Among aliens, gods and poets
Are the alien encounters in Ancient Greece mythologies? Could Central America have had flight 500 years ago? Archaeology explains these supposed mysteries.
Could it be conceivable that the tales of myths, legends, and divine entities are evidence of extraterrestrial interactions with our planet? It is plausible that the ancient Greek writers, historians, and intellectuals could not accurately express what they observed due to a lack of language and understanding. Did Greek history writers describe invisibility and cloaking devices? Additionally, is it possible that the La Danza de los Voladores, an ancient Central American tradition, proves that humans could fly five centuries ago? Most likely not but let's find out what's what with some science and skepticism.
We are not only asking questions here; we will answer them by learning more about Greek Mythology, moral philosophy, voyeuristic kings and bodyguards, and of course, mesoamerican ritual practices. So pull up a chair, relax, and let's uncover what's true or not.
In Digging up Ancient Aliens, our host Fredrik uses his background in archaeology to discover what is genuine, fake, and somewhere in between in popular media, such as Ancient Aliens, Ancient Apocalypse, and many other places.
In this episode:
Greek Religion and Myth 2:42
Gyges, invisibility devices and moral philosophy 28:37
Danza de los Voladores 43:17
Sources, resources and further reading suggestions
Could gods from Ancient Greece have their origins on other planets, descending to Earth to share their wisdom? Did Plato describe an invisibility machine way ahead of his time, and is a Mesoamerican ritual evidence for ancient flight? Most likely not but let’s find out.
Hi, hello, and välkommen to Digging Up Ancient Aliens. This is the podcast where we examine strange claims about alternative history and ancient aliens in popular media. Do their claims hold water to an archeologist, or are there better explanations out there?
This is episode 39, and I'm your host, Fredrik. This will be an exciting episode where we will spend most of our time dealing with Greek religion and mythology. Toward the end, I will talk a little about the Danza de los Voladores tradition from Mesoamerica and how shows like Ancient Aliens misuse these stories to promote their agenda.
But this is also an exciting episode since it's the first one as part of the Archaeological Podcast Network. Home of shows like Dr. Kinkellas Psuedo-archaeology Podcast, A Life in Ruins, Heritage Voices, and the Rock Art Podcast. If you listen through the main feed, I wish you a bit extra welcome.
Remember that you can find sources, resources, and reading suggestions on our website, diggingupancientaliens.com. There you also find contact info if you notice any mistakes or have any suggestions. And if you like the podcast, I would appreciate it if you left one of those fancy five-star reviews I've heard so much about.
Now that we have finished our preparations, let's dig into the episode.
Greek religion and UFO
So we are back in Ancient Greece, a location that's become a steady stream of inspiration for Ancient Alien theorists. But why are we here? Well, that is an excellent question there, my dear listener, because I'm not convinced that the producers of this episode knew either. As we've learned, the Ancient Alien show was not supposed to run more than one season. Surprisingly, the show was renewed for three seasons, which caused the creators to rush to produce enough content. As a result, some of the episodes feel repetitive or similar to previous ones. This is one of them, and if you have been listening for a while, we dealt with Greek mythology back in episode 18, together with the Drunk Mythology Gals. I'll try not to repeat myself here, but there might be some overlap. Let's delve deeper into Greek Mythology.
First, let's clarify the meaning of "myth" for the ancient Greeks, as this term has different connotations for us modern humans. Typically, when we use the word "myth," we imply that it is untrue or fictional. In the context of Greek language and culture, the term "Mythos" means language, word, or simply a story. While these stories may contain elements of truth or historical fact, they are not necessarily meant to be taken as literal accounts of events. Instead, they often serve as vehicles for conveying important moral or philosophical messages or as a means of exploring complex human emotions and experiences. As such, mythos can be viewed as existing on a continuum between objective truth and subjective interpretation, depending on the perspective of the individual or community engaging with it.
There was no right or wrong version of the myths among the Greeks; they changed and grew organically depending on who, where, and why they were told. The myth was meant to be narrated to an audience, not read in private, and that's why we have different versions of the same tale. Cities might highlight various aspects to make their influence greater, or poets might change parts to make the narrative fit with the ideals of the time. While the plot and characters might be similar, the content and main lesson might differ broadly. There was, so to say, no authoritative version of these myths, and most Greeks would probably think of there being only one correct version of these myths rather strange.
