Originally posted on Jan 3, 2018
Introduction – Missing the Point
The Gotthard Base Tunnel was opened on 1 June 2016. The Swiss tunnel is celebrated as the longest rail tunnel built at 57 kilometers under the Alps.
The Australian ABC (abc.net.au) reported that “The world’s longest tunnel has officially been opened in Switzerland with an elaborate ceremony featuring an eclectic range of performance art.”, observing that “Trapeze artists dressed as construction workers, a horse and carriage and other theatrics traced the history of the 57-kilometre tunnel’s construction as part of the opening ceremony.”
In contrast the newspaper the Daily Mail (dailymail.co.uk) described the opening ceremony as the “most bizarre opening ceremonies in history”.
The huffingtonpost.com was a little more measured, reporting that “the ceremony featuring alphorn players, topless “angels” and goats, could not have been more bizarre. Masked acrobats and interpretive dancers dressed like miners ushered in the Gotthard Base Tunnel’s opening near the town of Erstfeld Wednesday.”
Then things got very silly on Google – very very silly.
The vigilantcitizen.com insisted that: “the opening ceremony of the Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland was a dark, disturbing, weirdly satanic ritual.”
A YouTube video posted by Jeremy Hetrick carried the mouthful title: “Full Bizarre, Demonic Gotthard Tunnel Opening Ceremony, Satanic, New World Order, Illuminati Ritual.”
I have seen the video posted by Hetrick 4 times in full. There were bits I loved and other bits that left me kinda cold, but that’s not an unusual with contemporary theatre or dance. I understood that for some what they witnessed would have seemed bizarre, if they had no familiarity with indigenous European culture and folk traditions. But there is a gulf of difference between what is bizarre of itself and what is bizarre to a person who has no familiarity with, or understanding of, another culture’s culture. To be fair, misunderstanding can even be domestic.
The Swiss Cabinet was obliged to assert that “The artistic production, with its concept ‘Gotthard myths’, used figures and legends exclusively from Alpine culture” (swissinfo.ch) This clarification arose when a member of the Swiss government misinterpreted part of the ceremony to be depicting “whirling dervishes”. The Cabinet was obliged to clarify, saying “ The aforementioned figures are not dervishes but dancing haystacks.” I suppose that in the hands of a contemporary director that mistake might be made even if one was familiar with the culture and its traditions.
The Ceremony was directed by Volker Hesse. He is a well-established and respected German director, who has been living and working in Switzerland for the better part of this century. The official Gotthard handout on Hesse observes that he “has for many years regularly dramatised in Switzerland and is already connected with the Gotthard region.”
The same handout notes that: “In view of the context of an international event with several sites in the open air as well as indoors, Volker Hesse does not use spoken language but powerful images, bodily processes, music and dance theatre, and generally physical forms of expression.”
The Swiss, apparently, didn’t share the ignorant Anglo culture’s absurd take on their festival. The ceremony won a gold Xaver award (Swiss award for excellence in live communication). I have a variety of information I sourced from direct communication with the Gotthard Tunnel administration I am happy to send to anybody who asks for via the feedback email address.
Why does any of this matter?
Down the Wrong Rabbit Hole
My interest in the Gotthard Ceremony arose long after the fact. It was because of an interview (1 November 2017) on the Skeptiko podcast (skeptiko.com) with blogger Chris Knowles (secretsun.blogspot.com). Knowles made a few comments about the opening ceremony that got me curious. He said the ceremony was a ritual, and that got me interested. I had spent over a decade performing in, writing, and directing magical rituals, so I was very keen to see a claimed public ritual conceived by a dark elite. I was skeptical, but curious.
Knowles made a number confident claims I found hard to believe at first blush, so I wanted to check and be sure. I listened to the podcast several times to be absolutely sure I head what he was saying, and I watched the Hetrick video over and over. I emailed Knowles with questions and a few comments about what he had claimed on Skeptiko. He replied quickly, dismissing my issues and added a few more confident claims. I replied with some rebuttals and assertions and questions.
On his Secret Sun blog Knowles reported on his Skeptiko interview in the following manner:
Most importantly, I spell out my philosophy on understanding the Never-Ending Ritualism and its historical context. It’s important to have a grasp on the historical context of these symbols and these messages because I believe we are on the cusp of the next phase of the program- in which these increasingly audacious presentations will become more explicit and self-explanatory.
