A Fortnightly Review.
Intimate Alien: The Hidden Story of the UFO
By David J. Halperin
By JAMES GALLANT.
Lately, American government officials have been classifying phenomena known formerly as UFOs (unidentified flying objects) as UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena). No doubt an improvement, this.
“Flying objects” sounds a bit too much like vehicles with propulsion systems, and as a report issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in June 20211 made clear, government officials prefer to regard these anomalies as “airborne clutter” (birds, balloons, drones, plastic bags); atmospheric phenomena (ice crystals, thermal fluctuations); or perhaps the fruit of “foreign adversary systems” (advanced technologies deployed by, maybe, China or Russia? UAP behavior sometimes suggests “a degree of signature management”— presumably government-ese for “conscious control”).
Needless to say, the ODNI report did not concern anything as bizarre as “close encounters” of the Stephen Spielberg variety, but credible midair sightings by pilots and “sensors” (radar, military aircraft radio systems) instead.
It was often speculated in the past that the government knew more about UFOs than it was telling us. Jacques Vallee, one of the most serious, intelligent twentieth-century students of the subject, once suggested, however, that what government officials were really concealing was they knew no more about UFOs than the woman in the street. Judging from the 2021 ODNI report, not much has changed in that respect.
In 1969, scientists involved with government-sponsored Condon study of UFOs confessed in the end that they hadn’t even good guesses about at least a third of the UFO sightings they had studied; and according to the recent ODNI report, there is no explanation for 143 of the 144 sightings studied between 2004 and 2021. This is worrying, since unidentified aerial phenomena pose a “safety of flight issue” and “possibly a challenge to national security.”
We must clearly get to the bottom of the matter.
While faith in empirical procedures for studying UAPs is as solid as ever, the recent report regrets that the absence of “high quality reporting” and recommends, predictably, “additional funding for research and development.”
NASA has pledged its assistance. Thomas Zurbuchen of NASA’s “science mission directorate” sees the study of unidentified aerial phenomena as of a kind with NASA’s attention to water on Mars, or the moons of Saturn and Jupiter. It occurs to one that if the dangers UAPs pose are as real as the ODNI report suggests they may be, we should perhaps forget about Martian water, and concentrate on them.
People saw the UFOs that began appearing in the mid-twentieth century as majestic light-radiating structures, shy aerial saucers, derby-shaped entities, triangles, cigars, or cylinders. The most typical popular response to them, to this day, resembles the one voiced by Chicago media after airline pilots and others saw a UFO hovering for some time above O’Hare International Airport in November 2006. Had extraterrestrials blown into the Windy City? A BBC special on UFOs broadcast some years back, while acknowledging all that was baffling about UFOs, reverted again and again to the notion that “extraterrestrials” must possess technologies far in advance of ours.
It dawned early on for some serious twentieth century students of UFOs, that while these anomalies in the skies must be material in some sense, or they would not register on radar (as many did), they were unlikely to be high-tech flying machines from outer space. They were perhaps not as solid as they seemed to be to be, and their origins were conceivably in some dimension of reality other than what we commonly experience.
Astronomer J. Allen Hynek, the scientific advisor to the U.S. government’s early study of UFOs, Project Blue Book (1951), had assumed originally that UFOs were an unexplained “natural phenomenon,” in the ordinary sense of what that would mean. In the end, though, he came around to a view of them resembling that of author-occultist John Keel. Keel, after a prolonged, failed attempt to prove UFOs were extraterrestrial spacecraft, concluded that they were best conceived as temporary “transmogrifications of energy.” He noted in UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse (1970) that these presences in the sky were generally transparent or translucent, rather ghostly in appearance, and that their incomprehensibly swift and erratic maneuvers, changeability in size and form, and prankish-seeming winkings in and out of visibility, defied the laws of aerodynamics.
Jacques Vallee, an astrophysicist by training who had assisted Hynek in Project Blue Book, began seeing similarities between these presences in the skies, and aerial wonders associated with “Magonia,” the land beyond the clouds in French folklore. Spirits issuing from Magonia were said to travel through the air in “cloud ships,” an image that calls to mind the gauzy appearance of many UFOs in still photographs and films.
