The other day on Facebook, alternative historian Graham Hancock reported that he has become a regular user of hallucinogenic drugs, with which he communes with spirit beings from another realm. Hancock cautioned that he can provide no evidence that these entities have a reality outside his imagination, but he has more or less made clear that he believes that he is in actual contact with goddesses and demons. In his latest drug-induced vision, he experienced a “psychic” attack from an entity that he was unable to stop by “projecting love” at it.
I tried projecting love at it. It wouldn’t work. The sense of threat and danger continued to mount. I tried to invoke Mother Ayahuasca in her manifestation as the Blue Angel. This did no good at all. I tried to raise a barrier of light. Failure again. Finally my out-of-body self just curled up into a ball while I was pummeled and beaten and humbled on that etheric plane.
Note that Hancock is employing the terminology of the first ancient astronaut religion, Theosophy, in ascribing the angels and demons to the “etheric plane.”
It would be easy to make fun of Hancock, but the truth is that no one who has not had spirit visions in altered states of consciousness (whether brought on by drugs, meditation, or vivid dreams) can truly appreciate the sense of the timeless and the uncanny that they produce.
My concern is less for Hancock’s drug habit than for what it reveals about the alternative history project. As alternative historians might phrase it: Is it really a coincidence that all of the major threads of alternative history have moved in the direction of alternative spirituality?
Graham Hancock burst onto the alternative history scene with The Sign and the Seal (1992), a book that went in search of the Ark of the Covenant and suggested that the Biblical box was a piece of technology from a lost civilization. He followed this with Fingerprints of the Gods (1995), which sought concrete evidence of a lost civilization in ruins of ancient cultures and the makeup of their myths. In 1998, he even tried to find ancient astronauts on Mars in The Mars Mystery. But that same year in Heaven’s Mirror his more spiritual side began to emerge. He was more interested in the meaning behind the myths than proof that the lost civilization had a real location or history; he cared what they believed and what it could teach us about eternal life.
In 2005, he made his last attempt at finding the lost civilization in Underworld, but when science debunked and disproved nearly all of his hypotheses about a lost empire (not least of which is the impossibility of human settlement in Ice Age Antarctica) he turned inward. By the time of Supernatural (2009), he had all but admitted that he no longer thought of his lost civilization as a real place buried in some forgotten corner of the world; rather, he saw myths and legends and their advanced knowledge as originating in the spirit realm, where the gods communed with humans. He gained this knowledge, he said, through his use of ayahuasca, the South American hallucinogen, as well as regular and heavy use of marijuana.
Hancock recognized that there is a scientific explanation for this, one I’ve mentioned many times. According to David Lewis-Williams, cited by Hancock as well as me, the human brain evolved to display certain shapes and figures when in altered states of consciousness. These the brain interprets through the prism of culture, giving rise to similar but distinct cultural myth-patterns and imagery, including, for example, spirals, serpents, hybrid beast-creatures, etc. However, Hancock came down cautiously on the side of assuming that these images came not from a quirk of evolution but rather from real access to a different dimension populated by advanced creatures who are indistinguishable from pagan gods.
Notice that this is almost identical to the most recent versions of the ancient astronaut hypothesis, as put forward on Ancient Aliens, which claims that the “aliens” are not the inhabitants of other planets in our universe but rather immortal mystical travelers from another dimension who intervene in ours and use their omniscient command of physics to exercise godly powers. They are indistinguishable from pagan gods.
Even the more nuts-and-bolts approach to alternative history, as promoted by America Unearthed, has followed this trend, spending a great deal of time wondering in awe at abstract concepts like the Mysteries of Mithras and spirit-matter duality, often at the expense of looking for physical evidence to support diffusionist claims.
So what’s behind the turn to what is essentially Theosophy?
I can think of a few possibilities:
I’m not sure I know what the right answer is, but I’d think that different speculators have different reasons, some of which they may not even be aware of. For whatever reason, though, those who consume this material seem interested in a neo-pagan religion. And if alternative history becomes a religion, there isn’t any way to speak truth to power, since its claims will have moved beyond fact into the realm of faith.
2/15/2013 04:43:21 am
History is a humanity, not a hard science. Moreover, the only history one can know is one's own. Historians are essentially journalists, often with agendas, reconstructing the past often citing likely biased historians from earlier times, to teach us the history we do not know.
