Let Me Tell You of the Days of High Adventure

The_Viking_Symbol_MysteryIf, like me, you grew up in the United States at a certain time (I’m guessing any time after the 1960s), you read a lot of Hardy Boys books (or their female-targeted equivalent, Nancy Drew). Every school library, and every public library with a section aimed at young people, seemed to have a complete set of these, in this hardback library binding with a sort of hatched, grainy cover texture.

I didn’t know these books existed in the UK, so imagine my surprise to find over a dozen of them on the “take a free book” shelf at the station while I was waiting for a coach. Not, sadly, in this classic format, but in a more modern one.

Also, good God, looking on the internet tells me that these things have been being published since 1927 and there was an attempt to modernise the franchise using the name “the Clues Brothers,” which is just unforgivable but strangely appealing.

Anyway, where was I? I was going to just enjoy a moment of nostalgia until I saw that one of these was about a Viking runestone, at which point I snapped it up and took it with me, regardless of the fact that it was supposed to be for a) commuters and b) little kids. I’ll put it back when I’m done, promise.

For those of you unfamiliar with the premise of the Hardy Boys, you have these two brothers, Frank and Joe Hardy, and their squad of teenage chums (the Fat One, the Ethnic One and the Other One) who solve mysteries under the mentorship of private eye father Somebody Else Hardy. The whole thing is sort of breathlessly innocent and stupidly didactic, in a way that I totally failed to notice when I was young but which is now very charming to read. Here’s an example, from a scene in which the brothers are searching a dump for clues:

When they met there, neither boy had found a clue.

Joe looked glum. “Guess we’re just out of luck,” he said, kicking an old box.

His brother was about to agree, when the box turned over and out fell a rolled-up pair of grey slacks. Both boys grabbed for the box and Frank pulled out a black-and-white checked sports jacket.

“Wa-hoo!” Frank exulted, holding up the jacket and turning it inside out. “Look at this label — Toronto, Canada!”

“The slacks are from Quebec,” Joe said, looking puzzled. “Do you think Kelly is from Canada?”

“He could be,” Frank answered, greatly excited.

Now, there is no form of humour lower and more predictable than the American making fun of Canada for being mostly like America but slightly different in some ways — they say “eh!” They’re very polite! They like hockey! — but it is impossible not to get a bit of a smile out of how much time our heroes spend being amazingly excited about going to Canada.

In a way, it’s part of the silly charm of the book, and it’s indicative of a certain kind of adventure story that is just no longer around, or at least not from a casual observer’s perspective. The aspects of adventure that turn up in this yarn are very pragmatic things: learning to fly a floatplane, trekking through the wilderness, a run-in with a dangerous animal. All that kind of stuff that appears to have been super-exciting to the youth of another day but which has been replaced by magic and monsters in most modern children’s fiction. (He said, as if he knew anything about it.)

And in a way that’s pretty understandable — I mean, there’s a scene in this book where the brothers and The Fat One get a tour of Saskatoon. Saska-fuckin-toon, I mean, it’s not exactly Hogwart’s. But on the other hand, it’s a little sad, because young readers are never going to get to go to Hogwarts, but they could conceivably learn to fly a plane. Anyway, I dunno. Let’s get back to the story.

So where does the Viking stone come in? I’ll let Mr Hardy explain:

“A few days ago,” Mr Hardy explained, “I had a telegram from a Mr Black, who is curator of London Museum in England. Because I had been successful in solving a case in Canada a few years ago, I had been recommended to Mr Black.”

“Yes?” Joe prompted.

“This mystery,” his father went on, “concerns an invaluable Viking rune stone that was stolen recently in Edmonton, Alberta.”

“Wow!” exclaimed Joe. “That’s near the edge of the Northwest Territories.”

“Those old Scandinavian mariners really covered a lot of water in their far-flung travels,” said his father, “often ranging inland for great distances. The runic alphabet was copied from Latin and Greek letters by the Teutonic peoples about the third century.”

Thanks, Mr Hardy!

