Australian science writer and skeptic of the paranormal Lynne Kelly claims to have solved the mystery of Stonehenge and Easter Island by applying Australian (of course) Aboriginal traditional memory aids. According to Kelly, most ancient monuments were erected to serve as memory palaces that encoded hunting and landscape information. Such memories, she said, needed to be preserved in stone because farming had made them less immediately useful in daily life. She claims that each stone at Stonehenge represents a former sacred location in the British landscape. That doesn’t explain why stone circles also appear in pre-agricultural cultures, including Göbekli Tepe, extremely pre-dynastic Egypt, and even Aboriginal Australia.
The key line in the excerpt of her new book The Memory Code published in the Australian press is probably this one: “There was a great deal of very important information, but I was immune to it, listening only for my pet topic.” That about sums up her argument, which did not make a convincing case in her published excerpt. I’m not really sure how one would prove that a standing stone was meant to represent a faraway geographical location. Perhaps the book makes a better case.
Meanwhile, be sure to get your tickets now for the annual Rocky Mountain International Prophecy Conference, where right wing Christian extremists will declare that the end of the world is coming (still, like every year). L. A. Marzulli will be on hand to hallucinate about Nephilim influence in the Islamic-Jewish clashes in Israel, while Joel Richardson, the anti-Islamic author famous for claiming that the Antichrist will be Muslim, will give a talk about the coming Jewish world controller. Then participants will get lessons on the best new weapons and tactics for “21st century combat” from Bob Maginnis, a onetime Fox News military analyst and Washington Times columnist who makes money from the conservative punditry circuit by advocating armed intervention to stop Islamic persecution of Middle East Christians. He’s also a longtime opponent of gay rights.
It sounds like a blast! Actually, given the attendees and their paranoia and weaponry, that might not be figurative.
But speaking of Islam, I have to share a bizarre claim I ran across yesterday from Abu’l-Mundhir Khaleel ibn Ibraaheem Ameen, who wrote a book about how the Jinn are responsible for disease. In his book The Jinn and Human Sickness (undated, but before 2005), he attributed the so-called Curse of the Pharaohs to the Jinn. The background on this is long and complex, but I’ll try to simplify it a little bit since I just covered this topic not that long ago.
At some point between 950 and 1000 CE, an unnamed Arab in Egypt compiled all of the lore about the pyramids and temples of Egypt that had developed since the Islamic Conquest, and this material included scraps of Christian and Jewish mythology, Hermetic lore, and a heavily distorted version of Manetho’s Aegyptiaca. The Akhbar al-zaman is the oldest surviving version of this corpus of medieval mythology that we possess, and in it we read of how the pyramids were constructed before the Flood by King Surid and charged with guardian monsters who killed any person who so entered, and how the tombs of the kings of Egypt were booby trapped to the same end.
Several centuries later, the Palestinian-Egyptian writer Murtada ibn al-‘Afif came across a worm-eaten and incomplete version of the Akhbar al-zaman or one of the closely related texts copied from it or its source. He incorporated its material into his own history of Egypt, which ended up in the hands of a French scholar named Pierre Vattier who translated it in 1666, with an English edition appearing in 1672. This edition, in turn, fell into the hands of novelist Marie Corelli, who used it as the basis for her claim that Lord Carnarvon had died from a curse unleashed by the opening of King Tut’s tomb. “According to a rare book I possess, which is not in the British Museum, entitled ‘The Egyptian History of the Pyramids’ translated out of the original Arabic by Vattie (sic), Arabic professor to Louis XVI of France, the most dire punishment follows any rash intruder into a sealed tomb.”
Thus, a medieval myth was given new life by a modern novelist. Abu’l-Mundhir Khaleel ibn Ibraaheem Ameen is unaware of this background, and therefore with supreme irony adopts Corelli’s Westernized revision of Murtada’s copy of medieval Arabic lore and uses it to support the idea that the Jinn cause disease. He is aware that medieval Arabic lore bears similarities to this curse “that appears to have emerged in modern times” and therefore uses those accounts (which he knows from al-Nuwayri’s 1330 encyclopedia of Egypt) as supporting evidence for the curse of the pharaohs. So the same material gets filtered through different tracks, and the resulting versions becomes “proof” of the truth of one another, even though they are all from the same original account!
The saddest thing is that our author was not the first to make such a claim. According to his notes, he was copying the material from Anis Mansur, an Egyptian journalist who once claimed that Khrushchev had received a telegram warning him off visiting the pyramids, and Philipp Vanderberg, a German popular history writer who wrote about the curse of the pharaohs in 1973 and claimed that the Titanic sank because of a stolen pharaonic mummy aboard!
A version of that last claim was popular as early as 1912, prompting E. A. Wallis-Budge to refute it in 1934. It seems that a fellow named W. T. Stead was on the Titanic, and this gentleman was a tabloid journalist and spiritualist who became associated with the sarcophagus lid of the so-called “priestess of Amen-Ra” housed in the British Museum because it was reportedly the subject of his final conversation before the ship hit an iceberg. Stead had claimed that the sarcophagus lid was cursed and brought disaster on any who wrote of it, according to Stead’s dinner companion Frederick Seward, speaking just after the Titanic sank. After the death of Lord Carnarvon, a story developed that the cursed sarcophagus was actually on board the ship, but Wallis Budge pointed out that the sarcophagus cover remained where it had always been since 1889, “in the first room in the British Museum, bearing the number 22542.” (It is on display in Room 62 now.)
In the telling, the sarcophagus lid described by Stead became a full sarcophagus and then a mummy. Modern accounts of the story have the mummy survive the sinking of Titanic only to cause the sinking of the Empress of Ireland and the Lusitania.
Stead’s story was actually a retelling of one popular after 1909. In 1907 a journalist named Bertram Fletcher Robinson died of influenza following (by three years) writing about the mummy. Apparently a certain Mrs. St. Hill had made the suggestion at a 1909 lecture that the mummy board was to blame, and a Pearson’s magazine article that year expanded on the curse story and added Helena Blavatsky to it by having her declare the coffin lid to be “malignant.” In 1923, after Carnarvon’s death, Conan Doyle was convinced that the coffin lid was to blame for Robinson’s death, and Doyle himself had written a story about an evil mummy in 1892.
While the stories derived from the Robinson affair are not directly connected to those derived from Murtada via Corelli, the cast of the (largely fictitious) accounts given by G. St. Russell in his 1909 article on “The Mysterious Mummy” in Pearson’s magazine is so suggestive of the vengeful deaths of those who violate the pyramids in Murtada and the other Arabic language authors that it would seem that an indirect influence (probably via the Gothic tradition, which drew at times explicitly and implicitly on Arabian literature) stands behind it as well.