The Ant People are back again! Several year ago ancient astronaut theorists hit upon the idea that the Ant People of Hopi mythology are space aliens, and recently this has extended to making them a part of the Roswell flying saucer mythology. This week Nick Redfern opines on the Ant People over at Mysterious Universe, though it’s clear from his discussion of them that he knows of the creatures primarily from ufological sources rather than anthropological ones.
In ethnographic literature and in Hopi accounts, the Ant People are survivors of the first few creations of the world, living underground. When the first world was being destroyed by the creator god Sotkunang, some humans who were to be spared the disaster moved in with the ant people. According to the Hopi Song of Creation, as recorded in Robert Boissiere’s Meditations with the Hopi (1986), “The remnants of the first people moved in with the ant people to be safe when Sotkunang destroyed Tokpela, the first world, with fire.” The first people consumed most of the ant people’s food. Their starvation led the ants to have small waists, which is why ants have such a narrow belt between their thorax and abdomen. (This is not the only version of the story; another Hopi legend recorded in the 1905 Traditions of the Hopi tells that the ant people have small waists because of the floggings they took when initiated into the kachina cult. A separate Hopi creation story from the same volume contains no mention of ants at all, nor does a version written by a Hopi in 1936.) The ants provided refuge for humans again at the destruction of the second world, and in some versions of the story taught humans to build houses similar to ant hills out of rock and clay. The fullest, albeit probably the least reliable, version of the ant people story occurs in Frank Waters’s Book of the Hopi. In these stories, though, the ant people are sentient but are apparently just ants. Waters’s version explicitly states that the ant people are to “take [their] place as ants” at the creation of each new world. They live in hills made of sand and have tunnels underground. In other words, they are ants.
But in fringe world, the ants become Ant People with more of a science fiction flair. Here’s how Nick Redfern describes them this week:
It’s important to note that they weren’t called the Ant People just because they lived underground, in extensive, deep, winding tunnels. No. It was also because despite being humanoid, they somewhat physically resembled ants and particularly so in terms of their faces and their spindly limbs. Of course, one doesn’t have to be a genius to know that some of the so-called “Grays” of alien abduction lore superficially look insect-like. You have probably already surmised where I am going with all this.
Yes, and I have also surmised where you have been: Anywhere other than the primary sources, where the actual Hopi told us that these were ants, not monsters that looked bug-like. So how did ants and Grey aliens become conflated?
A good guess is that ufologists aren’t very keen on “facts” and “details.” I found an example of the conflation going back to 1993 when Tom Dongo, in the UFO book The Quest: In Pursuit of the Ultimate Mastery, misrepresented the events of the Song of Creation. In the song, Sotkunang, the god of creation, tells the ants to take in the humans while he destroys the earth. But in Dongo’s version, the ants aren’t simply mythic representations of animals like Coyote and other Hopi characters who act at the god’s request. Instead, they have now become “godlike beings who live underground and who will return at some point in the future and take the Hopis with them at a time of dramatic Earth change.” Dongo then identifies the Ant People as “the Greys” and claims that they have fiery ships, something not found in ethnography. There is no indication in the primary sources that ants or ant people were considered “godlike” in Hopi myth. Dongo’s book was the earliest example I could find, but I imagine there must be others.
How did the Ant People become science fiction residents of the hollow earth rather than, as the Song of Creation explicitly states, actual ants who live in an ant hill and work industriously to gather and store food? I think the answer has to be related to science fiction, perhaps stemming from stories like Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan and the Ant Men (1924), though in that story the ant people were small (but “perfect”) white men, or Ingersoll Lockwood’s ant people from the nineteenth century Baron Trump series. Whatever the source, it seems that science fiction concepts about the hollow earth and its marvelous inhabitants have crossed over into fringe beliefs about Hopi mythology. Nothing in any books of Hopi mythology that I can find supports the claims of “godlike” Ant People or any resemblance to the supposed powers and interests of Grey aliens. The “Ant People” discussed in fringe sources much more closely resemble the high-tech underground race of the Deros in the 1940s Shaver Mystery, the still earlier hollow earth stories of Victorian scientific romances, than the ants of Hopi myth.
This connection becomes clearer when we see Redfern declare that “possibly” the Roswell flying saucer was in fact a dirigible flown by a lost race that lives in the hollow earth—shades of the 1960s-era theory that UFOs were subterranean rather than extraterrestrial, as in Walter Siegmeister’s classic volume (written under the name Raymond Bernard) The Hollow Earth (1964), which popularized for English-language readers the subterranean UFO claims of Theosophist Henrique José de Souza. Redfern, though, attributes his knowledge of the concept to the late Mac Tonnies, who adapted claims from the Shaver Mystery as Cryptoterrestrials in a posthumous 2010 book. Redfern identifies the crypto-terrestrials with the Ant People, apparently unaware of (or purposely obscuring) the relationship of both to the Shaver Mystery and other Hollow Earth theories and fictions.
Redfern concludes by noting that the alleged alien images on the soon to be released Roswell Slides—which he had declared only weeks ago he would never discuss again because he thought them misrepresented!—may depict Ant People since the object seen in the supposed “alien” slide “does look somewhat antlike.” How quickly Redfern reverses course! In March he said that because “I have no interest in the study of ancient mummies, I now wash my hands of the Roswell slides.” But since his audience won’t accept no for an answer,* he’s found a way to backtrack completely on both counts, covering the slides again and deciding he’s now interested in ancient mummies, as long as they might be Ant People. If only he took half as much interest in the quality of the sources he uses to create his revolving wheel of recycled Fortean nonsense.
* In the comments below, Redfern explains that he changed his view for factual reasons, which he laid out in a post on his personal blog. I should not have implied that Redfern adjusts his views for an audience when, according to him, it is because he accepts the authority of various UFO "experts."
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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