Here is an interesting fact I found in researching Hermes Trismegistus and his pyramids of wisdom. An old Arabic text by Ibn Wahshiyya called Kitab Shawq al-Mustaham (Ancient Alphabets) (c. 863-930 CE), a book purporting to decipher the hieroglyphs of Egypt, makes reference to a creature named Bahumed, which some have claimed to be the same as Baphomet, the demon allegedly worshiped by the Knights Templar. According to Washiyya, Bahumed was “the most sublime secret” and “the secret of secrets,” “the beginning and return of everything.” The secret of Bahumed, he said, was known to the Hermetic occultists, and it was the secret of the hieroglyphs, encoded in inscriptions which unlock secret magic so powerful that none but the Hermetic followers know of it. This secret knowledge was attributed to Hermes, who was Enoch and Idris, and to his ancestors Seth and Adam, as was typical in Islamic lore.
Based on this, the 1806 English translator of the book, Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, concluded: “Bahumed or Bahumet is related in the History of the Templars to have been one of their secret and mysterious formulas, with which they addressed the idol of a calf in their secret assemblies. Different etymological explanations and descriptions of this word have been brought forward, but none surely so satisfactory as this, which proves that the Templars had some acquaintance with the hieroglyphics, probably acquired in Syria.” An astonishing early Templar conspiracy theory—that they had secret Hermetic knowledge of Egyptian wisdom! We’ve seen that before… not least in the conspiracy theories of former television personality Scott Wolter.
Alas, Ibn Wahshiyya’s text is not as certain as it seems. According to Mark Fraser Pettigrew, citing Martin Schwartz, the book contains at least one illustration from the Egyptological works of Athanasius Kircher, seven centuries after Ibn Wahshiyya allegedly wrote. The illustration can’t be more ancient because Kircher got hoodwinked by an Italian forgery, and the forged artifact he copied cannot be old enough to support a date of c. 900 CE for the Kitab Shawq al-Mustaham. If all of that is true, that means that the text we have is a Renaissance forgery, probably drawn from Arabic Hermetic documents known at the time and gussied up with Kircher’s hieroglyphic speculation.
Meanwhile, Wolter continues to promote unusual Templar fantasies.
Last week, Wolter took another step toward embracing a full-on Da Vinci Code fantasy when he announced in comments on his blog that he believes that the Shroud of Turin had been created by Leonardo da Vinci: “The Shroud of Turin is likely a relic created (likely by Leonardo Da Vinci) for the Roman Catholic Church in exchange for relief of persecution of certain individuals that helped begin the Age of Enlightenment.” He added that the shroud was made using a primitive photographic technique and a cadaver. You will recognize that claim as one that dates back to the 1990s when Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince presented the claim in their 1994 book The Turin Shroud. The silliness of the claim is evident in the fact that history documents the existence of the Shroud of Turin at least as far back as 1390, when Bishop Pierre d’Arcis wrote to Antipope Clement VII that the shroud was a hoax. Leonardo was born in 1452. The “Age of Enlightenment” began centuries later. Presumably he is confusing it with the Renaissance. He later added that he believes that current shroud is a replacement made by Leonardo for the 1390 shroud. Conspiracies atop conspiracies!
Speaking of the endlessly amplifying feedback loop of conspiracy, this past week The New Republic published a piece called “The New Paranoia” in which Colin Dickey, the author of a book about haunted houses and a forthcoming book on conspiracy theories, alleges that liberals and leftists are now susceptible to the same type of conspiracy theories and paranoid delusions that have long been the bread and butter of rightwing ringmasters. Unsurprisingly, Dickey centers the argument on Donald Trump, about whom liberals are willing to believe conspiracy theories that, applied to anyone else, would be obviously false, but in Trump’s special case of malevolent zaniness take on a spurious plausibility simply because reality itself has bent before the forces of fake news, alternative facts, and the total rejection of objective knowledge.
Dickey argues that liberal conspiracy theorists are unwilling to accept that Trump is irrational and incompetent and therefore read into his actions and behavior a “long con,” all part of a master-plan. “When you begin to treat evidence supporting one conclusion (that Trump’s administration is staffed with ideologues and novices who don’t know what they’re doing) as though it supports the exact opposite conclusion (that this apparent incompetence is a masterpiece of misdirection), you have moved away from logical fallacy and into deep-seated paranoia.” However, it was unclear to me that Dickey’s argument extended as far among liberals as the documented permeation of conspiracy theories into rightwing discourse, from elite publications through cable news straight down to grassroots activists and candidates for office. All of Dickey’s liberal examples were drawn from the internet, where conspiracy theories are a dime a dozen, while conservative examples had broad play on the pipeline from hard right internet forums to Fox News and talk radio.
That said, Dickey is correct that everyone is now potentially part of a paranoid world of designer conspiracy theories, each carefully tailored by internet shills, con-artists, and nut-jobs to reach specific audiences in pursuit of the almighty dollar. But it’s hard for me to believe that the American people are somehow more irrational and paranoid than they were six months ago. Human psychology doesn’t change that quickly. Instead, Dickey is seeing a reflection of the political moment, in which seemingly derogatory material about Trump gets passed around online as easily as anti-Obama propaganda did over the past eight or nine years. As we have seen on this blog and elsewhere, there has been a consistent audience for conspiracy theories for decades, on all manner of subjects, and I doubt that Trump suddenly caused formerly rational people to lose their marbles; rather, those already susceptible to the lure of conspiracy simply shifted their paranoia from less visible targets (GMOs, vaccines, etc. are all popular liberal conspiracy fodder) to Trump, the giant black (orange?) hole that sucks in all attention.
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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