Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Road to Elohim Part I

Anyone who has read even the most basic literature on paramilitary, right-wing groups has inevitably stumbled upon references to the mysterious Elohim City. Elohim City first gained national notoriety in the wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the largest domestic act of terrorism prior to September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but it has long been the center of an underground movement involved in acts of terrorism, bank robberies, gun trafficking, drug trafficking, and other such endeavors. Despite its long-standing ties to crime and terrorism Elohim has long avoided any type of serious scrutiny, even after its links to Timothy McVeigh became public knowledge.

In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing federal authorities would seemingly go to any lengths necessary to avoid bringing Elohim into the spotlight. This in turn has fueled any number of conspiracy theories concerning the true objective of Elohim, with some dismissing it as a ploy to discredit the grassroots right while others believing that it is at the heart of an ongoing campaign being waged by America's cryptocracy. Whatever the case, Elohim and its legacy are still having an effect on the American landscape, as the recent case of serial killer Israel Keyes illustrates. What's more, with right wing extremism and terrorism once again gripping the public consciousness Elohim is especially relevant as it was at the heart of the modern incarnation of such movements.

Keyes, a recently captured serial killers (and shortly thereafter deceased) with links to Elohim

This series will be an examination of both Elohim and the birth of the modern right-wing paramilitary movement. Indeed, it is impossible to truly appreciate Elohim's legacy without putting it in the context of the broader wave that it was a part of. We will first briefly consider Elohim itself and then move on to the various paramilitary groups and movements that flocked to it over the years. In the process we shall also consider the history of these groups and movements before arriving at the flowering of Elohim in the mid-90s, climaxing with Oklahoma City. So, now that the introductions and objectives are out of the way, let us begin.

Elohim City, like much of the modern paramilitary right, began in the early 1970s. This time frame is unsurprising. The early 1970s witnessed a lot of mainstream disillusionment with the current order on both sides of the political spectrum. The Left was horrified by the Vietnam conflict, the Kent State school shooting, assassinations of prominent leftist leaders (i.e.the Kennedy brothers and MLK), the emerging police state, and the unfolding Watergate scandal (among other things). The Right, by contrast, believed that the traditional American social order was being completely eroded. The more extreme elements viewed the Civil Rights movement, the Great Society, the sexual revolution, the emerging drug culture, and the peace movement as evidence of the final triumph of communism in the United States.

an image from the riots surrounding the 1968 Democratic Convention, an incident that both the Left and Right saw as a glimpse of a dark and unstable future ahead for America

The more fringe and extremist elements of both political spectrums began looking for ways to remove themselves from society. Thus cults and especially communes became fashionable among certain elements of the counterculture by the late 1960s. Shortly thereafter a similar phenomenon began to develop within the fringe Right, especially amongst followers of the Christian Identity ideology, which was a firmly racialist ideology.
"Christian Identity believers define nonwhites as evil incarnate and promote racial violence as acts ordained by God. They see blacks, Latinos, Asians, and other nonwhites is lower-order sub species of ' pre-Adamic mudpeople' and, therefore, not fully human. These beliefs are rooted in British Israelism, a nineteenth century English theology that posits the true Israelites were Anglo-Saxons. Christian Identity adds to this interpretation the notion that Jews are descended from Satan and resulted from Eve's copulation with the serpent. Identity believers imagine they are warriors in a righteous battle against the Jewish conspiracy to eradicate the white race."
(American Swastika, Pete Simi & Robert Futrell, pgs. 12)

Rogue historian Peter Levenda believes that the rise of the Christian Identity movement is also partly due to the lack of a true grassroots pagan movement in America.
"... the Christian Identity movement, which claims that the US Government is being run by Jews, and that Jews are the sons of Satan and must be exterminated; in this torturous theory (eerily familiar to students of Nazi ideology), the 'real' Lost Tribes of Israel are the Aryans and the Jews are merely descendants of Cain. Like such SS theorists before them... they have reinterpreted Christianity to the extent that up is down, white is black, and good is evil. The Lord of the Jews thus becomes Satan, even though they may secretly believe that their own God is a white warrior-demon, a light-bearing spirit known as Lucifer. Cynically, these 'ministers' of the anti-Semitic 'churches' preached and unrecognizable Christianity with one voice and instigate pogroms and assassinations with one another. In the absence of a real grass-roots pagan movement in America, they have adopted the trappings of fundamentalist Christianity as their mythic vehicle. But it is a secret, occult Christianity that they represent, for they are only the modern manifestation of the original Ku Klux Klan which met at night in the woods, dressed in hooded white robes, burning crosses, and swearing oaths in Masonic-style initiation ceremonies. One cannot imagine the same rituals taking place between Fidel Castro and Che Guevra; it is a typically right-wing phenomenon, and its political overtones are almost universally races, supremacist, and tolitarian. The Christian Identity movement is itself probably an attempt to create a 'white' fundamentalist Christianity as distinct from the 'black' Southern Baptists and Pentecostal denominations. By putting a different spin on the Old Testament and the Chosen People, the Christian Identity 'ministers' hope to exclude not only Jews from the New World Order, but also other races, with the unevolved, 'polluted' form of Christianity."
(Unholy Alliance, Peter Levenda, pgs. 349-350)

Christian Identity emerged as an ideology in the early 1920s but it was not until the 1970s that it gained real traction as a movement. There were a combination of factors for this. For one, the Ku Klux Klan was in decline by this point thanks to the long-past-due efforts of the FBI, thus leaving a vacuum in the white supremacist underground. For another, the Charismatic Movement that began in the late 1960s was beginning to turn the Christian fundamentalist and evangelical movements into major political forces. The Christian Identity movement would have a natural appeal to the more extreme factions of the above-mentioned groups. It would also find common grounds with the John Birch Society and other libertarian-leaning conspiracists in regards to income taxes, the Federal Reserve, and gun laws, among other things.

All of these factors contributed to the rise of various private communities such as the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord community near the Missouri-Arkansas border, the former Aryan Nations compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho, and Elohim City, in the early 1970s. First, let us briefly consider Elohim.
"Founded in 1973, Elohim City is the oldest major racialist community still operating in the United States. Robert Millar moved to the United States from Canada in the 1950s and organized 18 Christian Identity members to build a settlement on 400 acres near Muldrow, Oklahoma, an isolated and mountainous area along the Oklahoma-Arkansas border. Millar and his followers planned an insular Christian Identity community. They named it Elohim City, or 'City of God' while waiting for the Rapture."
(American Swastika, Pete Simi & Robert Futrell, pgs. 102-103)
Millar, Elohim City's founder

Unsurprisingly, the word Elohim also has significance in Nazi mysticism. In the ideology of the Vril society (the existence of which is highly debatable) the Aryan race was referred to as the Elohim. Vril members allegedly settled upon this name after a medium working for the group was telepathically informed of this designation by an extraterrestrial intelligence.
"In 1921 Maria Orsic (or Orsitsch), a medium in the Vril society, began claiming spirit messages originating from Aryan aliens whose home star was Aldebara. Orsic and another medium, Sigrun, learned that the aliens spoke of two classes of people on their world -- the Aryan master race and a subservient planetary race that had evolved through mutation and climate changes. A half billion years ago the Aryans, also known as the Elohim or Elder Race, began to colonize our solar system. On earth, the Aryans were identified as the Sumerians until they elected to carve out an empire for themselves in the hollow of the planet. The Vril force was derived from the Black Sun, a large ball of 'Prima Materia' that provided light and radiation to the inhabitants of the inner earth."
(Conspiracies and Secret Societies, Brad Steiger & Sherry Steiger, pg. 489)
Maria Orsic

Strangely the Raeliam Movement, a UFO cult founded by Claude Vorilhon, also refers to our extraterrestrial creators as the Elohim. But I digress; Back to Elohim City.
"Elohim City residents are notoriously secretive about their beliefs and activities and shield their racialism from outsiders. The city hosts a population that reportedly fluctuates between seventy and ninety residents. Members focus on 'pure' living, shunning the outside world and its decadence, which they claim will bring the apocalypse to cleanse the world of all impurities.

"Elohim City believes devoutly in racial separatism. Prior to his death in 2001, Millar preached separatism as a strategy to avoid conflict and strengthen bloodlines and kinship ties among 'true, pure Aryans.' Millar's son John now leads the community and continues his father's emphasis on racial separatism.

