In a note author Ronald
H Fritze says this book is an 'exploration', it is a foray into a 'wilderness'
of the mind, a wilderness of ideas and books: 'I was,' he writes, 'exploring
the wilderness of pseudoscience and pseudohistory...'
A sceptical polemic, Invented Knowledge is a partial survey of the 'cultic milieu' of
these wilderness topics, related fringe phenomena and the compulsive
attraction of such speculations for both the academic and occult communities,
not to mention the reading public and fans of 'quirky' literature.
The book opens a window onto various bizarre facets of the contemporary zeitgeist, charting the shadowy borders
between respectable academia and the extremist worldview of the fanatic on
the one hand, and popular culture on the other. In his introduction Fritze
asserts that pseudohistory and pseudoscience are a modern phenomenon with a
tendency to overshadow the prosaic interpretations of solid research. This
tendency, he says sadly, is amplified by a 'charlatan's playground' of modern
mass media 'delivery systems' such as film, broadcasting, magazines, the
internet, and, one might add, video games like the Tomb Raider (1996) series.
Prolific encycolpaedist and editor, author Ronald H Fritze is Dean of Arts
and Sciences and Professor of History at Athens State University, Alabama
among various other roles and university posts. His previous books include Legend
and Lore of the Americas Before 1492 (1996), Travellers Legends and Lore (1999) and New Worlds: The
Great Voyages of Discovery 1400-1600 (2003)
Invented Knowledge comprises six chapters dealing with aspects of the pseudohistorical
milieu, preceded by an Introduction. The first chapter deals with the theme
or myth of Atlantis ('the mother of pseudohistory'). The second chapter
surveys various theories concerning the discovery and settlement of ancient
America. Chapters three and four are thematically linked being Parts I and II
of an analysis of two racist cosmogonies, one Christian, (Christian
Identity), the other Islamic (NOI or Nation of Islam). Chapter five deals
with some controversial theories concerning ancient chronology and past
geological catastrophes, including the popular notion of 'ancient
astronauts'. The sixth and final chapter covers a recent controversy
surrounding Black Athena, an academic work using pseudohistory to assert the
Afrocentric origins of Western Classical civilisation, a trendy toxic
cocktail of race, 'culture' and Occidentalist propaganda.
In the acknowledgements Fritze recognises the access to literary resources
provided by the University libraries at the University of Central Arkansas
and Athens State. The fruits of his study are manifest in the Select
Bibliography, which lists many of the key source works of our subject, from The
God Kings and the Titans by James Bailey to Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision. For the curious reader this
detailed information, which includes various learned articles, provides a
useful starting point for further explorations of this 'wilderness of the
mind, ideas and books'. All the notes are organised by chapter and contain
extra information and some further clarifications. There are, however books
mentioned in the main body of the text, such as the writings of Rand and Rose
Flem-Ath, that do not appear in the bibliography.
As one might expect from research of this provenance the scope of Invented
broadly Transatlantic. Apart from a brief discussion of Holocaust Denial the
inclusion of European cases (those seminal occult movements, Theosophy and
Anthroposphy) is confined to providing extensive detail on the 'back story'
of pseudohistorical and pseudo-pre-historical thinking from the nineteenth
century to the mid nineteen eighties, culminating in the Black Athena affair. Indeed one is tempted to
consider the possibility that Fritze has written this volume to bolster
criticism of Bernal and the Afrocentrists, by showing the pseudohistorical
context of this academic debate. His discussion of the Atlantis of Plato
leads inevitably to an exposition of the various pre-1492 theories of
discovery and settlement in ancient America. The two sections on racist cosmogonies
are confined to a discussion of two home grown American ideologies,
presumably the 'pseudo-religions' of the book's subtitle, namely Christian
Identity ('to a large degree the Ku Klux Klan at prayer') and the NOI. Here
Fritze makes a diplomatic distinction between these clearly nefarious
movements and mainstream religions which, he assures us with disarming
naivete, are not in the least bit racist because God is equally concerned
with the 'ultimate welfare of all humans, or at least all believers' (so
that's all right, then).
