[Chapter Sixteen: Twilight—AD 536]


Chapter Seventeen: AD 854—Pope Joan

In the seventeenth century,
the Catholic Church ... began a concerted effort
to destroy the embarrassing historical records on Joan.
Hundreds of manuscripts and books were seized by the Vatican.
—Donna Woolfolk Cross, Pope Joan: A Novel

Long before the rise of Protestantism, a story began to make the rounds among the monks of various monastic orders and among the higher echelons of the Catholic Church of a woman who, through disguise and deception, not to mention her scholastic abilities, had managed to have herself elected pope sometime around the year 854 of the Christian Era. According to various accounts, her accession, or more often her death, was supposed to have been marked by atmospheric portents that have been used to suggest that the entire story is mythological in nature, and that there was never such a person. Yet, far from casting doubt upon the story, the attendant meteorological phenomena tend to add verisimilitude to the account, the years around 854 having been another of those times when Typhon was near the earth, so that the fleeting glimpse of this individual hiding among the shadows of the 9th century may be seen as an indication of the presence of another of those avataric incarnations of the sun or the comet, more commonly female than one might expect, who appeared every century or so from time immemorial and continued to do so long after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

According to the legend, Joan became pregnant while serving as pope, and was delivered of her child, as they say rather elliptically in the accounts, during a procession from St. Peter's Basilica to the Lateran Cathedral. The spot was supposed to have been marked by a statue commemorating the occasion, perhaps one of those statues of Isis and her son Horus that were common throughout the former Roman Empire and sometimes re-identified with the Christian Madonna and Child, though in this case it was finally chucked into the Tiber. This part of the legend is clearly absurd, the storytellers having taken advantage of a preexisting monument in the process of embellishing the sparse details of their story. It is beyond common sense that a woman, no matter how masculine in appearance, could have completely hidden her pregnancy only to be revealed in the process of giving birth, instantaneously, I might add, with no prolonged period of labor whatsoever. The identification of Joan with Isis continues in the surviving versions of the Tarot deck, where the Popess, or High Priestess as she is often called, may be identified with this ancient goddess of the Egyptians. As I wrote in 1988,

The next trump in the series presents a much simpler exercise in interpretation. We can thank an early card maker from the south of France for the deck that calls it Juno rather than Priestess. The wife and sister of Jupiter, Juno was the Roman equivalent of the Greek Hera, the wife and sister of Zeus who in turn was the equivalent of Jupiter. [As Richard Hinckley Allen tells us in Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning,] "In classic folk-lore the Milky Way was marked out by the corn ears dropped by Isis in her flight from Typhon; or was the result of some of Juno's nursery troubles with the infant Hercules ... From this doubtless came the Roman Circulus Junonius." I should point out here that Isis was the wife and sister of Osiris. At Akkad north of Sumer it was, [again quoting from Allen,] "Hid In-ni-na, River-of-the-Divine-Lady; and, to quote again: ‛This Snake-river of sparkling dust, the stream of the abyss on high through which it runs, the golden cord of the heaven-god ... is the Milky Way; and it is the River of Nana, wife of the heaven-god, as, in Greek mythology, it is connected with Here.’ "

 The galaxy is a big place, even as a two-dimensional projection on the illusory dome of the sky. From past experience we might expect to find our High Priestess represented by a single star somewhere on this vast milky river. There is scant evidence of either Juno or Hera as a star in any source I have so far examined. The one exception is a quotation from the Iliad, reproduced in Hamlet's Mill, where Hephaistos calls his mother kunopis which the authors translate as dog-eared. From this they place Hera near the star Sirius in Canis Major. The situation changes drastically when we look for the Egyptian Isis, who bears roughly the same relationship to the Milky Way as Hera, for she has long been associated with the very same Sirius or, less often, other stars in the Great Dog.

It is the only star known to us with absolute certitude in the Egyptian records—its hieroglyph, a dog, often appearing on the monuments and temple walls throughout the Nile country.... Sirius had replaced Gamma Draconis as an orientation point, especially at Thebes, and notably in the great temple of Queen Hatshepsu, known to-day as Al Der al Bahari, the Arabs' translation of the modern Copts' Convent of the North. Here it was symbolized, under the title of Isis Hathor, by the form of a cow with disc and horns appearing from behind the western hills. With the same title, and styled Her Majesty of Denderah, it is seen in the small temple of Isis, erected 700 B.C. [Allen, Star Names].

In passing, I should point out the similarity of the names Juno and Joan, actually Iane in the French of Florimond de Raemound in his Erreur Populaire de Papesse Iane of 1595.

