Witness of Another World – Exploring the Soul of a Phenomenon

Posted in > BLACK CADILLAC REVIEW by David on October 21, 2019


A child in rural Argentina walks out of his house in order to attend his daily chores and experiences something so profound that it initiates him as an unlikely emissary for a mystery of cosmic proportions – what sounds like the plot to an upcoming Netflix sci-fi series is the actual, lived experience of Juan Pérez, the main subject in Argentinian filmmaker Alan Stivelman’s 2018 documentary, Testigo de Otro Mundo (Witness of Another World)

1978 –  The young witness, Juan O. Perez, had gone out at dawn to bring in a herd of horses in Venado, Tuerto, Argentina. At 6:45 a.m. as he rode his horse through the morning fog he felt something fly overhead. Next, several objects appeared and began maneuvering overhead, emitting powerful beams of multicolored, changing lights. His horse panicked and he barely managed to ride back home. When he got home, his father reprimanded him and ordered him to go back to get the horses. Back in the field he encountered a large round object on the ground; it had a dome on top with several round windows. A door in the craft opened, and a seven-foot tall being wearing gloves and a cylindrical helmet appeared. The being seemed to be attached to the object by some type of breathing apparatus. He invited Juan to come inside. They boy then tied his horse to the craft’s ladder and climbed in. Inside, he was able to see a panel with buttons, tables, and a small robot-like being that was apparently busy disecting the large bones of some animals resembling either cows or horses. Afraid, the boy jumped out of the object and onto the ground. The tall being followed him out. He then requested that the giant give him one of the giant’s gloves, as proof of the experience, and when he removed the glove he then saw that the being had green, claw-like hands with blue metallic nails. The being then pricked Juan’s right arm, apparently extracting some blood in the process. As he rode back toward home carrying the glove, two flying objects caught up with him and emitted a small slab and sphere that descended and brushed by the horse, pulling off the glove like a magnet. Another curious feature of his report was that while inside the UFO the young witness attempted to touch the being and the object several times, but was prevented from doing it by what appeared to be an invisible barrier. Six days prior to the incident the witness’s father had found a mutilated cow in one of his pastures. (Source: Albert S. Rosales, 1978 Humanoid Sighting Reports database, case # 919, citing Jacques Vallee, Confrontations: A Scientist’s Search for Alien Contact). (1)

The details of this account were presented in Confrontations – A Scientists Search for Alien Contact, published in 1990 by Jacques Vallee, a computer scientist, venture capitalist and investigator of the UFO phenomenon. (2) Looking at 40 cases of reported contact, the book outlines the regularity across time and culture of these accounts which defy our present understanding and seeks to invite a closer examination of the very real effects these events have on the individuals they happen to and communities in which they occur. 

Unknown-4When treated as data points after the fact it is easy to read accounts of witnesses and experiencers as singular events, focusing on details that confirm favored theories as to what occurred, and in the process overlook the integral ways which these events encompass past, present and future experiences and form a centralizing or organizing factor in the personal identity of those who have them. (3) Juan’s story as it unfolds in the documentary shows how the experiential factors exist outside of subjective and objective considerations, providing the ground upon which the terrifying and profound possibilities of these events rest.

In his journals from the period in which Confrontations was published, Vallee speaks of this complexity as he reflects on a colleague’s thought, saying “Aime Michel discovered how transcendence extended to the physical world. He was waiting for the connection while doubting that mere mortals were capable of it.” (4) Crossing boundaries of time, media, culture, lineage and tradition, Juan’s story as expressed in Witness of Another World demonstrates this connection – providing a deeply human window into the personal nature of our interactions with the phenomenon and its role in shaping our perceptions about what is possible.

Messenger for a New Vision of the Cosmos

From the initial investigation of his account and the attention of local media in Argentina – through Vallee’s involvement in the case, written up years later in his book Confrontations – and now with his role as the central character in a wonderfully moving documentary by Alan Stivelman – Juan has become a messenger for a new vision of the cosmos which encompasses the wisdom of indigenous cultures and the resources and technical proficiency of the contemporary global society.

