Tuesday, January 25, 2005

21st Century Grail / Andrew Collins (Review)

21st Century Grail or JC's Eggcup?

I've been reading Andy Collins' latest - a rather lucid account of the modern day quest for the grail. In it Andy returns with some panache to the old psychic questing stomping ground - part psychic part literary detective. All across the English speaking world there are those who still believe that the King James Version of the Bible was actually translated by God himself. To those same people, the idea that 'Jesus was not divine, he was married to Mary Magdalen and had a child with her, his bloodline survived in France and the Holy Grail was not a chalice but a woman is a bit of a revelation. Hence the success of the tale's many retellings, including the multimillion copy best seller,"The Da Vinci Code". It makes for a good novel but as magical history it covers too vast a range of times and cultures for my taste - the papering over of the cracks a little too blatant. But remember the Surrealist golden rule - 'people prefer the preposterous.'

Andy's take on this differs slightly in that he also wants to write himself into the story - to be one of those questing grail knights - and why not I hear you say? Why not indeed? The first half is better than the second. The excursus into early Christian history is interesting if maybe a bit unreliable. I think there were more than one 'Mary' in the New Testament. The C4 programme Who Wrote the Bible was in a way much more enlightening where it uncovered the evidence that Mary Magdalen was probably one of the leaders of the first Christians - a fact that needed to be edited out by Constantine's Roman spin doctors. A heretical medieval sect, inspired by the 'eastern' Gospel of Mary is a real possibility.

After the promise of the first half of Andy's book most of this material is put to one side as everything moved off into the realm of farce. There are too many false trails and loose ends that don't quite get tied up.

The ideas of Aleister Crowley are given an airing but it all seems a bit unconvincing. Indeed the idea that the grail is a women not a cup ought to fit well with Crowley's cult of Babalon and Oriental Templarism. But Andy seems to prefer artefact to the reality of magick. At what should be the climax of the quest, there is a blinding flash of light but nothing thereafter. Enter Graham Philips, one of Andy's many friends who back in the 1980s also wrote a 'best selling book' on the grail culminating in its discovery! Only we're now told he is depressed because power, fame and fortune didn't follow. And he now wants to destroy the precious object and is persuaded to give it to Andy so he can complete his book - maybe he will do better. Is it a good sign that members of this coterie of authors are beginning to reference each other? Or is it just another grail castle in the air?

Trouble is that the Grail, (or should it be THe GRAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIILLLLLL) is only one and half inches high - JC's Eggcup!! It impresses no-one in particular, certainly not the keeper of Roman antiquities at the British Museum. Perhaps not even the authors who are soon off on yet another quest, leading to yet another artefact - is this product placement for the next book?

Right on cue comes the following story concerning material discussed at length but inconclusively in Andy's book:

Code traced to religious sect >From correspondents in London November 26, 2004

A MYSTERIOUS carved code at a British manor house, which has defied understanding for hundreds of years, is thought to be a cryptic message from an 18th century Christian sect, experts said today.

The series of apparently random letters inscribed on a monument at the Shugborough Estate in Staffordshire, central England, were analysed for months by veterans of Britain's World War II code-breaking service.

The experts said today that a US researcher had now come up with a likely explanation for the code on the Shepherd's Monument.

The marble tablet, commissioned in 1748, features a carved image of a painting by French 17th century artist Nicolas Poussin, with the letters "D.O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V.M." underneath.

According to popular legend, the code revealed the whereabouts of the Holy Grail, in Christian teaching the cup used by Jesus to drink from at the Last Supper.

In May, managers at Shugborough decided to invite experts from the famous World War II Bletchley Park code-breaking centre, along with their modern counterparts, to tackle the code.

The experts said that the US researcher, using a mixture of normal code-breaking systems and historical context, thought the letters stood for "Jesus (As Deity) Defy", a message from the Priory of Sion.

The Priory, a mysterious organisation perennially linked by conspiracy theorists to the Holy Grail, viewed Jesus as an earthly prophet rather than a son of god.

Such a message insisting on Jesus's mortal status would have to have been put into hard-to-decipher code because it defied conventional Christian thinking, the experts said.

The new theory is buoyed by the fact that the Priory of Sion was a spiritual successor to the Knights Templar, an organisation which Poussin reputedly once headed.

The painting from which the carving is drawn, "Les Bergers d'Arcadie", is housed in Paris's Louvre Museum, and has long been subject to speculation about its supposed Masonic symbolism.

Poussin, the Knights Templar and the Priory of Sion are frequently invoked by groups convinced that the Holy Grail is at the centre of some grand mystery concerning the Roman Catholic Church. Such theories have acquired massive popular exposure through "The Da Vinci Code", a best-selling novel by US author Dan Brown which expounds the theory that Jesus had a number of descendants, a fact that was covered up by the Church.

The book has been so successful that France, where much of the action takes place, has benefitted from a mini-boom of US tourists visiting sites mentioned in the novel such as the Louvre and the church of Saint Sulpice on Paris's Left Bank.

All of the above must count as a significant synchronicity coming as it does on the tails of Andy's fascinating and very readable book. Check it out for yourself - Mogg