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Eric Jacobsen

COPYRIGHT CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION

INTERVIEW W ERIC JACOBSON

the word cult to me means a group that has a defined membership,a social group, that shares a specific set of beliefs, or you could call it an ideology also. And usually they also share a set of practices that they do together. Possession cult is a term that's important in anthropology because what's been found is that most of the world cultures have organized social groups that believe in and practise spirit possession. Some of the other features that are particular to possession cults are that there's ..people usually come into the cult because they come down with what is called a sort of spirit possession illness. In other words when the spirit possession first occurs, it occurs in sort of an uncontrolled disruptive way and people take it to be an illness. And so they go to the cult for healing. And what the healing usually consists of is a process of gaining control of the spirit possession, so it's not that the spirit possession ends in most cults, but that it becomes a controlled process. And then the cultic practice is mostly getting together and undergoing we're..and in..as a group usually in more or less ritualized way, people become possessed by the spirits.

I think the one that's most familiar to Americans would probably be the sort of voodoo or spiritista cults in South America where basically people get together, do a lot of rhythmic drumming, have an alter, and start dancing. And then some of the dancers become possessed, and while they're possessed..while the possession is going on, that's the time when this..when the spirit can be used as a source of knowledge by people in the cult. They'll ask them questions, for prophecies and things like that..

MM HM

..make offerings to them of liquour or chickens or whatever. You know it depends. In different cultures it's different.

SO ARE THERE EXAMPLES IN NORTH AMERICA OR IN WESTERN WORLD..

Well they're much less..they're much less common in contemporary North America. I mean I think that the UFO abduction thing is the major..like is the major analogue for spirit possession cult. I mean an anthropologist named Erika Bourignon did a great deal of work surveying world cultures. And she found that actually in most areas of the world spirit possession cults were very common, except for North America and Europe. So..

IS THERE A REASON FOR THAT? IS THERE A EXPLANATION FOR..

Well I think the..you know, scientific rationalism and the Protestant reformation and the idea that God..God's power is expressed through scientific law and not through magic - I think that's a big impact on us, scientific materialism. But also Bourignon found that spirit possession cults are typical of agricultural societies. And she contrast the spirit possession cults to what she called shamonic trance societies where there is also trance practice but it's not the case that in the trance the person becomes possessed by the spirit. It's more that in the trance the person gains power over spirits. So that kind of shamonic trance practice is more typical of nomadic and hunter gatherer societies.

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Spirit possession is more typical agricultural. And maybe what we're looking at with the UFO thing and the close encounter thing and the alien abduction cults is something that's more typical of an industrial electronic society.

SO IT FITS ALL THE DEFINITIONS OF A POSSESSION CULT THESE..

Well it doesn't fit all the definitions because I mean people..I mean I'm saying it's an analogue, because people who report alien abductions do not ..I'm sure there are exceptions but by and large they don't report that the aliens' consciousness literally enters into them and takes control of their body.

MM HM

But I mean the analogue is that it begins in a trance. The entire thing is reported to occur in a trance. Another analogue is that in spirit possession cults there are often bodily signs, like the scars the abductees are talking about, and like the implants they're talking about. Another analogue is that the person who becomes a member of the spirit cult then has a lifetime career of undergoing spirit possession, so that's another analogue. Another analogue is that in societies where the spirit possession believes it's typical for families to be involved with the same spirits across generations.

MM HMM

And some of the abduction researchers are finding that - that there are families for multiple generations have abduction experiences. And even in some cases they'll even report that it's the same aliens, that they recognize..

SIMILAR DESCRIPTIONS..

..similar aliens. Or they sometimes even have names for them. And I think the broad..broadly the other analogue is that there are now in North America and I'm sure in South America too organized social groups with very specific beliefs about what alien abduction is and what it means, who get together and talk about their experiences, undergo..go into hypnotic trance - that's another analogue, because in a spirit possession cult the way in which the person is healed is that they're taught more controlled way to go into the possession trance. So the analogue is that a lot of what therapists who are workig with abductees are doing is using hypnosis to bring the experience more into integration and control, so that's another analogue.

MM HMM

There are many parallels.

I think the two broad things that human societies use contact with spirits for, one is to gain knowledge, to gain prophecy or supernatural knowledge or medical diagnosis - things like that. And the other one is to gain power. 'Cause I suppose if we have the right kind of relationship with your spirits they will do things for you.

MM HMM

..not perform magical tasks. So I think the concern with what the aliens have to tell us as a society and what the aliens have to tell an individual and what it all means for an individual, that's typical of the possession cult also the other thing that's very analogious which really isn't just typical of possession cults but it's typical I think of religious life in general, especially religious life that involves trance is the fact that the trance experience is understood to be part of a transformation of the person. That over time the person who enters into a practice of trance, whether it's a possession trance or trance of alien abduction or shamanic trance - it's understood in the society that those who enter into those trances over and over and over again are undergoing transformation whereby they become different kinds of beings. And that kind of language is very common in the world of alien abductions now.

my knowledge of the history of UFO movement in North America is pretty much that the groups and the writers who have talked a lot about transformation and meaning have all claimed to come in contact with entities - even if only telepathically.

