Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop Endorses Robert Schoch's Lost Ice Age Civilization; Plus: A Medieval Account of the Sphinx's Secret Chamber
Note: This post has been edited to correct information about Edgar Cayce.
Gwyneth Paltrow receives frequent criticism because her lifestyle brand, Goop, actively promotes all manner of quackery in the name of “wellness.” But I was shocked and surprised to see that Goop has now extended beyond dubious wellness cures into the realm of pseudoarchaeology. Goop interviewed “maverick” geologist Robert Schoch, who gave Paltrow’s moneyed hausfrau readers a summary of his usual claims about an Ice Age Sphinx and a lost megalithic civilization, with the added speculation that civilization rises and falls because “subtle changes in the [Earth’s] electromagnetic/geomagnetic field can modulate mental abilities in humans.” He added that “academia” is financially invested in maintaining the current paradigm of history, which is why his radical revision hasn’t caught on.
The interview was part of Goop’s celebration of conspiracy theories, which included an investigation into whether the Illuminati still exist, an itinerary for vacationing at conspiracy hot spots, a UFO investigation, and so on. While media observers puzzled over Goop’s strange new direction, regular observers of conspiracy theories likely saw nothing terribly strange about a brand that promotes quackery in one field expanding into noxious nuttiness in another.
None of this is terribly surprising, but near the end of the Schoch interview, the geologist described his work looking for the Hall of Records underneath the Sphinx and how Edgar Cayce “predicted” its existence, right around the time that the Rosicrucians had proposed it. “I have to admit that, at the time, I was a bit embarrassed to be seen as corroborating the sayings of a psychic, but the facts are the facts,” Schoch said. Cayce described, vaguely, an entrance to a hidden hall of records beneath the front paw of the Sphinx in 1932 (5746-6, July 1, 1932), where Schoch later explored a hidden cavity. Such speculation was as old as Pliny, and subterranean libraries were a staple of medieval Arab-Islamic Egyptology. A more elaborate version of the Sphinx claim was published by H. C. Randall-Stevens, another psychic, who claimed in 1935 that it had come from an ancient manuscript. “These unusual drawings were made from secret manuscripts possessed by archivists of the mystery schools of Egypt and the Orient and are part of secret manuscripts telling of the ancient forms of initiations held in the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid,” he wrote in A Voice Out of Egypt (1935).
The Rosicrucians then borrowed it in 1936, and Cayce then elaborated on his own earlier claim in a longer 1939 prophecy. When I discussed this last year, I said that I wasn’t sure exactly what text Randall-Stevens referred to, but I actually have a closer idea now. I can’t say I have the exact text, but I found one from the Middle Ages that is similar, though not identical.
As part of my research into the background of medieval Egyptian hermetic magic, I learned that there was apparently a large market in the late Middle Ages for pseudo-magical and pseudo-hermetic guides to using magic spells and finding buried treasure. These might fall into the category of what we would call “genuine fakes,” meaning that the texts are authentically medieval but that they were hoaxes and frauds in their day. Even though such texts are not “true” in any meaningful sense of the word, they do preserve within them cultural details that speak to the knowledge and interests of the people of medieval Egypt and what they wanted to know about their own country’s past.
Unfortunately, most of these primarily Arabic texts (there are also Greek examples from the Byzantine Empire) have never been translated into a language I can read, but one important one was translated into French in the early twentieth century. The book is called the Kitāb al-durr al-maknūz, and Ahmed Bay Kamal translated and published it as the Livre des perles enfouies et du mystère précieux (“The Book of Buried Pearls and Precious Mysteries”) in two volumes in 1907. It is an interesting book I had never heard of before, and it deserves an English edition. I am not, however, interested enough translate two volumes (!) of fantasy nonsense.
The book takes the form of a field guide to buried treasure in Egypt, with hundreds of entries for various treasures imagined to be found under the Egyptian sands. Each entry is almost maddeningly similar. It begins with a brief indication of the geographical location and major monuments in the area. It then explains where to dig and the types of aromatic substances one needs to properly “fumigate” the hole to combat curses and supernatural charms. (The author was really big into fumigation.) The entry concludes by describing in detail the fabulous riches to be found within and any restrictions on how much of the treasure the seeker may safely remove without triggering vengeful spirits.
As with all such treasure-hunting manuals, it never ceases to amaze me that readers never asked why the author didn’t follow his own guide and go get some treasure rather than trying to scrape together a living selling guidebooks.
Anyway, the Buried Pearls contains some superficial hermetic coloring, using hermetic and alchemical terminology, but in a way that shows that the author didn’t really have any knowledge of the subject, except in one passage (§ 417), which seems to have been copied and reworked from a genuine alchemical text. Instead, the interesting part of the book is the allusive references to stories about Egyptian history better known from historical works like the Akhbar al-zaman and from the legend of Hermes Trismegistus. Buried Pearls rarely tells a complete story, but the brief allusions to these myths show that they must have been familiar to the author’s presumed audience. That it is not a true Hermetic text is evident from the fact that it attributes the pyramids not to Hermes or Surid, the usual suspects in Hermetic accounts, but to Shaddād bin ‘Ād, the preferred fictional figure of regular everyday medieval Muslim residents of Egypt.
In terms of our interest in the Hall of Records, the Buried Pearls contains a section in which it alleges that there is a secret room hidden within the Sphinx. While it is not located where Schoch places the Hall of Records—under the statue’s paw—it places it reasonably similar to where Randall-Stevens and the Rosicrucians depicted the chamber in 1935 and 1936.
For comparison, here Randall-Stevens’s diagram from A Voice Out of Egypt (1935):
Now here is the Buried Pearls on the same subject:
§ 309. – The Pyramids of the Dynasty of Shaddad.
Granted, it is not exactly the same, but the basic idea—an entrance buried directly under the Sphinx leading to a long corridor terminating in a sanctum sanctorum filled with treasure, is pretty much the same. I can’t say whether Randall-Stevens had read the French translation of Buried Pearls, but the similarity offers more evidence that I was probably on the right track when I suggested that it looked as though Arab-Islamic pyramid lore stood behind the Hall of Records claims.
Of course, this text was just one of many prior to the 1930s proposing a hollow Sphinx (Pliny, Natural History 36.17) or secret passages under the Sphinx (e.g., New Monthly Magazine 10, p. 561; Vyse, Operations 1, p. 141; Lovecraft, “Under the Pyramids,” etc.). It’s just interesting to find one that aligns so closely and which is also an “ancient manuscript” as Randall-Stevens claimed (but never proved himself) to have used.
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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