Now, it soon transpires that this stone is no ordinary stone, heck no, but in fact contains some clues that will lead its reader to, you guessed it, hidden treasure. So the brothers are off to Canada.

Obviously, this Canadian runestone recalls the Kensington runestone, a forgery from 19th-century America (although no one who talks about the Kensington runestone ever mentions that it doesn’t even claim to be Viking — it claims to be from the 14th century).

So off they go to Canada, where they run into:

  • Grain elevators!
  • A big bearded French-Canadian trapper in a checked shirt who says Bon tonnere! every third sentence!
  • The Mounties!
  • Bears!

And they find a rune stone, but:

A look of disappointment spread over the Englishman’s face.

“This stone is not authentic,” he said wearily, but with certainty. “I can tell by the sharp edges of the lines that it was not carved in the ninth century. It is a rather clever imitation.”

But never fear — this is just a duplicate crafted by the thieves to throw the Hardys off the scent. The real runestone reveals the location of a sunken Viking ship near Yellowknife, full of tray-zher.

Reaching deep into a sack, Chet pulled out a handful of glittering gold coins.

“Wow! Look at these!” he cried.

“And this statue must be worth a fortune!” Frank held up the gold figure of a Viking warrior.

“This is a historical find, as well as a valuable one,” Mr Hardy said. “It definitely links the exploration of northern Canada to the ancient Norsemen.”

Aaaaaand then the story is explained and our heroes eat a bison and we’re done.

There are a surprising number of these books that seem to have some kind of archaeological content, but it’s not so surprising when you consider their need to combine good old-fashioned adventure with some kind of “educational” content, or at least as educational as a hack writing under a house name with a public library reference book at his elbow could crank out. Chasing historical artefacts lets you graft a history lesson onto your adventure story (and not subtly, either; check out that quote up top from Mr Hardy) with minimal fuss.

I don’t know why I find the earnest corniness of this kind of story so appealing, but I do.

Let Me Tell You of the Days of High Adventure

Archaeological themes in Star Trek (1966)


With apologies to Keith Chan, from whom I swiped the image.
With apologies to Keith Chan, from whom I swiped the image.

Over the last few months, my wife and I have been watching the original Star Trek on Lovefilm (or Amazon instant video, which is now the same thing). Only the first two seasons are available, but a few things have struck me about them. One is how changing viewing habits have really altered television storytelling. Viewed back to back, it becomes very apparent how similar the episodes are to each other: a godlike humanoid alien imprisons or chastises the crew, everyone does some soul-searching about Vietnam, a planet resembles Earth — there are maybe  half a dozen core plots repeated over and over.

One plot element that occurs once in each season we’ve watched so far involves archaeologists/anthropologists/ancient historians. There are two episodes in these seasons with historians or archaeologists as major characters: the first season episode “Space Seed,” and the second season episode “Who Mourns for Adonais?”

Let’s start with “Space Seed.” This was quite an influential episode. It introduced the character of Khan (Ricardo Montalbán), who would of course go on to be the villain in the second film and elsewhere. Khan is a relic of an earlier age, a genetically-engineered super-soldier type from a violent period of Earth’s past.

Because he’s from the past, Kirk puts Khan in touch with the ship’s historian,  Lt McGivers (Madlyn Rhue). McGivers is an interesting character. Here she is, in the traditional soft lighting enjoyed by every female character in at least one closeup.


Her quarters are full of paintings of manly men through the ages.


Naturally, when she meets an actual Manly Man from History, she falls for him …


… and tries to help him overthrow Kirk and steal the ship. But it doesn’t work out. She does get a new hairdo when Khan pulls her hair out of the hairstyle in the middle photo.

So the historian is obsessed with history, and specifically with the ways in which it’s both good and bad — she admires the resolution and will of these historical figures, but at the same time the show is aware of how they’re pretty bad guys. Which is interesting, because maybe one Star Trek episode in five ends with some guff about human will and the need to struggle and battle and survive. So: the historian is sentimentally attached to the past in a way that winds up with smooches (because it’s Star Trek and she’s a woman).

