On a night in October 1957, a 23-year-old Brazilian farmer named Antonio Vilas-Boas, still out plowing the fields, looked up to see a strange red light in the sky. Then he noticed it was getting closer. It looked, he said, egg-shaped, with a spinning top. Three legs emerged from the craft as it descended upon the field where Vilas-Boas worked. He tried to flee by tractor.
The engine died shortly thereafter, and Vilas-Boas took off on foot. Soon, though, he was seized by what he described as a five-foot-tall humanoid wearing overalls and a helmet, speaking not in recognizable human language but in little yelps. Vilas-Boas said that three more creatures like this one soon appeared, and together they dragged him aboard the egg-shaped craft.
Aboard the space egg, Vilas-Bolas was stripped naked, covered in gel, and carried through a doorway with strange red symbols written above it, which he later drew for investigators working on his case. Inside the room, Vilas-Boas said, the aliens took blood samples from his chin. (This seems like an ineffective route to take, but maybe there is something aliens know about chin blood that humans do not.) Then the room was filled with nauseating gas, and this part Vilas-Boas did not like. But then the abduction got a little bit hot.
According to Vilas-Boas, a female humanoid, much like the others in appearance but with larger blue eyes, long platinum-white hair, and bright-red underarm and pubic hair (no overalls for her!) entered the room, and they had sex. What happened next is my favorite part of the Wikipedia entry on this abduction: “When it was all over, the female smiled at Boas, rubbing her belly and gestured upwards. Boas took this to mean that she was going to raise their child in space.” Of course.
While Mack never stated outright that he believed aliens were abducting people, he called the study participants’ experiences a “powerful phenomenon” he couldn’t quite explain.
Sometime after being “returned,” amidst an extended period of nausea and weakness, Vilas-Boas contacted a journalist named Jose Martins, who had placed an ad looking for abductees and/or UFO witnesses in the newspaper. Over the next couple of years, his story would garner a slow-burn of media attention. But it wasn’t until 1961, four years after the Vilas-Boas event, that the Betty and Barney Hill abduction in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, made famous the alien abduction narrative as we know it.
Supporters argued that Vilas-Boas’ alleged abduction preceding the highly publicized Hill story was a high mark toward his credibility. Detractors argued that a story similar to Vilas-Boas’ had run in a Brazilian magazine a few months prior to his own account. Vilas-Boas withdrew from the public, became a lawyer, and raised a family. He stuck to his story until he died in 1991.
I BELIEVE IN UFOs, and alien beings out there somewhere, and I even kind of believe the story that an extraterrestrial spaceship crashed in Roswell in 1947 and the United States government covered it up. Or maybe it’s just that I adore all of the above, wholeheartedly, and have trouble telling the difference between my fandom and my faith. I don’t really care how much (if any) of it is real. This sometimes frustrates people. I am not infrequently asked by bemused friends and acquaintances to define the limits of my beliefs in all things supernatural, and they are always difficult for me to verbalize. I have noticed that they seem a little arbitrary. For example: I think the theories put forth by the popular TV show Ancient Aliens are actually deranged, so baseless and stupid that it’s not even fun to watch. (Just because there’s a part in the Bible that mentions an apostle seeing a bright light in the sky, and the angel Gabriel was busy that day, does not mean it was “probably” a UFO.)
But if I read somewhere (in one of my UFO books) that a former military official (doesn’t matter the rank) says he was there when the Air Force scrambled three bomber jets to shoot down a triangle-shaped alien aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean, only it vanished before they could do anything to stop it, I’m kind of like, “Yeah, I can see that. Sure, I am on board.” There’s just something about a defector.
So I don’t know exactly what my believability threshold is in the realm of extraterrestrial life, but I do know that alien abduction does not make it across. I don’t really understand space. Anything could be going on up there for all I know, and if I think about it too much I get nervous about weird things like the planet falling out of orbit. UFOs don’t seem that much more incomprehensible to me than anything we know to be scientifically true about the galaxy. But what happens on Earth I understand marginally better, and it just seems to me that if humans were being forcibly taken from their bedrooms, we’d have more/anything to show for it. But again, maybe what I’m really saying is that I do not like how that sounds. I am pro-friendly UFO fly-bys carried out by little gray creatures in silver jumpsuits. I am very strongly anti-alien kidnapping/chin blood testing, and I mean that. You can put that on my voting record.
AMONG POTENTIAL SCIENTIFIC EXPLANATIONS for self-proclaimed abductees’ experiences are sleep paralysis and psychopathology. The former makes a lot of intuitive sense, up to a point—anyone who’s ever experienced it knows that sleep paralysis, often accompanied by vivid hallucinations, can be very frightening and strange. These episodes, though, typically last no longer than a few minutes, and often much less—rarely long enough for a full-fledged abduction narrative. Studies on the latter theory are somewhat mixed, but alleged abductees are more often than not found to have generally good mental health. Then there’s the possibility of false memory syndrome (itself a debated concept), a ready-for-The X-Files explanation in which hypnosis of an alleged abductee might create memories that were never there.
In the early 1990s, Harvard psychiatrist John E. Mack began a 10-plus-year study of over 200 men and women who alleged alien abduction experiences. His original suspicion that they were mentally ill was found to be unsubstantiated, and Mack soon came to believe the answer was something closer to PTSD. While Mack never stated outright that he believed aliens were abducting people, he called the study participants’ experiences a “powerful phenomenon” he couldn’t quite explain. He believed they believed. Beyond that, who knows? I think that’s kind of the thing I love best about UFO conspiracy theorists and the supernatural world at large—it’s this great big range of maybes.
I have this Google News alert that tracks mentions of “UFO.” It shows up once a week in my inbox, consistently full of garbage results. Every week I delete it almost instantly. I do not exactly know what I am expecting to turn up in there. But I like keeping an eye out.