Thursday, February 09, 2012

Of This Men Shall Know Nothing

Max Ernst, The Twentieth Century, 1955

Every 10 years or so a new wave of enthusiasts gets all excited about UFOs. It's often preceded or accompanied by a hit movie or TV show, which in turn inspires a clutch of imitators. That brings outs out a new wave of UFOlogists, and rekindles interest in the works of elder statesmen in the field. The topic gets a lot of play in the media, there are a lot of sightings and rumors of sightings and all kinds of expectations arise and all sorts of prophecies are made.

The problem is that the UFOs themselves never seem to care much. The flaps die down. Sometimes there are major hoaxes or accusations of hoaxes and nothing ever seems to go anywhere. Then all of the new, young UFOlogists turn around and declare UFOlogy 'dead' and competition breaks out to see who be the most militant born-again debunker or have the most dramatic skeptical conversion epiphany.

Max Ernst, Two Foolish Virgins, 1947

The problem is that UFOlogy still remains an "ETH (extraterrestrial hypothesis) or bust" proposition, with all of the attendant messianic/rapture displacement grafted on thereto. The aliens are coming to save us from ourselves, just you wait. The religious aspect of this changes form from boom to bust to boom to bust, but the impulse is roughly the same.

While I certainly think it's possible---even probable-- that ETs have sent probes here and possibly manned (or more likely, robotic) missions here throughout the past what we call the UFO phenomenon is way, way too familiar and intimate with us to be anything truly alien.

Max Ernst, The Dark Gods, 1959

My ETH enthusiasm peaked first with the series premiere of The X-Files and then again with the release of the first X-Files film. After that I found myself looking at all the usual data and finding myself at the all of the usual dead-ends. It took some time to sort out but I later found that UFOs minus the ETH (namely, the Elusive Companion Hypothesis) worked quite well when I plugged them into all of the obsessions I plunged myself after dealing with those impasses; Synchronicity, High Weirdness, deep symbology, and so on.

In fact, the ECH was the missing puzzle piece that kept eluding me when dealing with those topics.

I also soon discovered that the ECH was lurking in the shadows of nearly every single obsession-- and often every mystery or conundrum-- in my life without me ever realizing it. I discover fresh examples of this all of the time and share them with you here.

Max Ernst, The Eye of Silence, 1943

The latest is Max Ernst (1891-1976), the great German Dadaist-Surrealist whom I like to call the "Punk Rock Picasso." My obsession with Ernst began in my late teens and was deep, immediate and entirely instinctual. Something about his work spoke to me on a profoundly personal level.

Max Ernst, The Angel of Hearth and Home, 1937

Much of his work is filled with humor and energy, but much of it also depicts a world in chaos, a world in which meaning is forever inverted and negotiable. A world in which menace and violence is either implicit or explicit, but somehow always absurd. But more importantly, his work is a riot of hidden meaning, double meaning, meaninglessness, or beyond meaning. Strange and frightening yet strangely familiar characters insinuate themselves from hidden corners. Landscapes and creatures that can only be described as "alien."

In other words, it's the work of a man who was intimately familiar with the secret world.

It was only much, much later that I found out that Ernst was an Alchemist and was believed by his fellow surrealists to be a genuine magician. From the 2001 book, Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of Myth By M. E. Warlick

Alchemical philosophy offers many symbolic parallels to surrealist thought...Ernst played a significant role because of the knowledge of Freudian theory that he brought to the surrealist group early in its development, and because of his contributions to the sexualized nature of surrealist art. Throughout his career, Ernst fused male and female imagery into cohesive hybrids, similar to that most pervasive symbol of perfection, the alchemical Androgyne. Analyzing these aspects of his work reveals the pervasive alchemical symbolism it contains...

The construction of Max Ernst as the magician of the surrealist movement began early in his career.

By the 1930s, André Breton, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon, Robert Desnos, René Crevel, and Hans Arp all described Ernst as possessing magical powers of transformation. In (his autobiographical writings), Ernst clarified his indebtedness to hermetic traditions, citing alchemy as a model for his working processes and claiming Cologne's occult past as his artistic heritage.

