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Dogon shame

Did ancient gods from the Sirius star system visit an African tribe 5,000 years ago? New evidence deals a devastating blow to what was considered to be the best case for extraterrestrial visitation.

Philip Coppens


The story that the Dogon, a tribe in Mali, West Africa, had possessed in their antiquity extraordinary knowledge of the star system Sirius achieved worldwide publicity in 1976 through Robert Temple’s extraordinary book The Sirius Mystery. It was compellingly argued and became one of the most influential books of the 1970s ‘ancient astronauts’ genre.

Sirius is the brightest star in the sky, a star that became the marker of an important ancient Egyptian calendar, and a star that is said to be at the centre of beliefs held by the Freemasons. According to some cultures, Sirius is where the forefathers of the human race might have originated.
Temple claimed that the Dogon knew about two smaller stars that are closely related to Sirius – Sirius B and Sirius C. The mystery was how they had obtained this knowledge, as these companion stars cannot be seen by the unaided eye. Temple’s solution referred to legends of a mythical creature, the god Oannes, who might have been an extraterrestrial, described as descending to Earth from the stars to bring civilising wisdom to the Dogon forefathers.

In 1998, Temple republished the book with the subtitle “new scientific evidence of alien contact 5,000 years ago.” The book’s reputation was first dented in 1999, when Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince published The Stargate Conspiracy, in which they allege that Temple’s thinking had been heavily influenced by his mentor, Arthur M. Young. Young was a fervent believer in “the Council of Nine,” a mysterious group of channelled entities that claim to be the nine creator gods of ancient Egypt. ‘The Nine’ became part of the UFO and New Age mythology 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 nine people present during the “first contact” with the ‘Council’, an event initiated by Andrija Puharich, the man who brought Israeli spoonbender Uri Geller to America.

In 1965, Arthur Young gave Robert Temple a French article on the secret star lore of the Dogon, an article written by two French anthropologists Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen. In 1966, Temple – then aged 21 – became Secretary of Young’s Foundation for the Study of Consciousness. In 1967, Temple began work on the thesis that became The Sirius Mystery. As Picknett and Prince have been able to show, Temple’s arguments are often based on erroneous readings of encyclopædia entries and misrepresentations of ancient Egyptian mythology. They conclude that Temple was very keen to please his mentor, who believed in extraterrestrial beings from Sirius.

Though Temple’s work was challenged, at its core lay the original anthropological study of the Dogon by Griaule and Dieterlen, who describe the secret knowledge of Sirius B and Sirius C in their own 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 claimed to have been initiated into the secret mysteries of the male Dogon, during which they allegedly told him of Sirius (sigu tolo in their language) and its two invisible companions. In the 1930s, when their research was carried out, Sirius B was known to have existed, even though it was only photographed in 1970. It was very unlikely that the Dogon had learned of this star’s existence from Westerners prior to the visit by Griaule and Dieterlen.

Griaule and Dieterlen first described their findings in an article published in French in 1950, but they included no comment about how extraordinary the Dogon knowledge of the ‘invisible companions’ was. This step was taken by others, particularly Temple, in the Sixties and Seventies. 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.” This description of a very visible effect causes James and Thorpe to 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 their claims about the Dogon secret knowledge. No other anthropologist supports their opinions. In 1991, Van Beek led a team of anthropologists to Mali and declared that they found absolutely no trace of the detailed Sirius lore reported by the French anthropologists. James and Thorpe understate the problem when they say “this is very worrying.” Griaule claimed that about 15 per cent of the Dogon tribe possessed this secret knowledge, but Van Beek could find no trace of it in the decade he spent with the Dogon. Van Beek actually spoke to some of Griaule’s original informants; he noted that “though they do speak about sigu tolo [interpreted by Griaule as their name for Sirius itself], 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.” Van Beek states that this creates a major problem for Griaule’s claims.

Although he was an anthropologist, Griaule was keenly interested in astronomy and had studied it 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 in the 1920s – before he visited the Dogon – there were also unconfirmed sightings of Sirius C.
The Dogon were well aware of the brightest star in the sky but, as Van Beek learned, they do not call it 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.” Was Griaule told by his informants what he wanted to believe; did he misinterpret the Dogon responses to his questions? Either way, the original purity of the Dogon-Sirius story is itself a myth as it is highly likely that Griaule contaminated their knowledge with his own.

With this, the Dogon mystery comes crashing down. For more then 20 years, The Sirius Mystery has influenced speculation about the possibility that our ‘forefathers’ came from the stars. In his 1998 revised edition, Temple was quick to point out the new discussions in scientific circles about the possible existence of Sirius C, which seemed to make Griaule’s claims even more spectacular and accurate. But it is apparent that Temple was not aware of Van Beek’s devastating research.

From the findings of Van Beek and the authors of Ancient Mysteries, it is clear that Griaule himself was responsible for the creation of a modern myth; one which, in retrospect, has created such an industry and near-religious belief that the scope and intensity of it can hardly be fathomed. Nigel Appleby – whose book Hall of the Gods was withdrawn from publication – has admitted to being tremendously influenced by Temple’s Sirius Mystery. He has written of Temple’s belief that present-day authorities are unwilling to set aside the blinkers of orthodoxy, unable to admit the validity of anything that lies outside their field or that offers a challenge to the status quo. Appleby also believes there exists a modern arrogance that cannot countenance the idea that ancient civilisations might have been scientifically superior.

But it seems that Griaule, a scientist, wanted to attribute to earlier civilisations more knowledge than they actually possessed. Credulous scholars, like Young and Temple, were taken in and through them a whole generation has swallowed the false mythology of aliens from “the Dark Sirius Companion.”

This article appeared in Fortean Times.