In the world of Forteana there's the fringe, and then there's the WTF! fringe. Those are the kind of cases most 'serious' researchers don't even want to touch with a ten-foot pole, for fear of losing what large of little credibility they may have among their peers (or at least, what THEY think they have). But every so often, there come a few bold investigators who take a look into these highly strange cases, for they know there might just be a hidden clue inside of them; a sign that could reveal some sort of pattern emerging from these "damnedest of the damned" reports, when viewed from a larger scope.
A method in the madness, if you will.
One of those bold souls is iconoclast UFOlogist Jacques Vallee. Ever since he dared to take his scientific hat off when he wrote Passport to Magonia, he decided to pay attention to many similarities between ancient folklore and the close encounters of the 3rd kind. A decision that proved fruitful, and forced him to rethink his previous ideas about the UFO phenomenon —turning him into something of a heretic to many of his colleagues, especially the ones who were seeking a way to "kick the tires" of one of those elusive flying saucers.
In chapter 2 of his book Dimensions: A Casebook of Alien Contact, Vallee relates the peculiar story of Joe Simonton, an elderly chicken farmer who lived alone in a small house in the vicinity of Eagle River, Wisconsin. On the morning of April 18, 1961, while Mr. Simonton was busy with his daily chores, he was suddenly alerted by a scratching noise he later described to the investigators as "knobby tires on a wet pavement." When he went out to see what was going on, he was faced with a sight out of the covers of Amazing Stories: a silvery disk shaped like 2 inverted bowls of around 30 feet in diameter, hovering close to the ground without actually touching it.
Suddenly a hatch opened, and Simonton was able to observe 3 occupants inside the craft, which he described as "resembling Italians" due to their dark hair and olive skin. The UFOnauts wore black, close-fitting outfits with turtleneck tops and knit helmets (!).
One of the men held up a jug which seemed to be made of the same chrome-like metal than the saucer, and without saying a word he gestured Simonton to indicate they wanted some water. Simonton took the jug and went inside the house to fill it in his sink, and when he returned he took a better look at the interior of the craft, with all the de-rigueur retro-futuristic instrument panels often described in the close encounter reports of that era; it was then that Simonton noticed one of these questionably-fashioned Italians (knit helmets, seriously?) was "frying food on a flameless grill of some sort". When he made a motion to make the men know he was interested in their food --notice an absence of the telepathic communication which is almost universal in the more modern close encounters, particularly in abduction experiences-- the one who might have been the leader --his pants had a narrow red trim around the trousers-- handed him three of the thin cookies, which were about three inches long and perforated with small holes.
After this bizarre trade was concluded, one of the UFOnauts proceeded to close the hatch, which fitted so perfectly in the saucer's hull Simonton could barely see its outline. The object then rose about 20 feet before taking off straight south, with such an enormous speed it bent some nearby pine trees in its trail.
Simonton then proceeded to do a very un-American thing: he ventured to taste one of these examples of truly foreign cuisine. His conclusion --now more according to the behavior of his countrymen-- was that the alien pancake "tasted like cardboard." Defying the laws of gravity and inertia is one thing, but clearly those "Italians" could learn a thing or two from their counterparts in OUR dimension.
Simonton kept one of the two remaining cookies, and gave the last one to the Air Force investigators, who interviewed him on behalf of project Blue Book after being alerted by the local sheriff, who vouched for the honesty of this lonely chicken farmer and stated that, in his opinion, the witness obviously believed this incredible event had actually happened.
The Air Force sent the pancake to the Food and Drug Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, where it was thoroughly analyzed. The conclusion:
The cake was composed of hydrogenated fat, starch, buckwheat hulls, soya bean hulls, wheat bran. Bacteria and radiation readings were normal for this material.
In other words, there was nothing particularly extraordinary about this seemingly ordinary piece of evidence. No exotic spice from Alpha Centauri, or any other element which couldn't have originated here on Earth. As for Simonton's account, the Blue Book psychologists attributed it to some mental aberration which triggered the lonely farmer to insert a dream he had into his waking consciousness, therein producing a daylight hallucination of some sort.
Joe Simonton's story could have ended up only as a colorful footnote in the improbable annals of some supermarket tabloid --"Man Eats a Pancake from Pluto!"-- were it not for the diligence of Jacques Vallee, whose research in Western folklore allowed him to notice some tantalizing coincidences between Simonton's alien cookies, and the food of the fay folk as described in Walter Evans-Wentz book The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, first published in 1909.
