Behind the Mask: Aliens or Cosmic Jokers?

From New Dawn Special Issue 17 (Sept 2011)

In the 1970s, when we first became fascinated by the UFO phenomenon, opinion among researchers was divided between two views: the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH) – UFOs are spacecraft from other worlds; and the ‘Magonian Hypothesis’ (after the 1970 book by the intelligent Ufologists’ hero Jacques Vallée, Passport to Magonia). Pro-Magonians believe something from Earth is behind UFOs, a race of tricksters that surface from time to time as alleged angels, visions of the Virgin, demons, fairies – and now, space-travelling aliens? They’ve just updated their image.

The theory acknowledges the close parallels between alien encounters and experiences with non-human entities that litter the annals of folklore. But it also recognises the often-reported absurdity and pointlessness – the ‘high strangeness’ – which challenge the simplistic notion of UFOs as technological craft crewed by biological entities. It was this Monty Pythonesque quality that led investigator John A. Keel to develop his ‘ultraterrestrial’ hypothesis – the aliens are visitors from another plane of existence – outlined in the 1973 classic UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse.

However, since 1980 this approach has lost ground to the ETH – a pity, as it offers a more complete explanation of the whole phenomenon. Even ETH-ers usually acknowledge a paranormal component in alien contact, most obviously in the mental manipulation of abductees, often at a distance. There’s also the most direct psychic contact, the channelling of alleged extraterrestrial entities.

The ETH has become so dominant partly because the Magonian approach challenges our cherished consensus reality so outrageously, whereas the concept of space ships from other planets doesn’t. Also, high-profile cases such as Roswell, Area 51 and Majestic 12 – all firmly based on the ET interpretation and centred on government conspiracies and cover-ups – came to dominate Ufology in the 1980s. But paradoxically they derive from the very agencies allegedly behind the conspiracy. In fact, trace any famous case back to its source and you will find that one way or another it originated within the military and intelligence community.

(It always amazes us that Ufologists often obey the unwritten rule: never believe anything that anyone in government, the military or the intelligence community tells you – unless it’s that UFOs are real ETs in secret contact with world authorities. Then believe everything they tell you…)

In fact, far from trying to cover up the existence of UFOs, government agencies have actively encouraged belief in them – specifically the ETH. Our own research has convinced us that this ‘Federal Hypothesis’ is the most accurate, and indeed there is a groundswell of similar opinion, as seen in Mark Pilkington’s recent Mirage Men and Lynn’s Mammoth Book of UFOs (2001). It does seem the whole UFO thing has been exploited – maybe even invented – to provide a convenient cover for all sorts of black ops, from testing secret aircraft to psychological warfare experiments. Even this, however, barely scrapes the surface of the sinister goings-on associated with over six decades of UFO research.

Enter the Nine

In the late 1990s we researched a story packed with all the paradoxes and questions just discussed, as detailed in our The Stargate Conspiracy (1999, updated 2000). These events represent either the biggest and most concerted attempt yet at extraterrestrial intervention – or a criminal manipulation of the belief in it. Either way, it’s sensational and terrifying.

The central character is the American Army physician and parapsychologist Andrija Puharich (1918-1995) who experimented with stimulating psychic abilities using hypnosis, psychoactive drugs and electrical devices. He was also obsessed with the possibility of psychic communication with non-human intelligences.

In 1948 – after being discharged from the army on medical grounds – Puharich created the Round Table Foundation in Maine, to carry out ostensibly private experiments with psychics such as Eileen Garrett and Peter Hurkos. The Foundation soon attracted wealthy backers, even including Henry A. Wallace, Vice President of the USA under Franklin D. Roosevelt, who funded Puharich through his Wallace Foundation. Another supporter was Ruth Forbes Young, from the stupendously rich Forbes family, and her husband, the ubiquitous inventor Arthur M. Young, besides Alice Bouverie, heiress to the Astor dynasty.

