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.


  1. The head of JTB, pre cognition for salvationist/redeemer complex. Sacrifice the mind/ego and gain reality? Still need eyes to see? Shineforth brave souls. Dennis

  2. Dennis-

    This would be in keeping with the mythological ties between severed heads and the Grail legends, which I address in the next installment.

    I suppose the question then becomes, does the head of John the Baptist represent the ultimate mental and intellectual potential of the human mind?:)

    BTW, sorry for taking so long to respond. The best to you.:)