Ourselves From the Future?

The UFO/UAP phenomenon raises hard questions about technology, consciousness, and politics. In this article, scholar Aaron J. French describes how this topic, now in the public spotlight, has been investigated by researchers who drew upon esotericism, thinking of themselves as a contemporary iteration of the Invisible College of the Rosicrucians. This is a look into a modern mystery and the influence of Rudolf Steiner in making sense of it.

[A] certain group of people must join together to prepare for the future. But this joining-together is not to be conceived of geographically. All concepts of regional location [Örtlichkeit] will have lost their meaning because it is no longer about ethnic lineages and kinships [Stammesverwandtschaften]; rather, what matters is that people come together spiritually all over the world to shape the future positively. That is why, four hundred years ago, when our age was sinking deepest into matter, the Rosicrucian Fraternity set up that practical spiritual science, which aims to provide answers to all questions of everyday life.

Rudolf Steiner, 1907 1

UFOs in the Media and Esotericism in Academia

What a remarkable position we are in—not only is the UFO (Unidentified Flying Objects) phenomenon part of mainstream conversation and under open, active consideration by the US government, but, as this essay will show, ideas about time travel, advanced states of evolution, and even “magical” technological abilities have been introduced into the discourse. Recently, major publications such as the New York Times have released footage of UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) and published reports from military personnel, and government institutions such as the United States Pentagon have divulged that they have departments studying reports of the phenomenon—a great number of which, they claim, their top scientists cannot make sense of. Over the past few years, the popularization of UFOs has also contributed to the study of esotericism being taken more seriously in mainstream discourse and academia. A cohort of university professors have released books and articles studying the phenomenon and arguing for the inclusion of esotericism within the sciences and humanities with respect to UFOs. In other words, a previously “invisible college” of scientists and researchers have been working hard to establish whether or not we are alone in the universe.

These university professors have recently started exploring connections between Ufology, esotericism, and technology. They include Rice University professor Jeffery Kripal, who has argued for the importance of studying authors outside academia who take “impossible” phenomena seriously, such as Rudolf Steiner.2 Kripal also co-authored a book with a well-known UFO “experiencer”, Whitley Strieber.3 In 2019, professor Diana Walsh Pasulka published her groundbreaking book, American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology, which includes an ethnographic study of scientists and engineers who claim to have a connection to UFOs, including a source working in a lab at NASA and a material scientist working at a top American university. Pasulka has helped us understand the crucial role that technology is playing in the development of a “modern mythology”, laying out connections between modern religiosity, technology, and UFOs.4

Such studies have made a major contribution toward illuminating the role of esotericism in contemporary science. Rosicrucianism has also played a role in the development of thought about the modern UFO phenomenon, as several of its foundational researchers such as J. Allen Hynek and Jacques Vallée (more on both below) were influenced by this particular stream of esotericism. Because Rudolf Steiner also had a close connection to the Rosicrucian stream, consideration of the connection between Rosicrucianism and Ufology might shed light not only on the subtle influence of anthroposophy in a contemporary context, but on certain obscure elements of our current moment regarding social transformation, otherworldly intelligences, and technological advancement.

Frontispiece of Collegium Fama Fraternitatis, Theophilus Schweighardt, 1618.

The image on the left is the frontispiece of the Fama Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis, an anonymous Rosicrucian manifesto published at the beginning of the 1600s and among the first of the Rosicrucian tracts to appear publicly. Rosicrucianism refers to a cultural and spiritual movement that arose in Europe during the 17th century. One of the central aims of Rosicrucianism was to bring science and mysticism together, to stress that scientific discoveries must be integrated into the spiritual-religious worldview of the Middle Ages and applied to social life. The members worked together in secret, as part of an “Invisible College”, to advance this agenda. The frontispiece depicts the so-called “Invisible College” or “Fraternity of the Rose Cross”. Around the building are winged letters flying in all directions, sending reports or invitations to join the fraternity. But the invisible college is not stationary and not easily discoverable. It rests on wheels, it is mobile—it is not confined to one place but can travel around the globe. The image shows a system of pulleys and other instruments, and inside the windows we see scientists at work, making experiments and calculations, doing astronomy. How curious! (These were the advanced technologies at the time of the manifesto’s publication.) This suggests technology is an important aspect of this spiritual development. We also find strange beings floating in the sky, strange lights moving about with glowing stars. What are we as moderns to make of such symbols?

