Contactee is the name that has been given to people, especially since the 1950s, who claim contact with extraterrestrials, beings from other planets. In the wake of the citing of flying saucers by pilot Kenneth Arnold in 1947, speculation was rampant that they were possibly spaceships from a distant planet. Beginning in 1952, with George Adamski, a number of people emerged who claimed that they had met and communicated with the humanoids who drove the flying saucers.

Two years later, contactee George van Tassel began to host an annual convention of contactees and those who believed their message at a place called Giant Rock, in the desert of Southern California, near Lucerne Valley. A contactee movement was born that has persisted to the present.

While a number of contactees have claimed direct physical meetings with the space beings—most notably a few of the more famous of the 1950s contactees, with a few even trying to produce hard evidence of their contact—overwhelming, the contact was by way of telepathy (or in some cases by out-of-body travel ). Contactees have received messages from the space beings much as mediums in earlier generations received messages from spirits of the dead or ascended masters.

A new term, channeling , a metaphor referring to the then-new phenomenon of television, was coined to describe their reception of the extraterrestrial communications. When ufology almost disappeared after the very negative Condon report in 1969, channeling from extraterrestrials continued and found a new home as a major subtheme within the New Age Movement.

Pre-Adamski Contacts

Although a new era of extraterrestrial contact was launched by George Adamski, it was soon evident that he was by no means the first to claim contact, and that in fact claims of contacts had periodically appeared over the previous two centuries. In the middle of the eighteenth century, Swedish seer Emanuel Swedenborg, who had made a career of absorbing and publishing communications from angels, claimed to have taken an out-of-body trip through the solar system.

He left a record of his discoveries in a small book, Earths in the Solar System (1758). As he moved from planet to planet, he discovered each to be inhabited by races not unlike humans and he described each in turn, usually in very positive terms. It is also the case that he limited his visits to the then-known planets. He did not discover the asteroids between Mars and Jupiter or note the existence of any planets beyond Saturn.

Occasional contacts would be reported over the next century, especially after the emergence of Spiritualism, but a clustering of such claims would appear toward the end of the nineteenth century after astronomer Percival Lowell reported to have seen canals on the surface of Mars. Such unnatural structures crisscrossing the face of a nearby planet offered hope (or provoked fears) that a nearby neighbor was inhabited with rational beings.

One of the Martian contactees of the 1890s, Catherine Elise Muller, was studied in depth by Swiss psycholo-gist Theodore Flounoy in a now-classic work of parapsychology, From India to the Planet Mars, originally released in 1899. Operating as a medium in Geneva, Helène Smith (as Muller was called by Flounoy in his book) allowed the psychologist to sit in and observe her as she took her followers on various flights of fantasy.

She actually visited Mars in out-of-body-like experiences and described in some depth the Martian civilization, especially the fabled canals. In the end she even produced a Martian language, which, when analyzed, showed a remarkable dependency on French.

As with later contact claims, the material reported by both Swedenborg and Smith/Muller raise the central issue that must be faced in analyzing contactees. Contact is made by psychic means, it most often occurs in a religious/spiritual context, and the information derived from the contact is a mixture of reputed observation about the science and culture of the alien’s planet with an emphasis on their philosophical/theological and moral/ethical teachings.

The literature draws upon the current state of popular knowledge of science (with little understanding of or appreciation for the scientific endeavor). While appearing to report observations in a somewhat objective fashion, in the end, the conclusions drawn are metaphysical. When contactees initiated their activity outside of a religious setting, following any measurable response, they have tended to form a religious organization as a vehicle for communicating the message of the extraterrestrials.

Many contactees avoid any mention of religion, preferring to distinguish their work from traditional church organizations by using the alternate term “spiritual.” However, the great majority of contactee organizations provide their adherents with all of the functions that churches and other religious groups commonly offer their members. These services would include fellowship with like-minded believers, wedding and funeral services, some contact with a transcendent realm, information on the nature of ultimate reality, a means of coming into contact with the transcendent, moral guidelines, and some advice for the adherent’s personal life.]

Through the twentieth century, the number of claims of extraterrestrial contact increased and at times in the 1930s and 1940s blended imperceptibly into science fiction literature. Most contacts were made in the context of one of the metaphysical religions, either Spiritualism or Theosophy. 

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891), cofounder of the Theosophical Society, for example, proposed the existence of a group of evolved masters she termed the “Lords of the flame,” who resided on Venus. Blavatsky, who had formerly operated as a Spiritualist medium, claimed to have regular contact with a large group of evolved beings believed to guide the evolution of human life.

