Type “Holy Grail” into Google and … well, you probably don’t need me to finish that sentence. The sheer multiplicity of what any search engine throws up demonstrates that there is no clear consensus as to what the Grail is or was. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of people out there claiming to know its history, true meaning and even where to find it.
Modern authors, perhaps most (in)famously Dan Brown, offer new interpretations and, even when these are clearly and explicitly rooted in little more than imaginative fiction, they get picked up and bandied about as if a new scientific and irrefutable truth has been discovered. The Grail, though, will perhaps always eschew definition. But why?
The first known mention of a Grail (“un graal”) is made in a narrative spun by a 12th century writer of French romance, Chrétien de Troyes, who might reasonably be referred to as the Dan Brown of his day – though some scholars would argue that the quality of Chrétien’s writing far exceeds anything Brown has so far produced.
Chrétien’s Grail is mystical indeed – it is a dish, big and wide enough to take a salmon, that seems capable to delivering food and sustenance. To obtain the Grail requires asking a particular question at the Grail Castle. Unfortunately, the exact question (“Whom does the Grail serve?”) is only revealed after the Grail quester, the hapless Perceval, has missed the opportunity to ask it. It seems he is not quite ready, not quite mature enough, for the Grail.
But if this dish is the “first” Grail, then why do we now have so many possible Grails? Indeed, it is, at turns, depicted as the chalice of the Last Supper or of the Crucifixion or both, or as a stone containing the elixir of life, or even as the bloodline of Christ. And this list is hardly exhaustive. The reason most likely has to do with the fact that Chrétien appears to have died before completing his story, leaving the crucial questions as to what the Grail is and means tantalisingly unanswered. And it did not take long for others to try to answer them for him.
Robert de Boron, a poet writing within 20 or so years of Chrétien (circa 1190-1200), seems to have been the first to have associated the Grail with the cup of the Last Supper. In Robert’s prehistory of the object, Joseph of Arimathea took the Grail to the Crucifixion and used it to catch Christ’s blood. In the years that followed (1200-1230), anonymous writers of prose romances fixated upon the Last Supper’s Holy Chalice and made the Grail the subject of a quest by various knights of King Arthur’s court. In Germany, by contrast, the knight and poet Wolfram von Eschenbach reimagined the Grail as “Lapsit exillis” – an item more commonly referred to these days as the “Philosopher’s Stone”.
None of these is anything like Chrétien’s Grail, of course, so we can fairly ask: did medieval audiences have any more of a clue about the nature of the Holy Grail than we do today?
Publishing the Grail
My recent book delves into the medieval publishing history of the French romances that contain references to the Grail legend, asking questions about the narratives’ compilation into manuscript books. Sometimes, a given text will be bound alongside other types of texts, some of which seemingly have nothing to do with the Grail whatsoever. So, what sorts of texts do we find accompanying Grail narratives in medieval books? Can this tell us anything about what medieval audiences knew or understood of the Grail?
The picture is varied, but a broad chronological trend is possible to spot. Some of the few earliest manuscript books we still have see Grail narratives compiled alone, but a pattern quickly appears for including them into collected volumes. In these cases, Grail narratives can be found alongside historical, religious or other narrative (or fictional) texts. A picture emerges, therefore, of a Grail just as lacking in clear definition as that of today.
Perhaps the Grail served as a useful tool that could be deployed in all manner of contexts to help communicate the required message, whatever that message may have been. We still see this today, of course, such as when we use the phrase “The Holy Grail of…” to describe the practically unobtainable, but highly desirable prize in just about any area you can think of. There is even a guitar effect-pedal named “holy grail”.
Once the prose romances of the 13th century started to appear, though, the Grail took on a proper life of its own. Like a modern soap opera, these romances comprised vast reams of narrative threads, riddled with independent episodes and inconsistencies. They occupied entire books, often enormous and lavishly illustrated, and today these offer evidence that literature about the Grail evaded straightforward understanding and needed to be set apart – physically and figuratively. In other words, Grail literature had a distinctive quality – it was, as we might call it today, a genre in its own right.
In the absence of clear definition, it is human nature to impose meaning. This is what happens with the Grail today and, according to the evidence of medieval book compilation, it is almost certainly what happened in the Middle Ages, too. Just as modern guitarists use their “holy grail” to experiment with all kinds of sounds, so medieval writers and publishers of romance used the Grail as an adaptable and creative instrument for conveying a particular message to their audience, the nature of which could be very different from one book to the next.
Whether the audience always understood that message, of course, is another matter entirely.
The planning was meticulous. Signed and sealed, laden with accusation and instruction, the letters were sent by the king to local authorities throughout his realm. They were to act exactly one month later, simultaneously and at the crack of dawn — on a Friday the 13th, as it happened. The targets were unaware of what lay in store, their leader even spending time with the king and seeming to enjoy his favor. The hour came, and armed men launched their surprise, summarily carrying off hundreds to the king’s dungeons, and many ultimately to their deaths. It was a performance reminiscent of a Stalinist purge or Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives.
The year was 1307, and the month was October. The king was Philip IV of France. And his victims were all members of the order of “the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Jerusalem,” better known as the Knights Templar — or simply the Templars. Over a period of two centuries, this charitable and military order of Crusaders had grown in power and wealth. At a stroke, and with the acquiescence of a weakened pope, Philip destroyed the order, imprisoning its leaders and burning many at the stake. “God will avenge our death,” said James of Molay, the last Grand Master, as he faced the flames on an island in the Seine.
And, in a way, God has. The Templars live on in popular culture — from the video game “Assassin’s Creed” to Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Philip IV does not.
Dan Jones, the author of well-regarded histories of the Plantagenets and the Wars of the Roses, obviously gives no credence to the conspiratorial fantasies that have been spun around the Templars over the years. No, they do not guard the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail, and never did. No, a surviving remnant does not protect the identities of the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdelene. No, the order does not secretly run the world — that’s the Trilateral Commission or maybe Skull and Bones. In “The Templars,” Jones relegates this curious afterlife to an epilogue. His aim is to present a gripping historical narrative, and in this he succeeds.
The raw material is rich. Founded by a French knight in 1119, after the successful First Crusade, the Templars began with a mission to protect throngs of pilgrims now traveling to the Holy Land. The members of the order wore white robes with a distinctive red cross, embraced personal poverty and lived according to a regime codified by the great Cistercian abbot Bernard of Clairvaux. A papal charter was followed by a papal decree granting the Templars an exemption from taxes and local laws, effectively creating a transnational entity whose members could go anywhere. As Jones describes it, the order comes across as a combination of Blackwater, Goldman Sachs, Kroll International, FedEx, Fort Knox, Bechtel and, well, the Red Cross.
The financial acumen of the Templars was considerable. In the post-“Da Vinci Code” era, visitors to London often make their way to the Temple Church, between Fleet Street and the Thames, built in the mid-12th century. The circular nave — typical of Templar churches — is the oldest part of the structure and was used as a repository by English nobles and by the Crown itself. “By the 1240s,” Jones writes, “the order was providing diverse financial services to some of the richest and most powerful figures across Christendom.” The Templars “guaranteed debts, ransomed hostages and prisoners of war on credit, and could arrange very large loans — such as the one made in 1240 to Baldwin II, the emperor of Constantinople, and secured by his very own fragment of the True Cross.”
The order’s military record was mixed. In 1187, an army of Templars and others, under King Guy of Jerusalem, was surrounded and slaughtered by the sultan Saladin in his successful campaign to restore Palestine to the Muslim fold. Saladin had played his hand skillfully: stopping up wells even as he enticed the Christians farther into the searing flats; pausing long enough to allow dehydration to take its toll; then moving in for the kill. Some 200 Templars were captured, and Saladin beheaded them all.
That was an unhappy episode, but the Templars had another century of influential life in front of them, until that Friday the 13th in 1307. Philip IV was pious, paranoid, unscrupulous and mercurial — and deeply in debt to the Templars. It was all too easy to manufacture charges of heresy, blasphemy and sexual depravity: urinating on the cross, having sex on the altar — the usual allegations. The power and secretiveness of the Templars only fueled the charges. The decisive blow was struck in France, but within a few years the Templars were extinct throughout Christendom, except in the popular imagination.
“The themes of the Templar story resonate powerfully today,” Jones observes. He rightly does not pontificate about this and draws no specious parallels, but the reader can’t help recognizing familiar territory. There is the preoccupation in the West with what we now call the Middle East. Religions collide and atrocities abound. Cries of “Allahu akhbar” pierce the din of battle. The power of states is threatened, or seen to be threatened, by unaccountable forces with global tentacles. Information is unreliable and easily manipulated, allowing conspiracy theories to take root and spread.
Nothing is left of the Templars except words on parchment and ruins in stone. An older crusading order with certain similarities, the Knights Hospitaller, does still exist, after a fashion — its genetic progeny are the Knights of Malta. They have a palatial headquarters on the Aventine in Rome. They have a papal charter and enjoy quasi-sovereign status. They can issue their own passports. They maintain diplomatic relations with a hundred countries. And, like the Templars, they do not rule the world.
The charred lump of scroll sat in an archaeologist’s office, impossible to read without destroying it – until now.
Scientists have finally been able to read the oldest biblical text ever found.
The 2,000-year-old scroll has been in the hands of archaeologists for decades. But it hasn’t been possible to read it, since it was too dangerous to open the charred and brittle scroll.
Scientists have now been able to read it, using special imaging technology that can look into what’s inside. And it has found what was in there: the earliest evidence of a biblical text in its standardised form.
The passages, which come from the Book of Leviticus, show the first physical evidence of a long-held belief that the Hebrew Bible that’s in use today has is more than 2,000 years old.
The discovery was announced in an article in Science Advances written by researchers from Kentucky and Jerusalem. It described how the researchers used a tool called “virtual unwrapping”, which provides a 3D digital analysis of an X-ray scan.
By using that, it was the first time that researchers have been able to read an ancient scroll without actually opening it.
“You can’t imagine the joy in the lab,” said Pnina Shor of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who participated in the study.
The digital technology, funded by Google and the U.S. National Science Foundation, is slated to be released to the public as open source software by the end of next year.
Researchers hope to use the technology to peek inside other ancient documents too fragile to unwrap, like some of the Dead Sea Scrolls and papyrus scrolls carbonized in the Mt. Vesuvius volcano eruption in 79 CE. Researchers believe the technology could also be applied to the fields of forensics, intelligence, and antiquities conservation.
The biblical scroll examined in the study was first discovered by archaeologists in 1970 at Ein Gedi, the site of an ancient Jewish community near the Dead Sea. Inside the ancient synagogue’s ark, archaeologists found lumps of scroll fragments.
The synagogue was destroyed in an ancient fire, charring the scrolls. The dry climate of the area kept them preserved, but when archaeologists touched them, the scrolls would begin to disintegrate. So the charred logs were shelved for nearly half a century, with no one knowing what was written inside.
Last year, Yosef Porath, the archaeologist who excavated at Ein Gedi in 1970, walked into the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls preservation lab in Jerusalem with boxes of the charcoal chunks. The lab has been creating hi-resolution images of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the earliest copies of biblical texts ever discovered, and he asked researchers to scan the burned scrolls.
“I looked at him and said, ‘you must be joking,”‘ said Shor, who heads the lab.
She agreed, and a number of burned scrolls were scanned using X-ray-based micro-computed tomography, a 3D version of the CT scans hospitals use to create images of internal body parts. The images were then sent to William Brent Seales, a researcher in the computer science department of the University of Kentucky. Only one of the scrolls could be deciphered.
Using the “virtual unwrapping” technology, he and his team painstakingly captured the three-dimensional shape of the scroll’s layers, using a digital triangulated surface mesh to make a virtual rendering of the parts they suspected contained text. They then searched for pixels that could signify ink made with a dense material like iron or lead. The researchers then used computer modeling to virtually flatten the scroll, to be able to read a few columns of text inside.
“Not only were you seeing writing, but it was readable,” said Seales. “At that point we were absolutely jubilant.”
The researchers say it is the first time a biblical scroll has been discovered in an ancient synagogue’s holy ark, where it would have been stored for prayers, and not in desert caves like the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The discovery holds great significance for scholars’ understanding of the development of the Hebrew Bible, researchers say.
In ancient times, many versions of the Hebrew Bible circulated. The Dead Sea Scrolls, dating to as early as the 3rd century B.C., featured versions of the text that are radically different than today’s Hebrew Bible.
Scholars have believed the Hebrew Bible in its standard form first came about some 2,000 years ago, but never had physical proof, until now, according to the study. Previously the oldest known fragments of the modern biblical text dated back to the 8th century.
The text discovered in the charred Ein Gedi scroll is “100 percent identical” to the version of the Book of Leviticus that has been in use for centuries, said Dead Sea Scroll scholar Emmanuel Tov from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who participated in the study.
“This is quite amazing for us,” he said. “In 2,000 years, this text has not changed.”
