Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Covenant and the Cargo Cult, Part 1

Sir Ridley Scott's long-awaited prequel to Prometheus opened this week in certain countries and is set to open in America next week. For those waiting for a continuation of the storyline from the last movie- when crew member Elizabeth Shaw and the head of android David taking off to invade the Engineer homeworld- well, I hate to say it but you're out of luck.

The Prometheus story is referenced only as exposition, apparently.  I hope I'm not giving away any spoilers (it feels like half the movie has already been posted to YouTube in the form of trailers and excerpts) but it is what it is.

Of course, the bit with Elizabeth and David's disembodied head from Prometheus is yet another one of those bizarre and inexplicable references to John the Baptist that tentpole sci-fi movies are so fond of. Remember that John's mother was named Elizabeth*, who had her own covenant with an extraterrestrial entity (the Archangel Gabriel, in this case). 

But I digress. If you've been following the previews and the various puff pieces in the media you'll suss out that Alien: Covenant is more like a remake of the first Alien film than a sequel to Prometheus. In much the same way as the JJ Abrams' Star Wars it's meant to act a jumping-on point for the Alien franchise for post-Millennials:

If Star Wars: The Force Awakens led the way in merging fan-service universe-building with fresh heroes, stories and themes for a new generation, Alien: Covenant grabs the reboot ball and runs with it. 
Director Sir Ridley Scott has said himself how much he was impressed by Disney's handling of Star Wars' renaissance, and it's clear to see why this similarly iconic '70s sci-fi world is equally ripe for a life-extending overhaul.
The film apparently references the AAT of Prometheus but also taps into the current anxieties over AI and robots and their potential to do away with the rest of us, kind of like a more ambitious HAL 9000. Scott apparently 86'd the idea of more direct sequel to Prometheus after reading some of the negative reviews dumped on the film, which he called "a mistake":
What changed was the reaction to ‘Prometheus’, which was a pretty good ground zero reaction. It went straight up there, and we discovered from it that [the fans] were really frustrated. They wanted to see more of the original [monster] and I thought he was definitely cooked, with an orange in his mouth. So I thought: ‘Wow, OK, I’m wrong’.
Well, somebody thought Scott was wrong, "somebody" almost certainly being a Fox accountant or three. However, one SF fansite accused Scott of "selling out" by not following up on the Prometheus story and I'm sure a lot of other fans will disappointed the story was dispensed with so easily. Either way, Scott continues to make eyebrow-raising comments about aliens in the press, referring to them recently as "superior beings."
Alien creator Ridley Scott has said that he is convinced that there are extra-terrestrials out there – and one day they will come for us. The veteran director said he believed in higher beings as he prepared to release the sixth episode of the sci-fi horror series, Alien: Covenant, next month. 
“I believe in superior beings. I think it is certainly likely. An expert I was talking to at Nasa said to me, ‘Have you ever looked in the sky at night? You mean to tell me we are it?’ That’s ridiculous.” 
“So when you see a big thing in the sky, run for it,” he joked.“Because they are a lot smarter than we are, and if you are stupid enough to challenge them you will be taken out in three seconds.”
Which makes you wonder about the whole "Covenant" thing, doesn't it? 

The term is essentially religious ('contract' is more commonly used to describe written civil agreements), dating back to the Old Testament.  And seeing how that covenant was made with a god who flew around the sky in a pillar of smoke and light, and needed a special environment built in order to interact with his subjects, you do start to wonder what the implications of all this happen to be. 

