Yes, I've been away from blogging for a while -- which means that fewer readers will see these words. That is probably all to the good. I plan to be discursive and informal today; only my intimates will plow through to the end.
Part of my leave of absence was devoted to the art of being sad. Having lost the closest thing to a child that I've ever had, I felt a sadness that weighed like a suit of concrete. During this period, I made a pathetic attempt to resurrect my irretrievably corrupted draftsmanship chops. When you fire up the non-verbal part of your brain, the verbal part goes dormant, and pretty soon you turn into the Feral Kid from The Road Warrior. The Feral Kid don't blog.
Now I'm back -- and I'm almost ready to face a world brimming with war and rumors of war.
(A lot has been going on in the news. For some reason, CNN is devoting all of its airtime to the tale of an airline pilot who went crazy and crashed his plane. Yes, this is a horrifying incident -- but does it really deserve that kind of obsessive coverage?)
Tomorrow, this blog will (probably) return to politics and other horrors. Today is the day of the Fool, a day that many writers, including this one, have used to pay homage to Loki, god of mischief.
This post is not an April Fool's Day hoax. I want to write an essay about hoaxes -- with emphasis on one important example of the genre.
Despite my penchant for the odd and the outre, this blog has (mostly) avoided all mention of Rennes-le-Chateau and its attendant mysteries. You know what I'm talking about: Holy Blood, Holy Grail, The Messianic Legacy, The Da Vinci Code. Books like that.
I have avoided this topic because I don't like the kind of people it attracts. In my experience, the "Rennes-le-ChaToadies" are the most twisted toons in Toontown. They make flying saucer buffs and 9/11 wackadoodles seem like the apostles of sweet reason.
The skeptics and scoffers can be as nutty as the wild goose chasers. One particular bah-humbugger is named....well, let's call him "Peter Jones." (That pseudonym is as transparent as I dare.) "Peter" spent years gazing into the abyss. The abyss gazed back, just as dear old Friedrich predicted it would. Then the abyss pissed bile and acid into poor Peter's skull. My advice: Don't talk to that guy, don't email that guy, don't get on his radar in any way.
(If you're looking for a good skeptical view of the mystery authored by a couple of non-crazy investigators, invest in The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau: A Mystery Solved by Putnam and Wood. Though not the last word on this topic -- see here -- this is an excellent book which deserves to be better-circulated in America. One should also mention the French historian René Descadeillas, who did some remarkable field work many years ago.)
This post is not the place to bring newbies up to speed. Let's presume that you heard the basics of the Rennes-le-Chateau story during the brouhaha engendered by the release of Dan Brown's book. That was -- egads! -- twelve years ago.
Here is my take, in brief:
I think that far-right plotters entrusted Abbé Bérenger Saunière with monies intended to pay for a planned reactionary revolution against the Third Republic. I think that he got into the habit of dipping into the till. This secret fund is how he got rich. The simony racket was a cute way to disguise the donations to the rightist cause.
Unless you get up to speed on the "war" between the Republicans and the Monarchists in that era, you'll never understand the Saunière story. You also won't be able to comprehend a lot of other weirdness that went down in France in this period. Alas, many conspiracy-crazed Americans refuse to learn the basics of French history. We prefer to read claptrap about Freemasons and Templars and the shocking uses which Jesus found for The Holy Wee-Wee.
The foremost provider of red herring was, as most of you know, a pretentious French occultist named Pierre Plantard. He was a disciple of a bizarre fellow named Georges Monti. Monti, in turn, had been an associate of Aleister Crowley, the subject of a previous Cannonfire post written on this date.
In the 1950s, Plantard formulated a secret society called the Priory of Sion, which claimed to be very powerful and very ancient. It was neither.
People unfamiliar with the history of occult societies don't know that members of that twilight world often like to pretend that their newly-minted groups are venerable and puissant. Imagine a garage band that tries to pass itself off as the Stones.
