The Inquisitions: Atrocities in the Name of God

When director, Bruce Burgess, asked if I would present a television series about the Inquisitions, I complied straight away. Details were not important. I was in. He had me, as they say, at ‘hello’.

I have always been passionate about this period of history and had worked with Burgess before, mainly on the UK television documentary series, Forbidden History (I and II), as well as a further, yet-to-be-released project.  We trust each other, which might seem strange to those who had followed the bizarre aftermath of Burgess’s Bloodline documentary, but we have come to know each other well, and we both respect what this project is about – a chronicle of some of the earlier (and most infamous) accounts of genocide.

The five-part series spans the Cathar, Spanish and Tudor Inquisitions, the Salem Witch trials and more. Some of these injustices were motivated by religion, others by politics, but, clearly, what underpinned them all was that each was motivated by ignorance, intolerance and greed; and each was an unforgivable atrocity.

As the weeks passed, I reviewed my reference material and looked forward to meeting up with Burgess and the team in the south of France. However, as filming neared, it became apparent that history was repeating itself and that what we were about to film was no different than what was going on in many parts of the world today, including Syria, the country bordering the one in which I live, Turkey. What was the point, I wondered. Could human nature transcend? Could it learn from its past, just for once?

I arrived in Toulouse and immediately felt a bite in the air. It was autumn 2013. After greeting the team, we hit the road. Spirits were high, but the ebullient mood would not last.

Inquisition

Departing Toulouse

 

Appropriately, we kicked off in Béziers, for this is where the first of the Inquisitions took place. Here, coincidentally, or, more likely, by design, the first crusade against the Cathars, a pure, benevolent and Christian dualist movement, was fought on the feast day of Mary Magdalene, 22 July 1209. The Cathars appear to have had a special appreciation of Mary Magdalene and are purported by some to have been in possession of her (now lost) gospel. This sacred day would have been important to the Cathars and this presented an opportunity for the Church to wage both physical and psychological warfare.  

 

Inquisition

Béziers, site of the first of many atrocities by the Church

 

As the film crew got ready, I rehearsed my lines, which aptly set the scene. I tried to imagine the carnage, almost 800 years ago. In front of where I was standing a huge army of at least 30,000 men, mostly soldiers from pro-Rome northern France, had amassed around the walls of the town. Inside were the 10,000 citizens of Béziers, guarded by only a few hundred soldiers of the local lords and barons who were loyal to the Cathar cause.

Fearing a slaughter, the Bishop of Béziers tried to negotiate. The town was asked to give up its heretics or face the consequences.  And so it was given a list of 222 names of people accused of heresy, mostly Cathars. But it refused to comply.

Then, according to reports, a skirmish broke out at the gates to the town between some soldiers and some lightly armed locals.  This resulted in most of the foot soldiers storming the gates and sacking the city. A bloodbath ensued. Thousands of people were killed, including men, women and children. It would become known as the ‘Day of Butchery’.

About twenty years later, a local historian by the name of Caesarius of Heisterbach wrote about the attack and, in the process, coined what is perhaps one of the most unforgettable lines in history:

When they discovered, from the admissions of some of them, that there were Catholics mingled with the heretics they said to the abbot, ‘Sir, what shall we do, for we cannot distinguish between the faithful and the heretics.’ The abbot, like the others, was afraid that many, in fear of death, would pretend to be Catholics and, after their departure, would return to their heresy, and is said to have replied, ‘Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius’ – ‘Kill them all, for the Lord knoweth those that are His’.

Kill them all, and let God decide which are his. Could there be a more self-serving justification, and mantra, than genocide in the name of God and government? We finished our shoot and headed to Carcassonne.

The Inquisition moved to Carcassonne a few weeks later, but news of the massacre in Béziers had arrived long before, and so a similar show of brutality would not be required. The crusaders simply shut off the water supply and waited for those who valued their lives to exit the city. Most fled with only the clothes on their backs.

Inquisition

The walled city of Carcassonne

 

Inquisition

At the gate of the city

 

Inquisition

Carcassonne

 

Although I had done my share of presenting in the past, our work in Carcassonne reaffirmed my respect, and admiration, for those who perform the job so well: presenters like Michael Wood, who makes everything look so easy. As we filmed in the busy market, I struggled to walk along the tourist-filled streets, remembering my lines, while hitting a mark on the ground, before turning to walk towards another mark on the ground, where I would deliver my concluding remarks to an imaginary spot three feet to the left of the camera.  All the while, bystanders took pictures – and the mickey!  ‘Cut! Let’s do it once more, just to be safe.’ That was Burgess’s way of saying, ok, let’s try and get it right this time.

Fittingly, we concluded the Cathar Inquisition episode in Montségur. The famous mountain-top sanctuary of the Cathars is now a thriving tourist site and one of the most popular sacred destinations in France. We prepared for filming, before being forced to wait while helicopters lifted some of the overly ambitious (and ill-prepared) tourists from the top of the deceivingly steep and arduous-to-climb mountain to their safety below. The delay was just what I needed, as it afforded me time to reflect.

Inquisition

Reflecting, while the helicopters perform their rescue

 

Although I have been to Montségur on many occasions, visiting the site is a treat, and is always moving. Standing at the monument to the Cathars, I contemplated what it would have been like to have walked, single file, into the pyre, as many of the Cathars did, rather than renounce their faith. The landscape is imbued and imprinted with this memory, as its name, Field of the Burned, suggests. I did my pieces to camera, but found it difficult to hit the mark. Burgess was asking for a relaxed and casual delivery. ‘Show us another gear,’ he said. The problem was that I was in the moment a little too much and found it hard – no, impossible – to be casual while immersed in the memory of it all.

Disappointingly, there is never much time to savour the moment on projects like these. We hurriedly packed up and rushed to the airport for our flight to Spain. I said goodbye to Montségur, and wondered if we could ever reclaim the purity and innocence that religious intolerance so brutally extinguished from this land. The opportunity and responsibility to do so is ours, I thought. We simply have to choose the reality.

John Dee And The Enochian Apocalypse

Doctor John Dee (1527 – 1609), remains one of London’s most intriguing historical figures. He even inspired Damon Albarn, the singer/songwriter of Blur to write and perform an opera about his life in 2012. This should not be surprising, for Dee’s talents are many and his legend seems eternal. Dee was a renaissance man; an occultist, mathematician, astronomer, astrologer and navigator. In addition to his prodigious skills, Dee was a confidant of Queen Elizabeth I, who guided the nation through one of its most challenging eras, partly based upon Dee’s unique blend of alchemy, divination and Hermetic philosophy. In fact, the Queen had so much faith in Dee’s calculations she had him choose her coronation date.  

By all accounts Dee was a distinctive looking gentleman, respected and admired by many, as John Aubrey describes: "Hee had a very cleare rosie complexion…a long beard as white as milke. A very handsome man…he was tall and slender. He wore a gowne like an artist’s gowne, with hanging sleeves, and a slitt. A mighty good man he was."

Doctor John Dee

Doctor John Dee

 

Dee lived in Mortlake, a West London village mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book. Here, his modest residence along the River Thames provided easy access for Elizabeth and other dignitaries, especially other occultists, for Dee had amassed what was arguably the grandest esoteric library of his day. Sadly, fashionable apartments now stand where Dee once lived, and a block of council flats across the street boasts his name.

Doctor John Dee

The site of Dee’s house and library in Mortlake. . .

 

Doctor John Dee

. . . and a nearby block of council flats

 

What is less known is that Dee was obsessed with the apocalypse, and believed he had opened a supernatural gateway leading to a powerful and disgruntled spirit world. But this came later. During the early part of his career Dee had little interest in the supernatural. He was a devoutly religious man and deeply ambitious. From the 1550s until the 1570s, he honed his skills as a writer, as well as a navigator with unique technical expertise. Few recall that he coined the phrase, ‘British Empire’, and that he helped shape the emerging ideology of the nation.

Dee became frustrated with his perceived inability to uncover more occult secrets than he already had obtained, and so began his fascination with the supernatural. During the 1580s he focused his attention on contacting angels in the spirit realm in order to obtain greater wisdom. Initially, Dee tried his hand at using a ‘scrying’ mirror or crystal ball, each of which can be found in the British Museum.

Dee struggled to achieve the results he was hoping for and thus reached out to someone who professed to have expertise in these matters.

