With the news of the “Unidentified Flying Octopoid” alleged to have damaged a wind turbine near Lincolnshire, England late last week, there appears to be a sudden (though minor) surge in interest in the once popular notion of “atmospheric life forms”. This term refers specifically to a concept adopted by many well known Fortean researchers, especially during the 1950s, who believed UFOs weren’t mechanical spacecraft, but were instead living creatures which existed in the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere. In modern times, especially with the multitude of information available regarding crashed “saucers” like those allegedly recovered from sites like Roswell, New Mexco, it isn’t hard to understand why this explanation hasn’t recieved as much press. Still, I’ve noticed a variety of different stories appearing on various websites in the last few days, with general discussion and interest in the matter at what could be a peak it hasn’t reached in years, or even decades. One particular article that I just happened across was written by my friend Steve Hammons, a prolific UFO researcher whose contributions to the investigation of the UFOs witnessed over Stephenville, Texas last year were immeasurable. His article, available at the American Chronicle website, can be read by clicking here.

Even prior to the advent of modern Ufology around the time of Kenneth Arnold’s famous sighting of “Saucers” over Mount Ranier, Washington, there were theories proposed concerning such creatures. Perhaps the earliest published mention of this sort of phenomenon was issued by none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in his 1913 fiction story “The Horror of the Heights,” which contained the following ornate passage of the discovery of a large, tentacled monstrosity gliding along in the Earth’s upper strata by a pilot who dared to glide to altitudes that challenged Earth’s extremities:

The thought was in my mind when my eyes looked upwards and I saw the most wonderful vision that ever man has seen. Can I hope to convey it to you even as I saw it myself last Thursday? Conceive a jelly-fish such as sails in our summer seas, bell- shaped and of enormous size–far larger, I should judge, than the dome of St. Paul’s. It was of a light pink colour veined with a delicate green, but the whole huge fabric so tenuous that it was but a fairy outline against the dark blue sky. It pulsated with a delicate and regular rhythm. From it there depended two long, drooping, green tentacles, which swayed slowly backwards and forwards. This gorgeous vision passed gently with noiseless dignity over my head, as light and fragile as a soap-bubble, and drifted upon its stately way.

Sherlock Holmes : The Complete Novels and Stories (Bantam Classic) Volume I

Perhaps Doyle’s fantastic meanderings of the mind would inspire Charles Fort to muse along the same lines in his 1931 book Lo!, in which he discussed giant beasts that could exist in the skies above us. More than two decades later, an article published in 1955 in American Astrology magazine by Countess Zoe Wassilko-Serecki described similar creatures as “large luminous bladders of colloidal silicones that assume different shapes depending on whether they are stationary or moving.” This particular description of alleged “sky beasts” seems to draw again from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s descriptions of monsters in his fiction, as illustrated n the following passage:

“But a more terrible experience was in store for me. Floating downwards from a great height there came a purplish patch of vapour, small as I saw it first, but rapidly enlarging as it approached me, until it appeared to be hundreds of square feet in size. Though fashioned of some transparent, jelly-like substance, it was none the less of much more definite outline and solid consistence than anything which I had seen before. There were more traces, too, of a physical organization, especially two vast, shadowy, circular plates upon either side, which may have been eyes, and a perfectly solid white projection between them which was as curved and cruel as the beak of a vulture. The whole aspect of this monster was formidable and threatening, and it kept changing its colour from a very light mauve to a dark, angry purple so thick that it cast a shadow as it drifted between my monoplane and the sun. On the upper curve of its huge body there were three great projections which I can only describe as enormous bubbles, and I was convinced as I looked at them that they were charged with some extremely light gas which served to buoy up the misshapen and semi-solid mass in the rarefied air… Its method of progression… was to throw out a long, glutinous streamer in front of it, which in turn seemed to draw forward the rest of the writhing body. So elastic and gelatinous was it that never for two successive minutes was it the same shape, and yet each change made it more threatening and loathsome than the last.”

Indeed, the parallels between nearly every description of the supposed “sky beasts” of Ufology’s golden era seemed to draw from Doyle’s imaginative creatures. Could this have been the inspiration for such monsters among theories proposed by the likes of Trevor James Constable, Charles Fort, and even Ivan Sanderson?

On the contrary, there may in fact be earlier links between jelly-like creatures and Earth’s skies. Welsh traditions involving what is called Pwdre Ser, meaning “rot from the stars”, dealt with the notion that when a shooting star fell to Earth, if one could trace it’s path of flight to an open field, a jelly would lay on the ground to mark the spot where the object had fallen. Of course, it is likely that the jellies discovered lying in fields in this way, especially in the spring time, were actually funguses that had been mistaken for being the literal essence of a dying star fallen from the sky. Perhaps this too could have led to the perception that an odd jelly-like creature which had existed above the clouds might have fallen to Earth.

The common link between these aforementioned “critters” remains that, apparently, few if any actual sightings of creatures were ever witnessed to lend to such speculation; saving a few inconclusive reports almost more Fortean than Ufological in nature (not that the entire notion of “sky beasts” doesn’t cross hairs between cryptozoological and UFO related phenomena anyway). However, strange sightings of creatures resembling jelly fish, manta rays, and most recently an “octopus” with the sightings of the object credited with destroying the wind turbine which we’re all now so danged familiar with. Assuming that something does indeed exist to lend themselves to such reports, are these strange manifestations UFO craft that resemble deep-sea life vaguely, or are they indeed life forms that have adapted to flight in much the same way a similar-looking sea creatures were able to do beneath the ocean’s depths? Or, are they something else altogether… if they aren’t our imaginations playing with us (or perhaps even that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s from beyond the grave)?

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Micah Hanks

Author: Micah Hanks

Micah Hanks is a writer, researcher, and podcaster. His interests include areas of history, science, archaeology, philosophy, and the study of anomalous phenomena in nature. He can be reached at info@micahhanks.com.

One Reply to “Atmospheric Life Forms: Ghosts of Ufology’s Forgotten Past”

  1. This stuff just keeps tickling the imagination doesn’t it… throw in some horror story ‘tulpas’ and you’ve got some good old-fashioned HPL nightmare fuel!

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