[disinformation ed.'s note: The following is an excerpt from the new book by Erich von Däniken, Twilight of the Gods: The Mayan Calendar and the Return of the Extraterrestrials, courtesy of New Page Books.]
“There are no absolute truths, and if there were, they would be boring.”—Theodor Fontane, 1819–1898
This sentence cannot really be applied to the exact sciences. Two plus two always makes four. And in geometry, A squared plus B squared always equals C squared. It may be boring, but “exact science” does indeed bring us many “absolute truths.” Alongside all the many errors that are constantly being corrected.
However, our power of reason is not just impressed by the results gleaned by the exact sciences; the humanities—and these include so much that requires interpretation—violate our way of thinking no less. Religions fall into this category, as do philosophy, ethnology and archaeology. Excuse me? Isn’t archaeology a combined science that cites only verified findings?
Of course. But the findings still have to be interpreted. They are still the subject of interpretation. This interpretation, on other hand, relies on rationality—the zeitgeist—and, of course, on written historical evidence. Is that clear? Now here’s a short extract from Popol Vuh, the greatest writing from the legacy of the K’iche’ Maya. It was composed or written an unknown amount of time ago in the highlands of what is now Guatemala.
E Alom, E K’ajplom,
K’o pa ja’. Saqtetoj e k’o wi.
E muqutal pa q’ ug,
It might sound like Chinese to us, but to an expert it makes perfect sense. The text describes how the lord “Quetzal serpent” fathered children, descended surrounded by light covered in the feathers of the quetzal bird (hence the name). The quetzal serpent is said to have come from the blackness of the heavens, and so on. On the rear side of the folio 24 you can read how the gods first had to enter a “house of darkness” and needed torches. Consequently, they smoked cigars. (The god “Smoking Mirror” is depicted in numerous Maya temples.)
I admire the Maya specialists who can read and translate the ancient language of the K’iche’ Maya. Their skill is the result of the decades of hard work and the laborious efforts of the ethnologists who put together all the little pieces of the jigsaw. At the end of the day, though, these praiseworthy translations still remain subject to a great degree of interpretation in many respects. What do I mean? Interpretation is all down to the zeitgeist, the leading trend in “rational” thinking. And that is very flexible.
A “feathered snake” never existed. So in Guatemala, the quetzal bird seems a logical choice. It has an impressive plumage and may have even reminded the K’iche’ Maya of a flying serpent. But the quetzal bird does not engender human children. Nor does it smoke! The Maya god “Smoking Mirror” also doesn’t look anything like a quetzal bird in any shape or form.
A modern interpretation leaves room for a number of different possibilities, especially when contemporary viewpoints are brought together with other texts from other parts of the world. Impossible? Well, for the Maya specialists, just like the Egyptologists, text comparisons between Central America and Egypt are pretty much unthinkable. We’re talking about two completely different cultures, they argue. That’s right. So why is it, then, that when you start comparing the texts you keep finding all sorts of similarities? The “creation” in Popol Vuh is very similar to that in the first Book of Moses (Genesis). And there’s more: If you read the Bible, you will discover that once the whole world “was of one language” (before the building of the Tower of Babel, that is). And it’s no different in Popol Vuh. In the second book of Moses (Exodus) we find out how Moses held his staff out over the waters and divided them. The Maya tell the same story! Or in chapter 9, verse 17 of Genesis: “This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth….” And in Popol Vuh? “That will help you when you call me. It is the sign of our agreement….” And so on! Who was copying from whom? The authors of Popol Vuh couldn’t have known anything about that Bible because their texts existed a long time before the Christian Spaniards arrived. So we can be pretty sure that there was no copying involved. These texts came about around the same campfire, so to speak.
Nowadays, in our times of worldwide networking and almost unlimited globalization, you would have thought that comparing texts would be the order of the day. But neither side wants to hear anything of it. The Maya archaeologist is a specialist in his own area; the Egyptologist in his. Without exception, a bunch of well-educated, well-integrated, and respectable researchers. The only problem is: they don’t work together. Each group remains bravely anchored by his own island of specialist isolation. Contemporary?
In distant Egypt you will find the pyramid texts. What are they? They are engravings from the 5th and 6th dynasties—although it remains unclear how long the texts existed before they were chiseled into the granite. The pyramid texts are subdivided into “Utterances.” These Utterances are overflowing with gods, who descend from the heavens to Earth, and pharaohs, who were granted the honor of visiting the world of the gods. Because our confused zeitgeist doesn’t recognize any reality behind these stories, they are interpreted as being the wishful thinking of the priests or the journeys of the pharaohs after their deaths. Here are a few examples:
(Utterance 511) “Nut shouts for joy when I ascend to the sky. The sky thunders for me, the Earth quakes for me, the hail storm is burst apart and I roar as does Seth….”
