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Shamanic Journeys and UFO Encounters:
A Consideration of Two Avenues to an Expanded Reality
by Sue Jamieson and John E. Mack
© Shamanism, Journal of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, Spring/Summer 2003, Vol. 16, No. 1
Editor's Note: The topic of UFOs and their inhabitants is controversial thanks in part to Hollywood and tabloid newspapers. However, there is a long and rich hidden history of connection to and interactions with this phenomenon amongst shamanic peoples the world over. Many "ETs" seem to be dimensional travelers - meaning that they appear to be able to shift from non-physical to physical form and back again. They are "other dimensional entities" much like the spirits shamans encounter. From the shamanic perspective, knowing whether an other dimensional entity is compassionate or not is much more important than focusing on whether or not such an entity is of this world or another. This article compares and contrasts the incidents of those people who have experienced direct contact with the inhabitants of UFOs and the shamanic journey experience. Beyond this, it offers those who have had this contact a "new" and empowered way to approach this aspect of their lives. And it offers modern day shamanic practitioners a broader framework of connection to a larger array of other dimensional entities. The expansion of consciousness in both cases. If you have some comment on this topic, whether or not you have experienced UFOs yourself, please visit our forum and express your thoughts. ~ Peter
I feel lightness. You lose your body. I'm moving. I'm melting. There's a lot of vibration ... Everything's moving all around me. It's like going through a tunnel. It feels like it's going in circles, like it's rolling back and rolling back, and going forward. I'm like expanding .... There's wind all around, and this tremendous energy and activity all around .... I know I'm safe, and I know I'm protected. It's like waves of energy. . .. It's totally unbelievable. I'm going through a tunnel. I'm flying. It's like flying through years. It's flying through nothingness.1
Expanding Our Understanding of Reality
Visitor's face in the window - A painting by Sue Jamieson
Shamanism and the study of what we in our Westem culture call UFO "abductions" or "encounters" both involve other worlds with phenomenological differences and similarities. A comparative study of these has the potential to augment, advance, and expand our understanding of "reality." Bringing this knowledge together might yield insights that neither shamanism nor the UFO phenomenon could provide by itself. Stated differently, our understanding of reality may expand when a variety of means of accessing other worlds are compared and contrasted. With this end in view, we will examine the similarities and differences between shamanic journeys and UFO encounters.
Unless quoting from other sources, we have chosen to use the terms "journeyer" when referring to shamanic experiences and "experiencer" or "encounterer" when referencing those who report UFO encounters. We most frequently use the term "visitations" for UFO encounters and the term "visitors" to refer to the beings associated with visitations. We prefer not to use the term "alien" because, according to Webster,2 it defines "a hypothetical being from outer space, as in science fiction, that visits or invades the earth; strange; not natural; an outsider." In line with this definition, the term "aliens," in our culture, has acquired a pejorative connotation and conjures up Hollywood images of threatening marauders or absurd little monsters.
In using the terms ''visitations'' and ''visitors,'' it is not our intention to sugarcoat experiences that may have been intrusive, terrifying, and traumatic for those involved. This selection of terms is a personal choice that can help experiencers move from a place of victimization to one of spiritual growth and transformation that we have come to believe is a possibility inherent in the visitation phenomenon.
A Personal Reality
Throughout her life, Sue Jamieson has experienced out-of-body experiences (OBEs), lucid dreaming, UFO encounters, and, over the past several years, shamanic journeying. These experiences have shaped, and continue to expand her knowledge of reality. As a shamanic practitioner and a lifetime experiencer of UFO encounters, she feels able to compare and contrast the similarities and differences between shamanic journeys and UFO encounter experiences. She is increasingly guided by her shamanic experiences, and compelled by her encounter experiences to bridge these two ways of knowing the world. Furthermore, she has been encouraged by others - "encounterees," shamans, and researchers of these matters - to step forward and help in communicating and engendering understanding about the very real phenomenon of "other world" visitation. Bernardo Ipupiara (Ipu) Peixoto, a Brazilian shaman and his wife, Cleicha, a Peruvian shaman, have urged her to speak about the encounter phenomenon to promote a deeper understanding of reality in our Western culture.
She has come to understand shamanic and encounter experiences as less dissimilar than she had originally believed, although the emotional impact may be quite different. Nothing in her early upbringing in our Western culture prepared her for the visitations that began as a small child. Nor was there a framework within which she could safely seek counsel and understanding as she grew up. No cultural elders were there to consult, no keepers of traditional wisdom. What is unacceptable in our culture (i.e., "alien") in a person's world view develops into an unaccepting view of oneself. Speaking of these visitations was simply not safe.
