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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Night Inside the Great Pyramid

Anyone reading this who enjoys browsing around second-hand bookshops will know the satisfaction that comes with making a real find – especially when that find turns out to be a snap at the [1]price. That’s how it felt for me when in a second-hand bookstore in Rotterdam I discovered a [2]1936 edition of Paul Brunton’s A Search in Secret Egypt. Now, I already have on my bookshelf a dog-eared paperback [3]edition of this book from the early sixties, but the original hardcover edition, with its photographs by the author, was a prize indeed.

Brunton’s book is rich in vivid descriptions, both of the country and its monuments and also of his varied experiences, which include practicing the art of snake charming with Egyptian cobras. But the book’s main claim to fame rests principally with the chapter in which he describes his night spent in the King’s Chamber in the heart of the Great Pyramid of Giza; the first person to report on this since Napoleon tried the same experiment while on his Egyptian campaign in 1798 (below) – and apparently emerged the next morning from the interior gloom ashen-faced, silent, and refusing to answer questions about what he had experienced.

As far as I know, nobody has been allowed to repeat this experience since Brunton – although today’s [4]police guards stationed at the edifice are apparently not above a little palm-greasing. Locked at dusk inside the Pyramid at his own request by the obliging guards, the author resolves ‘To sit, awake and alert, for twelve hours in the King's Chamber, while the slow darkness moved across the African world'.

In the increasing cold and the all-pervading shadows of the granite-lined King's Chamber (above), the author reports a series of harrowing encounters with a virtual parade of frightening phantasms and ‘monstrous elemental creations’, after which he undergoes an initiatory experience under the guidance of apparently more benign beings. Brunton’s book as a whole convinces me that he was a man of sincerity and integrity. Indeed, he was clearly someone of a contemplative nature who valued his own personal spirituality. So what are we to make of the author’s encounter with these ancient ghosts? I personally am convinced that he certainly had some kind of an experience. But perhaps the nature of that experience was other than it seemed.

Almost by chance, on a [5]website unconnected with paranormal issues, I came across a description of the Great Pyramid that appeared to offer a possible explanation. It seems that the long galleries that run inside the Pyramid, from deep beneath its base up to the King’s Chamber (highlighted, above), act as resonators that keep the ‘background sound’ of the Pyramid vibrating at a steady 6 hertz, which is well below the audible threshold of human hearing. In other words: the Great Pyramid is virtually awash with inaudible [6]infrasound.

Infrasound is strange stuff. The naturally-occurring presence of infrasound (the signal, above) in an environment can induce in the human mind a strong sense of being in the company of an unseen (and usually threatening) 'presence' and provoke inexplicable feelings of deep unease - even outright fear. It has been detected deep underground in the stations and tunnels of subways, and at locations which have been described as ‘haunted’ – and it even has been utilized in film soundtracks as a subliminal audio signal deliberately to provoke feelings of disquiet in an audience. If you saw it in a theatre, do you remember that feeling of dread when in Jurassic Park the unseen T. rex was approaching in the dark? You were being subjected to infrasound.

This understanding of infrasound and its effects has only come long after Brunton’s day. Does it explain his experience (and indeed, whatever it was that evidently rattled Napoleon in the same circumstances) as a trick of the mind? It might. Settling down for the night in the granite-lined Chamber, Brunton describes experiencing an 'undefinable feeling of uneasiness' - which exactly fits the effects of exposure to infrasound. Sensed ghostly presences, both in ‘haunted’ houses and inside the Great Pyramid of Giza, might be no more than these mischievous low-frequency sound waves messing with our minds. The setting itself – a ‘creepy’ old house at night, or the cold and echoing gloom of the Pyramid’s interior – does the rest. But trust me: when you are actually in the situation and these things are coming straight at you, all the reassuring science goes straight out the window!

[1] The current eBay price is around €45. I bought my copy for €8!

[2] Paul Brunton: A Search in Secret Egypt. Pub. Rider, 1936.

[3] Paul Brunton: A Search in Secret Egypt. Pub. Arrow, 1962.

[4] Graham Hancock: Fingerprints of the Gods. The author describes bribing the guards to allow him to make a dangerous night ascent to the Pyramid’s summit (left, in the background). Anyone who actually believes that the Great Pyramid was ‘just’ a pharaoh’s tomb, as orthodox archaeology insists, can be helped out of their dream by reading this book. John Michell’s The View Over Atlantis is also recommended for the same reason, as is John Anthony West’s Serpent in the Sky. All three titles are now classics in their field.

[5] By the author Christopher Dunn.

[6] The audible threshold for human hearing is above 20 hertz, so any sound wave below 20 hertz is in the infrasound wave spectrum. The presence of infrasound in the Great Pyramid begs the question as to whether the infrasound there is a natural phenomenon – a side effect caused by the internal tunnels and chambers – or whether the architecture was deliberately contrived to generate the sub-audio effects. Having read the above three books, I would be totally unsurprised if it was the latter. The Great Pyramid is the most remarkable structure ever built, and as it is entirely possible that its purpose was at least in part for some sort of initiatory rituals, then these would only be enhanced by the presence of the infrasound phenomenon. 

The top image is adapted from a period postcard in my collection dating from the 1930's. The image of the interior of the King's Chamber is adapted from a photo at CultureFocus. The 'ghost lights' in this photo are my own enhancement to suggest the atmosphere which Brunton experienced.

Thanks to T.M. Harte at M.E.S.A. for reviewing the infrasound aspects of this post for me.

