UFOs & Mythological Resonances: A Case Study


In 1964, California man Donald Shrum was an avid hunter who was about to become the hunted.
Think of the way a pack of hounds might “tree” a raccoon or a bear. Well, Shrum would find that table turned on him. But it wouldn’t be a dog pack tormenting him as he clung to a branch.
It would be aliens.
But was it truly aliens — or was it something even more profound and amazing?
Read on.


The year was 1964. Shrum, then age 26, was bow hunting with some pals in a rugged, high-elevation region of northern California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. This was in the Tahoe National Forest.

Shrum became separated from his group and subsequently got lost.

As darkness began to fall, he decided to climb a tree to spend the night. He didn’t want to get eaten by a mountain lion while sleeping on the ground. After the sun sank, Shrum spied a glowing light in the sky coming toward him in a zig-zagging motion.

He hoped the light was a rescue helicopter, maybe called by his friends who reported him lost. He climbed down rapidly from his perch to build a fire so he could be spotted from the air.

It soon became obvious, however, that this was no helicopter.

A stunned Donald Shrum gaped in wonder as a gargantuan cigar-shaped UFO — about the size of a 14-story building — hovered close and stopped just 50 yards from his position. Even more unnerving, a small “scout ship” UFO disgorged from the “Mother Ship” and appeared to land nearby.

Shaken by this remarkable turn of events, Shrum opted to scramble back up into his tree. He was soon glad he did. A few minutes later, three weird aliens showed up and sauntered right up to the base of the tree.

First came two beings that appeared vaguely humanoid. They were about five feet tall and wearing silvery uniforms that “covered their heads.” They sported eyewear Shrum described to look like “welding goggles.”

If this sounds all sort of 1950s-black-and-white-science-fiction-movie-like, just wait until you hear about the third “alien.” It was like something straight from the cover of an old pulp science fiction magazine.

Showing up shortly after the two silver-suited humanoids was a metallic robot. It was like something a Hollywood special effects team might have developed for an Eisenhower-Era drive-in theater flick.

As the robot joined its two ET buddies at the base of the tree, Donald Shrum — his mind blown — could not believe what he was seeing.

He said the robot was darker in color and rocked two glowing, reddish-orange eyes. Shrum described its “mouth” as merely “a slit-like opening” that could “drop down like an oven door.”

Some versions of the story say the aliens and their robot henchman began to shake the tree. Shrum himself later disputed this saying it never happened. Whatever the case, he knew they obviously wanted to get their hands (claws?) on him for reasons he did not care to contemplate.

The robot stepped forward and stopped with its back against the tree. It then lowered its jaw using its hand to expose the “mouth” opening. From this gap came a stream of gas that spread like a mist, enough so to envelop Shrum. This caused him to black out.

Despite losing consciousness, Shrum managed to stay in the tree, probably because he had taken the precaution to secure himself to a limb with his belt. When he awoke an indeterminate time later, the aliens remained and seemed determined to bring him down.

To fight back, Shrum took out some matches and searched his pockets for scraps of paper. Finding things like his hunting license and dollar bills in his wallet, he lit them on fire and rained little firebombs down upon his assailants.

He then started tearing scraps of his clothing to light on fire. At one point, he set his hat ablaze (it had a goodly amount of hair styling grease on it!) and bombed it down on his assailants. This caused them to jump back momentarily but it did not dissuade them for long.

As it turns out, Shrum also had his 60-pound reflexive bow and three arrows with him in the tree. He nocked an arrow and took a shot. He hit the robot dead-on in the chest.

The steel tip of the arrow sparked as it glanced off the hard surface of the mechanical alien. The arrow strike made a “clinking sound” confirming to Shrum that the robot was metallic.

Strum launched the other two arrows at the three invaders. They ran back to avoid being hit. They weren’t ready to give up, however.

The robot tried its gas gambit a second time. Once again, the mist came forth and Shrum passed out. When he woke up this time, he was dismayed to see the humanoid aliens attempting to scale the tree.

Shrum fended them off by bombing down anything he could find — broken branches, his old army surplus canteen, whatever he had in his pockets, his wallet, some coins — and this stymied them. A back-and-forth battle would ensue all night.

