War of the Gods: Alien Skulls, Underground Cities, and Fire from the Sky
Erich von Däniken | New Page Books | Sept. 2020 | 214 pages | ISBN: 1632651718 | $17.95
Years go by with the inevitable cycle of the seasons repeating their majestic rounds. After winter, summer. After summer, winter. And with the regularity of the season, so too does Erich von Däniken release a new book, and with the same repetition as the seasons. Each book is the same as all the books before, and each one begins with the ritual of pretending otherwise. War of the Gods, originally published in German 2018 but released in English for the first time this month, starts with a letter in which von Däniken (henceforth EVD) proclaims with great excitement news that he imagines will surprise his readers: “In this book, I present new findings!” Unfortunately, there is an ominous note: “But it is only possible by building on previous experiences.” Each winter brings a different snowstorm but you always know it will snow. So, too, do you know that whatever soupçon of new material appears in War of the Gods will be buried in a blizzard of recycling. He frequently refers to his own books, the books of guests on Ancient Aliens, and to claims made on the Ancient Aliens television show itself, recycling in an endless loop of previous claims tracing back to his own earliest efforts to recycle Morning of the Magicians to his own advantage.
The book opens with an utterly bizarre story that (a) I don’t believe is true and (b) is suspiciously timed to the popularity of a certain Netflix series. EVD claims that while on a tour of South America in 1988 a traveling companion died and he was escorted to the home of Pablo Escobar, who showed him an elongated human skull, declared it extraterrestrial, and made a big deal about its lack of sagittal sutures. That last point only became a major talking point among ancient astronaut theorists in the last few years, but—and this is important—scientists as far back as 1863 studied artificial cranial deformation and reported that in those cases there was “obliteration of the sagittal suture in the elongated skull.” It’s literally in the scientific literature, and it is no alien mystery, even if Pablo Escobar got off on thinking it one. EVD claims he turned down a later offer of an all-expenses-paid trip to Colombia on Escobar’s dime after discovering he was a brutal drug kingpin.
The first chapter is devoted to elongated skulls, and EVD argues that at least some belong to an alien race of “longheads” who were the descendants of giants, presumably from outer space. He cites as evidence Pedro Cieza de Leon’s yarn about the all-male group of giants who had gay orgies in Peru, omitting the gay orgies, and claims that these giants—who, I remind you, Cieza de Leon claimed had no women and had penises too large to enter human women without killing them—nevertheless fathered the race of human-hybrid elongated-skull humans. To back this up, he brings in every literary reference to giants he can remember, including the infamous giants of Genesis 6:4, and suggests they were all real. He claims giants were involved in the building of the Great Pyramid (shades of the Akhbar al-zaman), citing a likely hoaxed mummified giant finger supposedly surfacing in 1988 as proof. Gregor Spörri has been circulating it around for a decade and wrote a thriller novel about his “find”—the obvious thing to do with alleged human remains removed from Egypt. It seems at first glance to be an artificial bit of taxidermy or sculpture. I found it amusing, though, that EVD calls 1988 “a few years ago.”
The remainder of the chapter goes into the typical evidence for giants, which involves misunderstood ancient texts, a familiar cavalcade of hoaxes and lies like the Father Crespi “gold” plates (including, infamously, a toilet tank float passed off as an ancient wonder), and—for one of the first times in his books—explicit mention of “Nephilim-Watchers Theory.” That last bit confirms that EVD is now openly consorting with creationists in merging his horny aliens reading of Genesis 6:4 with the demon-angels of Evangelical wet dreams. The translator, however, isn’t aware of the terminology involved and has mangled references to the Watchers into “guards” and “watchmen,” having failed to appropriately collate the German terms with the English counterparts. It should probably disturb us a bit that EVD is now speaking of “Nephilim Extraterrestrial Theory.” I’m not fully comfortable with the Nephilim openly colonizing ancient astronaut theory, which previously had only tacitly adopted them as honorary aliens rather than the driving force behind the bluster. EVD is now openly name-checking L. A. Marzulli, the Christianist extremist, as his authority on DNA and alien skulls. A large section of the chapter summarizes Marzulli’s faulty claims from a few years ago about Near Eastern and alien DNA in elongated Peruvian skulls.
