The first time I became truly aware of the connection between UFOs and owls was when I saw Olatunde Osunsanmi’s The Fourth Kind (2009). Milla Jovovich plays psychologist Dr. Abigail Tyler, who moves to the small, desolate town of Nome, Alaska. She soon discovers a disturbing pattern between strange dreamlike experiences the locals have, involving owls. Constructed as a mix between drama and documentary, the story unfolds a chilling revelations between mysterious disappearances and UFOs — yes, good old alien abductions. The film caused controversy when it came, both from those who was initially fooled by the claim it’s based on true events and filmed regression therapy sessions (something that Jovovich herself states in the introduction to the film) and the citizens of Nome got angry because they felt it was capitalizing on real disappearances in the area.
Between 1960 and 2004 no less than 24 people had disappeared there, and the rumor mill was running wild. Was there a serial killer on the loose? Maybe aliens and their always present flying saucers were the culprit of these gruesome events? No bodies were ever found. According to the FBI’s investigation, the disappearances were the result of excessive alcohol consumption in combination with the harsh winter climate. It might seem a bit tasteless to make a movie about it, at least that’s what Nome thought, but The Fourth Kind is still — after all — a pretty good chiller. And it introduced owls to a mainstream audience in a very intriguing way.
The owl connection to UFOs and high strangeness wasn’t new at the time. The bird was mentioned most famously in Whitley Strieber’s book Communion, where the author tells the fascinating story of his own possible abduction and contact with beings from another realm: “There was a white owl that used to stand in our backyard and watch the windows of my bedroom when I was a child. It made my folks nervous. This was during the time that they started nailing the screens shut”. Strieber also mentions how he, the morning after his first encounter, December 27, 1985, woke up with a very strong discomfortable feeling and the intensive memory of having seen a barn owl looking at him through the window. Very creepy if you ask me. I won’t bring up the history of UFOs and owls here — there’s others who have already done it better, for example Mike Mclelland in his book The Messengers: Owls, Synchronicity and the UFO Abductee and its sequel, Stories from The Messengers: Accounts of Owls, UFOs and a Deeper Reality. Instead I will look a bit closer at a few cases where owls have played a part in Swedish cases.
Like so many other teenagers during the summer of 1966, our two witnesses, two 15 year old boys, had been out enjoying themselves and now were on their way home. Söderbärkeparken, situated eight kilometers from their home in Sörbo, Dalarna Country, was — and still is — a very traditional Swedish “people’s park”, a form of venue where dances, concerts and markets are held. Also, at least once upon a time, a popular hangout for youths. At Söderbärkeparken, or “Pärlan vid Barken” (the pearl by Barken — which is the name of the nearby lake — as it’s called) an octagon shaped dance floor and stage, was the central point, often hosting a pop band or other kind of artist. The boys shared one moped this evening, modified of course — therefore illegal — and took the smaller dirt roads home to avoid getting caught. It was a Saturday in July and life was fab.
Around half the way home it was time for a pee break. While standing there one of them suddenly saw an owl up at a hayrack, looking down at them. It was dark, but the kind of summer darkness you only can experience in Sweden: bright and perfectly visible. The main witness, who much later, in 2009, reported the incident, was an avid bird watcher and wanted to show the owl to his friend. He aimed the moped’s headlight towards the owl, and through that revealed something way more bizarre hidden in the darkness.
On a height of 100–200 meters, and on a 45 degree angle from where they stood, a huge, silver colored craft was hanging silently in the air. It was matt metallic and moving very slowly, while at the same time flashing — like camera flashes. The size of it was impossible to tell, but the witness describes it as a horizontal highrise with some kind of clear, visible structure. They decide to follow the strange craft, as it moves slowly over the countryside, until it seems to land on a field. The latter is difficult to tell, as a mist was surrounding it — the only mist during this clear summer night. After hovering over the field for a while it takes off again and seems to be moving along the power lines.
Excited by the strange sight, they decide to quickly drive home to tell their parents — and as they do that, with around three kilometers left, the craft flies away with a powerful speed until it’s merely a bright dot in the sky.
It seems to be the owl was the start of it all, a messenger of some sorts. At least, if you want to see the experience as something out of the ordinary, something it for sure was for the teenage boys. Seeing owls as an omen of something supernatural happening is common, and further connects the animal — as a symbol or physical being — to the phenomena in a fascinating way. During my research, mostly with the help of old Swedish UFO magazines and newsletters, I have found several incidents where the witnesses are outdoors for the sole reason of specifically seeing or hearing owls. The owls haven’t been present before, during or after the incidents — or even considered important — but the purpose was to find them. In one case, in the UK, the well known researcher Jenny Randles, found out that what the witnesses saw was an owl. It was flying at night, holding rotten, fluorescent mushrooms in its beak — causing an observation of something that at first seemed out of this world.
