating elements of terroristic fear:
Being watched:
I don’t remember whether I actually saw something in the sky--I believe I
did--and it was there that I first felt that--something. I felt very strange,
for some reason, I don’t know why. It was that feeling someone is
watching you when you wake up, that sort of thing. I don’t know whether
someone was watching me or I was watching something strange.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 54)
Feeling cornered or immobilized:
I had the feeling of being trapped in my car and wishing I could go faster.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 56)
This statement alone contains paraphrases of passages from the original Twilight Zone television episode
“To Serve Man”, the 1952 science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still, and also the New Testament
verse John 18:14: was better for one man to die instead of the people.
They were as compassionless as possible. Their attitude was completely
utilitarian. They did exactly what they had to do.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 122)
Physical threat and the need for defense:
I’m afraid to look there. I’m really afraid to look there...I don’t have any
weapons or anything...They’re coming!
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 125)
Howard Rich also used language describing a terror of being pursued:
[Hopkins] glanced at him and sensed his unease. “As soon as [Dr.
Clamar] had me in a trance, I suddenly had a flash of being back there at
my mother’s house, outside, and I just said ‘They’re coming for me.’ It
frightened me. I don’t know what it means.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 93)
Although Storyteller Denis “Mac” MacMahon rationalized that the aliens were
not acting in an “antihuman” way, he described being treated like an animal:
It wasn’t an antihuman attitude, it was more of a “We’re going to check
you out, pup. Get up there on the table” sort of a deal. I get the same
impression when I take a dog to the vet. Maybe that’s what’s bothering
me, ‘cause we used to own a kennel.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 122)
I felt like a worm on a hook.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 122)
This reduction to the animal level communicates his experience of impersonal treatment
by his captors, whose power over him creates a diminishing effect on the human soul.
Virginia Horton, the only female Storyteller studied in detail in Hopkin’s book
Missing Time, did not report any terroristic fear. Hopkins considered this fact significant
enough that he digressed to theorize about her lack of fear. He asserted that this resulted
from her inability to remember the initial stage of her abduction.
One of the differences between Virginia’s encounter and the other
abduction reports is her apparent lack of any fear. It is important, first of
all, to remember that her story begins when she is already inside the
examining room of the UFO. The reader will recall that the most
consistently frightening time is at the outset of the experience when the
abductee is simultaneously paralyzed and approached by the captors. Even
after her second hypnotic session, Virginia had still not remembered in
detail that section of her encounter, so one can assume her unconscious
mind effectively censored out the “bad part”. [italics added]
(Hopkins, 1981, pp. 151-152)
The movement to the belief that an anomalous perception or even an absence of memory
“hides” a real event--bypassing “common sense” explanations and a scientific null
hypothesis5--is a recurring error in alien abduction investigations.
Strieber Narrative (1987)
Whitley Strieber reported a great deal of anxiety about his personal safety even
before his alien experiences began. He reported fears of prowlers, and he installed an
elaborate burglar alarm system at his remote mountain cabin.
Physical threat and the need for defense:
Because of its isolation, the house not only had a burglar alarm but
contained a shotgun, which was not far from the bed...
(Strieber, 1987, p. 23)
Around the second week in October, I had become extremely fearful about
living in the New York area and decided to move. Had my terror
stemmed from that night [October 4, 1985]? And what about all my
nervousness, my secret searching under beds and closets. My
unreasonable fear of prowlers...I decided I couldn’t live a moment longer
in New York. The city streets seemed hideously dangerous. [italics added]
(Strieber, 1987, p. 49)
I did not understand my urgency to investigate...I always looked down low
in the closets, seeking something small. Under hypnosis I remembered
that I felt as if something very strange was about to put its hand on me and
take me away...On the surface I was quite normal, but there was this
It is perhaps insufficiently appreciated that a null hypothesis is not a “No” hypothesis. It is the proper
acceptance of the possibility that we can draw incorrect conclusions; a scientific prayer for salvation from
its own original sin.
persistent undertone of fear. I felt watched, even though I knew that I was
not actually being observed. I bought my gun. I had the burglar alarm
installed. I got the motion sensitive lights.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 101-102)
Feeling cornered or immobilized:
I had the thought that I was being taken away... An acute, gnawing feeling
of being in a trap overcame me. [italics added]
(Strieber, 1987, p. 26)
I felt like the world was caving in on me. Kept thinking there were these
people hiding in the closet. Went all through the house every night.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 78)
I walked the streets of New York... I walked, but my impulse was to run. I
was trapped... [italics added]
(Strieber, 1987, p. 93)
Mack Narratives (1994)
Although fears of anticipated abduction are reported by most Storytellers, Mack’s
“witnesses” reported few descriptions of terror.
The tingling sensations increased and Ed said, “I sense something around
the car”... he saw one or two figures through the car windows ... the
figures “don’t look like normal humans”...Ed’s fear mounted in the
session and he recalled feeling “just mortified, like somebody’s ready to
jump me...” [italics added]
(Mack, 1994, p. 57)
The general lack of focus on terroristic elements is consistent with Mack’s “good alien”
posture. In general, Mack is representative of the “good alien” point of view, in the sense
that he believes his “experiencers” derive some kind of spiritual benefit from their
The aspect of an AAN that partakes of terrorism is the threat of kidnapping and
assault that the alien presence represents to the victim. This aspect manifests itself
primarily at the beginning of the narrative when the aliens approach the family home or
vehicle. The threat appears suddenly in domestic settings where the person ordinarily
feels safe and secure (see Chapter XII). Since the Storyteller does not understand what
has happened to him or her, the phenomenon is characterized as a random and impersonal
event to which is attributed a personalized (if alien) intent. The victim frequently
expresses confusion about why they were “chosen”. In addition, the apparent medical
quality of the alien experience can bring to mind human manipulation of animals and add
to the feelings of impersonality that the victim experiences. Even in the presence of
impersonality, the human response is to try to find personal meaning in the event. The
person may seize upon such a meaning whether it is relevant to their distress or not.
Impersonality, randomness, and the threat of revictimization can hang over the victims.
Fear of revictimization is characteristic of most human trauma. Research is lacking on
whether documented forms of (ordinary) victimization can contribute to later belief in
unusual forms of victimization such as alien abduction.
It is notable that within these narratives, terroristic fears seem to be expressed
primarily by male Storytellers. This is surprising in light of the real incidence of rape and
domestic violence against women, which would lead one to expect them to express more
terroristic fears than men. In a somewhat controversial theory, Baumeister (1989)
hypothesized that alien abduction stories are masochistic fantasies, based on his
comparison of these stories with masochistic literature. This suggests that terroristic
accounts told by male Storytellers contain compensatory images to counterbalance social
expectations of male effectuality and power. While psychodynamic explanations are
intriguing, they reduce the phenomenon to individual pathology and do not address the
possible meanings of these stories to the Storytellers’ personal situations or the social
significance of the narratives as a phenomenon of fear.
The trend seen in the narratives chosen for this study is that the level of terror
decreases over time, perhaps edited out by narrators as the initial (more terrifying) stages
of abduction become stereotyped and familiar in both literature and film. It also is
possible that the terror elements in AANs that functioned previously as cultural
expressions of preconscious fears, are now all too much in everyday awareness. If this
hypothesis is accurate, the frequency of terrorist themes in AANs will continue to wane
in a post-September 11th climate. The predictive value of this hypothesis remains to be
seen. People may simply disregard alien abduction stories in the face of more immediate
threats. If the hypothesis is inaccurate, terroristic themes may increase as people become
more fearful or displace fears from more psychologically immediate (“real”) threats.
“Time meant nothing; never would again.”
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Time distortion--especially the phenomenon of “missing time”--is a common
themes in alien abduction narratives. The phrase missing time describes one or more
periods of time that cannot be recalled accurately (or at all) by the Storyteller. Many
Narrators and researchers (Hopkins, 1981; Mack, 1994; Jacobs, 1992) consider reports of
missing time as definitive evidence of alien abduction.
Time distortion (including missing time) is not a modern phenomenon. It appears
in legend and folklore in such disparate sources as the Quest for the Holy Grail
(Goodrich, 1992) and the story of Rip Van Winkle, who falls asleep and upon waking
discovers that many years have passed (Irving, 1819). In Peter and Wendy (1904), a
Victorian abduction story, author J. M. Barrie created the character Peter Pan, who takes
children to a land where they never grow up. In his book Passport to Magonia (1969),
UFO researcher Jacques Vallee assembles many traditional folklore accounts that include
missing time.
One’s perception of time can influence the activity (or inactivity) of the human
body. The heart is the bodily organ associated with the tempo dimension of human time
(Sardello, 1999). Experiences of time distortion can cause changes in heart functioning,
anxiety, palpitations, and feelings of panic. Some of the physical reactions and bodily
sensations associated with AANs can be caused by these time fears. When a person
believes that they are experiencing time distortion, they may fear that chunks of time are
being “stolen” from their lives. They can become fearful and hypervigilant or obsessive
about the passage of time.
Soul can’t be hurried or harried. It has to take in events slowly,
ruminating over them, turning them into its own experiences. When the
soul is instead bombarded with a rapid sequence of events that have little
depth, another kind of fear enters soul life. We experience this fear as
“time is running out.”
(Sardello, 1999, p. 71)
To understand time distortion, it is important to make distinctions among a
number of different ways of thinking about time. These include:
the sacred role that time plays in a religious worldview (as expressed in the
German term Heilsgeschichte, or holy history).
the sense of one’s temporal place in the secular world (historical time), which is
influenced by cultural beliefs.
physical measurement of time (clock time), a relatively modern development.
the subjective perception of time (psychological time), which is shaped by many
factors, including one’s behavior, psychological state, life experiences, and the era
in which one lives.
In an individual’s experience, time distortion typically arises from any conflict or
contradiction among these different categories of time. For example, when a Storyteller
discovers that some mundane activity has taken significantly more (or less) clock time
than dictated by past experience or some reference factor (such as distance). Storytellers
recount hours of activity, but when they are returned to their bedroom or automobile by
the aliens, the clock shows that only minutes have passed. Missing time also is reported
when a person cannot remember what they were doing, something that also occurs during
daydreaming, sleepwalking, epileptic seizures, and alcoholic blackouts. There are
similarities between the perception of time in AANs and in dreaming, hypnosis, and
marijuana intoxication.
Time distortion is one of the more subtle fear dimensions to explore, perhaps due
to its disturbance of the very imaginal contents that constitute observational awareness.
Time-related fears can appear whenever the attention is “caught” by a gap or anomaly in
perception or memory. Social scientists assert that such anomalies are both normal and
frequent (O’Keefe, 1982; Caughey, 1984; Spanos, 1996). However, once a person’s
attention (1) shifts toward perceptual anomalies (as a result of religious teaching, drug
use, dissociation, or other factors), and (2) becomes interpreted as a change in the fabric
of reality, fear presents itself.
Fuller-Hills Narrative (1966)
As narrated by John Fuller, the Hills’ account is considered the paradigm for
modern AANs (Thompson, 1990). It illustrates the presence of fear, and includes the
phenomenon of missing time:
Fuller: [the Hills] were constantly haunted by a nagging anxiety [italics
added], centering around this period of several hours—a feeling that
something had occurred, but what?
(Fuller, 1966, p. v)
Betty H.: We did not know what happened in the missing two hours and
thirty-five miles of distance [of travel] until we heard [our] voices coming
out on the tape recordings [of the hypnosis sessions].
(Fuller, 1966, p. 293)
Betty H.: We left the ship and walked through the woods. This time it
seemed like a very short time. I spent the time saying that I would always
remember and asking that [the aliens] return; please, please, return.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 304)
At the end of her account of the experience, Betty expressed overtly positive feelings and
even the desire for a future visit. In contrast, the Hills’ psychiatrist’s more traditional
explanation of time distortion raises the possibility that “intolerable” elements were
Dr. Simon: Well, actually you have a partial explanation for the reason
for amnesia. Psychological amnesia exists for the purpose of repressing or
wiping out intolerable emotional experiences.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 277)
At another point, Dr. Simon observes that the Hills’ discussion of their experience with
others might have influenced them:
Dr. Simon: How about Mr. Webb suggesting to you that something must
have happened to you with that time?
Barney: Mr. Webb didn’t suggest that. Mr. Webb did not suggest that
something happened to me.
Dr. Simon: Well, he pointed out that some of your time was not accounted
(Fuller, 1966, p. 201)
Finally, the Hills’ account includes the idea that the aliens have a very different
understanding of time from that of human beings, a theme that occurs later in Betty
Andreasson’s story:
[Betty Hill] said [the aliens] didn’t understand time as we understand it.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 268)
Fowler-Andreasson Narrative (1979)
Although Betty Andreasson’s descriptions of time do not reflect the presence of
fear, her religious beliefs provide a sacred interpretation of anomalous experience that
may play a role in mitigating fear. Supporting this view, Narrator Raymond Fowler
comments on the “reality” of Andreasson’s story early in his narrative:
Fowler: The events that followed in rapid succession are utterly alien to
the logical model of reality that we have been taught since early
childhood. Like a computer that is automatically programmed to reject
extraneous data, the human mind rejects such claims with the comfortable
labels of hoax, dream, or hallucination.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 27)
Betty makes some statements that imply that the aliens understand time as humans do:
Betty A.: How much longer am I going to have to lie here?
Quazgaa: Possibly a few more moments.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 63)
David [hypnotist]: Have they been visiting the earth for very long?
Betty A.: Since the beginning of time.
Joseph [hypnotist]: Our time?
Betty A.: Yes.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 144)
David [hypnotist]: Didn’t they tell you that you would only have [the alien
book] for a period of time?
Betty A.: They said it would be ten days that I would have to look at it.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 155)
However, Betty’s account also includes references to a non-human (“alien”)
understanding of time:
Betty A.: The future and the past are the same as today to them...Time to
them is not like our time, but they know about our time...they can reverse
(Fowler, 1979, p. 143)
Fred [hypnotist]: Can they see the future?
Betty A.: Definitely
Fred: Can they tell whether we are going to come up with an answer [to
the question of where the aliens are from]?
Betty A.: The answer is here already.
Joseph [hypnotist]: When will we recognize it in our time?
Betty A.: When you give your heart over...When the heart is given over,
each one will see it.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 145)
Fred [hypnotist]: Andantio, is there a more favorable time or place to
communicate with you?
Betty A. [channeling the alien Andantio]: I can communicate with you
when you are sitting at work, when you are driving in your car.
Fred: What is the most favorable time and place?
Betty A. Time with us is not your time. The place with you is localized.
It is not with us. Cannot you see it?
Fred: I still would like to have you come directly to communicate with us
telepathically now. Won’t you please do that?
Betty A.: Would the vessel tell the maker what it prefers to have in it?1
(Fowler, 1979, p. 159)
In the passage above, we see evidence of “channeling” (indicating the possibility
of doubling as described in Chapter IV), along with indications of ego inflation in
the final remark. Within the idea of “alien time”, there are intimations that
“sacred time” also is involved:
Betty A.: Are you God? Are you the Lord God?
Voices: I shall show you as your time goes by.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 99)
Voice in Betty’s mind: Betty, you will have to forget this...for the time
being. There are many other things that we have told you. They will
come out at the appointed time.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 128)
Betty A.: He is telling me now that I will rest and I will forget all that has
happened until the time is ready. Why must I forget? Why must I forget?
Joohop: You must forget until the time appointed.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 130)
This “alien” question reveals Betty’s awareness of Isaiah 45:9: “Woe to him who strives with his Maker!
An earthen vessel that strives with him who made it from the earth! Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What
are you making?’ Or ‘am I not the work of your hands?’”
It is important to consider the confounding effects of the hypnotic techniques
being used to investigate these stories. AAN researchers use hypnosis extensively
to “uncover” primary evidence of alien abduction. However, hypnosis is just as
likely to introduce further time distortion, as well as additional confabulation
resulting from multiple interviewers,2 leading questions, and the effect of
reinforcing misplaced “confidence in the personal reality of their experiences”3.
Fowler: The Andreasson case is an ongoing investigation. There are bits
and pieces that we are still trying to fit together. Dr. Edelstein warned us
that once the basic event was remembered via hypnosis we could expect
further things to be remembered. And indeed, over the months, both Betty
and [daughter] Becky have been experiencing flashbacks of memory of
segments of the event that we had not explored in the report.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 227)
Fowler: Somehow Betty had been whisked from a past event that she had
been reliving to the present time. No one in the room had suggested that
she do this. Stunned, we could not understand why or how she had moved
into the present time.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 137)
Both Betty Andreasson’s story and Fowler’s narration attend to time-related
matters, but fear is not present within the descriptions. One possible
interpretation suggests that both of them come from religious backgrounds, so that
this AAN takes on a religious coloration that is unlike any of the other narratives
in this study. The presence of fear that one might associate with time anomalies
may be offset by the significance of sacred time to the Storyteller and by the more
Fowler’s narrative mentions at least four in one session.
Further emphasis should be given to the uses of hypnotic time regression procedures for investigation of
UFO experiences. An exciting possibility exists that these procedures can provide more information about
these loss of time experiences including possible cases of abduction and examination by UFO occupants.
Hypnotic procedures can be used to assist UFO gaining more confidence in the personal
reality of their experiences...R.L. Sprinkle, Ph.D. University of Wyoming, consultant to APRO.
(Fowler, 1979, page 221)
ominous appearance of psychological doubling that is indicated by channeling of
alien communications.
Hopkins Narratives (1981)
In his book Missing Time, Budd Hopkins sets out to systematize and
professionalize the alien abduction field. He proposes specific categories and methods as
part of a standardized investigative approach (Hopkins, 1992). A key element in his
interview process involves a focus on time factors.
The UFO investigator begins his interrogation of the witnesses. He asks a
few questions about the time and duration of the sighting. If the family
checked the time at some point after their encounter, they would probably
have become aware of the lost two hours. Very subtly, so as not to alarm
them, the investigator inquires into the specifics of the time problem.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 21)
[Dr. Naiman] agreed to give us some of his time, and we began, early in
1977, to use hypnosis in several time-lapse cases we suspected might be
actual abductions… In one case that is still under investigation two young
men and a young woman… watched…about twenty helmeted figures
approach them, and the next thing they knew the figures were no longer
there—and, somehow, two hours had passed! Under hypnosis, one man
remembered nothing whatsoever of the missing time period; the second
man…recalled at least some of the startling subsequent events.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 53)
In the following passage, Hopkins introduces the idea of time distortion through
his framing of McMahon’s story:
Hopkins: I had heard [Denis] McMahon’s account several times, and
Federico’s once, before I noticed an odd gap in their narrative; they saw
the reflected light, got out of the car to see what it was—and the very next
event they mention is that the car wouldn’t start. Nothing about how long
they stood there watching the UFO, or when they decided to get back into
the car… Their story had a beginning and an end, but no middle. I asked
McMahon directly how long he stood outside the car. He was not
certain…Federico was equally uncertain about what happened in between.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 112-113)
Here Hopkins focuses (or leads) the Storyteller’s attention to a specific factor: a gap in
elapsed time.
Following a network television production based on Hopkins’ ideas, one of his
researchers brought him a new Storyteller who responded to the broadcast based on a
personal perception of time distortion.
A few days after the final NBC News segment on the UFO
phenomenon, Aphrodite Clamar phoned to tell me about an interesting call
she had received from a woman we shall refer to as Virginia Horton.
They had been introduced through a mutual friend who had just described
the television segment filmed in Dr. Clamar’s office; it piqued Virginia’s
curiosity. Though she knew very little about UFO’s, she had had a strange
experience as a child which seemed to involve a time lapse, and she was
interested in pursuing the matter through hypnosis. Dr. Clamar suggested
she get in touch with me [Hopkins] first for a preliminary interview, and
on February 21 she called.
Virginia spoke quickly and directly, in a firm young sounding
voice…something connected in her mind, she said, something that had
happened to her as a child. And later, she had remembered a second
incident that also “fit the pattern” in that both incidents seemed to involve
memory loss.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 128)
In the passage below, one of Hopkins’ researcher associates reiterated the methodological
focus on time perception
Dr. Clamar: Here [in these sessions], under hypnosis, experiences—real
or imagined—buried in the unconscious were brought to the surface and
released. The mystery of the time lapse—the missing hours when the
abduction was alleged to have taken place—was solved for some. And the
subjects were helped to be at peace with themselves, and with the
experiences they had reported.
(Hopkins, 1981, pp. 240-241)
However, a subsequent observation revealed that the hypnotic technique itself introduced
an element of time distortion into the proceedings.
Like most persons under hypnosis, these subjects had a distorted sense of
time. Speech was slow and often labored as they groped to recall the past.
There were long silences. At the end of a ninety minute session, they
emerged from hypnosis astounded to find that so much time had gone by.
“It felt like twenty minutes” was a standard reaction.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 242)
This acknowledgment of the time distortion that is expected under hypnosis raises the
question of how it is possible to accurately report on time distortion when the perceptions
themselves may be derived from the method used to investigate it.
In spite of Hopkins’ explicit focus on missing time in the interview process, his
Storytellers do not exhibit fear reactions to time distortion. At least one of Hopkins’
subjects simply admits feeling confused about time distortion:
“Steven Kilburn”: Now, I can’t say for sure, but I believe I was a little bit
confused about the time, a loss of time on that one main experience I had.
[italics added]
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 55)
Strieber Narrative (1987)
Strieber’s self-narrated account reflects more of a preoccupation with dates than
with other forms of time. In the following passage, he also discloses that the construction
of an account is a social project:
I will deal first with what I remember of December 26, 1985, and then
with what was subsequently jogged into memory concerning October 4,
1985. Until I sought help, I remember only that there was a strange
disturbance on October took discussions with the other people who
had been in the cabin at the time to help me reconstruct it.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 19)
However, he begins to conform to the missing time formula when Budd Hopkins enters
the picture:
When I wrote the narrative that follows I had not yet been hypnotized and
did not know what, if anything, lay unseen in my mind. I wrote it over a
two-day period after first seeing [Budd] Hopkins and sometime before I
met Dr. Donald Klein, who would become my hypnotist when we began
to discover empty places in my memory.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 42)
My next step was clear. I was going to become involved with a therapist...
Because of the evident presence of fear-induced memory lapses and even
possible amnesia [italics added], this therapist would have to be a skilled
hypnotist as well.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 55)
The latter assumption--based on the concept of repression--overlooks the possibility that
the fear can be present within the “time lapse”, instead of just a reaction to it.
Eventually, Strieber looked back through his life and found additional
confirmations of time distortion. However, these observations also confirm a pattern of
imaginative confabulation (Conroy, 1989) that may have played a part in his becoming a
successful fiction writer. Examples include:
In 1968 I ended up with four to six weeks of “missing time” after a
desperate and inexplicable chase across Europe.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 119)
In the last week of August I had just rented a new studio apartment and
moved back to Austin from San Antonio for the semester when I had an
experience I know understand to have been what is known as a “missing
time” experience, lasting at least twenty-four hours. I had moved into the
apartment the day before and was sitting on the couch about noon eating a
TV dinner when I was confused to discover that the dinner seemed to have
hopped from my lap onto the coffee table and gone cold. Now I wonder if
there might not have been a period of missing time at that point.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 134)
The rest of the memory is a jumbled mess. I am just not certain what
happened, except that I lost weeks of time…I returned to London in an
odd way, weeks later than I had planned, with no way too explain those
weeks. I cannot say how I got back.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 138)
Strieber was clearly interested in time distortion, but fear does not seem to be present in
his descriptions of time. To the extent that other realms of fear are pervasive, his
narrative resembles a fear phenomenon more than a series of fear reactions. Budd
Hopkins, whose method he credits, introduced him to this way of thinking:
Budd Hopkins had wanted me to cover this incident first, before any
further hypnosis, because of its similarity to one of the most common
abduction scenarios [italics added], the removal of the subject from a
moving car…one might be tempted to ascribe such reports to trance states,
but that does not explain what happens to the victims’ cars while they are
in the trance—and there are often hours of missing time involved.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 147)
Mack Narratives (1994)
Psychiatrist John Mack emphasized empathy with his “experiencers” in order to
allow them to explore the implications of their stories. In the case of “Sheila N.”, he
justified the need for hypnosis in order to help her overcome the fear of an impending
Sheila wanted to know that I believed her and had many questions about
hypnosis and the processes of remembering and forgetting. She wondered
if there is distortion in hypnosis, and what prevented her memories from
surfacing on their own without it. She speculated that it could be
fear...She captured the feelings of most abductees when she said “You’re
always living with a certain amount of fear that it’s going to happen
again.” [italics added]
(Mack, 1994, p. 84)
This expectation might be identified as fear of the future, but the fear is actually in the
present, imposing heightened vigilance and leading attention away from the core of
experience toward perceptual anomalies.
