The study of UFOlogy is basically the study of human-ET contact, and to help organize the mass of data, researchers have described five levels of contact. Such "close encounters" range all the way from mere physical sighting to actual human events, as pioneered by the CSETI group under the direction of Dr. Stephen Greer. The 5-stage model is quite useful, and helps us classify a great deal of material. However, there are other categories of human-ET contact excluded by this model, some of which are far more subtle. In one of the most important types of experience, some individuals who claim ET contact actually come to the conclusion that they, themselves, are ET souls -- albeit in human form. To be sure, this is a radical and highly subjective claim, and without doubt, is completely unprovable. Those who study this phenomenon readily admit that it cannot be proven.

Nevertheless, unbeknownst to most UFO researchers, there is an active sub-culture of people around the world currently making this claim. There are support groups and web-sites, books and seminars, newsletters and networking among the members. Although portions of their own ET contact may fit into one or more of the traditional "close encounter" categories, the long-term consequences of their contact place it in an entirely different class. For these people, ET contact led to a radical shift of personal identity and world view, and ultimately led to a realization that they, themselves, were members of the same group of non-human beings who contacted them.

These claims and their sub-culture were the focus of my doctoral research and the subject of my first book, From Elsewhere: Being ET in America. Often we find these people described by terms such as "Star Born," "Star Person" (coined by the author, Brad Steiger), "Walk-in" (associated with the books of Ruth Montgomery), or "Wanderer" (from the 1950's contactee, George Hunt Williamson). But whatever name they go by, they have certain defining characteristics, as well as particular patterns of belief and experience. Their ideas about the purpose of global UFO visitation are an important contribution to the field of UFOlogy, and go largely neglected by mainstream researchers.

First and foremost, we must realize that there is a deep vein of spirituality associated with these people. Almost all their reported contacts were 'positive': inspiring and uplifting, with highly beneficent long-term effects, both psychologically and socially. They almost never experienced the typical abduction type contact, and report no sense of personal contact whatsoever. Those who call themselves "ET souls" usually develop a strong desire to serve and aid humanity, in one way or another. Furthermore, most of them came to espouse metaphysical notions quite far from mainstream of modern UFOlogy (which is, at best, a rational-material science, and not a philosophy). Their spirituality, their commitment to helping others, and their deep reliance on personal experience often put them on the fringe of the UFO studies community.

Nevertheless, what they tell us about the purpose of world ET contact should be heard. Generally, they hold a somewhat apocalyptic philosophy, with emphasis on the value of personal responsibility, spiritual growth, self-development, and service to others. As one brand of "cosmic messenger," much of what they say is echoed by indigenous groups, such as the Mayans, Hopis, and Lakota Elders, as well by Edgar Cayce and a host of New Age teachers and channels.

Their primary message is that Earth is now at a critical point of transition, and that we are now facing a radical, imminent shift of energy and consciousness. They use terms such as "Harvest" and "Ascension," and peg this event to the time period of 2010-2013 A.D. -- coming up fast! They believe that most ET groups are trying help us navigate this transition, and to help inspire our growth as a planetary species. They tell us, in no uncertain terms, that the basic purpose of global UFO visitation is to give our selfish, materialistic, and somewhat self-destructive civilization a spiritual wake-up call. In this way, they are also in agreement with many ET contactees the world over. And these people are to be found in many nations, as I discovered on my extensive teaching in Japan and Israel, and by the continuing inquiries I receive from all over the world.

Yet behind their claims and advice, they hold a relatively complex metaphysics, to which I can only give a brief introduction. Claiming themselves to be incarnate ET souls from "higher dimensions" or "older races," they point to a vast, highly coordinated cosmic plan as the basis for life on Earth. Their view of divine design includes the belief in reincarnation, "Higher Self," and progressive levels of soul evolution. They tell us that UFO groups come from all levels of the cosmic ladder, with some more spiritually developed than others -- while an entirely different contingent are actually hostile and warlike. This echoes ancient notions of cosmic polarity, and universal forces of dark and light.

They tell us that the senior members of the cosmic community are fully aware of the divine plan for Earth, and that they have been with us for millennia (a notion also held by indigenous groups, mystic religions, and featured prominently in the works of Zecharia Sitchen and Richard Thompson). In many ways, their message represents the junction between mysticism and UFOlogy. As such, the sub-culture of people who claim extraterrestrial origin brings spirituality into the realm of modern UFO research. Although they cannot and do not offer hard evidence, their message provides us with a greater perspective, and gives us an important metaphysical context for our continuing study of ET contact. As with any search for truth, it behooves us to lend an ear to those outside conventional thinking.