Sunday, December 30, 2012

Prometheus Rising Part I

As I've gotten older movies have progressively lost interest for me. In my teens and early 20s I was an uber movie geek, consuming dozens of titles a year, but nowadays I typically only sit down to watch a film if it relates to this blog. But when I read about Prometheus, legendary director Ridley Scott's prequel to the sci-fi/horror classic Alien, I felt an actual sense of anticipation. Sure, it was something I knew I would eventually feel compelled to write about for this blog but I was also genuinely curious to see how Scott would present the highly topical ancient astronauts meme and how it would be incorporated into the Alien franchise. Disclaimer: Recluse was a mega-fan of the Alien series as a kid, owning the movies themselves, several Dark Horse comic series based upon the Alien universe and even the action figures. Thus, I anticipated Prometheus both in relation to my work with VISUP as well as on a personal/sentimental level, something I haven't felt for a movie in some time.

I put off seeing Prometheus in theaters as to avoid the hype and bells and whistles that go along with tentpole movies. I also avoided reading about it in the blogosphere at all costs so as not to have any preconceived notions about its symbolism. Still, I gave into temptation a time or two and was most interested by how audiences were reacting to the film. For the most part it seemed like the fanboys perceived Prometheus as a compelling if deeply flawed movie that didn't feature enough Alien staples. I was intrigued by this reaction as it seemed to indicate that Scott had relentlessly pursued the ancient astronauts angle.

The ancient astronaut meme has of course been getting a lot of play since the 1960s, first gaining widespread exposure in 1968 with Kubrick' legendary 2001 film and a book by Erich von Daniken entitled Chariots of the Gods?. The 1990s upped the game with the widely popular X-Files and Stargate franchises which incorporated ancient astronauts heavily into their respective mythologies. In recent years things have gone into overdrive in no small part due to the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar in 2012, long a pivotal date in the New Age community, and the highly popular History Channel series Ancient Aliens, an examination of all things ancient astronaut. Prometheus, a big budget summer blockbuster centered around such notions, struck me as a kind of coming out for the ancient astronaut crowd. Sure, major movies have addressed ancient aliens before, such as the after-mentioned 2001 and the most recent Indiana Jones film, but not as explicitly and/or seriously as Prometheus seemed poised to do.

My anticipation for the film was only heightened after the bizarre suicide of director Tony Scott, Ridley's younger brother, on August 19, 2012, exactly 40 days before the film was released on DVD. I wrote a blog on this incident here in which I noted that the younger Scott had collaborated with the DoD before in the making of the film Top Gun, a marvelous piece of PSYOPs. From what I can tell, the DoD had a similar involvement in Ridley's Black Hawk Down if this article is any indication of what went on behind the scenes. The Scott family, like a surprising number of Hollywood players, came from a military background. Their father was an individual named Francis Percy Scott, a colonel in the Royal Engineers. Thus, there is another highly compelling angle to Prometheus, namely its intended effect on culture and consciousness.

Ridley Scott (top) and Tony Scott (bottom)

When I finally got a copy of it on DVD in October I was so overwhelmed by the scope of the film's twilight language on my initial viewing that I opted to wait nearly a month to rewatch it. Since then I've rewatched it several times and am finally feeling like I have some grasp of the film. There's really no easy way to start a discussion on Prometheus so I shall opt for the easiest route: I will focus on the legendary figure of Prometheus and then delve into the film, addressing its symbolism largely in chronological order. I'm also going to assume that those reading this piece have already seen the film so don't expect an extensive plot synopsis. So, on to Prometheus.