Well, start with this. Like Jack Kirby (whose Eternals so inspired the first Alien film),  Scott seems to have been bitten by the ancient astronaut bug and bitten hard. I don't know what the current status is on the project but back in 2014 it was reported that Sir Scott was developing an AAT series for HBO called Pharaoh:

Scott has signed on to serve as the executive producer and director for this project, which was created and sold to the premium cable channel by David Schulner. The Hollywood Reporter explains: 
The drama explores an alternate explanation for the foundation and ascent of the ancient Egyptian empire — one in which greatness was bestowed upon us by beings from another world, calling into question what it means to be a “god.” The project was co-created by Giannina Facio and Colet Abedi, who will exec produce alongside Scott and David Zucker for Scott Free. 
His film Prometheus was partially inspired by the writings of Swiss author Erich von Daniken who is known for his books like Chariots of the Gods? and Gods From Outer Space. Von Daniken is also a regular talking head on History Channel’s Ancient Aliens.
Again, I'm not sure where Pharaoh stands today but according to an October report from Omni the project was still on. It may be why the planned Stargate reboot was reported as being put into turnaround in November. Which, if so, strikes me a bit curious. The mighty Devlin and Emmerich nosed off their turf by Sir Scott? Huh.

But there's an interesting little visual cue in one of the trailers that suggests that Scott takes AAT very seriously. The Covenant crew lands on an alien planet and discovers a familiar sight. From io9:
This alien planet that looks untouched by human hands is growing recognizable wheat, which very much has been touched by human hands. This plays into the Alien mythos that there was a race of “Engineers” that were the progenitors of humans—they’re similar to us, why wouldn’t their food be similar? And if they were traveling around, why wouldn’t they carry seeds like we do?
Why is wheat so significant in the context of the Prometheus teleology? The late Lloyd Pye explains: 
Many have "wild" predecessors that were apparently a starting point for the domesticated variety, but others--like many common vegetables--have no obvious precursors. But for those that do, such as wild grasses, grains and cereals, how they turned into wheat, barley, millet, rice, etc. is a profound mystery. 
No botanist can conclusively explain how wild plants gave rise to domesticated ones. The emphasis here is on "conclusively". Botanists have no trouble hypothesising elaborate scenarios in which Neolithic (New Stone Age) farmers somehow figured out how to hybridise wild grasses, grains and cereals, not unlike Gregor Mendel when he cross-bred pea plants to figure out the mechanics of genetic inheritance. It all sounds so simple and so logical, almost no one outside scientific circles ever examines it closely.
Modern wheat is one of those innovations that scientists revert to ontological arguments to explain. The wheat we know obviously exists so it simply had to have been the product of long-term domestication. How exactly the domestication of an essentially-inedible wild grass was domesticated into a modern foodcrop-- over the span of centuries, mind you, if not millennia-- by illiterate Stone Age farmers is never exactly made clear. Pye again:
 On the other hand, those New Stone Age farmers who were fresh out of their caves and only just beginning to turn soil for the first time (as the ”official” scenario goes), somehow managed to transform the wild grasses, grains and cereals growing around them into their domesticated ”cousins”. Is that possible? Only through a course in miracles! Actually, it requires countless miracles within two large categories of miracles.  
The seeds and grains were maddeningly small, like pepper flakes or salt crystals, which put them beyond the grasping and handling capacity of human fingers. They were also hard, like tiny nutshells, making it impossible to convert them to anything edible. Lastly, their chemistry was suited to nourishing animals, not humans. So wild varieties were entirely too small, entirely too tough and nutritionally inappropriate for humans. 
They needed to be greatly expanded in size, greatly softened in texture and overhauled at the molecular level–which would be an imposing challenge for modern botanists, much less Neolithic farmers.  
Despite the seeming impossibility of meeting those daunting objectives, modern botanists are confident the first sodbusters had all they needed to do it: time and patience. Over hundreds of generations of selective crossbreeding, they consciously directed the genetic transformation of the few dozen that would turn out to be most useful to humans. And how did they do it? By the astounding feat of doubling, tripling and quadrupling the number of chromosomes in the wild varieties! 
Domestic wheat and oats were elevated from an ancestor with seven chromosomes to their current 42–an expansion by a factor of six.”
Remember that the cultivation of wheat brought about the rise of the Sumerians, who had oddly intimate relationships with their gods (the Anunaki, of course). The ancient Greeks were certain that wheat was the gift of a god; Demeter, in this case. It was the final "mystery" in the dramas put on at Eleusis. The Egyptians credited wheat to Osiris, the star-sailor.  So its inclusion in this film hardly seems incidental. On the contrary; it looks as if someone were doing their homework.

