and UFO Encounters as Shamanic Initiations
and Evolutionary Implications
is reprinted from ReVision, Vol. 11,
No. 3, Winter 1989.
is professor of psychology at the University
of Connecticut and past president of
Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS).
He is the author of
Life At Death:
A Scientific Investigation of the Near-Death
Omega: In Search of the Meaning of the
and over forty articles in the fields
of social psychology, transpersonal
psychology, and near-death studies.
Dr. Ring received his Ph.D. in social
psychology from the University of Minnesota.
He lives in Ashford, Connecticut.
YEARS, there has been an effort, particularly by American
folkloric scholars (e.g.,
Rojcewicz 1986), to bring some conceptual order to a disparate
array of paranormal and transcendental experiences whose
academic study has heretofore tended to be associated with
distinct and somewhat insular disciplines.
in this set of non-ordinary occurrences are such phenomena
(traditionally the province of parapsychology),
(near-death studies, medicine),
(ufology). That there are significant similarities among
subsets of these experiences, both in terms of phenomenology
and aftereffects, has long been recognized, but so far there
has been no sustained scholarly effort to build conceptual
bridges between these experiential domains or to foster
their comparative study, despite some expressions of interest
in such undertakings (e.g.,
Ring and Agar 1986).
In the spirit of this kind of endeavor, the need for which
has been persuasively set forth by Rojcewicz (1986), I would
like to present here a framework for a partial conceptual
integration of two non-ordinary experiences previously held
to be quite separate and unrelated. I am referring to near-death
experiences (NDEs) and alleged UFO encounters (UFOEs),
between which I believe there are some hitherto unsuspected
This paper has second purpose
as well. After delineating certain commonalities between
these types of experiences, I intend to explore their possible
joint significance for the evolution of human consciousness.
This will involve an attempt to embed these and other types
of non-ordinary experiences in a second kind of conceptual
matrix that will provide a still more encompassing perspective
in terms of which to view the implicit connections among
the variety of experiences we will be concerned with.
setting out on the first of these conceptual journeys, I
need to enter a couple of caveats. First, in stressing certain
linkages between NDEs and UFOEs, I make no claim that all
varieties of these two phenomena are thus entwined. UFOEs
especially cover an extraordinary range, and therefore no
one model is likely to do even nominal justice to them all.
In this instance, however, I will be dealing with a particular
and nowadays increasingly well-known type of UFOE, the nature
of which I will specify shortly.
Second, the kind of integrative
model I will offer here attempts to join these experiences
only in terms of their archetypal patterning and functional
significance. At the phenomenological level, NDEs and UFOEs
are of course quite dissimilar, but it is in their deep
structure, as it were, rather than in their surface contentual
manifestations that important commonalities can be discerned.
on modern NDEs has been carried on for more than a decade;
thus the prototypic pattern for this type of non-ordinary
experience will be quite familiar to most readers of this
journal. This pattern is made up of such elements as (1)
a psychological sense of
separation from the physical body;
a feeling of overwhelming peace
and well-being; (3)
a sense of movement through
a dark but not frightening space,
sometimes described as a
(4) the perception of
a brilliant white or golden light
by which one is (5) gradually encompassed and from which
one (6) feels
a sense of total love and unconditional
acceptance; (7) an
a being of light or other spiritual
entities who (8) may
afford the occasion for
a panoramic life review
following which (if it occurs) one (9) may decide or be
return to one's body,
thereby (10) terminating the NDE. Such experiences tend
to cohere in a highly meaningful way for the individual,
are almost always said to be hyper-real (i.e., not like
a dream or hallucination), and usually have a profound transformative
effect on the survivor (e.g.,
In any event, this is the kind of NDE that will be of focal
Another type of experience that,
owing to the popularity of such books as
1987a), is likewise
coming to be increasingly well known to a broad segment
of the American public is the so-called UFO abduction experience.