Now, let’s take a look at our second example, Season 2’s “Who Mourns for Adonais?” In this one, the Enterprise arrives at a planet occupied by a muscular dude in a chiton who claims to be the Greek god Apollo. Kirk beams down to the planet with his dudes and Lt Palamas (Leslie Parrish), who is both the ship’s specialist in archaeology and anthropology and Scotty’s love interest. This is she:


Once they get down to the planet, they spend a lot of time backity-forthing with Apollo, who takes a fancy to Palamas, and she to him. And they go off and canoodle, and he agonises and stuff, and he demonstrates his godly powers by giving her a new outfit:


However, in the end Palamas is persuaded to reject Apollo, breaking his heart and stripping him of his powers or something. She tearfully returns to the Enterprise.

So, basically, both of these two episodes have more or less the same plot:

  • The Enterprise discovers a muscular dude from an earlier era
  • Kirk points the ship’s history specialist, an attractive woman, at him
  • She falls in love with him
  • He uses their love to tempt her to switch sides
  • She does and is lost or doesn’t and the day is saved.

Now, I’m not too caught up with the idea that because history is a “soft” subject so these characters are female, because Star Trek will shoehorn in an attractive woman anywhere it can. I do think it’s interesting that in both cases Kirk expresses more or less the same idea: that history has to be destroyed in order for the Space Kennedy Era to happen, but that it’s sadly regrettable — Khan is brave and determined, Apollo is majestic, and it’s a terrible shame that they have to be got rid of (although Khan is more ambiguously got rid of).

I think that’s a very Star Trek – like attitude to take.

Archaeological themes in Star Trek (1966)

Movie Monday: The Bruce (1996)

It’s still Monday in America.


OK, so, with the vexed question of Scottish independence in the air, let’s take a look at a piece of well-intentioned but tedious patriotism, 1996’s The Bruce. The alert among you may have noticed that Braveheart came out in 1995, and there’s little doubt that the makers of this film were hoping to cash in on the sudden popularity of Scottish stories.

As for the result, well … see for yourself. I can’t embed the file, but you can watch the film here.

So, our story begins with a bunch of Scottish knights on crusade. They appear to have gone far off course, because they are in Egypt, of all places. pyramidbollocks

They are, of course, about to do battle with the heathen, inspired by Sir James Douglas chucking the preserved heart of Robert Bruce at them, and all get killed. In reality, this happened in Spain, not Egypt, so I’m not sure what that’s about. The fight scene is tepid and incompetent.

And then: credits and a shitty synth score ripped off from Gettysburg. We are back to the bens and glens and what have you of medieval Scotland, where John Comyn and Robert Bruce, rival claimants to the throne, are agreeing to put aside their difference and fight the damned English for bonnie Scotland. We appear to have skipped the pro-English phase of Bruce’s career, which was perhaps seen as insufficiently patriotic. Edward I (Brian Blessed!) is all glowery as he hears that, despite what Comyn has promised Bruce, he’s going to sell him out to the English and take the throne for himself.


Bruce and his guys get together with Comyn and his guys. Bruce’s love interest is, for some inexplicable reason, weaving the Bayeux Tapestry.


Bruce’s younger brother Nigel (or Niall or Neill but Nigel here) is all chivalrous and idealistic, and you know he’s going to get killed. Comyn and Bruce squabble in front of Robert Wishart, the Bishop of Glasgow (Oliver Reed!). Comyn betrays the Bruceses, and Nigel is killed when some soldiers mistake him for Robert. During the fighting, Brian Blessed is going apeshit.


It is fantastic. Bruce finds out that Nigel has been killed and does a full-on WHYYYYYYYY:


He swears revenge on Comyn, who is being portrayed as the blackest scoundrel ever, presumably because what Bruce does next — stab him to death in a church — would seem a bit harsh otherwise.

Anyway, with Comyn out of the picture Bruce is the only viable claimant to the Scottish throne. He also owns the Lewis chessmen for some reason.

Which are doing their impression of the opening credits of I, Claudius.
Which are doing their impression of the opening credits of I, Claudius.

