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Before They Were UFOs
October 21, 2008 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Before They Were UFOs, back when the only flying objects were arrows, birds, and clouds, how did people describe them?

[via a comment by Zed_Lopez]
posted by not_on_display (52 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Chariots of the Gods!
posted by Artw at 12:11 PM on October 21, 2008


Hallucinations.
posted by LarryC at 12:24 PM on October 21, 2008


Mass-insanity
posted by Thorzdad at 12:26 PM on October 21, 2008


What were trailer parks called before they were trailer parks?
posted by bondcliff at 12:28 PM on October 21, 2008


Gypsey encampments.
posted by Artw at 12:33 PM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


I like the descriptions from the Wiki. Also interesting to learn the etymology of "Foo fighters".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:40 PM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


My goodness, this interweb has something for everyone!
posted by DenOfSizer at 12:46 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


What did people fashion protective mindgear out of before there was aluminum foil?
posted by not_on_display at 12:50 PM on October 21, 2008


Cold iron
posted by Artw at 12:53 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


7 out of 9 comments merit snark classification level 1. Snark proportionality levels dangerously low. Recommendation: More snark.
posted by lyam at 1:00 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Occam's Razor is Cold Iron.

Example: Remember that British guy from last week? It couldn't be that the British military was testing something on one of their own pilots, could it? Isn't that more likely than, say, a omnipotent alien superpower that likes to buzz our planet?

I'd like a mouse made out of cold iron.
posted by ewkpates at 1:03 PM on October 21, 2008


Mystery airships.
posted by daniel_charms at 1:12 PM on October 21, 2008


*points*
Ugh! Ugh ugh ugh! Uuuuugggghhhhh!!
posted by Smedleyman at 1:20 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


And "close" encounters were angels or faeries.

(this is an odd post. also: where did the last hour go, and where are my clothes?)
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:21 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Earliest Gods, and then later on God. A bit later UFOs. Now anomalies. Tomorrow, Gods.
posted by Elmore at 1:23 PM on October 21, 2008


For the LAST time: they're not UFOs.

They're Time Travellers.

From the past
posted by mazola at 1:27 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


(Y’know, if you mentally switch Sir Walter Scott for Hunter S. Thompson as the voice in your head for “Redgauntlet” it works pretty well some places - “Your wife's a witch, man; you should nail a horse-shoe on your chamber-door.” etc - “ ‘What has your family done, sir, thus to draw down the vengeance of Heaven on every branch of it, through so many ages?’”)
posted by Smedleyman at 1:31 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Not sure I get it . . . as soon as you have the concept of stars as other, distant places, and the knowledge of what boats are, you've got all the mental equipment to imagine spaceships.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 1:36 PM on October 21, 2008


Where's that chart showing how people describe alien visitors, going back to the mid-1800s IIRC?
posted by BaxterG4 at 1:52 PM on October 21, 2008




Oh, aliens. Before they were Kelly-Hopkinsville Goblins, what did we call them?

A: Great Horned Owls.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:08 PM on October 21, 2008


What did people fashion protective mindgear out of before there was aluminum foil?

The Inquisition.
posted by johnj at 2:15 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love how everybody always describes abductions in this sexual way. But then look back and you have the incubus and sucubus, before little green men were probing us the bad spirits were doing it too!

Oh and another thing, assuming our visitors from other planets are completely different species, why would they look at us and think, "I want to probe that!" (baw chika wow wow). I think we can generally assume that sexiness is species specific for most well rounded individuals.

Oh, but wait, the gods we have created always want to nail us too! (Or in the case of Christianity, the god sends some peon to tell you you've been nailed and you didn't even know!)

So in summation: we're fucked up and projecting our fear of sexuality and fear of the unknown.

And now I think I will duck my head for fear of the what comments may follow.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 3:17 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


In spite of people laughing at this topic I'm interested in it. Thanks for the post not_on_display. Those are marvelous descriptions:

In 1902
innumerable little lights gleaming, ranged step-fashion over one another; and they shone so brilliantly that the eye was dazzled. But what still more confused the sight was, that they did not keep still, but jumped about here and there, as well as downwards from above as vice versa, and in every direction. The greater part of them, however, remained stationary, and beamed on.


