Yesterday, ex-Blink-182 member and current ufology-award winner Tom DeLonge released his new ancient astronaut book Sekret Machines: Gods, the first in a nonfiction trilogy covering what DeLonge believes to be the true history of space aliens’ involvement with earthlings. In a previous post, I explained some of my philosophical problems with the approach that DeLonge’s coauthor, Peter Levenda, took in developing the book, as well as my concern that Levenda is either duplicitous or wholly ignorant in claiming that his approach to the ancient astronaut theory is wholly new and unprecedented. In a nutshell, my criticism is that Levenda frames the early history of aliens on Earth as the story of a cargo cult, something he wrongly believes is unique to him. The claim was first made in the film version of Chariots of the Gods, broadcast in the United States as In Search of Ancient Astronauts in 1973, and it has been a common trope among ancient astronaut theorists since then.
I have a copy of the book now that it has been released, and I plan to review it carefully because it is the most important ancient astronaut release since Philip Coppens’s The Ancient Astronaut Question many years ago. Since I have already reviewed the preface by Jacques Vallée, I will begin today with Peter Levenda’s portion of the text.
I will also start with a truth straight form the horse’s mouth. Despite DeLonge’s claims that his Sekret Machines series would blow the lid off of UFO disclosure and change humanity’s relationship to the cosmos and to the U.S. government, Levenda gives the lie to it: “If you need convincing—after all the data that has been presented by sober, sane members of world governments, including that of the United States, as well as by military observers around the world who have gone on record concerning alien contact—then there is nothing here for you.” Don’t say you weren’t warned.
The opening passage begins with a novelistic story of tribal people worshiping strange beings from the sky as gods. This section echoes the second chapter of Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods, where a thought experiment asks us to think about how primitive aliens might think of human astronauts, but here Levenda flips the script by telling us that he is, in an only vaguely fact-based way, providing his impression of how Pacific Islanders reacted to British and American pilots during the Second World War, resulting in the famous cargo cults. The prologue then continues with unsourced, novelistic vignettes of famous moments in ancient astronaut and UFO lore, ranging from the Roswell Incident to the claim of parapsychologist Andrija Puharich to have made contact with the nine Egyptian gods of Heliopolis and to have dubbed various American celebrities “Brahmins” under the tutelage of these gods. There are several mentions of Nazis having deep and secret roles in exploring UFOs.
The choice to mix facts and novelistic impressions is an intentional one because Levenda, having decided that UFOs are prima facie real, abandons the pretense of fact-base reporting early on and instead states that his and DeLonge’s methodology is to purposely merge facts with lies in the hopes that they will alchemically create truth: “Sekret Machines intends to demonstrate that by merging fictional and nonfictional approaches, including mass media and social media in a variety of strategies, something analogous to ‘truth’ may be discovered…”. Pause for a moment to consider that: Levenda is telling readers that they can’t trust that any one Sekret Machines product, be it this book, the novel series, social media postings, etc. is “true” in any objective sense, but rather that he and DeLonge consider “truth” to be a social construct made up of the authors’ and audiences’ beliefs.
I won’t quote the pages of material Levenda writes to justify his description of the UFO “phenomenon” as a unified field of study but I will point out that he took the exact same material I worked with in my 2013 essay on the so-called “phenomenon” and derived the exact opposite conclusion. Where I looked at the many facets of the so-called phenomenon—from lights in the sky to midnight sexual encounters to prehistoric mysteries—and saw them as unrelated material brought together by a myth, Levenda sees them as different sides of a polyhedron that cannot be separated. Good luck proving that. It is, as he notes, an assumption, but one he makes for a political purpose, not a scientific one: He aims to bring about what he calls a “cultural revolution” that will overthrow mainstream society and the institutions supporting it in favor of one better aligned to New Age values. This book is not, therefore, the work of an investigator but a polemicist.
And yet… There is a bitterness underneath the polemicist’s utopian tone. He speaks of “impotent” government and academic elites who attempt to humiliate believers in UFOs to cover up their own powerlessness, and his language makes veiled reference to fantasies of revenge. He speaks with contempt, too, of “ancient alien theorists,” whom he sees as ignorant pretenders. Levenda calls the moment of first contact the ur-punkt moment, German for “origin point,” but also a pun, reading phonetically in English “you’re punked,” which is to say, in vernacular, you have been played the fool. I can’t help but think that is no coincidence.
