Today I’d like to share some more treasures from Official UFO Special: Ancient Astronauts magazine from 1977 and 1978. In many ways, Ancient Astronauts magazine was the Ancient Aliens for an analog generation, to judge by the contents of the issues, which cover the familiar material we’re used to seeing on H2’s weekly excursion into the outré: time travel, parallel worlds, crystal skulls, ancient astronaut mind control panic, monsters as alien hybrids, pyramidiocy, and of course gold-mining aliens. And, just as Ancient Aliens tries to explain superheroes as aliens, Ancient Astronauts devoted an article to arguing that the Force from Star Wars was real—and under alien control!
Today I would like to present a case study in fraud. The story is that of Friedrich Wagenfeld (1810-1846), one of the most daring forgers in the history of the Classics. At the age of 25, Wagenfeld undertook to deceive the world into believing he had discovered the lost work of the Phoenician historian Sanchuniathon (also transliterated as Sanchoniathon), whose Phoenician History exists only in the fragments preserved by Eusebius. After the brazen forgery—which fooled some of the leading Classicists of Germany—Wagenfeld went on to some minor acclaim as a folklorist in Bremen, though his most famous stories, such as the “History of the Seven Lazy Brothers” (commemorated in Bremen to this day), were later found to be fictitious. He descended into alcoholism and died at the age of 36.
The following chapter chronicling Wagenfeld’s forgery comes from James Anson Farrer’s Literary Forgeries (1907), and the author makes an important point at the end about the ease with which historiography can be corrupted.
For those of you who are interested in the Fawcett Mystery, which I discussed on Wednesday, I’ve posted a translation of the mysterious Manuscript 512 that I drafted yesterday. Composed in 1754, the text purports to relate the discovery of a massive stone city in the east of Brazil, complete with an arch like that of Constantine, a pointing statue like the Augustus of Prima Porta (though obviously not inspired by it, having been discovered only in 1863) and other heroic images, and massive houses akin to Nero’s Domus Aurea. I faulted author David Grann for omitting much of the detail from the text in describing it in his Lost City of Z (2009), but only after translating the whole text did I realize just how ridiculous the manuscript really is.
If you’re interested, Harold Wilkins, a UFO and lost white race theorist, published an English translation of the manuscript in his Mysteries of Ancient South America (1945), but he wasn’t completely familiar with eighteenth century regional Portuguese dialects, so he missed a few details. For example, he translated the word fumines as “smokes” and entered a note expressing confusion over why an abandoned city would have smoke as a “sign” of its civilization. The word, I learned, is a dialect variant of chimines, influenced by fumar (“smoke”), and actually means “chimneys.” The author almost certainly had a European city in mind, much as when Shakespeare mistakenly described ancient Rome as having “chimney-tops” in Julius Caesar. As I learned in the comments below, Mrs. Richard Burton translated the text, unbeknownst to Wilkins (who claimed to be the first), in 1865 and her husband published it in 1869.
Remember Red Ice Radio, the fringe radio program hosted by Henrik Palmgren that has played host to luminaries like Scott Wolter, Scott A. Roberts, and David Icke, and which recently devoted an episode to declaring Hitler to be a misunderstood genius? Well, it turns out that the program is chock full of white supremacists making a surprising number of claims about the Aryan race. Let’s take a look at a few of the discussions that pass under the banner of “alternative history” and “forbidden truth.” But where to start? There’s so many to choose from—and all from just this summer!
I just finished reading David Grann’s 2009 bestseller The Lost City of Z (soon to be a movie), which tells the story of Lt. Col. Percy Fawcett’s 1925 disappearance in the Amazon jungle while searching for what he believed was a monumental stone city lost to time. The story of a dashing explorer who vanished without a trace has been a source of fascination for the past nine decades, though to be quite frank, I didn’t find his disappearance all that compelling. I had rather hoped to find more information about Fawcett’s beliefs about the lost city he named Z, but Grann provides only a few hints and details. What he discusses, though, is a fascinating illustration of the consequences of fringe beliefs.
Canadian author David Nickle has an interesting post on his blog about H. P. Lovecraft and the issue of racism, prompted by the recent petition by Daniel José Older to replace World Fantasy Award’s bust of Lovecraft with that of the Black female writer Octavia Butler because Lovecraft was an “avowed racist and a terrible wordsmith” while Butler challenged “our notions of power, race and gender.” Personally, I’d have objected on the grounds that Lovecraft is better suited to horror than fantasy, but boundaries blur at the edges of the forms of speculative fiction. I don’t really have a problem with the World Fantasy Award being a bust of Lovecraft, nor do I see it as an endorsement of racism, but the debate over Older’s petition has degenerated into parody of the kind of debates over racism we see in society today.
I’m always interested in what fringe figures say when they think they’re talking only to true believers, which is one reason I like looking not just at their public pronouncements but also the products and services that they sell to their fans. For example, Jason Martell’s blatant cash grab “Ancient School,” with its poorly produced YouTube-style video “lessons” speaks much more to Martell’s motives than his parroting of producers’ points on Ancient Aliens. This is one reason I was intrigued when a reader recently sent me an advertisement for L. A. Marzulli’s new video collection Giants: Revealing the Agenda of the Fallen Cherub – Exploring the Archaeology of the Ancients. Recorded in June of this year at the second annual (!) “Nephilim Mounds Conference” (!!), the five DVD set retails for $59.95 and has a kinky sexual focus that says much more about the real panic behind “Nephilim research” than the polished polemics of its most prominent figures.
I’ve written too much this week, and I had planned to take today off, but I couldn’t resist capping off this week of superheroes and extraterrestrials with a brief discussion of a Christopher Loring Knowles’s reaction to Friday’s “Aliens and Superheroes” episode of Ancient Aliens. It collapses the whole rickety house of alien superheroes in on itself and gives us the bizarre spectacle of a man who is obsessed with hidden Theosophical currents in pop culture attacking an ancient astronaut program for being too literal, too materialist, and too disrespectful of Jack Kirby and comic book aliens.
This episode of In Search of Aliens was supposed to be a hunt for the Cyclops according to the published listings. But something happened that led H2 to swap out the episode for the one we actually saw tonight S01E05 “The Search for Bigfoot.” The Cyclops episode will air in two weeks because H2 is taking Labor Day weekend off. Instead, we are treated to an ersatz Finding Bigfoot in which our intrepid hero Giorgio Tsoukalos tramps through the Washington woods to look for the ultra-terrestrial Bigfoot, the one who rides in a flying saucer. I previously discussed the connection between Bigfoot and flying saucers in an April blog post.
In this episode of Ancient Aliens, S07E05 “Aliens and Superheroes,” the show decides to plumb the depths of fiction to find evidence of aliens among superheroes. It is all very meta. Why not Star Wars or other space operas? Just as profitably might they have mined science fiction or, dare I say it, the works of H. P. Lovecraft to find aliens amidst fiction. The inspiration for this episode is undoubtedly desperation (they recycle footage from the 2009 History series Clash of the Gods), but there is more than a whiff of H. P. Blavatsky in the conceit that superheroes can tell us anything about actual space aliens. In a footnote to her Secret Doctrine Blavatsky claimed that writers of fantastic fiction received “occult dreams” from nonhuman intelligences on other planets or other dimensions, and thus unconsciously embodied extraterrestrial truths. Ancient Aliens pretty much decides to adopt this as the governing concept for this episode. It is not a pretty sight.
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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