If you spend as many years studying and obsessing about UFOs as yours truly has —“life well spent!” *yells in his best interpretation of the comics book guy*– the only thing you end up realizing with any certainty is that public interest on the subject waxes and wanes. One day the Tic-Tacs will join their triangular and boomerang-shaped brethren in the cabinet of forgotten cases, Bob Lazar will return to hibernation mode and Tom DeLonge will go on a long-yearned reunion tour with the rest of Blink 182 with a new hit song titled “Show Me Your Alloys, Bobby.”
Or maaaybe all the wishes of the TTSA fanboys will come true, UFOs will finally come into the mainstream –although they’ll probably be called UAPs, AAVs or WTFs– so long as nobody ever dares to speculate what they are or where they come from, and I’ll be forced to eat a big plate of crow tacos with extra salsa.
But you know what? I bet that even then there would still be A LOT of people out there afraid to share their personal UFO experiences; because they are just too fringe and impossible to comprehend or rationalize with the tight narrative that is being currently promoted to normalize the phenomenon. The kind of waaay-out-there shit you don’t even dare to tell your closest friends or your spouse for fear of losing your job or breaking your marriage. Those people would still left behind once Lue Elizondo becomes appointed National Liaison of Anomalous Affairs or some stupid thing like that.
And I hope that sooner or later, those people with ‘hidden experiences’ manage to find a path towards Mike “The Owl Guy” Clelland’s blog, which celebrated its 10-year anniversary last March, and was recently released as an ebook compendium with the best and most important entries of Mike’s ongoing digital journal (or should it be called a grimoire instead?). Not only that, but Mike has just announced that the book will also be available in paperback form to satisfy those of us who still love the incomparable aroma of ink and pulp.
Yep, that’s the cover of the book, and Yep, that’s my nome de plume on the cover, too. I can’t even describe how humbled and grateful I was the day Mike sent me an email asking me —ME!— to write the foreword for his book. Especially because I know fully well that in a better region of the Multiverse that honor would have been rightly bestowed to the late Mac Tonnies, who was a good friend of Mike until his untimely death in 2009. That’s how high I raised my bar when I set on a task I’d never done before; but complete the task I did and thankfully Mike was very happy with it, which is why I wish to share it here with you as a special treat to Daily Grail readers.
Hidden Experience (Foreword)
It’s a question you occasionally stumble upon when you read an article about UFOs published by some mainstream media outlet: “o where have all the alien abductees gone?” You know, the same news sites that also love to comment from time to time on the ‘steady decline’ of UFO sightings? Only with the phenomenon currently known as alien abduction the cynicism is even more blatant, because at best popular culture regards it as a 90’s fad promoted by the X-Files which the public eventually grew tired of –the same way rollerblades and Tamagotchi pets became passé— and at worst it’s still associated with crass proctological jokes thanks to the irreverent humor of Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
But truth be told, answering that question is rather easy: the abductees didn’t go anywhere. They simply discovered the power of the Internet and started blogging. A path that hid them from the judgmental eyes of a public who never really made an effort to make sense of their claims or empathize with their anguish, from skeptics who accused them of lying and being nothing but attention seekers, and from psychiatrists who sought only to interpret their claims merely from a pathological perspective. In an age that has witnessed significant advancements in accepting the rights of the LGBT community, the people who claim to have had close encounters of the 4th kind seem to be locked inside the ultimate cultural closet –as an aside, it’s also interesting to notice certain parallels in the search for identity of both groups, like the infighting concerning the ‘correct’ use of terms and pronouns, e.g. Experiencer vs Abductee vs Contactee.
Blogging also freed abductees (or experiencers, whatever floats your saucer) from the need of sharing their stories with some intermediary in order to reach a larger audience. I am of the opinion that these biased ‘middlemen’, be that a UFO investigator or a TV producer, are often more interested in trying to pigeonhole witnesses’ brushes with the Other in a way that validates a specific interpretation or make the cases more ‘palatable’ to orthodox Science, which ultimately implies leaving on the cutting floor a treasure trove of important material often referred to as ‘High Strangeness’; a whitewashing strategy that was heavily opposed by the late researcher Karla Turner, who thought it is precisely in the ‘absurdity’ of High Strangeness that we could start perceiving a method to the madness.
It bears mentioning that focusing on the things that refuse to align with our neat little models of the Universe is the most effective –though not necessarily the easiest– way to elicit a true paradigm change. In the history of Science we find the example of Johannes Kepler, who was only able to establish the elliptical orbits of the planets after begrudgingly heeding Tycho Brahe’s advice to pay special attention in the retrograde motion of Mars. In doing so he was forced to throw away his entire initial theory (Ouch!) but ended up birthing modern Astronomy as we currently know it (Yay!).
It is this taboo material of High Strangeness, only ushered in hushed tones among trusted friends or fellow experiencers behind closed doors, that Mike Clelland was compelled to deepdive into with his blog ten years ago, not even knowing if he would ever strike bottom… or hold his breath long enough.
I’m not exactly sure when I started following Hidden Experience, but I know exactly how I became one of its regular followers: Greg Bishop, who is one of my best friends and mentors in the UFO field, wrote about Mike on the now defunct website UFO Mystic, where he was one of the contributors along with Nick Redfern. Greg was very close to the late Mac Tonnies –who serendipitously found Mike’s journal entries almost from the beginning– so it’s easy to conclude Mac was the one who enthusiastically advised Greg to check this new blog out. Greg recently told me that he liked Mike’s content from the start, because it was “firmly in the Strieber tradition.”
