Friday, March 2, 2012

AAT: Are the World’s Religions Cargo Cults? (pt 1)

Cargo Cult
After the Second World War, Western anthropologists began investigating a strange religion that had developed on numerous archipelagos in the South Pacific. Island populations that had come in contact with technologically advanced cultures (sea-faring Europeans), had developed elaborate religious ritual intended to magically procure the power and wealth of these intruding cultures. This power and wealth was evidenced by the cargo that emerged from the holds of the European ships anchored off-shore.

These island religions became known to western anthropologists as Cargo Cults. The cargo cults held the belief that if the proper rituals were performed, if the proper rites were observed, shipments of wealth would be delivered to them… from the west… the land of the dead.

The islanders believed that the Cargo in the holds of the European ships was rightfully theirs and had been sent by their ancestors. Such beliefs were consistent with the islander’s folklore and mythologies.

“First Contact” with Westerners began in the 1800’s. From the perspective of the islanders, arriving trading ships seemed to verify ancient tribal legends. These legends spoke of distant ancestor-gods who had journeyed to the west. Island prophecy held that they would someday return. The West was thought to be the land of the dead... the land of their ancestors. When the trading ships first sailed into the South Pacific, they came from the west… and they were pale skinned… just as the islanders would expect of emissaries coming from the land of the dead. The pre-existing indigenous tradition of the inter-tribal exchange of objects of wealth was integral to the evolving belief that the ancestors and deities were responsible for the arrival of cargo ships.

The wide-spread popularity of the cargo cults peaked after World War II when the military presence of Japan and the United States faded. By this time, airplanes replaced ships as the vehicles of cargo delivery. Island populations, who had experienced the massive influx of the advanced cultures and their associated cargo, sought ritualistic means to re-establish the flow of cargo that disappeared with military withdrawal. The Cargo Cult practitioners built replicas of airplanes and landing strips, even radio equipment… imitating sounds associated with airplanes… in their attempt to re-activate the shipment of cargo.

The cargo cult phenomenon, as a religious practice, has appeared in many traditional pre-industrial tribal societies in the wake of interaction with technologically advanced cultures. Although not as well documented, similar behaviors have appeared elsewhere in the world… elsewhere in the distant past.

Earth’s history of empirical expansion tells us that when one culture is significantly more technologically advanced than the other, the more advanced culture will be favored by the inevitable disruptive nature of first contact, often with dire consequences for the less technologically advanced society. And so it goes…

Ancient Astronaut Theory
Just as with the archipelagos of the South Pacific, speculative alt-history theorists such as Erich von Däniken have proposed that highly advanced extraterrestrial beings have visited Earth in its antiquity and made “first contact” with our distant ancestors. Such visitors have been popularly labeled ancient astronauts. Proponents suggest that this contact influenced the development of human cultures, technologies and religions. Central to this theory is the assertion that the myriad deities from most (if not all) religions actually were extraterrestrials and that their advanced technologies were interpreted as evidence of their divinity.

According to ancient astronaut theory (AAT), the apparently miraculous achievements of antiquity… such as the construction of the great pyramids in Egypt and Central America, the Moai stone heads of Easter Island and the Nazca lines of Peru… are remnant examples of this ancient intervention. Per this theory, all prehistoric knowledge, religion, and culture either came directly from extraterrestrial visitors, or were developed as a result of the influence of a cultural incubator or “mother culture" of extra-terrestrial origin.

In regard to scientific rigor, ancient astronaut theorists rely primarily on circumstantial evidence of ancient art, craftwork and legend, which they interpret as depicting extraterrestrial technologies and/or contact. Certain curious artifacts of prehistory have been identified as part of the body of evidence in support of AAT… such as the “Saqqara Bird” excavated in the Pa-di-Imen tomb, in Egypt in 1898. This bird-shaped artifact has been carbon-dated to 200 BCE and is speculated to demonstrate that the ancient Egyptians possessed knowledge of advanced aviation principles.

Artifacts from the Americas are also popularly sited by proponents of AAT as having been inspired by extra-terrestrial contact. Multiple Pre Columbian Inca artifacts that were unearthed in excavations in Central and South America look surprisingly similar to modern space shuttles. These tiny gold-carved amulets are estimated to belong to a period between 500 and 800 CE… well over 1000 years old. Traditional archaeologists initially assumed these figurines to be zoomorphic or animal shaped talismans.