I believe there will be a very seductive and appealing pitch on the backend of this, something that a great many people will find very hard to resist, especially this historically-illiterate new class of witches and magicians.
In order to offer a counterargument you need to understand the messages being conveyed, their historical contexts and the implications for the future that history teaches us. If you throw words like “Lucifer” or “Illuminati” around, the game will be lost before you even take the field.
I have to confess to having never heard of Never-Ending Ritualism, so while I was skeptical about such a thing, I was also curious to understand what Knowles meant by it. It was certainly not an idea discussed in any of the many books on magical traditions I had read over the years. I had heard nothing of the idea in any contemporary commentary on magic and ritual. So, was it a new idea based upon a novel insight? Was it worth paying attention to? My first impression was that it was not. In essence, I found nothing Knowles said to be compelling or well-founded.
Normally I would not go any further, but Knowles has a reputation as an expert on occult symbolism in popular culture and appears with apparent regularity on podcasts, so he is credited as somebody who has an opinion worth listening to and reading. Also, he claims to be a deep researcher who goes to source material, and I have to say this got me in when I first heard it. I like listening to people who are deep inquirers. At first, I had no issues with what he was saying. But then I developed the opinion that he was talking complete bollocks. Was I being unkind?
I was puzzled by why nobody hosting any of the podcasts was challenging what he was saying. In fact, he and other guests on a couple of shows seemed to be getting free passes by hosts who were giving the impression that they agreed with Knowles in all that he said. That meant that the listeners to these shows, with less knowledge, might be induced to take Knowles’ notions to be as well-researched and well-informed as he claimed they were. If the hosts of the podcasts were not challenging him, he had to be okay – right?
In fairness I allowed myself to be wrong and went hunting to see whether I could confirm the merit of his sources and the quality of his ideas. The Gotthard Tunnel was a good place to start because I could see the same thing as he did, and I felt I could evaluate his claims about the event.
To him the Gotthard Opening Ceremony was a “state ritual” linked to an “internationalizing Mystery cult tradition.” To me it was just an opening ceremony like any Olympic Games – full of references and symbols that were incomprehensible to outsiders; yet filled with significance to the indigenous population. How do you turn that into a sinister ritual by dark controlling forces?
There’s a technical thing about rituals. They need structure and form. They need coherence and a purpose and a method. Without them you have no ritual, just a performance. For me all these essential elements were missing. It was just a performance devoid of any occult ritual element. Of course, ceremonies are intended to evoke responses to symbols and performances. But here’s the difference in simple terms– ceremonies evoke, and rituals invoke. I agree that the convergence between evocation and invocation can be blurred, or at least not sufficiently evident to people who do not know the difference. A good ritual should invoke and evoke, but even a great ceremony can only evoke. If the elements of ritual were present in this ceremony, they should be discernible to people familiar with ritual.
A ritual must have a purpose beyond celebrating something. A ceremony celebrates and in so doing it may use elements of performance that are common to both ceremony and ritual – including symbols and signs as well as music, dance, and atmospheric effects (lighting and scents for example). For instance, the Christian cross can be used in ceremonial and ritual contexts. The familiar sign of the five pointed star, the pentagram, is an essential symbol in some magical rituals. But it is also something that can be rendered in jewelery, printed on t-shirts, and generally displayed to signify belonging to a group or as a display that celebrates a belief.
Symbols are used widely in ceremonies because they are meaningful to participants and observers – and hence they evoke thoughts and emotions. But not all symbols are occult, or esoteric. Nevertheless, the very nature of a symbol is that it conveys meaning only to those who know what it means. A brand logo, such as the Nike tick, is meaningful to those who know what it means, and is just a check mark to those who do not.
These days a ceremony could be a product promotion event full of symbols that are meaningful to brand devotees, but nonsense to others. Countries hosting events like the Olympics will use an opening ceremony to ‘brand’ their national culture using motifs and symbols that are deeply evocative to citizen, but which might seem bizarre or absurd to those not in the know – and maybe even embarrassing to those who do know.
Symbolism is a legitimate and fascinating area of inquiry, and there is a genuine continuity between secular and ‘occult’ symbols. These days many of what used to be ‘secret’ or ‘occult’ symbols are known at a secular level as signifiers of secret things, and there is a popular belief that the secret significance is known – and that may be the case in many instances.
