Several years ago, I wrote about the Soviet search for ancient astronauts, and how the Communist government endorsed the ancient astronaut theory as part of a propaganda campaign aimed at undermining Western science. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Soviet science and Soviet media published a baffling range of ancient astronaut claims, which spilled over into Europe and helped to give the aura of officialdom to ancient astronaut claims, which in turn filtered into America in the 1970s. I learned from a Russian correspondent, Grigory Nekhoroshev, that there is some additional evidence that should be added to what I had uncovered before, and it is fascinating.
Unfortunately, I do not speak Russian, so you will forgive me if my understanding of some of the material is a little less secure than usual. I have to rely on mechanical translations and discussions with friends who speak Russian.
According to an article Nekhoroshev recently wrote for the Russian publication Top Secret, in 1966 the Soviet magazine Science and Religion published an article entitled “What God Did Hitler Worship?” (Disclosure: The article cites my book, The Cult of Alien Gods.) The article was based on The Morning of the Magicians by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, and it summarized their infamous chapter at the end of the book in which they attempt to suggest that Hitler was an occultist in contact with demonic extraterrestrials and beholden to strange cults. The magazine reprinted additional excerpts from the book, but in doing so it ran afoul of Soviet authorities.
The Communist Party’s Central Committee came down hard because the book violated the party’s official doctrine. The magazine’s editor, Vladimir Mezentsev, was fired. Publication of excerpts from the book stopped immediately, and Morning of the Magicians was banned in its entirety. Issues of the magazine with excerpts from the book were suppressed, and only a handful of people kept their old copies, sharing them in secret. Copies of Morning of the Magicians were reproduced on typewriters, and “the book became a kind of cult among the hippies, mystics, nationalists, and other seekers of ‘secret sacred truths,’” as Nekhoroshev put it. The clandestine copies circulated among Russian science fiction writers, influencing their work. Only in 1989 was Morning of the Magicians legally published in Soviet Russia again.
It seems clear that there were a number of reasons that the Soviets were upset about Morning of the Magicians. Jacques Bergier, born Yakov Berger, was a Jew from Odessa whose family fled the Russian Civil War, so he was ideologically suspect to the Communists, despite writing at times for a paper funded by the French Communist party. His book attributed magical and mystical powers to the Nazis, which ran afoul of official Soviet views of Nazism. He also advocated for surrealism and the fantastic, at odds with the Soviet demand for socialist realism. Indeed, the Soviet editor of Science and Religion removed the words “fantastic realism” from the published excerpts in the hope of avoiding the government’s censorious eye.
But there is a clear irony in the suppression of Morning of the Magicians in the Soviet Union. Bergier and Pauwels had swallowed the Soviet ancient astronaut propaganda, though a few years later he would complain that Soviet propaganda about aliens was too anti-religious. Their book makes reference to Soviet research into the subject, notably Matest M. Agrest’s claims about aliens being behind Bible mysteries. They use the Soviet government’s support for this research as a way of casting their own claims as something more than the random speculation of science fiction enthusiasts. One unanswered question is the degree to which the Soviets purposely tried to cultivate ancient astronaut speculation and ufology in the West vs. an opportunistic exploitation of it. There is a suggestion in the data that they pulled these areas away from Theosophy-inspired mysticism, but it would be fascinating if documentation survived explaining their choices.
This is the same time period when more socialist realist forms of ancient astronaut theories—those that directly challenged the idea of mystical or supernatural powers—were officially in favor. That same year, 1966, the Soviet government allowed and facilitated scientist I. S. Shklovskii’s partnership with Carl Sagan on Intelligent Life in the Universe, which speculated about ancient astronauts for a mainstream audience. Over the next couple of years, official Soviet magazines like Sputnik and Soviet Life disseminated all manner of ancient astronaut propaganda to their Western readership. As long as an ancient astronaut claim undermined religion and the occult by attributing miracles and magic to aliens, it was good. If it supported the occult by suggesting that aliens possessed supernatural powers or that Western occult traditions had secret access to ancient truths, it was bad.
Contrast the treatment of Bergier in 1966 with that of Erich von Däniken, a lapsed Catholic challenging the Church, a few years later. He used Morning of the Magicians as a source (originally uncredited) and relied even more heavily on Soviet propaganda than Bergier and Pauwels had done. He also, in his first book, offered no support for occultism and actively undermined the claims of the Bible. (A decade after he would try to restore faith in Jesus, but this came later.) Consequently, the movie version of Chariots of the Gods, memorably broadcast on American television as In Search of Ancient Astronauts, played in Moscow theaters to what Nekhoroshev said were sold-out crowds: “I remember as a little boy in 1973, I spent several hours standing in line for tickets to this movie at a Moscow theater and watched as people emerged silently from the cinema, deeply affected by what they had seen, namely, that their ancestors were descended from aliens from distant planets.”
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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