Date: Sun Feb 20 1994 16:29:52
From: Sheppard Gordon
Subj: Sagan on Abductees
WHAT'S REALLY GOING ON? by Carl Sagan
PARADE MAGAZINE, 3/7/93
It's still dark out. You're lying in bed, fully awake - but, you discover,
you're utterly paralyzed. You sense someone in the room. You try to cry out.
But you cannot. Several small gray beings less than 4 feet tall are standing at
the foot of your bed. Their heads are pear-shaped and bald, and large for their
bodies. Their eyes are enormous, their faces expressionless and identical. They
wear tunics and boots. You hope this is only a dream, but as nearly as you can
tell it's really happening. They lift you up, and, eerily, they and you slip
through the wall of your bedroom and float out into the air, rising high toward
a metallic, saucer-shaped aircraft. There, you are escorted into a medical
examining room. A larger but similar being - evidently some sort of physician -
takes over. What follows is even more terrifying.
Your body is probed with special machines, especially your sexual parts. If
you're a man, they may take sperm samples; if you're a woman, they may implant
semen or remove ova or fetuses. They may force you to have sex. Afterward, you
may be ushered into a different room where hybrid babies, partly human, and
partly these creatures, stare back at you. You may be given an admonition about
human misbehavior, especially in despoiling the environment; scenes of future
devastation are displayed. Finally, these cheerless gray emissaries usher you
out of the spacecraft and ooze you back through the walls into your bed. By the
time you're able to move and talk, they're gone.
You may not remember the incident right away; you might find some period of
time unaccountably missing. Because all of this seems so bizarre, you're
concerned about your sanity; naturally, you're reluctant to talk to anyone
about it. At the same time, the experience is so disturbing that it's hard to
keep bottled up forever. It all pours out when you hear similar accounts, or
when you're under hypnosis with a sympathetic therapist, or even when you see a
picture of an "alien" in one of the many popular magazines and books on UFOs.
In a recent Roper poll of nearly 6,000 American adults, specially
commissioned by those who accept the alien abduction story at face value, 18%
reported sometimes waking up paralyzed, aware of one or more strange beings in
the room. Something like 13% reported odd episodes of missing time, and 10%
claimed to have flown through the air without mechanical assistance. From these
results, the poll's sponsors concluded that 2% of all Americans have been
abducted, many repeatedly, by beings from other worlds. If aliens are not
partial to Americans, the number for the whole planet would be more than 100
million people. This means an abduction every several seconds. It's surprising
that more of the neighbors haven't noticed.
What's going on here? Could all these people be mistaken, or lying, or
hallucinating the same or a very similar story? When you talk with them, most
seem very sincere, although in the grip of powerful emotions. A few
psychiatrists who have examined them find no more evidence of psychopathology
than in the rest of us. But could there really be a massive alien invasion,
repugnant medical procedures performed on millions of innocent men, women and
children, and humans apparently used as breeding stock over many decades - and
all this not generally known and dealt with by responsible media and the
governments sworn to protect the lives and well-being of their citizens?
Why should beings so advanced in physics and engineering - crossing vast
interstellar distances, walking like ghosts through walls - be so backward when
it comes to biology? Why go to all the trouble of repeated sexual encounters
between aliens and humans? Why not steal a few egg and sperm cells, read the
full genetic code and then manufacture as many genetic variations as you like?
Even we humans - who cannot quickly cross interstellar space or slither through
walls - are able to clone cells. The preoccupation with reproduction in these
accounts raises a warning flag - especially considering the uneasy balance
between sexual freedom and repression that has always characterized the human
condition, and the fact that we live in a time fraught with numerous ghastly
accounts, both true and false, of childhood sexual abuse.
The pollsters never actually asked whether their subjects had been abducted
by aliens; they ___DEDUCED___ it: Those who've ever awakened sensing strange
presences around them, ever unaccountably seemed to fly through the air, and so
on, have THEREFORE been abducted by aliens. The conclusion - that millions of
American have been abducted - seems extremely doubtful. Still, at least
hundreds of people, believing they have been abducted, have sought out
sympathetic therapists or joined abductee support groups.
So which is more likely - that we're undergoing a massive but generally
overlooked invasion by alien sexual abusers, or that people are experiencing
some internal mental state they do not understand? Admittedly, we're very
ignorant about both extraterrestrial beings, if any, and about human
But if these really were the only two alternatives, which would you pick?
