20-minute reading time
Red Pill Junkie. (2015). Charon’s Silvery Boat: The Overlap Between Near Death Experiences and UFO/Alien Encounters. Paracast Newsletter.
These types of extraordinary experiences seem to suggest that what we experience in our everyday lives may be but a tiny sliver of the full spectrum of reality
On August 11th, 2015, Anne Strieber passed away. Throughout her whole life she was always supportive of her husband of 45 years, Whitley Strieber, whose name will forever be linked –whether he likes it or not — with what our culture currently refers to as the “alien abduction experience,” thanks to the unsurpassed success of his 1987 book Communion.
Not long after Communion became an international best-seller, the Striebers started to receive a massive amount of correspondence from people who had read it and felt compelled to share their own accounts of interaction with the non-human intelligences Whitley referred to as “the Visitors.” Rather than throwing all those unsolicited letters to the garbage bin, unopened, Anne committed herself to the laborious task of reading each and every one of them, during the free time out of her daily chores. The job took years, but after carefully parsing through all those personal narratives, she finally wrote on her chalkboard as an epiphany: “This has something to do with death.”
As a student of UFOlogy who’s been obsessed with the topic for over 30 years, and went from being enamored with the Spielbergian “nuts-and-bolts” perspective offered by the ETH, to later in life entertaining kinkier — or rather, “KEELinkier” — alternatives for interpreting this head-scratching phenomenon, I must conclude I concur with the late Anne Strieber’s insight and that the UFO enigma seems to me more deeply intertwined with the greater mystery of the Afterlife, than what the simplistic mythologies woven around the phenomenon during the nascent decades of the Space Age seem capable of entertaining.
As the decades progressed, the few civilian UFO organizations investigating the phenomenon started to gather more high-strange accounts which put the simplistic narrative of the 1950s into question — these “space visitors” didn’t seem to behave like in the Hollywood movies. At the same time, more and more individuals were starting to report closer and more intimate interactions with these entities, sometimes without their consent — i.e. the Villas Boas case of 1957, the Betty and Barney Hill case of 1961, or the Pascagoula case of 1973. By the 1980s Strieber and several other authors like Budd Hopkins had brought the term “alien abduction” into the popular lexicon, and with it a flood of bizarre accounts which proved ever more daunting for the narrow ETH filter.
Another term entered the lexicon: Near death experience or NDE.
Meanwhile, a different cultural revolution was occurring — or maybe the SAME revolution, fought from a different front. The publication of Dr. Raymond Moody’s book Life After Life in 1975 had also brought another transgressive term into the lexicon: Near death experience or NDE; Moody and other researchers started to amass an impressive database of people who had gone through the ordeal of clinical death, and after being resuscitated thanks to the advances of modern science, were able to recount extraordinary tales of experiencing a taste of the Afterlife.
Over the years, there’s been a number of thinkers and researchers who have observed striking similarities between these two types of paranormal experiences: Dr. Kenneth Ring, Dr. Suzanne Gordon, the late Dr. John Mack and the late Terence McKenna to name a few (also of course Anne and Whitley Strieber, who were among the first to point these correlations in bold defiance of the theories upheld by ‘traditional’ UFOlogists).
Overlaps Between NDEs and Alien Encounters
Below I shall attempt to list some of these overlaps, in concordance with the previous work of some of these investigators, as well as my own personal musings. (It should be observed that, for the purpose of this article, I will group both UFO close encounters of the 3rd kind along with alien abductions; this despite the fact that currently there are a number of UFO investigators who openly dismiss the latter as having any sort of link with the UFO phenomenon. I presume said investigators would show the same type of disinterest with the NDE literature.)
- The experience transcends national, ethnic, religious or social boundaries
- Despite certain variability, the experience possesses a prototypical “core”
- The experience manifests independently of the subject’s volition
- The subject experiences a detachment of his physical body (OBE)
- The event is experienced in a non-ordinary state of consciousness
- The subject is taken into an unfamiliar environment
- The subject encounters dead relatives or friends
- The subject is submitted to examination
- Confrontation with a greater, non-human intelligence
- Encounters with angelic or demonic-like beings
- Dissolving of ego boundaries
- Non-verbal communication
- Deep emotional content
- Visions transmitted
- Stepping outside of time
- Language is extremely limiting to describe the experience
- Cultural filters may influence the experience
- Scarce objective evidence to support the veracity of the experience
The experience transcends national, ethnic, religious or social boundaries
Unlike what Stephen Hawking would have us believe, UFOs are not just seen by crazies and weirdos.