In Greek mythology Prometheus is one of the Titans, the elder gods who reigned before the Olympians during the so-called Golden Age. The Olympians violently overthrew the Titans with the aid of Prometheus, which gained him favor with Zeus. This favor was quickly squandered with the creation of man, an act some sources credit to Prometheus.
"It was time for men to be created. There is more than one account of how that came to pass. Some say it was delegated by the gods to Prometheus, the Titan who had sided with Zeus in the war with the Titans, and to his brother, Epimetheus. Prometheus, whose name means forethought, was very wise, wiser even than the gods, but Epimetheus, which means afterthought, was a scatterbrained person who invariably followed his first impulse and then changed his mind. So he did in this case. Before making men he gave all the best gifts to the animals, strength and swiftness and courage and shrewd cunning, fur and feathers and wings and shells and the like --until no good was left for men, no protective covering and no quality to make them a match for the beasts. Too late, as always, he was sorry and asked his brother's help. Prometheus, then, took over the task of creation and thought out a way to make mankind superior. He fashioned them in a nobler shape than the animals, upright like the gods; and then he went to heaven, to the sun, where he lit a torch and brought down fire, a protection to men far better than anything else, whether fur or feathers or strength or swiftness."
(Mythology, Edith Hamilton, pgs. 85-86)

Zeus was more than a little pissed off about the whole theft of fire thing, which enabled progress and civilization amongst humans and thus making humanity potential threats to the Olympians somewhere down the road. Zeus condemned Prometheus to eternal torment via being chained to a rock and having his liver eaten by an eagle daily until the end of time. Prometheus eventually escaped this fate, however. He was rescued by Heracles and was then given immortality by the Centaur Chiron. Naturally both Prometheus himself and his saga are littered with symbolism.
"The meaning of Prometheus' name --Forethought --makes clear the meaning of the myth. As a descendant of the Titans, the spirit of revolt was innate within him; however, he symbolizes not a revolt of the senses, but that of the spirit, the spirit which, if it cannot make itself the equal of the divine intellect, at least tries to steal a few sparks of its light. This not a quest of the spirit for its own sake, along the path of gradual self-spiritualization, but the use of the spirit for purposes of self-gratification... Prometheus' final deification was to follow his freeing by Herakles, that is to say, after his chains were broken and the eagle killed. But it was also to be conditional upon the death of the centaur, that is to say, by the sublimation of desire. The latter was to be a victory of the spirit at the end of a fresh phase of creative development in the direction of the being and no longer towards power."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 773)
This interpretation is especially apt for the film Prometheus, as we shall see. But for now, a bit more on the Titan: Prometheus has been associated with Lucifer by Helena Blavatsky (at least according to this article) as well as any number of Illuminati-exposing conspiracy blogs. There is much merit to this linking as both Prometheus and Lucifer are described as light-bringers in mythology. Beyond the Lucifer ties, Prometheus also has curious entheogenic symbolism as well.
"Prometheus was the first of the new age of shamans to open the pathways of communication between what were now the two metaphysical realms. Without him, the celestial and chthonic worlds would have stood apart in equal and eternal conflict, for it was only because he deserted his own brethren and fought on the side of the Olympians that the battle was decided in their favor. The two worlds were now stable, but with Zeus as a tyrant in intolerable dominance. Communication required mediation. Prometheus's culminating achievement in this regard was his creation of Man. He stole fire and implanted it as the nucleus of life in the creature he had made of clay, so that the human being would incorporate in a single entity the dichotomous realms of earthly matter and celestial spirit, for fire is the characteristic warmth of living matter and burning is the process whereby substance is transmuted into the rising fumes of immaterial essence. Zeus would have destroyed the earthen body of this first Man, were it not that its soul shared in the immortality of the Olympian family.... Prometheus also taught his creation how to eat, the communal meal in which the edible was eaten to nourish the body, and the inedible was burnt to transmute it into spirit as food for the celestial gods who shared in the sacrificial banquet. The rite of this meal was first enacted at a place called Mekone, which was probably Sicyon, near Corinth. Mekone was named for the mekon or opium poppy, and Sicyon is where Sisyphos made the first race of humans out of mushrooms."
(The Apples of Apollo, Carl Ruck, Blaise Daniel Staples & Clark Heinrich, pg. 131)