Noam Mizrahi, a Dead Sea Scrolls expert at Tel Aviv University who did not participate in the study, called it a “very, very nice find.” He said the imaging technology holds great potential for more readings of unopened Dead Sea Scrolls.
“It’s not only what was found, but the promise of what else it can uncover, which is what will turn this into an exciting discovery,” Mizrahi said.
MODERN authors don’t have to look far for inspiration. Often, it’s right there on their shelves in learned tomes of history.
Some of the stories are truly fantastic. Others are simply amazing examples of human behaviour.
Dr Katie Barclay of the Adelaide University school of History and Politics says she finds the use of history in popular modern fiction fascinating.
“These are clearly engaged with much of the historic literature, particularly for the medieval period,” she said. “And, as a historian, you watch it, and you’re constantly thinking ‘yeah that’s good’, and ‘no, that wouldn’t happen’, except it’s fantasy so you can’t get annoyed!”
Dr Barclay points out that history and fantasy have had a long and close relationship: The first novels were called “histories” and purported to be based on real events.
“They often were,” Dr Barclay said, “at least to the level that they featured real historical characters if re-imagined to suit the sensibilities of the era”.
And such “re-imagining” is central to the history-fantasy link. The same story is often retold in different ways over hundreds of years, with each incarnation pitched at the tastes and expectations of a new generation, she said.
“But the most inspirational tales for modern writers and audiences are not necessarily those based on the most outlandish stories or supernatural events, but those that relate to unexpected human relationships.”
Here’s just a sample of some of the most eye-catching historical sources you may recognise in popular books, films and television shows.
CAUTION: There are some Game of Thrones spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.
SCOTLAND’S ‘RED WEDDINGS’
The “Red Wedding” episode from Game of Thrones had fans in shock, with several characters cut down. However there is a precedent — clan-based slaughter in the north of Britain.
“The Scottish ‘Red Weddings’ linger in the historical imagination because of what it says about betrayal and loyalty and human relationships, and because they wiped out whole families, not just because they are bloody,” Dr Barclay said.
The brutal slayings, while not weddings, were regarded as particularly heinous as they breached strict moral codes of hospitality.
In 1691 a terrible betrayal saw most of the key members of clan MacDonald massacred.
The Scottish clans had been summoned to produce a signed document swearing allegiance to King William of Orange. The MacDonald clan, delayed through a series of misfortunes, delivered their oath several days “too late”.
Several months later, a troop of 120 men under the king’s Captain Robert Campbell arrived at the MacDonald’s estates in Glencoe and claimed shelter from the harsh weather.
Hospitality was duly offered, but, after a fortnight of enjoying the MacDonalds’ food, drink and card-games, the soldiers slew about 40 of the clan as they slept in their beds in what would become known as the Glencoe Massacre. The 40 or so women and children that escaped died of exposure.
An earlier, similar, massacre has gone down in history as “The Black Dinner”.
In 1440 the young Earl of Douglas (traditionally called the Black Douglas), 16, and his younger brother David were invited to dine at Edinburgh Castle with 10-year-old king James II.
The story goes that the young nobles were getting along like a house on fire, enjoying food, entertainment and each other’s company until deep into the evening. Suddenly, legend has it, the severed head of a black bull was dropped on the dining table.
The two Black Douglas boys were dragged outside, given a mock trial, and beheaded.
The young king was not likely to have been to blame. The Chancellor of Scotland, Sir William Crichton, had issued the invitations as he felt the Black Douglas clan had grown too powerful.
THE REAL DRAGON SLAYER
If “Smaug” the dragon from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit gets your blood racing, imagine what impact the real thing would have had on medieval Europe.
The only encounter with a “dragon” recorded in history happened on the Mediterranean island of Rhodes in the 1340s. The question is, what was the beast really — a crocodile? A giant lizard?
According to the Order of St John’s archives, the beast had established a lair to the south of the fortified city of Rhodes. There, it had begun preying on the local livestock and maidens.
Several Knights Hospitaller are said to have set out to prove their valour by tackling the dragon. After they failed to return, the Order’s Grand Master firmly ordered a stop to such expeditions.
One, however, ignored the order. The French knight Dieudonne de Gozon decided to take on the beast personally. He gathered as many descriptions as he could of the animal from the country folk who had seen it and built a scale model.
He then trained his dogs to attack the creature and practised angles from which he could attack it with his sword and lance.
Once confident, he sallied forth into the countryside and slew the dragon. He was then summarily expelled from the Order for disobedience.
But the public outcry from the peasants about how poorly their hero had been treated soon saw “the Dragon Slayer” restored to the Order and he ended up becoming Grand Master himself in 1346.
“The Rhodes story is not the only crocodile as dragon story going around,” Dr Barclay said. “There is one for St George too — only the crocodile got to Essex! We don’t really know if it was a crocodile, that’s just what a 19th Century scientist thought when he saw a skull in Rhodes that they claimed belonged to the dragon. Given that selling relics was big business during the medieval period and there was 600 years for a ‘dragon skull’ to go missing, decompose (or never exist in the first place) and be replaced with that of a crocodile by an entrepreneurial relic salesman, we don’t really know the truth here. Maybe there really was a dragon!”
HISTORY’S HORRIBLE FAMILIES
There is a reason why the likes of the Tudors keep appearing in books and on our screens. Many were truly awful people from absolutely horrible families.
“Games of Thrones is fascinating,” Dr Barclay said, “not just because of the gruesome deaths and sex, but because these are families defending lineages, committing incest, being wiped out in a single generation.
“We get behind the families because of their relationships to each other, not just because they have dragons.
“Wendy Moore’s Wedlock (a tale described by The Independent as a “misery memoir” of how Georgian Britain’s worst husband met his match; it is “crammed with corrupt surgeons, questionable chaplains, fallen women and gossips”) is also fascinating because of the manipulative and abusive relationship between husband and wife. Then there was Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire — which became the movie The Duchess — a story about a dodgy threesome.”
There is also the true story of James Annesley, the heir to the estate of Anglesea. He was abducted as a child in the 1730s and sold into slavery in the Caribbean. He managed to escape in his late teens and returned to Britain to discover his uncle had inherited his estates. He won the first trial, but died during a drawn-out 10-year appeals process. This inspired stories such as Memoirs of an Unfortunate Nobleman, Peregrine Pickle and The Wandering Heir.
The magic of a glittering, all-dominating sword is a powerful icon of hope and victory. In the case of magic swords, it may be an idea burnt onto our cultural heritage by history.
Some say the legend of Excalibur could have been born from the impact a high-quality Roman sword would have had if it had survived into the Dark Ages of Britain. Such a refined, well-made and strong weapon could indeed win almost magical status among its enemies.
This is likely what happened some centuries earlier, as the Bronze Age collapsed before the onrushing Iron Age. The new grey metal swords cut through bronze as if it was butter. Whole armies could fall in the face of a smaller band of iron-equipped men.
Iron’s impact was not just felt on the battlefield. The entire economy and social structure of Europe was turned on its head as it shifted away from bronze to the tougher, easier, more common metal.
Even the story of pulling Excalibur from the stone may be a cast-back to a long-forgotten time. Bronze blades were cast in moulds of stone before being pulled out and polished.
Iron was to experience a similar revolution when the refinement of steel emerged. It’s an arms race that has never ended. And each age would most likely have had its own “Excalibur”.
But such magic-history links are rare, Dr Barclay said.
“The ‘magical’ element of fantasy allows us to set aside our practical concerns (’that wouldn’t happen’) and go with the story (‘it isn’t real, so that’s fine’), despite the fact that what drives the story could often happen without the magical elements,” Dr Barclay said.
THE BLACK WATCH
The romantic notion of a band of outcast warriors living on the fringes of civilisation who have taken a binding oath to protect the ignorant and ungrateful people they left behind is a common one.
It was no less popular when it was a reality.
The Knights Templar are well known for their supposed mystical secrets and the staged trial that accused them of such. But their real purpose also has passed into legend.
In the early 1100s, a small band of knights resolved to police the roads of the newly captured Holy Land for pilgrims making the dangerous journey from Europe.
To save their souls and prove their devotion the knights adopted the rigid rules and lifestyle of monks, with the added responsibility of protecting Christendom from all its enemies.
The idea spread like wildfire: Soon every second son in Europe was clambering for permission to win glory (and a secure lifestyle) within a rapidly expanding network of farms, forts and fleets all designed to feed equipment, knights and soldiers to a distant chain of castles protecting Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
Many other Orders sprung up, imitating the idea: The Hospitallers and the Teutonic Knights were among the largest.
However, the trials and tribulations of the hot and volatile Holy Land soon caused the chivalric dream to lose much of its gloss. As such, many in the later ranks of the Templars were drafted from “grey knights” who had committed crimes or lost the support of their lords. In return for their service, these warriors were promised the limited freedom the Order offered — as well as a chance to fight, pursue a career and save their souls.
WINTER IS COMING
In fact, it’s already been. Several times.
We’re talking weird seasons that last for years — not the typical annual event.
In 536AD a 10-year winter kicked off in the Northern Hemisphere. Scribes in Europe and Asia reported bitterly cold conditions that seemed to never end. The sun was darkened, they said, and remained “small” even into the depths of summer.
Famine, war and plague quickly followed as crops failed and hungry hordes started streaming south.
Tree rings and ice core samples have since confirmed these events and tied the decade-long winter to the eruption of a supervolcano in El Salvador. But many academics consider that is in itself not enough to explain the duration of this winter. Some say Earth may have also passed through Halley’s Comet’s dusty tail.
Another unusual winter struck Europe in 1816. Known as “The Year without Summer”, hunger once again quickly swept across Europe as crops shrivelled up.
This event has been tied to the 1815 super eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. The dust in the upper atmosphere from this eruption produced an average 1C drop in temperatures worldwide.
From Game of Thrones to The Narnia Chronicles, myth continues the reality.
The story of England’s heroic King Arthur and his arch enemy Mordred has been a popular tale since the medieval era. It has been told and retold and been the subject of paintings and films as well as a succession of books. There are many differences between the narratives. For instance, sometimes Mordred is depicted as Arthur’s illegitimate son from his half-sister, or he might be portrayed as the son of the King of the Orkneys. He is also sometimes described as a member of King Arthur’s court who rebelled against him. However, the conflict between these two warriors and Mordred’s death in battle with Arthur are subjects of general agreement.
From the British Isles the legend of Arthur was carried to the European Continent and later to other English speaking countries around the world. The popularity of the first name Arthur in so many countries can also be traced to the fame of this legendary hero monarch. Today it is going to be hard to find someone educated in one of these lands who has not heard of King Arthur and is also able to name a few other of the characters and places featured. Although parts of the story are so well-known, its history and significance are not so widely appreciated.
The Origins of the Legend
Historians continue to speculate if King Arthur, Mordred and the other scenes and players in the legend have any historical basis. For the most part the story is associated with fifth or sixth century Wales. If a prototype for Arthur did exist he might have been a Celtic chieftain rallying his forces to fight off the Saxon invaders. References have been found to figures that might have been the model for King Arthur in some of the scare writings that survive from the Saxon period in British history, but none of the associations made are conclusive. Two Medieval writers share the responsibility for publicising the tale and incorporating in it many of the elements familiar to us today.
In 1138 Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote a history of the Kings of Britain. Many allege that he drew more on his imagination than on any older records that had come to his notice. Others claim that some of what he wrote corresponds with information in earlier documents that have now come to light. Whatever the authenticity of his facts, Geoffrey introduced his readers to a King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Merlin the Wizard and of course, King Arthur’s arch enemy Mordred. In this version of the tale King Arthur goes to fight against the Roman Empire in Gaul (France of today). The evil Mordred takes advantage of the opportunity to usurp Arthur’s throne and take Queen Guinevere as his wife. The news reached King Arthur on campaign. He returns to his kingdom and fights a fierce battle with Mordred at a place called Camlann, Mordred is killed but Arthur is mortally wounded.
In the late medieval period Thomas Malory published a revised and comprehensive version of the Arthur stories, entitled “The Death of Arthur” (Le Morte d’Arthur). The publication of this work coincided with the introduction of the printing press. Malory’s work became one of the first books printed in England and standardised many aspects of the Arthur legend, for example, the idea of Arthur and his knights sitting at the Round Table dates from this publication. The bitter enmity between Arthur and Mordred continues to form a key part of the story but in a key change from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s narrative Queen Guinevere remain loyal to King Arthur.
Why have these tales survived the years?
The fact that the reader of this article is likely to be familiar with tales of Arthur and Mordred is a testimony to their enduring power. Yet they are more than simple stories. The Arthur tales have contributed culturally to the shaping of Britain’s identity. Over all these years they continue to serve a useful purpose. People are attracted by the idea that there was once an age when chivalrous knights rode about the British countryside fighting treacherous enemies like Mordred, or even supernatural dragons and other monsters. During World War Two, tales of Arthur’s bravery against the country’s enemies provided a rallying point for resistance to German aggression. Today the interest is probably largely of an escapist nature. Regardless of whether or not there is a basis in history, it seems that tales of Arthur and Mordred still serve a purpose in our hi-tech age.
