The Victorian Charm of the Protong. Part 1

David Sivier
Magonia 88, May 2005

One of the strangest responses to the furore surrounding the release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in 2004 was that of veteran fringe writer, Stan Gooch. Other writers and academics feared the graphic depiction of Christ’s suffering would provoke a rise in violent anti-Semitism amid a resurgence of extreme right-wing political groups in Europe, and the renewed intifada in the Arab world, Gooch took the opportunity of the film’s release to expound his own theory that Christianity owed its origins to a secret lunar cult.

‘Why,’ he asked rather tetchily, ‘do people not understand that far from being what it is claimed to be, the story of Christ is simply a garbled version of the ancient Moon religion’s chief ceremony? In this ceremony, the Sun (the King for a Year) is sacrificed by the Moon on the last day of the year, his genitals are removed (hence the spear in the side) and the still clearer spear through both thighs of the Fisher King to turn him into a menstruating woman, the blood then drunk and the testicles eaten. (This, of course, is why Catholics eat the body of Christ and drink His blood during Mass.) However, the Moon graciously resurrects the Sun so that life on Earth may continue.’ [1]

As proof of this remarkable assertion, Gooch goes further and states that ‘the cross is the symbol for the Moon in all pre-Christian cultures worldwide and Christ dies on the cross on Friday 13th. Friday is the day of the Moon goddess, Freya.

‘And He is resurrected on Monday, which is again Moon-day. Christ and his 12 disciples constitute a coven of 13. The only 13 which exists in nature (or anywhere else) is the 13 New Moons/Full Moons that occur in each alternate year. The date of Easter (of the sacrifice and resurrection) is of course still today determined by the Moon, which is why Easter is a moveable feast.’ [2]

Of course the simple answer to why his theory is not accepted is because it is utter rubbish from start to finish. While there were cults that practiced castration and allegations of human sacrifice committed by others in the ancient world, no cult that combined the two is recorded to have existed. The priests of Cybele castrated themselves, but did not do so as part of a cult of human sacrifice, and did not engage in cannibalism. Indeed, far from being intended to cause their deaths, the castration marked the worshippers’ entry into their new lives as the goddess’ priests. The allegation is even more incredible, and potentially dangerous, when applied to the 1st century Judaism out of which Christianity grew.
Despite the weird and depraved sacrificial mixing of semen and menstrual blood by some libertarian Christian Gnostic sects, such as the Cainites, such acts were viewed as abominations in the wider Judaeo-Christian world. [3] It is true that some historians following the Christian apologist Justin Martyr have tentatively suggested that the Roman accusation of orgiastic sex and cannibalism directed at Christians may have come from the activities of some of these sects, such as the Marcionites. [4] Pliny, on the other hand, despite his willingness to execute Christians on the emperor’s orders, found that there was no substance behind the rumour, only ‘a depraved and immodest superstition’. [5]

Furthermore, the allegations of human sacrifice in Christianity at this time, before the religion was completely separate from Judaism, could be seen as substantiating the ‘Blood Libel’ rumours of the ritual sacrifice of gentiles which have produced so much vicious anti- Semitism ever since they first appeared at the court of Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria c.125-96 B.C. [6] In the case of Christianity, most scholars believe that the allegations of cannibal’thyestean feasts’ arose through a Roman misunderstanding of the nature of Eucharist, with some Romans believing that the Christians dipped the host in the blood of sacrificed child. [7]

Despite being totally wrong historically, the theory of Christianity’s lunar origins nevertheless is a good example of the concerns of a certain part of the fringe archaeology/secret history movement, and in particular its origins in outmoded, Victorian views of the origins of religion. In fact, Gooch’s view of the origin of Christianity is part of his wider attempt to trace the origins of modern religious and political systems in the racial difference between Neanderthal and modern Homo Sapiens. In his 1989 book, Cities of Dreams: When Women Ruled the Earth, he stated his case that the Neanderthals were creative left-handed, pacifist, socialist, matriarchal vegetarians whose religion was centred around the worship of the Moon, in contrast with the Cro-Magnons, who were patriarchal, violent, right-handed, destructive and capitalistic. Intermarriage between the two produced modern humanity, with the different political and religious beliefs being determined by the relative expression of the Neanderthal or Cro Magnon heritage in various individuals.

