The three belt stars of the constellation of Orion are among the most recognizable in the night sky, so bright and so prominent that they are among the few star clusters widely recognized as a constellation across cultures and across time. The meaning of the stars varies widely by culture. For example, among many others Orion represented a shepherd to the Babylonians, a hunter to the Greeks, a god to the Egyptians, a loom to the Norse, a rake to the French, and a line of game animals to the Seri of Mexico. The lack of agreement on the meaning of the constellation—or which stars beyond the three belt stars should be included in the constellation—clearly indicates that different cultures gazed up at the same night sky and picked out these bright stars for their brilliance, not because aliens came down and told everyone one earth to stare lustfully at Orion’s stars because the aliens came from Betelgeuse or Sirius or any other nearby star.
Now, this would seem logical enough to most of us, but we are not “ancient astronaut theorists” (AATs), in the parlance of Ancient Aliens. Show S05E04, “Destination Orion,” posits that the ancients were “obsessed” with Orion because of aliens. I suppose that fact that nearly all polytheistic cultures had deities for the sun and the moon also must therefore imply that the ancients were (a) obsessed with these heavenly bodies and (b) thought the aliens lived on them. What, then, does that imply about the widespread goddess of fireplaces?
So, let’s begin.
First, I note that we have a new title card today, with a shiny blue background to the Ancient Aliens logo representing some sort of energy tractor beam from a UFO. I guess they got tired of the brown faux-Egyptian title card. I wonder if every episode will have a different title card, or if this is a permanent addition.
The first segment discusses the astrophysics of the Orion nebula and its notoriety as the birthplace of new stars, but this is quickly dropped for a potted discussion of the prominence of Orion as a nighttime constellation with Gary David, the erstwhile author of The Orion Zone, a book of false claims about Orion architectural correlations in America from David Childress’s book imprint. We are told that the constellation is named for the Greek hunter Orion, though they neglect to note that Orion was so ancient a figure that even among the Greeks the myths of this man were largely forgotten, and only the vaguest memory remained. He was probably a half-remembered survival from Mycenaean or Near Eastern hero legends. At any rate, we possess only a faint echo of what was obviously a very well developed and very ancient Orion heroic myth cycle. Instead, we are given a false dichotomy: Either Orion was once a flesh and blood human or an alien. That he was fictive does not cross the minds of AATs.
We are then told that the Egyptian gods descended from Orion’s stars, which is rather interpretive since the gods in Egypt emerged on the ancient earth before the sky had been formed. In most Egyptian creation myths, the primordial waters exist first, followed by land and the earliest gods (the Ogdoad, Atum, Ptah, or Amum, depending on the version) and then the sun and the heavenly bodies. Instead, the AATs are confused about the idea that the Egyptians viewed Orion as the stellar counterpart of Osiris, the god of the dead. Therefore, it is rather a stretch to claim that the Egyptians waited for “beings” to “return” from Orion. The textual warrant is an old hymn called the “The Laments of Isis and Nephthys,” in which Isis tells Osiris that “There proceedeth from thee the strong Orion in heaven at evening, at the resting of every day.” But here we have the star coming from the god, not the other way around. When the Egyptians spoke on occasion of Osiris “returning,” they referred to the reappearance of the constellation Orion, which dips below the horizon for part of the year at Egypt’s latitude, not to “beings” who lived in it. They did the same thing with Sirius, the star whose reappearance signaled the Nile Flood and the new year. (Jane Sellers argued that they watched instead for Orion’s return during a precessional cycle, not an annual one, but still, no aliens needed.)
Giorgio Tsoukalos next summarizes an old argument and false claim that Unas (Unis) was a cannibal king, and we hear that he supposedly rode a pyramid into outer space. The authority for this is the Pyramid Texts (Utterances 273 and 274, known as the “Cannibal Hymn”), which in the nineteenth century were wrongly translated (see here for the old translation) as suggesting Unis (and also Teti, in whose pyramid the same text was also found) was a cannibal prior to death. Instead, the modern translation of the text makes plain that the deceased king was imagined as incorporating the power of the gods into himself by consuming their spirits and thus their greatness, sort of like the Christian rite of communion:
It is Unas who eats their magic, who swallows their souls.
