Thursday, December 24, 2009

Symi:Threads of Ancient Stories

In The Last Templar, the heist of the Vatican treasures in New York City attracts multiple investigative agencies before Sean Reilly is told, “So it looks like it’s your baby after all.” Much to Tess’s surprise and pleasure, Sean follows her to Turkey where the discovery of the hidden astrolabe triggers a race to locate the sunken ship called the Falcon Temple. When the pair escapes shipwreck, they’re carried by the ocean waves to the shores of Symi, an island named after Poseidon’s wife that is said to be the birthplace of the Three Graces—the attendants of Aphrodite, the goddess of love . . . Venus, as Robert Langdon refers to her in The Da Vinci Code.

Beneath the budding relationship between the FBI agent and the sagacious archeologist is a fabric of details woven from a real life story that began almost nine hundred years ago when Peter Abelard wrote about the many misfortunes he encountered in life.

Abelard had good intentions when he set out as a youth, claiming to have fled from the court of Mars—the god of war—in hope that he might win learning in the bosom of Minerva—the goddess of wisdom. But his life as a philosopher and theologian repeatedly took tragic turns as a result of his intellectual pursuits and an attraction he could not abate for a young prodigy named Heloise whom he arranged to tutor under the roof of her uncle’s home . . . and availed his services well into the wee hours of the night:

“Oh, how great was the uncle's grief when
he learned the truth, and how bitter was the
sorrow of the lovers when we were forced to
part! With what shame was I overwhelmed,
with what contrition smitten because of the
blow which had fallen on her I loved, and
what a tempest of misery burst over her by
reason of my disgrace! Each grieved most, not
for himself, but for the other. Each sought to
allay, not his own sufferings, but those of the
one he loved. The very sundering of our bodies
served but to link our souls closer together; the
plentitude of the love which was denied to us
inflamed us more than ever. Once the first
wildness of shame had passed, it left us more
shameless than before, and as shame died within
us the cause of it seemed to us ever more desirable.
And so it chanced with us as, in the stories that
the poets tell, it once happened with Mars and
Venus when they were caught together.”

Not long after Abelard and Heloise were discovered in a compromising situation, Heloise realized she was pregnant. On a night when her uncle was away, Abelard stole her from the house and took her to his homeland where she stayed with his sister until the baby was born. Heloise named their son Astrolabe. In the real life story, the discovery of the baby Astrolabe in the distant town initiated a storm of emotions and events that began with the lovers’ marriage, yet culminated with Heloise being sent to a convent . . . which triggered Abelard’s castration by a group of thugs who came like thieves in the night.

In authentic Grail fashion, The Last Templar straddles the boundary that separates make-believe from reality as it breathes life into old souls, imaginatively reincarnating them in a time and place where their story can finally be put right. In the modern day setting the island of Symi provides good soil from which love can sprout; it’s a place where faith and hope are embedded in the fabric of people’s lives without constraints imposed by religious dogma.

There are, however, subtle adjustments that occur between Raymond Khoury's novel and Suzette Couture's screen adaptation of the story. Sean remains the Lent observing FBI agent, though his surname changes from Reilly to Daley. In the novel, the oiled skin pouch that contains the mariner’s astrolabe is hidden beneath a carved stone at the bottom of a man-made lake and birthed through a small opening into the surrounding water; in the movie the astrolabe is recovered from under a grave marker in the relics of a church buried beneath dust and ash. The local doctor, Costa Mavromaras, and his wife Eleni, who provide care for the storm battered pair in the book, are replaced by a Greek savant named Konstantine.

Tess Chaykin keeps the same name but a transformation occurs in her underlying identity as details acquired from Heloise diminish and she assumes the qualities of someone who is more ambitious, someone who has more courage and hungers for victory. In the movie Tess introduces herself to Sean Daley as the “sequel to the prequel.” She is no longer associated with the woman who gave birth to Astrolabe . . . she becomes the woman who rescues something of great importance from the grave. In her new incarnation she insists on taking the driver’s seat no matter how rough the terrain and has a preference for designer heels. If there is any truth to the statement that you can tell a lot about a person by the shoes they wear . . . Tess’s collection of Manolo Blahniks lean toward the flair for fashion once entertained by Eleanor of Aquitaine.