Myths and Legends - Visitors from the Stars
For many non-Western peoples, the universe is filled with life, including entities of various sorts. Some of these (the UFO occupants) are reported to have the capacity to appear on the material plane. Yet for experiencers of the UFO phenomenon with a cultural background in Western scientific materialism, which has largely voided the cosmos of other intelligence, the vividness and terror of these encounters is shattering, forcing them to acknowledge the reality of these beings and the inadequacy of their personal world view.
Many indigenous shamans and medicine people, such as Ipu and Cleicha Peixoto, Sequoyah Trueblood, Credo Mutwa, Dhyani Ywahoo, Godfrey Chips, Standing Elk, and Wallace Black Elk, openly acknowledge UFO encounters as part of their reality and speak easily of myths and legends telling of peoples that come from the sky or the stars. According to Osage legends, some Osage lived in the sky, way beyond the Earth.3 The Cherokee, or as they call themselves, Tsalagi, trace their origins to the star group known as the Pleiades, or Seven Dancers,4 as do the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota peoples. The Colombian Amazon Desana say that in the beginning of time, their ancestors arrived on the Earth in canoes from the sky.5 The name of a small tribe in Brazil, Uru-e Wau- Wau, means literally "people from the stars."6 "Extraterrestrial" landings and interactions are commonly spoken of by these peoples.7 According to African lore, "star people" have come from the heavens in "magic sky boats" for thousands of years. The great Zulu warrior king, Shaka, was said to have been "kidnapped" by the mantindane (the "gray beings").8
Indigenous acknowledgments, coupled with collections of thousands of reports from experiencers, seem to be increasing public awareness and acceptance of the reality of the phenomenon within our own society. John E. Mack, a psychiatrist and author of Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens and Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformation and Alien Encounters, has worked to bring the UFO encounter phenomenon to the attention of mainstream Western society. During his research, John has interviewed indigenous shamans and hundreds of encounterees. At a time when he was being criticized in the academic community for seeking to legitimize the encounter phenomenon, he was moved when Standing Elk, a Dakota Sioux medicine man, upon learning of his work, called to tell him that he and other native leaders would "stand by" him regarding the legitimacy of what he was finding.
Wallace Black Elk, who, like many Native American elders, has had experiences with "disks," "these little people," and telepathic communications with them, mocks the literalness and limited intellectual power of scientific materialism.
The scientists call that a UFO, ... but that's a joke, see? Because they are not trained, they lost contact with the wisdom, knowledge, power, and gift. So, they have to see everything first with their naked eye. They have to catch one first. They have to shoot it down and see what all it is made of, how it was shaped and formed. But their intention is wrong, so somebody is misleading those scientists that way .... But the biggest joke is on those scientists, because they lost contact with those star-nation people.9
Bernardo Ipupiara Peixoto was raised by the Ipixuma tribe of the Brazilian rain forest. He currently works as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution, where he teaches individuals and offers classes about South American native cultures. Ipu was born into the Uru-e Wau- Wau tribe in the state of Para in northern Brazil, near the Venezuelan border. Their legends tell that "a long time ago" a huskerah, something from the sky that makes no sound and was not a bird, landed in the Amazon Basin. Makuras, or spirits, small glowing beings with large eyes who came in the huskerahs, taught the Uru-e Wau-Wau how to plant seeds and grow corn. According to Ipu, representations of these vehicles and their occupants, or atojars (which also means "entities that come from the sky" or "people with so much knowledge that they cannot be from Earth") are found engraved on cave walls. To his people, Ipu related to John, such beings represent the Great Spirit taking physical form, because that is the only way they have to understand such matters. The legend continues that the Great Spirit told the beings from the sky: "Your mission is finished here. I need you somewhere else." They went away. Ipu's people are waiting for the Star people to return.10
For Credo Mutwa, a sangoma or medicine man of South Africa, the abduction phenomenon and the "gray beings" are altogether real. "Ask the Pygmies, the Bushmen of the Kalahari, the Ovahimba of Namibia, or the tribes people of Zaire," he urged John. "All will tell of the growing presence among us of what we call alien beings.”11 Credo is impatient and even scornful of those, especially in the West, who doubt this. "I just get mad," he said to John, "because this thing is real."