In the case of “Jerry”, the fear spreads as her entire family becomes involved in
the search for time anomalies.
All three of Jerry’s children appear to be involved in the abduction
phenomenon...In June 1993, [her daughter] Sally became frightened when
she had an unexplained time lapse of nearly an hour while she was timing
herself reading a book from school. She looked at the clock which said
6:02, read for what seemed like a couple of minutes, looked again and saw
it was 6:58. “How could that be?” she asked her mother in alarm [italics
added], and Jerry groped for some explanation such as she had fallen
asleep. But Sally insisted this was not the case.
(Mack, 1994, p. 114)
The following comment suggests that a supernatural sense of time is involved:
[The aliens] explained that they came from so “far into the future” that she
would not be able to comprehend.
(Mack, 1994, p. 121)
In the following passage, Mack disclosed how his own beliefs shaped his responses to his
Mack: Finally, in the fourth regression, Joe opened to a profound past life
experience. This material came forth as a result of a choice that I made to
pick up on the phrase “I came back” when Joe was experiencing himself
as a two-day old infant. This required at least a degree of openness on my
part to the possibility of past life experience and a “return” to earth from
another domain. Otherwise, I could have ignored the phrase...
(Mack, 1994, p. 199)
In the case of “Eva”, reincarnation even extends the view of alien abduction into the
distant past.
The abductions “felt familiar. It felt home. It’s, it’s, never felt unknown,”
she said. [Mack] asked how far back her memory of abductions went.
She remarked about past lives in World War I and II and “in Morocco
long before that.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 259)
A later comment by Mack confirmed the general AAN trend toward a highly unusual
view of time.
Mack: Quite a few abductees have spoken to me of their sense that at least
some of their experiences are not occurring within the physical space/time
dimensions of the universe as we comprehend it. They speak of aliens
breaking through from another dimension, through a “slit” or “crack” in
some sort of barrier, entering our world from “beyond the veil.”
Abductees...will speak of the collapse of space/time that occurs during
their experiences.
(Mack, 1994, p. 404)
Consideration of time anomalies in AANs highlights the diverse roles of the
Narrators in reflecting and interpreting their Storyteller’s experiences. Psychiatrist
Simon, the Hills’ interviewer, brought a traditional psychoanalytic perspective, in which
time distortions arise from repression of trauma. Amateur UFO researcher Fowler
discovered and possibly reinforced Betty Andreasson’s religious frame of reference for
temporal oddities. Pioneer Hopkins systematically hunted for time distortion, with
surprisingly meager results. Fiction author Strieber apprenticed as a Storyteller under
Hopkins and carried on the search for time anomalies, but ultimately went his own way
toward “a search for a finer state of consciousness”4 as a professional Narrator. Finally,
New Age psychiatrist Mack concentrated on providing non-judgmental empathy toward
his “witnesses”, whether it involved time distortions, past life reincarnation, or alternate
In these narratives, time anomalies serve less as sources of fear than as potential
contexts for the presence of fear. They provide an attentional focus that the Narrator used
Strieber, 1987, p. 26.
to direct the Storyteller in much the same way that a hypnotist swings a pocket watch
before a subject. Time anomalies were identified through personal reflection and guided
interviews, and their proposed significance was subsequently disseminated through
publications and media. Throughout this process, the role of fear remains ambiguous,
although the Storyteller may report fear and be motivated toward new beliefs in order to
reduce the fear.
Because each of the three “social” perspectives of time (physical, historical, or
sacred) already contains an integral worldview, finding significance in time distortion
originates in a deviation from (or rejection of) social perspective even before the
deviation is attributed to psychological experience. This can be shown by considering the
adequacy of social perspectives to explain anomalous experiences. In terms of a physical
view of time, “missing time” could indicate that a person has fallen asleep without
knowing it, or has experienced a daydream, hypnotic trance (such as highway hypnosis
while driving), fugue state, or an epileptic seizure. For example, in petit mal (mild)
epilepsy--a fairly common condition of childhood--a person may experience up to 100
seizures a day, each approximately 10-60 seconds in duration. This experience of
“turning off” many times a day can interfere with normal socialization and lead to adult
sensitivity to occurrences of “missing time” even in the absence of seizures.
Before the Judeo-Christian era, the source of transcendent meaning was located
outside human history, which was seen as a repeating cycle or spiral. Judaism and
Christianity brought together the transcendant and human realms into one linear sense of
time, which was measured as moving toward the “end times.” In a modern secular
society, sacred notions of time find little support in most social institutions.5 This may be
a reason why sacred time is sought in the psychological realm. Persons with a strong
need for a transcendant awareness of time--who do not find it within their social context-can be led to find it within the “normal anomalies” of everyday experience. Such seeking
can become the catalyst for a new set of beliefs. In a similar sense, some modern AAN
Storytellers see themselves as a new elect standing against a “non-believing” worldview.
They await a massive UFO appearance (sometimes called “UFO midnight”) to vindicate
their personal experiences of distorted time.6 Such a minority belief or anticipation may
be dismissed as irrational by the larger society. This was the attitude of the educated
Roman elites toward the apocalyptic beliefs of the earliest Christians. However,
mainstream rejection of “irrational” beliefs is not always determinative of their eventual
historical success.
In spite of the Fourth Commandment, modern Christian churches now recognize the time demands
imposed on parishioners by transportation, meal planning, and even football broadcasts.
The anticipation of a “UFO midnight” spectacle represents a secular parallel to the New Testament
prophecy of Matthew 24:30: “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky... and they will see the
Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.”
“Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money and for a woman. I didn’t get
the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?”
Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), Double Indemnity (1944)
Passions comprise the most intense manifestations of human emotions. The
passions include rage, grief, ecstacy, panic, greed, jealousy, revulsion, and sexual
obsession. A passion can become larger than our capacity to control it and well up so
powerfully within a person that the normal personality is eclipsed. In extreme cases, the
person embodies the passion and appears as if he is “possessed”. Onlookers may
perceive that a different (“alien”) personality has taken over (an indication of personality
“split” or doubling).
The intensity of passion has been described as “emotion not under reason or
will”1, which illustrates that the personality is overpowered.
We are familiar with the many large expressions of overwhelming
passion: war, nationalism; drive-by shootings; gang violence; the actions
of disgruntled employees going armed to their places of work; abuse of
children, wives, and the elderly; shootings in schools. This anger works
on the souls of everyone, and we all have a harder time containing anger
that seems to have no source but comes up now and then, taking us off
Catechism of the Catholic Church.
(Sardello, 1999, p. 79)
Images of the passion fear realm are carried in many dramatic films. Human
conflict is the core of all drama. Theatre, film, and television act as channels for images
of passion. Their depiction could allow us to develop our personalities through vicarious
identification with fictional characters and their struggles. But if our real lives have
become routinized, and our sensitivity to the emotions of our own situation dulled, then
drama changes from its classical role of service to one of providing intense stimulation to
the point of addiction. In Double Indemnity (1944), Barbara Stanwyck’s greed drives her
to arouse Fred MacMurray’s lust, and together they commit murder. In the Michael
Douglas film Falling Down (1993), an aerospace worker loses his job--along with his last
vestiges of self-control--and goes on a rampage of destruction.
The problem of fear within passion is different from the problem of fear within
emotion (discussed in Chapter VIII). When normal emotions are distorted by fear, the
result is the separation of feelings from their context, leading to atomization (“I don’t
know why I feel this way”), personalization (“They were her feelings; I couldn’t disagree
with them.”), confusion (“I feel that he is mistaken”), commodification (“You’ll feel
great in this car”) and so on. Separation from one’s own emotional life stifles the bodily
warmth and stimulation that normal feelings bring and leads to a compulsive seeking
after sensations to replace them. Fears can work subtly within the passions, but their
results are more directly evident than in the emotions. The activity of fear is always
implicit in negative expressions of passion.
Since passion reveals itself in activity (whether positive or negative), its
occurrence in alien abductee narratives is unexpected because they typically depict their
human victims as passive and controlled (“paralyzed”).2 However, negative passions as
seen in instances of rage and interference in sexuality can be found in AANs.3 A “fear
mode” leading to diminishment of the will can move a Storyteller toward negative
passion or obsession. Conversely, a “love mode” could expand the personality and unify
the will in focused action. Positive passions occur in the form of enthusiasm (sometimes
approaching religious fervor) for the possibilities perceived in these unusual experiences.
Fuller-Hills Narrative (1966)
While Barney Hill recounted his versions of their encounter with fearfulness and
confusion, Betty expressed a passionate joy and exuberance when describing an alien
Betty: Suddenly the ship became a bright glowing object, and it appeared
to roll like a ball turning over about three or four times and then sailing
into the sky. In a moment it was gone, as though they had turned out the
lights. I turned to Barney, and I was exuberant. I said that it was the most
marvelous, most unbelievable experience of my whole life.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 304)
Betty’s initial terror was transformed into positive joy, while Barney’s emotional tone
remained negative. In effect, Betty developed a passion for her experience that led her to
become a leading light in the UFO movement until her death. In contrast, Barney
consistently expressed concern and doubts about his wife’s dreams and stories. At times
These are also characteristics which reflect the situational contexts of both dreams and hypnosis.
Indications of extreme depersonalization or the actual presence of an alternate personality.
he feared his wife’s personal passions, as exemplified by her dreams. His reticence about
the reality of the experience gives an impression that he was simply “along for the ride”.
The Hills’ account also included some of the first modern indications of “alien”
interest in human sexuality (a type of passion), although theirs was not the first mention
of such interest, which has been identified from Biblical through modern times.4
Fowler-Andreasson Narrative (1979)
Like Betty Hill (whose story she had read), Betty Andreasson also developed a
passionate response to being chosen, but her primary passionate expression involved
religious ecstacy, described by the observing Narrator as “unrestrained joy”:
Betty A.: I have faith in Jesus Christ.
A voice: We know, child, that you do. That is why you have been
chosen. I am sending you back now. Fear not. Be of comfort. Your own
fear makes you feel these things. I would never harm you. It is your fear
that you draw to your body that causes you to feel these things. I can
release you, but you must release yourself of that fear through my son.
Fowler: Betty’s face literally shown with unrestrained joy [italics added]
as tears streamed down her beaming face.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 100)
Hopkins Narratives (1981)
None of Hopkins’ Storyteller material contains expressions of passion. As
discussed in Chapter VIII (Emotions), one possible explanation for the lack of passion is
that Hopkins’ analytical approach shifted the emphasis from the journalistic view of an
individual abduction story (“how did that make you feel?”) to a more abstract
perspective, looking for patterns in the abduction “event”.
See Genesis 6:2-4. The first modern AAN was the 1957 story of the Brazilian farmer Antonio VillasBoas (Vallee, 1988), which included sexual themes.
Strieber Narrative (1987)
Strieber identified himself as a person preoccupied with control, and he described
situations in which he acted suspicious, hostile, and even paranoid. This is significant
when compared with the theory he offered about what he experienced:
If mine is a real experience of visitors, it is among the deepest and most
extensive as yet recorded, and I hope it will be of value if they emerge. If
it is an experience of something else, then I warn you: This “something
else” is a power within us, maybe some central power of the soul, and we
had best try to understand it before it overcomes objective efforts to
control it. [italics added]
(Strieber, 1987, p. 58)
In much of his writing, Strieber’s phrasing can be characterized as abstract. Even when
writing about his abduction experiences, Strieber’s passion took the form of
intellectualizing about many aspects of his experiences, including offering an extensive
review of UFO mythology. In the passage above, however, the tone of his language
demonstrates awareness of a force that possesses a passionate intensity. Strieber
encountered forces which even the imaginative categories of his fiction writing could no
longer contain.5 The fact that many readers were affected by his book--as indicated by
their citing his book as inspiration for their own realization of abduction--may be due to
the vivid images and feelings he was able to evoke, and also to the possibility that his
struggle was similar to their own.
Whether these forces are interpreted as elements of Strieber’s own personality (which may be developing
a double, or alien identity), spirits, or alien beings depends to a great extent on the point of view taken by
the observer.
Mack Narratives (1994)
The Mack narratives contain a range of passions, including sexual themes and
reports of sexual disturbances, as well as grief, depression (including one suicide
attempt), and rage (sometimes furious). Reports by some Storytellers that they developed
a “dual human-alien identity” revealed a doubling process that emerged in the presence
of fear. The “new” personality was insulated from the fear as though it did not exist.
Passions that result under such psychological conditions can be dangerously distorted.6
Ed’s recounting of his alien abduction included memories of a sexual initiation by
an alien during his teen years:
Ed was sexually excited and the female being “sensed [his] horniness.”
Although he was “hazy” as to how this came about, Ed said, “we had
intercourse.”... Interestingly, although Ed was a virgin at this time, he did
not recall this experience and still felt himself to be a virgin when he had
sexual intercourse [with a human being] some time later.
(Mack, 1994, p. 53)
This was a retrospective account, so the lack of recall during his teenage years raises the
possibility that it did not occur at that time. In addition, elements of the story resembled
adolescent sexual fantasies.
Ed recalled that he experienced some sort of forced arousal. “[The alien
female] is filling my mind with all sorts of erotic escapades...
(Mack, 1994, p. 59)
For example, the Nazi doctors were passionate about their medical experiments on humans (Lifton. 1986).
Joe’s description combined sex and coercion, suggesting the presence of angry or
aggressive sexual passions.
More than this, what troubled Joe was the sense [sic] that he was a willing
partner with the alien beings in using unwilling humans for a breeding
experiment... Almost crying in his distress, Joe said he had the sense that
he had had a recent sexual experience on a ship “with a woman who didn’t
want to.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 184)
Perhaps Joe’s belief in an “alien” force controlling his behavior helped to absolve him of
guilt feelings for rape fantasies, impulses, or even actions that trouble his conscience.
Instead of sexual passion, a deep sense of grief marked all aspects of Sheila’s
case. During the period when Sheila grieved for her mother and other personal losses,
she became more depressed and suicidal.
Feeling desperately bereft and alone, on July 17, 1985, Sheila bought a
bottle of aspirin and ingested twenty tablets with “every intention of
taking them all.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 71)
Sheila described gradually moving from an awareness of “spiritual dreams” to a
recognition of intense feelings of rage, then to a belief that her experiences must have
been real events7 specifically because they evoked intense passion.
Prior to January 1, 1990, I thought all of those ‘whatevers’ entering my
bedroom were only symbols in a dream. Since that time, I have come to
recognize the hostility and aggression I experienced with it as a
connection to the recurring ‘spiritual dreams.’
However, this ontological belief is characterized as a “greater” reality by Sheila and other Storytellers.
Distinguishing such a reality from ordinary (consensus) reality is problematic and may be related to Mack’s
criticism of “Western thought”.
(Mack, 1994, p. 71)
It is not difficult to recognize that Sheila’s rage and change of belief were connected.
Based on her recognition of feelings of rage, she was able to move beyond one personal
reality that has been very painful into another that offers meaning and social support. Her
change of mind resembled a religious conversion.8
Like Sheila, Jerry expressed a dissociated anger arising from her memories of the
She screamed for [the aliens] to stop and was filled with hate and rage.
(Mack, 1994, p. 120)
Jerry’s rage may not have developed solely from her alien encounter. In her
personal history, Jerry reported that her first husband had been sexually inappropriate
with their children. Such occurrences often foster rage and intense feelings of betrayal.
Dave’s account included an example of how a passion (rage) can be perceived as
an independent force. Mack reports that Dave’s experience directly followed a reading of
Strieber’s Communion. He described an intense but dissociated anger that occurred
during martial arts practice.
In his first letter, Dave wrote “All of a sudden I was overtaken by a feeling
like a rage [italics added] that started in my chest and went down below
my navel. It came out of my body at this location in the form of energy.
A 2002 Harvard study (inspired in part by Mack’s presence at that institution) found no significant
differences in physiological measures of emotion resulting from recall of real versus imagined events.
While not conclusive, such a finding calls into serious question the widely held claim among abduction
researchers that reality is confirmed by strong emotions. The applicability of the Harvard study to AANs is
weakened, however, by its presupposition that alien abduction is an imaginary event.
It was like a rocket.9 [italics added] It was incredible. I was hurled
backwards at a high rate of speed.
(Mack, 1994, p. 272)
Dave’s description is consistent with the type of psychic energy described as ch’i or
kundalini in Asian and Indian cultures, and used for different physical and spiritual
purposes within their religious traditions. Some people report similar emotional releases
during activities as varied as relaxation or meditation exercises, sexual activity, massage
or deep muscle manipulation.
In the context of alien abduction, Peter’s story provided the most intense passion
expressed among Mack’s Storytellers. Peter experienced an initial reaction of anger that
eventually evolved into a furious rage and violent impulses.
On at least one occasion Peter saw small, hooded beings in the room and
would shout angrily at them.
(Mack, 1994, p. 295)
If he had been free, Peter said, he would have lashed out at the beings. He
focused on “this little being off to my left...I’d rip his head off is what I’d
do. I’d kill it. I’d struggle with every ounce of my being,” he burst out
angrily. Peter continued to scream, venting his fury...
(Mack, 1994, p. 307)
Peter is one of several Storytellers who reported having developed a “dual human-alien
identity”, and there are indications that this belief began early in his life. His case
illustrates what could be interpreted as the use of doubling as a coping style. In addition,
Peter reported some of the most vivid apocalyptic imagery about the destruction of the
The use of such a term reflects a modern cultural tendency to describe even emotional experiences using
technological metaphors. Recognizing this tendency is instructive when considering the activity of
Narrators and Storytellers who agree together to identify subtle psychological events as encounters with
extraterrestrial beings.
earth (see Chapter VI). It is not surprising that Peter emerged as a “leader” within
Mack’s experiencer community, as his intensity across these different imaginative
elements provided him with charisma and therefore heightened social credibility.
The passions do not play a significant role in most Storyteller accounts. The
kinds of detachment and dissociation (including doubling and channeling) seen in
Chapter VIII suggest that some Storytellers’ emotional responses became disrupted
before they reach a passionate intensity. When this emotional split occurred, the
presence of fear previously experienced by Storytellers did not press them toward
Sardello asserts that we are living in an era when the normal emotional life has
been under attack for some time. The bodily stimulation of normal emotions provides the
positive feeling of being alive. Living in the presence of fear causes de-sensitization
from these healthy feelings. Once their stimulation is missed, the person seeks to replace
it willfully using the temporary intensity of available artificial passions. Persons then
“seek” passion mainly to fulfill their need for stimulation.10
Once feeling is torn from an ongoing, sensual embodied relation with the
world, the need to feel becomes an insatiable addiction, or it disappears
altogether... The subjectivizing of feeling signifies a flight from the
sensuous world,11 prompted by a full-fledged entrance of fear into the
feeling world... We go to the movies [to be] moved to tears, laughter, joy,
sadness, disgust, rage, eroticism.
(Sardello, 1999, pp. 137-138)
W. B. Yeats’ poem The Second Coming (1921) expresses this in the passage “The best lack all
convictions, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
This “liberation” process--instead of connecting the person to true sensuality--represents a flight from the
sensuous (real) world. The disconnection can occur by means of dissociation, doubling, a more literal
In Chapter VIII, it was seen how emotions become dissociated. As Sardello’s
model predicted, Storytellers’ memories have failed (as indicated by episodes of missing
time), and images that could be seen as imaginative and instructive (visions of unusual
beings) instead became ritualistic and fearful. As access to the emotions receded, so also
did the possibility of passion that is devoted to love. As biographical background to their
abduction stories, Storytellers’ histories include many disruptions and maladjustments in
their vocational and personal lives. They report that being abducted made them angry
and, in some cases, rageful. However, in these cases it was usually evident that their
personal problems had the potential to make them angry already. The alien assault-whether physically real or not--served as an explanation or rationalization for their anger
and frustration.
There was a sense, however, in which passion entered into the lives of Storytellers
and Narrators alike. The AAN mythology became a substitute passion for both groups
and played an increasingly significant role in their lives. Perhaps Storytellers are coping
with their own life problems by redirecting their personal struggles toward a new
worldview in an attempt to resolve their discontent. The AAN movement has become a
passion for many of those participating in it at many levels. For some Storytellers, this
takes the form of a religious conversion process, wherein their fears become focused and
redirected, leading to a normative experience within a belief community.
preoccupation with idealized “other worlds”, or even preoccupation with death. Its extreme forms can
range from a distracting and obsessive hedonism to the asceticism of the Heaven’s Gate UFO cult.
“You realize what this means, Uncle Billy? It means bankruptcy and
scandal and prison!”
George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), It’s A Wonderful Life (1944)
In an age of global capitalism and world trade, most of us can easily identify fears
in the economic realm: homelessness, loss of one’s job and work identity, lack of money
or insurance for medical needs, and the combined uncertainties of a retirement dependent
on the future of the economy, stock market, and Social Security. Sardello identifies
money and economics as the seventh of his fear worlds. He writes:
The predominant myth within which we all now live is an economic myth.
What we do, how we live, and what we value are largely determined by
monetary worth. Money, no doubt, has always had enormous power, but
now it overshadows all other values. The fears surrounding money have
to do not only with survival but also with the loss of identity associated
with not buying into this myth.
(Sardello, 1999, p. 92)
The term economy comes from the Greek word οίκονοµία (oikonomia), meaning
management of a household.1 In modern times, fears regarding economic security reach
far beyond home and village, since one’s home, place of business (or “job”), and even
automobile all function symbolically as extensions of the individual self. This
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Third Edition).
symbolism is reflected in the saying “a man’s home is his castle”; in the way one’s
vocation comes to define personal identity as an adult; and in the role of the automobile
as an expression of personal freedom. To the extent that any of these is threatened or
removed, the economic sphere contracts and fear is present.2 These fears lead to political
contradictions when threats to the individual person and personal property are exploited
to support the fortification of corporate assets behind the legal fiction of the virtual
Economic fears support entire industries that produce fortress-like office
buildings, gated communities, security systems (including armed patrols, cameras,
window bars and burglar alarms), firearms3, car alarms, and even the continuous
surveillance of one’s automobile (using the Lo-Jack or On*Star systems).