When it comes time for Tess to say good-bye to the people on the Greek island, Konstantine inquires about a comment she made when they first met: “You said to me your father found the Cross of Constantine. That’s the Emperor Constantine?”

Tess smiles, “It was his greatest find. When I was a child, I used to think that someone came down out of the sky and whispered in his ear to tell him where to find it.”

Konstantine grasps onto the opportunity in her words, “Maybe you were right because children have a way to see the truth. Their minds do not get confused with questions of reason. That’s why I resist growing up.” He chuckles at the simplicity of his statement and then sends her off with a blessing, “God be with you.”

Assuming each character brings something to the gemstone, Konstantine infuses the story with a spiritual presence, but his real gift is that he understands the role of sacred stories. His parting words—the wisdom he wants Tess to take with her—distinguish the underpinnings of Greek mythology that linger on the island from what belongs to the Western world.

Anyone familiar with life as it exists in Greece today would agree that gods and goddesses still have a presence and ancient myth is honored, despite a Westernized society. It’s probably the closest setting we have in the modern world that resembles the coexistence of pagan ideologies and Church doctrine that the Emperor Constantine confronted in the 4th century. The island of Symi becomes the stepping stone across the boundary of make-believe into reality and the imaginary character Konstantine is charged with designating each sacred thread to its proper place. When we can discern the full significance of his words, we will have discovered at least one of the secrets of life.

The scenario that’s forming celebrates an old world strategy that will be played out more than once before this odyssey has ended. In his book The Closing of the Western Mind, Charles Freeman describes the sophisticated way Greeks used myth:

“Here a dilemma, based on the story lines of ancient myths, was presented in a play and acted through so that the consequences of the characters choosing one solution rather than another could be assessed by an audience, a truly democratic way of airing ethical issues. In his Poetics Aristotle argued that the purpose of tragic drama was to give them some form of emotional catharsis, an experience which would make them more complete human beings.”

In The Last Templar, as Tess is leaving the island, all possibilities of a manuscript capable of changing the world have been destroyed. Symi provided an opportunity for her to witness faith and hope first hand. She's certain that to tamper with something that brings so much meaning to people would do more harm than good and intentionally keeps what she recovered from the falcon head a secret, then takes a stand against William Vance when he attempts to acquire possession of it.

However, Tess unintentionally hinders what she is hoping to protect when she fails to recognize the presence of God in her midst. Her faith is invested in a glimpse of humanity that isn't consistent with her experiences in New York City, or those found in much of the modern world. Figuratively speaking, when Vance falls over the rocky cliff . . . God is as good as dead.

In the novel, Tess considers leaving the Big Apple and moving to Arizona where she and those she loves can carve out a better life, away from the crime and violence that permeates the city. In the movie, she returns home and rushes back into the daily routine . . . running to beat the clock to watch her daughter exhibit the skills she’s developing in self-defense. Tess jumps for joy, “Whoo! I’ve created a monster!”

Oblivious to the activities behind her, Tess is surprised when Sean Daley begins speaking over her shoulder, repeating the words she shared with him while he was in a coma. Sean provides Tess with a new pair of boots to replace those lost during their adventure at sea. The boots serve as a reminder that her work isn’t finished. More importantly, they're a link to a memory that can be reflected back upon.

If there is a saving grace, it's that the Greek sacred story has already run its course and between Pandora's curiosity, her marriage to Afterthought, and the hope that they released into the world for all mankind . . . questions belonging to reason still exist in the minds of those who have grown up in the shadow of the story.

We're left to contemplate the implications of what has transpired and wonder how our own story might have ended if events had gone a different way.

Photo by permission: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Just an Illusion? A Collaborative Effort? Or God Himself Taking a Personal Interest in How This Story Plays Out?

