Graham Hancock on Archeological Anomalies, Ayahuasca, and Consciousness

This interview originally appeared in Om Times.

A real life “Indiana Jones”, international, bestselling author Graham Hancock has traversed the planet investigating ancient mysteries including the origin of humankind, archeological anomalies, the realms of consciousness and beyond. An unconventional thinker he is always on the forefront redefining our history. His new novel, War God: Return of the Plumed Serpent, will be released next month. He was so gracious to spend an hour with me on a phone to talk about everything from his views on aliens, Atlantis, ayahuasca and much more, including his theories on the world’s most ancient “unsolved” mysteries and the future of our planet.

JVM:  I am a huge fan of the TV series Ancient Aliens, you always have amazing commentaries to share on that series.

GH:  I’ve got nothing against the entities our species presently calls “aliens”. These entities are real, in my view, although I don’t think we’re anywhere near understanding exactly what they are or where they come from. That being said, though, the fact is that I don’t need “aliens” – whatever they are — to explain any mysteries in our pre-history. Honestly I don’t need a single alien for the great pyramids or the Mayan calendar. I just don’t. What I need is a more advanced level of human civilization in that period than is recognized by historians.

But let me be clear about this. We are dealing with something extremely interesting in the so-called UFO/alien phenomenon. It’s just that we don’t know yet exactly what lies at the source of that phenomenon and may be jumping too quickly to the conclusion that it is something as simple, and as relatively un-mysterious, as high-tech beings a bit like us but from other planets. In my book Supernatural, I looked at the similarities at the level of phenomenology, at the level of experience, between what were construed as abductions by faeries in the Middle Ages, and what are construed as abductions by spirits by shamans in the Amazon rainforest, for example, and what are construed as abductions by aliens in the technologically developed countries today. Whatever is going on – and I repeat there may be no single, simple explanation — it is the same thing in every case; I’m really very clear on that. One of the problems I have with the whole ancient alien lobby is that at one level it operates like a religion or a cult, by which I mean its believers are resistant to, and often get furiously angry about, other possible explanations that challenge their faith. But at another level members of the “ancient astronaut cult” are also crassly materialistic, seeking to reduce everything to a simplistic material reference frame, projecting our present and imagined future levels of technology onto what are in fact deeply mysterious and unexplained phenomena, and sticking their heads in the sand when it comes the implications of the latest research into altered states of consciousness – for example Rick Strassman’s groundbreaking work with DMT and human volunteers. I’m not saying altered states of consciousness explain everything about the UFO/alien phenomenon. I am not saying there are no physical aspects to the UFO/alien phenomenon, because there are. I’m simply saying that if we neglect altered states of consciousness and focus solely on the physical, we will never solve the UFO/alien mystery.


Artwork by Ana Bagayan
Artwork by Ana Bagayan

How did you go from being a mainstream investigative journalist, to exploring the hidden mysteries of our origin on planet Earth?                                                                                                         

For me it was a process. I was very much focused on current affairs during the 1970s. But in the early 1980s, I bumped by accident into a historical mystery – the mystery of Ethiopia’s claim to possess the lost Ark of the Covenant. I was visiting Ethiopia as the East Africa correspondent of The Economist on a current affairs story, and found myself in a war zone, face-to-face with the monk who claimed he was the guardian of the Ark. And since I’d recently seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, I was naturally intrigued, and I thought, “There’s a story here, but perhaps not a story for The Economist.” So I began to investigate it, pretty much on the back burner for a number of years during the 1980s, and gradually the evidence began to build up. Academics were dismissing the Ethiopian claim to posses this extraordinary biblical relic, but I kept finding more and more evidence that supported it – so much evidence that eventually I ended up writing a book about it called The Sign of the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant. That’s the first book I ever wrote on the subject of a historical mystery.

My research for The Sign and the Seal taught me that we don’t always have to trust absolutely what academics tell us about our past; they can be biased, they can be prejudiced, and they can be wrong. So just as I brought investigative skills into my current affairs journalism, I thought it was worth bringing those investigative skills to the ancient past of mankind. Really, as we go further back – particularly as we go back beyond five thousand years ago into epochs for which we have no written documents whatsoever – the stories historians tell us become less and less about facts and more and more about just their opinion. So I felt there was room for a thoroughly researched alternative point of view. By seeking to understand our past better, I could also, perhaps, in some way, shed some light on the human predicament today. So following The Sign and the Seal, which took me to Israel, to Ethiopia, and repeatedly to Egypt, I became aware that there were whole areas of our past that we were being given a very one-sided story on. I began to consider the possibility that there might be a huge forgotten episode in human history, a lost civilization, really. And I decided that would be my next project and I spent several years on the investigation that became Fingerprints of the Gods, which is by far my best-known book. 

