sepoy notes: At long last, I have cajoled our friend farangi back to CM. Be thankful. This is his first post on Da DaVinci Code. If you haven’t read his Religion in America series, do yourself a favor.
When a cryptographer and a symbologist get together, it usually ends in tears. ‚Äî A. O. Scott, NYT, 05.18.2006.
I. All the world‚Äôs Dr. Strangelove‚Äôs situation room, and we are merely
Chapati Mystery‚Äôs readers fall into various categories. Among our audience we count a goodly number of professional academics and scholars, who really should be getting back to work on that article, right now‚Ä¶I‚Äôm not kidding‚Ä¶you‚Äôve wasted enough time, haven‚Äôt y0u? We have a few homeboy-haters in the crowd, who come to harrumph at Sepoy‚Äôs progressive values and consider his unruly coif a betrayal of Islam. We cannot forget the spooks and troops and NSA folk who haunt these pages (hi there!), and comprise a third of our unique IP address hits.
And finally, to my extreme pleasure, are the reality-challenged malcontents who mistake possibility for probability and ruin the party for grown-ups trying to engage in serious conversation. And I say that out of love, because, to a lesser degree, I‚Äôm one of them.
Sepoy and I have a long history of disagreement over the concept that drives such people‚Äîthat of the capital-C conspiracy. I am not a proper historian, so my days are not filled with crackpots trying to explain, earnestly, that Venusians built Mohenjo Daro using Orgone energy. I feel Sepoy‚Äôs pain‚Äîwere I him, I would be inclined to dismiss speculation about concerted malfeasance in high places as well. It rings of darkness, of the Elders of Zion, of poisoned wells, of witches in woods.
I am more tolerant of the conspiracy theorists‚Äô basic cynical viewpoint. I encourage it, because though conspiracy theorizing is to critical thinking as cancer is to a normal, happy cell, CT‚Äôs at least show some inclination to ask basic questions about why things are the way they are. They tend to lack the ability to wield Occam‚Äôs Norelco. They illogically assume, at once, evil omnicompetence and bumbled overreaching on the part of the powerful and rich. They believe humans can keep secrets, or at least tamp juicy information. They look to fantastic, romantic causes for horrible effects.
But in the end, at least, they‚Äôre asking. Modern laypeople do that too little.
How can I say such things about CT‚Äôs, and still call myself‚Äîalbeit facetiously‚Äîone of them? I count myself among CT‚Äôs, technically, because I tend think the causes of horrible effects actually are conspiracies, small-C, and are right out in the fucking open, but the vast majority of folks are too busy, too numb, too stoned, too drunk, too tired, too uninformed, too careless, or too fatigued by the overwhelmingness of corruption, unfairness, and compressed angst of modern living, to say anything about it.
I‚Äôm a white-trash hillbilly who swings with coteries with which I have little original context, and certainly no real business. This outsider‚Äôs perspective leaves me keenly aware of memes spurring elite behavior, which are not always present, undistilled, among the common folks. I think these memes are forensically analyzable, and their consequences are predictable, and, in some cases, analysis of the memes will show they have been deposited in the cultural slipstream in a conscious way, by interested parties.
Think of the Project for a New American Century publishing screeds ten years ago about the righteousness of buggering brown-folk. Now look at the state of the planet‚Äîis it coincidence that PNAC‚Äôs heavy-hitters convinced America to elect a figurehead for them to govern beneath, and then went about their stated goals, once installed? To me, the Strauss‚Üí power-salon/think tank‚Üí policy‚Üí legislation‚Üí reality paradigm is as obvious as the grimace on Rumsfeld‚Äôs face.
