Summary: At age 62, the godfather of the Ancient Astronauts Society may seem like a flawed relic from the 1960s. But Erich Von Daniken never went away. Von Daniken has never wavered from his premise that ancient scribes contributing to holy texts (in Eastern and Western traditions) were describing contact with technologically sophisticated extraterrestrial visitors.
MELBOURNE, Fla. - At age 62, the godfather of the Ancient Astronauts Society may seem like a flawed relic from the 1960s. But Erich Von Daniken never went away; two weeks ago, production crews finished filming yet another documentary on the Swiss author's controversial research, which will air in the States on the A&E Channel late this year or early 1997.
On a rain-soaked weekday midafternoon inside Barnes & Noble Booksellers, a small but avid line of fans gathers for autographs of his 22nd book, Return of the Gods. Some offer dog-eared copies of Von Daniken's grounds-breaking first effort, Chariots of the Gods?, translated into English in 1972 Since then, Von Daniken's books have sold more than 53 million copies in 28 languages.
What only the most hardcore Von Danikenites know is that the writer who, in the 1960s, began advocating extraterrestrial influences on world religions, culture and architecture, penned a mea culpa in 1985, entitled Habe Ich Mich Geirrt? Never translated into English, Did I Get It Wrong? is a retraction of some of his most falsifiable assertions involving ET artifiacts that weren't.
But Von Daniken has never wavered from his premise that ancient scribes contributing to holy texts (in Eastern and Western traditions) were describing contact with technologically sophisticated extraterrestrial visitors.
Von Daniken is in Central Florida this week for the annual AAS meeting, being held in Orlando. FLORIDA TODAY managed to get a few moments with the expansive and ostensibly tireless world traveler.
FLORIDA TODAY:Why are we seeing such an intense interest in the subject of extraterrestrials now?
ERICH VON DANIKEN: It's a complicated story. I think, thousands of years ago, some extraterrestrials created, by deliberate mutation, our intelligence. This does not contradict Darwin's theory of evolution. But it's just one step forward. If you would accept this as a theory, that we have some extraterrestrial genes in us, then these genes at one day, they will grow and open - excuse me for my English.
If you have a tree with fruits, at a certain time the fruits are ripe and they fall off the tree. The fruit is the message of the extraterrestrials. At a certain time in humanity, the knowledge will come into our brain.
So why, now, is there more and more interest in extraterrestrials? In my opinion, it's because we have it in our genes. The time is right. So you cannot stop the interest - it is growing and growing and growing. It has nothing to do with the year 2000. The millenium has only to do with Christianity. The other societies - the Jewish community, the Islamic community - have different calendars altogether.
FT:How does this not conflict with Darwinism?
EVD:Darwin's theory of evolution is something that we learn and we generally have to accept. We have the bones and family trees that show that we basically come from apes. But apes are still primitive today. We are the only ones from this tree who have become intelligent. Why only we? Because, I say, we are a deliberate mutation made by extraterrestrials. Or as the religious texts say, the gods created man after their own image.
FT:You take a lot of swipes at fundamentalist interpretations of ancient texts and you enjoy it. Why do you enjoy this process so much?
EVD:Because I am a deep believer in God. I am one of these people who still prays every day. God has to be timeless. A god who has to create experiments to wait for what the results will be cannot be God. God has to be all present, so He does not need a vehicle in which to move around, a vehicle with smoke and fire and thundering. God, naturally, does not make any mistakes.
If you read the Bible, you find a god who is driving around in chariots, what the prophet Ezekial describes very clearly. Or you find that God makes mistakes. According to the Bible, God created in five days the Earth, the plants, the trees, and on the sixth day He made Adam and Eve. And then, according to the Bible, God said it was good. But shortly after, He decided it was not good, because he decided to destroy humanity with a great flood.
So I think these people (fundamentalists) are not praying to the real God.
FT:Are you saying they're stupid?
EVD:No, not stupid, just educated in this flaw. I myself am educated as a Catholic. And, naturally, I was a deep believer in the way of God as I was educated. But later, I realized some of the descriptions in the Old Testament could not be accurate descriptions of God. God is much bigger, and indescribeable.
FT:So the early accounts got it all wrong?
