Friday, September 30, 2011

Our Cyberpunk Reality, or Escaping the Prison Planet

The operating philosophy behind my work is that whatever form it may take, pop culture is more resonant when it addresses "spiritual" issues or wields some variety of "spiritual" power.

The more interesting the particular spirituality in question, the more interesting the art. Hence, Jack Kirby is more interesting than Steve Ditko, Led Zeppelin is more interesting than Deep Purple, David Bowie is more interesting than Elton John, Philip K Dick is more interesting than Isaac Asimov* and The X-Files is more interesting than Law & Order.

And William Gibson is more interesting than all of his Cyberpunk contemporaries.

Nihilism is all the rage in hipster circles these days, which is why nothing new -- or interesting, even-- is coming out of that culture ("hipster" now basically refers to a culture in which the empty obsessiveness of geekdom is applied to cultural artifacts once reserved for the "cool" people).

In that light, hipsters might want to make sure they don't take any time to investigate the worldviews of their icons, lest they notice the conspicuous lack of Bill Nye/Amazing Randi-type thinking among their favorite artists. Even Beck, who arguably first planted the hipster meme in the mainstream back in the early 90s, is a devout Scientologist.

Philip K. Dick is the hippest sci-fi icon going these days. But the same people who carefully display unread copies of his books (alongside their unlistened-to copies of Fun House and Sketches of Spain) for their poseur friends go out of their way to mock his beliefs and experiences. Why? Because they can't even begin to understand them.

They and all of the other only-children at their elite private school alma mater never darkened the door of a house of worship, and mocking non-atheists isn't just sport, it's one of the few means of self-identification they have. Their atheism isn't a philosophy of any meaningful sort, it's simply a status symbol.

William Gibson isn't as de rigeur as Dick, but his work is every bit as infused with spirituality, if in a less-ostantatious fashion. Gnostic spirituality as well, though far less self-consciously. Maybe even unconsciously.

We've looked at Gibson before, most notably in the Matrix extravaganza, but I'm on a different tear now. The Wachowskis didn't really understand Gibson's gnosis, in that Gibson's Cyberspace wasn't the prison, it was the escape from the prison. It was a place of endless freedom and possibility. Which means, of course, that it was written long before the Internet was available to anyone outside of university computer labs by a guy who did his writing on a manual typewriter.

And certainly the Matrix itself was a hell of a lot better place to live than aboard the Nebuchadnezzar or the Zion (someone really should have told the Wachowski's that no ancient Gnostic would ever identify with those names) and we won't even get into the sequels.

But Gibson's obsession with dislocation and created environments ties into the Gnostic desire to escape the Demiurge's world. Preferably into the Pleroma, but escape into a self-created world would surely be a nice consolation prize. And unlike the stereotypical image of the lone seeker often associated with Gnosticism (and common in Gibson's fiction), the deep feelings of alienation that the Gnostic harbor could also act as an epoxy for alternative community. Under the right conditions, at least.

In Gibson's first trilogy, two AIs seek apotheosis, to become self-sustaining intelligences within the Matrix. Having achieved that, they then take on the personas of Voodoo Loa in Count Zero, guises which allow them to interact with the alienated yet gifted outsiders the AIs need to further their evolution.

In other words, memes taken from the ancient Mystery religions re-enter the Gnostic world via Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy, mirroring the ancient syncretisms in which Abraxas and Horus and Hermes Trismegistus morphed into one another like some old Michael Jackson video.

That's all fine and good. But who cares, right?


Well, it may well turn out that constructing safe havens within Cyberspace might be the only escape available for the foreseeable future.

Globalism loves to displace and disorient, and our computer screens are becoming our only compasses. I know some see getting off the grid and living off the land as the goal, but that's assuming that will remain an option. Or that was even anything but a theoretical option in the first place. It's a nice idea, I suppose, but it's not exactly a great escape. On the contrary, it imprisons us in geography and gravity, and essentially puts you back in the 17th Century.

Evolution is like gravity- it doesn't give a shit whether you choose to recognize its power or not. In that regard, the next step seems to be forming communities and seeking alliances and trying to carve out a place somewhere to call our own. And it could be that physical dislocation could be an asset in that process.

History is filled with failed alternative communities in Meatspace, high-minded projects that fell apart for perfectly mundane reasons. All the utopian ideals and philosophies in the world don't do you much good when your fellow communard won't lift the toilet seat when he pees, leaves her dirty panties lying around in weird places, or snores like a jackhammer.

Since Meatspace is such an endurance test for me, I find my outer environment in a state of blissful contraction. I realize its not hippily correct, but I live electronically and virtually for the most part and I'm fine with that.

Actually, I spent some time trying to talk with some of the permaculture hippies the last time I was at Esalen and I wasn't sure any of them did much reading at all, never mind reading for pleasure. In fact, I found the movement vaguely sinister, like a covert serf-making program. But who am I to judge?


Whatever the motivation, more and more people are living inside their electronics. That's a fact of life which you can love or hate, just like you can love or hate the tides, or movements of the tectonic plates.

For me the point is whether those devices are expanding or contracting their reality. The point is whether we are using these tools for liberation or enslavement. I always found the ones who give you the kneejerk slave rap are the ones most addicted to their screens, television mostly in this case.

Like the Loa in Count Zero, I see spiritual language as a useful code for a pragmatic rewriting of the human OS. I don't want to deny the laws of nature, I just want to expand our understanding of them, and if necessary, to hack them.

In other words, Gibson's appropriation of the language of mysticism is useful to our assimilation of technology, and the mythology of his sci-fi can give your understanding and application of the Cyberpunk technology we now have access to a near apotheosis of a boost.

The problem isn't the technology, it's the human robots that are using it.
If you believe you know a better way, it's up to you to prove it and deprogram those robots around you into fully-functioning human beings.

OK, OK-- cybernetic beings, then.

* Watching moss grow is more interesting than Asimov, so maybe that's a bad example.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Exegesis: The F-Word

Promise Keepers rally, mid-90s

There are so many words in the English language that trigger deep feelings of nausea in me, but perhaps none so much as the F-word.

Yes, every time I hear the word "faith" --or worse, "people of faith "-- I feel involuntary spasms at the back of my throat, the room starts to spin, and images of rotting tuna sandwiches fill my eyes. Well, not quite but close enough.

"Faith" is one of those buzzwords that overpaid media consultants have injected into the memestream. It's meant to be a stand-in for "organized religion," a stand-in that's meant to soften the jagged edges of religiously-motivated political pressure groups (or more accurately, politically-motivated religious pressure groups).

It's kind of like the etymological equivalent of the "you wouldn't hit a guy with glasses" gag from some old Daffy Duck cartoon. The closet cases and hausfraus that form the core of these groups can go around harassing religious and sexual minorities, banning books from libraries, cheerleading for more invasions and bombing campaigns and electing sociopaths totally beholden to corporate and bankster power with impunity.

The minute you raise an objection, the concern trolls at The New York Times and Newsweek start wringing their hands about "faith under fire" and begin pointing out all of the token charity fronts that these "faith groups" from across the monotheistic (there's no such thing, but we'll get to that in a later post) spectrum slap together to justify their tax-exempt status. Anything to divert people's attention from the fact that organized religion as we know it today was created by autocrats to act as tools of political conquest.

