Following the horrific massacre in Norway last summer, I was inspired to dig into my archives and work on my Knights Templar file. I had only bits of connections that went outside the acceptable bounds of discussion on the Medieval order, but I did have enough to want to dig more and try to tell a different story than the one I feared would be told in the wake of Anders Brevik's atrocities.
My Templar series was one of the most satisfying episodes in the history of the blog. I largely ignored both the orthodox history and the huge body of romantic revisionism that we'd been seeing in the wake of Baigent and Leigh and dug into two facts that bugged me and no one else seemed to be addressing. They both came up roses.
First was the Knights Templar were essentially an enterprise of the Normans, those extremely enigmatic Scandinavians who came out of nowhere and carved huge chunks of Europe out for themselves, including England.
Second was that both the Templars and the Normans seemed to have a very puzzling obsession with the ancient Phoenicians, those legendary seafarers who built the world's first virtual empire, controlled commerce around the Mediterranean and did all sorts of remarkable things before seeming to vanish into the pages of history.
It was an amazing experience. Little did I realize at the time that in a strange way, I was writing a piece of my family's history at the same time.
I love the "out of Egypt" bit in the map.
It all started 25 years ago this month when my paternal grandmother decided to inform me that my family was from Ireland ("But Protestants, you understand!") originally and weren't "Anglo-Saxons" such as it goes. The mystery deepened when my sister pulled out some old photos at a family gathering and my keen artist's eye instantly noticed details that began to call the family mythology into question.
Details are everything- I had always noticed that my half-brother and I had details in our facial features that might complicate the family tree a bit further. I just had no idea how complicated things would get. Some other factors inspired me to run a yDNA test in 2007 (which I realize now I didn't read very well) and an mtDNA test this past year.
Then everything changed.
click images to enlarge
My original reading of the yDNA was a botch- I didn't know what I was doing, the interface isn't super user-friendly (I picked Genebase because it seemed the most scientific of the lot, so this wasn't a surprise) The dominant haplogroup was no surprise- R1b covers the entirety of Britain and Ireland. My initial reading seemed to confirm my grandmother's announcement, so it all seemed a good investment.
And when I ran the "DNA Reunion" feature- which matches you up with other Genebase members who share your genetic profile, the majority of them had Irish surnames and identified as "Celtic".
However, the Knowles surname is itself Norman (from De La Cnolle) and my middle Loring ("man from Lorraine") is as well. My paternal grandmother was very protective of that middle name, regaling me with its long and proud history in the family. First-born sons were given the name Loring going back countless generations. When I didn't give it to my own first-born son (it didn't really work with his first name) my grandmother was extremely distressed.
At first, I thought by "Irish Protestant" she meant Scots-Irish, that catch-all term for the mix of the warlike Border English and Lowland Scots shipped over to Ulster as "settlers" by Oliver Cromwell (and direct genetic and philosophic descendants of the Confederates, Dixiecrats and Evangelical Republicans that have so totally dominated US politics-- on behalf of the same transnational banking interests their ancestors served-- since 11/22/63).
But that didn't make any sense, since I knew the Knowles family arrived in Plymouth in 1630, the same time the Scots-Irish were busy invading Ireland. The Scots-Irish wouldn't have shipped over to a Puritan (read: English) settlement, seeing as how they subscribed to Presbyterianism, a different flavor of fanatical Calvinism altogether.
No, when the Scots-Irish began their voyage to America, they mostly headed south and west. The earliest Scots-Irish migrations became the hillbillies, the rural populations mainly clustered in Appalachia, but still found in the outer fringes of New England as well.
I also knew that our Knowles family were recorded in Lancashire at the end of the 16th Century. Strangely, I can only find one generation of Knowles in Lancashire and only briefly- they departed for Plymouth Plantation in the early 1600s, never to return.
But their location in England might tell the story behind the story. Lancashire lies on the coast of the Irish Sea, and for ages it was the primary entry point for Irish immigration into England (people of Irish descent in the UK outnumber those in Eire itself).
My best guess is that my ancestors were French-speaking Normans who settled in Ireland in the Middle Ages. The Normans were first brought there as freelancers- mercenaries- to fight in the endless tribal wars that marked Ireland's history. Seeing a plum ripe for the plucking, later Norman lords came uninvited, and did what what Normans did all over Europe- invaded and rebuilt the country in their own image, using their famous stonemasonry skills to build legendary castles and churches, many of which still stand today.
