The American West is alien country, particularly the deserts. When you drive through Nevada you have plenty of time to survey the landscape for mysterious aircraft and secret government facilities. What one notices, in this part of the West, is the "planetness" of the environment.
The expansiveness of the terrain gives a motorist going 85 mph a sense of traversing a sizable chunk of the planet Earth. There are distant mountain ranges, ancient sea beds, a palpable sense of tectonic forces throwing up giant slabs of crust. When the sun goes down the stars come out as though there is no intervening layer of atmosphere. You drive down that highway and sense the truth that eludes us in the big cities -- that we really are space travelers, all of us. On this rock we zoom through the universe.
At a UFO convention in Laughlin, a strip of bright lights along the Colorado River about 75 miles south of Las Vegas, I met two women who believed that they, themselves, were alien entities. Both were striking blonds, perhaps 40ish, and they were on an amazing voyage of self-discovery. Miesha Johnston ran a support group for people who had had "experiences" with aliens. She was gradually coming to terms with the theory advanced by her roommate, Jan Bingham, which was that they were aliens in human bodies, or "starseed."
Jan believed she occupied a human body that had formerly gone by the name of Val. She believed that a decade earlier Val was transported to a spaceship during the middle of a nap. Val voluntarily gave up her body, and she, Jan, an indigenous Pleiadian, entered it, and returned to Earth to live among humans and continue to raise Val's children. This is known as a "walk-in" situation, and is distinct from an abduction. It's all voluntary and congenial.
Jan said she had to learn how to do everything all over again -- walk, talk, eat. She broke the news to her daughter that she was no longer "Val" but a different entity named "Jan." The daughter accepted the idea. She told me later, "I think that it's quite possible that things like this happen, because for people to assume we're the only race out there is just stupid."
I decided I had to follow up with the starseed, and soon visited them in Las Vegas. The serious UFO people would not be pleased with this move, for the starseed are precisely the kind of New Age figures the traditional ufologists can't stand. Ufologists look outward, toward the universe, for answers to the alien enigma. New Agers look inward. It is not clear which technique yields the better information. Neither the serious ufologists nor the New Agers could actually produce an alien-made wristwatch or an alien-solved mathematical equation. In the news-you-can-use category, both sets of investigators came up short.
The New Age people at least offered the hope that all this energy being invested in the contemplation of aliens would actually improve a person's life. This was consciousness-raising, and consciousness-raising is a beautiful thing so long as no one tries to pry my own consciousness out of its dank dungeon of vicious rationalism.
Miesha Johnston invited me to sit in on a meeting of her "Starseed Contactee Group." She convened it weekly in her apartment, which was in one of those just-add-water housing developments found in every suburb in America. There were a series of two-story stucco buildings arranged in modules around a nucleic swimming pool, each apartment blessed with wall-to-wall carpeting, a cramped kitchen and sliding glass doors leading onto a small balcony.
Miesha's place was pleasant, clean, comfortable, but I also sensed the lack of permanence. This was a residence but not a home. She'd be gone in a matter of months. Nothing was rooted here, even the plants were in hanging baskets, they could be moved as easily as the coffee table. There are millions of people who live transient lives, with shifting beliefs. A few months pass and they have a new job, a new address and a new religion. In the fluidity of our lives the novel notions of the millennium are easily transported.
Miesha didn't publish the phone number of the starseed contact group (which seemed to have different names at different times). Jan explained that they didn't want any nuts calling up. The group's printed guidelines specified that the meeting would be private, that all comments would be kept confidential and that everything discussed must relate to UFOs, contacts, experiences and starseed. This was not to be a forum for debate or investigation. This was about support. Rule No. 10 made this clear: "We will not invalidate a member's beliefs, opinions, or experiences. You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects to you something you love or hate about yourself."
The second sentence in that rule was conceivably a bit argumentative. The first sentence, meanwhile, was a wonderfully concise, timeless and elegant expression of what it is that distinguishes New Age philosophy from scientific methodology. A scientist considers it a sacred obligation to invalidate the spurious claims of others. Scientists are trigger-happy invalidators. Some would be happy to explain to a 5-year-old that Santa is merely an invention of parents who use the fat elf as a proxy disciplinarian.