From research in the 1990s we now know Puharich’s Round Table Foundation was also covertly funded by the US Army. He himself recorded several visits from military top brass, including the head of psychological warfare research. So was it a front for military psi experiments on civilian psychics, with his discharge merely a cover?

Puharich was a passionate advocate of the military use of psi, presenting the paper: ‘An Evaluation of the Possible Usefulness of Extrasensory Perception in Psychological Warfare’ to the Pentagon in November 1952. He was redrafted the very next day…

But before taking up his duties, a seminal event occurred at the Round Table Foundation. Puharich’s team were working with the Indian channeller Dr. D.G. Vinod, who on New Year’s Eve 1952 declared, in trance, “We are Nine Principles and Forces,” going on to channel them. The Nine described themselves as separate entities that function as one – claiming (with typical lack of modesty and lofty disdain for mere mortal grammar): “God is nobody else than we together, the Nine Principles of God. There is no God other than what we are together.” The communications continued for six months until Vinod’s return to India.

Deeper and Darker

In parallel with the Vinod communications, from February 1953 until April 1955, Puharich was stationed at the Army’s Chemical Centre at Edgewood, Maryland – although he often returned to the Round Table Foundation. The exact nature of his duties remains unknown, but Edgewood was the Army’s research facility into both chemical and psychological warfare – and at that time it was involved with a joint project with the CIA’s notorious MK-ULTRA.1 Puharich’s Army career certainly puts a different spin on the debut of the Nine.

In 1956 the extraterrestrial element was spliced to the story. In Mexico, Puharich and Arthur Young encountered Charles and Lillian Laughead, who were working with a young man who claimed to be in psychic contact with aliens. The Laugheads sent Puharich messages from these ETs, containing cross-references to the earlier Vinod communications, apparently revealing that the same cosmic intelligences were contacting different people.

In the 1960s Puharich devoted himself to parapsychological research and the development of patented medical devices. Then, in 1970, Puharich met Uri Geller in Israel, becoming convinced that his spoonbending and other talents were genuine. When he experimentally hypnotised Geller, the young Israeli channelled the entity ‘Spectra’, allegedly a conscious computer aboard a far-distant spaceship. Spectra said ETs had programmed Geller with his powers as a toddler, and effectively anointed him as a new Messiah for coming world changes, stating, “He is the only one for the next fifty years to come.”

When Puharich then asked the somewhat leading question, “Are you of the Nine Principles that once spoke through Dr Vinod?” Spectra unsurprisingly replied, “Yes.” It then confirmed that the Nine were behind UFOs, right from Kenneth Arnold’s seminal 1947 sighting.

‘Oddly Monotonous Miracles’

The hypnosis sessions and Spectra channellings continued, while strange phenomena dogged Puharich and Geller. In what Colin Wilson calls “a confusion of oddly monotonous miracles”2 machine-like voices spoke out of thin air, objects dematerialised and teleported (including Puharich’s dog – and once Geller himself). And several UFOs appeared over Tel Aviv and the Sinai desert.

However, although Geller confirms the paranormality, he distances himself from the channelling. And although Puharich seemed convinced that Spectra and the Nine were real, Geller calls them “a civilisation of clowns”3 – a perfect description of the Ultraterrestrial/Cosmic Joker scenario.

Puharich arranged for Geller to be tested at SRI International, the Californian institute where CIA-backed ‘psychic spying’ research – most famously remote viewing – was being conducted. In fact, during our research for The Stargate Conspiracy Geller told us Puharich was working for the CIA when he visited Israel to evaluate him. Another associate of Puharich’s, the physicist Jack Sarfatti, also confirmed it. Given his background, Puharich would of course have been their ideal head-hunter.

Just as in the first contact with the Nine twenty years before we discover paranormal research secretly backed by military intelligence – which again centres on channelling the Nine… Perfect symmetry – but what does it mean?

