By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
UFOs saw their biggest heyday to date in the 1950s. The so-called “golden age” of flying saucers led to mysticism, cults, conspiracy theories, and more. Who and what caused this occult renaissance in the United States?
UFO sightings in the United States date back to the 17th century, but they spiked in the 1950s and early 1960s. Two events in 1947 seemed to kick off the meteoric rise of saucer sightings: the commercial airline pilot Kenneth Arnold’s report of “flying discs” flying over Washington state in June and the alleged crash of a flying saucer in Roswell, New Mexico, the following month. Arnold’s sighting sparked hundreds of copycat sightings, while the Roswell incident remains a point of fascination to this day.
How did these two events lead to the desert cults, anti-nuclear energy sentiment, and prominent mystics claiming to be mediums for interplanetary intelligences? In his video series Secrets of the Occult, Dr. Richard B. Spence, Professor Emeritus at the University of Idaho, traces UFO hysteria back to its heyday.
Williamson and Adamski
Beginning in August 1952, occult enthusiast George Hunt Williamson hosted a series of “contact sessions,” using a homemade Ouija board with the intent of speaking with several intelligent alien species from multiple worlds. He and his friend Alfred Bailey coauthored the book The Saucers Speak, which claims to contain their many successful attempts at contacting aliens.
“Alfred Bailey quickly faded from the scene, but George Hunt Williamson went on to become a major figure in the so-called contactee movement, i.e., those who believe they’ve made personal contact, be it physical or psychic, with extraterrestrial beings,” Dr. Spence said. “Williamson became one of the four Georges of the golden age of flying saucers, along with George Adamski, George King, and George van Tassel.”
George Adamski prided himself as a purveyor of mysticism, leading Williamson and Bailey on a saucer hunt in November 1952. There, Adamski claimed to meet a blond, androgynous Venusian named “Orthon” who lectured Adamski and other mediums about humanity’s need for spiritual enlightenment and the perils of nuclear energy. Luckily for Adamski, nobody knew yet that Venus was a gaseous planet incapable of sustaining life.
King and Van Tassel
“Others were getting the same message—or, in on the same act,” Dr. Spence said. “In May 1954, London cabbie George King said he was driving along when a voice popped into his head proclaiming, ‘Prepare yourself! You are to become the voice of the Interplanetary Parliament!’ King duly performed the Aetherius Society, which is still around. Members conduct rituals to store psychic ‘prayer energy’ or magical intention, in ‘radionic batteries.'”
Rounding out the four Georges of the golden age is George van Tassel. Like Williamson, Van Tassel began claiming, though in 1952, that he received telepathic messages from space beings. Van Tassel held his psychic channeling sessions in a vault carved out beneath a giant rock in the Mojave Desert.
“His biggest contribution to the emerging field of UFOlogy was organizing the first Interplanetary Spacecraft Convention in 1953,” Dr. Spence said. “It became an annual event, a kind of ‘Burning Man’ for saucer-heads, drawing thousands for nearly a quarter century.”
Van Tassel, claiming he was instructed by aliens, built a large structure called the Integratron to focus cosmic energies and use harmonic resonances to perform all kinds of miracles, including extending life, and for time travel. Wondrium has more on Van Tassel here.
Legacies and Reflection
With their various UFO encounters, psychic phenomena, mystical orders, books, and other deeds spurring on the golden age of flying saucers, the four Georges had left an impact on UFOlogy. All four men have since passed away. Williamson combined his psychic channeling with a small contactee cult and coauthored several books before disappearing into private life in 1961, dying in 1986. Adamski died of a heart attack in 1965, two years after an incident in which he claimed to be a go-between for Pope John XXIII and a group of extraterrestrials.
George King passed away in 1997, but his Aetherius Society continues practicing; while Van Tassel died in 1978, leaving the Integratron unfinished.
Secrets of the Occult is now available to stream on Wondrium.