In Forrest Gump, Winston Groom foretells the sequence of the gemstone books in the form of football game. After the first half in the Orange Bowl, Snake, the quarterback tells the players, “We’re gonna’ run the Forrest Series now.” He throws the ball to Forrest; Nebraska puts two fellas—Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code and William Vance from The Last Templar—to chase after him, leaving Gwin—Gawain in The Story of the Grail—the end, with nobody to chase him around.

In the first chapter of The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown uses Silas to inform the audience, “All four concurred. Independently.” “Their agreement was too great for coincidence.”

The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury begins with flashbacks to events that occurred more than seven hundred years ago. Four men, traveling in pairs, are given the task to deliver a letter that leads to the location of the sunken Falcon Temple and the manuscript hidden in its figurehead. In the end, only one of the four completes the journey.

As the modern day portion of Khoury’s novel gets underway, the fourth horseman— who organized the raid on the Treasures of the Vatican show at the Met—carefully works his way down a set of stairs into an underground chamber that is lit with dozens of flickering candles. We’re privy to the thoughts that come to his mind as he carries an unusual contraption across the room. Home. A distant memory. Another life.

After setting the ancient decoder upon a sagging wood table, he rummages through a pile of boxes and retrieves documents from a folder, then spreads them out next to the machine.

“He murmurs, ’At last.’ His voice was soft, but cracked from too little use.”

His movements down into the cellar of the burned out church are fitting for the layer of The Story of the Grail that the novel reveals; in the medieval tale, beneath the adventures of the knights and deeper than the threads borrowed from Eleanor of Aquitaine’s life, the story of Abelard and Heloise is intricately woven.

Khoury infuses Sean Reilly and Tess Chaykin with a mutual attraction that rises from within and seemingly lifts an ageless memory to a time and place where love can at last be nurtured. Reilly is the devout Catholic that Abelard claimed to be, while Tess is free to express Heloise’s doubts about faith and religion without fear of reprisal. And if truth can be extracted from the novel concerning who contributed what to the legend of the grail, it seems likely that Abelard's ideas laid the groundwork while Heloise dug deep and discovered something that she was personally unwilling to explode upon the medieval world.

Heloise was considered a prodigy, fluent in Latin, Hebrew, and Greek.

“But I seek not the crown which is the
reward of victory, I am content if I can
avoid danger. It is easier to keep out of
the way than to win a battle. There are
several degrees in glory, and I am not
ambitious of the highest; I leave them to
those of greater courage who have often
been victorious. I seek not to conquer
for fear I should be overcome; happiness
enough for me to escape shipwreck and
at last reach port. “ *

The love story, however, is of secondary importance. The character we need to give our attention to in The Last Templar is Professor William Vance. He is the counterpart to Coach Bryant in Forrest Gump; they are infused with a common spirit. But in this new role, Vance is taking an active part in the story and has finally begun to exercise his voice. In the cellar, he begins to decode the documents he found in France; we’re told this marks the beginning of the next crucial stage in his personal odyssey.

“An odyssey, the end result of which he knew would rock the world.”

For the record, I haven’t lost sight of the fact that the components of this gemstone are primarily works of fiction. But the fact is, Snake knew the lineup of books well in advance and Silas was correct . . . their details concur and there are far too many instances for it to be a coincidence. More importantly the larger story they form is taking on an increasingly serious nature.

If Winston Groom, Eric Roth, Dan Brown, Akiva Goldsman, Raymond Khoury, and Suzette Couture would come forward and tell us that they indeed collaborated, sharing information about the original tale that has gone undetected by Arthurian literature experts, as well as plotting what portion of the story each would focus on . . . it would clarify this situation. It's hard enough to write a book without the extra effort of weaving threads belonging to three to six other authors' work. It would be interesting to find out how they managed to perfectly time their contributions, 8 years between the first novel and its movie and then 15 years between the first movie and the last novel's screen adaptation, tasks that require agents, publishers, motion picture studios, and television networks, just to name of few of the participants.

But if the six writers didn’t collaborate in their creative endeavors, what’s the alternative to this scenario? A heavenly Overseer? God Himself taking a personal interest in bringing the story to its proper conclusion?

