I grew up in what used to be known as the “Burned-Over District,” a place where the flames of the true faith—whatever that was—burned so brightly that they scorched all they touched. In nineteenth-century upstate New York, evangelicals spoke of their conversations with the Holy Spirit to rapturous audiences. Joseph Smith preached about visitation from the angel Moroni, and the Spiritualists vouchsafed that they were in direct contact with ghosts from another plane of existence. What all had in common was an unyielding faith in things unseen, and also an unwavering demand that no evidence be admitted against their beliefs, for faith was, as Jesus said, a blessing for those who believed without proof: “Blessed are those that have not seen yet have believed” (John 20:29). The cynic might argue that this type of faith exists precisely to hide the fact that there are no facts to support it. Even Jesus had to show his wounds to Doubting Thomas.
How Abu Ma'shar Accidentally Inspired "Hamlet's Mill" and the Modern Myth of the Amazing Science of a Lost Civilization
My research over the past couple of weeks in to Islamic treatises on antediluvian times and Hermetic lore has yielded an unexpected revelation. It came to me because the libraries around me don’t have what I need. In 1968, David Pingree published his important study of astrologer Abu Ma‘shar’s The Thousands, an influential but lost book that established (indirectly) the myth, so popular in fringe history, that the pyramids were built in antediluvian times to preserve science from the Flood, typically identified today with the end of the last Ice Age. As Edward Sachau noted in 1875, scholars had all but ignored both Abu Ma‘shar and the Thousands, meaning that until Pingree that was very little written about either. But Pingree’s book is a bit of a specialty item, especially since it is 50 years old, and WorldCat says that there isn’t a copy within nearly 100 miles of me. One of these days I should probably request an interlibrary loan, but it has literally two minor references to the Egyptian pyramids in it that I have not already read and otherwise is a massive study of astrology that I do not care about.
Recently, I completed a translation of some lengthy excerpts from the Book of the Secret of Creation and the Art of Nature (Kitāb sirr al-ḫalīqa), an Arabic-language treatise on Hermetic philosophy and cosmology attributed to Apollonius of Tyana (Balīnūs). It takes the form of a multi-book disquisition on the secret of creation, which is that all things are made from differing ratios of hot, cold, wet, and dry. (It was, in the end, a disappointing secret, not dissimilar to the harmony of the elements in Macrobius.) Several of the books pose questions about the natural world and explain them in tedious detail about the evaporation and condensation of primaeval fluids. The volume is famous as the oldest extant source for the famed Emerald Tablet, which became better known in the West from a Latin translation of a separate recension of the tablet’s text from a different and later Arabic source. Perhaps more interesting is the frame story attached to it, telling of how Apollonius discovered ancient wisdom in books held by a statue of Hermes Trismegistus in an underground chamber in Tyana, in modern Turkey:
In medieval alchemy, the Emerald Tablet of Hermes took pride of place, allegedly an ancient distillation of wisdom discovered by Alexander the Great. Albertus Magnus, in a book on the secrets of chemistry written around 1200, gives the story: “Alexander the Great discovered the sepulchre of Hermes, in one of his journeys, full of all treasures, not metallic, but golden, written on a table of zatadi, which others call emerald” (trans. Thomas Thomson). This story, in turn, is a corruption or adaptation of an earlier Islamic myth, in two variants. One held that Sarah, the wife of Abraham, found the emerald tablet (written in Phoenician) held in the hands of a statue of Hermes at his tomb in Hebron, and the other than the honor fell to Balinas, who accomplished the same feat in Tyana, taking the Syriac-language tablet from the hands of Hermes’ corpse: “After my entrance into the chamber, where the talisman was set up, I came up to an old man sitting on a golden throne, who was holding an emerald table in one hand” (anonymous 1985 trans.). Another Arabic treatise, translated into Latin in the twelfth century, replaces Balinas with Galienus (an obvious misreading): “When I entered into the cave, I received from between the hands of Hermes the inscribed Table of Zaradi, on which I found these words” (trans. Steele and Singer).
