Gareth Medway looks at the writers who developed the Ancient Astronaut concept, and why that belief system proved so popular. (From Magonia 57, September 1996)
R.L.Dione’s God Drives a Flying Saucer (Corgi, 1973; 1st ed. 1969) sneers at traditional metaphysics: “… no system of logic yet devised can resolve the inconsistencies and paradoxes inherent in the belief that man is inhabited by a mystical, supernatural and immortal something called a soul.”
Turning to the Bible, what is to be made of the miracles recorded there? Dione can find no reason to doubt the Bible’s accuracy: “…if it were not for the references to miracles, the Bible would stand unchallenged as a monumental achievement in historical reporting.”
The possibility of supernatural powers he finds absurd, therefore the only explanation is that flying saucer technology was at work. After that, everything becomes simple: Adam and Eve were created by genetic engineers working under the direction of God, who is the “leader of the master technologists”; angels were spacemen; Ezekiel’s vision was of flying saucers; as to the Immaculate Conception, it is “reasonably certain” that Gabriel was a “biological specialist” who artificially inseminated Mary with a hypodermic needle; and “it may well be that the sperm used was God’s making Jesus the Son of God just as the Bible teaches.”
Yet in the end Dione’s super-technological God is hardly different from the supernatural one of the Catholics. We don’t have souls, but technology can make our minds, which are electromagnetic in nature, immortal: “God will choose which of us will survive as angels in heaven … by analysing the references of our guardian angels and by studying the monitoring tapes which are at this moment recording our lives.”
Dione’s original background was evidently in the Roman church, since he gave a whole chapter to Fatima, and quoted the Bible in a revised version of the Douay translation. David F. McConnell, in his Flying Saucers of the Lord (Economy Printing Company, Miami, Horida, 1969) used the King James translation (and so was presumably brought up a Protestant), but his interpretations were very similar to Diane’s:
“Exodus 13:21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way,- and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light, to go by day and night. This was a case of a flying saucer or saucers of the Lord leading the children of Israel through the wilderness of the Red Sea…. Psalm 97:3 A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about. The flying saucers of the Lord with the angels go before the Lord and burn up his enemies.”
A Question of Faith
Up until about 1950 religion seemed to be everywhere in decline, whilst science and materialism increased, apparently in the direction of universal atheism. One of the standard objections to religion was that the Bible is full of miracles, which the progress of science had indicated to be impossible. The Book of Joshua records that God, at the request of Joshua, stopped the sun in its movement for the space of a whole day. In ancient times this did not seem odd; after Newton, it was difficult to believe.
1950 saw the publication of Immanuel Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision. Though its author may not have consciously realised it, the intent of this book seems to have been a reconciliation of science and religion.
Velikovsky being Jewish, for him religion meant the Old Testament. He suggested that many of the Biblical wonders could be explained in wholly scientific terms as being catastrophes brought about by the wanderings of the planets Venus and Mars. He considered that Venus only came into existence a few thousand years ago, when it was blown out of Jupiter. About 1500 BC it came close to Earth, causing various dramatic gravitational effects such as the parting of the Red Sea, and the halting of the motion of the sun mentioned above. Eventually it reached its present orbit, which was then occupied by Mars. Venus settled in Mars’ orbit, and Mars was driven away from the sun, passing Earth during the middle of the period covered by the Biblical Book of Kings, causing various further apparent miracles.
Dr Velikovsky was a friend of both Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein, and evidently expected that his name would one day stand alongside theirs. He was disappointed: though Worlds in Collision was first issued by the respected academic publishers Macmillan of New York, not only did scientific writers denounce it, but universities threatened to boycott Macmillan’s entire book list so long as Velikovsky’s work remained on it. So they transferred the rights to Doubleday, who did not have a textbook business, and despite all the criticism it sold well for decades. Though there were perfectly legitimate objections to Velikovsky’s theories on astronomical grounds, this excessive reaction leads one to suspect that his opponents were unconsciously aware of the book’s hidden religious agenda, and that was what they objected to.
The idea of Ancient Astronauts was toyed with as far back as 1919 by Charles Fort in The Book of the Damned.
* * *
In a sense, Velikovsky was firmly within the Rabbinical tradition, which is that anything and everything can be found in the Torah (Law of God). In the 12th century, when Aristotelian philosophy became popular amongst the Jews, Rabbis claimed to find it all in their scriptures. Aristotle taught that there are three parts to the soul: the animal soul, the rational soul, and the divine soul. Now, the Biblical Hebrew word for ‘soul’ is nephesh, but once or twice ruach and neshamah, both of which mean ‘wind’ or ‘breath’ and are used in the sense ‘breath of life. (Genesis 2:7: “And the Lord God formed Adam of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the neshamah of life; and Adam became a living nephesh.) So it was explained that nephesh was the animal soul, ruach the rational soul, and neshamah the divine soul. Having by such means discovered the whole of Aristotle’s system within their sacred books, they declared that Aristotle must have travelled to Jerusalem and learnt from the Jews.
The idea of Ancient Astronauts was toyed with as far back as 1919 by Charles Fort in The Book of the Damned. It also become a regular theme in science fiction. Notably, in November 1947, Fantastic Stories had a short story ‘Son of the Sun’, in the form of a message from an extra-terrestrial, who tells the human race that the craft now being seen in the skies (this was a few months after the start of the first flying saucer wave) have visited the Earth long ago: their occupants were formerly confused with gods. They left behind “certain landmarks” in Egypt and elsewhere. The author of this piece, ‘Alexander Blade’, was none other than Brinsley le Poer Trench, subsequent author of a series of books on the theme, from The Sky People (Neville Spearman, 1960) onwards.
The first substantial treatment was by Desmond Leslie in Flying Saucers Have Landed, which appeared three years after Worlds in Collision. After some account of modern UFOs, Leslie suddenly jumped back thousands of years to Atlantis, In those days people flew around in machines called vimanas, of which it was written: “… their outside surface was apparently seamless and perfectly smooth, and they shone in the dark as if coated with luminous paint.” (FSHL, p.81, quoting W. Scott Elliott, The Story of Atlantis)
These were not the earliest flying saucers: in fact, human life was first brought to Earth from Venus by the Lords of the Flame, on whom Leslie, quoted from the Stanzas of Dzyan:
The Lords of the Flame arose and prepared themselves … the Great Lord of the Fourth Sphere (the Earth) awaited their oncoming. The lower (Earth) was prepared. The upper (Venus) was resigned …” Their arrival was described thus: “Then with the mighty roar of swift descent from incalculable heights, surrounded by blazing masses of fire which filled the sky with shooting tongues of flame, the vessel of the Lords of the flame flashed through the aerial spaces. It halted over the White Island which lay in the Gobi Sea, Green it was, and radiant with the first blossoms as Earth offered her fairest and best to welcome her King.” (FSHL, p.166, quoting Besant and Leadbeater, Man: How, Whence and Whither) Leslie commented: “In this fragment we have the first account of the landing of a great space ship or flying saucer … Incredible as it seems, there can be no other meaning to this passage,”
He dated this landing to the year 18,617,841 BC…
In view of the sensational conclusions, one might ask, just how reliable are the sources? This question did not seem to occur to Leslie, His main authorities are given as the Stanzas of Dzyan, along with the writings of Annie Besant, Charles Leadbeater, W. Scott Elliott and Alice Bailey. The Stanzas of Dzyan were first published in Madame Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine, introduced with the description: “An archaic Manuscript – a collection of palm leaves made impermeable to water, fire and air, by some specific and unknown process – is before the writer’s eye.” Unfortunately, this book does not seem to have lain before the eye of anyone else, and Madame Blavatsky herself probably only saw it with clairvoyant vision. It can therefore be reasonably objected that it is a matter of faith, rather than historical record, to accept its account of the Lords of the Flame. Furthermore, the information given by Besant, Leadbeater, Scott Elliott and Bailey was also obtained by psychic investigation, (The date 18,617,841 was “according to the Brahmin Tables”.)
“As soon as we abandon our own reason, and are content to rely upon authority, there is no end to our troubles. Whose authority? The Old Testament? The New Testament? The Koran? In practice, people choose the book considered sacred by the community in which they are born, and out of that book they choose the parts they like, ignoring the others .,. No Catholic, for instance, takes seriously the text which says that a Bishop should be the husband of one wife.” (Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays, 1950, p. 108)
Now, Leslie’s main authorities were Theosophical writers, and though the Theosophical Society might deny it, Theosophy is in effect a religion, with the writings of Blavatsky, Besant and Co. as its scriptures. Desmond Leslie was evidently a Theosophist, and he was merely updating his Victorian religion to encompass the new phenomenon of flying saucers.
To be fair, he was also able to cite some unquestionably ancient books, notably the Mahabharata, which mentions flying ships and lethal armaments such as the “Brahma Weapon” described in terms comparable to a nuclear bomb. Yet the Mahabharata is itself a sacred book to the Hindus. Some years ago I met an Indian Guru who was on his way to California. He said his original home was a cave in the Himalayas, which was equipped with its own television set. He explained that they had to get one in order to see the dramatisation of the Mahabharata, as it was a religious duty to watch it.
For most westerners, of course, religion means Christianity and scripture the Bible. The 1956 appearance of Morris K. Jessup’s UFO and the Bible (Citadel Press, New York) was overdue: he began by saying: “Scarcely a week goes by without some alert reader sending me suggestions that I should expound on the Biblical references to UFO and related phenomena of a so-called miraculous type.”
Jessup started from the position: “I believe that it is time for Church and Science to bury their respective tomahawks and let the pipe of intellectual peace glow as both parties mellow around the camp fire of tolerant and objective inquiry.” As an example of the reconciliation of these two sides, take Kings 2:11: “And it come to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” Jessup quoted a “skilled and thoughtful student of the Bible” a Mr H. Lawrence Crowell, as saying that “the Aramaic words ruach cearah should be translated ‘power blast’ instead of ‘whirlwind’.” He could thus offer a new version:
As they walked and talked there suddenly appeared a bright UFO, emitting electric sparks and blasts, and it parted them: Elijah was snatched up into the sky with a blast of power.”Having once hit on this principle of interpretation, other miracles are easily explained. Considering such passages as: “… and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17): “And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind” (Psalm 18:10), Jessup commented: “No longer can we afford to laugh off these references as merely ‘quaint’ and allegoric, for they begin to sound more and more like accurate descriptions of the UFO.”
Pertinent here is the furore, created by Honest to God (SCM Press, 1963), written by the Bishop of Woolwich, John A.T. Robinson, which proposed a mild revolution in theology. He began by asking if it made sense to speak of God “up there” in a Copernican universe. Though his argument was not set out clearly, he went on to propose displacing “supranaturalism” with “naturalistic” religion. This meant getting rid of miracles and such-like, which in the scientific age had become regarded as a bar to faith, though he was unsure with what they should be replaced.
The original print-run of Honest to God was for 6,000 copies, but before the end of the year more than 350,000 had been sold, showing that the questions it raised already bothered many people, Inevitably there was controversy and calls for the Bishop’s resignation, but it is significant that the critics did not agree among themselves. One man wrote to him “I have, and many thousands have, an image of God in the heavens. The parsons have always spoken of a God up there, but now the parsons ore contradicting everything they have said … These new beliefs will smash Christians in believing there is a God and it could be the Church in general will break up. The words of the creed will mean nothing. It is suddenly like telling a youngster who believes whole-heartedly in Father Xmas, ‘there isn’t a Father Xmas, it’s your Dad,’ The whole world would collapse beneath them.” (This quotation, and other comments from The Honest to God Debate, SCM,1963) C.S. Lewis, by contrast, thought that the Bishop was making a noise about nothing: “We have long abandoned belief in a God who sits on a throne in a localised heaven.”
Voices of praise were far more common: a vicar’s wife told the Bishop he had “made the Church seem alive again, when for years it has seemed so unbearably dead!” Letters expressing agreement came from priests, theologians, doctors, headmasters and businessmen, “A well-known politician” wrote: “Reading it, and hearing you speak it, has done more to make the basic validity of the Christian message seem relevant to me than all the sermons and services I have ever heard or attended.”
Until the debate on the ordination of women, this affair was the biggest religious controversy the Church of England had seen this century. It suggests that, generally speaking, the British felt unable to believe in a comforting God the Father ‘up there’, just as they could not believe in Father Christmas. Yet they did not simply turn to atheism (as most materialists expected they would) but felt the need for some new kind of religion or belief, something to replace the old supernatural God.Bishop Robinson remarked that he had never experienced “being born again” (Honest to God, p. 27). Since then, the most notable development within the Church has been the rise of “born-again” Christianity. A former “born-again” tells me that it is perfectly fair to say that born-again Christians are taught not to think. Instead they are meant to rely on the authority of the Bible, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For this growing section of the Church, there can be no conflict between science and religion, since they do not think about the question.
But for the rest of the ‘Body of Christ’ the problem has remained, and the conventional, non-born-again churches have continued to decline. And, so, the Space Gods have been able to manifest to help fill the vacuum left by the departure of God the Father from his throne in heaven
Return of the Gods.
A few years later appeared the most successful of the Ancient Astronaut books, Erich Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods? 1969 (1st ed. as Erinnerungen an die Zukunst, Econ-Verlog, 1968. The original title meant ‘Memories of the Future’). The first thing that would strike anyone familiar with the literature is this book’s lack of originality. Despite his continual references to ‘my theories’ (etc.), almost everything in his book had already been noticed by Desmond Leslie, Robert Charroux, Pauwels and Bergier, W. Raymond Drake and others. Indeed, van Daniken’s quotations from the Ramayana and Mahabharata are simply lifted from Flying Saucers Have Landed (he translated the 19th century English renditions into German, whence Michael Heron turned them back into English, so that the versions in Chariots of the Gods? have been translated thrice). Likewise, when van Daniken wrote: “Seen from the air, the clear-cut impression that the 37-mile-long Plain of Nazca made on me was that of an airfield!” (Chariots, p. 32), he was most likely influenced in this impression by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier’s The Morning of the Magicians (Mayflower, 1971, p.117; 1st ed. Paris, Editions Gallimard, 1960): “Photographs taken of the plain of Nazca remind one irresistibly of the ground-lighting of an airfield.” It would be tedious to analyse the whole book in this way, but nearly all of it had been said before.
So why did this book greatly outsell its predecessors? Part of the reason is no doubt that van Daniken wrote in a fluent and popular style (more than one can say of the average UFO author), he appeared (if only superficially) to be scientific, and he had actually bothered to visit many of the sites he wrote about.
Unlike Desmond Leslie and many of the others, his treatment was simple and unmystical. Readers of Brinsley le Poet Trench’s The Sky People, for instance, might have been able to take in the Garden of Eden (a Galactic cross-breed experiment carried out on Mars), Atlantis, Osiris and Isis, Abraham, Red Indian folklore, Sodom (destroyed by nuclear weapons), tektites, Jericho, the 1908 Siberian explosion, and the star of Bethlehem, but maybe it all got too confusing
when he added Madame Blavatsky, Kundalini, Gnosticism, etheric nature, mediumship, the significance of the cross, telepathic powers, and the “‘journey back to godhood’.
Perhaps the main cause was simply that he published at the right time and place to influence those who, like the disaffected readers of Honest to God, wanted a non-supernatural God ‘up there’. For instance, Darwin had made Christians uncomfortable about Genesis, and Bishop Robinson hardly bothered to defend it:
A hundred years ago the Church was forced to clarify whether it accepted the Adam story as history or as myth. Until then there had been many theologians (St Paul probably among them) who, if pressed, would not have thought the truth of the story depended upon Adam being an actual historical individual. But the point is that they were not pressed. There was no compelling need to distinguish between the categories of history and myth. But with the Darwinian controversy on evolution it became a vital necessity. It was imperative for Christian apologetic to be clear that Genesis was not a rival account of primitive anthropology. If the distinction had not been made it would have been virtually impossible to continue commending the Biblical faith to modern scientific man.
The Bishop himself settled for myth, regarding Adam and Eve as metaphors for Everyman and Everywoman, who are always subject to temptation (the Serpent). “Go back as far as you will, human nature has always been like that. That’s why in the myth they are put at the beginning.” (John A.T. Robinson, But that I can’t believe!, Fontana, 1967)
How much happier are those who can take a myth to be absolute truth! The born-agains, as always, adhere to the Bible on this question. Many of them suppose that the world was created in 4000 BC, hence that radioactive dating is all wrong, dinosaurs and Neanderthal man never existed, and Darwin is condemned to hell. Some even suggest that God created fossils, as they were found, with intent to deceive (“God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie”, 2 Thes.2:11) in order to test Christians’ faith in the scriptures.
Return to the Stars offered, again, a reconciliation of scripture and science: it took the Garden of Eden as an accurate record, not of the doings of a supernatural Lord God, but of genetic manipulation by which unknown cosmonauts created homo sapiens from ape-men. Even outlandish verses could thereby be believed in: And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof, and the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. Von Dianiken: “Eve must have been produced in a retort. Now a number of cave drawings showing objects like retorts in the vicinity of primitive man have been preserved. Could foreign intelligences with a highly developed science and knowing about the immune biological reactions of bones have used Adam’s marrow as a cell culture and brought the sperm to development in it?”
It say so in the Bible
Miracles aside, the accuracy of the Bible has been a matter of dispute since the 18th century: until then, it had apparently never occurred to anyone to doubt it. Thomas Paine, author of The Age of Reason, objected to the Bible on the grounds that it often depicts God as a mad tyrant. He backed this up with critical arguments against the Bible’s supposed textual perfection: The Book of Kings (“little more than a history of assassinations, treachery, and wars”) actually contradicts itself: as to the Kings of Judah and Israel who were both called Joram, “one chapter (2 Kings 1:8) says that Joram of Judah began to reign in the second year of Joram of Israel; and the other chapter (8:16) says, that Joram of Israel began to reign in the fifth year of Jorom of Judah”. Such mistakes are enough to disprove the old contention that it is all the word of God, dictated by the Holy Spirit to scribes incapable even of ordinary clerical error. The born-again Christian response is that it is not possible to understand the Bible properly unless you are born again in Jesus; anyone who raises objections like the above is still under the influence of Satan.
UFO writers are divided on the issue. Some, like Dione, regard it as wholly accurat, and merely in need of scientific interpretation. By contrast W. Raymond Drake’s Gods and Spacemen in the Ancient East (Neville Spearman, 1968, Sphere, 1993), though happy with The Secret Doctrine, Sanskrit romances, Oahspe (produced through automatic typewriting by a New York dentist), the Egyptian and Tibetan Books of the Dead, and the revelations of Aetherius through Dr George King, was dubious about the historical value of the Bible: “Egyptologists, Assyriologists, archaeologists of renown, men of science, who should know the facts, find no evidence whatever of the Exodus … no Egyptian text refers to the miraculous deliverance mentioned in the Bible … the Book of Exodus is not a factual, critical record of events, history as we write it today … With all due respect to the learned Moses, this hotch-potch of religious narrative in such turgid style does his great mind ill-justice; it is doubtful whether its literary merit would attract any publisher today.” (Mayflower ed., pp 157-8)
This attitude is understandable: anyone attempting a revolution in thought will tend to challenge the accepted standards they were brought up with, and if that included ‘The Bible is true’, the independent thinker grows up to question that. Ancient Eastern literature and modem inspirational works were not mentioned in childhood, so there is not the same motive to doubt them.
Howsowever, the texts he relied on were mostly religious works of one kind or another. The same is true of Robert Charroux, the cover of the original French edition of whose Le livres des Secrets Trahis (Robert Laffont, 1965) promises it is “from documents older than the Bible”. These are primarily The Book of Enoch and the Popol Vuh, Enoch treats of the “fallen angels”, who descended to earth, married human females, and taught various arts and sciences: this indicates “a colonisation of our world by cosmonauts” (p. 127); conventional scholarship, though, assigns the book to the intertestamental period. The Popol Vuh relates that a woman named Orejona descended to earth from Venus, and gave birth to the human race by mating with a tapir. Charroux apparently accepted this because it was in a book he supposed “older than the Bible”.
On the subject of the Virgin Birth, Bishop Robinson summarised the modern sceptics’ position thus: “But you can’t really believe that lot, can you? Stars hopping over cribs, angelic choirs lighting up the skies, God coming to earth as a man – like a visitor from outer space? You couldn’t really believe it today.” (But that I
can’t believe! p.27)
The Bishop’s response was vague, suggesting that the star and the angels and the Virgin mother were “poetry”, a way of saying “God is in all this”. Yet he unwittingly suggested the new solution of ‘a visitor from outer space’, that would be so enthusiastically adopted by some. “The only celestial object to appear suddenly close enough to the Earth to be visible within only a small radius, which moves guiding followers, then stands still, is an intelligently controlled Spaceship.” (W. Raymond Drake, Gods and Spacemen throughout History, Sphere, 1977, p. 184) “The arrival of the infant Christ on earth from a spaceship is less fantastic, more credible, logical and acceptable, than the ethereal dogma taught by the Christian Church.” (Robin Collyns, Did Spacemen Colonise the Earth?, Mayflower, 1975, p, 163) By 1976 W. Raymond Drake could declare: “Today the only persons prepared to accept those New Testament wonders as literally true appear to be our believers in Flying Saucers,” (Gods and Spacemen in Ancient Israel, Sphere, p. 11)
The question of the resurrection is a tricky one even for UFO writers, but it did not daunt Paul Thomas (Flying Saucers Through the Ages, Neville Spearman,1965; French ed., 1962, Thomas was actually Paul Misraki, a well-known French popular musician) who was a Catholic (like Dione he gave a chapter to Fatima), as was his English translator Gavin Gibbons. However, his interpretation of Jesus’ return from the dead would not have commended itself to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He suggested that Jesus Christ was a ‘biological mutation’ produced by alien genetic experimentation. In fact, the Astronaut Angels’ interest in the Children of Israel, from the time of Abraham, was as a gene pool from which to breed the first specimen of the next phase of evolution: humans who could die and then naturally come back to life, as was demonstrated after the crucifixion.
If this was true, one would expect that Jesus would have been encouraged to have as many offspring as possible: but, as Thomas/Misraki admits, he left the world childless (The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail to the contrary); so it seems that for some reason the aliens decided on a delay before making the benefits of immortality generally available.
The life to come
The other key feature of a religion is its teaching on the future, in which, nearly always, present wrongs are to be set right in some way. Either there is a life after death in which rewards and punishments will be given out, or future lives assigned on the basis of past behaviour, or else there is to be a Second Coming, in which the Divine Kingdom will be brought to Earth, and (after the wicked have been thrown into the fiery pit which burns forever) universal peace and happiness will reign for eternity. One of the best-known prophecies to this latter effect is Mark 13:26-27: “And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.”
Morris K, Jessup produced his own version:
”Shall we paraphrase it a bit? (such as combining verses 26 and 27)
“The great shining and powerful mothership will appear among the clouds and the Master will dispatch his assistants in smaller craft, and will gather from all parts of the earth those who have survived the brunt of the cataclysm and have reached temporary places of safety, and particularly those whom the Shepherd Race deem suitable for the propagation and resurgence of humanity in a new racial generation, and these will be taken to live for a while in the celestial regions where are the homes of the UFO in space.
There isn t much more to say, is there?”
Some people would conclude from all this that there is no reason to believe in Gods or Astronauts. Actually all it proves is that people a have a very strong need for some kind of religion, and if one is taken away from them they will hasten to locate another. Even the most severe secularists would admit that the creed of the Astronaut Gods is harmless, as religions go: believers are not expected to obey every command of a priesthood, or burn heretics at the stake. Science might one day be able to provide a testable explanation for the religious impulse: until then, the frontier between science and religion must remain uncertain and disputed territory.
From the Pulpit
Barry H. Downing, a Presbyterian pastor in Endwell, New York, was one clergyman (probably speaking for many) who came out in favour of such interpretations with The Bible and Flying Saucers (Sphere, 1973; 1st US ed., 1968). Downing was able to salvage a more traditional God from the work of Space Angels by means of the following construction: “Suppose that in five hundred years humans on earth should advance technologically in the space age to the point where we are able to travel to another world in a spaceship and discover intelligent beings who were scientifically primitive. Suppose that Christian missionaries were to travel in space to this planet to try to convert these primitive people to Christianity. How would these people talk about our missionaries? The Bible seems to suggest that angels are very much like missionaries from another world.”
The starting point of Robert Temple’s The Sirus Mystery was the Dogon, a Sudanese tribe whom French anthropologists learnt to have traditions about being visited by beings from Sirius.
Temple reproduced their findings, then tried to prove that the same information was known to the ancient Egyptian priests as a secret tradition, and later to various Greek philosophers who were initiated into their mysteries. Of course these traditions were never written down, and Temple had to guess at them from scattered clues. His main authorities were Wallis Budge’s The Gods of the Egyptians, the Mesopotamian epics, the Hermetic books, Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths, Plutarch On Isis and Osiris, and the neo-Platonists. These are all either sacred writings of the Pagans, or modern summaries of such. At a guess, one would take Robert Temple to be a Pagan himself, particularly since he ignores the Bible altogether, and his only reference to Christianity is this: “The perversions of Christianity have always seemed to me to incorporate a perversion of the notion of ‘sin’ and the means by which ‘sin’ can be exploited as a means of temporal blackmail over other human beings.”
Drawing of an amphibious creature which, according to Temple, gave the Dogon information about the solar system.
From Magonia 81, May 2003
Critics of Erich von Daniken – who has recently been back in the news with another book and a forthcoming ancient astronaut theme park – have been undecided whether his thesis is to be deplored because it is wrong or because it is unoriginal.
The idea that modern technology may have been known to the ancients is almost as old as the technology itself. Joseph Ennemoser’s History of Magic which first appeared in 1844 (1) suggested that examples of magic such as levitating statues, given by ancient Greek and Roman writers, and usually considered to be fables, were in fact the application of electricity and magnetism. Myths, he considered, contained scientific secrets in allegorical form, for example the twins Castor and Pollux, who represented the north and south pole of magnets.