Leading occult writers (Crowley, Blavatsky, Plantard, etc.) also have a tendency to make false claims of an aristocratic lineage. These affectations don't fool most other occultists, although they rarely mount a challenge. One simply learns to play along with the bullpuckey, the way vinyl LP collectors learn not to hear all of those scratches and pops.
Poor Henry Lincoln! He stumbled into this milieu without knowing the ropes. Or, rather, the tropes.
As it happens, Plantard's partner, Philippe de Cherisey, really did come from an aristocratic family. For some reason, de Cherisey has attracted much less attention than has Plantard. De Cherisey created the fake "treasure" documents which play such a massive role in this tale, and I'm pretty sure that he wrote or compiled much of the "secret dossier" material which was wittily deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale. It should be noted that de Cherisey was a literary man -- a humorist with a strong inclination toward surrealism.
Many people think that the Priory was always a two-man operation. Personally, I suspect that more players were involved, although not many more.
When they founded the Priory, Plantard and de Cherisey did not talk about the alleged treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau. Why? Because few people knew about it. The Saunière affair was a purely local story, and the person who told it most often was a restauranteur named Noel Corbu (who has, I think, gotten an undeservedly bad rap from some recent writers). There was a local news write-up in 1958, based on Corbu. This led to a chapter in a book by one Robert Charroux (who, it must be noted, said nothing about Jesus' wee-wee or similar concerns.) That book led to a 1961 television documentary, which made Rennes-le-Chateau famous, at least in France.
Originally, the story was framed purely as a "treasure trove" mystery, similar to the tales one hears about the Lost Dutchman Mine and Cocos Island. In the early 1960s, books about lost treasures enjoyed a certain vogue in France.
Along came Pierre Plantard. Nobody is quite sure when Plantard made his first journey to the mystery
village, but it was around the time that Charroux published. When Plantard and de Cherisey decided to make use of the Rennes-le-Chateau story, they amped up the "weirdness factor." No longer was it a mere tale of lost treasure; we were now told that Saunière possessed Hermetic secrets that could change our view of all history.
In the 1960s, a respected journalist named Gérard de Sède fell under Plantard's sway -- much to de Sède's later regret. In 1967, he wrote a popular paperback titled L'Or de Rennes, a.k.a Le Trésor Maudit de Rennes-le-Château, a.k.a The Accursed Treasure. This was the book that sent Henry Lincoln on his merry way.
Lincoln and his co-authors produced a bestseller titled The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, shortened to Holy Blood, Holy Grail for the American audience. The book offers a riveting version of the Saunière tale, followed by a precis of the strange "secret" papers which de Cherisey deposited in France's national library.
Readers then learned about the Templars. The Cathars. Secret societies. Clues hidden in famous paintings. Secret bloodlines. And, finally, weird Jesus shit. If you want your book to capture the attention of Americans, include some weird Jesus shit in the final chapters. Americans love that stuff.
Later books about Rennes-le-Chateau brought in Atlantis, the Illuminati, Jules Verne, Victor Hugo, J.R.R. Tolkein, the tarot, flying saucers, P2, Oak Island, and lord-knows-what else. We really can't call the Rennes-le-Chateau story a hoax anymore. It has become a phantasmagoria of the fringe, a lint trap for cultural detritus.
Plantard wrote an essay in which he claimed that his father had been personally involved in the Rennes-le-Chateau mystery back in the day. Another lie. Plantard did not know about the mystery until Charroux wrote about it.
Most Americans don't know that earlier, in the late '50s and early '60s, Plantard had focused all of his attention on another lost treasure mystery.
This tale concerns a fabulous horde (32 massive caskets filled with gold!) buried beneath the ancient castle of Gisors. The Gisors affair is an enchanting yarn in its own right, although anyone who tries to explore this territory will soon detect the aromas of red herring and wild goose. Gisors was the topic of the first Plantard/de Sède collaboration -- a book titled Les Templiers sont parmi nous (The Templars Are Among Us). If memory serves, that book was published in 1961; I don't think that it has ever been translated into English.
Tellingly, the work contains no mention of Rennes-le-Chateau.
