At this point I know better than to take anything Nick Redfern writes at face value, but I was quite shocked at his apparent lack of reading comprehension, as well as his descent into David Childress-style recycling of his own earlier work. In a new article posted at Mysterious Universe, Redfern recapitulates, often point for point, portions of a 2013 chapter he published in Lost Cities and Forgotten Civilizations by Michael Pye and Kirsten Dalley (Rosen Publishing) in 2013. Anyway, I read the piece because it promised a wacky theory about the pyramids, but instead it merely revealed the sad case of an apparently paranoid man who imagined he unlocked the aliens’ master plan. The man in question was Bruce Cathie, who died in 2013, and who believed that “harmonic mathematics” proved the existence of a world energy grid that powered flying saucers (which he speculated came from the Venus of Theosophy) and allowed the construction of the pyramids.
To our purpose, Redfern makes a big deal out of a set of Department of Defense Intelligence Agency documents typed up in Cathie’s native New Zealand in 1968, when Cathie tried and failed to interest the U.S. government in his earth-shattering theory. If you look up the documents online, you’ll often find them labeled “recently declassified” (Redfern called them “formerly classified” in 2013), even though they are marked “unclassified” and form part of a large corpus of reports government officials routinely take from members of the public who think they’re being helpful by sharing their lunatic ravings. (I do not have have high resolution copies to see whether the classification marking was changed at some point.) Redfern mistakes the DIA’s obligation to file pro forma reports for government investigation of Cathie’s theories: “the fact is that they attracted a great deal of interest, including government and military interest – which is my specific reason for writing this article.” Or, in 2013, he claimed they were “deeply fascinated” with the world grid theory.
No, they really weren’t. The obviously uninterested author of the various DIA reports (online here) delivered polite but pro forma responses to Cathie’s claim to have New Zealand government authority to conduct his research into UFO energy grids: “Captain Cathie was advised to submit any additional information he might have. He did, under cover of his letter of 18 January 1968.” Entrusting mind-blowing cosmic secrets to the postal service?! How dastardly! The author, Col. Lewis H. Walker, adds that he found Cathie to be “intensely sincere in his efforts.” But his responses grow increasingly exasperated over time.
Redfern claims, wrongly, that Cathie “entered into extensive correspondence with American military (and NSA) officials,” as though this were a mutual relationship toward some productive end. Indeed, in 2013, he described the government as having a “keen interest” in Cathie. Instead, the DIA (not the NSA) recorded that in the three months following his letter of January 18, Cathie contacted the DIA “3 or 4 times by telephone” to update the DIA on his world grid theory, and the final time to request that they off U.S. Navy goons he had become convinced were watching him. Let me make it clearer: The DIA report wrote that “these conversations were ignored” each time Cathie called to delve “into considerable detail” about his latest ravings. Redfern can read that as well as I can, and he chose to omit that fact.
Is that not clear enough? Oh, well, let’s make it clearer and show what Redfern purposely left out. Col. Walker, the U.S. Defense Attaché (DATT) in Wellington, summarized the report as follows: “The DATT made no reply to the request. This man is obsessed with his theory, and no amount of argument can convince him that he has not stumbled on a highly complicated system which he says leads directly to the existence of UFO’s.” Is this the language of someone “deeply fascinated” by the world grid UFO theory?
Sadly, Cathie did not give up, and in July he sent still more correspondence, which forced Walker to forward the correspondence up the chain of command for evaluation—but not because of UFOs. This time Cathie started to claim that he had discovered a mathematical formula to predict atomic detonations, including a recent test by the French (naturally reported only after the fact), and protocol required that any information about atomic weapons had to be evaluated thoroughly. No one in the Wellington office had the math skills to follow Cathie’s claims.
Redfern says these documents state that the “authorities took an interest in what he had to say.” In fact, the opposite is true: They paint a picture of an exasperated defense attaché trying his best to get rid of a pesky obsessive who had become increasingly paranoid and unhappy that the U.S. wasn’t taking him seriously. One gets the impression that Redfern has never read deeply in the extensive archive of official responses to lunatic ideas received by every government office. I have, and generally they are quite boring. Even Erich von Däniken received a polite but dismissive hearing from a low-level flunky when he tried to give Gerald Ford a copy of one of his books in 1976.
