If you asked TV-watching Americans which channels they couldn’t live without, the results are somewhat surprising. Variety conducted a survey asking cable TV customers which channels they would be willing to pay to keep should cable move to a la carte pricing. It was no surprise that ABC, a broadcast network, came in first, but after that came the Discovery Channel, CBS, NBC, the History channel, and National Geographic, in that order. We could speculate on the reasons for this, but it seems strange that three of the top five networks are those that show alien and UFO related programming. The real reason is probably a bit more prosaic: Men tend to watch fewer channels and to like the docudrama-style male-oriented reality shows heavily feature on the three cable channels on the list, so their choices are more highly concentrated relative to women’s more diverse choices. Still: Three channels of pseudoscience, aliens, and cryptids made the top five. That’s depressing.
I recently translated (from the French edition) the sections of the anonymous Arabic Book of Marvels dealing with the antediluvian history of the Giza pyramids. This book contains nothing other sources didn’t already provide, but it was an interesting exercise. I posted the results on my Medieval Pyramid Lore page. The Book of Marvels is an odd but entertaining work. It’s a collection of what we might describe as medieval Forteana arranged along a framework of world history, and this was a fairly common medieval practice. This particular volume was traditionally ascribed to the hand of the historian Al-Mas‘udi on the strength of the attribution on one manuscript of it, but this is almost certainly incorrect. Its date of composition is also unclear, with scholars estimating it as having been written anywhere from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries.
I have removed this article at the request of its original subject, who claimed in a telephone conversation with me on July 2, 2015 that the underlying facts I discussed in the article are incorrect and therefore my interpretation of them is flawed. These facts were based on a series of newspaper articles published in a Pennsylvania newspaper, and on June 30, 2015 the original author of those articles retracted some of the claims in the articles. Because the underlying reporting is incorrect and at times misleading, my conclusions (which I maintain were entirely fair based on the original reporting) are therefore misleading vis-à-vis the actual claims made. As a result, I have chosen to remove this blog post out of respect to the original subject, whose name I am also removing so it does not come up in future Google searches.
It seems that more media outlets are getting the message that America Unearthed and its host, Scott Wolter, are producing pseudo-history rather than serious documentaries. Case in point: Atlas Obscura ran a piece yesterday on the almost certainly modern hoax Viking inscription on a rock on Noman’s Land Island at Martha’s Vineyard in which they described Wolter’s efforts to have the rock removed from the island in these terms:
Before we begin, I’d be remiss if I did not note that Australian Fortean researcher Louis Proud, author of a book on alien and occult influences from the moon, announced that he recently read Dracula for the first time, and he determined that Bram Stoker’s horror masterpiece was awful: “I found it overly long, in parts boring, and frequently tedious. By the end of it, I felt as though I myself had been attacked by a vampire, such was the extent of my exhaustion.” Don’t let him near Don Quixote or The Count of Monte Cristo. I can’t help but question the literary taste of anyone who finds Dracula to be “tedious.” Contemporary reviews called it “the most exciting old-fashioned story of horrors we have read in a long time” and “a web of horrors I do not remember the mate to” and worried readers would have wracked nerves from reading it. Proud revealed his views in service of a book review of Jim Steinmeyer’s Who Was Dracula? (2013), in which Proud’s ignorance of Dracula and a century of work on the subject leads him to imagine that Steinmeyer was among the first to look for an origin for the vampire count beyond Vlad Tepes.
By the way, Steinmeyer’s previous book, 2011’s Last Greatest Magician in the World, has a very familial look to it thanks to public domain art collections from the Library of Congress:
You don’t expect to see pseudo-history at the grocery store, but that’s exactly what happened when I picked up a carton of Welch’s Mango Twist mango and grape juice only to see that the side panel proclaimed that travelers to Asia brought mangoes back to South America in 300-400 CE. This would certainly be quite the proof of diffusionist claims about an East Asian influence on the pre-Columbian Americas, and I wondered why Welch’s was promoting bizarre diffusionist ideas. It turns out they didn’t know that’s what they’re doing. Welch’s lifted their mango trivia directly from mango.org, the mango industry website, where they misread one of the mango “fun facts”: “Mango seeds traveled with humans from Asia to the Middle East, East Africa and South America beginning around 300 or 400 A.D.” The “fun fact” meant to say that mangos left Asia in 300 CE, eventually reaching the New World in the seventeenth century. Welch’s took the line to mean that they spread everywhere between 300 and 400 CE and accidentally created diffusionist mango juice.
Since we’ve been talking about weird ways medieval stories were reimagined in regard to Zoroaster’s Pillars of Wisdom, I thought I’d bring up one final weird version of a (somewhat) related myth. You will recall that an earlier builder of the Pillars of Wisdom was Hermes, who in Arabic-language histories had these pillars identified with the two largest pyramids of Giza. These were said to be the tombs of Hermes and his teacher, Agathodaemon. For example, Abd Al-Latif al-Baghdadi’s Account of Egypt (c. 1200) says that “one of these two Pyramids is the tomb of Agathodaemon, and the other of Hermes, who are said to have been two great prophets, of whom Agathodaemon was the most famous and the most ancient” (trans. Joseph White).
Yesterday I discussed the story of how Zoroaster, identified with Ham, carved the seven liberal arts on fourteen pillars, seven of bronze and seven of brick, in order to preserve them from flood and fire just before the fictitious Assyrian king Ninus defeated him in battle. I thought that for the sake of completeness I should offer a couple of more pieces of information. Most importantly, I discovered that Petrus Comestor was not the first to report the story. Instead, it appears a few decades before his influential medieval text in Hugh of St. Victor, Adnotationes Elucidatoriae in Pentateuchon at Gen. 11 (c. 1130), which I give here in my translation: “Cham [...] king of Bactria was conquered by Ninus and called Zoroaster, the inventor and creator of the evil mathematical arts (i.e. astrology). He inscribed the seven liberal arts on fourteen pillars, seven bronze and seven brick, against the possibility of a flood, in order to provide usefulness to posterity. His books on mathematics Ninus, having gained victory, had burned.”
Yesterday I briefly mentioned the medieval claim that Zoroaster was actually Noah’s son Ham, as well as the evil inventor of black magic. But did you also know that late legends also made him the builder of not two but fourteen pillars of wisdom? There are entirely too many of these pillars now, and it’s rather amazing how many different permutations one story can have.
In December 1885, the Occult Magazine, the house organ of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, published an intriguing letter from a self-described Freemason and occultist attempting to explicate the myth that Hermes had buried sacred scientific writings in the pyramids of Egypt. It is an unusual combination of Masonic and Hermetic versions of the medieval pyramid myth:
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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