Signifiers that were once confined to sacred ceremonies are now exhibited in acts of secular homage to a cultural tradition. This is especially true of ‘folk traditions’ that echo pagan ceremonies. Even if the folk tradition retains a seasonal connection with the original ceremony the deep spiritual connection is long severed in the minds of the observers. So, the Gotthard ceremony can pay homage to what is a pagan ritual tradition by using symbols and signifiers without constituting a ritual.
The Devil is in the Detail
Knowles appears to me to not know the difference, and was not, apparently, interested in becoming aware of it. Knowles also seemed to me to be factually wrong on a number of matters. I will list several here that can be checked by viewing the ceremony video. You may or may not agree with either of us.
- He said the winged figure with the large head is Cupid. I say it is not. Rather it is a character related to the death of workers on the tunnel. Nine workers died during the construction of the tunnel. What was being performed seemed to me to be a death theme, not an erotic one. True, we are both interpreting a performance that has no word or signs to confirm what is going on.
- He said I shouldn’t be concerned that the figure is female as these days it is okay for Cupid to be female. I disagree. Cupid is male in the Greek tradition for a reason. Despite our affection for gender fluidity these days, traditional ritualists take gender very seriously. In this case the fact that the figure is female probably means that the character was intended to be female – we have no evidence either way, so I am inclined to guess in favour of the norm being applied.
- He said the ‘Cupid’ enters the performance on a train wagon on which an orgy is taking place, confirming the erotic association. I say the performance is a bit stiff and grim to be an orgy, even in Switzerland (sorry Swiss people – it’s stereotype humour to make a point – nothing personal – you are just not known for your orgies).
- He inferred the antler/horned characters are representation of the Devil, whom Knowles described as “Lord of the World”. Knowles seeks to associate these with Jupiter Amun – a fusion of the Roman Jupiter and the Egyptian Amun. I think that both are sky gods and have no direct connection with Pagan deities connected with fertility. This matters because you can’t get your gods confused in a ritual.
- He said the 3 beetles on the open stage performance are Scarab Beetles. I say they are the wrong shape for scarabs. They are beetles. They may signify something but that is not evident from the performance. Maybe they are intended to signify scarabs, but the fact is they are the wrong shape, so we cannot infer this from observation.
- He said the 3 women in the outdoor stage segment are the Morai (Greek). I say there is no evidence that they are anything, and they could be closer Celtic or even Norse references – like the Norns. We don’t actually know who they are without being told.
- He said the context is Greco-Roman. I say why? Why interpret traditions that are closer to the ancient pagan/Celtic roots as being other than what they are? Throughout Europe and the UK there are festivals and traditions that are rooted in the older Celtic and Norse traditions, and which owe nothing to the Greco-Roman – or indeed the Christian.
On every single count that Knowles raised with me in support of his assertion that the ceremony was a state ritual I found to be presumption without compelling evidence. Why insist that the bare breasted winged woman with the large head is Cupid? Knowles asserted that “there’s no similar figure in any indigenous tradition that I’m aware of.” I agree. I don’t know of any specific figure that could assigned to this performance. But that does not make the figure Cupid. We must allow the designers of the performance their own knowledge, inspiration, and interpretation in pursuit of their art. Besides why have Cupid at a death performance? Even Paul Seaburn’s lightweight piece posted on mysteriousuniverse.org on 7 June 2016 observed that “The flying baby with the giant head was played by a topless woman and was said to honour workers who died during the construction.”
While Seaburn’s article had some merit, it left a lot without substance. He noted that “While each of the individual performances had a real-world connection to the building of the tunnel, it would have taken a program the thickness of a phone book to explain them.” But was this based on knowledge or just a guess? The hyperbole suggests a lazy guess. His final paragraph tells me that maybe it’s just a lazy compliance with a contract obligation. Nevertheless, his humour makes it clear he has little sympathy for Knowles’ position.
What were Volker Hesse and the organizers of the tunnel opening thinking? Perhaps they were trying to preemptively top the opening ceremony for the Summer Olympics to be held in Rio. Perhaps this is the future of entertainment and we’ll all be wearing bird nest hats next year. Perhaps rumours of a New World Order run by Satanists are true. Perhaps the tunnel is the opening to hell.