The pharaoh, believed to be a god on earth, consumes the other gods’ souls (depicted as identical with their non-corporeal and thus non-alien bodies) and thus becomes greater than the gods. In only the vaguest way is this suggested as being a literal journey to a planet in Orion. The only warrant for this is that the pharaoh was believed to become Osiris after death, so if Osiris is also Orion, then the pharaoh must “go” to Orion to become Osiris. But this plays “connect the dots” more than those who drew constellations among the stars in the first place.
This is why Orion Mystery author Robert Bauval next claims that the pyramids were a space port, and the “AATs” argue that the “air shafts” in the Great Pyramid, which appear to target Orion and Sirius, must therefore be passages for sucking pharaoh’s souls into space to meet the ETs. Part of this is probably right; they were likely meant to connect the pyramid to the stars and thus the representations of the gods among the stars. But since the ends of the shafts were sealed shut and always were, the Egyptians had no illusion that real aliens were teleporting anything through them. David Childress tells us that Giza was a “star gate” whose destination was the Orion nebula. Now how do you suppose that works? The show simply assumes that we agree that the pyramids were a “star gate,” probably based on earlier episodes, and no evidence is provided to support the claim, so I will ignore it as more incoherent babbling. Are we really at the point where we’re expected to already agree with—and remember—episodes from years ago? This isn’t Mad Men, except perhaps in the most literal sense of the title.
What amazes me is that Childress, and not Bauval, mentions the so-called Orion Correlation Theory, the idea that the Giza pyramids were laid out in the shape of Orion’s Belt. Childress sees this as evidence for a Giza star gate to Orion, but the show simply skips over the whole correlation, which is weird since it’s such an interesting—and relevant—story.
The supposed Orion Correlation Theory was proposed by Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert in 1994, in a popular book called The Orion Mystery. As I’ve noted several times, Bauval derived his Orion idea from a suggestion made by Robert Temple in his ancient astronaut book, The Sirius Mystery, but, wanting to be taken seriously, Bauval purposely excised all mention aliens from his discussion of Temple’s book in The Orion Mystery. Temple had suggested that ancient oracle sites in Egypt and Greece were laid out in the shape of the constellation Argo Navis. Specifically, he claimed a quadrilateral formed by the oracle sites of Dodona, Siwa, Behdet, and (Egyptian) Thebes paralleled the quadrilateral of mu-Argus, Avior, gamma-Argus, and Canopus in the constellation Argo. (Yes, Temple uses the obsolete Argus designations just to confuse readers; no, I don’t know exactly which stars they are in the modern constellations.) This might have been interesting except that Argo, as defined by Ptolemy, was the largest constellation in the sky (it has since been divided in three), composed of dozens of stars. Temple merely selected four convenient ones; the shape he drew with them is not part of ancient Argo or modern Carina; it is a drawing imagined for his own convenience.
This may be a little hard to see, but the star map below shows the old Argo Navis. I’ve highlighted the four stars Temple chose, so you can see that his choice was entirely arbitrary. Any cluster of ancient sites could be fitted to some stars from Argo, or any other constellation. Since the very first “correlation” ancient astronaut theorists ever proposed turns out to be built on such shaky foundations, it leads us to question whether any stellar “correlation” has any more to it than selective interpretation.
Next up, we look at a Neolithic stone circle in Egypt, the famous Nabta Playa circle (c. 4500-3000 BCE), a tiny circle of standing stones (seriously, it’s small), which Bauval claims is a diaphragm for viewing Orion’s Belt. Whether this is true is not particularly interesting, since even the most advanced claims for the circle suggest little more than what can be seen by the naked eye. Nevertheless, archaeologists challenged the alternative view, noting that any alignments represented the sky as it was in 4500-3000 BCE, not 16,000 BCE, as Bauval’s writing partner Thomas G. Brophy first proposed. Ancient Aliens ignores the controversy, and Brophy pretends it never happened, agreeing now with the 4500 BCE date rather than his own impossibly ancient ones. In other words, he sees nothing anomalous here anymore, either.
