In 1958, Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychologist wrote a small book called FLYING SAUCERS, A MODERN MYTH.
He had to explain to reporters that by "myth" he did not mean "false". He was sure that something is seen, but one doesn’t know what and that this "something" was not aircraft, weather balloons, meteors or any of the other explanations for the things people see in the sky that they interpret as "flying saucers". He did not deny the possibility of beings from other planet visiting the earth in space crafts which people have seen.
Jung used the term "myth" to mean a sacred story which reflects deep inner needs of a community of believers and which justifies some important action that they take. The myths of the ancient Greeks are just strange tale to us because we nno longer see the sacred shrines and religious ceremonies whose existence they justified.
Jung notes that the first "flying saucer" stories appeared in 1947, two years after the first atomic bombs were exploded. They appeared at a time when there was great fear of a war between the United States and the Soviet Union. (Note that the most important of the early "flying saucer" stories happened near Roswell, New Mexico, not far from Alamogordo where the very first atomic bomb was tested.) In 1949, the Soviet Union exploded its own atomic bomb and the fear of war became even greater.
Jung said that now as in times past, people looked to the sky for salvation from the danger. At such times in the past people would have visions of gods, saints, angels etc. who were supposed to rescue them from disaster. Sacred stories - mythologies - were told about these beings and ceremonies such as the Native American Ghost Dance were performed to bring the day of deliverance closer or at least encourage the believers.
But Jung says that modern science has made most people too skeptical about supernatural beings to see the traditional mythological images. Since we live in an age of science and technology, we interpret the new signs in the sky as machines from a world with a technology more advanced than ours.
In the first "flying saucer" stories from the early Cold War period, the beings from other planets were usually benevolent. There was a hope that they might bring peace to our world.
The "flying saucer" stories spread orally or by newspaper, inspired novels and films. In turn the novels and films spread new images among those who were interested in "flying saucers".
In the 1952 film THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, a man from another world named Klaatu lands in a "flying saucer" to warn humanity not to fire nuclear weapons into outer space. Klaatu says that the other planets have kept peace among themselves by creating a force of robots who will destroy any planet that launches nuclear missiles beyond its own bounds. He calls on the nations of the earth to make peace with one another. To show that Klaatu is serious and that the planets he represents have the technological power to do as he says, he turns off all electric power on earth for one day.
It is interesting that one of the popular books on "flying saucers" in the fifties (I believe it was by George Adamski) discusses the movie image of Klaatu’s "flying saucer" as being somehow proof of the books assertion that ‘flying saucers" have landed.
The sociological study called WHEN PROPHECY FAILS describes a group of "flying saucer" believers which developed in the fifties. A woman in Ohio became convinced that she was getting messages from the planet Clarion (where abouts unknown) warning her that a great flood would drown most of North America. However Clarion would send a space craft (Called a ‘Vagda’) to rescue her and anyone who was in her house on the day the flood was to begin.
She very cautiously sounded out a few friends and they just as cautiously brought in a few more of their friends. The little group began meeting in her living room to hear the latest messages she had received from the planet Clarion. Finally the day of the great flood arrived. The group of believers waited for the rescue ship all day and all night.
When nothing happened, they believed in the reality of their contact with Clarion more strongly than ever. The great day had only been postponed, they thought. Where as before, they had been extremely secretive about the messages from Clarion, now they contacted the press and eagerly told everyone they knew about their beliefs, trying to bring on new converts.
The feelings that inspired the believers to accept the messages from Clarion were still deep and powerful - the feeling of being threatened by a great disaster, the hope for friendly beings with greater power than their own who might rescue them. The possible disasters could be seen in grim reality on the front page of any newspaper. But what if there were no beings somewhere beyond to act as saviors?
The believers in Ohio could not accept this possibility. To keep from having their faith shaken, they had to go out and convert more people.
The belief in extraterrestrials as benevolent deliverers remained popular into the 1970’s. One night in 1976 I stood in a milling crowd of young people who were pointing up at an alleged "flying saucer" in the sky. I looked up and saw a point of light moving among the stars. Around me people were shouting "Take me up! Take me up!" In 1976 many people still thought it would be a good and desirable thing to go away on a flying saucer - at least among counter-culture youth.
A few weeks later I stopped at a house in Northern California, which was the headquarters of a group of "flying saucer" believers. They were the followers of a man named Alan Noonan who they called "the Messiah". They said he had been to the Twelfth Dimension where he met with the Intergalactic Space Command. The Space Command gave him a revelation which he published in a book of several volumes called THE EVERLASTING GOSPEL. The group supported itself by selling bread and T-shirts at farmer’s markets and health food stores and by putting on concerts of their own rock band. The woman who made the bread told me that all believers might occasionally get messages from the Intergalactic Space Command. For example she would get and idea about how to bake the bread better and she would know the idea came from the Space Command.
Sometime in the late seventies, a new theme became common - "flying saucers" themselves were part of the threat. Hal Lindsay, a very popular religious writer, believed that "flying saucers" might be piloted by demons. He believed that Satan might land in a "flying saucer" shortly before the second coming of Jesus.
Lindsay said that Satan would proclaim a message of world peace - as the benevolent "flying saucer" beings had been doing since the beginning of the Cold War. In this way Satan would try to steal the worship that rightfully belonged to Jesus.
Lindsay had worked as a staff person for Campus Crusade for Christ International which had close ties to such right-wing groups as the Rev. Fred Schwartz’s Christian Anti-Communist Crusade and the Coors Beer Foundation.
For Lindsay the "flying saucer" myth brought up such theological complications as - how could intelligent beings exist on another planet without any way to know of the sacrifice of Jesus to save them from their sins.
And as a right-winger, he found that the messages of the benevolent extraterrestrials sounded suspiciously like political liberals who believed that world peace could be made through the United Nations or some other human agency without the direct intervention of God.