I just get furious because the people from the stars are trying to give us knowledge, but we are too stupid. The thing that you are looking into [the UFO phenomenon] is one of the oldest things that we have known. The thing you are talking about, sir, is real. It's not a figment of anyone's imagination .... Why is it that people of different races, people of different cultures, see the same thing?12
Over the past several years, John and Sue have become personally acquainted with many experiencers, who are also shamans. Godfrey Chips, known in his tribe as Pte He Woptura, a Lakota Sioux Yuwipi medicine man (his Grandfather, Horn Chipps, was the Yuwipi medicine man for Crazy Horse), participated in lengthy conversations with Sue on the subject of UFOs during an extended stay at her home. He laughed when she called them "UFOs," saying that this was a peculiar term for them that his people did not use, but that he would use it in their conversation. He did not reveal to her the term or terms that his people use. He told her about watching a "UFO," in broad daylight, fly directly into a mountain behind his home at Pine Ridge. For him that was the most spiritually powerful and personally humbling event he had ever witnessed, a strong statement coming from a medicine man of his experience.
In June of 2001, when Ipu and Cleicha were visiting Sue, they shared an encounter experience at her home in Vermont. It was a vivid, conscious experience for all three, and contained elements often noted in UFO visitations: surprise, fear, awe, recognition of some beings, teachings, and gaps of memory. Sue's account of their experience is as follows:
Ipu and Cleicha were staying on the ground floor and I in an upstairs bedroom. All three of us were tired after having participated in several days of shamanic teaching and healings and, after a dinner and visiting, had retired early, as they were doing a healing on my son, Dan, the next day.
I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep within minutes of lying down. Suddenly, I snapped awake, heart pounding. My bed was shaking, and I could hear a low pitched, whirring noise. Bright light was shining through my windows, illuminating the room.
I could see my Chocolate Lab, "Shadow," who usually has only two moves in his repertoire: lounging or lunging, "belly crawling" along the rug toward the bedroom door. He kept attempting to growl, low-pitched sounds beginning deep down in his throat erupting as pitiful, high-pitched whines. Dazed and confused, I glanced at the digital clock; it was a few minutes after 11:00 PM. Shadow was now "hunkering down" just inside my bedroom door, whining and peering down the stairs toward the foyer and the front door. I could hear my other Lab, "Mali," also whining at the foot of the stairs.
My heart was still jack-hammering in my chest, and fully awake now, I could see and feel that not just my bed, but the whole room was shaking. My house is a new, large two-story with a full basement. It would take a powerful force to shake it. The whirring, a low whisper penetrating the house from above, sent chills of fear, mingled with anticipation, running along my spine. For reasons beyond my understanding, I got up and went downstairs, herding the dogs out onto the back porch. Both belly-crawled to the end of the porch, peered around the side of the house, and then returned inside, tuck-tailed. That was my last conscious memory of being downstairs. Sometime later, I found myself back upstairs in my bedroom, with no memory of what had happened from the time my dogs had come back inside, including how l had gotten back upstairs next to my bed. I crawled back into bed, feeling exhausted.
The next morning, joining me for coffee, Ipu asked me if I remembered seeing "the visitors from the stars" during the night. He told me that he and Cleicha had lain awake talking before drifting off to sleep. Cleicha woke up because of a light that shone into the bedroom, though the blinds were drawn. She got up and, peering through the slats of the blinds, saw an object with pulsating lights hovering low over the field of balsam trees in front of the house. (My home is on a 65-acre tree farm, bordered by 400+ acres of unsettled land on two sides. The nearest house is about a quarter of a mile down the road and is not visible as it is at the bottom of a tree-covered ledge. Ours is the only house on our road.) Keeping her eyes on the lighted object, Cleicha called out to Ipu to wake up and come look. She could not remember anything after that.
Ipu remembered standing in front of three, large, insect-like beings, which resembled what we call praying mantises. He explained that "these were highly evolved sacred beings, not the 'grays'" that are often reported by experiencers. They talked with him about my son, Dan, who has severe health challenges, and the healing work that could be done for him. They also told him, "The mother (me) needs to negotiate with us."
Ipu asked, "Negotiate what?"
"She knows," was the cryptic reply.