This is an encounter for which the prototypic pattern can
be, for our purposes at least, reduced to the following
four elements: (1) a sense of being taken away, usually
against one's will, by one or more humanoid beings, and
(2) brought into a strange, alien environment where (3)
one is subjected to an invasive physical examination that
in some instances seems to have to do with one's reproductive
organs, following which (4) one is returned to the physical
world, though not necessarily to exactly the same location
where the abduction apparently originated. These experiences
often lack the coherence of NDEs, are not infrequently temporarily
repressed or forgotten but when recalled are re-experienced
as traumatic, and often entail a period of time for which
one cannot account (e.g.,
Lorenzen and Lorenzen 1977;
Again, it is this kind of UFO encounter with which we will
be especially concerned in this paper.
when one reads accounts of these two types of prototypic
experiences or, better yet, has a chance to talk directly
to persons who report having undergone them, one cannot
fail to be impressed with the obvious differences between
them. The typical NDE, for example, is usually recounted
in such a way as to impress the reader or listener with
its ineffable beauty, transcendental influx or knowledge,
and spiritual profundity. In my own work with NDErs, I confess
to having often been struck and indeed deeply affected by
the radiant glow and strong positive emotions that emanate
from NDErs while in the throes of describing their experiences
to me. With UFO abductees, on the other hand, both the content
and tone are radically different. Here, for instance, one
senses one is reading about or listening to people who may
feel especially in the immediate aftermath of their experience
that they have been the victims of a form of psychological
rape. Their reactions afterward are indicative in any case
of some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder (Spiegel,
Hunt, and Dondershine 1988;
and their difficulties in dealing with their experience
are only compounded by the knowledge of others' likely reactions
to learning about the incredible (in the literal sense)
circumstances and bizarre events associated with the abduction.
when one begins to probe beneath the divergent phenomenological
surfaces of these two types of experiences, one sees that
for all their dissimilarities there does appear to be a
common structural basis for them both a shared archetypal
patterning that binds them. And if I were to try to encapsulate
this common element in a single phrase, the one I'd choose
is the shamanic journey. To see this more clearly now, we
need to examine these prototypic experiences from an explicit
shamanic perspective. When we do so, it will become apparent
that most of the defining features of NDEs and UFOEs can
be coordinated to a model of shamanic initiation.
begin, we need a template of sorts for shamanic initiations
in order to appreciate the extent to which such a template
might indeed overlap with the underlying form of NDEs and
UFOEs. Needless to say, given the enormous wealth of anthropological
literature on shamanic initiation, any one model will be
a patent oversimplification.
even a crude and over-generalized outline of some of the
main features of this kind of initiation will prove workable
for our purposes. In any case, the following account is
based chiefly on
Typically, an individual who may
be somewhat unusual because of his (or her) sensitivities
or exceptional giftedness or because he has survived a serious
illness, accident, or other ordeal is selected for shamanic
training. He is then separated from his community and put
into the hands of his shamanic trainer. The apprentice is
required to undergo various ordeals, both physical and psychological,
as his training progresses. Often, as is well known, these
rites involve powerful dismemberment (and reconstitutive)
motifs as the candidate undergoes a death-and-rebirth ordeal
a necessary component for all true initiations, of course,
as well as the experiential foundations for a new sense
of identity as a shaman. Sacred mysteries are disclosed
to the individual as he learns to enter into otherworldly
realms and acquires his particular shamanic skills, his
power animals, sacred songs, secret language, and so forth.
After his initiation is complete, he returns to his community
as a healer, a
a master of ecstasy, a mystic and visionary as a man (or
woman), in short, who now knows how to live in two worlds:
the world of the soul as well as that of the body. And though
indispensable to the welfare of his community, he often
remains somewhat apart from it precisely because of his
special knowledge and his unusual and sometimes disturbing
this sketch of shamanic initiation as our template, let
us see how well it maps onto the underlying form of the
prototypical experiences of interest to us. We begin with
the NDE. Here, we find ourselves with an individual who
has by whatever means been brought to the threshold of apparent
imminent biological death, a condition that, as we have
seen, is often preludic to a shamanic career. This state
of affairs means that at least psychologically and in some
cases physically (as when he is removed to a hospital),
the individual is separated from his community of peers.
Inwardly, he, too, embarks on a journey of initiation, and
he is not long into it before he meets the equivalent of
his shamanic trainer. A luminous figure a true psychopomp
will appear to guide the individual in his journey. This
figure represents what I call the archetype of the cosmic
shaman. For in this role he is not merely a guide in the
passive sense of escort but is, rather, a man (or woman)
of knowledge. He is a being who appears to know all about
the life of the individual undergoing this experience and
all about the realm into which the individual has entered.
