The Priory of Sion Hoax as a Surrealist Conspiracy and Provocation

I had noted that there is a database of debunked claims about COVID-19 at Carnegie Mellon University, which includes reference to the idea of the virus as some kind of Russian bioweapon. As I was unaware of any example of disinformation on this matter (with the exception of hoping the reference didn’t somehow come from this site), I did find a reference to such a claim at a site generally associated with Russian disinformation targeted at the US Military: Veteran’s Today.

The story is posed in a geopolitical and Christian-apocalyptic context. It closes with a comment on the supposed relation of Jesus Christ to the Merovingian dynasty of France. The idea of a Merovingian dynasty is primarily associated with ideas of Pierre Plantard, and the so-called Priory of Sion, which influenced author Dan Brown’s novels most notably, ‘The Da Vinci Code’. 

Most charitably, the matter of the Priory of Sion has the appearance of being a French attempt at creating a Holy Grail mythology for France similar to that for example of King Arthur in Britain; on the other hand, this hoax also seems to have many hallmarks of fascistic propaganda linked to historical Russian influence. 

The interesting thing about the cultural background of the milieu of prophecy related to COVID-19 in the Veteran’s Today article is not only its ‘Duginesque’ apocalypticism, but the idea that Plantard’s purposeful efforts to create the Priory of Sion hoax were largely based on his work with espionage-linked occultists and Surrealists. His efforts seem intended to prove that he himself was heir to the Merovingian bloodline – predicted by none other than Nostradamus – and therefore himself a descendant of Jesus by the logic of the false prophecy.

Not to praise myself, but there are many examples of Nostradamus conspiracy now being discussed in the context of disinformation and information warfare around COVID-19 (1, 2, 3). I see this as a replication of my prior efforts to some extent. (Once again, the Nostradamus piece of this conspiracy is only a facet of the total disinformation.) 

I’ve been sitting on most of the below analysis for a while, but I think it is complete enough to post in light of the use of such ideas in COVID-19 disinformation.

The Priory of Sion and the Quest for the Holy Grail, or Lincoln's ...
Pierre Plantard: con man

Many people are familiar with the basic story behind Dan Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’ novels, and the associated meme that there is some kind of conspiracy within Catholicism which relates to secret societies (esp. the ‘Priory of Sion’) protecting a ‘Merovingian’ bloodline of French royalty derived from Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

While Dan Brown told his readers in the introduction to ‘The DaVinci Code’ that the story was based on fact, it has long been known that the legends of the Priory of Sion were actually a hoax perpetrated by figures close to the art movement known as Surrealism. It would seem the historical provenance of the myth also comes from occult (Russian and English) influences close to espionage and fascist ideologies, many of which have been iterated over time and are still pertinent to the study of disinformation.

In this sense, regardless of the actual intent of the author, I think the concepts which have been popularized by Dan Brown about a conspiracy within Catholicism via his novels could be argued to serendipitously support a Russian and/or Communist cultural / information warfare strategy in the modern information environment which is apparently hostile to Catholicism.

Surrealism was an avant-garde art movement emerging in 1920s France which was closely aligned with both Trotskyism and the Communist Party. It is still influential on art but not so much any longer as a formal political or artistic movement.

Overtly, it sought to create new modern mythologies in line with an anti-capitalist philosophy which embraced “revolutionary action which has communism as its goal” (Monsters and Myths, p. 104). In defining Surrealism in his 1928 ‘Nadja’, Surrealism’s founder Andre Breton insisted on “the fact that Surrealism can be understood historically only in relation to war” (Monsters and Myths, p. 9).

The kind of war practiced by Surrealists was informational and psychological, bordering on terroristic. In the Manifesto of Surrealism, Breton said: “The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd” – which is a suggestion seemingly manifested by Arthur Cravan, a Surrealist who fired off shots during a lecture at the Salle des Societes Savantes.

Further, complementing the modern idea of memes and information war, Surrealism had an explicitly psychoanalytical element, and emphasized the idea of ‘images as politics’ and the ‘image realm’.

The idea of Nostradamus too in an information warfare context seems to also have been an influence on the Surrealists. For example, to quote Salvador Dali – “according to Nostradamus the apparition of monsters presages the outbreak of war” (Monsters and Myths, p. 19). Perhaps appraising the memetic aspects of ‘hacking’ apocalyptic thinking, Andre Breton also wrote critically on Nostradamus in the early years of World War II for public responsiveness to its pro-Nazi interpretations.

