Whitley Strieber & The Visitors
by Garbled Uplink
Whitley Strieber hasn't spoken to the press since 1989 and it's no wonder. As the prolific author of a number of best-selling masterpieces of horror fiction, including The Wolfen and The Hunger, he had no reason to stick his neck out and announce to the world that he had experienced a number of encounters with beings so utterly strange and puzzling that to label them "aliens" would be presumptuous. He has been subjected to a fair amount of vilification for being so forthcoming, and he has responded to each and every accusation directly and rationally. In response to accusations of fabrication, he voluntarily submitted to three different polygraph examinations. It would seem that he is telling the truth. In response to the suggestion that he suffers from temporal-lobe epilepsy, he underwent extensive neurological examination. His brain functions quite normally, albeit graced with a magnificent sense of wonder, humor and imagination.
Mr. Strieber is not a user of mind-altering substances or plants, but he graciously agreed to speak with us because, as he put it, "HIGH TIMES is about changing the paradigm of reality, from the paradigm based on assumptions and expectations to a paradigm based on questions and surprises.
His experience with "the Visitors" are detailed in his books Communion and Transformation (now in paperback), and his latest work on the subject, Breakthrough , is available in hardcover from HarperCollins.
HIGH TIMES: Could you briefly summarize Communion, Transformation and now Breakthrough, for readers who may not be familiar with that work?
Whitley Strieber: Well, in late December of 1985 I had what I would describe as a forcible encounter with what seemed to me to be completely nonhuman beings, and I was unable to deny in my own human mind that it was a physical thing that had happened. I began to struggle trying to understand what had happened. The true nature of the experience was very difficult to comprehend. Out of those struggles came more contact and the book Communion, and then Transformation. Now five years after the publication of Transformation, I've written Breakthrough, which is an attempt to make something more sensible of the experiences, to say something about them that would be fundamentally more useful than simply describing them.
HT: Communion was profoundly frightening, but in Transformation there was this sense of a deeper contact beginning to come through. In Communion I got a keen sense of a purely extraterrestrial source, but you seem to be shifting away from the extraterrestrial hypothesis. You also explored the transtemporal hypothesis and you played with Celtic fairy mythology. Am I wrong about that?
WS: No, that's right. I did.
HT: The fairy encounters in the Celtic belief system resonate with the experiences you're having. There's a certain whimsical quality about them that particularly comes through in Breakthrough . Would you care to elucidate on that?
WS: Well, first of all, this is the most complicated experience a human being can have, and if you turn your attention toward it, it quickly becomes the most powerful. It leads you at one time into everything you are at its most intense, including, among other things, your sense of humor. It is a big, powerful, extremely subtle experience. Whatever's out there has got the sense of humor of a dancing elephant. There's a lightness of touch and an amazing kind of whimsy connected with the feeling of the giant that's amazing!
HT: In the accounts that you reported in Breakthrough , I very much got the sense of a circus feel to what they were doing.
WS: Right! That's right. One of the witnesses who's not mentioned in Breakthrough — simply because the experience wasn't one of the ones I chose to write about — said it was like a troop of Ukrainian acrobats, reminding him of the Flying Karamazov Brothers!
When they're in the house, you get a weird combination of emotions as if you're dealing with a bunch of clowns. But there's also a sort of sinister side to it. They're a little bit scary. There's the grin that's a little too artificial, the collar that's turned up that maybe shouldn't be.
HT: It's like having Cirque du Soleil come to your kid's birthday party!
WS: Right! Speaking of which, there's a figure that turns up in Saltimbanco who moves around the tent before the show. When I saw the way it looked, I thought, "So creepy yet so funny. God! Somebody in this has got the Visitors in their lives. They have to!" A lot of us do, you know, and we don't really acknowledge it directly. It's the kind of experience that underlies a lot of artistic production, and I think that somebody involved in the creation of that must be very close to them.
HT: One of the consistent themes in your reportage is that what you bring emotionally to the experience of contact will be what you get emotionally; they seem to mirror what we deliver. If you harbor enormous fear, then you will be greeted with something enormously fearsome; but if you come with enormous joy, you will be greeted with something joyous. In Breakthrough , Dora's child reported being taken by a fairy.
WS: When I saw the Visitors with Dora's child, it was a terrifying experience. What the child perceived was that she'd been visited by fairies! For me, it was very different. In my estimation, I saw her being attacked by what looked like some sort of monstrous goblin. Her perception of it was that she had had a fairy in her room.
