This month's interview is with prolific author and Colin Wilson! Colin burst onto the scene of esoteric writing and popular culture at the age of 25 with his controversial book The Outsider. Since then he has published well over a hundred books including works of fiction, non-fiction, anthologies and contributions to various collections of short stories.
Most Archaeologists and Egyptologists will tell you that Human civilization really started with the Egyptians, around 3150BC.
But there are many puzzling questions about this start date. Why, for example, does the Great Pyramid contain coded information about Pi, the dimensions of the Earth, and the precession of the Equinoxes - knowledge that implies an advanced civilization that would have been around for a lot longer that the third millennium BC. Why does it seem as if the Egyptians ability to construct pyramids degraded over time, rather than improving? Were they gradually forgetting knowledge that had been acquired over thousands of years, and then lost, perhaps in a great deluge or other natural disaster?
Some geologists claim civilization could have started many thousands of years earlier. This claim is based in part on the curious fact that the erosion of the Sphinx is more characteristic of water erosion than that of wind and sand. There are also hints from other ancient sites, such as the Mayan temples and the ancient, nameless peoples of Skara Brae in the British Isles, of well-developed civilizations periodically collapsing and starting over.
In his book, 'From Atlantis to the Sphinx' Colin Wilson attempts to reconstruct some of this ancient knowledge and understand how long-forgotten peoples thought, felt and communicated. Wilson delves into what might have been a completely different knowledge system from that of modern man. Originally released in 1996, From Atlantis to the Sphinx has been re-released by Weiser books in the United States.
We spoke with the author about his discoveries, and what they might possibly mean to civilization today.
[PNN]What prompted you to write this book?
[CW] It had started in 1979, when I reviewed a book called Serpent in the Sky by John Anthony West. It was a study of the ideas of a rebel Egyptologist, René Schwaller de Lubicz, who had spent years studying the temple at Luxor. But Schwaller had also come to the controversial conclusion that the Great Sphinx of Giza was eroded by water, not by wind-blown sand, as historians have always assumed. And, since heavy rain is so rare in Egypt, the Sphinx could be thousands of years older than anyone had supposed. Moreover, since Egypt is among the most ancient civilizations known to history, this seemed to indicate that there must have been a 'founder civilization' long before 2500 BC, the date usually ascribed to the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx. What Schwaller had suggested was that this 'forerunner' was Atlantis. This is not as wild as it sounds, for Schwaller pointed out that by 2500 BC, Egypt had already achieved a remarkably high level of culture in science, medicine, mathematics, architecture and religion. Surely all this was not created in the mere five or six centuries since Egyptian civilization is supposed to have started around 3100 BC? I had already come across the same suggestion in Gurdjieff's Beelzebub's Tales - that ancient Egypt was founded by survivors from the destruction of Atlantis, which, according to Plato, had happened about 9600 BC. Now three years earlier, in 1991, the film producer Dino de Laurentiis had asked me to write an outline about Atlantis. My first thought had been to try to make it more historically realistic than most Atlantis stories, and to base it on Schwaller's ideas. Shortly after that, I was in Tokyo, lecturing at a symposium, and I happened to mention my Atlantis project to my host at the Press Club, Murray Sayle. And Murray remarked that he had recently seen a paragraph in a Japanese newspaper that claimed that new evidence had been found to support Schwaller's view of the age of the Sphinx. Unfortunately, he was no longer able to locate it. But a week later my wife and I were in Melbourne, and I mentioned the problem to the editor of The Age, Creighton Burns. The next day he handed me a photostat of the item, taken from the Los Angeles Times of a few weeks earlier. This stated that the Sphinx had been examined by a geologist called Robert Schoch, and that Schoch had concluded that it could date back to about 7000 BC.
