The “contactee movement” arose in the early 1950s as a direct response to the flying saucer phenomenon. In the context of UFO phenomena, a contactee is an individual who claims to have direct and/or personal contact with alien entities (a close encounter of the third kind, CE-III) on a recurring basis. These people assert that UFO occupants have “contacted” selected human beings in order to convey critical information through them to the entire human race. Over a forty-year period the movement has experienced advances and declines in popularity, but it remains a phenomenon deeply rooted in occult-based religion. This article will explore the contactee experience by briefly tracing its development as an occultic religious movement, inspect the typical contactee scenario, and provide a Christian assessment of this unusual UFO-related phenomenon.
Historical Forerunners of the UFO Contactees
The UFO (unidentified flying object) contactee movement emerged at the height of the flying saucer age in the 1950s. This movement was actually a continuation of occult beliefs and teachings concerning extraterrestrials, which had coalesced from various groups and individuals over roughly two centuries.1
A Movement 200 Years in the Making
Two hundred years before the flying saucer age began, Swedish scientist and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) published a work called Earths in the Solar World (1758) in which he revealed that he had traveled to several planets in the solar system and beyond.2 He claimed to have encountered extraterrestrial beings in his travels, and he provided specific details concerning their civilizations. Swedenborg’s alleged encounters proved less scientific and more metaphysical in nature.
Swedenborg’s extraterrestrial encounters clearly took place through psychic or occultic means. Swedenborg never spoke of a flying saucer, but he didn’t need one. Religion scholar J. Gordon Melton, who has extensively studied the contactee phenomenon, explains:
"Most nineteenth—and early—twentieth-century contact with extraterrestrials occurred in a spiritualist context, more likely than not in a séance. The prime mode of contact was a phenomenon quite familiar to psychic researchers, namely ‘astral travel.’ A person experiencing astral travel senses his/her body and consciousness separately, and while the body remains in one place, the consciousness travels around. Thus Swedenborg and mediums . . . could go into trances and travel to the various planets."3
Another leading occult figure who spoke of encounters with extraterrestrial entities was Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891), who founded the influential occult religion of Theosophy in 1875.4 Blavatsky, herself a former spiritualist (a person who attempts contact with the dead), developed a new occult religious system centered around belief in “Ascended Masters.”5 These Ascended Masters make up a type of hierarchy of supernatural beings placed between humanity and the divine. Proponents of Theosophy believed that the ascended masters try to assist and guide humanity’s continuing spiritual evolution. Included in the list of these masters were beings from other planets. Thus, Blavatsky claimed to communicate with extraterrestrial beings through occultic means. She included among her ascended masters beings she called “Lords of the Flame” and the “Lord of This World.”6
As an offshoot of the Theosophical Society, the occult-based I AM movement was founded by Guy and Edna Ballard in the 1930s.7 The I AM movement affirmed belief in progressive revelations from these same ascended masters. Guy Ballard, however, made revelations from extraterrestrials a centerpiece in this movement. The I AM movement may be the very first religion centered upon revelatory messages from alien entities through occultic means.8
In the 1920s, The Urantia Book purported to contain messages from numerous extraterrestrial or supermortal beings through the process of automatic writing, though the actual human recorders remained anonymous. Automatic writing is an occult practice where a medium records messages from the spiritual realm. More than 2,000 pages long, The Urantia Book claims to reveal previously unknown truths about the cosmic histories of the earth (“Urantia”) and new revelations and interpretations about the life, mission, and teachings of Jesus Christ.9 The Urantia Book with its alleged extraterrestrial messages remains quite popular today within the circles of UFO religionists.
Scholars are not in complete agreement as to just how the early contactee movement should be traced historically, but what is agreed upon is that all of its major connections were rooted in occult religion. Proponents of the contactee movement also exhibit a general pattern concerning their extraterrestrial contacts. Consider the following three points:10
- The alien entities are said to be primarily from neighboring planets (especially Mars and Venus).
