3. Shadows of
I have received thousands of calls and letters from people who have
memories of unusual experiences that have been greatly disturbing to
them. They have searched for years in vain to discover the origin of
They think that I might be able to help
them. Of course, a person's experiencing unusual events does not
necessarily mean he or she is an abductee. I have designed a
screening process to eliminate those people who are not serious
about their quest (they might merely be on a lark), those who are
not emotionally prepared to look into their experiences, and those
who have not had, in my estimation, experiences suggesting that they
First, I purposely put them through a series of tasks. I require
them to fill out a questionnaire about the experiences that
propelled them to come forward, and about others that they might not
have realized could be part of the abduction phenomenon (for
example, "Have you ever seen a ghost?"). I ask them to send the
completed questionnaire to me and then to call back. I analyze the
questionnaire and decide if their experiences are significant enough
to warrant further investigation with hypnosis.
When I talk with them again, I try to
persuade them not to look into what could be a Pandora's Box. I give
them a strong and frank warning about the dangers of going forward
with hypnosis and uncovering an abduction event: They might become
depressed, they might have sleep disturbances, they might feel
emotionally isolated, and so forth. In effect, they could easily be
trading one set of problems for another. I urge them to talk over
their decision with their loved ones and call me back later. I then
send them a pamphlet that reiterates my warnings so that they can
make as informed a decision as possible.
About 30 percent of the people who contact me decide not to undergo
hypnosis at this point. This is the right decision for them no
matter what their reasons. If they do decide to go forward with the
process, I give them another verbal warning about the potential
dangers and, if they are still willing, we make an appointment for a
By the time they arrive for their first hypnosis
regression, I have typically already spent several hours talking to
them, and they , are aware of the problems that might result from
their regressions. They are also aware that what they remember, if
anything, may not necessarily be accurate or even true.
When they finally arrive at my home, we climb the stairs to my
third-floor office and talk for an hour or two before we begin
hypnosis. We agree about which event in their lives we want to
investigate during this session. It might be, for example, a period
of missing time, or an incident in which they awoke and found little
men standing around their bed. They then lie down on my day-couch
and close their eyes, and I begin a simple relaxation induction that
allows them to concentrate and focus. At their first session, they
are often puzzled because they are not in some "dreamland" or
because they feel quite normal. They find that they can argue with
me, get up and go to the bathroom, and be completely in control.
I never know what is going to come out of a hypnosis session. If the
subject recalls an abduction event—and there are "false alarms,"
when it seems that an abduction might have taken place but it did
not—I begin a series of cautious questions, usually in a
conversational style, that organically spring from what they are
Some abductees recount their experiences with detachment, as
though they were looking back at the past from a present-day
standpoint, others relive their memories as if they were the age at
which the event took place. Some are calm about what is happening to
them, others are so frightened it becomes difficult for them to
continue, although I gently help them through the experience.
Some remember the events haltingly, as
the memories come in spurts and starts. Others have trouble
describing their experiences because the memories rush back in a
flood. Nearly all abductees recall their experiences with a
combination of astonishment, surprise, and familiarity. When they
are finished, they remember what happened to them, and we talk about
their account for an hour or so. When the abductee leaves my office
about five hours have passed.1
Even with all my warnings and the preliminary discussions before the
first session, about 25 percent stop at this point—usually they are
too frightened to go on. For those who continue with me, I conduct
as many hypnosis sessions with them as I can. They desperately want
to understand what has happened to them and how it has influenced
their lives. I have conducted as many as thirty-three sessions with
one individual, although the average for all the 110 abductees with
whom I have worked is six. I usually do not go over the same event
My style of questioning is not interrogatory. I engage in a
give-and-take with the abductee after I am sure that they cannot and
will not be led, even inadvertently. I force them to think carefully
about the events. I try to give them perspective and the ability to
analyze as they remember. Above all, I try to "normalize" them so
they can extricate themselves from the unconscious emotional grip
the phenomenon often has had them in throughout their lives. I try
to give them the strength to untangle themselves from the
abductions' psychological effects so that they can get on with their
lives without having to constantly think about their situation. I
like to get them to the point where they no longer feel the
necessity to seek out a hypnotist to understand what has been
happening to them.
Hypnosis is easy.
As long as a person wants to be
hypnotized, anybody can do it. Asking the right questions in the
right way, at the right time, and interpreting the answers is where
the trouble comes in. The correct dynamic between hypnotist and
abductee depends on the amount of knowledge the hypnotist has
acquired about the abduction phenomenon, the experience he or she
has with hypnosis, and the preconceptions the hypnotist brings to
the session. In addition, the hypnotist must help the abductee cope
with the sometimes traumatic memories by intervening therapeutically
during the session to provide context and reassurance.
Thus, a competent hypnotist/researcher
must have a professional knowledge of hypnosis, a thorough knowledge
of the abduction phenomenon, a familiarity with confabulation and
false memories, and skill in therapy. Unfortunately, there are few
individuals with those qualifications.
All competent researchers quickly learn that memory is unreliable.
It is not unusual for a person to remember details of a "normal"
traumatic event inaccurately.
Researchers have shown that they can
make people remember something that never happened. A casual, but
calculated, discussion of an event with a person can instill
"memories" in him that have no basis in reality. Through the passage
of time, memory also degrades, events blend into one another, and
fantasy intrudes upon reality.
I was extremely fortunate to have encountered unreliable memory the
very first time I conducted a hypnotic regression session.
Melissa Bucknell, a twenty-seven-year-old real estate management employee,
and I agreed before the session to investigate an incident that had
occurred when she was six years old. She began by describing playing
in a field with a friend of hers. She bent over to look at a
butterfly, froze in that position, and then found herself being
lifted into a hovering UFO. Strange-looking beings removed her
clothes and placed her on a table. They conducted a physical
examination and, to her embarrassment, did a gynecological procedure
After the examination, a more human-looking alien, whom she called
Sanda, led her into a hallway where she met a small alien. Melissa
was required to touch the small alien's head and immediately felt
love, warmth, and affection emanating from him. Sanda then took her
into another room in which a council of several aliens sat around a
table. The aliens discussed how bright, strong, and good Melissa was
and said she would have the same traits as an adult. After that she
was led down a hallway, her clothes were put back on, and she was
taken to the field where she had been before.
