PROLOGUE: IT’S ONLY A DREAM?
As I have already indicated in a previous post, this is one of the most emotionally powerful and disturbing dreams I’ve ever had. It felt absolutely “real,” and left me shaken and confused. What do UFOs have to do with death? And specifically, with the death of someone who had been very close to me in life? It made no sense to me at the time. There were elements of the dream that were dreadful and uncanny; others literally breathtaking, and, in C.G. Jung’s term (following Rudolph Otto), numinous—arousing the kind of awe one usually associates with deities.
I should also mention here that this was not my only dream involving UFOs. In fact, I have had many others, including some recurring dreams. I will talk about some of these in future posts.
As I mentioned in my first book, The Way Back to Paradise (2005), as part of my general fascination with parapsychology and the “paranormal,” I have been interested in UFOs since childhood. My attention to the subject has waxed and waned over the years. I have gone through periods of both intense focus, and studied disinterest—or at least deliberate distance—often triggered by frustration with the hall of mirrors and cauldron of disinformation that is, or has been, Ufology. Of all the UFological researchers, I still have the highest regard for Dr. Jacques Vallée’s contribution to the field, and I respect his work as being the most valuable and important.
Occasionally I have wondered why I have been drawn—at times bordering on the obsessive—to this frustrating topic, with all of its loopy high strangeness, counter-intelligence psyops, disinformation, egomania, and just plain weirdness. Odd childhood memories and dreams have led me to ask: Am I, perhaps, a UFO experiencer myself?
The answer to this, of course, depends, not only on what we mean by “experience,” but also on how we understand the phenomenon and its stubborn refusal to fit neatly into any of our cookie-cutter categories or Procrustean conceptual beds. This would include those ubiquitous dichotomous twins, “the physical” or “the psychological.” Or, to be more precise—at least from the impoverished standpoint of narrow metaphysical physicalism or scientistic materialism—“physically real” or “merely psychological.” That is to say, it’s all in your head, you head case!
C.G. Jung’s famous 1959 work, published toward the end of his life, is titled, Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies. However, as Jung strategically suggests in his Introduction, as a psychologist, he was principally concerned only with what is seen endogenously, in the psyche within:
“As a psychologist, I am not qualified to contribute anything
useful to the question of the physical reality of Ufos. I can concern myself only with their undoubted psychic aspect, and in what
follows shall deal almost exclusively with their psychic concomitants.”
Of course, what is seen in the skies is also, of necessity, seen in and through the psyche! There’s no escaping consciousness. Our senses, and the physical instrumentalities that amplify their reach, are still processed by and through the psyche. And with Jung’s concepts of synchronicity and the psychoid, psychic causes can, and do, have physical effects. Yet, in the Introduction to his book, Jung coyly pretends to endorse a dichotomy that his very own psychology and ontology (yes, he had one) clearly blows apart.
Considered as a “purely” psychic content, then, for Jung the UFO is a mandala figure: a semi-circular symbol of wholeness, that is in his psychology, is identified with the archetype of the Self, the unifying principle and directive core of the personality:
“In so far as the mandala encompasses, protects, and defends
the psychic totality against outside influences and seeks to
unite the inner opposites, it is at the same time a
distinct individuation symbol and was known as such even to
medieval alchemy. The soul was supposed to have the form of
a sphere, on the analogy of Plato’s world-soul, and we meet
the same symbol in modern dreams. This symbol, by reason of
its antiquity, leads us to the heavenly spheres, to Plato’s
“supra-celestial place” where the “Ideas” of all things are
stored up. Hence there would be nothing against the naïve
interpretation of Ufos as “souls.” Naturally they do not
represent our modern conception of the psyche, but give an
involuntary archetypal or mythological picture of an
unconscious content, a rotundum, as the alchemists called it,
that expresses the totality of the individual. I have defined this
spontaneous image as a symbolical representation of the self,
by which I mean not the ego but the totality composed of the
conscious and the unconscious.”
So, is it skies or psyche?