It does, however, have much to say about the Knights Templars, who supposedly compiled the treasure and secreted it beneath the castle when the King of France dissolved the order. Plantard's theory has one big problem: The Templars never owned that castle. In fact, at the time of the order's dissolution, the castle was linked to the King.
This documentary (embedded above) on the Templars and their fabulous treasure forced me to rethink the implications of the Rennes-le-Chateau affair, the grandest of all occult hoaxes. The documentary does a fair job of dramatizing the Gisors business, although it never mentions the lack of evidence linking the Templars to that castle. The film goes on to connect the treasure to the Oak Island enigma. I love the Oak Island story, but I don't see any hard evidence of Templar involvement.
The documentary gives the last word to a wild-haired mage named Gino Sandri, the grandmaster of the post-Plantard Priory of Sion. (I don't know how many other people are in his little club these days. Not many, I'd wager.)
Sandri de-bags a cat roughly the size of a saber-tooth tiger:
Myths and legends are at their most interesting when they remain undeciphered. When they have been created for that purpose. This is more common than you would imagine.
"This is more common than you would imagine."
Why did de Cherisey and Plantard get up to these tricks? Why did they write up those "secret dossiers" and deposit them in the Bibliotheque Nationale? They put a great deal of effort into their masquerade, and they even got themselves into legal hot water. Plantard was never as affluent as he liked to pretend, yet he refused to capitalize on the "mystery" -- even though there was a time when a book bearing his byline could have been an international bestseller. If money did not motivate him, what was the motive?
Some theorists argue that the answer lies with a literary movement called oulipo, which grew out of surrealism. Both de Cherisey and de Sède are reported to have been part of the surrealist movement.
Oulipo writers sought to discover new ideas by working within arbitrary constraints, such as creating literary works patterned after the "Knight's Tour" chess problem. An acrostic poem may be considered a kind of oulipo work.
The ultimate surrealist literary endeavor would be to create an entirely new national history -- and to make that history stick in the public's mind, using every possible stratagem. A surrealist who pulled off that trick could rise to no greater heights.
Re-read Sandri's words, and then consider the outlandish alternate history of the Obama years concocted by Ed Klein. Millions of people actually believe those fabrications. People pay good money to be told the lies they want to hear.
Consider the hoax documents which caused the flying saucer buffs to lose their ever-tenuous grip on rationality.
Consider Bill O'Reilly's fanciful tale about George de Mohrenschildt.
Consider the "proof" that Russia shot down that Malaysian airliner.
Consider the "proof" that Assad used sarin on his own people.
Consider the "proof" that Saddam Hussein had WMDs.
Consider all of the other hoaxes -- and I'm not talking about wrongheaded theories; I'm talking about deliberate hoaxes -- which have circulated on the fringe. The Protocols. Report From Iron Mountain. Silent Weapons. These japes have had a cumulative impact on our culture.
This blog has documented scores of these fabrications. Our entire culture feasts on them -- and we are what we eat. Hoaxes used to be a side dish; now, they are the steak. In a society so devoted to lying, anyone who feels cocksure about his ability to sort hoax from reality is a pretentious, arrogant ninny.
Many have declared that "You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts." The surrealists dared to say au contraire. No-one, as far as I know, has created a conspiracy theory in which the surrealists assume the "Illuminati" position, but such a theory would explain a lot.
You want to call on Occam's Razor? Fine. The simplest explanation for the mess we're in is the theory that the world has been taken over by a cabal of mad surrealists, and we are now living in a surrealist mind screw.
Reports of Pierre Plantard's death were in error. Under the name "Roger Ailes," he controls Fox News. Using a wide variety of other aliases, Plantard regularly contributes editorials to The New York Times and The Washington Post. I'm pretty sure that he also writes the President's Daily Brief.
Today is not April Fool's Day. Every day is April Fool's Day.
I haven't got time to write a novel in response to this post, and most of my relevant books remain in storage, but just some quick points.
