Mystery Solved: Why H. P. Lovecraft and Erich von Daniken Thought Aliens Wrote the "Stanzas of Dzyan"
Do you remember the Stanzas (or Book) of Dzyan, the imaginary book of ancient lore concocted by Helena Blavatsky as the peg for her Secret Doctrine? I’ve been puzzling over a questionable claim about the Stanzas and it took me quite a while to find its source. That claim is that space aliens wrote the book, or, more specifically, how it was that both H. P. Lovecraft and Erich von Däniken came to use nearly identical words to describe the extramundane origins of the Stanzas of Dzyan. It’s something I wrote about in 2012, and finally I have the answer. To be fair, I probably could have found it a few years ago, but it didn’t cross my mind again until this weekend.
Helena Blavatsky herself never said anything about aliens writing the book, or about it coming from another world. In 1888 she alleged that the book had been written in Senzar, the ancestral form of Sanskrit, and was therefore more or less the original of the Vedas. This was her way of covering the fact that she borrowed big chunks of the material from translations of the Vishnu Purana, the Rig Veda, and other Sanskrit literature. The actual book itself remained hidden in Tibet under the protection of the Occult Brotherhood, accessible only to Blavastky. Her successor, Alice Bailey, alleged in 1925 that still more stanzas from the Book of Dzyan came to her telepathically from the spirit realm through an ascended master from Tibet named Djwal Khul.
While official Theosophy kept Dzyan on the Earth, unofficially, it was travelling to the stars. Franklin Ellsworth Parker wrote a book in 1916 called Christian Wisdom that tried to marry Christianity and Theosophy, and he assumed (wrongly) that the ascended masters who wrote the Dzyan were the same as the ones who lived on the Moon, which has Sanskrit as its lingua franca. He also threw in some Aryan supremacy just for kicks:
The Aryan civilization is one of the oldest civilized nations of earth and the book of Vedas next to the Dzyan the oldest work. The book of Dzyan was written by moon souls 24,000 years ago and 2000 years later Brahmin, a Jupiter spirit father, wrote the book of Vedas from the book of Dzyan, but mutilated on questionable lines to suit the convenience of his own selfish personality and obscure the universal soul principle of Divinity. […] Ancient philosophy was the religion of eternal truth and the greatest teachers lived in the Himalayas. (pp. 174-175)
His was a weird and independent development that is, in the evolution of claims for the book, a dead end. It emerged from his own imagination and produced no later influence that I am able to trace.
Nevertheless, Blavatsky’s Dzyan was wildly popular not just with Theosophists but with writers and artists who made reference to it as well. In 1935, H. P. Lovecraft included the book in his revision of “The Diary of Alonzo Typer,” having borrowed the information about Theosophy secondhand. He wrote in “Alonzo Typer” that “I learned of the Book of Dzyan, whose first six chapters antedate the earth, and which was old when the lords of Venus came through space in their ships to civilise our planet.”
As it happens, we know exactly where Lovecraft got the idea from. He learned of it directly from E. Hoffman Price in the winter of 1933, as he confesses in a letter if February 18, 1933:
[E. Hoffmann] Price has dug up another cycle of actual folklore involving an allegedly primordial thing called The Book of Dzyan, which is supposed to contain all sorts of secrets of the Elder World before the sinking of Kusha (Atlantis) and Shalmali (Lemuria). It is kept at the Holy City of Shamballah, and is regarded as the oldest book in the world --- its language being Senzar (ancestor of Sanscrit), which was brought to earth 18,000,000 years ago by the Lords of Venus. I don't know where E. Hoffmann got hold of this stuff, but it sounds damn good. (Selected Letters, vol. IV, p. 155)
So how did Price come to think the Stanzas of Dzyan were 18 million years old? If we were to assume that Price was working firsthand from Blavatsky, it would seem that Price misread part of Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine and confused Lemuria with the Stanzas of Dzyan. Blavatsky writes in her commentary on Dzyan Stanza 1:
Man’s organism was adapted in every race to its surroundings. The first Root-Race was as ethereal as ours is material. The progeny of the seven Creators, who evolved the seven primordial Adams, surely required no purified gases to breathe and live upon […] Therefore, however strongly the impossibility of this teaching may be urged by the devotees of modern science, the Occultist maintains that the case was as stated aeons of years before even the evolution of the Lemurian, the first physical man, which itself took place 18,000,000 years ago. Preliminary evolution is described in one of the Books of Dzyan and the Commentaries thereon in this wise…
However, we will soon see that Price wasn’t working from Blavatsky, at least not solely from her, and he was actually correctly reporting someone else’s revision of Theosophical doctrine.