For myself, I have only seen strange, unidentified lights in my waking consciousness on two occasions; and I would not claim that they were unidentifiable, only that I could not, or did not, on those particular occasions identify them. I have experienced no episodes of missing time, have not seen strange, non-human entities in my bedroom at night (though I had an inexplicable, sometimes terrifying fear of intruders as a child), have no strange, unexplained physical scars on my body, etc. I am therefore not a UFO abductee or witness in the conventional sense (if there is such a thing).
But what, exactly, does it mean to be a UFO experiencer? Isn’t the meaning of that inextricably tied to the question about the nature of the reality of UFOs?
To put it another way: are dreams real, too, even though they’re not physical? Perhaps the adult adherents of western reductionist materialism are virtually among the only parents in human history who would seek to comfort their frightened children with the sad mantra, “It’s only a dream!” But let’s go there now.
What follows, then, is the dream as taken from my journal entry of 3/22/98 (here edited for clarity):
I am in the small apartment where my Aunt Anne lives, and where my late Aunt Ruth also lived for many years. My mother and father are there, too. The telephone rings, and I answer it. The voice on the other end sounds like Ruth, which is puzzling, as I know that she is dead. After finishing my conversation, I get off the phone and remark how strange it is that someone should sound just like Ruth. Suddenly, Ruth is actually standing there, right in front of me! I am overwhelmed with emotion, both the grief of having lost her and the joy of seeing her once again. I can’t stop sobbing, and we embrace. I tell her how much I have missed her. Oddly, she seems nonchalant about being “back.” The television set is on in the background, and a special news report comes on. The reporter announces that the president’s helicopter has had a close encounter with an unexplained object—perhaps a UFO. The strained voice of the helicopter pilot can now be heard describing the strange, incomprehensible transmission he received from this unknown craft. For some reason my attention is drawn to the large picture window on the far wall. What I see is at once astonishing: a huge, bell-shaped UFO, hovering silently outside the window, perhaps thirty feet away and very close to the ground. The craft is a brilliant metallic gold color, and radiates a pulsating orange glow. I am awestruck. But I’m also feeling deeply apprehensive and fearful. Now I find myself standing at the front door, to the right side of the window. The figure of my Aunt Ruth dissolves and is transformed into a kind of shadow—a balloon-shaped pool of blackness—on the wall. The shadow’s eyes are large, white, and almond-shaped. The image is somehow sinister, and I feel a sense of dread or the uncanny. I sense that the shadow is laughing at me—though I can see no mouth or hear any sound.
COMMENTS AND INTERPRETATION:
I would not paint the picture of the Golden UFO for several months afterward. It was my attempt to memorialize the dream, and also, I suppose, to come to terms and assimilate, even if only unconsciously, at least some of its meaning.
I also need to point out that my watercolor painting is not an exact rendering of what I experienced in that dream. It is rather an amalgam of two dreams, including a subsequent encounter with the Golden UFO, as well as other elements added in by my imagination (like the cat sleeping on the chair). The room depicted in the painting is not my aunts’ apartment; rather, it is my own living room, as it more or less appeared in 1998. Some months after I had the initial Golden UFO dream, I had another dream, in which I am walking down the hall of my house towards the living room, when I am overcome with a sense of awe and apprehension. I just know that the Golden UFO is hovering outside my living room window. But before I get to the living room, the feeling of anticipation becomes too uncomfortable and overwhelming, and I awaken. In that second dream, then, I never actually saw the Golden UFO hovering outside of my own living room. Yet I knew it was there, outside, waiting for me. I chose to paint the picture of it as if I had seen it there, copying its appearance from my initial dream encounter outside my aunts’ living room. I did this in large part because it was easier to use the layout and details of my own living room to compose the picture.
Here, then, are the crayon sketches I made of the UFO and the “pool of blackness” on the wall that had been my aunt Ruth, taken from my original journal entry:
Oddly enough, it did not occur to me until later on, after I had been looking at the sketches I’d made, how the “wall shadow” in fact resembled a prototypical Grey “alien,” albeit in reverse coloration:
By the time I had the initial Golden UFO dream, my aunt Ruth had been dead ten years. It is not unusual for me to have dreams of the dead (including years after the person has died), many of which I would classify as genuine encounters with the deceased. I say this because the emotional impact of such encounter or visitation dreams is typically overwhelming and lasting. It is difficult to put into words, but there is a felt sense of being in the presence of that particular individual. This experiential quality in itself is not, of course, objective “proof” of the reality of the encounter; but, on the other hand, despite our prejudice in favor of rationality and scientifically validated knowledge, not everything real is objectively provable. I’ll have more to say about this below.
