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In Conversation with Diana Walsh Pasulka
p. 3 of 3

          MS: You write about the blurring of fiction and non-fiction – I’m talking about your chapter about screens and faux-documentaries – through techniques that create an impression of faux-verisimilitude.  And you write about the centrality of screens in our culture,  as the alien narrative has entered the collective imagination over decades.  So we see these parallel tracks of belief and actuality,  and we’ve been talking about this,  that one can have a memory of UFO events that one didn’t actually see,  based on media depictions;  simultaneously,  real UFO events may also be happening, even if they’re completely different from those media depictions.

          In the book The Super Natural, by Jeffrey Kripal and Whitley Strieber, Jeff cites an I believe unpublished story of Whitley’s that plays on the idea that belief could be a conduit by which beings or entities pass from one dimension to another.

          Does the idea of belief influencing the playing-out of a phenomenon enter into your analysis of how media depictions are happening at the same time that the real event is happening?


          DWP: This is really interesting.  I know that Whitley said that a bunch of times,  and talks about it a lot.

          The way I tend to think about it is that – I used to run at my university,  I was part of the track and cross-country team,  so I know a lot about running lore.  There’s the idea of the four-minute mile.  Once somebody did that,  people got into their heads that they might be able to do it,  too.  And then people were running a four-minute mile.  So the belief initiated the performance.

          So I tend to think of it that way when I hear Whitley talk about that. Another great person who does this work is Tanya Luhrmann at Stanford. She’s an anthropologist who writes about witch cultures and Wiccan cultures.  But she writes about epistemologies that are not western, rational epistemologies,  and about how a lot of theory of knowledge impacts what you believe and see,  even.  So yes.


          MS: So our media saturation in old Spielberg movies, in The X-Files – would you say that you see this as part of a continuous phenomenon with real-world manifestations, where cultural belief is encouraged by mass media?


          DWP: It’s definitely going to impact how we view things in the sky that are unknown.  We’re going to believe in that;  we’re going to support programs that look at UFOs, because we were brought up thinking,  okay yeah,  they could possibly exist.

          But do I think of it in the way that Whitley’s talking about it,  that our belief actually almost creates the event or – I just can’t say,  I don’t know.  I can’t say no and I can’t say yes to that.


          MS: Maybe somewhat related to this,  are Jung’s ideas about UFOs still helpful to you?  Do they still offer guidance,  or do you think they’re outdated?


          DWP: No,  I think Jung is really interesting about UFOs.

          One person who I engaged with a lot during the early period of my research was George Hansen.  He gave me some sources for Jung, and it was coincidental that a person who was in charge of the Jung family’s archives, actually taught at my university – her name is Jenny Yates, and she also told me where to look for Jung on UFOs.

          People tend to think that his definitive statement on UFOs is in that book that he wrote [Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky], but it’s not:  he also wrote all these letters about UFOs to his friends.  It was as complicated for him as it was for me to go into it, because he then met a lot of people in the Air Force who basically said,  “Oh no, these are real,” and gave him radar proof and all kinds of proof. 

          And he also couldn’t believe that we couldn’t take a picture of them when they’re around – like, “How come we don’t have photographic evidence?” and “What are these things?” He believed in their reality, physically.  He didn’t use to – in the book he wrote, you get the impression he does not believe – he believes that people see them, but he doesn’t believe that they’re these 3D objects that we can open up and get into and out of and things like that.

          But by the end of his life – he passed away before he could actually get to it – it appears that he’s going in that direction, of being completely confounded by this.


          MS: Do you think that the significance to him of the mandalic shape of the UFO,  of the flying saucer,  would have dissipated as he got more into the physical reality,  or do you think that he would have seen that as an instance of synchronicity?  And does the idea of the UFO as mandalic influence you or matter to you?


          DWP: It does. I love his paintings of the UFO in The Red Book. He doesn’t actually call it a UFO, but that’s what it looks like.

