I wrote a piece for the Open University Religious Studies blog on the 70th anniversary of the first Flying Saucer sighting, and the relevance for thinking about religions. You can read it here.

The historian rarely gets to see a narrative of this type as it develops. Compared to the origin stories of Christianity or Islam or almost any other religion, the UFO narrative is well documented and its development can be charted quite clearly. Yet there may be illuminating parallels: 70 years after Jesus’ death, Matthew and Luke were just written, new elaborations on claims of inexplicable sightings, now a generation removed from eyewitnesses.

Advertisements

7 Questions for Sacred Matters

I was interviewed last year for Sacred Matters, a really interesting web magazine focussed on “public scholarship that undercuts conventional understandings of religion and reimagines the boundaries between religion and culture”. You can read the full thing here.

Most scholarship on conspiracy theories starts by attacking the rationality of their ideas. But to state that Jesus rose from the grave is obviously to challenge scientific knowledge too. Where are the scholars attacking the rationality of an idea that the majority of US citizens hold dear? In fact, much – if not most – of what we do as supposedly “secular” humans is not driven by the scientific method at all – including nationalism, political views, sport, even falling in love. As social scientists, our job is to describe, not prescribe, human social activity.

Conspiracy theories are a site of contestation as to how we understand the world. A conspiracy theory is not “a theory about a conspiracy” – I give lots of examples in the book – but rather something we are not permitted to think. That so many conspiracy theories relate to people in positions of power should make this even plainer. The important issue in conspiracy theories is not what is said, but whether we are allowed to say it. That scholars so often reinforce this good thinking/bad thinking dichotomy makes it clear that a properly critical and disinterested study of conspiracy theories is sorely needed.

 

 

The Week in Conspiracy, 30 August 2016

A review of Holy Hell, a documentary by Will Allen about his years in the Buddhafield, a Californian group led by hypnotherapist Michel. It seems like the tone is relatively even-handed, which means that this will be of interest to scholars like me, as well as the use of archival footage. I say “relatively even-handed” however as I have yet to see it, and there is certainly a slightly sensationalist tone to the trailer. Ideas of sexual misconduct are, of course, the standard accusation in the construction of malevolent Otherness, and has been since the Classical world, and financial misconduct is another. Nevertheless, they do happen, and there have been a number of recent documentaries (“Going Clear”, “The Family”) which trade on the “corrupt leader and his brainwashed stooges” model, which is worrying. As religious identities become more polarised, are we seeing a return to the media universally constructing new religions as dangerous cults?

Richard Bartholomew has an interesting piece of the growing presence of the more outlandish conspiracy theories in American evangelism, entitled “Jim Bakker and the David Ickeization of Christianity”:

Pentecostalism has a strong sense of the other-worldly, and its emphasis on spiritual forces sometimes means a readiness to accept claims about “occult” and Satanic conspiracies. Sometimes, pop-culture science-fiction elements may be incorporated, such as the idea that UFOs are visions of demons. However, the extravagance of the conspiracy theories now being promoted by Bakker are closer to the realms of David Icke’s imaginings than the exhortations of old-time religion or even the old conspiracy theories that were dusted off and made less overtly anti-semitic by Bakker’s old employer Pat Robertson in 1991.

James Carrion has new evidence suggesting a larger role in the UFO story for the Joint Security Control, a strategic deception unit formed during WW2 and answerable directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A revised charter allowing them to operate in peacetime, as well as wartime, come into operation in May 1947, immediately preceding the original wave of “flying saucer” sightings. A long, very detailed, but fascinating read for anyone interested in the historical development of the UFO narrative, and its origins. At http://historydeceived.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/human-deception-at-playduring-ufo-wave.html

The Week in Conspiracy Theories – 31/8/2015

Via Music for Deep Meditation.

A new Australian documentary is being released which has the awesome title, Australien Skies. One of its main focuses seems to be the classic Men in Black narrative, along with its updated 1990s variant, Black Helicopters. So conspiracy and UFOs clearly still linked in the popular imagination. Some might make a connection between recent immigration policy and a fear of attack by aliens, but not me. Trailer below. (Thanks to David Pecotic).

David Clarke posted an extract from his recent book, How UFOs Conquered the World, describing a mid 1960s flap in Wiltshire, known as the “Warfield Thing”. I won’t steal any of Dr Clarke’s vivid account here, but I will link to this 1966 BBC documentary on the subject, entitled Pie in the Sky.

Harvey Proctor is the latest MP to be drawn into the Operation Yewtree paedophile scandal. His response to the accusations against him by an anonymous source (for which he has not been charged, but his name has been apparently given to the press by the police) should give pause to how the police and the UK press are handling such accusations. You can read his full statement here. He concludes:

In summary, the paranoid Police have pursued an homosexual witch hunt on this issue egged on by a motley crew of certain sections of the media and press and a number of Labour Members of Parliament and a ragbag of internet fantasists… Anonymity is given to anyone prepared to make untruthful accusations of child sexual abuse whilst the alleged accused are routinely fingered publicly without any credible evidence first being found. This is not justice. It is an abuse of power and authority.

Annunaki Plan / Human Plan?

Displaying photo.JPGI discovered this little gem at the central library in Edinburgh. “The Annunaki Plan? or The Human Plan?” was self-published by Chris Thomas in 2010, who appears to be based in Wales. He has produced a number of other books, before and afterwards, on alternative histories, “earth mysteries” and healing, and most interestingly for me, books which link ancient alien narratives and millennialism. As much of my work demonstrates, this synchretism (or I prefer discursive transfer) frequently involves the mobilisation of conspiracy narratives, and so I want to present this little volume as an example of the field of millennial conspiracism, showing that it encapsulates many of the features of this field.