Robert gets crowned, but he is excommunicated for, you know, stabbing a fool up in church. Wishart refuses to carry out the excommunication. The crown looks like a cake tin with drawer pulls on it. Edward is displeased, since he thought Bruce was dead. He shouts at his minions and goes Brian Blessed Crazy. It’s glorious. Edward the future II, Comyn’s old sidekick Aubrey and Henry de Bohun bicker and plot for roughly a million years. De Bohun goes after Bruce in a stealth attack. Meanwhile, Bruce and Wishart are unsuspecting.

Oliver Reed is not aware he's on film here.
Oliver Reed is not aware he’s on film here.

De Bohun kidnaps Bruce’s wife and kids, but he and his d00ds stage some daring guerrilla raids. I mean, the usual, pretty much. Meanwhile, Edward I lies a-dying.

Blah blah on the run from the English, blah blah the spider story. Bruce looks at the little spider spinning its web, is inspired by its persistence, you know how it goes.


A big battle impends, and Bruce makes a speech about (what else) FREEEEDOOOOM. The soldiers look appropriately grubby and battered but without being all covered in filth:


The battle of (I guess?) Bannockburn happens, and the Scots win. It’s the old model: English cavalry charge comes a cropper against Scottish pikes, which is probably not actually what happened at Bannockburn, I think we now believe. The battle looks as shoddy and half-assed as the first one. And there is a bunch of smoke wafting around the field from … somewhere … . Oliver Reed runs around headbutting people and flailing with an axe, which is less great than it sounds but still pretty great. But when he stops to spare a young innocent, Henry de Bohun kills him, and is killed in turn by Robert. The Scots are elated, the end.

As with every movie I review, the story of the film is compressed as hell. You’d never know that eight years passed between Robert being crowned and the battle of Bannockburn, with all kinds of battles and campaigns and intrigues in between.

They have a few scenes in which they point out that Bruce is kind of a dirtbag, but generally he’s protrayed as a patriot, or at the very least a dirtbag who becomes a patriot. No surprise they don’t mention his more complex political history, since they make it very clear that Scots who ally with England are a bunch of quisling traitors.

Historically, it’s better than Braveheart, I guess, but film-wise it’s a snooze. The bits with Brian Blessed are great, because he knows this movie is a total smeller and just goes nuts. Oliver Reed is OK. Everything else is not up to much. The pyramid thing is inexplicable.



Movie Monday: The Bruce (1996)

Trip Report: Rosicrucian Museum, Final Part

Having now been through Parts One, Two and Three of my trip to the Rosicrucian Museum, it’s time to wrap up. I don’t have a clear conclusion, so this might be a bit rambling.

First off, the museum definitely succeeds as a tourist attraction. We are here on holiday, we decided to spend a morning at the museum, and we had a very good time. It’s $9 to get in (less discount for me), and that’s pretty reasonable. I think the Hollywood-Egyptian park and decoration definitely contribute to this experience — the showiness of it makes it feel special, somehow.

As I said in a previous post, I am not an Egyptologist. It’s perfectly possible that there are artefacts in here that are misidentified, or interpretation that’s either outmoded or simply wrong. I can’t comment on that. Overall, the museum is a bit of a grab bag, which may be the result of an older way of doing things. You can definitely see this in the way mummies and mummy-related objects are strewn around every part of the museum. Mummies are cool, the founder and his successors acquired a bunch of mummies, we have some empty space … you get the idea.

This approach can make people who think about museums and how they work grind their teeth, and probably rightly so. But there’s a lot about the Rosicrucian Museum that’s rather old-fashioned.

One thing that was very striking about the museum was the clear attempt to create an overall atmosphere of hushed mystery and exoticism. The lighting, the Egyptian-themed decor, the contrast between bright California day outside and golden gloom inside — it’s all part of setting the stage to produce a certain atmosphere, and it’s as far from the bright, clean look of somewhere like the British Museum or the Cambridge MAA as you can get. I think this ties back in to what kept coming up at Monstrous Antiquities, something that’s probably old hat for people who study Egypt but was a bit newer to me, the idea that Egypt — even more than “the past” or “the ancient world” in general — is held up as this place that’s full of mystery and magic and wonder and horror. And this ties a little uncomfortably into my next point.