What also struck me at the time, when I had the dream in 1998, is that my mother had also been dead for five years. Yet, there is no sense in the dream that parallels my awareness of my aunt Ruth’s death, along with the surprise and shock of her sudden appearance. Why?
It’s possible that my mother’s presence in this particular dream is merely symbolic, unlike in other dreams when I have had a vivid experience of encountering her—her what? Soul? Spirit? Shade? Personality-Essence? I don’t really know what to call it. When we encounter the dead in our dreams, are they only sometimes “really there,” and other times merely our own projections? Or is it that our attention is highly limited and selective, and we are not always aware of their full presence? Is the same true of all the figures of our dreams?
I recall one dream I had many years ago in which I temporarily became “lucid,” that is, fully aware that I was dreaming while I was in the dream. And I had this very question in mind: who and what are the figures that I encounter in my dreams? Are they merely projections of my own subconscious/unconscious mind, or creative productions that department of my psyche that produces the dream? What my old friend, the psychologist and lucid dream practitioner Luigi Sciambarella, refers to as “the dream genie”? Or, are these figures “independent entities”? In which case, instead of regarding myself as the creator of all that I survey, am I merely a visitor in a dreamscape whose basic reality is not strictly dependent upon my own personal consciousness?
With precisely these questions in mind, then, in this particular dream, I buttonhole a man briskly walking past me. He has long black hair, a scraggly beard, and is wearing peculiar, ill-fitting clothes that seemed to belong to another time and place—perhaps the Middle Ages. He seems to be full of great purpose going someplace in a hurry with great determination. He looks at me sternly, as if he greatly resents my intrusion “Who are you?” I ask imploringly. “Are you just some aspect of me?”
He says absolutely nothing in response, but just glares at me, his dark eyes burning me with resentment that I had interfered with his progress. I will never forget the look of utter contempt on his face, which I read as saying something like, “I don’t know what kind of foolish idiot you are, but I have absolutely no time or patience for this sort of nonsense!” And he walks right past me without missing a step.
That was an astonishing and, to me, quite revelatory experience. Whoever this fellow was, he wasn’t me! Not in any ordinary sense that would make sense to me. This encounter reminded me very much of what Jung had said in his posthumously published autobiographical work, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1961), about his experience of Philemon, his own inner guide:
“Philemon and other figures of my fantasies brought home to me the crucial insight that there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life. Philemon represented a force which was not myself. In my fantasies I held conversations with him, and he said things which I had not consciously thought. For I observed clearly that it was he who spoke, not I. He said I treated thoughts as if I generated them myself, but in his view thoughts were like animals in the forest, or people in a room, or birds in the air, and added, “If you should see people in a room, you would not think that you had made those people, or that you were responsible for them.” It was he who taught me psychic objectivity, the reality of the psyche. Through him the distinction was clarified between myself and the object of my thought. He confronted me in an objective manner, and I understood that there is something in me which can say things that I do not know and do not intend, things which may even be directed against me.”
Roughly speaking, then, we are carving out two conceptual territories, or theories of dreams. In broad, if not overly crude, terms, they are what might be called, “the shamanic” view versus “the psychological view.”
The former holds that dreams are essentially out-of-body excursions to other worlds or domains of reality, in which we encounter individuals, creatures, objects, landscapes, and situations that are not of our own personal making. In other words, that they really exist.
Whereas the latter holds that everything that we experience in the dream is somehow a reflection and symbolic expression of us—of our subconscious or unconscious needs, desires, beliefs, fears, complexes, etc.—and therefore requires interpretation or “decoding” to get at the hidden, underlying meaning of the dream.
But is it really an either/or?