Faith also brings up mental images of nanas and aunties at shrines, praying to one saint or another (all of the saints and church fathers that weren't fictitious appropriations of pagan gods were invariably born into or sponsored by aristocratic families -- look it up if you don't believe me). You can just smell the old lady bouquet when the word is spoken.

Enough of all of that.

No matter how much you or I hate the word, the fact of the matter is that, like "spirituality," no healthy society can operate without a large degree of faith. We're not talking about the euphemistic neologism now, we're talking about the fact that it takes an act of faith to get through the day. We all take so much on faith that I think we'd all go into a state of panic if we stopped to think just how much we actually do take on faith.

But the reason I left the Church was because of the concept of "Faith." I can deal with the fact that I take it on faith that I won't be struck down by an asteroid when I step outside my door, or that I take it on faith that the guy barreling towards me on the other side of the undivided highway isn't suddenly going to careen into me head first and send me to the hospital or the grave.

What I couldn't take on faith was a system of belief that my actual experience was telling me was falling apart, no matter how hard I wanted to reconstruct my blissful memories of church from my childhood. What was replacing it was a reductive, tribalist cult of state, no different in theory --or practice-- than the old Jupiter (literally, "God the Father") cult of Rome.

There was so much involved in this faith that contradicted everything I knew or had experienced about the world, never mind the fact that the faith itself is ridden with internal contradiction. And the religious experiences I had in a more countercultural milieu were infinitely more potent and transformative. But as I've said before it wasn't all of that that bugged me- you have to let a lot of things slide when entering into any belief system, whether religious or secular.

It was the fact that the "faith" had become totally subsumed by temporal politics.

The denomination I grew up was split down the middle into liberal and conservative camps who barely seemed to remain on the same planet, never mind within the same church. The work of the writers who rekindled my interest in the faith of my childhood-- Paul Tillich, John Dominic Crossan, Scott Peck, Matthew Fox, Karen Armstrong-- were so outside of the mainstream of what American Christianity had become by the early 90s they were nearly alien.

And what American Christianity had become was an amen corner for the neo-colonial and neo-conservative ascendancies within the Republican Party.

I didn't realize it, but the seeds of something much deeper and stranger were being sown at the same time, seeds that would take root and lead me away from all of that misplaced nostalgia.

In the space of the month that I started going back to church, I'd experience a rash of synchronicities and prophetic dreams, bring home my first modem and get online, and watch the pilot episode of The X-Files. And the rest is history.

"Faith" soon tasted like O'Douls compared to the acid-laced Everclear of gnosis. I never looked back.

Even so, I still believe in faith-- the F-word-- in the Stan Lee "keep the faith, True Believer!" sense. As in be brave, stick to your guns and believe in what you are doing. I still have faith that there's a purpose and a plan that waits for those worthy enough to divine it all to tap into.

The difference is that where faith (as society defines it) is a closed circuit-- a dead end-- the alternative thereto has a whole kitbag of tools to plug you into the raw face of Infinity.

If you have the faith to stare into it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Exegesis: That's the Spirit

"Spiritual but not religious" is a phrase that's become increasingly common these days. What exactly the phrase means depends on who lays claim to it. For some it means they still believe in church teachings but prefer to sleep in on Sunday. For others (more than the former category, probably) it means a belief in angels, reincarnation, and a host of quasi-Christian/New Age syntheses.

It's one of those times when language fails us, something that seems to happen more and more often when dealing with anything esoteric (see: Aliens, Ancient). You could fill a dictionary with words whose meaning has been degraded, tarnished or even reversed (like "hipster") in the past 30 years or so. Hyper-mediation is to blame, but our public discourse is even more so, never mind the dumbing-down process going on in our schools and on our TVs.

Because of this, we have to use words provisionally, adding disclaimers like "but not religious" among many others. Many of us have to devise something on the level of a creed to navigate the minefields of language we're face with.

Unfortunately, even when all that is said and done, the concept of "spirit" itself is like quicksand. It tends to describe either some kind of emotional state on one end of the spectrum and a belief in ghosts on the other. Which is to say that some people find a self-construction of beliefs, practices and rituals to be comforting and others a belief in communing with disembodied personalities. Often both.

That's all fine with me. You'd be surprised how many people who claim to be above all of that simply construct a parallel analog thereto, whether it's based in "science" or politics or sports or whatever. It's inevitable since we either atomize ourselves as mere consumers in a mechanistic, material view of reality (an increasingly popular option) or we find some way to tap into something beyond ourselves.

In that regard, what we call "spirituality" is the operating system software to facilitate that process.

You won't find very many long-lasting secular societies in history. Atheism may be painted in the media as the inevitable next step in the grand march of history, but it's actually a time-tested symptom of a declining civilization, one that surrenders to the comforts of materialism and urbanism and fails to reproduce itself.

We certainly saw this in Greece and Rome, as the Cynics and the Skeptics turned their backs on the old gods and the old ruling families gave way to more vigorous peoples from the east.

But at the same time there was also a radical religious fundamentalism running a parallel track to the secular.
In the case of Rome, religious extremism among the Plebeians and a nihilistic atheism among the Patricians ultimately led to Constantine, who himself led to Theodosius, a blood-thirsty theocrat who drove the Empire into the ground, where it gasped for air for a century before the Goths finally put it out of its misery.

Not a comforting precedent.

There's a myth among the "Brights," as they like to call themselves, that secularism inevitably leads to Enlightenment, when it actually leads to materialism and Me Generationism. Richard Dawkins is in fact the spiritual godfather of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian.

When there's nothing to believe in, why not indulge in raw hedonism and materialism? Why not create a culture devoted to nothing but tangible pursuits? Maybe 2% of the population (at most) will adopt "Reason"-- whatever that means-- as its new god and the rest will look out for Number One.

Fundamentalism is equally materialistic. Never mind the obvious example of the "Prosperity Gospel"-- by far the most vigorous brand of Evangelicalism in the marketplace. If you get any Fundamentalist or Evangelical talking, the conversation will inevitably come down to politics and politics only, right-wing politics to be precise. Your Pentecostal and Charismatic types maybe less so, but they too are often motivated by what "they"-- "they" meaning "not me"-- are doing in the here and now (read: "gays").

Spirituality-- however you chose to define it-- is an indispensable part of our operating system as a society because there come times when there's not much else to hold on to. We've enjoyed an unparalleled period of prosperity and comfort, but there are all sorts of indicators suggesting that period may be coming to a close. But Spirituality also inspires people to think beyond their own temporary interests and think about the future as well.

The question then becomes which spirituality will emerge as the old ones wither-- in North America and Europe, at least.
Many people rightly turn away from "spirituality"- and by God, I truly despise the word itself-- since we associate it with people, values and ideas that make us physically ill.

Whether its organized religion or ditzy aunties clutching their crystals or whining media gurus dispensing refried bromides on HuffPost, the word "spirituality" has a whole host of sick-making associations attached to it like lampreys.

But at the same time I loathe its usual definitions, I also understand that it's a concept that no truly healthy - and sustaining- society can do without. But how that concept is disseminated in another question entirely.

I'm reminded of how refreshing the concept of the "New Age" seemed in the early 80s before it was immediately hijacked by the ditz brigades. In turn, "neopaganism" became appealing to some people, and then the Christian mysticism of The Da Vinci Code milieu, and then finally how "occultism" became a refuge that your maiden auntie couldn't follow you into.

