It takes an Australian with a special kind of nerve to write a book that says, in effect, “Western magic is older than the Flood.” This, with a substitution of ‘Freemasonry’ for ‘Western magic’, was the history of a goodly percentage of occult literature in the 1800s — digging further and further back in time for the origins of the civilizing teachings of the world’s allegedly-oldest society-with-secrets. And apparently we’re returning to that in the early 21st century? But let’s leave aside the nose-tweak and the sly comments for a bit, shall we?
First off, the hardcover book is externally beautiful. The pages are a thick, creamy paper. Every time I turned a page, I found myself admiring the quality of the binding and the elegant thickness of each sheet of paper. This is a book designed to last. The dust jacket is printed on an unusually mottled golden-brown paper of similar quality, and the image of a star, a fish, and an anchor is stamped into it. The interior titles are in the same typeface as the title on the spine, which is an interesting and serpentine but modern font. If I have any complaints at all about the design and layout of the book, it’s the choice of a sans-serif font for the internal type, and the layout of the longer quotations from a variety of authors — which are not inset deeply enough, or differentiated by typeface enough, to set them apart from the rest of the text. Sometimes it feels as if White’s words and those of his informants and resources run together.
Let’s turn to the contents. Simply and baldly put, White is arguing that there are a number of anomalous facts — actual bits and bobs of genuine evidence, not speculation — arising from fields as diverse as linguistics, astronomy, geology, architecture, anthropology, genetics, folklore, history, literary studies, and other scientific and humanistic fields, which academia is remarkably reluctant to account for. These bits and bobs come from Indonesia and southeast Asia, Polynesia, Africa, Egypt, Australia, Eurasia, and (to some degree) the Americas and Europe. When slotted together in a timeline (a timeline chart or charts should be produced for the book at some point, Gordon, laying out in broad outline when various elements of your story occur… and I may have to do it myself on a second reading), a broad framework for an initial revision of the history of the civilizations of the last 100,000 years emerges — a history which does not begin with Sumeria and Egypt, but in which they mark a turning point or radical changeover. The evidence mustered to explore and hint at this initial revision is broad, and relies on the same kinds of comparisons mustered in James George Fraser’s Golden Bough — “these two stories are very similar to one another, and may be descendants or siblings or cousins of one another.”
Where White differs from Fraser, though, is in the inclusion of scientifically-gathered but historically-rejected evidence gathered over the last century and a half or so. By which I mean that the academics of history, particularly of Egyptology, has been … ahem, slow… to accept the contributions of geology to the study of their discipline. The timeframes of the previous two hundred years of historiography, rooted in colonialism and racism, have established an ideal historical landscape for emphasizing the value and importance of Europe’s contributions to world history — Sumeria and Egypt as the beginning of civilization, India and China slightly later, Greece a bit after that, Rome almost immediately after that, barbarism and fall followed by the splendid renewals of Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Modernism. That’s quite a story. And it’s Gordon’s position that this story is wrong, and that it’s based in a combination of racism, lack of accurate information, and scientism (the belief that science knows everything, rather than science’s actual process of trial and error to arrive at accurate conclusions).
A great deal of scientism’s emphasis in the first half of that 150 years was spent on throwing the Bible under the bus, chopping it up into bits, and feeding it to the sharks, so that biology and geology and chemistry and physics could ascend to the throne as Science, the be-all and end-all of true knowledge. But Gordon White points out that the gradualist philosophy of the early geologists is being replaced by an increasing awareness of the role of crisis moments in geological change — melting glaciers in Greenland come to mind this morning — that permanently shift the way the world works. Noah’s Flood, in recent decades, has been associated with the flooding of the the Black Sea, and the rapid infilling of the upper Persian Gulf at about the same time. Gordon points out that these were part of a sequence of major floods that occurred over a period of several thousand years — but that there is evidence in Indian literature, in Polynesian and Indonesian literature and in Australian Aboriginal folklore, of the holdover and remembrances of events from the Paleolithic Era… and remembrances of these floods of ancient times.
I think Gordon White has been careful. I think that he has been honest — and he’s been very particular about saying “don’t start a new religion or a new spirituality pretending that you’re reconstructing the paleolithic faith by using this book.” He actually promises to find you personally and knock the book out of your hand when you do that.
But in the same way that a Richard Wagner critic might find the Ring’s motif appearing and re-appearing through four operas, White finds the same stories, the same celebrations of the same star-groups (the Pleiades, Orion, and a few others), emerging again and again across thousands of years on the northerly shores of the Indian Ocean: sunken Sundaland (modern Indonesia), India, Arabia, and Africa. By roughly clumping folklore into three categories (following Dr. E.J. Michael Witzel of Harvard’s The Origins of the World’s Mythologies), the PanGaean, the Gondwana, and Laurasian — White demonstrates that these stories follow non-random distribution. That is, these stories aren’t just appearing in places for no reason — they’re appearing in places at roughly the same time that genetics and linguistics suggest that an influx of people appear in a new place. That these new stories are appearing, complete and fully-developed, without antecedents and without proto-versions of the same stories. That these stories, and their corresponding genetics and linguistics, are appearing at the same time as new technologies appear in the historical record. That these technologies are emerging on the scene in new places fully developed with the details largely worked out.
