In Forbidden Science: Volume Four: Journals 1990-1999, The Spring Hill Chronicles, Jacques Vallée writes in the entry for 1 January 1996:
In one recent case an abductee reports seeing human arms and legs piled up like firewood in a corner of a dark room, lit by a blue glow. Ufologists take it at face value. To me the scene has a stunning mythopoetic connection to Germanic fairy tales where a hero spends the night in a haunted castle; little men force him to play bowling games as they knock down bones using human heads that keep dropping down the chimney. In the tale a horrible being reassembles itself out of the members that have appeared chaotically. Is that clear enough?
With Passport to Magonia (1969), Vallée began to probe the relation between modern UFO sightings and entity encounters with premodern narratives, myths, legends, tales, and chronicles of aerial phenomena and meetings with nonhuman intelligences, arguing, at times, that their similarities suggest something about the mystery behind the UFO phenomenon. His approach, in general, has been richer and more sophisticated than the approach summed up in the name von Däniken, though not always. His journal entry (above) is hardly a summation of his own positions, but it is representative of certain pitfalls the line of inquiry can fall into.
As I have argued on a number of occasions, it’s not only the ufologists who take things at face value (as if “face value” were a simple, obvious notion…). All other provisos aside, a preliminary question is exactly how are an alien abduction narrative and a folk tale equivalent kinds of narrative? Before comparing these stories one need get clear on the narrative codes that govern or governed their composition and reception. For example, anyone who takes “at face value” the Hebrews’ forty years wandering in the wilderness after fleeing Egypt and Jesus’ forty days and forty nights retreat before beginning his ministry is simply ignorant of the rhetoric or hermeneutics at work in Biblical narrative.
But even before engaging such substantial and necessary matters, a number of other problems come to mind. Taken “at face value”, assuming that the abduction narrative was retrieved by means of hypnosis, a more parsimonious explanation is that the abductee had been exposed to the fairy tale Vallée has in mind in his or her childhood and the forgotten (i.e., unconscious) content has resurfaced in surreal fashion during the hypnotic regression. Or, if one wants to indulge a more Jungian than Freudian approach, one might posit that the dreamlike memories conjured up under hypnosis and the imagery of the fairy tale both spring from the same mental source, the creative or collective unconscious.
But most tellingly is what’s revealed to be at work in Vallée’s own mind. The “Germanic fairy tale” is very likely the fourth in the Brothers Grimm’s collection, “Märchen von einem, der auszog das Fürchten zu lernen” (“The Tale of a Boy who Went Forth to Learn Fear”). In this tale, there are no “little men” (that might count as analogues to the diminutive Greys presumably present in the abductee’s story), nor, strictly speaking, does “a horrible being reassemble itself out of …members that have appeared chaotically”: first one half, then another half of a man falls through the chimney; the two halves then reassemble themselves into a “hideous man.” Vallée has only dimly (mis)remembered the tale himself, fabulating a version as fictitious as the abductee’s hypnotically retrieved narrative in line with the point he desires both to perceive and make. Once we undertake the simplest philological labour, we see that the abductee’s story and the fairy tale as Vallée remembers it have next to nothing in common, other than, perhaps, certain psychological mechanisms that might be invoked to explain their respective creation.
Whatever what might finally be made of Vallée’s speculations concerning the sometimes very striking parallels between premodern and modern “UFO” narratives (as is the case with Faery and Alien Abductions), if his approach is to have more than a mythopoetic value (which I prize highly!), then a certain minimum of philological and hermeneutic reflection is called for. Is that clear enough?
14 thoughts on “An Alien Abduction & a Fairy Tale: “Is that clear enough?”–A Note”
Please explain what you consider a “hermeneutic reflection”. I am a fairly strong believer in Vallee”s premise that abductions by aliens, fairies and wild forest monsters are all branches of the same tree.
“Hermeneutics” is a Greek term, denoting “the art of interpretation”. Given that Western civilization is a culture of the written text, (e.g., Homer and Bible) it has needed to reflect on and refine understanding. I posit that modern abductee narratives are of a different kind that premodern, e.g., Faery abduction stories, and therefore call for different modes of understanding. To take folk tales and hypnotic regression transcripts in the same way is to do a violence, primarily to our ancestors. That being said, mythopoetically these shared motifs are threads from which the myth is/can be woven, but that’s a far cry from their referring to a/the same reality. Does that answer your much appreciated query?