Sometime in the eighties the coastal print media adopted the phrase ‚Äúwoman‚Äôs right to choose,‚Äù instead of the simpler, more accurate, more grisly ‚Äúabortion.‚Äù Television and heartland print followed; the change in verbiage, thus broadcast, pushed the abortion rights polls ten points in toward ‚Äúchoice.‚Äù It is not chance that most major media chose to change the way they spoke about a contentious issue all at once. I have not researched it, so forgive me for speculating. But, I‚Äôm willing to bet Sepoy‚Äôs doctoral hood that ‚Äúwoman‚Äôs right to choose‚Äù grew in the fecund soil of an Ivy League philosophy department, or someplace like NARAL‚Äôs boardroom.
In a legal sense, conspiracy requires only agreement to commit a crime‚Äîcuriously, one person can commit conspiracy if he‚Äôs serious, and his partner is not, or is a cop. In the broader sense, conspiracy requires only agreement between two people to act. My Miami philosophy professor Peter Schuller‚Äîan unabashed LaRouchian‚Äîfun classes, let me tell you‚Äîused to remind us, ‚ÄúA pot of coffee doesn‚Äôt get made without a conspiracy.‚Äù I think he meant anytime two people want to impose their will on an environment, and agree to act in concert to do it, you have a conspiracy.
This summer, the infosphere will be atwitter over the DaVinci Code, which, at its kernel, is a not a big-C, but a small-c, conspiracy theory. I have read the book. I admit that. I‚Äôm not ashamed, damn you. And no amount of clucking will make me feel that way. Sure, aside from the beautiful epilogue, it‚Äôs beach-reading effluent written by the same software that mad-libs John Grisham novels, only this time run on an TRS-80; but I do not intend here to indulge in literary criticism.
I am concerned that polls show that a third of people reading the DaVinci Code adopt its major premises. I am moreover concerned that our inclination to dismiss summarily any talk of low key concerted action in the world of politics and ideas. This could deny us a ring-side seat in round 12 of the fight between the Church and ‚Äúthe Enlightenment,‚Äù which is one of Western history‚Äôs most delightful, important, and academically toxic, arguments.
It could also cause us to miss the point altogether. There exist small factions, shy for history‚Äôs sake, that speak with soft but firm voices, urging promotion and maintenance of a world-wide humanist outlook, demanding the overdue correction of culture-wide sexual dysfunction, begging tolerance of reasoned points of view, religious and otherwise; urging humanity to get its collective head out of its collective arse and get about the business of improving itself.
II. Some History; Mine & Earth‚Äôs
When I heard rumors in college that the Ancient & Accepted Order of Freemasons killed babies, poisoned wells, ran the world from behind the scenes, worshipped Satan, and had orgies with pregnant alpacas, I decided that any group with a reputation for Jaggeresque excess would probably want me join, and I sought them. I simply had to know if they were planning to unite the world and hand it over, bundled, to the Anti-Christ, and if so, where and when. I like to keep to a schedule.
What I found was an grand, rich, and sad semi-fraternity in a state of slow, maudlin decline. Most members have had nothing to do with babies, other than grandchildren, in fifty years. Rank and file Masons are largely lower-middle class, and, as I joined a rural Lodge, poisoning anyone‚Äôs well would be tantamount to murder. Running the world? No. Running a plumbing business? Yes. Worshipping Satan? Hardly.
Though it rankles Masonry‚Äôs ecumenical spirit‚Äîwe had a Muslim and a member of the Native American Church among us‚Äîour Chaplain always closed his prayers with, ‚Äú‚Ä¶in Jesus‚Äô name we pray.‚Äù Of course, when we inducted the Muslim brother, he swore on the Quran, of which we had three transliterations in our library. There were no alpacas, no goats, nothing. This was the Kiwanis, with funny hats. Old men: I liked them and stayed.
Aside from doing good works in the community, and, as Shriners, doing an Arab minstrel show and driving absurdly little cars, Masons are the primary keepers of the Western Occult tradition. Most are unaware, and are conditioned to deny it if asked, but Freemasonry‚Äôs ritual observances come imbued with the opulent trappings of ceremonial white magick.