And while in this realm, the NDEr will receive instantaneously
and telepathically the answers to all of his questions from
this being, this cosmic shaman. Knowledge will simply flood
into his soul as the mysteries of life and death are finally
and fully illuminated.
The NDE literature is, of course,
replete with such testimonies, and I myself have published
quite a few of them (Ring
1984, 5089). Here,
however, I will simply use one illustrative case to indicate
the extraordinary clarity and emotional depth of these encounters.Jayne Smith
was in the process of giving birth to her second child when
she had her NDE. Hers was a very deep experience of ecstatic
gratitude and cosmic knowledge during which she almost immediately
lost all body awareness and says she existed, while cradled
in the light, as pure consciousness. When she later came
back to her sense of individualized identity as Jayne, she
found herself at the top of a hill where she encountered
a group of men. She then said (mentally) to one of them.
know what has happened to me. I know that I've
died. And [she says] one man in the group did
all the talking to me. He was taller than the
rest and he had an absolutely marvelous face.
It was very noble, very kind. He also had about
him a great deal of authority In order to talk,
we didn't have to move our mouths. I only know
that I only had to have the impulse of what
I wanted to say and he immediately would get
that and answer it. I could hear the sound of
his voice in my inner ear.
I said, Everything
[here] is so beautiful, everything is so perfect.
What about my sins?
And he said, There
are not sins, not the way you think of them
on Earth. The only thing that has any meaning
here is what you think. And then he asked me
a question: What is in your heart?
And in some incredible
way I was enabled to look deeply inside myself,
really into the core of me, into my essence,
and I saw what was there was love and nothing
else. My core was perfect love, loving perfection.
I had complete love and acceptance for everything.
And I said to him,
Of course! And I had the feeling that I was
connecting with knowledge that I had known before.
And I wondered how on Earth I had ever forgotten
anything that important
And then I said, Can
you tell me what everything is all about?
And he said, Yes.
And he told me and it took maybe three sentences
at the most. It was so simple. I understood
that immediately. I had total comprehension
of what he was saying to me.
And I remember again
saying to him, Of course!
And then I said to
him, Since I'm not going to be able to stay
may I take this all back with me?
And he said, You may
take the answer to the first question back that
was the one about sin but the answer to the
second one you are not going to be able to remember.
At that point, Jayne
heard a sudden bang, like an electronic click
in her ear, and her experience ended. Reflecting
on it years afterward, she said:
I have never been
able to remember those specific two or three
sentences that I was told and I have tried and
tried and I never could. But I think that I
do know what he was telling me, even though
I can't recall the actual [words]. I know that
it has to do with love and I believe it has
to do with what I was enabled to see when he
said, What is in your heart? and I looked inside
myself and saw that I was perfect love.
Now, you know, that
doesn't apply just to me that applies to all
human beings. That is what we are. That is our
core this perfect love. And I believe that what
it's all about is [that] as we learn to bring
that into our consciousness and have it remain
there all the time our connection with God our
consciousness of who we really are, I think
that's what the journey is. (Jayne
any event, following this kind of revelatory encounter,
the individual is sent back or in some cases chooses to
return to his physical body. And how does his otherworldly
initiation change him? Anyone familiar with the now extensive
NDE literature on this subject (e.g.,
will know that many NDErs return with apparently enhanced
psychic sensitivities. Furthermore, quite a few (including
Jayne) claim to have acquired healing gifts as a result
of their NDE (as the NDE-based film,
depicts), and most of them report an increased concern with
the welfare of others and indeed with the welfare of all
life on this planet.
Finally, I should note that though
NDErs as a rule are more concerned with others, others may
shy away from them. Many NDErs soon learn to their sorrow
that a person who lives in two worlds however one is initiated
into a second world tends to make one-worlders a trifle,
if not distinctly, uncomfortable.
in all, then, there seems to be a pretty good fit here between
shamanic initiation model and
the structure of the NDE.
These parallels, of course, are evident not just from the
perspective of NDE research. Students of shamanism such
have also drawn explicit connections between these two domains,
and Kalweit's book even gives pride of place to the NDE
as a modern empirical exemplification of the timeless truths
of the shamanic journey.