The next section, Pseudohistoria Epidemica deals with the famous
controversy of the nineteen fifties sparked by the works of Immanuel
Velikovsky (1895-1979) and the legacy use of catastrophism as a flawed
historical proposition in the works of other authors. These include Charles
H. Hapgood (1904-1982) and the widely discredited Erich Von Daniken, one of
the chief exponents of the 'alien astronauts' concept. Von Daniken's famous
book Chariots of the Gods was published in 1968, but was part of a vogue for
crypto-archaeological mysteries that was really started by The Morning of
the Magicians (1960)
by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier. Influential in the counterculture, Magicians stimulated a fascination for
lost civilisations, the Nasca Lines, super-human evolution (mutants) and
occult aspects of the Third Reich. A similar book by Robert Charroux
(1909-1978) One Hundred Thousand Years of Man's Unknown History (1963) claimed that humanity was
the product of migration from the planet Venus.
This notion of planetary migration and 'deep time' may be traced back to the
science fiction novels of Olaf Stapleton, who published Last and First Men in 1931. There is no clear
dividing line between fantastic fiction and pseudohistorical doctrine.
Exponents often claim that works of fiction are really cryptic allegories or
that writing a novel is a strategy for dealing with 'forbidden' subjects in a
respectable way. There are various occult groups of ritual magicians who
regard the cosmic horror fiction of H P Lovecraft, like At the Mountains
(1931) which also deals with 'deep time', ancient star gods and lost
civilisations, as literal fact. Lovecraft himself was a sceptic and 'no
believer' in Atlantis. The metaphysical doctrines of the Nation of Islam,
formulated in the 1930s, are among those most obviously based on the world of
popular culture and science fiction. NOI mythology includes such motifs as
the mad scientist who perpetrates heinous genetic experiments (origin of the
evil white races) and an apocalyptic saucer-shaped Mother Plane that will
destroy the evil regime of the USA fulfilling the cosmic destiny of the
Shabazz, the true rulers of the world.
The final chapter, as noted, deals at some length with the Black Athena controversy that erupted in 1987
and, in passing, contains an admonition of the 'post-modernist climate of
contemporary academics' which, according to Fritze, provides a 'protective
environment' for dubious cultural radicalism and tendentious research. The cultic
milieu has continued to evolve since the nineteen eighties, when Spielberg's
successful movie blockbuster Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) did much to rekindle
public interest in the character of the adventurer-archaeologist and the
ubiquitous thematic link with scriptural mysteries and legends.
Almost simultaneously a similar quasi-controversy was launched with the
publication of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982) by Baigent, Leigh and
Lincoln which provided most of the crypto-historic background for Dan Brown's
later fictional bestseller The Da Vinci Code (2003). Among recent, more
hardcore, works of this genre, derisively referred to as 'junk history' by
some, Fritze considers those of Gavin Menzies (1937-) and Graham Hancock
(1950-). But like the Atlantologists Rand and Rose Flem-Ath, these authors
are not in the business of developing new categories of pseudo-history so
much as revisiting the perennial topics of lost civilisations, ancient
mysteries, devious Nazi conspiracies, vanished or alien super-races and
pre-Columbian discovery voyages. President Hu Jintao mentioned Menzies
hypothesis that the Chinese 'discovered' Australia, as well as America, to
the Australian parliament in 2003, causing another minor furore. All of which
demonstrates the infectious attraction of these sagas, mysteries and cosmic
Fritze takes trouble to explain 'pseudoscience' (of which 'pseudohistory' is
a branch) in support of his basic claim that the trend he is debunking is a
modern phenomenon, 'largely the products of the last quarter of the
nineteenth century'. The main, historical point of reference being Atlantis
The Antedeluvian World (1882) by Ignatius Donnelly (1831-1901) which stands as 'the first
great work of pseudohistory'. Donnelly was a contemporary of Helena Petrovna
Blavatsky (1831-1891) the founder of Theosophy whose books Isis Unveiled (1877) and The Secret
provide the basis for an occult/spiritualist vision of Atlantis that 'has
influenced other occult and spiritualist groups ever since'. Rudolf Steiner's
theories of 'cosmic memory' and similar doctrines expounded by Dion Fortune
(not discussed here) built on Blavatsky's ideas and helped establish 'cosmic
history' (and racial destiny) as an almost self-contained branch of the
occult sciences that has spilled over into many spheres of popular culture.