Its 32 earnable degrees operate on a symbolic system containing gradations of meaning and nuance that unfold, quite deliberately, like rose-petals, as a candidate moves through the initiatory process. Its references and ancestral echoes are multi-cultural and ecumenical; Masonry‚Äôs pageants pay homage to rituals spanning from the resurrection of Osiris to the Sermon on the Mount to Druzish cliquery to Ismaili messianism to some very English prancings cribbed from Yeats‚Äô Golden Dawn.
At first, candidates learn common vocabulary and take set of principles to learn, all cited drawn from the classical world. Candidates must also learn a complicated memory system. A hundred-fifty ago, this ad-hoc education would‚Äôve allowed gentlemen and workmen to converse as equals, exhibiting the egalitarian impulse of modern Masons to flatten, at least in the Lodge, socioeconomic class. ‚ÄúOn the level,‚Äù all brothers were ostensibly equal1. I have personally seen an auto mechanic recite Plato‚Äôs Symposium from heart, flawlessly. I got chills.
As the candidate becomes more sophisticated, and only if he is interested enough to dig, he finds that there are further layers of meaning to each of the ordeals he endures on his path to the penultimate degrees‚ÄîKnight Templar in the York Rite (proper fish & chips flava), or Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret in the Scottish Rite (haggis served with French-accented chanting and no-drip candles).
Among the two most important ‚Äúsecrets‚Äù present in this body of knowledge we find a record of the Catholic Church‚Äôs persecution of free thought, and exactly what kind of free thoughts got Freemasonry‚Äôs forbearers in eleemosynary trouble to begin with.
Freemasonry‚Äôs central allegory2 comprises a murder, the investigation uncovering it, and a commitment not to let the murdered person‚Äôs life‚Äôs work go to waste. Likely, the murdered person whose doom comes presented under veil was the last Grandmaster of the Knights Templar, Jacques DeMolay, who was executed on Oct. 13, 1307.
DeMolay cursed the Church from the stake in such an eloquent string of epithets and invective that we remember the day of his death, Friday the 13th, as an ‚Äúaccursed,‚Äù day. His tirade, five minutes long, given through smoke and flame, alleged violent, nonconsensual, sexual congress with everyone‚Äôs mother, including yours, the Pope, all the nobles in France, my sister, pygmies, and a fat Algerian boy, while employing the unintended use, as marital aids, of stale baguettes, the concept of something called, fairly accurately, ‚Äúfisting,‚Äù3 an incontinent elephant, and twelve pieces of shattered travertine floor tile. Purportedly, he did not repeat a word, and therefore deserves his own day.
DeMolay‚Äôs fluent cursing belies his lofty station. His organization was an ultra-powerful early-modern order of banker-monks who, quite in contradiction of the Church‚Äôs edicts, lent money at interest, and with impunity, to noble, friar and peasant, alike.
The Templars also created a safe system of international funds transfer. Ostensibly, these fellows financed both crusade and pilgrimage; taking deposits in say, a London Templar Bank, they provided warriors and pilgrims with cheques permitting withdrawals at Templar Banks Jerusalem, scalping a wee fee for their trouble at withdrawal.
Bankers first, soldiers second, monks last: as soldiers, the Templars soon regarded Muslims as worthy opponents. They engaged their Muslim subjects, and occasionally, their Muslim combatants, in formal discussions of theology, science and art. Finally, they came to respect Islamic civilization and Islam itself.
I do not mean to say that they were somehow sympathetic; they were likely as self-righteous as any Christian of the era. What I mean to suggest is that occupying Templars went native in the most boring, predictable, Orientalist, white-guys-on-holiday sense of the term. They appreciated Muslim culture; they saw, as any reasonable person would, common religious and cultural ground; ultimately, they shrugged and said in a cockney brogue, ‚Äúthis iddin all bad then, is it?‚Äù
Ardent amateur archeologists Jerusalem Templars, undertook extensive, likely unfruitful, excavations of the Temple Mount Complex. Their findings, according to most sane people, were, if not ethereal, negligible. Others believe the Templars recovered and secreted away relics from the 2nd Temple‚Äôs sanctum sanctorum‚Äîrelics of the type which occasionally turn up on the antiquities market, even today . Still others believe the Templars found evidence of an unsuccessful Orthodox plot to mute and absorb Gnosticism, which, again, though unlikely to have been part of probable Templar findings, is not an inconceivable small-c conspiracy in its own right.