It's amazing how quickly things are used up and discarded these days (how queasy do you feel when you hear the term "consciousness," for instance?).

The point being is that this operating system I refer to often needs to define itself but by defining itself it becomes fodder for consumer culture. It's something that's happened to every counter-cultural movement in history, recent history at least. But here's where evolution demands the disclaimer, demands the negotiation.

What a new spirituality-- let's stick with "operating system" so I don't puke-- needs to do is identify itself by what it seeks to accomplish and how it intends to go about that.

The buzzwords might work in the old media context, when everything had to be boiled into soundbites, but new media allows room to breathe. You can describe your goals and your means without resorting to labels, if you so desire.

It's amazing how what is done around here is really no different than what the ancients did- the smarter ones who didn't take everything literally, that is. Symbolism and synchronicity were pretty much the primary tools in the esoteric kitbag even then, often accompanied by various kinds of divinatory tools.

It was understood that the gods or the angels or whomever spoke to people in symbolic language and that symbolically-charged coincidence was usually the means of transmission.

Then you add in the various meditation techniques, the augmentations (if you will), various types of scarabs or amulets and assorted systems of divination and you understand that that ancient esotericism was a remarkably pragmatic undertaking, a way to understand the nature of the world and use that understanding to get certain things accomplished.

Sure, your Richard Dawkinses may scoff at it all but people who'll still be remembered long after he's rotted away took it all very, very seriously.

Carl Jung was one of them, and perhaps the most important for us today. He was able to re-translate a lot of these operating systems that either been forgotten or fallen into disrepute for modern people. Of course, his writing is often hard to parse and it's best to rely on worthy interlocutors to understand but that's the way these things go.

There are a whole host of others who can help navigate the currents as well. I'd only recommend you stick with the ones who seem to be planted in those time-tested means, rather than going for any "version 1.0.1" type of systems. If you catch my drift.

If you've gotten this far I don't need to sell you on any of this, but this essay isn't about selling you something. If anything, it's about encouraging you to dust off the old books you bought when this was all new and redouble your efforts-- and your commitment to the path you're already on.

Sometimes in the middle of a journey you tend to lose sight of where you came from and where you're going. Taking another look at the roadmap and the itinerary can be a great help if you have to stop and change a tire, or you run out of gas in the middle of nowhere.

Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different...

My history with Ancient Astronaut Theory is by no means a straight path. Being a child of the 70s who devoured whatever weirdo pop culture he could get his mitts on (sci-fi paperback and magazine covers were to me what the Christian icons were to Byzantium), I couldn't avoid AAT since it was everywhere. Especially in comics, with Jack Kirby's various AAT ruminations, Tragg and the Sky-Gods, and so on and so forth.

It was all over the UFO mags I pored over at the newsstand but could rarely afford. The Reaganism and the religious right put a stop to all of it and sent popcult AAT to the Saturday morning TV ghetto.

I picked it up again during my UFO phase, starting around '88 and lasting up until the first season of The X-Files, when I didn't need to go searching used book stores to get a decent fix, it was on my idiot box every Friday night at 9 (well, more or less). Which is not to forget Sightings, which I watched religiously.

But my big obsession throughout the 90s and beyond was esoterica, secret societies, conspiracies, that kind of thing. That all sort of culminated in Our Gods Wear Spandex, as I realized that nearly everything I was reading about in Gnosis or Paranoia had already been explored in the comics I read in the 70s.

AAT reared its head again during the mid-90s, since it was such a central part of books like The Gods of Eden and Rule By Secrecy as well as some of the more wild stuff on USENET and the like, all of which stemmed from the Sitchin material.

But there was something missing for me-- there were pieces of the puzzle I couldn't find and didn't know where to look for them. So not long after this mini-comic was completed I kind of walked away from AAT. So much so that when The X-Files dived into the AAT lagoon in late '99 I already saw it as something in my past.

This blog documents the process in which I began to re-process the AAT exegesis, although staying removed from it (like here) began to realize it was encoded in the symbolism I was obsessing over (like here) and finally where I kind of put all the pieces together, at least the ones I had at my disposal (like here).

This mini-comic (which I only sent to a small circle of friends) documents a time (early 1997) when I was trying to make sense of the theory using my old technique of explaining something to someone else in order to explain it to myself.

It was drawn at a time when I was too busy with advertising and toy packaging to do any comics work but wanted to stay familiar with the tools (crowquill, brush). I still had designs of doing comic work, not realizing that by exploring these kinds of ideas I had already divorced myself entirely from what fandom had become (as opposed to the hippie/weirdo fandom of my childhood).

I was also obsessed with the work of Larry Gonick at the time and the influence is pretty obvious (and would surely horrify him, which I now relish the thought of). There's also more than a little Crumb here as well, since he was a huge influence on the comic-format letters I used to send friends in the days before you could waste all your time with meaningless nonsense on the Internet.

With all that being said, here's the mini in its entirety. Click to enlarge. My chicken scratch lettering is indecipherable otherwise.

Monday, September 19, 2011

AstroGnostic: (We All) Fall to Earth

At the height of his first wave of success in the 1970s David Bowie signed to star in Nic Roeg's adaption of the seminal 60s sci-fi novel,
The Man Who Fell to Earth. I'm not sure what I think about the movie itself, but it seems to be an unacknowledged landmark in the ongoing AstroGnostic revelation. As well as a film rife with signifiers that resonate much more strongly than what Roeg put onscreen.

In fact, the idea for this piece here really came from thinking about the Templars and how they ended up a lot like Thomas Jerome Newton at the end of Earth. Like Newton, the Templars --as well as the other crusading orders-- failed in their mission, in this case to return the "Holy Land" to Christian control. It's interesting to note how Earth all kicks off in the desert, and that Newton himself came from a dying desert world.

It's also interesting how Newton's business empire was taken over by the US Gov't at the same time he too was subjected to Medieval torture during the inquisition to determine his alien origin. As with the Templars, Newton's phenomenal success in business -- electronics, in this case -- put him on the Inquisitors' radar.

If indeed the Templars were being used to rebuild the ancient Phoenician empire -- a task in which they also failed at-- there's another parallel to Newton's task of saving his homeworld. Newton's failure was fueled by his addiction to liquor and television, the Templars' failure was fueled by their addiction to money and worldly success.

The parallels only go so far- Newton is a cosmic naif, an innocent haunted by the onrushing fate of his family and his people who is destroyed by the vulgarity of 70s America, and the Templars were brilliant yet marauding cut-throats whose every move seemed shrouded in deception and double-meaning.

But did Bowie himself sense the connection? Just before entering his own decade-long fall to Earth, Bowie released "Loving the Alien," as a single, whose lyrics not only namecheck the Templars but seem to be more about Templar mythology than about, you know, aliens.

The video pictures Bowie in several guises, one minute wielding a Templar shield and lance and the next as a English gentleman marrying a Muslim princess in a post-industrial wasteland, a tidy foreshadowing of Bowie's own marriage to Iman, the Somali-born 80s supermodel, during the lowest ebb of his career.

Bowie probably knows more about Gnosticism and aliens and the rest of it than all of us. In the 70s he was literally superhuman, sustaining himself on cocaine, milk and the occasional raw egg while blasting out one classic LP after another, bedding thousands of groupies and touring the world tirelessly with his enormous occult library in tow and spending his spare time scanning the skies for UFOs. But Earth seem to trigger something deep inside the Great White Duke, or maybe it was the New Mexico desert.