A well-reasoned appraisal of the infrasound phenomenon in relation to alleged paranormal activity can be found at Shaun Underwood's Infrasound, from which the image of the infrasound signal has been adapted. This author also mentions that infrasound can cause visual hallucinations, and can be generated by such natural phenomena as thunderstorms. The feelings of apprehension which many experience during a thunderstorm (even when in a safe situation) could be due to the infrasound phenomenon.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Profiling a Psychopath

Here is a profile: the subject is petulant, petty-minded and vengeful: someone who demands attention, and becomes darkly jealous as soon as he thinks that anyone else is getting more attention than he is. He also lays down impossible demands which he insists that others follow, but does not follow them himself. Oh, yes: I should also mention that this man is a mass murderer responsible for thousands of deaths. Who is he? Some despotic Idi Amin-style tyrant? Some brutal Pol Pot dictator ruling through fear? No, this dangerously psychotic individual is of course the god of the Old Testament described in human terms. I can now add that this god also appreciates blood sacrifices made in his name (as the [1]Cain and Abel story dramatically underscores), up to and including [2]human sacrifice.

Any and all of the above character traits and actions can be read in [3]scripture. This god even describes himself as a [4]jealous god. He is an appropriately primitive Bronze Age deity with all-too-human emotions and failings. Although surely being ‘God’ excuses all of these things, right? I mean, being God means you get to make up the rules as you go along, doesn’t it? Being God means that everything you do must be inherently ‘right’, because, well… you’re God, after all. And if you’re God, then everything you do apparently can be excused on the grounds that you have this inscrutable and mystical thing called a ‘plan’.

No, not in my book. Following such a god means that you have lowered the bar of your own moral values down to those of this petulant and jealous dictator god. This god who demands that ‘thou shalt not kill’, and then proceeds to lay down a hatfull of transgressions for which the punishment is cruel and bloody death, either by [5]stoning or by being [6]burned alive. Not to mention that he decides to rub out his entire creation (with the exception of a single extended family and the animals they take on board), apparently for no better reason than that [7]‘the wickedness of man was great in the earth’ – as if things are any different now.

Of course, being omniscient as well as omnipotent, God would have known that he’d be destroying his creation a little way down the road even at the time that he brought it into existence. But trying to plot the twisted logic of a psychopath is a dangerous road to tread. Or to paraphrase what [8]Clarise Starling’s FBI boss advised her prior to her interview with the intellectually brilliant but barkingly psychotic Hannibal Lecter: inside this god’s head is not a place that you want to be.

I remember once remarking to someone who bought into all this that if the scriptural God were a person, he would be incarcerated in an institution for the criminally insane. That was several years ago. I dearly wish that I could write here that I have changed my mind, that I now have come round to seeing things in a different light, and that I now understand the god of scripture more. But I cannot. And I do not. Because scripture has that writ-in-stone immutability, and what is in there cannot be changed or spun in some other more acceptable way. It is as it is. And the actions of God are as they are described there, as anyone who doubts me can check for themselves through my chapter-and-verse citations below. 

Faith is not something that you can cherry-pick. If for you it governs your moral compass and the very fabric of your life, then it’s way too important for that. Unless, of course, you view your faith on an only-choose-the-nice-bits basis. In which case it must be something other than the faith which you claim it to be. Because with true faith, it’s all in, or all out. And when all’s said and done, a Bronze Age god is and remains a Bronze Age god. 

But what is a Bronze Age god doing in the 21st-century?

From Ken Russell's Altered States
I am aware that I have not even touched on the God of the New Testament, where the concepts of Heaven and Hell hold sway. A New Testament god who actually uses such savagely crude reward-and-punishment mind games to keep things in line, who subjects any souls who refuse to bend a knee to him to agonizing torments which last for all eternity with neither hope nor possibility of any reprieve or relief, lays claim to being….... ...a god of love?

[1] Genesis 4:1-5

[2] Judges 11:29-40.

[3] Please see my post Frontier Justice in the Promised Land.

[4] Exodus 20:5, and Deuteronomy 4:24. 

[5] Deuteronomy 21:18-21 and numerous other instances.

[6] Leviticus 20:14.

[7] Genesis 6:5.

[8] In Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs – of course!

Images of Anthony Hopkins in the role of Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs, from the novel by Thomas Harris, distributed by Orion Pictures Corporation.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The New Church

In spite of the occasional problems which come along, on balance you consider that you lead a contented life, and are fulfilled in your faith and in the small but supportive community of your local church which has been built up around it. Then one day, not so far away from your own church, another church is established: the church of a new denomination which calls itself Jesuanism. Now, from what you have heard about them, you strongly disagree with the Jesuanists’ doctrines, which when measured against your own beliefs, play fast and loose with such basic tenets of your faith as the resurrection, redemption, and the true purpose of Christ’s ministry – so much so that you put a question mark above whether or not you actually consider them to be Christians at all. They even have their own radically different version of the Bible. But it’s a live-and-let-live situation, and that’s what you do.

Things move on apace. More Jesuanist churches are built, and powerful lobby groups are established. Your own little church community is made to feel increasingly isolated, and the true Christian doctrine feels like it is being elbowed aside by what you view as the assertive arrogance of Jesuanist followers. But worse is to come. Those powerful Jesuanist lobbyists have their way.

One Sunday while you are attending the service in your church, a group of Jesuanists from the surrounding churches storm inside and herd your protesting congregation out into the street. You are forced to watch in horror as fanatical Jesuanists dump all the Bibles and hymnals from your church into a pile near the church steps, douse them with gasoline, and set them alight. While the thick smoke from those burning Bibles is still rising, a formal notice of seizure is taped to your church’s door: the building is now in the possession of Jesuanists, and will be used only for the purposes of predicating Jesuanist doctrine and worship.

The next step follows with the terrible logic of inevitability. One evening there is a loud knock on your door. In the yellow light of your porch, Jesuanist delegates strongly suggest that you convert to their faith and attend their services, and it is darkly hinted what might happen if you do not follow their advice. You have such a nice family, and it would be a shame if… etc.

The years pass. You have lived long enough to see the world change around you. Jesuanism, once simply a Christian denomination like any other (however extreme and radical you considered its views) has now become a powerful and entrenched institution recognized as the ‘official’ version of your faith. None of your own Christian churches now remain: they have all been annexed by the new forces of faith. And you struggle increasingly to remember your beloved passages from the Bible as your memory fades. For your memory is now all that you have: all known Bibles have long been destroyed, and you know now that what you do remember of its riches will die with you.

The above events are not nice, are they? Not nice at all. But every sad detail of this cruelly intolerant scenario has already happened, and every single circumstance as related above is a part of recorded history. All that has been necessary for me to write it is to give it a contemporary setting and to devise the fictitious name for the [1]‘Jesuanist’ denomination. For the rest, it is the terrible reality of what you would have experienced as a Christian Gnostic facing the rising force of the new Catholic church between the 2nd- and 4th-centuries. As with its subjugation of the [2]Cathars a millennium later, Catholicism did not emerge as the orthodox form of Christianity because it was ‘right’, but because it suppressed any potentially opposing beliefs with ruthless and systematic finality.

As for the thought that these circumstances are now made safely remote by so many centuries of intervening history: forget it. Right here in the 21st-century I have come across enough ‘good’ Christian websites that, when they mention them, vilify Gnostic beliefs with a ferocity that only an unquestioning indoctrination could fuel, and [3]disinformation about what these beliefs actually are is legion. In those early centuries, the Gnostics’ places of worship were indeed [4]annexed by the Church, and thousands of Gnostic texts were destroyed. The purge of these texts was so complete that for centuries any knowledge of their contents was only gleaned through negative references in the [5]writings of those opposed to them. The discovery in 1945 of the Gnostic Gospels buried in a jar in the Egyptian sands has at last given the Gnostics their own voice. It’s the least that history owes them.

[1] Now that you have read this far, and know that I have been describing actual historical circumstances, you might try re-reading this post - this time substituting my fictitious term 'Jesuanists' (which has now served its purpose) for the term 'Catholics'. Two points are worth remembering: To the Gnostics, it was the form of Christianity which became known as Catholicism that was the distasteful heresy. And: in the earliest years of the new faith, there is reason enough to presume that Gnosticism was closer to the original form of the faith. There still is no 'right' version of Christianity - just versions which have circumstantially come to be viewed as 'orthodox', which is a historically relative term. Each version inevitably perceives itself as the 'right' one, but with 38,000 current versions (denominations) worldwide, are we seriously to consider that one of them is 'right', and the other 37,999 are 'wrong'?

[2] Please see my post A Dark Crusade

[3] In my King James Study Bible, published by Zondervan, the annotation accompanying the First Epistle General of John describes Gnosticism as "One of the most dangerous heresies of the first two centuries of the church..", which begs the question: dangerous.. to whom? This question is naturally-enough avoided, although the Zondervan editors are apparently eager enough to point out that the Gnostics' "...dualism also led to licentiousness." - an assertion as luridly propagandist as it is inaccurate and unscholarly. Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, actually described (in his April, 2006 Easter Sermon) Gnostic writings as belonging to "the more eccentric fringes of the early century Church." But again the begged question has to be: more eccentric to whom? At the time, all texts and versions of this early Christianity were on an equal footing with each other. There was no 'eccentric fringe' - but the Archbishop's words again demonstrate the thick layer of enduring prejudice against Gnostic beliefs by orthodox sources.

[4] Please see my post Anthony of the Desert: Life as Fiction

[5] Please see my post The Gospel According to Somebody

Top image: AllVoices. Second image: © Brion Hardink

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sex and Trust

Sex is part of the human condition. Having sex means making oneself vulnerable, and vulnerability needs trust. In such a vulnerable state, we need to be able to trust that our partner will not hurt us in ways that we would not wish for. But what about situations when trust is present, but that trust is betrayed?

Children are in a sense captives in the adult world. They have no option but to trust the adults who rule their world, and on whom they are dependent for their well-being. In the world of a child, an adult is for this reason an authority figure by default. And the wishes of an authority figure have to be accepted. The wishes… and the desires. This is why anything, absolutely anything to do with sex which involves children should come under the jurisdiction of the law, and children have a right to expect of adult society that the society will protect them in any way that is necessary, whether that be through legal means or social services, or just plain neighborly watchfulness.

Tragically, it is generally the case that the very transgressors who betray this most precious child-to-adult trust are themselves in positions of trust. Those within the family circle and priests are the most obvious examples which come to mind. To me, that sort of betrayal of trust amounts to a kind of emotional treason. And tragically as well, I can think of a number of examples in my own circle of acquaintances who have suffered - literally - through their adult lives because of such a betrayal, as I am sure others who read this will be able to. Even when - and if - the perpetrators are brought before the law, their sentence is a statutory one. For the victim, the sentence is always life.

When such laws are broken, and when such trust is betrayed - whether those lawbreakers and betrayers are parents, priests, or whatever their social standing - they should face the law with no exceptions. And if it is found that such felons have been protected by their own hierarchies, then those hierarchies as aiding and abetting accessories should themselves be answerable to the law as well, again with no exceptions. In cruel reality, however, we well know that certain hierarchies are so institutionalized that their leaders are placed beyond culpability by their very power. And it is more than mere tax breaks that sets religious beliefs on a pedestal. It is the mindset of our society which insists on treating religion as a special case when it comes to granting [1]respect, whether that respect is deserved or not.

Anything else sexually which does no actual harm to consenting others should have nothing whatever to do with someone else's imposed moral standards, whether those standards are driven by personally-held morality or by [2]religious beliefs. And that includes the ever-popular indulgence of making assumptions on behalf of this, that, or the other deity as to what we happen to consider that [3]deity would disapprove of.

Nobody should lay their own guilt trip on someone else - and yet everywhere this is done on a daily basis. We seem almost to revel in the hypocritical arrogance of telling others how we think they should behave in their private lives, perhaps because it gives us a smug sense of our own self-righteousness. But the terminus on this particular line leads to the godless moral squalor of the Westboro Baptist Church – and ultimately to the hooded corpses of young gay men hanged from construction cranes in Iran.

Love, true and sincere, is what matters, and whether that love is between gay or straight men and women should have nothing whatever to do with human laws (other than ones protective of human rights) or imposed religious beliefs anywhere. And trust – that most precious of all trusts which a child has no option but to accept from an adult – should never be betrayed.

Love is what matters.

[1] Please see my previous post Respect.

[2] Should anyone reading this feel moved to cite the Bible as their moral compass for such issues, I invite them to read my previous post Frontier Justice in the Promised Land.

[3] Here’s what the Bible specifically states about homosexuality:
Leviticus 20:13 KJV: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” 'Their blood shall be upon them' is a textual euphemism for 'they shall be stoned to death'.

So if you agree with God’s law as specified in Leviticus that homosexuality should be punishable by death, then presumably for the same reason you also agree that slavery is acceptable, that a rape victim should be forced to marry her rapist, and all the other issues of dubious Biblical morality raised in my above link. In which case, it’s probably time that you went back to living in the Bronze Age – or move to Iran, which is a country that demonstrates what happens when the line between faith and state becomes blurred. But if you disagree that gay men and women should be put to death, then your personal morality is superior to that of the God of the Bible –  and Iranian law – as I for one sincerely hope and trust that it is.    

The top image is a frame from my video Jimmy. The other images for this post have been adapted from Scrape TV and other sources. The gay couple (male) are from Reddit, the gay couple (female) are from a photo by Lena Granefelt for Getty Images.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Dark Crusade

A belief does not become a heresy because it is ‘wrong’, for all beliefs have their own validity. A belief becomes a heresy because someone, somewhere, has decided that it conflicts with what in their opinion is ‘right’. And to make things stick, that someone needs to possess the power to enforce their opinion. You then have ‘orthodox’ beliefs on one side, and ‘heretical’ beliefs on the other. It is a conjouring trick, a stage illusion, so stamped into our mindset to think of those beliefs which fall on the orthodox side of the line as being the ‘correct’ ones, that it needs an effort of will to realise that this is not the way that things actually are, and that it is all down to fallible human opinion. So why is it that orthodox beliefs tend to prevail, and heresies seem to fall by the wayside? Does that not demonstrate the inherent ‘rightness’ of the orthodox view?

It is the first few years of the 13th-century, and we are in the wild and rugged grandeur of the Languedoc region of southern France. Becoming increasingly alarmed by the rapidly-growing influence of the version of Christianity practiced by those known as [1]Cathars, Pope Innocent III ponders how best to deal with what he perceives to be a serious heretical threat to orthodox Catholic power. Not without reason, because the Cathars, inheriting the mantle of the Gnostics from earlier centuries, do not recognise the hierarchical structure of the church upon which Papal authority rests. Instead, their [2]beliefs treat both men and women as spiritual equals, and faith as a personal journey. And such beliefs have no need of bishops, or even popes. And so Pope Innocent declares the Christian-against-Christian [3]Albigensian Crusade, with the promise of Cathar land and property – and absolution from all sins – for any French nobleman who will follow his cause.

The campaigns against the Cathars are extended and complex. In 1209 some two hundred thousand crusaders ride down from the north along the east bank of the Rhône, cross at Avignon, then, avoiding the marshlands of the Camargue farther to the south, swing southwest towards the principal towns of the region. Béziers therefore will be the first large town which they encounter, and the horror of what takes place there is a tactic specifically intended to spread terror through the Languedoc. Both Cathars and their local Catholic sympathisers find themselves trapped inside the city walls.

As the soldiery are about to enter the city gates to put the populace to the sword, a crusader asks the commander, the Cistercian abbot [4]Arnaud Amaury, how they are to recognise Catholics from Cathars. “Kill them all,” the abbot infamously replies, “God will know his own.” The commander’s words might be [5]apocryphal, but what follows is all-too real. The city is razed to the ground, and Amaury reports triumphantly to the Pope: “Today your Holiness, [6]twenty thousand citizens were put to the sword, regardless of rank, age, or sex.".

Other towns either capitulate or are taken by force. After Béziers it is the turn of the town of Carcassonne, although in this case, rather than being slaughtered, the demoralised and humiliated citizens are forced to strip and are forcibly expelled naked from the city gates (right). Captives are given the [7]option either to accept Catholicism or be burned at the stake. Many choose the latter. Cathar scriptures are added to the flames, all property is seized, and the [8]city is left in a state of devastation.

It is now twenty years into the crusade, and the last pockets of resistance need to be eradicated by other than military means. Founded and overseen by the Dominican Order, the [9]Inquisition is established. Under the new Pope Gregory IX, it is granted sweeping powers, and those Cathars who come before it (below) are denied legal counsel, hear no charges against them, and are presumed [10]guilty. In the surrounding fields and farmlands a scorched earth policy is pursued, and the land is laid waste.

The last great stronghold of Cathar resistance, the fortress of Montségur in the foothills of the Pyrenees (below), finally falls in 1244 after a siege lasting nine months. Over two hundred Cathars who surrender are given the usual option of converting to Catholicism or facing the flames. Without exception they choose immolation, and are burned alive at the site of their surrender in the shadow of this last bastion of Cathar defiance.

Over the sustained span of almost half a century of time, some one million [11]Cathars and their Catholic sympathisers are either burned alive, put to the sword, or tortured and executed at the directives of the Inquisition. These figures are genocidal in any language. Equated with the population of 13th-century France against today’s population, the crusade is a holocaust. In the lives it has cost, the Albigensian Crusade has been the Church of Rome's Final Solution, more effective even than that of the Third Reich in that it succeeded in its intention of erasing from existence a religious belief. Cathar beliefs did not 'fall by the wayside'. They were exterminated.

But history is written by the victors. The Third Reich holocaust against the Jewish population of Europe is rightly condemned as an abominable and inhuman evil - and the Third Reich lost. In the south of France the Catholic papacy won - and the Albigensian Crusade has become an episode in history of which many remain unaware even today. But the Pope would have his way, Catholics prevailed over Cathars, and the Languedoc burned.

[1] From the Greek katharos, meaning ‘purity’. The Christian Cathars viewed the Catholics as apostates, unworthy in their turn of being considered true Christians. The Cathars simply referred to themselves by the term 'Good Men', or ‘Good Christians’ – a term not without its retrospective irony. The twelve points of the Cathar cross (at left) represent the twelve Beatitudes.

[2] As I here focus on the actual crusade, detailing these beliefs lies beyond the scope of this post, although I will certainly aim to cover these in a future post. (Note added February 28 2014: I have now posted A Fragment of Love about Cathar doctrine.)

[3] After the town of Albi in the region. While the motivation for the Albigensian crusade was primarily a religious one, there was an added political factor in that the Languedoc was a largely autonomous region independent of the French Monarchy, with its own language (Occitan, the langue d’oc) and culture which owed more to its Aragon neighbours over the Pyrenees than it did to a distant French court. The French monarchy was opportunist enough to see the advantages of this region being compliantly subdued by the Pope’s intentions, and claimed it firmly for France – as it is to this day.

[4] The abbot also supervised the mass burning alive of ‘many heretics and many fair women’ at the town of Casseneuil. When he arrived at the town of Minerve he summarily ordered one hundred and forty of its citizens put to death whose lives had previously been spared (confirmed Cathars, being pacifists, always refused a combative response). Having retired from his leadership of the crusade, Amaury became archbishop of Narbonne.

Kill 'Em All
[5] Although the abbot’s words were not reported until much later, the assertion that he never actually said them seems to be based more upon the idea that no man of the cloth would say something so inhuman. In fact, such actions were considered to be founded in, and therefore were endorsed by, scriptural precedent, as my post Frontier Justice in the Promised Land makes clear. Mass slaughter was even used as a calculated terror tactic during the Albigensian crusade to make other towns capitulate more quickly – as actually happened with towns such as Narbonne. In our own age, the abbot’s famous retort endures in the form of pithy slogans on gung-ho T-shirts sold on army bases and elsewhere. The example here is from an online outlet, price $12.49, which evidently is a higher price than its wearer – and a certain Catholic abbot – would place on human life.

[6] The actual number was probably closer to twelve thousand, but it hardly matters. The horrors perpetrated upon the inhabitants – men, women and children – before they were slain is better imagined than related here. The massacre at Béziers was not a one-off event. Ten years later the five thousand inhabitants of the commune of Marmande were slaughtered after they had surrendered.

[7] In a grim foreshadowing of the treatment of Jews, who under the Third Reich were forced to wear a yellow Star of David, such forced Cathar converts were compelled to wear a yellow cross on their tunics. Why this would have been so repugnant to them I'll discuss in my post on Cathar beliefs, but the action would have been like forcing the Pope to wear an Islamic Star and Crescent.

[8] The tragedy of the destruction of Carcassonne is that it was a centre of learning and culture for the region, where Cathars, Catholics, Jews and Moors lived peaceably together. The Papacy put an end to all that.

[9] Established to extinguish the remaining Cathars, the Inquisition would go on to become an entrenched institution which endured into the 19th-century. Since the Inquisition was essentially an institution of the Church, it was from the beginning the practice both to ‘put to the question’ (an Inquisitor's euphemism for torture), try, sentence and incarcerate those who came before it. But once sentence was passed, the prisoner was always handed over to the civic authorities for execution so that the Church’s hands – and its records – were seen to remain untainted by death. See also my post Giordano Bruno's Infinite Space for more about the Inquisition from a later historical period – and I would recommend the excellent Milos Foreman film Goya’s Ghosts.

[9] cont: In a 13th-century version of waterboarding (above), an Inquisitor waits quill-in-hand to note the confession of heresy from a Cathar woman; a confession which she will be physically unable to utter, thus allowing the torture to continue. But there were guidelines laid down by the Inquisitors for the correct procedures for torture: its application must not be continuous - which merely meant that the torturers would pause and carry on with the interrogation the following day. It is clear enough that (except for superficial legal reasons) such interrogations had less to do with any process of the Church's enquiry into 'the truth' than they did with the frenzied sexual sadism of the Dominican Inquisitors who gloated piously at the sufferings. The Inquisition also included children in its proceedings. 

[10] A point of legality meant that even the corpses of the Cathar deceased could be – and were – exhumed, put on trial, found guilty and burned as heretics, which then legally allowed the Dominican Inquisitors to seize assets and property from the heirs of the deceased.

[11] This total is agreed upon by various historians, including Robertson, Brookmyre, Gus, Ellerbe, et al. Retrieved from: on 24 November 2012.

Christopher Tyerman: God's War: A New History of the Crusades, 2006. And: Otto Rahn: Crusade Against the Grail: The Struggle between the Cathars, the Templars, and the Church of Rome, 1933, newly-published in 2006 by Inner Traditions. There are many other published works covering the events related here. Although its theme is more in the direction of speculative history, I should mention Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval’s intriguing and thoughtful Talisman: Sacred Cities, Secret Faith, published in 2004 by Michael Joseph, specifically because reading it several years ago was my own first encounter with the events of the Albigensian Crusade. The sense of shock that I felt then has not left me, and it is what motivates me to write this post – and to have created this blog in the first place. I remain aware that someone, somewhere, will be reading about these events for the first time, perhaps even here.

Top image: 13th-century crusader sword by Hanwei Swords.

Painting of a Cathar before the Inquisition: L'Agitateur du Langedoc, by Jean-Paul Laurens.

Because my style of doing things is to tend to let others condemn themselves out of their own mouths rather than having my own rant, I was going to include here links to a couple of Christian Apologist websites which actually manage to justify the Albigensian crusade on ‘defending-the-true-faith-against-those-evil-heretics’ grounds (but which nevertheless keep unanimous silence about the one million deaths). But my nerve failed me: reading them was just too distasteful. If nothing else, at least such Apologists demonstrate the way in which blind faith can have the effect of shutting down a normal compassionate human response. And it is pointless to take the line (as they do) that Cathar beliefs were ‘wrong’. Someone can believe that the world was built by a construction crew of seven creatively-gifted gnomes waving magic wands. It still does not justify killing that person to preserve one’s own religious power base.

And lastly...
This plaque of Pope Innocent III is on display in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives as one of twenty three great historical lawgivers. Presumably they have another plaque somewhere which depicts Joseph Stalin as one of the great social reformers.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Gospel According to Somebody

In my contacts with them I have often-enough been taken aback by the apparent lack of knowledge shown by Christians about the background of their own faith. Much seems to be taken for granted, and there is a general acceptance that ‘things are the way they are’. So if you who are reading this consider yourself a Christian, can you (for example) say why there are four gospels, and who wrote them? Well, this is not a quiz – although you might ask yourself whether or not you know the answer. After all, it does concern the very foundations of the beliefs which you hold. Let’s first mention what the respective answers are not. There are not four gospels because these were the four that were written, and neither are they by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

The four gospels were certainly not written as part of a cohesive Testament. They were among a whole collection of many such texts from the 1st- and 2nd-centuries, and in their day were not even the most popularly read, as is often presumed. No, the reason why there are now just four gospels in the New Testament is because of the vigorously-enforced personal opinions of a single individual.

Irenaeus of Lyons
In the 2nd century, Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lugdunum (now Lyons) in what was then Roman Gaul, wrote a massive multi-volume work with the no-nonsense title Against Heresies. For this particular bishop, there were rather too many gospels for his liking, and so he set about doing some judicious canonical pruning. Out went all the gospels and other texts that he personally considered to be wanting, until just four remained: the four canonical gospels as we know them today. Why four? Irenaeus himself tells us his reason: [1]“…for there are four zones in the world and four principal winds.” Yes, that really was this man’s logic behind his decision.

So of course the burning question has to be: who decided that Irenaeus had the necessary authority single-handedly to make these sweeping root-and-branch changes which virtually remodelled Christianity at that time? Well.. he did, actually. He was, after all, a bishop. And only a religious experience by either a bishop, a priest or a deacon carried any spiritual weight. Because bishops, priests and deacons were directly descended from, and therefore had the authority of, the original disciples (a process formally known as Apostolic Succession), which is why only these three hierarchies of the Church were qualified to know about such things. So all authority rested with orthodox them, and you as a member of the laity had to toe the party line.

An English translation of the opening words of Against Heresies, which shows clearly enough the style of Irenaeus’ invective. I have read enough to know that his text continues in the same emotive style.
So it’s a no-brainer that all beliefs which did not accept this hierarchical structure of the Church were branded by Irenaeus as heretical. Now, a cynical soul might think that Irenaeus was driven by motives that perhaps had as much to do with preserving his own power base as they had to do with any religious fervour. Because if all had equal rights before God, and if all individual spiritual experiences were equally valid, then what need for a bishop? And indeed, Irenaeus directed his most toxic invective against such groups as the [2]Christian Gnostics, who openly advocated this egalitarian approach to their faith, and who certainly did not need a bishop to tell them where things were at.

So if you insisted on sidestepping this religious chain of command, and believed passionately that all souls are free and equal, that you had the right to take the responsibility for your personal spiritual life and development, and that your own spiritual experience counted for as much as anyone else's.. well, then you were thinking the thoughts of a dangerous mind, because to Irenaeus this is what marked you out as a [3]heretic.  

And who wrote those four gospels? We simply do not know. Tradition attributes them to the eponymous four apostles, but tradition is not supported by scholarship. Some [4]sources, glimpsed indirectly through the lines of these texts, remain as shadowy unknowns, their identities lost to history. We can only say with certainty that the gospels were written by somebody. But Irenaeus we do know about, as the arbiter of the four gospels now in the New Testament. But the bending of others to his iron will came at a terrible human price, and that price was paid by the thousands of persecuted Gnostics, who thanks to Irenaeus’ unrelenting diatribes found themselves on the wrong side of what he personally had decided was correct to believe. Predictably, this man who directed such toxic invective against all whom he saw fit to disagree with, duly received sainthood, and is still regarded by many as a worthy father of the church.

And the eventual outcome of history? Scholarship now points to the fact that it was the [5]Gnostics’ version of Christianity that could have been closer to the original form of Christian beliefs, and it seems that Irenaeus merely created things in his own image.

The top image has been created digitally to convey the idea of an unknown authorship for the Gospels. No Bible was actually defaced. I have various editions of the Bible on my bookshelf, and treat all of them with due respect.

Eusebius of Caesarea
[1] J. Stevenson: A New Eusebius, 1957. Eusebius of Caesarea was a 3rd- to 4th-century chronicler of the early church, his Ecclesiastical History being his best-known work. Its reliability is now questioned by scholarship, and it is suspected that at least to some extent he fictionalised events. See also my previous post Anthony of the Desert: Life as Fiction for another example of fictionalised history created by another church father (Athanasius). Commissioned by Emperor Constantine to produce fifty Bibles, Eusebius took it upon himself either to include or exclude texts of his own choosing, based upon a shaky 'genuine to dubious' rating system of his own devising. Which, beyond the selection by Irenaeus, has had its influence upon the twenty seven books which now comprise the New Testament. As is the case with both Irenaeus and Athanasius (with whom Eusebius had contact regarding copied volumes of scripture), Eusebius was also elevated to sainthood.

[2] Even right here in the 21st-century, I read on a website ( which purports to give an impartial account of the history of Gnosticism such florid (and distinctly unscholarly) invective as: "As Christianity grew within and without the Roman Empire, Gnosticism spread as a fungus at its root." and: "So rank was its poisonous growth that there seemed danger of its stifling Christianity altogether, and the earliest Fathers devoted their energies to uprooting it." It seems that the purging emotive rhetoric of Irenaeus lives on. And the use of the term 'Christianity' for the 2nd-century is a misnomer. At that time, the form of belief advocated by Irenaeus, which eventually became Catholicism, was neither more nor less legitimate than any other kind. But for the reasons given here (and for other reasons to which I shall be returning on this blog) it was the form which won, through sheer force of will - and also through the often relentless persecution and extermination of those other Christian beliefs which it perceived as its rivals.  

[3] Language can become a weapon, and purges and persecutions can result from labels. The word heresy simply means ‘choice’, meaning one’s personal right to choose one’s own beliefs, but Irenaeus effectively evolved the term negatively to imply something false and evil. Even now, thanks to Irenaeus, the term heretic has pejorative connotations to many, and the 4th-century eventually saw the criminalization of heresy punishable by death, with the Church in effect having the authority to pronounce sentence.

[4] A lost gospel text known as ‘Q’ (from the German Quelle, meaning ‘source’) can be inferred from the unknown authors of Matthew and Luke, who drew upon this lost text for their own writings.

[5] It is worth remembering that in it’s beginnings, Christianity had no church, no Bible, and it was not even called ‘Christian’. There were many, many different forms, some belonging more to the Hebraic tradition of the prophets, others more to the gentile authority of the apostles, and still others taking their inspiration from a broader base of spirituality which included the pre-Christian mystery schools. None of these was more ‘right’ than the other: they were just different. In scholastic terms, we have no reason to think that a Gnostic form of proto-Christianity was not the base out of which the early form of the religion grew. But history, as they say, is written by the victors, and it was the domineering and authoritarian will of early church fathers such as Irenaeus that triumphed to become the Catholic (meaning ‘universal’) church.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Forbidden Fruit

Readers who are return visitors here will have noticed my new blog header, which portrays Eve with the apple. But is it really Eve? And if the Book of Genesis does not name the famed forbidden fruit, then where did the idea that it was an apple come from? Perhaps more to the point: if the fruit was not an apple, is there any way of finding out its real identity?

To answer the first question: the woman in my header is actually based upon a marble sculpture (above) by the 19th-century Danish artist Bertel Thorvaldsen portraying Aphrodite (Venus to the Romans), the goddess of love, holding the golden apple awarded to her by Paris - a beauty contest which she won against stiff competition from the two other goddesses Hera and Athena. Mind you, a persuasive bribe was on offer from Aphrodite in the form of the mortal Helen. And so a chain of events was set in motion which eventually would lead to the Trojan War, and give rise to the stirring stories which included the famed wooden horse and Odysseus' epic ten-year journey home from the war across the 'wine-dark sea'.

The gods, capricious as always, must have foreseen this snowballing of checquered human destinies which began with that golden fruit held in the hand of the victorious goddess of love. And those three voluptuous immortal beauties have made the story a predictably irresistible theme for artists, both during the flowering of art in the Renaissance and later (below, by 19th-century artist Eduard Veith). And that is something which I don't quite get. Oh, I readily understand artists being drawn to these pictorially inviting mythological subjects. What fascinates me is that these Renaissance artists were at the same time painting Madonna-and-child canvases and other Biblical themes, apparently with as much enthusiasm as they injected into their decidedly more pagan subject matter.

Clearly both themes were equally acceptable to, and popular with, the tastes of the time, and there was a market for both. So perhaps these two parallel themes in the arts might on occasion have, as it were, leaked into each other. Could this have been the reason that the unnamed fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis took the tangible form of an apple? Perhaps Aphrodite's prize had rolled a little farther than it should have, over from pagan onto more Christian canvases. It's possible. Except that the identity of the Biblically anonymous fruit as an apple can be traced back before the Renaissance through German high gothic art (the detail from Albrecht Dürer's 16th-century engraving below) and medieval manuscripts and church carvings, with the earliest depiction which I have been able to find being on a late 5th-century Byzantine floor mozaic.

But the apple has not stopped rolling. It could be that the whole thing began as a pun, because in Latin the word malum means both 'apple' and 'evil'. But Latin does not take us back to the original Hebrew texts, and some sources offer both figs and pomegranates as possible fruity alternatives. One 13th-century mural even depicts the tree as a giant mushroom, although the possible hallucinogenic implications of a magic mushroom for the fruit of the Eden story is a rabbit hole that I'll maybe save for another time [1]. Is there anywhere, then, which gives us more specific information about the identity of Eden's forbidden fruit? Well, yes there is, and it's source is apparently wholly overlooked.

Tamarind tree with fruit
Reading through Genesis does tend to leave one with the feeling that in certain passages critical information has either been glossed over or simply left out altogether. The good reason is that... it has! That sense of incompleteness in the text of Genesis derives from the fact that a book is missing from this part of the Bible, and that text is the Book of Enoch. Why the Book of Enoch never made it into the Biblical canon is a mystery to me. Not only is it [2]referred to in both the Old and New Testaments in a way which makes it clear that it was a much-respected text of those times, but it also contains passages of stirring visionary writing at least as eloquent as anything in Ezekiel. And it is the place where you can go to find the nitty-gritty information which Genesis omits - and that includes a telling description of the Eden fruit. It is the text of Enoch, the prophet who was the seventh generation from Adam and the great-grandfather of Noah, which informs us that the fruit of the [3]tree of knowledge was "like the tamarind tree, bearing fruit which resembled grapes extremely fine; and its fragrance extended a considerable distance."
So now you know!

[1] But please see note [1] underneath my post for The Burning Bush!

[2] Elizabeth Claire Prophet: Fallen Angels and the Origins of Evil – Why Church Fathers suppressed the Book of Enoch and its startling revelations. While I don't wholly buy into Ms. Prophet's more personal ideas, I do commend her book for containing both the original translation by Richard Laurence of the complete text of the Book of Enoch, plus a comprehensive and detailed citation of parallels to Enoch's text found elsewhere in the canonical Bible.

A good introductory guide to Enoch is Margaret Barker’s: The Lost Prophet – The Book of Enoch and its influence on Christianity. Such studies can be both useful and rewarding in that they have the effect of focusing upon the reasons why certain texts became accepted as scripture while others fell by the wayside. The truth is out there – and it is often alarmingly arbitrary, turning at times upon mere individual opinions, prejudices and personal agendas – as anyone who cares enough about what constitutes their faith will discover should they take the time actually to read such texts – and I would personally consider the Book of Enoch to be an excellent place to start.    

[3] Enoch 31:3-4. Intriguingly, the Enoch text omits the 'good and evil' part of the phrase, and indicates that the tree was for 'obtaining knowledge'. 

For more about the Book of Enoch you are welcome to visit the two posts on my other blog here: 
Dude, Where's My Prophet?
Fallen Angels

Richard Laurence's complete translation of the Book of Enoch is available online here:
The Book of Enoch

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hawkwood's Guide to the Creation

Few passages in literature that I know of are as breathtaking in their poetic grandeur as the opening verses of the Book of Genesis in the King James Version of the Bible. These verses read like some magnificent force of destiny, sweeping all before them in a bow wave of creative intensity. The manuscripts are believed to have been written down in their original Hebrew form some twenty five to twenty six centuries ago, which places these writings in the transition period between the late Bronze Age and the early Iron Age. Tradition attributed them to the prophet Moses, although there is no confirmation of this in scholarship, and their true authors, who apparently were influenced by older Greek, Mesopotamian and Canaanite sources, remain unknown to us.

It is the verve of the King James language which carries the creation narrative along – so much so that we tend to uncritically accept its events through sheer familiarity. And yet if we take a little time to do so, we may glimpse behind the familiar words the distant minds of its original authors, and the ways in which they experienced the world around them, and their struggles to understand the forms of that world. In that dry desert clime, with its fierce sun by day and its cold starlit nights, they would particularly have been aware of a causality between the presence of that bright sun above and the glare of day, for when the red sun sank below the world, then the chill darkness of night would surely follow. Even if they did not understand the natural phenomena involved in these events in the ways in which we now do, surely even to a Bronze Age mind it still must have been a self-evident truth witnessed on a daily basis that the brightly-burning sun caused the clear light of day.

How, then, could the authors of Genesis have gotten things so wrong? To be clear: in Chapter 1 (verses 3-5), on the very first day of creation, God causes light and darkness. He calls the light, day, and the darkness, night. This newly-created light has nothing to do with any light-giving cosmic phenomena such as the stars, or the sun and the moon, which were not created until the fourth day. The ‘light’ called into existence on the first day of creation is specifically daylight of itself, and daylight only. And since the sun was not created until three days later, we have a curious cart-before-the-horse situation in which the new earth has daylight – but no sun. Was there not some small voice in the minds of the Genesis authors which urgently whispered to them that there was something really, really wrong with this picture? Apparently not.

On the second day, God commits his time to creating the firmament (that quintessential Biblical term), as a means of dividing the primeval waters into those of heaven and earth (verses 6-8). So now on the third day (verses 9-10), by gathering together the dry land and the waters, he creates lands and seas. Reasonable enough. Now, apparently, God is on a roll, because on the same day as the lands and the seas, he creates flora (verses 11-13). Or more specifically: he creates grass, herbs, and fruit trees. No other sorts of vegetation are mentioned, and we are left to ponder whether these scant three examples of the floral realm were the only things created then, and the rest came later, or whether the Genesis authors intended them to be interpreted generically, as token terms for all the conifers, succulents, bromeliads, cycads, and other myriad angiosperms and gymnosperms which fill the botanical catalogue.

Whatever the intended option, those grasses, herbs and fruit trees found themselves growing by the light of day, but without any sun to initiate the process of photosynthesis so vital to their life functions. Apparently they must have made it safely through to the next day (verses 14-19), for with the creation of said sun, moon and stars, things could begin in earnest. Now we reach the fifth day of creation, when birds and all the creatures of the seas are created (verses 20-23), and not forgetting, in that ringing King James phrase, that ‘God created great whales’, so it’s a good thing that Japan only kills them strictly for research purposes. L

Which brings us to the sixth and last day of creation. In the span of a single verse (verse 24, whose events are virtually repeated in verse 25) all the land animals are created. But as with the plants, only the beasts of the earth, cattle and creeping things are specifically mentioned. I’ll let bacteria and other microbial life go by on the nod, due to the scarcity of Bronze Age microscopes, and will presume that the nearly two million other known animal species are included generically in that grand catch-all term ‘beasts’. Later that same day God also creates man and woman (verses 26-31). But how did he do this? We yearn to know, because, after all, it concerns us directly. But just at this critical point in the narrative Genesis at its most terse informs us only that ‘male and female created he them’. With such a scarcity of information it’s just as well that God creates them all over again in more detail in the following [1]chapter.

Chapter 2 begins with what is actually the end of the seven days of creation (verses 1-3). We all know what happened on day seven. God the almighty, God the omnipotent, whose powers exceed the bounds of our imagination to encompass them, needed to rest ‘from all his work’. It must be true. You couldn’t make this stuff up. J 

[1] The recounting of the creation in Chapter 2 of Genesis is different in several distinct ways from the version in the previous chapter. It notably follows a markedly different order of events than those recounted in Chapter 1, this time with all the animals being created after humans. Genesis therefore contradicts itself in a major way in just its first two chapters: a point of fact which it once took me several days of extended sporadic argument to convince a stalwart Christian of on an internet forum. He only conceded the point once I had copy-pasted all the relevant verses ([2]Genesis 2:7-25) under his nose, and was clearly shaken that such blatant contradictions existed in a text which he considered that he knew intimately, and which he unquestioningly accepted as the immaculate Revealed Word.

[2] As with all such posts which deal with aspects of Biblical text on this blog, I always cite chapter-and-verse so that anyone, anywhere can check what I claim for these texts for themselves. When viewed as scholarship, such contradictions as can be found in these first two chapters of Genesis are a valuable clue to textual origins. Clearly at least two different sources were combined in Genesis, each of which had its own different narrative to relate. This is entirely reasonable, for the oral origins of such stories are flexible, and dependent upon the narrator. And clearly no chronicler of such stories, when committing them to text, was thinking, ‘Now I’m going to sit down and write the Book of Genesis, which will be the first book in the Bible.’ 

All photography and images © Hawkwood. Photographic locations are the Isle of Skye in Scotland, Margaret River in Western Australia, and Noorderhout in The Netherlands. The sculpture Couple, by Eddy Roos, is featured. The ammonites were photographed in Naturalis Museum, Leyden.