Fewer, but not a few, maintain the Templars found evidence that Jesus of Nazareth was merely a devout 1st Century rabbi, with a family, and a legacy, not a Davidic Christ-King. Supposedly, the Templars blackmailed the Holy Shit out of the Vatican to sit on the information, and, when paid off by a Church they had found illegitimate, went about developing an alternative syncretism merging aspects of Abbasid Islam, Christianity and ancient paganism.
These theories, taken together, in the alternative, form the first of three elements which irresistibly lend this historical tale to use by CT‚Äôs, and some others‚Äîothers with whom we shall become more concerned, below.
As purported probabilities, none of the basic premises above, save the first, can be uttered in the same general paragraph with the word Templar in polite intellectual company. I blame Hollywood, foam-at-the-mouth CT‚Äôs, Pat Robertson, the Vatican, and the sheer mysterious Indiana Jones sexiness of the possibilities following them. And it‚Äôs just as well most of those whose work abuts Templar legends have usually preferred to whistle past the smoldering fag-pile, avoiding mention of the Templars altogether.
In 1306-7, the Templars‚Äô fortunes, as they were, went sideways. As primary creditor to the heavily indebted Philip, King of France, and suffering various jealousies from a Holy See that resented their power, and the goodwill they held among the laity and parish-level clergy, and, lately and worse, finding themselves in a wetter-than-expected Jets/Sharks pissing contest with the burgeoning, Papally-sanctioned, startlingly competitive Order of Knights Hospitaller of Cyprus, the Templars had, it would appear, garnered enough powerful enemies that their very existence was threatened.
And it was: in concert with the Knights Hospitaller, who provided muscle, and the Church, which provided The Inquisition, Philip arrested the Continent‚Äôs Templar monks and impounded all Templar property he could lay his well-manicured hands on. It should be noted that Philip pulled the same stunt with France‚Äôs Jews, and that Philip, having installed a pet Pope at Avignon, was the asshole behind the Schism of the 14th century.
Some Templars escaped or fled with help from priests, monks from other orders, and the fellow persecuted‚ÄîJews, Muslims, pagans, heretics, all; curious, that those used to enjoying the comforts and approvals of orthodoxy found themselves relying suddenly on the most unorthodox for help.
Still others shed their robes and vows and faded into local populations, took families, lived on. Monks serving in port towns reportedly fled to sea, taking the vast Templar Navy with them. They, and their squirreled fortunes (reportedly $25 Billion in 2006 dollars, though there‚Äôs no way to know, really) literally disappear over the horizon.
This is the second element: treasure lost, with no answer as to what location it might have secreted its big, shiny, gorgeous, glittering self.
From a literary perspective, this is ham & gravy (lamb & gravy to you heathen reading), consider it with your mental lens least fogged by cynicism and time: mysterious digging, treasure slipped into the night, sword-fights, tall ships, kings and knights, philosophizing monks with crossbows, wearing armor‚Ä¶c‚Äômon!
Errol bloody Flynn himself would rend his garments, shave his pencil-thin, brown his forehead in pyre ash, trade his velvets for sackcloth, and prostrate himself before a script of such grandeur.
But Philip wasn‚Äôt done. He seemed intent to provide the Western mind with enough weird tropes to keep writers, actors, CT‚Äôs and shadowy occultists busy for hundreds of years. Philip, the Church, and the Hospitallers tortured the poor Knights of the Temple into confessing to a bevy of nonsense.
The charges, and the confessions, included admissions of engaging in hot man-on-man action, worshipping St. John the Baptist‚Äôs severed head, smearing crucifixes with sundry bodily fluids, engaging in hot man-on-man action, running with the Devil, consorting with Mohammedans, lending money at interest (shocked, shocked to learn there is gambling here‚Ä¶) and engaging in hot man-on-man action.