          I don’t know, I have to say I don’t knowjust because, when people see such different things with respect to something that’s a known unknown case – so we can say,  yes,  this is a case where we just don’t know what it is,  and people are seeing different things,  and they’re experiencing different feelings and effects that go along with a sighting – I don’t know, actually.  Sorry that I have to be that way.


          MS: No, it’s alright.

          Can you talk any more about media – not fiction,  but news media depictions of UFOs appearing to be really off-the-mark, and having an issue with bad information being passed onto the public  –  can you go into that in any greater detail than you do in the book?


          DWP: Yeah, there’s an irresponsibility here that I see. You see it with the Chinese balloon fiasco that happened earlier, I think at the beginning of March.  People were actually concerned, because we were inundated with, “These are UFOs!” And the government won’t say yes and it won’t say no, and people were upset – in fact, I got so much correspondence on my phone and also at my university account that I had to put on instant-messaging just to say,  I’ll get to you when I can.  News outlets [were] reaching out to me,  and also people who I’ve known for a long time, saying, “Should I be afraid?”  –  we’re talking about lawyers, people who were professionalssaying, “Should I be afraid, Diana?” I was like, “No! You should be angry at your government that it’s not saying, ‘Hey, it’s okay, it’s Chinese stuff.’”


          MS: I just always figured they’d zip away too fast for us to be able to shoot them down if they were actual UFOs.


          DWP: Exactly – that’s what I told friends of mine, I said, “Nah, if they were the real thing, we wouldn’t be able to shoot them down.”

          But that was irresponsible,  and I don’t know why they would do that, frankly.


          MS: What about the Times reporting from 2017, 2019, on Navy encounters – did you feel that those accurately portrayed the phenomena?


          DWP: Well first,  let me just say that I was as surprised as everyone else when that came out – especially because I knew that my book was, boom, going to hit, and I was like,  “Wow! This is amazing!” [Laughter

          I also got phone calls from Leslie Kean and Ralph Bluemnthal,  and they wanted the next follow-up story,  so they wanted me to tell them who James and Tyler were – which I didn’t.  Subsequently,  I’ve become friends with them and I’ve learned how that story happened.  And those are old videos,  from 2004,  and the people onboard those ships have been sitting with that information for a long time.

          So the timing of it was really interesting to me. No, I don’t think it was irresponsible.  We do have to know,  though,  that people in the position of New York Times reporters,  as well as me,  writing for the Oxford University Press – we’re going to be targeted by intelligence to spread infomaybe information,  maybe disinformation,  and if we’re not aware of that and trying to guard against it or understanding that that’s what’s happening to uswe will be the conveyors of misinformation.  It’s been happening throughout the whole entire time since the nineteen-forties.  So if we don’t recognize that we are implicated in that scenario, then it’s irresponsible. 


          MS: You refer to Louis Farrakhan and his tradition of UFO sightings, as well as other traditions that push the date of the modern era back before ‘46, ‘47? Can you talk a bit about what you were referring to with those [traditions]?


          DWP:  Oh, sure  – there are a lot of those.  Nation of Islam is probably going to be most familiar to us,  because it’s an American religion.  It depends on who you talk to, but if you talk to actual Nation of Islam practitioners,  they’re telling me right now that now is the end time for them,  because the American government is going to be assailed by the mothership – by the mothership and its little baby ships, and that these are on their side.  And the American government is evil.  And so for them,  it’s an apocalyptic time.  And their idea of the mothership is way pre-’47  –  it’s in the early twentieth century, 1910, up to the 1920s. 

          The person to talk with about this would be Stephen Finley,  at Louisiana State University – he’s in my field, religious studies,  and he wrote a book that just came out [In and Out of This World].  I just read it,  it’s really good:  he says that the UFO idea in the Nation of Islam is a central doctrine that authorizes Farrakhan and Elijah Muhammad to be prophetic in basically the Merkaba tradition, the Ezekiel’s Wheel tradition.


          MS: Are they supposed to have encountered a vehicle or directly numinous beings?


          DWP: Oh yeah, they encountered a vehicle, and they went up into it. This is all throughout the Nation of Islam, from the nineteen-twenties onward.