Could some dreams be essentially or largely journeys to the far territories of consciousness, while others are much more homegrown and personal in their orientation? And perhaps there could even be admixtures of the two kinds, in which some features or inhabitants are “not us;” that they have an independent reality and exist “objectively,” while others are essentially representations of aspects of our own hidden personality? Or even an admixture in the sense that a given figure or feature of the dream is at once both “objective” and “subjective”? For simplicity’s sake, the “impurity” of type is not divided among the elements of the dream, but is in fact arranged like the strata of a layer cake right through each and every element? This, of course, would make interpretation quite complicated and sophisticated where there are no easy, clear-cut answers; but only answers that, so far at least, are the best and most satisfying at which we we can arrive?
My apologies for what must seem to be a lengthy theoretical digression. But I think it is an unavoidable discussion to have, unless one is prepared to be comfortable making all sorts of unstated assumptions.
This issue of interpretation bears directly on the question of the “reality” of what we perceive—internally or externally—and how much we are, consciously or not, contributing to its creation and meaning. There is a subtle interweaving of “objective” and “subjective” threads that are difficult, if not impossible to separate out, without destroying the total dream tapestry.
To return, then, to the felt difference between my encounter experience with my aunt Ruth in the dream, versus my deceased mother’s mere appearance there.
I suspect that the meaning of the dream as a whole holds the key to understanding this discrepancy. It was Ruth who, early in my childhood, gave me advice about trying to “program” my dreams before sleep in order to try and avoid the recurring nightmares that plagued me during that period. While this attempt at control didn’t work, what it did do, as an unintended side-effect, is to give me the ability to become lucid in the nightmare, so that I could wake myself up. As far as I know, back in the early 1960s, the term “lucid dream” did not yet exist, at least in popular culture; but in hindsight, I realized that that was what was happening. Ruth was also the one who encouraged my early interest in the paranormal.
Part of this was that her own interest rubbed off on me. Ruth, along with some of my other aunts and cousins, sometimes engaged in “table tipping,” in which we would sit around a card table, touch hands, and invite the table to respond to questions, like the Ouija board planchette. Or else we would all chant in unison, “Rise, table, rise!”, and await the table’s response. I don’t remember if it indeed levitate, but on numerous occasions the table would bang one of its legs up and down, or move back and forth. Once, I recall it virtually speeding across the room to pin my astonished cousin Richard, his eyes wide and mouth agape, to the wall of the rumpus room staircase, which he had been descending. He was not someone to be easily frightened; but he was clearly nonplussed by this eerie event. I don’t remember what, specific question had been asked, but I do remember that, many years later, when he died from his addictions, that particular episode came to mind. It was as if he had been given a warning—a shot across the bow, so to speak—one that he unfortunately failed to heed.
There was another link between Aunt Ruth and my nascent childhood interest in the paranormal. Ruth was a chronic insomniac, and would stay up half the night watching television or listening to the radio. Two of her favorite radio shows were the “Long John Nebel” and “Barry Farber” programs—sort of Art Bell before there was Art Bell—which came on between 11:00 PM and 12:00 midnight in New York City on different stations, and ran into the wee hours of the morning. Both programs (especially Long John’s) frequently featured discussions of paranormal topics and guests.
My sense is that she was very skeptical of many of the claims of researchers and experiencers, and that she was largely drawn to these topics for the entertainment value they provided. Or at least that’s what she told herself. But I had my own insomnia issues, mostly due to my desire not to fall asleep and have nightmares. Thanks to Ruth, I discovered these shows, and often listened in secret with a transistor radio tucked beneath my pillow and an earphone, lest my parents become alerted to what they surely would have frowned upon. I listened with great pleasure and interest, for example, to: John Fuller discuss his book on the Betty and Barney Hill abduction; Ivan Sanderson on his latest search for cryptids; and various assorted self-styled UFO contactees discuss their encounters with the Space Brothers and other alien entities. I loved it all! Even the Amazing Randi, dour arch-debunker and sourpuss, who would occasionally appear as a guest on Farber’s show to slam, say, Uri Geller, was at least talking about things that interested me, even if he was relentlessly negative in his approach and conclusions. All of it kindled my inner fire.