In The Da Vinci Code, Robert Langdon mentions that we have entered the period known as the End of Days and begun the transition into the Age of Aquarius. But as the storyline of The Last Templar progresses, Vance and Tess are caught between two raging storms at sea while trying to raise the Falcon Temple in order to retrieve the manuscript that has been submerged for more than seven hundred years. The captain of the dive ship frowns, “We can’t put a Zodiac down in this sea . . .”

A helicopter hovering overhead establishes radio contact and relays a message from Monsignor De Angelis who is in hot pursuit, “Tell them they’re about to be hit with a storm of biblical proportions.”

There is a degree of truth to the fictional warning.

Khoury's presentation of The Last Templar is filled with words and images that hint of possible impending turmoil. The modern day event at the beginning of the novel is compared to the time the Met hosted the Mayan show. Tess tells Reilly that it’s difficult to think of Vance "in such contradictory terms. He's this charming, erudite professor on one hand and then the polar opposite, capable of such violence . . . " Later she insists the manuscript would polarize people. In the novel, the astrolabe is hidden beneath a gravestone in a church submerged under 100 feet of water. In the movie, the church is buried beneath the ash of volcanic eruptions. In both instances, the church begins to collapse as soon as the pouch is located. Tess reflects on the time she first met Vance; her father was working on a dig not far from the Ararat Anomaly—what some believe may be Noah’s Ark; we're provided the image of a ship on top of a mountain, embedded in ice at 15,300 feet.

It must have been quite a flood back in the old days.

In the midst of the raging storm which is identical to the one that sunk the Falcon Temple, Tess looks at the captain of the dive ship as he studies the “bruised, angry skies bearing down on them.”

Vance tells him to just bring up the falcon and his business here will be done. When asked why he is only concerned about the falcon, Vance shrugs as an expression rooted far away crosses his face. “It’s personal. Call it a matter of . . . closure.”

The Last Templar turns the audience back to The Story of the Grail. And the reality of the situation is that this simple tale was written to imaginatively bring biblical prophecy to life. Specifically, events that were destined to happen once and have come and gone but weren’t recognized for their intended purpose are reenacted by the cast of Arthurian knights. Chrétien borrowed the boy that Isaiah prophesied who was required to learn to choose between right and wrong before two kingdoms would no longer be laid waste. (Isaiah 7:13-16) And he endowed the boy with stubbornness and desire for the armor colored red, just like the apparel worn in the day of vengeance when God's greatness and strength was promised to redeem Israel. (Isaiah 63:1-6) And the first thing the newly created knight does is return the golden cup that had been stolen from the king.

But getting the house in order, is just the beginning.

Of the four fictional works, The Last Templar is paired with Forrest Gump and The Story of the Grail picks up where The Da Vinci Code left off. Robert Langdon was last seen leaving his hotel room, following the Arago markers through the city of Paris in search of the relics of a woman capable of reviving the sacred feminine.

Contrary to popular opinion, the story that introduced the grail to the Western world never included a quest to find it. The only thing Perceval went in search of as he moved from one scene to the next was Mother. After five long years of wandering, Perceval asked how one might find their way.

And the storyteller responded:

Whoever wants to go there, sir,
should take that path on which we were,
go straight on through this forest thick,
and watch for every branch and stick,
which we have knotted, which we bent
with our own hands, because we meant
each knotted branch to show the way,
so nobody would go astray.

We still have to bring The Story of the Grail to its proper conclusion, but the final chapter that brings closure isn't something that's written on paper. It's comprised of the stories of our lives; the story about the grail is a legend about the journey of Western civilization. To borrow an expression that De Angelis uses in The Last Templar . . . when The Story of the Grail is finished, we will have "killed two birds with one stone."

Within the gemstone of books, Forrest won the championship chess match when he landed on square eight; Robert Langdon and Sophie work through the night in a quest to find the truth about the grail; the final presentation of The Last Templar tells us that the treasured manuscript the Templars claimed to have, wasn't real, it was just an illusion they created. We're told multiple times that the document found on the Falcon Temple is written in Aramaic. In the movie, the truth that William of Beaujeau, Grand Master of the Templars, shares with Aimard is that if there were such a document written by Jesus of Nazareth, "This is what it would have looked like." The cameras focuses on a piece of parchment with hand written words.

