The mid-1970s were a golden age of ancient astronaut silliness. Not only was Erich von Daniken putting out the first dozen or so of his ancient astronaut books, but his acolytes, including Alan Landsburg, were busy putting out their own versions of the demonstrably false thesis. Landsburg brought the story to film, producing three full-length documentaries narrated by Rod Serling: In Search of Ancient Astronauts, In Search of Ancient Mysteries, and The Outer Space Connection. Among this collection of the outrageous, we find Brad Steiger's Mysteries of Time and Space (1974), which claimed to provide "Amazing Proof That We Are Not Alone."
Let's take a look at one supposed piece of "amazing proof"...
In 1968 what appeared to be fossilized sandal prints were found in Utah. One print had a squashed trilobite in it. According to paleontology, this would indicate that someone was walking about in sandals more than 500 million years before man is supposed to have evolved. (p. 12)
Now that is one heck of a paragraph. Note how quickly Steiger moves from the apparent nature of the prints in the first sentence to a conclusive declaration in the following sentences. Then, in sentence three Steiger tries to both appropriate science (paleontology) and also cast doubt on the theory of evolution, adopting the awe and wonder of 500 million years but tempering it with an adjective ("supposed") indicating that science knows much less than Brad Steiger.
And all that doesn't even take into consideration the fact that these sandal prints, known in alternative science circles as the "Meister tracks," is nothing more than wishful thinking, credulous minds projecting their imagination onto ambiguous natural phenomena. As Glen J. Kuban writes:
The overall shape is seen to consist of a spall pattern in a concretion-like slab, similar to many others in the area. There is no evidence that it was ever part of a striding sequence, nor that it was ever on an exposed bedding plane, as real prints would be. The "print" is very shallow and shows no sign of pressure deformation or foot movement at its margin. However, on one side of the print, extending to the side of the supposed toe end is a rim or lip that is typical of similar concretions from the area, but which is incompatible in position and form to be a pressure ridge. Also, of the two halves of rock, the side that has the heel indented shows raised relief at the toe end, and vice versa, whereas in a real print one should show impression or raised relief throughout each half.
But of course. One thing is certain: Steiger can pack one heck of a lot of false evidence and misinterpretation into the briefest of passages.
_Theosophists have guessed at the awesome grandeur of the cosmic cycle wherein our world and human race form transient incidents. They have hinted at strange survivals in terms which would freeze the blood if not masked by a bland optimism. But it is not from them that there came the single glimpse of forbidden eons which chills me when I think of it and maddens me when I dream of it.
_-- H. P. Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu"
_Yesterday I posted on some of the Theosophical texts that influenced the ancient astronaut theory. Since I was on the subject, I went back to the source, Helena Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine to pull out the relevant passages where the old fraud discusses beings from other worlds and how much ancient humans knew about the space aliens she imagined lived ethereal lives of the spirit on Venus, Mars, and other nearby planets.
I've posted ten pages of her obtuse drivel as "Blavatsky on Ancient Astronauts" in my site's classic text library. I'd say "enjoy," but I don't think anyone finds wading through her pseudo-profound speculations very enjoyable, even if it is important for understanding the origins of the ancient astronaut theory.
Blavatsky's speculations were amplified by later Theosophists who were more explicit on the Venusian spirit beings who supposedly came to earth to help the human race (specifically the "Aryans," for those of you keeping track at home) to evolve. These Venusians were the same aliens alluded to as a mere mask for distant Mythos beings in H. P. Lovecraft, the same Venusians from The Flying Saucers Have Landed, and one of the inspirations for Pauwels and Bergier, who boiled down Lovecraft and Theosophy into the first all-encompassing ancient astronaut theory as we know it today.
The prehistory of the ancient astronaut theory is rather interesting. It is well-known that Madame Blavatsky in her Theosophy posited the existence of spiritual guides living on other planets who came to earth from time to time. Some of these were the Lords of Flame from the made-up Book of Dzyan (second series, 7.24), and the Venusian people of the Secret Doctrine (vol. 2). Later Theosophical authors became more explicit and developed a very early form of the ancient astronaut theory, though for these writers the being from other worlds were not exactly space men but more like angels residing in the empyrean--in fact Theosophists believe the beings live on an "etheric plane," a sort of spiritual parallel universe.
Later writers dispensed with the spiritual realm and turned the alien Lords of Venus into ancient astronauts, following the path blazed by H. P. Lovecraft, who, drawing on Theosophy for inspiration, wrote in 1935 that "the lords of Venus came through space in their ships to civilise our planet" ("Diary of Alonzo Typer").
