Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A conversation with Chris Aubeck about UFO's, belief, and everything in between

Back in July, Danish organization UFO Denmark (formerly known as Exopolitics Denmark) hosted one of their regularly occurring UFO conferences in Copenhagen. As usual the program included a diverse and interesting selection of guests from the international field of ufology that you wouldn't otherwise be able to experience in Denmark. This time around the speakers included Tracy Garbutt, who talked primarily about remote viewing and personal experiences, while Richard Dolan did a very matter-of-fact presentation about possible future disclosure, in light of recent developments involving declassified navy UFO footage.

The main attraction for me, however, was the addition of top notch UFO historian Chris Aubeck to the bill - a choice which both surprised and delighted me when I first learned about it. I've known Chris for many years and met and corresponded with him on several occasions, as a member of the Magonia Exchange group. Chris founded Magonia Exchange back in 2003, with the purpose of being an online forum for sharing and studying UFO-related items (newspaper articles, images, books and much more) predating Kenneth Arnold's infamous sighting of June, 1947.

What Chris Aubeck and the many other top ufologists connected to Magonia Exchange have discovered through their collective efforts, is that UFO's have a history that precedes and goes beyond anything we could have imagined 20 years ago. Accounts of things like crashed spaceships and abductions by aliens, which everyone thought were largely a recent phenomenon, have shown instead to extend quite far back in time. And not only that; they have had a much larger impact on our culture and society than we think and collectively remember. This realization has only happened due to the recent advances in digitization and increase in online resources, and Chris Aubeck has been on the forefront of this evolution, setting new standards not only for historical UFO study, but for research in general.

Chris Aubeck presenting at the UFO Denmark summer conference, 2019

After the 2019 conference in Copenhagen I sat down with Chris and tried to dig a bit deeper into his personal beliefs and the main achievements that he feels has come from his many years of studying UFO's in history. As you will learn from the resulting interview, Chris Aubeck is a real powerhouse of knowledge relating to UFO genealogy, but his work and findings are still almost criminally overlooked. Therefore I hope that this interview will help make more people aware of what he and the rest of Magonia Exchange have uncovered, so we can all become at least a little bit wiser about what it all means.

UPDATE: UFO Denmark has now posted the full video of Chris' presentation 


Thomas: Hello Chris, and thank you for agreeing to this interview. You made a great presentation yesterday at the conference, elegantly presenting your meticulous research and findings, the majority of which people, including most ufologists, are completely unaware of. I really think it was received well, although it was of course a lot to swallow at once, even for me.

Chris: Thanks Thomas, it’s good to be here. I hope you’re right about that, that people received it well. I know many were listening, because they were laughing at my jokes, even towards the end. Ha!

Thomas: (laughing) Yeah, I noticed that too. So, can you give an outline of who Chris Aubeck is and what motivates you to do what you do? Why are you strictly focused on older UFO cases, when most ufologists seem to be more interested in the here and now, or in the future?

Chris: Well, you know, when I was young, about 14 years old, I discovered a book on etymology. I found that I liked to learn the origins of all the words I knew. I’d look around my house at windows, carpets, tables, my cat and so on, and I wanted to know how those words came about. I didn't know what I would use the information for, but I wanted to find out how this vocabulary had been created. And I've applied the same philosophy to many things in my life since then. I've recently moved back to a town where I last lived 20 years ago and I’m fascinated by the differences, how the shops, the buildings and the people I used to know have changed. I like to find out where people are now, the evolution of things. I just instinctively try to trace the origins of whatever I see. That means when if I'm faced with a UFO story, I want to know where it’s from, who created it, for what reason, and so on. A lot of the seeds of modern cases are buried in historical ones, so I work to peel back the layers to get to core truths. Every year the digitization of the world's archives makes that work easier and easier.

Thomas: So, if someone called you a historical detective it wouldn't be completely off the mark?

Chris: I would be happy with that label, yeah.

Thomas: From our correspondence over the years I know that you have researched and accumulated so much groundbreaking data that it would blow most people’s minds. But I've often wondered how on earth you keep track of it all? Do you have Excel sheets where you categorize it, an advanced note system, or how do you do it?