Later that evening, I listened to the audio tape that I had made of
the session. To my horror, I discovered that Melissa had spoken too
softly to be picked up by my tape recorder's condenser microphone.
The tape had almost nothing on it. I continued to work with Melissa,
and three months after our first session, I suggested that we
revisit our initial abduction regression, explaining that I had had
a problem with the tape recorder.
This time Melissa was less sure about what had happened. She
described floating up into the UFO. She remembered the gynecological
portion of her examination, which she once again was embarrassed to
relate. She talked about how the beings lifted her up off the table,
redressed her, and took her back to the field. But to my surprise,
she did not relate the hallway encounter with the small gray alien,
during which she was required to touch his head and feel his love.
The meeting in which the aliens sat around a table and discussed her
development was also absent from her new account.
I was perplexed. The first time Melissa had told me about the small
alien with great conviction and emotion. Now when I asked her about
the encounter, she was not sure that it had ever happened. I then
questioned her about the council meeting with the aliens. Melissa
thought for a second and said that perhaps this had happened to
another abductee with whom she had been friends. She was pretty sure
that it had not happened to her.
This experience taught me an invaluable lesson because I realized
that, in all sincerity and honesty, abductees might sometimes
remember things that were not true. I resolved to work out a strict
methodology to ensure vigilance about false memories. As my research
progressed and an abductee reported something I had never heard
before, I would wait for confirmation by another abductee unaware of
the testimony. I carefully questioned every inconsistency, gap, or
logical leap. I worked for a complete chronology and tried to obtain
a second-by-second recounting of each abduction event, with no
skips, no gaps, and no omissions.
I never received, nor did I ever hear of, another report of an
abductee who had been required to touch an alien's head and receive
loving emotions. I have heard a few reports of aliens sitting behind
a "desk" and talking to the abductee, but the circumstances were
quite different from Melissa's account. Also, Melissa would never,
in our more than thirty abduction sessions, recall a similar event.
All this suggested that she might have unconsciously absorbed a
memory fragment from her abductee friend and been confused about
Melissa had done me a tremendous favor. She had taught me the
dangers of hypnotically recalled testimony.
It was a lesson I was
grateful to learn, and one that all abduction hypnotists and
researchers have to learn.
Normal Event Memory
Normal memory is not well understood. Neurologists know that the
human brain registers events and gives them a "priority" code. For
example, remembering a crime you witnessed receives a higher
priority than remembering who passed you on the street. The brain
then organizes the material according to its sensory impact. It
first places the visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile component
parts in short-term memory and then, if these are important enough,
it stores them in the myriad neurological sites that constitute
The brain has a retrieval system to recall memory in a variety of
ways: by thinking about the event; by allowing another event to
trigger recall; or by allowing a sight, sound, smell, or touch to
facilitate recall. Memory may also reside in one's consciousness
without a triggering mechanism, such as difficult — to — forget
Memory is not stored linearly. It is stored in a "relational"
database, where various bits of memory are placed in various
neurological "slots." The date and time of an event are stored in
one slot, location in another, sounds associated with the event in
another, color and smells in yet other slots, feelings in another,
and so on. Each of these memory fragments can be forgotten. Each can
decay and become distorted. Sometimes a person recalls a memory
fragment that only makes sense if the person unconsciously creates a
scenario, even if it is a fictional scenario, to incorporate it.2
Given the complexities of memory, it is to be expected that many
critics of the abduction phenomenon argue that abductions are only
tricks that the mind plays on people. They point to false memory
syndrome, to screen memories, and to media "contamination" to
explain abduction accounts. They also attack the use of hypnosis in
recalling events on the grounds that it, too, can elicit false
Are their objections valid?
False Memory Syndrome
Critics of the abduction phenomenon charge that abductees, often
with the encouragement of researchers, unknowingly concoct abduction
fantasies. That people can have false memories is beyond doubt.
Given certain circumstances, they can, for example, invent complex
accounts of sexual and physical abuse. The False Memory Syndrome
Foundation in Philadelphia is filled with members who have been
unfairly accused of sexual abuse.
False memories of abuse occur when people remember events, usually
as children, that did not happen. Nevertheless, the details the
victims relate can be extraordinary. They relive their experiences
with the emotional impact of real events. Some remember Satanic
cults that terrorized them and even killed babies in human sacrifice
rituals. When the "victims" are confronted with facts (investigators
have not found dead babies; no babies were reported missing at the
time and place of the ritual abuse cases), they angrily provide
explanations—such as that the mothers themselves were Satanists who
gave up their babies for sacrificial purposes and did not report
People can convey false memories with
such conviction and sincerity that they have fooled many
investigators. Uncovering false memories of sexual abuse can also
lead to major emotional upheavals in people's lives. Families are
torn apart, siblings are estranged, lawsuits are instituted,
innocent people are unjustly accused and even jailed.
Uncovering false memories is usually facilitated by a therapist who
is convinced that a client has been sexually abused (or whatever
abuse the false memory recounts), even though the client has no
memory of it. Through insistent persuasion, the therapist inculcates
the idea into his client that all his emotional problems stem from
the repression of the memory of some earlier trauma.
The therapist might tell the client that
if he thinks hard enough, he will remember the traumatic event.
Healing can only begin, the therapist says, after the memories begin
to flow. Not remembering the trauma means that the victim is in
denial, and denial becomes further "proof" of the abuse. Caught in
this loop, the victim of an earnest but misguided therapist finds it
difficult to break out. Eventually, as in the widely publicized case
of Paul Ingram and his daughters, the subject "remembers" the
There are expert investigators of false memory syndrome, who have
had extensive experience with allegations of sexual abuse and are
able to detect false memories. However, they have begun to extend
their expertise to areas in which, unfortunately, they are not
expert. The abduction phenomenon has become an irresistible target.
