This immediately suggested to Costa that the story had alien origins.
For my term paper, I proposed to my Literature professor that Rip Van Winkle read like a modern alien abduction account. I pointed out that the Hudson valley had been a hot bed for UFO activity for decades, perhaps centuries. I explained that I was of the opinion that the Washington Irving story might be based on some older Hudson Valley folk tale or Native American story.
But Costa began with the assumption that the UFO phenomenon is real, and therefore her analysis slowly but methodically derailed.
She begins well enough by recognizing, as scholars have since the early 1800s, that “Rip Van Winkle” is a fairly straightforward Americanization of the German folk tale “Peter the Goatherd,” which is a charming little story but one that should immediately suggest a solution to the mystery rather than a confirmation of aliens. Irving was well-read and may have encountered the story in the form published by Johann C. C. Nachtigal in 1800. He probably encountered the book during his tour of Europe from 1804 to 1806. Since the story is rather short, let me present it as it was translated in 1828 (I will spare you the italics and present it in roman for easier reading):
At the peaceful village of Sittendorf dwelt Peter Klaus, the goatherd. He daily tended his flocks to pasture in the Kyffhäusen mountains, and never failed, as evening approached, to muster them in a little mead, surrounded by a stone wall, preparatory to driving them home; for some time, however, he had observed, that one of the finest of his herd regularly disappeared soon after coming to this nook, and did not join her companions till late. One night, watching her attentively, he remarked that she slipped through a hole or opening in the wall, on which he cautiously crept after the animal, and found she was in a cave, busily engaged in gleaning the grains of corn that fell down singly from the roof. Peter did not look long before the shower of corn that now saluted him made him shake his ears, and inflamed his curiosity the more to discover the cause of so singular an occurrence in that out-of-the-way place. However, at last he heard the neigh and stamping of horses, apparently proceed from above; and it was doubtless from their mangers that the oats had fallen.
While standing, still wrapped in amazement at the singularity of the adventure, Peter's surprise was not diminished on observing a boy, who, without saying a word, silently beckoned him to follow. Peter mechanically obeyed the gestures of the lad, and ascended some steps, which led over a walled court into a hollow place, completely surrounded on all sides by lofty rocks, and crowned by the rich foliage of shrubs, through which an imperfect twilight displayed a smooth, well-trimmed lawn, that formed the ground he stood upon. Here were twelve knights, who, without so much as uttering a syllable, were very gravely playing at nine-pins; and as silently was Peter inducted into the office of assistant, namely, in setting up these nine-pins. Peter's courage was none of the strongest during all this time, and his knees smote each other most devoutly as he commenced his duties; while he occasionally ventured to steal a glance at the venerable knights, whose long beards and antique slashed doublets filled him with profound awe.
His fears, however, began to be on the wane, as he became more accustomed to his new employment. Indeed, he went so far as to gaze on one of the noble knights straight in the face—nay, even at last ventured to sip out of a bowl of wine that stood near him, which diffused a most delicious odour around. He found this sip so invigorating, that he soon took a somewhat longer pull; and in a short time Peter had quite forgotten that such things as Sittendorf, Wife, or Goats had ever existed; and on finding himself the least weary, he had only to apply to the never-failing goblet. At last he fell fast asleep.
On waking, Peter found he was in the same little enclosure where he was wont to count his flocks. He shook himself well, and rubbed his eyes; but neither dog nor goats were to be seen; and he was astonished in no slight degree to observe that he was nearly surrounded with high grass, and trees, and shrubs, which he never before remarked, growing about that spot. Lost in perplexity, he followed his way to all the different haunts he had frequented with his herds, but no traces of them were to be discovered; at last he hastily bent his steps to Sittendorf, which lay beneath.
The persons whom he met on his way to the village were all strangers to him; they were differently dressed, and did not precisely speak the language of his acquaintance; and on inquiring after his goats, all stared and touched their chins. At last he mechanically did the same, but what was his surprise when he found his beard lengthened at least a foot; on which he began to conclude that he and those around him were all under the influence of magic or enchantment. Yet the mountain he had descended was certainly the Kyffhäusen—the cottages, too, with their gardens and enclosures, were all quite familiar to him—and he heard some boys reply to the passing questions of a traveller, that it was Sittendorf.
