Oh, My Pop Culture Deities: The gods are aliens?

The idea that deities are out there, but are actually just highly advanced or super-powerful aliens is a relatively popular concept in science fiction. It manages to mesh religion with logical, scientific thought, running with the assumption that these two things are incompatible otherwise.

I think it shows up a lot in sci-fi, because it allows writers to draw on existing myths, legends, and beliefs without actually introducing a mythology into their world.

Asgard thor movieMarvel’s Thor (and his entire family, home, and backstory) is probably the best-known example of this trope. Everything about him is based on the figure from old Norse myth, but within the Marvel canon, he is part of a super-powerful alien race upon whose exploits the actual Norse mythology was based. Instead of being a god from a mystical realm, he is an extraterrestrial from a planet that can be reached with science, and whose powers can be explained with science.

We also see this in the Original Series Star Trek episode “Who Mourns for Adonais?”, when the Enterprise’s away team encounters an alien who claims to be the Greek god Apollo. It’s revealed that this character and a bunch of his homies, who are all analogous to a Greek god or goddess, visited Earth way back in the day and inspired the Greek mythological tradition that we’re familiar with.

And then, of course, there’s the biggest doozy, and the one that I tried so hard to forget that I actually succeeded (Lady Bacula had to remind me): Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In this, it turns out that aliens have influenced dozens of ancient civilizations over the years, posing as their deities, and they only really wake up and peace out of Earth’s business when Indy shows up. Or at least I think that’s what happened. Fuck that movie.

This is also a popular explanation for, well, all of human civilization if you want to believe the Ancient Aliens guy, so there’s that.

This concept is sort of strange to me, because it both acknowledges that a religious tradition is worshiping something that actually exists, while simultaneously renouncing the actual divinity of whatever that thing is. It also usually uses religions that society considers primitive, such as Norse or Greek-mythology-inspired paganism, which tends to leave a bad taste in my mouth because it has some cultural superiority attached to it—“We know these beings are just otherworldly, but these morons thought they were gods! Haha!”

What do you think of this idea, dearest readers? Are there any examples I’ve missed?

7 thoughts on “Oh, My Pop Culture Deities: The gods are aliens?

  1. How funny, I just re-watched “Who mourns for Adonis?” this past week. (O/T – in the version of the episode I watched they blurred out Apollo’s nipple, I never noticed before, maybe cuz I’ve never watched the episode 12 inches from my face on a laptop screen, and when the tv is across the room you don’t see as much detail *shrugs*, still it was creepy to not see a nipple where there should have been one.)

    I enjoy the premise of aliens as gods. There’s also the entire Stargate “Verse – from the movie to the TV shows Stargate SG-1. Stargate Atlantis, and Stargate Universe. They mine the Egyptian pantheon for their gods as aliens, but they do cheat a little on the science part by using but not being able to completely understand the alien technology.

    • One of the editors pointed out Stargate to me when she was looking over my post, but I’ve never seen it so I can’t really talk about it. It sounds really interesting, though. Would you recommend it?

      (And that nipple thing is sort of hilarious, man the sixties were weird.)

      • Stargate is one of the few times (maybe the only time – I am drawing a blank on another example) when I love both the original movie and the TV show. Normally it’s one or the other – the movie or the TV show, but I love both equally here. I have my preferences as to who played the characters better, etc, but it doesn’t stop me from getting absorbed in the movie time after time, nor does it stop my enjoyment of watching Stargate SG1 marathons. For me they merge into one cohesive story, and I have no problem transitioning between the movie and TV show.
        It’s also only the second time when I have liked the spin-off show better than the original show. Stargate Atlantis (the first spin-off) is my favorite show in the franchise, which is saying a lot as I am a huge Egyptian mythology geek – with hieroglyphs and cartouches as tattoos, part of my username comes from their pantheon, I spent time in Egypt (not nearly enough time!), etc – and SG Atlantis doesn’t incorporate any of that like SG1 does. SGA leave all of the Egyptian mythos behind when they leave this galaxy. Stargate Universe (the second spin-off) is my least favorite.
        There are several SG1 movies – I think they were direct to DVD, maybe? – made after the show went off the air. They are surprisingly well done, and add quite a bit to the Stargate storyline/mythos. They managed to give the movies a different feel than as if they were just an extended episode, which was great. I guess I am saying they made them feel like movies, lol.

  2. Pingback: Oh My Pop-Culture Jesus: Knows Two Gods, Still a Christian | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

  3. Pingback: Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Indiana Jones and the Neutered Belief Systems | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

  4. Reblogged this on PeachyPerson and commented:
    I completely agree with you! This concept also leaves a bad taste in my mouth b/c as a Norse Pagan, it feels like it’s making my deities out to be primitive and lesser than the Abrahamic god.

  5. I completely agree with you! It seemed like an interesting concept at first, but once I read more into it, this concept also left a bad taste in my mouth b/c as a Norse Pagan, it feels like it’s making my deities out to be primitive and lesser than the Abrahamic god. I do like the looks they gave my deities in the films, tho.

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