One of my favorite books for sure is Fingerprints of the Gods, it inspired my first trip to visit the Mayan Ruins.  You really are a true pioneer in that field.  And didn’t the Sphinx book come after that?

Yes. The Message of the Sphinx came out in 1996, a bit over a year after Fingerprints of the Gods. I co-authored Message with my friend and colleague Robert Bauval.   Again, there is an orthodox story of the Sphinx, that it was created in 2500 B.C. by the Pharaonic Egyptians, and there’s an alternative story, which is based in part on astronomy, namely that the Sphinx is leonine in form and gazes due east. In other words its gaze targets the rising sun on the spring equinox. It so happens that 12,500 years ago, i.e. in 10,500 B.C., we were in the age of Leo, when the constellation of Leo housed the sun on the spring equinox. If the ancient Egyptians did make the Sphinx, they would have had to have been astronomically illiterate to create an equinoctial marker in the form of a lion in 2500 B.C. because that was the age of Taurus. If the Sphinx was made in the age of Taurus, it should have had the form of a bull. 

Actually the iconography of ancient Egypt in 2500 B.C. was all about bulls, showing us that they understood the constellations of the zodiac very well. So it’s anomalous that they have this lion-bodied monument looking at the rising sun on the equinox; it would make much more sense if that monument were created in the age of Leo 8,000 years earlier. Secondly, there is all the work that Robert Schoch and John Anthony West did on the geology of the Sphinx, which suggests very strongly that the Sphinx is geologically much older than 2500 B.C. Quite possibly what happened was that the head of the Sphinx was re-carved by the pharaohs, but the body of the Sphinx remains the body of a lion. So we have a leonine equinoxial marker with geological indications that it’s much older than 2500 B.C. That set the stage for the book that Bauval and I called The Message of the Sphinx.


I remember the NBC special The Mystery of the Sphinx with Charlton Heston. Were you in that show?

I was. That show was one of John Anthony West’s, put together by Bill Cote. That was an excellent film, and it had a huge impact at the time. It launched a whole new epoch of questioning the past, and doing so in a rational way based on good evidence rather than simply on wishful thinking.


Is there one particular discovery you came across in your work that forever changed your perspective about this planet, about our origin?

Again, it has been a process more than a single moment. It has been years of inquiry and investigation that have led me to this point of view. There are a number of key issues. One is ancient knowledge of astronomy and the phenomenon of copying the patterns of constellations on the ground, which we find for example at Giza, and we find at Angkor in Cambodia, in a number of Mayan sites, some of the stone circles in Britain – it’s all over the world. And it feels like a shared idea; it doesn’t feel like sort of accidentally all these different cultures are doing this. Because there’s an idea behind it: “as above, so below,” the marriage of heaven and earth. And that idea is also expressed in religious and spiritual traditions all around the world, in cultures that are not supposed to have had any connection with one another. They have a shared spiritual idea and they express it in the same types of monuments all around the world, which suggests to me very strongly that we are looking at a remote common influence, at an ancestor civilization which passed down an influence to all these later civilizations. That for me is one of the most compelling pieces of evidence for a lost civilization, a global civilization, that we find the same idea and the same kinds of monuments all around the world, and those monuments are expressing that very idea.


Do you believe ancient advanced civilizations existed? Like Atlantis and Lemuria?

Well, let’s get Lemuria out of the way first. Lemuria is actually a 19th century idea and there is no ancient text that refers to Lemuria. Lemuria is about the fact that fossils of a species of animal, the lemur, are found on both sides of the Indian Ocean. The suggestion was that there must have been some joining continent at one point between Madagascar and India. At any rate, I repeat, and this is my point –  there’s no ancient testimony for the existence of a place called “Lemuria”. The ancient testimony from Mu is also extremely dubious, since it rests on a 19th century mistranslation of a Mayan text popularized by Augustus Le Plongeon and then subsequently elaborated by James Churchward in the 1920’s and 1930’s. But never mind the names, the fact is that we do have genuinely ancient traditions of lost civilisations and lost lands all around the world. That’s why I find Lemuria and Mu a bit of a distraction, because Mu rests on a mistranslation of an ancient text and Lemuria is entirely a 19th century idea.