Frederick Soddy, in The Interpretation of Radium, third edition 1912, having explained how under certain circumstances one element can be transmuted into another, speculated that the writings of the alchemists were based on partial memories of the learnings of some ancient people:
” … such a race could transform a desert continent, thaw the frozen poles, and make the whole world one smiling Garden of Eden. Possibly they could explore the outer realms of space, emigrating to more favourable worlds as the superfluous today emigrate to more favourable continents. The legend of the Fall of Man, possibly, may be all that has survived of such a time before, for some unknown reason, the whole world was plunged back again under the undisputed sway of Nature, to begin once more its upward toilsome journey through the ages.” (2)
When Atlantis became popular in the late nineteenth century, it was naturally supposed that the Atlanteans had an advanced science (which was not, of course, stated in the original Greek writings about the lost continent). One popular exposition, A Dweller on Two Planets, by ‘Phylos the Thibetan’, which was written in the mid-1880s, based on the author’s recollections of his past lives, featured airships which could travel at the then incredible speed of 200 miles an hour. Scott Elliott’s The Story of Atlantis, 1896, contained passages like this:
“In the later days when war and strife had brought the Golden Age to an end, battle ships that could navigate the air had to a great extent replaced battle ships at sea – having naturally proved far more powerful engines of destruction” (3)
Elliott even went into some detail about their construction and propulsion mechanisms. His information, though he did not say so, came from clairvoyant investigations that had been carried out by Theosophical Society leaders Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater:
“Every scientific theory (if we are to believe the popular Catholic press) was anticipated by Roger Bacon and others in the thirteenth century. Some Hindu thinkers go even further and claim that not merely the scientific theories, but the products of applied science as well, aeroplanes, radio and the whole bag of tricks were known to the ancient Hindus who afterwards dropped them as being unworthy of their attention.” (4)
These Hindus, some of whose works are reproduced in David Hatcher Childress’s Vimana Aircraft of Ancient India and Atlantis (5) were influenced by cultural nationalism: in 1923, when T. K. Ellapa of Bangalore produced a set of diagrams explaining the workings of a Rukma Vimana, the country was militarily and technologically dominated by Britain, but they could take comfort in the thought that thousands of years earlier they had been the race with all the flying machines.
Exactly when extraterrestrials came into the debate is uncertain, but the idea was toyed with by Charles Fort in The Book of the Damned (1919). who spattered this collection of scientific anomalies with speculations such as: “I think we’re property. I should say we belong to something: That once upon a time, this earth was No-man’s Land, that other worlds explored and colonised here, and fought among themselves for possession, but that now it’s owned by something: That something owns this earth – all others warned off’. (6)
As John Keel remarks, such ideas “have long since been a staple storyline with science-fiction writers.” (7) Arthur C. Clarke’s Expedition to Earth (1953) contained two stories relating to aliens visiting earth in the past. In the same year Desmond Leslie pointed out, among other things, that according to a mediaeval Arab writer the builders of the Great Pyramid placed the stones on pieces of papyrus engraved with magical symbols, and thereby flew them from the quarry to the pyramid – obviously a misunderstanding of flying saucer technology. (8) The same, of course, could be said of the miracles of the Bible. This was the basic thesis of Morris K. Jessup, UFOs and the Bible (1956), Brinsley le Poer Trench’s The Sky People (1960) and Paul ‘Thomas’ Misraki, Les Extraterrestres (1962).
I should like to refer here to some works of which l have been unable to locate copies, but which I think are summarised adequately in secondary sources. Maurice Denis-Papin, in his Cours Elementaire d’Electricité Générale (1948), suggested that the Ark of the Covenant, being made of wood overlaid both inside and out with gold, would have acted as an electrical condenser. Now, the Bible relates that when the Ark was being transported by Nachon’s threshing floor, the oxen shook it and a man named Uzzah put out his hand to prevent it falling. “And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the Ark of God.” (2 Samuel 6:7). Denis-Papin interpreted this as his having been electrocuted. (9)
The ‘science can explain the Bible’ theme was also expounded by the Soviet professor Matest Agret in a series of articles in the Literatournaya Gazeta in 1959 and 1960. In one, 9 February 1960, he suggested that the fire from heaven that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrha was actually an atomic bomb dropped by extraterrestrials. (10) In America, Max H. Flindt privately published a pamphlet On Tiptoe Beyond Darwin (1962) suggesting that the human race appeared as a result of genetic manipulation by spacemen. (11)
It is worth asking: why Chariots of the Gods? rather than another’ … I think the most important factor was quite simply that von Daniken was a good writer …
There are several other works that could be mentioned, but the point is that Erinnerungen an die Zukunft (Memories of the Future), which is better known by its English title Chariots of the Gods? (1968) did not contain anything that had not been said before. Yet it was a phenomenal success: by 1980 Erich von Daniken’s books had actually sold 42 million copies. (12) A critique, Erinnerungen an die Wirkliehkeit (Memories of Actuality), by Gerhard Gadow is itself said to have sold 85,000 copies in a few months. (13)
Various reasons have been suggested for this popularity by the critics: that education is not working, that conventional religion is declining yet people still want the certainty it offers, and so on. The suggestion that a properly educated person would automatically reject the thesis of Chariots of the Gods? is questionable. The book contains numerous errors that have been pointed out by specialists, but one cannot expect the general reader, even a well-educated one, to have the necessary expertise in Mesopotamian history, Meso-American iconography, and so on, to spot his mistakes. A parallel to this is the frequently observed fact that von Daniken had no qualifications. Yet the ancient astronaut hypothesis was also espoused by writers who were as qualified as anyone could be in such an interdisciplinary field. Morris K. Jessup was an astronomer who had also studied Mayan ruins for the Carnegie Institute, and Barry Downing, author of The Bible and Flying Saucers, had degrees in both physics and theology.
Without begrudging von Daniken his success, it is worth asking: why Chariots of the Gods? rather than another’? The Morning of the Magicians, from which von Daniken had lifted some of his examples, sold over one million copies in a decade (14), but that was only a modest success (in comparative terms), and many of the other books on the same theme were destined for obscurity. Who, for instance, ever heard of Egerton Sykes’s The Extraterrestrials? (15)
Though to some extent these authors copied one from another, this is not simply a matter of repeated plagiarism. One the notions of extraterrestrial intelligence and space travel have become common, the possibility that aliens might have visited the earth in the past could have occurred to anyone. The archaeologist T. C. Lethbridge related how, when his wife had nearly finished typing the manuscript of his Legend of the Sons of God, “A friend, Group Captain Guy Knocker, sent me a copy of Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods?. The two books were so similar in many ways that I felt tempted to destroy my version. However, I saw that there were points of difference and that this was an interesting example of the often observed phenomenon of a particular idea occurring to people in different parts of the world at the same time. (16)
Ronald Story points out that the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which appeared at about the same time as Chariots… contained similar ideas (partly based upon the aforementioned stories in Clarke’s Expedition to Earth), in particular the suggestion that the human race was the result of an extraterrestrial experiment to enhance the intelligence of apes. This, he suggested, helped prime people for a factual book on the theme. (17) But this is a chicken-and-egg matter; it could just as well be argued that von Daniken’s book helped promote the film.
Undoubtedly, though, the timing was opportune. The Apollo programme had recently created a general interest in space travel. The sixties were in any case a good time for new ideas: the book “seemed to strike a chord in a generation that had learned to question all forms of authority and accepted wisdom.” (18)
In particular people were challenging conventional religion. This had been going on for a long time. Winwood Reade’s Martyrdom of Man (1872), sold well for decades largely owing to its critical summary of the Bible, which dismissed miracles as a combination of imposture and romantic embellishment. More people had lost their faith by the 1960s, so there was – and still is – a good market for any new view of this subject. Von Daniken’s fourth chapter. ‘Was God an Astronaut’, was a deliberate challenge to the Church. Some of the earlier books, such as Flying Saucers Have Landed and The Morning of the Magicians, had avoided any such direct confrontation.
I think the most important factor was quite simply that von Daniken was a good writer in the sense that he wrote in an accessible, popular way. It must be borne in mind that the biggest retailers of books are those in airport lobbies, as people who do not otherwise read them will buy one to take on holiday. Perhaps the second largest market is of those who need something to occupy themselves with whilst commuting. Such purchasers want an easy read, not anything demanding. Many ancient astronaut writers, however, had a turgid, impenetrable style. So it is easy to see why Chariots of the Gods? should greatly outsell for instance W. Raymond Drake’s Gods or Spacemen (19), which was far better researched and rather less well written.
Finally, the book had sixteen pages of photographic plates, something most of its predecessors lacked. I don’t know how many people buy books just to look at the pictures, but the success of coffee-table books consisting of little else suggest that it is quite a high percentage. So if you want to pen a best-seller (and who doesn’t), the best formula is to pick a subject on which several works have already been essayed; which gives some new slant to Christian origins; and is written in a way that anyone can understand, with plenty of pretty illustrations.
Von Däniken, Addendum 2010.
The title Erinnerung an die Zukunft, ‘Memories of the Future’, seems to have been inspired by the first section of Pauwels and Bergier, Le Matin des Magiciens, ‘Le Futur Antérieur’ (though the English edition rendered this as ‘The Future Perfect’). The phrase that Von Däniken’s English translator, Michael Heron, substituted, ‘Chariots of the Gods’, had been coined by T. Lobsang Rampa, a Devonshire man who mysteriously metamorphosed into a Tibetan lama, in the tenth chapter of his first book, The Third Eye: “In Tibet I have seen records of strange craft in the skies. “The Chariots of the Gods” most people called them.” It proved popular enough for variants to be given to the English renderings of most of his subsequent books, Phänomene die die Welt erregen becoming Miracles of the Gods, and so on; Graham Hancock, with Fingerprints of the Gods, has also found it a profitable title to imitate.
- As Geschichte der Magie – an English translation appeared in 1854.
- Frederick Soddy, The Interpretation of Radium, third edition 1912, pp.251-252
- W. Scott Elliott, The Story of Atlantis 1896, p.52
- George Orwell, Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, Vol. 3, Penguin Books, 1970, p.121, from a column originally published in Tribune.
- Adventures Unlimited Press, Stelle, Illinois, 1991
- Charles Fort, The Book of the Damned, Abacus edition, 1973, p.173
- John Keel, The Cosmic Question (British edition of The Eighth Tower), Panther 1978, p.19
- Desmond A Leslie and George Adamski, Flying Saucers Have Landed, Werner Laurie, 1953, pp.156-157
- Cited in Robert Charroux, One Hundred Thousand Years of Man’s Unknown History, Sphere, 1981, p.73
- Cited by Paul Thomas, Flying Saucers Through the Ages, Sphere 1973, who says the article was widely discussed in the international press.
- Discussed in Max Flindt’s and Otto Binder, Mankind – Child of the Stars, Fawcett, 1974, an expanded version of the same thesis.
- Ronald Story, Guardians of the Universe?, New English Library, 1980, p.9
- Peter Krassa, Erich von Daniken: Disciple of the Gods? Star Books, 1978, p.68
- According to the cover of the Mayflower paperback edition, 1971
- Privately published, 1967
- T. C. Lethbridge.
- Story, Guardians of the Universe? pp.18-1918. Editorial, Fortean Times 169, April 2003
- Editorial, Fortean Times 169, April 2003
- 1964; reprinted as Messengers from the Stars, Sphere, 1977
From Magonia Supplement 54, February 2005
THE MAN who recently faked government bonds from the 1930s worth a trillion dollars, made various mistakes such as ‘Dollar’ for ‘Dollars’, and using zip codes, which were not introduced until the 1960s. The point to notice is that whilst nobody is perfect, so that the ‘Dollar’ error just might have been made on a real bond, no one, in the 1930s, could have included something which did not then exist. In the same way, looking through the literature on MJ-12. I found that only some of the features that have been suggested as evidence for a hoax are truly suspicious.
For instance, on the memorandum dated 24 September 1947, the numerals were out of alignment with the letters, indicating that they were typed at different times. (1) The only reason that I can think why this should happen is that the typist accidentally omitted the numbers, noticed their absence after removing the paper from the typewriter, and then reinserted it to add them. But this could just as well happen with a genuine document as a spurious one.
Leading UFO conspiracy theorist George C. Andrews states that sceptics “were dealt a major blow” when Dr Roger W. Westcott, a stylistic expert, pronounced the signature of H.R. Hillenkoetter on the first MJ-12 document to be genuine. (2) Likewise, Stanton Friedman drew attention to the similarity of the signature on the Truman letter to that on an indisputably authentic Truman memo. But it was then pointed out that they were not merely similar, but apparently identical, implying that the second was merely a photocopy of the first.
Now, it is normally easy enough to distinguish a real signature from a photocopy, but only if you have the original. It cannot be done from a photograph of the page, the only medium on which the MJ-12 papers are available. There is one original piece of paper, the Cutler-Twining memo, but that is unsigned!
It is noticeable that the briefing document does not give away any real information: it says, for example: “A special scientific team took charge of removing these bodies for study. (See Attachment “C”.) … Numerous examples of what appear to be a form of writing were found in the wreckage. Efforts to decipher these have remained largely unsuccessful. (See Attachment E)” These supposed attachments have never surfaced. Dare one suggest that this may be because they proved too difficult to forge?
I would say that these features are suspicious but not conclusive. Christopher Allan agrees that there is no definite proof, though he does note a number of highly suggestive features, such as Hillenkoetter supposedly giving his own naval rank wrongly, which is highly unlikely. I should like to know his authority (stated in his review of Stanton Friedman’s book a few years ago) (3) for a letter of Hillenkoetter’s showing that he hardly knew Menzel, as this is just the kind of giveaway that a hoaxer cannot avoid.
Karl T. Pflock, however, has risen to my challenge to find an anachronism. The Eisenhower Briefing Document says that: “On 06 December, 1950, a second object, probably of similar origin, impacted the earth at high speed in the El Indio-Guerrero area of the Texan-Mexican border after following a long trajectory through the atmosphere.” This evidently refers to a story told by Todd Zechel from the 1970s, which was later exploded by Dennis Stacy and Tom Deuley: “At the 1999 National UFO Conference in San Antonio, Texas, Deuley gave a talk in which he presented evidence demonstrating that what had evolved into a 1950 flying saucer crash was actually the fatal shoot down of a US Civil Patrol plane late in World War II.” This seems conclusive, but no doubt any MJ-12 believer would simply reject the findings of Stacy and Deuley.
Dr David Clarke has drawn attention to a later MJ-12 paper, the ‘Annual Report’ of 1952, which stated that: “On August 21 1915, members of the New Zealand Army Corps’ First Field Company signed sworn statements that they saw the One-Fourth Norfolk Regiment disappear in an unusually thick brown cloud which seemed to move and rose upward and vanished. There were no traces of the regiment nor their equipment.” – the implication being that they were abducted by aliens. As Clarke points out, though three men did make a statement to this effect, they only did so at a reunion half a century later, in 1965, thirteen years after this alleged report. “It seemed that whoever had faked the MJ-12 papers had failed to do their homework and had based their dossier not on official files but the contents of paperback books on UFOs published in the 1960s.” (4)
Something that puzzled me for quite a long time was what might have been the motive behind the creation of MJ-12. Now, I agree with John Harney, who says that motivation is usually irrelevant: “The scientific question is not Why? but How? The forensic scientist doesn’t want to know why the burglar opened the safe, he wants to know how he did it.” Anyone might be motivated to create a UFO hoax, just as anyone might have a motive for cracking a safe, but one cannot accuse people of being UFO hoaxers or safe crackers on that basis alone.
It seems to me, however, that the commonest UFO hoaxes are those perpetrated by sceptics, in order to demonstrate, if only to themselves, that ufologists are gullible. Other hoaxes are created by people who intend to write books on the basis of them. Very occasionally they are done as part of a confidence trick, as when ‘Dr’ GeBauer, who sold alleged magnetic devices to detect oil deposits, claimed to have been present at two UFO crash retrievals in New Mexico, simply so that he could say that his latest oil-detecting device worked from back-engineered flying saucer technology. None of these explains the MJ-12 papers, which originated in ‘believer’ circles, and about which the only book is that of Stanton Friedman, who clearly believes that they are genuine and therefore cannot possibly have been involved in creating them; nor, so far as I know, have they been used to part anyone from their money.
Considerable light may be shed on this question by Philip J. Klass’s Skeptics UFO Newsletter for March 1997. Klass relates how, in 1983, William L. Moore had told Brad Sparks that his efforts to locate people involved in retrieving the wreckage of the Roswell saucer “had run into a dead end”. He went on to suggest that ” … counterfeit government documents containing crashed-saucer information could be used to induce former military personnel to speak out and ignore their secrecy oaths”. Later, when the first MJ-12 papers had become public, and discussed in the New York Times among other places, Moore gave a talk about them at the 1987 MUFON conference, concluding with the words: “Now that it is in the papers, if there is anything to it, others will come forward and say: ‘Well, now that it has been published in the New York Times, now we can talk.’ We’ll see. There have been a couple of hints so far that maybe somebody will say something.” (5) Unsurprisingly, this did not happen, and Moore seems to have faded from public sight since then.
Christopher Allan concludes that, if we can’t prove MJ-12 a hoax, we can certainly ask why, if the events described therein did occur, there is no proof. I agree: if the Roswell story had been genuine, then confirmation would have come to light by now, just as Moore anticipated. It has not done, so claims about it can be dismissed.
One other question before (I hope) leaving the Roswell issue: why is it that UFO crashes were most common in 1947-1954, going into decline thereafter, with none at all since the 1970s? (Note: it is true that some alleged cases have only come to light recently, but these were claimed to be old. For example, the Cannock Chase crash was first publicised in Nick Redfern’s Cosmic Crashes, 1999, but it had supposedly occurred in 1974.) This is despite there being a continued avid interest in UFO ‘retrievals’. It is possible, of course, that the Zeta Reticulan government became appalled by the high accident rate among their interstellar spacecraft, and started demanding a higher standard of proficiency before they would issue pilots’ licences, but I doubt it.
More likely, the change has been cultural. During the early post-war flaps, the most popular theory was that UFOs were secret weapons; and secret weapons often crashed. If a wreck proved to be one of your own the military would hush it up, and they often did so with enemy craft as well, so Roswell was the sort of thing you would expect to happen. The commonest alleged crash site was New Mexico, which in reality contained the White Sands missile proving ground, and where in the 1930s (in fact near Roswell) Robert Goddard had conducted many of his experiments into liquid fuelled rockets: so, it was the very state where crashed secret weapons would have been most common. Even those who thought UFOs were interplanetary regarded them as just a little more advanced than terrestrial craft, and so subject to the same failings. Expectations have changed with the years, and the aliens’ technology is now supposed to be much more advanced. If the greys can suck abductees through walls, they are unlikely to crash in New Mexico.
- Joe Nickell, ‘Majestic 12 (MJ-12) Documents’, in Ronald Story, The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrial Encounters, Robinson, London, 2002, p. 388
- George C. Andrews, Extra-Terrestrial Friends and Foes, IllumiNet Press, Lilburn, Georgia, 1993, p. 31
- Magonia 59, April 1997, p. 15
- Dr David Clarke, ‘UFOs and the Battalion that Vanished’, UFO Magazine, March 2004, p. 27
- Philip J. Klass, Skeptics UFO Newsletter 44, March 1997
From Magonia Supplement, June 2001
I have come to doubt whether it is possible to draw any conclusions from individual UFO reports. It may be, however, that a group of reports considered collectively can reveal something significant. As briefly as possible, I shall try to show this with the example of UFO crash stories.
It was on 14 June 1947 that William Brazel, a farmer near Roswell, New Mexico, found a lot of silvery wreckage on his land.(1) At first he did nothing, but on 8 July, following news reports of flying saucers in the area, it occurred to him that this might be one of them, and he reported it to the sheriff, who passed it on to the Air Force, who told the press that the mystery of the flying discs would now be solved. According to the official report, however, when they got there it proved to be merely a balloon. This they declared at a press conference, and the incident was totally forgotten for over thirty years. Their initial announcement suggests that, if they had captured an alien spacecraft, they would have said so.
Nonetheless, persistent rumour, at least in California, had it that a saucer had indeed crashed and that the Air Force were busily learning the secrets of its technology: a 1949 memo by Meade Layne of the Borderland Sciences Research Foundation (an organisation mainly devoted to recording channelled messages from “The Etherians”, as they called the ufonauts) reported that two scientists, one of them “Dr Weisberg, a physics professor from a California university” had seen a crashed disc with six dead occupants.
The source of Layne’s information is unclear, but soon people started to talk. In February 1950 Barney Barnett of Socorro, New Mexico, told some visiting friends that when working near Magdalena, New Mexico (nowhere near Roswell) he had chanced across a crashed metallic disc, 25 to 30 feet across, with dead bodies of small humanoids around it. Some archaeologists also saw it. Then the military turned up and ordered them all away.(2) This sequence of events was the template for many subsequent stories.
On 8 March 1950 a lecture was given to students at the University of Denver, Colorado, by a mysterious man who claimed that a saucer had crashed at Aztec, New Mexico (hundreds of miles from both Roswell and Socorro), in the spring of 1948. The man was later identified as Silas Newton (left), and his testimony was used as the basis for one of the first UFO books, Behind the Flying Saucers, by Frank Scully. Silas Newton was a partner with one “Dr Gee”, who claimed that later two other saucers had crashed in Arizona, and that he had been privileged to examine all three. The first two both had a (dead) crew of sixteen, the third only two. He believed they came from Venus. Dr Gee claimed to be a magnetic scientist, though what he said on the subject (“there are 1,257 magnetic lines of force to the square centimetre”(3)) was utter drivel.
Scully also described how Gee and Newton had developed a magnetic device which could detect underground oil deposits. Two years later, this led to their arrest on a charge of fraud. They had been trying to sell their device for $800,000, but according to police it was “a worthless piece of war surplus equipment” that they had bought for $4.50.(4)
In the spring of 1952 one Bill Devlin was told by a soldier he met on a train from Philadelphia to Washington that he had been one of three drivers who took the remains of a saucer, along with “sixteen or so” small bodies, from Aztec, New Mexico, to Fort Riley, Kansas.(5) This is the other main type of crash story, the military man who was there after the civilians were cleared away, and who is sworn to secrecy by frightful penalties, though willing to violate it to casual acquaintances. His story of a saucer at Aztec with sixteen small bodies is consistent with that in Scully’s book, though since this had become a bestseller, it is hardly independent confirmation.
In February 1954 President Eisenhower went on a golfing holiday in Palm Springs, California. On 20 February he went off leaving his entourage behind, and the press corps started speculating wildly as to where he might have gone. In the evening a press secretary explained that he had had to make an emergency trip to a dentist. This did not satisfy the rumour mongers, who quickly put it about that that the President had secretly gone to Edwards Air Force Base to view a crashed flying saucer. Sure enough, three months later Meade Layne received a letter from a man named Gerald Light, who claimed to have visited the base himself and seen no fewer than five different alien craft that the Air Force was studying.(6)
Badly piloted UFOs kept on crashing, so it was said, in among other places Arizona, California, Montana, Pennsylvania, British Heligoland, Spitzbergen, Mexico, Sweden and Brazil. Invariably the local military picked up the pieces, except in the case of a four-foot saucer (left) that fell on Silpho Moor near Scarborough, Yorkshire, which was bought from the finder by a civilian and put on display in a local fish and chip shop.(7) Though such stories went out of fashion in the sixties, in the seventies Leonard Stringfield renamed them “retrievals of the third kind”, and, having thus put the subject on a scientific basis, began a collection of anecdotes: he learned for instance of a room in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, “in which several small humanoids were preserved in a glass case”; two disc-shaped craft at Wright-Patterson, with four small bodies preserved in chemicals; and the 1953 crash of an oval object near Kingman, Arizona, in which was a dead four-foot tall alien.(8) By the end of the decade he had accumulated nineteen retrieval stories, all different.
According to one tale, in the late 1940s, the photographer Nicholas von Poppen (d. 1975) had been flown to ‘Los Alamos’ airfield, where he was paid to photograph a flying saucer, 30 feet in diameter, which still had four dead aliens, dressed in shiny black one-piece outfits, in their seats in front of a control board. The only problem is that there was no air base at Los Alamos; obviously, he was told that was where he was as part of the cover-up.(9)
The problem, for the rigidly scientific ufologist, was that the witnesses did not fully confirm each other’s stories. In general terms they agreed that alien spacecraft had crashed and come into the possession of the military; but the crash sites were all different, the bodies (varying in number from one up to sixteen) and the wreckage were supposed to be stored in a variety of Air Force bases and other places, and where dates were given they did not match up. Yet soon this was to change.
Jesse Marcel, one of the officers who had picked up the wreckage from Brazel’s farm, used to talk about the incident, stating that he believed that the object had indeed been an extraterrestrial spacecraft. When Stanton T. Friedman was interviewed on TV in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on 21 February 1978, to promote his lecture tour “Flying Saucers Are Real”, a friend of Marcel’s who worked there mentioned him. Friedman often heard “Stories of acquaintances who claimed to know someone who worked with a guy who said he knows where the bodies of a ‘flying saucer’ crew are stored”, but was always unable to follow them up.(10) This was different, a real man who had handled the wreckage.