As for the “alien” crews of UFOs people claimed to meet up with in “close encounters,” Keel speculated that these were the contemporary equivalents of the shape-shifting nature spirits—“ultraterrestrials,” not “extraterrestrials”— that have always shared the planet with us. Keel analogized “aliens” with fairies and dybbuks, Bigfoot, the Himalayan Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, sea monsters of impossible dimensions, and phantom animals: expressions one and all of a timeless, perhaps sinister, something-or-other demanding our attention periodically, and relishing our disturbance of mind.
Very odd things have always appeared in the skies from time to time.2 French humanist and jurist Pierre Boaistuau wrote in his History of Prodigies (1560):
The face of heaven has so often been disfigured by bearded hairy comets, torches, flames, columns, spears, shields, dragons, duplicate moons, suns, and other similar things, that if one wanted to tell in an orderly fashion those that have happened since the birth of Jesus Christ only, and inquire into the causes of their origin, the lifetime of a single man would not be enough.”
Roman writers during the early centuries AD described aerial prodigies: flying weapons, a fleet of ships, armed chariots. The historian Flavius Josephus (c. 37-c.100) wrote of people having seen “battalions hurtling through the clouds and encompassing the cities.”
Troops of phantasmal soldiers paraded across the sky over Scotland in 1744. There appeared over Nuremberg, Germany at sunrise, April 14, 1561, what looked like two immense vertical cylinders from which issued, as if shot from cannons, a host of red, blue, and black objects resembling balls, spears, and clubs. For about an hour, these seemed to be fighting one another. Then they fell to the earth and, a contemporary report stated, “with great smoke everything was consumed.”
Allowance made for astronomical ignorance and mental disturbance, writing off what people, sometimes large groups of them, have seen in the skies as merely misperceptions of natural phenomena is often difficult. In Wonders in the Sky (2010), Vallee and Chris Aubeck have collected five hundred examples of aerial anomalies dating from the second millennium BC unlikely to have been misunderstood natural phenomena.
During a six-month period of 1917 in the village of Fatima, Portugal, there was what Vallee has described as a “fairly classical sequence of UFO sightings.” During that time, some children of the village also witnessed a series of apparitions of the Virgin who informed them of a miracle to occur on October 13. That day, a crowd estimated at between thirty and a hundred thousand people gathered in Fatima and environs. It had been raining in the morning before the clouds parted at noon to show what some saw as the sun, others as a spinning pinwheel-like disk of fire shooting colored beams of red, violet, and blue light in every direction. The object, whatever it was (or appeared to be) began falling from the sky toward Earth in a zig-zag pattern, stirring in some observers the feeling that the end of the world was at hand. Then the object reversed course and moved back upward in the sky. The sun now presented its normal appearance. Spectators whose clothes had been wet with rain were now dry. The anomaly, observed from as far away as forty kilometers from Fatima, left in its wake miraculous healings, as well as convulsions and amnesia. Some people present at Fatima that day who lived into the later twentieth century testified to the life-altering effects of the experience.
In February and March, 1967, there were numerous sightings of fiery orange or red balls, as well as disc-like “flying saucers” over Montana. On the night of March 16, Air Force personnel at an intercontinental ballistic missile launch base in the state were gazing into a cold, clear night sky when they noticed what appeared to be a star moving in a zig-zag pattern. A second light moving in the same way then appeared. The lights passed directly over the base, stopped, and reversed course. As a glowing red saucer-shaped object hovered over the front gate of the complex, base alarms sounded, indicating that the missiles there had been reduced to “no-go” status. Later investigations by engineering firms could not explain the phenomenon.
Late one Saturday night in July 1952, at the height of the Cold War, air-traffic controllers at Washington National Airport saw on a radar screen seven strange objects moving at speeds estimated at up to seven thousand miles per hour. Looking from the control tower, they saw bright white lights in the sky. When fighter jets from nearby Andrews Air Force Base went aloft in pursuit, the UFOs disappeared. Every time the planes flying about the area landed to refuel, the UFOs would reappear. A senior air-traffic controller surmised they must be responding to the radio communications of pilots. In a final gotcha at sunrise the next morning, five huge discs floated over Washington in loose formation before shooting straight upward and vanishing.
