One of the most fulfilling aspects of investigating secret societies and faux chivalric orders is the thrill of finally nailing a fake artifact or fabricated document relating to a long, arduous and protracted scam.
My very first catch involved a well-known "confidential" account of an ancient statuette of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet said to have been recovered from a "secret" underground Temple of Isis, claimed to possibly be connected to Mary Magdalene in the South of France.
This infamous Egyptian Sekhmet statuette was given to me by a well-known French prankster, whom we shall henceforth refer to by his "magical" name of The Wolf, as a token of gratitude after he stung me for two thousand Euros.
Mind you, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into and, at the time, I had more money than sense, as The Herrings used to say. After all, Hareng Rouge philosophy clearly stipulates that the only way to properly investigate a possible fabrication is to delve right into the heart of it, and damn the torpedoes. To this end, I have all the emails, I have witnesses, I have my bank transfer statement and, more importantly, I still have the fake Sekhmet.
So, this particular saga begins sometime in the mid-1990s in the sleepy little village of Rennes-le-Chateau in the Languedoc region of France, where a robust cottage industry of enterprizing treasure hunting had been sparked by the publication of a book called Holy Blood, Holy Grail written by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln in 1982.
It was during the one of the inevitable summer silly season conferences on the local "mysteries" of Rennes-le-Chateau that The Wolf launched the revelations relating to his astonishing archeaological discoveries. He claimed to have discovered the existence of a secret landscape model commissioned by the Abbe Sauniere, the mysterious 19th century priest of the church of Mary Magdalene in RLC, who had allegedly found and reburied thousands, maybe millions, of dollars worth of treasure in the local countryside. Or something like that.
This model was allegedly encoded to reveal the secret burial site, located nearby, of Jesus Christ himself. Or maybe it was Mary Magdalene. Or, maybe it could be just Joseph of Arimathea. The story changes so often that I forget who it's supposed to be, now.
But, in order to add a frisson of authenticity to the story, there were also caches of gen-u-ine Roman coins and other artifacts on display, including the dear little Sekhmet.
The Sekhmet statuette was thought to be especially important because it somehow "proved" that Jesus' wife, Mary Magdalene, was an actual "Priestess of Isis", who was trained in Egypt in whatever arcane arts Isis priestesses are trained in.
Sekhmet is a powerful Egyptian female solar deity, a warrior goddess and protectoress of the pharoahs. Depicted as half-woman, half-lioness, I used to joke that Sekhmet worship was probably created as a result of a pharoah whose Leo star sign wife terrified the bejesus out of him, as anyone who has a Leo female in their own life can attest to...
Anyway, my particular Sekhmet statuette was allegedly recovered from an extremely secret site near the Chateau of Arques, on one of the zero meridians near Rennes-le-Chateau, where Mary Magdalene was said to theoretically have consecrated her Temple of Isis after she fled to France with Jesus' children after the crucifixion.
The story goes that, during a severe drought in the early 1900s, some desperate local men combed the countryside for the site of a long-forgotten spring where, lo-and-behold, they accidentally discovered the entrance to the Magdalene's secret underground Temple of Isis. There were supposedly artifacts that proved beyond a doubt that this Temple of Isis was used by Mary Magdalene herself, but it would be far too dangerous to reveal the location of the site. Honest. It may even be the secret tomb of the Magdalene herself, containing her personal possessions. This could well be the Magdalene’s very own Sekhmet.
And so the Arques Sekhmet became notorious in secret society circles, embroidered into the ever-growing mythology of Mary Magdalene's life in exile in the South of France.
Many years later, in fact conveniently just after the police officially cautioned my email hacker in 2001, I was put into email contact with The Wolf through mutual French associates. Despite all the dubious stories I'd heard about him, he transpired to be a very charming Wolf and we immediately hit it off, agreeing that we should meet up and compare research as soon as possible.
The obstacles at that time was that my health was too poor for me to travel to Rennes-le-Chateau and The Wolf's bank balance was too poor for him to travel to London.
Happily, these obstacles were overcome when a group of French researchers and authors decided to attend a conference here in London and share The Wolf's travel expenses between them so that he could come along, too. I agreed to contribute to his hotel bill, in order to avert the possibility that he might end up at my house, which he countered by bringing his daughter along as a chaperone, thereby doubling the cost.
We all had a jolly time in London, drinking copious amounts of Corbieres rouge at Mon Plaisir in Covent Garden and exploring the secret Stella Maris Tour of London, which included dropping in to say hello to the real Sekhmets at the British Museum, thereby triggering the ensuing sequence of events.
So, after flinging money around with wild abandon during that weekend, I suppose it was inevitable that The Wolf would hit me up for the two grand. I'd heard that his usual tactic was to ask to "borrow" money to pay off debts so that he could keep his research going... in fact, I was aware that he was hitting up at least two other people at the same time, one of whom I later discovered had sent money within roughly a week of my own transfer. So much for The Wolf's poor bank balance.
But I went through with it because I was intrigued to see if he would actually take the money after my previous generosity towards himself and his daughter and, if so, would pay it back as he solemnly promised. The Herrings who watched me embark upon this new social science experiment went bananas.
Therefore, considering the circumstances, I was enormously surprised to receive a package in the post, just a couple weeks afterwards, courtesy of The Wolf.
The package contained a specially-chosen assortment of books that he had written, an antique blue glass apothecary jar (which I had casually mentioned in passing that I collected) and - honor of honors - Mary Magdelene's own sacred Sekhmet from the Arques Temple of Isis, which was clearly recognizable from the photos taken at the conference nearly a decade earlier.
For about three whole minutes, I was genuinely touched by The Wolf's token gesture...
But then, in true Herring style, I grabbed my coat and jumped on a bus to the British Museum, where I headed straight upstairs to the Department of Egyptology. At my mention of Rennes-le-Chateau, the museum’s Egyptologist actually physically tried to force me out of his office but, unfortunately for him, I was a paid-up member of the Friends of the British Museum... whereupon I told him that if he didn't look at my bloody Sekhmet right then and there I would march straight to the membership office and demand a full refund of my fees.
Scowling, the Egyptologist grudgingly pronounced the Sekhmet to be a cheap tourist souvenir circa 1985 and told me that if I ever quoted his name in public in association with this fiasco that he would personally track me down and torture me.
So, that's the story of how I out-foxed The Wolf and scored my very first fake artifact bust.
And I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that I never got my two grand back... or that The Wolf never spoke to me again. And that Mary Magdalene's Temple of Isis at Arques evaporated into thin air... although her tombs sure seem to be popping up a dime a dozen at the moment!