2014 September

Book Review: Gray Barker’s Book of Adamski

By | Contactees, Reviews | One Comment

New Saucerian Books is doing a very exciting thing these days: re-publishing classic Contactee and UFO books that are hard to find these days. And even if you do track them down, they often fetch several hundred dollars on eBay.  It’s one thing if you’re a collector, but what if you’re just curious to read the books?  And that’s why I’m a fan of New Saucerian.  (Though the web design could use some work…just sayin’.)

To that end, I picked up a copy of “The Book of Adamski”, edited by Gray Barker, republished by New Saucerian in 2014.  For those who don’t know, Gray Barker was a renowned writer and researcher of UFO and paranormal phenomena, including Men in Black, Mothman, and the Contactees.  He, along with John Keel, were the biggest names in the ’50s and ’60s, and into the ’70s in the field of paranormal writing.

So I was excited to delve into this book.  It’s a loosely structured collection of essays by several people, including Gray Barker, Desmond Leslie, and Adamski himself.  It covers the many sides of Adamski’s life–personal, public, and cosmic.  What emerges is a very interesting portrait of a notoriously enigmatic man.  

Desmond Leslie, Adamski’s co-author of Flying Saucers Have Landed, wrote of the multiple aspects of his friend George:

Then there was another George, beautifully spoken, wise, kind, and deeply aware of the importance of his task.  Through this George, I several times glimpsed the presence of a Master, and I was always sorry when the curtain came down again and the worldly mask obscured him.

And also on the controversy that surrounded him always:

Of all the people in the flying saucer world, George Adamski stands alone as its most controversial character. Many others have claimed contacts and been treated with tolerance, belief, or amused contempt, but George had only to open his mouth to bring down a storm of abuse, praise and wonderment.

 This is something I’ve noticed while researching my film…for some reason, Adamski gets people’s goat.  No one gets upset talking about Truman Bethurum, but mention Adamski, and they go all red in the face.  Perhaps it was because he was the most visible of the Contactees.  Perhaps it was his somewhat distant, professorial manner.  The controversy continues to this day, and many people consider him to be nothing more than a charlatan and con-man.  

However, this book paints a different portrait, in the first-hand accounts by the many authors, and from the words from his own mouth.  And this kinder, gentler portrait is congruent with the image I’ve gotten of him from people who were acquainted with him.

Even Gray Barker, who considered Adamski’s account “impossible”, says that he got the impression of a “tone of great honesty” in Adamski’s tale:

For George charmed his critics wherever he roamed.  No matter how vitriolic his adversaries, he maintained a pleasant attitude which challenged their negativity.  

When reading George’s own essays, combined with the above-mentioned accolades, one definitely gets a sense that George was, at the very least, a kind and spiritually generous man.  Though his philosophy of Universal Law was nothing earth-shatteringly original (he himself admitted that he was just extolling the virtues central to all major religions), he manages to parse it in a way that makes it feel inspirational.  He sums it up thusly:

To be plain, all forms must serve the purpose for which they were created if they are to continue. 

Whether you believe him or not, Adamski was determined to serve what he saw as his purpose: that of spreading the message of peace and love.  The more you read of his works in such books as Inside the Space Ships, the more you realize that outer space was only tangentially interesting to him.  He was truly brought to life by the idea of Universal Law and cosmic order.

But the most exciting part of the book comes at the end, with a lengthy bit about the famous Straith letter, in which Adamski received an apparently real letter from a State Department official claiming to know the truth about the space brothers, and encouraged George to continue his message.  It’s a fascinating story, and what makes it more interesting is that this book was published long before the full story was made public. I’m not about to spoil it if you’re not familiar with the story, but stay tuned to this documentary for more information.

More Concept Art

By | Animation, Contactees, Filmmaking | 2 Comments

No big posts today.  Just some more concept art.

Version 1.  

Update:

After noodling with the picture some more, I came up with a version I liked better.  Tell me what you think.  Granted, the subtleties might be a shade lost on these low res versions.  I’d give you higher res ones, but I have to save something for the film.

Version 2.

Adamski Pre-Production Inspirational Sketches

By | Animation, Contactees, Filmmaking | No Comments

Though this is the production blog for They Rode the Flying Saucers, I have posted relatively little about the actual production of this film.  I thought I’d try to correct that a little bit with this entry.

A significant portion of this film will ultimately be animated, as most of the people in it are, unfortunately, deceased.  To steel myself for the coming onslaught of animation I will have to be doing in the very near future, I have been following a tradition of animation established long ago by the Disney studios–the inspirational sketch.

