SHAMANISM AND UFO ABDUCTIONS
April 16, 1999
There have been some anecdotal reports suggesting experiential
similarities between UFO close encounter
reports and shamanic initiations and rituals. The following annotated
bibliography on the overlap between
shaminism in different global traditions and aspects of the UFO
phenomenon is presented by Dr. Douglass
Price-Williams in order to obtain feedback from other anthropologists.
Dr. Price-Williams is professor emeritus in
anthropology at UCLA and has spent a substantial portion of his career
studying shaminism. We at NIDS and
Dr. Price-Williams invite feedback from the anthropology community on
this topic. Dr. Price-Williams stresses
that this annotated bibliography is incomplete and preliminary and may
serve as a foundation for further studies
and reports from other anthropologists. We are particularly interested
in data and case studies that
anthropologists may have found that pertain to this hypothesis. Any
comments can be e-mailed to:
nids at anv.net
SHAMANISM AND UFO ABDUCTIONS
by Douglass Price-Williams, docteur es
The literature on shamanism is now very extensive; the majority of the
material has been written by
anthropologists, and has been written from a number of different
perspectives. The classic study, from the point
of view of comparative religion, is the book by Eliade (discussed
below). Some anthropologists have taken a
regional perspective, like Eurasia1 or Colombia2. Others have focused on
a single shaman and his/her symbols
and activities, like Sharon in Peru3 or Myerhoff with a Huichol shaman
in Mexico4, or Peters with a Nepalese
shaman5. Still others have grappled with the problems of definition and
differentiation from other
magico-religious specialists such as medicine men, sorcerers, priests
etc., and the psychological bases of their
experience (e.g. Peters and Price-Williams6; Winkelman7). Still others
have concentrated on the hallucinogenic
factors involved in the pursuit of shamanic trance (e.g. Harner's
Hallucinogens and Shamanism8). And others
again have collected texts in which the shaman him or her self related
their experiences (e.g. Joan Halifax9).
For the purposes of this presentation we can say that although scholars
have provided numerous definitions of
shamanism, it can be briefly stated that the shaman is a person who
enters into what we would now call an
altered state of consciousness, and during that period, take what is
called 'a magical flight', going to either what
are generally called 'lower' or 'higher' worlds, in which the shaman
meets forces, who have either stolen the life
force (soul) of a human person or inflicted damage of some kind to
humankind. As a result of his training and
experiential journeys, the shaman returns with a number of capabilities,
such as dream interpretation, the power
of healing, locating food sources for the community, and a number of
other helpful actions for the sake of the
group or tribe. There are of course many variants to this and to the
stimuli that shamans resort to invoke an
altered state of consciousness. Some take psychedelic plants, others
rely on drumming. Visualization - imagery
that is - is pretty constant. Their journey, needless to say, is taken
realistically; we would understand it as
If you review the shamanistic literature, you will note that most of it
is concerned with the final product - little is
noted of the training or the kinds of experiences that are, as it were,
pre-shamanic, that is to say where the person
has spontaneous experiences that suggest to the community that this
person could become a shaman. It is in
this area of inquiry, in my opinion, that more fruitful comparisons of
shamans and UFO experiences may be
found, especially in the sub-class of abduction experiences.
Whereas the expert shaman can be said to be quite in charge, quite
conscious of what he/she is doing, the
beginnings may not be like that. Although many shamans have begun their
lives with a definite vision quest,
others, as it were, have had "shamanism thrust on them". Many future
shamans have had severe illness, many of
these being psychological problems (quite a number of early
anthropologists flatly considered that the shaman
Interpretation typique iconoclaste protestante!
L'Imaginaire est du domaine de la "folie" selon le Protestant,esprit
desincarne,tandis que,pour la plupart des
peuples,l'Imaginaire est du domaine de la substantificque Vie.
Others began their shamanistic lives by having unusual dreams, and
perhaps visions, at an early
age. But some have had the spirits intrude. Eliade cited an early work
in which the actual term "abducted" was
used: "a man or woman may be made a seer by being bodily abducted by the
spirits. [One young man] was taken
up to heaven by the sky-spirits and given a beautiful body such as
theirs. When he returned to earth he was a
seer and the sky-spirits served him in his cures".