Exit the Messiahs

Despite Puharich’s efforts to promote Geller as the Messiah of a new phase in human evolution, he bowed out in 1973, having risen to international superstardom. But the Nine continued to reach Puharich through new channellers. They seemed to forget they once declared Geller “the only one to come for the next fifty years.” First there was a young chef known only as ‘Bobby Horne’ who, hypnotised by Puharich, channelled the extraterrestrial ‘Corean’ – who agreed with Puharich’s suggestion that he/she/it was an emissary of the Nine. Horne was driven to the brink of suicide by the experience.

He was replaced by medium Phyllis Schlemmer who was appointed the Nine’s official ‘transceiver’, a position she maintained for the next twenty years. Her guide ‘Tom’, who she had assumed was the spirit of her grandfather, suddenly announced he was an extraterrestrial and one of the Nine – now the ‘Council of Nine’.

After Geller’s departure, Puharich established a new research facility in New Jersey, ‘Lab Nine’. This became the focus for two related series of events.

First there was the mission of alerting the world to the Council of Nine’s existence and imminent return through mass landings of spaceships in the late 1970s. An important new player was the wealthy English baronet and spiritual seeker, Sir John Whitmore, a former racing driver.

There was a concerted effort to get the Nine’s message to a wider audience, besides enticing influential individuals to hear Schlemmer dispense their cosmic wisdom. They included scientists interested in the interface between quantum physics and consciousness besides members of super-rich families, politicians and writers.

But the biggest name was undoubtedly Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, who was involved with the Nine in 1974 to ‘75. Clearly hoping to exploit his cult status, Puharich urged him to write a movie screenplay about the Nine, although it was never finished. How far Roddenberry believed in or trusted them is unclear.

Although it’s claimed that Roddenberry’s Lab Nine experiences had some influence over the first Star Trek movie and the Next Generation series a decade later (with its nine central characters), besides the Deep Space Nine spin-off, the series that undoubtedly reveals most about Roddenberry’s attitude to the Nine is his last, Earth: Final Conflict (1997-2002), produced after his death. This is set in the near future where an advanced alien race, the Taelon, arrive on Earth claiming to help mankind, but some humans are suspicious that they’re really bent on conquest…

Roddenberry had turned the discarnate Nine into flesh-and-blood aliens – and the Taelon are ruled by a Synod or Council. Although the plot seemingly reflects his uncertainty about the Nine, since his death in 1991 Phyllis Schlemmer still claims he was unknowingly influenced by the Nine when creating the original Star Trek series.

However, it was in response to a question by Roddenberry that ‘Tom’ finally revealed his – and the Nine’s – real identity. He was none other than Atum, chief god of the ancient Egyptian ‘Great Ennead’, the nine gods and goddesses beloved of the pyramid builders. However, perhaps it should be pointed out that after Vinod’s first contact, Puharich had begun to study the Ennead.

The other project at Lab Nine was more disturbing. Using various techniques including hypnosis, he also got a group of children – the ‘Space Kids’ – to remote view political and military targets such as the Kremlin, and tried to make them channel alien intelligences.

Virtually nothing is known about this project. The only record consists of visitors’ comments, disturbingly noting that some of the kids were clearly traumatised by the experience. As this happened in parallel with the CIA-backed remote viewing programme, it seems a way of involving children without arousing suspicions. After all, which would you be most ok with: sending your kids to a cool camp to become the new Uri Geller – or waving them off into the care of the CIA and military somewhere secret?

In 1978 it all fell apart: Lab Nine mysteriously burned down, and Puharich fled to Mexico, claiming he was being targeted… by the CIA! Perhaps they feared revelations about the Space Kids through a scandal involving his associate Ira Einhorn, who was being investigated for the murder of his former girlfriend Holly Maddux (for which he was subsequently convicted). At the time of her disappearance, Maddux possessed papers relating to the Space Kids research. (Puharich returned to the USA three years later – odd for someone who feared assassination by the CIA – and continued his paranormal research, although apparently playing no further part in the Nine story. He died in 1995.)

