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The UFO Phenomenon In History

Steven Mizrach

original source |  fair use notice

Summary: The purpose of this essay is not to demonstrate the validity of the "ancient astronauts" school of thought. As that branch of UFOlogy has several flaws, and is dependent on the ETH, I am not inclined to back up its presuppositions. What I am trying to demonstrate is that there have been encounters between UFOs and UFO entities throughout history, long before 1947.

The purpose of this essay is not to demonstrate the validity of the "ancient astronauts" school of thought. As that branch of UFOlogy has several flaws, and is dependent on the ETH, I am not inclined to back up its presuppositions. What I am trying to demonstrate is that there have been encounters between UFOs and UFO entities throughout history, long before 1947. The character of those earlier encounters was, I suspect, much as UFO encounters are today: paradoxical, enigmatic, and misunderstood. I do not think any "ancient astronauts" stepped out of their spaceships and gave the human race everything it needed for civilization on a silver platter, or that they genetically engineered the human race. This being said, I do believe that the UFO phenomenon has played a role in human history, and that it is at the nexus of much of our religion, magic, myth, and legend. It is possible that, in part, the evolution of human consciousness may have been shaped at various intervals by the UFO enigma in its various guises. But I believe that we are in the same position regarding the UFO phenomenon as our ancestors: despite our prevalent belief that UFO's are "somebody else's spacecraft," we don't know what UFOs are, period. Just because we believed that the UFOs were chariots of the gods then, and that they are spaceships now, does not mean "the chariots of the gods were spaceships."

In short, UFOs remain to us what they were to our ancestors: a complete unknown. What I will try and demonstrate is that many of the patterns found in the modern UFO phenomenon, including its manifestation in 'flaps' or waves, has occurred in the past. Some of these incidents are beter authenticated than others. I should point out that almost every society has legends of mysterious objects seen in the sky. I have left out the Native American thunderbirds, Constantine's aerial chi-ro, Chinese sightings, Arab djinni stories, and those of many other cultures, in the interest of brevity, though perhaps I might examine those in detail in another essay. These examples show that UFOs have not only appeared to, but have interacted with, humanity, on numerous occasions in the past. The fact of encounters with Others resulted in a whole branch of Islamic law, regulating such things as human-djinni marriages, which dealt with those situations. By demonstrating the continual presence of UFOs on our planet - i.e., showing them to be "as much a feature of life as the weather" - I wish to challenge the assumption that they are coming from somewhere else out in space. If they are 'ultraterrestrial' in nature, they may be here all the time. And the games they have played with humanity may have gone for millenia.

Persian Gulf, 4th millenium BCE:

Sumerian legends tell of the god Oannes (Ea) rising from the Persian Gulf in something that seems much like a diving suit. Ea is often depicted as an amphibious being, half fish and half man. These same legends state unequivocally that Oannes came from under the sea. In that case, Ea's vessel may have been an early USO (unidentifed submarine object.) Ea is the culture-bearer for the Sumerian civilization, who is said to have brought them the arts of writing, agriculture, toolmaking, etc. Suprisingly enough, one of the first people to advance the theory that Ea may have been an 'ancient astronaut' was Carl Sagan, long before Von Daniken started searching for his chariots. There was a fabulous supernova right around this time, according to Michanowsky, and it appears to have coincided with Ea's visit. Zechariah Sitchin believes that Babylonian legends state 'unequivocally' that Ea came from the 12th planet of our solar system, which is yet to be discovered by our astronomers.