Click Here to Watch the Film – Available October 22, 2019

The documentary opens to an immediate reflection on the longevity of this phenomenon with a montage of images similar to those included in Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck’s compendium, Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times (Tarcher/Perigree, 2010). These images highlight the mediation and the use of media that frames and affects our understanding of the unexplained.  Accompanied by these powerful historic images. Stivelman’s introductory monologue on the mystery of these events sets the tone for us to begin to step outside of the familiar flying saucer mythos that has become the dominant expression of the phenomenon in our time.

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As we have come to know it, the UFO emerged as a mediated concept in popular culture  towards the end of World War II and developed throughout the Cold War period. (5)  Within this climate unidentified aerial phenomenon became tied in the public consciousness to questions of technology, space travel, national security, nuclear proliferation and global progress – however, as we soon discover with the story of Juan Perez, there are much deeper issues at play which are not so easily codified.

Within a three-week period in September 1978 there were four dramatic UFO cases in Venado Tuerto, a small town three hours southwest of Rosario, Argentina. In the first case, a young carpenter named Alberto saw seven objects and two beings on the ground. In the second case, a twelve-year-old boy named Oscar saw three objects and went inside one of them, interacting with a very tall man and a small robot. In the third case, a sixteen-year-old baker named Francisco felt intense heat from a luminous object during a blackout of the local transformer. And in the fourth incident, a twenty-three-year-old man who was driving at night was “teleported” over four miles and had to be admitted to a local clinic for chest pains.”  – Jacques Vallee, Confrontations – A Scientists Search for Alien Contact, p. 121 (Ballantine Books, 1990) (6)

Of the four recorded encounters in this particular region of Argentina during 1978, it seems that Juan alone has become the center of a much wider web of influence. While the other individuals have certainly been affected, he alone seems to have faced what looks very much like an initiatory journey. This extends to his becoming the subject of Stivelman’s documentary – without which he would not have come into contact with the teachings of his ancestral lineage with the Guarani people.

“One strange thing you have seen is for you to believe. You can also see, so it happens to you in your flesh, in your body to make you believe. If you didn’t believe at first now you will believe in this. What has happened in the past, happened for a reason…things appear to those who want to know, so he or she can teach others…” – Plutarco, Shaman Mbya and Guarani Elder (7)


Entwined With the Phenomenon

Here we have a documentary that is a media object entwined with the phenomenon. Rather than simply a film, Witness of Another World is in itself an aspect and extension of the surprising and world shattering encounter that Juan Perez had in 1978.

This wider conceptual environment in which the phenomenon exists can be understood through the work of Dr. Jeffrey Kripal, Associate Dean of the Humanities and J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religion at Rice University, who explores it in terms of stories and narrative:

“I read the paranormal as a semiotic event that plays out on both the mental/subjective and material/physical planes as a bridging sign or mediating story between two orders of experience: one conscious and constructed, the other not. Such a project, of course, violates our Cartesian epistemologies involving an interior, solipsistic, illusory subject looking out onto a real but dead, indifferent, and inert objective world ruled entirely by math and mechanism. It is this same useful Cartesian mistake that renders such events “impossible,” even though they happen all the time.” (8)

Coming from the academic discipline of religious studies, Kripal’s words nevertheless mirror elements found in the Guarani elders’ presentation of the phenomenon. Songs, poems and storytelling express a cosmology where humanity is not separate from the universal order – nor are the beings encountered during these events separate – each is an aspect of a greater whole, whose interactions transcend and transmutate the binary divisions of our limited “Cartesian epistemologies.

For the Guarani the phenomenon takes on the role of an emissary from dimensions within and beyond the earth and the celestial bodies in the visible sky – initiating some individuals into the role of intermediating different orders of being. A UFO event such as Juan’s can signal the beginning of a transformation in which the experiencer becomes the sensory system for another level of consciousness.

