In his newly-released book, The Messengers: Owls, Synchronicity and the UFO Abductee, Mike Clelland presents the reader with pieces of the UFO puzzle typically ignored or sidelined within the research field, so challenging are they to popular notions of the phenomenon.
Mike’s fresh perspective challenges us to engage with an ancient and mystical enigma in a profoundly personal way, beyond the dead-end avenues of Exopolitics and official Disclosure. Serious researchers of the UFO subject — and of the abduction phenomenon in particular — will be referencing this book for decades to come. With this in mind, it is my honor and pleasure to present here a sizable excerpt from The Messengers.
Below is an edited version of Mike’s ‘Owls in Pop Culture’ chapter, the title of which is self-explanatory. Film and TV products feature prominently, making this material particularly well-suited to this site. Meanwhile, in a mutual exchange of ‘UFOs & pop culture’ work, over at Mike’s Hidden Experience blog, you can check out an exclusive excerpt from my own newly-released Silver Screen Saucers book. The extract is an interview I conducted with one of John Mack’s first patients, seeking his unique perspective on Hollywood’s engagement with the abduction phenomenon. That’s right here.
Now, enjoy Mike Clelland’s fascinating work…
Owls in Pop Culture
By Mike Clelland
The artist’s task is to save the soul of mankind; and anything less is a dithering while Rome burns…. It is the artists, who are self-selected for being able to journey into The Other, and if the artists cannot find the way, then the way cannot be found.
Our new mythology
When you look up myth in the dictionary one of the meanings is, “a widely held but false belief or idea.” The rest of the definitions are similarly dismissive. The conventional idea of myth is that it’s a fallacy, an old fairy-tale in a book on a shelf. Joseph Campbell argued that myth is instead something alive and vital. He said, “Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical.”
There is an assumption that we are adrift in an age without myth, but I see exactly the opposite. We are instead awash in myth, it’s emerging out of movies, television, and comic books. Our pop culture entertainment, crass as it might be, is dripping with mythic power.
Academics might sit together in a symposium and ponder the source and evolution of ancient folklore, asking such questions as how stories traveled from Egypt to Greece and then to Rome. But why aren’t they looking at what is happening now? Hollywood is churning out a new mythology by mining our prehistoric past as well as our tabloid headlines. There is a feverish power in our pop culture, and this is a reflection of ourselves. Our new mythology includes UFOs in the same way our ancient lore includes owls.
The first instance in our popular culture which the owl was directly connected with the UFO abduction phenomenon was in the 1987 best-selling book, Communion, written by Whitley Strieber. It is impossible to overstate the cultural impact of this popular book. In the following quarter of a century, the idea of the owl being some sort of stand-in for the prototypical big-eyed gray alien has subtly seeped its way into our present day folklore. This is in sharp contrast to the actual cover of that book, which was anything but subtle—the image of that iconic gray alien is forever seared into the consciousness of our pop culture, as instantly recognized as Ronald McDonald or Santa Claus.
Strieber had the elusive memory of an owl looking in at him from his bedroom window. When he and his wife checked the spot where the owl should have been standing, there was undisturbed snow, making the physical reality of that owl impossible. Nonetheless, the mythic reality was there. Strieber seems to have had the same owl experience that the sages and mystics have had throughout time. He was tapping into something universal, and it seems that Hollywood has been tapping into his first-person story.
The Fourth Kind
In 2011, I received an extremely well-written personal report from a young man named Kevin. In it he describes several odd experiences, including a disturbing missing time event shared by him and a close friend while driving across the desert. There are no UFOs in his experiences, but what he described clearly matches what gets reported by abductees.
We started an email correspondence and there is something that happened in this exchange. Kevin began to confide with me in a way that I have come to recognize. People will share things with me that they may never have told anyone else. I end up playing a sympathetic role in the lives of some people, and I take this role seriously. I’m not a psychiatrist or any kind of trained professional, so it feels like all I can do is listen carefully.
It was during this email exchange that I asked Kevin the same question I ask everybody else: had he ever had any odd experiences with owls. Here was his reply: “When that movie, The Fourth Kind, came out, and I saw the trailer for it, I nearly lost my mind.”