The next and final point is, of course, the Rosicrucian thing. Now I don’t have a whole lot of inside knowledge of how AMORC works. I don’t know if they are really into their mystical beliefs, or if it’s just some symbolic dressing on a charitable organisation or what. But I think that, given that those beliefs seem to have something to do with Egypt, it’s important to keep a wary eye on the lines. And there are lines at this museum, but I’m not sure they’re very sharp ones.

The actual Rosicrucian stuff and the Egyptian stuff are kept relatively distinct in terms of how the museum is organised: there’s Rosicrucian stuff in the lobby, in the room with the benches, in the reading room and in the art gallery, but there’s no Rosicrucian stuff in any of the archaeological galleries and no archaeology in any of the Rosicrucian ones. The only exception is the reading room, where, as I mentioned, proper Egyptology and Rosicrucian stuff are piled together all willy-nilly, although this may not be the fault of the museum.

I am … not convinced that this is really enough of a separation. It ain’t the Creation Museum, but there’s still a certain amount of woo very close to the non-woo, and if I were a kid like the ones in the two tour groups that were in there at the time we were, I’m not sure I’d necessarily know the difference. In particular, I might very well come away with a sense that ancient Egypt was a pretty woo-y place, which is the pop culture perspective, right enough, but surely, surely not what we’re supposed to be trying to accomplish? Well, “we,” I dunno. Somebody.

I grew up in this part of the world, of course, and when I was a kid I went to the Rosicrucian Museum, as every kid does, and I had no idea there was anything weird about it. I didn’t find out what a Rosicrucian was until much much later. And it didn’t do me any harm, so maybe I’m overthinking it.

Have some more photos:





I can no longer hear “Akhenaten” other than to the tune of “Rockin’ Robin.”

Akhenaten! (Tweet! Tweedly-deet!)

Trip Report: Rosicrucian Museum, Final Part

Trip Report: Rosicrucian Museum, Part 3

Welcome back to my series of posts on my recent trip to the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, California. This was originally meant to be two posts, but time and my tendency to prattle have escalated it a bit. It’s like that sometimes. Anyway, in Part One and Part Two I talked about the park in which the museum is set, as well as the ground floor and lobby. Let us now venture upstairs, where we will find a little lobby with some benches and a video playing.


The video, which I didn’t sit all the way through, seems to be a history of Rosicrucianism. I only saw the bit around the early 17th century when the Rosicrucian manifestos were published, so I don’t know if they talked about Atlantis or whatever. They seemed to take the party line — ie, that the Rosicrucians had existed prior to this but were hidden, rather than that the manifestos were what started the actual organisation. I didn’t see if they asserted a lineage from ancient whatever. The paintings and the decor generally suggest Egypt, or perhaps Aegypt, though, don’t they?

Heading up another short flight of stairs to the right brings us to the reading room, which is quite comfy-looking. There were some bored kids in here when we arrived, reading a children’s book about a pyramid of cheese and an Egyptian mouse (Tutankhamouse, in all probability). The shelves of the reading room were … interesting. Allison photographed pretty much every title on the shelves, and the mixture was interesting. You’ve got issues of mainstream publications:


You’ve got pop history (sorry, this one is a bit blurry):


You’ve got studies of Egypt in popular culture:


And then you’ve got …


And many more. I would say that the trend on the bookshelves was toward the esoteric, but far from exclusively so. Now, all of these were mixed together willy-nilly, but in fairness I did see that some shelves were labelled “Rosicrucian books” and so on, so it’s entirely possible that this mixture arose from people picking them up and then just putting them back in the wrong place. But doesn’t even that argue that people are taking these as being much the same kind of thing? I dunno.