Colin Wilson (Photo courtesy of Weiser Books)
This notion had been presented at a meeting of the American Geological Society in San Diego, California, and although orthodox archaeologists had been hostile, the geologists in general had been surprisingly sympathetic. Back in Cornwall, I wrote my film outline and sent it to Dino de Laurentiis; and typically, heard no more of it. Then I plunged into Metamorphosis of the Vampire, and put the Sphinx out of mind. But in 1993 I was reminded of it when, out of the blue, I received a copy of a magazine from John Anthony West containing an article about the Sphinx. It seemed that West was behind Robert Schoch's investigation of the Sphinx two years earlier. Since then, he had been pursuing the matter further, and his starting point was the assumption that the face of the Sphinx is that of the pharaoh Chefren, who built the second pyramid at Giza. This identification was based upon a bust of Chefren that was found under the floor of the Sphinx Temple, which stands in front of the Sphinx. But of course, the face of the Sphinx is badly damaged, so the resemblance is far from obvious. At this point, West had decided to call upon the services of an American forensic artist named Frank Domingo. It was Domingo's job to make sketches of criminals from witness's descriptions. West asked him to go to Egypt, study the face of the Sphinx and the bust of Chefren, and state whether they could be the same person. Domingo warned that he might conclude that they were, but West said he was willing to risk that. So Domingo went to Cairo, and quickly concluded that they were not the same person. The chin of the Sphinx was bigger than Chefren's, and the line from its ear to the corner of its mouth sloped at a different angle. It so happened that a publisher had recently asked me if I had any ideas for a volume in a series about 'the occult', and I told him the Sphinx story. He liked it, and I sketched out an outline of the book, arguing that civilization probably dates back thousands of years earlier than we have always believed. It had been complete coincidence that John West had decided to send me his article about Domingo. We had never met, or even corresponded. The coincidence struck me as serendipitous. I wrote back mentioning that I would be in New York in a few weeks time, and we agreed to meet. This came about on September 28, 1993, when I was in New York with my family. John proved to be a thin, bespectacled man who radiated that terrific vitality of the enthusiast. Like all genuine enthusiasts he was generous with his ideas and his time; there was none of the paranoia that I have encountered in writers who think that everybody is out to steal their ideas. He had with him a first 'rough' videotape of a television program about the Sphinx, and we watched this at the home of the playwright Richard Foreman and his wife Kate. It seemed to us that it established beyond all possible doubt that the Sphinx was weathered by rain, and that since there had been little rain in Egypt for thousands of years, the Sphinx must date from some earlier rainy period. When, over dinner, we discussed my projected book - which had the provisional title Before the Sphinx - John mentioned that I ought to contact another writer, Graham Hancock, who was just now completing a book on ancient civilizations. He also mentioned another name, Rand Flem-Ath, who had written an unpublished book arguing that Atlantis had been situated in Antarctica.
This made sense, for the American professor Charles Hapgood had written a book called Earth's Shifting Crust, in which he produced convincing geological arguments that the whole crust of the earth had slipped about two thousand miles southward around 10000 BC. This could explain why Atlantis - which Plato described as being in the mid-Atlantic - was now so far south. Moreover, Hapgood had written a later book called Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, a study of ancient seafaring maps called portolans, (meaning 'from port to port'), one of which - the famous Piri Re'is map - showed the coast of Antarctica in the days before it had any ice. So did many other portolans. That meant that the original ancient maps on which the portolans were based must have been made around 5000 BC - the last time the coast of Antarctica was free of ice. But a map is no use without some kind of writing, and historians place the invention of writing (by the Sumerians) around 3500 BC, fifteen centuries later. Besides, other maps studied by Hapgood show most of the interior of Antarctica before it was covered with ice. But who would bother to map the interior of a continent except people who lived there? On my return to Cornwall, I lost no time in writing to Graham Hancock and Rand Flem-Ath. Both of them let me see their typescripts. And when I read Hancock's - called Fingerprints of the Gods - I was dismayed to realize that he had virtually pre-empted my own book, producing some highly convincing proofs that civilization may date back long before 10000 BC. (For example, he cites evidence that Tiahuanaco, in the Andes, was built around 15000 BC.) But on reflection I decided that there was still plenty for me to say - for example, about the time man first appeared on earth, and about the megaliths. As to Rand Flem-Ath, his notion that Plato's Atlantis was situated in Antarctica struck me as highly plausible. He told me that the book, When the Sky Fell, was now being considered by a Canadian publisher, and I told him that if it would help getting it published, I would be happy to write an Introduction. He accepted my offer, and When the Sky Fell was duly published in Canada, then in England. In early September 1995, Graham Hancock came to visit me in Cornwall, together with his wife Santha, and John West. Graham struck me as having the same kind of drive as John, although less sheer enthusiasm. He and his family were having a thin time of it. They had spent much of the advance on the book on visiting the sites described in it, and were now waiting anxiously for its publication the following spring. I took them all out for tea in my Land Rover, to a little village on the coast called Portloe. When we had ordered tea, I found myself wondering if I had enough money, and asked Graham to lend me five pounds until we got home. He looked uncomfortable and explained that he did not have five pounds. Neither did John West. Fortunately, the money I had on me was enough to cover the bill and the tip. A few months earlier I had reviewed a book called The Orion Mystery by Robert Bauval, who had made a striking contribution to the debate. Bauval, as I am sure every reader of Pagan News is fully aware, had noticed that the rather unsymmetrical arrangement of the three Giza pyramids, as seen from the air, reflects precisely the arrangement of the three stars of Orion's Belt in the sky. Pointing out that the Egyptians regarded their land as a reflection of the heavens, Bauval suggested that the three pyramids were constructed by the Nile as an image on earth of the Milky Way and the stars of Orion's Belt. However, the stars of Orion are no longer a true reflection of the pyramids, for the phenomenon called precession of the equinoxes, due to the wobble on the earth's axis, causes the constellation to twist slightly over the ages, as if skewered on the minute hand of a clock. The last time the pyramids exactly reflected Orion was in 10500 BC, and Bauval went on to make the breathtaking suggestion that the pyramids were planned - and partly built - at that date. If Bauval was correct, there must have been a sophisticated civilization in 10500 BC. I lost no time in getting in touch with Bauval, a Belgian engineer who was cast in the same mould as John West. But Graham had already been in touch with him, and the Orion theory played an important part in Fingerprints of the Gods. The latter appeared in April 1995, and became an instant bestseller, solving Graham's financial problems at a stroke and making him a millionaire within a year. And I got on with Before the Sphinx (retitled by the publisher From Atlantis to the Sphinx) and sent it to the publisher by Christmas 1995.
