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Erich von Däniken photographed on 19 October 2006. © Michal Manaš

No Sweeping Claims, Please - Part Two
Jun 23, 2010

Despite a knack for science-fiction writing, the Swiss Erich von Däniken (1935- ) has become the face of twentieth century pseudo-science.

Carl Jung’s resort to archetypes stored in a ‘collective unconscious’ did little more than to give the mystery a name. Émile Durkheim’s hunch that the grand themes of religions everywhere were modelled on the deeper structures of society was lacking in explanatory power, as was Claude Lévi-Strauss’ hypothesis that the hardwiring of the human brain could account for them. Each invoked vast stores of recurrent ‘universals’ in mythology and religion. Each failed to convince a majority of scholars and enable a comprehensive theory of myth.

The contributions of armies of non-specialists proved to be even more aggravating. Nazi interest in folklore and sacred symbolism did much to discredit studies in these areas. Catastrophists, such as Hans Bellamy, Alexander Braghine and Immanuel Velikovsky, tended to be peerless self-taught thinkers who espoused perfectly rational ideas, but spoiled any opportunities to be heard by failing to collaborate with colleagues, by a dogmatic, pontificating or overly sensationalist manner, or by a deplorable lack of scholarly competence and rigour in their cavalier selection, presentation and interpretation of source material. Others again abused anthropological data in the service of a religious agenda, such as a literalist interpretation of Hebrew mythology.

Needless to say, a cross-cultural examination of myths about a world-ravaging deluge will suffer if the goal is to prove that Noah existed. Likewise, an investigation of dragon lore does not benefit from an assumption that these monsters are Dinosaurs that coexisted with human mammals. A thin line divides these groups from pseudo-scientists of Erich von Däniken’s ilk, who have typically fallen into the same traps.

With such a legacy, it causes little surprise that modern scholars are wary of anyone discussing mythological parallels from different cultures. Will his or her purpose again be to prove the Bible right, to show that the Egyptians traversed all oceans or that colonists from Atlantis had attained very high levels of scientific wisdom?

Yet understandable though this knee-jerk reaction is, numerous babies risk being thrown away with the bathwater as a result. Clearly the academic world is still recovering from the backlash of past maltreatment of the subject, overreacting to anything remotely similar to the mindsets of hyperdiffusionists, pseudo-scientists or Jungians. It is as if a collective conscience guides the scholarly community, expressing its remorse over these past sins and seductions through a process of limitless specialisation and short shrift for any bigger-picture models.

While specialists in the humanities are thus hardly to blame for being cautious, it is incumbent for them to keep abreast of developments in science, for such knowledge is capable of igniting a Renaissance of thought in cross-cultural studies. There is every reason to be optimistic that this can be accomplished. The remedy will be threefold:

First, it is time historians, archaeologists and anthropologists wake up from their slumber and catch up with the current scientific picture of the earth’s placement in a complex web of electromagnetic structures. Much has changed since the 1950s in our scientific worldview. Just as their 19th-century peers finally acknowledged the fall of meteorites in the face of observational evidence, so professionals in the humanities need a ‘101’ of current knowledge regarding the pervasive role of electromagnetic phenomena in the terrestrial environment.

Second, it must be realised that a perfectly feasible mechanism to account for cross-cultural agreement is available. Whereas attempts to seek the cause of parallels in the inner workings of the mind have foundered, the possibility must now be explored that past transient events in the sky are behind numerous globally recurrent themes and patterns.

Third, it must be demonstrated that this new approach can be pursued in an intellectually responsible way. The past has seen enough self-indulgent Velikovskys and vön Danikens. What is needed is the collective effort of capable and credentialled scholars, at home in the fields they write about, willing to entertain radically different possibilities, meticulous in their source analysis, careful in their conclusions, and equipped with a humility that befits explorers of entirely new vistas.

Contributed by Rens Van Der Sluijs

Books by Rens Van Der Sluijs:

The Mythology of the World Axis

The World Axis as an Atmospheric Phenomenon



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