The Secret History of the World

The Secret History of the World As Laid Down by the Secret Societies
by Mark Booth
published in 2008 by Overlook Press
415 pages

You must be mad, or you wouldn’t have come here.”  This line from Alice in Wonderland concludes the introduction to The Secret History of the World As Laid Down by the Secret Societies by Mark Booth.  You don’t have to be mad to read it, but if you don’t understand how to read it then it will surely drive you mad, in one sense of the word or another.

I just asked my wife the history teacher for a definition of history.  She said “history is the story of humankind, as written by the victors.”  This is the history you learned in school – the stories that are presented as objective truth but in reality are the interpretations of the narratives preferred by those in power.  My anthropologist friend says “history tells us as much about those who write it as it does about what actually happened.”

The Secret History of the World was not written by the victors.  It does not assume the primacy of science and materialism, nor does it follow the narrative of American Protestant Christianity.

In his presentation at the Sacred Lands and Spiritual Landscapes conference in April, Professor Ronald Hutton tried to show how many historians are doing their best to discover facts and leave the storytelling to others.  He gave the example of how the Lindow Man bog body was used as “proof” of Celtic human sacrifice because it fits into the story the victors have wanted to tell for 2000 years.  But the facts are inconclusive – Lindow Man might have been a human sacrifice, but he also might have been an execution or a murder victim.  He may have died in pre-Roman times, but it’s also possible he died during the Roman occupation or even after the Romans left.  We simply can’t say with certainty.

The Secret History of the World was not written by this kind of historian.  It does not present verifiable facts and plausible narratives.

This book will have Christians screaming “heresy!” polytheists screaming “blasphemy!” and atheists just screaming.  Here’s a review from Salon from 2008, when the book came out.

you might conclude that The Secret History of the World is a truckload of drivel, and you would be right. It is a mess of a book, disjointed and rambling, rife with puzzling non sequiturs that are obviously meant to be suggestive or evocative but that more often read like the symptoms of an advanced case of Attention Deficit Disorder.

If I haven’t scared you off yet, read on.

I heard about The Secret History of the World in DruidCast episode 80 in November, when OBOD Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm interviewed author Mark Booth (the book was published under the pseudonym Jonathan Black in the UK).  Booth made it clear this was no attempt at objective history, but rather the history of the world as taught by the Western Mystery Tradition.  It communicates mythic history – not the history of myths, but the mythos of the origin and development of humanity.

Read this book as the great myth of humankind and you’ll find it informative and inspiring.  It draws from Babylon and Egypt, the Old Testament and the New, the Gnostics and Sufis.  It follows the history of the occult through the alchemists, the Rosicrucians and the Freemasons.  Its main point is this:  humanity’s origins are in the world of spirit, and for several hundred thousand years the spirit world was as close and as real as the material world.

In the ancient world experience of spirits was so strong that to deny the existence of the spirit world would not have occurred to them. … Paucity of experience makes belief in disembodied spirits difficult today.  In fact the Church teaches that belief is admirable because it is difficult.  The more your belief is out of proportion to the evidence the better, it seems.  This teaching would have seemed absurd to the people in the ancient world.

I find Booth’s explanation for this shift – the hardening of matter, forgetting our vegetable nature – to be implausible even when read mythically.  But that the shift happened is undeniable.  His statement that “the Third Eye was still much more active than it is today and had not yet become vestigial” strikes me as accurate, mythically if not literally.

And what strikes me as literally true is Booth’s assessment of Pythagoras and the mystery schools:  “life can be explained in rational terms only up to a point.  There is a vast irrational element in life, too.”  We aren’t comfortable with this irrational element, so we ignore it or rationalize it away.  Orthodox religion supports this.  Booth says “Experience of the spirit worlds was replaced by dogma to be accepted on authority.”

As I read this – highlighter in hand – I wrote: “this is a key point, to be reversed.”

This is the value of The Secret History of the World:  not its presentation of facts, but the story it tells and the narrative it presents.

Esoteric thinking has always sought to undermine and subvert conventional, habitual, mechanical modes of thought.

Is there anything our declining Western society needs more than the subversion of unreflective, unquestioned habitual ways of thinking?  Is there anything we need less than “more of the same”?

Booth says “for most people the gradual withdrawal of the spirit worlds has been experienced with an increasing sense of alienation.”  This alienation from the spirit world and from Nature herself is one of the primary roots of modern Paganism.  We see the material advantages brought about first by agriculture and then by the industrial revolution.  Even as we enjoy these material advances – as I type these words on a notebook computer in a warm and comfortable room on a 21 degree morning – our souls yearn for what has been lost.

Western society in general and the American empire in particular have begun their long descent.  Booth’s predictions for the future draw too heavily from the Book of Revelation (a prophecy that has already come to pass but is continually recycled) but he’s got the basics right:

humans once had unhindered access to the spirit worlds.  Then this access became obscured and dimmed as matter hardened.  Now the barrier between ourselves and the spirit worlds is becoming thinner again.  The material world is fraying and becoming threadbare.

If you’re expecting an exposé of occult secrets from The Secret History of the World you’ll be disappointed. If you’re expecting typical history you’ll be frustrated.  But if you’re looking for a myth to show you how we got where we are and where we’re headed, give it a try.

Print Friendly

About John Beckett

I’m a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I’m an ordained priest in the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. I’m the Coordinating Officer of the Denton, Texas Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. This year I’m also serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National. I’m a member of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

I write as a spiritual practice. It helps me organize my thoughts and work through ideas and concepts. It helps me evaluate my beliefs and practices against my core values and against what I know (or at least, what I think I know) to be true. It helps me interpret my experiences (religious and otherwise) in ways that are both meaningful and honest.

  • JasonMankey

    I picked this up when it came out, and while hate is a strong word, it best describes my feelings for this book. Even as “myth” I found very little in it to like.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      I can certainly understand why someone would have that reaction. The title sets an expectation the book simply doesn’t deliver. I did find it helpful as myth.

  • VorJack

    history is the story of humankind, as written by the victors.

    Too narrow. In American history, we see that the anti-federalists lost the battle against the federalists, yet they won the right to interpret the Constitution and the historical events around it. The Confederacy lost the American Civil War, yet their “lost cause” myth was the dominant historical narrative for a century.

    It might be better to say, “histories are stories about the past told for present ends.”

    We simply can’t say with certainty.

    If you’re looking for certainty, you’ve chosen the wrong era to live in. Skepticism is the ethic of history.

  • Matthew Hunt

    Why would polytheists be crying “blasphemy” in response to this book?
    I’m a polytheist and I don’t see anything blasphemous in your
    description of it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      Booth combines and conflates gods far beyond the “all gods are one god” view of soft polytheism and then makes them angels subordinate to the Christian god. If I was inclined to get offended over theological disagreements, I would find this offensive. Read as it was intended to be read, I simply find it unhelpful.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X