The History of Fringe History: An 1886 Claim for a Primitive Global Freemason Cult
If you have not yet seen, I was quoted in an article on Discovery News on the alleged tomb of Dracula in Italy. The author credits me with figuring out whose tomb it really is.
Today I thought it might be fun to look at a Victorian anticipation of modern fringe history claims. I came across this article in doing some research, and it is a doozy!
In 1868 the British engineer and philologist Hyde Clarke was expelled from the Anthropological Society of London for exposing financial improprieties. Thereafter, he continued his anthropological researches but chose instead to publicize them through other channels. In 1885 he read a 46-page paper before the Royal Historical Society comprising an “Examination of the Legend of Atlantis in Reference to Proto-Historic Communication with America.” It was published in the Society’s Transactions the following year and also reprinted as a book.
Clarke had been interested in the subject for at least a decade. In 1875 he had published a comparison of the origins of culture in the Americas and in Mesopotamia in which he asserted that the Old and New Worlds shared a common ancestral language. The next year he published another paper claiming, like John Bathurst Deane before him, that serpent worship worldwide implied a cultural connection between the Americas and the Old World. He said that he worked closely with the Smithsonian Institution as well as Alexander Graham Bell to help determine the origins of Native Americans and their culture.
Clarke’s piece is quaint in what we would today consider its outright ignorance. He, for example, rightly recognizes cuneiform as the oldest written characters, but wrongly concludes that it dates back to a time before spoken words! He suggests that Native American rock art represents a survival of prehistoric cuneiform, from Native Americans who migrated to the Western hemisphere before the invention of spoken language.
But this serves mainly as Clarke’s opening for agreeing with Ignatius Donnelly that there is no reason to support the notion that Native Americans came from Asia across the Bering Strait, a theory that was in his day 200 years old. Instead, Clarke says that Donnelly and others have convinced him that an origin from across the Atlantic cannot be excluded.
Clarke though was dealing with a very short chronology. He assumed that “Mexican” culture, by which he lumped together all the Mesoamerican peoples, was so similar to the cultures of the Old World that migration must have occurred within historic times. He did not have a conception of deep time, and this is where his analysis began to lead him down the wrong path, for, unable to conceive of migrations 10,000 or 15,000 years ago, he instead felt compelled to identify Mesoamerican civilization as quite similar to the Chinese and thus of recent vintage.
He relies on what he calls the doctrine of the Four Worlds to support his belief that the world had been mapped in ancient times. Briefly, the idea refers to the Classical conception that the lands known to the ancients (Europe, Africa, and Asia) were balanced by a fourth continent on the other side of the earth. Clarke, however, prefers to read the three Classical continents as one and to count Australia and the two Americas as the other three, though there is no evidence that the mysterious “fourth” continent was ever anything more than a philosophical speculation.
Suffice it to say that Clarke relies heavily on Donnelly but has grown uncomfortable with the idea of a sunken continent: “Had there been the supposed Bridge of Atlantis then there would have been the same animals on both sides—tapirs in Africa and elephants in America—and this was not the case.” Indeed, he even rejects some of some Atlantis claimants’ efforts to claim American sculptures as African elephants. Therefore, he pulls a Graham Hancock and dispenses with the continent in favor of hyper-diffusion: “We may dispose of the communication by the sunken continent and accept that by vessels across the wide ocean, carried in paths to and fro by the currents.” To that end, he follows a fellow named C. E. Leland in identifying the word Odin (in his Germanic form, Wotan) with Buddha and Voodoo! I’m not sure if “C. E. Leland” is meant to be the Charles G. Leland who made many and varied connections between the Old and New Worlds, such as the claim that the Maya were Buddhists.
But it gets worse: Voodoo is also Freemasonry according to, Clarke, anticipating Scott Wolter by a century and a quarter. After stating that the serpent is the mark of these masons, secret possessors of the Eleusinian Mysteries, he writes:
In some cases, as in Hayti, the rites degenerate into orgies accompanied with cannibalism. Connected with these mysteries are secret meetings, initiations, degrees, ceremonies, signs, symbolic language (what is understood as free masonry), and these are to be recognised not only in Africa but also in Australasia. The information as yet obtained is very scanty, as the societies are maintained in secrecy. Africa is the great centre for information with regard to the mysteries, as for other institutions.
Clarke’s work is fascinating, and so far we haven’t even gotten to his views on Atlantis! That, I think, I’ll save for tomorrow, for what could possibly top the claim that every traditional society on earth has secret snake-worshiping Freemason cults?
6/18/2014 07:27:54 am
The serpent cult origin of Freemasonry became quite popular
6/18/2014 08:46:09 am
snakes are found almost everywhere,if its natural to worship
6/18/2014 08:04:15 am
I guess one can consider these ideas "fringe" in that they express ideas that are today considered fringe. But, to me, fringe implies disregarding the concensus and ignoring science. Back then, even the most imformed theories were educated guesses without much science in support. Maybe I'm naive, but I just don't see this author in the same light as modern fringe authors, who disregard or challenge established scientific results just to continue to promote their ideas.
6/18/2014 10:58:25 am
Well said, Walt. I quite agree.
An Over-Educated Grunt
6/19/2014 01:32:58 am
Agreed, Walt. Phlogiston and the Ether aren't currently accepted scientific theories, but they were once widely accepted. This wasn't so much fringe as we see it today as scientific frontier. There are a lot of faulty assumptions in there, but there aren't any that wilfully contradict the scientific consensus of the time without any evidence that stands up to scrutiny.
6/19/2014 07:12:35 am
Hyde Clarke was not a fringe historian, though he relied on Donnelly. Instead, his work falls into the history of fringe history, the type of older speculation that science eventually rejected by fringe historians adopted.
6/18/2014 08:36:54 am
interesting book. Page 17 looks at volcanoes, he correctly senses the yet unmapped Mid-Atlantic ridge is there, he doesn't quite tie in continental drift, but does correctly observe that volcanoes can create islands and already have. We then see 12 to 15 pages that respectably and respectfully look at the Timeaus by Plato. By page 32 he then tackles Donnelly and at about page 41 he is thinking like a linguist as he compares words like LION across several cultures. The organic structure of the book's outline may have influenced the later writers, the tribal migrations inside the ancient histories comes from earlier sources. Isaac Newton had a focus on the Scythians in terms of the Bible, and in the 20th Century Thomas Edward Lawrence was involved in an archaeological dig at an old Hittite city, Hyde Clarke's book is Victorian and between these time frames. Time and diffusionism can explain discrepancy or differences, yes... and he makes an effort to make sense of things. Unlike William Warren, he does not assume land is immediately under the ice of the North Pole.
6/18/2014 08:55:21 am
we have echoes of the "Carthage" episode of "SECRETs Of
6/18/2014 09:06:35 am
the crux of this is that we know literacy and known languages
6/18/2014 11:38:49 am
He thought that writing predated spoken language? Really? How would anybody have been able to read what was written?
6/18/2014 12:18:54 pm
That's what I thought, too. I struggle to imagine how one would even attempt to prove that writing predates speech, even if everything we knew about anthropology didn't suggest the opposite.
6/18/2014 01:07:30 pm
If I follow his argument, he believed that "gesture communication" came first and therefore the first writing attempted to draw pictures of gestures and signs. So, while silly, it's not quite as dumb as it sounds.
6/18/2014 05:25:49 pm
the logical exception to the rule would be communities with a large
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