The Fourth Kind is a 2009 horror film about UFO abductions. It used a lot of creepy owl imagery as part of its plot, clearly portraying the owl as a screen memory implanted by sinister aliens. Here is more of what Kevin wrote:
All my life I’ve had weird experiences with owls. Especially great snowy owls. All over. Places they shouldn’t have been. And a lot of them when I was driving by myself. Many of those times when I could have lost time and never noticed it. White owls have sat outside my window. They’ve been in my room. They’ve flown right in front of my car several times, a few times looking impossibly huge. I used to tell people about the owls.
One thing was that people didn’t believe that I saw so many white owls and that I saw them in such weird places. Another thing was that I was always alone when I saw them. They both excited me and made me very, VERY afraid.
When I saw the trailer for that movie, I became very frightened. But I was intrigued. I downloaded the movie and watched it by myself one night. That was a huge mistake. I didn’t sleep that night. I didn’t sleep the next night, either. And by the third night, I was dreaming about owls and aliens. I was a wreck for a couple of weeks after that. I was afraid.
…I’ve seen all sorts of abduction stuff, read lots of books, studied up on that sort of thing for many, many years. But I’ve never reacted like that.
Kevin is reporting what I have heard over and over again, that he’s been seeing owls with a regularity that goes way beyond mere chance. He describes a confusing mix of what are probably real owls (flying in front of his car) and what might well be screen memories (seeing them in his room). That movie obviously had a triggering effect, but it’s probably impossible to untangle the elements and truly know what might be hidden.
The plot of The Fourth Kind is centered around a therapist and her clients, many who have apparently suffered UFO abductions. When the movie was released, there was a promotional flurry claiming that this was a true story. The film begins with the title card “supported by actual case material” and that it contained “actual footage” from case histories. Sadly, this was a publicity stunt—the film was a work of fiction. It was dismissed with contempt by the UFO research community, and most everybody saw it as exploitative and inaccurate.
Still, I have to assume that the script writers flipped through a few UFO books for inspiration and found some owl references from abduction reports. Whitley Strieber’s Communion, with his account of an owl out his window on the night of his initial abduction memories, was most probably one of these books, and these spooky owls became a central motif in the plot. I see this as a clear example of UFO literature influencing Hollywood. What seems more interesting is the emotional reaction Kevin had to the owl imagery in this movie.
Not of This Earth
An owl plays its standard movie role as the harbinger of doom in Roger Corman’s 1957 low-budget thriller, Not of This Earth. The film begins with a young woman walking on a darkened street. She hears a hooting owl, we see stock footage of an owl, and a few seconds later she is confronted by a human-seeming alien. He takes off his dark glasses and zaps her with his eyes. She passes out and this alien takes her blood.
So, we have an owl showing up in the moments leading up to an alien contact, perfectly personifying the UFO/owl mythos from my research. I see no conspiracy. This B-movie simply uses the owl as a bit of spooky foreshadowing, and that’s that. Owls are no stranger to creepy movies; they are as iconic as cobwebs and creaky doors. Much like this film, the 1935 classic The Bride of Frankenstein has an owl cameo early in the story, a wonderful vignette of classic horror.
But on a deeper level, this plays out in what gets reported by real people. Some experiencers will see an owl in the moments leading up to a UFO sighting, or they’ll hear an owl out their window, and the next moment they have little gray aliens in their bedroom and these may zap them with their eyes. These reports are eerily consistent, and they point to a much stranger aspect within the overall mystery.
The alien in the film is played as the quintessential Man in Black. He wears a black suit and strange dark sunglasses. He speaks in a halting cadence and drives a big black car. In the first few minutes of the film there is mind-control, penetrating eyes, and even telepathic communication. This alien is here on Earth, doing creepy medical procedures to unwitting humans in an effort to save his dying race back on his devastated home planet. All these elements are part of the modern UFO lore, but were virtually unknown to the general public in 1957.
The owls are not what they seem.
This line was spoken by a mysterious giant to FBI special agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan, as he lays bleeding on the floor in episode 8 of Twin Peaks. This episode was directed by the series creator, David Lynch, and aired on September 30th, 1990.
This show was purposely meant to be eerie and open-ended, littered with clues that seemingly lead nowhere. This line about the owls is an elusive tidbit within the overall narrative, but where did it come from? Lynch is notoriously tight-lipped about his inspirations and the hidden meanings within his works. The show got progressively weirder as it went on, with hints of UFOs and government conspiracies.
Like The Fourth Kind, the references to owls and UFOs in Twin Peaks can most probably be traced back to Strieber’s Communion. The scriptwriters for Twin Peaks must have been aware of the eerie mood created by Strieber in his first-person re-telling of UFO contact experiences. Communion came out three years before the pilot episode of Twin Peaks, allowing one to inspire the other. Both the TV series and Strieber’s book are curiously similar in their elusive mood, both generate lots of questions but very few answers.
