Who Taught God to Drive? The Origins of the Ancient Astronaut Myth.
Gareth Medway

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…

Helena BlavatskyIn 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.” 

Beyond Belief

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”.

Gospel Truth

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!

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.”


 Strange Gods

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.












How to Write a Bestseller
Gareth J. Medway

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.

Good luck!


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.



  1. As Geschichte der Magie – an English translation appeared in 1854.
  2. Frederick Soddy, The Interpretation of Radium, third edition 1912, pp.251-252
  3. W. Scott Elliott, The Story of Atlantis 1896, p.52
  4. George Orwell, Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, Vol. 3, Penguin Books, 1970, p.121, from a column originally published in Tribune.
  5. Adventures Unlimited Press, Stelle, Illinois, 1991
  6. Charles Fort, The Book of the Damned, Abacus edition, 1973, p.173
  7. John Keel, The Cosmic Question (British edition of The Eighth Tower), Panther 1978, p.19
  8. Desmond A Leslie and George Adamski, Flying Saucers Have Landed, Werner Laurie, 1953, pp.156-157
  9. Cited in Robert Charroux, One Hundred Thousand Years of Man’s Unknown History, Sphere, 1981, p.73
  10. Cited by Paul Thomas, Flying Saucers Through the Ages, Sphere 1973, who says the article was widely discussed in the international press.
  11. Discussed in Max Flindt’s and Otto Binder, Mankind – Child of the Stars, Fawcett, 1974, an expanded version of the same thesis.
  12. Ronald Story, Guardians of the Universe?, New English Library, 1980, p.9
  13. Peter Krassa, Erich von Daniken: Disciple of the Gods? Star Books, 1978, p.68
  14. According to the cover of the Mayflower paperback edition, 1971
  15. Privately published, 1967
  16. T. C. Lethbridge.
  17. Story, Guardians of the Universe? pp.18-1918. Editorial, Fortean Times 169, April 2003
  18. Editorial, Fortean Times 169, April 2003
  19. 1964; reprinted as Messengers from the Stars, Sphere, 1977


The Devil and the Deep Blue Sky. Gareth Medway

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