Atlantis, on the other hand, is a genuinely ancient idea for which the earliest surviving written reference comes down to us from the fifth century BC in the works of the Greek philosopher Plato who told us that Atlantis was an advanced but arrogant civilization that was destroyed by floods and earthquakes in “a single, terrible day and night” 9,000 years before the time of his own ancestor Solon who lived around 600 BC  – so therefore around 9,600 BC in our calendar. We find exactly the same notion with exactly the same dates in southern India, where the lost land is called Kumari Kandam, also said to have been swallowed up by the sea around 11,600 years ago. Indeed we find this notion of a golden age ended by a cataclysmic event all around the world. It’s testified to in thousands of myths and traditions.


Do you feel like we’re heading towards that again?

I feel that we have all the credentials to be the next lost civilization, yes. If you look at these myths, these traditions from the past, they always implicate humanity in what happened. Take the Atlantis story, or the biblical story of Noah, what you have here is a scenario in which humanity has behaved so wickedly, has become so arrogant, has become so cruel, that we have lost our connection to the universe provoking the universe to respond by punishing us in some way. This story is repeated again and again all around the world. So I can’t help but reflect that if ever there was an arrogant, cruel and debased civilization, that would be our civilization today. In mythological terms, therefore, we do indeed look like the next lost civilization.

I’m not preaching doom and gloom, so please don’t make me sound as though I am! That is totally not my view. On the contrary, I don’t think that any of this is inevitable; I think we have the power of choice. I think we can choose a new path; we don’t have to go down the murderous and self-destructive path we’re walking right now. But you know, we don’t need another comet impact or an asteroid or earth-destroying earthquakes to end our civilization, we’re perfectly capable of doing it ourselves. And we’re on our way to doing so, but it doesn’t have to happen. There is a new awakening of consciousness; people all around the world are waking up. They’re refusing to put up with the bullshit of the state and the big corporations and the endless hatred and fear and division that is sown amongst us. People are finding their voices and are waking up to a new consciousness. And I take great hope from that. I feel very positive, actually.


One of the things that you talk about is, what you call the “materialists” or “reductionists” like Richard Dawkins, who I assume is sort of a nemesis, so to speak, for lack of a better word.

You’re referring to the notion that everything can be reduced to matter – that consciousness, for example, is what materialist scientists like Richard Dawkins call an “epiphenomenon of brain activity”. Their case is that we humans needed our big brains to make us fitter survivors in the Darwinian struggle, and an accidental byproduct of that evolutionary process was that we got this mysterious thing called consciousness. That is the view of materialist science. It sees consciousness as being generated by the brain, in other words, manufactured, made by the brain, and therefore it sees no possibility that consciousness could exist outside the brain. So from the point of view of scientists like Richard Dawkins, when we’re dead, we’re dead, we’re just meat, there’s nothing more to the story, everything is over. But there is a whole avalanche of new material on consciousness suggesting that the materialist-reductionist model is completely wrong, and that consciousness is non-local, that it is not generated by the brain. Yes, there is a relationship between consciousness and the brain, but maybe it’s more like the relationship of the TV signal to the TV set. The brain is in a sense a transceiver or a receiver of consciousness rather than the generator of consciousness. And if that’s the case, then when we’re dead, consciousness goes on, because it isn’t made by our brains or our bodies, it’s just manifesting, incarnating in this body for a particular period of time. And that fits, of course, with almost all ancient spiritual traditions.

What do you think of the concept of reincarnation?