It is interesting that the analysis performed for the Air Force did not mention the presence of salt in the pancakes given to Simonton. Indeed, Evans-Wentz was told by an Irishman who was quite familiar with the Gentry [Irish folk term for the fairies] that "they never taste anything salt, but eat fresh meat and drink pure water." Pure water is what the saucer men took from Simonton. ~Excerpt from J. Vallee's Dimensions: A Casebook of Alien Contact
So here is what appears to be a link, as bizarre and nonsensical as it may initially seem, between a modern UFO close encounter and the European folklore. But what about other cultural traditions? Could we find other examples in which salt is a key component between the interactions of humans and supernatural beings? The answer seems to be a resounding YES.
In my constant meanderings through the world wide web, while doing some research on the enigmatic Aluxob --the sprite-like entities which are part of the Mayan mythology, and are still venerated to this day by their descendants in the Yucatán peninsula-- I stumbled upon a very curious folk tale attributed to a man named José Norberto Uc Colí, telling the story of a farmer who once found himself in a most peculiar and frightful circumstance: A duel to the death with one of these Mayan pixies!
The story goes like this (and bear with me, since I'm translating the text from Spanish as best as I can, while at the same time adding my own spin): Once upon a time, there was a farmer who every morning before dawn went out to attend to his field, located high in the mountain. For years the land had been generous with its fruits and the farmer was prosperous, and the forest animals and the birds would regularly feed off the plants inside the field before he came to work, but he wouldn't mind since the crops were plentiful enough.
One day the farmer found his field destroyed and his crops completely ruined. Blaming the animals and the birds, he went on a furious killing rampage against the culprits of his misfortune; he hunted down the deer, the boar, the badger and the squirrel; he also killed the birds, both the small and the large ones, and when they tried to flee the birds would squawk very loudly to alert the other creatures from the farmer's rage.
The next Friday morning when he was climbing up to the field, before he crossed the gate the farmer found himself surrounded by an eerie silence; suddenly he heard a loud voice coming out of nowhere, and the voice said this:
--"From this day on you shall not put another foot on this ground, for you are an ungrateful man and evil has taken hold of you; because you no longer love your family who for many years accompanied you in your toil of this land, which has given them sustenance for so long; you have forsaken the sacrifices you used to perform with all your heart and as payment you always reaped a good yield, even though your neighbors didn't enjoy the same luck."
The farmer understood that the voice was that of an Alux, a spirit guardian of Nature, who was recriminating him for discontinuing the ritual offerings he used to perform with diligence, as rightful payment for the plentiful crops he obtained from the land.
But the farmer refused to listen, for he was still convinced it was the animals and the birds the ones who destroyed his crops; he hadn't yet understood the damage had been done by the tricksterish Alux, who --in accordance to the conduct of most Twilight creatures-- had viciously turned on him when it felt cheated.
So the farmer told the Alux it has no right to prevent him from entering his own property. This infuriated the supernatural being --like most of its kind across all cultures, the Mayan duende is portrayed by the legend as very temperamental-- resulting in the Alux challenging the man to a duel to the death, to be held next Tuesday before dawn. The farmer valiantly accepts and insults the Alux, calling him short and ugly; at that same moment a wasp stings him in the eyebrow, which caused him to close his eyes in pain, and when he opened them again he saw a great number of venomous snakes coiled around the posts of the field's gate, prompting him to quickly back away from the entrance and flee.
When the farmer returned to his home, his wife is puzzled by her husband's arriving so unusually early, and she asked him if something was wrong. He angrily told him about his encounter with the Alux and the duel he agreed to have with it, and his wife then related how her grandfather once told her that anyone who is ever threatened by the sprite and try to escape from it, never live to tell the tale. The wife is also worried that all who were killed by the Alux don't even get to rest in peace in the afterlife; they are doomed to be reincarnated into animals instead.
It was then that it dawned on the reckless farmer just how totally screwed he really was, because he remembered that no firearm made by man had any effect on these creatures, whereas the Alux carried a little shotgun that was lethal --Nice time to remember that little detail, dude!
His wife recommended to her husband to seek the help of the village elders, for maybe one among them knew some ancient secret that might be useful. The farmer did as he was told, but none of the seniors in his community knew anything that could help him in his hour of need. The hopeless farmer returned to his home, so worried that he lost all appetite, and did nothing but wait for the hour when he would have to meet the deadly Alux… and his death.
But then a very tired old man arrived to the village, and when he encountered the troubled farmer, the old man asked what was wrong with him. The farmer evaded the question, for he had lost all hope by then, but the old man replied that he knew what was tormenting the poor farmer, but first this enigmatic stranger requested a glass of water and a cigar, before giving him the solution to his dilemma.