But what I wasn’t able figure out in 2012 is how Lovecraft’s and Price’s notion that the book is older than the Earth ended up in Erich von Däniken’s Gods from Outer Space (1970). In that book, Däniken summarizes Blavatsky Secret Doctrine more or less correctly, from the German edition, but offers these lines that have no acknowledged source in the text:
Then we have the Book of Dzyan with its sacred symbolic signs. No one in the world knows its real age. It is said that the original is older than the earth. It is also said that it was so strongly magnetised that the ‘elect’ who took it in their hands saw the events described pass before their eyes and at the same moment they could understand the mysterious texts through rhythmically transmitted impulses, provided their language had an adequate vocabulary.
The wording—“older than the earth”—is so suspiciously similar to Lovecraft’s “antedates the earth” as to be identical, when German translation is figured in. We know that Däniken happily copied from any sources at hand, but I wan’t immediately able to locate whichever one this came from. I knew that Jacques Bergier, co-author of Morning of the Magicians, would later adopt the extraterrestrial origins of the book when he ascribed it to the planet Venus in his Les livres maudits of 1971, but I wan’t able to prove that he printed anything about it before Däniken, or that Däniken would have read it anyway.
But now I know.
It turns out that our friends have all been working on parallel tracks because they were all copying from the same source. All of these different versions come, directly or indirectly, from material probably best known from the 1911 book The Inner Life by Theosophist Charles Webster Leadbeater:
In the case of The Book of Dzyan the comprehension of the symbol is enormously assisted by the fact that the book itself is highly magnetized in a peculiar way, so that when the student who is privileged to see it takes one of the pages in his hand a remarkable effect is produced upon him. Before his mind’s eye arises the picture of that which the page is intended to symbolize, and simultaneously he hears a sort of recitation of the stanza which describes it. It is very difficult to put this clearly into words, but the experience is a wonderful one.
In the same book, Leadbeater says the Venusians came to earth 18 million years ago (check off another box) and that, as Desmond Leslie claimed, was part of “the Atlantean religion.”
And there you have it. Price, Lovecraft, Bergier, Däniken, and a host of others all copied directly or indirectly from these claims. However, I am not sure exactly which version each of these authors got it from. Leadbeater suggests that the information came from an older source, and indeed it did. Leadbeater borrowed the facts from his own article in vol. 30 of The Theosophist from 1909 in a commentary on The Voice of Silence, one of the books of Helena Blavatsky:
The original of the Book of Dzyan is in the hands of the august Head of the Occult Hierarchy, and has been seen by none. None knows how old it is, but it is rumoured that the earlier part of it (consisting of the first six stanzas), has an origin altogether anterior to this world, and even that it is not a history, but a series of directions – rather a formula for creation than an account of it. A copy of it is kept in the museum of the Brotherhood, and it is that copy (itself probably the oldest book produced on this planet) which Madame Blavatsky and several of her pupils have seen – which she describes so graphically in The Secret Doctrine. The book has, however, several peculiarities which she does not there mention. It appears to be very highly magnetized, for as soon as a man takes a page into his hand he sees passing before his eyes a vision of the events which it is intended to portray, while at the same time he seems to hear a sort of rhythmic description of them in his own language, so far as that language will convey the ideas involved. Its pages contain no words whatever – nothing but symbols. (p. 591)
The only question left is how directly each author borrowed from Leadbeater. Any of the authors could have borrowed from The Inner Life, but it’s more likely in my mind that they were borrowing from the revised and reprinted version of the 1909 article that forms literally the first page of Annie Besant’s and C. W. Leadbeater’s Talks on the Path of Occultism, vol. 2 (1926), which was reissued in a new edition in 1933, right when Price found the information, and again in 1947, recent enough for Däniken to have found it twenty years later in a reasonably well stocked library. The same block of text was reprinted in other Theosophical books through the years, and mystery mongering texts based on them, so we may never know exactly which one Däniken cribbed from as though it were ancient wisdom. But now I know where it started.
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.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.