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talk about UFOs and NDEs
A dialog transcribed by Mike Clelland
posted online November 25 2016
Kenneth Ring and the late Terrence McKenna had a conversation about the
connection between the UFO abduction experience and the near-death experience.
Ring wrote the 1992 book The Omega Project, and in it he explores the
relationship between these two disparate, but traumatic events. McKenna was an
author, mystic and passionate advocate for the psychedelic experience. I am
amazed at the depth of inquiry that unfolded between these two extraordinary
They spoke together in Prague, Czechoslovakia during the International
Transpersonal Conference in June 1992, known at Prague Gnosis. As I type this,
it’s been nearly twenty-five years since their exploration of these ideas, and I’m
saddened that after all this time, so little has advanced in the field of UFO research.
Their questions and explorations still seem entirely bold; when there should have
been a whole generation of new thinkers building on their ideas.
Terrence McKenna: Ken, I know that recently you’ve been interested in UFOs. How
did you get to UFOs from near-death experiences, that seems quite a leap?
Kenneth Ring: Well, on one, perhaps mistaken day, I picked up a copy of Whitley
Strieber’s book Communion. And though I had no interest, in fact I had an aversion to
UFO studies, I found that some of the effects he was talking about, those experiences
seemed very reminiscent of those that followed NDEs, so I wanted to explore the
What I have found in my studies is that people who are prone to these experiences are
people with a troubled background. They often report traumatic childhoods, they
report sexual abuse, stressful childhoods, they are people who even as children
seemed to be susceptible not to fantasy but to alternate realities. Not everybody is
equally likely to have these kinds of experiences. I don’t think these folks are
pathological or come from some particular social stratum, but they have particular
kinds of psychological characteristics that predispose them to having these kinds of
As an aside, abduction researchers have noted this history of childhood traumas, and I don’t
think there is any good answer as to why this shows up. It certainly isn’t 100% of the
abductees that report these dark experiences in their youth, but it’s enough to be seen as a
pattern. Curiously, similar reports of childhood trauma show up in the lives of shamans, even
if only as a spiritual crisis.
TM: How do you relate this phenomenon to your own field, of expertise which is the
KR: What I’ve found is if you look at these phenomena themselves, they seem
extremely different in terms of their feature surfaces. If you look at the near-death
experience; it’s a very blissful experience, it’s very beautiful, and people have very
positive things to say about it. You look at the abduction experience and people are
traumatized, deeply frightened and disturbed by it. They seem at antipodes, but if you
look at the structure of these experiences, the structure is the same.
They have the structure of shamanic journeys, of initiations. You’re taken from the
ordinary world, you’re taken to another world, you learn things, and you are
transformed in that world and you bring back those transformations with you. What I
found was the same kind of background that is typical for people that report UFO
encounters, not limited to but including abductions, this is exactly the same kind of
profile you find with people who have had NDE’s. The same kind of person is prone
to them, so I talk about an encounter prone personality, who are susceptible or
vulnerable to these kinds of experiences, more than the average person. But the key
thing that relates these two phenomena, and perhaps others like them, are the
transformations that tend to take place in the lives of people afterwards.
People with both kinds of experiences say afterwards they are more appreciative of
life, more appreciative of nature, they have deeper feelings of self worth, they are
more compassionate, less materialistic, they are more spiritual, but not necessarily
more religious, in fact they may be less religious, they are more psychic, they are
more intuitive. What seems to be the outcome of these experiences is, however
different the experience may be in it’s content, the effect is the same.
You go through an ordeal, either nearly dying or the shock of a UFO encounter, and
you are changed by that experience. Like Nietzsche said, that which doesn’t kill me
makes me stronger. These people are stronger spiritually they seem to function at
higher levels of intuitiveness, they understand psychic awareness. It’s an expanding
experience for both.
It’s interesting that the personality profile is the same, but in one case the reaction is
positive, the other negative.
TM: So relate it a little bit to the psychedelic experience.
KR: I’d be happy to. I’ve talked to many people, I’m sure you have talked to many
more, who’ve had high-dose LSD sessions, or other kinds of psychedelic sessions,
who have told me in effect, ‘Well, I never came close to death but I know exactly
what you mean when you talk about a near-death experience because I have had the
same thing.’ The outer body experience, the feeling of moving into a beautiful radiant
illuminated space, the sense of being flooded with universal knowledge, of being
transformed in that instant and bringing that information back.
To me it’s like the light, or spiritual reality, or whatever this thing may be called, it’s
available all the time, there are just different access routes to it. The psychedelic is
clearly one route that leads to that destination. The near-death experience is another,
people finding a spiritual path can have the same kind of realizations, the same kinds
So I think it’s a question of equa-finality, many different pathways leading to the same
destination, and the same transformative effects. That’s what I think is important
about those experiences.
TM: We’ve had psychedelic experiences and near-death experiences, presumably for
millennia. Is this UFO abduction experience new or are we just getting the old stuff
repackaged in a funny way?
KR: Well, I think it’s related to things that have always happened to human kind, an
interaction with the invisible world of spirits. I’ll use your phrase, sylphs of the air, the
elementals, the fairies.
