Jung’s Ufological Bookshelf: Gerald Heard, The Riddle of the Saucers: Is Another World Watching?

51hyugp-u1lGerald Heard. The Riddle of the Saucers:  Is Another World Watching? London:  Winter and Worsfold, 1950. 157pp.

In the commentary to the third dream Jung analyzes in his Flying Saucers, he writes:

A round metallic object appears, described as a flying spider….we are reminded of the hypothesis that Ufos are a species of insect from another planet and possessing a shell or carapace that shines like metal. An analogy would be the metallic-looking chitinous covering of our beetles. Each Ufo is supposed to be a single insect, not a swarm. (46)

The idea that the Ufo might be an extraterrestrial insect, the footnote to this passage tells us, is found in Sievers’ Flying Saucers über Südafrika that “mentions Gerald Heard’s hypothesis that they are a species of bee from Mars”.

If UFO reports constitute a “visionary rumour” then Heard’s book reads like a link in the chain of gossip, what Jung called “sensation mongering” in the case of ordinary rumours, despite Heard’s calling his book a “report” several times in the Foreward. Loosely written both in presentation of the cases and in their documentation (e.g., Heard refers to what Arnold saw as discs or saucers (12)) Heard’s book might seem a hack’s attempt to cash in on the public interest in the new phenomenon (written between late 1947 and late 1950), until one discovers what a widely-published and highly-regarded figure he was, a graduate of Cambridge, the author of thirty-eight books, and a friend of Aldous Huxley.

Nevertheless, despite being one of the earliest books on the topic Jung consults, it sets out both the (to us) well-known and well-worn history of the earliest years of the modern phenomenon as well as the more general lineaments of the myth with which readers today will be well familiar.

In the opening chapters, Heard recounts Kenneth Arnold’s inaugural sighting of 24 June 1947; the UAL sighting of 4 July 1947; the Maury Island incident; the Muroc sighting of 8 July 1947; and Fred Johnson’s Cascade Mountain sighting 24 June 1947, famously before Arnold’s and including the first association of magnetic anomalies with the presence of the saucers, the hands on Johnson’s compass spinning wildly while the discs he witnessed were overhead. Heard continues with the Chiles/Whitted case of 23 July 1948; the death of Thomas Mantell, 7 January 1948; and the Gorman Dogfight, 1 October 1948. Heard concludes the first, historical half of his volume detailing the efforts of Project Saucer. Heard then, tediously, turns his attention to the mystery of the nature, origin, and intent of the discs, concluding, first, that their technology, because of its performance capabilities must be non-terrestrial. He is thereby moved to reflect on those characteristics, shape, size (including terming the largest “motherships”), velocity, silence, and apparent intelligent behaviour, remarking, in the process, on the earliest photographic evidence, in this case, the Trent/McMinville photo. He goes on to propose mcinvillethe discs’ pilots, like we would soon be, are space explorers. He then ranges over the possible origins of the discs and concludes with the hypothesis Jung notes, that the pilots are likely “super bees”—from Mars. Further evidence of Mars’ being the discs’ homebase is the peculiar size, appearance, and orbits of Mars’ moons, Demos and Phobos, whose oddness prompts Heard to propose they are artificial, orbital launch platforms. Heard then, in classic, ufological style, detours into a catalogue of premodern sightings, from the Eighteenth Century to Foo-fighters and Ghost Rockets, before speculating that the Martian bees’ purpose is likely to observe our industrial, technological, and military development, and to determine what threat the earth might pose to Mars, drawn in the first instance by their witnessing the detonation of atomic bombs. Heard concludes by summarizing the classic argument that, since the flying dics are neither hallucination nor terrestrial they must therefore be extraterrestrial.

In the course of the above narration, he expresses ideas that will become commonplace. Already, in the forward, the flying saucers are “some sort of super flying-machine”. Reliable witness reports are debunked or suppressed by authorities, whether the press or “Air-authorities”. Evidence is murderously suppressed by the military or government, as evidenced by the B-52 crash and death of USAF officers Brown and Davidson August 1947 transporting samples of the Maury Island ejecta. Heard categorizes the dramatis personae of the mystery into three characters: the reliable, trained but mystified witness; the witness reluctant to report his experience; and the suppressing authorities. The haughty dismissal of the mystery of the saucers is compared to that of psychical research or  Eighteenth century reports of meteorites. The UFO is described as possessing what are now the classic shapes of discs or torpedoes and of making impossibly tight turns. Heard posits the explanation that the Flying Saucers were said to be U.S. secret weapons or feared to be foreign, that the public revelation of their extraterrestrial origin would result in a “War of the Worlds” hysterical reaction, their being extraterrestrial borne out by the Saucer’s technology being ahead of ours, likely relying on magnetism or antigravity. Finally, as noted, it was the flash of A-bomb blasts that piqued the Martians’ curiosity.