Now, longtime readers of The Secret Sun realize that nearly every major SF franchise of the past 50 years (starting with 2001: A Space Odyssey) is centered around ancient astronaut theory in one way or the other. 

Star Trek, Doctor Who, Star Wars (arguably), Battlestar GalacticaAlien (of course), Stargate, The X-Files, Transformers, Indiana Jones and the entire Marvel and DC Universes all established their creation myths, in varying degrees, as the work of advanced extraterrestrial interlopers. Does that seem coincidental to you? It certainly does not to me.

There've also been a ton of less-visible but still-signficant TV shows and movies that have done the same, like Jonny Quest, The Phoenix, The Man from Atlantis as well as Childhood's End, Cocoon, Hangar 18, countless American and Japanese cartoons (even the hugely-popular cardgame/anime property Yu-Gi-Oh). So much so that you can't help but wonder if there's not a very powerful cargo cult at work behind the scenes in Tinseltown.

Bearing all that in mind, as well as the Ancient Aliens cable show (now in its 12th season), researchers might be forgiven for believing this was all part of some long-running conditioning program. You know, kind of like the one suggested by the Brookings Institution report back in 1960. 

Or exactly like it, actually.

Researchers would be especially forgiven in light of this recent blockbuster news story:
Was our solar system once home to an advanced civilization other than our own — perhaps one that predated humanity by hundreds of millions of years before being wiped out by an asteroid impact or some other cataclysm? 
There's no evidence for such a pre-human indigenous technological species, though people have been speculating about one since ancient times. But a respected space scientist points out in a provocative new paper that if the existence of home-grown intelligent space aliens has never been established, it's never been ruled out either. 
And if a race of smart and perhaps spacefaring aliens did make their home in our solar system, traces of their lost civilization might still be out there somewhere in the system just waiting for us to find them.
Quite a "synchronicity," don't you think?

UPDATE: Check out Gordon's review on Alien: Covenant on Rune Soup.


* Elizabeth is often traced to Elisheba but you can also frame it as a contraction of Eloah-Isis-Beth, or "House of Isis, the Goddess."


  1. Slate recently learned about the Mars remote viewing session, about which the CIA also recently released some documents among many others.

  2. Isn't it possible that Stone Age peoples had more advanced technology than we think we did. Also, is there any writings about the prehistory of rice, similar to what you have quoted for wheat?

  3. Chris,

    The conditioning extends to all media, if we consider the UFO craze of the early 1970s. The major UFO flap of 1973 was the centerpoint - not the instigator - of a period that had a UFO comic book (from Gold Key, I think) recounting true cases, Nordics working with a robot Bigfoot on 'The Six Million Dollar Man' (!), and Klaatu, whose song 'Calling Occupants (of Interplanetary Craft)' didn't catch fire despite the rumor they were the reunited Beatles in disguise, so it becomes a big cover hit for The Carpenters and gets the message out.

    Interesting, this all happens at the exact same time there's a dark Occult revival. Was someone trying to sell us the same content in two different packages? Quisp and Quake!

    I also find interesting this was a period of heightened interest in ancient Egypt, with a growing interest from African Americans in search of their roots, the King Tut craze, etc feeding much of the von Daniken craze.

  4. Gordo at 'Rune Soup' seems to have liked it.
    It's on the screens in Australia (probably for the Mother's Day weekend?-) the country it was filmed in, so I might go see it on "Cheap Tuesday".
    You can read Gordon's review of the film at this link -

  5. Excellent work, Chris. I'd be surprised if cargo cult AAT, panspermia and Gnosticism didn't rear it's head in our current deeply apocalyptic milieu.

  6. That old God calling himself YHWH seems kinda similar to The 456 from Torchwood when you put it like that.
    Descends in a pillar of fire, requires a specially built containment vessel, demands child sacrifices, threatens mass destruction if it doesn't get its way, promises eternal life...

