Listening to the Messengers


Jacques Vallée. Messengers of Deception. And/Or Press, 1981 (reprint Daily Grail, 2008) 

Introduction (1979)

A new book by Jacques Vallée is always a major ufological event, from his pioneering work in Challenge to Science and Anatomy of a Phenomenon which established a scientific background to the study of UFOs, to his Passport to Magonia, which provided a rallying point for those attempting new and radical ways of looking at the UFO enigma. His latest book, Messengers of Deception, has already received a critical and controversial reception in the USA. In view of the potential importance of this book, we have asked two of MUFOB’s Editorial Panel to examine some of the issues raised by Vallée, and to give their own commentary on them.

Peter Rogerson:

In what is bound to be his most controversial book to date, Jacques Vallée examines the growth of the ‘myth’ of extraterrestrial intervention, and how the myth is promoted and manipulated by various cult and fringe political figures, and also perhaps by intelligence agencies.

Vallée argues that the UFO experiences are manifestations of a ‘psychic technology’ (meaning a technology that aims to produce psychological effects). Whilst agreeing that UFO experiences certainly do produce these effects, this reviewer is unhappy about the involvement of a technological deus ex machina. However, no matter what the origin of the beliefs, the ‘myth of the extraterrestrial intervention’, as reflected in the literature of the UFO cults, tends to produce several effects. Only one of these, a belief in planetary unity, has much potential for human benefit. The others: reliance on faith and the rejection of science (aided by the scientific community’s own unwillingness to handle the UFO problem); the pervasive denigration of human effort and the belief in miraculous salvation from outside; covert and sometimes overt racism; and the development of contactee religious sects which have strongly authoritarian structure and belief systems.

Vallée draws on his own personal, and often very funny, experiences with the contactees and cult leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. He was twice accused of being a Venusian spy! The ufologist may well be surprised to know just how active these ‘fringe’ groups are, for this second generation of contactees, unlike Adamski, Green, Fry and their ilk, make little effort to set up ‘UFO Groups’, or attract wide membership. Their tendency is away from pseudo-science and towards religion.These new groups seem to attract not just the proverbial little old ladies in tennis shoes, but also the discontented offspring of the ‘haute bourgoise’; the children of the technologists in California’s ‘Silicon Chip Valley’ being especially vulnerable *. The appeal of these groups, as with the Moonies and other cults is the ‘liberation from freedom’. In a world of confused values and social change, where many people are uncertain of their social roles they offer a sense of security, certainty and ‘knowing ones place in the world.’

Vallée’s impression of these groups is roughly the same as that reached by the Editors of MUFOB, and it was this reviewer who first drew Vallée’s attention to the connections between the veteran American fascist William Dudley Pelley, and George Hunt Williamson, and the latter’s relationship with the Stanford brothers, to say nothing of George Adamski. The roots of American fascism themselves lay in occultist movements such as Guy Ballard’s I AM, and the anti-semitic strains of the populist remnant led by such people as Tom Watson, who perhaps coined the phrase ‘The International Jewish Bankers’. This is a facet of American history which merits far more detailed study.

We can also match the authoritarian message of the French contactee Claude Vorilhon: “You must eliminate elections and votes they are completely ill-adapted to the current evolution of man”, with that of the British Contactee Derek Sampson, who claimed to be a reincarnation of Jesus and Hitler, and filled his journal with polemical pieces about the ‘International Zionist Conspiracy’. He formed a crypto-fascist political party, and informed our former editor that Britain “needed to be run with a rod of iron”

Recent sociological research in Britain suggests that extreme right-wing and UFO groups draw upon the same socio-economic backgrounds for their members, who share similar ideologies
It may be that Vallée is in danger of falling into the same trap as I did, and assuming that such belief systems are an incidental aberration to ufology, manipulated by “small groups of politically motivated men and women”. It seems possible that authoritarian belief systems are endemic to the whole UFO field. Recent, as yet unpublished, sociological research in Britain suggests that extreme right-wing and UFO groups draw upon the same socio-economic backgrounds for their members, who share similar ideologies.

