Tuesday, February 28, 2012

George Van Tassel and Giant Rock: A Tale from the Golden Age of the Space Brothers. (Conclusion.)

The contactee craze hit in 1952, unleashing a sometimes charming, sometimes scurrilous wave of cosmic prophets, cranks, cultists and conmen on a largely unsuspecting and not always unbelieving public. The rough template was simple enough. The contactee would experience an initial encounter with the Space Brothers – normally a direct physical meeting, but the Space Brothers were also frequently summoned by Ouija board, channelling, and other occult methods. The Space Brothers themselves hailed from planets in our solar system, most commonly Venus or Mars. There were exceptions to this, however. Truman Bethurum, a road-crew mechanic and part-time fortune teller/spiritual advisor, claimed a variety of contacts with the crew of a flying saucer beginning in 1953.

Captain Aura Rhanes

The saucer was captained by an incredibly beautiful Space Sister called Aura Rhanes, and hailed from an unknown planet called Clarion – unknown because it remained invisible in orbit behind our moon, a scenario deemed highly improbably by most experts in celestial motion and mechanics. The Space Brothers were human in appearance and manner, with the majority exhibiting Nordic or Aryan characteristics (later this type of alien would be classified as “Nordic” after the Greys and Reptilians started to make the scene.) The space travellers were fundamentally like us, but far more spiritually advanced and peaceful. They were concerned about the fate of humanity, particularly in the light of the recent development and deployment of nuclear weapons. In this sense, the Space Brothers followed closely after Klaatu from 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still; they sought to save us from the widening chasm between our Space Age technologies and Stone Age mammalian mentality. However, whereas Klaatu threatened the human race with robot-lead extinction if we didn’t mend their ways, the Space Brothers took the somewhat more benevolent and circuitous route of illuminating marginal and obscure characters like Adamski and Bethurum. In either case, in the immediate aftermath of humanity’s discovery of destructive powers hitherto unimaginable, a kind Jungian suger-ego was asserting itself in the guise of visitors from space.

In antiquity, a great many seers and prophets consecrated their divine authority by a means of an astral flight into the heavens. Such miraculous ascents were incorporated into the legendry surrounding Zoroaster, Mani, St Paul, Enoch, and Ezekiel; Cicero’s Scipio flew to the heavens in the Dream of Scipio, as did Dante the Pilgrim in the Paradiso. The contactees followed suit, after their own fashion. Daniel Fry, a former employee of White Sands Proving Ground, claimed to have been taken on a modest trip over New York in an “oblate spheroid” operated remotely from a mothership 900 miles above the earth. Farmer Buck Nelson, then 63, claimed a trip to the moon, Venus, and Mars, the guest of pair of aliens named Bucky and Bob. The aliens gave Nelson the gift of a gigantic, 400 pound dog named Bo, whose hair fell off due to cosmic ray exposure. (The dog proved too shy for public exhibition, but Nelson sold tufts of its hair along with his pamphlet My Trip to Venus, the Moon, and Mars.) Having thus communicated with the Space Brothers, and in many instances flown in their saucers, it was then customary for a contacee to produce a book or a pamphlet. Gradually, a vast literature grew up, often self-published and now largely out of print. Book after book with tales of the contactee experience: Adamski and Desmond Leslie’s Flying Saucers have Landed, Van Tassel’s I Rode a Flying Saucer, Bethurum’s Aboard a Flying Saucer, and the best title of all, Calvin C. Girvin’s The Night has a Thousand Saucers.

Perhaps the most remarkable expression of contactee culture, however, was an annual event which was the brainchild of George Van Tassel: the Giant Rock Interplanetary Spacecraft Convention. In the years prior the contactee boom, the Van Tassels were leading a modest, isolated, surreal kind of existence. George opened the Giant Rock Airport and Café, and a trickle of planes buzzed in while the Van Tassels were housed in nearby tents. There is something magical about the scene to me: a giant boulder out the desert, the little airstrip and family-run café an incongruous intrusion on the arid landscape, like the end of a Twilight Zone episode where the astronaut finds out that that the putative alien world he had crash-landed on was earth all along. Howard Hughes drops by most weekends in his airplane to get a slice of Miss Van Tassel’s pie.