For example, psychologist and hypnosis specialist Michael Yapko
writes, in Suggestions of Abuse, that the abduction phenomenon is
simply a matter of "the phenomenon of human suggestibility," which
causes him "irritation and disbelief."4
Psychologist and memory
expert Elizabeth Loftus, in her book The Myth of Repressed Memory,
treats abductions as a form of irrationality engaged in by otherwise
"sane and intelligent" people.5
She cites psychologist Michael Nash's
assertions that he "successfully treated" a man who claimed that he
had a sperm sample taken from him during an abduction. Using
hypnosis and other therapeutic techniques, Nash calmed the man and
helped him return to his normal routine, but, Nash laments, "He
walked out of my office as utterly convinced that he had been
abducted as when he had walked in." Loftus agrees with Nash that the
power of this man's false memories enabled him to continue to
believe his ridiculous story.6
Loftus and Nash, along with other critics, are incorrect. Neither
they nor any other critics have ever presented evidence that
abduction accounts are the products of false memory syndrome (or,
for that matter, of any causative factor other than what the
abductees have experienced). The reason they have not presented this
evidence is that they do not understand the abduction phenomenon. If
they did, they would realize that abduction accounts differ from
false memory syndrome in five significant areas.
In contrast to victims of false memory syndrome, abductees do not
recount only childhood experiences. They do, of course, recall
abduction events during childhood, because the abduction phenomenon
begins in childhood, but they also recall abduction events as
adults. In fact, many abduction accounts, unlike false memory
accounts, are of very recent events. Of the last 450 abductions that
I have investigated, nearly 30 percent happened within the previous
thirty days and over 50 percent had occurred within the past year. I
have also investigated abduction events that were reported to me
only a few hours, or even a few minutes, after they took place.7
In 1991, for example, Jason Howard, a schoolteacher, was on his way
to my house for an abductee support group meeting. He put on his
shoes, which he keeps by the front door. It is the last thing he
always does before he leaves his house. Suddenly it was four hours
later and Jason was on his bed in his bedroom upstairs. He called me
immediately, explaining that he vaguely remembered putting on his
shoes and then lying on the couch. When I conducted a hypnotic
session on this event, Jason remembered putting on one shoe and then
feeling an irresistible urge to lie on the couch.
He recalled that
small beings appeared in his living room and floated him directly up
through the ceiling into a waiting UFO. A series of procedures
followed, including sperm sampling and mental envisioning sequences.
The aliens returned him to his house,
but instead of putting him on the couch, where he was at the
beginning of the abduction, they put him on his bed in his upstairs
bedroom. When he came to consciousness, he realized that something
had happened, and he called me. The immediate reporting of this
event does not fit the description of false memory syndrome.
In contrast to victims of false memory syndrome, abductees have
indirect corroboration of events. For example, I was on the phone
with Kay Summers, whose abduction experiences began while we were
talking. She described a roaring noise sometimes associated with the
beginning of an abduction, and I could hear this noise over the
phone. Hypnosis later revealed that soon after she hung up the
phone, she was abducted. False memories do not take shape
simultaneously with the occurrence of actual events during which a
researcher is an indirect corroborator.
In contrast to victims of false memory syndrome, abductees often
remember events without the aid of a therapist. They can remember
events that happened to them at .specific times in their lives. They
have always known that the event happened, and they do not need a
therapist to reinforce their memories.
In contrast to victims of false memory syndrome, abductees are
physically missing during the event. The abductee is not where he is
supposed to be; people who search for him cannot find him. The
abductee is usually aware that there is a gap of two or three hours
that neither he nor anyone else can account for.
Such physical corroboration does not exist in false memory.
In contrast to victims of false memory syndrome, abductees can
provide independent confirmation of the abduction. Approximately 20
percent of abductions include two or more people who see each other
during the abduction event. They sometimes independently report this
to the investigator.
In addition, it is important to note that unlike victims of false
memory syndrome, abductees do not usually experience disintegration
of their personal lives after they become aware of their situation.
In fact, in many ways the opposite takes place. When abductees
undergo competent hypnosis and understand the nature of their
memories, they often begin to take intellectual and emotional
control over these memories.
They feel more confident as they realize
that their supposedly inappropriate thoughts and fears over the
years (for example, fear of going into the bedroom at night,
thoughts about lying on a table in a strange room surrounded by
creatures, being unduly frightened of physicians) were appropriate
reactions to a powerful, but unknown, stimulus. By remembering the
events, abductees seize control of the fears that have plagued them
for years and get their lives back in order, even though they know
that the abduction phenomenon will not cease.
Knowledge of the abduction phenomenon
helps them to lead more "integrated" lives, rather than having the
powerfully disintegrating effects so common with victims of false
Screen Memories of Sexual Abuse
Before false memory syndrome came to prominence, therapists assumed
that abduction accounts were due to repressed memories of sexual
abuse in childhood. They postulated that because the abuse was so
traumatic, the victim unconsciously transposed the abuse into an
abduction account. To cope with the terror, the person lived with
the more "acceptable" trauma of being kidnapped by aliens.
There is no evidence for this explanation. There are no instances on
record of an abduction account being a "screen memory" of sexual
abuse. In fact, the opposite is true. There is a great deal of
evidence that people "remember" being sexually abused when in
reality they were victimized by the abduction phenomenon.
Jack Thernstrom remembers walking with his sister in a wooded area
behind their house when he was twelve. On the walk Jack met a man
wearing "dark glasses" who sexually abused him. He was unclear about
the details, but he remembered having his clothes taken off and his
genitals exposed. He was unclear about what happened to his sister,
but he thought that perhaps she had run away. He never told anybody
about the event, and he lived for the next eighteen years with the
traumatic memory that he had been subjected to sexual abuse by a
When Jack recounted the episode during
hypnotic regression, the man with dark glasses turned out to be an
alien, and the incident was a routine abduction event in which Jack
underwent a physical examination. He had not been sexually abused.
Jack had formed a "memory" of bits and pieces of the event so that,
horrible as it might have been, an account of sexual abuse made
sense to him.8
In another case, "Julie" recalled an event that occurred when she
was ten years old. She was at home in the basement bar with her
father and three neighbors. She remembered her father holding her
hands above her head while the neighbors sexually assaulted her. In
hypnotic regression the woman revealed that this had been an
abduction event, which began when she was in the basement bar with
her father and his friends. The father and two of the neighbors were
placed in an immobile and semiconscious state ("switched off")
during the event.
The aliens took her and one neighbor,
Mr. Sylvester, out of the basement and into a UFO. During the
abduction event, she was made to visualize scenes of sexual contact
between a man and a woman (she thought that perhaps the man was Mr.