In this context Prometheus also is associated with the winter solstice, of which the principal action of Prometheus takes place around.
"At the winter solstice for a period of twelve days, the axis mundi between this world and metaphysical realms gapes open as at Ixion's wedding, with the flaming pitfalls below and the burning wheel above. And half-human creatures, mostly centaurs, but other sorts as well, such as satyrs and werewolves, and the wee people, too, the tiny folk like elves and sprites, stream into our reality. It is the time when the sacred food, called soma or haoma is shared with the gods, or stolen, as Prometheus, the Greek creator of Man, stole it in the form of spiritual fire: vase paintings depict him in the theft with his troupe of satyrs."
(ibid, pg. 23)
Prometheus and the satyrs

This passage is strangely apt for the events that unfold once the spaceship Prometheus reaches the distant moon of LV-223, but more on that in a bit. For now, let us turn our attention to the much celebrated opening sequence of Prometheus.

Right off the bat Prometheus distinguishes itself from the Alien series visually. The Alien movies were all very dark and claustrophobic films, largely being set in spaceships and other confined, interior locations. Prometheus opens in an array of wide open spaces and vibrant colors, giving it a very 2001 feel. On a pristine and vacant, Earth-like planet a giant humanoid being with pale skin stands at the edge of a massive waterfall as a spaceship looms overhead. This creature is one of the 'Engineers,' and the ancient astronauts and the film's chief antagonists. They are in stark contrast to the insect-like aliens of the earlier films. The later seemed to be a combination of numerous phobias while the Engineers seemingly represent an idealized form of humanity --or so we are led to believe.

This Engineer proceeds to drink some type of liquid after raising the container that its in toward the spaceship in a ritualistic salute. The spaceship begins to depart as the Engineer's body literally disintegrates before our eyes. It falls into the river and goes over the waterfall, dissolving in the waters below. From there the Engineer's DNA begins to mingle with planet's organic life, thus laying the seeds for intelligent life. It is strongly indicated that this is how life on Earth began.

This sequence is extremely powerful symbolically. Screenwriter Damon Lindelof compared it to various creation myths in which gods sacrifice a part of themselves to create humanity. He stated:
"...the idea of the creation myth that in Judeo-Christian culture it’s Garden of Eden, God creates Adam and Eve but Ridley was more interested in Greco-Roman or Aztec creation myths where there are many Gods and they make Man out of themselves. The idea that they sacrifice a piece of themselves to create Man in their own image I find very interesting and the question was can we do it on a sci-fi level and so the opening of the movie is that exact idea and that theme carries through to our future..."
Prometheus scribe Damon Lindelof, who was also one of the chief writers on the highly synchro-mystic TV series Lost

Ridley Scott drew allusions to the act of the killing of the divine king, a theme that appears throughout Prometheus, when talking about this scene, noting:
"That could be a planet anywhere. All he’s doing is acting as a gardener in space. And the plant life, in fact, is the disintegration of himself.
"If you parallel that idea with other sacrificial elements in history – which are clearly illustrated with the Mayans and the Incas – he would live for one year as a prince, and at the end of that year, he would be taken and donated to the gods in hopes of improving what might happen next year, be it with crops or weather, etcetera."
The killing of the divine king was a notion first popularized by James Frazer in his legendary work The Golden Bough. Of it, he writes:
"Now primitive peoples... sometimes believe that their safety and even that of the world is bound up with the life of one of these god-men or human incarnations of the divinity. Naturally, therefore, they take the utmost care of his life, out of a regard for their own. But no amount of care and precaution will prevent the man-god from growing old and feeble and at last dying. His worshippers have to lay their account wit this sad necessity and to meet it as best they can. The danger is a formidable one; for if the course of nature is dependent on the man-god's life, what catastrophes may not be expected from the gradual enfeeblement of his powers and their final extinction in death? There is only one way of averting these dangers. The man-god must be killed as soon as he shews symptoms that his powers are beginning to fail, and his soul must be transferred to a vigorous successor before it has been seriously impaired by the threatened decay... by slaying him his worshippers could, in the first place, make sure of catching his soul at it escaped and transferring it to a suitable successor; and, in the second place, by putting him to death before his natural force was abated, they would secure that the world should not fall into decay with the decay of the man-god."
(The Golden Bough, pgs. 228-229)

Thus, we see that Prometheus links ancient astronauts with some of the most ancient rituals and customs in human mythology. What's more, it subtly references the entheogenic experience as well. The Engineer consumes a mysterious substance that begins his disintegration, followed by a 'trip' into the origins of human religion and spirituality, with any number of strange creatures appearing along the way.