George Van Tassel’s earliest contact experiences apparently occurred as a result of meditation sessions conducted in the hollowed-out cave dwelling Critzer had constructed under Giant Rock. In 1951, Van Tasssel claimed that he was transported astrally to a massive alien mothership orbiting the earth, where he first encountered the benevolent, space-spanning intelligence of the Council of Seven Lights. (In Edgar Rice Burroughs’ theosophy-flavoured A Princes of Mars, John Carter makes a similar astral journey to Mars from a cave in Arizona.) On the 21st of August, 1953, a jumpsuit-clad figure appeared at the foot of his sleeping bag, and declaimed I am Solganda and I would be pleased to show you my craft. It was during this tour of Solganda’s craft that Van Tassel received the two great missions that would preoccupy him until his death in 1978 – the spreading of the contactee message of peace and cosmic brotherhood to his fellow man, and the construction of the mysterious Integration.

A year later, Van Tassel held the first of the legendary Spacecraft Conventions. Whatever strange energies had drawn the Indians to the foot of the stone generations ago, and after them Critzer and Van Tassel, now served as a beacon to all the major prophets and acolytes of the new religion of the Space People. Every year in increasing numbers they braved the heat of desert to hear new channelled revelations, buy the latest books and pamphlets, socialize with fellow believers, and scan the dusk and night-time skies for the evidence of the miracle crafts whose invisible proximity had transformed all their lives. All of the giants in the diminutive field of contact with Space People showed up at some point or another, giving speeches and convening group channelling sessions like so many jazz men jamming. Truman Bethurum married his third wife at the Convention, his second having apparently divorced him due to his continuing infatuation with the unforgettable Captain Aura Rhanes. With its quasi-Biblical setting and uniquely American cast of losers, dreamers, and oily salesmen, there is a great Robert Altman verite style movie to be made out of the Giant Rock Spacecraft Convention, like Nashville in The Twilight Zone:

Photographs by Ralph Crane for Life Magazine, 1954.

Meanwhile, Van Tassel continued working on the construction of the Integration, the mysterious dome-shaped fibre-glass and plywood structure whose “formula” had apparently been vouchsafed to him by the Venusian Solganda. What precisely was the Integration? According to Van Tassel himself, “the Integration is a machine, a high-voltage electrostatic generator that would supply a broad range of frequencies to recharge the cell structure.” The Integration drew on several occult theories regarding earth energies and Sacred Geometry; the idea, for example, that certain archaic structures such as the Giza Pyramids were designed according to principles of geometry which allowed them to channel and focus these hypothesized natural earth energies. Van Tassel believed that the Integration was built atop a rich energy vortex, and by harnessing this energy the structure could effectively rejuvenate and recharge the human cellular structure, as though it were a battery. The Integration will remind some readers of the controversial orgone accumulator boxes of Wilhelm Reich. However, whereas Reich’s ideas resulted in him being jailed and his books burned, Van Tassel was left largely free to pursue his strange dream in the desert. Financed by proceeds from the Spacecraft Convention and donations from supporters, construction on the Integration was largely completed by 1959, but Van Tassel continued to tinker with it until his death in 1978. This kind of labour of love devotion would lead one to wonder what exactly went on the private minds of characters like George Van Tassel. Did he really believe that he had been on-board a flying saucer?