In the Tarot deck, the Popess is not simply a female pope. She appears opposite the pope in the 2-dimensional arrangement due to Pythagoras first published in my Origins of the Tarot Deck and reproduced in Chapter Nine of the current work, where the Empress, in an analogous manner, appears opposite the Emperor. No one would suggest that the Empress is simply a female Emperor. "Pope Joan" may very well not be "John VIII," as suggested by the legends, but Joan VIII, the eighth popess or high priestess, presumably numbering from the early years of the 2nd century or earlier. Not yet aware of this possible ancient line of high priestesses, I also wrote in 1988,

We immediately see in the introduction of the female pope a tension between, on the one hand, an obvious attempt to make the deck acceptable to the religious authorities by replacing the primary pagan God with the head of the established Church, and on the other, the age old symmetry, rarely openly expressed but powerful nonetheless, of the great God with the great Goddess. The tenacity with which Zeus maintains his foothold opposite Hera, despite his possession, in the guise of Indra and later Yahweh, of the east, is another sign of the archetypal nature of this symmetry. That the very presence of the Pope in the deck should be taken, in spite of the clearly artificial nature of the Popess, as evidence of the late introduction of the deck is further evidence of the unconscious need to deny the presence of Graves' White Goddess herself in the deck. In 1725, under papal pressure, the Pope himself, along with the rest of the four card sequence, was replaced by one of four Moors or Satraps.... Whatever the ultimate meanings of the Hierophant and Priestess, the dispute over their true identities may be seen as a record of a real life struggle for control of the human mind. The recent reemergence of the Tarot into popular culture marks another episode in the age old battle between exoteric religion and esoteric symbolism.

The implication here is that the pope (the real pope, not the Tarot card) is a continuation of the ancient concept of God on earth, a modern form of the supposed incarnation of the Sun God who sat on the throne of Egypt. In this regard, he represents the Son, as the popess represents the Son's wife, transformed by the Church into the rather murky concept of the Holy Ghost. This will become clear in the sections on Guglielma of Bohemia in Chapter Nineteen, where we will see the emergence of the idea of an incarnation of the Holy Ghost into the modern world through the medium of the Visconti family of Milan.

That there is no surviving documentary evidence from the 9th century of the existence of Joan is not surprising. One may cite the attempted elimination of the Talmudic references to Yeshu the Nazar discussed in Chapter Twelve as an example of the lengths to which the Church will go to remove historical data contradictory to its official history and worldview. Beyond this kind of active suppression is what we might call passive suppression, that is, the simple fact that there is little evidence for anything that is supposed to have happened within the confines of the Roman Church during the 9th century. As Donna Woolfolk Cross notes at the end of her novelistic treatment of Pope Joan, there is nothing beyond the propagandistic Liber Pontificalis that even attempts to place the 9th century popes in any sort of historical and chronological order. That this lack of evidence is cited by those who would see the entire story as fiction is, might I say, peculiar. Even ignoring the vested interests of the Church authorities, we can see here the same attitude that sees King Arthur as fictional because he does not appear in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and we have already seen how that document was manipulated in order to remove Arthur from the historical record.

As for precisely when Joan would have ruled, the latest possible date for the end of her reign would have been late September of 855, at least according to coins that show both Benedict III and Emperor Lothair I, the latter having died on the 28th of that month. One should understand, however, that Benedict supposedly became pope, after the reign of what the orthodox call an antipope, that is, Cardinal Anastasius of St. Marcellus, on the 29th. So that what we have here are coins, minted no-one knows when, bearing images of two men: according to the orthodox chronology, one of whom was not what he was purported to have been when the coins were made. The rejoinder to this, as found in the Catholic Encyclopedia and elsewhere, is that Benedict was "recognized" as pope before his official coronation, or that no one knew Lothair had died when the coins were issued. More likely, Benedict actually became pope, after being released from prison, as a direct result of the death of Lothair. Anastasius was, after all, the candidate of the so-called imperial party, supported by the Holy Roman Emperor himself. One has to wonder exactly how much earlier Benedict was "recognized" as pope. The images on the coin suggest that it was minted before Anastasius became pope, when Lothair was very much alive and Benedict had not yet been removed by the emperor's representative.