"The community includes a sawmill, trucking company, K-12 school, church, community medical service, armed patrol unit, and construction firm, which financially supports the community. Elohim City members begin each day with a Pentecostal-type church service that may last several hours. Recreational activities are exclusively community events. The entire community, including children, participates in parties, picnics, canoe trips, and even socializing."
(American Swastika, Pete Simi & Robert Futrell, pg. 103)

Over the years Elohim would attract virtually every major figure and group in the white supremacist underground.
"... extremist groups to which Elohim City members have ties include Aryan Nations, the Aryan People's Republic, and White Aryan Resistance. Mark Thomas, former Pennsylvania minister for the Aryan Nations, who hosted meanings of neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other white racist groups on his Pennsylvania farm, helped organize the Aryan Republican Army and arrange for several of its members to live at Elohim City. Cheyne and Chevie Kehoe, who found that the small but violent Aryan People's Republic, reportedly sought refuge at Elohim City. Dennis Mahone, a former imperial dragon in the Oklahoma Ku Klux Klan and an organizer for White Aryan Resistance, kept a trailer at Elohim City."
(ibid, pg. 103)
Beyond these groups Elohim also maintained ties with three of the most notorious movements/groups within the Christian Identity and white supremacist underground: the Posse Comitatus; the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSA); and the Order also known as die Bruder Schwigen (German for "the Silent Brotherhood").We shall now consider these three outfits and their ties to Elohim City, beginning with the Posse Comitatus.

The Posse Comitatus, unlike the CSA and the Order, does not have a formal structure. It is a nationwide movement with various loosely connected chapters. While it is not implicitly a racialist movement it is has had close ties to the Christian Identity throughout its history.
"In the 1970s retired army colonel William Potter Gale formed a group of armed anti-tax and anti-federal government survivalists who agreed with his political philosophy that all government power should be rooted at the county, rather than the federal, level. Posse Comitatus members resist paying taxes because the federal government is controlled by Jews. Some members won't even apply for driver's licenses because to do so would be to submit to an illegal, subversive authority. The Posse soon attracted Klan members and other anti-Semites, including David Duke.

"This intermittently active, loosely organized group of antigovernment agitators and avowed followers of Christian Identity received nationwide attention in 1983 when Posse member Gordon Kahl murdered two federal marshals who had come to arrest him for a parole violation in connection with a conviction for nonpayment of taxes. Kahl became a fugitive and was later killed in a shootout with Arkansas law enforcement officers.

"In October 1987 Posse founder William Potter Gale and four associates from the California-based Committee of the States were convicted of threatening the lives of Internal Revenue Service agents and a Nevada state judge. Sentenced to federal prison in January 1988, Gale died in April that year, at age seventy-one.

"In 1991 an Identity minister and Posse leader based in Michigan, James Wickstorm, was convicted of scheming to distribute $100,000 in counterfeit bills to white supremacist at the 1988 Aryan World Congress. While he was doing time in prison, Wickstorm transferred his leadership position to Mark Thomas, an Identity preacher from Pennsylvania."
(Conspircies and Secret Societies, Brad Steiger & Sherry Steiger, pgs. 377-378)
Gordon Kahl, a Christian identity believer and early Posse Comitatus member who has seen become a martyr for the movement

Keep Thomas in mind as we shall be coming back to him in just a moment. Before moving along let us briefly consider the influence the Posse Comitatus had on various right-wing grassroots groups such as the militia and sovereign citizens movements.
"Some writers have also argued that the militia movement was significantly influenced by several 1980s extremist groups, including the Posse Comitatus, the Order, and the Committee of the States. The Posse was started in California by William Potter Gale and in Oregon by Henry Beach in the early 1970s, and by the early 1980s its activities had been document in nearly twenty states. Much for its growth was tied to its leaders' exploitation of the farm crisis. One of my interviewees discuss the influence of the Posse on the militia movement:
Well, the militia movement is different from the Posse, but it comes from the Posse. The Posse as an organization died out in the mid-1980s, but the ideology stuck around. In the mid-1990s you have seen a resurgence of that ideology in two different ways. The posse had this paper terrorism and paramilitary activity. In the 1990s, you see the paper terrorism in the common-law courts and sovereign citizens, and the paramilitary activity is seen in the militia movement. It is kind of a strange thing. The common law courts and sovereign citizens are more of a direct descendent of the Posse, and the militia movement is an offshoot of the Posse, but there are some connections there.
"There are several direct connections to Posse Comitatus that clearly influenced the militia movement of the 1990s. Posse adherents believe that the only 'true form of government was a near anarchic, highly localized form of government centered on the county sheriff.' The sheriff, they argue, was the law of the land, because the Constitution provided law enforcement powers only to him. The Posse believed that the federal government was part of a great conspiracy to deprive individuals of their rights and that the country needed to return to the basic text of the Constitution. The Posse movement also was influenced by survivalist practices. Survivalist prepared for society's collapse by storing weapons, food, water, and other supplies, and practicing field maneuvers in order to defend their lives and property."
(Searching For a Demon, Steven M. Chermak, pg. 29)

Keep all of this in mind as we shall return to it a bit later on. Anyway, returning to Mark Thomas, a Pennsylvania member of the Posse. Thomas would be instrumental in the formation of the Aryan Republican Army, also known as the Midwest Bank Robbers/Bandits, a group with ties to Elohim City. Two reputed members, Michael Brescia and Richard Lee Guthrie, were residents of Elohim for a time.
"Richard Lee Guthrie, Jr., the son of the CIA employee, discharge from the Navy for painting a swastika on the side of a ship and threatening superiors, his childhood friend Peter K. Langan, and Shawn Kenny, went on to form the nucleus of a group known as the Midwest Bank Bandits. The group stole more than $250,000 from 22 banks between January, '94 and December, '95 in a spree that led them across Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri. The four member group would often wear FBI jackets to taunt the Bureau, and create diversions to foil police, including leaving behind inert pipe-bombs to slow pursuit. The bandits even had a macabre sense of humor, wearing a Santa Claus suit during a hold up around Christmas, and an Easter basket with a gold painted pipe bomb left inside a bank in Des Moines.

"'Wid Bill' Guthrie also admitted to a West Virginia sheriff that he had helped Butler's Aryan Nations raise another quarter million dollars through fraud. Both Guthrie and Langan were regular visitors to the Hayden Lake compound...

"In November, '94, Mark Thomas, the local Aryan Nations representative, united the two with others of their kind. Thomas' farm, located rather appropriately next to a toxic waste dump, has been the site of skinhead and neo-Nazi rallies such as White Pride Day and the annual Hitler Youth Festival, where participants enjoyed such wholesome activities as pagan rituals and cross burnings.

"Thomas introduced the pair to Pennsylvania native Scott Stedeford, a rock musician and artist, and Kevin McCarthy, bassist in a white power band named 'Day of the Sword.' Thomas was instrumental in helping the men form an alliance which they would call the Aryan Republican Army (ARA)...

"The Pennsylvania Posse Comitatus leader would also introduce Stedeford and McCarthy to Michael Brescia, a Philadelphia native and rock musician who would go on to form a speed metal band with McCarthy and Stedeford called 'Cyanide.' The rock 'n roll bank robbers decided to recruit the 24-year-old La Salle University student after planning the heist of a large bank in Madison, Wisconsin, which the trio robbed on August 30, 1995.

"The three men came to know 'Grandpa Millar' at Elohim City courtesy of Thomas, and Brescia was soon engaged to Millar's granddaughter, Ester. Brescia wound up living at the reclusive compound for two years."
(The Oklahoma City Bombing and the Politics of Terror, David Hoffman, pgs. 119-121)

While there were never extensive ties between the Posse Comitatus and Elohim City there was at least a connection to one prominent member of the Posse, as the above indicates. In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing it was alleged that Timothy McVeigh may also have been a member of this organization. Inevitably his connection would have been due to his ties to Elohim Cty, but more on that later. For now let us move along to the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSA).

The CSA has the most direct ties to Elohim City of the three subjects currently being considered, as we shall soon see. For now, let us consider the organization's history.
"From its formation in 1971 until its destruction in 1985, The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord was one of the most active and notorious Aryan settlements. CSA became a model for later private Aryan communities. Texas minister James Ellison founded CSA on more than 200 acres near the Missouri-Arkansas border. Their geographical isolation separated CSA families from the taint of mainstream society, and the area's isolated and rugged terrain made monitoring by authorities especially difficult. The property's location on state borders also complicated jurisdictional responsibilities...