Not surprisingly, economic fears and motivations serve as subject or undercurrent
in many cinema and television productions. George Bailey’s panic when his Uncle Billy
loses a bank deposit in It’s A Wonderful Life (1942) is a relatively rare filmic example of
pure economic terror that takes the character to the edge of suicide. Movies explore the
human costs of corporate greed (Silkwood, 1983; A Civil Action, 1998; The Insider, 1999;
Erin Brockovitch, 2000); and economically motivated crimes such as confidence scams
(The Sting, 1973; The Grifters, 1990), bank robberies (The Great Northfield Minnesota
Raid, 1972; Heat, 1995), heists (Ocean’s Eleven, 1960 and 2002; The Score, 2001; The
Heist, 2001), and auto theft (Gone in Sixty Seconds, 1974 and 2000). Other dramas deal
with gambling in both its familiar casino setting (California Split, 1974; Hard Eight,
This presence is experienced vividly by anyone whose house has been burglarized or whose car has been
Gun control laws allow for security rights that are considered inherent in the economic spheres of home,
business, and automobile.
1997) and in its most advanced modern development as “high finance” (Wall Street,
1987; Other People’s Money, 1991). An entire genre--including some of the most
honored films and television shows of all time--is devoted to the interaction between
families and organized economic crime (The Godfather trilogy, 1972, 1974, 1990;
Prizzi’s Honor, 1985; The Sopranos, 2000-2003). These stories exploit audience wishfulfillment fantasies of great wealth or excitement, but they also serve as a fantasy escape
from (or symbolic catharsis for) the economic fears of real life, and as imagined
satisfaction of desires for economic security or economic justice.
Do economic fears occur in AANs? Alien beings do not kidnap humans to rob
them or hold them for ransom. Instead, in apparent disregard of all security precautions
(and even the laws of physics), alien beings arrive for inscrutable reasons of their own.
However, they take people out of their own bed or automobile; both of these represent
fundamental violations of the economic sphere. The “economic” actions of the alien
beings actually mirror two especially terrifying human crimes: home invasion and
carjacking (also see Chapter IX, “Terrorism”).
The narratives chosen for this study were examined for the presence of fears that
reflect the economic sphere, by considering the role of money, employment, homes, and
automobiles. The presence of economic fears in AANs is more subtle than most of the
fears that were examined in previous chapters. In observing these narratives, it is
important to recognize that the Storytellers’ economic fears (like all the others) are
filtered through the perspective of the Narrator.
Stories of alien encounters have become marketable commodities, and economic
issues arise as the result of potential revenues from books, television, movies,
conventions and lectures.4 In addition to considering the presence of economic fears, as
well as actual threats to economic well-being, it is important to consider the economic
benefits (“follow the money”), both on their own terms and in terms of the fears that can
accompany even good economic fortune.
Fuller-Hills Narrative (1966)
During the time period that their story was developing, Betty and Barney Hill
were both employed as civil servants: Betty was a child welfare worker for the State of
New Hampshire, and Barney was a mail sorting supervisor for the U.S. Postal Service.
Fuller’s narrative presented their employment as stable, secure, and satisfying, but adds
that Barney “tolerated” the frustrations of his routine (although his high IQ would have
qualified him for a better job) and suffered from ulcers. These are both indications of
personal dissatisfaction and stress in his vocational identity.
The narrative states that the Hills were concerned about their ability to pay for
their vacation trip. Their economic situation was reflected in comments about their trip
They planned their trip that morning over a cup of hot coffee, Betty
accepting the idea at once. But trip money was not in the budget.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 8)
The planning of the trip that was to have such a profound impact on their
lives was brief and relaxed. The shortage of immediate funds was
partially compensated for by Betty’s idea of borrowing a car-refrigerator
from a friend. In this way, the expense of too many meals in restaurants
would be reduced.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 10)
O’Keefe (1982) discusses the ways that many New Age movements evolve as publishing phenomena.
Their economic context was also reflected in comments revealing their attitudes
about economic exchanges with others:
Barney: ...And I pull over to a service station, and I ask how I can get
back to my route. And he doesn’t understand me, and I realize he doesn’t
understand English. So I put two dollars worth of gas in the car and drive
Dr. Simon: Why did you put two dollars worth of gas in the car instead of
filling it?
Barney: I did not want gas when I stopped to ask directions.
Dr. Simon: In other words, you felt you ought to repay them, is that it?
Barney: I felt I should do something.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 75)
Their feelings can also be seen in the catalyzing of Betty’s desire for purchases that may
have been out of their reach:
Betty: We stop at a gas station to get directions, and the attendent spoke
French and couldn’t understand us. So we went to another garage, and
they told us how to get back into the center of Montreal. And I saw a
mink coat in the window for $895.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 140)
In the only example of its kind in the narrative, Barney clearly exhibited overt economic
fear when--in the hypnosis session--he became agitated about an image of an alien threat
that closely resembled his previous encounter with “hoodlums” in Montreal.
Barney: I don’t understand. Are we being robbed? I don’t know.
Dr. Simon: What makes you think you’re being robbed?
Barney: I know what’s in my mind, and I don’t want to say it.
Dr. Simon: Well, you can say it to me. You can say it now.
Barney: They’re men! All with dark jackets. And I don’t have any
money. I don’t have anything. [italics added]
(Fuller, 1966, p. 98)
After their trip, when the Hills found themselves requiring psychotherapy
(especially for Barney), their economic concerns were significant:
There were practical questions, too, for [mental health treatment]. The
matter of cost was something they could not ignore. Their combined
income was reasonably comfortable, but with two of them in therapy, they
realized, there would be a severe strain in the budget. And the job of
psychiatric treatment could not be accomplished over a short period of
time. In addition to the fees that a competent psychiatrist would set, there
was the not inconsiderable cost of driving to Boston each week for a
double session.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 61)
The Hills’ ordeal was the first to introduce the fear that one is not safe from aliens
in one’s own automobile. In contrast to some later Storytellers, they did not come to
believe that they were abducted in childhood, their home was never invaded, and their
ordeal was never repeated.
Fowler-Andreasson Narrative (1979)
In 1966, Betty Andreasson was a Connecticut housewife. At the time her Story
began5, her family was faced with distinct economic uncertainty as the result of the
automobile accident and hospitalization of Betty’s husband.
1966 had been a disrupted Christmas for the Andreasson family, and
prospects for the new year of 1967 did not look bright. On December
23...a woman had pulled out of a blind side street and collided with the
rear of [Betty’s husband’s] gray Volkswagen sedan, sending him into a
head-on collision with an oncoming automobile. Severely injured in the
crash, James would need weeks in intensive care in the hospital, followed
by months in traction...with the prospect of James Andreasson being
hospitalized for many months and of Betty being faced with a host of
responsibilities her husband had usually shouldered, extra help was
desperately needed. Such were the circumstances that prompted Betty’s
parents to join the busy household to lend a helping hand.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 14)
According to Betty, during this time of high family stress the Andreasson home was
invaded by strange beings. Betty Andreasson’s story was the first to introduce the fear
The events of 1967 were not recounted to Narrator Fowler until 1977.
that one is not safe in one’s home. Like Betty and Barney Hill, her story described a
single event that had not occurred previously and did not occur again.
Hopkins Narratives (1981)
We have seen in earlier chapters (see Chapter VIII, “Human Emotions”) that
Hopkins’ approach shifted the emphasis from journalistic or investigative accounts of
individual abduction stories to a more abstract analysis of how separate Storyteller
reports illustrate a pattern. Consistent with this approach, Hopkins’ narrative discussed
little of the individual economic contexts of his Storytellers. Even employment situations
were infrequently mentioned. Here are some rare examples:
Steven Kilburn is ... young--not quite thirty--and strikingly attractive; in
fact... he has turned down invitations to make modeling his career.
Instead, he is dedicated to a career in the arts, the study of which he
supports by his nine-to-five job. [italics added]
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 51)
Dr. Clamar met with another UFO witness, an accountant named David
Oldham... [italics added]
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 107)
During the five years I’ve been actively involved in UFO investigations
and research, I’ve met four people whose solitary and rather obsessive
interest in the subject, coupled with a few other indications, suggested to
me they might very well be harboring unconscious memories of UFO
encounters. I met one of these, a man whom I’ll call Philip Osborne,
through his profession; he works in the news media and in 1978 was doing
a piece on UFO’s. [italics added]
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 154)
Hopkins’ book and analytical approach represented the professionalization of the study of
alien abduction Storytellers. They became no longer the isolated individuals or couples
whose stories attract the attention of journalists (Fuller) or even amateur ufologists
(Fowler), but a representative type (the “abductee”). Hopkins’ innovation raised new
economic issues beyond traditional concerns about publicity-seeking and hoaxes. These
included subject selection and solicitation, the influence (and investment) of the Narrator
in order to maximize his own economic advantage, and the other secondary gain of
writing about UFOs (e.g., the paid appearances and television opportunities which
resulted). The new economic potential lay not just in telling or writing strange stories,
but also in collecting, editing and publishing them in sufficiently large enough numbers
to constitute a manufacturing enterprise. Such a concern has also emerged in journalism
scandals where prominent reporters are found to have either embellished or made up
stories from whole cloth.
Strieber Narrative (1987)
Whitley Strieber--a successful author--did not describe any overt economic fears
in the course of narrating his own abduction story. His account focused on events that
took place at one particular location, where the security of his house was compromised
by repeated alien intrusions. However, his account included indications of the ways that
his economic status and profession were intertwined with his narrative:
My wife and I own a log cabin in a secluded corner of upstate New York.
It is in this cabin that our primary experiences have taken place... We
spend more than half of our time at the cabin, because I do most of my
work there. [italics added] We also have an apartment in New York
City... From 1977 until 1983 I wrote imaginative thrillers [italics added],
but in recent years I had been concentrating on much more serious fiction
about peace and the environment, books that were firmly grounded in fact.
Thus, at this time in my life, I wasn’t even working in horror stories...
(Strieber, 1987, pp. 19)
Strieber’s euphemistic comment about his horror stories may have been more revealing
than he intended. In effect, he trained himself in the detailed imagination of supernatural
terror for fifteen years, using techniques such as these described during a hypnosis
I’ve started working with young people at the [Gurdjieff] Foundation...
I’ve been in a very intensive period. A lot of meditation and effort. I’m
working very hard on my new book The Hunger.6
(Strieber, 1987, p. 158)
Once Strieber changed his professional focus, it is possible--if not likely--that his psyche
did not keep pace with his shifting professional intent. Even a merely homeostatic model
of cognitive functioning suggests that the sustained pattern of imaginative behavior
described above could be implicated in the sudden emergence of new visions. Strieber
recognized this possibility late in the book:
What if my unconscious got mad at me and started throwing off things
that were really scary, even dangerous?
(Strieber, 1987, p. 166)
With Strieber--as with Betty Andreasson--the paramount factor was that strange
things can happen in your house (or cabin) at night. Since the home symbolically
represents the self writ larger than the body, those who also inhabit a house with you (or
even just visit, as did NASA scientist-astronaut Brian O’Leary7) become your familiars,
with whom you share the permeability of your own consciousness.
The success of Strieber’s first AAN book Communion guaranteed his elevation
from Storyteller to Narrator status. Before the book appeared, Strieber was approached
A horror novel about lesbian vampires, suggesting a desire for the passionate life that blood symbolizes.
Once Strieber’s fame brought him into the New Age mainstream, he was sought out by other prominent
seekers like O’Leary, who went to Strieber’s cabin expecting to be abducted and had to settle for “a very
deep sleep”. In the search for social credibility, such associations become mutually beneficial to both
by his mentor Budd Hopkins, who asked him to delay its publication due to the
detrimental economic impact on Hopkins’ own upcoming (second) book Intruders.
Strieber’s refusal to acquiesce to Hopkins’ request led to a falling-out between the two
men that continues to the present day and includes some of the features of a feud.
Although subtle, the following Communion passage reveals the conflict in their
Hopkins was a large, intense man with one of the kindest faces I had ever
seen. I later discovered that he was bright and canny, but at the time he
assumed a guileless appearance.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 40-41)
In this short but carefully crafted passage, Strieber constructed himself as an innocent-perhaps expecting to be blamed for the economic dispute between the two men--and at
the same time created an image of Hopkins as a chameleonic schemer.
Mack Narratives (1994)
Mack’s assumptions about the AAN setting was consistent with all previous
narratives, which illustrated the direct alien threat to the economic sphere.
Abduction encounters begin most commonly in homes or when abductees
are driving automobiles.
(Mack, 1994, p. 33)
His Storytellers verified this assessment, although with unusual reactions at times:
Sheila seemed more self-confident when she arrived for the second
regression. Despite her fear, her recollection of the disturbing emotions of
the first session, and a feeling of “tremendous personal violation” that
“someone could enter your home and invade your space,” she was
determined, almost eager, to continue.
(Mack, 1994, p. 81)
Situations of vocational uncertainty--even maladjustment-- or recent educational
and career changes appeared in nine of the thirteen Storytellers selected by Mack
specifically for their representativeness of his larger sample. Two more Storytellers were
men employed in the arts8, one of whom also appeared to have an uncertain vocational
identity. Several Storytellers reported that their unusual experiences occurred during
adolescence, or more recently while they were experiencing intense personal crises
relating to their life’s purpose.9 Mack’s Storytellers can be identified using a simple
classification system.
Type A: Male Identity Issues (questions of maturity and vocational identity)
Ed is a technician at a high tech firm in Massachusetts, married to Lynn, a
writer with whom he shares an interest in science and technology.
(page 51)
When [Mack] met Ed he was having trouble finding his proper “niche,”
was “lost in the desert,” and “beating his head against the wall. Lynn
believes that this may have contributed to their difficulty in having
children, for “we’ve been in sort of suspended animation,10 waiting for the
light to go on.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 55)
Dave was a boyish thirty-eight-year-old health care worker in an isolated
community in south central Pennsylvania when he called me in June
(Mack, 1994, p. 265)
Finally, Paul (page 217) was a twenty-six-year-old man “living with his parents
and administering his own advertising business” when he met Mack. Although not
acknowledged by Mack, the narrative suggested that Paul was highly manipulative,
seeking out psychotherapists and then proceeding to dominate and control them. Mack’s
This Storyteller vocation recalls Hopkin’s description of “Steven Kilburn” (see Hopkins section above).
The same types of life crises are typical of those seen to precede religious conversions.
The choice of this phrase exemplifies the assimilation of technological and science fiction metaphors into
daily life.
non-critical stance proved no match for this strategy, as Paul managed to insinuate
himself into the psychiatrist’s home and abductee support groups, until he became
recognized as a “powerful healer” through his “dual alien-human identity”.
Type B - Female Identity Issues (women without established careers, including young
female students)
Jerry described herself as “an ordinary housewife”, and sought out Mack
after seeing the CBS miniseries Intruders, based on the work of Budd
Hopkins. Her mother read one of Hopkins’ books and said that abduction
stories sounded like what had been happening to her daughter since age
(Mack, 1994, p. 111)
Catherine was a twenty-two-year-old music student and nightclub
receptionist when she called me for help in March 1991 after an episode a
few weeks earlier that puzzled her.
(Mack, 1994, p. 143)
Sara was a twenty-eight-year-old graduate student when she wrote to
[Mack] requesting a hypnosis session.
(Mack, 1994, p. 201)
Eva, at age thirty-three, was working as an assistant to a CPA when she
read an article in the Wall Street Journal that described my work with
(Mack, 1994, p. 241)
As presented by Mack, Eva seems to be dissatisfied in her job, which she wants to
quit to devote herself to her “global mission.” She has not told her husband David
about the abduction experiences which have led to her belief that she has a global
mission. She reports that her husband is very concerned about family finances, so
she is reluctant to tell him of her desire to quit her job.
(Mack, 1994, pp. 253-4)
Type C - Career Transitions
Sheila N. was a forty-four-year-old social worker when she was
encouraged to contact me in the summer of 1992 by a psychiatrist at the
hospital where she had done her internship not long before.
(Mack, 1994, p. 69)
Peter, a former hotel manager and a recent acupuncture school graduate,
was thirty-four when a fellow student who had heard me lecture on
abductions at the Cambridge Hospital told him about my talk. “I might
have had that too,” he thought to himself and called me.
(Mack, 1994, p. 293)
Type D: Artistic Males
Scott works as an actor and filmmaker and with his father in his
automechanic business and is a talented builder, capable of repairing
pianos as well as cars. He also wanted to be a pilot, but “all the medical
stuff” he was put through as a result of his abduction experiences made
this difficult. “I’ve always kept busy,” Scott says, “to keep my mind off
what’s been happening to me.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 91)
Carlos...[is] a fine arts professor, he teaches extremely popular classes in a
small southern college and frequently offers extra courses to meet the
demands of interested students.
(Mack, 1994, p. 335)
Type E: Professional Males
Joe, a thirty-four-year-old psychotherapist with a professional
development consulting firm, wrote to [Mack] in August 1992 that he had
had “a variety of ET experiences going back to early childhood” and felt
the urgent need, “as scared as I feel,” to “air out these closets.” As a
designer and leader of adventures in nature, Joe helps people to overcome
their fears, including fear of the dark.
(Mack, 1994, p. 177)
Arthur was thirty-eight when he called me, a highly successful young
business man with beautiful homes on both coasts, deeply committed to
the democratization of capitalism, creating a sustainable environment, and
protecting the future of the planet.
(Mack, 1994, p. 369)
At the conclusion of his book, Mack revealed his political concerns, within which
economic factors play a prominent role.
Huge corporate, scientific, educational, and military institutions consume
many billions of dollars of material goods and maintain, as if mindlessly, a
paralyzing stasis that is difficult to reverse. For international business, the
world seems at times to be nothing more than a giant market to be divided
up among the cleverest entrepreneurs....The economic implications of the
abduction phenomenon are inseparable from the political ones. The loss
of a sense of the sacred, the devaluation of intelligence and consciousness
in nature beyond ourselves, has permitted the stronger among us to exploit
the earth’s resources without regard to future generations. Growth without
restraint has become an end in itself, as the reports of economic indicators
endlessly intone, ignoring the inevitable collapse that cannot be far off if
the multiplication of the human population continues unchecked and the
pillaging of the earth does not stop. Furthermore, if the acquisitive
impulse (euphemistically called “market forces”) is not controlled,
inequities in the distribution of food and other goods that do remain may
deepen, giving rise to potential chaos and war without limits. The UFO)
abduction phenomenon does not speak directly to this issue...But, it seems
intricately connected with the nature of human greed, the roots of our
destructiveness and the future consequences of our collective behavior.
(Mack, 1994, p. 410)
In addition, Mack identified the alien agenda as having economic implications.
Abductees experience powerful images of vast destruction, with the
collapse of governmental and economic infrastructures and the total
pollution and desertification of the planet.
(Mack, 1994, p. 413)
After his book’s publication, Mack faced personal economic consequences when
his AAN research activities at Harvard University caused him to be brought before an
academic review board, which challenged his academic integrity and threatened his
tenure. Mack kept his job, but he was cautioned to be more careful about his research
methodology and how his findings could be perceived by the public.
The review of economic factors in the AANs indicated that:
The preferred locales for alien abduction (home and automobile) indicate that the
presence of fear penetrates into our most personal areas of safety. This parallels
modern findings that increased exposure to media (especially television) increases
In ten of the thirteen Mack Storytellers, evidence of vocational uncertainty is
overtly present.
Economic issues are frequently raised as an issue bearing on the credibility of the
accounts, perhaps as a result of the potential for hoaxes and publicity-seeking.
Vocational identity and status factors can play a role in the willingness of
Storytellers to reveal their Experiences.
Narrators and Storytellers form symbiotic relationships that provide economic
benefits to the former.
Narrators can exhibit economic fears regarding their status and reputation.
poo•ka (poo′-kə) n. Old Celtic Mythology. A fairy spirit in animal
form. Always very large. The pooka appears here and there, now and
then, to this one and that one. A benign but mischievous creature.
Very fond of rumpots, crackpots, and how are you, Mr. Wilson?
“‘How are you, Mr. Wilson?’ Who in the encyclopedia wants to know?!”
Marvin Wilson (Jesse White), Harvey (1950)
Human relationships constitute the eighth of Sardello’s fear realms. The most
basic forms of human connection require courage to overcome a multitude of fears. Is
this person angry or dangerous to me? What do they think of me? Can I trust this
person? Would intimacy with them be pleasurable or painful? This chapter considers
relationship fears in popular culture, Sardello’s approach to this realm, and how these
fears appear in the AANs. In addition, John Caughey’s model of imaginary social
relationships is examined as a hypothesis for the alien abduction phenomenon.
In modern Western culture, relationships typically are understood to exist
between and among living human beings. However, it is possible for individuals and
groups to engage in relationship behaviors with deceased or imaginary persons, or even
non-human entities. Western culture possesses behavioral patterns and beliefs
(established over centuries of folk and religious practices) that resemble imaginary social
relationships. In his cross-cultural study Imaginary Social Worlds, John Caughey (1984)
compared the Western concept of celebrity with non-Western beliefs and practices
concerning deceased ancestors and “spirit beings”. He found many similarities between
the ways that significant numbers of Americans relate to television and movie actors (and
their characters), and traditional cultural practices relating to the dead and spirits
perceived to control the universe and human destiny. Even in an era of widespread
agnosticism and secularism,1 contemporary Christian orthodoxy (including
fundamentalism and evangelical beliefs) is based upon a personal relationship between a
living person and Jesus Christ (the resurrected Son of God), albeit in the Person of the
Holy Spirit.
Mythology, religion, and literature--and more recently films and television, the
socialization media of modern popular culture--have emphasized relationships more than
any other topic, because the conflicts and fears within such relationships provide the basis
of the human drama itself. Aboriginal creation stories portray the cosmos emerging out
of vivid relationships among animistic forces, gods, and legendary beings.2 The struggle
of early peoples to survive is characterized by their descriptions of social relationships
with natural forces (Eliade, 1951). Monotheistic religions depict a divine Creator who
forms special relationships with individuals, tribes, and mankind as a whole. The role of
fear is prominent in these relationships as both terror and awe.
Modern cinema provides a full developmental spectrum of relationship images
and fears. The archetypal children’s movie Bambi (1942) poignantly illustrates
These terms can be applied accurately to the United States and other English-speaking countries; outright
atheism is more characteristic of continental European, European-influenced, and persistently communist
Enuma elis'. Tablet 4. 130-140 (Speiser, 1958); also many aboriginal creation stories.
childhood fears about separation and abandonment in the death of Bambi’s mother.
Harvey (1950) and I Never Promised You A Rose Garden (1977) portray imaginary
beings that provide substitute or transitional relationships to mitigate the fear of
abandonment and loss. Recent cinema has provided explicitly alien companions, in films
such as ET: The Extraterrestrial (1982) and Lilo and Stitch (2002).
East of Eden (1955) and The Great Santini (1979) depict disapproval, emotional
rejection or criticism by parents or authority figures that create openings for fear in
children’s awareness of guilt and shame. Films such as Sybil (1976) and Mommy Dearest
(1981) illustrate how extreme cases of parental rejection and serious abuse can damage a
child’s ability to form a stable identity and the capacity for loving relationships.
As the child moves into a social world beyond the immediate family, a new set of
relationship fears centers around whether one is liked, accepted, and included by peers, as
portrayed in the films Stand By Me (1986), My Bodyguard (1980), and Simon Birch
(1998). Even beyond the fact of peer influence, the pervasiveness of modern media make
it more and more unrealistic for parents to apply private strictures to control a child’s
Adolescent issues of pseudo-dependence are vividly portrayed in the James Dean
films Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and East of Eden (1955). Individuation and
separation from family set up a tension with persistent dependency needs, resulting in
anger and resentment. The adolescent acts as though they were independent but also
carries on a kind of continuing rebellion which reveals their ambivalence.3
One form of such ambivalence is expressed in the sentiment “If I don’t get my way, I’ll leave this
family!” when leaving is exactly what the adolescent is afraid to do.
