There are many items on my bucket list. One of the main ones is to travel to Egypt and visit the pyramids, the Sphinx, and all those breath-taking ancient monuments I’ve dreamed about since I was a child. And I always knew that if I ever managed to scratch that one off the list, there would be no better way to do it than by joining one of John Anthony West’s Magical Egypt tours, like so many of my Fortean friends have done over many years. Indeed, who better to show you the wonders of the pharaohs than the man who rose to the rare stardom of alternative history, with the now-classical documentary The Mystery of the Sphinx (1993), in which he – alongside his colleague and friend Robert Schoch – presented evidence suggesting the established age of the famous human-headed sculpture was grossly miscalculated?
Sadly, now I’ll never have the chance to fulfill my bucket list wish that way.
Earlier today Laird Scranton announced the peaceful passing of his dear friend on Tuesday night. Sadly, this was not unexpected news, as JAW’s family had previously reported his health had taken a sudden turn for the worse, and they honored their father’s decision to not put him on life support. John Anthony had fought a grueling battle with cancer over the last 14 months – a crowdfunding campaign was organized to cover the medical expenses of his treatment – and although he managed to beat the illness in the end, the strain on his body ultimately took its toll.
While many people first learnt of JAW’s work around 1993 through the Mystery of the Sphinx documentary, and Graham Hancock’s bestseller Fingerprints of the Gods, John himself had been researching and writing about the esoteric side of Egyptian civilization for many years previous to that.
After beginning his writing career in the ’60s as a science fiction author, he later turned to researching and writing non-fiction books about esoteric subjects, including astrology and ancient wisdom. His seminal book Serpent in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt, was first published in 1979, but found its greatest success after being republished in 1993, soon after being one of the key works referenced in Graham Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods.
Serpent in the Sky presented a number of esoteric interpretations of ancient Egyptian culture, but it was one particular element that would shoot JAW to the forefront of ‘alternative Egyptology’ (and make him a target of orthodox Egyptologists everywhere): in the book, he expanded on an observation made by R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz, that the Great Sphinx appeared to have been weathered by water, not by sand and wind – and given Egypt’s arid climate, that this might suggest the Sphinx was much older than previously thought.
JAW was quick to recognize the importance of this long-overlooked detail. “I realized that if you could prove that the Great Sphinx of Giza had been weathered by water it would upset virtually the entire historical applecart”, he told Ray Grasse in an interview in 1991, “not only regarding Egypt but also regarding everything that was accepted about ancient history and the evolution of human civilization.” (It was perhaps this interview for Quest Magazine that sparked renewed interest in John’s work, and in particular the ‘Age of the Sphinx’ controversy.)
John brought in geologist Robert Schoch to confirm the validity of the idea, and the rest, as they say, is history. The controversy over the age of the Sphinx became a key element of ‘alternative archaeology’ during the 1990s – and now looks positively prescient. Despite the ridicule from orthodox archaeologists about the impossibility of megalithic cultures existing thousands of years earlier than previously thought, we now are finding more and more evidence that this was actually the case (e.g. Göbekli Tepe).
John Anthony West retained his love and passion for ancient Egyptian culture to the end of his life, continuing to lead tours of the country. John is responsible for igniting a passion for Egyptology in a huge amount of people, both directly and indirectly. He also, as Graham Hancock put it, has served as a prime example “of rebellious thinking, of asking the difficult questions, and of never, ever, under any circumstances, putting up with the bullshit of the dominator culture” – and in doing so, “helped set a whole generation on the path of free and independent thought that leads to the discovery and unfolding of our true humanity”.
And beyond his achievements it is worth noting who the man himself was. While on the surface he could seem cantankerous and unwilling to suffer fools, at heart JAW was generous and enthusiastic, and willing to share his knowledge with others. “I appreciate the kindness and generosity he showed me time and again”, Ray Grasse wrote recently, “in a field where monumental egos were far more the norm”.
Even though I did not get the chance to tour with JAW around his beloved Egypt, I did however have the pleasure of meeting him at the Paradigm Symposium in Minneapolis, in October 2014. I remember being captivated by his presentation, delivered with that characteristically raspy voice of his; I remember his witty sense of humor and how he took some jibes at the ‘quackademics’ that attacked his work and his credentials (or lack thereof) – although he did say he managed to become a friend of Zahi Hawass later in his life. I also remember how he pointed out that Egyptian art always showed happy faces, which to him was a sign this ancient culture had managed to find the secret to a meaningful existence, thus enabling them to last far longer than most civilizations.
But the thing I remember the fondest was one of the last nights of the symposium, when we all were chilling and departing in amiable conversation at the lobby of our hotel. It was very late in the night, and among the small circles of attendees having a drink there was my cosmic compadre Micah Hanks, summoning the spirit of Robert Plant alongside Dave Sanchez, another talented musician. Standing next to the two guitarists and enjoying their improvised recital was John Anthony West, with a glass full of vodka in his hand and a heart full of joie de vivre in his chest. If I can reach to my 60’s with just a spoonful of that happiness for being alive, surrounded by friends who share my passions for knowledge and discovery, I would consider my bucket list to be sufficiently completed.
After the sad news broke today, Robert Schoch, John’s long-time friend and brother-in-arms, posted a message in remembrance of his friend:
This morning I learned that my friend and colleague (in many ways and at many levels the closest friend I ever had), John Anthony West passed away. I am deeply saddened, and really beyond words, at this point. I have been crying. Yes, in a way, we knew for over a year that this was a possibility, but we also always had great hope and expectations that he would pull through. Once I have a chance to collect myself and gather my thoughts, I will post on my website. In the meantime, I am including here a photo of us behind the Sphinx when we traveled to Egypt together during the summer of 2016, which we never suspected would be our last trip together. Right now a sentence that West wrote, in his Afterword to “The Dead Saints Chronicles” (the book he helped David Solomon write) comes to mind, and consoles me: “The Afterlife is real, and every one of us would do well to start preparing for it.” John Anthony West spent a lifetime preparing. No doubt he is on his way to becoming a star, as the ancient Egyptians believed. Katie and I wish him well on his glorious new journey.