What Is A UFO?

There are many competing theories about the origins and nature of UFOs. For example, researchers Brad Steiger and Sherry Hansen Steiger have a list of seventeen theories at their website. In UFO: The Complete Sightings (1995) by Peter Brookesmith, there is a list of nine theories. Further, these theories are often categorized. In The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrial Encounters (2001) edited by Ronald D. Story, the subject is divided into “conventional (unintelligent)” and “unconventional (intelligent)” encounters.

Others use terms like “natural” versus “unnatural,” “material” versus “immaterial,” or “physical” versus “non-physical” to categorize, or break down, the UFO situation. Choose whatever terms feel best to you. Below is a simplified breakdown that gives three categories of UFO manifestation:

• External UFO theories suggest that UFOs are phenomena that originate outside of the human mind, whether physical, ethereal, or inter-dimensional.

• Internal UFO theories suggest that UFO phenomena originate within the human mind—that they are psychological, spiritual, and/or inter-dimensional.

• Internal/External UFO theories incorporate the first two categories into one, several of which offer inter-dimensional explanations.

Many of these theories can be interpreted as originating in one or more categories, depending on your viewpoint. For example, inter-dimensional phenomena can be described as external, internal, or internal/external, depending on your definition of the word—the objects can be physical and then morph into the ethereal, or vice versa. They may also be physical in one dimension, go through a wormhole or stargate (see chapter 6) and also be physical in this dimension. Or they may be ethereal in this dimension and in others. There’s really no limit to the possibilities.

I see this particular breakdown as helpful because it helps you visualize the various alleged dimensions and how a UFO may travel between them. It helps you imagine the many inter-dimensional theories quickly and easily, and to see the subtle differences between other dimensions that are perceivable internally, as well as ones allegedly proved by mathematicians to have originated externally. I like to imagine UFOs phasing from the ethereal to the physical worlds, or internal images from within manifesting—not just as external projections, holograms, and/or hallucinations—but as physical, 3D objects. For me, it’s part of the fun with this kind of research.

External Theories

The categorical breakdown, along with what I see as the most dominant theories, is listed below.

Extraterrestrial Space Craft

This theory suggests that UFOs are physical spacecraft built and operated by an intelligent species that is not indigenous to Earth. This is by far the most common, popular, and prevalent theory. A variation on this theme suggests that UFOs are inter-dimensional in the sense that they are physical craft in our dimension and can phase into and out of other dimensions, where they are still physical in the context of that dimension (see www.startinglinks.net/cydoniaufo/11.htm).

Terrestrial Craft: Alien-built vs. Manmade

Several researchers have theories describing UFOs as being from Earth. William R. Lyne finds that there is no evidence whatsoever to indicate that visitors from other planets have come to Earth for any reason. His book, Space Aliens from the Pentagon (1994), emphatically declares that all UFOs are physical craft made by humans using technology stolen from Nicola Tesla and smuggled to Germany before World War I. Other researchers hedge more toward the middle. For example, William S. Steinman in UFO Crash at Aztec (written with Wendelle C. Stevens, 1986, UFO Photo Archives) and Stanton Friedman, author of several books (see chapter 3), make the seemingly more rational case that some UFOs may be from other planets, while many others are no doubt manmade.

There is also a theory that claims that there is at least one advanced species indigenous to Earth—a species that has chosen to remain invisible to the “normal” world. In this scenario, these hypothetical beings manufacture physical, metallic UFOs. Some say they reside inside the Earth. Some say they are humans from the future of Earth. It may be that a combination of all four theories is true (see chapter 6).

Earthlights Hypothesis

First propounded in the 1970s by Paul Devereux, editor of the academic journal Time and Mind, this theory makes the case that tectonic stresses of various kinds in the Earth’s crust can, under the right conditions, manifest in strange and elusive light forms. Particular mineral deposits are thought to influence earthlights as well. Many promising UFO sightings, upon investigation, have turned out to be some kind of light form.

