One of the driving narratives within Stargate SG1 was the relationship between the Goa’uld and earth mythology. The Stargate film built upon the fascinating idea that aliens had constructed the pyramids, and the series expanded upon this connection between earth-bound culture and alien influence.
In the early years of Stargate SG1, Egyptian mythology was the primary one explored by the show, with Ra being introduced in the film, and Apophis, Hathor, Seth, Osiris and Anubis were all introduced as evil Goa’uld, working to subjugate humanity.
The premise is a lot deeper than it got portrayed on the show. The Goa’uld used humanity in so many different ways (as a slave labour force, as physical hosts for the snake-like life form that is the Goa’uld symbiote), but the chief and most effective means of control they held over humans (be it whilst still on earth or within their empires) was via our unshakable belief that they were gods. As a species, our spiritual values are very important to us, and the Goa’uld understood that perfectly, using existing mythology and advanced technology to manipulate us. Even when faced with carrying out acts of great cruelty, followers or servants of the Goa’uld would carry out their orders, lest they risk the wrath of their god.
It says a lot about what we are prepared to do in the name of our beliefs. Humanity has used religion as justification for acts of war, slavery, and other heinous acts. Whilst SG1 does not generally shove this message down the viewer’s throat, it is nonetheless there.
The opposite idea is also present – in Stargate, other alien races also portray themselves as gods. The Asgard (who go on to become strong allies of humanity) often took on the role of Norse gods, and in that capacity tried to shepherd and help human settlements. The counter message here is that we are capable of doing a great deal of good, and sometimes, our beliefs can motivate us to do this.
Beyond the philosophical ideas, the use of historical gods in Stargate provides a tangible connection to a lot of earth’s history that can help make the show relevant to a wide range of fans with a wide range of interests. In later years the show dipped into a variety of mythologies, suggesting that aliens had woven themselves into our history in a hugely significant way.
It’s an idea that tantalises us. We love to believe in aliens and the idea that they’ve actually been guiding or influencing us throughout our history is even more titillating to the human mind. Stargate taps into this idea brilliantly, and continues to do so throughout the course of the show – in later seasons, the Ancients and the Ori can be seen as symbolising angels and demons. In a scary sort of way, what Stargate presents makes sense – could our history be influenced by aliens, in ways we could never detect?
It’s food for thought.