Nevertheless, a note of caution
about these parallels is in order here. Specifically, by
claiming that NDErs undergo a kind of shamanic initiation,
I do not mean to imply that they are therefore fully accomplished
contrary, they have simply received their first initiation;
they have not completed the course, which for a shaman-to-be
in a traditional society often takes years of effort. Therefore,
while NDErs may return with some shamanic skills and something
of a shamanic orientation, it would be best to view them
as shamans-in-training, still learning their craft.
Turning now to UFO encounters,
we need to discover how well our model fits the case of
the typical abductee.
review, then, in somewhat greater detail than before the
usual progression of events in these experiences in an attempt
to test the utility of this model here.
UFO abductions, the individual is taken (and I don't mean
this in a physical sense, though abductees themselves sometimes
do) when he is usually in some kind of an altered state
of consciousness asleep, in a state of helpless paralysis,
or otherwise somehow entranced. Here, however, the figure
of the cosmic shaman this time in the form of a space-age
E.T., as it were, but playing the selfsame role albeit in
new garb may make his appearance early on, or the abductee
may be brought into his presence by a set of clone-like
assistants. The next stage of the journey is the examination
in which the individual, already usually highly uneasy if
not frightened to the core, is forced to endure a variety
of intrusive procedures apparently the UFO equivalent of
the initiatory ordeal or dismemberment ceremony. It's noteworthy,
by the way, how often the abductee will say that this examination
took place in a round or curved chamber. We know of course
that a round hut or circular enclosure of some kind is a
staple in traditional initiations, as
herself a UFO abductee, has pointed out.
Rotunda-like structures can be
taken to symbolize a womb or a place of new beginnings.
In any event, following this ordeal, certain specific I
suppose one might say classified information may be imparted
telepathically as part of another act in the initiatory
drama. Eventually, however, the abductee is somehow returned
to his ordinary space/time world, though, as I have said,
he may not have any immediate conscious recall of his traumatic
Yet he, too, like the NDEr, may
come back shaken from his experience but with the seeds
of transformation already sown in his psyche. While there
are, to my knowledge, no careful long-term studies of the
aftereffects of these UFO encounters,
preliminary work by
Sprinkle (1981, 1983),
and others (e.g., Decker 1986) suggests that despite the
grueling nature of these experiences, the after-effects,
though variable, often show striking resemblances to the
characteristics of NDEs.
And once more in common with NDErs,
the UFO abductee may learn that his experience, though it
has conferred upon him certain new skills, insights, and
understandings, has also served to isolate him somewhat
from his community. Like the NDEr, he, too, has had his
passport stamped with an extramundane imprint and returns
from his strange sojourn with divided and complicated allegiances
to that world. As a result, he may find that he is inwardly
conflicted and frequently estranged from his family and
fellows, something of an alien himself.
the initiatory quality of these abduction experiences, let
me give a synopsis of a famous case in the UFO literature
- that of
(Fowler 1979). In January 1967, Betty was abducted by several
humanoid captors, including the leader of this group whose
name was Quazgaa. In this archetypal drama, Quazgaa played
the role of the cosmic shaman. Before being taken aboard
a craft, Quazgaa gave Betty a little thin blue book apparently
a book of knowledge. (Unfortunately, sometime after Betty
had been returned, she found that this book had mysteriously
disappeared. The vanishing artifact is, of course, a familiar
feature in folkloric tales.)
After getting aboard the craft,
Betty was cleansed by immersion in a bright white light
(seemingly, the UFO version of the ritual bath), asked to
put on a white garment, taken to a room that she describes
as rounded and domed, and then made to undergo a physical
examination that hurt and frightened her. Later, she was
taken through an enclosed corridor (that reminded her of
a subway tunnel) and escorted through various realms: a
scary red realm and a beautiful green one, both of which
Betty was able to depict (she is an artist) in vivid detail.
