Daily Speculations

The Web Site of Victor Niederhoffer & Laurel Kenner

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9/7/04
Mystic Travels (Not Markets) by Laurel Kenner

I learned much about frauds and deceptions and blind faith and myth on a recent trip along Europe's Atlantic coast, as many of our destinations were great medieval religious establishments built around purported holy relics of authenticity so spurious as to be pure silliness.

The true miracle is that the frauds were maintained for hundreds and hundreds of years, in a great triumph of deceptive psychology. One can only admire the persuasive powers of the perpetrators. Consider, for example, the tale of the founding of Mont St. Michel, the abbey on the rock off the coast of France. The angel Michael tried to tell a monk to build there twice, but he didn't get it, so the third time the angel put his thumb through the monkly skull. It didn't hurt, and the hole remained a hole for the monk's remaining life. So they say.

Take the monk who daydreamed of a star at a former Roman graveyard in the year 831, and dug up a box with three skeletons. It was somehow decided that one of the skeletons was the veritable remains of St. James the brother of Jesus, beheaded 800 years previously in Jerusalem. According to ancient texts, James was buried in Marmonica, near »Hierusalem«. But a scribe...eager to please, perhaps... translated this as, a marble box in Hispania.  And this was of course the pretext for a special tax levied by the monks over several hundred years, and for the great rich Monastery of Cluny, which hosted pilgrims and thereby attracted donations of land and riches from the nobles so eager to please. Every year, thousands upon thousands of pilgrims visited this place, Santiago de Compostela, on the west coast of Spain, walking all the way from Paris. and how much fun they must have had. And what's more, they still come by the thousands, walking! Our guide said half are believers and half do it for fun.

A high point of Portugal was the visit to the royal palace where Philip IV, the first and last emperor of Brazil, was born and breathed his last. It is a beautiful circular domed room decorated with oil paintings of scenes from Don Quixote. Reading the history of Spain in "Spain, the Root and the Flower" has given me much more appreciation for Don Quixote. The author says Cervantes began the book as a satire of romances, but once he built up steam Don Quixote became the embodiment of the heroic Spanish spirit. And he had much in common with the reluctant Samurai depicted in the great Japanese film "Twilight Samurai."