[PNN] Despite archeologists' claims that the history of civilization began with the Egyptians, geology and mythology seem to tell a different story - one of bygone civilizations. If disaster struck tomorrow, how long would it take for most of the evidence of our current civilization to erode and decay, if left to the whims of Mother Nature?
[CW] The artifacts: not long. But disaster could not destroy all the books, and they would soon teach the survivors how to rebuild civilization.
[PNN] You mention that the pyramids may have been built in 10450 BC, but that there are other indicators (the 'vent' shaft for example, in the Great Pyramid) that suggest a later date, one more in line with archeological thinking. Is it conceivable that the pyramids were originally constructed around 10450 BC, then largely destroyed (by some sort of disaster) before being rebuilt around 2500 BC, on the original foundations?
[CW] No. The original plan was probably conceived by Atlantean survivors but, for astronomical and religious reasons explained in the book (pages 230-240) was not carried out for 8,000 years.
[PNN] The geological dating for the Sphinx also suggests 10450 BC, which would have been the Age of Leo. The body of the Sphinx is a Lion. There are many other examples, from various ancient cultures, of the precession of the Equinoxes being important in some way. Why do you think these long time lines were so important to the ancients, when today we routinely elect politicians that barely think a decade or two in the future?
[CW] We do not know why the ancients seemed to know about Precession of the Equinoxes so long ago (according to Hamlet's Mill, around 8000 BC, but I am sure far earlier). One thing that is clear is that the Greeks must have known the exact polar circumference of the earth long, long before Eratosthenes, who worked it out with the help of a deep well in Syene, around 200 AD. In 1953, an engineer with an obsession about weights and measures named A. E. Berriman, wrote book called Historical Metrology, in which he pointed out that the basic Greek measurement is the stade (from which the word stadium derives), which is about the length of a football pitch. And amazingly enough, there are precisely 216,000 stade in the polar circumference of the earth. That happens to be sixty times sixty times sixty. Or 360 times sixty. It is easy to see at a glance that each degree of the earth's circumference must be sixty stades long. A degree is made up of sixty minutes, so each minute is one stade long. A minute is made up of sixty seconds, so each second is a sixtieth of a Greek stade. And this happens to be a hundred Greek feet. This is staggering, for the classical Greeks of Plato's time did not know the size of the earth. Yet their ancient measuring system proves that they took their stade from some civilization that did know the size of the earth. The likeliest candidate might seem to be the Sumerians, around 4000 BC, who invented the minute with sixty seconds and the hour with sixty minutes. But the Sumerians were not great seafarers, so it seems a little unlikely that they discovered the size of the earth. Hapgood's ancient sea kings - that is to say, the 'Atlanteans' - seem a more likely candidate.
[PNN] Apart from the Stade, are there other examples of ancient numbers revealing more advanced knowledge than was originally thought to have existed in ancient times?
