Search terms. I don’t know much about SEOs and the like. Those sorts of emails/’comments’ that thinly disguise advertisements for companies that do know all about such things end up in the spam folder and are all deleted. I have written about a few peculiarities that have popped up now and again, but I’m kinda wondering what’s up with people right now. Every day for the past week or more, the same search term keeps on showing up on the stats page.
It’s there again today. Twice.
I did write about Baphomet- in a particular context- not all that long ago. So okay. Fair enough. The search engine brings people- who happen to be looking for the guy- here. But it seems like a whole lot of people are looking for info about a 14th century construct lately.
Perhaps that damned movie about a fictional code was on tv again.
While we were visiting Scotland I insisted that we pay a visit to that little chapel that shows up at the end of the damned movie (and the even more damned book that inspired the damned movie).
Small (okay, LARGE) aside- in case some of you might be wondering why I am so against Dan Brown and That Damned Book (TDB, from now on)…
1) he ripped off the idea from a bunch of ‘journalists’ who came up with the (fictional) story without any level of thought about actual historical veracity;
2) the writing is pretty much uniformly bad, but the ending is just plain terrible;
3) TDB is so filled with scientific and historical inaccuracies that I just can’t even…,
4) it has fed the never-ending and voracious appetites of conspiracy idiots across the globe (who certainly needed no new fodder);
5) his main character is a professor in an academic discipline that doesn’t exist. Semiotics is an academic discipline. Symbology is not. Semioticians study signs and symbols as elements of communication and behaviour, focusing on the relationship of the signifier and the signified, using linguistics and psychology to identify the ways in which symbols are used to construct meaning. Symbologists study nothing. Because they don’t exist.
Oh. And also because TDB was turned into TDM, and, as a result, I actually hated a movie that starred Tom Hanks. Which is terrible. Because Tom Hanks is lovely.
Admittedly, it did bring a number of people to my classrooms over the years. Either because they were looking for evidence that the RC Church hadn’t lied to them all these years, or because they thought that an examination of the non-canonical Xian writings would demonstrate that TDB was right all along. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to set minds at ease in the first group (the Church has told more than its fair share of lies) and the primary sources and historical evidence we have does not, in any way, point to anything in TDB being at all accurate. Historically speaking.
So. You could ask, legitimately, why would I want to visit Rosslyn Chapel – just outside of Edinburgh- if I loathe TDB/M so much?
Well. Quite simply because it’s beyond lovely and the story of the Chapel and its restoration is way more interesting than anything a hack novelist could dream up.
I loved it there. At the end of a long day touring some of Scotland’s most historic sites- Bannockburn and Stirling Castle were just two of the stops- we were coping with a fair bit of history overload (yes, it can happen. Even to me) when we arrived at Rosslyn. The site, for all its historical value, overwhelms with its beauty and the intricacy of the carvings, yet is a place that lends itself to quiet reflection.
And, since I do like the actual history of groups like the Masons, the Chapel provides some interesting evidence of the traditions and symbols associated with that storied Brotherhood. I bought a matted rubbing of some of the Masonic symbols that are found in the Chapel, as a matter of fact (have yet to get it framed. Which, since I had to go looking for a stock photo of the Chapel because I haven’t started sorting through the photos we took, isn’t really all that surprising).
As we sat in the Chapel, listening to the guide talk a bit about its history, its resident cat, William, popped in to say hello to everyone. He made straight for my lap (as is generally the case with most small creatures. I tend to attract animals), and was a purring mass of black and white fur who enhanced the story we were being told immensely. Nothing like a lap full of cat and a good story. If I’d had a Scotch in hand, it would have been pretty much perfect.
The guide noted that the Chapel had fallen into disrepair after centuries of neglect, but was gradually undergoing some restoration work when TDB was released. That August, the Chapel received more visitors than they had in the entirety of any previous year. Since there was only one washroom available on the site, this proved more than a little problematic. And Dan Brown’s fans continued to descend en masse to discover the secret of the Code for themselves.
The influx of Seekers of the Holy Grail facilitated the building of a beautiful Visitors’ Centre (complete with washrooms, cafe and gift shop- where you can buy Scotch, bottled especially for Rosslyn as a means of raising funds for its on-going restoration- although they frown on you drinking it in the Chapel) with all kinds of cool interactive displays that talk about the carvings and the (family) history of its construction.
The release of TDM brought even more visitors to the site- again, a good thing from a heritage preservation perspective. The guide told us a few tales of memorable visitors- those convinced that Elvis lay in the inaccessible vault beneath the Chapel, those convinced of the existence of the Sang Real, and those who thought they might catch a glimpse of Tom Hanks.
And then there were the crazy people…
One of the things that most resonated with me as we traveled the highways and byways of Scotland, in the company of fantastic storytellers with an impressive knowledge of history, was the fact that so much of it is continually being re- and/or over-written. This was made clear as crystal by the unanimous expression of disdain for one film in particular- one that starred a too-short Australian, dressed in anachronistic belted plaid, while painted (also anachronistically) with woad. I’ll refrain from mentioning the bit about the affair with Isabella of France (who was only three at the time of the events portrayed in the film). Oops. Guess I just did.