Following these excursions came
the culmination of Betty's experience. She saw before her
an incredible dazzling bright light in front of which there
was an enormous bird. The bird was obviously alive and utterly
real. As she approached the bird, the temperature became
unbearably hot, and Betty, like a modern-day Dante, nearly
fainted from the intensity of it. When she opened her eyes,
the light was dimmed, the bird had vanished, and all she
saw was a small fire that slowly turned to ashes, out of
which, finally, emerged a gray worm.
of course, Betty encountered the unmistakable archetypal
image of death-and-rebirth, the
case, she next heard a voice saying that she had been chosen
for a special mission, and now that she had seen, she would
be sent back. Betty then returned but not before Quazgaa
disclosed that he would be imparting certain special formulas
this comes from the first of two books written about
The Andreasson Affair by
Raymond Fowler (1979) and anyone who reads it cannot
help but notice that it is chockfull of the symbolism of
the initiation, a fact that several other commentators have
pointed out (e.g.,
and of which Betty herself seems aware (Fowler, 102).
summarized here are, in effect, just a few strands from
the rich tapestry of her initiation, but they are enough,
I think, to indicate that such experiences do seem to conform
quite well to our shamanic model. Here again, we see the
elements of separation, the appearance of the cosmic shaman,
dismemberment ordeals, death-and-rebirth motifs, esoteric
knowledge, and the return to the physical world with a special
sense of purpose. Betty, too, has been shamanized.
Before looking more closely at
what precisely one is initiated into during these NDEs and
UFOEs, I want to add a couple of comments about the characteristics
of the cosmic shaman himself. First, it is clear from the
literature of abduction cases that the appearance and behavior
of the cosmic shaman in UFOEs tend to be disturbing and
indeed frightening to most of those who encounter him. This
is in marked contrast, of course, to the loving and benign
qualities of the cosmic shaman in NDEs. Once more, it seems,
we have an antipodal relationship between these two categories
of experience at the phenomenological level but one that
again obscures an important functional similarity. The point
here is this: It doesn't matter what the cosmic shaman looks
like or how he behaves. His function is simply to educate
the soul. Whether he does this by acting out the role of
the trickster, the masked demon, or the sage is irrelevant.
His ways are protean, but his objective is the same through
a thousand disguises.Second, as I've
just implied, appearances may be deceiving, especially in
the exotic mindscape of UFOEs. What I am alluding to here
I will shortly tell.
Return to Top
Shamanic Initiations: Doorway to the Mundus Imaginalis
that NDEs and UFOEs may be forms of shamanic initiation,
we must now take this inquiry one step further and ask:
What is it that those who have these experiences are being
initiated into when they pass through these otherworldly
In my view, whenever an individual
undergoes a shamanic journey whether through nearly dying,
UFO abduction, or by other means he is vaulted into the
world of the imagination or, to use
Henri Corbin's (1976)
equivalent phrase, a
Let me be clear at the outset what I understand by this
expression, whether it be the English or the Latin.
James Hillman (1975)
has insisted, and NDErs and shamans everywhere would quickly
concur, that in the world of imagination, persons and places
are fully real; they are as real in that domain as our physical
world is to our senses.
So in using this expression, I am not implying that such
experiences are imaginary, but rather that they are imaginal
(again to use Corbin's helpful term). Imagination in this
sense is, as Coleridge argued, a creative power, and the
world that it reveals is, as Blake knew, a supersensible
reality that can be directly apprehended.
who see with the eyes of their soul, have also penetrated
into this world and have given us peerless descriptions
of its fabulous and infinitely varied regions and denizens.
Indeed, the idea that shamanic experiences thrust individuals
into this realm has lately started to serve as a unifying
formulation for a number of writers. For instance, in
Shirley Nicholson's excellent
anthology on shamanism
there are quite a few articles that articulate this notion
admirably (see, for example, the pieces by
Likewise, in Carol Zaleski's brilliant book,
Otherworld Journey (1987),
she follows a similar interpretative line for NDEs.
another student of shamanism, has also argued for the primacy
of the imagination in understanding UFO phenomena. These
collective efforts, centered on the imaginal world and the
power of the imagination to shape human experience, may
eventually spawn a conceptual net of sufficient breadth
to capture and order meaningfully the variety of non-ordinary
experiences we considered at the beginning of this paper.
rate, this approach appears to be a most promising direction
for conceptual work in this area, and deserves even more
All this notwithstanding, what
is important for us at this point in our inquiry is not
just the recent popularity of this kind of formulation but
rather the fact that through it we are led all the way back
the father of psychology and the seeming priority of the
soul. From this perspective, of course, NDEs, UFOEs, and
shamanic journeys in general are all explorations in the
domain of soul, which, as Heraclitus seems to have been
the first to assert, is infinite.
Roberts Avens (1980)
has pointed out, soul is not only inseparable from imagination,
soul is imagination (p. 103).
