There are interesting things to say about talismans and the ancient idea that ritual objects can have magical results. By Late Antiquity, talismans were big business—fragments of either Noah’s or Utnapishtim’s ark were especially popular—and in the Middle Ages, specialists created all sorts of magical amulets claiming to draw on the mystical powers of ancient magicians. Medieval Arabic-language authors preserved stories about Egyptian talismans that supposedly protected the country from invasion, guarded tombs, and could heal or kill.
The show opens with the Christian cross as a “symbol of power,” or talisman. Stock footage illustrates the idea of talismans as the show tries to explain them as physical objects containing or focusing supernatural power, but as they talk about them, they quickly start to waffle on the literalness of talismans, introducing a number of symbolic items among those alleged to contain actual magic. Mitch Horowitz professes to be amazed that many talismans across time and space use the human eye, as though humans wouldn’t use prominent body parts in their art just by chance. This leads to a discussion of the Evil Eye, a nearly universal belief that nasty looks can transmit curses. The merkaba, a talisman originating around 100 BCE meaning “chariot” intended to represent Ezekiel’s vision of God’s divine chariot, is discussed in terms of the false idea that Ezekiel saw an alien spaceship. Given that the Merkaba school of mysticism emerged long after the Book of Ezekiel was written, there is no reason to assume the amulet is a direct copy of an alien spaceship.
The second segment discusses talismans in ancient Egypt, emphasizing the use of meteoric material—i.e. “extraterrestrial” material—for its magical power. Stylized symbols such as the ankh and Djed pillar are alleged to be technology, but most of the segment is devoted to repeating multiple times that sch symbols were “powerful.” The rest of the segment is repeated from previous episodes alleging falsely that the Djed pillar was a Tesla coil for generating electricity. Giorgio Tsoukalos claims that because Djed pillars generated electrical power, their talismanic function substituting magical power for real electricity. The show then claims that the British monarchy’s orb and scepter are copies of Egyptian talismans representing alien tech. This is false. The scepters used by Christian monarchs derive from those of the Romans, in turn derived from Etruscan symbols. They are not directly inspired by Egypt.
The third segment moves to East Asia to discuss Buddhist talismans and beliefs that statues are alive and contain the essence of the deities they represent. Statues carved by the Jomon, an indigenous culture of Japan, are shown. These are classic evidence for ancient astronauts popular in the old 1970s paperbacks when their stylized shapes were compared to astronaut suits. The show moves on to conflate the Jomon with Shintoism to discuss Shintoism’s sky gods but can’t sustain a discussion very long, pushing on to a global collage of various figurines with large eyes or reptilian features that the show implies represent the Greys and Reptilians. You see, big eyes = alien, which is why Garfield the cat is from outer space.
The fourth segment travels to Göbekli Tepe to rehash the dogma obsessing fringe pseudohistorians that the use of baskets or handbags is somehow a secret conspiracy. The show alleges that every depiction of a purse or bag in ancient art represents a carrying case for talismans, though there is no evidence for this. The show then discusses fulu talismans, Taoist symbols that contain nonsense writing said to be the secret language of the gods. (Cf. Christian “speaking in tongues.”) David Childress says that such talismans are linked to extraterrestrials, though there is no explanation for exactly what that would be, presumably the beaming of alien thoughts into human minds from previous episodes.
The fifth segment describes the Catholic dogma of transubstantiation, the belief that the bread and wine transform into Christ’s body and blood literally, not symbolically. However, the show immediately misunderstands this and describes the belief as “infusing” “energy” into the bread and wine. This leads to a discussion of using spoken words to perform magical and supernatural rituals. However, the show gets rather far afield from talismans in locating the source of magic in words. This leads to a cross-promotion with sister show The Secret of Skinwalker Ranch in which Travis Taylor tests whether magic words and sounds can open a portal to another dimension with vibrations. The Blazing Bear Drummers, a Native music group from Oklahoma, sing and pound drums, while Taylor alleges that a stone circle far from them up on a mesa suddenly changed temperature as they sang. Naturally, no conclusive testing occurred, nor did anyone visit the circle to look for reasons for thermal imagery changes, all the better to preserve the supposed mystery. How far from a stone circle can one sing and still have the circle know you are aiming your magic power at it? Obviously, Oklahoma is too far or else it would be lighting up three times per week at minimum. Do other circles also listen for singing? Or do they take turns? It is very confusing who in the portal dimension is in charge of directing the magic power to its destination and picking which destination that should be.
The final segment briefly discusses the use of human remains as talismans and the belief that body parts contain mystical connections to their former owners. The show alleges that “quantum entanglement” makes it plausible that the souls of the saints still are tied to their bones. William Henry then concludes that talismans are “quantum entanglement devices” channeling some vaguely defined notion of “power” from another dimension. But, ultimately, the show can’t quite decide whether “divine power” is supposed to be electric, psychic, or interdimensional, or supernatural, implying that they are all the same. The narrator suggests we are too stupid to understand the answer even if the aliens, who are also gods, told us.
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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