by Jason Colavito

from Colavito Website


A critical 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 "alternative" authors.


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 fantastic beliefs.


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 them.

Thanks to 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became the de facto and unofficial religion of the intelligentsia, so organized religion became a quaint and outdated method of observing and understanding one's world.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 later.

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.


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 gods.


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: Atlantis, 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 Venus.


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 literal histories.

On the other side of the world Prof. Charles Hapgood was busy compiling his Path of the Pole (1958: originally Earth's Shifting Crust) and Maps of the Ancient Sea-Kings (1966), in which he argued that 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 fabrication.


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 arguments.

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 The 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 that the Dogon tribe of western Africa obtained esoteric knowledge of the binary nature of the star Sirius through contact with ancient Egypt.


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 The Stargate Conspiracy, Lynn Pickett and Clive Prince discovered that Temple received heavy influence from Arthur Young, his mentor. Young was a believer in The Nine, a group of entities psychics of the 1950s claimed represented the nine creator-gods of ancient Egypt.


Significantly, these 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 Satanism-cum-Egyptology of Aleister Crowley, who influenced Hubbard's Scientology.


The Nine added the extra dimension of UFOs, which were all the rage after the Roswell incident.

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.


Anthropologist Walter van Beek talked to the Dogon in 1991:

"All agree... 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 Orion.


When he used the Pyramid 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 cosmic doom.

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 civilizations.

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 because of the Face on Mars. They speculated that perhaps Martians had given their civilization to earth, after the work of Richard 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 mainstream thought.

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 (Virgo).

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 his theory.


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 hidden planet 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 Lovecraft's Yuggoth.


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 attendants were 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 this paper.

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 landed."

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 paranormal community.


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.

But Sitchin 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 religion.

Sir 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,

"We were 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 of faith.


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 fiction.