Skeptical: The Sirius Lie
Summary: Scientists learn that the Dogon do not possess secret knowledge about the star Sirius and its companions. What some consider to be the best evidence for extraterrestrial beings coming from Sirius is therefore dealt a devastating blow.
In 1976, two major books on extra-terrestrial visitation were published: Zecharia Sitchin’s The Twelfth Planet and Robert Temple’s The Sirius Mystery. Of the two, the latter became by far more famous and even attained the status of a semi-scientific work, as many were impressed with the scientific-looking train of logic of the book. Temple stated that the Dogon, a tribe in Africa, possessed extraordinary knowledge on the star system Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, the star which became the marker of an important ancient Egyptian calendar, the star which according to some is at the centre of beliefs held by the Freemasons, the star which according to some is where the forefathers of the human race might have come from. Temple claimed that the Dogon possessed knowledge on Sirius B and Sirius C, companion stars to Sirius that are, however, invisible to the naked eye. How did the Dogon know about their existence? Temple referred to legends of a mythical creature Oannes, who might have been an extraterrestrial being descending on Earth from the stars, to bring wisdom to our forefathers. In 1998, Temple republished the book with the subtitle “new scientific evidence of alien contact 5,000 years ago”.
The book’s glory came crashing down earlier this summer, when Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince published The Stargate Conspiracy. That book stated that Temple had been highly influenced in his thinking by his mentor, Arthur M. Young. Young was a fervent believer in “the Council of Nine”, a group of channelled entities that claim they are the nine creator gods of ancient Egypt. “The Nine” are part of the UFO and New Age and many claim to be in contact with them. “The Nine” also claim to be extraterrestrial beings, from the star Sirius. In 1952, Young was one of the nine people present during the “first contact” with the Council, where contact was initiated by Andrija Puharich, the man who brought the Israeli spoonbender and presumed psychic Uri Geller to America. It was Young who gave Temple in 1965 a French article on the secret star lore of the Dogon, an article written by Griaule and Dieterlen. In 1966, Temple, at the impressionable age of 21, became Secretary of of Young’s Foundation for the Study of Consciousness. In 1967, Temple began work on what would eventually become The Sirius Mystery. As Picknett and Prince have been able to show, Temple’s arguments are often based on erroneous readings of encyclopaedic entries and misrepresentations of ancient Egyptian mythology. They conclude that Temple very much wanted to please his mentor. It is, however, a fact that the end result is indeed a book that would have pleased Young and his beliefs in extraterrestrial beings from Sirius very much, whether or not this was the intention of Temple.
Though Temple’s work is now therefore definitely challenged, the core of the mystery remained intact. At the centre of this enigma is the work of Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen, two French anthropologists, who wrote down the secret knowledge on “Sirius B” and “Sirius C” in their book The Pale Fox. But now, in another recent publication, Ancient Mysteries, by Peter James and Nick Thorpe, this “mystery” is also uncloaked, as a hoax or a lie, perpetrated by Griaule. To recapitulate, Griaule was initiated in the secret mysteries of the male Dogon, who allegedly told him the secrets of Sirius’ invisible companions. Sirius (sigu tolo in their language) had two star companions. This was revealed in an article that was published by Griaule and Dieterlen in the French language in 1950. In the 1930s, when their research occurred, Sirius B was known to have existed, even though it was only photographed in 1970. There was little if no possibility that the Dogon had learned this knowledge from Westerners that had visited them prior to Griaule and Dieterlen.
Griaule and Dieterlen published their findings on the Sirius companions without any reference or comment on how extra-ordinary the Dogon knowledge was. It would be others, particularly Temple in the sixties and seventies, who would zoom in on that aspect. To quote Ancient Mysteries: “While Temple, following Griaule, assumes that to polo is the invisible star Sirius B, the Dogon themselves, as reported by Griaule, say something quite different.” To quote the Dogon: “When Digitaria (to polo) is close to Sirius, the latter becomes brighter; when it is at its most distant from Sirius, Digitaria gives off a twinkling effect, suggesting several stars to the observer.” James and Thorpe wonder – as anyone reading this should do – whether to polo is therefore an ordinary star near Sirius, not an invisible companion, as Griaule and Temple suggest. The biggest challenge to Griaule, however, came from anthropologist Walter Van Beek. He points out that Griaule and Dieterlen stand alone in the world in their claims on the secrets of the Dogon. No other anthropologist supports their opinion – or claims. In 1991, Van Beek led a team of anthropologists who declared that they could find absolutely no trace of the detailed Sirius lore reported by the French anthropologists. James and Thorpe understate the problem when they say that “this is very worrying”. Griaule had stated that about fifteen percent of the Dogon tribe knew about this secret knowledge, but Van Beek could, in a decade of research with the Dogon, find not a single trace of this knowledge. Van Beek was initially keen to find evidence for Griaule’s claims, but had to admit that there may have been a major problem with Griaule’s claims. Even more worrying is Griaule’s background. Though an anthropologist, Griaule was interested in astronomy, which he had studied in Paris. As James and Thorpe point out, he took star maps along with him on his field trips as a way of prompting his informants to divulge their knowledge of the stars. Griaule himself was aware of the discovery of Sirius B and it is quite likely that he overinterpreted the Dogon responses to his questions. In the 1920s, before Griaule went to the Dogon, there were also unconfirmed sightings of Sirius C. Was Griaule told by his informants what he wanted to believe? It seems, alas, that the truth is even worse, at least for Griaule’s reputation.
Van Beek actually spoke to the original informants of Griaule, who stated: “though they do speak about sigu tolo [interpreted by Griaule as their name for Sirius], they disagree completely with each other as to which star is meant; for some, it is an invisible star that should rise to announce the sigu [festival], for another it is Venus that through a different position appears as sigu tolo. All agree, however, that they learned about the star from Griaule.” So whatever knowledge they possessed, it was knowledge coming from Griaule, not knowledge native to the Dogon tribe. Van Beek also discovered that the Dogon are of course aware of the brightest star in the sky, which they do not, however, call sigu tolo, as Griaule claimed, but dana tolo. To quote James and Thorpe: “As for Sirius B, only Griaule’s informants had ever heard of it.”
With this, the Dogon mystery comes to a crashing halt. The Sirius Mystery influenced more than twenty years of thinking about our possible ancestry from “forefathers” who have come from the stars. In 1996, Temple was quick to point out the new speculation in scientific circles on the possible existence of Sirius C, which made the claims by Griaule even more spectacular and accurate. But Temple was apparently not aware of Van Beek’s recent research. With this new research of both Van Beek and the authors of Ancient Mysteries, we uncover how Griaule himself was responsible for the creation of a modern myth, which, in retrospect, has created such an industry and almost religious belief that the scope and intensity can hardly be fathomed. Nigel Appleby, in his withdrawn publication Hall of the Gods, which was, according to Appleby himself, tremendously influenced by Temple’s book, Appleby spoke about how Temple believed that present-day authorities were apparently unwilling to set aside the blinkers of orthodoxy or were unable to admit the validity of anything that lies outside their field or offers a challenge to its status quo. He further wondered whether there was also a modern arrogance that could not countenance the possible scientific superiority of earlier civilisations. It seems, alas, that Griaule, a scientist, wanted to give earlier civilisations more knowledge than they actually possessed. And various popular authors and readers have since been led into a modern mythology, the “Age of the Dark Sirius Companion”.