In the half-decade, since Erich von Däniken first published Chariots of the Gods? a lot has changed. His quasi-scientific theory that aliens helped guide some of the greatest achievements of ancient civilization has found a passionate audience around the world, thanks in part to the TV show he inspired, Ancient Aliens. One thing that hasn’t changed? Von Däniken still prays to God every day.

“I am a deep believer in God,” he tells Inverse. “’I’m one of these figures who prays every evening.”

Von Däniken is in Baltimore for AlienCon, a convention put on by The History Channel to celebrate the popular TV show (13 seasons and counting) with countless panels, meetups, and a costume contest party. Thousands of fans and believers from across the East coast are pouring into the Baltimore Convention Center. For von Däniken, it’s an affirmation that the path he set out on 50 years earlier was correct. How else do you explain the throngs of humanity packed into an underground amphitheater to hear him speak?

“I want to change the spirit of time,” he says, defining the German word zeitgeist in case I’m not familiar with it. It’s a word I’ll hear many times over the course of the weekend.

“What was unreasonable slowly becomes reasonable.”

erich von daniken

Of course, for von Däniken, nothing about ancient astronaut theory has ever been unreasonable. The idea first came to him as a young boy. Born in northern Switzerland in 1935, he grew up amid the horrors of World War II and received his education at a Catholic boarding school. That included translating the Bible from Greek into Latin and then Latin into German. It gave him a deep connection to the Christian faith, but it’s also what sparked his decision to look behind both religion and science for answers.

“I had doubts in my own education,” he says, “and I wanted to know if other communities in antiquity had similar stories or if we the Christian and Jewish community are the only ones with these stories. So that was the beginning of Chariots of the Gods?

In 1968, von Däniken published Chariots his first book (he’s currently writing his 42nd) while working as a hotel manager. Ignored by the scientific community, it found an audience in the free-thinking hippie culture of the 1960s. In the decades since it’s sold over 70 million copies. (He’s also been accused of plagiarism and admitted that some of the evidence in his book doesn’t hold up, though Chariots continues to include those discredited artifacts in recent printings.)

Erich von Daniken with Giorgio Tsoukalos
Erich von Daniken with Giorgio Tsoukalos

The concept behind Chariots and Ancient Aliens is simple: aliens visited our ancient ancestors and guided them, imparting knowledge and (depending who at AlienCon you ask) the futuristic technology needed to build everything from the pyramids of Egypt to the giant head-shaped statues of Easter Island. Actually proving any of this without a major leap of faith is a little more difficult, but for thousands of people that clearly isn’t an issue, von Däniken included.

“I’m absolutely sure about this,” he says. “I have no doubt. I am sure we have a final proof. It’s not a question of mythology. It’s a question of the knowledge of what happens in ancient times. And I know a lot about it.”

Not only is von Däniken convinced that aliens visited Earth in the distant past, but he’s equally certain it will happen again in the very near future. When I ask why it’s been so long since Earth’s last extraterrestrial visit he says that the incredible distances of outer space explain the thousands years gap between each visit, adding that based on those calculations we’re due for another one soon.

“I think for the moment we are under observation again,” he says. “For this I have no proof. Yes, I think it happens within the next 10 years.”

Like his Ancient Aliens co-stars Giorgio Tsoukalos and David Childress, von Däniken also readily admits that he’s never had an alien encounter of his own. But he doesn’t see that as a barrier to his belief.

“There’s too much rumors around,” he says without offering much context to back it up before adding, “and of course there are a few real cases that you cannot deny anymore.”

ancient aliens

Fo von Däniken, there’s never been any doubt that aliens exist and influenced our earliest societies. If he is the founder of the church that’s become Ancient Aliens then he’s also its most faithful believer, preaching a message that even his most faithful disciples still sometimes question.

“I’m not happy with all the conclusions Ancient Aliens makes,” he says. “Always it ends with a question mark or mostly a question mark.”

For von Däniken, there’s never been any question at all. The only thing as powerful as his faith in aliens is his faith in God.

“Let’s assume that we have been visited by beings from outer space,” he says. “So the next question is where did they come from? What is there evolution? So they have been visited from another solar system. You can go on for billions of years, finally you arrive for a starting point, where with every respect to religion you say here we have God. Here we have creation.”

Photos via The History Channel, The History Chanel