In this guest entry, German SciBling Florian Freistetter of Astrodicticum Simplex offers a translation of his report from a recent lecture by a spaced-out visionary. Now if only I could say that I’ve never been fooled by this sort of thing…
A few weeks ago, on 17th October, I had the dubious pleasure of attending a lecture by Erich von Däniken with the title Götterdämmerung, “Twilight of the Gods”. The great hall in Jena’s Volkshaus was rather full: I believe there were 650 to 700 people there. It was a strange feeling, being in the same room as all those people and knowing that most of them would probably believe what Däniken was going to tell them.
“Today we will talk about something fundamental!” is the opening statement of Däniken’s lecture. He also confidently mentions his dubious reputation: “People say a lot of nonsense about me”. After that, he starts with some “theory” (as he calls it). Apparently “the scientists” do not believe what he says. By the way, during his whole lecture, he is always talking about “the scientists” or the “wise guys” without mentioning any names — in contrast to his supporters who are always introduced by name and in detail. However, those unbelieving scientists apparently say that
- Aliens do not exist,
- Aliens would look completely different from humans, and
- Even if they do exist, they could never reach Earth because of the large distances.
Däniken wants to rebut those claims and thus talks about space travel. He rather cryptically mentions some “engines of the future” and then goes on to explain how we could travel to other stars even with today’s technology. One only has to bring enough material into orbit (50 shuttle missions per year should be enough, according to Däniken) to build a large spaceship that rotates and produces its own gravity. Such a spaceship could reach 2% of the speed of light and travel 10 light-years in 500 years. Such a “generation ship” could be used to travel between the stars while people on board prepare for building a second ship. If they reach a habitable planet they will colonize it and immediately send the second ship on its journey. With such a “snowball system”, mankind could spread out over the whole Milky Way in just 10 million years (according to Däniken).
Däniken also has an explanation for the similarity between humans and aliens: panspermia! This theory, proposed by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius, states that life on Earth came from space. Simple life forms may survive even in space and travel to Earth e.g. with meteorites. Däniken specifically stresses the point that Arrhenius won a Nobel Prize (which in fact he received for other achievements). However, Arrhenius never mentioned any aliens involved in panspermia. Däniken would have done better to cite another authority: Fred Hoyle, who believed in “directed panspermia”. Aliens have purposefully sent seeds of life into space to spread life to as many planets as possible. This is also Däniken’s claim. He then states that evolution will proceed in the same way in similar environments and thus it should be not surprising that aliens look similar to humans. One thing Däniken cannot answer is where this first alien civilization came from. He makes some strange statements about “black holes that emit energy and create a new Big Bang” – but I have no idea what this meant and how it would be related to the creation of life.
Thus far, the lecture was strange – but not totally stupid. Generation ships and panspermia are very improbable, but theoretically possible. If humankind really wanted to, we could build such a large space ship. It would be unbelievable complicated and expensive – but doable. Maybe even the theory of panspermia is correct.
After making it clear that aliens may in fact exist, Däniken is now going to “prove”, that they regularly visit Earth. According to Däniken, they come here to look after us humans, help us and give us an evolutionary kick in the butt now and then. For this hypothesis, Däniken claims to have “evidence that can not be disproven”.
This part of his lecture includes what Däniken does best: interpretations of ancient religious texts and archaeological data in such a manner as to make them fit his theories. He starts with Stonehenge. According to Däniken, there are many theories that seek to explain the meaning of Stonehenge, “and the one with the calendar is the most stupid of all”. In his opinion, Stonehenge is a model of our solar system, true to scale, including the asteroid belt (which of course could not have been known to the builders of Stonehenge). Däniken is switching the images on the screen so fast that I was unable to take notes, and thus I cannot check where he got this idea from. But he states that there are 16 other prehistoric models of our solar system all around the world.
After that, Däniken tells us about his famous lines and circles. On maps he shows various locations that can be connected with a straight line. All these locations are places where one can find prehistoric buildings, which is apparently proof of an alien influence. Now Däniken starts to get a little confusing (or rather: starts to get more confusing). He speculates about ways to signal our existence to possibly watching aliens. Apparently, other people had the idea to create large corn fields shaped like a triangle. If viewed from space, this would prove the existence of intelligent life on the planet. According to Däniken, the mysterious ancient lines fulfill the same purpose.