Devereux told me in a personal interview:

Earthlights seem to belong to the same family of phenomena as ball lightning and earthquake lights but can sometimes show distinguishing properties and behavior, such as unusual longevity. They are exotic energy forms, which, like plasmas, can seem metallic when seen in daylight. There is a polarity effect too, in that earthlights can occasionally appear pitch black as can ball lightning.

These lights are often reported in conjunction with the seismic activity of earthquakes and volcanoes and can apparently interact with the atmosphere. Researcher Michael Persinger has concluded that earthlights can generate electromagnetic fields that can trigger hallucinations in some witnesses. Devereux advises: “It is important not to be misinformed, which is something Ufology has suffered from for decades.” For more information on earthlights, see Earth Lights Revelation (1989) by Paul Devereux; Examining the Earthlight Theory: The Yakima UFO Microcosm (1990) by Greg Long; and UFOs and Ufology (1997) by Paul Devereux and Peter Brookesmith.

Indigenous Atmospheric Beings

Trevor James Constable developed this compelling theory after studying the work on or gone by energy pioneer Wilhelm Reich. He found that UFOs were “space creatures” and claimed to take infra-red photographs of the “plasma” beings regularly. For more information, see Constable’s classic works The Cosmic Pulse of Life (1977) and Sky Creatures (1978), as well as his work at www.trevorjamesconstable.com. (See also chapter 6.)

Aberrant Weather Phenomena

Water spouts, tornados, rogue waves, wind shears, rare cloud formations, and electromagnetic occurrences and interactions (including earthlights) are just some of the natural weather phenomena that may explain many UFO sightings.

Many Bermuda Triangle books have good anomalous weather information. See, for instance, The Fog: A Never Before Published Theory of the Bermuda Triangle Phenomena (2005) by Rob MacGregor and Bruce Gernon, and The Hurricane Hunters and Lost in the Bermuda Triangle (2007) by Tom Barnes. (See also chapter 4.)

Always check the local weather conditions at the time of any sighting or contact encounter, as well as before field excursions. You can find the information at www.acuweather.com and www.nws.noaa.gov.

Internal Theories

Internal theories require the investigator to look inward for confirmation, or denial, of any of these ideas. Although the urge will be there, the best investigators will not lie to themselves about their personal experiences and will be able to use them as a trusted reference during an investigation. Below you will find the main internal theories.

Psychological Phenomena

Whether or not a UFO originates from an external or an internal source, there is always some degree of internal, psychological impact—not just on the witness or contactee, but on society as well. Pioneering psychologist Carl G. Jung, during his communications with Major Donald Keyhoe (see chapter 2), proposed that UFO sightings may be the product of some type of mass hallucination and that they were worthy of further study (see Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky (1978)).

Consciousness researcher and explorer Terence McKenna also sees UFOs as “an idea complex emerging in the collective psyche,” but claims that UFOs were phenomenologically “real,” or real to the perceiver. He argues:

. . .psilocybin reveals an event at the end of history of such magnitude that it casts miniature reflections of itself back into time. These are the apocalyptic concrescences that haunt the historical continuum, igniting religions and various hysterias, and seeping ideas into highly-tuned nervous systems.

The Archaic Revival

For more information on this theory, see The Mind Parasites (1967) by Colin Wilson.

Until the present era of UFOs that began in 1947, sightings and contacts were often viewed through a religious lens, attracting Catholic priests to perform exorcisms and other rituals designed to rid a person of demons or other such nefarious entities. Carl Sagan speaks of this in his The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1997), as does Jacques Vallée in his Messages of Deception: UFO Contacts and Cults (2008).

In fact, it was Jacques Vallée who first introduced the idea that UFOs were either a type of evolutionary “control system,” or part of one. In his classic work, The Invisible College (1975), Vallée suggests that UFOs act as a way to shake up stale mass psychological patterns by triggering projections that foster new kinds of thinking—UFOs among them. He suggests a possible inter-dimensional aspect as well. Richard Harris explores this as well in his The UFO Phenomena and the Behavioral Scientist (1979).

