I have been reading The Fairy Tradition in Britain by Lewis Spence at the same time that the Roswell Slides drama has been unfolding. I don’t find it surprising that the assumption that any nonhuman remains or artifacts would be indications that aliens from another plant must be here is so universal. But I certainly don’t agree with it. (This does NOT mean that I therefore think that they are not that. I feel that the question isn’t closed.)
As I read Spence’s careful description of this folklore, I am struck again and again how closely it resembles the abduction literature, including my own experience. The same mysterious abductions, the same strange sense of lost time, the same combination of wisdom and danger are all present, just as we see in the abduction stories. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the current UFO folklore is an extension of the fairy folklore.
What appears to have happened is that this ancient human experience has be re-stated in a terminology (aliens and UFOs) that fits our present understanding of reality—which is, in fact, a very new understanding. During the time that this phenomenon was being interpreted as fairy folklore, we had essentially no knowledge of the true scope of the universe around us. Ours was a world drawn by horses and lit by fire. The greatest mysteries we could face were the vastness of the forests and the limitlessness of the oceans. So we responded to the phenomenon by seeing it as part of those mysteries.
The debate about whether or not there were galaxies external to our own was not resolved until 1925, when Edwin Hubble identified variable stars in what was then referred to as a nebula and thought of as part of the only galaxy–our own. A change in our vision of the world around us was under way. During World War I, we had already discovered murderous depths within ourselves that we had not previously suspected were there, and which we could not understand. Now we were discovering the glorious heights in which this complicated, wonderful and dangerous species we call human lives.
Through these years, the fairy faith retreated into the most rural corners of Europe, drawing into the minds of those least affected by the strange, mechanical clatter of the modern world. To find the fairies, one needed to listen to the whisper of the night wind, and catch the flicker of a reflection on a drop of dew.
Meantime, the modern world was developing a vision of reality far removed from the old one, in which the greatest of mysteries might linger in the shadows of dusk and those at the edge of dawn.
In 1927 J.B.S. Haldane commented in his book “Possible Worlds,” that “the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”
Our vision of mystery had shifted from the disappearing forests and oceans being made smaller and smaller by ever more efficient means of travel. Now, we were looking up, and seeing in that unimaginable darkness a new unknown. Out of it came the terrifying Martians of Orson Welles’ shocking Mercury Theater radio play, “War of the Worlds,” which terrified the nation.
Haldane was more right than he knew with regard to the universe, which we know understand is trillions of times larger than he thought.
When Kenneth Arnold made his sighting of strange objects flying near Mt. Rainer in 1947, Lewis Spence was writing his book, commemorating the vast literature of the fairy faith. Spence was constructing a history of what he assumed was folkloric fiction. It would not become clear until much later that folklore generally has its origins not in the imagination, but in observations that cannot be understood. As, indeed, does the alien abduction folklore. So it’s not a term that emerges out of imagination, at least not entirely, but also out of actual experience. The fairy lore and the abduction lore are both mixtures of real experience and imagination—the same real experience, I believe, but very different imaginative approaches.
Shortly after Arnold’s sightings engaged our collective imagination, like a flicker of summer lightning, the Roswell Incident flashed across the media. And then came the flood of flying disk stories that have continued to identify our era.
In the old days, they came from the forest. Now they come from space. I encountered them in the forest, but also heard their craft whispering over our house, and one of my neighbors used to see a bright light forty or fifty feet above our roof, and hear emanating from it soft cries.
If there is a nonhuman species here, far older and more advanced than us, but less numerous, and also as fragile and vulnerable as the bodies in the Maussan slides and the Howe photos suggest, it might be very much in their interest to get us looking skyward for them, rather than searching what is left of the forests. After all, over the past two hundred years, we have destroyed 90% of Planet Earth’s forest cover. Perhaps our so-called visitors are clinging to life in what little space remains to them.
I have spent some time looking at the picture of the body that lay in the White’s City Museum, and reflecting on the last two times the visitors came into this house. Both times, they were extremely fast and very small, and at once captured my mind into another realm. There was intensity in them, fury, and what I would describe as vividly deep life.
The first time, in 2007, I thought that they were a pack of dogs that had somehow gotten in and gone under our bed. There followed a marvelous, mind-bending excursion into an entirely new way of seeing reality. I was living in six different lives at once, perhaps more. It was fabulously mind opening, deeply disturbing and intellectually radicalizing. In a few seconds, it fundamentally, permanently revised my vision of myself and of what it means to be human. To read what I wrote about it at the time, click here.
Did the fairy-aliens open my mind to a new level of reality, feed my imagination, deceive me? The event happened just as I finished my novel 2012, which is about living in parallel universes. Were strange little beings there to tell me that I was right, or did it all unfold in my mind—or, for that matter, in a parallel universe?
I look at the enigma of the images, and I wonder not only who they are but who we are. Above all, I find myself wondering, if these really are bodies of intelligent nonhuman beings, who came first, us or them?
My best guess: it was them.