Fritze observes that the connections between Donnelly and Blavatsky are
unclear, but the cultural synchronicity of their contemporaneity is
nonetheless significant. The difference between the two being that Blavatsky
claimed to be an 'initiate' whose access to hidden knowledge (the Book of
from supernatural sources, whereas, for the most part, Donnelly exploited
'respectable sources' to provide the background for speculations. Even though
his theory has since been scientifically disproved, at the time there was a
'marginally plausible possibility' that his theory might be correct.
Insofar as it goes his approach is straightforward and pragmatic. Fritze makes
it clear that it is necessary to distinguish between the 'discarded
scholarship' of obsolete science and fake science. For example, in
pre-scientific eras it was common to maintain that the Earth was flat or that
geo-centrism was valid, even self-evident. In the distant past no one would
be considered eccentric for holding such opinions.
In the age of modern science, however, someone who seriously argued that the
Sun was not the centre of a solar system with orbiting planets, one of which
is the Earth, would be regarded as a crank, badly educated, a teller of tall
tales - or a purveyor of fake science. It is possible that a 'mystic' might
develop a kind of 'spiritual geo-centrism' that managed to assimilate various
ideas and jargon from modern astronomy interpreted symbolically, in which
case it is but a short step from telling tall tales to preaching scriptural
fantasies and promoting pseudo-religion. Preconceptions rather than objective
evidence drive pseudoscientists and pseudohistorians, claims Fritze; they
ignore facts or findings that contradict their personal, commercial or
political, agendas. Furthermore, as modern science evolves, it rejects its
own theories and replaces them with more effective ones, a process that
creates an ever increasing store of 'discarded scholarship' providing the
basis for further pseudohistorical speculations. One might think for example,
of the famous Martian Canals or alternatively Margaret Murray's theory of
witchcraft as an 'underground' pagan religious survival, which permeates
Wicca and other modern 'urban witchcraft' movements.
Another significant theme of Invented Knowledge is the idea of the 'cultic
milieu', a quasi-technical term borrowed from sociologist Colin Campbell's
paper 'The Cult, the Cultic Milieu and Secularisation' (1972). Fritze
subscribes to the description of cults as 'ephemeral, loosely structured and
rather individualistic organisations that follow a belief system'. Clearly
the jargon of the 'cultic milieu' forms the basis of the principle of the 'pseudo-religion'
which, in its in 'hardcore' manifestation takes the form of movements like
Theosophy, Christian Identity, The Nation of Islam and the UFO religion
Heaven's Gate. The 'softcore' manifestations of the milieu are taken to
encompass the entire field of pseudohistory, including the species of
post-colonialist, post-modernist scholarship purveyed by academic insiders,
exemplified by Bernal's Black Athena or, alternatively, purveyed by the works of Gavin
Menzies which are essentially opportunistic publishing escapades. All of
these phenomena operate as cultural microenvironments with permeable borders,
constantly feeding from each other, constantly evolving in a protean manner.
Cults, says Fritze, 'are in a constant process of beginning, thriving and
dying out, so do pseudohistorical ideas arise, reach a level of popular
acceptance and fade away.' Ominously, he adds, 'there are always cults
around'. It is not made explicit, but one is aware that the word 'cult' has
sinister and pejorative overtones and is being used here to differentiate the
inferior 'pseudo-religion' from the genuine article. No one refers to a major
religion as a 'cult' despite the possibility that established religions may
themselves have started as cults, or the further possibility that within the
orbits of their faiths, established religions contain numerous sects and
loose, ephemeral sub-cults that conform to the Fritze-Campbell description.
All of this is ignored here and the negative status of 'pseudo-religion' is
taken for granted. Fritze does not make any kind of historical, scientific or
sociological case that establishes, say, the Book of Genesis as a more authentic document
than the Book of Dzyan. His assertion that the cultic milieu of pseudohistory is a largely
modern phenomenon helps deflect attention from these more basic questions.