Sylvester). When the episode was over, the aliens returned her and
the neighbor to the bar. She had not been sexually violated on that
occasion. Mr. Sylvester, whom she despised for years after, turned
out to be as much a victim as she was.9
Obviously, not all sexual abuse cases are abduction events. An
abductee remembered that she had been sexually assaulted when she
was thirteen. She did not remember how she got downstairs into her
teenage assailant's basement bedroom, and she was confused about
other details. Suspecting that this could be a screen memory for an
abduction, we reviewed it under hypnosis. She remembered the boy,
how she got downstairs, what happened in the basement, and what
happened afterward. She had no memories of seeing aliens, being
transported out of the house, or being on board a UFO.
She had been
sexually assaulted and not abducted.
Star Trek has, in essence, become part of American consciousness.
Millions of people have seen these fictional accounts of humans and
aliens, just as many people have seen reports of abductions on
television or have read books about them. Society has been so imbued
with stories about alien abductions that it is difficult for most
people to escape them. A "pure" abduction account is increasingly
difficult to obtain.
The problem of media influence on UFO and abduction reports has long
plagued UFO researchers. Over the years, investigators have learned
to judge each UFO sighting on its own merits, and they have
developed a methodology to "separate the signal from the noise." The
credibility of the witness, the quality of the information, and the
corroborating accounts of other witnesses have all become criteria
in evaluating the validity of the report. Researchers now apply this
process to abduction reports.
Does media contamination present a significant problem for abduction
Although it does occur from time to
time, in fact, most abductees are extremely sensitive to the dangers
of cultural influences. When they examine their memories with me,
they are acutely conscious of the possibility that they might have
"picked up" an incident and incorporated it into their own account.
In the first few sessions of hypnosis, self-censorship is so heavy
that it becomes a problem. People do not want to say things that
make them seem crazy, and they do not want to parrot something back
to the researcher that they picked up in society. They will tell me
during hypnosis when they think they might have mixed in something
from the culture. They are so worried about this contamination that
very often I have to tell them to verbalize their memories and not
When abductees tell me what they remember, their accounts usually
have a richness of detail that could not have come from media
contamination. The mass media disseminate very little solid
information about abductions. That abductees remember and describe
specific aspects of procedures—details that scores of abductees have
described but that have never been published—is extraordinary and
strongly militates against cultural influences.
A good example of the lack of media contamination is Whitley
Strieber's highly controversial book
Communion, published in 1987.
It was on The New York Times best-seller list for thirty-two weeks
and in the number-one position for almost five months.
Strieber recounts details of his
experiences that do not match what most abductees say. He tells
about being transported to a dirty anteroom where he sat on a bench
amid the clutter. This highly evocative passage in his book was both
dramatic and frightening. If media contamination were a problem, I
would expect some abductees with whom I have worked and who have
read Communion to describe a similar situation. That has not
Not one of them has ever said that he
sat in a room that was dirty or littered with clothes. Similarly,
Strieber's movie, Communion, watched by millions of people, had a
scene of dancing, fat, blue aliens. Neither I nor my colleagues have
ever had a similar report. Despite the apparent paucity of any
evidence of media contamination, all researchers must nevertheless
be vigilant about it.
We may not recognize contamination if
the person incorporates it smoothly into his account and it becomes
part of his "memories."
Consciously Recalled Events
If abduction accounts are not part of an overall syndrome of subtle
and insidious influences on the person's brain, the critics of the
phenomenon say that abductees should be able to consciously remember
their experiences and to provide investigators with accurate
information. In fact, abductees do consciously remember abductions—
sometimes fragments, sometimes long sequences, and on some occasions
even entire events. Often these accounts are accurate and detailed
and closely match those recovered under hypnosis.
However, just as often the consciously
recalled memories are grossly inaccurate, with distorted details of
actual events and "concrete" memories of events that did not take
place. Consciously recalled memories can be an amalgam of fragments
of an abduction re-created into a logical sequence that does not
An excellent example is the case of Marian Maguire, a woman in her
sixties with two grown daughters, who woke up one morning in 1992
and consciously recalled an instance in which she was with her
daughter during an abduction years before. She remembered holding
hands with her daughter and, along with other people, being "plugged
into" a special apparatus on a wall. This is all she consciously
recalled, but she was certain that this event happened exactly as
I had not heard about abductees being plugged into a wall before. A
few weeks later Marian and I explored this event with hypnosis.
During the hypnotic regression, Marian found it difficult to
remember walking up to the wall, being plugged into it, and becoming
unplugged. The more I probed, the less sure she became about what
had happened. She realized that the wall contained small black
squares. And as she looked at them, I asked her to tell me what she
saw beneath them. I expected her to say the wall or the floor.
Instead, she said, "Funny hands."
The hands were attached to wrists, the
wrists to arms, and so on. She then realized that she was staring
into an alien's black eyes. She had not been plugged into a wall.
She was standing in a room with her daughters and a being came up to
her and stared into her eyes. Over time, the black eyes in her mind
had transmuted into an "encasing" on a "wall," and her inability to
avoid them transformed into being "attached" to them. During
hypnosis, the encasing transmuted to "squares." Although there was a
real basis for Marian's memory, the details that she consciously
recalled had not happened.
Another example is that of Janet Morgan, a single mother with two
children, who consciously remembered a bizarre abduction experience.
As she was lying on a table, she saw small beings struggling to
bring a live alligator into the room. They put the animal on the
floor next to her table, turned the reptile on its back, and then
took a knife and slit its underside from top to bottom.
The unfortunate alligator groaned and
looked at Janet in shock. This traumatic memory threw her into a
deep and long-lasting depression. At first she did not want to
recall the event hypnotically because she was afraid it would bring
back details that would deepen her depression. After being
continually despondent over this incident for almost a year, Janet
bravely decided to confront the memory and try to gain emotional
control over it.
In hypnosis, Janet's memory turned out to be part of a complex
abduction event in which aliens performed many different procedures
upon her. They conducted an examination, took an egg from her,
forced her to immerse herself in a pool of liquid, and conducted a
Mindscan that elicited profound fear. Then Janet found herself alone
in a room, lying on a table, filled with fear and trepidation.