The suggestion that intelligence agencies are involved in the UFO field, indeed that the modern UFO phenomenon is a hoax generated by them, is startling. It is a pity Vallée does not use some of the material he could have to support this argument; for example the judiciously positioned ‘leaks’ to people like Keyhoe, the curious affair of the crashed saucers, Fred ‘Maury Island Hoax’ Crisman’s role as a CIA agent. He seems to present the case in an unnecessarily exaggerated and fanciful form apparently as a result of the prompting of an ex-intelligence officer called ‘Major Murphey’, who directs Vallée’s attention to the UFO cults. Once scents the small of the ‘plant’ here, and it is interesting to note that intelligence agencies may have had more of a role in the militaristic ‘UFO myth’ rather than the contactee ‘flying saucer myth’. As ‘common enemies’ the alleged hostile UFOs would have far more use than a faked ‘take over’ by the Space Brothers.

Certainly the role of the military cannot be ruled out in the affair of the cattle mutilations which Vallée discusses at some length. He finds that the generally accepted explanations are not altogether satisfactory, and muses on the possibility of psychological warfare, as a way of undermining basic security.

Yet is this not all too dangerously like the very cults beliefs that Vallée rightly sees as threatening basic humanistic values? Is not Vallée’s blaming the CIA or a small group of politically motivated people for unwelcome social attitudes just a way of avoiding the real questions which such beliefs raise? And in the end isn’t Vallée’s ‘control system’ just another, even more dehumanising myth reducing man still further to the level of the laboratory rat?

It strikes me that the UFO is less the cause than the result of social malaise; that the surrender of human ingenuity causes the desire for the gods to return. The millenarian beliefs of the UFO cultists, the fears of technology manifest in the abductee and ‘UFO as Demon’ myth are symptoms of deep fundamental anxieties of Western society. If UFO experiences are not directly mediated by mysterious technologies, but are variants of visionary experiences as old as humanity, experiences which both influence and are influenced by belief systems, then are we not dealing with an unconscious control system?

It is perhaps a measure of Vallée’s capacity for objectivity that he is able to see the tendency towards conspiracy theory in his own writing, and to draw back from it. Following a strange coincidence in his research he speculates on a world in which paranormal phenomena would make sense, and in which information and meaning would have to replace space and time as the connections between events. It is ironic that an incident which would have sent many other UFO writers over the edge seems to have pulled Vallée hack.

My own guess at present is that, yes, there are manipulators and deceivers, some of them politically motivated cliques, some cultists, some intelligence agencies, all jumping on bandwaggons and giving them a few helpful pushes. But the real manipulators are you and me, The people ourselves, using the symbols of our dreams and those provided by the ‘psychic technology’ of the mass media.

The book has a useful epilogue by sociologist David Swift whom, while not endorsing all Vallée’s conclusions, commends his documentation of UFO cults and calls for further research.
* Note that this was written 18 years before the ‘Heaven’s Gate’ mass suicide involving just such a group of Silicon Valley technologists and ‘The Two’, Marshal Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, mentioned by Vallée- JR.

Roger Sandell

Although ufologists frequently berate astronomers and other scientists for their lack of interest in the phenomenon, it is the lack of interest by sociologists that is more surprising. There are only a few social studies of contactee groups, and as far as I know none at all of any major UFO waves, therefore this study of the various contactee sects is a very welcome addition to the UFO literature.

Vallée analyses the contactees religious and political ideas, which they claim to have received from the space people, and concludes that, while some are explicitly racialist or anti-democratic, the remainder are equally anti-human in their values, since they believe that humanity is incapable of solving its own problems, and that a utopia will be achieved by following the dictates of the extra-terrestrials. He considers that in a time of uncertainty and growing suspicion of science these groups could become mass movements of irrationality.