Chris: Well, I'm the kind of person who's always writing a book. I've been writing a book since I was 13 years old, so I probably think very much in chapters. I suppose that is somewhat the equivalent of having a database or notation system, so although I don't work with Excel sheets, I do have a system to help keep track of these cases. I think of them mainly in chronological order.

Thomas: So you're saying that besides writing about them, you can actually manage most of these things inside your head?

Chris: Thats right. If someone says a year, I can usually tell them what happened in that year in pre-UFO history.

Thomas: Okay, that is pretty remarkable.

Chris: I don’t know, what I really have is just chapters that I write in, which occasionally become books. But I'm not really motivated to write books. I'm motivated to write a particular book, which will be the presentation of my thesis. which is to explain the origin of...well, Ufology, in a sense. I mean, I’ve come to see the evolution of the UFO phenomenon from its roots. I can see how it overlapped with stories of meteorites, for example. I can see how literature, culture and the advance of science turned many meteorites sightings into UFO stories, including the ones about passengers, or those with strange writing on them. What I want to do is to finish this one book before I'm hit by a bus or something. Then of course I have minor projects going on as well, so I'm not obsessed with this one thesis and I'm very happy to adapt or change or get rid of things, if need be. Which in fact I have done over the years. The reason I haven't published this one yet is because I've totally rewritten it along the way. And I'm open to that.  And because at the same time, I don't care how much of this turns out to be real or not. I’m happy to be proved wrong. That's OK, I'm just letting the evidence guide me.

Thomas: You are known for your tendency to really stick with a case until It is solved, exploring all avenues of research known – or unknown – to man. But is there ever a point where you give up, where you're like….okay, this is simply taking up too much time and resources, and while it may have seemed important at a certain point, it doesn’t anymore. A point where you are content and you don’t feel you need to really pursue it further?

Chris: Well, the reason that I have been working on the same main book for over 15 years, is that I'm really hesitant to publish a case without reaching a conclusion for it. But I do eventually reach one. Take for example the 1865 case of a trapper in the Rockies called James Lumley. You can even find this story on the internet these days. People think that it's like an old Roswell type incident. I had this case on file for a very long time, researched and wrote notes about it frequently, but I was never happy with it, because I didn't know how or why it happened. But now I know the origin of that story, I've traced its roots. I know the reason why it was published, and so on. Another example is a case I mentioned yesterday that happened in Arkansas in 1847, involving a bust which fell from the sky. I finally know all about that case after many years of research. Now I know the why and how and when. I also mentioned a case from 1862 about a meteorite reported to be covered in paintings and pictures and diagrams, believed to be from another planet. That’s another example of one I’ve research to pieces, as it were. I am actually reaching a point now where I don't need to look for any more cases to support my thesis, because if I did my book would end up being seven hundred pages long!

Newspaper article about the above mentioned Lumley case

Thomas: Ok, so besides your drive for researching cases, I also know that you are actively trying to spread more awareness about the fact that the UFO phenomenon didn't just start in 1947, and that Kenneth Arnold’s sighting was just a more recent point in a very long continuum of similar events. What can you do to create more attention about these, let's say, historical gaps?

Chris: I don't know, because I'd like to put out books, but at the same time I realize that we're living in an age where many people don't read books. So, I am toying with the idea of making videos for YouTube, turning my thesis into…a rap video, maybe? Perhaps that will get people's attention.

Thomas: (laughing) I would love to see that

Chris: I have absolutely no idea to be honest. It's very difficult to make big changes these days because there's so much noise. Whatever I say there will be someone a lot noisier than me telling everybody that the government has a UFO locked away in Area 51 or something. It's extremely difficult.

Thomas: Where do you see yourself fit in the world of ufology? I don't believe many are motivated in the same way as you are, on either side of the spectrum, but besides that, where do you sort of come down on the major issues?

Chris: I would say that I don't, for example, believe that the government has any UFOs in their capacity. And I don't believe the government has all the truth about everything. Which doesn't mean that there is or isn't anything going on related to UFOs. What I mean is, the government might know what's been going on up to a certain extent, but then someone, my mother for example says "oh, I saw a flashing banana-shaped light in the sky yesterday". They can’t automatically know what that was. Therefore, I think it's impossible to say that the government knows the “whole truth” about anything. They might try to give the impression they know things, as a kind of political strategy or to look more powerful. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they like the idea of conspiracy theories floating around and people getting together, like during this weekend, talking about what they think the government is hiding. Because whether “they” are hiding something or not, the fact is people believe it and this fact adds to their power. And the UFO myth is also a convenient cover for the development of secret weapons, as we’ve seen examples of.