The character of Major Briggs (played by Don S. Davis) shows up in Twin Peaks on a classified investigation for the Air Force. He even says he was involved in Project Blue Book, a real life Air Force report on UFOs that publicly concluded: “There was no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as ‘unidentified’ were extraterrestrial vehicles.” Most researchers dismiss Blue Book as an orchestrated effort by the government deny the UFO reality. According to Major Briggs, a signal was picked up by deep space monitoring equipment, but it wasn’t coming from outer space. Instead, it was emanating from the forest surrounding the little town of Twin Peaks. So we have an overt UFO thread woven into the series. Major Briggs gets abducted in the second season, though not by aliens, and is interrogated about the meaning of the owl cave.
Owls are seen as a harbinger of death in most Native American traditions, and this lore was interwoven throughout Twin Peaks. There is an evil character in the series known as Killer BOB (played by Frank Silva); he’s a demon that possesses people and commits murder. The name is capitalized because it’s an acronym, it means Beware Of Bob. Like so many tales from the Native Americans, BOB can shape-shift into an owl.
What is of note is that David Lynch is an ardent meditator, and he’s more than hinted that he gets inspiration from this non-ordinary state of consciousness. If these symbolic owls emerged from his travels inward, he’s not saying. The series is meant to be obscure, so it’s hard to see any literal meaning to the line The owls are not what they seem. Any meaning might be metaphoric.
Author Robbie Graham
In the book, Silver Screen Saucers, author Robbie Graham addresses the main issue used by debunkers, that gullible UFO witnesses are merely parroting things they have seen on TV or in a darkened theater. The subtitle of the book is: Sorting Fact from Fantasy in Hollywood’s UFO Movies. Robbie argues that cinema, more so than any other medium, has shaped our expectations of how we think about alien life and visitation; and UFO movies are influenced by real factors, some cultural and some conspiratorial. His research has led to the conclusion that the UFO witnesses and experiencers are not directly influenced by pop culture. Instead, it is the other way around. Robbie writes:
It is my observation that UFOlogy informs Hollywood more than Hollywood informs UFOlogy, which is to say that Hollywood engages with UFO lore in a parasitic fashion, feeding on the rich veins of a seventy year old subculture… This perspective contrasts with the popular assumption that the UFO subculture feeds on—and thrives as a result of—images projected by the entertainment industry. This is not quite the case.
In Hollywood’s UFO movies, broadly speaking, art imitates life.
In the 1997 movie Contact, there is a scene early on where the young Ellie Arroway (played by Jena Malone) talks to her father (played by David Morse). She is lying in bed and asks her father this question, “Hey dad, do you think there are people on other planets?” Right at this moment, the father leans forward and behind his head is a small picture of an owl thumb tacked to the wall.
Later as an adult, Ellie (played by Jodie Foster) is a scientist obsessively searching for extraterrestrial life, very much something an abductee might do. The film culminates with her entering a giant alien-designed machine and being transported (abducted?) to another dimension. In this psychedelic realm of distorted time, she meets an alien, appearing before her in the form of her deceased father. So, the person who resonated an archetypal owl image in her childhood later shows up, from beyond death, as a screen image conjured by the aliens.
If that owl picture was placed on the bedroom wall on purpose, it is a perfect use of foreshadowing on the part of the film makers, exactly matching the owl/alien connection I am trying to explore in this book. If it emerged by accident, all the better—the owl as a symbol welling up from the ether is much more intriguing!
An owl shows up right before the arrival of a star-being in Disney’s Pinocchio (1940). Jiminy Cricket sings the yearning lyrics of When You Wish Upon a Star, and then stares up at a big-eyed owl clock on the wall of Geppetto’s workshop. Within seconds, he sees a curiously bright star in the sky out the window. This twinkling light descends from the heavens, enters the room and manifests as a shimmering orb, and then transforms into the Blue Fairy.
This scene plays out as an alien bedroom visitation, where in some sense, the DNA of the inanimate Pinocchio is upgraded into some in-between state, no longer a puppet, but not yet a real human. This mirrors a lot of the ancient alien lore, with implications that beings from the stars have tampered with genetics to create modern humans. Jesus was also ushered in at birth by a star from the heavens, and like Jesus, the finale of the Pinocchio involves death and resurrection.
