In the late eighteenth century, theater critics blasted Matthew Lewis’s play The Castle Spectre (1797) because it depicted a ghost on stage, which they believed could have the terrible effect of increasing the public’s belief in the supernatural. To this, Lewis replied:
Against my Spectre many objections have been urged: one of them I think rather curious. She ought not to appear, because the belief in Ghosts no longer exists! In my opinion, that is the very reason why she may be produced without danger; for there is now no fear of increasing the influence of superstition, or strengthening the prejudices of the weak-minded.
Yet in the end, Lewis was wrong and the critics were right: Gothic horror helped give rise to the Spiritualist movement and a revival of belief in ghosts, psychic powers, and so on—and in turn, the Spiritualists fed their beliefs back into fiction. At one point, Helena Blavatsky simply declared that the writers of scientific romance and horror were themselves latent Spiritualists with half-formed insights from another plane of existence.
Normally, I give a wide berth to fiction in its presentation of fake history since it is, after all, fiction. But sometimes that fiction has a different purpose that isn’t related to entertainment. In that case, it seems fair game to complain about its message. This happened last year with Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, which the director explicitly said was meant to advocate the claims of Erich von Däniken, and which I therefore criticized as propaganda. It happens again in a few days’ time when a group of alternative history believers release American Templars, a movie dramatizing fourteenth-century aristocrat Henry Sinclair’s alleged voyage to America.
The problem with the movie is not that it is using fake history but that it is telling its audience that the underlying story is true: “The film uses real artifacts and locations to shed light on the fascinating history of medieval exploration of North America by Prince Henry Sinclair, a Scottish lord with ties to the Knights Templar.” The filmmakers want the audience to come away believing that the “facts” behind the movie are real, and that Henry Sinclair traveled to pre-Columbian America.
The movie was directed by Michael Carr, last heard inventing the fake Englishman “Rough Hurech” while mistranslating fake runes on America Unearthed. The movie is based on David S. Brody’s novel The Cabal of the Westford Knight: Templars at the Newport Tower (2009) and centers on the alleged carving of a Templar knight in the town of Westford, Massachusetts, which mainstream scholars take for Native American carvings or natural features. (The most accepted explanation is that glacial ruts were expanded into a “knight” in the nineteenth century by an unknown artist.) First mentioned as “Indian” carving in 1883, the carving was only identified as a medieval knight in 1954, a Templar still later, and a member of the Sinclair expedition still later as the Sinclair-Templar myth developed. The development of this myth is told in David Goudsward’s recent book on The Westford Knight and Henry Sinclair (2011), and I’ve outlined its problematic origin here.
In June David Goudsward took issue with my characterization of his book on the Knight, which I originally wrote supported the Sinclair myth. Goudsward told me that he debunked the Templar connection in his book and “by default the carving,” but that isn’t quite what he told the Boston Globe, whom he told that the Knight was “evidence of pre-Columbian Scottish explorers visiting the New World.” They just weren’t Templars or Sinclairs. Whatever Goudsward’s actual views, the newspaper presented his book as supporting pre-Columbian Scottish voyages.
David S. Brody is the chairman of the Westford Knight Committee and oversees the carving, according to the Globe. He has a vested interest in promoting it as “real” and a tourist attraction. A frequent novelist, he recognizes that the Sinclair story is problematic. However, he told another newspaper that “If it’s true, then that means Columbus was about 100 years late to the party, and Westford becomes a very important part of history.” And there is the driving force behind the historically impossible claims: the endless drive to make one’s own home the navel of the world and the locus of history.
Anyway, the movie version is also being used as a marketing tool. According to the Boston Globe, which credulously accepted the claims of Scottish voyages in its most recent article, the Westford Historical Society and Museum will be using the “world premiere” screening of the film to raise money. On its website (which the Globe plagiarizes nearly word-for-word), the museum agrees that “ancient artifacts and sites … indicate Scottish explorers found America 100 years before Columbus.”
Regardless of the intrinsic entertainment value of American Templars—and given the terrible acting and production values on display in the trailer, there isn’t much!—the propaganda purpose of the film warrants complaint. I am not able to evaluate the film artistically without having seen it, but in viewing the trailer, such masterpieces as Birdemic come to mind. I wonder, though, if the terrible production values and cable-TV documentary aesthetics don’t work in the film’s favor—not as cinema but as propaganda: by looking like something put together on video from real life, it reinforces the idea that there is a real history behind the story.
10/7/2013 06:17:35 am
Its a good thing campy movies are usually sci-fi/monsters/slasher flicks. On a unrelated note a show on Adult Swim, China Illinois, made fun of ancient aliens last night and had a great quote about the pyramids and such, "Imagine your the richest person and all you had was rocks and slaves. How long would it take before you started stacking the rocks on each other?"
10/7/2013 06:40:52 am
I saw that as well. I also enjoyed the part about the "impossible" precision of old megalithic structures: "Nerd, don't estimate all of humanity by the limits of your own capabilities."
The Other J.
10/8/2013 12:56:53 am
China, Illinois -- gonna check that out. Cheers.
10/7/2013 06:34:22 am
I appreciate the information, but maybe you should post the actual trailer instead of what is obviously a colleghumor.com parody of The Da Vinci Code.
Good job. It's funny that the name I garnished is the supposed name of this Westford Knight: Gunn. Yes, life is a circle here for me here on this blog.
10/7/2013 07:02:26 am
I was thinking, if the Copper Culture mined and refined the ore in upper Michigan, then disseminated the final products through trade, isn't it possible the Westford knight is a Native American carving...only done with a copper chisel/punch? Hey, the Egyptians did far more with copper chisels, as did the people that made Tiwanaku.
