Behind The Scenes of Ufology’s “Secret College”, Reviewed

Many individuals in the community of UFO research have, and perhaps have had to acknowledge that change has been afoot for quite some time. My fellow Mysterious Universe blogger Nick Redfern has commented on the fact that, at some point, the majority of modern UFO reports seem to have become, at best, ambiguous lights hovering in the skies; the closer they drift to heavily populated areas, the more apparent, perhaps, that awareness of the presence of drones is becoming in our public mind.

I have expressed very similar themes in my own analysis of media reporting in relation to UFOs, which, arguably, is at times perhaps one of the most interesting cultural aspects associated with UFO studies (certainly more than rehashing continually the “classic” encounters, or dwelling on the vapid nothingness of the aforementioned “mystery lights”). In an article at my website, I broke down reasons why I think, frankly, that UFO research is most often misrepresented entirely by what we see on television shows promoting the subjects of “alien visitation” and the like. Contrary to this looming idea that “the Space Brothers are already here!”, I find that we are faced with nearly as many questions about UFOs–and the subject many suppose it represents–as we were at the outset of public awareness of the issue.

Indeed, not much has changed: we examine reports–spurious though many of them are–of mysterious “things” seen in the skies, and we suddenly presume that, since they are flying through our airspace, and often leave unto it in similar fashion, they must literally be from space… space people. Having oriented this idea around our cultural beliefs in advance of mankind’s own entry into the cosmos, perhaps this was a necessary thought game to play; the problem, today, is that this old idea has lingered, despite the fact that we, now having entered space as civilization, have managed to travel into space, and send robotized probes to other planets–even to passing comets in flight–and use them to stream information about the outer cosmos back to Earth.

Road sign warning of alien abduction

The universe is fascinating, but what little of it we’ve explored hasn’t exactly proven to be teeming with life, or anything similar to it. While disappointing to some, this should be viewed carefully alongside the evidence supporting UFOs as extraterrestrial space vehicles… if aliens were in our midst, wouldn’t you think we should have some evidence of the existence of alien life by now?

Which, still, many see UFOs as being representative of being. A comment posted online recently offered a dissenting opinion on my views about this, noting that,

“Unfortunately, Mr. Hanks is still questioning and trying to prove if there are aliens. Most of us are way past that. Where has he been, he just needs to look at the millions of photo’s taken all over the world. I have seen several UFOs. What Mr. Hanks really should be asking is what do the aliens want and why are they here!”

These sentiments are among some of the prevailing attitudes among many UFO advocates today, although for many who are well-versed in historical analysis of the UFO subject (both the open-minded interpretive studies, as well as the more skeptical historical perspectives that merely report on the subject), it is still difficult to understand what the phenomenon really represents, and what some perceive as a possible exotic presence in our midst may represent; questions all the more difficult to consider in midst of a void of hard, physical proof that has persisted since the beginning of the UFO era. Not to say that there has never been any, but simply that there has never been enough to satisfy mainstream academicians enough to begin a new scholarly foray into study of an apparent phenomenon underlying what we call UFOs.

Redfern and I are hardly the first to become troubled with such issues. In fact, around the time that the famous Colorado UFO Project overseen by physicist Edward Condon had been underway, a few researchers were already beginning to take issue with the findings of not only mainstream academia, but also the UFO research community. Chief among these had been Jacques Vallee, whose attention was steadily drifting away from the conventional bends and curves of the “extraterrestrial hypothesis” that most were following. Granted, the Condon Committee’s ultimate findings–that there was nothing of substance here worthy of further scientific study–weren’t satisfactory either (a point we’ll address a bit later, as it relates to Vallee).

Contrary to the directions modern ufology had been taking at the time, Vallee chose to stray away from the conventional attitudes of the day, and went “underground”, so to speak, relying on a network of serious academics who, working somewhat behind the scenes, had continued to pursue the UFO subject from a position some consider to be beyond the conventional attitudes of the time.

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This period of study was chronicled in a volume titled The Invisible College, the research of which I had been familiar with, but had not read, as I had done with Vallee’s other later offerings on the UFO subject, namely his Alien Contact Trilogy, which leapt from mythological studies of the phenomenon akin to that which appears in parts of The Invisible College and the similarly influential book Passport to Magonia, but also explored more hard-line scientific study of the UFO equation, as well as a decidedly skeptical breakdown of the claims of many “ET” proponents (as seen in the series’ third book, Revelations).