His doubt and perplexity now increased every moment, and he quickened his steps towards his own dwelling; he hardly knew it, it was so much decayed; and before the door lay a strange goatherd's boy, with a dog apparently at the last extreme of age, that snarled when he spoke to him. He entered the house through an opening, which had formerly been closed by a door. All was waste and void within; he staggered out as if he had lost his senses, calling on his wife and children by their names; but no one heard—none answered. Before long, a crowd of women and children had collected around the strange old man, with the long hoary beard, and all inquired what it was he was seeking after. This was almost too much; to be thus questioned before his own door was more than strange, and he felt ashamed to ask after his wife and children, or even of himself; but to get rid of his querists he mentioned the first name that occurred to him, "Kurt Steffen?" The people looked around in silence, till at length an old woman said, "He has been in the churchyard these twelve years past, and you'll not go thither to-day."—"Velten Meier?"—"Heaven rest his soul!" replied an ancient dame, leaning on a crutch. "Heaven rest his soul! he has lain in the house he will never leave these fifteen years!"
The goatherd shuddered to recognise in the last speaker his next neighbour, who seemed all at once to have grown old; but he had lost all desire to inquire further. Suddenly a smart young woman pressed through the surrounding gapers, with an infant in her arms, and leading a girl about fourteen years old—all three the exact image of his wife. With greater surprise than ever he inquired her name. "Maria!"—"And your father's name?"—"Peter Klaus! Heaven rest his soul! It is now twenty years since his goats returned without him, and we sought for him in vain day and night in the Kyffhäusen mountains—I was then hardly seven years old."
Our goatherd could no longer contain himself. "I am Peter Klaus!" he roared, "I am Peter Klaus, and no one else!" and he caught the child from his daughter's arms. Every one, for an instant, stood as if petrified, till at length one voice, and another, and then another, exclaimed, "Yes, this is, indeed, Peter Klaus! welcome, neighbour! welcome, after twenty years!"
As I read the Rip Van Winkle/Peter Klaus stories, I see a character that was with the alien visitors for twenty-four months as evidenced by the natural record of his foot long beard growth. A person who returned to Earth where twenty years had passed. Einstein’s “Theory of Special Relativity”, gives us the key to understanding how this is possible. If we travel near the speed of light. The person in the space craft ages at a slower rate than those of us back here on earth.
You will of course recall that Ancient Aliens did an episode on this very subject, called “The Time Travelers,” in which the ancient astronaut theorists similarly related folklore sleep narratives to Einstein’s time dilation. This was the episode that famously claimed that the story of the 66-year supernatural sleep of Abimelech in the extra-biblical 4 Baruch 5:1-29 was a biblical narrative.
Costa is obviously familiar with this episode and its claims.
I trust you can see that her preexisting belief in the reality of UFO abduction narratives has led her to interpret the “Peter the Goatherd” story as confirmation of the same. But her confidence in the extraterrestrial underpinning of the story led her to stop too soon, leading to a false conclusion of alien abduction.
The key to the story is its location, the Kyffhäusen. That is one of the most important localized traditions of the widespread European myth of the sleeping king. At this particular place, the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa was said to sleep with his attendants until such time as he is needed. Versions of the story are also told of Charlemagne, King Wenzel, Holgar Danske, King Harold, the Duke of Monmouth, Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI, Portugal’s King Sebastian, and many others. These are localizations of what seems to have been originally a Germanic or Celtic myth associated with Odin, preserved in Greek interpretation by Plutarch, where Odin has been interpreted as Cronus, the onetime king of the gods: He wrote of “one island where Cronus is confined, guarded while he sleeps by Briareus; for his sleep has been devised as a bondage for him, and round about him are many demigods as attendants and servants” (De Defectu Oraculorum 18, trans. Frank Cole Babbitt).