However, I do not understand what Däniken is talking about. Even aliens have to obey the laws of physics and cannot build telescopes that are able to view corn fields or lines from a distance of light years. And Däniken’s “lines” are of course no big brush strokes on the surface of the planet, but virtual connections between sites. How could aliens observe those? To observe anything on the surface of Earth, they have already to be in orbit – and then the whole effort is useless. I also thought, the aliens have helped the humans to build all those prehistoric sites – why would anybody need to signal anything into space?
At least for Däniken everything is clear and he introduces example after example. All of ancient Greece seems to be full of triangles, representations of the golden ratio and circles – one only has to connect the positions of various ancient cities. Again the images switch much to fast for me to take proper notes. But I managed to copy one of his examples: if one takes Knossos on the island of Crete as the center then one can draw a circle which connects the ancient cities of Sparta and Epidaurus. Even if this fact would have any special significance (which I do not see) it is a good example of Däniken’s “pyramidology“. If you search long enough, you always find places arranged in geometric patterns. If you measure the dimensions of pyramids or other buildings, you can always find “important” ratios and numbers.
Däniken however thinks that the geometric patterns on the map of Greece are of great importance. He also states that the “the wise guys who are always blathering should just take a map of Greece and a compass and prepare to be astonished”. Däniken does this throughout his talk: he invites the audience to check and recalculate everything he says. All arguments can be checked by everyone and nobody has to trust his word. This sounds reassuring – but Däniken asks the listeners to check his facts especially on occasions when an actual check is not as easy as one thinks (more about this later).
But since I am definitely a “wise guy” who is “always blathering” and always look out for opportunities to “be astonished”, I took a map of Greece and set to work. But – is there a reason to check the obvious facts? The pictures shown by Däniken were apparently clear and unambiguous. I couldn’t take a photograph – but they looked more or less like this (maps by Google Maps):
No check needed – clearly, Sparta and Epidaurus are on a circle with Knossos at its center. But are they really? I could not resist and looked at the map in more detail. Despite what Däniken said, a normal map of Greece is not sufficient for this purpose. The ancient cities of Sparta, Knossos and Epidaurus do not exist any more. But with some simple research one can easily find their positions. I then tried to reconstruct Däniken’s map – but at a different scale. I also used smaller points to identify the positions of the cities. And then it looks like this:
Well… Not an “exact circle” anymore. But this is typical for pseudoscience. If you search long enough, you always find something that seems to support your hypothesis. And if it does not fit perfectly, it can be made to fit. I do not mean to imply that Däniken cheated on purpose. But if a pseudoscientist has found something that seems to back up his hypothesis, he often “forgets” to make a detailed examination.
The gods are aliens!
Now Däniken is getting to the ancient religious texts. He speaks about the natives of North and South America; about India and the Bible. Everywhere he finds “evidence” for his theory that aliens have visited Earth. He is especially impressed by the Hindu epic Mahabharata. This old story tells the tale of Arjuna. According to Däniken, “alien teachers” took him from Earth and brought him to a large space ship in orbit around Earth. Däniken was even able to “reconstruct” the space ship, using information from the Mahabharata. Here is what it looked like:
Wow! I do not speak or read Sanskrit and thus cannot read the original text. But somehow I doubt that one can find information in that text describing a space ship in such a detail!
The next topic in Dänikens chain of “evidence” is an analysis of the biblical apocrypha. These are Christian texts that were not included in the final version of the Bible. The Book of Enoch tells how Enoch was taken to Heaven by angels and brought before the throne of God. For Däniken of course, the angels were aliens and Heaven was the interior of a space ship.
Another example that Däniken discussed at some length was the “Apocrypha of Abraham”. Here Abraham apparently tells the tale of how he was abducted by aliens and brought to their space ship. Re-telling the story, by his way of speaking Däniken often suggests that he is quoting directly from the text. And those quotations really sound impressive! Abraham saw beings “who did not have the breath of a man”: they were wearing spacesuits with helmets, as Däniken explains. Abraham wished “to fall back down to the Earth”: so if he wants to fall “back down” he has to be in space! And there were many more of those quotations that really sounded strange and did not fit into an old Christian text. What does this mean? Even Däniken couldn’t be so bold and just invent such a story?