Bronze Age Discs, 3rd millenium BCE:

F.W. Holiday discusses the appearance of the disc symbol in early Bronze Age iconography in Britain. It often appears in conjunction with a depiction of the 'pestie' or dragon. Holiday notes the prevalence of the so-called "sun wheel" in pre-Celtic iconography, and the discoid appearance of many barrows and mounds. He points out that what many scholars have called a "sun wheel" is, in fact, often depicted as a winged disc - much like the purported layout of the Avebury stones. (He also points out that many cultures have a custom of setting wooden disks and hurling them through the air to repel evil, usually at night...) The wheel is often named for Taranis, the thunder-god, who rumbled and boomed as he moved through the sky. (Sound familiar? "skyquakes"?) It also often seems to have legs as well as wings. The Eye symbol, related to the one-eyed god Odin and the eye-god Horus, is also prevalent in the Bronze Age culture, and there are numerous reports of so-called "Eye" discs in UFOlogy. Other UFO designs, such as the conjoined discs, 'cloud cigars,' and the dome, appear replicated as curious Bronze Age artefacts from Britain.

In many cases, the Disc is depicted in battle against the serpent, which Holiday assumes means the disc represents the forces of the sky (which are good) battling against the forces under the earth (which are bad.) This design appears in numerous forms in mythology, with the dragon or 'pestie' coiled around the base of the world-tree, and the thunderer in the disc above the tree descending to battle it. Yet in pre-Christian and pre-Norse legends, and in China, the "Wyrm" is not seen as evil. While it is blamed for toothaches and other misfortunes in many cultures, in its earliest appearances in iconography it is a symbol of fertility and renewal. Holiday seems to think that lake monsters and the "dragon" in general are evil, malevolent forces. Yet they do not become thought of in these terms until the first sky-religions (and the sky-discs) arrive. The reason for this sea-change in mythology is discussed by Gimbutas, who thinks Old Chthonic Europe was overrun by sky-and-thunder-god-worshipping nomads from the north (the Kurgans.) This mystery is worth more examination...

Tulli Papyrus, 15th century BCE:

This papyrus from the reign of Thutmose III, translated from hieratic Egyptian, describes "flaming circles" seen in the sky during the New Kingdom era of Egypt. These "circles" emitted a foul odor, and after they departed, there was a rain of fish and 'volatiles' (meteorites?) The scroll was originally the property of Alberto Tulli, who managed the Vatican Museum's Egyptological collection. (Inquiries to the Vatican have cast some doubts on the authenticity of the manuscript.) The Intermediate periods in Egypt (between the Old and Middle, and Middle and New Kingdoms) were marked by multiple cataclysms and strange aerial occurences. Indeed, there are many parallels between the strange events and the plagues described in the Biblical Book of Exodus.

UFOs in the Bible, 13th-6th centuries BCE:

The three most well known stories in the Bible that suggest UFO-like encounters are the stories of the Exodus, Ezekiel, and Enoch. But there are others. Many researchers, such as Morris K. Jessup, have discussed the "pillar of the Lord" seen leading the Hebrews out of Egypt and pointed out its UFOlike properties. Others have discussed Jacob's heavenly ladder as a possible sighting. Yet others are convinced that the four 'living' beings who 'moved like wheels' and 'burned like bronze' seen by Ezekiel were UFOs. (The eagle/lion/ox/man symbolism of these beings is found in other depictions of the so-called kerubim in the Middle East, and reappears in conjunction with the Four Evangelists.) The story of Enoch is perhaps the most curious, for he claims (like Elijah) to have been 'taken' up into the heavens and shown the Earth from above, which he describes as a sphere. His book in the Bible is apocryphal (and hence its authenticity disputed.) Some people think that the Star of Bethlehem and the cloud which descended upon Jesus on Mount Tabor may have been UFOs as well, and some daring authors declare his parentage may have been extraterrestrial, rather than divine.

Von Daniken and some others reach even further for evidence of ETs in the Good Book. They attempt to explain the Ark of the Covenant as an 'electrical condenser' and 'manna machine'; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as an atomic explosion; the legend of the "sons of god" descending on "the daughters of men" as an early interbreeding program; and the "burning bush" as a landed saucer. They also attempt to explain the 'heavenly chariot' or Merkabah that Elijah saw, and which plays such an important role in Qabalistic mysticism, as a UFO. Melchizidek is said to be a space being, and various visits of "angels" are interpreted as meetings with space travellers. Numerous "channeled texts" like Oahspe make a similar attempt to explain incidents in the Bible through an extraterrestrial lens. In many cases, these explanations are definitely only for the highly credulous and overly literal scholars that inhabit UFOlogy.

