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Schafer's fans are not cultish or dogmatic, and she emphasizes "finding your own truth." Professional skeptics, however, still find Schafer's dispensing of such pop mysticism troubling.
"People should be in constant touch with reality," says Paul Kurtz, chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, which publishes Skeptical Inquirer. "It's one thing to enjoy novels or science fiction, it's another to believe that it's true. I think it is harmful when you have a modern, technology-advanced society given to a whole number of myths and superstitions and have a religious commitment to them."
Kurtz continues: "[It's most common in] places with a heavy influx of population. When people are moving, they don't have roots, so they tend to flock to [non-traditional beliefs]. You used to get them in California, now you get them in Arizona and New Mexico and Boulder, Colorado."
If a person has disturbing beliefs about alien contact or advancing technology and they live in the Valley, they might get referred to psychologist Ruth Hover, a fellow believer who hosts a monthly support group for alien abductees (or "experiencers," as the less-traumatized like to call themselves).
"It's a huge amount of people in the population -- it's absolutely staggering," Hover says. "Depending on your point of view, we're either on the fringe or the leading edge.
"Most of them who come in would like you to give them a psychiatric diagnostic; they would dearly love for you to say they're crazy. Because then you could just give them a pill and make them feel better, but you can't. We also get a lot of people with delusional disorders, but that's partly a result of getting referrals -- because if you're just a hypnotherapist, you can't screen out the flakes."
At a recent support-group meeting, about a dozen patients that Hover considers bona fide experiencers shared their memories, compared "implant marks" as though they were showing off tattoos and viewed a Fox News segment of a January UFO sighting in Illinois.
One participant, Cindy Robinson, is a nurse who also attended Schafer's seminar and claims a history of government harassment and surveillance.
"Back in the '60s, they were institutionalizing people who talked about this," Robinson says. "Nowadays at least we can talk about it [in a support group], take it apart and figure out that something else happened or whatnot."
All the participants, like the audience at Schafer's seminar and Schafer herself, have a strong feeling of impending "disclosure" -- that social acceptance and public validation is just around the corner, and they remind each other that Art Bell declared this the year of no more government cover-ups.
"I always think of Columbus, when he first decided the world's not flat, it's round," Hover says to her group. "That was a very painful position for him to be in. Just like you all are in the very painful position where if you share your thinking, or your experience, none of you would have jobs. You'd all be on Art Bell, you'd all be ridiculed."
On Art Bell and ridiculed -- like Marcia Schafer.
Except Schafer claims her contact experiences are very different than those described in Hover's support group. Her aliens are teaching her about the universe, she says, and empowering her to be a smarter and more spiritual person.
Such contact sessions usually occur at Schafer's home.
Schafer lives along an outer edge of South Phoenix sprawl, among a group of tract homes where all the streets have two-word compound nature names such as Foxfire and Ambercreek. From her bedroom, she has a view of the South Mountain antennae array that looks so much like a UFO from downtown Phoenix at night.
Her decor is disappointingly fashionable and practical. There are no black-velvet unicorn paintings or power pyramids, just New York Times wrappers and home-office software. In her backyard, however, there are smooth river rocks positioned on each corner of her patio table. When asked what the rocks do, Schafer gives an amused look.
"They keep the tablecloth on," she says.
Schafer's cats, Galileo and Socrates, play on the patio. Both are named after revolutionary thinkers who were persecuted for their beliefs, something Schafer says had never occurred to her.
There are no witnesses to Schafer's nocturnal extraterrestrial encounters. Her boyfriend -- longtime Phoenix UFO figurehead Bob Dean -- has a separate room.
Dean says that many in the UFO community who claim paranormal experiences are not credible, they're fooling themselves -- but not Schafer.
"When I first met Marcia, I was impressed by her bottom-line stability. She's not one of those airy-fairy people," Dean says. "And so I listen to what she tells me, and I don't snicker, and I don't put her down. I think what she's getting is legitimate."
For years the phenomena of alien abductions perplexed psychologists and researchers, who failed to find a suitable explanation for obviously traumatized patients claiming such similar experiences. Today most therapists consider abductions to be a condition called sleep paralysis, where a person awakes, unable to move, and experiences strange sounds and flashing lights. In last year's publication of The Abduction Enigma: The Truth Behind the Mass Alien Abductions of the Late 20th Century, the authors concluded that most so-called alien abductees are rather imaginative folks who are suffering from sleep paralysis after watching one too many sci-fi films.
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