Leo IV is supposed to have died on the 17th of July, 855, leaving only two months for both Anastasius and Joan. Yet Joan is supposed to have reigned for 2 years, 7 months, and 4 days according to the 13th century Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum of Martin of Troppau; and 1 year, 1 month, and 4 days according to Bartolomeo Platina in his Liber de Vita Christi ac Omnium Pontificum of 1474. After completing the Leonine Wall on June 27, 852, the last we hear of Leo in any of the standard biographies is his condemnation of Anastasius at the Synod he convened in December of 853. In order to turn all of this into a consistent narrative, we might suggest that Leo died not in 855 but in 854, confirming the period given for the reign of Joan by Platina, Vatican librarian and source of an early reference to the Tarot deck, thus placing the beginning of Joan's reign sometime shortly after the 17th of July, 854, and its end sometime shortly before the rise of Anastasius to the position of pope presumably less than a month before the death of Lothair on the 28th of September, 855. The meaning of the coins is clear. They represent the transition from imperial power, to which the Church was subservient, to the newly reinvigorated power of the Church, to which the Empire was now, temporarily, subservient. As long as we see the story of Pope Joan as simply an anomaly, this level of distortion and deception seems quite absurd. Why spend so much energy suppressing a minor event in the long procession of Church history? But once we see it for what it very well may have been, nothing less than the insertion of a member of an alternate female line of pontiffs, perhaps descended from one of the "Johns" of the New Testament and believed by their followers to be incarnations of the Holy Ghost, we can imagine the desperation with which the Church would have endeavored to rid itself of any hint whatsoever that it had been penetrated. And here we have in embryo form the origin of the notion that the descendants of the founder of the Christian religion managed to preserve their bloodline into the modern world.

Pope Joan in the 9th Century

  Event Year AD
  John VII dies 707
  Lothair I becomes emperor of the Holy Roman Empire 817
  Sergius II becomes pope. Louis II becomes co-emperor with his father 844
  St. Peter's sacked by the Saracens 846
  Leo IV becomes pope 847
  Battle of Ostia 849
  Leonine Wall completed June 27, 852
  Leo holds synod at Rome, condemns Anastasius, imperial candidate to succeed him December 8, 853
  Leo IV dies July 17, 854
  Return of the Comet of Typhon. Joan ("John VIII") becomes pope,
rules 1 year, 1 month, and 4 days [Platina]
Late July, 854
  Appearance of another comet August, 855
  Joan dies or is removed from office. Benedict III elected pope. Minting of coin showing Benedict and Lothair. Anastasius arrests Benedict, becomes pope
Late August, 855
  Emperor Lothair I dies. Louis II becomes sole emperor of the Holy Roman Empire September 28, 855
  Anastasius removed from office. Benedict III again becomes pope September 29, 855
  Benedict dies. Nicholas I becomes pope 858
  Nicholas I dies. Adrian II becomes pope 867
  John VIII/IX becomes pope 872

The supposedly legendary nature of the story of Joan is often enhanced, on a subconscious level, by the suggestion that her given name was Joan, whereas Joan is commonly assumed to be simply the feminine form of John, as in John VIII, her supposed regnal name, which, incidentally, would place her between AD 707 (the last year of John VII) and AD 872 (the first year of the "real" John VIII). Her true name is variously given as Giliberta by Boccaccio, Agnes by Adam of Usk & John Hus, and Anna by John Wycliffe, according to Vincent Dimarco in "The Medieval Popess" in Misconceptions about the Middle Ages. Wycliffe, sometimes called "the morning star of the Reformation," was associated with the comet of 1382, the year he finished translating the bible into English, a crime for which he was posthumously burned at the stake. Mind you, Wycliffe was not a disinterested observer. He was on the inside, on the basis of which we would suspect that he was the one with accurate information. Both Anna and Agnes may be seen as progressively more evolved forms of the name Joanna.

The foundation stone of the doctrine that Joanna was legendary is her purportedly late appearance in the written record, commonly placed in the 13th century; the first undisputed modern version of the story appears in the third edition of the Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum of Martin of Opava. This was the century of the Condemnation of 1277 when it finally became acceptable, in the eyes of the Church, to question the absolute authority of Aristotle. Where Pope Joan appears in earlier documents, and she certainly does appear there, the written text is in a different hand and is commonly ascribed to later interpolation. What the proponents of this notion have failed to recognize from their vantage point in a relatively free and secular society is that during the centuries between 854 and 1277 one was likely to be toasted like a marshmallow at a weenie roast by the representatives of the Roman Inquisition for even suggesting such an idea. Anyone wishing to remain unroasted had to publish under another name, preferably that of someone who had already died, though, as we shall see later on, the Church was not above roasting its enemies posthumously.

The excision of Joan from the historical record was almost perfect. These were no rude Saxons eliminating the stunning victories of Arthur and his light cavalry from their own annals. Neither were they early Roman Imperial followers of Zeus Soter engaged in modernizing their ancient belief system in an inconsistent and confusing manner so that no one was later able to determine with any accuracy when their newly revised religion was supposed to have been founded. No, these were sophisticated gentlemen, journeyman forgers of history of no mean ability. They were determined and they were thorough. But they missed one glaring anomaly that points to the existence of the female pope, an anomaly the significance of which they most likely were not even aware, their own theological system having rejected the very concept of returning avatars except for one final appearance at the end of the world, a world that steadfastly refused to die.