Originally dictated in a Genoese prison cell, ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’ straddles the line between travel literature and adventure story. The teller of the story, Marco Polo, claimed that the work was based completely on fact, compiled from his travels around the world. The book was hugely popular in Medieval Europe, despite being widely referred to as ‘The Million Lies’.
Marco Polo was not the first European to venture into Asia, but he traveled much further to the East than any before him, and, according to the book at least, became much more integrated into the cultures there. The real key to the work’s success is the imagination and energy put into the descriptions of Asia, Africa and the Mongol Empire. The work often seems fantastical, partly because some of the things Polo described were indeed made up, but also because the language used is so colourful it seems unbelievable.
The adventure to the East actually started when Nicolo and Maffeo Polo, Marco’s father and uncle, set off for Constantinople in 1260. From this journey they ventured into the lands of the Mongolian tribes, eventually reaching the court of Kublai Khan. The Polos returned to Europe, eventually arriving in their home city of Venice in 1269. Upon his return, Nicolo discovered he had a son, Marco Polo. The Polos, who had promised Kublai Khan they would come back to Mongolia with Catholic missionaries, eventually set off on their return to Asia with Marco and two Catholic friars, in 1271. Although the friars eventually gave up on the journey, the Polo’s returned to the Khan’s court, where Marco became a confidant of Kublai Khan.
Marco Polo remained in the Khan’s court for seventeen years, and was sent on a variety of missions and errands, allowing him to travel in previously uncharted territories. Through his service he explored much of what is now China, as well as venturing into India, and crossing over to Sri Lanka. A recently revealed map, attributed to Polo and signed for authenticity by his three daughters, is believed to sketch out the coast of Japan and Alaska. The origins and veracity of the map have not been confirmed, but some researchers have claimed that it proves Polo’s travels actually took him as far as the shores of North America.
‘The Story of Marco Polo’ details his experiences in this period of his life. It includes descriptions of the journey from Acre (in what is modern day Israel), through Persia and then onto the Khan’s palace in what is now Beijing. The Polos traveled over a series of overland trader’s routes, what would eventually become known as the Silk Road. As well as providing detailed descriptions of Polo’s experiences in the Khan’s court, the book is just as crucial for its depiction of the journey along the Silk Road, providing information on the cultures and landscapes the Polo family encountered.
Some critics question the validity of the text, pointing out that there is no mention of Polo in the detailed records of the Khan’s court from the thirteenth century. They also point out that despite Polo’s extensive stay and travels in Asia, he never made reference to major landmarks, such as the Great Wall, or distinctive cultural traits, such as eating with chopsticks or foot binding.
Polo himself eventually returned to Europe in 1295. He became involved in a conflict between Venice and Genoa, during which he was captured and imprisoned. While incarcerated he met Rustichello, a writer from Pisa who started to write down Polo’s stories.
Whether these stories were a complete fabrication, or just heavily embellished by Polo or Rustichello, they remain a fascinating document. The book was pivotal in shaping opinions on Asia and the Mongol Empire, long after its publication. Whether the book is factually accurate or not, it cannot be denied that the stories within, as well as the history of Polo himself, make it a fascinating read.
More than 800 years later, Saladin’s victory over the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin, west of Tiberias, still echoes in modern history.
For James Reston Jr., the conflict between the Arab warrior Saladin and Richard I, King of England – one of its climatic battles was fought 810 years ago – still echoes not only in the modern politics of the Middle East, but throughout modern history, from Afghanistan to Lebanon. Reston is not alone in his thinking, reflected in his recently published book, “Warriors of God.” The entire world knows that the Arabs are waiting, with growing impatience, for another Saladin. His total victory over the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin, west of Tiberias, is engraved on the collective Muslim memory as one of the greatest achievements of the Arab nation.
It was not by coincidence that the late president of Syria, Hafez Assad, used to meet his Western guests in an office where the victory was depicted in a painting that covered an entire wall. In Damascus, the Syrians still hold demonstrations in front of the heroic, equestrian statue of Saladin near the entrance to the central Al-Hamadiya market. And after the collapse of Camp David 2, all of the Gaza Strip welcomed the uncompromised winner, Yasser Arafat, with a blaze of banners, proclaiming him to be the “Palestinian Saladin.” Watching the inflamed crowd, even Israeli writer Amos Oz had to admit, in The New York Times, that “the specter of Saladin” was once again hovering over the Middle East.
The heroic legacy of Richard I of England, known as Lionheart, has also not been forgotten. The brave king was a cruel warrior, a superb tactician and a well-known lover, and is still one of the most romantic figures in all of English history. Generations of children grew up reading about his adventures at bedtime and riding with him and his knights through countless Hollywood films. According to Reston, he had a brilliant military mind and understood the strategy and tactics of large forces far ahead of his time. However, Richard did not return victorious from the Third Crusade, which he commanded.
The Arabs, of course, see Israel as another Crusade. It is an article of faith for them that through the slow, mysterious, but inevitable forces of history, the Israelis, like the Crusaders, will eventually be forced out of Palestine. “Arab ideology,” writes Reston,” embraces the long view of history: It took 80 years to displace the Crusaders; the State of Israel is scarcely more than 50 years old.”
At this point, one is compelled to remind the American author, who quotes repeatedly from the Koran, that the Jews have ties connecting them to the Land of Israel for 3,000 years. Judea and Samaria are the cradle of Hebrew culture, and Jerusalem was “great among nations and princess among the provinces” – to quote the Book of Lamentations – hundreds of years before the first Muslim reached it. The Israelis do not consider Richard the Lionheart to be their model. In any case, as David Passow, a veteran of the early Zionist struggle, now a professor of history at the Hebrew University and a friend of the author, explained to him, “the difference is that we made it and he didn’t.”
`The city stank’
“Only the First Crusade, was successful, in the sense that it managed to capture Jerusalem,” Reston writes. “In its wake, an orgy of slaughter began. For two whole days, the Christian soldiers massacred every living creature not of their own kind. At the Temple Mount, it was said that 10,000 were killed. In the city as a whole, an estimated 40,000 Muslims were slain – men, women and children, and the narrow alleys turned into rivers of blood. This was something no Muslim could forget.
“If the city itself still stank six months later from the carnage,” Reston writes, “the memory still stank 90 years – and 900 years – later. It was burned into Saladin’s mind and psyche, central to his education and his determination, abhorrent in the extreme.”
The legendary commander, according to Reston, was actually not even an Arab, but a Kurd. He was born in Takreet, in 1137, 40 years after the Europeans had captured Jerusalem. By that time, the Crusaders’ kingdom, although somewhat smaller, was essentially still intact after eight decades of continuous warfare. It was comprised of the greater part of Palestine and the coast of Syria, from Latakia in the north to Gaza and Darom in the south, and from the river to the sea.
However, the constant war of attrition eventually took its toll. The grandchildren of the warriors of the First Crusade gradually lost their European discipline and values and grew accustomed to the pleasures of the East. In due course, some of the occidentals intermarried with Syrian, Armenian and Byzantine women and these unions created a new class of European Syrians, known as Franks. “The Franks shed their woolens and donned the burnoose and turban, the kaffiyeh and the upturned soft slippers of the East. They sat crossed-legged on patterned carpets and feathered divans … perfumed their ladies with cosmetics and their rooms with incense and started to talk Arabic.”
In the 12th century, writes Reston, “Visitors from Europe to the East were shocked at the corruption and hubris, the softness and even effeminacy of their distant cousins. `Hardly one in a thousand,’ wrote the bishop of Acre about his wicked flock and their city, `takes his marriage seriously. They do not regard fornication to be a deadly sin. From childhood they are pampered and wholly given to the carnal pleasures, whereas they are not accustomed to hear God’s words, which they lightly disregard. Almost every day and night people are openly or secretly murdered. Men strangle their wives and wives poison their husbands. The city is full of brothels. Even clergymen, nay, even monks, rent their houses all over the city to public brothels.'”
Resentment of the Crusaders grew steadily. “`They are for the most part untrustworthy,’ wrote the same bishop. `Double dealers, cunning foxes even as the Greeks, liars and turncoats, lovers of success, traders, easily run over by bribes, men who say one thing and mean another, who think nothing of theft and robbery. For a small sum of money they become spies and tell the secrets of the Christians to the Arabs, among whom they are brought up, whose language they speak rather than any other, and whose crooked ways they imitate.'”
Twelve thousand knights, virtually the entire noble population of the kingdom, gathered at the citadel of La Safuri on July 3, 1187. Twenty thousand foot soldiers – the largest Christian army ever assembled in the Holy Land – supported them. Saladin’s army had about 30,000 warriors – other sources later claimed that the actual number was 80,000, perhaps even 180,000, and after the defeat the estimate would soar to 800,000. In any case, the vast plain, west of Tiberias, north of Mount Tabor, was too narrow to accommodate all the warriors and “the dust cloud of their march darkened the eye of the sun.”
The heat was almost unbearable. The fields were barren. The blinding sun rose higher into the east. The Christians were without enough water, and as usual a dispute broke out. The hawks urged the King of Jerusalem, an unimpressive character, to allow them to charge into the enemy. The doves wanted to retreat, even to compromise on Tiberias (“Saladin’s army would probably disperse if it captured Tiberias”). Saladin, as Reston surely knows, was well versed in the Koran and knew that the devil had seduced his enemies into doing the opposite of what was wise.
They charged, were flanked by the Muslims, cut off from behind, pushed into a trap and defeated. After the victory, the prisoners were bound and taken to Damascus. The poor foot soldiers were sold into slavery. Some of the rich knights, who were able to ransom themselves, bought their freedom. However, the will of the Templars and Hospitalers – the very heart of the Christian army – could not be broken. They were unshakable in their dedication and commitment to the cause, and as such they had to be killed.
`”I shall purify the land of these two impure cults,'” Saladin promised, and executed all of them. James Reston, who seems to tread very cautiously around the dignity of the Muslim leader, writes that this massacre was “a singular blot on his record of generosity.”
After the victory at Hattin, the Muslim army moved south and took over Caesarea, Arsuf (which was once Appolonia, north of Herzliya) and Jaffa, and stood outside the walls of Ascalon, the southernmost stronghold of the Latin Kingdom. While negotiating the surrender of the outpost, Saladin’s army took over the lightly defended Gaza, Latrun, Ramla and Darom, and went up to Jerusalem.
“The sanctity of Jerusalem,” reports Reston, in his politically correct manner, “was the very heart of Islam.” 583 years earlier, according to the Muslim canon, the Prophet Mohammed took off from Mecca, landed at the farthest mosque of Jerusalem and, after a lavish feast with all the prophets of the past, including Jesus, ascended to heaven. “The nocturnal journey of Mohammed from the Dome of the Rock,” marvels the American writer, “is one of the great mythic stories of all religions.”
Saladin entered Jerusalem on Friday, October 2, 1187. The sad evacuation of the city lasted 40 days. Among the captive population, women were the big prize. To the Arab scribe Imad ad-Din, “the wailing of the women was amusing, for he regarded all European women as licentious whores, glowing with ardor for carnal intercourse. The mere thought of them sent him into rapturous flights of medieval pornography. European women were `proud and scornful, foul-fleshed and sinful, ardent and inflamed, tinted and painted, desirable and appetizing, exquisite and graceful, seductive and languid …'”
It seemed as though the Muslim men took revenge only against the women of Christianity, states Reston. At the same time, he determines that the manner in which Saladin took charge of Jerusalem secured his reputation for gentility and wisdom forever. His actions “seemed to define what it meant to be a good Muslim.”
Richard Lionheart set sail from Famagusta on June 5, 1191. Three days later, he sailed into Acre bay with his battle group of 25 galleys and took over the command of the Christian army, which laid siege to the city. Soon after his arrival, Saladin sent him baskets of fruit and tried to confuse him with conciliatory gestures and a willingness to make peace – while waging war. All the gifts, the advances and the gestures of compromise throughout the campaign, assumes Reston, were designed merely to determine the king’s state of mind and to undermine his fighting spirit.
Richard was unimpressed. He returned all the lavish gifts and even rejected the rumors that Saladin was contemplating conversion.
After conquering Acre, when it became obvious that Saladin could not fulfill his promise to produce some 600 prisoners of war, the king ordered to that 2,700 Muslim soldiers be tied together. He marched them out of the city and had his soldiers slaughter them, one by one, on the road to Nazareth.
On that fateful day, September 7, 1191 – exactly 810 years before the writing of these lines – the second battle of Hattin, the biggest of King Richard’s life, took place south of Jaffa. Saladin decided to defend Jerusalem on the ground between Alonei Hasharon forest and Arsuf, southeast of Kfar Shmaryahu. Ten thousand Bedouin riders, “blacker than soot,” charged against the Christian phalanx, inching its way toward Jaffa. The terrified Crusaders closed ranks. The danger intensified. Lionheart displayed restraint and maturity, ordering the soldiers to hold back and not to charge. “Why do we not charge them at full gallop?” his men shouted at him. “We shall forever deserve to be called cowards. Never has such disgrace befallen so great an army in combat with unbelievers!”
