He's Back! Breaking Through with Whitley Strieber
By Sean Casteel

The best-selling horror writer whose works include The Hunger and The Wolfen, Whitley Strieber amazed the literary world with his first-hand encounters with other-worldly beings. Today, he remains one of the most controversial figures in literature; his book Communion, when released several years ago, remained on the best-seller lists for many weeks.

The author of the mega best-seller, Communion, has not been silenced as some had thought. This time Whitley says he has proof of his experiences.

After more than six years in a self-imposed exile from both the UFO community and the reading public in general, Whitley Strieber, author of the runaway bestsellers Communion (1987) and Transformation (1988), has again entered the UFO abduction fray with a new book on his more recent experiences at the hands of the mysterious Visitors called Breakthrough: The Next Step (Harper-Collins Publishers, 1995).

Like Strieber's first two entries in the field, both of which remain hugely controversial even after the passage of several years Breathrough again displays Strieber's unique storytelling ability along with his own highly original interpretive skills in “understanding” the abduction phenomenon, and the results are a riveting and totally absorbing reading experience.

We spoke to Whitley Strieber by phone recently about the new book and what follows is the testimony of one who has been there and back, and one who has much to tell us upon his return.

Question: What do you anticipate will be the public's reaction to Breakthrough?

Strieber: Breakthrough is really written for people who have had the encounter experience, and for people who are interested in it. Beyond that, I don't know what the public reaction will be, and it doesn't really matter very much to me either. I'm not really interested in convincing the general public that this is true. What I am interested in is reaching people who are involved in some way with the experience with information about it. Affirmation about the level of reality on which it exists. And strategies, however good or inept they may be, that I've evolved to deal with them.

Q: What do you think the UFO community's reaction will be? I don't mean the encounter public, but the UFO researchers' community.

Strieber: That's really not an answerable question, and it's too complicated. That community exists in so many different levels that it's really hard to know. I mean, the reaction to it will range from one of interest to one of rejection, obviously. I don't think there would be a consensus reaction on the part of the whole community. I'd be very surprised. That would be a first.

Q: Why did you feel compelled to go public again with new experiences after you had withdrawn from the subject back in 1989?

Strieber: Well, I withdrew in 1989 because I had gotten the proof, the thing I regarded as proof, and which would be proof certainly to anyone who's had anything remotely resembling those experiences. And I had noticed that not only Communion but really anything anybody does publicly involving this experience seems to bring it closer to people. And I just didn't feel like I wanted to necessarily do that until I had some clearer idea of what in the heck was going on. So, I tried to settle in my own mind the question, Could I at least deal with this in some way that was useful to me? That I would consider valuable? Because if I couldn't, then why bother? I don't really care very much about what the Visitors want or don't want to get out of it, or even why they're here. My interest and my focus is on what do I get out of it? What good is it for me? If it was nothing for me except a lot of scary experiences in the middle of the night, then frankly, the hell with it. But if I could make something valuable out of it, then it would be worth continuing. And I found that, for me, I did make something valuable out of it. And I wanted to communicate that that was possible because I began to see that it was a rare and useful experience, and one that I think that a lot of people would welcome in their lives as long as they had some means of handling it that resulted in their getting benefits from it.

Q: You talk a great deal about feelings of love and compassion being transmitted to you by the aliens and you even talk about an alien who jumps on your back and causes you to dream of your relationship with the Visitors as a kind of “marriage.” That was a particularly interesting scene in the new book. Do you have anything new to say about that since Breakthrough has gone to press?

Strieber: The way I'd like to answer this question is sort of indirectly by saying the experience is incredibly complicated and not at all easily characterized in terms of black and white. For example, while I speak about those things in the book, I also speak about some of the hard stuff that's happened to me and to others. And I indeed quote some letters that describe horrific bullying on the part of the Visitors. I don't think the experience can be meaningfully addressed just in terms of it being a negative experience of being a positive experience. It's a lot of things. It's an experience of extraordinary complexity. That could either mean a maze you get lost in or something that's rich and full of meaning. I don't know in the long run which it will be, but right now, I think it's at least worth experimenting with as an experience.

Q: So, you don't feel like experimentation is a dangerous thing?

