Outer Phenomenon and Inner Journey – A Review of David Halperin’s Journal of a UFO Investigator

Posted in > BLACK CADILLAC REVIEW by David on February 2, 2019

This review was originally published in 2011 through The Revealer, New York University’s online journal of religion and media.

Riddles chased mysteries, were chased by enigmas, around and around my brain.

–from Journal of a UFO Investigator (Viking Press, 2011)

On June 24, 1947 the U.S. Air Force pilot Kenneth Arnold witnessed a series of angular, wedge shaped objects skipping like saucers across the sky near his plane. Although he described them as angular or wedge-shaped, from his statements about “a pie tin cut in half” the news reports gleaned the word “Flying Saucer.” The media’s misrepresentation of his description stuck, defining the iconic image of the UFO for decades to come.

Journal-of-a-UFO-InvestigatorAmbiguity from eye witness accounts, media misrepresentations, ‘expert’ analysis, and the phenomenon itself, pervades UFO culture at every level.  On this unstable ground David Halperin builds his debut novel, Journal of a UFO Investigator, weaving the tale of young Danny Shapiro as he experiences alienation and personal growth inside the shifting realities of 1960’s UFO research and its heretical place in the cultural struggles of the mid- to late-20th century.

As a noted religion scholar specializing in traditions of heavenly ascent and the heretical messiah Sabbatai Zevi, Halperin may seem like an unlikely candidate for authoring a debut novel about UFOlogy. In truth, however, his expertise allows him to uncover some of the more perplexing and valuable aspects of the UFO narrative, and show how even at its most flimsy, the cultural phenomenon surrounding UFOs can provide real insights into the human condition.

UFO encounters, like apparitions of the Virgin Mary, have in themselves very little effect on the culture at large until they become woven into the fabric of our shared experience. The event itself is usually deeply subjective and, if any outward effect is seen, the changes they produce in the culture are based on fueling individual action and response.  While the Virgin Mary often unites Catholic communities with her appearance, alienation soon follows anyone whose experiences move outside of cultural norms. UFO’s don’t share the orthodox dignity of Marian visions.

Halperin skillfully develops the complex interplay of experience, belief and expression that comes from investigating the unknown against a backdrop of Cold War nuclear fears and the dramatic social changes of the 60’s. As a religion scholar Halperin finds UFOs as harbingers of mystery and personal transformation.

Although there are passing allusions and nods toward genre tropes, this isn’t a book about a super team of UFOlogists encountering astounding alien life, there’s no rogue intelligence agents on the hunt for the truth against global conspiracies, no well funded establishment society dedicated to uncovering the secrets of nature, there is just a boy and his descent into the mystery of life.

At play here is Halperin’s understanding of spiritual traditions, specifically the traditions of divine ascent within esoteric Judaism. While most of us are familiar in some way with the nuts and bolts concept of UFOs as extraterrestrial air craft, there exists a much more varied study of the phenomenon in regards to transpersonal experience. Halperin’s skill is to take the most popularized outward expressions of UFOlogy, the hollow earth theories, contactee narratives, time travel, abduction phenomenon, and show their connections to much deeper, and more respected, traditional narratives of life, death and visionary experience.

These concepts provide insight into the real life phenomenon itself through their interplay in the narrative.  Danny’s journal and his investigations are spurred on by the literary influences in his life, the spurious Shaver mysteries published in Fate Magazine, Gray Barker’s dubious investigations of the ‘Men in Black,’ the early accounts of the Roswell incident, all set against his Jewish upbringing and an increasing interest in biblical studies. As his focus shifts from UFOlogy to the Bible, so too does his interpretations of the strange experiences he relates.

These influences affect how his creative imagination encapsulates the very real emotional pain he faces through his dying mother, and the self effacing alienation of growing up Jewish in the Anglicized society of 1960’s America. In the mirror world of his journal, Daniel experiences a Dantean descent into hell with all the trappings of his UFOlogical career.  The novel presents a powerful, fictionalized exploration of the same psychological mythopoesis that occurs in real life encounters with strange phenomenon.

Halperin’s use of some of the most popularized and cartoonish aspects of UFOlogy to frame what is essentially Daniel’s initiation into life, allows the novel to address wider questions on the legitimacy of the UFO phenomenon itself. Serious studies such as Jung’s psychological analysis of the phenomenon, or Jacques Vallee’s methodical investigations, are left as unspoken influences allowing the narrative to develop a valuable philosophical meditation set against the most trivial aspects of the UFO culture.