What was the political activity of Pierre Plantard's family members, going back say 1-4 generations, through synarchy, the Cagoule, Action Française and back into the 19th century? Without asking this question, it's impossible to get a proper handle on how much the guy made up in the 1950s. Picknett and Prince touch on the question only very lightly, but substantially enough to suggest that the answer shouldn't be null.
Gisors - ah! Not a red herring if Jacques du Molay really was imprisoned there, which my limited reading suggests he may have been. At least André Malraux was into the ‘mystery’. (What drugs he was taking I don't know. There’s great scope for someone to publish an esoteric interpretation of his works, even today.) It’s remarkable that nobody has yet focused in print on who had the castle built at Gisors in the first place. It was William II of England, known as Rufus, son of the conqueror and brother of crusader Robert. Rufus died a remarkable death in the New Forest in England, the subject of much speculation and several competing theories - not just now but at the time. (Curiously, certain ideas about his demise were caused to surface to a large public around two-thirds of the way through the 20th century, in a way that was similar to developments at the same time in the Jack the Ripper story. I make this observation not to suggest any strange connections but to delight those who are interested in how such stories play out structurally.)
Ah, the New Forest and Rufus. Many connections. Margaret Murray. You want Gerald Gardner, or Aleister Crowley? You got them. Arthur Conan Doyle? Sure! Symbolic strands coming down to the present day, through ancient institutions which at the moment I care not to name? Be my guest. Suggested starting-point for those with whetted appetites: Minstead.
Oulipo, though, probably is a red herring. But my attitude is partly shaped by anger at how surrealism (and as far as I'm concerned, the French surrealists were good guys, and their scene remains on the good side of the street even to our own time) never managed to get its antibodies working against such right-wing fuckers as Salvador Dali or to send out resistance elements against parties such as, say, Mircea Eliade. What the fuck? Pope André, mate, you should have travelled forward in a time-machine and asked me! I'd have helped you out!
A new national history? Sounds awfully like Julius Evola...or even 'Prince' Charles, dimwitted mashed-potato-brained pal of his fellow Cambridge Trinitarian, the late John Michell, who was Evolist to his mystical nationalist far-right scumsucking core. (Some morons can't even get their heads around that idea - even when Michell had a column as a "Radical Traditionalist", was happy to write a piece for inclusion in a limited numbered edition of Evola's Men Among the Ruins, and for fuck's sake also wrote a pamphlet in which his main concern was to praise Adolf Hitler.) By 'radical tradition', these types don't mean William Blake. William Blake was our boy. View over Atlantis was on the other side of the social war entirely! See also Evola's 'holy grail', but Michell's work invites a more contemporary comparison with the PS effort across the Channel.
Some of the Priory of Sion stuff was still-born. It may have spawned the best-selling novel of all time, but in political culture it hardly got off the ground.
posted by b : 8:08 AM
Good to have you back Joseph. Excellent piece. I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail some years ago, and was fascinated by it. Of course, the more I dug into the "information" in it, the more skeptical I became. Once Dan Brown jumped into the fray, I knew something was not on the up and up. Thanks for the added info.
posted by Gus : 9:42 AM
I flicked through the 2015 documentary and will watch it later. Richard Kemp is full of it - when he was at Shugborough he made a lot of shit up and then launched his PR career on the back of it. I've dealt with him. He's not serious.
First time I'd seen a picture of Gino Sandri. Is there a visual resemblance to Pierre Plantard, or is it me?
Pictures of the two of them are side by side here.
posted by b : 11:02 AM
I don't like hoaxes, I don't see the point. I'm particularly unfond of April Fool's Day. Looking at Slashdot has been awful today. Objectionable.
There was a satirical group called The Yes Men who did hoaxes by pretending, for example, to be spokesmen for Dow Chemical, and then went to the BBC and announced Dow would be compensating the victims of the Bhopal disaster. It's nice, but I don't see the point. They ended up publishing a New York Times with stories they would like to be true. "Nuclear Disarmament Announced", "Maximum Wage Law Passes", that sort of thing. Would that not have been better as a political manifesto?
