by Jason Colavito
examination of the role Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos
played in setting the stage for the ancient astronaut
hypothesis with an emphasis on the connections among
The concept of extraterrestrials masquerading as deities has existed
in one form or another all throughout the 20th century and well into
the 21st. As one of a handful of modern myths capable of generating
a huge flow of cash into the hands of their proponents (one of the
others being the related UFO myth), this legend has grown
exponentially to encompass a wide range of pseudo-scientific and
These misguided attempts
to explain the ancient past in futuristic terms have direct
consequences for modern life.
The late 19th century was ripe with fantastic tales of scientific
romance, as H.G. Wells put it. The world was in the throes of the
industrial revolution and the remarkable advances in technology
which accompanied it. For those living through this time, it seemed
as though a limitless world of scientific advance had opened before
Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, scientific
materialism became the de facto and unofficial religion of the
intelligentsia, so organized religion became a quaint and outdated
method of observing and understanding one's world. Consequently the
archetypes of religion needed a new outlet to stay current. This
change in religious thinking would become a key component in the
ancient astronaut theory.
It was at this time that the first fictional accounts of
extraterrestrials emerged in works like Wells' War of the Worlds. At
the same time, Percival Lowell's mistranslation of the Italian canali and poor quality telescopic pictures of non-existent canals
on Mars had convinced the world that a Martian civilization was not
just a fiction but a scientific reality. At about this time, the
mysterious blimp-like object sighted over America and called the
Great Airship Mystery made many people believe that Martians had
airships capable of invading earth. This willingness to believe
would make ancient astronauts more than just a theory a century
By the 1920s, aliens began to make their way into mainstream culture
through exposure in a the new media of film. An adaptation of Jules
Verne's From the Earth to the Moon became one of the first movies to
feature extraterrestrials. Many naive viewers believed the aliens
real because they could not grasp the concepts behind such a radical
change in entertainment as the movie. This inherent gullibility of
the masses would also play into the ancient astronaut myth.
ORIGINS OF THE
By the late 1920s an obscure Providence, RI author named Howard
Phillips Lovecraft began publishing in pulp magazines a series of
stories which history would record as the Cthulhu Mythos. These
tales centered on a group of transdimensional and extraterrestrial
entities which served as deities to early man. Lovecraft wrote that
Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones, as he (sometimes) called the alien
gods, came from
dark stars. Some lived on a planet he called Yuggoth
and identified in the 1930s with the new-found planet Pluto.
In "Call of Cthulhu," Lovecraft laid out the basics of his
mythological conceit. He said that many millennia ago, the Old Ones
came from other planets and took up residence on Earth. When the
stars were wrong they could not live, so they vanished beneath the
ocean or returned to their home worlds where they used telepathic
powers to communicate with man. Central to Lovecraft's mythos, the
Old Ones formed a cult and a religion which worshipped the aliens as
In the stories, the Old
Ones hover half-way between pure extraterrestrial and true gods, as
the plot requires. In his novel At the Mountains of Madness, he
wrote that a species of the Old Ones created man to serve them,
setting up man's first civilizations:
Lemuria and Mu.
Lovecraft used Sumerian, Egyptian and Greek mythology as a basis for
his monstrous demigods. He said that his messenger-god Nyarlathotep
was a member of the Egyptian pantheon. He identified the Phoenician
fish-god Dagon (formerly Oannes) with Great Cthulhu himself, and
thus became the first person to link extraterrestrials to ancient
religions. Yet Lovecraft never claimed that his stories were
anything but fiction.
On the opposite extreme, another science fiction writer, L. Ron
Hubbard, began dabbling with the theme of aliens as protagonists in
a cosmic battle. Hubbard briefly flirted with Satanism under the
guidance of the aging Aleister Crowley, but decided to forge his own
idiosyncratic religious belief. By midcentury he was well on his way
to founding Scientology, built on the premise that aliens entered a
cosmic battle a million years ago and the losers fell to earth where
they genetically modified Homo erectus to carry on their genes.
