UFOs, Cultural Tracking and Science Fiction

(This was first published in Ufologist, Vol. 16, No. 5, January-February 2013)



In a two-part article Identifying the UFO Entities, which was published in Ufologist in 2011, I discussed some of the problems with the extraterrestrial explanation for UFOs, such as the lack of corroborative evidence for UFO abductions and the parallels between UFOs and terrestrial paranormal phenomena.

This article will explore two additional related arguments against the extraterrestrial hypothesis – cultural tracking and the influence of science fiction on UFO encounters.

Cultural Tracking

Cultural tracking refers to the way UFO encounters appear to reflect the culture in which they appear. In the past people did not see flying saucers or alien spaceships in the sky but things which reflected the culture, technology and expectations of the time (1).

In their book Wonders in the Sky Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck document cases of shields, armies, dragons and sailing ships seen in the sky (2). Flying boats were reported as recently as the Nineteenth Century in the United States (3). Giant airships with propellers and undercarriages reminiscent of the stories of Jules Verne were seen in North America in 1896 and 1897 and in Europe in 1909. In 1910 giant bi-planes, which have never been identified, were seen by hundreds of people over New York (4). In 1934 mysterious planes with unrecognizable designs and no markings were frequently reported over Scandinavia (5). In 1946, following the invention of the V-2 rocket, “ghost rockets”, also of unknown origin, were seen over Europe, especially the Scandinavian countries.

When Kenneth Arnold saw several UFOs near Mount Rainier in 1947 and the expression “flying saucer” was first used, he did not see saucer-shaped objects. Arnold’s UFOs were crescent-shaped and had wings. He was describing their movement and not their shape when he said they flew “like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water” (6). A reporter coined the expression “flying saucer” and it was picked up by the media. Almost immediately, people began to report seeing saucer-shaped UFOs as though they had changed their appearance to suit people’s expectations.

When people began to claim they had been taken aboard UFOs, their descriptions of the UFO interiors also reflected the technology of the times. John Spencer has written,

“Witnesses, aboard flying saucers have reported, for example, chunky number counters on the saucer control panels, but we did not have reports of liquid crystal quartz readouts until we ourselves had invented them.” (7)

Genuine extraterrestrials would not bother to build spaceships which reflect our current technology and expectations. Instead, what we have is a phenomenon which seems to change to suit the times and culture in which it appears.

Fairies, demonic visitations and UFO abductions

Cultural tracking is not limited to UFOs seen in the sky. In Identifying the UFO Entities I discussed the parallels between UFO abductions and folklore about fairies and similar beings. Jacques Vallee has written,

“In fact, it is difficult to find a culture that does not have a tradition of little people that fly through the sky and abduct humans. Often they take their victims into spherical settings that are evenly illuminated, and they subject them to various ordeals that include operations on internal organs and astral trips to unknown landscapes. Sexual or genetic interaction is a common theme in this body of folklore.” (8)

In the Middle Ages there were stories of incubi and succubae, demons appearing in male and female form which were believed to visit people while they were sleeping and have sex with them. (9). Greg Little has written,

“The resemblance between modern UFO abduction reports and ancient accounts of demonic visitations are striking, indeed. Ulrich Molitor’s De Laniis et phitonicis mulieribus (1489) shows the first known engravings of demons who abduct and then have sexual relations with humans. Olaus Magnus’ Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (1555) contained engravings of the devil and demons carrying women (witches) away for sex. The early accounts of these are similar to UFO abductions; however in that era it was not seen as a good thing to happen to you (as contrasted to many UFO abductees who view it as a positive and special experience).” (10)

As I mentioned in “Identifying the UFO Entities”, UFO abductions also have parallels with Near Death Experiences, Out of Body Experiences and shamanic initiation rituals. These parallels suggest we are not dealing with aliens, but with a phenomenon or paraphysical intelligence which manifests differently to suit the cultural context.

