In Dracula, Bram Stoker includes an intriguing allusion to a mysterious devil’s school in Transylvania: The Draculas, he wrote, “had dealings with the Evil One. They learned his secrets in the Scholomance, amongst the mountains over Lake Hermanstadt, where the devil claims the tenth scholar as his due.” The vampire himself was one of these scholars, a diabolic genius. But what exactly was this Scholomance, and where did the legend come from? Find out in my new online exclusive investigation.
On last Thursday's episode of Ancient Aliens (Aug. 25, 2011)*, Giorgio Tsoukalos made a claim that is stupid even by that show's lax intellectual standards. The episode focused on the "alien" origin of religious rituals and religious and royal symbols and iconography.** Tsoukalos argued that aliens wore space suits that were very similar to those worn by Apollo astronauts, and therefore the origin of royal crowns happened when ancient people--and I am not making this up--saw the astronauts stand in front of the sun with the light reflecting and bouncing off the helmets of the astronauts. He also thought that aliens using "flashlights" could produce the same effect artificially. Awed and confused, ancient humans then assumed the aliens emitted light from their heads and therefore imitated the extraterrestrials by making gold halos for their own heads.
It boggles the mind that Tsoukalos has such a low opinion of ancient intelligence that he seriously thinks prehistoric people failed to understand that when someone stands in front of the sun, it looks like he or she has a glow around his or her head.
My anthology, A Hideous Bit of Morbidity, was published in hardcover by McFarland & Company in 2009. My publisher informed me today that a new, less expensive paperback version will be published for a spring 2012 release: "Now that the time has come to reprint, we have decided to offer your book in a new form, as a softcover. We hope the new format will help the book find a new market..." I sincerely hope that the new, lower price of $24.95 (the original edition was priced at $65) will encourage more people to pick up a copy of the best, most comprehensive anthology of eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth century horror criticism.
In my earlier blog post today, I implied that David Hatcher Childress was a slipshod scholar, and I linked to an article explaining the origin of a fake quote that appears in several of his books. Since Childress publicly accused me of being a poor scholar, I thought I would return the favor and point out something I discovered this evening while researching something else entirely.
The first passage below is Childress:
Rudbeck based his theory of Sweden having been Atlantis by assuming that Plato’s Atlantis was the same as Homer’s Isle of Ogygia. Rudbeck used the sailing directions in the Odyssey to conclude that Ogygia lay between the latitudes of Mecklenberg, Germany and Vinililand, Sweden. Rudbeck felt that the ancient Norse sagas vindicated his identification of Sweden as Atlantis. Its capital had been Uppsala, the very city Rudbeck lived in. (Lost Cities of Atlantis, 1996, p. 333)
The second is L. Sprague de Camp:
He began by assuming that Plato's Atlantis and Homer’s isle of Ogygia were the same. Then, from the scanty and vague sailing-directions in the Odyssey and some remarks by the unscientific Plutarch on the shape of the earth, Rudbeck inferred that Atlantis must have lain between the latitudes of Mecklenberg, Germany and Vinililand, Sweden. By bending the poetry of the Viking Age to his service, he proved to his own satisfaction that Atlantis was Sweden with its capital near Upsala (sic), and was moreover the fountainhead of all civilization. (Lost Continents, 1970 , p. 178)
Notice similarities? While Childress cites de Camp as the source for his passage, it is remarkable just how closely he apes de Camp's language, including the presentation of information and even the word order of each sentence. Specific words--"assuming," "isle" (note this use from de Camp and not "island," as usually translated from Homer), "sailing directions," the whole phrase beginning "between the latitudes...", "its capital"--are all repeated in the same order, following de Camp's sentence structure closely enough to show that the entire passage is dependent upon de Camp. The end note, merely citing de Camp's book in general without page numbers, fails to indicate what material in this passage (all of it) is paraphrasing de Camp, or that it is paraphrased at all. While this is not a simple cut-and-paste job, it is the kind of extremely close paraphrasing with poor or ambiguous citation that has tripped up many scholars.
