UFOs, Aliens, and Religious Art

People who try to suggest that UFOs are in some way responsible, over the millenia, for the direction of human cultural and religious evolution, sometimes appeal to curious images such as this one as potential evidence:

File:BaptismOfChristByAertDeGelder Fitzwilliam Cambridge.jpg

The above painting is titled “The Baptism of Christ.” It was created by the Dutch painter Aert De Gelder in 1710 and belongs to the Fitzwilliam Museum collection, Cambridge, UK. Modern viewers cannot help but be struck, especially in a low resolution reproduction (as above), by the apparent presence of a UFO in the painting. But if you look closely, it is evident that the circle in the sky is actually a clearing for the artist’s portrayal of the dove of the Holy Spirit. It is thus the dove, and not an alien spacecraft, that is the source of divine light in the painting.

Now it could be argued (I suppose) that the artist had a UFO encounter and incorporated his experience into the painting. But to echo and paraphrase Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a circle in the sky is just a circle in the sky—and not a spacecraft from another world. Still, I think that there is something telling here. UFO sightings, with their spectral qualities and mysterious beams of light that sometimes cast themselves down upon common mortals, do tap into some very deep parts of the human religious psyche. It’s hardly surprising that UFO sightings should be experienced in ways similar to religious epiphanies, and that religious art should have curious affinities with UFO sightings and abductions.

Here, for example, is a depiction of St. Augustine (from the Altarpiece of the Church Fathers, Munich, 1483) having a rather dramatic alien encounter of the Christian variety. The painting, of course, doesn’t mean that the artist secretly had an alien encounter and was depicting that alien as the devil in his painting. Rather, the human imagination is already chock full of alien projections. Long before there were space aliens, there was the alien and the alienist (one who doctors the ill mind).

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And below is Christ depicted as an alienist. It comes from the School of Milan and is in carved ivory (tenth century). It depicts Jesus driving an unclean spirit from a man, probably the Gadarene demoniac. (And no, that’s not a UFO hovering alongside Christ’s left ear.)

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About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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8 Responses to UFOs, Aliens, and Religious Art

  1. Rich Allen says:

    Actually, contrary to what you’re saying here, I’ve seen the above painting by Aert De Gelder in person, and the ufo is actually very carefully painted, in thick textural paint, over the sky, and the dove was blotched on on top of it. Also, the edge shows reflected light in realistic rendering, carefully painted so that there can be no confusion that this is meant to be a symmetrical round disk, effected by natural light. The texture is really quite obvious in this photo of the painting. When paint is wiped off, the surface becomes flat and the careful rendering of light is not apparent, certainly not the case here. I know this as an artist, and as an observer of art. It’s more feasible that the dove was either an adornment on the bottom of the disk that the artist thought resembled a dove, or it was the artist trying to put an understandably more spiritual explanation of this unfamiliar object. The bible is filled with examples of primitive cultures trying to explain things they didn’t understand in a spiritual context. Most likely, this is what’s going on in this painting. A large metal disk in the sky is too hard to explain, so it must be a spiritual experience.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Rich,

    You’re missing the forest for the trees. The context of the painting, taken as a whole, is the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist. The dove is not an afterthought—it’s central to the biblical scene as described in the gospels.

    And circles have symbolic significance that can account for its presence in the painting. You’ve got to believe a series of improbabilities to hold your position (that the artist saw a UFO, then used that experience as a pretext for painting it into a biblical scene).

    Believe what you want, but to somebody not already predisposed to believe that UFOs exist, the painting is dubious as evidence.

    —Santi

  3. Anonymous says:

    this is one of many paintings depicting metalic discs in the sky at religious events. furthermore the bible is chock full of references to metalic shining , flashing objects in the sky, described as the glory of god.

    • santitafarella says:

      Anon:

      Occam’s razor.

      Why not turn your reasoning around, and conclude something less ridiculous? That is, why don’t you just say that circles are symbols of wholeness which, appearing in the sky of a painting, represent transcendence and connection to wholeness? Then you can simply conclude that UFOs are tapping into a religious archetype (by being round things in the sky), and not leap to the much less plausible conclusion (that they actually exist).

      A psychological explanation is much more parsimonious than a UFO explanation.

      People who believe in UFOs are buying into a religious archetype; the religious archetype is not there in the human psyche because literal UFOs are prompting them.

      —Santi

      • Santi, In actuality, it would be much more plausible to conclude that something exists than to conclude that the millions of eyewitnesses are all delusional. Circles as symbols depict wholeness and oneness, circular objects, especially those clearly defined as three dimensional objects, are not simply symbolism. In the Aert De Gelder painting, I see what is clearly a disc, I see the leading edge in the play of light, and what could easily be some kind of drone or drones either exiting or returning to the craft. (Not a dove.) If you read that book that some folks enjoy bashing others over the dome with, it clearly says, “…descended like a dove…” (ie: the way a dove would descend) Not a literal dove. The “dove” is the symbolism, not the disc. Religion is the opiate of the masses, right? Folks like opiates, because they like the effect. Opiates are addictive. Opiates tend to lull one into a false sense of security, even if the lions are closing in. Religion was created as a means of enabling the few to exert control over the many. Religion subverts Spirituality and employs it as a system of oppression. Those who sit in positions of power wish to retain said power, and we all know power corrupts. Now extend that exponentially. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Does this not indicate who the enemies are? They have instilled in the collective human psyche a sense of foreboding, “God will punish you if you don’t follow (our) rules!” So much so, in fact, that many folks balk at anything which forces them to think outside of their preconceived notions. Cognitive dissonance. The masses have been fed so many lies for so long that they now believe the lies to be true, and the truth to be ludicrous, or even evil. Truth is, religion is evil, because it begets evil actions. We currently have the biggest second graders on the playground shouting “My god is bigger than your god!” in each other’s faces, except these second graders possess weapons of mass destruction. Maybe the occupants of the craft will intervene before humanity destroys itself. Or maybe they will intervene before we destroy our planet.
        Then again, maybe not. Maybe we have to fix our mess ourselves.

  4. Believer says:

    Santi,

    Just because you have not witnessed something extraordinary such as seeing a UFO (in the sense of an other-wordly craft), does not mean that they do not exist. There have been accounts of UFO sightings since the beginning of recorded history, along with millions of modern day sightings. To label an experience like this as “ridiculous” is very pretentious, and for someone who advocates “free thought”, disappointing. I think something more logical to say besides, “Alien metal flying discs exist,” or, “Alien metal flying discs don’t exist,” is that clearly individuals all throughout the history of our world have witnessed seeing objects in the sky that they can’t explain. Just because someone sees what they believe is a metal disc in the sky, does not mean that they understand it. We humans are spiritually immature, and if we walked outside our doors every morning to see flying discs in the sky playing heavenly musical tunes throughout the day, our spiritual quest to find understanding in the unknown would be spoiled and meaningless. It’s a fortunate thing to be part of a world that does have that meaning, and although doubt is cast upon us all the time in the face of such ideas, at the end of the day I choose to believe.

    Here are other examples of UFO accounts depicted in historical art. Like Paul Simon sings, “Some say the sky is just the sky, but I say, ‘Why deny the obvious child?'”







  5. Pingback: Trivium/Natural Law, Veganism, and New Age – Evolve Consciousness

  6. Jack says:

    Sometimes an alien spacecraft is an alien spacecraft.

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