Ghostology: UFOs, the paranormal in decline?

This past week a myriad of news articles appeared after British UFO researchers hinted that in 10 years the UFO phenomena may disappear from the popular culture due to an ever decreasing number of UFO sightings and better explanations for proposed UFO phenomena.  So why is a ghost blog writing about this subject?  Because UFOs are part of that larger study known as the paranormal.  Most serious paranormal radio programs like Coast to Coast, the nations #1 overnight radio program, lumps all kinds of subjects from ghosts to UFOs and even Bigfoot into this same category.  I am here to say: not all paranormal subjects are the same and that ghosts and the afterlife have much stronger appeal and longevity than other paranormal subjects.

I am not bashing UFOs or the people who study them, but I also know from first hand experience that many of the claims and expectations from their study are poorly constructed and unreasonable.  In this article I will contrast the merits of studying ghosts over UFOs as a focus for the paranormal.

First, I believe there are several examples of UFO cases that deserve attention like Roswell, New Mexico and Bentwaters, England.  But the majority of UFOs incidents rely on antidotal evidence and personal stories; moreover, there is a strong cultural element that seems to influence the experience like alien movies and popular media.  When Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released in 1977, it changed the way the public visualized aliens from outer space from large monster-like beings dressed in sliver space suits with antennas in the 50s to the smaller humanoid “greys” with large eyes and few facial features.  UFO researchers will point out the “greys” were described before 1977, but after that time the retro monster in a sliver suite all but disappeared which indicates a strong cultural element in the  UFO phenomena. Ghostly experiences are different, not that they are not influenced by culture, but the details don’t seem to change.  The way that people describe and interpret ghost phenomena is influenced by culture but the actual characteristics are unusually the same, a spirit that is restless or with purpose appears among the living.  The more the spirit is “restless” the more random is the incident and the more purpose exhibited the more consciousness and intent has been perceived.  These are very general descriptions and does not hold true for every situation, but throughout time and location ghostly events have demonstrated general characteristics.

As a trained archaeologists focusing on Central America I have also often taken issue with many UFO researchers who claim many ancient ruins were the results of aliens.  Authored in 1968 by Erich von Däniken, Chariots of the Gods presented the hypothesis that the technologies and religions of many ancient civilizations were given to them by ancient astronauts who were welcomed as gods.  Unfortunately for UFO enthusiasts, archaeology has advanced our knowledge of these ancient peoples and there has been no evidence to support Däniken’s ideas.

One example of ancient artifacts used by Däniken to bolster his UFO hypothesis would be Lord Pacal the Great’s sarcophagus lid found at the ancient city of Palenque in modern day Mexico.  Däniken claimed the figure was ancient astronaut and identified many elements as breathing apparatuses and other mechanisms used for space travel.  Since then archaeologist and art historians have interpreted the scene as Pacal the Great falling into the underworld at the time of his death.  The latter description is based on long and studious studies of Maya iconography with the help of the modern Maya as well as the whole of Maya art.  Däniken’s work uses almost no scholarly sources but rather relies on his own creative interpretations not unlike an ink blot test given by a psychiatrist.

The Maya did in fact believe in ghosts.  A large part of Central American and Maya art is dedicated to the veneration of ancestors who at time would visit their descendants to give council and supernatural power to existing leaders.  The Maya were the same as many today who have had ghostly relatives return to give instruction or messages. The Maya also had stories of haunted forests that after dark espoused the lost souls of unfinished or tragic individuals.  There is no great leap of faith to understand their beliefs; one simply can come to an understanding through modern equivalents found in every part of the world.

I am fascinated with UFOs and their accounts and I admit to have had a couple of UFO sightings in my life, but even then I understood there are many different explanations for UFO sightings.  There are too many possibilities and in my opinion too little verifiable history for me to confidently conclude that UFOs are a reality.  There are a handful of UFO incidents that seem to defy explanation but compared to the depth and ubiquitous reports of ghosts I choose to focus on what I believe to be irrefutable–ghost are real and interact with the living every day.


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