Aerial exotica sometimes can seem more prankish than ominous. In the 1860s, a number of American inventors were trying to develop functional aircrafts, but by the 1890s, none had succeeded. However, Americans in various locations, observed cigar-shaped “airships” flying overhead in 1896 and 1897, resembling the dirigibles that would later be developed. Some had compartments for crew and pilots underlying what appeared to be gas-filled balloons. Observers described having seen airships with wings that flapped like birds’, or propellers. In one instance, a crewman seated on what looked like a bicycle frame appeared to be pedaling an aircraft. One contemporary illustration represented an airship with a searchlight beamed at the ground, as if to call attention to its presence. There were putative observations of landings and takeoffs, and mid-air explosions.
Robert Burton mentions in his The Anatomy of Melancholy (1620) the view of sixteenth century French humanist philosopher and jurist Jean Bodine that mysterious aerial phenomena were the work of “abstract souls” capable of assuming “aerial bodies, all manner of shapes.” It was they who filled the skies with “castles…palaces, armies, spectrums [rainbows], prodigies, and such strange objects to mortal men’s eyes….” Historically, mysterious aerial phenomena, along with other unaccountable events in Nature, were often attributed to minor spirits: angels, demons, devas, sylvans, trolls, fauns, brownies, undines, djinns, nixies, goblins, etc.—and sometimes to the restless souls of departed humans. The fifth-century Neoplatonist Proclus spoke of such beings having an “elastic, ethereal, semi-corporeal essence.” Given their pervasive presence in cultural history, it is hard to imagine that such entities, call them what one might, were no more than the make-believe of simple people.
Burton remarked that where belief in minor spirits was concerned it seemed to make a considerable difference whether one had witnessed their presence and actions. People—some people—obviously had. It has often been said that when anomalies associated with such entities are perceived, the human mind is not operating as it does normally. A man who lived near Ireland’s Tara Mountain told American anthropologist Walter Evans-Wentz early in the twentieth century, “The souls on this earth are as thick as the grass, and you can’t see them, and evil spirits are just as thick, too, and people don’t know it”; but the “old people” with “second sight” or the “third eye” had seen them about the mountain hundreds of times. An “Irish mystic” remarked to Evans-Wentz that when fairies became visible “the physical eyes may be open or closed,” but “mystical beings in their own world…are never seen with the physical eyes.”
Early-modern spiritualist Emanuel Swedenborg wrote in The Spiritual Diary of “imaginations [i.e. images] of a kind different from those which are familiar” accessible to “a sense associated with an obscure sight.” In his own experience, when such sight was active, he could “observe the operations of spirits.”
Madame Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society in the late nineteenth century, concurred. She spoke of “inner or clairvoyant vision.” In Isis Unveiled, she wrote of “elementals” (Nature spirits) capable of metamorphosis into “omnifarious forms and shapes.” They might at one moment “act the parts of daemons, another while of angels or gods, and another while of the souls of the departed.” They had “neither immortal spirits nor tangible bodies, but were a combination of sublimated matter and a rudimentary mind….The most solid of their bodies is ordinarily” —but not invariably—”just immaterial enough to escape perception by our physical eyesight, but not so unsubstantial as not to be recognized by the inner, or clairvoyant vision.”
Burton in his lengthy “Digression on the Nature of Spirits” in the Anatomy quotes Spanish Jesuit Martin del Rio’s Disquisitiones (1599) which spoke of angels, fallen or otherwise, “compounding of air” things that may on occasion “be touched and felt (papalia).” But if such experiences involve actual presences in the world, they are also “subjective,” both in the sense that a special state of mind seems to be required for apprehension of them, and that what is apprehended will reflect the culture of a time and place. (How surprising would it be if people in an era of space travel were to meet up with “elementals” in the guise of “aliens”?)
