Fallen Empire (2012)

Fallen Empire: Maui in the Underworld, Kupe & the Fountain of Youth, Hatupatu & the Nile-monster: Three Play-Fragments from the Literary Remains of The Society of Inner Light. Attributed to Bertolt Wegener. Edited with an introduction by Jack Ross. Museum of True History in Collaboration with Karl Chitham and Jack Ross (20 June – 21 July 2012). Dunedin: Blue Oyster Art Project Space, 2012. 46 pp.

Maui in the Underworld

Kupe & the Fountain of Youth

Hatupatu & the Nile-monster

Three Play-Fragments
from the literary remains of
The Society of Inner Light

Attributed to
Bertolt Wegener

Edited with an introduction
by Jack Ross


Introduction, by Jack Ross

Maui in the Underworld

Opening Chorus: Tell me Muses
Scene 1: Calypso’s Isle
Scene 2: The Seashore in New Zealand
Scene 3: Tartarus
Scene 4: The Whare in Hawaiki
Final Chorus: You can’t strike

[Karl Chitham: Calypso (2012)]

Kupe and the Fountain of Youth

Opening Chorus: He who sailed the deep
Scene 1: The Seashore at Kapiti
Scene 2: Kapiti
Scene 3: The Pool of the Taniwha
Scene 4: The Seashore at Kapiti
Final Chorus: My friend I held so dear

[Karl Chitham: Kupe (2012)]

Hatupatu and the Nile-monster

Opening Chorus: Hatupatu
Scene 1: The Pa at Taupo
Scene 2: The Pa at Taupo
Scene 3: Lake Taupo
Scene 4: The Pa at Taupo
Final Chorus: May he cross

[Karl Chitham: Isis (2012)]

Notes & Sources


This publication was created by the Museum of True History's archives department as a permanent record of the Society of Inner Light Collections related specifically to the work of Bertolt Wegener. While not all of the materials donated to MOTH are able to be documented in this small reader the Director and Senior Curator see this as an opportunity to bring this intriguing group's work into focus so that further research can be undertaken in the future.

MOTH would like to thank all of those involved in putting this exhibition and publication together, particularly the amazingly detailed reconstructive talents of Karl Chitham and the dedication and perseverance of Dr Jack Ross whose significant academic investment in this project has given the previously untold story of the Society of Inner Light new life. MOTH would also like to take this opportunity to thank Alan Deare of AREA Design and Blue Oyster Art Project Space for their belief in this project.

This limited edition publication was
produced on the occasion of the exhibition:

Fallen Empire at Blue Oyster
Art Project Space, Dunedin
20 June - 21 July 2012

...... /30

Cover image: Karl Chitham


For Blue Oyster the Museum of True History [MOTH] has invited artist Karl Chitham along with writer Dr Jack Ross to explore the collections of the little known Society of Inner Light.

Although few relics of this reclusive group of esoterics and mystics survive, a small, fragmentary collection of plays was found in the back of a Raetihi storehouse in 2010. These plays represent what may be the only existing examples of pseudo-religious works that aspired to combine classical mythology with Maori legends. The three plays that exist in any substance are titled "Maui in the Underworld," "Hatupatu and the Nile-monster" and "Kupe and the Fountain of Youth."

“Fallen Empire” features works recreated by Karl Chitham, including a paper theatre used by Society of Inner Light member Bertolt Wegener to compose his works, a moving image work interpreting some of the recovered scenes and a small collection of costume sketches. Also accompanying the exhibition is a limited edition MOTH publication with excerpts from the manuscripts alongside interpretation by Dr Jack Ross and Karl Chitham.

Karl Chitham has a Masters in Sculpture from Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland and is currently the Art Collections Curator for the University of Waikato. He has collaborated with the Museum of True History since early 2010 and is also a member of MOTH’s programming advisory committee.

Dr Jack Ross is an academic and author who has written and edited more than twenty books to date. He has a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Edinburgh, and currently lectures in English and Creative Writing at Massey University.

Online Texts:



Blue Oyster

Mosehouse Studio

The Imaginary Museum


MOTH [Museum of True History]
c/o Blue Oyster Gallery
PO Box 5903
Dunedin 9058
New Zealand

Reviews & Comments:

  1. Scott Hamilton, "New Zealand, old Lemuria." Reading the Maps (21 August 2012):

    I've been writing a review of Jack Ross' book Fallen Empire for the forthcoming 46th issue of the Kiwi literary journal brief. Fallen Empire was produced to accompany a recent exhibition by sculptor and draughtsman Karl Chitham, ... of the Museum of True History ...

    Jack's book collects fragments of three plays that initiates of a mystical sect called the Society of Inner Light supposedly performed in a private theater above a rundown storehouse in the small North Island town of Raetihi last century. In his introduction to Fallen Empire Ross sketches the ideology and history of the imaginary Society:
    There's a lot about Atlantis and Lemuria in their surviving writings. They held some very revisionist ideas about the accepted chronology of world history...Polynesian culture was, to them, primary and almost inconceivably ancient. The emissaries of civilisation (for them) emanated originally from the Pacific - specifically from the lost continent of Mu, which now survives only in the form of scattered islands of the Oceanic archipelago...The main body of members came to New Zealand after WWI...The last one standing turned out the lights, leaving everything in situ, sometime around 1973...

  2. Natalie Poland, "Postcards: Dunedin." Art News New Zealand, vol.32, no.3 (Spring 2012): 56.

    A recent exhibition at the Blue Oyster Gallery came about through a collaboration between Waikato-based artist Karl Chitham and Massey-based creative writing lecturer Dr Jack Ross. It delved into the habits of the Society of Inner Light, a reclusive and little known group of New Zealand mystics which flourished in the 1920s. For this exhibition, titled Fallen Empire, Chitham and Ross researched the archival remnants of the sect, whose members were interested in magical rituals and astral instructions conveyed to them by spiritual advisors based in the Andes. Chitham and Ross focussed on a small, fragmentary collection of plays by the sect, which were found in Raetihi. Ross reconstructed three of these play fragments, which combine classical and Pacific mythology, and published them in a catalogue accompanying the show. Chitham's contribution to Fallen Empire comprised a cardboard model of the Paper Theatre, used by the sect's members to inspire the creation of plays, and a series of fictitious costume designs. His ethereal silhouettes, made from collaged pieces of watercolour, depict principal characters from each of the three plays, including Calypso from Maui in the Underworld, Kupe from Kupe and the Fountain of Youth, and Isis from Hatupatu and the Nile-monster.

  3. Scott Hamilton, "Sects, secrets and lies: four notes on Jack Ross’ Fallen Empire." brief 46 - The Survival Issue (November 2012): 142-48.

    By locating his sect in Raetihi, a small, economically distressed town on the volcanic plateau of the North Island, Jack Ross might seem to be emphasising its marginality. The geographical isolation of Raetihi can be seen, surely, as a metaphor for the apparent intellectual isolation of the Society of Light from mainstream New Zealand, and the stagnation of the town seems to parallel the stagnation of the Society, which failed to maintain its membership in the decades after World War Two.

    Ross' Raetihi setting might also be an attempt to play on some of the associations that small towns have in the minds of big city Kiwis. We like to condemn provincial New Zealand as dully conservative, but half-suspect that it is really a hotbed of sin. We want to believe that the small-town RSA turns into swinger's club on Friday nights, and that the local vicar grows pot out the back of his manse. The rise of 'Kiwi Gothic' genre, with its love of mixing the grotesque and the provincial, reflects the way urban New Zealanders see their rural and small town kin.

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