But what function did these myths have in the society? Well, for starters, one function is actually entertainment. Many of these myths survived through plays and other forms of performance arts. Remember, these stories were meant to be told to an audience. Why not add music, dance, and performance? Make it memorable and offer a much-needed distraction while enhancing the audience's understanding of the gods and their functions. Because while parts of it were meant to entertain, other parts were functioning to clarify the gods and their function. Explaining different rituals and festivals, reminding the audience of rituals' importance and origin. They could also be told to show proper ethical and religious behavior and offer a new argument in an ongoing debate. These myths could also come and go in popularity. It depended on what values were most desired at one time.
So let's look at one of the claims we're presented with in the episode now when we're a bit warmed up. Philip Coppens gives us the following example.
"The ancients say that when they are talking about mythology, it is about unrecorded events of their past. According to the Greek myths, the child Zeus was nourished on a mixture of honey and milk at the udder of the goat. Now around 1900 AD, a chamber of the Dikteon Cave was identified by locals as the birthplace of Zeus, and when archaeologists went in there, they discovered an alter with the remains of numerous religious offerings, amongst them honey and goat milk. These remains date back 4,000 years, to the exact period in which the ancient Greek stories took place. The question is, is this once again a coincidence that modern excavations find remains in this cave that match up with what's written in Greek mythology?"
That Zeus was fed milk and honey as an infant isn't anything we need to pay much attention to since it's a typical mixture in Greek mythology. But is Coppens talking about a real archaeological find? Well, here's the thing, it's a bit of yes and no.
Is the Dikteon Cave the birthplace of Zeus? As we discussed a moment ago, the answer to the question would depend on who told the story and at what time. So yes, some accounts mention Dikteon Cave as the birthplace of Zeus, but others will tell you that the birth occurred in the Idaean Cave over at Mount Ida. If you were to ask the poet, Hesiod, the delivery didn't take place in a cave but in the fertile lands around the city of Lyctus. The one thing that ties these accounts together is that all these locations are on the island of Crete, trying to connect the birth of the god to the Minoan cultures.
Let's suppose that the Dikteon cave is the cave where, what I assume was a highly awkward, delivery took place. Do we really know where the location of the cave was? And again, we will have different answers depending on who we ask. Most famously, the site is associated with Psycro Cave. If you had ask those living in the village of Palaikastro, the cave is located on the mountain just beside them, called Mount Petsofas.
Because that's the thing, the myths could be used to make a specific temple or place of offerings more influential. These are just two versions that survive to our day, but there probably were other locations on Crete with a similar story. Myths in Ancient Greece could be used to enhance a city's political, religious, or social status. This was not only reserved for locations, but also families could use myths to try to strengthen their influence or standing. For example, Hippocrates' family was traced back to the deified hero of healing, Asclepius.
But what about that excavation then and all those finds? I believe that Coppens refers to an article by Arthur Evans published in 1897 called "Further Discoveries of Cretan and Aegean Script: With Libyan and Proto-Egyptian Comparisons." As the title alludes to, the paper deals with, for 1897, new finds of early types of scripts on Crete. One part of the paper deals with a libation table found within the Psycro Cave and its small inscription.
If you're unfamiliar with libation, it is a ritual where a liquid is offered to the gods or the dead sometimes. So pouring out a drink for one who died is a libation, and it's a ritual found in many different religions and locations. We find evidence for it in Sumer, Egypt, Greece, and Judaism. In Genesis 35:14, Jacob pours out liquid and oil as an offering.
Evans discusses the finds made in the cave up to that point and notes that some of the oldest layers date back to the Mycenaean period. This would make some artifacts about 4000 years old, give or take a century or two. But Evans does not claim that milk and honey have been found within the cave, but he does mention that cups and other vessels for liquids have been found. That would make sense since it's a libation table he is discussing. There are carved out three spots where cups would probably be placed. Quote.
"The threefold receptacle of the Diktaean Table suggests some interesting analogies with a ritual usage which goes back to the earliest religious stratum of Greece; In the case of such primitive worship as that of the Shades of the Departed, and again in that of the Nymphs, a triple libation was frequently offered." (Evans 1897, p 358)
What is this triple libation, then? Evans brings up Homer's Odyssey, an example where again, poets, not organized religion, have preserved rituals and why they might be performed. If we go to Odeysee book ten and line 519, we learn that "Thither, prince, do thou draw nigh, as I bid thee, and dig a pit of a cubit's length this way and that, and around it pour a libation to all the dead, first with milk and honey, thereafter with sweet wine, and in the third place with water."
