Folklore: Alien Abductions

Let's start with a time line!

1947: UFO sightings
1961: Betty & Barney Hill (first widely known alien abduction story)
1970s: People are abducted from cars and the countryside.
1980s: People are abducted from bedrooms; aliens implant devices; sexual experimentation becomes part of the stories.
1990s to now: Two conflicting narratives--benevolent aliens versus aliens who interact with humans preparatory to taking over the world

Psychoanalytical explanations link alien abduction stories to the growth of post-traumatic stress incidents in the 1980's plus the increase in hypnotherapists and victim support groups, not to mention the whole false memory controversy!

Physical explanations link the stories to sleep paralysis. I've personally experienced sleep paralysis twice in my life. Sleep paralysis occurs when the brain wakes up but the body doesn't. Basically, while you sleep, the body numbs itself. This keeps you from walking around and acting out your dreams. Sleep paralysis occurs when you wake but can't move. You may believe that other people are in the room (I did), and you may feel a heavy sensation on your chest. It is completely terrifying, but not, oddly enough (at least for me) as terrifying--once fully awake--as an actual nightmare. The sensation that others are present does feel extremely real, however, so I completely buy this particular explanation.

However, researchers have pointed out that people get very angry when you tell them that they had sleep paralysis rather than an alien abduction. I think sleep paralysis is kind of cool, and I can't imagine why on earth (or space) aliens would be interested in me, but I suppose I would get angry if I hinged my entire identify on one (or two) totally unusual experiences I had! (On a side-note, I think "identity" is one reason people clutch so eagerly at false memories of abuse; if the worst-possible-thing-in-the-world happened to me, EVERYTHING about my life will be explained. Unfortunately, as these people discover, it doesn't. Life still goes on being life, which means it is often completely inexplicable.)

All the above being said, in terms of folklore, there is little to no point in debating whether or not alien abduction stories are true. Rather, abduction stories should be studied for their motifs.

And they have them! Abduction stories--as Scully points out in X-Files "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'"--follow a typical pattern:

1. The abduction occurs from a bed or car.
2. The abductee--or experiencer--sees a light.
3. The abductee meets occupants of the UFO.
4. The abductee loses consciousness.
5. There is missing time.

Some of these motifs are very old; the idea of a visiting "other" occurs often in fairy tales. For example, incubi and succubi, demons in the shape of men and women, would visit their victims at night, sit on their chests (or other parts of their anatomy) and scare them silly. Fairy tales are also filled with kidnappings by faerie folk. Sometimes the kidnappings were well-meant; sometimes, they were one step up from child predator types of incidents (makes you wonder if the Middle Ages did have serial killers, and faerie folk were the explanation--forget Dexter; it was that guy from beneath-the-hill!).

Literary/Modern Examples: X-Files, naturally (I highly recommend the very funny "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'" episode); later on, I will discuss the literary motif of the "captivity narrative" which I believe is related to alien and fairy tale abductions.

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