Finally, a spontaneous charge erupted. The infantry line parted at the center and without the king lifting his hand, the cavalry charged. The Muslim ranks broke in terror and general confusion. The front line was cut down totally. King Richard, the bravest of them all, cut down Arabs in every direction. None could escape the force of his arm. Wherever he turned, brandishing his sword, he carved a wide path for himself. “`Bearded heads lay thick as swaths at harvest time,'” Reston quotes one of his sources. Over two miles, the Muslims could be seen fleeing in all directions. “`Fear alone added wings to the feet.'” Across a wide expanse, the bodies of Muslims were strewn in the sand by the thousands, amid the carcasses of horses and camels.
The Third Crusade lasted for five years. Toward its end, King Richard gave up and did not lay siege to Jerusalem. On September 2, 1192, the two sides signed a peace agreement. The only rights left to the Christians in Jerusalem were those of pilgrims, for a fee. Acre was recaptured by the Muslims about 100 years later and gradually Europe lost interest in the Holy Land. In 1492, Columbus discovered America and everyone turned west, to the New World. Palestine was left in the hands of the Muslims until the 20th century, the British victory in World War I and the rise of the Zionist movement.
“Warriors of God; Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade” by James Reston, Jr., Doubleday, 2001, 240 pages, $27.50
This article was written a few days before the suicide attacks on New York and Washington [in 2001].
A talk with Michael Haag, author of ‘The Templars: The History and the Myth.’ Why did they disappear? Blame it on the king of France, Haag says.
By Nick Owchar
The Templars were an elite taskforce — consider them the Green Berets of the Middle Ages. They were known for their service to the pope, their fierce determination to wrest Jerusalem from the enemy, their great wealth and, like many groups, their secrecy.
For a group so secret, though, they’ve received an incredible amount of attention both in the years BDB (before Dan Brown) and ever since.
Michael Haag, who has occasionally contributed to our pages, decided to weigh in and settle the misinformation bandied about by various recent books with his own, “The Templars: The History & the Myth” (Harper: 384 pp., $15.99 paper). He shared some of his revelations with the Siren’s Call during a recent conversation.
The Siren’s Call: Why did the Templars appeal to you enough that you set out to write a book on them? Was it the result of coming across them in the course of writing your other books about Alexandria and “The Da Vinci Code”?
Michael Haag: I already had a pretty good knowledge of the history, the landscape and the architecture of the Crusader period; writing about the Templars brought things into sharp focus. I have traveled widely throughout the Middle East and have visited every Crusader and Arab castle of significance, including the Templars’ last redoubt at Sidon in Lebanon, their fortified city of Tortosa and their castle at Safita. I’ve also been to the Hospitaller’s great castle of Krak de Chevaliers and the Assassins’ eyrie at Masyaf, all in Syria, not to mention the Temple Mount in Jerusalem where the Templars had their headquarters, the mount itself giving the knights their popular name (properly they were the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon).
TSC: They also figure in Lawrence Durrell’s “Avignon Quintet,” don’t they? You’re writing about him, aren’t you?
MH: Yes, as it happens, I am writing a biography of Lawrence Durrell, who, as you say, runs the Templars as a theme through his “Avignon Quintet.” There is an element of economy in this: informing myself about Durrell’s interest in the Templars by writing a book about the Templars! Durrell’s interest in the Templars, which goes hand in glove with his interest in the Cathars and Gnosticism (also discussed in my book), is one that is widely shared — for the Templars have enjoyed an afterlife that goes well beyond their destruction in 1312 and continues to this day. Which is why I deal not only with the history of the Templars, which lasted only two centuries, but also with the myth of the Templars, which is rooted in the foundation of Solomon’s Temple 3,000 years ago and remains alive in various forms in the present day.
TSC: There are so many books now out there about the Templars, thanks in large part to the interest Dan Brown created with his “Code.” Was there something that these books weren’t saying about the Templars that you felt needed to be told?
MH: Books about the Templars fall into two categories. Some are strictly history and confine themselves to the two centuries of the Templars’ existence. Others are speculative and deal in the many stories surrounding the Templars, in what you might call the afterlife of the Templars that continues in the popular imagination to this day. I wanted to take a serious look at both the history and the mythic afterlife and to show how they are intimately related and always have been — how the Templars became the subject of popular imagination already at their inception, celebrities, you might say, the superstars of the Middle Ages.
Already during their heyday, the Templars attracted to themselves many associations, legends, rumors and romances. When the story of the Holy Grail first began circulating in medieval Europe, it was immediately associated with the Templars. This star quality of the Templars was due partly to their prominent role in the central movement of the times, the Crusades and the defense of the Crusader states in the East, where the Templars were surrounded by potent historical and sacred associations. After all, the Templars were founded on Christmas Day 1119, within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the spot which marks the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and they were headquartered on the Temple Mount, which indelibly associated them with stories surrounding the Temple of Solomon — and nothing in medieval Christendom could beat that!
But being in the spotlight is not always the most favorable place to be, certainly not when things begin to go wrong. And for the Templars, everything went wrong when the Crusaders lost Acre in 1292; the West’s hold on the Holy Land was lost and so was the Templars’ raison d’être.
Their extinction was breathtakingly swift, wasn’t it?
It is the most dramatic thing about them; knights belonging to an order of great power, wealth and reputation, owing obedience only to the Pope, were arrested in dawn raids across France, tortured and made to confess to abominable crimes and heresies, were often put to the stake, and their order dissolved. The reasons for their fall have long been shrouded in mystery and this has given rise to yet more fevered speculations. What did the Templars really know, what did they really possess, what were they really all about? And why did the pope, the very man to whom they owed sole obedience, let them down, abolish their order and let them go to the stake?
Do we now have any answers to these questions?
We do. New discoveries in the Vatican’s Secret Archives, just as I was considering writing this book, revealed the truth of the pope’s role in the end of the Templars and revealed the truth about the Templars themselves — and, no, the Templars were not heretics nor blasphemers, and for what it was worth, they took to the stake and to their graves the pope’s blessings and absolutions. But the pope, and indeed the papacy itself, the very independence of the Roman Catholic Church, was under threat from the king of France, a fanatic with totalitarian designs. My book has been the first book to revise the history of the Templars, and revise their afterlife too, in the light of these remarkable revelations.
Whenever the Templars are mentioned in books and articles, I usually find that it is in connection with their vast wealth – and, along with this, their vast greed. Why?
They were extremely expensive to maintain. They were the most superb fighting force in the world at that time, something like supersonic fighter-bomber pilots in our day, where each man and his equipment costs a fortune to keep operational. A single mounted knight in France in the 13th century required the proceeds from 3,750 acres to equip and maintain himself, and for Templars operating overseas in the Holy Land, the costs were much greater since much had to be imported, not least their horses. The Templars’ training, their armor, their horses, their squires, their sergeants, not to mention building and maintaining castles, required an enormous outlay. And the knights themselves could suffer high mortality rates in climactic battles and needed to be replaced. All these costs were met through donations from the faithful back in Europe, usually in the form of estates large and small as well as tithes from the Church.
As individuals, the Templars were poor ascetics, but as an order, they were extremely wealthy. In fact, they became so accomplished at moving funds between Europe and the East that they soon set up as international bankers — the first bankers of modern times. Their lands and their liquid wealth made them a ready target for greed, and the greed came not from among the Templars but from Philip IV, the king of France, who, after stealing the wealth and properties of France’s Jews and throwing them out of the country, turned on the Templars. That was the real motive for the Friday the 13th arrests: The king of France needed money to pursue his wars in Flanders and against the English, and he also was asserting himself against the papacy, laying claim to being the man who called all the shots in Europe, whether secular or religious. It was a form of expropriation and nationalization, accompanied by tortures and executions and, of course, the necessary propaganda and lies — blaming the Templars for being blasphemers, for being heretics, for being haughty and greedy. In the minds of many, the mud stuck.
Few really seem to associate any other characteristic with them, though, except greed. No one talks about, for instance, their fantastic ability as military strategists and fortress builders. What excellent qualities should people know about?
Well, in comparison to the egregious greed, cruelty and lies of the king of France, the Templars were honest in their faith and straightforward in their conduct. They should be remembered for their bravery, which was legendary, their dedication, which was absolute — a few dozen Templars could turn the weight of battle and save a kingdom. Their attrition rate was high: At least 20,000 Templars were killed either on the battlefield or after being taken captive and refusing to renounce their faith to save their lives. Without the Templars, the Crusader venture in the East would have lasted only half as long as it did. After the Battle of Hattin, in which Saladin was victorious, he ordered the decapitation in cold blood of all his Templar captives, a hundred men, fearing them above all others because “they have great fervor in religion, paying no attention to the things of this world.”
As builders of castles and churches, they were men of powerful vision and exquisite taste; they have left behind them in the Middle East today numerous beautiful monuments speaking of the Romanesque and Gothic styles of the France and England from which they came.
Tell us a little bit more about their organization as an elite task force – were they the first to submit only to papal authority? In defending the Holy Land, why was this direct line of obedience only to the pope so important?
In the late 11th century, the Church was involved in the Investiture Controversy over whether the secular powers of Europe or the papacy itself had the authority to appoint high church officials in each and every state. Secular kings and princes were eager to have the authority for themselves, as it would give them control over the great wealth and powers such officials could command. But in the event, it was an argument that the papacy won. Papal assertion did not end there; only the pope could establish a university or approve a monastic order; and when the Byzantine Empire sent to Rome for help against a fresh Muslim invasion, it was the pope who raised the First Crusade.
By means of a series of papal bulls in the early 12th century, the Templars were recognized as an independent and permanent order within the Catholic Church answerable to no one but the pope. Their “grand master” was chosen from among the ranks of Templar knights who conducted their elections free from any outside interference. The Templars were also given their own priesthood answerable to the grand master, which made the order independent of the diocesan bishops in both Europe and the East. The First Crusade itself had been called for by the pope, and the kingdom of Jerusalem, like the other Crusader states, owed themselves to papal initiative and the continuing goodwill and energy of the papacy for support and maintenance from the West. The pope did not want to see the Templars fall subject to religious or political rivalries. It is not that the pope actually controlled the Templars; rather, by owing allegiance to no one but the pope, the Templars maintained their independence from all and sundry and could give themselves freely and single-mindedly to their supreme task, the defense and preservation of the Holy Land.
Defending Jerusalem, you said earlier, was their reason for existing. When it fell, the Templars were in limbo, but didn’t they try to find a new mission for themselves?
The Templars were founded to protect pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem and other sites throughout the Holy Land. In time their task became to defend the Holy Land itself — not just Jerusalem but the several Crusader states which included the kingdom of Jerusalem, the county of Tripoli and the principality of Antioch. The city of Jerusalem fell to Saladin in 1187, though it changed hands several times thereafter, but meanwhile the new capital of the kingdom of Jerusalem became the port city of Acre, and when Acre fell in 1292 the Crusader venture was effectively over. Yes, there were a few attempts to regain the Holy Land, and the Templars, who were temporarily based in Cyprus, took the lead in these, but when finally they lost their tiny island outpost of Ruad in 1302, they looked highly redundant.
The Hospitallers were also a religious order of fighting monks, and they might have found themselves in the same boat as the Templars. But they quickly captured the island of Rhodes from the Byzantine Empire, which was Christian, and turned it into a state of their own, which allowed them to harass the surrounding Muslim powers and which also gave them protection from jealous Christian powers in Europe. The Hospitallers eventually retreated to Malta, finally to be driven out by Napoleon in 1798, though the order still exists and even has quasi-sovereign state observer status within the United Nations.
The Templars might have enjoyed a twilight existence in this way had they taken some large and defensible island, perhaps Cyprus, as their own. But instead of putting their own interests first, they so completely identified with their role as defenders of the Holy Land that they placed their trust in the pope and the king of France, Philip IV, who were contemplating launching yet another crusade. The Templar grand master Jacques de Molay and other high officers of the order were in France precisely to discuss such matters when they and all other Templars on French soil were arrested at dawn in October 1307 by Philip IV and accused of blasphemy and heresy.
When people ask, “Who were the Templars?,” they’re not using the correct verb tense, right? Some people believe they still exist today through their connections to the Freemasons and others.
In the mythic sense, the Templars are with us today, if only because many people wish it to be so. Such people include the Freemasons, some branches of which claim descent from the Templars who are said to have survived the persecutions of Philip IV and gone underground, to arise again wearing aprons and carrying trowels, among them such seditious figures as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. The French Revolution was blamed on the Freemasons, who some people with lively imaginations said were really the Templars in disguise. Bringing matters more up to date, the Templars are behind the World Bank, the IMF, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group, and also NATO, the European Union, the United Nations and the Skull and Bones Society at Yale. All of this is discussed in my book.