Strieber: Oh, I think experimentation is extremely dangerous. I mean, I don't know. Let me put it this way: I wasn't harmed. I haven't been harmed in ten years of dealing with this. Nor do I know anyone of my personal acquaintance who's had the experience who has been. However, I have been psychologically challenged. I have been physically roughed up at times. I do know of many cases of people who have had even tougher times than I've had. And initially, as you know from Communion my experience was really a rough one.
     However, I do want to say another thing. That is that I got 140,000 letters. Not a whole lot of those letters describe difficult experiences. That was a rather rare aspect of it, to my great surprise. The reason I think that UFO researchers are so fixated on the negative side of it is because they are dealing with a self-selected sample of people all of whom have had tough times. And if people encounter something like this, and it's not hard on them, their tendencey is to just file it in the “Unknown” file of their lives, and perhaps do a little bit of quiet study or talk to friends about it. And to be curious and puzzled. But if they have a hard time, then they cry out for help. The result is that the UFO community gets one hundred percent people crying out for help. But when the broad, general population was so-to-speak “polled” by this book that had wide acceptance, it turned out that the ones who had problems were pretty rare compared to the ones who were just confused and puzzled at what was happening to them.

Q: The alien who sort of moved in and helped supervise your meditation and whom you basically felt was very pleasant is a fascinating model of human/alien integration. Do you have any new thoughts on this episode?

Strieber: Well, is it alien, or is it not alien? You use the word alien. I don't know if that's the right word to describe this.

Q: Well, I'll say Visitor then.

Strieber: No, I don't know what they are. I really must say that where I am right now is - I know they're real. I think I can prove that they're real reasonably to a reasonable person. At least to one who has some personal evidence and some sightings and so forth to support this. I don't know what they are. I have no idea if they're aliens or not. They've never said anything about what they are to me, and I have not got the faintest idea. Now, that's said. I meditate a lot.
     It's inevitable that anybody who's interested in me, or trying to have a relationship with me, is going to get involved in the issue of meditation because that's a very central part of my life. Whether the Visitors got involved because they also are interested in this, or whether they got involved simply because it was something I did a lot I don't really know. But I do know this: they provided then and they provide now a very, very useful experience in meditation. Fifteen seconds with the Visitors can be like 15 hours of regular meditation. There have been some remarkable experiences that I would connect with them in regard to this. And they've been very valuable. I don't deny it. But, once again, whether this is something that is mutual or simply an opportunistic effort on their part to deepen the relationship, I don't know. But they obviously have been trying to deepen the relationship. That seems clear enough.

Q: Well, it seems from reading Breakthrough that a gray moved in for about three months.

Strieber: Oh, longer than that. I mean, that was only when I wrote the book. They've been around here a lot. We've had experiences here – I'd say they've been here physically in the past month two or three times. The most recent one, I regard it as an extraordinary experience because it was initiated when I was still wide awake, as is often the case now. And I felt something touching me, touching my leg, and I looked down, and there was what I would regard as someone standing at the foot of the bed who was shy. And it backed off into the dark, out of the glow of the light from the alarm system. And I was not surprised.
     It's something that I've seen that's happened there many times. And the alarm system had not gone off, so I wasn't particularly scared. The next thing I knew, it touched my leg again. And I felt a feeling of repulsion. I didn't want this touching to take place. I moved my leg away. Whereupon it grabbed my leg and I could not look at it. It was one of these ephemeral little gray beings, and I could not look at it. I closed my eyes, and I felt a combination of repulsion and a different feeling, a much more positive feeling. I wouldn't describe it exactly as love, but it was certainly in the direction of an acceptance. And I had the interesting impression that the repulsion went two ways, that it was as difficult for him to be there as it was for me. There was no fear connected with this experience at all. Then the cat woke up and hissed, and the little creature ran away.
     The old cat Sadie liked them a lot. She was very comfortable with them. But our young male cat Coe doesn't want anything to do with them. When I go into the room where they come a lot and meditate, he will come in and yowl at me unless I close the door. He does not even like me in there. This is a cat who's not buying this at all. Not like the other cat.

Q: In the book you say that you've developed a certain amount of trust that the aliens won't harm you when an experience is happening.

Strieber: Well, that's been my experience for ten years, yeah.

Q: What do you feel is the real balance in your case of trust versus fear?