Here then is an excerpt from Theosophist A. E. Powell's The Solar System (1930) in which the author explains the role and importance of the visitors from Venus, known as the Lords of the Flame because, apparently, Venus is so much hotter than Earth:
We come now to describe the most dramatic moment in the history of the Earth—the Coming of the Lords of the Flame, an event for which preparations had been made. […] Then, “with the mighty roar of swift descent from incalculable heights, surrounded by blazing masses of fire which filled the sky with shooting tongues of flame, the vessel of the Lords of the flame flashed through the aerial spaces. It halted over the White Island which lay in the Gobi Sea, Green it was, and radiant with the first blossoms as Earth offered her fairest and best to welcome her King.”—the Great Being known as the King of the World […]
Until the Coming of the Lords of the Flame the batches or ship-loads from the Inter-Chain Nirvana had arrived separately, but now fecundity increased rapidly, like everything else, and large fleets were needed to bring egos to inhabit the bodies. […]
The Lords of the Flame arrived on earth about the middle of the Third Root Race [roughly 16.5 million years ago], after the separation of the sexes. […] It is part of the plan of the Logos that at a certain stage in its evolution humanity must begin to guide itself, instead of being dependent on other evolutions. Therefore all future Buddhas, Manus, and Adepts will be members of our own humanity, the Lords from Venus having gone on to other worlds.
Interestingly, the embedded quotation about the Gobi Sea (before it was a desert) and all that other stuff is a misquoted bit of another Theosophical book, Annie Besant's Man: Whence, How, and Whither? (1913):
Then, with the mighty roar of swift descent from incalculable heights, surrounded by blazing masses of fire which filled the sky with shooting tongues of flame, flashed through the aerial spaces the chariot of the Sons of the Fire, the Lords of the Flame from Venus; it halted, hovering over the 'White Island,' which lay smiling in the bosom of the Gobi Sea; green was it, and radiant with masses of fragrant many-coloured blossoms, Earth offering her best and fairest to welcome her coming King.
This, in turn, is a reworking of parts of the ancient Sanskrit epics, perhaps the Vishnu Purana's reference to the White Island (2.4), or the Mahabharata's mention of the same (12.337), filtered through Blavatsky's misinterpretation in vol. 2 of The Secret Doctrine.
It is a testament to the scholarship of ancient astronaut theorists that Powell's misquoted quotation of Besant is the one repeated in George Adamski's and Desmond Leslie's Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953) and other works in the genre.
Did ancient aliens leave garbage on the moon? Two scientists at Arizona State University want to know. Paul Davies and Robert Wagner published a paper in the Acta Astronautica arguing that volunteers should search NASA's high-resolution images of the moon's surface for signs of prehistoric alien moon colonies, according to a summary published in The Guardian:
"Although there is only a tiny probability that alien technology would have left traces on the moon in the form of an artefact or surface modification of lunar features, this location has the virtue of being close, and of preserving traces for an immense duration."
So far, an examination of the NASA images has located the various probes, rovers, and other debris left behind by American and Soviet space missions. Not a trace of extraterrestrial intervention has been found.
I would think that if ancient aliens came all the way to earth, they would be more likely to set up shop down here with all the water, resources, and warmth. But that's just me. For all I know, aliens like bone-dry deserts with neither water nor air.
Yesterday I wrote about the 1975 Rod Serling-narrated Alan Landsburg documentary The Outer Space Connection, which predicted the return of the ancient astronauts to earth for last Saturday. Due to holiday travel, I was away from my library so I didn’t have access to Landsburg’s book of the same name, on which the documentary was based. So, to follow up yesterday’s post, here is the relevant passage, the final thought on the last page of Landsburg’s book:
“One item of Mayan folklore ran through my mind. It was noted that somehow every five thousand years a civilization ends and a new one begins. […] Is that why the Mayas carefully measured the beginning and end of each cycle? In fact, they marked the very date when the current cycle will end. The cycle began in 3113 B.C.; it will close in the year 2011 A.D. and the date? December 24. That’s right, Christmas Eve, 2011 A.D. Welcome to the outer space connection?”
Or, as the back cover puts it:
“On December 24, in the year 2011, they will return!”
I suppose in 1975 that seemed far enough away to be plausible (Rod Serling’s Night Gallery of 1970-1973 had plenty of predictions about far-off 1999, after all), but today, this seems as silly as all of the midcentury speculation about the “year 2000.”
Oh, and most important: No aliens. This bit of ancient astronaut lore is 100% wrong, another failed prediction in the near-endless list of ancient astronaut myths, fraud, and lies.
_In 1975, Alan Landsburg, the producer of the documentary In Search of Ancient Astronauts, based on Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods?, released a follow-up called The Outer Space Connection, based on his own bestselling book of the same name. In the documentary, narrator Rod Serling informs viewers that ancient astronauts will return to earth on December 24, 2011, the date predicted by the Mayan calendar:
“An inscription tells us that the modern period will end December 24, 2011 A.D. We may presume that they [the aliens] were computing the length of a space voyage and marking the exact date of return. They may return to seek the fate of the colony left on earth. Perhaps at Uxmal they will find answers we have never been able to divine.”
