Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Freemasons, Illuminati, and the Horus Heresy

Having read the title, some of you will have no idea what I am talking about, while the rest might have the wrong idea. An explanation is forthcoming, though some additional reading might be required to get what I am trying to say here. Also, minor spoilers ahead.

First, the Horus Heresy is a series of sci-fi novels set in the world of the war-game Warhammer 40.000, a setting created by Games Workshop and its publishing house, Black Library. The Heresy, set in the setting’s past, is essentially a galactic rebellion led by Horus, a genetically engineered superhuman, against his maker and father, as seemingly immortal being known only as the Emperor. The Emperor first unified Earth and promptly began to re-conquer its colonies across the Galaxy, ushering an age of science and reason. The Heresy, hoverer, effectively buries any hope humanity could have of becoming a prosperous, pan-galactic empire, and instead plunges it into the thrall of a totalitarian theocracy, technological obscurantism, and millennia of perpetual war. It is chockfull of epic betrayals, momentous battles, father issues, and subtle allusions to contemporary history.

What I would like to talk about today is one of such allusions, which are actually a large part of Games Workshop’s milieu. So I am not arguing that the company and its writers are in fact agents of the Illuminati who, through hidden symbols, subliminal conditioning and programming, and other such devices further the goals of the conspiracy. That’s a job for Madonna or Alex Jones (who claimed in one movie that “Brave New World’s” author was in fact a whistleblower who depicted the final plan of the globalist conspiracy). Rather, I would like to demonstrate how conspiratorial/historical elements were quite artfully used in one of the Horus Heresy novels.

“Horus Rising” by Dan Abnett, one of the most acclaimed BL writers, was the first book of the series. I won’t go deep into the plot, suffice it to say that the protagonist, Captain Garviel Loken, a leader of a military unit – a company, which is part of Horus’ Legion, the Luna Wolves, learns that a shadow society exists within the Legion itself: the Lodge.

At this point, many readers would connect “lodge” with “Masonic”, and they would be right. Abnett’s reworking is what most would find familiar. The Lodges, supposedly present in some other Legions, are a place and society where everyone is equal, regardless of rank, and where members can talk freely about matters of import. It is not religious in any sense, though shrouded in secrecy. Furthermore, Loken’s dislike of such societies mirrors those voiced in anti-Masonic literature since the 18th century; historical Masonic lodges were supposed to have their own laws, were a root of favouritism, and a place to plot and conspire.

Adam Weishaupt
There is, of course, a darker twist. It is later revealed in the series that the Lodges were infiltrated, or even originally set up, for the sole purpose of preparing the way for the Heresy itself. Their presence in a Legion was used to find those of “adequate” loyalties, as well as to introduce a satanic-like cult of Chaos. In the end, the Lodges, supposedly a place of equality and brotherhood in the rational scientific age, helped to facilitate the rebellion, in part motivated by religious fanaticism, superstition, and lovecraftian cults.

"John Robinson" by Henry Raeburn (1798)
This mirrors real life even more interestingly. As the French Revolution raged in Europe, many sought a reason for its success, and pointed to the Freemasons. Some ideals of the Revolution, both humanistic and atheistic, were similar to the worship of reason propagated in the lodges. Two writers, however, the French ex-Jesuit Augustin Barruel and a Scottish scholar John Robinson, writing near-simultaneously, added the secret society of the Bavarian Illuminati into the mix. Their claim, one that still is used by “conspiracy theorists”, was that the rather benign Freemason societies were infiltrated by the Illuminati to cause the French Revolution, a first step in, expectedly, a plan for global domination. Thus the most famous modern conspiracy theory was born, one that was used by many over the last two centuries, and one that probably inspired the Black Library authors.

As mentioned, Games Workshop loves to put tongue-in-cheek references to our times in their books and games. They range from suggestive names, through characters modelled on historical figures, to plots of entire Warhammer books being a reworking of classic fiction. What I loved about the Horus Heresy Masons/Illuminati motif was that the authors at the same time made it quite subtle, but at the same time, once you “get” the motif, the analogy is striking and this realization actually helps to understand the plot and its context better. It is the perfect example of a conspiratorial motif nicely embedded into a work of fiction.

