Tag Archives: Unidentified flying objects


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Descent [Amazon, Bookshop UK, Publisher, Local Library] by Ken MacLeod.

MacLeod Descent

This 2014 novel is the most recent Ken MacLeod book I’ve read, and it has some near-future optimism that has become dismayingly dated in the last seven years of climate catastrophe and global pandemic. But it’s not set in any particular year, and I guess the sort of sanguine pivot away from Neoliberal hell that it depicts is still imaginable.

The story is set firmly in MacLeod’s own Scotland throughout, and its central plotline involves a sort of phildickian epistemological struggle with ufology. It is recounted by the protagonist Ryan Sinclair, who begins (after telling of a recurrent dream) with his teenage close encounter. The book also involves a troubled love triangle of the sort that MacLeod has treated before in The Stone Canal, although this one is squared off more neatly.

The Orbit first edition hardcover I read made it seem like a much bigger book than it actually is, with heavy page stock and a generously-sized typeface. It’s a fast read, and entertaining throughout.

Flying Saucers

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by C G Jung, trans. R F C Hull.

Jung Hull Flying Saucers

This fairly short book collects all of Jung’s writings relevant to ufology, principally the 1958 monograph “Flying Saucers,” which discusses UFOs in rumor, dreams, and modern art, along with the question of the premodern history of the phenomenon and its “non-psychological” (i.e. objective, material) aspect. An epilogue treats late-breaking ufological literature (in the 1950s): the evangelistic Secret of the Saucers by contactee Orfeo Angelucci, the sf novel The Black Cloud by astronomer Fred Hoyle, and John Wyndham’s sf novel The Midwich Cuckoos. Appended to the main text are three short pieces of correspondence “On Flying Saucers,” addressed to the periodical Weltwoche, the UPI news agency, and US military ufologist Major Donald Keyhoe. The last two letters are largely concerned to counter what Jung claimed were misrepresentations in the press regarding his credulity towards the empirical reality of flying saucers as material craft from beyond Earth.

Throughout the book, but especially in the section that analyzes seven dreams featuring flying saucers or something of the kind, Jung goes on at length about his own theories in more general terms that are not obviously germane to the topic at hand. In one admitted “digression,” he puzzled me by setting up an opposition between the “sex instinct” and the “power instinct,” while positing a “religious instinct for wholeness” that could reconcile and transcend them. I found this arrangement puzzling and theoretically incoherent, although it soon became evident that the “power instinct” was chiefly a rhetorical figure for Nietzsche’s interpretation of life, while the “sex instinct” referred to Freud’s (35-43).

Although the chapter on “Previous History of the Ufo Phenomenon” discusses instances going back to the sixteenth century and speculates about its presence in antiquity, Jung is especially concerned about the putatively US-centric 20th-century UFO sightings glut as a manifestation of collective mentality during a current crisis. In his opening “Introductory” he points to the precession of the equinox from Pisces to Aquarius or succession of “Platonic month” as the basis or essential context for stresses on the modern worldview (5). In his concluding remarks, he focuses on the Cold War and the polar division of the world system between red (Soviet) and white (US) alchemical complements (111).

Passport to Magonia

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Jacques Vallée.

Vallee Passport to Magonia

In early 2021, while UFOs were enjoying a fresh vogue in the mass media and Washington D.C., I read the 2014 reissue of Jacques Vallee’s third ufological book, Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers (1969). In this volume Vallee provides something like an inverted form of the “ancient astronaut theory” pioneered by Erich von Däniken in Chariots of the Gods (also 1969). Von Däniken’s hypotheses tend to flatten the reality of gods and angels into visiting extraterrestrial humanoids with a sort of “science” that “we” now comprehend. Vallee sees similar trans-historical connections, but instead observes that modern UFOs are a reiteration of just the sort of stories that have been told perennially of gods, angels, and fairies. These are expressly stories of otherworldly people and phenomena that we don’t understand, and we are just as ignorant of today’s alleged ufonauts as the eighth-century French bishop Agobard was ignorant of the visitors in flying ships from the region they called “Magonia.”

The continuities between the fairy faith and the tropes of ufology are conclusive, and drawn out through Vallee’s chapter titles. “Visions of a Parallel World” involve encounters with extraordinary realities and non-human intelligences. These latter are “The Good People” who have their own polity, “The Secret Commonwealth.” The abduction phenomenon is treated in “To Magonia … and Back!” whether the destination is outer space or fairyland. The changeling mytheme and its modern mutations make us “Nurselings of Immortality.”

Passport to Magonia resonates throughout with “The faint suspicion of a giant mystery, much larger than our current preoccupation with life on other planets” (58). At the same time, Vallee never abandons an acute skepticism, and a frustration with accounts that seem like pranks on an enormous scale. The mere falsity of any of the episodes cannot diminish the importance of the larger phenomenon; if nothing else, “these accounts show that it is possible to affect the lives of many people by showing them displays that are beyond their comprehension, or by convincing them that they have observed such phenomena, or by keeping alive the belief that their destiny is somehow controlled by occult forces” (20).

An appendix that is longer than the five body chapters of the book combined recounts “A Century of UFO Landings 1868-1968.” These hundreds of data each consist of a short paragraph of some three or four sentences, indexed by date and location. One of the nineteenth-century items is Aleister Crowley’s sighting of “two little men” in the Swiss Alps (191). (Crowley himself described them as “exactly the traditional gnome of German folk-tale; the Heinzelmanner that one sees sometimes on German beer mugs.”) The acme of these landings in my view were the numerous visitations of the “air locomotive” in its 1897 travels across the United States. These are also treated more extensively in the body of the book under the heading “Look, But Do Not Touch.”

Unlike von Däniken’s superstitious reductionism, Vallee’s careful “systematic documentation and literary illustration” (12) of the legendary dimensions of UFO lore and its precursors did not win him many readers in the decade of its initial publication. Fifty years later, though, it is still worth attention from anyone who would understand rather than fear or hope, when it comes to these perplexing stories. “We cannot be sure that we study something real, because we do not know what reality is; we can only be sure that our study will help us understand more, far more, about ourselves” (164).