There is no direct
evidence that Hubbard read Lovecraft, but since both men wrote
sci-fi for pulp magazines in the 1930s, it is unlikely that Hubbard
was unfamiliar with his rivals work. In fact, since Hubbard was
often rumored to steal or appropriate others ideas as his own
(related in Russell Miller's Bare-Faced Messiah), this
identification with the Cthulhu mythos is not out of the question.
Hubbard became friends
with L. Sprague De Camp, a protťgť of Lovecraft, and the two men
would often spend late nights sharing stories. Undoubtedly, some of
these must have related to De Camp's mentor Lovecraft. At any rate,
both Lovecraft and Hubbard created extraterrestrial-based religions.
Only Hubbard claimed his was real.
At the same time, the modern myth of the UFO developed from
Hollywood's attempts to film science-fiction stories about
extraterrestrials. The most famous legends are
the alleged crash of
a UFO at Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 and the
abduction of Betty and
Barney Hill in the 1960s.
The government explained
the Roswell event as a crashed weather balloon, but that answer did
not sit well with believers who adamantly insisted that local
folklore about dead aliens was true. When the Hill abduction story
came into question for its similarity to the movie Invaders from
Mars and an episode of The Outer Limits which aired only days
before, true believers found ways around the weight of evidence and
a series of new abductions spontaneously appeared.
With the public
distrusting of official explanations and primed to accept the
reality of extraterrestrials, the success of the ancient astronaut
hypothesis was guaranteed before it was even written.
In the 1950s Russian pseudoscientist
Immanuel Velikovsky put forward
his theory of periodic catastrophism in a series of books, the most
famous of which was Worlds In Collision. He postulated that the
asteroid belt descended from an exploded planet, and he said Venus
was a comet or asteroid which whizzed by earth causing floods. He
said ancient myths of fires in the sky related to the passing of
To make this claim,
myths needed to be read literally with a technological eye. In his
zeal to prove his refutation of uniformitarianism, Velikovsky
provided the final link between extraterrestrials and ancient
man. For the first time ancient stories of gods and monsters became
On the other side of the world Prof. Charles Hapgood was busy
compiling his Path of the Pole (1958: originally Earth's Shifting
Maps of the Ancient Sea-Kings (1966), in which he argued
ancient maps clearly show the influence of a pre-Ice Age
civilization capable of mapping the world. In the first book Hapgood
argued that earths crust slips in one piece, like a loose orange
skin, destroying civilization every 20,000 years or so.
This thinking derives
itself from Velikovsky's resurgent catastrophism movement of the
1950s. In the second book, Hapgood reconstructs enigmatic maps to
prove that the ancients had a detailed knowledge of geography. His
reconstructions were predicated on the assumption that the original
source maps from which the ancients traced theirs were perfect and
followed modern projections. Consequently, he was bound to conclude
that the source maps were perfect, for that was the original
conceit. His work would go on to heavily influence the father of the
ancient astronaut theory, Erich von Dšniken.
In 1968 von Dšniken published his magnum opus, Chariots of the Gods?
in which he postulated that the ancient works of man, from the
pyramids of Egypt to the enigmatic Nazca lines, were the work of
extraterrestrials who came down to earth and gave civilization to
mankind. The book quickly sold millions of copies, generated
millions of loyal followers and spawned a Rod Serling-narrated film
adaptation, In Search of Ancient Astronauts.
There is no direct evidence* that von Dšniken read Lovecraft or
followed Hubbard, but it is doubtful that a young man consumed with
the fantastic could have been ignorant of the Lovecraft mythos, even
if second-hand. By the 1960s, Cthulhu and his minions had entered,
even if tangentially, into hundreds of stories and novels of the
weird and fantastic because Lovecraft, who died in 1936, had
encouraged his fans to use his fictional creatures in their stories.
This was done to give an
air of verisimilitude to the tales. During the 1960s many people
went in search of Lovecraft's gods, believing them real. Even if von
Dšniken never read "Call of Cthulhu," the idea was in the zeitgeist.