Films depict the struggles of early adulthood between individuality (protecting a
separate sense of self) versus collective identity. The collectivity can be a praiseworthy
human effort or achievement (Casablanca, 1942; An Officer and A Gentleman, 1982), or
a destructive force such as an extraterrestrial threat, foreign enemy4 or impersonal
institution (The War of the Worlds, 1953; The Manchurian Candidate, 1960; Silkwood,
Heading out into a “real” world that is steadily less natural and more mediadriven, a young person “on their own” faces the fears within issues of intimacy and
sociability. The emancipated young adult has escaped the gravitational pull of a family
matrix, but has not yet formed an intimate relationship or marriage. Many modern films
depict fears of intimacy and its social implications (A Place in the Sun, 1951; West Side
Story, 1961; Play Misty for Me, 1971; The Way We Were, 1973; Fatal Attraction, 1987).
Difficulties in this area may recapitulate unresolved fears--such as “will this woman (or
man) abandon me?” as a parent may have. Whenever a relationship is entered into as a
defense against fear (of isolation, abandonment, or rejection), the prospects for the
relationship are poor when compared to an interdependent6 relationship, freely chosen by
two self-dependent individuals). Sardello describes this as:
Two people cannot serve each other’s needs when they are enmeshed and
thus engaged in self-serving behavior without realizing it.
(Sardello, 1999, p. 190)
The etymological and symbolic identity of foreign and alien is significant when considering “space alien”
Some classic film portrayals of alien fears occurred during the Cold War, with alien threats that standing
in for collectivities that might represent either communism or anti-communism (Invaders from Mars, 1953;
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956).
Finch (1980) identifies interdependence as the capacity to be in reciprocal self-dependence with another
person. Self-dependence does not denote a solitary self-reliance or rigid personal autonomy, but instead
indicates that the person can consciously identify the anxiety that triggers compulsive behaviors of
dependence and pseudo-dependence, and take responsibility (Finch: response-ability) for behavior.
Once a person has achieved an intimate relationship, fears can appear with the
prospect of parenthood. For a parent, fears surrounding raising children never completely
disappear, bound up as they are in issues of children’s safety and whether one is a “good
enough” parent. Films that depict fears related to parenting include The Bad Seed (1956),
Village of the Damned (1960), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973), and The
Omen (1976).
As one grows older, the sense of personal mortality can invite relationship fears
related to generativity, particularly for individuals without children. Cinema depictions
of constructive generativity include Goodbye, Mister Chips (1939) and Mr. Holland’s
Opus (1995). Without productive engagement in support of younger generations, a
person can become self-absorbed in obsessive concerns about appearance, health, or
social status (Sunset Boulevard, 1950).
Later in life, the deaths of one’s parents--and eventual losses of peers--expose the
inevitability of one’s own death. As long as parents are living, they constitute a buffer
generation whose presence suppresses our own fear of death. In Sardello’s terms, the
relationship fears (are there other persons for me to serve, i.e. to die for?) give way to
fears about whether our own life has meaning.7
Where do the main problems of today’s relationships originate? According to
Sardello, they derive from two closely related causes: the over-idealization of
Fears of suffering and death are the subject of the next chapter.
relationships as the sources for providing all that one needs, and the inauthentic
satisfaction of those needs within relationships.8
We have high expectations of our special bonds with others--indeed, far
too high. We rely on these bonds for our feelings of self-worth without
realizing that we constantly use others for our own purposes, whatever
those might be--from getting ahead in the world, to satisfying lust, to
diminishing our fear of being alone, to feeling a sense of security. Even
the act of giving to others is tainted with what we get from such giving.
Such a view may seem cynical, but it is meant to be the starting place for
exploring a view of relationships free from the constant infection of fear.
(Sardello, 1999, p. 98)
The idealization and inauthentic exploitation of relationships are created and sustained by
the failure to properly identify and respond to fears.
Expecting relationships to be completely free of fear may be the doorway
through which fears enter into our connections with others, because that
expectation is an illusion... Through this opening fear gets hold of us,
compels us to try to make sure we get what we need from others, and
allows us to lose sight of the basic spiritual dimension of relating--that we
form bonds to be of help to others, not to ourselves.
(Sardello, 1999, p. 99)
When a relationship is founded on some mutual or reciprocal combination of dependence
and pseudo-dependence, there is constant danger of dissolution from (a) the loss of its
idealized image in the more dependent person, or (b) the realization by the pseudodependent that the arrangement is “not working” as a technique for meeting needs.
When we keep ourselves apart from the true inner qualities of the other
person, and separate from our soul capacities, fear can enter more deeply
into the life of relationships, safely hidden within psychological
techniques. If we are not capable of loving all aspects of another person,
we are equally unable to love all aspects of ourselves, especially the
darkness in our own souls.
(Sardello, 1999, p. 108)
These two problems closely parallel Finch’s two modes of inauthenticity: dependence and pseudodependence (1980). In the idealization of a relationship lies the child’s early wish to be fully satisfied. In
the unconsciously self-serving use of a relationship can be found the adolescent’s desires to be satisfied and
also be seen as worthy, powerful and independent.
In the sections below, the AANs are examined for the presence of fear in relationships,
the ways in which the fears appear to challenge relationships, and the human choices
made in response to those fears.
Fuller-Hills Narrative (1966)
The Fuller-Hills narrative portrays alien abduction occurring within a marriage
relationship.9 Betty and Barney’s family origins are mentioned only briefly as historical
interest, but they reveal several key family characteristics. Betty’s ancestors were selfreliant pioneers with an openness to the future. In her own words:
In my family,... it seems to be a belief that the purpose of one’s life is to
bridge the gap between the past and the future... the future of the world
depends on the individuality and the strength of the bridge.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 8)
Betty’s ancestors championed progressive ideas, as represented by a history of labor and
social activism, and this tradition found expression in Betty and Barney’s civil rights
There was also a strong sibling influence for Betty’s growing interest in UFOs.
Within her family, Betty’s sister had claimed to have seen a UFO “several years before”
the Hills’ experience. Since her sister’s sighting, Betty had an abiding interest in UFO
topics. Soon after the Hill’s trip to Montreal, Betty contacted her sister, who immediately
talked with local law enforcement. Betty also persuaded Barney to contact nearby Pease
Air Force Base. She then read The Flying Saucer Conspiracy (Keyhoe, 1956) “at one
Following the contactee period described in Chapter III, the first alien abduction story reported by a single
individual (Villas-Boas) became known to ufologists in 1957. This story did not achieve wide
dissemination until years later, although it might have been known to Betty Hill prior to 1961.
sitting” and contacted its author, a prominent ufologist. These actions represent Betty
and Barney’s first contacts outside their immediate social circle.
Fuller’s narrative indicates tension within the marriage based on Barney’s
disapproval of Betty’s beliefs. For example:
[Betty] had with her in her pocketbook a copy of the paper she had written
out describing her dreams in detail. Driving in with Barney, she asked if
she should show them to the doctor, but Barney suggested that she wait
until the doctor asked for them. Barney’s feeling about Betty’s dreams
was always one of extreme discomfort. He didn’t like to think about
them--didn’t approve of Betty’s preoccupation with them--didn’t believe
they had any basis in reality.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 139)
As portrayed in Fuller’s narrative, Barney’s attitude toward UFOs and other unusual
subjects was decidedly negative. His reluctance to acknowledge the reality of their alien
abduction continued even after the trip on which Betty believed they were abducted.10
Understandably, a belief in alien abduction by one partner in a marriage can invite
fear in the spouse. A marriage can disintegrate if the partners are in disagreement about
the meaning of key experiences. Since Betty’s enthusiasm for her UFO beliefs and
strange dreams contained the potential for marital discord (or eventual separation), the
relationship was preserved when Barney came around to her point of view. In terms of
Barney’s accommodation to Betty’s different worldview (the reality of the UFO), a
model for their relationship can be found in the Old Testament book of Ruth. Ruth--a
Moabite and therefore non-Jew--has lost her husband and can be expected to return to her
How much of this emphasis in the book was due to Fuller’s journalistic attempt to reinforce Barney’s
witness credibility is unclear. Given the psychoanalytic or sociopsychological explanation favored by the
Hills’ psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Simon, Fuller could assume that Betty’s pre-existing affinity for the
subject reduced her credibility accordingly.
own tribe and worldview. Instead, she casts her lot with her husband’s family, the
Israelites and a new God (Yahweh).11
As an interracial couple in New England, Betty and Barney’s marriage was
unusual for the 1950s and early 1960s, and its character presented them with specific
obstacles and stresses in that culture. In Sardello’s terms, just as Betty had not kept
herself apart from Barney’s “otherness”, Barney overcame his discomfort with the “inner
quality” of Betty’s unusual ideas. He accepted her view of their shared experience,
although it brought him into contact with his own fears of being pursued and terrorized.12
The alien imagery from Betty’s dreams even provided Barney with a context that helped
to explain his own fears. The “extraterrestrial” nature of the experience became less
important than preserving his life with Betty. By accommodating his beliefs to Betty’s
experiences, Barney sacrificed his intellectual doubts in favor of his relationship. In
Sardello’s terms, he came to love “all aspects” of Betty. As Fuller describes the nature of
their bond:
Their first attraction to each other, one that still remained, was of intellect
and mutual interests.
(Fuller, 1966, p. 4)
Betty and Barney remained together--as the First Couple of the alien abduction
community--until his death in 1969.
Fowler-Andreasson Narrative (1979)
The Fowler-Andreasson narrative presents a report of alien abduction occurring
within the complex relationships in a family. In fact, Betty Andreasson’s encounter falls
Ruth 1:16-17.
The nature of Barney’s fears is discussed in Chapter IX (Terrorism).
within the tradition of a call to religious vocation that transcends family obligations. The
structure of the alien “call” and Betty’s response parallels the New Testament story of
Jesus calling his disciples.13 Betty expressed concern that the aliens’ demands could
interfere with her obligations to her children and her parents.
Betty’s power to resist lessened as the entities stared hypnotically into her
eyes. Their slow, repetitive invitation, “Would you follow us?” echoed
within the deepest recesses of her mind. But again, her own powerful
instincts surfaced: “What about my children? My parents?”
(Fowler, 1979, p. 32)
Betty Andreasson’s alien abduction story can be seen as a transcendent encounter that
provided relief from family life stresses in two ways: (1) it originated during a time ten
years earlier when the family was undergoing a serious medical crisis, and (2) it was
“revealed” at another time of heightened family stress--following marital difficulties and
separation--when Betty had been on her own for over a year with all the responsibility for
her family.
Unlike Betty Hill, whose marriage survived, Betty Andreasson’s did not, although
it is not clear whether her unusual story played a role in the dissolution of her marriage.
By the time of the UFO investigation in 1977, she and her husband had been separated
for a year.
Shortly after her 1975 letter to Dr. Hynek [renowned scientist and
ufologist], [Betty’s] marital problem intensified, and she and her husband
agreed to separate. When we first met Betty, she had shouldered the
responsibility of raising her family single-handedly for well over a year.
She had hoped for the problem’s solution and eventual reconciliation, but
it did not work out. Reluctantly, Betty initiated divorce proceedings.
Now she sought a new life and was preparing to move her family to be
near relatives in Florida.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 160)
Matthew 4:19; Matthew 8:21.
During the time when Betty believed her alien abduction occurred (in 1967), her most
significant relationship fears included her husband’s medical condition, the needs of her
children, and the presence of her parents to the household as they assisted the family after
her husband’s automobile accident.
In a manner consistent with her husband’s situation, Betty Andreasson’s aliens
resembled a team of little doctors, whose voices she heard “in her mind”:
Betty to hypnotist: They were talking to each other... I knew they wanted
to do other tests... [quasi-medical procedures follow]
Quazgaa [the alien leader]: See? That didn’t hurt, did it?”
Betty: How much longer am I going to have to lie here?
Quazgaa: Possibly a few more moments. Just please relax.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 63)
This image of a quasi-medical relationship is consistent with a woman remembering a
time when her husband had been severely injured, forcing her to deal with the medical
system and placing additional burdens on the entire family (especially Betty, her parents,
and her eldest daughter Becky). Even before this, Betty was no stranger to hospitals,
since she had seven children in eight years, and then experienced the fear that she might
have cancer, requiring a hysterectomy (p. 53).
In the midst of the family crisis, Betty relied on her eldest daughter Becky, who
took on considerable family responsibility. Becky supported her mother, but under such
stressful circumstances her mother’s fear may have been contagious. During the
investigation, a remarkable conversation took place in which Betty disclosed that she
interpreted her daughter’s disturbing dream as evidence that Becky had witnessed Betty’s
alien encounter.
Betty: It was about two days later [following Betty’s alien abduction] that
Becky came to me with her dream... she told me about it.
Harold [Edelstein, hypnotist]: Why did you wait so long, Becky?
Becky: Because I thought it was a dream... It’s just a dream. [italics
added] But it upset me, and after three days it was upsetting me so much I
had to tell Mom, ‘cause it was just bothering me too much. I was scared.
[italics added]
Ray [Fowler]: Did you remember that something had happened?
Becky: I told her that I had a dream. I told my dream, and she told me it
was true, that it really happened... [italics added] but not to tell anyone
about it, and don’t worry about it.
Betty: And it hit me then that “That was no dream, honey. That really
happened, but don’t tell anybody.”14 [italics added]
(Fowler, 1979, pp. 149-150)
The Andreasson case is notable for the large number of investigators interacting
with Betty and her family as interviewers and hypnotists. The attention paid by this
“outer social circle” provided additional support and validation for Betty’s experience.
Harold Edelstein, the “controlling hypnotist” (p. 30), made statements to Betty such as
“I’m by your side constantly.” (p. 40). Besides Edelstein, other hypnotists named Fred,
Jules, Joseph, Virginia--and occasionally Narrator Fowler--all joined in the hypnosis
sessions. With such a complex group attending the unfolding of Betty Andreasson’s
story, it is not surprising that her interaction with the aliens is described as a “strange
hypnotic-like influence” (pp. 67, 111, 119). Late in his narrative, Fowler makes a
significant statement regarding Betty’s remarkable recall of strange events ten years
We tend to forget that prior to her recall via hypnosis, Betty had
remembered little of the UFO incident.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 131)
In the New Testament, examples of Jesus’ admonition not to disclose miracles appear in Matthew 9:30,
Mark 1:43-44, and Luke 5:14.
It is impossible to determine the phenomenological material that Betty started with, but
there is a high probability that her story was influenced significantly by her daughter’s
dream disclosure and the attention, support, and influence from this group of interested
Betty’s relationship with the aliens themselves is possibly the most significant
aspect of her story and is unique among the narratives in this study. Unlike the stern
beings in the Hills’ account, Betty Andreasson’s aliens are at times personable--even
charming--and solicitous of her feelings. They were imbued with a devotional spirit that
was consistent with her religious background, and their presence removed her fear.
Betty stood transfixed. But an extraordinary calm settled over her. An
aura of friendliness emanated from the alien intruders, and she was no
longer frightened.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 25)
Betty Andreasson was a woman whose life was marked by hardships. In the face
of these stresses, she transformed her traditional Christian worldview into something
fresh, new and awe-inspiring. Betty’s description of her “heavenly journey” to the
aliens’ “world” is creative, detailed and highly colorful. The aliens’ farewell included
quasi-religious actions such as “laying on of hands” (p. 119). Later Storytellers’
descriptions--classic “Grey” aliens, sterile technological settings, and ominous portents-literally pale in comparison. The New Age spirituality of later accounts never again rises
to the level of Betty’s awesome vision of the death and rebirth of the alien Phoenix.
Betty came to believe that the aliens were loving and benevolent. In Sardello’s terms:
Here, we come to a most important distinction, that there are two
fundamental kinds of fear. First, there is fear that presents itself as terror,
which separates us from our soul life, and from vital, living connection
with others and the world at large. And then there is fear that presents
itself as awe, which fills us with wonder and makes us aware of our
human deficiencies. The first is unholy fear, while the latter is holy fear.
(Sardello, 1999, p. 110)
Hopkins Narratives (1981)
Hopkins’ narrative is notable for not exploring relationship themes in his
Storyteller accounts. As in the areas of emotion and passion, this omission probably
results from Hopkin’s singular focus on demonstrating his theory that the abduction
phenomenon is characterized by a specific structural event pattern. His discussion
concentrates on how subjects’ experiences fit this pattern and does not examine
individual emotions or relationships except as passing references within the stories
themselves. Hopkins simplifies his rhetorical task by disregarding not only the life
situations of his Storytellers, but also the contributions of parents, relatives, intimate
partners and others. This leaves the “invisible epidemic” of alien abductions as his only
prime suspect in the creation of fear.
What about the relationship between his Storytellers and their alien captors? This
too is disappointing, since descriptions of these relationships hardly occur at all. Unlike
in the other AANs in this study, the aliens of Hopkins investigations are a vague,
indistinct presence, neither sinister nor spiritual.
In Missing Time--his first published book, which made him widely known for his
UFO abduction interests--Budd Hopkins’ pattern of acquiring his Storytellers suggests
that they originated primarily from a network of friends and professional acquaintances.
The Hopkins narrative contains stories of UFO sightings and eventually alien abductions
that occur in an ever-expanding social circle. This precedent is revealed in Hopkins’ very
first UFO sighting near Truro, Massachusetts,15 while traveling with his first wife and a
house guest. Although disclaiming any interest in the subject at the time, he pursued it
Over the years, friends began to pass on to me various UFO sightings of
their own, and I began to take notes... during the later-Sixties and earlySeventies, I would bring up the matter at a dinner party and would almost
never fail to elicit another report. [italics added]
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 29)
Subsequent Storyteller reports in the book introduce George O’Barski, owner of a liquor
store near Hopkins’ home; Howard Rich, “a good friend of mine” (page 79); “Steven
Kilburn” and a growing number of others referred to Hopkins by UFO organizations such
as the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON); those attracted by his involvement in an NBC
television program about UFOs (“Virginia Horton” and “Philip Osborne”); and those
who otherwise sought him out as a result of his reputation (“Denis ‘Mac’ MacMahon”
called Hopkins on a talk radio show).
Hopkins became a seeker after fears, in order to connect their sources with his
beliefs. In his words:
First, I believe, we must try to make this invisible epidemic visible... A
recent experience of mine provides a textbook example of how we must be
alert for clues in attempting to learn more about the extent of UFO
abductions. A casual conversation at a Whitney Museum opening led to
my being told--secondhand--about a recent UFO sighting... The thing that
caught my attention was my informant’s feeling that the witness... had
been unusually disturbed by the event [italics added]. The disparity
between a powerful emotional reaction [italics added] and its relatively
negligible cause--a distant night [UFO] sighting--is a sign that the case
should be looked into; a buried traumatic episode can easily be the fuel
for such a reaction... since my thoughts were focused on... how
widespread this abduction phenomenon might be, I decided... to pursue
To commemorate Truro’s status as a “UFO hotspot”--as well as the profession of the late Barney Hill-the science fiction comedy Men In Black II (2002) cast actor Tommy Lee Jones as that town’s U.S. Post
Office mail sorting supervisor, overseeing a gaggle of odd extraterrestrial postal employees.
the matter [italics added]. I called the scientist.. and asked him about his
sighting... [but] the UFO had never been closer than perhaps five or six
hundred feet, and... there was no [missing time] involved... He told me
that, when he stopped his car to look up, and saw that the UFO had also
stopped, he became extremely frightened. So frightened, he said, that he
was afraid he was going to die there.16 [italics added]
[Hopkins] asked about his subsequent memories and feelings.
[The scientist replied] “I’ve dreamed about this thing coming over my
house and trying to get me, or engulfing my house... And, when I walked
the dog, I had the strangest feeling that I should seek cover. [italics added]
(Hopkins, 1981, pp. 231-232)
Hopkins recognizes that the presence of fear in this account clearly goes beyond the
physical circumstances described.17 However, he does not imply that the “UFO sighting”
itself is traumatic (as might be expected), or directly related to the witness’ fear, only that
it “triggered” the memory of a past (and unspecified) “traumatic event”. To Hopkins, the
presence of fear indicates only one thing: a repressed memory of alien abduction.
Hopkins was operating with the assumption that the presence of fear provides de
facto evidence of past trauma.18 Given that assumption, he failed to consider alternative
understandings of fear, including its relational nature. In the case above, he observes a
man who is full of fear, but Hopkins was not interested in the man’s relationships or other
spiritual circumstances that made him vulnerable to fear. Instead, he assumes that the
presence of fear indicates specifically that an alien abduction took place at some time in
the past.
Fear of death is discussed in the next chapter.
The witness’ statement of physical fact that when the car stopped, the UFO also stopped, suggests a
simple visual illusion. Psychologically, however, this is just the type of attentional focus that can potentiate
a change in consciousness that leaves the person open to fear. This is the reason many people are afraid of
being hypnotized.
For his time (the late 1970s and early 1980s), Hopkins became a fellow-traveler of the repressed memory
“movement” that sought memories of satanic ritual abuse and past life trauma, and eventually generated
controversy when applied to the widespread problem of child sexual abuse.
Despite his singular focus, Hopkins promoted an important, perhaps even healing
trend in the alien abduction field. He brought together Storytellers to share their stories
and provide mutual support. For many, these groups were the first time Storytellers felt
understood and learned that they were not alone, despite unconventional and frightening
experiences. Hopkins formed these communities with like-minded individuals who were
drawn together by strange feelings and anomalous perceptions. One can surmise that
Hopkins’ firm belief in the alien abduction scenario contributed to an even greater likemindedness under his mentorship.19 While recognizing the spiritual benefit of a
supportive community, the question still remains what greater help might have been
possible apart from hypnosis and a belief system that interpreted unusual experiences
according to one template.
Strieber Narrative (1987)
Whitley Strieber’s autobiographical narrative did not inaugurate the
“confessional” genre of alien abduction stories. First-hand accounts began with VillasBoas in 1957 and continued with Storytellers like Travis Walton (1978). But the success
of Strieber’s best-selling novel Communion (1987) reinvented the alien abduction
narrative as the personal struggle of a creative self, a kind of technological Pilgrim’s
Progress. As Strieber explains:
This is the story of one man’s attempt to deal with a shattering assault
from the unknown. It is a true story, as true as I know how to describe
it.20 To all appearances I have had an elaborate personal encounter
See the later writing of Strieber and Mack, who acknowledge Hopkins as their inspiration.
Strieber’s truthfulness has been the subject of considerable debate (Conroy, 1989). Communion begins
with a poem about “the ones who must lie” and in the book he discloses several situations when he lied to
acquaintances “without knowing why” (Strieber, 1987, pp. 23, 139).
[italics added] with intelligent non-human beings. But who could they be,
and where have they come from?
(Strieber, 1987, p. 13)
Within the framework of this story--published in the best-selling Communion and
elaborated in later works21--Strieber expressed, packaged, and sold his fear images. His
readers must decide for themselves whether (or where) he is sincere or artful.
At the beginning of his published narrative, Strieber considers the possibility that
the “aliens” are not extraterrestrial but soul-spiritual beings. He later speculates about the
non-extraterrestrial possibilities: they may live on Earth (like elves and fairies); they may
be our dead (like ghosts); or they may be parts of ourselves (like doubles).22 Whatever
they are, and wherever they come from, Strieber believes the “aliens” seek a relationship
(“communion”) with humans. He credits this original idea to his wife Anne, who said in
her sleep “You should call [the book] Communion because that’s what it’s about.”
(Strieber, 1987, p. 215).
As a professional writer, Strieber isolated himself in order to ply his trade. His
habit was to write alone in his New York apartment or at a forest cabin (the same cabin
where his alien abduction took place). This isolating behavior, combined with the kind of
imagination that produced popular horror novels, indicates that he already had the tools to
do the writing job even without alien intervention.
