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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Gnosticism and the Norway terror strike

I've been putting off writing about Breivik's massacre. For one thing, I've been a tad pressed for time. For another thing, this is one of those stories that has more tentacles than a Japanese high school.

Right now, let's study just one facet of the story. Anders Breivik has been connected to fundamentalist Christianity and to a shadowy revival of the Knights Templar. He has also linked himself with Gnosticism, the ancient Christian heresy.

The Templar link appears to go to a far-right British group called the English Defence League, run by someone calling himself Richard the Lionhearted. "Richard" is actually one Paul Ray -- at least, so says the Telegraph. He lives in Malta, the traditional home to the Knights Hospitallers, a rival group to the Templars.

By contrast, the Washington Post says that Breivik's neo-Templar order calls itself the PCCTS. I don't know what those initials are supposed to stand for. If you go to, you'll see this intriguing message:

Did Breivik fall for a hoax?

Almost needless to say, the real Knights Templar would never have countenanced the murder of children. There are a number of self-styled neo-Templar orders in the world today -- these guys, for example. Also these folks. I certainly hope that the Norwegian madness will not make people suspicious of harmless fraternal organizations.

The Gnostic connection troubles me.

I became interested in Gnosticism long before the topic became trendy. I've read most of major scriptures which the world deems holy -- but at this stage of my life, the only scriptures I would care to re-read would be the "heretical" (and sometimes impenetrable) Gnostic works. Anyone who wants to encounter the literary equivalent of the last ten minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey (with a little David Lynch tossed in) should read The Gospel of Philip. Trippy as it is, it's also one of the most thought-provoking agglomeration of words in the history of language.

Alas, a staggering amount of nonsense has been written about the Gnostics in recent years. Dan Brown's famous book gives the impression that Gnosticism was all about sex, even though most members of the sect tended to be ascetics.

Properly, we should speak of "sects" in the plural -- of Gnosticisms. In the second century, there was no Gnostic Pope, no central authority, no agreed-upon canon of scripture -- just a number of diverse groups spread around North Africa, the Near East and parts of Europe. They could not easily communicate with each other. Indeed, Michael Allen Williams' Rethinking Gnosticism argues that the ideas and philosophies categorized under the term "Gnostic" were so very diverse as to render the word itself useless.

We may, I think, fairly say this: In the second century (or earlier), there arose various forms of Christian mysticism. Most of these schools were spiced with far-eastern concepts and Neoplatonism. No-one can say how much of this mystical tradition harkens back to anything Jesus actually said.

In the Middle Ages, a Gnostic revival occurred in the form of Catharism, whose adherents called themselves "Good Christians." This belief system was popular in Occitania (the south of France), which was so called because the people there said Oc instead of Oui. Early in the 13th century, a crusading army led by Simon de Montfort wiped out the main Cathar stronghold -- a land grab disguised as a religious crusade. (Bush revived that trick in 2003.) The religion survived in various small pockets of southern Europe for many years. Some say that secret Cathars in Italy helped to inspire the Renaissance. As late as the 1840s, when Bernadette was a little girl, there was a Cathar parfait living in the vicinity of Lourdes; he claimed to be the very last of his kind. I don't think that she met him.

In the late 19th century, a strange man named Jules Doinel -- a fascinating "footnote figure" whose life I have been trying to piece together for years -- encountered some ancient Gnostic documents and established a new Gnostic church. Doinel was one of those guys who made it his business to know everyone who was anyone -- that is, anyone with a taste for the outre. His acquaintances included hoaxer extraordinaire Leo Taxil and Father Bérenger Saunière, the key figure in the bizarre tale of Rennes-le-Chateau.

(Although much nonsense has been written about Saunière, his link to Doinel should be uncontroversial. Everyone agrees that the priest had a keen interest in local history, and Doinel was the archivist at Carcassonne.)

Doinel's Gnostic revival sparked a renewed interest in the Cathars, and very soon a formidable amount of fictionalized history hit the bookstores. Stephen O'Shea's excellent A Perfect Heresy offers a fine chapter on the mythology of Catharism which sprung up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Naturally, this mythos intrigued surrealists like Joseph Delteil. It also transfixed a Nazi adventurer named Otto Rahn, another fascinating footnote figure.

Although Rahn was in the SS, I remain unconvinced that he was ideologically committed to the Third Reich. He may simply have given Nazi doctrine lip service in order to go hunting for the Grail (or for the wild goose) on Hitler's dime. It is said that he committed suicide in Austria in 1939, after leaving the SS. Many people think that Himmler had him killed.

Even before Rahn, Gnosticism had attracted the attention of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a mystical scalawag with a penchant for faking paranormal phenomena. She also wrote massive (and partially plagiarized) hermetic tomes, in which she would concoct history out of whole cloth. In his book Gnosticism, Stephan Hoeller (whose broadcast lectures first awakened my interest in this subject, back in the early 1970s) labels HPB an important figure in the modern revival of Gnosticism. Unfortunately, he soft-pedals her arrogance and con-artistry -- not to mention her racism. Her magnum opus Anthropogenesis (part II of The Secret Doctrine) outlines HPB's racist theory of evolution, a theory which became surprisingly popular in weirdo circles.

HPB's writings were one of the "sleazo inputs" which informed the mystic ravings of a German named Deitrich Eckart. Eckart, in turn, became an intimate of Adolf Hitler. Mein Kampf is dedicated to Eckart.

