THE SEARCH FOR THE GRAIL: UN AND THE ARK OF THE COVENANT
In the early 1990's, more precisely 1993-1995, we lived in New York where my wife worked at the policy department of the headquarters of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). I struggled with a dissertation, taught Swedish and did one or two consulting assignments, including visit to and report on returning refugees in Guatemala.
UNDP is the UN network for global development and manages projects in 177 countries. The Organization´s main tasks are to assist nations as they increase and strengthen democracy, reduce poverty, prevent conflicts, try to halt environmental degradation and promote equality. When Rose arrived at UNDP's policy department it was engaged in reforming its somewhat stagnant operations and improve its image by launching a revolutionary initiative – Human Development Reports. The issuing of such reports had been suggested by economists Mahbu ul Haq and Amartya Sen. A development report is now published every year, describing global development challenges. Each report focuses on specific problems and strives to account for how development strategies and national efforts have contributed, or may contribute to their solution. The reports also contain a so-called Development Index (HDI) which within each individual country measures and ranks different development factors, comparing the results with conditions prevailing in the other nations of the world.
A different UN initiative that was topical in 1993 was the so-called Agenda 21, a twenty-year plan for sustainable care of the environment adopted after the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit. The idea was that all the countries, municipalities and individuals in the world would:
•Limit and radically reduce the production of toxic substances, promote recycling and drastically reduce all waste;
• find and introduce environmentally friendly energy alternatives to fossil fuels;
• control and streamline means of transport and industries to radically reduce air pollution; and
• promote the sustainable use of fresh water.
Not even such a commendable initiative escaped insane criticism from commercial forces and other groups that do not seem to have understood that the earth is collapsing through our suicidal misuse of natural resources.
Particularly annoying are the demented rhetoric from Christian right-wing congregations. Unfortunately, the UN is headquartered in the United States, where a so-called Christian Right appears to represent and promote everything I believe should be foreign to believers in a Christian message – arms - and commodity fetishism, racism, intolerance, chauvinism, selfishness, contempt for women, idolizing wealth and success, while defending the boundless exploitation of natural resources. If I listen to and read such utterly distorted views I come to understand the rabid rage that many Protestants during the Reformation poured over what they then considered the Vatican's greed, power, lies and self-glorifying rhetoric, exactly the same accusations that coldhearted right-wing forces no are making themselves worthy of.
In recent times, the UNDP has been the driving force behind the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, adopted by UN member states to eliminate extreme poverty, reduce inequality and injustice by 2030, promote peace and resolve the climate crisis. Large-scale goals that will hardly be achieved, but nevertheless they constitute benchmarks and reference points in our quest for personal and global improvements. An endeavor that cannot not be ignored and even less blocked – in particular since they concern the continued existence and well-being of our children, grandchildren and future generations.
To achieve these goals maybe some kind of religious fanaticism is needed, not based on heavenly rewards after death, but on shared resonsibilities and empathy – here and now, before everything is too late. A measure to prevent humanity's lemming run towards Armageddon cannot be to dismantle the UN and abide to the ill-informed advice of fanatics who regard sane and legitimate UN efforts as if they were the miracles of Antichrist.
When we showed up in New York, there was a lively debate going on at Rose's new workplace and she was soon contributing to the creation of guidelines, especially when it came to gender equality. In retrospect, I am convinced that the existence of the UN is clearly justified and even successful in at least one specific area – the emancipation of women and equal rights for women and men. There is still a long and difficult road ahead of us, but without the existence and efforts of a global, non-commercial organization, we would not come as far as we have.
When we showed up in New York, there was a lively debate going on at Rose's new workplace and she was soon contributing to the creation of guidelines, especially when it came to gender equality. In retrospect, I am convinced that the existence of the UN is clearly justified and even successful in at least one specific area – the emancipation of women and equal rights for women and men. There is still a long and difficult road ahead of us, but without the existence and efforts of a global, non-commercial organization, we would not have come as far as we actually.
However, with the various development organizations I have ended up working with there has been quite a lot I did not understand, or that even annoyed me. Within the UN organizations the worst has been an internal worship of members of the Senior Management, cemented through an elaborate grading system. Climbing the career ladder meant reaching various levels where each step leads to more benefits and higher salary. Just as people are categorized on the basis of titles, such as CEOs or Ph.Ds, likewise the UN system favours career climbing, power worship and labeling of colleagues who are respected according to whether they are at levels called G, T, S, PIA, LT, NO, FS, SG, DSG, USG, ASG, P-5 or D-2.
Another shortcoming is, contrary of what is constantly asserted by the UN organizations, that whistle-blowing generally constitutes a quite dangerous move that might lead to harsh punishments. This is not saying that the UN in this respect differs much from other hierarchically structured organizations. The UN is neither better nor worse than other other institutions, though it should be pointed out that the UN stands and falls through grants, which are ultimately based on tax money and the general public's benevolent attitude, which means that irregularities and mistakes often are swept under the rug, or whitewashed.
It also happened that I wondered about the plethora of slogans and empty concepts I had a hard time understanding. As an example – for me the very concept of development is difficult to define and understand, not the least Human Development, it sounds quite nice – but what is it? ”Human” as opposed to ”animalistic”, ”inhuman”, ”scientific”, or ”technical”? What does development really mean? A gradual progress towards ever more sophisticated levels of well-being and knowledge? Yet another grading of people into different categories? Or maybe it is an attempt to open up opportunities for all of us, regardless of race, class, religion or gender?
What was common in the early nineties was a, in my opinion, rather strange slogan – self empowerment, maybe meaning something like to take control of your own situation. Whatever the phrase meant, I could not help recalling an illustration by Gustave Doré depicting how Baron von Münschausen pulls both himself and his horse out of a swamp by lifting them out of it by means of a firm grip on his on queue.
Both Rose and I had previously been engaged in ”poverty reduction in developing countries.” Rose much more than I, though I had nevertheless gained some insights into such activities and thought I understood that development aid had its human shortcomings – greed, prestige hunting, fierce competition, slander, revenge, bullying and self-glorification. Of course, there was also efficiency, kindness, empathy, intelligence and self-sacrifice. Criticizing the UN is like criticizing yourself. The organization is not a solitary power structure, but the sum of its member states and thus also their citizens. It should be criticized, but have nevertheless to be supported and must definitely not be abolished. It would be giving in to selfish and destructive forces that threaten justice and cooperation, making a tolerable future impossible.
Furthermore, I was bothered by the whining I had to listen to from aid workers, especially those who found themselves high up in the hierarchy. I was embarrassing when privileged individuals compared their situation with how well ”others” fared within the ”private sector”, how great sacrifices they were forced to make for little pay and insufficient benefits. Nevertheless, I thought these whiners generally enjoyed excellent benefits and benefited from significantly higher salaries than those I received when I was not active in development aid.
When Rose worked at the UNDP, the after-effects from a book written in 1989 by Graham Hancock, Lords of Poverty, was still detectable. The book was on its cover described as a disclosure of ”The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business.” There was even a competition among UN employees to find examples of aid that really worked and thereby provide rebuttal to Hancock's outrageous claims.
Graham Hancock was at the time an English journalist who wrote articles in reputable magazines like The Times, The Sunday Times, The Independent and my own favourite, The Guardian. From 1976 to 1978 he was editor-in chief of New Internationalist Magazine and from 1981 to 1983 he worked as The Economist's East African correspondent.
I read Lords of Poverty with great interest. It was a well written and its sometimes devastating critique of the aid industry did generally appear to be well-founded. However, it was crystal clear that Hancock had an overly obvious agenda – development aid was a thing of evil and should be abolished. I agreed with the shortcomings and criticisms he outlined, but could not support his conclusions.
There is a great need för The United Nations and several other development aid organizations, they cost only a fraction of what is spent on the arms industry and all sorts of other harmful activities. Books like Lords of Poverty are also needed. Organizations such as the UN, the World Bank, IMF, OECD, the Red Cross and a host of other similar initiatives must be subjected to constant but constructive criticism and answer to it, not with an avalanche of often pitiful clarifications, defenses and evasions, but with actions that amend the shortcomings.
An opinion I know is shared by a number of employees within these organizations. I remember how in the early nineties in one or another module I came across how an office slave on her/his bulletin board had pinned up a poster with a poem that I also found in the introduction to Hancock's book and which still can be found online. Unfortunately, I have not been able to obtain a sufficiently sharp copy. Nevertheless, it deserves to be reproduced in full:
Excuse me, friends, I must catch my jet
I’m off to join the Development Set;
My bags are packed, and I’ve had all my shots
I have traveller’s checks and pills for the trots!
The Development Set is bright and noble
Our thoughts are deep and our vision global;
Although we move with the better classe
Our thoughts are always with the masses.
In Sheraton Hotels in scattered nations
We damn multi-national corporations;
Injustice seems easy to protest
In such seething hotbeds of social rest.
We discuss malnutrition over steaks
And plan hunger talks during coffee breaks.
Whether Asian floods or African drought,
We face each issue with open mouth.
We bring in consultants whose circumlocution
Raises difficulties for every solution
Thus guaranteeing continued good eating
By showing the need for another meeting.
The language of the Development Set
Stretches the English alphabet;
We use swell words like “epigenetic”
“Micro”, “macro”, and “logarithmetic.”
It pleasures us to be esoteric –
It’s so intellectually atmospheric!
And although establishments may be unmoved,
Our vocabularies are much improved.
When the talk gets deep and you’re feeling numb,
You can keep your shame to a minimum:
To show that you, too, are intelligent
Smugly ask, “Is it really development?”
Or say, “That’s fine in practice,
but don’t you see:
It doesn’t work out in theory!
A few may find this incomprehensible,
But most will admire you as deep and sensible.
Development set homes are extremely chic,
Full of carvings, curios, and draped with batik.
Eye-level photographs subtly assure
That your host is at home with the great and the poor.
Enough of these verses – on with the mission!
Our task is as broad as the human condition!
Just pray the biblical promise is true
The poor ye shall always have with you.
Of course, I became curious who the author could be, though it turned out to be difficult to trace both Ross Coggins and the origin of the poem. The source is often said to be found in Adult Educational and Development Magazine, 1976, but I have not been able to find such a publication. Likewise, the person Ross Coggins seems difficult to grasp. He was born in Texas and died at the age of eighty-four in 2011. He wrote The Development Set while working as regional director for the IAF in Central America. The Inter-American Foundation is a state-owned U.S. aid organization operating throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
After graduating from Baylor University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Coggins served seven years as a missionary in Indonesia, before returning to the United States and for another seven years acting as the mouthpiece for an association called the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission, which objectives are stated as:
dedicated to engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ and speaking to issues in the public square for the protection of religious liberty and human flourishing. Our vision can be summed up in three words: kingdom, culture and mission. Since its inception, the SBCLC has been defined around a holistic vision of the kingdom of God, leading the culture to change within the church itself and then as the church addresses the world.