But many Normans- particularly the lower classes- intermarried with the local population, often becoming "more Irish than the Irish themselves." Given that my father's DNA shows a lot of Irish R1b, I'd say that the Norman Knowleses were well absorbed into the local genepool.
And as my Nana said, Norman families were early converts to the Protestant cause, which eventually sealed their fate on the island when the religious wars heated up with the Counter-Reformation and later, the Irish rebellion of the early 17th Century. My earliest traceable ancestor was a minister, so the need to get out of O'Dodge was probably especially keen when nationalist winds began blowing, winds that were inseparable from militant Catholicism.
What also caught my eye in my father's profile was the fact that "Western Russian" (and lots of Finnish as well) kept popping up. This might have been due to the R1b migrations, or theories of which. Recent studies have called those same theories into question.
I tuned this out until I remembered that the Rus- the original settlers of Russia (Western Russia, to be exact)-- were in fact Scandinavians and therefore cousins of the Normans (all of these people may in fact trace their roots to the mysterious Scythians, but that's another story). Were the tribes of Normans who made it over to Ireland- as opposed to those in England and France- more closely related to the Rus than the others? Maybe. But at this point I'd say anything's possible. I'll know more when I have my dad run his mtDNA.
Because according to the haplogroup predictor, R1b only accounted for half of my yDNA profile, meaning half was unaccounted for.
Not only was there the Irish, there's also a quite prominent Portuguese/Iberian component to my father's DNA, which pops up high enough in enough markers to suggest that he has a very recent Portuguese ancestor. Recent enough to qualify him as "US Hispanic" (which includes those of Portuguese descent) in pretty much all of these yDNA profiles.
Because Portugal was colonized by the Berbers (following ancient trade routes established by their Phoenician ancestors, perhaps?) during the Caliphate era, there are also very prominent Arab, North African and Sephardic Jewish markers in his DNA as well. Of course, Portugal was also part of the ancient Phoenician empire as well, but I think that would be a bit too far back to show up in the DNA.
The Portuguese wasn't a total surprise. In fact, when I was growing up my mother always said she suspected there was Portuguese on my father's side. She didn't realize that there's plenty of Portuguese on her side. From where exactly, I have no idea.
My father was olive-complected when he was younger (he's less so now, as melanin production decreases as you age) and began shaving when he was 13. Of course, skin tone is usually the first genetic trait to go in intermarriage so if there were a Portuguese ancestor it would have to be very recent. But the family tree showed no sign of it. It wouldn't be totally out of left field as there is a large, long-standing Portuguese community in southeastern Massachusetts.
But I didn't think much of it until I saw a picture of my paternal grandmother when she was young and knew right away she was no Anglo-Saxon. She was very short, dusky, busty, dark-eyed and sported a prodigious 'do of black curly hair. She was much shorter than her two sisters and didn't look like them (and looked nothing like her parents either). With that in mind and armed with the science, I came to a conclusion that no one in my family wanted to hear.
I believe my grandmother was adopted and may have even been a foundling.
I know she was sickly and tiny (2 lbs?) when she was a baby, and I wonder if she had been left at her well-to-do family's doorstep, a not-uncommon practice in those pre-abortion days. A poor Portuguese family would not be able to care for a desperately sick infant and may well have relied on the kindness of strangers. If this were so it would explain a lot about her life, which was marked by unhappiness and a deep sense of unbelonging, to coin a phrase.
If the Portuguese only showed up in the middle of the charts on one or two reports I wouldn't give it much mind. Portuguese run the gamut of phenotypes and may have the same Basque influence you see in the British Isles. But as best as I can tell-- and I'll know more when my father's mtDNA is tested-- his father was Norman/Irish and his mother was Portuguese.
"praying towns" on Cape Cod and some of these eventually married Englishmen (Pocohontas looms large in our national mythology, doesn't she?).
Although intermarriage was probably rare in the actual towns, I'd imagine this may have been very common for men who lived outside the major settlements in Plymouth and Braintree and so on, places proper Englishwomen would want no part of.
But my father's family history was nothing compared to what I'd discover when I ran my mitochondrial DNA in order to see what surprises lay in wait in my mother's family tree.
My grandmother had told me a while back that she believes that her father's family were in fact Huguenots; French Protestants fleeing the mindless, wanton slaughter of the Counter-Reformation. Her father's surname was Brayton, which could easily be an anglicization of Breton, meaning "from Brittany," a Celtic nation in France who were allied with the Normans. The Braytons came over in the early 17th Century, as did the Knowles family.
