If it hadn’t been for Carl Jung, I doubt if I would ever have read Orfeo Angelucci’s The Secret of the Saucers.
The book, published in 1955 by Ray Palmer’s “Amherst Press” and now available in complete and also a truncated (but more easily searchable) form on the Web, belongs to that malodorous genre of early UFO writing known as the “contactee” literature. The “contactees” were hucksters who claimed to have met and spoken with our “space brothers” in the flying saucers–handsome Nordic blonds (usually) from Venus or Mars or wherever, come to rescue us benighted earthlings from our self-destructive ways. They were our saviors, the contactees their prophets.
It’s difficult to recall nowadays, now that most of the contactees have slipped into oblivion–the infamous George Adamski is probably the only one whose name remains familiar–how prominent they were in the 1950s and 60s, and how intensely we “scientific UFOlogists” loathed them. It wasn’t just that they were liars, conscienceless crooks exploiting the gullibility of the naive and the pathetic for their own profit. More important for us, they were the people who gave UFOlogy a bad name. Their preposterous stories provided the debunkers, who didn’t understand or else willfully ignored the vast gulf that lay between the contactees and us, with one more excuse to hoot us down.
But those who knew the contactees best knew they weren’t all alike. The New York City radio host Long John Nebel, normally flippant and contemptuous, could point to one contactee whose story “was, and is, the most imaginative, the most beautiful, and the most fascinating of them all. His name is Orfeo Angelucci.” Every so often, Nebel wrote in his 1961 memoir The Way Out World, Angelucci “gets to New York, and we have lunch and chat. And every time I’m more impressed than before.”
Impressed with what, Nebel doesn’t say. But a deeper thinker than Nebel got to know Angelucci through his writing, and was even more impressed. Carl Jung stumbled upon The Secret of the Saucers, he tells us, just in time to include it in the epilogue to his 1959 Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky. He describes Angelucci (whom of course he’d never met) as “an americanized Italian, naive and–if appearances do not deceive us–serious and idealistic.”
For Jung, Angelucci’s tale is nothing less than a pélerinage de l’âme, “pilgrimage of the soul.” “Without having the faintest inkling of psychology, Angelucci has described in the greatest detail the mystic experience associated with a Ufo vision. … The story is so naive and clear that a reader interested in psychology can see at once how far it confirms my previous conclusions. It could even be regarded as a unique document that sheds a great deal of light on the genesis and assimilation of Ufo mythology.”
Reading these words in 1961, at age 13, I wanted to scream at Jung: Dummy! Don’t you realize Angelucci is just a faker? But of course Jung, then at the end of his life, realized a great many things that at age 13 I couldn’t possibly have imagined.
The “secret of the saucers,” in a nutshell, is this: they are us, and we are not what we seem.
This Earth, so sad and squalid underneath its surface beauty, so filled with pain and cruelty and wrong, is not our home. It is, rather, a dismal prison in which we’ve been confined: “a steel-like dungeon of dense matter with its erroneous manifestations of sin, sickness, corruption, evil, decay, and repeated deaths.” Our true home is a vanished planet called “Lucifer,” its orbit between those of Mars and Jupiter. “Among the etheric beings, or heavenly hosts, it was called the Morning Star. Among all planets it was the most radiant planet in the universe.”
The “prince of this shining planet” was also named Lucifer; and the legends about the fall of Lucifer–“son of the morning,” Isaiah calls him (14:12)–are true in their essentials. Under his leadership, many of the Luciferians rebelled “against the etheric beings and the Father, or Source,” and consequently “fell into the dream of mind in matter upon the dark planet of sorrows.”
This is what we humans are, ex-Luciferians–or at any rate large numbers of us, for there are also people on this Earth of less exalted pedigree. The Luciferians who did not rebel, did not fall, are now the saucer people. They’re here to extend help and guidance to us, their fallen brethren.
All these things Orfeo is told during a seven-day interlude of something akin to “missing time,” during which his body carries on as normal, continues to go to work in the Lockheed plant in California where he’s employed, yet he has no recollection until six months afterward of what befell the “real” Orfeo during those seven days. Only he’s no longer Orfeo but “Neptune,” the name he intuitively gave to the first of the saucer people whom he encountered the year before. It turns out that “Neptune” is his real (Luciferian) identity. All this is explained to him by his new companions, “Orion” and the gorgeous “Lyra,” with whom he will experience first fleshly lust (of this Earth) and then the true ecstasy of the mingling of souls.
With his Luciferian name, Orfeo (or should I say “Neptune”?) receives a Luciferian body which is and always was his own true body. Frail and sickly since childhood, Orfeo/Neptune is now “perfectly proportioned … amazingly light and ethereal and vibrant with life. … My handsome new body was not my body, and yet it was!”
So Angelucci is not just a “contactee,” not just a prophetic spokesperson for the benevolent alien. He is himself that alien; and in his alienness lies his superiority.
He is, in other words, a Gnostic. If The Secret of the Saucers were to have turned up, in ancient Greek or Coptic, somewhere in the Egyptian sands, we’d call it a straight presentation of Gnostic mythology and anthropology (which for the Gnostics were one and the same).
