Tujunga Canyon Contacts: Revisited, Reconsidered
"Light Pollution" James Opiyo Dreamstime stock photos, Little Tujunga Canyon
The vlog link is here
I don’t know why I never read The Tujunga Canyon Contacts by Ann Druffel and D Scott Rogo while doing my graduate work on UFO abductions. I was an idiot. I eventually got to it. As I’ve been going back and rereading some of the best UFO/Paranormal classics over the last several months, it seemed a good idea to revisit these cases, and boy howdy was I rewarded.
There is much to recommend in The Tujunga Canyon Cases, not only in the accounts themselves and the implications, but in the various interpretations that Druffel and Rogo present as being possibly significant in understanding the complexity of the accounts. This is in spite of the fact that some of these discussions are dated by our current standards.
Understanding the larger context of what Druffel and Rogo are trying to accomplish can make sense of why they approach the Tujunga contact cases in the manners they do. You don’t have to like these interpretations, but given what they had to work with, there’s a sense to be made here.
My review of this important work will go in a few different directions, following my own interests and connections. If nothing else, The Tujunga Canyon casebook is an important historical document as it evinces very precisely the concerns that investigators need to take into account when conducting these kinds of studies, especially the factors of time and patience.
I’ll also be responding to a recent podcast of “Our Strange Skies” that was done over the summer and can be found here. That podcast also gives a good overview of the case. At the same time, there are some concerns in the podcast that could be more completely addressed, and that I plan to cover, especially since I can personally speak to social and political realities that are underlying the text.
Think of my approach as a sociological and anthropological primer, a means of understanding and unpacking content and context, particularly with older texts that may not reflect current cultural and scientific understanding.
Briefly, The Tujunga Canyon Contacts describes the exploration (conducted in the 1970’s) of several apparent UFO contactee/abductee experiences which began in 1953 and continued, at various degrees of frequency, among a loosely connected group of women who were members of what would now be called the LBGTQA+ community.
The initial reported experiences involved Sara and Jan (both pseudonyms), who shared an incident involving bright lights, strange entities and missing time. More details below. The text was first published in 1980 and an updated 2nd edition in 1989.
Sara is the driven member of this group, and it is through her efforts to discover what happened to her that the rest of the overlapping cases unfold, although she didn’t begin to uncover the extent of those 1953 memories until over 20 years later. Through careful hypnosis, over time, Sara recovers some of her memories and the researchers discover that the entire complex of contact/abduction is much more complicated than they had originally anticipated.
Sara, the principal witness, recalled that, she and Jan were awakened by incredibly bright lights outside their bedroom window, followed by an invasion of strange entities that seemed to take control of her body (and Jan—who was never able to remember anything very clear about the events), float her/them outside, clinically examine her, and provide her with medical information about a cure for cancer.
This sequence was remembered years later after Sara was hypnotized in several sessions with qualified hypnotists. Initially, she just recalled some troubling images and a significant time lapse. Jan remembered only the light, a few disconnected images and the time lapse.
The completed study uncovered that Jan, apparently, was the central node, or nexus, around which the other contacts/abductions occurred. Other women who reported experiences were all connected in one way or another to Jan specifically, even though, despite concentrated effort, no amount of hypnosis ever helped Jan recover her own experiences to any significant degree.
Readers may remember that Druffel was the main investigator of the Harrison Bailey abduction account, a report that dates back a full decade before the Hill abduction was said to have occurred. The Tujunga Canyon cases, at least the initial reports, also occurred before the Hill abduction, as mentioned, in 1953.
This does indicate, that even in 1980, it was clear that abduction experiences were occurring far earlier than previously thought. In fact, as I read the book, I realized that the initial Tujunga contacts occurred during the same time period that Al Bender had his first encounters with the Three Men and George Adamski had published his first contactee book.
When one remembers that the Harrison Bailey encounters first occurred in 1951 and places them alongside the initial Tujunga Canyon contacts, it makes sense of how strange and tenuous those accounts seem to be. There was no mainstream narrative of contact or abduction yet—nothing and no one to which these individuals could compare their experiences.
In fact, it wasn’t until the late 1960s/early 1970s that enough of a context began to exist that both Harrison and Sara sought out assistance from researchers to an attempt to understand what had happened to them so many years previous.
The Tujunga Canyon Contacts was published prior to Communion and Budd Hopkins’ Missing Time, so the main comparative references used by Druffel are to the Hills, Betty Andreasson, Travis Walton, and the Pascagoula fishermen. Significantly, Druffel also includes elements of Bailey’s account as well, and speculates about how race was an important factor in the UFO community taking his story seriously.