          MS: You referred earlier to something called Star Nation, and I hadn’t heard of that before – what is that?


          DWP: If you look at a lot of indigenous cultures, not all of them, but certainly the indigenous cultures of the Iroquois – which are five nations, by the way – and also the indigenous cultures of Australia, so there are different indigenous cultures, but generally, they all have this idea that they come from Star Nations, they come from other places in the universe. And they’re still in contact with beings from these Star Nations,  and these beings travel in vehicles that we would call flying saucers today.


          MS: Wow.  Have you spoken with these people for your next book?


          DWP: Yes. 

          I’ve spoken with them,  and I’m using some  –  you have to be really careful,  because of the relationship between Western academics and a lot of people in indigenous cultures.  I start off with the work of indigenous scholars of indigenous cultures, who talk about this very thing.  I start off with their work and I use their own words,  because I don’t want to put words in their mouths or even try to speak for them  –  that would be ridiculous.  I just ask them questions about it,  and sometimes they’ll talk to me about it and sometimes they won’t.


          MS: Do you feel like it’s part of a continuum – 


          DWP: – Oh, it is absolutely part of a continuum –


          MS: – with what abductees say, for instance?


          DWP: They have a different relationship:  they don’t pathologize it,  like we do. We tend to pathologize it, and make it something really scary and horrible.

          There are some members of Star Nations,  or non-human intelligences, who are not benign,  in these lores  –  so they can differentiate them.

          Before he passed away,  John Mack was actually doing exactly this move.  He made the move from doing a Western look at abductions to looking at indigenous cultures.  And he was in contact with a lot of people in Africa, who were basically teaching him about the lore of these beings.  So he was actively pursuing that before he passed away.


          MS: What do you see as the moral and ethical dimension to what you call the emerging UFO religion?


          DWP: Religions don’t have to have a moral or ethical [dimension]. Religions are very different from each other.  You have atheistic religions even, like Zen Buddhism.

          I don’t think there’s an intrinsic morality,  except for the fact that people who have these experiences,  what I find is, they tend to have a renewed respect for their environment and the earth and land. 


          MS: In your forthcoming book, do you talk about (a) shamanistic traditions and (b) hallucinogenic traditions, things like DMT, psilocybin, ayahuasca and ibogaine – those parts of claimed contact with other intelligences?


          DWP: I do not do it in this book, but I think it’s fascinating and it’s worthwhile to do, absolutely.  Because even in some of the indigenous cultures,  you do see that happening – the Native American Church, their sacrament is peyote. I’ve talked to people who are a part of that church, [about] what kinds of visions they have when they’re doing their sacrament. And they do see these beings and they talk about these beings and how these beings help us.  They get information about what to do in this life in order to make life better for themselves or their tribe or family or extended family.

          I think that’s completely interesting – I just haven’t had any time, I just focus on the things I’m focused on, but I have friends who are doing stuff like that and looking into it;  I’m in conversation with them, too.  I just talked to somebody yesterday who was talking about the latest DMT study being done in London.

          Rick Strassman, the man who did the DMT studies in New Mexico, he’s re-doing the study: he’s updated it.  He’s doing it in London, with a group of people, who – because I guess you can only stay in that [visionary trance state induced by DMT] for a couple of minutes before – 

          What he’s doing – now this is crazy, I think; I wouldn’t do it, but they’re doing it – they’ve taken anesthesia machines, where anesthesia is applied to people in small doses, microdoses, and they’ve hooked up people, so that they can have DMT to keep them in that state for longer, so they can actually do ethnography with these [beings].


          MS: Too bad [Terence] McKenna’s not here to see that.  Is there any overlap between this set of people and the scientists we’ve been talking about for most of this conversation? – 


          DWP: I think so –


          MS: – Do they speak to each other?


          DWP: Well, Tyler doesn’t do any of that.  Nor does James, by the way.

But the places that they talk about seem to correspond to places that these other people talk about.  It’s almost as if there are these actual places that they go to:  they see similar things, and they talk about similar types of entities.

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