Therefore, if shamanic experiences
are to educate the soul, as I have claimed, they must necessarily
do this by propelling us into the infinitude of the human
imagination. The mundus imaginalis is our true home, which
we are once more beginning to see and to experience directly.
Again, as Avens has said: Only soul (the imaginal realm)
is not reducible to anything else and so constitutes our
true, ontological reality (p. 102).
Heading Toward Omega
I argued that NDEs and other transcendental experiences
may be serving as an evolutionary catalyst for humanity's
collective psychospiritual development. I still adhere to
that view, but here I'd like to extend this thesis in a
new direction. That direction has already been suggested
The Final Choice (1985),
where, in speaking of out-of-body experiences, he indicates
that they may represent the matrix for the next environment
in the psychosocial evolution of man (p. 102, his emphasis).
I embrace that position, too, but would like to elaborate
on it briefly.
We now know that millions of persons
have already had out-of-body experiences, NDEs, and other
similar experiences (see, e.g.,
Hay 1982), and there are various reasons to suppose that
their numbers have increased dramatically in recent years
Likewise, the number of UFOEs not just sightings seems to
be growing exponentially, too. Budd Hopkins (1987b), for
example, estimates that there may be hundreds of thousands
of such cases hidden among us. And shamanic journeys of
one sort or another also seem to be increasingly common
and commonly sought after in our contemporary world.
Altogether, we seem to be undergoing
a period of mushrooming growth in the occurrence of what
has called the otherworld journey for which the traditional
shaman has long been the prototype.
If this is actually so, might
it be that what we are witnessing is the beginning stages
in the shamanizing of modern humanity? And what that would
mean is precisely this: that humanity would be finding its
way back to its true home in the realm of the imagination,
where it would be liberated to live in mythic time and would
no longer be strictly bound to the prison of historical
time. In short, I am suggesting that in this period of apparently
accelerated psychospiritual evolution these two worlds may
be drawing nearer to each other so that we, too, like the
shaman, will be able easily to cross over and live in both
These are, to be sure, fairly
extravagant extrapolations; indeed, I am acutely aware of
how wildly inflated they may appear. At the same time, I
take some measure of comfort from the fact that I am very
far from being the first or only researcher to advance such
evolutionary possibilities. Indeed, for investigators who
have concerned themselves in recent years with NDEs, UFOEs,
and similar phenomena, there have already been several who
have put forward very similar ideas.
for example, whose implicit sympathy with shamanic interpretations
of UFOEs is obvious in his book
speculates toward its end that the veil between matter and
mind is now growing thin (p. 289) and that the universe
of the visitors and our own are spinning each other together
(p. 295) in an act of cosmic communion.
who has also recently articulated an initiation model for
UFO encounters based on some of the ideas of
Arnold Von Gennep
has likewise found himself wondering whether it's possible
that UFO's, the near-death experience,
apparitions of the Virgin Mary,
and other shamanic visionary encounters are as much of a
prod to our next level of consciousness as rapidly blooming
sexual urges are a prod to a teenager's move from childhood
to adolescence. (p. 14)
Thompson's ideas mirror almost exactly those expressed in
The Final Choice,
which considers in depth the collective evolutionary significance
of precisely the phenomena that Thompson is concerned with.
who is certainly one of our most original and provocative
visionary thinkers with a long-standing interest in the
relationship between psychedelic shamanism and the UFO,
has been eloquent in his insistence that we are coming to
the end of historical time when, as he puts it, we will
live in hyperspace, having interiorized the body and exteriorized
the soul, and dwell in the realm of full imaginative possibility
Finally, English NDE researcher
has also concluded from her studies that the ever-increasing
frequency of NDEs is a direct reflection of an evolutionary
trend that is propelling humanity toward higher consciousness
a hypothesis that is virtually identical to the one I offered
Heading Toward Omega,
thus completing the circle (or should I say, the Ring?).
course, having company along the road doesn't necessarily
mean one is walking in the right direction. None of us can
see that far ahead in any case, but to me it is at least
noteworthy that a number of thinkers and I have listed only
a small sample of them here who have had occasion to ponder
the implications of NDEs and UFOEs have felt that they point
to some profound transformative possibilities for modern
humanity and planetary culture.