I think folklore is certainly related… from the standpoint of the UFO abduction
phenomenon, there seems to be aspects of this experience that make it unique unto
itself, that make it similar the folkloric experience of former times, and yet it’s within
a kind of technological gloss, and I think that is because the alien is a kind of mythic
archetype of our time. It’s not fashionable to see angels, spirits and demons anymore.
But the myth of the extraterrestrial is everywhere you look. So I think in a way this
particular kind of archetype has been clothed in the kind of imagery and space age
technology that is characteristic of our own time. So I think there is something unique
to it and something that relates to the folkloric experience of former times too,
because the contact that takes place between the invisible world and the physical
world is probably as old as man.
TM: It sounds as though you are fundamentally a psychologist, in that you don’t take
this at face value.
KR: I don’t take these as literal experiences of an incursion into physical space-time
to reality of little beings that have come from other places to do nasty things to
people. That, oddly enough, seems to be the dominant view of American ufologists.
I’m not a ufologist, I am a psychologist.
I don’t take these experiences as literal, but I take them as real within an alternate
reality, within… an imaginal realm. They are real enough, for example, people who
have near-death experiences will say things like this experience was more real to me
than you and I talking here together. It was more real than life itself.
There is a reality to these experiences but I think it’s a profound mistake to think it’s
the same thing as space-time ordinary sensory world reality.
TM: So what you are saying is that these are symbolic constructs.
KR: Yes, there is a symbolic aspect to them. I think there are two attitudes toward the
UFO question. It’s a mystery, but there are two types of mysteries. There are
mysteries like detective stories that beg for some kind of solution, and you only feel
satisfaction when the solution at the end is revealed and all the reasons are given. And
then there are mysteries that are meant to be explored, that are meant to be savored,
these are true mysteries. These mysteries beg for exploration, but not for explanation.
And the UFO phenomenon is that second category of mystery. That is why I am
personally apposed to try and package it as if it were as simple as other beings
coming from other places in the galaxy to have some contact with human affairs. I
think that the mystery is likely to be much more profound than that.
And another thing… that hooks together the near-death experience with the UFO
experience, whatever it’s basis may be, is that when people come out of these
experiences, and have worked it through, they come to a world view that is very
similar to one another… and that’s an ecological world view. The heightening of
ecological sensitivity, the increased concern with the welfare of the planet, is the one
thing that unites these two people, even though they have these disparate experiences.
What they say they’ve learned from these experiences for them is that the fate of the
earth is in our hands and we better wake up and do something about it very quick. So,
I see these experiences being orchestrated by a planetary mind, an over mind, a mind
at large. Which is in some sense is an expression of our deepest yearnings, and
perhaps our deepest fears, that are feeding back into these kinds of experiences in the
form of archetypal experiences…
TM: So it’s a kind of confoundment, its purpose is to be inexplicable.
KR: Exactly! That’s exactly how I conclude my book, I say the point of all these
experiences is to be baffled by them, almost as though they are a kind of Koen that
were not meant to solve but that we’re meant to chew over until our rational mind
cracks and we begin to think in entirely new ways and hopefully act in entirely new
TM: So, it’s a way of keeping us from closure. It’s saying to us that the world is not so
simple as you might choose to suppose.
KR: That’s exactly correct.
Ring and McKenna are exploring the strange power of the near-death experiencer and UFO
abductee. I want to add a third category, the person who has had strange owl experiences.
This might be a stretch, but the mythic role of the owl has similarities that fit cleanly
alongside UFO abduction and the NDE. I recognize this owl stuff is my own obsession, but
the parallels remain.
I know more than a few folks who’ve had the one-two-punch of both UFO
abduction and the NDE. These people are either deeply empathic, outright psychic,
or both. There is an unmistakable pattern where these double-whammy people are
now working as therapists, healers, or psychic mediums (or all of these at the same
time). They’ve dedicated their lives to helping others. Like the shaman, they have
lived the role of the owl. The mythology of the owl is of traversing across ethereal
barriers to the other realms and returning as a messenger.
There are people among us who’ve had, in essence, their passport stamped with
port of calls like flying saucer, magic mushroom, shamanic initiation, trauma and
death. They are here, right now, among us. They are playing the same role that has
been with us throughout the ages. Their stage is no longer the campfire at the
center of the village, where these people would have once been respected. Instead,
they are playing their roles from their homes or small offices. Also from websites,
over the telephone and through video Skype calls. They are still doing their good
work, but they do so under the derision and contempt of the controlling doctrines
of our mechanized society. The work goes on despite the pressure from on high.
All that said, I sense a very real change in the past few decades, little by little, that
ridicule is fading away. What was once considered the lunatic fringe is steadily
I often wonder about the dedicated few in our midst who are bold enough to
declare themselves psychic healers, what has happened in their lives that put them
in this role. Was it UFOs, NDEs, OBEs or spiritual emergency? What stamps
would we find in their metaphysical passports?
(a)This dialog was transcribed from a youtube video linked here: http://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=O27JV03-sAU - Prague Gnosis - Terence McKenna talks to Kenneth Ring Pt. 1
and 2, minimal editing for clarity.
(b) Video and audio and transcript of this conversation lined here: http://