This week I’ll be reviewing British author Philip Gardiner’s Secret Societies: Gardiner’s Forbidden Knowledge: Revelations about the Freemasons, Templars, Illuminati, Nazis, and the Serpent Cults (New Page, 2007). The book is a collection of essays which examines whether a secret cult of Shining Ones has left a trail of mysteries through history that only Our Hero, Gardiner, can unravel with the help of secondhand research from Zecharia Sitchin, Laurence Gardner, Graham Hancock, and more. This is part one.
In which I catch Our Hero plagiarizing his earlier books and taking H. P. Lovecraft as a true account of real history…
Our Hero begins the book by proclaiming himself a lover of truth, and he claims that “thousands” of people ask him for help—with what or why he does not say. He then explains how he cares so much for truth that he turned down an American multimillionaire’s offer to pay him thousands of dollars to reveal the top ten ancient secrets for improving one’s life. The introduction, overall, is a bewildering mix of spiritual longing for the truth behind faith and appeals to evolutionary theory, complete with the fallacious conflation of evolution with Social Darwinism. “Weak people are ejected, and strong, intelligent ones sought after. This evolved through time and today we know these groups often as secret societies.”
PART ONE: MYTHOLOGY AND RELATED MYSTERIES
1. What Is a Secret Society?
My first thought is that I have bitten off more than I can chew. The very first essay begins by claiming that it will seek the origins of secret societies in “electromagnetism” and “cyclic phenomena” among other “unrelated material.” Oh. My. God. Well, that sounds fun. We get down to business, though, with Gardiner dredging up the failed hypothesis of the serpent cult. He claims to be discussing what he called “The Brotherhood of the Snake,” and he attributes the first mention of it to Helena Blavatsky, but here Gardiner betrays his secondhand erudition. Blavatsky mentions no such brotherhood; instead, she discusses the “Ophites,” a fictitious serpent cult. Gardiner is translating it in light of William Bramley’s Brotherhood of the Serpent—equally fictitious—drawn from Victorian era scholarship about world serpent worship, such as Hargrave Jennings’ Ophiolatreia and John Bathurst Deane’s Worship of the Serpent, the latter of which is the origin for the claim that all ancient mythologies represent an ancient (and for Deane Satanic) cult of serpent worship. Deane mistakenly believed all pagan religion to be a corruption of Genesis, interpreted by Satan. Jennings suggested that all world serpent cults were really penis-worship cults. Only much later did modern writers, like Gardiner and Bramley, try to claim that the common (but not universal) veneration of the serpent was connected to a prehistoric global cult. Obviously, there is no evidence of any connection—one might equally suggest that a primitive cult of sun and moon worshippers inspired veneration of those orbs. And that is just the first page of the first essay.
Gardiner then describes how secret societies use initiation rites, but he then goes off the rails by quoting (secondhand) as an expert on the Knights Templar Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, the Austrian nobleman who fabricated evidence against the Templars to justify oppression of the Freemasons. Gardiner does not even pay lip service to von Hammer’s shady scholarship. Gardiner follows this by describing several secret societies and then attributing the September 11, 2001 terror attacks to “clandestine organizations.” Given that Al Qaeda was not a secret and Osama bin Laden repeatedly released messages to television and the internet, I shudder to think what Gardiner means by this. Gardiner then claims that the Freemasons secretly led the American Revolution, a falsehood given that an equal number of prominent Freemasons served on the Loyalist side, and lodges of the time acted as neutral ground for Masons from both camps.
Gardiner next presents a screed about how history is a lie, how human history is cyclical, how secret societies control history, and how the “mysteries of faith” can illuminate an ancient conspiracy and reveal… something or another. Blah, blah, blah… God… blah, blah, blah…. Evil cult plans to kill anyone who reveals the truth… etc.
Gardiner next follows the classic Graham Hancock-Scott Wolter playbook and accuses historians of a conspiracy to suppress the truth: “we have been lied to for centuries by one historian after another.” He falsely accuses the Victorians of “destroying” evidence for crucified gods who preceded Christ—such suppression that it was only a bestselling book, The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors by Kersey Graves (1875). That book, an inspiration for dozens that repeated its claims, was rejected not for scandal but because Graves manipulated evidence and lied. In fact, such claims were so “suppressed” that two of the greatest works of Victorian mythological study, Edwin Sidney Hartland’s Legend of Perseus and Frazer’s Golden Bough made the same case that the story of Jesus paralleled that of several pagan gods. Yup, it was a conspiracy to suppress the truth by publishing it in really big fat books. The conspiracy, I guess, is that alternative theorists don’t read big books, so it would stay hidden for all time.
