Ancient Wisdom, Ancient Astronauts, and New Age Masters: Theosophy and its UFO Legacy (Part 2)First Published: November 9, 2017 Estimated Reading Time: 14 minutes
Kevin Storrar (2017)
If you haven’t already, you can read the first part of this series (part 1) here.
Much of the teachings of Helena Blavatsky’s version of Theosophy centers on accessing the secret wisdom of ancient knowledge. One group that embraced aspects of Theosophy, extraterrestrial contact and an obsession with ‘ancient wisdom’ is the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, a religious organization founded by Malachi ‘Dwight’ York in 1993. The group has its origins in the Black Muslim groups of New York that emerged during the late 1960s. York combined elements of The Nation of Islam, Freemasonry and The Moorish Science Temple of America to create a quasi-Muslim Black Nationalist movement, which was originally known as Ansaar Pure Sufi. In the late 1980s, York began to phase out the Muslim aspect of this group in favor of Theosophy-inspired ideas, and intertwined them with adapted Ancient Egyptian, African, and Native American customs.
In the early 1980s York worked as a music producer and his Nuwaubian teachings had an impact on the New York focused hip-hop movement. Artists such as Jay-Z, Afrika Bambaataa, Outkast, Lisa ‘Left-Eye’ Lopez, De La Soul, and the Wu-Tang Clan have all cited him as an influence. The east coast hip-hop scene in the early 1980s took significant influence from the Afrocentric ideas of the ‘five-percent nation’, a name referencing the numbers of the general population who understood the righteous teaching that God is an Asiatic Blackman. Artists such as Afrika Bambaataa and his Universal Zulu Nation, and also Ramm:Ell:Zee, borrowed heavily from both Afrocentricism and motifs of traditional African cultures, creating a type of Afrofuturism that re-examined events from the past in a way that combined them with bits borrowed from science fiction and fantasy. The American sociologist Alondra Nelson commented on this Afrofuturism approach, noting that space and aliens frequently appear in such art and music, and by using the idea of black people as being an actual alien race, concepts around slavery and alienation can be subverted into hyperbolic tropes that utilize extraterrestrial imagery as literal metaphors.
A precursor to such ideas can be seen with the jazz musician Herman Poole Blount, who later changed his name to Le Sony’r Ra, and then simply Sun Ra, in reference to the Egyptian God of the Sun. From the mid-1950s Sun Ra and his ensemble The Arkestra, performed experimental ‘cosmic’ jazz music, often dressed in elaborate costumes inspired by both ancient Egypt and space-age themes. Sun Ra went on to frequently talk about a trip he made to Saturn via a method of psychic teleportation in the mid-1930s, however he didn’t make such claims public until 1952. He subsequently adapted these claims, suggesting that the alien beings he met had told him to drop out of college and become a musician, and later that he himself was in actual fact an extraterrestrial.
Concepts of racial tension brought about through both the aftermath of years of oppression, and the guilt created by the sins of the father, may relate to an aspect of the UFO phenomenon. The creative expression seen in movements like Afrofuturism is one example of the fall out of racial divides fuelling ideas around space and aliens, but there are other more subtle parallels. In The Multicultural Imagination: “Race”, Color and the Unconscious, psychoanalyst Michael Vannoy Adams describes the idea that intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations could be able to observe, from a distance, the racial divide of our species, providing them opportunity to invade and conquest. As a result they could inflict (or so the western subconscious would fear) the same amount of exploitation upon western society that had, historically, been inflicted on so many others.
The combination of such themes mixed with York’s own teachings and with, selected bits from Islam and Theosophy, and created some strange beliefs. In his view the blacks were originally a green-skinned alien race who have slowly ‘rusted’ as a result of spending time in Earth’s atmosphere. Subliminal clues to this truth have been planted into various Hollywood movies, like the Star Wars sequel Return of the Jedi, which was, in York’s view, created with the sole purpose of educating the masses about these extraterrestrials. York believed white people were created by aliens as a race of killers to serve blacks as a slave army, and further that the Christian term ‘rapture’ really refers to the returning of the Velociraptors, who will eventually reappear to ‘dine on the now ripe white flesh’.