It's curious that emotions can run so high on a matter in which we know so
little. After all, either hypothesis - extraterrestrial invasion or an epidemic
of hallucinations - teaches us something we certainly ought to know about.
Maybe the reason for such strong feelings is that both alternatives have
extremely unpleasant implications.
The first alien abduction story in the modern era began with Betty and Barney
Hill, a New Hampshire couple - she a social worker and he a Post Office
employee. During a late night drive in 1961 through the White mountains of New
Hampshire, Betty spotted a bright starlike UFO that seemed to follow them.
Because Barney feared it might harm them, they left the main highway for narrow
mountain roads. They arrived home two hours later than they had expected. The
experience prompted Betty to read a book claiming that UFOs were spaceships
from other worlds. Soon after, she had a repetitive nightmare in which she and
Barney were abducted and taken aboard the UFO. Barney overheard her describing
this dream to friends and volunteer UFO investigators.
Several years later, Barney's psychiatrist referred him to a Boston
hypnotherapist, Benjamin Simon, M.D. Betty came to be hypnotized as well.
Under hypnosis they separately described a memory of their trip home - of
seeing a UFO, watching it land on the highway and being taken partly
immobilized into the UFO, where little humanoid creatures subjected them to
unconventional medical examinations.
I was glad to have an opportunity to spend several hours with Mr. and Mrs.
Hill, and with Dr. Simon. There was no mistaking the earnestness and sincerity
of Betty and Barney, and their mixed feelings about becoming public figures
under such bizarre circumstances. With the Hills' permission, Dr. Simon played
for me some of the audiotape of their sessions under hypnosis. By far my most
striking impression was the absolute terror in Barney's voice as he described -
relived would be a better word - the encounter. Simon rejected the notion that
they were lying. So what's left? The Hills, said the psychiatrist, had
experienced a species of "dream."
In 1894 THE INTERNATIONAL CENSUS OF WAKING HALLUCINATIONS was published in
London. From that time to this, repeated surveys have shown that 10% to 25% of
ordinary, functioning people have experienced at least once a vivid
hallucination - hearing a voice, usually, or seeing a form when there's no one
there. In some cases there are profound religious experiences. (Probably a
dozen times since their deaths I've heard my mother or father, in an ordinary,
conversational tone of voice, calling my name. They had called my name often
during my life with them. I still miss them so much that it doesn't seem
strange to me that my brain will occasionally retrieve a kind of lucid
recollection of their voices.)
Such hallucinations may occur to perfectly normal people. But there are
circumstances in which they can be elicited by a campfire at night, or under
great stress, or by prolonged fasting or sleeplessness, or sensory deprivation,
or through hallucinogens such as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, hashish or
These hallucinations have a vivid and palpable reality.
Hallucinations are common. If you have one, it doesn't mean you're crazy.
Indeed, they are sought out in many cultures. We would surely be missing
something important about our own nature if we refused to face up to the fact
that hallucinations are part of being human. But none of this makes
Most of us remember being frightened at the age of 3 or so by real-seeming but
wholly imaginary "monsters." If we're capable of conjuring up monsters in
childhood, why shouldn't some of us, at least on occasion, be able to imagine
similar things as adults?
There's a common, although insufficiently well known, psychological syndrome
very much like alien abduction: Many people have experienced sleep paralysis.
On falling asleep or when waking up - just for a few seconds, or maybe for
longer periods - you seem to be paralyzed and acutely anxious. You may feel a
weight on your chest, your heartbeat is quick, your breathing labored. You may
experience auditory or visual hallucinations - of people, demons, ghosts,
animals or birds. In the right setting the experience can have "the full force
and impact of reality," according to Dr. Robert Baker, a psychologist at the
University of Kentucky. Sometimes there's a marked sexual component to the
Baker has forcefully argued that these common sleep disturbances are behind
many if not most of the alien abduction accounts. (He and others suggest that
some abduction claims are also made by fantasy-prone individuals or hoaxers
seeking fame and fortune.) Even if no known hallucinations were to fit the
alien abduction pattern, it's certain that humans commonly hallucinate. There's
considerable doubt about whether extraterrestrials exist and frequently visit
our planet. We may argue about details, but the one category of explanation
seems much better supported than the other. The main reservation you might then
have is: Why do so many people report _THIS PARTICULAR_ set of hallucinations?
Why little gray beings and flying saucers and sexual molestation?
