Planning/Knowledge mural at Bank of America Corporate Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. Painting by Ben Long. Image Source: Vigilant Citizen.
What does the year 2000 mean? What did it mean? Nothing. There is no innate significance about it, other than the cultural weight associated with the calendar and religious history. In reality, the passing from one year (1999) to another (2000) meant nothing. However, symbolically speaking, the arrival of the year 2000 was imagined as a huge moment of change.
The mass media, on the Internet, in news, politics, entertainment, and tech circles, convey fake symbolic assessments about the momentous shift to a new age. Moreover, entertainment figures and historic actors blur the line between fiction and fact around this mantra all the time. Other people do it too. Just as the years 1984 and 2012 and the day 9/11 became cultural artifacts, false significance is imposed upon the year 2000. What people do in real life, how and what they create, what they perceive and express, all become narratives constructed around the new Millennium. Thus, although the year 2000 was no more a turning point than the year 1996 or the year 2004, the stubbornly-held conviction that 2000 had to be an enormous moment of change is increasingly mischievous and pernicious.
The trend is evident all over popular politics and culture. The insistence that 2000 must have 'changed everything' means that people are now doing things in large and small ways to 'change everything.' In the artificial quest to change everything, an old visual and numerological lexicon has given the quest false meanings. Throughout the mass media, above all in the entertainment industry, marketers are borrowing symbols from an occult cultural heritage. They are using these symbols like loaded guns, pointing them at the year 2000, forcing that year and subsequent decades to become what they think this time period must become.
Image Source: Vigilant Citizen.
Most of that lexicon is borrowed from Masonic practices, along with New Age kitchen sink references to the Tarot, the Enlightenment, Rosicrucianism, Gnosticism, Satanism, Wicca, and Theosophy. This mess gathered steam during the 18th century; it became a fashion in the 19th century in exclusive circles; it was democratized in the 20th century; and it now makes up a tidal wave revival of Christian heresies, resurfacing in globalized, post-Christian societies in one shorthand word: Illuminati.
Freemasons were originally a half-secular, half-religious private club. Theirs were hybrid ideas, emerging at the end of the Age of Faith out of medieval stone mason guilds. Esoteric elements forged the fraternity, while the fraternity also served real practical aims. Unsurprisingly, they were fascinated by numbers, as well as geometry, regular standardized measurements, and math. Masons were mobile and independently-minded workers, who hid their subversive and even revolutionary ideas from the reactionary European absolutist regimes in which they lived. They recognized each other by private hand signals and met behind closed doors. Disregarding religious differences between Jews, Catholics and Protestants, they bonded through symbolic allegories while getting business done. The interfaith god they developed for ritualistic purposes is a kind of giant, rational architect. This deity arrived as industry and building construction became more sophisticated. New members would hail from the engineering and architectural professions. Other arts, sciences and vocations propelled the group: music, logic, mathematics, secular ethics and philosophy, alchemy, clock-making, mechanics. These were the people who saw the beginnings of today's medicine and chemistry, developed and applied the scientific method, and built the foundations of the Industrial Revolution before they turned to invent computers. The Masons can be seen as one of the social seats of early capitalism.
To go beyond that is to depart from history and enter the realm of rumour and speculation about occult groups. Thus what follows should be taken as urban legend rather than fact. Vigilant Citizen offers a conspiracy theorist's historical primer on the Illuminati, here. This site maintains that the Illuminati were an Enlightenment occult political group, founded in Bavaria on 1 May 1776, which infiltrated the separate Freemasonry movement in 1777. Vigilant Citizen regards the Illuminati secret society as an entirely different animal to the Masons, even though the two quickly merged. The Illuminati blended magic and politics and grafted that agenda on top of the Masonic orders:
In other words, according to this conspiracy theorist site, the Illuminati were an aristocratic faction, flirting with the arcane social sciences, magic, and great power politics - which migrated into, and perhaps enveloped, a more mundane working class guild that had already combined with an increasingly bourgeois fraternal brotherhood. The story goes that the Illuminati were stamped out in 1787 by Bavarian authorities. Others claim they survived or were revived. Today's purported Illuminati are a legendary product of a 19th and early-20th century anti-Semitic hoax about Jewish bankers.Founded on May 1, 1776, the organization created by Adam Weishaupt blurred the line between “spiritual” and “political” Secret Societies. By mixing the occult sciences of Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism while conspiring to achieve precise political goals, the Illuminati became an actor on the world stage. While most Secret Societies of the time catered to rich people and their fascination with occultism, the Bavarian Illuminati actively sought to profoundly change the world.
