Today, I have three odds and ends to discuss: the Maya apocalypse, Beowulf’s dinosaurs, and another black mark against Theosophy. What unites all three topics is a common theme about the need to believe and the pious fraud involved in exploiting one's own and others' beliefs.
My Third (or Fourth or Tenth) Apocalypse
It may be a few hours premature, but since it’s already December 22 in much of the world, I think it’s safe to say we survived the non-event of the fictitious Maya apocalypse. It made me think, though, of all the apocalypses I’ve lived through—and I’m not that old. Among the most famous: Nostradamus’ prophecy that in July 1999 a “king of terror” would destroy the world “from the sky” (Centurie X.72). Also: the Millennium, in all its many forms. The one that still makes me laugh, though, was the 5/5/2000 scare. You might remember that this was the “alternative archaeology” apocalypse promoted from 1986 to 2000 by Richard Noone in which an astrological alignment of planets was supposed to cause the polar ice sheets to fall into the ocean on May 5, 2000, tipping the planet over and killing everyone not living at the “pivot point” among the Inca ruins of Peru. This event had allegedly been foretold on the Ica Stones, which the ancestors of the Inca carved after riding their dinosaurs (yes, dinosaurs) to safety at the pivot point during the last tipping of the earth, having been forewarned by their alien parents, who interbred with early humans and built the Pyramids as power stations for their pre-Flood world empire.
This neatly brings me to Beowulf’s dinosaurs, from Eve Siebert’s article in the current (January/February 2013) issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. I previewed the claim back in October when Seibert talked about it on the Monster Talk podcast. In sum, creationists try to read Beowulf as a literal account of three battles with dinosaurs even though Grendel and his mother are clearly described as human in form, not as Tyrannosaurs. I recommend her article to all my readers since it covers many of the same points I make here every day about alternative writers’ penchant for badly translating ancient texts, taking poet language literally, and being aggressively ignorant of the writings they claim to discuss.
What amazes me is that creationists go out of their way to make Grendel and his mother into dinosaurs when, as Siebert points out, the two are giants and described as being of the race of Cain. If I may amplify on that a bit, this race of Cain has a long and distinguished Christian tradition of referring to another staple of alternative history, the Nephilim (giants) of Genesis 6. Here’s Sextus Julius Africanus writing about them in his Chronicon back in the third century CE:
When men multiplied on the earth, the angels of heaven came together with the daughters of men. In some copies I found “the sons of God.” What is meant by the Spirit, in my opinion, is that the descendants of Seth are called the sons of God on account of the righteous men and patriarchs who have sprung from him, even down to the Saviour Himself; but that the descendants of Cain are named the seed of men, as having nothing divine in them, on account of the wickedness of their race and the inequality of their nature, being a mixed people, and having stirred the indignation of God. But if it is thought that these refer to angels, we must take them to be those who deal with magic and jugglery, who taught the women the motions of the stars and the knowledge of things celestial, by whose power they conceived the giants as their children, by whom wickedness came to its height on the earth, until God decreed that the whole race of the living should perish in their impiety by the deluge.
The Beowulf poet is obviously aware of this tradition and made the Northern giants Grendel and his mother harmonize with received Biblical interpretation; yet, modern creationists ignore their own theology in order to bastardize a Christianized poem into an account of dinosaurs just because that vile Mr. Darwin was just so…wicked!
Theosophy and UFOs
Do you remember James Burke, the British TV presenter whose series Connections traced the way a scientific or technological discovery led to still more discoveries in an ever-escalating spiral of progress? It seems like many of my blog posts follow the template of Connections, but unlike Burke, my stories never seem to have happy endings. Instead, the connections I find seem to lead to ignorance, fraud, and misery.
I was very interested to read John Franch’s article on “The Secret Life of J. Allen Hynek” in the current (January/February 2013) edition of Skeptical Inquirer. According to Franch, the Project Bluebook UFO investigator was a secret occultist who was heavily influenced by Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy. Hynek therefore came to regard UFOs as “psychic projections” of an “extradimensional intelligence,” drawing on Steiner’s claims about “etheric beings” that “stream down to earth” from “higher elements.” If this sounds familiar, it’s because of something Franch left out of his article. Steiner was a breakaway Theosophist, and his “etheric beings” are none other than the ancient astronauts of Theosophy, which were also the direct inspiration for Lovecraft making Cthulhu into an extraterrestrial!
So we can credit the old fraud Madame Blavatsky with yet another dubious achievement, influencing the most famous “scientific” investigator of UFOs to believe in their reality.
Blavatsky’s Theosophy was also responsible for introducing occult beliefs about lost continents to the Thule Society, a German “study group” that promulgated the Aryan mysticism later used by Heinrich Himmler’s SS (though Hitler suppressed the Thule Society itself). Himmler, in turn, used these beliefs as a reason to send archaeologists around the world looking for the remains of Atlantis, Thule, and the lost Aryan ancestors.
I’m not sure how to judge this: Is the Cthulhu Mythos a fair trade for the UFO myth and Nazi mysticism? As much as I love Lovecraft, I’m thinking the answer is no.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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