Contact was normally through the materialization of messages reputedly from these ascended masters, though clairvoyant/telepathic contact also occurred. Blavatsky was plagued the last years of her life with significant charges of fraud, and during the twentieth century, those who established contact with the Masters did so as more traditional mediums/ channels, though they tended to use self-descriptive terms that served to separate them from Spiritualist mediums.

Most notable of the Theosophical channels were Alice A. Bailey and Helena Roerich. Both established with one of the masters originally named by Blavatsky as members of the spiritual hierarchy, the Great White Brotherhood, and later published a series of books containing the communications from that master.

In the 1930s, a new contact with the masters was made by Guy W. Ballard. Unlike Bailey and Roerich, who confined their contacts primarily to a single master, Ballard claimed to be in touch with the whole range of ascended masters, including a group of masters from Venus, though the majority of messages came from either the master saint Germain or the master Jesus.

Ballard, who described himself as a messenger of the masters, also held public meetings during which he allowed one or more of the masters to speak through him. These sessions appeared much like the spirit discourses that had been delivered by Spiritualist mediums in previous decades. Although Ballard described himself, his wife Edna Ballard, and his son Donald as the only authorized messengers of the Masters, soon after the formation of the “I AM” Religious Activity, others came forward to claim contact with the same masters, to offer supplemental revelations and eventually to create competing organizations.

Ballard and the “I AM” would become important to the contactee movement as it finally emerged in the 1950s because it offered an alternative model to Spiritualism in which individuals could structure their encounters with extraterrestrials. In fact, in the same way that theosophists spoke of the masters as being organized into a spiritual hierarchy, so contactees would speak of their contacts as being members of a space or interstellar hierarchy. That hierarchy would, strangely enough, often be inhabited by beings who had the same names as the ascended masters originally mentioned by Blavatsky or Ballard.

The New Era

A new era of contact with extraterrestrials began in 1952 with the announcement of George Adamski (1891-1965), an amateur astronomer from Southern California, that he had established communication with the beings who inhabited the spaceships that were being popularly referred to as flying saucers. Actually, Adamski claimed to have first seen a spaceship in 1946; in 1950 he had produced two pictures which he claimed to have taken of flying saucers.

These were published in Fate, the original periodical featuring news of UFOs. However, on November 20, 1952, he and six companions drove to a location in the desert in southeastern California where Adam-ski, now separated from the others, claimed to have seen a saucer land. A handsome blond humanoid figure disembarked from the saucer. Through a mixture of telepathy, sign language, and gestures, the extraterrestrial communicated that he was from Venus and that he had come to Earth out of concern over the destructive potential of atomic weapons.

Adamski’s contact story was published in a book, Flying Saucers Have Landed (which also included a text on historical UFOs by Desmond Leslie). He would go on to write two further accounts of his interaction with visitors from Mars and Saturn and his own travels in outer space, capped by a view of the thriving life on the backside of the moon.

Adamski’s success quickly called forth additional stories from Truman Betherum, Orfeo Angelucci, Howard Menger, and Daniel Fry, all of whom claimed to have also met benevolent humanoids from space. Their reports were met with enthusiastic acceptance from one group while receiving across-the-board rejection from serious students attempting to understand the flying saucer phenomena.

Ufologists had little sympathy for the religious feeling that the contactees aroused, and believing the stories detracted from their scientific endeavor, tended to dismiss contactees as frauds and kooks.

The contactees went about the business of organizing followers into proto-religious groupings. Thus, while leading critics and supporters of Adamski conducted a public debate on the truth of his contact claims and the accuracy of his information about the planets, Adamski quietly invited his supporters into study groups and gave them copies of lessons he had authored on such topics as cosmic philosophy and telepathy. Eventually people would become aware of Adamski’s career prior to his becoming a contactee as an occult teacher and founder of the Royal Order of Tibet.

The great majority of the contactees organized spiritual/ religious groups. Some, such as the New Age Foundation established by Wayne Aho or the Sanctuary of Thought launched by Truman Betherum, had little success and folded soon after the death of their leader. More successful were Unarius, founded by former Spiritualist mediums Ruth and Ernest Norman, the Aetherius Society, founded by British contactee George King, and the I AM Nation, founded by a group of contactees in Florida. Each of these organizations produced a large body of occult literature and have survived to the present under a second generation of leadership.

