Monday, September 24, 2018
The biggest secret
John Michael Greer has written a long series of books on secret societies, monsters, UFOs and other occult or controversial subjects. While the books are surprisingly moderate by “rejected knowledge” standards, Greer *is* sympathetic to occultism and practices ritual magic. Indeed, his broad knowledge of secret societies seems to derive from the fact that he is an initiated member of at least a dozen of them, including a Hoodoo Church! For a number of years, Greer was the head of a Druid Revival group, and his blog still styles itself “The Archdruid Report”. Yes, Greer claims to be a Druid. With a track record like this, it feels somewhat strange to report that “The Secret of the Temple” is Greer's strangest book to date, but there you go, as he would no doubt say himself.
That being said, fans of JMG will nevertheless recognize much of the author's old spirit in the new work. The surprisingly moderate attitude is there, with Greer freely admitting that his ideas are purely speculative at this point. Nor does he believe in any conspiracies above the mundane ones (power struggles, wars and heresy-hunts). “The Secret of the Temple” is written from a pantheist and Nature-centered spiritual perspective, with some nods to the “peak oil” scene Greer in a sense still belongs to. Another perennial Greeresque trait is the autodidactic erudition. While Greer isn't a “real” scholar, he is well read on most subjects he touches, and he does touch on a lot of different ones in this book, ranging from Japanese temple architecture to the minutiae of moth communication (yes, moths) with a heavy dose of Masonic history and ritual thrown in for good measure. It doesn't exactly come as a surprise to learn that Greer has been an active Mason for decades, and has taken all 32 Scottish degrees! Just for the fun of it, I decided to play “smart alec” and did discover exactly two factual errors in the book: Greer calls Helsingfors a Swedish city (it's Finnish) and refers to Saladin as Arab (he was Kurdish). I admit, though, that my erudition is vastly lesser than that of an archdruid…
But what is the secret of the temple, mentioned in the work's title? Greer doesn't believe the secret was “paranormal” in the usual sense of that term. Rather, he speculates that the ancient pagans had discovered a kind of technology which enhanced agricultural fertility. The Christian Church eventually took over this secret knowledge. This technology made use of temples, the burning of incense and the chanting of mantras to create a powerful resonance to harness certain electromagnetic powers which stimulated plant growth. For this reason, temples around the world are often built according to the same ground plan. They are connected to fertility and agriculture, and whenever the secret of the temple has been lost, agricultural productivity has sharply dropped despite the climate remaining the same. This happened in the Middle East and North Africa with the advent of Islam, and in Europe during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.
Put this boldly, Greer's thesis sounds crazy. Maybe it is. However, he does point to certain intriguing facts which may have a bearing on the subject. Thus, experiments from the early 20th century confirm that certain forms of electricity do stimulate plant growth. Known as electro-culture, this knowledge was lost when chemical fertilizer became more accessible. Greer also point to research inspired by the works of Paul Devereux, a writer whose speculations are in the grey zone between the physically exotic and the paranormal (I reviewed one of his UFO books – it's extremely interesting). British amateur researchers believe they have proved that ancient megalithic structures built around “ley lines” enhance electromagnetic force fields. The official scientific community is skeptical, but Greer points out that no meaningful research has been undertaken by it. The reasons may very well be based on sheer prejudice. It's hard for modern Western man to admit that “pre-modern” cultures might have known something important which we don't, and another reason could be a skeptical attitude towards all things religious. A third reason not explicitly mentioned by the author is the large amount of cranky conspiracy theorists attracted to ideas of this sort. Devereux' ideas about UFOs are “naturalist”, but since UFOs aren't supposed to exist at all and carry a lot of unwanted associations, you will probably have to wait a long time before any run-of-the-mill geology department funds research into “earth lights” around Stone Age megaliths!
And speaking of conspiracy theory…
Apart from discussing lost temple technology, Greer devotes an entire section of his book to the Knights Templar. Somewhat surprisingly for a “moderate” alternative thinker, Greer expresses a certain amount of support for the conspiracist speculations surrounding the Templars. Thus, he believes that the knights might very well have been heretics, that their heresy was a form of Naassene Gnosticism, and that they did make some kind of stunning discovery at Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Greer also believes that they were in contact with secretive groups in the Middle East, such as the Mandeans and the Sabeans of Harran. (For some reason, he doesn't mention the most obvious candidate: the so-called Assassins, who were Nizari Ismailis.) The evidence for these particular claims seems pretty thin, however. Thus, Greer believes that “Baphomet”, the name of the idol supposedly worshipped by the Templars according to their enemies, is really an encrypted form of the word “Sophia”, a Gnostic principle often personified as a goddess. Somehow, the Muslim prophet Muhammad (Mahomet) feels like a more obvious candidate.
It becomes more interesting when Greer expresses his support for Masonic lore which claims a direct connection between the Craft and the Templars. Thus, some Masonic legends talk about a tunnel inside the Temple Mount centuries before such a tunnel was actually excavated. The only possible source for the claim is the Templar Order. When the Knights Templar were suppressed by the Church, many members avoided arrest and were allowed to join other orders. The Templars in Scotland probably survived the onslaught and built the mysterious Rosslyn Chapel, which contains allusions to both the crusading knights and to the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The chapel contains inscriptions which are identical to passwords used in later Masonic rituals. What if so-called Scottish Masonry actually comes from Scotland and originally incorporated surviving Templar lore, with the Rosslyn Chapel as a missing link? Of course, if Greer is right, then whatever mysterious discovery the knights made on Temple Mount would have been connected to an energy technology enhancing plant growth, rather than the secret bloodline of Jesus, the mysteries of Atlantis, or what have you. Personally, I would consider this even stranger (and more interesting) than the usual conspiracy theories. As a side point, let me note what Greer isn't suggesting. He doesn't claim that your friendly neighborhood Mason knows the secrets of the universe. Quite the contrary, in fact. The real meaning of the Templar-derived Masonic rituals and symbols has been long lost. If you want to enhance your little colonial garden, Steiner's bio-dynamic agriculture might be a safer bet than pestering the local charitable institution...
While I can't vouch for any of the above (nor, strictly speaking, can our Druid author), it does seem intuitively right that unknown mysteries may be situated in the difficult-to-define grey area in which Devereux dwelleth, perhaps together with Forteans and scientifically-inclined parapsychologists (and, I suppose, practitioners of acupuncture). I mean, why not? Besides, if you believe in the paranormal, which Greer does, the physical and the etheric (the lowest level of the “paranormal”) could very well be connected.
It will be interesting to follow the peregrinations of John Michael Greer the Archdruid in the future.