Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reading Notes Heavenly Lights: Apparitions of Fatima and the UFO Phenomenon

As discussed in my last post, I decided to read the book by Joaquim Fernandes and Fina D’Armada, Heavenly Lights: The Apparitions of Fatima and the UFO Phenomenon (San Antonio: Anomalist, 2005). This is actually a slightly revised edition of an older book by the same authors published in 1982 under the title Extraterrestrial Intervention at Fatima: The Apparitions and the UFO Phenomenon (New York: Dial Press). The 2005 edition has a preface from Jacques Vallée. It is also part of a larger study that includes two additional volumes with the same publisher: Celestial Secrets: The Hidden History of the Fatima Incident (2007), and Fatima Revisited: The Apparition Phenomenon in Ufology, Psychology, and Science (2008), co-authored with Raul Berenguel. The three volumes constitute a “transdisciplinary study by the Multicultural Apparitions Research International Academic Network (Project MARIAN) at the University Fernando Pessoa in Porto, Portugal” according to the book description.

The book contains extensive and meticulous analyses of the events surrounding the alleged Marian apparitions in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. The analysis is based on evidence from primary sources, however, it is interpreted from an ETH perspective.

Importance of Social Dynamics

The authors provide an interesting sociological analysis to show that the phenomenon was not construed, at first, as a Marian apparition by the three children involved. The kids were not sure as to who was the beautiful lady they claim to have seen. The pressures from the environment made them accept that it was the Virgin Mary, as the monthly apparitions unfolded between May and October 1917. Furthermore, there was a clear institutional process put in place to ensure that it remained so. Not only the site became a pilgrimage destination, but Lucia, the leader of the children, was essentially taken away by the Catholic Church at 15 years old and put in a convent. With the exception of her family, anyone else who wanted to meet with her had to get permission from Rome, by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (previously known as the Holy Inquisition)!

This reminds me of von Lucadou psycho-social model for poltergeists. The children were essentially the focus person of these events, and the only one who could see the apparition. Their immediate environment, family, neighbours, and local catholic clergy interpreted the events as a Marian apparition. The naive observers, from outside town, as well as the authorities of the Catholic Church were able essentially to shield the children from the critical observers, and hence the phenomenon could continue, and continue as a Marian apparition. Although some republican and atheist Portuguese were critical, in the very Catholic Portugal of 1917, the critical observers had no chance.

The authors also mentioned, in passing, a Mexican book by Salvador Freixedo, La Religion entre la Parapsychologia y los Ovnis (Mexico: Orion, 1977) who evoked the possibility that UFOs may be a projection of the collective unconscious. Once again, it does not appear that this idea was studied in any detail. However, they reject Freixedo’s idea and embrace ideas that are “more rational and economical” (p. 24) such as the ETH.

Mindset and the paranormal

The authors are quite critical of the attitude people had in those days. They underlined that there was only two attitudes possible: either it is a hoax, or it is the Virgin Mary. In particular, they found the idea that “who else could it be but our Lady” as being narrow-minded and limited. Ironically enough, almost 100 years later, we are in a very similar setting. Either UFOs are hoaxes or they must be ET spacecraft, no room for a “third way” as they complain in the Introduction. Unfortunately, I would say that their book is guilty of a similar attitude, as it is essential written to show “who else but ETs are behind all this”.

Many of the analyses they provide could be interpreted differently than a visit from an ET spacecraft. For instance, many people heard a buzzing or humming sound; heard large noise similar to the thunder but “as if coming from an underground source”; strange clouds; luminous objects; and ramps of light. These are also the hallmarks of balls of light. Although they briefly discuss the issue of altered state of consciousness at the end, it is not used to analyze the impact on people, animals and the overall perception of the entity. Even for the issue of telepathy between the children and the entity was proposed as being focused microwave energy that resonates in their cranium ... I wonder how rational and economical is this? The issues of altered state of consciousness and telepathy as psi effects are also known to be related to balls of light. They have also several pages on angel hair, which are also directly related to more mundane paranormal phenomena and akin to ectoplasm. No ETs are needed to have angel hair.