The first chapter begins with a discussion of Gnosticism, comparing space aliens to the Gnostic Demiurge. Levenda (and let’s be frank, DeLonge’s fingerprints are nowhere to be found in the body of the text) discusses the work of Zecharia Sitchin. He correctly notes that Sitchin and other famous ancient astronaut theorists make far too many mistakes to be credible, but he praises their readers and viewers for recognizing a buried truth, that there is an underground stream of alternative knowledge that the mainstream doesn’t support. I will give him this: Although he means it as a picture of an objective reality and not a fantasy, he correctly notes that the “underground” of alternative UFO “knowledge” is a combination of literature, science, magic, politics, and mysticism. In other words, it is a religion, though Levenda would never concede that point. Indeed, in Chapter 2, Levenda tries to turn the tables by declaring it an “ideological choice” to view mythology as religious rather than factual!
Levenda, though, for someone who ought to know better betrays his own lack of deep engagement with the material he explicates. After complaining that Sitchin didn’t understand his sources, Levenda then spends pages describing the Enuma Elish as a key “Sumerian” text, even though it is the foundational myth of Babylonian culture. He name-checks various fringe works, from Hamlet’s Mill to the Sirius Mystery, and from them declares that it “should be unexpected if not impossible” that humans around the world used the stars in their religion, or likened acts of creation to sexual acts. Stars and sex are found everywhere, but Levenda thinks that the diversity of people and climates should have led to difference religious impulses. He offers no subtly in considering the web of influences that took ideas across the Old World, including the spread of Indo-European faiths and the prestige of Near Eastern cultures. He goes too far in imagining cultural isolation to attribute similarities to an unseen force.
His chapter is a grab bag of familiar claims. He compares superheroes to ancient gods, and he compares the Reptilians to the wisdom-serpents of ancient myth. He notes the relationship between Genesis and Babylonian mythology, and he goes off on a tangent about how evolutionary theory negates the very purpose of religion. While more subtle thinkers might attribute religion to an evolutionary imperative, Levenda instead wants to separate out consciousness from the cold, amoral demands of our genes. He claims that Near Death Experiences, alien abductions, and theophany are all the same phenomenon. He might be correct about the similarity, but he offers no proof that it is because of any superhuman power. Nevertheless, he assumes that there is some otherworldly reality, and he states that shamanism, Freemasonry, and sundry other spiritual systems are designed to help us travel back and forth between this dimension and that. He might pretend he doesn’t watch Ancient Aliens, but if you do, then you’ve heard all of this many times before, notably from William Henry, whose combination of conspiracy theory and spirituality Levenda comes closest to aping. The “aliens” on the show haven’t been from this dimension for five or six seasons. Levenda adds to the familiar discussion the claim, taken more or less wholesale from Jacques Vallée, that modern “magick” is a continuation of this shamanic activity and therefore provides real access to the spirit realm. He acts like early modern ritual “magick” was somehow divorced from the (misunderstood) ancient materials it drew upon when he speaks in awe of how similar the outward forms are to earlier ancient rituals. Levenda’s choice to treat each new subject as divorced from the context of the culture that spawned it allows him to pull the wool over the readers’ eyes and present as dramatic similarity what is actually a degree of cultural continuity.
Good thing he doesn’t know about the Arab pyramid myth. He’d have had a whole chapter out of that.
The second chapter delves further into Zecharia Sitchin territory—indeed, the entire chapter is an extended and explicit rebuttal to Sitchin by way of Graham Hancock—by exploring what Levenda wrongly calls “Sumerian” literature. He uses the term, incorrectly, to describe all of the writings of the various peoples of the Fertile Crescent, but especially the Babylonians, whose chief god, Marduk, he mistakes for the head of the Sumerian pantheon. Weirdly, despite mistaking the Enuma Elish for a Sumerian text in Chapter 1, in this chapter, when he is following critics of Sitchin, he correctly identifies it as a Babylonian text of a later period. The maddening inconsistency speaks to the lack of care behind the polemic. As soon as he stops following critics of Sitchin and returns to his fringe sources, he goes right back to wrongly calling it a Sumerian poem. He also seems unduly influenced by the panbabylonist school and seems to find Genesis essentially a plagiarism of Babylonian myth rather than a text in conversation with its cultural context.