HT: So you brought the concerns of an adult to the experience.
WS: What's fascinating is that we're bringing all the costumes and masks and putting them on these guys.
HT: Yeah! We supply the props, the tent, the costumes.
WS: What I discovered was that I could have fun with this. Why not have fun? If this is really contact with someone from another planet, they are really terribly, terribly cool, and we can have an awful lot of fun with them if we quit taking it quite so seriously. Go to a UFO convention and you will not find a lot of humor. But when you are living with the Visitors every day of your life, and doing it in a way that is comfortable, humor is the center of the experience. Your fears and so forth can be worked through with humor.
In a way, I'm reminded of Meister Eckhardt, the 14th-century German philosopher, sort of the German answer to St. Thomas Aquinas. Except he had fun! St. Thomas [Aquinas], I don't think, really did. I mean, let's face it, most of the old church fathers were not fun guys. You can't think of St. Augustine and St. Thomas doing a soft-shoe together.
HT: There wasn't a lot of fun in those times.
WS: Not a lot of fun, no. He had a great creation myth, Meister Eckhardt: His creation myth was that God laughed, and the laughter of God begot the son and the laughter of the son begot the Holy Spirit, and the three laughed together and out of their laughter flowed the whole universe. And I think that when we get to that level of material, where laughter is a kind of art, then we're getting real close to where the Visitors are coming from. In many respects, that is what my book is about. Breakthrough is a discovery of a new kind of freedom.
HT: An interesting departure in Breakthrough from your two previous books--although the segue is quite visible--is the sense of you as playwright.
WS: It is a visible segue, but I hasten to add: as playwright and player. I have received over 140,000 letters all about this stuff over the past few years. About 80 percent of the people are puzzled and confused about their experiences, but not necessarily scared. About 20 percent are somewhat scared, and a small number of those are looking for help because they feel really beat up. The reason the media promulgates fear about this is that UFO investigators only get the ones who need help. The vast majority of people don't need help. They'd like to know what was going on.
I got a wonderful letter from a psychiatrist, who was lying in bed one night in her apartment in a large city. She described what she had seen as obvious aliens. I don't know what she meant by that, but she said they looked like the face on the cover of Communion. They came bebopping out of her closet in a conga line, went around the room and disappeared into the wall of an apartment building outside. That was just wonderful, and I talked to her about it. The thing that was so much fun about it was that she was totally serious. It was a big experience, it was a major change in her life, but look at the whimsy involved. Of all the people to do that to — a psychiatrist!
HT: I would imagine the first reaction on the part of the human would be horror. Only in retrospect would you be able to see the humor of the conga line. Unless you're equipped with a powerful sense of humor and a relentless counterphobic impulse, you're going to respond with shock and horror, at least initially.
WS: She was upset, no question about it. The way it operated was the closet door flew open, and while she was clinging to the fact they were real, they went out through the wall! But she still maintained they were absolutely real.
HT: Well, "real," this is the fundamental question of this work: What is "real"?
WS: No, it's more the fundamental question of this work. It's the fundamental question of life! I'm trying to do a very small thing — create a total revolution. The reason I wanted to be interviewed for HIGH TIMES is that I think that HIGH TIMES is about doing this, too. That is, changing the paradigm of reality, from the paradigm based on assumptions and expectations — which is what we live by now — to a paradigm based on questions and surprises.
HT: Thank you! That gets us to a question. I want to reiterate that you are not known as a recreational drug user. You were tested extensively in the period around Communion, were you not?
HT: There have been accusations of temporal-lobe epilepsy. I understand you've been tested three times for this.
WS: I've been tested by two different types of electroencephalographs. One of them involves the placing of leads up into the sinuses to get a really detailed picture of what the brain function is like. These epilepsies are transient events. If the test takes place while there is no event happening, obviously the brain-wave patterns might show something approaching normality. My brain-wave patterns are not just normal, they are absolutely normal. In fact, my brain is exceptionally stable in its patterns. It's a stable operating system, a very, very normal brain. Temporal-lobe epileptics are not supposed to have a sense of humor, and my humor defines my existence.
HT: It's profoundly expressed in your fiction.
WS: In my fiction and also, I hope, in Breakthrough.
HT: Quite well in Breakthrough!
