Chapter 9: What Came From The Stars?
There are dozens of Native American legends of visitors from the stars, trips into the sky world, and the journey of the souls to the upper world. However, it has only been in relatively recent years that many Native Americans have openly discussed it. Back in the 1960s author Brad Steiger (1936-2018) began collecting claims of extraterrestrial contact from indigenous peoples while he was studying their medicine practices. He later recalled the difficulty he had during the endeavor. Steiger said, “. . . when I first brought that up, when I was interviewing people for Medicine Power . . . so few Native Americans wanted to talk about it . . . I found some Cherokee who did not hesitate because they said, ‘We came from the stars,’ but the others were really reluctant.”1 In his 2004 book Visitors From Hidden Realms, longtime ufologist Brent Raynes also mentions a discussion he had with mythologist William Henry. Their discussion involved a visionary experience of a female Cherokee shaman. Henry mentioned that a well-known Cherokee myth “tells how the first Cherokee came from the star system known as the Pleiades,” then mentioning, “The first beings to emerge … were ‘thought beings.’”2 Most of the tales about star visitors are long and involved. Here we’ll only briefly describe a few them. It is important to note that these stories have a remarkable similarity to modern UFO/alien contact cases.
An ancient Yuchi legend tells of an “unknown and mysterious being” who descended to Earth.3 This entity taught the Yuchi skills and religious ideas as well as explaining to them that the Sun was their mother. From the Iroquois comes the story of a lone hunter who heard a voice asking him to “follow it.” The hunter began to rise from the ground and soon found himself gazing down at the forest. He rose still higher into the clouds and then realized he was surrounded by a group of beings that had “the appearance of men.”4 Another Iroquois myth tells of a hunter who killed a bear after a long struggle with the beast. As he was preparing his kill, he began to hear muffled voices behind him. Turning around, he saw three “beings in the shape of men, clothed in strange, diaphanous [translucent] garments.”5 They explained that they were entrusted with the job of maintaining harmony between humans and nature. Another tale describes a Flathead tribal man whose wife had recently died. He was so grief stricken that he went into the mountains to sit until his death. Early one morning, before dawn, a bright light from the eastern sky came toward him. The light instantly moved overhead and a being enshrouded in light suddenly materialized before him. He was instructed to go down the mountain where he would meet another being who would deliver a message to him. After meeting the being, he was told to return to his tribe.6 A similar story comes from the Kalispel tribe. A chief was grief stricken over the death of his son. He retreated to a mountain ridge and built a circle of rocks. While sitting in the circle, two beings suddenly appeared in front of him, instructing him to return to his tribe.7
Several episodes of Ancient Aliens have featured modern Native Americans citing legends from tribal lore relating that there have been visitations from various star systems in the galaxy. The places of origin that are mentioned include the Pleiades, Orion, Cygnus, and a few others. Of course, that idea is one major focus of Ancient Aliens. The theme of the long-running series is that the gods of the ancient world were actually visitors from other worlds who had technology so far advanced from the humans that they were seen as gods. Despite skeptics routinely deriding the idea as bunk, it is actually a very fascinating, if not compelling, idea. One of the famed science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke’s three laws was, “Any sufficient technology is indistinguishable from magic.”8 So it’s not a stretch to imagine what primitive people around tens or even hundreds of thousands of years ago might have thought if technologically advanced extraterrestrials did visit the planet. They would, as Carl Sagan once noted, be seen as gods.9 So here are a few possibilities for the ancient beliefs that developed about the “gods,” the spiritual forces and entities they described, and the ideas about humans and other mysterious beings coming from the stars. First, it’s possible that ancient astronauts did, in fact, come to Earth in ancient times. Second, it’s possible that the spiritual world--as described by ancient belief systems--actually exists and it is not yet understood in scientific terms. Third, perhaps it’s all simply bunk and mental trickery at work as most skeptics argue. Or, fourth, maybe all three of these possibilities have some validity.