It was an unsettling experience for all of us, providing some answers, and raising many questions. The worlds of shamanic healing and UFO abduction were dramatically joined for me. I subsequently journeyed to my spirit helpers, seeking answers regarding this contact and communication. Based on information from the spirits, I have undergone changes in some of my beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors toward the beings. Specifically, I can now meet these contacts from a place of compassion and cooperation, where previously I often met them from a place of fear and anger. I continue to journey about and process that particular visitation, as many questions remain unanswered for me.
Shamanism and UFO Encounters
Similarities exist between the ontology, i.e., the essential reality, of shamanic practices and journeys and UFO encounters. Also, there are noticeable experiential differences. Furthermore, there are circumstances within both experiences in which differences and similarities overlap and are difficult to distinguish. We will explore the similarities and differences between the two types of experiences, noting instances in which there is overlap.
Many similarities are found between shamanic journeys and UFO encounter experiences. Both involve non-ordinary reality (NOR), altered space and time, and other beings. Experiencers and journeyers both report flying, moving through tunnels, light, healings, other world families, and alternate ways of exploring.
A change of consciousness into a realm that is different, yet nonetheless "real" occurs in both situations. A property of this other reality, or realities, is the different experience of time, space, and dimensionality within them. Experiencers and journeyers report losing the sense of linear time, time collapsing into past, present, and future, as one.13 Specific distortions of time may occur, or the sense of time may be absent altogether. Modes of transport seem not to follow known physical laws, and perceptions may be altered.14 The subjective experience of space is also altered.
In these other realities, the experiencers and journeyers are met by "beings," who can manifest in animal, humanoid, and even human form. According to John,
It is well known to abduction researchers that the humanoid beings reported may first present themselves in the form of animals or in other disguises. Deer, raccoons, cats, panthers, owls, eagles, snakes, and spiders are among the animals that abductees have encountered in their experiences. These animals do not appear to abductees only to disguise alien beings. They may also carry a symbolic power that will become apparent only if the meaning of the manifestation is explored.15
Similarly, power animals and totemic beings that symbolize a reawakening and endowing of oneself with specific energies are a basic part of shamanism. To shamans, an entity, i.e., animal or plant, and its environment represent the power to help remember and manifest certain qualities, such as courage, swiftness, adaptability, etc. A shaman's connection with power animals lies at the core of his discipline.16
Ways of Knowing
Both experiencers and journeyers are shown ways of entering the sacred, the mystery of all being. Beings and visitors impart knowledge and teachings to journeyers and experiencers through symbols, images, metaphors, and archetypes. Communication with the beings may include words spoken aloud, but is more often telepathic, or experienced as a sense of "knowing" by the journeyer or experiencer. Crystal gazing, a technique used by shamans,17 is sometimes employed by the visitors as a tool of communication with experiencers. Quite often during a visitation, the experiencer is given information regarding the fate of the Earth in the wake of human destructiveness, similar in nature to instructions in shamanic journeys about bringing the Earth into balance.
Healings may be received by both journeyers and experiencers. It is common for both journeyers and experiencers to report "dismemberment" experiences in which parts or all of their bodies are removed, altered in some way, and then replaced. These dismemberments are often unexpected and may initially be startling to the journeyer. Experiencers commonly report finding themselves on what appears to them to be operating tables on which they are subjected to various procedures that may be healing, painful, or intrusive. John's and other encounter researchers' studies indicate many "experiencers undergo a variety of medical or surgical-like examinations and procedures, which are more or less traumatic, depending on what is done, the experiencer's current relationship to what they have been undergoing, and other incompletely understood factors."18 Sometimes the experiencers feel that their health is being followed -- and they even report healings of a vast array of minor and sometimes major conditions.19
Journeyers and experiencers both often appear to move through tunnels that connect our world with other realms. The quotation in the beginning of the article from an experiencer describing being transported into a spacecraft bears remarkable similarities to descriptions in shamanic literature of moving through tunnels, spinning, and seeing concentric circles.20
A sense of flying or rapid acceleration of speed is often experienced in both cases. This can occur alone, on or in power animals or beings, inside vehicles of transportation of various kinds, or flying through tunnels.
Light, Energy, Vibration
Silhouette of a visitor in a doorway - A painting by Sue Jamieson
A great variety of energies or forces are associated both with visitations and journeys. They include various forms of light, heat, sound, rapid movement, and an acceleration that seems sometimes to overcome the limitations of gravity. Journeyers and experiencers both often speak of being surrounded by light of various intensities, of moving toward light sources, or seeing light sources that move toward them. These lights may be as beams, balls, sparks, or simply a flood of light filling the space or surrounding them. Sometimes these light sources seem conscious or to possess some kind of awareness or aliveness, or, as experiencers have reported to John, "as manifesting the Divine, Source, or God, or are perceived as that of which everything that exists is formed and from which all that is emanates."21 The journeyer or experiencer may receive telepathic information or feel a sense of knowing from these light sources.
