Whitley Strieber Discusses The Communion Letters
Interview by Sean Casteel
Along with his wife Anne, Whitley Strieber has recently released another book in his series on The Visitors, his name for the aliens who have been abducting him since childhood. The Communion Letters (HarperCollins, 1997) is a departure from the usual first person narrative by Strieber of his personal experiences, however. It is instead a small sampling of the nearly 200,000 letters Strieber has received since first inviting readers to write to him in the back pages of his landmark bestseller Communion in 1987. Strieber once said that it didn't really matter whether the government or the media were being truly honest in their public posture about UFOs and alien abduction because the Visitors had long since bypassed both institutions and gone directly to the people. Which is what The Communion Letters is really about everyday people and their contact with a reality that comes from some unknown place, penetrates their consciousness-and changes things forever.
Q. How has your sense of the letters changed over the years?
Strieber: Not much actually. The letters have been pretty consistent
from the very beginning in terms of the mix of good experiences,
bad experiences. It's always been all over the lot, and that hasn't
changed much. I guess if anything has changed-in recent years
there have been more detailed interaction than I got at first
from people who really seemed to have something going on. In the
early days, I got a smattering of letters from people who I think
were having mental problems who'd had very, very detailed contact
experiences. But over the years, I've found that these were quite
different from what I was getting from everyone else. And it turned
out that there were about ten of them. They just sort of stand
alone among themselves.
A group of letters that were very elaborate, some of them about 100 pages long. And they turned out not to be consistent in any way even with this very wild sort of group of stories. One of them involved a woman who claimed to have gone through a marriage with an alien. One of the grays. In the end, I decided those letters were probably fantasies. Because they were so different from everything else. You know, it was just so strange. So I kind of left them aside as unique. But the great majority of the letters are more like what we have got in the book. In other words, every letter in the book, with one or two exceptions, reflects groups of letters.
Q. Can you give us an overview of the evolution of your thinking on the subject?
Strieber: Well, my thinking on the subject has varied a lot over the years. I have gone from initially feeling fairly sure that I was assaulted by human beings and that they'd been wearing masks or something. To thinking that I was the victim of some kind of assault by intelligence agents using mind control techniques. To thinking that it was all some sort of super form of the imagination. To thinking that it really WAS aliens. To where I am now, which is in a state of very open question about the whole thing. Obviously, it's a physical experience, or there wouldn't be implants. But who's causing it remains to me an unknown.
Q. Could you please talk about your wife Anne's contribution to the project?
Strieber: Well, my wife's contribution to the project has been enormous. From the beginning, Anne took over the handling of the letters. She read every letter and she referred letters to me in an organized way so that I got a continuous overview of what we were getting. And without her, there would be no Communion Letters file. She was central to the whole thing. It was also her idea, I might add.
Q. It is obvious you are right in saying that the standard abduction scenario rarely appears in the letters. Would you care to comment further?
Strieber: I think that there could be two possible reasons for this. The first is that the standard abduction scenario is rare. The second is that the natural memories that come back somehow or other cover the standard abduction scenario. And I don't know what the answer is. Because we don't have an adequate means of determining what the factual baseline of these reports is. I'm hoping that in the future there will be work done with the biology of memory that will enable us to nail down more clearly what part of what people are remembering is fact and what is simply either misremembered or confusion or something along those lines. Like screen memories. But right now we can't really make a determination. Except it is striking that the degree to which the standard abduction scenario shows up is almost zero. It was just tiny. In fact, I'd be hard put to find a letter that described the entire standard abduction scenario. I can get bits and pieces of it here and there like for example, the thing about being laid on a table, which seems to be such a characteristic of the standard abduction scenario. We hardly ever get letters that even mention this in passing or even mention anything that could be a version of this experience. Very strange that it would be like that, really, and I think it just tells us that there's a lot of research that yet needs to be done.
Q. Along with the greatly differing stories the letters tell, there is also often a sense that the Visitors very much regard the abductees as unique individuals themselves, and show a great deal of concern for the letter writers on a one-to-one personal level. Do you agree with that perception of things? Is that an accurate assessment of the situation?
Strieber: It's interesting that many of the letters suggest that the people writing them are involved in an ongoing relationship of some sort with the Visitors and that they are on some level, not necessarily a conscious level, aware of this. That was one of the most fascinating things about the letters. There's also in the letters a smattering of suggestion that the individuals themselves are somehow related to the Visitors who are interacting with them. Again suggesting that there may be levels of this experience that we just haven't even touched on in our thinking about what it's actual nature may be: That along with the possibility that some people are being visited in a very conventional manner by aliens that are bent on exploiting them in some physical way, there may be lots of other levels to this thing that we have not yet realized exist. I was hoping that one of the things the letters book would do would be to point out this possibility.