In the wake of the Great Recession, fears of the Illuminati dominate the Internet. It is more accurate to understand today's 'Illuminati' as a growing and evolving folklore, than to believe the Illuminati comprise a sinister cabal, imagined as the Bilderberg group, controlling the world and building a catastrophic New World Order.
The dynamics of fairy tales inflame references to supposed Illuminati rituals (drawn from reworkings of the Kabbalah and early Arabian mythologies) all over the mass media. These rebranded pre-Christian and Pre-Islamic images, which are supposedly the sources of 'Illuminati' rites, oddly unite the warring factions of today's Middle East. The purported Illuminati alternative to the Judeo-Christian tradition is a strange Judeo-Arabic Semitism. One could argue that the Judeo-Christian tradition never departed from these underpinnings. For example, the Ten Commandments are a Hebrew translation of rules taken from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. But I digress.
It is easy to see how today's marketers might exploit that body of symbols as a shortcut to thinking. Rather than reflect on what daily life in the new Millennium really is like, they resort to the big old book o' symbols. Mass entertainment peons and moguls alike face industrial demands to crank out money-making franchises: books, movies, ads, TV shows, magazines, quasi-news, quasi-politics, consumer goods, clothing, cosmetics, and music. As wealth in western economies has become tied to consumption, and as the information machine has grown, the economy needs more and more junk to circulate. Suppliers and consumers are caught in the machine's exponentially growing reflex actions and reactions. More supply. More demand.
This is what happens when cynicism and sensationalism replace originality to drive mass media: Vice's 2013 Last Words fashion shoot by stylist Annette Lamothe-Ramos and photographer Annabel Mehran restaged the suicides of famous female writers. Image Source: Vice via Jezebel.
With so much competition and constant deadlines, it is hard for marketers to be original these days. The alternative to resorting to old symbols is simply being tasteless and nasty just to gain traffic, which does not work well. This was evident in Vice magazine's disgusting fashion spread from 2013. Last Words featured fashion models modeling new clothes while recreating the suicides of famous female writers - because - suicide is a fashion statement? There was an outcry and Vice had to retract the story with an apology for being tasteless and nasty just to gain traffic.
That is why, under mechanistic cultural industrial pressures, a toxic fashion has emerged to describe the meaning of the turn of the Millennium in terms of Masonic and New Age symbols under the umbrella label of 'Illuminati.' It is not real, nor even an accurate depiction of life today, but it is really, really easy. Unfortunately it creates false beliefs among those on both sides of the media mirror that this is what the new Millennium is all about. As Herr Goebbels knew so well, a giant propaganda machine can create new, fake realities. Over-indulgence in these symbols - and the fears that that over-indulgence inspires - are giving the symbols power. Thus, although these symbols never accurately described the reality of life in the year 2000 and the decade and a half that has followed, they are now standing in for the reality, becoming the reality, transforming the reality.