Later that year Friedman also heard about Barney Barnett. He passed both stories on to William Moore, who then needed a subject to form a sequel to the bestseller he had co-written with Charles Berlitz, The Philadelphia Experiment. A crashed UFO was suitably sensational. Asked in an interview by Gray Barker if he was investigating saucer crashes, Moore was reticent, but said: “If I were working on this, I would take one particular rumor, one of the more persistent ones, and devote all my investigative efforts to that one case.”(11)
Though the original newspaper reports, and an interview with Marcel, were not nearly enough to fill a book, they were padded out with crashed saucer rumours generally, glossing over the discrepancies with regard to dates and places. They were able to bring in Barney Barnett’s claims by suggesting that the saucer had exploded over Roswell, leaving the wreckage that was found on Brazel’s farm, but that most of it travelled another 125 miles to crash near Socorro. (Or perhaps, in a variant of the urban legend, there were at that time only two UFOs in the whole of the New Mexico airspace, and they collided with each other.) Eisenhower’s 1954 disappearance could have been to view the Roswell saucer, they suggested, failing to explain why it was seven years before the President took an interest.
The Roswell Incident was indeed a bestseller, so much so that the subject has dominated ufology ever since. Suddenly, lots more witnesses (and people who had heard the confessions of witnesses since deceased) came forward with their Roswell, 1947, stories, which none of them had ever felt the need to tell before, enabling the publication of a whole series of subsequent books. Frankie Rowe said her fireman father told her he had been on the way back from a fire when he came across the crash, and saw “two little corpses and one person running around”. Iris Foster, of Taco, New Mexico, said one “Cactus Jack” had told her of seeing a round object and four little bodies. More than one archaeologist, who had been out looking for evidence of early American settlements, testified: “I was there and saw everything.” Jim Ragsdale, who was there with his girlfriend, saw the craft and several small beings, but, “While observing the scene, we watched as a military convoy arrived and secured the scene. As a result of the convoy’s appearance we quickly fled the area.” So did the others.(12)
If all these people are telling the truth, then we have to assume that a flying saucer crashed in a semi-desert region, and for four weeks no one chanced to go near it but the farmer on whose land it was. Then, suddenly, a whole crowd of people, who were in the vicinity for a variety of reasons, archaelogists, courting couples and so on, all happened to converge on the wreckage by pure accident. Just then the army arrived, preventing them from getting any proof. Such synchronicity would be a remarkable anomalous phenomenon in itself.
In 1979 Sergeant (as he had been in 1947) Melvin E. Brown read the Daily Mirror’s review of The Roswell Incident, and told his family – he had married an Englishwoman and lived in the UK – “I was there. Everything in the article is true.”(13) This would be rather more compelling if he had told his family the story before it had appeared in a national newspaper. It will have been observed that, whilst no pattern emerges if one takes the alleged dates of these crashes, there is a definite pattern if one takes the dates on which the various stories are first known to have been told.
The different accounts still do not agree: most say that the craft was a disc, but Frank Kaufmann (who claimed to have detected the crash on radar from White Sands) claimed it was wedge shaped, and that there were four corpses and one living being – others say three corpses, two corpses and one alive, three corpses and one living, and so on and so forth.
Space does not permit me to deal with the claims of Philip Corso and others to have been employed to ‘back engineer’ the wreckage, but I have often wondered at a technology that enables the Greys to navigate safely across nine trillion miles of void from Zeta Reticuli, only to smash into the ground on arrival. Perhaps at this very moment American saucers, built in Area 51, are crashlanding near military bases on the aliens’ home planet.
1. Roswell Daily Record, 9 July (evening) 1947, quoted by Klass, Philip J., The Real Roswell Crashed Saucer Coverup, Prometheus Books, 1997, 20-21. The date of the initial discovery is often given, wrongly, as 5 July.
2. Berlitz, Charles, and William Moore, The Roswell Incident, Granada, 1980, 97-98, 57-63
3. Scully, Frank, Behind the Flying Saucers, Victor Gollancz, 1950, 163
4. Jacobs, David Michael, The UFO Controversy in America, Signet, 1976, 51
5. Berliz and Moore, op. cit., 108-109
6. Good, Timothy, Alien Liaison, Century, 1991, 56-58
7. Randles, Jenny, UFO Retrievals, Blandford, 1995, chapter 4
8. Stringfield, Leonard H., Situation Red: The UFO Siege, Sphere, 1978, 190-195
9. Berlitz and Moore, op. cit., 99-101
10. Berliner, Don, and Stanton T. Friedman, Crash at Corona, Marlowe, New York, 1997, 9
11. Gray Barker’s Newsletter, issue 9, December 1979
12. See for instance Hesemann, Michael, and Philip Mantle, Beyond Roswell, Michael O’Mara Books, 1997, 42-50
13. Ibid., 50-51
Published in Magonia 87, February 2005
Pierre Plantard was born on 18 March 1920. The next thing we know is that in September 1942, under the name Pierre de France, he began to edit a free monthly magazine named Vaincre. This was stated to be the organ of the ‘Alpha Galates’, a neo-chivalric order which consisted of a Legion and a Phalange. The reader would have had difficulty in discovering exactly what the purpose of the order was, as its intentions were set out at best vaguely, and often contradictorily. The first issue spoke of creating “an agreement among the people, united in a true socialism, banishing forever the quarrels created by the capitalist interest”, yet one contributor was Professor Louis Le Fur, a prominent right winger. Much of the contents dealt with Atlantis, Celtic wisdom, and other esoteric subjects having no obvious bearing on chivalry or practical politics. Decades later, Plantard would declare that it had been a resistance publication, for those capable of reading between the lines.
On 19 November 1942 Au pilori, a pro-Nazi magazine, published an attack on Plantard, Alpha Galates and Vaincre, without making specific allegations. The next issue of Vaincre, published on the 21st, was entirely devoted to replying to the Au pilori attack. In January of the following year, Louis Le Fur praised Alpha Galates’s new Grand Master, Pierre de France-Plantard.
Thus, at the age of twenty-two, Plantard seemed to be making a name for himself. He was editing a fairly high quality publication, which given the war-time shortage of paper indicates that he had money behind him. His contributors included Louis Le Fur, who, though as a supporter of the Vichy regime was discredited after the war, was a name to conjure with during the occupation. He was the Grand Master of the Alpha Galates, whatever exactly that was, and had roused the ire of the pro-Nazis.
Yet contradictions were already apparent. Le Fur said that he had been a member of Alpha Galates for eight years, i.e. since about 1934. But Vaincre stated that Alpha Galates had only been registered in the Journal Officiel - in which all new societies in France must declare themselves – on 27 December 1937. In fact, no such entry can be found, and the Order had never been heard of by the French Ministry of Defence and the Prefecture of Police. But the Grand Master himself was known to the police, however, who wrote in a 1941 report: “Plantard, who boasts of having links with numerous politicians, seems to be one of those dotty, pretentious young men who run more or less fictitious groups in an effort to look important and who are taking advantage of the present trend towards taking a greater interest in young people in order to attract the Government’s attention.”
From what is known of Plantard’s later career, it is virtually certain that he used to pen attacks upon himself as a form of publicity. We may suspect then that he was behind the Au pilori article, hence perhaps the fact that he was able to prepare a complete issue in response in only two days. It is also possible that Professor Le Fur’s name had been borrowed by Vaincre without his knowledge, and once again Plantard did similar things in later years.
In October 1943 Plantard was allegedly interned by the Gestapo in the prison of Fresnes, and tortured, but set free again in February 1944. He married Anne-Lea Hisler in Paris in 1946, and in 1947 apparently moved to near Lake Léman in Switzerland, remaining there for several years, But for this period we are largely dependent on his own word, which is of little value. He may have come into contact with, indeed joined, the Grande Loge Alpina, the central authority for Swiss Freemasonry, as he would later illicitly use their imprint on some of his own publications. He may also have met Leo Schidlof, an Austrian dealer in miniatures then living in Geneva and said to have been a dignitary of this lodge, whose name he would likewise associate with some of these writings.
In the 1950s France was highly unstable politically – a British radio comedy series of the time contained the line “I’ve made arrangements with one of the French governments…” This atmosphere engendered conspiracies, and there arose a network of clandestine ‘Committees for Public Safety’, with whom M. Plantard came to be involved. In May 1956 a magazine entitled Circuit began publication at Sous-Cassan, Annemasse, each issue introduced by Pierre Plantard. They ostensibly dealt with low-cost housing, saying that their housing association “maintains close contact with a network of other housing associations”. Probably these references were meant to be understood to refer to the Committees for Public Safety. There was also an article on astrology which introduces a thirteen sign zodiac, the extra sign being Opiuchus, placed between Scorpio and Sagittarius. This special zodiac would become almost a trade mark of Plantard-inspired publications. Most importantly, it contained minutes of meetings held to draw up the statutes of what would become the Priory of Sion, though that name was not mentioned.
On 25 June 1956 the Priory declared itself to the Sub-Prefecture of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois. Its head office was at Sous-Cassan, where Circuit was published. This is not far from Switzerland and Lake Léman, where Plantard had supposedly lived since 1947. The order was supposed to practise ‘Catholic chivalry’, but its objectives, as usual, were obscure. Like Alpha Galates it had a ‘Legion’ and a ‘Phalange’. There was to be a hierarchy of nine grades, one member at the highest ‘Nautonier’ level, three in the next down, nine in the next, and so on, each level down having three times the number of that above, so that there would be 9841 (1 + 3 + 9 + 27 + 81 + 243 + 729 + 2187 + 6561) members in all. There is no reason to think that, in fact, the membership exceeded a handful, indeed no absolute evidence that it was ever more than one. The Secretary-General was Pierre Plantard; other members of the Council were said to be (though the names have been suspected to be false) Pierre Bonhomme, President, Jean Delaval, Vice-President, and Pierre Defagot, Treasurer. Nothing else is known of these men, except that Defagot’s name appeared as the author of the aforementioned astrology article.
Circuitceased publication that September. Our hero is next heard of two years later, when a communiqué from the Paris Central Committee of Public Safety to the newspaper Le Monde, dated 6 June, called for the people to back General de Gaulle for the Presidency. It was signed ‘Captain Way’, which the paper understood to be a pseudonym; later they identified him as a M. Plantard. On 29 July it was announced that the Central Committee had been dissolved, and succeeded by something called simply the ‘Movement’, of which “Pierre Plantard is secretary and in charge of propaganda”.
Meanwhile, Circuit had resumed publication, describing itself as the ‘Cultural Periodical of the Federation of French Forces’, and giving its address as 116 Rue Pierre Johet, Aulnay-sous-Bois, which in fact was false. Articles on subjects ranging from Atlantis to astrology were signed by both Plantard’s wife Anne-Lea Hisler, and by Plantard himself It continued monthly until at least December. There were repeated references to Vaincre, implying that it was still obtainable. Plantard having presumably been unable even to give away the whole print run.
In the 1960s Plantard and his wife began issuing a large number of books and pamphlets, using a variety of pseudonyms, such as ‘Madeleine Blancasall’ and `Antoine l’Ermite’. Early examples included an essay on the Common Market, and one on a historical mystery, Gisors and its Secret: some years earlier a number of enigmatic subterranean chambers had been discovered there. It has been observed that these tracts were never commercially distributed, and it is even suggested that the copies at the Bibliotheque Nationale may be the only ones in existence. From what I know of the habits of self-publishers, however, I would guess that large numbers were sent gratis to people who might have been interested in their contents, though no doubt most ended up in waste paper baskets.
The scale of such an operation is obviously dependent upon how much money is available and here there are again contradictory claims. It has been said that Plantard owns large tracts of land in the vicinity of Rennes-le-Chateau, implying that he is of the ‘gentry’ class, with plenty of wealth to spare; yet he has also been described as a draughtsman for a stove-fitting firm, who had difficulty paying his rent. In both instances the source of information is unclear.
Anyway, it may have been one of these tracts that brought him into contact with Gérard de Sede, a writer who specialised in popular non-fiction. The first work of their collaboration, signed by de Sede but at least partly inspired by Plantard, with the somewhat enigmatic title The Templars Are Among Us, 1962, dealt, again, with the mediaeval fortress of Gisors. They linked the chambers to esotericism – including the thirteen sign zodiac, enigmati-cally superimposed over a map of France – and hinted that there was more to all this than met the eye. Unlike Plantard’s own writings, de Sede’s were issued by major publishers.
The same year saw the appearance of the popular work Treasures of the World, by Robert Charroux (better known in Britain for his ‘Ancient Astronaut’ writings) which included a chapter on Bérengere Sauniere (left), who from 1885 until his death in 1917 was the priest in the small village of Rennes-le-Chateau in the south of France. Originally poor, at some time in the 1890s he had suddenly acquired a fortune, which he proceeded to spend on building projects, public works and high living. Though the story is fascinating, Charroux made it clear that the essentially mundane explanation was that the priest had uncovered a hoard of mediaeval treasure, which had probably been concealed beneath the floor of the church. In France, treasure trove becomes by law the property of the government, but most finders understandably prefer to sell it clandestinely rather than surrender it to the authorities. For this reason the nature of the hoard is uncertain, though people who knew him agreed that it included thirteenth century gold coins. The story first seems to have come to public attention in January 1956, when the paper Depeche du Midi ran a series of articles about Sauniere, based on interviews with Noel Corbu, who had bought the priest’s old villa.
Pierre Plantard began visiting the area, where he was described, by a local historian, as “a strange person who, from the end of the 1950s, was often seen prowling about in these parts. This man lived in Paris. He had no connections and no known relatives in the area. He was a difficult fellow to place, drab, secretive, cunning, with the gift of the gab, but people who spoke to him said it was hard to follow what he said.” It was also reported that he compiled files about the place, in which he would attribute remarks to respectable people which they had not made.
In the 1960s his publications turned their attention to the mystery. A Merovingian Treasure at Rennes-le-Chateau, by Antoine l’Ermite’, published by ‘Grande Loge Alpina’ turns out to be merely an unacknowledged (and doubtless unauthorised) reprint of the chapter in Charroux’s Treasures of the World. But elsewhere he also made startling new claims, such as that Sauniere’s find had included parchments bearing genealogies and biblical texts with encoded messages in them. He alleged that the village, though now small and remote, had been a large and important town up until about the thirteenth century, and, in particular, for a few years the home of Dagobert II, the exiled king of Austrasie, a territory whose boundaries cut through the borders of several modem countries, including part of north-east France. Dagobert later regained his throne, but was assassinated in 679, leaving, according to conventional history, no descendants, so that the Merovingian dynasty, as it was called, became extinct. The various pseudonyms for Pierre Plantard alleged that, in reality, Dagobert’s son Sigisbert had survived, and his bloodline could be traced down to the present day. Once more the best distributed and known production was that of de Sede, who termed it ‘the accursed treasure’, claiming that several people connected with it had died mysteriously, in the manner of those who entered Tutankhamen’s tomb. He included illustrations of two of the alleged parchments, on one of which it was fairly easy to discover that taking the raised letters in order gave the sentence: A DAGOBERT II ET A SION EST CE TRESOR ET IL EST LA MORT, that is, ‘This treasure belongs to Dagobert II and to Sion, and he is there dead’, though the last phrase was ambiguous, and (more likely, given the ‘accursed’ theme of the book) meant ‘and it is death’.
The intent behind these claims gradually, over the years, became apparent: the last survivor of the Merovingian dynasty, whose return to the throne was anticipated, was Pierre Plantard, who on this basis expected to be proclaimed king, not only of France, but of a United States of Europe. Since it is exceedingly improbable that the proudly republican French would wish to restore the Merovingian or any other monarchy, one had to conclude either that Plantard was barking mad, or that there was a vast complex conspiracy at work. The authors of sensational books usually favour the latter theory.
Leo Schidlof, now resident in London, unwittingly got caught up in the affair. Though he had, according to his daughter, no interest in the Merovingian dynasty or Rennes-le-Chateau, in the 1960s he received numerous letters and telephone calls from individuals in both Europe and the United States who wished to discuss such things with him. My guess is that Plantard had brought Schidlof’s name into his tracts to make it look as if a high-ranking Freemason was involved in his machinations. Schidlof died on 17 October 1966.
A few weeks later appeared a booklet by ‘S. Roux’, The Affair of Rennes-le-Chateau. This began by reproducing a letter, signed Lionel Burros, which had allegedly appeared in the Catholic Weekly of Geneva on 22 October. In fact, Burrus had been killed in a car accident in September; it is likely that his name was attached to a letter forged soon afterwards, in order to keep up the myth of the accursed treasure’. Anyway, Burrus mentioned Schidlof’s death, and said that he used the alias ‘Henri Lobineau’, the name attached to a Genealogy of the Merovingian Kings (supposedly 1956, but probably 1964). Despite his death, he said, Merovingian interests continued to be promoted: to prove this, somewhat bizarrely he cited advertisements for Antar Petrol, whose emblem, a man holding a lily and a circle, he alleged to show a Merovingian king holding the device of his dynasty.
Roux, in the pamphlet, began by attacking Burrus, but like him praised Schidlof, who he said was, to the horror of the Catholic Church, aiming for “a popular monarchy allied to the USSR [?!], and the triumph of Freemasonry – in short the disappearance of religious freedom.” He went on to say that ” … everyone knows that the publicity of Antar Petrol, with a Merovingian king holding a Lily and a Circle, is a popular appeal in favour of returning the Merovingiany to power.”
This symbol – a fleur de lys inside a circle – later appeared on the coat of arms of Pierre Plantard, above the motto ‘Et in Arcadia Ego…’ along with the claim that the arms and motto had been “cited as such as early as 1210 by one Robert, Abbot of Mont-Saint-Michel”. There is no verification of this, which is hardly surprising, since mottoes were not included in blazons of arms until after 1400. Moreover, while ordinaries and subordinaries took many forms, bends, chevrons, and so on, they were never circular. This coast of arms is clearly modern, and most likely copied direct from the logo of Antar Petrol. My friend Michael Bingas has pointed out that ‘Antar’ contains the middle letters of his name, which Plantard had no doubt noticed, and deduced that these advertisements secretly referred to himself.
Meanwhile Plantard, like many founders of secret societies, had got frustrated that it did not have an ancient lineage, and therefore, like so many others, decided to invent one. As seems to be obligatory, he gave it a history which, apart from being of necessity unprovable, was quite obviously false. He stated that the Priory of Sion had begun in 1099 as a group with the Knights Templars, from whom they broke away in 1188. He gave a list of Grand Masters which began with various obscure mediaeval knights, progressing to famous Renaissance men such as Leonardo da Vinci, and concluding with the modern cultural figures Victor Hugo, Claude Debussy and Jean Cocteau. Whilst it would be theoretically possible for a society always to appoint someone famous as their chief, an invariable feature of these posthumously devised lists is that some of them were supposedly made chief before they became well known, as, in this case, Robert Fludd in 1595, at which time he was a 21-year-old student, whose renowned encyclopaedic Hermetic treatises would not appear for another two decades. Even more absurdly, Edouard de Bar is said to have been made Grand Master in 1307, when he was only five!
This material, and much more like it, was deposited at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris as Dossiers Secrets d’Henri Lobineau, “compiled by Phillippe Toscan du Plantier”, not a book as such, but “a species of folder with stiff covers which contained a loose assemblage of ostensibly un-related items – news clippings, letters pasted to backing-sheets, pamphlets, numerous genealogical trees and the odd printed page extracted from the body of some other work.” Though Lobineau was again stated to have been Schidlof, it has been observed that: “Comparisons with the letterings in Pierre Plantard’s publications, Gisors et son secret … and the cover of Tableaux comparatifs des charges sociales dans les pays du `Marché Commune“, suggest a common authorship with Lobineau’s works.”
The Priory had seemingly shrunk in membership, however, as there were now said to be only seven grades. The factor of three relationship remained, so that there would have been 1093 members in all. Later still, a new set of statutes was published, in which there were said to be only five grades, hence only 121 members.
More `mysterious’ deaths occurred early in 1967, when a small prose poem appeared entitled Le Serpent Rouge – Notes sur Saint-Germain-des-Pres et Saint-Sulpice de Paris, Pontoise. The authors were given as Pierre Feugere, Louis Saint-Maxent and Gaston de Koker. All three men were (separately) found hanged on the 6-7 March. Since Le Serpent Rouge bore the date 17 January, and its deposit slip for the Bibliotheque Nationale was dated 15 February, it would appear that the book had been the death of them. Yet, subsequently, researchers determined that it was only deposited on 20 March, the deposit slip having been deliberately falsified. Moreover, its subject matter – the thirteen sign zodiac – makes it clear that the real author was Pierre Plantard, and another researcher determined that it had been done on the same typewriter as the Dossiers Secrets.
By the 1970s, the Priory was finally beginning to gain public attention. A BBC scriptwriter, Henry Lincoln, had purchased Gérard de Sede’s book on Rennes-le-Chateau whilst on holiday, and was intrigued to discover the hidden message about Dagobert. He suggested the subject to a producer as suitable for a twenty-minute feature, and it was approved. (It may be worth noting that, though he had scripted more than one hundred television dramas, including episodes of the soap Emergency Ward 10, Lincoln had never before worked on a documentary.) In the end he made four full-length programmes and authored or co-authored as many books.
He contacted de Sede, who supplied him with copies of the photographs that had been used in his book, nearly all of which were stamped on the back ‘Plantard’ in purple ink. He also introduced Lincoln to the Bibliotheque Nationale, giving him the titles of some relevant works he had been unaware of, largely the aforementioned Plantard publications, also, La Vraie Langue Celtique, 1886, which had been written by the Abbe Henri Boudet, a friend of Sauniere who had been curé of the neighbouring village of Rennes-le-Bain. The work had been privately printed in an edition of only 500, not all of which were distributed. De Sede stated that there were only two copies of it, one in the B.N. and one in a provincial library, and that both were missing presumed stolen. Nevertheless, Lincoln filled in an application fiche, and, to de Sede’s astonishment, the book was delivered to the reading room. Lincoln thought his bewilderment showed that he was relying on “someone else’s information”. Indeed, since his Accursed Treasure discusses Boudet’s work, complete with a quotation – though he had not himself then seen it – parts of the book must have been the work of this “someone else”, whom we can suppose to have been Pierre Plantard.
In fact, La Vraie Langue Celtique is not quite so rare as one might expect. On returning to England, Lincoln learned that there was a copy in the reference section of Swiss Cottage Library in north London. There is also a presentation copy, signed by the author, in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. And, of course, since the 1970s it has been repeatedly reprinted for Rennes-le-Chateau enthusiasts.
So what bearing does this book have on Rennes-le-Chateau and its treasure? Boudet had the perennial philologist’s dream of recovering the original language of the human race. It is doubtful if, in fact, there was one primeval tongue from which all others are descended, but even if there had been, it would be exceedingly implausible that Adam and Eve, as Boudet believed, spoke English! On this basis he derived the etymology of various biblical names like this: Adam was so called because God added him to Eve, the mother of all living, hence, ‘Add-Dam’. “Abel presents the first image of death, from the crime of his elder brother, to ape … hell.” Noah comes from know-how, since he knew how to build an ark and save his family and the animals … and so on.
Plantard provided a 20-page Preface to the 1978 re-print – the longest work to which he ever set his own name – in which he suggested that Boudet’s true message was concealed rather than overt. He had included a map labelled “Rennes Celtique”, which, Plantard observed, contains fourteen letters, corresponding to the number of days between the new and full moons, and the fourteen stations of the cross on the wall of the church at Rennes-le-Chateau (or anywhere else). There were also (buried) references to the Tarot, the geometry of the landscape, and much more. It is by now apparent that Plantard’s most notable personality characteristic was a tendency to see hidden meanings in everything.
He further alleged that his grandfather, Charles Plantard, had visited Sauniere and Boudet in 1892. As proof he reproduces a dedication, “Hommage respectueux de l’auteur, H. Boudet”, which, he said, Boudet had written on a copy of La Vraie Langue Celtique that he gave to his ances-tor. The authors of The Tomb of God observed that the handwriting matches that on the Bodleian Library copy, and so must be genuine; though, since no name of the recipient is given, there is no reason to accept that it was presented to Plantard’s grandfather.
Returning to Henry Lincoln’s research, he received a `bombshell’ when De Sede revealed the decipherment of the second coded parchment, which gave the message: “Shepherdess, no temptation. That Poussin, Teniers, hold the key; Peace 681. By the cross and this horse of God, I destroy this daemon of the guardian at noon. Blue apples.” This is in fact an anagram of the inscription on an eighteenth-century tomb in Rennes-le-Chateau, which almost certainly predates the ‘encoded’ message, hence the fact that the latter does not quite make sense, the author having to do the best he could with the letters he had. Lincoln did wonder how it could have been cracked; in fact this cannot be done without a plate alleged to come from Eugene Stublein’s Pierres Gravées du Languedoc, supposedly published in 1884 but seen by no one, and in fact derived from an `Antoine l’Ermite’ (i.e. Pierre Plantard) publication of 1966. Moreover, when Lincoln first met Plantard in 1979, the lat-ter informed him in a rare candid moment that the `parchments’ had been faked by his collaborator Phillippe de Chérisey for a television programme. De Cherisey, an actor and comedian, later said that he did so at the instigation of Francis Blanche, a radio producer associated with Signé Furaz, a series that gave its listeners spoof `information’, such as inventing a psychiatric hospital for mad plants.
Lincoln’s first documentary, The Lost Treasure of Jerusalem?, 1972, simply suggested that the Templars had found a vast treasure in the Holy Land and taken it to France, where it was hidden and later found by Sauniere. It provoked a strong public reaction, so he carried on researching and in 1974 made The Priest, the Painter and the Devil, which rather obscurely hinted that Diabolism was at the root of the mystery. His main evidence for this came from a Poussin painting, ‘Les Bergers d’Arcadie’, which shows a tomb closely resembling one that used to stand near Rennes-le-Chateau. The picture’s proportions are based, like much Renaissance art, on the Golden Section, also known as `Pentagonal geometry’; and the (inverted) Pentagram is nowadays a symbol of Satanism, so it follows that Sauniere led a Satanic cult. Later,
he met Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, who were both inter-ested in the Templars, and they began to collaborate in their investigations.
