This is the first report of my experiences with individuals who feel that they have had personal contact with extraterrestrials. More are forthcoming. Where appropriate, names have been changed…
Laughlin, Nevada is the kind of place where vegetarianism is deviant. Even the lentil soup comes served with large chunks of sausage in it… Thick, greasy, lips-and-asshole chorizo sausage. Even when picked out, it befouls the rest of the soup with its putrid flavor.
I have to send it back. “This has sausage in it”, I tell the waitress.
“Yes”, the waitress says, nonplussed, “you ordered the lentil soup”.
The atmosphere has abruptly changed. My effeminate coastal dietary peculiarities have made my presence suddenly unwelcome. I feel a wave of panic fill the room. At surrounding tables, the bloated men in cowboy hats are, I imagine, wishing that they were thirty years younger, so that they might rise up to knock some sense into my goddamn skull. To the people of Laughlin, it appears, there is nothing particularly bizarre about a group of UFO seekers holding a conference in their town, but a man who doesn’t eat meat is truly a freakish thought. Christ, it’s already noon and I don’t even have a beer in my hand. To the generally upper middle-aged, beer-bellied, cigarette-sallowed gamblers of this obscure poor-man’s alternative to Reno, I am an interloper.
I feel more at ease among the ET enthusiasts. My initial impression is that they display nothing of the unwelcoming, bitter homogeneity of the Ritual Abuse crowd. Among them are Science Fiction fans and writers, Fortean chroniclers of anomalous events, students of the paranormal, and the mere curious.
The diversity is an unexpected relief. The two-hour shuttle ride from the Vegas airport to Laughlin gave grim indications that the conference would be strictly populated by elderly New Agers.
Earlier that day, I was among the first to be shuffled aboard the small bus just outside the baggage claim. Freshly acquainted geriatric galactic citizens bemoaned the horrifying quality of in-flight meals between refined excoriations against the blind ignorance of the mainstream masses who, despite overwhelming evidence, remain skeptical to the fact that Earth is being regularly visited by extraterrestrial intelligences. They were all warming up for the conference, taking full advantage of this opportunity to preach to a captive choir. Self proclaimed “intuitives”, aura readers, psychics, and UFOlogists all began climbing aboard to contribute to an increasing din of metaphysical philosophies, conspiracy theories, and Aquarian Age wisdom. Full groups spoke to each other simultaneously, without a single member listening. The driver announced that we would be leaving in five minutes, precisely on the hour, no exceptions, at which a strained looking old fellow took immediate leave. “I’ll be right back,” he assured the driver.
Ten minutes after the hour, the impatient passengers abandoned their peaceful transcendent pretensions and began to suggest with undisguised agitation that we should move on without our missing comrade. A man volunteered to look for him. He came back and reported something in confidence to the driver who then announced, “Two more minutes!” and started the engine. Our fact-finder sat back down across from me. “He’s taking a shit”, he muttered ruefully to the passenger next to him.
Soon enough our man returned, sullen and shamed, head low.
We’re away even before he’s seated.
The responsible chronicler in me wanted that I should I mingle with the other passengers, at least listen to what they were talking about, despite a fatigue-induced disinterest. Somebody was talking about media misinformation, another about how the UFO deniers are “asleep”.
Good enough. I put on my headphones and listened to music, partially falling asleep.
Anyway, my interest is in those who claim to have been in personal contact with extraterrestrial beings. That most reports of such contact are based upon recovered memories is a well-known fact. How are these recovered memories similar or different to those reporting satanic cult activity? Proponents of recovered memories of abuse, uncomfortable with the association to ET abduction, are quick to dismiss the parallel as a cheap-shot, a low-brow attempt at discrediting all recovered memories. But, without a method by which one may reliably distinguish legitimate recovered memories from fabrications or confabulations, the abductees present a unique challenge. If one can cultivate entire false memory scenarios regarding sometimes traumatic contact with alien beings, why could one not also construct such false memories about any traumatic experience? And what makes a more plausible recovered memory any less likely to be a false construction than an implausible one?
It was, I had understood, the consistency of the abduction tales that counter-balanced their implausibility with credibility. After all, how could it be that so many people, personally and geographically unrelated, would have such similar narratives of extraterrestrial encounters if these were but personal delusions?