The Giant Rock Spacecraft Convention ran for 23 years. Interest in the Contactee phenomenon peaked in 1959, when an estimated 11,000 people travelled to Giant Rock. At the end of that decade, the weird chapter of American cultural and religious life that was the era of the Space Brothers was largely at an end. The story of the contactees was to some degree a continuation of the occult and theosophical currents which had emerged in opposition to the dominant ideology of modernity throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The contactees, like the theosophists and occultists before them, sought an Enchanted Way Out of the materialistic values and ideology of the modern world. And yet, to facilitate this, they created a fantasy that was itself steeped in the idea of technological utopianism. In wake of America unleashing the devastating destructive power of the Atomic Bomb, the contactees imagined the arrival on earth of a benign, redemptive advanced technology whose image might restore a sense of wholeness to modern man: the gleaming, perfect mandala of the flying saucer. Paradoxically, they sought to escape modernity by refashioning the timeless story of contact with higher beings in a language of science and technology; but science moves fast, and technology becomes obsolete overnight. The anthropomorphic and astronomical naivety of the contactees made their tales subject to rapid abeyance; and yet there remains a certain archetypal appeal in their visions of saucers and angelic beings landing in the desert, the place where all gods seem to have first stirred, and spoke to solitary men.

George Van Tassel died suddenly on February 9th, 1978. His epitaph, emphasizing the electrical mysticism underlying the idea of the Integration, reads: “Birth through induction, death through short circuit.”

On February 23th, 2000, the High Desert Star newspaper reported that Giant Rock had split in two, apparently fulfilling an old Hopi prophecy that a new era would begin when the great rock finally cracked.

Americans searching for a different kind of America still make an annual pilgrimage to the desert, this time to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, to the frenetic temporary autonomous zone of the Burning Man festival. To contrast the sensory overload of Burning Man with the Spacecraft Conventions of the fifties would give us a vertiginous sense of the extraordinary drift of history; the unrelenting passage of time that only the desert itself remains untouched by.





Wednesday, February 22, 2012


So, summing up, the book is FICTION BASED ON FACT. But I now feel that I inadvertently got VERY CLOSE TO A SECRET TRUTH.

Leslie Watkins, talking about the book ALTERNATIVE 3, based on the mysterious “documentary” of the same name produced by SCIENCE REPORT in 1977.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

George Van Tassel and Giant Rock: A Tale from the Golden Age of the Space Brothers. Part 1.

There is something disturbing about this corner of America, a sinister suggestion of transience. There is a quality, hostile to men in the very earth and air here. As if we were not meant to make our homes in this oddly enervating sunshine…..California will be a silent desert again. It is all as impermanent and brittle as a reel of film.

J.B. Priestley.

Located in the Mojave Desert near Landers, California, Giant Rock is more or less what its name suggests: a massive boulder that covers 5,800 square feet and stands some seven stories high. Historically, the spot was considered sacred to the Indians of the Joshua Tree, and it is believed that the Hopi and other tribes convened large celebratory gatherings at the foot of the vast stone. In the 1950s, Giant Rock became the locus for a new and short-lived variety of religious experience which was predicated on the notion that the deserts and highways of America were being visited – by benevolent Space Brothers in flying saucers. Today, a dome-shaped wooden structure called the Integration stands nearby as an unfinished testament to the strange visionary folly and Utopian dreams of the contactee era.

1947 is an auspicious year for doyens of weird history and conspiracy theory. It was the year that a sickly and near destitute Aleister Crowley shuffled off the mortal coil, and with him fellow Golden Dawn traveller and gifted author of weird fiction Arthur Machen. It was the year that the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered; the year Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act into law, giving birth to the Central Intelligence Agency. It was the year that one Jacob Leon Rubenstein changed his name to Jack Ruby, as though grooming himself for some vaguely defined future notoriety. If you take the release date of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as a marker, the summer of 1947 was the precise period in which Sgt Pepper taught the band how to play; the same summer that the mysterious flying disks arrived in droves over the skies of America. 1947 was also the year that George Van Tassel moved his family out to Giant Rock, but that’s a story in itself.

