IN RECENT YEARS stories of alien abductions have increased enormously. "I Was Kidnapped by an Alien" headlines assault us from the pseudo newspapers at checkout stands, and television "unsolved mysteries" programs often feature UFO abduction stories. On a deep level, we have an eerie sense that the stories represent something quite familiar and ancient, similar to the feelings evoked when we read or hear an ancient tale or myth. Not surprisingly, UFO lore contains elements common to other forms of folklore, and a "fervent controversy" so characteristic of legends in general (1), but the folkloric aspects are most noticeable in tales of abduction.
Several folklorists have examined UFO lore in general, comparing it to traditional beliefs, but the most thorough comparative study of tales of alien abduction was carried out by Thomas E. Bullard, a folklorist at the University of Indiana, who in 1987 examined 300 such tales, both sincere accounts and hoaxes.(2) Because Mr. Bullard's analysis is long and quite detailed, I offer a summary of his observations, and unless otherwise noted, the details in this article are based on his research.
UFO abduction stories are becoming more and more bizarre (containing, however, naturalistic elements), and rival the strangest of the so-called "urban legends" that tell of black-widow spiders in wigs, threatening men with hook arms, or pieces of rodents in food. The UFO stories are particularly appealing not only because of their weird qualities, but also because people believe that the stories can be studied empirically, offering us a means of blending folklore and science.
We find two actual "folk groups" with an interest in alien abduction stories, two distinct "abduction folklores." The first group consists of UFOlogists and their alter egos, the skeptics, both of whom have fervent beliefs either in the absolute existence of UFOs, or in their absolute nonexistence. Most advocates believe that extraterrestrial beings are conducting a scientific survey of the earth, though they do not agree on the purpose of this undertaking. Other believers hold a more spiritual view and see the abductions as a manifestation of a cosmic intelligence, or a change to a higher consciousness, to richer living and thinking. Skeptics dismiss the stories as hoaxes, hypnotically induced fantasies influenced by science fiction, memories of birth or perinatal trauma, waking dreams or false awakenings, Jungian archetypes, radiation influence, or the work of demons.
The second "folk group" consists of the abductees themselves, who are much less certain about details: although they believe in the reality of their experience and know that something strange happened to them, they may not be able to agree on any one explanation. Sometimes they affirm and deny the experience almost at the same time, illustrating a principle observed in folklore that beliefs and traditional ideas may FOLLOW from experience, rather than precede or determine it.(3)
Most abduction reports come from residents of North America, with substantial numbers from South America, lesser counts from England and Australia, and only a few from Europe and the former Soviet Union. Apparently there are no known reports from Asia and black Africa. Reports of alien kidnappings have come from male and female alike, independent of educational level, occupation, income, or even state of psychological health. In 73 of the 300 cases, only one person was involved. But as many as seven have reported a shared abduction. Perhaps the earliest abduction story came from Brazil in 1957; Antonio Villas Boas, a farmer, claimed that a UFO had landed on his farm and its crew members had dragged him aboard, forcing him into a sexual act with an alien woman. Because of the sexual content, the story was suppressed until 1961 when a story, also with sexual elements, was reported from New England involving Barney and Betty Hill, a married couple. …