Ross Coggins was later and until his retirement active in USAID and IAF, especially in Central America and the Caribbean, and was for a time also stationed in Rome. Coggins wrote hundreds of unpublished poems. One of his hymns Send Me, O Lord, Send Me is now often sung in Baptist churches. The psalm might be considered as an indication that Coggins considered himself to be a Christian idealist called by God to help people to a better life, although there may also be a hint of self-assertion, rock-solid conviction and fighting spirit, something that make me think of the Medieval Crusaders and their war cry – Deus vult! God wills this.
With holy fire my heart inspire Thy Spirit’s sword to wield;
With borrowed might I’ll take Thy light, Till darkness’ doom be sealed.
If others stop to count the cost, For fear of earthly treasures lost,
I’ll count it gain to die for Thee; Send me, O Lord, send me.
The hymn was inspired by the prophet Isaiah's response to God (Isaiah 6: 8).
That Graham Hancock and my thoughts on aid and the UNDP appear in this essay is due to the fact that I recently read a draft to an exciting historical novel about a Portuguese military campaign to Ethiopia in 1541. It was a good friend of mine who gave me the confidence to read his manuscript for a novel and I was moved by the excitement and the joy of his storytelling. On the outskirts of the thrilling tale I found the Ark of the Covenant, a gold-plated coffin in which the tablets that Moses had received from God on Mount Sinai were kept. One of the many legends spun around this cult object states that it now rests in a chapel close to the Holy Mary of Zion Cathedral in Axum.
While reading my friend's manuscript, I came to remember that many years ago, during one of my more or less forgotten trips abroad, I had at an airport bought Hancock's The Sign and the Seal, which I now found tucked away among my books. It turned out to be a quite exciting read, informative and imaginative, though its occasionally wild speculations made it appear as being too good to be true.
The Ark of the Covenant is numerous times mentioned in the Bible and was at one time the most significant religious symbol of the People of Israel. Just as the Jews, according to the Bible, were chosen to preserve God's commandments in their most tangible form through the stone tablets brought down from Mount Sinai, the Ark did likewise preserve this evidence of God's presence on earth. The Ark of the Covenant was for many years kept in the Holy of Holies, an inner room of the temple of Jerusalem that was visited only once a year by Ha'kohen ha'gadol, the High Priest. In connection with the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar´s 597 BCE conquest of Jerusalem and the nine years´ later complete destruction of the city and forced removal of the majority of its citizens, The Ark of the Covenant disappeared from history, though hardly from myth and legends.
There are countless stories surrounding this strange coffin. It could suffice to mention that it was assumed to possess supernatural powers; that many believe it is reproduced on Titus' triumphal arch in Rome (though it is rather the table of the so-called show-bread), it is said that it ended up among Christian aristocrats in Provence and hidden somewhere in the south of France (also unlikely) and it is not the least the inspiration for and driving force for Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark, where, as in some places in the Bible, it is represented as a weapon with a deadly radiance.
Hancock wrote about The Ark of the Covenant because he was well acquainted with Ethiopia. He had as a young journalist been reporting on the country, later he had by the bloodthirsty Haile Mariam Mengistu's communist regime been commissioned to write a coffee table book about the country's sights and over the years he had made several Ethiopian friends and reputable contacts among experts on the country's history. The Sign and the Seal also indicates that Hancock is well-read about much concerning The Ark of the Covenant and its mysterious fate.
The main source of how The Ark of the Covenant ended up in Ethiopia is Kebra Nagast, The Glory of the Kings, which was written sometime in the 14th century CE by a certain Isqhaq Neburä-Id, although some experts claim that it may be a collective work by priests who in Axum collected and wrote a number of scriptures in Ge´ez, a now extinct language that developed into Tigrinya, Tigre and Amharic, though it is still used in the liturgy of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. The main purpose of Kebra Nagast was to prove that the so-called Solomon dynasty based its legitimacy on the direct descent of its leaders from the king of Israel, Solomon. In 1270 CE the first Amharic Negus Negesti, King of Kings, was crowned in Axum.
Kebra Nagast is divided into 117 chapters and includes biblical and apocryphal texts, fairy tales and stories of unknown origin. Despite its age and sometimes a bit overly and elaborate preaching Kebra Nagast is quite entertaining and not particularly difficult to read. It appears as a combination of the Bible with Arabian Nights. The Ethiopian epic is not only a literary work, but also a sacred scripture for believers within the confines of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, as well as for Jamaican Rastafarians. It constitutes a highly influential reflection of Ethiopian nationalism and religion.
The story begins with a debate during the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, when the nature of divinity was discussed. The question ”Of what does the glory of kings consist?” is answered by an exalted speech given by a certain Gregorius, who finishes his learned discourse by stating that here on earth is The Glory of God is represented by the Ten Commandments, which are kept in The Ark of the Covenant, currently present in Ethiopia where it is venerated and protected by the direct descendants of King Solomon – thus The Glory of Kings is constituted by the Ethiopian monarchs who safeguard The Ark of the Covenant. After his speech Gregorius refers to his Ethiopian colleague Archbishop Domitius, who opens a book he has found in Hagia Sophia and reads aloud the story of Queen Makeda, better known as the Queen of Sheba, her association with King Solomon and how their son Menelik brought the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia.
The story begins with a wealthy Ethiopian trader, Tâmrîn, who is told about an Israeli king who is not only tremendously rich and powerful, but also very wise. Tâmrîn is the owner of 520 camels and 73 ships and decides to load them with merchandise and travel to the court of the mighty Solomon, who impressed by the Ethiopian trader´s diligence decides to pay handsomely for his wares and Tâmrîn thus returns to his home country even wealthier than he was when he left.
After his return, Tâmrîn sat down with Queen Makeda every morning for several weeks and told her about Solomon's great wisdom. How he wisely and thoughtfully administered justice, managed his riches, set his table, taught his subordinates, made them listen and adapt to his strategically well-thought-out management system, and how every citizen behaved well, worked diligently, and that in Solomon's kingdom there was neither fraudsters, nor thieves. Finally, the Queen stated:
I am smitten with the love of wisdom, and I am constrained by the cords of understanding; for wisdom is far better than treasure of gold and silver, and wisdom is the best of everything that hath been ctreated on earth. Now unto what under the heavens shall wisdom be compared? It is sweater than honey, and it maketh one to rejoice more than wine, an it illuminteh more than the sun, and it is to be loved more than precious stones. And it fatteneth more than oil, and it satisfeth more than dainty meals, and it giveth more renown than thousands of gold and silver. It is a source of joy for the heart and a bright and shining light for the eyes, and a giver of speed to the feet and shield for the breast, a helmet for the head, and chain-work for the neck, and a belt for the loins. It maketh the ears to hear and eyes to understand, it is a teacher of those who are learned, and it is a consoler of those who are discreet and prudent, and it giveth fame to those who seek after it. And for a kingdom, it cannot stand without wisdom, and riches cannot be preserved without wisdom, the foot cannot keep the pace wherein it hath set itself without wisdom. And without wisdom that which the tongue speaketh is not acceptable.
Queen Makeda finds no peace of mind and decides to travel the Kingdom of Solomon with a large retinue. There she is received with great generosity by the mighty king, who immediately is captivated by this beautiful woman, who also appeals to him through her admirable reason and the bounless admiration she has for him. Solomon explains that his wealth and wisdom ultimately depends on the benevolence shown to him by the God of Israel, and Queen Makeda exclaims, ”Hereafter I will not worship the sun, but the Creator of the sun, the God of Israel.”
Despite all his wisdom Solomon is a slave under his unrestrained love life. He has four hundred ”queens” and six hundred concubines. However, he insists that it is not his boundless desire that makes him surround himself with this extensive harem. He created it out of respect for his God who said to Abraham: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky and sand on the seashore.” Queen Makeda is a decent woman of high moral standards and despite of being infinitely fascinated by the handsome, wealthy and well versed Solomon, she refuses to end up as one of his numerous sexual trophies. However, she can not help noticing how the love-sick king constantly lays out ingenious snares for her and therefore asks him to take an oath:
– Swear to me that thou wilt not take me by force, and I on my part will swear not to take by force thy possessions; and he swore to her and made her swear.
But the sly and cunning Solomon continued to make plans to seduce the exotic queen. When Makeda informed him that it was high time for her to return to her subjects and in her reign apply what she had learned from the wise Solomon, he arranged a lavish event with abundant food and gloious entertainment. The queen allowed herself to be well accommodated, ate and drank with good appetite and when it was time for her to return to her quarters Solomon asked for a final tete-a-tete asserting that this did absolutely not mean that he would break his oath.
He accompanied Makeda into an exquisitely decorated chambre séparée where he treated her with a profound and flattering conversation until she became tired, and perhaps somewhat tipsy and fell asleep on one of the room's two, widely separated, chaise lounges. Solomon then turned to one of the servants and asked him ”in a foreign language” to rinse out a bowl and put a carafe of fresh spring water by the queen's bed. Then he commanded all the domestics to depart.
The room was warm and the ceiling was studded with pearls and precious stones, which shone and shimmered in the darkness. The queen's sleep became capricious and soon she was wide awake:
her mouth was dry with first, for the food which Solomon had given her in his wisdom had made her thirsty, and she was very thirsty indeed, and her mouth was dry; and she moved her lips and sucked with her mouth and found no moisture. And she determined to drink the water which she had seen, and she looked at King Solomon and watched him carfeully, and she thought that he was sleeping a sound sleep. But he was not asleep, and he was waiting until she should rise to steal the water to quench her thirst. And she rose up and, making no sound with her feet, she went to the water in the bowl and lifted up the jar to drink the water. And Solomon seized her hand before she could drink the water and said unto her, ”Why hast thou broken the oath that thou hast sworn that thou wouldst not take by force anything that is in my house?” And she said unto him in fear, ”Is the oath broken by my drinking water?” And the King said unto her, ”Is there antything that thou hast seen under the heavens that is better than water?” And the Queen said, ”I have sinned against myself and thou art free from thy oath. But let me drink water for my thirst.” Then Solomon said unto her, ”Am I perchance free from the oath which thou hast me swear?” And the Queen said, ”Be free from thy oath, only let me drink water.” And he permitted her to drink water, and after that she had drunk water he worked his will with her and they slept together.