We should note that Evans or later archaeologists never claim that we have found residue of this honey-milk mixture within the cave. Evans does, though, make a connection between the cave's association being the birthplace of Zeus and the libation of milk and honey. So it's noted that the cave had an essential religious association with early Myccean culture, and would it be that strange if, in later times, the myths surrounding the cave changed to fit the current gods.
So Coppens's claims are not as bad as they could be. However, he takes a very euhemeristic approach to myths and cherry-picks the versions that best fit his narrative. But instead of the classical version argued by Euhemerus, where the gods have their origin in ordinary men that, through history, have evolved into gods. Coppens has a bit of a different approach and claims that it is alien visitors that have evolved into gods. The cave itself is not evidence that the Greek myths are true, as Philip Coppens and the Alien theorist want to belive. But could there be evidence for alien visitation within the myths themself?
"But Ancient Astronaut Theorists believe this Greek myth is actually a metaphor for an extraterrestrial event. They believe the notion of gods being vomited up from the belly of their father actually describes mutinous aliens being expelled from the mother ship." - Narrator
"Anything which is followed up into a living creature will not be able to survive for three days it will die from suffocation and will begin to decay. So, what we have here is not a creature, but something else. It could've been an object, which was clearly of a man-made or extraterrestrial origin." - Philip Coppens.
So what we have here is the story of the origin of the Greek gods, with the twist that the gods, of course, are aliens. Claims like these make me wonder how people can take these claims seriously. Reading our sources, it's pretty clear that authors like Hesiod, Homer, Plato, Apollonius, and others describe a man eating his children.
But instead of focusing on specific claims, such as whether Cronus was a metaphor for a spaceship, I think it better to look deeper into Greek religion. If we understand how the Greeks viewed their religion and gods, we are better armed to combat these pseudo-scientific claims.
Let's for a moment pretend that we're back in Ancient Greece. Close your eyes and picture yourself standing in the bustling Agora of Athens. Above us, the magnificent Akropoli can be seen perched atop the hill. As we feel the scorching sun beating down on us, we would instinctively seek shelter under the cool and shady colonnades that line the perimeter of the Agora. Sitting down by one of the fountains and maybe trying to listen to one of the philosophers' discussion. This is an important place, not only as a meeting spot and a place to conduct business but also from a religious and political perspective. Even when we now stand on holy ground, people would look at us a bit confused if we were to ask what religion they belonged to.
The Ancient Greeks did not have a word for "religion," the closest we get to something representing religion would be "in service to the gods." This did not mean everyone was supposed to give up their worldly possessions and live to serve the gods. With service, the idea was more that you behaved with religious correctness and showed proper respect toward the gods. You made reasonable requests, gave the gods their appropriate gifts, and participated in communal and family religious activities and festivals. If done correctly, you would accumulate goodwill with the gods serving your house and city.
When reading Herodotus writing about the faith of other nations, he usually uses the term "to worship the gods." He does not really attribute them being to a different religion per se. But when discussing the Greek's worship Herodotus, emphasize the common blood, language, and temples the Greeks share to differentiate them from other peoples' worship.
While we today separate religion and our other spheres, luckily, I might add, this was not the case in Greece. Religion was embedded in every detail of your daily life. Most things you would participate in a day would be accompanied by religious rituals or rules, trade, farming, political processes, or any other part was integrated with religion. Even the concepts like Atheist did not even exist until the 5th century BCE, and then the term "Atheos" did refer to a lack of relation to the gods.
In retrospect, a Greek worshiper would still have more in common with a modern atheist when we look at the religious structure. The Greeks did not adhere to any doctrine or creed. You did not have to avoid the pleasure of the world since there was no sin or redemption, no eternal damnation of fear thereof. There was no hierarchal priesthood that would act as a body of power. During the archaic and classical periods of Greece, each city would basically have its own versions of the myth, gods, and their function. That would change to some degree when city-states like Athens and Sparta increased their sphere of influence. Even more when Alexander and Macedonians took over Greece in the fourth century BCE.
