Monday, February 15, 2010

UFOs: The Religious Approach

UFOs: The Religious Approach
By Scott Corrales

Toward the end of 2000, the faithful were stirred once more, this time in the Uruguayan city of Rosario, by an image of the Virgin that shed tears “running from her right eye down to her chin,” according to a report from the ANSA news agency. Most believers did not hesitate to qualify this event as “miraculous.”

The tears were discovered on the day of the Immaculate Conception, on the face of a statue kept within a glass box in a grotto. The story spread quickly throughout Rosario, and hundreds of faithful began making their way toward the location in the province of Colonia to see the manifestation. Among them was Monsignor Carlos Collazi, who advised caution and told the media:” the Church is always very prudent in such matters."

The artisan who had been entrusted with restoring the statue shortly before the “miracle” told reporters that his assignment had consisted mainly on repainting the venerated statue and at no time did it extend to any work on its features. The sculpture--the Virgin holding the baby Jesus in her left arm--was made of wood, but the faces on both figures' faces were coated in a porcelain-like substance. The artist did not hesitate to reject that this could be a case of "water coming out from within...” but that he couldn’t think of a rational explanation.”

A recent story gleaned off the Spanish news service EFE makes it seem as if religious apparitions are close to achieving a new "critical mass": José Arturo Céspedes, 15, from San José, Costa Rica, recently told the media that he is in regular contact with the Virgin Mary since 1990 and that She entrusts him with messages to be transmitted to the rest of the world. Catholic authorities have played the Costa Rican apparitions down. Msgr. Ramón Arrieta, Bishop of San José, has stated, in the fine tradition of religious authorities before him, that the young man experienced nothing more than "optical illusions". This declaration has not kept dozens of believers from visiting daily the barren expanse of terrain where Céspedes claims to speak to the Virgin--their fervor can be attested from the growing number of rosaries, personal items and prayer books deposited on a tree stump where the apparitions are said to occur.

The volume of apparitions is by no means diminishing. In May 1994, over ten thousand Argentinians gathered in the town of Rioja to see two images of the Virgin which have appeared on a church dome. Described as two triangular figures that can be clearly discerned on the shingles of San Fransisco Church, the parish priest nonetheless refuses to grant the images any credence, stating that they are merely rust and moisture stains caused by wear. In neighboring Brazil, the population of Louveira, Sao Paulo (Pop. 13,000) has been in commotion over a tearful statue of the Virgin--Our Lady of the Mystic Rose--which sheds tears on the thirteenth day of each month. Researchers from the University of Campiñas managed to collect over a hundred cubic centimeters of the fluid (enough to fill a small glass), who noted that if the usual explanation of liquid being released by the wooden statue were to be invoked, the amount of liquid produced could by no means exceed twenty cubic inches. "Physical hypotheses have been discarded as inadequate to explain this phenomenon," said medical chief Fortunato Bardan.

The stories have all the elements particular to other world-renown religious sightings: the adolescent boy or girl, the desolate location chosen by the entity, the ecclesiastical authorities' rebuff and the hordes of believers slowly making their way to a nearly-impenetrable location to pray to the apparition. From Tepeyac to Lourdes and from Fátima to Medjugorje, locations separated by space and time, the re-enactment remains the same. Will we soon be hearing about "miracle of the sun" in San José, Rioja or Louveira?

The strong resemblance between certain UFO contactee experiences and these religious apparitions has been the subject of a number of books by authors of international distinction, and the UFO dimension has been particularly evident in the more recent cases. In retrospect, we can see that it has been a major feature in the prior ones as well.

Vicka Ivankovic, one of the original experiencers of the Medjugorje apparitions, saw a completely white ball of light on the rocky hillside where the Virgin appeared. When she reported this detail of her sighting to her sister, she simply remarked: "That was a flying saucer." On the third evening of the sightings in June 1981, the six children who would become the central focus of the Medjugorje apparitions plus a thousand spectators who had climbed Podbro Hill witnessed an unexplained beam of brilliant light which passed three times over their village and the general area. According to the young percipients, this was the signal given by the Virgin to indicate where she would meet them. The light was seen by non-believers as well: two Communist social workers were nearly run off the road by the light, which they later saw illuminating the hill on which the apparitions were taking place.