Instead of exploring this, we proceed to a confused mess of a segment where the narrator seems confused about the difference between the Mayans and the people of Teotihuacan, who were not Mayans. (Those brown people from Mexico are all the same, right?) Teotihuacan is claimed to represent Orion, which is simply not true, and the graphic used to depict the city obscures the fact that the “largest” (brightest) Orion star is apparently represented by the smallest Teotihuacan pyramid-temple; only by taking the entire plaza around that pyramid—the pyramid of Quetzalcoatl—as one structure can the “correlation” begin to appear halfway reasonable. But the smallest Orion star also “matches” the biggest Teotihuacan pyramid!
But wasn’t it just recently that the show told us that Teotihuacan was really a scale model of the solar system? It can’t be both since Orion’s stars are not at the same relative distance as this solar system’s planets, which wouldn’t be such a problem if Robert Bauval wasn’t spouting off about the incredible precision of the correlation, supposedly based on the geometry of a lost civilization. So which is it? Is it a symbolic correlation, or an absolute one? If it is symbolic, then the “precision” of Teotihuacan is out; if it is “precise,” then Giza can’t correlate since its pyramids are somewhat out of kilter with Orion.
Since the producers jumbled together clips from the late Philip Coppens and others about Mayans, Aztecs, and Teotihuacanos, we are left with a nearly incomprehensible segment where an Aztec myth—that the gods met at Teotihuacan, a myth created ex post facto in the 1200s to explain the origin of the large pyramids—is somehow used to explicate a non-Mayan city from 100-600 CE that the show thinks was Mayan!
As we enter the second half of the show, a potted history of the discovery of cuneiform tablets leads us into a discussion of Babylonian astrology, including the zodiac. After a somewhat sober discussion of the Babylonian star catalogues, we go off the rails with Jason Martell delivering an unacknowledged summary of Zecharia Sitchin’s false translations of these star catalogs as mathematically precise discussions of interstellar and interplanetary distances.
Giorgio Tsoukalos tells us that because the Babylonians depicted a bird-headed man in conjunction with what they viewed as Orion in the form of a shepherd, this was therefore a symbolic depiction of an “interstellar communication device” representing a space station staffed by bird-men from Orion. No, it didn’t make any more sense when he said it out loud either. Remember: The ancients were too dumb to have symbolic myths, but smart enough to have symbols for interstellar communication devices and space stations.
Lawyer and UFO Magazine publisher Bill Birnes tells us the lie that all the gods came from the stars—they did not; the Babylonian origin story he cites specifically says the gods existed before the sky (and thus the stars) was placed above the earth. (Side note: I guess this means Birnes is over his upset at the History Channel for canceling his UFO Hunters show, allegedly for revealing "too much." Does this mean, by his logic, that he's agreed to purposely withhold facts to be on TV, or only to talk about things that are not true?) The ancients would have laughed at any suggestion that they considered the gods to be beings that lived in the stars since the stars were thought to be holes punched in the dome of the sky, literally a vault (typically of iron or bronze, as Homer tells us) that covered the earth. (What do you think Atlas was holding up?) In Babylon, that dome was made of the flayed body of the goddess Tiamat. If you traveled too far up, beyond the moon, you would hit the dome. There was nowhere to go, and therefore no place for the “aliens” to live.
The Maya did not, as Jason Martell next asserts, believe Orion’s belt was the “beginning” and “end” of life; the Maya believed the dead traveled to Xibalba, the underworld, seen as a large cave, not Orion’s belt. When Xibalba was sometimes imagined as having an entrance in the sky, it was thought to be the dark rift in the Milky Way, again not Orion’s belt.