Another handout provided members with a list of physical anomalies that could be associated with alien abduction, contact or experiences. A sample:
Having seen what appears to be a star in close proximity.
Familiarity with a certain star or star system in the sky.
Dreams of UFOs and alien beings.
Dreams of being in an elevator or going underground.
Dreams of being under water, breathing under water, and/or breathing other liquids.
Dreams of doctors doing medical procedures on you or others.
Dreams of sexual encounters with people with unknown faces or no faces.
Dreams of flying or floating above your bed.
Having the feeling that you have been watched throughout your lifetime.
Being compelled to take a drive or go out by yourself with no real reason why.
Buzzing, ringing, humming, or pulsating sound in one or both ears.
Consistently waking up at the same time in the middle of the night.
As a child, had nightmares and feared sleeping alone. Often wanted to sleep with parents.
The meeting began when Deborah, a friend of Jan and Miesha, tinkled a bell. Jan put on a CD with serene synthesized music. She dimmed the lights and turned off the phone. She sat on the floor cross-legged and led us in meditation. She instructed us to see our breathing. "Every cell in your body is filled with pure white light," she said. She told us to visualize our "crown shocker" -- that's how I heard it -- which is apparently something on top of our head that controls the energy route into our body. (I learned much later, from my yoga-literate wife, that it's a crown "chakra.")
"The universe and all the loving extraterrestrials are bringing beautiful pure white light through that crown shocker," Jan said.
This went on for a while.
"Now say to yourself, I give myself permission to remember my purpose of being here on Earth."
She talked of going forward, forgiveness, love.
"Now imagine a beautiful being of light ... that being is about 15 feet from you ... You know that this being is going to bring you a message -- a message of higher consciousness ... As you get this information you know intuitively it is appropriate to you, it brings peace of mind to you and brings you closer to your brothers and sisters in the sky."
She told us to open our eyes. Everyone seemed to have entered some improved state of mind. Then came the highlight of the evening. A woman I'll call Maddie (she wanted anonymity) produced a cassette tape. We would be listening to it. She had taped a man named Darryl Anka channeling an alien named Bashar. Anka had been doing this for years, mostly in Las Vegas and Southern California, and he'd written books filled with Bashar's insights into our world. This particular channeling had been conducted recently in Vegas and had required a $20 admission fee.
Anka began by saying, rather straightforwardly, I thought, "You'll have to believe he's a separate being from myself to get some benefit out of this."
For the next 45 minutes no one in Miesha's apartment moved or talked. We just listened. Anka, on tape, took a deep breath. After a pause he suddenly began speaking in a loud, fast, manic voice, slightly mechanical, with extremely precise enunciation, as though he were part human and part robot. "We would like to begin this transmission with the following ideas," Anka/Bashar said.
What came next was an eruption of what can only be called erudite-sounding gibberish. Bashar's genius is that he sounds brilliant, even omniscient, even as the words themselves do not really add up to anything meaningful. "See beyond your patterns! Look at the obstacles and thus expand your reality!" he said, sounding increasingly like Rex Harrison, I thought. "This is physics. Everything is energy. Everything is energy and motion."
Someone asked Bashar a question about a problem she had in her personal life. "You have to function as a totality! As a holistic system!" Bashar said. He advised one questioner to tell his parents that he is an alien from another world and then cut all ties to them. Otherwise his advice was nothing but bland self-help nostrums, like "Move toward pleasure and away from pain."
At one point Bashar discussed his own species. "Genetically speaking we are a hybrid species in what you call your future time frame." One of his habits was to note the shortcomings of the human view of reality -- such as the way we think of something called the "future," which apparently to an advanced species is more readily accessed. Next came the strangest part. Maddie (on tape) asked Bashar if he could channel a Gray. In other words, Anka would be channeling Bashar, who in turn would be channeling a scary alien. It was like hyperlinking on the alien Internet.
"We will see if it is allowed," Bashar said, speaking, as always, in the first-person plural.