The closest we might get to a holy book would be Herodotus's writings, but even then, it was not written in stone. Due to the lack of written authority, there were not really things such as heresy since the texts were supposed to change due to their oral element. With that said, there was, however, a concept called asebeia that could be translated to impiety. This could include temple robbery, striking a priest, having the wrong ideas, or entering a temple when it was not open to the public. According to the prophet Diopeithes asebeia, it could be considered "not honour the gods by worshipping them according to tradition." While they did not have a concept of sin, their religious intolerance game was strong. It was this; for example, Socrates was famously put on trial. Athens did have a strict "no new gods" policy in place and did have any interest in adding to the existing pantheon. Could also be plain xenophobia at play here.
Even so, the Greek religion changed, grew, and myths overtook each other in importance. Think of Zeus, the big honcho god, that we today probably think would be one of the most important gods. But that is not really the case. There were few festivals in Zeus' honor, and those that existed were of little importance. Very few cities named any month after Zeus, and his temples were often located a bit outside. But even here, we see an evolution. Zeus did not start as the protector of social and moral order and king of the gods. He began as a simple weather god, but the story surrounding him grew as time passed. Zeus's wife was not Hera from the start either but Dione, a name we can find in the Linear-B scripts. Dione's time as Zeus' wife was relatively short, and Hera took over during the Mycenaean period.
Over time, a plethora of gods have emerged and declined in significance. Those who adhere to a particular deity often strive to promote their favored god. An example of this can be seen in a hymn originating from Delphi, which urges for the constant veneration of Dionysos instead of the customary winter-only devotion. It should be clear that the gods still had their domains and powers. We also see the apparent oppositions that could be used to demonstrate values. Take, for example, cases where Athena would best Poseidon. To the Greeks, this would be an example of where intelligence beat force. We see orderly and disorderly gods. While a good Bacchanalia-style festival was welcomed, tidy goods were needed to counterbalance these events.
In ancient Greek mythology, the gods were thought to bear a striking resemblance to humans, except for having perfectly sculpted physiques. Despite their distinct personalities, they were known to display all too familiar emotions to us mortals, including envy, vindictiveness, self-absorption, timidity, and even brutality. The gods, however, held a less-than-flattering view of us, mere mortals, often dismissing us as insignificant beings. Furthermore, they were notorious for engaging in petty squabbles and disputes amongst themselves.
The gods were not worshiped because of their tender love for their creation. Maybe they were worshipped out of fear since it could be even more dangerous not to honor them properly.
But how do we know what we know about the Greek gods? Well, to some extent, it's through the poets; Homer might have had the most significant influence. We have a lot of poems and other writings with stories dealing with the gods that were used to demonstrate the god's origin and purpose of rituals. But we also have the philosophers Plato often discussed the gods in his dialogues and used them as examples. As we covered, the gods were not separate from everyday life but highly incorporated in every aspect. While the written word can tell us what some people thought and viewed the gods, we can also use sculptures and pottery.
Especially pottery can be very helpful in tracing the popularity of the different gods and how ordinary people would have viewed them. So by looking at surviving vases, we can see how in 560 BCE, there was a shift in what was popular. Motives of Theseus and the Minutar and other ideas from the Attic tradition make an entrance. We also see Heracles and other pan-Hellenic myths making an entrance. Then around 480 BCE, these motives start to disappear.
So is there room for aliens in Greek mythology? Not really. The Alien Theorists make their argument work by selecting one account from hundreds of different versions. Then claim that this version is the only one and leave out all the other contradicting accounts. They claim that the people still renowned for their poetry and literature would be unable to describe an alien craft if they saw one. So, in the end, aliens are incompatible with the ancient Greeks' view of their gods and religion.
On that bombshell, we will have a short message from our sponsors. But when we return, we will be exploring invisibility machines in Greece.
Gyges, invisibility devices and moral philosophy
Welcome back. We have not gone too far and will remain in Greece for a bit longer. Or rather, we will be dealing with Greek writing about Lydia, a region now located in modern Turkey. In the show, we hear about King Gyges and how he is supposed to have come to power; the writers of the show claim that this event occurred in 716 BCE. Quite the achievement since Gyges reign was between 680-644 BCE.