These artifacts are compelling in that they spark imaginative speculation as to the purpose or intent of those who created them over a millennium ago. As compelling as these objects are… it is the legends and mythologies of the ancients that provide true insight into their world view. Much of this evidence focuses on descriptions of interaction with “the gods” as told through key passages of early religious texts. Ancient creation myths of gods descending from the heavens… interacting or even interbreeding with early humans, reveals intriguing aspects of how early humans viewed themselves, their world and their place in the grand scheme of the cosmos.

Ancient Mythologies
The 5th Century BCE Sanskrit text, the Ramayana, is one of two great itihāsa, or historic narrative/teaching epics from India and Nepal. Throughout this epic, the gods routinely travel in transport craft called Vimanas. It is not much of an intellectual stretch to compare these “flying cars” or “chariots of the gods” with modern depictions of aircraft, spacecraft or UFOs. Here is a passage from the Ramayana:

“The Pushpaka (flowery vimana) chariot that resembles the Sun and belongs to my brother was brought by the powerful Ravana; that aerial and excellent chariot going everywhere at will… that chariot resembling a bright cloud in the sky... and the King (Rama) got in, and the excellent chariot at the command of the Raghira, rose up into the higher atmosphere.”

Such verbiage, from a modern perspective, certainly seems to describe advanced aircraft, if not spacecraft. What is intriguing however, is the etymology of the word vimana. In addition to meaning a flying chariot, vimana also refers to… (a) God’s flying palace… (b) the palace of the supreme monarch… (c) a pyramid shaped temple. And finally, vimana refers to… the science of correct or proportionate measurement of remedies and medicines. The original Sanskrit: vi-māna literally translates to: traversing or having been measured out. Chariots of the gods… abode of the gods… ancient medicinal metric systems… all could be associated with an extra-ordinary if not divine source or "mother culture."

No discussion of AAT is complete without mentioning the Biblical Old Testament… Book of Ezekiel, chapter 1, in which Ezekiel exclaims:

“And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire.”

Ezekiel goes on to describe four winged humanoids, each with four faces (man, lion, ox and eagle) who emerge from a vehicle (or vehicles) that Ezekiel famously describes as wheels within wheels:

“The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.”

“As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up.”

Particularly interesting is Ezekiel’s description of the “rings of eyes” which, if taken as a literal description, conjures up all sorts of imaginative visuals. The Book of Genesis refers to the ancient hybrid “Nephilim”, or offspring of the "sons of God" and the "daughters of men" …which raises the notion of extra-terrestrials having sex with earth women… imaginative visuals indeed.

The Abrahamic religion’s mythologies are chuck-full of such lusty imagery… lusty and violent. It was Abraham… the legendary founder of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, who made “first contact” with other-worldly voices… voices who commanded him to kill his son, Isaac. As Abraham prepares to do the deed… the voices (God) stops him at the last moment, declaring… “Now I know you fear God.” Kill his son, for Christ’s sake! No wonder the ancient Gnostics thought that the God of the Bible was crazy.

Alien Cargo
There are many more such examples of ancient artifacts, megalithic sites or structures and mythologies that, despite main-stream scientific scrutiny and repudiation, lend themselves quite nicely to circumstantial support of AAT. Taken as a whole, AAT paints an intriguing and somewhat logical narrative concerning the origins of human technology and cosmology. If we hypothetically accept the theory of a global mother culture of extra-terrestrial origin, then all the diverse creation myths around the planet, all the interaction with the gods, take on an eerie commonality. As wildly different as the myths of the various cultures of antiquity are, they could all “fit” within AAT’s global premise.

From this perspective… all of Earth’s ancient cultures… Egyptian, Sumerian, Incan, Mayan, etc… take on the attributes of a cargo cult. All continents on the planet… China, Africa, the Indian sub-continent, the Americas… have myths and artifacts that could have literally come from the holds of an ancient interstellar spacecraft. Mythic objects like the “Ark of the Covenant” suddenly become ancient alien technology… in the hands of the natives. Precious cargo and contact, that inspired “tales of wonder” in the minds of the locals. Over time, tales became legend, legends became myth, myths were collated and categorized into religions.

The trouble is, this theory is too convenient… too simplistic a solution to, not only humanity’s origins, but the very real question of pre-historic extra-terrestrial interaction on Earth. There are other, exotic and creative (both literal and figurative) theories that seek to answer the question of the explosion of intelligence and technology that occurred on Earth 10,000 years ago. Theories such as the concept of “Ultra-Terrestrial” interaction and guidance… microbial interstellar migration and seeding… just to give two examples.

In part two of this series, we shall delve a little deeper into these and other options as they pertain to mankind, as well as planetary evolution. Feel free to make suggestions, offer other examples, alternative theories or otherwise leave comments. Your input, dear reader, is always welcome. Stay tuned…

     Part Two   ~   Part Three

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