(Utterance 267) “A stairway to the sky is set up for me, that I may ascend on it to the sky; and I ascend on the smoke of the great censing. I fly up as a bird and alight as a beetle on the empty throne which is in thy barque, O Re…that I may sit in your place and row over the heaven in your barque, O Re. That I may push off from the land in thy boat….”
(Utterance 302) “The sky is clear, Sothis lives…the Two Enneads have cleansed themselves for me in Ursa Major [constellation]…. My house in the sky will not perish, my throne on Earth will not be destroyed….”
(Utterance 482 C) “May I fly up to heaven like the great star in the middle of the east….”
(Utterance 434) “You have taken to yourself every god who possesses his barque that you may install them in the starry sky….”
(Utterance 472) “The sky quivers, the Earth shakes before me. For I am a magician. I have come that I may glorify Orion….”
(Utterance 480) “How lovely to behold when this god ascends into the sky, just as Atum, the father of the king, ascends to the sky….”
(Utterance 482) “You must ascend to the heaven…your son Horus will accompany you to the starry sky; heaven is yours, the Earth is yours….”
(Utterance 553 + 563): “The gates of heaven are open for you; the gates of the firmament are open for you….”
(Utterance 584) “The doors of (?), which are in the firmament, are opened for me…lie open for me….”
(Utterance 669) “The prince descends in a great storm from within the horizon….”
It goes on for pages like this. Heavenly portals are opened; gods descend in smoke and flames; pharaohs are allowed to fly with them; there are thunder and lightning all over the place; sand is thrown up into the air. Who is always behind it all? The gods. Whether it’s in old India, in Tibet, in Japan, in the Bible (Ezekiel), or the Maya. Now look here, preach the Egyptologists: These texts are not be compared with any kind of reality. They are about the ascensions of deceased pharaohs. Well, somehow I doubt that. Looking at it from a modern perspective allows some quite reasonable and totally different conclusions, and there’s nothing “anti-scientific” about them. Why don’t the universities at least teach their students about the interconnections that are actually there? They could point out that a word like heaven does not necessarily have anything to do with a place of bliss and beatitude, and just as little to do with life after death. “Heaven” is also space—especially when it’s mentioned in the same breath as attributes such as smoke, fire, quaking, noise, stars, and so on. What’s unscientific about that? As long as the texts from each individual culture continue to be treated in isolation, then new insights will continue to be impossible.
In 1975, respected philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend, who taught for three decades in the University of California, Berkeley, announced his “anything goes” approach. It’s another way of saying that anything is possible. The scientific world reacted with horror because “anything goes” or “anything is allowed” was a contradiction to the long-held belief in a continual scientific process of establishing the truth. Feyerabend postulated, however, that the results of any scientific method are limited by the methods themselves. Indeed, many scientific innovations thrive not because methodological rules have been followed, but because they have been broken. Feyerabend was right, and his “anything goes” does not contradict scientific progress at all. So a comparison between the mythologies of ancient Egypt and Central America may go against the academic grain, but it does bring new answers and therefore the desired insights. Breaking the rules means eating from someone else’s bowl—but only when there’s a good reason for it. And there’s plenty of them!
Spanning the gap between Egypt and Central America makes a whole lot of sense. In both places flaming gods rise into the heavens, even though—from the point of view of the archaeologists—the two cultures existed at different times. But who can say with absolute certainty where the origins of these cultures lay and whether there really were any transatlantic connections all those thousands of years ago. In the Museum of Leyden in Holland, you can see a jade tablet known in the scientific literature as the Leyden Plate. It was found in the Maya city of Tikal (now Guatemala). Following the tricky-to-translate name of a god, it reads: “the lords of the heavenly family of Tikal descended.” Regardless of whoever these heavenly rulers may have been, it was really no different in ancient Egypt (or in China, Japan, Tibet, or India, come to mention it).
Visitors to the land on the Nile will be confronted by the so-called “winged sun disk” in practically every temple. It’s a golden disk or bowl shape with colored, broadly spreading wings. Entire temple roofs (Dendera!) and countless temple entrances (Karnak!) are decorated with them. These winged sun disks are usually associated with the god Horus—the son of Osiris and Isis—whose seat was in the huge temple complex of Edfu (between Aswan and Luxor). This is where the story of the winged sun disk is immortalized on one of Edfu’s temple walls. The inscriptions describe how the god Ra and his retinue landed “in the west of this area, to the east of the Pechennu canal.” His earthly representative, the pharaoh, was clearly in some sort of trouble, as he asked the heavenly flier to help him deal with his enemies:
The holy majesty Ra-Harmachis spoke to your holy person Hor-Hut: O you sun child, you exalted one, who is created by me, strike down the enemy that is before you without delay. Then Hor-Hut flew up to the sun in a great sun disk with wings upon it…when he viewed the enemies from the high heavens…he stormed down so violently upon them that they neither saw with their eyes nor heard with their ears. Within a short time not a head of them still stood living. Hor-Hut, shining and many-colored, returned in his form as a great winged sun disk to the ship of Ra-Harmachis.
