From the stars above: Lovecraft, Cthulhu, and Ancient Aliens



Great Old Ones, or giant space gods?

In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.

Thus chanted the members of an obscure cult to the pulsing beat of a blood-fueled, orgiastic ritual, so we’re told by Inspector Legrasse of the New Orleans police department, witness to the chilling event.  Or, if you prefer, so H.P. Lovecraft wrote in his famous piece of weird fiction, “The Call of Cthulhu.”

Lovecraft was a master of interweaving real world facts into his stories, blurring the line between fact and fiction, thus planting a tiny seed of doubt in the minds of his readers.  Could this all be true? Might the sunken city of R’lyeh really be found in the depths of the Pacific Ocean? Could Cthulhu lie waiting among its bizarre cyclopean architecture?

As above, so below

Like other tales of ancient extraterrestrial visitation, claims that aliens visited our planet in its distant past also regularly show up in Lovecraft’s stories.  In “The Call of Cthulhu,” we’re told Cthulhu is one of the Old Ones, a group of powerful occult creatures that “had come from the stars” long before humans walked the earth.  (Lovecraft doesn’t call them aliens — the term wasn’t yet used to refer to extraterrestrial beings in the 1920s.)

Lovecraft’s Old Ones were worshiped as gods by those few humans who knew of their existence, a worldwide cult that secretly maintained  bloody rituals. Blurring the line between fact and fiction, Lovecraft deliberately compared this cult of the Old Ones with Margaret Murray’s academic treatise, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, which alleged the secret survival of a tradition of witchcraft practices.

A central premise of modern ancient alien claims is that our ancestors mistook these impressive and befuddling beings from the stars for gods. The title of von Däniken‘s first book, Chariots of the Gods? was meant as a fancy gloss for “alien spacecraft,” but these similarities might not be enough to tie these two authors together.  What if there was something a little more specific?

In a later work, von Däniken alleged that some of his information was coming from a Tibetan text many thousands of years old, known as The Book of Dzyan.  Strangely enough, Lovecraft wrote about it, too, in his story, “The Diary of Alonzo Typer.”

I learned of The Book of Dzyan, whose first six chapters antedate the Earth, and which was old when the lords of Venus came through space in their ships to civilize our planet.

Here we are again walking back and forth between something that one person is alleging to be fiction, and another fact.  In 1904, W. Scott Elliot suggested in one of his his studies of Theosophy, a set of esoteric spiritual beliefs, that beings from Venus had indeed come to civilize Earth, “the positions occupied by the divine beings from the Venus chain were naturally those of rulers, instructors in religion, and teachers of the arts.”

The Book of Dzyan is also first mentioned by a Theosophical author, Helena Blavatsky. Blavatsky published a translation and commentary of alleged stanzas from the book that described humanity’s spiritual development in Atlantis and Lemuria, with aid from spiritual forces from beyond our planet. Lovecraft was an avowed atheist, so it’s unlikely he took these theosophical claims seriously, but he nevertheless regularly included them in his stories (including “The Call of Cthulhu”) to add an air of reality to his writings on the occult.

For those who believe Blavatsky’s spiritual claims, The Book of Dzyan is a real ancient text.  Unfortunately, however, no one outside of Blavatsky herself seems to have ever seen this book.  Thus when von Däniken claimed to draw support for his ancient alien claims from said ancient tome, one does have to wonder where he found a copy.

Wait, there it is! In the Call of Cthulhu card game.

The great old habits

What should we make of all these strange jumps between fact and fiction? Claims for ancient alien contact are much older then the current, eponymous television show, which is so full of misrepresentations, falsehoods, and occasional complete fabrications that as an archaeologist, I’m more dizzy than angry by the end of an episode.

Yet Ancient Aliens still sells. Why?

We’ve been entertaining ourselves with stories of ancient alien visitors for decades. That conditioning has left us with a Lovecraftian sense of confusion regarding what is fact and what is fiction. Thus, in the dark of night, we contemplate the cyclopean architecture of R’lyeh, and think maybe, just maybe, these claims are true.

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