I've spent a lot of time interviewing Betty Hill who is the paradigmatic abduction case. And so I'm extremely faniliar with all the features of her story about that. ANd you can even look since her narrative came out in the mid seventies, and you can see especialy with the work of Bud Hopkins that there are very..now ..there are now things that are typical of abduction narratives that have been added since Bud Hopkins and Dave Jacobs began their work. So we're seeing I think an ongoing elaboration of the story of human contact with UFO 's and aliens. I don't know why or what it means but it sure..I think it surely reflects something about the way in which people in our society experience life and their own existence.

......... I think that's one reason I'm so interested in studying the whole abduction..alien abduction thing becuase it's an opportunity for us to look at the historical development of a trance cult in our own society.

I mean it's definitely getting bigger. More and more people are involved. There are now organized social groups with very distinct ideologies. You can find groups of people invovled in talking about their abduction experiences and other people who therapize them and people who write about it - who have very distinct ideologies about what it is. ANd in some cases they believe it's a very traumatizing abusive phenomena. There are other groups that have very elaborate paranoid theories about it and aliens and underground bases and the government and things. There are other groups who have very benign views about the whole thing. And I think it's..I think that it's even likely that there are groups that have completely religious interpretations but we don't hear about that as much 'cause they probably don't come to UFO researchers. Probably stay within their religious community.

SO DOES THAT SUGGEST THAT THE SPIRITS ARE DIFFERENT? DIFFERENT SPIRITS HAVE BEEN CONTACTED? OR INDIVIDUALS' INTERPRETATION..

..so impossible to unravel. But what I'm saying is that it's not just individuals' interpretations, it's the people join a social group. People..I mean an alien abduction group recruits members. There are publications, there are films, there are endless symposia and talks now. And so the public at large is exposed a lot to different ideologies about what this is. ANd I think people gravit..people who want ..who want or suspect at some level that this is for them, gravitate towards a certain ideology.

ARE THERE DANGERS IN THAT? ARE THERE DANGERS ASSOCIATED WITH THE CULTS..

Sure. Sure there are. I mean I wanna be careful to make it clear that I"m not using the word cult as an automatically pejorative term. I mean any social group that has a practice and a belief you could call a cult. Any church. So I would think that's necessarily a bad thing. But especially cults that are cults of trance experience that develop very explicit ideologies about what it means, I think can be sort of dangerous because they can start to drag people away from their..they can start to drag individuals away from their own critical examining of what they think the experience means, into a sort of a group practice where the practice and the interpretation are so orthodox and consistent that virtually everybody is channeled into the same version of what this means for their life. That's not necessily true for cult but it can happen.

And you know in that way it's kind of polar to the western psychodynamic idea of psychotherapy, where the idea is - and I'm saying this 'cause I'm a psychotherapist - where the idea is to help the individual become more able to decide for thenmselves what their life means. So people can find that helpful and they can also find membership in a cult helpful. But in a way the drift is in the opposite direction.

THAT'S REALLY INTERESTING WORK FOR..AS A PSYCHOTHERAPIST YOU MUST BE CHALLENGING.

It is.

(LAUGH)

It's very challenging. But it's easier given the fact that I've really decided that..I've really decided that I do not know what these..what causes these experiences. And I've actually given up trying to figure it out 'cause I really have decided that I'm not capable of knowing.

BUT IN AN ODD WAY THATS THE BEGINNING OF UNDERSTANDING THEM.

It is..well it's caused me to focus on the people who have the experiences and I've become very interested in getting a lot of narrative data from people who have the experience, not just about the experience but about their whole life. And I've really put in brackets what causes this. So in a way it makes it easier for me to work with people 'cause I have no ideology about the meaning of the thing, so I don't feel like I have to ..I have to like have any kind of pressure or friction, any interaction about what I think it should mean. I'm just curious about what they think it means and how that goes along with what they think their life means.