Q. One of the letter writers says that she feels the Visitors are Satanists who have raped her repeatedly. Another woman says that after calling the aliens devils, a Visitor asked her if she would recognize an angel if she saw one. She then contritely apologized. What percentage of your letter writers make that assumption on some level-that they're dealing with something demonic? And do you understand their reasoning in doing so?
Strieber: I don't have any percentages because of the fact
that statistics are meaningless in this particular case. It's
a self-selected sample, and there's no point in trying to apply
any statistical measures to such a sample. We would have to have
a survey carried out, and professionally analyzed in order to
make statistical determinations like that. However, on a personal
basis, certainly I do see quite a number of my letter writers
interpreting their experience in terms of Christian religious
mythology. Whether they refer to angels or demons, it's about
equal, I would guess. I get as many of one as of the other. I
don't think that there's any particular indication that these
forms we call the Visitors really fit the ancient Christian mythology
of angels and demons. I think that probably the most appropriate
early mythologies have to do with the jinn of the Moslems and
the Kochinas of the Hopis. These seem to be functioning much more
like our present Visitors than angels and demons do. The reason
I say that is, that if you think in terms of a demon-why would
a demon present itself as a demon? It would seem that if a demon
was to come into relationship with someone, then the demon would
want to seduce that person. And these Visitors are hardly seductive.
In fact, not only do they stink, they're hideous. They could not
be less seductive. If they're trying to be seductive, they are
really cosmetically challenged, because there's nothing seductive
about them. So they don't really fit the imagery of the demon.
When Satan attempted to seduce Christ by offering him the cities
of the plain, it was an alluring seduction, full of temptation.
Not something horrifying.
If anything, an angel would appear terrible to a human being because when you looked into the eyes of an angel, you would see reflected the truth about yourself. So it could be that the more horrible looking Visitors actually are angels. If we're going to deal with this in terms of that mythology-and I frankly don't like to because I feel it's not adequate to cope with this situation. The idea of good guys versus bad guys is not sufficient to deal with this. We need a much more complex and richer model than that. Because you have many situations where the same individuals are treated to such a huge variety of experiences and have such a large and complex group of responses that you can't by any means describe them as being all good or all bad. And I just don't believe in terms, if you will, of the anthropology of the situation that you're going to look at a whole species, with some devoted to being good guys and others devoted to being bad guys. It just ain't like that. It's certainly not like that here on this earth. Everybody's a gray guy here. In between, you know. We do good things, we do bad things. You rarely find a person that's all good or all evil. And I think the idea of finding a whole civilization on some other planet that was all good or all evil is equally impossible.
Q. Another motif that consistently turns up is the idea of love, gentleness and a kind of supernatural compassion being used to becalm and comfort abductees. They often equate this sense of well-being they are experiencing with God and/or his angels. But there are those who say that a mere sense of well-being doesn't qualify as genuine spirituality. Would you care to comment?
Strieber: Well, I think whatever spirituality this experience has is what we bring to it ourselves for our own sake. I've never been aware of any particular spiritual bias, if you will, in the Visitors. They've been much more utilitarian in their contacts with me. But I have gained a lot of spiritual insight on my own part from my relationship with them. But that's because I wanted to, not because they had anything necessarily on offer. For example, they have a lot of knowledge and wisdom. I mean, far beyond what I have in my possession. And I've found that when I meditated, I was able to open my mind to the existence of this material and that they encouraged the meditation. And we worked out a relationship in this way. And the objectivity that I saw there greatly enhanced my own spirituality in that my relationship with God went beyond the mere love and demand level that we usually live at where we love God and make demands through prayer and into much more of a sense of companionship. And I began to understand what it meant when it is said in the Bible that Man was made in the image of God. It is literally quite true that Man is made in the image of God, and you can feel this if you cease to be a beggar and a pleader and become a companion to God. Then you suddenly find yourself in a very, very different relationship. I don't think the Visitors necessarily led me there, but they did lead me to an objectivity about my spiritual being that enabled me to see that. And I found it very valuable. So as far as genuine spirituality flowing from the encounter experience, it can, but only if you put it there. If you don't choose to deal with it on that level, then it's certainly not going to be there.