"During the late 1970s, after Ellison claimed to have a vision of the coming race war that would engulf America, he and his followers turned to the Christian Identity principles and transformed the property into a white supremacist, paramilitary training camp. The group adopted the name The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord to reflect their increasing radicalization. Ellison began characterizing 'the CSA mission as establishing an "Ark for God's people" for the coming race war. God's people were white Christians [while] Jews, he told his followers, were not really God's chosen people, but rather a demonic an inferior race...'

"The CSA settlement build a church, a communications center, workshop, munition storage bunker, and member houses. Each family lived in their own 24 square-foot residence without electricity and running water. Reflecting their apocalyptic worldview, member strategically position their homes in three separate directions from the main settlement as defensive vantage points in case of attack. Families also prepared for attacks with underground storage and safety bunkers...

"To supplement their income, CSA members traded semiautomatic rifles, silencers, and other weapons on the gun-show circuit. Ellison prodded his followers into thievery and pawning personal goods that were not crucial to warfare and survival. Followers even pawned their own wedding rings. Such income increased the CSA stockpiles of weaponry, chemicals, explosives, food, and first aid supplies.

"Ellison and his CSA followers originally stockpiled weapons and did survivalist training as a defensive preparation for racial conflict. But in the early 1980s, CSA planned several terrorist plots. In 1983, federal marshals killed Christian Identity adherent Gordon Kahl in a shootout. after that event, CSA declared the compound 'an arms depot and paramilitary training ground for Aryan warriors.' CSA plan the assassinations of a local FBI agent and a U.S. district Judge, and plotted the poisoning of municipal water supplies, arsons, and bombings.

"The original plan to destroy the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was hatched by CSA members nearly 12 years before Timothy McVeigh and his accomplices bomded it to complete the mission. Although CSA failed to execute most of its terrorist plans, CSA members and their associates bombed a Missouri community church known to support homosexuality and a Indiana Jewish community center. CSA radicals also detonated explosives near a natural gas pipeline in Arkansas, robbed and murdered a pawnshop owner they thought was Jewish, murdered in African-American Arkansas State Trooper.

"CSA's spree of violence ended in April 1985. Ellison and other CSA followers surrendered at CSA's compound following a four-day standoff federal agents. The FBI's search of the CSA compound uncovered nearly 200 firearms, including landmines, machine guns, assault rifles, thousands of rounds of ammunition, antitank rockets, and the large supply of cyanide.

"In September 1985, CSA leaders James Ellison and Krry Noble and four other CSA activists were sentenced to federal prison on racketeering and weapons charges, which effectively destroyed the group and the settlement."
(American Swastika, Pete Simi & Robert Futrell, pgs. 100-102)
the CSA compound

Upon being released from prison Ellison took up residence at Elohim City, along with several other followers.
"CSA founder James Ellison and his close associate Richard Wayne Snell repeatedly visited Elohim City in the early 1980s. in the FBI surrounded the CSA compound to arrest Ellison and his followers. In 1985 they requested Millar's cooperation to mediate a peaceful surrender to the armed standoff. Robert Millar was Snell's spiritual advisor, and John Millar testified as a character witness when Snell was sentenced to death for the 1984 murder of an Arkansas State Trooper. On April 19, 1995, the same day as the Oklahoma City bombing, Robert Millar visited Snell just before he was executed. Millar witnessed the execution and arranged for Snell's body to be buried at Elohim City."
(ibid, pg. 103)
James Ellison

Accounts of Millar and Snell's reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing have been mixed.
"...Snell was executed on the ever-prophetic date of April 19, 1995, the very day the Murrah Building was bombed. Snell was convicted of killing a black state trooper in 1984, and a pawnshop owner he thought was Jewish. While under arrest, Snell called himself a ' prisoner of war,' precisely what authorities claim McVeigh said.

"Before his death, Snell had time to watch scenes from the bombing on his jail room TV. Millar, who was with the 64-year-old Snell during his final hours, said he was appalled at the destruction. Yet according to Arkansas prison official Alan Ables, 'Snell chuckled and laughed as he watched television coverage of the Oklahoma City disaster.'

"Both Millar and Snell's wife contended the convicted murderer was saddened by the bombing..."
(The Oklahoma City Bombing and the Politics of Terror, David Hoffman, pg.117)

The guard Ables also alleged that Snell predicted that some type of tragedy would happen on the day of his execution. He reportedly told the Denver Post "... Snell was talking strangely, he was, you know, making statements that were little scary...catastrophic events, things were going to happen. This date, April 19th, was going to be something that the governor would regret perhaps" (ibid, pg. 117). We shall consider the implications of this a bit further in a later installment.

Moving along, we now come to the Order. The Order, also known as the Silent Brotherhood, was easily the most effective and notorious of the Christian Identity-oriented paramilitary groups that sprung up during the 1980s.
"The Silent Brotherhood, for example, is run by neo-Nazi who gives the official name of the organization in German as Bruder Scheigen...  The murder of Denver radio talk show host Alan Berg on June 18, 1984, by The Orders is one example of the lengths to which these groups will go.

"The Order is perhaps one of the most secretive, and yet most violent, of these groups. Patterning itself on an identically named organization in the famous racist novel, The Turner Diaries, The Order was also responsible for the largest armored car robbery in US history. Taking place in Ukiah, California on July 18, 1984 (exactly a month after the murder of Berg), the heist netted The Order a staggering $3.6 million. The Order's founder and leader, Bob Matthews, intended to use some of that money to purchase sophisticated laser weapons that would allow him to knock out the Los Angeles power grid (once again, this was a plot element in The Turner Diaries). Eventually The Order was routed and its members were either killed in firefights or serving time in federal prison; but not before some of the money they managed to steal wound up spread around in the coffers of various other right-wing hate groups.

"According to one informant who told the story to former Order member Thomas Martinez, The Order was receiving contributions from German 'families' living in South America. This German Nazi-South American Nazi-North American Nazi link is reinforced by stories that German neo-Nazi terrorist Manford Roeder, for instance, met with Dr. Mengele in Brazil as late as 1978 before coming to the States and meeting with American neo-Nazi groups. Roeder was eventually convicted of the 1980 firebombing of a Vietnamese shelter in Hamburg, Germany, which killed two of the boat people."
(Unholy Alliance, Peter Levenda, pgs. 348-349)

Besides South America's notorious ex-pat Nazi community The Order was also suspected of accepting funds from Islamic terror networks. According to David Hoffman in The Oklahoma City Bombing and the Poliics of Terror Syria -- another nation with extensive ties to the postwar Nazi underground and a well-known sponsor of terrorism --offered funding to The Order. Keep this in mind dear reader as we shall address the Elohim City ties to both Nazism and Islamic terrorism in a later installment.

As for The Order's ties to Elohim City, they are tenuous at best. Of them, Hoffman vaguely states:
"Yet the group [Elohim City -Recluse] does maintain connections to white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations, including WAR, the somewhat defunct CSA, and the violent but largely disbanded Order. The Christian Identity adherents also formed alliances with Richard Butler, Christian Identity 'minister,' and head of the Aryan Nations in Hayden Lake, Idaho. the Hayden Lake compound served as a nexus for white supremacist groups from all over the country, including KKK, Posse Comitatus, William Pierce's National Alliance, and Robert Matthew's Order."
(The Oklahoma City Bombing and the Politics of Terror, pg. 119)
Richard Butler and his Aryan Nations organization would maintain close ties with members of the Order, both during and after their crime wave

The Order was closely associated with the Aryan Nations throughout its run (allegedly passing on the proceeds from its bank robberies to Butler's group) but I've yet to find a direct link to a member of the Order and Elohim City. That being said, there are clearly fellow travelers between the two organizations. Elohim City had direct and well documented ties to the Aryan Nations, for instance. What's more, the attorney for Andreas Strassmeir, Elohim City's head of security in the early 90s, was married to the sister of a member of the Order. In the next installment we shall examine the strange and terrible saga surrounding this attorney, Strassmeir, and Elohim City in the years leading up to the Oklahoma City Bombing. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Prometheus Rising Part IV

Welcome to the fourth and final installment in my examination of the film Prometheus, acclaimed filmmaker Sir Ridley Scott's (the director of the first Alien and Blade Runner, in addition to more 'serious' films such as Gladiator and the war porn that is Black Hawk Down) much-anticipated return to the science fiction genre. In the first installment of this series I examined a few of the background details surrounding the film itself in addition to the mythological figure of Prometheus. I also briefly examined the opening moments of the film, especially as it relates to entheogens. In the second part I considered several of the major characters, especially the archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and the humanoid android David (Michael Fassbender); as well as the striking instances of numerology in the film's opening sequences. In the third installment I began to get into the meat of the film, leaving off at the discovery of the mound-like alien structure that the crew of the Prometheus discover upon the distant moon LV-223; and the large chamber within the structure containing the decapitated head of an Engineer, Prometheus's take on ancient astronauts.