So, based on these lies, the show suggests that all human life began with seeds from Orion, and better still, we can call them with help from AATs! But that has to wait for the commercial.
Fortunately, I don’t have to write much about the next segment after the commercial because I’ve already covered the fraudulent Orion correlation in Arizona. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, the short form is this: The “Orion correlation” on the three mesas of the Hopi fails to match either in geometry or in any other way. The villages do not form a line in the same shape as Orion’s belt; and the villages cited as forming the correlation were not contemporary; one wasn’t built until 1906. Note that Gary David allows for villages the Hopi “currently are living in” to count toward his correlation with equal weight to “ancient” ruins; and the star Saiph gets to have “a whole complex of villages” to represent it, while one of Orion’s other stars has only a sad little stone ruin to represent it. Other ruins, of equal or greater value, are ignored if they don’t fit the pattern. Supposedly this correlation has “astonishing” precision (more than the Egyptian as defined by Bauval), yet the heart of the correlation has only the vaguest resemblance to Orion. I’ve provided a map in my other post.
David tells us that an extraterrestrial craft piloted by the Hopi god Massawu descended from the stars, specifically Orion, and used the UFO to guide the Hopi to village sites. The god’s weird large eyes and pale visage are used as evidence he was an alien, but the god’s real attributes are not presented: He’s called “Skeleton Man” because he is the god of death and he is wearing, well, a bloody skull. He is not a Grey alien from Orion. Maasawu is also described as a handsome young man beneath the skull! And in most versions of Hopi myth he did not guide the Hopi from village to village but rather guided the Hopi to one village, Oraibi. I’ll leave it to you if you think the standard account of Masauwu sounds like an alien:
Masauwu owns all the Hopi world, the surface of the earth and the Underworld beneath the earth. He is a mighty and terrible being for he wears upon his head a bald and bloody mask. He is like death and he clothes himself in the raw hides of animals and men cannot bear to look upon his face. The Hopi say he is really a very handsome great man of a dark color with fine long black hair and that he is indeed a great giant. When the Hopi came up from the Underworld and looked about them in fear, the first sign which they saw of any being of human form, was the great footprints of Masauwu. Now Masauwu only walks at night and he carries a flaming torch. Fire is his and he owns the fiery pits. Every night Masauwu takes his torch and he starts out on his rounds, for he walks clear around the edge of the world every night.
At any rate, he doesn’t come from the sky; he is specifically a god of the earth.
From all of this speculation, Childress tells us that he is convinced that ancient history teaches us that an earthlike planet must be waiting for us around one of the stars of the Orion nebula. So how do we get there? I’m so glad you asked. The answer is Einstein, who proposed a wormhole to get us across the universe. (This ties in to next week’s episode, when Einstein’s work is shamelessly attributed to aliens because AATs feel no one human could be that smart without alien help. I want to make an easy joke about AATs and intelligence, but I am too polite to do so.) The narrator asks whether the ancient Egyptians had a wormhole to Orion (Do they come with doors?), and Philip Coppens tells us that ancient myths attribute to Orion the origins of humanity, which is clearly not the case.
You might count Osiris-Orion, but he wasn’t a creator god.
That said, the Hindu god Prajapati, the lord of animals, was represented in the sky by Orion the Hunter in India, and some Vedic commentators then identify Prajapati (actually a collective of gods) with the creator of the universe, but this is several steps from claiming the god lived in Orion, especially since in the Vedas he is charged with creating the heavens, including the stars! (Rig Veda 10.121).
The clearest case is among the Maya, who viewed Orion as the place of creation. Why? Because the triangle formed by Rigel, Saiph, and Alnitak resembled the shape of a traditional Maya hearth. Just as a hearth was the foundation of a Maya home, the hearth in the sky had to be the foundation of the world. Again, no gods lived "in" the hearth; in the Popul Vuh, Orion is the Maize God and the father of the Hero Twins, but again was not considered the creator of humanity.
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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