- The alien messages are communicated through psychic experiences, particularly through “mediums,” by means of what today is referred to popularly as “channeling.”
- When communicating with aliens, the contactee used telepathy (direct communication from one mind to another).
Christian apologist and specialist on New Age beliefs, Elliot Miller, defines channeling as “the practice of attempting communication with departed human or extra-human intelligences (usually nonphysical) through the agency of a human medium, with the intent of receiving paranormal information and/or having direct experience of metaphysical realities.”11 Ironically, the term “channeling” which is used widely in New Age circles came into use from the contactees themselves.12 John A. Saliba explains the close parallel between contactee channeling and the practice of spiritualism: “Contactees are similar to spiritualist mediums, the former receiving messages from superior, nonearthly beings, the latter from the spirits of the dead who are also not on this earthly plane.”13
The early individuals and groups who influenced the contactee movement claimed to channel alien beings, but they didn’t speak specifically of flying saucers and personal visits from extraterrestrials. The audacious contactees of the 1950s made that extraordinary assertion.
Two Controversial 1950s Contactees
The “age of the extraterrestrial” was ushered in by the most famous of the 1950s flying saucer contactees, George Adamski (1891-1965).14 Adamski, a resident of Southern California, had a long association with occultism and the metaphysical movement and had written fictional stories in the 1930s about beings from other worlds. In the early 1950s, at the height of the flying saucer age, Adamski proclaimed that he had an encounter with an extraterrestrial. He claimed that a long-haired man from Venus, named “Orthon,” had appeared to him in the California desert. Regular visits and communications from extraterrestrials followed.15 Adamski describes Orthon in these words:
"He was round faced with an extremely high forehead; large, but calm, gray-green eyes, slightly aslant at the outer corners; with slightly higher cheekbones than an Occidental, but not so high as an Indian or an Oriental; a finely chiseled nose, not conspicuously large; and an average size mouth with beautiful white teeth that shone when he smiled or spoke."16
Adamski claimed to have boarded a flying saucer on numerous occasions and to have traveled to neighboring planets inhabited by benevolent beings called “Space Brothers.” His travels included meetings with “Venusians, Martians, and Saturnians,” and he even attended a “galactic council.”17 Adamski took and distributed to the public alleged photographs of a flying saucer in the Earth’s atmosphere. His books: Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953), Inside the Space Ships (1955), and Flying Saucer Farewell (1961), made Adamski affluent and in the words of one researcher, he “became a significant international occult celebrity.”18
The 1950s contactee movement, and Adamski in particular, was an embarrassment to serious researchers of unidentified aerial phenomena (UFOs). Ultimately, Adamski’s stories and claims (especially his so-called physical evidence) could not withstand sustained scientific and logical scrutiny. He was exposed, at least to some degree, as a hoaxer and a fraud.19 While he was all but discredited in his later years, Adamski’s contactee claims inspired many others in the broader contactee movement. The ensuing occultic religious influence continues to the present.
Another controversial contactee of the 1950s was George Van Tassel.20 Van Tassel, with a background in aviation, moved to the California desert where he claimed to have had contact with various aliens in the early 1950s. Van Tassel claimed to channel telepathic messages from the alien commanders of various starships.21 One of his contacts was called “Ashtar.” This same Ashtar would become one of the most widely channeled extraterrestrial intelligences in contactee circles.22 According to Van Tassel, an alien named “Solganda” allowed him to tour a spacecraft and gave him the monumental task of building a machine that would reverse the aging process and serve as a time machine.23 His book, I Rode in a Flying Saucer (1952), revealed his extraordinary contactee experiences to the public.
While the contactee movement peaked in popularity around the beginning of the 1960s, the UFO-related occult religious groups that followed them have staked out their territory. They have been able to do this because of the broader acceptance in the West of Eastern mystical and New Age ideas and teachings. But an analysis of the typical contactee scenarios and of the tenets of UFO-related religious groups reveals how unsubstantiated their claims are.