After Earth's release, Bowie found himself in Berlin in thrall of a glamorous cabaret drag queen named Romy Haag, whom he met after his triumphant appearance in the divided city. When he wasn't writing and producing seminal albums for Iggy Pop, Bowie's day job saw him holed up in the studio with nascent super-producer Brian Eno, making records which the critics and his record company hated but would eventually be copied by everyone from Duran Duran to Depeche Mode. Which is to say Bowie single-handedly invented New Wave and Synth Pop within the space of a year. Throw in Post-Punk for good measure.

In other words, if anyone was an alien on Earth it was David Bowie in the 70s.

Roeg's path to Earth would be a lot different. It would start with Performance, a film he co-directed with the late Donald Cammell, who played Osiris in Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising. Jagger had expunged Anger from the Stones' orbit by this time, but that occultic fog lingered around the set, probably emanating from Cammell, a close Anger associate.

After Performance, Roeg would make Walkabout, featuring a young Jenny Agutter (Logan's Run, American Werewolf in London). This was a Gnostic parable in and of itself, with two English schoolkids stranded in the unforgiving Australian outback (the desert again) after their father shoots himself during a picnic after trying to kill them (shades of Chronos).

The kids fall from the lap of comfort and security of their station and class into the brittle wasteland, then to a lush oasis before they are brought back to their world by a curious young Aborigine. Which itself is another fall, from the Edenic garden to the sterile, workaday world of modern Australia.

Note that Bowie would reverse the plot of Walkabout in his video for "Let's Dance" in 1983.

In between Walkabout and Earth, Roeg filmed the occult thriller Don't Look Now in Venice (where else?), bringing us back to the Templar world, or at least its frontiers. Like those two, Don't Look Now relies on unorthodox editing and storytelling techniques, bringing Roeg a lot of admirers in film schools (Steven Soderbergh and Chris Nolan are two notable Roeg acolytes), but perhaps fewer at the box office. The film would inspire controversy when rumors had it that the sex between stars Donald Sutherland and Julia Christie was of the un-simulated variety.

After prowling the moldy alleyways of Venice, Roeg returned to the desert where he was probably bemused by Bowie's incessant UFO sightings. Bowie's life mirrored Newton's in many ways, a preternatural genius whose addictions were killing him and/or driving him insane. Vibes were so heavy in Los Angeles (drugs, corruption, witchery) that cold war Berlin seemed like a better deal.

More inadvertent prophecy? Los Angeles is quickly becoming an economic wasteland, as California's runaway deficits and the ongoing deflation of Hollywood hegemony are sinking the city into depression. After Berlin's postwar fall, it seems to be in the ascendant, as Germany's refusal to see its citizens as disposable serfs (or 21st Century Americans, if you prefer) is helping drive its astonishing industrial ascent.

If The Man Who Fell to Earth inspired an identity crisis in its star-- one that had to be tended to immediately-- it signaled a fall from grace for its auteur. Never a hitmaker, Roeg's films hit the skids with the critics as well. The only post-Earth film to receive significant attention was his adaption of Roald Dahl's book The Witches in 1990. Roeg is almost universally hailed as a genius, but genius doesn't mean box office in this fallen world.

Ask Roeg's old partner Donald Cammell, who'd also work with Julie Christie in his 1977 adaption of Dean Koontz' The Demon Seed, a Transhumanist Rosemary's Baby with a priapic A.I. in place of Ol' Scratch. Cammell's last film would be Wild Side, which starred Anne "Call Me Celestia" Heche and Twin Peaks femme fatale Joan Chen. The death-fixated Cammell shot himself soonafter, slowly dying in his young wife's arms.

Cammell was not only a close friend of Kenneth Anger he claimed to have been bounced on the knee of none other than Aleister Crowley, a friend of Cammell's family. Cammell was another prodigy of unearthly talent- before taking up directing, he was an in-demand portrait painter, boasting old master chops while still a teenager.

Like Jack Parsons before him, Cammell be drawn like a moth to Crowley's black flame and like Parsons his life and his genius would be extinguished at too young an age. Something of a repeating pattern with the Great Beast 666.

Bowie too would fly too close to the black flame during the making of The Man Who Fell to Earth, and his own Crowley flirtations threatened to drive him out of his coke-addled brain. The title track on Station to Station would have Bowie finally placing himself in Crowley's uniform, quoting the Beast's pornographic poem "White Stains" and crooning about the Sephiroth.

Unlike Cammell and Parsons, Bowie pulled himself away from Crowley's orbit and survived, helped in no small part by the musical ministrations of Fripp and Eno and the tender mercies of Romy Haag.

Bowie as Yaltabaoth, Saklas, and Sammael,
contemplating the Serpent Christ

Eno would return to rescue Bowie again after the Thin White Duke's soundtrack for The Buddha of Suburbia convinced the producer that Bowie was serious about music again. 1. Outside (1995) returned Bowie to his Berlin headspace and also to the stars. "Hallo Spaceboy" joined the swollen ranks of Bowie's love songs to elusive aliens, but this one was colored by a Gnostic pessimism, a justifiable suspicion that this chaotic world won't tolerate angels or prodigies.

1.Outside was a concept album, loosely telling the story of a detective investigating the ritual murder of a young girl by a pair of renegade performance artists(anticipating Pseudo-Occult Media by several years). Bowie was swept up by millennium fever and saw Y2K in distinctly apocalyptic terms. Sounding uncomfortably like '76-vintage Bowie, he claimed that 1.Outside was meant to tap into that fever:
Oh, I've got the fondest hopes for the fin de siecle. I see it as a symbolic sacrificial rite. I see it as a deviance, a pagan wish to appease gods, so we can move on. There's a real spiritual starvation out there being filled by these mutations of what are barely remembered rites and rituals. To take the place of the void left by a non-authoritative church. We have this panic button telling us it's gonna be a colossal madness at the end of this century.
He was a little ahead of his time, yet again. Bowie's first post-9/11 release Heathen boasted images of defaced religious icons in the booklet and lyrics which many interpreted as responses to the fall of the WTC towers. However, Bowie revealed that they were written and in some cases recorded prior to the events. As he did in the past, Bowie followed on the success of Heathen with a hasty follow-up Reality, but experienced an onstage cardiac event that sent him into retirement, ostensibly.

The Starman is mortal after all. It happens to the best of us.

POSTSCRIPT: Thomas Jerome Newton was not of this world but just imagine for a moment that perhaps we aren't either. Not who we really are, underneath it all. We are all blank slates at birth and the original sin is the world's-- the systems that we inherit against our will-- not our own.

If anything is ever going to change for the better, I think alienation is a good place to start. There's a lot worth being alienated from. You don't have to be ashamed of feeling alienated by a world filled with evil, stupidity, greed and injustice. We've all fallen into the world as it is but if our children's children are to be free, maybe imagining a different world-- a world in which we would feel at home-- is a good place to start.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Another History of the Knights Templar: Conclusion

The Templar seal depicting a horse with two riders has always mystified historians, at least those not familiar with its Sumerian antecedent.
But given the complex and sometimes contradictory story of the Knights Templar, it makes sense on a number of different levels.

It symbolizes the exoteric and the esoteric nature of the Order.
It symbolizes the agenda of Rome and the hidden agenda of the grand masters. It symbolizes the Norman core of the Order and also its shadowy patrons, possibly Venetians. And it symbolizes the virtual empire of the Normans/Templars and the ancient virtual empire of the Phoenicians.