A History of “the UFO Phenomenon”

A few key moments in the history of Ufology can bring us up to the present. The term UFO (unidentified flying objects) emerged in the years following the Second World War and gained traction throughout the Cold War era. The original term, “foo fighter”, was introduced by Allied aircraft pilots during World War II to describe unidentified aerial objects and metallic spheres—balls of light that were witnessed in the skies above Europe and the Pacific Ocean. But the “era of the flying saucer” in the US began famously in 1947, when American aviator and businessman Kenneth Arnold reported seeing numerous “unidentified flying objects” above Mount Rainier in Washington. Arnold’s was immediately followed by other reports, all involving similar strange sightings.

That same year there was the famous Roswell incident, in which farmer William Brazel apparently found an unusual flying object crashed on his land, as well as possibly alien beings who died in the crash. This was reported in the newspaper and caused a major sensation. We can only imagine what the Americans who woke up that morning and read the headlines were feeling. However, the story was soon retracted and the object later dismissed as a downed weather balloon. For years, stories of cover-ups and conspiracies surrounded the event, such as the belief that the whole thing was a cover up to protect a secret US spy balloon.

There was also Project Bluebook, a secret program to study UFOs conducted by the United States Air Force during the 1950s. The stated goal of the program was to determine if UFOs were a national security threat and to scientifically analyze the phenomenon. Finally, there was the mist-shrouded Area 51, a highly classified remote government base, whose primary purpose remains publicly unknown but was thought to possibly be a site for developing and testing experimental aircraft and weapons systems (so-called “black projects”). Only in 2013, following a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) filed in 2005, did the CIA publicly acknowledge the existence of the base for the first time.

This brings us to the current situation regarding UFOs. In 2017 a breaking story hit the front pages of three major news outlets: the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Politico.5 The Times article detailed how the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) had been funding a highly secretive program to study UFOs called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP). This program, which was funded “off the books”, had been going on for some years. Various important names were mentioned in the article in connection to the program, including Robert Bigelow (the millionaire founder of Bigelow Aerospace), a military intelligence official named Luis Elizondo, engineer Harold E. Puthoff, and former Senator and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Jet fighter footage was also released with the article, showing unknown objects maneuvering in ways that defied understanding of physics and current technical abilities. The article called these objects UAPs (Unidentified Ariel or Anomalous Phenomena), a term that government officials have used increasingly ever since the article’s publication.

This story—really three simultaneous stories, though the Times version received the most attention—triggered massive public engagement, putting UFOs in the public spotlight along with the new name, UAPs. Since then, both the excitement and the intrigue have become almost palpable online and on social media, with the #UFOs and #UAPs trending on Twitter every week. The coordinated media release was connected to a larger movement including some of the same people. For example, Luis Elizondo and Harold E. Puthoff, along with Tom Delonge, guitarist of the rock band blink 182, and several others, some with intelligence and military experience—founded To the Stars… Academy of Arts & Sciences (TTSA), a conglomerate of aerospace, entertainment, and UFO-related elements. Their aim was ostensibly to study “exotic materials” or “metamaterials”—materials that were found or constructed but do not seem to be of natural design or origin. They wanted to test the materials not only for the sake of scientific advancement but with the intention of using them in aerospace design and advanced technologies, or perhaps for military purposes.