He claimed both himself and the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II were extraterrestrials from the planet Rizq. York later went on to claim that he arrived on Earth on a spaceship around 1970, despite the fact that it was well known that he lived in Brooklyn in the 1960s and previous claims that he had spent time in the late 1950s traveling to Egypt to learn ancient wisdoms from Egyptian teachers.
As his group grew he eventually established a large Egyptian-themed complex to act as a base of operations and church for his Nuwaubian religion. The Tame-Re was built in an area near Eatonton, Georgia, on a 476-acre plot. The complex included several pyramid structures, a sphinx, obelisk, lines of animal-headed statues, as well as a bookstore and nightclub. The group was fined for building on the site without a permit, and ongoing lawsuits with county authorities gave rise to the formation of a paramilitary group to protect the complex, called the Royal Guard of Amen-Ra, which was allegedly funded in part by actor Wesley Snipes. York saw a strong affiliation, too, with the local Yamasee indigenous people, and made claims that their culture was formed from descendants of ancient migrants from Egypt, making dubious links to a 2000-year-old Rock Eagle Effigy mound located close to the site of Tame-Re.
By 2000 the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors had around 500 followers, though this number declined significantly after 2002 when York was arrested and sentenced to 135 years in prison for hundreds of counts of sexually molesting dozens of children, some as young as four, and transporting a number of others across state lines for the purpose of further sexual exploitation. After York’s imprisonment for child abuse, the Tame-Re site was sold and in 2005 the Egyptian-themed structures were demolished.
Theosophy and Thunderstones
The embracing of ancient cultures from Egypt, Africa, and indigenous American peoples created a highly selective mix of ideas. Such appropriation also frequently attempts to make conscious links between these cultures and a knowledge of or interaction with alien civilizations. Such a trend is often labeled the ancient astronaut hypothesis, and again has its roots in the Theosophical writings of Blavatsky.
In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky speculates about life on other worlds and suggests that many ancient masters of wisdom were aware of these otherworldly entities. As well as this she suggests that such beings visited Earth and may have played a role in the evolution of humanity. Very basically the ancient astronaut idea suggests that the human race has been visited by advanced alien beings, going back to ancient times, and that many grand monuments, such as the pyramids, the Nazca lines, or several Mesopotamian artifacts are evidence of such interaction.
As well as the connection to Blavatsky, the idea has some origins in a mixture of somewhat ‘adapted’ age-old folklores and fantasy writings from the early twentieth century. Writer Charles Fort produced many books on the occult, fairies, mysterious disappearances, and other unexplained phenomenon (creating the term Fortean in the process). Fort was a writer and researcher attracted to bizarre stories like raining frogs and spontaneous human combustion, with a constant mistrust of science and authority. He often did not believe the weird stories he collected, but wanted to present an alternative view to the accepted scientific opinion. One of his ideas concerned a super-Sargasso Sea suspended above the Earth, from which intelligent beings created life, occasionally dropped things, and interacted with earth-bound secret societies via psychic powers and teleportation. In 1919, his work The Book of Damned features accounts of early UFO sightings and also objects described as thunderstones. Thunderstones have their roots in Pagan folklore, and were primarily a way of explaining the ancient-looking flint arrowheads and other seemingly manmade tools discovered in areas of disturbed earth. European folklore often attributed them to being ‘fairy-shot’ or ‘elf-arrows’. In North America these flints were objects of veneration for many native tribes. These ancient tools were seen as gifts from the Gods and relate to several origin myths. Some also believed that the objects fell from the sky. By the sixteenth century, the idea that these were implements of early man began to take hold, and the popular folklore diminished but was not forgotten.
