Erich von Däniken, born in 1935, is one of the best known Swiss nationals worldwide. Erich von Däniken has sold 63 million copies of his books and fascinated a generation of readers with his suggestion that visitors from outer space landed on the Earth. He is one of the leading proponents of the Paleo-SETI hypothesis. This proposes that humans received their intelligence from extraterrestrial beings.
In an interview with Christian Dueblin, Erich von Däniken demonstrates that he has both feet on the ground and has a great sense of humor. Read this thrilling conversation about his life, his visions, Indiana Jones, George Lucas, Stanley Kubrick, Heinrich Schliemann and Troy.
Christian Dueblin: If Indiana Jones had not already been invented by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, then you would have been the ideal model for the character played by Harrison Ford. You have visited the most interesting places all over the world, done research, lived the life of an adventurer and earned a fortune with your books. Where do you get all the energy for your multifarious activities?
Erich von Däniken: (Laughs out loud): I passionately believe in what I write. I know my material well and have visited all the places that I write about. I am also familiar with all the published literature on the subject and am aware of the opinions of the experts regarding ancient structures, holy places and the holy scripts of antiquity. I also know - and this is very important to me - the opinions of those who do not share my interpretation of the facts.
When I talk to specialists, I respect their opinions. I accept that the expert knows more than I do about certain things. In such a situation, it is important to be honest with each other and not resort to trickery or lies. Many a scientist has told me that they were not aware of this or that, following our conversation. In contrast to them I don't write academically, but in a popular style. Each and every taxi driver and housewife can understand my language and follow my thoughts.
You mentioned the Indiana Jones films. The topics of films like "Raiders of the Lost Ark" appeared in my books long before these films were produced. That is why some people think that I invented the story on which the latest film is based: "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". (Laughs)
Did you perhaps have an opportunity to talk to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg about their Indiana Jones films - or even to advise them?
Sadly, no. So far I haven't had any contact with them. Of course, I would be delighted to meet with these moviemakers. I find all their films very entertaining and well worth watching.
Erich von Däniken, I would like to make a reference to another film. In the introduction to your book “Der jüngste Tag hat längst begonnen” you tell the story of a group of people who, in 2016, take refuge in a railway tunnel under the Jungfrau Mountain, but die in a natural disaster and who are found long after by some monks. You describe how the lives of this group are creatively interpreted, to which you make ironic cross references to our own historical record. On reading it, one has to laugh - but it certainly gives pause for thought. Whilst reading it, I had to think of Monty Python's "Life of Brian".
(Laughs) That film is wonderful example of British irreverence. No other authors would have dared to treat the life of Jesus in this way with such typical British black humor. The Monty Python team did a wonderful job of it. I just love this film!
I can also laugh at myself, but I take the things I write about very seriously. I take myself seriously too, but not over seriously. I have a sense of humor - thank goodness! - and I maintain that humor in my books by using unconventional cross-references. I always wanted to encourage people to think for themselves. Humor is a great help in this endeavor.
Your remarks today and statements in your books show me that you are very concerned about the problems of our world. You warn your readers time and time again of the dangers of religious overzealousness and intolerance.
Of course, I concern myself with present day world events. However, I find day-to-day politics one of the most boring items I have come across. But we live in the midst of it all and must suffer it patiently. If we consider the history of our planet over the centuries and at the same time look to the future, we must come to the conclusion that there are more important things than everyday politics.
I have studied the Bible and the Koran closely, I know the northern Sagas, which are my specialty, the Native American Legends and the religious texts of India. From these sources and many others I am able to derive new insights.
In contrast to pure scientific endeavor, I devote much of my time to myths that are often hard to date. Myths for me are also witnesses of real events in the past. There is always a core of truth in them - of that I am fully convinced. I have been studying these things for many years and attempt to find links to scientific facts and to point out connections to other historic sources. Archeologists do not consider myths to be very valuable, because there is nothing for them to get hold of. However, I am convinced that they contain the answers to my questions.
You say that day-to-day politics is boring. You suggest in your publications that extraterrestrials carried out genetic manipulations on protohumans - is it possible that these interventions were defective and that humans didn't get enough intelligence?
(Laughs out loud) No, I am a convinced believer in evolution. We are the result of evolution. We have the skeleton and build of our ancestors. We are the only living creatures in the course of evolution that have developed a powerful enough intelligence that enables us to think logically. We have produced paintings, architecture, music and important works of literature. Why - and this is the big question - are we the only creatures that have developed such a high degree of intelligence?
The most common anthropological explanation is that we have occupied and adapted to a constructed niche. Why then, have other living creatures, such as the scorpion, which has been around for 500 million years, not developed in the same way? There is the tradition that the gods gave humans their intelligence, by creating them in the own image. But who are these gods that the traditions refer to? According to classical scientific theories, belief in gods was triggered by natural phenomena. Humans were frightened of thunder and lightning and did not know why the Moon sometime shone bright and other times not. They also could not explain the changes in the constellations in the sky. Natural religions developed as a response to these phenomena. Of that there is no doubt. But these forces of nature could not speak. And even today they give us very little information. I am convinced that gods existed that gave humans certain information, like the calendar, knowledge of the fixed stars and the leap year calculation. My whole life has been dedicated to the question of who these gods were.