For Druffel, the early nature of the Tujunga contacts is one factor of interest. The other is that, all of the abductees/contactees were members of the LBGQTA+ community (she references them as gay, lesbian, or unconventional as the acronym didn’t exist until the late 2000’s) and knew each other through their associations within that community which was undoubtedly much smaller and tight-knit in the 1970’s/80’s—at the time of publishing.
The sexualities of the witnesses are of interest to both Druffel and Rogo, although for very different reasons. Druffel notes that reported UFO entities in abduction cases often seem to be interested in reproduction or sex and that perhaps they were interested in examining non-reproductive lifestyles (although two of the women involved in these reports did, in fact, have children).
Rogo takes a more predictable stance, invoking Freud and rape fantasies when Sara confirms that she had issues surrounding the social limits placed on her because of her sexuality (her identity appears to change over the course of her life). After the initial abduction experience, Sara left her lesbian “lifestyle” to attempt two heterosexual marriages, both of which failed.
That being said, Druffel’s general approach, is accepting and remarkably transparent for the time period. This is one of the places where individuals who did not grow up before the 2003 Lawrence v Texas case overturned sodomy laws in the U.S. have really no frame of reference for understanding how Druffel and Rogo are walking on eggshells in their reporting on the Tujunga contact cases.
I’ll say that again, there were states that still prohibited gay/lesbian consensual sex until 2003. That’s only 20 years ago. As a reminder, the last edition of The Tujunga Canyon Contacts was published in 1989.
The first edition of The Tujunga Canyon came out right before AIDS as the “gay disease” became a national concern and first focus of the newly empowered Moral Majority, religious right. It was still possible and quite common, for individuals who were gay/lesbian (and those were really the only two categories even recognized as existing) to get fired, denied housing or otherwise stigmatized. In the state where I resided, if the authorities decided to prosecute a sodomy charge, it could result in a mandatory 15 year sentence in the state pen.
This was a reality that I lived through. I was fired from my first “real” job in 1983 for not being heterosexual (my boss correctly determined that I wouldn’t be willing to sleep with him) and a group of friends and I were verbally and physically harassed and threatened with guns by a bunch of good old boys and their girlfriends during a BBQ and Volleyball party at a local lake. They had taken exception to our group of young women who had no men with them and were not interested in partying.
In addition, anyone who remembers what small town lesbian communities were like before, say the 2000’s (or even now in rural areas) can easily spot the dynamics of overlapping friend and romantic interests running just below the surface of the Tujunga Canyon accounts. Druffel’s descriptions of their relationships echo the ethos of the time, allowing anonymity due to prohibitive social norms.
Readers of the book now must needs remember that pseudonyms and hidden identities were absolutely essential for the subjects of this investigation; jobs, careers and probably larger family relationships were on the line. There’s no way of knowing how out these women were to anyone in their social and professional communities.
As someone who lived through these times, I found Druffel’s approach to be particularly sensitive, not only to the needs of her research subjects, but to the possibility of prejudice on the part of her audience. Keep in mind that the UFO community at the time was even more profoundly attached to the extraterrestrial hypothesis than it is today and was even more loaded with “white men” and their assumptions than still persists. In fact, a LBGQTA+ old timer, like myself, found her to be remarkably open minded and even-handed when approaching and describing her subjects.
Some members of the UFO research community were also wrestling with the implications of a famous study that was done by Al Lawson which demonstrated that, under hypnosis, subjects who were primed to remember an UFO/Alien encounter, could virtually create one out of whole cloth and seem to remember an experience they never had. While Lawson didn’t say that UFO contactee/abductee experiencers were lying, he did imply that their memories could be created or based on other events, such as birth memory or traumatic incidences.
Obviously, on the surface, such a study might seem to pull the rug out from anyone who used hypnosis as a tool to uncover such contact/abduction memories. Lawson’s initial report was published in the late seventies, but he continued to develop this hypothesis until his death in 2010. Druffel is aware of the challenges that Lawson’s study poses and she references it several times in her commentary.
Thus, Druffel goes to great lengths to discuss the pitfalls of hypnosis and what precautions must be taken when using it. She points out the differences between the abduction stories told by the Lawson subjects and those of non-primed experiencers, and they are significant. The fact that these experiences were being reported by Druffel AT ALL, indicates to me, just how important she thought they were, despite, and perhaps because of, the social and community prejudices that existed at the time.