From the opening sequence the film jumps to Earth in the year 2089. Specifically the action picks up at the Isle of Skye, located in Scotland. There two archaeologists, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr. Charles Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), unearth an ancient cavern containing images of a giant being pointing toward a star map. This proves to be the oldest of a series of similar maps which Shaw and Holloway have discovered across the planet, leading them to believe that the maps represent an invitation to the home of humanity's creators. This discovery proves to be crucial, for it convinces Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the aging CEO of Weyland Corporation (the company is one of the chief links between Prometheus and the original Alien), to fund a highly expensive expedition to the distant moon the maps seem to be pointing toward.

the star map discovered by Shaw and Holloway

Initially I was a bit perplexed by the selection of the Isle of Skye for the discovery of the star map. Given the highly esoteric slant of Prometheus a place like the Isle of Man, Avebury or Newgrange would seem like a more fitting location for such a pivotal plot point. To the best of my knowledge the Isle of Skye has no significant association with mythology, the paranormal, or UFOs. But then I began wondering if the significance was not in the Isle of Skye itself, but the nation it belongs to: Scotland.

Scotland is highly significant in Masonic lore, specifically Masonry's alleged ties to the Knights Templar.
"The legend of the Templars in Scotland invariably hangs on a single event: the Battle of Bannockburn, where Robert the Bruce defeated the armies of King Edward II in a field only a few miles from present-day Edinburgh and even closer to Roslin --the site of Rosslyn Chapel. The battle is important because the heavily outnumbered Scots under Robert managed to defeat the English handily. According to historical account, the English lost their nerve and fled the field in the face of the rapidly advancing Scots.

"The aspect of the battle that has never been satisfactorily explained is ow the Scots managed this rout. One of the theories put forward is that a contingent of Knights Templar came to the rescue and once the English saw the Templar banner --the famous white banner with the red cross --they knew they would face one of the fiercest and most battle-hardened of any troops in the Western world...

"The order was officially disbanded by order of the pope in 312... and Jacques de Molay burned at the stake in March 1314. The Battle of Bannockburn took place only three months later. The English had cooperated in the arrest and imprisonment of the Templars and the confiscation of their property; the Scots had not. Thus, it was not so far-fetched to believe that some Templars had fled to Scotland to avoid their fate on the Continent and in England, and sided with Robert the Bruce against the English at that famous battle.

"The Templars had, in fact, a long history in Scotland. David I of Scotland had granted some lands to the Templars in the twelfth century, at a town about four miles from present-day Roslin. The earliest Templar charter is that of the town of St. Andrews, and is dated to 1160. The Templars were not the only military order in Scotland, in fact. The Knights Hospitaller also had property in Scotland, as did the Teutonic Knights. As in France, these holdings provided a source of revenue and recruits for the knightly orders.

"In 1312 all Templar property in Scotland was granted to the Hospitallers, as was happening throughout Europe. However, there is no record that the Hospitallers actually took advantage of this in Scotland at the time. Indeed, although the two orders were merged legally, they seemed to have maintained their separate identities for at least a century to come. We know that, in 1488, James IV of Scotland issued a statement in which he upheld the rights of both the Templars and the Hospitallers, referring to them as separate entities. This document implies a close relationship between the Scottish monarchy and the Templars. We do not know if this relationship was based upon common goals and agendas, or was more a reflection of the political (and perhaps economic) realities of the times. Nonetheless, there was a demonstrable Templar presence in Scotland that outlasted the papal edicts.