The Phoenicians were similarly dualistic. There was the obvious mercantile component of the virtual empire; "an empire built on trade, not conquest" as the cliche goes, but there was also the cultural component as well. The Phoenicians were in many ways the Internet of the ancient Mediterranean.

There was the exoteric religion of the Phoenicians and their Canaanite kin that was based on the Sumerian-derived pantheon, and then there was a parallel, syncretic Greco-Egyptian Mystery tradition the Phoenicians seem to have created and disseminated, from Persia to the British Isles. And then there was the evolution of that tradition from the Mysteries to Gnosticism, which Phoenicians seem to be the secret force behind as well.

Rome had countless thousands killed --
perhaps up to a million people or even many more-- from the reign of Constantine to the Albigensian Crusade in order to eradicate Gnosticism from Europe. It was much like conservative hero Cato's genocide of the Carthaginians-- probably the most efficient genocide of a people in terms of raw percentage-- up to 85% of the nation was killed during Rome's invasion.

The never-ending Crusade would be slowed with the rise of the Rosicrucians and the original Freemasons, who would bring down the Medieval royal families and greatly reduce the power of the Vatican in Europe.

Even so, tens of thousands of Rosicrucians and Freemasons would then be slaughtered in concentration camps with the rise of self-confessed Christian Adolf Hitler who-- contrary to all of the ridiculous and somewhat sinister disinformation floating around out there --went out of his way to crush all forms of Esotericism, outside of the traditional Volkisch mysticism of the SS.

And we can add the hundreds of Templars burned alive to the death toll.

What becomes clear is that the heresy the Templars were accused of was Johannite Gnosticism; in other words, a reverence of John the Baptist as the true messiah. The Vatican is unambiguous about this-- or rather, was until it reversed course in the mid 2000s under pressure or influence we can only guess at. As Pope Pius IX wrote: 

"The Templars, like all other Secret Orders and Associations, had two doctrines, one concealed and reserved for the Masters, which was Johannism; the other public, which was the Roman Catholic. Thus they deceived the adversaries whom the sought to supplant. Hence Free-Masonry, vulgarly imagined to have begun with the Dionysian Architects or the German Stone-workers, adopted Saint John the Evangelist as one of its patrons, associating with him, in order not to arouse the suspicions of RomeSaint John the Baptist, and thus covertly proclaiming itself the child of the Kabalah and Essenism together."
Pope Pius IX

Was John himself Phoenician? Syrian Phoenicians are generally credited with the creation of Gnosticism and the Vatican is on record as believing the Baptist to be the "Father of the Gnostics." It's hard to say, but what is clear is that like many other hubs of the Roman East, Israel was a marketplace of religious ideas during the time of John and Jesus and the lines of demarcation were not always clear. Syncretism was rampant and ideas were stolen left and right as any number of sects competed for adherents among the bustling cities of the eastern Mediterranean, from Antioch to Alexandria.

The fact that the Templars would use the Gnostic deity of Abraxas on their official seals only confirms these connections.
The Gnostics were like the Phoenicians in that they valued magical gems or coins, known as "scarabs" or "amulets," as portable icons for the believer. The figure of Abraxas was especially popular:
The Basilidean Gnostics taught that from this supreme God was created nous (mind). Abraxas also was identified with the Hebrew 'Adonai, the Egyptian Horus, and the Hindu Prajapati.

Gnostic amulets known as Abraxas gems depicted the god as a pantheos (all-god), with the head of a cock, herald of the sun, representing foresight and vigilance; a human body clothed in armor, suggestive of guardian power; legs in the form of sacred asps. In his right hand is a scourge, emblem of authority; on his left arm a shield emblazoned with a word of power. - Glossary of Spiritual and Religious Words

Abraxas was identified with Horus and was probably derived from a common Phoenician scarab design picturing a kneeling Horus atop the two symbolic serpents of Egypt called the Uraei, often seen on pharaonic headdresses. As you can see in the images above, the snake legs of Abraxas take the place of the Uraei. Note that Abraxas also carries Horus' pharaonic flail. The rooster was identified with Horus in his form of Harpocrates, the rising sun, for obvious reasons.

But how could the Templars have learned of Abraxas, with the original Gnostics long buried and even the anti-Gnostic writings of the aristocratic Church Fathers generally unavailable in the days before the invention of the printing press?

Scholars have long cited the survival of ancient wisdom in Arab and Persian lands, which became sanctuaries for scholars and religious minorities fleeing the rampaging desert monks (literally the first "storm-troopers," in that they came out of the Egyptian wilderness into the cities to destroy all opposition to the orthodoxy like a desert storm).

But the tolerance of Hellenistic learning had waned considerably by the time the Templars came along, and a backlash was rising in the Muslim world due to a number of thorny religious disputes:
(Abbasid caliph al-Mamun) responded to a crisis of legitimacy by attempting to undermine traditionalist religious scholars while actively sponsoring a doctrine called Mu’tazilism that was deeply influenced by Greek rationalism, particularly Aristotelianism. To this end, he imposed an inquisition, under which those who refused to profess their allegiance to Mu’tazilism were punished by flogging, imprisonment, or beheading.

But the caliphs who followed al-Mamun upheld the doctrine with less fervor, and within a few decades, adherence to it became a punishable offense. The backlash against Mu’tazilism was tremendously successful: by 885, a half century after al-Mamun’s death, it even became a crime to copy books of philosophy.
But there were other sects in the Levant where the Templars could rediscover the lost legacy of Western civilization. A process would begin in which ancient wisdom and sacred science would be rediscovered, a process that would lead to the progress and prosperity of the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance and the gradual weakening of Roman power.

This would be the true birth of Europe, which may have been midwifed by a mysterious sect who arose in Phoenicia at the same time the Normans were making their mark on Europe.

Remember that contrary to the popular myth of fanatical holy warriors, the Knights Templar often made peace with the "Saracens", a blanket term not only for Muslims but for other non-Christian sects in Asia. They would be criticized for their contacts with the indigenous people of the lands they were occupying, one group of whom was almost certainly the source of the Templars exposure to the ancient Gnosis.

Unlike the Knights Templar, this sect survives to this this day:
The Druze faith began as a movement in Ismailism, that was mainly influenced by Greek philosophy and gnosticism and opposed certain religious and philosophical ideologies that were present during that epoch. The faith was preached by Hamza ibn 'Alī ibn Ahmad, a Persian Ismaili mystic and scholar. He came to Egypt in 1014 and assembled a group of scholars and leaders from across the world to establish the Unitarian movement.- Wiki
As with the Sikhs of India and arguably the Templars themselves, the Druze learned that the only way for a Gnostic sect to survive was to learn how to fight, and fight better than their oppressors:
It was during the period of Crusader rule in Syria (1099–1291) that the Druze first emerged into the full light of history in the Gharb region of the Chouf Mountains. As powerful warriors serving the Muslim rulers of Damascus against the Crusades, the Druze were given the task of keeping watch over the crusaders in the seaport of Beirut, with the aim of preventing them from making any encroachments inland.