When the Queen Makeda returned to Ethiopia she was pregnant and eventually gave birth to a son she named Bayna-Lekhem. The son constantly tormented his mother with questions about who his father might be, but he did not find out the truth until he was twenty-two years old when Queen Makeda finally gave in and told him about her affair with King Solomon. She said she was telling the truth only because Bayna-Lekhem had been nagging about it ”day and night”. Queen Makeda gave her son the engagement ring she had received from Solomon and together with the old merchant Tâmrîn, Bayna-Lekhem went to Jerusalem where he was received by a radiant Solomon who could not forget the great love of his life – Queen Makeda of Ethiopia. He appointed Bayna-Lekhem as his rightful heir. The ceremony took place in the innermost of the fabled temple Solomon had erected in Jerusalem to house The Ark of the Covenant.
And they brought the young man into the Holy of Holies, and he laid hold upon the horns of the altar, and sovereignity was given unto him by the mouth of Zadok, the priest.
Shortly thereafter, the High Priest's son Azâryâ's was visited by an angel who ”stood above him like a pillar of fire, and he filled the house with his light.” The angel ordered Azâryâs to steal the Ark from the temple, hide it and when Bayna-Lekhem finally left Jerusalem to return to Ethiopia to accompany him, carry the Ark with him, and convert the Ethiopians to the Jewish faith. The angel assured Azâryâs that he could not possibly refuse the mission since it was God's will.
To Solomon's great sorrow Bayna-Lekhem declared that he had promised his mother to return to Ethiopia. Solomon did everything within his power to make his son change his mind, but an angel of God appeared to Solomon and declared that his beloved son would not lose his kingship and that his return to his mother meant that Ethiopia would become the true heir to the Kingdom of Judah and unlike the land of the People of Israel, the Mängəstä Ityop'p'ya, the Kingdom of Ethiopia would never perish but constantly grow stronger.
Bayna-Lekhem set out with Azâryâs and a number of Solomon's priests and courtiers. It was only during their journey through Egypt that Bayna-Lekhem found out about the theft of The Ark of the Covenant and that it was kept hidden in his caravan. He wanted to return and return to its rightful owners, but Azâryâs assured him that it was God's will that Bayna-Lekhem took the Ark to Ethiopia. At the same time, Solomon had found that the Holy of Holies of the temple stood bereaved of the Ark and decided furiously to pursue Bayna-Lekhem with his entire army. However, at the last minute Solomon was hindered in his intent by a dream sent by God. Solomon made a copy of the Ark of the Covenant placed in the Holy of Holies and secretly rejoiced that his favorite son had brought the true Ark to safety in a distant land.
Salomo's unfortunate love life had namely once again put him in trouble. He had been captivated by a new wife, Pharaoh's daughter Mâkshârâ, who in accordance with the ”stupidity of the Egyptians”, worshiped animal-headed gods and had Solomon´s household follow her in these ”idiotic customs”. On his deathbed, however, Solomon was again visited by an angel who told him about the future and extremely sad fate of the People of Israel, right up to the crucifixion of Jesus, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans and the scattering of the Jews around the face of the earth. Before his death, Solomon appointed his son Rehoboam as ruler of Judah, a kingdom that eventually would disappear from history, while Solomon's ancestors would continue to rule over Ethiopia.
When Bayna-Lekhem together with The Ark of the Covenant had arrived in Ethiopia, the last way they traveled through the air, with the help of magical powers, Queen Makeda abdicated in favour of her son and under the name of Menelik I he was crowned as ruler over Ethiopia.
In Ethiopia, Kebra Nagast is living history and it is no wonder that the journalist Graham Hancock set out on his search for the lost Ark of the Covenant. This after visiting Axum and studying its churches in detail, a lot of dizzying experiences and random encounters that deepened his interest in the Ark. He furthermore immersed himself in fascinating writings that suggested its intimate connections with Ethiopia. The result was his exciting and best-selling The Sign and the Seal , which The Guardian described as ”a new genre, an intellectual whodoneit written by a do-it-yourself sleuth.”
The fantastic story that Graham Hancock puzzled together through various of travels, adventures, meetings with experts and intense reading, can be summed up in the following manner: After the Ark of the Covenant had rested undisturbed in the Temple of Jerusalem's Holy of Holies, its sanctuary was profaned by the wicked King Manasseh, who next to it had placed an abominable idol. Deeply shaken priests secretly brought the most revered artifact of the Jewish religion to a new shrine built on the island of Elefantine in the Nile. There it was kept for a couple of hundred years before the Jews (Falashas) who were in charge of The Ark of the Covenant brought it with them when they were forced to flee south after the Persian rule over Egypt ceased in 332 BCE. They brought the ark to the island of Tana Kirkos in the Blue Nile, which was within the Jews´ new settlement around the city of Gondar in Ethiopia. The Ark of the Covenant was preserved there until the Christian regime based in Axum seized it and brought it to Axum where the Kebra Nagast was finally written and through a compilation of a variety of myths with biblical stories adapted to historical facts proving that The Ark of the Covenant Ark that had been kept by the Jews on Yana Kirkus actually was the real thing and changed the story by adapting in such a way that its presence came to legitimize the power of the Solomon Dynasty over Ethiopia.
According to Hancock knowledge of the presence of The Ark of the Covenant was secretly brought to Europe by members of the Order of the Militia of the Knights of the Temple, who through contacts in Jerusalem collaborated with both Jews and Muslims to convey a message of harmonious coexistence between the three Abrahamic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. At the center of these ideas and aspirations was The Ark of the Covenant and the knowledge possessed trhough it, a line of thought that could be traced in Wolfram von Eschenbach's remarkable novel Parzival.
Certainly a strange story, but with a lot of probable elements. Since I occasionally wander around in speculative shadow worlds I could not help but being fascinated by this soup with its spectacular ingredients. Let me therefore now fish up some of what was boiling within Hancock's spicy dish and follow one of the stray tracks that lead him to Parzival. von Eschenbach's novel appeared in his life six years after Hancock first had visited Axum, specifically in 1989 when he and his family vacationed in Chartres and he spent three days there “slowly walking around the cathedral, gradually imbibing its powerful and numinous atmosphere .” He read a number of guide books and at a café close to the cathedral, named La Reine de Saba, he learned that it had received its name from the Queen of Sheba whose statue may be found among those that adorn the cathedral's portals.
Now, memories from Ethiopia rushed over Graham Hancock. He found the Ethiopian queen in the cathedral's north portal – next to King Solomon and standing on top of a representation of an African. Hancock also found under a pillar near the queen a relief with some oxen pulling a cart with … The Ark of the Covenant! Next to that relief was another representation of the Arc, though on a more, damaged relief depicting some kind of tumult around the holy crate.
Hancock now began, with the help of his handbooks, to examine all the sculptures placed in the cathedral's three portals and found within the central arch of the northern portal a sculpture representing Melkisedek. He is in the Bible called the King of Righteousness and priest of El Elyon, The Most High God. Melkisedek met the patriach Abraham when he with his people came to the land of Canaan. Melkisedek is not described in any great detail in the Bible, but in the legendary flora that has grown around him he has become all the more important. Melkisedek became the ancestor of all the High Priests of Jerusalem and a symbol of its temple. Jewish mysticism made him the epitome of ”faith and reason”; maintainer of rites, order and tradition, a defender against chaos and heresy. A role taken over by Christian mythology, where Melkisedek came to symbolize the Christian Church.
Graham Hancock now became fire and flames. Between the gate vault with Melkisedek and the Queen of Saba's gate vault is the representation of the ox cart with The Ark of the Covenant. Could this not mean that in Chartre's northern portal The Ark of the Covenant is depicted as being brought from Jerusalem (Melkisedek) to Ethiopia (Queen of Sheba)! Kebra Nagast thus told the truth and there was apparently a connection between Christian medieval mysticism and the fact that the Ark is now in Ethiopia. The damaged Latin inscriptions under the reliefs representing The Ark of the Covenant read ARCA CEDERIS, which can mean ”the Ark that is sent away” and HIC AMICTUR ACHA CEDERIS ”Here the ark is hidden, which you must send away.”
Hancock speculates wildly. He creates a fantastic story about how the Order of the Militia of the Knights of the Temple, more commonly known as the Knights Templar, a monastic order of knights founded in Palestine during the Crusades, was involved in the construction of the Chartres Cathedral. That this order knew that The Ark of the Covenant was in Ethiopia and that the whole cathedral is a kind of mysterious map indicating the religious thinking of the Order at the same time as it suggests the presence of The Ark of the Covenant in Axum. Speculations that eventually led Hancock to Wolfram von Escenbach's Parzival.
Exciting and extremely inspiring! Especially since I have read Parzival and my oldest daughter some years ago worked on the scenography for Wagner's opera of the same name. But, but … hold your horses – the whole thing is actually too dizzying. I stopped in my reading of The Sign and the Seal. I have been to Chartres more than once. Admittedly, I have not for three days been slowly walking around the cathedral, imbibing its atmosphere, and I have not read read a lot of guide books about the cathedral. However, I had actually noticed the Queen of Sheba, who, incidentally, as Hancock writes, is not only produced in full size in the northern portal, begun in 1204. She can also be seen in the so called Royal Portal, begun in 1145. However, Hancock is right about the that Melkisedek only appears in the northern portal. This made me wonder if it could not have been the case that Hancock systematically picked out things that fitted into his wild speculations and overlooked facts that did not support his argument.
I had noticed that Hancock made a big deal out of his personal investigations and discoveries. He flips through his guidebooks, consults experts and travels around the world. While in Chartres I wondered why he did not do as I did during my much shorter visits to Chartres – visit the bookstores and tourist shops and in most such places he would have found several editions of Louis Charpentier's Mysteries of the Cathedral of Chartres written as early as 1966 and which when I first visited Chartres in 2010 was available in a variety of languages. I did not buy any of them because in 1982 I had in Santo Domingo purchased and read a Spanish translation of this rather nutty book.