Inter-dimensional Craft

It is hard to trace the origins of this idea because of the crossover with dream interpretation and traditional shamanic experiences. All three phenomena have been with humanity from the beginning of recorded history, and probably before. But “dream-like” states are reported in association with UFO sightings and abductions to such a degree that many subscribe to the theory that UFOs are ethereal, inter-dimensional phenomena that elude definitive description.

John Keel proposed that UFOs were “elemental intelligences” that he called “ultraterrestrials.” These are described as being akin to the types of entities communicated with during some traditional shamanic experiences. Another variation is Thomas A. Bearden’s supposition that the psychic stresses aroused in the dream state can manifest what are described as UFOs to a human consciousness. Jung might describe the end-result of these proposed “stresses” as a hallucination. This discussion is continued by John Keel in Martian Prophecies (1975), by Allen Greenfield in Secret Cipher of the UFOnauts (1994), and by Phillip Imbrogno in Inter-dimensional Universe: The New Science of UFOs, Paranormal Phenomena and Other-dimensional Beings (2008).

Spiritual Beings

The idea that the occupants of UFOs, and possibly the UFOs themselves, are spiritually advanced beings has grown steadily in the West as more and more contactees come forward with similar messages (see chapter 2). In fact, many indigenous cultures adhere to this belief, as demonstrated by Nancy Red Star in Star Ancestors (2000). Now deceased Flying Saucer Review editor Gordon Creighton held to the notion that UFOs were used as a disguise by certain spirit beings known as “djinns,” beings also described by Farah Yurdozu in her work (see chapter 3).

Orbs are also thought to be what are known as “Ascended Masters” (see chapter 5) who can take on spherical form and a variety of colors (see below). These ascended beings allegedly can also choose to activate their merkabas, or reflexive mental envelopes, which allows them to travel anywhere in the universe “outside of time.” The Book of Knowledge: The Keys of Enoch (1973) by J. J. and Desiree Hurtak is the prime source of this esoteric knowledge.

Internal/External Theories

Internal/external theories blur the lines between what we perceive inside and what we perceive outside of ourselves. How do we tell the difference? Key internal/external theories are listed below.

Evolutionary Control Systems

The physical aspect of Jacques Vallée’s “control system” is possibly some type of holographic projection technology that is used with the goal of either governmental psycho-sociological studies (like how to handle crowds, etc.), but may possibly be research into unknown natural phenomena as well, which implies other dimensions that are perceivable both internally and/or externally. While acknowledging both the physical and ethereal nature of many reported UFOs, Vallée takes the position that the subject warrants serious scientific scrutiny and should be studied from both perspectives.

Fred Beckman and Price Williams of UCLA propose that Vallée’s computer-detected UFO activity patterns resemble the kind of planned reinforcement schedule commonly used in the process of training, iroically reinforcing Vallée’s control-system theory (see chapter 3). He believes that UFOs are one of the means by which the concepts of man are organized. It is not fully known, however, who or what is doing the controlling.

Inter-dimensional Craft

These are physical craft with the capability of traversing dimensions. Several individuals, like James Gilliland, maintain that some of these craft can phase in and out of our reality and are both physical and ethereal at the same time. The technology here is apparently so advanced that these beings/crafts can move about successfully in the dream state, as well as in the “waking” world.

Because ETs can allegedly move through the dream state with such ease, it is thought that they normally operate at or around the Delta (1.5–4 Hz) or Theta (5–8 Hz) brain-wave frequencies (the frequencies of deep sleep and drowsiness, respectively) and rarely enter into the Alpha (9–14 Hz) or Beta (15–40 Hz) ranges (the frequencies of being alert and highly alert). (“Hz” stands for Hertz and refers to cycles per second.) See Cosmic Deception: Let the Citizen Beware by Stephen Greer (2002) and Becoming Gods: A Reunion with Source and Becoming Gods 2 (1996 and 1997 respectively) by James Gilliland for an analysis of this assumption.


