At one point or another, the producers of Ancient Aliens changed the show in a subtle but important way. The early seasons of the program, while nutty, badly researched, and occasionally fraudulent, maintained at least a token respect for the viewers it supposedly existed to entertain. At some point the producers started treating the audience as a collection of idiots, 1.1 million of whom will show up no matter what the program tells them. Maybe it started around the time that the show actively encouraged Satan worship and then realized that no one objected. Maybe it was around the time that they started assembling whole episodes out of recycled content from past episodes and realized that it made no difference to their ratings.
It would hardly surprise me at this point if the producers weren’t actively contemptuous of their audience. How else to explain an entire hour devoted to an obvious fiction masquerading as fact? Putatively, Ancient Aliens S11E08 “The Mysterious Nine” is about the recurrence of groups of nine beings in mythology. Sure, there have been past episodes devoted to numbers—“The Power of Three” comes to mind—but this episode is different because it is based on science fiction. Literally.
In honor of this, I’m going to review this episode a little differently from previous ones. I’m going to take issue with the entire foundation for the episode before I discuss the specific content of the show.
As I discussed last November—perhaps not coincidentally right before this season of Ancient Aliens went into production—I discussed how the fringe claim of the secret council of Nine Unknown Men was a fraud, one derived from a 1923 adventure novel by Talbot Mundy called The Nine Unknown. Mundy described the organization as being global in scope and in control of world finances. It was made up, he said, of “Nine individuals, each independent, collectively forming a self-perpetuating board—each known to all the other eight but to no other individual on earth—not known, that is to say, to any other person in the world as being a member of the Nine.”
The story, in its modern form—not entirely found in Mundy—goes that the Indian emperor Ashoka (reigned c. 268-232 BCE) tried to protect humanity from forbidden knowledge by banning the study of science and charging nine individuals with guarding these nine books of occult lore.
As I reported at the time, the French fringe writers Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels used Mundy’s novel to imagine a conspiracy of nine guardians of forbidden wisdom in their book Morning of the Magicians, and they did not hide the fact that they borrowed the concept from Mundy. Indeed, they explicitly state on page 36 of the 1963 English translation that the claim was first published in Mundy’s novella, but they identify the story as “half fiction, half scientific inquiry.” This material was freely mixed with nineteenth century French occult writings and Theosophical texts, none of which mentioned the Nine Unknowns, but which fringe writers have long misunderstood (through failure to check sources) as “confirming” the existence of the cult. Anton LeVey dedicated the Satanic Bible to these imaginary characters, probably from Pauwels sand Bergier. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince carried the myth into the modern era with their Stargate Conspiracy (2001), where they acknowledged Mundy only in a footnote.
Picknett and Prince were among the authors who connected the Nine Unknown secret society fiction to psychical researcher Andrija Puharich’s claim to be in contact with the nine Egyptian gods of Heliopolis known as the Ennead. This group of nine gods is thought to have originated in the Fourth Dynasty and been formalized in the Fifth. However, the Ennead was not consistent in Egyptian religion, being a different grouping of gods worshiped for a time at one cult center or another, and in different numbers—from seven at Abydos to fifteen at Thebes. Heliopolis had nine and was the model for the other groupings. The coincidence of number became important for nineteenth and twentieth century occultists because it matched the number of astrological planets (the seven non-Earth planets and the sun and moon) known in the nineteenth century. (The ancients recognized only seven, being unaware of Uranus and Neptune.) This connection allowed Picknett and Prince to develop their analysis of the imaginary Council of Nine, a group of aliens who ruled the world. They saw “connections” to the occurrence of the number nine anywhere in occult literature, particularly the numerology of the anti-Semitic occultist Schwaller de Lubicz, who devoted much of his energy to occult beliefs about Egypt.