Van Tassel was born in Jefferson, Ohio. From a young age, his attention seemed to be focused firmly on the skies, being much preoccupied with airplanes as a child. He dropped out of school in the tenth grade, went to work out at Cleveland Municipal Airport, and obtained a full pilot’s license while still in his teens. In 1930, he found himself in Santa Monica, working in an uncle’s automobile garage. Pictures of the youthful Van Tassel suggest a solid, decent type he could probably throw a whopper of punch if he had to. It was in the garage that he first encountered Frank Critzer, a meeting that would change the subsequent course of his life. Critzer was a German emigrant who had been attempting, with little success, to strike it rich as a prospector. He was apparently an ornery, eccentric character, but Van Tassel and his uncle took to him for some reason or another. They repaired his car for free, and sent him on his way with canned food and money; Critzer promised to remember them should he ever hit the big claim.

A year later, Critzer wrote Van Tassel inviting him to check out the current area he was mining. George and his uncle obliged, finding themselves out at Giant Rock. Remarkably, their host was not simply living near the massive boulder – he was living under it. The strange German had excavated 400 feet of space under the rock, and constructed a one room living area there. The meeting was brief and inauspicious, and nothing would really come of it at the time. Nevertheless, something about the stillness of the desert and the majesty of the great rock must have gotten under Van Tassel’s skin, as though rooting itself in his mind for some obscure future purpose.

Howard Hughes.

Things went well for George Van Tassel in the years that followed. He established himself as an aeronautical engineer, flight inspector, and test pilot. For much of the thirties, he worked for the aeronautical and defence giant Lockheed, a corporation destined, in the fullness of time, to play its own murky part in the saga of the saucer. During the war years, Van Tassel worked for and befriended the legendary film producer, aviator, and business magnate Howard Hughes. Those years were also busy for Frank Critzer, but not, in the long term, as fortunate. He dragged five straight roads leading to Giant Rock and built an airstrip on a nearby dry lake. After the outbreak of World War II, however, things went bad for Critzer. He was German, a loner, and a radio enthusiast, and the combination of those qualities lead to a growing, apparently unfounded, suspicion that he might have been a Nazi spy. Although the precise circumstances remain murky, Critzer was killed in a 1942 showdown with three Riverside County deputy sheriffs. He had never hit the big claim.

In 1947, George Van Tassel decided to settle with his wife and three daughters at Giant Rock. His reasons for doing so aren’t entirely clear, although his wife said that he simply “got tired of the rat-race because California was growing too much.” Considering the subsequent course of his life, we might speculate that Van Tassel possessed some kind of vague longing for a mystical, direct religious experience; a kind of experience that seemed impossible in the noisy, urbanized daylight world of the expanding Californian cities and suburbs. This type of experience might, however, have appeared possible in the desert. In the original myths of the American settlers, the desert was a dangerous, alien place that needed either to be conquered, civilised, or avoided altogether. After the War, however, the desert would gradually come to occupy a new kind of significance in America’s mythic landscape. For people who felt alienated from the mainstream of American life, from its faith in technology and competition and wealth-production as the ultimate goal of individual and social life, the desert offered the opportunity to experience a different kind of America: an America that was unfathomably old and unaltered by the nature-conquering impulses of Western civilisation. Hence a kind of pilgrimage out into the desert had begun, first among post-Romantic bohemians of the immediate post-war period, and after them the children of the fifties who would be called Beatniks, and the children of the sixties who would be called flower children or hippies. The desert, and the initiatory peyote-rituals and holistic beliefs of the Native Indians, offered a heavily romanticized alternative to the main thrust and culture both of America and of the modern world in general. With its vast open, empty spaces, and its great unbroken meditative stillness, the desert seemed like a place where spirits and strange gods might appear, and some ancient, long-forgotten order of the world reveal itself. Among those who went looking for strange gods in the desert were the Contactees of the fifties, the comical hierophants of a new religion that fitted perfectly the interregnum between the Atomic and Spaces Ages.