  7. Very interesting, Chris!

    After having complained to a neighbor and retired chemist near me about a gluten sensitivity that causes eczema, he informed me that wheat was re engineered in the seventies, one result being its increased addition of gluten. He suggested the result may have been somewhat hazardous over time as it would take some years to develop allergies or sensitivity. So we're still at it.

    What I've found interesting is this chemist is a member of the far right political bent, very religious, extremely intelligent and believes the AAT is the only explanation for why we have advanced to our current degree. Seems a dichotomy, but there it is.

    I'd read the last referenced article recently so have some enhanced perspective, as to my neighbor's worldview, but it often still seems we are being led to a final conclusion.

  8. Conditioning indeed. One wonders what would have really happened had Hillary won the election, promises of disclosure & all that. Still, despite the all-Trump-all-the-time-Reality-Show (& I do wonder how much of that is just distraction from other, more pressing matters), I think the Laurence Rockefeller influence lives on, regardless. Too much was invested in it for it not to.

  9. Coincidentally (or not) I've just been watching some episodes of Seventies kitsch classic Space:1999 and came across 'The Testament of Arkadia', a full-on ancient astronaut story.

    We get all the elements - a dead planet where an away team from Moonbase Alpha find the remnants of Earth plants and eventually discover humanoid skeletons and samples of writing that looks like an early form of Sanskrit. Sure enough we find out the aliens from 'Arkadia' are our ancestors and colonised prehistoric Earth after their world was destroyed in a nuclear war.

    After a revelatory episode in a cave (!) two of the crew wind up becoming a new Adam & Eve thus bringing the origins of humanity full circle.

    Quite a sombre episode reminiscent of Quatermass & well worth a look for any AAT sci-fi fans.

    "... researchers might be forgiven for believing this was all part of some long-running conditioning program."

    Definitely. Look at how AAT themes are shoe-horned into properties where they're not directly relevant - such as the Predator & Alien films, the crashed Kryptonian spacecraft in Man of Steel, 'that' scene in Life of Brian etc. - such topics aren't of interest to the conventional skeptical geek fans and it's highly unlikely average viewers are demanding their inclusion.

    Looking forward to part two, Chris!

  10. Contact in the desert May 19-22. Joshua tree, southern California. Should have all the AAT covered. Stop by at Tek-Gnostic booth and bring your tin foil hat. Hope to see some of the " Sun of an occulted nature" fan club there. To shine forth is key! 87

  11. My feelings on Prometheus and the Alien franchise are fairly common ones. Prometheus, yes great aesthetic feel to it, but did not care for hooking it into an Alien prequel in the end. I was like WTF? I think it should have been left alone. In fact the only Alien film I care for is the 1979 release. It's almost 40 years now, wow.

    There are things going on re the alien motif in these films that Scott may or may not be consciously aware of, for they reflect on deeper symbolism in the collective psyche. It is not a literal thing as Scott relates (playing to a fan base that is for the most part frankly tuned out to deeper meanings and symbolism). The alien is a modern day demon, a reflection of man's own demonic nature, the mirror of his own savagery and evil (in the case of the Alien horror franchise for sure). Even the very term 'alien' is a clever pun, inseparable from the puns of dream logic. The word and concept 'alien' of course hints at alienation, as in loneliness and isolation. Who is more alienated than modern man in his soulless cities, soulless industries, and his removal from Nature? He then escapes - aside from alcohol, drugs, money making and often dubious religious beliefs and practices - into dreams of starting anew on another Eden planet. Hence men travelling to the stars in space ships take that real alienation to its literal limits. Why are they (in this SF film series and even all SF as a whole) travelling to the stars, what are they really looking for? What is the actual subconscious motivation here, not the ones we think we know or rationalize? Would men truly no longer at war with the earth, with nature, with themselves, no longer yes alienated from themselves, even seek to leave our earth? Why would men who are sane (as opposed to what we are in reality), even with advanced tech capabilities, even seek to leave earth, our miraculous wonderful planet? Would dolphins leave the seas even if they could, for another planet's seas, if the dolphins ran planet earth, and thus our seas were unspoiled? No, because like all animals with the exception of man, they are true to their nature, are not alienated from themselves. Would not seek to literally flee the earth, for no neurotic motivation would exist. And the desire to 'conquer' the stars is a neurotic motivation.