Gardiner then goes complete Da Vinci Code and asserts that “artists” know the real truth, encoded it in art and literature, and that (of course) the Bible contains the real truth about history, hidden in its pages. Gardiner falsely claims that “the majority of the world’s religions” agree that there is only one God and that the first few verses of Genesis (about creation) are found in nearly all religions. Nope. Not even close.
I’ll give him credit for one thing: He asserts that UFOs and ancient astronauts are “the same old lies” repackaged in a technological guise, and he got that right.
2. Heavenly Bodies: The Gods of the Ancients
This chapter is primarily about the uncontroversial notion that the ancients watched the skies. It contains the weird claim that Seasonal Affective Disorder is “refuted” by the equator, where equal days and nights mean it “does not exist.” (The disorder is associated with long winter nights.) I’m not sure he knows what “refuted” means, or at least the book’s editor doesn’t. In this chapter we get our first hint that Gardiner has read Laurence Gardner, since he starts talking about the moon, menstruation, and drinking menstrual blood—all Gardner obsessions. He then, bizarrely, claims that the lunar calendar is a “matriarchal structure” because it revolves around women’s menstrual periods, which I take to mean that despite being married Gardiner doesn’t know much about women. He claims that the solar calendar was instituted to give men power over women by breaking the calendar from its menstrual origins—not because, say, solar years correlate better to the growing cycle in agricultural societies where you might need to get your seeds in the ground at the right time. No, it can’t be that. It’s all about menstruation!
Following astral religion speculators like Edward Carpenter (who I am almost positive must be the source here) Gardiner claims Christ is an astrological myth, with the disciples representing the zodiac and Mary the moon. He then stupidly claims that the moon gives off “electromagnetic energy” that affects mental patient’s brains potatoes, rats, and fiddler crabs. This is based on the work of Frank Brown, who concluded that the moon’s gravitational effects could be sensed by oysters. Sadly, his work was not replicated and lingers on among astrologers as proof of “influence” from the heavenly spheres.
Next up: The sun. Gardiner falsely claims ancient faiths celebrated the renewal of the sun on Easter. In fact, solar rebirth myths (where they exist) were centered on the winter solstice, when the sun “died” on the shortest day of the year and then was reborn. Gardiner fails to understand the Solar Jesus falsehoods he is cribbing from, and thus he weirdly claims that the sun overcomes death, an attribute he confuses with the Victorian-era scholarly theory of the Solar Hero—later demonstrated to be false. The Victorians believed most epic heroes were symbols of the sun and that the primary purpose of myth was to tell of the sun’s yearly cycle. Similarly, his secondhand research leads him astray in claiming that (and I am not making this up) the suicide rate for lemmings increases every 3.86 years in time with sun spot cycles. Lemmings do not commit suicide. This is a myth created by Walt Disney. Similarly, the Black Death is not associated with “solar turbulence,” nor are the lengths of women’s skirts. Yes, he really claimed women change the length of their skirts in time with sun cycles. Does that apply to kilts, tunics, saris, and other clothes, too? Do hip-hoppers sag their pants according to sun spots?
By the way, fun fact: Gardiner is self-plagiarizing this essay without acknowledgement from his 2002 book, The Shining Ones. Here’s Secret Societies on the left and Shining Ones on the right:
I reprint material, too, but when I do it’s noted that the book contains material previously published (I insisted Dark Lore 7 run just such a disclaimer that my contribution was a revised version of an earlier article) or it is to expand a briefer piece into a longer, revised version for another medium, a standard practice in book writing (though opinions differ on how much is allowed). It’s never single sentences or paragraphs scattered through material unrelated to the original. Jonah Lehrer got fired from the New Yorker for such unacknowledged fragmentary self-plagiarism, but somehow Gardiner and David Childress soldier on, unaffected. I could point to more plagiarism, but I don’t have all day to copy and paste.
Gardiner then claims that the pineal gland actively detects changes in the galactic electromagnetic field, and this is the scientific basis for astrology, especially in that animals born in certain star signs can predict changes in this field. Good luck proving that one. I’d imagine physicists would love to know that we can simply watch farm animals to learn about happenings on the other side of the universe. This all sounded familiar, and I wondered if he was borrowing these claims from Acharaya S.’s Christ Conspiracy, when lo and behold, he cited a source and it really was that one!
The rest of the article attempts to defend astrology, dowsing, Feng Shui, divination and other assorted types of pseudoscience based on secondhand research he barely understands based on his superficial descriptions, culminating in this whopper of circular reasoning: “If we read any part of the Bible again and replace the words ‘Lord’ or ‘God’ with the ‘Shining Ones,’ it will become apparent how deeply rooted into our culture this priesthood really is” (p. 39). And if we replace God with Satan, we get the Satanic Bible after Anton La Vey, or we could replace God with Philip Gardiner and get proof that he is behind it all!
3. The Truth Inside Your Skull
After seeing the slipshod scholarship of the first two chapters, I’m going to be briefer going forward. There’s no point in repeating the same complaints about a lack of primary sources (or any citations), an overreliance on other alternative books, and self-plagiarism. It’s just a given from here on out.
This chapter is about the skull, which Garinder views as a mystical secret of secret societies. He focuses on kundalini, an imaginary “serpentine” sex energy stored at the base of the spine in Hinduism. Like other New Age energies, it does not have an objective existence outside of believers’ minds. Much of this essay appears verbatim in Gardiner’s The Ark, the Shroud, and Mary (2007) and Proof: Does God Exist? (2006). Gardiner believes that the fairly common practice of showing contempt for one’s enemies by drinking from their skulls is somehow a universal connected to a secret cult. I guess that makes Ed Gein its foremost practitioner. I can’t follow the next claim, that Golgotha represents Capricorn and that both are serpent-blood infused severed skull caps. Capricorn means “goat’s horn” and Golgotha comes from the Aramaic gulgulta, cognate with the Hebrew gulgoleth, skull. No goats. It seems he wants Jesus on the cross to be the horn and the hill to be the skull by re-imagining Capri- as caput, or head—an impossibility since Capricorn is a translation of the Greek Aigokheros, which can only refer to a goat. Caput and Capri are not the same. This renders moot Gardiner’s claim that Baphomet, the alleged Templar idol, is a secret symbol for Goat-Jesus.
He concludes by claiming that Hindu myths prove that the Holy Grail is a late version of an older cult myth, but he seems to be conflating the widespread Indo-European drink of immortality (nectar to the Greeks) with the Holy Grail, which originated as a rock.
4. The Secret of the Holy Grail etc.
In this chapter Gardiner demonstrates that he is not at all familiar with the primary sources on the Holy Grail. He conflates the grail stone of Chretien de Troyes with the Holy Chalice (cup of the Last Supper) of Robert de Boron and seems unaware they were not originally the same thing. He seems to think that the Grail had a real existence prior to its invention in the twelfth century and only “emerge[d] strongly into the popular culture” at that point, mainly on the strength of the Indo-European cauldron myths, in which magic cauldrons restored youth. He does, however, correctly note that the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail Jesus Bloodline myth is a rank hoax.
Unfortunately, he only does so to perpetuate his own, which is that the Holy Grail is a secret Gnostic code for a global cult of serpent-worshiping Shining Ones. Here’s the best part, where Gardiner seems to suggest that Africans are primitive people unencumbered by the developments of evolution: “We can see its origins even as far back as ancient Africa, where even today the serpent is pinned to a tree or cross as a sacrifice for the community.” Thus, “ancient” Africa is also “today” in Africa. Worse, Gardiner has adopted all of Deane’s and Jennings’ serpent evidence (obliquely acknowledged as “certain Victorian scholars” who suppressed the “truth” due to “Christian fear”) and instead of seeing in it a case where different peoples arrived at similar ideas, he follows Deane in proposing one evil cultic origin for all serpent worship everywhere. But the differences are so vast—many Near Eastern peoples thought the serpent a positive symbol of healing, while most Indo-Europeans saw it as a demonic enemy—that no conclusion of universal connection can be drawn. I wonder why he seized on the serpent and not the bull, a much more common religious symbol, except for Bramley and the reptilian aliens.
Then he goes completely off the rails and proposes that the elixir of life was snake venom mixed with blood and drunk from a hollowed-out skull, or made into a “stone” which he sees as a “pill.” This is based, he says, on the idea that a chemical in snake venom promotes T-cell growth and thus immune system response. I think this is an oblique reference to scientific work a decade ago in ways a chemical in snake venom could be used to target cancer cells, but I’m not sure because his only source is his memory of something his wife told him at 1 A.M. one night. If he’d like to prove it, I’ll happily watch while he has a glass of venom and blood.
He concludes by claiming “every single royal lineage on the globe” claims descent from serpents. Um, no. Since he cites Merovingians and Chinese emperors, he must be speaking historically, so let’s go with that. The Caesars claimed descent from Venus, and Venus was not a serpent. The House of Habsburg traced its mythic origin to Aeneas, the Trojan hero and descendant of Aphrodite or Venus. Should we be more modern? The Japanese emperor traces his origins to the sun goddess, who is also not a snake. Is that enough, or should I go on?
