Note: This post has been edited to correct information about The Planetary Doctrine.
Man, it’s been a miserable week for truth. Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox completed its takeover of National Geographic’s media holdings this week, and the new owners quickly moved to fire hundreds of employees, including many of the National Geographic Channel’s fact-checkers. This makes it likely that NatGeo will now join the History Channel in being a fact-free zone. I can’t wait to see how they try to compete with Ancient Aliens and Curse of Oak Island.
But it gets worse. It turns out that GOP frontrunner Ben Carson has some opinions about ancient Egyptian history. He’s opposed to the ancient astronaut theory, for one thing, which would seem good. But the reason for that is pretty sad, and what’s worse is that he believes that “scientists” are advocates of the ancient astronaut theory. In a 1998 commencement address, Carson alleged that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain, following a medieval opinion first recorded by Gregory of Tours in History of the Franks 1.10, but possibly originating in illustrations to the fifth century Cotton Genesis. The tradition went out of fashion in the Renaissance. Here’s what he had to say, as transcribed in media reports:
My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain. Now all the archeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it. And I don’t think it’d just disappear over the course of time to store that much grain. … And when you look at the way that the pyramids are made, with many chambers that are hermetically sealed, they’d have to be that way for various reasons. And various of scientists have said, ‘well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they have special knowledge and that’s how-’ you know, it doesn’t require an alien being when God is with you.
The pyramids contain no hermetically sealed chambers, let alone numerous chambers. That’s an Arabic myth also of medieval provenance, but from a competing myth that rivaled the granaries of Joseph claim in the early medieval centuries. Oh, and just in case anyone cares, the pyramids are almost completely solid, excepting their small burial chambers, and offer no great way to store grain. This is so obvious that even Immanuel Velikovsky argued that the pyramids were too impractical to have been granaries!
Ben Carson literally has medieval ideas. But even medieval Jews and Christians didn’t share this opinion universally; Benjamin of Tudela for example distinguished between the pyramids and the granaries, though the fraud Sir John Mandeville did not.
But enough about Carson, whose Biblical fundamentalism is well known.
Yesterday I traced a claim about ancient skulls shot with bullets back to Andrew Tomas, an ancient mysteries writer of midcentury. I discovered that there is apparently quite little written about this European rival to Erich von Däniken. What is written about him is often contradictory, especially when it comes to the details of his movements around the world. What follows is the best biography I can come up with based on an evaluation of these contradictory sources, primarily an account given by his wife in 2002. It’s a story of how global tragedy repeatedly knocked Tomas down, and these tragedies seemed to have left scars that made him look to the heavens for something grander and more permanent.
Tomas was born A. Boncza-Tomaszewski in St. Petersburg in Czarist Russia, but the year is unclear. His wife gave his birth year as 1906, but Tomas sometimes claimed in his books that he was born in 1913. His family moved to Russian-controlled Finland in 1911 so his father could take up a position as a civil engineer for the Czar’s government. The next year, the family ended up in Vladivostok, where Tomas’s father served as a Czarist official. His father wanted to take the family back to the capital during the First World War, but the Communist Revolution intervened. They remained in Vladivostok until the Red Army moved to take the city in the 1920s, at which time they fled to Manchuria, where Tomas attended a British missionary school and learned English, and eventually to Shanghai, where he graduated high school.
Full of hope, the young Tomas set out for the United States at the age of 21, landing on American shores in 1927. It seemed that his new life in America would be a success, but the stock market crash in 1929 and the subsequent Depression gradually made it impossible for him to support himself in the U.S. As a result, he returned to China in 1931, where he stayed until 1948. During that period, he experienced the Japanese occupation and then the civil war between Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Zedong. When it became obvious that Mao’s Communists were about to take over China, the anticommunist Tomas decamped for Australia, where he lived from 1948 to 1966. One of his last acts before leaving Shanghai was to become the Freemason Grand Master of the Shanghai Lodge, or so his wife claimed after his death.