Among the most interesting of the contactee myths was that of Ashtar, the spaceship commander originally contacted and introduced to the world by George Van Tassel (1910-1970). Van Tasel enjoyed some success as the organizer of the annual convention of contactees, the Giant Rock Interplanetary Spacecraft Convention, but less success with his College of Universal Wisdom and his attempt to build the Integratron, a large building that would contain a rejuvenation machine.

Today, the Integratron building stands unfinished at Giant Rock. However, as Van Tassel faded from the contactee scene, other contactees began to claim contact with Ashtar and in the 1980s, speaking through Tuella (public name of Thelma B. Turrell ), the founder of Guardian Action, Ashtar would enjoy success never experienced even at the height of Van Tassel’s career in the 1960s. Today, the Ashtar Command exists as a set of contactee groups, each continuing the themes initiated four decades previously.

The progress of the contactee community was not affected by the ups and downs of the Condon Report that almost destroyed ufology, and the contactee groups continued their spiritual relationship to the space brothers and could wait for the rest of the world to finally discover their truths. While the structures of the older contactees would persist through the remaining decades of the twentieth century, the contactee phenomena would experience a significant growth in the 1970s and 1980s from two unexpected sources.

Contactees and Abductees

As early as 1965, ufologists were entertained with accounts of people who claimed to have been abducted by the entities from extraterrestrial craft. The first of importance was the story of Brazilian Antonio Villas-Boas, who in 1958 claimed that he had been taken aboard a landed flying saucer, had blood drawn from him, and was forced to engage in sex with an alien female. The account of the case did not circulate until 1965, when John G. Fuller was researching the similar story of Barney and Betty Hill.

His book, The Interrupted Journey (1966), told how the Hills, driving home through the mountains of New Hampshire, saw a UFO, made note of their sighting, but then arrived home two hours later than they should have. In the weeks following the sighting, their life filled with stress that finally led them to a psychiatrist. He hypnotized the pair, and they told the story of encountering a group of entities, with gray skin and large heads with large eyes, diminutive noses, and almost no ears.

They were taken into the saucer and underwent a medical examination (including inserting a needle in Betty’s stomach). An abridgment of Fuller’s book appeared in the October 1966 Look Magazine, but the relative dearth of other similar cases meant that the Hill case was placed on the shelf for a decade.

In the 1970s, a series of abduction stories began with the abduction of Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker in 1973 in Pascagoula, Mississippi. It was unusual in that it occurred during a wave of UFO sightings (commonly referred to as a flap). Other less publicized cases also occurred at the same time. A Utah woman, Betty Roach, would be the first of many who had no conscious memory of what had happened to her, but like the Hills would later recount the story of an abduction and medical examination under hypnosis. In 1975, six woodcutters saw a fellow worker, Travis Walton, taken aboard a UFO. Walton disappeared for five days and told a story later turned into a Hollywood movie.

During the late 1970s a number of cases of abduction were reported and a few, such as Betty Andreasson ‘s, were taken seriously by ufological investigators. During the 1980s, the study of abductions emerged as the wave of the future in UFO studies, a discipline that survived only with the hope that it might lead to the discovery of an extraterrestrial causation behind the varied phenomena. Amateur researcher Budd Hopkins took center stage with the first published study of the abduction accounts, Missing Time (1981).

The legitimacy of these stories was given a significant boost by the 1987 book Communion by horror fiction author Whitley Strieber, who told of his multiple abductions, medical examinations and memories recovered by hypnosis. His account hit the bestseller lists and brought the discussion of abductions into the popular culture. UFO debunker Philip Klass finally felt the abduction phenomenon deserving of a comprehensive refutation. He dismissed them as a combination of fantasy and hypnotic confabulation.

However, Klass wrote just as the abduction dam was about to break. Folklorist Thomas Bullard released his massive study of 300 abduction cases which established the overall patterns of the cases. Historian-turned-believer David Jacobs published the study of cases he had personally investigated in 1992, the same year a number of ufologists and others interested in abductions met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, called together by psychiatrist John E. Mack, an adjunct professor at Harvard University.

For several years Mack had been counseling abductees and gave some credence to their stories. The conference proceedings were published along with a shorter journalistic summary of the papers and discussion, both leading to Mack’s important 1994 book, Abduction, which joined Budd Hopkins’ writings as the prime statements of the abduction case.