Unlike what Stephen Hawking would have us believe, UFOs are not just seen by crazies and weirdos, and alien abductions are not an exclusively American anomaly — even though the database is currently skewed in favor of that nationality, presumably because that’s where it has raised the most attention. Likewise, NDEs are reported by people from many different religious backgrounds, including those who had a completely atheistic worldview.
Despite certain variability, the experience possesses a prototypical “core”
Even though no NDE or UFO/alien encounter is 100% alike — in fact, these types of experiences seem to be deeply personal, and thus hard to convey to a third party — there’s an emerging narrative easy to identify in both NDEs and alien abductions. This uniformity, researchers say, is what makes them hard to dismiss as mere hallucinations — although skeptics would claim the uniformity is the result of either hoaxes or delusions caused by modern cultural “contamination”; even though these experiences have been reported across different cultures for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
The experience manifests independently of the subject’s volition
With the NDEs there’s either a grave illness or a life-threatening accident that brings the individual to the brink of physical death, in a set of circumstances outside of its control. The lack of choice is also shared by alien abductees, who are said to be taken by non-human entities without their consent (the old Contactees of the 50’s and 60’s might be perceived as an exception to this, and maybe we could say the same if someone experiences an NDE after deliberately attempting suicide).
The subject experiences a detachment of his physical body (OBE)
This sense that the experiencer’s consciousness dissociates itself from the regular vantage point of the body and allows it to observe the surrounding environment from a different POV — i.e. from above the hospital room — is probably universal in the NDE literature. Although OBEs are rather common in the modern alien abduction/encounter narrative, we cannot claim it’s a stereotypical aspect of the experience — in fact, the “physicality” of abductions is a much contended point in the field; then again, obsessing with “trace evidence” has not yielded the expected rewards of respectability traditional UFOlogy has sought in the last 60 years…
The event is experienced in a non-ordinary state of consciousness
These are all ‘liminal’ experiences which transport the individual into an “Hyper-reality.”
What I personally find fascinating about these types of experiences is that they seem to have a somewhat dream-like quality. Yet that is not to suggest they have less personal validity than events experienced in our ordinary lives! How often we hear that NDErs report observing beautiful colors or sounds the likes of which don’t exist in this world, and are therefore impossible to describe; likewise, UFO/alien encounters seem “more real than real” to the abductee or witness. We could then safely conclude these are all ‘liminal’ experiences which transport the individual into an “Hyper-reality” which seems even more objective to them than their waking consciousness.
The subject is taken into an unfamiliar environment
With NDEs the experiencer often reports going through a “tunnel of light,” and then surfacing into a wondrous garden or other type of “celestial” background. Abductees on the other hand are taken into what they assume is an “alien craft” and are put inside a rounded room with indirect lights and almost no furniture — save the table where the customary medical examination will take place. Variations in both narratives are not uncommon yet being transported into an ‘alien realm’ is they key aspect to consider.
The subject encounters dead relatives or friends
It’s surprising to learn how common it is for experiencers to meet and interact with dead relatives inside the “alien craft.”
We often hear of NDE experiencers reuniting with their dead grandma or father on “the other side.” which brings a great amount of joy; sometimes they are surprised to be met by someone who is later confirmed to be dead after the NDE is over — which brings a certain level of independent verification to the account. With alien abductions, it’s surprising to learn how common it is for experiencers to meet and interact with dead relatives inside the “alien craft”; researchers with a very firm belief in the ETH will no doubt interpret this as the extraterrestrials “camouflaging” themselves using a projection extracted from the abductee’s memories.
The subject is submitted to examination
With NDEs this examination is the famous “life review.” With alien abductions, it takes a much more physical shape, and the experiencer is subjected to an (often painful) medical evaluation of some sort — though it should also be pointed out that the NDE life review can be also brutal, since it seems to be intended to show a person’s actions and the direct/indirect repercussions they had on other people (so imagine the life review someone like Hitler might have had to go through!). It’s also interesting to consider how aliens seem to be so obsessed with the sexual organs, which are of course the “source” of human life.
Confrontation with a greater, non-human intelligence
Both type of phenomena, at their core, involve interacting with an “Other” which seems vastly superior to the subject.
Both type of phenomena, at their core, involve interacting with an “Other” which seems vastly superior to the subject, and in total control of the experience. The aliens seem to know the most intimate details of the abductee’s life, just like the vast intelligence irradiated by the “light” — which may or may not take a “concrete” humanoid shape — during an NDE.
