Read Wonders in the Sky Online

Authors: Jacques Vallee

Wonders in the Sky (3 page)

Otherworldly beings, celestial vehicles

While some individuals in antiquity have allegedly left the Earth by non-physical means, many were said to be taken away by beings that actually used flying vehicles, variously described in the language of their time and culture. Taoists often describe such vehicles involved with “dragons.” Thus K'u Yuan, about 300 BC, wrote a poem about the experience of flying over the Kun-lun Mountains of China in a chariot drawn by dragons and preceded by Wang-Shu, the charioteer of the moon. Modern ufologists might characterize this description as a “screen memory,” where the mind of the percipient is assumed to replace the awesome vision of a space being with a more familiar human or animal. Under their interpretation, such a story resembles a classic abduction, in which a human is captured by space beings who take their victim away in an interplanetary craft. But the Taoist literature goes further, describing a ritual in which otherworldly entities are actually invited and come down to Earth in order to meet the celebrant.

At the end of the ritual “they mount the cloud chariot, and the team of cranes takes off.” The cloud chariots are reminiscent of the “cloudships” seen over southern France in the ninth century, to which Archbishop Agobard of Lyon devoted part of one of his books. Saint Agobard had to preach to the crowd to dissuade the citizens of Lyon from killing four individuals, “three men and one woman” who had alighted from one of these cloudships, alleged to have come from Magonia, a magical land in the sky.


The Middle East is one of the most fertile sources for such early stories. Ezekiel was transported by the “wheels within wheels” of his vision to a far away mountain in a state of stupor. The testament of Abraham tells us he was given a heavenly tour by Archangel Michael in his chariot. In Jewish mysticism such descriptions sound like actual physical observations, witness the experience of Rabbi Nehuma ben Hakana: “When I caught sight of the vision of the Chariot I saw a proud majesty, chambers of chambers, majesties of awe, transparencies of fear, burning and flaming, their fires fire and their shaking shakes.”

In the words of Couliano, “All Jewish apocalypses (a word that means revelation, uncovering) share a framework in which the individual is accompanied by an angelic guide, the revelation is obtained in dialogue form, multiple levels of heaven are visited…”

Enoch ascends through the sky in a chariot of fire. The Slavonic Book of Enoch gives additional details about his abduction: Enoch was asleep on his couch when two angels looking like oversized men came and took him on a heavenly trip. Similarly, Elijah goes to heaven without dying. Couliano adds that “a third one might have been abducted to heaven as well, for ‘no one knows the place of his burial to this day', that one is Moses.” Also in the Mediterranean region, Muslim stories of the Mi'Raj recount the ascent of Prophet Muhammad to heaven, while the Greeks have preserved the records of the travels in space of Phormion of Croton and Leonymus of Athens. Heraclides himself (circa 350 BC) was fascinated by air travel, otherworldly journeys and knowledge of previous incarnations.

Similar imagery can be found (under the guise of a “journey of the soul”) in the Mithraic Paris codex, where we are told that the great God Helios Mithra “ordered that it be revealed by his archangel, that I alone may ascend into heaven as an inquirer and behold the universe…It is impossible for me, born mortal, to rise with the golden brightnesses of the immortal brilliance. Draw in breath from the rays, drawing up three times as much as you can, and you will see yourself being lifted and ascending to the height, so that you seem to be in mid-air.”

The text goes on: “The visible gods will appear through the disk of gold…and in similar fashion the so-called ‘pipe,' the origin of the ministering wind. For you will see it hanging from the sun-disk like a pipe…and when the disk is open you will see the fireless circle, and the fiery doors shut tight. Then open your eyes and you will see the doors open and the world of gods which is within the doors.”

An invocation follows: “Hail, o Guardians of the pivot, o sacred and brave youths, who turn at one command the revolving axis of the vault of heaven, who send out thunder and lightning, and jolts of earthquakes and thunderbolts…” Similar beliefs appear throughout American Indian cultures. Thus Lowell John Bean reports (in the book
California Indian Shamanism
, Menlo Park: Ballena Press 1992) that “souls and ghosts transcended the space between worlds,” while “some humans, through ecstatic experience, were able to transport themselves to the other worlds or to bring from them supernatural power.”

Physical interpretations

Couliano spends more time speculating about possible physical interpretations of the material he studies than ufologists preoccupied with modern abduction claims. In a chapter entitled “A Historian's Kit for the Fourth Dimension,” he cites Charles Howard Hinton, Robert Monroe, Charles Tart, Ouspensky, and Einstein, and observes that “Physics and mathematics are to be held responsible to a large extent for the return of interest in mystical ways of knowledge.”

If the soul is a “space shuttle,” as religious tradition and folklore seem to suggest, does it follow special laws of physics yet to be discovered? And what conclusion can we draw from the multiplicity of current representations of other worlds? Simply that we live in a state of advanced other-world pluralism, where the “coarse hypothesis of a separable soul” is becoming obsolete. New models of mind, “inspired by cybernetics and artificial intelligence, are replacing the old ones.”

Later in his analysis Couliano remarks that “science itself has opened amazing perspectives in the exploration of other worlds, and sometimes in other dimensions in space. Accordingly, our otherworldly journeys may lead to parallel universes or to all sorts of possible or even impossible worlds.”

It is to such a journey that we invite the reader.

Return to Magonia

Forty years ago a book entitled
Passport to Magonia
(subtitled “From Folklore to Flying Saucers”) documented the parallels between contemporary sightings of “Aliens” and the behavior of beings mentioned in ancient times, often interpreted as gods, angels, or devils. They were the “Daimons” of Greek antiquity, the “Little People” of the Celtic fairy-faith, the elves and gnomes of Paracelsian tradition, the familiars of the witchcraft era. They flew through the air in various devices such as spheres of light. They abducted humans, had sexual intercourse with them, showed them visions of parallel worlds, and gave them messages that changed history.