Skepticism of Shamanic Practices
In 2002 Stanley Krippner, a well-known psychologist, published an analysis of skeptical “Western” interpretations of shamans and their practices.10 Included in the skeptical explanations are a demonic model; that they are charlatans; that they are afflicted with schizophrenia or other mental disorders; that they utilize soul flight trance techniques; and that they utilize what he calls crude technology.
The “demonic model” was attributed to shamanistic practices by the early European clergy who viewed all their practices as devil worship, witchcraft, and sorcery. While that idea has waned somewhat, it remains the prime belief of some people and it laid the foundation for later ideas developed by the skeptical community. The “charlatan model” assumes that shamans and practitioners of “medicine” are imposters, who use trickery to convince others that they have supernatural powers. It is likely that this remains the primary view of many skeptics and was the explanation I was given back in the 1980s when I interacted with archaeologists attempting to excavate at a Memphis mound site (see chapter 4).
The “schizophrenia model” asserts that shaman are mentally deranged and afflicted with psychosis or other mental illness. That is, their mental state has deluded them into believing things that are untrue and to engage in superstitious behaviors that have no genuine effect. The “soul flight model” implies that some shamans employ self-induced trance states to create ecstatic out-of-the-body experiences. That model is cited to explain various experiences shaman relate about their journeys into the spiritual world, but once again, it is a hallucinatory or dream experience not tied to reality. The soul flight model is the usual explanation that is given to the mental experiences that often follow exhaustive periods of rhythmic drumming, whistle blowing, chanting, dancing, and other repetitive rituals. Finally, there is the “crude technology model.” It refers to the use of hallucinogenic substances to create mystical experiences. While psychedelic experiences do give an explanation of some shamanic and medicine practices, it also implies that the experiences are not tied to reality and are chemically induced.
Western interpretations of shamanic customs and knowledge, at least those proposed by skeptics and academics, don’t leave any room for the possibility that there may be an underlying truth to what the medicine people and shamans espouse as reality. So, in essence, skeptics tell us that the constructions of sacred spaces, mound and earthwork complexes, the building of stone circles, and the rituals and ceremonies conducted by indigenous people all around the ancient world were essentially superstitious practices. Skeptics assert that all these rituals are based on false beliefs. In addition, in the skeptical view there are no underlying spiritual or energy forces being tapped and interacted with. Thus, shamanism and all their customs stem from either mental derangement or a primitive belief system that came to inaccurate conclusions about nature. It can be added here that the same ideas are often used by skeptics to explain all of the ancient reports of beings coming from the sky, the sudden appearances of glowing or translucent beings, as well as journeys to the sky. Skeptics use the same explanations to dismiss modern apparitional phenomena, paranormal events, UFO reports, and even the idea of ancient visitations of astronauts from other worlds. To skeptics it’s all mental derangement, trickery, or an inability to distinguish reality from scientific fact. Many skeptics apply the same explanations to the idea of ancient aliens, but here, they encounter a weak spot in their arguments, one named Carl Sagan.
Carl Sagan: The Father of the Ancient Astronaut Theory?
