- Luis Cayetano
Warhammer 40K, the injection of fiction into UFO narratives and the role of consciousness
The famous miniature wargame Warhammer 40K, which has been active since 1987 and depicts a dystopian future where humanity clings to the edge of survival battling various factions of aliens and demons, has a number of parallels with the type of UFO lore that is making the rounds lately. I think it's worth reviewing some of these parallels for what they may suggest about the overlaps between fiction and UFO narratives and the possible influences that popular fiction may have in injecting itself into streams of ufology and other paranormalisms, even if inadvertently. With reference to 40K specifically, some of these parallels include:
-- Interdimensional beings (who constitute the "Chaos" faction in 40K and are trying to break into our dimension and corrupt all sentient life with their perversions). The Skinwalker Ranch mythos makes repeated reference to portals allowing werewolves and other bizarre creatures to enter our world, and some have suggested that whatever facts have been gleaned about the ranch must be studiously guarded so as to avoid public panic. Much speculation about UFOs espouses the interdimensional hypothesis, with Jacques Vallee being the most prominent advocate. Vallee also speculates that the interdimensional beings are behind a "control system" utilizing a "meta-logic" in which myriad images are presented to us that resonate with the ascendant cultural themes of the time; in Middle Age Europe, for example, the beings presented themselves as angels and demons, while in the current era they present themselves as extraterrestrials. Of course, the interdimensional hypothesis has been around for much longer than the 40K game, but it seems to have become more mainstream within ufology as of late, and I suggest that fictional stories such as 40K may have helped tip the balance in its favor, if only because they may have injected a type of "Wouldn't it be cool if. this was real?" wishful thinking into the mix.
Chaos daemons from the 40K universe. Image credit: 8th Edition Chaos Daemons - Faeit 212 (natfka.blogspot.com)
-- In ufology, the role of consciousness has taken on a preeminent stature, with various claims being propounded such as that consciousness is a "field" permeating the universe that we can tap into, or that it is the base of reality and that the mind creates so-called material nature. In 40K, the spirit realm exists because people believe in it. The Chaos gods and demons (spelled "daemons" in the game), in turn, feed on this belief and in human suffering and anguish, but maddeningly, their dimension must be utilized as a gateway to facilitate interstellar travel. There is a certain resonance with stories like the CE5 claims pushed by Steven Greer, who claims that we can communicate with aliens using meditation, and in Linda Moulton Hower's whacky tales about the "implicate order" and what she's supposedly heard from "intelligence insiders" in the form of classified information about subterranean extraterrestrials, the harvesting of human spiritual energy, the Egyptian pyramids being soul-harvesting machines, and an interstellar trade in genetically engineered slaves. It is also well known that several key people connected to the Skinwalker Ranch mythos are deeply concerned about the issue of consciousness and what it may tell us about the paranormal and UFOs. Eccentric billionaire and UFO afficionado Robert Bigelow, for example, awarded his prize for best essay on the continuity of consciousness after death to parapsychologist Jeffrey Mishlove, who happens to be besties with Jason Reza Jorjani, the co-founder of the alt-right and author of a book about UFOs containing many dubious claims about Mars, humanity's origins, and psychics, which leads onto the next item in my list:
-- The role of psychics and genetics. In 40K, psychics facilitate the entry of human spaceships into the Chaos realm so that they can traverse vast distances. Psychics are charged with receiving and interpreting the will of the Emperor of Mankind. Psychics feature quite prominently in the UFO narrative, and some of the people involved in it have had interests in parapsychology and involvement in programs such as the US Army's Stargate project and the SRI's remote viewing program on behalf of the CIA. Hal Puthoff and Jacques Valle, both close associates of Bigelow, are examples. Vallee has promoted Uri Geller and even attributes Geller's supposed powers to encounters with other-worldly beings. Puthoff, incidentally, was a