Thomas: So, in your research, even if you are only looking into old cases prior to 1947, and especially before the 20th century, you don’t feel that there are any examples where governments could have covered up certain incidents?

Chris: Honestly, I don't. I don't see any real cover-up. What I see is a tangled web of information. We have to remember that a government isn't one person, it's a lot of people. And among them there are going to be individuals who are going to suspect that others working beside them, above them, or below them will have access to information that they don't. So, I wouldn't be surprised if people in the government can also become paranoid about what's really going on. But I don't personally think that behind all of that there's a filing cabinet with the truth in it. I think that it's just a horrible mess and that the same applies for any subject. I mean, there are of course real conspiracies. Like when the military is accused of covering up rape by male soldiers of female soldiers. The word cover-up exists outside ufology, obviously. But no, I don't believe that “they” are covering up anything significant related to UFOs.

Thomas: OK, but then to maybe take a step back further from the subject: So, you don’t see any indications of a historical cover-up of UFO's. But when does this element of conspiracy first start appearing? I mean, this is now an inescapable part of let's say the UFO mythology, but at what point do you see it entering reports and stories?

Chris: Well, I don't know, I suppose that the government sort of suddenly started it by accidentally saying they had captured a flying saucer in Roswell, in July of 1947. And that gave rise to suspicion, because, of course, when at first they say one thing and then suddenly change their mind, it does create doubt. So I wouldn't be surprised if that's really where it started. I mean, before that I haven’t detected any real conspiracy theories. Yesterday I mentioned a case from 1926 concerning a farmer who believed that he'd found an alien skull, who then spent the next couple of weeks with his neighbors looking for the rest of the alien body. He thought a spaceship had exploded near his house. He stated to journalists that he was very sorry, but he wasn't going to give this to the government, or any kind of scientists, because he felt he had a mission to find the rest of the alien first. If he had lived in a social context in which government conspiracies were a possibility, he would have mentioned it. But the fact is that he didn't. So, I don't believe that people distrusted the government in the sense that we see after 1947, at least not concerning these types of events.

Thomas: How do you reconcile that fact that UFO sightings, historical as well as newer ones, for a large part has been "one step ahead" of the current technology? For example, before there were airships, people reported mystery airships, then after the airship was invented, people began reporting even more advanced airships, and then mysterious airplanes...

Chris: Well, we humans are always imagining slightly beyond our means, in the same sense that science fiction is always about technology that hasn't arrived yet. And considering that in the 19th century people were also inventing stories, like they do today, it’s not surprising that they were describing airships or other types of alien technology or whatever that hadn't been invented yet. I mean, that's just the way it's always been…in stories people come up with things that haven't been invented yet.

Thomas: Do you see any kind of “supernatural” element or unknown factor in this evolution at all? Something that falls outside of what science can explain today? I am thinking of something akin to Jacques Vallée’s “conditioning hypothesis”, the idea that someone or something is using the UFO phenomenon to nudge us into new beliefs and perhaps technologies.

Chris: I don't think that people are being guided towards new technologies or beliefs via alterations to the visual imagery presented to them. I think that that's a wonderful excuse that people have, so they can put everything into the same sack. I mean, when I was writing Wonders in The Sky with Jacques, we argued a lot about this. He would say “look, here's a classic close encounter case” and I would say, “but this sounds more like a ghost to me” and then he would present another case, and it would sound to me like a vision of the Virgin Mary. Why try to argue that a virgin is a ufonaut or whatever? I just can’t understand that approach. And in the end we actually agreed to take out a lot of these more ambiguous close encounter stories.

Chris Aubeck with legendendary ufologist and co-founder of the book 'Wonders In The Sky", Jacques Vallée, in 2015.

Thomas: I want to get back to this hypothesis about some overall guiding principle, or however you want to call it. Jeffrey Kripal for example has this idea about a “Superstory” which we are all the time writing collectively as humans, mostly without even realizing it, and which at the same time influences us to continue writing it. Kind of similar to some of Jung’s ideas about archetypes and narratives. Do you subscribe to something like this at all?