Encounters with angelic or demonic-like beings
This obviously does not refer to the “pop culture” notion of humans with white wings, but to entities that appear to be human-looking, yet “radiate” an aura of peace and love which deeply affects the NDE subject. Similar beings have also been described in the UFO literature, like in the famous case of Betty Andreasson Luca. It should also be noticed how even the “Gray” entities which have become so stereotypical with the alien abduction narrative –and seem so grotesque some people equate them with “demons” — are nevertheless also capable of transmitting peace and calm to the abductee when placing their hands unto them, often as a way to alleviate the terrible pains experienced during the “medical” procedure. It is true that abductions are commonly perceived in a very negative way and tantamount with sexual abuse and seem closer to our expectations of what being “condemned into Hell” would look like; likewise, negative NDEs, although rare, are also part of the database.
Dissolving of ego boundaries
These beings operate with a collective awareness, a “hive mind.”
One of the elements commonly reported by NDE subjects is an “expansion” of their conscious self, and a sense of connectedness with all living beings, bringing the realization that our apparent separation with other people is merely a superficial illusion. On the UFO/alien experience, on the other hand, witnesses are left with the impression that these beings operate with a collective awareness –i.e. a “hive mind” — which to a modern Westerner, raised in an era in which individuality is perceived as the most important thing in the world, would seem utterly abhorrent –mystics like St. Thomas Aquinas or Meister Eckhart on the other hand, who sought to “dissolve” their individuality in the consuming fire of God ‘s love, might probably see it with a different perspective; the same way we find beauty in the choreographic order of a flock of birds, or a school of fish.
In both NDEs and UFO/alien encounters, telepathic communication seems almost universal. The entities met in these types of liminal experiences are capable of “transmitting” very complex information directly into the mind of the subject, completely bypassing the normal constraints of regular language.
Deep emotional content
Either the “unconditional love” felt by NDEs subjects irradiating by a “being of light,” or the absolute terror experienced by an alien abductee when confronted by 3 spindly Grays standing in front of its bedroom, the experience will never leave the subject indifferent. It is probably this great amount of raw emotion involved in the experience what’s responsible for the lasting effect in the subject’s life (more on that later).
With NDEs, an incredibly detailed revision of the person’s life is often described. With alien abductions, the experiencer often reports having been shown apocalyptic imagery of what could happen to our planet as a result of our mismanagement of the environment. Both these types of “projections” are incredibly vivid and engaging.
Stepping outside of time
The flow of time is experienced differently than in the normal state of consciousness for both NDEs and UFO/alien encounters. NDE subjects may get to experience a great number of things in what objectively amounts to just a few minutes, while they are in the process of resuscitation or clinically dead. With alien abductions, the subject is often not able to account for the loss of a certain time-lapse after a UFO sighting or another peculiar event, which is why the late Budd Hopkins coined the term “missing time.” Such temporal dissociations are not uncommon in other type of mystical experiences as well as meditative practices.
Information is lost after the experience
Consciousness is limited by the filter of the human brain, rather than generated by it.
It would seem cognitive abilities are somehow greatly enhanced during NDEs, with subjects claiming that while they were “dead” they managed to understand many things about Life both at a personal level, as well as a more transcendental one; they may also receive knowledge imparted by “the light” or answers to question which they end up forgetting once they go back, almost as if consciousness is “limited” by the filter of the human brain, rather than generated by it. Information loss is also a key component of the alien abduction experience, which is why some researchers have resorted to hypnotic regression in trying to retrieve the memories of the abductee — a practice that is a matter of great controversy in the field, due to the possible potential for contaminating the memories if the questions are leading the subject to a certain narrative, or even if the actual expectations of the hypnotherapist are at play.
Language is extremely limiting to describe the experience
Liminal experiences fall so outside the normal gamut of everyday life, communicating them adequately to a third party poses a real challenge. NDE subjects often claim that what they witnessed on “the other side” escapes human comprehension, while abductees are subject to literally “alien” environments and entities. The best the experiencer may do, is to come up with metaphors or approximations in order to convey a crude approximation of what they experienced.
Cultural filters may influence the experience
This is not just to imply how the experiencer’s cultural baggage affects its posteriorized collection of the experience –especially if some time has passed after the event, and the subject has been asked to retell it numerous times — but to posit how the subject may be involved somehow as a co-creator of the experience itself. With NDEs the subject’s belief system may affect how the experience transpires – e.g. the “being of light” manifesting as Jesus or Mohammed. With alien abductions, there are a number of researchers who have suggested the UFO phenomenon adopts a certain appearance depending on the witness’ cultural circumstances.
Scarce objective evidence to support the veracity of the experience
Alien abductions have been proven to be harder to verify.