For me, this is the real reason why Druffel goes to such great lengths to compare elements of these accounts with the other well known abduction reports that were known in the literature (prior to abductions becoming the “bread and butter” of the media) i.e. The Hill, Travis Walton, Charles Hickson and Betty Andreasson. This is where some of the most interesting material in the study becomes apparent and the bona fides of the contact/abduction experiences more clearly drawn.
And a key component in many of these accounts are those of a psychic or synchronistic nature which is not something that Lawson’s hypothesis can explain, nor is it something that the “nuts and bolts” school of UFOlogy has ever wanted to deal with. Many of these synchronistic events followed the Tujunga percipients throughout their lives and influenced their jobs, educations and their intimate relationships.
Some readers might be even more discomforted by Rogo’s interpretation than Druffel’s because of his reliance on Freud and his clear, to us now, misunderstanding of lesbian/bisexual identity and expression in women. It is significant that Sara was clearly uncomfortable in some ways with her own sexuality which she eventually was able to identify as being connected in some way with her mother’s discomfort with sexuality generally.
That Sara might experience dissatisfaction with the confines of a lesbian relationship in the early 1950’s should not surprise us. That she and Jan might be terrified of a motorcycle gang invading their remote household should not surprise us, but rather give us a glimpse of the real personal and social risk lesbians were taking at the time (and still take now in some parts of the world/this country). That Sara would attempt to go straight should not surprise us either—this is what was offered to gay/lesbian/bisexual people as their only legitimate option less than a decade ago (and is still what many would like to impose)-particularly for individuals who “want to succeed” in life.
In light of this, Rogo’s remarks, while jarring to modern sensibilities, are not in any way unusual, for his suppositions are probably precisely what Freud would have concluded about Sara’s experiences and subsequent life choices. In fact, as I read Rogo’s commentary, I remembered a comment that Budd Hopkins made at a conference (I believe a MUFON Symposium) some years later, in the mid 1990’s, a comment that is on record, yet he denied having made when challenged, that “Perhaps the alien abduction experience could explain the origins of homosexuality.” It was a yikes then and remains a yikes today.
What is more significant to me is that Sara obviously remained in some contact with Jan at some level, or was aware of her location, since she was able to help Druffel find her after decades of non-contact (pre-internet). Sara was also aware that somehow her “cancer cure” was connected to Jan, even though the significance of that connection was never made clear. That indicates to me that Sara retained some level of connection with the lesbian community of which she’d been a part. And this shouldn’t surprise us either.
As has been mentioned, Jan is really the central figure in the Tujunga Canyon contact accounts. Over the course of the book, Jan’s fuller story gradually gets told. She was born into a difficult and abusive family, sexually molested at an early age, and left her family of origin in her teens (keep in mind this would have been in the late 1940’s). By 1953, she is getting herself educated, has begun working on her own and is living with her partner, Sara in an isolated part of Tujunga Canyon. Jan is a strong, independently minded woman, and remained so to the end of her days.
After the contact/abduction experience, as detailed above, Sara left the relationship with Jan and set out upon a medical career so that she could try to understand this cure for cancer she was allegedly given. She ended up as a dental hygienist, which some now might consider a cop out, but the truth is, it was VERY difficult for women to become medical doctors in the 1950’s/60’s. A little compassion here.
Jan continued working on her own career, and over time, would become a skilled draftsman for an engineering and architectural firm. Also, over time, several of her future friends and partners, as they drifted in and out of Tujunga Canyon (Jan eventually moved from the area, not returning permanently until right before her death in 1987), would themselves experience curious otherworldly contacts and possible abductions, all without knowing of Jan’s initial experiences with Sara.
Of significance to Druffel was the fact that Sara had received supposed information about a cancer cure, the implications of which obsessed Sara all her life and, in fact, drove her to enter the medical field, while Jan had come down with cancer, first resulting in a complete mastectomy and then finally returning years later to cause her death.
Sara remembered that the strange entities had shown particular interest in Jan’s breasts, which greatly upset Jan who stuggled to fight them off. Sara recalled that Jan didn’t like the fact that she was “busty” and so the inordinate attention shown to her breasts by the entities had especially upset her. Jan was also able, eventually, to fight off the intruders, until such time as they quit bothering her (she knew that she had had subsequent experiences, but just couldn’t remember details).
The fact that Jan, and then another women with whom Jan was associated, referred to as Emily Cronin, was able to end these experiences, became part of what fascinated Druffel and led her to eventually write the book How To Defend Yourself Against Alien Abduction (1998), detailing the mechanisms and techniques that some individuals have used to end these kinds of experiences.