Harold T. Wilkins was essentially a successor to Charles Fort; in his 1954 book Flying Saucers from the Moon, he discusses the (slightly racist) concept of ‘White Gods’, which may well be a reference to the Great White Brotherhood of Theosophy. This is an idea that relates in some ways to the thunderstones, and essentially suggests that Caucasian races visited ‘primitive’ cultures in ancient times; they passed on their wisdom and were worshiped as gods. Wilkins goes on to suggest that these White Gods occupied the whole of South America at one point. He also suggests that the Mesoamerican deity Quetzalcoatl was from Atlantis. Italian writer Peter Kolosimo takes this one step further, claiming the White Gods were actually extraterrestrials. Details of accounts in Kolosimo’s writing can be traced to fictional stories published in pulp magazines like Adventure. Walter Raymond Drake was another follower of Fort and Harold Wilkins. He published nine books on the ancient astronaut theme, starting with Gods or Spacemen? in 1964. These books included ‘proof’ that ancient civilizations were colonies of extraterrestrials.
The folktales associated with thunderstones and other similar myths provided inspiration for a number of fiction writers, notably H. P. Lovecrafts’ ‘The Call of Cthulu’ from 1926. This short story uses the idea of a cult of ‘Great old ones’ who existed before man, and who have left many artifacts through history. Ancient Gods are turned into alien beings, and clues of their presence are left in stones and ancient monuments. Jason Colavito wrote the 2005 book The Cult of Alien Gods: H. P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture, were he argues that the idea of ancient aliens originated with such writings from the mid-1920s. Lovecraft was inspired by H. G. Wells, the Gothic horror of Edgar Allan Poe, and works by William Scott-Elliots such as The Story of Atlantis and the Alfred Tennyson sonnet ‘The Kraken’. Many of Lovecraft’s stories were not published until after his death, but his writings gained a steady following through reproduction in magazines such as Weird Tales during the 1940s and ’50s and the French magazine Planete during the 1960s.
Chariots of the Gods?
Planete was founded in 1961 by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier and ran until 1972. The magazine explored a type of fantastical realism, which blurred the lines between fact and fiction. The pair also produced a book The Morning of the Magicians; released in France in 1960, it became a bestseller and was later translated into English and released as The Dawn of Magic in 1963. The book deals with various conspiracy theories, as well as ancient prophecies and accounts of a race of giants that once ruled the Earth. Such claims run very close to the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft, especially his Cthulu and In The Mouth of Madness works.
The Morning of the Magicians proved to be an influence on Erich Von Daniken, a controversial Swiss author who wrote Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past in 1968, a work supporting the ancient astronaut hypothesis, in 1968. The book went on to be a bestseller, perhaps in part by popular interest around similar themes caused by the success of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Released around the same time, 2001 explores the evolution of man by influence of some unknown extraterrestrial other. In its opening section, pre-human apes explore an ancient black monolith, its age and origin unknown; as the Sun symbolically rises in the back of the scene; a simple but effective juxtaposition between a basic tool and a spacecraft acts as visual shorthand for 250,000 years of technological development. A similar black monolith found buried on the Moon results in a sequence of events that send a crew towards Jupiter, only for Dr David Bowman to discover a third monolith and possibly be guided towards the next evolutionary level.
Chariots of the Gods? made its author one of the best-known proponents of the ancient astronaut idea. The book borrows wholesale from other writers, mostly Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels, as well as Peter Kolosimo; Von Daniken largely regurgitated their ideas, though he denied this following the success of his own writing. Von Daniken makes many claims in his writings, mostly based on misunderstandings of ancient cultures and their religions. He describes the Nazca lines in Peru as some sort of UFO airport, while animal mummifications and hieroglyphs of animal-human deities become evidence of genetic engineering by aliens. The offensive logic evident in most of his ideas is that cultures such as the Nazca people or ancient Egyptians were too stupid, too primitive to create any impressive structures themselves. Therefore, it must be aliens. Such ancient feats have been thoroughly researched by historians and the traditions, beliefs, and construction techniques of the Nazca, Mayan, ancient Egyptians and others is now understood, at least well enough, to give rational explanations for any respective achievements. The Egyptian pyramids, as an example, were constructed over a period of around thirty years, using a large workforce of highly skilled laborers (not slaves) who moved large granite and limestone blocks from quarries far south of Giza using the flooding waters of the Nile as a transportation system. Stones were carved using copper tools and dolerite stones before being positioned using sledges moved over a system of ramps and a friction-reducing technique using wet sand. As with a lot of modern Fortean literature, Von Daniken assumes ignorance on the part of the reader.