We learn that Gyges was a modest shepherd who was in the service of King Candaules. As fate would have it, one day, while he was tending to his flock in the fields, a powerful earthquake shook the ground beneath his feet, causing a deep chasm to appear before him. Intrigued by the unusual occurrence, he descended into the crevice and stumbled upon a crypt where he discovered a skeleton adorned with a precious gold ring. Without hesitation, Gyges took possession of the ring and soon realized that it possessed the extraordinary ability to render him invisible. With this new power, Gyges makes his way to the king with a plan.
"He comes up with a plan. The next time he goes to visit the king he brings that ring with him, turns himself invisible, seduces the queen, kills the king, takes over the palace." – William Henry.
Giorgio Tsoukalos adds.
"When I read stories like Gyges of Lydia, who has found this ring which gave him the capability of becoming invisible, then there are two things that I think of: one, is it just fantasy or do we have another reference here that describes misunderstood technology. Because today, researchers at Duke University are trying to develop an invisibility cloak." - Giorgio Tsoukalos.
Gyges is a verified historical figure who once held power over the kingdom of Lydia. But how is it with this story? Is it real? In trying to answer must delve into the two primary sources of information regarding Gyges' history as documented in Greek literature. Let's start with one of the older accounts of Greek history writing found in Herodotus's "Histories" Book One. Here, we can learn that Candaules "then, fell in love with his own wife, so much so that he believed her to be by far the most beautiful woman in the world."
I don't understand why Herodotus seems to think it's so strange that someone would believe their partner to be the most beautiful. Anyway, the king is so enamored that he goes to his favorite bodyguard, Gyges; yes, here he is, not a shepherd. Candaules tells Gyges that his wife is the most beautiful woman on earth. Not wanting to insult his employer. I assume that Gyges nods along, saying that she really is lovely. Herodotus then gives us a bit of foreshadowing by stating that Candaules was "doomed to misfortune" and continues to talk about his wife's beauty to Gyges. Claiming that Gyges do not understand, he listens but doesn't really get it. Gyges can only truly understand the queen's beauty if he sees her naked.
In Herodotus' account, Gyges proclaim, "what an unsound suggestion, that I should see my mistress naked!" Gyges proceeded to say that it would be against what's right and that he does believe Candaules's claims but that seeing the queen naked would be against what's just. The king has non of that "Courage, Gyges! Do not be afraid of me." Then the king tells the poor bodyguard where to hide to get a good look at the queen.
As you might suspect, the queen, of course, sees Gyges when he sneaks out. But she does not scream or cry. According to Herodotus, it's a grand upfront among the Lydians and other foreign countries to be seen naked. However, the queen seems to understand that her husband put all of this together and crafted a plan. The next day she calls Gyges to her and gives him two alternatives. "Now, Gyges, you have two ways before you; decide which you will follow. You must either kill Candaules and take me and the throne of Lydia for your own, or be killed yourself now without more ado; that will prevent you from obeying all Candaules' commands in the future and seeing what you should not see."
Gyges opts for the first alternative, kills Candaules, and takes the throne with the queen. The oracle of Delfi later approved Gyges as king since the people of Lydia started to revolt and would only follow the new king if he was ordained by the oracle.
An earlier account is also attributed to Xanthus, the Lydian preserved in Nicolaus of Damascus writings during the first century BCE. This differs from what we just heard. Here the king does not trust his bodyguard Gyges, who is sent out to do impossible tasks. During one of the tasks, he sees the queen, falls in love, and tries to seduce her. But the queen is uninterested and tells the king to kill Gyges. But a slave finds out and warns Gyges, who then counter-attack, kills the king, and takes the kingdom after being ordained by the oracle at Delfi.
While this story differs from Herodutus to some extent, we see two things in common. That Gyges starts out as a trusted bodyguard and that he, with some help, kills the king and takes over the kingdom with the approval of the Gods. One of the key differences is that Herodotus goes to great lengths trying to almost make Gyges out to be a victim. Reading a bit behind the lines, we can see a victim of fate. Herodotus even tells us that the king was destined to fare ill, most likely due to his lack of respect for tradition and what's proper and just behavior. Since the king show signs of being a tyrant, Gyges has to set things right. By following fate, something considered important within Greek society, Gyges could be argued to be acting just in his regicide. By having this confirmed by the oracles, the new dynasty could start.
