1992 was a watershed year for the UFO community–not due to any revelation from the ranks of the saucer-smitten, but for the publication of Angels And Aliens: UFOs And The Mythic Imagination. For the first time in recent memory, an author with a fresh perspective wrestled with a modern history of the subject, and more importantly, the people who study, or, at the very least are affected by the phenomenon. Keith Thompson chose to look at the 20th century evolution of the UFO phenomenon as a developing system of mythology, complete with heroes, villains, power struggles, battles and innocent bystanders.
Before I share my “take-aways” with you from this book, I thought you might enjoy a little insight from the author himself. Here’s an interview he did in 1995:
QUESTION: Angels and Aliens is, to me, one of the most important books dealing with the subject of UFOs. I’m curious about the process that inspired the book. Was there a specific series of events or circumstances that led you to feel a book of this type was necessary?
AUTHOR’S ANSWER: I came to the UFO phenomenon, or it came to me, by a circuitous route. One evening Walter Cronkite opened The CBS Evening News with a dramatic rendition of a UFO sighting in Michigan. Dozens of witnesses reported a football-shaped object the size of a car performing gyrations in the sky, before maneuvering out to a nearby swamp. J. Allen Hynek, the tragic hero of the Air Force’s ill-fated Project Blue Book, arrived on the scene only to be quoted — misquoted, actually — as saying the witnesses had seen “swamp gas.” This in turn was taken as proof that the military had no intention of dealing sensibly or honestly with the UFO phenomenon and its ramifications.
My twelve-year-old psyche was captivated by this case, with its cast of confounded witnesses, befuddled military experts, know-it-all debunkers, and of course the media circus surrounding it all. I grew up in rural northern Ohio, not far from where the sightings took place. The debate immediately polarized between those who were sure UFOs “had” to be real and those who were equally certain UFOs “couldn’t” be real. It was my first exposure to the “mythic electricity” that surrounds the UFO domain. Soon the “Swamp Gas Case” was infamous, and the media forgot about it, and I did too. I didn’t pay much attention to the UFO phenomenon until quite a few years later.
QUESTION: What prompted you to return to the subject?
AUTHOR’S ANSWER: In the early 1980s I was associated with Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. I coordinated a series of annual think tank-style conferences on subjects such as altered states of consciousness, shamanism, mysticism, quantum physics, and parapsychology. One day I came across an Omni magazine interview with J. Allen Hynek, the dean of UFO studies, and was impressed by his perspective. Michael Murphy, Esalen’s founder and my longtime comrade in various adventures of the spirit, suggested that we invite leading UFO researchers to Esalen for a free-wheeling discussion.
There I was, about to receive a symposium of experts on a phenomenon I knew very little about. I spent two months reading everything I could get my hands on, including the works of Whitley Strieber, Budd Hopkins, Jacques Vallee, and the classic books of John Keel. It seemed clear that at least some of the “whatevers” called UFOs didn’t fit Big Science’s view of reality. I ended up spending five days with leading researchers, getting steeped in UFO evidence, a world brimming with surrealism. This was a phenomenon I could get along with just fine — I felt sure of that much.
QUESTION: Before the book, you were involved in a public symposium called “Angels, Aliens and Archetypes.” What struck me about that event was that even though each of you had your own ideas about UFOs, you all seemed, for the most part, to represent a “post-modern” or “new paradigm” or “excluded middle” school of thought — something rare in prior UFO conferences. Do you view that gathering as significant in terms of increasing dialogue about new ways of looking at this phenomenon?
AUTHOR’S ANSWER: A theme that emerged throughout the two days of that conference, among practically every speaker, was best phrased by Jacques Vallee, who emphasized three points:
- the UFO phenomenon is real;
- it has been with us throughout history;
- it is physical in nature yet it represents a form of consciousness that is able to manipulate dimensions beyond time and space as we know them.
Vallee’s friend and mentor Allen Hynek had arrived at a similar conclusion as early as 1976, when he began expressing his doubts that UFOs are nuts-and-bolts spacecraft from other worlds. He found it ridiculous to suppose that super intelligence would travel enormous distances to do relatively stupid things like stop cars, collect soil samples, perform repetitive “medical exams” on abducted clients, and generally go around frightening people.
Hynek decided it was time to “begin looking closer to home.” A key idea at the conference was that UFOs may operate in a multi-dimensional reality of which space-time is a subset — an idea that doesn’t require the reality of UFOs to stand or fall with the extraterrestrial hypothesis. I like to think the San Francisco conference may have helped encourage new ways to think about the phenomenon. For instance, Vallee’s idea that the intelligence the phenomenon represents could coexist with us on earth just as easily as it could originate on another planet, or in a parallel universe.
QUESTION: One of the themes we found most intriguing in Angels and Aliens was the idea of ufology viewed as an evolving mythology. What inspired you to take this approach?
AUTHOR’S ANSWER: There were a couple of departure points. First, as I began to immerse myself in the literature and attend various UFO conferences, I was struck that many of the personalities in the field of ufology spent much of their time doing to each other what the personalities of Greek mythology are famous for: quarreling, settling scores, jockeying for position, seeking revenge, and so forth. I wanted to find out which of the gods and goddesses, which actors from the timeless annals of mythology might have slipped into the UFO cosmos, like thieves in the night.
But the idea that ufology involves “mythology” doesn’t mean I dismiss the reality of UFOs, although some readers thought that was what I was saying. All of life has a mythological dimension, and the UFO phenomenon is no exception. Myth offers a background of images that allow life to show up with greater richness and depth. The assumption that UFO events must be either real or symbolic — but not both — is fundamentalist thinking at its worst. Try as we might, life refuses to be reduced to any flat singular interpretation. Interesting, that the word “symbolism” is derived from the Greek symballein, which means “to throw together.” The word denotes the drawing together of two worlds. Hermes is a spanner of boundaries, a mediator between realms, an ambassador between domains which seem separate but are connected by subtle thresholds.
In Angels and Aliens I was trying to show that UFO reality is complex, multidimensional, remarkably nuanced and textured — and above all, not cooperative with the mental categories to which the Western mind has become so attached.