Doctor John Dee

John Dee’s crystal ball, and other tools of divination, at the British Museum

 

Enter the occultist and spirit medium Edward Kelley, who stumbled upon a ration of magical red powder, which he had received from an innkeeper in Glastonbury, who had acquired the powder from tomb robbers. In a different version of the story, Elias Ashmole, who wrote the first account of Kelley’s discovery, recounts how Kelley found a book containing the curious powder in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. Regardless, Kelley’s desire to learn as much as possible about the magical substance, which he believed could turn base metals into gold, led him to Dee, whose library attracted many such seekers.

Like Dee, Kelley was a fascinating man; a seer whose ritual expertise in the black art of necromancy, combined with his passion for alchemy, and his quest for the Philosopher’s Stone in particular so impressed Dee that the two soon became inseparable. Together they embarked on a journey that would transform their lives and quite possibly ours too. 

Dee and Kelley held various ‘spiritual conferences’; a quest that Dee believed would render immeasurable benefit to mankind. Kelley’s integrity, on the other hand, is the subject of continued debate and in fact before coming to London he was convicted of forging title deeds in Lancaster. Nevertheless, Kelley became Dee’s regular scryer and the two men appear to have achieved, if not exceeded, their goals, for Dee began to write truly remarkable, albeit sublime, works that he maintained were the product of angels, who spoke in language known as Enochian.

Doctor John Dee

Dee and Kelley’s scrying mirror, British Museum

 

In 1583, Dee and Kelley embarked for Europe, seeking the patronage of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague and King Stefan of Poland in Kraków, amongst others. The two occultists continued their alchemical pursuits on the continent for a number of years. Once incident in particular stands out, which stems from their involvement in necromancy. An inquisition by the Catholic Church proved messy, yet both men were acquitted in 1587. That same year the angels instructed Dee, through Kelley, that the two were to share everything, including their wives, which they did. Dee’s wife gave birth nine months later to what is now thought to be Kelley’s child.

At the best of times the two men had what could be called a terse relationship, and the ‘sharing’ mandate of the angels angered Dee and led to his break up with Kelley, who later died in prison. Dee returned to his residence in Mortlake, only to find that his world had changed. Much of his library had been pillaged and his political stature had fallen. What little that remained of his relationship with the Queen enabled him to assume the office of Warden at Christ’s College, Manchester in 1595. He returned to Mortlake in 1605, where he died in 1609 and was buried under the high altar of his parish church.

Doctor John Dee

The high altar in Mortlake Church, where Dee is buried.

 

Doctor John Dee

A peculiar stone carving in the cemetery, dating from Dee’s time

 

In retrospect, we can glean that the essence of the Enochian dialogues centred upon a coming apocalypse, which Dee’s angels referred to as ‘the Harvest’. Dee and Kelley had succeeded in manifesting the spiritual beings they had summoned, and what followed appears to have been the process of opening the gates to another dimension and obtaining the keys required to activate the angels’ agenda, an apocalypse of the mind – a poisoning of man’s spiritual essence and the rapid degeneration of society. In one instance the angel, Mapsama, instructs Dee as to his role in the whole affair:

Mapsama: These Calls are the keyes into the Gates and Cities of wisdom. Which [Gates] are not able to be opened, but with visible apparition.

Dee: And how shall that be come unto?

Mapsama: Which is according to the former instructions: and to be had, by calling of every Table. You called for wisdom, God hath opened unto you, his Judgement: He hath delivered unto you the keyes, that you may enter; But be humble. Enter not of presumption, but of permission. Go not in rashly; But be brought in willingly: For, many have ascended, but few have entered. By Sunday you shall have all things that are necessary to be taught; then (as occasion serveth) you may practice at all times. But you being called by God, and to a good purpose.

Dee: How shall we understand this Calling by God?

MapsamaGod stoppeth my mouth, I will answer thee no more.

The exchange is intriguing and hints at the angels’ selection of Dee as the wick by which the fuse to ignite the end of days would be lit. Had Dee and Kelley unknowingly ushered in the Enochian Apocalypse?

Three centuries later the Golden Dawn incorporated many of its teachings and one of their initiates, Aleister Crowley, picked up where Dee and Kelley had left off. He wrote: “Much of their work still defies explanation.” Crowley is known to have concentrated on Dee’s ‘Apocalypse Working’, although it is not known whether he accessed the elusive occult key necessary to usher in the apocalypse. Nevertheless, Crowley died in 1947, believing that he had opened the gate of the apocalypse almost 45 years earlier, in 1904, when he had spiritually ‘received’ The Book of Love.

Today, we are uncertain if Dee, Kelley or Crowley did in fact unlock the key of the apocalypse, for it is said that the apocalypse is a slow-working mental transformation within the collective unconscious of the human race.

The year is 2012. Now, as then, we contemplate the possibility that we are living in an Enochian end of days.  Doctor Dee influenced history at the highest levels of government.  His occult legacy influenced perhaps the most notorious of Occult groups, which in turn influenced the ‘New Age’ and modern occult movement.  But was he also instrumental in the opening of a door in human consciousness that would allow the apocalypse to manifest?

The Conspiracy Olympics

From the balcony of my Shoreditch flat I can just about make out London’s Olympic Stadium in the distance. Should any of the 2012 Olympic ‘conspiracy’ rumours come to fruition then I am assured of having a bird’s eye view of the proceedings. Let’s hope the most memorable thing about the Games is the athletes. 

The 2012 London Summer Olympics marks the first time a city has hosted the coveted spectacle on three different occasions. The first was in 1908 and the second in 1948 after a delay owing to World War II. Then, like now, the event was mired in controversy before it had even begun.

The bid process for the 2012 Olympics got off to an inauspicious start when London unveiled its Olympic logo on 4th June 2007. Those who did not ridicule it expressed their bemusement at its amateurish design, despite the fact that it cost £400,000. Then came the controversy over it’s overtly, some would say brazen, depiction of the word ’Zion’ in the numbers 2012, complete with a dot over the ‘i’. Proponents of the logo’s occult associations believe that the emotive word signals the start of a New World Order, and that the London Olympics will be its stage.

London

London’s unimpressive and peculiar 2012 Summer Olympics logo

 

Further suspicion was raised in what amounted to a surprise selection of London as the 2012 Summer Olympic host city. Paris had been the heavy favourite, but on 6 July 2005 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that London had won. The face of the former Olympic champion and London 2012 bid Chairman, Lord Coe, said it all. He appeared stunned. Coe and his team only jumped for joy, but also seemed startled by the news. It was later revealed that some of the votes may have been placed ‘in error’.

Tragically, London’s celebration was abruptly curtailed the very next day, 7th July, when a series of alleged suicide attacks occurred on three London underground trains and one bus during the morning rush hour. Four UK resident Islamists were identified as the guilty terrorists. Each was killed in the blasts, along with 48 other commuters, and more than 700 others were injured. Disturbingly, survivors commented on how the explosions came from under the seats of the trains. Inexplicably, no formal inquest was held, due to the fact that an investigation would, in the words of Prime Minister, Tony Blair, "undermine support" for the British Intelligence Agency, MI5. Were the bombings a form of retaliation for the IOC’s selection, or was there another motive? Many believe they were an inside job and that we should expect another ‘False Flag’ at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games.

London

Chaos at Russell Square tube station during the 7/7 bombings


London’s 2012 Olympic odyssey continued on 19 May 2010, when the Games’ official mascots were introduced; two peculiar looking metallic figures by the names of Wenlock and Mandeville. One is blue and the other orange, and each has one eye. Curiously, each looks more like an alien caricature from a 1950s B-movie than a collection of molten steel consumed during the construction of the Olympic stadium that they are supposed to represent.

London

One-eyed Olympic mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville

 

Those who believe that the 2012 Summer Olympics are linked to an occult agenda also cite the Games’ East London stadium location as proof that ominous forces are at work behind the scenes. Their concerns stem   from the biblically inspired street names that surround the stadium, names such as Great Eastern Road, Carpenter’s Road, Angel Lane, Temple Mills Lane and Church Road.  They also question why the stadium grounds remained vacant so long, suggesting that it had been earmarked for this special occasion for a long time.

Conspiracists believe that the ‘Zion’-inspired logo, the bible-inspired street names and the alien mascots are all part of a plot to instil a New World Order. Rumours persist, albeit entirely unsubstantiated, that either one of two events will be simulated during the Games. The first is the return of a legendary messiah, such as Jesus Christ or Mohammed, in what amounts to a modern-day rapture, and the second is that aliens will descend on the stadium. In each scenario it is believed that holographic technology will be deployed to produce the illusion and, although the manipulation will be apparent to many, the majority of people will feel the events are genuine.  Proponents of this theory reference a curious incident at the closing ceremony of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, when a flying saucer landed in the stadium and an alien addressed the crowd.  They believe this was a foreshadowing of the real alien landing that will occur during this year’s Summer Olympics.

