Last week ufologist Jacques Vallée and his writing partner Chris Aubeck appeared at the Inhabited Skies conference in Spain alongside Fortean researchers Theo Paijmans and Nigel Watson to discuss ancient astronauts and modern UFOs. It was an odd look into Vallée’s somewhat ill-informed views on ancient astronauts. At one point during the conference, Vallée tried to answer a question about the Anunnaki and ended up revealing a bit more than I expected. But to understand his answer we have to start at the beginning of his presentation, at about the 1:37:00 mark in the video below.
Vallée offered a lecture on ancient astronauts, beginning with Carl Jung’s book on UFOs, which he identified as the first academic study of the “importance” of ancient astronauts for understanding the interplay of culture and belief. However, he stops to criticize “academic experts” for dismissing UFOs as the province of “cranks and weirdos” in the words of Stephen Hawking. Vallée next cites Ezekiel’s vision of wheels within wheels—almost certainly a rendering of Babylonian ceremonial wheeled thrones for moving statues of their gods—as a UFO “abduction.” Here I should skip head an hour to the Q-and-A portion of the presentation, where he was asked a question about the Anunnaki and expanded on his conspiratorial view of Ezekiel, apparently derived from Josef Blumrich’s Spaceships of Ezekiel. He notes, though, that Ezekiel was a prophet, who “saw visions like this all the time,” making it hard to understand them as actual events.
His answer began with a confession that he is no expert in ancient history of languages, and that neither he nor Aubeck can read the ancient languages used in their 2009 book about ancient UFOS, Wonders in the Sky, which they were on stage to discuss. Vallée, playing to the crowd, said that he respected the work Zecharia Sitchin did on Near Eastern texts, but he hedged that the experts he and Aubeck consulted disagreed with Sitchin on the translation. From there he announced that it is essentially impossible to truly understand ancient texts due to the ambiguity of translation, and he cited the Book of Ezekiel as proof, for several words, he said, appear uniquely in that text and can only be translated by “guess.” He claims the Ezekiel wrote that “the dome was made of beryllium,” implying that an “accurate” translation reveals that Ezekiel saw a flying saucer. He is referring to Ezekiel 1:16 (or similar repetitions of phrasing): “The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.” You can see the difference between Vallée’s rendering and the actual text, dropping the pointed note about the wheel being of a color, not a composition, and substituting for the stone beryl (a crystal compound of beryllium, aluminum, silicon, and oxygen) the metal beryllium. The word translated as beryl is tarshish, which is indeed a word difficult to translate—rendered variously as beryl, carbuncle, golden stone, etc., and apparently named for the land of the origin of the stone. None of those would justify, though, making it a gray metal.
He next goes on to described Indian vimanas using claims about the flying chariot-palaces derived from a twentieth century “channeled” text that made them into airplanes and ignoring the clear progression in Sanskrit literature from horse-drawn chariots to flying palaces. He talks about the prevalence of “abductions” of famous figures, “always by a chariot that flies through the sky,” citing Elijah (actually taken by a whirlwind) and Enoch (who merely “walked with God” in the Bible; the chariot came in 1 Enoch 70:2).
It’s interesting that in this answer Vallée seemed to reveal that beneath his measured language about the connection between culture and fantasy, he holds an unreconstructed 1960s-era view of ancient astronauts, with all the selective evidence, fraud, and fabrication that made up those faulty claims.
After this introduction, Vallée explained that for Wonders in the Sky he and Chris Aubeck chose only “fact-based” accounts to use for their book, documents that could be verified in terms of time, place, and witness. According to Vallée, these documents were gathered “from the internet” and he notes that there are a “group of scholars around the world” who continue to “critique” their selection. That would be me. Here I need to disclose that a few weeks ago Aubeck contacted me to discuss my lengthy criticism of Wonders in the Sky. I can’t reveal much of the rest of what we discussed, but I imagine I am now free to say that Aubeck is working on a new book on pre-modern UFO sightings, which includes material about the seventeenth century religious propaganda book Annus Mirabilis, since Vallée announced as much in public during his presentation.
The meat of Vallée’s presentation focused on the Renaissance and the Enlightenment because he claims that this was the only time when “rational scientists” approached aerial anomalies “with a completely open mind,” something he calls “real science,” in opposition to the “bureaucratized” modern science that has left scientists “afraid” to investigate the unexplained. Vallée says that the true importance of ufology is what it teaches us about the corruption of modern science—a decidedly postmodern view of the world. He cites Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa’s alleged “UFO” sighting of 1580 as a good case of a flying disc based on a drawing that shows three phases of the sighting: a circle, an oval, and a crescent. The text accompanying the drawing in his journal, written in Spanish, reads (in my translation):
Tonight, during the first hour of night, from the southeast side, a quarter to the south, we saw come out a round red thing like fire, like a shield, which rose through the sky, or was carried on the wind. It extended itself on a tall mountain and was like a long lance atop the tall mountain. It became like a half moon, between red and white (in color). The shapes were in this manner:
Clements Markham, who also translated the text, was more explicit in identifying it as a meteor:
During this night, at one o'clock, to the S.S E. we saw a circular, red, meteor-like flame, in shape of a dagger, which rose and ascended in the heavens. Over a high mountain it became prolonged and appeared like a lance, turning to a crescent shape, between red and white.
The difference in translation, whether it was dagger or shield shaped, rests on an Arabic loan word, darga, which means shield, but which Markham has taken for daga, or dagger, for reasons unknown to me. That translation does not appear to match the drawings.
Spaceships are either really good at metamorphosing or Sarmiento de Gamboa saw a meteor arcing overhead and disappearing behind a mountain, leaving a flaming wake behind it. But Vallée only mentions the disc shape and leaves the impression that it might have been a UFO. Many of his other examples are similar—round lights in the sky we are supposed to trust implicitly because they were made by policemen, sailors, astronomers, etc.—people who had no conception of meteors at the time of the sightings, since in those days it was still doubted that rocks could fall from the sky.
Vallée concludes with a series of graphs and charts that are part of his and Aubeck’s “scientific” analysis of aerial phenomena. One chart, from 1960s data, shows that most UFO sightings in history have occurred during the hours when people are falling asleep, between 8-11 PM. Significantly, there is a second spike of reports at dawn, when people emerge from sleep. Instead of seeing this as an indication that altered states of consciousness (waking dreams) around sleep and wake time are connected to alien sightings, he instead interprets this as evidence that people do not see aliens after 11 PM because they have gone to bed and are not available to look up at the sky. The data may well be correct, but Vallée doesn’t provide enough information or research to impose a definitive interpretation on it, and other explanations are at least equally possible.
Vallée concludes by explaining that he and Aubeck do not get paid to conduct this research, and that they will not accept sponsorship because they fear that sponsors would demand particular results in line with their own theories. He states that “academics” won’t pay for UFO research either, presumably because they are afraid, or in a conspiracy, or whatever.
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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