Pious frauds

A magic book that fell from the sky

One will not understand this without first reading “Disembodied speech.”

Some years ago, I became convinced that every major world religion has some sort of pious fraud at its core.

Each one also has its martyrs for the cause, and far be it from me to disrespect martyrdom for any cause.

I begin with some groups that are not major world religions, but whose stories set the pattern.  Some years ago, I was compelled to study neo-Gnosticism, as expressed in certain secret societies that purport to teach their members magic (sic).  That some may have had some success in that regard, does not change the fact of the deceit present at their birth.

1. Golden Dawn

Golden Dawn was a secret magical society active in the U.K. and Ireland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  At its height, it had about 100 members, including numerous celebrities.  It profoundly influenced all later such societies in Europe and America.

As of now, it appears to me to have really begun with three members of a similar society or lodge, Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (“SRIA”) who had become disaffected with some features of that group and wanted to establish a new one, that (1) they themselves would rule, and (2) had less restrictive membership criteria.

The SRIA continues to operate today.

One way or another, William Wynn Westcott said that in 1885 he came into possession of 60 pages of handwriting that used a strange alphabet.  These became known as the “Cipher Manuscripts.”  By 1887 he managed to decode them, which may not have been all that hard: the alphabet in question had been published in a book about codes in 1553.  The language was English, only written right-to-left.

The decoded text set forth the structure for a secret magic-oriented lodge, the rituals the lodge would use, and a curriculum for teaching in the magic arts.  Westcott recruited Samuel Liddell Mathers and William Robert Woodman, two more members of SRIA, to help him set up such a lodge, to be called Golden Dawn.

The decoded text included the name and address of one Anna Sprengel, said to be (a) na German countess, (b) in direct contact with the White Brotherhood, and (c) standing in a direct line of magical authority dating back to ancient times.

Westcott said he wrote to her.  He said she wrote back, confirming the legitimacy of the Cipher Manuscripts, and issuing the three men a license to establish the new lodge.  This was somehow very important to them:  they could not merely say, “This is who we are; this is what we do.”  They had to be able to say instead, “We do what we do on authority of Anna Sprengel.”

Westcott said he carried on a voluminous correspondence with her until 1891, when he said she died.

In the end, the structure of the lodge the Cipher Manuscripts described was little different from that of SRIA; the rituals were little different, either.  The magical lore the Cipher Manuscripts contained included nothing that SRIA members would not have known.  The only real differences between SRIA and Golden Dawn were these: (1) whereas membership in SRIA required that one be male, and a Christian, and a Mason, membership in Golden Dawn did not require that one be any of the three; and (2) Westcott, Mathers and Woodman were in charge.

If the Cipher Manuscripts began with Anna Sprengel, I puzzle that they were written in English rather than German or, better, Latin.

Except for Westcott’s words, there is no evidence there ever was an Anna Sprengel.

2. Theosophy

The story of Theosophy, for better or worse, focuses on one mysterious and highly controversial person.  Helena P. Blavatsky (1831-1891), commonly known as Mme. Blavatsky or HPB, was born into a Russian/German family of vast wealth.  She traveled the world, but there is no way to substantiate her claims of everywhere she went; 25 years of her life are unaccounted for.  There are reports of magical events having occurred in her presence, but I find myself without reason to believe them.

It all began with the Stanzas of Dyzan, a cryptic text she says she found in Tibet.  All her teachings, she said, derive from that text.  No none else is known ever to have seen it.  The version she produced is in English, but she claims the original language was Senzar, supposedly the ultimate ancestor of all human languages.  She says this is the language the White Brotherhood use among themselves.  No one else is known ever to have encountered this language.

A number of the passages below were composed before this one.  I’ve used the term “disembodied speech” several times, and am tired of using it.  Decide for yourself: is hers, disembodied speech?

3. The Book of Mormon

— eh — needs no discussion.

4. The Koran

The Koran is said to have been dictated, word for word, to Mohamed by the angel Gabriel.

With all due respect for the devotion and nobility of millions of Muslims for many centuries; the Koran epitomizes disembodied speech.

5. Torah

Most Christians believe “Torah” is the “Old Testament.”  It’s not.  Torah consists solely for the first five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Official Jewish teaching is that this text was dictated, word for word, to Moses by God.

This, then, is disembodied speech also.

6. Christian inerrancy

Many inerrantist Christians want the Bible to be as it were a magic book that fell from the sky.  This isn’t so much a pious fraud as an ignorance of how the Bible came to be — and wishful thinking.

Kirk tells us again and again that, in contrast to the Koran which he says is utterly incoherent, the Bible is a single unit from beginning to end, and Jesus appears on every page.

I don’t know what Bible he’s reading.

His expositions never stray far from Paul and John.

The books that make up the “Old Testament” were written by many different people at many different times for many different purposes, and none of those purposes had anything to do with Christ.  They never were collected into a single — collection — until ca. 300 B.C.E.  The books that make up the New Testament likewise were completely separate until ca. 300 C.E.

Except for Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, I don’t see Jesus in the “Old Testament” at all — not in the story of Naboth, nor that of Naaman, nor that of David.

7. Jesus’ resurrection

For me, Jesus’ resurrection is currently in doubt; I neither believe nor disbelieve.  The resurrection appearance stories pose the problem that Jesus is never reported as having appeared to anyone who didn’t already believe.  Thus there are no independent witnesses, and the claims are only made by those whom they tend to aggrandize.

8. Apocalypses (plural)

To me, the most alarming of the pious frauds are the apocalypses (plural).

In an apocalypse — The word means “revelation.” — the author masquerades as a hero of long ago, to whom God reveals the events to come in the author’s own time.  Dozens of these texts survive from ancient times.  Notable:

  • Every one of these authors did the exact same thing.
  • Not one owned the fact that his work was a lie.
  • Every one of them really believed that the End Times were his own.

I recently learned of the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius, which was written in the 8th century.  That date surprised me, as I had figured the Book of Revelation to be the last.  Here the author masquerades as a 4th century hero, who foresees 8th century events, in particular the Islamic invasions of what was now the Christian Roman Empire.  Islam did not exist before the 6th century.  The Wikipedia article says that throughout the middle ages, this text was being constantly re-interpreted so as to apply to the then-current times.  That’s exactly what many people do with the Book of Revelation now.

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