Modern UFO abductions and cultural expectations

Even today, descriptions of UFO entities vary according to where in the world they are seen and the culture of the witnesses. John Spencer has written,

” ‘Little men’ reports are common in Europe and Scandinavia, which has a tradition of ‘little’ entities: leprechauns, fairies, elves and the like. When the first entity reports came out of Russia it was perhaps revealing that they were of giants; the folklore tradition of that country includes mostly giant entities. Aliens are presumably not creating specific entities for specific countries and cultures; the presumption must be that perception of aliens is coloured by expectation from folklore and stories heard in childhood. (Again I stress, as I do throughout this book, that I am not suggesting these experiences are from the imagination, just that the imagination plays a part in how we perceive them.) For some reason South America seem to have the widest variety of entity forms: hairy beasts, troglodyte-type cave-creatures, even a stone-walled spaceship. There is even a report of a red-skinned alien with one eye. Sexual-encounter claims are frequent on that continent, perhaps reflecting the ‘macho’ image Latin American men are traditionally driven by.” (11)

Before the 1980s reports of UFO entities were rarely alike, suggesting that dozens, or even hundreds, of alien races were visiting Earth, but only once. Many would land, get out, scare a farmer or lone motorist, and then fly away apparently never to return. None of these pre-1980s reports involved the typical “Grays” with their all-black eyes (12). If you look through old UFO books from the 1970s, you will not find any Grays. Even though they were supposedly already abducting people, UFO researchers were unaware of them.

Then in 1987 Budd Hopkins’ Intruders and Whitley Strieber’s Communion, with their accounts of UFO abductions by Grays with big black eyes, were published. Thanks to the picture of the Gray on the cover of Communion, and subsequent movies and documentaries, Grays became recognizable in the American public’s minds as the aliens who were supposedly carrying out UFO abductions.

It appears that as the Grays became popular knowledge, more people began to report being abducted by them under hypnosis. Like UFO encounters in other parts of the world, abductees report what their culture and beliefs expect. This is evident in the way that the Grays, who abducted Betty Andreasson Luca, changed. In The Andreasson Affair, by Raymond Fowler, published in 1979 her UFO abductors had eyes with round black pupils and white sclera (13).

In the third book on her abductions, The Watchers, published in 1990 after everyone had heard of the Grays thanks to Budd Hopkins’ Intruders and Whitley Strieber’s Communion, they had turned into the typical Grays with their distinctive all-black eyes and no white sclera.

Reports of UFO occupants soon became standardized, while Grays making up the majority, and Nordic (human-like “aliens” with blonde hair) and Reptoid (reptilian) minorities. By 1992, according to Jenny Randles’ research, 73% of the UFO abductions in the United States were carried out by Grays, while another 6% involved Nordics (14). Proponents of the extraterrestrial hypothesis do not ask themselves whatever happened to the dozens of other supposed alien races which they once believed were visiting Earth.

However Randles also reported that in Great Britain in 1992 only 12% of UFO abductions involved Grays, while 35% involved Nordics. On the European mainland 48% involved Grays and 25% Nordics (15). If we took these statistics at face value, they mean that the Grays prefer to abduct North Americans, while the Nordics would rather abduct the English

A more plausible explanation is that the media is influencing what UFO abductees experience. In Great Britain, the image of the Gray with its all black eyes does not have the same pop cultural status which it does in North America, so they are reported less often in UFO abductions. Moreover, the number of Grays being reported elsewhere in the world is increasing (16), which suggests that as reports of abductions by rays are publicized, they generate a feedback loop, resulting in more reports of abductions by Grays. This is evident in Australia where Grays only began showing up in abductions in the mid 1990s. ETH adherents would presumably have us believe that the Grays only began abducting Australians after they had become aware of them through books and television. Intruders was shown on television in Australia in 1992. Furthermore, there are no reports of abductions by Nordics or Reptoids in Australia, presumably because they are not as well known here as they are in North America or Europe (17).

UFOs and Science Fiction

One aspect of the way the UFO phenomenon appears to mirror or draw from our expectations is the influence of science fiction on UFO encounters. Images and themes about aliens and UFOs have appeared in science fiction stories before they occurred in real-life UFO encounters. It looks like the intelligence behind UFOs gets its ideas for what to do from science fiction. According to John Spencer,

“In fact, it is quite clear from any objective study of the material that science fiction has played a large part in not just stimulating but creating much of the UFO material….science fiction in its many forms but principally films, introduces or reinforces a concept which begins to surface in the claims of witnesses during later periods” (18)

One of the most significant examples of this is the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still which was released in 1951. A flying saucer lands in Washington D.C. and the alien called Klaatu brings a message of peace, warning of the dangers of atomic weapons and causes all the electricity in the world to stop for half an hour. When I first saw this film, I assumed that it had drawn upon the contactee cases but before it was released in 1951, there had been no sightings of UFO occupants, who contacted people with messages of peace, or reports of UFOs causing electrical blackouts. About a year later, George Adamski saw a “Venusian” who wore a similar uniform to Klaatu and had a similar message.

