Documentaries: William Shatner’s Mysteries of the Gods (1977)

Mysteries Shatner 1977

Mysteries of the Gods is the 1977 English version of a 1976 West German documentary called Botschaft der Götter (“Embassy of the Gods”). Both films are based on Erich von Däniken’s book Besucher aus dem Kosmos (“Visitors from the Cosmos”), published in the U.S. as Miracles of the Gods in 1975. The English version is narrated by William Shatner, who stars in a number of added scenes.

The only major difference between the English film adaptation of Chariots of the Gods (1970) and the English version of Mysteries of the Gods is that the latter spends more time addressing the UFO phenomenon. (Harald Reinl directed both Chariots of the Gods and the original, un-Shatnerized Mysteries of the Gods; Charles Romine directed the American footage with Shatner.) We tread the same creatively presented non-evidence Däniken and his disciples have been plying for more than five decades—the Nazca Lines (as if aliens capable of intergalactic travel require a landing strip barely fit for a single-engine Cessna, or a rock outline of a monkey to navigate by), alleged man tracks alongside dinosaur tracks, the Moai of Easter Island and other monoliths, primitive cave paintings that supposedly resemble astronauts, and so on.

Shatner is amusingly over-the-top and charismatic throughout (love him or hate him), and he also seems genuinely interested in the subject at times. One of the many problems with the ancient astronaut hypothesis, which is simply and wholly a religion for a hyper-technological First World that can no longer relate to or abide the authoritarian (at worst) and mystical (at best) nature of the old time religions, is its persistent and seemingly racist devaluation of “primitive” human creativity and ingenuity. On the city of Nan Madol in Micronesia, Shatner says, following the Däniken script: “How is it possible for men alone, primitive men, to have accomplished these things?” Of the boomerang, invented by aboriginal Australians over 10,000 years ago, the script questions how these “primitive” people could have invented a weapon of such “refinement.” Nobody seems to doubt the achievements of the ancient Greeks or the Etruscans.

The most interesting moment of the film is Shatner’s interview with Jesco von Puttkamer, at the time a Senior Space Scientist for Advanced Programs of Space Flight at NASA. Not only does Shatner get him to admit that UFOs could be visiting from other galaxies, Puttkamer later says, when pressed about ancient alien visitation, that he doesn’t know how our genetic code evolved “unless it was—possibly—imported from somewhere else.” Shatner also interviews John Billingham from NASA/SETI; Anna Mitchell-Hedges, an ancient astronaut believer who allegedly discovered what’s now called the Mitchell-Hedges skull—Shatner really hams it up here; alleged psychic Jeanne Dixon, who predicted in 1976 that “beings from outer space will land” in August 1977 (still waiting, Jeanne); a “parapsychologist”; and the director of the “Exosociology Institute” in Florida.

The appeal of ancient aliens lies in the elegance of the creation myth, to borrow a phrase from Richard McKenna. In the 1970s, kids dreamed of being swept up into the stars by benevolent beings, who would surely have a full catalog of Atari games and a comics warehouse stashed in their massive, green-apple-shag-carpeted spacecraft, and there would be no parents to tell us when to go to bed, no cigarette-smoking cool kids to beat us up. The myth still appeals to me as myth, as an expression of cosmic curiosity and the belief, not entirely unfounded, that somewhere out there is a species worthier of the universe. The irony is that the ancient alien hypothesis, like all religions, disparages and corrupts the poetic power of myth by trying to force it into reality.

As of now, you can watch the English version of Mysteries of the Gods here. The original version is here.

I also found some neat theater listings and an alternate poster, as seen below.

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(Images via Pinterest, Held Over Movies, and Technicolour Yawn)

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From Outer Space by Howard Menger (Pyramid, 1967)

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Originally published by Saucerian Books in 1959 as From Outer Space to You. Remarkably similar to George Adamski’s narrative (first published in 1953’s Flying Saucers Have Landed), Howard Menger claimed to have been contacted by morally, intellectually, spiritually, and technologically superior “space people,” many of them appearing as strikingly beautiful women, beginning in 1932 at age ten:

There, sitting on a rock by the brook, was the most exquisite woman my young eyes had ever beheld!

The warm sunlight caught the highlights of her long golden hair as it cascaded around her face and shoulders. The curves of her lovely body were delicately contoured—revealed through the translucent material of clothing which reminded me of the habit of skiers.

Starting in 1956, Menger relates taking journeys in various spaceships, eventually traveling to the Moon and Venus, both of which he describes as having an oxygen atmosphere, lush vegetation, native settlements, and so on. You can hear an interesting NBC interview with Howard and Connie Menger—from the First Interplanetary Spacecraft Convention at the Menger farm, 1958—at archive.org.

Photos from the book, via Universe People, are below. Note how similar the Menger saucer is to the Adamski saucer,

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Sargasso by Edwin Corley (Dell, 1978)

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The novel was originally published in 1977 by Doubleday and seems to hit all the hot topics of 1970s paranormal sci-fi: The Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis, UFOs, time warps, etc. The cover art is by Paul Alexander and continues the dead and buried astronaut trope that I talked about here. There is something peculiarly haunting about the deep space explorer buried in the sands of time—a reminder that even the noblest and most audacious of human endeavors ends in a handful of dust.

UFOs: What on Earth is Happening? by John Weldon and Zola Levitt (Harvest House, 1975)

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Weldon and Levitt, both working within the Christian dispensationalist tradition, wrote several volumes together and separately covering various occult and metaphysical topics, including UFOs, psychic phenomena, life after death, and the end of the world as we know it. Their main thesis in UFOs: What on Earth is Happening?, based on this 1975 talk by Levitt, is that UFOs are extraterrestrial only in the sense that they are commanded by demons from hell who are preparing the Earth for the ultimate “battle of the spirits” and the coming of the Antichrist. Overall, it sounds like a Christian interpretation of John Keel’s Operation Trojan Horse (1970), a founding ufology text linking UFOs and their “ultraterrestrial” pilots to the supernatural monsters and “trickster” spirits that people have reported encountering throughout recorded history.