Dogon People, pre-European contact:

The Dogon people of Mali claim that before Europeans came, they had met with "Nommos," or people from the invisible companion star of Sirius. Two French anthropologists who encountered the tribe in the 1920s were amazed to find out that they had knowledge of this 'dark star,' since astronomers had only recently discovered it. Robert K. Temple, who wrote about this tale in The Sirius Mystery , thinks it is pertinent to some of the more curious myths about the god Osiris (who is identified with "Sothis," the heliacal-rising star that signalled the annual flooding of the Nile: our Sirius or "dog star") such as the initiation where priests learned that "Osiris is a dark god." Numerous occultists stress the importance of Sirius in occult cosmology, and Kenneth Grant insists that Crowley's "genius" Aiwass was an alien being from the star Sirius.

"Magonia", late 9th century CE:

Agobard of Lyons, a bishop during the Carolingian Era in France, wrote about the various "superstitions" he encountered among the peasantry. One such tale was that beings ("slyphs" or air elementals) travelling in sky-sailing ships were stealing farmers' crops and abducting people. Many people claimed that anchors of these sky "ships" had become lodged in the rooves of buildings and showed them to the clergy. Agobard heard the rumor that four of these sylphs had been captured, and that they claimed to be from "Magonia," a land high up in the clouds. These four beings were apparently stoned to death by an angry mob. Agobard dismissed the rumors because they contradict the Bible, which has no mention of such an aerial kingdom.

Fairy encounters, Middle Ages CE:

That the fairy-faith survived well into the 20th century is described by Evans-Wentz, who discovered that people still claimed to see the Gentry in places like Wales, Scotland, and Brittany. According to the Reverend Robert Kirk, who is thought to have been "taken" by the fairies, the Gentry are not a dimunitive race, but they are in fact tall, luminous beings, "fair in countenance and mighty." Offerings were left for the Gentry - who never ate the food itself, only its "invisible" portion - moreso out of fear than respect. People did their best not to build their houses on the numerous "fairy paths" crossing the countryside. The Gentry were widely blamed for stealing human children and leaving "changelings" or fairy children in their place, and like our UFOs of today, often left "fairy rings" in the woods where they danced, where nothing could grow, except exotic fungi. Rev. Kirk noted that fairies often took human spouses, but that in almost every case those marriages often ended with the fairy leaving the relationship because the human companion failed to abide by its terms.

The most common legend was that the fairies were those angels which refused to take sides during Lucifer's rebellion: hence they were neither damned nor admitted into paradise, but instead dwelt in Fairyland, a mystic Otherworld which existed parallel to our own world. People often needed the "second sight" or gift of mystical vision to find their way into the fairy world, but a special anointment for the eyes or potion often conferred this gift, as did the eating of fairy food. But there were stern warnings against travelling to Fairyland, for time passed differently there: a day spent with the fairies might mean several months' passage in our own world. Indeed, it was cautioned that some who went there never returned. The fairies also enjoyed, like the "gremlins" of WW II, playing complex games and tricks on people, but would reward them handsomely afterward if they put up with them. That many of these things are similar to features of the modern UFO phenomenon has been pointed out numerous times by various researchers.

Black Plague, 1347-50:

Reports from this period feature strange cigarlike objects flying low through the sky and dispersing noxious mists. Soon after these objects passed by, plague would break out in that area. Other features from this period similar to modern UFO reports include sightings of mysterious MIB-like scythe-wielding "reapers" clad in black hoods & robes, and mysteriously slaughtered cattle and other animals. One year before an outbreak of plague, a "column of fire" was seen over the Pope's palace at Avignon. A monstrous "whale" was cast ashore at Egemont shortly before another plague outbreak, and numerous times during this period "rumblings like thunder" were heard even when there were no storms. Blazing "comets" were seen numerous times in the heavens - some of which may have been real celestial objects frightening an omen-crazy populace - of which numerous were said to be accompanied by "flames" (aurorae?) hanging low in the sky.