2/15/2013 06:34:37 am
There is nothing I fear might be true; I've said many times that archaeologists would welcome confirmed information about trans-oceanic contact, as they did with the Vikings in Newfoundland and the Polynesians in South America.
2/15/2013 07:17:08 am
Dr. Robert Meyer, Professor of Celtic at Catholic University of America, visited the Anubis Cave on the autumnal equinox of 1986 and declared some of the inscriptions he evaluated there as genuine ogham. The Mithraic connections were postulated 2 decades later by self educated epigrapher Phil Leonard. Dr. Barry Fell, archaeology's favorite whipping boy for diffusionism, translated consonantal ogham in the adjacent Nosepointer Cave to read, "Sun 6 months in the north, the remainder in the gloomy south" before any of 3 companion equinox solar alignments were observed at the pair of shelters. As David H. Kelley, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology at the University of Calgary observed in the Spring 1990 Review of Archaeology, Volume 11, Number 1, "Proto-Tifinagh and Proto-Ogham in the Americas:
2/15/2013 12:35:22 pm
I think you are mistakenly directing your outrage at me rather than Oklahoma archaeologists. Even if we assume the writing is Ogham, that doesn't make it ancient. It suggests only the earliest date it could have been placed there, not the latest.
2/15/2013 02:19:05 pm
You first characterized me as "upset", now there's "outrage"? You're welcome to interpret my remarks as you please, however I'll point out to your readership I've remained "on topic" rebutting your remarks.
2/15/2013 02:33:59 pm
Oh, another point w/r/t your remark the ogham is not ancient. In fact, a CATION ratio patina dating of the Gemini ogham inscription at the Sun Temple by Ron Dorn in 1987, whereby leached potassium plus calcium divided by retentive titanium was compared to background samples of similar rock, placed the age of the groves 1000 BC plus or minus 250 years. Ron Dorn is now a professor of geography as Arizona State University, Tempe and stands by his earlier dating evaluations.
2/15/2013 02:45:49 pm
"Sun 6 months in the north, the remainder in the gloomy south" makes no sense for Oklahoma. The sun is always in the south when viewed from OK. The only place it is six months in the north and six months in the south is on the equator.
2/15/2013 07:22:39 pm
2/15/2013 10:24:57 pm
Glad to hear the grooves date back to 1000 BCE. You can now explain how Ogham writing, not invented until the medieval period, got to the caves 1400 years before its invention.
2/16/2013 01:02:51 am
correction: the 2200 BC Avebury artifact has Ogham WITHOUT vowels
2/16/2013 01:00:14 am
It's a good reason to view my 85 minute documentary released in 2005, rather than have to do piecemeal educational responses to your many skeptical parries. But I'll oblige, as I understand many have short attention spans which is the reason I assembled 3 minute video vignettes. While you watch this one, you'll also hear from Barry Fell why the preferred pronunciation in America (and after all I am an American) is Seltic, confirmed independently at http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Is_Celtic_pronounced_seltic_or_keltic.
2/16/2013 11:50:39 am
1. Do you always have to sound like a bad infomercial for your own website? EVERY reply of yours I have ever seen on this site starts out with "WATCH MY VIDEO" or "CLICK THE LINK TO ME TELLING YOU STUFF."
Kean Scott Monahan
2/16/2013 02:11:37 pm
2/16/2013 01:41:58 am
I am not going to answer for Jason, but I just can't help answering your "questions".
2/16/2013 01:57:56 am
By the way, just as an aside, crazy usually shows itself in so many forms. One of those forms is in web site design. Yours, Mr. Monahan, fits the theme perfectly. It looks like it was designed in 1995, back when transitional gif animations used as logos were considered "cool", has the disorder and presentation of a jumbled mess, and the background certainly confirms my absolute worst fears for your mental stability and health.
terry the censor
2/22/2013 04:05:02 pm
2/25/2013 02:58:50 pm
2/15/2013 11:19:46 am
You might be interested in looking at Graham Hancocks fictional output. "Entangled:The Eater of Souls (2010)" presents a disturbing picture of his current ideas.
2/15/2013 11:40:20 am
Sounds like the plot to Ghostbusters II.
2/17/2013 10:21:50 am
What's awful here is that Hancock wrote a really great, valuable book titled "Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business" back in 1989. It's based in his experiences doing some serious development work. I stumbled across this book in 2001 & then set about looking into what else he was writing.
3/13/2016 11:07:00 am
"Is it really a coincidence that all of the major threads of alternative history have moved in the direction of alternative spirituality? "
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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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