But the claim that the Templars discovered America, on the face of it one of the most far-fetched claims of all, actually contains a great deal more than a grain of truth.
They were not eradicated everywhere throughout Europe. In Spain and Portugal, they had performed good service in the local crusades, what we now call the Reconquista, against the Arab occupation of the Iberian peninsula, and instead of being disbanded, they were simply reestablished under other names and given royal protection and favor. In Portugal, the Templars became the Order of Christ, and none less than Prince Henry the Navigator became their grand master, using Templar wealth and zeal to send ships down the coast of Africa and far out into the Atlantic, to the Azores and Madeira. The achievements of Vasco da Gama, who found the first sea route round Africa to India in 1498; of Ferdinand Magellan, who in 1519 initiated the first voyage round the world; and of Christopher Columbus, who discovered America in 1492, were all the fruits of Prince Henry the Navigator’s lifelong endeavor as Grand Master of what had been the Templars.
A PUB landlord has completed ‘a kind of Da Vinci Code journey’ through the notorious Hell Fire Caves – and written a book to dispel some of the myths surrounding the West Wycombe tourist attraction.
Eamonn Loughran, 42, has published ‘Secret Symbols of the Hell Fire Club’ after living for 20 years on West Wycombe Road and looking up at the Dashwood Mausoleum every day.
He says the much-published ‘history’ of the Hell Fire Club adds up to little more than gossip, adding: “The idea that Sir Francis Dashwood dug these caves simply to get drunk and worship the devil is absolute rubbish.
“There were a lot of very bad books written about the club from early 1900s onwards, mostly by journalists who sensationalised the stories.”
Rumours of black magic, satanic rituals and orgies surrounded Dashwood’s club when it was around in the 1750s and 60s.
But after years of research Mr Loughran has found that though many of these activities undoubtedly went on, the ideas behind the caves are much more intricate and complex than might appear.
The father-of-three got interested in the Dashwood estate when he met a researcher who was collecting voice recordings from farm workers and people speaking in the old Buckinghamshire dialect.
His ‘ears pricked up’ when he heard some of the voices tell of local ghost stories and he began to collect his own oral evidence of local legends and folklore.
He ended up meeting descendants of illegitimate children born of amorous liaisons in the caves, as well as existing members of Hell Fire Chapters in the UK and abroad. He now lives in Lincolnshire and has since become a member of one of the Chapters.
Mr Loughran is critical of the way the Hell Fire Caves are full of “tourist kitsch” and leave visitors with “quite a negative response”.
He said: “I know they do a good trade with things like kids’ parties, but there are no ghosts down there and it’s a bit of a shame that people are going to what’s quite a beautiful and mythological place and treating it like some kind of Halloween experience.
“The caves are really a very important monument and should, like the tunnels inside the Egyptian pyramids, be studies in depth.
“To enter them with no more information than is found in a ‘tourist attraction’ would be like treating Westminster Abbey as somewhere that’s merely scary and Gothic.”
He says the caves, along with the church and mausoleum, are full of intricate symbolism, science and philosophy and are a ‘testament to a man’s love of liberty and freedom’. He added: “We need to look very closely at what this actually is”.
His book examines the astronomical positions of the caves’ entrances – “a little bit like you would with Stone Henge”, while indicating the possible existence of Knights Templar cosmology deep underground at West Wycombe.
He promises a look at the “most notorious of secret societies from the inside” and details rare information deriving from Sir Francis Dashwood’s intellectually brilliant daughter Rachel Frances Antonina (‘The Infidel’), who knew the poet Coleridge and Thomas de Quincey. There is also a focus on a 1940’s ‘Phoenix Nest’ occult group which met at West Wycombe and whose members published books on esoteric subjects up to the 1970’s.
Leonor de Aquitania (Poitiers, 1122- Fontevraud 1204) fue una mujer “excepcional”, longeva y “fascinante”, amada por unos y odiada por otros, pero para todos sin discusión el mejor ejemplo del importante poder que algunas mujeres ejercieron en la Edad Media, en contra de las creencias populares.
Así lo atestigua la investigadora científica del Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) Ana Rodríguez, en “La estirpe de Leonor de Aquitania” (Crítica), una obra en la que trata de entender el contexto en el que se movieron las mujeres de la época y explicar cuáles eran las relaciones entre mujeres y poder en los siglos XII y XIII, según cuenta en una entrevista con Efe.
Para ello, Rodríguez se fija en Leonor de Aquitania, una noble medieval francesa miembro de la casa de Poitiers que, por matrimonio, llega a ser reina consorte de Francia y, tras su divorcio de Luis VII, reina de Inglaterra al casarse con Enrique II.
La fuerza inicial del personaje procede, según la investigadora, del hecho de ser propietaria, por herencia de su padre, del condado de Aquitania, un lugar “estratégicamente situado” desde el punto de vista geográfico y “de una importancia tremenda” entre los reinos de Francia e Inglaterra.
Este hecho la convierte en “un peón fundamental” en la construcción de las relaciones familiares y de poder en la época medieval, al ser capaz de mantener ese poder durante seis décadas, un hecho “absolutamente excepcional” en la época.
“Todo eso, amparado con una estrategia permanente en las complejas relaciones con sus esposos e hijos, la hizo mantenerse en el juego político sin estar nunca al margen del mismo”, según Ana Rodríguez, quien afirma que, al final de su vida, Leonor de Aquitania se convierte en “la guardiana de la memoria de su familia”.
“Con estrategias variadas y cambiantes y alianzas con diferentes poderes, e incluso con sus esposos e hijos”, Leonor de Aquitania tiene el mérito de saber “gestionar” ese poder territorial que le es transferido por su padre, convirtiéndola en “toda una superviviente”, una mujer que vive 82 años y que, a su muerte, “ha enterrado a todo el mundo”, hasta el punto de que solo la sobreviven dos de sus diez hijos.
Pero fue precisamente su capacidad para ejercer un poder “para el que en principio, como mujer, no estaba legitimada”, el que la hizo ser detestada por los cronistas franceses e ingleses de la época, todos ellos eclesiásticos y en estrecha relación con los miembros más poderosos de la corte, para los que Leonor “siempre fue un peligro” y una mujer “que fascinó a todos, para bien o para mal”.
“Para ellos fue una especie de mujer que llevó el pecado a todo el que se cruzaba con ella”, según Ana Rodríguez, quien considera que el principal problema con el que se topó fue el de ejercer un poder que, “por la propia concepción del mismo en la Edad Media, no era legítimo”.
Según la investigadora, las mujeres de la sociedad medieval podían transmitir el poder y ejercerlo de ciertas maneras, “pero eso nunca tenía una legitimidad similar a la de los hombres”, y recuerda que “formaba parte de la normalidad” que todos los reyes tuviesen una esposa legítima, para darle hijos legítimos, y también amantes.
Para Ana Rodríguez, la última gran “misión histórica” de Leonor de Aquitania, que habla también de “su gran fortaleza”, fue la de cruzar los Pirineos y viajar, con 80 años, hasta Castilla para escoger entre sus nietas, las infantas de Castilla, a la que se convertiría en esposa del futuro Luis VIII, eligiendo a Blanca, una de las reinas más célebres y hábiles políticamente de Francia.
Dos años después de la elección de Blanca como futura reina de Francia, Leonor de Aquitania falleció en la abadía de Fontevrault, lugar en el que durante ese tiempo se dedicó “a construir la memoria de la familia” y los sepulcros que hoy todavía se pueden ver.
In the wake of last week’s announcement that two historians had located the Holy Grail, thousands of Christians have swarmed the Basilica of San Isidoro, hoping to catch a glimpse of the legendary Cup of Christ.
Curators of the ancient church were forced to pull the alleged Holy Grail from its traditional place and relocate it to an exhibition room in the hopes of accomodating the new influx of pilgrims. Raquel Jéan, the director of the Basilica’s museum, told reporters in a statement to AFP:
“It was in a very small room where it was not possible to admire it to the full.”
The Basilica of San Isidoro is located in León, Spain, where it was erected over the ruins of a temple to the Roman god Mercury. Until the 10th century, the Basilica served as a monastery to an order of Benedictine sisters, and then in 1063 the site was rededicated to Saint Isidore of Seville. The former monastery served for several generations as the site of a royal burial chamber, and eleven Spanish kings lie buried alongside their queens and servants under the massive slabs of marble and stone that served as the Royal Pantheon.
While the site still drew a large number of visitors prior to last week, this week the influx of tourists grew exponentially. This is due to the explosive claims made recently by Margarita Torres and José Ortega del Río, a pair of Spanish historians who claim they have successfully identified the Holy Grail in Kings of the Grail, a book that was published last week.
According to Torres and del Río, the Holy Grail is an onyx goblet that sits like a Russian nesting doll within another larger, gold and jewel encrusted cup, known as the Chalice of Doña Urruca. The historians believe that both the Holy Grail and the chalice it rests in have been residing at the Basilica since sometime in the 11th century.
The Chalice of Doña Urruca, Torres and del Río believe, was brought over to Spain from Egypt, with the Grail already built inside the larger goblet. It was a gift to King Fernando I from emmisaries of the Muslim nation, whom he had given assistance to while Egypt was suffering from a famine.
Recent scientific studies have at least confirmed that the cup within the Chalice of Doña Urruca is old enough to be the Holy Grail. Carbon dating shows the cup to be anywhere from 1900 to 2300 years old.
Meanwhile, the Basilica of San Isidoro has received almost a year’s worth of visitors in the last week alone. If the chalice in question proves to be the Holy Grail, who knows how many people will make the pilgrimage to the City of City of León?
The 2000 year search for the Holy Grail has ended according with a new book by Tim C. Leedom and Alberto Festa. The most sought after antiquity in history has been found and revealed by the curator of the Saint Padre Pio 1000 relic collection in Rome, Italy. The Grail that set on The Last Supper table of Jesus has been verified by carbon dating, testimonies of anthropologists and in the until now secret video of Natuzza Evolo holding The Grail.
Manoa Valley Publishing Company Closes in on Secret Location and Holder of Saint Pio’s Holy Grail in “The Freeing of the Holy Grail.”
The Manoa Valley Publishing Company has identified the discovered claimed location and protector of the most sought after sacred antiquity in history – The Holy Grail – in its book “The Freeing of the Holy Grail.”
The Holy Grail was on Jesus’ table at the Last Supper and has been hidden in the collection of Saint Padre Pio in Rome since his passing in 1968. Alberto Festa, the curator of the Pio collection, has guarded it from the threats and intrusions of the modern religious world.
Best seller author and researcher Tim C. Leedom said, “Evidence is not proof, but it can’t be dismissed.”
Highlights from the book include:
The Holy Grail came into the possession of Saint Padre Pio in the early 1900’s. Saint Padre is one of the most popular and revered Saints in the world.
He is a “People’s Saint” and was at odds with the Vatican many times over his healings, stigmata and leaving the “Vase of St. Peter ” and many relics to a poor priest and not the Vatican.
Al Festa is the co-author of “The Freeing of the Holy Grail” and grandnephew of Dr. Giorgio Festa Saint Pio’s personal physician.
Al Festa was threatened by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2002 after being summoned to the Vatican – “I see a cloud over your head and it will not disappear until you give us what is rightfully ours.”
Al wishes to bring the Grail to United States in accordance with Saint Pio’s wishes – “The Holy Grail will be safe and be seen and appreciated by all the people, away from dark shadows.”
Bestselling Newport Beach editor and Award Winning author Tim C. Leedom is Al Festa’s co-author.
In the possession of the authors is a never seen DVD of Natuzza Evolo, the revered holy woman of Italy holding the Holy Grail from the Saint Padre Pio Collection. She proclaims its authenticity and the manner in which Saint Pio received the priceless relic. Because she has been hiding it from the Vatican it may jeopardize her path to Sainthood.
Evidences and proofs include carbon dating, photographs, illustrations and testimonials from a leading European anthropologist, a respected hand writing expert and dozens of questions answered by Saint Pio collection curator Alberto Festa.
“The importance of the Holy Grail historically and religiously cannot be overstated. Kings, Templars, Nazis, historians and movie makers have sought to capture this illusive sacred relic for over 2000 years – now it has been revealed by the Christ like humble Saint – The Italian Saint Padre Pio” says Tim C. Leedom.
More than 4,500 illustrations, depicting more than 400 Bible tales from Genesis to Revelations, are displayed online at thebricktestament.com.
Launched in 2001, it is the ongoing project of one man, Brendan Powell Smith, nicknamed “The Reverend”.
He says it is intended to educate people about the Bible “in a way that is fun and compelling, while remaining true to the text of the scriptures.
“To this end, all stories are retold using direct quotes from The Bible.”
