Communion Letters

Whitley and Anne Streiber. The Communion Letters. Pocket Books 1998. 

If, as is probably quite reasonable, we look at the belief in alien abduction as being one of the signs of the existence of a de facto religious movement, then Whitley Strieber is its leader and exemplar. For those of us who write and research critically into abductions, others may appear more important. For us, Hopkins, Mack and Jacobs are the key figures, because they set out the ever-widening parameters for the alien experience, challenging our concepts of logic, reason, and evidence in the process. But Hopkins, Mack and Jacobs are not - explicitly at any rate - abduction experiencers.

Strieber, on the other hand, is the experiencer par excellence, the man apparently chosen by the aliens, his 'others', to make the abduction experience known to the world. He is the mystic among the leaders of the abduction movement, the visionary, the high priest. The other three are, to those who believe, mere analysts, theologians: the Inquisition or Opus Dei of the abduction faith. Respected but not revered.  Strieber has, from the outset, sought to bring others into his system of experience and belief, and has more than succeeded in that aim. In The Communion Letters he thanks "the nearly two hundred thousand people who have written us describing their own experiences" and presents more than sixty of these accounts. They form a valuable body of source material which will inform any analysis of the abduction issue.  They can also, almost all, be analysed and interpreted in the tradition of mystical religious experience, and contain identifiable elements of astral projection/OOBE, theosophical concepts, and spiritualism, deriving from the pre-abduction background of the experiencers.

The influence of Strieber and the post-1980 abduction mythos is apparent from the outset in some accounts, but more frequently it overlays perceived experiences pre-existing, or even substantially different to, alien abduction. This process illustrates two important points for those investigating individual perceptions of anomalous experience.  The first is very psychosocial, very Magonia. That the perception of, and explanations accepted as causing, such experiences can be moulded and revised in accordance with popular, accessible explanations that were not even invented when that experience took place.

The second point is more complex, more challenging. That there is little to be gained - for sceptics or believers - by studying any one type or period of perceived anomalous experience in isolation, because the general experience seems to occur anyway, regardless of time or place, only shaped and explained by prevalent psychosocial factors. I have long thought that the continuity, the persistence of anomalous experience, from God and Devil to Spirit to Other/Alien, with its underpinning 'travelling' (Heaven, Hell, Faerie-Land, Sabbat, Spirit World, OBE, RV, abduction) motifs, is potentially the strongest argument against the reality of any one particular element of the range. But putting that argument effectively presents major difficulties.  Because we are neither believers nor experiencers ourselves, believers and experiencers will not listen to us, or accept our challenge to what they know to be true.

Until one or more of the abductee priesthood recants, few of its followers will feel the need, or have the confidence, to do the same. And until then, Strieber will continue to transmute anomalies into abductions, through an alchemy of belief that is nowhere better demonstrated than in this book. -- Reviewed by Kevin McClure. From Magonia 65, November 1998

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