In a letter to Galaxen in 1998, the membership magazine for the Umeå UFO Association, an unnamed woman describes in a letter a very odd — and more otherworldly encounter. She and a friend were out bicycling one evening in October 1993 when she noticed the beautiful aurora borealis covering the sky. Looking up, she saw what she first thought was an airplane coming towards them. It wasn’t a normal airplane though, as her warning to her friend tells us: “It’s a monster airplane! A monster airplane!” she yelled in panic. The front of the craft was elongated with protruding nails and on top domes were visible. It didn’t become less scary after it flew down up close (no less than ten meter away!) and hovered in front of them, first with the nails towards her — which made her think she would be impaled. It then slowly turned until they could see the side where a big window or opening became visible. Out came a white grey-like alien, with big black eyes with visible pupils. It smiled at them with its thin, lipless mouth.
It wasn’t until afterwards, after the craft had taken off and she was home, she started to remember more details from the encounter. She had met two other beings, not counting the smiling one exiting the craft at the start. One was a terribly ugly turtle like creature with pitch black eyes. She was so scared of it she didn’t dare to talk. Instead someone else took the lead, with a — in relationship to this text — a more familiar look.
It was very similar to a big owl, with feather-ish fur and three arms (!), and with no beak. The owl creature spoke telepathically with her and asked how humans lived and other general questions. It seemed like the turtle creature and its race were sick, and she noticed it looked sad.
This is a wild story — and one of those where one might wonder if it all just was a hallucination, vivid imagination run wild or just an attention craving hoax. The woman chose to be anonymous, which (kinda) removes the last one, but as we all know — the crave for attention comes in many different costumes. On the other side, it has that dreamlike quality I appreciate with encounters — a big owl with three arms? Why make up such a thing? Could this be seen as the shape-shifter archetype, a deformed way to show itself as something familiar to keep the witness calm? It much feels like an inner experience, with a net of symbols and past information/experiences coming together to a profound event for the witness. One might ask why these beings always come to our little planet to ask for advice and support? Is it our own inner wish to feel important that manifests itself through events like this?
Let’s connect back to the 1966 encounter, with the owl as a messenger — or a portal — into another realm. In August 1980 the Swedish expat, Chicago citizen Ingvar Oskar Johansson was in Sweden on his yearly visit. He and his eleven year old son were in their car driving from the Swedish east coast to an overnight stay in Åseda. It was late in the evening and Ingvar pushed the speed limit up to 100 k/h. Slightly south of Blomstermåla he noticed (the son was asleep in the backseat) how the whole sky was lit up by a light blue glow. Suddenly a big owl flew up in front of the car, up against the windshield and sat down and looked at him. “The face of the owl was uncannily human”, he later told a journalist. It was screaming at him. How long it lasted he didn’t know, but he got terribly scared. The owl flew away and Ingvar and his son continued their journey, still driving fast along the country roads towards Åseda. The drive went on for a couple of miles, until the next strange thing happened, this time slightly south of Kråksmåla on road 125.
On the road he could see something standing. Ingvar first thought it was a moose, but the closer he got he noticed it was floating above the asphalt. It wasn’t a moose. It was something more sinister and was slightly crooked, like it was hunched over a bit. The being was covered with brown-gray short fur and it “stood” on two legs. Together with a tail and long ears it had two distinct horns. “Ahead of me on the road stood the evil one himself. I’m no fool, and I don’t believe in the devil, but I’ve seen him”. The creature swept over the car, and he stopped to check so he hadn’t hit someone. Nothing was to be found.
Once again we’re encountering the owl as a gatekeeper, or an omen, into the unknown. A sign something is coming at you. Ingvar was a practical man and couldn’t find any meaning or symbolism in his encounter. Today it’s easy to see something else than the devil, namely the goatman. The legend of his horned beast was popularized in the early seventies, when a family in Maryland blamed the decapitation of their dog on this creature, but the archetype itself, half man and half goat, could easily be seen as a modern Faun or Satyr of Greek mythology — or in this world of Hellier, the nature god himself, Pan. Why an atheist like Ingvar would encounter such a creature in the Swedish countryside is a good question, but he stood by his story for the rest of his life. This is, what I know, the only appearance of such a beast in Sweden.