Burton remarked that even if one has witnessed manifestations of spirits, it is easier to say what they are not than what they are, their existence being “full of controversy and ambiguity,” and “beyond the reach of human capacity.”
As all of the above may suggest, attempts to make sense of “unidentified aerial phenomena” that adhere to the conventional dichotomies in modern epistemology—subject/object, happened/didn’t happen—are likely to be mired in difficulties. David J. Halperin’s recent Intimate Alien: The Hidden Story of the UFO illustrates these difficulties abundantly.
Halperin’s study opens with a description of his career as a diligent, self-appointed teenage UFO investigator in the early 1960s. At the time, he subscribed to the then-prevalent view of UFOs still heard in popular parlance, that if UFOs are “real,” they must be flying machines of incredible sophistication from somewhere in space. The alternatives were to see them as misidentified natural phenomena, or hallucinations of mentally-challenged persons (“cranks and weirdos,” in the words of physicist Stephen Hawking). Simply put, UFOs were either objective or subjective.
Carl Jung had noted in Flying Saucers: a Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies (1958) that the streaking, dipsy-doodling “flying saucers” that defied explanation by the physical sciences, resembled “weightless thoughts” more than bodies. Perhaps “modern man in search of a soul” (the title of one of his books) was experiencing a longing for religious belief intense enough to float hallucinations of mysterious figures in the skies?
This rather peculiar hypothesis represented an attempt to explain the UFO in a way that that would not disturb the orthodox modern epistemological divide between external empirical reality and subjective phenomena: the reason the physical sciences could not account for UFOs was that these presences seen in the sky were psychological projections, hallucinations of a sort.
Teenager Halperin had found a copy of Jung’s book in his high school library, but lacking familiarity with the Jungian concept of the “Collective Unconscious” and its “archetypes,” he could not understand what Jung was saying. By the time he went off to college in 1965, he’d concluded UFOs were simply beyond human understanding, and trying to make sense of them a waste of time.
When his interest in UFOs revived later, he understood Jung’s subjective reading of UFOs better than before, and Jungian influence abounds in Intimate Alien, which Halperin, a professor emeritus of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, regards as his final statement on the matter:
We humans according to Jung, are hard-wired to organize our perceptions into a number of fixed and universal patterns. These patterns, these matrixes, as it were, are called archetypes. They’re fixed within the collective unconscious of our species, and will crop up spontaneously, independently, and without any influence from one culture to another in the art and religion, the myth and the literature and folkways of societies in all ages and everywhere on the globe.”
UFOs might be seen, then, as religious symbols for the Space Age, “hallucinations” born of people’s longing in secular societies to come to terms with death and the afterlife. “When a myth [born of the Collective Unconscious] takes visible form,” Halperin writes, “when it’s projected into the skies as a flying disk…that’s a major event, akin to what our ancestors might have called a vision of God.”
Such a view of UFOs, heavy in subjective emphasis, is felicitous in its compatibility with the conventional subject-object, happened/didn’t happen, divide in modern knowledge. The psyche is a madhouse and menagerie, but subjective phenomena need not to be confused with “external” Nature where nothing is presumably beyond empirical scrutiny and rational clarification. Halperin in his embrace of Jung, had, in effect, replaced his early object-focused view of UFOs as space vehicles, with a subject-focused view.
Jung (who once remarked, “Thank God I’m not a Jungian”) was, however more troubled by his subjectivist reading of UFOs than Halperin lets on. It bothered him that the antics of UFOs could register as material presences on radar screens and photographic film. (Later, Vallee was to describe “hundreds of cases” in which, at sites of putative UFO landings and takeoffs, soil disturbances had been observed, measured, and photographed. UFOs produced explosive sounds, bent tree branches, and altered growth patterns in plant life. Moreover, materials with very odd properties had been discovered at the sites of putative landings and crashes.)