Despite the fact that abduction stories are so prevalent in popular culture as to render this argument ludicrous, the question has proven undeniably compelling not only to fringe spiritual seekers, but to a few respected academics and journalists as well. Most notably, professor John Mack of Harvard Medical School undertook an enormous study of over 200 abductees from 6 continents in the course of over 10 years, till his death in 2004 when he was struck by a drunken driver while crossing a London street. Mack, encouraged by his long-time friend, author Thomas Kuhn, rejected what he felt to be an inhibiting materialist dualism that is “held in place by the structures, categories, and polarities of language, such as real/unreal, exists/does not exist, objective/subjective, intrapsychic/external world, and happened/did not happen.” (Mack, 1994)
Mack set out to “collect raw information, putting aside whether or not what I was learning fit any particular world view.” (Mack, 1994) Inevitably, though, Mack strained to fit his data into a world view, albeit a world view that was unconstrained by parsimony and the standard burden of scientific proof. To Dr. Mack, abduction experiences were real “in some way”, suggesting that they could be attributed to interdimensional travel rather than intragalactic. And while Mack did consider the possibility that the abduction experience was the product of an altered state, his altered state abduction wasn’t a purely internal, subjective experience, rather it was an altered state of higher consciousness that elicited communication with higher beings. (Mack, 1999)
In his book Passport To The Cosmos, Mack explains, “It is not just the experiencers’ conviction that what they have undergone is in some way real that has made me take them seriously. The richly detailed narratives they provide, the appropriate surprise, the convincing incredulity, and above all the genuine distress or other feelings they report, together with the observable emotion and intense bodily reactions they exhibit when their experiences are recalled – all these elements combined can give any witness the sense that something powerful has happened to these individuals, however impossible this may seem from the standpoint of our traditional worldview.” (Mack, 1999)
Dr. Mack’s claims of narrative consistency notwithstanding, the abduction accounts I end up hearing at the 2010 UFO Congress convention in Laughlin, Nevada – from those who claimed to have experienced them – are surprisingly inconsistent even given the near universal knowledge of how “actual” abductions are supposed to be carried out. At the very least, I had felt, everybody agreed upon who was responsible: little grey humanoids – “Greys”, they’ve been cleverly dubbed – with outsized hairless heads, large black almond-shaped eyes, and frail bodies.
Turns out there is a whole carnival of different species beaming people into different types of craft, and for different purposes – some benevolent, some… not so much. The Contactees happily share apparently well-worn, scripted descriptions of the multitudes of distorted other-world craniums and non-human eyes they’ve observed. There are mammalians, crustaceans, and ETs entirely human in appearance. The galactic community, it seems, is as diverse as human imagination.
The Greys? …Oh, yes, them.
Well, they are out there, up to their antics still, but they seem to have fallen out of fashion of late.
Given this variety of interplanetary taxonomic categories and their broad spectrum of individual motivations for the covert Earth capers they’re said to be engaged in, these are not “abductee” sessions that I am attending as an optional evening supplement to the larger conference… As hypnotherapist (and session organizer) Mary Rodwell explains, the word “abductee” carries with it certain obvious negative connotations that do not do justice to many of the “life-enhancing” extraterrestrial encounters that many of her clients have reported. Rodwell prefers the more neutral word “experiencer”. Thus, if we could refer to each other as experiencers rather than abductees, we’d all be a bit happier, yes?
There is dissent. “I don’t think that’s fair,” one harried man objects. His experience has very much been one of being taken against his will, and he seems as skeptical of reports of positive alien encounters as most people are of tales of alien contact in general. His, presumably, was one of those close-encounters of the orifice-stretching kind, and he reserves the right – by God – to refer to himself as an abductee. There is agreement from a few others in the group of about 30 who sat in a tight circle of chairs within the small windowless hotel meeting room. The “Experiencer” label, they feel, is a whitewash. They are Abductees.
Very well then. Rodwell is flexible, conveying herself with a saintly air of tolerance. She wants the evening Experiencer Sessions to “honor” all varieties of ET contact. If there are those who wish to refer to themselves as “abductees”, all well and good. So long as everybody is sensitive to the fact that “abductee” is an unacceptable blanket label to be applied to all in the room. The abductees begrudgingly agree.
Mary Rodwell holds the title of “Principal” at an organization called ACERN (Australian Close Encounters Resource Network), with the stated goal of offering “professional counselling support, hypnotherapy and information to individuals and their families who have ‘anomalous’ paranormal experiences, particularly specializing in Abduction/contact experiences.”