Von Dšniken freely admitted the debt he owed to Hapgood and
Velikovsky. His books are laced with liberal references to their
work. Von Dšniken had plenty of time to read Velikovsky and Hapgood
because he was in jail. Von Dšniken said that he wrote Chariots of
the Gods? while working as a hotel apprentice at age 19 (he never
finished school). This would place his book in 1954, yet the book
was not published until 1968, the same year that his trial ended.
Despite his hints in
Chariots that his imprisonment stemmed from opposition to his
radical theories, Swiss records show he was apparently jailed for
embezzlement, having spent 40,000 Swiss francs belonging to his
hotel to fund a trip around the world. He would later claim this
trip was research for his book. In fact, the only way to place
Chariots before Hapgood would be to assume that von Dšniken's
world-tour counted as writing his book. Yet since Hapgood and
Velikovsky are mentioned in Chariots, this is obviously wrong.
Von Dšniken claimed his book would change the world:
"Even if a
reactionary army tries to dam up this new intellectual flood, a
new world must be conquered in the teeth of all the unteachable
in the name of truth and reality."
Unfortunately, much of
Chariots and its immediate sequels Gods from Outer Space (1970) and
Gold of the Gods (1972) is heresay, misinformation or outright
In the mid-1990s von
Dšniken admitted that some of the original Chariots material was
fabricated, but he added that the fraud was necessary to sell the
"truth" to the unbelievers. To date, believers have bought millions
of copies of his 25 books, and very few question the validity of his
The many faults and flaws of Chariots and its sequels did not stop
the UFO and paranormal community, eagerly seeking credibility, from
adopting von Dšniken's view as the unofficial version of history
through which they would interpret modern events. By 1976, von
Daniken's theories would branch in two directions leading ultimately
to the strange world of alternative history and human cloning.
That year Robert Temple
published The Sirius Mystery and
Zecharia Sitchin published
Twelfth Planet, each a milestone in the paranormal world-view.
Filip Coppens argues on his website that Temple's Sirius Mystery is
the more important of the two 1976 works because Temple's book
attained the status of a semi-scientific work. In it, Temple claimed
the Dogon tribe of western Africa obtained esoteric knowledge
of the binary nature of the star Sirius through contact with ancient
He went on to claim that
Egypt received its wisdom about the two-in-one star Sirius from
amphibious aliens from that star system who came to earth and
founded civilization in the guise of the Sumerian creator-god Oannes,
known in the Bible as Dagon, which we have seen Lovecraft identify
with his alien-god Cthulhu.
Temple built on the then-current science and related his findings to
the scientific dissertation
Hamlet's Mill by Georgio de
Santillana and Hertha von Deshund. That book made the claim that the
ancients had a very sophisticated knowledge of astronomy which they
encoded in their myths and religions. Temple took it one step
further and attributed that knowledge to Sirius-dwelling amphibians.
In their otherwise fanciful and unreliable book
Conspiracy, Lynn Pickett and Clive Prince discovered that Temple
received heavy influence from Arthur Young, his mentor. Young was a
The Nine, a group of entities psychics of the 1950s
claimed represented the nine creator-gods of ancient Egypt.
Nine stated (through mediums) that they were extraterrestrials from
the Sirius star system. Young attended the 1952 first contact with
the Nine, initiated by
Andrija Puharich who became famous as the man
who brought alleged psychic spoon-bender Uri Gellar to America in
the 1970s. The Nine seem heavily influenced by the quasi-mystical
Aleister Crowley, who influenced
The Nine added the extra
dimension of UFOs, which were all the rage after the Roswell
Pickett and Prince conclude that Temple's Sirius Mystery represented
a young man's attempt to please his mentor, and they discovered that
the Dogon's esoteric knowledge of Sirius was provided by the
anthropologists studying the tribe, Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen.
van Beek talked to the Dogon in 1991:
that they learned about the star from Griaule."