Oh, well. So much for that. Cathie’s theory of the pyramids is mildly more interesting. It relies on the Arab pyramid myth (but of course) and takes literally medieval legends about magic spells. In 2015, Redfern quotes Cathie this way—though I will abridge a bit: “The Arabs have an interesting legend that when the Pyramid was built, the great stones were brought long distances from the quarries. They were laid on pieces of papyrus inscribed with suitable symbols. They were then struck by a rod, whereupon they would move through the air the distance of one bow shot…there is only one answer to the riddle of such construction methods: anti-gravity.” In 2013, Redfern identified this as deriving from the work of tenth century scholar Al-Mas‘udi, which he had never read and knew only secondhand. The claim occurs more than once in Arabic lore, but I’ll unpack this line in just a minute. Let’s first look at the two versions of the claim I know (from several more in Arabic literature). The first is from Ibrahim ibn Wasif Shah, writing around 1200, and is quoted by Al-Maqrizi around 1400 (unless otherwise indicated, all translations are my own):
The workers had with them sheets (papyri) covered with writing, and as soon as a stone was cut and trimmed, they placed one of the sheets on the stone and gave it a blow, and the blow was enough to make it travel a distance of 100 sahmes (200 spans of the arrow), and this continued until the stone arrived at the Pyramids’ plateau.
The second comes from the Book of Marvels, from somewhere between 950 and 1250, give or take:
It is said that the builders had palm wood sheets covered in writing, and after having extracted every stone and having it cut, they placed over each stone one of these sheets; they then gave a blow to the stone, and it traveled far beyond the reach of sight. They came back close to it and did the same again until they had led it to its assigned place.
I don’t know of any parallel passage in Al-Mas‘udi’s best-known extant work that (briefly) covers the pyramids, the Meadows of Gold. So how did Redfern and Cathie come to believe that he had written the above legend? The answer should be clear to regular readers of this blog: old, outdated texts! There are two possible sources for the attribution. First, some manuscripts of the Book of Marvels wrongly attribute it to Al-Mas‘udi, but this is unlikely to be the direct source since Cathie doesn’t seem to be quoting from the only published edition, which was in French. That leaves the second possible source.
When it comes to Arab pyramid myths, there is no more important source for fringe believers than the appendix to Col. Vyse’s Operations Carried on at the Pyramids of Gizeh in 1837 (1840), where a series of Arabic texts are given in summary-translation by Vyse, from notes prepared by Aloys Sprenger, future translator of the first volume of the Meadows of Gold. Sprenger, in turn, attributed the following lines to al-Mas‘udi:
In carrying on the work, leaves of papyrus, or paper, inscribed with certain characters, were placed under the stones prepared in the quarries; and upon being struck, the blocks were moved at each time the distance of a bowshot (about one hundred and fifty cubits), and so by degrees arrived at the Pyramids!
Sprenger’s text, though, wasn’t really by al-Mas‘udi. The mix up was due the fact that he was translating a document called the Akhbār al-zamān, which shares its name with a thirty-volume work that al-Mas‘udi did write, but which does not survive. Many scholars down to the nineteenth century thought the two books the same (a few today do as well), but most modern scholars do not and some even attribute the otherwise anonymous book to Ibrahim ibn Wasif Shah, or whoever or whatever gave rise to that (perhaps) fictitious name.
The Akhbār al-zamān and the Book of Marvels are the same book, but Sprenger, who had only one damaged manuscript to work with, muddied the waters some by reconstructing chunks of his translation of the Akhbār al-zamān from Al-Maqrizi, which has left some passages different from how they appear in the later French translation of the Book of Marvels, constructed from comparison of several manuscripts. This was made worse by his choice to offer a summary-translation that does not clearly distinguish between exact quotation and paraphrase.
At any rate, Redfern specifically claims that the text he summarizes came from a “30-volume series of texts” by al-Mas‘udi (i.e. the lost Akhbār al-zamān of al-Mas‘udi), so he must have gotten his information from Vyse’s book, if only secondhand through Cathie.
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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