Erich von Däniken Essay - Critical Essays

von Däniken, Erich


Erich von Däniken 1935–

(Also transliterated as Daeniken) Swiss nonfiction writer.

Von Däniken is known for his controversial Erinnerungen an die Zukunft (1968; Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past) and its companion volumes in which he concludes that extraterrestrial beings visited Earth in ancient times. Von Däniken speculates that these beings were worshipped as gods and that they may have advanced the evolution of human beings by mating with them. Although von Däniken's unconventional theories are dismissed by religious and scientific authorities, his work has attracted wide interest among the general public and was the basis for several television documentaries.

As a student in a Catholic boys' school in Switzerland, von Däniken began to doubt his religious teachings. While reading the Old Testament, he found references which suggested a multitude of gods rather than one. In his studies of other religions and cultures, he also found evidence of multiple deities. Von Däniken's worldwide travels to ancient ruins and to such archaeological enigmas as the stone monoliths on Easter Island helped confirm his hypothesis that visitors from outer space may have been the gods of past civilizations.

In reviews of Chariots of the Gods? and his other writings, critics have contended that von Däniken's research methods are unscientific and that his theories are based on misleading documentation. His technique of presenting evidence by asking rhetorical questions has been called deceptive and his premise racist. His work has been described as fantasy and as "science fiction in reverse." However, von Däniken comments that scientists "are doing yesterday's thinking. I try to see with tomorrow's eyes."

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 37-40, rev. ed.)


[The following excerpt was originally published in German as an introduction to Erinnerungen an die Zukunft in 1968.]

It took courage to write [Chariots of the Gods?] and it will take courage to read it. Because its theories and proofs do not fit into the mosaic of traditional archaeology, constructed so laboriously and firmly cemented down, scholars will call it nonsense and put it on the Index of those books which are better left unmentioned. Laymen will withdraw into the snail shell of their familiar world when faced with the probability that finding out about our past will be even more mysterious and adventurous than finding out about the future.

Nevertheless, one thing is certain. There is something inconsistent about our past, that past which lies thousands and millions of years behind us. The past teemed with unknown gods who visited the primeval earth in manned spaceships. Incredible technical achievements existed in the past. (p. vii)

But how did these early men acquire the ability to create them?

There is something inconsistent about our religion. A feature common to every religion is that it promises help and salvation to mankind. The primitive gods gave such promises, too. Why didn't they keep them? Why did they use ultra-modern weapons on primitive peoples? And why did they plan to destroy them?

Let us get used to the idea that the world of ideas...

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Wilhelm Roggersdorf

[The following excerpt was originally published as an introduction to the German edition of von Däniken's Gods from Outer Space in 1968.]

Erich von Däniken is not a scholar. He is an autodidact, which the dictionary defines as a man who is self-taught. Probably this helps explain the success his first book [Chariots of the Gods?] met with all over the world. Completely free from all prejudices, he had to demonstrate personally that his theses and theories were not unfounded and hundreds of thousands of readers were able to follow him along the adventurous road he took—a road that led into regions that were surrounded and protected by taboos.

Besides, his fearless questioning of all the previous explanations of the origin of the human race seems to have been long overdue. Erich von Däniken was not the first man who dared to challenge them, but his questions were more impartial, more direct and more audacious. In addition, he was able to say exactly what he wanted to say, unlike a professor, for example, who would have felt bound to take the opinions of his colleagues or the representatives of similar academic disciplines into consideration. What is more, he came up with some startling answers.

Men who bluntly ask bold questions that cast doubt on time-honored, accepted explanations have always been a nuisance and people have never been overfussy about how they silenced them. In the past their books were banished to secret libraries or put on the index; today people try to hush them up or make them look ridiculous. Yet none of these methods has ever succeeded in disposing of questions which concern the reason for our very existence. (pp. vii-viii)

Wilhelm Roggersdorf, "About Erich von Däniken," in Gods from Outer Space: Return to the Stars or Evidence for the Impossible by Erich von Däniken, translated by Michael Heron, Bantam Books, 1972, pp. vii-viii.

Sr. M. Marguerite, Rsm

[Chariots of the Gods?] raises a bewildering amount of questions—most of them unanswered. It challenges future research in the light of the far-distant past. It widens the imagination as to the number of planets that possibly support life, possibly not under conditions laid down by scientists for supporting life on this earth; but who knows if there are other conditions and other kinds of life?…

According to von Däniken's thesis and/or theory there were long ago godlike men who descended, jet propelled, to the planet earth. The illustrations of them in the thousands-of-years-old rock formations, whether in South America, Alaska, Easter Island, Africa or Asia all show headgear that on first inspection seems awkward, but in later years can be likened to the headgear of the astronauts; and what was at first supposed to be horns are really antennae.

These being—gods, if the primitive natives on earth thought them so—taught the inhabitants such facts as are recorded in the inscriptions at Palenque, Mexico, or in Assyria, or in Honduras—or wherever—impregnated some of their women, and returned to their own habitat. The convincing fact to the author is that the pictures and inscriptions, though so far apart geographically, are all similar in content and theme. His hypothesis is that there were cartographers who were able to fly far above the earth and make maps similar now to maps so made. (p. 421)...

