As mentioned in my Gods and Monsters page, Stargate is very good at touching upon themes of historical alien influence upon our cultures. This is quite a powerful lure to us – even before the Stargate movie aired, the belief that ET had been paying us visits for centuries has existed, and in recent times we’ve had shows like Ancient Aliens (which presents some intriguing cases, albeit in a fanciful manner, exaggerating the alleged scale of alien involvement in our affairs considerably, in my humble opinion), that fuel our passion for the idea of extraterrestrial impact upon our civilisations.
Stargate’s mythology stretches far deeper than the Goa’uld and their impersonations of gods. The most important race in Stargate would without a doubt be the Ancients, and their story is woven into the strands of nearly every aspect of the franchise.
The first and perhaps most crucial element of this is the stargate network itself. Without the gates, the entire premise of the show is after all moot! Beyond this, the Ancients are responsible for important Stargate staples such as ascension, the Wraith and the Ori (not to mention the Replicators, and Ancient technology is the foundation for much of Goa’uld technology).
To begin with, the Ancients were known as the Alterans, and they originally evolved in a distant galaxy to our own, and at some stage their society suffered a schism. To the Alterans, the pursuit of knowledge, advancement of science, and most importantly, freedom of will, were the defining characteristics of their civilisation. Rivaling them were the Ori, a group devoted to religious beliefs, with a passionate devotion to impressing those beliefs upon non-believers. The Alterans left their home rather than fight the Ori, and developed the stargates and other technologies, spreading out across the Milky Way.
It is here that Stargate weaves into our culture the idea that fiery imagery is associated with Hell and pain. The Ori, once ascended and effectively playing god with the human civilisations they created in their own galaxy, presented themselves as fiery beings, whilst the Alterans would take on the form of beings of light. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with fire – it provides light and warmth – Daniel Jackson’s theory is that the Ancients pushed the idea of associating it with evil in order to dent positive associations with the Ori. Even though ascended beings were supposed to avoid interfering with lower planes of existence, the Ancients didn’t want any chance of Ori influence within the Milky Way.
So Heaven and Hell’s imagery would it seems be of Ancient origin – not necessarily the concept of God as Christianity understands, but certainly some of that associated with Christianity.
This idea taps greatly into our idea that aliens have bequeathed beliefs and values into our society, and yet does not mark the first point at which the Ancients have impacted humanity – instead, according to Stargate, the Ancients may have in fact seeded human life upon earth, in much the same way that the Ori created human life in their galaxy. As the series’ progressed, we learn that the Ancients were also responsible for the legend of King Arthur and Camelot, among other seeds of civilisation they planted when they returned from Atlantis (another legend of theirs).
So we can already see that the Ancients had entrenched themselves into human culture from an early point. As a matter of fact, their influence went even deeper, with Ancients and humans being able to interbreed, leading to important Ancient genes filtering into the human genome (a key development for the franchise). Other Ancient developments would have immediate and dramatic consequences for the SG1 and Atlantis teams as the shows progressed.
It is learned via Atlantis that the Replicators (who were a scourge of the Asgard and ultimately toppled the Goa’uld) were originally an Ancient invention, designed to fight the Wraith. The original idea was changed somewhat by an individual Ancient scientist who had fled to the Milky Way, and this creation would go on to be one of SG1’s most challenging and dangerous foes.
The Wraith were another creation of the Ancients, albeit an accidental one – humans placed upon one particular world in the Pegasus galaxy fell afoul of a native creature known as the Iratus bug, that fed on human ‘life force’ and incorporated elements of human characteristics into its own being. These creatures would become the Wraith, who quickly grew to tremendous numbers, overwhelming the Ancients. The Wraith would prove to be the main antagonists in Atlantis.
We must however return to the Ori for one of the biggest and most important elements of the franchise and of Ancient influence. The ascended Ori desired the completion destruction of the Ancients, even after millions of years had passed since their original split from the Alterans. Upon discovering human life in the Milky Way, the Ori sent forth armies to convert the masses into following Origin, and the power the Ori would somehow derive from this would give them the ability to destroy the Ancients once and for all. The holy war that followed was destructive and nearly succeeded – all because the ascended Ancients refused to take any action to stop the Ori’s followers.
This no interference doctrine, whilst in some respects honourable, led to the Ancients turning a blind eye to problems of their own creation. the partially ascended Goa’uld Anubis was allowed to cause havoc, the Wraith allowed to feed upon human herds, and the Ori permitted to send powerful emissaries and armies to forcibly convert others, and all the while, the Ancients did nothing. They would not even help their own kind – ascended Ancients did not step in to save Atlantis whilst it was under siege.
The strands of their effects and influence over humanity throughout Stargate are many-fold. Once again Stargate hinted at how aliens might have affected our beliefs and values, playing upon this tantalising idea that our myths and legends owe much to extraterrestrials. It’s a teasing notion, one we can’t realistically prove, yet it doesn’t go away, and Stargate places it at the heart of the show, yet also manages to be subtle with it. I believe that’s part of the reason why the Stargate franchise became as popular as it did, and hopefully it will One day be the catalyst for its revival.