[CW] Yes - the Nineveh number is a good example. In 1843, a Frenchman named Paul Emile Botta, who was consul at Mosul in Iraq (then Mesopotamia), began digging at a mound called Kuyundjik, near the upper Tigris, and came upon the library of the Assyrian king Assurbanipal. Among the clay tablets, he discovered one containing a vast number: 195,955,200,000,000. The name of the ruined city was Nineveh. At that time, even the concept of a million was rarely used the west, so Botta was perplexed. What on earth could the ancient Assyrians want with a number so vast? Using a computer, Chatelain discovered that this figure is not as arbitrary as it looks. It is 60 multiplied by 70 to the power of seven. Now Chatelain recalled an obscure piece of information: the Sumerians, who invented writing, did their calculations in sixties rather than tens. (They invented sixty seconds to the minute and sixty minutes to the hour.) Suddenly, in a flash of absurd inspiration, he wondered if this huge figure could be in seconds. He worked it out to be 2,268 million days, or somewhat over 6 million years. The Sumerians had also been great astronomers, who had compiled tables of the motions of all the planets, including Uranus and Neptune. Did they, Chatelain wondered, know about the precession of the equinoxes? The time it takes for the earth to complete its precessional cycle is just under 26,000 years. He tried dividing this into the Nineveh number, and was delighted to find that it was exactly 240 precessional cycles - or 'Big Years'.
Now he found himself wondering if this giant number might be what astrologers and occultists used to refer to as 'the great constant of the solar syatem', a 'highest common factor' into which all other numbers - planetary orbits, and so on - will divide. He proceeded to calculate the cycles of the planets and their satellites in seconds, and found that each would divide exactly into the Nineveh number. Now this was a staggering discovery. Modern science assumes that these ancient astronomers were interested in the heavens for purely superstitious reasons. But if the Nineveh number was what it was supposed to be, it proved that the Chaldean astronomers understood our solar system as well as Isaac Newton did. To test his result still further, Chatelain compared the period of the earth's rotation with the figure obtained from the Nineveh number. He was slightly puzzled to find a slight discrepancy in the sixth decimal place. Admittedly, this was only a twelve-millionth of a day per year. But the Nineveh number had so far proved itself so accurate that he could not understand even such a tiny difference. Then it dawned on him. We now know that the earth is slowing down very slowly. It will take twelve million years before a year is even a day shorter. For the Nineveh number to fit our earth's rotation with total accuracy, you have to assume that it was calculated 64,800 years ago! That sounds absurd. Surely there were no intelligent beings around that long ago? According to the Nineveh number, there must have been.
[PNN] So who was performing such complex calculations, and charting the paths of the planets in the heavens so long ago?
[CW] We may take our pick. They may have been Neanderthals, who were still around then. Or they may have been our own kind, Cro-Magnons. Or perhaps they were Daniken's space visitors. This is Chatelain's view, which is why he calls his book Our Cosmic Ancestors, and why he begins: 'Most American space flights, from Mercury and Gemini to Apollo, were followed by unknown spacecraft that could have come from another civilization in outer space... Every time it occurred, the astronauts informed Mission Control, who then ordered absolute silence.' Chatelain goes on to mention a Cro-Magnon skull, found near San Diego, and dated between 50,000 and 65,000 years ago, and cites two scientists who agreed that that its brain-size indicates 'the highest intelligence', and that the man 'could have been capable...of observing and registering astronomical cycles'. Chatelain has forgotten - or perhaps did not know - that Neanderthal's brain-size was far greater than ours. But there is another possibility that must be taken into account: that ordinary human beings like you and me possess quite extraordinary brain powers. One of my own favourite examples concerns a six year old child named Benjamin Blyth, who in 1826 was out for a walk with his father when he asked: 'What time is it?' 'Seven fifty a.m' said his father. They walked on for five minutes, then Benjamin said: 'In that case, I must have been alive...' and he named the figure - about 190 million seconds. His father wrote it on his cuff, and when they got home, worked it out on paper. He said: 'No, you were 172,800 seconds wrong'. 'No' said Benjamin, 'you've forgotten the two leap years'. How can such things be possible? Mathematical calculation is an ability that human beings have developed after thousands of years of civilization. Yet apparently it can be done by people without any kind of intellectual sophistication - in fact, they do it far better than the rest of us. Since even mental defectives can do these things (people known as 'idiot savants'), it would seem to follow logically that there must be two sorts of 'brain power' - the kind needed by a great philosopher, and the kind by calculating prodigies like Benjamin Blyth, who might be regarded as a kind of super-computer.
But that explanation won't work either. The numbers known as 'primes' are numbers that cannot be divided by any other number without leaving a remainder - numbers like 5, 7, 11, and so on. But there is no mathematical short-cut to discovering whether some huge number is a prime or not - you simply have to keep on dividing every other number into it. Even a computer has to do it 'the long way'. Yet mathematical prodigies are often able to see at a glance whether a huge number is a prime or not. The psychiatrist Oliver Sacks has described a pair of subnormal twins in a New York mental hospital who amuse themselves by swapping twenty four figure primes. It is as if the mind of the twins can hover in the air, like a hawk, over the whole number field, and pounce on prime numbers as if they were rabbits. According to architect Keith Critchlow in a book called Time Stands Still (whose title makes us think of Michael Baigent's experience at Edfu) this is how the Babylonians were able to work out a right angle triangle whose size ran to thousands of feet. It probably also explains the Nineveh number studied by Maurice Chatelain.