Thus, left-handers, according to Gooch, have more Neanderthal heritage, and are thus more likely to be anti-capitalist political leftists. As proof of this, he cites Osama bin Laden, Ayman Zawahiri and Suleiman Abu Ghaith as prominent left-handers, as well as the statistic that left-handedness in China, which ‘just happens to be a Communist state’ is almost double that of Europe. Thus ‘the present world crisis, our political system itself, and the vast majority of our social problems all arise from the fact that we, modern humans, are an unstable hybrid cross between predominantly left-handed Neanderthal man and the right-handed Cro-Magnon, and all possess two sets of opposing instincts.’ [8]

Other fringe writers, such as Stanislaus Szukalsky, would have concurred. A Polish nationalist and founder of the ‘Horned Heart’ patriotic movement, Szukalsky similarly believed that an archaic, prehuman race from which modern humans were partially descended also shared communistic inclinations. Rather than the idealised paragons of antediluvian virtue envisaged by Gooch, however, these were subhuman creatures of violence and depravity. It was their racial heritage that was responsible for the cruelty and criminality in the modern human character. Szukalsky’s views, however, were no doubt moulded by his country’s experience during the post-War years. Newly liberated from both Germany and Russia, the country was nevertheless subject to political instability and armed incursions from its former eastern master after the Revolution when the nascent Soviet union attempted to spread Communism by force.

Similar views of the origin of Communist criminal depravity in a prehuman racial heritage informed the views of many of German Pagan sects whose vehement antisemitism made them precursors of the Nazis. Despite the substantial difference in outlook between Szukalsky and the leaders of the Volkisch neo-pagan sects in Wilhelmine Germany, his view of the Protong as the prehuman originator of evil is of a type with Lanz von Liebenfels’ Buhlzwerge, subhuman pygmies, which the ancients had reared for perverted sexual pleasure. For Liebenfels, Christ’s passion was a garbled account of attempts by these pygmies to rape and corrupt Him on the urging of Satanic bestiality cults devoted to racial interbreeding. [9]

Liebenfels’ own political views were diametrically opposed to Gooch’s. A rabidly anti-Semitic German Nationalist, whose views may have exerted an influence on the young Adolf Hitler, Liebenfels was resolutely behind the hierarchical, capitalist world, which Communism sought to overthrow. Nevertheless, both Liebenfels and Gooch’s views of the Passion are similar, rejecting the literal meaning of the narrative in favour of an allegorical interpretation of sexual violence.

Liebenfels’ interpretation of the Passion narrative, however, lacks the cannibalism of Gooch’s. Yet this is also present in the nineteenth century attempt to establish the anthropological origin of religion, though this time in Freud’s discussion of the origin of religion in the Oedipal struggles of the early human community expressed in the murder of a Biblical figure, though this time Moses, rather than Christ. In his Autobiography, Freud declared that the ur-human paterfamilias had seized all the tribe’s women for himself. As a result, his sons banded together against him to kill and devour him. However, as their father was also their ideal, they were ridden with guilt, and so enacted rituals to expiate them of their sin. The result of this was the ritual murder, not of Jesus, but of Moses by his Jewish followers. [10]

Where Freud got this bizarre idea of Moses’ ritual murder is a mystery. The Bible makes no mention of a murder at all. In it, God simply summons Moses to die on Mt. Nebo, because he had broken faith with the Almighty and did not revere Him as holy in Meribathkadesh. [11] Moses complied, dying in full view of the Promised Land, which he was forbidden to enter. There is no mention of any killing by Moses followers, who, far from being filled with hate, spent thirty days in mourning for their prophet. [12]

The Talmud and extrabiblical Jewish legend also makes no mention of Moses being murdered either. There, the short Biblical account of the prophet’s death is supplemented with a longer account of his refusal to die, and the refusal of various angels sent by the Lord to take his soul, until at last the Lord lures his soul out of his body with a kiss. Again, Moses’ death is the cause for great mourning, not just of Israel, but also of the whole of creation. [13]

The Roman Jewish historian, Josephus too makes no mention of any murder, but describes instead Moses being called to die by God, and giving a lengthy sermon stressing the nation’s duty to God and describing the constitution and laws revealed to him by the Almighty before ascending the mountain where he was due to die. Again, rather than being murdered, Moses’ death is the subject of extreme sorrow for his people. Josephus’ account differs from that of the Bible and the Talmud in having the prophet disappearing from under a cloud, which settled over him while still in conversation with the patriarchs Eleazar and Joshua. [14] Freud thus appears to have confused Moses death with the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, which was a revolt against Moses and Aaron’s authority. [15]

This ends not with Moses’ murder, however, but with Korah and the leaders of the revolt being swallowed alive by the earth down to Sheol, the Hebrew underworld, and their followers consumed by fire. The overwhelming impression by Freud’s account of Moses’ death as a ritual sacrifice by the people of Israel is of a deliberate misreading of the text in order to make it conform to his theory. Unfortunately, this certainly was not the last time this was done.