The two humanoids and the robot were later joined by several other aliens as the hellish ordeal wore on. Yet again, the robot unhinged its jaw and deployed its knock-put gas. Strum passed out once again — but the next time he awoke it was dawn and his alien tormentors were gone.

Shrum finally climbed down. A while later he spotted one of his hunting buddies who was searching for him. Shrum shouted out. The hunters were reunited. The others could see their companion was exhausted and dazed.

Among the hunting party was a man named Vincent Alvarez. He reported seeing the same UFO described by Shrum, although neither Alvarez nor any of the other men saw aliens. Shrum related the sensational events of the night to his stunned companions — and then laid down to sleep for six hours.


Although the story of Donald Shrum’s encounter soon spread widely within the UFO community, including many of the top researchers of the day, Shrum did not go public with his name for more than 40 years.

The story occasionally popped up in various publications and books. It was even dramatized on at least one TV show. One prominent UFO author who wrote about the case is Preston Dennett. He used the anonymous name of “Donald Smythe” to tell the story in one of his books.

Although Dennett retold the story faithfully and accurately, too many others mangled or sensationalized the story, especially the TV dramatization. The producers hid behind the anonymity of the sources and played the story up to make it entertaining for viewers.

Even the iconic paranormal researcher, John Keel (of The Mothman Prophesies), was said to have “botched” the story, as did investigators for ARPO, the once prominent UFO study organization. Thus, the story became “infected” with numerous inaccuracies which were often picked up and repeated by others.

The first time Shrum allowed himself to be identified was in an April 2007 article published in the MUFON Journal. That article was titled, “The Cisco Bow and Arrow Alien Encounter” written by Steven Reichmuth.

However, Shrum’s real coming out finally happened when he was 73 years old. He agreed to go on the record with authors Noe Torres and Ruben Uriarte for their 2011 book, Aliens in the Forest: The Cisco Grove UFO Encounter.

Shrum trusted these two writers and hoped the book they wrote would not only tell the story completely, thoroughly and accurately but also clear up the considerable misinformation that had spread about the case over the decades.

Shrum wanted the book to serve as the authentic and official documentation of the UFO encounter for future generations.

I should note that Shrum had previously completed several in-depth interviews with Paul Cerny, then the chairman of MUFON’s Bay Area chapter. Also, an in-depth transcript exists of an interview he did with another UFO researcher. This interview was conducted in 1965, a year after the incident.

Thus, as it so often happens in sensational UFO cases, the Shrum story became tangled by both good and bad reporting. That only exacerbates the inevitable ridicule meted out by skeptics. As usual, they offered the usual Band-Aid theories along with the standard accusations of fakery and hoaxing.


After the Noe-Torres book was published, Donald Shrum’s son, Dan, came forward with further fascinating insights.

Dan Shrum was born in 1966, two years after his father’s encounter. However, he said he “was raised knowing my father’s story” but it was strict family policy to “never speak of it with anyone outside the immediate family.

As a young child, Dan recalls many nights being awoken in bed to hear his father screaming out in terror as he suffered nightmares, flashbacks and classic symptoms of PTSD.

He said that his father would sometimes “sob uncontrollably” after his nightly outbursts. Dan said he was too young at the time to understand what was tormenting his father — a man he described as “known for his incredible kindness” and his “strong principles.”

And sure enough, like in many of the juiciest UFO stories, the Shrum case has its own Men in Black (MIB) element. Dan Shrum said that both his father and mother, Judi Shrum, were interviewed by two stiff Air Force officers— and on at least two occasions by mysterious “men in black suits.”

And get this:

On at least one occasion, the men in black suits hauled off Donald and Judi to a remote location — once to an abandoned house — where they were interrogated and vaguely threatened if they did not cooperate and also stay silent about the event.

And get this also:

Dan Shrum said an Air Force team (most likely) later visited the site of the alien encounter and “scoured the area” looking for clues and “cleaned up any evidence they could find at the site,” including the remaining scraps of items he threw down at the aliens. Whoever had cleaned the site even raked the soil in the area around the tree.