Chris: I do think that humans tend to create stories according to a certain template, and if you study folklore, if you study mythology, or simply literature, you will find that people make stories with more or less the same plot all the way through – like The Hero’s Journey narrative. You have the hero, then you have the problem that the hero has to face. You might be able to insert a love interest, and then there's a point in which he almost loses his bride-to-be, or whatever. I mean it's just like a structure that people always rely on. You can compare a lot of Hollywood films that followed very similar structures. It’s all about tropes and motifs. I think that descriptions of UFO encounters also grow this way. If you take stories like the one I presented yesterday from 1863, where this meteorite crash-landed in Jamaica, the witnesses include a scientist who identifies it as a meteorite, then takes it back to his laboratory inspects it, only to discover that it's made of a strange substance, something totally artificial. It also has writing on it and from there he reaches the conclusion that this is alien technology. It’s a basic story you find throughout modern ufology, and in the end, what do you think happens as a result of these alleged breathtaking events? Absolutely nothing. The meteorite from 1863 was going to revolutionize science, but of course it didn't. It disappeared. Did Kecksburg revolutionize science? Of course not. Did Roswell revolutionize anything? Has anything ever revolutionized anything in the world of ufology? Only if you subscribe to the belief that some of our current technology came from aliens. I certainly don’t subscribe to that theory.

Thomas: Okay, but where, in your opinion, does personal belief fit into the UFO phenomenon? I mean what's the value of it to you?

Chris: Well, I've had a lot of hobbies in my life. I became interested in magic and magic tricks; I've been interested in painting. My levels of interest fluctuate. But one thing that continually motivates me about the world of UFOs is that there's still so much left to discover that it gives me a reason to reopen my files every day. Although I wouldn't say that it's belief-oriented, I’m definitely motivated by knowing that I can add something of value to this field, just as I am in my day job, teaching English.

Thomas: Okay, but actually what I meant with the question was, what is the evidence value of personal belief in ufology and in UFO experiences. Maybe I should ask, to what extent do you feel we can we use individual personal experiences, which in most cases is all we got?

Chris: Okay. Well, there are some cases that don't conform to the general pattern that I find. These are what we can call outliers, and when I find one, then of course it makes me wonder if the people involved really saw something unusual or not. So, my mind is open to the possibility that I will find anomalies in the data. Here in the modern world, I am surrounded by people who “see things.” I am constantly thinking about whether their experiences have a rational explanation. And I will look for one and offer my opinion, even if people don't want to hear it. 

People don’t always like to know the truth. I mean, I’ve been out for a drink with other ufologists when one will suddenly stand up and get very excited about something in the sky. They point to a plane, and say something like “Oh my God, they know we're talking about them!”. Seeing that kind of behavior, and realizing that they're going to write this up as an as another anecdote for their UFO files, worries me a bit. I think that in reality less than 1% of the phenomena that I read about or hear about might have a complex explanation. I think anomalies are much rarer than people think.

Thomas: But they do exist, that’s what you’re saying?

Chris: I'm willing to accept that. But I'm also willing to accept that there's nothing at all mysterious about them in the end.

Thomas: So when you're looking at cases, you are not looking at them to add to a collection of anomalies, you are looking to solve them.

Chris: Yes, I am looking for problems that I can actively solve.

Thomas: Alright. Well in that connection, what would you say is your toughest case. Did you ever encounter one where you found yourself thinking oh s**t, I will do my best to solve this one, but even then, it is just so mind-boggling that I still can’t reconcile the weirdness of it.

Chris: Well, apart from a UFO sighting of my own, which I’ve thought about a lot and never found and explanation for, yeah. There are some historical sightings that make me wonder. There’s one case in a book from 1857 which is so strange, because it doesn't fit into the timeline at all. This is the one where a ship sails over an American village. And I've been there, I've been to this location, which didn't help. I've also been to be the archives located in the nearest town, that didn't help either. What bothers me about this case is that it appears in a book about health. It's a book that does mention things like potions and little bit of magic, but nothing even remotely to do with unidentified flying objects. It's so out of place in this book that it makes you wonder why the author would have inserted it. He doesn't use it in any of his publicity for the book either. It gives you the impression that he came across something that he really wanted to share with his readers, but maybe just didn’t know what to do it, so he just threw it in there. 

