- Education and Science
Ancient Aliens Part 2 - Religion and Myth
This is part 2 in a series of hubs discussing and dismissing the claims of ancient astronaut believers and explaining why they simply don't hold up. Religion and superstition go back long before recorded history and tell the story of how early man made sense of his chaotic and often deadly surroundings. Because mankind was reacting to the same planet and groups and societies often interacted and exchanged religious ideas through oral traditions, trade or conquest many myths and gods shared similarities.
In this hub I'm going to focus on the attempts by ancient astronaut proponents to circumvent the burden of proof by submitting legends, myths and religious texts as evidence of extraterrestrial contact in the distant past. Not only are their attempts absurd but, for religious believers, they are potentially offensive.
Context and Interpretation
Now I'm no stranger to criticizing religion and even declaring its supernatural claims to be false or, at the very least, unbelievable. However there is one thing I try not to do and that is treat religious myth as if I can interpret it however I want and ignore what the text actually says to insert my own meaning. Many vocal supporters of AAH (ancient astronaut hypothesis) do just that however, tearing myths and ancient stories from their intended context in order to re-interpret them in the light of modern UFO lore and thus form an alien connection.
Often times similarities between myths from different cultures will be emphasized as suspicious while differences or inconsistencies will be ignored and details often thrown out altogether in favor of vague assumptions. Rather than attempt any actual scholarly study of the texts and beliefs in question ancient astronaut proponents, like cold readers, will point out anything that sounds remotely like a “hit” regardless of its actual context or meaning within a story and ignore any other absurdities – although in some discussions they will actually double-down on the absurdity (ie explaining Jonah and the Whale as a story of an Unidentified Submerged/submarine Object, an alien craft under water).
Those Who From Heaven Came
I've been told in multiple discussions online that the gods of old were actually space aliens because “all religions involve beings coming down from the sky to create or meddle with humanity”. This apparent parallel is supposed to somehow be evidence that the gods were actually alien beings from another world mistaken for or posing as supernatural entities. The claim itself, however, is a ridiculous mischaracterization of the contents of ancient folklore.
Not all creator gods came from the sky and while it is true that many gods have descended from the heavens it is also true that many gods had other specific domains. These godly domains often had direct correlations to phenomenon believed to be divinely controlled by the ancients and go a long way to debunking the erroneous and downright stupid claim that all gods came from the sky and that all myths have the same meaning or ultimate source.
Poseidon is the Greek God of the Sea, his domain is as such, and there are plenty of other sea-related deities from antiquity as well as volcanic gods, mountain gods, cave dwelling gods, etc. The Greek gods themselves resided not in the heavens above but atop Mount Olympus. Mankind used such mythmaking as a way to make sense of the patterns we saw in nature and also the chaos we could not understand. The Earth would quake, the tide would rise, the river would flood, and in each sphere, each element, each catastrophe and each blessing, ancient man would see the hand of a spirit or god assigned to each sphere.
There is no way to honestly claim that all creation stories involve beings from the sky and even if there were that itself is not evidence that the claims of said myths and religions are true. Furthermore the details of these stories, allegories, fables and myths are often widely varied and are certainly not the sort of accounts we would expect of an eye-witness reporting the events in a straight-forward way.
Even more damning, if we expand to include other mythological creatures, not just gods, we will see even more variety, everything from forest dwelling nymphs to Scottish water horses to griffins guarding gold. It seems that the ancient astronaut proponents only take mythology as reality when they think they have a reinterpretation capable of bringing aliens into the mix but have nothing to offer otherwise and yet I've been told in numerous online conversations that mythology has the BEST evidence to offer of alien visitation (of course I've also been told the same thing about massive monolithic stones and medieval and renaissance artwork).
Swing Low Sweet Chariot
Let's take a look at a few specific examples of religious myths ripped from their original context and poorly reinterpreted to assume aliens. The easiest and one of the most laughable is the story of Elijah's ascent into Heaven witnessed in the Bible by his protégé Elisha and recorded in the book of 2 Kings. Elijah is getting old and is preparing to pass on the mantle to Elisha but rather than die a natural and ordinary death Heaven sends down a fiery chariot drawn by flying fiery horses that appears in a whirlwind.