The aliens entered from a doorway on
Janet's left, pulling the heavy alligator with them, which they
placed on the floor next to Janet's table. Staring at it, she began
to realize that the animal did not actually look like an alligator;
she did not see an alligator's head or legs. In fact, it was a man
in a green sleeping bag. When the aliens unzipped the sleeping bag
from top to bottom, the man looked up at Janet and groaned. There
had been no alligator. The aliens had not slit its belly.10
Some of the most common consciously recalled memories are of the
first or last few seconds of an abduction when the person is still
in a normal environment. Abductees often remember waking up and
seeing figures standing by their beds. But instead of remembering
aliens, they recall deceased relatives and friends or religious
figures. For example, Lily Martinson, a real estate agent, recalled
the following incident when she was vacationing with her mother in
the Virgin Islands in 1987. Asleep in the hotel room, she woke up to
see her deceased brother standing at the foot of her bed; she
clearly remembered what he looked like and found this memory
comforting and reassuring.
When we examined this memory under
hypnosis, however, Lily's description of her brother was of a person
without clothes, small, thin, no hair, and large eyes. It was not
her brother. Although she was disappointed that she had not seen her
brother, she was satisfied that she now knew the truth.11
Indeed, the aliens have created, perhaps unwittingly, a unique
obstacle to learning the truth about abduction events. It is the
problem of "instilled memories"—images aliens purposely place in the
During visualization procedures, the
aliens might show an abductee a multitude of images: atomic
explosions, meteorites striking Earth, the world cracking in half,
environmental degradation, ecological disaster, dead people bathed
in blood strewn about the landscape, and survivors begging the
abductee for help. Or the aliens might show abductees images of
Jesus, Mary, or other religious figures. These images have the
effect of being so vivid that abductees think the events "really
happened" or they "really saw" the religious figure. This can be a
problem, especially when the investigator is not familiar with
visualization procedures and fails to identify instilled memories.
Thus, Betty Andreasson in Ray Fowler's
pioneering book, The Andreasson Affair, relates a situation in which
she "saw" a phoenix-like bird rising from the ashes. It was "real" to
her and she reported it as an actual occurrence.12
I have had people remember figures that
looked like Abraham Lincoln wearing a stovepipe hat, men wearing
fedoras, angels, devils, and so forth.
Memories Recalled During Hypnosis
The reliability of memory recalled during hypnosis rests not with
the subject but with the hypnotist. Improperly used, hypnosis can
lead to confusion, confabulation, channeling, and false memories.
Unfortunately, there is a great deal of improper use of hypnosis in
And when abduction events are recovered
by a researcher who has little experience or training in proper
hypnotic techniques, both the subject and the hypnotist can easily
be led to believe that things that did not occur during the
abduction actually happened.13
Leading the Witness
Skeptics of the abduction phenomenon often accuse researchers who
use hypnosis of "leading" people into believing that they have been
abducted. Critics say that cultural or psychological factors impel
the person to seek out a hypnotist who has an emotional or
intellectual stake in that person's actually being an abductee. The
subject comes to the hypnotist and a dynamic is set up to talk about
abductions. And through subtle cues and direct questioning, the
hypnotist pressures the subject into "remembering" an entirely
invented abduction account.
"Leading" is a serious problem in abduction research, but not in the
way critics contend. When inexperienced or naive hypnotists listen
to an abductee's story, they often do not recognize dissociative
fantasies, confabulation and false memories, or alien-instilled
The result is that the subject leads the naive hypnotist
into believing an abduction scenario that did not, in fact, occur.
This type of reverse leading is best exemplified by a hypothetical
situation. Suppose an abductee comes to me to talk about his alleged
abduction experiences, and under hypnosis he tells me that while on
board a UFO, he sat on the floor with the aliens and played a board
game that was almost exactly like Monopoly, but the street names
were really strange. If I then ask him about the street names, I am
in danger of reverse leading. In my more than eleven years of
investigating abductions, I have never heard of anyone playing board
games and I must be sure that the event happened as described before
I delve into it.
Because I know that people will sometimes confabulate, especially in
the first few hypnotic sessions, I would immediately suspect in this
case that confabulation was at work—although I must always remember
that it is possible that the aliens did play Monopoly with the
abductee. I would probe further to determine whether this event
happened. I would look for contradictions or inconsistencies by
going over the incident from different temporal perspectives, asking
questions that move the abductee forward in time and then back
I would ask the abductee to describe the
sequence of events on a second-by-second basis, searching for slight
disjunctures in the account. I would ask whether the aliens were
standing or sitting, precisely where they were looking, and exactly
what they were looking at. In other words, I would search for the
alien visualization procedures that might have instilled this image
in the abductee's mind, making him think he had played this game
when he had not.
If the abductee were inconsistent in his
answers, I would regard the incident with skepticism. If he held to
his story, at the very least, I would put it in the "pending" file,
waiting for another abductee to confirm the same experience
In contrast to the methodology I have just outlined, the naive
hypnotist, unaware that he is being led, listens to the Monopoly
story and asks, "What were some of the street names?" This question
subtly conveys acceptance by the hypnotist, which serves to
reinforce the confabulated material as "real" for the abductee.
Adding such validation impels the abductee to further confabulation.
An unconscious and mild form of dissociation takes place, and the
abductee begins to "remember" more events that he is just imagining.
(This mental state is akin to
"channeling," whereby a person in a self-altered state of
consciousness believes that he is receiving communication from an
unseen spirit or entity who answers questions or imparts wisdom.)
The abductee has unconsciously led the
hypnotist and the hypnotist has reciprocated by unwittingly
validating the abductee.
The two join in mutual confirmation,
manufacturing an account that might have a grain of truth but is
more fantasy than not.
Mutual Confirmational Fantasies
Doing abduction research is exceptionally difficult—not only because
of the nature of the material and how it is recovered, but because
the rewards for this work are usually nonexistent. Instead, ridicule
and scorn supply the main "honors." I believe that anyone who puts
his or her reputation on the line and ventures into this treacherous
area deserves the plaudits of all who value the search for the
truth. In spite of this, even the most prominent researchers
sometimes fall into investigatory traps such as mutual
John Mack, professor of psychiatry at Harvard University and an
abduction researcher, provides a good example of mutual confirmational fantasies. A nationally known social critic and
Pulitzer Prize winner, Mack became fascinated with the abduction
phenomenon in 1990 when he attended a lecture by Budd Hopkins. Mack
quickly recognized that the abduction phenomenon was not mentally
generated and therefore had an external reality. He bravely
undertook a full-scale examination of the phenomenon, to the
detriment of his career at Harvard and to the scorn of his
In Mack's 1994 book, Abduction, he relates a hypnosis session he
conducted with "Catherine," in which aliens allegedly showed her
images on a screen of a deer, moss, deserts, and other "nature
things." Then she saw Egyptian tomb paintings and felt certain that
she was watching herself in a former life.