The descriptions of these cults will contain much that is new and fascinating to even experienced ufologists, and to general readers will probably come as a revelation of a previously unsuspected subculture. However I cannot help feeling that what is presented is only part of the picture. The American ‘benevolent UFO’ cults described seem to be largely centred in California, and to be to some extent hangovers from the 1960’s Underground [1], but there is no discussion of the rival rumours of malevolent UFOs, as reflected in MIB stories and the Hollow Earth cult. [2] While believers in such matters do not seem to group themselves into organisations as much as contactees, their ideas seem to be tied up with the revival of demonology and fundamentalist apacalyptic religion [3], cults which, although they seem to have little in common with the contactees, in fact represent the same alienation and lack of faith in humanity and belief in authoritarian solutions to contemporary problems. [4]

To many ufologists all of this may be irrelevant or of only interest in enabling researchers to eliminate ‘hoaxes’ and concentrate on ‘real’ UFOs. However as Vallée argues, it is impossible to make such distinctions. He looks at the strong case against an extraterrestrial explanation, and shows that even some apparently straightforward ‘nuts and bolts’ cases have features that seem incompatible with this idea. (It would have been interesting, in this context, to see some discussion of the cases that start off as straightforward UFO sightings, but later develop mystical and contactee elements. [5])

Where does this leave us? Vallée looks at the striking experiments conducted at California State University in which subjects were hypnotised into believing that they had experienced a UFO abduction, and as a result described many motifs common to ‘real life’ cases. He suggests that UFOs may be “physical devices used to affect human consciousness” and goes on to ask what the source of such manifestations might be.

The hypotheses of some operation by intelligence agencies or by a private occultist group are considered, only to be rejected, (It is important to make it clear that these ideas are rejected, since one can imagine the parts of the book where they are discussed quoted out of context by some of the most paranoid and unsavoury elements in ufology) and the book ends on a rather puzzled note as Vallée appears to abandon his earlier ideas of UFOs as “physical devices” to suggest the possibility of alternative models of “the relationship between psyche and matter” in which UFOs and other paranormal phenomena “would be natural aspects of the reality of human consciousness”.

This concluding section struck me as the weakest part of the book. It makes no attempt to put the phenomenon into a historical context. There are brief mentions of the visions of Joan of Arc and Joseph Smith, but no wider discussion of the similarity between the emergence of UFO cults in the present and the appearance of similar cults at periods of rapid and violent social change. Vallée states that while compiling this book he “filled a shelf with curious books and pamphlets” about mystical cults of the past, but he does not tell us in any detail about the conclusions he drew from them.

He states that such groups are “beneath the dignity” of official history, whereas in fact there are several serious studies of the importance of these groups at different crisis periods. When studied these can give some interesting insights into UFO cults. [6]

I am not as convinced as Vallée that ‘physical evidence’ is a major problem for the ufologist. This usually turns out to be at best vague and inconclusive [7]. Vallée devotes quite a lot of space to the wave of cattle mutilations in the USA over the last few years, the relationship of which to the topic is doubtful, despite thair very mysterious nature.

However, in spite of these reservations this is an important book, which one hopes will stimulate a more detailed sociological study of the phenomena.

  1. And from some older Californian cults. A 1930’s California group with ideas similar to the contactees was ‘Mankind United’. This organisation claimed to be acting on behalf of a secret group of wealthy men with access to futuristic technology, including space travel. They were seeking to frustrate the aims of the Hidden Realm, another group of wealthy men responsible for wars and financial crises. It would be interesting to find out of there are any links between this group and modern contactees.
  2. For a wide variety of malevolent UFO stories, see the later issues of the [now defunct] American magazine Official UFO.
  3. For attempts to explain the UFO in terms of these ideas see Clifford Wilson’s UFOs and their Mission Impossible, and Wilson and John Weldon’s Close Encounters, a better explanation.
  4. Significantly, one of the most influential of these cults, that of the Dero, was originated by Richard Shaver, a worker on a car assembly line, the ultimate symbol of human subjugation to the machine. Shaver claimed he heard voices of the Dero coming out of the assembly line machinery.
  5. For one such case, see Nigel Watson’s ‘Stranger in the City’ in MUFOB New Series 14.
  6. Such cults during the disruption of the Middle Ages are described in Norman Cohen’s Pursuit of the Millennium; during the English Civil War in Keith Thomas’s Religion and the Decline of Magic and A L Morton’s The World of the Ranters; and during the Industrial Revolution in chapter 11 of E P Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class. The visions that inspired the leaders of some of these cults seem similar to contactee stories involving supernatural visitors and signs in the sky.
  7. The parapsychologist Celia Green in her book Apparitions, which argues that ghost reports are visionary experiences, has an interesting discussion of cases in which ghosts allegedly interact with and alter their physical environment, for instance a case where a ghost allegedly blew out a candle. She concludes that the following possibilities exist: 1, The interaction is merely part of the vision (ie. the candle was not really blown out); 2, A change in the physical environment triggers off the vision (i.e. the vision could have been provoked by the candle blowing out.); 3, The change in the environment is carried out by the percipient in the visionary state. (ie. the percipient himself may have put the candle out while experiencing the vision); 4, The change in the environment is produced by paranormal means. Although in UFO cases one can usually rule out the first possibility, the range of explanations seems to apply quite well to such UFO physical evidence that is not merely the result of fraud or misinterpretation.John Hind

