On February 18, 1960, Britain’s New Scientist magazine, then in its fifth year of publication, presented a short article that established, in its essentials, the same ancient astronaut theory—right down to the mid-century rocket fetish—that would capture the public imagination a decade later, when Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods was translated into English. This brief article is an important piece of ancient astronaut history, and another example of the debt that von Däniken owed to the sources from which he shamelessly copied his ideas.
The anonymous piece appeared unceremoniously halfway through the “Notes and Comments” section under the title “A Visit from Spacemen.” The piece begins by stating that the transformation of Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt is “baffling” to “modern science.” The then author introduces the work of Soviet scientist Matest M. Agrest (1915-2005), who a few months earlier had published his theory that the events of Genesis 19 could be explained by extraterrestrials using nuclear weapons on Sodom and Gomorrah, thus killing Lot’s wife, before building the megalithic platform at Baalbek as a launch pad to return to their home planet.
Have you ever seen the pictures of the Soviet version of the space shuttle, the Buran? It looked almost like its American counterpart but was just slightly off, was used only once, and ended up on the scrapheap of history when its hangar collapsed on it, crushing it. In the same way, a lot of Soviet consumer goods were blocky, inefficient knockoffs of Western products.
I bring this up because of something I have neglected to write much about: The Soviet ancient astronaut theory. Like its consumer goods, the Soviet ancient astronaut theory was derivative, clunky, and an ersatz copy of the West. But unlike Soviet cars and clothes, the Soviet ancient astronaut theory was influential.
I did not remember the story of the “green children” of Banjos, Spain until I read about them in Jacques Bergier’s Extraterrestrial Visitations, but a quick Google search finds that these mysterious beings are apparently a mainstay of the alternative history and mystery-mongering genres. They appear in The Big Book of Mysteries by Lionel and Patricia Fanthope (2010), Charles Berlitz’s World of the Incredible but True (1992), Colin Wilson’s Enigmas and Mysteries (1976), and John Macklin’s Strange Destinies (1965). The story concerns the appearance of two children, green in color, who were found near the village of Banjos in Catalonia in 1887 speaking a strange tongue and refusing to eat anything but beans.
They also appear in Karl Shuker’s The Unexplained (1996), a book I read when I was fifteen, so I must have read the story and promptly cared nothing for it, probably because Shuker provides a correct (though incomplete) solution to the mystery—one we will get to anon.
Since I’ve been on the subject of Jacques Bergier’s Extraterrestrial Visitations from Prehistoric Times to the Present (1970), I should bring up another instance where Bergier received inspiration from H. P. Lovecraft, leading him to ridiculous conclusions.
The fifteenth-century Italian physician and lawyer Fazio Cardano (Latin: Facius Cardan) was a friend of Leonardo da Vinci and a noted occultist. Rumors spread that he was in communication with a demon, a story Cardano spread himself, according to his son Gerolamo (De Subtilitate 19). This is not a particularly interesting story, but I bring it up because Jacques Bergier in Extraterrestrial Visitation from Prehistoric Times to the Present (1970) makes a very big deal of a passage attributed to Cardano by his son in De Subtilitate (1551) about the arrival of “aliens” in Renaissance Italy.
In the following passage, quoted from Gerolamo Cardano, is alleged to be transcribed from his father’s own notes. Unfortunately, Bergier’s translation (an English translation of Bergier’s French translation of the Latin original) is flawed, oddly truncated, and missing key words. (Par for the course with Bergier.) I am using the English translation given in the 1913 edition of Abbé N. de Montfaucon de Villars’ 1613 Rosicrucian novel The Comte De Gabalis (commentary XV) to explicate the French author’s reference to Cardano.
I just received my copy of Jacques Bergier’s Extraterrestrial Visitations from Prehistoric Times to the Present (1970; trans. 1973). I ordered the book because it contains some of Bergier’s plainest admissions that his work in developing the ancient astronaut theory was inspired by H. P. Lovecraft. Indeed, the book is positively saturated with Lovecraft, both explicitly and implicitly.
In an earlier article, I discussed how Lovecraft governed Bergier’s investigations into the ancient astronaut theory for Morning of the Magicians (1960), the most influential ancient astronaut text ever written (Erich von Daniken, Robert Charroux, and David Childress cribbed shamelessly from it). Here, I thought I’d present a bit more of Bergier on Lovecraft from Extraterrestrial Visitations, a deeply weird book, perhaps the strangest ancient astronaut book I’ve ever read.
In the comments section of my blog, longtime advocate of the authenticity of the Bat Creek inscription J. Huston McCulloch takes me to task for failing to address several points about the inscription in my earlier review of a chapter from Lost Worlds of Ancient America in which geologist Scott Wolter attempted to analyze the stone, found in 1889, which supposedly contains an ancient Hebrew text. In my review, I discussed earlier scholars’ work pointing to the close similarity between the Bat Creek inscription and a reconstructed paleo-Hebrew text appearing in an 1868 Masonic text, Robert Macoy's General History, Cyclopedia and Dictionary of Freemasonry.
Earlier today Cracked.com ran a piece on the “Six Ridiculous Lies You Believe about the Founding of America.” Authors Jack O’Brien and Alford Alley write that “First of all, Columbus wasn't the first to cross the Atlantic. Nor were the vikings. [sic] Two Native Americans landed in Holland in 60 B.C. and were promptly not given a national holiday by anyone.” Obviously, I wondered how I had missed such an important ancient record of trans-oceanic crossing. Well, as it turns out, I didn’t miss anything. The internet echo chamber is repeating a piece of centuries-old speculation uncritically. In the original ancient texts, the people were not Native Americans, were not two in number, and did not land in Holland. 60 BCE is about right, though.
The Scottish physician John Ferriar (1761-1815) was a well-known natural philosopher as well as a critical thinker of wide repute. His 1813 Essay Towards a Theory of Apparitions made the case that ghosts were optical illusions. A much earlier paper, "Of Popular Illusions, and Particularly of Medical Demonology," contains much material of interest to the skeptic. In this excerpt, Ferriar discusses the origins of the vampire myth (a topic of great interest in the eighteenth century due to an alleged vampire outbreak in Hungary) by examining a firsthand account of a vampire attack. He applies skeptical reasoning to conclude that a combination of ignorance, fear, and unscrupulous religious practitioners was at fault--a conclusion that is almost undoubtedly right.
In the comments section of my earlier post on the fake UFO quote from the prophecies of Chilam Balam, a reader takes me to task for what the reader perceives as my lack of knowledge about the Mayan books of prophecy:
I thought it was worth bringing this up to correct some common misconceptions about the Chilam Balam prophecies that are floating around the alternative community, and especially the dubious translation most alternative theorists rely upon.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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