Subsequently, the Druze chiefs of the Gharb placed their considerable military experience at the disposal of the Mamluk rulers of Egypt (1250–1516); first, to assist them in putting an end to what remained of Crusader rule in coastal Syria, and later to help them safeguard the Syrian coast against Crusader retaliation by sea- Wiki
Following the Persian conquest of Syria and the Phoenician homelands, there was a lot of exchange of people and ideas between Persia and the Levant. Ismailism seems to have Phoenician fingerprints all over it, and the Druze religion-- largely centered in historical Phoenicia-- is nearly identical to the Phoenician Mysteries and Gnostic cults in nearly every way:
The Druze religion is a secret faith. They have preserved the strictest silence upon their beliefs and truly occult rites.......Of the alleged 45 sacred books of the Druze, none were ever seen, let alone examined, by any European scholar.

To the Druze, previous religions are mere types of the true, and their sacred books and observances are to be interpreted allegorically. As converts are no longer admitted, the faithful must keep their doctrine secret from the profane; and in order that their allegiance may not bring them into danger, (they are allowed) to make outward profession to hide their inner belief... --Antioch Gate
A Phoenician crescent and star symbolizing Ba'al ("Lord") and a Templar seal

The connections between the Phoenician Mysteries and the Druze extend to the special relationship between the Druze and the post-Templar esoteric orders of the late Renaissance and Enlightenment periods. Many have argued that the Templars were changed forever by contacts made in the Levant and it would seem that those contacts were with the Druze (note etymological similarity to "Druid")
Sophisticated Druze still sometimes claim connection with Rosicrucians, and a special relation to Scottish Freemasons. The Druze are rather like Druids, and also like Freemasons. In fact, some say that Templar Knights were initiated into Druze orders, and thus Freemasonry was born. It must be pointed out that the Druze were much given to making vehement warfare against the Crusaders.
Rosicrucian doctrines spread to Europe from Arabia, and it is possible that Druze doctrines were carried to Europe during the Crusades. There are modern and traditional parallels between the Druze and the Rosicrucians who came a few hundred years later.

In the modern sense, some Druze were initiated into Orders of the Rose-Croix or higher degrees of Masonry (or the mystical Masonic Rite called the Order of Disciples of Pythagoras) and they came to a faith which is in essence the same mystery doctrine that the Rose-Croix teaches. --Antioch Gate
Even more remarkable is the special attachment to Akhenaton, whose conversations with a mysterious flying disk he called Ra-Horus-Aten changed the course of world history:
That organized school began to spread to other lands during the reign of Akhenaton, and spread to Greece (where Pythagoras, Plato and Plotinus were initiates), then Canaan. Akhenaton is recognized as a divine being by both the Rose-Croix and Druze. Even the mystical work of Rose-Croix (and Martinist work) revolved around "reintegration."

Archetypical Man as a divine being forgot his true essence and mistakes the material universe (which is part of him) as separate and external, since the Fall. Physical man is but a material shadow though endowed with a divine spark. --Antioch Gate
The Druze are not the only Syncretic/Gnostic sect in the former Phoenician lands, nor the only sect with a special link to Mt. Hermon, home of the Igigi, the Watchers left behind by the Anunnaki in Sumerian myth and later regarded as "fallen angels."
Also known as Nusayris, (the Alawites) are an Arabic speaking ethno-religious community, who also live in the Latakiah province of Syria and in the adjacent districts of northern Lebanon and southern Turkey. In recent years many 'Alawis have moved to the large cities of Syria. A small number still survive in Wadi al-Taym south of Mt Hermon. World-wide they number 2.2 million people, of whom 1.6 million live in Syria where they constitute 13% of the population and are the largest minority group.
Their religion is secret and seems to be a syncretistic mixture of extreme Shi'a (Ghulat), ancient pagan, gnostic and Christian elements. They are sometimes classified as a branch of Twelver Shi'ism, but are actually an independent religion. They do not keep the five pillars of Islam, and they have no mosques but meet in private houses for their religious observances. Their festivals include Persian and Christian holy days. They have a ceremony similar to the Christian mass and believe in a trinitarian manifestation of God.
The Druze and the Alawi both arose from the mountains of the Levant and almost certainly stem from earlier common antecedents, the same philosophy that also produced the so-called Assassin cult of Hassan-i Sabbah, which has become closely entwined with the Templar mythology.
Despite mutual animosity, the Alawis are much like the Druzes. Historically both the Druze and the Alawis are off-shoots of Ismailism, which was an earlier split from the Shi'i Imamis (Twelver Shi'ah, the sect that predominates in Iran) ...Alawis reject Islam's main tenets; by almost any standard they must be considered non-Muslims.
An accepted reference on Nusayri rites and doctrines was published in Aleppo in 1859 as Kitab al-Majmu. According to its author, Sulayman al-Adhani, the Nusayris, like other sects of the Syrian mountains on the Mediterranean, primarily believed in the transmigration of souls.- Islamic Articles Library
The Assassins were yet another warrior Gnostic clan in the former Phoenician homelands, a fact which beggars coincidence. It could be argued that the Phoenicians kept close to home and took on whatever exoteric guise their neighbors adopted and continued to pursue their own interests apart from the demands of the religious and military forces running rampant throughout Asia Minor and North Africa for centuries.

And contrary to the reductionist propaganda surrounding them -the hashish and the false Paradise and the rest- the Assassins also followed Gnostic ideas of spiritual incarnation, the same ones that inspired Bogomil high initiates to hurl themselves onto the Crusader bonfires, rather than beg for mercy:
"Isma'ili theology was thus revolutionary in character. The haqa'iq transcended human reason and ultimately derived from gnostic doctrines, considering the principles of spiritual and physical worlds in Neoplatonic terms.
The Gnostics held that the physical world had been created by an inferior deity, the Yahweh of the Old Testament, who was allowed a certain lassitude until God decided to send His son to inhabit the body of Jesus and free the world from false teachings.
Certain Gnostic notions passed into Islam when Mohammed adopted the gnostic idea that the body which was crucified was only a phantom which the Jews and Romans could not harm."-- Edward Burman, The Assassins: Holy Killers of Islam
The radicalism of the Assassins showed that the dreamy, hippie Gnostics of Alexandria were a distant memory and a new kind of Gnostic emerged in the Levant, forged in the endless human bonfires of Rome's inquisitors and crusaders. But the indulgent Gnosis of the Alexandrian rich kids may well be an aberration itself.

Taaut, the sacred Phoenician fire serpent

Gnosticism originally arose in Roman Syria, the territory carved out of Phoenician rubble, and was a rigorous and pessimistic creed, exactly what you might expect from a defeated people whose racial memory stretched back to a time when men walked with gods:
(The Syrian) school represents the oldest phase of Gnosticism, as Western Asia was the birthplace of the movement. Dositheus, Simon Magus, Menander, Cerinthus, Cerdo, Saturninus Justin, the Bardesanites, Sevrians, Ebionites, Encratites, Ophites, Naassenes, the Gnostics of the "Acts of Thomas", the Sethians, the Peratae, the Cainites may be said to belong to this school.

The Naassenes (from Nahas, the Hebrew for serpent) were worshippers of the serpent as a symbol of wisdom, which the God of the Jews tried to hide from men. The Ophites (ophianoi, from ophis, serpent), who, when transplanted on Alexandrian soil, supplied the main ideas of Valentinianism, become one of the most widely spread sects of Gnosticism. Though not strictly serpent-worshippers, they recognized the serpent as symbol of the supreme emanation, Achamoth or Divine Wisdom.

