Alien Abductions

By Sturma, Michael | History Today, January 2000 | Go to article overview

Alien Abductions


Sturma, Michael, History Today


Michael Sturma finds parallels in contemporary accounts of abductions by space aliens with European narratives of captivity by Indians and Aboriginals in early America and Australia.

IN 1976 FOUR STUDENTS WENT ON A CAMPING trip in a wilderness area of northern Maine. One night they spotted a curious bright object in the night sky. Later they witnessed an oval object of brightly coloured light hovering above them. They then experienced a period of `missing time' in their conscious memory. It was not until years later in hypnosis sessions that they relived traumatic alien abductions during that `missing' period. They reported being transported aboard a UFO, where strange humanoid creatures examined them.

Such sightings have a long history. At various times they have been reported as chariots, sailing schooners and religious visions. In the 1890s there were widespread reports in the US of cigar-shaped airships. Similar sightings emanated from England in 1909. During the 1930s so-called `ghost fliers' were spotted over Sweden, and during the Second World War reports of glowing objects called `foo fighters' became common. The term `flying saucer' was coined in 1947 to describe strange objects spotted by a pilot over the American state of Washington. More recently, the UFO phenomenon has been dominated by stories of alien abduction.

While claims of alien abduction are relatively new, stories of contact with other-worldly beings are not. Visitations by angels have been reported throughout history. In many cultures there are beliefs in people being transported to other dimensions and ascension myths in which humans confront gods in the heavens. Even before the abduction phenomenon, some individuals claimed to be in contact with extra-terrestrials from advanced worlds. George Adamski, for instance, became famous in the 1950s for his stories of meeting beings from Venus and visiting the far side of the Moon in their spaceship.

`Contactees' like Adamski claimed they travelled through space at their own volition. `Abductees', on the other hand, lack any choice in their encounters with aliens. Abductees might be taken in remote areas or simply `beamed up' from their own bedrooms. The alien abuductots assume a range of shapes and colours, but are typically described as short, grey, hairless and with large black eyes. Frequently memories of abduction are elicited through hypnotic regression.

The first abduction case to receive wide publicity in the US involved a married couple, Betty and Barney Hill, in 1961. Since then, stories of alien abduction have proliferated. The phenomenon gained further prominence following the publication of Whitley Strieber's personal account in the best-seller Communion (1987). While the US has by far the most abduction reports, followed by South America, the phenomenon in Britian dates from the mid-1970s. Some researchers estimate that cases worldwide run into the millions.

There is intense disagreement about whether abduction experiences relate to real physical events, psychological interaction, altered states of consciousness or simply delusional fantasy. They may be compared, however, to other incidents of transculturation where individuals suddenly find themselves in alien surroundings. In terms of narrative structure and imagery, stories of alien abduction echo the captivity narratives of early America. Richard Slotkin in his book Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier 1600-1860 (Harper Perennial, 1996), claims captivity narratives as the first coherent mythic literature of America. Beginning with Mary Rowlandson's immensely popular account of her life among American Indians (1682), hundreds of captivity narratives recounted stories of kidnapping by Indians. They remained a staple of popular literature into the nineteenth century. Captivity narratives became the stuff of folk tales and legends. In this genre are novels like James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans (1829) or films such as A Man Called Horse (1969). …

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