Encounterers report that during the initiatory phase or upon returning from an encounter, they often feel as if their bodies were "full of electricity," or as if all the cells in their bodies were vibrating, creating a sensation of being "consumed by heat." These heat-filled times may be physically painful. Eliade writes of the "magical heat," "mystical heat," "burning," "boiling," "inner fire," and "possessing fire" described by shamans around the world.22
Unpredictability of Destination or Coming Events
An unpredictability of destination is common for experiencers and may also be true during a shamanic journey, though the shamanic journeyer may have set a goal of traveling to a particular place in the shamanic cosmology of the Upper World, Middle World, or Lower World. Similarly, an unpredictability of what procedures or events might occur within a journey or a visitation experience is common.
Travels Between Dimensions
Both types of experience appear to involve moving into, and traveling to, other realms, both in nonphysical states and in physical states in which the body seems to leave the material plane and travel into other dimensions. Nepalese tribes people, for instance, describe being taken from their beds or surroundings by the ban jhankri. The Nepalese describe the ban jhankri as small hairy creatures, shamans, supreme healers, and master teachers who abduct initiates and take them into a different realm to teach them how to do healings.23 Malidoma Patrice Somé, an African shaman, describes his frightening physical journey into another realm during his own shamanic initiation in the Dagara tradition of "opening the portal" and going "through the lighthole." Somé describes the terror he felt as he and other initiates physically jumped through a buffalo skin into a realm of translucent, twinkling, "living" strands of light in which the initiates were transformed into light and then returned physically--- if they survived. Some initiates did not return, and some who did died immediately upon re-entry into the physical world.24
Although it is rare, experiencers of visitations may be reported as physically missing from their beds, cars, et cetera, for periods, appearing to have left the material plane in their physical bodies,25 similar to reports of Nepalese initiatory abductions.
Other World Families
UFO and shamanic literature document experiencers' and journeyers' relationships with other-world beings. Interactions sometimes involve a sexual component between a shaman or an experiencer and such beings. These experiences may or may not be voluntary.
Terror reaching traumatic proportions is common in shamanic initiations, although not in shamanic journeys. Severe trauma, or even the onset of a life threatening illness, may occur during specific, culturally harsh, initiations (e.g., vision quests, overnight "burials," and shamanic abductions by the ban jhankri) that the "shaman-to-be" may confront in the course of his or her training. Eliade relates an Eskimo shaman's description of being initiated: " ... the feeling of 'inexplicable terror' experienced when 'one is attacked by a helping spirit,'" and "this terrible fear with the mortal danger of initiation."'26 Trauma, physical and emotional pain, and terror during visitations are all commonly reported by UFO experiencers.
Important differences exist between shamanic journeys and UFO encounter experiences, especially with respect to "agency" in relation to the experience, the dimensional plane or realm in which the experience occurs, and in the resultant physical and emotional trauma.
A shamanic journey (as distinguished from a shamanic initiation) is proactive, i.e., the journeyer is the agent of his or her own journey, choosing the time, place, context, and intention at the beginning of the journey, and choosing to end the journey anytime during the process, under most circumstances. The use of psychoactive substances, percussive instruments such as drums and rattles, and chanting or singing all enable a journeyer to enter a non-ordinary state of consciousness. However, percussive instruments and vocal means have less affect than ingested substances on the journeyer's sense of agency and ability to guide the journey proactively.
In a visitation, the visitors are generally the agents. Visitations seem unpredictable, even startling or shocking, and are often preceded by a sense of dread or uneasiness by the experiencer.27
UFO encounterers are usually in a reactive rather than proactive state, since the experiences seem to be initiated without conscious permission or prior conscious knowledge of the experiencer. We say "seem" because, upon exploration, some experiencers may discover they were not as passive or uninvolved in the process as they had originally thought. Often, there is a sense of being compelled to participate, as if the experiencer lacks or is unable to summon free will.
As the initiator of a journey, the journeyer commonly can control his or her movements. For example, he or she can move voluntarily through tunnels between realms, fly, ask to be taken to different places to meet different beings, ask for healings, et cetera, and can generally end the journey at will. The experiencer, on the other hand, generally does not feel capable of exercising his or her will, controlling his or her movements, or determining the procedures that are done.
