One recurring bit of pseudoscience is the assertion that Easter Island is something more than an outgrowth of Polynesian society. Robert Brown in his nineteenth-century Countries of the World (vol. 4, p. 43), for example, describes Easter Island as an outpost of the Inca:
But who made the great stone images (p. 44, &c.) which are now the chief attraction of the island to visitors no one knows. It is more than likely that they were here when the present inhabitants arrived, and it is a belief of various ethnographers that probably the race who formed them were the frequenters of the natives of Peru and other portions of South America. When the island was first discovered, the islanders possessed neither the means nor the knowledge to construct anything similar to these monuments, the workmanship of which is of a high order. Even at the date of Cook's visit, some of the statues, measuring twenty-seven feet in length, and eigbt feet across the shoulders, were lying overthrown, while others still standing appeared much larger. One of the latter was so lofty that the shade was sufficient to shelter a party of nearly thirty persons from the heat of the sun. The platforms on which these colossal images stood averaged from thirty to forty feet in length, twelve to sixteen feet broad, being from three to twelve feet long, all built of hewn stones in the Cyclopean style, very much like the walls of the Temple of Pachacamac, or the Ruins of Tia-Huanuco [i.e. Tiwanaku] in Peru…
H. P. Blavatsky, in The Secret Doctrine refers to this passage repeatedly (vol. 2, pp. 317, 337, etc.) but goes beyond Brown to suggest that the builders of Easter Island were not Peruvian (pace, Thor Heyerdahl) but rather the buildings of both Peru and the Pacific Islands were the work of Lemurians and Atlanteans, under the tutelage of aliens from Venus! (See specifically W. Scott-Elliott’s Lost Lemuria.)
But Blavatsky goes still further… not content merely to push a pseudoscientific doctrine (one derived from Donnely’s Atlantis)based on mere fact, Blavatsky, on the same page (317) went on to claim that the authors of speculative fiction were actually reporting the truth about Venusians and Lemurians in ancient history through psychic dreams that they turned into their books!
Our best modern novelists, who are neither Theosophists nor Spiritualists, begin to have, nevertheless, very psychological and suggestively Occult dreams: witness Mr. Louis Stephenson and his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, than which no grander psychological essay on Occult lines exists. Has the rising novelist, Mr. Rider Haggard, also had a prophetic or rather a retrospective clairvoyant dream before he wrote "She "? His imperial Kor, the great city of the dead, whose surviving living men sailed northwards after the plague had killed almost a whole nation, seems to step out in its general outlines from the imperishable pages of the old archaic records. Ayesha suggests " that those men who sailed north may have been the fathers of the first Egyptians "; and then seems to attempt a synopsis of certain letters of a Master quoted in "Esoteric Buddhism." For, she says, "Time after time have nations, ay, and rich and strong nations, learned in the arts, been, and passed away, and been forgotten, so that no memory of them remains. This (the nation of Kor) is but one of several; for time eats up the work of man unless, indeed, he digs in caves like the people of Kor, and then mayhap the sea swallows them, or the earthquake shakes them in. Yet were not these people utterly destroyed, as I think. Some few remained in the other cities, for their cities were many. But the barbarians. . . came down upon them, and took their women to wife, and the race of the Amahagger that is now is a bastard brood of the mighty sons of Kor, and behold it dwelleth in the tombs with its fathers' bones. . ." (pp. 180, 181.)
Here the clever novelist seems to repeat the history of all the now degraded and down-fallen races of humanity. The Geologists and Anthropologists would place at the head of humanity as descendants of Homo primigenius, the ape-man, of which " No Fossil Remains Are As Yet Known To us," but (which) "were Probably akin to the gorilla and orang of the present day" (Haeckel). In answer to whose "probably," occultists point to another and a greater probability--the one given in our text.
It is the singular genius of H. P. Lovecraft that he turned Blavatsky’s appropriation of speculative fiction as a proof of the occult on its head and instead made Blavatsky’s fraudulent mysteries “proof” of the Cthulhu Mythos, temporarily dragging Theosophy back across the divide between nonfiction and fiction. Those cyclopean stones of the Pacific, for example, now served Cthulhu in R’lyeh rather than Lemurians and Venus.
The problem, of course, is that Lovecraft did his job too well, and as a result new generations became exposed to Blavatsky’s interplanetary nonsense through the much more convincing versions Lovecraft produced as fiction. As a result, later writers Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier would take inspiration from Lovecraft, dig up the old Theosophical sources and begin creating the midcentury mystery-mongering movement, contributing exactly nothing that the Theosophists and Atlantis theorists of the Victorian era, and Lovecraft in the twentieth century, had not already invented. This material was reused a third time in the 1990s “alternative archaeology” craze.
Now, of course, more time has passed and new mystery-mongers on cable TV are digging up the old work and presenting it anew, repeating it for the fourth time as part of the new ancient astronaut fad.
And all of it came about because Victorian occultists tried to be “scientific” and ended up calcifying wrongheaded theories proposed by nineteenth century science to explain phenomena for which they did not have enough evidence to accurately judge. The Victorian scientists did their best, but they could not have known about continental drift (sorry, Lemuria) or the age of Easter Island (sorry, ancient alien theorists—late medieval times isn’t pre-human) or the ability for life to live on Venus (sorry, Theosophical Adepts). But these wrong theories became articles of faith for “alternative” historians because they were once proposed by scientists and so maintain a shadowy credibility long after the evidence left them behind. They’re in a book (no matter how old), so they have to be true. Right?
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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