I’m continuing to make my way through the May-June 2014 issue of Scott Alan Roberts’s Intrepid magazine, and today the awfulness continues. I have some thoughts about most of the pieces in the magazine, though I skipped two articles on psychics and metaphysics to concentrate on claims about prehistory.
After Nick Redfern’s piece about Bigfoot-UFO connections that dealt with material from 1950-1980, I thought it might be fun to keep track of how many articles were rehashing midcentury material. I’ve noted the dates of each article’s referenced or inspirational idea at the end of each discussion. It was enlightening.
Sitchin Comic Book
Let’s begin with a quick note about Pat Broderick’s new comic book The Legend of the Anunnaki, which attempts to provide Zecharia Sitchin’s version of history in a geek-friendly form. Broderick told Roberts in an interview that he was drawn to such myths because of his ignorance of anthropology and history: “But explain to me how we emerged from caves, chipping flint, and then develop geo-engineering that enabled us to build dikes and dams. […] I concluded in my mind that God made us, God changed us…” According to Broderick, the Anunnaki (which Roberts spells wrong throughout) are trans-dimensional creatures created by God and worshiped by humans as gods. However, throughout the interview Broderick makes plain that he only knows Mesopotamian myth through Sitchin and his ilk, citing events and claims that appear nowhere in cuneiform literature. [Based on Sitchin, 1976]
Next up Nigel Pennick offers an “examination” of the swastika, writing that the ancient symbol should “by no means be defined solely” by its association with the Nazis. He lists several places where swastikas have been used in history, but offers little more until the final revelation, when Pennick tells us that in the 1960s he worked for Swastika magazine, which attempted to revive the symbol in its “original” fertility context. Since the article makes no argument, I have no idea what it’s doing in this magazine unless it’s meant to give readers comfort for enjoying swastikas alongside Roberts’ writings about racial purity. [Cited to beliefs from 1969.]
Why Easter Islanders Didn’t Build Moai
Following this, David Weatherly (author of The Black Eyed Children) takes us on a trip to visit the moai of Easter Island. Weatherly says he became interested in Easter Island in the 1970s due to fringe material, particularly the works of Erich von Däniken. He cites the 1968 book Chariots of the Gods as providing one explanation for the moai: that they were built by “outsiders” (space aliens), but he rejects this fiction in favor of another: Thor Heyerdahl’s wrong idea that South Americans sailed to the island and built the moai, an idea proposed in the 1950s. He offers nothing new beyond rehashing material from the 1950s through the 1970s; the most recent fact in the article was dated 1995. [Based on 1950s & 1960s books.]
The next article isn’t really in my wheelhouse since it’s a manifesto by Thomas Fusco calling on science to develop a new paradigm for investigating the paranormal, but its slipshod reasoning and sloppy allusions to relativity and quantum physics are straight out of the midcentury counterculture and New Age playbook. At its heart, it’s even older than that. It’s the same argument the Spiritualists made in critiquing empirical science in the 1800s, and Fusco isn’t quite aware that all his scientific-sounding calls for “measurement” of the intangible can’t hide the fact that the phenomena he wants a new paradigm to cover exist based only on feelings and stories. Essentially, like the Romantics, he wants emotion and belief to replace testing and measurement, though he would argue against that reading of his views. [Based on 1960s and 1970s New Age ideas.]
Things get back on track as Ted Peters ruminates about whether UFOs are really the chariots of the gods. I don’t need to tell you that this is another midcentury rehash. Ted Peters wrote the book UFOs: God’s Chariots? in 1977, and he is now preparing an updated version for publication (one published by New Page Books, just like works by Andrew Collins and Scott Roberts also promoted in this magazine). He even says explicitly that the arguments and debate over UFOs and ancient aliens are “right where they were a half century ago.” He is upset that the media interview “one unbeliever for each believer.” As if that were the case! Has he watched cable TV in the last half century? Skeptics are few and far between.
Here’s where it gets weird. Peters notes that the various facets of the UFO phenomenon—craft, abductions, supernatural powers, prophecies—don’t add up. But he doesn’t see that as a problem but rather as a key to a deeper mystery.
When we add up these elements and find an incongruous combination of physical nuts-and-bolts aircraft merged with paranormal experiences such as telepathy and walking through walls, this suggests we have a mysterious phenomenon extraordinaire.
Last year, I published an essay rebutting just this position; in a nutshell, I argued that the parts don’t work together because UFO investigators are imposing a narrative on disparate phenomena that have historically been separate. This is not among Peters’s ideas; instead, he wants to view the entire UFO phenomenon through a religious lens. Now this is not all bad; in fact, I wholeheartedly agree with his central thesis:
In my maturing judgment, I believe the central thesis of the first edition of UFOs—God’s Chariots? remains sound, namely, the UFO phenomenon exposes a widespread cultural tendency to translate traditional religious or spiritual sensibilities into scientific or materialist language and categories. In short, today’s flying saucers replace yesterday’s angels.