“If you don’t want to share and just want to listen, that’s fine”, Rodwell assures us all, much to my relief. My unease at the prospect of around-the-circle individual introductions and biographical synopses had been growing since realizing that I am, quite possibly, the only person in the room with no memories of contact with ETs.
“The other thing I’d like you to respect is everyone has their own understanding of their experiences,” Rodwell explains. “No matter how one chooses to understand it doesn’t mean you have to subscribe to that, it just means that that’s where they are with their experiences, that’s how they choose to understand it, though it may not resonate for you. It may not fit for you at all. But that’s okay, because we have the right to interpret our experiences whatever way feels right to us.”
A middle-aged Latin man seated to my immediate left is eager to tell of his experiences.
“I’m not really good at public speaking, in fact I have a phobia about speaking in groups. But I’m here tonight because I want to be around people who have had experiences. I’ve been an experiencer for approximately 25 years. It started when I was living in the Central Valley. I was a professional person. I was a parole agent. And when I started experiencing contact, I could never talk to anybody because I was a professional man and I couldn’t approach my supervisor and say, hey, I’m speaking to little grey guys. So I just pretty much kept it to myself. So my main reason for being here is just hearing other people’s stories and not feeling so awkward about what my own personal experiences have been.”
He finishes there, apparently having gotten off his chest what he wanted to express, just enjoying – it seems – being in an environment wherein he can declare himself an “experiencer” without feeling that he’ll have made himself outcast by doing so. And this is how most of the testimonials carry on throughout this first night. Experiencers within the circle talk about the various ways in which they present themselves to outsiders, some claiming to heavily advertise their relationship with extraterrestrials, others describing the daily discomfort of keeping this part of their lives constantly concealed.
One woman chimes in: “I just want to say, chances are that each one of us — in fact chances are really good — I’ve probably already lived half my life. I’m in my fifties. And I’m at a point in my life where it’s really important to me to be who I am. And I think that the extraterrestrial, interdimensional — whatever type of contact it is — that it is a significant part of my life… It has been for a long time. Um… I have had stages of being made fun of, of being talked about behind my back, being called crazy. I used to really, really care about that. And it used to really hurt my feelings… It was more important to me how other people thought of me than how I actually felt about me — you know, as far as being true to myself. So… I’m at a stage in my life where when I meet people — and let’s say they’re neighbors — there are people, like, up in the mountains. We have a place up in the country, about 35 acres around a bunch of country people. When I meet people, they come into my life, I let it be known right away. You know, this is part of my life. They have a choice whether they want to associate with me or not associate with me… there are no secrets… but on the other side of that, you know, at that point in time, they can say or think whatever they want to say or think about me. I don’t care. It’s not important to me any more. I figure people that are like me will resonate toward me, and those that aren’t will hopefully stay away. And also along with that: if I’m like a crazy person that everybody’s talking about, possibly they’ll talk to somebody who is out there who is having life experiences, who doesn’t feel like they can talk to anybody… and they’ll know they can talk to me…”
I find myself sympathizing with the experiencers. Aside from being far friendlier than the morose and self-entitled Ritual Abuse fantasists, they also aren’t directly victimizing individuals by labeling their unfortunate families as the revealed perpetrators of repressed episodes of abuse. Further, it’s annoying to think of religious literalists – believers in the Son of God’s imminent return to Earth to attend Good and Evil’s promosed apocalyptic show-down – having the audacity to laugh at these no-less-probable scenarios constructed by the experiencers. This is not to say that I feel abductees should be able to declare the absolute truth of their ET contact episodes without critical objection. Quite the contrary. Truth matters, and individual liberties are at stake. This sub-set of recovered memory advocates give license to those of the witch-hunting kind. It’s all well and good to play philosophical games with questions like “Whose Truth?” until individual liberties and personal well-beings are threatened, at which point we must defer to the best method for knowing “truth” we’ve yet devised: scientific “materialism”… unromantic and inhibiting as it might seem.
The most perplexing comments, to my mind, this first night’s experiencer session, come from a couple of fellows who have no conscious memory of abduction, but feel that their lives have been a more-or-less regular stream of anomalous events for which alien intervention seems the most rational explanation.
