Masks of Lucifer

David Morris. The Masks of Lucifer; Technology and the Occult in Twentieth Century Popular Literature. Batsford, 1992. 

Morris takes as his thesis that there exists a hidden underclass of popular literature which has not received adequate academic attention. This is the realm of 'suppositional' literature which is neither properly fact nor fiction. It is the realm to which the term 'speculative' literature has been applied, as well as the more judgemental description 'pseudoscience' Morris argues that this genre of contemporary literature contains many themes derived from nineteenth century theosophy. One of these is the Luciferian theme: that the biblical Lucifer was the 'good' god, bringing Promethean knowledge to a humanity held in thrall by the god of the Old Testament, who is seen as an evil demiurge.

In much of this contemporary literature these occult themes merge with a worship of technology to produce a hybrid techno-occultism. To illustrate this thesis he chooses as examples the works of Velikovsky, flying saucer literature, von Daniken and other ancient astronaut enthusiasts, and Pauwels and Bergier's Dawn of Magic. He argues that Velikovsky and early flying saucer writers such as Donald Keyhoe drew their imagery from Cold War fears. Velikovsky's comet which heralded universal disaster was a potent metaphor for the threat of nuclear destruction; while for Keyhoe the (Martian) ETs were scarcely distinguishable from the Russians.

Morris points out that the imagery of these early days of ufology was very militaristic in tone. Keyhoe, for example, concentrated on 'official' sightings: those by military or civilian pilots, control staff, radar technicians, etc. while the 'ordinary folks' featured just as bit-part actors and extras in crowd scenes of the "thousands of citizens of Indianapolis besieged the phone lines" variety of mass sightings.

One of Morris's most interesting discoveries is that Arnold's image of the original 'flying saucers' - "a tail-less craft with a dome midway between the wingtips" closely resembles the descriptions of an alleged German super-plane, the Gotha G0329 "a swept back all-wing design for high speed flight" which featured in a 1947 (probably April) issue of The Aeroplane Spotter produced by the Royal Observer Corps. Indeed Morris is reminding us here of the real origins of ufology; as an exotic- offshoot of aircraft spotting, which had been promoted by civil defence agencies to train civilians to watch out for "the enemies in the skies".

Morris sees Leslie and Adamski's Flying Saucers Have Landed as introducing techno-occultism into ufology, though in fact this synthesis had been undertaken some years earlier by Meade Layne and his associates.. Even this, though, was not a new synthesis by neophytes, but a fairly conscious decision by those already involved in theosophy and related occult movements, to appropriate flying saucer and similar technological imagery into their theologies. Many of the original contactees were supporters of the 'American Nationalist' occult tradition articulated by Guy Ballard and William Dudley Pelley, who were desperately trying to restore their credibility after their leaders' pre-war dalliance with Nazism.

Morris sees the revolt against the ETH and the return to traditional romantic occultism as defence mechanisms against the encroachment of science on ufology. Here he comes rather unstuck as it is much more likely that the downgrading of the techno- in techno-occultism was part of the general cultural backlash against science in the late 60s and early 70s (see for instance, John Rimmer's ‘The UFO as an Anti-Scientific Symbol’ in Merseyside UFO Bulletin, Vol. 2, No. 4, July 1969 for one of the earliest analyses of this trend). Furthermore the writings of authors like John Keel were better able to articulate the diffuse fears of the interregnum in the Cold War, and it was not surprising the early 50's imagery returned with the Second Cold War in 1979.

Technology was however alive and well in the ancient astronaut traditions. Indeed it was by playing up the technology that Daniken gained a clear lead over his rivals. Though Morris points out the strong occult themes in Daniken, these were part of the pre-existent ancient astronaut tradition back to Desmond Leslie and Raymond Drake. These occult themes are much reduced in Daniken, who could thus be appreciated by almost everyone, unlike Brinsley le Poer Trench, who confronts the reader with a dense, almost incomprehensible jungle of theological exegesis.

It is not just occultists who have used the technique of techno-exegesis of myth and sacred texts. There is the techno-Marianism of Paul Thomas (Misraki), or the techno-Protestantism of Barry Downing, of both of whom Morris seems unaware. There are clear parallels between this techno-exegesis, the Bible-based catastrophism of Velikovsky, and the creation-science of the mid-eighties. They all saw religious texts less as a source of spiritual insight than as scientific and historical textbooks. Because only 'facts' have value to these writers, the ancient texts can only retain their sanctity if they are sources of 'facts'. This folklore also provides a technological gloss on the standard religious image of humanity as helpless without divine grace; and gnostic themes of humanity being sparks of non-terrestrial spirit trapped in earthly matter.

The Dawn of Magic expresses to perfection, in Morris's view, the Luciferian and Promethean aspects of techno-occultist literature, with its elitist and anti-feminist sentiments. He does not however mention Pauwels involvement with the radical Right in France through the notorious GRECE organisation, which may go some way to explaining the rather ambiguous attitude to Nazism in The Dawn of Magic.

While Morris provides many interesting insights, the book is limited by a rather dated Sociology Department Marxism, and by, I suspect, Morris's relatively shallow acquaintance with the field, achieved mainly by a generous trawl of paperbacks. Thus he seems to think that Whitley Strieber's Communion marked a radical departure, rather than a particularly literate reworking of themes that had been around ufology for a generation. Indeed, one could argue that many of the themes of abductionism - humans as property, creation of hybrids, etc. - derive from ancient astronaut ideas Despite this caveat I recommend this book -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 44, October 1992

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