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Guest post: Sean Casteel interviews author Whitley Strieber

A Conversation With Whitley Strieber

This is a guest post by Sean Casteel. The ideas, statements, and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Open Minds.

Whitley Strieber’s story is as complicated and enigmatic as the experiences he has so long grappled with and tried to convert into human language. It all started with the December 1985 encounter at his cabin in upstate New York, a nightmarish visitation that was the basis for his 1987 “New York Times” bestselling book, “Communion.” Strieber has more than once stated that he rues the day the book was published, as it has resulted in him going down a path that brings with it public humiliation and the mockery of both an unbelieving mainstream and even the UFO community itself.

Whitley Strieber with his book Solving the Communion Enigma. (credit: John Anthony Miller)

Nevertheless, he has written a new nonfiction book on his experiences, the first in many years, called “Solving The Communion Enigma” (Tarcher/Penguin, 2012), in which he reexamines his early encounters and juxtaposes them with the Big Picture, to include crop circles, animal mutilations and UFO sightings from around the world.

There are the usual locations and people present. The fondly recalled cabin in New York still plays a major role in his memories, though he was forced to sell it many years ago when post-“Communion” financial difficulties set in. Strieber’s devoted relationship with his wife Anne, who has played such a crucial a role in Strieber’s understanding of and coping with the bizarre turns his life has taken, is as always a prominent component of the stories he tells. It was Anne who sat and read the many thousands of letters from close encounter witnesses that the couple received after including a mailing address in the closing pages of “Communion.” If the experience was happening to so many people, how could it be a matter of Strieber hallucinating or suffering simple vivid dreams?

In the following interview, Strieber also speaks of encountering a man from “between the lives” who could manifest in Strieber’s home in both a physical body and as an awesome glowing presence. And then there are Strieber’s stories of the interaction of the dead with his mysterious visitors. There are numerous accounts of this phenomenon, some of which came from the aforementioned letters from readers, while other similar incidents happened to Strieber himself as well as to guests in his home. Strieber foresees a future time when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead will fall, and the dead will come to dwell among us in a physical form and become a normal part of everyday life. Like so much of what Strieber has to say about his experiences, the idea is both frightening and beautiful at the same time.


Q. People often have their own definitions of the word “spiritual” and “spirituality.” What do those words mean for you?

Strieber: Well, my life experience and my work are very much about the body. And I don’t see the soul and the body as being separate. I think that the meditation I have been practicing for now over 40 years has gradually enabled me to deepen sensation in such a way that I can feel more of the limits of the body, because the body starts in the deep physical and radiates into other spectra. It’s the radiant part in those other spectra that we are blind to. But long and patient work has enabled me to “feel” them. So I don’t see the difference. The body IS the spirit.

Q. Is the alien abduction experience a spiritual one to you? Do the aliens you’ve encountered fit within your definition of spiritual?

Strieber: It’s too simple a question in many respects. The experience ranges from the ferocious and the extraordinarily difficult to the sublime. And it lands everywhere in-between on the spectra. It simply isn’t enough to say “Was it a spiritual experience or a physical experience? A good experience or a bad experience?” It was actually more than everything, in terms of an experience.

Q. I know you’ve always refused to define your encounter experiences as either good or bad, black or white, etc. But do you feel that you and other abductees are dealing with entities that man has historically described as spirits?

Strieber: Man has described them as all sorts of things. We don’t have a very developed ability to talk about this. The languages that we have are not well-suited to describing either the experiences or what we encounter in them, because our languages emerged out of an attempt to communicate about the physical world around us. And things bleed off into areas that we don’t recognize because they don’t have the same boundaries as what we see as physical. So we have trouble describing them. So I can’t answer the question, really.

Q. It’s often said that the trauma of abduction eventually leads to a positive, cathartic transformation of the abductee, whether the aliens intend that to happen or not. In spite of how unpleasant abduction can be, has the experience nevertheless helped you to grow spiritually?

