The Priory of Sion, a secret society founded by crusaders at Jerusalem's Mt. Zion, was pretty damn cool. Existing since the 11th century, it boasted members such as Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo and Master Splinter. The organization's goals were to restore the ancient Merovingian dynasty to the throne in France, and also to be hardcore secretive and have members that were so famous people would still recognize them 900 years later.
Really, the only uncool thing about the Priory of Sion was that it didn't exist.
In court in 1993, Pierre Plantard, a convicted con artist and Frenchman, confessed that he had created the organization in 1965 and named it after Mt. Sion near Annemasse, France, presumably as part of a pitch to ABC for a new prime time action series.
He went to extreme lengths to perpetuate his lie, hiring people to create medieval-looking documents and plant them in France's national library. Why? Well, there was no Society of Creative Anachronism back then and Star Trek didn't go on the air until 1966, so people had to make their own fun.
Nobody paid attention to Plantard's confession. The forgeries had, by this time, been picked up and repeated in a 1982 book called The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, whose authors were fooled by the fake documents planted in the French library.
They insisted that the Merovingians were related to Jesus himself, an idea in turn picked up by Dan Brown for his novel The Da Vinci Code. One inexplicable Tom Hanks haircut later and there was no turning back.
So Why Do They Still Believe?
This sort of thing has the same attraction as any good conspiracy theory: the "I am special because I have secret knowledge the common sheeple never will!" principle.
How better to impress your dull traditional friends than revealing to them the suppressed truth that will totally blow their closed suburban minds? And you only had to spend six bucks in an airport bookstore to get it!
And, like any conspiracy theory, it's difficult or impossible to disprove. After all, if you were a secret organization of the Priory's caliber, couldn't you just fake the fact that the documents were faked?
The other hoaxers here might have found themselves in over their heads, but at least they didn't accidentally create their own religion. Which is what happened to Margaret, Kate and Leah Fox from upstate New York in the 19th century.
The Fox Sisters rightfully made it onto our list of the ballsiest con artist ever. The story goes that when the two younger sisters, Kate and Margaret, were children and living at home in the mid-19th century, banging noises started in their bedroom at night. Like any good parent, their mother assumed the noise in her young girls' room was a ghost and not a sexual predator, so she communicated with the spirit by means of a code, who revealed that he was a man who had been murdered there and buried under the floor in the cellar.
Still, though, yikes. Bet that picture's the only time those chicks were ever nailed if you know what we're saying.
A search revealed no body, although one was eventually discovered in the walls more than 50 years later, leading us to wonder whether the banging was just some carpenter trying to get out.
The girls moved away after the haunting, but their reputation followed them. Under the direction of their sister Leah, they began holding seances in which they continued to communicate with the dead by means of rapping noises, and became hugely famous in the process.
Finally, on a specially booked stage at the New York Auditorium of Music in 1888, Margaret Fox confessed to the audience that she and her sisters produced the rapping noises themselves by cracking their knuckles and joints, which evidently in the dark sounds exactly like a ghost. Shunned by those around them after the admission, the girls drank themselves to death.
These famous (and completely faked) seances played a major part in the development of Spiritualism, an offshoot of Quakerism which believed in communication with the dead. It managed to gather over eight-million followers by the end of the 19th century, including Mary Todd Lincoln who held seances in the White House in an effort to communicate with her three dead sons.
So Why Do They Still Believe?
If you just read the sentence about Ms. Lincoln and her dead sons, you know the sad reason why people cling to something like this, no matter how ridiculous.
It's not enough to believe in life after death, people need to believe the dead are at peace and that we can reach out to them as if they were just at the other end of a phone call. After all, Ouija boards are portable in way that Black Mass altars just aren't.
"Dammit, it's going to take like two hours to pack this thing up."
As any cult can tell you, personal tragedy and depression leaves people open to believe basically anything. Besides, it's nice to think that if ghosts are around, they actually want to help rather than possess us, or fling plates at us, or fool us into giving them hitchhiking rides on lonely roads.
The phenomenon of those large circles of flattened crops mysteriously appearing in fields goes back to the 1970s, in Southern England. Soon it spread all over the world, with crop circles reported as far away as Australia, America and Japan. Various explanations were given, such as aliens, ball lightning and large-scale unregistered hootenannies.
Thousands of these crop circles were reported over the decades, gaining a massive following among UFO enthusiasts who worked tirelessly to try to decipher what was clearly messages from another world. After all, the perfect patterns could clearly not be replicated by, say, a couple of dumbasses in their spare time.
"Hey, Couple of Dumbasses. Good to meet you."
We're sure the ufology community's faces were red when, in 1991, pranksters Doug Bower and Dave Chorley from Southampton, England confessed to creating the original circles. They even demonstrated to journalists how they produced the perfect shapes by flattening them in the crops using planks and ropes, and crude surveying techniques.
The confession was prompted when Bower's wife noticed unexplained high mileage on his car and began to suspect him of having an affair, though Cracked feels that after learning the truth--that Bower was actually going out at night with another man to flatten hectares of wheat--she may actually have wished that adultery was to blame.
Bower and Chorley found themselves widely ignored. After all, they didn't confess to doing all the crop circles, right? Maybe they just started the prank and then real aliens came and joined in.
"Dude, we have got to get in on this."
Feverish study of the circles continued unabated, and M. Night Shyamalan even featured them in Signs, more than a decade later.
So Why Do They Still Believe?
As with the Fox Sisters and spiritualism, it goes beyond simply wanting to believe in invisible, transcendental beings. It's believing in such beings who also are 1) wise communicators who care enough about us to want to reach out and 2) are not particularly dangerous or even effective at what they do.
These aliens aren't blowing up the White House or shoving probes into Randy Quaid's ass. They're sneaking into our fields at night and quietly stamping down our wheat. The little guys are almost shy. Almost... afraid of us.
And really, isn't that what we're secretly hoping the universe turns out to be? A place full of intelligent aliens who care about us, but who immediately recognize that we can destroy them at any moment?
Read more from C. Coville at http://bloodslides.livejournal.com
For "hoaxes" that turned out to be true, check out The 5 Creepiest Urban Legends (That Happen to be True) and 6 MORE Creepy Urban Legends (That Happen to be True).