I disagree with him, however, in holding that there is an actual extraterrestrial or supernatural presence communicating with abductees. That simply has not been proved and cannot be assumed. Peters wants to remove that question beyond the purview of science into the realm of “religious sensibility,” but that is to dodge the question through appeal to immaterial forces and the God of the gaps. If you admit there isn’t anything there, why must we invent castles in the air for the nonexistent creatures to occupy?
Peters discusses how he has “updated” his thinking since 1977 by discussing 1980s UFO abductions and then ancient astronauts—as they were presented in the 1970s! “What we have at work here in ancient astronaut theory is a theology without the divine, a secular theology that accounts for both creation and providence.” Clearly he hasn’t been watching Ancient Aliens. On that show everything is about the divine, in which the aliens have become literally indistinguishable from the pagan gods they were proposed to replace. Peters concludes with a warning that ancient astronauts can seduce us away from the true worship of God (Peters is a pastor), but frankly the biggest failing of his article (adapted from his new book) is that it fails to go far enough in terms of (a) dealing with current material and (b) following through on Peters’s ancient insight that UFOs are a manifestation of the occult and therefore of religious and mythical thinking. To go farther, though, would call into question Peters’s preferred myths. [Based on a 1977 book, with material from the 1980s added.]
Authorship of the Bible
Ahmed Osman wants to discover who really wrote the Book of Exodus, and he’s off to a smash-bang start by asserting that “people” looked to the Church of Rome to answer the question until the Enlightenment changed everything. Apparently the Jews don’t exist in this version, let alone have their own ideas about the Hebrew Bible. At any rate, Osman offers a slapdash history of European biblical criticism, focusing on the Documentary Hypothesis. And… then the piece just stops, ending in 1865. It turns out that this is yet another promotional puff piece, a (very) brief excerpt from Osman’s new book, published by Bear & Company. [Based on nineteenth century scholarship.]
The Fault in Our Stars
James Swagger rounds out the issue by asking whether the Neolithic burial mound of Newgrange in Ireland was designed to calculate the precession of the equinoxes (axial precession)—the slow apparent cycling of the stars in the night sky due to a wobble in the earth’s axis. He discusses the well-known winter solstice alignment in which light hits the back of the tomb’s chamber on the winter solstice. He then says that he knows of more and secret alignments which show that—and here I again became confused—Newgrange was a “Precessional calculator albeit crude” because of what he called the “extreme accuracy” of the site’s construction as an “astronomical device.” So which is it? Crude or accurate? For him it is both, for he believes that the ancients were hyper-accurate in targeting Newgrange not just to the solstice sun but also to position of Sirius on the winter solstice, but uncertain about precession. Sirius rose at the same place as the sun on the solstice when the site was constructed. He takes the coincidence of Sirius’s position as an indication that the ancients knew that Sirius would move and therefore could use its gradual drift away from the rising sun to mark axial precession. For this to work, the ancients would have had to keep Newgrange open for hundreds of years, marking Sirius’ position each year, since it would move only one seventy-second of a degree each year.
It’s possible, though most researchers don’t think so, but to what end? Swagger does not immediately connect this to a lost civilization, space aliens, or Atlantean super-science. Oh, wait: Of course he has to make a stupid connection. He asks whether the people of Newgrange learned that Sirius was a triple star from the Dogon, whom Robert Temple accused of being itinerant Argonauts carrying secret knowledge gleaned from the space alien Oannes. Says Swagger:
The passage grave builders were in close proximity to the Dogon’s migration as they themselves had traversed the coastline of South Western Europe. They both possessed such similar knowledge from the same epoch; perhaps there was a trade of information?
I’ve discussed before the fact the Temple was wildly, painfully wrong about everything. The Argonauts never existed; Oannes wasn’t a space alien; the Dogon were not Greeks; and they have no special knowledge of Sirius. Swagger has swallowed all of Temple’s fictions without even a cursory exploration of Temple’s critics—or his sources.
I could have saved myself a lot of trouble had Roberts shared the title of the book Swagger was promoting at the beginning of the article rather than the end: The Newgrange Sirius Mystery: Linking Passage Grave Cosmology with Dogon Symbology. Given that the “Dogon symbology” exists only in Robert Temple’s imagination—distorted beyond recognition from incorrect French anthropologists’ accounts—there is no doubt where Swagger got his inspiration, just like Robert Bauval, who similarly started searching for star alignments in Egypt based on Temple’s Sirius Mystery, as he himself admitted in the similarly-titled The Orion Mystery. Three guesses where Andrew Collins got the idea for naming his book on secret stellar cults The Cygnus Mystery, or Philip Coppens the title for The Canopus Mystery. [Inspired by Temple, 1976, but bonus points for a 2014 original idea]
Old, old, old, old, old… With the exception of Collins (reviewed yesterday), the “latest” in fringe research seems to be publicity material promoting books that rehash mid-century books from the first ancient astronaut/ancient mystery craze, with a few speculative attempts to expand the 1960s and 1970s mythos to give each author (such as Collins with Cygnus or Swagger with Newgrange) a proprietary claim to add that he, too, might be forever recycled in the next iteration of the same tired ideas.
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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