Q. You say in your afterword that the UFO phenomenon contains the bare bones of the beginning of a new religion. Yet you also seem to imply that a UFO-based religion would ultimately be an inadequate response to the phenomenon and a disappointment as well. What, besides a new religion, would be the ideal result then?
Strieber: The ideal result would be if science could respond
to this in a meaningful way so that we could get some objective
answers about what it is. I think that in the past, mankind has
devised a lot of religions that are probably all to one degree
or another flawed and inadequate in their response to what I would
describe simply as the outside world, or the world
outside of our immediate physical perceptions. I think that there
exists the possibility to scientifically discover whether or not
things like the soul exist. In other words, to bring the so-called
supernatural and paranormal phenomena into the realm of reality.
I don't really believe in the paranormal or the supernatural.
I think there is only a physical world, some parts of which we
can understand and perceive, other parts of which we cannot understand
I would like to see science use the close encounter experience and the presence of UFOs to extend the borderlines of what we perceive to be the real world. Just as in the past, when we devised a long series of scientific instruments, beginning way back in the classical period when we developed geometry and became able to do things like measure the circumference of the earth and the development of the telescope. To the development of the radio receiver and the understanding of how to transmit messages over the radio. To the development of so many other devices that detect different levels of energy, magnetism, gravity, ultraviolet and higher levels of light. Microwaves. Extra low frequency, high frequency, etc. and so forth. We need to be able to determine whether or not, on some level, there is an additional energy to measure. And learn to measure to that. I think that probably what we're going to find is there is such an energy, and that it's going to be the first of those energies that's alive that we've measured. And that we're going to find that life exists in an entirely energetic format. And that we're going to be able to measure this and understand it and interact with it objectively in the future. That would be my hope. Our religions right now are the best way we have of interacting with this level of reality. But I feel quite sure there are better ones that we can discover.
Q. Correlations between alien abduction and Near Death Experiences have already been documented a great deal. The Communion Letters also looks at correlations between abductions and ghostly visitations. Do you feel there is one underlying cause to all these phenomena? Or that they may form a continuum of related manifestations of what we call Heaven? And if not, then how do you feel they are related?
Strieber: Yes, I do think there is one underlying cause to all the phenomena. I don't think that they would appear mixed up together if that wasn't the case. I think in part, though, what you're looking at could be a triggering of a part of the mind or a part of the perceptual process that is activated when certain unknown phenomena appear before the individual. So in this sense, while they're all related, the relationship may be in us and not out there. And we have to be very careful about that. One of the most interesting things I think in the letters, you see an occasional letter about it, is the connection between the dead and the Visitors. The Visitors bringing people's dead relatives back and saying they're okay and having something to do with the transmission of human beings into and out of the state of life. That's a whole other aspect of this experience that we really never have addressed in the literature, which so far has been much more nuts-and-bolts oriented. And yet at the same time, it may be that the movement of souls in and out of living bodies is nuts-and-bolts to the Visitors. It may be that what they said to me a long time ago is true, that this is a school. If that's true, then maybe they're the professors and the teachers and the helpers. And that they are moving souls in and out of life in order to enable them to matriculate and be educated in this school. It's just one of many speculations.
Q. Is there anything you wish to add? Some question I haven't asked or some kind of final statement you'd like to make?
Strieber: Yeah, only one final statement I'd like to make.
These letters represent thousands and thousands of other letters
that we have on file. We have over 30,000 on file. And I look
forward to the day when science can address these letters and
their readers with studies that will adequately tell us two things.
One, how much of the stories reported are actually based in fact?
And two, what actually happened to the people who wrote these
letters to us? I think that the answers to those two questions
are going to change the whole nature of the way we understand
the world around us. And I do think they will come. I think that
there's every indication that within the next few years we will
know enough about the biology of memory and the way memories actually
change the brain and change the way the brain functions to be
able to test people in such a way that we can determine what parts
of their memories are factual and what are not.
I have a new book coming out called Confirmation, Hard Evidence of Aliens Among Us, which will be out from St. Martin's Press in May and which will address some of these very practical issues and point the way, among other things, toward determining on a factual basis how real these memories are. ~
So there remains even more from Whitley Strieber to look forward
to. While Strieber is certainly not alone in what he experiences
at the hands of the Visitors, he is perhaps the most gifted teller
of the tale. And one can only hope that the scientific verification
that he talks about here will actually come to fruition, for Strieber's
sake as well as our own. ~
Whitley Strieber Discusses The Communion Letters
© 1997 Sean Casteel. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of Sean Casteel