As in the case of King Arthur, these servants were usually twelve in number, answering to the twelve men seen by Peter.
The corollary to this myth is that the sleepers must be roused when the time is right. From this emerged stories that the tomb in which they slept (usually a cave in a mountain) opened once every seven years, or once a century, or some other period of time. And the sleepers would check to see if they were needed. From this derived stories of peasants who chanced upon the sleepers, who asked if it was time to wake. Because they were in a magic never-never land outside reality, these visits to the sleepers were often said to have seemed to last a few hours but to have taken hours, days, or even years. This seems to be a borrowing from fairy abduction myths, which typically involve an individual encountering dancing fairies, being taken to their home, and returning after a few hours only to discover that days or even years have passed.
“Peter the Goatherd” is a much later version of a traditional story, told of the Marquis John, standing in for Frederick Barbarossa. Edwin Sidney Hartland retells the story in his Science of Fairy-Tales, translating German accounts:
A peasant going with corn to market at Nordhausen, drove by the Kyffhäuser, where he was met by a little grey man, who asked him whither he was going, and offered to reward him if he would accompany him instead. The little grey man led him through a great gateway into the mountain till they came at last to a castle. There he took from the peasant his waggon and horses, and led him into a hall gorgeously illuminated and filled with people, where he was well entertained. At last the little grey man told him it was now time he went home, and rewarding him bountifully he led him forth. His waggon and horses were given to him again, and he trudged homeward well pleased. Arrived there, however, his wife opened her eyes wide to see him, for he had been absent a year, and she had long accounted him dead. It fared not quite so well with a journeyman joiner from Nordhausen, by name Thiele, who found the mountain open, as it is every seven years, and went in. There he saw the Marquis John (whoever he may have been), with his beard spreading over the table and his nails grown through it. Around the walls lay great wine-vats, whose hoops and wood had alike rolled away; but the wine had formed its own shell and was blood-red. A little drop remained in the wine-glass which stood before the Marquis John. The joiner made bold to drain it off, and thereupon fell asleep. When he awoke again he had slept for seven years in the mountain
If you’re interested, the Brothers Grimm recorded simpler versions of the legend of Kyffhäuser that are probably closer to the version from before it incorporated the fairy motifs. The very presence of such variants immediately casts doubt on the more elaborate time-lapse versions as literal truth, since they are coequal with these other variants. I translate from the Grimms’ Deutschen Sagen no. 23:
In 1669, a farmer who wanted to haul his grain from the village of Reblingen to Nordhausen was led into the mountain by a little man, who told him to empty out his grain and to fill the bags with gold. He saw the Emperor sitting, but quite motionless.
Also, the dwarf once led inside a shepherd who whistled a song that pleased the Emperor. The Emperor stood up and asked, “Do ravens fly still around the mountain?” And upon the affirmation of the shepherd, he shouted, “Now I must sleep a hundred years longer.”
And here we can conclude that the “Peter the Goatherd” story is not one of alien abduction since it is a late addition to the broader sleeping king myth, one taken from fairy abduction legends. But by presupposing that myths are eyewitness account of aliens, Costa missed the origins of the specific tale she sought to illuminate.
Hartland’s Chapter VII and Chapter VIII are dedicated to the supernatural lapse of time in the land of the fairies (or the gods). The motif is well-nigh universal, known not just from Europe but also in the East, including (as mentioned) the story of Abimelech as well as the famous tale of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus; even in the oldest literary source, the Epic of Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim and Gilgamesh cannot age while in the Dilmun of the gods. Now at this point one might try to apply the alien abduction motif again—as indeed Thomas Bullard and Jacques Vallée have done. But there is nothing that should prejudice us in favor of aliens, there being no evidence that any such beings exist on the earth now or ever did. It is the very fact that ufologists try to impose their paradigm on these stories that makes them seem like alien abductions. We could, with equal weight of evidence, claim that “aliens” are really fairies. It is our perceptions that give shape to the stories.