Folklore, literary motifs, technology, genetics, astronomical and navigational information, systems of measurement, and written texts — all emerging more-or-less fully formed in three or four civilizations. Not with evidence of invasion alongside of it. Not with wholesale replacement of one culture with another; but rather with motifs and elements suggestive of migratory people, social transformation as a native society copes with the implications of migrants and refugees and the technology and history they bring. And paralleling major inundations of land area, as evidenced in the geological record. And these migrating people carry star lore and navigational arts with them — star lore and planetary lore, lore which winds up intermingling in the occult or magical record up to the present day.
Gordon does not lack for ambition.
Is he right?
Let me put it this way. I taught ancient history to middle schoolers for seventeen years. In that time I read more books on ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, ancient Mesopotamia, ancient Rome, and the Neolithic and Paleolithic era than I thought possible. The existing academic consensus grew increasingly shaky throughout my time on the job, and it was evident in the way that the insistence on the existing paradigm was right. The textbooks presented these matters as settled; but my students found the ideas confusing. To help them out, I made a series of YouTube videos describing what our textbooks said about various elements of ancient history — and commenters leapt on those videos like lions on wildebeests — this bit of information is wrong, that bit of information is wrong, these elements of this story aren’t right, and so on. The students who watched the videos found them useful for passing exams; the actual historians found them appalling. That’s because the actual historians have spent most of the last decade inside the silos of their own particular specialties, and are rudely discovering in my videos that the middle-school textbook consensus is seventy-five years behind the collegiate/graduate/post-doctoral academic consensus. My students increasingly found the comments more and more believable, more and more reliable — because they were based not on a simplification of history done in a grandly banal style ‘suitable for a middle school history textbook’, but because real people from across the globe were phoning in, saying, “your history textbook is wrong.” The dozens of academics listed on the authors and editors credits page of our textbook, who had literally signed off on this piece of garbage, had presented an academic consensus in paper that was almost a hundred years out of date, and busted to boot.
And the point that White hammers home again and again, is that the academic consensus is in the process of busting. Because the historical data from India, from Egypt, and elsewhere, duly and authoritatively slotted into the extant chronologies, is running up against the geological, linguistic and genetic evidence which is also duly and authoritatively collected. When the messy and completely political business of history runs up against hard fact from geology and biology, it’s ultimately the hard facts of science (as opposed to the muddlement and middlemen of scientism) which must win out.
And that’s what Gordon White is trying to do: present the anomalous data as non-anomalous. As factual. And arguing that the existing chronology must conform to known geological fact, to the evidence of biology and genetics and linguistics. When we do that, a radical re-visioning of the last 100,000 years emerges, in which we, his readers, find a way to rediscover our race and value.
Of course, White is writing for an audience of occultists, too. His blog, Rune Soup, is primarily about magic and about paradigm shifts, and it would be wrong to suggest that Star.Ships is primarily about history, because it’s not. This book is, in large measure, about a reconstruction of history — but it’s also about helping us acknowledge that something bigger and weirder is taking place than just human beings building pyramids and temples with two T-shaped pillars (I wonder if we’ll eventually find a Gobëkli Tepe temple with pillars with black and white pigments on them?).
That “other thing” which White is about the underlying purpose or meaning which drives us as humans. It’s about the seeking of contact, connection, and communication with the universe — and the universe answering back. When considering an Australian Aboriginal ‘wandering’ in the desert with both a specific purpose and course in mind; when helping his reader understand how a Polynesian navigates across thousands of miles of open ocean; when lightly touching on questions of UFOlogy alongside the question of Imhotep’s innovations that led to the construction of pyramids in Egypt; when considering Crowley’s reception of the Book of the Law — Gordon is presenting his usual soup of anomalous data in ways that help us understand that the anomalous data is not anomalous at all.
I think to go farther with this review, is to reveal too much of what Gordon has in store for his readers. Suffice it to say that this is a book for magicians, rather than historians — for people who are willing to speak a prayer to Orion, to stand between the pillars, to learn the names of stars and their lore and ancient history. In all, the book calls us to be mindful of what we might have come from, even as we are people rooted to our own time and place — to be aware of longer horizons and deeper history than the present age would admit.
At the start of this review, I tweaked Gordon’s nose a bit, and snarkily compared him to those who wrote about Freemasonry’s origins about 5 minutes before 9:30 am on October 23, 4004 BC. But really, Star.Ships is designed to make us think hard about magic’s place in the 21st century, by asking questions about where it came from, what it is supposed to do, and how it’s really supposed to help us. It asks questions about immortality and mortality, about science and religion, about history, and about the formation of new paradigms. He’s reached really deep into the past, and, in a way, touched on the origins of navigation, of measurement, of geometry, of mathematics, of astronomy and astrology… and he’s asked us to do something with that information besides face the four directions while wearing some funny costumes.
It’s a powerful read.