In speaking of the Babylonian creation story, Levenda conflates the Tablet of Destinies, the sealed tablet symbolizing first Enlil’s and later Marduk’s divine power, with the tablets of antediluvian knowledge that Kronos (Enki, or Ea) asks Xisthrus to prepare in Berossus’ account of the Babylonian flood myth: “He therefore enjoined him to write a history of the beginning, procedure, and conclusion of all things; and to bury it in the city of the Sun at Sippara” (trans. I. P. Cory, plagiarizing Jacob Bryant). Levenda describes these same tablet this way: “Written in stone so it would survive almost any environmental disaster of the time, it represented the continuity of information from the antediluvian to post-diluvian time.” Levenda appears to have conflated the whole thing with Enoch’s pillars (or tablets) of wisdom designed to withstand fire and flood, themselves a likely literary descendant of Xisuthrus’ tablets.
Levenda tries to use the myth as an entry point into a discussion of “sovereignty,” here eliding the legal title to rule a country with the idea of human primacy on Earth. In so doing, he brings in postmodern philosophy in a pretentious way to argue that human institutions have no way to deal with superhuman phenomena and therefore refuse to acknowledge the existence of UFOs because to do so would vaunt space aliens (or gods, or whatever) above humanity, an ideological impossibility. This leads to a rant about skeptics and materialists treasuring science as a “dogma,” as though space aliens would not be a subject of scientific interest. You can see from this were Levenda’s sympathies lie; he imagines the “aliens” as gods and the UFO “phenomenon” as an incursion of pre-Abrahamic myth into our reality. This is not, to put it kindly, much of an argument about UFOs, but it is a political one. Levenda emphasizes that his analysis would lead to the overthrow of all current governments because they undermine the absolute obedience each level of the social hierarchy owes its superiors. He then rants some more about science and how scientists refuse to study UFOs because they can’t be “tested.” This is demonstrably false, but at this point, there is no stopping the angry rants against various elites.
Levenda also offers us a false dichotomy, daring us to conclude that the Enuma Elish and Genesis are either distorted accounts of the extinction of competing human species such as Neanderthals (!) or are an account of nefarious powers engaging in a planned extinction event. Or they could be made up, you know, symbolic rather than literal narratives. It can’t be that, of course, because Levenda needs to discuss the Nephilim as though they really walked the Earth as the giants of old. He tried, in a pseudo-scholarly way, to analyze Genesis 6 in light of Babylonian literature and mostly makes the same points I have made over the years, but with the implication that there is something more to the story than fiction. He cites the work of Michael Heiser (and thus draws indirectly on many of the same sources that I have used in my discussions of the Nephilim), and while he correctly understands the apkallu of Babylonian lore to be behind the Nephilim story (more specifically, they influenced the Watchers of 1 Enoch, the fathers of the Nephilim), he rather simplifies the issue by declaring Gilgamesh a Nephilim rather than a literary figure drawing on the same background traditions of the mating of gods and humans. As someone who has read more primary source material about the Watchers, the Nephilim, and the Tablets of Wisdom than all but some specialists in the field (and certainly more than Levenda), I can tell you that oversimplifies an enormously complex myth. He fails to consider, for example, the role of other Semitic myth systems, the mitigating role of the Book of Enoch in giving specific form to an ambiguous Genesis passage, and other complexities in delineating the original of the story. Nor does he address the obvious problem: If the story changes so much over time, why should we believe that a hypothetical original has anything to do with a real encounter with creatures from another realm?
To this discussion, Levenda adds the claim that an unidentified U.S. government official told him and DeLonge to look into “Greek mythology” to find answers to the UFO mystery. He takes Greek myths at face value, imagining them direct copies of Babylonian originals, though we all know that they are a complex stew of pre-Greek, Hittite, Near Eastern, Indo-European, and other influences. For example, the Greek myth of the Titans and the succession of the gods likely owes more to the Hittites than the Babylonians, though you wouldn’t know it from Levenda.
Levenda concludes the chapter by adopting the mantra of the ancient astronaut theorists he despises: All gods, angels, devils, and demons are actually the powers that inhabit UFOs. “What we are proposing here and in the chapters and the books that follow is a scientific resolution to the old problem of gods, demons, good and evil, religion, magic, and all the impedimenta of the pre-scientific age.” That’s awfully grand, but it’s no different than when Erich von Däniken declared all of the gods to be space aliens (and George Van Tassel added Yahweh and the angels), or when Ignatius Donnelly declared them all to be kings of Atlantis, or even when St. Augustine told us that all of the gods were actually demons (City of God 7.33). Levenda is not offering anything “scientific” in the commonly accepted definition of the term; he is merely dressing up the old Christian urge to unify the supernatural in science-like clothes, as though appeals to quantum physics and Air Force reports could disguise the effort to reenchant the world and make the gods real again.
This ends chapter 2, and it’s a good place to stop for the day.
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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