Charpentier had also noticed the two queens, whom he admittedly did not associate with Ethiopia, but nevertheless with The Knights Templar, as well as with The Ark of the Covenant. Charpentier's theory was that The Knights Templar were intimately associated with the construction of virtually all French-Gothic cathedrals. During their first time in Jerusalem they had dug tunnels under its original temple site, where they were headquartered in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. They had then found a number of Hebrew writings and objects, among them probably also The Ark of the Covenant, which they had brought with them to France. According to Charpentier, the ark also contained the Book of the Law, containing mathematical calculations originating from ancient Egypt and explaining how buildings could be erected in accordance with cosmic laws. Such calculations formed the basis of the revolutionary building techniques that first were applied in Chartres, which cathedral is the first building to effectively use flying buttresses to create the high and lofty, ”heavenly” space that characterizes the High Gothic cathedrals.
The two unknown master builders of Chartres had previously been active under Abbot Suger in Saint Denis outside Paris, a church widely regarded to be the world's first Gothic structure. These two masters organized in Chartres a builders' guild called The Children of Solomon and it has by many been assumed to be the origin of the Masonic Order. What these master builders tried to achieve was Solomon's intentions with the Temple of Jerusalem:
a means of passage from one world to another, a bridge between two worlds. Unless he or she is toiallly impervious, who ever enters the cathedral is saturated with an energy and celestial harmony come alive in matter. They become no longer the same man or woman.
Graham Hancock mentions all this in his book, but without referring to Louis Charpentier's book, which I assume he must have read. The only difference between Charpentier's Knights Templar speculations and Hancock's description of the connection between Chartres and these legendary warrior monks is that Charpentier believed that the Ark was buried under the floor of Chartres Cathedral, while Hancock believes it is in Axum.
I assumed I had discovered that Hancock might be somewhat too inclined to pick the raisins out of the cake, being careless with basic research and apparently anxious to present himself as a skilled private investigator. Among other things, I became somewhat suspicious of Hancock's selective Bible reading. How he discovers the most obscure hints that The Ark of the Covenant might have been brought to Ethiopia, while apparently flipping through pages that question what he thought he had seen and discovered. Take, for example, the two well-known reliefs with the Ark of the Covenant that he ”discovered” in Chartres. Their imagery is clearly explained in the Bible's First Book of Samuel.
The tumult by the Ark, which Hancock does not elaborate upon, took place during the battle of Shilo when Israel lost 30,000 men and their enemies, the Philistines, took ”the Ark of God” as a war booty after killing its protectors: ”Eli's two sons Hofni and Pinechas” (1 Sam 4: 10-11). However, the robbery did not bring any luck. The Philistines placed the Ark in their temple dedicated to their god Dogon in the city of Ashod, but the very next day the idol was torn apart by itself, while the entire population of Ashod was struck by a deadly plague of hemorrhoids and thousands of people died. The Philistines found no other remedy than to send The Ark of the Covenant back to the People of Israel, along with a guilt offering. The Philistines cast five boils and five rats in gold, ”as many as the lords of the Philistines,” placed them in a box next to The Ark of the Covenant, which they then placed on a chariot drawn by two cows. They had the cows walking on their own accord and thus return the Ark to the Israelites.
It is this scene we see reproduced on the second relief in the northern portal of Chartres, which even shows the golden rats and boils, as well as what was inside The Ark of the Covenant – Moses´s tablets and a jar with the manna that God sent down to the People of Israel when they walked trough the Desert of Sinai.
Incidentally, there is another representation of the Ark in the Chartres Cathedral´s northern portal, which Hancock forgot to account for and there we get to see, together with the tablets and the manna jar, Moses´s brother Aaron's flowering rod, which also was stored in the Ark
On the sculpture in Chartres, Melkisedek carries a goblet in one hand, probably an allusion to the fact that the Church, through its sacramental ritual administers the blood of Christ and that Melkisedek´s holding the chalice thus represents the connection between the New and the Old Testaments, the New Covenant sealed through Christ's sacrificial death and the Old Covenant visualized through the Ark of the Covenant and the stone tablets with The Ten Commandments it contained. Both covenants are preserved and guaranteed through the Christian Church. Incidentally, the north portal in Chartres Cathedral is called the Portal of the Covenant and its reliefs and statues unite figures and ideas from both the New - and the Old Testaments. Hancock, however, considers the chalice in Melkisedek's hand to be a representation of The Holy Grail, an idea that leads him to von Eschenbach's Parzival.
By mixing The Grail and The Knights Templar into his tale Hancock transforms it from being more than a search for The Ark of the Covenant, he becomes a seeker of The Holy Grail. Thus Hancock entered a path that eventually would bring him far away from reality – into the world of fiction, where imagination and reality are mixed together in a manner creating conspiracy theories. Where you seek The Holy Grail with the help of Knights Templar you run the risk of ending up like the sleeping man in Goya's etching: ”The sleep of reson produces monsters.”
Abbot Suger (1081-1151), whose master builders erected the cathedral in Chartres, was an energetic politician who during certain periods was the actual ruler of France. He was sometimes allied with the equally enterprising Bernhard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), who was one of the most outspoken theologians of his time and like Suger a politically influential leader. Under St. Bernhard's leadership his Cistercian Order did from 1112 until his death establish 280 monasteries throughout Europe. St. Bernhard pointed out that the hard work of monks should generate income for The Greater Glory of God. Art and architecture would also transform earthly material into a confirmation of God's omnipotence. The Cistercians hired the foremost architects and stonemasons of their time. All their new constructions were built in stone and as early as 1133 stately buildings were erected in St. Bernhard's mother monastery in Clairvaux and the new building style created there, the Gothic Style, soon became prevalent all over Europe.
In addition to being practically minded, St. Bernhard intended that every monastery through handicraft and agriculture would become both self-sufficient and profitable, he was an ascetic mystic with a boundless devotion to Virgin Mary and not least the cult of the Black Madonna, whom he assumed to be Mary Magdalene and associated with the woman in Solomon's Song of Songs who states:”I am black, though I am beautiful.” St. Bernhard wrote no less than sixty reflections/sermons dealing with this specific Bible site and we currently find Black Madonnas throughout Europe. In Chartres Cathedral there are/were two of them. The most worshiped of them became after a restoration in 2017, under vehement protests – white. The restorers claimed that after a violent fire in 1194 the Virgin had turned black and she had darkened further through soot and dust to such a degree that the black coating had become almost porcelain-like. Blasphemy! proclaimed the Black Madonna´s pious worshippers who believed that either she had been black from the beginning, when she was made under St. Bernhard's direction, or God had miraculously made her black in 1194. Nowadays, postcards with both the black and the white Madonnas are sold.
St. Bernhard was furthermore an outspoken supporter of the Order of the Militia of the Knights of the Temple and through his focus on hard work and asceticism, he came to point out that this Order was both religious and militaristic. He was instrumental in ordaining an oath that all members of the Order had to take and which, among other things, meant that they swore obedience to Bethania's Mary, i.e. The Black Madonna. Of course, this did not escape Graham Hancock, who saw an intimate connection with the black queen of Ethiopia, The Holy Grail in Melkisedek's hand and thus also The Ark of the Covenant, The Knights Templar, St. Bernhard and Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival. von Eschenbach´s multi-faceted and remarkable novel was written in Germany sometime in the early 13th century, in the midst of the turbulent time when the Chartres Cathedral was built.
Wolfram von Eschenbach (1170-1220) was a poet and a knight. In the first picture of him (in the Codex Manesse from 1304) we do not see what he looked like because he is dressed as before a tournament and stands with his face concealed by an ornate helmet next to his squire and horse. Not much is known about von Eschenbach's life. By all accounts, he was of lower nobility and came from Bavaria. During his lifetime von Eschenbach was at several German princely courts a fairly well-known Minnesänger, a word which in medieval German meant ”singer of love”.
We know even less about Chrétien de Troyes (probably 1135-1190) the first author to write about the Grail Legend. Apparently he was a learned man, perhaps a priest, working at the courts in Champagne and Flanders. Somewhere Chrétien de Troyes mentions that he translated Ovid from Latin. von Eschenbach obviously had a completely different character. Sometimes he steps forward in his own writings, for example jokingly stating that his wife is so beautiful that he does not dare to present her to his patrons, he also makes fun of contemporary writers and brags that he can neither write nor read. The latter should for certain be taken with a pinch of salt, he was obviously well acquainted with French and moves like a fish in water among contemporary fairy tales, legends and songs. In addition, von Eschenbach seems to be quite knowledgeable about alchemy and astrology, which play a major role in his novel. He is at least as familiar with the Arthurian tales as Chrétien. In von Eschenbach's, as in Chrétien's tales, there are numerous descriptions of tournaments and fights, though in von Eschenbach's writings a more obvious, perhaps self-experienced realism is detectable to a much higher degree than by the French court poet.
As an example I recall how the knight Gawain is thrown off his horse, which is caught by a strong current while they try to cross a river. Gawain manages to get to solid ground, but witnesses how his horse struggles to avoid drowning, unable to reach the shoreline. Lying on his stomach in his cumbersome armor, the knight cannot reach the reins of the terrified horse, though he manages to get hold of a long branch with which he within the last minute manages to catch the horse's harness and against all odds is able to bring the frantic horse so close that he can get hold of the reins and manages to bring the poor animal to solid ground.
Or when Parzeval by a forest edge is surprised by a Grail knight, appointed to protect The Grail from uninvited outsiders. The young knight spurs his horse and with a lowered lance he gallops towards Perzeval, who in his turn urges on his runner for a counterattack. The two riders clash, the Grail youngster´s lance slides against Parzeval's armor and he manages to stay in the saddle, while his lance hits the opponent where ”the helmet's cord is attached” and the Grail Knight is thrown headlong out of his saddle, straight down a precipice. However, Parzival does not manage to rein in his horse to a sudden halt and it also plunges down the precipice. Parzival falls off and grabs the reins to prevent the horse's fast rushing downhill, but it breaks its front legs, the reins snap and the stallion rolls helplessly down the precipice until it lies lifeless at the foot of the slope while Parzival's young opponent links away from the violent encounter and he himself labouriously climbs up the precipice and then sits up in the saddle of the horse the Grail Knight has left behind, calmly grazing on the meadow where the violent encounter had taken place.
