Last night H2 ran an America Unearthed marathon. This is not news, but what is interesting is that I could tell (a) when it aired and (b) what episodes they showed from the comments that immediately started springing up on my blog. This deep level of interest fascinates me because the network shows Ancient Aliens much more yet I almost never receive an uptick in blog comments corresponding to repeat showings of Ancient Aliens. For some reason, people watching America Unearthed are much more interested in seeking out others’ opinions about the show and sharing their own outrage at its abuses or love of its attempt to create an alternative to mainstream history.
While the comments were the usual mixture of rationalists looking to see if someone had called out the show’s lies and believers accusing me of close-minded dogmatism and a vendetta against Scott Wolter (whom, I remind you, I have never met), I was thoroughly disheartened by this comment, in response to the “Chamber Hunting” episode:
I am sorry to say that I wasted time reading the first several paragraphs of this article. When was there some unwritten rule passed that anything you see on tv needs to be real. This is for entertainment, not a college thesis. Nothing you see on television is real, down to the crowds at award shows or tv specials.
I’m not sure I can add anything helpful here. The combination of fashionable cynicism and anti-elitism would be shocking were it not so common. The cynic argues that TV is not just capable of lies but composed primarily of them, and apparently should be, for “entertainment” is by definition the opposite of “information.” Worse, “entertainment” is what we give to the public, while facts are reserved for academics. But what gets my goat is the unstated assumption that the viewer does not deserve facts or truth, and that the viewer not only expects but requires lies. At least, then, the defender of America Unearthed recognizes it isn’t true.
It is precisely this uneasy blending of fact and fiction—along with the assumption that the masses can neither tell the difference nor care to—that underlies Theo Paijmans’s new article in the current edition of the Fortean Times, in which he plugs his new book Behind the Vril Society (Kroll, Aug. 2013), which I take to be a repudiation of his 2008 book The Vril Society, published by David Childress’s Adventures Unlimited. The 2008 book—unread by me—claimed in its book description to expose the inner workings of the Vril Society, an alleged order of occultists who pulled the strings in Nazi Germany. While I can find the older book listed on various databases, I can’t find anyone who has actually read it, which suggests to me that it was never actually published, perhaps due to Paijman’s new discoveries.
[Note: In the comments below Paijmans cites a 2003 French-language article, also unread by me, in which he says he first discussed the material from his current article. I do not know how that fits in with the 2008 book, unless, as I suspected before, the book description is a lie. Note, too, that in the paragraph below, Paijmans felt that I implied he plagiarized his article, while I was trying to be helpful by giving readers a link to where they could get the same information if they don't subscribe to Fortean Times.]
As Paijmans now claims in his Fortean Times article (whose information duplicates, nearly point for point, Wikipedia’s “Vril” article for those of you who don’t get the Fortean Times), this group never existed and was a product of the postwar imagination, invented by Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels in Morning of the Magicians (1960), and from whose non-historical speculation all later claims emerge. Nevertheless, esoteric Neo-Nazis and alternative historians continue to promulgate the belief that vril was real.
As I have discussed more than once before, vril was invented by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in The Coming Race (1871) and then picked up by Helena Blavatsky and the Theosophists, from whom it is transferred to Bergier and Pauwels. As I discussed before, Blavatsky’s role in this mess is extremely interesting—in ways Paijmans shortchanges in the Fortean Times article—because she essentially tried to subsume all of science fiction into Theosophy by claiming that science fiction writers connected, though only partially, to the esoteric forces she communicated with more fully (through fictional Ascended Masters and non-existent ancient texts). As she wrote in the Secret Doctrine: “Our best modern novelists, who are neither Theosophists nor Spiritualists, begin to have, nevertheless, very psychological and suggestively Occult dreams […] [T]he clever novelist seems to repeat the history of all the now degraded and down-fallen races of humanity.” (L. Ron Hubbard would later claim the same powers, and also claim science fiction writers had a partial and faulty race memory of ancient wonders.) In this, Blavatsky began to destabilize the distinction between science and science fiction, between history and mythology—something also seen in the contemporary claims for the reality of Atlantis—and thus, a century early, inaugurated what would become postmodernism’s attack on the authority of science.
Theosophy may have presented itself as the only authoritative combination of science and metaphysics, but at its core, it was a magical worldview that undermined science while acting in its name, dissolving the barriers between fact and fiction, truth and lies, and setting the stage for the 1960s revival of the same in the name of the New Age. Morning of the Magicians, as a resurrection and amplification of the Secret Doctrine by way of paranoid fantasy, is thus the most influential book of its era (giving rise to Chariots of the Gods, among others) as well as the single book more responsible than any other for creating the pseudo-scientific, pseudo-historical, conspiracy-mindset that passes today for popular history.
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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