In 1974 he admitted (in an article published in Playboy), that he had forged and fabricated some of his ancient astronaut ‘evidence’ in an attempt to enrich his writing. He also produced photographs of pottery depicting UFO-type craft, which he claimed were found during an archaeological dig and dated to Biblical times. These were later proven fakes when TV documentary investigators found the still living potter who had produced them.
This was not the first time his actions have been somewhat morally questionable. After being convicted of theft at nineteen, Von Daniken went on to be a hotelier, here he was fired for stealing money, before going on to prison for embezzlement and fraud for falsifying documents in order to obtain loans. While on trial, a court psychologist described him as a ‘pathological liar’. He was again prosecuted for tax evasion following the success of his books.
None of this has put him off. Von Daniken has gone on to become a prolific writer of fantasy and science fiction, producing a number of additional books adding further ‘evidence’ to the ancient astronaut idea. He even designed an ancient astronaut theme park, Mystery Park, which opened in Switzerland in 2003. It has been in regular financial difficulty, closing and re-opening on a number of occasions. The US TV show Ancient Aliens that is largely based around Von Daniken’s ideas is now in its seventh series and is regularly watched by 2 million people.
Often referenced as supportive evidence for the ancient astronaut idea are the comparative accounts of World War II-era cargo cults. During the Second World War, and for a period after, a number of cults emerged in areas such as the Melanesian Islands of the South Pacific. During the campaign, large amounts of military equipment and supplies were airdropped into the area due to a number of bases operating close to the islands. When the war stopped, so, too, did the airdrops. Accounts emerged of charismatic individuals who developed cult followings amongst remote populations, as they promised further deliveries from the sky of food and materials.
The John Frum cult formed on the Island of Tanna in the Vanuatu region of the South Pacific. Here cult members worshiped several Americans going by the name of John Frum, who identified themselves as spiritual entities, and who claimed they would provide further cargo to the group in the future. Ancient astronaut theories suggest such instinctual human behavior illustrates what could have easily happened if, for example, the ancient Egyptians encountered an advanced society in the past.
John Frum was not an individual, and the name was likely a corrupted saying based upon phrases like ‘John from Kansas’ or ‘John from Washington’, with John simply being a common Western name. It was assumed at one point that such cults developed due to native tribes not being able to comprehend Western technologies like cargo planes or automatic rifles, thus believing such things to be magical or supernatural. Further studies have shown cult members actually had a primary focus on the development of new social relationships with foreign cultures. The idea that the fascination was based upon manufactured goods comes from Western assumptions regarding commodity fetishism.
The Sirius Mystery
The emergence of concepts such as advanced alien races visiting Earth in flying saucers largely developed through the cultures of America. The current population of the United States is a huge melting pot of international influences, from European settlers to South American and African communities, Asian populations, and of course indigenous peoples. Appropriated customs, practices, and traditions from cultures different to the dominant white-focused Capitalist West can often be seen as inspiration and source material for a range of ideas related to the UFO phenomenon. As an example, a number of ideas, beliefs, and practices of indigenous American peoples have been borrowed and assimilated into aspects of the New Age movement and, in turn, UFO beliefs. It should be remembered that the idea of advanced extraterrestrial intelligences, which manifest from the sky in a UFO, developed in a country that is home to cultures such as the Zia. Such peoples regard the Sun as a sacred symbol and hold a belief in spirits called Kachinas who live amongst the sky and visit the ground to share knowledge. Parallels can perhaps be seen in the belief that advanced alien technologies recovered from crashed UFOs originate from extraterrestrial races that reside somewhere up in the sky. It is probably no real coincidence that the modern day Zia Pueblo Reservation, just north of Albuquerque, is only around two hours from the site of the Roswell crash.
