Erich von Däniken Makes Podcast Appearance, Promotes Gaia TV Show, Decries Efforts to Start an Ancient Astronaut Cult
Erich von Däniken made a rare podcast appearance last week to promote his new book, The Gods Never Left Us, which I reviewed recently. He showed up on Jim Harrold’s Paranormal Podcast, and this triggered all sorts of questions about just how much money there must be in ancient astronaut theories. The Paranormal Podcast is funded in part by Gaia TV, the online fringe history lifestyle network, who pays Harrold to essentially promote the people and subject matter that they then monetize in their for-profit streaming video service. But what’s more is that Gaia TV employs a number of Ancient Aliens stars as hosts on their network, including David Wilcock, while von Däniken cashes in a second time as a paid producer of Ancient Aliens, a show explicitly designed to broadcast his ideas. For this incestuous network to work, the money they take in must be more than they spend to fund ancient astronaut theorists’ lavish jet-setting lifestyles and the production of fringe media. That’s a lot of cash. But not enough. Halfway through the interview, von Däniken promotes his own Gaia TV series, Erich von Däniken: Beyond the Legend.
“Gaia TV, we have started with 10 episodes,” von Däniken said. “Then the manager, the owner of the Gaia company asked me, ‘Erich, do you have more material? It’s so impressing.’ I said, ‘Yes, of course, I have enough.’ So we continued and continued, and finally I made 40 episodes for Gaia.”
The Gaia TV website lists 14 episodes that have aired so far. Gaia programs are behind a paywall and are available only to subscribers. It’s not too hard to see that that the cross-pollination of Ancient Aliens and Gaia TV means that Ancient Aliens is more or less an undisclosed promotion for its stars’ paid subscription series.
Von Däniken, henceforth EVD, called into the podcast from a Berlin hotel, and I was dumbfounded that Harrold let EVD get away with pretending that The Gods Never Left Us is the first sequel to Chariots of the Gods—it’s just marketing puffery, used for others in EVD’s canon prior to this, including the first sequel, Return to the Stars (a.k.a. Gods from Outer Space)—and Harrold just accepts that marketing ploy as though it were a fact. EVD claims that he has waited fifty years to write a sequel to Chariots of the Gods. “The time was simply right to say ‘Come on, let’s make the continuation of Chariots of the Gods.’” This might have been believable if (a) The Gods Never Left Us was actually related to Chariots of the Gods in any way and was not simply the thirty fifth or sixth rewrite of the same body of material—I defy you to distinguish between it and his last five books, or (b) he had not pretty much explained back in Gods from Outer Space that that book was a direct sequel to Chariots: “I should like to thank the countless readers of my Chariots of the Gods? for their letters and suggestions. I want them to accept this book as the response to their encouragement.” Basically, that book was answering the unanswered questions his reader had after reading Chariots, or, in other words, a sequel. He directly says that Gods from Outer Space is building on and expanding Chariots three more times in that volume.
So, we know that EVD is a liar who is willing to rewrite history for profit. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, it is also the foundation of the ancient astronaut theory.
During the interview, EVD explained that his view of the ancient astronaut theory has changed over the decades. He retells the familiar story from his books about losing his Catholic faith during high school and spending the remainder of his life trying to find the real God by understanding all of the fake gods and acts of Yahweh by interpreting them mechanically. EVD says that he is a deep believer in God and prays every evening. A shame, then, that the question was about whether his view of the ancient astronaut theory has changed sine 1968. Harrold doesn’t notice or doesn’t care that EVD dodged the question, which might have opened EVD to the charge that he admitted to being in error. Since he took back his admission of faking evidence for the Ecuadoran cave of gold in the late 1970s, he has stopped admitting error and pretends now that, by asking questions, he never makes statements and can’t be wrong.
EVD says that we shouldn’t expect ancient evidence to show exact representations of the aliens; instead, we should expect to see only secondhand accounts and images of the aliens. He analogizes this to Jesus, whom the Renaissance artists never met but nonetheless depicted in sculpture and painting. He says that only the original people alive around 3114 BCE, the date when the Mayan calendar began, saw the aliens, but did not leave images of them, only oral traditions. Then he drops this whopper without evidence: “Some of the humans even learned the language of the extraterrestrials. We have good examples to prove this.” I think we had better ask for proof of this alien language.
When asked about scientific reaction to his work, EVD fell back on the argument that he was appealing to the masses, not to the hated elites. He complained that scientists wouldn’t listen to him because he wrote for a popular audience, not a scientific one. However, he asserted that “every source I gave correctly in the index.” This isn’t exactly true. The authors of Morning of the Magicians complained about plagiarism since so much of the book was point-for-point identical, and the publisher added their book to the list of citations in the bibliography to avoid a lawsuit, according to accounts published in the twentieth century. “The critics did not know that since my high school time—so, since thirty years—I was thinking and traveling and studying, and all this would result in Chariots of the Gods finally.”
I have to hand it to him, I was astonished by one fact: For a man in his eighties, he sure spends a lot of time reminiscing about his high school years, which were apparently so deeply impressive and important to him that seven decades later those few months of losing his faith in Catholicism during the height of the 1950s UFO wave still utterly dominate his mental processes. It’s certainly true that adolescence is the time when we form our interests, goals, and values, but I am dumbfounded by how often a really old man returns to his adolescence as justification for his reasoning.
Anyway, much of the interview is simply a recitation of EVD’s usual pile of claims, and it’s dull to listen to him simply recite the same material over and over again. You’d think that after decades of doing this he might be able to be more interesting as an interviewee. The only interesting thing is his recognition that the people who work off of his ideas have presented themselves as gurus and New Age religious figures. EVD claims that he does not want ancient astronauts to become a religion. “I will turn myself in my tomb if some kind of idiots come out and make some kind of religious sect out of my researches,” he said. A shame, then, that he failed to notice that his own Ancient Aliens TV show openly advocates viewing space aliens as a tool for achieving spiritual transcendence.
Harrold is so awestruck by EVD that his question border on the sycophantic. The failure of his interview to elicit anything new, or much that is interesting, shows the problem with pairing believers in discussion. This is why Lawrence Spivak, the long-ago host of Meet the Press, used to say that the only way to get good information out of an interview was to learn everything about the views of the person you are interviewing and then take the other side.
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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