In anticipation of next week's Halloween episode of Ancient Aliens, in which zombies and vampires will be attributed to alien intervention, I present another entry in my ongoing series of weird old art. Today's image depicts the sorcerer Edward Kelly (or Kelley) (1555-1597) raising the spirit of a dead man from within a mystic circle:
This week’s episode of Ancient Aliens proposed that the “extraterrestrials” left a “secret code” in the form of prehistoric sites scattered across the world, built (depending on which segment one watched) according to UFO flight paths, magnetic lay lines, geodesy, or an “energy grid.”
I can’t begin to describe the stupidity of the idea that this imaginary “energy grid” (which has not been proven to exist) let ancient people move large rocks to build ancient structures through conveniently lost anti-gravity devices (based on “free and inexhaustible energy,” David Hatcher Childress asserts). What type of “energy” this is, I can’t imagine; the ancient astronaut theorists (AATs) elide magnetic fields, gravitational fields, and various mystic energy forms all under the un-scientific ideas of “energy.” Apparently, every ancient civilization listened to ancient astronauts, who told them to build temples on sites where this “energy grid” had power points. These were airports, or something like that, for “refueling” UFOs.
Of course, the supposed precision of this map is completely fictitious, based entirely on selecting ancient sites to match its supposed nodes while ignoring those that do not match. Many popular “node” maps place Machu Picchu (or Cuzco) and the Great Pyramid on nodes, but few of them include such ancient sites as the ziggurat of Ur, the Lascaux caves, the great mound of Cahokia, Teotihuacan, the most ancient mud-brick cities of Peru, etc. Logically, one would expect the oldest sites, like those of Sumer or pre-Inca Peru (coeval with the Great Pyramid, after all), to have a place in the node system. I would love to give a more thorough discussion, but as it turns out, no two “researchers” agree where these energy nodes are, making it impossible to develop criteria to evaluate ancient sites’ correspondence to them. Nevertheless, all agree the “nodes” are a secret code.
Caution: The following post is not appropriate for all audiences. Click the "read more" link only if you are not offended by mild references to sex acts.
Ancient astronaut theorists frequently claim that the gods, devils, and monsters of ancient mythology are true-to-life reports of extraterrestrial beings, whose motives can be reconstructed from creative interpretations of ancient myth. Demons, specifically, were linked to aliens in Eric Norman's Gods, Demons and Space Chariots (1970) and Gods and Devils from Outer Space (1973), and specific demonic creatures, such as Azazel from the Book of Enoch, have frequently been cited as examples of ancient astronauts, as in David Icke's Biggest Secret (1999).
So, if demons are aliens, and historical documents about demons are the chronicles of actual extraterrestrial intervention, what are we to make of this piece of weird, old art?
I received an interesting email the other day from a British television production company. The producer wanted to obtain permission to use the copy of the Epic of Gilgamesh I edited for this website in NatGeo UK's Ancient X-Files documentary series in an upcoming episode exploring myths and legends associated with the Great Flood. So, when the program airs sometime in the coming months on NatGeo UK and someone on the show starts quoting from Gilgamesh, you'll know where the words came from.
The current issue of the Skeptical Inquirer (35.6, Nov.-Dec. 2011) features the second part of a three-part series by Bradley T. Lepper, Kenneth L. Feder, Terry A. Barnhart, and Deborah A. Bolnick on the fabrication of American prehistory in the 2010 documentary The Lost Civilizations of North America. Lepper et al. were justifiably upset that they were duped by producers into contributing to its pseudo-historical agenda, which argues that prehistoric North America was traversed by visitors from nearly every ancient European and Levantine population.
However, prior to the article series, I had never heard of the documentary, and as far as I can tell, outside the Mormon community (whose Book of Mormon already claims ancient Jewish visitors to North America) the documentary has mostly been ignored. Google News turns up exactly one match for the direct-to-DVD release (Amazon sales rank: 108,000 and change), and I can't prove that the match is an actual article since the link goes to the Dunn County News' homepage. Most of the matches for the DVD on the Google Blogs search page turn up one of the Skeptical Inquirer article authors' statements denouncing the DVD production. I am given to understand that Glenn Beck mentioned the DVD on his Fox News program at some point (Beck is a Mormon), but if this made an impact on audiences, it did not register online.