Yet Temple provided a
unique addition to the growing mythology about cosmic ancestors. In
The Sirius Mystery Temple identifies specific Greek and Egyptian
cities with stars, and he makes the extraordinary claim that certain
Greco-Egyptian oracle centers, like the Oracle at Delphi, form a
giant picture of the constellation Argo. For the first time, the
stars had an image on earth.
This unique interpretation of ancient construction was quickly
noticed by a former surveyor and amateur archaeologist named Robert Bauval. He sought to apply Temple's star maps to ancient Egyptian
constructions. Bauval noticed a similarity between the layout of the
three pyramids at Giza and the three belt stars of the constellation
When he used
Texts to identify one with the other, he knew he had something
important. He teamed up with Adrian Gilbert to write The Orion
Mystery (1994). Gilbert was famous for his book The Mayan
Prophesies, where he used the last day of the Mayan calendar,
December 23, 2012, as the day of Armageddon in a prediction of
Bauval's theory had a simple elegance which previous attempts to
rewrite history lacked. The pyramid-star alignment seemed logical
and looked convincing. Then Bauval took it a step further and
claimed (because Hamlet's Mill said so) that the Egyptians
understood the movements of the stars over time, the precession of
the equinoxes, which cycles the stars around the sky every 25,800
years. Therefore, the pyramids must be precisely aligned to the
stars. Bauval claimed that the pyramids matched the stars at only
one date: 10,500 BC. Ergo, civilization must be that old.
At the same time British author and journalist Graham Hancock
arrived in Egypt to explore the work of tour guide John Anthony West
and maverick geologist Robert Schoch who both claimed that the great
Sphinx dated back to around 10,500 BC on evidence that the statue
had been weathered by water.
Hancock had become
interested in ancient mysteries as a result of his search for the
Ark of the Covenant and the subsequent success of his book on the
subject, The Sign and the Seal. He sought fresh mysteries to bring
to his readers, so the wonders of Egypt were a good place to start.
Hancock met Bauval and the two became fast friends. Hancock then
published his massive tome on ancient history
Fingerprints of the
Gods (1995) and wrote a sequel, Mystery of the Sphinx (1997) with Bauval.
In those books Hancock laid out his Temple - and von Dšniken - inspired
theory that the ancient marvels, like megalithic Tihuanaco and the
Pyramids, were the work of a lost civilization which vanished with
the Ice Age. Hancock used much of the same evidence as von Dšniken
but dispensed with the extraterrestrials, cloaking his logic in the
mythography of Hamlet's Mill.
Hancock argued that
subtle changes in the stars were the driving force behind ancient
myth. Much like Lovecraft's Old Ones for whom when the stars were
wrong, they could not live, Hancock implied that the cycle of
precession brought with it the beginning and the end of
Like the 19th and early 20th century hoaxes of
Lemuria and Mu, which
Lovecraft borrowed for his ancient civilization, Hancock saw the
ancient lost world as one of high technology and culture. Yet by the
time he and Robert Bauval wrote The Mars Mystery (1998), their view
had changed. The authors now claimed that the lost civilization
could have been destroyed by an asteroid during a meteor shower
which also wiped out Martian civilization.
They implied that
previous to this, Mars and Earth could have had sustained contact
the Face on Mars. They speculated that perhaps Martians
had given their civilization to earth, after the work of
Hoagland, a von Dšniken-inspired researcher.
Yet today Hancock is the king of alternative history, and his
theories influence science. Today some scholars have begun to
believe the Pyramids represent Orion, and many Egyptologists have
begun to examine the role of stars and star-alignments in ancient
history. While this is not exclusively the result of Hancock's
books, his market power has forced science to react and incorporate
some of his evidence, gathered from other researchers, into
To date, many monuments have been related to constellations and star
images. They include the temples of Ankgor Wat (Draco), the Chinese
Pyramid Field (Gemini) and the cathedrals of Notre Dame in France
In the end, Lovecraft's Cthulhu has wormed his way into science and
changed the form of human knowledge. Yet the other side of this
picture is darker and more disturbing. That story stems from the
other book of 1976.