The catch-22 of all liminal/mystical experiences: They are so intimately personal and subjective, they prove to be incredibly difficult to verify or falsify independently by a 3rd party, perhaps impossible. There are, however, a few elements that can be objectively confirmed by researchers: With NDEs sometimes the subject is able to “recall” intricate details pertaining to the resuscitation process which would have been impossible to know beforehand — e.g. one of the medics wearing a peculiar shirt, or specifics steps in the medical procedure they were subjected to while they were under cardiac arrest. Alien abductions have been proven to be harder to verify, and the few bits of physical evidence obtained so far – “implants” and body scars — remain controversial. Perhaps the biggest evidence to be found is in the long-term effects these experiences inflict on the experiencer, which we will discuss below.
Profound Personal Transformation
This is by far the most significant aspect of these types of experiences, and why several researchers think they can’t be easily dismissed as mere hallucinations, since the effect caused by the experience — or series of experiences, since it is claimed abductions occur multiple times throughout the experiencer’s lifetime — has such a lasting effect. Here we can list a subset of such effects:
A sense of mission and the certainty that life has a purpose
NDE subjects’ claims to observe their life from an “external POV” grants them the certitude that every action we make in life has a direct or indirect consequence in the life of those around us; several also feel the urge to come forward with their experience to assuage people’s fears about death. With the case of UFO/alien encounters, the experiencers often consider themselves to be “special” and appointed by the aliens themselves as their emissaries to the rest of the world — whether this is a deception perpetrated by the entities remains to be seen.
An inability to return to their old lives
NDE subjects may return with the realization that their former goals to achieve financial success or other material gains praised by our society are meaningless, and a waste of the precious time granted to us in this level of existence; they may end up quitting their jobs and relocating to a place where they can enjoy nature more, and be closer to their family. Alien abductees, on the other hand, find it very difficult to integrate their “secret life” once they become aware of it; they may seek outside help either in the form of a professional psychotherapist or an abduction researcher in order to understand their experiences; they may end up divorcing their spouse or relocating to a new home with the hope the experiences will stop; their sense of a mission described previously may drive them to share their experience online, or even do things that seem outside of their volition — like making unexpected trips, or starting new sentimental relationships. With mystical experiences, the “trauma of enlightenment” as Dr. Suzanne Gordon puts it, often turns these individuals into social outcasts — even if they are still maintaining a veneer of normalcy to the rest of the world.
A change in moral/religious ideas
People who might have had a very strict religious mindset — and here I even include atheism as such — would often attain a more “fluid” spirituality after experiencing an NDE, with the realization that although all religions may contain a kernel of truth, they are not necessary to fulfill one’s life mission — and in fact, dogmas can become burdensome; they may also change their attitude toward the concept of sin, seeing it more as a detriment to personal fulfillment rather than an actual transgression of divine rules. With the case of UFO/alien encounters, Dr. Leo Sprinkle has been applying the same questionnaire to UFO witness and close encounter/abduction experiencers for the past 50 years, and his findings are that nearly 100% of those who filled it now have a belief in reincarnation; we may argue about the validity of such questionnaires or whether the sample group may skew the answers in some way, but it’s nevertheless a rather interesting conclusion — it’s also interesting to think what would happen if a person who had an NDE went out to fill a questionnaire intended for alien abductees, and vice versa. Switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet in both types of experiences is also not uncommon.
The realization that consciousness is independent of the physical body
NDE subjects gain a personal, unshakeable realization that death does not imply the extinguishing of human existence, and that part of us continues to exist after our bodies expire; that realization assuages any previous fear they may have had about death –although on the rare occasions in which the NDE has a negative (“Hellish”) outcome, that fear may persist or take a different form. Alien abductees may have experienced an OBE, or had an experience showing them there’s such a thing as a soul, and that the entities they interact with have the capacity to manipulate them in ways that serve their purposes — e.g. placing the soul or consciousness of one being in a different body; whether this capacity involves a technology in the sense we understand such a concept, is still an open question.
It takes time and effort to fully integrate the experience
The idea that NDE subjects are instantaneously changed into different and “better” persons is a myth, for they often spend years fully assessing the full impact of what they went through, and slowly adjusting their lives accordingly. The progressive integration is even more acute — and probably much more challenging — with alien abductees, who may have had these types of experiences since their early infancy, and many seem to develop symptoms characteristic with post-traumatic stress disorder. Some personal changes though, may be more immediate in both NDEs and UFO/alien encounters — like shedding out their former skepticism about UFOs.
Not everything is sun and rainbows when it comes to NDEs: Many subjects develop depression and experience a sense of loss for having been brought back to this life, which appears duller and darker compared to the wonderful things they managed to experience in the Afterlife — like the reuniting with lost loved ones. With alien abduction, depression is even more recurring, with experiencers sometimes feeling like rape victims yet not having the chance to seek the help of the authority or medical professionals for fear of ridicule; if the abductee finally manages to integrate the experience, as Dr. John Mack believed, they may be able to overcome the depression.
Emergence of psychic abilities
It’s not uncommon to find in both the NDE and UFO literature claims regarding the development of psychic abilities as a result of the experience. These range from precognition and a more acute sense of intuition, to “healing” gifts — here we may also choose to include other types of phenomena like synchronicities, which seem to become more frequent. An increase in cognitive abilities or in creativity may also be triggered. How these types of liminal experiences work to untap what may very well be a dormant potential inside every human mind deserves further scrutiny.
Implications & Challenges
The commonalities between NDEs and the UFO/alien encounter experience don’t stop there, though. We can also see an overlapping in the implications they pose, both independently and as a whole, to our present culture:
They pose a challenge to science and authority institutions
The UFO phenomenon is inherently subversive to the authority of governments.
One of the reasons these types of experience tend to be dismissed or belittled by the Status Quo, is because they directly or indirectly undermine their influence on society. Organized religions, for example, tend to be very antagonistic toward NDE accounts, since they seem to challenge long-established doctrines and their primacy as mediators between humanity and the Divine. The UFO phenomenon, on the other hand, is inherently subversive to the authority of governments by its very nature — the capacity of these objects to trespass national airspace or restricted areas with impunity is but one example, never mind the possibility UFO occupants may be kidnapping hapless citizens under the noses of law enforcement agencies.
Scientific institutions are probably the most challenged.
Scientific institutions are probably the most challenged by these type of experiences, since they transgress conventional models of the natural world, and raise the need to revise or update such models. Here we should note how even in the subculture of UFO research, the complexity of the alien abduction database also poses a challenge to hypotheses for the phenomenon championed by the most visible investigative bodies — e.g. MUFON, which tends to discard or overlook the more high-strangeness cases.
They pose a challenge to the current materialistic paradigm
Our current civilization has been built over the preeminence of the tangible over the intangible.
Since the age of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, our current civilization has been built over the preeminence of the tangible over the intangible, the empirical and measurable over the metaphysical; in short, the world of Matter over the world of Spirit. While there’s no denying the significant technological advances we’ve witnessed over the result of this, it has nonetheless caused an unfavorable prejudice against spiritual notions. The current Materialistic paradigm posits Consciousness is an emergent epiphenomenon caused by the firing of neurons inside the human brain. Both NDEs as well as some aspects pertaining to the UFO/alien encounter — like telepathic communication with the non-human entities, or even the possibility of channeled information — could be seen as falsifying evidence against the Mind=Brain scientific model. Here is interesting to point out how Dr. David Jacobs, currently one of the most notorious abduction researchers, seems to also have an extremely materialistic worldview.
They provide an expanded perspective of reality
What we normally experience in our everyday lives, is but a tiny sliver of the full spectrum of reality.
Like other transcendental experiences, NDEs and UFO/alien encounters endow the subject with the notion that what we normally experience in our everyday lives, is but a tiny sliver of the full spectrum of reality, and that much more is happening outside of our limited awareness. Such a realization has the potential for incredible growth, both at a personal and collective level.
In the 1980s Dr. Kenneth Ring, one of the most notorious researchers of near-death experiences, decided to take a look at the UFO literature with an open mind. He concluded both NDEs and UFO/alien encounters shared a common archetypal pattern: They were both shamanic initiations of sorts, intended to “implant a spiritual seed in the individual” so it could move into higher states of consciousness — the choosing of that particular word (implant) shouldn’t go overlooked by the UFO student.
Yet Ring saw the experience as just the 1st step in the transformation of these individuals, who would not doubt have to go through many other trials and tribulations in order to become a true shaman: A conduit between two worlds, travelling back and forth between this realm of existence and ‘the Other side.” Joe Lewels wrote:
That while we turned our back to the world of Spirit while we ravaged our home and put us and the rest of the biosphere on the brink of extinction, the “Other Side” grew impatient with our blindness, and sought a way to break through our societal blinders?
Nietzsche said that if you stare at the abyss, the abyss stares back at you. So what happens if you pretend the abyss doesn’t even exist?
Might the abyss not try to get our attention…by every means necessary?
And if the abyss finally gets us to notice it, what then? Do we resist what “It” has to say, or do we stop fighting and embrace the obliteration of our cherished boundaries? Maybe if we did just that, like Meister Eckhart recommended, the terrible demons tormenting us will become beautiful angels carrying us back Home.
We would know then, what we forgot.