A quick check of Childress's other books indicates that many passages are closely dependent on other sources in much the same way. Additionally, many passages in his own books seem to be repeated nearly verbatim from book to book. No wonder he can crank them out so fast.
And I'm the crappy scholar.
I wanted to offer a bit more detail on something I mentioned in my previous blog post where I discussed David Hatcher Childress’s shifting ideas and his attack on me. In that post, I did not get into the whole of Childress’s strange claims, and I wanted to be sure I set the record straight.
Let’s begin at the beginning. In the 1980s, Childress began writing a series of books on “lost cities,” mixing a frothy blend of Victorian pseudoscience, “alternative” history, and New Age mysticism derived from the Lemurian Fellowship, which believes in lost continents (Lemuria and Mu) and an origin of humanity from planes beyond the human. At the time, the original ancient astronaut craze of the 1970s was dying out, and Childress’s books found a new niche, preserving the mystery without the aliens by revisiting old lies about Atlantis and Lemuria and Mu.
It’s H. P. Lovecraft’s birthday today (August 20), so in his honor I thought I’d do something special to celebrate the Cthulhu Mythos as well as science and reason.
In the current Skeptical Inquirer, Jonathan C. Smith presents the “Pastafarian Quatrains,” a series of poems created through anagrams of the phrase “Flying Spaghetti Monster.” Intended as a satire of the tendency of the religious to see patterns where none exist, the quatrains seem to present the Monster’s own gospel about reason, angels, and G-strings. The poems “work” by cherry-picking seemingly sensible results from the millions of potential anagrams, most of which are sheer nonsense, and then attributing the selections to divine inspiration.
Not to be outdone, I reasoned that if the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) spoke through anagrams, surely Great Cthulhu did the same. The Church of the FSM asks visitors to reject the "false god" Cthulhu, and this obviously cannot stand. Cthulhu can do whatever the FSM can do! My initial foray into the unplumbed depths of madness came from producing anagrams of the phrase “Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!” The results were amazing! Surely, Cthulhu spoke to me.
The following miniature epic describes the descent into madness of the speaker, who has sought knowledge about the Old Ones and has instead encountered Nyarlathotep, who sends the speaker to a locked hut watched over by the Fungi from Yuggoth, within which is a “calf” of Shub-Niggurath, who guards a hatch leading to the gulf of outermost space and the depths of madness. By the end of the poem, the speaker is a prisoner facing a terrible Mythos fate.
Whenever I see Ancient Aliens come on the History Channel and hear the emphatically-emphasized exclamations of “ancient astronaut theorist” Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, a consulting producer on the show, I can’t help but flash back to the time I interviewed him, a long time ago, with repercussions echoing down the years. It’s a story I’ve never told, largely because until recently Tsoukalos wasn’t famous enough to make the story worth telling, and I had no reason to want to make a bad situation worse. In my Cult of Alien Gods (2005), I gave a brief, expurgated account of the story in a footnote. But this is what really happened.
Last weekend a Texas man attacked a woman and attempted to suck her blood. Lyle Monroe Bensley, 19, told Galveston authorities he was a centuries-old vampire and needed to feed. Now, in the rush to assign blame, Reuters reported Deborah Quinn Hensel pushed a fact-free story on the newswire today implying that vampire books and movies, such as the Twilight franchise, were responsible.
According to Hensel’s article, the vampire attacked “has sparked” a passive-voice “discussion” on the role of popular culture in glamorizing the vampire lifestyle. No individuals involved in expressing concerns about pop culture’s role were named. Instead, author Anne Rice and several professors were asked to speculate on the attraction of vampires for young people.
“I would say that it is the Twilight saga in particular that has brought out the younger teen fans,” Dr. Thomas Garza of the University of Texas told Reuters, stating the obvious.