Her mother's family was from Germany (though were not ethnic Germans) and came to America only to end up drafted into the Union Army. Apparently her own maternal grandfather -- a German Jew who converted to Christianity-- was one of those many conscripted immigrants, most of whom didn't even speak English.
Either way, The Huguenot angle inspired me to cough up some more cabbage and run the mtDNA.
So much for "English and German." Neither showed up in my mother's DNA, nor did any R1b. The Dunn's and Gallagher's on her side may have been from Ireland, but it seems they were only passing through, picking up local surnames to take with them to America (a much more common practice than most people assume). More Spanish and Portuguese did show up however, which may give lie to the recent "debunking" that the Black Irish weren't originally Spanish transplants. I may never know.
It struck me that the Normans- a people who until very recently I had only the barest inkling of, a nation of immense historical import that most people have never heard of- would show up so prominently on both sides of my family without anyone's knowledge.
It shouldn't surprise me all that much- the Normans are masters of historical disguise.
They disappeared into the pages of history, folding themselves into the peoples of Britain, Ireland and France, leaving barely a trace of their stunning, unprecedented rise from total obscurity to the scourges of Europe (boasting a war machine of staggering proportions, including a huge navy, well-trained calvary and state-of-the-art tactics and logistics) and longtime bitter enemies of Rome, bringing the most powerful nations of their time under heel and brazenly carving out kingdoms for themselves out of the treasured properties of the princes of the world.
But by the same token I realized that at 6'5" and 230 lbs with a mop of light brown hair that goes decisively blond if it gets enough sun, I fit the ancient stereotype of a Norman pretty well. And having discovered that each of the major Norman kingdoms produced a secret society, it didn't escape my notice that Freemasonry-- created by Scottish Normans who came down to England to rule-- was all over the place on both sides of my family, with only the current generations choosing not to join.
But I was just getting started...
The Northmen and the Natives in Newfoundland
I had a hard time processing it, since it didn't jibe with my mental image of him. I thought it was all very interesting, I guess, but really didn't give it much thought. But in the great, endlessly-repressed tradition of Yankee clans, his heritage was a bit of an open secret among the older folks, and his father (who I never knew) was apparently thought of by most people as an "Indian."
I wonder today if my mother was asking for confirmation for a fact she already knew.
I later (recently, in fact) learned that my grandfather felt deeply ambivalent about all of this, having grown up in a more explicitly racist time and became an overachiever as a result (made Lt. Commander in the Navy at the age of 30, flight instructor at Pensacola during WWII, combat navigator in the Pacific, Harvard grad, black budget engineer for MITRE).
But again, I didn't think that much about it all...
...until I ran the mtDNA and saw markers that confounded me show up in several different reports right up at the top of the charts. At first I thought they switched samples on me- what was all this Siberian stuff? It was all over the place, as you can see for yourself.
I was floored. Where was this coming from?
Then I clicked on the populations tested to reach these markers. All of a sudden it all came flooding back to me- yes, it was true. My mother's grandfather was Native American and was also adopted (remember again, this was all before welfare and birth control). I later found out he was an only child and was born at the end of the Indian Wars, in the late 19th Century. (Note also the Berber and Arab, most likely via Portuguese/Spanish on my mother's side).
It all made sense; his adoptive parents couldn't have children of their own and the orphanages were most likely filled with Native babies (how they were filled is another story altogether, and has become a major controversy in Canada).
My uncle as a teenager
His DNA indicates either Apache or Navajo (the two are nearly identical, genetically), but I'm thinking he was Navajo for several different reasons. One of which is that my mother's younger brother (a computer prodigy who also went to Harvard) was very Navajo looking when he was young, which I guess I never really registered all these years. Though it certainly always puzzled me why his eyes have the Asian epicanthic fold.
Genes do weird things as the generations march on. Though she's more obviously Scandinavian in coloring and cast, my mother's facial structure- particularly her prominent cheekbones and broad forehead- also testify to this hidden genetic code.
I don't know what my grandfather thought of all this. I do know that he was a very unhappy and driven man for most of his life, and only mellowed out a few years before he died (tragically, since he was a fantastic guy once he let go of the anger). Did growing up during a time when Natives were seen as subhuman savages contribute to his state of mind? I can't see how it wouldn't.