Of course, he again stated that he is not inventing anything. He told the audience, that everybody can just get a copy of the text and read the story for itself. So of course I tried to do that!
But again, this was not as easy as Däniken makes it sound. First of all, the “Apocrypha of Abraham” is not strictly one of the apocrypha and thus cannot be found in popular compilations. Even the name is not correct. What Däniken means is the Apocalypse of Abraham, a pseudoepigrapha written in the 1st century. The original text is lost and only survives as a translation into Old Church Slavonic. However, I found an English translation (but I do not know where Däniken obtained his alleged German quotations).
If one reads the Apocalypse, one can recognize the passages Däniken was talking about:
“And it came to pass when I heard the voice pronouncing such words to me that I looked this way and that. And behold there was no breath of man. And my spirit was amazed, and my soul fled from me. And I became like a stone, and fell face down upon the earth, for there was no longer strength in me to stand up on.” (Chapter 10, 1-2)
Däniken reads this as an alien abduction. In his talk, he suggested that the whole Apocalypse consists only of the parts he read to the audience. In truth, Däniken’s mined quotes are littered over the whole text. If read in context, they lose almost all of their “evidentiary weight” concerning aliens. Like the mysterious circles in Greece, Däniken just took what seemed to fit his theories and ignored the rest.
My Old Church Slavonic is not what it used to be. So I cannot check the original and deliver a thorough analysis of the text. But I think it is safe to assume that Däniken’s story involves very much fantasy and very few facts.
In a talk by Däniken, the famous story of the space ship of Ezekiel cannot be missed. Däniken talks for almost half an hour about this particular piece of exegesis. Again, a biblical prophet is taken away in an alien space ship. This time he is brought to a space port which he is supposed to measure, then to report the results to later generations. At least, that is Däniken’s opinion.
He tells the audience that 30 years ago he gave a “secret talk” to NASA and there meet an engineer named Joseph Blumrich. Blumrich, impressed by Däniken’s tale of the biblical space ship, tried to “reconstruct” the ship, based on the text of the Book of Ezekiel. Däniken stresses, that “not a centimeter was omitted or added” – everything is based strictly on the Bible.
This is an extract from the relevant first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel:
“And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.
Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man.
And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.
And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.
And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings.
Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward.
As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.
Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies.
And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went.
As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.”
For Däniken and Blumrich, this strange text translates directly into this:
Impressive! Especially Blumrich’s imagination – because I see now how he could construct such a space ship out of this biblical text without “adding or subtracting a centimeter”. Ezekiel may sound strange – but there are much more rational explanations than aliens (e.g. here).
Ezekiel also talks a lot about the “new temple”. Again, based on his measurements written down in the Bible, apparently it is possible to make an “exact reconstruction”. And the result is no temple – but a space port for Blumrich’s ship! According to Däniken, this is no longer just “evidence” but “definite proof” that aliens have visited Earth.
In the talk, a very funny moment followed, when Däniken criticized theologians. They are “adulterating the ancient texts” and “make them fit their own theories”. I had hard work to refrain from laughing out loud.
But why? Why would aliens take it upon themselves to inspire religious texts and buildings all around the world that contain encrypted messages revealing their presence on Earth?
According to Däniken, those are “messages to the future”. The aliens have left some “definite proof” of their existence and want them to be found by us humans. But we are not allowed to find them until we are ready. Thus we were sent on this “paper chase”. And if people (especially scientists) were not so stupid and ignorant, we could have found them by now. But luckily we have Erich von Däniken, trying to persuade the unbelievers. “Herr Däniken, we didn’t know about all this!” is the answer he claims to get “every time” when he confronts a scientist with his theories. The stupid scientists with their heads in the clouds fail to see the obvious – until Däniken comes along and sets them straight!
Then Däniken poses the big question: “Where have the aliens hidden the proof of their existence?” Unfortunately he leaves the topic completely immediately after this question and never talks about it again. (If I were an alien, I would hide such proof on the dark side of the moon. I would just burn “We were here!” with big letters into its surface. Humans could then only read those words after inventing space flight. Hmm – maybe I could find something in the Bible to support this.)