Here is an example of how conspiracy theories about these symbols are born online. Take Christine Lagarde's speech to the US National Press Club on 15 January 2014. She opened with a bizarre commentary on the numerological aspects of the new year, 2014. This could be dismissed as clumsy speech-writing, a bit of rhetorical fun. Remarks like this, expressed within the confines of an academic, official, professional or diplomatic gathering, were once informal asides, added to give a formal meeting a dash of colloquial context. Once upon a time, these lighter comments were uttered in mediated and secluded surroundings, in an atmosphere of common understanding of tongue-in-cheek or rhetorical flourishes. But they are now universal public property, released into the wilds of the Internet for infinite circulation and reinterpretation. And there in the wilds, people take Lagarde literally. They marry her real world power-broker status to the preface she used to predict the future significance of the year 2014. It sounded as though she was investing the year with magical meaning. She is the head of the International Monetary Fund (as the people of Greece sadly know), so when she says things like this, even if her economic message is positive, it frightens people. Does she not understand this? Perhaps she does, and that makes it even worse.
In the video above, what was Lagarde talking about? "The magic seven ... in all sorts of themes, religions"? "2014 will be a magic year in many respects"? "I'm sure you know that you can compress numbers as well ... . If we think about twenty-fourteen ... you drop the zero, fourteen, two times seven"?
"The crisis still lingers, yet optimism is in the air. We've left the deep freeze behind us and the horizon looks just a bit brighter. ... My wish for 2014 is that after those seven miserable years, weak and fragile, we'll have seven strong years. ... Is all this wishful thinking? No. ... It will not happen randomly ... ." Etc., etc.
What? Lagarde is the head of the IMF! Have some dignity, woman! Was this tongue-in-cheek speech-writing to cheer up some top journalists? Or does Lagarde actually follow numerology and bring it to policy-making? Should we drop the zero from her non-random year of 2021 and start picking it apart? That makes 2+2+1, or five, which breaks down into 2+3, or the magic numerological 23; but it can also be interpreted as 22 + 1, which can be broken down into 11 and 11 and 1, or five ones. Eleven is considered a master number. And so on: ridiculous. When you have a hammer like that, everything looks like a nail.
A conspiracy theorist argued on Youtube that Lagarde's rhetoric contained veiled symbolic references to key dates which are related to the control of the economy. Video Source: Youtube.
Conspiracy theorists, start your engines! You can be sure how this speech would be greeted in the wilds of the Internet - and within four months, it was. In May 2014, a conspiracy theorist on Youtube made the above video and listed Christine Lagarde's comments:
"7" references:Conspiracy buffs were convinced that Lagarde was sending encoded messages to the world's Illuminati élites. The Youtuber theorist inferred a date, 20 July 2014, from the IMF chief's speech.
1:22 - "Now I'm going to test your numerology skills by asking you to think about the magic seven"
1:34 - "Most of you will know that seven is quite a number
2:24 - "2014, you drop the zero, fourteen, two times, seven"
4:08 - "It will mark the 70th anniversary, 70th anniversary, drop the zero, seven, of the Bretton Woods Conference that actually gave birth to the IMF" (7 + 0 = 7)
4:22 - "And it will be the 25th anniversary of the fall of the berlin wall, 25th.." (2 + 5 = 7)
4:38 - "It will also mark the 7th anniversary of the financial market jitters"
5:08 - "After those seven miserable years, weak and fragile"
5:14 - "We have seven strong years"
5:43 - "Now I don't know if the G7 will have anything to do with it" (G is also the 7th letter of the alphabet)
1:18 - "The global economy and what we should expect for 2014"
2:19 - "So if we think about 2014"
2:24 - "2014, you drop the zero, fourteen, two times, seven"
3:54 - "So 2014 will be a milestone and hopefully a magic year in may respects"
5:05 - "So my hope and my wish for 2014"
Image Source: Muftah.
This date fueled the theory. 20 July 2014 marked the scheduled end of the sixth round of talks in France on preventing Iran's nuclear weapons development. Also, during this round of talks in the month of July, oil prices began to drop. This is the continuing story of nuclear and carbon powers, and the energy crisis engendered by the Technological Revolution. By 12 December 2015, oil prices had fallen to nearly half their early June values.