Now I am all for criticizing pseudo-history and exposing it wherever it emerges, but I think that a three part series (including one cover story) about a DVD that apparently no one has ever watched is a bit extreme given that Ancient Aliens is piped directly into more than two million viewers' homes weekly. A three part series destroying the History Channel's lies and obfuscations would be a much better use of space and one much more relevant to the mass audiences skeptics should, theoretically, be trying to reach.
Last week, Florida governor Rick Scott, a Republican, argued that anthropology degrees (which in the United States include archaeology) are losers in the job market and don’t deserve to be subsidized by taxpayers.
“If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I’m going to take money to create jobs,” Scott said to the Herald Tribune. “So I want that money to go to degree where people can get jobs in this state. Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.”
Naturally, this led to outcry from anthropologists, archaeologists, and even journalists, who noted that Scott’s own daughter has a degree in the field.
But, the thing is, Scott is probably, to a limited extent, right.
I have an anthropology degree, and I can say from firsthand experience that it really doesn’t open that many doors right now. Theoretically, anthropology should be helpful to the “vital interests” of business and government by helping decision-makers navigate a multicultural, global environment, though it is true that many decision-makers have yet to catch on to this. But to evaluate the value of an academic discipline based on current conditions is incredibly shortsighted.
Twenty years ago, the digital revolution was only just starting and few would have thought that studying video game design would be a viable life choice. And yet it became one. Thirty years ago, the business world was still in an industrial-era mindset, and few would have imagined that speculative finance or computer-aided business mathematics would become in-demand fields. And yet they did. Who, as late as the 1990s, would have imagined that Arabic and Middle Eastern studies would have enormous value in the coming century?
On the other hand, who as late as the 1980s would have doubted the importance of Russian language and Soviet studies to the “vital interest” of the United States? How did those degrees work out?
The point is that the future is highly fungible. We don’t know what will happen next. If we let the government dictate which degree programs are worthy of public financing and which are not, we will end up with generations of graduates educated for a job market that vanished before they ever entered college. Just as the Pentagon spent a century preparing to fight wars they already won, so too will government-supported degree programs always be years or decades behind current needs, and probably clueless about the future. If there is one thing we do know, it’s that modern American government is almost systemically incapable of changing with the times.
And, really, who would trust government to pick a winning major?
Before there were "alien" abductions, there were cases of demons carrying off sinners. As Ancient Astronaut Theorists might say, modern abductees return with only modern discomfort from anal probing while the earlier experiments conducted by the "extraterrestrials" or demons were much harsher. This piece of weird old art comes from Robert Burton's Wonderful Prodigies of Judgement and Mercy (1685).
I’ve finally seen both episodes of American Horror Story to have aired, and I’m not quite sure what to make of the new FX series. The show has the form of a horror movie but the soul of a John Waters movie. It is less horror than a grotesque, a mishmash of themes and ideas borrowed from older horror movies coated with a sticky layer of psychosexual anguish.
In my Knowing Fear I took great pains to refute the common theory in the academy that the horror genre is an outgrowth of Freudian sexual fears. But here is an example of a piece of putative horror that is little more than a psychosexual drama wearing the clothes of horror.
So far we have seen a creepy old house, homicidal teens, mentally unbalanced people of all stripes, ghosts, murders galore, and mostly weird sexual hang ups and tortures. This would be the place to describe symbolism and subtext if there were any, but so far there only seems to be one level, the surface. The message seems to be that unhappy sex is a form of death. Unoriginal, yes, but possibly effective if the (more) realistic sections of the program set within the house itself could be freed from the campy carnival of grotesque characters parading around outside, apparently on loan from a bad dark comedy.
Two episodes in, it seems that American Horror Story is horror made by people who have only seen parodies of horror movies and tried to work backward to reconstruct the original.
“Do alien visitors really desire the blood of humans in order to exert power and gain control over the earth?”
Funny, I thought that was vampires.
This week’s Ancient Aliens used its conceit as an excuse to rehash the most salacious aspects of ancient and modern cults, including Heaven’s Gate and the Thugees of India. Mostly the show talked about human sacrifice, murder, castration, mass suicide etc. and then threw in random moments of ancient astronaut theorists (AATs) claiming that the gods worshipped by the cults were actually aliens. But this is largely irrelevant, since the cults were comprised of human beings, and the aliens or the gods never showed up. Later, when the show said AATs believe that aliens were really in touch with modern cult leaders like Marshall Applewhite of Heaven’s Gate through brain implants and ordered them to commit mass suicide, the show crossed the line from irresponsible to perverse.
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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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