As an avid reader and commenter in UFO Mystic and other paranormal sites, I followed Greg’s recommendation to visit Hidden Experience, and found out he was right: Mike was following Whitley Strieber’s mantra of ‘living with the uncertainty’ of what had happened to him, and refusing to simply accept the narratives imposed by investigators like Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs. I confess Mike’s strict agnosticism towards his own story was at times frustrating, and I’m sure I’m not the only online reader who fantasized about giving that big, bald head of his a good slap while yelling “snap out of it and just admit it already!!” –I guess the Universe did the same in the end, using owls instead– yet in retrospect I’m so ever thankful he soldiered on with his approach, and also that to this day he still finds the terms ‘abductee’ and ‘experiencer’ as incapable to fully encapsulate the totality of what he’s been going through, as a glass of water is an ill-suited representation of the ocean.
But there was also something else, which I still can’t put my finger on, that made Mike’s stories so compelling to me on a personal level. Perhaps it was the way the disarming honesty about his own doubts, and the willing to share his life with such openness on a public space –to the point that ‘hidden experience’ almost seemed like an oxymoron, because this dude was laying it ALL exposed. Major cojones, señor!– or perhaps because the central theme behind his blog posts wasn’t really UFOs but Synchronicities, and at the time I was starting to pay attention to the magical coincidences manifesting into my own life, which even seemed to have also been boosted by my increasing immersion into Cyberspace. Indeed, if the ancestral I-Ching should be better understood as an ‘uncertainty engine’ rather than a divinatory system, as was proposed by philosopher Will Buckingham on an Aeon essay published in 2013, then perhaps the World Wide Web should also be perceived as a living ‘synchronicity engine’ rather than an electronic communications network; an acknowledgment that would resonate with Dr. Jacques Vallee’s theories that ours is an associative Universe governed by Consciousness and Information, rather than a causative one governed by reductionist Physics.
Or maybe it was simply because Mike wasn’t pretending to have the answers to Life, the Universe and Everything, but merely chronicling his bizarre memories as faithfully as was humanly possible, offering an honest lens into the life of a person who was going through events that seemed masterfully designed to challenge his concept of Reality –in ways that were as both subtle as they were confounding– without claiming to have any sort of guidance to anyone who might be going through the same ordeal as he was, other than opening yourself completely to the mystery: the ‘anti-guru’, if you will. Certainly a breath of fresh air in a field in which looking for a leader is a big temptation (right, Dr. Steven?).
Whatever the case, I was *hooked* on Hidden Experience, baby! I checked on the blog every day to see if there was any updates (RSS was for N00bs) and also to comment and read the feedback left by other people –ah… the good ole days before Facebook killed the blog star. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who felt mysteriously drawn to Mike’s serialized saga, and the small flock of readers (see what I did there) eventually turned into legion after the Google oracle associated Hidden Experience as the go-to place to find “UFOs” + “Owls”. With Mike’s inclusion of wonderful artwork and maps to illustrate his posts, sometimes it felt as if we took part of a virtual 4D session of Dungeons & Dragons, and were all desperately trying to keep the paladin Sir Clelland safe from the claws of the demogorgon on his quest for the Grail –and yeah, sometimes we wanted to shove him into that creepy dark cave to see once and for all what was lurking inside.
Seriously though, what I really think was going on is that Mike’s intention of using his online journal as a self therapy tool not only was spot on, but was also working on us the readers as well. Hermeneutics is the branch of philosophy dealing with finding the ‘hidden’ meaning of things (the word itself is derived from Hermes, Greek god of secrets and expensive ties) and in the book The Super Natural, co written with Whitley Strieber, professor Jeffrey Kripal argues that the very act of interpreting a hidden symbol –say, an owl or a UFO– transforms the interpreter itself. The cypher becomes the catalyst. You see, if Carl Jung were alive today, I honestly believe that he too would have resorted to blogging instead of creating that mammoth illuminated manuscript called The Red Book to deal with his personal mental and spiritual crisis, because in the end that it’s probably what this is all about.
And just like I agree with Mike that synchronicities are the Universe’s method to make you stop and pay attention, I also suspect that when it comes to the paranormal nothing —NOTHING— occurs by mere chance. By that I mean you should probably ponder on the possibility that is no accident you happen to have this ebook on the electronic gadget of your choice right now, dear reader –listen, was that an owl that just hooted near your window right this moment?
Any psychology undergrad is familiar with Abraham Maslow’s pyramid of human motivation, which shows the primal ‘physiological’ needs at the base, and climbs up until it apexes with ‘Self-Actualization’ and the person’s need to realize their own potential. What few people know is that not long before he died Maslow revised his diagram, and on top of ‘Self-Actualization’ he included ‘Self-Transcendence’. Writing about it for the website Big Think, Robbie Berman explains that we can understand that final developmental step as “the need to see ourselves as part of a bigger universe, to develop the common priorities that can allow humankind to survive as a species.” We could also use a less pompous term and simply understand it as “having a sense of a mission,” just like Mike and others like him claim; in which case even someone who may be on the fence about his story could still see the positive benefits of his ongoing introspective examination.
Or maybe the urgency Mike felt when he started to type on his computer screen as a spur of the moment in March of 2009 had some deeper, ulterior motive that we are yet to fathom; in which case I’m only 73% joking when I say I hope that by writing this foreword Mike can put up a good word for me when the mothership lands.
Mexico City, March of 2019
Hidden Experience: 10 Years of Blogging (2009-2019) is now available in ebook and paperback format on Amazon. The audiobook version is coming soon as well, with Mike doing the recording –expect a captivating, Hispanic voice reading the foreword 😉