To me, there’s nothing illogical or strange about the idea of reincarnation. It makes perfect sense. Indeed without it, all of this seems like a huge waste, really. This gigantic universe, and this beautiful planet, and life and consciousness – when you look at all that, reincarnation just makes so much sense. And of course it makes sense to many ancient spiritual cultures, but it doesn’t make sense in the technological West. And the reason it doesn’t make sense in the West is because we’ve bought in, hook, line, and sinker, to the materialist ideology of science. And it is an ideology; it’s not a fact that everything can be reduced to its material components. A human being is more than the sum of his or her parts. I find many make this mistake of thinking that the materialist frame of reference is a fact when it’s not a fact; it’s a frame of reference through which they view reality. And it doesn’t account for all kinds phenomena. Reincarnation has been very thoroughly documented by, for example, Ian Stevenson at the University of Virginia. Excellent work. He ended up with some amazing science saying, effectively, “I look at this body of evidence now and the only reasonable conclusion I can come to from the evidence is that there is reincarnation.” And this is thirty years of in-depth scientific study put out there in multiple different, thoroughly referenced books that he published. Really solid work, and completely ignored by materialist science, although he was scientist himself. And there are so many other phenomena as well that support the notion that we go on. Those of a materialist persuasion like to say, “Oh you people who believe in reincarnation, you believe in life after death, you’re just doing that because you find it comforting. It comforts you to imagine that life might go on.” To that, I would reply, “What utter nonsense.” It’s not comforting at all. On the contrary, it’s more comforting to imagine that there are no consequences.  The materialist view is actually the comforting one! The view of reincarnation and the notion you must account for the life you’ve lived, and that there will be consequences for it, is a deeply disturbing notion, as a matter of fact. And it requires you to examine the life you lived very, very closely and very, very carefully. So I think there’s a lot of nonsense talked around this subject. And I try in my work to shed some alternative light on it.

In my view, the material aspect of life is secondary, and the spiritual aspect is primary. But I think we should say it’s a blessing to be born in a human body. We’re so fortunate to have this opportunity and that’s why we shouldn’t waste it. That’s what is so really demonic about modern society – that it conspires to persuade us to waste the opportunity, to think it’s all about production and consumption and material things, and not to nurture the spirit in any way. This is the real conspiracy of modern society.  It wants to make us forget that life is a gift, a precious, precious gift not to be wasted.

I was going to ask you “If you had thirty seconds to summarize your life’s work, what would you say?: But I think that was it!

In further answer, I would hope that what I’ve done is encourage the asking of questions, to persuade my readers never to accept anything at face value – including, of course, my own work! We need to engage our own brains, and investigate matters for ourselves. That’s what the new awakening in the world is, in part, about. You know, we suffer from a veneration of so-called “experts” in the West – a bad habit of veneration and deference dupes us into relying on others, the so-called “experts”, for many of the key decisions in our lives – when in fact who can be more of an expert on our own lives than we ourselves? That’s one of the things I see changing. People, particularly young people, are no longer willing to hand over their personal responsibility for themselves to others, and now actively want and demand sovereignty over their own lives, over their own consciousness, and over their own health. More and more of us, young and old, are refusing give our power to “experts,” and bureaucrats and scientists. We prefer to grow up and make our own decisions and resist those who seek to take decisions for us.

Do you have any heroes that influence your work? Or any people that inspired you?

So many. So many, really. He’s not well known, but I’d like to mention Giorgio De Santillana, who was Professor of the history of science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He wrote an amazing book called Hamlet’s Mill about advanced knowledge encoded in ancient myth. He’s got to be right up there near the top. I rate even higher the late, great Terence McKenna, author of Food of the Gods, who sadly passed away in the year 2000 but whose amazing gift of powerful speech lives on and thrives and propagates daily on the internet. I have huge respect and appreciation for Terence McKenna’s work and rate him amongst the greatest liberation thinkers of the past five hundred years. Right at the very top of my list, however, I’m going to put my own wife and partner the photographer Santha Faiia whose courage, decency, intellectual honesty and capacity for unselfish love have taught me the most important lessons I have learned in this life. 

I do want to ask you about  Ayahuasca, which is becoming very popular.

These medicines have an incredible potential for healing. There’s so much else as well. I’ve been involved with Ayahuasca since 2003. I began to drink it as a research project, as a matter of fact, because I was starting work on my book Supernatural, which concerns shamanism and altered states of consciousness. I’ve always believed I have to experience what I’m writing about, so I went down to the Amazon and had my first eleven sessions with Ayahuasca. After that, it stopped being research and became a regular spiritual exercise for me. I’ve continued to drink Ayahuasca and every year I try to set aside a two-week period where I have five sessions of Ayahuasca because I’ve found it incredibly helpful in encouraging me to pay attention to important issues in my own life. Ayahuasca helped teach me, I hope, to be a better, more nurturing, more thoughtful person than I used to be. I’ve received some severe kickings from Mother Ayahuasca to drive home her point, and I’ve taken those lessons to heart. It’s very difficult to change a lifetime of bad habits but Ayahuasca gives us the opportunity to recognize what we need to fix. The rest is up to us.

