Tales from the Shelf--Number 4


copyright 1994 by Peter Stenshoel

The next time some expert on psychology tells you that UFO percipients suffer from hallucination based on wishful thinking, have the skeptic explain why, in all my years of fervent wishing to see a UFO, it took me over 14 years to see one.

I had been trying for years to see a UFO. In 1960, back when they were simply known as flying saucers, I was searching the skies with six-year-old eyes in hopes of seeing one of those silvery orbs. In my mind they were a cross between material reality and perfect freedom, although I could not have expressed it thus as a child. I just knew that I wanted to see one and --- in my perfect dream --- ride on one!

When our psychological explainer brings up the fantasy prone personality hypothesis, ask why it took me 15 more years to discover the memory I had been aboard a craft, perhaps many times, if these memories are true. If I am a fantasy-prone personality, my fantasies have a curious way of lagging far behind where I would wish them.

Maybe psychologically-inclined skeptics are themselves deception-prone personalities. Maybe they believe only the first level of memory. Maybe they believe the official statements of White House Press Secretaries. No need to dig deeper---it's been explained. Maybe being deceived by reality is an act of being an ideologically good citizen. No troubling phenomenon is going to stop our institutions from gathering information in the hopelessly naive and constipated way we have for millennia. If the prestigious Drs. Condon, Sagan, and Asimov, say the thing doesn't exist, then it doesn't, except in a reality unclouded by the delusional thinking of doctrinaire scientists.

For the last three issues of The Excluded Middle, I have introduced myself as an artist with a weird take on reality. With this issue, I feel compelled to champion the cause of -- not the theorists nor investigators -- but the UFO percipients: contactees, abductees, channelers, and kooks. I'm tired of the artificial separation between these categories foisted upon us by tidy minds. As more information comes in, the categories are becoming one huge gray area, serviced well by the new word, "experiencer." This time, the semanticists have given us more than a trendy euphemism. The loaded emotional pitch of "abductee" is transcended. Taken to its historical antecedents, "experiencer" can include witnesses through the ages of fairies, trolls, angels, and those sulfurous red-eyed winged demons! Incubi and succubi, vindicated at long last! Werewolves and mermaids resurrected from the ash heap of imagination....

I champion experiencers because I am one of them. Don't ask me to label myself beyond that. Labels mean far more to researchers and journalists than to the person in the midst of existential "thing-which-happen." Forget the hoaxers, forget the pompous statements of academic theorists, forget the ego of researchers: Strange things happen. If you haven't undergone it, you can only guess at it. Scientific method does absolutely nothing to stop it. Religion does nothing to stop it. Capitalism cannot control it. It happens. And all the experiencer can do is flicker between the poles of acceptance and denial, and wonder why humans sometimes seem just as cowardly and devious as the aliens sometimes do.

For myself, it's been a minutely slow process: realizing the extent to which my life has been colored by influences which lay outside of consensus reality. I had always known I was different from other kids, but I thought that it was the frequent moves our family made, or the fairly unusual qualities of our family itself, or being a preacher's kid, that accounted for the difference. And perhaps it was those things. Nevertheless, I have, over the years, become aware of some "other thing" in my life, which has slowly been unraveling the gauze round its face.

My first consciously remembered UFO sighting took place September 19, 1973. I was standing in my parents' driveway in Minnetonka, Minnesota. Our avant-garde jazz band, The Infinity Art Unit, had just finished rehearsing. I was helping Stu bring his electric bass and amplifier to his Volkswagen beetle. He had a system by which to fit the cumbersome objects in the car's small storage space, and he was busying himself with that task. As I stood watching him, I actually heard a male voice inside my head tell me, "Look up in the sky." I did so, and to my utter amazement, I saw the most beautiful thing I've ever witnessed. It was luminous green, oblong, with one or two "humps" atop it. It was moving silently at a fast clip, east-northeast, over the horse pasture across the street. It was maybe 100 to 200 feet above the pasture, and 300 feet away from me. After it "displayed itself" for a period of 1/2 second to one second, the luminosity "turned off," and I could just make out a black shadow continuing beyond the treetops and out of my sight. I clocked the time of the sighting at 11:15 CST. It's one of life's little ironies that Stu didn't see it. Although I cried out, "Stu! It's a UFO!" he was in the middle of jimmying his amplifier into the back seat just so. He sounded a little annoyed at my insistence and said, "Just a minute." By the time he looked, it was long gone. I had the feeling he doubted the significance of what I saw, and the sad realization that there was to be no confirmation to my sighting.

I didn't report the sighting to anyone beyond immediate friends and family. The reason I didn't contact J. Allen Hynek or NICAP was the relative brevity of my sighting. I believe I once read Hynek stating that he wouldn't consider a report of anything seen for less than a minute. I figured what I had seen was small potatoes to the big boys. Consequently, I filed the experience under "beautiful unknown object seen by me" and went on with my life. I did get corroboration of a kind when, a month later, the Minnetonka and Hopkins area had a UFO flap. The newspapers were reporting sightings, and my friends told of their friends' sightings. It was good not to be alone in what I had seen.

A word about suggestibility here. I am a very imaginative person. A good artist should be. This does not invalidate my experiences, and the wise investigator will realize that. If I had the power to summon up a UFO sighting through my imagination, I would have done so long before September 19th, 1973. Besides my above-mentioned childhood fascination, I had been reading about UFOs ever since the 5th grade, when I got my hands on Jacques Vallee's Anatomy of a Phenomenon in the school library. The year I spent in Oxford, England, from September 1972 to August 1973, I had searched the skies on an almost nightly basis in Kendall Crescent, the park next to where I was residing. All I saw in these nocturnal searches were the usual satellites, planets, and stars. Although I am an imaginative person, I cannot will a UFO sighting, nor would I create a fiction, or embellish upon reality, without readily admitting it was a fiction or embellishment. Let those who would use my imagination against me do so; they are neglecting a sizable percentage of the population, and they do so at the peril of their own research.

The next leg of the story has a ring of similarity which most off you will recognize instantly. Some of you will feel a cold shiver (you know who you are.) Some of you will think, "Oh, well no wonder." At any rate, in 1988, while on a month-long visit to my folks house, I spent the evening hours in my old bedroom reading Communion by Whitley Strieber. Instantaneous with completion, I was haunted with what seemed to be a memory so close, so dear, so near to my heart, that all waking reality seemed to pale slightly in comparison.

The initial memory which came to me in this period was of being inside a craft, bathed in brilliant intense green light. I am standing up, and on either side of me are two of the craft's passengers. A man on my right and a woman on my left, speaking almost right into my ears. The man is like a king, and the woman is like a queen. They look like humans, except for their fairylike attire (the man wears a skullcap, a corner of which rests over his forehead). We are apparently at the end of a "ride" in their UFO. I am wanting to tell my friends at school about the thrill I just experienced, and they are explaining to me, with some regret, that I must not be allowed to remember this. They let me know that they have been my nocturnal companions from the earliest days of my life. They attempt to console my disappointment about having to "forget" this experience by affirming that I am special in having been chosen, and that part of me will always sense this specialness, despite the fact I will not remember my visits from the Ufonauts.

Was this a "screen memory"? Was it the fruits of fantasy? I felt like victims of amnesia must feel upon recovering their memory. The reminiscence was so out of the blue, but so strangely familiar and emotionally real, that I concluded a hypnosis session was in order. The results of that session will be chronicled herein next issue.