Over the years, I’ve seen skeptics chime in with comments about the Shrum story that generally go like this:

–>“These so-called aliens had technology so superior that they commanded a giant 14-story spacecraft that could travel through interstellar space, yet the only way they could think of to get Mr. Shrum out of his tree was to stand at the bottom and shake it!”

–>“Why didn’t they have a laser-like device or some advanced technological cutting tool to saw down the tree?”

–>“If the aliens came down from the mother ship UFO with a smaller UFO, why didn’t they just use that to fly right up to Mr. Shrum’s position at the top of the tree?”

–>“The delivery system for the alien knock-out gas seems ludicrously primitive. Wouldn’t an advanced alien robot have some sort of spray gun with a nozzle that could direct a stream of gas precisely to a target?”

–>“Wouldn’t these aliens have portable anti-gravity technology since they had an anti-gravity UFO? Why couldn’t the aliens just float up to the top of the tree and snatch Mr. Shrum?”

–>“Why were these powerful intergalactic space-faring aliens so afraid of tiny bits of burning paper and clothing? Certainly, they must have encountered more advanced weaponry in their travels across the universe!”

–>“If they were truly aliens from outer space or another dimension, why did their pet robot look like something out of a low-budget Hollywood movie and/or resemble an earth-bound 1950s-60s-era conception of a robot?”

–> “Isn’t it likely that a lost, exhausted and stressed-out Donald Shrum simply fell deeply asleep in his tree and experienced an extremely realistic nightmare? Perhaps a bear shook the tree as he slept, and his dreaming mind translated that to him as an assault by aliens.”


As much as I find the so-called skeptics annoying, I’ll allow the points made above warrant consideration. Indeed, why did the aliens seem so inept? Why didn’t they have any equipment, tools or sample collection implements? I mean, the best they could do or think of was to look up the tree and ogle Mr. Shrum in the hopes he would come down and then sic their robot on him with its dicey gas weapon?

Again, if they were on a human specimen hunting expedition, why didn’t they bring along proper equipment to get the job done? You don’t go butterfly collecting without a net or a moose-tagging expedition without a dart gun to sedate your quarry.

And the robot!


I was a five-year-old boy in 1964 when the Shrum event happened. At right at that time, there was a popular brand of chocolate syrup that’s always been a pleasant memory for me — Clanky! It was chocolate syrup in a brown plastic bottle shaped like a robot! (But I digress).

What about dream/fantasy/hallucination theories? Well, they sound good for about 10 minutes until you ask:

Why did Shrum experience years of further nightmares and display classic symptoms of PTSD for years? All that just from one bad dream?

Why was he subjected to repeated interrogation by U.S. military and government agent types, possibly including Men in Black?

Why did government agents (or someone) visit the site to “clean it up?”

If Shrum was fantasizing, why did Mr. Alvarez also see a UFO that night?


If we are not to dismiss the Donald Shrum case as a hoax or the result of a man experiencing a dream/hallucination/psychic break— and go with the assumption that the event truly did happen as he said it did — what explains the many absurd elements of the narrative?

A good place to start is with a tantalizing item put forward by astronomer, computer scientist and noted ufologist Jacques Vallee. In his 1969 book Passport to Mangonia Vallee writes:

“… over a century ago, Leroux de Lincy, in his book (‘Le livre des légendes’, published 1836) had this to say about elves:

If a mortal being dares come near them, they open their mouth, and, struck by the breath which escapes from it, the impudent fellow dies poisoned.”

A deadly gas emitted from the mouth! Sound familiar? This is a remarkable confluence with the experience of Donald Shrum and his robot assailant.

More importantly, it provides us with an important clue — or better yet — points toward a far more workable model — to explain the true meaning of the Cisco Grove UFO encounter.

I suggest that model is mythological.


In my view, the Shrum case is an illustration of much of what has been fundamentally wrong with the mainstream approach to solving the mystery of the UFO issue for the past 70 years or so. Ufology is dominated by the scientific method grounded in empiricism. That takes for granted that material reality is primary, that it is the only reality and that nothing else can be considered “real.”

I’ll call this “a failure of imagination,” not in the sense that researchers are not using some form of imagination when they creatively formulate a hypothesis and then apply the empirical scientific method. But it’s when they refuse to consider that what is purely imaginative can also be real and therefore meaningful.