If it wasn't written in Aramaic, what language would the boy that Isaiah prophesied have used if he left a manuscript for his people?

Biblically speaking, the number eight is symbolically linked to a new day. Most every scene in The Story of the Grail begins in the early morning, in the light of a new dawn. According to the Bible, God rested on the seventh day. But here's the clincher . . . if the seventh day is drawing to a close, the intention of the original story has to be completed. We are obligated by destiny to bring our sacred story to its proper conclusion and we're living beneath a deadline that isn't readily negotiable.

So what would it take to rock this world? Something so powerful it would bring about an unprecedented change in the way we perceive ourselves and all of humanity.

Is the connection between these books merely an illusion, something to entertain us, or do they represent something far more profound? Through the eyes of William Vance, we haven't changed in two thousand years . . . the story of our civilization hasn't progressed.

We don't even know what our sacred story is.

*Letter IV Heloise to Abelard,
Photo by permission: / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Cup of Christ and the Grail

The scene at Château Villette occurs almost exactly in the middle of The Da Vinci Code and in many ways represents the heart of the novel. It certainly generated passion within the audience with its discussion of Constantine’s role in the establishment of Christianity as well as the results of the Council of Nicaea and of course the suggestion that Jesus was “a man” married to Mary Magdalene who together produced at least one child.

Anyone who read the novel was privy to Robert Langdon’s comment to Sophie suggesting that "hearing the story of the Holy Grail from Leigh Teabing was like hearing the theory of relativity from Einstein." We’re led to believe that Teabing is the expert. In the larger scope of the gemstone of books, Teabing is more the devil’s advocate stirring up emotions and causing people to argue all sides of the subject. Most everything that Teabing says should be taken seriously…but not literally and certainly not as truth without exploring all sides of the argument.

The scene at Château Villette calls to action the questions that Langdon raises in the beginning of the movie: “How do we sift truth from belief? How do we penetrate years, centuries, of historical distortion…to find original truth?”

Teabing is very subtle, but he seems to be fully aware of the difference between the original story, The Story of the Grail, in which the Grail was merely called "the grail" and the continuations and renditions that followed which used the term "the Holy Grail."

Both he and Langdon comment that Sophie is a virgin—“a person who has never heard the true Grail story.” I suppose this means that in her imaginary existence she never encountered The Story of the Grail by Chrétien de Troyes else she might have recognized certain synchronicities between it and the story she was acting out.

The drawing room at Château Villette has a fireplace big enough to roast an ox; the fireplace inside the hall at the Fisher King’s manor house is big enough for four hundred men to gather round and not one would be chilly. Teabing is a crippled old man…as was the wounded Fisher King and if we consider each of their underlying identities, both had occasion to be called "Teacher.” Sophie watches and listens intently as the Holy Grail is symbolically paraded before her; in the original story, Perceval watches as the grail passes by with every course of dinner that is served.

Teabing is correct when he says that in order to fully understand the Grail we must understand the Bible. Actually, the relationship between the two is reciprocal because the story about the grail reveals the primary message of the Bible. For a brief moment we might think that Teabing seems to appreciate the role the Bible plays…yet as soon as he makes the correlation between the two he begins to discredit the integrity of the book and uses his own interpretation of other people’s opinions and beliefs to accomplish the feat. He has a book of art called La Storia di Leonardo pulled from the shelf while drawing attention to quotes attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci: Blinding ignorance does mislead us. O! Wretched mortals, open your eyes!

Teabing argues that the Bible is a product of man, not of God, and has evolved through innumerable translations, additions, and revisions. To add insult to injury, the handpicked volume became the Vatican's truth and anyone or anything that attempted to introduce discrepancies was declared a heretic.

"Nobody is more indoctrinated than the indoctrinator."

"What he means," Langdon said, "is that we worship the gods of our fathers."