Chemical Nuptials, 1947

His first hermetic images appeared during the Cologne Dada period...his interests in psychology, alchemy, and other occult phenomena paralleled similar explorations among the early surrealists. Their search for psychic automatism, visits to clairvoyants, group séances, and walking tours of the alchemical haunts of Paris are described as a backdrop for the evolution of Ernst's art throughout the 1920s and 1930s...In "Au delà de la peinture," he described alchemy as the perfect metaphor for his working processes."

Unfortunately, "Alchemy" has become one of those buzzwords that poseurs throw around when they want to sound like they're edgy and profound. As a concept it's become defanged all too often, stripped of its inherent insanity. But we don't fall for that kind of thing here. We look at the aspect of Alchemy that some want to run away from-- the Elusive Companion aspect of it.

As Jacques Vallee puts it in Passport to Magonia:
Throughout medieval times, a major current of thought distinct from official religion existed, culminating in the works of the alchemists and hermetics. Among such groups were to be found some of the early modern scientists and men remarkable for the strength of their independent thinking and for their
adventurous life, such as Paracelsus. The nature of the beings who mysteriously appeared, dressed in shiny garments or covered with dark hair, and with whom communication was so hard to establish intrigued these men intensely.
And again, as Robert Anton Wilson explained these kinds of contacts in depth in the first volume of Cosmic Trigger, quoting Timothy Leary:
Interstellar ESP may have been going on for all our history, Tim (Leary) went on, but we just haven't understood. Our nervous systems have translated their messages into terms we could understand.

The "angels" who spoke to Dr. Dee, the Elizabethan scientist-magician, were extraterrestrials, but Dee couldn't comprehend them in those terms and considered them "messengers from God." The same is true of many other shamans and mystics.
And as I added before:
Indeed, these contacts-- whether actual or aspirational --lie at the heart of Alchemical enterprise. All of the great masters were primarily concerned with contact with --and harnessing the power of-- "angels."
Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning, Sedona, Arizona 1947

Max Ernst left his native Cologne for Paris but left for America during the Nazi takeover. Ernst eventually settled in Sedona, Arizona, where he lived with his second wife, the painter Dorothea Tanning. Ernst's work became considerably more playful and almost cartoonish during this time, but the Arizona landscape obviously had a profound influence on his work, as did the art and culture of the Hopi Indians.

Maybe other parts of the Sedona landscape did as well. Sedona is known as an energy vortex location, as well as UFO hotspot. So I got to thinking- did Ernst ever paint any UFOs?

You tell me.

Aside from this stunning piece (The Almost Late Romanticism, 1960) typical Ernstian foliage with what looks like a classic glowing cigar-shaped UFO, Ernst's work is littered with tantalizingly explicit references to touchstones in the high weirdness canon. Along with the endless parade of alien beings dancing through alien landscapes under alien suns.

Yet Ernst isn't painting science fiction here-- his alternate reality is blithe, perfectly matter of fact. You take it or leave it. He's not trying to sell you on its reality. He's spent far too much time there to waste time with that.

Plus, he doesn't really care what you think about his reality, in the end. Alchemists never do.

This Sedona era piece (Tribute to Yves Tanguy, 1955) pictures the red rock mesas, along with what looks for all the world like the Millennium Falcon, or at least its prototype. Take it or leave it. It's all the same to Ernst.

Then there's this little green man (Old Man River, 1953), who sits among the deserts where the Anasazi once roamed, with a curiously familiar elongated skull. Yet at the same time, that strange bubble around him is oddly reminiscent of the Star Child from 2001.

But Ernst's flirtations with High Strangeness- or any kind of strangeness for that matter-- didn't start in Sedona.
There's this collage, from his classic 1929 collage-based graphic novel The Hundred Headless Woman. The numinous power of it is like a punch in the gut and more powerful than any photograph. And strangely, more validating. Ernst's unconscious testimony trumps any photo, which after all, can be hoaxed.