Regarding Rennes le Chateau, I once read a book about it called "Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail", by a Melody Maker journalist who chronicled the investigations of one-time punk drummer Rat Scabies as he investigated it.
On the whole I'm not really into the Templars, Rosslyn, Rennes thing, but I do have a very slight personal connection to the whole arrangement. When the English Templars were eventually rounded up they were taken off to various dungeons around the place, including one beneath a castle I used to be able to see out of my window. The dungeons are normally locked but I got to have a look around one day and the guide told an odd tale about a member of the royal family turning up just before the first world war and smashing a hole in the wall to recover some unspecified hidden object. I can't say if that was true, but there was a hole in the wall revealing what appeared to be a hiding place suitable for an unspecified object.
The last Grand Master of the English Templars was arrested, and earlier inducted, at Temple Bruer preceptory, which is now a tiny heathland hamlet. I remember when I was young being taken there, for no obvious reason, and being told that the place has exactly seven roads and seven houses, neither of which seem to be true.
Everyone likes lost treasure. Hopsicker has recorded seemingly CIA types running money-related scams as laundering their proceeds through companies supposedly organised to search for sunken shipwrecks. Gold and such. There was recently a BBC documentary about a man searching for several chests of gold coins dispatched by the Spanish to aid bonnie Prince Charlie. There are also various legends about buried treasure: that it causes Will O' The Wisp, that it can be spotted by a white dog with blue eyes, that is attracts dragons. At the other end of the aforementioned castle from the dungeon of the Templars is the room where King John died, poisoned by a monk. Or, possibly the room may be upstair from the dungeon, stories differ. Not long before he had been forced to dump all his treasure in the Wash, where it was never seen again.
b, I should quickly7 say that a leg-puller and a yarn-spinner may well have serious beliefs and serious connections. Those who try to study the great occultists of yesteryear often have a hard time coming to grips with this contradiction. Dear old Uncle Al told many a wild yarn, yet he really believed in what he wrote. Hubbard was one of the most obnoxious and outlandish liars in history, yet there was a level on which he believed in his own line.
You all know of my obsession with J.J. Angleton. I am tempted to call him an occultist, although doing so stretches the definition a little too far. He was, in my opinion, the most important hoaxer in all of history. Yet he was taken in by his own hoax.
To paraphrase Friedrich: Don't try to prank the abyss, for the abyss will prank YOU.
Let me add a few more points regarding what b wrote, although I don't have the time or energy to address the main stuff.
I would like to know more about Richard Kemp.
I did not know about John Michell's dark side. I've read a couple of his books. Fun stuff.
If de Molay was imprisoned at Gisors, how the hell could the Templars have conducted a massive underground excavation/construction project there? Literally under the noses of their persecutors?
Sandri really does look like Plantard...with Jean Markale's hair. Markale was the coolest looking dude of all time. I'd cultivate that look, but head shaving is more comfortable.
Nobody really knows the full story about Plantard's connections and family history. But SOMETHING must have been going on there. He could not have published "Vaincre" during the Petain years unless he had (as the Israelis like to say) "a horse" pulling for him.
My Michell-PS linkage may have been too obscure for some. I should maybe have mentioned that Gerard de Sède's early book Les Templiers sont Parmi Nous ('The Templars are Among Us') featured Venusians. Either that or another early book by him also featured a big hexagonal alignment on a map of France.
@Stephen Morgan - Interesting story about a member of the 'British' royal family before WW1. May I guess? Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn. Am I right? (Or if it was prior to the ascension of Edward VII in 1910, then him.)
Those guys were heads of an English masonic order called the Knights Templar. I jest not. Sometimes the way this stuff is handled reminds me of the Finbarr Saunders and his Double Entendres strip in the British cartoon magazine Viz. I mean there actually is a fucking English Knights Templar order, which has been headed by members of the royal family. All 'serious' English freemasons have heard of it. It's one of the biggest orders outside of the mainstream craft. But AFAICR it doesn't even get mentioned in either Holy Blood, Holy Grail or any of the followups.