I spent a lot of time at my grandmother's house when I was young and I remember a lot of dischord in the 70s. The worst was when my uncle- who has had a lifetime fascination with Native lore and culture- dropped out of Boston University to enlist in the Marines so he could fly choppers in Viet Nam. As time goes on I realize how badass a move this was, or how reckless, depending on your POV. It was also a very Indian thing to do, apparently.
And Norman, come to think of it.
But as per usual in Yankee families, I only recently found out that my grandfather did express his heritage in very odd, private ways. He wore moccasins around the house and made pilgrimages to local Native historical spots. The family took trips to outdoorsy spots for vacations. But he was conflicted about it, telling people when discussions of family background came up that his ancestors were "all Indians and horse thieves."
Left: Phoenician amulet Center: Gnostic charm Right: Templar seal
So the moral of the story is, as always, "you're not who you think you are." The moral of the story is that what is myth and what is fact is a question of power and privilege. The moral of the story may be that our lives may not be as random and meaningless as we think. That maybe there is a code within us that includes a directive waiting to be discovered.
As random as this may all seem, my more recent family history touches many of the same bases as that of our Norman ancestors, forcing me to consider just how much DNA determines the course of our lives, even that of ostensibly random events.
The Native DNA brings us to Vinland, one of the earliest known European settlements in the Western Hemisphere. As did their ancient Phoenician heroes, the Norsemen risked falling over the edge of the world and discovered a land of milk and honey in the temperate Canadian Maritimes.
Are we really supposed to believe that lusty sailors and curious Native girls didn't do what people did to entertain themselves and produce prototypes for a new, distinctly Western race? Vikings are now believed to have brought native women back with them to Iceland as well, introducing their geneology in that island nation famed for its stunningly beautiful women (plus, Bjork).
The Berber and North African genes in my yDNA and the Norman French genes in my mtDNA act like a punctuation mark on my Templar series, all of which I was oblivious to when I was actually writing it. I can't help but wonder what unconscious or extra-conscious factors were driving that research. It's all the more remarkable to me seeing as how others have beaten me to it- making the seemingly impossible links between the swarthy Phoenicians (whose DNA lives on countries such as Tunisia and Algeria) and the blond Normans. But if those links aren't in fact genetic, what are they?
The Portuguese links are doubly fascinating, in that Portugal was the last sanctuary of the Norman Knights Templar during their suppression, and the wealth and expertise of the Templars in turn helped Portugal become a major player in the age of exploration. David Hatcher Childress writes in New Dawn:
When the Templars were outlawed and arrested in 1307 by King Philip IV of France, the huge Templar fleet at La Rochelle, France, vanished and many Knights Templar sought refuge in lands outside of France. Portugal was one of the few places where they could find some asylum, and it is likely that the Templar fleet made a stop at Almourol castle before continuing to its final destination. It should be noted that many Portuguese explorers and royalty were Knights Templar and later Masons. Many believe that the Portuguese Knights Templar were instrumental in Portugal acquiring its transatlantic colony, Brazil.Note that Brazil is a haven for the ancient Mysteries in the stunningly undiluted form of Carnival. Ostensibly a Christian pre-Lenten festival, Carnival is in fact indistinguishable from the ancient rites of Egypt, Phrygia, Greece and Rome. To find out why, get my book, Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll.
But the Norman links to Portugal predate the Templar repression- the Normans were pivotal in the reconquista of Portugal from Moorish occupation. Bonus sync: I can't help but notice that the pivotal battle in this campaign- the siege of Lisbon- began on my birthday.
Thomas Morton was an English lawyer who came to Massachusetts and settled just south of Boston in a seaside outpost he called “Mare Mount” (later Merrymount, now part of Quincy). A freethinker, Morton established good relations with the local tribes (especially their maidenfolk) and sold them English firearms. He also took in escaped indentured servants from Plymouth Plantation...And in 1627, Morton decided to throw an old-fashioned May Day revel, complete with wine, women, and song. Morton later bragged that settlers indulged in “revels and merriment after the old English custom, setting up a Maypole and brewing a barrel of excellent beer,” and invited all and sundry to celebrate and bring along “drums, guns, pistols and other fitting instruments for the purpose.”
It was here that Thomas Morton composed America’s first rock ’n’ roll song, a hilariously bawdy celebration of sex, drink, and chasing after strange gods. The first verse invokes Hymen (an undoubtedly intentional double entendre), son of Dionysus and Aphrodite...