"What I mean," Teabing countered, "is that almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false. As are the stories about the Holy Grail."

With Teabing, we need to weigh each sentence individually.

Teabing shares Leonardo Da Vinci's painting of The Last Supper which he claims is synonymous with the Holy Grail. In the artwork Jesus is seated with His disciples at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, an event that ushers in Passover. Teabing asks Sophie to close her eyes and tell him the number of wine glasses that appear on the table in the painting. In both the novel and the movie, Sophie responds that there should be one cup on the table, "The chalice." And yet two thoughts come to her mind: the Cup of Christ followed by the Holy Grail.

In the novel, when Sophie opens her eyes she counts thirteen small stemless glass cups on the table, yet makes the comment that no chalice is present. In the movie, when she opens her eyes, she claims there is “no single cup” on the table. "No Holy Grail." By her words there is nothing in the painting from which Jesus and the disciples could drink wine irrefutable discrepancy between the two presentations of The Da Vinci Code.

And yet Dan Brown and Akiva Goldsman concur on Teabing's reaction: "A bit strange don't you think, considering that both the Bible and our standard Grail legend celebrate this moment as the definite arrival of the Holy Grail. Oddly, Da Vinci appears to have forgotten to paint the Cup of Christ."

Actually, there’s more than one issue to resolve here. First, there is the discrepancy between the novel and the movie concerning the number of cups on the table and the only way to resolve it is to go to the source, the painting itself. A quick search for Da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper on the Internet reveals people in the audience have already traveled this path and noted that not only are there thirteen small stemless cups on the table, but there is also a chalice etched on the side of the column on the left, directly above the disciple's head. Now, this hidden in plain view chalice further confuses the issue because Teabing—the novel's resident expert—fails to recognize its presence while insisting that Leondardo included the ‘V’ shaped space between Jesus and the disciple sitting to his right to depict "the chalice" or Holy Grail, claiming that it represented Mary Magdalene's womb and the bloodline of Jesus.

What is the grail? What is the Cup of Christ? What, if anything, does the "V" formation in the midst of people at the table represent?

The source for the grail is of course The Story of the Grail, the story that introduced it to the world, and within it the grail appears in only one scene. It is carried by a maiden in a procession that begins with a squire carrying a pure white lance that always has a drop of blood forming at its tip, followed by two squires carrying candelabra of fine gold with candles blazing, and another maiden with a silver platter. The grail is made of the purest, finest gold, decorated with gems, the costliest and rarest jewels that could be found on land or at sea and when it comes into the room, it casts such a brilliant light that all the candles suddenly seem pale. But while the Fisher King and Perceval enjoy a multi-course feast, the only bread that they eat is covered with slices of a peppered haunch and there is no ceremonious passing of a cup between them.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the description of the grail that Chrétien uses likely comes from Ezekiel 28:13:

"You were in Eden, the garden of God, every precious stone
adorned you: ruby, topaz, and emerald, chrysolite, onyx,
and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and beryl. Your settings and
mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created
they were prepared."

In this regard, the grail is likened to the spirit—a vessel of divine energy—that holds a single mass wafer, symbolic of a unified life free of sin. It represents the journey or soul of a civilization that arrives following the bleeding lance. In the original story, the grail is not the Cup of Christ.

The Story of the Grail incorporates a golden cup which appears much earlier in the tale. It is a cup which has been stolen from the king just as Perceval arrives at King Arthur’s castle in his quest to become a knight. As the youth approaches, he passes a warrior at the gate who boasts of his prize:

"Right to his face, I have snatched up and carried off his golden cup filled with his wine!”

Perceval was much more interested in acquiring the armor colored red that the warrior at the gate was wearing and rode his hunter into the castle and straight to the hall where King Arthur was fretting over his loss while his knights sat around a table recovering from their recent battle. The youth is both rude and impatient in his demands to be made a knight which irritates the seneschal.

“My friend, you’re absolutely right.
Go seize the weapons of that knight!
Now they belong to you, and you’ll
discover that you were no fool
to come here for his armor red.”