In short—and I’d never thought of it quite like this before—Aunt Ruth fed my spirit and was my first guide to my inner world. Or perhaps “coach” would be a better term.
Whether she knew it or not, Ruth had encouraged my true self to pursue its deepest preoccupations, which took me far away from conventional thinking and scientistic materialism. She helped me to accidentally stumble upon the phenomenon of lucid dreaming and gain some rudimentary control over my dream experience.
I had been deeply grieved by her sudden death and still keenly felt the loss. It was absolutely appropriate for her to make her post-mortem appearance to me in conjunction with the appearance of a UFO. Losing her again at the end of the dream was therefore doubly grievous. But why her transformation into the fragment of a gray? And why the sense of the uncanny, even the sinister?
As to the second question, perhaps because this is always these are often hidden feelings of discomfort one experiences, if only unconsciously, when dealing with the paranormal, or what used to be called the “occult”—the hidden, or what Jung would have called elements of the Shadow.
Veteran consciousness researchers such as philosophers/parapsychologists Michael Grosso and Kenneth Batcheldor, psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, and of course UFO abductee/contactee Whitley Strieber, have noted the fear, ranging from subtle discomfort with certain kinds of questions or phenomena (like precognition, psychokinesis, or life after bodily death) that might disturb our complacency or worldview, to the sheer existential terror of psychological and physical annihilation by something alien we can neither understand nor control.
What I now believe that I was really afraid of at the end of my dream was not my aunt Ruth or her alien appearance, but rather, the prospect of my own inevitable death. Life after death is still about death, and the instinctive, reflexive, habitual identification with our own body, or more generally with certain kinds of bodies—i.e., human ones—is difficult to check, if not wholly dislodge. Was Ruth communicating to me that she was now living a life as a Grey? That would be ironic! Certainly there are those human experiencers of the UFO phenomenon, along with others who accept some version of the idea of reincarnation or multiple incarnations, who have claimed that they have lived “previous lives” or incarnations as grays, or other non-human intelligences elsewhere in the universe or in other dimensions. Ordinary insects repulse many of us. What about life as an insectoid Mantis being or a bug-eyed Grey?
If the intent of the dream, at least in part, was to convey such information—or at least its theoretical possibility—we are once again crossing the wires of “the psychological” with “the shamanic” interpretations, or the symbolic and the literal. But why not? We shouldn’t we?
Which brings me around to what is unquestionably the central image and focus of the dream: the Golden UFO.
The Golden UFO appears out of nowhere, is silent, powerful, awesome and evokes the kind of uncanny sense that raises goosebumps, tingles one’s spine, and takes one’s breath away. I experienced all of this in the dream. It was totally shocking and mind-blowing—even tough I professed, in my waking life, to accept the reality of such things. But the actual experience of seeing it—even if “just” in the dreamscape—was unspeakably disturbing. It certainly felt real.
However, let me begin my analysis of it by taking the Jungian tack. Or at least how Jung is most typically understood in Flying Saucers, in the strictly psychological sense, and as he himself preferred to be understood—or perhaps (ever so slyly) misunderstood. In the paragraph from his text cited above, it is clear that my apparition neatly fits into the category of mandala, or rounded symbol of the Self, the totality or essence of the personality that Jung himself is not adverse here to calling the “soul.”
There is indeed plenty of incidental supporting evidence for this kind of strictly symbolic interpretation.
For example, the color of the craft. While I have read many reports of (waking) UFO experiencers describing shining silver or dull grey-colored craft, I can’t recall anyone witnessing something they would call “gold.” It’s possible there are such reports, only that I have not come across them. Gold makes me think of alchemy, and the “gold” of the alchemical search, its true ultimate inner goal, from Jung’s standpoint, is the transformation of the personality of the alchemist and their shift to identification with the Self.
The bell shape of the craft is not something usual, either, although it may come close to some witness descriptions. But the phrase “ringing the bell” does seem to fit the idea of receiving a call to greater awareness; and bells are actually used in so many religious traditions and meditative practices, from Christianity to Buddhism and Hinduism.