Shaw with the decapitated Engineer head
This series is being written with the assumption that those of you reading it are already familiar with Prometheus's Byzantine plot line. If you are not it is strongly advised that you track down a plot synopsis before proceeding. Those of you who have just stumbled upon this series are strongly encouraged to read the prior installments as there is much more that will be alluded to that I did not address in the above introduction. And now, with the token introduction and disclaimers out of the way, let's jump right back in the film.

Shortly after discovering the decapitated head of the Engineer the expedition team, Shaw and David  in tow, return to the Prometheus sans two members who became lost. Upon returning to the ship Shaw removes the space helmet covering the Engineer head,  revealing a very humanoid figure within. A DNA scan is run and reveals that the Engineer's DNA does in fact match human DNA, confirming the ancient astronaut hypothesis of Shaw and her fellow archaeologist and lover Charles Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green). Shaw also learns that this being died roughly 2000 years ago, a fact that will become most striking with later revelations.

Meanwhile David is taking on further characteristics of the mythological Golems. As noted in part two, they are creatures created as an image of the passions of their creators. This tends to make them evil beings by default. At this point in the film David is most definitely being driven towards evil due to the passion of his creator, Peter Weyland. Thus David removed a vile of a mysterious liquid found in one of the stone cylinders, which happens to look curiously like the facehugger-yielding eggs of the earlier Alien films, found within the chamber containing the decapitated head. David proceeds to taint a bottle of spirits with the substance and offers it to a deflated Holloway. The archaeologist is most distraught that his ancient astronauts seemingly diedoff long ago. This leads to an interesting exchange between Holloway and David while the former consumes the poison drink:
 What we hope to achieve was to meet our makers. To get answers. Why they even made a first place.
Why do you think your people made me?
We made you because we could.
 Can you imagine how disappointing it would be to hear the same thing from your creator?
The relationship between humans and androids, as embodied by David, proves to be a rather apt foreshadowing of the nature of the Engineers. David is strikingly disappointed by and even contemptuous of his creators, often finding their motives inexplicable and unfathomable. And yet David is every bit the slave as the mythological Golems of old. He performs the often cruel biddings of his master almost gleefully even when they seemingly contradict his own instincts. David is shown developing an affection for Shaw early on, for instance, and yet his actions put her life in great jeopardy. As the film progresses the viewer is left with the impression that the Engineers ultimately created humanity because they could also, and that a similar slave-like relationship was intended. Screenwriter Damon Lindelof seemed to indicate that this is very much the case in an interview he did shortly after the film's release. He stated:
"... it advances the idea that part of our own programming as human beings, we're many ways just as governed by our programming as David is. We have to seek out the answers to these questions, even though we know we'll never get satisfying answers. We're curious about what happens as we die. We need to know where we come from. What the meaning of life is. What kind of life we're supposed to lead."
And yet David is little more than a slave, which raises another compelling question running throughout Prometheusis: How much of David's personality is actually his own and how much of it is Weyland's programming? For instance, David is depicted as being quite found of the film Lawrence of Arabia. He quotes from it throughout Prometheus and even styles his hair like one of the characters from the film. Materials relating to the film, however, indicate the Weyland himself was also quite fascinated by T. E. Lawrence (the individual upon whom the film Lawrence of Arabia is based). Thus, is David obsessed with Lawrence of Arabia by his own faculties or because Weyland programmed him to be of obsessed with it because it is also one of Weyland's obsessions? Likewise, is David's obsession with Shaw genuine or did Weyland program him to be protective and/or interested in her because Weyland has such sentiments concerning her? After all, she did present Weyland with the possibility of immortality. Conversely David poisoning her lover, and thus putting her in danger, would indicate that this is not the case and that he was working against his will in this instance.

This also raises some very curious questions about humanity within the world of Prometheus as well. Do we have actual free will or are we simply following the programming of the Engineers? Was humanity predestined to venture eventually to LV-223 at the genetic level? But I digress, but hopefully we can address few of these questions a bit later. Lets return to the film for now.
After his existential conversation with David, a drunken Holloway staggers into Shaw's quarters and the inevitable happens. The next day the expedition crew ventures again into the alien structure with David breaking away from it while they return to the massive chamber discovered during the first trip. Freed from his human counterparts, David is able to find a space ship belonging to the Engineers in addition to one of the beings still in stasis. Meanwhile, things are not going well for the rest of the expedition team. Holloway begins to sicken rapidly, spurring them to rush him back to the Prometheus. He does not make it back on board, however. Realizing the Holloway is infected Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), the token sketchy corporate executive, proceeds to incinerate him with a flamethrower.

Shaw is most distressed over this but she does not have long to grieve. Not long after reboarding the ship Shaw, who was revealed to be incapable of producing children earlier in the film, realizes that she is now pregnant and that the embryo is growing rapidly. In one of the films tensest sequences Shaw uses an automated surgical table to remove a squid-like creature from her abdomen, clearly foreshadowing the alien births of the later Alien films. The act of birth itself is also highly significant symbolically.
"Certain imprints impressed upon the nervous system in the plastic period between birth and maturity are the source of many of the most widely known images of myth.  Necessarily the same for all mankind, they have been variously organized in the different traditions, but everywhere function as potent energy releasers and directors.

"The first indelible imprints are those at the moment of birth itself. The congestion the blood and sense of suffocation experienced by the infant before its lungs commence to operate give rise to a brief seizure of terror, the physical effects of which (caught breath, circulatory congestion, dizziness, or even blackout) tends to recur, more or less strongly, whenever there is an abrupt moment of fright. so that the birth trauma, as an  archetype of transformation, floods with considerable emotional effect the brief moment of loss of security and threat of death that accompanies any crisis of radical change. In the imagery of mythology and religion this birth (more often rebirth) theme is extremely prominent; in fact every threshold passage --not only this from the darkness of the womb to the light of the sun, but also those from childhood to adult life and from the light of the world to whatever mystery of darkness may lie beyond the portal of death --is comparable to a birth and has been ritually represented, practically everywhere, through an imagery of reentry into the womb. This is one of those mythological universals that surely merit interpretation, rather from psychological than from an ethnological point of view.
(The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, Joseph Campbell, pgs. 61-62)

A few pages later Campbell offers an even more profound insight into the mysteries of birth.
"The fear of the dark, which is so strong in children, has been said to be a function of their fear of returning to the womb: the fear that their recently achieved daylight consciousness and not yet secure individuality should be reabsorbed. In archaic art, the labyrinth --home of the child-consuming Minotaur, was represented by the figure of the spiral. The spiral also appears spontaneously in certain stages of meditation, as well to people going to sleep under ether. It is a prominent device, furthermore, at the silent entrances and within the dark passages of the ancient Irish kingly burial mound of New Grange. These facts suggest that a constellation of images denoting the plunge and dissolution of consciousness in the darkness of non-being must've been employed intentionally, from an early date, to represent the analogy of threshold rites to the mystery of the entry of the child in the womb for birth. And this suggestion is reinforced by the further fact that the paleolithic caves of southern France and northern Spain, which are now dated by most authorities circa 30,000-10,000 B.C., were certainly sanctuaries not only of hunting magic but also of the male puberty rites. A terrific sense of claustrophobia, and simultaneously of release from every context of the world above, assails the mind impounded in those more than absolutely dark abysses, where darkness no longer is an absence of light but an experienced force. And when the light is flashed to reveal the beautifully painted bulls and mammoths, flocks of reindeer, trotting ponies, woolly rhinos, and dancing shamans of those caves, the images smite the mind as indelible imprints. It is obvious that the idea of death-and-rebirth, rebirth through ritual and with a fresh organization a profoundly impressed sign stimuli, is an extremely ancient one in the history of culture, and everything was done, even in the paleolithic caves, to inspire in the youngster being symbolically killed a reactivation of the childhood fear of the dark."
(ibid, pgs.65-66)

It would appear then that physical birth in the film is closely associated spiritual rebirth. As noted in the third installment in the series labyrinth imagery appears prominently in Prometheus in the form of the alien structure. Indeed, entering and reemerging from the structure proves to be a kind of rebirth for several members of the Prometheus. Thus that physical births, even Shaw's 'miracle birth,' should produce monsters in the film is not altogether surprising. After all, the knowledge that Shaw and company received from their rebirth via the alien structure of the nature of things proves to be truly disheartening.