Eventually, it all breaks down into a racist argument about alien DNA and how the various human races must be genetically distinct, with a side of transphobia thrown in: “To deny this for supposedly racism-related reasons is totally unscientific. The basic characteristics of people in different parts of the world are known. We all remain people, but we are not the same. The genetic patterns are different. No ‘gender mainstreaming’ disputes this scientific fact.” What is the purpose of this argument? The same as it always was: to argue that some races have better genes because the aliens blessed them with better DNA. No prizes for guessing who got the good genes. EVD connects his own DNA, via an ancestry testing service, to Mesopotamia, where Zecharia Sitchin’s space aliens created humanity. EVD, of course, therefore has the purest DNA, closest to the creation.
The second chapter recycles much of the Egyptian material previously seen in his book The Eyes of the Sphinx and countless others, bolstered now with references he says explicitly are drawn “on the German Wikipedia.” It’s the usual claptrap about impossibly heavy blocks, no one knowing who built the Great Pyramid, and Herodotus claiming Egypt’s history dated back to the Ice Age. He connects this, bizarrely, to a conspiracy theory that the so-called Third Message of Fatima is a hoax and the real third message involves a new global flood, something that, of course, can’t be a truly Christian prophecy since Christians believe God guaranteed to Noah that there would be no future global floods. Much of the chapter involves complaints that the various lists of Egyptian kings in ancient times don’t match and that the various factions within Egypt lacked a consistent narrative about the building of the Great Pyramid. More than two millenniums had passed between the building of the pyramid and the Classical authors, but EVD complains that the Egyptians who provided them with information did not have “document” listing the pyramid’s creator. He cites Scott Creighton’s ridiculous claims (which I discussed previously in two parts) to argue that the hieroglyphs in the Great Pyramid bearing Khufu’s name are a fraud made by Col. Vyse in the 1830s, a position ancient astronaut types and Atlantis speculators have played with since Zecharia Sitchin invented it. EVD knows Creighton’s work from a 2014 Nexus magazine article, but the translator, ridiculously, has re-translated EVD’s German translation of Creighton’s English-language material back into English rather than quoting the actual original words.
Under the influence of 1960s ideas and medieval Arabic pyramid legends, EVD argues that a “pole shift” flooded Egypt during the Ice Age, washed away all of the people who built the pyramids, and left only the structures themselves, which the new Egyptians colonized. The pole shift idea he bases on Herodotus (Histories 2.142), where the Egyptians claimed that the sun had four times risen and set in the opposite direction. Funny how that massive pole-shift and flood left so many remains around the pyramids, like the workers’ village, the assorted temples, etc. EVD returns to his lifelong love affair with quoting Al-Maqrizi’s Al-Khitat, something he has done (correctly, or, sometimes, under wrong names) since Chariots of the Gods. He repeats a lengthy argument from Eyes of the Sphinx, History Is Wrong, and other books that al-Maqrizi claimed King Surid had built the pyramids before the Flood under orders from the “Guardians of the Sky” (EVD’s mistranslation of the Watchers, who don’t appear in al-Maqrizi) and that Surid was Enoch from the Bible. As I have pointed out so many times, he is misreading a number of summaries, and al-Maqrizi, following much earlier sources, identified Enoch with Hermes Trismegistus. Both Hermes and Surid are offered as builders of the pyramids in legends collected by al-Maqrizi, but he does not identify them with one another. Indeed, that would be ridiculous since al-Maqrizi’s direct source, Ibn Wasif Shah (a.k.a. al-Wasifi), placed Hermes many generations back in time before Surid. The whole story was originally told about the Temple of Akhmim, not the pyramid, anyway, as the fragments of Abu Ma’shar testify, so the point is largely moot. You don’t need to take my word for it. I’ve translated al-Maqrizi for you. You’ll see that the specific quotation EVD gives is purposely truncated to tell a lie, omitting wording that blatantly contradicts EVD’s assertions:
Granted, unless one had read hundreds of pages of al-Maqrizi, the average reader would never be able to find the passage, let alone recognize the deception.