Adamski et Orthon, circa 1952

Disney, and other studios besides, have artists whose specific job is to come up with as many ideas as they possibly can about whatever the film is about.  If they’re making a film about, say, a genie in a magical lamp, then these artists will make amazing oil paintings, sketches, watercolors, and sculpture about genies and magical lamps.  These works of art–and they are incredibly, unbelievably artistic–are like concept cars.  They may be super cool, but they never see the light of day.  You won’t see these things in the final films, though they are the seeds from which the art of the production grows.  They are unrestricted by narrative and market needs, and so they have an unfettered ability to stimulate the imagination.

What some have said they think of when they hear the title of this film.

Over the past several years, I have been doodling in notebooks and on napkins, coming up with images, ideas that can convey portions of this film for which there is no footage or imagery to cover.

Here are a few sketches I’ve done of George Adamski.  These are not, I should emphasize, scenes or portions thereof that will be appearing in the finished film.  These are only concepts, ideas to get me thinking visually about which directions to go.

What’s Your Style of Contact?

By | Contactees | No Comments

As with anything, discussing Contactees as a group implies a sort of monolithic status that isn’t entirely accurate, because there was quite a bit of variation in the tales they told.  Not only were there differences in who they were contacted by, or what planet they were from, but also the method of contact.

The ones that tend to have greater pop-culture cred claimed “nuts and bolts” contacts.  That is, they met extraterrestrial beings in the flesh, who took them on physical craft, and whisked them away to other, real places such as Venus or the moon.  George Adamski and Howard Menger fall in this group.  Adamski, in particular, was quick to point out that his contacts were physical and not some sort of hallucination or induced trance-vision, because he felt that you could not “trust the source” otherwise.

Adamski and Orthon

Other Contactees claimed psychic contact, generally in the form of telepathy, automatic writing, or channeling.  Channeling is the process originated by oracles of old, utilized heavily by the spiritualists of the early 20th century, and resurrected by Contactees.  Today, many New Age groups utilize channeling.  Essentially, it is something like a voluntary possession of an individual by higher power, who then speaks through the individual to spread a particular message.  George King often channeled the being Aetherius, who had no physical body, but rather an etherical one.

George King during a channeling session

Some were not content to be fully in either camp.  George Van Tassel would gather people in a tiny room under Giant Rock to hear Ashtar, Soltan, or Knut speak through his vocal chords.  Though that sounds like channeling, Van didn’t claim a psychic methodology; he was being subjected to the Omnibeam and Adaphon, devices which allowed a two-way communication between he and the ETs. The beings could actually “take over” Van’s body and voice.  But Van also claimed to have physically met beings and had ridden on their craft, so he had that “nuts and bolts” thing going, too.

The reason I’m pointing out these differences is that these stories sound an awful lot like another kind of story told throughout human history: that of angelic and/or spiritual contact.

Take channeling.  In ancient human history, there were mediums, shamans, and holy men and women who claimed an ability to speak to the dead.  In some cases, these might occur like conversations, in which only the medium was aware of both sides of the conversation.  In other cases, the shaman might enter the world of the dead (in which he was taken up into the sky and met with angelic sky beings).  Or, the dead person might temporarily “possess” the medium, speaking through the medium’s vocal chords for all present to hear.

Mediumship became big business in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when seances were all the rage.  Desperate heirs seeking their father’s will attempted to contact him on the other side via a medium and find out where he’d hidden it.  Before the advent of talkies and television, people entertained themselves by holding a seance and speaking with William Shakespeare or George Washington.

Or by comparing manicures

There are many examples of physical contact with angels and other supernatural beings, as well.  In the bible, Lot was visited by two angels, indistinguishable from humans. Many cultures on earth have tales of “little people” such as elves, fairies and leprechauns.  Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are evil, but generally, they’re somewhere in between.

The Contactees and the prophets and the mediums share one trait, for all their somewhat superficial differences, and it is this that makes them an interesting topic of study: they were singled out by higher powers and given the task of spreading a message of peace and love to all humankind.

All the way from aboriginal shamans to sunburned trip-tourists taking their first hit of ayahuasca; religious leaders and prophets like Mohammed and Joseph Smith; New Agers and Theosophists; even college bound, newly-minted adults suddenly exposed to a world larger than the one they’re leaving.  Encountering a higher power is, such as that last example suggests, something of a graduation to a new level of experience, an invitation to go beyond that which has come before.

There’s plenty of difference between all of these groups in terms of what practices they preach, what methods of achieving peace they promote, and what groups are worthy of salvation.  I don’t want to suggest any sort of equity of import between them.  Some are major religions, some are guys on a street corner with a sandwich board declaring “The End is Nigh”, some are bestselling authors claiming they’ve met the face of ET and he is us.  I’m only comparing their basic “origin stories.”