The novel begins with the knight Gahmuret leaving his homeland after his older brother has received their entire paternal inheritance. However, the older brother is a noble person who gives his younger brother a large part of his wealth, which the adventurous Gahmuret uses to get to the Muslim countries with a well-equipped entourage. In the East, among other things, he serves the Caliph of Baghdad and succeed in marrying the coveted dark Queen Balkane of Zazamanc. The beauty and grace of the African queen had dazzled the Nordic knight who after seeing her spun plans to conquer her love and favour. von Eschenbach's description of the night Gahmuret spends wide awake in Belkane's palace, tormented by his desires, is through the confined, intimate atmosphere somewhat reminiscent of Solomon's and Makedas' first night of love:
Great candles stood there burning lightly. The hero lost his patience with the night for dragging so on. With thoughts of the dusky Moorish Queen he fell from swoon to swoon, he whipped from side to side like an osier, setting all his joints a-cracking. He was on fire for love and battle. Now pray his wish were granted! His heart pounded till it echoed, it was near to bursting of battle-lust, as it arched the warrior´s chest as the sinew does the crossbow – so keen was his desire! He lay without sleep until he saw the grey of dawn.
The intensity of von Eschenbach's battle and love scenes reflects his statement that ”he who masters the moment, masters life.”
Finally, Gahmuret reaches the fulfillment of his desires. He marries Belkane who gives birth to their son, Feirefiz, handsome and strong "but white and black as a magpie". When his son is born, Gahmuret has already been whipped further by his desire for adventure and left Belkane. In Wales he later married Herzeloyde, who became the mother of Parzeval. Gahmuret was then still married to Belkane, whom he continued to long for but nevertheless did not want to return to. Since Belkane was not a Christian woman, Gahmuret did nor worry about becoming a bigamist. Later in the story, the half-brothers Ferirefiz and Parzeval woiuld meet, become best of friends and find the Grail together. Parzeval becomes its patron and steward, while Feirefiz marries a Grail Maiden and their son Prester John eventually becomes ruler of the fabulous kingdom where the Grail is kept, and which Hancock wants us to believe the Ark of the Covenant as well, i.e. Ethiopia. There, as in Parzeval, the Grail is not a goblet but a stone, a square tabot, which probably corresponds to the tablet with the Ten Commandments which are kept, or were kept, inside The Ark of the Covenant.
Most Ethiopian churches preserve one or more tabots. They are generally fifteen by fifteen centimetres, square slabs made of alabaster, marble or acacia wood. They are highly revered objects, generally covered with precious fabrics and worn on the heads of priests during certain ceremonies. There are a number of tabots in British churches, including theWestminster Abbey. They ended up there after British soldiers stole hundreds of tabots and brought them with them when the Ethiopian city of Magdala in 1868 had been looted and destroyed. The picture below, from an English newspaper, shows the dead, Ethiopian emperor Tewodros II, who shot himself when the battle was lost.
In von Eschenbach´s novel there are, as in several other contemporary stories and novels, descriptions of numerous clashes between Christian knights and warriors from other cultures, often depicted as if they were tournaments. von Eschenbach´s apparent ”reckless” and ”turbulent” manner of telling a story irritated his classically educated and restrained contemporary Gottfried von Strassburg, who labelled him ”a friend of the hare”, an expression through which he apparently wanted to liken von Eschenbachs fast drive and sudden leaps to a hare chased by a fox. von Strassburg complained about:
inventors of wild tales, hired hunters after stories, who cheat with chains and dupe dull minds, who turn rubbish into gold for children, and from magic boxes pour pearls of dust […] but we for our part have not the leisure to seek the gloss in books of the black arts.
Von Strassburg´s criticism pinpointed the attraction of von Eschenbach – he spiced Chrétien de Troyes legends about The Grail with depth and thrills, as well as alchemy and oriental mystique.
At one point in his tale, von Eschenbach makes Parzival, in the depth of dark forests, encounter the hermit Trevizent ”who ate badly on Mondays and not much better duting the other days of the week”. His ”weapon against the Devil was self denial” and thus he did not eat neither meat, nor fish. As a matter of fact Trevizent is von Eschenbachs mouthpiece within the novel and the only one who knows the secret of the Holy Grail. He tells Parzival about all others who have been asking him about The Grail and how they all have left him disappointed since the one who originally had told Trevizent the tale of The Grail had explicitly advised him not to reveal anything until the right listener came along. Parzival´s arrival was the awaited sign and von Eschenbach suddenly sheds his disguise as Trevizent when he suddenly directs himself to his readers and mentions his predecessor Chrétien de Troyes, whose unfinished Le Conte Du Graal von Eschenbach had completed:
If Master Chretien de Troyes has done this tale an injustice, Kyot, who sent us the true tidings, has reason to wax wroth. Definitely, the Provençal tells how Hrezeloyde´s son won the Grail as was decreed for him when Anfortas had forfeited it. From Provence into German lands the true tidings have been sent to us.
If this ”Master Kyot from Provence” had not found the entire story of Parzeval within a book of ”pagan script” it would not have reached Christian lands. The ”wise” Kyot, who wrote in French, but knew both Latin and Arabic, had ”in a corner of” the Moorish town of Toledo found a forgotten book written in Arabic by a Jew named Flegetanis, who in the Moorish lands was highly esteemed for his exploits and knowledge. Flegetanis was a physicus (one of the many words that von Eschenbach invented and which apparently could mean both medical doctor and alchemist) and came from an ”Israeli family descending directly from Solomon.” According to Kyot, Flegetanis worshiped a calf and believed in Jupiter and Juno and von Eschenbach states parenthetically:
How can the Devil make such mock of such knowledgeable people, in that He Whose power is greatest and to Whom marvels are known neither does nor did deliver them from their folly?
The ”infidel” Flegetanis was able to find out through the orbits of the planets and movements of other celestial bodies how they affect human life and declared that there was ”such a thing as the Grail, whose name he read in the stars without any major difficulty.” A heavenly ruler had brought The Grail to earth and left it in the care of a Christian family who had been commissioned to preserve it and, through their pious way of life and honest efforts bring the right people closer to it and spread its message throughout the world through the good deeds it inspired.
After this parenthesis von Eschenbach returns to the tale and Trevizent who tells Parzeval that the Grail is not the calice Jesus used while he proclaimed the Eucharist and the one in which Joseph of Arimathea had collected Christ´s precious blood after he had died on the Cross. Not at all – Trevizent explains that the Grail is a lapsit excellis, another one of von Eschenbach´s complicated puns. The words might mean a stone ex celis, from the sky, though excilis might also indicate an elixir, a word that during the Middle Ages denoted a panacea, as well as the alchemists´ legendary Philosophers Stone that could transform anything. The word elixir originally comes from the Arabian al-ʾiksīr,”a powder drying up wounds,” something that may indicate that the Grail was used to mitigate Grail keeper Anfortas´s crippling wound in the groin.
von Eschenbach´s tale about The Grail was most likely inspired by a story in Pfaffe Lamprecht's Alexanderlied, the Alexander Song, from 1150, where a story from the Talmud is retold. Alexander the Great had sent messengers to the end of the earth where they came to a high wall they assumed encircled the Earthly Paradise. A small hatch was opened in the wall and a man handed Alexander's envoys a ”jewel of unusual colour and remarkable brilliance, which in size and shape much resembled a human eye.” When Alexander received the stone, which when placed on a scale turned out to be both incomprehensibly light and incredibly heavy, a wise, old Jew explained to him that the stone was:
the master of all wisdom, the conquerer of kings the possessor of kingdoms, the Word of the world, the stone is your counsellor, your castigator; its little substance shall keep you from the yearning of shoddy ambition.
A similar story was told in the 8th century CE by the Arab writer Wahb ibn Munabbih and much later by the Persian writer Abu Yusuf Nizami Ganjavi (1140-1203). All, both Jews and Muslims, agreed that the stone had a heavenly origin and that it conveyed to people an realization of their own mortality and that they should therefore help each other.
This lore about a heavenly stone unfailingly leads to associations to the black stone, which is walled into the eastern corner of the Ka´ba in Mekka, for most Muslims the absolute centre of the earth. According to tradition, al-Hajar-ul-Asswad, The Black Stone, is a kind of hierophany, i.e. where the divine reveals itself. It fell to earth to indicate where Adam had to erect an altar to pay homage to God. The stone was originally white, or green, though the sins of humankind made it black.
If the Grail stone furthermore is an elixir it may be connected to alchemy, which during the Middle Ages was considered to be a science mediated by Jews and Muslims. Alchemy is connected to astrology, where stars, planets and other celestial bodies correspond to gems. The emerald corresponds to the planet Mercury and accordingly also to the god who served as messenger of the other gods and whose messages could change the course of events and even materia. In alchemy, mercury was considered to be an element that could shift from solid to liquid states, and vice versa, and it was thus considered to be able to bring about transitions, especially from death to life.
By Wolfram von Eschenbach The Grail also produces food and beverages, heals wounds and furthermore serves as the centre piece of a religious cult that fosters peace and illumination. It is remarkable that von Eschenbah is not describing his Grail together with any Christian allusions or characateristics and that Christianity has a marginalized role in his novel. It is Parzival´s brother in arms, Feirefiz, who together with him, contrary to all other Grail Seekers, is allowed to finally experience the transforming powers of The Grail and Feirefiz is at that moment still a Muslim. It is first in connection with his betrothal to the Grail Bearer that Feirefiz is bapitised.
According to von Eschenbach The Grail was originally an emerald and he had been told that it once adorned the crown of God's favorite angel Lucifer, The Light Bearer, but when he rebelled against God and was thrown down into the chasm of Hell the angels took care of the emerald. It was angels who did not take a stand in the battle against the rebellious angels who supported Lucifer, who brought the Grail to the earth. These neutral angels gave The Grail to the Anjou family who in their castle Munsalvaesche gathered young, innocent people from all over the world, men and women, poor and rich, Muslims as well as Christians, so that they in the presence of The Grail could realize what human beings really are and what their purpose in life ought to be. Regardless of race and religion, they would maintain peace and coexistence on earth and this was the reason to why the half-brothers Parzeval and Ferirefiz were chosen to re-establish The Grail's power and influence after the decline that prevailed under Anfortas's rule.
Trevizent, who in von Eschenbach's book tells all this to Parzeval, who is certainly young, innocent and uneducated, and to him explains why he has been chosen to enter the palace Munsalvaesche and become a member of the Grail Society, which through Anforta's sins has become increasingly powerless. Parzeval's mission is to cure Anfortas, who the hermit now reveals is Parzeval's uncle and after his death, Parzeval will become The Grail´s trustee.
In Munsalvaesche, Parzeval later witnesses how The Grail rejuvenates the power of The Grail Society. On every Good Friday, The Grail is placed on a table made of hyacinth, red zircon, a white dove descends over it and
by that stone´s power the phoenix burns away turning to ashes, yet those ashes bring it back to life. Thus the phoenix sheds its moulting plumage and thereafter give off so much bright radiance that it becomes as beautiful as before.
