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Spacecraft or Lovecraft? The Puzzling Nature of UFOs

by Deuce of Clubs

(First published in Planet Magazine, 24oct1995)


These Great Old Ones...were not composed altogether of flesh and blood. They had shape...but that shape was not made of matter. When the stars were right, They could plunge from world to world through the sky.... When, after infinities of chaos, the first men came, the Great Old Ones spoke to the sensitive among them by molding their dreams; for only thus could Their language reach the fleshy minds of mammals.

H. P. Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu"

And they taught them charms and enchantments...and they bear great giants, whose height was three thousand ells, who consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them, and devoured mankind.

Book of Enoch, VII.1-4

A number of years ago while reading the apocryphal Book of Enoch, I came to a passage dealing with this evil angel called Semjaza. The name seemed familiar, and soon I remembered where I'd seen it before—in a book by an alleged UFO contactee (whose fraudulent UFO photos have been repeatedly debunked), who identified "Semjase" as the name of one of the extraterrestrials he claimed had visited him from the Pleiades. After that I began noticing other similarities between UFO stories and other kinds of stories. Especially interesting were the correspondences between UFOs and angels. Alleged contactee George Hunt Williamson even included in his books examples of "extraterrestrial" vocabulary words—words that turn out to be nearly identical to words from the so-called Enochian, or angelic, language used by occultists from John Dee to Aleister Crowley.

Not that this is unexplainable or coincidental: certainly Crowley's books and The Book of Enoch are exactly the sort of literature one would expect to find on the bookshelves of new age UFO author crackpots. But what is new is the degree to which crackpottery has gone mainstream: the western world is in the throes of an as-yet-unrequited love affair with both angels and UFOs. Our attitude toward UFOs mirrors that of the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which portrayed and encouraged the widespread belief in the existence of angelic extraterrestrial visitors and the assumption that if beings are technologically advanced, they must also be benevolent. The history of our own planet ought to show the flaw in that conclusion: the twentieth century, the most technologically advanced period in human history, has also been history's bloodiest, with at least 170 million people murdered by various governments (and that figure doesn't even include the century's 39 million war dead). In spite of the evidence to the contrary, however, great numbers of people continue to equate intelligence with goodness, and those who believe in extraterrestrial intelligence prefer to put their faith in kindly technological "visitors"—angels not from heaven but from deep space.

Might these visitors really exist?

The study of UFOs has been thus far inconclusive, plagued by hoaxes, looniness, and misinterpretations of completely natural occurrences (such as meteorological phenomena, geological phenomena, and sleep paralysis). But the phenomenon of "otherworldly" contact has been so widely spread over time and place that it would not unreasonable to believe that something real is going on—probably misinterpreted natural processes, but consistent enough in its manifestations as to make it easy to suggest the work of unknown intelligences.

Could there be visitors from outer space? It's possible, but unlikely, if the current human understanding of physics bears any relation to the nature of reality. The great distances from us to even our nearest neighboring galaxies make it highly improbable that any inhabitants—at least, any physical inhabitants—no matter how technologically adept, could ever reach us alive. But if the visitors aren't space aliens, then who or what are they supposed to be?

An intriguing hypothesis has been suggested by Jacques Vallee, the real-life model for the character of the French scientist in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and author of many books on the UFO phenomenon, such as Dimensions and Messengers of Deception. Vallee does not share Steven Spielberg's trusting view of the visitors, whom he believes are probably not visitors at all. Vallee has made a history-spanning study of stories of supernatural contact—Greco-Roman tales of sky chariots, Celtic stories of elves and fairies abducting children and mutilating animals, Joseph Smith's alleged heavenly visions, and apparitions of the Virgin Mary—and found that such experiences closely parallel the experiences of UFO contactees. It seems that the phenomenon currently known as the contactee experience is almost coeval with human culture. "UFOs have been seen throughout history and have consistently received (or provided) their own explanation within the framework of each culture," Vallee says. Stories of these visitors conform to the prevailing mythology or beliefs; the visitors become whatever we want them to be and tell us whatever we want to hear. Modern mythology having shifted from the magical to the scientific, it's only logical that popular culture now attributes such phenomena to scientifically advanced beings from space.

However believers interpret the visitor phenomenon, if there were real personages behind it, the important question would be, do they mean us ill or good? Even contactees familiar with the long history of the phenomenon and who believe the visitors are real, do not know the purpose of their milleniums-long masquerade. Whitley Streiber, alleged UFO abductee and author of several books on the subject, has even questioned the wisdom of writing about it: "What if they were dangerous? Then I was terribly dangerous because I was playing a role in acclimatizing people to them." Given the obvious willingness of the posited visitors to pretend to be whatever they think we want them to be and their capacity for calculated manipulation, how likely is it that the their intentions towards us would be benign?

Anyone familiar with the tales of H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos can easily imagine, instead of friendly alien visitors, something more along the lines of the terrible pre-human inhabitants of earth whom Lovecraft called the Great Old Ones. "All my stories," Lovecraft wrote, "are based on the fundamental lore or legend that this world was inhabited at one time by another race who, in practicing black magic, lost their foothold and were expelled, yet live on outside ever ready to take possession of this earth again." Lovecraft's Great Old Ones and Elder Gods are reminiscent of the Book of Enoch's evil angels—and the UFO visitors. Some of the contactees themselves have associated the visitors with the gods of ancient mythology. When the visitors told Streiber they were "very old," he found himself wondering, "Who were the old gods, really?" If the visitors are gods, they certainly conform to the ancient Greek conception of divinity: "Whom the gods would destroy, they first drive mad." Their dealings with Streiber nearly caused him to lose his mind. "I years of eager study of everything from Zen to quantum physics had led me into some strange and tragic byway of the soul," he later wrote.

Streiber attempts to understand the visitors in spiritual, rather than scientific, terms. Vallee, too, believes the UFO phenomenon is not primarily a scientific matter. "We are dealing here with the next form of religion, with a new spiritual movement," says Vallee. He draws a suggestive parallel between our culture, which looks to science for the answers to our questions, and the society upon which our culture is largely based, that of the ancient Greeks:

At the end of antiquity, people were fed up with science. The Greeks knew the Earth was a globe. They knew how big it was, and how far it was from the Sun, and they knew the diameter of the Moon. They could compute the dates of future eclipses. They even understood the atomic structure of matter. But they couldn't tell people what the human race was doing here, and where it would go next. So their science was swept away and forgotten. Will the same thing happen to our science?

That we cannot say with complete certainty whether the visitors even exist—let alone who they could be and what they might want with us—shows how little we really know, scientifically or otherwise, about even our own tiny spot in the universe. Vallee has some sound advice for those who would look to unknown intelligences or unexplained phenomena for some form of salvation: "Shouldn't we know something more about the helpful stranger before we jump on board?"

If, against all odds, the visitors turned out to be real, it would make little difference whether they were almond-eyed aliens or tentacled Lovecraftian monsters; as Vallee says, "In terms of the effect on us, it doesn't matter where they come from." But the danger of which Vallee warns—that people may rush into the spiritual void left by science—remains the same even if the visitors do not exist: "The group of people who will first manage to harness the fear of cosmic forces and the emotions surrounding UFO contact to a political purpose will be able to exert incredible spiritual blackmail."

H. P. Lovecraft envisioned a nightmare future for those who look for hope from unaccounted for places:

Then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and reveling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom.

© Deuce of Clubs

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