For the third film, The Shadow of the Templars, they wished to contact the Priory of Sion and, if possible, M. Plantard. A Paris-based researcher for the BBC, Jania Macgillivray, made enquiries and found that everyone was confused about the matter: “one journalist warned her, for example, that anyone probing Sion too closely sooner or later got killed. Another journalist told her that Sion had indeed existed during the Middle Ages, but no longer did today. An official of Grande Loge Alpina, on the other hand, reported that Sion did exist today but was a modern organisation – it had never, he said, existed in the past.” By stressing the interest of the BBC, who have rather more prestige on the continent than they do in Britain itself, she was eventually able to arrange a meeting with Plantard and his entourage in a Paris cinema. As you would expect he spoke obscurely, hinting at things rather than stating them, for instance:
Henry Lincoln: “Will the treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau ever be found?”
Pierre Plantard: “Here you are speaking of a material treasure, we are not talking of a material treasure. Let us say, quite simply, that there is a secret in Rennes-le-Chateau, and that it is possible there is something else around Rennes-le-Chateau.”
After three meetings “we were not significantly wiser than we had been before.”
Around this time, Plantard suddenly became Pierre Plantard de Saint-Clair, Count of Saint-Clair and Count of Rhédae. So far as is known. the title Count of Rhédae had become extinct in the thirteenth century. It is hard to see how there could ever have been a Count of Saint-Clair, since there is no such place, though the name does occur in compounds such as Saint-Clair-du-Rhone.
Lincoln seems to have felt that there was one key which would unlock the whole mystery, and this eventually led to The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, 1982, which proposed that the true
secret was that the `San Greal’ (Holy Grail) was really the ‘Sang Real‘: holy blood; that the Merovingian line was regarded as sacred because they were descended from Jesus Christ, thanks to a secret liaison with Mary Magdalene – an idea that must have astonished even Plantard. Since then the field has been wide open for all kinds of ideas, the Rev. Lionel Fanthorpe speculating that the Grail could be “an inexplicable artefact from an ancient or alien technology”. David Wood thought that the geometry of the landscape around Rennes-le-Chateau proved that the Elohim, who came from Sirius, aeons ago established a base on Mars, which they kept supplied by cross-breeding with ape-like earth females, and using the more intelligent offspring as servants to harvest food for them, which was transported from Atlantis to Mars in huge spaceships.
All of these writers display a tendency to see mysteries in things that are actually quite usual. Among these is the Latin saying ‘Et in Arcadia ego‘, which is inscribed on the tomb shown in the aforementioned ‘Les Bergers d’Arcadie’. This is usually translated as ‘And in Arcadia I’, which is not a sentence, leading to suggestions that it might be an anagram or have some other kind of hidden meaning. Plantard’s version, it will be recalled, made it “Et in Arcadia ego… ” implying that it was only the start of a longer statement. (Incidentally, the use of three stops to indicate a lacuna is a fairly modern practice, further proof that his coat of arms is not mediaeval.) Actually, though in Latin et can mean `and’, it can also have the sense `even’, as in Virgil’s famous line timeo Danaos et dona ferentes, meaning `I fear the Greeks even when they bring presents.’ Also, as in many languages, the verb `to be’ is often omitted. The real meaning is ‘Even in Arcadia I am‘. Since this is written on a tomb, it obviously signifies: ‘Even in Arcadia I, death, am present‘. It is a re-minder of human mortality, a common theme in Renaissance painting. In view of Wood’s space theories, it is perhaps surprising that no one has tried to make it ‘E.T. in Arcadia ego’.
People think it very sinister that when Sauniere renovated his church he placed a statue of the demon Asmodeus inside the doorway, and an inscription Terribilis est locus iste (‘This place is terrible’ over the porch. In fact, though it would be unusual in Britain or America, it is I believe quite common in French churches to include a depiction of a devil, hence the apocryphal story of the elderly Frenchwoman who was seen to light a candle in front of an image of Beelzebub, and, when the priest remonstrated with her, replied: “But father, isn’t it good to have friends on both sides?” Terribilis est locus iste is a quotation from the Latin Bible: Jacob, having awoken from his dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven, says: “How terrible is this place! this is no other but the house of God and the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:17, Douay version) The word terribilis, a translation of the Hebrew nora, really signifies ‘awesome’. The church is awesome because it is the house of God, not because it is the centre of an international (or even interplanetary) conspiracy. Accordingly, this verse is spoken as the Introit to the mass for the dedication of a church. (I am grateful to former Catholic priest Colin Hamer for pointing this out to me.)
More strange assertions continued to be made in pseudonymous tracts. The Circle of Ulysses by ‘Jean Delaude’, 1977, stated that since the death of Jean Cocteau in 1963 the Grand Master had been the Abbé Ducaud-Bourget, a controversial Catholic traditionalist who opposed all reform within the Church. Ducaud-Bourget repeatedly denied it. So the assertion was retracted, but in a highly devious way. The Marquis de Chérisey informed Lincoln in a letter that Ducaud-Bourget had not been elected by a full quorum. Later, de Chérisey sent him a French translation of an article by Jania Macgillivray, to which had been added a page not by her (though purporting to be), which said that “since Cocteau’s death, power has been exercised by a triumvirate consisting of Gaylord Freeman, Pierre Plantard and Antonio Merzagora.”
From April 1982, Lincoln had regular meetings with Plantard in Paris. At one, on 17 May 1983, Plantard showed him certain notarised documents from the 1950s concerning four distinguished Englishmen, Captain Ronald Stansmore Nutting, the Right Honourable Viscount Leathers, Major Hugh Murchison Clowes, and Lord Selborne (all by then deceased). These appeared to prove that in 1956 these men had imported to Britain the parchments found by Sauniere, which had been inherited by his niece, Madam James. It was stated that they included genealogies proving that the ‘House of Plantard. Counts of Rhédae’ were the direct descendants of Dagobert II. He provided photographs of the documents, enabling Lincoln and friends to check out their veracity. They eventually demonstrated them to be forgeries.
In mid-December 1983 a flyer was widely circulated throughout France alleging that former Plantard associate Jan-Luc Chaumeil was about to publish a five-volume treatise on the doctrine of the Priory of Sion. It contained highly insulting statements about Plantard and said that since 1981 the Priory had been “directed by an Englishwoman named Ann Evans, the true author of this paranoid fiction!” In fact Ann Evans was Lincoln’s literary agent.
Plantard announced his intention of suing for libel. It is doubtful if he would have succeeded. In the first place, the tract was anonymous and bore no address. Secondly, Plantard told Lincoln, it contained a ‘highly confidential’ fact about himself (that in 1952 he had transferred a quantity of gold from France to Switzerland on behalf of de Gaulle): “How had the writer of the tract learned of it… ?” The most obvious explanation is that Plantard had written it himself, as a twisted form of self publicity.
Early the following year he sent Lincoln a copy of an official Priory of Sion document, dated 17 January 1984, which accused Chaumeil of receiving two boxes of Priory archives, covering 1935 to 1955, stolen from de Chérisey in 1967. It was signed John E. Drick, Gaylord Freeman, A. Robert Abboud and Pierre Plantard. Drick, Freeman and Abboud all proved to have been directors of the First National Bank of Chicago. But Drick had died on 16 February 1982, and Freeman, when interviewed by one of the banks security officers who had become curious about the affair, said that he had never heard of the Priory of Sion or Pierre Plantard.
The same security officer discovered that the signatures of the three Americans on the Priory document were absolutely identical to those on the 1974 Annual Report of the First National Bank of Chicago. This suggested that those on the Priory document were simply a photocopy. But when his secretary tried to photo-copy the 1974 report, the signatures would not take. This was because they were made in light blue ink without graphite content, precisely to prevent such unauthorised use. So how had Plantard got hold of them? Lincoln planned to challenge him on this at their meeting in La Tipia on 30 September 1984, but when he pulled the document from a briefcase, Plantard said: “Those were made with a stamp, you know.” Such stamps are routinely used when a senior figure has to ‘sign’ many copies of the same document. Evidently, this particular stamp had somehow come into the possession of Plantard.
Three weeks later Plantard sent them copies of letters from himself dated 10 and 11 July 1984, addressed to members of the Priory of Sion, in which he announced his resignation as Grand Master, on the grounds of health. Lincoln noted that they “effectively, and very precisely, covered each of the points raised verbally in our meeting three weeks before … It was almost as if the letters of resignation had been composed after this meeting” – as no doubt they were. After that, little more was heard of Pierre Plantard, though soon another tract appeared, The Scandals of the Priory of Sion, by ‘Cornelius’ linking him to the Italian Mafia, the P2 Masonic Lodge, and the death of banker Roberto Calvi, found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982. But it was not the end of the Priory.
Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln’s second book, The Messianic Legacy, included a review of the public response to their first. They complained about many correspondents “who, quite inexplicably, persisted in confronting us with the Shroud of Turin. ‘What about the Shroud of Turin’?’ we were asked repeatedly. (What indeed) Or, ‘How does the Shroud of Turin affect your thesis’?’ It was extraordinary how frequently this non sequitur occurred.” It seems that this passage gave someone the idea of making a connection.
In October 1988 it was announced that carbon dating suggested that the Shroud was a late mediaeval forgery. In the wake of interest, paranormal researcher Lynn Picknett gave interviews about it on London’s LBC radio and the BBC World Service. It was well known in ‘Shroudie’ circles that at that time Picknett was having a relationship with Ian Wilson, the best known defender of the Shroud’s genuineness.
Soon afterwards she received the first of a series of letters signed ‘Giovanni’, which informed her that the Turin Shroud was actually created by none other than Leonardo da Vinci, by means of “a sort of alchemical imprinting”, in other words a primitive form of photography, more than three centuries before Daguerre. He claimed to be a member of a dissident faction of the Priory of Sion, and advised her to read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. It may be presumed that, since da Vinci was supposed to have once been their Grand Master, this proved that the Turin Shroud did affect any thesis on the subject. Now, anyone could claim to represent the Priory of Sion, but this man does seem to have been connected to Plantard, since, when she wrote to the latter, his secretary replied that it might be possible to help, but “perhaps you yourselves already have information on this subject?”, a hint that they knew what she had been told. (That da Vinci faked the Shroud had been suggested a few months beforehand by Anthony Harris in The Sacred Virgin and the Holy Whore. Harris’s primary thesis was that Jesus Christ was a woman, hence he had needed to be able to reject the bearded Jesus of Turin as fraudulent.)
Eventually Picknett met Giovanni at the Cumberland Hotel near Marble Arch in London. It appeared from their conversation that he wanted what he had told her to be passed on to Ian Wilson, as the foremost “Shroud scholar”. Unfortunately for him, Wilson had recently finished his affair with her. However, if Giovanni’s final intention was to have his theories publicised, then this happened anyway with the book that Picknett co-authored with Clive Prince, Turin Shroud: In Whose Image?Coming down to the present day, Dan Brown’s 2003 thriller, The Da Vinci Code, is based on the assumption that the Priory of Sion and its great secret are facts. At the time of writing (November 2004) this novel is at the top of the fiction bestseller list in Britain, and has spawned a series of non-fiction works intended to inform readers about its historical background, Breaking the Da Vinci Code, Cracking the Da Vinci Code, The Da Vinci Code De-coded, etc.., at least fourteen so far. Where Plantard sowed, others continue to reap.
I have not attempted to consult all of the primary sources, which would involve a prolonged visit to France. Most of them are conveniently summarised (though amidst much probably irrelevant material in Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh & Henry Lincoln, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Cape, 1982, chapters 4 to 8; the same authors’ The Messianic Legacy, 1986, chapters 17 to 23; and John M. Saul & Janice A. Glaholm, Rennes-le-Chateau: A Bibliography, Mercurius Press, 1985. Other books include, in chronological order:
Henri Boudet, La Vraie Langue Celtique of Le Cromleck de Rennes-les-Bains, 1886; reprinted with a Preface by Pierre Plantard, Beffond, 1978.
Gerard de Sede, Les Templiers sont parmi nous ou I’enigme de Gisors, Julliard, 1962.
Robert Charroux, Treasures of the World, translated by Gloria Cantu, Muller, 1966 (1st 1962).
Gerard de Sede, L’Or de Rennes ou La Vie Insolde de Bérenger Sauniere, Julliard, 1967 (paperback edition entitled Le tresor mauit de Rennes-le-Chateau).
Jean-Pierre Deloux & Jacques Bretigny, Rennes-le-Chateau: Capitale secrete de l’histoire de France, Editions Atlas, 1982.
Patricia & Lionel Fanthorpe, The Holy Grail Revealed, Newcastle Publishing, 1982.
Jean Robin, Rennes-le-Chateau: La Colline Envoutee, Editions de la Mairnie, Paris, 1982.
David Wood, Genisis: The First Book of Revelations, Baton Press, 1985.
Roy Norvill, Hermes Unveiled, Ashgrove Press, Bath, 1986.
René Descedeillas, Mythologie du Trésor de Rennes, Editions J.M.Savory, Carcassonne, 1988.
Anthony Harris, The Sacred Virgin and the Holy Whore, Sphere, 1988.
Patricia & Lionel Fanthorpe, Rennes-le-Chateau: Its Mysteries and Secrets, Bellevue Books, 1991.
Henry Lincoln, The Holy Place, Cape, 1991.
Lynn Picknett & Clive Prince, The Templar Revelation, Bantam, 1997.
Marilyn Hopkins, Graham Simmans & Tim Wallace-Murphy, Rex Deus: The True Mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau and the Dynasty of Jesus, Element, 2000.
Bill Putnam & John Edwin Wood, The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau: A Mystery Solved, Sutton Publishing, 2003.
From Magonia 74, April 2002
Over the past half a century there have been hundreds of books, to say nothing of articles, purporting to solve “The UFO question”. The answers vary (and conflict, of course), but they are usually alike in that they consist of something that could easily be summarised in a few words, whether “They come from Zeta Reticuli”, or “Weather balloons”. The bulk of this writing is polemical, the author wanting to convince the reader of a particular theory, and selecting and arranging the material accordingly. So far as one can tell, it almost never succeeds. Instead, for the most part, it is read by people who already share the author’s opinion, and want to be confirmed in their views; and this is as true of what appears in Magonia as what appears in UFO Magazine.
The primary reason for this is that proving a theory about UFOs usually amounts to having to prove a negative, which is of course impossible. A sceptic cannot prove that there are no ETs. Less obvious, but no less true, is that an ETH proponent is at root trying to demonstrate that “There is no other explanation for these reports”, which is equally impossible.
The history of the psychosocial hypothesis indicates, I think, another reason. The PSH is usually said to derive from two works, Jacques Vallee’s Passport to Magonia , and John Keel’s Operation Trojan Horse , though neither book was itself advocating it. Vallee compared flying saucer reports to the medieval belief in flying ships from the mysterious land of Magonia, Mothman to Springheeled Jack, and Antonio Villas-Boas’s claim to have had sex with an attractive spacewoman to the old theological belief in intercourse with demons. He did not attempt to draw a straight conclusion from all this – “The problem cannot be solved today” (1) – nor has he in subsequent books.
Keel’s book, which unlike Vallee’s was based on a large amount of first-hand research, decided that UFOs “are merely temporary intrusions into our reality or space-time continuum, momentary manipulations of electro-magnetic energy . . . This may seem like a fantastic concept, but . . . all of the evidence supports our fantastic concepts more readily than it supports the notion that we are receiving visitors from Mars or Aenstria.” (2) In this and subsequent books he noted the same kind of similarities to other unexplained phenomena as pointed out by Vallee, and concluded that they all ultimately had the same obscure “ultraterrestrial” cause. His work has sometimes been described as “demonological”, but unlike the old demonologists he left no room for the “good guys”: the same all-encompassing entities were not merely behind UFOs, poltergeists, and spiritual materialisations, but even angels, miracles, and the foundation of the world’s religions, including Christianity. The alternative title “paranormalist” is more appropriate.
The “paranormalist” viewpoint has failed to obtain any wide acceptance, probably due to its pessimistic outlook. Keel viewed the ultraterrestrials as deceptive, and inimical to the human race, yet thought there was little or nothing we could do about them. One could not even take solace in religion, since that is just a part of the deception. It was inevitable that most people would ignore his findings, or, if they noticed them at all, wish to slot his observations into a more positive framework.
There are various ways the latter can be done. Some take the “New Age” view that these entities are quite benign really. Others have adapted them into a Christian framework, putting UFOs and other spirit manifestations down to the work of demons, from whom Christ and the good angels can save us. The materialist outlook is equally comforting, since it assures us that none of these bogeymen really exist.
These various UFO schools of thought are, therefore, linked to religious belief. Accordingly, attempting to convince subscribers to one such theory of the truth of another is effectively asking them to change their faith, and hence about as likely of success as trying to convert a Northern Ireland Protestant to the Catholic Church, or a Muslim fundamentalist to Judaism.
Theories and theorists
The complexities of modern life have affected the sceptic as much as anyone else. The eighteenth century rationalist had merely to disbelieve in miracles, astrology and witchcraft. Today, one might be called upon to deny the reality of near-death experiences, telepathy, clairvoyance, UFO sightings, the Loch Ness monster, pyramid power, alien big cats, the Bermuda triangle, spontaneous human combustion, conspiracy theories, Satanic child abuse, Nostradamus, remote viewing, ancient astronauts, bigfoot, the face on Mars, Spiritualism, chupacabras, channelling, the New Age generally, and of course miracles, astrology, and witchcraft.
It is very useful, therefore, to have a simple theory that covers the lot. This of course the psychosocial hypothesis provides: “human imagination”. Unfortunately, there are other simple viewpoints that are also able to encompass the whole field. Christians say miracles are sent by God, and all the rest is the work of demons. The school of Paul Devereux and Albert Budden explains paranormal phenomena as being the result of electromagnetic pollution. Then again, “UFO technology”, supplemented by “screen memories”, has been used to account for everything from Biblical miracles to Satanic abuse reports.
Thus we have at least five schools of thought: the ETH (whether “New Age” or not), the PSH, the paranormalist, the EM, and the Christian. yet to a great extent the adherents of all these schools cite the same evidence. We observe that sky ships from Magonia resemble UFOs from Zeta Reticuli. So, medieval peasants misinterpreted aliens as fairies; or, they both come from the same place, human imagination; or, they have the same paranormal cause; or, the same electromagnetic cause; or, the same demons are responsible. What is not argued is why we should believe one explanation rather than another.
It is theoretically possible that the truth might be a combination of two or more of these views, for instance, most UFO sightings could be caused by electromagnetic pollution, but a minority could be of actual craft piloted by agents of Satan. Certainly, if one can show that the PSH explains most UFO events, this does not eliminate the possibility that some might be actual ET encounters.
Incidentally, the plethora of views does help to confuse witnesses. On 13 January 2001 a woman told me how ten days earlier she had seen a silent triangular object flying over Earl’s Court, West London, faster than an aeroplane. I told her flying triangles are the ufological fashion, and that pleased her, because, she complained, no one believed her. her downstairs neighbour had said, “You’ve been taking too many vitamin pills”. The dustman told her, “I don’t believe in such rubbish”, no doubt believing only in the kind that comes in bins. Another neighbour, a drug dealer, asked, “Have you been taking what I’m taking?” On the other hand, a Christian friend suggested that it was a sign from God of the End Times; whereas members of her local Evangelical church denounced it as “Satanic”, hence typical of Earl’s Court. An old woman said, “It’s quite possible nowadays, it’s the Russians tampering with the sky”, and a Scotsman told her how he saw an object like an “old threepenny piece” flying through the sky fifty years ago.
There is no need here to point out the defects of pro-ETH writing. It is worth drawing attention, however, to some of the weaknesses commonly found in sceptical works. I have often read pieces on crop circles which boiled down to the argument: “Some crop circles are known fakes; that shows they are all hoaxes.” Considered purely as an exercise in logic, this is on a par with saying: “Some men have red hair; therefore all men have red hair.” Though it is termed rationalism, at root it is an appeal to incredulity, and will only convince those who share the incredulity from the start.
In framing arguments it is therefore worth asking whom, if anyone, you hope to convince. For example, if you are disputing with militiamen who believe that President Kennedy was assassinated by aliens from the Trilateral Commission acting on the orders of Satan, then you would be unlikely to impress them by reasoning based around “plausibility”.
If you are disputing with militiamen who believe that President Kennedy was assassinated by aliens from the Trilateral Commission acting on the orders of Satan, then you would be unlikely to impress them by reasoning based around plausibility
Another problem for sceptics is that often their various arguments cancel each other out. It has been stated that the “Oz Effect”, in which everything is reported to go strangely silent prior to a UFO encounter, was first described in a 1967 SF novel, The Terror Above Us. (3) I take the implication to be that, since it initially featured in a work of admitted fiction, its subsequent repetition in “real” cases must be a result of conscious or unconscious plagiarism, and nothing to do with real events. But others say the Oz Effect proves that close encounters are only hallucinations. (4) You can’t have it both ways.
(Actually, I doubt if the “science fiction said it first” view is correct in this instance, since a while ago I came across a book in my local library which quoted a 1950s book referring to the Oz Effect, though not by that name. I tried to find it again to quote it here, but it was not on the shelf. Possibly some other reader had taken it out, but John Rimmer suggests it was abstracted by Men in Black, who are engaged in an evil plot to remove UFO books from the shelves of public libraries in order to stifle public interest in the subject, a conspiracy to which Gordon Creighton drew attention in Flying Saucer Review back in the 1980s.)
They know the truth
UFO coverup theories go back to the start of ufology: John Keel recalled going to a meeting in New York in 1948 where he found “about 40 people crowded into a small room, yelling and screaming at each other about government suppression and such”. (5) Less well known, but equally pertinent, are the disbelievers’ counterparts, such as that the US Air Force is promoting a belief in UFOs (e.g. with Rendlesham) which it secretly knows to be untrue. Leader in the field seems to be Gregory M. Kanon, who maintains that the military invented the extraterrestrial threat to justify their huge budgets.
It is worth comparing the records of the Robertson committee, which met in 1953. They concluded that, though there was no threat from UFOs, the UnAmerican belief in UFOs could be a threat to national security, since it could be used by foreign powers to create a “morbid national psychology in which skillful hostile propaganda could induce hysterical behavior and harmful distrust of duly constituted authority”. (6) So they proposed various kinds of counter propaganda, such as silly alien cartoon films which would stop the public taking the subject seriously.
This indicates that they considered that they knew the truth about UFOs – that there were no such things – but wanted to suppress interest in them. This does not fit with either of the above paranoias. Nevertheless, Jenny Randles wondered if they had created the contactee movement, since absurd tales about blond, blue-eyed Venusians “were just what Dr Robertson ordered”. (7)
Another version has it that the aliens themselves are responsible for the coverup, having to some extent taken control of the world already, though this line inevitably degenerates into paradox. We would have to ask if the Magonia editorial team are controlled by implants, or are they themselves aliens in (quasi) human form? I am unbeknownst to myself being programmed to write all this as a further piece of disinformation?
Behind all these conflicting views lies, I think, the same fallacy: a refusal, on everyone’s part, to accept that their opponents really disagree with them. No, secretly they know the truth that there are, or are not, UFOs, but are hiding it for their own reasons. It is no accident that 1950s UFO sceptic Donald Menzel was later alleged to be one of the Majestic-12 coverers-up. (Something similar occurs in other fields: Joseph McCabe, a former Catholic priest, and anti-Catholic writer, stated that the view of the Catholic Church was that “the chief Satanic manifestation, the world in its most vicious shape, is the anti-Catholic writer; above all the apostate priest, who, of course, secretly believes in Catholicism, but is moved by some mad and mysterious rage against it”. (8))
Though this attitude may be adopted only unconsciously, sometimes it is quite explicit, as for instance in Martin Gardner’s article on Ray Palmer in the Skeptical Inquirer, which contained statements such as: “If Ray Palmer for one moment believed the crap in this crazy volume [Oahspe] then the man was a moron, which of course he wasn’t.” This produced a letter from Palmer’s former associate Chester S. Geier, who protested that, at least with regard to the Shaver mystery, Palmer appeared sincere: “Privately as well as publicly he was quite serious about it. For my part I recall how the members of Ray’s inner circle often asked one another ‘Do you think Ray really believes that Shaver stuff?’ He certainly seemed to.” In Gardner’s inevitable reply to the reply he refused to accept this, and openly accused Geier of the same deceit: “Geier . . . was Ray Palmer’s top booster of the Shaver hoax . . . It is unthinkable that either he or Palmer saw the hoax as anything but a flimflam to boost the circulation of Amazing Stories .” (9)
What we have here might be termed the Impotent Inquisition. The original Inquisition told people what they were to believe, with the possibility of imprisonment, torture and death for those who refused. Writers on ufology have no such power, so instead they tell people what (supposedly) they already believe, irrespective of what they may say themselves. I am not saying that this is any way comparable to the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, but I would suggest that it is totally valueless except as an exercise in self justification.
Consider the facts
John Keel made a gesture towards the PSH when he wrote: “If you saw a strange light in the sky in 1475 you knew it had to be a witch on a broom because you had heard of others who had seen witches on brooms skirting the treetops. Now in 1975 you might decide it is attached to a spacecraft from some other planet. This conclusion is not a qualified deduction on your part. It is the result of years of propaganda and even brainwashing. If you are under thirty, you grew up on a diet of comic-books, motion pictures, and television programmes which educated you to believe in the extraterrestrial hypothesis . . . ” (10)
Obviously to a great extent this is true, but it doesn’t address the crucial question: What is the strange light in the sky? Is it something currently unknown to science? Even if the study of UFO reports never tells us anything about life on other planets, it may eventually lead to some new finding in natural science, or, if nothing else, teach us things about abnormal psychology. But in order to achieve this, the first requirement is to collect the evidence.
Often, alas, the full facts are not recorded, I suspect because investigators are unconsciously afraid that more data might undermine their theories. There are many examples I could cite, but here are just a few selected at random.