Merkabas allegedly represent the highest achievement in consciousness expansion and expression. When individuals activate their merkabas, they unlock a latent part of human consciousness. It’s like having your own universe. The shape of this “light body” looks similar to what many believe is the classic saucer shape of a UFO. J. J. Hurtak says that, once activated, an Ascended Master can physically travel “anywhere in God’s Creation,” literally “outside of time” and to no physical detriment.

The merkaba originates from thoughts within, yet manifests in the physical, 3D world. The Crystal Links website describes them thus:

[It] is the divine light vehicle allegedly used by ascended masters to connect with and reach those in tune with the higher realms. “Mer” means light. “Ka” means spirit. “Ba” means body. Mer-ka-ba means the spirit/body surrounded by counter-rotating fields of light, (wheels within wheels), spirals of energy as in DNA, which transports spirit/body from one dimension to another.


Orbs became a subject of interest in the mid 1990s. These mysterious entities are considered by many to be a spherical form of spiritual consciousness, possibly Ascended Masters. They appear to be attracted to loving, often feminine, energy and have been photographed extensively. They can appear on their own, but others claim to be able to manifest these “beings” through intention, prayer, and/or ritual (see chapter 5).

Skeptics claim that they are merely light-refraction effects from a camera’s lens. But there are many photographs in existence that easily make the case that not all “spots” on a piece of film stem from light refraction. Orbs are also photographed in association with near-death experiences (NDEs). But are they external ethereal phenomena or internal, possibly hallucinogenic, phenomena? Or both? For more information on orbs, see Rickard and Kelly, Photographs of the Unknown (1980).

UFO Shapes

If merkabas have a distinctly saucer-on-saucer shape, and orbs are typically spherical, is it possible to glean any information from the shape of a UFO?

From a purely quantitative information-gathering approach, documenting and categorizing what may appear to be simple, mundane shapes can have dramatic results when cross-referenced with other sightings. By cross-referencing abduction cases, for example, researcher Wendelle C. Stevens has found that there may be a globally orchestrated effort to contact humanity by a specific race of beings thought to come from the Reticulan star system. Comparing the shapes of the craft reported enabled Stevens to find other similarities, leading to his startling conclusion (see chapter 2).

NASA physicist Alan Holt believes, as does William R. Lyne, that the shape of an alleged craft is important for other reasons.

I think the shape of the spacecraft can be quite important. Elliptical or saucer-shaped would be the shapes I’d start out with. I hate to use those words because of the connotations. But what you’re trying to do with the artificial energy pattern is overwhelm the natural mass energy pattern and exist in the material of the spacecraft itself. So saucer is probably best. I don’t think it is an accident that the UFO phenomena we see are, by and large, saucer-shaped.

Connie Stewart, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, June 5, 1980

Others, like Ruben Uriarte, Director of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) in northern California, think that basic shapes help a witness to describe something for which they may have no prior frame of reference. Uriarte says:

The myth is that very few people have seen a UFO. Yet, according to a Roper Poll conducted in 2002 for the SciFi Channel [now Syfy], one in seven Americans say they or someone they know has had an experience involving a UFO. So in reality, almost 15 percent of the US population claims to have seen one. And of those, 14 percent say they have had, or know someone who has had, at least one Close Encounter of either the

First through Third Kind [see Appendix C]. When this happens, people try to explaintheir sighting experience through their own perception and reality. And without anything else in their past with which to help them describe what they saw, basic shapes become the basis by which a witness can reconstruct their memory to the best of their ability. MUFON has twenty-three categories describing the objects ranging from saucers, triangles, cigar shapes, boomerang and egg shapes to categories designated as unknown or other. The goal is to capture the image through the witness’s eyes as possible evidence of a visitation from another world.

Ruben Uriarte, Director of MUFON in northern California, personal interview

Other shapes used by witnesses to describe what they have seen include bells, hats, giant mother ships of various shapes and sizes, globes, arrowheads, teardrops, dumbbells, rhomboids, cylinders, bowls, footballs, cones, pyramids, and darts. In fact, almost every conceivable shape has been reported.