Renaissance witch-craze, 15th century CE:

There were many incidents of aerial lights seen in this period, but most were interpreted as witches flying through the sky, with lanterns hanging on the ends of their brooms. People who claimed to spy on the "sabbats" of the witches often saw a Black Man (not a brown-skinned Negroid, but a perfectly velvet-black man) or "demons" consorting with the witches, often carnally. Many of the arguments about the witches' covens parallel the debate about UFO abductions today. Many persons argued that the witches never travelled anywhere physically, but that their "soul" was brought somewhere to intermingle with othe spiritual entities. Whether the witches' experiences were physical or not, like UFO abductees, they often discovered strange marks on their bodies afterwards (the "witches' teat," said to be midway between the vagina and anus), reported very odd sexual probings by the "incubi" (such as one with a split penis, whose semen was said to be "very cold"), and claimed that the "Devil" taught them magical arts and secret knowledge.

Many Renaissance engravings or woodcuts found from this period show discs, "cigars" with portholes giving off rays of light, and other aerial objects. These include the 1561 woodcut showing the "Nuremberg Sundogs" and the 1566 one of the "Basel Blackspheres." The "demon" outbreaks of this period may have been caused by an outbreak of ergotism on grain: people eating the ergot-infected rye may have experienced 'St. Anthony's Fire,' which involved vivid visual hallucinations and torment by demons. During the Renaissance, the Copernican cosmology was advanced by heliocentric Hermeticists like Giordano Bruno, who claimed (heretically) an infinity of worlds, and was burned at the stake for that belief. Others, like John Dee, who claimed to have contacted celestial intelligences which he called Enochian "angels," helped advance the progress of the Rosicrucian movement and the beginnings of science with the advent of the Royal Society.

Woman of the Wilderness, 1694:

The "Woman of the Wilderness" sect was a group of German Pietists with Rosicrucian leanings who settled in one of the early communes on the American continent. On June 24th, St. John's Day, on the one year anniversary of their arrival in America, a luminous "angel" descended before the group, which validated their belief that an eschatological period of judgement was coming soon. Scholars believe that this Utopian commune, like the many others being founded in the 18th century, may have influenced much of the early ideology of the American settlers. They are known to have written one of the first volumes of music in America.

Joseph Smith and Moroni, 1820s:

Joseph Smith, at the young age of 14 or 15 in his hometown of Manchester, New York, reported that a "cloud of darkness" descended over him, but then a "pillar of light" suddenly appeared and two luminous beings stepped out of it. One of these visitors was the angel Moroni, who returned several times, and eventually led Smith to a set of golden plates which he translated through a pair of spectacles he called "Urim and Thummim." These plates formed the basis of the Book of Mormon. The "angel" Moroni reported that there were many inhabited worlds in the cosmos, and that the God of the Bible was really a being which dealt near the star Kolob. Mormonism has a strange obsession with genealogy and some curious doctrines about the afterlife, and it also suggests that there may have been ancient advanced civilizations in the Americas which were destroyed in a cataclysm. Recently, some documents have come to light - many of which may have been forgeries - that suggest that, before he became a religious prophet, Smith may have been involved in "scrying" for gold (e.g. 'gold-digging'), alchemy, occultism, and Freemasonry.

