Dreams of Transformation

Brad Steiger. Gods of Aquarius. UFOs and the Transformation of Man. W.H.Allen, 1977.

Most of Gods of Aquarius is devoted to interviews and statements from a number of individuals who believe that a 'new age' accompanied by diverse global catastrophes is imminent. Steiger seems to agree with them, seeing UFOs as mythic symbols which will effect a profound change in human consciousness. Both Steiger and many of those he quotes seem to be influenced by the Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin who saw humanity evolving into a collective superconscious at the "end of history". It is fairly certain that UFO beliefs do constitute a living mythology for a significant minority of the American population, but the influence of the various cults cited by Steiger strikes me as being minimal. Far more important in this regard are the much more dramatic and 'simple' beliefs of the Ancient Astronaut cult.

Many of the cults discussed by Steiger are led by women, an indication that even in these liberated times, women who possess a low social status can gain status by becoming the mouthpiece of the divine; a phenomenon which holds true for many tribal spirit cults, the position of women in fringe religious bodies in European history, and the predominance of women mediums.

The resultant cults are millenarian cults of the 'saving remnant' variety. They hold that the present world order is doomed and that the cult members constitute a remnant who alone will be saved. Not surprisingly the members of the 'saving remnant' often seek to abandon their ties with the wider community. Steiger asks "why anyone would abandon family and community to spread the UFO gospel?" Clearly for the same reason that they abandon them to preach the gospel of Bible fundamentalism, Hare Krishna or the Workers' Revolution. Jerome Clark has pointed out that many people, in a society where values are confused are seeking the ultimate freedom - freedom from freedom itself. They seek authoritarian, exclusionist cults which can provide pre-packaged answers to all life's problems.

A great many contactees claim to receive messages from Venus or a "planet like unto Venus". As evening and morning star Venus has often been regarded as the guardian of the boundary between night and day, and so between the conscious and the unconscious. It appears to be from this shadowy region that the contactees get their messages. 

The 'New Age' movement rose in response to growing alienation from American society in the years of the Vietnam war, the failure of attempt at political change on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and the subsequent, disillusionment with existing political systems. The switch of the underground from political to spiritual revolution began at this point. Post-depression, occultism has again switched from opposition to the capitalist system back to traditional "mind-training" systems to allow one to compete more successfully in the capitalist rat race. Steiger hardly touches on these complexities. One would never guess that many of his 'New Age' myths began with the hippies in the mid '60s.

The myth of the New Age has been a dominant force in all historical societies. It is the desire to end man's historical condition, to bring history 'to a close' and to usher in the post-historical epoch, whether it be the Christian New Jerusalem, the Marxist classless society, or the Islamic caliphate. Steiger is incorrect in thinking that current New Age beliefs are in any way special.

Chapters one to four contain some interesting comments on the symbolism of UFOs and religious visions. A list of the characteristics of the latter compiled by Revd. B. W. Palmer show a striking resemblance to UFO visions. Steiger sees the growth of apparitions of the BVM as evidence of the growth of the female archetype of the Great Mother in the collective unconscious.

Many of the experiences of the 'star maidens' in chapter seven seem to suggest something of the alienation certain people feel in our society. Many children believe that their parents are not their 'real' parents. Traditionally the 'real' parents are thought of as kings and queens, for some people now they are space people. It is hardly surprising that adopted children should be prone to such fantasies. Some of the accounts seem to be more in the province of clinical psychiatry than ufology.

The book is illustrated by Hal Crawford's drawings of humanoids, and dubious photographs with doubtful relevance to the text. At one point Steiger writes: "If one can find grains of truth in this murky swirl of metaphysical sand and silt" then benefit might result. This just about sums up the book. Much material of potential interest is presented, but Steiger emerges as far too involved and uncritical a presenter for the task. -- Peter Rogerson, MUFOB New Series 10, Spring 1978


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