Excerpted from A UFO Hunter’s Guide: Sightings, Abductions, Hot Spots, Conspiracies, Coverups, The Identified and Unidentified, and More by Bret Lueder. Reprinted with permission of Red Wheel Weiser. Available at any bookstore or through the publisher at orders@redwheelweiser.com or 1-800-423-7087.

Bret Lueder is a journalist, author, and filmmaker. He has published numerous articles on music, spirituality, and UFO’s in the Chico News & Review, Magical Blend Magazine and UFO Magazine, among others. He lives in Chico, California. Visit him at www.bretlueder.com or www.esotericguide.com.

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12 Comments on "What Is A UFO?"

  1. A U.F.O. is simply any unidentified flying object, i.e., any thing that is flying, and we don’t know what it is. It’s rather simple. The term, itself, does not necessary imply anything at all to do with extraterrestrials; although, indeed, many UFO are claimed by many to be ET craft.  The thing is, if we identify something as an ET craft, it is no longer a UFO, because we’ve identified it.

    • God, “The Invisibles” is timeless.  Thanks for the reminder.  Grant definitely helps comprehend this phenomena from the inside out and back again.

    • Matt Staggs | Aug 26, 2012 at 10:07 pm |

       I’m a big fan of all of the above. Not sure if you caught the podcast where I interviewed one of John A. Keel’s old friends. Love that guy.

  2. They forgot one classification; The Uranus.

  3. It’s odd to me that so many “rational” “scientists” still say that UFOs can’t be from other planets because of the distance, as if there couldn’t be ways to travel from distant planets other than by traditional methods we are (only) capable of. And there are certainly a multitude of types and origins for the explainable things seen and experienced.

  4. Really good article imo, very interesting and easy to understand. Especially the beings in the atmosphere theory, I’d never considered that! Loads of good links for further investigation too, UFOs seems to be such a sprawling subject it’s tough to know where to even begin.


    Iran’s New AlliancesWake-up call
    for America. Iran took down your “secret” armed spy drone
    with ease, even let you see it all in one piece, still have it, most
    certainly have reverse engineered it, yet you persist in flogging
    F-35’s  (obsolete 30 years ago!) from an age gone by, an age of WWII
    styled bravado laced, romantic “Dog Fights” with manned
    craft to your “friends” in NATO, even as you lose unmanned
    drones to the Asian Alliances forces? Who destroyed North Korea’s
    rocket on its base? What force did they use? What do “They”
    (possibly Chinese/Russian collaborations) know that America does not
    know? This “UFO” is definitely not from “Alien – Extra
    Terrestrial” sources – most likely from the new Pan Eurasian
    Alliances, and similar sightings that remain invisible to American
    radars, all over the U.S.A. are from the Pan Eurasian Alliance, fly
    freely all over the world, likely LFTR-Thorium reactor powered or
    better, and will dominate in a fashion other than WWII confrontations
    as America is so well prepared to fight. Witness the ‘Upper Hand”
    China holds over the U.S. Dollar – China can “dump” U.S.
    ‘paper” and destroy the U .S. Dollar at will! BUT: they prefer
    to pick the bones of the living carcass of America to the very end,
    and allow her to die on her own? Look to the skies, American –
    believe the sightings, do not believe the extra terrestrial cover-up
    stories. Understand that while your engineers played foot ball, Asian
    students dissected Physics, Chemistry, Science, and won big time!
    American scientists, ignorant, haughty, and huberistic in their
    “Ivory Towers” cannot even understand the papers written in
    Mandarin that express a new scientific reality.

    • Matt Staggs | Aug 26, 2012 at 7:25 pm |

      I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist
      indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist
      conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.

    • Calypso_1 | Aug 26, 2012 at 9:11 pm |

      Those papers in Mandarin ‘we’ don’t understand are usually written in Math, which I suspect you don’t understand. 

    • coiled embrace | Aug 26, 2012 at 11:30 pm |


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