It’s been a bit of a slow week so far in the world of the outré, so today I’d like to dip into the archival record to share a strange incident that occurred in 1971 when Jacques Vallée and J. Allen Hynek went to visit esoteric researcher Manly P. Hall at Hall’s library at the Philosophical Research Society. The building impressed Vallée greatly because of its elaborate woodwork, iron staircase, and displays of cross-cultural bric-a-brac such as Chinese sculptures. What impressed him most, he wrote in Forbidden Science, was that Hall’s library was the first occult building he had seen that was not dilapidated.
Anyway, after their visit, Vallée asked Hynek for his views on Hall, and in all honesty, I found it a bit surprising to discover that Hynek had been a longstanding fan of Hall’s esoteric speculations on Nephilim, Fallen Angels, Atlantis, pyramid myths, and all of the other detritus of Victorian occultism that Hall had woven together into a tapestry of basically hermetic lore for his 1928 book The Secret Teachings of All Ages.
The incident is briefly alluded to in the Hynek biography The Close Encounters Man and is discussed in a Skeptical Inquirer article. Both depict Hynek’s interest as a teenage dalliance, though Vallée makes plain throughout Forbidden Science that Hynek remained interest in the esoteric until the end of his life.
Vallée picks up the narrative as he and Hynek leave the Philosophical Research Society:
“Tell me one thing, Allen,” I asked him as we left, “is there a secret society under this overtly philosophical organization?”
Surely there is some lesson to be had here that scratching the surface of ufology almost inevitably brings up the occult and the esoteric. And those damned Watchers underlie everything, even the intellectual furniture rattling around the head of the world’s most famous UFO scientist, who pretended—emphasis on pretend—to approach the subject from a dispassionately scientific perspective. The fact that Hynek had long been interested in the occult is probably why he remained interested in and flirted with the endorsing the idea that the UFOs were interdimensional poltergeists.
Before we give too much truck to Hall, it’s important to remember that his book is a steaming pile of garbage. He wove together sources like Ignatius Donnelly and Helena Blavatsky—themselves worthless—and attempted to build atop them an esoteric view of the world. Here is his discussion of Atlantis and culture heroes like Oannes, Quetzalcoatl, and Viracocha, in which you will recognize Graham Hancock’s lost civilization and its Ice Age evangelists who spread its gospel of pyramids and astronomy after Atlantis was lost:
May it not have been that these demigods of a fabulous age who, Esdras-like, came out of the sea were Atlantean priests? All that primitive man remembered of the Atlanteans was the glory of their golden ornaments, the transcendency of their wisdom, and the sanctity of their symbols--the cross and the serpent. That they came in ships was soon forgotten, for untutored minds considered even boats as supernatural. Wherever the Atlanteans proselyted they erected pyramids and temples patterned after the great sanctuary in the City of the Golden Gates. Such is the origin of the pyramids of Egypt, Mexico, and Central America. The mounds in Normandy and Britain, as well as those of the American Indians, are remnants of a similar culture. In the midst of the Atlantean program of world colonization and conversion, the cataclysms which sank Atlantis began. The Initiate-Priests of the Sacred Feather who promised to come back to their missionary settlements never returned; and after the lapse of centuries tradition preserved only a fantastic account of gods who came from a place where the sea now is.
It is both fascinating to see how one bad idea influences others and infinitely depressing to see how every expression of the modern ur-myth of antediluvian supermen who return in modern times traces back to the same family tree of occult speculation.
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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