Another key theme of Invented Knowledge is the detrimental impact of pseudohistory on
politics. Or, to be more precise, the overlap between pseudohistorical
theories of human development on the ideologies of reactionary cultural
formations and organisations. The buzzwords here are 'extremism' and
'fanaticism'. 'Pseudohistory often lends itself as a tool of racism,
religious fanaticism and nationalistic extremism...' observes Fritze. In his illuminating
discussion of Christian Identity he notes that pro-slavery Southerners
'generally preferred the biblical story of Noah's curse on Ham as a religious
justification for slavery'. But as, according to his own editorial policy,
the Old Testament does not in itself amount to a pseudo-history (although
providing much of the raw material from the Ten Lost Tribes to the Alien
Astronauts via geological catastrophes) his exposition concentrates on the
bizarre ideas of pre-Adamism and polygenesis instead.
Even though Plato's original Atlantis story may have incorporated some folk
memory of the now famous Thera (Santorini) event in Minoan times as described
by Fritze at the beginning of the book it is clear that Plato's 'Atlantis'
tale is political fable - an exercise in cultural politics. Indeed, elsewhere
he notes that most modern scholars agree with the thesis that the Atlantis
story was 'a myth invented by Plato'. In nearly all the Atlantis narratives
there is a common thread, namely that the inhabitants of the island, usually
the dominant power of a huge expansionist ('decadent') empire, were in some
respect morally deficient, or became so over time. Despite their divine
ancestry (the Olympian god Poseidon, usually) the Atlanteans became
'materialistic' and 'abandoned their traditional moderation for greed and
uninhibited ambition...' they intermarried with 'mere mortals' thus diluting
their supra-human lineage and so suffered a catastrophic collective disaster
- retribution from the Gods.
Here we find a basic tenet of the racist cosmogonies outlined in Invented
'original sin' of race-mixing or miscegenation. This horror of miscegenation
is almost as intense as the horror of incest described by Freud in his
analysis of the psychology of religiosity. In the Atlantis cultic milieu we
find a cautionary tale (like the Biblical stories of Sodom and Gomorrah and
Noah's Flood) suitable for a moral authoritarian elite caste of patriarchs
for whom desire is thoughtcrime and the only function of 'history' is to
point out moral lessons. We also find the notion that a 'lost' ancient race
existed many millennia ago and that this race was not only an advanced
civilisation descended from the gods, but was in some form or other the
progenitor of present day humanity. This megalomaniac idea has great appeal,
especially when combined with racist theories based on off beat theological
dogmas like Christian polygenesis.
In more recent times another factor has been added to the narrative, the
notion of a cosmic conflict, a version of the archetypal theme of The War in
Heaven, an early form of which can be found in the Greek myth of the Titans.
This same theme has also been present in the Judaeo-Christian mythos for
centuries and in part derives from the story of Satan's rebellion and fall.
As Fritze points out when discussing the Anti-Semitic aspect of recent
Christian Identity thinking, believers in these doctrines imagine themselves
as participants in some vast cosmic drama, all the events of history are part
of this drama - elite believers are agents of cosmic destiny. Inferior
elements (non-believers, subhuman races of 'mud people') are, on the other
hand, tools of the enemy 'agents of a gigantic, cosmic conspiracy'. Articles
of faith such as these are driven by paranoid feelings of inferiority (the
world is against us, the world is evil), and megalomania (our leader is The
One, we are descended from super-intelligent aliens or 'chosen' by God). That
these emotionally charged psychic factors constantly refuel an insatiable
need to re-interpret history is self-evident. Events must be made to conform
to a continually mutating apocalyptic scenario, which is why the findings of
real-world science serve no purpose but to provide the ideologues of cosmic
destiny with more raw material for fantasies of supremacy, much to
frustration of bona-fide workers in the field.
In summary, Fritze identifies two main, but closely linked causes for the
mass acceptance of pseudoscience. Both these causes are based on his
jaundiced view of educational practice, which encourages either a dumbed-down
anti-intellectualism or a hypertrophied pseudo-sophistication.