I've spent now more than 10 years working on solving it one way or another, together with Kay Massingill (a very active, to say the least, American member of Magonia Exchange), tracing the origin of everything else in the book. So, for example, we now know that pages 25 to 61 were stolen from another publication. We also know that a whole chapter was taken or copied from someone else’s health book, and so on. But the part about the UFO, we haven't found anything similar anywhere at all. And this this bothers me a lot and it'll bother me forever until I’ve solved it. I don't believe that this man invented the story, because he could have invented something a lot better than that! Another thing that bothers me is that the author says that there are thousands of such cases on record. That's something you just don’t hear anywhere until more modern times, long after 1947. So why would he say that? Why would you say there are thousands of cases of record? It sounds so out of place. So that one bothers me.

Chris Aubeck and Kay Massingill in Ohio, 2014

And then there is the story from 1874 that Martin Shough and I included in Return To Magonia, about two farmers from Ohio crossing a field, when they see a black object descending from the sky. When it lands it doesn't crash. Instead the lights go out, the door opens and a man comes out dressed in black holding a lantern. He then jumps into a “buggy” without any horses and drives away. Now, I can trace possible origins for each part of this, I think, but it still bothers me, because it's so odd. Now, it’s important to mention that it was published just after April Fool's Day. But at the same time, the witnesses really existed, I tracked them down through genealogical records. The place existed as well; I’ve been there myself. And visiting the place, it makes you realize that the man who reported the story knew the area quite well.

Chris Aubeck examining a supposed landing site in Ohio, 2014

And then finally this story from 1831 which I mentioned in my presentation. I wasn't that interested in it when we published it in Return To Magonia, but now I've looked at it again and again, I realize just how strange it is. It describes a clock shaped object, sometimes with legs, that scorches the grass, but doesn't burn people. It goes up in the sky, comes down again and so on. That's pretty strange. And there is very little there to indicate a hoax - even the discrepancies between witness testimony is what you would expect if it had really happened. So that one bothers me too. I would put those three into the “unknown” category for now.

Chris Aubeck searching for information in a library in Ohio, 2014

Thomas: Very interesting, particularly the second one to me personally. As you may remember, I have been particularly interested in cases involving strange boxes, and the thing with the lantern sounds very much like you would hear about in more modern encounters with UFO entities. It’s a recurring element in so many of the more documented cases out there, but do you see it appear often in your research?

Chris: Well, there is one science fiction novel published in 1848 that made me think more about it, published a Christmas book. It's an amazing tale really, every part of it reads like a modern UFO case: An object is seen through a telescope coming from space, which gets larger and larger and eventually divides into at least two lights, red and blue. Then it lands in a garden, and when it lands, people rush outside from their Christmas dinners to see it. After the object lands, the light goes out, just as it did in the other case from Ohio. Then a figure emerges from this dark object. I believe it's carrying a light, I’d have to go back and read it. But it's a very similar story. And it was published 26 years earlier. And I know that it was based on a case about a meteorite that landed in Bavaria. So, it shows that this element already existed in the culture, or, let’s say, within people's imaginative grasp, even back then.

Thomas: Ok. So, with these cases, there is something that I thought about during your presentation yesterday. When you start going deeper into them, then you naturally have to question a lot of things. But on the surface, if you just mentioned the details and the narrative, it can sound to people like you are coming with a lot of evidence about historic alien visitation. How do you reconcile this?

Chris: Whenever you strip a story of the details, it becomes more convincing. Particularly if you put it in with a bunch of similar cases. It's like, oh, another case and another story, another crashed object. But the moment you start to drill down to the details, you realize they contain contradictions and that they were usually inspired by something else. Or maybe the witnesses didn't even exist. You should never base beliefs on fragmented information or case summaries.  So, I was very aware, when I made this presentation, that the people who invited me are part of the exopolitics movement. Some of them might look at the historical cases I’ve presented and think that it’s all nonsense, but some might also think, “wow, this really strengthens my belief”. That's why I did mention a couple of times that if you want to know more about each case, you know, you’ve got to wait for my book. You need to give people the opportunity to get deeper into the data.

