Sunday, July 19, 2009
To the Moon and Back - draft
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 7/20/09
By returning and rest we shall be saved . . . - The Book of Common Prayer
One giant step to the moon forty years ago today changed things. Possibly it changed everything for all the future and for everyone. Shortly thereafter in 1977, film critic Stanley Kauffman went to the movies and saw a film that he called an epiphany, “an event in the history of faith.” It was Stephen Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This movie that could not have been made before July 20, 1969 when we landed on the moon for prior to that we were afraid of the moon. We were afraid of space.
Close Encounters was distinctly different from Sci-fi movies of the 1950s, movies like War of the Worlds, in particular, in which great “eyes” suddenly appear in the cities and blast the cities away. We had been dreaming of going to space and dreaming of aliens for decades, even a century before. The Fifties response was to blast the aliens away before they blasted you, transferring a hostile enemy from Nazi Germany to the U.S.S.R. to an ambiguous alien invasion in ten short years.
What is interesting today is that we now dream of returning to earth in TV shows like Lost and Survivor. And in these, as in the space flicks back in the Fifties, it is a strange, new and even psychic place which we have got to and know it as if for the first time. In the late 1990s and early 2000’s we were back to blasting away aliens again in movies like the 1996 Independence Day and Spielberg’s 2005 remake of War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise. Speilberg brought us up, then just as the end of his career he brought us back. This could be an event in the history of faith as well.
Swiss depth psychologist C.G. Jung was fascinated by U.F.O. sightings in the 1950s and as early as 1946 he began to collect data on people who had “visitations.” He wrote the monograph Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies in 1958 : As we know from ancient Egyptian history they (UFOs) are manifestations of psychic changes which always appear at the end of one Platonic month and at the beginning of another. Apparently they are changes in the constellation of psychic dominants, of the archetypes, or “gods” as they used to be called which bring about, or accompany, long-lasting transformation of the collective psyche. . . . We are now nearing that great change which may be expected when the springpoint enters Aquarius.
Jung’s comments brought him a high place in a new hierarchy. He was positioned top row center in the Council of Elders on the cover of The Beatles most famous album, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, the definitive archeological object of the day.
The circular space ships are eyes, said Jung. It is the eye of God, the eye of Horus, the sky god, projecting down from the heavens.
We shouldn’t fear these things, he said. We should welcome them. And when we do we – the world - will begin to engage a new awakening.
I don’t know if Stephen Spielberg was listening, but I expect he was, as Close Encounters . . . followed just that prescription. Spielberg’s screenplay is based on the book The UFO Experience (1972) by Dr. J. Allen Hynek, who portrays alien encounters as optimistic, benevolent and loving. The dreamers in the movie follow their visions and welcome the intruders from Outer Space rather than blast them away.
This was followed by the Spielberg movie E.T., screenplay by Melissa Mathison - a well-known contributor to Tibetan Buddhist causes. E.T. is the story of the sweet-faced extra-terrestrial and it was accompanied by a famous poster featuring the Hand of God touching the little alien, like Michelangelo’s picture of God touching Adam’s hand in the Creation scene on the Sistine Chapel. By the end of the century aliens are less than divine and we have become completely acclimated to critters from outer space. In the Spielberg blockbuster a few years back, Men in Black, they pass for ordinary citizens in New York City, although the guardians, the Men in Black, cast a wary eye upon them.
That would set the course. From then on out, Outer Space would be an element we would feel familiar in. Indeed, from then until the end of the century all epics would take place in the air or in space. The Star Wars sage presented a Taoist and Zen primer and would carry for 30 years. There are specific references throughout the series to Zen, Buddhism and Taoism. A “Quigon-ginn” for example, is a Taoist avatar. John Wayne, the 1950s man on horseback, would be the last of the earth-bound heroes. But I half expect to see him pop up again in the next season of Lost.
No one understood the sci-fi alien encounter genre better than Chris Carter, creator of The X Files, whose agents, Scully and Mulder, are often between worlds, earth-bound and alien, and aliens are sometimes viewed as ourselves on another astral plane or ourselves evolved from DNA from an extra-terrestrial species. The X Files, which took some of its impetus from Harvard psychiatrist John E. Mack’s book, Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens, progressively moves the genre away from us against them, to a situation where we somehow share something with the aliens: I am he.
David Duchovny, educated at Yale and Princeton, brought some learned credentials to the show, and in one episode to which he contributed script, there is a retelling of Dostoyevski’s chapter in The Brother’s Karamatsov, “The Grand Inquisitor.” In the X Files version – as in the sci-fi folk lore of the three Men in Black accompanying a new avatar - Christ comes back as an alien and is imprisoned, effectively making the jump to hyper space from the Piscean Age and one of its last, great Christian thinkers and novelists, Dostoyevsky, to the Age of Aquarius.
For the record, in the final episode of The X Files on May 19, 2002, in which Scully and Mulder are reunited, the Cigarette-Smoking Man reveals that the world will end on December 22, 2012. That is, the “alien invasion” -- which suggests the new consciousness taking precedence over the old -- will be completed on that day. In the final scene, Scully and Mulder realize they are seeking the same thing - he as a UFO investigator and she as a Roman Catholic. Mulder takes Scully’s cross in his hand that she has been wearing on her neck throughout the series. It is interesting that it is exactly that worn by John Lennon in his last pictures with the New York City basketball shirt. It is interesting because in the week in which the Age of Aquarius actually began – Dec. 31/Jan. 1, 2001, the X Files featured an episode written by Mulder with a messiah figure who directly suggests John Lennon.