Since Lindsay’s words on the subject, the view of "flying saucers" as menace has become more and more popular, especially among people with right-wing political views. One of the main sources of the menacing view is the Science Fiction writer Whitley Streiber’s book COMMUNION. Streiber (who incidentally is a liberal himself) relates how he recovered repressed memories of being taken on board a "flying saucer" and experimented upon. The memories were terrifying.
After publishing his book Streiber received a huge amount of mail from readers who believed that they also had been abducted by aliens who experimented with them and put devices under their skins - leaving no trace on the surface.
The theme of harmful objects being inserted into the body without a trace and causing sickness is common among so-called primitive peoples the world over. One of the main jobs of shamans is to find these harmful objects and remove them.
There have been a number of support groups set up for people who believe they have been abducted onto "flying saucers". Two-thirds of the people in these groups, according to surveys, say that they have no conscious memory of such a thing happening. But they have had physical illnesses, nervous breakdowns or simply feelings of depression and wondered if these problems might be caused by extraterrestrials.
These support groups are often led by people with degrees in psychology. The leader hypnotizes the group members to release their repressed memories of the aliens. (A skeptic might say that the leader often plants suggestions of these memories in the minds of the members while they are under hypnosis).
There is an increasingly elaborate lore about the alien beings - their appearances and habits and points of origin. They are of various types. One of the most common is called "the grays".
The group leader does what a shaman or exorcist does - he helps people confront their demons. The current demons that possess Americans might be from another galaxy, just as among Hindu villagers in India, demons that possess mentally ill people might be the ghosts of dead Muslims. In both cases, the person’s illness is from outside - another part of the universe or another religion.
The belief in the threatening "flying saucers" is more common and stronger now than the belief in the benevolent aliens of the early Cold War period. In the fifties when Jung wrote his book people had far more faith and hope in technology than they do now. In those days beings from a world more high-tech than ours were believed to bring benefits. Now they are seen as a menace.
It is possible that many of the people that go to alien abductee support groups are suffering from freakouts caused by the effects of living in an ocean of machinery which gets more and more complicated all the time, where everything, including they food they eat, is treated with more and more chemicals. Elementary machine operations like a telephone become more and more complicated with computerized devices, recorded voices, etc.
People feel they are continuously being experimented upon by scientists, technicians, government bureaucrats and corporate executives and they feel increasingly helpless as these power figures manipulate their lives. To a degree, we are all abductees aboard an increasingly mechanized spaceship Earth.
The mythology of alien abduction helps people cope with an external world that is getting too complicated. I once talked with a highly intelligent and articulate woman who wondered which of two rival mythologies described the cause of her mental problems - alien abduction or Satanic ritual abuse?
Along with the theme of "flying saucers" as menace goes a closely related theme - government leaders have met with the aliens and made some kind of deal with them behind our backs and now are covering up the very existence of "flying saucers".
Since the Vietnam War, the US government has been caught in more and more lies and cover-ups. People of every shade of political opinion no longer trust the government as they did in the time of the benevolent aliens of the early fifties. They have gone back to one of the earliest "flying saucer" stories as a symbol of government deceit - the alleged crash of the "flying saucer" on the land of sheep rancher Mac Brazel, near Roswell, New Mexico on the week end of July 4, 1947.
I have talked to a relative of Mr. Brazel’s who was only seven at the time, but handled pieces of the alleged wreckage. He said that Mr. Brazel, who was a very patriotic and conservative man, was taken into custody for several days by military intelligence officers and questioned harshly and arrogantly. He was shocked that the government he had always respected would treat him so and would never discuss the "flying saucer" crash again. Mr. Brazel’s relative tells me that another member of the family witnessed the crash of two other "flying saucers" on the same July 4 weekend, but would never talk about it freely because he didn’t want to be treated like Mr. Brazel.
Whatever the truth of the Roswell matter, although it appeared in CORONET magazine in the early fifties, it did not become popular until the decline of the view of aliens as benevolent and the rise of fears of alien abduction. This change over went along with growing suspicions of both the government and high technology.
Roswell has become a place of pilgrimage to protest the dishonesty of the United States government. A parallel from an earlier set of beliefs in heavenly revelations was the alleged appearance of the Virgin Mary to three Catholic peasant girls picking berries near Marpingen, Germany in 1876. Soon tens of thousands of pilgrims were coming to the spot where the Virgin appeared for healing.
The Marpingen vision also had political importance. At the time, the Catholic church was in major negotiations with the German government, which was trying to cut down some of the church’s traditional privileges.
The pilgrims expressed support for the Catholic church against the German government. Finally three priests who were leading groups of pilgrims were arrested and troops were sent to keep people away from the spot where the Virgin appeared at Marpingen.
By this time the Catholic leadership believed they had gotten everything possible in their negotiations with the German government. The church leaders proclaimed that the alleged appearance of the Virgin was a fraud because of contradictions they claimed to have found in the stories of the girls who said they had the vision.
Yet people continued to make pilgrimages to Marpingen for many years. During the Nazi period of the 1930’s the number of pilgrims increased sharply. The pilgrimage was a safe way for German Catholics to show their disapproval of the Nazi government.
In the same way the pilgrimages to Roswell are a safe way for people to show their distrust and disapproval of the US government when they are unwilling or unable to organize a political movement against government policies.
Bruce Franklin, who has written two books of science fiction criticism, says that a myth is "a story that no matter how bizarre it may seem...when subjected to rational analysis, appears as essential truth to its believers."
The myth of "flying saucers" reflects basic problems that are troubling a growing number of people. The myth will last until extraterrestrial beings actually appear to a mass audience (for example, on "Good Morning America") or a movement to solve these basic problems has success.