Onwards and Downwards

The Council of Nine continues its mission. Schlemmer/Tom’s 1992 book, The Only Planet of Choice, remains a New Age bestseller, and although no longer actively channelling the Nine, she still promotes their message. Given she had been in touch with these ‘ancient gods’ almost daily since 1975, her book of just under 400 pages is clearly somewhat selective.

Then the Nine entered the big time. In 1978 Whitmore introduced Englishwoman Jenny O’Connor to the Esalen Institute, the Californian centre for the alternative scene that attracted famous names from the worlds of art, entertainment, science and even politics. Incredibly, not only did the Nine give seminars at Esalen through her, but from 1979 until at least 1982 they effectively took over the Institute. In Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion (2007), Jeffrey J. Kripal describes the founder Richard Price’s reliance on O’Connor: “Dick decided to ask Jenny and the Nine to help him make tough administrative decisions, which included firing and hiring individuals.” Esalen staff member and Price’s biographer Eric Erickson describes the Nine as “extraterrestrial hatchet men.”

This period was particularly significant for Esalen. Many of those who attended O’Connor’s seminars became prominent in political circles both in America and the USSR (through the Institute’s Soviet Exchange Program), as Jack Sarfatti wrote (his emphasis):

The fact remains… that a bunch of apparently California New Age flakes into UFOs and psychic phenomena, including myself, had made their way into the highest levels of the American ruling class and the Soviet Union and today run the Gorbachev Foundation.5

It was through O’Connor that the Nine reached Washington, including the circles from which Al Gore – an unashamed fan of the paranormal – was to emerge. It isn’t known how much he was influenced by the Nine, but some of his associates – including his political mentor Senator Claiborne Pell – were certainly interested in their pronouncements. It’s a chilling thought that if Gore had become President, who – or what – would have influenced him?

Joking Apart

The Nine represent the most concerted effort ever to manufacture and sell a system of belief based on extraterrestrial contact. Built up over five decades, it involved persuading prominent politicians and cultural leaders of their reality and impending return, besides attempting to make them known globally through books and movies. This campaign was most successful in the New Age subculture, which is still largely – and unquestioningly – in thrall to the Nine.

The Nine’s communications exhibit all the classic ambiguities and difficulties of alleged alien contact. At the very least they’re ‘anomalous’ – ostensibly extraterrestrial but laced with more traditional paranormality. And behind it all is the shadowy presence of government agencies.

The facts outlined above fit two different scenarios. The first – preferred by the Nine devotees – is that the Nine are genuinely advanced ETs who created the human species and guided its development, and who were worshipped as gods in ancient Egypt. And now humankind has reached a crisis point through its own folly, they are about to return to get us out of the mess and (somewhat contradictorily) to launch humanity into the next evolutionary level.

There are good reasons to doubt this explanation. Analysis of the Nine’s pronouncements reveals too many internal inconsistencies, besides often ridiculous historical and scientific errors. So what about the second scenario? Given Puharich’s sinister background, could the whole thing have been an experiment into the creation and manipulation of channelled contact? It is clear even from his own account that he directed the channelling, often asking leading questions of hypnotised channellers. And there is evidence suggesting that he also used chemical and electronic techniques.

Was it all just an experiment to see how apparent contact with non-human intelligences could be induced, manipulated and exploited? If so, what do we make of the evidence from the late 1970s of the concerted effort to construct a new religion centred on the Nine? Like every cult, however, true power would lie with the ‘priesthood’ led by Puharich and his cohorts.

But even that scenario, it seems to us, fails to cover the facts. There seems little doubt that something genuinely paranormal was happening. The British writer Stuart Holroyd, for example, was persuaded to write a book about the Nine – Prelude to the Landing on Planet Earth (1977) – after experiencing poltergeist-type activity in his house. This is harder to ascribe to CIA manipulation – unless we assume the CIA can induce paranormal events. And, of course, the Nine communications continued even after Puharich’s involvement, through several individuals. They include James J. Hurtak, Puharich’s second-in-command at Lab Nine and Carla Rueckert, a paranormal researcher who collaborated with him. Both produced books of channelled material from the same source – whatever that might have been. Hurtak’s The Keys of Enoch (1977) and Reuckert’s The Ra Material (1984) have both been New Age best sellers.