After Shaw removes the creature from her abdomen she finally learns that Weyland is not only still alive but has been on the ship this entire time. He has in fact just come out of stasis and is preparing for his own descent into the alien structure. It is here that the film offers us some of its richest symbolism. But before we get to that, let us consider a brief snippet of dialogue uttered by Janek (Idris Elba), the ship's captain, to Shaw before her venture into the alien structure with Weyland. The good captain states: "You know what this place is? Those Engineers, this ain't their home. It's an installment. maybe even military. They put it out here in the middle of nowhere because they're not stupid enough to make weapons of mass destruction on their own doorstep." Janek goes on to imply that the Engineers on LV-223 were wiped out buy their own viral weapons. Keep this in mind dear reader as we shall return to it in a moment.

Weyland's descent is beautifully set up with the most significant scene featuring the Vickers character in the film. It is here that Vickers refers to Weyland as father. The film leaves this point, as well as Vickers' very humanity, ambiguous. At one point Janek jokingly asks her if she is an android, a possibility hinted at throughout the film via such things as her icy personality and physical resemblance to David. Regardless, a particular exchange she has with Weyland in the scene proves to be most significant in the thematic context of the film:

 If you're really going down there, you're going to die.
 Very negative way of looking at things. Exactly why you should of stayed at home.
 did you really think I was going to sit in a boardroom for years arguing over who was in charge while you go looking for some miracle on some godforsaken rock in the middle of space? A king has his reign, and then he dies. It's inevitable. This is the natural order of things.
Vickers and Weyland

In part one I noted that Frazer's concept of the killing of the divine king runs throughout Prometheus. One of the key points of this concept is the notion that the fertility of the land is directly tied to the vitality of the king in ancient societies. As a result there was a perceived threat of the earth turning into a wasteland if the king was allowed to age and wither away. To counter this threat primitive societies only allowed their kings to rule for a specific number of years and then ritualistically sacrifice them and passed on the kingship to a young and vigorous successor. This would ensure that the Earth remained fertile.
As Prometheus winds down it is clear that Weyland's empires turning to rot. Vickers' above statement implies that all is not well within the corporate boardroom. By the beginning of the first Alien film, set some 30 years after the events of Prometheus, the Weyland Corporation has become the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, possibly indicating that some type of troubles developed between the two films allowing some kind of merger/takeover. Beyond that, the crew of the ship Prometheus is already beginning to die left and right by this point. Weyland emerges from stasis in the midst of the disaster about to spiral out of control.
Besides Weyland's associations with Frazer's divine king he is also something of an alchemist, a notion that I addressed extensively in part two. Weyland is David's creator and David the android is very much in keeping with occult notions of artificial human beings such as the golems of Kabbalahism and the homunculus of alchemy. In some accounts the creation of an artificial human being is one of the chief goals of alchemy. Weyland's pursuit of eternal life is also in keeping with the goals of fabled alchemy. And like any true alchemist or magician Weyland must make a descent into the Underworld to achieve this objective. As noted in part three, the alien structure that the crew of the Prometheus discovers upon LV-223 is very much symbolically in keeping with the that the mythological Underworld.

the Underworld
David, who has learned how to speak the language of the Engineers, leads Weyland, Shaw, and the rest of the expedition team to an alien spacecraft within the mound-like structure. It is here that the last living Engineer on LV-223 remains in stasis. Shaw, noting that the ship contains more of the stone cylinders which hold the virus that killed Holloway, asks David where the ship was destined for. David, who has viewed the ship's log, informs her that it was headed for Earth.
Now keep in mind that the Engineers of LV-223 died off some 2000 years ago, according to the carbon dating done upon the decapitated head. This would give a certain amount of Biblical significance to the Engineers' planned genocidal expedition to earth during that timeframe. In an interview conducted shortly before Prometheus's release director Ridley Scott revealed that this was very much intentional, and that he had very bold plans for this allusion indeed. A Q&A exchange  produced the following:
Q: You throw religion and spirituality into the equation for Prometheus, though, and it almost acts as a hand grenade. we had heard it was scripted that the engineers were targeting our planet for destruction because we had crucified one of their representatives, and the Jesus Christ might have been an alien. Was that ever consider?

Scott: We definitely did, and then we thought it was a little too on the nose. But if you look at it as an "our children are misbehaving down there" scenario, there are moments where it looks like we've gone out of control, running around with armor and skirts, which of course would be the Roman Empire. And they were given the long run. A thousand years before their disintegration actually started to happen. And you can say, "Lets send down one more of our emissaries to see if he can stop it." Guess what? They crucified him.

Here we encounter another instance of Prometheus attempting to reduce mythology to a purely scientific, nuts and bolts explanation. Earlier Holloway declared that creation was nothing more than a matter of genetic splicing while David, in his conversation with Holloway, reduced the act of creation to a mere whim when he applied Holloway's explanation of android creation to humanity's relationship with the Engineers: Because they can.

And yet, despite the chilly scientific air running throughout the film faith still plays a central role. It is faith, specifically Shaw and Holloway's, which leads the Prometheus to LV-223. Shaw, the film's only acknowledged practicing Christian, retains her faith in God even after she proves that humanity was created by the Engineers. Ultimately she is the only member of the crew who survives the ordeal, and in a most miraculous fashion at that. Whether these elements were added simply for the symbolic effect and to give the audience some comfort amidst the icy, Babylon 5-esque universe in which all mysteries are reduced to mere science is impossible to tell.

Weyland is quickly disappointed after David revives the last remaining Engineer from stasis. After David asked the being for more life for Weyland it responds by decapitating David and delivering a mortal blow to Weyland with his severed head. As he lays dying Weyland moans "There's nothing" to which David still living head responds smugly "I know. Have a good journey Mr. Weyland." Weyland is thus destroyed by his journey into the Underworld in his Great Work comes to an end. In Mason-speak, he is an unworthy craftsman.

As addressed briefly in part three, decapitation is highly important in the occult and ancient mythology. Curiously it is directly related to the divine king notion via some of the Grail myths, specifically those featuring the Fisher King or some variation. Some have even speculated that originally the Grail was not in fact chalice but rather a severed head upon a platter.
"The first of the Grail romances was Chretien de Troyes' unfinished Le Conte del Graal (c. 1190)...

"In Chretien's version of the story there is no mention of the Grail being a cup nor is any connection with the Last Super or with Jesus ever explicitly described. In fact, there is no obvious religious connotation at all, and it has been said that its overall ambiance is, if anything, distinctly pagan. Here, however, the Grail object was a platter or dish -which, as we shall see, is highly significant. In fact, Chretien had drawn on a much older Celtic tale that had as its hero Peredur, whose quest involved encountering a gruesome and apparently highly ritualistic procession in a remote castle. Carried in this were, among other things, a spear that dripped blood and a severed head on a platter. A common feature of the Grail stories is the critical moment when the hero fails to ask an important question, and it is this sin of omission that leads him into grave danger. As Malcom Godwin says: 'Here the question which is not asked concerns the nature of the head. If Peredur had asked whose head, and how it concerned him, he would have known how to lift the enchantments of the Wasteland.' (The land had been cursed and made infertile.)

"Even without an ending, Chretien's story was a runaway success and it gave rise to a huge number of copycat tales -most of which were explictly Christian...

"One of these Christianized versions was Perlesvaus, which was, some say, written by a monk at Glastonbury Abbey in c. 1205, while others believe it was the work on an anonymous Templar. This tale is really about two quest that are interwoven. The knight Gawain searches for the sword that beheaded John the Baptist, and which magically bleeds every day at noon. In one episode the hero encounters a cart containing 150 severed heads of knights: some were sealed in gold, some in silver and some in lead. Then there is a bizarre damsel who carries in one hand the head of a king, sealed in silver, and in the other that of a queen, sealed in lead.