Karl, a man in his late-thirties from Wyoming, tells of synchronicities, “psychic events”, and vague “anomalies” that have led him to suspect that extraterrestrials are watching him. One night, not long ago, he felt an odd compulsion to take a tent out into the woods. Before sleeping, he tells us, he asked for some sign, some acknowledgment, confirmation from these outer world beings that they are watching. He slept the whole night through without incident. But, upon returning home, he checked his email to find the confirmation that he had asked for: a girl he had gone to school with, who he hadn’t thought about in years, but who had come to mind in short proximity preceding his compelled camp-out, had sent him a Facebook friend request.
I was waiting for more. I was waiting for Karl’s story to bring us inside of a space-craft, into a vivisection lab… Something.
But that was it. A none-too-incredible synchronicity that, even if one felt certain couldn’t be “mere coincidence”, could have fit any number of supernatural narratives… This was taken as a clear signal of extraterrestrial activity.
A short, over-weight man named Clem tells a tale equally unremarkable. One night, he was in his bathroom when the light-bulb started humming and vibrating. “I reached up to touch it”, Clem tells us, “Bwoosh!”, he spreads his hands and extends his arms, indicating an explosion.
As with Karl, Clem’s story ends before I can figure out its meaning.
After the session, I’m fortunate in that Clem approaches me and immediately begins to elaborate:
“If I was to reach up, you know, and touch something in the light I’m certain that nothing would have happened, but I didn’t want to take the chance.” He’s still marveling over the event, but I still have no idea what this has to do with ETs.
“So did you do hypnosis?” I ask.
“No! No no. No. This was — I was in the bathroom. I’m putting on a t-shirt. And you know, you got those [?] deals on the lights. I got two lights, and I just happen to touch it. And it just went — it just started to vibrate, and — you ever see Star Wars?”
“Where the Death Star exploded?”
“That’s what this did. And the lamp, the light itself – nothing happened to it. It burned out like a year later… but this was just… I’d never seen anything like it.”
“Something different entirely entirely, huh?” I ask, not certain what else to say.
“It was – Yeah! That was something different entirely!”
“Did you ever do a regression like she [Rodwell] does?”
It turns out, Clem has been regressed, but he seems reticent to speak of memories of direct ET contact. He continues to tell me about his bizarre electrical problems. “That comes and goes”, he explains.
“And like several years ago, I had a Lincoln…” Clem lowers his voice and leans in closer to me, as though he is about to confide to me something so frightening and abnormal that he doesn’t want to distress any innocent passers-by who might overhear. “I’m driving to work one day, and I keep losing power. And I say, what the Hell’s going on? So, I park it, and I went into work. And I go to my mechanic the next day, and I sez, so what the Hell happened? And he sez, you know, in the hundreds and hundreds of engines I’ve worked on, I’ve never seen anything like this. I was like out of a cheap b-movie… [The mechanic] pops the hood –”
Clem pauses and looks me in the eye dramatically.
“Yeah?” I urge him.
“Takes a wrench and holds it up towards the engine –” Clem raises his fist to illustrate.
“And it goes *chunk*”, Clem opens his fist, his gaze following an imaginary wrench that slams into the engine. “…It was magnetized! And he had to reverse the poles of the engine. Change the battery. Change the alternator. Cost me several hundred dollars. And there was just no rhyme or reason for it.”
I’m at a loss. “Right…” I say, lamely.
“I’ve had experiences, and that kind of thing just drives me nuts. There’s no sense to it.”
I press Clem to tell me what exactly makes him feel certain that ETs were involved, and of what direct experiences he feels he’s had with unearthly beings.
He has had contact with ETs, but contact of the psychic kind. They come to him as voices in his head. They come into his house at night. He hears them crawling around… under the stairs, in the attic. At this point, my oscillating opinion of the hypnotherapists who perpetuate beliefs in ET encounters is decidedly negative. Clem, I feel, may need real help. He begins to describe how difficult it is to talk to some of his friends and family about these kinds of things. It is comforting to hear, at least, that he does have friends and family to talk to.
“You can’t be angry at them for finding these things hard to understand,” I tell him. “You don’t want to keep things from them, but you also want to hear them out and respect their perspective. It’s always good to hear another opinion, regardless of what they make of yours…”
We shake hands and part ways.
On my way back to my hotel room, I spot Karl. He’s telling another conference-goer who wasn’t at the session about his remarkable sychronicities. I can already see a shift in his demeanor. While he came to the session uncertain that the “anomalies” he had experienced were indicative of ET contact, he’s growing more and more convinced by the moment…