Later tonight is the two-hour season finale of Ancient Aliens, but in the meantime, I have an interesting medieval text to share with you. If you are a fan of ancient mysteries, you’ve probably encountered at least one variation on the theme that when the stars come around to a particular position in their 26,000-year cycle around the heavens, the end of the world is at hand. It’s become a staple of the genre over the past several decades, led in large measure by alternative history writers who have used the precession of the equinoxes—the slow movement of the stars through the zodiac over 26,000 years—to claim that the Sphinx was built during the Age of Leo, or that religious beliefs change every 2,160 years when the sun enters into a new house of the zodiac.
Editor's Note: I am taking a couple of days off this week as summer winds down, fringe authors are enjoying their vacations, and blog readership is low. Enjoy this rerun of a piece, lightly adapted, that first ran in October 2012.
In the fall of 2012, I told you how Rod Serling became involved in ancient astronauts as his Night Gallery series was in the process of being cancelled. Serling’s producer for the In Search of Ancient Astronauts documentary that launched the ancient astronaut “theory” in the United States was Alan Landsburg, who turned his follow-up documentary, In Search of Ancient Mysteries, into a book of the same name. So why did Landsburg fail as an ancient astronaut theorist?
Recently, I completed a translation of some lengthy excerpts from the Book of the Secret of Creation and the Art of Nature (Kitāb sirr al-ḫalīqa), an Arabic-language treatise on Hermetic philosophy and cosmology attributed to Apollonius of Tyana (Balīnūs). It takes the form of a multi-book disquisition on the secret of creation, which is that all things are made from differing ratios of hot, cold, wet, and dry. (It was, in the end, a disappointing secret, not dissimilar to the harmony of the elements in Macrobius.) Several of the books pose questions about the natural world and explain them in tedious detail about the evaporation and condensation of primaeval fluids. The volume is famous as the oldest extant source for the famed Emerald Tablet, which became better known in the West from a Latin translation of a separate recension of the tablet’s text from a different and later Arabic source. Perhaps more interesting is the frame story attached to it, telling of how Apollonius discovered ancient wisdom in books held by a statue of Hermes Trismegistus in an underground chamber in Tyana, in modern Turkey:
The Same Russian Troll Accounts Tweeting Election Propaganda Were Also Tweeting about UFOs and Ancient Mysteries
I’ve received quite a bit of criticism for my conclusion that the Russian government has purposely promoted UFO and ancient astronaut beliefs as part of their propaganda efforts aimed at destabilizing the West. As part of that campaign, Russian trolls and bots made more than one million tweets to influence the 2016 election. Twitter recently deleted those tweets in an effort to clean up its service, but NBC News published a spreadsheet containing 200,000 tweets from Russian propaganda accounts sent in 2016 and 2017. A significant, though not overlarge, number of Russian propaganda tweets were about UFOs, ancient astronauts, and ancient mysteries.
Here are a few representative samples of the Russian retweets. I have stripped them of the linked articles to avoid promoting bottom-feeding clickbait and propaganda sites.
Thursday Odds and Ends: History Channel Ratings, Dating the Thera Volcanic Eruption, and Hermes' Receipt of Angelic Knowledge
Today I have a few brief topics to discuss as we await tonight’s broadcast of Ancient Aliens. The first is an update on the ratings for Ancient Aliens and its lead-out, In Search Of. According to figures released by Nielsen, Ancient Aliens is trending downward, sinking since the start of the current run of episodes to just 1.075 million viewers, a loss of about 10 percent of its audience from the start of the current half-season. I wonder if the new, slower format and primary focus on one ancient astronaut theorist and one location or “quest” per show is boring some of the audience. Meanwhile In Search Of pulled a surprising reversal. While it has not improved its ratings over its run, it did outdraw Ancient Aliens—just barely—this past week, bringing in 1.090 million viewers. A modestly larger number of men and older people watched In Search Of than Ancient Aliens. The two shows are now running neck-and-neck, but largely due to Ancient Aliens’ declining ratings than any particular momentum behind In Search Of.
Editor's Note: I am taking today off to work on projects other than my blog. Please enjoy a repeat of a classic blog post from my archive. This piece originally ran in July 2012.
In Twelfth Planet (1976), Zecharia Sitchin first proposed his theory that there was a wandering planet named Nibiru. He seems to have based this entirely on a pair of weird misconceptions. The first was the translation of the word nibir or nibiru, which meant either "wandering stars" or "planets," not "wandering planet." This is because the ancients did not understand that the planets were distinct in substance from the stars, only that they were lights in the sky like the stars but which moved differently (i.e. wandered). George Smith understood this distinction as far back as 1876 in his Chaldean Account of Genesis:
In medieval alchemy, the Emerald Tablet of Hermes took pride of place, allegedly an ancient distillation of wisdom discovered by Alexander the Great. Albertus Magnus, in a book on the secrets of chemistry written around 1200, gives the story: “Alexander the Great discovered the sepulchre of Hermes, in one of his journeys, full of all treasures, not metallic, but golden, written on a table of zatadi, which others call emerald” (trans. Thomas Thomson). This story, in turn, is a corruption or adaptation of an earlier Islamic myth, in two variants. One held that Sarah, the wife of Abraham, found the emerald tablet (written in Phoenician) held in the hands of a statue of Hermes at his tomb in Hebron, and the other than the honor fell to Balinas, who accomplished the same feat in Tyana, taking the Syriac-language tablet from the hands of Hermes’ corpse: “After my entrance into the chamber, where the talisman was set up, I came up to an old man sitting on a golden throne, who was holding an emerald table in one hand” (anonymous 1985 trans.). Another Arabic treatise, translated into Latin in the twelfth century, replaces Balinas with Galienus (an obvious misreading): “When I entered into the cave, I received from between the hands of Hermes the inscribed Table of Zaradi, on which I found these words” (trans. Steele and Singer).
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.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
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.