Artwork by Simon Haiduk
Artwork by Simon Haiduk

Does it show you a lot of your shadow stuff that you need to heal?

It totally does. It totally, relentlessly does. I’ve been encouraged to work on that, but it also shows me so much more about the mysterious nature of reality, that “the real” is by no means limited to the physical realm. There’s so much more beyond this material plane, and we are in contact and connection with other intelligences and they’re there whether we like it or not. Shamanism is an ancient system for managing these influences; it’s proactive and actually does something about them rather than simply ignoring them, which is the Western way. So I’ve found Ayahuasca an incredibly important and valuable part of my life. Ayahuasca compels you to address your ego. The more ego you’ve got, the more she compels you. I think this is helpful to a lot of people; it certainly has been to me! It’s not a path without problems of course. There are many bogus shamans offering Ayahuasca. We are going to confront problems with Ayahuasca. My advice to anybody thinking about Ayahuasca is to realize this is a very serious matter. And very sacred. Don’t go into it lightly. Do a thorough investigation. Talk to other people who have worked with Ayahuasca, talk to the people they’ve drunk Ayahuasca with, and get a sense of a place that’s right and safe and secure for you.

I just want to talk to you a little bit about the Psyche and Matter symposium with the highly publicized banning from TEDx and what you and Rupert Sheldrake will be talking about during the symposium next week in Joshua Tree…

First, to be clear about TEDx – these are conferences organized outside of TED, but licensed by TED and thus part of what TED sees as its “franchise”. The conference Rupert and I both spoke at was organized by a group of students from London specifically to look at consciousness issues. I was pleased to be invited to speak at it. I’d always felt very good about TED. I thought it was a very open forum. So I went along and gave my talk, and Rupert gave his talk. Mine was on the issue of ayahuasca, and the way that at a certain point in my life a series of ayahuasca experiences stopped me smoking cannabis. Rupert’s talk was about what he calls “the science delusion”. So they were very different talks, but what they had in common was a non-mainstream view of consciousness. We were both looking at consciousness as a non-local phenomenon, as something not generated by the brain, but rather something that’s manifested through the brain. And both our talks were very popular and started to spiral up large numbers of Youtube hits.

This annoyed a body of scientists who advise TED, who are all of the materialist persuasion and thus unwilling to contemplate the possibility that consciousness might be a mystery, that it might not be generated by the brain at all. And they lobbied TED to delete our talks from TED’s Youtube channel. And TED did so. They got a huge backlash from that. Because TED’s argument was that they needed to keep the public safe from our unorthodox views. The world today is full of intelligent thoughtful people who are perfectly capable of making up their own minds. They felt patronized and offended by TED and the result was that lots and lots of people independently uploaded our talks on their Youtube channels. Just on three Youtube channels alone, my talk has had well over a million views. It’s still up. You can see one of them here.

Likewise, Rupert’s talk has had huge numbers of views as well since TED banned us. So by banning us, TED achieved an opposite effect to the one it wanted. I think it wanted to shut us up and hoped we’d just go away and that the whole issue of non-local consciousness that we’d raised would just go away. Instead there was this gigantic outcry on the internet with the result that many more people are aware now that consciousness is a mystery and that no scientist can really claim to know exactly what it is. Certainly we should not be taking dogmatic views about it but rather inquiring in a very open-minded way.

Hasn’t quantum physics shown that everything is energy and vibrating?

The new science of consciousness has a lot to do with quantum physics. And quantum physics is an area of science that has many parallels with shamanism.

Thank you for your time.

My pleasure.


Graham Hancock is the author of The Sign and the SealFingerprints of the GodsMessage of the Sphinx, Heaven’s MirrorSupernatural and other bestselling investigations of historical mysteries. His books have been translated into twenty-seven languages and have sold over nine million copies worldwide. His public lectures and broadcasts, including two major TV series, Quest for the Lost Civilization, and Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age, as well as his active presence on the internet, have further established his reputation as an unconventional thinker who raises controversial questions about humanity’s past. Written with the same page-turning appeal that has made his non-fiction so popular, the fantasy-adventure, time-travel novel Entangled is his first work of fiction. His second novel, War God adds a supernatural twist to the epic story of the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

Visit his website here and find him on Facebook here and Twitter here.