"One moment. One moment. One moment," Bashar said frantically. There seemed to be some discussion between Bashar and the Gray. Then the Gray took over, his voice colder, reptilian, a controlled hiss. The Gray explained the reasons the abductions are taking place. The Grays are in contact with the leaders of our government. The Grays are after our emotions.
"We now through hybridization are beginning to conceive and understand what you label as love energy," the Gray said.
Maddie told him that the abductions must end. The Gray didn't like this, and soon left, leaving just Bashar, who said the Gray was one of the "more primitive factions" of aliens. We stopped the tape and Maddie talked of the terrifying event. "I felt tremendous fear when the Gray came through. I do feel they were feeding on me at that time."
We went around the room giving our reaction to the tape. A man named Lee said he thought this might have been a first in the UFO movement -- the first time a human had directly challenged a Gray. The Gray, Lee said, sounded like someone in the military -- the military, he meant, of the Gray empire. When my turn came I asked if there was anyone willing to entertain the possibility that they hadn't just heard a Gray alien or an alien named Bashar but rather had been listening to a guy named Darryl Anka as he pretended to be an alien.
No one thought this possible.
"He'd have to be an incredible actor," said one woman.
"His wisdom is far beyond what a human would have," said Lee.
Many months later I spoke to Anka on the phone and asked him if he really channeled an alien. He said that he didn't know for certain. He suggested that he definitely entered an altered state, but allowed that the alien might be an artifact of his own mind. He also sent me a catalog of his many channelings. He had just made the important decision to quit channeling Bashar so that he could work on an entirely different project. He was designing a UFO theme park.
They all began talking about their abductions, the shadow government and fetal implants. Jan said that four years ago the Galactic Command brought in some high level Grays and Pleiadians to run the abduction/hybridization program so it wouldn't be as traumatic to the human abductees. A college student named Jen said, "I know I birthed a child for them but I don't remember it being negative at all." She seemed unsure what to think. "I'm just confused because we read Karl Marx in school today."
An older man then started talking about how he is part of something that spans 10 dimensions, and he mentioned a group of unusual beings who will return to Earth in 1,800 years in silicon bodies -- though at this point I had lost all sense of what anyone was saying. The meeting had become as incomprehensible as a discussion of the carbonate globules in the Martian Meteorite ALH84001.
Finally, one member of the group said she wasn't 100 percent certain that Anka was truly channeling an alien. She just wasn't sure. But she did want to say she was impressed with the way Maddie handled the scene. She added, "We're so unevolved. I'm almost embarrassed to be human. Actually, I hope I'm not."
The next day I went to a vortex in the mountains west of Las Vegas. The starseed said the Pleiadians had some kind of underground base nearby for their spaceships. Miesha agreed to show me the place. I drove. Jan couldn't go but Deborah could. Miesha and Deborah had different cosmologies within their mutual belief in an alien presence. Miesha felt the aliens were probably positive, benign creatures. She did not buy into some of the more terrifying elements of the abduction scenario. But Deborah had a darker vision.
I could see her in the rear-view mirror. She wore dark shades. She was by any conventional measure a pretty woman, in her 40s, yet another blond, with a serious, brooding face, as though she were contemplating an unpleasant appointment. She told me, "In the early-'80s I started getting hit with feelings of gloom and doom, like the world was coming to an end." It was, as it happened, her "ordinary" life that was ending. She began having abduction experiences, contact with aliens of a malign intent. They would come every night at 3 a.m. and walk around her bed. She couldn't move. "I've had some really horrifying experiences. Being in bed and feeling like I'm being thrown out of bed. Feelings of being paralyzed. I've visualized entities."
I asked her what she saw.
"What I saw was the devil. What I know today" -- her memory corrected by a realization of the alien presence -- "is what I saw was reptilian energy." She didn't realize what she had experienced until she read Barbara Marciniak's book "Bringers of the Dawn." After much inner work she came to realize that she herself was an alien spirit from the Pleiades. The Pleiadians are humanoids. This explains her ongoing problem with the reptilians. Different types of aliens don't get along. There are also dolphinoids out there, and serpent people who go ch-ch-ch-chhhhh ... Some of them, said Deborah, may come from the center of the Earth.