"What becomes more interesting --in light of the speculation concerning the Freemasons and their origins --is that Freemasonry was known to have been practiced in Scotland as early as 1590, thus predating the creation of the Grand Lodge of England by more than a hundred years. The oldest Masonic 'catechisms' comes from Scotland, and thus the oldest mention of the 'Masonic Word' and other Masonic ritual and ideology. According to David Stevenson, these were probably the creation of Scotsman William Schaw, the man to whom Stevenson traces the earliest forms of Masonic initiation and organization dating from the very late sixteenth century. In fact, Stevenson contends that these rituals may be older and that they may have been created by Schaw 'out of earlier practices of the craft.'"
(The Secret Temple, Peter Levenda, pgs. 58-60)
a tomb designed by William Schaw ladden with early Masonic imagery

It would appear then that the significance of the Scottish location is confirmed by the name of the lead female character, the previously-mentioned Elizabeth Shaw, and the above-mentioned William Schaw (Schaw clearly being a variation on Shaw), one of the earliest recorded Masons. The name Schaw/Shaw is of Scottish and English origins. It derives both from the Old English word sceanga, which means "dweller by the wood," and the Gaelic personal name Sitheach, meaning "wolf."

Keep in mind that the winter solstice, a period that the mythological Prometheus was associated with, was a time when the barriers between worlds was thin and mythological creatures such as werewolves were able to seep through. The bulk of Prometheus unfolds against the backdrop of the winter solstice, otherwise known as Christmas. And the presence of Shaw ensures that there is a wolf present on board the ship, named Prometheus. Again, I can't help but feel there is an underlining entheogenic thread running throughout the film. We shall explore this and many other things further in the second part of this series.


  1. Great stuff! Re. the entheogenic connection: the liquid in the first scene instantly made me think of ayahuasca, and the disintegration of the Engineer into genetic code felt like a visual representation of the theory, first proposed by Leary and later developed by RAW(in the aptly named PROMETHEUS RISING), Jeremy Narby, and others, that entheogens allow direct access to molecular and genetic information, and ultimately to the genetic memory bank itself. I wrote a couple of background pieces on PROMETHEUS last year that you might enjoy:

    This article has inspired me to revisit this very intriguing film.

  2. Not discounting the Scotland part, I think the Skye connection is worth pursuing further.

    It's been continuously occupied since the Mesolithic. The name probably comes from the Norse word 'cloud' or 'mist', thus 'cloud island'... ('Isla Nublar', which means the same thing, is the island from Jurassic Park where ancient genetics were also messed about with.)

    The less likely etymology according to the barman I spoke to when I visited (for whatever that's worth) is 'winged island' which can imply flying visitors.

    Viking burials from other Gaelic islands such as Iona indicate that bodies were shipped over and interred on them as, from a Skandi perspective, these are literally the Western Isles, the realm of the gods. It's a 'between space' where mankind can touch the numinous. Think of it like being buried in a portal... you're bound to get where you want to go. :)

    Also, the area is intimately associated with civilising strangers from across the ocean as early Celtic saints like Columba spread Christianity through Britain from Ireland.

    Prometheus has really grown on me with a few re-watches. My first time through I confidently declared Alien Vs Predator was a better AAT film, such was my initial disappointment. (Still not sure that it isn't, TBH.)

  3. Tristan-

    Yes, I instantly thought of RAW and "The Cosmic Serpent" upon watching the opening scene as well. I was further reminded of Narby during the scene in which Darwinism was discussed in relation humanity's creation by the Engineers. I plan on getting into that more in later installments.

    I'll be sure to check out your articles when i get a chance.

    BTW, I'm honored to have someone subscribed to my blog who also subscribes to Dr. Schluss' Garage of Psychedelic Obscurities.:)


    I suspect you're correct that there's more to the Isle of Akye that its location in Scotland but I wasn't able to find anything that made me think "Wow." You information on it is fascinating though, especially the notion of it as the "winged island" and as the western most Isles.

    I'll have to go back and watch AvP again. I remember being greatly disappointed when I first saw it years ago, but that was back before I had a serious interest in ancient astronauts and the like.

    It's amazing some of the stuff that pops up in these types of films --"Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation" is almost an overt satire of Monarch theories, for instances.