Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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Charlatan of the Geeks?

I just got done reading an extensive review in the current issue of Skeptic of a new book titled The Cult of Alien Gods: H.P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture by Jason Colavito (Prometheus Books, 2005, 398 pp. $19, ISBN: 1591023521). I may have to read this one. It follows the shaping and growth of alien fantasy beliefs over the past 150 years or so, from the work of Lovecraft, his contemporaries, and his followers right up through its present-day incarnations. It also finds historical antecedents for these writings all the way back to 13th century Icelandic mythology. The book apparently, and appropriately, contains numerous references to that book by Erich von Däniken you see to the right. Oh, that book…

I bought it in paperback two or three years after it came out, when I was perhaps 12 years old. It set my burgeoning adolescent brain afire. It fed right into the larger realization that was setting in for me at that time, that everything I’d been taught was essentially a lie. I read it and re-read it; I proselytized its teachings to anyone who wanted to know, and many who did not. The truth was there for all to see, I thought – our ancient world had been visited, and indeed shaped, by aliens in fantastic spaceships. They had shared their technology and wisdom, and perhaps even their DNA, with our ancestors. The evidence positively littered the historical record and required only the courage and clarity to see it for what it was!

It was a few years before I calmed down enough to begin to see through Mr. von Däniken’s dubious logic, as well as his selective use of information that supported his conclusions while ignoring information that might lead one to far more Earth-based conclusions. Worse than that, some of his “data” was simply spun out of thin air and passed off as documented fact. I remember hearing a radio interview he gave during the height of his fame. His English was filtered through a heavy German accent (he is Swiss, as a matter of fact), and he repeatedly used the phrase “Goddammit” as an adjective, e.g., “The Goddammit government…” Let it be known too that Mr. von Däniken served 3 and a half years in a Swiss prison for embezzling a great deal of money in his capacity as a hotel clerk. That fact does not, of course, disprove anything he wrote, but it does suggest a certain type of deceitful tendency.

The lasting legacy of Erich von Däniken in my life is still important, though. I learned a lot from him – just not what he thought he was teaching me. I learned that, for all my supposed brilliance, I can be fooled. That’s an important lesson in humility. I wish everyone could be fooled that badly, realize they’ve been had, and take the lesson on themselves. And certainly, others have fooled me and I have fooled myself many times over. The important thing, I think, is to take personal ownership and accountability for being fooled; otherwise, you tend to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. The other lesson for me is in feeling that wonderful thrill that comes with stepping into a larger world than the one you thought you lived in. I always want that feeling to be a part of my life experience; I just want it to be based on something more real than the silver tongue of a delusionary or a con artist!

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