There is also a general failure to recognize the most important quality of the Shrum encounter, and that is this:

It’s a story!

But it’s not a story fabricated by Donald Shrum or an embellished yarn cobbled together by people eager to sell UFO books. This is a different kind of story. Let’s call it an archetypical allegory that is a manifestation of “The Logos.”

Consider this passage from philosopher Jason Reza Jorjani’s 2021 book, Close Encounters:

“A world with free will is more like a universe with a great story or grand narrative than it is like a machine. Our task is moreover to revise this story of the world in a way that is creatively constructive.

A logic that insists on a hard separation between imagination and reality must be rejected or at least treated as a tool for practical purposes, not in the kind of mirror its proponents’ claim can reflect a putatively objective reality.

The Greek conception of Logos was originally in archaic times that of the story or an account, but a story of universal scope and significance. When it started to develop into a properly philosophical concept, Heraclitus still understood Logos as the narrative structure of the cosmos.

That kind of structure is similar to the fabric from which our dreams are woven.”  — Jason Reza Jorjani, Ph.D.

A certain narrative structure of the Cosmos. That’s what I suggest the Shrum incident is.

It is a meaningful story offered to us, if not by the collective consciousness of a psychically evolving humanity, then by some higher or advanced form of intelligence.

You might call the latter whatever you prefer. Physicist Tom Campbell coined the term, “The Larger Consciousness System.” Some people might call it “The Phenomenon.” Perhaps it’s a manifestation of The Logos — the “divine reason implicit in the Cosmos.”

Whatever the case, the Shrum story is an example of a story-form showing itself in the form of a modern mythology. Please note that “mythology” is not synonymous with “fictional” or “metaphor” or “unreal.” It’s much the opposite. It’s something that points to the fundamental reality of our existence.

So …

Instead of employing the tropes of the ancient Greeks, for example, whose imaginations formulated encounters with centaurs, cyclops, hydras and a demigoddess with snakes for hair, the Shrum incident leveraged vivid tropes that saturated the population of the day. That meant science fiction-like BEMs (Bug-Eyed Aliens) and man-like metal machine servants (robots).

It used these images because The Phenomenon (let’s call it) is highly opportunistic and naturally takes the path of least resistance to deliver its messages. In terms of the Shrum case, the sci-fi motifs were well-developed, handy and readymade to serve.

Note that my suggestion is a “have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too” approach.

That is — I’m not saying that Mr. Shrum did not genuinely encounter some manner of non-human intelligence — be it alien, interdimensional beings, time travelers or whatever.

It’s just that, most of the assumptions we attach to the latter are wrong. For example, the common idea that the aliens were attempting to capture Shrum and study him in much the same way our wildlife scientists round-up and study animals is completely off base.

If they truly had been super-powerful aliens with a 14-story Mothership and nifty little scout craft for “away team” expeditions, they would have plucked Donald Shrum out of his tree as easily as anyone could pluck a grape from a vine.


Let me now present just a few of the many mythological symbolisms that jump out at me from the Shrum encounter.


This story is most often referred to as the “Cisco Grove UFO Encounter” because it occurred near the tiny unincorporated community of Cisco Grove, California.

Cisco is a name derived from the Spanish and Portuguese languages and means “free man.”

The suggestion is that the purpose of the story is to provide a moral that will “free man — free mankind” from one of our most embedded delusions. This delusion is sending us down the wrong epistemological/ontological path.

It is the near-universal acceptance that material reality is primary and that anything that is not material, such as consciousness, is not real.


Donald Shrum’s first name means “ruler of the world.” This supports the “free man” item I presented above. In a sense, “Donald” represents all mankind because Donald “rules the entire world” — in other words, all mankind.

The purpose of the story is to “free all of mankind.” That starts with the ruler of all human beings. “Donald.”

(Interesting note: Remember that Donald said the aliens appeared to have eyes like “welder’s goggles? Well, Donald was employed as a welder for an aerospace firm at the time of his encounter. Hmm.)


The robot in the Shrum case is a central character and also represents a dire warning about the dark path that mankind has taken.