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Jack W. Weigel

[In Chariots of the Gods? Von Däniken] pursues two lines of argument: first, many reputable scientists believe there are probably a number of different sites in the universe where intelligent life has arisen; second, shreds of quotations from ancient texts and modern archaeology prove human development took a sudden leap forward several millennia before Christ. He shrugs off the more mundane interpretations of the data which are favored by archaeologists as being obviouly ridiculous. His "proofs" are essentially circular; he cites many remarkable achievements of ancient civilization, but insists they only serve to confirm his theory, since they couldn't possibly have been accomplished by mere ancient humans…. Unless a … furor should arise over Von Däniken's book, there is little reason for any library to invest in it.

Jack W. Weigel, in a review of "Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past," in Library Journal, Vol. 95, No. 3, February 1, 1970, pp. 492-93.

Poul Anderson

Here we go again.

It would be interesting and perhaps important to know why men have such a perennial fascination with the idea of wildly spectacular events and civilizations in the distant past….

The pattern is always the same: an omnium-gatherum of what myths, legends and historical records will fit the author's thesis, they being trimmed to fit if necessary while those that can't be so treated are ignored; a snowstorm of data either irrelevant or erroneous; page after page of rhetoric; and a repeated reminder that the dogmatic Establishment also persecuted Galileo. The trouble with refuting any of these books is not that it's hard—rather, it's unsportingly easy—but that to go down the line, point by point, takes more time and print than is worth anybody's while….

In justice, I should say that [von Däniken] seems quite sincere, and concerned with raising questions rather than erecting new orthodoxies…. His glorious culture of the past was not terrestrial at all; it belonged to visitors from space who, guiding and interbreeding with primitive man, gave rise to the religions, technologies and societies of early historical times.

Now it is orthodox these days to believe that probably many inhabited planets exist in the universe. The feasibility of interstellar travel is debatable, but equally good men are ranged on both sides of the argument. As reputable a scientist as Carl Sagan has wondered whether the nonhuman benefactors of man in Sumerian chronicles may actually have been visitors from another star. The point is that Sagan admits this is sheer speculation with no strong evidence to back it, while von Däniken claims he can demonstrate that something of the kind did in fact...

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Publishers Weekly

As in his "Chariots of the Gods" …, Däniken once more strains scientific credulity [in "Gods From Outer Space"], but intrigues and fascinates with his bold theories and speculations about mysterious "visitors" from outer space in ancient and prehistoric times…. His interpretations of the old myths and writings are less provocative and exciting than certain of the tangible evidences he discusses, such as possible ancient "airports" in Peru and Chile and artifacts found around the world which science has never explained. Däniken may be a "Sunday archaeologist" but such open-ended possibilities as he proposes make for absorbing reading and appeal to the eternally curious amateur in each of us.


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Raymond L. Hough

[Gods from Outer Space] reads like a transcript of dictation; the author leaps suddenly from one topic to another. This fault is somewhat redeemed by the content—much of his archaeological evidence is unknown outside professional circles. Von Däniken gives us his answers to questions for which there will probably never be enough evidence to find the truth. His book may be interesting reading for some, but one must have faith to believe.

Raymond L. Hough, in a review of "Gods from Outer Space: Return to the Stars or Evidence for the Impossible," in Library Journal, Vol. 96, No. 14, August, 1971, p. 2503.

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S. K. Oberbeck

OK, Bible scholars, fasten your seat belts and hear this: Moses used a laser gun on the Israelites' enemies. The Ark of the Covenant was really a two-way radio transmitter by which Moses kept contact with what came to be called "God." Those "wheels within wheels" Ezekiel spied in the heavens were a spacecraft, or space station, from which superior interstellar visitors looked down on the crude ways of men. Thus, the avenging "angels" who rained fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah were actually spacemen who zapped the wicked cities with atomic holocaust.

Readers inclined to take this gospel with a grain of salt as large as Lot's wife will fly in the face of some 14 million other readers who have...

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Robert Molyneux

The irrepressible von Däniken is back with more evidence of ancient astronauts. He's a curious writer: others have treated the subject better and more intelligently, many before him; his books aren't even particularly well written. But von Däniken does have a disarming ability to ask penetrating questions, and most of the current popular interest in this area can be traced to him. [The Gold of the Gods] is in many ways his weakest, though he does present some information which may prove (or disprove) what he has been saying all along. He discusses a huge South American tunnel system which he claims was used by the "gods" when they first arrived here—von Däniken even tells us how to find the tunnels. There...

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Ted Peters

How has von Däniken managed to get such a grip on the curiosity of Europeans and Americans? I submit that his views are received so avidly because they appear to wed scientific method with religious doctrine. A decade ago, as Theodore Roszak and others have pointed out, our young people repudiated the West's scientific mind-set. But today's college students have turned away from the counterculture of the '60s and, like the older generation, profess to value science. At the same time, both groups are in quest of new religious foundations. Unfortunately, most of these people are not sophisticated enough in either science or religion to be able to discriminate between good and bad science and between true and false...

