Last Tuesday evening, I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Martin Willis on his “Podcast UFO.”Watch it as a video here. If you click on the link to the video and scroll down to the “comments” section, you’ll see that I seem to have managed, as our cousins across the pond would say, to set the cat among the pigeons.
I’m introduced as “skeptic David Halperin,” which has me about right. “Skeptic”–not debunker. Skeptic in that I don’t believe UFOs exist as physical machinery, but I don’t “debunk” them in that “bunk” is about the last thing I think they are. UFOs are myth, in my opinion, and for me myth is something powerfully real: a sort of collective dream of our culture and perhaps our entire species, bearing meanings that demand our respectful attention.
Martin, for whom UFOs are physically real, disagreed. He put up a tough but amicable fight, making powerful points which I couldn’t always answer to my own satisfaction. (I’ve admitted in my new book, Intimate Alien: The Hidden Story of the UFO, that I’ve never seen a satisfying explanation of the incident at Socorro, New Mexico, on April 24, 1964, in which a landed UFO left marks on the ground–something a myth isn’t likely to do, unless it’s got human hands to help it along.)
Martin’s not just a UFOlogist and podcaster but also a richly talented artist. (You can visit his gallery by clicking martinwillisart.com.) After the show, he wrote me the next day, he went to his studio and painted a painting he called “Halperin’s Dream.” With his permission, I reproduce it here.
ut that’s not what I wanted to write about today, in the afterglow of our conversation. What I wanted to do in this post was to discuss the remarkable story told by a guest who appeared before me on Martin’s show, about a painting he called “Halperin’s Dream.he remembered from his childhood.
The man’s name is Jacques; he’s a Canadian. I don’t know his last name, and wouldn’t use it here if I did. He first posted an account of his experience to the “Podcast UFO” website on May 15, and told the story again during the first 25 minutes of the show. Naturally, he added some details to this retelling; and, perhaps more interesting, omitted (or curtailed) another.
The episode took place in a rural area of northern Ontario in the late 1970s, when Jacques was 6 or 7, on a warm evening in what he remembers as late August. All the windows, he remembers, were open. (Windows play an important role in the story.) He heard his father say, “Oh my God, what is that?” or words to that effect.
At which point Jacques jumped up and ran to the picture window, his mother and his brother with him. The others, he saw, were looking into the sky; he looked up as well. And saw, over a tree that stood in front of the house, an immense black triangle.
“I remember afterwards, talking to my Dad,” Jacques tells Martin, and his father estimated the object as 3/4 to a full kilometer long. It blotted out the still-daylit sky. He holds up (at 8′ into the show) a color drawing he’s made, a week or two ago, of the object. It’s pure black, but a semi-circle of faint white lights, like a string of pearls, is visible on the UFO’s bottom.
Jacques’ father walked to the front door which, Jacques says, opened to a six-foot drop. As their parents stood in the doorway, Jacques and his brother thrust themselves through small windows at the bottom of the picture window, better to see the strange visitor. Except for a faint hissing sound, there was absolute silence, unbroken even by the chirping of birds. (Which sounds a bit like what Jenny Randles has classically called the “Oz factor.”)
The phone rang. It was a neighbor, wanting to know if Jacques’ father could see the same thing she was seeing. Returning to the doorway, his father demanded his binoculars, which Jacques brought. “I remember him saying to my Mom, ‘You gotta look at this! Take the binoculars; take a look.’”
At this point in his story, Jacques describes the circle or semi-circle of lights at the bottom of the object. Somewhat confusingly, he connects it with “a protrusion coming down.”
“My Dad says, ‘Take a look at the lights.’ And my Mom grabs the binoculars and she’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness! Is that–?’ And then she says, ‘Is that–?’ and she’s about to finish the sentence and my Dad stops her and says, ‘Yes.’ And by that time I had come out of the window and I was looking at them and I was looking at their eyes and thinking I was going to get a turn next, and my Dad’s eyes were this big and he said ‘Yes,’ and the way he stopped her, was kind of like, that’s enough, we don’t need to say anything.”