Picknett and Prince didn’t invent the Council of Nine, of course. They were examining its use by earlier fringe writers, particularly in the Theosophical and New Age arenas. We see it in Robert Shapiro’s “Explorer Race” series of channeled texts, for example, and it appears, too, in the work of Israeli spirit-channeling author Phyllis Virtue Schlemmer, who claimed to be in communion with Tom. This entity, in 1974, revealed himself to be the head of the Council of Nine and a version of the Heliopolitan creator god Atum. According to Picknett and Prince, a whole group of self-deluded pseudo-psychics spent the 1950s to the 1970s channeling members of the Nine, apparently under the influence of Schwaller de Lubitz’s Egyptomania and numerology. Allegedly Puharich was the first to contact the Nine, and the Egyptian cast to the proceedings suggests that the Ennead is the source for the entities’ number.
By the end of Puharich’s involvement with the Nine, the Nine were into all the big fringe archaeology of the 1970s—ancient astronauts, Egyptian mysteries, Martian ruins, Atlantis. They were very much a product of their time, which is a bit odd for timeless cosmic beings who might be expected to have information and ideas not known to 1970s fringe writers. According to the channeled words of the god Ra, the Council ordered the building of the Great Pyramid, which Ra undertook himself. That means that ancient astronaut theorists are shooting themselves in the foot by denying first hand testimony from the aliens themselves!
Fun facts: Andrijah Puharich discovered Yuri Geller and brought him to America. His encounter with the Council of Nine—channeling them while they talked of coming from Sirius—was a huge influence on Arthur M. Young, a true believer present at the channeling who was also the mentor to Robert Temple. Temple, in turn, drew on the developing New Age mysticism of the Nine to create the Sirius Mystery.
OK, so let us see what this episode was all about...
We open with elderly Canadian ex-official Paul Hellyer’s allegation that aliens have been visiting the Earth for thousands of years. The 91-year-old had no government-backed knowledge of aliens. Instead, he admitted to learning “the truth” about aliens from a Peter Jennings ABC documentary that aired three decades or so after he left office. Ancient Aliens conveniently leaves that out. Then we discuss Puharich’s channeling of the Nine. The show presents him as a serious scientist, though his research has long been called into question, particularly due to the fact that Yuri Geller fooled him with a parlor trick so simple that I can perform that trick—and used to impress my college classmates, who weren’t really that bright, with my “psychic” skills. I could also make objects seem to move on their own. Anyway, Lynne Picknett appears on the show to plug The Stargate Conspiracy but doesn’t discuss the CIA conspiracy she thinks is really behind the ancient astronaut theory.
After this we visit Heliopolis and hear about the Ennead, which is a Greek term that the show doesn’t seem to realize isn’t the Egyptian name for the gods. Ramy Romany, the show’s pet Egyptologist, happily discusses the Egyptian creation myth and surrenders his credibility by inches in exchange for screen time. Kathleen McGowan Coppens, wife of Stargate Conspiracy researcher Philip Coppens, also shows up to mouth some words about aliens that are at odds with Philip Coppens’s published views on the Stargate Conspiracy material. But why not? This is Ancient Aliens: The talking heads will say anything for the payday that screen time promises.
I would be remiss if I did not note that Hillary Clinton, who went on the record with her belief that alien abductions have some sort of basis in fact, is advertising on Ancient Aliens during its first commercial break. Apparently UFO believers are now a constituency, just as Erich von Däniken predicted forty years ago.
The second segment looks at other instances of the number nine in myth. It starts with the Southeast Asian Chinese diaspora holiday of the Nine Emperor-Gods Festival, in which the gods take their number from the fact that it is celebrated during the ninth lunar month and lasts nine days. The show compares this to the Aztecs’ nine Lords of the Night, the nine gods who survive Ragnorak, and Ashoka’s Nine Unknown Men, which they pass off as a fact instead of a piece of century-old fiction. Less clearly, they claim that the Etruscans had nine gods of fate (presumably they are referring to the obscure Roman Novensiles, perhaps of Etruscan origin, or to Pliny’s account in Natural History 2.52 of the nine Etruscan lightning gods) and the Zeus had a council of nine gods. There was no formal council of nine gods, and the number of Greek gods running things is rarely nine exactly. I can’t recall any specific instance of nine gods sitting in council in Greek myth, but the claim does appear in a Transcendentalist text of the 1800s imagining Prometheus speaking to the nine top gods.
