The Galle smiley face crater on Mars. Other smiley face craters have been found elsewhere on Mars and Mercury. Image Source.
My blog series on Retrofuturism departs from the term's normal definition of past visions of the future. Here, I define the term differently to describe symbols from the past which are appropriated for the current purpose of painting pictures of the future.
In addition, one earlier post in this series returns to Baby Boomers' ideas in the 1960s as they were originally conceived. Occasionally, this blog will be examining ideas from that era and assessing their impact now.
One of the more curious corners of the often-stereotyped Boomer preoccupation with esoteric spiritualism in the 1960s and 1970s is the notion that that generation was somehow celestially blessed. Unseen worlds of magic, transcendental universes, and the very heavens lined up to bequeath a great destiny to them: from the Age of Aquarius to the alignment of the planets, to pseudo-science and astrology, a bizarrely egotistical mythology evolved that the universe recognized the brilliant fate of this generation.
NASA's Viking 1 Orbiter view of a face on Mars (1976). Image Source: NASA via Al Jazeera.
That mythology encompassed a host of 70s' fads: UFOs and aliens, ESP, telekinesis, the Bermuda Triangle, ghosts, exorcists and demonology, and New Age magic. These fads got mixed up with the popular understanding of space exploration. In 1976, a face on Mars, which disappeared when photographed from another angle and over time, was heralded in the tabloids as proof of an alien civilization.
Don't try this at home: Boomer Patrick Skipper runs the Website, Mars Anomaly Research; this is his Farsight Institute lecture on remote viewing to explore Mars. Video Source: Farsight Institute via Youtube.
We see faces everywhere on Mars, not least in the famous Galle crater, because we are using the Red Planet as a cypher for our own evolution. The lesson should have been simple: we see what we want to see, not what is there. Instead of keeping that basic principle in mind, given the obviously huge impact of space exploration advancements on human sensibilities, Boomer-driven pop culture and quasi-science rolled off into the really long grass in fields like xenoarchaeology: "the study of weird shapes on other planets that may be artifacts left behind by aliens." Here is the site of the Farsight Institute, the remote viewing project, which attempts to foresee life on Mars, and which turns space exploration into something akin to a Victorian séance, complete with pseudo-scientific dressings. For my earlier post on Boomers, Vietnam and remote viewing, go here.
A generation, gifted with a celestially-appointed destiny and divine insight? There's even a blog that associates the early Boomer die-off (due to diseases such as Hepatitis C) with the Second Coming of Christ. You can see how this thinking developed, discussed in this post, in remarks from the astrologer Jessica Murray at Mother Sky:
At Astrology for the Soul, Susan Dearborn Jackson concurs with typical narcissistic patter:The heady revelations of the hippies and yippies will be ready for post-millennial application. The winsome flower-child vision will have developed into a set of responses –or reactions, depending on the level of consciousness involved — to the crises the globe is facing at present. To cite the most obvious example, the precedent of the Nixon presidency, a casualty of the massive social dissent accompanying the mid-60s transit, will find its First-Quarter parallel in the elections of November of 2008.
Similarly, Power Path Seminars and School of Shamanism recognizes post-Boom children as those who will manifest the promise of their astrologically-blessed Boomer predecessors; Boomers are caring elders who will shepherd Generations X and Y to the future transformation the Boomers first envisioned in their communion with the heavens:In August, 1987, many of us celebrated the Harmonic Convergence when time stood still and a window of opportunity opened. A grand fire trine linking Jupiter in Aries and Uranus in Sagittarius to a stellium of planets in Leo emphasized the importance of open hearts, wisdom, courage, and creativity. It was an invitation to the Pluto in Leo generation--the baby boomers-- to step up to the plate and use their considerable talents wisely for the benefit of all.
