Reflections on Von Daniken and Biblical UFOlogy
In 1968 a Swiss innkeeper named Erich von Daniken published Chariots of the Gods?, which became an international bestseller and remains in print today. According to von Danikan’s sensational theory, “ancient astronauts” from an advanced civilization visited the Earth in times long past. He found proof of their presence in rock-carvings, religious artifacts, ancient myths, and, of course, megalithic monuments such as the Giza pyramids.
Von Daniken provocatively asked, Did God drive a Flying Saucer? With this question planted in the mainstream mind, God, angels, and everything Biblical instantly attached itself to UFO speculation, but von Daniken did not explore these associations in a cogent or consistent manner.. A less-known but far more intelligent study, which appeared in the same year as Chariots, did just that. The Bible and Flying Saucers was written by Barry H. Downing, a Presbyterian pastor with degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary and the University of Edinburgh. The scope and depth of his book reflect his learning, a far cry from von Daniken’s hokey shenanigans. But this book also reflects the author’s steadfast faith in Christian tradition: Downing assumes that God and His angels, even if they are ETs who navigate in UFOs, are implementing a divine plan for the benefit of humanity.
(Note: I am informed that Desmond Leslie in his 1952 book Flying Saucers Have Landed, featured an entire chapter entitled “Chariots of the Gods.” This is the source from which Von Daniken borrowed both his title and much of the content for his book. Thanks to Sweeps Fox for this detail.).
Downing, along with Desmond Leslie, may be considered the founders of Biblical Ufology, the genre of studies proposing that many events in the Bible reflect extraterrestrial intervention, assumed to be benign. Visions such as those seen by Ezekiel are taken as close encounters. Angels, such as the one who announced the birth of Jesus to Mary, are regarded as aliens of a superior evolution. Some interpretations even regard Jesus as an extraterrestrial who comes to Earth from a more highly evolved world, or is cloned as a “model human” by technologically superior space brothers. Imagine the headline, Jesus – The First Designer Baby!
Biblical UFOlogists assume that space aliens or ET-like entities act in a kind and benevolent manner toward humanity, consistent with the fulfillment of a “Divine Plan.” Downing wonders if “Biblical religion was planted and nurtured by persons from another world.” He does not merely speculate on the presence of “ancient astronauts” on Earth, but he considers their possible role in initiating and directing the religious experience of humanity. This issue demands a much deeper cut into the human psyche than von Daniken undertook. Without the benefit of Gnostic materials, Downing was unable to conceive that Biblical religion, “planted and nurtured by persons from another world, works not for the betterment of humanity, but for its enslavement.
Biblical Ufology is widely developed today, but an optional interpretation that could not have emerged until some time after Downing and von Daniken wrote has yet to be considered. This option arises with the view of alien intervention proposed by the Gnostics of the Mystery Schools. Although some of the Gnostics’ views can be found in obscure arguments written against them by early Christians, original Gnostic material was not widely available until the Nag Hammadi codices, discovered in 1945, were translated into English in 1978. The Mysteries were destroyed in the 4th Century CE, when the Nag Hammadi cache was buried, but they are known to have preexisted Christianity for thousands of years.
Gnostics were psychonauts of extraordinary scope and finesse. Their cosmology, centered on the figure of the Goddess Sophia, presents a complete and coherent description of the origin and methods of an inorganic predatory species called Archons. Although Gnostic texts describe firsthand encounters with Archons who “abduct souls by night,” their teachings do not emphasize physical threat. Rather, they warn that the Archons affect us most profoundly in our minds, especially through religious ideology, through beliefs about God and what God wants for us.
For Mystery School instruction on facing and repelling the Archon ETs, see A Gnostic Catechism and the commentary on the First Apocalypse of James, text 9 in the Nag Hammadi Reading Plan.
One of the most sensational ideas of the Gnostics is that Jehovah, the Father God of Judeo-Christian religion, was an Archon, an inferior or imposter deity not to be confused with the true Gods, called Aeons, who inhabit the cosmic center (galactic core). Jehovah is said to be blind and mad, a demented alien who nevertheless has some god-like powers. Although he does not create the world we inhabit, he believes that he does. “Opening his eyes, the chief Archon saw a vast quantity of matter without limit, and he became arrogant, saying, “It is I who am God, and there is no other power apart from me.’ ” (The Reality of the Archons, NHC II, 4, 94.20). Of course, this is exactly what Yahweh-Jehovah says in the Old Testament. Over and over again, the Mystery teachings preserved in the NHC presents a view of Judeo-Christian religion that turns it completely inside out.
Fortunately, the Nag Hammadi cache, meager as it is, contains quite a lot of clear information on the Archon God and his insidious tactics. In the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, an unnamed Gnostic Master says, “The Archons devised a plan about me to release their error and their absurdity.”
This line recalls Jacque Vallee’s pithy comment on alien strategies in Messengers of Deception: “The way to a man’s belief is through confusion and absurdity.”
The text cited explains how the Archons induce a false plan of salvation into the human mind, a counterfeit of the true path of self-liberation we can take by developing our innate potential of Nous, “divine intelligence.” The Gnostic teacher, called Phoster or Illuminator, openly ridicules Abraham, Moses and the prophets for accepting the Archons as divine and putting faith in an imposter god who works against humanity. The Second Treatise says that the “doctrine of the aliens” is “a great deception upon the human soul, making it impossible for humans to find Nous, the self-liberating mind, and thus come to know true humanity.”
What Gnostics meant by “the doctrine of the aliens” is the ensemble of beliefs at the core of Judaic and Christian religion —and, by extension, Islam. All three of the “great world religions” derive from the revered Patriarch Abraham, thought to have lived around 1800 BCE. Because the history of the ancient Hebrews is taken as exemplary or symbolic of humanity as a whole, our species’ “sacred history” begins with Abraham, but Gnostics considered that Abraham was a dupe, the psychological “vector” for the intrusion of the Archons. In effect, they trashed the notion of a “Divine Plan” overseen by Jehovah, and exposed Judeo-Christian salvationism (the Redeemer Complex) as an extraterrestrial religion, alien to the Earth and hostile to human potential.
The Gnostic critique of the Redeemer Complex was devastating to the cherished beliefs of many people, and still is, but the teachers in the ancient Mysteries did not leave us without alternatives to these received beliefs. Gnostics taught what they embodied: the illuminist path of experimental mysticism, contrasted to blind belief in salvationist dogmas. Against the religious deceit of the Archons, the Second Treatise invokes the “hope of Sophia,” affirming our bond to the Wisdom Goddess whose body is the Earth.