Conspiracy theorists thrive on symbolism and the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, with their many rituals, including the highly symbolic passing of the torch, provide considerable fuel for their fire. Advocates also cite the symbolism and significance of numerology and, of course, 21 December 2012 is purported to mark the end of the world, according to the belief that the Mayan calendar foretells the end of days as we know them.  Numerologists believe that a New World Order will be ushered in, led by Prince William, due not only to his royal bloodline, but also the fact that he turns 30 on this year’s Summer Solstice and that this year is the 30th Olympiad, or XXX in Roman numerals.

It is easy to be sceptical and to criticise many of the so-called occult elements of the London 2012 Olympic Games. For instance, I live in East London and can confirm that there are many biblical street names in this part of the city. I can also see loads of underdeveloped areas from my balcony. Nevertheless, proponents point out that the first London Olympic conspiracist to go public with these ideas was a 28-year-old man by the name of Rik Clay, who managed a blog called the Cosmic Mind. Clay was found dead in August 2008, 3 months after exposing the London Olympics’ occult connections. Those sceptical of foul play reference the fact that he was simply regurgitating ideas that had already been developed by the British researcher, Ian R Crane, who had a considerably farther media reach than the young blogger. Furthermore, Clay’s parents acknowledge that their son had been depressed and are comfortable with the cause of death being suicide.

Ironically, the Olympics are, in fact, based in occult tradition, starting with the fact that they appear to have originated in Minoan Crete; a civilisation that is thought by many historians to be the historical Atlantis. Here, the Mother Goddess, Rhea, is said to have presided over sacred games, perhaps even bull leaping rituals, of which there is ample evidence. As with many cultural inventions, the Minoans influenced the Greeks in many ways, and of course it was the Greeks who adopted the more formal, if less feminine, version of the games that we have today. I wonder what the ancients would make of our version of their games, rituals and occult traditions. I suspect that they, like me, would conclude that the Olympic conspiracies are mostly bollocks.

Everywhere But No Place

I need to tell you about a great new book, but before I do let me say this: I hate fiction. I mean I loathe it. I really don’t care what colour someone’s eyes are or how soft their voice is. Frankly, most adjectives make me cringe.

When I was filming the National Geographic documentary, The Truth Behind King Arthur, I got to talking to the film crew about fiction and how much I detested Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and how I was horrified when two of my best friends threatened to disown me, implying that I was too thick to appreciate its subtle splendours. At the end of the documentary the guys presented me with a signed copy of the book as a gag. I love those guys, but still hate the book. Fiction – pift!

I am pleased to say that Everywhere But No Place by Mark Foster is an exception to my rule. When the author, my good friend and designer of my Arcadia website, asked me to read it I was worried. I mean, I was really concerned. He is such a good mate. What if I hated it like some of the other fiction I’d read? Fortunately, I needn’t have worried. The book is fabulous. I could not put it down. I was hooked. I was moved. I was relieved. It is now on Kindle. Buy it! I faced my fears and was amply rewarded. You, on the other hand, have nothing to worry about.

Everywhere But No Place

The Stone

I love horror films. Mind you, not just any scary movie. I’m talking about vintage, genre-defining works, such as Hammer Horror productions and cult classics, like The Wicker Man. In addition to horror, these films offered a sublime blend of drama and sex appeal that has never been equalled.

The sexy, but convincingly mystical, Britt Ekland, in 1973’s The Wicker Man

 

There is a new film, however, that pays homage to the genre, and it’s called The Stone; a supernatural horror film, set in England, about a group of paranormal investigators who travel to a haunted old manor, in the hope of freeing souls that have become trapped in the afterlife. Along the way they encounter more than they bargained for; they uncover a mirror into the darkest recesses of their souls. The film is engaging and fast paced, and features a rogue cast full of fresh new faces and a director with an eye for the esoteric. Oh, and I’m in it.

The Stone Poster © Philip Gardiner

 

How I came to appear in a motion picture, let alone star in a supernatural thriller directed by Philip Gardiner, and distributed by Warner Brothers, is not entirely clear. All I know is that one minute I was assisting Global 1000 companies with their customer experience strategy and the next I was walking around Annesley Hall, the former estate of Lord Byron, and one of the most haunted sites in Britain, with a script in my hand, muttering, “What’s my motivation?”


In character – questioning my ‘motivation’ © Philip Gardiner

 

Although I have appeared on television and in documentaries, and am a regular on the speakers’ circuit, I was apprehensive about acting. Let’s be honest. I was scared senseless. I did not have much time to prepare, and in the weeks preceding I frantically solicited acting lessons from drama students and friends, such as the accomplished author and playwright, Patrice Chaplin. The instruction helped and allowed me to discover that my character, the Crowley-inspired ‘Alister’ (an occultist of dubious authenticity, who is addicted to women and whisky and passes himself off as an esoteric guru), was someone I knew more than I cared to admit. 

“Hmm. Hardly a stretch then, is it?” Chaplin mused, as I described my character to her on the deck of her north London flat. “That’s exactly my point,” I retorted defensively. “Being typecast is not as easy as you think. How will they know I’m acting?”

My preparation did not stop with acting lessons. I also had to look the part. I struggled, at times, with how a neo-occultist should look, but I had a vision in my head and several trips to the gothic clothing boutiques in London’s über-trendy Camden Market soon produced the statement I was going for: pretentious and retro.

Camden Market © Andrew Gough

 

In the days leading up to the film I helped direct the expert interviews for the opening sequences. We had selected the interviewees with great care and I was keen to hear what they had to say about the role of sacred stones in history and mythology, i.e. the Grail Stone, the Black Stone at Mecca, rune stones, standing stones, etc.

The Stone interviewees: from left to right, Zachary Miller, Robert Feather, Franky Ma and Nick Pope, with The Stone Director, Philip Gardiner, and The Stone co-star, actress and model, Layla Randle-Conde © Andrew Gough

 

The interviews were a great success and created some momentum leading into the film. A week later, I arrived on set after a memorable, if not harrowing, Saturday night train journey from Nottingham to Mansfield – a trip reminiscent of the film Terror Train, only worse – and reacquainted myself with the cast and crew, most of whom I had met at a promotional event a few weeks earlier. We commenced filming with little ado. Disappointingly, I struggled with the first and, arguably, easiest scenes, but found my way with the more dramatic ones. The explanation was simple: it’s easier to be dramatic and scream than it is to be conversational and subtle.

The first of three clips from one of my many intense scenes in The Stone © Philip Gardiner

 


Looking for an explanation; with my talented co-star, Sarah Dunn © Philip Gardiner

 


Confronting the terror © Philip Gardiner

 

I’d known Phil for several years. He was a mate, but on the set he was all business. My pleas of “can I try that scene again please?” were not only mostly in vain, they were frequently countered with a terse “No. I have what I need, thank you, now let’s move on.” Similarly, in one scene I stumble, dazed, down an abandoned hallway and unleash a blood-curdling scream as my character falls downstairs. Thinking I’d nailed it in one, I was cheekily dusting debris from my soiled shirt and trousers when I heard Phil’s dead-pan voice deliver an unsympathetic, “Cut! Do it again, and this time don’t scream like a girl.” Eleven takes later we had a winner, but I was unsure which had taken a greater beating, my ego or my knees?  I was hurting, but did not want to let on; after all, “what’s a flesh wound amongst friends?” I thought. “And anyway, no sacrifice is too great for the film, right?” I would soon discover just how true this was.

Lying at the foot of the stairs, extending the John the Baptist gesture (the index finger pointing upwards in defiance, as depicted in classical art of the Saint) in my left hand, just like I had in the movie poster, with my right hand; my ode to the now lost painting of John the Baptist that once hung over the fire place in Annesley Hall.  © Darren Washington

 

My last scene was certainly the most surreal and would test my resolve like no other. I was buried vertically in a pit with only my head protruding above ground. One by one, maggots, leeches, crickets, and other assorted creepy crawlies, were placed on my head, face and neck, including a tarantula. Within seconds, as if in unison, they began to slither across my eyes, nose and mouth. Oddly enough, I experienced a sense of calm throughout. I attribute this to having watched my brave and beautiful co-star, Layla Randle-Conde, endure a similar scene a few days earlier. That, and the fact that I was warned that if I flinched, the tarantula, which is hypersensitive to vibration, would sting! “Ah, being still is the key” I thought. And in that one scene I learned the true essence of acting.