For all its turgid near unreadability, Heard’s book possesses at least two (almost) saving graces. For such an early work, it presciently identifies and describes salient cases that will become “classics” and reflects on them in a manner that will be repeated over the coming decades. Remarkably, Heard’s imagining the ETs are insectoid uncannily foresees the various mantid species that will make their entrance most markedly with the advent of the Abduction phenomenon. Most importantly, though, Heard’s “hypothesis” that the pilots of the flying discs are Martian bees is developed from his ruminations about terrestrial bees, concluding they are possessed of an intelligence equal to that of humankind, being social, and capable of both calculation and communication. That he does not anthropomorphize the extraterrestrial as too many will and still do but discovers a nonhuman intelligence in our own backyard makes Heard a radical, ecological thinker avant le lettre, decentering the ontotheological primacy of human intelligence and of humankind in the process.

bee face

4 thoughts on “Jung’s Ufological Bookshelf: Gerald Heard, The Riddle of the Saucers: Is Another World Watching?

  1. Heard likely did not think of himself as a radical. The idea of Mars being inhabited by insects was offered by a cousin of Darwin, Francis Galton, as early as 1896 in the context of fantasizing that Earth-Mars communication might involve a base 8 code (6 limbs, 2 antennae) because Mars-folk were “nothing more than highly-developed ants.” In 1898 Edward Mason penned a more formal paper proposing life on other planets might be similar to ants and dragonflies. Around the same time, multiple writers of scientific romances began playing with the idea that other planets could be in carboniferous ages and have life in giant forms like those seen in fossils like giant dragonflies. Wells followed in 1901 with First Men in the Moon having a society of insectile Selenites. Depictions of large bugs infested the Gernsback pulps and writers like E.E. “Doc’ Smith, Edgar Rice Burroughs, even Lovecraft played with ideas of alien insects. M.C. Escher in 1935 famously drew “Dream (Mantis Religioso)” where the bug was standing on the chest of some Catholic figure. Peter Birkhauser, an artist whose work appears in Jung’s saucer mythology book, did a drawing of a dream circa 1944 where he had to defend himself against a man-sized praying mantis at the time of his analysis with Marie Franz.
    I also consider interesting that the March 14, 1950 issue of the Los Angeles Times ran an article titled “Professor’s Idea – Saucer Pilots Could Be Smart Bugs or Plants.” In which Dr. Gerald Kuiper, professor of astronomy at University of Chicago, is reported as speculating that any little Martian who steps out of a flying saucer would be either an intellectual insect or an even more incredible vegetable creature. This is because the atmosphere has no oxygen, only carbon dioxide, meaning that most life as we know it could not survive there except for plants or maybe forms of insect life. Heard may seem prescient, but he was part of a tradition of science and science fiction speculations that was quite orthodox within the genre he was part of.


  2. martin s. kottmeyer,

    Thanks for the encyclopedic addendum! some of this material could well be woven into the poetic speculations in the post concerning Heard’s super-bees following this one.

    I don’t believe I make any claims for Heard’s being especially “radical” or necessarily original in this regard, though I can imagine how my remarks about the prescience of UFOs being piloted by super bees from Mars might be taken that way. The project of “Jung’s Ufological bookshelf” is to review those ten or so UFO books remarked in Jung’s book on Flying Saucers and to make of them what I can and may.

    Your point re his cultural context is very well taken, especially the reference to Kuiper’s 1950 speculation. Given that Heard’s book was published late the same year, it’s possible either that he had read it and ran with Kuiper’s speculations or that he worked (and in Heard’s case, if you’ve ever had the misfortune of reading his prose, I emphasize that word, ‘worked’!) from the same considerations re what was known of Mars’ atmosphere at the time and arrived at the same guess.

    That being said, just why the insectoid plays the role it does in alien abduction narratives and New Age extraterrestrial pantheons is a theme, as Whitman would way, with vista, with roots that run back, as your intervention makes abundantly clear, into Western culture and its imaginary.

    Thanks, again, for the very rich intervention!


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