What Apocalyptic Invaders Do We Imagine?

One archetypal sign of the coming millennium is the increasingly common report of contact with an otherworldly being. Keith Thompson's Angels and Aliens: UFOs and the Mythic Imagination (Addison-Wesley, 1991) examines the transformational potential of this mysterious phenomenon. The imagery in modern encounters with angels and aliens expresses the very core of our confrontation with the mythic realm.

Some people think of UFOs simply as spacecraft from another planet. Yet the UFO phenomenon has become stranger and stranger since the first modern report of flying objects in 1947. Now contacts with alien beings, and even abductions and sinister medical experiments on humans, are commonly reported. At the same time, angels have captured the public's attention. They are seen as heralds of a new age of spirituality. But the angel of mythology bears little resemblance to the sanitized media portrayal. Historically, angels possess a double nature: they can be awe-inspiring messengers from on high, or they can be dark shadows from the underworld. Both angels and aliens can appear as radiant saviors or as ominous apparitions.

On the positive side is the inspiration we receive from supernormal beings and the evidence for uncharted human capacities. The negative side is the full force of the Trickster archetype. From the Greek’s Hermes to the Navajo’s Coyote, the Trickster is the archetype of transformation, the guardian of thresholds and passageways. Yet it leads us down a path of confusion. As people's stories of encounters with angels and aliens become more bizarre, public opinion polarizes into opposing beliefs. Some people have the conviction that we are on the threshold of momentous discoveries, while others see only hoax and hallucination.

Angels and aliens force us to confront the absurdity of our categories of reality. They are messengers, but from where and what is the message? To explore their meaning is to embark on an excursion deep into the realm where imagination and physical reality intertwine. For every piece of apparent physical evidence for extraterrestrial visitors, there seems to be equal evidence pointing to their origin within our own psyches. The challenge is to transcend the dichotomy of reality and imagination, and to effect a transition to a new level of functioning. Grappling with the promises and pitfalls of our mythic imagination may be our initiation into the new millennium.

(Digest by Doug Richards, Atlantic University.)