In 1870
a large oval light, stationary. It appeared to be composed of a large number of irregularly shaped, differently sized stars, yet so closely packed as to form one light, yet giving the whole a sort of dappled appearance.

In 1865
It appeared like a serpent, of symmetrical form, and of such brightness as to impress me with the idea of solidity: it was coiled up.

In 1784
a brilliant tremulous light appeared to the N.W. by N.

At first it seemed stationary, but soon burst from its position, and took its course to the S.E. by E. passing directly over their heads with a buzzing noise, at the height of sixty yards. Its tail seemed to be twenty-four or thirty feet in length. At last it divided into several glowing balls of fire. Two explosions were then heard. The light was the most vivid the Doctor had ever seen. The horses on which they rode shrunk with fear, and the utmost consternation appeared in the countenances of several people whom they met on the road.


I love that, "utmost consternation". Such a good phrase.

One site I came across, in doing that post on Indian royalty, suggests that people described UFOs in pictures from ancient times on: Some examples.

UFO Pictures 1870-1959

This video is amusing: UFO crash site allegedly filmed by the Russian KGB during March of 1969 in the Sverdlovsk region of Russia.
posted by nickyskye at 3:23 PM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Sorry, that was off topic.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 3:25 PM on October 21, 2008


I've posted this here before, but I highly recommend Watch the Skies: A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth. It delves into this "pre-UFO" timeframe quite a bit, and makes some interesting observations about how the UFO myth has changed over time in reaction to memes in popular culture (for example, how the very concept of "alien flying saucers that are concerned about our nuclear weapons programs" was apparently created whole by a single pulp fiction writer in the 1940s).
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:34 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love how everybody always describes abductions in this sexual way. But then look back and you have the incubus and sucubus, before little green men were probing us the bad spirits were doing it too!

Or the night hag.

Sleep paralysis + silly human peccadillos = Demons! Aliens! Witches! Aiyeeee!
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:37 PM on October 21, 2008


nice post, not_on_display - I find this to be a fascinating phenomenon as well (both scientifically as well as culturally)

I'm surprised that blog doesn't mention Jacques Vallée - he was particularly interested in pre-modern descriptions of anomalous aerial phenomena for understanding the meaning & nature of contemporary UFO sightings, and was one of the first theorists to draw parallels between them & earlier supernatural accounts - his Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers is worth checking out - here's an excerpt (download the whole thing as a pdf file here)

another good book along similar lines is Angels & Aliens: UFOs & the Mythic Imagination by Keith Thompson

and, of course, there's always good ol' Charles Fort & his Book of the Damned
posted by jammy at 4:03 PM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Ezekiel saw two wheels a-rolling
Way in the the middle of the air
A wheel within a wheel a-rolling
Way in the middle of the air.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:19 PM on October 21, 2008


Don't forget the painting "The Madonna with Saint Giovannino".

jammy, I read Angels & Aliens and it's fascinating. Much like Jacques Vallee, Thompson doesn't debunk or dismiss UFO reports, but views them in the context of a ongoing mythology. As in, in mythology everyone has a role to play--believer, debunker, authority figure, trickster, etc--and UFOs are a continuation of ancient myth into modern times. But at the same time he keeps an open mind about what these sightings and encounters could be. Very good book.
posted by zardoz at 4:53 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wonder a little about some of these "recovered memories" and diaper changes - think about it, you're helpless, you're lying on your back, an indistinct figure is looming over you and messing with your nether-regions.
posted by Artw at 5:10 PM on October 21, 2008


Metafilter: where did the last hour go, and where are my clothes?
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:20 PM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Metfilter: an indistinct figure looming over and messing with your nether-regions
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 5:38 PM on October 21, 2008


Ever since Project Bluebook (and related TV Show Project UFO which I swear was called Project Bluebook also) I've always had a ken for UFO stories. I like this posting from March.
Next night, however, at the same hour, the same scene was repeated in all its circumstances: the meteor descended, the dog howled, the owl whopped, the cock crew. On the following morning the shipmaster visited the miller's, and, curious to ascertain how the cottage would fare when the cock was away, he purchased the bird; and, sailing from the bay before nightfall, did not return until about a month after.
heh heh, cock
posted by jessamyn at 6:08 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Don't forget the painting "The Madonna with Saint Giovannino".