For me, the implication that these experiences are “meaningful” in some significant way and that they are tied to metaphysical ideas and practices that several of the women in the book adhere to, is the most important aspect of these accounts.
Taken as a whole, the reports reminded me of a woman I knew many years ago, was a member of the LBGTQA+ community in Kansas City, MO, and who, in investigating her own strange, paranormal experiences, found that she was also the focal point for these kinds of experiences in/with others. I helped her record her experiences as she didn’t require hypnosis.
Like Jan, she had had a difficult childhood, replete with sexual and physical abuse and had left home at an early age. Unlike Jan, at least as far as we know, she had born into the Blackfoot nation but had been disenrolled when taken from her family in a government program for adoption by white parents. She always believed that her experiences were as a result of her ancestors trying to find her.
Far from disproving the hypothesis that such contact/abduction experiences occur in family/friend clusters, the Tujunga Canyon contacts merely expands what is meant by family, friends and community, which is something I’m going to explore further in my next podcast about the early Salisbury study of UFO sightings among Mormon populations in the Uintah Basin, UT.
For many LBGTQA+ members (again before there was such an acronym), such communities took (can still take) the place of family. Thus, it is not the hypothesis that such clusters occur principally in families that is exploded, but rather, we are asked to re evaluate what and who family might be.
Druffel also draws attention to the fact that the area where most of the contact experiences occurred was known to the Indigenous Tataviam and Tongva (Ute-Aztecan language family) as a favored ceremonial area. Prior to settlement and development, ceremonial sites were joined by walks and stone works, sometimes miles long. At one point Druffel indicates most of the contact experiences occurred along one of these “ceremonial lays.” It isn’t known whether the subjects of her study were aware of this.
I would recommend The Tujunga Canyon Contacts as a fascinating account and study, not only in terms of the individuals profiled, but as an example of a text written about a contested topic, featuring subjects whose very lives might have been used to discredit all such work, except that, for Druffel, the fact of her subjects’ “unconventional lifestyles” might also be seen as proof that something unusual happened to them. After all—they stood to potentially lose even more if their identities were to become known.
As a final note, I just have to address one of the criticisms leveled against Druffel in the “Our Strange Skies” podcast, and this is her characterization of Neanderthal/Cro-Magnon hominins. The full relationship of Neanderthal to modern humans was not known conclusively until it was possible to completely sequence Neanderthal DNA, which did not happen until 2010.
Prior to that, in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s archaeologists and forensic anthropologists had started to re evaluate the physical evidence indicating that Neanderthal was far more sophisticated than previously believed. It is also worth noting that “old ideas” about Neanderthal were also based, in part, on racial stereotypes.
However, in 1980 and even into 1989, those old ideas about Neanderthal were still the standard narrative. The first book summarizing the new “view” of Neanderthal for the lay person wasn’t published until 2011. I know, because I purchased it: How to think like a Neanderthal Oxford University Press.
My personal interest in Neanderthal had been sparked by two reference points: one, a series of statements in the Seth Material, dictated in the 1970’s, that Neanderthal, indeed all early humans, were more advanced than science supposed at the time, and two, a profound visionary experience I had in 1984 which provided “interior” information about Neanderthal that I then waited impatiently for science to demonstrate for decades.
So far, only one of my interior revelations about Neanderthal has not been scientifically shown—but since it doesn’t show up in physical evidence it probably won’t be. There might be more I’ll proffer about this subsequently.
I can assure the hosts of “Our Strange Skies”, that the new view we have of Neanderthal was NOT recognized during the publishing history of the Tujunga Canyon Contacts. One of them might have been 8 years old in 1989 as he says, but I was almost 30 and waiting, as I said, impatiently for my visionary intuitions to be borne out. I’m not right all the time, but when I am, I insist upon it.
All of this being said, do not let the outdated formulations of Druffel or Rogo dissuade you. The experiences of the principals, Sara, Jan, Jo, Emily and Lori are interesting enough. The care with which the hypnotists work is a standard that should be applied to any David Jacobian inspired amateur. And between the lines, in these accounts of contact, there are deep intimations of relationship, love, community beyond natal family, and personal agency present in these stories that should raise the level of all our paranormal conversations.
BTW, the Indigenous Tataviam/Tongva people of the Tujunga Canyon/Angeles Forest region have survived all the attempts to assimilate and indoctrinate them and are currently seeking both Federal recognition and working to revive their language which is related to Shoshone. The official website of the nation can be found here.