EVD:The first gospels weren't written down until 40 years after the death of Jesus Christ. And the later gospels weren't even eyewitness to what happened. But the later stories went into that time, because, like all other times, it too was a political time. And the family of (Holy Roman Emperor) Constantine and his wife created a new religion (in 300 AD), which became Christianity.
It was a wonderful story, you know, Jesus Christ, the son of God, finally ascended to heaven. Long before Christianity, there were many gods in other traditions who went to heaven. So naturally Jesus had to ascend as well. In reality, the ascension never took place. The resurrection never took place. Not like depicted in the Bible. The tomb of Jesus is in Kashmir. I have photographed it many times.
FT:Why do we need the ET factor to make us realize we're all from the same seed of life?
EVD:No, we don't need the ET factor but it's helpful. Looking from the outside at this planet helps us realize we're all from the same place. What if the astronomers announced that there is something artificial out there? What would happen? We would immediately understand, that all intelligent beings on this planet are one race, not the blacks, not the whites, or whatever. And it makes no sense to make war.
FT:So if an announcement of that type would have this positive, unifying effect, why do you suppose - given the growing body of evidence we have on UFOs - it hasn't happened?
EVD:Our society is not only composed of the few people who make the government. Our society is much more complicated. You have very strong power in religion, very strong power in science, in many other fields of society. And all these parts would be against this. They don't want to have a loss of orientation. If there is a change in thinking about extraterrestrials, it should not happen by revolution, by fighting each other - we are right, you are the idiots. It should go by evolution, slowly. Passing two or three generations. Because they have a responsibility to society.
FT:Do you think that's what we're watching now? Culturally? A slow acclimation?
EVD:Yes. In my short life, I had a very curious experience. I learned that we have two types of human beings. One type is educated scientifically. They absolutely believe in evolution, mutation, selection. But on the end of this process of evolution, we are the greatest, the top of evolution.
The other part is educated in a religious way. So they believe in the concept of: God created all this, on the sixth day He created Adam and Eve. But we are at the top of creation. Because God made us, finally. So it doesn't matter whether you look at it in a scientific or religious manner. In both cases - the top of evolution or the crown of creation - we are the greatest.
We don't like extraterrestrials. We don't want extraterrestrials, we are afraid of them. It's a psychological problem - we are not ready to accept that we are not the greatest.
FT:One of the criticisms is that your ET theories short-sell our own imaginations, our own creativity.
EVD:That's rubbish. Carl Sagan and the others who've attacked me, I'm sure, have never read my books. Naturally, it's nonsense to believe that any extraterrestrials created any buildings on Earth. Of course, our ancestors created these wonderful temples and pyramids. Our ancestors developed the culture, the religion. But the question still has to be answered - for what purpose?
I believe, thousands of years ago, ETs were here. Maybe only a small group of people saw them. But then it went into interpretations of gods, powerful, descended from heaven. The next generation never saw them, never understood what they were. The Maya, for instance, created incredible pyramids in Central America. You have to ask the Maya, "Why have you done these pyramids?" For the gods? What gods? Scientists say, the god of nature, the thundering, the lightning, the strong forces they admired but could not understand. But that's again rubbish. The natural does not speak.
The Maya, for example, explain that Kukulkan gave them astronomical knowledge and mathematics. I'm sorry, the lightning does not speak, "Divide this by this to get that," and so forth.
FT:OK, let's talk about the sarcophagus lid of King Pacal in Palenque, the idea of him being at the control panel of a spaceship. Isn't there enough ambiguity in this baroque avalanche of hieroglyphics to say that what has been described as flames and rocket exhaust could also be flowers, as the traditional mayanists contend?
EVD:In our century, we have learned a new cult appeared. It's called the cargo cult. Whenever a high-technological society comes into contact with a primitive society, the primitives believe that some of the technology of the higher society is magic. If they can't understand it, it must have something to do with gods. When Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World, the natives believed he was a god - in the beginning. When Francisco Pizarro showed himself to the Inca, with his chains glittering in the sun, the priests all fell on the ground, believing him to be the son of the sun.
In the Second World War, in the Pacific, on the island of Bebak, there were still Stone Age people who had never seen an aircraft. Then they saw these things landing on the coast. They went back to the mountain and began creating aircraft made of wood and straw. And they adored these models they made. It was magic. This is what we call the cargo cult, misunderstanding technology.