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Robert Molyneux

Von Däniken can be readily criticized on several counts, but he is at least entertaining. Here [in "In Search of Ancient Gods"] he returns with more nagging questions and sometimes outlandish statements, all delivered in a machine-gun pace which can leave his readers and critics breathless and outdistanced. His latest rehashes much of what he has already written….

Robert Molyneux, in a review of "In Search of Ancient Gods: My Pictorial Evidence for the Impossible," in Library Journal, Vol. 99, No. 19, November 1, 1974, p. 2858.

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[In Search of Ancient Gods] is another rehash of [von Däniken's] theme with plenty of pictures. The photographs do present genuine archaeological mysteries, but what this amateur makes of them is incredible. Unfettered by the logical constraints imposed upon a scientific theory, von Däniken freely mixes non-sequiturs and circular arguments in a transparent appeal for sympathy, asking the lay reader to have faith in one whom the scientists scorn. The rambling, choppily written text is a string of sentences with no chapters, table of contents, or index. The bibliography is a pretentious token of scholarship. Perhaps as romance this stuff is good escape literature, but once is enough.


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John J. Begley, S.J.

I cannot take [Miracles of the Gods] seriously. I say this not because of the author's thesis concerning the origin of what constitutes a peripheral concern to both theologians and believers alike, visions and miracles; but because the author treats with contempt much that believers take very seriously: the Church, the New Testament, and theology. The Church is condemned for its arrogance and dictatorial behavior in withholding its approval from all reported visions and miracles. The New Testament is rejected for its alleged inconsistencies, misrepresentations, and basic untruthfulness. Theologians and pastors are castigated for their duplicity in withholding from the faithful the truth about the New Testament...

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The Booklist

Certain adherents of the Christian religion and readers who demand that a book develop a single, consistent thesis will be turned off by von Däniken's sprawling effort [Miracles of the Gods]. His declared subject is "visions," yet in building a case for the autogenesis of healing miracles and visions, von Däniken dismisses much that he observed at Lourdes as manipulative hoax, then reverses himself to say that visions emanate either from the conscious residual energies of the dead or from extraterrestrial beings. No doubt the popularity of his Chariots of the Gods? will generate sufficient interest in this production. (pp. 1219-20)

A review of "Miracles of the...

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Kenneth L. Feder

It is about as difficult for an archaeologist in 1979 to avoid the theories of Erich von Däniken as it was for a sixteenth-century European peasant to avoid the Black Plague. This analogy can certainly be extended to the dread experienced when faced with these representative phenomena. (p. 20)

[Chariots of the Gods?] was impossible to read in one sitting. It was easy reading in that the average syllable content per word approached unity. However, because so much of the information was erroneous in terms of misleading statements and out-of-context references, characterized by verbal sleight-of-hand or out-and-out untruths, a lot of time was wasted in teeth gnashing and walking around the room...

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[Signs of the Gods] gives us a number of novel theories—the Ark of the Covenant was, obviously, a portable nuclear reactor (you will be immediately won over to this view by a photograph of a model and a drawing of a photograph of the same model); ancient religious sites can be joined up to form a pattern of pentagons (a map with all the sites unnamed and the majority at the bottom of the sea bears out this theory). Von Däniken is good at coming up with bold and imaginative theories but sloppy over his evidence; he doesn't argue his case—just shoves in a few screamers and an inadequate diagram and moves on to the next theory. With a bit more work and a bit less hysteria he could have produced a book that at...

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Julia M. Ehresmann

With as much speciosity as ever, the original popularizer of the theory of prehistoric extraterrestrial visitors brings forward [in Signs of the Gods?] more "unexplained" phenomena to repeat his "gods-astronaut" proposal…. Along with typographical errors, there are quotes from encyclopedias, names of esteemed professors, and plenty of von Däniken's exclamation-pointed epigrams.

Julia M. Ehresmann, in a review of "Signs of the Gods?" in Booklist, Vol. 77, No. 7, December 1, 1980, p. 488.

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Stephanie Zvirin

Von Däniken's continuing search for traces of ancient astronauts takes him to the South Pacific's Kiribati Islands, where he examines giant footprints and monoliths as still further evidence of intergalactic visitations…. Whether considered as a piece of radical reinterpretation of world history or as a bit of unconvincing comparative hucksterism, von Däniken's [Pathways to the Gods] still reads like a daring and exotic adventure story.

Stephanie Zvirin, in a review of "Pathways to the Gods: The Stones of Kiribati," in Booklist, Vol. 79, No. 6, November 15, 1982, p. 410.

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Jo-Ann D. Suleiman

[Von Däniken's usual arguments are presented in Pathways to the Gods], but valuable space and reader attention is taken up by a polemic against detractors and by name dropping. These qualities, and the sloppy organization of the book, detract from the precision and objectivity required of such an argument.

Jo-Ann D. Suleiman, in a review of "Pathways to the Gods: The Stones of Kiribati," in Library Journal, Vol. 108, No. 2, January 15, 1983, pp. 128-29.

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