5. The Watchers
This chapter is about the Sons of God from Genesis 6:2-4, whom Gardiner identifies with the Fallen Angels or Watchers of the Book of Enoch, a book composed much later to explicate the by then lost mythology that informed the composition of Genesis. Instead of tracing this back to Near Eastern hero myths and semi-divine children of the gods (like Gilgamesh, explicitly cited as a child of the Watchers in the Book of Giants), Gardiner takes all these texts at face value and then rewrites them to make the Sons of God (literally, sons of the gods in Hebrew) into a cult. The warrant for this, unknown to Gardiner, is the late Jewish tradition that the Sons of God could not be divine beings (since dogma was that God had no sons) and therefore referred symbolically to the sons of Seth. Gardiner, instead, turns to alien theorist Zecharia Sitchin for his information, and therefore is led far astray. He repeats the false etymology of Elohim as “shining ones” (the “el” refers to “strength,” not “shine,” and El as a proper name means “God” not “shine”). The Sumerians had Enlil, not El, and his name referred to storms.
Now where did this come from? I’ve been researching it, and what a complex story this is. The oldest source for the specific phrase Shining Ones seems to be a Victorian diffusionist work by Henry Kilgour in 1872, a bit of British Israelism that tried to connect Indo-European languages back to the Bible and Britain and Greece to the Hebrews:
Elohim had denoted collectively, if not the whole heavenly host, at least the Sun, Moon, and five planets. The root of the term is perhaps to be found in the German, where Hell signifies shining—Eli in Greek meaning splendour, and El in Hebrew to shine—thus indicating the significant and most appropriate meaning of Elohim to have been The Shining Ones; among whom Ieue moved in unapproachable dignity, power, splendour, and pre-eminence.
Thus, the false equivalence of Eli (Helios), the shining sun, with El, the chief Canaanite god, in service of the belief that all myths were solar yields the imaginary Shining Ones. The seeming similarity to Helios (’Elio) probably influenced more than a few early speculators on the Elohim—as confirmed by a quick look at Theosophical and alternative history books like Parsons’ New Light from the Great Pyramid, going back to the eighteenth century when Helios was taken to be a derivative of Elohim or El even by mainstream scholars. The specific term “Shining Ones” appears in Theosophical tracts in the twentieth century, such as Letters from the Teacher, where a letter dated 1908 claims the Elohim are the equivalent of the Hindu Devas, and thus the “Shining Ones,” the meaning of the Indo-European root of their name (*deiwos, “shine” cognate with *Dyeus = Zeus, god of the shining sky). This is complicated still further by evidence from religious publications that sought to connect the Elohim to angels, the “shining ones,” an apparently not uncommon term for angels in past centuries, derived from the identification of the angels with the stars of the sky—cf., e.g. Isaac Watts’s 1709 hymn “Eternal Power” (“And ranks of shining ones around…”) with Blake’s “Tyger” (“when the stars threw down their spears…”). In Jewish mysticism, the angels and the souls of the blessed shine with the reflected light of God and are therefore shining ones.
If only the question were as simple as copying an old idea.
Gardiner is instead following Laurence Gardner, repeating every single one of his points line by line, down to the idea that Elves are “really” El (cf. Realm of the Ring Lords p. 25). Gardner, in turn, is copying (with citation) from Christian and Barbara Joy O’Brien, who claimed in The Genius of the Few (1985) that the Hebrew El was actually the Sumerian “El” (non-existent) and that in Sumerian El meant “shining.” (Cf. p. 27 exactly matching Gardner p. 25, again down to the elves.) This is all sorts of wrong, and Christian O’Brien was a geologist who imagined he knew more about ancient history than anyone else, allowing him to find both Atlantis and the Garden of Eden. Want to guess what the updated 1997 version of Genius was called? The Shining Ones. That’s right: Laurence Gardner was riffing on O’Brien, and Philip Gardiner is riffing on Gardner and O’Brien and then turned it into a brand.