Although a significant part of the shamanistic experience - that to do
with the "lower worlds", in which the
shaman goes down caves or cracks in the rock or below the vegetation,
and the encounters with "power
animals"10, simply (as far as I am aware; the so-called "hollow-earth"
theory notwithstanding) do not appear in
the reported experiences of UFO abductees, nevertheless there is
sufficient thematic similarities for a person very
familiar with the UFO data, like Thomas Bullard11 to note: " How much
abduction narratives have in common
with a very different kind of story can be seen in the account of a
Siberian shaman's initiation [here he cites from
a description written by Eliade]. This account parallels the capture,
examination, conference, and aftermath of
abductees, while even the implant and fluorescent examination room have
analogues in this narrative".
Ce qui denote une souce physiologique commune.
The phenomena of light is especially salient in the shamanic experience.
Eliade12 emphasizes it: " ..a mysterious
light which the shaman suddenly feels in his body, inside his head,
within the brain...." Eliade says further "
Here, too, we find the experience of height and ascent, and even of
levitation, which characterizes Siberian
shamanism, but which is also found elsewhere and which is regarded as a
typical feature of shamanic techniques
entree dans le reve,bloquage des afferences de l'oreille interne donne
sensation de vol et reves de vol.
That such light phenomena might be seen external to the shaman has been
noted by Richard Erdoes
who worked with Sioux folk in North Dakota and reported in his book Lame
Deer, Seeker of Visions.13
"[The ritual] began with ceremonial drumming, and soon afterward, tiny
lights began appearing throughout the
room. They came floating up out of the darkness for a fraction of a
second, and they were gone almost before
eye and brain had been able to register them". Also, Erdoes noted, his
photographic electronic equipment went
The phenomena of little lights is probably widespread. I myself have
been in two places in the world where the
local folklore mention them, the first was among the Tiv tribe of
Central Nigeria. An anthropologist who preceded
me there, Eleanor Smith-Bowen noted in her book on the Tiv people14 that
balls of light have been seen cruising
over the ground.
The Tiv identified them as witches, the Europeans as atmospheric
phenomena. The second
place was on the big island of Hava'ii, in which these lights - which
are said to alight on trees and fly above
houses, are labeled "akualeles"15. Parenthetically, in both places, I
never saw any such phenomena. I do not
think this phenomena of lights is restricted to these places; but it
would take some copious research to
document them elsewhere. In Holger Kalweit's book on Shamanism16, there
is a whole chapter on lights and balls
of fire (Chapter 18). One example might be relevant to the UFO case: "We
have seen that illumination does not
only manifest subjectively, within the shaman, his radiance is often
perceived by others as well. It is said, for
instance, that a bright flame hovered above the Eskimo shaman
Kritdlarssuark as he led his companions on a
train of dog sleighs in search of a distant people."
There is another report from Prem Das17 on a visit to a Huichol shaman
in Mexico who saw what he called
'luminous clouds'. They were identified by Don Jose, the Huichol shaman:
"The luminous clouds...these are the urucate (spirit beings)."
Another relevant element (to the UFO literature on "implants") is
something also noted by Eliade. This is the
insertion (by the spirits) of sacred stones into the body into a future
When it comes to the more "humanoid" appearance of spirits, we find in
shamanistic accounts and folklore
about as much variety as do the UFO reports. The following selections of
descriptions of spirit beings come from
the shamans' accounts in Joan Halifax's book19.
"He has horns..his ears stick out..his face is big..his hair hangs off
his body..A foul thing!" (p.59. !Kung
"A lovely and beautiful helping spirit..A white woman" (p.67. Caribou
Eskimo of Hudson Bay).
"There came a little man up from the ground..he was half as long as a
man, was clad in a white frock, and had
black arms. His hair was curly".
"The following year I repaired to a place where a brook was flowing from
a little lake. A little man with a pointed
head, which was quite bald, came up from the stream". (p.112. Both cases
from the Angmagsalik Eskimos of
"Shore spirits, who run about with a pointed skin hood on their heads;
their breaches are queerly short, and
made of bearskin. Their feet are twisted upward, and they seem to walk
only on their heels. They hold their
hands in such a fashion that the thumb is always bent in over the
palm...they resemble most of all sweet little live
dolls; they are no taller than the length of a man's arm" (p.119.
"A very beautiful woman. Her figure was very slight, she was no more
than 71 cm. tall..Her hair fell down to her
shoulders in short black tresses." ( p.121. Southern Tungu, Siberia).