They did have a copy of that massive Zahi Hawass thing, which was supposed to make inaccessible sites accessible but was not doing a very good job of it locked in a big-ass glass case. quest

Anyway, next to the reading room is the art gallery, or, as I like to think of it, where hippie-dippie meets arty-farty. It was … well, first off it was super dark in there, so the pictures aren’t great. But they were hippy stuff with vague shapes and soft coloured auras. Some of them were quite eerie and mysterious, I guess? The whole thing was called “Vibrations,” I shit you not.




There was some kind of shrine thingy at one end, too, with a mirror that had a rose affixed to it. I think it was meant to be over your chest if you stood in the right spot, but I’m not sure. Above it was a cross-triangle thingy, which is a recurring theme in AMORC symbolism — they are on the fountain and on the doors of the auditorium in earlier posts. I’m afraid this photo (which I took, not Allison) is pretty hard to see.


Anyway, back down the stairs to the room with the TV, and then back up across it to some more galleries. One on kingship and religion, one on Akhenaten, and one on … I’m not sure, actually. More artefacts, more models of things (the step pyramid of Djoser, in this case), etc. The school group was in the Akhenaten gallery, and a guide was giving them a clear but detailed account of his reign, including pointing out things like the differences in art styles and so on. It seemed like a very good explanation, simple enough for young kids but detailed enough to show some of the complexities.

This wasn't the guide talking about Akhenaten -- this talk was about kingship and, again, seemed pretty good.
This wasn’t the guide talking about Akhenaten — this talk was about kingship and, again, seemed pretty good.
Oh, yeah, the other gallery had this statue of Sekhmet with all kind of offerings.
Oh, yeah, the other gallery had this statue of Sekhmet with all kind of offerings.





And that’s that. In the next post, I’ll talk about what I think it all means.

Trip Report: Rosicrucian Museum, Part 3

Trip Report: Rosicrucian Museum, Part 2

In my last post, I talked about going with my wife to the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, California. You can read that post if you want the background to our quest and a description of Rosicrucian Park. In this post, I’m going to talk about what we encountered inside.

First, a disclaimer: I am not an Egyptologist. I have the basic knowledge that you’d expect from anyone’s who done archaeology, and I specifically studied funerary practices, so I’m a little more up on that aspect of things, but for most things Egyptological I am really an informed layman. So it may be that there are terrible errors that I failed to spot. Please bear that in mind.

What I was really interested in, going in, was actually not the quality of the displays or what have you, but the amount of Rosicrucianism to be found hidden in the interpretation — that is, given that this place was founded and funded by a quasi-occult secret society, how much of their, er, unique worldview was put forward in the exhibits? Let us, then, begin our journey into the mysteries of … ah, you know the drill.

Some things are the same everywhere.
Some things are the same everywhere.

We started out by heading left, into the exhibit on daily life in Ancient Egypt. Now, I’m not 100% certain what this massive inscription from the Sphinx has to do with daily life. This is one of the things about the museum: it’s kind of thematically organised, but on the other hand it only has so much space, so sometimes it looks like things were put wherever there was room for them. I find this kind of endearing from a tourist’s perspective — I understand that proper museum people do not appreciate it so much.

It's very impressive, though.
It’s very impressive, though.

The daily life exhibit is more or less what you’d expect — you got your cosmetic palettes, your headrests, your pots, your somewhat hokey replica of a room for giving birth.

That WINDOW tho.
That WINDOW tho.

There are a surprising lot of bits of mummies and mummy paraphernalia in the daily life room. I mean, I recognise that religion and daily life were hard to separate in ancient Egypt, but I did sort of get the feeling that over the years they had collected a shitload of mummies and sort of felt that it was a shame for them to go to waste. There was a little section on Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt that at least acknowledged it was a thing.

Next to the Daily Life room was a thing about Mesopotamia, and I confess this was sort of the oddest part of the experience for me. It wasn’t really clear what it was doing there. There were a few words about “Egypt’s neighbour,” but that was the only neighbour they talked about (well, there was a cabinet of Persian stuff). And it was mostly “Mesopotamia’s Greatest Hits” — Code of Hammurabi, some reconstructions of things like the Hanging Gardens and a ziggurat (identified as the Tower of Babel), and of course the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III.