It was during these years in Australia that Tomas became involved in the UFO movement, co-founding the Australian UFO Bureau in 1952, in which position he apparently gained a degree of fame Down Under, interviewed for the country’s People magazine. But it was also the time when he started to make claims about UFOs and ancient mysteries. In the 1950s, he began to claim that while living in China in 1935, he had written a book called The Planetary Doctrine, which predicted the arrival of shiny, silver disks based on Asian lore. This book, totaling less than 80 pages, was published in Shanghai in a very limited edition, and it drew heavily on Theosophy and the occultism of Nicolas Roerich. Nevertheless, he alleged that he not only anticipated the flying saucer craze but found in them a reflection of the then-popular view of the UFO preachers like George Van Tassel that they were a cosmic herald of a battle between good and evil. In 1956, he wrote to the flying saucer advocate (and fraud) Gray Barker:
Saucers have been known in the East for thousands of years. Their present appearance in mass has been foretold long, long ago. They are only an effect, not the cause, and the cause is the great struggle between the Forces of Good, of Culture, of Enlightenment—and of Evil, of Hate, and Darkness.
To this end, in the mid-1950s Tomas planned a survivalist community in the Outback to preserve the “fruits of our culture” in the event that great war between good and evil resulted in the destruction of civilization. It’s not hard to see in this a reflection of the tempestuous struggles he had lived through in his youth. In 1958, he proposed a “Planetary Pact” that was essentially a more powerful United Nations that he hoped to charge with contacting aliens on other worlds.
As the 1950s UFO craze gradually subsided, Tomas found himself increasingly struggling to find an outlet for his occult beliefs. He traveled to India in 1956 and again in 1966 and began investigating Eastern spirituality anew—right at the time he began claiming to have known for 30 years that Indians had made contact with UFOs before Kenneth Arnold in 1947!
He left for Europe in 1966 and there discovered the ancient astronaut theory and the ancient mysteries school of nonfiction that had become inexplicably popular on the Continent. This was the time when Morning of the Magicians, Robert Charroux, and Peter Kolosimo were laying the groundwork for a New Age vision of ancient history as an alien-filled techno-paradise, and something in this appealed to Tomas. Shortly after Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods became a bestseller in the year following its publication (this would be 1969), Tomas quickly capitalized on the book’s newfound notoriety by writing his own version, utilizing much of the same (borrowed) material as von Däniken and the authors of Morning of the Magicians. His book, We Are Not the First (1971), was filled with material borrowed from familiar sources: Manly P. Hall, the occultist; Charles Hapgood, the earth-crust displacement advocate; Nicolas Roerich, the occultist; I. S. Shlovsky, the Soviet scientist who speculated on ancient astronauts; and others. Like his fellow authors, he eschewed primary sources for borrowed learning.
Apologists for Tomas claim that he had been preparing his material long before von Däniken—as long ago as the 1930s—but a more realistic appraisal would argue that he had vacillated between the occult, UFOs, and ancient mysteries and then embraced ancient astronauts in order to take advantage of a hot new trend, much the way he had embraced UFOs shortly after the UFO craze began and shifted gears to New Age concerns in the late 1970s.
We Are Not the First was a minor success, garnering enough sales to justify sequels on the lost continent of Atlantis and other ancient mysteries. However, his writing career wasn’t nearly as prolific as those of his rivals, and over 35 years he published just seven books.
In 1975, he met his wife Heather, and they traveled the world touring ancient mystery sites. They settled in Chico, California, where Tomas made use of UC Chico’s library to research ancient mysteries until his death in 2001.
It’s hard not to see a reflection of Tomas’s turbulent youth on his later interests, particularly his quest to find a spiritually and culturally better world in the ancient past, one that was free of the types of ideological and political battles that drove his family from one home to the next and had destroyed his world over and over again. He projected this fantasy into the deep past, where it was safely permanent and unmovable, and into the sky, where it might benevolently hover above the fray.
I found a copy of his We Are Not the First, and I plan to read it and see if there is anything interesting to say about it.
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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