Near-Death and UFO Encounters As Shamanic Initiations:Some Conceptual and Evolutionary Implications
, Vol. 11, No. 3, Winter 1989]Kenneth Ring, Ph.D., is professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut and pastpresident of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS). He is the author of
Life at Death: A Scientific Investigation of the Near-Death Experience, Heading Toward Omega: In Search of the Meaning of the Near-Death Experience
, and over forty articles in the fields of social psychology, transpersonal psychology, and near-death studies. Dr. Ring received his Ph.D.in social psychology from the University of Minnesota. He lives in Ashford, Connecticut.I
N RECENT YEARS
, there has been an effort, particularly by American folkloric scholars (e.g., Hufford 1982;Rojcewicz 1986), to bring some conceptual order to a disparate array of paranormal and transcendental experienceswhose academic study has heretofore tended to be associated with distinct and somewhat insular disciplines.Included in this set of nonordinary occurrences are such phenomena as out-of-body experiences (traditionally theprovince of parapsychology), near-death experiences (near-death studies, medicine), shamanic experiences(anthropology), psychedelic experiences (transpersonal psychology), night terrors (folklore), and UFO encounters(“ufology”). That there are significant similarities among subsets of these experiences, both in terms of phenomenology and aftereffects, has long been recognized, but so far there has been no sustained scholarly effort tobuild conceptual bridges between these experiential domains or to foster their comparative study, despite someexpressions of interest in such undertakings (e.g., Ring and Agar 1986). In the spirit of this kind of endeavor, theneed for which has been persuasively set forth by Rojcewicz (1986), I would like to present here a framework for apartial conceptual integration of two nonordinary experiences previously held to be quite separate and unrelated. Iam referring to near-death experiences (NDEs) and alleged UFO encounters (UFOEs),
between which I believethere are some hitherto unsuspected links.This paper has second purpose as well. After delineating certain commonalities between these types of experiences, I intend to explore their possible joint significance for the evolution of human consciousness. This willinvolve an attempt to embed these and other types of nonordinary experiences in a
kind of conceptual matrixthat will provide a still more encompassing perspective in terms of which to view the implicit connections amongthe variety of experiences we will be concerned with.Before setting out on the first of these conceptual journeys, I need to enter a couple of caveats. First, in stressingcertain linkages between NDEs and UFOEs, I make no claim that
varieties of these two phenomena are thusentwined. UFOEs especially cover an extraordinary range, and therefore no one model is likely to do even nominal justice to them all. In this instance, however, I will be dealing with a particular and nowadays increasingly well-known
of UFOE, the nature of which I will specify shortly. Second, the kind of integrative model I will offerhere attempts to join these experiences only in terms of their
level, NDEs and UFOEs are of course quite dissimilar, but it is in their “deep structure,” as itwere, rather than in their surface contentual manifestations that important commonalities can be discerned.
Prototypic NDEs and UFOEs
Research on modern NDEs has been carried on for more than a decade; thus the prototypic pattern for this typeof nonordinary experience will be quite familiar to most readers of this journal. This pattern is made up of suchelements as (1) a psychological sense of separation from the physical body; (2) a feeling of overwhelming peace and
Kenneth Ring, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut and past president of the InternationalAssociation for Near-Death Studies (IANDS).