As we have already primed the Swedish vacuum penis pump by invoking omni-sexual proto-Bowie Errol Flynn, we might note, vis a vis hot man-on-man action, that His Majesty, Philip of France, was by all4 historical accounts a thin, neat, handsome fellow, a good listener, fine dancer, and a snappy dresser whose chambers were impeccably decorated. Most knew him as ‚ÄúPhilip the Fair,‚Äù though, as mentioned above, he was a real bastard, and was never fair to anyone. This leads a minority of lay commentators5 to report contemporary sources also refer to him as ‚ÄúPhilip the Totally Gay.‚Äù6 Given this, one might be forgiven for suspecting charges against the Templars involved projections of His Highness‚Äô personal predilections.
At any rate, this is the third prong‚Äîwhat exactly where those hardcore after-party Templars getting up to in their fortresses, at night? Were Templar encampments really big bathhouses? Instead of working for Gloria Dei, were they chiseling glory holes in lavatory walls? Were they worshipping a head, or giving it? Or were they exercising, in some primeval Lovecraftian way, the powers and privileges they‚Äôd earned by unearthing some horrible truth about the West‚Äôs conceptions of the Divine? Maybe, instead, they were channeling Divine himself, John Waters‚Äô diva, from the future, and putting on Jerusalem‚Äôs best drag show since Herod Antipas. Ad nauseum.
Dan Brown managed to write most of The DaVinci Code without explicitly invoking crackpot Templar theories, or engaging in funny gay double entendres7, but his novel‚Äôs single major premise stems from the Jesus-as-a-family-man blackmail premise, mentioned above, which he cribbed shamelessly from a popular semi-history called Holy Blood, Holy Grail, published in 1983, which we shall examine below.
Brown asks us to suspend disbelief for a few hours8 ‚Äîand not just that prose as insipid as his was published by a reputable house‚Äîso his polemic novel may tell us that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a baby, and that, after Jesus was executed, the surviving Christs moved to Cannes. The Christ kids married into the local gentry, who, for a few hundred years, also happened to be the Visigoth Gaul‚Äôs Merovingian dynasty.
The deposed Merovingian bloodline continues in the mythos of The Matrix, the hearts of French royalists, the yearnings of radical European monarchists, the conjurings of devoted upper-class European Occultists, and the veins of the most noxious characters of all: a European nobility so inbred as to comprise a single mutant, vicious, elitist, warmongering, imperialist, misanthropic, generally deformed, psychotic family, which our species would have been better off to have drawn and quartered.
But I have not been so fortunate with the crackpot Templar theories. With some reason, I happen to believe them all.
To be continued.
1. One of my favorite Simpsons episodes is #612, Homer the Great, or ‚Äúthe Stonecutters‚Äù episode. Mr. Burns is repeated flagellated in the Lodge by underlings who have to pay him obeisance at the power plant. This absurd yet comedically accurate send-up of Masonry is revered by most younger Masons.
2. I took oaths. You‚Äôll have to find the particulars elsewhere, cowan.
3. I looked this up for research purposes so you didn‚Äôt have to. Sing! Praise be the elasticity of the soft-muscle groups of the thrumming human machine! Sing!‚ÄîWhitman
4. By ‚Äúall‚Äù, I mean historical accounts agreeing my assertion.
5. By ‚Äúminority of lay commentators,‚Äù I mean me.
6. Not that there‚Äôs anything wrong with that.
7. Except for character names. Sophie Neveu‚Äînew wisdom? Leigh Teabing‚ÄîBaigent & Leigh (‚Äúhistorians,‚Äù Holy Blood, Holy Grail)? What a smirking prick this Dan Brown is.
8. Hell yes. Of course I‚Äôm jealous. But my being a hater doesn‚Äôt mean the man can write. He can‚Äôt write. He stinks.