The Typical Contactee Scenario
Central to the nature of the contactee phenomenon as a whole is the understanding that space entities eagerly desire to communicate with humankind. These alien beings prudently select certain individuals to serve as a point of “contact” (channel) between themselves and the broader human race. Contact is then made using two basic methods.24
Some contactees (especially during the early 1950s) claimed to have had face-to-face physical encounters with space aliens. These contactees sometimes reported boarding metallic spacecraft and touring the solar system with their new space brothers. Some of these same contactees claimed to produce evidence to substantiate their extraordinary claims (e.g., Adamski’s alleged photograph of a spacecraft). However, no unimpeachable physical evidence has ever been forthcoming from such claimed encounters.
The more typical scenario is the contactee who receives messages from extraterrestrials through psychic or paranormal means.25 Thus, the selected contactee is given the critical and privileged mission of serving as a channel for alien intelligence from other worlds (or possibly other dimensions of reality). This deeply occultic experience centers around the contactee channeling telepathic messages and revelations from alleged extraterrestrial beings. The contactee may also, while in a trance, record written messages (automatic writing). The contactee is entrusted with “the secrets of the universe,” and is sometimes appointed the alien’s “envoy on earth.”26
Some contactees claim to have both physical encounters and psychic experiences. However, today’s contactees usually claim the psychic variety.
The Alien Dimension
The aliens encountered by contactees vary widely in description.27 Contactees claim that aliens have appeared variously as humans, humanoids, animals, robots, exotic entities, or apparitions.28 However, some of the early contactees gave very specific details. They often described the aliens as Nordic types, humanoids possessing great physical beauty (i.e., tall, blond, shoulder-length hair, dressed in one-piece ski suits). Some contemporary contactees have described aliens in more menacing and bizarre terms.29 Commonly referred to as the Grays, these aliens appear as short, grotesque creatures, with large heads and slanting dark eyes.
According to the early contactees, aliens originated on Earth’s neighboring planets, especially Venus and Mars. Modern contactees are far less specific in identifying the alien’s place of origin. Doubtlessly, the loss of specific details is a response to the ever-increasing scientific data that shows no sentient life exists on the other planets in Earth’s solar system. Some contactees report that the aliens are from distant galaxies, or even from other dimensions of reality (even non-physical or spiritual reality).
A wide variety of descriptions abound among contactees concerning the exact nature of the aliens.30 Some have described their alien communicators as material, physical beings, not unlike human beings. Others have described them as psychic realities, apparitions, or spiritual beings. Still others have described them as former physical beings who have evolved to an advanced spiritual state of existence. As Saliba notes: “Many contactees, however, write about UFOs and space beings as if these were psychic phenomena, belonging to a different time/space dimension that lies beyond the scope and province of modern science.”31
There are two general views regarding the intention of the aliens in contacting humanity: Contactees maintain that some aliens have a benevolent intent, while other aliens have a malevolent intent.
Robert S. Ellwood and Harry B. Partin note the following: “Invariably, these groups believe that many, at least, of these astounding vehicles bear envoys from a superior and benevolent civilization from another world who have come to warn and aid us in our folly.”32 The alien messages and revelations communicated through the contactees often involve moral, metaphysical, and theological injunctions and reflections. The alien’s benevolent intent is confirmed in the minds of some contactees by the fact that the contactee experience is usually positive in nature.33
Some recent contactees have described aliens that are indifferent or even hostile to humankind. While reported negative contactee experiences appear to be in the minority, UFO researcher John Keel argues that there are many “silent contactees” who have contacts with what Keel calls “ultraterrestrials” (malevolent, paranormal beings).34 Keel and others believe that these alien intelligences are attempting to manipulate and control the contactees for their own nefarious purposes. Some contactees report suffering extremely harmful effects through their interactions with these alleged space aliens.