Now to the average reader it sounds like a miraculous event is being described, a fiery chariot has just allowed Elijah to go straight to heaven without having to endure the hardship of physical death. It appears, or disappears, in a whirlwind (the word used in Hebrew means tempest or storm) and takes the man right in front of his student Elisha. To a reader who subscribes to the ancient astronaut hypothesis however the entire thing is rewritten in their minds as the arrival of a spaceship which comes out of a fiery cloud due to re-entry into the atmosphere or dropping out of warp too fast or some other bullshit. A story about a servant of God earning a place in Heaven without the agony of dying of old age and blessing his friend and successor is replaced by an arbitrarily conjured up ancient UFO account where a flying saucer inexplicably abducts an old guy who happens to be a prophet (or if you prefer, God is an alien, which raises some questions about modern day reports of anal probing aboard flying saucers).
At no point is the object in the story unidentified or mysterious. When ancient astronaut believers say that these stories are UFO stories that the ancients are merely describing “to the best of their vocabulary at the time” they are talking out of their asses plain and simple. Even an ancient person would have described an unidentified object as unidentified, obviously whoever wrote this story knew exactly what the object was meant to be and wrote that down as part of the narrative. If the flaming chariot in the story had been an unidentified mysterious object it would have been mentioned as such.
Ah, I hear the AAH crowd saying in unison, but Elisha was describing it as a religious event because that's what he believed it was, it actually wasn't a miracle from Heaven at all but was instead an alien abduction. Well then, why was Elijah abducted? You see within the narrative of the story it MAKES SENSE FOR GOD TO TAKE ELIJAH, it does not, however, make sense for aliens to take him whether those aliens were pretending to be gods or not. To believe this was a UFO account you not only have to ignore the context but you have to reinterpret the text in light of modern UFO lore and there is no intellectually honest reason I can think of to do this.
Raiders of the Lost Crock
It may surprise people to see me defending the Bible here but let me be clear that I do not believe any supernatural events in the Bible actually happened. The Bible is a collection of works of religious mythology and as such it has great historical and literary value even if I vehemently reject its claims and argue against those who believe they are literally true. With that being said many many of the myths ancient astronaut theorists bastardize come from the Bible including one of my favorites, the Ark of the Covenant.
In the Bible the Ark is placed in the Holy of Holies, it contains the ten commandments and the High Priests have to be extremely righteous to get close to it and be able to call upon God. For ancient astronaut supporters, apparently having watched Indiana Jones one too many times, the Ark is some kind of super-weapon that doubles as a radio antenna for talking to space aliens.
Cited as an example is usually the fall of Jericho, an exercise of faith and obedience in the Bible in which Joshua must march around the city a given number of times and sound trumpets a given number of times to make the walls of the impenetrable city finally crumble. The myth, as I said, is a pretty straight-forward exercise in obedience and faith, in trusting in God even in the face of an insurmountable obstacle and the idea that God would deliver the enemies of the Israelites over to them if they just trusted him.
When you put on your ancient aliens glasses however (no doubt similar to the ones from the movie They Live) you can't help but see aliens everywhere. Suddenly the retelling of a story of a conquest that may or may not have actually occurred becomes the story of a sonic alien ray - the super-weapon known as the Ark of the Covenant. Those are the two main versions of the desperately-grasping-at-straws ancient aliens explanation for the story, the idea that the frequency of the trumpet blasts was somehow amplified to match the resonant frequency of the walls and blah-blah new age mumbo jumbo relating to the ancients and alien secrets of harmonics OR that the Ark somehow did it with some other inexplicable sci-fi sounding power it possessed that turned it from a Holy relic into a siege weapon.
Once again in context the Ark makes sense as an ornamental carrying case for the two holiest relics in Judaism, the tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai with the very hand-writing of God upon them. If God was, however, a masquerading alien, the Ark makes no sense whatsoever for nowhere in the directions God gives Moses – and they are obscenely specific – is there anything about a super-weapon or the Ark having any abilities or powers that weren't entirely dependent upon the spirit of God being present. The Ark is not a device God builds himself but rather is a project he gives to Moses all of the ingredients and specifications are written in the Bible in the book of Exodus and there's no death-rays, radioactivity or aliens for that matter.