The ultimate Aquarian episode and one of the best is The Blessing Way, in which Mulder is left for dead by the Cigarette Smoking Man, then taken to the Land of the Dead where he meets his father, and is raised again from the dead or near-dead and “born again.” He is guided through the Land of the Dead and brought back by a Native American shaman during the birth of the White Buffalo on a Wisconsin farm, a Native American sign of new Awakening and a harbinger of Aquarius.
The X Files’ final regular series episode with Scully and Mulder together is a virtual Nativity scene with alien visitors, complete with guiding star and the Lone Gunmen presented as the three Magi bearing gifts. The child Scully bears is ultimately given up for adoption to a family that lives under the flag of the White Buffalo.
The child is the Chosen One, the Aquarian, and the White Buffalo is the symbol of Aquarius. (Both Close Encounters and The X-Files have tag lines that suggest religious faith. The movie poster for Close Encounters reads, “We are not alone.” In The X-Files, there is a poster of a flying saucer in Agent Mulder’s office that reads, “I want to believe.”)
By the turn of the millennium, but even the tenacious Star Trek crew has turned the corner. One of the very last chapters, Andromeda, staring the dreamy, New Age Kevin Sorbo as Dylan – no authoritarian Captain Kirk, just Dylan – the ship’s commander, casts its crew as “keepers of the way,” a page right out of Lao Tsu and the Tao te Ching, although the commander still has a tendency to break heads.
The desire to conquer the universe is a phantom. We cannot conquer the universe. We cannot conquer the earth. We cannot conquer ourselves. The gods hide in low places and the new Twilight books and movies advance the seeker’s genre by asking the most deeply impressed human question of all the human ages: How do we and can we engage our full human nature without encountering the beast which lives within us. How can we engage and contain our own bestial nature. The alien in not in space. It is within ourselves. Like Jung’s “eyes in the sky” the vampires here are “gods” as well, the Shining Ones who seek the solution to this question. In our traditions, the only others who have successfully mastered this dilemma are the Volturi; barely guised old school Italian Roman Catholics; the kind who pop up again in the Ron Howard’s reworking of the Can Brown novels like The Da Vinci Code.
The Star Trek series began coming “back to earth” in the 1986 feature Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home, the self-parodying tale of the Enterprise crew coming back to earth in the 1980s to save the whales, one of the most engaging of the series, directed by Leonard Nimoy. After his retirement from the series William Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in the long-running series, wrote a book called Get a Life about Trekie cult followers. Trekies later became the subject of the hilarious spoof Galaxy Quest with Tim Allen and Sigourney Weaver, who played Captain Kirk’s dark cosmic sister, Lieutenant Ripley, in the Alien series. Trekies aside, Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Ripley are both Master Aquarians working their way through the murky ambiguity unknown of an unknown future. “To boldly go where no man has gone before”; that would be to the new millennium.
By the beginning of the new century we have returned to earth (and to its quality of the Unconscious, Middle Earth). Spielberg's A/I (2001) is a high-tech retelling of the Old World Pinochio story (the myth/dream of an old man at a spiritual loss and carving his Savior/Messiah out of a tree, like the Prague Golem story of the 16th century Rabbi Loeb). In Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and The Matrix, there is no longer the belief that the alien is really out there, in space, and that we should go after him, but that space fiction and its inhabitants are representative of an inner condition, as it has been right along in the Star Wars series. And in the magnificent animated feature film, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, (2002) we re-enter the natural world of earth, air, fire and water that we left behind when we said good bye to Abbess Hildegard in the 12th century. Perhaps like Haku, we will remember our name.
As all things looked to the sky in the 1950s, today all paths return to earth. Tolkien’s Rings series enters a state preceding the medieval period, State of Heaven brings us Christian on Islam war is the 12th century, the best seller The DaVinci Code, contains riddles of a far earlier day and Harry Potter. The Deathless Child of Old England, returns us to where we came.
Our space journey did not begin with Flash Gordon or Captain Kirk. It began with Columbus. These are the sentiments of the most American of poets, Walt Whitman: Lo, soul, seest thou not God’s purpose from the first?/ The earth to be spann’d, connected by network,/ The races, neighbors, to marry and be given in marriage,/The oceans to be cross’d, the distant brought near,/The lands to be welded together.
The passage would be to the sun and the moon and all of the stars and to Siruis and Jupiter. Then: After the seas are all cross’d (as they seem already cross’d)/ After the great captiains and engineers have accoomplish’d their work,/ After the noble inventors, after the scientists, the chemist, the geologist, ethnologist,/ Finally shall come the poet worthy of that name;/ The true son of God shall come singing his songs.
We are a land-based species and cannot live in outer space. It should be the most obvious fact of human nature. But that we cannot live there and were not meant to does not mean we shouldn’t visit there. The planned space missions to the moon and Mars that are to begin around 2020 bring six separate worlds, three in the West - Russia, the EU and America - and three in the East - Japan, China and India - to a new plane of human experience. This in itself brings a new Creation. It is a world which before July 20, 1969 did not exist and was not even suggested. It is a new world in which the Dalai Lama has said the technical mastery of the West joins the psychic and spiritual influences of the East. They have found something they lacked in us and we have found something we had lost in them. Nothing could be a greater tribute the great, heroic, human achievement of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, the three avatars who went to the moon in a very small boat forty years ago today.