Nor has the fascination with the murder of Biblical figures abated over the past 100 years. While Freud’s theory of the ritual murder of Moses has become one of the lesser-known and obscure parts of his psychoanalytical system, other writers on religion have since moved on to Hiram Abif, the architect of Solomon’s Temple in Masonic legend, who was similarly murdered by his followers, in this case, the other workmen. Such a work is Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas’ The Hiram Key of 1996, which similarly made spurious claims about the origins of religion, including the statement that the secret scrolls of Christ were buried under Roslyn Chapel, and claiming that the mummy of the pharaoh Seqenenre Tao II was the body of Hiram Abif himself. [16] Freud’s theory of the cause of Moses’ putative murder in the enactment of Oedipal conflicts with his people could also be applied to the story of the murder of Hiram Abif, though as yet it doesn’t appear that anyone has actually done so. Clearly religious murder and secret religious history continue to hold a lurid interest for modern, as well as Victorian readers.

Even when these theories are presented from a liberal perspective they still present considerable dangers because of their biologistic readings of historical and cultural events.
Regardless of the precise theory anthropological or psychological theory underpinning Szukalski’s, Liebenfels’ and Gooch’s views of the nature of prehistoric humanity and the origins of religion and capitalism and Communism, all are strongly informed by the racial and anthropological theories of the 19th century. Although these have been discredited by later research carried out in the 20th century, they persisted long enough for their influence still to be felt in the modern occult and Fortean fringe. Even when these theories are presented from a liberal perspective, as in Gooch’s attempts to rescue the Neanderthals from their image of savage brutality, they still present considerable dangers because of their biologistic readings of historical and cultural events. Apart from challenging the racist basis of such theorising, it’s also instructive to analyse these theories to reveal just how far 19th century views of primitive humanity and its religion even in today’s far more liberal occult and fringe religious milieu.

Underpinning Freud’s theory of the psychological origin of religion, however, was the nascent anthropology of the Victorian era, which itself was informed by that age’s faith in progress from primitive barbarism to modern, technological, European civilisation. Freud was particularly influenced by studies such as W. Robertson Smith’s Lectures On the Religion of the Semites of 1898, which argued that sacred acts and cults were the essence of religion, rather than doctrines or beliefs. [17]

Liebenfels was similarly influenced by contemporary anthropology, with one article citing more than a hundred references to academic studies in anthropology, palaeontology and mythology. [18] The major influence on Liebenfels’ thinking, however, seems to have been a flagstone at Heiligenkreuz Abbey, where he had been a Cistercian monk, showing a nobleman trampling upon a strange monster, which Liebenfels interpreted as an allegorical representation of the struggle with the subhuman evil present in the world. [19]

Although Freud’s historical account of the origins of religion has been discredited, while Liebenfels, despite his erudition, was never more than an eccentric fringe thinker whose ideas have similarly been thoroughly discredited because of their genocidal racism, they nevertheless shared their basis in evolutionary theory with more mainstream anthropological speculation. The founders of sociology in France and Britain, Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, were firm believers in the progress of human civilisation from out of savagery. Indeed, it was Herbert Spencer who coined the phrase ‘the survival of the fittest’ as a staunch supporter of Darwinism. [20] As a result, 19th century anthropology was infused from its birth with what Boleslaw Malinowski described as ‘enthusiastic evolutionism’. [21]

Both Comte and Spencer attempted to fit the development of religion into their schema of social and biological progress. For Comte, the earliest and most primitive form of religion was animism, when early humanity invested the natural world around them with supernatural presences and powers in order to explain it. For Spencer, this ur-religion was the belief in ghosts and ancestral spirits. The great Victorian anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor [right], viewed by one modern scholar, Jacques Waardenburg, as ‘the actual founder of anthropology as the science of man and his culture’, [22] further refined this view so that the belief in a soul, rather than ghosts, was the origin of religion. It was Tylor who coined the term’animism’ to describe the belief that animals, plants and inanimate objects possessed souls as well humans.