Even though, according to his view, 'advances is science, history and
archaeology since 1960' have rendered hypotheses about catastrophism or
ancient super-civilisations utterly implausible, it has not prevented their
assimilation by Native American activists, Afrocentrists, and White
Supremacists, or by the likes of Von Daniken, the Flem-Aths, or Colin Wilson.
How can this be?
For Fritze the fault lies in an education system which, over the years (since
WW II) has consistently 'slighted' the development of critical thinking.
There are even social circumstances in which it has become 'dangerous' to
teach a critical approach, creating a popular culture that cannot distinguish
between good and bad evidence, nor differentiate empirical argument from
'seemingly impressive rhetoric'. The mass audience for pseudo-history
consists of 'the gullible, the ill-informed' and of those who like Fox Mulder
in the X-Files just
'want to believe' regardless.
This reprehensible state of affairs is compounded by the fads and fancies,
the higher superstitions, of the academic establishment which, since the
nineteen seventies if not earlier, has lost its way in a fog of
'postmodernist obfuscation, political correctness and the raging culture wars
of the 1980s and 90s'. This obfuscation usually involves a multi-culturalist
mode of epistemological relativism underpinning a 'constructionist' view of knowledge
as invented 'truth'. This means that almost any interpretation of history can
gain an aura of credibility, especially if, like the theory of Bernal's Black
involves a de-centering attack on Eurocentric 'arrogance' confronting the
classical traditions of Western cultural supremacy with some kind of
'radical' alternative. Discussing Martin Bernal (1937-), Fritze returns to a
point made earlier in his consideration of racist cosmogonies, namely that
behind the cultic milieu of the pseudohistorical edifice is a set of
psychological problems associated with the idea of identity. He notes that
one of Bernal's opponents, Guy McLean Rogers, proposed that the author's own
personal identity crisis was the inspiration for his interpretation of ancient
history. Needless to say Bernal has never responded to this particular line
attack, although he has been vociferous in reactions to other criticisms.
The idea is not developed in Invented Knowledge, and perhaps it is unfair to
expect a detailed exposition of such questions of personal and group
psychology in what is, after all, a relatively uncluttered survey of the
Humans, says Fritze, are 'concerned with knowing who they are... we all want an
A compulsive fascination for 'origins' is a partial driver of the cultic
doctrines described here, but, as in the case of Wallace D Fard, the founder
of NOI, this identity principle is closely linked to the notion of destiny.
Humans not only like to base their 'identity' in a quest for 'roots'; they
also need to feel special. It was Fard's father (in his own autobiographical
myth) who, through a prophetic faculty noticed that little Wallace was
'someone with a cosmic destiny'. Amplified through the prism of collective
identity politics and mind-blowing historico-theological speculation
legitimised by moral authority this need to feel exceptional is satisfied by
collective myths reinforcing usually dualistic dramas of cosmic conflict - a
'war in heaven' displaced to Earth. Lost tribes and ancient civilisations
conceal the secrets of satanic conspiracies or the keys to collective
salvation, while the revelations of prophets transmit scriptural codes
intelligible only to initiates or cult leaders like Blavatsky and Fard.
In a different context, Mervyn Peake once asked; 'what should we hope for as
the curtain rises and lays bare the gratuitous stage where, unhindered a man
may cry his ghostly manifesto...?'
But, as Spinoza said, prophecies and revelations are the workings of the
imagination. In this book we find an overview of a contemporary phenomenon
amplified and promoted by the 'charlatan's playground' of the modern mass
media, yet it is actually a phenomenon rooted in primordial fears and
anxieties. For it is the interior theatre of the human imagination, that
'gratuitous stage' of our inner life, where these myths and psychodramas of
cosmic destiny, our ghostly manifestos of spiritual redemption, are
formulated and portrayed.
And it is a function of the human psyche that, for good or ill, such bizarre
scenarios are projected into the chaos of the void.
What else can we hope for as we traverse this wilderness of the mind?
© A.C. Evans