Earlier today, ancient astronaut theorist and Ancient Aliens talking head Giorgio Tsoukalos answered a question from a Twitter correspondent about when earth would join a galactic federation resembling the “Star Wars Era,” referencing the movies, not the Reagan-era defense program.
I suppose this is the difference between the ancient astronaut theory and Scientology: Scientologists believe the federation already came and went.
Tsoukalos’ remarks may appear to be so much science-fiction-inspired hot air, but they point to an interesting set of connections at the intersection of pseudoscience and speculative fiction.
Notice that the alien societies beyond earth are described as “Star Wars-esque,” using the George Lucas films as a touchstone for understanding how a multi-system federation would operate (despite the physical impossibility of such a construct—just try running a galactic empire when it takes light years for taxes to reach the capital and imperial decrees to reach the colonies).
It is patently obvious that in imagining the aliens’ civilization, ancient astronaut theorists are explicitly drawing on twentieth century science fiction, further blurring the line between their supposedly scientific theory and the science fiction it grew out of. Tsoukalos is also explicitly adopting the Star Wars/Star Trek idea of, essentially, human civilization projected into the stars. By contrast, H. P. Lovecraft imagined alien civilizations that humans could barely understand. But this is far less emotionally comforting.
When George Lucas created the Star Wars universe, he drew explicitly on ancient myth, the so-called hero’s journey as outlined in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), which itself drew upon the psychoanalytical mysticism of Carl Jung. Jung was deeply interested in the occult (and even wrote a book on UFOs), seeing in the occult manifestations of the unconscious—the same unconscious that Jung’s estranged friend Sigmund Freud had viewed as erupting in science fiction and horror literature in his classic essay on “The Uncanny” (1919). Later science fiction and horror would, in turn, drawn explicitly on Freud, Jung, and Campbell in creating psychologically potent alternative worlds.
The upshot is that speculative fiction and the nonfiction understanding of myth suffered extensive cross-pollination, each informing the other, becoming, in essence, the ouroboros, the serpent that swallows its own tail.
This symbol, of course, was used in the seal of Theosophy, whose own attempts to transform pseudoscience and early science fiction, including the vril of Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race, into mystic fact eventually informed H. P. Lovecraft, whose Cthulhu Mythos accidentally touched off the ancient astronaut theory by preserving nineteenth century extraterrestrial mysticism in an especially potent and widely accessible form.
So, it’s no surprise that ancient astronaut theorists reach for science fiction metaphors to explain their vision of the heavens. That’s all it ever was, science fiction, “always and always, back to no first beginning.”
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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