In Supernatural, Meeting with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind, Graham Hancock writes about the powerful plant hallucinogen ayahuasca and its use by Indian shamans in South America as part of a sacred ritual. It’s a practice that continues through today and recently has attracted many westerners seeking everything from cures to depression to spiritual enlightenment.
A funny thing happens when most people take ayahuasca: they share a common vision that hasn’t changed for centuries. They enter a world where powerful spirits dwell and frequently encounter snakes, serpents and other strange beasts—creatures that often speak to the spiritual seekers telepathically.
Hancock himself has had several “sessions” with ayahuasca and during one he saw rows of brown and yellow snakes laid out in front of him in an intricate pattern “winding around each other like the DNA double helix”. In another session, he sees a an alien-like creature, then comes face-to-face with a large muscular man with the head of a crocodile that he determines is his guardian, protection from any dark forces that may try to enter his life.
In most ayahuasca journeys, the creatures encountered are benevolent, though their message is often not clear. In an article in the National Geographic, the writer talks of ingesting ayahuasca and encountering a God-like being who most closely resembles Santa Claus. She asks why God seems to hate her and is told “I have always loved you as my own child. Know that suffering is the greatest teacher on Earth. It leads us out of our belief in separation,” though it is not clear what this separation might be.
Hancock believes that “only a thin veil separates the world of everyday reality from the supernatural otherworlds”. And ayahuasca breaks through this thin wall, showing us realties that exist just outside of our perception. He believes that “the spirit world and its inhabitants are real, that supernatural powers and non-physical beings do exist’ and that under certain circumstances we are able to interact and even learn from these “spirits”.
So why do these spirits from the otherworld appear in such strange forms? Hancock speculates that “we are forced to cloth the external forces or beings that otherwise might be invisible to us, in a manner that we are able to recognize. Angels, demons, imps, elves, dwarves, are similar creatures but ones that appear in a guise that is culturally or personally determined.” They are, in fact, our myths come to life.
The mythology angle was first posited by the great philosopher Carl Jung, who tried to explain the meaning of UFOs in a book titled Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky. Jung speculated that the UFOs came from the collective unconscious, a vast repository of myths and dreams of people throughout the world, all connected in a complex matrix that transcends time and space.
While many believe that UFOs are spaceships from another planet, in the book Angels and Aliens, author Keith Thompson echoes Jung and Hancock proposing that that UFO encounters contain mythic and legendary elements—and may come from somewhere deep within our own psyche. Thompson compares UFOs to visionary experiences like “angelic visions, shamanic journeys and folkloric encounters with fairies”.
Most enthralling are the tales of those who encounter not just unidentified crafts, but their inhabitants. There are stories galore of people who have seen aliens, and many thousands who believe they have been brought to their “ships”, often for bizarre experiments. Here, Thompson also suggests that it’s our cultural upbringing that determines how we interpret what we see—angel or alien, friend or foe—and whether our encounter is positive or negative.
One person who has had such an encounter is the Reverend Michael J.S. Carter of Baltimore, who currently serves as the minister of a Unitarian Universalist congregation in North Carolina. Carter had a middle-of-the-night visitation by a gray alien—an incident that was then repeated over and over again, with a changing cast of extraterrestrial visitors.
The beings who drop in on him have different appearances and while most are the classic “grays”, they include a “green and scale-y, Spiderman-looking” entity. He watches as this ET “simply walks through my window and outside the building. I lived on the 15th floor at the time!”
It’s unclear what messages the visitors had to pass onto him, though for the most part they leave him with a positive, loving vibe. He gets special meaning from several passages of the Bible (see Ezekiel 1:16), which seems to reinforce his belief that UFOs and aliens have been around since the beginning of man and may be messengers sent by God. Once again, showing how we interpret the strange things we encounter through the lens of our own personal beliefs.
This story originally appeared on my Wake Up Call column at Patheos, October 31, 2015 and contains elements from my past stories on angels, aliens and mythology.