In ancient Hindu literature, 6,000 years ago - they don't give a date - gigantic cities surrounded around the Earth, and from these cities, smaller vehicles came down. The ancient Indians named these smaller vehicles vemanas. some had the shape of an egg, some had the shape of Ezekial's spaceship, and so forth. In modern terms, it would be translated into a mother ship off the Earth with different types of shuttles coming from space stations.
The extraterrestrials, they study the people, and maybe they give some of the people information. And one of the priests tries to chisel this ET and his vehicle, in stone. The man understands nothing of the technology, like the people on the island of Bebak who don't know what an aircraft was. He chiseled what he saw.
Today, there are nine different explanations for this Palenque figure in the books. They tell us it is the tomb of Pacal, the dynasty that ruled Palenque, and according to the inscription, this ruler should be the second to last Pacal. On the other side of the temple, we have datings of Pacal.
But the oldest date does not correspond to what we know about the Maya. It's translated to 3114 BC, the very beginning of the Maya calendar, but long before the Maya appeared. So let's look at it in terms of misunderstanding technology, which is what we see today in our cargo cults. It's just a suggestion.
FT:You've made it easy for your critics, the time you spent in jail for fraud and embezzlement, that sort of thing.
EVD:But that's all rubbish. I was found guilty of tax fraud in 1971, '72, something like that. It took years and years until the court went to the Swiss federal court and then back again, and it was overturned (in 1982) and I was found not guilty. Still, I spent about 15, 16 months in jail. It was terrible. You can do nothing. But years had passed and I was not eager to bring it all up again. It's 30 years past.
I mean, if that's what they attack you for, what happens in private, then you cannot believe any politicians, certainly. And you cannot even believe in Jesus who was jailed - forget it.
FT:How have your writings changed since Chariots of the Gods?
EVD:You learn that you make mistakes. In Chariots of the Gods are many things that I would never repeat again. Just because I was young. I was manager of a hotel at the time, and when you are young you are not self-critical enough, and you are enthusiastic. And you believe rubbish as the truth and you write it down.
In Chariots of the Gods, I had something like 238 question marks. Nobody saw the question marks. Today, there are not so many.
FT:How about a prediction? What do you think Mars Global Surveyor or subsequent missions to Mars will find on Cydonia, where some people think there's a face and pyramids?
EVD:Well, I am definitely convinced they will find traces of life. Primitive life. The face on Mars? I was never convinced of that. I am not sure if this is a serious thing or not.
FT:Do you think NASA would play straight about discovering extraterrestrial intelligence?
EVD:No, not NASA - it is government science.
More than four years ago, a German engineer made this robot that goes into the (Giza) pyramid. It found a door to a chamber. And why have Egyptologists not opened the door? Or if they have, why have they not published what they found? Why? You have a sensation! A door, 65 meters, in a shaft, the robot clearly showed the door.
It has been said they are maybe afraid of exposing this to oxygen after all the centuries, but that's garbage. Because there is a corner on the bottom of the door that is missing. The door is not directly on the ground because we see a laser beam that goes under and through the door, meaning oxygen has been coming in since eternity. So nothing happens. The question is, what's wrong with science?
In astronomy, we have one part of astronomers that work in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Well, at the last SETI conference, the astronomers who are looking for radiowaves coming from outside, honest and serious people, decided on - what in English? - self-censorship. If he finds what he is looking for, he is not allowed to publish, he has to contact this circle and this circle and this circle. Why? Where's the freedom of information?
FT:Maybe they're trying to protect their Nobel Prize.
EVD:OK. But why then is the same community attacking us for saying they are hiding something? I'm sorry, but they are hiding something. Or will be. See Egypt. See this. See the Dead Sea Scrolls. Why have scientists working on the Dead Sea Scrolls shut their mouths for more than 20 years? Something is there.
FT:Do you think you'll live to see a confirmation of your work?
EVD:No. I would be lucky. Even if someone could find an object definitely not of this planet, and they could give it to the scientific communities, I'm sure it would take much too long for this society to accept that something extraterrestrial exists.
I have started something. There are 56 million copies of my books worldwide. But now it is not just Erich Von Daniken. It is others, many others, as well. You cannot kill the idea anymore, never.