Media coverage and growing interest continued over the next few years. Then a book was published in 2021 by James T. Lacatski, Colm A. Kelleher, and George Knapp entitled Skinwalkers at the Pentagon: An Insiders’ Account of the Secret Government UFO Program. This book, in connection with other documents released through FOIA requests, revealed that Department of Defense’s AATIP was a nickname for a larger program: the Advanced Aerospace Weapon Systems Applications Program (AAWSAP). The book was introduced and endorsed by the aforementioned Senator Harry Reid, who had been involved in obtaining funding for the program. This program was, in fact, intended to study all forms of paranormal activity, not only UFOs, and it revolved around a site in Utah known for its anomalous climate, the infamous Skinwalker Ranch, a kind of hotbed of strange activity.6 According to the book, the original description of the program made no mention of such research, which was conducted under the guise of new forms of military and weapons technology. In other words, it was not specifically stated or known that the program was studying paranormal phenomena.

One thread in all of this bears resemblance to comments made by Rudolf Steiner, namely, that we could be being visited by “ourselves” from the future, as representatives of humanity’s future evolutionary condition.7 Last year, for instance, Wisconsin Representative Mike Gallagher suggested that UFOs might be our more evolved selves in the future using a kind of advanced technology to travel through time to interact with our current position, in their past.8 Likewise, Dr. Michael P. Masters, a professor of Biological Anthropology at Montana Tech, published two books on the UFO phenomenon from the standpoint of evolutionary biology and technology with the thesis that the UFO phenomenon comes from “us” in the future with technology so advanced it can evade the space-time problem and travel at the speed of light backward in the stream of time to our present.9

Hynek, Steiner, and the Invisible College

So it seems that, at least amongst a notable cohort of scientists, academics, politicians and journalists, our contemporary quest for truth has led us into the realm of esotericism and the path of Rosicrucianism. Steiner’s direct influence on the study of this phenomenon is visible in the biography of one of the most pivotal figures in modern Ufology, J. Allen Hynek. Josef Allen Hynek was born to Czech parents in 1910, just as Halley’s Comet was passing over the Earth.10 He fell in love with astronomy at a young age and decided to pursue a career as a professional astronomer. He worked at several prestigious observatories and universities in the United States, including Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin, Perkins Observatory in Ohio, and Northwestern University. During World War II, he helped develop the top-secret proximity fuse, a type of sensor for tracking and detonating rockets. He also worked originally with something called Project Sign, a US governmental study of UFOs conducted in 1948, which was a forerunner to the more developed Project Blue Book mentioned above. When Project Blue Book began in 1952—following another brief iteration as Project Grudge—Hynek was kept on as a scientific consultant.

During this period, Hynek met someone who would become very important to him, the French-born computer scientist and astronomer Jacques Vallée (who is now a well-known author in the UFO field but also worked at the Paris Observatory and on the ARPANET, a precursor to the internet). Hynek met Vallée as a graduate student and the two became close friends, working together for the rest of Hynek’s life on the UFO topic. They were instrumental in shifting the discourse about the UFO phenomenon and developing something they called the “interdimensional hypothesis”, which hypothesizes that UFO experiences, instead of being encounters with physical objects or spaceships from other planets, are rather entities and phenomena originating from another dimension of reality. During the 1970s, Hynek and Vallée set up a secret research group of scientists who were interested in studying UFOs in a rigorous, scientific manner. Hynek dubbed this group the “Invisible College.”

Although Hynek never spoke about it publicly, Vallée and others have revealed Hynek’s deep interest in esotericism and dedication to Steiner. The Ufologist Jerome Clark said that Hynek once told him that elementals or nature spirits were the cause of the UFO phenomenon. Another Ufologist, Linda Moulton Howe, claimed that Hynek encouraged her to read Steiner’s Theosophy.11 While some might question the legitimacy of such claims, it makes sense given Hynek’s profound interest in esotericism and Steiner, an interest that began at a young age. As a teenager, he saved his money to purchase a copy of Manly P. Hall’s The Secret Teachings of All Ages (1928), a massive encyclopedia of Kabbalistic, Masonic, and Rosicrucian symbolism and lore, which at that time was only available in an oversized very expensive edition. This interest eventually led Hynek to Steiner, who made the biggest impression on him and became his unstated inspiration and guide.