Dimensional Plane or Realm
The journeyer generally travels in an out-of-body state from the physical plane into other realms to contact power animals and teachers; in a visitation, the visitors appear to enter the physical world from other realms and then take (abduct) the encounterers into other realms. John notes:
One cannot conclude that the visitation phenomenon exists entirely in the material world. This penetration into the material world may be thought of as a kind of small iceberg-tip of a phenomenon of great depth, breadth and meaning that extends far beyond the literal, physical realm. Experiencers themselves may report great variation in the degree to which they are literally physically 'taken.' It may range from the apparent physical removal of their bodies into space, through out-of-body-like experiences where the physical body is witnessed to be still in place, to encounters where there is little or nothing more than the appearance of strange lights or a vague sense that 'they' are present in the abductee's environment.28
Physical and Emotional Trauma
Some visitations are experienced as unmistakably physical; bruises, cuts, scoop marks, and pains or aches appear after the encounter. Initiation into shamanism (but not journeys) may also involve humanly caused trauma or deprivation with resultant physical and/or emotional scars, and is often, but not always, deliberately chosen or sought by the shaman-to-be. Experiencers do not consciously seek the trauma and pain that are often associated with the visitations; again, it is the visitors, not the experiencers, who set the agenda and context of the encounters.
Besides this seemingly literal physical aspect, UFO experiencers are left with a range of emotions, including rage, fear, terror, anger, confusion, a sense of hopelessness, awe, connection, love, ecstasy, wonder, loneliness, and even homesickness (some feel a yearning to "go home" with the beings to their "true" homes beyond Earth). The feeling states during and after a shamanic journey appear more neutral or positively accepting, with few, if any, negative emotions such as rage, fear, or terror.
What Can Shamanism and UFO Encounter Exploration Teach Each Other?
"It was not my rational consciousness that brought me to an understanding of the fundamental laws of the universe." - quote attributed to Einstein29
Mutual exploration of shamanism and the UFO encounter phenomenon can help us to expand the current paradigm of reality, extend our knowledge base, provide healing methods and techniques, and map the non-ordinary states of consciousness and realities.
A Paradigm Shift
Within the span of half a millennium, worldviews or paradigms have undergone many changes, often perceived as radical or startling at the time. Imagining that learned scholars and scientists once taught that the Earth was flat, that it was the center of the universe, and orbited by the sun is difficult for us now. In the last few hundred years, technological advances have revealed a microscopic world of viruses, bacteria, the mysteries of cellular inner life, the double helix of DNA, genes, the subatomic particle worlds, and much more.30
Our technology enables us to send rockets thousands of miles into space and transmit pictures back to Earth that we can view on televisions and computers. We can sit in an airplane thousands of feet above the Earth, and use an airline phone to talk with someone several hundred miles away. Our technology continually gives us demonstrable proof that macroscopic, microscopic, and subatomic worlds exist outside the realms of our human senses. New worlds beyond our immediate sensory perceptions are continuously being identified and described, expanding our understanding of our universe (or universes).
As witnesses to how technological advances continually expand our understanding of the universe and existence, we inquire inevitably, "What exists beyond or outside our current technological capabilities and perceptual comprehension?" Furthermore, as the work of Narby, Eliade, Harner, and others have shown, shamans, using techniques of journeying, divination, and "seeing" in a non-ordinary way, have reported microscopic, macroscopic, and subatomic knowledge for thousands of years, sometimes far in advance of contemporary discoveries.31 Jeremy Narby's observation that the difficulty of grasping shamanism lies not so much in the concept itself as in the perceptual lenses through which it is viewed in our society32 might also be applied to how the UFO phenomenon is perceived.