The Day the Earth Stood Still does not contain the first fictional examples of a UFO affecting electricity. Jacques Vallee has found the first example of a UFO causing a power blackout in the play, The Twilight Bar by Arthur Koestler in 1933 and a UFO first stalled a car’s ignition in the novel, The Flying Saucer, written by Bernard Newman in 1950 (19).

Many details of UFO appeared in science fiction stories long before abductions became well known in the 1980s. In his book, Confrontations, Vallee refers to the work of Bertrand Mehuest which has not been published in English;

“[Mehuest] has accumulated an enormous textual and pictorial database covering such science fiction material before World War II, and in many cases before World War I. This material contains stories of UFO beings chasing trains and automobiles, stalling cars, hitting people with strange beams, and abducting them into spherical structures.

Abduction by alien beings constitutes a central theme of the science fiction of the early twentieth century. Mehuest has found it in hundreds of stories, especially in French and English published between 1880 and 1940” (20).

For example, in a 1930 Buck Rogers comic strip, “Tiger Men of Mars”, the character Wilma is taken aboard a spaceship and examined on a table while in a trance (21). Likewise, before people started seeing flying saucers after Kenneth Arnold’s sighting in 1947, pictures of disc-shaped spaceships appeared in science fiction pulps of the 20s and 30s. (22)

Science fiction and UFO abductions

Before the abduction of Betty and Barney Hill in 1961 most of the details of the typical UFO abduction had already appeared in science fiction stories. In the 1953 movie Invaders from Mars people are taken aboard a flying saucer which is buried underground. (Many modern day UFO abductees claim they were sometimes taken to underground bases.) The characters were placed on a table, operated on and implanted with devices which controlled them, similar to how abductees believe they have alien implants which monitor or control them. The idea of human-alien hybrids is mentioned before they appeared in abductees’ accounts when one of the characters suggests that “the Martians have bred themselves a race of synthetic humans to save themselves from extinction.”

In May, 1962, Playboy published a short story called “Control Somnambule” written by William Sambrat over a year earlier. It was about an astronaut who during a spaceflight loses his memory in what would now be called missing time. He is hypnotized and can recall being abducted and examined by aliens who erased his memory of the experience, but left some tattoos reminiscent of the scars found on abductees (23).

In the 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos written by John Wyndham and made into the movie The Village of the Damned in 1960, a UFO puts the inhabitants of a town to sleep and the women are impregnated. They give birth to human-alien hybrids with blonde hair and psychic powers.

Other films, which I have not seen, but which other authors say contain scenes of aliens abducting and impregnating women before they were reported in real UFO abductions include Killers from Space (1953), The Mysterians (1957), Mars Needs Women (1966), Night Caller from Outer Space (1966), The Stranger Within (1974), (24) and God Told Me To (1976) (25).

In the television miniseries V (1983), featuring a race of reptilian aliens called the Visitors, a young woman was taken aboard a giant flying saucer and seduced and impregnated by a reptilian alien as part of a medical experiment. In the sequel, V-The Final Battle (1984), she gave birth to a psychic blonde human-alien hybrid. Within a couple of years abductees began to claim they had seen blonde human-alien hybrids during their abductions. By 1992 about 10% of the aliens in UFO abductions were reptile-like, usually called Reptoids. These did not start appearing in abductions until after V and its sequel were shown on television (26). Like the Visitors, the Reptoids are also said to engage in direct sexual relations with humans, similar to the demonic incubi and succubae of the Middle Ages (27).

In his book, Communion, written in 1987, Whitley Strieber chose to call his abductors the Visitors – the same name given to the aliens in V a few years earlier.

Strieber acknowledges that there are similar themes in both his abduction experiences and his horror novels “which all contain references to intelligent and predatory nonhuman beings” (28). However, he appears to have borrowed more than just themes. In his novel Black Magic a character is tortured and notices that the room is filthy before having a needle injected into her brain. In Communion Strieber notices how filthy the room is before his UFO abductors inject a needle into his brain (29). Strieber believes that in his novels he was subconsciously trying to deal with abduction experiences, which he was already having, but was not consciously aware of. Alternatively, Strieber appears to have inadvertently incorporated ideas and themes from his novels into his abduction experiences.

Another example can be found in the abduction experiences of Betty Andreasson Luca. Raymond Fowler writes;

“One instance that struck me rather forcibly was a device shown on an episode of Star Trek. It bore a near exact likeness to a device that Betty had seen during hypnosis sessions conducted by Bob in December 1987 and January 1988. Betty reported that some of these devices had been placed around a landed craft. Interestingly enough, a similar device was used to offset the effects of a fiery storm in the Star Trek episode.