OK, so where did the O’Briens get their idea? Well, Christian O’Brien claimed (like Sitchin) to have special translation powers, but it appears he was building on a 1935 suggestion made by J. W. Jack in The Ras Shamra Tablets and Their Bearing on the Old Testament that the Sumerians derived the world “el” (to shine) from the Semitic ellu, “bright, clear.” The Sumerian word is today transliterated as ul rather than el, which is why few today see a connection to El the deity. Jack, in turn, was preceded by Delitzsch, a German who wrote an early Sumerian dictionary (1915 I believe), in which he equated el (Sumerian) with ellu (Semitic), though this was questioned by J. Dyneley Prince in 1915 as more likely a mere coincidence. Such a question was possible because of the Akkadian (Semitic) influence on Sumerian after the third millennium BCE, when the two languages cross-pollinated. Even accepting this at face value, though, it does not give us a Sumerian original for the Semitic shining El. That magically appeared in the repetition when less careful writers merged ellu into the elohim as though El the god was the same as ellu the verb, or the Sumerian el or ul the same as either. Elohim probably derives from El (god) and, further back, the related term for power, not shining. And this takes us back to where we started, with Kilgour, in 1872, who intuited a connection to shining based also on what he hoped simply looked alike. I think that the lingering idea that Elohim and Helios were connected influenced many who tried to derive Elohim from words for shining, along with the knowledge (possibly via Theosophy) that the Indo-European chief god, Dyeus (= Zeus) had a name that also meant “to shine.” Under prevailing solar religion theories of the age, it only made sense to think that all people worshiped the shining sun as their chief god.
I hope that is a sufficiently thorough tour through the complex heritage of the Shining Ones. You now know more about it than Philip Gardner does.
Gardiner’s stated sources for his knowledge of Mesopotamian myth are, in order, Zecharia Sitchin, Albert Pike (a Masonic historian), Graham Hancock, and Andrew Collins. Not even a moment’s thought is given to looking anything up in an actual scholarly book or—heaven forefend!—a primary source. On Hancock’s and Sitchin’s authority, Gardiner links the Watchers to Egyptian gods. On the principle of “sounds like therefore is” he links the Mayan serpent god Voltan, the Germanic Wotan (better known as Woden or Odin), and the Roman Vulcan. This connection was first made by Alexander von Humboldt and repeated again by Ignatius Donnelly in Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, but the name Votan is an eighteenth century Spanish interpretation of a minor local Maya culture hero. Contra Gardiner, Odin did not come from “across the sea” but rather, as Snorri Sturluson wrote, he was a Trojan prince who hiked it to the North!
Andrew Collins is dragged in next to strip-mine his From the Ashes of Angels for its Neolithic cult of shamans who were remembered (5,000 years after the fact) as Enoch’s Watchers. In true alternative style, Gardiner promptly conflates the Watchers with the Giants, whom Enoch specifically makes the Holy Great One specify are different, for the giants are “born from men and from the holy Watchers” (1 Enoch 15:9).
If this isn’t enough to show that Gardiner doesn’t know what he’s talking about, wait until you get a load of this:
Amazingly, the infamous Necronomicon tells us about a “fabulous city of Irem.” Irem of the Pillars is part of Arabian magical lore and was built by the Jinn or angels and were possibly also Watch Towers—“towers of the Watchers.” The Hebrew Erim means to awaken. (p. 66)
He clearly is deriving this material from Lovecraftian Magickal texts, which conflate fact and fiction for symbolic purposes, but which Gardiner takes at face value.
Do I even need to tell you that this is an utter fiction? Not only did the Necronomicon never exist outside of H. P. Lovecraft’s imagination, Irem (or Iram) was not associated with the djinn in Arabian folklore but with the (human) king Shaddad, later destroyed by Allah for its sin. The idea that Iram was djinn-built comes from a conflation of Irem with Lovecraft’s “Nameless City,” built by—wait for it—Reptilians! Gardiner can’t even get his secondhand facts straight, or tell fact from fiction.
I think I’m done for today. What more is there to say? Sure, he goes on to talk about the mystery of why the ancients built pyramids and towers and whether the Watchers used them to record science facts and stop radiation, but he relies on Ralph Ellis, a pseudoscholar whose incoherent rantings were expertly dissected by Aaron Adair last week. I could also talk about the stupidity of claiming that round stone towers could (but of course no longer do) “store” “meter-long wavelengths” of “electromagnetic energy” the way insect antennae can (insect antennae can detect infrared, with a length of 500-3000 nm, which is not quite the same thing) to channel it into the minds of meditating worshippers. Wait… didn’t we go through this on Friday’s Ancient Aliens? Repeat, repeat, repeat… I started reviewing this book because Tsoukalos was paraphrasing from Gardner, and now I see so was Philip Coppens—and Gardner was copying from his predecessors and H. P. Lovecraft! It’s all so incestuous!
Say what you will about Graham Hancock, at least he knew enough to read some academic and primary sources before manipulating them to conform to his narrative. Gardiner doesn’t even pay lip service to the world beyond alternative history books.
Continued in part 2.
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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