What was so impressive to Hynek was that Steiner spoke like a scientist and yet believed in the reality of the spiritual or supersensible world, saying that an invisible veil separated it from the material world and, most importantly, that the spiritual could be studied scientifically—it was just that science had not progressed to that stage yet. As John Franch has argued, if Hynek did believe that UFOs were nature spirits, as Clark suggests, he may have specifically identified them with these elementals, the etheric beings of Steiner, which our current science has no way to account for.12

Steiner explicated this in part through something he called the fourth dimension, which is connected to astral space, the world of ideas, desires, and images—living ideas and living images.13 These images are deadened in three-dimensional space, but the fourth dimension transcends time and exists across all time: it is extra-temporal. Below is a drawing from one of Steiner’s lectures, in which he illustrates how the fourth dimension projects into our world and progressively becomes less alive as it enters three-dimensional reality.

Steiner, like many other esotericists, spoke of an ability to “read” in this fourth dimension—a kind of reading in a non-physical library that, in the theosophical literature, is referred to as the Akasha Chronicles. According to Steiner, it is through the fourth dimension that one gains access to the Akasha Chronicles. Significantly, at a recent conference at Rice University, professor Diana Pasulka gave a keynote in which she introduced the concept of a “post-three dimensional archive” to account for such ideas in the history of esotericism and Ufology.14 The concept points to occult or non-physical archives, which certain individuals, scientists, mystics, and esotericists have the ability to gain access to. It is interesting that Steiner spoke of a kind of anti-space or counter-space,15 which sounds similar to the interdimensional hypothesis of Hynek and Vallée, through which one could enter into the information field he called the Akasha Chronicles that could be visualized from the fourth dimension.

Ourselves From the Future?

Hynek was also familiar with the book Outline of Occult Science, in which Steiner developed his esoteric cosmology and methodology for attaining higher knowledge. In this esoteric science, the planet is evolving, metamorphosing, and will culminate in a future incarnation of the earth that Steiner calls Vulcan.

In a lecture from 1921, Steiner offered further details about this future planetary state and human condition, saying that Vulcan beings are involved in our evolutionary process and even here in the present, bringing the fruits of esoteric knowledge down to the earth. He explains that “ourselves”, who have evolved to a future, purely spiritual state, what he calls Vulcan beings, are traveling back in time to visit us (well, also to visit themselves). He speaks of beings from realms beyond the earth, who are not human beings, coming down to earth since the 1870s to help us deal with the “fall of the spirits of darkness” by bringing us esoteric wisdom.16

Similar ideas were popular during Hynek’s time in the New Age movement, the belief that benevolent “space brothers” are watching over us and concerned about the way we are behaving and treating the planet. These beings attempt to intervene and help us. Through his intensive study of UFOs, Hynek became interested in psychic and paranormal phenomena, including channeling, for example. This begs the question: Did Hynek suspect that UFOs were Steiner’s super-earthly beings (i.e. Vulcans) streaming down to the earth, the etheric elementals mentioned by Clark? Explanations for the UFO phenomenon developed by Vallée involved notions of reverse incarnation or a future advanced technology projected backward into the present, perhaps from some other dimension.17 This suggests Hynek may have held a similar view.


In my own experience, the connection between Steiner, Hynek, and Rosicrucianism has caused me to think more deeply about the connection between mysticism and science, and encouraged me to approach esoteric phenomena in a more scientific way. The more I study scientists who were interested in esoteric phenomena and esoteric currents—and there were a lot of them—the more the conflict narrative about science and religion appears untenable. Both esotericism and the honest search for knowledge welcome an encounter with the unknown, extending a sort of hospitality toward everything weird and uncanny, instead of simply relegating data to predesignated categories. In other words, it is only through bringing science and religion into open dialogue that we can hope to achieve understanding, and the study of esotericism is essential for this process. We ignore high strangeness to our intellectual detriment. As Steiner himself put it in the same 1921 lecture series:

Humankind is behaving, one would like to say, in a cosmically rude (kosmisch-rüpelhaften) way toward these beings from the cosmos, who are appearing on earth at first only slowly, but coming nevertheless. Humankind does not care about them, it ignores them. And that is what will increasingly bring the earth into tragic conditions, because more and more spiritual beings will walk among us over the course of the next centuries, whose language we ought to understand. And we understand them only if we try to understand what comes from them, namely, the content of spiritual science. This is what they want to give us, and they want us to act in the spirit of spiritual science, so that spiritual science will be implemented into social behavior and action in Earth existence.18

The case of Hynek and Steiner highlights the magical nature of knowledge associated with esotericism and Ufology, which is apparent in the discourse about the UFO phenomenon today and includes materializing and dematerializing forms of materiality. The lesson of modern Ufology has taught me that science and technology can re-enchant the world, that matter can be magical, that we must invent new approaches to and definitions for materiality and the way we know things. Someone like Hynek was working in this direction and it is important to revisit his ideas and consider what he was trying to do with his work on UFOs.

Title image Photo: Fabrice Villard

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  1. Rudolf Steiner, Die Theosophie des Rosenkreuzers (GA 99; Dornach, Rudolf Steiner Verlag, 1985), 151.
  2. Jeffrey Kripal, Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).
  3. Whitley Strieber and Jeffrey Kripal, The Super Natural: A New Vision Of The Unexplained (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 2016).
  4. Diana Walsh Pasulka, American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology (Oxford University Press, 2019).
  5. Helen Cooper, Ralph Blumenthal, and Leslie Kean, “Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program,” New York Times, December 16, 2017; Joby Warrick, “Head of Pentagon’s Secret ‘UFO’ Office Sought to Make Evidence Public,” The Washington Post, December 16, 2017; Bryan Bender, “The Pentagon’s Secret Search for UFOs.” Politico, December 16, 2017.
  6. The name of the ranch refers to the skinwalker legends of the Diné people.
  7. Paraphrasing “A Picture of Earth-Evolution in the Future,” May 13, 1921, GA 204.
  8. Wisconsin Representative Mike Gallager: UFOs Could Be ‘Us from the Future’.
  9. Michael P. Masters, Identified Flying Objects: A Multidisciplinary Scientific Approach to the UFO Phenomenon (self-published, 2019); The Extratempestrial Model (La Vergne: Full Circle Press, 2022).
  10. Biographical information concerning Hynek is extracted primarily from Mark O’Connell, The Close Encounters Man: How One Man Made the World Believe in UFOs (Dey Street Books, 2017); John Franch, “The Secret Life of J. Allen Hynek,” Skeptical Inquirer 37, no. 1, 2013; and Jacques Vallée’s personal journals from this period, published under the title Forbidden Science.
  11. Clark, Jerome. 1998. UFO UpDates Mailing List, December 1. Online at http://www.cohenufo.org/Hynek/clark_re_hynk2.htm. Linda Moulton Howe told this story during in interview on the radio show Coast to Coast.
  12. Franch, “The Secret Life of J. Allen Hynek.”.
  13. Rudolf Steiner, Die vierte Dimension: Mathematik und Wirklichkeit (GA 324a; Rudolf Steiner Verlag: Dornach, 1995).
  14. Rice Humanities, “Archives of the Impossible conference | Fourth plenary session, March 5, 2022: Diana Pasulka,” video, 46:32, May 22, 2022.
  15. Steiner first mentions the concept of “counter-space” in the third of his courses on the Natural Sciences (GA 323) in the context of non-Euclidean geometry.
  16. Rudolf Steiner, “A Picture of Earth-Evolution in the Future,” May 13, 1921, GA 204.
  17. See Kripal, Authors of the Impossible, 173-174, 188.
  18. Rudolf Steiner, “A Picture of Earth-Evolution in the Future,” May 13, 1921, GA 204.

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