In a similar way, astrological observations by certain other ‘primitive’ societies act as apparent evidence of extraterrestrial intervention. Robert Temple, born in 1945, is an American author and part-time TV presenter, who is best known for his book The Sirius Mystery. First published in 1976, though he claims he began work on it in 1967, the book suggests that the Dogon people from Mali, West Africa, honor age-old traditions and practices relating to contact with aliens from the Sirius star system. These extraterrestrials apparently taught the basics of civilization to humans, and such interaction is also evident in the cultures of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
The ‘mystery’ of the book concerns the Dogons’ apparent knowledge of the star Sirius-B, which is not visible to the naked eye. It is more likely that such information was acquired through contact with European explorers in the nineteenth century. The Dogon were not an isolated tribe; they frequently interacted with neighboring cultures and independently explored territories abroad of their own settlements. The details of such knowledge has also been misunderstood by Temple and other researchers like French anthropologist Marcel Griaule. A lot of the evidence in support of Temple’s idea comes from Griaule’s accounts of his time with the Dogon in the 1930s. The Sirius mystery may mostly be a result of Griaule misrepresenting their knowledge of astronomy; Walter Van Beek, another anthropologist who spent a decade with the Dogon found no evidence of any folklore related to Sirius.
Armageddon and the Return of Nibiru
Another key contributor to the ancient astronaut hypothesis, and someone who makes the link between such ideas and those of the religious aspects of Theosophy even more apparent, is Zecharia Sitchin. Born in 1920, Sitchin was a Soviet-born American author who produced a number of books revising widely accepted historic theory. He studied economics at the University of London and worked as a journalist in Israel before moving to New York in 1952. Here he developed an interest in ancient history and began to teach himself Sumerian cuneiform.
Sitchin developed a hypothesis that suggests some form of extraterrestrials contributed to key developments in human history. In his 1976 book The 12th Planet, and on through its various sequels, he argued that the ancient Sumerian culture was largely the by-product of the actions of a race called the Anunnaki, an alien species from the planet Nibiru. These aliens genetically engineered humans as slave workers by mixing their own DNA with that of female apes. The human slaves were then put to work mining gold as well as producing a range of buildings and aesthetically pleasing objects for their masters.
Such ideas have been thoroughly discredited as pseudo-history by academics, who point to numerous inaccurate translations, exaggerations, misunderstandings, flat out lies, and unsubstantiated conclusions from Sitchin. Most frequently, Sitchin is unable to separate myth from factual events, as he fails (either intentionally or through pure ignorance) to recognize myths as parables or folktales. Rather, he sees accounts of interactions with various gods as hard scientific evidence of alien contact.
Video (Zecharia Sitchin – The End of Days – In Memoriam – Interview 2009)
Guido Hoogenboom interviews Zecharia Sitchin at the Conscious Life Expo 2009 in Los Angeles about his book ‘The End of Days’. Camera James Bell, Video Creation Suzanne Doucet, © 2011 Only New Age Music.
With the final book in his Nibiru series, The End Days: Armageddon and Prophecies of the Return, Sitchin makes predictions about the return of the Annunaki and the end of the world. Keeping his options open, in 2007 he suggested a range of dates for such an event, including 2012, 2087, 2240 – with the likeliest, apparently, not being until the year 2900. Sitchin makes reference to various end of days prophecies from numerous religions and cultures, he discusses the days of judgment as described in the Book of Joel and also Revelation, and makes links between the ‘Moon turning to blood’ and the Blood Moon effect caused by certain lunar eclipses that makes the Moon appear a deep rusty orange colour. The Blood Moon prophecy has become a popular modern apocalyptic belief promoted by Christian ministers such as John Hagee and Mark Biltz, who believe a series of lunar eclipses will signal the coming of the antichrist and the end of days. Hagee believes there are many signs indicating we are moving towards end times, such as satellite television and increased levels of education.
Helena Blavatsky predicted that the end of each century would open up the possibility of a great spiritual awakening, and a movement toward the next evolutionary level, should humanity be judged ready for this transition. She predicted that humanities last chance for this would be in 1899. More recent followers of Theosophy have suggested that Blavatsky made a rare error in such predictions, and that the great cycle of human transition keeps the window open until the year 4055. The Ancient Masters of Wisdom clearly do not like to be rushed.
All images © Kevin Storrar 2017