Let’s go back a few years, to 1947 — a year that can be called the year of the UFOs. It was when Kenneth Arnold had his observation of nine flying objects above Mount Rainier — a sighting which, by a mistake, coined the expression “flying saucer”. A few weeks later the (in)famous incident at Roswell caused headlines all over the world and the year before, in 1946, thousands of ghost rockets were seen above Sweden and the rest of Europe. Something was happening for sure, and maybe that’s the reason lieutenant Gustav Nilsson claimed he saw what he saw, an inspiring interpretation biased by the current news. Maybe he really saw something out of the ordinary? The thing is, it’s just so damn odd.
Lt. Nilsson had been out on an (I presume — it is a bit unclear) military exercise at Mårtanberg, about 15 kilometers outside the town of Rättvik, Dalarna County. It was him and his team, and all of them first noticed a hissing sound (like pressured air or steam being let out) — followed by two cigar-shaped objects flying on a distance of 500–600 meters from them. Occasionally they flew closer to the top of the trees. At the front, on the tip, they had something that reminded him of a car antenna. Lt. Nilsson grabbed a level and used it as a binocular. Mostly to see if they had wings or not, as the witnesses discussed if this could be gliders going down to land on a nearby field. The instrument was small and difficult to use, but he managed to write down a very detailed description of what he saw: “The small windows appeared to be made in such a way that the whole body was painted on the inside. These round windows, however, appeared as lines all around. At the back there were a large number of small holes or pipes that were directed straight back. A strange face appeared in the large window. It looked like a big owl head with big eyes but with a kind of mouth instead of a beak”.
As the military man he was he added that the owl face could have been some kind of mask or disguise. One thing was sure, it just wasn’t painted to look like that. Captain Sund at the Defence Staff, later in 1952 (the same year as Lt. Nilsson reported the incident) was skeptical. How could the witness have seen all those details, more than referred above, with just a level? No matter what happened that day in 1947, the result is one of the more odd observations from the era. Remains of the ghost rocket flap — or something else? Did Gustav Nilsson’s eyes play him a trick or did he really see something out of the ordinary? We will, as you might understand, never know.
It’s been tricky to find a connection between owls and UFOs in Sweden. Maybe it can be traced — but take it with a grain of salt — to our detachment of nature, from what once experienced connected to the outdoors, deep forests and fields. The owl is pushed out from our collective consciousness, as technology and “rational thinking” have taken over our old beliefs. I say a grain of salt, because Sweden is literally covered with forests and other kinds of nature and Swedes have a documented fondness for outdoor life. This doesn’t mean owls are unimportant, and my stream of consciousness here might be contradictory. So be it. As Staffan Andersson brings up in his excellent book Danaiderna: Ett försök att förstå UFO-fenomenet, where he examines the relationship between Scandinavian folklore and UFOs, the owls have always been here. Vättar, a mythological being, was known to be shape-shifters and sometimes transform themselves to owls. The same with elves and other kinds of nature spirits. It’s a symbol which comes back to haunt us, though twisted and absurd and injected with the modern UFO mythos.
A few years ago my husband went out in the forest during nighttime to look for owls. He saw one, sitting on the side of a tree, looking down at him. “Can you send me a feather?”, he thought and at the same moment the owl let go of its grasp of the tree, flew over him and down came a feather.
A gift from Magonia maybe? I chose to believe so. If someone asked me how to see a UFO, I’d say either go owl watching or fishing. Embrace the peaceful calm and remember to watch the skies.
Fred Andersson is a Swedish story producer, researcher and writer with over twenty years of experience in commercial television and the author of three books. He lives in Märsta, outside Stockholm, with his photographer husband Grzegorz and two overly active cats. Join him on Twitter and Instagram.
Lt. Gustav Nilssons original report (letter to Royal Swedish Air Force Materiel Administration , September 28, 1952)
“Flygande tefan kan vara meteorer, billjus i uppförsbacke, radarhägring” (Dagens Nyheter, October 10, 1952)
“Jag såg djävulen” (Per-Ola Jonasson, Smålandsposten, August 8, 1987)
Esotericism and UFO Research: A Selection and Compilation of Blog Entries 2013–2017 (https://www.ufo.se/images/UFO/pdf/EsotericismandUFOResearch.pdf)
Reader’s letter (Galaxen, issue 1, 1998)
“200 människor har kidnappats av rymdvarelser” (newspaper clipping from unknown Swedish magazine, reproduced in UFO-Nytt, issue 1, 1989)
“Danaiderna: Ett försök att förstå UFO-fenomenet” (Staffan Andersson, Parthenon, 1999)