A Christian Assessment of the Contactee Phenomenon
The contactee experience is a peculiar and complicated phenomenon. Looking at the phenomenon since its beginning over fifty years ago, one must wonder whether there aren’t sociological and psychological factors at play when assessing the individual contactees and their extraordinary claims.35 Perhaps their experiences are real, but they may be solely personal and subjective in nature. Social scientists would probably assert that something is indeed happening, if only in the subjective experiences of the contactees themselves.
The Religious Dimension
As discussed previously, the contactee movement’s religious roots clearly lie in the occult, influenced and shaped to greater or lesser degrees by such movements as Swedenborgianism, spiritualism, Theosophy, and the I AM (Ascended Masters) movement. And as Jerome Clark remarks, contactees usually have “a history of involvement with occultism and New Age doctrines.”36 The contactee experience involves direct occult/paranormal beliefs and practices. These specific occult beliefs and practices include: mediumistic trance-channeling of alien (psychic or spirit) entities, automatic writing, communication through telepathy, teleportation, dematerialization, levitation, and psychokinesis.37
Contact with alien beings who are considered morally and spiritually superior to human beings provides an alternative spirituality (albeit occultic and mystical) to what is offered in traditional religion (particularly to the faith and doctrines revealed in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures). The religious nature of the contactee experience and the occult-based religions that have emerged from it provide many of the distinctive qualities usually discovered in traditional religion. Individuals involved in UFO and extraterrestrial-based religion seek “salvation from above” from a wise, benevolent, and heavenly source. Alien messages and revelations mediated through the contactee provide these same people with moral and spiritual guidance, and direction in life. Followers of UFO-based religion look for the answer to life’s ultimate questions not in God, but in these alleged extraterrestrial intelligences. Saliba succinctly describes the religious nature of the UFO phenomena as follows:
One of the most appealing aspects of UFOs is their religious content and structure. UFOs can readily function as a religion for several reasons. They deal with important and often ultimate issues in human life; they contain references to entities that bear some resemblance to traditional religious beings, such as gods, supernatural heroes, angels, and devils; and they appear to have a spiritual or transhuman nature, since their presence is not susceptible to modern empirical investigation. At least seven major religious themes or elements dominate accounts of UFO sightings and contacts: (1) mystery; (2) transcendence; (3) belief in spiritual entities; (4) perfection; (5) salvation; (6) worldview (the ascription of meaning and purpose to the universe); and (7) spirituality.38
Despite the message content and apparent structure that give UFOs some appeal as a religion, the close scrutiny of the contactee phenomenon’s truth claims presented next reveals at least two things. First, that as a religious system the UFO-contactee phenomenon fails to provide acceptable evidence for its claims. Second, the UFO contactee phenomenon conflicts with historical Christian doctrine.
Conflicts with Historic Christian Doctrines
However one attempts to explain the overall phenomenon, the occult practices which permeate the contactee experience are antithetical to historic orthodox Christianity. Scripture explicitly condemns the practice of mediumistic trance-channeling (Deut. 18:9-12, 15; 1 Chron. 10:13-14; Isa. 8:19, 20; Acts 16:16-18), which is at the very heart of the contactee phenomenon. God’s Word explicitly warns against this practice: “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:31). Channeling, which is only spiritism with a new twist, is actually deeply rooted in pagan religion. Elliot Miller explains:
Deuteronomy 18:9-14 shows not only that spiritism had nothing to do with biblical prophecy, but also that it had a lot to do with the paganism of the time. In fact, spiritism has played a part historically in virtually all forms of paganism. Those who have allowed spirits to use their bodies in this way have been called a variety of names, including “shaman,” “witch doctor,” “medicine man,” “oracle,” “fortune-teller,” and “seer.” In our own culture the common term has been “medium,” but in recent years it has been largely abandoned in favor of “channel” or “channeler,” reflecting, in part, a desire to break free of the negative stereotypes associated with mediums over the years.39
Historic Christian theology overall has condemned the various occult practices common to contacteeism. Along with mediumship or channeling, the Bible also clearly forbids the practice of divination, which involves the foretelling of the future or discovering esoteric (secret or hidden) knowledge through occultic means (Deut. 4:19; Isa. 47:13-15; 44:24-25). From a Scriptural point of view, these practices are an abomination to God, and their involvement opens the contactee and those who follow him or her to direct and dangerous demonic influence. Unlike much of the modern mindset that denies the realm of the demonic (malevolent supernatural beings subservient to Satan), the informed Bible-believing Christian is fully aware of the reality of Satan and his fallen angelic hosts (Job 1:6-12; Ezek. 28: 11-19; Matt. 4:1-11; John 8:44; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 6:11-12; James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6).