"In Perlesvaus the elite attendants of the Grail wear white garments emblazoned with a red cross -just like the Templars. There is also a red cross that stands in a forest, and which falls prey to a priest who beats it 'in every part' with a rod, an episode which has a clear connection with the charge that the Templars spat and trampled on the cross. Once again, there is a curious scene involving severed heads. One of the Grail guardians tells the hero, Perceval, 'There are the heads in silver, and the heads sealed in lead, and the bodies whereunto these heads belong: I tell you that you must come thither the head both of the King and Queen.' "
(The Templar Revelation, Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, pgs. 117-118)

The appearance of the Knights Templar in this variation upon the Grail myths is most interesting. As I'm sure many of my readers are aware, several prominent and notorious legends concerning the Templars feature them worshiping a severed head.
"As several commentators have pointed out, the charge that the knights worshipped a severed head --which was believed to be called Baphomet --has resonances with the Grail romances, in which, as we have seen, severed heads figure largely. The Templars were charged with ascribing Grail-like powers to this Baphomet: it could make the trees flower and the land fertile. In fact, not only were the Templars accused of revering this idol head, but they also owned a silver reliquary in the form of a female skull which was labelled simply caput (head) 58."
(ibid, pg. 121)
In Prometheus David's severed head continues to live and helps Shaw survive the final Engineer, who quickly dispatches the rest of the expedition team before attempting to leave LV-223 in his spaceship. The ship is brought down by the Prometheus itself, but the epic crash only manages to kill the remaining members of the crew while the Engineer survives. In the aftermath he comes looking for Shaw. It is at this point that David's severed head becomes a kind of talisman, and instrumental in Shaw's survival. Of course several major mythological traditions place the power of prophecy and incredible knowledge in the cranials of various severed heads.
"The Celts had a tradition of bewitched heads, but more pertinently, there was a severed head kept at the Osirian temple of Abydos that was believed to prophesy. In another associated myth, the head of that other dying-and-rising god, Orpheus, was washed upon Lesbos, where it began to predict the future."
(ibid, pg. 358)
the head of Orpheus
As the film winds down it makes good use of the image of Shaw with David's severed head. This is an iconic image, the most famous of which being Salome with the head of John the Baptist. As noted above, the Templars were accused of worshiping a severed head. In some accounts it was said to be the head of John the Baptist, which they found in the Holy Lands. Thus, we find another link to the Grail myth in Prometheus.

The head of Orpheus, who had a mystery cult dedicated to him in Antiquity, is also commonly depicted as being possessed by women. In myth Orpheus was torn to pieces by the Maenads, the ravenous female followers Dionysus, and his severed head was cast into the river Hebrus. Eventually he was found by the Muses at the Lesbos shore and a shrine was built containing his head at Antissa. As noted above, the head became an oracle and delivered prophecies of the future.

David's head does not deliver prophecies of the future but it does become a means by which Shaw can understand and locate the Engineers. Or in other words it becomes a tool of communion with humanity's creators. Both the human head and the Grail are symbols of knowledge and enlightenment, roles of which David's severed head has taken on at this point. Shaw wondering off into the stars on board another Engineer spaceship with David's severed head guiding her to their home planet is blatantly symbolic of the new Grail quest, a new alchemical search for illumination. Presumably Shaw will prove to be far more worthy than Weyland.

And it is here that I shall finally wrap things up. As this series has illustrated, the symbolism and twilight language of Prometheus is very rich and highly complex. While the film is placed in the Alien franchise it is very much spiritual and thematic companion to Kubrick's 2001, especially in one noteworthy instance.

Much has been written over the years about Kubrick's sci-fi opus in conspiracy culture, much of it of little value. One of the most unique takes on 2001 was presented by the Honourable DJ Hives. For those of you unfamiliar with Hives, he can either be described as Cooper-ism taken to its logical extreme and/or brilliant satire of Cooper's followers. Hives describes his work  as the only pro-Illuminati take on the Internet.

In a series of videos that he initially posted on YouTube, which an be found here and here, examining the meaning of 2001 Hives compellingly argues that the extraterrestrials presented in 2001 were not alien beings, but in fact other human beings from another planet. He notes that, among other things, the alien spaceship in 2001 and other artifacts associated with them are all designed for humanoid like beings. Thus, earth and its inhabitants were created by another, interstellar branch of humanity.

This is a notion that Prometheus takes up in a more blatant fashion. Superficially the Engineers are an idolized vision of what humanity may ultimately evolve into. It's interesting to note how nihilistic this vision has become between the time of Kubrick's trailblazing film and Scott's latest take. Both films effectively presented a universe in which all magic is gone. The Kubrick's version is at least semi-optimistic about man's potential future. Scott depicts a supremely evolved version of humanity that is every bit as homicidal and genocidal as us earthlings.

It's also interesting to note the cultural shift between these two films. In 2012, when Prometheus was released, religion was very much in decline in the Western world, especially in the wake of the Bush II years. This was a process that was well when Kubrick released 2001 in 1968. It's tempting to speculate that on some level both films are an attempt, either intentionally or subconsciously, to fill the void. Both films offer us mysticism, but mysticism grounded in the scientific worldview of the modern world. This is of course highly acceptable to our modern sensibilities.

Some among the conspiratorial right will no doubt view Prometheus as another thread in the web of a new religion based around the concepts of ancient astronauts that is being unveiled to the public. This is a most intriguing prospect, especially in the wake of the ancient astronaut blitz leading up to 2012.Films like Prometheus and 2001 have cleverly hedge their bets, adopting strands of scientific humanism as well. As noted above, there is an indication in both films that not only does humanity control its own evolution but that humanity even created itself. 2001 wisely used ambiguity to mask this notion. In Prometheus it is direct and this may be one of the reasons why audiences have not found it in their hearts to proclaim the film a modern classic.

And ultimately this is most understandable, for the universe of Prometheus is truly a disheartening one.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Prometheus Rising Part III

Welcome to part three of my examination of the Alien prequel and ancient astronaut epic Prometheus. In the first installment of this series I considered the mythological figure of Prometheus as well as some minor background details surrounding the film. I also began examining the opening moments of the film, a process I took up in earnest in the second installment. In the second part I also considered some of the major characters, specifically the the archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and David (Michael Fassbender), a humanlike android. When last I left off I was breaking down some of the film's early numerology, most prominently displayed once the spaceship Prometheus reaches LV-223, a distant moon the crew of the Prometheus has journeyed to.

Shaw (top) and David (bottom)

It is here that Shaw and her fellow archaeologist and lover Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) believe that they would discover the Engineers, an extraterrestrial race they believe created humanity. Shaw and Holloway happened upon this notion after discovering and comparing several ancient star maps found in the midst of several of humanity's oldest civilizations. Eventually they convince Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the CEO of the Weyland Corporation, into bankrolling an expedition to LV-223. Weyland himself has had a lifelong interest in ancient aliens and is also nearing death, inspiring him to seek out Shaw's Engineers in the hopes of extending his life if not achieving immortality.


Weyland is also the creator of David. As I noted in the second installment, the humanlike android appearing in Prometheus is very much in keeping with the occult concept of creating an artificial human being such as the golem of the Kabbalah and the homunculus of alchemy, among other traditions. This in turn makes Weyland himself a kind of magician or alchemist. This association is further borne out by Weyland's pursuit of immortality, one of the chief goals of fabled alchemy.

A Kabbalist creating a golem (top) and an alchemist creating a homunculus (bottom)
Weyland also seemingly manifests to the crew as a kind of ghost upon their arrival to LV-223, appearing in a holographic film which was recorded before he allegedly died. After the holographic Weyland has explained the purpose of the expeditions to the crew of the Prometheus and referred to David as the closest thing he has to a son he turns the floor over to Shaw and Holloway from beyond the grave. At this point several other scientists onboard the Prometheus invoke Darwinism to attack Shaw and Holloway's theories of ancient astronauts. It would thus appear that the theory of natural selection is alive and well at the tail end of the 21st century. Let us briefly consider this notion.
"Wallace and Darwin simultaneously proposed and material mechanism to explain the evolution of species. According to their theory of natural selection, organisms presented slight variations from one generation to the next, which were either retained or eliminated in the struggle for survival. This idea rested on a circular argument: Those who survive are the most able to survive. But it seemed to explain both the variation of species and the astonishing perfection of the natural world, as it pretained only the improvements. Above all, it took God out of the picture enable biologist to study nature without having to worry about a divine plan within.