Then they showed her a picture of tomb paintings with paint flaking
"But then it switched to me painting
But in that incarnation she was a man
and as she watched this scene [she said],
"This makes sense to me ...
this is not a trick. This is useful information. This is not them,
pulling a bunch of shit like everything else."
Catherine now felt
that her insistence upon a more reciprocal exchange of information
had been affirmed.
I then asked Catherine to tell me more about this image of herself
as a painter in the tomb of an Egyptian pyramid. In response to my
question she provided a great deal of information ... about the man
and his methods and his environment. What was striking was the fact
that... she was not having a fantasy about the painter.
Instead, she was [him] and could,
"see things from totally his point
of view instead of from one watching it."15
Catherine went on to "remember" many
details of Egyptian painting and life.
And, later in the session,
she told Mack that an alien had asked her if she understood the
meaning of the Egyptian scene. She then realized that,
connected,' canyons, deserts, and forests. 'One cannot exist without
the other and they were showing me in a former life to show that I
was connected with that, and I was connected to all these other
Catherine also appreciated that she was connected to the
aliens. Resisting them only meant that she was struggling against
herself, and therefore there was no reason to fight.
Mack not only accepts the validity of this "dialogue" but embraces
Catherine's interpretations of it as well. Rather than treating the
entire episode with extreme caution and skepticism, he does not
question her acceptance of a previous life, her sense of
connectedness, her sense that a previous request for reciprocal
information was answered affirmatively, and her decision not to
Catherine also told Mack that,
"they were trying to get me over
fear, and that's why they were trying to scare me so badly,
because I would eventually get sick of it and get over it and go
on to more important things."
Once again Mack accepts the conversation
at face value and asks her "to explain further how scaring her so
badly would get her beyond fear." This is a question that calls for
information that is not within the scope of her testimony. Catherine
duly told Mack details of how this worked.16
Catherine's narrative contained a past life, "dialogue," alien
attempts to help the abductee, an environmental message, and
personal growth. For the skilled abduction hypnotist, every aspect
of this narrative should be suspect. Catherine could have easily
slipped into a dissociative state in which she regarded internal
fantasies as external events happening to her.
If the Egyptian past life imagery happened at all, it might have
taken place during an imaging sequence and that automatically means
that an instilled mental procedure was in process. Sometimes
abductees combine imaging procedures, dreams, and fantasies for
memories of external reality. Their interpretation of these
"memories" is often more dependent upon their personal belief system
than on the actual occurrences. Unless properly versed in the
problems that these mental procedures can create, the hypnotist can
easily fall into the trap of accepting fantasies and confused
thinking as reality. Mack displays no skepticism about this story.
He admires her "straightforward articulation" of the narrative.
There are other abduction hypnotists who, like John Mack, fall prey
to methodological errors.
As part of a series of thirteen hypnotic
regressions with abductees, clinical psychologist Edith Fiore
presents a lengthy transcript of an extraterrestrial event in her
1989 book, Encounters. Fiore believes that the act of relating the
information—real or imaginary—has therapeutic value, and she is
therefore more interested in what the abductees think has happened
to them than in what actually occurred.
She describes the hypnotic regression of Dan, who "remembered" being
a member of an alien military attack force and destroying enemies on
other planets, visiting the planets "Deneb" and "Markel," having
drinks with the captain, and other details of a remarkably Earthlike
daily life. One day Dan found himself standing in the Cascade
Mountains gazing at the trees.
It was peaceful and beautiful. It seems
that he had taken over the body of a small human child.
Dr. Fiore: And where's your
Dan: I'm a little kid, no ship, no responsibility. Just a
nice summer day. Nothing to do. AH day to do it. Just
Dr. Fiore: Now we see you as this little child. I'm going to
ask you to make the connection of how you became this child.
Dan: Two different people. The child has all the memories.
It's like retirement. You get a chance to do nothing if you
live longer. Be at a nice pretty place. Dr. Fiore: How did
you get to be this child, [sic] ... Dan: I joined him on
that road. Replaced, really.
Dr. Fiore: Now let's go back to when you joined him, and
let's Me how you got to be on that road.
Dan: Drunk. Horribly, horribly drunk. Good party. Next
morning ... tour the bridge. Say goodbyes.
Dr. Fiore: Then what happens?
Dan: Just me today. One at a time. Pick your planet. Pick an
Dr. Fiore: You say you were drunk?
Dan: The night before, terrible hangover.
Dr. Fiore: Where did you get drunk, [sic]
Dan: On the ship, officer's mess.... Confusion, drinking.
Dr. Fiore: What kind of ship is this?
Dan: Class M. Large. Battlecruiser; fourteen drop ships;
3500 people. Armed to the teeth.17
This questioning validated what the
subject was saying and subtly acted to confirm its authenticity.
Fiore says later that Dan's recollection gave him an "improvement in
his self-confidence and a wonderful inner peace of mind." And she
believes that each of the experiences her subjects remembered
"actually happened very much as they were remembered."18
Clearly, this scenario in no way fits
the abduction scenario as we know it, although there are a few
similarities (adult hybrids sometimes wear quasimilitary uniforms).
Rather than focusing on one incident and gathering data carefully
and critically, Fiore skips to nine different "encounters" in her
first hypnotic regression with Dan—which, in the hands of an
inexperienced abduction hypnotist, can lead to a confused and
superficial accounting. Furthermore, Dan knows the answer to
virtually every factual question that Fiore asks about life on board
the military vessel.
This omniscient factual assurance is
usually a strong indicator of confabulation.
Dr. Fiore: Is there any
Dr. Fiore: And how is that seen?
Dan: Tolerated. Not favorably, but tolerated.
Dr. Fiore: Is there any problem with contraception?
Dr. Fiore: Why is that?
Dan: Medicines, injections.
Dr. Fiore: How often is it given?
Dan: Every tour.19
The chances that this is dissociative
fantasy are extremely high.