While we are still in this speculative
mode, however, let us just consider for a moment what we
would experience as part of our soul's education if this
evolutionary perspective does have any merit. In this context,
I'd like to refer to a couple of experiences that were shared
with me by friends experiences that may contain some hints
as to what our common realization might be.
Earlier I mentioned in connection
with the role of the cosmic shaman in UFOEs that appearances
may be deceiving. Here's the story that prompted that remark.
A friend of mine, who has had an NDE, recently sent me a
cassette tape in which she recounted a UFOE that had just
happened to her. The circumstances were typical: she had
awakened at 3:30 one morning and distinctly perceived an
alien form by her bed. It had the appearance that is commonly
described in the literature on abduction: small body, large
head in relation to the torso, huge black eyes, and so forth.
My friend then became aware that she was receiving a telepathic
communication from this being, but what she heard served
to reassure her.
told that the ugly, bug-like eyes (that so many abductees
have reported) are not eyes at all they are shields. The
shields, she was further informed, are necessary to protect
human beings from what they would otherwise be exposed to.
This would overwhelm them. But just what is this dangerous
force to which they would be exposed?
The being then allowed some of
it leak out. My friend felt an influx of universal knowledge
and infinite love pour into her. She was then told that
as we grow and as we raise in our level of understanding
of what we truly are, more and more will be shown to us
and we will receive all this knowledge and be able to be
one with them.
this message, she felt another wave of that unconditional
love NDErs so often speak of and fell peacefully asleep.
Such a story even if it is only
a story makes us wonder what we would actually experience
if we could look into the infinitude of those eyes. A possible
answer comes from another NDEr friend of mine. This is a
woman who, in 1975, while in her twenties, had three cardiac
arrests within a period of four hours as a result of anaphylactic
shock. During this time, she knew with certitude that she
was dying. Her experiences during this life-threatening
episode were extremely profound and revelatory, but here
I have to confine myself just to one phase of her NDE that
occurred toward its end.
point, she felt that she was rocketing through layers upon
layers of realities, seemingly to the heart of the universe
itself, and she was terrified. She thought she had gone
too far and would be lost forever. Then: Oh my God. I was
picked up as if by an ENORMOUS pair of hands, and as I looked
up I found myself looking into a gigantic EYE, out of which
flowed a tear of all consuming, profound ineffable love
and compassion, and I KNEW without a doubt, that I was looking
into the heart of my self, who is all selves, whatever it
is that God is. And I was brought into the EYE, and was
hope that, lifted by the wings of a planet-wide initiation
into the realm of transcendental experience, we will all
be carried home to live again in the land of the soul the
Bowing to the widespread use of the phrase UFO encounter,
I will defer to it here, but I do want to state at the outset
that I myself find this expression both misleading and unhelpful.
In my judgment, what is encountered in these experiences
has nothing to do with unidentified flying objects as we
commonly understand this designation. Perhaps one benefit
of attempting to bring some conceptual coherence to the
set of phenomena of which UFO encounters are one important
category will be to rid ourselves of this unfortunate and
somewhat embarrassing term, UFO.
This is the most frequently used designation for this experience
both in the popular literature on UFOs and in scholarly
treatments of the phenomenon (e.g.,
It is, however, not favored by some of those who have had
this kind of traumatic encounter.
for example, prefers the expression visitor experience and
has been emphatic in this rejection of any label for it
that implies a sense of victimization (e.g.,
I have recently inaugurated a research project designed
to provide data on this matter that will also afford a direct
comparison between NDErs and UFOErs on a variety of different
It must be stressed that the world [of imagination] is perfectly
real. Its reality is more irrefutable and more coherent
than that of the empirical world, where reality is perceived
by the senses (p. 17, his emphasis).
Fragment 42 in
version reads: You could not discover the limits of the
soul, even if you traveled every road to do so; such is
the depth of its meaning (quoted in
Avens 1980, 21).
NDEs represent a specific form of OBE,
argument can easily be extended to NDEs and to other similar
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talked with people of stature - of military
and government credentials and position - and
heard their stories, and their desire to tell
their stories openly to the public. And that
got my attention very, very rapidly ... The
first hand experiences of these credible witnesses
that, now in advanced years are anxious to tell
their story, we can't deny that, and the evidence
points to the fact that Roswell was a real incident,
and that indeed an alien craft did crash, and
that material was recovered from that crash
- Dr. Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut, from
a taped interview
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