Much can be learned from how we conscience the unknown. The Cold War framed UFOs against fears of advanced technology in the hands of enemy forces. As political negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States pressed on, and the possibility of space flight became a reality which altered the nature of international relations, UFO’s became a third party overseeing a globalized vision of humanity.

For some Evangelicals who address the phenomenon, UFOs are demonic entities signifying the End Times.  For some occultists and esotericists UFOs are transdimensional entities capable of being called up through ritual and intent. For psychologists they represent mass delusions and the power of suggestion.

In all cases the unknown nature of the phenomenon provides ground for ideological development. Something happens, an event is witnessed or experienced, either individually or within a group, and due to the inexplicable nature of its occurrence a potent narrative can emerge that channels all of the unconscious pressures latent in the participants’ lives.

When this process is put through the mass media the effects are much more pronounced. Halperin is well aware of this, and uses the novel to explore how something like the Shaver mysteries, a fictionalized account of subterranean demons called the Dero and their war with the Elder Gods that was published in Fate Magazine during the late 50’s and early 60’s as an ostensibly true tale, can lead to people perceiving real encounters with these beings.

Here one can sense his understanding of heretical movements coming to play. Halperin’s study of false Messianic movements gives him a wonderful understanding of how charismatic visionaries can lead mass movements with signs and wonders. The subtle application of this understanding of the UFO phenomenon, and the gentle respect for the heretic, allows the book to explore some of the more absurd aspects of UFOlogy while fostering an atmosphere of existential dread suitable to the reality of Danny’s emotional development.

It also allows Halperin to address the very real personal transmutation that can occur, even when the impetus for it is based on false assumptions. As a nexus for the interplay of fact and fiction, UFOlogy provides a very potent ground of study. Danny works through his hardest youthful trials in the inner world woven around his UFOlogical career. Life’s ever present pain, which finds no answers in his mundane existence, becomes the impetus for a fantastic quest in the phenomenal world of his imagination.

Halperin’s novel shows how understanding this relationship provides a way to move around the stalemated arguments of religious fundamentalism and atheism, by addressing the manifestation of central mystery that both science and religion seek to answer.  For him the essential struggle with our mortality and the mysteries of death provides a common ground between the paranormal, science and religion. In the imaginal interstices of the outer world and inner world we find the expression of this mystery, and it is this interstice that is often ignored by mainstream science and religion.

This is a novel about the power and emergence of new myths, and the growth of contemporary narratives around timeless phenomenon. It is also about our relationship with the mystery of death, and the constant, subtle reminder that our transience “will always be inside.” More than a mere fictional flight, Halperin has given us an interpretive methodology for approaching anomalous phenomenon, and a touching reflection on the painful rewards of awakening to the beauty of our mortality.

David Halperin’s website: https://www.davidhalperin.net

To read David Halperin’s “The Myth is the Mystery: Reflections on Annie Jacobsen’s Area 51,” posted at The Revealer, click here.

Conjuring Evil – The Political Dangers of Mixing PR and Possession


‘…for the myth to have real weight, it must rest on popular belief. To put it differently: once cannot simply project a myth to the outside even by the powerful modern material means; such an image will have no force unless it is already believed. The myth is contagious because beliefs are contagious.”

– Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, p. 247 (Vintage Books ed., 1973)



Ritual Romanum (Photo: Anthony Burgess Foundation)

Exorcism is in the news again with Father Gary Thomas, an exorcist assigned to the Archidocese of San Jose, bringing the 1st Amendment right to free speech to bear on the realm of spiritual warfare during a PR campaign highlighting the Archdiocese support of newly elected U.S. Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh.  Addressing this in a recent piece for The Global Catholic Review I outline some of the difficulties that arise when PR overshadows the delicate personal and spiritual vocation of the exorcist – as well as some of the difficulties that emerge due to the close relationship between exorcism and conjuration. These may seem like minor points – but the use of ‘spiritual warfare’ by political elements within the faith traditions cannot be overlooked – especially in the networked media environment of today’s world.