"For almost a century, the theory of natural selection was contested. Vitalists, like Bergson, rejected its stubborn materialism, pointing out that it lacked a mechanism to explain the origin of the variations. It wasn't until the 1950s and the discovery of the role of DNA that the theory of natural selection became generally accepted among scientists. The DNA molecule seemed to demonstrate the materiality of heredity and to provide the missing mechanism. As DNA is self-duplicating and transmits information proteins, biologists concluded that information cannot flow back from proteins to DNA; therefore, genetic variation can only come from errors in the duplication process...

"The discovery of DNA's role and the formulation in molecular terms of the theory of natural selection gave a new impetus to materialist philosophy. It became possible to contend on a scientific basis that life is purely a material phenomenon..."
(The Cosmic Serpent, Jeremy Narby, pgs. 133-134)
The discovery of DNA, however, would ultimately cast serious doubts on the theory of natural selection. One of the first skeptics was Francis Crick, the Noble prize winner for the co-discovery of the structure of DNA.
"Crick, writing in the early 1980s, criticizes the usual scientific theory of the origin of life, according to which a cell first appeared in the primitive soup through the random collisions of disorganized molecules. For Crick, this theory presents a major drawback:  It is based on ideas conceived in the nineteenth century, long before molecular biology revealed that the basic mechanisms of life are identical for all species and are extremely complex --and one calculates the probability of chance producing such complexity, one ends up with inconceivably small numbers.

"The DNA molecule, which excels at stocking and duplicating information, is incapable building itself on its own. Proteins do this, but they are incapable of reproducing themselves without the information contained in the DNA. Life, therefore, is a seemingly inescapable synthesis of these two molecular systems. Moving beyond the famous question of the chicken and the egg, Crick calculates the probability of the chance emergence of one single protein (which could then go on to build the first DNA molecule). In all living species, proteins are made up of exactly the same 20 amino acids, which are small molecules. The average protein is a long chain made up of approximately 200 amino acids, chosen from those 20, and strung together in the right order. According to the laws of combinatorials, there is 1 chance and 20 multiplied by itself 200 times for a single specific protein to emerge for two fortuitously...

"These numbers are inconceivable for a human mind.  It is not possible to imagine all the atoms of the observable universe and even less a figure that is billions of billions of billions of billions of billions (etc.) times greater.  However, since the beginning of life on earth, the number of amino acid chains the could have been synthesized by chance can only represent a minute fraction of all the possibilities. According to Crick: "The great majority of sequences can never have been synthesized at all, at any time. These calculations take account only of the amino acid sequence. they do not follow for the fact that many sequences would probably not fold up satisfactory into a stable, compact shape. What fraction of all possible sequences would do this is not known, though it is surmised to be fairly small."  Crick concludes that organized complexity found at the cellular level 'cannot have arisen by pure chance.'"
(ibid, pgs. 75-76)
Unsurprisingly, Crick proposed that life on Earth originated from extraterrestrials. Ironically, several of Crick's ancient astronaut-leaning theories were eventually adapted by Jeremy Narby into his research concerning DNA and DMT. As was noted in part one of this series, there is a strong entheogenic thread running throughout Prometheus. The opening sequence depicts an Engineer consuming a seemingly sacred drink that has strong overturns of a shamanistic ritual involving the DMT-laced beverage ayahuasca. This is followed by a sequence in which the Engineer's body disintegrates into a nearby bed of water where the disintegration continues to a cellular level. We are then presented with images of the being's DNA merging with the cellular life within this body of water. In The Cosmic Serpent Narby compellingly argues that DNA and DMT are linked with one another, even theorizing that DNA is able to 'communicate' with human beings in the grips of DMT-induced hallucinations.

Narby first arrived at this theory after marveling at the knowledge of several South American shamans in regards to the indigenous and exotic plant life of the Amazon. When he asked the shamans where this knowledge came from they informed Narby that the plants spoke to them.  This lead Narby to research the possibility that plant life could somehow communicate to individuals in the grips of DMT. Eventually he came to theorize that it was the plant DNA that was communicating with the shamans.
"The detailed descriptions of ayahuasca-based hallucinatory experiences invariably mentioned bright colors, and, according to the authors of the study:  'Subjects described the colors is brighter, more intense, and deeply saturated than those seen in normal awareness or dreams: 'It was like the blue of the desert sky, but on another planet. The colors were 10 to 100 times more saturated.'

"... DNA's highly coherent photon emission accounted for the luminescence of hallucinatory images, as well as their three-dimensional, or holographic, aspect.

"On the basis of this connection, I could now conceive of a neurological mechanism for my hypothesis. The molecules of nicotine or dimethyltryptamine, contained in tobacco or ayahuasca, activates the respective receptors, which set off a cascade electrochemical reactions inside the neurons, leading to the stimulation of DNA and, more particularly, to its mission of visible waves, which shamans perceive as "hallucinations.'

"There, I thought, is the source of knowledge: DNA, living in water and emitting photons, like an aquatic dragon spitting fire."
(ibid, pg. 127)
As noted above, the viewer is able to see the Engineer's DNA after he consumes the mysterious drink in the opening sequence. Is this possibly meant as allusion to an Narby's work? If so it would simply be one of numerous references to entheogens running throughout Prometheus. But I digress (somewhat). Back to the matter at hand.

As the crew of the Prometheus is canvassing LV-223 they become aware of a large, mound-like structure that appears to be artificial. At the insistence of Shaw and Holloway the ship lands so that the structure can be explored further. An expedition crew, led by Shaw and Holloway naturally, departs shortly after the Prometheus lands. It doesn't take the team long to realize that the structure is indeed artificial. Built around an endless series of winding corridors, the team initially discovers a  gigantic room featuring numerous stone cylinders surrounding a large monolithic statue of a humanoid head. They also discover several large alien bodies that they presume to be the Engineers, as well as the decapitated head of one of these beings. Let us pause for a moment and consider the significance of some of these things.

the structure
We'll start with the exterior of the structure. As noted above it is very mound-like, echoing many of the ancient megalithic structures found all across the Earth, but mound building on steroids. Whereas ancient man's attempts to re-create a mountain were mixed at best the Engineers succeeded on a grand scale, thus implying that ancient man first acquired this obsession from his creators. Nevertheless, the ancient megalithic mounds of Earth, specifically those of North America and Europe, are most curious in their own right.
"... the Indian burial mounds as somehow related to the phenomenon, linking them to the great burial mounds of Europe... there is a distinct possibility that some of these mounds were either constructed by Europeans or by people using the same technology as the Europeans, and even the same ( or similar) belief systems. The Tumulus ('mound') culture of Central Europe, for instance, was prevalent in the second millennium BC and was probably trading with cultures in the Middle East at the time, such as Egypt and what was left of the vanishing Samaria civilization.  This culture was known, obviously, for their use of burial mounds and  for their practices of  burying valuable commodities with their dead, as was the case in the Adena and the Hopewell cultures in America. Neolithic burial mounds are to be found all over Northern Europe and the British Isles, and later, and Ireland, these burial mounds were known as sidh is famous and Irish folklore, and is come to represent the Celtic underworld in general, the domain of ghosts, fairies and other supernatural beings. According to the poet and novelist Robert Graves and is and for the study of Celtic mythology, The White Goddess, the mounds were known as Caer Sidi or the 'Fortress of the Sidi' who are the ancient magicians of Ireland. The Cair Sidi was also known as the Castle of Ariadne and linked to the Corona Borealis. To be buried there meant that the body was returned to the earth, but the spirit had gone to Ariadne's Castle and link to the Corona Borealis. There was even a British occult society based on Druidic lore which had, as its inner and most secret circle, The Mound Builders. Members of this group would figure  prominently in the 19th century creation of the legendary British occult  lodge the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and would include MacGreor Mather, Allan Bennett and other famous from Golden Dawn days, thus reinforcing the link ( at least in the eyes of occultists) between the mound builder culture and secret, supernatural forces."
(Sinister Forces Book I, Peter Levenda, pgs. 90-91)
Grave Creek Mound, an Adena structure
Naturally ancient megalithic mounds have also been linked to extraterrestrials. This linkage first became popular in the 1960s thanks in no small part to the work of John Michell.
"In The Flying Saucer Vision -- 'a genuine artefact of 1967' --Michell explored an idea that he discovered in the writing of the French UFO investigator Aime Michel, a regular contributor to Planete. Aime Michel argued that UFO sightings recorded on the same day seemed to follow straight lines; furthermore, that the types of places where the sightings occurred were similar, and that the saucers had a tendency to stick to these routes. Michel speculated if there was something on the ground that caused this. John Michell thought so too, and he also thought he knew what it might be: lung mei, the 'dragon paths' of ancient China. Michell also explored the ideal that Erich von Daniken and Stanley Kubrick would popularize a few years later: that human evolution was the handiwork of extraterrestrials visiting the earth in the ancient past...