P.S. It should be noted that Adam Weishaupt, the historical creator of the Bavarian Illuminati, indeed “infiltrated” Masonic Lodges, but only to attract members to his secret society. While today it would probably be considered guerrilla marketing and bad taste, it had nothing to do with world domination.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Internet (and) Conspiracy

It's not often that you get to experience what you research.

The Internet!
My long absence from the blog was caused exactly by research, or rather by me writing my theoretical chapter. Under this lofty name is hidden a compilation of summaries of various books and articles, bound together by the unifying medium of my thesis. A few days ago, I finished a section describing the interplay between conspiracy theory and the Internet, with the former becoming a popular, everyday practice, not an activity relegated to radical minorities. The gist was that all of us, all the time, do what a conspiracy theorist does – we look for links and connections.

This may sound preposterous, but bear with me.

So, I finish writing at about 11 PM local, and decide to browse the Internet before sleep. On one of the news pages I frequent I find this: the final announcement regarding the release of Iron Sky. The minitrailer gives me a nice rush, mostly due to the rather kickass song in the background. So, as I would like to know more, it's off to YouTube and the comments section of the video. A quick browse provides a link to the original, Laibach's “Maschina B”. As it turns out, I am not alone – the comments are spammed with “Thumb up if you came here for Irons Sky song!!!1” or suchlike. As Laibach are not famous for their melodic, easy-to-remember choruses, many posted links just to the relevant section, effectively the last 20 seconds of the song, the montage of which was quite similar to that in the trailer, by the way. Now, this is not the end of this chain of links, as some comments included a link to another song, one that was covered by Laibach...

All three seemed unconnected thematically. The trailer used the march-like feel of the song, the words like “machine” or “sky” to complement the militaristic visuals. The original Laibach song, combined with a non-official trailer, gave the feel of a slow buildup to a profound, apocalyptic event, an oncoming singularity, with mass extinction as the price. The Siddhartha version seems (as my Slovenian is a bit rusty...) to have a yet different, more down-to-earth, meaning.

And then, as midnight approached, it struck me. What I just did was exactly the supposedly conspiratorial way of mapping reality by linking seemingly unrelated events. Suddenly, through a short musical tune, the Slovak rock band, Atom bomb tests, UFOs, Nazis, and many others became linked together. And it all could well have been a part of some master plan, some posthypnotic propaganda, a sliver of the “true” reality... Boggles the mind, doesn't it?

Well, probably not, but a small explanation may seem in order. Most critics writing about conspiracy theories after the 1960s agreed that we got so many of them during the last 50 years because of two things: the Cold War and postmodernism. The first seems obvious: not only was the world divided into two opposing camps, but it was full or plots and conspiracies, real and invented, foreign and domestic.

Postmodernism may seem less obvious. In layman’s terms, this widely complex movement supposed that, to quote Wikipedia, “many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs and are therefore subject to change”. This means that there is no monolithic, governing principle, no point of reference that explains what the world is about. This realization is apparently intolerable for most; we develop, therefore, ways to “map” reality, to comprehend it, either through religion, science, or conspiracy theory.

The belief in a conspiracy became such a point of reference – everything can be traced back to it, so the world in fact makes sense, there is not randomness, every event has a purpose. The search for links and connections became a “mapping” practice, ultimately futile, but at the same time comforting.

And then, cyberculture met conspiracy.

Critics like Jodi Dean or Clare Birchall observed that the act of creating a conspiracy theory, the search for links, is an everyday practice. It is what we do while browsing the Internet, what I did with the “Iron Sky” trailer. Of course, most do not claim that all of this is connected by some higher, omnipotent agency, but it also gives an illusion that all the world’s knowledge is in some way connected, not a disjointed mass of useless information.

Jodi Dean specifically claimed that even people who believe in conspiracy theories do not go on a futile quest to get the “whole truth”. Rather, they are content that there is a possibility to do so, combined with the knowledge of “the truth”; they are like the users of the Internet who would never be able to read it all, but are content in knowing that the total sum of human invention and thoughts is out there, just a few clicks away.