I myself have received contemporary oral reports of "little men"
traditions. Larry Peters, an old friend and former
student, told me that established shamans in the Katmandu, Nepal,
region, told him that they were taught their
art by so-called "forest shamans", little beings with pointed heads. In
1997 I was invited to go to Katmandu by a
Nepalese psychologist to study shamanism with him, and Larry and I would
have delved further into this
tradition. However, I was not able to go at the last moment. Another
friend, Holger Kalweit told me that there was
a strong tradition of little men who are supposed to live in Eastern
Tibet, in Amdo province, with the Dzopa
ethnic group. Holger also told me that on the island in the middle of
Lake Titicaca, Bolivia, such "little men" are
said to live side by side with ordinary people.
The above outline is just a sketch of the topic. What it all amounts to
would warrant another discussion. I am
just leaving it here for the moment. The only thing to note now is that
some shamanic reports seem to go beyond
the subjective - other people appear to report light phenomena and the
like. To go further than this would need a
more focused investigation.
1.Mihaly Hoppal (ed): Shamanism in Eurasia. Parts 1 & 2. Gottingen:
Edition Herodot, 1984.
2.G. Reichel-Dolmatoff: The Shaman and the Jaguar. Philadelphia:
University Press, 1975.
3.Douglas Sharon: Wizard of the Four Winds. A Shamans Story. N.Y.,
Free Press, 1978.
4.Barbara Myerhoff: Peyote Hunt. The Sacred Journey of the Huichol
Indians. Ithaca and New York, Cornell University Press, 1974.
5.Larry Peters: Ecstasy and Healing in Nepal. Malibu, California:
6.L. Peters and D. Price-Williams: "Toward an experiential analysis
shamanism. American Ethnologist, 1980, Vol. 7, 397-418.
7.M. J. Winkelman: Shamans, Priests and Witches. A Cross-Cultural
of Magico-Religious Practitioners. Arizona State University:
Anthropological Research Papers, No. 44. 1992.
8.Michael J. Harner (ed): Hallucinogens and Shamanism. London: Oxford
University Press, 1973.
9.Joan Halifax (ed): Shamanic Voices. A Survey of Visionary
N.Y., E. P. Dutton Paperback, 1979.
10.For both of these elements read particularly Chapter 4 of Michael
Harner "The Way of the Shaman". San Francisco: Harper & Row 1980.
obvious reason why these elements do not appear in the UFO
may be that they would not be congruent with the notion of
inter-planetary visitors coming here in the conventional way, i.e.
through space. It is as if our culture might be ready for sky-gods
not chthonic deities.
11.Thomas E. Bullard, "The UFO Abduction Phenomena: Past Research and
Future Prospects". p. 102, of Rima Laibow, Robert Sollod and John
Wilson (eds): Anomalous Experiences and Trauma: Current
Research and Clinical Perspectives. Proceedings of TREAT II.
by the Center for Treatment and Research of Experienced Anomalous
Trauma. Dobbs Ferry, New York. 1992.
12.Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Bollingen
Series LXXVI. Princeton University Press. Paperback edition 1972.
60-61. In these pages, Eliade cites the obvious parallels with the
inner and clear light of Buddhist and Yogic schools.
13.This book was published in 1972. The account I am following here,
quotes Erdoes, is from D. Scott Rogo "Shamanism, ESP, and the
Paranormal". Chapter 8 of Shirley Nicholson (ed): Shamanism: An
Expanded View of Reality. Madras & London. The Theosophical
House, Wheaton, Ill, USA, 1987.
14.Return to Laughter.
15.See the account in Kalweits book, ref# 16, p. 207. Kalweit cites
article by Theodore Kelsey "Flying gods of Hawaii", in Full
A Report from the Islands. Vol. 1, Nos. 3 & 4, 1980.
16.Holger Kalweit: Dreamtime and Inner Space. The World of the Shaman.
Boston & London, 1988. The quotation is on p. 204.
17.Prem Das, of course, is actually an American, the colleague of
Leary. See his report in Joan Halifax Shamanic Voices, pp.
18.Mircea Eliade, op.cit., pp. 46-49. The account is from aboriginal
Australians. Kalweit also cites this kind of material in Ch. 22.
19.Joan Halifax, Shamanic Voices, op.cit. The page numbers refer to
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