Thomas: Ok, so you’ve talked a lot about some cases that are hard to crack, but what is your favorite case, or cases? Are they the one and the same?

Chris: No, my favorite cases are more like my favorite witnesses in a sense. I'm fascinated by the stories of the Mystic Jane Leade, who died in 1701. She was from London and had a massive following. She kept some Diaries called The Fountain of Gardens and she's constantly making references to her own personal UFO sightings. And these are diaries, so you have the date and the place and so on, and her descriptions are very interesting, just like modern UFO encounters. For example, in one entry she's looking at a star through her window, when she loses consciousness. Then she wakes up inside the star, where she says she meets strange beings and so on. And then occasionally she makes references to little children, pregnancies and such…It's just like a whole alien abduction story, except it's from a Mystic who died centuries ago. So if I had a favorite case, I'd say that would be it.

Chris Aubeck illustrating ectoplasm for an article about spiritism. The spiritist movement of the late 1800's and early 1900's played a large role in popularizing experiences that most people today associate with UFO's. 

Thomas: What is the future for the Magonia Exchange project that you started more than 15 years ago now? You haven’t actively posted anything there for years now. Have you given up on it?

Chris: Well, my whole aim when we started the project, was to be the main contributor for as long as necessary. But I was always hoping that it would gain momentum and just carry on without me with no problem. And that's exactly what has happened over the years. I mean, if you if you look at other online historical archives to do with medieval history or science, you find that it isn't normally the guy who founded it that contributes the most. The founder of an organization is the guy who thought it all out, maybe he gets the ball rolling, but then he hopes that it will have a life of its own after a while. And that's exactly what happened, and it worked out very well.

Thomas: So, who's effectively most in control of it right now?

Chris: Nobody's really in control of it, except for me. I still have the last word about what happens with the group, who can join who leaves and so on. Yeah, I mean, I'm just happy that it's still going strong. I always told people at the beginning, that if they suddenly stopped posting, if they stopped contributing, that was fine. I would just use it myself as my personal database. But that didn't happen, it just carried on and got a life of its own. And these days it's a vital tool, I think people really need this kind of thing. The way that I created it was not to have a central database. That was done for various reasons, firstly because I wanted to encourage people to keep their own archives instead of being dependent on an online platform, because web pages are never permanent. The only disadvantage is that new members don't have access to the earliest cases, but to be honest, I don't think that's a problem. Older members will be sure to mention if something has been posted before and anyway, if there's one thing that people have to realize, it is that part of historical research is comparing multiple sources. Even if someone posts the same story as someone else years before, it might have a different date, different wording. It might be from an earlier or a later newspaper. If one was posted in a California paper and the other one in a New York paper, it gives us some valuable info that the story was carried across many thousands of kilometers, for example. And that can be analyzed. Sometimes what seems like different cases turn out to be the same, but they went viral and became altered along the way. And you need different sources in order to detect where this happened, how stories spread.

Thomas: I have not been that active in the group for the last couple of years, but every time I drop in to take a look, I see the level of activity is unchanged, or maybe even has increased. It seems that there is no end to the discoveries that can be made collectively.

Chris: That’s right. And at the same time, more and more digital archives and resources are becoming available to us. So, I don't see any limits to this group and its possibilities. And even if at some point everybody stops writing, then maybe I'll become active for a while again. But we've already collected more than 40,000 items. That's enough for anybody in a lifetime. So now let’s start to analyze it and make more output from it. And this is actually happening also more and more, with books coming out by several different members of the group, largely based on the information gathered there.

Thomas: Indeed, I am looking at some point to do the same, but with more local Danish material. Well, that's pretty much what I had for now. Thanks again for taking the time Chris, sharing your great insights and results from the many years in the field. I wish you all the best with all your future projects, and I am looking very much forward to reading about them in book form.

Chris: Thank you Thomas, it has been a pleasure. Let’s keep in touch.

Together with Chris Aubeck in front of the Copenhagen Mormon Temple, just around the corner from where the conference took place. Mormonism is yet another, little known piece of the historical UFO puzzle.


For more of Chris' research and methodology relating to historical UFO cases, I recommend reading Return to Magonia, created together with the equally amazing Martin Shough.

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