Watching my pit being dug. Buried with insects crawling on my face. © Philip Gardiner

 

The entire experience was amazing and I am grateful to Phil for the opportunity to have given it a go. I learned a lot and cannot wait to do it again. Phil’s already planning the next one, Paranormal Haunting: The Curse of the Blue Moon Inn, and it sounds as though it’s going to be every bit as scary as The Stone. And that’s saying a lot.

I’ve always loved horror films. Now I love being in them. 

The Stone is a Reality Films production. The release schedule and background on the film and its cast can be found on The Stone website.

Also, look for the accompanying DVD, Secret Societies and Sacred Stones: From Mecca to Megaliths here.

And don’t forget to check out the following videos:

The Stone Trailer 1

The Stone Trailer 2

Behind the Scenes video

Was Doctor Dolittle a Shaman?

I recently attended a weekend workshop led by the writer and shamanic practitioner, Simon Buxton, who I interviewed in 2009 in support of his wonderful book, The Shamanic Way of the Bee. Simon facilitated The Way of the Shaman workshop on behalf of The Foundation for Shamanic Studies, who have helped inspire a revival in shamanism, at least in the West, over the last few decades. The course was superb and provided a perfect induction into the fundamentals of shamanism and also afforded Simon and me a long overdue opportunity to meet.

With Simon Buxton

 

The course commenced with a review of the principles of shamanism, a discipline that Simon defined as ‘the ultimate expression of spiritual democracy’ and ‘a quest that could change the trajectory of one’s life’. I learned that the term originates from the Tungus region in Siberia and was first recorded in 1672. A shaman, Simon continued, ‘is someone skilled in accessing other worlds and returning with information’. I was intrigued, and would soon be given the opportunity to try it out.

As I prepared for my first foray into the spirit world, I was surprised to learn that over 90% of the world’s shamanic journeys are facilitated by drumming, not drugs. Something, about the rate of 4 to 7 beats per second, causes the brain to shift consciousness; to ready oneself for a journey to the land of our ancestors – a trip, I was told, that began in the heart.

The primary tool used to induce journeying: the drum

 

Simon explained that we live in the ‘middle’ world and that during the course of the weekend we would ‘journey’ into the ‘lower’ and ‘upper’ worlds; spiritual realms free of ego and home to benevolent and transcendent beings. The drumming, which was accompanied by appropriately atmospheric tribal sounds, guided me on my way. Down the rabbit hole and up the beanstalk I scurried, encountering divine spirits in animal form and other manifestations along the way.

“Are you a teacher for me?” I asked an eager-looking spirit in the form of a leopard.

“Yes, I am”, the big cat stoically replied. 

And so we talked. My journey continued, and next up was a bear; several of them.

“May I ask you a question?” I requested of the only bear that stood still long enough for me make eye contact.

“Yes”, the bear affectionately growled. And so I did…

Before long the drumming quickened, signalling me to return from the womb-like comfort of the lower world and the vast assortment of animals I had encountered there. I said my goodbyes, and no sooner had I gained consciousness than I had a revelation. Entry into the spirit world – I was learning – was through a process of imagination and intent; a forcing of one’s consciousness down into the lower world or up into the upper realm. This prompted me to speculate as to whether many of the popular works of literature were actually allegorical to the shamanic experience known as ‘journeying’.

Take, for instance, Alice in Wonderland, and travelling down the rabbit hole; or Jack and the Beanstalk, and climbing up into the clouds. Then there’s The Wizard of Oz, with its rich assortment of animal characters and wise men, including a witch flying up into the sky on a broom!

The one that really stuck in my head, however, was Doctor Dolittle: “If we could talk to the animals, think what fun we’d have…discussing Eastern art and dramas with intellectual llamas,” the song goes. On reflection, I talked to more animals on my initial journey than a child does on its first visit to the zoo. Had Doctor Dolittle been a shaman in disguise, I mused?

Doctor Dolittle (1967)

 

The truth is that I found journeying – or the act of entering the spirit realm through the willful transformation of consciousness – to be rather difficult. I struggled at times and often failed to experience anything. Simon assured me that this was normal and that I should think of it like a muscle in need of training and that this weekend represented my first trip to the gym. I found the analogy reassuring and soon became convinced that another reality, every bit as real as ours, does in fact exist, just over yonder in a consciousness we have largely neglected. The best part is that admission to the spirit world is free. All you have to do is drum…

‘The Way of the Shaman’ and other shamanic courses are available in the UK through the Sacred Trust: http://www.sacredtrust.org.

Music To My Ears

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred, maybe even a thousand times; man does not live by mysteries alone. Putting it simply, one needs pursuits and hobbies that do not involve questing after the Holy Grail! Luckily for me, there’s music; a vice that soothes my soul in an altogether different way.

I grew up in Chicago in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and enjoyed a music scene that was diverse, vibrant and edgy. In fact, my Wrigleyville neighbourhood served as the setting for the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s best-selling novel, High Fidelity. The movie is one of my favourites, not only because of my affinity with its protagonist, John Cusack, but because it launched the career of the marvellous Jack Black. It also featured a record store run by John Cusack’s character, Rob Gordon, located just down the street from where I lived.

High Fidelity, the quintessential record store

 

If the truth be known, I share Gordon’s obsessive-compulsive disorder for creating ‘lists’ of all sorts, subjects and sizes. This includes the ceremonial ranking of my favourite albums and concerts of the year. In the past, it also included the creation of a best-of-the-year tape that I remixed ad nauseam until each transition was perfect. Only then did I ritualistically distribute copies to my family and friends at Christmas; the lucky buggers. Decades later little has changed, except for the fact that my ‘best of’ tape has been replaced by an iTunes play list and a CD and, of course, the musical backdrop of Chicago has been replaced by London.

So, the tradition continues. And thus, without further ado, my 2009 musical ‘best of’ lists look something like this:

Top 5 Concerts

1) Bat for Lashes at the Roundhouse in London

 

2) Fleet Foxes at the Roundhouse in London

 

3) Florence and the Machine at Shoreditch House in London

 

4) Mediaeval Bæbes at Saint Pancras Church in London

 

5) The Dead Weather at Shoreditch Church in London

 

And now, as if blurred concert photos were not punishment enough, I present my top 10 albums of 2009:

Band / Artist Album
1. Bat for Lashes Two Suns
2. Florence and the Machine   Lungs
3. Lily Allen   It’s not Me, It’s You
4. The Big PInk A Brief History of Love
5. White Lies To Lose My Life…
6. Green Day 21st Century Breakdown
7. The Dead Weather Horehound
8. Royksopp Junior
9. Regina Spektor Far
10. Richard Hawley Truelove’s Gutter

And so it goes… Another year, another list, another opportunity to cleanse one’s soul by remembering that there is more to life than grails, arks and tombs. Much more. Maybe I’ll make a list…!

Remembering The Steeple Master

Few pupils of masters ever achieve greatness, let alone become masters themselves. Nicholas Hawksmoor did, however, and I am privileged to live in the shadow of his baroque brilliance. 

 

As a student of one of England’s most renowned architects, Sir Christopher Wren, Hawksmoor was more ambitious than other apprentices. His work included Westminster Abbey, Blenheim Palace, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral and All Souls College, Oxford, as well as six churches built in support of the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches, founded in 1711; an initiative designed to supply the rapidly growing city of London with more places of worship. Hawksmoor was a man on a mission, clearly, but what set him apart from the rest was his vision, that and the fact that he was a specialist; a master of towers and steeples.

The towers of Westminster Abbey, one of Hawksmoor’s many masterpieces

 

Unlike his peers, Hawksmoor never embarked on the Grand Tour and many believe this led to his fascination with classical images of places he could never visit. This included a special, almost romanticised, relationship with the Gothic style in general and the Temple of Solomon, in particular. Nowhere is the latter more evident than in London’s Old Street, whose very name hints at its importance in ancient times. Here, Saint Luke’s church stands as testament to Hawksmoor’s vision, bravery and desire to fuse his eclectic influences into a single audacious statement, for here stands an obelisk on top of a church where a steeple would normally be.