This text was translated in 1870. In other words, at a time when no Egyptologist would have known about supersonic flight. They didn’t even have aircraft back then. But the attack described here definitely came from above (“when he viewed the enemies from the high heavens”) and it must have taken place at supersonic speeds (“that they neither saw with their eyes nor heard with their ears”). The results down here on Earth were correspondingly gruesome: “Within a short time not a head of them still stood living.” The gods alone know what dreadful weapon they used against this Stone Age folk.
Whether Egypt, Central America, or anywhere else, all of these ancient texts are fed to us these days in a kind of psychological mush. This is a shame because interpretations are possible in every color of the rainbow. I find it hard just to imagine the “Saga of the winged sun disk” in an abstract way, flying blind as I am in the fog of religious/psychological dogma. After the god Ra-Harmachis had helped the pharaoh defeat his enemies, he succinctly notes: “Here it is a pleasant place to live.” Afterward the surrounding lands are given a special name and the gods of heaven and Earth are praised. I suggest, that maybe we shouldn’t spend so much time reading about how other people think things are meant and the way we should, in their exalted opinions, see things, and instead look at the uncommented original texts.
“Hor-Hut flew up towards the sun as a great winged disk. Thus he has been known since as the Lord of Heaven….” Lord of Heaven? What about something else? What about “space man”?
As the inscriptions from Edfu show, the divine assistance was the actual reason for the worship and popularization of the winged sun disk and not, as some would have us believe, the sun in some imaginary under- and overworld. The Edfu text says it clearly enough:
Harmakhis flew in a ship and he landed by the city of Horus’ throne. Thus spake Thoth: the sender of light, who is born of Ra, he has defeated the enemy. He is to be known from this day on as the sender of light, who is born of the mountain of light. Thus spake Harmakhis to Thoth: Bring this sun disk to all the cities of the gods in Lower Egypt, and all the cities of the gods in Upper Egypt and all the cities of the gods.
Here and There
The phrase sender of light, which I have used here, is not one of my own creations. It comes from the text of Professor Heinrich Brugsch, who translated the Edfu text in 1870(!). So what have the sensible and rational Egyptologists—all of them loyal and obedient to their school of thinking and the zeitgeist—made of the winged sun disk? Ceremonial oddments. The original meaning is gone. It was no fantasy or dream of the uneducated Egyptians; it was simply what we would today describe as a UFO! Incapable or recognizing the original reality, academic doctrine transforms the former truth into myth. And now the world is all right again. Really?
A friend of mine, who is an Egyptologist, once told me that he thought that some god had actually intervened in a human conflict was simply unbearable. Just as unbearable as my belief that extraterrestrials had at some time taken a hand in Earthly affairs. Human logic, however, is sometimes prepared to make quite unexpected leaps. In the Old Testament, for instance, God—descending in a swathe of smoke, fires, and cataclysmic roars—often takes a hand to assist his chosen people in their struggles. Yes, in actual fact! Here the logic is watertight. Really?
What does the winged sun disk in Egypt got to do with Central America?
In 1860, not far from the village of Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa in Guatemala (on the Pacific coast), a number of magnificent stelae were found during clearance work. The news reached an Austrian researcher, Dr. Habel, who traveled to Mexico in 1862 to visit the excavation site. Dr. Habel made some sketches and showed them to the director of the Royal Museum of Ethnology in Berlin, Doctor Adolf Bastian. Four years later, he himself travelled to Guatemala and bought all the old stone fragments from the owner of the finca where the stelae were found. Transporting these incredibly heavy stelae to Europe was a logistic headache. In the end, they decided to cut the stone monsters in half and transported them to the harbor of San José, 50 miles away. To make the blocks lighter, they hollowed out the rear sides. During the loading, one of the stelae broke free and sank into the harbor waters—where it still lies today. The remaining artworks from this forgotten age can be admired in the Ethnology Museum in the west of Berlin. Because archaeologists always have to label and categorize everything (otherwise they can’t exhibit the artifacts), the stelae were given a rather apt name: Ode to the Sun God. And indeed, you can clearly see a flying creature, swathed in flames, descending to the frightened folk below. You really can’t miss the sun disk!