It begins “most people are aware that something is changing, this change occurring on every possible level of our existence” (6). But we are extolled that we must choose what the outcome of this change is to be – for good or for ill. This exemplifies a millennial-apocalyptic tension which is typical of the field. David Icke and Alex Jones also frequently demonstrate this kind of tension, where the global awakening is seemingly caused by the consspirators’ plan reaching its ”endgame’. Typically, we are being deliberately misled by at-this-point-unspecified conspirators into making a choice leading to destruction. In fact, the author alleges they have made attempts against his life (7). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the terminal point for this decision to be made is (was) the 21st of December, 2012.

The book then goes on to recount an account of human history, “as recorded in the Akashic” records (9), which Thomas claims debunks the Annunaki narrative of Zecharia Sitchin et al. In Sitchin’s account, aliens from Niburu – a hitherto unknown planet orbiting our sun on a 10,000 year elliptical orbit – descended to Earth in prehistory to mine gold, subjugating humanity in the process. The Annunaki became revered as gods, becoming present-day elites as they hid their bloodlines in royal dynasties and secret societies. Thomas calls this account a “fantasy” (17), and describes a more neoplatonic, Theosophical account of the creation of the cosmos, Atlantis, the Pyramids, etc, and a Velikovsy-inspired account of a prehistoric catastrophe in the solar system (31-50).

Instead, the Akashic tells him that the Annunaki originate on a planet “23 galaxies away from ours” (24). The Annunaki, along with the Hathor, are groups within a race of energetic beings called the Velon, who headed for Earth only 300 years ago – because it is “God’s chosen planet” (26). The Hathor began to contact humans through channelling, whereas the Annunaki began monitoring us through implants, and to create bodies with a human appearance. From this data, they began to promote the story a la Sitchin, designed to appeal to human religious impulses. Sitchin was innocent of the deception, Thomas notes, as the Annunaki had travelled back in time to plant fabricated cuneiform tablets (27-8). They established the Illuminati, the Freemasons and the reformed Knights Templar, all of whom worked covertly together to establish the socialist New World Order (30). The EU, the Bilderberg Group, all scientists and academics (especially those supporting climate change), Al Qaeda, HAARP, the Theosophical Society and practically every element of the conspiracy theory milieu are in the pay of the Annunaki (54-66).

However, Thomas claims a second plan was put into place by the enlightened humans of 7000 years ago, in which it was agreed that our souls would be repeatedly reincarnated until we learned to live properly, at which point our souls and physical bodies will reintegrate, we would be free of disease and enlightened. However, a time limit was set… 2012 (52). He claims that some 4.5 million humans in isolated communities have already achieved this aim since 2003, but that time is running out for the rest of us, and the Annunaki plan is there to distract us from the urgency. Thomas sets out his advice to achieve soul reintegration: working through our emotional blockages to clear our chakras.

So, in 90-odd pages we have a sweeping history of the cosmos, and human life, at odds with both scientific and religious consensus; ancient aliens, linking this alternative archaeological narrative to UFOs; an Annunaki Plan which links these further to the New World Order and Illuminati; a date-specific teleological narrative, combining millennial and apocalyptic components; and a dualistic Gnostic narrative of salvation through special knowledge. Quite an inventive and unique bricolage. His most unique contribution is to make the Annunaki Plan a la Sitchin a part of the deception. Yet in another way, quite typical, inasmuch as these various structural elements seem always to appear in some form or another. For every David Icke or Jim Marrs, there will be scores of small-press or internet entrepreneurs like Thomas, not to mention their hundreds of thousands of subscribers, each with a slightly different take on the material, and their own favoured theory. It is sometimes said of loosely-structured milieux such as millennial conspiracism or New Age that, as they lack a central organisation and a formal creedo, they become an “anything goes” smorgasbord – or perhaps more accurately, given the frequent disparaging comments about their economies, a supermarket deli counter. Yet it isn’t the case, as Thomas’ book shows. We might not know how everything goes together exactly, but we can be reasonably sure what elements to expect, and which would never make an appearance, so there is a commonality there. Thomas is like a jazz musician who is improvising a familiar tune but trying to twist the melody into a unique shape. It’s just that he never made it out of the club circuit.

SyFy Picks Up Whitley Strieber’s Alien Hunter Series

It was interesting to see this posted on Bleeding Cool, probably the most influential comics and related media news outlet on the web. Strieber had a huge public profile in the late 1980s/early 1990s following the publication of Communion, but his public profile nosedived, perhaps because the novelty of the abduction narrative wore off, or the commercial failure of his novels and the Communion movie during the 1990s. Given the success of these kinds of serial television shows nowadays (and this one is produced by an alumnus of the Walking Dead), this could well mean that Strieber’s work moves back into the public consciousness again…

SyFy Picks Up Whitley Strieber Novel Alien Hunter As A Straight To Series Order – Bleeding Cool Comic Book, Movie, TV News.

David Wilcock interviewed by Project Camelot

I’m developing a bit a fascination with David Wilcock. He first came to the attention of the public after claiming (though he says, reluctantly) that he was the reincarnation of American “sleeping prophet”, Edgar Cayce. Since then, he has gone on to stage many speaking events (called “convergences”), and to publish a book, The Source Field Investigations. He has toned down the channelling aspect to emphasise a conspiracist narrative about a battle raging between the financial Illuminati and benevolent extraterrestrials. His website, divinecosmos.com, has become one of the largest sites to merge conspiracy theories with spiritual ideas. Of particular interest is the way in which UFOs once again act as a bridge between New Age and Conspiracist milieux.

Here’s an interview recorded in 2007, by Kerry Cassidy of Project Camelot. The moment where he describes being taken into a back room at a UFO convention and told the whole truth is at the beginning of the second hour: