30 May 2011


Michael D. Swords. Grassroots UFOs: Case Reports from the Centre for UFO Studies, (compiled from original interviews by John P Timmerman). Anomalist Books, 2011.

Between 1980 and 1992 John P. Timmerman of the Centre for UFO Studies held UFO-related displays at several locations in the United States and Canada, at which he was approached by numerous people who related their own 'UFO experiences', many of which Timmerman taped.
This book, originally published by the Fund for UFO Research in 2005, and effectively unobtainable outside the US, is based on 1,179 of these reports, which Timmerman and his helpers transcribed. From these Swords has constructed catalogue-like summaries, but which in a number of cases retain some of the original words of the speakers.

This is raw, unmediated ufology, and what strikes me is how unlike the sanitised product this often is. Sure there are some classical cases of domed disks and the like, but also lots of other things; anomalous lights, beings materialising in bedrooms, great black triangles, and stuff which is so weird that you could not possibly compartmentalise it at all. It is clear that the idea of "seeing a UFO" is used by people to characterise a huge variety of phenomena and experiences. These include things like an encounter with a Christ-like being at a Christmas dance then going outside to see a Christmas star in a field, a globe of light leading a smaller one as it were a child and going to see a school game, a man possessed by a ball of light, and a lady who sees a red light somehow coming out of herself and filling the room, or something invisible crossing the sky as if the whole sky is moving and so on.

Clearly none of this material was ever investigated, and common sense tells us that if it was, many of the stories would have turned out to generated by misperceptions or misidentifications. There are a good number of cases that look like hypnogogic hallucinations or ISP. Still others have all the absurd quality of dreams. One wonders sometimes if people relate events which happened in their past, which were actually dreams, to family members, these family members can then start 'remembering' that they also experienced it.

What Timmerman has assembled is not some set of scientific or quasiscientific documents, and it would be a fools errand for someone to try and treat them as such, but a great, and very important, collection of late 20th century North American folklore, and as such the original tapes and transcripts need to be preserved in a university folklore department, or failing that, the AFU archives in Sweden. They are almost certainly telling us more things about ourselves than about imaginary aliens, one of which is very obvious: how the quasiscientific/technical vocabulary of ufology has replaced traditional narratives as a means of describing anomalous phenomena and experiences. Much of what is reported here would in past times be interpreted in terms of religious experience, folk spiritualism, fairy lore or witchcraft. Only a minority really have a technological feel to them, many more are haunting stories which tell of the mysterious otherness of wild nature. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson.

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