John Hind

Jacques Valle's new book on UFOs ought to come with a Government health warning. Its one redeeming feature is Vallee's sporadic wit; otherwise it will appeal only to sick minds of the type of person that enjoys John le Carre and Dennis Wheatley. I only survived two readings of Messengers of Deception with the aid of much sympathy from my friends, and liberal doses of high volume Stravinsky. Less together individuals would be advised to obtain supplies of a good anti-depressant before embarking.
Had it not been for the author's name, the presentation might have constituted fair warning. The publisher is an outfit called 'And/Or Press' (based in California where else) and the back cover sports an enthusiastic recommendation from Robert Anton Wilson. The front cover exposes one to a close encounter with the kitschiest tradition in American art that the cover is intended as 'Art', and not mere decoration, is made clear by the credit for 'cover painting'. The book is liberally illustrated with photographs, and facsimiles of contactee-cult literature. The latter are all credited 'The Vallee Collection', a joke which is mildly amusing the first time, just plain irritating by the tenth.

His early books, Anatomy of a Phenomenon, and Challenge to Science are impeccably scientific, pursuing Cartesian statistical techniques well beyond the point at which they show themselves to be inadequate. Although he claims that Passport to Magonia was not intended as a scientific book, apart from a certain wooliness, it does not stray far from the scientific method. Messengers stands in stark contrast to the delightfully illuminating and generally harmless Passport.

Following the advice of a mysterious character named 'Major Murphy', Vallee quite consciously adopts a very different methodology. From astrophysicist to information scientist to intelligence buff is a logical but disturbing progression. You see, in this book, he has adopted the methodology, world view, and writing style of the spy. It's all here: the clinical date-time-place writing style, the assumption that there is 'another side', and that everything distasteful is the result of the evil machinations of the 'others', and everything that seems attractive is a disguised evil machination. In short, by adopting the thinking of the intelligence community which Vallee seems to regard as more rigorous than that of science he has also adopted the paranoia which is inherent in that way of thinking.

Vallee's thesis is that there are three distinct aspects of the UFO phenomenon: the physical phenomenon, the psychological phenomenon, and the sociological phenomenon. These three entities can be thought of and analysed as separate effects. He states that the main aim in the book is to look at the possibility that the physical and psychological UFO phenomena are being used to create specific social effects. He concludes that the phenomenon is being manipulated by sinister forces bent on authoritarian social control. Two alternative hypotheses are considered: that the phenomenon is not caused by, only manipulated by, these forces; and, that the 'Messengers of Deception' possess the technology to actually create the phenomenon as well.

The weakness of the book is that it never identifies the 'manipulators', leaving the reader to project the charge on to his favourite bogeyman. The Russians, a secret group of Nazi scientists, extraterrestrials, occult groups, a group of scientists trying to save humanity from destruction, and a conspiracy of world governments are all hypotheses given some credence by Vallee. Such undirected belief in a conspiracy is dangerously close to clinical paranoia.