And the word 'Templar' refers to...? And in 1917 Jerusalem fell to...? There's a massive lacuna here. We hear of complex and long-lived strands of symbolism attached to the Crusades and to the eventual defeat of the Christians when the Muslims conquered Jerusalem, and we hear of the obsession among some of the elite Scottish families with the Templars. And it's all very interesting. But the British Christian conquest of Jerusalem in 1917 (even if the Holy Places were respected) doesn't get a look-in. The Brits were in East Jerusalem until the 1950s. I've always meant to figure out how they were pushed out. The British Army's Jewish Legion didn't leave much of an imprint in the military structures of Israel, but the same isn't true of its Arab Legion in Jordan. Anyhow, the Brits were gone by the time the Jews took East Jerusalem in 1967. Poor old Christians - they held the city even more briefly the second time than the first :-)
Just to add to the atmosphere: the first big excavations of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount were carried out by...? The answer is Charles Warren, the 'Juwes'-graffiti-wiping Ripper cop, who resigned just before the murder of Marie Kelly in 1888. Incidentally the British Order of 'St John' (which runs a lot of ambulances in Britain and an ophthalmic hospital in Jerusalem) was chartered in that same year. I've long had a hunch that that's important in the Ripper story.
Nowadays the activity of the KT - the English order of that name - overlaps a lot with the activity of the OSJ. For example, a lot of the 'charitable' work of the KT helps the eye hospital.
posted by b : 7:58 PM
Part 2 of 2
@Joseph - I don't know enough to answer about the possibility of underground work by the Templars at Gisors. How does the cutting of the elm connect? Referenced in artwork by René d'Anjou if I recall. Thomas Becket spent a lot of time at Gisors. His murder was extraordinary. Among other things it set Canterbury up as a major pilgrim site. (Hat tip to the Wikipedia author who references the Korean axe murder incident in the article on the cutting of the elm. That association came to my mind too. The US general made himself a swagger stick out of that tree. I wonder where any relics of the Gisors elm might be.) I suspect the importance of Gisors predates the Templars.
Richard Kemp was the general manager at Shugborough (a large estate) who got an aged couple who had worked at Bletchley Park in earlier life to have a go at 'cracking the code' on the Shepherds Monument and who then sold the 'Holy Grail at Shugborough' idea to the world's media. He was only doing his job. He did it well, and he also introduced (or made into a bigger thing) the employment of staff wearing period dress, so if you visit Shugborough you can see and hear people dressed in period costume making cheese, looking after chickens and doing all sorts of other things, not behind ropes but working and talking and walking about in the same space as you. From memory, their reference date is in the first decade of the 19th century. Kemp put a few backs up, probably mainly because he had some new ideas and was successful in implementing them, making a splash not in the local idiotic rag but in the national and world media (hello local government resentment) rather than because his 'holy grail' story was bullshit. It wouldn't surprise me if snobbery played a part in the acrimony against him too, Britain being what it is. He then managed to set himself up as a PR man on the back of his success. How successful he has been in that venture I don't know. But I wouldn't believe any assessment he comes out with of anyone's 'theory' about the Shepherds Monument inscription or anything else at Shugborough. He’s not really interested.
Maybe Sandri and Markale have the same barber? :-)
Agreed with your point about Vaincre. The ‘PP made it all up in the 1950s’ idea causes wise heads to nod, as they move on from interest in the Priory of Sion business to concerns with other things in life, but it doesn’t even get off the ground...
BTW @Stephen, didn’t you use a Marcel Duchamp image once upon a time as your profile pic, or am I getting confused?
posted by b : 7:59 PM
@b: I believe it was before 1910 and was Edward VII, but I heard this many years ago.
Off the top of my head I don't even know who du Champ is, and I think my current profile picture is the only one I've had.
Not my preferred topic, but this was a great piece. It should have had a warning at the start though: NSFB (not safe for breakfast) as my two year old had to clean coffee off me as I choked while laughing at some of your zingers. You made my day, and welcome back.