This post has been updated to correct information about The Planetary Doctrine.
Before I was so rudely interrupted by Ben Carson’s foray into Egyptology, I was starting to look into the life and work of Andrew Tomas, one of the minor ancient astronaut and ancient mysteries writers of the twentieth century. A regular reader pointed me to some interesting information that seems to explain Tomas’s later claim that he had begun investigating flying saucers in 1935, more than a decade before the modern UFO era began. As you will recall from my biography of Tomas, he had told his colleagues at the Australian UFO Bureau in the 1950s that he had written a book called The Planetary Doctrine in 1935 in which he had described shiny, silvery disks that flew acros the sky and were associated with occult communication. This thin volume of less than 80 pages had been published in Shanghai in a very limited edition.
You will also recall that Tomas spent several decades living in China, and it was while he was in residence in Shanghai in 1935 that the 29-year-old Tomas attended a lecture given by Nicolas Roerich, the theosophist and occultist who seemed to have a finger in many parts of the weirder side of the early twentieth century. Roerich, for example, was for several years a key influence on U.S. vice president Henry A. Wallace, who for a time was in thrall to the idea of ancient aliens, Atlantis, and Lemuria and lost his chance at the presidency in part due his embrace of the man he called his “guru.” Roerich’s paintings of central Asia were also a key influence on H. P. Lovecraft, who used his art as models for his fantastical alien cities due to their “vague suggestions of cosmic wonder & terror.”
Tomas developed an affinity for Roerich, and he undoubtedly read Roerich’s 1929 book Altai-Himalaya. It was in this book that Roerich described the type of silvery flying disc that Tomas would late claim that he had discovered in Asian lore in 1935 while researching The Planetary Society. Here are Roerich’s words describing an event of August 5, 1927 in the Qinghai province of China, on the northeastern border of Tibet:
On August fifth—something remarkable! We were in our camp in the Kukunor district not far from the Humboldt Chain. In the morning about half-past nine some of our caravaneers noticed a remarkably big black eagle flying above us. Seven of us began to watch this unusual bird. At this same moment another of our caravaneers remarked, “There is something far above the bird.” And he shouted in his astonishment. We all saw, in a direction from north to south, something big and shiny reflecting the sun, like a huge oval moving at great speed. Crossing our camp this thing changed in its direction from south to southwest. And we saw how it disappeared in the intense blue sky. We even had time to take our field glasses and saw quite distinctly an oval form with shiny surface, one side of which was brilliant from the sun.
According to Bill Chalker, who cites Tomas’s late book Shambhala: Oasis of Light (1977), which I have not read (and therefore can’t confirm), at the 1935 lecture, Roerich recounted this event and suggested that the object was “an aircraft or spacecraft from Shambhala.” The identity of the material and the date—a shiny silver disc, 1935, occult connections—all conspire to tell us that Tomas was quite likely using Roerich’s work as “his” UFO discovery when later telling his Australian UFO investigator colleagues about his research into UFOs before Kenneth Arnold’s famous “flying saucer” sighting of 1947.
Indeed, in a 1938 letter Helena Roerich praised parts of Planetary Doctrine but noted that it drew heavily on Theosophy and even quoted sections of Altai-Himalaya.
While this is a fascinating bit of evidence that Roerich is the actual source for the Asian mysteries Tomas discussed, it’s also interesting to learn that this was the exact same period when Swedish geographer Sven Hedin was conducting weather balloon experiments in the same area, as recounted in his Across the Gobi Desert (1931, English trans. 1932), as Mark Pilkington recounted in 2010, citing earlier work by ufologist Leon Davidson. The locals were in awe of the shiny silver balloons: “they stood speechless and stared after the bright ball till it could only be seen with field glasses,” Hedin reported. The description is fairly close, though ufologist Brad Sparks denies that anyone could confuse a small weather balloon for a large disc. We know that people are terrible judges of the size of objects in the sky, so this objection is probably unfounded.
If the identification of Roerich’s silver disc with a weather balloon is true, it adds whole new layers of irony Tomas’s early embrace of ufology and his later investigation of ancient mysteries. But either way, it’s pretty clear that Tomas simply appropriated Roerich as his source (apparently with credit in 1935) and in the 1950s passed it off as his own decades-old research.
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