When I was younger, and bright-eyed about the wonders of the world, I would read about UFO’s or Unidentified Flying Objects. I was fascinated by the idea that we were not alone in this huge universe.
I delved into all the conspiracy theories of my youth: extraterrestrials were our friends; extraterrestrials were our enemies; extraterrestrials were worried about the nuclear bomb; extraterrestrials had landed and extraterrestrials, a la the Men in Black, were amongst us.
I devoured books like Eric van Daniken’s “Chariots of the Gods” and Robert Charroux’s “Masters of the World”. I raced through titles such as “Sungods in Exile” and “Extraterrestrials are Among Us”. I waded through less dramatic UFO publications that analysed data, even discrediting cult populists preying upon our gullibility such as George Adamski and Billy Meier.
Adamski, the pioneer of “tabloid Ufology”, produced the first “detailed” photographs of UFO’s in the California skies in the late1950’s. But when he claimed that he had contact with a Venusian astronaut, Orthon, and that there were cities on the dark side of the moon, he was condemned as a crackpot.
Meier, a Swiss farmer who claimed he had contact with a Pleiadean civilisation, was put under scrutiny by Ufologist, Karl Korff, and later denounced as a “scumbag”.
Then there were the infamous crop circles, originally punted as extraterrestrial communication but later revealed as an elaborate hoax by its British creators, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley.
Impostors, New World schizophrenics and pranksters aside, there is an undeniable and overwhelming body of evidence that points to inexplicable occurrences in our skies. These things have been happening in the heavens for thousands of years. Even one of the ancient Pharaohs, Thuthmose III, reportedly observed UFO’s.
Statistically at least, say scientists, given the size and scope of the universe, there has to be some form of life on other planets. Carl Sagan, the US astronomer, spent the latter half of his career searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. But two decades later, Sagan’s hypothesis has yet to be proved.
And if anything, the innate wonder and uniqueness of the earth has only become more pronounced as space missions probe deeper and deeper into the primordial soup of the universe.
Over the years I have learnt that “flying saucers” is a misnomer, as in reality UFO witnesses do not always see saucer-shaped objects. I have also learnt that many sightings are not UFO’s, but human phenomena such as weather balloons, car headlights, satellites, camera flares, police helicopters and military aircraft.
Other sightings have proved to be natural phenomena such as meteor showers, lightning balls, odd shaped cirrus clouds, comets and strange luminosities resulting from tectonic activity, something which scientists call “earth lights”.
In fact, only a small percentage of reported anomalies in our skies have turned out to be occurrences deserving the UFO moniker, but they still number in the thousands worldwide each year. And whilst most observers feel that UFO sightings, close encounters and abductions are not a matter of faith, the 19th century psychologist, Carl Jung, has always argued the opposite.
As a journalist who frequently works in the religious milieu – specifically the Islamic one – I must admit I’ve had to be cautious in dealing with paranormal matters. When you’ve had to confront people claiming to be risen prophets and end-time imams, a healthy dose of scepticism is the safest distance from the subject.
However, whilst authentic Islam fully recognises science, it also acknowledges a theological construct of the world. According to this paradigm, creation has three existential dimensions: Angels, jinns and humankind.
Angels are made from “divine light”, jinn are made from “smokeless fire” and man is made from “clay”, a pre-scientific term for protoplasm. The jinn – or genies – dwell in what is often described as a “parallel universe”. They can see us, but mostly, we can’t see them – although they can cross over into the human dimension.
Traditions say that Solomon was given dominion over these shadowy beings via a divine, talismanic ring. The genie under his control could move from place to place in the blink of an eye. According to Muslim scholars, jinn have been given good and bad natures. Satan is said to be a fallen genie that had enjoyed the company of the Angels.
But what has this got to do with UFO’s?
Genies are said to be of the land, the sea – and, more significantly, the air. It begs the hypothetical question (to which I don’t have the answer) whether the UFO phenomenon is the manifestation of an inner universe, or another genie-type dimension. Could the utopian societies so often described by alleged UFO abductees be nothing less than wishful, revelatory dreaming?
Carl Jung is long deceased, but I’m sure if he were still alive, his grey head would have nodded in agreement to this notion of a collective, cultural sub-consciousness in which we all aspire to a better world – albeit via an extraterrestrial paradigm.
So I’m sure you can imagine my surprise, that after having examined the UFO phenomenon as rationally as possible, I would be subjected to a UFO sighting myself.
It happened on the evening of the 29 January whilst camping at Bains Kloof in the Western Cape. I was sitting facing the sky through a gap in the trees. The time was about 8, 30 pm and the constellation of Orion’s Belt had just appeared above the mountain slopes opposite me. It was full moon, but it had not yet risen over the valley, although I could see it beginning to brighten the sky from behind the mountain.
Suddenly to my right in the eastern heavens, at the level of Orion’s Belt, I saw a moving light. Expecting it to be a shooting star, I quickly drew attention to it. But there was no flash across the heavens. We could then see that the light – it was the size of a star – was travelling at immense speed.
As it traversed in a westerly direction (from my left to right) another one shot out of the heavens from the west and crossed paths with the first one. These could not be aircraft. Not only did the lights have irregular flight paths, they were either very high up in the earth’s atmosphere, or in deep space. Then there was their speed. These objects were travelling at a velocity I’d never seen before.
After crossing paths, the lights disappeared. At least eight people besides me had just witnessed the event. Someone went to fetch a pair of binoculars. As I scanned the skies, a passenger jet to the far west began its descent to Cape Town international airport. With its flashing lights and fuselage, its speed was less than pedestrian compared to what we had just seen.
SAA, Comair, Onetime or Mango could never be mistaken for a UFO.
But the show was not over yet. For another light sped out of the east, and without deceleration, zigzagged, and finally dimmed past Orion’s Belt. Through the binoculars I could see that the object was in space, and that its sudden direction changes seemed to defy the laws of physics.
As the moon brightened the sky, throwing the surrounding mountain peaks into sharp silhouette, we saw no further activity in the skies. It was time for coffee and biscuits.
So what had we just seen? I have no rational explanation. Were these lights Unidentified Flying Objects? Yes, they certainly were – but I’d like to give them another classification, “UAP’s”: it stands for “Unidentified Aerial Performers”.