That anomaly was the missing comet of 854, when we would expect to find one if the cometary appearances outlined in Chapter Eight were reasonably evenly distributed. As we will see shortly, even as late as 1066 the Comet of Typhon remained impressive enough that modern astronomers have mistaken it for Halley's Comet and used it in their computations of its orbit. Yet there is no mention in any of the few Church histories that survive of the appearance of any such object during the supposed penultimate year of Leo IV. The situation changes significantly when we look toward 855. There was not only a cometary display over France that year, but this is sometimes assigned to August, the very month when Joan either died or was removed from office according to the current reconstruction. Hence, it appears that there may have been cometary displays in both 854 and 855, the earlier one, removed by the Church fathers, marking the rise of Joan and the later one marking her fall. As for the comet associated with the end of the reign of Joan, this can only be associated with the year 855 if we accept the notion that it marked her demise. If, in fact, it marked her elevation to the papal throne, as a minority of sources suggest, it would have appeared in 854 and very well may have been Typhon.

With King Arthur, the accounts of the Middle Ages saw him as a product of their times rather than his, where he was surrounded by gallant knights and ladies in distress, all engaged in the rituals of Medieval romantic love, whereas the real Arthur lived during the Dark Ages when none of this social apparatus had yet developed. In the case of Joan, her relationship to the position of pope was colored by the attitudes of the 13th century, when the story first became widely known far into the Middle Ages, whereas she had actually lived during the Dark Ages, when the popes had wives and mistresses and the office had more of the attributes of a king than of a cleric. In particular, there are three scattered elements from various versions of the story that, taken separately, mean little, but together point to an alternate reading of the history of Joanna. The first of these elements is the notion that Joan was the wife of Leo IV, a theory first enunciated by Nicolaas Christiaan Kist in 1844 in Verhandeling over de Pausin Johanna. The second is that there was a two-year gap in the position of pope after Leo IV died, an idea ascribed to Martinus Polonus by Alain Boureau in The Myth of Pope Joan. And the third, and most telling, is that Joan had a son who became Bishop of Ostia, as told in one version of the Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum. The son of a woman who had died in disgrace could hardly be expected to have risen in the church hierarchy. What do these three elements of the story, taken as a whole, suggest?

In the long history of ancient Egypt, there were times when a woman sat on the throne. These occasions were almost exclusively the result of the death of a pharaoh and either the lack of a suitable heir or the already established power of the pharaoh's wife, the queen of Egypt, who had no intention of fading into the stonework as queen mother. Sometimes these female pharaohs appeared when Typhon was visible in the skies of, and menacing, the earth, suggesting something other than coincidence in the deaths of their husbands. In the case of Leo IV, we may suspect that a similar series of events occurred: A woman named Joanna, surnamed Anglicus, or perhaps Angelicus, was married to Leo IV, who died, most likely in July of 854, though perhaps in July of 853, and for one year and one month, or for two years and one month, there being no candidate acceptable to both the emperor and the bishops, she virtually ran the Church under the title of her late husband, Leo IV. Popular usage may or may not have referred to her as Pope Joan or Popess Joan or even High Priestess Joan, but there is no question of her fooling anyone about her sex. The whole prurient overlay of device, deceit, and transvestiture must be seen as the product of a later age, when papal succession had become a matter of established ritual and the idea of a woman running the Catholic Church had become laughable in the eyes of the priesthood. The logic of attempting to argue the nonexistence of Joan from this late overlay is quite vacuous. It is part of the myth, not part of the reality. As for the argument that there is no evidence that Leo IV was married, I would simply counter that there is no evidence that he was not married. After all, why would he not be married? He was king of the Vatican States, and the ban on priests marrying would not be strictly enforced for at least another couple of centuries. As late as 931, John XI, the son of Sergius III, was elected to his father's office through the influence of his mother, Marozia, who, according to at least one author, virtually ran Rome.

In late August of 855, the bishops at Rome finally decided to act in defiance of the emperor and proclaimed Benedict III pope, thus effectively removing Joanna, who was in no position to contest her removal. The emperor's man, Anastasius, then arrested Benedict and locked him away, Anastasius proclaiming himself pope by imperial authority. Anastasius, as Vatican librarian, would later remove all evidence of both Joanna and of his own earlier condemnation by Leo. The man was not, by any estimation, above tampering with history on a grand scale, as his brother was not above murdering a pope. Upon the death of Emperor Lothair I, Anastasius was himself removed and replaced with the earlier Benedict, whose first investiture had been marked by the issuance of a coin containing both the images of Benedict and of Lothair. What Anastasius had on the Church that allowed him to run riot for decades through its upper echelons is currently unknown, though it may have had something to do with an earlier "John."


[Chapter Eighteen: 1066—The Norman Conquest and the Orbit of Halley's Comet]


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