In this episode von Eschenbach displayed those magic storytelling tricks that Gottfried von Strassburg accused him of dazzling his audience with. True to his habit, von Eschenbach plays the role of an uneducated man, perhaps an allusion to the credulous Parzival, who does not really know what he is talking about. However, beneath this innocent surface it is possible to discover a variety of allusions to Islam and Arab culture, especially astrology and alchemy.
During the thirteenth century, when Parzeval was written, there was a relatively strong Muslim influence and presence at several European courts, especially among French and Italian princes. Europeans were still present in Ourtremer, the crusader states established after Jerusalem in 1099 had been conquered during The First Crusade. Within these states, Muslims and Jews were in the overwhelming majority, but they were ruled by Christian warriors in the service of European princely houses. During the 13th century, however, the Crusader states were gradually re-conquered by the Muslims. The Kingdom of Jerusalem fell in 1291 when Acre was lost and at that time its ”Christian” vassal states – Galilee, Jaffa/Ascalon, Oultrejordain and Sidon – had all been taken back by Muslims, but for almost two centuries Muslims and Christians had influenced each other through bloody power struggles and peaceful coexistence.
In Europe, the situation was the opposite. There the Muslims had from 711 CE and a short time onwards conquered Spain and Portugal (Al-Andalus) and a coastal strip in the Provence (Fraxinet), but had then slowly been driven back by Christian armies, until 1236 the only part left of this once mighty empire was Granada. The Sicilian Emirate, which occasionally controlled Sardinia and the southern Italian peninsula, lasted for more than a hundred years, between 965 and 1072, when it was conquered by the Christian Normans.
However, the Christian princes of Spain, Provence and southern Italy were forced to keep Muslims, or inadequately ”converted” ones, in their service and the reciprocal influence that took place between the different religions/cultures continued for a long time onward. Several minnesänger and French/Provencal troubadours moved during the 13th century between princely courts where influences from Muslim culture still prevailed in science, literature and customs and it is not so strange if traces of this appear in Wolfram von Eschenbach´s Parzeval.
Neither Kyot, who von Eschenbach stated had told him him the Grail story, nor Flegetanis, who according to Kyot had written it down, have existed. The imaginary Kyot claimed that Flegtantis was a Jew, though it is in fact the name of an Arabic book, Felek-Thânî, which deals with alchemy and secret knowledge. The word means the Second Sphere and this is according to Arabic astrology Mercurys´s sphere, which in alchemy is considered to be a shapeshifter able to transform other elements. Mercury is usually white, but is symbolized by the green emerald – The Grail Stone.
Kyot claimed that Flegetanis worshiped a ”calf”. But … was he not a Jew? Once again, von Eschenbach fools us. In Jewish mysticism as it is expressed in the Zohar, the Radiance – the most important text of the Jewish Kabbalah probably written in Castile during the 13th century by Moses de Leon – egl, ”calf” corresponds to the the zodiac sign Shׁvr, the Ox, which corresponded to the emerald, probably the same gem as The Grailstone. The Ox is also one of the four creatures, the hayyot, which surround and protect the Merkabah, the Throne/Chariot of God – a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle.
Good Friday's Grail ceremony might thus be associated to Arabic/Jewish alchemy, where green mercury (emerald), stands for a ”feminine” principle; cold and moist, and red sulfur (zircon) stands for a masculine principle; heat, united through the addition of air and fire (the white dove) thereby creating new life. This process constitutes the so-called ”alchemical wedding”.
The Grail Society has also been associated with an Arab/Christian symbiosis. von Eschenbach sometimes calls this group of sworn men and women who protect The Grail the Templeis, another word invented by him, which has later come to be regarded as if he wrote about the Order of the Militia of the Knights of the Temple, although if he had intended to describe this Order it would had been more convenient for him to use of the well-known German denomination Tempelherren. Incidentally, Tempelherren were not particularly influential in Germany. The Order was not established there until a hundred years later than in France and was active only for a short time. Nevertheless, since von Eschenbach was well versed in French culture, it is not entirely improbable that he had the Knights Templar in mind when he wrote his story.
It has often been pointed out that the Knights Templar had great similarities with Muslim congregations that were equally mysterious and largely initiation-based, as well as fanatically religious and militant. For example the Haššāšīn, a term that in Europe was interpreted as ”hashish-eaters”, though the word actually means ”people who follow Al-Hassan, a breakaway group from the Shia Muslim Ismaelites. This group got its name from Ismail ibn Jafar who was considered as the rightful heir to Muhammad's cousin and stepbrother Ali, by Shia Muslims considered the highest authority after the Qu´ran and Muhammad.
Haššāšīn was founded by Hassan-i Sabbah (1060-1124), who was born in Persia where most of his activities took place before he in 1090 isolated himself in Alamut, a stronghold in a mountain range in northern Persia, about 100 km north of present-day Tehran. The castle was called the Eagle´s Nest and was difficult to conquer; it had just one strongly fortified and well-protected entrance and was equipped with a sophisticated water supply system. From this inaccessible place, Hassan-i Sabbah, now called The Old Man in the Mountain, controlled his terrorist organization with an iron fist. Hassan-i Sabbah was a fundamentalist, an extremely strict theologian, a fanatic who had his own sons killed because, according to him, they were not sufficiently pious. The eldest was killed because his father assumed he had been involved in a murder that had not receive his blessing, though soon after the son had been beheaded, it was discovered that he was completely innocent. Hassan-i Sabbah´s youngest son was executed after he was caught drinking wine.
The basis of the Haššāšīn´s belief was fifty-one epistles called Rasa´il, which may be described as a synthesis of Muslim law and Greek philosophy. The basic idea was that the microcosm, i.e. the individual human being, must be harmonized with macrocosm, i.e. the entire universe. This had be done in stages through intensive studies; first of mathematics and logic then of physics, and finally theology. Within the tight circle of the Haššāšīn , everything was graded, teaching as well as career. At the bottom of the scale we find the fida´i, warriors willing to sacrifice themselves for the good cause, above them were the lasiq, followers, refiq, comrades, and finally da´i, the initiates. Above them all was the Imam - Hassan-i Sabbah and his successors. The faithful advanced within the organization through hard tests and complicated initiation ceremonies.
Haššāšīn were structured like a mafia organization where followers who found themselves at the lower levels were unaware of who constituted the senior management. All sect members blindly obeyed the orders issued by the Imam. Apostates were killed without mercy. Several combat units were part of Haššāšīn, though much of its activities were constituted by threats, bribery, extortion, protection money and well-planned assassinations. The sect is believed to have given rise to the word assassin and even mafia, which is believed to originate from the Arabian mu’afa, protection. The sect used all means believed to promote its lofty goal – the creation of a divine harmony in which everyone who could be considered as a threat to such a world order had to be eliminated.
Order of the Militia of the Knights of the Temple had in Palestine and Syria apparently connections with the Haššāšīn. Like their Muslim sect opponents, the Knights Templar built or conquered fortified castles as bases in strategic border areas. Even the Christian monk soldiers were fanatically faithful to what they perceived as their divine mission. They amassed considerable wealth and were strictly hierarchically organized, where members of the Order reached a higher positions through secret initiation ceremonies. The cadres of the Knights Templar were divided into laymen, sergeants, and knights, all with various subdivisions and the whole organization blindly obeyed the Grand Master.
Like Haššāšīn, the Knights Templar acted alongside other power structures. They were only subordinate to their Grand Master, were tax-exempt and thus did not have to pay tithes to the Church. The order enjoyed its own right of asylum, and unlike other Catholics, their members could not be excommunicated by the Pope. Like the Haššāšīn, the Knights Templar methodically spread their influence in various countries. One important reason for the Knights Templar's success and great influence was their Order´s complete control over their income and that they, like the Jews, were allowed to lend money at interest, which eventually became the main reason for the Knights Templar´s final downfall.
Philip IV of France (1268-1314) waged constant and costly wars. Despite the fact that he exceedingly taxed his people and the Church did not provide enough income and he eventually became heavily indebted to both the Knights Templar and the Jews. Philip solved the problem by expelling all Jews from France in 1306, seizing their capital and property. The following year he arrested all the knights that could be found associated with the Knights Templar, which lost its privileges and was dissolved by Philip´s puppet Pope Clement V. The Grand Master of the Knights Templar Jacques de Molay, was burned alive at the stake in Paris on May 18, 1314, and his Order thus disappeared from general history, but survived in legends, conspiracy theories and secret societies.
Like a Phoenix bird The Knights Templar rose from the flames and was revived through the so-called Masonic Lodges. These societies were said to preserve a variety of rules and ceremonies that were declared to have originated from the hibernated teachings of the original Knights Templar. These Masonic Lodges, which members were elected and initiated on the recommendation of men who had already been initiated into the Order, found their origin in artisan societies, so-called Trade Guilds, which were common during the Middle Ages and they have in several countries survived to the present day. These associations of artisans from specific trades provided their members with certain benefits; for example they paid for funerals and managed funds to support surviving family members of deceased fellow craftsmen. They also organized festivities and social gatherings, which were often gilded by a variety of more or less secret rituals and ceremonies.
Gradually, some of these associations began to accept membership from paying patrons, who did not practice the professions that had given gave rise to the guilds. One such group of craftsmen was apparently the Freemasons, who organized architects, stonemasons and bricklayers. Wealthy members of the bourgeoisie became increasingly dominant in the Masonic Orders and deepened their ceremonies, rules and teachings through contributions from all sorts of occult speculations that became increasingly common during the 18th century, when esoteric thinking permeated more and more associations. Rumors of the existence of esoteric orders influenced by alchemy, hermetism and secret Knights Templar lore, began to flourish in England and France during the late 17th century. Even if bourgeoisie Freemasons already in 1649 in Paris had founded a lodge that was apparently independent from mason craftsmen, it was not until 1717 when The Grand Loge of London was established that Freemasonry became a more common part of European cultural history. Apparently did Masonic lodges answer to a deep-felt social need and several of them gradually became the breeding ground for innovation, both when it came to philosophy and politics and their techings were adopted by a growing bourgeoisie, which resented the privileges enjoyed by nobility and clergy. In 1789, there were no less than 100,000 organized Freemasons in France.