There has been growing anxiety in our culture over not only our increasing reliance on machines to handle all aspects of our lives, but also that we appear to be hellbent on becoming machines ourselves. I won’t go into this in great detail, but you have probably read about the many predictions of what futurists call “The Singularity.”

The Singularity is that point at which computers will achieve true and independent self-reflective consciousness and also become more intelligent than human beings.

At that juncture, human history as we have known it will end. A new era of AI will gain hegemony over the planet and the human race.

A similar issue is transhumanism. There is a current in our culture that is hopeful that a kind of immortality will be achieved if we can cheat the death of our physical bodies by transferring our brains or mind into artificial constructs.

In effect, the transhumanists are working to transition human beings into “robots” which they believe is a step toward immortality. The Shrum case may be presenting this to us, possibly as a warning or maybe just to give us a “heads-up.”

But the robot can also be interpreted to represent humankind’s drive toward the abandonment of nature and/or our crass exploitation of nature.

The human race once lived in harmony with nature — in a symbiotic relationship with the collective BioForm of the planet — but since the advent of the Industrial Revolution that relationship has become dangerously strained. The result of our collective divorce from nature is producing catastrophic results in the form of environmental degradation on a global scale.


Note that the robot emits a gas that causes Donald Shrum to “lose consciousness.” That’s a vivid metaphor for what is happening to the human race today.

I remind you again that Donald means “ruler of the world” and Cisco means “free man.” The robot knock-out gas seems to warn of the loss of mankind as a “free man” and possibly the loss of “free will” as we abdicate our identification with the consciousness that defines us today.

Our drive toward “all things mechanical and artificial” — including even replacing our own bodies with machines— will cause us to “lose consciousness “— or at the very least, abandon the type of consciousness we have now for something different. That something is absolute materialism.


For me, the most powerful mythological symbolism of the Shrum Encounter is the fact that the central figure (The Hero) of the story fights his battle while positioned in a tree.

Throughout the centuries and for millennia, a tree has frequently been a symbol of where a person goes to achieve enlightenment or gain some form of transcendence.


–> Jesus was sacrificed atop of crucifix made of wood (from a tree). It was from this position “up in/trapped in his tree” that he transitioned from man to divine being. The Buddha achieved enlightenment while sitting beneath a fig tree.

–> A polemical story tells us that Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree when a piece of fruit fell and bonked him on the head. This inspired him to develop the theory of gravity.

–> Where is a good place to find a wonderful gift? Under a Christmas tree, of course.

The Rigveda says:

Which is the tree, which is the forest, from which we have fashioned Heaven and Earth, stationary, undecaying, and giving protection to the deities?

The Markandeya Purana: The Gods invoke Devi who appears under a tree. (Public Domain)

Donald Shrum — the putative “free man” and “ruler of the world” — took to “the tree, the forest” which gave him protection much in the same that the “the trees and forest” protected the deities of the Rigveda.


The examples of mythological elements in the Shrum UFO encounter I have provided are just a small representation of much more I could offer, but I think you get the picture.

Note: I am tempted to explain the symbolism of the burning bits of paper and clothing Shrum tossed down at the invaders (hint: they were “flashes of enlightenment”) but I need to wrap up this article now.

In my view, re-examining some of the most famous and vexing cases of so-called “alien encounters” and reinterpreting them away from empirical science and toward mythological frameworks is a better way to come to an understanding of the meaning of UFO encounters.

Notice that when we place the Shrum incident in the context of modern mythology, all of the absurdities of the case are resolved!

Suddenly, Donald Shrum’s battle with a 1950-style “Clanky” robot not only makes perfect sense but is also eminently meaningful. For example, the absurdity of advanced aliens being frightened by bits of burning paper and being too inept to snatch a man out of a tree also now present itself as a logical part of a story — as does the appearance of a robot that looks like something out of 1950s Tinsel Town central casting.

Finally, let me just say that I don’t advocate for the complete abandonment of applying the scientific method to ufology. What I am saying is that we have become over-reliant upon it to the point that it is blinding us from looking deeper into UFO cases and interpreting them in a way that is more meaningful.


NOTE: For more stories exploring the UFO-Mythology connection, please see: KEN-ON-MEDIUM

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