Skeptic Ben Radford would call this kind of interpretation a "Bangles Fallacy".
posted by Tube at 6:30 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think it's pretty interesting too. I usually dismiss these kinds of things quickly, but when I was doing some research for a post here on prehistoric cave paintings, I came across this and this (70,000 B.C.) and this (10,000 B.C.) and this (6000 B.C.) from here. Wandjina petroglyphs from Kimberley, Australia, about 5,000 years old: 1 | 2 | 3 . A disk shaped object is shining beams of light down on John the Baptist and Jesus - Fitzwilliam Musuem, Cambridge, England - Painted in 1710 by Flemish artist Aert De Gelder. I've always wondered about the Ezekiel description also. At the very least, it seemed he was describing a gyroscope which, I'm guessing, hadn't been invented yet:
16:The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.

17:When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went.

18:As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four.

19:And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up.

20:Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.
This past summer, I took a remedial class in algebra. I was trying to find some online math tutoring sites and stumbled on this. the Sumerians developed math to a fairly sophisticated degree long before the Egyptians, centuries before them. They counted with a base-60 system, and we use that system to this day, in high-level science applications, and even a way that most of us hardly notice: telling time.

The number 60 has twelve factors, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30, 60, of which 2, 3, and 5 are prime. With so many factors, many simple fractions of sexagesimal numbers are simple. For example, an hour can be divided evenly into segments of any of twelve lengths: 60 minutes, 30 minutes, 20 minutes, etc. 60 is the smallest number divisible by every number from 1 to 6.

The Mayan "Great Cycle" of 1,872,000 days, ( 5125 years), accounts for the earth's travels through our galaxy. It takes that amount of time for the earth to go through one complete "orbit" around the center of the Milky Way. There is no evidence that the Sumerians were as sophisticated as the Mayans in astronomy, but even though base-60 only works through 24 hours and then starts over again (can't be used in our 365 day year), from a larger perspective (our trip through the galaxy), it does. 1,872,000 days divided by 60 = exactly 31,200. How could they have possibly known that, or is it just coincidence or a typical "weirdness" of mathematics/nature?

Of course, none of these things prove anything, but I think it's interesting. On the other hand, I'm the kind of guy who likes reading short stories and novels.

mazola's Time Traveller idea is appealling.
posted by sluglicker at 6:51 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Also worth checking out Patrick Harpur's "Daemonic Reality" and Magic and Alexandra David-Neel's "Magic and Mystery in Tibet" (neat Tim Boucher blog commentary on the latter, and a previously for that last link).
posted by christopherious at 7:28 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Er, that should have read "Also worth checking out Patrick Harpur's 'Daemonic Reality' and Alexandra David-Neel's 'Magic and Mystery in Tibet'".
posted by christopherious at 7:29 PM on October 21, 2008


Thanks to you all for digging up more cool stuff in this vein! I was particularly struck by the quote by Colin Wilson on the Charles Fort wiki page that jammy linked to, summarizing Fort's take on skeptics v believers: "People with a psychological need to believe in marvels are no more prejudiced and gullible than people with a psychological need not to believe in marvels."

Personally, I can see both sides in different cases. Some stories (abduction stories in particular) I take as mythic types of things passed from person to person; almost like cultural wishes. Some I think are interesting and somewhat believable, especially when removed from the "UFO culture," e.g. the main link on this FPP.

But all of them fascinate me as stories in and of themselves, just as much as Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind and sci-fi fascinated me as a child (and as an adult).