I’ve previously done significant research on how Nostradamus prophecies may align with a Russian Orthodox worldview which is hostile to Catholicism. It seems that these conspiracy theories or ‘popular eschatology’ also align with populist narratives in Russian information warfare.

Despite his critiques of pop culture Nostradamus prophecies aligned with the right wing, Breton’s Contre Attaque group for example was based on reappropriating fascist strategies in an anti-fascist context; and thus the Surrealists’ later adoption of Nostradamus in a conspiracy sense – arguably of which Orson Welles’ ‘The Man Who Saw Tomorrow’ (1981) is a variant – could be seen in line with this directive.

It is worth noting that Dali’s Nazi fetishism (of which his pro-Nostradamus statements may be parcel) was a source of conflict with Breton, leading to Dali’s official banishment from the Surrealists. (Despite Dali’s denial he was a fascist, he can be seen to fetishize (the power of?) figures like Hitler perhaps in a way that anticipates Kenneth Anger’s later use of Nazi imagery in his surrealistic art.)

The political confrontations of Dali and Breton could be seen to embody a spectrum of political beliefs in Surrealism of fascist-fetishist and anti-fascist, similarly to in the case of Breton and Georges Bataille – who could be compared in terms of a spectrum of Communist thinking aligned with Trotskyism and Stalinism. Surrealism covered much of the field of radical political thought by this measure.

Regardless of the public conflicts in the political displays of the Surrealists or their historical influences, The Priory of Sion hoax itself seems to have definitely been linked to an attempt to capitalize on pop culture aspects of Nostradamus conspiracy in close association with aspects of the ‘right-wing’, ‘fascist fetishizing’  side of the surrealistic spectrum.

The central figure in the story of modern Priory of Sion legends can be seen as Pierre Plantard, a disciple of Georges Monti, in turn who claimed a disciple-like association with (Rosicrucian) Joséphin Péladan’ and (Thlemist) Aleister Crowley. Despite such claims, it is quite possible that all of Monti’s links to ancient secret societies were simply fabrications to promote his legend.  Sources do suggest however, that objectively Monti had at one time been expelled from a Masonic organization because of suspicions he was a Jesuit agent ‘trafficiking in information’.

The original aspects of the Priory of Sion legend seem to have emerged from Monti and were developed by Plantard and his associates. In these early themes of the Priory of Sion, there seems to be integration of major themes from (Anthropophosist/Theosophist) Rudolf Steiner and (fascist-occultist) Julius Evola (a major philosophical influence on Alexander Dugin; Evola was also the consort of Russian satanist, occultist, and espionage suspect – Maria de Naglowska). The Evola and Steiner influence seems to be in regards to Arthurian Grail legends and the Knights Templar.

Thus, before the concept of Surrealism is even introduced, the emergence of the Priory of Sion hoax does objectively seem to be inspired by figures and occult movements that had espionage associations and especially influence on the ideology and symbology of the Nazis (and perhaps Surrealism and ‘sex magic satanism’ as well). It also seems to coalesce in a philosophical network which has major influences on the ideas of figures like Alexander Dugin today. (Covertly, many of these movements can be seen to have past confirmed or suspected associations with Russian espionage as well.)

In the course of developing the Priory of Sion hoax, it is clear that Plantard worked with two Surrealists: Philippe de Chérisey and Gérard de Sède to create fictitious historical documents and a legend which would support a claim that Plantard was the heir to the Merovingian dynasty of France, and the so-called ‘Great Monarch’ foretold by Nostradamus.

Of course, Nostradamus is apparently just a small facet of this disinformative myth. However at the time, it was apparently noted that critics noted the similarity in the Sion stories to Nostradamus prophecies.

Maybe it is a case of convergent conspiritual evolution that both the French art movement of Surrealism and Russian information warfare doctrine would coalesce on an interest in the medieval French astrologer Nostradamus in part due to what seems a mutual critique of Catholicism and Western capital.

But I think there is also a case that Surrealism itself is a ‘black romantic’ movement which is iterative of the kinds of French revolutionary ideologies embraced by Voltaire and had potential linkage to the Court of Catherine the Great; or even traceable to the influence of John Milton’s revolutionary Satan as a tragic hero on Russian thinking and later apparently Communism itself. (See this excellent French article as well on the linkage between Surrealism and September 11, 2001, which you may need to translate.)