The Sheffield Lake, Ohio, UFO (1958) was one of the few civilian sightings to be investigated by the US Air Force. A woman claimed that at three o’clock one morning she saw an aluminium coloured disc hovering in her back yard, which emitted clouds of smoke then flew off. Two air force sergeants concluded that what she had seen was the beam of the rotating headlight of a train going past about 100 yards away, shining through smoke from a nearby foundry.
This is one of those rare cases where it would be possible to test the hypothetical explanation, by getting the witness to watch when another train went by late at night, and see if it resembled what she saw. This approach does not seem to have occurred to the investigators; nor to the Akron Ohio UFO Research Committee, who later attacked the official report in a pamphlet.
One of the criticisms made in the latter was that the sergeants did not make a house-to-house check among the neighbours to obtain confirmatory evidence. Since the sighting had happened in a small town at three a.m., quite likely there would have been no other witnesses anyway. But Donald Menzel defended the Air Force in this wise: “Such a time-consuming procedure would not have been justified. The neighbors had had two weeks in which to report a visiting spaceship. No such report had been made.” (11)
No one investigating a murder would wait for witnesses to come forward, and, if they did not, conclude that there were no witnesses, or even no murder. In practical terms a UFO sighting is far less important than a murder case, but for precisely that reason witnesses would be far less likely to make a report of their own accord. Moreover, if other witnesses had recognised that the “object” was only a train headlight, thus confirming the Air Force explanation, then they would have seen no reason to report it. (Again, apparently, the Akron UFO Research Committee did not bother to make such enquiries themselves.)
As John Keel put it, the American public has not been telling the Air Force the truth about the UFOs.
Indeed, I can see no reason to think that most UFO witnesses try to report to the authorities, or to anyone at all. As John Keel put it, the American public has not been telling the Air Force the truth about the UFOs. Even if they tried, they would probably get only a brush off. The [London] Metropolitan Police commissioner was complaining a while back about people who telephone emergency services over trivial matters. This is certainly a problem (e.g. a man who merely wished to know the time, a woman who reported a broken fingernail) but the one example the commissioner gave was of people who want to report UFO sightings.
Tony Dodd, in Alien Investigator , quotes the memories of Jim Duesler, which, he says, at last prove that Captain Mantell did indeed encounter an alien craft. Duesler was in the control tower at Godman Field on the fateful day. He described the object as “the shape of an inverted ice-cream cone . . . It was rotating; at least there seemed to be a black stripe from top to bottom which seemed to move across our vision and go around and come back. We didn’t time the length of rotation but it was a matter of a few minutes.” In addition to one or two meaningless statements (“it was about 185-195 degrees above the horizon”) we are told that the plane crashed in one piece, rather than wreckage being scattered over a mile, as is more usually the case, and that Mantell’s body was “oddly intact”. (12) But this hardly proves anything, and otherwise his description is consistent with the object having been a balloon.
Reading this, I wondered if a Skyhook balloon would be picked up by radar (I think not, but am uncertain about this), and whether the object chased by Mantell was seen by the radar. To my amazement, though this is one of the most discussed cases in ufology, no writer I can discover ever recorded whether the UFO was picked up on radar, still less how that would bear on the balloon theory. My guess is that there was nothing on radar, so that nobody thought about or mentioned the matter, but there is no way of knowing for sure.
A recent book, MILABS: Military Mind Control and Alien Abduction, (13) which is not quite so paranoid as you would expect from the title, draws attention to an interesting statistical anomaly: many books by abductees, for instance Debbie Jordan and Kathy Mitchell’s Abducted!, Leah Haley’s Lost Was the Key , Whitley Strieber’s Breakthrough , Beth Collins’s and Anna Jamerson’s Connections , and Katherine Wilson’s The Alien Jigsaw, describe how they were apparently watched by unmarked black helicopters. Yet Thomas E. Bullard’s study of 270 alien abductions mentions in only four cases that the abductees saw dark unmarked helicopters over or near their houses.
Probably this discrepancy occurred because abductionists (the source of Bullard’s data) are not interested in black helicopters and do not normally record them, whereas they seem important to the abductees themselves, and so are reported by those who get to write their own books. Notably, there is no mention of helicopters in Budd Hopkins’s Intruders, which is about the experiences of Debbie Jordan (there called “Kathie Davis”), but Debbie Jordan herself says they were, at one time, “almost daily around out houses”. In the same way, C.D.B. Bryan’s book about the 1992 MIT abduction conference gave more than 150 pages to the stories of Carol Dedham and Alice Bartlett, firstly long interviews, then transcripts of their subsequent hypnosis by Budd Hopkins. Speaking for themselves,they told Bryan how “black helicopters began appearing over Alice’s horse farm”, (14) but nothing was said about these craft in the Hopkins sessions. (Nor did Hopkins deal with their other exotic adventures, such as Carol’s nighttime encounter, on a lonely road in Maryland, with a naked man wearing a four-foot stetson – was he really an alien, or just eccentric?)
This suggests that a widespread phenomenon is going unnoted because it does not fit what researchers want to hear. Moreover, whatever the real explanation for black helicopter sightings, it cannot be due to abductees saying whatever abductionists prompt them to say, the usual blanket explanation offered for abduction experiences. Accordingly sceptics, no less than abductionists, are inclined to pass over this topic, leaving it to be dealt with only by the paranoid.
Though there has been some attempt at proper analyses of the abduction phenomenon, studies tend to speak of an “abductee” as a generic creature, with no attempt to distinguish any different types. For instance, one might want to know how many are “waking encounters”, i.e. the witnesses claimed always to have remembered them, and how many “recover” their memories of abduction? And what percentage of these are recovered under hypnosis, what percentage spontaneously as “flashbacks”?
(Edith Fiore’s Encounters , though not very critical, does at least explain why her abductees came to think that they were abductees: out of thirteen cases, two had had an experience of seeing a bright light and then “missing time”; four had had dreams about aliens; one experienced a sense of fear on reading Communion ; in four cases Fiore herself had a “hunch” about a client, and during hypnosis suddenly asked about UFO experiences; one, visiting her for his drink problem, was told by her about UFO healings, and started recalling them; and one remembered, without hypnosis, having fifteen years earlier floated out of his flat, through the venetian blinds, into a circular building where he conversed with aliens.)
One problem is that it is difficult to know what facts may be important. Anthony R. Brown, commenting on Hufford’s study of the “Old Hag Phenomenon” notes that “he discovered that the hallucinations, the paralysis, the fight for breath, and the terror that characterised the Old Hag Phenomenon fitted perfectly the major components of the Narcoleptic syndrome. At no stage did he consider that the descriptions of the Old Hag sitting on the victim’s chest had any relevance to the clinical picture at all”. (15)
Obviously, if you are trying to understand how television works, then knowing the storyline of EastEnders will not help you. But that does not mean that the content of the programmes is devoid of all interest. In the same way, some aspects of an experience might have medical significance, and others social relevance.
The survey of abductees carried out in the USA by Randle, Estes and Cone found that a high proportion were gay or bisexual – far higher than would be expected by chance. This has given rise to some controversy, but no one apparently has suggested why this should be. There must be a reason, but because it does not easily fit into the usual theories I suspect the fact will end up being ignored.
David Sivier has recently argued that abduction experiences are basically sexual fantasies, and published accounts of them stand in the place of pornography. One point that tends to support this is the way that abduction stories frequently feature alien rectal probes. Now, while we cannot expect to understand alien technology, it is hard to see why, if they are engaged in fertility research and genetic manipulation as maintained by Hopkins and Jacobs, they should want to investigate our anuses. On the other hand, many people have anal erotic tendencies that they will not admit to. What better way to indulge them than in rape fantasy which has been given a seemingly scientific and factual basis?
Sivier also says, however: “For most abductees I would suggest, much could be done by simply reassuring them that their sexual or emotional problems do not stem from abuse by aliens.” (16) I cannot agree with him: on the contrary, it seems to me, people want to believe that their problems are due to suppressed memories of alien abduction, mass rape by gangs of paedophiles, or Satanists forcing them to eat their own babies. If they could be convinced that this was not so, then they might have to face up to the realisation that their emotional and sexual problems were their own fault, which is at best a depressing truth.
I have a particularly sad memory in this connection. On one occasion a man admitted to me that he had not (as he had been claiming for the previous year) been homosexually raped. He had merely had a psychotic episode and imagined it. That was the last time I saw him. A couple of weeks later he committed suicide.
In view of incidents like this I think that having fantasies, even quite unpleasant fantasies, can have therapeutic value. Yet most therapists do not encourage them, so people who have unconsciously prescribed themselves fantasies have to pretend that they are real events.
Whilst there are obvious dangers in taking false memories literally, personally I can foresee potential hazards in a general acceptance of False Memory Syndrome. The next step may be, some doctor will find a “cure”. Then, we will find this treatment being tried out on people who, say, claim to remember Tony Blair’s election pledges.
What the existence of False Memory does not do, in any case, is prove anything about UFO reports, rather, it is another of those matters which makes it harder to reach any conclusion at all. A little while ago Hilary Evans wrote of the Cergy-Pontoise case: “Many years later, Jean-Pierre Prevost, the most prominent of the three young men involved, confessed that it had been – as most researchers had always suspected a hoax; but what is intriguing is that his two companions, Salomon N’Daye and the abductee Fontaine himself, have refused to go along with their companion’s confession, insisting vigorously on the truth of the affair. Easy to say they are lying, but why should they? What if they have come, by who can say what mysterious process, to sincerely believe everything really did take place just as they told police, press and researchers at the time? Believing so profoundly, that the pseudo-story is now implanted in their minds as reality?” (17)
Well, maybe, but if there is no evidence besides the memories of humans, and these do not agree, no firm conclusion is possible. One could just as well argue that Fontaine really was abducted by aliens, but that because most researchers suspected a hoax, eventually Prevost managed to convince himself that it was so.
Abductionists seem to consider themselves a combination of investigator and therapist. Budd Hopkins employs a “buddy system” or mutual support network for abductees, but makes it a rule that: “The abductee whose case has already been investigated is not permitted to give any information as to the content of his or her abduction experience – descriptions of the UFO, its occupants, technical procedures, sequence of events, etc.” (18) He wants to help people who have suffered at the hands and rectal probes of the heartless greys, but therapy must not interfere with his programme of uncovering the secrets of alien technology.
In fact, of course, investigators and therapists usually have incompatible agendas, as is well known in child abuse cases. Moreover, attempting, say, to learn from an abductee what date the greys plan to take over the world is futile or worse from either point of view. I had thought of suggesting that it would be more helpful to approach alleged abductions from a purely therapeutic position, and simply ignoring the question of their “reality”; but there is no point in making recommendations when no one is going to take any notice of them, so I may as well leave it at that.
1. Jacques Vallee, Passport to Magonia , Tandem, 1975 (1st ed. 1970), 154
2. John Keel, Operation Trojan Horse , Abacus, 1973 (1st ed. 1970), 299
3. Magonia 49, 14
4. Magonia ETH Bulletin No. 1
5. Fortean Times 65, October/November 1992, 28
6. David M. Jacobs, The UFO Controversy in America , Signet, New York, 1976, 83
7. Jenny Randles, Investigating the Truth Behind MIB , Piatkus, 1997, 44
8. Joseph McCabe, The Popes and their Church , 1933, 146
9. Reprinted in Martin Gardner, The New Age, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York, 1991, 218, 220-221
10. John Keel, Visitors from Space, Panther, 1976 (1st ed. as The Mothman Prophecies, 1975), 48
11. Donald H. Menzel and Lyle G. Boyd, The World of Flying Saucers , Doubleday, New York, 1963, 286
12. Tony Dodd, Alien Investigator, Headline, 1999, 175-178
13. By Dr Helmut and Marion Lammer, IllumiNet Press, Lilburn, GA, 1999, 31-33
14. C.D.B. Bryan, Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind , Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1995, 229
15. Magonia 72, 5
16. Magonia 73, 18
17. Magonia Monthly Supplement No. 24
18. Budd Hopkins, Intruders , Sphere, 1988, 58-59
Magonia 72, January 2002
There has been some recent debate about the likelihood of intelligent life existing in other solar systems, with specific reference to the UFO question. As you would expect, ETH believers think that intelligent life is probably very common, whilst ETH sceptics suggest that it may be very rare.Both sides are able to support their cases with the opinions of scientists, for the simple reason that scientists are themselves divided on the issue. For instance, it has often been said that UFOs cannot be spacecraft because interstellar travel is impossible. By contrast, a recent article in Scientific American by Ian Crawford, (1) argues that there are no other intelligent races in the Milky Way, since interstellar travel is so straightforward that any race that arose more than a few million years before us would by now have colonised the whole galaxy. The lack of a consensus among scientists on these issues is further shown by the fact that, though Crawford cites the failure of SETI to detect intelligent radio signals as a proof of the absence of other advanced civilisations out there, his article is immediately followed by one by George W. Swenson which points out the difficulties of using radio to communicate across interstellar distances. This latter effectively disposes of the negative results from SETI as evidence.Now, to state the obvious, there are two ways of assessing a probability: either one takes a random sample of actual occurrences; or, if one exactly understands the processes involved, one can calculate the likelihood of those processes occurring at any given time. Either method, or both, will establish a probability; but not neither.
We are not currently able to go around sampling star systems and seeing how many of them bear intelligent life. Nor, I contend, do we have any real understanding, let alone exact knowledge, of how it arose on Earth, still less how it may have done anywhere else. So how can we talk about its probability?
To examine this in detail, consider an informal conference which was held in 1961 at the Green Bank observatory, West Virginia, to assess the possibility of communication with other worlds. Frank Drake represented the conference’s central problem thus: N = R*.fp.ne.fl.fi.fc.L. (2) N is the number of civilisations in the galaxy that are currently capable of communicating with other solar systems. Unfortunately, none of the variables on the other side of the equation are known accurately.
R* is the rate at which stars were being formed in the galaxy during the period when the solar system itself was born. Since the age of the galaxy and the number of stars in it are known approximately, the astronomers present were able to say with confidence that a conservative estimate would be one new star a year. This was an example of sampling from observation.
fp is the fraction of stars that have planets. In 1961 there was no evidence whatsoever on this point, yet the conferrers concluded that that it “might be as low as one fifth”. Actually, for all anyone knew at that time, our solar system might have been unique. It is only in the past decade that measurement of Doppler wobble has made it possible to detect large Jupiter-like planets around other stars. (Previous reports of the discovery of extra-solar planets eventually turned out to have been caused by observational errors.) Several are now known, making it clear that planets are common, perhaps the rule rather than the exception. (Though it is not proven that rocky Earthlike planets also exist.) But the process of planetary formation is still not sufficiently well understood for us to assign an exact probability to it, in the way that we can say that there is a 50 per cent chance of a tossed coin coming up tails.
ne is the number of planets, per solar system, with an environment suitable for life. The only clue we have to this is our own solar system, on which there is only one such planet (though it is thought that Mars may once have had life). One can hardly generalise on this basis, but the Green Bank men did, putting the figure “probably” between one and five.
fl is the fraction of suitable planets on which life actually appears, on which they decided that “given a time period measured in billions of years, life must sooner or later appear”, so that they gave it a factor of one. Now, while it has been shown that amino acids might have been formed in the primitive atmosphere of the Earth, it has also been calculated that the chances of them arranging themselves into a strand of DNA is so unlikely that the odds are wildly against it having happened even once in the lifetime of the universe. This has led to various speculations, some saying that this proves that Earth is the only planet with life, though personally I think it most likely there is something seriously flawed in the theory. But without any coherent (still less proven) theory of how life arose here, then we are in no position at all to say how often it is likely to happen anywhere else.
An important lacuna occurred here: they jumped straight from the appearance of life to the appearance of intelligent life. In between these is the appearance of complex, multi-cellular life, a necessary but not sufficient condition for the emergence of intelligence. On Earth, this process is highly mysterious. Up until the late pre-Cambrian, perhaps 650 million years ago, the only life was single-celled. After a short transition period in which there were a few multi-celled life forms, quite suddenly the Cambrian explosion brought into being practically all of the known phyla of life, including many types of sea creature not all that different from their descendants today. This “explosion” took not more than a few million years – only one thousandth of the time that the Earth had been in existence. No one seems to have any idea why so much of the development of life happened in such a short space of time. So, again, in the absence of a plausible theory to explain this, who can say what its likelihood is?
fi is the fraction of life-bearing planets on which intelligence emerges. On the basis that two intelligent species, humans and dolphins, are found on Earth, they thought this fraction would be large. But again, can one generalise from the example of our planet alone?
fc is the fraction of intelligent societies that develop the ability and desire to communicate with other worlds – again, guesswork.
L is the longevity of each technology in the communicative state. The 1961 conference was well aware that nuclear war threatened. So far it hasn’t eventuated, but we are not yet in a position to say that a technological society may last long.
A chain with a link missing is useless, and so is an equation in which even one of the variables is unknown. In the present case, an actual majority of the variables cannot even be estimated. The probability of extraterrestrial life is not therefore currently a scientific question at all. However, there have been recent attempts to settle the argument, one of which has generated a lot of heat, or at least hot air. In the blue corner we have Michael Swords, a professor of natural sciences, who, with the stated motive to defend the ETH as an explanation for the UFO phenomenon, has argued that extraterrestrial life is likely to be very common. In the red corner, Peter Brookesmith, whose unstated motive is evidently to discredit the ETH, and who thinks intelligent life to be as rare as intelligent writing on the subject of ufology.
Swords thinks that the issues are so clear-cut that he gives them just a couple of pages, in naively simple terms like this: “Once life forms on a world in the continuously habitable zone, almost no one believes in anything other than a continued advance in complexity. Though the trick of piecing together advanced eukaryotic cells and multicellular organisms seems, at least on our own planet, to be a tough puzzle (three billion or so years in the solving), once past this barrier the process of forming rich ecologies and ever more fascinating life forms should be unleashed . . . Any world circling a sun-like star with enough time in the habitable zone should develop advanced intelligence, and if the habitat is terrestrial (rather than aquatic), that intelligence should flourish into a materials-manipulating technical civilisation.” (3)
Brookesmith’s rebuttal (4) is, interestingly, about ten times the length of the section of Swords’s essay that he is criticising. He finds Swords’s work to be partial, partisan, tendentious, humourless, fatuous, wrong, erroneous in reasoning, lacking in scientific credibility, and out of date. He also says that it “doesn’t reflect any prevailing scientific consensus”, though it has to be said that on speculative matters like cosmology the “scientific consensus” is as fluid as fashion in popular music. Curiously, Brookesmith does not challenge the assumption that single-celled life may form readily, though as already noted, this is one of the weakest parts of the pro-ETH case, since its occurrence on Earth is totally inexplicable.
Swords makes one definite error when he says: “The way in which planets are arrayed within such [solar] systems is thought to be of a standard pattern: small rocky terrestrials near the star and large solid-cored gas balls farther out.” Evidently this was once “thought” solely because it is the case with our own solar system, but it is not true of most of the other systems recently found, and of course his opponent jumps on this.
In 1994 George Wetherill had proposed that after the formation of the planets Jupiter acted as a “sling shot”, sending most of the comets out into the Oort cloud, whence they only approach the Sun very rarely. If our system had had no Jupiter, he calculated, then comet impacts would be a thousand times more common, a continual bombardment that would have wiped out any complex life. At that time, no Jupiter-sized planet had been detected elsewhere, and a mathematical model of planet formation suggested that gas giants would be very rare; hence, he argued, so would complex life. (5) Less than two years after his theory was published, the first gas giant was found circling another star, to be followed by many others. This is a cautionary example of how hypotheses in this field are routinely disproved by new findings.
Brookesmith nonetheless cites Wetherill’s work as significant, by assuming that inner gas giants (several of which are now known) would not have the same effect as outer ones; he fails to mention that inner gas giants are the easiest planets to detect by the Doppler wobble method, so that other types of planet may be commoner than they currently appear. Moreover, he seems to be advocating a different theory altogether from Wetherill’s, (6) that Jupiter acts as a “guardian” that “attracts incoming objects that might otherwise smash into the Earth”, instancing comet Shoemaker-Levy. Now, obviously, not every comet collides with Jupiter, since there are still plenty of comets around. The most it could do is to catch them one at a time, so that now, after billions of years, there are far fewer than there would otherwise have been. But, since most comets have orbits that take them close to the Sun, an inner gas giant would actually be more effective than an outer one in doing this, since there would be more likelihood of colliding with a planet in a smaller orbit.
Moreover, there are various theories about how comet impacts link to evolution. It is agreed that mass extinctions, such as that which occurred at the end of the Cretaceous era, were caused by the impact of a huge comet or meteorite. Yet, although up to 80 per cent of known species were annihilated by these events, on each occasion a whole new eco-system sprang up almost at once: so that there is no reason to think that such catastrophes may be fatal to life as a whole. Brookesmith himself says: “At the same time, we are here because some cometary impacts have evaded our giant gatekeeper, resetting the evolutionary clock on various occasions and in ways no one could have predicted.” This is a case of having it both ways. Jupiter protects us from comets, which is why we’ve survived; but it doesn’t protect us from every comet, which is why we evolved. One could as well argue on this basis that, were it not for Jupiter, life would have evolved much faster.
Other cosmological theories give a positive role to celestial bombardment. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe have proposed that life originated in space and was brought to earth by comets and meteorites. (7) Recently, Berkely scientists studying the Moon concluded that impacts became far more common on its surface in the past 400 million years. Probably they would also then have become more common on the Earth, from which they suggest that somehow this stimulated evolution, though this would be more plausible if the crash frequency increase had coincided with the Cambrian explosion. (8)
How valuable these theories are may perhaps be judged by the data on Jupiter transmitted by the Galileo probe, which was totally different to what had been expected. Brookesmith comments on this: “If planets in our solar system refuse to conform to theoretical prediction, we can place no faith in smug predictions about the nature of satellites in other systems.” Quite so, but why then, we may ask, does Brookesmith feel confident in making smug predictions about the rarity of intelligent life?
Brookesmith also makes the misleading statement that the Earth is “placed at just the right distance from the Sun to maintain water in its liquid state”. Actually, distance from its star is only one factor determining a planet’s temperature. Venus is much hotter than the Earth, not only because it is closer to the Sun, but due to its clouds creating a strong “greenhouse effect”, and, possibly, its intense volcanic activity. There is in fact quite a wide band in which a planet might have an Earth-like temperature.
Another key point of Brookesmith’s argument concerns the Moon, which on the basis of the currently fashionable “big splash” theory of lunar origins he reckons to be an astronomical rarity. He goes on to say that it has played a key role in evolution, since “It is the Moon’s gravity that tilts the Earth, creating the seasons”. This can hardly be correct, since Mars, which has no large moon, has almost the same axial tilt as the Earth. (in any case, it is merely speculation that the seasons were vital for the evolution of complexity.) Moreover, he thinks, the Moon’s gravity “creates the ebb and flow of tides, so that animals living in coastal waters were subject to yet more evolutionary pressure. Those who could not survive being stranded by the ebb tide died off.” This would not have happened, he avers, but for the Moon.
Now, as every schoolchild knows, both the Sun and Moon exert a tidal pull, the Moon’s being slightly more than twice that of the Sun. Spring tides occur when the two coincide, neap tides when they partly cancel out. So, if there were no Moon, there would still be tides, nearly as great as neap tides, caused by the Sun.
But do tides matter anyway? Passing over the usual tautology of evolution theory (”Those who could not survive . . . died off”) I notice that jellyfish are often stranded by ebb tides and die. Yet whilst the tides kill the individual, as a class they have flourished for at least 600 million years.
The popular equation of evolution with progress has recently been subject to heavy criticism. Zen Faulkes, a contributor to the Prometheus Books study The UFO Invasion, argues that: Evolutionary theory does not predict that there should be any trend to increasing intelligence. For that matter, evolutionary theory does not predict any trend toward any sort of increasing complexity . . . when one considers that the anomalocaridids were Cambrian-era predators with well-developed eyes, raptorial appendages, and reaching two meters in length . . . one is hard-pressed to argue how such an animal would be “simpler” than the vast majority of animals alive today.” (9) In the same way, Brookesmith invokes Stephen Jay Gould for the conclusion that there is in fact “a slight overall tendency toward simplification”.
I don’t know if you can make any sense of that, for I confess that I cannot. If there is no tendency for life to become complex, then how did complexity ever arise in the first place? If there is no tendency towards increased intelligence, then why did intelligence increase? Possibly what they mean is that, under normal circumstances, life should not become complex or intelligent, so that it must have done so on Earth by the veriest chance. If so, then what they are effectively saying is, theory and facts do not agree, so reject the facts as anomalous, and stick to the theory.
Faulkes also writes that “nobody has yet to provide any reliable evidence that those lineages that squeaked through episodes of mass extinction were any more complex or “better adapted” than those that died”. Other biologists echo this, suggesting that Darwin’s hypothesis of natural selection through survival of the fittest has been tacitly abandoned (though no doubt if a Biblical Creationist pointed this out they would deny it). But this leaves us without any theory of the origin of species, so that these people are pontificating on the probability of events that actually they can’t explain at all.
Brookesmith also points to the large amount of randomness that has evidently taken place in the survival and development of species, citing in particular Stephen Budiansky’s “The Improbability of the Horse”. I suspect that this may be a misleading use of the word “improbability”. Every one of is the result of a genetic lottery at conception, of which there were millions of possible outcomes. So the odds are millions to one against you existing. But, of course, that does not mean that you only came into being as a result of some staggering cosmic coincidence. In the same way, the odds may be incredibly against the exact sequence of life that has occurred, but in itself that does not prove that the probabilities are against something similar having happened.
One thing that is established, from the fossil record, is the general increase in brain size over millions of years, at least in some vertebrates. tertiary mammals tended to have bigger brains than Mesozoic dinosaurs, and modern humans have bigger brains than earlier humans did. We may not know the cause of this, but it is a fact.
