(This is the fifth and final post of a series. To begin the series, click here.)
“Oh–oh, the eyes are there. Always the eyes are there. … Only the eyes are talking to me. I–I–I–I don’t understand that. Oh–the eyes don’t have a body. They’re just eyes … not connected to a body. They’re just there. They’re just up close to me, pressing against my eyes.”
– Transcript of hypnotic session with Barney Hill, February 22, 1964
In later sessions with the psychiatrist Benjamin Simon, Barney Hill will speak of the alien eyes as having “pushed into my eyes,” and of a single eye as “staring at me, or rather not staring at me, but being a part of me.” In one sense, I think I can guess what’s going on here, and why Barney feels the eyes “pressing” or “pushing” into his. He’s holding binoculars, looking at the mysterious light that he and his wife Betty think have been following them through the midnight isolation of the New Hampshire mountains. Tense, frightened, he pushes the binoculars into his own eyes. More than two years later, under hypnosis, the memory of the sensation emerges, freighted with the baggage from Barney’s individual and group unconscious that I’ve written about in earlier posts.
Under hypnosis, Barney drew the alien eyes. I’m not sure whether he used the term “wraparound eyes” for them. In any event, these eyes–later to be modified in important ways–entered the abduction tradition with him, at the tradition’s very beginning.
UFO skeptic Martin Kottmeyer was sure he’d found exactly where Barney got those eyes from. In a 1994 column for The Skeptical Inquirer, entitled “The Eyes that Spoke,” Kottmeyer pointed out that very similar eyes figured in an episode of “The Outer Limits” (“The Bellero Shield”) that aired on February 10, 1964–12 days before Barney’s first hypnotic regression.
In vain did Betty Hill, and the UFOlogists who’ve followed her, protest that she and Barney never watched “The Outer Limits,” certainly had not seen that show. The coincidence of dates is just too impressive. I hear an ominous voice intoning, “Can it be coincidence that … ?” and I’m obliged to answer: not very likely. TV shows and their contents are “in the air”; who knows who Barney might have heard talking about “The Bellero Shield,” even if he hadn’t seen it himself? As far as I’m concerned, Kottmeyer’s proven his point.
But has he given the whole explanation for this new model of the alien eyes, and for its tenacity and importance in the UFO abduction accounts that emerged out of the Hills’ experience? I doubt it. The bizarre eyes that Barney Hill pioneered, and that Whitley Strieber brought to a kind of iconic perfection, may have been new in America in 1964. But they’re also ancient. I wrote about them in my last post.
When Barney speaks of a single eye as “staring at me, or rather not staring at me, but being a part of me,” I think of a strange passage of the ancient Jewish mystical text Hekhalot Rabbati that describes the “eye of hashmal.”
The phrase is from the Book of Ezekiel, though you wouldn’t know it from the translations. “I beheld as the eye of hashmal,” says Ezekiel in 1:27; and the translations give the Hebrew word, literally meaning “eye,” as “color.” (Hashmal normally comes across as either “electrum” or “amber.”) But for Hekhalot Rabbati it really is an eye: a disembodied eye, which “stands and selects among those who descend to the merkabah, distinguishing him who was worthy to descend to the merkabah from him who was unworthy.”
Barney certainly had ways to know about the wraparound eyes of “The Bellero Shield,” even if he missed the show. I can’t think of any way–unless we bring in the collective unconscious, which of course is where I’m headed–that he might have known about the “eye of hashmal.”
In the years that followed, the alien eyes became the single most striking feature of the abductors’ physiognomy. By 1994, a full generation after the Hills’ hypnotic sessions, Harvard psychiatrist John Mack was able to write: “By far the most prominent features are huge, black eyes which curve upward and are more rounded toward the center of the head and pointed at the outer edge. They seem to have no whites or pupils [quite a difference from the sketch Barney drew!] … have a compelling power, and the abductees will often wish to avoid looking directly into them because of the overwhelming dread of their own sense of self, or loss of will, that occurs when they do so.”
Of course Mack wrote these words in 1994, seven years after Whitley Strieber’s Communion changed the rules of the game. Thomas Bullard’s monumental study UFO Abductions: The Measure of a Mystery was published in 1987, the same year that Communion came out. Presumably it reflects the pre-1987 situation. Here’s what Bullard had to say:
“The large, compelling eyes of humanoids capture attention like no other bodily feature. The size and hypnotic attraction of these organs prefigure their role as instruments of control … [W]itnesses declare that the eyes never blinked … or seldom did … or else stared or gazed with a piercing, penetrating quality. … The blinks may be unusual even when present, one example deriving from Betty Andreasson’s report that the beings’ eyes slanted upward as if the lids closed from side to side. [Dr. Freud, please call your office!] … Now and then the witness specifies a dark or black color … but the supposition that the eyes are usually dark and uniform in coloration, or possessed of extensive pupils filling most or all of the eye, is reinforced by the poverty of alternatives.”
And now that we’ve brought Freud into this …
The eyes may be about lots of things. But sex is one of them. Writing at the beginning of the 1990s, UFOlogist (and Temple University history professor) David Jacobs told of a woman abductee who’d been abducted as a 15-year-old girl and made to have sex with an older man, while an alien came and stared into her eyes. “He’s in my eyes. He’s flooding my eyes. He’s completely penetrating me, every bit of me is in my eyes.”
