While in his cell [whilst incarcerated for embezzlement, fraud
and forgery], he claims, he experienced an intense vision.
Von Daniken won’t discuss the nature of the vision…
Erich Von Daniken, ancient astronaut alien fame (or, infamy)—was interviewed by Timothy Ferris; an interview you can find scanned from the original magazine here and yet, one that no one seems to have transcribed as of yet which is why we will provide much of the text within this series.
The issue of the Uzbekistanian cave panting is a really odd one, let us consider the discussion first:
[Timothy Ferris] …What about the so-called prehistoric cave painting from Uzbekistan that appears in the film version of Chariots of the Gods? It shows vividly a modern-day astronaut and a flying saucer and if it’s prehistoric, as the script says, it would be very solid evidence for your
[Erich Von Daniken] You have a wonderful way of touching on every point which is uncertain. I feel like I’m being prosecuted. I’ll tell you, about 95 percent of the things I write about I have seen with my own eyes. But there are a few things, especially in Russia and China, which I couldn’t have seen. This is one such case. I never seen the painting, never bee there. Dr. Saizev, a philologist at the Lenin State University, published thing painting in the Soviet magazine Sputnik, April 1, 1968, and I took the story.
The film crew went to Moscow and interviewed Dr. Saizev. He showed them the picture and told them the same thing, that the painting was ancient. I wasn’t there with the crew. Then the funniest thing, Peter Krassa, the journalist I was telling you about, wrote to Dr. Saizev and Saizev answered that the picture was actually modern, not prehistoric. Now, that’s really fantastic, don’t you think? First he published an article saying it was old, then he told the movie crew the same thing, and only now does he say it is not old at all.
[Timothy Ferris] When did you discover that the painting was a hoax?
[Erich Von Daniken] I’m still not sure it is. I have had some interesting experiences with people in Russia and China. You can never be sure when they tell you something that they really mean it. They sometimes have reasons to say one thing in private and another in public.
[Timothy Ferris] People all over the world have seen the film and they haven’t been told that the origin of the painting is doubtful or that it might be a hoax. They’re being told it’s genuine. Isn’t that irresponsible?
[Erich Von Daniken] The film starts with questions and ends with question, not answers. In the film you see Dr. Saizev being interviewed, you see him give this picture to the movie crew. I’m very sorry but the interview is a fact. And the commentary says simply, “Dr. Saizev showed us this…” [ellipses in original]
[Timothy Ferris] Reading from the film script, it says: “We must look and look again to grasp the significance of this prehistoric drawing. A creature wearing the headgear of an astronaut.” And so on.
[Erich Von Daniken] Here I’d like to say that the commentary to the film was not written by me.
Also, there are many things in the film that I would never have said in that way. For example, concerning Nazca, Peru, where there are great lines laid out in the desert, the film commentary says something like, “No doubt, it must have been an airfield.” I never made such a statement. I said, “It looks like an airfield.” There’s quite a difference.
The great oddity is that not one has a photo of the ancient astronaut alien graffiti in a cave in Uzbekistan but what we do have is that which it actually is. And that is nothing more than an illustration drawn for the referenced Sputnik magazine dated to 1968 AD.
Let us conclude with a wrap up of this whole affair as elucidated by the self-confessed possessed professor Jeffrey Kripal notes (Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal, pp. 118-119—see my review of the book here):
…the ancient-astronaut theory. This is the idea that UFOs are not recent appearances, but have been interacting with humans for millennia, if not actually millions of years, guiding and shaping our biological and cultural evolution. Some versions of this theory are very abstract and leave things largely unexplained…Some versions of this theory have it that the human species is a literal biological hybrid of early primates and visiting aliens (a theme, already present in the theosophical literature, that was given a dramatic new life in the abduction narratives and hybridization theory of the late 1980s and ’90s).
Other forms function as popular theories of religion, focusing on how such ancient visitations were recorded in myth and legend and the ancient visitors thus became our “gods.”
Sometimes this is read in a fascinated, positive light. Other times-and this is when it gets really gnostic—it is read in a very negative light, that is, as a millennia—long deception or control mechanism…
One very obvious example will suffice for now. This is Marvel Preview #1 and its cover story, “Man-Gods from beyond the Stars,” written by Doug Moench, the same writer with whom we began this book.
The cover of Marvel Preview certainly suggests that the ancient-astronaut theory is more than a theory. “Impossible- or true?” is ambiguous enough, but the question mark is effectively rendered null in the next lines: “Photos, fantasy, and facts about the starmen who walked the earth before time began.” The Moench story is followed by, among other things, a bibliographic essay that correctly identifies Charles Fort as “the Great-Grandaddy of all the modern flying saucer broo-ha-ha” and a number of supporting essays about the cultural phenomenon of Erich von Daniken’s Chariot of the Gods, which was clearly the real catalyst for this particular issue.
Von Daniken, previously a hotelier by profession, is a Swiss enthusiast of ancient history. His
megabestseller, which argued that much of the ancient history of religion was really a history of human contact with spacefaring aliens, was originally published in Germany in 1968, a year later in English in Britain, then in America in 1970.
It is easy, and all too common, to dismiss popularizers and so miss entirely the important, and often very subtle, roles that they play in the history of ideas.
It is also all too easy to dismiss an idea by naively equating it with an easily dismissible popularize, as if the popularizer was not popularizing a complex and nuanced idea that was already there in the culture. This is precisely the case with the ancient-astronaut idea. There were certainly earlier, more nuanced, and more elite versions of the same thesis.
To take a single example, von Daniken’s comparison of a photograph of an American Apollo astronaut and an ancient drawing from the Sahara, which could be construed as a one-eyed alien in a spacesuit, was almost certainly inspired by Carl Sagan’s earlier discussion of the ancient-astronaut theory, which appeared in 1966 (and there were many other authors. in England. France, and the U.S., who preceded and followed Sagan in these provocative waters). Sagan had imagined “colonies of colonies of colonies” in outer space (which echoes his signature line, “billions and billions” and-much like Charles Fort-he deftly used the mythical memories of contact with European colonizers from North America and sub-Saharan Africa in order to suggest that other “contact myths” may encode ancient encounters with galactic astronauts, who “would probably be portrayed as having godlike characteristics and possessing supernatural powers.”
After teasing his readers with the aforementioned ancient fresco from central Sahara depicting, in the words of a French archaeologist, “the great Martian god,” Sagan zeroed in on a series of Sumerian myths as particularly suggestive of extraterrestrial contact. “Sumerian civilization is depicted by the descendants of the Sumerians themselves to be of non-human origin” he wrote, “A succession of strange creatures appears over the course of several generations.
Their only apparent purpose is to instruct mankind. Each knows of the mission and accomplishments of his predecessors. When a great inundation threatens the survival of the newly introduced knowledge among men, steps are taken to ensure its preservation.” As for the gods themselves, they were associated with individual stars, the cuneiform symbols for “god” and “star” being identical.
Sagan, of course, is offering this as a thought experiment, not as the truth or things, although it is also clear that he considers such scenarios to be real historical possibilities. He even speculates about a possible interstellar base on the far side or the moon (remember The Fantastic Four #13?) and suggests one possible reason for intervening in another planet’s evolution: “to head off a nuclear annihilation.” These, of course, are all standard tropes in the contactee and ufological literatures, not to mention science fiction and the later alien abduction literature.
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