On 26 February 2015, the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC published an analysis of the effects of low oil prices (here), which predicted improved US economic growth as a result of the price drop. BBC expected Russia to fall into a recession in 2015 because of the drop. Meanwhile, the drop would ease the slowing of China's economy. Most OPEC members will be adversely affected. Sub-Saharan African countries will benefit. Current oil prices are here. Because oil prices can be manipulated to serve policy and in some ways bring expected outcomes, it is easy to see how conspiracy theorists would believe that the entire economy is being manipulated to bring about a range of geopolitical aims. Of course, it is. That is the whole point to having policy-makers. But to conspiracy theorists, these efforts to manage the world economy and global politics connote world control and domination. Conspiracy theorists point to the commercial marketing glut of heretical and Masonic symbolism, and connect it to a world élite's plans for a New World Order under one popular label: Illuminati.
This paranoia is reminiscent of the crazy popular misconceptions of Marie Antoinette leading up to the French Revolution, except that today's story takes place on a broader, global stage. And if you think this is all just silly nonsense of no importance, remember how far silly nonsense got Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution. Conspiracy theories were everywhere leading up to the Revolution. Numerology was everywhere too. Numerology is a comforting superstitious shorthand for determined fate when social, political and economic changes really begin to scare people. Just when things look least fixed, least determined, least understandable, numerology can explain away fear with a new, cryptic promise of settled destiny. In a similar manner, you can find a lot of numerological conspiracy theorists speculating around airplane crashes, because airplane crashes involve lots of numbers while also inspiring huge fear, uncertainty and mistrust.
Image Source: Business Insider.
Image Source: BBC.
In the wake of the Great Recession, the suspicion that élites are gaming world affairs according to the dictates of a giant cult has never been so fevered and hostile. Readers who share that feeling would say that I am being naïve and that world leaders have been members of secret societies for time immemorial. True in part, but just because they sometimes are members of secret societies, does not mean that this is the real story of established power.
When social climbers and establishment types join clubs and play god behind closed doors, they should not believe that this is anything more than extravagant private entertainment. If they believe that their melodramatic symbols bring them fame, success and power, then they have lost the plot. In that sense, the conspiracy theorists have it right: who would want leaders who bring their private play and fraternal rites to policy-making? Is the arrival of World War III to be decided by people who idiotically subscribe to the gods of Anubis, Osiris, Horus and Thoth, or other nameless deities?
What about new secret groups? Will we see a return of the medieval Hashshashins, or Nizari? Consider the woo woo rumour from an alienated ex-Forbes bureau chief that the so-called Illuminati now confront an opposing fraternity arising out of China. The 'Green and Red Societies,' comprise some "6 million members, including 1.8 million Asian gangsters and 100,000 professional assassins." The whistle-blower on this story, or whatever he is, Benjamin Fulford, justified his leak, or whatever it was, with a creepy anti-Illuminati statement:
From this chatter, you would think that people prominent in mass media and global affairs do dabble in cults and play with symbols and number games. As for Fulford's movie reference, does pop culture, already saturated with this bullshit, ever tell truths on these matters? In their respective films, Eyes Wide Shut (1999) and The Ninth Gate (1999), directors Stanley Kubrick and Roman Polanski hinted fictitiously that the highest members of the establishment implement Illuminati practices with Masonic and Satanic symbols. These masked cinematic confessions, if true, would imply that real world power is an occult ritual, replete with as many sacrifices, lies, and hocus pocus as would be found at the top of any Mayan pyramid. And if that is the case, then at the turn of the new Millennium, politics has not changed one whit over fifteen hundred years or more. Ironically, it is this sub-story of changelessness that provokes the greatest crisis in the Millennial psyche. Bombarded with the message of frenetic transformation and evolution, the most terrifying conspiracy theory of all is that we are permanently stopped in our tracks."They [the Green and Red Societies] approached me and asked if they could help after I made a speech in Tokyo describing the Bush regimes' use of race-specific biological weapons. For me it was like a ghost from the history books appearing right in front of me. At first I thought of silly things like having them play 911 truth videos in Chinatowns around the world. However, then I remembered the scene from the movie Kill Bill where Uma Thurman snatches out her opponent's eye. I soon realized these people could save the world by directly attacking the eye at the top of the pyramid on the one-dollar bill.""Think about it, the Illuminati and their top servants have a total membership of about 10,000 whereas the Chinese group has over 6 million members. That is 600 to one odds. Furthermore, the 6 million have the names and addresses of the 10,000 while the 10,000 do not know who or where the 6 million are."