Here we come up against the problem that, given the incredible complexity of life, the reasons why these complexities evolved must be even more difficult to understand. Evolutionists, however, tend to offer very simplistic explanations. This is what Swords does here: “intelligence is one of the most powerful survival characteristics employable in the struggle for existence.” Consider, again, jellyfish, which have no brain at all, yet have proved adepts at survival. Incidentally, brain size does not directly correlate with intelligence. Certainly, large brains do not seem to have proved much of an asset to people who write about the probability of intelligent life.
Part of the trouble arises from a refusal to admit that biology is not generally an exact science in the way that physics and chemistry are. What we find in the fossil record is a fact, but the reasons suggested why those events occurred are often only guesses. For instance, the “punctuated evolution” hypothesis, that missing links existed for too short a time to leave fossil remains, is by its nature untestable, hence not, strictly, scientific.
However, I think that the deepest issue here is not about science at all. Brookesmith accuses Swords of having “a core of religious faith”, implying that this is something to be despised. Whatever the official position may now be on natural selection, biologists still hold fast to Darwinism because it “has no place for a divine guiding hand. But Swords’s complaint should apply equally to particle physics, organic chemistry, geology, astronomy, or any other scientific discipline deserving the name, as no science reserves such a driving seat for the Almighty.”
Actually, the physical sciences are rooted in the notion of a structured universe that obeys precise laws – even unpredictability, in quantum physics, follows exact rules. Science does indeed have no place in it for the divine, because science deals with “efficient” (immediate) causes, not with “final” causes, into which category the question of whether or not the universe has a purpose falls. Science is impotent in the face of the ultimate issues.
Because of this, it may be noted, some possibilities are never discussed. If Einstein was right when he said “God does not play dice”, then events that we think are random actually have a cause currently unknown to us. Einstein was talking about microscopic interactions, but far all we know the remark might apply to the cosmos as a whole.
The “intelligence is common” school often invoke the “Principle of Mediocrity”, that we do not occupy any particularly special position in the universe. This is a philosophical guideline, often useful in astronomy, but not an unbreakable rule. If planets with intelligent life are very rare, we would have to be on one of those privileged places to be able to debate the question at all.
On the other side is what one might term the “Egotistical Principle”, that humans have one of the most honoured places in the scheme of things. In the old days, when the Earth was thought to be the centre of a universe perhaps only a few thousand miles across, and before random forces had been set up in the place of deity, it was accepted that everything was created for the benefit of man, who was made in the image of God, woman being a second-rate imitation. No one suggested, though the position would have been equally sustainable, that the world existed for the sake of, say, locusts, and that the function of humans was merely to cultivate crops, so that the locusts could eat them.
Nowadays things are contrariwise: the universe is vast, and presumed to be random. To keep up our special position it has to be assumed that the planet Earth is one of the few places, preferably the only place, where intelligent life has happened to arise. Of course, this motive is never admitted aloud.
If we prove to be alone in this vast universe, then we will be more ready to admit ourselves to be a mere product of chance. Conversely, if life on other planets is very common or even, as abduction literature suggests, so similar to that on Earth that ETs can interbreed with us or create hybrids – we may well conclude that the universe is not an accident after all. So the existence or otherwise of extraterrestrial life may be the ultimate litmus of the materialist and religious viewpoints. This may explain why so many people are trying to jump the gun and answer the question before they have the evidence.
That said, everyone in this debate is suffering from the same basic flaw in approach, that they present unproven speculations as if they were proven facts. The real motive, on both sides, is to avoid those most embarrassing words: “I don’t know”.
1. “Where Are They?”, Scientific American, July 2000
2. Walter Sullivan, We Are Not Alone, Pelican, 1970, p. 280
3. Michael D. Swords, “Extraterrestrial Hypothesis and Science”, in Jerome Clark, The UFO Book, Visible Ink, Detroit, Michigan, 1998, p. 191
4. Fortean Times, 134, 135, 136, May-July 2000
5. Astrophysics and Space Science, 212, 1994; also Nature, 373, 1995
6. Though he nevertheless cites Wetherill as his authority. He also quotes Geoffrey Marcy of California State University, but does not state Marcy’s (unproven) theory, that inner gas giants must have started as outer gas giants in decaying orbits, and would have eaten up earthlike planets on their path towards the Sun. See Washington Post, 15 February 1999, A3
7. Fred Hoyle & N.C. Wickramasinghe, Lifecloud, Sphere, 1979
8. Science, 10 March 2000
9. Kendrick Frazier, Barry Karr & Joe Nickell, The UFO Invasion, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York, 1997, pp. 306, 308.
(Published in Magonia 94, January 2007)
In 1733 Jacob Ilve, a type-founder and printer, made an oration at a meeting in London, at which he asserted that there is a plurality of worlds, and that this earth is hell. Though this hardly seems to be biblical concept, he justified it by quoting Psalm 19.2: “The Heavens declare the Glory of God. He calls them Heavens, because they are above the earth, for so are the Mansions, they are to us Heavens, i.e. Places out of human Reach.” And again, John 14:2, “In my Father’s house are many mansions”: “it may justly be concluded, that they are inhabited by Beings who are far superior to us in Goodness. Hence some have affirmed, that our Earth is the only Rebellious World, the lowest of the Creation, and the Region of Darkness … It is also manifest that these glorious Places are inhabited b} Beings who have attained greater Perfection than we of this Globe. Hence naturally arises this Maxim, That the Souls or angelic Beings of those who have attained the greatest Perfection in this Life are admitted into those celestial Orbs, into the Company of those for whom they are prepared, according to their several various Attainments in Goodness.” (1) This seems to have been the first sentiment of its kind in English. That there may be other solar systems with planets like ours had been suggested by scientists since the sixteenth century; in Hindu and Buddhist scriptures, there had been for millenia the religious concept of other worlds – - not other planets in the modern sense, but worlds that we would now say to be in other dimensions. Now the two ideas could be knitted together.
Later, Ilve published the Book of Jasher, a retelling of the first six books of the Bible, which, he said, had been found in the Holy Land by an eighth century traveller and translated into English, though, since the text was in eighteenth century English – a different language, in effect – the forgery was not very convincing. The work, which had a sufficient vogue to provoke a printed attack, presents a liberalised view of religion, but unfortunately does not go into any more detail about other worlds.(2)
On the other hand, he was not liberal with regard to sexual matters. Having been imprisoned for debt in Clerkenwell, he wrote a tract about the appalling conditions in the jail where both men and women were interned and in many cases found that there was only one way to pass the time. This seemed to distress hive more than prisoners dying. (3)
The term “New Age” is derived from Emanuel Swedenborg (1038-1772), a Swedish scientist who in his fifties started having mystical visions, resigned his technical post and wrote a huge number of books on his experiences. “When discoursing with (departed) spirits he generally stood upon his feet looking up, at an angle of 45 degrees; his assent to and dissent from their arguments was generally expressed by a `yea’, `yea’, or ‘nay’, ‘nay’, spoke very quick, waiting and paying great attention to their responses which he generally wrote down in a book, and then rose up again immediately to resume his conversations.” (4)
As well as talking to the spirits. Swedenborg was given a guided tour of the kingdoms of heaven, and taught the doctrines of the spirits: he denied that angels were created as such, but that, rather. “there are no Spirits and Angels, but what were of the Human Race”; spirits and angels were formerly human, but have evolved into higher beings.
Orthodox Christians. tend to reject the possibility of life on other planets, on some such grounds as that it is not mentioned in the Bible. By contrast, Swedenborg, like Ilve, could take life on many worlds in his stride:
“That there are several Earths [i.e. planets), and Men upon them, and thence Spirits and Angels, is a thing most perfectly well known in another Life, for it is there granted to every one who desires it from a Love of Truth and consequent Use, to discourse with the Spirits of other Earths, and thereby to be confirmed concerning a Plurality of Worlds, and to be informed, that the human Race is not confined to one Earth only, but extends to Earths unnumerabie..."
"He who believes, as every one ought to believe, that the Deity created the Universe for no other End, than that Mankind, and thereby Heaven, might have Existence, (for Mankind is the Seminary of Heaven) must needs believe also, that wheresoever there is any Earth, there likewise are Men-Inhabitants."
"The End of the Creation of the Universe Is Man, in Order that an Angelic Heaven might be formed of Men; but what would Mankind and an Angelic Heaven from one single Earth avail to answer the Purposes of an infinite Creator, for which a Thousand, yea Ten Thousand Earths would not suffice?" (5)
Swedenborg was himself able to make psychic journeys to some of these other planets, those of this solar system and a couple outside it. What he saw on these worlds was at odds with the subsequent findings of astronomers, for example: "In the Planet Venus there are two Kinds of Men, of Tempers and Dispositions opposite to each other: the first mild and humane, the second savage and almost brutal: they who are mild and humane appear on the further Side of the Earth, They who are savage and almost brutal appear on the Side looking this Way," (6)
Though the actual term New Age has only been regularly used since the 1950s, there has been a recognisable movement ever since. The most important development in the nineteenth century was the advent of the Theosophical Society, whose founder, Madame Blavatsky, presented a syncretistic system combining elements of many religions as being her picture of the "whole truth". Now, such a belief system can keep on growing, since in a religion filled with strange beings and way out worlds, there is always room for more.
Much of Blavatsky's key work Secret Doctrine was taken up with the theory (derived in some obscure way from Hindu scripture) of the seven "root races" of humanity, of which we are the fifth. The fourth race had lived on Atlantis, and the Third on Lemuria, these two being lost continents of the Atlantic and Pacific respectively. Atlantis, whose legend goes back at least as far as the time of Plato, had recently been publicised in a book by Ignatius Donnelly; Lemuria had been postulated as a former Pacific continent, originally to explain the distribution of lemurs; later, Haeckel suggested it had been the cradle of the human race; so that her theory appeared to harmonise new and old, science and religion.
Blavatsky's disciples Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater added to her account, expanding it to include evolutionary cycles on other planets, and "Helpers from outside". Blavatsky, in the Book of Dzyan (a set of cryptic utterances which form the basis for The Secret Doctrine), had referred to the Lords of the Flame: "Males-Females will they be. Lords of the Flame also ... They went each on his allotted Land; Seven of them, each on his Lot. The Lords of the Flame remain behind. They would not go, they would not create ... The Third remained mind-less. Their Jivas were not ready. These were set apart among the Seven. They became narrow-headed. The Third were ready. "In these shall we dwell," said the Lords of the Flame and of the Dark Wisdom."(7) They were now given an extraterrestrial origin: These included "the Lords of the Flame, who arrived from Venus ... in the middle of the third Root-Race, to quicken mental evolution, to found the Occult Hierarchy of the Earth, and to take over the government of the globe". Their arrival was described thus:
"The great Lemurian Polar Star was still perfect, and, the huge crescent still stretched along the quator, including Madagascar. The sea which occupied what is now the Gobi Desert still broke against the rocky barriers of the northern Himalayan slopes, and all was being prepared for the most dramatic moment in the history of the Earth - the coming of the LORDS OF THE FLAME ... it was about six and a half million years ago ... Then with the mighty roar of swift descent from incalculable heights, surrounded, by blazing masses of fire which filled the sky with shooting tongues of flame, the vessel of the Lords of the Flame flashed through the aerial spaces. It halted over the White Island which lay in the Gobi Sea. Green it was, and radiant with the fairest blossoms as Earth offered her fairest and best to welcome her King." (8)
Similar ideas were promoted by others not specifically aligned to Theosophy. In his Fourteen Lectures on Yogi Philosophy, 1903, a book which discusses auras, telepathy, clairvoyance, occult therapeutics, the astral world, and so on, the Yogi Ramacharaka (otherwise an American barrister name William Walker Atkinson) stated: "The earth is one of a chain of planets, belonging to our solar system, all of which are intimately connected with the others in this great law of Spiritual Evolution. Great waves of life sweep over the chain, carrying race after race along the chain, from one planet to another. Each race stays on each planet for a certain period, and then having developed, passes on to the planet next highest in the scale of evolution, finding there conditions best suited for its development ... For instance, occultists know that the ancient Egyptians - the Atlanteans - the ancient Persians, etc., etc., are now living on this earth, - that is the souls which formerly incarnated in these races are now incarnated in some f the modern races. But there are other races - prehistoric races - which have passed away from the earth's attraction entirely, and have gone on to higher planes of action in the higher planets." (9)
Venusians also found their way into ritual. In the initiation ceremony to Dion Fortune's Fraternity of the Inner Light in London, founded in the 1930s ... the candidate was informed that "asbestos and honey-bee were brought to Earth from Venus by a 'Master of the Wisdom',this information being "derived from Don Fortune's mediumship)" (10)
The nineteenth century craze for spiritualism had led to a much larger number of scriptures and inspired writing becoming available. In about 1880 a New York dentist named John Henry Newborough purchased a typewriter on the instruction of angels who had materialised in his bedroom. Each morning he would sit for an hour with his fingers on the keys, and by automatic typing produced Oahspe, which purported to be a true version of the Bible. (11) The book describes special ships called airavagnas, that 'fly through the heavens. They are not material, but are used to transport the Gods and angels between the heavenly worlds: "As mortals sail corporeal ships across the corporeal ocean, so sailed the ship of God in the atmospherean ocean." (12) Nevertheless this was a step towards the idea of spacecraft.
In Britain occultists were not well regarded by society at large and often felt it advisable to keep their interests secret. But there was one part of the world where new religions, and mystical movements of all kinds, were a growth industry, and that was California. In 1900 Kathleen Tingley, a breakaway Theosophist known as "The Purple Mother" chose to establish a community in "a White City in a land of Gold beside a Sunset Sea" that is at Point Lama in San Diego. It is true that they did not win immediate respectability, and a certain General Harrison Gray Otis wrote a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times accusing the Community of "gross immoralities", but Tingley sued for libel and eventually won. (13)
Typically, the Self-Realization Fellowship, established in the state from 1925 by the Indian guru Paramhansa Yogananda, regarded all religions as valid, though it mainly taught Yoga. The Self Realization Church of All Religions was built at Hollywood in 1942, which contained statues of Lahiri Mahasay and Sri Yukteswar (Yogananda's own teachers), along with Krishna. Buddha, Confucius, Moses, Christ at the Last Supper, St. Francis, and, since Moslems do not make statues of Mohammed, a picture of the Kaaba at Mecca. (14) Thus, the typical Californian cult combined elements from many religions.
Other groups of a Theosophical type soon arose in the state. A Rosicrucian society was founded by Max Heindel (1865-1919, left). (This is one of at least twenty-three American societies termed "Rosicrucian", which have little or nothing in common with each other except that all claim, without any documentary evidence, to be a continuation of the original sixteenth century German Rosicrucian Order). Heindel said that his teaching were based on his understanding of what he had learnt from the elder brothers of a secret temple of the Rosy Cross in Europe, but they could well have been derived from Katherine Tingley's Universal Brotherhood, to which he had previously belonged, and the teachings of Rudolf Steiner (another occultist who had split off from the Theosophical Society), whose lectures he had heard in Germany. His Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception presents a highly complex scheme of human evolution, in which space entities had a hand:
"The immediate Leaders of humanity ... were Beings much further advanced than man along the path of evolution. They came on this errand of love from the two planets which are located between the Earth and the Sun - Venus and Mercury" (15)
Around 1930 there arrived in the state a Polish immigrant whose business card described him as: "Prof. G. Adamski, Speaker and Teacher of Universal Laws and the Founder of Universal Progressive Christianity, Royal Order of Tibet and the monastery at Laguna Beach, Headquarters, Hotel Castle Green, 99 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, California." From what is known of his teachings they bore no resemblance to either Christianity or Tibetan religion, e.g. "Universe means not just our solar system but space without circumference in which dwell billions of our solar systems. The Royal Order of Tibet is interested only in revealing what is thought to be mysteries so that they may be used practically in the present field of life where man may understand his fellowman by understanding the laws which rule all creatures, thereby awakening from the dream-life to the reality which leads to Mastery. It is an Order based on the highest and the simplest teachings in the field of Mastery ..." It is evident that, even if he himself had not quite Mastered English grammar, he had Mastery of the art of using many grand words without thereby conveying any meaning. (16)
In 1883-6 Frederick S. Oliver, then a teenager living with his parents near Mount Shasta in northern California, penned a lengthy manuscript entitled A Dweller on Two Planets. Oliver stated in the "Amanuensis' Preface": "I do not believe myself its Author, but that one of those mysterious persons, if my readers choose to so consider him, an adept of the arcane and occult in the universe, better understood from reading this book, is the Author". Rather, an entity called Phylos the Tibetan had dictated it to him at sporadic intervals, in nighttime sessions of up to a few hours.
Whoever the author may have been, what he wrote tended to confirm the beliefs of the Theosophists and New Agers. More than half the narrative concerned the author's past life as Zailm, an Atlantean, with many details of that civilisation. They had developed "vailxi", aerial ships of torpedo shape which could travel at hundreds of miles an hour (an incredible speed in the 1880s). A more recent incarnation was Walter Pierson, a modern American who had fought at Missionary Ridge in the Civil War. He then went to California where he met a Chinese named Quong who had strange powers.
People do not know, the author says, that the face of Mount Shasta (in the sight of which the book was written) "conceals a doorway. We do not suspect this, nor that a long tunnel stretches far away, far into the interior of majestic Shasta. Wholly unthought is it that there lie at the tunnel's far end vast apartments - the home of a mystic brotherhood, whose occult arts hollowed that tunnel and mysterious dwelling..."
Pierson's Chinese friend gave him access to the hideaway of this "Lothinian Brotherhood", and initiated him into its secrets. He was taught that the human race evolved through seven planets (with seven races on each planet), of which this is the fourth. The first two are invisible to us, the third was Mars, the next will be Venus, and the last two are likewise invisible. Already "the more advanced, occult souls do inhabit Venus". (17) Pierson, or Phylos (his future name, he was told) was allowed to visit Venus in his spirit body.
At this time the Pacific Electric Railway operated the "Mount Lowe Observatory", actually a tourist attraction with just one small telescope. (18) The resident astronomer, Edgar L. Larkin, once trained his telescope on Mount Shasta, and "was surprised to see a glimmering curved surface that was truly unusual ... As the sun shone upon this glittering object among the trees he was impressed with the thought that he was looking at a gold-tinted dome of some Oriental building ... as the sun moved in its course he was impressed that there were two domes rising above the tree tops near Shasta and that the part of a third one could be seen several hundred feet distant ... he left his telescope fixed to see what these things would look like in the setting sun and in darkness. He was surprised to find later in the might that around this dome were great lights, apparently white, which partially illuminatcd and made them visible even though there was no moon to cast any light at the time." (19)
Larkin died in 1924, but his claims were repeated by journalist Edward Lanser, in an article in the Los Angeles Sunday Times on 22 May 1932. He alleged that, when on a train to Portland, Oregon he went to the observation platform of the express to watch the sunrise, and was captivated by Mt. Shasta:
"I suddenly perceived that the whole southern side of the mountain was ablaze with a strange reddish green light ... My first conjecture was a forest fire,. but the total absence of smoke discounted that theory. The light resembled the glow of Roman candles." (20)
Though nowadays sightings of domes associated with strange lights would be taken as evidence for flying saucers, rumour then had it that they were the work of people living inside Mount Shasta, who were Lemurians, survivors of the sunken Pacific continent of Lemuria. Lanser also repeated stories that the Lemurians sometimes appeared in neighbouring towns, dressed in long white robes, to buy supplies, which they paid for with gold nuggets.
In 1929 the American Magazine published an article, 'Seven Minutes in Eternity' by William Dudley Pelley, who described how while residing in the Sierra Madre Mountains near Pasadena, one night he suddenly left his physical body and soared away into the spirit realm, returning with messages for humanity from the 'Masters', this being the usual Theosophical term for spirit teachers. The journal was 'swamped' with letters, enabling Pelley to begin his own movement. However, it soon took a political turn, spawning the "Foundation for Christian Economics" in 1932 and the "Silver Legion" in 1933. The latter, better known as the Silver Shirts, more or less openly admired Adolf Hitler. (21)
The biggest difficulty with research in this field is locating the primary sources. I confess that I have not seen the original American Magazine article, nor the channeled messages which were published under the title Star Guests; my local library did have one of Pelley's political works, but it is now missing presumed withdrawn. But Star Guests is said to contain messages from 'Invisible Intellects' who can cross intergalactic distances in a twinkling, who stated that "Souls from Sirius migrated to Earth millions of years ago", showing that communications from other worlds were now commonplace. (22)
In August 1934, by which time Pelley was having problems with the law, two disciples, Guy and Edna Ballard of Chicago, began to publish their own messages from beyond, ascribed to one 'Saint Germain'. Historically, the Comte de Saint Germain was an eighteenth century French adventurer who claimed to have discovered the elixir of immortality and to be thousands of years old, but this Saint Germain was an 'Ascended Master', that is, in his last life he overcame the flesh and bodily rose to the next world rather than dying. They were quickly able to attract followers from the Silver Shirts, Pelley's treasurer becoming the Ballards' Associate Director, a post that he held until, despite being under the personal protection of the Ascended Masters, he was seriously injured in a car accident.
The couple were soon touring the country, propounding their spiritual creed - similar to that of Pelley - and a "Save America" programme. Their reception varied, for instance on one occasion Mr. Ballard had to admit that "The Love Gifts were less in West Palm Beach than usual". a misfortune he attributed to evil forces opposed to their work. But these influences did not pervade everywhere, so that "these two people and their son Donald arrived in Los Angeles in a none-too-prosperous condition in an unpretention car, but when they left, they zoomed away in a couple of flashy cream-colored Chryslers." (23)
Under the name Godfré Ray King, Ballard issued Unveiled Mysteries, an account of some of his meetings with the Ascended Master, the first of which occurred on Mount Shasta. Saint Germain allowed him to revisit scenes of his past lives; in Egypt, Atlantis, Lemuria and other places. He was also shown the inside of the mountain. His account of all this appears to owe something to Phylos the Tibetan:
"The ledge was broken and twisted as if by some rending convulsion. All about the base lay huge fragments broken off the face of the wall. Against the cliff rested a giant block many tons in weight ... he touched the enormous quadrangular block. Immediately it tipped on edge and leaned outward ... I followed, the door was replaced, and I found that the passage led into the mountain ... After going about two hundred feet we came to a door made apparently of bronze ... This door gave entrance to a large circular chamber ..."(24)
"Going to a point where huge masses of stone lay in confusion, as, if giants had hurled them in a war upon each other, Saint Germain touched a great boulder. Instantly, the enormous mass tipped out ... We entered and, to my astonishment, stood before a large bronze door ... He stepped forward and pressed certain points on the door. The great mass of bronze weighing many tons swung slowly open, and admitted us into a spacious chamber from which a stairway, cut in the solid rock, led downward. We descended some two hundred feet, and entered another space, circular in shape." (25)
Gerald Bryan, author of the highly critical study Psychic Dictatorship in America, pinpointed several other plagiarisms from occult novels, including Will Carver's The Brother of the Third Degree, 1894, which featured the Comte de St. German, Lillian Elizabeth Roy's The Prince of Atlantis, 1929, and Maude Lesseuer Howard's Myriam and the Mystic Brotherhood, circa 1920. In short, the book was basically a stew of ideas which had already been circulating for years.
Unveiled Mysterieswas followed by a series of progressively more tedious sequels, in the first of which, Magic Prescence, repeatedly spoke of the: "Mighty I AM", and the Ballard movement came to be known as "I AM". The phrase appears to derive from the King James Bible, where God says to Moses: "This shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you" (Ex.3:14) but it may also come from Phylos's term for the true self, as distinguished from the shells it may inhabit: "Though the astral shell shall come into spiritualistic circles and manifest through mediums, yet the I AM comes not into any earthly condition until it returns for reincarnation". (25) According to Bryan it was also commonly used in Baird Spalding's Life and Teaching of the Masters of the Far East.
On New Year's Eve 1930 Saint Germain told Ballard: "Tonight an experiment is to be tried which has not been accomplished for over seventy thousand years." This involved a Cosmic Mirror which was apparently a sort of teleportation device, for after those present had meditated on the 'Oneness' of Venus, with Earth; a tremendous blaze of light flashed forth upon it, revealing a group of people in the far distance, who drew nearer. "Presently, twelve Guests from Venus stood in our midst, robed in white scintillating garments, surpassing all power of description. There were seven gentlemen and five ladies, all extremely handsome." (27) They spent the evening exchanging information and playing musical instruments.
Venusians proved to be helpful in the struggle against the 'entities' who opposed the work of the Mighty I AM, for instance the Tall Master From Venus stated "that if the Christian Scientists did not stop opposing this work they would empty their churches". Students were encouraged to pray against these energies by calling upon the "Lords of the Flame" from Venus to defeat then. (One of these, the `Mighty Astrea' was referred to as `he'; which is curious since Astrea is the Roman Goddess of Justice. (28)
Guy Ballard left this world on 29 December 1939. His wife declared that he had ascended to join Saint Germain, but his death certificate more prosaically attributed his demise to heart disease and cirrhosis of the liver. After that the I AM movement declined, but did not expire: Edna Ballard continued to run it until her own death or ascension in 1971, and last time I was in Watkin's occult bookshop there was a complete set of the I AM discourses prominently displayed on one shelf.
If space beings can come here, then one may suppose that the converse is also possible. One early journey to another planet is said to have occurred in 1939, though it was not published until 1956. Dana Howard was picked rep from Superstition Mountain in Arizona by a "gem-studded" rocket-shaped craft, which took her to Venus, in company with an American Indian and a prospector. The Venusians were peaceful vegetarians who lived under the benign maternal rule of Queen Zo-na. This is a curious name for a monarch, since in Hebrew it means "harlot".