I’ve been quoting the story that Jacques has been telling Martin on the podcast. What he posted to the website is more explicit. “My father, after examining the craft for 15 seconds or so, said quietly to my mother: ‘You’ve got to see this…’ He hands my mother the binoculars and says to her: ‘Look at the lights.’ I will never forget what my mom then said: ‘Are those…?…. those aren’t lights, they’re windows!’ She looked a little longer and said: ‘It looks like there are….’ My father stopped her from finishing her sentence and was looking intensely into her eyes and replied, ‘yes.’ Immediately my brother and I asked to see through the binoculars, and my father said ‘I’m not sure the kids should look…’”
They see Jacques’ aunt, who’s another neighbor of theirs, standing on her front porch and pointing to the sky in bafflement. And then the object starts to move and then vanishes “in the blink of an eye.” (Notice how eyes keep cropping up, over and over, in both Jacques’ retellings.)
“We were speechless.” They visit Jacques’ aunt–“Her eyes were big”–and they compare notes. The grownups confer in whispers about the lights, saying something like “There were people.” They remain evasive about just what they saw, but before the evening is over Jacques’ mother opens up.
There were windows on the bottom of the object, she tells the kids, on the other side of which there was movement. Of people. “Looking at us.”
The sighting is over. But the story is only beginning.
“I was terrified to walk into my room later that night,” Jacques posted to the website. “I walked in and saw alien eyes looking back at me. It was probably my own reflection, but I couldn’t enter before my mother went in to close the curtains. I didn’t sleep that night, nor did I sleep well for the next few months. To this day I still sort of get this weird, uneasy feeling when I see my reflection in a window at night.”
In the podcast, Jacques fleshes this out in vivid detail. “I started seeing eyes … ‘There’s an alien out there.’ … I remember walking over to my bedroom, and peeking inside my bedroom, and my curtains were open, and of course it’s like a mirror again, I see my face, but then I see eyes again. Oh my goodness! I scream and I run back to my Mom … ‘I’m not going to bed unless you shut those curtains.’ My Mom’s like, ‘You’re being ridiculous,’ and my brother starts laughing …”
For the next few months, when it got dark out and all the windows had become mirrors reflecting what was inside, Jacques would run through the house, hiding from the windows. “But there was no place you could hide. There was always a window in sight. But I did this for months.”
Eyes. Windows. Whether of the house or of the UFO; whether the humans are the watchers or the ones watched, or both–“I was looking at their eyes”; “he was looking intensely into her eyes”–these run all through the story.
Easy enough, perhaps, to regard it as a dream or fantasy of a small child, converted with the passage of the years into a memory. Yet Jacques speaks of discussing the episode with his father as an adult, and finding that his father recalled it much the same way he did. “There isn’t a day that I’ve not thought about that thing,” his father told him shortly before his death. “I have no idea what it was, but I wish it would come back.”
(Yet oddly, “when I was an adult, I never spoke about it to my Mom, for some reason I don’t know why.” Did he talk with his brother, his aunt, or the neighbor? He doesn’t say.)
What Jacques and his father–if no one else–saw or at least remembered having seen in the sky that August evening, I can’t say. But the eyes and the windows set my own associations going.
I think of what I heard nine years ago from an old friend, at a launch party for my novel Journal of a UFO Investigator. As a child, he told me, he was terrified to look out through his bedroom window lest he see a UFO. Why this would have been frightening to him, he didn’t know. Strangely, the prospect of seeing a UFO in the sky while he was outside didn’t bother him at all. There was something about seeing it through a window that spooked him.
I think of Barney Hill, gazing through his binoculars at the mysterious light he believed had followed him and his wife Betty through the White Mountains of New Hampshire in September 1961. I’m persuaded this light was in fact an electric light on the roof of a mountaintop observation tower, and that what seemed to the Hills to be its movements were in fact those of their car. But to them it appeared as a pancake-shaped object “ringed with windows in the front through which we could see bright blue-white lights.” Barney watched it, as Jacques’ parents did, through his binoculars, through which he could see “several figures scurrying about as though they were making some hurried type of preparation. One figure was observing us from the windows.”
I’m quoting from a letter that Betty wrote a week after the event. Two and a half years later, under hypnosis, Barney recalled more details. The figures inside the UFO were “a red-headed Irishman” and someone who looked like “a German Nazi”–obviously not interplanetary travelers, but projections of Barney’s own anxieties.
“All I see are those eyes,” he says in hypnotic trance. “I’m not even afraid that they’re not connected to a body. They’re just there. They’re just up close to me, pressing against my eyes”–and I can’t help thinking that Barney has been pressing his binoculars into his own eyes, and projecting the sensation onto the alien eyes.