The book ends with an epilogue by Prof. David Swift, a sociologist. Swift seems to be attempting to 'scientize' Vallee's conclusions. In an interesting reversal of the usual situation, we find Swift 'explaining' the author's obscurer points to the reader. Thus Vallee says that the fact that large numbers of people believe in UFOs makes them real. Swift carefully explains that he is talking here of social reality - people act not on the basis of reality, but on the basis of their perception of rea1ity, thus in social terms perception is reality. Swift clearly finds Vallee's conclusions about inidentified manipulators as unacceptable as I do only rather than condemning them (which he could hardly do in Vallee's own book), he tries very hard to explain them away.

"Vallee did not mean to say that the UFO phenomenon is being manipulated", according to Swift, "all he meant to say was that it behaved as if it is being manipulated". Unfortunately, while this may be what Vallee means it is certainly not what he says. He always refers to the 'manipulators', if not as a proven fact, then at least as a definite aspect of his hypothesis.

Messengers of Deception is at its best when Vallee sticks to factual reporting about the various cults which he has investigated, and to his very perceptive analysis of them. He described his encounters with various manifestations of the 'Order of Melchisidek'. At Order meetings run by one Dr Grace Hooper Pettipher, one is lulled into a kind of semi-somnambulistic state by waves of tepid, pseudo scientific prose: "there are seven times seven aethers that form the garments of your soul, radiating in etheric wavelengths that rotate clockwise about you". He chronicles the associations between these organisations, and extremist political and racist sects. His conclusions on the social effects of the UFO-cult beliefs are the soundest contributions of this book to any increased understanding of the phenomenon. He isolates six effects as follows:

  1. The belief in UFOs widens the gap between the public and scientific institutions.
  2. The contactee propaganda undermines the concept of humanity as master of its own destiny.
  3. Increased attention given to UFO activity promotes the concept of the political unity of the planet.
  4. Contactee organisations may become the basis of a new 'high-demand' religion. (By 'high-demand' Vallee means making a high demand on believers, in terms of social morality and standards. He emphasises that contactee groups are strong on conservative issues such as sexual repression and racial segregation, which places them in a position to capitalize on the 'puritan baoklash'.
  5. Irrational beliefs baaed on faith are spreading hand in hand with the belief in extraterrestrial intervention.
  6. Contactee philosophies often include belief in higher races and in totalitarian systems whieh would eliminate democracy
Towards the end of the book, Vallee falls into the old trap of ascribing universal significance to a purely personal experience. In the middle of his researches into the Melchezedek cult, he made a journey in a taxi, for which he obtained a receipt. On later examination he found that the receipt was signed 'M. Melchezedek'. Does he follow this up with a simple phone call to the cab company (the receipt gives both company name and a cab number)? No, he merely notes that there is only one Melchezeidek in the Los Angeles telephone directory, and goes on to expand this coincidence into a completely new structure for the physical universe! Much of this section reads like one of Dr Pettipher's tracts: it is woolly, speculative, inadequate, and relies too much on analogies.

In the final analysis, it is Vallee who is deceived, and the messenger of this deception is the mysterious Major Murphy. Is Murphy real, or is he a literary device used by Vallee? He certainly presents him as real, but the relationship between the two men is never convincing. Vallee, who reveals himself as an intelligent and sensitive man, always plays the slow-witted pupil to Murphy's patient teacher. But in any case Murphy systematically sells Vallee a cow. The methodology of the spy makes certain assumptions, one of which is that one is dealing with a definite enemy, and that this enemy will be using devious techniques to further its own ends with respect to you. So Vallee's conclusion that there is 'another side' manipulating the UFO phenomenon, is not in fact a conclusion at all, but an assumption built into the methodology chosen.

For a former Vallee fan like myself Messengers is very disillusioning. I now realize that I was prepared to tolerate Vallee's tendency towards woolly and speculative thinking while he presented ideas of a scientific and humanist nature. As an intelligent and rationally-oriented individual, he should realize the dangers inherent in this kind of undisciplined speculative writing.

-- From MUFOB New Series 15, Summer 1979. 

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