The pulsating orange glow of the UFO is another interesting feature. I have read of one case of such a witness report, although I cannot remember now where. But the golden color and orange glow have obvious symbolic affinity. In his book, Practical Techniques of Psychic Self-Defense, Murray Hope observes: “Golds and oranges relate to the sun gods in all systems and are always healthful and energizing.”
Here, of course, the energies are experienced as awesome and overwhelming, which Jung would acknowledge, because the greater Self, experienced within, is–from the standpoint of the little conscious ego–divine. Our total self is like a god to us: complete, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-embracing. Indeed, my sense is that this UFO was a living, conscious entity bearing some intimate, if mysterious, relation to myself. Perhaps, as Jung notes, the use of the term “soul” is not inappropriate. I am also aware that waking experiencers of “real” UFOs (i.e., apparitions that can be seen by multiple witnesses, recorded on measuring and viewing devices, etc.) have reported a similar awareness or perception of the “craft” as a “thou” rather than an “it”—that is, an animate presence as opposed to a mere inanimate object. And the Latin word anima means soul. (More on this point in my conclusion, below.)
For many years, this image of radiant, magnanimous, mysterious Life stymied me. It seemed to me utterly and incomprehensibly irreconcilable with the dark image of Death as represented by the dissolution of my aunt into a sinsister, shadowy grey alien on the wall—her second death, as it were. But what if the incompatibility is only in the eye of the beholder? And what if such an eye needs to be systematically retrained?
If the obvious implications of the voluminous results of parapsychology, thanatology (NDEs, SDEs, etc.), quantum physics, and consciousness studies in general, are finally to be accepted on their merits, rather than rejected by infantile cultural and psychological needs to hang on to outdated philosophies of mechanistic materialism or promissory scientistic physicalism, then (sorry, Dr. Ed May) western culture will finally have to accept and incorporate into a new worldview the fundamental truth that the existence of a particular physical body, or physicality in general, is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the existence of consciousness, which is the primary reality. In other words, “death” is never a stopping point, but merely a way-station to infinity. Just yesterday, by chance—Jung might say synchronistically—I came across (http://www.jawest.com/) an almost identical statement by the late author and maverick Egyptologist, John Anthony West:
CONCLUSION (OR TRANSITION):
Largely following Jung’s (overt) approach, I have been speaking of the Golden UFO essentially as a symbolic image of the Self experienced endogenously. However, as I have already indicated, my sense of my aunt Ruth’s actual presence in the first part of the dream was palpable, powerful, emotionally vivid, and therefore, to me at least, real. This subjective sense of reality is something unacceptable from the standpoint of classical scientific methodology, which seeks to eliminate or marginalize the subjective and idiosyncratic as much as possible in order to arrive at a data set uncontaminated by such “drivel” as consciousness, and thus to obtain purely objective perceptions of an objectively existing reality—“the view from nowhere,” in the aptly succinct phrase of philosopher Thomas Nagel.
But if, in phenomenological terms, we choose to “bracket,” or set aside our antiquated theories and assumptions, and accept our subjective experiences of encounters with the deceased as real, things look—well, different. At least some dreaming states of consciousness may, at least in some instances, act as a portal to something which, while still broadly speaking is subjective, is nevertheless beyond my individual subjectivity and personality. If, in other words, we allow that a dream may facilitate visitations with the “deceased,” or some consciousness remnants thereof, then perhaps it is not too far-fetched to suppose that dreams may also, at least occasionally, become portals to the encounters of “real” UFOs and the nonhuman entities associated with them.
How this conjecture might be further substantiated will be the subject of future posts.
With the benefit of great hindsight, then, I can now see that my dream was birthed from the very root source of paradox in which all opposites coincide:
•Our true self and that which is truly other
•Life-giving and death-dealing
•Subjective and objective
•Appearance and reality
•Alien and intimate
•Love and fear
To put it in a slightly different way: the dream genie lives happily at the base of the tree of the knowledge of duality, which is located in the very center of the Garden. You must eat the fruit.