Religious apparitions are not a proprietary feature of christianity, by any means. They have occured within some of humanity's major religions, and were quite common in the past. In ancient Greece and Rome, the Mysteries often culminated with the real or feigned apparition of a deity, and in certain temples, the deity would appear on a regular basis. We learn from a scroll of the Antonine Dynasty (97-196 A.D.) that the god of medicine, Aesculapius, routinely appeared to the faithful in his temple on an island in the middle of the Tiber. In the case of a doctor named Thesallus, Aesculapius reportedly said: "Lucky Thesallus, today you are honored by a god, and tomorrow by men, when they learn of your deed." The deity proceeded to reveal the secret of astrological botany (the culling of medicinal herbs according to the zodiac) to the astounded human, who went on to enjoy great success. For years, a thaumaturge from Asia Minor, Alexander Paphlagonicus, amazed the ancient world with Glyco, his human-headed "oracular serpent", which would materialize out of thin air.

Religious apparitions in later centuries tended to appear to embolden their armies in battle, as can be attested by the Blessed Virgin's manifestation during the battle of Covadonga, between Visigoths and Moors in 718. A sword-wielding horseman identified with the Prophet is said to have led many Muslim charges against the medieval christian forces. St. James routinely appeared to Spanish armies as late as the conquest of Mexico in 1521, although historical commentator Bernal Díaz says that he "wasn't pious enough to have witnessed it." And it is Mexico, ironically, where the first major apparition of the Blessed Virgin took place, initiating a series of nearly identical "contact" experiences which continues taking place even today.

Embellished by numerous retellings, the apparition of the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe still influences the belief of millions of contemporary worshippers. It differs from the more recent sightings in that its lone protagonist was not a child or adolescent, but a recently-converted man in his fifties named Cuauhtlatoatzin, immortalized by his baptismal name, Juan Diego. He received no special powers during his contact experience, no crowds gathered, and there was only one cure: his uncle Juan Bernardino, healed of a serious malady.

While traversing the barren hill of Tepeyac, a young woman appeared out of nowhere to Juan Diego, telling him to go to the Archbishop of Mexico to tell him that she desired a temple built for her on that very spot. When Juan Diego unsuccessfully tried to comply with her wishes, she ordered him to gather roses which bloomed at a site where nothing would grow, and to take them to the Archbishop as proof of whom she claimed to be. When Archbishop Zumárraga saw the fragrant Castillian roses, he witnessed a more incredible sight: the image of the Virgin had appeared on the inside of Juan Diego's cloak, which he had used to gather up the roses. It now hangs above the main altar of the Basilica erected on Tepeyac, as ordered by the apparition. There is an interesting sidebar to this story: The hill of Tepeyac had boasted a temple to Tonantzin, the Aztec mother-goddess, ruthlessly destroyed by one of Cortez's lieutenants. The stones of this demolished temple served to build the impressive Basilica which can be seen today.

But the apparitions go far beyond the oft-mentioned healings and apocalyptic prophecies. Some of the Virgin's apparitions--or at least her communiqués--have discussed the UFO phenomenon explicitly. Veronica Leuken, a "contactee" who delivers brief written messages from the Holy Virgin, issued one such specific instruction in the winter of 1973: "Many agents of Hell are now loosened upon the Earth, and they have their own means of transportation. Do not be deceived by the false theory that believes that life exists beside that of the Kingdom of Heaven. Satan is sending such vehicles before your eyes to decieve and confuse you. These objects flying in your atmosphere come from Hell. They are the false miracles of your age, and are not a product of Man's imagination."

