Close Encounters with UFOs and Alien Abduction Experiences
The experiences of encounters with extraterrestrial spacecrafts and of abduction by alien beings can often precipitate serious emotional and intellectual crises that have much in common with psychospiritual crises. This fact requires an explanation, since most people consider UFOs simply in terms of four alternatives: actual visitation of the earth by alien spacecraft, hoax, misperception of natural events and devices of terrestrial origin, and psychotic hallucinations. Alvin Lawson has also made an attempt to interpret UFO abduction experiences as misinterpretations of the memory of the trauma of birth, using my own clinical material (Lawson 1984).
Descriptions of UFO sightings typically refer to lights that have an uncanny, supernatural quality. These lights resemble those mentioned in many reports of visionary states. C. G. Jung, who dedicated a special study to the problem of “flying saucers,” suggested that these phenomena might be archetypal visions originating in the collective unconscious of humanity, rather than psychotic hallucinations or visits by extraterrestrials from distant civilizations (Jung 1964). He supported his thesis by careful analysis of legends about flying discs that have been told throughout history and reports about various similar apparitions that have occasionally caused crises and mass panic.
It has also been pointed out that the extraterrestrial beings involved in these encounters have important parallels in world mythology and religion, systems that have their roots in the collective unconscious. The alien spacecrafts and cosmic flights depicted by those who were allegedly abducted or invited for a ride resemble certain phenomena described in spiritual literature, such as the chariot of the Vedic god Indra or Ezekiel’s flaming machine described in the Bible. The fabulous landscapes and cities visited during these journeys resemble the visionary experiences of paradise, celestial realms, and cities of light.
The abductees often report that the aliens took them into a special laboratory and subjected them to painful examinations and frightening experiments using various exotic instruments. This involved probing the cavities of the body, examination of the sexual organs, and taking samples of sperm and ova. There are frequent references to genetic experiments with the goal of producing hybrid offspring. These interventions are typically very unpleasant and occasionally border on torture. This brings the experiences of the abductees close to the initiatory crises of the shamans and to the ordeals of the neophytes in aboriginal rites of passage, such as circumcision and subincision of the penis.
There is an additional reason why a UFO experience can precipitate a spiritual crisis. It is similar to the problem we have discussed earlier in relation to spirit guides and channeling. The alien visitors are usually seen as representatives of civilizations that are incomparably more advanced than ours, not only technologically but also intellectually, morally, and spiritually. Such contact often has very powerful mystical undertones and is associated with insights of cosmic relevance. It is thus easy for the
recipients of such special attention to interpret it as an indication of their own uniqueness.
Abductees might feel that they have attracted the interest of superior beings from an advanced civilization because they themselves are in some way exceptional and particularly suited for a special purpose. In Jungian psychology, a situation in which the individual claims the luster of the archetypal world for his or her own person is referred to as “ego inflation.”
For all these reasons, experiences of “close encounters” can lead to serious transpersonal crises. People who have experienced the strange world of UFO experiences and alien abduction, need professional help from someone who has general knowledge of archetypal psychology and who is also familiar with the specific characteristics of the UFO phenomenon. Experienced researchers, such as Harvard psychiatrist John Mack, have brought ample evidence that the alien abduction experiences are phenomena sui generis, that represent a serious conceptual challenge for Western psychiatry and materialistic science in general.
An aspect of the UFO phenomena that is particularly baffling is that they occasionally have definite psychoid features. This means that they are synchronistically linked with events in the material world. It has become clear that it is naive and indefensible to see them as manifestations of mental disease or dismiss all of them as misperceptions and misinterpretations of ordinary phenomena (Mack 1994,
Over the years, I have worked with many individuals who had experiences of alien abduction in their psychedelic or holotropic breathwork sessions and during spiritual emergencies. Almost without exception, these episodes were extremely intense and experientially convincing. In view of my observations, I share the opinion of many serious UFO researchers that these experiences represent fascinating and authentic phenomena that deserve to be seriously studied.
The position of traditional psychiatrists who see them as products of an unknown pathological process in the brain is clearly oversimplistic and highly implausible. It is equally improbable that we are dealing with actual visits of extraterrestrial beings. A civilization capable of sending spaceships to our planet would have to have technical means that we cannot even imagine. We have enough information about the planets of the solar system to know that they are unlikely sources of such an alien expedition. The distance of the earth from the nearest celestial bodies outside of the solar system amounts to many light years. Negotiating such distances would require velocities equaling or surpassing the speed of light or interdimensional travel through hyperspace.
A civilization capable of such formidable achievements would very likely have technology that would make it impossible for us to differentiate between hallucinations and reality. Until more reliable information is available, it seems therefore most plausible to see the UFO experiences as manifestations of archetypal elements from the collective unconscious.