The contactees may, at times, be experiencing real contact with an objective reality, but, in such instances, that reality would indeed be what the Bible calls the powers of darkness (Eph. 6:12). Since these channels allow entities to effectively take over their minds and bodies, they are susceptive to being, and in some cases may in fact be, demon-possessed (Matt. 4:24; 9:32-34; 12:22-24; Mark 3:7-12; Luke 11:14-26). These contactees are, perhaps unknowingly, seeking revelation from a divinely forbidden source (Ex. 22:18; 2 Kings 21:6; Ezek. 13:9; Zech. 10:2). Again God warns, “I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people” (Lev. 20:6). These contactees run the terrible risk of ruin in mind, body, and soul.
From a historic Christian perspective, could demons really be behind the contactee phenomenon? Clear scriptural evidence seems to offer an affirmative answer. First, the New Testament indicates that the devil “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14-15). Second, he is also capable of performing “counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders” (2 Thess. 2: 9-10), and near the end of the ages he will inspire false Christs and false prophets who will “perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible” (Matt. 24:24). One approach to interpreting the book of Revelation reveals several times how the “beast” and the “false prophet”—both extensions of Satan—will perform “great miraculous signs” at the end time (Rev. 13:13; 16:14; 19:20). In addition to counterfeit miracles, Satan and his minions also appear capable of predicting the future (sometimes with astounding accuracy, but often not) and declaring a way of salvation, but not the way (Acts 16:16). The goal of the demonic is always to deceive, to cause people to abandon their faith, and, ultimately, to lead the world astray (1 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 12:9).
Some UFO-based religions even make Jesus Christ an extraterrestrial40 and claim to receive channeled messages from him. This claim is a direct challenge to the truth-claims of historic Christianity. No need for further revelations concerning Jesus Christ exists because, as evangelical Christians proclaim, Scripture is God’s previously given and supreme revelation (1 Cor. 4:6; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20, 21). As the book of Jude reveals, the faith (the foundational truths or doctrines of Christianity) has been “once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). Not only is there no need for further revelations, but the so-called revelations of the contactees often directly contradict the revelation of Scripture, a sure sign of error (1 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:8-9; 1 Tim. 4:1; 6:3; Tit. 1:9; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 John 2:22-23; 2 John 7-11).
Often the metaphysical messages and revelations given by contactees directly deny and contradict historic Christian doctrines about God, Christ, sin, salvation, and Scripture. UFO-based religions like those that embrace the revelations of The Urantia Book categorically reject the orthodox Christology of Jesus Christ as both God and man. Thus, they deny the cosmic Lord and resurrected Savior of the world. The theological messages coming from contactees like the channelers behind The Urantia Book and the Aetherius Society (the oldest and most popular UFO religion) are often pluralistic (all religions are true), monistic (all reality is one), universalistic (no divine judgment), and mystical in content, thus matching more closely with New Age mysticism than with the teaching of Scripture.41 The worldview expressed in UFO-based religion appears to have no place for such biblical distinctives as humankind’s being made in God’s image, being fallen sinners, needing to repent for sin, and needing, absolutely, the grace of God.
As a whole, the religious nature of the contactee experience reveals a fundamentally different worldview than that of historic Christian theism. As always, one would do well to heed the warnings of Scripture: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21). Test everything; even the existence of little, green men.