There are few periods in history as hotly contested as the so-called "Dark Ages". Traditionally, the 5th to 10th centuries in Europe have been characterized as "bizarre and monstrous". But is this perception justified? Also, if there was a "dark age" should it be understood as a global phenomenon? Tune in and find out how Chinese paper, the biggest domed roof in the world, and Matt Damon movies all play a role in the story.
There is evidence out there that King Arthur was more than just a myth. However, that evidence often comes in the form of tiny scraps found in questionable sources. Those bits of evidence can be arranged and interpreted in a variety of different ways. As a result there are a plethora of plausible theories about the identity of the historical King Arthur. Which of these theories offers the best explanation for the legendary king's true identity? Tune in and find out how the last of the Romans, savage tongues, and some dude named the Venerable Bede all play a role in the story.
The Arthurian legend has been described by at least one scholar as a giant mythical vacuum. It has a reputation for sucking in and absorbing previously independent legends and making them part of Arthur's story. One of the most famous characters to be absorbed into the Arthurian legend was the ultra-devoted Sir. Lancelot. What can the Lancelot stories teach us about the evolution of Arthur's legend? Tune in and find out devious dwarves, a sword bridge, and guy named Bademagu all play a role in the story.
King Arthur is easily the most requested topic in the history of this podcast. This probably isn't a surprise given Arthur's stature in world of mythology. But is Arthur more than a myth? Was there a real person who lived around 500 AD who inspired the tales of Arthur? Before we can answer that question we need to dive into the weird history of the medieval scholar Geoffrey of Monmouth. Tune in and find out how Trojan refugees, Wile E. Coyote style deaths, and a giant named Gogmagog all play a role in the story.
OFH will return on April 9th after a short hiatus. Sebastian announces what topic he will be covering when the show returns!
Vodka may be the most controversial alcohol in history. The origin of the distilled liquor continues to be one of the culinary world's most bitterly contested historical debates. This is partially due to the fact Vilyam Pokhklebkin, the worlds foremost expert on vodka's history, was a known liar. The fact that Pokhklebkin was found murdered with a bottle of vodka in his system, makes the story all the more intriguing. We needed to conscript a real-life academic to get to the bottom of this one! Tune in and find out how sleeping potions, ancient distillation, and a murder mystery all play a role in the story.
Some of the most enduring historical myths have to do with food and drink. Food history can sometimes be seen as frivolous, which makes it particularly vulnerable to myth-making. As a result some of the world's most popular foods are saddled with bogus origin stories. Getting to truth of these stories can often reveal surprising things about the cultures that birthed them. Tune in and find out how 24 hour gambling marathons, pizza snobs, and champagne jams all play a role in the story.
Recounting the atrocities that took place in the Congo Free State during the reign of King Leopold II is a daunting process. It was a state where sadism was the norm and severed human hands became a grizzly form of currency. Still, a proper accounting of these horrors is essential to getting to truth of Leopold's regime. How bad did things get in the Congo Free State? What did it take to end the crimes against humanity? Tune in and find out how the first African-American historian, Bob Marley, and the greatest act of pimpery in history all play a role in the story.
The creation of the Congo Free State was one part cheap hustle and one part military occupation. King Leopold II managed to convince Europe he was a noble humanitarian while he was secretly building one of the most exploitative colonial states in Africa. With the help of the explorer Henry Morton Stanley and a well placed endorsement from the President of the United States the Congo Free State came into being. Sadly for the natives of the Congo river basin, this new regime would prove to be uniquely sadistic. Tune in and find out how red toilet paper, fake names, and the Goodyear tire guy all play a role in the story.
There are few colonial enterprises as infamous as the Belgian King Leopold II’s Congo Free State. While most people have a vague understanding of the atrocities that took place there, many don’t know the strange story of international fraud that led to the founding of the state. King Leopold successfully convinced the world that he was a great humanitarian and anti-slavery advocate, while he was secretly operating one of the planet's most brutal slave states. In this episode we look at colonialism in the late 19th century and try and set the scene for one of the era’s most audacious cover-ups. Tune in and find out how murderous cyclops explorers, infamous poetry, and a guy who hates music in general all play a role in the story.
Graham Hancock's hypothesis that an advanced global civilization was lost from history after a cataclysm at the end of the last ice age, sounds like it should be fun. It isn't. Wading through all of Hancock's claims can be exhausting. Nevertheless, Our Fake History has taken on the task. Does Hancock present any compelling evidence in his book? Tune in and find out how Vulture-men, decoder rings, and a real life archaeologist all play a role in the story.
They are few researchers as controversial as Graham Hancock. He first found fame in 1995 when he published his international bestseller Fingerprints of the Gods. In that book he first proposed his hypothesis about a super-ancient global civilization wiped out by a catastrophic event. In 2015 Hancock updated his theory in a new book entitled Magicians of the Gods. The remarkable findings at the archaeological site of Gobekli Tepe, along with a new geologic theory, have been incorporated into his hypothesis. Is it any more compelling? Tune in and find out how Gandhi, hunter-gatherers, and weird carvings all play a role in the story.
The fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm can often surprise modern readers with their violence and cruelty. There is something particularly haunting about the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the spurned rat-catcher who used his magical flute to kidnap over one hundred children. The most disturbing part of the story is that it might be true. While there was probably no magical flute, there may have been a real historical event that inspired the fairy tale. Tune-in and find out how ska bands, jester skeletons, and Stephen King all play a role in the story.
