After more than five months away, Ancient Aliens returns to TV on its original channel, History, where the network seems determined to ensure that the largest possible audience is exposed to its soul-crushing, mind-numbing inanity. I wanted to start off season six (but only its fourth calendar year) with something clever to say, but after this sorry hour about the mystical nature of triangles and the number three, the only thing passing through my head was the old They Might Be Giants song “Particle Man”:
Triangle Man, Triangle Man
The triangle man in this case is Pythagoras, the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician who developed the famous theorem about the sides of right triangles and also founded a religion promising immortality through reincarnation. We encountered him on Saturday as a nerdy, needy denizen of the BBC’s Atlantis, and now on Ancient Aliens he’s the recipient of alien wisdom. Poor Pythagoras. He’s had better centuries.
“No matter which ancient culture you look at,” Giorgio Tsoukalos says, “the highest ones always came in threes.” That would, I suppose, be why the ancient Greeks had the Olympian Twelve and the Canaanites the myth of their four great gods El, Baal, Yam, and Mot (among others), and the Maya their Hero Twins. David Childress says that by learning the power of three we can become like the gods.
The show starts out with a list of times in myth when three beings or objects are seen together. But you can do this with any number you want; even the anthropologist Ancient Aliens convinced to appear on their show notes that this is primarily a European (Indo-European, actually) idea, which is not really applicable to traditions beyond the Indo-Europeans and the Near East. If you want to try looking for other numbers, Hamlet’s Mill is chock full of examples of 2, 3, 4, 12, 24, 36, 54, 60, 72, 432, etc. Try remaking this episode of Ancient Aliens with the numbers 7 or 9 and you’ll see how silly this is; you can fill an hour with either number in ancient myth.
The Giza Pyramids are suggested to embody the number three, but while there are three “major” pyramids, there are nine overall. Robert Schoch expresses shock that at Giza there are three pyramids whose sides are (gasp!) triangles, as though pyramids could form any other shape. We then hear that this is a portal to another realm, but what then of Mexican pyramids whose sides are stacked rectangles and whose bases are four-sided?
Pythagoras arrives next so we can hear a truly dumb idea that he invented the Pythagorean theorem by studying the Giza pyramids—impossible since the Giza pyramids are not right triangles (either in the square bases or nearly equilateral sides), nor do their bases form a Pythagorean relationship; the bases of the two smaller do not equal the largest.
David Childress says you can play connect the dots with “thousands” of standing stones at Carnac to form “right” triangles, but the illustration shows us one right triangle, one isosceles triangle, and one equilateral triangle, all formed by cherry-picking specific stones among the many on the ground. For the math impaired: isosceles and equilateral triangles are not subject to the Pythagorean Theorem (except for right isosceles triangles with two 45 degree angles). Similarly, Avebury and Stonehenge right triangles are also illustrated with cherry-picked stones that do not have any natural reason for selecting them. Giorgio Tsoukalos expresses shock that mathematics is applicable across the universe and therefore feels that any mention of math must be proof of cosmic aliens.
Philip Coppens has been dead for nearly a year, and yet he is still here, in the new season of Ancient Aliens, to lie about Pythagoras (c. 570-495 BCE), claiming he derived his knowledge from ancient Egypt and thus aliens, and was the first to spread it beyond Egypt. This is not even true by his own claims, for he also believes that Solon (638-558 BCE) gained the ancient wisdom of the Egyptians in learning of the Atlantis myth fifty years earlier, as Plato wrote in the Timaeus. Let’s clear this up: Pythagoras lived long before his biographers, who knew nothing of his life. They invented myths to explain it, and they did not agree. Some writers said he studies in Egypt, but many more said his training came from Greece. The Egyptian claims come largely from Porphyry’s Life of Pythagoras (6):
As to his knowledge, it is said that he learned the mathematical sciences from the Egyptians, Chaldeans and Phoenicians; for of old the Egyptians excelled, in geometry, the Phoenicians in numbers and proportions, and the Chaldeans of astronomical theorems, divine rites, and worship of the Gods; other secrets concerning the course of life he received and learned from the Magi.
Hmm… not exactly direct from Egypt. Cicero had him taught by the Greek Pherecydes (On Divination 50), and Iamblichus’ extensive Pythagorean Life (2) outlines his Greek teachers as he believed them to be: Thales, Bias, Pherecydes, and Anaximander; Iamblichus says that on Thales’ advice, Pythagoras went to Egypt and Phoenicia to learn religious mysteries, and in Babylon “reached the summit of arithmetic” (3-4). By contrast, Diogenes Laertius tells us that Pythagoras learned only from the Greeks and that while he did travel to Egypt and Phoenicia and Crete, he did so only to teach them the Mysteries he invented (Lives 8.1). In short, it’s all just myths, and Philip Coppens is both dead and wrong.
From this we rocket to England to think about how Newton’s THREE laws of motion let us talk about the non sequitur of alchemy since Newton like alchemy. The show then introduces the Emerald Tablet of Thoth, which it “shows” without admitting that the green-colored writing is an imaginative illustration; the alleged tablet is known first and primarily from medieval Arabic writings and was later translated into Latin. Robert Schoch tells us that this tablet has “fundamental” secrets of immortality and alchemy, and we hear tell that the tablet explains that all the universe comes from the interplay of the power of “three.” This is a lie. How do I know this? Isaac Newton translated the text, as have many others, and it speaks nothing of the power of three. Line 3, for example, talks of the power of “one”:
And as all things have been & arose from one by the mediation of one: so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation.