The farmer's eyes grew bright with joy when he heard the words of the old man, and he rapidly brought the water and cigar, inviting the stranger to sit down and make himself comfortable. The the old man did as told, and without never asking the farmer to relate his encounter with the Alux, this is what he told him:
--"Today go and buy 5 metres of raw blanket, and without ever dipping it in water cut the cloth to make you a shirt with it that will cover you from head to toes, and make sure not to leave any holes in it, for you could be killed through them. Only leave a single orifice that you may use to see the Alux, and when the time comes don't get upset first, let the alux speak and insult you all it wants, and when it tells you to shoot first don't do so; remind it of its threat to kill you and taunt the Alux to open fire, recite the magic words "Xma-ichquil tzoroz" and the creature will not be able to resist itself, and when it shoots stay still and don't move; from your spot you will shoot it with bullets made of salt and smoked with burned dry chili peppers [emphasis mine].
The farmer thanked the old man profusely and prepared to follow the instructions of who undoubtedly was some sort of wise shaman in disguise --that or someone with even a worse fashion sense than Joe Simonton's Italians…
Thus the farmer prepared himself for the duel with the Alux by following the advice of the shaman fashionista. Once again, before he crossed the entrance of the field, he heard the voice of his supernatural foe, commending the farmer for his courage, but mocking the strange attire he was wearing (the blanket shirt). The Alux told the farmer to make haste and shoot first, for the hour was growing late and the Nature spirit needed to attend to his Aluxing business elsewhere, but the farmer refused and taunted the being to make the first shot, since the Alux was the one who had threatened him not to set foot on his land. The farmer recited the strange incantation given to him by the old man, and with this the Alux couldn't contain itself and made fire, yet all the bullets in its tiny rifle were spread all over the ground, not one ever even touching the raw canvas shielding the farmer --I'm giving myself some poetic license in assuming the Alux's rifle was tiny, since the legend doesn't really describe it; it doesn't even describe the appearance of the Mayan pixie! Perhaps the author just assumed anyone would know what these beings look like, just as no one would bother to describe the appearance of a cat to a modern audience.
But getting back to the climax of our story, when the farmer saw his chance he fired his own gun at the Alux, and presently a great and terrible scream was heard, and the goblin duelist fell; but before its body touched the ground, the Alux transformed itself into a fox (!), and in this shape crawled wounded out of the farmer's field.
The man wasn't able to enjoy his victory, for a complete silence fell all around him; unnerved he fled back to his home.
The defeat of the Alux carried a heavy price for the farmer, though. He did manage to live to tell the tale, yes; but his field turned barren and dry from that day on, never to produce any more crops for the wicked man, who thought he could cheat the forces of Nature without any punishment.
Here the story ends, so what should we make of it? To the attentive reader, there are a number of interesting similarities with other folk tales hailing from different cultural traditions; like for example the Alux's ability to shape-shift into a fox --and before you ask, YES there are foxes living in Mexico and the regions inhabited by the Maya-- not to mention a number of elements which are also present in Fortean cases presumed to be real-life events (the "cone of silence" often reported by witnesses).
But the main reason why I chose to share the story with you, was the salt. Here is not just a matter of a complete absence of salt in the composition of the pancakes offered to Simonton by the saucer occupants, or the Fay folk's distaste of it as recorded by the Celtic traditions; in this instance salt is shown as lethal to an otherwise invincible creature.
Unless one suspects all these Fortean beings share an evolutionary link with the common slug, there has to be some other reason why salt --one of the most abundant minerals on Earth, and one that is essential for life, since our bodies can't produce it-- doesn't agree with them.
The mentioning of firearms in the Alux story, clearly shows the tale is not older than the arrival of the Conquistadors to the New World, so an skeptic could say that the salt reference is linked with the Christian superstition of throwing salt over your left shoulder whenever you spill some over the table, as it's meant to blind the devil waiting there; yet why should Satan be vulnerable against a little pinch of good ole sodium chloride? Why is salt used in magical rituals to create protection circles meant to guard the practitioner against evil spirits? Why why WHY???
Even though I find myself unable to answer these questions, perhaps someone else will: Last April, Micah Hanks had Joshua Cutchin as a guest in the Gralien Report radio program. Joshua, who was indirectly responsible for the writing of this essay, is currently investigating the uncanny relationships between Fortean phenomena and food, in preparation for a book he's working on; maybe he will be able to provide another missing clue in this culinary quest.
But in the meantime, here's a little suggestion to Fortean investigators: Don't be afraid of pursuing pieces of evidence that are seemingly-nonsensical, because these mysteries are NOT supposed to follow any logic --by any normal standards anyway.
And to any alien abductee reading this: Forget about surveillance equipment and sensor lights! Instead draw a salt circle around your bed, keep a big salt shaker near your night lamp, and consider eating a large pizza with LOTS of anchovies every night.
Jacques Vallee (1988). Dimensions: A Casebook of Alien Contact. Anomalist Books [p. 49-52]
José Norberto Uc Colí. El duende alux "cuidador del Mayab": http://www.calkini.net/leyendasytradiciones/duendealux.htm