As a celebrity author, Strieber sought and depended upon publicity and book
sales. To a greater degree than any previous Storyteller or Narrator, his AAN is about a
relationship between Strieber and his public audience. In addition to being a writer of
Transformation (1988); Breakthrough (1995); The Communion Letters (1997); The Secret School (1997);
Confirmation (1998)
Strieber, 1987, pp. 90-91.
horror novels, Strieber also identifies himself as fearful person, and passages in his book
show him to be capable of paranoid thinking and behavior.
I started to worry about toxins in our food or water...
(Strieber, 1987, p. 33)
What about all my nervousness, my secret searching under beds and
closets, my unreasonable fear of prowlers?
(Strieber, 1987, p. 49)
He remembered that these feelings of threat and panic stretched back into his past, and
included episodes during a trip to Europe:
I can remember nights of terror, being afraid to put out the light [italics
added], wanting to keep the window and the door locked, living like a
fugitive, never wanting to be alone...
(Strieber, 1987, p. 138)
To obtain “professional help” for his distress over possible alien visitations,
Strieber sought out Budd Hopkins, the amateur UFO investigator who--at that time--had
but one published book to his credit. Strieber says he asked Hopkins for help.
I remembered that a man named Budd Hopkins had been mentioned... as a
prominent researcher in the field. The name had [already] been familiar to
me: Anne and I are interested in art and Hopkins is a well-known abstract
(Strieber, 1987, p. 40)
From the passage above, a continuum of possibilities must be considered. Strieber may
have been completely sincere and contacted Hopkins only to seek help to deal with fear.
On the other hand, his behavior might have been an artifice, in which he acted as the
professional author doing research for his latest book project. As in his previous work,
Strieber’s experiences (including fear images) were a commodity to be sold. It is likely
that multiple and complex motivations were operative.
Strieber’s emotional reactions (below) suggest that his relationship with Hopkins
could have been the catalyst for a healing emotional release,23 or the actions of an author
fully immersing himself in researching a new subject.
As I sat there in [Hopkins’] living room, listening to him tell me that I wasn’t
alone, that others had gone through very much the same thing, the tears rolled
down my cheeks, and I went from wanting to hide it all to wanting to understand
I left Hopkins’ house a happy man.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 41)
Strieber could have been playing a role--getting “into character”--even as he sought
Hopkins’ feedback on his “performance” as a hypnotic subject.
Budd Hopkins responded. “It’s often like this. Beginning moments are the worst.
And after that, it gets easier.”24
Strieber: Was I a good hypnotic subject?
Hopkins: You were excellent.
Strieber: Good. It didn’t seem to take very long. It felt very nice. [italics added]
Hopkins: It always feels nice.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 64)
After spending some time with Hopkins, Strieber wrote and published Communion. With
his publishing connections, he got it into print before Hopkins could publish his
upcoming second book, thus beating his mentor to the next popular AAN. From that
point--and until John Mack appeared--Strieber overshadowed Hopkins on the AAN
Strieber’s previous mastery of the horror novel requires us to consider how much
of his story is pure invention. However, this does not change the fact that--with the
cooperation of his publisher--he loosed fearful imagery on his readership. Strieber put a
face on the alien presence with his book’s spectacular cover portrait. His best-selling
In psychoanalytic terms, these statements would be characterized as transference.
Here Hopkins imposes his “typical abduction” framework.
book made this image ubiquitous, so that popular culture was blanketed with this fearful
image. Later Storytellers--including some of Mack’s “experiencers”--cite the fear they
felt when confronting this image in either his book or the subsequent feature film.25
These testimonies confirm the Encounter model described in Chapter V.
As Strieber’s experiences with the aliens continued, he experienced fears about
what might happen to his home and family. His primary relationship fear was that
something might be happening to his son, as reflected in a vision. During an apocalyptic
vision from the aliens, Strieber remembers a voice saying “That’s your home. That’s your
home. You know why this will happen.” Strieber says to the aliens “I don’t know what
this is about...When is this going to blow up? What is going to blow up?” The aliens
show Strieber “a flashing picture” of his son, implying risk to his child.26
Strieber devoted an entire chapter in Communion to the impact and implications
of his abduction experiences on his wife and son, who were with him during the times he
reports being abducted.27 Strieber reported that first his mood became “mercurial” (p.
25), and then he became increasingly distressed.
Life did not return to normal...I couldn’t seem to get down to work...My
difficulty relating to my wife and son continued.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 39)
As Strieber began to believe he was experiencing “actual” alien visitations, his
relationship fears increased.
From the beginning I had been disturbed [italics added] that my wife and
son might have been involved in this. At the least, they had suffered with
me at my upheavals. At the worst, they were as entangled as I am.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 179)
Mack, 1994, pp. 144, 242.
Strieber, 1987, p. 64-65.
Chapter Five, “Alliance of the Lost: Recollections of My Family”, pages 177-222.
However, Strieber revealed little specific information about the impact of fear on his
relationship with his wife Anne. Like Barney Hill’s response to his wife Betty, Anne
tolerated Whitley’s unusual and eccentric ideas. In language that revealed a certain
fatigue or even resignation, she described herself as the “grounded” partner in their
relationship and suggested that he had difficulty with the emotional aspects of
I know my role , and it’s a rather tiresome role, but--born with a certain
personality, you can’t fight it [italics added]... I’m the one who responds
emotionally... Whitley doesn’t have any talent for that at all. Sometimes
he can’t feel the most obvious things.
(Strieber, 1987, pp. 207)
Strieber wanted Anne to be hypnotized to determine if she witnessed his abductions. He
considered this important as a potential validation of his experience.
On March 13, 1986, Anne was hypnotized by Dr. Robert Naiman. We
chose a psychiatrist other than Dr. Klein so that there could be no
possibility of his questions taking on some sort of unnoticed direction
because of what he already knew... If she reported nothing, then to me it
would have indicated that mine was essentially a psychological
experience--perhaps shared in some unusual ways but essentially
(Strieber, 1987, p. 180)
Budd Hopkins was present for this session, and he took an active role in the questioning.
Anne participated in this endeavor and asserted her right to have a role in her husband’s
search for the truth about his experiences.
Dr. Naiman: How come you’re back in here today?
Anne: I think because this is my project as well as Whitley’s... [italics
(Strieber, 1987, p. 202)
Although there was no abduction content in Anne’s hypnosis sessions, Strieber believed
that her testimony provided corroborating evidence:
Anne’s hypnosis strongly suggested that I’m taken all the time.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 213)
Despite her tolerance and support, Anne’s statements to the hypnotist reveal a longsuffering recognition of Strieber’s imaginative eccentricities and a belief that they were
psychological in nature.
Dr. Naiman: How did you know it wasn’t real? Whitley’s a fairly downto-earth guy-Anne: No, he isn’t... Whitley, you know, said he’d flown around the
room. What do say to something like that?
Dr. Naiman: You think Whitley should go to a psychiatrist?
Anne: No. Because he--I think he can deal with these problems... I’ve
often felt that there are things going on with Whitley that I wasn’t
supposed to know. I’m supposed to kind of help him afterwards to deal
with it. That’s my role.
Dr. Naiman: Do you think these things are coming out of Whitley’s head?
Anne: No, I don’t think he had hallucinations, no. But I think they come to
him because of his head. He has a very unusual head. [italics added]
(Strieber, 1987, pp. 197-198)
Anne’s motivations for participating in hypnosis may have included more than the simple
devotion of a loving and supportive wife. Anne’s reference to a shared “project”
suggested a professional partnership. It is noteworthy that subsequently Anne received
her own writing credits on several AAN projects.28
While Strieber’s relationship with his wife seems relatively free of fear, the same
cannot be said regarding his relationship with his son. It is not uncommon in AANs for
parents to fear that their children are also being abducted. Strieber concurs:
These projects included the Communion Foundation, The Communion Letters (1997), and acting as
managing editor of their online forum (
There is nothing so hard as being a parent frightened in the night for your
(Strieber, 1987, p. 78)
At Hopkins’ suggestion, Strieber began questioning his young son about dreams. His son
complies with suggestive dream material:
I dreamed that a bunch of little doctors took me out on the porch and put
me on a cot. I got scared and they started saying “We won’t hurt you”
over and over in my head. That was the strangest dream because it was
just like it was real.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 46)
It is not knowable to what extent his son’s suggestibility--and the need to please his
father---might have motivated his dream accounts. Strieber claims to have protected his
son from fearful material about aliens:
Our son has been preserved from almost all conversation about it and from direct
experience of my personal trauma. Even before I knew exactly what was
happening to me, my first concern was to leave his happy childhood intact.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 179)
However, he shows little insight about the impossibility of protecting a young child from
the emotional currents and influential beliefs within the family, let alone a physically real
threat. Like the credulous Long Island couple in the film The Amityville Horror (1979),
he does not consider abandoning the house that brings him such trauma. The long-term
impact of Strieber’s fears for his son is left unresolved.
I have asked my son to describe any strange dreams. [italics added] He
has never been hypnotized and he won’t be until he can decide for himself
if he wishes to do it... this material can be very disturbing indeed under
hypnosis and it is certainly not the business of a parent to assault a child’s
mind by such experimentation.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 216)
Strieber feared that he was involved with an unknown alien force, but one to
which he attributed distinctly human characteristics. From the beginning, he identified it
as female:
I felt that I was under the exact and detailed control of whomever had me.
I could not move my head, or my hands, and any part of my body save for
me eyes...29
While the presence of others remains vague in my mind, the individual to
my left made a clear impression. I do not know why, but I had the distinct
feeling that this was a woman... [italics added] she was explaining
something to me, but I cannot remember what it was.30
(Strieber, 1987, p. 24-25)
Strieber speculated further that the female figure--which filled him with both fear and
awe--might be part of himself:
She was undeniably appealing to me. In some sense I thought I might love
this being--almost as much as I might my own anima. [italics added] I
bore toward her the same feelings of terror and fascination that I might
toward someone I saw staring back at me from the depths of my own
unconscious. [italics added]
(Strieber, 1987, p. 105)
Strieber even recounted an experience that suggested his wife (or her sleep “double”) as
one source of his impressions.
One night in April [Anne] talked in her sleep... Suddenly she said in a
strange basso profundo voice: “The book must not frighten people...”
[italics added] I looked over at her... and saw that she was totally asleep.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 215)
In spite of his wife’s “channeled” advice, Communion definitely frightened people.
A highly accurate description of sleep paralysis (
Another common dream experience; the content is not retained due to the change in consciousness on
Strieber was aware that his feelings about the aliens were rooted in human
Intellectually, I was unsure about what the visitors were. But my emotional self
did not share that indecision. My emotional response was to real people [italics
added], albeit nonhuman ones.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 104)
He speculated that these frightening images may originate within his own mind.
A terrifying thing happened to me. Perhaps it involved visitors from
somewhere--maybe even from inside the human unconscious. [italics
added] For me, though, the most important thing about it was its
essentially human effect [Strieber’s emphasis]... if the visitor was no more
than wind in the eaves or the moon lighting the fog... then it was a key to
what I mean to myself. [italics added]
(Strieber, 1987, p. 76)
Strieber also recognized that his feelings were related to the content of his fiction.
What is most interesting to me about this story is that it continues imagery
that is present in my early horror novels... [italics added] The theme is
always the same: Mankind must face a harsh but enigmatically beautiful
force that... is “part of the justice of the world.” This force is always
hidden between the folds of experience. [italics added]
(Strieber, 1987, pp. 34)
In his journey, Strieber may have been seeking restoration of a relationship with himself-a self that became “alienated” by fears (“hidden between the folds of experience”) that
found lifelong expression in his writing.
Something is happening... the unknown can be faced with clear and open
curiosity. When this is done something strange happens: The unknown
changes. The enigmatic presence of the human mind winks back from the
dark [italics added], and a little progress toward real understanding is
made... It seems to me that it seeks the very depth of the soul; it seeks
(Strieber, 1987, p. 14-15)
Strieber’s effectiveness as an author, and his mastery of the audience, gave him
far greater power within popular culture than any previous Narrator. In the twelve years
after Communion, he wrote five more books about his relationship with the aliens,
although he protests to this day that he does not claim their origin is extraterrestrial.31
Since then, he wrote a book on catastrophic global weather changes (see Chapter VI,
“The Natural World and UFO Abduction”) and recently returned to his earlier saga about
vampires. In contrast to his books on aliens, Strieber has not claimed encounters with
Mack Narratives (1994)
The Mack narratives formalized a new context for Storytellers: the telling and
preservation of AANs within a special community overseen by a highly respected
patriarch.32 Those (as “children”) who contact Mack (as “father”) become associated
through him with a prestigious “family” (Harvard University) and achieve a new identity
as co-explorers with a respected and authoritative personality. By the time of the
publication of Mack’s book, Budd Hopkins (with the Intruder Foundation), Whitley
Strieber (with the Communion Foundation), and others had incorporated similar social
The sections below consider key relationship themes in the Mack narrative. The
material is organized by developmental tasks illustrated with Storyteller anecdotes. This
analysis supports the hypothesis that the alien abduction images and stories serve as
substitutes for troubled relationships in the Storyteller’s life, and also serve as defenses
against recognizing the presence of fear in actual human relationships.
This could be called a “community of belief” or a “community of faith”. I prefer the term “special
community”, which avoids presumption about its religious character. Mack’s PEER organization styles
itself as a research community.
Attachment (Acceptance versus Rejection)
Eva’s intense desire for connection reflects a primitive drive to be in relationship
with someone (even an alien) that she can fully trust, rely upon, and surrender herself
Eva wrote in her journal, “Last night when I went to bed I wanted so to
meet them. I asked, begged, for an encounter... [italics added] I suddenly
felt [saw?] a light-blue light encompassing me... It was a soothing light,
yet one that I know would lead me to greater knowledge. It was magnetic.
It was the feeling I got from it that is beyond words. Words are too
physically limiting. When I felt/saw the light the dizziness/twirling
stopped. I went blank.
(Mack, 1994, p. 245)
Like several other Mack Storytellers, Sheila experienced a lack of emotional
support from her spouse.
Following her mother’s death a division developed between Sheila and her
husband, who she felt was unable to support her adequately in her grief.
(Mack, 1994, p. 69)
Although the lack of closeness was not caused by alien beliefs, Sheila’s relationship with
Mack appears to serve her as a transitional source of human connection and protection
from her fears.34
[Sheila] became so frightened at this point that [Mack] had to reassure
Sheila that the beings would not come into the room we were working in.
Later she wrote me, “The greatest benefit in this was that I was certain I
was not alone. I knew you were there.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 79)
Attachment with a good and reliable “other” is the first and most basic relationship need in human
Mack accepts this role as his duty to his patients. (Personal communication, 2001)
When “abductees” describe their unconventional experiences--especially if these
result in subsequent media attention or publication as an AAN--they risk withdrawal of
support and possible rejection from family and loved ones.
Whereas her first husband was frightened by anything out of the ordinary
and would not have listened to her abduction experiences, Jerry felt that
her current husband and his family were supportive and understanding, at
least at first... But disbelief on the part of Bob’s family seemed to close in
around her so that Jerry has felt increasingly isolated and alone with her
experiences, relying almost exclusively on other abductees, Pam, and
[Mack] for support. The pulling away of her in-laws has been particularly
(Mack, 1994, p. 113)
Peter appears to have been rejected by his family after public disclosure of his alien
He was still seeking the support of his father and sister, but had received no
response from them after he sent video tapes of his talks and after they had seen
him speak emotionally of his experiences on television.
(Mack, 1994, p. 329)
In contrast, some Mack Storytellers describe situations where the influence of
their parents initiates or supports their abduction beliefs. Dave’s report of early interest
in UFOs is directly connected to influence from a parent.
Dave remembers that as a child he was interested in flying saucers... “My
Dad had said something about people seeing flying saucers, and I, ever
since then, was, had a sense of wonder about them.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 269)
Other parents play a more significant role in encouraging their children’s beliefs. Scott’s
mother plays an active role in validating her children’s participation Mack’s experiencer
support group.
Of inestimable importance in this process has been the support of Scott’s
parents, especially his mother, Emily (herself a possible experiencer), who
has attended conferences on the subject of abductions, come regularly to
my monthly support group, and volunteered to undergo hypnosis with me
in order to understand more deeply her own experiences and the ways that
she can more fully support Scott and his sister, Lee, who is also an
(Mack, 1994, p. 108)
Scott’s mother’s influence goes beyond unconditional positive regard for one’s children
despite an alternate lifestyle or unconventional beliefs. Mack describes her as intuitively
endorsing the alien “reality” as a spiritual path.
Scott and Lee’s mother, Emily, age forty-eight... may also be an abductee,
but what is most remarkable about [her]... is the extraordinary
steadfastness and support that she has given to her children. She is the
only parent who comes regularly to my support group meetings, and
though she has suffered deeply over her children’s abduction-related
distresses, Emily has fully accepted the reality of what her children report
they have been through. In addition, she feels a deep, intuitive sense that
the process that they are undergoing is one of personal growth and
ultimate enlightenment. This attitude, whatever its ultimate truth may
prove to be, is unique in my experience among the parents of abductees.
(Mack, 1994, p. 92)
Care (Nurturance versus Abuse)
Indicators of childhood neglect or abuse occur in several of Mack’s Storyteller
accounts. Joe believes that aliens have given him the basic love and connection missing
from his human relationships.
Joe, like other abductees, has felt that his relationship with what he calls “the
ETs” has provided emotional nourishment, support, and love “when nobody else
(Mack, 1994, p. 178)
Since the mid-1990s, child maltreatment experts and legal authorities have treated
a child’s witnessing of domestic violence as a reportable form of child abuse and
neglect.35 For some children, the traumatic impact of watching their mother suffer abuse
is as great as being abused themselves.36 In the passage below, Sara describes witnessing
frequent incidents of domestic abuse:
A frustrated man [Sara’s father] was physically and verbally abusive to
Sara’s mother and verbally abusive to Sara. She witnessed frequent
arguments between her parents, and on occasions, she saw her father
physically abuse her mother. Frightened by her father’s temper [italics
added], Sara would go into another room to avoid being hit. Sara recalls
that her father was kind to her when she was small, but when she began to
excel in school, he became quite distant...
(Mack, 1994, p. 202)
The relationship between this abuse history and Sara’s abduction reports is not clear.
However, a possible clue can be seen in Sara’s relationship with her maternal
grandfather. While he was alive, he provided emotional support that assisted her in
coping with her difficult family circumstances. Their close relationship did not end with
his death.
Sara was especially close to her maternal grandfather, who died when she
was in her teens...For about ten years after he died Sara would often have
the feeling that her grandfather was in the room with her [italics added],
especially when she was at her desk working.
(Mack, 1994, p. 202)
Her disclosure of this incident was revealing; traditional ghost stories bear a number of
resemblances to AANs.37 Here Caughey’s concept of imaginary relationships falls short,
since a person’s relationship with the dead includes deeper soul elements of feeling,
sensation, thinking, and even activity that suggest a more substantial reality. Sara
experienced her grandfather as “with her” as a source of comfort and support.
California Appeals Court ruling In re Heather A. case, (52 Cal App 4th 183)
McCloskey, et al., 1995, O’Keefe, 1994, & Sternberg et al. 1993; Holden, G., Geffner, R, &. Jouriles, E.
(Eds.), 1998.
Although outside the scope of the present study, further research is needed on the presence of fear in
ghost stories.
Mack’s account regarding Scott’s sister Lee reveals fears of sexual intimacy, an
initial hypothesis of childhood abuse as the cause, and a subsequent claim (following
hypnosis) that the actual source of sexual trauma was “alien”, not human.
Scott’s sister, Lee, nineteen months younger than he, is also an abductee,
although she has been slower to recover the memories of her experiences.
For many years she clung to the possibility that her fears of sexual
intimacy were related to abuse by her father or someone else. A careful
history failed to substantiate a story of abuse that could account for her
fears [italics added], while a powerful hypnosis session... revealed a
disturbing, invasive early teenage experience in which she was taken
aboard a UFO by alien beings, a probing instrument was inserted in her
vagina, and some sort of tissue, perhaps an egg, was removed.38
(Mack, 1994, p. 92)
Like Lee, Jerry has been terrified of sex all her life and there are a number of
themes in her account that strongly suggest childhood sexual abuse. In a hypnosis
session, Mack regressed Jerry to age thirteen to explore an incident when she woke up
terrified with pressure in the abdomen and genital area. This session convinced Mack
that Jerry was sexually violated during alien abduction, with later detrimental impact on
her marital relationships.
When she was nine and staying in a motel just before moving to Georgia,
Jerry remembers feeling a presence in the room and the frightening sense
that “someone had just sat on my bed.”... A still more disturbing episode...
occurred in Georgia when Jerry was thirteen. She woke up terrified and
remembered pressure in the abdomen and genital area and that she could
not move... “Somebody was doing something,” she recalled, but it was
“something alien.” Although she recalls wondering to herself, “Is that
how sex is done?” she knew with great certainty that “it wasn’t a person.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 118)
Although he is a trained physician, Mack does not express skepticism about a procedure that was
medically improbable for acquiring human eggs, which are stored in the ovaries far from the external
sexual organs.
Both Lee and Jerry suffer from disturbed sexual intimacy. Although Jerry’s sexual fears
and emotional reactions are suggestive of sexual abuse, Mack attributed them instead to
the violation of alien abduction.
In 1989 Jerry married her second husband [stepfather to daughter], whose
name is Bob...She loves Bob and longs to have a normal affectional and
sexual relationship with him...but her abduction memories have made this
impossible...”I keep telling myself that it is different, that he loves me and
is not going to hurt me. I try to keep positive thoughts, but when it comes
time to have sex, forget it. All of that goes out the door, and I am back
being afraid. My feelings during sex are like the feelings I have when I
am abducted. I feel frightened, used, and feeling that I have to endure
this...Also, I think that I will be hurt at any time.
(Mack, 1994, p. 113)
Even Jerry’s account regarding her daughter Sally contains sexual abuse
From the time Sally ... was six, she has had severe nightmares and will
scream out “Don’t touch me. Leave me alone.” ... Following one of
Sally’s most recent nightmares, Jerry found her on top of her blankets with
her nightgown twisted up and her underwear missing.39
(Mack, 1994, p. 114)
Sexual abuse imagery can also be found in male abductee accounts, although with
less frequency. Joe described an alien encounter that he believes happened in his family
home when he was a young teenager.
Joe’s first image under hypnosis was of a nonhuman being with a triangular face
and a large forehead, narrow chin, and large, black, elliptical eyes...Breathing
heavily with mounting distress [Joe] said, “It can move gently. It can move fast.
It wants me to lie on the table. It’s looking me deep in the eye, telling me to
relax.” Whispering now, Joe said he was “scared” because “I know they’re going
to do whole spine aches. My groin is on fire.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 180)
Disturbance of nightclothes and underwear would lead most psychiatrists to have suspicions of possible
sexual abuse. This author notes that Mack does not describe the process by which he ruled out such a
possibility. This child is having nightmares and is described in school as having “time lapses” which could
be a dissociative symptom not uncommon in sexually abused children.
Since memories of violation by human beings constitute a highly plausible
precursor to abuse-related images, perceptions and fears, what framework could explain
memories of violation by aliens? If human abuse occurs at an age when memory
consolidation is undeveloped, the person is left with the physical sensations (and possible
fearful feelings) without specific memories regarding their cause.40 Later, an explanation
that the person considers plausible may help to reduce their distress, irrespective of the
reality status of the explanation. Finally, if the plausible narrative occurs within a context
of social support and approval (e.g., an alien abduction support group), it could be
sustained even against criticism or social persecution.41
Social Reality (Siblings and Peers)
As a person individuates, the role of siblings (within the family) and then
extrafamilial peers is significant in building and supporting consensual reality. Dave’s
history reveals a familial sharing of abduction stories, suggesting a shared belief system
and the possibility of a lack of individuation within the family.