William Robertson Smith, who influenced Freud’s theory of religion and who has been described by the anthropologist Mary Douglas as the real father of anthropology, [23] rather than Tylor, differed from his predecessors in viewing totemism as the origin of human religion. Smith’s views were influenced by his experiences when he visited the Bedouin in North Africa. In the totemic stage of society, he believed, each clan or savage kin-group considered itself related to its totem. Although the totem could be any creature or object, usually it was some kind of animal. When this sacred animal was sacrificed, its flesh and blood, if eaten, united the worshippers with the sacrificial victim. It was this totemism, which was at the heart of modern Christian Holy Communion. It is a view, which is clearly related, if not actually ancestral, to Gooch’s view that Christian Holy Communion is based on a real human sacrifice, whose body and blood was indeed eaten. [24]

These rationalist, evolutionary accounts of the origin of religion remained influential into the 20th century. An edition of Smith’s Religion of the Semites was published in 1927 , while Freud’s account of the psychological origins of religion, where ‘respect and fear of the Old Man and the emotional reaction of the primitive savage to older, protective women, exaggerated in dreams and enriched by mental play, formed a large part in the beginnings of primitive religion and in the conception of gods and goddesses’, was incorporated into H. G. Wells’ own account of the origin of religion. [25]

Later in the century shamanism, rather than animism or totemism, was viewed as the origin of religion, or at least the oldest religious system. Archaeological evidence suggested that it was at least 20,000 years old, meaning that it ‘ was the world’s oldest profession and Shamans were probably the first storytellers, healers, priests, magicians, dramatists, and so on, who explained the world and related it to the cosmos.’ [26] In the view of some researchers, the transition to priesthood occurred when humanity found it increasingly difficult to enter the dissociative states necessary for the shamanic experience, and when the shamans’ powers were eroded as they came under the sway of the leaders of the emergent states.

Thus, instead of the original, ecstatic experience, priests and diviners used set rituals and procedures instead to bring about the miracles and mystical communion with the gods or ancestors, or to produce religious phenomena and attitudes agreeable to their secular masters. [27] For many in the New Age milieu, it is the apparent extreme antiquity of shamanism, as well as the freedom it offers for direct mystical communion with the numinous, unmediated by the strictures of an organised, dogmatic priesthood or oppressive state structure, that validates shamanism as a contemporary religious path.

A similar attitude also underpins much of the current interest in ritual magic, with adherents and adepts similarly stressing the experience of communion with transcendent powers outside of the restrictions imposed by religion as an important element in its attraction. Although not stressed to the same extent as shamanism, magic has similarly been viewed as the ultimate origin of religion, most famously by Sir James George Frazer in his work The Golden Bough. Like Inglis, Frazer believed the transition to religion occurred when the magic failed to work, though as a rationalist he viewed this as the growing awareness of emerging civilisations that magic could not explain and control the world satisfactorily. [28] Frazer was influenced in his view of magic as the origin of religion by the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel.

Although Hegel’s theory of the emergence of the historical process through the dialectic of thesis-antithesis-synthesis is best known through the left-wing, materialist version propounded by Marx, Hegel himself was a practising Lutheran. The dialectical process of the human journey mirrored the operation of the divine mind. Magic and fetishism were the origins of human religion, a Naturreligion in which no duality was perceived between nature and spirit. This ur-religion had become obsolete in advanced societies, particularly those of Western Europe, through the process of antithesis, which separated spirit from its original, unformed self, so giving rise to Persian dualism. Eventually, however, the highest stage of the process, the synthesis, was achieved in revealed religion, particularly that of European Christianity. [29]

Hegelianism formed the conceptual basis of Marx’s concept of the progress of human society, though he also drew many of his ideas from anthropology. Particularly influential in this regard was Lewis Henry Morgan, whose study of the Iroquois Indians was published in 1851 and which has been hailed as ‘the first modern ethnographic study of a native people’. [30] It was Morgan, taking his lead from Spencer, who proposed that society developed from savagery, through barbarism to civilisation, and identified each stage with a particular technological or social advance. For many Marxist intellectuals, and those influenced by them, the earliest stage of human society was marked by a primitive communism which the growing diversity of function and division of labour and roles in more advanced societies had destroyed, but which would be restored again after the dialectical process had advanced through capitalism and its successor, socialism, to the idyllic true communism of the post- revolutionary world order.
It is no accident that radical western socialists,
such as London’s former mayor Ken Livingstone,  hearkened back to the primitive communism
of the Palaeolithic as a golden age

Marxist anthropologists have paid particular attention to hunter-gatherer societies where no one is dependent on others for the weapons that are the sole means of production. [31] It is no accident that radical western socialists, such as London’s former mayor, Ken Livingstone, in an interview with the Sunday Express in the mid-80s, hearkened back to the primitive communism of the Palaeolithic as a golden age. Despite the Soviet regime’s persecution of shamanism alongside other expressions of religious belief and practice incompatible with its militantly atheist ideology, and the view of Marxist anthropologists that magicians, by their specialist knowledge, make the workers dependent on them and so exploit them, [32] it is probably no accident that many of those interested in shamanism tend towards the political left in their beliefs, and have a similar nostalgia for the lost utopia of Stone Age society.

