UFOs, Witchcraft, and Young Goodman Brown

I mean no disrespect of abductees or eyewitnesses who have had vivid and life-disrupting UFO encounters, and know  things that a UFO nonexperiencer (like myself) does not, but as I’ve thought about UFOs in a serious fashion these past few weeks, and for the first time in my life, I’m seeing real links between UFOs and witchcraft.

No, I don’t mean that aliens are warlocks and witches stealing the souls of abductees in night raids. I mean that the social psychology surrounding UFO belief has striking parallels with witchcraft belief, and as a consequence, could, in the near future, take similarly hysterical and tragic turns.

Let me offer some parallels:

  • Like tales of witchcraft from, say, 17th century Europe and America, UFO incidents are characteristically spooky nightime phenomena, often away from civilization, and in the depths of forests or deserts.
  • The spectral nature of UFOs is akin to the spectral nature of witches. Most people never actually see a UFO or meet a witch, but they hear stories of people who say that they have.
  • Some within the UFO movement talk about alien hybrids in a way that is strikingly similar to the way that people once spoke of witches.  Alien hybrids are, supposedly, indistinguishable from other humans, but they’re nevertheless on their way to being inserted into the human population among us. The science fiction series, The X Files, which I’ve never watched until this past week, plays with this idea, and some UFO believers take it seriously. Needless to say, it’s an enormously dangerous idea to entertain psychologically, because it breeds paranoia. I think it is incumbent on believers in UFOs to read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic witchcraft tale, “Young Goodman Brown”, as a cautionary reflection on what can happen to a life devoted to believing that people are not what they appear to be.
  • Like witchcraft initiation rites, abductees have characteristic things that happen to them (aliens levitate them into their spaceship, have an unusual concern with abductees reproductive organs, “speak” to the abductees telepathically etc.).
  • Like tales of witchcraft covens, there is a decidedly sexual component to many abductee stories, and whenever sex is involved in something, you know that you are entering potentially dangerous realms of the psyche.

What do I think is most troubling about all this? Most obviously, ideas akin to those swirling around the UFO movement have, in the past, led to the demonization of others. If there are, for example, some people among us who, by all appearances look like us, but are not us, then what do we do with them? I think history has many tragic examples of what we do with them (think of the Nazis’s treatment of the Jewish “other” or the Salem witch trials).

Now I recognize that the UFO community is small, and it is not capable of mass atrocities, but individual cult events are certainly not out of the range of possibility (a small group or an individual kills somebody that they think is an alien “hybrid”). And because the UFO community is a minority within a much larger monotheistic culture, it is not at all out of the range of possibility that the larger monotheistic culture, in a time of high stress, could turn hysterical towards outgroups (including those who embrace UFO beliefs) and conclude that the devil is somehow involved with them. Given past history, I think it is naive to say that such mass psychological panics can’t happen.

Whatever reality is behind UFO phenomena, one thing is certain: It is playing with deep, and often dark, parts of the human psyche. UFO believers who are not already doing so should make a real effort to think about human psychology, including human social psychology, in relation to what they believe, and might encourage others to believe, about UFOs and aliens.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to UFOs, Witchcraft, and Young Goodman Brown

  1. Daniel says:

    Today my workmate told me a story from his younger years..

    My workmate’s mother is an internationally known psychic.. She had to guide spirits of a group of holocaust victims to the other side- she was in australia but was ‘asked’ to guide the spirits from germany. Why? She had to do it when a UFO craft was above australian clouds.. What does that tell us? My workmate, wen he was young, said, ‘it acts like a sort of reflection device for the spirits’
    it still puzzles me.

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