10/7/2013 08:11:56 am
Right, except that how would Native Americans know what a medieval sword looks like so precisely? So either way, one can speculate that the owner of that pictured sword may have been in the area...and is probably buried on-site nearby. If I'm not mistaken, the shape of the sword indicates a medieval origin, and it is shown broken so as to indicate the death of its owner...uh-hem, a knight named after me.
10/7/2013 08:18:04 am
Let's not assume that the carving is medieval without some evidence. As far as I know, its existence can't be proven prior to 1883.
10/7/2013 12:09:28 pm
Not for nothing, but if Native Americans experienced pre-Columbian contact, as suggested by the Glooscap narrative and even the KRS, it *is* possible they may have had knowledge of the sword's design through such contact. Another thing to consider is this: could they have had a similar one in their possession, as with the Brandenburg Axe?
10/7/2013 12:20:21 pm
Let's remember that the Glooscap story as known to Mi'kmaqs is very different from the fiction that passes under that name concocted by Fredrick J. Pohl for his Sinclair conspiracy stories. There is no hint of medieval trans-oceanic contact from Europe in the actual ethnographic literature about Glooscap.
The Other J.
10/8/2013 01:09:44 am
"There is no hint of medieval trans-oceanic contact from Europe"
10/7/2013 06:59:07 am
I grew up in Westford and had no idea that this nonsense was going on. Very interesting.
10/7/2013 07:59:41 am
Paul, the lady at the museum seemed to be proud of the boat stone, and what the town has going for it with the Westford Knight. At least nobody has hidden these items away, such as with the small collection of medieval artifacts from Maine. The state museum there should be ashamed of itself for doing this, as many people would like to see the artifacts for themselves. I drove up there from Boston last year, not realizing they weren't even on display! How dejected can a traveler feel?
Steve St Clair
10/7/2013 10:47:06 am
I've been to what is called The Westford Knight. I agree with Scott Wolter that it's clearly a whole-punched depiction of what looks like a medieval sword. I can't really see a knight in the stone. And if you can imagine you see it, the distinction between the sword and the knight is too much to be accounted for weathering of the knight portion of the stone.
10/7/2013 10:49:30 am
Obviously, the punched sword exists; the question is whether the sword existed prior to the nineteenth century, and, if it did, prior to colonial-era European contact.
10/7/2013 11:58:28 am
Watching that trailer, I thought there is probably more entertainment value, acting skill, and accuracy in Sharknado.
10/7/2013 12:04:41 pm
Not surprising, since Sy-Fy movies generally have budgets ranging from $1-2M. This looks to have been made on a Bowfinger-sized budget.
I just realized an odd connection, or similarity. In Westford, there is the sword and boat depictions, both created somewhat alike...that is, with the use of a punch tool. And on my website I have an image of a boat or ship, also a medieval depiction, which is on a rock at the northern tip of Copper Harbor, MI. Well, adjacent to the ship carving is a bear carving, and like the two Westford carvings, both of the Copper Harbor ship and bear carvings were made somewhat alike...actually, more like exactly alike. The "artist" used deeply carved lines to fill in large spaces, such as the sail, and such as the bulk of the bear's body. So in each location, we have not a single, oddly made carving, but two--and made in like manner. Just an odd coincidence.
10/7/2013 06:21:26 pm
I have a serious question: where did you find the information regarding the "tradition of breaking the sword blade of a fallen comrade?" This is something I have never heard of before.
10/9/2013 05:30:33 am
I tried to come up with some references, but came up empty-handed. I probably read it in some of the Henry Sinclair material. But the break is unmistakable in the carved image, so it obviously meant something. Somebody probably conjectured what the break means based on their own knowledge. Personally, I think it is a pretty good conjecture about the sword owner dying. Maybe the symbolic sword broken was a lessor value sword, and it was just the symbolic gesture that mattered. It's only a guess.
10/14/2013 05:28:07 am
BigMike - In the November/December issue of Archaeology is an article (Bronze age boat mystery). In addition to 8 wooden boats recovered were 2 broken swords. The swords were retired according to the archaeologist and was a standard custom for the time.
10/8/2013 04:45:11 am
Are you talking about the warning Scott Wolter claims came from the Templars?
10/8/2013 10:35:29 am
Shane, my main point is that the Chippewa moved west because of a communication. I'm not sure that the move was because of a warning or a vision, or both, but in any case they seemed to have responded by moving. Yes, it would be nice to nail down the time-frames for each Native American group to their stories.
The Other J.
10/8/2013 01:21:04 am
Statements like “If it’s true, then that means Columbus was about 100 years late to the party, and Westford becomes a very important part of history” seem very strange. Because apparently, if true, those Scottish Templars really never got the party started in the first place -- there's no unquestionable archaeological evidence, no legacy, no trade established, no records that aren't under considerable question, nothing. Columbus didn't even step on North American soil and managed to leave more evidence of a presence in the New World.
10/12/2013 08:07:40 am
Templars to America,Prince Henry Sinclair,rune stones and all the other stories are just that stories, After reading this blog I went to Steve StClairs web page on Jarl Henry StClair just for a laugh to see what tales are told there, Well not to be disapointed I went through the tale of Native North Americans and their Q3 haplogroup and how surprising it was that a Native leader tested to be R1b,Read that here
Steve St Clair
10/18/2013 03:19:30 pm
Drako wrote, 'I have never seen a more idiotic statment in all my life,...'
10/22/2013 11:04:58 am
If they "had to know their blood was holy" and therefore, they had to be "very particular about whom they mated with", can I assume they would have practiced the custom of intermarriage, to protect the sanctity of the bloodline? Outside an incident of extracurricular horizontal mambo, I guess this would be the logical choice?
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