And this, which almost seems to depict a classic abduction scenario over an industrial city.

Or this ziggurat-shaped flying saucer.
Remember all of this is almost 20 years before Kenneth Arnold and Roswell.

From the same book, we see a version of Ernst's alter ego, "Loplop, Bird Superior," looking for all the world like the Mothman. He's even drawn to the streetlights, like a moth.

From 1934's A Week of Kindness we see a kidnapping (read: abduction) committed by man with the head of an Easter Island Maoi pasted over him. Now that we're finding that some of the Maoi have entire bodies buried beneath the soil, the Ancient Aliens boys must be champing at the bit to get a camera crew down there.

Of course, Ernst was working in the context of Alchemy and magic and not UFOlogy, but that's exactly my point. Strangeness seems to be the expressway to what is really going on behind UFOs, and what has been going on for a very, very, very long time.

Arthur C. Clarke is widely quoted for his maxim that any science sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic. And god knows there's way too much mindless chatter about magic out there. Even so, maybe our magic is their science after all.

But every time I look at UFO photos and read about recent sightings or abductions I get trapped in the letters and the pixels like I'm encased in amber. When I start to look at UFOs through the prism of Synchronicity, Symbol and Strangeness, it all opens like a flower and thousands of puzzle pieces start falling into place like a Tetris game played by an invisible hand.

And then things start to happen. In this consensus space-time. Lots of things. Lots of really strange, sometimes impossible things.

But that's a whole other discussion. And maybe you need to find that out for yourself anyway.

UPDATE: Confirming the very foundational thesis of The Secret Sun, the Fortean Times explains how UFOs were the catalyst behind the Sixties counterculture in England, and how Ernst's ziggurat UFO played a talismanic role in that revolution.

UPDATE: Loren Coleman explains in a story on the death of Ernst's onetime lover Leonora Carrington how Ernst may have summoned a Mothman-like entity to Cornwall.
The Owlman story began when paranormal researcher Tony “Doc” Shiels was approached by a man, Don Melling, who had been visiting the area on holiday from Lancaster. Melling said that on April 17, 1976, his two daughters, 12-year-old June and her 9-year-old sister, Vicky, were walking through the woods near Mawnan church when they saw a large winged creature hovering above the church tower. The girls were frightened and immediately ran to tell their father.

Shiels has suggested himself that surrealism may hold the key. Sixteen days before the first recorded sighting of the Owlman the surrealist artist Max Ernst died (April Fool's Day, 1976- CK). In 1937 Ernst had visited the area with friends (apparently including Carrington according to photographs from that time) and performed rituals to invoke the appearance of all sorts of mysterious creatures. One of these may have been Nightjarman, half bird, half human.


  1. The posts in Secret Sun are generally good. Sometimes they are extraordinary, and this is one of that sort! Good grief, Professor, this is in your top 10%! You are getting more comfortable with your material, writing with more surety - that is coming across as these posts gain depth, and a complexity which conveys scope, not confusion. It is possible you are opening the way to an area of thought and understanding which has been ignored too long. THAT is an exciting prospect, and it calls every time I read a post like this one. Excellent - I will be thinking about what you wrote and the possibilities you identified. Very cool!

  2. my mom juss got me "Our Gods Wear Spandex," and "The Book" by Alan Watts.

  3. Excellent work Chris, astonishing, I can't say much more of value.

  4. Just so you know I deleted my Mercury's Messenger (along with most my blogs).... However My 'My Cosmic Stardust' is gonna still be up. Doing some "Fine Tuning", if you care to just delete me feel free to do so or if you want to replace my blog with this.... I always like to reinvent myself and shed off what no longer works for me.... synchronicity was fun for me while it lasted, but IMO it was hijacked and perverted..... How many other "nouns" are out there anyways? think of all the unknown "nouns"... time to move outside the box and stop bouncing around the planets once again (for a while atleast).... Anyways I may be found here or there....