Wait, let me rephrase that.



Sorry, I just really love that name.


I do wonder if some of this stuff isn’t in there because it’s in or related to the Bible (the Black Obelisk famously contains a reference to the Abrahamic God) and that’s why it was considered important? I’m not sure that’s a kooky esoteric influence so much as maybe a sign that this collection reflects what people were interested in collecting back in the day. But anyway, Mesopotamia.

Crossing the hall, we passed by a framed poster in the lobby under a plaque that thanked the benefactors of the museum. It was headed THE ROSICRUCIAN TIMELINE and it was the first real piece of Rosicrucian wackiness we had seen up to that point. I’ll reproduce it here in its full hugeness so that you can click on it and see how it’s divvied up (although there was some glare on the frame).


It is the absolute usual western occult potted history: Egypt yadda yadda, mystery religions yadda yadda, Mithras, Hermeticism, alchemy, kabbalah, the Templars. Pick the “benevolent society of the enlightened” option and you could write it with your eyes close. I just thought this section was fun:


Yeah, that’s right. Atlantis. Now, in fairness, there is some waffle there about how its actually just a symbol of the “unknown source of the Primordial Tradition,” but even that’s assuming a lot. As goofy as all this might be, I have to say that it was in the lobby, not in an exhibit area, and that you wouldn’t necessarily mistake it for something that was meant to be part of the interpretation. Still maybe a bit shady, though?

Having crossed the lobby, we then came to the bit with the mummies, also known as The Bit Everyone Likes. This was pretty much what you might expect — mummies, mummy cases, mummy stuff, arranged more or less chronologically, with some good bits like X-rays of the baboon mummy that proved it was not in fact a baboon but a fake. There’s also a rock tomb replica, but we didn’t get to go inside because there was a group of schoolkids taking the tour.

A squeamish Victorian former owner neatly excised the penises from the front of these figures. Now *no one* could guess what used to be there.
A squeamish Victorian former owner neatly excised the penises from the front of these figures. Now *no one* could guess what used to be there.



This isn't a museum display; it's just my new TV.
This isn’t a museum display; it’s just my new TV.
I liked this little fake-expedition prop near the tomb pillars.
I liked this little fake-expedition prop near the tomb pillars.
"Tomb" entrance.
“Tomb” entrance.

So that’s the mummy room. I skimmed the little handouts near the door and didn’t detect any Rosicrucianism per se. It’s a bit theatrical in places, but just to my layman’s eye the whole thing seemed legit. I liked the baboon and the penises, which, I know, is something I say all the time. But it’s true!

Next post: we venture into the little movie-y place, the reading room and the art installation. Be here, it’ll be good!

Trip Report: Rosicrucian Museum, Part 2

Trip Report: Rosicrucian Museum

All right, guys! I am here in America, and that means it’s time to do some field reporting. Today my wife and I took a trip to the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, California. Now, some people reading this are going “… the hell? There’s a Rosicrucian Museum?” And some people need an explanation.

The Rosicrucians are one of those weird occulty proto-Enlightenment things that pops up in Renaissance Europe — in this case in early 1600s Germany. They were (allegedly) a line of initiated expert-types who knew a lot about alchemy, astrology, science, magic, what have you, and would use their knowledge to lead Europe into a new age of peace and brotherhood. Whether or not any Rosicrucians actually existed before the publication of their founding texts, it wasn’t long before people began taking the term for themselves. Today there are God only knows how many different Rosicrucian groups around the world, ranging from slightly mystical Christian organisations to quasi-Masonic clubs to initiatory esoteric secret societies. The guys who run this museum, the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, are the latter.

So what the heck are a bunch of Renaissance utopian conspiracy mystics doing running an Egyptian history museum? Well, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll already have some inkling. These guys aren’t so much interested in Egypt as they are in Aegypt, the legendary home of occult initiation. And yet by all accounts this museum is legit. Let’s see for ourselves.