Other hypnotic subjects of Jacobs’ remembered themselves falling into the alien eyes, sometimes having orgasm in the process. One of Mack’s abductees connected with the aliens by “going in” their eyes; he also had a vision of himself seing inside a “giant vaginal hairball” which “clarified into the hair of a goddess being born … flowing from the vaginal lips.” The two images were linked by his childhood nightmare of a witch forcing him to look into her “huge eyes,” at which point “I was all hers and she would whisk me away.”
(So of course we are in the realm of dreams. We knew that all along.)
In last week’s post I wrote about finding the paperback of Strieber’s Communion on a bookstore rack; and, having written a paper not long before on the “split-open” eyes that so terrified the ancient Jewish “descenders to the merkabah,” seeing the cover painting with (if you’ll pardon the expression) new eyes. The “split-open” eyes, that I’d read about in centuries-old Hebrew texts, seemed right there in front of me.
The painting was made by Ted Jacobs, “an artist skilled in the image-composition techniques used by police departments.” It “succeeded brilliantly,” according to Strieber, in conveying the image that haunted him: a female alien with whom he was sexually involved “for most of my adult life, and … she is the one I remember from all my childhood.”
At one point in the process of creating the painting (says Strieber in Communion), “Ted asked me … how [the eyes] looked closed. I got another shock: The image closed its eyes. I saw the huge, glassy structures recede and loosen, becoming wrinkled, and the lids come down and up at the same time, to close just below the middle of the eyeball.”
(Dr. Freud is surely scribbling furiously.)
Jacobs’ painting succeeded brilliantly in another way. It made Strieber a fortune. No sooner did the hardcover of Communion land on the bookstore shelves in January 1987, than it started leaping off again. I think the cover deserves the credit.
Ed Conroy quotes Strieber’s publisher: “That book started to sell the minute it appeared on the bookshelves; no reviews, no appearances, nothing. And we had word from the bookstores that Communion, with this strange picture on the cover, was selling.”
Yes. With this strange picture on the cover. There are repeated stories of people who look at that strange picture–particularly, at those strange eyes–and realize they’re seeing a being with which they’re already familiar. Memories of their own abductions then begin to emerge. Bookstore browsers in the thousands, then the millions, must have had the same sensation, that they’d seen it before. Their hands went to their wallets.
And a remarkable piece of urban folklore emerged: that two huge-eyed aliens had been spotted poring over Communion in a Lexington Avenue bookstore. (Reported by Tracy Cochran in New York magazine, 3/30/87.) Myth, urban and otherwise, speaks the truth. In the cover of that book, the UFO aliens were physically present.
* * * * *
In 1995, I gave a paper before the American Academy of Religion, comparing the trance-journeying “descenders to the merkabah” and what they “saw,” to the hypnotized UFO abductees and what they “remembered.” I focused, as I have in these past two posts, on the eyes of the alien beings.
I imagine it was the first time anyone gave a paper on UFOs in front of the American Academy of Religion. I’d guess it was also the last. To say it created a sensation would be an understatement. A year later I submitted a version of it to a distinguished journal of religious studies; the experience taught me something about academia and its limitations. But that’s another story.
I wrote in the paper that the parallels between the Hekhalot texts and the UFO abductions “suggest that the UFO abduction memories are something more than modern legend. They point toward something very basic in human religious experience and perception; which, though subject to cultural interpretation, has a nucleus within it that transcends culture.”
About the eyes, I wrote: “The sexual overtones and associations of the image will suggest that its extraordinary power is rooted in the unchanging nature of human sexuality, and in the traumas that human sexuality can inflict on a child exposed to it at the wrong time and in the wrong ways.” In the paper, I made the provisional assumption that UFO abduction memories were distorted memories of childhood sexual abuse. “I will use this as a working hypothesis,” I wrote, “and build upon it in the course of this paper, while recognizing that we may be forced eventually to modify it or abandon it altogether in favor of some more subtle and complex explanation.”
What might that “more subtle and complex explanation” be? I’m still searching for it. This series of posts, and earlier posts I’ve done on abductions–and on the whole UFO problem–are part of that search.
“We will then be on the road,” I told the American Academy of Religion 18 years ago, “toward solving this strange and important mystery, that is so ancient yet so very contemporary.”
We’re still on that road.
by David Halperin
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This is the conclusion of a series of posts on “The Mystery of the Merkabah.” You can read the earlier posts by clicking:
1. The Mystery of the Merkabah – “What Was That Paradise?”
2. The Mystery of the Merkabah – How Real is “Real”?
3. The Mystery of the Merkabah – Alien Abduction, Shamanic Journey
4. The Mystery of the Merkabah – The Eyes of Terror
Next Thursday, August 1, I’ll post chapter 7 of my “parallel novel” to Journal of a UFO Investigator–the Outtakes of a UFO Investigator. Then I’ll take a break from blogging, for the month of August.
I’ll be back the first week of September, with chapter 8 of the Outtakes.