Such attitudes can be traced further back, of course, to Rousseau and Diderot’s idealisation of the Noble Savage, and especially Tahiti, as terrestrial paradises of primitive communism and sexual freedom, free from the repression, hypocrisy and corruption of aristocratic Europe. Although they too praised the natives as enjoying a natural religion in harmony with humanity’s own nature, the post-modern Neo-Pagan movement has as much in common with Hegel’s view of magic as it does with the Noble Savage of the philosophes. For Rousseau and Diderot, the natural religion was something like European deism, which posited a distant creator, but denied that He took any further action to interfere with His creation. It was an intellectual faith, which lacked the Romantic involvement with the miraculous, which is at the heart of a belief in magic.

Modern Neo-Paganism’s debt to 19th century anthropology is also demonstrated in its concern with ancient matriarchies, which worshipped goddesses, rather than male gods, and where the mediators of female divine power were queens and priestesses. Although in the century this view of early global culture and religion has been most strongly propounded by Marija Gimbutas, of UCLA, whose book, The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe has been particularly influential, the idea itself goes back to Johan Backhofen in the 19th century. Backhofen, a Swiss jurist, believed that all societies passed through a matriarchal phase, though he termed it Mutterrecht – mother-right — rather than matriarchy. It was an enormously influential view, being taken up, amongst others, by Sigmund Freud and the archaeologists V. Gorden Childe and Jacques Cauvin. [33] Hence Gooch’s theory of primitive Neanderthal matriarchy, and his statement that Christ’s Passion is a mythological treatment of human sacrifice performed by a lunar cult, identified in much modern Neo-Pagan literature, though not explicitly stated in Gooch’s account of Christ’s Passion, as the religion of a moon goddess.

Continue to Part Two:

  1. Stan Gooch. ‘Moon Religion', Fortean Times, 185, July 2004, p.75
  2. Ibid.
  3. See for example, Christ’s condemnation of such practices acording to the Pistis Sophia, cited in ‘The Orgy’, in A. Nataf, The Occult, Chambers, Edinburgh 1991, p.70
  4. J. B. Russell, Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, Cornell University Press, 1972, p.90
  5. T. Barnes, ‘Pagan Perceptions of Christianity’ in I. Hazlett, ed., Early Christianity: Origins and Evolution to AD600. SPCK, London 1991, p.90.
  6. J. B. Russell, Witchcraft, p.89
  7. J. B. Russell, Witchcraft, p.89
  8. Stan Gooch, ‘Sinister Sinstades’ in Fortean Times, 155, February 2002, p.54
  9. N. Goodrick-Clarke. The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and their Influence on Nazi Ideology, I. B. Tauris, 1992.
  10. Alister McGrath. The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World. Rider, 2004, p.72-3
  11. Deuteronomy 32, 48-52
  12. Deuteronomy 34, 1-8
  13. A.S. Rappaport, Ancient Israel: Myths and Legends. The Mystic Press, London 1987, pp.343-362
  14. Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, trans. William Wiston. Charles Griffin, pp. 95-103
  15. Ibid
  16. P. Henry, ‘The Hiram Key’, Fortean Times, 192, Novmber 1996, p.60
  17. Alister McGrath. op.cit., pp.72
  18. Goodrick-Clarke, op.cit., p.93.
  19. Goodrick-Clarke, op.cit., pp.91-2
  20. C. Bennett. In Search of the Sacred: Anthropology and the Study of Religions, Cassell, 1996, p29.
  21. Bennett, op.cit., p.36
  22. Bennett, op.cit., p.34
  23. Bennett, op.cit., p.41
  24. Bennett, op.cit., p.42
  25. H. G. Wells. A Short History of the World. Watts & Co., 1934, p37
  26. ‘Shamanism’ in R. E. Gulley, Harper’s Encyclopaedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience. HarperCollins, New York, 1991, p.540
  27. B. Inglis. Natural and Supernatual: A History of the Paranormal from the Earliest Times to 1914. Prism, 1992. p.540.
  28. Bennett, op.cit., p.39
  29. Bennett, op.cit., p.25
  30. Bennett, op.cit., p.31
  31. ‘Marxist Anthroplogy’, in C. Cook, ed., Pears Cyclopaedia, 95th Edition, Pelham, london, 1986, p.F61
  32. Ibid., p.F61
  33. I. Hodder, ‘Women and Men at Catalhoyuk’, Scientific American Special edition:Mysteries of the Ancient ones, vol. 15, no. 1, 2005, p36. J. F. White, A Brief History of Christian Worship, Abingdon Press, 1993, p.63.