I haven’t seen Braveheart in its entirety. Never really interested me- especially since I read about the glaring inaccuracies fairly early on. I’m not all that fond of the Aussie-in-question (although, while I’m not much into the post-apocalyptic genre, Mad Max did have its moments. And I liked the first Lethal Weapon film. Nothing after that, though), so I wasn’t in a rush to witness his particular brand of over-acting.
I was quite surprised at the vehemence with which our guides emphasized the wrongness of the film’s presentation of its hero. William Wallace is very important to the Scots- and messing with his story is problematic. To say the least. They still talk of his murder (and they consider it murder, not execution) as if it happened recently, rather than in the 13th century.
We humans revise and review and revisit history all the time. Our stories are re-written and re-presented in different forms. The best stories hold up in the face of reworking and redaction because their themes and characters speak to something that is universal.
But, all too often, we do so at our peril.
Am I being pedantic when I complain about the ridiculousness found in TDB? Probably. A lot of people like the story, and found some level of entertainment in it. And, after all, Dan Brown never claimed that the story was non-fiction. Those conspiracy fans who make such claims do so of their own accord.
But. The subject matter at the source of his fiction, for all that it is, itself, fictional, has loomed fairly largely in my life. I’ve spent a lot of time with the texts- primary, secondary and tertiary, in my adult life. So the fact that people are willing to accept the further fictionalization of the myths, and reinterpretation of the symbols and metaphors they were meant to illustrate, as TRUE just bugs me. For the same reasons that any sort of unexamined credulity makes me crazy.
And now I’m ranting again.
What does any of this have to do with a search engine term that keeps bringing people here to visit? Some of you (assuming you’ve stuck around this long) are probably thinking (not without cause) that I’ve gotten totally lost in a complete derailment of my train of thought, but there is a connection. I swear.
You see, poor old Baphomet is the exemplar of this sort of thing. He is a construct that originated out of torture designed to garner confessions from a group of monks that had become a bit too rich and too powerful for the comfort of the King. And the Pope (although the Vatican now says that the persecution was ‘unjust’, and that Clement V was ‘forced into it’ by King Philip IV).
As they were tortured, some of the falsely arrested Knights confessed to the worship of some sort of heathen idol- variously described as a severed head, a head with three faces, and a cat. Until the persecution of the Templars, no one had heard of Baphomet. He arose out of the stories that were told about the perceived crimes of the Knights of the Temple.
Created. Whole cloth. As an instrument of condemnation of a group that was causing the powers-that-be some difficulties. Various theories as to the origins of his name- and of the demon/idol himself- proliferated as the centuries passed. His existence was back-dated for veracity.
With the 18th century rise of Freemasonry, Masonic leaders sought connections to heroes of the past, as they sought to create their own mythologized history. They connected the Masons to the Templars and then, going back even further, to some of my beloved Gnostic-types.
It’s all pseudo-history of the worst possible kind.
Dan Brown is far from the first person to cash in on the credulity that such unexamined claims can foster, if not cause outright. Eliphas Lévi drew a picture (literally) of Baphomet that served to secure a place for his image in Western minds for subsequent generations.
This is him. According to an occultist with a really good imagination.
Aleister Crowley liked Baphomet (and Eliphas Lévi) a fair bit. He is generally considered to be one of the minions of Hell (Baphomet, not Eliphas)- if not the Devil Dude himself. Some Xian evangelist-types suggest that Masons, today, still worship that particular demon.
All this notoriety. From a singular mention in the writings of a chronicler of the First Crusade- suggesting that those they fought against called upon him as they attempted to hold the city against the Crusading Xians.
Baphomet is demonstrative of what can, and does, happen when myths (and mythological characters) are cited outside of their originating context. The stories go through a process akin to Broken Telephone- with the elements of the narrative losing all connection to their original, metaphorical or symbolic purposes.
As we add details and creatively expand upon sparse references, the innocuous can become monstrous. Such is the power of story– in the hands of people who have a way with words and the construction of lasting images.
When taken as entertainment- or as a potential source of universal truths/common sense- such stories serve to unite us as human beings. We all love a good story.
Stories become dangerous their authors purport to tell truths to which they cannot, legitimately, lay claim. Or when the credulous among us (an ever-growing crowd) decide to infer truths underlying the fiction.
Baphoment is a poster-child for this phenomenon. I’d like to think that that’s the reason so many people seem to be looking for information about him here in the interworld.
Given the stuff that I see in the media on a daily basis, I’m not naive enough to really subscribe to that particular conceit.
People are searching for information about him because they believe, however foolishly, in his existence as a manifestation/personification of evil that exists in the real world.
‘Don’t believe what you hear
Don’t believe what you see
If you just close your eyes
You can feel the enemy…
And I’d join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah I’d break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in
’cause I need it now…
And I know that the tide is turning ’round
So don’t let the bastards grind you down’
Bono has said that the song is largely about examining his own hypocrisy. It’s about having high standards for other people, and yet not living according to those standards. Wrapped up in the clearly-communicated anger and contempt is a message to continue onward in the face of overwhelming opposition.
So, despite the constant stream of evidence that supports the supposition that we are increasingly swayed by ancient superstition and reactionary rhetoric as we are subsumed by state-sanctioned credulity, I, like Bono- and Baphomet- shall persist. In living life at the standard which I expect from others, while attempting to spread my message regarding required examination and understanding of our history- literary and otherwise. With all its revisions and redactions.
Rant over. For real, this time.