Zecharia Sitchin burst onto the scene in a wave of von Dšniken
furor. Sitchin firmly believed the hypothesis of extraterrestrial
intervention in ancient history and sought to apply his knowledge of
Sumerian cuneiform and hieroglyphics to providing evidence to fit
By loosely interpreting
ancient myths and combining them with von Dšniken's "proof," Sitchin
was able to weave a tale of ancient astronauts departing from the
Nibiru or Marduk (the Twelfth Planet - the others
being the nine planets, the sun and the moon) and arriving on earth
where they mined gold to save their planet - very similar to
The planet, of course,
fell into the solar system and by strange physics created Earth by
smashing another planet in the asteroid belt. This all happened
about 450,000 years ago, Sitchin said. He called the leader of the
aliens Marduk, after the Babylonian god; and he added that Marduk's
the Anunnaki, the 50 faceless gods of Sumer whom
Temple equated to the 50-year orbit of the Sirius stars around each
other. The Anunnaki will make another appearance before the end of
Sitchin built on von Dšniken and Velikovsky, adding to the myth a
unique aspect. If extraterrestrials had given man civilization, why
could they not have created man, for does the Bible not say that God
created man in his own image? Sitchin claimed Sumerian sources
clearly indicate that the expedition to earth required the Anunnaki
to genetically engineer the human race and clone them on a vast
scale to provide slave labor for their gold-mining operations - not
unlike Lovecraft's Old Ones. He goes on to say that man and the gods
have quarreled for thousands of years, shaping human destiny. He
claims to know the identity of of Yahweh, the Hebrew God, but
reminds people to buy his latest book for that revelation.
Sitchin sought credibility by distancing himself from the burgeoning
UFO movement. He said there were clear differences between ancient
and modern UFO encounters. He implied that modern aliens are a
different, unrelated species from the old gods. For him, the ancient
astronauts departed earth and left their mark on Mars, which they
used as a rest-stop on the way back to the Twelfth Planet.
On page 163 of
The Twelfth Planet, Sitchin presents a hand-drawn
picture, without citation, of a presumably Sumerian cylinder with
wings topped by a bird, of which he asked,
"What or who was the
Eagle who took Etana to the distant heavens? We cannot help but
associate the ancient text with the message beamed to earth in
July 1969 by Neil Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11
spacecraft: Houston! Tranquility base here. The Eagle has
As Paul Hafernik points
out, this argument is pointless. It makes one wonder why these
ancient astronaut authors are obsessed with rockets. After all,
advanced civilizations should logically have moved beyond the need
for fuel-inefficient rockets. However when these books were written,
rockets were state of the art.
To date over 30 books by other authors have followed the same vein
as Sitchin's prolific output. But Sitchin's fans are a loyal bunch.
When one of the authors supporting the Sitchin hypothesis disagreed
with Sitchin on the rocket point, fire and brimstone rained from the
Alan F. Alford wrote
Gods of the New Millennium (2000) in which he disagreed with
Sitchin's claim that resurrections in mythology referred to rockets
carrying Anunnaki aliens back to their home planet. On April 6, 2000
Alford, who calls himself the voice of common sense, wrote on his
website that Sitchin's theory was wrong:
"I began to realize
that the ancient Egyptian gods were not flesh-and-blood
extraterrestrials at all. On the contrary, the Egyptian gods
were personifications of celestial powers."
Readers protested by the
hundred and Sitchin demanded that Alford not criticize his theory
any longer. Far from the open-minded debate alternative authors
allegedly encourage, this dissent back to orthodoxy incited a
tremendous backlash against the heretic.
wrote many (many, many, many) more books, and his
philosophy would influence many authors to come. David Childress,
for example, wrote a book about ancient high-technology (including
atom bombs) titled, appropriately enough, Technology of the Gods
(2000). However, Sitchin's most lasting impact came in the realm of
Laurence Gardner is the official historian to
the House of
Stewart, and he has traced the Stewart lineage back to the presumed
children of Christ in his best-seller Bloodline of the Holy Grail
(1996), in which, incidentally, he identified the Notre Dame
cathedrals with Virgo. In his new book Genesis of the Grail Kings
(2000), Gardner argues that the Stewart line, through Christ, has
its ultimate origins in the line of David, King of Israel.
