The Return of Holy Russia: Apocalyptic History, Mystical Awakening, and the Struggle for the Soul of the World
Gary Lachman | May 2020 | Inner Traditions | 448 pages | ISBN: 978-1620558102 | $32.00
Occult histories can be interesting, provided that we don’t take them over-seriously. It is a rare occurrence when occultism takes the wheel and steers history toward mystical ends, though it is less rare to find powers and potentates making use of occultism to drive their policy goals. For Gary Lachman, however, occultism is the secret stream of knowledge animating all of world history. His last book, Dark Star Rising, tried to envision Donald Trump as a literal chaos magician harnessing supernatural forces to enact an evil agenda. Continuing to mistake incompetence and arrogance for supernatural genius, Lachman’s new book, The Return of Holy Russia, casts the whole of Russian history as a centuries-long conversation with occultism about Russia’s supposedly unique place in the world as the embodiment of Christian virtue (hence, holy) and occult power.
Perhaps more than any year in recent memory, 2019 was the year in which fringe history stopped being fringe and went completely mainstream. This year, we saw pseudohistory and conspiracy theories top the literary bestseller lists, multiply across cable channels like mushrooms on a rotten log, and attract record crowds to traveling carnivals masquerading as pseudohistory “fan” conventions. It perfectly captures the tenor of the times for the post-truth era that the very notions of fact and fiction ceased to have meaning. This was a long, hard year, both for the world and also for me personally. After dealing with family health problems, buying and selling a house (and still not being able to close on selling the old one until early 2020, nearly half a year after the sale), writing two books, and a knot of lawyers for many different developments, I am ready for this unpleasant year to end. Let’s look back in anger:
My wrist is still in pain, so I will have a brief post today and then wait until I review Ancient Aliens on Friday to write again so that I can give it some time to heal. (I will have a special brief post Friday morning, so stay tuned.) Today, I’d like to talk a bit about some weird speculation that occurred at the Cucalorus Connect festival at the University of North Carolina Wilmington this past weekend. At the festival, two professors entertained the possibility that we are living inside a computer simulation. So far, so boring. But when it came time for computer science professor Curry Guinn to provide some evidence for the speculation, he first reached for an argument from authority—Elon Musk believes it!—and then turned to the paranormal, according to WRAL.
At Mysterious Universe, Nick Redfern alleges that writing about the supernatural induces supernatural experiences in both author and reader. “We’re talking about occult backlash, synchronicities of the jaw-dropping kind, weird phone-calls, and ominous runs of bizarre bad luck that appear to have been orchestrated by things that are foul and malignant.” He also said he had bad dreams. This isn’t really much by way of supernatural power. It sounds more like scaring yourself silly and then interpreting your everyday experiences through a paranormal lens. He cites, however, the case of Buffy Clary, who was twice by lightning just for reading about the Djinn. Imagine if she had watched the Netflix series. Of course, there is no evidence given to support the claim, nor any connection to the Djinn. “Yes, some books really can be dangerous,” Redfern writes. Well, I’ve read, written about, and even translated some of the most “dangerous” books, including those that explicitly have curses written in them for anyone who dares read or share them. I even translated the real-life inspiration for the forbidden Necronomicon, the Akhbar al-zaman, which is also a book about Djinn, Nephilim, giants, etc. So far, the paranormal entities haven’t much cared.
Because of the historical connection between Hermeticism and fringe history, I occasionally look at some of the latest happenings in Hermeticism, but I will confess to being largely uninterested in magic and mysticism for its own sake. Nevertheless, when I skimmed through the new edition of Giuliano Kremmerz’s The Hermetic Science of Transformation, to be released by Inner Traditions later this year, I was taken by part of translator Fernando Picchi’s foreword to the book. In it, Picchi applies to Hermeticism the same rage against scientific materialism that we have seen in fringe works like Graham Hancock’s books and the Ancient Aliens TV series. Here is his particularly dense verbiage, explicating on the notion that a spirit-based immortal ego—i.e., a soul—resides within us but is denied by science:
Regular readers will remember Jeffrey J. Kripal, a professor of philosophy and religious thought at Rice University, because a few years ago he declared that a Renaissance painting depicted a genuine flying saucer, and more recently, because he held a UFO symposium. In a recent interview, Kripal has made a surprising new claim that finds further parallels with the pseudo-religious ramblings of latter-season Ancient Aliens. Kripal says that he believes the human imagination does not necessarily generate its own ideas but instead may be a conduit for receiving supernatural messages from the outside. This is surprisingly similar to the claim made on Ancient Aliens that geniuses do not have original insights but instead have their thoughts beamed into their heads by superior space aliens.
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).
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.
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