Pancakes served from a flying saucer. Intergalactic elves invited into the home of an English housewife. Tiny gnomes driving tiny cars. A spooky robotic clown entity named Sam. Bigfoot reading a newspaper inside a UFO. It’s called high strangeness, when meetings with the unknown transcends the weirdness built into the situation itself and becomes pure madness. The more absurd details, the higher the strangeness.
The expression high strangeness was first coined — or at least popularized — by astronomer and ufologist Dr J. Allen Hynek in his excellent dissection of the UFO phenomenon, The UFO Experience: A scientific enquiry (1972), but there’s indications that the term was used earlier than so but never gained popularity. Hynek used different kinds of strangeness levels, as he pretty vaguely describes in the book: “More precisely, it can be taken as a measure of the number of information bits the report contains, each of which is difficult to explain in common-sense terms. A light seen in the night sky the trajectory of which, cannot be ascribed to a balloon, aircraft, etc., would nonetheless have a low Strangeness Rating because there is only one strange thing about’ the report to explain: its motion. A report of a weird craft that descended to within 100 feet of a car on a lonely road, caused the car’s engine to die, its radio to stop, and its lights to go out, left marks on the nearby ground, and appeared to be under intelligent control receives a high Strangeness Rating because it contains a number of separate very strange items, each of which outrages common sense.”.
The reason why I’m so fascinated by observations that go further than what a “normal” observation is the concept of nonsense. Humans, by all means, are rational in the way they want to put things where they belong. When witnesses saw weird things in the sky in 1897 they took that absurd concept and transformed it into mysterious airships, and much later on people saw airplanes and rockets and sooner than that, 50’s style flying saucers. It’s like the evolution of the design of flying crafts is following our own cultural evolution. This is not an new idea, but in a world of high tech drones, retired military witnesses and fishy disinformation spooks it’s refreshing — and dare I say healthy — to encounter reports where what the witness saw actually makes little sense. Because why make something up that will make you be ridiculed by friends and foes? The risk that it will happen is high in any case. Why make it worse?
In Randall Nickerson’s 2022 documentary Ariel Phenomenon (a word pun, referring to the Ariel school in Zimbabwe and a misspelling of the word aerial) we meet some of the 60 children who saw a unknown, possibly otherworldly craft, land right outside their school yard during the middle of the day, revealing two beings. It’s an incredibly fascinating case, one of the most convincing ones in modern times. Mostly because the kids had the opportunity to talk about it directly afterwards, and also draw sketches of what they saw. Not to forget the amount of witnesses, which is rare in this weird business of lonely farmers surprised by flying saucers landing on dark country roads in the middle of nowhere. While you find the traditional stuff in the Ariel incident, there’s the weird details that stand out.
Several witnesses saw the beings move in slow motion, like astronauts walking on the moon, where the gravity pull is different. There were also reports of one of the beings getting caught in a loop, running from one end of the area to another to disappear and over and over again start over from the beginning. A couple of the kids told about a high pitched sound, like a flute, being heard during the observation. British researcher, investigator and researcher Jenny Randles once coined the expression The Oz Factor, “…the experience of being isolated or transported by the real world of everyday life into another environment which is quite similar to the real world but changed enough to be noticeable and disturbing.” (Encyclopedia.com), which for certain would fit in even here. A place where logic and reason is tossed aside and something else is being offered from the set banquet table of fairy land.
The absurd parts of observations form the whole part of the paranormal spectrum are often ignored, but too seldom from the witnesses themselves — maybe of the fear of being ridiculed from inside the paranormal community itself, a group of people who desperately want to be taken seriously by all means. Ms Randles, who had always been at the frontline embracing the high strangeness aspects of the field, suggested in BUFORA Bulletin no. 26, 1987, investigators to use an Oz Factor Questionnaire:
The strangeness of our subjective reality isn’t something that should be taken lightly, there is a difference of perception from each one of us, and for some it’s a lot more than others. The absurdity of the phenomena has always intrigued me. When witnesses report what they have seen and experienced there’s often something that doesn’t feel right, not from our human point of view. We have Joe Simonton and the space pancakes, Mrs Jean Hingley offering tea to alien-fairies, Rune Näslund watching white, fuzzy box-like entities inspecting his workplace. The examples never end, at least if you look beyond UAPs and alleged government cover-ups.
I’ve said for years now that I consider the phenomenon to be a natural force, some kind of element like fire and water, but something beyond our understanding. Some call it Aether, but Oz Factor, Goblin Universe and High Strangeness are names as good as any. It’s something that just acts on us and our environment, in some ways a force lacking an awareness other than being playful, bizarre and odd. Researcher John E.L. Tenney often says it wants us to come out and play, to explore. To trigger us into using our imagination. I like that. My good friend Milly compared its nonsense behavior to dogs gnawing on every stick they find, cats scratching on sofas — they just do it because they NEED to do it, and the phenomenon’s aim is creating nonsense and will behave cheeky until someone notices it. Maybe it’s to wake us up from our bored slumber?
During the Ariel school incident the children were bombarded by images of the world, and through that learned that we need to take care of it. Symbols such as images make us learn faster and more effectively, and it’s way more fun than reading long, boring manuals of how to behave. What if it all, both UFOs and its inhabitants, are symbols at work? A sighting of a UFO or a being makes us think, as it’s so absurd and unreal and beyond our own reality. It might be nonsense, both the what we first see and what the ghosts, cryptids and aliens do when we finally see them, but if they’re a language by themselves it might seem like nonsense at first. Remember that an foreign language is nonsense until you’ve learned it.
Maybe by entering Oz, boosting the strangeness up way high, knocking on the door to the goblin universe we’re also treated to another communication. We need to see the flying saucer as something else than just an alien craft and Bigfoot something more in-depth and advanced as another BHM (Big Hairy Monster, as coined by John A. Keel)?
There’s a lot of maybe’s here, but maybe it is more constructive and curiously-minded than belief. So MAYBE the phenomenon doesn’t just want us to come out and play or expand our imagination, maybe it wants to baffle us in the name of baffle. A knock on our wooden heads to make us understand that there’s more to reality than what we’ve been led to believe — and it’s fun.
The language of Oz makes no sense, and it might be for the best. Because what’s left to explore if there’s any mysteries left to explore? To quote the overrated old fart Winston Churchill, it’s a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. It’s a kind of truth in it — whatever the truth is in the end? The thing is, I have no idea, that’s for sure. But it keeps triggering me in positive ways — and that’s all what matters to me.
Because what is life without exploring? What’s life without treasure hunts and adventures? It’s all up to us to use the weirdness of this existence in the best possible way.
Let’s go out and play and never look back again.
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.