.....decide the issues of are there aliens and what are they. Once I decided I can't do that I realzed that really all that I have are the people and their stories. And so I've been looking more and more at the features of the stories people tell. And I'm starting to see, and this isn't just me. Eddie Bullard also mentioned this at the MIT conference, that ..he studied like 300 some abduction narratives. I've only got about 15 subjects. But both Bulward and I are starting to see that if you look at a lot of these abduction narratives you start to see that they start to fall roughly into different types. One type is the sort of classic Bud Hopkins abduction narrative. I say Bud Hopkins 'cause he's the one who's advocated that this is the real abduction experience. YOu know the person goes into a trance, they're paralyzed, little gray guys come, float them into a ship, medical examination, give them some explanation and float them back home. Some people really do have that. There are other people who I, and I call those the classic types, there are other people who I've called provisionally the florid types who tell much more elaborate narratives and much..many more narratives and who hav a lot of strange experiences that aren't really full abduction experiences but just experiences where they see an alien face and they hear a weird sound or they get a funny phone call. And all of this in their own mind they connect with the abduction experience. And so these people have a richness and a depth and a variety of stories and story fragments. It's very different I think than what..'cause some people just come and they just have three or four classic abduction narratives, that's all. None of this other strange stuff. Some people have ..see people come to me just 'cause they suspect they've had a kind of close encounter experience, they don't come to me knowing they have a whole complete narrative. So what happens with some of the people I've interviewed is they come with some odd experience and say I'd like to find out if this had anything to do with UFO's or alien contact 'cause I've never been able to make sense out of it. And some of these people it blossoms into one of the two kinds of narratives already described but some of them it just blossoms half way into some little bit strange experience that we can't make any sense out of. Like one person I've interviewed four or five times. What we've gotten to is her being a girl in her bedroom with a stone black bunny rabbit, looking at it. That's all. It hasn;t gone any further. One person we interviewed we've gotten to..he came becuase he was walking along a path late at night near a pond and they heard what they thought was a bicycle coming and so they stepped out of the way. And what came was a little light that stopped in front of them, made a beeping sound and then went on. That's all we've gotten. We've got some more detail on it but it's clearly not a classic abduction experience. And then the last type is what I call the epic type. And there are actually several examples in the UFO literatuure of this. This is the kind of person who if you interview them over time, each time you interview them they have more stories and they're all like chapters in a book because they all have the same characters in them. Once subject we have has a whole family of aliens that has abducted her since she was a child. And each time she comes she'll tell us more installments. It's almost like a television series. And ther'es a whole scheme of meaning she has running through the whole thing which is very religious, which I think is also typical of people who have long..lifelong epics with chapters and chapters of involvement with the same aliens.

I don't start with the assumption that every one of these people has actually had this experience. I really start with the assumption..my real assumption at this point is that one of the big mistakes that the UFO research community has made is in assuming that this is one phenomenon. It may be that this is five different kinds of things that we're..that we can't tell the difference yet apart because they sound so similar at first. That's one reason I'm interested in these different styles of narratives 'cause I'm wondering if that's a clue - if these people who tell very different kinds of narratives, if we investigate more and more we'll find that these are really different kinds of phenomena that we're sort of lumping together and that the people are loping together becuase UFO's and aliens is the available idiom. So if somebody has a weird experience that's what a lot of people think of. But that if we investigate really closely you'll find these are really different kinds of things. Some of them might be contact with aliens, some of them might be some other kind of thing, we dont know yet.

But the other way I was going to explore this I was saying is - I got impressed after interviewing a few people that every one of them described this entire thing as happening in a trance. It always starts with a trance and the trance always goes through teh whole experience and doesn't stop until the end of the experience. So I got interested in the issue of..the question of - are there some people who have these experiences who are more intranceable than the average person. Are there people who have a predispositoin to have trance experiences of this type. So what I've added now, is I'm doing measures of hypnotic ability of the subjects I interview and I'm also doing a very long formal psychiatric questionnaire, about 250 items, about dissociative experiences which generally means trance like experiences. So I'm getting a lifetime history of their dissociative experiences. And what I'm finding..I have..I've only got 15 subjects so I dont have anything statistically significant. I really want to underline that. But I'm starting to get hints that for instance some of the people who have very florid narrative styles like almost if you interview them one week and interview them the next week, within the seven days since you last interviewed them they've had a number of very odd experiences. Ver..they have a very productive history of experiences like this. Some of those people that we've tested are very high in hypnotic talent but they're very easily hypnotized. They go very deep very easily. And then you ask them about dissociative experiences across their lifetime you get a very rich history of ever since they were kids, not just UFO abductions for instance but all kinds of spontaneous trance experiences.

SO DOES THAT COLOUR THE EXPERIENCE IN YOUR MIND AS A PROFESSIONAL WATCHING IT? DO YOU SAY MAYBE THIS IS JUST AN IMAGINATION.

No. See that's important to understand that. That when I say it may be that some people have an abduction experience are predisposed to be easily tranced, I'm in no way meaning to reduce the experience to a kind of a trance hallucination because it's perfectly possible that people are selected on the basis of that characteristic. It's also we don't know, unless we track somebody across their lifetime whether that susceptibility to trance is a precursor to their abduction experience or whether it's produced by repeated abduction experiences. Maybe repeated run throughs of that experience make the mind more intranceable, we don't know that. But I'm just trying to see is there a correlation for certain types.