Strieber: What a person takes from this depends entirely on what they give to it. If they give fear, they will take anger and hatred. If they give curiosity, they make take what I got, which was years in a sort of school, of lessons, that were intended to display to me some notion of what was happening to me and what was going on and what the world around us really means. This got deeper and deeper and deeper over the years. It changed me profoundly. However, if after the initial experience, I had turned away from it and simply buried it in my mind and decided it must be some sort of a nightmare, nothing else would ever have happened.
When a close encounter experience occurs, a person can react to it in any number of different ways. Among them is a very negative reaction if the encounter is ferocious or difficult, as it can be. And my initial ones certainly were. You can put it out of your mind, which is something a lot of people do, in which case it probably won’t go any further. You can turn toward it, which is what I did. In some cases, such as mine, it went further and I ended up in a relationship with whatever’s out there for many years. That relationship enabled me to see things about our world that are almost entirely invisible to us. For one thing, I don’t think that any of the explanations that we have made for ourselves about how the unseen parts of reality work are actually true. I think that they’re all imaginary – all of our heavens, our hells, our gods, our angels, our demons – the whole thing is an attempt to understand an iceberg by looking at the few inches of surface that appears above the water and never realizing that beneath the waves there is something absolutely enormous.

Cover of Strieber's new book. (credit: Tarcher/Penguin)

Q. You say in the new book that the visitors and their seemingly paranormal abilities are woven into the patterns of everyday life. Can you expound on that a little here?

Strieber: Well, first of all, I’m not a believer in the paranormal or the supernatural. I don’t think they exist at all. I think the whole world is natural and there are simply parts of it we understand and parts of it we don’t. Two hundred years ago, a lot of people would have thought that radio proved the existence of ghosts or demons or whatever. To me, the word “paranormal” is simply meaningless. One of the things that has happened in the context of my experiences is that there have been certain instances in which the visitors have appeared to people in ordinary life, such as the editor from William Morrow and Company who encountered two of them in a bookstore reading “Communion.” And Timothy Greenfield Saunders, who came face-to-face with one of them on 14th Street in Manhattan on the day that Anne and I left New York forever. There’s also a case in England that I refer to in the book of a city councilman who saw an apparent alien walking down the street in the middle of his town with nobody else noticing. And there are many instances in the letters we received of encounters happening right in public places with nobody noticing. So it’s perfectly possible that this can happen. People see what they want to see, and they can be very easily controlled.

I know an interesting man, a science reporter named Ralph Steiner, who was driving down the street in Berkeley one day and saw to his amazement, very clearly, UFOs just overarching the sky, a whole group of them. He heard at the same time a voice in his head, “We’re just the U.S. Geologic Survey. This isn’t important.” He noticed no one else was reacting to their presence at all. He stopped his car and he looked and he thought back, “I know you’re not the U.S. Geologic Survey.” He was given a date and time when he could return. He did come back at that time, and there they were again.

Another case involves a psychologist who was driving down the Brooklyn-Queens expressway near LaGuardia Airport in New York, and he suddenly saw what looked like an enormous airplane coming low over the highway, like it was going to land on the highway. And he thought, My God, there’s a jet off-course. Then, as it passed overhead, it looked more like something fake, like it wasn’t really a jet. It looked like a “fake” jet. He was just stunned by what he was seeing. Everybody else was going along the road, but he realized this thing was fake. And as soon as he realized that, he saw something going on on the roadside. There was a big lighted thing like a billboard with these strange symbols racing across it. And there were cars pulling up on the roadside and people getting out of the cars and walking up on to the shoulder of the road, which was quite wide and dark at that point. So he pulled up and he got out. He was walking with the other people toward the shoulder and suddenly a group of small figures – which he described as almost clown-like figures, very short, about three or four feet tall – surrounded him. One of them said to him, in a terribly menacing voice, “This isn’t for you. Get out of here.” It scared him half to death. He got in his car and drove away. Now, to me, what this means is this has penetrated deeply into our world. And IT controls who sees it and who doesn’t and who goes where and who doesn’t.

This is part of us. We are part of it. It’s not an alien invasion at all. It is part of the human experience and when we are looking at the so-called aliens, we are looking at an aspect of the human experience also.

