Hollow Earth flying saucers: the bossa-nova of pseudoscience Carlos Orsi The Skeptic

In the second half of the 1950s, Brazil made what can arguably be called three major contributions to world culture: football-art (the beautiful, poetic playing style of the national team that won the 1958 World Cup); bossa-nova, the mixing of samba and jazz that seduced the likes of Frank Sinatra and Stan Getz; and, more to the point of this article: flying saucers from the Hollow Earth.

“Hollow Earth Theory” is the name given to a family of myths and pseudoscientific allegations postulating that the planet Earth is either literally hollow (with oceans and continents on the inner surface of the crust, the incandescent metallic nucleus, floating at the centre, serving as a miniature sun) or that it has vast cavities in its interior, large enough to contain whole biomes and civilisations.

Lots of evidence, from seismology to astronomy, show that these theories are all wrong. But the Hollow Earth idea was quite popular in the United States in the 19th century (according to some historians, because it promised new lands ripe for conquest and colonisation by the always-burdened white man). It inspired fantasy and science fiction writers from Jules Verne to Edgard Rice Burroughs and more. Comic book fans may remember the 1980s sword-and-sorcery series “The Warlord”, from DC Comics, which took place on the dinosaur-infested inner surface of the hollow Earth.

The dawn of the New Age movement in the 1960s revived interest in the subject and the go-to book for the curious was called, predictably, “The Hollow Earth”, by Dr Raymond Bernard, published in 1963. Among other musings, Bernard (the pen name of Walter Siegmeister, a health-food aficionado with a deep interest in esoterism, lost continents and eugenics, who had obtained a PhD on Waldorf pedagogy) debated the possibility that UFOs might come from inside the Earth. He writes that:

the theory that flying saucers came from the Earth’s interior and not from other planets originated in Brazil and only later was it taken up by American flying saucer experts.

Bernard/Siegmeister mentions finding a book named “From the Subterranean World to the Sky: Flying Saucers”, by O.C. Huguenin, in a bookstore in São Paulo, Brazil. Huguenin, in turn, received his information about flying saucers and the inner Earth from members of the Brazilian Theosophical Society.

The author Walter Kafton-Minkel, whose book “Subterranean Worlds” (a kind of “history of ideas” overview of the Hollow Earth theme) is a main source of biographical information on Siegmeister, writes in a footnote:

I have searched for years for a copy of this [Huguenin’s] book, but Bernard’s reference is the only evidence I have been able to discover that it actually existed.

I had arrived at Kafton-Minkel’s book during my research on “Ratanabá”, a supposed subterranean kingdom founded by UFOs under the Amazon rainforest that some fringe figures in the Brazilian far-right politics were touting as the “real” reason for the presence of British journalist Dom Phillips in the region. Phillips and the Brazilian indigenist Bruno Pereira were both murdered in July in the rainforest, allegedly because they had found an illegal fishery in an area of environmental protection.

I soon found out that, the lost-civilisation-in-the-jungle trope apart, “Ratanabá” has no legitimate root in legend, folklore, or myth. Literature, however, was proving to be suggestive: not only the name is quite close to an anagram of “Atvatabar”, the underground world that appears in an American science fiction novel of 1892, there was also that reference to the elusive book supposedly found in São Paulo.

The idea of a mysterious Brazilian book on UFOs and the Hollow Earth intrigued me. Being a Brazilian, and having the tools of internet search at my disposal (Kafton-Minkel’s book is from the 1980s, deep in the pre-Google age), I managed to obtain a copy of Huguenin’s book (a first – and possibly only – edition, dated 1956) and some information about its author. His full name was Orlando Carlomagno Huguenin, born in 1917, he was a journalist from Rio de Janeiro, an avid chess player and for a time an aspiring politician – in 1954 he ran for a chair in Rio’s city council, as part of a right-wing ticket with ties to Integralism, the Brazilian version of fascism.

I also found something else: the Brazilian Theosophical Society (which later changed its name to Brazilian Eubiose Society, and still exists today) had, at the time, been promoting its “flying saucers from the Hollow Earth” theory to the Brazilian elites, gaining access to the mainstream media to do so.

In the 1950s, “O Cruzeiro” magazine was the most widely read periodical in the country, akin to “Life” in the United States. And in 1955, for three consecutive issues, the magazine had devoted ample space – with huge, full-page illustrations – to a series of lectures and interviews with Theosophists who would expound on the Hollow Earth, the people living there, the purpose of the flying saucers, how the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais was right on top of one of the most important of the subterranean cities, and on and on. They managed to include in the same package the Lost Continent of Atlantis and a visit from ancient Phoenician sailors to Rio de Janeiro.

Not that this kind of nonsense was strange to “O Cruzeiro”. In his book “A Invenção dos Discos Voadores” (“The Invention of the Flying Saucers”), Brazilian historian Rodolpho Gauthier Cardoso dos Santos tells how journalist João Martins and photographer Ed Keffel instigated the birth of Brazilian ufology among themselves, by forging a flying saucer picture that was published by the magazine, in 1952. Martins, incidentally, was the author of the interviews with the Theosophists in 1955, and in his book Huguenin, himself a journalist (he worked in a daily newspaper) refers to him as a “colleague”.

The gist of the doctrine was that the time of Judgement was nigh, and that the future master race in charge of redeeming humanity would come from Brazil, with a little help from subterranean demigods in flying saucers. The deadline for these events, by the way, was 2005.

According to Kafton-Minkel, Bernard disappeared, and probably died, in Brazil – he stopped answering letters sent from the USA in 1965, and the Brazilian mail began returning correspondence to senders with a “DECEASED” stamp. As best as we can tell, he went to his grave still believing the entrance to an underground utopia was to be found somewhere in South America. And thanks to his 1963 book, a madcap pseudoscientific idea concocted by a Brazilian esoteric group and promoted by dubious journalists in Rio de Janeiro gained popularity across the (definitely not hollow) world.

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The belief in a hollow earth – filled with inhabitants, animals and aliens – can be traced back, in part, to the new-age movement in Brazil
The post Hollow Earth flying saucers: the bossa-nova of pseudoscience appeared first on The Skeptic.

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