Jung in his flying saucer book, without access to all the physical influences Vallee would describe later, had three possible explanations for those of which he was aware. The first was that what registered on radar were natural aerial phenomena onto which observers were projecting “archetypal” religious significance. A second possibility, stranger than the first, was that imagery projected from the Unconscious into the heavens might “throw back” a “radar echo.” A third possibility, stranger still—it would “open a bottomless void beneath our feet,” he said (and, yes, it really does seem preposterous!) —was that a depth-psychological urgency might actually generate a physical reality, a “materialized psychism” —“something psychic that is endowed with physical properties.” Here again, the main emphasis is subjective, but this last hypothesis transgresses the conventional subject-object divide.
The first two hypotheses, if dubious, were at least proper where the subject-object divide was concerned. The third hypothesis was not, although, considering Jung’s prolonged interest in parapsychological phenomena, it may have been the one to which privately he was drawn most strongly. In any case, as he wrote late in life (he died in 1961):
Although for eight years I have been collecting everything that came within my reach [on the subject of UFOs], I must admit I am no further forward today than I was at the beginning. I still do not know what we are up against with these ‘flying saucers.’ The reports are so weird that, granted the reality of these phenomena, one feels tempted to compare them with parapsychological happenings.”
An alternative to Jung’s third hypothesis, would be the one to which humanity has often subscribed, as described in the first portion of this essay: that subtle material entities (“ultraterrestrials” or “elementals”), understand them as one may or may not, really do exist in some sense; that they are capable of working influence in the world; and that they may become perceptible, at least for some people, in guises that reflect the circumstances of life in a time and place.
A decade after the teenager Halpern gave up trying to understand UFOs, he encountered the studies of Jacques Vallee which, he says, steered him back to the subject, and to Jung’s psychologistic approach to UFOs that he now understood better. He describes Vallee’s ideas as “dovetailing” neatly with Jung’s.
In fact, there are similarities between Jung and Vallee where “unidentified aerial phenomena” are concerned,” although the term “dovetailing” overstates them. Halperin later qualifies his statement with the remark that Vallee’s “Magonia” in the clouds “wasn’t quite identical with Jung’s collective unconscious,” since Vallee had not concluded “as he well might have, that UFOs and their pilots didn’t exist anymore than fairies and elves did.”
Well, no, Vallee hadn’t concluded that, maybe because he wasn’t as sure as Halperin that fairies and elves, or their contemporary equivalents, hadn’t an ontological status, and couldn’t produce effects in our common world. Actually, Jung, wasn’t so sure about that, either, and in that respect his view and Vallee’s do “dovetail.” Halperin writes that where the physical effects produced by UFOs were concerned, Jung “waffled,” a term which suggests indecisiveness or obscurity. But Jung wasn’t so much “waffling” as refusing to disregard some inconvenient facts. If UFOs were envisioned as projections of the collective unconscious, how account for their physical effects?
The real “waffler” where the physical effects produced by UFOs are concerned is Halperin. He cannot but acknowledge them, as he does at a number of points in what he writes—but then, obeisant to the modern subject/object, happened/didn’t happen divide, and committed to the aspect of Jung’s thinking he most admires, he turns his back on them as if they did not matter for his argument, when, in fact, they challenge its very basis.
Halperin’s reading of UFO-related experiences as psychological projections naturally gives rise to questions about what in persons’ lives may have occasioned them. Seeking answers to these questions inevitably leads one into treacherous interpretive waters, but Halperin does not hesitate to set sail.
He dwells at length on the much-discussed early UFO “abduction” case (1961) involving a middle-aged, interracial New Hampshire couple, Barney and Betty Hill, which he treats as the “birthing of a mythic theme”: the alien abduction. The Hills were returning from an outing to their home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, one early morning when they claimed to have witnessed a UFO along a lonely mountain road, New Hampshire route 3 in the White Mountains. That much they remembered after reaching home, but nothing else. It seemed strange to them that they had arrived home two hours later than anticipated. (The “lost time” motif turns up in folklore tales of experiences with faeries and dybbuks.) Betty had the nagging feeling that more had happened than they remembered; and over the next two years Barney was to experience nightmares, insomnia, persistent anxiety, high blood pressure and ulcers.