Abductions continue to be investigated by ufologists, though the enthusiasm for the accounts definitely peaked in the mid-1990s. Although abduction stories continue to provide a rich mine of material for social scientists, they have not produced the hoped-for breakthrough in unraveling the UFO mystery. The physical evidence—items recovered from the abductees— cited in the early 1990s failed to produce any meaningful data.

An additional important factor deflating interest in abductees among ufologists was the growing association of the abduction stories with contactee stories. In 1980, counseling psychologist and hypnotherapist R. Leo Sprinkle of the University of Wyoming began holding annual gatherings of contactees, those people who believed themselves in contact, telepathic and otherwise, with benevolent space beings. The gatherings were conducted in a positive, accepting environment.

However, through the decade, as word of the gathering circulated, abductees began to make their way to the gathering and the boundaries between those who initially had positive contacts with extraterrestrials and those who had negative contacts began to fade. There was a marked tendency for abduction stories to transform into contactee accounts.

The popularity of Whitley Strieber’s account of his abduction became a two edged sword for the UFO community. Strieber began to see his interaction with the space people in a more positive light, and in spite of the trauma he had initially experienced, he began to interpret his multiple contacts as part of an effort to educate humanity.

By the end of the 1980s, he and the ufologists had parted company, and he established an organization, the Communion Foundation, to work toward a productive relationship with the alien visitors. Subsequent books, Transformation (1988) and The Secret School: Preparation for Contact (1996), document his own transformation into a contactee.

As the life histories of abductees became known, and the stories such as Strieber’s of a lifetime of contact that began in childhood surfaced, investigators searched for larger meanings. Those with psychological training saw the transformative and initiatory nature of the experiences and the manner in which they forced people into a more cosmopolitan view of their place in the universe.

By the time John Mack’s long-awaited book appeared in 1994, it went on the shelves of the New Age bookstores next to the shelf of contactee books. Through the 1990s a variety of people began to look at the metaphysical and philosophical implications of the abduction phenomena and seriously began suggesting paranormal explanations for the phenomena surrounding the stories.

Such approaches did away with extraterrestrials and had no need of physical spacecraft. They quickly returned to the warnings of the 1950s contactees about the apocalyptic conditions facing humanity, now rushing to destruction at breakneck speed. Alien contact was an urgent message for humankind to reverse its course.

The New Age Movement

At the same time that ufologists were discovering and reorienting their work around the abduction phenomenon, the New Age community emerged as the nurturing community for a new generation of channelers. New Age channelers brought forth a mountain of material, from a variety of transcendent entities from ascended masters to the spirits of the recently deceased, to vague entities masquerading as the channeler’s own higher self.

However, it became evident to those who began to survey the channeling literature that the largest recognizable block of channeled literature derived from entities who described themselves as extraterrestrials. Much of this literature continued contact with the space commanders who had made their original appearances in the 1950s, and the members of the redefined theosophical hierarchy now seen as administrators of an immense intergalactic government.

Within a few years after Ashtar and members of his command had been introduced to the world through George Van Tassel, he began to speak through other channelers. The messages received by Trevor James Constable and published in his 1958 volume They Live in the Sky were among the first.

Through the 1970s a variety of channels from around the English-speaking world heard from Ashtar, and in the 1980s his most prominent voice, Thelma B. Turrell, had no problem assembling representative messages from him in her compilation, Ashtar: A Tribute. Turrell went on to head Guardian Action, the most prominent post in the Ashtar Command, though in the wake of Turrell’s death, many competing outposts arose.

Forming a link between the ufological community and the New Age was Swiss contactee Eduard Albert Meier, a contactee whose career has paralleled that of George Adamski. In 1979, Meier’s coffee-table book, UFO… Contact from the Pleiades, was released in an English-language edition. While ufologists were offended by what they quickly came to see as an elaborate hoax, a number of amateur UFO buffs were attracted to the evidence of the impressive pictures.

Meier’s basic claim was that on the afternoon of January 28, 1975, he had seen a flying saucer land. From it a beautiful woman named Semjase came forth and engaged him in conversation for an hour and a half. She told him that she was from a people that had originated on a planet in the constellation Lyra, but that a war had driven her people to Pleiades. Along the way, the Pleiadians had discovered Earth and periodically visited it.

In fact, some had settled here and intermarried with humans, then in a rather primitive state. In subsequent visits with Semjase, Meier would take many photographs and even rides in the spaceships. Inventor/ consultant Fred Bell would also claim meeting with Semjase from which he derived plans for the flying saucers and other bits of advanced technology.

