Swans Commentary » swans.com November 5, 2012  



New Age Flying Objects


by Michael Barker



"Flying saucers and messages from space rapidly became the late twentieth century's promise of deliverance from the possibility of a nuclear conflagration. The first use of the term 'flying saucer' on 24 June 1947 marked the genesis of a powerful myth that penetrated all levels of society and formed the crucible in which the New Age philosophies familiar to us today were forged." (1)


(Swans - November 5, 2012)   Flying saucers were the latest addition to a list of unconventional interests for a number of retired military figures who found refuge in "fringe" beliefs during their retirement. "Bored by the austerity of post-war Britain, they sought excitement and spiritual fulfillment by escaping into the world of spiritualism." Here one of the most prominent examples of such a figure is Lord Mountbatten of Burma, whose belief in UFOs "reached it peak at the height of public interest between 1950 and 1955"; that is, the time in his life "between leaving his post as Viceroy of India and taking up the highest positions in the British military." It was in 1950 with his "insistence that in 1950 his friend Charles Eade, editor of the London Sunday Dispatch, launched the saucers across the breakfast tables of the nation." By 1954 however, Mountbatten was becoming increasingly concerned that his own good name and that of his nephew, Prince Philip (the Duke of Edinburgh) -- who was also interested in UFOs -- would be brought into disrepute owing to the "growing numbers of charlatans and publicity seekers who had gravitated towards the subject." Mountbatten thus became far more cautious in making any public announcements on such matters. (2)

It appears that Mountbatten and Prince Philip's fascination with UFOs was not combined with any other spiritual or occult interests. However, a good example of an individual whose saucer interests blended seamlessly with the realm of mysticism was Air Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding (1882-1970), who after retiring as head of Fighter Command in 1942 "became a member of the Theosophical Society " and first spoke publicly about his belief in UFOs in 1954. Interestingly, when Air Marshal Sir Victor Goddard (1897-1987) retired in 1951, he reversed his earlier skepticism in flying saucers, "seemingly as a result of his interest in parapsychology" and went on to work closely with Sir George Trevelyan, helping him conceive the idea for the Wrekin Trust, which was formed in 1971 (when George retired from Attingham House). The initial financial aid for this project came from Lady Cynthia Sandys, a fellow saucer enthusiast who was part of Goddard's saucer lobby at Attingham (see later). (3)

Occult intrigue and UFOlogy also seem to find their match in members of intelligence agencies, and "few people know that the idea of an international conspiracy involving a saucer crash was a central theme in a fictional story written by a member of the British secret service." The book in question being Bernard Newman's thriller The Flying Saucer, which "was published by Gollancz in June 1948..." Another example is provided by "former intelligence officer" Dennis Wheatley who is the author of the popular UFO book, Star of Ill Omen (1952). (4)

Moving on to "nonfiction" we come to Cambridge-educated Gerald Heard -- who later "achieved recognition as one of the pioneers of the New Age movement in California" -- who penned the first British nonfiction book on the subject, with the intriguing title The Riddle of the Flying Saucers (1950). A few years later, Desmond Leslie and George Adamski's "nonfiction" bestseller Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953), which popularized talk of contact with "space brothers," was then published. This marked the launching point for Leslie's rise to guru status in the coming New Age movement. Here one should observe that Leslie's "decision to reject the prevailing culture of scientific materialism" was not entirely unexpected given his aristocratic pedigree, as he was "the product of a long line of eccentrics with occult leanings..." In fact, it turns out one of the major sources of inspiration for Leslie's interplanetary travelers came from a Theosophical Society book that was published in 1893 by W.J. Scott-Elliot titled Atlantis and Lemuria. Likewise Leslie's coauthor on their flying saucer classic, George Adamski, was a longstanding occultist who in 1936 had founded the "theosophically orientated" Royal Order of Tibet, so it appropriate that the "fundamental thesis" of Flying Saucers Have Landed is "little more than a modified version of popular theosophical teachings that stress spiritual evolution and the role of masters/aliens in that process." (5) As David Clarke and Andy Roberts observe in their book Flying Saucerers:

The new age movement's involvement with flying saucers did not suddenly appear in the 1950s. Its roots lie deeply in theosophy and spiritualism, both of which held that there were other layers to reality, worlds of experience other than those of everyday existence. Spiritualist and theosophical beliefs have embedded with them all the elements which formed the basis of new age thought in the mid-to-late twentieth century. Theosophy contended that the divine or the 'other' could be experienced directly without mediation from priest or dogma, while spiritualism is based on the belief that the soul survives after death and can interact with the living. The concept of spiritual and mental salvation was a core belief in both movements, as was the notion of other intelligences operating independently of humankind. These ideas recur time after time in reworked ways throughout the history of UFOlogy and clearly many with a broad spiritualist or theosophist background were attracted to the study of flying saucers, or sought to integrate saucers into their pantheon of beliefs. (p.107)

Another example is provided by George Unger's booklet Flying Saucers: Physical and Spiritual Aspects (1959), which "interpreted the contactee phenomenon within the context of anthroposophy " -- a religion devised by Rudolf Steiner after he resigned as head of the German section of the Theosophy Society. (6)

By the 1960s, however, the spiritual establishment was largely of the opinion that belief in flying saucers was incompatible with their own more sophisticated mumbo jumbo -- as published in their primary journal Psychic News. Notwithstanding this, smaller numbers of spiritualists in the UK were still interested in UFO phenomena, and a pressure group led by Air Marshal Sir Victor Goddard was formed at Sir George Trevelyan's new age centre at Attingham Park to lobby George -- who "was only mildly interested in saucers" -- to create a UFO study group at Attingham. This germinal group was, however, unsuccessful in forming its proposed study group. That said, there is one individual who met Sir George at Attingham Park in 1965 whose "place in the new age saucer nexus is crucial" and his name was Peter Caddy, the founder of the Findhorn community. (7) Caddy is important because:

Central to Findhorn's origins is a secret that the current leaders of the community would very much like to play down -- flying saucers. One of the core beliefs held by Findhorn's founders was that flying saucers existed, and their occupants were in psychic contact with them. It was also an article of faith that physical contact with the saucers was not only possible, it was certain. (p.111)

Caddy, as it happened, had been in telepathic contact with the "space brothers," an experience that led him to receive "an 'inner promoting' to compile a report on the nature of these messages, called An Introduction to the Nature and Purpose of Unidentified Flying Objects..." The report was then distributed to twenty-six people, some of whom included Lord Dowding and Prince Philip. In the latter instance Caddy forwarded Prince Philip the report through his "old friend" Squadron Leader Peter Horsely (who at the time was serving as Prince Philip's equerry), who saw to it that fellow saucer enthusiast Commander Michael Parker (the Prince's naval equerry) passed the report onto Prince Philip. Friends of UFOs clearly existed in high places. However, such beliefs were quietly ditched when Caddy left Findhorn in the 1970s: thereafter channeled messages from spacemen were demoted with a greater emphasis on "work with the nature spirits and more direction from God." (8)


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Michael Barker is an independent researcher who currently resides in the UK. In addition to his work for Swans, which can be found in the 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 archives, his other articles can be accessed at michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com. Please help fund his work.   (back)


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1.  David Clarke and Andy Roberts, Flying Saucerers: A Social History of UFOlogy (Alternative Albion, 2007), p.1. "[T]he study of flying saucers or UFOs is the study of people who see them, who believe in them and the mechanisms by which the flying saucer myth is promulgated. In this respect, the news media have played a significant part in the development and sustenance of the myth and they, in conjunction with key individuals and ideas within the flying saucer subculture, have driven the subject, adding layer after layer of meaning -- or obfuscation, depending on your point of view." (p.2) For example, the "modern version of the narrative" surrounding the Roswell incident "can be traced go a book of the same title published in 1980. "It was only at this later stage that accounts of bodies and wreckage with amazing properties were added to the basic story overheard by [Flight Lieutenant] Hughie Green in 1947. (p.14)

"One early freethinker whose ideas provide a direct route from the early twentieth century to the nascent new age saucer beliefs of the 1950s and beyond was Alfred Watkins (1855-1935)." Watkins is the author of The Old Straight Track (1935) which expounded his theory of ley lines. His ideas rose to prominence in the 1950s when "ex-RAF pilot Tony Wedd revived the concept" and eventually published them in his book Skyways and Landmarks (1961). During the 1950s "Wedd attended meetings of the Tunbridge Wells Flying Saucer Club" -- a group whose president was Air Marshal Sir Victor Goddard. Clarke and Roberts, Flying Saucerers, p.117, p.118.  (back)

2.  Clarke and Roberts, Flying Saucerers, p.54, p.55, p.56.  (back)

3.  Clarke and Roberts, Flying Saucerers, p.60, p.61. For the acknowledgment of Goddard's help in organizing the Wrekin Trust, see Sir George Trevelyan, Exploration into God: A Personal Quest for Spiritual Unity (Gateway Books, 1991). For funding details, see Frances Farrer, Sir George Trevelyan and the New Spiritual Awakening (Floris Books, 2002), p.130.  (back)

4.  Clarke and Roberts, Flying Saucerers, p.15, p.17.  (back)

5.  Clarke and Roberts, Flying Saucerers, p.22, p.38, p.39, p.41, p.90. Another example of influential nonfiction was The Flying Saucers are Real (1950), which was written by "a retired US marine corps major turned freelance journalist, Donald Keyhoe." (p.18)

For an excellent exposition on understanding UFOism as a theosophical religion, see Christopher Partridge, The Re-Enchantment of the West: Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture and Occulture, Volume 2 (T. & T. Clark Publishers, 2005), pp.165-206.

Prior to co-writing Flying Saucers Have Landed, Adamski had been a science fiction author, much like L. Ron Hubbard was before he founded the cult of Scientology in 1950. For more on Hubbard, see Russell Miller's book Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard (Henry Holt, 1988).  (back)

6.  Clarke and Roberts, Flying Saucerers, p.128.  (back)

7.  Clarke and Roberts, Flying Saucerers, p.108, p.109, p.111. "Other new age aficionados who hovered on the fringes of Goddard's would-be Attingham Group included Michael Parker, a key member of Prince Philip's staff, former MoD scientist Frank Houghton-Bentley, and Brinsley le Poer Trench (later Lord Clancarty). Dutch UFO enthusiast Johann Quanjer was also heavily involved. One of Quanjer's establishment friends, Lady Cynthia Sandys, a psychic medium, exemplified the often-ludicrous results of mixing new age beliefs." (p.109)

Brinsley le Poer Trench and Derek Dempster founded Flying Saucer Review in the 1950s. When Dempster left the magazine, Trench became editor, and "From 1956 it became increasingly a mouthpiece for the contactees and what one of the later editors, Gordon Creighton, ironically described as 'wild and absurd ideas.' Trench, like Desmond Leslie, believed that space people had been visiting Earth for millions of years." (p.159)  (back)

8.  Clarke and Roberts, Flying Saucerers, p.112, p.116.  (back)


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Published November 5, 2012