Halperin, D: Anatomy of a Vision: A Psychological Approach To The Papua New Guinea UFO Sightings, June 26-27th, 1959


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On the nights of June 26 and 27, 1959, on the coast of Papua New Guinea, a young Anglican priest named William Booth Gill and twenty-five of his Papuan parishioners had what they perceived as a close encounter with multiple UFOs hovering at low altitude, and with man-like beings that moved about the upper surface of one disk-shaped craft and made attempts to communicate with the observers. The external stimulus for the experience has been persuasively identified as a group of unusually bright planets and stars, viewed through alternately gathering and dispersing clouds. The psychic projections by which these witnesses came collectively to “see” things so different from what was physically present remain to be clarified.

Following the lead of Jung’s landmark study, Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies (1959), it’s possible to approach this “sighting” as what it essentially is: a religious vision, in which the archetypes of quaternity and mandala function together to “unit[e] apparently irreconcilable opposites” and resolve the tensions between the European priest and his Papuan congregants. “No doubt they are human,” Gill testified of the UFO’s occupants. Yet they were also self-luminous, as angels might be expected to be, and the paradox that they were both human and more than human must be allowed to stand. They have overtones of Abraham’s visitors in Genesis 18 (called simply “men” in the Bible story), as well as indigenous Papuan beliefs about sky-beings who descend to earth in human form. In the skies over Papua New Guinea sixty years ago, this amalgam of religious traditions, shared yearning for wholeness, and innate psychic patterning took on visible form suited to the technology of the mid-twentieth century. The real mystery of the incident: by what processes in the human psyche did this come to be?

Presenter Bio:

David J. Halperin, Ph.D., received his BA in Semitic Studies from Cornell University and his PhD in Near Eastern Studies from the University of California at Berkeley. From 1976 until his retirement in 2000, he taught Judaic studies in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he was repeatedly recognized for excellence in undergraduate teaching. He is the author of five books and numerous articles on Jewish mysticism and messianism, and of a novel, Journal of a UFO Investigator, published in 2011 by Viking Press and translated into Spanish, Italian, and German. His non-fiction book Intimate Alien: The Hidden Story of the UFO, which approaches the religious meaning of the UFO from a perspective informed by Jungian thought, was published in 2020 by Stanford University Press. He blogs at www.davidhalperin.net.

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

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