Saucer Magic

Otto Billig. Flying Saucers: Magic in the Skies: A Psychohistory. Schenkman, 1982.
Discounting any competence to discuss the 5-10% 'unidentifieds', Billig examines the 95% IFOs, asking what psychological and sociological reasons cause people to interpret lights in the sky as alien spaceships. He argues that close encounter cases occur in situations of marginality and sensory deprivation, and draws interesting parallels with hypnogogic states, Australian shamanic encounters as well as with fairy-stories. A detailed examination is made of the Kentucky abduction, illustrating the growing aura of the supernatural surrounding such abductees and how they can easily become contactees, delivering the message of the aliens. This abduction took place near a gate, and Billig points out that "folklore invests road crossings gates and doors with unusual powers, as they symbolise the boundary between everyday life and the foreign world."

At a sociological level Billig outlines the history of lights in the sky, and comes to a similar conclusion to me, that stories of UFOs abound at times of vague, poorly defined crisis, but decrease in times of concrete, sharply outlined crisis. Alas, his view of history is frequently cliched, and his knowledge of ufology superficial to put it mildly. UFOs may be percieved as "saviours from the skies" which will rescue us from our desperate selfhood, but equally they are often themselves seen as engines of menace. It is certainly misleading to talk of ufology in terms of cults and to raise the spectre of Jonestown. This is a short book, much of it is padding and unable to sustain a poorly defined argument. Billig does not appear to be aware of how much of his argument is part of the current ufological discourse (though to be fair not in the United States), and many of his points have been made much better by ufologists themselves, including many writers in Magonia. -- Peter Rogerson. Magonia 20, August 1985.

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