Dave is the oldest of four boys... Dave and his mother were always close.
All three of his brothers appear to have had abduction experiences as does
the son of one of them, who does not wish to be identified.
(Mack, 1994, p. 266)
The shared reality can be differentiated by distinctions among the impact of UFO stories,
UFO sightings, and abduction reports.
In rare cases, it is possible for consolidated memories to be suppressed by trauma. However, “recovered”
memories of abuse can be unreliable (Lynn et al., 2002).
The social desirability of various diagnoses or problem explanations was recently elucidated by a
psychologist colleague (Winterstein, 2003). She told this author that one therapy client requested a
diagnosis of Multiple Personality Disorder instead of Borderline Personality Disorder. In the client’s
words: “People are more interested in talking with you at parties when you’re a ‘Multiple’. They avoid you
when you’re a ‘Borderline’ because that [diagnosis] has a bad reputation and isn’t nearly as interesting.”
When Dave was nineteen, he had a close-up sighting of a UFO, which
affected him deeply. He was with his younger brother, Ralph, and a close
friend, Jerry... Although Jerry, who acknowledges the UFO encounter
does not admit to abduction experiences, Dave believes that he is an
abductee. Ralph was also powerfully impressed with the sighting.
(Mack, 1994, p. 270)
Dave finds acceptance within Mack’s special community of “experiencers”, while at the
same time helping to reinforce the validation of his story.
Dave is becoming a leader in his community in the exploration of
anomalous experiences. Other abductees are attracted to him, and he is
considering changing his career so he can use hypnosis with them and
provide support by leading groups.
(Mack, 1994, p. 266)
Joe reveals a possible reason for finding the alien relationship beneficial when he
recalls his adolescent loneliness.
As a teenager Joe became aware of how separate and alone he felt,
“basically, you know, social-puberty blues.” Recalling that time in one of
his regressions, he said, “I just don’t connect with anyone. I don’t fit in.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 178)
Such adolescent feelings are not uncommon, and Joe’s resolution of them by having alien
relationships is not altogether different from the types of imaginary relationships
promoted in a media culture.42
An intense need to be liked and accepted can turn into resentment if the desired
peer support is not forthcoming.
[Sheila] spoke disappointingly of a friend whom she generally trusted and
had told of her abduction experiences. But the friend “doesn’t believe
me,” Sheila said, and lamented that “people think we have a discrete
universe that we know about, and they don’t want to work with anything
beyond those boundaries.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 81)
Psychiatry might consider such a resolution as a developmental regression (i.e., imaginary companions).
What would have been implied if her friend had readily agreed with Sheila’s new
“reality”? Perhaps Sheila came to need less social support from past friendships, since
she has been accepted into Dr. Mack’s special community of “experiencers”,
meaningfully called P.E.E.R.
Individuation (Individual versus Collective Identity)
The persistent tension between individuation and the need for group cohesion
appears in Storyteller accounts that contrast “humanity’s” excessive emphasis on
individuality with alien collectivity and “togetherness”. Such stories frequently contain a
mandate for humans to change their ways, which may reflect a persisting frustration with
the extreme demands of individuation that our particular culture imposes.43
With considerable resistance Scott admitted that the intention of the aliens
was to “live here” (on Earth) but without us, unless “humans change,” in
which case “we might be able to live together.” Then he contrasted the
ways of humans with the aliens. Human beings “are alone” and “they
don’t share.” In the alien realm “nobody’s in their own world” and
“everybody knows everything. There are no secrets.” I asked him about
himself. “I’m one of them,” he said, but in his human identity he imposes
limits on his ability to love and share because of “my own ignorance.”
(Mack, 1994, pp. 104-105)
Scott’s description of his struggle to be an alien serves as an unacknowledged admission
of his humanity. Scott cannot avoid being human and remains unable to attain his
idealized concept of “alien relationships”.
Pseudo-dependency can be observed in Storyteller feelings that “conventional”
life is boring, which it may seem when compared with media images of life satisfaction.
In situations of persistent job dissatisfaction and poor marital adjustment, the person may
Most cultures are more relationship-oriented than our own, and these include societies that retain
traditional beliefs in ancestral and nature spirits (Caughey, 1984; American Psychological Association,
complain about their situation but expects it to improve by itself without commitment and
sacrifice on their part.
After graduating from college, Sara married Thomas. She became
increasingly unfulfilled by the conventionality of their life together...
About a year after she was married, Sara became very ill. Although there
was no outward evidence to support this, Sara connects this illness to the
otherworldly presence in her life... Her recovery was a long one, and
during this period she and Thomas grew further apart and eventually
(Mack, 1994, p. 203)
Sara’s resolution of her situation involved leaving her marriage and eventually dating a
person who acts like an “alien”.
About five months before she wrote to me, Sara met a young man named
Miguel... Sara refers to Miguel as her “extraterrestrial friend.” Miguel
reported seeing alien beings in his dreams, and Sara felt that he may even
be a “representative” of an alien species. He sometimes acted so listless
that his behavior reminded Sara of the hybrid children abductees see on
the ships.
(Mack, 1994, p. 203)
In her new lifestyle, Sara experiences the “warmth” of a collective existence.
[Sara] felt (and feels) a lot of love from and to [the aliens]. “It feels like
home,” she said, “Like the ideal feeling of, uhm, like a warm family.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 205)
When a Storyteller becomes undifferentiated from the alien “community”, an
observable shift can occur that identifies doubling.
A shift in Eva’s perspective occurred at this point, and for the remainder of the
regression she spoke as if from the perspective of the alien community, using only
the pronoun “we.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 250)
In her new identity, Eva engages in a reversal of roles. Her words carry the tone
of collective identity--or even channeling--as she gives spiritual advice to her own
Eva spoke of [Mack’s] own extremes of intellect and unconditional love, a
“cosmic tension,” and advised [Mack] to “go to a retreat” in an isolated place
without other people in order to balance these polarities and “connect your being
to the cosmos.” Picking up emotions of sadness and loneliness in [Mack] she
said, “You need to know that you are never alone. Just ask for the connection and
you’ll feel us, all of the nonphysical beings that have been guiding you all along.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 260)
In such situations, the doubled consciousness can induce a new-found confidence that
may lead to preaching and taking a more dominant role. Such was the case in Marshall
Applewhite’s leadership of the Heaven’s Gate group.
Love (Intimacy versus Isolation)
Fear can insert itself into relationships when there are unresolved issues around
intimacy and social adjustment. Mack’s introduction of Ed and Lynn recalls Fowler’s
comment that the relationship between Betty and Barney Hill was based on their common
Ed is... married to Lynn, a writer with whom he shares an interest in
science and technology.
(Mack, 1994, p. 51)
Ed’s sudden fear while walking with his wife leads (with Mack’s help) to “recovery” of a
memory of an alien sexual encounter when he was an adolescent.
With Ed in the pod was a small, slight female figure with long, straight
thin slivery-blond hair. Although Ed could recall no specific earlier
abduction experiences, the figure “had familiar aspects to her,” and he had
vague “very sinister,” memories of “something out there” from his
childhood... “I had this uncomfortable feeling that every time she looked at
me she could see right into me.” [italics added]
(Mack, 1994, p. 52)
Ed’s description that the alien female can see inside him suggests that the source of his
discomfort lies within himself, or at least that “she” is part of him. His location of this
memory during his adolescence is significant for understanding that Ed’s developmental
crises (which also involve his vocational choice) likely originated in unfaced fears within
his human relationships, that affected his sense of identity and intimacy. Whether Ed
turns to face the human realities in this world or pursues the alien “alternative” will
determine whether his future becomes more open and freeing, or possibly more
Sheila experienced tremendous grief and depression after devastating personal
In addition to the loss of her mother and [her] pastor’s fatal illness, since
November 1983 Sheila had also experienced the deaths of other close
friends and family members.
(Mack, 1994, p. 71)
When she became estranged enough from her husband to sleep apart from him, she used
a maternal metaphor to rationalize her turning away:
By October 1984, nine months after her mother’s death, Sheila’s
estrangement from her husband had reached the point where she felt she
had to move to a separate room. “I attempted on several occasions to
discuss the basis of my sadness with my husband. He would not listen.”
She also did not feel she could tell him of her strange dreams and moved
out of the bedroom in part to “protect” him and “allow him to sleep.”
[italics added]
(Mack, 1994, pp. 70-71)
Eva also expressed fears about trust and revealed an inability to tolerate conflict with her
[Eva’s] concern was not only that [her husband] would not understand her
experiences, but also that he might be troubled by the information, which
could create uncomfortable tension in their relationship.
“I felt in total panic... I wanted to wake him up and tell him I was ‘taken’
somewhere. I also knew he’d never believe me. He’d think I was crazy…” She
felt “edgy for a couple of days” and tried to “put it in the back of my mind.”44
(Mack, 1994, p. 247)
Like Eva, Dave experiences poor marital adjustment. However, his response takes the
form of fantasized promiscuity.
Before going on a vacation with his wife to a national park in North
Carolina, [Dave] dreamed of a girl who reminded him of one to whom he
had once been engaged to marry... Once in the park, Dave met a young
park ranger, Charlotte Hampton, with whom he felt strangely linked... He
found himself making some sort of strange, intense energy connection
through eye contact [italics added] with her, which led to a kind of
blacking out on his part... It turned out that this girl was the one he had
dreamed about earlier.
(Mack, 1994, p. 273)
At some point, his fantasies took on an imaginal form. Eventually, his intimacy
orientation culminates in the “realization” that he has had an intimate relationship with a
female alien.
“I immediately knew who it was,” [Dave] replied. It was this female
being who’s mine, and I felt that I knew her very well, and that I liked her
very much, and that I was looking right at her.”... The female being, whom
he calls Velia, loves and accepts him unconditionally, he said, even with
his one eye and his smoking marijuana sometimes, in contrast, for
example, with a girlfriend he had when he was twenty who tended to be
critical, formal, and possessive.
(Mack, 1994, p. 274)
With his alien relationship, Dave resolved issues of physical insufficiency and sexual
insecurity, but at a high cost.
As noted in the Economic Security chapter, Eva wants to quit her job to fulfill her “global mission” on
behalf of the aliens, but does not trust her husband sufficiently to share her unusual intentions.
Peter faced a crisis of choice, as his alien reality provided him with a quest that
conflicted directly with his marriage.
His wife, Jamy, has been a steadfast partner throughout Peter’s personal
journey; yet he has felt that it is inevitable that he assign priority to his
abduction-related life. This has created the kind of strains in their
marriage that occur under the best of circumstances when one member of
a couple is deeply involved with abduction experiences.
(Mack, 1994, p. 293)
His wife Jamy responded with understandable concerns about marital communication and
For the next twenty or thirty minutes we talked of the strains that Peter’s
abduction experiences were placing on his and Jamy’s marriage. Jamy felt
excluded from much of what Peter was going through and expressed fears
that he would leave her... [Mack] spoke of how difficult it is for spouses
who are with someone who has an all consuming mission and tried to be
supportive of Jamy in what she was going through... There was no clear
resolution, except a commitment on both their parts to stay connected and
try to be sensitive to what each was experiencing.45
(Mack, 1994, p. 302)
Finally, Peter revealed that the marriage breakdown was already a reality in the imaginal
[Peter] realized that he had repeatedly made love with an alien female. “It feels
like she’s my real wife--I want to say on a soul level. She’s the person that I’m
really connected to, and she’s the one I’m going to be with, or something.”...
“What about my life on Earth, John? What about my wife?”
(Mack, 1994, p. 20)
There is a stereotypical consistency in the gender differences observed in the
Storytellers’ reactions to their encounters with alien beings. Women in human
relationships agonize about issues of communication (“I can’t talk with him about this.”;
“He won’t listen to me.”), maternal responsibility (“I must protect my husband--or
Since Mack’s primary interest is alien abduction, not marriage counseling, his non-directive responses
might not have adequately addressed his patients’ marital conflict.
children--from this alien reality.”), and rejection (“If I tell him, he’ll think I’m crazy and
leave me.”). Men obsess about sex (“I’m having an affair with an alien. What if my wife
finds out?”), reputation and status (“What will people think of me?”; “Is this a threat to
my job?”), and dominance (“Maybe I can become a leader of an abductee group.”).
Generativity (Parenting Adequacy versus Failure)
A number of parenting fears are revealed in AANs. During a pregnancy, fears
about the impending birth may be accompanied by the emergence of abduction
memories. Ten days before the birth of his baby, Joe came to be hypnotized by Mack.
During a “massage” three months earlier, Joe had terrifying images of alien abduction
and wrote to Mack about them. Joe’s hypnosis session led to a detailed and frightening
abduction account. Almost as an afterthought, Mack disclosed:
[Joe] was also anxious about the impending birth of his baby and his own
imminent fatherhood.
(Mack, 1994, p. 180)
In cases where no actual child exists, the Storyteller may be told that they have
created an alien child, usually through elaborate and secret alien procedures. Under
hypnosis, Jerry reported being impregnated by an alien device and later having a baby
removed from her body by the aliens.
The beings wanted Jerry to feel proud of the accomplishment of producing
this creature. But she felt angry, confused, used, and betrayed.46
(Mack, 1994, p. 127)
These are common emotional reactions to sexual assault or childhood sexual abuse.
When children are present in the family, belief in an alien presence can trigger
general fear reactions out of a logical (if perhaps irrational) concern for the children’s
safety. This appears to be the case with Jerry’s interpretations of her children’s fears.
[Jerry’s son] Matthew was born in 1983. He was frightened of the puppets
... from Sesame Street that came through a window on the show. When
the alien puppets were being shown, Matthew would cry and scream and
tell his mother to turn off the TV. He was frightened by a yogurt
commercial in which a UFO flew down and landed.... He spoke of a
dream of a pyramid shaped flying saucer that talked to him and had
eyes.47 [italics added]
Both [Sally and Matthew] reacted strongly to the picture of an alien when
Jerry showed them the Hopkins Image Recognition Test cards she
obtained from a friend who was also an abductee.
(Mack, 1994, p. 114)
Fear that one’s child is involved in alien abductions suggests poor parent-child
boundaries (the parent’s fears are generalized to the child, or vice versa), displacement
(the parent’s own fear is experienced as belonging to the child), or possibly a form of
Munchausen’s Syndrome by proxy (the parent focuses on the child’s abductions to gain
attention and sympathy). Even in their mildest form, normal children’s fears (such as bad
dreams) might be interpreted as indicators of alien abduction.
Eva and David have two children, Aaron, age nine and Sarah. After our
first regression in January 1993, Eva spoke of her concerns that Sarah was
having her own abduction-related experiences. About three or four times
a year [Sarah] was waking up from “bad dreams.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 242)
One of the most common fears of parenthood (discussed previously in Strieber) concerns
one’s parental adequacy (failure to protect), expressed by some Storyteller as the inability
to prevent their child’s abduction.
This image appears on every American one-dollar ($1) bill.
[Sheila] also echoed the experience of so many abductees when she wrote,
“What a horrible and terrifying thought that you can’t protect your own
child [in reference to her suspicion that [daughter] Beverly has had
abduction experiences as well] in the privacy of your own home.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 75)
But Storytellers in these situations frequently go back to sleep. The terror they describe
deos not lead to any behavioral response.
In a similar belief, a parent may perceive that the child is actually being abducted
along with them in a sort of “ride along” situation. Jerry developed this type of fear.
Colin was three in February 1993. His involvement has been intense and
is well-documented in Jerry’s notes, her conversations with me, and a
careful evaluation by another child psychiatrist. Jerry has also witnessed
his presence during her own abductions. In a journal entry dated August
14, 1992 when Colin was two and a half years old, Jerry wrote of hearing
him crying and talking to himself in the night. She went into his room and
found him sitting up in bed... He pointed out the window and said, “See
the eyes.” Jerry felt “so weird because earlier that night I had the strong
feeling that [the aliens] were around.” She took Colin upstairs to tell
Bob... but he got angry and said [Colin] must have had a nightmare.
(Mack, 1994, p. 115)
Here Jerry experienced a lack of support from her spouse, by his failure to agree with her
about consensual reality. In the story of Betty and Barney Hill, Barney came to share
Betty’s views and experiences, thus preserving the marriage. In Jerry’s case, the
marriage relationship is already threatened by Bob’s reluctance to accept Jerry’s reality.
Jerry spoke then of Bob’s increasing resistance to accepting the reality of
her experiences, largely, she believed because of the implications for him
of having his little son involved.
(Mack, 1994, p. 128)
Storyteller Carlos produces an image of almost total powerlessness in the face of
the alien threat to his child.
Carlos’s most distressing abduction memories, marked sometimes by
nausea and other physical symptoms, are those that have involved his
children... Carlos wept in my presence when he recalled the trauma of
being unable to protect them in their youth. “I am paralyzed and they take
the boy from my arms,” he laments, trying to control his sobbing.
(Mack, 1994, p. 345)
In extreme cases, the parent may experience fear that their child is an alien-human
hybrid. This belief--which can indicate the presence of Capgras Syndrome48--can place
the child in danger and may be grounds for mandated reporting of child abuse.
In what is perhaps the most extreme form of generativity crisis, a person makes a
choice to subordinate the very act of procreation to some “higher” purpose. Peter
proposes to serve the alien reality instead of starting a family.
The couple has decided not to have children, at least for the present time...
Peter would enjoy having children, he says, but adds that possibly “There
is some destiny for me, or there is some predetermination in my life that is
tied in with this alien thing, something for me to do. It may preclude
(Mack, 1994, p. 294)
The profound spiritual implications of avoiding procreation to serve an alien reality-affirming the supremacy of his chosen status--constitute a failure of faith in the human
future.49 In a Gnostic sense, the physical has been found wanting and has been replaced
by a virtual reality.
The Roman Catholic marriage rite marks the seriousness of this choice by requiring that a marital union
be “open to the possibility of children”, a requirement which is sometimes erroneously interpreted as
precluding all forms of birth control.
The paradigmatic significance of each of the AANs selected for this study is
reflected by its role as an archetype of human relationship.
Marriage: Betty and Barney Hill enacted a story of marital compromise through
the development of a shared belief that strengthens and preserves their
relationship in the face of existing and emergent differences.
Family: As family matriarch, Betty Andreasson created a mythological ordeal
that represents the family’s mutual support (led by mother, daughter, and maternal
grandfather) during two periods of extreme crisis: James Andreasson’s
automobile accident (1967), and Betty’s separation and divorce (1977).
Social Network: Artist Budd Hopkins introduced friends and professional
acquaintances to his interests and each other, leading to a shared belief in an
“invisible epidemic” (of “alienation”) and the development of support groups to
alleviate it.
Mass Culture: Whitley Strieber came before his public with a horror story that is
“true” by subsuming within it his entire inner world and imaginal life. Before
Communion, he merchandized fear images as fiction to stimulate and perhaps
innoculate (desensitize) his readers in the presence of fear. Now his own fear
images reach the broadest possible audience.
Special Community: John Mack’s “experiencers” found a safe place to support
them in overcoming social and development obstacles.
As seen in the selections above, each of the Storytellers participates in a personal drama
in their family, marriage or job situation. They must overcome barriers against disclosing
their feelings to others, or against taking action to change their situation. Although such
obstacles are sometimes attributed to alien manipulation, they more likely indicate
psychological conflicts in the Storyteller, which are then also expressed or justified by
means of fear images and--with the help of a Narrator--an increasingly elaborate story.
“We’ve all got it coming, kid.”
William Money (Clint Eastwood), Unforgiven (1992)
Beyond the geography traveled in the eight previous chapters, we now approach
the presence of fear as it insinuates itself into the realm of ultimate human concern:
suffering and death. In this realm, fear finds its final opportunity to dominate our soul
life. When confronted by the prospect of suffering and death (for example, when
receiving a cancer diagnosis), most people experience a fear response, but for most of our
lives fears of suffering and death are not consciously present as an imminent threat.1 We
learn to accept the concept that we will die one day (hopefully later rather than sooner),
but this intellectual understanding masks our true feelings. When the awareness of
suffering and death becomes pervasive--or disappears completely--fear has taken up
residence in this realm of life.
Historically, popular culture has controlled images of suffering and death
somewhat more carefully than those of other fear realms, due to the cultural sensitivities
That the presence of fear never fully retreats from the realm of suffering and death is illustrated in the
New Testament, when Jesus prays for relief in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33-36; Luke 22:43-44
adds an angelic companion to strengthen him for fear’s continuing presence). In modern literature, this fear
is darkly imagined as the Undertoad of John Irving’s novel The World According To Garp (1978).
surrounding those fears. However, young children have always been exposed to some
form of socially sanctioned violent images, from fairy tales to television cartoons, in
which they see characters like Wile E. Coyote undergo elaborate violence that would be
fatal to any living creature, but that cause only humiliation, not suffering or death.2
Horror films portray suffering and death in stylized, exaggerated, or comedic ways. In
modern cinema, these fears have begun to be examined in a more serious way (The
Singing Detective, 1986; The Doctor, 1991; Wit, 2002). In the elegiac Western
Unforgiven (1992), the main character has repudiated his past, when as a young
gunfighter he meted out suffering and death to others. But circumstances force him to
confront his demons to save a town from a psychopathic sheriff.3 Clint Eastwood--who
also directed the film--intended it as a moral commentary on some of the violent films of
his early acting career. By making explicit our common mortality, his character rejects
the fear-inspired (and sometimes religious) rationalization that those who suffer and die
must deserve their fate.
Sardello emphasizes several different aspects of our relationship to suffering and
death. First, due to the influences of both scientific materialism and New Age beliefs, we
have exchanged the fear of death itself (whether perceived as annihiliation of awareness
or as an impending judgment) for a preoccupation with the process of dying.
The stages of coming to terms with death are now so well known that most
of us can recite them by heart, and the proliferation of books on death and
dying signals the development of a healthy psychology of death and the
Conventions of cartoon suffering and death are deconstructed on the television series The Simpsons, in
which the Simpson children watch a television cartoon show whose characters actually suffer and die.
Unforgiven thus reverses the structure of the classic film High Noon (1950), in which the sheriff (Gary
Cooper) must overcome his fear, cowardice, and revulsion against violence to save a town from evil
entry of a spiritual imagination into the general culture. We may not be so
afraid of death as we are terrified of what may precede it.
(Sardello, 1999, pp. 108-109)
Sardello identifies the loss of meaning in one’s life as the “heart” of the fear of death.
Death taunts us with the fear that perhaps our entire life--everything we
have done, felt, and thought--may, in the final analysis, be of no
significance. Thus, those who live without an inner certainty of why we
are here or where we are going experience a terrible dread of death... when
one fails to live deeply with the question of the meaning of one’s life... the
fear of death [can] supercede the fear of pain and suffering.
(Sardello, 1999, p. 109)
Sardello reminds us that by facing this fear to find meaning that transcends one’s physical
existence, one conquers the fear of death. The suffering and martyrdom of saints in
Christianity and other religions, the sacrifice of soldiers for their comrades in battle, and
the lifelong efforts of scientists, doctors, and others to better the human condition reflect
this meaning in history.
Second, in modern times the process of dying has come to be treated as a
technical problem to be solved through pain management (or assisted suicide) and the use
of psychological techniques. These approaches overlook the degree to which they place
both sufferer and caregiver in mutual isolation.
Painful suffering moves one into isolation--away from others and the
surrounding world... The loneliness one suffers often seems unbridgeable,
and it may appear that the only way to assist the patient is to become
insensitive at the soul level... Confronted with a reality over which they
have no control, [doctors] concentrate solely on the practical concerns of
what can be done.