Anomalist Books has republished The Invisible College, and I was asked whether I might be interested in reviewing this latest edition of the book, which I agreed to do, in part because of my interest in comparing Vallee’s ideas from several decades ago, with my own opinions that have formed over the last few years in relation to the study of UFOs, and what can be learned–if anything–from them.

In the book’s original foreword, Vallee outlined observations of the phenomenon, and the “field” surrounding it, that I found to be strikingly familiar on a personal level. There is an element of dissatisfaction present in the author’s tone, paralleled somewhat strangely by a focus on characters the likes of psychic performer Uri Geller, who has variously managed to capture the attention of various researchers (and celebrities) over the years:

Today the events I’ve been monitoring seemed to have entered a phase that makes our methodology obsolete. The appearance on the scene of a few individuals with apparent abnormal abilities, like Uri Geller, who seeks and receives much publicity, and of others perhaps equally gifted, like my engineer friend, who wants absolutely to remain hidden, gives a new twist to this whole problem. It is not possible to study such data with the techniques of statistics or physics alone. The cooperation of a much larger group is needed, not as a new scientific society but a growing community of people seriously considering and researching the subject. For this reason I have decided to place on record the facts and issues as I have perceived them, hiding nothing of their complexity and stating what I think are their implications. And I propose the elements of a blueprint for continued serious examination of the problem.

Coming back to the Condon Committee’s findings on UFOs, and interesting element Vallee expresses in his analysis of the influence this project had on UFOs and the public mind was its international influence. Specifically, Vallee notes that the findings of Edward Condon had not merely presented a proverbial “death nail” to serious UFO studies in the west, but actually had been viewed with certain caution by the French space agency, as well as Russia:

According to that rumor, the Air Force was completely frustrated with the UFO problem and was looking for an excuse to get rid of it. The only problem was to find a university that was willing to run a negative report after a cursory examination of the facts. This, I repeat, was only a rumor. But this rumor was taken seriously enough in Paris to prevent the creation of an investigation committee similar to the American one. The Russians made some moves for the creation of a committee but cleverly awaited the development in the US before funding it and giving it an official stamp of approval. In Boulder Colorado a group was finally being assembled with much fanfare headed by Dr. Condon, a prestigious physicist close to retirement. The group had received a sizable grant to ponder ufology and it’s report was due in 1969. It would prove to be negative.

While the primary focus of this book has to do with Vallee and his “Invisible College” of associates, there is a large amount of his personal research presented, and in keeping with Vallee’s cross-comparisons between modern ufology and mankind’s mythic traditions and folklore, a heavy dose of the occult found its way into his writing here. Specifically, one occult figure of the past who I have found particularly interesting, John Dee, is discussed. In fact, Vallee was perhaps among the first UFO researchers willing to compare the study of occult practices with certain themes in UFO research, and in doing so, evoking parallels between perceived encounters between magical practitioners of the Middle Ages, and those of modern UFO contactees.

Jacques Vallee

Interestingly, Vallee spends a fair amount of time on what can easily be likened to ancient astronaut theories, particularly in relation to an examination of Phoenician amulets, Greek, Egyptian and Assyrian glyphs, and other sacred writings from ancient cultures:

The interpretation of this collection of artifacts raises several questions, because the classical statement that the flying disc is simply a primitive representation of the sun or the soul leaves much to be desired. In the first place is it common for a winged disc (a frequent symbol in antiquity) to show several beams emerging from its upper part? In what context are such representations encountered? If the disc is interpreted as some mythological symbol connected with the cosmos (as is indicated by the abundance of astronomical symbols and the seals: stars, crescent moons), should we think of the appendages of the disc in terms other than biological? In other words, should we speculate that the representation of the disk with extended claws may in fact seek to preserve the memory of a vision, or observation, of a flying craft capable of landing, of the type so frequently described in more recent history?

