Preface for the Anniversary Edition of Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Däniken
Since the publication of Chariots of the Gods in February, 1968, I have received questions from around the world inquiring how this book originated and what inspired these “crazy” ideas. One after the other.
I come from a very Catholic family in Switzerland and my father decided that I would have a theologically-oriented education. So he enrolled 16-year old Erich at Collège St-Michel, a Jesuit boarding school in Fribourg, Switzerland. At that time, my conception of God was magnificent and simultaneously incomprehensible – and has remained so to this day. I always thought God – who or what that was – had to exhibit some minimum features. The true God would be flawless and could do no wrong. He would have to be omnipresent and need no vehicle to get from point A to point B. In particular, God would be timeless. God could not be something that did experiments and then must wait to see what resulted. Those were the thoughts my confused 16-year old brain had about God.
In theology class, we regularly translated Bible passages. Typically, this was from the ancient Greek or Latin texts into German. And so my plight began. The God of the Old Testament used vehicles for his earthly visits. He was often described with attributes such as “smoke, fire, earthquake, or noise.” “Fallen angels” or “God’s sons” came down from heaven to fornicate with pretty daughters of men according to the first book of Moses. The biblical God conducted experiments and did not know the outcomes, or worse, they were wrong. First he “created man and saw that it was good.” But later “the Lord repented that he had created man, and it grieved him deeply.” He decided that the whole of humanity had to drown with the exception of Noah and his family.
Was God really that contradictory? Doubts about my own religion plagued me, and I wondered if other, older cultures told similar stories about their deities as we did in the Judeo-Christian faith. For years, I immersed myself in the histories of other religions. Lo and behold, it was the same with Indians, Tibetans, Egyptians, Incans, Mayans, Aztecs, etc.; all the gods arose with smoke, fire, earthquake, and noise from the firmament down. That was the birth of Chariots of the Gods.
After five years of Jesuit education, I got into the restaurant business. This was nothing special, since my grandmother ran a hotel/restaurant and Swiss cuisine had a good international reputation. I was a waiter, cook, bartender, receptionist, and student of hotel management. Through my hotel years, I worked intensively on my hobby: searching for the origin of the gods. I devoured countless archaeological and theological works, traveled widely, and visited archaeological sites and temples in distant countries. Again and again, I was able to publish short articles about my research in magazines. On December 8, 1964, the Canadian/German newspaper The Northwest (published in Winnipeg) printed an entire feature that I wrote. It was entitled: Did Our Ancestors Visit from Outer Space?
Parallel to my hobby, my career climbed steadily upwards. In 1966, I became the director of a first-class hotel in Davos, Switzerland. During the afternoons, I sat in a small little room and typed a manuscript on a typewriter that would later become a worldwide bestseller.
Now began new difficulties. I sent the manuscript to 25 publishers – and all refused. With precise regularity, letters arrived on my desk with the usual answers: “We regret … not suitable for our publishing … too speculative … unprofessional … antireligious … etc.” I knew I was sitting on a volcano, but no one was interested. Luckily, one of my regular hotel guests, Dr. Thomas von Randow, was the science editor of the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit. We often chatted at the bar and he eventually called a German publisher whom he had known for some time. That acquaintance was the head of the Econ Verlag publishing firm in Dusseldorf and he agreed to try a small print run of 2000 copies. In February of 1968, Chariots of the Gods finally emerged.
After that, the Swiss magazine World Week reprinted the book in weekly installments. And with that, an avalanche was unleashed.
Within a few weeks, 20,000 copies of the book were sold in Switzerland alone. The success spilled over the border to Germany and Austria. Just one year after the initial publication, Econ Verlag had printed the 30th edition, totaling 800,000 copies. A few months later, the work was translated and released in multiple languages. The New York Times wrote that a new virus, “Dänikenitis,” had broken out.
With waves of success came criticisms. As if a warm rain had fallen, counter-point books seemed to sprout up from the ground. Some of these were swamp flowers. Of course there were mistakes in Chariots of the Gods. As a young author, one is enthusiastic and gullible. Self-criticism is lacking. One adopts the views of others, including science texts written by highly acclaimed researchers, only to be informed later that they are now disproved. Or you believe a reputable tour guide and discover the following year that his opinions about certain ruins were nonsense. Thus, I wrote in Chariots: Elephantine Island in Aswan, Egypt was so named because the island’s contours resembled an elephant when viewed from the air. Someone told me that while at the site. In truth, the island gets its name because elephants used to graze there. I also wrote about mysterious metal pillars in a temple courtyard near Delhi, India. The temple guardians told me at the time that the pillars never rusted. In Chariots, I asked whether this was perhaps an extra-terrestrial alloy. In the meantime, there rusts dung.
Despite some flaws, no cornerstones of my mental building have collapsed. And the critics always forget a crucial fact: there are 323 question marks in Chariots of the Gods. Questions are the opposite of assertions.
Since 1969, countless films and television series have been produced from my body of work. Other people took hold of the topic and contributed their thoughts in books about extra-terrestrial gods. As did some scientists from their respective fields. I myself wrote 32 nonfiction books following Chariots of the Gods. And since 2012, the US television channel History has successfully aired the hundred-part Ancient Aliens series. Ultimately, the same question arises: are our ancient ancestors from outer space? Were the old gods actually alien astronauts?
Today, after 80 years, I definitively know that our good old Earth was once visited by aliens. I also know that those visitors promised our ancestors that they would return. Return they shall, and mankind would do better to deal with this notion.
But it all started with religious doubts at a Jesuit Catholic boarding school.
Erich von Däniken
The inclusion of this weeks special guest articles are not the views of all of the Archaeology and Metal detecting magazine team, and have been included for our readers enjoyment, we believe that all archaeological related matter, should be offered for consumption, we do not question the belief of any individual and ask that readers offer the same courtesy in remarks or discussion.
We offer great thanks to Erich von Däniken, Zohar Entertainment and Phenomena Magazine for the compilation and permission for the publication by the Archaeology and Metal Detecting Magazine in this weeks special event.