Despite claims that teen obsession with vampires “peaked” recently with the Twilight films and HBO’s True Blood series, the only other examples of a vampire attack spawned by popular culture used in the article were from 1996 and 1998, long before either franchise—the first of these before, in fact, even the 1997-2003 TV version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the last popular culture product blamed for an unhealthy obsession with vampire romance.
Anne Rice told the wire service that her readers are “into the poetry and the romance of vampires; they don't think they themselves are vampires.”
According to Hensel’s own article, there is no evidence for a connection between Bensley and Twilight, or that popular culture was to blame for his vampire attack, or even that there is a genuine wave of consumers of popular culture becoming convinced they are vampires. Who then "sparked" "discussion" other than Hensel herself?
This is journalistic fear-mongering at its worst, and another entry in the long ledger of attempts to blame the horror genre (even in its decidedly watered-down Twilight form) for the actions of disturbed individuals.
I have tried to have my writing remain mostly apolitical; I don’t generally discuss current government policies, nor do I support specific candidates. There is no point in discussing politics in conjunction with archaeology and history unless there is a specific case where the two overlap. The following is a case where they overlap; however, I will confine my remarks to the question of historiography and historical ignorance. The political positions of the candidate in question are beyond my scope.
Presidential candidate and current congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) praised a controversial Christian scholar in an interview, implying that she supports his denunciation of the Renaissance for ending the Middle Ages and instigating the decline of human culture from godly perfection. You know, the Middle Ages, when nine out of ten Europeans were legally bound to their master’s land, it was illegal not to be Catholic, virtually no one (including priests) was literate enough to know what the Bible said, and the Church could turn you over to the secular authorities to be executed on a whim. Perfection.
According to the New Yorker and the Los Angeles Times, the crux of Bachmann’s problem with the Renaissance (which she does not explicitly denounce) derives from the work of Francis Schaeffer, a Presbyterian pastor who died in 1984 and who believed that the Renaissance took a dangerous step in placing humans, rather than God, at the center of culture. For Schaeffer, this manifests in the “sinful” art of Michelangelo and Leonardo. Michelangelo, especially, is to blame because his “David” showed male nudity on a colossal scale, begging the viewer to stare at David’s penis, thus emphasizing his humanity, as opposed to God’s grace. Never mind that proportionally David’s penis is actually too small. Leonardo’s “Vitruvian Man” is bad, too, because it shows a human being instead of God at the center of the composition. Of course, showing God would be bad because that’s idolatry. So, to be safe, let’s just stick with geometric shapes. No, wait, that’s cubism and that’s a sin against God, too…
Schaeffer “was a tremendous philosopher,” Bachmann told the New Yorker. “He wrote marvellous books and was very inspirational.” (More after the jump.)
I’d like a talk a little bit more about the ancient astronaut theory and what constitutes “evidence.” As is so often the case, “ancient astronaut theorists” (let’s call them AATs for short) complain that scientists are purposefully ignoring important evidence, or are too dogmatic to appreciate the stunning evidence that AATs have uncovered. But what, exactly, do they mean by evidence?
Last week, I explained that for Erich von Daniken, evidence apparently is something that one makes up as “poetic license” because popular audiences have less of a need for fact than scientific audiences. Von Daniken simply decided he would, by his own admission, make up stories about his visit to a cave in Ecuador filled with alien artifacts, a cave everyone involved admits he never visited, and which, later explorers found, has no alien artifacts.
Yesterday I explained that the AATs on Ancient Aliens think nothing of declaring mythological monsters to be alien hybrids without ever stopping to consider the history and the context of the myth and monster in question. More often than not, the history of the myth shows that the form they read about in popular mytholographies or other AAT books is a late, often very different form than the original. But for AATs, any text ever written is “evidence” even if it can be shown that it is completely different than earlier forms.
Today I’d like to look at what AATs consider textual “evidence.” Our example today will be the case of nuclear weapons in ancient India. Because there is so much to say about the subject, I've created a full online exlusive article explaining just how AATs fabricated a nuclear incident out of a froth of mistranslations, textual splicing, and misleading editing.
READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE.
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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