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.
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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