I asked her why the aliens were coming here.
"I think there are some out there that are seeking power over our planet," Deborah said. "I think there are some who can't evolve themselves until we remember who we are so we can evolve."
These theories were also evolving. Everything was up in the air. There wasn't a single narrative that everyone agreed on. Many aliens, many agendas.
We reached the Red Rocks area west of the city and drove down a gravel road into an area being graded and platted for a subdivision. The desert air was so clear it was hard to tell the dimensions of the hills around us. We walked through a picnic area. Deborah lingered in one spot, clearly stirred.
"Do you feel something?" Miesha asked.
"Yeah. Chaotic energy."
"A little nauseous?"
"Yeah. You know what this reminds me of? Reptilian energy."
Miesha repeated the rumor that this was a Pleiadian base. "Maybe it's the Reptilian Pleiadian base," said Deborah. We walked across a flattened spot where someone would soon build a house. Chalk lines prefigured the rooms to come. Las Vegas is racing into these mountains as fast as the developers can pour concrete. The population of the county hit 1 million in the mid-1990s and the projection is for 2 million by 2006. The Pleiadian base will not have the same energy when it is covered with houses and lawns.
The city and its expansion shows the best and worst of the human race. Our creative energy and adaptability lets us invent an entertainment megalopolis where there had been nothing but a small town in the desert. But its all powered by greed, by a gangster's vision of free-flowing cash. Now they wonder where they'll get water. Do these things happen on other worlds? Do civilizations last for millions of years, sticking around long enough to be detected by radio telescopes, if they have a Las Vegas somewhere in their psyche?
Deborah and Miesha put their hands on the dry, powdery surface of the rust-red cliff at the edge of the basin. They felt it. The energy. I climbed onto an enormous rock vaguely shaped like a spaceship and looking like it might take off for the Pleiades any second. When we touch a surface, I announced, we feel not the solid matter of the thing but merely the electrical repulsion, the energy of the electron shell. In other words I was trying to impress them with knowledge of which I have only the faintest acquaintance.
Einstein, I said, was the person who figured out that matter is the same thing as energy. It's the same stuff in a different form. Matter, the saying goes, is frozen energy.
Miesha said, "Did you hear that the feeling is that Einstein was a starseed alien?"
Then something wonderful happened.
Deborah came upon a plaque buried in the ground. It said, enigmatically, "Lizard Lounge Cabana."
Apparently the local Rotary Club was going to build a cabana in that spot, named the Lizard Lounge. "Reptilian Lounge! No shit!" said Deborah.
She laughed -- vindicated.
Deborah suspected that my interest in the vortex might signal something. Indeed she felt my book project might not be a random event. "Are you feeling pulled to go to the vortex?" she had asked earlier.
I felt no such pull. If anyone asked, I would tell them that I felt the topic of extraterrestrial life to be a rich one, with both scientific and cultural elements, and that it would be a good chance to see how people manufacture a plausible and rewarding narrative about reality, nature, life and our place in the universe. That was my boilerplate.
But how could I be sure it was that simple? There's no way to prove one's impulses are "natural" and not inspired by an entirely hidden, unknown, repressed or undetected energy source. And as it happened I did have a little secret. I shared it with Deborah and the other starseed.
For many years I have had a sleeping disorder known as sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis, I've been assured by doctors, is a fairly common sleeping disorder. In my case it seems to be triggered by excess fatigue or too much chemical stimulation, such as when I drink coffee late in the day. I had the problem most severely when I was in college and drinking coffee at night as a way to stay awake and study.
I usually have what is called "sleep onset" sleep paralysis. As I am drifting off to sleep, I suddenly lose the ability to move. It literally happens in a snap -- sudden, complete atonia of the muscles. (You knew it ... the author would turn out to be weirdo after all! A totally predictable last-minute mutation into craziness!)
When paralyzed I can't open my eyes or lift a finger. Alarmingly, I'm still conscious. It's particularly troubling on a plane or a train or a bus, because I can hear people talking around me, yet cannot move and might as well have been zapped by a paralytic ray-gun. Sometimes I have trouble breathing. To stop these attacks I have to shake myself awake by moving my legs as best I can. The whole thing is quite disturbing.