“So as far as we know, the inward vision, that comes from the clairvoyant, is sent down…the claivoyant was sent by Nanderu (God) and it was his son. He sends him so he can see humans and hear humans.” – Typyrendyju, Shaman Pai Tavytera and Guarani Elder (7)

This deep connection is not anomalous or surprising within the cosmology of the Guarani – the surprise is that nearly the entire world has lost the ability to integrate these levels of being and has become alienated from the cosmos itself. A situation which parallels a global environmental crisis that requires this lived connection to rectify. Juan’s lived experience provides a bridge between worlds, retying some of threads of meaning that have been severed in our contemporary culture.

The Traces It Leaves

08_TESTIGO_DE_OTRO_MUNDO-1.jpgWitness to Another World gives us a rare opportunity to experience the phenomenon in the traces it leaves in the lives of all those that it touches. We see Alan Stivelman’s sensitive exploration of his own beliefs as he creates the documentary. We see Jacques Vallee’s emotional reunion with a boy he met three decades ago in the course of his investigations, who has now become a man seeking to integrate the experiences he had. We see additional witnesses who reflect on their own experiences and the effects of the phenomenon over their lives. And we see the bridging of cultures brought together by a mystery and the emergence of new understanding as the phenomenon speaks to a deeper unity within our divided world.

Looking back to 1978 the importance of this personal element is highlighted in a conversation between Vallee and fellow researcher Jerome Clark that was published by Fate Magazine:

“The thing I really want to emphasize is that the investigator’s first responsibility is to the witness and not to the UFO phenomenon. The average witness is in shock because he’s had a very traumatic experience; what he’s seen is going to change his life. Your intervention, the very fact that you’re talking with him about it, is also going to have an effect on him. Now he may say to you, “I need help to understand what I saw,” but in fact he needs more immediate help as a human being who is deeply troubled by a very disturbing experience.

Unfortunately this element has been neglected. The more UFO investigators try to appear “professional,” the more they ignore that human aspect – and by extension their own ethical obligations. I want to convince my friends in UFO research that whenever we have a choice between obtaining interesting UFO data and taking chances with the life of a human being, we should forget the UFO data.” (9)

Along with Juan’s encounter, Witness of Another World gives us brief glimpses into the other witnesses who experienced dramatic unexplained phenomenon in the area during that period in 1978. Each person has integrated the events in a different way – while all share the unmooring effect that the events had on their lives. For these individuals 1978 was the year that they came into contact with something so radically other that it altered their view of consensus reality.

Visions of the Future

01_TESTIGO_DE_OTRO_MUNDOIn Juan’s case social isolation and a sense of exile from his community followed his experiences. His association with the UFO event served to cast an uneasy frame on the precognitive dreams that he reports experiencing after the events of 1978. Visions of future accidents and even deaths were a systematic shock to his sense of reality and to his relationship with family, friends and community members.

Thirty years later, after decades of alienation, these confusing and painful dream visions become the key to a reintegration within his community and with the wider community of his ancestral relations among the Guarani people. In turn we are all given the testimony of a wider relationship with a cosmos that is alive with unity and diversity constantly communicating through the intermediary of extraordinary every day contact with another realm of being.

In 2003 Jacques Vallee and physicist Eric W. Davis translated details from these types of experiences into a 6-layer Model for Anomalous Phenomena for a paper presented at a conference hosted by the Centro Transdisciplinar de Estudos da Consciencia at the Universidad Fernando Pessoa in Portugal. (10)

“The main argument presented in this paper is that the continuing study of unidentified aerial phenomena (“UAP”) may offer an existence theorem for new models of physical reality.

