So, it seems that I do everything the hard way. I learned to read Latin, Spanish, French, and other languages so I could translate texts from as close to the original sources as possible. Meanwhile, 73-year-old novelist John Crowley is making money off of a “translation” of the foundational Rosicrucian text The Chemical Wedding by Christian Rosencruetz. As the New Yorker reported, “Because he doesn’t know German, Crowley pieced together the book by comparing various English translations, deciding on the most readable and sensible interpretation of a given passage and then putting all of it in a new voice.” Doesn’t that take the cake? I know a guy did a version of the Odyssey that way years ago, but I can’t say I’m thrilled to see that Kickstarter funders paid Crowley and his publisher at Small Beer Press $73,000 to rewrite someone else’s English translation without an understanding of the underlying text. I felt bad that I had to use the French edition of the Akhbar al-zaman for my translation because I can’t speak Arabic. I should start demanding money to rewrite other people’s translations of texts, too!
Such is the world we live in today.
Yesterday I discussed an interview that Ancient Aliens executive producer Kevin Burns gave to Tony Sokol for Den of Geek, and in that interview both Burns and Sokol restrained themselves in discussing the ancient astronaut theory and conspiracy theories in a rather sober way, relatively speaking. But it turns out that both men were engaging in a bit of subterfuge, and Burns is deceptive when he alleges that he is an “open minded skeptic” who doubts many conspiracy theories. In the second part of their conversation, published on Entertainment 2morrow, Burns went full-on crazy, spouting extreme and somewhat disturbing conspiracy theories that should give viewers pause about the man behind Ancient Aliens.
In this interview, Burns makes no bones about his belief that religions are all based on space aliens. He said this in response to his own assertion that Hindus worship space aliens:
Their religion is totally based on extraterrestrials as, by the way, all religions are. I think that’s why our show is eerily compatible with religion: because [e]very single religion is based on the idea of angels or creatures coming from the sky and either creating man or giving man knowledge and technology. Every single one, from ancient Greece and Rome to Norse Mythology. To those things really fascinate me.
This is prima facie untrue. In one of Ancient Aliens’ favorite myths, that of the fish-man Oannes, long suspected of being a space alien (as Carl Sagan once hypothesized), Oannes came up from under the sea, not down from the sky. The Greeks believed that the old gods, the Titans, were born out of the Earth, and the new gods, the Olympians, were born on the Earth. Prometheus descended not from the sky but from Mount Olympus to give fire to mankind. The Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews all believed that the “sky” was actually a metal or clay dome over the Earth, so there was no literal domain in the sky. We could go on, but why bother? That said, it is a near-universal that humans envision the cosmos a series of stacked planes, with one or more underworlds, the Earth, and one or more heavens. Note that Burns omits the near-universal religious belief in the underworld.
Burns may not be an out-and-out ancient astronaut theorist, but he revealed himself to be a huge Graham Hancock fan. In the first half of his conversation, he quoted Hancock’s “species with amnesia” line, but in the second half he said that he believes that Noah’s Flood was real and happened at the end of the last Ice Age, that the Ice Age ended when a comet or meteor hit the Earth, and that this cataclysm destroyed a lost ancient civilization. You will recognize this as the content of Hancock’s Magicians of the Gods from last year.
So far, so bad. But it gets worse. Burns advocates a conspiracy theory which holds that the statue of Freedom atop the U.S. Capitol is really the Iroquois sky goddess, placed there in honor of space aliens. He bases this on her feathered headdress, seemingly unaware that she wears this headdress not because she is an alien sky goddess but because Jefferson Davis refused to allow Freedom to wear the traditional Phrygian cap of liberty because, as he said at the time, it suggested manumission rather than natural freedom, though others have suggested that the real objection was that it might be seen as a rebuke to the institution of slavery.
Worse than that, he falsely believes that Hindus believe in the Akashic Record, a cosmic collection of universal knowledge. This is a Theosophical concept, not a Hindu one, but based on it he concludes that “all” geniuses engage in meditation to access the Akashic Record, which he likens to advanced technology:
“It sounds suspiciously like Wi-Fi and the Cloud,” Burns says. “We’re building a cloud with the collective intelligence of the past and, arguably, the future that we can connect with. How do we know that we are not, through computers and the cloud and all the wireless technology, just replicating an ancient system of communication that existed tens of thousands of years ago?”
Let that soak in for moment.
The executive producer of Ancient Aliens can’t tell the difference between cloud computing, in which individual computers access data and applications over the internet from where they are stored on external servers, and a supernatural claim that all knowledge exists in a spiritual dimension that we can access by wishing really hard. Where does he think that the ancients or the aliens are storing this data? Through what means do thoughts access this data? Through what medium is it transmitted? Surely we should be able to measure and capture such data.
But Burns is a supernaturalist at heart, and these kinds of practical concerns aren’t important. The important thing is to find in fringe history an excuse for believing that myths and legends are real, that life has a dimension beyond the material, and that the individual still stands a chance at understanding and overturning the uncomfortable conclusions of materialist science.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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