Once I went to a sleep clinic and spent the night with electrodes in my head. The doctors said my on-off switch for waking and dreaming isn't quite normal. My body thinks it needs to go into the dream state -- and the muscles become atonic -- before the brain is fully asleep. (One thing I learned is that when a person dreams, his or her body is always paralyzed, an ancient adaptation meant to prevent a person from acting out the particulars of a dream. Sleep-walkers have a defect in that system.)
Making the situation all the more odd is that during the paralysis it is common for a person to experience auditory or visual hallucinations. In my case I've never seen anything -- no alien sightings. But I've had auditory hallucinations of people entering my home or coming into the room. There is also a sense that the paralysis is caused by these intruders. It is hard during the paralytic experience to keep the neurological cause in mind. Rather it seems as though some Other, some Entity, is doing it. In past centuries these entities were assumed to be spirits, such as succubi or incubi. In our day and age they are assumed to be aliens.
Joe Nickell, who writes a column for the Skeptical Inquirer, has pointed out that a great many of the supposed abductees who are quoted in Whitley and Ann Strieber's "The Communion Letters" report symptoms that sound like sleep paralysis. The nagging problem with this skeptical view is that people who report being abducted by aliens are usually quite adamant about what happened. They don't blame the Other. They blame real aliens.
My experience suggests that they would have to make a fairly big leap from having a sense of the Other to having a full-blown abduction fantasy. I never saw an alien or anything like an alien -- so why do all these other folks? Can it be that they are truly that suggestible?
Naturally the starseed had a different thought. Maybe I'm the one who's deluded. Maybe the reason I was working on this book was that I was on a journey to discover my true nature. Maybe I was one of them. It made perfect sense! I am from space. There was no choice but to hypnotize me.
Deborah came to my hotel room at the Riviera, an aging casino on the Las Vegas strip. Deborah told me to lie on the bed, close my eyes and stay as still as possible. She announced that she would put me in an alpha state, somewhere between consciousness and sleep. I briefly thought of all the science lectures I'd been to, and how they had also accomplished this feat.
Imagine your body being weightless, she said. Relax. See yourself breathing. As she talked to me in hushed, soothing tones I gradually lost the sensation of contact with the bed. I had a notion that I was hovering in space. I felt calm, and vowed to do my best to follow through with Deborah's daffy experiment. Could it be she was right? No, it couldn't be. I knew I was not an alien. Though if I was an alien ... well, I had a truly terrible feeling that I would turn out to be one of the reptilians.
Let's go back, she said, to the moment when you were first paralyzed. Where are you? What do you see?
I told her I'm in a car going across West Texas. We're on Highway 40 (the road to Roswell, in fact! Creep me out!). There's a Dylan song on the cassette player. I'm in the passenger seat, my buddy Trey Furlow is driving his Honda Accord, we've been road tripping for days, have just come from New Orleans and are heading into New Mexico.
I'm reclining in the seat, trying to get a few winks, and suddenly I can't move, I am frozen, paralyzed, yet am still awake, can still hear Dylan, still hear every verse to "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts," a fun song, but a long song, and a very long song when you are completely paralyzed and can't even move your eyelids and are condemned to spend the rest of your life as a presumed vegetable, communicating if at all only through binary twitches.
"Do you see anything?" she asked.
I strained. I tried to see. I saw nothing. "What part of your body remembers what happened," she said. "Feel the part of the your body that remembers."
"I ... I ... I think it's just my head that remembers."
"I think it's just in my brain."
I was failing miserably! My poor old rational self couldn't adopt the necessary dualism to recover a memory of the alien from the memory storage organ in, say, my left foot. Deborah continued to work with me but eventually I got discouraged and sat up and the trance was gone and I had found no alien. I told her I thought I merely had a neurological quirk that caused the sleep paralysis. I subscribed to the paradigm of the doctors. She seemed highly skeptical. I knew exactly what she was thinking -- this guy is so gullible.