The “students of the Light and Power House,” to whom the book is dedicated, refers to an experimental Christian ministry founded by Hal Lindsey in 1970 (note Lindsey’s blurb on the back of the book), the same year Lindsey wrote the bestselling (28 million copies by 1990*) The Late, Great Planet Earth (1970), detailing his end times prophecies. The Light and Power House, based at the UCLA campus,

embodied the swirling milieu of evangelical activism, countercultural sentiment, and the search for meaning in terms of Christ’s word. It offered hippies and druggies a place to crash… [Lindsey’s] students grew their hair long, wore tie-dye, and spoke the language of the counterculture.*

The general embrace of occultism at the time was seen by Lindsey and other evangelicals as yet another sign of the corruption and decadence indicative of the “great tribulation” preceding Christ’s kingdom without end.

UFOs: What on Earth is Happening? was reissued later in 1975 as Encounters with UFOs.

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I have so many weird and lovely paperbacks at this point, ranging from the worst kinds of hack jobs to surprisingly erudite ruminations buried in sensationalistic packages, and I haven’t even begun to get a long view of the whole picture. My aim for now is to (1) post the front and back covers and review the books I have read, and (2) post the front and back covers of everything I want to read so that, at the very least, there’s an ongoing catalog. If I haven’t read the book, I’ll try to piece together what I can from available information, as above.

When it comes to title, author, publisher, and publication date, I go with WorldCat.

UFO Flying Saucers #4 (Gold Key, 1974): `From Out of the Past’

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Once again Ezekiel’s “wheel within a wheel” vision interpreted retroactively as an alien encounter, this time in comic book form. It’s really interesting to me that the “non-UFO” explanations of what the alleged prophet might have seen do not reference prophetic or mystic vision, as if that reality is harder to grasp than fiery, ancient astronauts dropping in to take the old man for a ride. It’s as if highly advanced technology is the only miracle a materialistic society can accept.

UFO Flying Saucers ran for 13 issues between 1968 and 1977 and was published by Gold Key. In 1978 the series name changed to UFO and Outer Space, running for an additional 12 issues. Some of the issues from the latter run reprinted stories from the original run.

(Images via AlienEncounters/Flickr)

Spokane Daily Chronicle (September 8, 1952):`Bible Explains Flying Saucers’

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The modern UFO era started in 1947 with Kenneth Arnold, who spotted nine shiny objects in the sky while flying his single-engine airplane near Mount Rainier in Washington. He said the objects were flying in “V” formation and looked like “a saucer if you skip it across water.” The press called the objects “flying saucers,” and here we are.

The convergence of the Bible and UFOs appears almost immediately after the widespread publication of Arnold’s story, mostly within the Christian Dispensationalist community (end times believers), which thrived during the anxious heat of the Cold War. Here Rev. Louis Gardner espouses the theory that UFOs are modern-day miracles (“signs and wonders”) meant as a warning from God. (Here’s another article about a different Reverend citing UFOs as a prelude—“the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory“—to the Second Coming.)

Gardner wrote to Einstein in July 1952 asking what the latter thought of UFOs, and Einstein’s response made quite a stir in the press at the time. The letter is below. That’s Gardner on the left.

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(Images via Google News and USC Libraries)

What the Bible Says about Flying Saucers by Rev. O.W. “Bud” Spriggs (Worldwide Records, Circa 1969)

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Suffice it so say that the “Chaplin of Hell,” as Rev. Spriggs calls himself, not only heartily believes in the existence of UFOs, but believes they and their alien pilots appear in the Bible, citing the now infamous verses (4–28) from the first book of Ezekiel covered in Barry Downing’s The Bible and Flying Saucers and Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods?, both published in 1968. His conclusion is:

I believe that we’re living in the last days. I believe that Jesus is soon coming back again… With all the problems of Communism and the lacksadaisical [sic] attitude of the people in America, I think that we are just upon the horizon of some great tragedy…

The first track is definitely worth a listen, as the Chaplin cracks bad jokes such as, “Anybody that’s been married for thirteen years surely believes in flying saucers…” The jokes are followed by unsettling, canned laughter. He also tells us that flying saucers could not be of Russian origin because “she” would have already done us great harm if that were the case. Conversely, the UFOs could not be from the U.S. of A because “we would have saved some of our soldier boys’ lives in Vietnam.”

The second track is an interview with Sgt. Neil Schneider, a Michigan (Washtenaw County) sheriff’s deputy who, along with several others, reported sighting a UFO in March of 1966. The case is now famous in the UFO literature, with J. Allen Hynek attributing the sightings to “swamp gas,” a conclusion that Rev. Spriggs mocks on the first track. Hynek, of course, would later repent his words and become the “father” of scientific UFO research, writing the seminal The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry (1972).

The third track is a standard hell and brimstone sermon about setting your soul right with the Lord before the Second Coming.

The Christian embrace of flying saucers and ancient astronauts appears odd on the surface, but it makes perfect sense. At the time, more than half of Americans believed UFOs were real. Fitting the anomalous craft fit into the divine framework of the Bible was an excellent way to fish more souls out of the secular sea. As Barry Downing explained in The Telegraph almost twenty years later:

It would establish scientific plausibility for the whole biblical field… It would reinforce faith and make it possible in a scientific context.

You can listen to the record in its entirety courtesy of WFMU, where I got the images above.