(Sardello, 1999, pp. 111-112)
Finally, Sardello states that in order to overcome this tendency--to address the fears of
suffering and death that separate caregiver and patient--the emotional isolation of the
dying person must be faced directly. The training of medical personnel and hospice
workers needs to include the awareness that:
We are able to be of service to those who suffer only to the extent that we
have been able to transform fear in our own lives. Such efforts of the soul
also prepare us for the painful suffering that we may encounter ourselves...
(Sardello, 1999, pp. 117-118)
How does the fear of suffering and death appear in the narratives under
consideration in this study? As described in Chapter VII (“The Human Body”), alien
abduction narratives often include accounts of physical pain that accompany mysterious
quasi-medical procedures. Although seen by Narrators as the source of Storytellers’
posttraumatic distress, this kind of pain is rarely invested with meaning beyond the
attendant “growing pains” of spiritual development. While a fear of future alien
abduction (re-abduction) implies that one’s life will continue, a present fear of future
suffering serves to signal the more ultimate fear realm. In addition, fear of death (as
annihilation) can be seen in disclosures that the Storyteller’s existence as an autonomous
individual is under threat. Whether undergoing hypnosis or making a voluntary report,
Storytellers often express a fear of ceasing to exist or having their personal reality
overturned by the abduction experience. Storytellers typically say that they experienced
the death of their previous reality and transformation of their personality.4
Alien abduction stories have been compared to near-death experiences and
shamanic initiation visions because of perceived similarities in their qualities of suffering
and death (Ring, 1992). In aboriginal traditions, a person becomes a shaman after
animals or strange entities come to them in a vision or dream to take their body apart (i.e.,
For some Storytellers, descriptions of past lives and reincarnation offer a paradigm for such a transition.
In past life regression, fears of suffering and death can be pushed back into a previous life where it may
seem more tolerable. In addition, the hope of future reincarnation ameliorates the fear in this life.
quasi-medical procedures) and to rebuild it with special objects, such as crystals or
precious stones. Shamanic initiation visions are interpreted by modern anthropology as a
symbolic form of death and rebirth (Eliade, 1951). Such visions typically include the
element of suffering that is associated with most initiation rites, which involve pain and
often include simulated death and resurrection. Similar visions are suggested in the
AANs considered in this study.
Some writers have identified shamanism as one stage within the evolution of
religious expressions, in which literal animal images and rituals serve to bind human
fears and to tie social structures into the natural order. In Christianity as Mystical Fact
(1914), Rudolf Steiner proposed that the evolution embodied in modern Western
religions--with their emphasis on abstract thought--precludes a return to more traditional
practices. Abram (1996) emphasizes shamanism’s role in tying a society into its natural
ecology; by implication, modern urban expressions of traditional practices are simply
misguided. However, the modern resurgence of interest in aboriginal religions may
reflect an attempt to adapt the shamanistic function to a completely new ecology
consisting of urbanization, the breakdown of traditional values, and a pervasive
marketplace of media images.
The Christian tradition carries images of suffering and death, from the immersion
of baptism (a “drowning”) to the suffering of Christ on the cross, and the lives of the
saints. Some alien abduction narratives include quasi-religious imagery. This type of
imagery is present in the account of Betty Andreasson, a self-described devout Christian,
who experienced a fleeting fear of drowning (see below) and also witnessed the death and
resurrection of a phoenix-like bird.5
Finally, the world today encounters fears of suffering and death within images of
violence, war, genocide, destruction of the human race and other images of mass death
(including those described in Chapter VI). These traumatic images cannot be avoided
and so must be confronted in ways authentic or inauthentic. Such fears can stimulate
different forms of rationalization and avoidance. The Heaven’s Gate group committed
group suicide from an ostensible desire to join with an ideal alien society promised by
their leader Marshall Applewhite. The People’s Temple cult committed suicide and
murder following years of imagery conditioning6 by its guru Jim Jones. It seems likely
that these group suicides were enabled by the exploitation of the fear of suffering and
death--combining ritual desensitization with the idea that death is a “portal” or “next
step”--instead of conscious recognition and constructive working with the fear of
suffering and death. It is important, therefore, to be attentive to whether the fear
dynamics of suffering and death in AANs enhance or diminish the soul qualities that we
value as human beings.
Fuller-Hills Narrative (1966)
The Betty and Barney Hill narrative is lacking in references to suffering and
death, when compared with later narratives. An exception occurs in one of Betty’s vivid
Fowler, 1979, p. 96.
For example, Jim Jones regularly showed his followers scenes of genocide and nuclear war, in order to
convince them that the world (and life) was beyond redemption.
dreams, in which she reported an alien being’s curiosity about the human life span and
causes of death.
After they left, the leader asked what was old age. I said that a life span
was believed to be a hundred years, but people died at age sixty-five to
seventy from degeneration and disease usually; some died in accidents and
illnesses at all ages. [italics added]
(Fuller, 1966, p. 302)
This dream report was consistent with Betty’s belief that the aliens had a different
perception of time (see Chapter X). The absence of suffering and death in this narrative
paralleled the lack of personal tragedy or grief in the Hills’ lives at the time.
Fowler-Andreasson Narrative (1979)
As in the Betty and Barney Hill story, there was a lack of suffering and deathrelated fear in Betty Andreasson’s account of an alien encounter. Although the
Andreasson account included vivid images of body fear and physical pain (see Chapter
VII), it did not reflect a preoccupation or fear of “suffering unto death”. This is
somewhat paradoxical, since Betty’s experience supposedly occurred during a medical
One exception is an intense and terror-filled moment in Betty’s account when the
aliens prepared her for a “heavenly journey” with a kind of baptism:
Terror filled Betty’s heart when she was told that she was to be immersed
in a liquid... Betty became hysterical. “I’ll drown if you do that!” “No,
you won’t drown,” [the aliens] said... “Just keep your eyes closed, and you
will be fine.”
(Fowler, 1979, p. 71)
Although the fear of death was not prominent in Betty Andreasson’s abduction
story, death entered Betty’s personal life in sudden and tragic ways that her Narrator
Fowler interpreted as related to an alien presence. During the course of Raymond
Fowler’s investigation of Betty’s alien abduction story, three members of Betty’s family
died, including two of her sons in a tragic automobile accident (p. 199). The fact that
these deaths occurred after the investigation was well under way suggests that they did
not play a role in Betty’s original abduction report.7 The death of her sons was preceded
by a strange and upsetting incident:
Early on the evening of October 19, Bob8 phoned Betty ... As they chatted
cordially about the UFO investigation, someone or something interrupted
their telephone conversation. Suddenly a male voice, livid with anger,
spoke to them in an unintelligible tongue. Peculiar clickings and tones
could be heard. Vivid mental impressions overwhelmed Betty’s mind,
causing her great sorrow. Frightened [italics added], she and Bob
terminated the phone call and phoned their respective UFO investigators
to report the weird happening.
(Fowler, 1979, p. 196)
That same evening, Betty told her daughter Becky about the strange phone incident and
also reported it to Fowler, who tape-recorded their discussion. Late that night (around
3:00 a.m.), Becky awoke screaming for her mother and saying there were lights in her
bedroom. Within twenty-four hours, Betty’s sons, James (age 21) and Todd (age 17)
died in an automobile accident. Fowler described the reaction to the news:
We were shocked and saddened by the news. This brought to four9 the
death toll of people who had been associated with our investigation. As
objective investigators, we tried to convince ourselves that the angry voice
on the telephone and the later effect on Betty’s life was [sic] merely a
coincidence. But fact number one is that I personally tape recorded her
account of the telephone warning.10 Fact number two is that the tragedy
struck within twenty-four hours of the interview [about the strange phone
However, her original account was preceded by her first husband’s accident and hospitalization, which
suggests the possibility of fear images related to accidental death and medical suffering.
Bob Luca, a UFO enthusiast who later became Betty’s second husband.
The two previous deaths were Betty’s father and one of Fowler’s colleagues.
Fowler’s interpretation imbues the call with meaning. However, there is no indication of a warning in his
account of Betty’s original report.
call]. Fact number three is that a similar sequence of events was reported
in the Syracuse, New York Herald Journal on December 21, 1967. During
a terrifying close encounter UFO experience, voices gave the witness a
prophetic warning of a fatal automobile accident! UFO researcher John
Keel... summarized the bizarre account in his book Why UFOs?
(Fowler, 1979, p. 199)
In his focus on “facts” above, Fowler did not consider alternative plausible explanations
for a strange telephone call. Professional telephone operators experience hundreds of
such calls from the mentally ill, prisoners, and non-English-speaking callers. In addition,
bizarre auditory experiences are frequently associated with telephone imagery in dreams
and hypnogogic hallucinations. The “similar sequence of events” in a twenty-year-old
news story as reported in John Keel’s UFO book has only an automobile accident in
common with Betty’s report. As an amateur ufologist, Fowler took on a difficult case
that included religious beliefs, strong emotions, and personal tragedy, but his attempt to
act as a scientific investigator faltered due to his lack of training and experience. The
result was the reframing of anecdotal information to associate an alien presence with the
impact of death on the Andreasson family.
Hopkins Narratives (1981)
With the publication of Budd Hopkins’ narratives, the fear of death began to
surface more explicitly in Storyteller accounts. During a hypnosis session intended to
recover memories related to his fear of driving on a particular stretch of road, Steven
Kilburn reported being afraid to remember what happened to him.
It’s really serious! I might die. [italics added] I mean, I know I won’t, if I
remember. But I feel really, really afraid to see. I believed it then, but I
don’t believe it now. I’m just scared.
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 67)
Under hypnosis, Steven Kilburn overcame his deathly terror and described an alien
visage. Steven’s impression of the alien face resembled a death mask, as if he “looks
death in the face”.
His eyes are really shiny. They look black. I don’t see any pupils or
anything...and they’re big. His head is not round, it’s like an inverted tear
drop. With a big round bar on top. He looks like he’s not alive... [italics
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 69)
Hopkins also related death fears in several abduction cases (unrelated to his
primary Storytellers) referred to him by other researchers. In the first, a Mrs. Bennett and
her daughter Renata reported a strange experience that filled them with dread.
Mrs. Bennett, reconstructing the [UFO sighting] for Harry Lynn’s camera
crew, said “When this light came down and shone on us, I can only tell
you the feeling that you get is that you really are... dead.” [italics added]
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 116)
The perceptions of Steven Kilburn and Mrs. Bennett resemble two sides of the same coin;
Steven attributed a deathlike quality to the alien image, while Mrs. Bennett identified the
sense of death as her own. In both cases, the Storyteller encountered an image or form of
existence beyond their normal understanding. A psychologist might theorize that Kilburn
projected his fear of death onto the alien image, as though looking in a mirror, while
Bennett experienced it directly.
Two other accounts described the fear of death. Investigation of a “psychological
siege” of two campers by “robotlike figures” led to this comment by Hopkins:
One of them later described his feelings to me this way: “You know,
you’re petrified... you’re too scared to run... I felt that I was going to die
there [italics added], that’s what I really felt like...
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 219)
The other incident--which took place in 1980--came to Hopkins’ attention when the fear
of death overcame a witness to a UFO sighting.
He told me that, when he stopped his car to look up, and saw that the UFO
had also stopped, he became extremely frightened. So frightened, he said,
that he was afraid he was going to die there. [italics added]
(Hopkins, 1981, p. 232)
The Hopkins narratives introduced explicit comments about fear of death that
went beyond the fears about being observed or abducted in earlier AANs. His
Storytellers expressed the idea that alien encounters have something to do with death.
However, in each case, there were variations in the presence and characteristics of fear
that suggested differences in the Storytellers themselves.
Strieber Narrative (1987)
As discussed in previous chapters, Strieber’s Communion narrative contained
significantly more fear imagery and expressions than previous accounts. He was
preoccupied with fear in his published writings, especially the horror novels. The fear
realm of suffering and death was no exception. Unlike the Storytellers of previous
AANs, Strieber explicitly referred to AANs in terms of suffering. In his opening
introduction to Communion, Strieber pleaded for sympathy for his victim status:
I suffered with this experience. Others suffered, and are still suffering.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 14)
Strieber also elaborated on his experiences by describing imagery of annihilation and
The fear was so powerful that it seemed to make my personality
completely evaporate... “Whitley” had ceased to exist. What was left was
a body in a state of raw fear so great that it swept around me like a sick
suffocating curtain, turning paralysis into a condition that seemed close to
death [italics added]. I do not think that my ordinary humanity survived
the transition to this little room. I died, and a wild animal appeared in my
place. [italics added]
(Strieber, 1987, p. 25-26)
Strieber’s allusion to transformation into a wild animal is significant in light of his novel
The Wolfen (1978), a story of super-intelligent wolves that remain hidden from humanity.
These creatures, conceived by Strieber well before his abduction narrative, resemble in
their secrecy the aliens he claims to encounter.11 The concept of humans who can change
into animals (called shape-shifters) is also part of the shamanic tradition wherein humans
are transformed into magical beings by animal spirits.
Strieber also reported suicidal thoughts connected with his fears about what was
happening to him.
Wave after wave of sorrow passed over me. I looked at the window with
hunger. I wanted to jump. I wanted to die. [italics added] I just could not
bear this memory and I could not get rid of it.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 40)
In the face of alien encounter, Strieber said he wanted to die, although an alien encounter
represented evidence of “a finer state of consciousness” that he had been seeking.12 The
deathly consequences of seeing the Transcendent face-to-face appear in the Old
Testament,13 Jewish tradition, and even in the adventure film Raiders of the Lost Ark
(1981). Strieber’s horror fiction, his explicit comments about suffering and death, and his
extensive preoccupation with learning the meaning of his traumatic experience, suggest
that the fear of death had long been a presence in his life.
Strieber recently announced on the Internet that indeed the Wolfen represented his “greys”. See
Strieber, 1987, p. 35.
Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:20.
Mack Narratives (1994)
As seen in previous chapters--such as Chapter VIII (Emotions) and Chapter X
(Time)--Mack’s Storytellers expanded and elaborated the role of death and rebirth to the
level of worldview themes such as past lives, reincarnation, and spiritual transformation.
In the case of “Sheila”, Mack said that issues surrounding the death of her mother
and other close acquaintances played a significant role in leading to her being referred to
him. In her account, she was forced to cope with the deaths of a number of those close to
[Sheila] was seeking understanding and relief from the stress... that had
begun more than eight years earlier, following her mother’s death.
(Mack, 1994, p. 69)
In addition to the loss of her mother and [her] pastor’s fatal illness, since
November 1983 Sheila had also experienced the deaths of other close
friends and family members.
(Mack, 1994, p. 71)
Sudden tragic death frequently leaves a person without a sense of meaning that can
balance their grief and confusion. Participation in a cosmic story adds a context within
which such meaning can be found. Sheila’s case can be compared in some ways with
that of Betty Andreasson. Both suffered multiple losses among family and close friends.
Both cases show a person whose alien encounter story evolved along with grief and fears
around death.
A different type of life transformation precipitated a crisis of meaning for “Joe”,
who told his story in the context of the impending birth of his first child (see Chapter
When [Mack] first met Joe his wife was expecting their first child in one
month. The exploration of Joe’s alien encounters in the context of his
wife’s pregnancy, labor and delivery, and his own evolving role as a
father, has given us a rich opportunity to examine the relationship of the
abduction phenomenon to Joe’s consciousness of the cycles of birth and
death over time, including the recall of a dramatic past life experience.
(Mack, 1994, p. 177)
Like Steven Kilburn, Joe looked into the face of death. Joe expressed a fear of personal
annihilation when confronted with the alien “eyes”.14
[The alien] told him to look “inside his eyes” and relax by losing himself
there, but he feared “I would disappear” [italics added] and “not come
back” if he let go completely.
(Mack, 1994, p. 182)
Joe also introduced a past life into his hypnotic regression, perhaps as a way of putting
distance between his own situation and the fear of death.
With intense feeling and conviction Joe told of being a poet named Paul
Desmonte in a village near London at the time of the industrial revolution.
Desmonte was arrested, tortured, and he died in prison after blaspheming
against the political and religious establishment... [Mack] asked how he
had died. “Some would say of starvation. I’d say of hopelessness.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 193)
The association of the “Industrial Revolution” with torture for blasphemy seems
historically anachronistic,15 but Paul’s “fate” was consistent with someone who saw
himself in a martyr’s role. As if to confirm his special status, when Joe died as Paul
Desmonte, he was visited by alien beings.
[Mack] asked Joe to tell what happened from when the ETs came back to
the moment of Paul’s death. He said he was afraid he would lose them
again and become lost himself in “this transition” to death.
(Mack, 1994, p. 194)
The large size and blackness of aliens’ eyes--and their intense stare--appear in most AANs. The use of
the eyes has been a hallmark of fear in literature and art for centuries (e.g., the “evil eye”). Some theories
about the source of the alien image propose pulp magazine art and television sources to explain its
appearance (Kottmeyer, 1990).
If Paul actually meant the Spanish Inquisition, his past life was indeed confusing.
Under hypnosis, Mack’s “experiencer” Sara described being abducted from her
grandparent’s home when she was a child. After spending time in the alien ship, she
experienced “falling back” to her white canopy bed. She reported waking up in a fearful
She felt as if she were going back in time to “a place where I was dead.”
[italics added]
(Mack, 1994, p. 207)
Sara recalls that she used to wake up terrified from these abrupt descents
from the ship, “terrified that I could have died...” [italics added]
(Mack, 1994, p. 207)
Although her experiences were presented to Mack as originating in childhood dreams--a
typical arena where young persons encounter and learn to master fears--his use of
hypnotic regression to elicit additional story material added a confounding factor by
promoting more fears.16
“Eva’s” experience took place while she was serving in the Israeli Army--a place
where death is always a present reality.
The other incident occurred while she was on the night shift in [the Israeli
army] at a slow time--perhaps three in the morning--she put her head
down to doze and then “saw myself floating from the ceiling...My
consciousness was up there. My physical body was down there.” A
“voice said, ‘Come with me, it’s good,’” and “I knew at that point I had a
choice of living or dying.” [italics added] Although her heart was beating
fast and “I was sweating like crazy,” Eva was not aware of any lifethreatening illness. She said, “I wasn’t interested in dying, and I said, ‘No,
I’m not coming.’” Eva “knew” she could have died [italics added] but
does not understand why and found the episode confusing.
(Mack, 1994, p. 244)
Increased fear can be expected when a prominent psychiatrist implies that disturbing hypnotic material
depicts “real” events.
This description conforms to a very common hypnagogic reverie, right down to the time
of night and a classic out-of-body experience (OOBE).17 The fears of death reported in
reverie and dreaming are similar to those of Sara and other experiencers. Under such
conditions, the routine use of hypnosis to elicit additional data is questionable.
Death and Animal Imagery in Mack’s Storytellers
Death is associated with animal imagery for a number of Mack Storytellers. In
his story, Scott related his UFO experience to a fear of death.
Scott spoke of fear of death and aloneness [italics added] and of his
feeling like “something in a cage, an animal, being a specimen.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 98)
Scott’s comment about “feeling like an animal” recalls Strieber’s referring to himself as a
“wild animal”. A similar connection to Strieber and an animal appeared in Dave’s
In 1988, soon after reading [Whitley Strieber’s] Communion, Dave had a
dream... In the dream a Hispanic man was holding a mastiff which was
lunging ferociously at him. The man put the dog in a cage, so he decided
it was safe to walk around him. Then the man put two fingers of his right
hand on Dave’s right shoulder and he was pinned to the ground as by a ton
of weight. Then the man let the dog out of the cage, and “I resigned
myself to die, in this dream, which I felt was reality. I couldn’t tell I was
dreaming.” [italics added]
(Mack, 1994, pp. 271-272)
The mastiff in Dave’s dream recalls the monstrous canine of The Hound of the
Baskervilles, as well as Cerberus, the hound of Hell. The association of animal images
with death also occurs in traditional shamanistic tales.
Note the similarities, including rising fear, with the Howard Rich account in Chapter VIII.
Carlos--a fine arts professor and perhaps Mack’s most vividly imaginative
subject--told a highly elaborate New Age shamanistic tale. Here Carlos claimed a
childhood encounter with death, which in traditional societies would qualify him for
shaman status.
Throughout his life, Carlos has suffered from respiratory difficulties
related to various allergies. When he was a year old and had respiratory
pneumonia, a nurse informed his parents that he was clinically dead. His
frantic parents rushed him to a hospital, where a low pulse rate was
discovered and he was placed in an oxygen tent. Under hypnosis with Dr.
Ward, Carlos recalled the feeling that “the child I had been, died” and “the
light creature” he had been previously “took over the dead baby’s
body...Coming into the body was very painful” Carlos says.
(Mack, 1994, p. 340)
Although references to suffering and death are few and indirect in the earlier
AANs, they occur as subtexts in the narratives. Betty Hill reported a dream in which she
discussed human aging and death with an alien being. Betty Andreasson dealt with
family tragedies that Narrator Fowler believed were related to her UFO experiences.
The alien abduction support groups formed by Hopkins, Strieber, and Mack serve
to assure Storytellers that they are not alone. In this sense, the Narrators took the
Storytellers’ abduction disclosures seriously, as indications of some kind of initiation.18
Serious dangers can arise when a group misunderstands the symbolic (mythic) meaning
of initiation. The Heaven’s Gate suicides were the result of such a literalization. As a
“fundamentalist” UFO group, they thoroughly suppressed their fear of physical death
through identification with the UFO “guru” Marshall Applewhite (Lifton, 1999). As
Kenneth Ring (1993) documents the similarity of AANs to other types of initiatory experience, including
near-death experiences (NDEs).
Coles observes, Applewhite (like other apocalyptic “gurus”) attempted to stave off his
progressive psychological breakdown by building a cult following to externalize his fears
into a worldview form. He reframed his inner torments by presenting his followers with
images of them as travails of all life on Earth. Eventually, as his psychic strategy began
to fail, they all sought literal escape together from the illusory picture he had created.
In contrast, Sardello emphasizes the importance of acknowledging the fear of
suffering and death instead of attempting to suppress or divert it through denial or
rationalization. Soul is strengthened when we seek support in community to face
suffering and death.
If we know that others will be with us at the level of soul in times of
suffering, much of the fear surrounding pain can be overcome.
(Sardello, 1999, p. 118)
This need for community is so deep that some Storytellers may have chosen imaginary
relationships in cases where real relationships have disappointed or failed them.
However, if we choose “others” to be with us who are not human, it is not clear whether
we can remain human ourselves.
“Mister Neary, what do you want?”
Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
This study examined five of the most seminal alien abduction narratives (AANs)
published between 1966 and 1994, whose themes and images have become pervasive in
popular culture. Although their strangeness makes them resemble a combination ghostwitch1 story--and AAN collections are found on the New Age or Paranormal shelves in
bookstores--they have attained a social and literary status beyond most forms of
imaginative speculation. The AAN presence has become a publishing phenomenon, and
Storytellers are the subjects of multidisciplinary study by physical scientists, social
scientists, psychotherapists, and medical professionals. This attention indicates that the
content and social function of the stories synthesize a set of key cultural concerns,
including the nature of reality, humanity’s role in a vast cosmos, the precarious and
fragile nature of human life, and the significance of the single individual in a global
civilization. These issues bridge the realms of scientific cosmology and religion. Once
joined in a common task of explaining our place in the universe, these two fields have
The aliens are light in color (“grey”), can dematerialize, and pass through walls. Their witchlike character
includes their frightful countenance, kidnapping, and tormenting activities, and in specific cases (e.g.,
Strieber) they are perceived as female.
bifurcated in modern times. Cosmology has become the province of a governmentfunded scientific bureaucracy that makes physical measurements. Threatened by
science’s increasing hegemony over the physical world, religious institutions have been
relegated to the roles of social support and ethical prescription.2
By treating the AAN as a multi-faceted social communication--while at the same
time distinguishing between its Storyteller and Narrator components--this study
examined the most influential AANs for their psychological depictions of fears in the
nine fear realms identified by Robert Sardello (1999), within which the person
experiences the most fundamental anxieties in the modern age. His contribution has
taken fears out of the category of merely subjective awareness--to which they were
relegated as “psychological problems”--and restored them to the status of an objective
human reality. AANs supply a cultural framework that reflects this reality. They are a
shared cultural myth about modern fears.3 In this sense, the original hypothesis of the
study was confirmed.