The troubled couple finally sought the assistance of Dr. Benjamin Simon, a Long Island specialist in hypnotic therapy who had no previous interest in UFOs or occult phenomena. Under hypnosis, the Hills related a wild tale of having been removed from their car into a pancake-shaped, window-lined UFO in which “aliens” had subjected them to intrusive physical examinations and curious questionings.
Did this really happen? Something extraordinary evidently had, although, given the subjective contribution to the formulation of what happens in such experiences’ the term “really” is problematic. Halperin treats what the Hills claimed to have experienced as an hallucinatory projection of their personal psychological situations onto something they had seen in the sky as a UFO. Halpern’s speculations about the couple’s lives as the basis for their supposed UFO-related experience are arbitrary and need not be recounted in detail here. Suffice it to say that Barney’s having been an African-American married to a white woman looms large in them.
As for the UFO, the Hills thought they had seen, Halperin embraces eagerly the report of a visual phenomenon drivers at night along the road the Hills were traveling had noted: an observation tower light atop Cannon Mountain would seem to follow one’s car. When a car descended the hills, the light would seem to shoot up in the sky suddenly, and as the road wound about the hills, the light would first appear on one side of the car, then on the other, as if in motion. A curious visual phenomenon, undoubtedly, and one the Hills might have observed and mistaken for a UFO; but the only reason to suppose they had done so is that doing so would confirm Halperin’s reading of the situation.
Why should issues in the couple’s lives find expression in a fantastic UFO encounter? And why should one suppose that their sighting of a UFO, or what they mistook for one, have such profound psychosomatic consequences?
The simplest explanation of what the Hills experienced, the one that would require the fewest explanatory gymnastics, would be that what happened to them was more or less what they reported under hypnosis. They had shared an uncanny experience of an event in space with powerful psychological and physical consequences.
Parallels with the Hills’ experience abound not only in other tales of “close encounters” with UFOs, but in tales of uncanny adventures involving demons and fairies: the wilderness setting, the “lost time” motif, semi-forgetful states following the return to normalcy, the physical consequences.
In a subchapter of Intimate Alien, “Philadelphia, 1974,” Halperin describes the sighting of a UFO by a young married Philadelphia couple and the woman’s parents. It was a case studied at the time by Philadelphia ufologist Matt Graeber, an associate of the UFO Report and Information Center in Philadelphia. The husband in the case, Tim, while awaiting the arrival of his wife and her parents, had seen a cigar-shaped UFO flying low over a field and “occasionally hovering.” Its behavior was so extraordinary that, while still observing it, he reported it to Graeber from a nearby phone booth. When Tim’s wife and her parents arrived, they all observed the UFO, which hovered overhead for some time, and appeared at one point to brush nearby tree tops and descend within fifty yards of the car in which they sat. It backed off when the car lights were turned on.
Certain details in what the four reported of the incident suggested to Graeber that the sight of an airplane might have prompted their experience; but only a helicopter could possibly have behaved in a manner approximating what they had seen. Graeber checked with a nearby airport, and learned that none had been in the sky at the time.
In Halperin’s subjectivist reading of the situation, whatever may have been in the sky—if anything—which the foursome observed, was only a “vehicle for meaning,” an occasion for them to project their personal concerns into the heavens. (As in the case of the Hills, one wonders what would have impelled them to do that.)
Graeber, whose orientation to the incident appears to have resembled Halpern’s, discovered discrepancies in what the four remembered of the UFO. (Variations in the reporting of uncanny events experienced by more than one person are not unusual.) The young woman and her parents had seen a conventional round flying saucer. Tim, on the other hand, had envisioned what he described to Graeber as an elongated (in Graeber’s interpretation, penis-shaped) object. Halperin endorses Graeber’s speculation that the discrepancy in the sightings probably reflected the fact that Tim and his wife had not been married when she became pregnant, hence the penis-sighting.