Saint Luke’s, where Hawksmoor substituted an obelisk for a spire

 

Hawksmoor did not design Saint Luke’s. He merely added the obelisk, for towers were his specialty, and many architects, such as John James – the architect of the body of the church – looked to his bold and uniquely austere vision to add the crowning touch to their design.

Hawksmoor’s austere ode to the heavens, the obelisk at Saint Luke’s Church, London

 

Not far from Saint Luke’s, and even closer to where I live and work, is Christ Church, Spitialfields, one of Hawksmoor’s six London churches. At Spitalfields, Hawksmoor’s evocative style dominates the skyline and casts its spell on a neighbourhood better known for the resting place of William Blake, the home of John Wesley and the killing fields of Jack the Ripper.

The austere grandeur of Christ Church, Spitalfields – near where I live

 

Actually, Saint Luke’s was one of two churches where Hawksmoor erected an obelisk atop John James’s design.  The other, St John Horsleydown, also in London, was built near the south bank of the River Thames, but was bombed in 1940, during the Blitz, leaving Saint Luke’s as Hawksmoor’s most poignant memorial to his beloved Temple of Solomon.

Engraving of Hawksmoor’s obelisk atop Saint John Horsleydown, London, by John Buckler

 

Saint Luke’s has experienced many transformations over the years; from church, to lunatic asylum, to home of the London Symphony Orchestra, where the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Elton John have recorded. Today, its interior resembles anything but a church, while the exterior has changed little. In fact, on overcast days in particular, of which there are many in London, its mood can be quite foreboding, something I suspect Hawksmoor had always intended.

A foreboding appearance: the outside of Saint Luke’s has changed little over the years

 

At the end of the day, what appeals to me most about Hawksmoor’s choice of an obelisk for a steeple is its obvious reference to the Egyptian God, Ra, and the most enduring entity in our heavens, the sun. The symbolism is simple, yet perfect, and makes me wonder why it was not more widely adopted. Regardless, I feel fortunate that Saint Luke’s remains and that I pass by it most days, for it reminds me that vision can overcome convention and that students of masters may also become masters themselves.

Admiring Hawksmoor’s obelisk

World Premiere of Vanishing of the Bees

I have my friend Simon Buxton to thank for introducing me to Maryam Henein, the talented Co-Director / Producer of Vanishing of the Bees, and I recently had the pleasure of attending the world premiere of her important new film.  

 

Along with Co-Director / Producer, George Langworthy, Maryam has produced a superb, must-see film that captures the world of the honey bee and its relationship with man in compelling fashion. The film is provocative and unrelenting in its message: pesticides appear to be killing the honey bee and if the US Environmental Protection Agency and others do not intervene and stop the web of corruption that is allowing the problem to go unattended, then the results will be catastrophic – and not just for the honey bee.

Maryam Henein
© Vanishing of the Bees

 

Vanishing of the Bees is a wonderfully crafted film, engaging and lovely to watch. More importantly, it highlights what is truly at stake:

Bees represent a $16-billion industry on the edge of collapse and, tragically, the species is at the point of annihilation. Not only does this present catastrophic agricultural consequences, but an ancient and sacred tradition is now in jeopardy.

The film’s excellent website succinctly highlights the dilemma;

“Bees provide 1/3 of everything we eat and without them farming would be thrown into chaos. 80% of insect-pollinated plants rely on the honey bee to bring them to life. Without the honey bee crops of over 90 fruits and vegetables would be seriously diminished, if not completely lost…”

A still from Vanishing of the Bees
© Vanishing of the Bees

 

Despite the serious and rather distressing reality of Vanishing of the Bees, the premiere, which was held at London’s posh Mayfair Hotel, was a celebration of the directors’ success in getting the message out.

With the proud filmmakers, Maryam Henein and George Langworthy

 

A highlight of the evening was the speakers’ panel, held immediately after the premiere. Chaired by the film’s supporters, the co-operative, the panel of experts addressed a variety of spirited questions from the audience, which underscored the political complexity that the resolution of the dilemma will require, what with powerful corporations such as Bayer dictating the acceptance of their own products by the US government; products that appear to be killing the honey bees.

The speakers’ panel: director, Maryam Henein, addresses the audience

 

In addition to Alison Benjamin, co-author of the excellent book, ‘World Without Bees’, the panel included David Hackenberg, the former president of the American Beekeeping Federation and, arguably, the single most important voice in beekeeping today. It was Hackenberg who first spoke out on the demise of the bees and who has acted as the movement’s advocate ever since. Hackenberg is featured in the film and his insights on the night were memorable and special.

With David Hackenberg, the man who focused the world’s attention on the demise of the honey bee

 

The gala was also attended by its share of UK notables, including Oasis front man Liam Gallagher, who extended his support for the honey bee and mused: “I like honey. If it weren’t for honey, I’d have a rough voice". 

Oasis’s Liam Gallagher meets a bee
© http://vanishingbees.co.uk/blog/>

 

I was also able to meet up with EastEnders star, Michelle Collins, who gave her support to the honey bee, and even the honey bee himself!

 

With EastEnders star, Michelle Collins, and ‘the honey bee’

 

The evening was a great success, but, make no mistake, the situation is dire. Awareness is half the battle, however, and films like Vanishing of the Bees are vital to the solution. What can you do to help?  Look for Vanishing of the Bees in a theatre near you. Support it. Watch it. It’s a great film. Then, take action.

Congratulations to all involved. Viva Maryam and George. Viva the honey bee.

© http://vanishingbees.co.uk

The Highgate Vampire

Highgate Cemetery is one of London’s special places. It’s also a favorite haunt – excuse the pun – of satanists, witches, lunatics and vampire slayers. So I figured I’d fit right in.

The famed Egyptian Avenue at Highgate Cemetery

 

My tour of the grandiose gothic graveyard begun promptly at 4 pm, and no sooner had we began than our guide abruptly halted in mid step, succumbing to his curiosity and noticeably overtaken by anxiety. ‘What’s the book?’ he asked, noticeably agitated and ever so aware of my presence in the back of group.

I tried not to look any more mortified than I was as all eyes turned my way; camera in one hand, hardback book in the other. ‘You don’t want to know,’ I retorted nervously, trying to diffuse the confrontation with humor.

‘What’s the book called?’ the guide now demanded, sounding even more anxious than before.

‘Err, Sean Manchester is the author,’ I replied, trying hard not to humiliate myself by exposing the fact that I was harboring the 1985 horror classic, ‘The Highgate Vampire’.

Sean Manchester’s controversial book

 

‘Well, we aren’t going to be talking about all that today I can assure you,’ he extolled with some bravado, before adding; ‘Now let’s continue,’ as if I was somehow responsible for delaying the proceedings. The rest of the group looked on with disdain, and speculated about the implied perversion of my interest. ‘Not a good start,’ I mused.

Things soon improved, however, and the tour proved spectacular and our guide brilliant. Despite an awkward start, we developed a mutual respect, and he even went as far as to entertain the group while I went walkabout to photograph the famous tomb where Manchester, a priest who has dedicated himself to the mystery of the Highgate Vampire for nearly 40 years – most famously during the 1970’s – preformed his legendary exorcism of the Highgate Vampire.

The Circle of Lebanon, where Sean Manchester first attempted to exorcise the Highgate Vampire in August 1970, using the Latin Rite

 

For all his trouble, Manchester’s legacy remains a mixed bag. While many within the Friends of Highgate Cemetery (FoHC) revere his efforts, others, such as our guide, are less appreciative. ‘Banned for life,’ he extolled dryly. Harsh words, I thought, for a priest who dedicated himself to the safety and well-being of others for all those years. Then again, Manchester might get the last laugh, as two films inspired by his yarn are in various stages of development; one faithful to his 1970’s account and another set in modern times, but borrowing his well-branded title nevertheless. It remains to be seen if either will be filmed in Highgate Cemetery, as was the 1969 classic Hammer Horror film, ‘Taste of the Blood of Dracula’. In any case, Manchester’s book is brilliant, compelling and engaging and I recommend it highly.

A scene from the 1969 film, Taste of the Blood of Dracula
© David L Rattigan 2005

 

After the tour I walked the perimeter of the burial ground looking for evidence of nocturnal access, curious to discover which parts of the cemetery were of most interest to the various cults that conduct their rituals here as if it were some sort of ghoulish temple. And there, on the corner of the cemetery that borders Waterlow Park was the entrance I was looking for, and lo and behold, near the path leading to the ‘climb over’ was a freshly imprinted image in the ground of a stake, the likes of which I envisaged Manchester using in the past. All I needed was some garlic and a crucifix and I would have been convinced that the un-dead were alive and well in Highgate Cemetery, or at least that others believed they were!