I am convinced that extraterrestrials were once here. They carried out genetic manipulations on our ancestors. They manipulated our DNA and altered the order of the bases in the genome - something that geneticists now do every day. They created our curiosity. We have no choice but to be curious, because we are genetically programmed that way and the desire to investigate everything is anchored in our very being. Our intelligence developed over many thousands of years as a result of this curiosity and it is intended to lead us to a definite goal.
How would you describe this goal?
Just imagine that humans have discovered and explained everything that there is to discover and explain in this world. Imagine that we have solved every mystery on Earth, cured every disease, discovered every scientific invention that can be made, explored the psyche and catalogued every plant. What would we do then? We would look up at night and see little points of light in the sky that constantly change their position and distance from the Earth. We would ask ourselves, "What is going on up there?" This question is inevitable, because our curiosity is genetically embedded and the compulsion to investigate everything is just colossal. Whether this genetic quest is completed soon or in 2000 years - who can tell? I have no idea either what the aim of the quest might be, I can only guess. I reckon time is of no account to the extraterrestrials.
You say that a creature must do what its genes command. You are of the opinion that a tree, let us say, can only grow into a "matrix" insofar as this "matrix" yields. Thus, the shape of each branch is predetermined.
The tree can alter its shape in response to radiation and environmental forces. This is also true of humans. We are constantly changing. We talk about mutations in this case. But this intrinsic curiosity remains unchanged.
I would like to talk a little about your undoubted success. At a time when Carl Sagan wrote "Contact" (later filmed with Jodie Foster) and Stanley Kubrick made "2001, A Space Odyssey" you published your first books. It was also the time when Carlos Castaneda wrote his fictional conversations with Don Juan and the first Star Trek series was shown on TV. You have sold over 63 million books - a sheer unbelievable number! That takes a lot of business acumen.
When a tree bears fruit, it all ripens at more or less the same time - and so it is with us humans too. People were, on the whole, ready for such ideas; particularly people like Carl Sagan and Stanley Kubrick. My success was not founded on a conscious choice of a particular moment in time. I just wrote about things that interested me at that time and obviously many others were also interested in the same topics. Indeed, that’s why I sold so many books in the non-fiction category.
"2001, A Space Odyssey", (1968) was the first science fiction film that did not contain any basic factual errors. The apelike creatures in the opening scene that attack each other - you know the scene I mean where a bone flies in slow motion through the air - that is a truly remarkable scene. Then there is also the scene in the rotating spaceship. That shows true genius in a filmmaker. The film also takes up the question of where humankind got its intelligence from. Stanley Kubrick also seems to have been so fascinated by this question that he made a whole film about it.
In my opinion, selling 63 million books is only possible for someone who profoundly understands marketing and is tremendously persevering in their efforts - just like Heinrich Schliemann. He did not allow anyone to talk him out of his plan to search for Troy and subsequently had the ability to present his discoveries attractively to a wider public.
Heinrich Schliemann was extremely determined and unwaveringly followed the hints he found in Homer's legends - which is entirely to his credit. And that was how he built his reputation. His method of working was similar to mine. But from a geographical point of view, in my opinion, our present Troy is not the original Troy.
But of course you are right about the book sales. Books have to be marketed properly. I have a number of specialists who support me in this. The secret is to find the right publisher in each country. I have been able to find a different publisher for each country who can market my books properly. That is the decisive factor. My personal contribution is to give lectures and appear on television. In a manner of speaking, that is my sales pitch.
A person can only be successful by following their own convictions and never wavering. Of course, I realize that certain of my statements and books contain details that have later been shown to be inaccurate or incorrect. Heinrich Schliemann had the same problems and it's just the same in science and politics: mistakes and errors do happen. You just have to admit them and learn from them.
You describe yourself in your books as a religious person and one who prays. Can you elaborate on this a little - what is your relationship to the God to whom you pray and the extraterrestrials about whom you have been writing for so long?
The word "gods" is a mistake made by our ancestors. Let us for the moment accept that I am basically correct when I say that extraterrestrials visited Earth. Then the question is: Where did these extraterrestrials come from? This question brings us necessarily to the next question: What kind of evolutionary progression have these creatures been through? These extraterrestrials must have been `improved´ by other extraterrestrials.
Albertus Magnus and Saint Thomas Aquinas have also produced their own answers to the question of the source of religion and developed interesting proofs of the existence of God.
It is possible to explain life in one way and also in other ways. However, every reasonable person comes to the end of the line at some point. Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas both developed interesting theories with their proofs of God. They were great thinkers, but they too had to finally admit that the question of the nature of God, the prime mover that started everything, was insoluble. More recent philosophers were also unable to define "God". The human intellect is just not up to comprehending and answering this question.