member of Scientology, and some of the space opera-style themes he was undoubtedly exposed to while in the church find resonance in UFO lore as well. There has also seen the rise of the narcissistic "Starchild" narrative, in which people claim to have been genetically tinkered by extraterrestrials and thereby bestowing them with psychic and other extraordinary abilities (including the ability to telepathically communicate with the selfsame ETs). These stories reach obscene levels of credulity in Alan Steinfeld's "Making Contact", complete with claims that the Starchildren not only communicate with ETs but share consciousness and memories with them. James Semivan, Kit Green and Garry Nolan have recently received much attention for their roles in supposed UFO injury studies, which ostensibly included a look at the family histories of experiencers and a "hitch-hiker effect" wherein paranormal phenomena followed UFO witnesses around. While I do not want to jump to premature and sinister conclusions about what motivates such studies, especially when much of it remains up in the air, there is something rather unsettling about the potential for racialist themes to creep into the stream. There is, we are told, a special caste of people endowed with the ability to "tune in" to higher realities and communicate with ETs/other-worldly beings, and these people are imagined to be wells of knowledge and insight. This finds full expression in fascist esoteric literature, where mystical and cosmic motifs are linked to the "Black Sun" and claims made about people who, by virtue of their racial endowment, are able to receive the "energy" of these god-like emanations and realize a greater historic mission. I see a potential for a dangerous hardening for stories of any kind that link genetics to supernatural abilities, and it is no wonder that they often find easy traction among post-truth lunatics, racists and cynical charlatans. 40K's Emperor of Mankind, incidentally, is a white man from whom all knowledge and vitality emanates, and he and his posey of elite "Primarchs" are genetically engineered supermen of exquisite perfection, endowed with powerful psychic abilities. I am reminded also of some of the stories that Diana Pasulka conveys in her book American Cosmic, which conveys the belief among various geniuses of the 20th century and 21st centuries that their intellectual and creative gifts come from communication with unseen entities. DNA is alluded to as a cosmic receiver. It is but a small step, if one is so inclined, to then imagine that some "races" are endowed with this ability while others are not, and to draw cosmic meanings from this. Note that I am not saying that Pasulka, or any of the aforementioned participants in the UFO scene, are themselves racists, though Pasulka's association with white supremacist Peter Thiel, who is shaping up as a patron of the UFO arts, does make me wonder about some of the influences shaping her views, and that such views may act, however inadvertently, as fertile ground for a racist esoteric canon.
-- Various extraterrestrial factions. 40K is replete with alien factions, all warring against humanity (just as integral to the lore is that the human Empire is horrifically xenophobic toward all aliens). In UFO lore, there is also a multiplicity of factions, with the famous Grays ("EBENs" in Howe's subterranean pantheon) being only one. Others include the Nordics, Reptilians, and Mantids (the latter are prominent in the tiresome exertions of "Anjali", who utilizes the aforementioned subterranean theme, as does Strieber, who speaks of Grays and their little blue men helpers, as well as mantids. 40K happens to feature a faction known as the Tyrannids, who are chitinous killing machines, though admittedly they otherwise bear little resemblance to insects). The UFO universe is therefore inhabited by a whole slew of creatures, most of them humanoid, and some of them hostile or at least not clearly benevolent.
- The role of the trickster. In the 40K universe, Chaos is trying to corrupt and lure humanity and encourage it to defect to its temptations. The Gene Stealer cults, who are linked to the Tyrannid faction, actively form Fifth Columns within societies they wish to undermine and overthrow, while the Harlequins are bad-ass clowns with the ability to eviscerate armies. In UFO lore, there is a trickster element to the ufonauts, whose intentions and motivations are rarely clear but are often seen as deceptive and manipulative. Their modus operandi is often linked to that of the fairies and spirits of yesteryear.