Puharich wrote, “I do not doubt that discarnate intelligences exist, any more than I doubt that finite carnate intelligences exist.”6 But as someone who made a specific study of the subject, even becoming a kahuna, an initiate of Hawaiian shamanism, he must have known always to be on guard against trickster spirits – what Colin Wilson memorably called (in his introduction to Prelude to the Landing on Planet Earth) the “crooks and conmen of the spirit world.”7  

Perhaps Puharich was indeed directing events, but was experimenting as much on the Nine as he was on their human channels – trying to discover how to sort the wheat from the chaff among discarnate entities. Or maybe even (terrifying thought) to find out if the entities themselves can be manipulated and controlled. But if true, what would it mean for the involvement of the military and intelligence agencies? Are they trying to establish a relationship with such beings?

‘An Awful Lot of Trouble’

If, as the evidence increasingly suggests, the CIA and military are not trying to suppress belief in alien contact but to encourage it, why would they? The assumption of most advocates of the Federal Hypothesis is that those agencies want to use the phenomenon and people’s belief in it as a smokescreen for their own covert purposes. In other words, if the CIA want us to think UFOs exist then the truth is that they don’t. But in our view, there is another even more unsettling reason: they want us to think UFOs are extraterrestrial nuts-and-bolts machines and the aliens are flesh-and-blood in order to divert attention from the reality that the real ‘aliens’ co-exist invisibly with us on the Earth – and are the source of all cases of high strangeness.

Jacques Vallée, one of the first to research the covert manipulation of the UFO scenario by official agencies, concluded: “someone is going to an awful lot of trouble to convince the world that we are threatened by beings from outer space.”8 But how does this fit in with his Magonian hypothesis? Vallée presented his most explicit statement of the big picture in the storyline of his 1996 novel Fastwalker (written with Tracy Tormé): a powerful group of human conspirators know that the UFO phenomenon is created by entities from a parallel world, but they aim to convince world leaders and the global population of the existence of ‘aliens’ – and then position themselves as the world’s go-betweens.

Which is basically our own view of the case of the Council of Nine: they have the stamp of the Ultraterrestrial all over them – clowns, conmen and cosmic jokers – but there is also the pernicious presence of very human agencies lurking in the background. The joke is on all those who follow the Ultraterrestrials, however they choose to manifest themselves or however their human allies choose to present them to us. But, as history has shown, it may be no laughing matter.

This article was published in New Dawn Special Issue 17.
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1. John Marks, The Search for the ‘Manchurian Candidate’: The CIA and Mind Control, W.W. Norton & Co., 1979, Chapter 5.

2. Colin Wilson, Alien Dawn: An Investigation into the Contact Experience, Virgin, 1998, 18.

3. Andrija Puharich, Uri: The Original and Authorized Biography of Uri Geller, Futura, 1974, 173.

4. Jeffrey J. Kripal, Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion, University of Chicago Press, 2007, 366.

5. Jack Sarfatti’s 1996 autobiographical online essay ‘Sarfatti’s Illuminati: In the Thick of It!’, widely distributed on the Internet, e.g.

6. Andrija Puharich, The Sacred Mushroom: Key to the Door of Eternity, Doubleday, 1974, 170.

7. Stuart Holroyd, Prelude to the Landing on Planet Earth, W.H. Allen, 1977, 14

8. Jacques Vallée, Revelations: Alien Contact and Human Deception, Souvenir Press, 1992, 247

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About the Author

The joint career of Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince began with Turin Shroud: How Leonardo Da Vinci Fooled History and – eight books later – they published The Forbidden Universe. They are best known for their 1997 The Templar Revelation, which Dan Brown acknowledged as the primary inspiration for The Da Vinci Code. As a reward for their contribution they were given cameos in the movie (on the London bus). They also give talks to an international audience. Lynn & Clive both live in South London. Their website is

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