I call my God, the "Spirit of Creation". I pray and am thankful that I am allowed to be a part of this glorious creation. Look at how many honored physicists and scientists, having contributed to the advancement of knowledge, turn in their old age to religion. In debating these ineffable questions, one becomes aware of how insignificant we are and our respect grows.
I see that there are masses of sites on the internet listing details of your life. Can you tell us how this comes about and how much of it we can really believe?
I attended a Catholic school in Fribourg and as a child was a believer. My God, as I saw it, had to have some essential qualities. For me, He had to be flawless and omnipresent. I found it impossible to imagine God in any other way. At school we read passages from the Bible many times, including the prophet Ezekiel. He describes how a vehicle came down out of the clouds, with wheels and wings that made a noise like thunder. That can't be God, I thought, He doesn't need a vehicle! From that moment I have been driven by curiosity and the desire to penetrate history.
I was once a waiter and ran a restaurant and a hotel. I come from a family in the catering business, on my mother's side, from St Gallen. My parents wanted me to follow in their footsteps and also go into catering. I finally did this, but just to earn some money so that I could follow my real interests. All through this period of working in catering, I had these other ideas and visions burning away inside me.
What you can read about me on the internet, is, to a great extent, complete rubbish. Forget it! - so many lies written out of envy.
Erich von Däniken, you are very concerned about the future of the world and the problems we are facing. What is it in your opinion that we are doing wrong, and what should we do to make it a better world?
We must become more humble! Human beings are so dogmatic. Mostly it involves religion. Believers and whole peoples all over the world are taught that God has selected their people and created their religion and designated them the lords of creation. Our scientists are also convinced that humanity is the ultimate product of evolution. They use other scientific arguments and not religion. But in the end, the result is the same. We are of the opinion that we are the best, the most amazing creatures that the world has ever seen; an extreme form of navel-gazing!
Perhaps we should ask ourselves from time to time, what would happen if we were suddenly confronted by extraterrestrial beings. How would we introduce ourselves? Would we say, "I am a Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Swiss or a member of a political party?" Or would we identify ourselves by our philosophy of life? How would we explain Christianity to these spacemen? How would we explain to them that Jesus only visited our Earth and that other worlds were not created by God? These questions ought to give us pause and put an end to our introspection. That would certainly take some of the tension out of our world.
Erich von Däniken, many thanks for this interview. May I wish you every success with your projects and continued enjoyement.
(C) 2008 by Christian Düblin. Alle Rechte vorbehalten. Anderweitige Publikationen sind nur mit ausdrücklicher Genehmigung des Autors gestattet.
- Archaeology, Astronautics and SETI Research Association A.A.S. R.A.
- Homepage of Erich von Daeniken
|Year of publication||Title|
|1968||Chariots of the Gods? (Putnam and Bantam Books) DVD: Chariots of the Gods - The Movie|
|1970||Gods from Outer Space (Putnam and Bantam Books)|
|1972||The Gold of the Gods (Putnam and Bantam Books)|
|1973||In Search of Ancient Gods (Putnam and Bantam Books)|
|1974||Miracles of the Gods (Putnam and Bantam Books)|
|1977||According to the Evidence (Putnam and Bantam Books)|
|1978||Im Kreuzverhör (not available in English)|
|1979||Signs of the Gods? (Putnam and Bantam Books)|
|1981||Pathways to the Gods (Putnam and Bantam Books)|
|1982||The Gods and Their Grand Design (Putnam and Bantam Books)|
|1983||Ich liebe die ganze Welt (not available in English)|
|1984||Der Tag an dem die Götter kamen (not available in English)|
|1985||Habe ich mich geirrt? (not available in English)|
|1987||Wir alle sind Kinder der Götter (not available in English)|
|1990||Die Spuren der Ausserirdischen (not available in English)|
|1991||Die Steinzeit war ganz anders (not available in English)|
|1991||Die Rätsel im alten Europa (not available in English)|
|1992||Der Götterschock (not available in English)|
|1993||Raumfahrt im Altertum (not available in English)|
|1993||Das Erbe von Kukulkan (not available in English)|
|1994||Auf den Spuren der All-Mächtigen (not available in English)|
|1996||The Eyes of the Sphinx (BERKELEY BOOKS, New York)|
|1997||The Return of the Gods - Evidence of Extraterrestrial Visitations. (ELEMENT BOOKS, London and New York)|
|1998||The Arrival of the Gods - Revealing the Alien Landing Sites of Nazca. (ELEMENT BOOKS, New York and London)|
|2000||Odyssey of the Gods - An Alien History of Ancient Greece. (ELEMENT BOOKS, New York, London)|
|2002||The Gods Were Astronauts: Evidence of the True Identities of the Old 'Gods". (Vega Books, London)|
|2005||Astropolis feat Erich von Däniken Music CD|
|2005||Tomy und der Planet der Lüge (not available in English)|
|2007||Falsch informiert! (not available in English)|