Eventually she was told she must return to Earth, which particularly upset her as she had fallen in love with the Lelando, son of the High Priest. Her lover told her they could marry, so that they would be together in spirit even though separated by millions of miles. They pricked their fingers and mingled their blood during the ceremony, which apart from this was much the same, as that in the Book of Common Prayer, but then they had to part. (29)
According to David Jacobs, all of this happened "while she was napping on her living room couch" (30), and it is interesting to notice that Howard herself did not regard her trip as having been taken in a nuts and bolts ship: "Many times since that memorable date I have tried to arrive at some logical conclusion as to what actually happened, Did I leave my body behind, travelling only in a finer vehicle? Or was it true teleportation and I took my body with me? Did the atoms of my body actually disintegrate at one point, re-materialize in another?" (31) I mention this because most studies of contactees have concluded that their stories are, gasp, not true, without addressing the question of whether they believe what they say. Dana Howard does seem to have been telling the truth as she saw it. Apparently she was also able to keep in touch with her husband in some unspecified way, for she told the second Giant Rock spacecraft convention in March 1955 that "She last heard from him about six weeks ago." (32)
Really, this was nothing new: all through history people, have been ascending to the third heaven, flying to the witches' sabbat, or the like, but just what they experience depends upon their cultural background. Up until the Middle Ages, witches would consort nocturnally with the Moon Goddess, but after centuries of propaganda by the Church, who maintained that this was devilish, Diana came to be replaced by Satan. Now the experience had modified itself again to fit with the latest views of the cosmos.
There seems to have been another, similar occurrence the same year, but am unable to learn anything about it, beyond a note in James Lewis's UFO Encyclopedia that the 'Cosmic Star Temple' was founded in Santa Barbara in 1960 by Violet Gilbert, a former I AM member who had been to Venus in 1939. (33)
The beginning of the craze for flying saucers has been well illustrated by a recent Stationary Office publication, UFOs in America 1947, which is a collection of original documents and newspaper reports. (The first is an account of a sighting of nine craft over Mount Rainier, Washington State, on 24 June 1947, and the witness's name is deleted, despite it having appeared in hundreds of books. This kind of fact leads one to doubt if all the other information relating to UFOs, and still kept confidential by the U.S. government, is of such interest as is supposed , by conspiracy theorists.)
Much of the coverage in the opening weeks was concerned with crashes which, however, all proved disappointingly mundane when investigated. On 6 July it was reported that the Rev. Joseph Brassy of St. Joseph's Church, Grafton, Wisconsin, had found a disc in his parish yard "which might be one of the mysterious flying saucers." An FBI investigation quickly revealed that "the priest was intoxicated" and that the disc "was a circular saw blade with a few wires attached." Another, found at Laurel, Maryland, "had been made front a Gulf 0il sign and the top of a garbage can ... attached to it were a dry cell battery, a flashlight bulb, some wires and a buzzer" according to a police sergeant. The smoking remains of a reputed crashed saucer in Nebraska were in fact tobacco ash. (34)
A Gallup poll conducted that August asked people what they thought they were: 33 percent did not. know, 29 percent said imagination or mirages, 15 percent US secret weapons, 10 percent hoaxes, 3 percent weather forecasting devices and 1 percent Russian secret weapons. (35) (Or so my source has it though this only adds to 91 percent.) No-one, it seems, believed that they came from outer space (incidentally, it was not until three decades later that people started talking about Roswell) so they were not therefore of interest to members of I AM and others who believed in communication with other worlds.
However, Dr. Mead Layne of the Borderland Sciences Research Foundation in San Diego was somewhat ahead of his time. On 9 October 1946 a "black, torpedo-shaped" craft bad been sighted over the city, so he went to a medium named Mark Robert for information. He was told:
"This ship comes from west of the moon. [sic] No, I cannot get the name of the planet. These people have been trying to contact the earth for many years. The earth is now sending forth a strong ray or column of light, and this makes it easier of approach from other planets. Yes, these people come in peace. They are mare advanced than you are. Their bodies are similar to yours but much lighter.” (36)
Within the next few years Probert had produced mach more information, such as a descriptive list of seven types of ship “originating from Venus alone”, such as “A doughnut-shaped craft, about 125 feet in outside diameter and 36 feet thick. In the centre of this disk is a hole about 25 ‘w-et: wide. These craft are sometimes referred to as ‘Flying Laboratories’ because of the large amount of test equipment which they carry. They are observation craft and used only when very involved technical observations are required. Normal crew: fifty. ‘Electro-Magnetic Drive’” (37)
Meanwhile, the extraterrestrial theory had somehow got into circulation, being promoted by aviation writer Donald Keyhoe in a successful article in True magazine, which was expanded into a book, The Flying Saucers are Real, 1950. The same year saw the appearance of two other books, Frank Scully’s Behind the Flying Saucers, which alleged that they were crewed by three foot tall humanoids from Venus, and Gerald Heard’s Flying Saucers: Is Another World Watching?, which proposed that they were piloted by intelligent insects from Mars. The idea that saucers were alien spacecraft soon found its way onto the big screen in The Thing and The Day the Earth Stood Still both 1951, so by then most people must have been at least aware of the hypothesis.
In 1950 Lyman H. Streeter, a radio operator for the Santa Fe Railroad who lived in Winslow. Arizona, had “appeared one day at work acting in a very strange manner. He went about his assigned radio tasks in the normal way, but his fellow workers noticed he wouldn’t answer them when they spoke to him and behaved as if he were in a trance of some kind. His wife was called, and he was taken home. For eight days he was in this unusual ‘zombie’ condition. He said nothing to anyone during that period. Later, when he regained a state of normalcy, he admitted he couldn’t remember a thing that had transpired during those eight days of amnesia.”
On 22 August 1952, Lyman saw what he thought was a very small meteor display over Winslow. Later that evening the Streeters and other witnesses started hearing code signals in the living room of the house. He thought it was coming from his ham-receiver, but this was switched off, and the sounds could not be heard in the radio shack. He started to hear these signals regularly, though the later ones actually did come through his radio: he interpreted them as messages from space people. After this, he suddenly remembered something of what had happened during his period of amnesia:
“He told us that he apparently had left his earthly body (that would account for the zombie condition … the physical body had gone about is usual tasks at work under the direction of the animal mind, while the entity had been elsewhere) and awoke in a beautiful, large hall where many people were gathering. He was called before a tribunal and noticed that he was dressed in fine garments. He was called by a different name, Kanet, and told that he must work rapidly to complete his task upon the earth planet. All he could remember from this eight-day journey was the fact that he must work quickly.”
This moved him to work much harder at studying electronics. (38) He did indeed have to work rapidly, since he died on 23 April 1955.
It would appear that there was a great deal of UFO activity in July and August of 1952, mostly over California and the neighbouring state of Arizona, and it set off in turn a wave of contactee stories. On 4 July Calvin Girvin, originally from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but later of Hollywood (it is unclear where he lived in 1952) went to sleep only to find himself going off into the astral. At first he thought that he had died: “I was relieved to discover that death could be so uncomplicated and easy”. In fact he went off to Venus and entered a large, white round temple, where there were many other earth people who had come by the same method. Seven men came and lectured them: “Peace has long been overdue on earth, and each of you has a mission to fulfill.” (39)
The experiences of Orfeo Angelucci (left) included one similar to that of Lyman Streeter: he related that one day in January 1953 “I was aware of a familiar odd prickling sensation in my arms and the back of my neck which usually announced the proximity of space craft.” He felt drowsy, wentto a divan to lie down, and the next thing he knew, he found himself working at his job in the Lockheed factory. When he looked at a newspaper he learned to his astonishment that a whole week had gone by, of which he had no recollection. His wife and workmates had not noticed anything unusual in his behaviour.
It was not until September of that year that be recalled what had happened. No sooner had he fallen asleep on the divan than he found himself on another would, an ethereal place of a higher ‘vibratory rate’ than the Earth. He was told by two locals, named Lyra and Orion that they were on one of the remnants of the planet Lucifer, whose people had become corrupted by pride, causing their planet to shatter and form the asteroid belt. “Lucifer and his followers were cast down from their high estate. In simpler words, the Luciferians who were embodied then in the most attenuated manifestation of matter `fell’ into embodiments in one of the most dense material evolutions, which is the animalistic evolution of Earth.” The few who had not fallen had remained on their asteroid ever since.(40)
Angelucci offered no explanation as to why he had been seen to be on Earth, going about his usual business. at the same time as he was on another world; and neither he nor Streeter could account for why they forgot their trips for months This suggests that their journeys were actual mental events, if that means anything. Another example is My Trip To Mars, by William Ferguson (41) which makes it clear that he did not go there in his body, but “in the expanded state of being”, as a Fourth Dimensional entity – in other words in what occultists call the astral body.
A South African woman named Elizabeth Klarer wrote that she first contacted the spacemen when she was unconscious following an explosion in an airplane hangar, and that her second trip was taken in the astral whilst her physical body was sitting in her living room. On the other hand, she described her journey to the planet Meton as if it were physically real – indeed, the ufonauts even took her motor car along with them. She claimed to have borne a child to a Metonite, which, it has been observed, was in violation of the Apartheid regime’s strict laws against interracial couplings. (42)
When ufologist Tim Good asked her what evidence she had for hear story, she showed him a potted plant and told him that she had brought it back with her from Meton. He took a photograph of it, and was disappointed to be told later that it was an ordinary maidenhair fern. (43) It seems to me, however that this does not in fact undermine her account. since, if Meton has human life so similar to that of Earth that they can even interbreed with us, then quite likely the planet’s flora would also be almost identical.
Most often, the entitles were reported to come from Venus, Mars, and other planets in our solar system. Now, by the 1950s it was known that the planets from Jupiter to Neptune are frozen balls of gas, unsuitable for life ‘as we know it’, and the others highly dubious. Strughold, The Given and Red Planet, 1954, for instance, suggested that simple plants such as lichen could exist on Mars, but recognised that the atmosphere was too thin to sustain anything more complicated. Venus was not finally proven uninhabitable until the Venera 4 probe landed there in 1967, but it only confirmed what scientists had long expected. Of course, science fiction writers did not necessarily know, or care, about these facts – as late as 1979 there was an episode of Dr Who so on a curiously earth-like Pluto – and one might suppose that the same was true of contactees. Yet it is strange that some of the aliens appeared to know less about astronomy than those they contacted.
One of the first non-Californian contactees, Dan Martin, was driving through a remote part of Texas in August 1955 when he felt his whole body tingling, perhaps a sign of entering a trance. Fearing that he night be having a heart attack, he pulled his car over and stopped. At once a spaceship landed on the other side of the road. An attractive lady astronaut stepped out and started a conversation with him, “Now she told me that they were from the planet Mercury, so I then said, ‘Our scientists tell us that the planet Mercury is too near the sun to have animal life.’ She smiled rather broadly at this and said, ‘You see I am alive.’ Well, that settled that. I had to admit that she seemed very much alive to me.” (44) Another good-looking spacewoman, Aura Rhanes, told Californian Truman Bethurum that her planet Clarion was “on the other side of the Moon”. Aware that this made no sense. he suggested that what she had meant was the other side of the sun (45) though in fact if there was such a planet astronomers could have detected its gravitational pull, as the Condon committee was at pains to point out. (46) Once again, these anomalies suggest that at least some people imagined that they were telling the truth about their meetings with the space people.
This is probably true also of Cecil Michael’s Round Trip to Hell in a Flying Saucer. (47) Following a sighting of a mysterious flying disc over Bakersfield, California, in August 1952, Michael wrote that two men in old-fashioned garments started materialising in his automobile repair shop. Then one day, about the end of that year, he found himself going on a trip aboard a saucer. He related that it was not physically real. In fact his body was in his workshop all the time, indeed occasionally something would happen that needed his attention – such as a telephone call – and he would snap out of his extraterrestrial journey to deal with it. But once it was over he found himself “out there” again. Yet, as it occurred, it seemed totally real.
The craft went off into space, eventually arriving at a bleak red planet with a lake of fire into which coffins were cast, the dead bodies inside them then coming to life and burning in agony. He was afraid that he would be trapped there permanently, but apparently he was saved by a vision of Christ that appeared in a beam of white light, and returned to earth. The trip seemed to have taken four days, but only four hours had passed. Here the scientific trappings are kept to the minimum, the main narrative being a familiar mystical one, the Vision of Inferno. It would be interesting to know Michael’s religious background.
In fact, though possessing highly advanced technology, the aliens seldom discussed it in any detail. One was `A-lan’ who explained the saucers’ propulsion method thus: “When certain elements such as platinum are properly prepared and treated with a saturation exposure to a beam of very high energy photons, the binding energy particle will be generated outside the nucleus. Since these particles tend to repel each other as well as all matter they, like the electron, tend to migrate to the surface of the metal where they manifest as a repellent force” (48) So far as I know this phenomenon has never been duplicated by earth scientists.
Actually, it is curiously dated; the existence of the ‘binding energy particle’ had been predicted by the Japanese physicist Yukawa in 1935, though the theory did not become well known until after the Second World War; butt this name for it was rapidly replaced by the technical word. In any case, why should outer space science be explicable in the existent terminology of the 1950s? If you were to try to explain what a meson is to a Renaissance astronomer or a Victorian engineer, then it would take a long time because you would first have to introduce them to a series of new concepts, such as nucleons. One might expect to meet the same problem when describing extraterrestrial drive mechanisms.
More often, however, the flying saucer entities had a spiritual message for humanity, couched in terms familiar to a Californian New Agers, as most of the contactees were, for instance: “In the age of the Atlanteans the evils of Earth were multiplied by the Evil ones who fled from the exploded planet called Lucifer, and who created the same evil on Earth as they had created on their planet. False worship grew and multiplied on Earth at their direction, and the fallen angels of Lucifer led astray many of Earth’s inhabitants. Seeing this, the wise ones of Venus came to Earth in their craft.” (19)
In Britain, the subject was espoused most notably by aristocrats with backgrounds in occultism. Lord Hugh Dowding, who had been Chief Marshal of the RAF during the Battle of Britain, might be presumed thereby to be an authority on flying objects, but perhaps more significantly was a practising spiritualist, who had published Many Mansions, (1943), which contained messages from soldiers who had been killed in the war. Brinsley le Poer Trench, later the Earl of Clancarty, was to judge from his writings steeped in Theosophical literature.
The best known was of the early writers was Desmond Leslie, whose Telegraph obituary stated that: “After Ampleforth and Trinity College, Dublin, Leslie became a fighter pilot in the RAF, flying Spitfires and Hurricanes during the Second World War; according to family legend, he destroyed several aircraft, most of which he was piloting himself. He celebrated VE day with his cousin, the Prime Minister, at 10 Downing Street” His varied career also involved composing background music for Dr Who and opening a night club at the family seat, Castle Leslie, where he entertained such guests as Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful.
By 1952 Leslie had completed a manuscript in which, although he described himself as a Catholic, much of his information came from Spiritualist and Theosophical literature. He quoted W. J. Crawford’s The Reality of Psychic Phenomena as evidence for levitation occurring in seances, which, he thought, could explain flying saucer propulsion. From Blavatsky and her successors he derived the stogy of the Lords of the Flame coming from Venus, though unlike them he dated their arrival to 18,617,841 BC.
At the suggestion of an editor, Leslie’s book was combined, under the title Flying Saucers Have Landed, with a narrative by George Adamski, whom we have already seen peddling New Age philosophy in 1930s California. Perhaps because his Mastery of English never quite got perfected, Adamski’s post-war books were ghost-written by a succession of female disciples. Though the first of these, Pioneers of Space: A Trip to the Moon, Mars and Venus, was admitted fiction, it is said that it bore a curious resemblance to his later supposedly factual adventures, in its description of Saturnians, Martonians and Venetians [sic], once in references to vegitation on the Moon and a ‘Saturn Council’. One of his later publications, The Science of Life Study Course, turned out on examination to be a reprint of Wisdom of the Masters of the Far East, except that throughout the references to ‘The Royal Order of Tibet’ as the source of the teachings had been replaced by `The Space Brothers’. (50) In his present contribution, he claimed to have regularly seen alien craft over his home, and later met the pilot of a saucer that landed out in the desert. As proof he had a large number of photographs, not all of them blurred and out of focus, and affidavits from half a dozen people who swore that they had seen him chatting to a Venusian. One of these, George Hunt Williamson, had himself been in touch, by way of the ouija board, with such entities Oara, ‘the planetary representative of Saturn’ who flew about in craft that they termed `Crystal Bells’. (51) He would later go on to write several books of his own.
Personal experiences of Adamski varied. Desmond Leslie once asked him: “George dammit! Do you swear by all that’s sacred you are telling the truth?” Adamski replied quietly: “Desmond, you know my religious beliefs? One of these days I shall have to face my Maker. Do you think I’d dare face Him with a lie like that on my conscience?” (52) Yet Ray Stanford, who began as an earnest disciple, reported that he would get cynical when he had been drinking: “The Prohibition was a good thing for me, boys. You’re too young to know about it, but hell, they outlawed the liquor all over the country. Hell, I got the Royal Order of Tibet – all incorporated and everything! I got the special license – for religious purposes I can make the wine. Gottdammit! Hell, I made, enough wine for all of Southern California! I was making a fortune. Then that man Roosevelt, he knock out the Prohibition. Hell, if it hadn’t been for that gottdammed man Roosevelt – I wouldn’t had to get into this saucer crap.” (53)
The contactees were definitely indebted to the earlier generations of New Age: writers. Williamson quoted, among others, Swedenborg, Ramacharaka, Oahspe, Ilive’s Book of Jasber, and Phylos the Tibetan.( 54) In places one finds remarkable similarities between pre-1947 and post-1947 narratives:
“I looked up, and Saint Germane smilingly extended to me a crystal cup filled with golden liquid about the consistency of honey. Obedient to his slightest wish I drank it, and instant’s, a radiant glow passed through my body. When I had finished, the cup disappeared in my hand.” (Guy Ballard. (55)
“…the voice said: “Drink from the, crystal cup you will find on the fender of your car, Orfeo.” Astonished at his words, I glanced down and saw a kind of goblet … I lifted it to my lips and tasted the drink. It was the most delicious beverage I had ever tasted. I drained the cup. Even as I was drinking a feeling of strength and well-being swept over me … I placed the empty cup back on the fender of my car only to see it disappear.” (Orfeo Angelucci (56)
There is a possible connection of Guy Ballard with Adamski and Williamson through far-right politics, since the membership of I AM “overlapped strongly” with that of the Silver Shirts. Jacques Vallee claims that Adamski “had prewar connections” with William Dudley Pelley. In about 1950 Hunt Williamson worked for Pelley at his publishing house, Soulcraft, and Vallee suggests, may have been introduced to Adamski by Pelley. (57)
The descriptions by Adamski and others of blonde, blue-eyed aliens has led to suggestions of racism, which such far-right links tend to confirm. Not much in the way of racial propaganda can be found in their printed literature, but there are signs they were less discreet in private. John Keel, who personally interviewed dozens, wrote: “Some contactees who claimed to have visited Mars blandly point out that the planet is divided into zones with the Negro and Jewish Martians carefully segregated from the others. (58)
In 1953 a Michigan woman named Dorothy Martin awoke one morning to find “a kind of tingling or numbness in my arm”. Without knowing why she picked up a pencil and pad. “My hand began to write in another handwriting.” She eventually found that she had produced a message from her deceased father. Fifteen years before this, it should be noted, she had attended some lectures on Theosophy, which had inspired her to read Oahspe and the works of Guy Ballard.
Other entities soon started coming through, ‘The Elder Brother’, then beings from the planets Clarion and Ceres, and in mid-April 1954 she received the first of many messages from a spaceman called Sananda. This name is Sanskrit, given in Hindu belief to one of the Kumaras, enlightened beings whose job is to help humanity. They found their way into Theosophy, some obscure remarks being made about them in Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine: “The Kumaras, for instance, are called the ‘Four’ – though in reality seven in number – because Sanaka, Sananda, Sanatana and Sanatkumara are the chief … These prototypes are connectes with the Kumaras who appear on the scene of action by refusing as Sanatkumata and Sananda – to ‘create progeny.’ Yet they are called the ‘creators’ of (thinking) man.” (59)
As we have seen, Blavatsky introduced the Lords of the Flame, whom Besant and Leadbeater described as coming from Venus; they also identified them with the Kumaras, (60), and described the doings of their leader, Sanat Kumara, at some length. These beings were, unsurprisingly, mentioned by Guy Ballard: “The Seven Kumaras, whom some Inner students have known as ‘Lords of the Flame’, from Venus, were the Only Ones from this entire system of planets, who of their own free will and infinite Love, offered to guard the children of earth and assist their upward progress.” (61)
Desmond Leslie wrote: “Earth, Mars and Venus were in ideal conjunction for their great vehicle to travel the immense physical distance separating the two planets. Thus to Earth came the Lord of the Flame or Sanat Kumara, with his Four Great Lords an one hundred assistants.” (62) Thus, if you were generally familiar with this literature, and you were to communicate with a being from another planet, nothing would be more natural than that he should he named Sananda. It would appear that, besides dictating a large quantity of automatic writing, Sananda made a number of telephone calls to Martin and even made a personal call on her, in company with four other ufonauts; though some other members of the group that had sprung up around her suspected that these visitors were actually hoaxers. Eventually she was informed that America was going to slide into the sea on 21 December 1954. She and her disciples would be saved, however, as spaceships would come and pick them up. That day, therefore, they gathered in the back garden to await rescue. No flying saucer showed up, but, fortunately, neither did the predicted cataclysm occur. (63)
To sum up, the contactees of the 1950s onwards were not, as appeared at first sight, a new movement, but the end product of a long evolution which, insofar as it had a beginning, went right back to the eighteenth century, No doubt we have not heard the last of it. At the present day, I am reliably informed, Sananda regularly transmits messages to a woman in Glastonbury
1. Jacob Ilive. The Oration Spoke at Joyners hall in Thamesstreet, London, 1733, pp. 1. 8.
2. Thomas Hartwell Horne, Bibliographical Notes on the Book of Jasher, London, 1833.
3. Jacob Ilive, Reasons Offered for the Reformation of the House of Correction in Clerkenwell, London, 1757.
4. Account “taken from Mr. Shearsmith, by Robt. Armitstead. London, Dec. 20th, 1810″, quoted in William E. A. Axon, Was Swedenborg a Vegetarian? (pamphlet, text of paper read at the Vegetarian Society, Manchester. 18 October 1909).
5. Emanuel Swedenborg. Concerning the Earths in our Solar System, London. 1787, pp.3, 4, 144.
6. Swedenborg, Concerning the Earths in our Solar System, p.125.
7. H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine. Theosophical Publishing House, London, 1921, Volume 2, pp.18-21.
8. Annie Besant & Charles Leadbeater, Man: Whence, How and Whither, Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar & Madras, 1913, pp.79, 101-3.
9. Yogi Ramacharaka, Fourteen Lectures on Yogi Philosophy, Oak Park, Illinois. 1903, pp.237, 239.
10. Francis King, Ritual Magic, New English Library, 1972, p.125.
11. John Keel, UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse, Abacus, 1973, pp.246-47.
12. Oahspe, Kosmon Press, Lancing, Sussex, 1960, p.25 (Book of Sethantes 7:1.)
13. David Hanna, Cults in America, Tower Publications, New York, 1979, pp. 133-5.
14. Parahamsa Yogananda. Autobiography of a Yogi, Rider, London. 1949, pp.389-90.
15. Max Heindel, The Rosicrucian Cosma-Conception, Oceanside, California, no date, p.190.
16. Lou Zinstagg & Timothy Good, George Adamski: The Untold Story, Ceti Publications, Beckenham, 1983, plates 4, 49.
17. “Phylos the Tibetan”, A Dweller on Two Planets, reprint by Steiner Books, pp.14, 248, 310.
18. L. Sprague De Camp, Lost Continents, Dover Publications, New York. 1970, pp.71-2.
19. W. S. Cervé, Lemuria: The Lost Continent of the Pacific, Rosicrucian Library Volume XII, Rosicrucian Press, AMORC College, San Jose, California, 2nd edition 1935, pp.254-5.
20. Quoted in Lewis Spence, The Problem of Lemuria, Rider, London, 1932, p.104. 21. Gerald B. Bryan. Psychic Dictatorship in America, Truth Research Publications, Los Angeles, 1940; pp.26-27.
22. Martin S. Kottmeyer, ‘Jelly Pelley’. Magonia Supplement 39, 1 July 2002.
23. Bryan, Psychic Dictatorship in America, pp.41, 47.
24. “Phylos the Tibetan”. A Dweller on Two Planets, pp.270-3.
25. `Godfré Ray King’ (Guy Ballard), Unveiled Mysteries, Saint Germain Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1935, p.75.
26. “Phylos the Tibetan”, A Dweller on Two Planets, p.292.
27. Ballard, Unveiled Mysteries, pp.243, 247
28. Bryan, Psychic Dictatorship, pp.54-55, 59-61.
29. Dana Howard, My Flight to Venus, Regency Press, 1956.
30. David Michael Jacobs, The UFO Controversy in America, Signet, 1976, p.106.
31. Dana Howard, Diane: She Came From Venus, Regency Press, 1956, p.39.
32. M. K. Jessup, The UFO Annual. Arco, 1956, pp122-23.
33. James R. Lewis, UFOs and Popular Culture: An Encyclopedia of Contemporary Myth, ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, California. 2000, p.92
34. UFOs in America 1947. Uncovered Editions, The Stationery Office, London. 2001, pp.16-17, 23, 42, 52, 59-60.
35. Bryan Appleyard, Aliens: Why They Are Here, Scribner, 2005, p.18.
36. Winfield S. Brownell, UFOs: Key to Earth’s Destiny, Legion of Light Publications, Lytle Creek, California, 1980, p.93.