It is huge, detailed, occasionally gory and frequently satirical. The excerpts from 1 Samuel are entitled “Saul rejected for incomplete genocide”, after the leader of the Israelites left some sheep and cattle alive after being ordered to exterminate the Amalekites.
Similarly, Saint Stephen is shown saying: “If you ignore a few phrases here and there and completely ignore their original context, [the Scriptures] totally predict Jesus!”
Mr Smith says of the driving force behind his labour of love: “I am not at all religious myself, but have a longstanding interest in religion, the Bible, and the study of ancient Christianity and Judaism, hence the nickname ‘The Reverend.'”
The Brick Testament was released in book form in 2003.
This is a story about a nearly 100-year-old book, bound in red leather, which has spent the last quarter century secreted away in a bank vault in Switzerland. The book is big and heavy and its spine is etched with gold letters that say “Liber Novus,” which is Latin for “New Book.” Its pages are made from thick cream-colored parchment and filled with paintings of otherworldly creatures and handwritten dialogues with gods and devils. If you didn’t know the book’s vintage, you might confuse it for a lost medieval tome.
And yet between the book’s heavy covers, a very modern story unfolds. It goes as follows: Man skids into midlife and loses his soul. Man goes looking for soul. After a lot of instructive hardship and adventure — taking place entirely in his head — he finds it again.
Some people feel that nobody should read the book, and some feel that everybody should read it. The truth is, nobody really knows. Most of what has been said about the book — what it is, what it means — is the product of guesswork, because from the time it was begun in 1914 in a smallish town in Switzerland, it seems that only about two dozen people have managed to read or even have much of a look at it.
Of those who did see it, at least one person, an educated Englishwoman who was allowed to read some of the book in the 1920s, thought it held infinite wisdom — “There are people in my country who would read it from cover to cover without stopping to breathe scarcely,” she wrote — while another, a well-known literary type who glimpsed it shortly after, deemed it both fascinating and worrisome, concluding that it was the work of a psychotic.
So for the better part of the past century, despite the fact that it is thought to be the pivotal work of one of the era’s great thinkers, the book has existed mostly just as a rumor, cosseted behind the skeins of its own legend — revered and puzzled over only from a great distance.
Which is why one rainy November night in 2007, I boarded a flight in Boston and rode the clouds until I woke up in Zurich, pulling up to the airport gate at about the same hour that the main branch of the United Bank of Switzerland, located on the city’s swanky Bahnhofstrasse, across from Tommy Hilfiger and close to Cartier, was opening its doors for the day. A change was under way: the book, which had spent the past 23 years locked inside a safe deposit box in one of the bank’s underground vaults, was just then being wrapped in black cloth and loaded into a discreet-looking padded suitcase on wheels. It was then rolled past the guards, out into the sunlight and clear, cold air, where it was loaded into a waiting car and whisked away.
THIS COULD SOUND, I realize, like the start of a spy novel or a Hollywood bank caper, but it is rather a story about genius and madness, as well as possession and obsession, with one object — this old, unusual book — skating among those things. Also, there are a lot of Jungians involved, a species of thinkers who subscribe to the theories of Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and author of the big red leather book. And Jungians, almost by definition, tend to get enthused anytime something previously hidden reveals itself, when whatever’s been underground finally makes it to the surface.
Carl Jung founded the field of analytical psychology and, along with Sigmund Freud, was responsible for popularizing the idea that a person’s interior life merited not just attention but dedicated exploration — a notion that has since propelled tens of millions of people into psychotherapy. Freud, who started as Jung’s mentor and later became his rival, generally viewed the unconscious mind as a warehouse for repressed desires, which could then be codified and pathologized and treated. Jung, over time, came to see the psyche as an inherently more spiritual and fluid place, an ocean that could be fished for enlightenment and healing.
Whether or not he would have wanted it this way, Jung — who regarded himself as a scientist — is today remembered more as a countercultural icon, a proponent of spirituality outside religion and the ultimate champion of dreamers and seekers everywhere, which has earned him both posthumous respect and posthumous ridicule. Jung’s ideas laid the foundation for the widely used Myers-Briggs personality test and influenced the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. His central tenets — the existence of a collective unconscious and the power of archetypes — have seeped into the larger domain of New Age thinking while remaining more at the fringes of mainstream psychology.
A big man with wire-rimmed glasses, a booming laugh and a penchant for the experimental, Jung was interested in the psychological aspects of séances, of astrology, of witchcraft. He could be jocular and also impatient. He was a dynamic speaker, an empathic listener. He had a famously magnetic appeal with women. Working at Zurich’s Burghölzli psychiatric hospital, Jung listened intently to the ravings of schizophrenics, believing they held clues to both personal and universal truths. At home, in his spare time, he pored over Dante, Goethe, Swedenborg and Nietzsche. He began to study mythology and world cultures, applying what he learned to the live feed from the unconscious — claiming that dreams offered a rich and symbolic narrative coming from the depths of the psyche. Somewhere along the way, he started to view the human soul — not just the mind and the body — as requiring specific care and development, an idea that pushed him into a province long occupied by poets and priests but not so much by medical doctors and empirical scientists.
Jung soon found himself in opposition not just to Freud but also to most of his field, the psychiatrists who constituted the dominant culture at the time, speaking the clinical language of symptom and diagnosis behind the deadbolts of asylum wards. Separation was not easy. As his convictions began to crystallize, Jung, who was at that point an outwardly successful and ambitious man with a young family, a thriving private practice and a big, elegant house on the shores of Lake Zurich, felt his own psyche starting to teeter and slide, until finally he was dumped into what would become a life-altering crisis.
What happened next to Carl Jung has become, among Jungians and other scholars, the topic of enduring legend and controversy. It has been characterized variously as a creative illness, a descent into the underworld, a bout with insanity, a narcissistic self-deification, a transcendence, a midlife breakdown and an inner disturbance mirroring the upheaval of World War I. Whatever the case, in 1913, Jung, who was then 38, got lost in the soup of his own psyche. He was haunted by troubling visions and heard inner voices. Grappling with the horror of some of what he saw, he worried in moments that he was, in his own words, “menaced by a psychosis” or “doing a schizophrenia.”
He later would compare this period of his life — this “confrontation with the unconscious,” as he called it — to a mescaline experiment. He described his visions as coming in an “incessant stream.” He likened them to rocks falling on his head, to thunderstorms, to molten lava. “I often had to cling to the table,” he recalled, “so as not to fall apart.”
Had he been a psychiatric patient, Jung might well have been told he had a nervous disorder and encouraged to ignore the circus going on in his head. But as a psychiatrist, and one with a decidedly maverick streak, he tried instead to tear down the wall between his rational self and his psyche. For about six years, Jung worked to prevent his conscious mind from blocking out what his unconscious mind wanted to show him. Between appointments with patients, after dinner with his wife and children, whenever there was a spare hour or two, Jung sat in a book-lined office on the second floor of his home and actually induced hallucinations — what he called “active imaginations.” “In order to grasp the fantasies which were stirring in me ‘underground,’ ” Jung wrote later in his book “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” “I knew that I had to let myself plummet down into them.” He found himself in a liminal place, as full of creative abundance as it was of potential ruin, believing it to be the same borderlands traveled by both lunatics and great artists.
Jung recorded it all. First taking notes in a series of small, black journals, he then expounded upon and analyzed his fantasies, writing in a regal, prophetic tone in the big red-leather book. The book detailed an unabashedly psychedelic voyage through his own mind, a vaguely Homeric progression of encounters with strange people taking place in a curious, shifting dreamscape. Writing in German, he filled 205 oversize pages with elaborate calligraphy and with richly hued, staggeringly detailed paintings.
What he wrote did not belong to his previous canon of dispassionate, academic essays on psychiatry. Nor was it a straightforward diary. It did not mention his wife, or his children, or his colleagues, nor for that matter did it use any psychiatric language at all. Instead, the book was a kind of phantasmagoric morality play, driven by Jung’s own wish not just to chart a course out of the mangrove swamp of his inner world but also to take some of its riches with him. It was this last part — the idea that a person might move beneficially between the poles of the rational and irrational, the light and the dark, the conscious and the unconscious — that provided the germ for his later work and for what analytical psychology would become.
The book tells the story of Jung trying to face down his own demons as they emerged from the shadows. The results are humiliating, sometimes unsavory. In it, Jung travels the land of the dead, falls in love with a woman he later realizes is his sister, gets squeezed by a giant serpent and, in one terrifying moment, eats the liver of a little child. (“I swallow with desperate efforts — it is impossible — once again and once again — I almost faint — it is done.”) At one point, even the devil criticizes Jung as hateful.
He worked on his red book — and he called it just that, the Red Book — on and off for about 16 years, long after his personal crisis had passed, but he never managed to finish it. He actively fretted over it, wondering whether to have it published and face ridicule from his scientifically oriented peers or to put it in a drawer and forget it. Regarding the significance of what the book contained, however, Jung was unequivocal. “All my works, all my creative activity,” he would recall later, “has come from those initial fantasies and dreams.”
Jung evidently kept the Red Book locked in a cupboard in his house in the Zurich suburb of Küsnacht. When he died in 1961, he left no specific instructions about what to do with it. His son, Franz, an architect and the third of Jung’s five children, took over running the house and chose to leave the book, with its strange musings and elaborate paintings, where it was. Later, in 1984, the family transferred it to the bank, where since then it has fulminated as both an asset and a liability.
Anytime someone did ask to see the Red Book, family members said, without hesitation and sometimes without decorum, no. The book was private, they asserted, an intensely personal work. In 1989, an American analyst named Stephen Martin, who was then the editor of a Jungian journal and now directs a Jungian nonprofit foundation, visited Jung’s son (his other four children were daughters) and inquired about the Red Book. The question was met with a vehemence that surprised him. “Franz Jung, an otherwise genial and gracious man, reacted sharply, nearly with anger,” Martin later wrote in his foundation’s newsletter, saying “in no uncertain terms” that Martin could not “see the Red Book, nor could he ever imagine that it would be published.”
And yet, Carl Jung’s secret Red Book — scanned, translated and footnoted — will be in stores early next month, published by W. W. Norton and billed as the “most influential unpublished work in the history of psychology.” Surely it is a victory for someone, but it is too early yet to say for whom.
STEPHEN MARTIN IS a compact, bearded man of 57. He has a buoyant, irreverent wit and what feels like a fully intact sense of wonder. If you happen to have a conversation with him anytime before, say, 10 a.m., he will ask his first question — “How did you sleep?” — and likely follow it with a second one — “Did you dream?” Because for Martin, as it is for all Jungian analysts, dreaming offers a barometric reading of the psyche. At his house in a leafy suburb of Philadelphia, Martin keeps five thick books filled with notations on and interpretations of all the dreams he had while studying to be an analyst 30 years ago in Zurich, under the tutelage of a Swiss analyst then in her 70s named Liliane Frey-Rohn. These days, Martin stores his dreams on his computer, but his dream life is — as he says everybody’s dream life should be — as involving as ever.
Even as some of his peers in the Jungian world are cautious about regarding Carl Jung as a sage — a history of anti-Semitic remarks and his sometimes patriarchal views of women have caused some to distance themselves — Martin is unapologetically reverential. He keeps Jung’s 20 volumes of collected works on a shelf at home. He rereads “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” at least twice a year. Many years ago, when one of his daughters interviewed him as part of a school project and asked what his religion was, Martin, a nonobservant Jew, answered, “Oh, honey, I’m a Jungian.”
The first time I met him, at the train station in Ardmore, Pa., Martin shook my hand and thoughtfully took my suitcase. “Come,” he said. “I’ll take you to see the holy hankie.” We then walked several blocks to the office where Martin sees clients. The room was cozy and cavelike, with a thick rug and walls painted a deep, handsome shade of blue. There was a Mission-style sofa and two upholstered chairs and an espresso machine in one corner.
Several mounted vintage posters of Zurich hung on the walls, along with framed photographs of Carl Jung, looking wise and white-haired, and Liliane Frey-Rohn, a round-faced woman smiling maternally from behind a pair of severe glasses.
Martin tenderly lifted several first-edition books by Jung from a shelf, opening them so I could see how they had been inscribed to Frey-Rohn, who later bequeathed them to Martin. Finally, we found ourselves standing in front of a square frame hung on the room’s far wall, another gift from his former analyst and the centerpiece of Martin’s Jung arcana. Inside the frame was a delicate linen square, its crispness worn away by age — a folded handkerchief with the letters “CGJ” embroidered neatly in one corner in gray. Martin pointed. “There you have it,” he said with exaggerated pomp, “the holy hankie, the sacred nasal shroud of C. G. Jung.”
In addition to practicing as an analyst, Martin is the director of the Philemon Foundation, which focuses on preparing the unpublished works of Carl Jung for publication, with the Red Book as its central project. He has spent the last several years aggressively, sometimes evangelistically, raising money in the Jungian community to support his foundation. The foundation, in turn, helped pay for the translating of the book and the addition of a scholarly apparatus — a lengthy introduction and vast network of footnotes — written by a London-based historian named Sonu Shamdasani, who serves as the foundation’s general editor and who spent about three years persuading the family to endorse the publication of the book and to allow him access to it.