Early Modern Sightings 1873-85:

Not surprisingly, during this pre-flight period of time, UFO sightings were minimal. Strangely, this period is marked by a large number of USO (Unidentified Submarine Objects) sightings, such as 'lightwheels' and strange metallic craft seen at sea. This was a period when many nautical advances were being made - and the first practical submersible craft were being built and operated. Most of the aerial sightings reported during this time - many are discussed by Charles Fort in his books - were reported by astronomers, such as Camile Flammarion and Jose Bonilla, who saw luminous objects cross the face of the moon and sun, respectively. It was also during this time that the features of Mars - especially the "canals" reported by Perceval Lowell - led to fervent discussion of the possibility of life there.

Great Airship Wave, 1896-7:

An amazing series of sightings, stretching from the East to the West coast of the U.S., occurred in 1896 and 1897. Many newspapers carried sightings of "airships" seen travelling through the air. These mechanical contraptions often shone spotlights on the ground and made lots of clanking and other noises as they moved through the sky. Speculation about the "airships" focused on a series of "inventors" who were testing these new craft and would soon be making them commercially available for the public. Some people claimed that the airships landed and that they met these "inventors." Some airship pilots claimed to be from Mars; others insisted they were "from a place where it never rains." Yet others claimed the airships were being built in rather mundane workshops on the East coast. Some witnesses protested that the airships were dropping ballast or cargo on them. (H.G. Wells wrote a short story about this time, Master of the Air , about a man named Robert L'Conqueror, who conquers the world through his secret lighter-than-air airship technology and various weapons.) Not surprisingly, shortly after the airship "wave," the first terrestrial zeppelins and dirigibles began being built and used commercially, as if the UFO was always one step ahead of our own technology. There would be some repeat airship encounters during the so-called "Christmas Wave" of 1909-10, when airships with 'searchlights' were seen over New England.

One of the most curious episodes of the whole Airship wave - which, like many of the others, was thought to be a newspaper hoax - was a story of an airship which crashed into Judge Proctor's windmill in Aurora, Illinois. A body of a small "martian" was said to be recovered and buried with some of the wreckage. In 1972, rumors were sparked anew as a man appeared and claimed to know the whereabouts of this wreckage. This man, a Frank Kelley of Corpus Christi, said he was a treasure hunter, and produced several pieces of metal found with his metal detector, which turned out to be mostly aluminum. No body was ever found by UFO investigators, and, like so many other weirdos in the UFO world, this guy with a fake address and phone number disappeared as abruptly as he turned up. Not unsurprisingly, in late 1972 the U.S. was already experiencing the beginnings of the massive UFO wave of '73, which shattered post-Condon report complacency.

Welsh Revival, 1904-5:

During this religious revival in Wales, the revivalists were seen to be engaging in rather fanatical behavior. Revivalists would march in processions through the streets carrying coffins and beating on the houses of Catholics. They would beat each other with sledgehammers and other instruments, and claimed that by the power of faith they were not injured - something that was observed by many outsiders. Others handled blazing coals and demonstrated an imperviousness to fire. During the revivalists' outdoor meetings, blazing lights were seen to hang overhead, and one of these luminous apparitions followed the carriage of the prophetess of the movement, Mary Jones. Charles Fort noted that during this period, there were a large number of SHC (spontaneous human combustion) incidents and poltergeist incidents. Elsewhere in Europe during this period, mostly on the Continent, animal corpses were found drained of all blood, and an outbreak of "vampirism" was widely suspected.

Fatima, 1917:

This is one of the more unusual of the BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary) incidents, because over 70,000 witnesses reported at Fatima that they saw the sun "change color and spin in the sky." A small handful reported that during one BVM episode, they saw a small sphere hanging in the sky, with some men climbing on the outside. The girls who were "channeling" the BVM (who was never seen by anyone besides them) supposedly delivered a prophecy to the Pope which caused him to weep upon reading. The prophecy predicted the downfall of communism, but supposedly also claimed that the Papacy would cease by the end of the century as well. Though no one has ever seen the prophecy, it is rumored to have predicted the outbreak of World War II, the reclaiming of Jerusalem by the Israelis, and many apocalyptic events culminating near the end of the millenium. Like many other BVM episodes, there were people at Fatima who claimed to receive miraculous healings by being there.

