Good Reading : December January 2006
DECEMBER 2005 • JANUARY 2006 ı goodreading 39 For hundreds of years people have been entranced by the concept of the Holy Grail – what it might signify, where it might lie. Even today there are many who pore over ancient manuscripts, hoping to pick up threads that have been forgotten or overlooked, and thereby perhaps chancing upon one of the world’s most treasured objects. A new book, The Serpent Grail by Philip Gardiner and Gary Osbor n, gives a highly intel- ligent explanation for the presence of serpents in so many of the world’s spiritual observances, and their direct relationship to the Holy Grail. Taking a scientific approach which combines the use of history, anthropology and etymology, Gardiner and Osborn trace the origins of serpentine symbols, represented in some cultures as the dragon, and that of the Grail, apparent also as the cauldron, and demonstrate how these two central symbols are at the heart of all spiritual endeavours. As the book explores the deeper, esoteric meanings of the Holy Grail, the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life, we see how these concepts help map out the path to enlightenment. Philip Gardiner, who is based in Robin Hood country in England, has spent many years immersed in history, philosophy and a study of esoteric literature, including alchemy. As is often the case, his Grail studies began in an unlikely place, when he joined the Byron Society. ‘I was exposed to a whole range of ideas. This gave me a huge thirst for philosophy,’ he explains. ‘I then got involved in the Sealed Knot, an organisation devoted to the Civil War in England. This gave me a great passion for history.’ From here Gardiner began to take an interest in esoteric literature and groups, careful always to apply a more scientific approach to the material he encountered. The further he progressed, the more he came to respect the ancients. ‘I was rediscovering what was already known and well understood – knowledge and understandings that have been kept well hidden. For the last two thousand years there has been a great force against the passing on of this knowledge with the institutionalisation of Christianity. This knowledge was deliberately suppressed. Symbol and ritual were swept away, and people’s lives were manipulated by the fear of hell.’ Despite the suppression of this deeper knowledge, it survived. ‘Even in my own village I’ve traced the presence of witchcraft back all the way through to the eighteenth century,’ says Gardiner. ‘The church encouraged us to look at these people as evil, when in fact they were simply local shamans. Their lore endured in spite of the church, and was respected by those around them. I have found evidence of this again and again in local history books.’ According to Gardiner it was the shamanic cultures that nurtured these ancient understandings that detailed the path to enlightenment. When asked why there is an explosion of interest in such esoteric subjects as the Grail, Gardiner believes it is because orthodox Christianity isn’t answering the questions people ask. It is not the teachings of Jesus he questions, but the way they have been interpreted. ‘There are too many facts that are missing for people to be satisfied. People want to know the truth. There is truth in the old ways.’ When I ask him how these older ways might be relevant to our times, Gardiner replies, ‘Today we have lost our ability to feel. I took a number of people into a particular church recently. It was built on the lines of sacred geometry. I didn’t tell them what they might see or experience. I asked them simply to go inside and try to find the areas where they felt something. All but two felt immensely uplifted when they stood in the centre of the church, where all the geometric lines converged. It proved to be a profound experience for them. A couple were even crying. That’s because the ancients understood the concepts of consciousness that we strive for today. I have such respect for them. They were in touch with the universe in ways we can’t understand. We need to go back.’ So what does all this have to do with the serpent and the Grail? The book suggests that there was once a universal serpen- tine cult, whose practices provided clear steps for the kundalini (enlightenment) experience. Integral to this process was the grail/ cup/cauldron, in which opposite substances were mixed to create wholeness – not only physically but also mentally, emotionally and spiritually. How then can this ancient knowledge assist us today? ‘We have to move beyond capitalism and greed, and make our own journey up the mountain,’ says Gardiner. ‘As we jour ney on upwards and start to move beyond the fog, we will begin to enjoy the view – the inner view.’ The Serpent Grail by Philip Gardiner and Gary Osborn ★★★ Simon & Schuster $29.95 a new twist on the holy grail MAGGIE HAMILTON talks to British writer PHILLIP GARDINER about his intriguing research into the origins and meaning of the Holy Grail. mind body spirit word of mouth A reminder that you can purchase any of the books mentioned in this month’s edition of gr, indeed any book, through Good Reading Direct. Order online via our website www.goodreadingmagazine.com.au, or mail in the order card found between pages 12 & 13. Subscribers receive a 15 per cent discount on every book purchased through Good Reading Direct.