There’s also a direct come-on to the local Indian girls, giving notice that “nymphs” and “lasses in beaver coats” were always welcome to come drink with the men at Merrymount.I'm quite proud to say that Merrymount is the probable place of my actual conception- my parents were living there before moving to Braintree shortly before I was born. Merrymount seemed to have a tidal pull on my parents-- my father rented an apartment there after my parents divorced and my mother went to Eastern Nazarene College around the same time, subjecting my sister and I to a childhood filled with poverty, neglect, and a profoundly schizophrenic world view encompassing showbiz libertines and fanatical Puritans. She went to get her teaching certificate but quit teaching after a year or two and got a job as a bank teller. Terrific.
Morton’s prosperous settlement threw two May Day revels, but the Puritans were having none of it. Morton wrote that the Maypole “was a lamentable spectacle” to the Puritans, adding, “they termed it an idol. They called it the Calf of Horeb and stood at defiance with the place, naming it Mount Dagon.” Sure enough, complaints were lodged, Morton was arrested and sent back to England, and his settlement was disbanded. He fled England when Cromwell’s bloodthirsty thugs took power, but when he returned to Massachusetts he found that the Indian population had been decimated and that the Puritans had a cold, wet jail cell waiting for him.
Merrymount's aftershocks would leave their semiotic fingerprints on my family as well. After leaving there my father moved to Cohasset, where The Witches of Eastwick was filmed in 1985. I can't help but notice that when the Knowles family fled the inept fanaticism of Plymouth Plantation, they and a couple of other families founded the picturesque town of Eastham, which is essentially the same name as Eastwick.
And speaking of Dagon- I've mentioned before we used to summer in Gloucester with our extended 70s Brady Bunch family, and Gloucester is in fact the model for Lovecraft's Innsmouth, which was then transplanted in Iberia for the movie Dagon, which also presents us with a New England-born internet-addict who discovers his own Iberian DNA in the film, though under considerably less pleasant circumstances.
All of this sensationalized fiction is informed by the cowardice, crippling ignorance and endless need for scapegoating and witch-hunting that the empty promises of puritanical religion instill, but underneath all of the hysteria is the core of the mystery explored in the Templar series- a search for a lost revelation, or more specifically a search for traces of a people who held that lost revelation.
We saw that in the Da Vinci Code/Last Templar romanticism of the last decade and it seems that the Templars themselves were gripped by a similar romanticism for the ancient Phoenicians. Lovecraft used the pagan revanchism trope so popular in the pulps of the day to express his deeply-held racist and racialist beliefs, which ironically makes him no different than many of today's Evangelicals.†
Which is Phoenician and which is Norman?
So as I get ready to wrap things up here and put Secret Sun Mark I to bed, what is the takeaway of all of this? What application does this have, past the ever-growing private database of weirdness and wonder that I call The Information?
Well, it does adjust my sense of identity. I know now why I've always felt like a space alien around that tribe people call "WASPs". I no longer need to see myself as a product of yesterday's America- of people who've never accepted me.
More importantly, the issues with my paternal grandmother explain a lot of family drama and might go a long way in contributing to the healing processes with some of the scars she left in her wake. Her life was troubled and unhappy and if I'm right, I'll be able to explain exactly why.
But all of this helps to confirm the guiding principle of my work in the most intimate way. That people construct false identities-- just as cultures construct false historical narratives-- for reasons that usually have to do with social pressures and then begin to believe those myths. And worse, pass them down to their children. But calling them myths does mythology a disservice- they're lies and they do harm.
And again, I begin to wonder if I am following my own internal directives or playing out a script written for me and encoded into my genes long before I was born. I've always seen DNA as much more than we're supposed to- I see it as an operating program with capabilities perhaps beyond physical reality. I see it as a database that we have yet to learn how to access.
The first step in accessing that database-- for you and I, that is-- might be through reverse-engineering the code by following its fingerprints on your own life.
†The truth is that while Evangelicals pissed their pants worrrying about pagans and New Agers, the real threat is their children are not leaving the churches for covens, they are leaving the churches in droves for the cold comforts of atheism and agnosticism. Most of these will be out of the reach of preacherly persuasion forever. (Predominantly Scots Irish) Evangelicals once pointed to mainline Protestant churches, with their greying heads and empty pews and crowed in triumph, not realizing they were really looking into their own future.