Doot-dee-doot, DOOT TOOT
, y'all!
posted by not_on_display at 7:36 PM on October 21, 2008


heh heh, cock

You naughty taughty you! *a bit envious
posted by nickyskye at 8:12 PM on October 21, 2008


Before They Were UFOs, back when the only flying objects were arrows, birds, and clouds, how did people describe them?

Pie plates. Or, reflections in the atmosphere.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 8:28 PM on October 21, 2008


AsYouKnow Bob: Pie plates. Or, reflections in the atmosphere.

C'mon, go with me here. Further back than photographs of thrown pie plates, further back than knowledge of what the atmosphere consisted of. But not as far back as Smedleyman's comment hints at. Somewhere in between.

jessamyn: heh heh, cock

Don't make me go all boyzone on ya! [making the "memail me" sign, wink wink.]

sluglicker: The number 60...

And hey, this was my 60th FPP! Conspiracy? I think maybe! THERE IS NO CABAL. HAPPY CAPS LOCK DAY. ENJOY THE REST OF YOURR METAFILTERS. TAHT IS ALL.
posted by not_on_display at 9:55 PM on October 21, 2008


Sorry, that was off topic.

No it wasn't. It was an insightful comment.
(your apology belies your avatar)
posted by sluglicker at 9:55 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


And hey, this was my 60th FPP!

Dude!!!
posted by sluglicker at 10:27 PM on October 21, 2008


Sluglicker is my BFF!
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 10:38 PM on October 21, 2008


baw chicka waw waw!
posted by not_on_display at 11:02 PM on October 21, 2008


...but yeah, I didn't see it as off-topic or derailing.

I'm tempted to do a little digging around and see what's out there in terms of pre-UFO, but relatively recent, descriptions of abductions. I don't think all abduction stories are sexual in nature (are they?) but it makes me curious: besides incubus, succubus... was there a "Wewantyoutovisitourplanettubus" giving people joyrides in their daddy's [brand name of hyperdrive warpship here]?

I'm going to bed, though.
posted by not_on_display at 11:12 PM on October 21, 2008


mazola's Time Traveller idea is appealling.

Agreed. If we could send a flying TV camera back in time, we would do it in a heartbeat. Time frame control would include spatial control as well, making things like perceived instantaneous acceleration and right angle turns simple. It also explains the lack of physical evidence, which out future selves could not allow.

Do I actually believe this? No. It is an excercise that covers many of the elements of reported sightings.

People have been seeing inexplicable stuff flying around for a long time. Those that think this doesn't happen at all are just as deluded as the ones who think the intergalactic aliens are coming to save us. We just don't know what is behind these sightings, but that doesn't mean we should write them off as fantasy. Trying to understand is better than pretending it doesn't exist.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 6:35 AM on October 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


From Australian UFOs Through the Window of Time, about aboriginal myths/reports of abduction-type happenings:
Northern Territory tribespeople described the Chic-ah-bunnah as a gigantic shining silver bird with a long, hideous nose and huge wings who came to earth emitting flames from his behind. Landing somewhere far to the west of Tennant Creek, the frightening monster captured a number of tribespeople and flew away with them never to return.
Also,
One tale concerned a great mountain that emerged from the Sky World to land deep in the ‘Cape’ scrub. Some Aboriginal men and women are said to have stepped onto it and were flown away to the Sky World never to be seen again. Other tribespeople who were the victims of these prehistoric ‘alien abductions’ are said to have been taken to lands floating in the sky, forest lands full of game, lands with mountains, here they spend unknown lengths of time before their friendly abductors return them to their own world.
Neat-o!
posted by not_on_display at 8:59 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's an amazing find From Australian UFOs Through the Window of Time not_on_display. Seconding your neat-o!
posted by nickyskye at 10:04 AM on October 22, 2008


Here's an odd addition to this thread. Last night over London there was a large pink cloud. Have a look, quite cool.
posted by nickyskye at 4:51 PM on October 22, 2008


That was The Pink Superhero being paged to save the day. (She's an alien, too; shhhh!)
posted by not_on_display at 4:39 AM on October 23, 2008


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