Q. Do you think we’ll reach a point where we’ve learned everything and simply can’t go any further? You say this may have happened to the visitors themselves at one point in their evolutionary development, resulting in them going a bit mad from being trapped in a final version of reality forever.

Strieber: The experience I had was this: I had contact with some of the visitors out in the woods at night sometimes. It was very brief and ephemeral. But nevertheless, sometimes I could have an interaction. And what the interaction would consist of would be of me either speaking out loud or thinking a question. There would generally be an answer in the form of vivid imagery in my mind. At this time I believe I spoke the question, about what the universe meant to them. The answer was very immediate. It was a picture of a coffin. And it shocked me, because of course I expected some sort of wonder, but instead, this coffin. I was shocked to my core because I thought what despair must be involved. This is an extremely complicated experience, so to assume that just because one reacted this way, it doesn’t mean that everything that’s out there would react the same way.

But then I thought to myself, what if they’re here to experience our “unsureness,” and that they’ve learned so much about the universe that it is like plying the infinite and finding endless sameness that you can’t ever escape. But then, when they are directing themselves toward us, they are reliving the wonder of childhood. And if that’s true, then they would have a huge motive for preventing us from learning everything because then we would be like them and therefore useless to them. We might be a kind of an extraordinary refuge against the madness that threatens when you find that you know everything but cannot escape.

Q. Is there still a possibility of us being colonized and exploited by the visitors?

Strieber: No, I don’t think that’s a real idea.

Whitley Strieber (left) and interviewer Sean Casteel (right). (credit: John Anthony Miller)

Q. How do you see the whole Disclosure movement? I know you don’t always think that complete government disclosure would necessarily be a good thing, right?

Strieber: Well, I don’t think that governmental disclosure is going to be particularly useful because I don’t think they really know what’s going on. A bunch of military people have tried to understand this in the terms of modern military thinking? Come on, it’s just ridiculous. It’s absurd. The idea that they may have some clear, useful knowledge to me is laughable. However, if that were to happen, if there were to be disclosure, if the government were to admit that there were intelligently-guided craft here, then it would also have to explain what the abductions were, and I don’t think it can do that because I don’t think it knows. It would have to explain what the visitors are, and I don’t think it has a correct answer to that.

The experience is so chimerical and difficult to pin down. The government and the military probably have answers that are very fear-based and based in the fundamental illogic of the assumption that the physical and spiritual worlds are two different things. Those answers are likely to be completely wrong. But I think that the public would take them as gospel truth, because they came from the insiders, the in-the-know people in the government, if there are any. That would be very unfortunate. It would be very misleading. So I would be saddened to see whatever ideas they’ve come up with or conclusions they’ve drawn suddenly become public knowledge before the actual reality was really apprehended or understood at all by the general public.

Because it would take us down the same pointless, empty path that they’ve gone down. I think they’ve gone down a path that is quite useless. I don’t think they know a thing about what’s actually going on. My impression from the ones I’ve met over the years was that they were not the best minds I ever met, number one. And number two, they were looking at it as an “us-versus-them” military confrontation.

Frank Feschino, in his book “Shoot Them Down,” chronicles numerous cases of governmental attempts to shoot down UFOs. Milton Torres gave interviews in 2009 and 2010 regarding a Ministry of Defence report that was released in 2009 detailing the fact that the U.S. Air Force, when Milton Torres was a pilot in 1957, ordered him to attempt to shoot down a large UFO, along with a couple of other pilots. When they began to go through their firing sequence to fire at it, it disappeared. Torres said it was the size of an aircraft carrier. There were attempts to debunk this by saying it was some kind of a false radar return being used in an experimental program to create radar deceptions, but that program didn’t come into being until years later. So probably Torres, or then Captain Torres, was ordered to shoot down a UFO.