The diabolical beings using the abovementioned conveyances are also described in Leuken's messages from the Virgin: "They are horrible to look at. Mostly they are small, have elongated eyes and long mouths. Their faces inspire fear. Some of them have something on their foreheads that is the color of silvery ash, a viscous thing that reminds one of death. They are repugnant."

Can we believe this to be a descripion of the "Greys" delivered in the early 1970's? The bulk of cases in the "Year of the Humanoids" (1973) featured an array of beings, but the contemporary Greys were not in evidence. Leuken continued delivering messages from the Virgin throughout the decade concerning the threat posed by UFOs. In another message dating back to February 1978, it was stated that "The UFOs which you admire come from the plane of Satan. They are false images that promote the mistaken notion that there is life on other planets. There is no life, as it was created only upon Earth. Satan creates many false miracles [...] They are the means of transportation of Hell, and can be found nowhere else."

This raises a few thorny issues, the foremost of them being that Ms. Leuken could simply be projecting her own fears and beliefs rather than those of a heavenly denizens. As has been stated elsewhere, the entities manifesting themselves through automatic writing tend to be inveterate liars or even if the message is bona fide, it could well turn out to be the "propaganda," for want of a better term, of one group of entities against another.

If the apparitions phenomenon dovetails so well with some of the paranormal explanations offered for UFOs, and UFOs and their occupants are indeed a negative influence, could the urgent tone of the Virgin's communications be interpreted as a warning from the Earth (or "Gaia") itself against these forces? Was Wilhelm Reich correct in assuming that UFOs represented malign energies? In his book Defendámonos de los dioses, Salvador Freixedo refers to so-called religious apparitions as a means by which entities living on a much higher evolutionary scale than our own manage to get certain "subtle energies" that they crave out of the human brain, and who manage to have their way with us by stimulating our need for the spiritual and posing as deities. Strong emotions like awe, fear, and excitement are released in the act of worshipping one of these apparitions, and in Freixedo's theory, serve the purposes of these highly evolved forces.

The late Andreas Faber Kaiser, author of Las Nubes del Engaño (The Clouds of Deceit), went as far as suggesting that the entire conquest of the Americas by a handful of armed Spaniards was logically impossible, and that divine apparitions played a major role in making the native cultures bow down to the invaders. Faber Kaiser provides several examples of intervention by a "force" with a vested interest in assuring the invaders' victory: in 1541, during the Spanish conquest of Chile by Pedro de Valdivia, the natives stormed a fort built by the invaders. According to a chronicle of the event sent to the King of Spain, an old man on a white horse materialized among the native ranks urging them to "run and hide, for these christians will slay you all!" The panic caused by the apparition was so great that the attackers fled. The chronicle goes on to state that the captured natives told the Spaniards that three days before the attack, "a comet" fell to the ground in their territory, and a beautiful lady all dressed in white emerged from it, telling them to "serve these christians and fight them not, for they are very brave and will kill you."

Lest it appear that we have strayed too far down the assumption-ridden paranormal garden path, it is perhaps worth remembering that our awe of religious apparitions, specifically those of the Blessed Virgin, have been exploited by the very real entities in our governments. In April 1982, while the world was distracted by the Falklands War, hundreds of Cubans witnessed a huge explosion of tremendous brilliance, which immediately gave way to an image of the Virgin suspended in the night sky. Reports that trickled out of Cuba stated that "Our Lady of Regla"--Cuba's patroness--carried neither cross nor Christ child in her arms, smiled beningly and was clad in a snow white mantle. Other reports indicated that while the image lasted only minutes, it was there long enough to be peppered with rifle fire by frightened sentries. The "holy" image's provenance was never determined, but the Cuban government blamed a hologram beamed by a U.S. submarine in Havana Bay. The display's purpose, ostensibly, was that of reanimating a superstition in the Cuban people's mind about the Virgin's appearances signalling an imminent change in government, such as the sightings of the Virgin in 1933 and 1958, which heralded the downfall of the Urrutia and Batista regimes, respectively.