Last weekend was the twenty-eighth annual Ozark Mountain UFO Conference, held at the Best Western Inn in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. This year’s speakers were the usual who’s who of Ancient Aliens, including series regulars Linda Moulton Howe, Jim Marrs, Nick Pope, and Richard Dolan. Whitley Strieber, the abductee who has profited handsomely from popularizing alien anal probes, was also a speaker. However, the biggest name on the list was also one of two keynote speakers for the event, Swiss author Erich von Däniken, whose speech was the only one important enough to garner local media coverage in Arkansas.
Conspiracy theorist Jim Marrs gave a presentation on how the U.S. military used psychics to spy on aliens from another world, while Nick Pope presented yet another version of his standard assertion that the U.K. military was engaged in covering up UFOs. By contrast, Richard Dolan seems to be casting about for a new angle to keep audiences interested in the UFO phenomenon. Similar to Nick Redfern and Micah Hanks, Dolan is growing disenchanted with the extraterrestrial hypothesis to explain UFOs and says that he is interested in approaches that incorporate more “high strangeness.” To that end, like Redfern and Hanks, Dolan has begun to advocate an ultra-terrestrial hypothesis that would locate the otherworldly beings in realms “far beyond the reality we are accustomed to thinking about.” He wants to have it both ways, though, maintaining that UFOs may well be extraterrestrial spacecraft, just that the beings involved may be weirder than traditional aliens.
While there is nothing terribly interesting in Dolan’s new(ish) revised view of UFOs, being a sort of splitting of the differences between extraterrestrial and ultra-terrestrial beliefs, I was intrigued by his use of the term “high strangeness,” which is a bit odd, particularly given its current usage among New Agers and fringe believers as almost a folkloric category. The term stuck out for me because the conference’s second keynote speaker, Howe, also used “high strangeness” in her presentation, titled “Symbols and Binary Code in High Strangeness Phenomena,” in which she claims that otherworldly beings have been using binary code to communicate their will to humans since the 1800s.
I was curious to find out where this phrase came from, and I confess to being surprised that it does not appear to be as old as I imagined. The phrase, evocative of elder terms like High Gothic, High German, and the High Middle Ages, made me think that it was one of Charles Fort’s odd turns of phrase intended to suggest more than it says. Sadly, this wasn’t the case, and I was bringing to the words an artistry they did not possess. They were meant literally.
As best I can tell, the phrase first appears in print in descriptions of the strangeness property of particles in experiments where some materials exhibited “high strangeness.” I wonder if that is unconsciously why J. Allen Hynek decided to apply “strangeness” as a category of investigation in his book The UFO Experience (1972), which seems to be the earliest usage I can find of the term in conjunction with UFOs.
In The UFO Experience, Hynek proposes two scales for measuring encounters with the unexplained, Probability and Strangeness. “The Strangeness Rating is, to express it loosely, a measure of how ‘odd-ball’ a report is within its particular broad classification.” Thus, for Hynek, most UFO reports have low strangeness because the only odd thing about them is, for example, the motion of a light in the sky. Reports that involve a large number of odd occurrences, such as seeing a craft land and occupants emerge while shooting lasers at cows would have a high Strangeness Rating because it involves multiple odd events. Later in the book, Hynek occasionally drops the word “rating” from his discussion and instead refers to events of “high strangeness.”
I must admit that this was disappointing. I had expected the term to have some kind of origin in the occult or in folklore, not in an abbreviation of a term from a semi-scientific 1970s-era UFO classification scale.
Having followed that diversion to a disappointing end, we can now turn to the keynote address given by Erich von Däniken. Technically, this was a two-part speech delivered at two conferences in the same place. The first half of the address was given at the Ozark Mountain Transformation Conference, a New Age spirituality event, a few days earlier. The first half of the address contained many of von Däniken’s usual claims, mostly repeated from his 1996 book Eyes of the Sphinx, including questions about what was found in the large sarcophaguses of the Apis bull and whether the creatures within were multi-headed genetic hybrids, a claim he derived from a mistaken reading of an old report about bones from different animals found in one sarcophagus.
Most of what he spoke about was material he reviewed in his radio appearance a few days before the conference, particularly his revived interest in the medieval Arabic pyramid myth, and his belief that Enoch built the Great Pyramid. As in the radio interview, he now believes that “lost books of Enoch” will be found in hidden chambers within the Great Pyramid. He also repeated material about whether aliens pretended to be the Virgin Mary in Fatima and the old chestnut from the 1960s about Ezekiel seeing a spaceship. According to a local news account, von Däniken devoted most of his second keynote address to the Great Pyramid, which appears to be his current hot topic.
The reporter, who credulously described von Däniken’s claims as “logical” and confused Enoch and Ezekiel, noted that von Däniken told the largely southern audience that he was a deep believer in God. “The gods are not gods,” von Däniken reportedly said. “There is only one God, creator of the universe.”
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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