One quote they use to support their thesis, and in rejection of any psychosociological explanation, is borrowed from an article by Pierre Guérin: “if any themes exist associated with close encounters with UFOs or alien contact, they are apparently charged with unconscious human content; other themes, on the other hand, are almost systematically absent from UFO manifestations, near or far, like war, violence, and sexuality, that have profound roots in our psyches. In this way, one can see the profound originality of the phenomenon by that which is clearly demarcated, which the unconscious human mind would naturally segregate.” (p. 234)

I am sorry, but there is nothing more untrue than this. The contactees’ era was all about avoiding a nuclear war between the superpowers, even the Fatima story had the First World War as part of the discussion with the entity. Clearly, it was part of the human psyche while UFO events occurred. Violence and sexuality are essentially synonymous with alien abductions, not to mention many episodes where there are allegedly violent, hairy and ugly entities. Indeed, from the point of view of human psyche, there is nothing original about the UFO phenomenon if compared with other paranormal phenomena.

The Miracle of Sun during the last apparition, the heavy argument in the book, could also be construed as a ball of light. The authors focus quite a bit on the “ladder” seen on Sun (the ladder is interpreted as being windows in a series, like on a school bus), yet there was only one couple who saw that, while there was an estimated 50,000 people at the site who saw nothing of it (rational and economical?).

Just to make the point clearer, I would like to quote an article from Richard Wittman, “Flying Saucers or Flying Shields”. Classical Journal 63 (1968): 223-226. Wittman quotes Cicero’s De re publica (written between 51 and 54 B.C.) where “Laelius scold the young Tubero for being overly interested in a celestial phenomenon which had been reported to the Roman Senate. A second sun had been seen. Laelius reminds Tubero that he should be more interested in the civil disorders occurring in Rome ‘before his very eyes’.” (p. 223) General similarities to the Fatima story are there, but it is two thousand years before. Either we, human, are very interesting to the ETs so that they are studying us for thousands of years (and still trying to figure out who we are? Maybe they are not that smart after all?). Or, more rationally and economically speaking, there are no the ETs but something else going on.

Most of their comparative analysis between the Fatima events and recorded UFO experiences is very selective. The rational for inclusion and rejection of cases is not addressed at all. Hence, beyond showing superficial similarities between certain UFO events and Fatima, no substantive explanatory statement can be put forward based on ufological knowledge. Lastly, nowhere the authors really envisioned seriously the possibility of psi effects. I do not know what happen in Fatima in 1917, and actually no one seems to know, but there are other possibilities than the ETH.


It is overall a very well-researched book that deals with primary sources. From that point of view, the authors should be praised. However, their analysis is very biased, and makes one question the integrity of their interpretation. Maybe the third volume (2008) brings a more nuanced perspective as the title implies, but I think it is rather an attempt to reconcile two faiths given it is part of the MARIAN project: the UFO story and the religious interpretation. Once again, the “third way” is likely to be overlooked.

So, how much useful is this for studying UFO waves? It is yet another example that shows that von Lucadou’s model is actually robust.

It can also be useful to note that the first Portuguese military contingent to arrive on the Western front was in April 1917. The first unit to be deployed on the front was on 11 May 1917, and the first brigade being fully deployed at the end of May 1917. The last brigade was fully deployed in October 1917. According to one military history website, "The 1st Brigade took its assigned place at the frontline by 30 May 1917, the 2nd Brigade by 16 June, the 3rd Brigade by 10 July, and the 4th Brigade by 23 September of the same year." Interestingly enough, in August 1917, the children were a no show at the site, as they were held up by the anti-clerical mayor of a nearby town, and there was no Portuguese military deployment for August 1917. Synchronicity?

This fits the exact timeline of the Fatima events. By 1917, the horrors of the new technological war were well-known, but not experienced yet by the Portuguese themselves. Beyond anxiety, it was a big effort for a small, relatively poor and close-knit country like Portugal. Put in its larger context, the parasociological framework developed so far appears to fit. Like in the US (and the Roman republic!), UFO waves (or equivalent) tend to occur in times of serious tensions in political and military affairs.

Copyright © 2008 Eric Ouellet

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