The universe they symbolized by a triangle enclosed in a circle. The number three is the key to all mysteries. There are three supreme principles: the not-generated, the self-generated, the generated. There are three logoi, of gods; the Saviour has a threefold nature, threefold body, threefold power, etc. - The Catholic Encyclopedia
And the constant bickering between the El cults of Canaan and the El cults of Israel certainly seems to be reflected in the jaundiced eye the Syrian Gnostics regarded the God of the Jews and Christians with.

The Serpent-- who represented Wisdom to the Gnostics-- wasn't a tempter in the Garden, he was a liberator. Yahweh was a slave-master, denying knowledge to Adam and Eve in the same way plantation masters forbade their slaves from learning how to read or write:
The Garden of Eden story is then transformed so that the biblical tree of the knowledge of good and evil becomes a vehicle of knowledge (gnosis) established by the heavenly or pleromatic realm. But the tree of life becomes a vehicle of bondage and dependence established by the demiurgical realm.

The divine messenger from the pleroma encourages man to eat from the tree of knowledge; and in so eating, man discovers that the jealous Creator - Demiurge (often linked with misspelled forms of Yahweh such as Yaldabaoth or Yao) is not in fact the ultimate God but really an enemy of God. Man, as a result of divine help, thus comes to know more than the Creator.

Gnostics are those set within a world where they are the spiritual persons (pneumatikoi) who possess the light particles and need only to be awakened in order to inherit their destinies.

The Valentinian goal is reentry into the pleroma, which is often symbolized by terms such as "union" or "unity."... At death the Gnostics, who had experienced awakening, shed the rags of mortality as they ascended through the realms of the fates (or planets). -- G. L. Borchert, Elwell Evangelical Dictionary
To the true Gnostic, death was a liberation from the false prison planet of the Demiurge and his Archons. It's no surprise then how Gnostic sects like the Druze became such fearsome warriors.

But there's an even older Gnostic sect in the Middle East than the Druze or the Alawi, one that the Templars almost certainly came into contact with and one that would explain the reverence for John the Baptist in esoteric orders.

No less an authority than Josephus recorded that the Jews believed it was the execution of John and not Jesus that was believed to have brought the wrath of God down upon them in the civil wars that led to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in the First Century:
The Mandaeans (literally, "the knowers") are the only surviving Gnostics from the time of late Antiquity. They have dwelled for the past eighteen hundred years in southern Iraq and southwest Iran, and increasingly, as a result of recent wars, in other parts of the world. They adhere to the typical Gnostic doctrines and mythologies regarding the soul's entrapment in earthly life and the existence of a heavenly Lightworld, the soul's true home.
Being baptists, the Mandaeans consider John the Baptist their main prophet and renewer of the religion, which, they say, ultimately stems from Adam himself. The Mandaeans live next to but remain apart from their (mostly Moslem) neighbors, and throughout the centries they have preserved their traditions to a remarkable degree.
Conversion to Mandaean beliefs would explain the charges most consistently aimed at the Templars by defectors in the ranks, namely that "they spit on the Holy Cross, these Knights Templar. Not only do they deny the divinity of Christ during their reception, they do not even worship God Almighty, but a graven idol instead. " From Pope Pius IX's landmark Allocution:
"The secret thought of Hugues de Payens, in founding his Order, was not exactly to serve the ambition of the Patriarchs of Constantinople. There existed at that period in the East a Sect of Johannite Christians, who claimed to be the only true Initiates into the real mysteries of the religion of the Saviour.

"The Johannites ascribed to Saint John the foundation of their Secret Church, and the Grand Pontiffs of the Sect assumed the title of Christos, Anointed, or Consecrated, and claimed to have succeeded one another from Saint John by an uninterrupted succession of pontifical powers.
Pio's charge of Templar Johannite subversion seems ridiculous to orthodox historians, but the mystical ferment of the 11th Century might well speak to contact between the Normans-- no admirers of the soft, decadent pederasts who were taking away their ancestral gods-- and Mandaean sects in the mountains of Antioch. Pio again:
"Thus the Order of Knights of the Temple was at its very origin devoted to the cause of opposition to the tiara of Rome and the crowns of Kings, and the Apostolate of Kabalistic Gnosticism was vested in its chiefs. For Saint John himself was the Father of the Gnostics, and the current translation of his polemic against the heretical of his Sect and the pagans who denied that Christ was the Word, is throughout a misrepresentation, or misunderstanding at least, of the whole Spirit of that Evangel."
And of course the eternal Roman fear of being overthrown-- the ultimate source of all religiously-based conspiracy theory dating back to the Bacchants and the Syrian Goddess-- informs Pio's frankly baseless charge that the Templars were planning to overthrow the Holy See.

Blavatsky's Secret Chiefs in suspiciously Mandaean garb
All evidence points to the conclusion that the Templars had become fat and happy in their new role as Europe's bankers, a fact that cause considerable resentment among those who once saw them as self-sacrificing Holy Warriors for Christendom. In that regard, Pio's retroactive conspiracy theorizing below seems particularly specious. When Rome wanted to murder an entire population and steal its treasure, it always dreamed up imaginary conspiracies that its armies swept in to prevent:
"To acquire influence and wealth, then to intrigue, and at need to fight, to establish the Johannite or Gnostic and Kabalistic dogma, were the object and means proposed to the initiated Brethren. The Papacy and the rival monarchies, they said to them, are sold and bought in these days, become corrupt, and to-morrow, perhaps, will destroy each other. All that will become the heritage of the Temple: the World will soon come to us for its Sovereigns and Pontiffs. We shall constitute the equilibrium of the Universe, and be rulers over the Masters of the World."
The worship of Baphomet - a skull or model of a severed head (such 'relics' were common in the Middle Ages) by most reputable accounts- seems also to derived from the John-worshipping Mandaeans, who were probably also conversant in Arabic given their settlements in modern-day Iraq. "Baphomet" could be a sacred pun, combining the Baptist with the Arabic Abufihamat, meaning "Father of Understanding" or "Father of Wisdom."

If Gnostic sects thrived in the Middle East and continue to survive to this day, the same couldn't be said for their brethren in Europe. The Cathars built a prosperous Gnostic community in France at the same time the Templars were active and developed a two-tiered system roughly analogous to the laity and clergy of the Catholic Church:
(The Cathars) believed in reincarnation, rejected the Old Testament, rejected the sacraments of the Catholic Church, rejected material possessions, and rejected the image of cross. They also had a clergy known as the "perfect", which were distinguished from other Cathars, known as "good Christians", by black clothing. The perfects abstained from meat and marriage, for which the general population of Cathars showed them reverence and respect. Although ascetic doctrines were advocated and adhered to by the perfects, other Cathars continued to own material possessions, have families, and likely ate meat. -- Crusades-Encyclopedia
Rome set about to liquidate the Cathars but found that they weren't like the old Gnostics- they were more like the Druze. Rome's tactics became more and more brutal, providing a model for the Nazis- who saw themselves as the new Teutonic Knights, slaying the enemies of the Mother Church.

