Ancient teachers?

Graham Hancock. Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind. Century, 2005. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson

Do alien abductions have anything to do with the evolution of modern human consciousness? This is one of the questions raised by this sometimes fascinating book. Hancock starts off with an impassion defence of the theories of David Lewis-Williams that prehistoric art was produced during trance-like states, and that the images therein depicted were those ’seen’ in these states. Hancock then compares these images with hallucinations he himself has encounted under the influence of mind-altering substances such as ayahuasca. These images include the geometrical eptopic imagery, along with images of snakes, jaguars and human-animal hybrids, as well as things that look for all the world like Grays.

It is perhaps this which leads him to search through the literature of alien abductions, where, surprise, surprise, he finds parallels. He then discovers Jacques Vallée’s Passport to Magonia and then enters the worlds of fairyland where he encounters the same imagery. Of course long time Magonia readers will have encountered all of this many years before.

Hancock cannot envisage how it is that people all over the world tend to have them same sort of hallucinations, and is clearly taken with the idea that these mind altering techniques give access to some kid of independent ‘other world’. However he remains completely confused as to what this other world might be, and his ideas soon become self contradictory. At times he sees this as a quasi-physical place whose inhabitants can interbreed with humans, in another as a realm of disembodied intelligences, which manifest in certain culturally specific forms. Of course the latter speculation gets him no further forward, all he does is replace the difficult to answer question as to why human hallucinations such take certain stereotypical forms, with the impossible to answer question as to why ‘disembodied intelligences’ should manifest in certain stereotypical ways.

Despite his often irritating ranting about ‘western materialism’ Hancock is himself clearly trapped very much in the ‘cult of the fact’ and tends to take everything at face value. Thus shamans talk of ‘marrying’ their spirit guides and ‘having children with them’. This is clearly a metaphor which seeks to use everyday human concepts to express notions of profound intimacy, but Hancock uses this along with tales of changelings and alien abduction breeding to build up the idea of an evolving programme of interbreeding. Of course, exactly how humans could ‘interbreed’ in a literal sense with ’spirits’ is not gone into.

So we have the changelings being transformed into hybrids, and Hancock argues that as humans are no longer taken for many years and babies aren’t disappeared for good, and hybrids aren’t found in your average council estate then obviously the breeding programme is developing. Of course this is nonsense. Ideas of babies being taken and of changelings arose in societies where there was a problem of unwanted surplus children, with no adequate means of contraception or abortion. In these circumstances children may be simply abandoned in the hopes someone else will find them and care for them, in which case the idea that they were ‘taken’ by the ‘others’ to be loved and cherished by them would have been very comforting.

Alternatively, consciously or otherwise, children would simply have been denied basic physical and psychological care. That these fretful undernourished unloved babies are not really ‘my loved and wanted child’ but something ‘alien’ foistered on you from outside makes perfect psychological sense. Equally ideas of adults being taken and perhaps returning after many years or never ever really get back to the way it was, cover a range of problems such as mental illness, family breakdown or emigration in search of work, as well as at times containing subtler messages.

Perhaps realising that these ideas are rather incoherent, Hancock tries another tack. Perhaps there are messages encoded in DNA by aliens who are out to teach us something. Life evolved too fast for it to be natural, maybe aliens seeded Earth. Problem with that sort of argument is that it leads to endless regress, if aliens seeded the earth then who seeded the alien’s world, another lot of aliens?, in which case who seeded their world. If life arose naturally somewhere in the first place, why not here on earth.

Behind much of Hancock’s writing is a profound distrust of human culture and of independent human imagination. Maybe the cave paintings, or some of them, were produced in altered states of consciousness, but this not certain. After all what might future archaeologists make of the work of Picasso or Dali.

He underplays the role of culture in producing the contents of hallucinations (is it surprising that someone taking a plant they know comes from South America with an evocative name might experiences images of ’snakes’ and ‘jaguars’, or that taking a scientifically refined version of DMT might produced computer age imagery of being fed information by electronic intelligences?

Shamanism, fairy-lore and modern abduction lore are cultural products, The latter is of course a collaborative project whose script is essentially written by the abduction finders. Modern abductees, like ancient initiates, are part of a cultural tradition in which they are taught what to expect in altered states (in the case of abductees these are hypnotic states in which they are given guidance by therapists and abduction finders).

Their may be ‘ancient wisdom’ in these traditions, but translating them into literalist, pseudo scientistic concepts is hardly likely to allow access to it.

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