Read More: The Exorcist vs. Witches – Battling for the Soul of Justic Brett Kavanaugh (The Global Catholic Review)

Careless skepticism in the popular media obscures the raw power encapsulated within the mytho-poetic imagination of the human organism.  The ability to harness this power drives the missionary expansion of certain politicized sects within the larger faith traditions – it also empowers the demagogues of our contemporary age as they hijack popular mythology to the bitter ends of subversive statecraft.

1-i4bt7VGYEYIxcEEYhUxgNgOver the past few decades exorcism and spiritual warfare have become surprising additions to the global political scene with charismatic practices being adopted as a means of myth building within the ecumenical body of politicized Christianity.

Figures like the late C. Peter Wagner, whose focus on world missions at the Fuller Theological Seminar lead to the growth of the ‘New Apostolic Reformation‘ movement, have developed a strange and starkly effective theoretical structure for ‘strategic spiritual warfare,‘ mixing insights from warfighting doctrine, intelligence tradecraft, obscure, often heretical writings from various historical sects of Christianity, and a vision of the world as a cosmic battle ground for unseen forces.

Seeing no difference in effective military technique and effective spiritual warfare – since they are all actions on the continuum of the divine plan – these groups have taken what was a quiet tool of the ‘Church Militant‘ and blended it with the kind of weaponized cultural systems that Marshall Mcluhan warned of in the 1970’s when he said:

“World War III is a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.” *

This now entrenched brand of Christian occultism exists across the ecumenical spectrum, and has drifted far afield from whatever roots it might have in traditional practice. While contemporary examples of publicized ‘exorcism’ bear a cursory resemblance to folk practices, they are more deeply informed by high level university studies in behavior and psychophysiological indicators such as those conducted by the Center for Biopsychosocial Research at Fuller Theological Seminary.

This understanding also includes how the reception of these practices and anecdotal accounts of their efficacy will play out within the increasingly networked global media environment. In order to cast out demons one has to have demons to cast out, or at least have a group of people who believe that there are demons to cast out. This is where the neutrality of the marketplace provides one of the more interesting tools for social engineering.

Screen Shot 2018-10-23 at 11.27.59 AM.pngPerhaps the most ironic detail in all of this is that for years conservative Christians have leveled charges at competing ideological groups for initiating the same practices in the marketplace.

Evangelical author Tim Lahaye, best known for his rapture ready Left Behind series, seems to be looking in a mirror when he writes in his book, The Battle for the Mind (coincidentally the same title as the psychologist William Sargant’s book on induced trauma and behavioral change):

Many years ago, my mother, along with others of her generation, used to lament the rapid decline of morality in America. She considered the natural descent of fallen, secular man an irreversible trend. No doubt she echoed the feeling of most active Christians of her time.

What her generation did not realize was that the majority of Americans were not really that immoral by nature, but were being led down the path of moral degeneracy by the humanist social planners who dominated our society. *

While these Christian writers are fond of telling you that Satan’s target is your mind, they are not so open about the fact that they have the same goal in mind. Utilizing a potent mix of applied psychology, behavioral economics, technological proficiency and a bit of archetypal mythology, they’ve been able to create and enchanted imaginal landscape in which to pursue their goal of bringing heaven down to earth.

Today the ubiquity of advanced communication technology, centralized distribution throughout a distributed international market, and the growing interdependence of the global economy make such influence important to understand more clearly. While we shouldn’t fall into a lazy paranoia over the potential of choice architecture to irrationalize society when misapplied by eager exorcists and overreaching evangelists, it is necessary to see that these dominion minded ministers are working hard to bring their politically virulent concept of supernatural living into consumer’s living rooms and lives, and with their religious ideology at the fore, they may not be too careful with the consequences.

For more on the strange culture of ‘strategic spiritual warfare’ see:

Satan’s Target: You Mind – Supernatural Living in the American Marketplace

Or head over to The Global Catholic Review for: 

The Exorcist vs. Witches – Battling for the Soul of Justic Brett Kavanaugh (The Global Catholic Review)

* Mcluhan, Marshall, Culture is Our Business, p. 60 (McGraw-Hill, 1970)

   LaHaye, Tim, The Battle for the Mind, Power Books (1980)

Special thanks to Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut, chair of Catholic studies, Virginia Commonwealth University, for the invitation to continue my exploration of global exorcism culture with a contribution to The Global Catholic Review!