As recently as the Stephenville UFO incident in 2008, Stephenville, Texas, MUFON investigators, after a Freedom of Information Act request, received radar returns that indicated that exactly what had been seen from the ground by witnesses in fact happened. That is to say, witnesses saw UFOs moving overhead and being chased by military aircraft, and the radar returns showed that despite the false statements made by Carswell Air Force Base officers, in fact Carswell planes were detailed to chase these UFOs and did so. It’s all on radar, the whole thing. So this kind of response, anyone who is responding to this presence in this way is wrong about it, is completely mistaken about it, is taking it in the most simplistic possible way. It’s a bit like a dog barking at a jet. It’s just a meaningless response. Or innocent little tribesmen from some lost tribe shaking their spears at airplanes. It’s ridiculous. And if the government response is as ridiculous on that level, then we certainly don’t want them leading us down this same silly path in the context of some sort of Disclosure. So no, I’m not in favor of disclosure because I don’t think they’re doing it right. I don’t think they know what they’re doing and I don’t want that to become gospel, and it will become gospel if it becomes public.

Q. The close encounter experience sometimes also includes the appearance of deceased friends and family, which implies that the visitors can cross between our world and the world of the dead. Can you discuss that further here?

Strieber: I have been thinking a lot about that, because there can be no question that this is true. It has appeared in so many of the letters that we’ve received, in my own life, and in experiences that groups of people have had in our cabin in upstate New York. So it is true. When I had my first close encounter, there was a man there who I knew. And I was astonished to find a few weeks after the experience, the December of 1985 experience, that he’d been dead since the previous March. The reason I initially thought that I was the victim of some kind of criminal activity, being assaulted and drugged and so forth, was that he was there. He had been a Central Intelligence Agency agent and I was just suspicious that something was up. I didn’t know quite what it would be, but I was very suspicious. Then I was amazed to find that he was dead. I’d even seen his grave. He’s certainly dead.

We used to have people in groups up to our cabin and we found that they often would see the dead in the context of the visitors. Two people sleeping in the bed in the basement woke up to find a dead friend standing at the foot of the bed. In the letters we’ve received, it’s absolutely commonplace. So I’ve discarded the idea that this is “scientists from another planet” coming here to study us. It’s something else. I think that what it represents in part – and it’s very complicated – is mankind’s next step, our movement to another level of being in which what we call the dead will not be so mysterious. They will be part of life in a certain way. I think that the visitors bring with them – and understand, I don’t say that I think they’re not aliens. I don’t know what they are. But they bring with them a dropping of the veil between the living and the dead.

Q. You were saying that the dead may even come to dwell among us.

Strieber: Well, I don’t know why they wouldn’t be. I have had in my experience a relationship with someone I regarded – and who identified himself – as dead. The relationship lasted for three years. He had a limited ability to manifest a physical presence. When he was physical he was very small and very light, but definitely human-feeling and looking. The very last time that I would ever see him at that cabin in upstate New York, he manifested as a glowing light and it was absolutely awesome. He indicated to me during the course of our relationship that he was from “between the lives,” that he would eventually one day be in the physical again. Interestingly enough, his primary concern, when he first showed up in my life, was the degree of my loyalty to my wife. And that was tested.

The other thing that happened first, before he proceeded, was a life review where he went through my life with me and did it in my mind in pictures. Incident after incident after incident of my life, looking for where my conscience resided. Once I seemed to have passed these tests, then the relationship grew.

Q. During the “Scole Experiment” to demonstrate the reality of an afterlife that was carried out in around 1999/2000 in the UK, many photographs and other images were obtained. One of these was of an entity that is absolutely identical to the traditional “gray” often seen in ET encounters.

Strieber: The image that appeared in the Scole Experiment was very interesting to me because I think that whatever is here has come into contact with that level of human being first, that they are already well-involved with what we call the dead and are just now beginning to penetrate deeper into the body of the species, into the more dense areas, which is where we are, the living. The more dense physical area. And I’m not so sure that they have the ability to completely express themselves in this physical realm. I suspect that part of their interest in us might be that we have these two very distinct levels of being. We’re like the caterpillars and the dead are the butterflies. But I wouldn’t say, for example, that the dead are a supernatural element at all. I think they’re part of the physical world but a part of it that we don’t understand or know how to address yet.

So I found that picture very interesting and very supportive of what our findings are.