Passport to Magonia
shocked many UFO believers, because it questioned the simplistic “extraterrestrial” origin of the phenomenon, calling for a more complex interpretation where symbolic and cultural factors added another layer to the mythical dimension of the observations. Yet the book was based on preliminary data and scanty documentary evidence. Its claims were subject to interpretation and criticism from many angles.


In the last 40 years much has happened to strengthen this research. Several teams of historians, anthropologists, folklore specialists and philologists have entered the field. Their work has deepened and broadened the investigation of these ancient themes. The advent of powerful Internet search engines, followed by a worldwide movement to make historical archives available online, has amplified the ability of interested amateurs and professionals alike to make important contributions to the work. The result of this massive cooperative effort is astounding.

Anyone who doubts that descriptions of unusual aerial phenomena and the entities associated with them have made a major impact on human history and culture only has to browse through this book – purposely restricted to 500 prominent cases between Antiquity and the Age of Flight – to realize what wonderful events they've been missing.

Historical references suggest that in the absence of claims of unknown aerial phenomena that amazed and inspired their people, Pharaoh Amenophis IV would not have taken the name Akhenaton and introduced the cult of the Sun Disk into Egypt and Emperor Constantine might not have established Christianity in Rome in 312 AD. Ancient chronicles assure us that beings from celestial realms (referred to as Magonia, Nirvana, Heaven, or Walhalla) were responsible for telling Mary she would bear the son of God, for instructing Japanese emperor Amekuni to honor the Supreme God, for inspiring Mohammed to found Islam in Medina in 612, for saving the life of a priest named Nichiren shortly before his execution in 1271, for helping Henry V of England win a decisive battle over French knights at Agincourt in 1415 and for convincing Charles Quint to abandon the siege of Magdeburg in 1551.

Other episodes – whether or not we believe in their actual physical reality – have acquired a colorful place in human history: Emperor Charlemagne was thrown from his horse when an unknown object flew over him in 810 AD; Joan of Arc was inspired to take the leadership of French armies and throw the English out of France after getting her instructions from beings of light in 1425; Christopher Columbus saw a strange light as he approached America; and the claim of an apparition in Guadalupe was responsible for converting millions of Mexican Indians to Catholicism in 1531.

Among great scientists and scholars who carefully recorded sightings of aerial phenomena they could not identify and did not hesitate to publish their observations were mathematician Facius Cardan, Sir H. Sloane (president of the Royal Society), Charles Messier, Cromwell Mortimer (secretary of the Royal Society), and such illustrious literary figures as Casanova and Goethe. So much for Stephen Hawking's “cranks and weirdos.”

Structure of this work

Part I,
A Chronology of Wonders
, contains 500 selected events that give, in varied detail, descriptions of aerial phenomena that have remained unidentified after we exhausted analysis with the means at our disposal. For convenience of the reader, it is divided in six distinct periods, with commentaries about the social and historical characteristics of each period, as it affects the context and reporting of unusual events in the sky.

We stopped the compilation before 1880, at the beginning of a new era when man, thanks to newly-invented balloons and lighter-than-air devices, had begun to fly at last.

Before that date, human observers were often confused by atmospheric effects, optical illusions, meteors, and comets, and the visionary experiences common to prophets and excited crowds, but there were no man-made craft in the sky until 1783, when Louis XVI of France granted permission for the first human balloon flight, and of course no heavier-than-air machine at all over the period we cover.

We have tried to recognize common errors, only keeping in our catalogue truly intriguing descriptions suggestive of actual physical anomalies. During the period we study there were no airplanes, no searchlights playing on cloud banks, no rockets fired into space, and none of the shenanigans of secret prototypes or clandestine operations of psychological warfare often recruited by skeptics to “explain” modern UFOs. After 1879, while the sky is still somewhat pristine, research into unidentified aerial phenomena becomes more complex with the frequent reporting of balloons, “airships,” and the hoaxes typical of the new Western media, including competing journalists with blurred standards of accuracy.


Part II,
Myths, Legends, and Chariots of the Gods
, draws the lessons from the larger body of physical data that has come to form man's view of the universe. By restricting ourselves to a period stretching from Antiquity to the Age of Flight, we were able to apply systematic standards to reports of unknown things in the sky. In the process, we had to make our way through much material that did not fit our criteria for valid entries as aerial phenomena, yet provided considerable insight into cultural, religious, or social attitudes of the time. Some of the rejected material is assembled in this section of the book but our assessment of it is not final. We recognize that much is still to be uncovered about the literature of this phenomenon. Further study of this material by other researchers may, in time, yield revised data that should be included in future catalogs of aerial phenomena.


Part III,
Sources and Methods,
discloses our selection criteria and the process through which we assembled the chronology. It also delves into the difficult issues of scholarship, when the problem is to decide which version of a particular historical event is worthy of being retained, and which is inaccurate, deceptive or frivolous.

In this section we also explain how the emergence of the Internet has changed the methodology of research into ancient material by making previously inaccessible documents searchable, and, equally importantly, by allowing the building of networks of communication among interested researchers and scholars in many countries.


In our
we will review the major patterns we were able to extract from the historical unfolding of the observations, and we will ask how they relate to the phenomenon as it continues to be observed today.


In order to facilitate future reference, we have used the following symbols to indicate the nature of each account:

Unidentified Aerial Light

Unidentified Aerial Object


Phenomenon with physical evidence

Entity (alone)

Entity associated with an aerial phenomenon


These symbols are extracted from the Dover Publications collection of Medieval Ornaments (copyright 2002).

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