Given the Philemon Foundation’s aim to excavate and make public C. G. Jung’s old papers — lectures he delivered at Zurich’s Psychological Club or unpublished letters, for example — both Martin and Shamdasani, who started the foundation in 2003, have worked to develop a relationship with the Jung family, the owners and notoriously protective gatekeepers of Jung’s works. Martin echoed what nearly everybody I met subsequently would tell me about working with Jung’s descendants. “It’s sometimes delicate,” he said, adding by way of explanation, “They are very Swiss.”
What he likely meant by this was that the members of the Jung family who work most actively on maintaining Jung’s estate tend to do things carefully and with an emphasis on privacy and decorum and are on occasion taken aback by the relatively brazen and totally informal way that American Jungians — who it is safe to say are the most ardent of all Jungians — inject themselves into the family’s business. There are Americans knocking unannounced on the door of the family home in Küsnacht; Americans scaling the fence at Bollingen, the stone tower Jung built as a summer residence farther south on the shore of Lake Zurich. Americans pepper Ulrich Hoerni, one of Jung’s grandsons who manages Jung’s editorial and archival matters through a family foundation, almost weekly with requests for various permissions. The relationship between the Jungs and the people who are inspired by Jung is, almost by necessity, a complex symbiosis. The Red Book — which on one hand described Jung’s self-analysis and became the genesis for the Jungian method and on the other was just strange enough to possibly embarrass the family — held a certain electrical charge. Martin recognized the descendants’ quandary. “They own it, but they haven’t lived it,” he said, describing Jung’s legacy. “It’s very consternating for them because we all feel like we own it.” Even the old psychiatrist himself seemed to recognize the tension. “Thank God I am Jung,” he is rumored once to have said, “and not a Jungian.”
“This guy, he was a bodhisattva,” Martin said to me that day. “This is the greatest psychic explorer of the 20th century, and this book tells the story of his inner life.” He added, “It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.” He had at that point yet to lay eyes on the book, but for him that made it all the more tantalizing. His hope was that the Red Book would “reinvigorate” Jungian psychology, or at the very least bring himself personally closer to Jung. “Will I understand it?” he said. “Probably not. Will it disappoint? Probably. Will it inspire? How could it not?” He paused a moment, seeming to think it through. “I want to be transformed by it,” he said finally. “That’s all there is.”
IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND and decode the Red Book — a process he says required more than five years of concentrated work — Sonu Shamdasani took long, rambling walks on London’s Hampstead Heath. He would translate the book in the morning, then walk miles in the park in the afternoon, his mind trying to follow the rabbit’s path Jung had forged through his own mind.
Shamdasani is 46. He has thick black hair, a punctilious eye for detail and an understated, even somnolent, way of speaking. He is friendly but not particularly given to small talk. If Stephen Martin is — in Jungian terms — a “feeling type,” then Shamdasani, who teaches at the University College London’s Wellcome Trust Center for the History of Medicine and keeps a book by the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus by his sofa for light reading, is a “thinking type.” He has studied Jungian psychology for more than 15 years and is particularly drawn to the breadth of Jung’s psychology and his knowledge of Eastern thought, as well as the historical richness of his era, a period when visionary writing was more common, when science and art were more entwined and when Europe was slipping into the psychic upheaval of war. He tends to be suspicious of interpretive thinking that’s not anchored by hard fact — and has, in fact, made a habit of attacking anybody he deems guilty of sloppy scholarship — and also maintains a generally unsentimental attitude toward Jung. Both of these qualities make him, at times, awkward company among both Jungians and Jungs.
The relationship between historians and the families of history’s luminaries is, almost by nature, one of mutual disenchantment. One side works to extract; the other to protect. One pushes; one pulls. Stephen Joyce, James Joyce’s literary executor and last living heir, has compared scholars and biographers to “rats and lice.” Vladimir Nabokov’s son Dmitri recently told an interviewer that he considered destroying his father’s last known novel in order to rescue it from the “monstrous nincompoops” who had already picked over his father’s life and works. T. S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie Fletcher, has actively kept his papers out of the hands of biographers, and Anna Freud was, during her lifetime, notoriously selective about who was allowed to read and quote from her father’s archives.
Even against this backdrop, the Jungs, led by Ulrich Hoerni, the chief literary administrator, have distinguished themselves with their custodial vigor. Over the years, they have tried to interfere with the publication of books perceived to be negative or inaccurate (including one by the award-winning biographer Deirdre Bair), engaged in legal standoffs with Jungians and other academics over rights to Jung’s work and maintained a state of high agitation concerning the way C. G. Jung is portrayed. Shamdasani was initially cautious with Jung’s heirs. “They had a retinue of people coming to them and asking to see the crown jewels,” he told me in London this summer. “And the standard reply was, ‘Get lost.’ ”
Shamdasani first approached the family with a proposal to edit and eventually publish the Red Book in 1997, which turned out to be an opportune moment. Franz Jung, a vehement opponent of exposing Jung’s private side, had recently died, and the family was reeling from the publication of two controversial and widely discussed books by an American psychologist named Richard Noll, who proposed that Jung was a philandering, self-appointed prophet of a sun-worshiping Aryan cult and that several of his central ideas were either plagiarized or based upon falsified research.
While the attacks by Noll might have normally propelled the family to more vociferously guard the Red Book, Shamdasani showed up with the right bargaining chips — two partial typed draft manuscripts (without illustrations) of the Red Book he had dug up elsewhere. One was sitting on a bookshelf in a house in southern Switzerland, at the home of the elderly daughter of a woman who once worked as a transcriptionist and translator for Jung. The second he found at Yale University’s Beinecke Library, in an uncataloged box of papers belonging to a well-known German publisher. The fact that there were partial copies of the Red Book signified two things — one, that Jung had distributed it to at least a few friends, presumably soliciting feedback for publication; and two, that the book, so long considered private and inaccessible, was in fact findable. The specter of Richard Noll and anybody else who, they feared, might want to taint Jung by quoting selectively from the book loomed large. With or without the family’s blessing, the Red Book — or at least parts of it — would likely become public at some point soon, “probably,” Shamdasani wrote ominously in a report to the family, “in sensationalistic form.”
For about two years, Shamdasani flew back and forth to Zurich, making his case to Jung’s heirs. He had lunches and coffees and delivered a lecture. Finally, after what were by all accounts tense deliberations inside the family, Shamdasani was given a small salary and a color copy of the original book and was granted permission to proceed in preparing it for publication, though he was bound by a strict confidentiality agreement. When money ran short in 2003, the Philemon Foundation was created to finance Shamdasani’s research.
Having lived more or less alone with the book for almost a decade, Shamdasani — who is a lover of fine wine and the intricacies of jazz — these days has the slightly stunned aspect of someone who has only very recently found his way out of an enormous maze. When I visited him this summer in the book-stuffed duplex overlooking the heath, he was just adding his 1,051st footnote to the Red Book.
The footnotes map both Shamdasani’s journey and Jung’s. They include references to Faust, Keats, Ovid, the Norse gods Odin and Thor, the Egyptian deities Isis and Osiris, the Greek goddess Hecate, ancient Gnostic texts, Greek Hyperboreans, King Herod, the Old Testament, the New Testament, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, astrology, the artist Giacometti and the alchemical formulation of gold. And that’s just naming a few. The central premise of the book, Shamdasani told me, was that Jung had become disillusioned with scientific rationalism — what he called “the spirit of the times” — and over the course of many quixotic encounters with his own soul and with other inner figures, he comes to know and appreciate “the spirit of the depths,” a field that makes room for magic, coincidence and the mythological metaphors delivered by dreams.
“It is the nuclear reactor for all his works,” Shamdasani said, noting that Jung’s more well-known concepts — including his belief that humanity shares a pool of ancient wisdom that he called the collective unconscious and the thought that personalities have both male and female components (animus and anima) — have their roots in the Red Book. Creating the book also led Jung to reformulate how he worked with clients, as evidenced by an entry Shamdasani found in a self-published book written by a former client, in which she recalls Jung’s advice for processing what went on in the deeper and sometimes frightening parts of her mind.
“I should advise you to put it all down as beautifully as you can — in some beautifully bound book,” Jung instructed. “It will seem as if you were making the visions banal — but then you need to do that — then you are freed from the power of them. . . . Then when these things are in some precious book you can go to the book & turn over the pages & for you it will be your church — your cathedral — the silent places of your spirit where you will find renewal. If anyone tells you that it is morbid or neurotic and you listen to them — then you will lose your soul — for in that book is your soul.”
ZURICH IS, IF NOTHING ELSE, one of Europe’s more purposeful cities. Its church bells clang precisely; its trains glide in and out on a flawless schedule. There are crowded fondue restaurants and chocolatiers and rosy-cheeked natives breezily pedaling their bicycles over the stone bridges that span the Limmat River. In summer, white-sailed yachts puff around Lake Zurich; in winter, the Alps glitter on the horizon. And during the lunch hour year-round, squads of young bankers stride the Bahnhofstrasse in their power suits and high-end watches, appearing eternally mindful of the fact that beneath everyone’s feet lie labyrinthine vaults stuffed with a dazzling and disproportionate amount of the world’s wealth.
But there, too, ventilating the city’s material splendor with their devotion to dreams, are the Jungians. Some 100 Jungian analysts practice in and around Zurich, examining their clients’ dreams in sessions held in small offices tucked inside buildings around the city. Another few hundred analysts in training can be found studying at one of the two Jungian institutes in the area. More than once, I have been told that, in addition to being a fantastic tourist destination and a good place to hide money, Zurich is an excellent city for dreaming.
Jungians are accustomed to being in the minority pretty much everywhere they go, but here, inside a city of 370,000, they have found a certain quiet purchase. Zurich, for Jungians, is spiritually loaded. It’s a kind of Jerusalem, the place where C. G. Jung began his career, held seminars, cultivated an inner circle of disciples, developed his theories of the psyche and eventually grew old. Many of the people who enroll in the institutes are Swiss, American, British or German, but some are from places like Japan and South Africa and Brazil. Though there are other Jungian institutes in other cities around the world offering diploma programs, learning the techniques of dream analysis in Zurich is a little bit like learning to hit a baseball in Yankee Stadium. For a believer, the place alone conveys a talismanic grace.
Just as I had, Stephen Martin flew to Zurich the week the Red Book was taken from its bank-vault home and moved to a small photo studio near the opera house to be scanned, page by page, for publication. (A separate English translation along with Shamdasani’s introduction and footnotes will be included at the back of the book.) Martin already made a habit of visiting Zurich a few times a year for “bratwurst and renewal” and to attend to Philemon Foundation business. My first morning there, we walked around the older parts of Zurich, before going to see the book. Zurich made Martin nostalgic. It was here that he met his wife, Charlotte, and here that he developed the almost equally important relationship with his analyst, Frey-Rohn, carrying himself and his dreams to her office two or three times weekly for several years.
Undergoing analysis is a central, learn-by-doing part of Jungian training, which usually takes about five years and also involves taking courses in folklore, mythology, comparative religion and psychopathology, among others. It is, Martin says, very much a “mentor-based discipline.” He is fond of pointing out his own conferred pedigree, because Frey-Rohn was herself analyzed by C. G. Jung. Most analysts seem to know their bloodlines. That morning, Martin and I were passing a cafe when he spotted another American analyst, someone he knew in school and who has since settled in Switzerland. “Oh, there’s Bob,” Martin said merrily, making his way toward the man. “Bob trained with Liliane,” he explained to me, “and that makes us kind of like brothers.”
Jungian analysis revolves largely around writing down your dreams (or drawing them) and bringing them to the analyst — someone who is patently good with both symbols and people — to be scoured for personal and archetypal meaning. Borrowing from Jung’s own experiences, analysts often encourage clients to experiment on their own with active imagination, to summon a waking dreamscape and to interact with whatever, or whoever, surfaces there. Analysis is considered to be a form of psychotherapy, and many analysts are in fact trained also as psychotherapists, but in its purist form, a Jungian analyst eschews clinical talk of diagnoses and recovery in favor of broader (and some might say fuzzier) goals of self-discovery and wholeness — a maturation process Jung himself referred to as “individuation.” Perhaps as a result, Jungian analysis has a distinct appeal to people in midlife. “The purpose of analysis is not treatment,” Martin explained to me. “That’s the purpose of psychotherapy. The purpose of analysis,” he added, a touch grandly, “is to give life back to someone who’s lost it.”
Later that day, we went to the photo studio where the work on the book was already under way. The room was a charmless space with concrete floors and black walls. Its hushed atmosphere and glaring lights added a slightly surgical aspect. There was the editor from Norton in a tweedy sport coat. There was an art director hired by Norton and two technicians from a company called DigitalFusion, who had flown to Zurich from Southern California with what looked to be a half-ton of computer and camera equipment.