Rather than take the films literally, one can legitimately weigh their artistic messages. As artists who warned against upper class cabals, Kubrick and Polanski are in good company. A similar caveat provides a central turning point in Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace (1869). The novel portrays the period in the winter of 1812 when Napoleon invaded Russia and the French closed in on Moscow. Tolstoy's hero, Pierre, begins projecting numerology onto events in a moment of his country's deepest crisis. The character is a Masonic initiate (as Tolstoy likely was), and one can only imagine that Tolstoy was carrying some of his own arcane experiments into his famous novel. It is also possible that Tolstoy was not a Mason, but aware of some of their lore through his aristocratic connections. Either way, War and Peace, like the films of Kubrick and Polanski, warns those with wealth and power not to convince themselves that cults lend weight and meaning to their exercise and displays of power.
In War and Peace, Pierre uses numerology to deduce that Napoleon Bonaparte is the anti-Christ. Eventually, he shakes himself out of it. He realizes that his fate and that of Russia are not determined by numbers and symbols. This is part of the character's development. That is Tolstoy's real message. Although Pierre is initially seduced by easy answers and superficial people, he cultivates some dignity and self-respect; he realizes that he is being ridiculous. Immersed in mesmerizing Enlightenment-rationalized mythologies? Yes. Accurately understanding history as it truly is? No.
For Tolstoy, a hero is someone who sees through the lore of mystical symbolism and does not use it as a psychological, emotional and spiritual crutch in a time of crisis. Shmoop:
In other words, Tolstoy believed that ultimate destiny lay in a divine province beyond the realm of human understanding. Thus, Tolstoy's depiction of Pierre's dabbling with numerology is a comment on free will versus destiny. That comment holds, whether for the land's highest agent or its lowliest representative. All are accountable. If the Illuminati exist, or however they exist, no member of this secret group - and no opposing anti-Illuminati tribalist - are doing anything other than giving up free will to embrace an artificially-conceived, humanly-constructed fate. The former little operator believes that magic channels the power of the world, delivering him of the responsibility he bears for his own actions. The latter, preaching his man-on-the-street victimhood, thinks that he can blame another group rather than take responsibility for his own circumstances. Neither tells the story of the world as it truly is.In the middle of the book, Pierre starts fooling around with numbers and codes and ciphers, Freemason-style, and eventually drives himself crazy enough to believe that his name and Napoleon's name both add up to 666, marking both of them as "the Beast" from the Book of Revelation. Pierre takes all of this insanity one step further and concludes that Napoleon is the anti-Christ, and that he, Pierre, is the anti-anti-Christ, who needs to assassinate Napoleon.Why this convoluted nonsense? We'll throw out a few suggestions. First, it could be a comment on the whole discussion of free will versus determinist and fate that is Tolstoy's number one issue – and a way to show that determinism from a global, universal perspective (what Tolstoy advocates) is not something individuals could actually figure out themselves, since on a human level, we experience the determinism as free will. Or, second, it could be yet another of the whole series of fixed and inflexible ideas that the book's characters obsess over (and a way of thinking that Tolstoy totally hates).
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For my earlier post on Tolstoy's depiction of numerology, go here.