The owl, a symbol for alien contact, punctuates the arrival of the Blue Fairy. Tall and blond and beautiful, she personifies the Pleiadian Nordic, a race of aliens known for their loving benevolence. The work of Jacques Vallee is required reading for a comparison of the modern UFO abduction stories and ancient faerie mythologies.
Steven Spielberg’s 2001 film, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, is a modern reworking of the Pinocchio story. The initial script used by Spielberg came from Mr. 2001 himself, Stanley Kubrick. The alien/blue fairy connection is hammered home in the culmination of this film, where spindly aliens with big heads look on as a virtual reality blue fairy resurrects a real boy. These fairytale movies aren’t meant to imply some grand conspiracy. It’s more that the same curious elements that make up the modern UFO abduction lore have been part of our mythology and consciousness throughout the ages.
Artists tapping into the unconscious
I’ve talked with lots of people who’ve had the direct UFO contact experience. Beyond the owl question, I’ll also ask them if they are a creative type. With very few exceptions, they will almost always reply yes. They’ll be painters, writers, poets, illustrators, or musicians. A lot of abductees seem to be artists, and this seems to play out in the larger mystery.
We should expect artists to be more sensitive and more open to abstract thoughts and ideas. If they are more open, they should be capable of tapping into the mystical static that is bouncing around the collective ether. True inspiration is a mystery, and any artist can describe how getting lost in this zone can create a sort of timeless trance where things just flow magically. An artist’s best work comes from a mindless place, unhindered by logic and intellect. This could be the concert violinist standing on stage, or the illustrator hunched over in the corner with a sketchbook.
Although it almost always falls short, the Hollywood machine is continually trying to come up with the next UFO-themed product. But where do these ideas come from?
There are three avenues of thought. One says the script writer simply digs through some UFO books and uses those ideas to create a story. There’s plenty of evidence for this. The creative team for the X-Files had a room at the production offices filled with UFO books. The writers would mine these shelves for inspiration, and anyone familiar with this literature can pick out the many references that were inserted into the show.
The second is that UFO movies are a deliberate part of a deep conspiracy to seed the public with carefully crafted ideas and themes. Script writers submit to whispered directions from government secret keepers from on high. There seems to be some evidence that this happens, but my sense is that it’s rare.
The third, and most interesting option, is that the real magic of storytelling flows from that unknowable place. The artistic script writer is tapping into some grand reservoir of archetypal themes, and this might include UFOs and owls.
I sought out blogger and author Christopher Knowles when I was trying to formulate some ideas about a graphic novel project. A few years ago, I was planning to write and illustrate a comic book involving both UFOs and owls. I also wanted to include some mythic elements, and I realized I was forcing these themes into the story. I called Chris and explained my frustrations. He replied that I shouldn’t try to insert any kind of mythology, instead, I should write from my heart. His advice was forceful, just let the ideas flow out of you, if you truly let go, those mythic elements will be emerge.
Occult researcher Paul Weston addressed this same mystery: “Where do artists get their inspiration? Certain ideas appear to be hanging in the air waiting to interface with human consciousness.”
Harry Potter, the young orphaned wizard, is the main character in a series of seven best-selling fantasy novels. Like Merlin in The Sword and the Stone, young Harry has an owl as a companion. Hedwig, a snowy owl, was gifted to him on his eleventh birthday, and she delivers his mail. So, the most popular series of books in the history of publication features an owl as messenger, the centerpiece of owl mythology. This is a perfect example of ancient myths emerging right now, overtly into our mass consciousness.
Now maybe you shouldn’t read too much into this, but the author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, has the letters o-w-l embedded right into her name. This little coincidence is more of an insight into the way my quirky mind works than any evidence of the supernatural.
The owl, even in its fictionalized form, whether storybook or Hollywood, seems to play the same role, that of delivering a message from the great beyond. The owl as a messenger is both a metaphoric fable and a literal truth. Yes, truth is a strong word, but this feels accurate because of the wealth of first-hand accounts I’ve received from sincere people. I have heard enough owl experiences that I now see this as a certainty, but what it all might mean still remains a mystery.
The UFO is both a fable and a truth. It is a fable in our Hollywood depictions, and a truth in the abundance of evidence accumulated over the decades and centuries. Both aspects, fable and truth, are vying for a place in our collective psyches. Pop culture has become our modern myth maker and, for good or for bad, we absorb its output.