Human culture has been shaped to a surprizing degree by the supposed interaction of certain human individuals with Other Things. The authority of the ancient shaman was vouchsafed by his ability to communicate with the denizens of an invisible world whose reality and ability to influence the visible world was rarely questioned. Julian Jaynes makes the arresting point (in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind) that for many centuries the supplicants who travelled to Delphi for advice no more doubted that a God spoke through the Pythian priestess than a modern person listening to a radio would doubt that the voice coming through the machine was that of a broadcaster speaking into a microphone in some distant studio. Moses, or so the story goes, lead the life of lowly shepherd until the day he led his flock to a lonely spot on Mount Sinai and encountered a burning bush, through which the voice of God commanded him to lead the Hebrews out of bondage in Egypt. The prophet Mohamed is said to have received his first divine revelation at the age of 40 when the angel Gabriel visited him as he was meditating in a cave. And so it goes. The first communications revolution in history was the communication channel opened between human beings and Other Things – Gods, Daimons, Ancestor Spirits, Aliens, and so on - beings actual or imaginary that are perceived to be wiser and more powerful than mere mortals. Throughout history, ordinary men have been elevated to the status of prophets by virtue of speaking – or claiming to speak – on behalf of higher beings. Of these various prophets and visionaries, some surely believed that their encounters with higher beings were entirely genuine, while others more than likely invented their stories from whole cloth to win power and influence under a guise of divine sanction. Some were ridiculed, mocked, and forgotten, and others changed the course of history. But the communications channel has never quite ceased broadcasting, nor has it ever stopped finding fresh confidence tricksters and entrepreneurs who would claim to have tuned to its frequency. Many of the most prominent occultists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – including Madame Blavatsky and MacGregor Mathers – cemented their occult authority by claiming to be in communication with a hidden sodality of spiritually exalted beings that were called the “Mahatmas” or Ascended Masters. The pattern of claiming – and sometimes blatantly fabricating – contact with a higher being in order to spearhead a spiritual movement becomes extremely familiar. It was a very old game indeed by the time Space Brothers landed in the Colorado Desert in 1952.

The earliest and most influential contactee was a Polish-born mystic called George Adamski whose family had immigrated to America when he was two. As an adult, Adamski had been a member of the US Calvary Regiment that fought against “Poncho” Villa during the Mexican Revolution and worked a variety of jobs before a fascination with Theosophy and occultism drew him west to California. In Laguna Beach, he formed a small group of like-minded explorers called the “Royal Order of Tibet”, and this group, numbering about twenty, eventually bought a ranch near Palomar Mountain where they built a retreat and opened a restaurant called the Palomar Gardens Café. In the early days of the Royal Order of Tibet, Adamski and his cohorts had been relying on the old occult stand-by of channelled messages from the ascended Tibetan Masters of Blavatsky’s lore. However, in 1947, as George Van Tassel was busy re-opening Critzer’s Giant Rock airstrip and building a nearby café, and Adamski himself was washing dishes and clearing tables in the Palomar Gardens Café, something new arrived on the American scene that made the Ascended Masters seem suddenly passé: the mysterious flying saucers. Whatever really lay behind the rash of sightings in the summer of ’47, the idea of the saucer – like a free-floating Rorschach inkblot in the skies – had a galvanizing effect on the imagination of Adamski and people of his elk. Like the desert, the flying saucer seemed to offer an Enchanted Way Out of the materialistic values and certainties of mainstream American life. In November 1952, Adamski lead a small group of his friends into the Colorado Desert, apparently at the behest of channelled instructions. All six claimed to have witnessed a UFO in the desert that day, while Adamski himself insisted that he met its pilot: a beautiful, androgynous, telepathic Venusian called Orthon. Orthon refused to be photographed, but Adamski managed to take a plaster-cast of the Venusian’s footprint. Like the Apollo 11 astronauts some 16 years later, Orthon had left his footprints on the arid soil of another world. And some people didn’t believe them either.

Concluded shortly.