    If men traveled to other planets, their madness would travel with them. As when the New World was conquered. The aliens men both seek and fear on other planets (in the Alien and Prometheus films and SF as a whole) are ourselves. And that is what they find, ourselves, but ourselves as alienated as ever and thus as demonic and evil as ever. Always through a mirror darkly. This is one of the deeper meanings of the Alien and now Prometheus movies, the savage man killing frightful Hans Giger imagined aliens (by the very fact that they are hybrids/hybrid offspring with demi-gods), are only ourselves. As demons from man's ancient lore are. I'm not saying there is nothing else going on here, I'm saying the demon is a reflection, whether the demon be Minotaur or ET. The dragon/gorgon/monster/beowulf that needs to be slayed, is the monstrous ego that needs to slayed before the spirit can be born. Scott's aliens follow in this tradition, but in a way that is roundabout and often silly, given the modern audience is what it is.

    The AAT is a tangent, a whole other thing, but of course myths routinely loop into and feedback off one another.

  12. Lots of food for thought here, but....opening line--isn't this a SEQUEL to "Prometheus" and a prequel to the first "Alien" picture?

  13. In the Eastern Churches, boiled wheat (known as koliva) is regularly blessed during the memorial service and given as libation to honour the souls of ancestors and those who have passed on.

  14. Saw Alien Covenant last week at a preview screening (my brother is a movie critic) in D.C. For me there's a good balance of action and sci-fi headiness in this flick. I enjoyed it and these themes you hit on here were dancing through my head while watching, especially the wheat aspect. Three big themes in this film on the moral challenges of our time stuck out for me as I walked out of the theater:

    1. AI
    2. Genetic engineering
    3. The use of pathogens/viruses as warfare

    All good conversation starters. :-)

  15. The Gene Wolfe series "The Book of the Short Sun" uses your polyploidy theory for grain as the basis for human survival on two "new" planets, Green and Blue, after arriving on a generational spaceship. Quite deep and revealing work.

  16. Btw
    Even Rick and Morty are involved

  17. Well, like all the other first year university Biology students here, the story I was told in Ye Olde Halls of Higher Learning was the duplication and reduplication of the original wild grass's genetic library, over and over, and then voila, Wheat! And if that's what happened as a result of random accidental cross pollination, okay. But the idea that the earliest farmers had the intent to generate a fuller, more edible grain by selective breeding and excellent lab technique seems a bit farfetched, Especially For A Project or Series of Projects that might take centuries to bear fruit. Only a dedicated lineage of shamans or priests skilled in doing the Great Work and teaching it to the next generation of initiates could maintain the attention span needed for all those years. Anyone else might think "Why Bother?"... UNLESS, say, the plants told them how to do it, which might be a South American Ayahuascero's explanation, or maybe they had multigenerational help from the Neighbors, as Gordon might say, though it'd be rude of me to state that's what he'd say for certain...

    My favorite hypothesis would follow Kingsley: the Shamanic practitioners of the tribes would journey to the Underworld, be instructed by the Goddess (because we're talking grain, here, so I'm thinking a local version of Demeter or Persephone), and return with the next set of instructions, which would have the force of divinely inspired law, naturally. And because the tribe has learned to trust it's shamans, it does the Work... Same thing with the variety of mustard that became broccoli and cauliflower etc.

    Food for thought, thought for food!

  18. Glad you mentioned the seed thing. When I was more involved in gardening a few years ago, I noticed how freaking tiny many of the seeds were. Even with modern storage, and LITERACY, keeping store of said seeds was a major problem. To do so with the tools of 15,000 years ago? Yeeeeeeikes.