I suppose it does answer my question, however I do not see how “interpretation” of folk tales which include abduction stories warrants a different art form than an abductee’s recounting of a kidnapping. In the end, both are just tales open to examination. I do agree that hypnotic regression is an unreliable tool, but again, since there is little physical evidence or proof, all the myths and legends, both modern and ancient, are ultimately either oral tradition or literary recordings. The prime difference seems to me a matter of faith as well as speculation, similar to the invisible quests of modern physicists.
I’d argue the difference is between both the contexts within which alien abductee hypnotic regressions and folk tales are produced and within which they are received differs. Why think that a particular patient’s story is even expressed in the same way a folktale is composed?! You see the difference? Though both are narratives, what I tell my therapist is a difference KIND of narrative from a folktale or even a premodern chronicle, because both are using different ways of communicating because they’re communicating for different purposes.
Do you believe hypnotic regression is a valid expression of an experience? I don’t, because it’s an unreliable method of revealing facts. Who knows whether the story is spun from a subject’s unconscious or derived from an unremembered dream? The tale is still a tale, regardless of the context in which it was delivered. Who knows where myths originated and why they persist? They could be real or imagined, which brings us back to Jung’s collective unconscious.
We seem to agree on much, but not on one very critical point. First, though, note, in this post, I’m complicating what Vallée seems to see as obvious: the abductee’s report and the fairy tale might resemble each other because, as you remark, the abductee might be remembering in distorted form a detail from the story they were exposed to, precisely because of the unreliability you mention; alternatively, the imagery might spring from one source, e.g., the Collective Unconscious you, again, remark (and that Vallée, too, seems to believe in). But I can’t agree that “a tale is still a tale”: what, exactly, _is_ a tale? And I must disagree: context is _everything_, because the tale is a linguistic-cultural expression, whose whole possibility to mean is determined by the structures out of which it is spoken and within which it is understood (which implies its meaning will change over time as the tale is received in different contexts). We may not know the origin of myths (which assumes we know just what a myth is), but we do know they are linguistic narratives and, as such, must adhere to the “laws” that make such artefacts possible. These considerations are de rigueur among literary scholars and those engaged in related fields. In the end, what I’m arguing against is the kind of ham-handed (non) hermeneutic that takes the Vision of Ezekiel as a sighting report, which it just isn’t.
“TALE” noun (Definitions from Mirriam-Webster Dictionary)
Definition of tale
1 a : a usually imaginative narrative of an event : story
b : an intentionally untrue reportl
2 a : a series of events or facts told or presented : account
b(1) : a report of a private or confidential matter
(2) a libelous report or piece of gossip
3 a : count, tally
b : total
4 obsolete : discourse, talk
Take your pick (I pick 1 a, to be clear)
Victoria, I’m uncertain of the point you’re trying to make here.
At the level of the word, one could explore its etymology, which is related to ‘tally’, which is why a story is an account, that is recounted; more substantially, there is a vast, scholarly body of work on the folk tale, which, shall we say, complicates matters; even more philosophically, one could dig endlessly into the concept, which is why I question a too-ready, too-easy determination of the being of the tale or myth.
Remember, hermeneutics, the art of interpretation, was developed among the Athenians, because, by the time Homer had become canonical, a school book every school boy had to learn by heart, it wasn’t clear how the myths were to be taken; it became a party game to invent interpretations of myths, as we see at the beginning of Plato’s _Phaedrus_. The sense of ‘tale’ differs for fairy tales and the tales of Edgar Allen Poe, which, strictly, are a new genre he invents, or, for that matter, the tales of Hoffman, which strictly speaking, or “post-tales”, artful, literate, and ironic, as opposed to spontaneous and oral (as if that’s a distinction that can be maintained for very long…). For these reasons, I cast into doubt the assumption that the telling of tales is spatiotemporally homogeneous, somehow “natural” to humankind, though we undoubtedly are narrative, being speaking and temporal, beings. And so I take exception to Vallée’s immediate association of the abduction account with the Grimms fairy tale he vaguely remembers, as if it were so simple, assuming it is at all clear just what point _he_ wants to make with the equation!
But I doubt I’ve touched on your response…
I’m left wondering how representative such journal entries are of Valee’s thinking and if he’s presenting them as part of a process or as representing a finished position. If the latter, you’re making some helpful criticisms for sure. His remarks wouldn’t get far in a folklore seminar in my old department.
I’ve read pretty much everything Vallee’s written, and the journal entry strikes me as fairly representative…
Thanks Bryan. I’ve opened my blog to your perusal. There’s not much there, and what there is I don’t much care for. But I’d welcome any constructive criticism if you find the time for it.