Another example comes from a treatise by Boomer Daniel Jacob entitled The Star Children; the eponymous children in this masterpiece of woo-woo Web lore are Generations X, Y and Z (with birthdates starting at a pinpointed 1973 onward only) - the future 'meta-humans.' But their originators are the Boomers, haunted by the fact that they must still live up to the 1970s' celestial grand design - even though they appear to have mysteriously failed due to solipsistic ego-blocks; that's not their fault, of course:The coming New Moon/Equinox period of June 19-20  is powerful in its proximity to many other powerful shifts. The long awaited first exact square of Uranus and Pluto is June 24 at 8º Aries/Capricorn. This is the first of seven squares with two per year (spring and fall) through 2014 and the last in spring 2015. Our second Uranus/Pluto square this year is Sept 18. This square is related to the huge social/political revolution that took place in the mid-60’s when Uranus/Pluto started this cycle when they were conjunct in Virgo. The Vietnam War, massive race riots, street demonstrations, back-to-the-land movements, Moon landings, the influence of the Black Panther Party, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., The Beatles/Rolling Stones, birth control, long hair, women’s liberation, affirmative action – so many radical shifts away from the hunkered down safety that the previous generation of the 50’s who had born the burden of World War II had been so eager to create. A major and costly schism was created across dinner tables, as the older generation was unable to cross that invisible line into the Age of Aquarius. The generations were split and the youth relinquished the counsel of their elders in exchange for sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. Now, almost 50 years later we come to the natural culmination of any conjunction of two planets – the first opening (or waxing) square. A crisis point when a reassessment of issues requires definitive action to be taken.The last time Uranus and Pluto (in Aries/Cancer) were squared was in the Great Depression of 1932, but there is a fundamental difference in the square then and the square now. The Depression was characterized by a closing (or waning) square – one that suggests a major crisis where the debt of what was left undone in the cycle is due and must be paid immediately. Our current square holds more redefining, growth energy after we survive the actual challenging experience of this 3-year, 7 squares of Uranus/Pluto period. Think of the youth leaving the influence of home and family - innocent, eager and entering the larger world of society to redefine themselves. Major cultural choices are being made here and now. The old ways must be relinquished and the unfamiliar innovative and creative must be embraced. In the 60’s, there were few elders who crossed the line into the new age, but now, our amazingly heart-centered, egalitarian young people are ringed by a conscious group of Boomer/elders who honor and support their vision for the future.
We, the Baby Boomers---many of us, have become "Changelings." At some point in our childhood, some well-meaning but ignorant adults scared the "living' daylights" out of us! From that point on, the body of the child was there, but his or her soul went somewhere else. Now those "living daylights" have manifested for us in the form of our incoming Star Children---an entire generation of beings who were born to be guides, teachers, and explorers of the new planetary experience that lies ahead. They come to us to reawaken our sleeping, stolen, inner children. ...
IT WAS IN THE LATTER PART OF 1973 that a magnificent ball of light was seen hurling across the night skies. Witnessed by a multitude… clear into 1974, it provided a light show which many dubbed the Comet of the Century. This was the "infamous" C/1973 E1 - also known as The Comet Kohoutek. At that point, the world was surely ripe for a heavenly sign. The turbulence of the 60s was beginning to fade, and resentments about the Vietnam War were settling as best they could. Humankind was ready for something - anything - that could deflect our attention into a higher, brighter perspective. ...
The Comet Kohoutek symbolized, in the physical world, the opening of a Gate, which began a process of spiritual unfoldment for several overlapping generations. These parents and their children have aligned with the souls of countless ancestors and their civilizations to bring about nothing less than our Reconnection with All That Is. ...
The New Paradigm of Universal Oneness plays a huge part in the Star Children Story. Without knowledge of this fundamental idea, coupled with a balancing belief in Multidimensionality, a clear perspective of the Star Child phenomenon would seem like nothing more than science fiction. Each person is his or her own universe. Uni = One. The determination of what is "real" is a matter of perception not existence. In the Multiverse, everything exists, but not everything is perceived. Our senses are not "windows" to an "objective" reality. They are really filters, blocking from our perception what we have no desire to see. ...
The Star Children are Dance Instructors for the New Age. They embody for us, who have come before them, the "hidden aspects" of ourselves that have not yet come to light, or which we have neglected. And, even if they came in with their own agendas for life in physical form, they will often lay those aside if, on some level, they feel they need to be mirroring for us things about ourselves that we may be overlooking. ...
