Extraterrestrial—a hypothetical, imagined or alleged being
from outer space.
The concept of visiting extraterrestrials has grown and developed
since the mid-nineteenth century. As early as June
1864, a French newspaper reported the discovery of a mummified
humanoid body inside a hollow, egg-shaped structure by
two American geologists. According to contemporary newspaper
accounts an ‘‘air vessel belonging originally to some other
planet’’ crashed on a riverbank in rural Nebraska in 1884.
These reports generated little attention in their time, but
between November 1896 and May 1897 a wave of sightings of
mysterious ‘‘airships’’ swept the United States and stirred widespread
controversy. Most who proposed explanations favored
delusions, misidentifications, hoaxes, or secret inventors; yet a
small but vocal minority of theorists wondered if Martians were
touring the Earth. A number of outlandish hoaxes played in
this notion. A California man claimed that beautiful, naked
space people, weighing less than an ounce each, had tried to
abduct him into a waiting airship. In Kansas a rancher told a
tongue-in-cheek tale in which alien creatures in an airship lassoed
and stole a calf from his corral. A Dallas newspaper alleged
that an airship collided with a windmill in a tiny north
Texas village, killing its Martian pilot, who was then buried in
the local cemetery.
Another ‘‘airship’’ wave, occurring in 1909 in New Zealand,
inspired a letter to the editor of the Otago Daily Times arguing
that ‘‘atomic- powered spaceships’’ from Mars were responsible
for the reports. The first book to make a case for extraterrestrial
visitation was Charles Fort’s The Book of the Damned (1919).
Fort (1874–1932), a talented writer with a keen sense of satire,
had spent years in the New York Public Library collecting
printed accounts of a wide range of human and natural oddities.
Among them were worldwide reports of strange flying objects
in the atmosphere. Fort was the first to become aware of
what would be called in later decades the ‘‘UFO phenomenon.’’
Previous to this, sightings seemed no more than isolated curiosities.
In Damned and two subsequent books, Fort demonstrated
that there was a pattern in such observations. He lampooned
attempts to explain them conventionally and in the process argued,
that beings from other worlds had Earth under observation.
He also anticipated UFO-age speculation in linking extraterrestrials
to ancient civilizations and to mysterious
A year before his death, the Fortean Society was created to
carry on Fort’s studies of unexplained physical (as opposed to
psychic) phenomena (sometimes known as ‘‘Fortean’’ phenomena),
including aerial anomalies. Many Forteans were also interested
in science fiction. In the mid-1940s two Ziff-Davis pulp
fiction books, Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures, These
books, edited by Ray Palmer, carried sensational, ‘‘true’’ articles
and stories on the theme of ancient and current visitation
from space.
A Boise, Idaho, private pilot’s sighting of nine fast-moving
discs over Mount Rainier, Washington, on the afternoon of
June 24, 1947, brought ‘‘flying saucers’’ into popular consciousness.
Overwhelmingly, Americans thought the saucers
were American or Soviet weapons or natural phenomena. In
1948 a top secret ‘‘estimate of the situation’’ prepared by personnel
at Project Sign, the U.S. Air Force’s first UFOinvestigative
project, argued that the objects were probably of
interplanetary origin. The Air Force Chief of Staff rejected that
conclusion, however, and Project Sign was reorganized into
Project Grudge, which sought to debunk UFO sightings.
The first seriously argued case for UFOs-as-spacecraft appeared
in the January 1950 issue of a widely read men’s magazine
True. The article, ‘‘The Flying Saucers Are Real,’’ contended
that peaceable ETs were conducting surveillance of the
Earth, probably for the purpose of eventual contact. Donald E.
Keyhoe, the author, was a retired Marine Corps major heretofore
known as an aviation journalist, but the True piece led to
a paperback book of the same title, then a career for Keyhoe
as the leading public advocate of UFOs as extraterrestrials.
From 1957–1969, Keyhoe directed the National Investigations
Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), which investigated
UFO reports, criticized the Air Force’s handling of
them, and sought to make UFOs respectable.
In the 1950s, the terms UFOs and spacecraft became virtually
synonymous in popular culture. UFO groups formed
around the world, and books on the subject sometimes appeared
on best-seller lists. Along with more conservative proponents
of ET visitation, there were the ‘‘contactees’’ and their
followers. Contactees claimed to have met physically, or communicated
psychically, with angelic beings in saucers. The contactees
believed the space people came to bring moral reforms
and technological advances to the human race, which was
viewed as primitive, warlike, and even dangerous by their more
spiritually developed brothers and sisters in the cosmos.
Though rejecting contactee stories, conservative ufologists
were receptive to other sorts of UFO-occupant reports, later
called ‘‘close encounters of the third kind,’’ or CE3s. In these
cases the beings, typically described as humanoid and hardly
angelic, had little to say and were encountered only briefly;
moreover, the witnesses tended to fit the social and psychological
profiles of witnesses to less exotic UFO events. Contactees,
on the other hand, struck ufologists as fringe personalities
whose esoteric interests long predated their supposed interactions
with space people.
In the 1960s another kind of ostensible ET encounter rose
to prominence—the abduction. In abduction cases witnesses
reported being taken against their will into UFOs, meeting
their humanoid crews, and usually being subjected to a physical
examination. Most, though not all, of these incidents were recovered
through hypnosis, after witnesses described a period
of amnesia during a sighting. Over the years the phenomenon
seemed to grow more complex. Witnesses related extended encounters,
sometimes involving journeys to other worlds. Others
claimed instances of sexual intercourse with human-like aliens.
Some female abductees said they had experienced mysteriously
terminated pregnancies, then later, while on board a spacecraft,
been shown babies or children with both human and alien
features—their own hybrid offspring.
In a number of abduction cases, stories took on the form of
earlier contactee tales. While many abductees described their
captors as cold and uncaring, others were certain of their benign
intentions for the Earth and its inhabitants. Harvard psychiatrist
John E. Mack became a leading advocate of this interpretation,
whereas Budd Hopkins and David M. Jacobs argued
that the abducting aliens do not have humanity’s best interests
in mind. Jacobs has stated that the aliens were creating hybrids
to supplant the human race.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. ET
These sorts of issues have been controversial even within
ufology, where many suspect the abductions to be a question of
psychology, not of exobiology. Still, abductions and the aliens
associated with them have become a staple of popular culture.
Clark, Jerome. The UFO Encyclopedia, Second Edition The
Phenomenon from the Beginning. Detroit Omnigraphics, 1998.
Curran, Douglas. In Advance of the Landing Folk Concepts of
Outer Space. New York Abbeville Press, 1985.
Fort, Charles. The Books of Charles Fort. New York Henry
Holt, 1941.
Hopkins, Budd. Intruders The Incredible Visitations at Copley
Woods. New York Random House, 1987.
Hynek, J. Allen. The UFO Experience A Scientific Inquiry. Chicago
Henry Regnery Co., 1972.
Jacobs, David M. The Threat. New York Simon and Schuster,
Keyhoe, Donald E. The Flying Saucers Are Real. New York
Fawcett Publications, 1950.
Lewis, James R., ed. The Gods Have Landed New Religions
from Other Worlds. Albany State University of New York Press,
Mack, John E. Abduction Human Encounters with Aliens. New
York Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1994.