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 two.
In which Our Hero is led astray by an unwillingness to ever check a single primary source…
6. The Serpent Sword
This chapter begins with Our Hero claiming to have been invited to join a secret society that he conveniently cannot name and which he says is equally conveniently unknown to research. Since this information cannot be verified, it is useless. I’m going to go with Cthulhu Cult. Gardiner then takes Sir Thomas Malory’s very late, highly reworked Mort d’Arthur as a genuine account of ancient myth, and he suggests that the ancients believed swords were metal serpents based on the use of serpent patterns as decoration, a common motif not just in sword-making but in jewelry and other decorative arts across the Old World and the New. Nevertheless, Gardiner takes this as evidence of a warrior elite of Dragon Kings dedicated to the serpentine Shining Ones. But what of the swords that were not serpents? Excalibur itself was not a snake, and Gardiner is cagey about his warrant for claiming its healing scabbard (Mort D’Arthur 1.25) was serpentine. He got it from the opening lines of Mort D’Arthur 17.4 (reworking earlier stories): “And then beheld they the scabbard, it seemed to be of a serpent’s skin, and thereon were letters of gold and silver.” Funny thing, though: The scabbard in question was not that of Excalibur but a different and deadly magic sword found by Sir Galahad. We can’t really expect Gardiner to have read the original to know this.
7. The Secret History of King Arthur and Robin Hood
The first section tries to prove a historical basis for King Arthur based only on secondary research. Then we move on to Robin Hood, whose name he falsely etymologizes as “Shining One.” Robin derives from Robert and thus Hrodberht, which comes from the words for “glory” (hrod) and “bright” (berht), not “shining.” In fact berht or beraht is cognate with “bright” via the Old English beorht. I then laughed that his source for the Robin Hood legend was not the Geste of Robyn Hode or any medieval text, but Henry Gilbert’s 1912 children’s book! What could I possibly add to J. C. Holt’s masterful Robin Hood (1982, rev. ed. 1989)? Just read it to see how Gardiner mangles everything out of sheer ignorance. There is a respectable if outdated tradition that claims Robin was a woodland god (Lord Raglan and Margaret Murray said so), but Holt explains that the May God and the May Games preceded Robin and the folklore figure was adopted into the rites and promoted into a mock deity. He was not originally a forest god degraded into mere myth, and Holt has the documentation to prove that. Similarly, Maid Marion’s name does not come from the Latin mer, or sea, and she is not a sea goddess. Marion is a form of Mary, a Hebrew and Aramaic name. But even granting Gardiner his suppositions, mere similarity does not prove a connection, so the fact that Robin was associated with the green of the May Games also does not make him Osiris, the green god of Egypt, nor the Sheriff of Nottingham into Set. In name-checking Attis, Adonis, and Osiris, Gardiner reveals himself as an uncritical user of Frazer’s Golden Bough, unencumbered by the century of scholarship which followed.
8. Here Be Dragons
Oh, where to start? We’ve already established that Gardiner follows John Bathurst Deane (whom he explicitly cites this time, so we know I guessed right!) from two centuries ago in assuming all references to serpents worldwide are part of a single unified evil cult. He then claims that Ohio’s Serpent Mound, built by the Adena Culture, is not Native American but in fact (sigh) the work of a lost white race who also built Stonehenge. He adopts Deane’s unsupportable etymologies, debunked even in Deane’s own lifetime (the name of Avebury is not related to the Kabeiroi or Cabiri, nor is it related to Eve via Ave—it isn’t even the prehistoric name of the site!), and he continues to summarize Deane’s argument (minus the Christian spin) that all serpent worship is part of an ancient Satanic cult of Eden serpent, and he even adds in our old friend Jacob Bryant, the Arkite theorist who purposely distorted ancient texts to make them into remembrances of Noah’s Ark! Gardiner, of course, treats these discredited scholars as serious sources. He even manages to turn Jacob Bryant’s reference to Strabo’s report of two “dragons” residing in the mountains of India (New System, vol. 1, 424)—copying Bryant’s outdated manuscript citation without checking the original—into “serpent mounds.” Here’s what Strabo really said in Geography 15.1.28:
Above this country among the mountains is the territory of Abisarus, who, as the ambassadors that came from him reported, kept two serpents, one of 80, and the other, according to Onesicritus, of 140 cubits in length. This writer may as well be called the master fabulist as the master pilot of Alexander. For all those who accompanied Alexander preferred the marvellous to the true, but this writer seems to have surpassed all in his description of prodigies. (trans. Hamilton and Fowler)
Hmmm…. Not quite as advertised by either Bryant or his uncritical copier. (Actually, dozens have copied from Bryant without checking Strabo and thus declared that Strabo “believed” in massive serpents.)
But why go on? This is beating a dead horse. Gardiner is an uncritical copier of other people’s mistakes.
9. Do You Want to Know a Secret?
This chapter claims that the Freemasons are the world’s most powerful secret society and tries to determine the true nature of its “most … important” influence, the Temple of Solomon. He claims that the Temple was the work of a serpent cult because the artisan Hiram was “cunning” in Chronicles (only in the KJV, 2 Chronicles 2:13), and cunning means knowledgeable and serpents are wise. Whatever. My name is Jason and it means “healer” so obviously I am a doctor. Supposedly this is tied to alchemy and Hindu spinal sex energy.
10. Secret Societies and the Links to the Enlightenment
So far, all of Gardiner’s work has been summarizing or outright copying from other alternative authors’ work, often misunderstanding it. At this point, I’m wondering whether to bother continuing on. This chapter makes an effort to claim that drugs are the path to enlightenment, the Templars learned the use of hashish from the Assassins, and altered states of consciousness were used to generate spiritual experiences in ancient times down to the present. He claims that cults and the Church are conspiring to keep humans from truly drugging their minds into “a freedom state” that would give access to…magic powers, I guess. He claims that secret societies use altered states of consciousness to brainwash initiates into absolute loyalty. I’m guessing Scientology would like to get access to that “tech,” given the defectors from that group.
11. Serpent Origins and the Real Origins of Freemasonry
Gardiner repeats the claim that Hindu spinal sex energy is a real electrochemical phenomenon (it is not) and this is the origin of serpent myths (because the energy sits in a coil, like serpent) and thus Freemasonry, which uses the serpent as a symbol. Masons do not use serpent imagery, and this claim derives from Victorian anti-Masonic conspiracy literature, which linked the Masons to serpent worship and thus the devil. No serpent, no chapter. That doesn’t stop Gardiner from piling up false etymologies. Try this one: “Abraham” is “A Brahma,” and thus Indian. This dumb idea is copied, probably, from John Morris’ New Nation or its derivatives. Abraham has a very clear etymology, from the Hebrew for “Father of Multitudes,” an altered form of his original name, Abram, or High Father.
Gardiner then identifies a bunch of Indian and Near Eastern gods and goddesses with one another on no stated principle and then claims all of them are Mary of Bethany, the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene, whom he considers a divine goddess trinity. To support this, he claims that the Egyptian burial rites where the Horus-King raises his Osiris-Father to the afterlife means that Jesus was the Horus-King raising his “father” Lazarus to new life, so Jesus was Lazarus because Horus was Osiris, and therefore Mary of Bethany was Jesus’ sister, the third part of the goddess trinity, and the sister-mother-lover of Jesus, equivalent to Isis in relation to Horus-Osiris. Did you follow that? Neither did anyone who knows anything about Near Eastern religions.
Now let’s get silly. Gardiner claims that Lazarus is Osiris because Osiris’ real name was Asar, so the Lord Osiris would be (by combining Hebrew and Egyptian elements at will) El Azar (he switches the s for the z just for fun), or Lazarus, which in Hebrew is El’azar, “God has helped.” I think he’s referring to the fact that Osiris is a Greek transliteration of Usir or Asar, Osiris’ Egyptian name. To show you how dumb this is: My name is Jason, which in Greek is Iason, so naturally by looking at it in English, I am clearly the son of Yah, or Yahweh, and thus Christ. It’s just as logical. But this Lazarus claim isn’t Gardiner’s (and what is—he has few if any original thoughts); it’s been made by alternative types since the nineteenth century.
Andrew Sinclair shows up, and Gardiner uses his “research” to try to link the Freemasons to the Knights Templar, the Cistercians, and Solomon’s Temple—all points we’ve exhaustively examined on this blog in my America Unearthed coverage. It just doesn’t have any basis in fact. He then goes beyond the Sinclair Holy Bloodline Templar-Freemason theorists and instead attributes the origins of Masonry’s ancestral spirit to the priests of Dionysus. This was a new one on me, and I had never heard of a secret cult of architects of Dionysus. I admit this threw me for a few minutes until I could trace back the origins of this very strange claim.
Gardiner claims to have mentioned these in the chapter, but he only named them in passing without explaining what is meant by this, possibly because he knows only what he derives from Masonic myths, particularly from the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry (via Manly P. Hall, cited explicitly), which claimed that only initiates in the Mysteries of Dionysus were allowed to build public buildings. This “fact” that does not appear outside Masonic and conspiracy literature, and Hall wrote an entire book on The Dionysian Artificers (1936).
The warrant for this is Flavius Josephus’ claim that Solomon’s palace was built with Corinthian columns (Wars 8.5.2), almost certainly an anachronistic mistake since Corinthian columns were first used around 430 BCE—far too late to be Solomon’s. Anyway, this reference implied to Masonic writers that a traveling cult of Greek architects must have been responsible for both the palace and the Temple. Where do Dionysian cultists come into play? From our friend Strabo, again misinterpreted by Masonic myth makers, dating back at least to 1820, when the first version of the claim emerged. Here’s what Strabo really said in Geography 14.1:
Then follows Lebedos, distant from Colophon 120 stadia. This is the place of meeting and residence of the Dionysiac artists (who travel about) Ionia as far as the Hellespont. In Ionia a general assembly is held, and games are celebrated every year in honour of Bacchus. These artists formerly inhabited Teos, a city of the Ionians, next in order after Colophon, but on the breaking out of a sedition they took refuge at Ephesus; and when Attalus settled them at Myonnesus, between Teos and Lebedos, the Teians sent a deputation to request the Romans not to permit Myonnesus to be fortified, as it would endanger their safety. They migrated to Lebedos, and the Lebedians were glad to receive them, on account of their own scanty population. (trans. Hamilton and Fowler)
The artists were translated by Masonic myth makers as “artificers” and then by alternative history types with even smaller vocabularies as “architects.” But this actually refers not to a cult of architects but to actors and dancers who performed tragedies (literally: goat songs) in honor of Dionysus on a revolving festival circuit. (All Athenian dramas, for example, were performed at the Dionysus festival.) They spent the off season in an artist’s colony honing their craft. The use of the adjective “Dionysiac” instead of “Dionysian” makes plain that these were not the god’s cultists but rather professional artists associated with the Dionysian festivals.
Gardiner doesn’t know this (and wouldn’t read Strabo even if he knew that’s where the myth’s ultimate source lay), and thus he attributes to these itinerant actors and dancers the very origin of Freemasonry itself. There are layers of irony here.
Read part 3.
Go back to part 1.
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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