Anne Strieber (left) and Whitley Strieber (right). (credit: John Anthony Miller)

Q. Can you talk about the gargantuan spiders incident mentioned in the new book?

Strieber: The first night that this man that I have meditated with for so long appeared in my life, he came into my meditation room and stood there. I couldn’t see him, but I felt his presence so strongly. I was very sensitized to that because I could often feel the presence of the grays when they were around me, and also smell an odor of something hot. In other words, I could tell that the grays were present and I was immediately aware of this man’s presence in the room. He was right in front of me and I couldn’t see him. I finally said aloud, “Look, I can’t meditate here with you there, and I know perfectly well you’re here. You’re going to have to show me yourself, and if you don’t, I’m leaving.” Nothing happened, so I left the room. Later that night, I was awakened the way the grays used to wake me up, by punching me on the shoulder. And there he was. He went down and sat on the foot of the bed, very, very still, as if if he moved even slightly he would simply disappear from the face of the earth and from my eyes. I touched him, and he was there. He felt and smelled physical. I woke up a second time, and there were these enormous spiders on the ceiling. This was after there had been a certain examination of me, about my relationship with my wife, which has been very strong.

And they were hanging over the bed. They were absolutely enormous. Horrible. Ten times the size of the largest spider you’ve ever seen. And not only that, the one that was over Anne was scrabbling against the ceiling and having trouble hanging on. This thing had a great black abdomen covered with yellow stripes. It looked like an insectoid tiger. It was horrible. I leaped out of bed and by that time I was fully awake and I thought, Oh, God, what a nightmare. Then I looked and they were still there. I was horrified, because by that time I had had so many close encounter experiences and so many other people at the cabin had had them, I wasn’t in the least surprised. Anything could have happened and I would have believed it implicitly. So I no longer thought this was a dream.

I wanted to run like hell. Then I saw her lying there under that thing. It was struggling to stay where it was. It would fall on her. And her preciousness to me filled me completely. I went around there and I leaned over very carefully to gently wake her up and get her out from under that thing without her seeing it. Because I knew if she saw it, that would be it. She’d be totally panicked. I was waking her up and she made a very pleasant sound like she was being held in the night and enjoying that. Then I realized the spiders were gone. So I did hold her. I cuddled with her for the rest of the night.

And after that, the relationship with the man went on. It was as if he had to be sure that I was really, truly true to my honor and my love before he would come into any deeper contact with me.

Q. Do you see the worldwide visitor presence as building up to some grand spiritual revelation or a new level of understanding for mankind as a whole? Are we being led to a collective spiritual awakening?

Strieber: Well, I don’t think we’re being “led” anywhere. We may be going somewhere on our own and they may be here sort of as “midwives” watching us. It seems to be possible that there will be some kind of a moment of “critical mass” and what I would think would happen then would be that the veil between the living and the dead would drop, and we would immediately gain a completely new perspective on the experience of being. That would be my guess. And I think that could happen. I don’t know when or where or if, but it seems like a possibility. There is certainly the sense that it is all leading somewhere, and perhaps that would be where. But certainly it’s not leading to a flying saucer landing on the White House lawn. That would surprise me very much. That would mean that in a way it had led in the wrong direction, because unless it leads us to greater being, why even do it? Our mystery must be served. And the relationship, if it’s going to be a rich relationship, between us and them, whatever they are, has to come from the richest place that we possess. If the dead are real and the living are real, and there could be a meeting between the two, then the species as a whole would be far, far richer, unimaginably richer than it is now. And very, very worth a relationship with. I think it would be the most difficult, surprising, exciting and extraordinary thing that could possibly happen. Frankly, I hope something like that does happen. It will be as scary as it can be, I’m sure. But we’re surprisingly much more versatile than we imagine. You know, they always say that, well, the cockroaches lasted for 200 million years and have lasted through every mass extinction. Well, we’ve lasted now through a couple of mass extinctions, and I have a feeling we’re going to be here for the long pull, too. There will always be somebody who gets through, no matter what happens. We don’t look like cockroaches but we’re along that same line when it comes to survival.

About Sean Casteel

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Sean Casteel is a journalist from southern California who has published extensively on UFOs, alien abductions, and related phenomena since 1989. His articles have appeared in Open Minds magazine, Fate, UFO magazine, UFO Universe, and other publications.