In 1989 when Dr. Fiore investigated the
case, she might have been better served by instituting a criteria of
belief in which she accepted only material that was confirmed by
others unaware of previous testimony. But Fiore and Mack were
trained as therapists and not as investigators. Their approach to
abduction accounts is very different from that of researchers who
are more empirically oriented.
It is important to understand that in spite of their methodological
problems, Mack and Fiore, like other hypnotists, uncover much of the
standard physical and reproductive procedures that make up the core
of the abduction experience.
However, because of their training, they
are not particularly interested in what has happened to the abductee.
For Mack, as for many other therapists, investigation into the
actual circumstances of a client's experiences is not a primary
concern. Finding out exactly what happened to the abductee is less
important than what the client thinks has happened to him—the
account's accuracy or truthfulness is of little concern.
As Mack said,
"The question of whether hypnosis
(or any other non-ordinary modality that can help us access
realities outside of or beyond the physical world) discloses
accurately what literally or factually 'happened' may be
A more useful question would be whether the
investigative method can yield information that is consistent
among experiencers, carries emotional conviction, and appears to
enlarge our knowledge of phenomena that are significant for the
lives of the experiencers and the larger culture". 20
Thus, when Mack conducts hypnosis, he
first explains to his clients that he is,
"more interested in their
integration of their recalled experiences as we go along than in
'getting the story.' The story . .. will take care of itself in due
The truth or falsity of a person's
experiences—the chronology, the procedural logic, and the accurate
perceptions of the events—play a secondary role in Mack's
methodology. But he states that his,
"criterion for including or
crediting an observation by an abductee is simply whether what has
been reported was felt to be real by the experiencer and was
communicated sincerely and authentically to me."22
Facts have a
limited role to play in Mack's confrontation with an abduction
Fiore has a similar agenda. She states,
"Because my main concern is to help
people, it is not important to me if the patients/subjects
report correctly the color of the aliens' skin, for example.
What is important is that the negative effects of encounters be
released through regressions."23
Mack's and Fiore's dedication to helping
abductees is unquestionably appropriate. They deserve praise for
their selfless dedication to helping people come to terms with the
abduction phenomenon. Therapy should be the first priority for all
researchers. But their (and other hypnotists') reluctance to
separate fact from fantasy leads to a naive acceptance of accounts
that should be treated suspiciously. This shapes their research
techniques and leads to validational questioning and mutual
This mutual fantasy—a subtle form of leading—is a far more
significant problem for abduction research than just asking leading
questions. For example, psychologist Michael Yapko polled a group of
therapists to learn how they think memory works. He found that a
large number of clinicians are unaware of the problems of memory and
believe that hypnosis always reveals the truth.24
Many researchers have succumbed to the
mutual fantasy trap by taking at face value virtually everything an
abductee says. Researchers who have New Age agendas perpetuate the
problem by uncritically accepting a wide range of "paranormal"
Past lives, future lives, astral travel, spirit
appearances, religious visitations—all assume legitimacy even before
the believing hypnotist begins abduction research. When the abductee
relates stories with false memories, the believing hypnotist is
unable to recognize them and is therefore more than willing to take
It is easy for inexperienced and naive hypnotists to "believe"
because the majority do not have a fact-based knowledge of the
abduction phenomenon. Some hypnotists even pride themselves on their
lack of knowledge about abductions. They argue that their ignorance
gives them a "clean slate" so that their questioning is not
encumbered by what they "bring to the table." However, what they
bring is their inability to separate fact from fiction.
By uncritically accepting (and not
challenging), by naively assuming that what is sincerely told is
correct, and by defending this as "reality," inexperienced and naive
researchers muddy the waters for competent investigators, allow
people to think that events have happened to them that have not, and
add to the incredulity of the general public.
Abduction confabulation is a frequent problem, especially in the
first few hypnotic sessions. The initial hypnotic session is always
the most difficult because it can be very frightening.
erroneously think they will blurt out intimate details of their
personal lives, or be at the mercy of the "evil" hypnotist. Once the
first few sessions are completed, however, the abductee feels more
comfortable with the hypnotist and with hypnosis. As a result, his
memories become easier to collect and more accurate as well.
Confabulation typically occurs in three characteristic areas.
Physical Appearance of the Aliens
The most prevalent area of
distortion is the description of the physical appearance of the
aliens. Many abductees at first maintain that they can see every
part of the aliens' bodies except their faces. Some abductees
think that the aliens are purposely distorting or limiting the
field of view to help prevent the shock of seeing their faces.
The evidence does not support this.
Because the abduction phenomenon begins in infancy, most
abductees have seen the faces of the aliens many times. Once an
abductee becomes accustomed to remembering events and less
frightened about what he encounters, he usually sees the aliens'
Also, at first abductees tend to describe the aliens as much
taller than they are, not realizing that they are gazing up at
the aliens because they are lying on a table. They also describe
the aliens as being different colors and having different
features. In fact, the majority of aliens are small, gray, and
almost featureless except for their large eyes. During competent
hypnotic investigation, the abductees recognize their mistakes
and correct themselves without the hypnotist's aid or prompting.
Another prevalent area of
confabulation is alien dialogue. Although alien conversation has
given us our most important insights into the abduction
phenomenon's methods and goals, researchers must be extremely
Abductees report that all communication with the aliens is
telepathic, as is communication among the aliens. When asked
what "telepathic" means, the abductees usually say they receive
an impression that they automatically translate into words. We
know that an abductee can receive an impression from his own
thoughts, translate it into his words, and think that the words
are coming from aliens. Naive researchers often accept alien
dialogue at face value, not realizing that all or portions of it
could be generated from the abductee's mind.
Abductees sometimes slip into a
"channeling" mode—in which the abductee "hears" messages from
his own mind and thinks they are coming from outside sources—
and the researcher fails to catch it. Some researchers have
based much of their knowledge on suspect dialogue. Only
experienced researchers can separate characteristic alien
conversational patterns from confabulated dialogue.
The third area of confabulation is
interpreting alien intentions and goals. For example, when asked
about the purpose of a specific mechanical device during an
abduction, most abductees answer "I don't know." Some, however,
supply an answer because it seems reasonable: "This machine
takes pictures of my muscles, sort of like an X-ray machine."