This date was based on one interpretation of the Mayan calendar cycle (modern New Agers prefer December 21, 2012 as the end of the current cycle). But at any rate, given that Landsburg and Serling assert point blank that the “aliens” were planning to return last Saturday, we can be fairly confident that yet another strain of the ancient astronaut theory can be shown to be nothing more than so much numerological bunk.
Clearly, the aliens have not returned, and there is no evidence whatsoever that the cycles of the Mayan calendar have anything to do with the length of a space voyage, or that there was a “colony” of aliens at Uxmal—something that would be rather difficult since Uxmal was only founded in 500 CE, thousands of years after the “aliens” supposedly arrived to genetically engineer humans in Mesopotamia. Even Columbus managed to cross the Atlantic a bit faster than these aliens.
A Christmas Ghost
Merry Christmas! Celebrate with this 1814 image from the library of Congress of a boy with a mannequin scaring guests at a Christmas party. In Britain Christmas is the time for ghost stories (as in Dickens' Christmas Carol), a tradition subsumed within Halloween in America.
'Tis the Season: Supernatural Births
As Christmas descends upon us for another year and our thoughts turn to the Nativity account of the way "Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:18), I thought I'd share an ancient Greek parallel to the impregnation of Mary. This is the story of Perseus, the demigod conceived in a locked room when Zeus descended as a golden shower unto his mother, Danae. The story is told fullest in the lost work of Pherecydes, preserved in the scholia to Apollonius of Rhodes (ad 4.1699):
Pherecydes, in his twelfth book, says, that Acrisius married Eurydice, the daughter of Lacedaemon. Danae was the produce of this marriage. Acrisius having consulted the oracle, to know whether he should have a son, the Pythian god answered, that he himself should not have a son; but that his daughter would bear one, who was fated to destroy him. Acrisius, on his return to Argos, caused a brazen chamber to be constructed in the court of his palace; where he shut up Danae with her nurse, and kept her confined and closely watched, to prevent her having a son. Zeus, being enamoured of the virgin, gained admission to her in a shower of gold, which glided through the roof, and was received by Danae in her bosom. The offspring of this intercourse was Perseus. Danae, with the assistance of her nurse, nourished him privately, and eluded the vigilance of Acrisius until he was three or four years old. Then Acrisius, hearing the voice of the infant playing, called Danae and the nurse before him, and killed the latter on the spot. Having led his daughter to the altar of Courtyard Zeus, he interrogated her, without witnesses, respecting the father of the infant. She ascribed him to Zeus; but the father, disbelieving this story, caused a coffer to be made, in which he shut up Danae and her infant, and ordered them to be cast into the sea.
(trans. W. Preston, slightly adapted)
So interesting was the coincidence of a demigod born to a virgin through the intervention of an incorporeal god that Edwin Sidney Hartland argued in his three-volume Legend of Perseus (1894-1896) that the Greek story served as forerunner to the Christian legend, which he sought to reduce to nothing more than one myth among many.
I'll be taking tomorrow off for the holiday, so with that thought, Merry Christmas.
Let's take a look today at another bit of random verbiage from an ancient astronaut manifesto selected blindly from my bookshelf. Today's entry comes from Alan and Sally Landsburg (who wrote in the first person singular for some reason) in their bestselling 1974 work In Search of Ancient Mysteries, a tie in with the 1973 television "documentary" In Search of Ancient Astronauts, which Alan Landsburg produced, and the TV series In Search of, which would follow in 1976.
... I asked myself what else might have happened after the sky messages [i.e., the Nazca lines] had been put in place. What would the visitors do beyond this? Further expansion perhaps? Missions to a few other parts of South America, or to more remote lands? If so, then the colonizers might have wanted to put other "road maps" or signposts near these other places to guide incoming aeronauts or astronauts.
Source: Alan and Sally Landsburg, In Search of Ancient Mysteries (New York: Bantam, 1974), 68.
This passage, reminiscent of von Daniken's speculations about alien runways underlying the Nazca lines (an obvious inspiration of Landsburg, whose In Search of Ancient Astronauts was a von Daniken adaptation), contains two major points of interest:
Today saw the release of the trailer for Ridley Scott's Prometheus, the Alien pseudo-prequel in due out in June in which humans go in search of their origins only to discover that ancient astronauts stand behind human history: "They went looking for our beginning," the trailer says. "What they found could be our end." All this would be a lot of fun, if only it didn't mean that the media will be spending six months promoting the ancient astronaut theory and pretending that there is merit to it in the real world outside of the fake universe of the Alien films.
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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