37. Desmond Leslie & George Adamski, Flying Saucers Have Landed, Werner Laurie, London, 1953, p.128.
38. George Hunt Williamson, The Saucers Speak, Neville Spearman, 1967,pp. 126, 131-2.
39. Brownwell, UFOs, pp.113-14.
40. Orfeo Angelucci, The Secret of the Saucers, Amherst Press, 1955, pp.85, 99.
41. Galaxy Press, 1973, but apparently written in 1955; his trip was on 12 January 1947.
42. Elizabeth Klarer, Beyond the Light Barrier, Aquarian Press, Cape Town, South Africa, 1987.
43. Timothy Good, Alien Base, Arrow. 1994, p.4.
44. Dan Martin: The Watcher – Seven Hours Aboard a Space Ship, Saucerian Publications, Clarksburg, West Virginia, no date, p.3.
45. Janet & Colin Bord, Life Beyond Planet Earth? Grafton paperback. 1992, p.157.
46. Dr. Edward U. Condon. Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, Bantam Books, New York, 1969, pp.30-1, 853-4.
47. Roofhopper Enterprises, Auckland, N.Z.. 1971; 1st by Vantage Press. New York, 1955.
48. Quoted in Jacobs, The UFO Controversy in America, p.99.
49. Helen & Betty Mitchell, We Met the Space People, Galaxy Press, Kitchener, Ontario, 1973, p.13.
50. Zinsstag & Good, George Adamski, pp.188-91.
51. Williamson, The Saucers Speak, p.50.
52. Leslie, Flying Saucers Have Landed, revised edition, Futura, 1977, p.195.
53. Quoted in Douglas Curran, In Advance of the Landing: Folk Concepts of Outer Space, Abbeville Press, New York, 1985, p.72.
54. George Hunt Williamson, Other Tongues – Other Flesh, Neville Spearman, 1967. 55. Ballard, Unveiled Mysteries, pp.68-9.
56. Angelucci, The Secret of the Saucers, pp.6-7.
57. Jacques Vallee, Messengers of Deception, And/OR Press, Berkeley, California, 1979, pp.192-3.
58. John Keel, Our Haunted Planet, Futura, 1975, p.85.
59. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, I. p.116, II, pp.617-18.
60. Theodore Besterman, A Dictionary of Theosophy, Theosophical Publishing House, London, 1927, p.63.
61. Ballard, Unveiled Mysteries, p.252.
62. Leslie. Flying Saucers Have Landed, p.166.
63. Leon Festinger, Henry W. Reiken & Stanley Schachter, When Prophecy Fails, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1956, pp.33-4,
152, John Keel. UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse, Abacus, London, 1973, p.279.
From Magonia 64, August 1998.
This article was the winning entry in the first Roger Sandell Memorial Essay Competition.
In Magonia 57 I argued that belief in Ancient Astronauts is a species of religion, a substitute credo for those disaffected with Christianity. The corollary is: what do Christian believers think of extraterrestrial hypotheses?
A number of attacks on Erich von Däniken were published in the 1970s – exceeding in number his own publications – and the majority had a Christian stance. (1) (For some reason Australian Christians were the most vocal.) Though von Däniken described his own work as a hypothesis made up of many speculations, (2) his critics appeared to take it a great deal more seriously than its author did.
Though Some Trust in Chariots!! (3) was not specifically presented as a Christian work, and the 17 contributors included a member of the Jewish community, and at least one agnostic , there were also five (Australian) clergymen, the maverick theologian Barbara Thiering, and a schoolmaster who specified that he found von Däniken’s views absurd as a Christian . Even the title is a Bible quotation. (4) Collectively they professed to find Chariots of the Gods? careless, ill-informed, gratuitously offensive to honest scholars, and ultimately likely to be unhealthy in its social effect ; its popularity, amazing, distressing and saddening . The general suggestion was that the author and his publishers had unscrupulously bamboozled the public for financial gain. (5)
Co-editor Edgar Castle was particularly irked by the spin-off TV film, which he considered dangerous , and its success sinister . Now, the advance publicity for the film had stated that it was nothing but an hypothesis. It does not pretend that is how it was, but says that is how it could have been. Castle asked indignantly how this could be, when the business of the film is illusion and its aim is the total involvement of the audience ; and denied that any kind of tentativeness is transmissible by film or television . Rather: The film cannot by its very nature be speculative. What it shows must seem to be true, at least at the time. (6)
Like many True Disbelievers, Castle suffered from what one might term a superiority complex . He was not taken in by the film; he saw through it as ludicrous nonsense; yet he expected that the general public, who did not (it must be supposed) possess his great intelligence and strength of character, were likely to be brainwashed into false belief, disclaimer or not.
Though they were quite legitimately able to show that, as a piece of historical reconstruction, Chariots of the Gods? is full of holes, underlying all of this was an awareness that the book had thrown out a challenge to their religion, though they mentioned this only in order to deny it: Insofar as Chariots of the Gods? states, or suggests, doubts as to the validity of the main items of Christian doctrine, rebuttal is easy. Christian people will not be troubled by it. The Christian faith is anchored firmly in real history. (7) This does not quite ring true: people who were unconcerned by a theory would not bother to write a whole book attacking it.
Collectively, the authors represented a liberal Christian outlook. In consequence, they attacked von Däniken for treating the Bible as history! The Rev. Stephens complained that he thinks that theologians really do believe that what the Bible says about the creation of the world, the history of the Jews and the visions of the prophets, is literally and truly historical . . . In particular, von Däniken had suggested that the sons of God in Genesis 6:2 might have been spacemen. The Rev. Alan Cole retorted that this passage must be an old piece of symbolic mythology, not to be understood literally . (8)
This is highly ironic in its context, since it is a tacit admission that a work that sells far better than Chariots of the Gods? - more copies than anything except the Guinness Book of Records – is in large part untrue, and known to be untrue by those who peddle it. Were these learned clerics merely suffering from psychological projection? In any case, the authors of the early books of the Bible clearly did intend them to be understood as literally true (whether or not they really were), and would have been astonished at any suggestion they were only symbolic mythology – a concept that hardly existed at that time.
This attitude is also curiously dated, though the book appeared only a quarter of a century ago. The Protestant churches had long since become polarised between liberals and fundamentalists; and a few decades ago observers thought the liberals would win out, since archaeology and textual analysis had made the fundamentalist position logically untenable. This expectation was naive, of course: people want a religion to give them certainty, which fundamentalism offers but liberals do not; and in any case faith has nothing to do with reason. In fact, since 1970, fundamentalism has flourished, whilst the liberal churches have gone into decline.
(Though it is possible to draw distinctions between fundamentalists, evangelicals, charismatics, and so on, these categories overlap, and the blanket term fundamentalism – meaning Protestants who believe in the literal truth of the Bible, and are committed to Evangelism – will suffice for the present purpose.)
Since the fundamentalists consider that they have all the right answers, beyond dispute, they find it irksome that there are people out there who do not agree. One consequence is that a large body of fundamentalist literature is devoted to attacking cults . One of the more prolific British anti-cultists is John Allan, whose works include TM: A cosmic confidence trick, and The rising of the Moon against the Unification Church. (9) Allan’s basic position is: Cults . . . are unlikely to go away. This makes it vital for those of us who are Christians to attempt to understand them; to trace the motivations which lead people to join them rather than respond to the invitations of Christian evangelists . . . (10)
One of Allan’s earliest publications was The Gospel According to Science Fiction. (11) The bulk of this pamphlet was a criticism of the theories of von Däniken et al. as being based on slipshod reasoning and dubious facts , Allan’s own source for facts being mainly Some Trust in Chariots!!
Though until the last chapter Allan tried to reason objectively, in several earlier places he gave away his viewpoint by bringing in arguments which assumed the truth of Christianity, indeed of Protestant Christianity. Thus, he criticised von Däniken for citing the Talmud, since: The Talmud is a commentary on the Old Testament, and was never thought to carry the same authority . (12) It might not have quite the same religious authority (though it has nearly as much for the Rabbis), but that does not mean that it cannot have as much weight for the historian. R.L. Dione, he complained, treats the Fatima visions as equally important with the New Testament (when even those statements of the visitants” which he quotes contradict the New Testament) . (13) Why shouldn’t he? Dione was trying to argue from first principles, not inherited tradition, and while there is witness testimony that the Fatima visions were miraculous events, there is no evidence (except tradition) that the New Testament was divinely inspired. (Fundamentalists try to prove it is by quoting 2 Tim. 3:16: All scripture is given by inspiration of God ; not only is this argument circular, but in any case Paul must have been referring to the Old Testament: he could not have meant the Gospels, which were not then written.)
But Allan’s final argument did not depend on reason at all: By an act of incredible generosity, Jesus died willingly to pay the penalty which really we deserved to pay, for breaking God’s laws. According to the Bible (and quite frankly I know it’s true, from my own experience) this makes it possible for us to get to know God again, by simply inviting him to take command of our lives. Von Däniken believes that one day we will contact beings in another dimension. The Bible claims you can do it right now!
He concluded from this: I do not distrust von Däniken and the others because the details of their argument are mistaken. I distrust them because I can’t do anything else. If I know that the God who created everything is not only alive but also at work in my life right now, it becomes pointless for me to speculate that he may have been a bunch of spacemen.
This is hard to understand. Why should a personal experience of God preclude the possibility of the existence of space Gods ? After all, Barry Downing and some other von Dänikenites retained a conventional religious faith. However, it is clear that Allan recognised that belief in Astronauts was a religious creed, and by his own lights a false creed, hence in need of refutation just as much as those of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. When he wrote sarcastically of the believers: How nice it is to know that you are one of the Privileged Few who understand the human situation! the remark applied just as well to himself.
In general, Allan’s writings demonstrate the futility of arguing about religion. In a later pamphlet, Accept no substitute, (14) he considered and then rejected Pluralism, the view that all religions are equally valid. If, he pointed out, members of only one particular religion will be saved – he meant his own religion, of course – then adherents have a moral duty to convert as many as they can. This is true, but it fails to eliminate other possibilities. If, as some Roman Catholics maintain, only Roman Catholics can go to heaven, then Protestant Evangelists are leading people to damnation. Or, if the Pluralists are correct, then all Evangelism is a mere waste of time.
Another Australian Christian, Dr Clifford Wilson, provided actual evidence concerning the dangerous and sinister consequences of people reading Chariots of the Gods? In an interview he asked the Rev. William Gill (of the famous New Guinea UFO sighting) what he thought of it, and was told that he personally was pleased in some ways that this book had received the publicity it did, because it had provided a tremendous stimulus so that people were now very much more ready to take an interest in ancient history, archaeology, and religion. He stated he had found that young people were more stimulated through these writings than through any other writings spread over his own career as a teacher. (15)
The book’s effect on Dr Wilson himself was more curious. Asked to do some radio talks in answer to it, he only agreed reluctantly, not being much interested in the subject. Yet eventually his material grew until it filled a book, Crash Go the Chariots, and he also gave many public talks. he then turned his attention to contemporary flying saucer reports, and jumped from scepticism to belief: The days of doubt have ended. The fact is – whether we like it or not – the UFOs are here. (16) His evidence for this consisted of many of the usual anecdotes commonly found in popular UFO paperbacks.
His conclusion was set out in vague terms, but revolved around his belief that we may well be the last generation, during whose time Christ will return, to be followed by the final battle of Armageddon. The Bible suggests that spiritual powers as well as mankind will be involved in that great conflict between the forces of good and evil. The UFO occupants, he said, had a mission impossible because their aims were opposed to those of Almighty God.
The following year a far more explicit statement of his views would be published, but before discussing it, the real implications of extraterrestrial life for Christian doctrine must be considered. Nearly four centuries ago Kepler asked: if there are globes in the heaven similar to our earth . . . Then how can all things be for man’s sake? How can we be masters of God’s handiwork? (17) Theologians have usually assumed that the cosmos was created for the benefit of the human race: but if our planet were to prove only one of many inhabited worlds, a big prop of their system would be knocked away.
In the mid-19th century William Whewell saw this very well: Can the Earth be thus the center of the moral and religious universe, when it has been shewn to have no claim to be the center of the physical universe? (18) His own response was to argue that there was in fact no other life out there: the nebulae are balls of gas which could not support life; there is no evidence that the stars have planets; and the planets of our solar system are too unlike ours to be habitable. This was (and still is) a valid scientific argument, but as he virtually admitted, he only espoused it because he was too disturbed by the implications of the existence of non-terrestrial intelligence to countenance it.
(Whewell also considered uneasily the geological evidence that the earth was far older than the six thousand years taught by Genesis; this raised similar issues: if the earth is billions of years old, then the human race is as the blinking of an eye in its history, hence we are temporally as well as spatially insignificant.)
Since extraterrestrials would thus pose a threat to fundamentalism, its adherents are not likely to be pleased by evidence for their existence. Now, while Ancient Astronauts can readily be dismissed to their satisfaction, UFOs may be a bigger headache. Ufology is not based merely on speculation about old texts and ambiguous artefacts, but (apparently) on the hard evidence of sightings, and even on actual contact with beings from other planets. A 1970s poll showed that 15 million Americans had seen unexplained things in the sky, and that figure must have included many fundamentalists. A 1979 UK poll proved that more people believed that aliens were visiting, or had visited, us than believed in God. (19)
This possibility of aliens in our skies cannot but raise awkward questions. If man was made in the image of God, in whose image are the Greys? If salvation only comes through Jesus, what will happen to all the people on the billions of other planets out there, who cannot have heard of him?
A further problem concerns the end of the world. Two thousand years ago, when it was thought that the sky was a glass dome a few thousand miles high, it did not seem too odd that the world as it was known might soon be brought to an end by its creator. But this belief is now acquiring a parochial air. The observed universe is billions of light years across, and possibly crammed with life. Why should it all suddenly come to an end for the sake of one tiny speck of dust in the spiral arm of one galaxy not too different from millions of others?
Liberal Christians profess not to be at all disturbed by the issue. The Rev. Dr G.H. Stephens, a modern theologian who described Chariots of the Gods? as theologically naive, specifically mentioned von Däniken’s claim that discovery of life on other planets would be devastating to conventional religion: . . . such proof would not alter for one moment the Christian belief that life is abundant and various, and that quite probably other forms and shapes sing praise to God on other planets. It is not as if Christians claimed to have a monopoly on God. (20)
Fundamentalists do, however, claim to have a monopoly on God. Conceivably, it could be argued that spacemen are visiting the earth because this is the only planet where the true religion is known, but so far as I am aware no one has done this. Some, like John Allan, have simply dismissed UFOs on the usual grounds that the known planets are uninhabitable, while outside the solar system, The distances are too great to allow extensive contacts . (21) He thus had no need to bother about the problem.
A more interesting solution was suggested by John Weldon ( a research editor for the Christian Research Institute ) and Zola Levitt ( a Hebrew Christian who met the Lord in 1971 ) in UFOs: What on Earth is Happening? (22) In contrast to Allan’s sceptical approach to spacemen, the authors began by declaring that: The UFOs are real! . . . Millions of people the world over have seen them . . . (23) and unlike the liberals they recognised that the existence of extraterrestrials posed a threat to Christian doctrine: If, as the UFO folks imply, there are billions of inhabited planets out there with their variety of craft and their interplanetary organizations, Jesus’ sacrifice looks rather paltry. If He really were to die for all of God’s creatures . . . He’d have to die billions of times, in billions of forms, and so on. It would make the Gospel look ridiculously inadequate. (24)
As the authors noted, ufological writings generally, and contactee stories in particular, have a strong metaphysical dimension. For example, in 1965 a Californian TV repairman, Sidney Padrick, was given a flight in a saucer that landed near his home. The craft proved to contain a room similar to a chapel, where he was asked to pay your respects to the Supreme Deity . He said later: I’m forty-five years old, and until that night I had never felt the presence of the Supreme Being, but I did feel Him that night. (25)
It might be thought that a personal experience of the Supreme Deity was a decisive event, but fundamentalists would not agree. John Allan, who as ever provides a fair epitome of their views, states that if one is born-again in the Lord (as Allan himself was) it is a genuine religious experience, but if something similar yet non-Christian occurs it is merely a delusion. (26) This is because God only manifests in order to spread the true religion.
So, if fundamentalists alone have a direct line to God, how come there are other religions, who likewise claim divine inspiration, visions, miracles and so on? The fundamentalist answer has always been that these religions are the work of devils and demons. The Gods of the Pagans, they said, were demons, which was why their worship had to be suppressed. With the modern improvement in global communications, they have come into contact with Hinduism, Buddhism, and other faiths, and unilaterally denounce them as worship to demon gods .
Nor did matters end here, as all Christian heresies were thought to be inspired by demons. When the Reformation started, the Pope was held to be the Antichrist; Counter-Reformation propagandists responded by depicting Martin Luther as a mouthpiece for Satan’s opinions. Fortune-telling was done with the assistance of demons (unlike Biblical prophecy, of course). Lunatics were possessed by demons. Witches were instruments of demons . Early Protestant theologians held that ghosts were not really spirits of the dead, but demons who took on their form. Spiritualists are likewise accused of contacting demons rather than the dear departed. In some modern churches every misfortune, from a bad back to a bad debtor, may be blamed on a demonic influence in the life of the afflicted person. (27)
It is not hard to guess from the foregoing what some fundamentalists think flying saucers are. Thus Weldon and Levitt: UFOs and the other strange manifestations we are seeing represent demon activity . . . [as Christians] we are privileged to understand easily what is a befuddling mystery to the rest of the world. (28)
They were able to take all kinds of observations and facts as proof. The giants of Genesis, whom the liberal Rev. Alan Cole had dismissed as symbolic mythology were in fact real, they said, and the same as modern UFO entities; but, as they pointed out, according to the generally accepted theological interpretation , those giants were fallen angels. UFOs are most often seen at night, the very time that black magic ceremonies are normally held. George King made contact with the space brethren after practising Yoga, which is considered by fundamentalists to be demonic . (29)
One advantage of this approach is that it is easy. Those who consider that UFOs are all weather balloons or temperature inversions have a hard time fitting some of the data to their chosen interpretation. Those who say they come from Venus have to explain away the evidence that Venus is uninhabitable (and perhaps the rival claims of those who say they come from Mars). More generally, as John Keel liked to point out, believers in nuts-and-bolts spacecraft ignore or even suppress anything suggesting that they are non-physical. Even the worst UFO author is thus usually required to do some thinking.
No such effort is needed by UFOs-are-demons proponents. Since demons have almost unlimited occult power, no sighting story can be too absurd or unreal to be dismissed. How come, a believer in contactee stories could be asked, contactees all say different things about where saucers come from, who pilots them, and how they are propelled? The Fundamentalist can simply answer, Demons are liars! Villas Boas had sex with a spacewoman? She was a succubus demon! Flying saucers are hostile? Demons are hostile! Space brothers preach cosmic awareness? Demons want to lead us into theological error! Do you doubt this all-embracing explanation? Then you are in the thrall of demons!
Best of all, they were able to turn the potential threat to their creed into support for it. Since practically everything written in the Bible about fallen angels could be applied to UFOs, this proved that the Bible is true, e.g.: The demons seek to rest in human bodies (Luke 8:30; 11:24-26; Matt. 12:43-45), including children’s bodies (Luke 9:39), and even those of animals (Matt. 8:30-32; Gen. 3:1-5). By way of comparison, possession occurs also in UFO contactee cases, and animals react with sheer terror when UFOs or UFO beings are in the area. (30) And, of course, the great number of flying saucer reports in recent years shows that the demons are stepping up their activities, as predicted would happen in the Last Times.
Since 1975 it has become a commonplace of fundamentalist literature that UFOs are demons, though nothing much new has been added to the theory. Hal Lindsey, well-known author of The Late Great Planet Earth, had this to say:
“I believe these demons will stage a spacecraft landing on Earth. They will claim to be from an advanced culture in another galaxy. They may even claim to have planted” human life on this planet and tell us they have returned to check on our progress . . . If demons led by Satan, their chief, did pull off such a deception, then they could certainly lead the world into total error regarding God and His revelation. They could even give a false explanation for the sudden disappearance of all the world’s Christians – which will happen in the final days. (31) We are still awaiting the sudden disappearance of all the world’s Christians.
Bob Larson, a leading American radio-evangelist, has given further reasons why UFOs cannot be spaceships:
If God did choose to create intelligent beings on other planets, they too would be tainted by Adam’s sin which affected the entire cosmos. They would be fallen creatures like mankind and thus have the same technological limitations that we do. If sin’s retrogressive impact on man’s advancement has prevented us from going to visit them, how could they possibly visit us? If for some reason sin has not invaded their race, would God permit such an unfallen civilization to contact us and thus be contaminated by our sin? The answer to both of these questions is decidedly negative. (32)
The most interesting development has been reports of close encounters that appear to confirm that those lights in the sky are fallen angels. Clifford Wilson and John Weldon later collaborated on Close Encounters: A Better Explanation, in which they cited three case histories of people who had seen UFOs regularly but later became convinced they were demonic manifestations. (33) It may be of significance that one of them, a Canadian woman, had believed she was in touch with God’s messengers until Weldon’s 1976 book convinced her otherwise.
Some fundamentalists are encouraged to listen to the word of the Lord – apparently with practice it is easy enough to talk with Him on a regular basis. One of the most celebrated of these direct-communication Christians is Rebecca Brown, who was once a doctor in Indiana. She used to ask the Lord to diagnose her patients’ illnesses and prescribe treatment. Other doctors, who had a more conventional approach, did not agree with the Lord, and she lost her medical licence. Brown considered that this was because the medical profession was dominated by Satanists who had instructions to get her, but that in any case it was a good thing in the long run, as she was able to start on a more successful career of Evangelism instead. (34)
Among the many Christians Rebecca has since helped with demonic problems in their lives was a woman in her 60s named Lydia , who complained that she was having trouble reading her Bible ( a pretty typical sign of demonic infestation ). Every time I open up my Bible, I start to see whirling circles of light in my peripheral vision. As soon as I try to focus my eyes on the words, those lights come to block my vision so that I cannot see the words. I can read any other book without difficulty.
Lydia finally realised that these lights resembled a UFO she had once seen whilst living on the East Coast. Driving home one night she had seen a round object with whirling lights floating over the fields near the highway. She stopped to watch, and saw other cars stop too. Just then the Holy Spirit spoke to me and told me, Don’t stop, you’ll be hurt”. But I was too fascinated to really listen to Him. I stopped anyway.
She started conversing with the UFO by mental telepathy. It told her they were visitors from another planet, come to look at the earth. They talked like this for some time, until she asked them if they worshipped Jesus. They replied, Well, we have a choice who we serve. This bothered her. But how can you have a choice when Jesus is God, and created the entire universe including you? Rather than answer, the UFO went off into the sky and disappeared. Rebecca Brown saw this as confirming her own supposition that the UFOs were demonic phenomena , and that Lydia didn’t realize it at the time, but she was really testing the spirits by asking them about Jesus. They flunked the test! (35)
What should we conclude from all this? Perhaps it comes down to the fact that faith overrides reason. Those who are born-again in Jesus read the Bible and see the perfect words of God. Atheists read the same book and conclude that there is not a word of truth in it. Those who are predisposed to believe in Ancient Astronauts find evidence for them in scripture. Much the same thing happens with today’s UFO reports: you can use them to back up whatever world-view pleases you.
1. The only secular anti-Däniken book was Ronald Story’s The Space-Gods Revealed (New English Library, 1976), and even that had an appendix on UFOs and the Bible by a Professor of Religion.
2. Chariots of the Gods?, 77
3. Edited by E.W. Castle and Rev. B.B. Thiering, Westbooks, Perth and Sydney, 1972. I do not know if the Rev. Thiering and Barbara Thiering were related.
4. Psalm 20:7
5. Thiering and Castle, op. cit., Preface (unpaginated), and 3, 98
6. Ibid., 107-108
7. Ibid., 92
8. Ibid., 41, 115
9. Both these published by Inter-Varsity Press, 1980
10. Shopping for a God: Fringe religions today, Inter-Varsity Press, 1986, 12
11. Church Pastoral Aid Society, 1975. Allan’s first book, I Know Where I’m Going (i.e. to heaven), Lutterworth Press, 1975, won a United Society for Christian Literature and Lutterworth Young Writers Award .
12. The Gospel According to Science Fiction, 24
13. Ibid., 26-27
14. UCCF Booklets, Leicester, 1991
15. Dr Clifford Wilson, UFOs and their Mission Impossible, Signet, New York, 1974, 114
16. Ibid., 1
17. Quoted in Paul Davies, Are We Alone?, Penguin Books, 1995, 4
18. William Whewell, Of the Plurality of Worlds, 2nd edition, 1854, 100
19. John Grant, A Directory of Discarded Ideas, Corgi, 1983, 18
20. Some Trust in Chariots!!, 41
21. Mysteries, Lion Publishing, 1981, 51
22. Bantam, 1976 (1st Harvest House, 1975). Incidentally, the address of Bantam Books was then 666 Fifth Avenue!
23. UFOs: What on Earth is Happening?, 1
24. Ibid., 152
25. John Keel, Our Haunted Planet, Futura, 1975, 161
26. John Allan, Yoga: A Christian analysis, Inter-Varsity Press, 1983, Chapter 6
27. The literature on this subject is too vast to give useful references in the space of a note.
28. Weldon and Levitt, UFOs, 17
29. Ibid., 24-25, 108, 125-126
30. Ibid., 84
31. Hal Lindsey, The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon, Bantam Edition, New York, 1981, 33
32. Larson’s New Book of Cults, Tyndale House, Wheaton, Illinois, 1989, 346
33. Clifford Wilson and John Weldon, Close Encounters: A Better Explanation, Master Books, P.O. Box 15666 [!], San Diego, California, Chapter 14
34. Shawn Carlson and Gerald Larue, Satanism in America, Gaia Press, El Cerrito, California, 1989, 104-106
35. Rebecca Brown, Prepare for War, revised ed., Whitaker House, Springdale, Pennsylvania, 1992, 303-305