[PNN] The Piri Re'is World Map of 1513 shows Antarctica before it was covered with ice. This lost continent wouldn't even be discovered for another 300 years, but Piri Re'is claimed his maps were formed from earlier sources. Is Antarctica a possible source of the Atlantis legend?
[CW] this is the theory propounded by Rand Flem-Ath in When the Sky Fell, and I would go on to write a sequel to From Atlantis to the Sphinx with Flem-Ath, entitled The Atlantis Blueprint, in which we argued in favor of this view. Unfortunately, my fellow author chose to make sweeping changes in the text without consulting me, with the result that we are no longer on speaking terms.
[PNN] From all you have studied, (as your book states) 'from Atlantis to the Sphinx', has produced recurring themes. What do you think is the most important information the ancients were trying to tell us?
[CW] Hapgood told Flem-Ath that he had evidence the civilization was at least A HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS OLD. My research convinced me that Hapgood believed that Neanderthal Man, who vanished from earth about 30,000 years ago, had a surprising level of culture, which probably included Precession of the Equinoxes. All this was argued by Stan Gooth in 1988 in a book called Cities of Dreams, which I have no doubt is correct. I believe that Neanderthal possessed a deep, intuitive kind of knowledge of the universe that originated in the Right Brain, and that we gradually lost as we developed our 'Left Brain' rational knowledge. Robert Graves called this Right Brain knowledge 'lunar', as opposed to out 'solar' type of daylight knowledge cultivated by modern man.
[PNN] Geologically, we can find evidence of periodic 'disasters' affecting the climate and indeed geography of the planet. There has been suggestions of cometary impacts (Knight & Lomas - Uriel's machine); Charles Hapgood suggested some subterranean mechanism shifting vast swathes of the Earth's crust periodically (A theory which Einstein found reasonable), and mythology speaks of massive deluges and 'stars falling from the sky'. This periodic event appears to occur within a time frame of 4500-5500 years. What do you think we are dealing with? A long period comet perhaps, seismic events, pure mythology, or some other factor?
[CW] In When the Earth Nearly Died, Allan and Delair suggest we are dealing with the periodic visit of some comet they cal Phaeton, and I am inclined to agree.
[PNN] Some believe the Great Pyramid was intended as a burial chamber. Others have suggested that the purpose of the Great Pyramid is to initiate a person into the 'Mysteries' (those mysteries being Astronomy, Astrology, Mathematics, Physics etc). It has also been speculated that the pyramids were spaceship launching pads, energy amplifiers, job creation schemes or ancient weapons. Do you have a feeling for what the purpose may truly have been?
[CW] I believe that Egyptian religion had some purpose connected with sound and its use. A researcher named David Elkington, in his book In the Name of the Gods (2001), describes how he met in Giza a sound engineer named John Reid, to whom he explained his theory that the Pyramid was somehow 'alive', and responded to sound. Reid verified this with a curious experiment. He made a temporary repair of the broken corner of the sarcophagus in the King' s Chamber with an aluminum corner, then stretched a plastic membrane over the top of the sarcophagus, and sprinkled sand on it. A small loudspeaker was connected to a sine-wave oscillator, which was then switched on. The sand quickly began to arrange itself into patterns, like sand on a drum. To his amazement, the sand began to form a whole series of Egyptian religious symbols: the Pharaoh's ritual headdress, the Ankh, and the sacred eye of Horus - bringing an entirely new meaning to the masonic phrase 'the eye in the pyramid'. Photographs of these patterns are printed in Elkington's book, and they leave no doubt that the secret of ancient Egypt is connected with sound patterns. Elkington describes the sound-rituals of the temples and pyramids as 'an acoustic Eucharist'. I am at present working with him on a three-part television series about this.
[PNN] Do you have any other projects on the horizon?
[CW] I am at present planning a fifth volume of my fantasy novel Spider World, which I think of as my Lord of the Rings, and which may well be the book that will one day be regarded as my major work.
[PNN] What other books would you recommend for someone interested in learning more about this subject?
[CW] My so far unpublished book Atlantis and the Old Ones, in which the 'old ones' are Neanderthals.
From Atlantis to the Sphinx - Colin Wilson is available at better bookstores or by contacting Red Wheel, Weiser and Conari Press at: (800) 423-7087 or