Strieber: Well, it's not a question of trust versus fear. I'm prudent – I'm not going to push this. I will go into that room and meditate now, but I think that it will be awhile before I go out in the woods again. Because they're getting very close to me. And I don't want to create the impression that I'm entirely comfortable with them, because I'm not. What I want to do is to keep this at a point where we have a close but not completely intermingled relationship. In other words, I don't feel I would necessarily be able to handle it if they were right on top of me all the time. It's one thing for them to show up for a few seconds or a few minutes once or twice a month, and another thing entirely for me to live inside their version of reality forever. I'm not so sure I'm ready for that.

Q: Sometimes I get the impression reading your book that the way the Visitors respond to you somehow indicates that your're hurting their feelings inadvertently. Do you think that kind of sensitivity is real? Do you feel like they're responding at times out of an unrequited love for you as a mortal?

Strieber: There's a very big feeling of unrequited love in my experience. And there's often the impression that they feel rejected by me. In a sense, that's one of the things that spurs me on and keeps me trying to make the relationship work on terms that are acceptable to me as a person, because it does seem that it's a relationship that needs to be solved. And that there's somebody on the other side that very much longs for it to be solved. However I would hasten to add that I'm not so sure that it's that easy to tell the difference between a lover and a predator from my standpoint. In the sense that a lion who has been eluded by a tender young deer is going to act just as miserable and unrequited as a lover. So, I'm real careful about that. They can be as unrequited as they want to, but I'm still not going to run after them or go head over heels over them.

Q: Your own experiences and the experiences of a great many of your letter writers differ a great deal from the standard abduction scenario.

Steieber: Yeah, I was very amazed by that because the standard abduction scenario simply didn't come up. It wasn't something that people reported. I don't know whether it means that it's an artifact of hypnosis or it's a real thing or exactly what to make of that. But they certianly didn't report it to me in any numbers at all. I got a few letters that I followed up on, because I was interested to see what the people that reported that had to say about it, and as often as not they turned out to already be in UFO groups or abductee groups. So, I don't know what to make of that. I'm not a scientific professional, and it would take a lot of scientific work to figure that out.
     What I do know is this: the letters I got are a message. They are a deposit from a lot of people who had experiences, who thought they had experiences, or were writing letters in fulfillment of their wish to have an experience. Some were probably hoaxes. Most of them obviously were not hoaxes. I mean, these letters are from ordinary people who've had extraordinary experiences. They scream that when you read them. You can tell the hoaxes. They were easy to spot, generally. But I didn't really worry about that because I wasn't trying to study the letters as “cases.” I was simply collecting them kind of passively. Maybe later in the future they will be studied as cases, but I have not got the resources to do that, and I didn't try.
     The difference between the letters and what the UFO community is reporting is very striking. I would say that what's happened is the UFO community has gotten, by no fault of its own, ahold of only the people who have trouble. And the people who have trouble with it are not really very much like the average experiences. I think they're all quite different.

Q: Like they're a harder case or something?

Strieber: No, I don't mean that. I think that if this is really alien contact, and I think it probably is, then obviously they make mistakes. They come on too strong to people sometimes. I think there may be different ideologies of contact among them, and some of them are more “bullying” than others. I think some people are more sensitive than others because in the backgrounds of their lives they've had negative experiences of various kinds that have kind of dovetailed with this in a very bad way. And they've ended up coming to psychologists and to psychiatrists and to UFO researchers for help.
     I don't think that many of the abductee researchers have ever seen anybody except a person who needs help. I just don't think they get exposed to the average experience at all. And it varies tremendously in terms of its content. This attempts, I think, to present the picture of a standard, regular experience as if there were sort of “alien scientists” here sampling the population (which) probably does not reflect reality. Because there's an enormous variety of things that have happened to people which suggests that whatever is here is extremely complicated and has many, many different faces to present.

Q: Given the ideal scenario, what benefit would you and other abductees gain from ending the government cover-up? How would public ackowledgement of the UFO phenomenon help you and others in your situation?