An alien abduction narrative is a creative expression of both its Storyteller’s
personal situation and also the human condition. Those who tell alien abduction stories
are engaged in human struggles that find expression in these stories. When existing
psychological tests are used to evaluate the individual personality of a Storyteller, they
are inconclusive. The modern situation of total media immersion provides ample fuel for
these stories, both in terms of alien imagery and narrative structure.
While the dialog between these two professionalized realms should be acknowledged, its discourse
employs abstract logic and academic language accessible to only ten percent of the population (Newman &
Baumeister, 1996) .
Thompson (1990) proposed that AANs are myths in a Jungian sense, but did not identify their specific
fear orientation.
Human experience has always hinted that fear possesses an objective reality
beyond the individual. In ancient times, the qualities of fear were personalized and
named (e.g., Phobos for the Greeks). In psychoanalysis and modern psychology, the
phenomenological reality of fears was relocated “inside” the human personality but also
postulated as originating “below” waking consciousness and therefore not belonging in
the “real” world that only waking consciousness represents. The alien abduction
narrative constitutes an attempt to synthesize the modern and traditional worldviews, the
scientific and phenomenological perspectives. However, because the narrative remains
rooted in the modern worldview, its proponents continue to assume that the aliens are
“outside” (as theorized by modern science) and also that the fears are “inside” the
Storytellers as trauma residue (as claimed by modern psychology). The healing of this
split requires an explanatory framework that rejoins the bifurcated “worlds” of Cartesian
(or Kantian) explanations.
Sardello’s geography of fear provides such a framework. Its nine fear worlds
locate themselves at those boundaries where one’s total humanity becomes most
vulnerable. This study analyzed the five most prominent alien abduction narratives as
phenomenological texts, and found that the three most prevalent fear worlds in these
narratives concern the human body, human emotions, and human relationships; in other
words, the most immediate of human realms. This finding strongly suggests that the
Storytellers’ experiences are not extraterrestrial in origin, but instead have their roots in
significant human concerns.
Fears and the Natural World
The first fear world reveals itself through disturbing images and perceptions of the
natural environment. Expressions of such fears occur during natural disasters and even in
common phrases such as “The sky is falling!” and “The end of the world is near!”
Modern popular culture and cinema propagate many such fear images. Alien abduction
Storytellers often report that they learned to sense impending abduction from cues in the
natural environment.
Natural world fears also surface in “alien” prophecies and images of natural world
destruction. Their increasing occurrence in alien abduction stories over time may reflect
increasing cultural fear of destruction and devastation. Whitley Strieber wrote a book
predicting catastrophic weather patterns and, as an environmental activist, John Mack
paid particular attention to environmental fears in his Storytellers.
Fears and the Human Body
The second fear world manifests as disturbing images and perceptions involving
the human body. The human body is one of the three most significant fear realms found
in alien abduction narratives. Vivid and traumatic medical procedures are considered
part of the typical abduction scenario. The alien beings appear especially preoccupied
with the human head and the sex organs. Fears surrounding human sexuality extend to
stories of induced “alien” pregnancies--with babies often “stolen” as in traditional folk
tales--and the creation of human-alien “hybrid” children.
Interestingly, there is no alien attention to the heart, which might be expected if
the aliens’ interest was purely scientific or physiological. This omission suggests the
symbolism of an Apollonian-Dionysian split, wherein the human being is not experienced
as a unified whole integrated within soul, but instead as a tension between a detached
abstract rationality and a detached physical sexuality.
Fears and Human Emotions
The third fear world reveals itself in disturbances of the human emotions. The
emotions are one of the three most significant fear realms found in the AANs. They are
more difficult to examine due to the modern colloquial use of emotional language to
describe all psychological modalities, such as sensing, feeling, and intuition. Once this is
accounted for, Storytellers can be seen to describe their own emotional struggles. In
addition, the narratives provide considerable evidence for psychological defenses against
troubling emotions, as well as the attribution of uncomfortable emotions to alien beings.
The drama of the Storytellers’ personal lives appears within their emotional disclosures,
defensive behaviors, and attributions of emotion (or lack of emotion) to an alien source.
Alien abduction stories constitute a narrative theatre in which the Storytellers are
significant players. After all, the aliens have come trillions of miles for them.4
Fears and Terrorism
The fourth fear world--images and perceptions of terrorism--became immediate
and overwhelming to most of us on September 11, 2001. When terroristic fears occur in
alien abduction narratives, they tend to be characteristic of the beginning of the story.
Storytellers differ in their degree of terror, and one party to a group abduction (for
example, Barney Hill) may reflect more terror than another (Betty Hill).
Terroristic fears in AANs reflect the pattern identified by Sardello as
characteristic of emotional constriction: being watched, feeling cornered or immobilized,
This status is reflected in their sense of being “chosen ones”.
and looking for protection. The significance of terroristic fear appears to decline over
time, both within an individual story and across narratives. It remains to be seen whether
interest in AANs declined in the aftermath of September 11--displaced by the more
immediate threat--or whether alien abduction continues to provide a metaphor for the
heightened level of terroristic fears.
Fears and Time
The fifth fear world appears within disturbances of time perception. Time
distortion--particularly “missing time”--is a classic AAN element and considered almost
a proof of abduction by some researchers. Determining the actual role of time in an AAN
is confounded by the use of hypnosis, which itself distorts the perception of time. Even
without using hypnosis, a Narrator who directs the Storyteller’s attention to time
anomalies performs a form of hypnotic suggestion. Time also plays a role in the religious
perceptions of an AAN, since time distortion can be interpreted as a sacred sign.
In terms of historical worldviews, time distortion is a factor in the characterization
of the UFO phenomenon as millenarian (Lewis, 1995). Millenial and apocalyptic
movements are concerned with the “end of time” in terms of history and social relations.
The suicides of the Heaven’s Gate members were undertaken with the coming of the
Hale-Bopp comet, a periodic astronomical event that took on spiritual significance when
coupled with the idea that the existence of aliens is apocalyptic; they play a part in
bringing history and time to an end. We live in a historical period in which a new date
(September 11, 2001) has become a watershed. It remains to be seen whether this new
historical context will affect the telling and interpretations of AANs.
Fears and Human Passions
The sixth fear world announces itself through the possession of a human being by
strong or overwhelming emotions. Passions possess low significance in AANs, perhaps
because the Storyteller’s stance remains passive and may become dissociated or
spiritualized when intense emotions appear. Storytellers as a group have difficulty
tolerating the strong emotions associated with the abduction scenario. As a result,
channeling or doubling appears to occur more frequently in the Storytellers in this study
than in victims of other traumatic events such as automobile accidents, war, or even
chronic child abuse.
Sardello differentiates between passions that are fueled by love in contrast to hate.
It should be noted that AAN involvement has become a passion in itself and may lead to
intense beliefs and loyalty to a Narrator or other UFO “guru”. Psychologically, passion-in its negative form--can be seen as a splitting of the will away from objective
representation of the world, toward some specific internal image or concept (in
psychological terms, a complex). Possession by this image drives the organism to
attempt to realize the organismic state represented by the image, which is an impossibility
because the image is only a picture and not integral to the self or the world.
Consistent with Sardello’s view of violent images as the source of rage (Sardello,
1999, p. 86), we can see that Storytellers have been immersed in violent imagery,
including images of alien beings and extraterrestrial assaults. Such images proliferated
beginning in the 1950s, as television came to dominate the public imagination, and the
Cold War and space exploration became merged in the public mind.
Sardello states that the remembrance of death brings balance to rage.5 Against
possession by uncontrollable feelings, Sardello proposes learning to live within the “heat”
of powerful emotions, citing the Buddhist teachings of Bodhidharma on the realms of
greed, anger, and delusion.6 These realms correspond to the “master passions” identified
by Moldoveanu and Nohria (2002) as underlying modern self-deceptions about human
Fears and Economic Security
The seventh fear world appears within images and perceptions of money and
economic matters. AANs describe scenes of invasion of the human economy in the
forms of the home and automobile. Personal histories of Storytellers indicate the
presence of vocational adjustment issues. Viewing their economic fears as indicators of
identity formation suggests that Storytellers find themselves in critical life transitions or
According to Sardello, “economic fear has a great deal to do with how people are
treated in today’s corporate workplace, where individuals are treated as ‘units’ and all
activities (even layoffs) are handled with a legalistic and even demeaning efficiency.”7
Significantly, none of the Storytellers in this study report being abducted from a
workplace environment.8 In contrast to home and automobile, which are more likely to
be places of relative isolation (and freedom), the work environment is more likely to be a
populous setting with a high degree of social cohesion. Such environments typically
Sardello, 1996, page III-21
Sardello, 1999, page 87
Sardello, 1999, p. 93.
Depending on the level of personal dissatisfaction, work could be a place they might actually wish to be
abducted from.
inhibit anomalous perceptions by enforcing conformity and discouraging or sanctioning
eccentric behavior on their premises.9 This raises the possibility that alien abduction
stories originate and develop as part of a process of identity formation, rather than as
reports of physical events.
Fears in Human Relationships
The eighth fear world appears within images and perceptions of human
relationships. This is one of the three most significant fear realms explored in this study.
The five AANs selected for this study may have achieved their prominence in part due to
their roles as paradigmatic relationship formulas. Storytellers consistently express
significant fears regarding their real human relationships. In some cases, an imaginary
social relationship with an alien being may compensate or substitute for human
The relationships between Storyteller and Narrator are particularly significant in
the cases where the Narrator is also hypnotist (Fowler), counselor (Hopkins), or
psychiatrist (Mack). Since hypnotic procedures are known to stimulate fear in many
hypnotic subjects (partly as a result of the unfamiliar feeling of deep relaxation), it is not
surprising that fear reactions occur in the presence of hypnotically elicited imagery. The
additional factor of hypnotist influence adds to the possibility of confabulation in alien
abduction stories. As Sardello notes:
The individual double figures centrally in hypnosis, past-life regression,
and shamanic journeying, all of which rely on the induction of a trance
state. Whenever we are not fully conscious, there is an opportunity for the
double to come in and take hold of us.
For example, religious expression is discouraged in secular workplaces (and in all social spheres in
communist societies). Religion presents an alternative collective worldview that can undermine the
authority of a dominant corporate culture.
(Sardello, 1999, p. 156)
Each of the Storytellers has cast herself or himself as a character in a relationship
narrative that synthesizes images from traditional sources, widespread media channels
(including the dissemination of the Hills’ story), and intuitive themes from dreams and
inner struggles. The result is a “narrative [that] provides a plausible explanation for their
current life difficulties” (Lynn et al., 2003). At times, the resulting story elevates alien
social interactions to equal significance with (or superiority to) their human social
John Caughey (1984) describes the roles that imaginary relationships play in
Western celebrity culture, as well as in non-Western societies. In the alien abduction
narrative form, these streams have merged, such that the aliens we have seen in films and
on television for the past half-century have attained their own kind of celebrity, which
attracts people back to their presence again and again.
Fears of Suffering and Death
The ninth fear world appears within images and perceptions of suffering and
death. Modern culture exerts some technological control over suffering and death,
enabling personal distance from its immediate presence. Once sacralized in religious art
or confined to secular genres such as horror novels, images of violence and death now
pervade popular culture.
Within the AANs, the focus on personal suffering increases over time
(accelerating with Strieber). Variations in this theme can be seen to conform to different
Storyteller situations. Starting with Hopkins and continuing with Strieber and Mack,
expressions of the fear of death by the Storytellers became more prominent in the
narratives. In contrast to the idea that AANs reflect a transhuman intelligence, this
finding suggests that AANs evolve--like other human behaviors--in response to changing
conditions. Two of the most significant changes during the last sixty years have been
rapid technological change (from the automobile to space travel) and the psychological
dominance (one might say hegemony) of media images.10 The nuclear arms race joins
both of these changes to bring everyone images and fears of total annihilation. In this
context, recent events caution against the dangers of gnostic apocalypticism in UFO cults.
Descartes initiated the movement toward modern scientific materialism by
proposing that the realm of soul (and therefore ultimate meaning) was separate from the
physical world. His ideas are credited with freeing scientific inquiry from theological
restrictions. However, the accompanying philosophical and psychological implications
of this turn--which permitted fear to increase its presence in the area of suffering and
death--are that soul and meaning are illusions. As a result, fear of death motivates
movements such as Christian creationism, which represents an attempt to hold scientific
materialism at bay by negating its theories of human origins.11 Such defensive strategies
are ultimately ineffective because they also locate the source of ultimate meaning in a
special realm--governed by revelation or apostolic authority--that is outside “ordinary”
Before the invasion of television into the home, the primary media were books and radio, each of which
allowed the individual imagination to create accompanying imagery. Cinema provided ready-made
images, but these were assimilated and controlled on a voluntary basis outside the home.
Advocates of more “sophisticated” approaches to this problem--such as Biblical evolutionism and
“Intelligent Design”--believe their openness to scientific critique merits a different status from the more
fundamentalist creationists. However, the same dualistic assumptions are still recognizable in their claims
that specific scientific findings support a transcendent cosmology, even though the significance of
empirical data continually shifts with changes in scientific theories and paradigms.
human experience. A narrative gestalt that coalesces many of these fear factors acquires
great power and is unintentionally reinforced by all the latest scientific announcements.
The AAN scenario--with its vivid and fearful imagery--then takes hold and is sustained
by supporting media images.
Some of the effects of a mass media age include the weakening of the
psychosocial influence of traditional folklore on the family and the individual, and the
development of new technologies and mechanisms for triggering intrapsychic
experiences that are organized around mass media icons, whether used for advertising or
social control. Far too little is understood about the possible numbing effects of global
mass culture on the soul. In place of scholarly study, media-savvy advertisers draw upon
what they know: how to manipulate symbols in order to sell products and peddle
influence. It may be quite easy to influence people whose souls are already numbed by
mass culture, but more difficult to offer spiritual insights about the power or cultural
value of AANs in today’s society. The influence of media and television can be seen in
Caughey’s understanding of our total immersion in television images. He states:
It is simply taken for granted that an American will know a swarming
throng of unmet figures through his consumption of the various media...
We are bombarded by thousands of media figures.
(Caughey, 1984, p. 32)
Even the narrative texts reflect this, as some Storytellers use television imagery freely:
[Ed] then saw a gray fog around him, “the tingling sensation going
further into all parts of my skull,” and he was “vaguely aware of scenery
changing... This is certainly many steps beyond the TV program One Step
Beyond.”12 [italics added] Ed noted. “I keep trying to control it, but I’m
trying to not control it [Ed was actually struggling to submerge his own
One Step Beyond was an ABC network television show (1959-61) highlighting paranormal and science
fiction themes.
intuitive judgment and conform to Mack’s expectations]. I, my mind,
doesn’t want to go and get back there.”
Then Ed felt himself “going down this time tunnel”13 [italics added] and
literally “traveling” with no reference point... He continued fighting... but
realized that the rules by which he operates did not apply and “they’re
overriding me somehow...” so that “I have no choice [but] to let it happen”
and “it did happen.”
(Mack, 1994, p. 57)
Ed found these recollections so extraordinary that he wondered out loud,
“Am I bullshitting you?”
“I don’t know. Are you?” [Mack] asked.
“No, no,” [Ed] said, “because this thing keeps coming back, and I sense, I,
the sincerity of myself says it’s not coming from just, it’s not I’m just
making this up.” But, “It doesn’t fit what’s supposed to happen... This is
what you submit to a script to Twilight Zone...14 [italics added] It doesn’t
fit anything I would have seen on the tube or at the theatre...”15 “I’m being
dragged in a sense that I have no control over my body... toward the
bottom... somewhere on the bottom I feel like I’m coming through, and I
don’t know how we got through to the bottom, but here I am.”16
(Mack, 1994, p. 58)
Within the passages above, Ed identified at least three television programs as possible
sources of his alien imagery.
In a society where the adoption of television technology became almost total
during the 1950s, we are immersed continuously in different visual media. It is not
surprising that these images have become fully internalized and take on patterns that
reflect our deepest concerns and fears. In spite of this fact, Strieber assumes that he has
been unaffected:
Time Tunnel was an ABC network television show (1966) about time travel stories. The opening credits
and time travel process included the hypnotic induction image of a spiraling vortex.
The Twilight Zone was a CBS network television show (1959-64) highlighting fear, suspense, and
science fiction imagery.
Ed’s disclaimer is curious considering that all of his imagery derives from television dramas of the
The final arrival sequence includes a birth motif, as well as resembling shamanic journeying (Harner,
1976) and imagery from the television program The Prisoner (1965-67).
In the past, as I have said, my interest in [UFOs] was minimal. I have certainly
read a book or two about them. Pressing myself I thought maybe I could
remember seeing something years ago in Look magazine about somebody named
Hill being taken aboard a flying disc.
(Strieber, 1987, p. 50-51)
The typical progression of fear in AANs proceeds from initial anxiety to either
dissociation or spiritualization. Through this process, fears that are not faced consciously
are instead personified as an alien presence. The developing UFO myth serves a
rationalization of--or explanation for--the presence of fear.
Participation in AANs indicates a particular collection of emotional and spiritual
identity issues, not pathology in the traditional psychiatric sense. This explains why
psychiatric test results are unremarkable. The issues raised by Storytellers (and
elaborated by Narrators) are characteristic of an entire society, not just individuals. This
fact complicates and confuses any investigation that centers on psychodiagnostics--which
are based on models of individual personality theory and pathology--or forensics, which
are based on physicalist explanations.
The following stages illustrate a hypothetical emotionally mediated process that
can lead to an alien abduction story. The person’s perception can stabilize at any one of
these stages, in which case the next stage does not occur.
Stage 1 - At the beginning stage, an emotional set and setting exists that is considered
normal--or at least familiar--by the Storyteller.
Stage 2 - A situational change induces novelty, unfamiliarity, or anomaly. An Encounter
with an alien image can represent such a change, especially if it occurs in a setting that is
typically associated with the presence of fear. The Storytellers’ normal emotional
equilibrium is upset, leading to initial emotional responses including anxiety, fear, or
Stage 3 - The person’s attempt to manage their emotions fails, leading to unusual
perceptual responses. Emotions are connected with (and evoked by) these images.
Images of our own experiences--as well as those acquired through our participation in
media experiences--reside together in our memories. When such images are paired with
emotional associations as they are recalled, the result is a conviction that all are equally
Stage 4 - The perceptual changes do not fit comfortably within the worldview of the
Storyteller. At this stage, positive or negative projections and attributions are employed
in the service of reframing the experience to be more understandable and manageable.
The extreme emotions such as terror can lead to selection and maintenance of one of the
major coping mechanisms (e.g., dissociation or spiritualization). In dissociation,
channeling or doubling may occur. In spiritualization, a special meaning is applied to the
experiences, leading to the formation or reinforcement of a pre-existing belief system
about them.
Stage 5 - A social catalyst--such as a therapist, researcher, or hypnotist--reinforces an
explanatory framework and social support that shapes and refines the Storyteller’s belief
system about their anomalous “event”.
What do these findings say about the reality or unreality of UFOs and the
creatures that fly them? A Storyteller is a person acting as a creative artist trying to
understand and manage their own experiences. The Narrator--for his or her own reasons-provides a ready-made context for the marketing of such an artistic endeavor. In terms
of--or perhaps because of--the modern awareness of a search for extraterrestrial
intelligence (SETI), the AANs portray beings from outer space. These collections--and
the stories that they contain--constitute a body of psychospiritual testimonies.17
Sardello’s nine fear worlds employ the terminology of beings and realms in a
manner useful for understanding AANs. Numerous spiritual traditions posit angels and
demons, and some explicitly identify the aliens as one or the other. Sardello’s insight
into the different realms of fear includes a recurring caution about our society’s
increasing application of technical methods to all perceived human problems, even those
involving the deepest aspects of human nature, such as the realms of fear. Even the
concept of “depth” and the idea of “human nature” are called into question by the
prevailing technological worldview. One of the goals of this study was to investigate the
hypothesis that alien abduction narratives are refractions of the human condition through
the conflation of bifurcated technological (Weltbild) and spiritual (Weltanschauung)
perspectives. While technology has brought about unprecedented prosperity in some
parts of the world, the technological attitude can reduce our sensitivity to human realities
and even do violence to important human values.
This study has by no means exhausted the richness of the alien abduction material
or the insights of Sardello’s approach. A detailed survey of the non-linear chronology of
alien media imagery from cinema, television, and AAN literature--in parallel with the
timelines of development and elaboration of specific alien abduction themes--would be a
study of substantial magnitude and significance. In the psychosocial realm, although
In this sense, Mack’s characterization of his experiencers as “witnesses” agrees with the religious
meaning of the term.
there has been considerable study of UFO religions and cults, very little research is
available in the areas of psychotherapeutic interventions with Storytellers, social support
groups for abductees, and the thus far invisible phenomenon of recanters of alien
abduction stories.18 Diverging from the specifically alien imagery considered in this
study, a comparable study of encounters with ghosts would provide an opportunity to
examine a more traditional image of fear. In addition, such studies can provide
methodological tools for the examination of religious experiences.
Sardello’s approach also recommends concrete activities and exercises that are
intended not to avoid fears, but to strengthen the soul and character so that fears will not
overwhelm the individual. Sardello recommends practicing re-sensitization to images,
which is quite different from a hypnosis process. Further study in this area can lead to
recommendations concerning more appropriate ways to respond to the Storytellers as
persons, and to the Narrators as culture-makers.
Before the advent of the Information Age, the German philosopher Rudolf Steiner
predicted the spiritual effects of what he described as the “hyper-materialization of the
modern worldview” (Steiner, 1921/1987). His prophecy has an interesting connection to
alien abduction narratives, for in the same essay Steiner predicted that a “spidery network
of automata covering the Earth” (today’s Internet?) would gradually attain its own
consciousness. He said that such a development would inaugurate awareness of “beings
from the heavens” in response to an increasingly virtualized (illusory) human existence.
This author proposes a “call” for such recanters, similar to the “call for abductees” employed by UFO
researchers and Narrators. It would take the form: “If you once believed you were abducted by aliens, but
later came to change your mind about what really happened, please contact me at this address...”
At the conclusion of the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when
sociologist Lacombe asks Roy Neary what he wants, Neary replies: “I just want to know
that it’s... it’s really happening.” He seeks social validation for the reality of his
anomalous experiences precisely because they are so palpably unreal, even if beautiful
and fascinating. He has gone beyond the point of knowing which things are real, in part
because he has systematically laid aside most of the contexts that anchor his life: his job,
his wife and family, and even his female co-Storyteller companion. At the end, he faces
the unknown as a human being without an earthly context. Although Spielberg portrays
Neary’s journey as one of self-discovery and liberation, it is possible to see his
“alienation” as a human tragedy: he ascends into the spaceship with only alien
companions. However, there is also a sense that he embraces the totally new with great
courage. Such courage will be required as humanity continues to reach for the stars.
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