When I queried Betty about these similarities she admitted seeing things on TV that remind her of what she has reported. She has even suggested that the script writers may have got their ideas from her experiences. What is going on here?” (30)

Since Star Trek was made in the late 1960s and Betty recalled these devices under hypnosis in 1987-88, the writers obviously did not get the idea from Betty. The opposite is more likely true. Fowler admits it is possible “that some of these parallels to Betty’s experiences are there because Betty is unknowingly assimilating irrelevant data from the outside and subconsciously adding them to her already real memories.” (31)

References to Star Trek have appeared in other abduction cases. Martin Kottmeyer writes in “Gauche Encounters”;

“James Harder, an early abduction researcher, for example, once came across a reference to a saucer being powered by lithium crystals. He readily recognized the influence of Star Trek‘s dilithium crystals and so discounted that part of the abductee’s story.

Allan Hendry similarly heard from an abductee on a craft who saw stars shooting past in the manner of Trek‘s visual conventions and though it a likely ‘giveaway’ to the mental origin of the experience. The only Trek influences to pass through the sieve of scrutiny are going to be arcane or ambiguous ones. This seems to have happened in the case of Sgt. Charles Moody, a semi-popular abduction tale from the mid-70s. At one point Moody’s aliens use the expression, “you have been absorbed.” This calls to mind the Trek episode “Return of the Archons” wherein people speak of being “absorbed” i.e. taken over, by The Body. We could perhaps dismiss this as coincidence of some exotic variety except that Moody seems to have borrowed something else from “Return of the Archons.” Ufologists found puzzling the luminescent quality of the walls in Moody’s saucer with an absence of light source. A Trekkie would not be puzzled. A character at one point brings out a sheet of luminescent metal that leads Spock to conclude the presence of a technology on the planet far more advanced than what was generally apparent. Clearly the detail was borrowed to prove the advanced nature of saucer technology. It is a small detail, a flourish, and one only a Trekkie would notice. No surprise, then, that ufologists missed it.” (32)

In the same article Kottmeyer also mentions the 1975 case of Sandra Lawson who claims that aliens removed her brain, and then put it back in, reminiscent of what happened to Spock in the Star Trek episode “Spock’s Brain”. He also mentions an encounter which was reported during a 1985 MUFON conference in St. Louis. The audience pointed out that it had apparently been based on a Saturday Night Live Coneheads sketch.

Kottmeyer says that UFO researchers dismiss encounters with obvious borrowings from science fiction, which suggests that there have been more abductions with obvious science fiction borrowings, but they are discounted, not reported and, in effect, covered up. Furthermore, this does not necessarily mean that the cases with no obvious borrowings are reliable and authentic. It could only mean that the confabulation is not as obvious.

The most recognizable UFO occupants today, the Grays, were unknown before the 1980s, but they showed up in science fiction before they did in UFO abduction reports. The Martians in H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds, first published in 1898, were not humanoid, but they still had some characteristics which show up 90 years later in accounts of the Grays. Wells described them as having big round heads, grey skin, lipless mouths and “two large dark-coloured eyes” (33).

The fetus-like Star Child at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) appears to have big black eyes and could pass for a Gray. Grays appear in the 1978 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but their design was not so much based on UFO reports, but on the speculation of the film’s special effects designer Carlo Rimbaldi speculated what more evolved beings would look like (34). Martin Kottmeyer and Ronald Story write these fictional aliens “reshaped reports of short, big-headed aliens in two demonstrable ways: (1) Before the film, aliens with long, thin necks were nonexistent. After it, they became common. (2) Before the film, the eyes were of a generally human arrangement of pupil, iris, and white. Afterwards, they generally became totally black. The eyes tended to be more tilted and larger than before.” (35)

As already mentioned, Betty Andreasson Luca’s description of her abductors’ eyes changed to conform to the all-black eyes of the Grays after they became part of the pop culture. Was this her embellishment or did the UFO entities change?


In the past, when people claimed they had seen sailing ships or dragons in the sky, it is often not clear whether they saw these things exactly, namely a wooden ship with masts and sails or a dragon with wings and sails, or whether they just saw a strange light in the sky and assumed it was a sailing ship or a dragon because that was what made sense to them, much in the same way people see a strange light in the sky today and assume they have seen an alien spaceship.

On the other Michael Heiser has argued on his website that they only saw unusually shaped clouds (36).