-- Keepers of esoteric knowledge. In 40K, various guilds and government agencies, such as the Inquisitors, are charged with maintaining secret stores of knowledge and preventing them from falling into the hands of the populace and non-human factions. In UFO lore, the government, the military-industrial complex and the aerospace industry assume these roles. Interestingly, in 40K there seems to be a dearth of plucky heroes actively fighting against the established order, and the corrupt and inefficient Empire of Mankind is plainly presented as a depressing and degenerated realm (the genre is described as "grimdark" partly for this reason). UFO lore, on the other hand, abounds with tales of heroic "whistleblowers" and "disclosure activists" fighting to bring the "truth" to the masses against a corrupt, evil and self-interested establishment.
I am also intrigued by some of these themes featuring in the popular Netflix series Stranger Things, which centers around a girl with psychic and telekinetic powers who is hounded by the government and whose talents inadvertently open a gateway to another dimension, through which a monster infiltrates our world and wreaks havoc (the show also makes references to the CIA's notorious MK-ULTRA program, again linking to the consciousness aspect). Incidentally, Stranger Things made allusions to the miniature game Dungeons and Dragons, and the protagonists refer to the monster as the "Demogorgon", one of the creatures in the game.
One can of course think of many other fictional universes that have likely influenced ufology. The Richard Shaver mysteries, for example, spoke of subterranean civilizations and fantastical voyages to them, and these themes were assimilated into later subterranean narratives, possibly including the Dulce base stories of Paul Bennewitz and Richard Doty. As Curtis Peebles has suggested, these stories are visions of hell, but transmogrified for a more secular audience. The "disclosure" narrative and the hopes and aspirations that animate it can also be read as a reconstitution of Christian eschatology. Where traditional religion has given way to secular motifs, there still remains in many people a yearning to satisfy the gap once filled by the former, and this may be filled with stories derived from, or at least highly reminiscent of, science fiction.
An inadvertent contributor to the infusion of fictional elements into UFO lore may have been Arthur C. Clarke, who famously predicted and/or explored a number of important technological developments. Some of his extraterrestrial-themed novels, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and his earlier The Sentinel contained some ancient astronauts-esque themes. His success at prediction coupled with his prodigious sci-fi output may have led some observers to get the sense that since he was correct about technological developments that eventuated, so too must his stories of aliens have contained more than a grain of truth to them, and that other sci-fi authors or UFO commentators must likewise be onto something in their musings.
The "feel" of much of current UFO lore seems to me uncannily similar to Warhammer 40K, not only in its insistence upon interdimensional and consciousness-derived explanations, but in the allure of a space opera containing a multitude of intelligent life forms (which, of course, is the backdrop for many other works of sci-fi) jostling for some kind of meaning in the cosmos. 40K stands out with depictions in its art and imagery that are more visceral than most other space operas. The question of actually assigning causality to UFO lore, however, is complex and necessarily problematic. We could imagine that in some instances, truth claims pertaining to UFO encounters derive from fictional stories. In other cases, an ostensibly real event could find its way into fiction (that, of course, is not to credit the event with the mark of objective reality, only to assign it the status of a sincerely held belief, but still "real" to the person who experienced it and therefore still worthy of study as a culture and psychological item). I am not saying that 40K caused the current package of themes bound up in UFO lore to become pre-eminent, only that the similarities are suggestive of underlying drives and that possible infusions of themes and motifs should be explored. I've speculated previously that some of what drives Skinwalker Ranch lore, or what makes it resonate with people who buy into it (the people actually running the show are likely to be straight up grifters who may not believe a word of it), may be a type of liminal appeal in an animalistic pantheon that deviates from traditional monotheism and caters to the desire for a style of enchantment that ruptures the mundanity of our world, and also links past to present by crediting earlier accounts of fairies, spirits and demons into an all-encompassing synthesis. The interactions between such yearnings on the one hand and plainly fictional elements on the other could well explain the trajectory of UFO lore over the past decade or so, but the difficulty of definitively documenting where one item starts and another begins may make investigations into causality fiendishly complex, if not intractable.