Some scholars will tell you that Gnosticism was a heretical form of Christianity, which in the first three or four centuries of the Christian Era offered stiff competition to what we now think of as the “orthodox” church. Others will say, no, Gnosticism was a mindset of the ancient world that transcended Christianity and wasn’t limited to it, although some expressions of Gnosticism indeed made use of a Christian vocabulary. (Similarly, Jesus Christ makes an appearance in Angelucci’s visions but is far from their pivotal figure.) Hans Jonas, who belongs to the second school, gives a powerful description of the Gnostic mindset in his book The Gnostic Religion, first published in 1958–a few years too late for Angelucci to have seen it when he was writing The Secret of the Saucers.
“The alien is that which stems from elsewhere and does not belong here. To those who do belong here it is thus the strange, the unfamiliar and incomprehensible; but their world on its part is just as incomprehensible to the alien who comes to dwell here, and like a foreign land where it is far from home. Then it suffers the lot of the stranger who is lonely, unprotected, uncomprehended and uncomprehending in a situation full of danger.”
(I first read these words in 1975, living in Israel, a foreign land whose language I spoke well enough to get by but not quite well enough to feel at home, a land which had just passed through a terrible war and anticipated a coming war even more terrible. How mightily they resonated within me!)
“Anguish and homesickness”–Jonas goes on–“are a part of the stranger’s lot. The stranger who does not know the ways of the foreign land wanders about lost; if he learns its ways too well, he forgets that he is a stranger and gets lost in a different sense by succumbing to the lure of the alien world and becoming estranged from his own origin. … In his alienation from himself the distress has gone, but this very fact is the culmination of the stranger’s tragedy.”
Remembrance and recognition are the alien’s salvation. He comes to realize that his alienness is “a mark of excellence, a source of power and of a secret life unknown to the environment and in the last resort impregnable to it, as it is incomprehensible to the creatures of this world. This superiority of the alien which distinguishes it even here, though secretly, is its manifest glory in its own native realm, which is outside this world.”
Orfeo’s interaction with his “double” Neptune, who is both not-Orfeo and most profoundly the true Orfeo, might have been taken straight from that loveliest product of ancient Gnosticism, “The Hymn of the Pearl.” I won’t try to quote from this little masterpiece. There’s a full translation in Jonas’s book, and a splendid poetic rendering in G.R.S. Mead’s The Hymn of the Robe of Glory. Mead’s book, like his earlier Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, was published at the beginning of the 20th century. Unlike Jonas’s Gnostic Religion, it’s a book that certainly could have made its way onto Orfeo’s bookshelf.
So what are we to make of Angelucci’s Gnosticism? Something bubbling up from the depths of the unconscious he shares with the rest of the species, as I suppose Jung would be inclined to think? Or a story, “imaginative” and “beautiful” and “fascinating” as Nebel called it, cribbed from somebody like G.R.S. Mead? (Angelucci’s formal education was intermittent, due to his fragile health. He made up for it by voracious reading–primarily on “scientific” subjects, according to him, but who knows how broad his idea of “science” might have been?)
Is it possible Angelucci wasn’t quite as “naive” as Jung imagined, and the gap between him and hustlers like George Adamski was narrower than Nebel may have thought? Could I have been right at age 13, that he was a con man like the rest of the contactees but with a cleverer idea for a pitch? Might his fake earnestness have seduced Jung into finding depths in him that aren’t there?
Yet there is something strange about Angelucci, that sets him apart from the rest of the contactees. Jung put his finger on it when he floated the idea, for which as far as I know there’s no evidence whatever, that “Orfeo Angelucci” might be a pseudonym. He marvels at the name’s aptness, if invented. “But if it appears in his birth certificate, then the matter becomes more problematical.”
Unlike the banal, generic-astral names Angelucci gives his aliens or himself qua alien–“Neptune,” “Orion,” “Lyra”–the name “Orfeo” is profoundly resonant with the story our 20th-century Orfeo comes to tell. He’s “Orpheus,” mythic traveler to an alien and uncanny world, bringing back with him (as Jung says) “Eleusinian tidings of immortality.” “Angelucci,” according to www.ancestry.com, is “a pet form of the personal name Angelo.” That is, “angel.”
And whom does this “angel” choose as his bride (also pointed out by Jung)? “In 1936 I met Mabel Borgianini, an attractive Italian girl who is a direct descendant of the famous Borgias. From the first, both of us knew that we were meant for each other.” “Borgianini”–and if you’re looking for a name that evokes “sin, sickness, corruption, evil, decay, and repeated deaths,” you couldn’t do much better than “Borgia.” “Meant for each other”–destined, if we view them through the symbolic lenses of their names, to effect the integration of the opposites. Just the sort of thing Jung wrote about.
But surely it’s coincidence? I think it must be more. I think it thoroughly plausible that the sickly child Orfeo, meditating on who he was and why fate had set him apart from the healthy little boys and girls playing outside his window, turned to books of Greek myth for an answer. Nomen est omen was the view of the ancients–well, some ancients anyway–and little Orfeo found in his name an omen of his destiny. And, at age 24, a woman with whom to enact it.
Some ten years later the flying saucers appeared in our skies and the destiny was fulfilled, the omen came true. Orfeo’s unconscious made it come true. The Secret of the Saucers was the result.
by David Halperin
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