Last weekend I had a whistle-stop research trip to Nashville, Tennessee, to Whitley Strieber‘s Dreamland Festival. (Whistle-stop is no exaggeration – I was travelling longer than I was actually there.) This annual event – now in its fifth year – brings together 120 paid guests and a line-up of speakers drawn primarily from the Dreamland podcast team. Dreamland started life as a sister radio show to the massively popular Coast to Coast AM, and both were originally hosted by Art Bell. Dreamland covered the same supernatural/conspiratorial/extraterrestrial material as C2C, but without the phone-ins and with a more spiritual bent. Art Bell handed Dreamland to Whitley Strieber around 1990, and it now broadcasts weekly through Whitley’s website, unknowncountry.com.
This year’s speakers were Whitley and his wife, Anne; Raven Dana, one of those who had a Visitor experience at Whitley’s cabin as described in Communion; earthfiles.com‘s Linda Moulton Howe; author of classic JFK assassination Jim Marrs; Stargate proponent William Henry; psychic Marla Frees; and former UK Ministry of Defense advisor Nick Pope. The line-up demonstrates exactly the field I’m describing, with a mixture of New Age elements (channeling, holism, health, critique of “religion”, a coming “ascension” of humanity, crop circles, environmental concerns) and conspiracist elements (hidden histories, suppression of technologies, secret societies, New World Order) with UFOs/extraterrestrials as the common ground. As it was the 25th anniversary of the publication of Communion, and with the recent publication of his fifth book in the series, Solving the Communion Enigma, and therefore the presence of Raven Dana, it was perfect for me given that I’ll be writing a chapter that covers Whitley’s career from the Communion era to the present.
Whitley was very gracious, introducing me to the guests and telling them I was to be trusted, which no doubt gave me a certain validation I wouldn’t otherwise have had. Many came up to me to ask about my research, give me opinions or sources to follow up, or to tell me about their ET/UFO experiences. Everyone was warm and open, and I can only hope that all the fieldwork I do can be as much fun. Also American beer is much better than I had been led to expect.
In the end, the research became more about the people there than the speakers, though. The degree of awareness of the ambiguity of their experiences was perhaps surprising, as was the healthy degree of good humour (one – you know who you are! – referred to the group as “the nutters”). By and large, they were educated people, too, with a lot of engineers, computer people, healthcare workers, as well as good amount of former military personnel. Mostly 50 plus, which might be expected, but gender was evenly balanced, which is interesting as New Age/spiritual groups tend to be predominantly female and conspiracist groups tend to be predominantly male. Almost all rejected “religious” in favour of “spiritual”; almost all refused to identify with either political party; and almost all said that at least some UFOs came from other dimensions, rather than just other planets. I’m still crunching the data from the 60+ questionnaires, so I should have more interesting patterns soon.
I’ve put in a proposal to do a presentation on this at the British Association for the Study of Religion conference in Winchester in September this year. Next research trip is David Icke at Wembley Arena in October.