David, in turn,
descended from a line of Sumerian kings whose polytheistic religion
transformed into Judaism. Gardner believes the Davidic line received
its divine right to rule due to descent from the Anunnaki, for whom
he adopts Sitchin's identification with aliens.
On a darker note, both Temple's Sirius Mystery and Sitchin's Twelfth
Planet were eagerly adopted by UFO cults seeking to provide a
mythical and historic backdrop for their New Age faith that
beneficent aliens would rescue the elect from Earth in a spaceship.
In 1998 the
Heaven's Gate cult committed mass suicide while
expecting a spaceship trailing behind the comet Hale-Bopp to receive
their souls for transport to a hollowed-out planet Pluto, which
Lovecraft called Yuggoth, home of the alien Old Ones.
In a similar vein, Claude Vorhillon claims that on December 13, 1973
he contacted a UFO manned by the Elohim (identified with the
Anunnaki) and received a revelation about humanity. In a disclosure
too close to Hubbard's Scientology to be coincidence, he learned
that man was the genetically engineered product of alien
experimentation. Vorhillon then changed his name to RaŽl and
christened his new faith
the RaŽlian Revolution. His church claims
55,000 members in 84 countries.
RaŽl claims that the Elohim (Anunnaki) told him in 1973,
the ones who made all life on earth, you mistook us for gods; we
were at the origin of your main religions."
On the surface it would seem that this faith is independent of
Sitchin because it was founded before Twelfth Planet debuted.
However, a closer reading of RaŽlian literature shows that the first
RaŽlian book was not published until 1976, the year of Temple's and
Sitchin's books; and the cult took off in the early 1980s. Only then
did the Raelians begin to add genetic engineering to their doctrines
Consequently, it would
seem that RaŽl's faith was originally a von Dšniken/UFO cult which
took on the trappings of genetics and Anunnaki (Elohim) after
Sitchin and Temple made their "discoveries." Sitchin is referenced
on the RaŽlian website. Yet even if RaŽl did come up with his ideas
in 1973, he could have gotten them from hints in von Dšniken's early
works which Sitchin developed into his theories. In short, RaŽlian
belief clearly stems from the ancient astronaut movement of the
1960s combined with the concurrent UFO movement.
While the RaŽlian Revolution would seem like harmless belief, there
is a serious issue involved. Because Raelians believe
extraterrestrials created man by genetic engineering and cloning,
they believe it is their religious duty to clone humans. The RaŽlians are in the process of cloning a 10-month-old Swiss child
whose tragic death left its parents heartbroken.
A professor at Hamilton
College in Hamilton, NY, who is a member of the RaŽlian Revolution,
said in March 2001 that the RaŽlian cloning project was almost
complete and the clone would be implanted within the month.
Ethicists immediately raised objections to the cloning, citing the
high failure rate and moral considerations.
Prof. Brigitte Boisselier resigned from Hamilton in April, 2001 to pursue cloning
exclusively, but shut down her cloning lab on June 30, 2001 while a
federal grand jury investigated the cloning venture. More than a
year later, in December 2002, Boisselier held a news conference to
announce the birth of the first human clone, though she offered no
immediate evidence to prove her claim.
Thus we have seen how the fictional world of H.P. Lovecraft gave
rise to alternative archaeology, ancient astronauts and new
religions. We have also seen that each of these phenomena produced
unforeseen consequences affecting life today. From Egyptology to
human cloning, Great Cthulhu still stalks the vistas of the human
mind, though he has vanished from direct sight and cloaked himself
in the guise of science.
What began as fiction
has become in the minds of many incontrovertible fact with
consequences far beyond the make-believe horrors of Lovecraft's