    Take it Easy "Quarky"

  5. Hey Chris,

    Excellent post. Ernst's work is indeed full of strange, familiar, elusive potency. Your thoughts in this post brought to mind Freud's essay 'The Uncanny', which explores the legend of the Sandman, the concepts of doubling, infantile psychology and terror. While I don't agree with every detail in Freud's thesis, I do find the essay to be a very useful, nuanced work. Here's a quote that I found pertinent to the Elusive Companion Hypothosis and your thoughts in general:

    "Jentsch writes: 'In telling a story one of the most successful devices for easily creating uncanny effects is to leave the reader in uncertainty whether a particular figure in the story is a human being or an automaton and to do it in such a way that his attention is not focused directly upon his uncertainty, so that he may not be led to go into the matter and clear it up immediately."

    And then later in the essay:

    "for this uncanny is in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression. This reference to the factor of repression enables us, furthermore, to understand Schelling’s definition [p. 224] of the uncanny as something which ought to have remained hidden but has come to light."

    Again, there are no exact analogies in Freud's essay to your ECH but a lot of stuff that sparks intrigue and a feeling of resonance. I often think of Truth as a fluid, evolutionary abstraction that also has a literality to it. Our Magonian passports seem to be taking us to some extremely bizarre, oddly familiar places.


  6. Philip K. Dick used a Max Ernst painting, "The Petrified City" for the cover of "The Man in the High Castle".

  7. beautiful images!, i really dig when things bubble up from facebook

  8. That is some very interesting material about Max Ernst. I too have always felt the otherness of his vibration and have found his work fascinating. Thank you for your incredible research.
    Best wishes, Delorus

  9. That black and white photo from 1947 is labeled as "Sedona, New Mexico" - it should read Sedona Arizona. Curious that this small town is at the heart of a crazy amount of UFO weirdness.

    I had a series of perfectly strange synchronicities in Sedona. Not sure what it might mean. I am shy to use the term "vortex" - I am much more content with "hot-spot."

    Mike C

  10. TripL3good ar t ickles

    Wrighderite Onn Lyca Magemanshine

  11. Yes, Sedona is in dead center of Arizona. That's where I grew up, not something most people can claim. Since I was younger I preceded the new age "diaspora" into Sedona by a few years, but did experience a large amount of the crystal crunchers rising escapades; including the 80's harmonic convergence. I was a teenager then, so didn't care about them or their activities; just painting, hiking and partying.

    Funny thing nowadays, some of my interests cross paths, but with a much more balanced approach, IMHO.
    I was much more interested in the Anasazi cliff dwellings and the magic of the unknown it gave me. I always wondered why they just up-and-disappeared, still do. Although nowadays, I come to think that these dwellings were refugee nomads of sorts, possible post-deluvian Olmec/Mayans being hunted by the "Roman" empire; just a PKD-ish intuition. I did have several dreams when I was younger. One was a armageddon-like dream, staged in Sedona itself, with Vimaana-like craft warring and some dinosaurs present; very vivid. An odd thing to add, is that I was a neighbor to Orson Welles, who lived in Sedona for a short while.

    I went back to Sedona last fall to attend the CPAK conference and take my German friend to a list of Anasazi ruins around Sedona and northern AZ. I took a few snaps you can check out online, one of the shots is a pictogram which looks very "alien" or Sanskrit-like the rest just show the eccentric beauty of the region and a Datura flower next to the ruins. No wonder Ernst moved there too. It attracts all the intriguing minds and artists.

    "Sanskrit" Anasazi graffiti - Palatki

    Sedona pix. Some are of other places (Wall photos), but most Sedona/AZ area.

  12. OK- Sedona refs fixed. It was late when I was writing this and the UFO association was weighing heavily, for obvious reasons.

  13. I also forgot to mention, that when the X-files started, I was living in Sedona. Check out the episode Anasazi which is shot in Sedona.

  14. The Angel of Hearth and Home just grabs me by the guts. Truly the angel of this off kilter world. If I could turn around quickly enough I would see that dance.