Däniken now wants to talk about the Mayan Calendar. They had two different systems: there is the Haab-calendar that was made for everyday use and has 365 days (much like our calendar with 365.25 days). And then there is the Tzolkin calendar, made for religious use, with 260 days. According to Däniken, that is definite evidence for alien influence. Why else should there be a calendar with 260 days? Those two calendars keep looping in parallel, and every 52 years both cycles end at the same time. Additionally, there is the long count: another calendar used by the Maya for astronomical purposes and to uniquely record historical events older than 52 years. All together, these three calendars produce epochs, each with a length of 5125.36 years.
The currently running Mayan epoch ends on 21 December 2012. Däniken’s interpretation is as follows: at the beginning of the current epoch (probably 11 August 3114 BC), aliens landed on Earth. And if this epoch ends in four years, the aliens will return! Of course Däniken is immunizing himself and mentions unspecified problems concerning conversions between our calendar and the Maya one. So if nothing special happens on 21 December 2012, his theory “is not disproven!”
But Däniken is very confident that 21 December 2012 is a special date. He even has astronomical “proof” for it. He tells us about the precession of the Earth’s axis. That is the term astronomers use to describe the changing orientation of our planet’s rotation axis. Today (in the North) it is pointing, more or less, towards star Polaris. But the Earth wobbles a bit – like the spinning top in the figure on the right. The reason for this behavior is the gravitational influence of the Moon. The rotation axis completes a circle once every 25,800 years.
Däniken now claims that on 12/22/2012 at exactly 00:00 “the precession ends”. It will start again, afterwards – but at this time the axis of the Earth will be aligned in a very special way. It will be pointing directly at the center of the Milky Way. And because ancients text apparently also state that the aliens came from there, this alignment (together with the end of the Mayan epoch) is definitive proof that aliens will return to Earth on 21 December 2012 to “reorganize what they once created”.
That sounds impressive! Nevertheless it is simply wrong. The center of the Milky Way lies (seen from Earth) in the constellation of Sagittarius which itself is placed along the ecliptic. The ecliptic describes the apparent path of the Sun around the Earth which corresponds to the real path of the Earth around the Sun. Thus the center of our galaxy lies very close to the orbital plane of Earth. Däniken claims that in four years’ time, the rotation axis will also lie in this plane and point at Sagittarius!
What would this mean? If the axis of Earth were to lie in the orbital plane, we would be in the same situation as the planet Uranus (where the geometry is like what Däniken is proposing). Half of the year, one hemisphere of Earth would always point towards the Sun and the other six months it would always point away from it. On Earth, we would have a “day” that lasted 6 months, followed by half a year of night! Luckily, that cannot happen. The Earth’s axis does not lie in the orbital plane – it has an inclination of 66.5 degrees above the plane. Thus the axis can never point towards the center of the Milky Way.
But Däniken is completely convinced. He even shows a dramatic animation where the audience can observe how the Mayan calendar is expiring and the axis of the Earth is slowly pointing towards the center of the Milky Way.
Spread the word!
The conclusion of his talk is even more terrific than this astronomical nonsense. If the aliens return, Däniken fears a “god shock” and probably “millions of suicides” – simply because people are not prepared for the return of the aliens. But Däniken knows a way to change this! We only have to tell as many people as possible about his theories! But maybe there are a few skeptics who do not want to believe such nonsense? That is no problem – because Däniken has demonstrated the validity of his theories where everything is supported by evidence and can be rechecked. There is only one problem left: maybe some audience members have already forgotten part of what Däniken has said? This can be easily remedied: everyone should just buy one of his DVDs of the talk. We can then watch the whole lecture over and over again, we can invite friends to watch the DVD, and those friends could then also buy the DVD and spread the message. Then, on 21 December 2012, mankind will be ready for the arrival of the aliens!
I declined buying Däniken’s DVD (which costs €20). I was taking notes throughout the lecture and had no problem remembering everything Däniken was saying. But of course I will fulfill his assignment and, in this manner, propagate everything I heard during his lecture…