Caliban: Hast thou not dropped from heaven?
Stephano: Out o’ th’ moon, I do assure thee. I was the man i’ th’ moon when time was.
—The Tempest, Act II, Scene 2
I’m not yet ready to review Chris Aubeck and Martin Shough’s new book, Return to Magonia: Investigating UFOs in History (Anomalist Books, 2015) for a very simple reason: I’m not yet done reading it. But there’s one chapter in it that particularly interests me, and that I’d like to share with you now.
The book’s title is perhaps a little misleading. It’s not a hunt for “ancient astronauts,” as you might at first imagine, but something far more sophisticated. Aubeck and Shough have tracked down, using but not exclusively relying on the dazzling 21st-century tool of the Internet, reports of aerial anomalies that aren’t quite the UFO phenomenon as we’ve known it since 1947, but have enough in common with it to provide an instructive context.
In the authors’ words: “We have set out to examine some of the strange phenomena documented over the last three or four centuries with completely modern tools, using science to assess UFO sightings in history. But first we want to go back in time, and try to get inside some of those old printed stories. We want to see them in their true historical context before asking the question: ‘Do some of them hide real anomalies, or not?’ And either way, we are still curious. We want to know whether they resemble modern cases. And we’re willing to go to great lengths to find out.”
Have they succeeded? As I said, I’m not yet ready to review the book. But my old friend Jerome Clark has done a review for Fortean Times, and he judges it “a model of how to conduct productive historical UFO and anomalies studies. Other writers will come along with comparable efforts, but this is an instant classic and likely to remain an enduring one.”
But back to the chapter that really caught my eye, for reasons that will become clear later in this post.
It’s titled simply, “Men in the Moon,” and it collects stories in which people look at the moon and see it turned strange. In particular, they see human figures on it or in its vicinity. The earliest of their stories is from 1619. Their most recent, though involving the sun rather than the moon, is from 1957. They give the lion’s share of their attention to a story which they attribute to the Leicester Chronicle of August 29, 1829. But it appears from the sequel, and from an allusion in a peculiar book published in London in 1830, that this is a slip-up on the part of these otherwise meticulous authors. The actual source was the York Herald of August 22.
On the evening of August 20, according to that newspaper, “the moon seemed to part in two, its disc separating down the centre, and leaving an apparent space of about one yard between the two hemispheres, in which the distant and deep azure of the sky was visible. Whilst in this state, from the northern limb of the lunar orbit, a great appearance darted forth in form like the head of a spear, and surrounded with brilliant stars. On a sudden, it seemed to be withdrawn, and in its place appeared the distinct form of two human figures, which were visible to the waist, and one arm and the hand of one of them was extended on the surface of that half of the disk from which it emerged. A deep red girdle was round the head of one of them.”
The sighting, which the paper attributes only to an unnamed “person [who] has called at our office,” was said to have been witnessed by several people (equally anonymous) for more than an hour. It pretty clearly presupposes a full moon. But alas, as Aubeck and Shough point out, the moon was entering its fourth quarter on August 20, 1829.
So shall we adopt the obvious explanation that the “sighting” is a tall tale, concocted either by the journalist or his alleged informant? Or shall we take the more difficult path of supposing a collective hallucination, genuinely experienced by sincere people? Either way the story is of interest. For if invented, why should it have been invented in this shape, without any obvious political or religious symbolism attached?
Here’s a few of the other reports Aubeck and Shough have brought together:
“In 1804, The Christian Observer published a letter describing the experience of a woman named Margaret Thomas, who lived near Milford Haven in Wales. On July 19, at between 10 and 11:00 p.m., her daughter happened to open the front door ‘when she saw something in the form of a cross hover to and from over the moon.’ She called for her mother to look and together they saw a black cross and ‘[t]he moon then divided into three parts, a considerable distance from each other, not in different directions but perpendicular.’ The image faded and then ‘the moon appeared again, in a strange figure, and an awful form, much like a woman in deep mourning, with a hood on her head, covering her face, in a bending posture, to the earth.'”
I get the impression that the “strange … awful” female form is not on the moon, but is herself the moon.
A remarkable tale from Prague in 1619, which was then Act I Scene 1 of the long-running horror show known as the Thirty Years’ War: “The gentlemen looked up … and saw a globe looking like a moon on fire. It split and divided into two parts like a circle that would be cut equally in two. But what is noteworthy is that from one of these two parts were formed four small globes. All this was done with measurement of time, as if someone were to open a box from which he would out four smaller ones. But the most surprising was that one of these small globes disappeared and in its place was seen the like of a bloody crucifix.”
Afterward the four reshaped themselves into one “large globe-shaped moon,” and the process repeated itself several times. Here there is some evident symbolism: a “bloody crucifix” prophesying the orgies of slaughter and torture that were to tear the religious status quo of post-Reformation Europe into pieces. But I also note the presence of a Jungian quaternity: four objects, the Fourth in some way different from the other three.
It’s also possible to see a quaternity in the Milford Haven episode: the three parts of the moon, then the “awful” form of the woman, the totality, as the Fourth. (I know, I know: this requires some squeezing of the data. We Jungians have to do that every so often.)
And a report from the beginning of the modern UFO era, from the sighting wave that followed Kenneth Arnold’s history-making sighting of June 24, 1947. From the Omaha (Nebraska) World Herald of July 7, 1947–a clipping conveniently reproduced, like so many of the sources, in Aubeck and Shough’s book:
“A woman reported that on a recent night she saw the figure of a man kneeling near the moon. By his side was a lion with a long, furry tail. Before the picture faded, three other men appeared. They wore what looked like tin hats. One carried a machine gun.”
There were three other witnesses, equally unnamed, all of whom allegedly saw the same things the woman saw.
In all of these stories, it seems to me, we’re dealing not with the moon but with a moon, a hallucinatory moon that superimposed itself on the real one, in most cases fitting so tightly that the witness(es) couldn’t tell the two apart. (The Prague report is the most explicit: not the moon itself, but “a globe looking like a moon on fire.”)
But the most important story of this genre–IMHO–is one that Aubeck and Shough missed, even though I blogged about it nearly five years ago. It took place at Canakkale, by the Dardanelles, on July 5, 1683. There were six witnesses, some identified by name. The man reporting the sighting was the notorious Jewish heretic–magus, theologian, cult leader–Abraham Cardozo. I’ve translated the story, along with many of Cardozo’s other writings, from their original Hebrew.
The sighting, which is certainly no fictional contrivance but a compelling, devastating hallucination that imperiled Cardozo’s faith and nearly cost him his life, might almost have been scripted by Dr. Jung himself. A quaternity of figures on the moon: three men and one woman, the men named (as blessed ghosts) and the woman left unidentified. I can’t help thinking of that “awful form, much like a woman in deep mourning,” seen in Wales in 1804. But on the basis of the theology-driven art of Cardozo’s native Spain, we can do what he himself couldn’t or wouldn’t: give the woman a name.
I’ve done all this in my blog post and I won’t repeat it here. I’ll only say that the data assembled by Aubeck and Shough provide an extremely useful context for Cardozo’s experience, and that Cardozo’s narrative may provide a guide for interpreting the others.
It also builds a bridge between them and the post-1947 UFO phenomenon; for I think I can argue that Cardozo’s story provides the key to understanding one of the all-time classic, all-time mystifying UFO sightings of the modern era.
But that’s a tale for another time.
by David Halperin
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