Charles Fort's "Superconstructions," 1890-1930:

Charles Hoy Fort, from whom Forteans take their name, described various early UFO-type phenomena in his books New Lands, Lo!, and the Book of the Damned. Fort transcribed various reports that he took from serious scholarly journals of astronomy which described lights crossing the surface of the moon and other lights seen in the sky. Fort theorized - but never offered proof - that these lights were attached to gigantic "superconstructions" which came here from other planets, and mused that various falls of matter may have come from these ships. Fort, in one of his quasi-philosophical discussions, raised the assertion that we might be the "property" of the pilots of these ships, "all others warned off." Tiffany Thayer, the president of the Fortean Society (which Fort never joined), was one of the first to suggest during the 1947 wave that the mysterious UFOs might be extraterrestrial in origin. During this period, it was widely reported that mystic Nicholas Roerich had encountered a strange disclike object in the Himalayas, during his trip there in 1926.

"I AM" Movement, 1930s:

During the 1930s, a sect was founded by Guy Ballard called the "I AM" movement. This sect is thought to have influenced the beliefs of Adamski and the early "contactees" and to have ties to the "Silver Shirts," who were a homegrown American fascist movement. Its other (distantly related) descendants include the Church Universal and Triumphant of Elizabeth Clare Prophet, and the Church of Scientology. Ballard claimed to have met the 'Ascended Masters,' one of which was the mysterious 17th-century Comte de-St. Germain. More interestingly, he claimed to have met a race of "Lemurians" which travelled around in "aerial boats" and lived underneath the mysterious Mt. Shasta, which features so significantly in the tales of the "Dweller on Two Worlds," Phylos the Tibetan. Mt. Shasta still seems to feature prominently in UFO lore, and the weird "hollow earth" cosmology of Richard Shaver and Ray Palmer which dominated UFOlogical thought for several years.

World War II, 1942-6: (foo fighters and ghost rockets)

During World War II, numerous American pilots reported that their planes were often trailed by blazing balls of fire which they called "foo fighters." (That name came from a Lil' Abner cartoon, where one character exclaims, "Where there's foo, there's fire!") The common belief at the time was that these balls of light were some secret Nazi experiment. Shortly after the war, in 1946, numerous people in Sweden reported curious incidents where "rockets" would sail through the sky, plunge into icy lakes, and never be seen again. These "ghost rockets" were also thought to be left-over V2s or some other German invention being tested by the Allies. It was well known that Viktor Shauberger had tried to design some type of saucer-shaped craft for the Nazis, and the Air Force experimented with some "hover" designs of this kind after the war as well. Not unsuprisingly, the idea that UFOs were a secret government experiment lasted into the 1950s, until "hollow earth" and extraterrestrial theories pushed it to the margins.


I do not know if we are the UFO entities' property, as Charles Fort suggested. They certainly have done their level best to encourage that belief. It is possible that they have been taken to be our 'gods' in the past and have exploited our superstition and gullibility. In any case, their great Cosmic Phonograph keeps sending messages of apocalypse and catastrophe. The UFOnauts are probably not our custodians or rulers, as some have claimed, but they have been willing to accept that mantle. There is very little that can be said with certainty about what role the UFO has played throughout history. It is not the role of either benevolent Space Brother or malevolent Hidden Directorate, but rather a role more befitting of a cosmic Trickster. I do not know what the ultimate purpose of the UFO phenomenon is, and I have come to no firm conclusions regarding its intentionality or origin. But on this much I am certain: it has guided human history at certain critical junctures. And it has manipulated human beliefs. Whether for good or for ill - and from whose perspective - I am not sure. It does seem that the UFOnauts are not strangers, but rather Visitors, as Streiber suggests. They have come in the past, and will continue to be coming for a long time. It is why they are here that is the $64,000 question, and it is one in which we are in no better position than our predecessors. Solving it, however, may affect the destiny of the human race.

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