Imprint of a stake in front of the eastern ‘climb over’ entrance to Highgate Cemetery

 

The presence of the stake just meters from the cemetery wall is no doubt coincidental, and reflective of my own active imagination; not the presence of vampire slayers. All the same, I for one am looking forward to next year’s feature films and hope that they do justice to the glorious memorial that is Highgate Cemetery. It would be a bloody shame if they did not.

Please note that Highgate Cemetery has a long history of abuse from Satanists, would-be vampire slayers and others, and thus is strictly supervised. Those who trespass will be prosecuted without exception.

Atlantis Never Existed

The legend of Atlantis is predicated on hearsay and I have my suspicions that the fabled antediluvian utopia never existed. You see, Plato (428 BC – 328 BC) introduced the notion of the lost civilization in his dialogues, Timaeus and Critias, and of the four personalities that he recounts only Critias speaks of Atlantis. Our entire notion of this antediluvian paradise, of which volumes – no, libraries – of information have been written, originates from Critias’s sparse account of the 6th century BC Athenian lawgiver named Solon, and his meeting with a priest from the Egyptian temple of Sais.

The Ruins of Sais and the Temple of the Bee of the Goddess Neith

 

Serendipitously, it is said that Plato was kissed on the lips by bees as an infant, for Sais is famous for its Temple of the Bee, dedicated to the Goddess Neith, mother of the RA, the most important of all Egyptian gods, and who is said to have cried bees as tears.
 
Actually, it was the Philosopher Crantor (late 4th Century BC), who introduced the notion that the story of Atlantis was ‘written on pillars which are still preservedat Sais. But my concern is; when have Egyptian pillars EVER spoken of another civilization as being superior or more advanced in any way? Many ancient pillars in Egypt have survived, however any casual traveler will have witnessed pillar after pillar and temple wall after temple wall of tales of Egyptian supremacy, of Pharaoh smiting his enemies; scenes of supremacy and victory – not pandering to another culture from a distant epoch. So, my feeling is that Atlantis never existed, or if it did, it was a memory of the Minoan capital of Thera on the Greek isle of Crete; a popular candidate amongst historians for the historical Atlantis. 

Minoan Gold Bee pendant from Crete, circa 2000 BC

 

I like Thera as a candidate for the historical Atlantis, not only due to the well documented ties between Egyptian and Minoan cultures – thus creating the only likely scenario in my mind by which a distant and foreign culture would be venerated on an Egyptian temple pillar – but because of Sais’s link with the sacred bee. Minoans had a word for bee and they spelt it ‘Sphex’. They venerated the insect and taught the Greeks the art of beekeeping, and it was the Greeks who named the Sphinx (previously known as Hu nb). The Minoans were also renowned for their worship of bulls, as were the Egyptians, and it was a symbol of regeneration, as was Osiris, who is said to have been buried at Sais. And of course the most sacred bull of all was the Apis Bull, and Apis in Latin means ‘bee’.


A Minoan bull statue

 

So, forgive me, Plato, but I reckon that Atlantis never existed. That said, the subtle and entirely overlooked symbolism of the sacred bee is a link worth exploring, and one that may tie Sais to Minoan culture and the true site of the historical Atlantis.

The Godfather of Esoteria

Colin Wilson published his first book, the seminal The Outsider in 1956, before I was born! With over 100 books to his credit, Colin is not just a legend; he’s the Godfather of modern day esoteria. 

Colin Wilson – a portrait of timeless cool

 

His new book, Super Consciousness: The Quest for the Peak, Experience, only adds to his impressive legacy. The book is the result of over 40 years of research into the phenomena of peak experiences and how luminaries such as Yeats, Blake, Sartre, Nietzche and Robert Graves were influenced by them.

On display: Super Consciousness, with the reissued classic Beyond the Occult sandwiched in-between

 

I had the pleasure of meeting Colin in the green room of my friend Philip’s show; ‘Gardiner’s World’, back in March and found him to epitomize class, understatement and cool.

Colin and I in the Green Room at Gardiner’s World

 

Several months later, I attended one of Colin’s lectures in Saint James, the London church where William Blake was baptized. The lecture was part of weekly summer series that featured some of the newest and interesting speakers on the circuit. The only difference is Colin filled the place to capacity and the audience hung on his every word and afterwards queued for an hour to speak to him.

Colin Wilson; Rock Star status 50+ years on

 

However, the most interesting part of the evening was a 15 minute segment during Colin’s talk where his character and patience were tested by a vocal minority who took offence with his refusal to attribute his own peak experiences to meditation. One after another, audience members raised their objections; each time Colin calmly and un-defensively restated his belief that his peak experiences were due to conscious intention, concentration and technique – not meditation. I found Wilson’s grit to be impressive and his resolve extraordinary. But I would expect nothing less from a man who has seen and heard it all for the last five decades.

Black Genesis

What a hoot. Here I am back at Edge TV preparing to interview the extraordinary Robert Bauval. Phil Gardiner, host of the esoteric talk show ‘Gardiner’s World’, asked if I would conduct half of Robert’s two hour interview, and needless to say I was delighted. I had prepared to chat with Robert about his illustrious career, but Phil has different ideas and at the last minute decides I should focus exclusively on Robert’s forthcoming book, Black Genesis. And so I do.

On the set of my interview with Robert Bauval

 

Robert is raring to go and requires little prompting; within seconds we’re knee deep into a discussion on Nabta Playa, the desolate region in Southern Egypt renowned for its ancient settlements and Neolithic stone circles with astronomical alignments. The title of his new book gives it all away. We’re talking about the genesis of Egyptian society and how it originated from this region several thousands of years before the Pharaohs.

After the show, and a couple of hours chatting in the green room, Robert and I are all over the place, talking about everything from bees to breakfast. Needless to say I found him engaging, dynamic and knowledgeable – a venerable rock star in a genre of garage bands.

So you know the rest; the book is going to be great. Black Genesis is due out in early 2010. Be sure not to miss it.

Sherwood Forest Shrews

There was no way I was going to pass up an opportunity to meet ‘the real’ Robin Hood, in Sherwood Forest, with his Merry Men and special lady, Maid Marian. Nope, it simply was not going to happen, especially as my friend, the author Philip Gardiner was filming a documentary on Robin Hood and was in need of an extra hand on the set.

On the set of Philip Gardiner’s Robin Hood documentary

 

Robin Hood is one of the most popular legends of this or any other era. But is the green man in tights to be believed? I’ll leave that debate to Philip, whose upcoming book and documentary will delve deeply into the historical and archetypal aspects of the whole affair. Having read the synopsis and discussed it at length, I am convinced that he is about to produce the definitive account of the man, myth and legend. So watch this space.


Phil films Maid Marion’s abductor

 

We’re all familiar with the archetypal Robin Hood – the Green Man, Osiris, the oppression of the Normans, etc, but did you know that there are nearly a dozen historical accounts of a man named Robin Hood that match his description – complete with matching supporting cast – before the year 1300?


The green man and Robin Hood are closely linked in mythology

 

Today, we are in the presence of the ‘real’ Robin Hood, a knowledgeable and authentic looking chap who is commissioned by Nottingham City Council to portray the historical Robin Hood in an official capacity. The guy is fantastic, and man was he born to play the part.

The ‘Real’ Robin Hood

 

As I reflect on the mythos of the green man, I am suddenly struck by the notion that Robin Hood ‘took from the rich and gave to the poor’. Personally, I lean towards archetypal explanations anyway, but there is something about this notion of justice, or Ma’at as the Egyptians called it, that’s preying on mind.

Yes, Robin Hood appears to stem from Osiris – who is frequently portrayed as ‘green’, but what about the stars? Might Robin Hood be an analogy for the death of one era and the rise of another? Could his legend be allegorical for the cyclical nature of justice? I pondered the possibility as we assembled at an oak tree not far from base camp and prepared to film Robin Hood’s death scene; his final arrow slung from his bow just seconds before collapsing in Maid Marian’s arms.

Robin Hood shooting his final arrow

 

At the precise moment that Robin took his final breath, I stood resolute in my belief that so much of what we deem legend, even history, is actually about archetypes. Sure, from time to time an authentic and historical figure may spawn a revivalist cult, acted out over a long period of time, but more often than not, the truly great legends were created by man gazing up into the heavens; as viewed above, so retold below. At the end of the day Robin Hood is quite a story and will make a brilliant documentary, regardless of where it came from. As for Philip, well he’s got another hit on his hands I reckon. I’m excited for him, although you could say I’m green with envy.