Between 1797 and 1798, four volumes of a book called Mémoires pour servir à l´histoire du jacobinisme were published in England, written by a Jesuit named Augustin Barrauel on the run from the revolutionary Paris. In his books, Barrauel argued that the demands of revolutionary citizens for political freedom and democracy were based on lies created by radical philosophers to overthrow the Church and the monarchy and take control not only of France but also of the whole of Europe and America. Behind these plans were, according to Barrauel, the Masonic lodges and the Illuminati,, two God-denying secret organizations with roots down deep in a time among heretical thoughts created by Gnostics, Hermetists and alchemists. According to the conservative Jesuit, these two sinister organizations already controlled a large parts of Europe's decision-making bodies.
Illuminati? By the end of the 18th century, the Bavarian Adam Weishaupt (1748-1830) had lost himself within the multitude of occult societies that flourished throughout Europe at that time. Most of the German occultism and alchemy was based on the teachings of the Protestant Rosicrucians, eclectic societies which in their ideology united influences from theology, astrology, alchemy and Jewish Kabbalah. They had taken their name from a number of books written in Germany in the early 17th century and dealt with a certain Christian Rosencreutz (1378-1484) who was said to have been a learned alchemist who after living in the Middle East had instituted a brotherhood called the House of the Holy Spirit that would promote well-being, social justice, and healing of the sick.
Christian Rosencreutz has certainly never existed, but in 1616 the Lutheran priest Johann Valentin Andreae published his novel The Chemical Wedding of Christain Rozencrutz in which the aforementioned Rosencreutz rlates his initiation as a ”Knight of the Golden Stone”. A process that took no less than seven years of his life. The novel is undeniably strange and fascinating. It appears as a fictional description of a variety of alchemical processes and degree trials, similar to those that occur within the Freemasons and similar esoteric societies.
It would surprise me Pastor Andreae had not read von Eschenbach's Parzeval since this novel has a lot of similarities with The Chemical Wedding of Christain Rozencrutz. In Andreae's novel there is a castle (Munsalvaesche?) in which The Golden Stone (The Grail?) is enclosed and surrounded by a court of consecrated guards (Grail Knights and Grail maidens?) and there is also a ritual through which a Phoenix bird is reborn through the alchemical wedding that the novel's title alludes to (sulfur and mercury are united by external influences). Pastor Andreae also does not neglect to include oriental mysticism and alchemy in his story, for example by letting his Rosencreutz visit Muslim countries and meet Hermetics in Syria and Harran, even Bernhard of Clairvaux appears in a dream.
Andreae called her novel a joke, a ludibrium, but like Parzival it exudes a hope for a future marked by tolerance and peace; that humanity as well as the substances of the alchemical wedding should unite and give rise to a new, fairer world - the reborn Bird Phoenix.
I assume The Chemical Wedding of Christain Rozencrutz just like Parzeval is a novel, a fictional story based on its authors' interest in and great knowledge of esoteric traditions and alchemy, though zealots and dreamers have believed they were but more or less realistic depictions of existing associations using mysterious objects and actions to change the common destiny of mankind.
Adam Weishaupt was certainly some kind of zelot who through his dreamt up Illuminati intended to found a society capable of changing the world. While working as professor of Canonical Law at the University of Ingolstadt and did among his acquaintances count upon the the ingenious Goethe Johan Wolfgang von Gothe, who wrote extensively about alchemy, not the least his Märchen, The Fairy Tale, that is an even more strange achemical tale than Andreae´s Chymical Wedding. In Ingolstadt Weishaupt managed to engage five of his students to found the Illuminati, which can perhaps best be likened to a radical book circle with a bit of a hocus pocus on the side of the reading.
In time, however, Weishaupt came in contact with a certain Adolf von Knigge, a Freemason with a broad network, and the Illuminati's ideas of hermeticism, social justice, modern science, and similar notions began to spread within German Masonic lodges until Bavaria's Elector, Karl Theodor, got hold of some Illuminati documents and on the basis of their revolutionary ideas decided to sentence Weishaupt to death. However, he defended himself eloquently and was judged to be a harmless dreamer, but perhaps nevertheless a potentially harmful instigator. The spread of Illuminati's ideas was banned and Weishaupt spent the rest of his life as a rather unnoticed professor at the university of Göttingen.
By then, however, Augustin Barrauel had succeeded in pairing the Illuminati with the Freemasons and turning the organizations into a vicious, extremely powerful threat to the Catholic Church, Europe's monarchies, and thus to all law and order. Barrauel's books were devoured by the princely court of Europe, which lived in the shadow of the execution of the King of France and Napoleon, whose armies marched across Europe and were regarded by several radical citizens as a harbinger of future times of tolerance and general prosperity.
However, Napoleon's violent advance also brought to life both national aspirations and conservative counter-attacks and Augustin Barrauel´s indication about the secretive Illuminati´s great power was immediately picked up by the influential writer and philosopher Joesph-Marie, Conte de Maistre (1753-1821). He was the main influencer of the highly conservative Counter-Enlightenment and regarded Monarchy to be a divinely sanctioned institution and the only possible guarantee for law and order, while the Pope must be the ultimate authority for anything regarding human existence. de Maistre argued that the rejection of the absolute truth of Christianity, in its Catholic manifestation, was directly responsible for the disorder and bloodshed which followed the French Revolution and he embraced gratefully Augustin Barrauel´s over-inflated view of Illuminati´s importance:
those guilty men who dared to plan and even organize in Germany that dreadful, most criminal conspiracy to extinguish Christainty and royality in Europe.
The Counter-Enlightenment gained particular force in the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the Catholic aristocratic, anti-liberal and powerful Klemens von Metternich. Incidentally, the imperial city of Vienna was a well-known center for all sorts of esoteric speculation and reckoned with a large number of secret societies. It has been estimated that when all alchemical activities in 1785 were completely banned within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there were about 10,000 ”alchemists” active in Vienna alone.
In line with the Augustine Barrauel's discovery of the anti-Catholic and world-wide activities of Masonic lodges and Illuminati, the Austrian Orientalist and author Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (1774-1856) published in 1818 his monumental work Mysterium Baphometis Revelatum seu fratres militiae templi, qua Gnostici et quidem Ophiani apostasiae, idolodulae et impuritatis convicti per ipsa eorum monumenta and breathed life into a variety of myths surrounding The Grail and in aprticualr the assumed satanic ritulas of The Knights Templar. Hammer-Purgstall mainly focused his attention on a strange cult around a devilish creature which he identified as Baphomet and which The Knights Templar according to him had taken over from The Assassins who mediated Satanist cults that still survived in Gnostic/Hermetic circles within the Middle East.
Hammer-Pursgstall supplemented his extensive historical and linguistic accounts with a rich visual material, which, however, was largely based on strange illustrations in the all sorts of alchemical/hermetic writings that spread especially in the 18th century in Europe's extensive and wild flora of esoteric societies. Hammer-Purgstall´s conclusion, however, spread like wildfire throughout Europe. His ”discoveries” fit like hand in glove for a Vatican that saw its power increasingly threatened by ”liberal and god-denying” forces:
a pagan religion survived into the Middle Ages, and in the guise of Freemasonry remains a threat to the Church even in the early ninteenth century.
As early as 1738, the Vatican had considered itself threatened by the attraction of Freemason rituals and the revolutionary teachings that arose within these secretive societies, which furthermore appeared to their roots in Islam and heresy. However, criticism also came from elsewhere. The French socialist, emancipist, Masonic magician and author Eliphas Lévi (Aphonse Louis Constant) also assumed that Bephemot was a demon worshiped by The Knights Templar and in his 1856 book Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie he presented a highly influential drawing of this monster.
As a matter of fact, Baphomet was a medieval distortion of the name of the Prophet Muhammad and had been used in the process against the Knights Templar to accuse them of associating with the Assassins. According to the accusers, the Order had fallen into idolatry, an accusation added to sodomy, orgies and bloody child sacrifices that were commonplace during heresy- and witch trials among both Catholics and Protestants. However, this does not prevent Elipha's Lévis Baphomet from being abundantly present in a number of the conspiracy theories created around Freemasons' devil worship. It is common, for example, to find references to ”medieval” representations of Baphomet as evidence of the devil worship among Knights Templar. An example often cited is the entrance tympanum at the Saint-Merri church in Paris, not far from the Knights Templar's former headquarters in Paris. On this tympanum is a representation of the devil with horns, female breasts and bat wings,which brings to mind Lévi's image of Baphomet. What the conspiracy theory sleuths rarely state, or perhaps do not know, is that Saint-Merri´s devil was created by the architect Hippolyte Godde while he between 1841-1843 led the restoration of the church which had been badly damaged during the French Revolution and it had proved impossible to identify the figure on the main stone of the central portal.
It is very likely that Elipha's Lévi thirteen years later was inspired by this small sculpture when he created his image of Baphomet. It is undeniable that the sensational journalist Léo Taxil (Marie Joseph Jogand-Pagès) used the same image when he in his fictional and very popular Les mystère de la Franc maçonnerie ”revealed” the Freemason's orgies, devil cult and plans to take over world domination. He spiced up the dish by claiming that the Freemasons were controlled by a Jewish, global conspiracy aiming at making the Christian faith suspicious and eventually crushing the Catholic Church.
Léo Taxil's ”revelations” came two years after the Vatican under Leo XIII in the encyclical Humanum genes once again had banned The Order of Freemasons. The myth of a Jewish-Masonic conspiracy became a powerful weapon in the hands of right-wing forces which unjustly accused the Jew Alfred Dreyfus of espionage and treason and sentenced him to life imprisonment on Devil's Island. When Dreyfus was released in 1899 and in 1906 was completely acquitted of all charges, this was by stock conservative and anti-Semitic forces interpreted as yet another proof that the French judiciary system was controlled by Freemasons and Jewish millionaires. A view further fueled by the blatant forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, first published in Russia in 1903, but quickly spread around the world in countless translations. This supposed ”protocol” pretended to be an authentic document in which leading Jews established the plans for how the world economy and the prevailing social order would be ruined to such an extent that the Jews could easily take over world domination.
In 1921, Henry Ford published the book in the first part of his four-volume book series The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem, which was printed in half a million copies and the Nazis listed it as compulsory reading after it to a high degree had influenced Hitler and the men around him. Despite its obvious absurdity the Protocol of the Sages of Zion and the links it established to Freemasonry and and an almighty world finance controlled by Jews continue to boil in the minds of conspiracy theorists and have not the least been in the background of Hungarian President Viktor Orbán's campaign against the Jewish philanthropist Georges Soros.
