Over on the DuckRabbits blog, Logan Rees has an interesting discussion of the ancient astronaut theory as modern mythology, and it parallels much of what I quoted Steve Moore talking about yesterday. Moore discussed how such ideas are “modern romances,” filling a need for fantasy and mystery and magic, while Rees has a slightly different take. He is speaking specifically of Giorgio Tsoukalos and the cast of Ancient Aliens as he criticizes ancient astronaut speculators’ ignorance, specifically Tsoukalos:
What these people fail to realize is that aliens are a modern myth. Their claim that ancient myths merely ‘misinterpreted’ alien encounters, asserts that aliens are a proven fact. The truth is we still know as little about these encounters as the ancients did. We think that because we are more advanced technologically, that we have a better idea of what’s going on in these encounters, but we do not. Any theory about aliens necessitates technology that does not exist, and has not been proven to be possible. We are simply doing the same thing the ancients did, and putting these stories into a context that we understand. The entire notion of aliens, abductions, alien testing on humans, is all a modern myth generated by sparse accounts of loosely similar experiences, just as the ancient myths were.
This ties in nicely to a fascinating interview Gary Lachman (yes, the same Blondie bassist and occult promoter who tried to rehabilitate Helena Blavatsky in the Fortean Times this month) did for the Theosophical Society with Antoine Faivre, a scholar who studies the Western esoteric tradition. (Thanks to Terry for linking to this in comments on my blog post on Lachman.)
In the interview, Lachman chides Faivre for draining the esoteric of its wonderment by studying too much, and Faivre chides him right back, telling him that academia studies every subject academically; it is a prerequisite for scholarly activity: “I would do exactly the same thing in any other subject. I would write with my heart. By no means is what I do designed to spread esotericism. We are not proselytizing. Absolutely not. I’m not someone who writes or speaks with a view to propagating these ideas.”
Faivre discusses Morning of the Magicians, the foundational text of the ancient astronaut movement in its modern form, and he describes how the book’s greatest feat “was to present religious mysteries as scientific enigmas, and scientific enigmas as sacred mysteries.” In this, I have traced the influence of H. P. Lovecraft, whose Cthulhu Mythos similarly conflated futuristic science with ancient pagan religion. Lachman, of course, jumps immediately to the book’s most famous copyist, Erich von Däniken, who borrowed all of the “facts” (such as they are) from Morning but threw on the trash heap of history even a tenuous connection to esoteric mystery and the sacred. For him, aliens were science, not superstition. Faivre responds, “Däniken represents one of the extreme forms of euhemerism. There is a strong euhemeristic trend in all this.” Just as Euhemerus made all the gods into mythologized ancient kings (a thread copied by Ignatius Donnelly in his Atlantis theories), ancient astronaut writers make all gods aliens.
It’s also interesting to see Faivre discuss the politics of the esoteric:
You have two ways of looking at things when one speaks of esotericism. One way can be used to the advantage of certain right-wing political movements. Here the emphasis is on hierarchy and authority. It’s led to esotericism being associated for the most part with right-wing politics. This is one reason why esotericism hasn’t been a major study in Germany. It has the association of the Nazis and the occult and so on. And some esotericists have been right-wing. But there is also a strong left-wing, socialist history in esotericism. Éliphas Lévi, who began the occultist current in the nineteenth century, was a utopian socialist.
This is interesting to me because Pauwels and Bergier, the authors of Morning of the Magicians, were socialists, while Erich von Däniken has advocated right wing views, from his anti-communism in the 1970s to his upset at women’s rights and liberal social norms today. While the euhemerizing ancient astronaut writers are not, strictly speaking, the kind of spiritual esoteric writers Faivre is referring to, there is certainly something to be said about the relationship between a theory that seeks to restore the power and authority of old religions and to ascribe God’s law to the punitive power of alien death rays. Ancient astronaut writers are constantly promising the return of the aliens, and these aliens, like Jesus, come with a sword to punish us for our sins. I think this begins to get at the reason for the myth of aliens that Rees sought.
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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