The generation of individuals who were born within that five-year span of each side of 1973, are SECOND PERSON ICONS for the transformation of the Baby Boomer generation. They are 'gifts' that have been given to us by "Wise Men" who have already lived through this awesome period of transformation and have chosen to come back and watch our faces as we unwrap those same wonderful presents. They are Generation X, the first wave of the Star Children. Those offspring born after 1978 will become THIRD PERSON ICONS for the transforming Baby Boomers, allowing both the parents and children to attain yet another perspective of this wonderful experience. Of course, as in all such linear predictions, there will be overlaps and divergences away from this set formula as well. ...
Many factors are combining, as time progresses, to heat up the Universal Cauldron and burn away the impurities that are blocking the ascension of our collective human nature. The "9/11 Activation," and the resulting pain and terror have certain stoked the fires of human consciousness. Solar Flares, Planetary Alignments, and Earth Changes are certainly doing their part as well. And inwardly, the Veil of Forgetfulness is beginning to wear thin in the minds and hearts of everyone on the planet. Soon the "blinders" are going to completely fall off the horse. We’re in for a wild ride, my friends. But the Star Children are here to help. ...
ANYWAY, you get the drift. There is more here, here and here.We, who existed upon the planet before the influx of the 1973 energy, will need to upgrade our systems to Windows 2012. If we want to enjoy the multi-tasking power and utility that Star Children possess as standard issue, we will need to get the chip off our shoulder and into our mother board!
The desire to return to the symbols, sciences and beliefs of the deep past to find hidden pockets of knowledge is of course common to many eras. But only the Boomers seem to have taken this search on as part of a New Age meditation on collective generational self-definition. Those who explored this self-definition turned to earlier history and radically reworked how that history could be understood or imagined. They made past times mesh with the fateful contemporary perspectives of the 60s and 70s.
CRUCIFIXION with details of the Sun and the Moon, supposedly a Renaissance depiction of UFOs (Visoki Decani Monastery, Kosovo). Images from BLAGO Fund Archives, http://www.srpskoblago.org via Art and UFOs.
One strange facet of this tendency is the popular belief in alien astronauts. Art and UFOs explains how historic religious images and archaic astronomical symbols were radically appropriated for a post-1950s' space-savvy age:
Where has all this headed? In the past year, Boomer director Ridley Scott's movie Prometheus was probably the most prominent and mainstream example of the Millennial trend which responds to the communications revolution by mashing up Prehistory and Posthistory without regard to temporal cultural contexts. The mash-up depends on the 'alien astronaut' meme to wipe away inconsistencies and chronological illogic.This [above] is one of the oldest documented UFO-in-art cases because the first articles about it were published in the sixties, in the French magazine Spoutnik. This fresco was “discovered” by Alexandar Paunovitch, a student at the Academy of Arts of Yugoslavie in 1964. After this early publicity, the pictures were featured in many books about UFOs. On many web pages we read that the two objects in the sky are, without any doubt, “spaceships with crew.”
The alien astronaut has become a resilient Millennial trope. Internet enthusiasts see it as a supposed source of our civilization, and perhaps even human life on this planet, who shows up in cave paintings, ancient statues and reliefs, and later works of art.
MADONNA COL BAMBINO E SAN GIOVANNINO
(Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John). Image Source: (2003) © Diego Cuoghi via Art and the UFO.
(Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John). Image Source: (2003) © Diego Cuoghi via Art and the UFO.
Caption for the above image: This is the painting titled "The Madonna with the Infant Saint John" painting from around the 15th century likely painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio. It is "on display in the Sala d'Ercole in Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, has been variously attributed. The Museum tag says 'Jacopo del Sellaio', but the catalog entry under no. 00292620 reads that the painting is best attributed to Sebastiano Mainardi (1466-1513), member of the clique of Ghirlandaio that worked in Florence at the end of '400. It is also stated that there are some remarkable resemblances with works of Lorenzo di Credi, especially in the figure of the Madonna. This is the painting that more than any other has sparked discussions among ufologists, who see in the upper-right scene behind the Madonna the proof of a 'close encounter' with an un-identified flying object. In the above mentioned scene we see a character keeping a hand to his forehead and looking towards an apparition in the sky. With him there is a dog, which also looks towards the strange object. In an article by Daniele Bedini on Notiziario UFO n. 7 (Jul-Aug 1996) it says: «we clearly see the presence of an airborne object leaden in color and inclined to port, sporting a "dome" or "turret", apparently identifiable as an oval-shaped moving flying device»."