From the very beginning, Semjase’s message had distinct religious overtones. She denounced the established religions and called Meier’s attention to the Laws of Creation, an interplanetary alternative to the Ten Commandments. Meier went about building a classic contactee spiritual community, the Freie Interessengemeinschaft für Grenz und geistes Wissenschaften and Ufologie Studien (Free Community of Interests in the Border and Spiritual Sciences and UFO Studies), the American branch of which was known more simply as the Semjase Silver Star Center. 

Amid the many books designed simply to present his claims for contact, a lesser-known set of books, designed primarily to circulate among his followers, outlined his moral/ religious message. Basic to that message, known as the Ten Bids (analogous to the Ten Commandments) are the ten things Creation bids us to do.

The attacks upon Meier’s credibility were somewhat lost amid the flood of material supportive of his claims, including more than a dozen books, most beautifully illustrated with photos. Meier also released several amateurish videos. Through the 1980s these materials circulated among UFO buffs, but found an even larger audience within the New Age community.

They associated the Pleiades as the home for the visitors from outer space, and thus it is not surprising that by the end of the 1980s, a series of books otherwise unconnected to Meier and his supporters began to appear containing messages channeled from entities from the Pleiades.

Among the first was from astrologer channel Barbara Hand Clow, Heart of the Christos: Star-seeding from the Pleiades (1989), though by far the most popular item was Barbara Marciniack ‘s Bringers of the Dawn: Teachings from the Pleiadians, which appeared in 1992. Other channelers who claim to be in touch with the Pleiadians include Susan Drew, Amorah Quan Yin, Nina Jenice, and Australian channel Jani King.

Quite apart from channels united by their contact with the Pleiadians, a popular community of channelers has been brought together by Sedona Magazine, a channeling-oriented monthly with issues built around short excerpts, arranged by topic, from a host of channelers. Here messages from the space brothers mix harmoniously with messages from ascended masters and other entities who have taken the lead in the post-New Age era of spiritual emergence.

Frequently, flying saucer entities will speak through the same channeler who at other times might channel ascended masters from the Great White Brotherhood. Prominent among the extraterrestrial entities in the current generation are Zoosh and Jopah (channeled by Robert Shapiro), and Zwoosh (Bob Fickles). Also, collective voices speak from groups such as the Assembly of Light, the Council of Twelve, and the Planetary Council. Lyssa Royal, who channels a variety of different entities, has emerged out of the group as possibly the most successful of the Sedona cadre.

As the New Age Movement faded in the early 1990s, a new wave of contactees have come to the fore amid a new generation of prophets offering guidance for the twenty-first century and claiming revelation from a range of paranormal sources. In spite of challenges to the entire channeling enterprise from the skeptical community, they are enjoying a popularity never dreamed of by the first wave of contactees.

They have built a community of support upon the broadly held belief that extraterrestrial life exists somewhere and the still significant community of people who believe that UFOs may be extraterrestrial craft. Contactees channel beings who originate on planets far beyond the reach of contemporary science and speak messages of religious and moral guidance. They have almost nothing to say about the science behind their extraterrestrial travel and even use a most nontechnical language when discussing the process of channeling itself.

Like the words of the angels who visited past generations, the spiritual admonitions of the extraterrestrials must be accepted upon faith (there being no evidence to back up the claims of the channeled entities). Most importantly, their accounts of life on their home planet is not susceptible to possible falsification, a significant flaw of the early contactees whose descriptions of Venus, Mars, and the Moon were disconfirmed even in their lifetime.


Flounoy, Theodore. From India to the Planet Mars: A Study of a Case of Somnambulism with Glossalalia. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1963.

Klimo, Jon. Channeling Investigations on Receiving Information from Paranormal Sources. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1998.

Lewis, James R., ed. The Gods Have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

Meier, Eduard “Billy.” Decalogue, or the Ten Bids. Alamogordo, N.Mex.: American Office: FIGU/Semjase Star Center, 1975.

Melton, J. Gordon. “Religious Reflections on UFO Stories: Contactee to Abductee.” In Andrea Pritchard et al., eds. Alien Discussions: Proceedings of the Abduction Study Conference. Cam-bridge, Mass.: North Cambridge Press, 1994.

Steiger, Brad. Gods of Aquarius: UFOs and the Transformation of Man. New York: Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1976.

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