What do you think the Gotthard Base Tunnel opening ceremony actually meant?
I confess I get pretty cranky when lazy writers ask readers what they think. Who is getting paid to do some research? Why give the reader next to nothing to go on and then invite them to come to a conclusion as to the meaning of the tunnel opening ceremony? It meant the tunnel was open for business. To suggest anything else is irresponsible.
In any case, to be frank, who cares what a random reader of the MU site thinks. I wanted to know the Swiss thought, and so I asked. Below is an extract of an email from the Gotthard Tunnel authority. My correspondent kindly translated the German into English for me. The full text of the email is available on request.
The most renowned Swiss Newspaper. Neue Zürcher Zeitung, described the show as follows: “The show was perfect, multimedial and a phenomenon. It reflected on a symbolic and allegorical way the raw mountain world, the mythology around the Gotthard mountain massive, the idealism and the courage of the tunnel builders, the dangers for the miners – and the colorful Swiss Zeitgeist (spirit of the age). Speaking of colorful: The show had two or more senses. It should bring the public to reflect the role of Switzerland in the current European context.
Knowles has told me not to trust bureaucrats, unaware that I am in fact a bureaucrat of substantial standing. My bureaudar tells me this guy is not a stooge or a dupe.
Knowles is not lazy and mischievous. I think he’s just plain wrong. While I have no doubt he is sincere in his beliefs I equally have no doubt he does not actually know what he is talking about. He exhibits no evidence he knows anything about ritual. His claimed understanding of occult symbolism seems to be based on him making claims and nobody challenging them.
From what I can make of Knowles he is a modern Gnostic with a model not openly articulated, yet hinted at in his email to me when he raised “the Christian Devil, ie., the lord of this world.” Knowles clearly has a theory born of his interest in Gnosticism. That theory includes what he sees to be an “internationalizing Mystery cult tradition”.
Aside from my direct personal experience in ritual I have been reading widely in esoterica and the occult for decades. I see no evidence for this tradition, at least in the way Knowles interprets it.
Of course, it comes down to whether one prefers to believe Knowles or me on this matter. I am not going to say it is up to you as a reader to decide. Have either of us have given you sufficient information to make a decision? You have to dig deeper if you think we have not. Check out Knowles’ blog too. Don’t just take my word. You may even like the material better than my argument.
To be fair to those who are concerned about the Christian Devil, he does appear in the opening ceremony. I wasn’t entirely sure at first, from watching the video, so I relied on my Gotthard correspondent to inform me. He said:
The most discussed element of the show is probably the dance of the Devil. It goes back to an old legend about the first bridge leading to the Gotthard pass (and) According to the legend the local people recruited the Devil for the difficult task of building the bridge. The Devil requested to receive the first thing to pass the bridge in exchange for his help. To trick the Devil, who expected to receive the soul of the first man to pass the bridge, the people of Uri sent across a dog by throwing a piece of bread, and the dog was promptly torn to pieces by the Devil. Enraged at having been tricked the Devil went to fetch a large rock to smash the bridge, but, carrying the rock back to the bridge, he came across a holy man who “scolded him” and forced him to drop the rock, which could still be seen on the path below the village of Göschenen.
You can’t enact the defeat of an agency in a ritual and insist that this wasn’t an evocative act. I suppose it is possible to imagine that the director, the performers, and some dark and powerful people could contrive to conceal within a public ceremony a secret performance of a ritual. But what would be the point? I can see none. What would be the benefit? I can see none. Other ritualists may disagree with me, and I would be interested in an informed contrary opinion. Even if I thought a conspiracy was plausible, I simply cannot imagine why anybody would bother.
Conclusion – Why do this?
And why bother imaging the enactment of an implausible conspiracy as a real act? I get that Knowles seriously believes this is what happened, but the evidence is not there in my book. There are enough real conspiracies that should engage our attention and concern.
Distracting people with dramatic confections – an occult conspiracy of the elite – serves no good purpose in my mind. If the conspiracy is not real, then the response pointless and impotent. The witness, the knower, becomes even more powerless. Misinformation, like disinformation, weakens. Though I dislike the term, the ‘Elite’ is doing enough real harm by hording wealth way beyond their needs (and other things besides). Why make up mad conspiracy theories about them?