Indeed, by calling themselves the "Third Reich" the Nazis defined themselves as the inheritors of the mantle of Charlemagne, another religiously-inspired mass-murderer who established the First Reich of the Holy Roman Empire. Note the tactics of the fanatically-religious crusader, De Montfort (who like Philip the Fair, died a gruesome- and humiliating- death not long after the massacre):
The Cathars spent much of 1209 fending off the crusaders. The leader of the crusaders, Simon de Montfort, resorted to primitive psychological warfare. He ordered his troops to gouge out the eyes of 100 prisoners, cut off their noses and lips, then send them back to the towers led by a prisoner with one remaining eye. This only served to harden the resolve of the Cathars. --Wikipedia
Overwhelmed by superior numbers, the Cathars eventually fell to the waves of bloodthirsty maniacs:
The doors of the church of St Mary Magdalene were broken down and the refugees dragged out and slaughtered. Reportedly, 7,000 people died there. Elsewhere in the town many more thousands were mutilated and killed. Prisoners were blinded, dragged behind horses, and used for target practice. What remained of the city was razed by fire. Arnaud wrote to Pope Innocent III, "Today your Holiness, twenty thousand heretics were put to the sword, regardless of rank, age, or sex."--Wikipedia
Indeed, heretic or true believer- it made no difference to Rome. The Cathar genocide would give rise to a famous slogan popularized during the Vietnam War:
The Béziers army attempted a sortie but was quickly defeated, then pursued by the crusaders back through the gates and into the city. Arnaud, the Cistercian abbot-commander, is supposed to have been asked how to tell Cathars from Catholics. His reply, recalled by Caesar of Heisterbach, a fellow Cistercian, thirty years later was "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius."—"Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own."
In this light, I don't think it's very difficult to imagine why people formed secret societies in Medieval Europe.

The Templars were the next human sacrifices in the endless procession of religious genocide in Europe. The French Templars got it the worst, but many other Templars elsewhere in Europe either did the usual penance or were simply allowed to change their identification or melt into other orders.

The "Great Templar Escape" that has inspired legends and novels and even films like the first National Treasure film has been dismissed by historians for lack of documentation-- as if flouting the direct orders of the Holy See (and risking the usual, Cathar-type bloodbath) would leave a paper trail. Recent theories have the Templars taking refuge in Switzerland (which would later produce modern Gnostics like Carl Jung, Erich Von Daniken and Albert Hofmann, essentially the three founding fathers of the Secret Sun).

But the most popular theories have it that the Templars escaped into Scotland.
Again, orthodox historians have poo-poohed this, but Robert the Bruce was a Norman, the Scots would rout the English at Bannockburn and go on to establish a permanent aristocracy inside England based in banking and shipping, just as the Templars and the Venetians and the Phoenicians before them.
When the Papal letter reached the hand of Robert the Bruce of Scotland to imprison the Templars, he summarily dismissed it. No effort at all was ever made to prosecute the Knighthood in Scotland and this was undoubtedly a major attraction to many noble Templars in hiding. Though perhaps no longer able to openly call themselves Templars, they appear to have continued to exercise real power in the world.
Much evidence supports the belief that Robert the Bruce apparently welcomed renegade Templars into Scotland, both by overland journey from England, and as well as on ships from France. He was in great need of experienced and well equipped fighting men of this there is no doubt. the English outnumbered and out-eqquipped him badly, particularly when it came to armor and horse.-- Acheson Geneological Society
And sure enough, the earliest stirrings of Freemasonry- ultimately traced back to the Norman St. Clair family and the building of Rosslyn Chapel-- would ride with Bruce into England. American Masons under the rule of the Grand Lodge of Ireland would eventually form the core of the Revolutionary Army before becoming absorbed in the aristocracy themselves, just like the Templars before them.

Just like the Templars, the power and arrogance of the newly-empowered American Masons would inspire a populist backlash leading the creation of the Anti-Mason Party. However, the Freemasons took the crisis as an opportunity to create a dizzying array of collegiate fraternities and civic organizations, groups that would ultimately evolve away from their mystical origins and overshadow the Masonic Orders as the backbone of the American ruling class. That's evolution for you...

In Europe and South America, Masonic orders would foment revolutions that would overthrow or marginalize the old ruling dynasties and severely curtail the power of the Catholic Church, forcing the Vatican to establish itself as a sovereign state to protect its own power. The fortunes of the Church are in free-fall in Europe and the Americas, a process accelerated by the priestly vice of pedophilia finally being exposed to the public.

Scandals over abuse date back to the very earliest days of the Church and were fomented by reformist radicals within the Vatican in the Middle Ages, but the fear of the Church's power kept them out of the major media until finally exploding-- due to sheer, mind-numbing volume-- in the early 2000s. And despite the protestations of ridiculous Vatican shills, the crisis is not close to being over.

Strangely enough, at the very same time that these crimes were finally being brought to light in public, private talks with a shadowy English group claiming to be the true remnant of the Knights Templar resulted in the Order being exonerated by the Holy See in 2007, the 700th Anniversary of the original Templar repression.

A European church is usually an empty church

While the power of the Christian world has shifted
( Rupert Murdoch and the Chinese Communist Party are now the world's largest publishers of Bibles), and with South America increasingly becoming less Catholic and more Pentecostal, it seems the Templars' exoneration is just part of a overall evolution in the late-period history of the Church.

The Vatican is still powerful and still unimaginably wealthy, but the shift of its power base from Europe to Africa (where it will have to contend to the aggressively expansionist ideology of Islamism) seems to harbor an uncharted future for the Church. If indeed the Freemasons are the inheritors of the Templar mantle, it would seem their fortunes are in decline as well. Membership in the various Masonic Orders is dropping as the aging lodges fail to attract enough younger members to stay relevant.

Of course, the greater Masonic-derived method of grooming tomorrow's ruling class is with us more than ever, though the regimented systems of the high-level fraternities and professional and civic organizations has nothing to do with the Mysteries or the Gnostics at all. But the same evolution seemed to happen with the Templars themselves. Money has a funny way of making even the most committed mystics break their vows.

At the same time, the Gnostic story seems to be entering a new stage, as those Swiss hierophants Jung, Hofmann and Von Daniken have popularized methods for understanding the dense, often-impenetrable visionary cosmologies of the ancient Gnostics. This process is still developing but could easily accelerate as disillusionment with the status quo intensifies.

Then of course there are various neo-Gnostic Christian sects identified by Bloom in The American Religion, Mormonism being the most powerful and successful (and best-looking, apparently).

Indeed conspiracy theory itself, as self-defeating as it can be and as tainted as it often is with fascism and fundamentalism, is nothing less than a modern reincarnation of the totalizing pessimism and suspicion of the ancient Gnostics, with the defunct "Illuminati" or the non-existent "Luciferians" taking the place of the Archons. But it's wise to remember that genocides are always preceded by conspiracy theorizing.

Even as the Internet and other new technologies seem to have empowered narcissism and self-absorption, they have also empowered new seekers with the tools to bypass the filtering systems of the mass media and the academic and ecclesiastical establishments.

The future of these new Gnosticisms is entirely dependent on which model their adherents choose to follow: the navel-gazing, hippy-dippy Gnosticism of the Alexandrian cults and the Bogomils, or the rigorous, unshakable Gnosticism of the Druze, the Sikhs and indeed, the original Knights Templar. The jury is still very much out on this question.

As for the Templars themselves, they have yet to really emerge from the shadows. There have always been pretender groups, but it may well turn out that the Hertfordshire Templars are different from all of the Masonic and quasi-Masonic Knight Templar orders.

Watch this space- if the situation changes, it will be a major topic for discussion around here.

* links courtesy of anonymous reader!