The third segment tries to pass off a picture of space debris in a NASA photograph as the Black Knight Satellite, a modern myth of an ancient extraterrestrial satellite. The show claims that the satellite was first spotted in 1954, but that satellite was supposedly “large, silvery, [and] disc shaped,” not columnar and black as the Black Knight is usually described as. The 1954 satellite was clearly intended as a projection of the usual flying saucer description of its era. The Black Knight Satellite myth was invented in 1974 by Scottish researcher Duncan Lunan, who claimed that radio signals indicated that the object was a 13,000-year-old satellite. He then retracted his conclusion and admitted to have made critical errors in his research. What does this have to do with the Nine? Nothing, really. The show just spliced this in because it ran out of nines.
In fact, the show pretty much gives up on the whole “nine” thing and seems to become a completely different episode after this segment. Frankly, I thought for a while that the control room messed up and cued up a different episode.
After this, the show describes the Apocalypse of Baruch (3 Baruch), which Giorgio Tsoukalos describes as a powerful account of a satellite with solar panels. The text, from chapter 6 reads thus: “And I said to the angel, What is this bird? And he said to me, This is the guardian of the earth. And I said, Lord, how is he the guardian of the earth? Teach me. And the angel said to me, This bird flies alongside of the sun, and expanding his wings receives its fiery rays. For if he were not receiving them, the human race would not be preserved, nor any other living creature.” (The name of the translator is not specified.) The clear implication is that the bird is stopping the sun’s damaging heat from burning the Earth.
The timeworn tale of Frank E. Stranges and the alien called Valiant Thor, a Venusian space brother, is rehearsed, but the story is no more credible here than it was in the 1950s. A bland male Caucasian space alien from Venus (!) worked for the U.S. government (!!) for the three years because the Galactic Council was worried about our nuclear bombs. It’s yet another of the “benevolent Aryan space brother” silliness of it era, and even Nick Redfern recognizes that the story is remarkably similar to The Day the Earth Stood Still. Space aliens of the time were envisioned as super Aryans. The guy’s name was Valiant Thor for crying out loud. Could you get more Nordic? Some photos of a standard-issue white man are said to be of Thor, strange visitor from another world, and some dotty folk—Hellyer and Dwight Eisenhower’s New Age believer great-granddaughter—supposedly provide evidence that the alien was real. Neither of them had any direct evidence, and both long ago let ufology overcome their reason.
In the fifth segment we return to Puharich and his channeled Nine. The show claims that various luminaries met with Puharich to commune with the Nine. One of these was said to be Gene Roddenberry, and the show claims that Star Trek was partially the work of space aliens, who delivered science fiction ideas, including the Federation, from space. The aliens sure have a lot of time on their hands if they can dictate scripts, and it’s also pretty sad if the idea of the Federation had to come from space, since the Earth has the Commonwealth, the United Nations, and other leagues. I know that Roddenberry did meet with Puharich in the 1970s, but I’m not able to find a reliable reference to the men meeting earlier.
Only a couple of weeks ago, in episode S11E05 “The Visionaries,” the show admitted that it really just wants to geek out over Star Trek, with the nerdy talking heads alleging the Gene Roddenberry was purposely preparing America for UFO disclosure through Star Trek. Now Hellyer tells us that Star Trek’s Federation “is real” (but in space), and that the Prime Directive came from the Nine as well. This is cute, but Gene Roddenberry didn’t invent the Prime Directive; Gene L. Coon and Theodore Sturgeon are variously credited with that concept, and they weren’t under the (known) tutelage of space aliens. The same directive appears in Olaf Stapledon's 1937 novel Star Maker decades before Puharich met the Nine. A highly publicized re-release of the novel had occurred in 1965, two years before the Prime Directive made its TV debut.
The final segment throws up its hands and asks whether a Council of Nine really exists, and if we can ever know. Gee, and I thought that was why this hour existed. Weren’t they supposed to figure that out?
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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