But where does this magic ring come from, then? Because it is not mentioned at all in these sources. The alien theorist's account comes not from the historic writers but from the philosophical. The account is found in Plato's book "The Republic."
While the story we heard first appears in the Republic, some crucial details are left out. For starters, Plato is telling the story as a way to make an argument for what justice is. In the second book of the Republic, Plato has Glaucon set up an example. "Let us suppose that the just and unjust have two rings, like that of Gyges in the well-known story, which make them invisible." The main idea Plato wants to discuss in this part is morality and whether acting just has intrinsic, instrumental, or both values. Basically, do you only behave morally to gain the reputation of being just, or do you behave morally because the act is valuable to you?
Socrates claims within the text that acting just has both intrinsic and instrumental values. Glaucon uses the example of the invisibility rings as a metaphor. Both the just and the unjust get the ability of invisibility, nobody can see you, and you can do whatever you want without consequence. With this ability, the philosopher argues that the just would stop acting appropriately since it would not matter. If moral and immoral acts were viewed both as moral, why would anyone act morally?
So this is our question, and it's why Plato most likely made this story of Gyges ring up. We see elements and themes that Plato tends to use in other places. The reason why Gyges is turned into a shepherd is to really make it clear that the regicide, in this case, is an immoral act. Later in the Republic, it becomes clear that different classes meeting as equals will destroy an ideal regime. Even the cavern sounds much like Platos' cave analogy, where the cave represents a city. The ring could be viewed as the power of rhetoric. It could be argued that by obtaining the ring, Gyges got the power of poets and philosophers, the power that with words changes your appearance; with good rhetoric, you can make an unjust action appear in the eyes of the people to be just.
Herodotus depicted a character following fate to uphold tradition, while Plato created a villain to fulfill that role in his thought experiment. Why Plato went with Gyges was probably due to him being a character people kind of knew about. We have fragments of a play, the author is not entirely known, but Phrynichus or Ion of Chios has been suggested. Plato added the "as we all know" to make it more believable. Just as many poets started their stories about the gods by thanking the muses for the revelation.
So what account is correct, then? We have now dealt with three versions, and it is a fair question. I think due to the elements Plato included in his rendition that we can dismiss it as a philosophical thought experiment. Too many details line up with other things Plato discusses in the Republic for it to be an accurate account. Herodotus' version is the oldest we have preserved, but it contains several plotholes and loose ends. I get a feeling that Herodotus was using parts he heard from Xanthus and added a few things to highlight values he deemed essential in Greek society. Xanthus version, sure, it's not the original source we get it in, but it is the most direct and straightforward. We can't say currently without more evidence for either of the two accounts. What do you think? What version sounds more reasonable to you and why.
As we note, however, there is no need for aliens, and neither text allows for it to be an extraterrestrial force. Well, if they did not travel all this way to pose us with a question regarding moral philosophy. But this is how the Alien-theorists misuse ancient sources. While they, in this case, didn't make things up, they left out the context entirely. Without the context, what they say might sound reasonable, but when we look closer at the sources, we learn that they rewrote the story to fit their preferred narrative.
After this quick Break, we will leave the Mediterranean for a trip over the Atlantic. Don't worry. We're not heading to Atlantis but to Meso-America.
La Danza de los Voladores
We're moving on from classical Greece and exploring something new on the show today. Our destination is Meso-America, where we'll investigate the Danza de los Voladores, also known as the Ceremony of the Fliers. This ritual has managed to survive for over ten centuries against all odds. It is still performed today by various indigenous groups in Mexico, including the Totonaucs, Nahua, Otomí, and Huastec. We also see this performance among the Maya in Guatemala and the Pipil in Nicaragua.
The ceremony has various forms depending on who and when it is performed. However, in the show Ancient Aliens, they incorrectly claim that there is only one authoritative version of this ritual. The truth is that there are multiple versions. The most known version of the performance can be witnessed in Veracruz or Hildalgo, consisting of five people. A pole is raised on the square during this ceremony, usually near the local church. The pole's height varies but is rarely over 30 meters. At the top of the pole is a square wooden platform and a rotating cylinder called a tecomate. The ceremony leader stands on the tecomate, equipped with a flute known as tapitzalli and a drum called huehuetl in Nahuatl. The leader plays these instruments simultaneously while performing on top of the tecomate. The leader is not secured by ropes, but the flyers are tied to the platform with belts. The flyers go down headfirst with their arms outstretched, somersault close to the ground and land on their feet.