…the authors attempt to clarify the issues surrounding “high strangeness” observations by distinguishing six layers of information that can be derived from UAP events, namely (1) physical manifestations, (2) anti-physical effects, (3) psychological factors, (4) physiological factors, (5) psychic effects and (6) cultural effects. In a further step they propose a framework for scientific analysis of unidentified aerial phenomena that takes into account the incommensurability problem.” (11)

The experience of a boy in rural Argentina speaks to the possibility of new models of physical reality, new models of consciousness and new models of community – surprising associations for an event associated with a subject like the UFO phenomenon that has been cast off for so long by serious researchers.

A Wider Tapestry of Worldwide Beliefs

In Confrontations, Vallee says that “the material studied by ufology is only valuable to the extent that it fits into the much wider tapestry of worldwide beliefs about contact with aliens throughout history.” With Witness of Another World director Alan Stivelman has given us a chance to see a bit more of this wider tapestry.  Juan’s experience and the complex weaving of relationships around it allows us to see beyond the UFO’s cultural mythos and into the potential of these encounters to speak to us of new worlds lying just beyond the horizon.

The documentary provides entrance to a mystery and initiation that lies at the heart of spiritual traditions around the globe – an outer phenomenon that calls us inward – a vision of high technology calling us back to direct contact with nature – a state of alienation that leads to greater communitas – a domain where scientific understanding emerges from spiritual experiences.

Presenting a vision of humanity’s future etched in a Gauchos tears, Witness of Another World paints a beautiful portrait of a phenomenon which has no suitable name to encompass it. The film is an important reminder to seek out the soul of the phenomenon and the human side to “alien” contact in a time when aspects of the UFO enigma are seeing increasing attention from military contractors and corporate media – watch it with an open heart and you will not need a name to be transported by this moving testament to the mysterious ways in which transcendence extends to the physical world.

Listen to an interview with the director, Alan Stivelman courtesy of Radio Misterioso (12):





(1) http://www.ufoinfo.com/onthisday/September06.html
(2) http://www.iftf.org/what-we-do/who-we-are/affiliates/jaques-vallee/
(3) Sept. 6, 1978; Venado Tuerto, Argentina
6:45 AM. Round object, 30′ in diameter, 15′ high, hemispherical dome on top. Several round windows. Multicolored lights. One giant humanoid, over 7′ tall. Green hand, blue conical nails, long gloves, cylindrical helmet. One robot, not described. Object on ground with hatch open. Witness stands in doorway. Giant occupant pricked witness’s shoulder with nails. Robot inside craft cutting and packaging cattle parts. Witness flees.
(4) “It’s essential to describe the facts as we know them, along with the mistakes that we keep making. Aime Michel discovered how transcendence extended to the physical world. He was waiting for the connection while doubting that mere mortals were capable of it.” – Jacques Vallée, Forbidden Science Vol. 4 – Journals 1990-1999, The Spring Hill Chronicles, p. 155
(5) Brenda Densler, The Lure of the Edge – Scientific Passions, Religious Beliefs and the Pursuit of UFOs (University of California Press, 2003)
(6) Jacques Vallee, Confrontations – A Scientists Search for Alien Contact, p. 121 (Ballantine Books, 1990)
(7) Witness of Another World (Humano Films, 2018)
(8) https://tif.ssrc.org/2011/04/26/reading-the-paranormal-writing-us-an-interview-with-jeffrey-kripal/
(9) Jacques Vallee in conversation with Jerome Clark, Fate Magazine, 1978  http://www.ufoevidence.org/documents/doc608.htm
(10) http://www2.ufp.pt/activa.htm
(11) Jacques Vallee and Eric W. Davis, Incommensurability, Orthodoxy and the Physics of High Strangeness: A 6-layer Model for Anomalous Phenomena (Centro Transdisciplinar de Estudos da Consciencia, 2003)
(12) http://radiomisterioso.com/2019/10/21/alan-stivelman-witness-of-another-world/ 


Special thanks to Alan Stivelman and Humano Films for providing access to a pre-release version of the film for review. 

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.