The only mention of three comes when Thoth, under the name Hermes Trismegistus (Thrice-Great), explains his name in line 13: “Hence I am called Hermes Trismegist, having the three parts of the philosophy of the whole world.” That’s it. (Sigismund Bacstrom interpolated an extra line in the eighteenth century, known as line 0, that claims that the “one” is also “three,” but this is almost certainly a fake since it appears in no other source.)
Coppens tells us that this text offers profound insights into the number three, and it’s doubtful he ever read the text. Several other ignoramuses also tell us about the tablet’s profound discussion of the number three that simply does not exist.
So where did it come from? From the fictitious Emerald Tablets of Thoth the Atlantean published in the 1930s and borrowing little more than the name from the original tablet. The 1930s texts were published by a Dr. Doreal and were apparently channeled from the spirit realm. In short, they are not genuinely ancient.
A canned biography of Hermes Trismegistus follows, mistakenly calling him a late version of the Classical Hermes (Cicero points out they were not the same in Nature of the Gods 3.22), but Tsoukalos mucks it up by imagining that Hermes had a flying ship, which has no support in any ancient or medieval text I can find and appears to be simple wishful thinking or the intentional conflation of other stories.
Well, enough of that, we have an Obama clip and some half-formed thoughts about whether aliens invented our brains, and then we are off to India to talk about the three great gods of (recent) Hinduism: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Since they did not hold those roles in the Vedic period, there is really no point in claiming this is somehow an ancient mystery of three. This leds to a discussion of the Third Eye, whose number is dictated by the fact that we have two natural eyes. The all-seeing eye of Freemasonry is called a “third eye” even though it is the only eye depicted between the pillars in Masonic art, just because Ancient Aliens doesn’t care. Somehow this “eye” is supposed to be the pineal gland because the gland is light-sensitive. There is no evidence ancient people knew anything about endocrine function. Kathleen McGowan tells us that the pineal gland is the key to all ancient mystic mysteries, which seems to have taken us far beyond aliens and into the realm of imaginative ancient endocrinology.
The show recognizes this and brings Tsoukalos and Mike Bara in to tell us that the third eye allows for astral travel via aliens—though it’s unclear whether this is by ship or what. David Wilcock tells us that the pineal gland creates a “wormhole inside your head,” a functioning star gate, to allow for travel to the aliens’ home world. And yet all of these people are still here. Why haven’t the aliens raptured up these people yet? What more evidence do we need that they want the aliens to be gods? We now have an alien Rapture waiting inside our minds.
We’ve sort of lost the thread of three at this point, so the show starts telling us about gods, heroes, and mystical figures who appear in myth in groups of three. Obviously, one can find counterexamples: Jupiter and Mercury travel together in Roman myth, Apollo and Artemis are paired in Greek myth. Gilgamesh is paired with Enkidu in Akkadian myth, but had fifty companions in early Sumerian stories. Jason had his fifty Argonauts. But this isn’t important because the Buddhists had Three Saints, who—and I did not follow this—somehow transform humans into aliens at death. The word “Aliens” really doesn’t mean anything at this point; it’s just window dressing.
The show asserts that there were Three Wise Men in the Nativity narrative, which folklorist Sabina Magliocco confirms—a shocking assertion given that the biblical narrative (Matthew 2:1-12) specifies no number of magi; the number three is a much later tradition derived from the three gifts they presented. David Childress and the “Rev.” Michael J. S. Carter, who believes aliens are in the Bible, assert that the star of Bethlehem was an alien spaceship, on which be sure to read Aaron Adair’s masterful takedown of this nonsense, The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical Inquiry, due out soon. Childress claims that the magi were aliens. Then there is some discussion of the real meaning of the Christian Trinity and whether we as humans are all triune gods, which is vaguely blasphemous and also more evidence that this is really a religious program, not a science or history program in any way. These people really want to touch the face of God.
Now we’re off to DNA because the three gifts of the magi represent DNA (of course). “Essentially,” Tsoukalos says, “the number three is the key to our DNA language.” He is referring to the fact that DNA codes for each of the twenty amino acids by using three base pairs, called a codon, to represent each amino acid. But this is only a small fraction of the work that goes into turning DNA into usable proteins. Tsoukalos, though, says that “the ancient alien theory has always” held that proof would come “not in a crashed saucer” but “from within our own DNA.” Oh really? Tell that to Erich von Däniken, who claimed that the proof would be in gold tablets in an Ecuadorian library, and who thought that aliens and humans could interbreed through some magic power that exempted them from the need to have compatible DNA. Are you willing to believe that codons specifying a single amino acid that is a small fraction of one protein used in the body is the way aliens chose to communicate with us across time and space? Or that the Holy Trinity of Christianity is little more than a symbol of a DNA codon?
And what happened to the star gate in our brains? Why can’t I turn it on to beam myself off of this planet? Did the show just decide to forget about that? Surely it’s worth investigating how to turn on the device you’ve identified inside our heads. But wait: What about the stone false-door “Star Gates” you “investigated” a few years back in Peru and elsewhere? Why did the alien need those if they could just turn on our pineal glands to beam us across the universe?
Truly, ET works in mysterious ways. Thank Alf we have our High Priests to guide us.
Aside from the last five minutes, there were too few aliens in this hour, and the producers could excise the talking heads and have a fairly standard discussion of the number three in myth. This is not a good sign for the strength of the ancient astronaut theory.
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.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.