  19. I kind of liked the mystery touched on in the original 'Aliens' as to how the so-called 'Engineers' were never really explained. We just had the remnants of their technology and their petrified corpses. I don't know if exploring that mystery further with the 'Prometheus' and 'Covenant' movies is going to be as satisfying in the long run since there already seems to be some agendas with the narrative that do follow the ancient astronaut theories with the twist being that our creators really aren't interested in talking to us but instead prefer to exterminate us like a bad lab experiment that needed tidying up afterwards.

    Additionally, this trope of humans making machines with AI superior to our own somehow going into places dark and ugly is getting a bit overdone (think HAL in '2001: A Space Odyssey' and every other AI movie since).

    This paranoid fear that because we are human and we dare to create something intelligent in our own image (i.e. hubris--the original offense against the Greek pantheon), that this endeavor will always end badly for us because of our bad habits which confuse the AI and turns it against us because we are then seen as inferior beings with all that sloppy emotional baggage and cause the AI to slate us for extinction ('Terminator,' 'West World,' 'The Matrix,' 'V'ger' and 'Nomad' ala Star Trek).


    It would be more interesting instead to have that same superior AI technology that we create redeem the flaws within our own human nature thereby expanding the evolution of our species and allowing human beings to integrate and rise far beyond the narrow review of any engineering seed race's expectations of where their creation was truly headed. That way, our "savior" would ultimately be the result of our own intellect taking us to a place that makes hundreds of thousands of years of bloodshed and violence in human history worth getting to in the final analysis. I think '2001' should have stated that idea more clearly with Bowman becoming that enlightened human/alien seed hybrid with the expanded consciousness that excels us beyond the confines of space-time. Perhaps the monolith was nothing more than the remnant of those original alien's highly advanced AI technology which was striving to recreate their long deceased creators by some organic experiment of their own that spanned the millions of years of their laboratory called 'Earth'?

    A corpus of movies about any superior alien species that would want to kill off a developing race of intelligent, space travelling beings makes no sense beyond selling merchandise and popcorn. It's about money, of course.

    Hmmm...if you replace the monolith with a stretched out Dollar Bill, maybe that would explain it all much better.

  20. I just saw AC today and besides the first 'Alien' movie this is my equal favourite and I liked it better than the last one, although you still have to have seen it to get this one. I especially liked the captain of the spaceship (and it has solar sails, which make it literally a space ship) Covenant being named BRANson (wheat/bran...get it?), which could also be a swipe at Sir Richard Branson and his efforts to get into space travel.
    But I say f...forget those reviews you have read, because this is a sequel to 'Prometheus' and David gets more than enough screen time...but I won't spoil it and say just how much...but it is enough to let you know that this isn't a stand alone/reboot.
    As Gordon White says, "think space Lucifer" while watching this movie and you'll see that Scott didn't sell out like the reviews would have you believe.
    I'd give it two thumbs up if I hadn't of lost a hand recently ;-)
    If you're a fan of the Alien movies...which I'm not really...then you won't be disappointed with this movie in the series.
    And go see 'Get Out' as it treads similar water to this movie as far as hybrid/genes story lines go, plus more.
    Both good movies and especially for those moviegoers who have eyes to see :-)

  21. how about this scenario: the "domesticated" were originally wild in their present form, glommed onto for obvious reasons, and ceased to exist in the wild. perhaps as they were overharvested from their wild state the idea developed to keep seed and plant it before it went extinct which eventually in the wild it did, leaving only the wheat, millet etc. that was kept by humans to survive.

    the same thing happens with some animals that are extinct or almost so in the wild and primarily exist in zoos.

  22. I had never heard about this...

    1. Me either! Nice find & interesting info. Also check out Joss Whedon's original script ending(s) for Alien Resurrection:

  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

  24. It would be understandable if the critters back in the day did not just eat and excrete, but terraformed.

    Being connected to molten energetic carbon that has come from above and below would just look like some tricky thing.

    Pangea, Kokopelli, Nebulas. And Valhalla. Not really visible without a taste.

  25. please excuse the nit-picking but its Sir Ridley not Sir Scott !

  26. 2001 an "ancient astronaut" story?
    Lol. Go study MagicK with a K.