From this rich soil of dubious knowledge has sprouted a fantastic flora of conspiracy theories and occult madness, while a likewise esoteric though more well-meaning tendency found its expression in art and literature with masters such as Wagner, Tennyson, Balzac, Geroge Sand, Ruskin, Rosetti, Tolkien, William Morris, C.S. Lewis, Burne-Jones, Rimbaud, Renan, Debussy, Satie, Delville, Beardsley, Thomas Mann, Blavatsky, T.S. Eliot, Syberberg, Yeats and countless other writers and artists. Nevertheless, speculations about Grail-seeking, knights and conspiracy theories also inspired nasty ideologues such as Rosenberg, Himmler, Hitler, Julius Evola, Sayyid Qutb, Bat Ye´or, Pat Robertson and Steve Bannon, not to mention mass murderers like Anders Behring Breivik. Myths and legends are two-edged, both inspiring and harmful and several of the artists and writers I have listed were, although they could be said to be ingenious innovators, not averse to musty racism and self-glorifying chauvinism based on ”realities” that never existed.
Anyone who enters the labyrinth around the Grail and the Order of the Knights Templar runs the risk of getting lost in the increasingly dense mists rising from uninhibited conjecture. Something I fear has severely affected Graham Hancock, who in the past wrote sensible criticism of the UN activities, but now seems to be helplessly lost in a swamp of amateurish speculations where he furthermore believes himself being attacked by the ”academic establishment” and the secret, evil forces that he assumes control our existence.
Like so many other pseudo-researchers before him, Graham Hancock has picked and chosen from a wealth of evidence for his theories. Too often he has concentrated his search on unprovable cues he has been stumbling upon. It may be an exciting and stimulating experience to read about what he has seen and found, but Hancock´s too obvious shortcoming has been to allow his theories guide the results. Amateur researchers have a tendency to cling to fixed ideas, making it difficult for them to become acquainted with new findings in science, history and archaeology. Many of them behave like a defense lawyers who believe that winning a case is more important than any objective truth. They just present things that seem to prove their predefined ”truths” overlooking anything that might cast doubt on them. Hancock appears to be a self-taught gentleman whose method is largely to apply an idea to a fascinating phenomenon, which he then spends all his time and energy to prove. If an archaeologist in general begins an investigation by in detail studying all perceivable details of an object and its context and then form an idea of when and how it was used, then Hancock does just the opposite – he takes his starting point in the idea.
Unfortunately, the undeniably skilled jigsaw puzzler and narrator Graham Hancock has fallen on hius own grip and ended up in the nutty company of other pseudo-researchers, von Däniken, Flem-Ath, Hapgood, Velikovsky, Baigent and Bauval. In the books that followed The Sign and the Seal, Hancock did among other things claim that Mars was once home to an advanced civilization and also convinced that more than 15,000 years ago an extremely advanced ”super-civilization” existed here on the earth, which left behind myths about ”culture bringers” such as Viracocha, Quetzalcoatl, Osiris and Prometheus, as well as huge underwater remains in the Bermuda Triangle or Yonaguni under the sea outside of Japan.
And even worse - in the company of another confused and self-taught researcher, Robert Bauval, Hancock has ventured into dangerous terrain. In the book Talisman: Sacred Cities, Secret Faith, the two authors compare the nonexistent pillars of Solomon's Temple with the former Twin Towers on Manhattan and the Pentagon with the Star of David, something that almost inevitably leads them into the abyss of speculations concerning the infamous Jewish-Freemasonry conspiration for achieving a New World Order. The two authors continued downhill with The Master Game: Unmasking the Secret Rulers of the World, an increasingly insane roller coaster through a plethora of ”facts” and speculations where the reader ends up in an absurd Disney World consisting of increasingly unreal fantasies.
Someone who, on the other hand, knew how to mix facts with the joy of storytelling was Umberto Eco, who in his piqaresque novel Baudolino issued in 2000 made innovative use of actual medieval history, tales, legends, religion and philosophy in an exemplary manner. The novel begins with the 1204 savage pillage of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. Baudolino, whose name originates from an obscure saint in Eco's Italian hometown, tells his life story to Niketas Choniates (who, like most of the novel's characters, is based on a historical figure) a high-ranking Byzantine official. Baudolino, the foster son of Emperor Frederick I (1122-1190), also known as Barbarossa, does with his ironically light-hearted narrative guide the reader through a variety of adventures in Germany, Italy, France and the legendary Orient. Eco brings to his story every conceivable medieval curiosity. A complex narrative fabric which includes The Grail, fabulous animals and humanoid creatures, Priester John, The Old Man in the Mountain, Hypatia's descendants, alchemists, Knights Templar, Jews, Arabs, wars and court intrigues, misery and spiritual conversations about philosophy and religion. A thread that runs through it all is an exposure of various means to tell a story; how legends and myths are created and used as political means, how stories arise through the joy och telling a good story, through unbridled whims, or in-depth reserach, lies and manipulations, seriousness and play.
A central episode is when Baudolino and his companions, half seriously, half at play, compile a letter from Prester John to various European potentates. The document turns into a Bitches Brew of facts, fabrications and wild speculation. Almost everything Eco writes are well-documented in other sources, so Prester John´s letter did really exist, though no one knows who wrote it and several of the recipients actually thought it came from Prester John despite, or perhaps thanks to, its exaggerated descriptions of million-strong armies, gem-studded city walls, strange fable beasts and the Priest King's promise to give The Holy Grail to the prince who allied himself with him.
The members of the gang who wrote the letter together with Baudolino also find their origin in medieval myths and even then they were all more or less made up or at least rather obscure – Kyot who von Eschenbach claimed had conveyed Parzeval to him, Ezra ben Salomon from the Moorish Girona who is considered be a co-author of Zohar, Robert de Boron who is named as the author of a book on the Grail Legend, but who like Kyot probably did not exist in reality, and a man called The Poet a designation behind we find the unknown author to the disrespectful songs in Carmina Burana. There was also a character called is Abdul, the son of an Irish woman and a man from Provence, who had grown up in Jerusalem, speaking French and Arabic, and who when inspiration ran out provide his friends with ”green honey”, probably hashish and the joy of storytelling flew again, interspersed with heavenly visions.
Here too, Eco moves on ground well prepared through his medieval studies. That Haššāšīn was mistaken for meaning ”hashish eater” is note entirely off the target. Hashish was used by several Persian mystics. It was green and was often called ”distilled sugar”. In what the Persian Sufis called The Language of Birds, a many of speaking expected to hid truths from the uninitiated, it was the green parrot who brought the drug to god-inspired poets. The poet Hafiz wrote: ”Parrot, you who do not appreciate mysteries, may your beak never lack sugar” and in his epic poem The Conference of the Birds, written sometime in the mid-1200s CE, the Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar lets the green parrot in his beak bring green sugar. In another poem, a Sufi poet praised hashish as a means of ”elevating the imagination until it achieves a blissful realization of the joy of being in a future world.” By a ”future world” he probably meant The Paradise.
Graham Hancock would probably agree, especially as his taking drugs was one step further from reality. When the companions in Umberto Eco's novel wrote their letter from Prester John and assume reality was not exciting enough, they interrupted their writing about imaginary feats and marvels and made hallucinogenic drugs bring them to ever higher narrative dimensions.
This is a method that Graham Hancock also seems to have embarked upon. In his book Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind, Hancock seems to have left reality far behind himself by claiming that less 50,000 years ago, humanity had:
no art, no religion, no sophisticataed symbolism, on innovative thinking. Then in a dramatic and elctrifying change described by scientists ”as the greatest riddle in human history” skill and qualities that we value most highly in ourselves appeared already fully formed as though bestowed on us by hidden powers.
These forces, or rather ”supernatural beings” came into contact with humans through hallucinogenic drugs that Hancock himself has tried, with astonishing results when it comes to gaining insights into the mysteries of existence. OK, now it is high time to leave Hancock in his opium mists though with a well-known note of precaution – taking drug is not without its perils.
You can actually fabricate a marvelous story about almost anything. Myths can be created about pretty much any phenomenom that surrounds us and even about the fancies appearing in our thoughts and dreams. Even if they might be unfounded and fictitious it is quite possible to believe in myths, just as well as it is possible to create good aa well as evil myths, just as we can choose to believe in evil or good perceptions. I guess that is what Grail seeking is all about. To follow a faith. Searching for something that may very well be a myth, a chimera. In the case of the Holy Grail, it is actually something beneficent. A Grail seeker must believe in kindness, since that is what ultimately motivates hers/his search. It is righteousness that keeps her/him on the right track and and helps her/him to avoid the underbrush of daily worries – the confusion and madness that is part of being human, which obscures our dreamed-up ideals.
Graham Hancock realized early on that he did not believe in the UN. In response to his doubts, let me create a Grail myth about that particular Organization – When the rebellion of evil forces against God's order finally, after much sacrifice and horrendous bloodshed finally had been vanquished and its leaders – Hitler and Tojo – had been overthrown from the bloody thrones they had raised among boundless cruelty and contempt for human beings, the victors tried to preserve the good that is hidden in most of us – a belief that we all can work together to create a just world where each and every one of us has the right to freedom, joy and prosperity.
The goodwill of the people created a Holy Grail - the UN Declaration of Human Rights and a belief that we would be able to realize it – the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. A fortress was erected to preserve the Declaration and from which its message would be spread throughout the world – the UN Headquarters in New York. The Declaration is now protected by young idealists coming from all over the world, both women and men, thinkers and warriors. They strive to ensure that the Declaration is kept alive and that its goals will be realized. They are led by a Grand Master, called The Secretary General. But, like Anfortas, The Secretary General is unable to shoulder his great responsibility. People around him are aging and confused by power, greed and dark urges. Hope and power are not renewed. The United Nations, can no longer constantly re-emerge from its own ashes – like the Phoenix in the Grail Castle.
Decay threatens the Palace, feelings of loss of hope and meaninglessness afflict the Grail Knights, while the greed and selfishness around grow stronger with every day that passes and my smitten their own ranks. Opponents of sustainable development and global justice sow their demonic seed of doubt about the UN's meaning and goals. Will young, idealistic grail seekers like Parzeval and Feirefiz reach their goal and succeed in saving the faith and convictions that the UN is meant to preserve? Or will this Munsalvaesche finally be conquered by the powers of darkness, be destroyed so evil once again may plunge the entire world into ruin and despair, and will it this time be the final countdown?
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