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Foiled Again: Aluminum and UFOs

Like many, I have been interested in UFOs since childhood. My mother used to take my sister and me to Dean's Books, a used bookstore in a fairly seedy part of Topeka, Kansas, where I grew up, and used to let us buy whatever and however many books we wanted. My sister was a precocious young reader and came out with massive stacks of real fiction with tattered covers and foxed pages; I usually came out with only a few paranormal-oriented findings, and-- if I was very lucky--a UFO book I had not yet read.

And, in over 30 years of reading, contemplating, and now, writing about UFOs, the quote that struck me as the most apt and intriguing, is maybe not surprisingly, from J. Allen Hynek. In The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry he writes, "The part we ignore…may contain the clue to the whole subject." This has stuck with me more than any other sentiment, and I believe may ultimately prove to be one of the truest things ever said about the UFO mystery.

Clearly though, after 60 years of contemplation, experience, and investigation, the idea that something big about UFOs has been ignored, neglected, or overlooked seems unlikely. But, there are little things that might not have received as much attention as larger dynamics. Looking at the UFO mythos holistically, and specifically taking the narratives into consideration, lots of commonalities appear in the rhetoric: the presence of plants, certain animals, and hieroglyphs, to name just a few.

Aluminum is also a common element in UFO narratives. It figures prominently in the Roswell story; the debris is described by witnesses as a very thin metal being similar to aluminum foil, and of course there is the famous newspaper photo of Jesse Marcel kneeling, holding the dead, foily weather balloon. Searching Google books, I found many examples of UFOs being described as aluminum like. There's even an example of an aluminum-like device used by aliens for human sperm extraction in the hybrid project.

Even though it figures within the "real" stories and experiences, aluminum is also used as somewhat of a discrediting device within the UFO realm. There's the story* of a hoax in which the Air Force was duped by "a three foot toy of aluminum foil." Aluminum seems to be used to signify the ideas of cheap, flimsy, shoddy, irrelevant, and man-made.

And of course, there is the iconic foil hat, which has become a culture-wide signifier for crazy and/or paranoid alien/UFO/conspiracy believers. Anyone who saw the film Signs in the theatre with a large audience will recall the huge outburst of laughter as soon as Joaquin Phoenix appears with his aluminum hat. Har, har, har. Everybody knew what it meant—aluminum is codified.

When I first started thinking of writing about this, I just had a feeling there was going to be a "reason" the particular metal aluminum would be woven through the UFO landscape. Because, everything to do with UFOs seems particularly loaded with meaning, and folds back onto itself. As I suspected, aluminum is no exception.

Aluminum is fairly ubiquitous; it is the most abundant metallic element in the earth's crust, but is found only in combined formations. It can be seen as somewhat symbolic of the earth itself. But, because it doesn't exist naturally alone, it is somewhat a product of alchemy, scientific manipulation, progress, modernity, industrialization, etc. It is a product of human impact on and control over nature. It is earth-meets-man, a kind of hybrid in reverse; it's a border thing in between realms—aluminum is liminal.

When I began searching around the internet for ideas about the history and social/historical significance of aluminum, I was wowed by the story of Hans Christian Oersted, the Danish physicist who first extracted the metal to exist on its own, in 1825.

There's quite a little gem of reflexivity here. Is it surprising that the man who first produced aluminum, the metal that is so closely tied to UFO craft, and especially our premiere case of the Roswell incident, actually penned a long lyric poem entitled Luftskibet, translated as Airship and alternately, Balloon?

He was alluding to the balloon excursions of early 19th century, of course, not that century's later actual mystery airships or UFOs, but it's an interesting connection—aside from the word "airship" literally referring to what we now consider to be possible UFOs in the Victorian era, the word "balloon" is intimately woven into the Roswell story and even beyond in ongoing UFO dialogue—that infamous weather balloon.

Browsing through Oersted's book of lectures entitled The Soul in Nature (in addition to being a physicist, Oersted was a physician, chemist, poet, and metaphysical philosopher) I found that he actually even makes an argument in favor of the existence of aliens! In his argument, he counters what "…has lately been asserted, that reasonable creatures exist exclusively on our own earth: and that, with the exception of man, none do, or ever have existed, throughout the universe of being." (p. 52)

Speaking in what seem to be Hermetic terms, he makes a very "as above, so below" case about the nature of the universe—there are other suns like ours, other planets, each going through cycles and periods of development, all requiring successions of intelligences and cycles and whatnot, like on our own planet. He writes:

...our entire solar system has developed itself in a series of natural periods similar to the earth, and that each planet must still submit to a succession of creative transformations; consequently, we may infer that they have all had a succession of created beings, with such variations only as the different natural conditions of each must induce… Our system is, indeed, but a small part of a far higher system, with which it has been developed under similar laws… The same fundamental idea of the globe and of man must be repeated in each…(p.53)

According to Oersted's Wikipedia entry, he is the father of the modern "thought experiment," and also the discoverer of electromagnetism, both of which have a prominent place in science and occultism. Oersted seems to be quite a liminal figure.

So, what does this prove about UFOs? Nothing that we already didn't know—that, like is often said, investigation and questions, however deep or superficial, nuts-and-boltsy or philosophical, only lead to more of the same, and ultimately, perhaps, that Mystery itself may be what is actually being represented by the UFO, rather than the reverse.

Sources and further reading:

Hans Christian Oersted’s book, The Soul of Nature, is available as a free download at Google books. .
Hans Christian Oersted on Wikipedia
*Secret Life: Firsthand Documented Accounts of UFO Abduction, David M. Jacobs, p.31

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