Likewise, the influence of science fiction on UFO encounters could mean they are products of people with over-active imaginations or fantasy-prone personalities who have read or watched too much science fiction. For example, in Argentina in 1957 there were reports of an alien which was identical to the aliens in the 1954 film This Island Earth (37). They may also be inventing UFO hoaxes based on science fiction, which would be what many UFO researchers suspect George Adamski did with The Day the Earth Stood Still.

However, abduction researcher John Carpenter has argued that many abductees had not previously been exposed to science fiction and abduction stories in the media. He asks,

“When simple folk from rural areas with no television, and small children who cannot read, begin to recite the same familiar abduction scenario, how can one account for the supposed media influence?” (38)

John Keel wrote about how UFO entities had names which were taken from his own novels which he admitted few people had read (39). He believed,

“The UFO phenomenon is frequently reflective; that is, the observed manifestations seem to be deliberately tailored and adjusted to the individual beliefs and mental attitudes of the witnesses. Both the objects and their occupants appear to be able to adopt a multitude of forms, and the contactees are usually given information which conforms to their own beliefs” (40).

If the intelligence behind UFOs is changing its manifestations to suit the cultural expectations of the time and region, this means they are no more aliens than they are fairies. It also supports the hypothesis that the intelligences behind UFOs are demonic entities or fallen angels. Creativity is a human characteristic since humans are made in the image of God who is creative (Genesis 1:27). Angels and demons can copy but they cannot create.


(1) John Spencer, The UFO Encyclopedia, Headline, London, 1991, p 110-111

(2) Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck, Wonders in the Sky, Jeremy Tarcherl/Penguin, New York, 2009

(3) John Mack, Abduction, Simon and Schuster, London, 1994,p 7

(4) John Keel, Operation Trojan Horse, Souvenir Press, London, 1970, p 120-121

(5) Ibid., p 127-134

(6) C.D.B. Bryan, Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind, Orion, London, 1995, p 141

(7) The UFO Encyclopedia, op cit., p 110

(8) Jacques Vallee, Confrontations, Ballantine Books, New York, 1990, p 144

(9) Jacques Vallee, Dimensions, Contemporary Books, Chicago, 1988, p 144-149

(10) Gregory Little, Grand Illusions, White Buffalo Books, Tennessee, 1994, p 55

(11) John Spencer, Gifts of the Gods?, Virgin Books, London, 1994, p 118-119

(12) Ronald Story (editor), The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrial Encounters, Robinson, London, 2002,p 39

(13) Raymond Fowler, The Andreasson Affair, Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, 1979, p 92-93

(14) Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind, op cit., p 90

(15) Ibid.

(16) Jenny Randles and Paul Whetnall, Alien Contact, Coronet Books, Great Britain, 1981, p 95-96, 102

(17) Keith Basterfield, “UFO Abductions: An Australian Perspective”, Australasian Ufologist, Vol. 7, No 3, 2003, p 24-25

(18) Gifts of the Gods?, op cit., p 36-39

(19) Dimensions, op cit., p 167

(20) Confrontations, op cit., p 161-162

(21) Martin Kottmeyer, “Entirely Unredisposed”, http://www.debunker.com/texts/unpredis.html

(22) http://www.ufopop.org/

(23) Confrontations, op cit., p 137

(24) Kenneth Ring, The Omega Project, William Morrow, New York, 1992, p 212-213

(25) Peter Devereux and Peter Brookesmith, UFOs and Ufology, The First Fifty Years, Blandford, London, 1997 p 163

(26) The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrial Encounters, op cit. p 588-589

(27) Grand Illusions, op cit., p 49

(28) Whitley Strieber, Transformation, Arrow Books, London, 1989, p 107

(29) Martin Kottmeyer, “Gauche Encounters”, http://www.talkingpix.co.uk/ArticleGaucheEncounters.html

(30) Raymond Fowler, The Watchers II, Wild Flower Press, Oregon, 1995, p 185

(31) Ibid., 186

(32) “Gauche Encounters”, op cit.

(33) H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds, Penguin, New York, 1986, p 20-21

(34) The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrial Encounters, op cit., p 31-32

(35) Ibid., p 158

(36) Michael Heiser, “Appreciative, but Not Amazed by Wonders in the Sky”, http://michaelheiser.com/UFOReligions/2011/04/appreciative-but-not-amazed-by-wonders-in-the-sky

(37) Kevin Randle and Russ Estes, Faces of the Visitors, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1997, p 40-42

(38) Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind, op cit., p 117

(39) John Keel, Visitors from Space, Granada, London, 1976, p 191,205

(40) Operation Trojan Horse, op cit., p 195

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