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Last year, just when we were trying to process the incredible bombshell dropped by the New York Times concerning the secret UFO Pentagon program, we also learned for the first time that award-winning director and monster-advocate Guillermo del Toro once had a rather stunning UFO encounter. Now here’s a small clip in which he describes the event to his friend and colleague James Cameron:

In the interview del Toro briefly explains to Cameron how he was 15 or 16 years old when he was in the company of a friend all alone on a deserted highway, carrying a six-pack of beers –“which we didn’t consume!” he quickly points out– and looking at the stars. Then the two teens noticed a small, bright light moving across the night sky in a non-linear fashion, zipping away from one spot to the other very rapidly.

(Mind you, this probably happened around 1980 or ’81, waaaay before the Mexican UFO flap that started in 1991, when Jaime Maussan was making regular appearances on national television showing the latest grainy video recorded by an amateur UFO hunter)

Guillermo and his friend decided to honk the car horn to see if the zig-zagging object would react. And react it did! The faraway UFO breached the distance between its location and theirs in a matter of seconds, and that’s when they observed it looked like a structured craft witht he stereotypical shape of a flying saucer.

That an incredibly talented artist like Guillermo has had paranormal experiences doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. In my personal essay for UFOs: Reframing the Debate I tried to make the argument that artists and creative individuals seem to be more open to the kind of things most of society tend to frown upon –much more with del Toro, whose life-long love for monsters marked him as an outcast from the beginning– and also perhaps better equipped to engage with these mysteries than if you try to understand them from a strictly ‘left-brain’ approach.

But what fascinates me the most about this is the way del Toro interprets the experience, after so many years: he was disappointed at how ‘badly designed’ and clichéd the saucer looked like –complete with blinking lights that went all around its rim!– His aesthetic criticism didn’t prevent him from experiencing the ‘artificial fear’ often reported by close encounter witnesses though, and in a state of utter panic he and his companion decided the time wasn’t right to play “Human Eye for the Alien Guy” and fled the scene at full speed. The kitschy Disco-like disk kept pace of their vehicle, until eventually they lost sight of it.

The first time I read about Guillermo’s account, it immediately reminded me of another out-of-the-box inconoclast who also had an unusual UFO encounter, although under rather different circumstances: Terence McKenna observed what he described as a typical ‘Adamskian’ flying saucer during his famous ‘La Chorrera Experiment’, amid the deep jungles of Colombia in 1971.

(Needless to say, but Terence was tripping MAJOR monkey balls when this took place… and pretty much during the remainder of his stay in Colombia)

McKenna had always been interested in the UFO phenomenon but by then was convinced the so-called ‘contactees’ like George Adamski were mostly charlatans and hoaxers; so to have his first UFO experience manifesting in the same shape as all those hoaxed photographs promoted in the contactee literature and flying saucer conferences of the 50’s and 60’s, felt to him as if someone was deliberately pulling a prank on him:

“I recognized this thing. It looked like the end cap of a Hoover vacuum cleaner, exactly the same fake saucer as in George Adamski’s photos. This thing flew right over my head, and it was as phoney as a three dollar bill. I knew it was a fake.”

So here we have two non-ordinary experiences in which there is something of a self-negating component added to the mix –as it’s usually the case with high strangeness events– sprinkled with a bit of tricksterish humor over the top. McKenna was first and foremost and intellectual, so perhaps in his case the purpose behind it was to take a slight jab at his ego and reminding him not to take himself too seriously.

What about del Toro, though? Here is an artist who had always been interested in telling stories, reading horror stories voraciously and sketching monstrous creatures since he was a child; the accounts he has told during interviews also suggest he used to experience hypnagogic night terrors that would later fuel his cinematic career –the mischevious faun of Pan’s Labyrinth was based on regular ghostly apparitions he used to have when staying at his grandmother’s old house in Guadalajara:

“So I would hear the temple bells ringing midnight, and as they started chiming, I would see the human hand of the faun come out from the armoire, then the smiling face of a goat, and then the hairy leg of a goat. I would clearly see him pulling his body out of the armoire and I would start screaming, repeatedly, every night that I slept in that bed. I would go to sleep at eight o’clock and wake up at 11:45, just in time to hear the goddamn bells.”

An hallucination caused by overactive imagination? A liminal vision induced by an endocrine secretion of DMT? All of the above? Who can say, and if there’s a link between these early experiences and the UFO close encounter one needs to take into account the second witness to the event, whose name and opinion on the matter are unknown. Did he also observe the same ‘badly designed’ flying saucer just as del Toro? or did his sighting differ from what the Mexican filmmaker recollects, almost 40 years after it happened? We do not know the answer to this, and yet it wouldn’t be the first time witnesses report different things about the same event –which further makes the case for a ‘co-creation’ component in paranormal phenomena, just as suggested by UFO author Greg Bishop. The Co-creation Hypothesis, for those who haven’t heard of it, is the idea that the witness is not a mere passive espectator to a UFO/paranormal event, and that somehow the outcome of it maybe influenced by the individual’s cultural framework and expectations –whether this is a matter on how the mind is desperately seeking to filter and parse an extraordinary experience, in order to interpret it as best it can according to a given worldview, or the phenomenon is actively ‘morphing itself’ so it can fit with our cultural preconceptions is a bigger yarn to untangle. Terence McKenna, after all, once said the UFO phenomenon was nothing but the Mushroom intelligence disguising itself as an alien invasion so it wouldn’t alarm us monkeys too much (!).

So who knows? Perhaps in the end the ‘badly designed’ flying saucer that chased Guillermo del Toro –like a scene out of a cheesy El Santo movie– was meant to stir something inside the would-be storyteller and prompt him to think “I can do better than THAT, dammit!”. To force him to broaden his horizons and move away of his comfort zone in order to chase his dreams away from Mexico, where his visions would NEVER reach after their true potential due to the lack of opportunities, and be doomed to be nothing but cartoony renditions of what they could have become elsewhere…

In any case, there’s no denying Guillermo’s masterpieces are now lauded all over the world, and have greatly helped us to ’embrace the otherness’, be that in the form of otherworldly creatures, demons with a heart of gold, people with different sexual orientation, or foreign aliens trying to make a life on a faraway land.

His dream worlds have inspired us, shown ourselves from a different angle, and laid bridges connecting us closer together.

Just like a good shaman is supposed to do.