Largely, study of the UFO phenomenon has focused on the question of whether UFOs are real in a strictly material sense, if their existence can be proven by the methods of traditional science, and whether or not people are being taken bodily through the sky into spaceships by alien beings. These may be intriguing questions, but the most important truths for our culture may lie in the extraordinary nature and power of the encounterers' experiences, the opening that these experiences provide to other, deeper dimensions of reality, and what they may mean for our culture and the human future. The subtle and elusive nature of the UFO phenomenon is such that its secrets may be denied to those using a purely empirical approach, who try to keep observer and observed, subject and object, totally separate.33
The ideas that we live in a multidimensional universe populated by beings or life-forms that are less densely embodied than we are, or perhaps not embodied at all, are not new to shamanism or to most of the indigenous peoples of the world. It is not a cosmos that is familiar or accepted as existing by the scientifically based culture of Western society, which has constructed a universe in which the seen and unseen realms, the physical and the non-physical, have been kept largely separate so that the physical world might be understood and mastered in its own right. A difficulty is that this almost exclusive concentration on the material world has resulted in the virtual atrophy of the capacity to perceive or experience the exquisite and awesome beauty, magnificence, and transcendent power of those other dimensions. Paradigmatic shifts can occur when new information or experiences, utterly incompatible with previously held beliefs, reach beyond the intellect so powerfully that the inadequacy of the worldview used to explain or contend with reality becomes viscerally and intellectually uncomfortable.
Expanded Knowledge Base
Information conveyed to experiencers and journeyers covers a wide range, including skills of all sorts, spiritual truths, and knowledge of healing, art, science, technology, and ecology. Above all, the information for both concerns the status of the Earth and our relationship to it. Experiencers may be unclear as to just what they are to do with this knowledge, but feel that it is of profound, even sacred, meaning and importance. They feel privileged to be receiving it, and know that they must act in some way to bring about change.34
The apparent expansion of psychic or intuitive abilities, a heightened reverence for nature along with the feeling of having a life-preserving mission, the collapse of space/time perception, a sense of entering other dimensions of reality or universes, the conviction of possessing a dual human/alien identity, or a feeling of connection with creation itself all are such frequent features of the abduction phenomenon that John feels they are, at least potentially, basic elements of the process. The experiences of abductees may bring them to something very much akin to shamanic or mystical states of mind, although for the most part, the experiencers remain deeply rooted in everyday "three dimensional" life, a dilemma that sometimes causes them a great deal of pain.35
One way that experiencers can work through this pain is through shamanic methods. The encounters are often experienced, especially initially, as traumatic, ego-shattering crises, both for the individuals who have undergone them and for their families and friends when they learn of them. Belief systems about the nature of reality dissolve. Feelings of fear, confusion, and disorientation may be quite disturbing. The visitations can confront individuals with beings and events for which they may have no explanation within their paradigm of reality, causing confusion and fear for those who have been visited, and to their family members, friends, et cetera, forcing them to question their own sense of themselves as individuals and their sense of collective identity.
It was through the lens of shamanism that Sue was able to perceive her encounters in a different way. For her, accepting "visitors" into her life with love and compassion as real beings in our world/universe contributed greatly to personal transformation. This transformation has allowed her to reach out and help others from a place of awareness, understanding, and empathy.
A shaman moves back and forth between different realities, deliberately and with intention, utilizing the precepts appropriate within those realities and striving for mastery of both his or her mundane, ordinary activities and activities within other realms. Shamanic journeying techniques access not only "what" needs to be done, but also "how" to do what needs to be done.
Shamanic techniques can help experiencers and their families integrate the encounter experiences into their lives. In our society, UFOs and UFO encounters have been the subject of speculation, derision, confusion, and ridicule for decades. Largely, perhaps tragically, lost in the arguments between debaters and debunkers, are the thousands of individuals who have experienced, in some form or other, visitations by "beings" from "objects and crafts," and who return from their encounters with much to teach us about our cosmos.
Mapping of Non-ordinary Reality
Experiencers are a rich source of information who can bring knowledge of different realms to which they are taken, expanding shamanic cosmology and our knowledge of these worlds. Michael Harner, through the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, has been developing a database of cross-cultural accounts of shamanic journeys, near-death, and other non-ordinary explorations for the purpose of mapping the hidden universe visited by shamans and others. Harner has asserted that this database has the potential to challenge current scientific definitions of reality.36
Expanding our Knowledge of Reality
Knowledge of reality expands when different means of accessing other worlds are compared and contrasted. Mutual exploration can re-define, describe, and expand our perceptions of reality and facilitate personal, global, and perhaps universal, transformational healing. Both shamanism and the UFO phenomenon involve entering a consciousness that is constructed differently than our Western cognitive realities accommodate or embrace. Our Western epistemologies of consistent logic cannot explain the phenomena that occur in shamanic journeys, out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences, or UFO encounters. Cross study expands our understanding of reality, facilitating change from old paradigmatic thinking that views us as isolated entities, separated from our environment and from others, and from the universe itself. The isolation of practitioners who sometimes find themselves locked into sub-specialties may limit the expansion of knowledge in each field. Fragmentation of methods and knowledge prevents seeing the connections between them. Collaborative and cooperative exploration of shamanism and the UFO phenomenon can assist fruitful personal and global healing and contribute to advancement of understanding, knowledge, and transformation of our lives.