The whole idea of revolutionary art which is represented by the symbolic August 10 founding of the Louvre in alignment with the abolition of Catholic monarchy in France could potentially be linked to ideas about Catherine the Great’s establishment of the Russian Hermitage for example.

Surrealism absolutely did capitalize on these linkages with the history of French revolutionary art and the symbolic meaning of revolutionary dates.

This image associated with Contre Attaque represents the decapitated head of the French Monarch and references an anti-Capitalist conspiracy theory.

In this sense, as a potentially derivative product of romanticism, one could argue that Surrealism carries on a tradition of revolutionary ideology, but is itself technically derivative of it. Whether the figure Abbe Barruel was correct in his lifetime about a supposed connection between the ‘illuminati’, Catherine the Great and the French Revolution, Surrealism later seems to have aspired to fulfill such conspiratorial concerns at the confluence of anti-Catholic French Revolutionary ideas, anti-Fascist tendencies, and covert Russian influence.

Going back even further, Nostradamus was a well-known figure, associated with disinformation for hundreds of years in Europe. The seer had been critically utilized in Goethe’s ‘Faust’, which may give the concept of Nostradamus popular literary import to the aforementioned black romanticism and satanism which seems to have preceded modern Communism and influenced the development of Marxism. Breton seems to have closely associated Goethe’s Faust with Surrealist ideas by the end of WWII.

The context of the Priory of Sion legend having a specifically French nationalist import is interesting as well. The Surrealist mission of creating modern mythologies would seem to have been accomplished in this case.

Beyond the mythologies of France however, the name ‘Sion’ came from The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion – a turn of the century Russian secret police forgery – which was a similar influence on Andre Breton’s ‘Les Deux Cents Familles’ conspiracy. (The Protocols of Zion mythology of course can be  seen to feed into the broader pro-fascist sentiment associated with Russian influence in the lead up to WWII.)

While it might be hard to say that something which seems pro-fascist benefitted communism, I think it is important to look at the potential influence of the Russians on the right-wing ideology of the Nazis as a potential template for a similar kind of influence campaign to divide and conquer today.

Such a conspiracy may create chaos as well as set the stage for a more overarching ‘communist’ military victory through reflexive control. (It is notable that de Sede’s Trotskyism caused him to potentially align with Marshall Josip Broz Tito. He also had a clear history of being imprisoned by Germans and working for the French Forces of the Interior during WWII, thus making de Sede an unlikely Nazi sympathizer.)

Athough the set of circumstances raises my suspicions, I have no evidence to suggest Plantard, de Chérisey and de Sède were involved in a nation-state kind of disinformation scheme, although it is interesting that de Sède’s casket at his 2004 funeral was reportedly draped with the flag of the then-defunct Soviet Union.

Plantard would probably have disputed that he was not a ‘good Catholic’ too but I assume the prima facie ‘anti-Catholic’ heretical features of the conspiracy are just part of the milieu of Surrealist ideas which may also include Nostradamus and could be linked to disinformation schemes hostile to the idea of Catholicism as an institution. Perhaps Dan Brown’s bad historical research just found itself in the right place at the right time in order to attract pop culture virality which also seems to resonate with Russian information warfare strategy.

Although I haven’t read the book, I do think that apparent in the viral public response to Brown’s literary works that there is a case that The DaVinci Code’s core memetic narrative serendipitously advances what could be seen in a historical context as mutual goals of Surrealism, Communism, and (Tsarist Orthodox) Russia as they may mutually seek to undermine Catholicism in alignment with a worldview linked to a history of black romantic and fascistic ideologies. Same old story then as it is today.

Similarly to the perpetrators of the Priory of Sion hoax themselves, I assume Dan Brown is not a nation state disinformer. But perhaps such nation state disinformers did capitalize on the narrative as it may seek to create conspiratorial wedges in Catholicism and the popular conception of the faith. In this sense, perhaps Dan Brown’s narrative couldn’t be a better homage to its potentially true historical influences in Surrealism which are driven by the war-like creation of new mythologies in pursuit of Communism (at least according to Breton).

This case is another as well, where a right wing tendency in conspiracism – such as 9/11 conspiracies for example – seems traceable to some kind of Russian and/or Trotskyist kind of influence campaign. In Surrealism and occultism, the political left and right can become fairly blurred.

Hard-copy book cited: 

Monsters & Myths: Surrealism and War in the 1930’s and 1940’s, Oliver Shell and Oliver Tostmann (eds)