Nor can I help thinking that some of the details of Jacques’ story seem to reflect the Hills’ classic abduction narrative. Influenced by it? The family certainly could have been familiar with it. Jacques speaks of his brother as having a collection of alien-abduction literature, which might easily have included John Fuller’s The Interrupted Journey: Two Lost Hours “Aboard a Flying Saucer” (from which my quotes of what Barney said under hypnosis are taken).
Had the family heard of John Lennon and his girlfriend May Pang’s 1974 encounter with a domed-disk UFO, which like theirs took place on a warm August evening? Apart from the coincidence in time, which could be fortuitous, the two incidents don’t have much in common. Yet I’m struck by the prominence of the eye in the sketch that Lennon did shortly afterward, perhaps intended as the jacket illustration for his “Walls and Bridges” album. You can see the drawing here; and this is what I wrote of it in a blog post:
“It doesn’t depict Lennon’s actual (or alleged) experience, at least the way he and Pang described it. The UFO soars over, not a solitary couple but a throng of people–including a smiling woman with prominent breasts, a man wearing a sombrero labeled ‘Poncho VIA’ (Pancho Villa?)–all seemingly oblivious to what’s over their heads. Above the UFO there’s an enormous vertical-tilted eye, with an iris that looks faintly fish-like and a pupil that’s a smaller, horizontal eye. [Or a sharp-toothed mouth?] If the big eye were rotated clockwise 90 degrees it would look a lot like the UFO.”
And finally the yordei merkavah, the “descenders to the chariot.” These were the Jewish mystics of antiquity who seem to have undertaken psychic journeys with the goal of re-experiencing the merkavah (“chariot”), the bizarre and imagination-defying thing described in the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel (and often explained as a UFO). I wrote about these “merkavah mystics” in Intimate Alien: The Hidden Story of the UFO; I compared their experiences with those of modern UFO abductees.
The visionary sees many terrifying sights in the course of his travels, but none more harrowing than the eyes:
“The holy living creatures then look at him with their 512 eyes. Each of the eyes … is split open, the size of a large winnowers’ sieve, and their eyes look as if they race like lightnings. Besides them, there are the eyes of the mighty cherubim and of the Ophannim [Ezekiel’s “wheels”; Ezekiel 1:18] … which look like torches and flaming coals. The man shudders and trembles and recoils; he faints in terror and collapses.” (Quoted in Intimate Alien, p. 131.)
These “split open eyes,” if I’m not much mistaken, reappear many centuries later on the cover of Whitley Strieber’s Communion.
These are some of the directions my mind has gone in trying to understand–not explain away, but understand–the experience Jacques shared with us on Tuesday night.
A voyage of exploration to the outer reaches of our inner lives.
UFOs are a myth, says David J. Halperin—but myths are real. The power and fascination of the UFO has nothing to do with space travel or life on other planets. It’s about us, our longings and terrors, and especially the greatest terror of all: the end of our existence. This is a book about UFOs that goes beyond believing in them or debunking them and to a fresh understanding of what they tell us about ourselves as individuals, as a culture, and as a species.
In the 1960s, Halperin was a teenage UFOlogist, convinced that flying saucers were real and that it was his life’s mission to solve their mystery. He would become a professor of religious studies, with traditions of heavenly journeys his specialty. With Intimate Alien, he looks back to explore what UFOs once meant to him as a boy growing up in a home haunted by death and what they still mean for millions, believers and deniers alike.
From the prehistoric Balkans to the deserts of New Mexico, from the biblical visions of Ezekiel to modern abduction encounters, Intimate Alien traces the hidden story of the UFO. It’s a human story from beginning to end, no less mysterious and fantastic for its earthliness. A collective cultural dream, UFOs transport us to the outer limits of that most alien yet intimate frontier, our own inner space.
Please remember we all have different opinions, Think Before You Speak or Write Something that is cruel to Others. After all, We are only Humans. Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes. To share your experiences or just leave a comment there is a area below. Read or listen.
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You are not alone. Whether you think UFOs are black projects, extraterrestrial craft, something else altogether, or just don’t know, again, you are not alone!
Unconditional love. The road we all get to walk. Unconditional love is like the sun.
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