Bring out your Dead!
The claim that ultimately lead me to write this series and use simple logic to shred the stupidity of ancient astronaut “theory” was featured on an episode of “History” Channels Ancient Aliens program. Specifically the episode was about the Vikings and the Norse gods potentially being influenced by extraterrestrials including a rather absurd assertion that Valhalla itself was a space-station serving to rehabilitate injured warriors (rather than being a place of revelry for the honored dead).
After showing us a Viking longboat discovered with corpses inside it is explained that the Vikings sometimes were forced to bury their dead at sea, as they were a sea-faring civilization, but then the assertion comes that somehow this ritual, of burying their dead at sea, was actually a reference to aliens. I sat with a baffled expression as they tried to somehow tie viking long-ships to the Egyptian journey into the afterlife and ultimately to spacecraft and equate Viking beliefs about the journey to the afterlife with alien abduction and extraterrestrial intervention.
That is the reason why the series was originally going to be called Denigrating the Ancients, because of how insulting it is to the imagination and ingenuity of our ancestors. To the people who peddle this “theory” the ancients apparently couldn't have even scratched their asses without alien influence. Everything from architecture, to engineering, to fables and legends had to have somehow been touched by aliens. The reason they do this is clear, they have no evidence of their own and so all they can do, other than continuously and fallaciously insert aliens into any gap or mystery from antiquity – real or imagined – is take existing material and reinterpret it to fit their beliefs no matter how batshit crazy their attempt to stretch reality to fit their bias turns out to be.
The Vikings, the ancient Hebrews, the ancient people of India, and indeed ancient peoples everywhere had their own cultures, their own religious beliefs, their own gods or superstitions. These myths make sense in their original context and do not contain aliens. Attempts to insert aliens are openly fallacious and often stupid beyond belief and require reinterpretation to myth to fit modern assumptions about space aliens and space travel. There is a reason actual scholars don't take these attempts to reinterpret myth seriously, because they are not based on evidence but on an obvious biased agenda.
UFO Lore, Myth and the need for Hard Evidence
Ezekiel's wheel-within-a-wheel is a great example of this. Modern UFO lore is caught up on the idea of the flying saucer, the disc shaped classic UFO, and so naturally it is assumed by those seeking to reinterpret myth while ignoring context that this is what Ezekiel saw. However no one has EVER established that extraterrestrial visitation is actually happening or that flying saucers are anything other than another short-hand for the word UFO and UFOs have not been identified by definition. It is simply assumed that UFOs are alien craft and that they are saucer shaped based on unreliable eye-witness accounts and unidentifiable objects in photos. It is worth noting that there are many common shapes for UFOs besides saucers (cigar shaped, triangular, etc). They take for granted that alien craft are disc shaped and just slap the alien label onto the Ezekiel story for no good reason.
Why would we assume that UFOs are extraterrestrial craft and even if they are why would we assume that the craft they flew around in 3000 years ago look anything like the craft they would be flying around in today? In fact why assume that they are still on Earth now? None of the assertions made by believers in alien visitation, either in ancient times or in the present day have been proven, these beliefs simply are not evidence based.
We have no hard facts, no definitive leads, regarding alien visitation. There is no hard physical evidence that we have been visited and if there is it must meet the proper standards of science. Myths and legends may be fun to interpret, it may be fascinating to try to get into the heads of the ancients but it is far from scholarly to take a modern pseudoscience meld it with myth and declare it evidence of something extraterrestrial.
While it may be tempting for us to compare and contrast religion and draw conclusions based on the similarities of ancient faiths it is doing the ancients a disservice to not study the details and complexity of ancient myths with real scholarship. When proponents of ancient astronaut visitation attempt to discuss myth they often disregard or completely discard the actual context or meaning of the story in order to insert aliens.
It seems to me that they do this to cover over the complete lack of physical evidence they have for their claims and in the end they are about as convincing as those who claim the texts are literally true as written. At least those with a sincere belief in these texts have just that, a sincere belief, with many of those who make their living peddling ancient astronauts I don't get the feeling they have that same honest belief in what they are proposing.
Thanks for reading! In the next installment I will be discussing artwork and artifacts said to be linked with ancient aliens so stay tuned!