Finding Solace on the Summer Solstice

The summer solstice is celebrated the world over, especially across old Europe. Quite simply, it’s a day of celebration and remembrance like no other. In England, the tradition is synonymous with Stonehenge, and in my opinion, not in a good way. Poor Stonehenge, I have always felt; the sacred, world heritage temple is routinely trashed by pseudo neo pagans and new age debutants who hold little regard for the sites true sanctity. There are exceptions, of course, but the celebration is largely a charade. 

On a day that started in Avebury and included a full tour of Glastonbury, I had saved Stonehenge for last, a wise choice as it turned out, for it was nearly empty, albeit in tatters. And as the sun set through the clouds, the site reverberated as it should, as it has done before on this very day for thousands of years.

Summer Solstice sunset at Stonehenge – after the crowds had departed

 

Some twelve hours earlier I had started my day at the nearby Neolithic sanctuary of Avebury. Here, a calmer scene unfolded, and the diverse and awe-inspiring site proved a perfect venue to honor the sun, and life, on this longest of days.

Avebury: A crop circle, viewed through the lintels of the West Kennett Long Barrow

 

An unlikely, but entirely splendid location in which to enjoy the midsummer festivities is Glastonbury – the Isle of Apples – the Avalon of Arthurian mythology according to legend. And it is here that I went next.

Glastonbury Abbey; the heart of the Isle of Apples

 

Glastonbury was magical, and reminded me of how simple a celebration of light can be; a walk around the sacred Chalice Well – a peaceful garden with sacred springs and legends of the Holy Grail, a hike to Glastonbury Tor – the labyrinthine passage to the netherworld, a stroll through the spring lamb fields that lead to the tree that was spawned by the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, a tour of Glastonbury Abbey – where Arthur and Guinevere were buried, a visit to Gog and Magog – two surviving oaks once revered by the druids, and finally, a slow, introspective walk around the labyrinth in Saint John’s churchyard. Fabulous. 


The Labyrinth at Glastonbury

 

The thing is, why wait for the summer solstice to celebrate the fullness of life. Sure, it’s a special day, I reflected, but we tend to forget that there are 364 others that are every bit as precious.

Portal Power

It’s a late summer’s evening and my good friend, the esteemed author Patrice Chaplin, and I are sitting on a park bench in a churchyard that adjoins one of London’s oldest and most famous high streets. Nothing unusual there, except for the fact that we are sitting in the middle of an inter-dimensional portal.

I’m rather new to the whole portal thing, and as I understand it, one could be standing in the middle of one and not know it. And what’s more, I’m keen to enter one.

Entering a portal requires the assistance of an initiate,” Patrice mutters under her breath, breaking a moment of introspection and silence, as if talking to herself. “They need to prepare it in advance you see, make sure it’s ready. And even then, well, I have known many who were not spiritually ready for the experience and who died in the process.”

I reckon I’m ready,” I retorted eagerly, if not a bit defensively.  


Patrice Chaplin, sitting in the portal she once entered

 

Patrice ignores my not so subtle plea to be taken through the portal and instead recalls her own journey several years ago. I’m amazed at her account, and the fact that other notable literary figures have apparently known of its existence for centuries.

But here I must stop, for Patrice is featuring the London portal, and others, in her just completed book, and on her upcoming tour (details forthcoming). Watch this space. And in the mean time, I’ll be sure to let you know if I succeed in entering it. Assuming I survive.

Indigo Man in Perillos

I joined the well-known group of researchers in the middle of their trip, which kicked off in Bruges and meandered its way to the South of France before arriving in Rennes-le-Chateau.  Led by the best selling author Kathleen McGowan, the assembly included McGowan’s trusted researchers, as well as authors Filip Coppens, Andrew Douzet and the renowned harpist Ani Williams, an accomplished researcher and writer in her own right, and trusted friend and confidante of Henry Lincoln.

Henry Lincoln with his muse, the renowned harpist Ani Williams, in Rennes-le-Chateau

 

Filip I know well, and Andre, well he cooked me dinner in the last time we met, and I’m keen to catch up with each. It is, however, the first time I’ve met Kathleen, and one cannot help but be impressed by her zeal, intensity and knowledge. Everyone is in good form, and today we visited Perillos, a controversial site renowned for its promise, intrigue and tombs. We pose for a picture near Roc Redon, a natural landmark that Andre used to confirm Perillos as the landscape depicted on the topographical model commissioned by the Rennes-le-Chateau priest Berenger Sauniere, shortly before his death in 1917.

Pausing for a group photo, in Perillos
(from the viewer’s right: Andre, Me, Kathleen, Filip, Ani, Patrick)

 

The weather is idyllic, albeit unseasonably hot, as we embark on our leisurely hike to subterranean sanctuary known as La Caune. Andre and I pair off, and it’s a struggle between his broken English and my pathetic French, yet somehow we communicate remarkably well, and along the way, Andre trustingly points to the location of tomb one; the site purported to contain the body of Jesus Christ, if the annotation on the model commissioned by Sauniere is to be believed.

Andre, pointing to the location in Perillos of the primary Tomb on the model

 

We explore the cave at length, savoring the break from the late afternoon heat. As we leave, I am amazed to discover a carving of an ancient image known as Indigo Man, accompanied by a cross. The image is the subject of an upcoming article of mine about a ‘lost symbol’ that is cherished in Spain and parts of France to this day, but for all the wrong reasons.

The so-called Indigo Man and a cross within a cartouche like design to its right

 

I’m transfixed by the discovery and babble incoherently to the group about its significance. Just why I find the image intriguing, and important, and believe that its true meaning has been misunderstood, well, that’s a story for another day. Indigo man in Perillos; who would have thought? Certainly not I.

Interview of Secrets

[From my journal]

Today is my fourth appearance on Philip Gardiner’s syndicated talk show, Gardiners World, sort of an esoteric ‘David Letterman’ show.

On my first visit, some three months earlier, I had spoken about the forgotten legacy of the sacred bee, and on my second, I bantered with my friend, the godfather of punk, Rat Scabies. We disagreed on almost every aspect of Rennes-le-Chateau, no doubt driving Philip batty, before jumping on the motorway and driving back to London, merrily arguing the entire way.



Rat Scabies; killing time in Green Room of Gardiner’s World

 

My previous appearance, however, was more stressful than the others. I spoke about the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu for an entire hour, a figure which the historical record has all but forgotten, and thus speaking about him for that duration was a feat that even the Egyptian Antiquities Director Zahi Hawass would be challenged to perform, or so I mused.

After several visits on the show, Philip and I have become good friends, and I regard him as a diamond in the rough, a gem in the back stabbing genre of esoteria, a gentlemen; generous, refreshingly cynical and bright.


Philip and I, before my 2nd appearance on Gardiner’s World

 

Today, however, the tables are turned and I am the interviewer, not the interviewee. My guest is Patrice Chaplin, the best selling author and playwright who is promoting her book, City of Secrets. The fact that Patrice and I are good friends does little to still my nerves, given that the show is broadcast unedited to over 40 million viewers across the globe. Eek!

On the set of Gardiner’s World with Patrice Chaplin

 

Fortunately for me, Patrice is in top form and that makes the interview a breeze, except for the warnings about pending commercial breaks administered via hand signals from the cameraman that I am supposed to be keeping track of out of the corner of my left eye while fully engaged in conversation! After nearly an hour of chatter we delve into Patrice’s upcoming work, ‘Mr Lazarus’, and a yet to be titled book about portals. Each sounds fascinating and Patrice informs me that she will be conducting a tour of Girona, Rennes-le-Chateau and the sacred Catalan mountain Canigou, in 2010, details of which will be advertised on Arcadia in due course.

As Patrice departs, I am joined by Carrie Kirkpatrick, writer and director of an impressive new documentary on the mysteries of Girona that features Patrice and I as talking heads. The documentary is to air back-to-back with the interview, repeating with regularity on a cable channel near you.

Thanks to Philip for allowing me to learn first hand just how difficult being host actually is!

Confessions of a Rinpoche

Confessions of a Rinpoche
December 3rd 2008

Rinpoche means ‘precious master’ in Himalayan Buddhism and is a title awarded to young men who are believed to be reincarnated masters. On a recent trip to Bhutan, where Buddhism continues to flourish – some say in its purest form – I had the privilege to meet with His Holiness, Rinpoche Jangtrul, a reincarnated Bhutanese meditation master from the 14th century, and one of the holiest men in the country.