"It with this fascination was strange lore and ancient sites the brought him to the dragon paths. Michell would have no problem with the ideal that the Glastonbury zodiac was meant to be seen from the air --an idea that Pauwels and Bergier and von Daniken believe is true of many ancient sites. Lung meis ran from hilltop to hilltop, and were supposed to follow the path the dragons took flying from lair to lair. Many sacred sites in Britain had legends of dragons associated with them, and many UFO sightings were also associated with such places. Michell also knew of feng shui, the Chinese science of geomancy. In feng shui the placement position of houses, wells, temples is absolutely crucial; as in acupuncture, the basic idea was that certain energies can be released or block depending on things being in their proper place. Aime Michel wondered if the straight lines formed by UFO sightings had any cause in the magnetic currents in the earth. John Michell wondered if the magnetic currents had anything to do with feng shui."
(Turn Off Your Mind, Gary Lachman, pgs. 370-372)
When considering the winding corridors of the alien structure I was instantly reminded of the labyrinth. Both the maze and the labyrinth itself are symbolically rich and littered with occult significance.
"This artificial network exists in a natural state and the passageways leading to a number of prehistoric cave site; Virgil assures us that it was drawn upon the door to the Sibyl's cavern at Cumae; it was carved upon the stone floors of cathedrals; it was danced in many lands from Greece to China, and it was known to the ancient Egyptians. The fact is --and its association caverns bears this out --that mazes should both allow access to their centres by a sort of initiatory journey and bar it to those who are not qualified to enter.  In this sense the maze is akin to the mandela, which in any case sometimes bears a labyrinthine appearance. Thus we are concerned with the representation of initiatory test by choosing, as preliminaries to a journey to the hidden centre...

"As the symbol of a defensive system, the maze proclaims the presence of something precious or holy. It may serve the military purpose of defending an area of land, a village, a town, a tomb or a treasure-house, to which it allows admission only to those who know the plans or have been initiated.  It has the religious purpose of protection against the assaults of evil, this evil being not only satanic, but also intrusive, from persons prepared to violate the secrets, the holiness and the intimacy of a relationship with the godhead. The centre protected by the maze is the preserve of the initiate, the person who has passed the tests of initiation (the windings of the maize) and is shown him --or herself worthy to be granted a revelation of the mystery.  Once that person reaches the centre, he or she is, as it were, made holy, entering the arcane and bound by the secret.

"In the Kabbalist a tradition taken up by the alchemists, mazes filled a magical function which was one of the secrets attributed to Solomon. This is why the mazes and cathedrals, 'those series concentrate circles broken a given points on the circumference to provide a strange and tangled pathway,' came to be called 'Solomon's Maze'.  Alchemist saw them as images  'of the whole task involved in the work, with its major difficulties; an image of the path they needed to follow to reach the centre, arena for the two warring natures; image of the path which the artist must follow to find release...' This explanation would run parallel with that provided by one of the teachings of ascetic mysticism --focusing upon oneself along the thousands of passive feeling, emotion and ideas; overcoming all that stands in the way of unalloyed intuition, and then returning to the light without becoming lost in the byways. To enter and to emerge from the maze might be symbol of death and resurrection."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pgs. 642-643)

Besides initiation mazes have also been associated with ritualistic sacrifice.
"The confusing maze of corridors, moreover, is an inept design for residents. But a maze is what one finds at Knossos. A labyrinth, to use its real name, a word assimilated into Greek from the pre-Greek language, as is the name Knossos itself. A labyrinth is the 'place of the labrys.' A 'labrys' is a double axe, an axe with an edge that cuts in both directions. It was a symbol of the religion practiced at Knossos, like the crucifix in Christianity. Ornamental  golden exemplars have been found, as well as much sturdier implements for the actual use.

"And like the cross, it was the symbol of the sacrificial death. The labrys was used to slaughter the bull, and the bull was the taurine manifestation of the bovine Queen's consort. Originally not a bull, but the consort himself, was the victim. Between the two edges of an axe that cuts in both directions is the sharp divide, the razor's edge, the midmost point --beyond which lies another world. The labrys symbolizes renewal through death, and when kings become less expendable, other humans came to be substituted in the king's role, supposedly as willing sacrificial victims, uniting the living with the dead to revitalize the fertility of the Goddess and of the mortal women who joined as a trinity of sisters and her warship. The labyrinth itself, with its consort and confusing passageways, was emblematic of the Goddess, like a maze of entrails leading to the womb, which is the gateway for life and death."
(The World of Classical Myth, Carl A.P. Ruck & Danny Staples, pg. 28)

Birth is a reoccurring theme throughout Prometheus, thus making the appearance of the labyrinth especially apt in this sense. Its association with initiation is obvious, as it is here that Shaw first has an inkling of the true nature of the Engineers. Ironically it is not something precious or holy that the center of this maze conceals, but rather a weapon. While not mentioned above the maze can also be symbolic of a descent into the Underworld, which incidentally is also the purpose of the shamanistic use of entheogens. As in both the physical as well as the entheogenic descent into the Underworld there are strange and terrible creatures present within this labyrinth.

Before wrapping up this installment I would like to briefly consider the significance of the head and of decapitation. Both figure prominently in Prometheus and both have much symbolic and occult significance. The expedition crew encounter striking instances of each within a chamber located deep within the alien labyrinth. It is also here that they discover the stone cylinders that have more than a passing resemblance to the facehugger-bearing eggs of the earlier Alien films. David is able to stow one of these cylinder away while the rest of the crew is fixated upon the heads: One of them is what is later revealed to be the decapitated head of an Engineer wearing a space helmets; while the other is a large statue of a humanoid head.

As regular readers of this blog will remember, I've written extensively on the significance of the head and decapitation in a occult before, such as in this piece. Briefly, the head's significance can be described as such:
"Generally speaking, the head symbolizes the driving force of the active principle, including the powers of government, legislation and enlightenment. It also symbolizes the manifestation of spirit, in contrast with the body which. symbolizes the manifestation of matter. The spherical shape of the human head, according to Plato, likens it to the universe... The head is a microcosm. All these meanings converge in the symbolism of the One, of perfection, the Sun and the godhead."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 476)
Thus, it would make for a natural banner for an advanced and allegedly enlightened extraterrestrial species. In a way, it also symbolizes the relationship between the Engineers and humanity itself. It is from their mind from which we derived in the mythology of Prometheus and presumably our powers of government, legislation and enlightenment also came from the same source. Perhaps it also symbolizes the relationship between the Engineers and whatever created them.

The symbolism of decapitation is more subtle and complex and beyond the scope of this present article though it shall be addressed in more depth in a future installment. For the time being here is another brief snippet from the Dictionary of Symbols:
"In the Celtic world, the head was the focus of practices and beliefs which differed in detail, but possessed an overall homogeneity. The most important custom was war like: the Gauls used to cut off the heads of their conquered enemies, tie them to the necks of their horses and bear them home in triumph. These trophies were carefully preserved, in cedar-oil if need be... The decapitated head is a regular motif of Gailic coinage and the Gallic and Gallo-Roman plastic arts. Irish custom was identical with Gallic and insular heroic literature contains countless examples of the warrior carrying off the head of the enemy he has killed in single combat. The head would thus symbolize the enemy's strength and warlike virtues that his conqueror had acquired, and decapitation would also ensure the death of the enemy. According to Celtic notions, death did not occur until the cerebral membranes were destroyed."
(ibid, pgs. 476-477)

And it is here that I shall leave things for now. In the next installment we show more fully explore the significance of the head and decapitation as it relates to Prometheus as well as the mysteries of birth, which also factor heavily into the film. I may even get around to the current cultural significance of Prometheus and ancient astronauts in general. Stay tuned.