Demons, the early Church Fathers taught, come down from heaven and have
unlawful sexual congress with women. St. Augustine believed witches were the
offspring of these forbidden unions. In his famous Bull of 1484, Pope Innocent
VIII declared: "It has come to Our ears that members of both sexes do not avoid
to have intercourse with evil angels, incubi, and succubi, and that by their
sorceries, and by their incantations, charms, and conjurations, they suffocate,
extinguish, and cause to perish the births of women," as well as cause sundry
other calamities. With this Bull, Innocent initiated the systematic accusation,
torture, and execution of countless "witches" all over Europe.
Two inquisitors appointed by Innocent declared: "Devils...busy themselves by
interfering with the normal process of normal copulation and conception, by
obtaining human semen, and themselves transferring it.
The offspring of these demonic unions are also, when they grow up, visited by
devils - although not all witches are created this way. And witches were well
known to fly through the air. There is no spaceship, but most of the essential
elements of the alien abduction story are here.
In 1645, a Cornish teenager, Anne Jeffries, was found groggy and crumpled on
the floor. much later, she recalled being attacked by little men, carried
paralyzed to a castle in the air, seduced and returned home. she called the
little men fairies. They returned to torment her. The next year she was
arrested for witchcraft. Fairies traditionally have magical powers and can
cause paralysis by the merest touch. The ordinary passage of time is slowed in
fairyland. Fairies have sex with humans and carry off babies from their
If Anne Jeffries had known about aliens rather than fairies, and UFOs rather
than castles in the air, would her story have been distinguishable from the one
Is it possible that people in all times and places occasionally experience
vivid, realistic hallucinations, often with sexual content - with the details
filled in by the prevailing cultural idioms, sucked out of the Zeitgeist? When
everyone knows that gods regularly come down to Earth, we hallucinate gods;
when everyone knows about demons, it's incubi and succubi; when fairies are
widely believed, we see fairies; when the old myths fade and we begin thinking
that aliens are plausible, then that's where our hypnogogic imagery tends.
Snatches of songs or foreign languages, images and stories we witnessed in our
childhood can be accurately recalled decades later without any conscious memory
of the source. In our everyday life, we effortlessly incorporate cultural
motifs and norms and make them seem our own.
Today, aliens are the subject of innumerable science-fiction stories and
UFOs are a regular feature of weekly newspapers dedicated to falsification and
mystification. One of the highest-grossing motion pictures of all time is about
aliens very much like those described by abductees. Alien abduction stories
were comparatively rare until 1987, when a purported firsthand account with a
haunting cover painting of an "alien" became a best-seller. It is striking how
similar many of the abduction accounts are now, and how little we hear about
incubi and fairies. But it might not be altogether surprising that, in our time
and society, short, gray aliens with breeding programs on their minds are what
we mainly reach for when we must describe these hallucinations.
No one would be happier than I would if we had real evidence of
extraterrestrial life. But the issue comes down to the quality of the evidence.
Proponents of alien abductions do not ask us to believe on faith, but rather on
the strength of their evidence. Surely it is our duty to examine the purported
evidence closely and skeptically. _NO_ anecdotal claim - no matter how sincere,
no matter how deeply felt, no matter how exemplary the lives of the attesting
citizens - carries much weight on so important a question. As with the older
UFO cases, anecdotal accounts are subject to irreducible error. This is not a
criticism of those who claim abductions or of those who investigate them. It is
merely a statement of human fallibility.
Where is the physical evidence? Some abductees allege that aliens stole fetuses
from their wombs. This is something that would surely cause a stir among
gynecologists, midwives, and obstetrical nurses, especially in an age of
heightened feminist awareness. But not a SINGLE MEDICAL RECORD has been
produced substantiating such claims.
Some abductees say that tiny metallic implants were inserted into their bodies
- high up in their nostrils, for example. But no such implants have been
confirmed by physicists or chemists as being of unearthly manufacture. No
abductee has filched a page from the captain's logbook or a strange examining
instrument, or taken an authentic photograph of the interior of the ship or
come back with detailed scientific information not hithero known on Earth.
These failures tell us something.
If indeed the bulk of the alien abduction accounts are really about
hallucinations, don't we have before us a matter of supreme importance -
touching on our limitations, the ease with which we may be misled, the
fashioning of our beliefs and perhaps even the origins of our religions? There
is genuine scientific paydirt in UFOs and alien abductions - but it is, I
think, of distinctly terrestrial origin.