Anyway, he lies a lot like that. Similarly, he falsely claims that the same story is told by al-Masudi in Meadows of Gold. It is not. He attributes to that book the parallel text to al-Maqrizi from the early medieval Akhbar al-zaman, which the nineteenth century work of Col. Vyse was wrongly ascribed to al-Masudi based on medieval scribal confusion between the surviving Akhbar and a lost text of al-Masudi with the same name. There is irony that EVD claims Vyse committed fraud in the pyramids but accepts an actual error in Vyse’s report on the pyramids as a fact. He also claims that there is no evidence whatsoever of any worker ever referencing building materials for the pyramids, though we possess papyrus documentation of exactly that. He claims the pyramid is full of all the mystical technologies al-Maqrizi described. “Obviously, a small group of people want to prevent others from obtaining this knowledge,” he said.
He includes a strange aside that shows the depth of his ignorance: “The fact remains: Christians do not believe in the ‘scriptures’ of Jews or Muslims, the Jews do not believe in those of Muslims or Christians, and Muslims do not believe those of other groups. At least two of the groups with billions or millions of people were misled.” I needn’t point out that the Christians incorporate the Hebrew Bible in their own, or that Islam presupposes an understanding of Jewish and Christian scriptures, which it claims to supersede, correct, and complete.
The next chapter is more recycled nonsense, this time dipping into the well of Immanuel Velokovsky and the longstanding hypothesis that the asteroid belt in our solar system is the remains of an exploded planet. You’ve heard it all before. The same myths and legends Ignatius Donnelly and Graham Hancock used to argue that an asteroid hit the ancient Earth are pressed into service here to claim the asteroid as the remnants of an exploded planet, destroyed in a Sitchin-style alien space war. He does manage to take the story in a weird direction, however, by going off on a long tangent about the only actual theme that matters to ancient astronaut theorists, the question of humanity’s relationship to the divine. He tries to argue against God, in the Judeo-Christian sense, in a bit of complex and tortured reasoning designed to overcome the problem of theodicy by ascribing all of the nasty parts of the Christian godhead to space aliens and reserving to a real deity the peace, love, and immortality he has long desired. As evidence, he accepts Helena Blavatsky’s hoax Book of Dzyan as a genuine ancient Sanskrit text, just as he has done for five decades. It is not even worth my words to discuss his use of nineteenth and twentieth century “translations” of Maya texts, from the period before Maya hieroglyphs had been deciphered.
After this comes a discussion of underground temples, caverns, and other monuments, mostly repeated from his earlier books, evidenced by fifty-year-old photos, with a few random ideas from Ancient Aliens added for flavoring. He imagines them to be fallout shelters and bunkers to protect against asteroids and alien invasions. Citations in this chapter include references to Wikipedia, with some pages of lists pasted in from Wikipedia.
The final chapter attempts to argue for extraterrestrial skeletons on Earth, beginning with a crude sculpture of a Grey alien so laughably bad that it could only fool an author like EVD. “Smart alecks will refer to the whole thing as fake, and others will try to ‘unmask’ it as a fraud,” he writes. But EVD’s credulity doesn’t extend as far as his pocketbook. He refused to pay the demanded $100,000 for the supposed remains. He also discusses Gaia-TV’s funding of “research” into hoax alien mummies later found to be composed of artificially altered human remains. He doesn’t talk about that part of the story and instead praises the “generosity” of Gaia in paying tens of thousands to access the remains and in providing research assistance to promote their TV shows in EVD’s works. He claims, preposterously, that not only were these hoax mummies space aliens but that they were the Dropa, the fake aliens that carved the hoax Dropa Stones in China, which he also believes are real ET artifacts. He alleges that the media are intentionally hiding these facts because of “powerful and greedy forces, who are opposed to uncovering true history and human evolution.”
In his old age, EVD is getting earthy and a little gross. He ends the book rather lustily: “The message of aliens is also in our genes and was passed down from generation to generation with the ineradicable pleasure of sexuality.” Anyway, the book is 80% recycled content and 20% other people’s hoaxes. The whole thing is made worse by a poor translation, which often obscures original sources and far too often uses German titles for English books and Classical and medieval texts, as though the translator had no idea what any of it was. Somehow, that’s just about the best encapsulation of an Erich von Däniken book you could ask for.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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