Shamdasani arrived ahead of us. And so did Ulrich Hoerni, who, along with his cousin Peter Jung, had become a cautious supporter of Shamdasani, working to build consensus inside the family to allow the book out into the world. Hoerni was the one to fetch the book from the bank and was now standing by, his brow furrowed, appearing somewhat tortured. To talk to Jung’s heirs is to understand that nearly four decades after his death, they continue to reel inside the psychic tornado Jung created during his lifetime, caught between the opposing forces of his admirers and critics and between their own filial loyalties and history’s pressing tendency to judge and rejudge its own playmakers. Hoerni would later tell me that Shamdasani’s discovery of the stray copies of the Red Book surprised him, that even today he’s not entirely clear about whether Carl Jung ever intended for the Red Book to be published. “He left it an open question,” he said. “One might think he would have taken some of his children aside and said, ‘This is what it is and what I want done with it,’ but he didn’t.” It was a burden Hoerni seemed to wear heavily. He had shown up at the photo studio not just with the Red Book in its special padded suitcase but also with a bedroll and a toothbrush, since after the day’s work was wrapped, he would be spending the night curled up near the book — “a necessary insurance measure,” he would explain.
And finally, there sunbathing under the lights, sat Carl Jung’s Red Book, splayed open to Page 37. One side of the open page showed an intricate mosaic painting of a giant holding an ax, surrounded by winged serpents and crocodiles. The other side was filled with a cramped German calligraphy that seemed at once controlled and also, just given the number of words on the page, created the impression of something written feverishly, cathartically. Above the book a 10,200-pixel scanner suspended on a dolly clicked and whirred, capturing the book one-tenth of a millimeter at a time and uploading the images into a computer.
The Red Book had an undeniable beauty. Its colors seemed almost to pulse, its writing almost to crawl. Shamdasani’s relief was palpable, as was Hoerni’s anxiety. Everyone in the room seemed frozen in a kind of awe, especially Stephen Martin, who stood about eight feet away from the book but then finally, after a few minutes, began to inch closer to it. When the art director called for a break, Martin leaned in, tilting his head to read some of the German on the page. Whether he understood it or not, he didn’t say. He only looked up and smiled.
ONE AFTERNOON I took a break from the scanning and visited Andreas Jung, who lives with his wife, Vreni, in C. G. Jung’s old house at 228 Seestrasse in the town of Küsnacht. The house — a 5,000-square-foot, 1908 baroque-style home, designed by the psychiatrist and financed largely with his wife, Emma’s, inheritance — sits on an expanse between the road and the lake. Two rows of trimmed, towering topiary trees create a narrow passage to the entrance. The house faces the white-capped lake, a set of manicured gardens and, in one corner, an anomalous, unruly patch of bamboo.
Andreas is a tall man with a quiet demeanor and a gentlemanly way of dressing. At 64, he resembles a thinner, milder version of his famous grandfather, whom he refers to as “C. G.” Among Jung’s five children (all but one are dead) and 19 grandchildren (all but five are still living), he is one of the youngest and also known as the most accommodating to curious outsiders. It is an uneasy kind of celebrity. He and Vreni make tea and politely serve cookies and dispense little anecdotes about Jung to those courteous enough to make an advance appointment. “People want to talk to me and sometimes even touch me,” Andreas told me, seeming both amused and a little sheepish. “But it is not at all because of me, of course. It is because of my grandfather.” He mentioned that the gardeners who trim the trees are often perplexed when they encounter strangers — usually foreigners — snapping pictures of the house. “In Switzerland, C. G. Jung is not thought to be so important,” he said. “They don’t see the point of it.”
Jung, who was born in the mountain village of Kesswil, was a lifelong outsider in Zurich, even as in his adult years he seeded the city with his followers and became — along with Paul Klee and Karl Barth — one of the best-known Swissmen of his era. Perhaps his marginalization stemmed in part from the offbeat nature of his ideas. (He was mocked, for example, for publishing a book in the late 1950s that examined the psychological phenomenon of flying saucers.) Maybe it was his well-documented abrasiveness toward people he found uninteresting. Or maybe it was connected to the fact that he broke with the established ranks of his profession. (During the troubled period when he began writing the Red Book, Jung resigned from his position at Burghölzli, never to return.) Most likely, too, it had something to do with the unconventional, unhidden, 40-something-year affair he conducted with a shy but intellectually forbidding woman named Toni Wolff, one of Jung’s former analysands who went on to become an analyst as well as Jung’s close professional collaborator and a frequent, if not fully welcome, fixture at the Jung family dinner table.
“The life of C. G. Jung was not easy,” Andreas said. “For the family, it was not easy at all.” As a young man, Andreas had sometimes gone and found his grandfather’s Red Book in the cupboard and paged through it, just for fun. Knowing its author personally, he said, “It was not strange to me at all.”
For the family, C. G. Jung became more of a puzzle after his death, having left behind a large amount of unpublished work and an audience eager to get its hands on it. “There were big fights,” Andreas told me when I visited him again this summer. Andreas, who was 19 when his grandfather died, recalled family debates over whether or not to allow some of Jung’s private letters to be published. When the extended family gathered for the annual Christmas party in Küsnacht, Jung’s children would disappear into a room and have heated discussions about what to do with what he had left behind while his grandchildren played in another room. “My cousins and brothers and I, we thought they were silly to argue over these things,” Andreas said, with a light laugh. “But later when our parents died, we found ourselves having those same arguments.”
Even Jung’s great-grandchildren felt his presence. “He was omnipresent,” Daniel Baumann, whose grandmother was Jung’s daughter Gret, would tell me when I met him later. He described his own childhood with a mix of bitterness and sympathy directed at the older generations. “It was, ‘Jung said this,’ and ‘Jung did that,’ and ‘Jung thought that.’ When you did something, he was always present somehow. He just continued to live on. He was with us. He is still with us,” Baumann said. Baumann is an architect and also the president of the board of the C. G. Jung Institute in Küsnacht. He deals with Jungians all the time, and for them, he said, it was the same. Jung was both there and not there. “It’s sort of like a hologram,” he said. “Everyone projects something in the space, and Jung begins to be a real person again.”
ONE NIGHT DURING the week of the scanning in Zurich, I had a big dream. A big dream, the Jungians tell me, is a departure from all your regular dreams, which in my case meant this dream was not about falling off a cliff or missing an exam. This dream was about an elephant — a dead elephant with its head cut off. The head was on a grill at a suburban-style barbecue, and I was holding the spatula. Everybody milled around with cocktails; the head sizzled over the flames. I was angry at my daughter’s kindergarten teacher because she was supposed to be grilling the elephant head at the barbecue, but she hadn’t bothered to show up. And so the job fell to me. Then I woke up.
At the hotel breakfast buffet, I bumped into Stephen Martin and a Californian analyst named Nancy Furlotti, who is the vice president on the board of the Philemon Foundation and was at that moment having tea and muesli.
“How are you?” Martin said.
“Did you dream?” Furlotti asked
“What do elephants mean to you?” Martin asked after I relayed my dream.
“I like elephants,” I said. “I admire elephants.”
“There’s Ganesha,” Furlotti said, more to Martin than to me. “Ganesha is an Indian god of wisdom.”
“Elephants are maternal,” Martin offered, “very caring.”
They spent a few minutes puzzling over the archetypal role of the kindergarten teacher. “How do you feel about her?” “Would you say she is more like a mother figure or more like a witch?”
Giving a dream to a Jungian analyst is a little bit like feeding a complex quadratic equation to someone who really enjoys math. It takes time. The process itself is to be savored. The solution is not always immediately evident. In the following months, I told my dream to several more analysts, and each one circled around similar symbolic concepts about femininity and wisdom. One day I was in the office of Murray Stein, an American analyst who lives in Switzerland and serves as the president of the International School of Analytical Psychology, talking about the Red Book. Stein was telling me about how some Jungian analysts he knew were worried about the publication — worried specifically that it was a private document and would be apprehended as the work of a crazy person, which then reminded me of my crazy dream. I related it to him, saying that the very thought of eating an elephant’s head struck me as grotesque and embarrassing and possibly a sign there was something deeply wrong with my psyche. Stein assured me that eating is a symbol for integration. “Don’t worry,” he said soothingly. “It’s horrifying on a naturalistic level, but symbolically it is good.”
It turned out that nearly everybody around the Red Book was dreaming that week. Nancy Furlotti dreamed that we were all sitting at a table drinking amber liquid from glass globes and talking about death. (Was the scanning of the book a death? Wasn’t death followed by rebirth?) Sonu Shamdasani dreamed that he came upon Hoerni sleeping in the garden of a museum. Stephen Martin was sure that he had felt some invisible hand patting him on the back while he slept. And Hugh Milstein, one of the digital techs scanning the book, passed a tormented night watching a ghostly, white-faced child flash on a computer screen. (Furlotti and Martin debated: could that be Mercurius? The god of travelers at a crossroads?)
Early one morning we were standing around the photo studio discussing our various dreams when Ulrich Hoerni trudged through the door, having deputized his nephew Felix to spend the previous night next to the Red Book. Felix had done his job; the Red Book lay sleeping with its cover closed on the table. But Hoerni, appearing weary, seemed to be taking an extra hard look at the book. The Jungians greeted him. “How are you? Did you dream last night?”
“Yes,” Hoerni said quietly, not moving his gaze from the table. “I dreamed the book was on fire.”
ABOUT HALFWAY THROUGH the Red Book — after he has traversed a desert, scrambled up mountains, carried God on his back, committed murder, visited hell; and after he has had long and inconclusive talks with his guru, Philemon, a man with bullhorns and a long beard who flaps around on kingfisher wings — Jung is feeling understandably tired and insane. This is when his soul, a female figure who surfaces periodically throughout the book, shows up again. She tells him not to fear madness but to accept it, even to tap into it as a source of creativity. “If you want to find paths, you should also not spurn madness, since it makes up such a great part of your nature.”
The Red Book is not an easy journey — it wasn’t for Jung, it wasn’t for his family, nor for Shamdasani, and neither will it be for readers. The book is bombastic, baroque and like so much else about Carl Jung, a willful oddity, synched with an antediluvian and mystical reality. The text is dense, often poetic, always strange. The art is arresting and also strange. Even today, its publication feels risky, like an exposure. But then again, it is possible Jung intended it as such. In 1959, after having left the book more or less untouched for 30 or so years, he penned a brief epilogue, acknowledging the central dilemma in considering the book’s fate. “To the superficial observer,” he wrote, “it will appear like madness.” Yet the very fact he wrote an epilogue seems to indicate that he trusted his words would someday find the right audience.
Shamdasani figures that the Red Book’s contents will ignite both Jung’s fans and his critics. Already there are Jungians planning conferences and lectures devoted to the Red Book, something that Shamdasani finds amusing. Recalling that it took him years to feel as if he understood anything about the book, he’s curious to know what people will be saying about it just months after it is published. As far as he is concerned, once the book sees daylight, it will become a major and unignorable piece of Jung’s history, the gateway into Carl Jung’s most inner of inner experiences. “Once it’s published, there will be a ‘before’ and ‘after’ in Jungian scholarship,” he told me, adding, “it will wipe out all the biographies, just for starters.” What about the rest of us, the people who aren’t Jungians, I wondered. Was there something in the Red Book for us? “Absolutely, there is a human story here,” Shamdasani said. “The basic message he’s sending is ‘Value your inner life.’ ”
After it was scanned, the book went back to its bank-vault home, but it will move again — this time to New York, accompanied by a number of Jung’s descendents. For the next few months it will be on display at the Rubin Museum of Art. Ulrich Hoerni told me this summer that he assumed the book would generate “criticism and gossip,” but by bringing it out they were potentially rescuing future generations of Jungs from some of the struggles of the past. If another generation inherited the Red Book, he said, “the question would again have to be asked, ‘What do we do with it?’ ”
Stephen Martin too will be on hand for the book’s arrival in New York. He is already sensing that it will shed positive light on Jung — this thanks to a dream he had recently about an “inexpressively sublime” dawn breaking over the Swiss Alps — even as others are not so certain.
In the Red Book, after Jung’s soul urges him to embrace the madness, Jung is still doubtful. Then suddenly, as happens in dreams, his soul turns into “a fat, little professor,” who expresses a kind of paternal concern for Jung.
Jung says: “I too believe that I’ve completely lost myself. Am I really crazy? It’s all terribly confusing.”
The professor responds: “Have patience, everything will work out. Anyway, sleep well.”
The article misspells the name of a street in Zurich where, before it was published, the book was held for years in a bank safe-deposit box, and a correction in this space on Saturday also misspelled the name. It is Bahnhofstrasse, not Banhofstrasse or Banhoffstrasse. The article also misstates the location of Bollingen, the town where Jung built a stone tower as a summer residence. While it is on the north shore of Lake Zurich, it is south of the Jung family home in Küsnacht.