Compare to this painting to the Nativity and the Preaching of St. John the Baptist, certainly by Domenico Ghirlandaio. The former (directly below) has another object in the top right hand corner (perhaps an angel?). The latter shows that the artist plainly added dynamism, perspective and depth by playing with shapes in the sky. He depicted weird apparitions in the heavens as the source of celestial revelation, as here, here and here. In his paintings, birds and bird-shaped objects have a slightly uncanny quality. In the paintings of the Italian Renaissance, you never knew what would fly in through an open window or open door!
You can see an extended discussion here which debunks UFOlogists' false links between their area of interest and themes in Renaissance art. The author insists that symbols change with the centuries, and it is wrong to assume that what we regard as a 'classic' UFO shape has anything at all to do with symbols of the Renaissance or earlier:
See artworks often anachronistically claimed to contain depictions of UFOs here. The examples are fascinating because they show the vast extent of cultural ignorance and arrogance in our so-called Information Age, when anything from the past that looks like it will serve a Millennial myth is forcibly repurposed, regardless of its original meaning.The point is that no one of the authors of these [UFO] web sites takes into account the symbolic meaning of these strange elements in respect to the art of the period. Worst of all, by considering these elements as the representation of something real or really seen by the artist, they assume that the artist, eg. an Italian artist of the 15th century or an anonymous Byzantine painter, would actually be allowed to insert any non canonical or un-codified element into a religious representation. On the contrary, in past times the commissioners (those who choose the subject and supervised the execution of the art work - in these cases the religious institutions) would have never allowed the author to insert into a work of art anything other than what previously decided, especially in case of religious subjects. In this latter case, in addition, restrictions were even stronger.
Nativity (c. 1492) by Domenico Ghirlandaio. Image Source: Domenico Ghirlandaio.
Preaching of St. John the Baptist by Domenico Ghirlandaio. The bottom bird in the mid-sky looks slightly less bird-like. Image Source: Domenico Ghirlandaio.
The transition is clear: where people once generally looked to god for sources of divine revelation about the human condition, now they literal-mindedly look to aliens and UFOs. Modern secularism cloaks an age that is just as superstitious and benighted than any fanatical religious era. The shift from religious intervention in human affairs to alien intrusions still depends on a 'stairway to heaven' or Jacob's Ladder. This transitional analogy between angels, demons and aliens - literally a metaphorical seismic shift from age to age - was anticipated in Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End (1953).
UFOlogists would argue that these religious symbols and stories metaphorically convey a literal alien visitation past history. This does human psychology a disservice, since these metaphors for ultimate answers beyond the sky represent the eternal tool-making aspirations of our large-brained species. We are the species on this planet which always wants to know more and build farther. To assume that that genius is externalized, and literally comes from some cosmic power, removes responsibility for our cleverness from us. It divests us of the final question of being accountable for our big ideas and for recognizing their implications, unintended consequences and successes. This is arguably a critical Boomer pitfall: the cultivation of ego-worship, combined with a denial of ego-responsibility, and the externalization and projection of that responsibility onto outside forces.
In other words, instead of literally depicting a visit from angels or space aliens, the picture below explains that when we dream, our minds take us beyond ourselves. The greatness - with all its potential and all its risks - is internal, not external.
You can see a gallery here of historic artworks and ancient created works which are now associated with the ancient astronaut theory. The theory, put foward here, demonstrates that in trying to make the past relevant to contemporaries without fully understanding it, a central aspect of historical understanding has been lost. We now live in the pop mass culture where everything is bent to the needs of an eternal present. When confronted with artifacts of a very human past, we are so ego-focused on the present that our predecessors have literally become alien to us.
For all my posts on 60s Legacies, go here.