The Stranger in the Pentagon

By | Contactees, Filmmaking, Reviews | No Comments

The other night, I was fortunate enough to score a ticket to a sold-out screening of two classic-UFO-inspired short films at the Burbank Film Festival.  The first was The Maury Island Incident, which tells the allegedly true story behind the long-dismissed UFO case from 1947.  It was an entertaining film, though one more relevant to this blog was the second in the screening,  Stranger at the Pentagon, directed by Craig Campobasso.  A complete story in its own right, it’s also a sales piece for the eventual feature, and is based on the book of the same name by one of the classic Contactees, Dr. Frank E. Stranges.

Dr. Frank to his friends.

Stranges, who passed away in 2008, was an evangelical minister who claimed to have met a man named Valiant Thor in 1959.  Val, as he was commonly called, was from the interior of Venus and was a VIP guest of the US Government while he tried to offer assistance (in the form of new technologies to eliminate death and aging, among other things) to the people of Earth.  This assistance was rejected by the President at the time, Dwight D. Eisenhower, on the grounds that it would destroy the economy.

Being that this was a short film, it necessarily breezed over many of the details of Dr. Frank’s story, but still managed to be thoroughly enjoyable.  Both the narrative and visual styles were reminiscent of the ’60s, in all its Technicolor-hued, brightly lit glory.  They visual effects were very advanced for a short film, capturing a happy place between a ’60s aesthetic and a modern, iPod-influenced high tech.

If you get the opportunity to see this film, or donate to its completion, please do so.  But beyond the scope of the film (at least the short version) is what I find very interesting about this story…that of religion and the Contactees.

Many, such as Carl Sagan, have decried the Contactees as fanatics more akin to religious sects than to a scientific-minded group, despite their many scientific claims.  And though it’s often relegated to the background of the Contactee stories, religion is an integral part of those same stories.

Much like the rest of the world when it comes to religion, however, there was a fair amount of dissent amongst the Contactees.  The questions that come up are endless…how does salvation work on a universal scale?  Is heaven peopled with nonhuman aliens?  Did Buddha reincarnate on another planet?  Are there other religions in space that we don’t have here?  Was Ganesha’s odd appearance due to him being an alien? Did Jesus save the souls of the denizens of other planets?

To many of the Contactees, though not Dr. Stranges, the answer to that last question was yes.  Val Thor spoke of how while the Space Brothers were not actually Christian, (as they were perfect beings unspoiled by sin and therefore found religion unnecessary), they were aware of Christianity, and even introduced himself as being from the planet “your Bible refers to as the morning and the evening star.”    I think it’s interesting that a being from a society advanced enough to travel across millions of miles of empty space would describe his homeworld in poetic, rather than scientific terms.  (Such as how Orthon told Adamski that he was from the second planet from the sun.)

One of a handful of photos of Valiant Thor

That, to me, is the poetry of the Contactee stories.  The most intriguing of the stories weren’t just straightforward, technical tales.  In addition to being scientifically advanced, the Space Brothers were also spiritually advanced.  Their art, philosophy, and religion was of a higher order.  Perhaps their manner of thinking would be to put things in terms that we might understand.  As Val was speaking to an evangelical minister, perhaps he deliberately chose to speak in theological terms.

As with any discussion of religion, this is filled with controversy.  Some have criticized the idea of Christian aliens as being awfully convenient for the Christians.  One wonders how a Contactee claiming Allah as the deity of choice on Venus would have fared.

Other Contactees were somewhat more pragmatic in their approach to organized religions and Space Brothers, choosing to say that religion actually originated from outer space.  George King of the Aetherius Society, for example, claimed that Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna were all beings from other worlds who came down to earth to teach us the cosmic laws of outer space.  Perhaps more controversially, he claimed that Krishna was the most advanced of them all, even more than Jesus.  I suspect Dr. Frank would take objection to this characterization.

Still other Contactees took a broader perspective on the idea of religion.  George Adamski promoted the principles of “Universal Law”, which were the guiding rules that govern all citizens of other planets.  Most of these principles are fully compatible with Christianity, as well as with Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam, as they are the core principles of all major religions.  Compatible, that is, provided one dispenses with the organizational and narrative structures of religion and focus instead on the messages being conveyed.  Adamski advocated for the abolition of organized religion in favor of supporting the universal principles that they all shared, because those divisions only caused strife.