    Raj- that definition of the uncanny as something that ought to remain hidden but has come to light- that spoke right up to me as well. We teeter and wobble around the edge of that place of discovery indeed.

    Such good stuff to ponder here.


  15. you've been name-dropped on a mainstream site, and not in a good way:

  16. I blame sites that preach their opinion as fact to the mindless masses looking to feel a part of something to a certain degree..... People should be responsible for their own irresponsibility that they read and/or put out there to others on the Internet or in person....

    I have heard about a million different interpretations of the movie 'The Wizard of OZ'.... To many people interpret metaphors to literal and that may be the Archetype or Archetypes biggest joke on humanity least in this guys opinion.....

    This is why sometimes I believe some things should and do remain hidden cause whenever "truth" or certain knowledge comes to the surface people act like the little babies they truly are and as much as they would like to use the FICTITIOUS RELIGIONS as a metaphor, paranoia sets in and what they believe as the truth is the only thing they can think of.

    These over paranoid religious conspiracy tin-foil heads wont be happy till they suppress EVERYTHING and the whole world is painted in one color.....

    PS Next they will tell you fictitious horror movies will make you want to hang out in graveyards and bite peoples necks...

    PPS Armageddon is as real as the Zombie Apocalypse IMO...

  17. PPPS..... Old Hat Stuff, rehashed like carbon recycling....

  18. Great post! I highly recommend Jon Downes' The Owlman and Others where he ponders the link between Ernst and the high strangeness going on in Cornwall in the late 70s (not just the Owlman, but UFOs, sea monsters, animal mutilations and a lot more).

  19. A bit off topic,but good news to comic book fans.Western canon to be rewritten as three-volume graphic novel.
    Robert Crumb and Will Eisner will be among 130 illustrators contributing to 1,344-page condensation of all western,and some oriental literature.

  20. Scott
    Yeah, Jon's Owlman book is excellent. The 30th anniversary edition contains a lot of new info on the case.

  21. Weeks had gone by since the nighttime visitations had ceased.

    Yet one day, while listening to a podcast that happened to describe the giant owl god that is the object of "mock" worship at the Bohemian Grove gatherings, a new detail emerged.

    As strange as the events of these middle-of-the-night visitations had been, of menacing incorporeal entities that were just at the edge of perception, there was one other situation that happened that was just too bizarre to be mentioned to anybody else. Instead of at night, this happened in morning daylight - the momentary visage of a humanoid owl being in the backyard. It appeared, returned the stare, eye to eye, to the point of compelling a glance away; turning back to look again and it was gone.

    Upon hearing this description, I knew I'd ran across this before. I went and got my copy of Graham Hancock's book, Supernatural. Thumbing through a section that presented some UFO encounters, there were some where experiencers had described also seeing the visage of a humanoid owl being. Usually as a sort of summation event or even a postscript of the entire episode.

    In another section of this book there was a reproduction of a cave wall painting, dated from about 15 thousands years ago, where the artist/shaman had depicted a humanoid owl. (Hmm, this archetype appears to have been around for quite a while.)

    Weeks later am reading Nick Redfern's book, Final Events, and yet again the humanoid owl being gets a mention. Old, obscure books dating from mediaeval times referenced such a being in descriptions of the demonology of ancient Babylon (first millennia BC).

    Is it possible to decode the owl man motif? It's a most consistent thread through time in conjunction to these brushes with the Elusive Companions. A stone age shaman tripping on mushrooms sees them and is inspired to depict them in his memoralizing artwork, UFO experiencers sometimes report them, people getting harassed by weird nighttime visitations might see them, and ancient Babylonians were likewise plagued with these Owlman encounters. Oh, and we should not forget that the elite running the West like to have mock workship (inclusive of mock child sacrifice) to a giant owl god. This Owlman seems like big medicine - but pretty much of the darkside variety.

  22. Please, take a look into Colette Calascione work. She admits Ernst (note: er-nest)influence. She seems very alchemical too.

    The odd of all this is that I discovered her last week and now you come with this man.... you know, the synchro thing?