It's important to understand that the original Gnostics had no interest in racism; indeed, they would have found the very concept absurd. Gnosticism probably originated in Alexandria, one of the most pluralistic societies in the history of our planet. Alas, thanks to Blavatsky and Rahn, Gnostic ideas became admixed with dangerous claptrap.

If the initial news reports are true, if Breivik embraced the "Gnostic" mantle -- well, now you know why an oddball of that sort would feel attracted to that philosophical tradition. Please do not blame the massacre on the anonymous author of The Gospel of Philip; he is innocent.
I'm on my way out to do some shopping...but PCCTS stands for 'Pauperes Commilitones Christi Templique Somolomnici', the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and Solomon's Temple.
I'll have a proper read of your post later, but having read the Telegraph article I'm not at all sure that Paul Ray is "Richard".

He denies it. What's to say he isn't telling the truth? (OK, comparative textual analysis might indicate this).

This all seems very "wheels within wheels". Breivik is insane, for sure. I tend to think he did go to a meeting, and that in 2002 there was a "Richard". It could be that his controller knew Breivik would say a load of stuff on the internet, and therefore a trail was led which points to Paul Ray whereas his real controller "Richard" was someone different, a much more skilled and ruthless agent-runner of the professional kind.
A good place to start on an exposition of Gnosticism and related subjects can be found at maintained by John Lamb Lash.
I imagine you have read Umberto Eco's Il Pendolo di Foucault. The gist of that story is precisely how even though most of that "Secret History of the World" stuff is nothing but hoaxes and myths and mirages, real people are frequently so determined to believe them that they end up suffering real life consequences, sometimes even death.

Umberto Eco himself described his book as being "about people who start believing in occult stuff". Maybe Breivik was one of them...
A pre-Bush recent case of Crusaderism was the belief system of some of the top French army officers etc. regard to the war in Algeria...

No shit. Source: Peter Partner's book on the Templars and modern Templarism.

Another interesting connection is Malraux - Llomoy - Gisors. I only found out recently that du Molay was imprisoned at Gisors. The castle there was built on the orders of William Rufus.

The Torygraph is spinning like fuck about Breivik.

Don't forget that its sister publication is the Spectator, which has pushed the 'Eurabia' meme in a big way. Anyone who doesn't think this meme inspired Breivik needs to take their head out of their arse. He even included an image of the Spectator front page warning against 'Eurabia') in his video. (That last link is worth a click for anyone who hasn't already seen the image).

Their headline "Oslo attacks: EDL member Paul Ray admits he may have been Anders Breivik's inspiration" (6:30AM BST 29 Jul 2011) should make us cough really hard. In this previous Torygraph article (9:15PM BST 26 Jul 2011), they quote Ray as saying he had never met Breivik. Ditto in this subsequent one (7:30AM BST 30 Jul 2011).

Inspiration is one thing. Both Ray and the Spectator are guilty of that. Being in the small group of people who founded the 'organisation' the insane scumbag thinks he's a member of, is something else - and whether Ray is guilty of that is an important question, which doesn't get answered by mixing it up with the 'inspiration' question.

I don't know whether or not Ray met Breivik at such a meeting. But Ray does.

Why are the Telegraph confusing the issue the way they are?
There's nothing about any occult stuff in Breivik's 1500 page track. His father does live only a few miles from Rennes-le-Chateau, though. I don't want to smear his father (although will say that he may be a spook), but it's possible that at some point he had 'Templar problems' ('relating everything to the Templars' kind of thing).
You have outed your own "secret doctrine" faith, Joseph, one time too many... this time.
Anon: What "Secret doctrine" faith? I am a man of doubt, not of faith. Or are you scoring me for one-too-many references to the sainted Ms. B? Hey, we all have our little crushes...

And now I address MR. b.: De Molay was imprisoned at Gisors? Thou fuckest with my brain; admit so, sir.

One of these weekends, I'm going to have to do a column on Gisors, since the mystery is so little-known in the U.S. Basically, it's kind of a real-life version of "The Keep." Allegedly. It was yet another tale of weirdness that lost much credibility when a certain P. Plantard stuck his oversized Gallic honker into it. In truth, I was under the impression that there was NO Templar connection to Gisors castle.

Are you sure about the de Molay thing?

The references to Gnosticism littered the original reportage about Breivik. They seem to have vanished.

I felt a little guilty about quoting the Telegraph, but...well, caveat lector.

Oh, moshe: When I read Eco's book, I actually kind of had a job like Casaubon's. Well, it was more of an occasional freelance gig. So, yeah, I related.
The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Jesus Christ and the Temple of Solomon was the original, full, name of the Templar Order.

As good as Eco's post-modern take on all this, A.E.Waite's evisceration of Taxil in "Devil Worship in France" sets the bar for literate skepticism.
Rich, the trouble with Waite's book is that it was written before Taxil's confession. There's some good info in there about Doinel, though not nearly enough.

That's also one of AEW's more readable works. There's a reason why esotericists call him "Wisdom-while-you-Waite."

THE book on the Taxil affair is Eugen Weber's "Satan/Macon" which is rarer than hen's teeth. I've never possessed a copy, although I've spent a couple of hours with one. So far as I know, it has never been translated -- it was published as a mass-market paperback in France back in the '50s.

Weber taught at UCLA back when I was a student there -- alas, at the time I didn't know about this stuff, or I would have looked him up.
I don't think Gnostics would have approved of murdering children.

But great post! And a very interesting discussion.

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