There are multiple versions of the dance, including some modified to align with Christian beliefs. The dance is organized into various sonnets and is performed to somewhat adhere to a Catholic storyline.
But what is the Ancient Alien claim regarding this ceremony? Let's tune in and hear.
"The Totonac people who practice this ceremony today claim it is a dance that was invented 500 years ago as a plea to the gods to end a severe drought. But could this ancient ritual have different, perhaps otherworldly origins?" - Narrator.
The legend that the Narrator refers to seems to originate in Coatzintla and is supposed to take place around 450 years ago. But they are leaving out some key elements, such as the people were supposed to cut down the tallest and strongest tree to symbolize the tree of life. Performing on top of the tree of life would increase the chance of the Sun God to hear the prayers and be filled with so much joy and fervor that he would restore the luscious vegetation.
But then you have other variations; in Cuacuila, the story is set in ancient times long ago. There the flyers prepare for a ceremony to remove the drought, but when performing it, they fly away out into the sea and return 12 days later in the spiritual form of rain. But it almost seems to backfire since the rain is too much and too heavy. In fact, it did not stop for eight days, and when the villagers asked what had happened, the elders told them that these flyers had transformed into rain gods.
We can find documented variations of this ritual going back to 1528 when Fernández de Oviedo witnessed one version celebrated during the cocoa harvest by the Pipil (or Nahua) people. It was a little bit different compared to what we see celebrated today by the Totonaucs. There was a 17-meter pole that had on top an image of the cocoa god, de Oviedo, referring to this god as Cacáguat. Two boys around seven years old were tied to the pole and circled down as ten musicians played. The boy was wearing bird masks and was equipped with different accessories. This version could be interpreted as a representation of the accent the cacao diety made from the underworld up to the heavens. The rite was supposed to take place both at the start of the harvest and at the end of it.
It did not, however, take long after the Spanish arrival for the indigenous people to start attempting to preserve their culture by describing it as something else to the Spanish Chronicles. In the writings of Diego Durán in 1560, for example, he describes this festival. But instead of attributing it to a deity, he is told that this is a game they do as a sort of sport. The chronicler is even putting this in the section of his book where he deals with the amusements and sports of the people he met in Central Mexico. An exciting part of Diego Durán's narrative is that he describes the flyers as being dressed as birds and monkeys. This rite can also be found among the K'iche' Mayans in Guatemala, but then the dancers are dressed as monkeys.
Fortunately, we have access to more than just written accounts from Spanish chroniclers regarding understanding the Voladores ritual. Indigenous people of Central America have also depicted elements of the ceremony in codices from the colonial period, such as the Porfirio Díaz Codex and the Fernández Leal Codex. These beautiful drawings attest to the ritual's importance. But what is the origin and meaning of the Valadores ceremony according to the ancient astronaut theorists?
"According to Ancient Astronaut Theorists, the Voladores ritual is a reenactment of a close encounter with alien visitors in the distant past. They believe extraterrestrials descended upon the flat mountaintops of the Palpa region in Peru around 500 AD, dropping from their aircraft and gliding down to Earth in spiraling circles." - Narrator.
"The Voladores ritual was very technological, as in, you know, these beings descending from the sky and the circle signifying arrival of the gods. Where does that flying or descending gods motif originate? Our ancestors saw something because why would you hurl yourself from a 100-foot pole out of nothing, to imitate a bird? Birds are not that important. Something very significant happened." - Giorgio Tsoukalos.
I have to say that it is a brave attempt trying to connect the ritual to the Nazca lines and the Palpa region. To start, the ceremony is older than 500 CE, meaning the origin is not likely related to the Nazca lines since they, in fact, are from around 500 CE. Secondly, as we noted throughout this episode. There is not a meaning. The origin and reason will vary depending on who you ask and when you ask them. We have noted that this ritual can be found from Guatemala to Mexico, connected to different gods at different times. For simplicity, we can have a quick glance around the ideas regarding the Totonaucs view.
Based on the research from Martha Narjera, we can read the ritual as representations of birds or spirits of the forest. The first reading could represent eagles and that the dance represents the dead warriors accompanying the sun across the sky. There could be, however, another symbology within this ritual and narrative. Luisa Villani is making a good case that the dance performed in El Tajin symbolizes hurricanes and weather.