WS: My Communion experience started, let's face it, with my little men ramming what looked like a telephone pole up my ass! It wasn't the most amusing thing that's ever happened to me, but I got over it. Now it's become more interesting, and more fun.
HT: The accusation of falsehood or derangement does not wash when compared with not only your own work, but also the work of Jacques Vallee. There seems to be a hardcore body of people who are presenting themselves as skeptics who are not really skeptical, because what they are doing is defending consensus reality as opposed to genuinely inquiring in a skeptical way. There have been a lot of accusations. Are there any specific things that you would like to address that I haven't addressed that have to do with the kind of questions that have been raised about this work?
WS: Well, let's see. If I could address some of the accusations against me, the most delightful one is that I have frightened people by telling them that I have seen their disembodied heads aboard UFOs! This was used by certain UFO organizations who told people that you've got to stay away from Whitley Strieber. He's very dangerous and he tells people these terrifying things that blow their minds.
What's fascinating about this is, I had a lot of neck trouble, so I went to an orthopedist and they took X-rays of my neck. The doctor asked, "When did you have the surgery?" I replied, "What surgery?" He said, "Look at these two vertebrae fused together — the result of surgery." I told him I'd never had surgery on my neck. He said, "You're telling me this is not a surgical scar." I said, "No, I've never had any surgery whatsoever." He said, "Well, look, if you want to be treated by me, I can give you exercises that will make your neck feel better, but I'm not going to deal with you unless you tell me what your actual medical history is." I said, "You're saying to me that this is surgery." He said, "Of course it's surgery." I repeated that I had never had any surgery and left.
Then I thought, "Well — hell! — what if it's my disembodied head aboard the UFO!"
HT: You're familiar with the business about Arthur Koestler's play, Twilight Cafe — the fact that there was a blackout, a power failure associated with the Visitors in this play. Prior to this play, there hadn't been any association of power failures with encounter phenomena. Suddenly, power outages of various sorts became ubiquitous in the reports.
WS: That's right, I mentioned it in Communion.
HT: How do these things enter into the human experience? I believe the Greek word is egregora — if enough people believe in something strongly enough, it will manifest.
WS: Hmmm.... Well, in this case, in this experience, what is immediately and observably true in that the perceiver is the architect of structures through which he sees whatever is out there.
In other words, there's like a veil between us and the Visitors, and what you expect them to look like is what you see through that veil, because the veil is just vague enough that you have to connect the dots in your own mind. We create these things. We more or less construct these things on the other side.
This is why it took me so long to escape from the fear trap, which is so devastating. It is a psychic rape of the first order — to be told, but also to convince yourself that this stuff is scary. You can see it in an entirely different way. The exact same thing! A little girl, to me, would be in a frightening situation. To her, it's fun. It just depends on how you look at it.
There has never been any experience where it has been more clear that the mind is the architect. At the same time, there is some kind of objective reality behind that architecture, looking in at us literally through the filter of the way we see it. I've tried to see it in a way that's objective enough so we can have some darn communication, because what I'm able to detect of what's back there behind all of this perceptual static is fabulous! I want to see more of it!
HT: So the whole perception is that there is some sort of performance going on here.
WS: Yeah! Exactly! I couldn't agree with you more. There is a very theatrical, performance-oriented quality to the thing. In earlier drafts of Breakthrough , one of the things I stressed — but which I pulled away from — was the highly theatrical nature of the experience. The reason I pulled back from that a little bit is that I didn't want to distance it from people. There is a tendency to become passive when you see the word "theater." Not for people who are in the theater, but for people who are habituated as audience members.
HT: Particularly television-generation people.
WS: Yeah, right. What I want to do is to let people know that they are the artists, the architects here. There is somebody there, somebody who is alive on the other side of this. We have created the perceptual envelope in which we live and they can't come to us except through the concept of our own expectations. So we have to rise to our best, our most open, our most questioning levels of expectation. We could really have some fun with this and see what's really happening at the same time.
A couple of years ago there were so many sightings over Mexico City that a lot of people in Mexico were left thinking that this had to be real. If the same amount of sightings happened over New York or Washington, and if the networks had taken photographs or video, we would all know that there was somebody out there — that it was real. What I don't want to see is the government hierarchies, the military, all that horrible old, dead garbage from the past, to get between us and what's there. I want to dance with this thing. I think we can!
© 1997 Trans-High Corporation ~