For Halpern, the incident illustrated the “gap between stimulus and perception” wherein “the real UFO mystery lies.” In other words, the experience was essentially a projection of subjective concerns into the heavens. But Halpern’s psychological reading of what the four experienced is as arbitrary as his reading of the Hills’ experience, and it has the effect of driving the oddly behaving airborne “vehicle” into the irrelevant background. As in the case of the Hills, a reading of the situation that would agree most readily with what the four people reported to have experienced, whatever the discrepancies in their reports, would be that they had had a very odd, emotionally-charged experience of an inexplicable aerial presence.
In 1989 and 1990, Belgians reported witnessing UFOs overhead some 1200 times. Halperin, writing of this, mentions in passing that some of the UFOs had registered on radar screens. He prefers, however, to concentrate on the fact that photographs taken of the Belgian UFOs showed only “vague blobs of light or else nothing at all,” a fact he enlists in support of his belief that what the Belgians claimed to have seen over a thousand times was probably not what they actually saw. Halperin seems more interested in the psychology of the observers than what they may have observed—the “meaning” rather than the “vehicle”— and this leads him into speculations concerning how the collapse of the Communist empire in Eastern Europe during the years of the UFO sightings must have influenced the collective psyche of Belgians.
As in the case of the Hills or the Philadelphia foursome, the simplest explanation for what large numbers of Belgians claimed to have seen, and that the radar reports in some instances confirmed, would be that they were seeing what was, in some sense, “really there” — and, as Vallee and Jung both suspected, there is a point at which what is “really there” may require an altered Weltanschauung, rather than an agnostic shrug of the shoulders.
Halperin addressed the “miracle at Fatima” which Vallee had written about more than once. Halpern cannot but assume that most people who experienced this prodigy were “sane, normal human beings.” Something extraordinary had obviously happened at Fatima. He hasn’t any idea what that may have been. He likens his incomprehension to that of Ronald Hutton, a student of modern British witchcraft whose studies had forced him to conclude there are people who see things others cannot, which was also Robert Burton’s conclusion in the matter. (Hutton: “The experiences concerned may be the products of chemicals in the brain, or communications from God Almighty, angels, the spirits of the dearly departed….—who’s to say?”)
For Halpern to allow the second half of Hutton’s statement a place in his book is very curious, since it acknowledges as possibly true what writers like Vallee and Keel have speculated, and that Swedenborg, Madame Blavatsky, and others have represented as matters of fact. In quoting Hutton, Halpern does not comment on the Englishman’s remark within the passage quoted that “modern Western history is apparently unique in the historical record in that it provides no generally accepted frame of reference for [anomalies like those associated with witchcraft or UFOs] and no system of explanation within which they may be sustained or discussed.”
Sumerian scholar A. Leo Oppenheim, writing of primitive polytheism in his Ancient Mesopotamia (1964), remarked that nothing is more difficult for the modern Western mind to negotiate than the idea of a “plurality of spiritual dimensions” people everywhere on the globe in the past had commonly assumed to exist. People—some people—had rather obviously had experiences that required acknowledgement of these dimensions. Faith in the explanatory models of the modern sciences had fueled efforts to account retrospectively for humanity’s age-old convictions in this matter, but Oppenheim saw these efforts as sources of a wealth of dubious anthropological speculation:
For nearly a century [Western thought] has tried to fathom these alien dimensions with the yardsticks of animistic theories, nature worship, stellar mythologies, vegetation cycles, pre-logical thought, and kindred panaceas” [that yield] “lifeless and bookish syntheses and smoothly written systematizations decked out in a mass of all-too-ingenious comparisons and parallels obtained by zigzagging over the globe and through the known history of man…”
In other words, mental gymnastics of the kind one finds in Halpern’s book. The problem fundamental to these speculations, Oppenheim wrote, was that they view the “plurality of spiritual dimensions” from the standpoint of the belief in a one-dimensional universe scientists and intellectuals generally embrace.
James Gallant, an independent scholar, is the Fortnightly Review’s “Verisimilitudes” columnist, and author of Verisimilitudes: Essays and Approximations, published recently in our Odd Volumes series. His La Leona and Other Guitar Stories, which won the Schaffner Press award for music-in-literature in 2019, is available currently, along with his earlier works of fiction, from booksellers online and off-.
- “Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena”
- QV, Book of Ezekiel.