And then there are those who claim, even today, that any beings from outer space are damned, because they have not received the Gospels.  Some go so far as to say that what we call extraterrestrials are in fact demons in disguise.  Obviously, this subject is too big to tackle in any single blog post, so I may return to it at a later point.  Or, you can stay tuned and watch the documentary They Rode the Flying Saucers.

The Trickster Spirit

By | Contactees, Mythology, Ramblings, Religion | No Comments

In classical mythology, the figure known as the Trickster takes many guises.  In Judeo-Christian beliefs, it is known as Lucifer or Satan.  In Native American folklore, it’s called Coyote.  The Norse knew it as Loki. Even modern parables such as comics have their own version in the form of the Joker. Widely spaced belief systems, both geographically and temporally, all came up with the same basic notion: a being so clever and devious that it could win our trust, grant our wishes, and make all our dreams come true.  But at a price: everything.

Just ask Faust.

The Trickster can be seen as evil, as the figure of Satan is in many religions today.  Some, such as Coyote, are more playful and mischievous.  But from a wider perspective, the Trickster is a force of nature that protects humanity from its own tendency toward excess. In granting us our deepest wishes, it forces us to face our true selves, the selves we keep hidden from the world and even our own waking minds.  If we give into the temptation, we become corrupted.  Some, like Jesus, were able to resist these temptations and remain true to themselves.  In fact, that is essentially the most fundamental role of many religions: to keep the Trickster at bay.

I can’t be certain that there are actual Tricksters out there, toying with our hearts and minds, but I do know that corruption is real, and it is born out of our successes.  The old phrase “absolute power corrupts absolutely” is a commentary on this phenomenon.

(I should point out that not all corruption is of the “good turning evil” variety.  Corruption could be seen as emotional rust, or a layer of dust, or increasing carelessness in our lives or the failure of remaining vigilant in our quest for self-actualization.)

I’ve seen this tendency toward corruption many times in the general field of UFOlogy and paranormal research.  Many honest researchers seem to become enamored of their own tales and the daring truths they uncover, and they are rewarded with fame, or fortune, or renown.  Some win awards, some sell millions of books, some have movies made about them.  But sooner or later, many (if not most) of them become laughingstocks not only to society at large, but to their own following.  They become so blinded by their apparent success at discovering the secrets of the universe that they lose perspective and cease to question things; that is, they stop doing the very things that brought them their success in the first place.

This, of course, can be said of any industry, not just the study of the paranormal.  But I think when discussing paranormal studies, UFOlogy, and Contactees in particular, it strays closer to the classical mythological context than it does in, say, modern politics or the tech industry.

The Contactees, beginning with George Adamski, rose to great prominence on the strength of their stories. As in any population, the Contactees had their fair share of deceivers and folks in it for a quick buck, but many of them were absolutely sincere.  They had real experiences, or at the very least, thought they had.  They rode this wave of success for a decade or so before cracks began to appear.

Where great crowds once gathered to hear them speak, they eventually found themselves relegated to living rooms where the few remaining true believers could easily fit.  Sometimes, their stories that seemed relatively plausible–i.e. that they had met a being from another planet who was just here to help–had transformed into more and more surreal galaxy-spanning stories of derring-do.  They left the masses behind–those who’d not been fortunate enough to have these experiences could no longer relate to these stories.  Or maybe it was that society moved on to different interests, leaving the Contactees behind, who desperately tried to reclaim their relevance.

Either way, their great success eventually collapsed under its own weight.  Was it the doing of some outside force?  Were the Space Brothers actually manifestations of Loki or Coyote, tricking these people into thinking they were from Venus or Mars or Saturn, and then pulling out the rug from under them for their own amusement?  I’m not here to say.  The idea of a Trickster is at once a terrifying and weirdly comforting thought for me; on the one hand, it suggests that any one of us could fall victim to this effect without any warning.  On the other, it suggests that society as a whole will always be kept away from the brink by this supernatural system of checks and balances.

Loki, from a medieval illuminated manuscript.  You were expecting Tom Hiddleston?

Some have suggested that many of the Contactees did indeed have valid initial experiences; they actually met beautiful blonde flying saucer pilots in the Mojave who told them of peace and love.  But then they were abandoned by the flying saucers altogether (a classic Trickster technique), and turned to fabricating ever more elaborate tales to outdo one another and maintain their position of fame or prominence.

I’ve seen this effect happening before my eyes in other fields, and if nothing else, it is a fascinating window into the mind of humanity.  We flail about until something strikes a chord, then we beat it mercilessly until it gives up every drop of whatever it has to give.  Whether the tales of the Contactees are true or not, they stand, like every great religious parable or myth, as reminders of our own nature.