Unless the investigator firmly and
reliably establishes that the aliens told this to the abductee—and
that the abductee did not invent the dialogue—the correct
assumption is that the abductee does not know what the machine
is for and is simply filling in.
The investigator must also be extremely
careful with abductee accounts of what the aliens are doing. The
aliens rarely describe the reasons for specific procedures, but some
abductees routinely supply the reasons. Again, naive therapists and
investigators tend to take these accounts at face value.
Some researchers reinvestigate the same material repeatedly in
different hypnotic sessions, not realizing that if the account
contains unrecognized confabulation and distortion, it can enter
into normal memory as "fact." Repeated hypnosis on an event tends to
confirm the "fact," and it often becomes impossible to tell what is
real and what is not.
On the other hand, the more sessions on
different events an abductee has with a competent investigator, the
greater the likelihood that confabulation will be uncovered and the
accurate account will be told.
An experienced and competent hypnotist tests the suggestibility of
people who recall abduction accounts. By asking purposefully
misleading questions, he can easily tell whether the subject can be
led. For example, in the first hypnotic session, I often ask if a
subject can see the "flat, broad" chins of the aliens. I ask if a
subject can see the corners of the ceiling; I ask if the aliens are
fat. The answer to these questions should be "no" according to all
the evidence we have obtained.
If the answer is "yes," I allow for the
suggestibility of the subject when I evaluate the truthfulness and
accuracy of the account.
Researcher John Carpenter of Springfield, Missouri, has fashioned
this line of questioning into something of a science. He has
developed a list of misleading questions—some obvious and some
subtle—that are calculated to place wrong images into abductees'
minds. In the first hypnotic session, he poses these questions to
the new subject, who almost never answers "yes"; most abductees
refuse to be led and nearly always answer misleading questions
negatively, directly contradicting or correcting the
The first abduction incident that received widespread
publicity, the Barney and Betty Hill case, published in magazine and
book form in 1966, is an excellent example of the lack of
suggestibility among abductees. Using hypnosis, psychiatrist
Benjamin Simon tried to trap the Hills in contradictions and to
suggest to them that they had invented the account.
He could never get the two to agree with him.
Simon: Was that operating room
in the hospital blue?
Barney: No, it was bright lights.
Simon: Did you feel that you were going to be operated on?
Simon: Did you feel that you were being attacked in any way?
During another session Simon tried again
to trip up Barney.
Simon: Just a minute. Didn't
Betty tell this to you while you were asleep?
Barney: No. Betty never told me this....
Simon: Yes, but didn't she tell you that you were taken
Barney: Yes, she did.
Simon: Then she told you everything that was seen inside and
about being stopped by these men? Barney: No. She did not
tell me about being stopped by the men. She did not have
this in her dreams.26
At another point, Simon suggested to
Barney that the incident could have been a hallucination. Barney
disagreed. The accuracy of abduction accounts depends, to a large
degree, upon the skill and competence of the hypnotist. Memory is
fallible and there are many influences that prevent its precision.
Hypnosis, properly conducted and cautiously used, can be a useful
and accurate tool for uncovering abduction memories. Competent
hypnosis can illuminate the origin of false memories and can
untangle the web of confusing memories.
What emerges are accurate, consistent,
richly detailed, corroborated accounts of abductions that unlock
their secrets and add to our knowledge of them.
Are Abductions Believable?
With the problems of memory retrieval and memory interpretation, is
it possible that the abduction phenomenon is a psychologically
The answer is no, due, in part, to the fact that
the evidence for the abduction phenomenon is not based solely on
memory and hypnotic recounting. There is also physical evidence.
When abducted, people are physically missing from their normal
environments—police are called, people search for the abductees,
parents are distraught.
An indirect example of being physically missing during an abduction
occurred when abductee Janet Morgan's younger sister, Beth, came to
baby-sit for her niece, six-year-old Kim, while Janet went out on a
date. Both Janet, a single mother working as a legal secretary, and
her daughter had had a lifetime of abduction experiences. Beth, who
had also experienced suspicious, but uninvestigated events, had
babysat for Kim before and was familiar with her routine.
This night Kim was sitting on the couch in the living room watching
television, and Beth decided to take a bath, since the child was
occupied. She ran the water, got into the tub with a novel, and
began to read. A "mental haze" came over her and she sat in the tub
with her eyes trained on the same page in the book for over an hour.
Suddenly, she snapped out of it, jumped up, and thought, "Kim!" She
threw on her clothes and raced downstairs to see if the little girl
was all right.
Kim was not on the couch. Beth went into every room of the row house
and called for her. She ran back into the living room, looked behind
the couch and in the closet. Then she searched through the rooms a
second time. Panicking, she ran outside and looked up and down the
street, shouting for Kim. The next-door neighbor was outside and
asked what the problem was. Beth told him that Kim was missing.
The neighbor ran into the house to
search for himself and found Kim sleeping on the couch in plain
view. Kim had been abducted, Beth had been "switched off," and when
she came to consciousness a little too soon, Kim had not yet been
returned from the event. Kim was physically gone from the house, and
her absence was conspicuous.
Many abductions occur with more than one person, and as further
proof, people who have never heard of the abduction phenomenon have
A worried Allison Reed called to tell me that her
panic-stricken children were remembering abduction events without
knowing anything about the subject. She and her husband have a
history of unusual personal experiences that suggest abduction
activity. At the time of Allison's call in June 1993, her son,
Brian, was seven years old and her daughter, Heather, was four.
Both had drawn pictures of aliens and
described how they floated out of their rooms and through the window
into a waiting UFO. The children reported details of incidents that
are known only to veteran abduction researchers and that they could
not have absorbed through the media.
For example, Heather told her
mother about a conversation between herself and a female alien:
"She tried to make me think that she
was my mommy, but I knew she was trying to trick me."
Heather said this to reassure her mother
that she was on to their tricks and knew who her real mother was.
The fact that two people might be abducted together and can verify
each other's presence during the abduction is additional proof of
Janet Morgan and her older sister, Karen, have been
abducted together many times along with other members of their
families. Each can independently remember the abduction and can
describe in detail what happened to the other without having spoken
about the event.
In spite of all the difficulties in studying the abduction
phenomenon, it is finally yielding its secrets. The procedures that
the aliens employ are lending themselves to study and analysis.
And the reasons for the procedures are
both bizarre and terrifying.
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