Summary and Conclusions
Increasing numbers of thoughtful people are recognizing the ontolological constrictions imposed on our minds by the Western materialist worldview. Consequently, traditions and experiences that provide access to a greater reality are being looked at with particular interest. These include shamanic journeys, near death experiences (NDEs), Grof Holotropic Breathwork, various techniques of meditation, and UFO encounters. Students of each of these fields or phenomena have tended to focus on the one that most suits their interests. Passing references to comparisons is common, but a systematic discussion of similarities and differences occurs less frequently. In this article, we have examined the common features and differences of two of these subjects: shamanic journeys and UFO encounters. The realms beyond what is manifest to our senses may be infinite, and cannot, therefore, be mapped like our planet or even the galaxies. Using the same analogy, each mode of travel may lead to the discovery of domains that are qualitatively different.
Both shamanic journeys and UFO encounters "take" the experiencer to other worlds, or domains of existence. Each experience has great capacity to heal and bring about personal growth and a richer sense of reality and oneself. Shamans know of the "visitors from the stars," although careful questioning is necessary to learn if and when they are speaking of something similar to UFO encounters. Often, they have had encounters themselves.37 UFO encounterees, like Sue, are often drawn to shamanism, having become familiar through their experiences with the worlds to which shamanic practice can take journeyers. Sometimes, shamans and encounterees recognize each other as kindred spirits.
At the heart of our interest in subjects like shamanism and UFO encounters lies the desire to recover the vital information and wisdom lost through our turning away from traditional ways of knowing. Shamanic knowledge can help abductees find an ancient framework for experiences, which may otherwise seem shocking and bizarre. For shamanism itself, UFO encounters may provide a frontier, a look into the unknown, familiar perhaps, but only dimly perceived. Bringing the two studies together may lead to discoveries of the complex interplay of inner and outer reality, the relations of spirit to matter, and the possible existence of new physical domains and principles, plus capacities of our consciousness of which we have hardly dreamed.
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About the Authors
The late John E. Mack, M.D., was a Pulitzer Prize winning author and Professor of Psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School. He was the author or co-author of eleven books, and has written more than one hundred fifty scholarly articles. Find out more about Dr. Mack at johnemackinstitute.org.
Sue Jamieson holds dual degrees in Psychology and Life Sciences Education. She runs the Highland Center for Health and Healing in Worcester; Vermont. She is a graduate of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies Fourth East Coast Three-Year Program, a graduate of a two-year apprenticeship program to Brazilian shaman, Ipupiara Peixoto and his wife, Cleicha, a Peruvian shaman, and completed Sandra Ingerman’s Medicine for the Earth practicum and her Soul Retrieval Healing Training. She may be reached at www.transcendencies.com.
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1. Recording of an experiencer describing being drawn toward a ship from Passport to the Cosmos, John E. Mack, M.D.
2. Guralnik 1984: 34.
3. Erdoes 1984: 119.
4. Ywahoo 1987: 1,9.
5. Narby 1998: 58.
6. Mack 1999: 158-159.
7. Mack 1999: 170.
8. Mack 1999: 7.
9. Mack 1999: 10 (Black Elk and Lyon 1991: 91, emphasis Mack).
10. Mack 1999: 159.
11. Mack 1999: 192.
12. Mack 1999: 53.
13. Mack 1999:55.
14. Mack 1999: 62.
15. Mack 1999: 135-137.
16. Harner 1990: 57-64.
17. Eliade 1964: 363.
18. Mack 1999: 13.
19. Mack 1999:14.
20. Harner 1990: 25-29.
21. Mack 1999: 64.
22. Eliade 1964: 412-437.
24. Some 1994: 231-239.
25. Mack 1999; Hopkins 1981.
26. Eliade 1964: 91.
27. Mack 1999.
28. Mack 1999: 15.
29. Gold 1994: 238.
30. Watson 1968.
31. Mills 1987.
32. Narby 1998:18.
33. Mack 1999: 268-270.
34. Mack 1999: 16.
35. Mack 1999: 17.
36. See Shamanism 13(1 & 2):97.
37. Mack 1999.