I begin to get slightly frantic at the thought of an “ancient alien” component here, though we must recognize that today’s culture is so very familiar with this subject thanks to the “renaissance” it has gone through thanks to History Channel’s more-than-often questionable programming on the subject. Similar to the presence ancient astronaut theories pose in our minds today as a result of such programming and media, it had been having its first heyday around the time of the authorship of The Invisible College, and though in opposition to an overt extraterrestrial hypothesis, Vallee’s writing had, at times, borrowed from popular ideas of the periods during which his books were authored (in a somewhat similar fashion, years later, his book Dimensions would see a foreword by Whitley Strieber, who had arguably been one of the leading names in the field of what would become a focus on research into purported abductions by alien beings).

Coming back to ancient aliens, Vallee does note his familiarity with cultural interpretations of such glyphs and symbols, negating any question over his ignorance of their more widely-accepted interpretations:

“One cannot build a complete theory of the similarity between ancient concepts and modern phenomenal from a single set of symbols because they are subject to a variety of interpretations. Nevertheless, such elements deserve to be patiently pursued, and the winged disc should be tracked down.”

Vallee notes further, “I am well aware, in particular, that the flying disc has often been used to symbolize the winged soul. It is also associated with the serpent and the caduceus (healing symbol).

Aesculapian staff - Caduceus

Arguably, the most interesting components within Vallee’s breakdown of the UFO subject as presented in The Invisible College is a theme which would arise more and more throughout the years in his various writings: that UFOs are representative of some kind of control mechanism, which steers aspects of human consciousness as time carries along… but to what end?

“What interests me is not the likelihood of such a contact (how can we prove it?) but the fact that a subculture now exists in every country, based on the idea that humanity has a higher destiny. You’ll find people in remote towns of California who have literally dropped out of the city life (where they had held responsible positions and enjoyed good salaries) because they had received messages from space instructing them to do so. These people are not hippies, although similar experiences have been frequent also among younger commune members. The people I am referring to are middle-aged, have families and steady jobs. They would be regarded as perfectly square if it were not for the fact that their lives have been changed by what they consider to be genuine extraterrestrial communication. They went. And, a curious fact in the current state of the world, they seem perfectly happy. We can categorize them among the victims of city pressures who have sought the psychological comfort of small-town life. But we might also wonder whether they’re not the forerunners of the new spiritual movement.”

That Vallee ties this into spiritual movements is not without justification, as whether or not one endorses such ideas themselves, it is hard to ignore the way that people who have ascribed to such beliefs in the past have, time and time again, promoted such ideas to cult-like status (note here that Vallee’s writings on the UFO subject over the decades have also included extensive commentary on the potential dangers of UFO cults). Not to say that all spiritual interpretations of UFOs are tantamount to the formations of cults, but that there have, at least, been more than a few New Age religious fanatics that have incorporated the all-too-familiar memes of “friendly Space Brothers” as de-facto saviors into the foundations of their often warped belief systems.

A final poignant quote from Vallee on the direction of ufology, and his place in it:

“For a long time I believed that science would gradually realize the importance of paranormal phenomenon as an opportunity to expand its theories of the world. I thought that here was our only chance to redefine human dignity in the world to come.

I now believe differently.

It is not simply our freedom that is in danger now. It is a certain concept of humanity. And it is no longer besides that we must turn to understand the nature of the psychic crisis and find its key. Nor will the answer be discovered in some secret file in Washington. The solution lies where it has always been: within ourselves. We can reach it anytime we want.”

It almost, at times, becomes hard to imagine that Vallee did not, or perhaps does not still have his own somewhat spiritual perspectives on the matter of UFOs. To him, the apparent presence of strange phenomenon in our skies became representative of something interacting with us, and perhaps controlling or even teaching us things about ourselves. Strieber had similarly wondered in his Communion whether the experiences he had with… “what?”… might not be evolution as viewed by humanity in midst of the experience. Truely, Vallee’s interpretations of the phenomenon have echoed this sentiment more than a few times, though arguably, one could be of the mind to think that the influence UFOs have had on our culture over time may be apparent, even without the actual existence of physical spacecraft or other aerial phenomenon in any form. Belief is a strange, and at times profound thing, and the cultural significance of the phenomenon we call UFOs is obvious, regardless of where one stands in relation to their existence.

The Invisible College has been reissued courtesy of Anomalist Books, and can be purchased by clicking here.

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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