Between the 14th and 18th centuries, somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 people on the European continent were tried and executed for witchcraft. Most of these people were burned alive in the public square of the nearest town, and most were also tortured before burning. Between 70% and 80% of all ‘witches’ executed were women, but many men, children, and even animals were executed as well.
What is most strange about the witchcraft trials of medieval Europe is that, despite being studied in great detail by historians and scholars of many stripes and biases, no single persuasive explanation has emerged for why they took place.
What is also interesting is that medieval ‘witches’ had much in common with today’s ‘abductees’, and the witch hunters also resemble some of today’s abduction ‘researchers’ in surprisingly consistent ways.
Something fairly powerful has to be going on either inside the public imagination or out in the real world or both, in order to sustain nearly four centuries of torture, carnage, and religious persecution. The Church did not simply try and burn witches: It aggressively sought them out to try and burn them.
The infamous Malleus Maleficarum (compiled in 1486) is a detailed instructional Church manual on how to identify a witch and what to do when you find one. Professional witch hunters, employed by the Church, roamed the European countryside searching out witches and delivering them into the hands of Church inquisitors who usually ended up torturing and killing them to save their souls.
Although the Malleus isn’t a word-for-word precursor to Intruders or Missing Time, many elements are similar enough to warrant a closer look.
How to Identify a Witch or Abductee
Although today we do not burn alive abductees alive, the modern process for identifying an abductee is remarkably similar to the medieval process for identifying a witch. Witches and abductees share the follow characteristics:
- Marks on the Body.Abductees and witches are both thought to be physically marked in some way. In the case of witches the mark might be a mole or birthmark, or if no such mark was found, the examiner declared the discovery of ‘an invisible mark.’ In the case of abductees, researchers look for scoop marks, triangle-shaped scars, or evidence of alien implants.
- Supernatural Sex. Witches were believed to have sexual intercourse with inhuman agents of the Devil called incubi (male demons) and succubi (female demons). Abductees are often believed to have intercourse with inhuman or half human alien beings during the abduction experience.
- Flying by Night. Witches had the ability to fly through the night sky. Alien abductees often have vivid memories of flying or being transported through the sky or through space.
- Messing with Animals. Witches were said to possess the ability to kill farm animals without drawing blood. Alien abductions are often associated with bloodless cattle mutilations or the draining of blood from small farm animals (chupacabra incidents are often paired with UFO sightings).
- Miscarriage and Disappearing Fetuses. Witches were believed to have the ability to cause miscarriage or cause fetuses to disappear. Alien abductees often report disappearing pregnancies or mysterious anomalous events involving human reproduction.
- Circular Meetings in the Deep Woods. Witches were thought to meet with the Devil in the woods, holding highly sexualized rituals naked in a stone circle. (See drawing above.) Abductees are taken into a circular craft, often from remote or wooded locations, where they are then examined naked on stone or metal slab.
- The Devil and the Greys. The physical description of the ‘Devil’ of the medieval witchcraft trials (to whom witches were said to agree to a pact or contract) bears remarkable similarities to the tall Greys described by abductees. Tan or grey in color, the Devil and the tall Grey both have cloven feet, strange skin, and demand perverse sexual allegiance. The Devil’s eyes are said to ‘pierce’ the eyes of women and control them in this way. The Greys control by means of their hypnotic huge eyes.
- Associations with Bright Lights in the Sky. Both Satan and aliens are associated with bright lights in the sky. Satan was said to be the “brightest angel in the sky” before he fell to earth for rebelling against God. Alien abductions are often (though not always) associated with brilliant lights in the sky (UFOs) that come down to earth to release frighting Greys with a baffling sexual agenda.
David Hufford’s The Terror That Comes in the Night
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Folklorist David Hufford wrote a landmark paper about the relationship between sleep paralysis and the legend of the ‘Old Hag’. This tale occurs in every age and across all cultures. In the story, a sleeping person wakes to find a hideous creature (the ‘Old Hag’) sitting or pressing down upon his or her chest. The victim is unable to move during this experience, which often includes sexual intercourse with the fantastic other. The incubus/succubus tales of medieval Europe are variants of the ‘Old Hag’ myth, and Hufford believes many alien abduction stories are modern variants of this universal tale.
However, Hufford’s groundbreaking thesis was that the ‘Old Hag’ narrative was universal because it referred to a real human experience.
This was controversial stuff in the dry, methodical world of academic folklore research. Up until the time of Hufford’s paper it was assumed that narrative traditions and physical experience were rigidly separated categories. Stories were just stories. Folklorists collected them.
Folkloric tales were assumed by definition to refer only to imaginary events and experiences passed down by specific cultural groups for various sociological purposes: indoctrination into the mores of the group being one of the main purposes. Hufford was saying that at least some universal myths and legends appeared to be an attempt to convey the content of a genuine experience in the language of the culture and time in which the experience occurred.
So during medieval times when the Church held enormous power and controlled people through vivid descriptions of hellfire, damnation, and the wages of sin, the experience was interpreted as demonic and the abductor as Satan. In ancient Sumeria the experience was intrepreted as divine. In modern technological culture the experience is interpreted as extraterrestrial. But the same experiental elements are repeated in each instance; they are simply spun with a different explanation of what it all means.
Hufford was careful not to ascribe any particular interpretation to the raw experience underlying these stories; he only sought to make the argument that some kind of real experience was at the base of the stories. Hufford made a careful, exhaustive (and rather dry) philosophical argument that the scientific term ‘sleep paralysis’ is a description (and hence, another myth), not an explanation.
Hufford felt that the experience itself remains unexplained.
We don’t know what causes these experiences. We don’t know why the experience has these predictable and bizarre elements. We’ve just slapped a descriptive label–‘sleep paralysis’–on something that has apparently been plaguing mankind for as long as man has been able to tell stories about it.
The Problem With the ET Hypothesis
One of the biggest obstacles to understanding UFO and alien abduction phenomena is the ET hypothesis, the belief that visitors from outer space are causing these experiences and events. We really don’t know that, but the tendency to interpret all these phenomena through a modern technological filter is so strong that today the term UFO has today become synomymous with ‘spacecraft’, even though its original meaning was simply something flying through the sky that could not be identified. ‘Unidentified Flying Object’ means we don’t know what it is. And we don’t.
If we KNEW it was a spacecraft, then it would NOT be a UFO. It would be a spacecraft.
What are the chances that our current cultural filter is any more correct than the medieval one that ascribed these phenomena to devils, or the ancient one that ascribed them to Isis, or the medical one that ascribes them to a mysterious brain disorder called sleep paralysis, or the northern Scandavian one that ascribes them to the appearance of the ‘Old Hag’ (a folkloric harbinger of death)?
Weirdly, Huffords ideas get little uptake in ufology because they are seen as acribing the phenomena to ‘myth’, which is popularly understood by ufologists (who seem not to actuall read this stuff) to mean ‘made up story that isn’t true in any way’.
That understanding is the exact opposite of the compelling original argument made by Hufford, an argument that supports the notion that something real is going on, but that we just don’t know what it is. Hufford’s work could be used to support further scientific or academic study or these phenomena, but in a weird twist of illogic, it is used to dismiss them by both camps.
At least we aren’t burning people alive over the experience these days.
But it would be nice to know what it was actually all about.