Fortean Author Claims "Picnic at Hanging Rock" Was Based on a Psychic Vision of Its Own Manuscript's Editing Process
I wasn’t planning to write an original blog post today, but in the Daily Grail news feed I came across a bizarre claim in an article about the classic Australian movie Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) that is worth discussing. The film, for those who haven’t seen either it or the recent Australian TV adaptation released in the U.S. by Amazon Prime, revolves around the mysterious disappearance of a number of school girls in the early 1900s while out on a school trip to a rock formation in the woods. Because of the spare, poetic, but plausible depiction of the events in the film, which focus on the guilt and sadness of the survivors, many people wrongly believe that the completely fictional story was based on a real-life event.
Today I thought it might be interesting to profile the ancient city of Akhmim, also known as Chemmis, and Panopolis, mostly on account of the fact that this now-obscure outpost of Egyptian culture has been revealed as the secret source of the collection of Hermetic myths that would give rise to many of the ideas we collectively know today as fringe history. That’s because the stories told at Akhmim about Hermes building great buildings to save knowledge from the Flood transferred over into medieval stories about the scientific wonders of the pyramids of Giza and their supposed antediluvian age, stories that ended up in Victorian pseudoscience and modern fringe history books, like those of Erich von Däniken and Graham Hancock. At least, that’s where I started. I ended up getting side-tracked into a weird, but ultimately quite interesting, discussion of the development of the myth of Hermes Trismegistus from Late Antique syncretism.
Today is Independence Day, and what could be more American than to take a look at how a Frenchman convinced people across the United States that illegal aliens from outer space were threatening their supply of steak and cheese? Today, we’re going to take a look at how Jacques Vallée helped to invent the myth that flying saucers were mutilating cattle. It’s a sad, dumb story, and the short form is: He put it in a movie, so the public believed it because they saw it on screen.
DMT Dialogues: Encounters with the Spirit Module
David Luke and Rory Spowers (eds.) | 352 pages | Park Street Press | Aug. 2018 | ISBN: 9781620557471 | $18.99
On Saturday, I wrote a bit about Jason Silva’s recent interview with the Daily Grail discussing awe, wonder, and the connection between altered states of consciousness and the experience of the sublime. I was somewhat critical of Silva’s approach, but after I published my post, Silva contacted me to talk about some of the issues involved. We had a productive and interesting conversation, and I was impressed that he was well-informed and thoughtful in considering some of the more challenging areas of the quest for the sublime. That’s really unusual for a TV personality. Trust me on that. I went to school with enough of them, and have met still more. Silva and I likely won’t agree completely, but it was a refreshing change from the usual round of vitriol and threatened lawsuits from the people whose work I’ve discussed on this blog to have an actually enjoyable conversation. Be sure to check out Silva’s YouTube channel, Shots of Awe, where he posts his thoughts about truth, beauty, science, and philosophy.
The Miracle Club: How Thoughts Become Reality
Mitch Horowitz | 192 pages | Inner Traditions | Oct. 2018 | ISBN: 978-1-62055-766-2 | $16.99
Not long ago, I reviewed Gary Lachman’s book Dark Star Rising in which the former Blondie bassist explored Donald Trump’s belief in New Thought, a distinctly American philosophy of wishful thinking in which “right” thought influences the physical world in a magical way. Now TarcherPerigree’s editor-in-chief and occult writer Mitch Horowitz—who published Lachman’s book—has a parallel volume, The Miracle Club, casting the same set of beliefs in a much more positive light, treating New Thought as a complete spiritual path to attaining your heart’s desire. “I argue in this book that, for all its shortcomings, and for all its being disparaged by critics as a dogma of wishful delusion, New Thought, in its essentials, is true—and can be tested in your experience,” he writes. “This is a book of practical use.” It is also a book of practical self-delusion that risks substituting hope for hard work and expectation for experience.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.