Back in 2014 I reviewed an archaeology book by skeptic Ken Feder.11 In his 2010 textbook, which is 285 pages long and retails for $85.00, Feder claimed that the true origin of the “Ancient Astronaut Hypothesis” came from a 1963 article by astronomer Carl Sagan. The only other person mentioned in that section of his text is Erich Von Däniken.12 However, it is well known that many others proposed ancient visits by aliens long before Sagan or Von Däniken. For example, even Sagan mentioned that in 1959 the highly regarded Soviet mathematician and physicist Matest Agrest claimed that the site of Baalbek was a spaceport for ancient astronauts and that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was created by atomic detonations by extraterrestrials.13
Sagan began his 1963 article by noting that the idea of civilizations existing on other planetary solar systems in the galaxy was quite old. He mentioned that there had been a huge resurgence in the idea, presumably from all of the UFO reports in the 1940s-1960s and the release of dozens of books and hundreds of magazine articles touting the idea of ancient astronauts. Sagan conducted a statistical analysis on the probability of intelligent and technologically advanced life existing in our galaxy and the odds that Earth had been visited by extraterrestrials. One of his conclusions was: “. . . other civilizations, aeons more advanced than ours, must today be plying the spaces between the stars.”14 Sagan asserted that starting a couple million years ago Earth would have been visited and monitored “about once every ten thousand years” but when the last Ice Age waned, contact would have increased dramatically because of the aliens’ interest in human development.15 His final statistical analysis contained this astonishing sentence: “The statistics presented earlier in this paper suggest that the Earth has been visited by various galactic civilizations many times (possibly ~ 104) during geological time.”16 That is 10,000 visits! He suggested that the visitors might have been seen as gods and that ancient Babylonian stories might be a genuine clue to their presence.17 Paradoxically, while Sagan believed that there were certainly many technologically advanced civilizations in other solar systems throughout the galaxy, and that they had likely visited Earth in the past, he did not believe that the modern UFO phenomenon was extraterrestrial in nature.18 There were a couple major reasons cited for this seemingly contradictory belief. Just one reason was that there were thousands of UFO reports being made and Sagan thought it beyond the realm of possibility that so many extraterrestrial craft were visiting Earth at the same time. In essence, Sagan believed that there was something real in the modern UFO phenomenon, but it was not extraterrestrial craft.19
Taking a cue from the amazing mind of Carl Sagan, what we are left with is this: There probably are many advanced civilizations out there in the cosmos. They may well have visited here in the remote past and it’s certainly possible that these older and more technologically advanced civilizations still check up on us from time to time. Of course Sagan didn’t think the “modern” UFO reports were alien in nature, but he certainly believed that something was at work in creating all the UFO sightings. There is something more than hoax, trickery, or delusion to some paranormal events as well as to the UFO phenomenon. Even Carl Jung acknowledged that UFOs had an underlying reality and that whatever it was, it appeared to be related to paranormal phenomena.20 While Jung did call the “recent” UFO phenomenon a “modern myth,” he was cautious to add in his writings that, “all myths have a basis in reality.”21 Another of Jung’s simplest and deepest statements about UFO and paranormal phenomena provides an elegant foundation for his basic assertion about UFOs: “Something is seen, one doesn’t know what.”22 What this means is that when we are presented with an unknown reality, an unexplained event, or strange phenomena, the automatic human tendency is to project an explanation upon that unknown. The interpretation or explanation is projected from our mind upon whatever is observed. It is as if we have a movie projector in our mind, and when something unusual is seen, the projector flips on and what we then see are contents of our own mind being projected on the unknown object. The unknown object we observe serves as a screen for our own beliefs. The specific explanation we project on it is generated from our prior learning, culture, expectations, language, and certain unconscious forces. For example, skeptics already believe none of the paranormal is real, thus they immediately project an interpretation upon inexplicable events as being hoaxes, delusions, mental derangement, or misinterpretations. On the other hand, when an unexplained sighting is made by someone who believes in the extraterrestrial hypothesis, that explanation is projected upon the event.
Something Is Seen, One Doesn’t Know What
The ancient beliefs of Native American cultures, as well as all ancient cultures, came from their observations and interactions in the world. Imagine how early proto-humans millions of years ago might have explained weather phenomena, the animal kingdom, other elements of the natural world, and deeply important events like death. It’s easy for skeptics and academics to explain it all away as superstitious belief systems. But that doesn’t explain things like megalithic structures found all over the world. That doesn’t explain the mound-building cultures that constructed incredible geometric earthworks as sacred ritual spaces. Nor does it explain all the paranormal events these ancient people recorded in their own way. In essence, they saw and interacted with “something else” that existed alongside the natural world. Their spiritual beliefs and rituals were a response to this “something else.” The ancients explained it using their terminology and mind set. That is partly what Jung’s statement that “something is seen, one doesn’t know what” really means. There is something else there. We are not sure what it is. And with that, we move to more recent, and more modern phenomena. But understand that the events we are about to explore aren’t all that different from the legends of Native Americans. And we’ll return to the ancient world eventually.