Strieber: First of all, the government cover-up and the policy of secrecy dovetails. So, when we talk about the government, I don't think we can meaningfully talk about a government cover-up without also talking about the Visitors and their own policy of secrecy. They come at night. They hide. They're incredibly secretive. I think that the cover-up is loose compared to the level of secrecy that they themselves maintain. And I suspect that the cover-up is simply an outgrowth of their own desire for secrecy. So, the cover-up will end when they themselves are ready for the secrecy to end. And that will be when they feel that they can gain a meaningful relationship with us on terms that are acceptable to both sides. However, that's “their” interpretation.
     It has to also be, as far as I'm concerned, that this relationship be acceptable to us on our terms. In other words, their interpretation of our terms and our real terms may be two different things. We have to find that out. I don't want a long-term relationship with them unless it's good for humanity. I don't want it to always be the kind of battle it's been. I think that we could kind of “get married,” us and the Visitors. But I think it's something that we need to continue to explore very tentatively for awhile. I'm not really very interested in the government cover-up. I deal with it a little bit because it deals with me. But it's a small thing in comparison to the very large number of direct contacts that the Visitors have had. They've gone around the official community completely and directly to the people all over the world. So, that's the relationship that matters, not what the government may or may not know.

Q: In Dr. John Mack's book, Abduction, one of his cases says that he is told that an alien female has been chosen to be his bride or something. He looks at some kind of spidery-looking gray and is told that this is his intended mate.

Strieber: Yeah, I've got a number of people who have reacted to that sort of thing along the lines of “I don't want to marry a bug.” (Laughter.) I don't know what all of that's about. I think that we're dealing with something that has a very, very different approach to reality than we do. And is at least as intelligent as we are. And it's going to be a long hard time. It's going to take more than one generation to get to the point where the relationship works. It doesn't work now. It's a dysfunctinal relationship at the moment. There's enough mutual interest and love at times that it's worth pursuing. They're certainly trying. I think that ultimately while I don't really address the issue of what they may or may not want to get out of it because I have no way of knowing that, ultimately we do have to understand that fairly clearly.
     The reason is that among the people who have been hypnotized, there's a lot of stuff about sperm and eggs being stolen and kind of kinky sex stuff and so forth. And we've got to figure out what that's about before we really go into this too deeply. Do we really want to give up part of the human spirit to this without knowing what we're getting into? I don't think so. I don't. And if that is being taken from us, I have a tremendous problem with it. If it's being asked of us, then that's a different story. We build a relationship, and then if we gradually decide that would be a thing worth doing, then fine, let's do it, if it can be done. But if it's taken, then I'm sorry, it's not for me. I don't think that those stories are real stories, I have to tell you. Because you would think that if they were real stories, my letters would have been full of that sort of thing. They weren't. I mean, it got to the point where in order to hear a story like that, you really have to delve into the UFO community's books. Then when I read Mack's book, I thought God, every single person that he dealt with had it happen this way. I wonder what it could be about. It's almost like there might be one little group of Visitors that's doing this to people, and that group of people are very upset and they're looking for help, but the great majority of people from all over the world – I've gotten letters from virtually every country in the world – they never mention anything like having eggs or sperm stolen from them or being raped by aliens or anything. It simply isn't like that.

Q: Is there anything you wish to add?

Strieber: Yeah. I don't want the UFO community to jump to the conclusion that my book is all “sweetness and light” without reading it. My book takes a very even-handed approach. The worst stories I got, actually, are in the book. From anyone anywhere in the world. And they're pretty terrible. But what the book is really designed to do is to offer the proof which is there, to offer the witness statements to reveal what I found out about what the Visitors are doing, for what that's worth and to show what kind of relationship I built with them. And to suggest that we can do something with them. Something worthwhile. I think we can. But I am not suggesting that we stumble over our own feet in the rush to dive into this relationship. Because that's not going to work. That wouldn't be appropriate, and that's not what I've tried to communicate in Breakthrough.

So, Whitley Strieber struggles on with his heroic efforts to come to grips with what he himself never fails to call a “complicated” experience that eludes standard notions of black and white or good versus evil. His effort now is not just to endure his own abuction experiences but also to forge a meaningful relationship between himself and the Visitors who come to him in the night. Like all pioneers in human history, Whitley Strieber has ventured out beyond the known borders of human experience and has helped lead us all to the frontiers of something we should most eagerly wish to explore with him.

He's Back! Breaking Through with Whitley Strieber
© 1995 Sean Casteel. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of Sean Casteel