When I spoke to Jon Waterlow he reminded me that George Orwell once said that every joke is a tiny revolution. Well, it turns out jokes can be even more than that. In his fantastic new book, It's Only a Joke Comrade: Humour, Trust and Everyday Life Under Stalin, Waterlow explores the fascinating world of jokes in the Soviet Union during the 1930's. This week Jon joins me to discuss Stalin jokes, how we perceive reality, and the power and limits of political humour. Tune in and find out how Reagan's sense of humour, pencil techniques, and mind viruses all play a roll in the story.
There are few moments in Joseph Stalin's life that are not the subject of historical controversy. These controversies inevitably become more heated when we start discussing the deaths that occurred during Stalin's reign. Perhaps the most destructive myths about Stalin are those that deny his involvement in the mass famines and political purges of the 1930's. How do you stay objective when the facts are so upsetting? Tune-in and find out how dead hockey teams, secret poisonings, and anti-communists sunspots play a role in the story.
Stalin's biography may be one of the most contested in modern times. As early as the 1930's his life story was being written by friends and foes alike. The competing versions of Stalin's past has made finding the truth particularly difficult. How important was Stalin in the early days of the Bolshevik Party? Was he a shadowy political nobody or one of the impetuous leaders of the revolution? Tune in and find out how clever pigs, Big Brother, and Michael Corleone all play a role in the story.
The are few 20th century figures as perplexing as Josef Stalin. Historians widely agree that Stalin was responsible for the deaths of some 20 million human beings. Despite that his legacy has remained the topic of serious debate. This is because the history of his regime was actively distorted by both Stalin himself and his many enemies. Stalin tried to make himself myth. His enemies tried to show that he was monster. Who was he really? Tune in and find out how pools of urine, webbed toes, and unpaid library fines all play a role in the story.
In the first episode of Season 4 Sebastian looks at the historical reputation of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian has been celebrated as one of Rome's "five good emperors", but is that reputation actually deserved? Hadrian's reputation is complicated by the mysterious death of his teenage lover, Antinous. What should we believe about this strange chapter in the life of one of Rome's most celebrated emperors? Tune in and find out how radical beards, fantastical walls, and ancient man-love all play a role in the story.
In this final episode of Season Three Sebastian turns his attention to sports! The question of who invented a particular sport can sometimes be a matter of national pride. As such sports history can become hotly contested. It should then come as no surprise that the origin stories of many popular sports are often riddled with historical myths. Tune in and find out how A Little Pretty Pocket Book, a civil war hero, and Sebastian losing his citizenship all play a role in the story.
In a small town outside of Canada's capital city of Ottawa there sits a remarkable relic of the atomic age. It is a massive bunker that would have become the headquarters of the Canadian government if the country was the target of a nuclear attack. It has been dubbed "The Diefenbunker" in honour of John Diefenbaker, the Prime Minister who had the facility constructed in 1959. The bunker is now celebrating 20 years as Canada's Cold War museum. Join Sebastian as he is lead through this incredible feat of engineering by one of the museum's curators. This is an episode that is less about busting historical myths and is more about exploring an artifact that challenges us to re-think Canada's Cold War legacy. Tune in and find out how refrigerator morgues, Scrooge McDuck, and the Prime Minister's sad little bed all play a role in the story.
When I was researching Helena Blavatsky I was often amazed at how someone so weird, with such an outrageous life story, could inspire so much dull writing. That was until I discovered Gary Lachman's 2012 biography Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality. Gary graciously agreed to join me on the podcast to discuss Blavatsky, the challenges that come with writing about the occult, and even David Bowie. Tune in and find out how cats named Khoot Hoomi, female body guards, and rock n' roll occultists all get mentioned in the interview.
In the final chapter of our series on the occult guru Helena Petrovna Blavatsky we look at her surprising move to India and the scandal that ultimately destroyed her reputation. After being publicly called out as a fraud Blavatsky's Theosophical Society never really regained it's prestige. But how legitimate were the accusations that were leveled against the so-called "mother of the occult"? Tune in and find out how Thomas Edison, a mysterious hole in a wall, and Ghandi all play a role in the story.
Occult guru Helena Blavatsky lived a life that defied explanation. However, her books might be even harder to explain. Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine are massive collections of esoteric thought that defy description. Her supporters have hailed these unruly tomes as landmarks of modern spiritual philosophy. Her critics have called them impenetrable, pseudo-scientific, and racist. What should we make of Blavatsky's unorthodox and often problematic ideas? Tune in and find out how materialized tea cups, the wisdom of the gods, and everyone's favourite lost continent all play a role in the story.
There are few stranger figures from the 19th century than Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Her absolutely unbelievable life story has puzzled biographers since the 1800s. Nevertheless, her occult spiritual philosophy would end up being remarkably influential. Was Helena Blavatsky truly a modern sage gifted with improbable spiritual powers? Or, was she just another 19th century huckster duping the naive? Tune in and find out how Tartar Shamans, ghost boxes, and a magician who pretends to be Chinese all play a role in the story.
The legend of the fountain of youth is one of humanity's oldest pieces of lore. Tales of magical water sources that can reverse the aging process exist in dozens of different cultures around the world. But perhaps the person most associated with the fountain of youth is the Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon. For generations it was believed that he discovered Florida while on a hunt for the fabled waters. But is this story actually true? Tune in a find out how a land of darkness, the "father of lies", and history's most influential dick-joke all play a role in the story.