I met with Rinpoche Jangtrul just days before Bhutan’s new king, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, was to be crowned in the Punaka dzong; a spectacular river-side fortress built in 1637 over an existing temple some 300 years its elder. The Punaka fortress has long been converted into a centre of monastic study and today serves as the winter residence of Bhutan’s central monk body. Needless to say, Rinpoche Jangtrul would be attending the coronation and had already begun his preparations.

The Punaka Dzong: decorated in yellow trim for the coronation of Bhutan’s new king

 

I toured Punaka earlier in my trip and stumbled upon a peculiar story about the unfathomable powers of meditation; an incident notorious to locals but not well-known outside of Bhutan. It seems that a few years ago the elderly and powerful Abbot Monk entered Punaka’s most sacred temple and began to mediate, as part of a process and ritual to induce death. He succeeded. Several weeks passed before a high ranking official – rumored to have been the king – checked on the holy man only to find him dead, his body perfectly preserved but shrunken to under two feet in size. The sacred Buddhist ritual of invoking meditation to eliminate the body at the time of death is especially ancient. However, its application in this day and age is simply extraordinary and underscores the astonishing power of the mind.

The Future Buddha – a common site in Bhutan’s most sacred temples

 

With the tale of the Abbot Monk embedded in my subconscious, I prepared to meet with the reincarnation of Bhutan’s most acclaimed master of meditation. ‘Where to start’, I wondered.

‘Why now?’ I asked His Holiness, Rinpoche Jangtrul, as we sat encircled by monks in the reception room of his Thimpu capital home. ‘Why were you re-born in this day and age and not another era?

The Rinpoche appeared perplexed. Perhaps I was nervous or had not been clear. I gathered my thoughts and tried again.

‘What I mean your holiness is, well, you are 25 years of age, correct?’

The Rinpoche nodded his head slowly. ‘That is correct’, he replied, his demeanour pleasant and assured, yet ever so pensive.

‘Why did you choose to be reborn in 1983?’ I continued.

‘It was predetermined, you see’, the Rinpoche explained. ‘It was preordained a long, long time ago. My life today is a manifestation of what was agreed then.’

The Rinpoche reflected for a moment as he sat cross legged in a wooden chair, affectionately stroking a one month old puppy that had fallen asleep on his lap. The dog was a gift from the queen, and the Rinpoche was understandably proud, not to mention fond, of the animal.



The Rinpoche in his home in the Bhutanese capital of Thimpu

 

‘To answer your question, I have been asked by the king to work with the youth of Bhutan’, the Rinpoche explained. ‘Maybe that is the explanation you seek. In recent years my country has been exposed to the western world like never before. Television, internet, mobile phones; they are beginning to defocus our youth from their heritage – from Buddhism. It is my job to reach out to them and find a way to connect them with their past.’

As the Rinpoche spoke, one of his monks darted out of view and into the seclusion of the adjoining kitchen, concealing the fact that he had been texting a message on his cell phone.

‘I must say I have been very ill. Almost died, actually,’ the Rinpoche proclaimed, as if changing the subject.

‘Why, I mean how, I mean I’m sorry to hear that,’ I stammered, wanting to know more but at the same time keeping an eye on the monk who was still sending texts on his phone, now visible through the kitchen window.

‘I recently spent 30 days meditating in a holy cave that the Precious Master once used for his meditations. After a couple of weeks I became ill. Before long, doctors were called in and informed me that my blood pressure was extraordinarily high and that I may have an ulcer.’

‘Those do not seem like the ailments of a young man,’ I added. ‘Might they somehow be reflective of your status as a reincarnated master – an old soul who has lived before?’

‘Possibly,’ the Rinpoche replied. A slight smile reframed his otherwise sober face but did little to dilute his focus.

Padmasambava – The Precious Master

 

‘There has also been an attempt on my life. One of my monks attempted to poison me, but I have forgiven him, for even that was predetermined.’

This is curious, I thought, as the 1st Jangtrul Rinpoche, His Holiness Pethin Rinpoche, one of the most celebrated meditation masters in Buddhism during the second half of the 20th century, was also poisoned by one of his monks. I wanted to explore the coincidence further but was preempted, as though my thoughts had been intercepted. The Rinpoche continued without pause:

‘The doctors tell me that I suffer from depression and have put me on Prozac. I’ve found that it hurts my vision in meditation. And some days I just forget to take it.’

The irony was palatable as the Rinpoche spoke of his condition. ‘Clearly the pressures of expectation are not lost on Eastern Masters’, I mused.

Indeed, the Rinpoche was burdened with expectations, but after all this was quite understandable. At the age of 3, Jangtrul began to recite minutiae about his former life as a meditation master. Like many Rinpoche’s before him, his parents reacted angrily, knowing that their child would be taken away and raised by monks should he in fact be confirmed as a past master. And Rinpoche Jangtrul was no exception. When he was still quite young his mother hit him with a slipper and told him he was crazy, that he was speaking nonsense. Ultimately however, at the age of 9, after years of rigorous testing, Rinpoche Jangtrul was affirmed as a Rinpoche in a ceremony in India and attended by thousands, including the American actor and Buddhist, Richard Gere.

The Bhutanese Capital of Thimpu; The town center near where Rinpoche Jangtrul lives

 

Moved, yet somewhat uncomfortable discussing the Rinpoche’s fragile health any further, it was now my turn to change the subject:

‘Down through the ages masters of all kinds have proclaimed that before enlightenment can be achieved one must first know oneself. Tell me, how does one do that?’

‘Through meditation,’ the Rinpoche replied. ‘That is how one knows oneself. The secret is to quiet the mind. However, meditation is not easy. Even I struggle. Sometimes I meet people who tell me they meditate for an hour every day. I ask them, how can you do that? How can you mediate for an entire hour? Some days I manage 5 minutes, the next day 10. It is something that must be practiced, if only for seconds each day. The importance of meditation is critical, today more than ever. We must become masters of our own minds; each of us. Nobody said it was easy. I can attest to that.’

I concurred, stirred by His Holiness’ humility and fascinated by his story. I thanked him for his time and wished him good health and continued success in his work with the Bhutanese youth.

A few days later, the Rinpoche attended the coronation of Bhutan’s new king in the Punaka Dzong. The most sacred elements of the ceremony took place in the same temple where the Abbot Monk meditated to his death just a few of years ago, reducing his body to a third of his normal size in the process.

Bhutan’s new king, wearing the Raven Crown & the sacred Punaka temple where the cermony took place

 

Back home in London I reflected on my encounter with the Rinpoche and his very human condition. I also pondered the power of meditation and how it may facilitate enlightenment in both life and death. The Rinpoche was a humble and refreshingly honest young man. That was for sure. However, I wondered if the importance of his message was not so much what he said but how he said it.

Long live the Rinpoche Jangtrul. And many more.

R.I.P Jean-Luc Robin

The world of Rennes-Le-Chateau has lost a great friend; it has lost Jean-Luc Robin.

Jean-Luc during our interview, in the Garden of the Villa Bethania

 

Jean-Luc was my friend and gave me my first tour of Rennes-Le-Chateau. His knowledge was broad and deep, and his conclusions sensible, sceptical and measured. He lived and breathed Rennes-Le-Chateau, having once served as caretaker of the Villa Bethania. In recent years he managed a restaurant in the Villa’s garden where he sponsored summer lectures that drew crowds from all over France.

Jean-Luc created an organization for the preservation of Rennes-Le-Chateau and his passion for the integrity of the village – and the mystery – was unsurpassed. His book, Rennes-Le-Chateau – The Secret of Sauniere contained a forward by his good friend and mentor Henry Lincoln, and was hailed by enthusiasts for its honesty, wit and insight, and it instantly became my personal favourite.

Jean-Luc, discussing his plans with his mentor, Henry Lincoln

 

Jean-Luc and I spoke frequently. He called on Monday – the 10th of March – to inform me that the party which he organized had narrowly defeated the incumbent major of Rennes-Le-Chateau, Jean-François Lhuilier, and that although he would not stand for major himself, he would most likely serve as minister of Tourism and Preservation. He was excited, proud and looking toward the future.

Star of the show; at his summer lecture, 2006

 

Jean-Luc died during the night of March 11-12, having suffered an apparent heart attack.

Rest in Peace my friend.

Your work will not be forgotten, or in vain.