As we note with Greek myths, the myth of Mesoamerica only seems to contain alien interference if you leave out significant bits of them. But the aliens vanish when looking at the legends in context with their history, religious connections, and foundation in a living society. However, it amply shows how the alien theory is robbing every one of us. Not to say the least how it robs indigenous people of their heritage and traditions, nearly extinct traditions. This is close to a similar attempt to remove these ideas from the hands of their rightful owners.
But till then, remember to leave a positive review anywhere you can, such as iTunes, Spotify, or to your friend at the trench. I would also recommend visiting diggingupancientaliens.com to find more info about me and the podcast. You can also find me on most social media sites, and if you have comments, corrections, suggestions, or just want to write an email in all caps, you can find my contact info on the website.
You will find all the sources and resources used to create this podcast on our website. You will often also find further reading suggestions if you want to learn more about the subjects we bring up.
Sandra Marteleur created the intro music, and our outro is by the band called Trallskruv, who sings their song "tin foil hat." Links to both these artists will be found in the show notes.
Until next time, keep shoveling that science!
Sources, resources, and further reading suggestions
Bremmer, J.N. (1994). Greek religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cohen, I.M. . (2004). Herodotus and the Story of Gyges: Traditional Motifs in Historical Narrative. Fabula, 45(1-2), pp.55–68. doi:https://doi.org/10.1515/fabl.2004.010.
Coronado, M.L. (2008). El rito del ‘palo volador’: encuentro de significados. Revista Española De Antropología Americana, 38(1), pp.51–73. doi:https://doi.org/10.5209/rev_reaa.2008.v38.n1.24150.
Danzig, G. (2008). Rhetoric and the Ring: Herodotus and Plato on the Story of Gyges as a Politically Expedient Tale. Greece and Rome, 55(2), pp.169–192. doi:https://doi.org/10.1017/s001738350800051x.
Eidinow, E. and Kindt, J. eds., (2015). The Oxford handbook of ancient Greek religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Evans, A.J. (1897). Further Discoveries of Cretan and Aegean Script: with Libyan and Proto-Egyptian Comparisons. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, [online] 17, pp.327–393. doi:https://doi.org/10.2307/623835.
Herodutus (1922). The Histories. [online] Translated by A.D. Godley. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Available at: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0126%3Abook%3D1.
Hesiod (1982). The Homeric hymns ; and Homerica. [online] Translated by H.G. Evelyn-White. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press ; London. Available at: https://www.theoi.com/Text/HesiodTheogony.html#9.
Homer (1919). The Odyssey. [online] Translated by M.A.T. Loeb . London: William Heinemann Ltd. Available at: https://www.theoi.com/Text/HomerOdyssey1.html.
Ianni, E., Silva Rivera, E. and Geneletti, D. (2014). Sustaining cultural and biological diversity in rapidly changing communities: the revitalization of the Voladores ritual in northern Veracruz (Mexico). Environment, Development and Sustainability, 16(6), pp.1197–1208. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-014-9520-2.
Mikalson, J. (2010). Greek Popular Religion in Greek Philosophy. Oxford : Oxford University Press.
Plato (1998). The Republic. [online] Translated by B. Jowett. Project Gutenberg. Available at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1497/1497-h/1497-h.htm#link2H_4_0005.
Raubitschek, A.E. (1955). Gyges in Herodotus. The Classical Weekly, [online] 48(4), p.48. doi:https://doi.org/10.2307/4343641.
Stresser-Péan, G. (2016). La Danza Del Volador Entre Los Indios De México Y América Central. México: Fondo De Cultura Economica.
Tuzi, G. (2017). The Voladores or Pole Flying ceremony. [online] Mexicolore. Available at: https://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/home/the-voladores-ceremony.
Versnel, H.S. (1990). Inconsistencies in Greek and Roman Religion Ter Unus. Liden: Brill.
Villani, L. (2018). Con la Danza de los Voladores en el Tajín vuela el viento ‘huracánico’. Anales de Antropología, 52(2), p.11. doi:https://doi.org/10.22201/iia.24486221e.2018.2.63353.
Wainwright, W. ed., (2004). The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press.
“Folie hatt” by Trallskruv
Lily of the woods by Sandra Marteleur