War of the Gods: Alien Skulls, Underground Cities, and Fire from the Sky
Erich von Däniken | New Page Books | Sept. 2020 | 214 pages | ISBN: 1632651718 | $17.95
Years go by with the inevitable cycle of the seasons repeating their majestic rounds. After winter, summer. After summer, winter. And with the regularity of the season, so too does Erich von Däniken release a new book, and with the same repetition as the seasons. Each book is the same as all the books before, and each one begins with the ritual of pretending otherwise. War of the Gods, originally published in German 2018 but released in English for the first time this month, starts with a letter in which von Däniken (henceforth EVD) proclaims with great excitement news that he imagines will surprise his readers: “In this book, I present new findings!” Unfortunately, there is an ominous note: “But it is only possible by building on previous experiences.” Each winter brings a different snowstorm but you always know it will snow. So, too, do you know that whatever soupçon of new material appears in War of the Gods will be buried in a blizzard of recycling. He frequently refers to his own books, the books of guests on Ancient Aliens, and to claims made on the Ancient Aliens television show itself, recycling in an endless loop of previous claims tracing back to his own earliest efforts to recycle Morning of the Magicians to his own advantage.
Most people who have studied the weirder parts of the twentieth century are aware that L. Ron Hubbard of Scientology fame had a longstanding antagonistic relationship with the Feds. In my research for my new book, I discovered how Hubbard’s Dianetics intersected with a Red Scare flap that sparked federal interest in Hubbard at exactly the wrong time and set off a decades-long hostile relationship. As best I can tell, no one has previously written about the impact of the now-forgotten Reuben L. Revens scandal on the FBI’s eventual interest in Dianetics, so here is the outline of a disturbing story. I compiled it from FBI documents, Ben Bradlee’s memoir, and a year’s worth of reporting in the Washington Evening Star. I’ll caution you here that some of the details about sexual exploitation are upsetting.
This week Scott Wolter, the erstwhile host of America Unearthed, gave a two-hour interview to the Leak Project in which he repeats many of his familiar claims and stories. We haven’t heard from him for a while, and there isn’t much new to report. It’s two hours, so don’t expect me to go through all of it in detail. I’ll only note a few highlights and you can listen to the whole thing if you’d like.
As I’ve been working on my book, I’ve noticed that the theme has slowly drifted away from my original plan. My outline had such a nice, rigid structure with a tripartite division among the three moral panics that originated in 1947, the Red Scare, the Lavender Scare, and the UFO scare, with discussion of how these panics resulted from defining groups of outsiders against a conformist mainstream culture. But as I wrote, the separation between the parts started to break down, in large measure because the social aspects of all three moral panics rather quickly subordinated themselves to a broader concern about redefining masculinity after the crisis of the war years. Hence, the Red Scare devolved into panic over gays, gay panic plunged into disputes over effeminacy and weakness, and from the very first day of the UFO flap, everyone measured witnesses’ credibility by their masculinity. The very first flying saucer articles even talked about Kenneth Arnold’s high school football salad days and how muscular and tall he was, as though masculinity equaled credibility.
Time magazine carried a disturbing article yesterday about conspiracy theories and their growing impact on the 2020 electorate. In the article, voters described a variety of beliefs derived from Q-Anon conspiracy theories as well as the occult fringe of YouTube, including a number of references to former Ancient Aliens star David Wilcock’s “cabal” of parasitic blood-drinking liberal extraterrestrial elites who have long been a staple of Q-Anon culture under other names. I hate saying I told you so, but how many years of warning did we have about this coming intellectual apocalypse from the History Channel’s parade of shows stoking panic about demons by other names? How many years of warning did we have watching Wilcock build an underground following of millions of believers absorbing his snake oil about secret government blood-drinking extraterrestrial liberals?
I’ve been making great progress on my new book, and I’ve nearly hit 40,000 words. The bigger challenge is trying to interest anyone in it. It’s rather rude, really, that literary agents can’t be bothered with even a pro-forma rejection but instead expect me to wait out response windows for silence to speak for them. But on the plus side, I’ve had an opportunity to explore some areas of historical research I hadn’t had the opportunity to look into before. Honestly, it was a little weird.
Yesterday I ended up getting into a discussion on Twitter with Naomi Wolf over her 2019 book Outrages, which was published in Britain but pulped in the United States after a British interviewer pointed out that Wolf had based some of her argument on alleged sodomy executions that did not occur, having mistaken odd British penal terminology for a death sentence. The last British sodomy execution occurred in 1836, but Wolf had alleged that they continued deep into the nineteenth century. A revised version of the book has now been published here. After seeing a tweet Wolf made yesterday, I expressed my dismay that Wolf was still defending that position and also my sadness that she describes John Addington Symonds, a Victorian-era author whom I’ve discussed before, as a man who “refused to be silenced” in pursuit of gay rights. Wolf took issue with my tweet and we had a lengthy discussion of the matter that ended productively. That’s an improvement over my usual interactions with the likes of Scott Wolter and Giorgio Tsoukalos!
Classicist Peter Gainsford made an interesting case on his blog that the humorous ancient Greek science fiction satire of Lucian called The True History includes a close parody of the New Jerusalem of the Book of Revelation. I can definitely see Gainsford’s point, but my gut instinct is that Lucian wasn’t directly drawing on the Christian text in imagining the fantastical paradise on the Isle of the Blessed where the heroic dead reside. Let’s take a quick look at what Gainsford says in order to puzzle out whether he’s right and whether Lucian had it in for Christianity’s most psychedelic text.
Last week, Rolling Stone published a lengthy piece on extraterrestrial pop culture by Stephen Rodrick tracing America’s renewed obsession with space aliens and flying saucers. Although the article’s subhead promised that it would explain “how UFO culture took over America,” it was primarily a description of the incestuous mutual masturbation of the U.S. national security apparatus, the UFO entertainment industry, and To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science—exactly the same combination of crony capitalism, delusion, and self-interest that I have chronicled in these pages for years. As Rodrick noted, the three pillars undergirding UFO culture all share personnel and a dubious ideology. Pentagon UFO researchers become To the Stars employees and become entertainers on TV, and then they cycle around again, using their TV and newspaper access to worm their way into government meetings and lobby for another ride on the merry-go-round of speculative nonsense.
Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve found that blogging less has made me much more productive as a book writer. I’ve churned out 25,000 words of my new book on midcentury panics in the past five or six weeks, and I am remarkably pleased with the results. However, I can’t let weeks pass without offering at least a few words about the new series Lovecraft Country, currently airing on HBO. The series, based on a 2016 novel I have never read (having a kid really cuts down on reading time), transforms traditional horror tropes by filtering them through the experience of midcentury Black Americans, directly critiquing the racism inherent in classic horror stories, especially H. P. Lovecraft’s.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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