Now, before I left I decided I needed a little mystical protection of my own. As I’ve previously discussed, the idea of Egypt being the source of mystical revelation also extends to the world of comic books. Consider, if you will, the case of the original Blue Beetle:


So in order to, you know, war against evil or whatever, I made sure I was prepared for the trip with my very own Blue Beetle shirt:



Thus protected, I set off to see what the place had to offer. I had been there before, but not really taken the time to document it or, to be honest, paid as much attention as I should have.

When you arrive at the Rosicrucian Museum, you will begin to see some things you would not expect to find in a major American city. Consider for instance this utility box thingy.


Now there’s something you don’t see every day. And the whole thing is like that: once you park and start walking around Rosicrucian Park, you might start to feel like you’re in some kind of Hollywood epic. The whole place is like some weird theme park/movie set. Allow me to demonstrate:

This little garden is next to the parking lot.

This little garden is next to the parking lot.




As you proceed into the park, you start to get more of an impression of the ancient Egyptian vibe of the place — although there’s also a lot of AMORC symbolism scattered around.

The fountain in more detail. Note AMORC symbolism.
The fountain in more detail. Note AMORC symbolism.
This is the administration building.
This is the administration building.
A statue of Tuthmosis III because ... er ...
A statue of Tuthmosis III because … er …
School group playing large-scale Senet.
School group playing large-scale Senet.
Do you like my obelisk?
Do you like my obelisk?


The planetarium! Why a planetarium, you ask? Why indeed.
The planetarium! Why a planetarium, you ask? Why indeed.

Now that we’ve explored the park, we can see that it’s a bit of a mishmash of different Egyptian styles and periods (minus the auditorium and planetarium), and there’s a certain amount of Rosicrucianism blended in amongst the Egyptian themes, as if it belongs there. I haven’t shown you the “peace garden,” because visually it’s not very interesting, but it does have a sort of hippy-ass poem on it about how you can contribute to peace by doing this, that and the other. It’s just not terribly exciting to look at.

But now that we’ve had a look around the exterior, let’s head to the entrance.


I have to tell you that it is pretty impossible to walk between the Sphinxes to the big brass door framed by pillars and not feel like a baller.

So we’ve seen the wonderfully gaudy and confused outside; will the inside live up to its promise? Well, I’ll talk more about this in my next post, but in order not to give the game away I will say: no, not really. It’s good … but it’s interestingly different from the outside.

Trip Report: Rosicrucian Museum

At long last: Georgian slang dictionaries are hilarious

So I’ve mentioned before that there are lots of great historical ebooks out there, and since I had a plane journey coming up, I packed mine full of stuff. My favourite so far has been Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, your one-stop guide to what the criminal classes were saying in 1811. There are several interesting things about it. First, of course, are the hilarious slang terms themselves:

AMUSERS. Rogues who carried snuff or dust in their pockets, which they threw into the eyes of any person they intended to rob; and running away, their accomplices (pretending to assist and pity the half-blinded person) took that opportunity of plundering him.

ANABAPTIST. A pickpocket caught in the fact, and punished with the discipline of the pump or horse-pond.

ANCHOR. Bring your a-se to an anchor, i.e. sit down. To let go an anchor to the windward of the law; to keep within the letter of the law. SEA WIT.

ANGLERS. Pilferers, or petty thieves, who, with a stick having a hook at the end, steal goods out of shop-windows, grates, &c.; also those who draw in or entice unwary persons to prick at the belt, or such like devices.

ANGLING FOR FARTHINGS. Begging out of a prison window with a cap, or box, let down at the end of a long string.

ANKLE. A girl who is got with child, is said to have sprained her ankle.

The second thing that strikes me is the number of terms for genitals — but more than that, the fact that the authors simply refer to the female genitalia as “the monosyllable” or, memorably, “a woman’s commodity.”

The third thing is the number of expressions that are listed here as slang that are now perfectly commonplace: “against the grain,” “bum” in the sense of the backside, “bet” for a wager, “rigmarole” and more.

So check it out. It’s absolutely fascinating. You can find another 18th-century slang dictionary here: The Slang Dictionary.


At long last: Georgian slang dictionaries are hilarious