Perceval accepts the seneschal’s words as truth and rides out to the gate where he tells the warrior to doff his arms or he will personally take them off…which he does after sending his javelin through the warrior’s eye and brain.

Now, Yvonet had followed Perceval out of the castle and laughs while the youth attempts to undress his foe. Rather than watch him slice the warrior into bits and pieces to get the armor off the body, Yvonet shows him the proper way to unfasten pieces and properly attire himself. The first thing the newly adorned knight does is hand the golden cup to Yvonet:

“Take back the golden cup and bring my greetings to the king.”

The fact that Perceval returns the golden cup that has been stolen from the king is as important to this story as the procession of the bleeding lance and the grail. But it also raises the question of what Chrétien de Troyes was trying to convey by suggesting the golden cup or Cup of Christ had been stolen to begin with.

In the Bible, the Cup of Christ indeed makes an appearance the evening of the Last Supper. Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-25, and Luke 22:7-23 each describe Jesus and His disciples celebrating the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It is a feast that all of the descendants of Israel were instructed to celebrate every year going forward in rememberance of the Lord's Passover.

Exodus 12:12-20 (King James Version)
12For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD.
13And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
14And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.
15Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.
16And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you.
17And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever.
18In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even.
19Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land.
20Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall ye eat unleavened bread.

In the Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus breaks the unleavened bread which he claims is symbolic of his body and shares a cup of wine that he asks each of the disciples to drink from saying it is the “blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."

But the events of this evening were far from over. After dinner, Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane and he told them to wait while he went to another spot to pray.

Matthew 26:37-44
37And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.
38Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.
39And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.
40And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?
41Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
42He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.
43And he came and found them asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.
44And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.

In The Story of the Grail, the bleeding lance only passes by once in the procession at the Fisher King’s manor house while the maiden with the grail passes through the room with every course of dinner that is served. We’re privy to the understanding that God is served by the grail, but we have yet to respond to the question of why the lance was bleeding.

How can the five book gemstone guide our quest in sifting truth from belief?

In the movie Forrest Gump, mama always said “There’s an awful lot you could tell about a person by their shoes.” Then Lieutenant Dan loses both his legs in a battle...and he tells Forrest exactly how he feels about it:

“You cheated me. I had a destiny. I was supposed to die in the field! With honor! That was my destiny! And you cheated me out of it! You understand what I’m saying Gump? This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not to me. I had a destiny.”

In The Da Vinci Code, after Silas has broken the floor tile and retrieves the stone etched with Job 38:11, he walks to the altar where a Bible is open in order to find out exactly what this verse says. When he reads "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further," he realizes he'd been intentionally misled. Silas ventures up to Sister Sandrine’s room to question her and the last words she ever speaks are “Jesus had but one true message.”

Like Silas, we need to open a Bible to discover what the one true message of Jesus was.

John 12: 46-50
46I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.
47And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.
48He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.
49For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.
50And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.

The Cup of Christ—the destiny Jesus came to fulfill—and the one true message of everlasting life are intricately connected to the bleeding lance...and the grail, which is "such a holy thing." But there's more to this story than what meets the eye. Teabing is passionate in his desire to reveal the truth about the Sacred Feminine...and at the end of The Da Vinci Code, Robert Langdon takes up his quest.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Quest for Truth in a Sea of Codes and Symbols

As the first chapter of The Da Vinci Code gets underway, Robert Langdon has already returned to the Hotel Ritz and gone to bed when he is awoken by a phone call at 12:32 a.m. The concierge informs him that he has a visitor. Langdon reflects upon the past evening and how the speech he gave might have ruffled a few feathers in the audience. In Dan Brown's novel, time is of the essence.

When Akiva Goldsman took on the task of writing the screen adaptation for The Da Vinci Code, he turned back the clock a few hours and performed some fairly significant editing; amazingly while almost every event in the book is included in the movie, the dialogue is reduced to 10,000 words.

In the novel, Langdon begins his presentation at The American University of Paris with the words, "I'm here tonight to talk about the power of symbols."

Goldsman changes the focus of the evening. The screenplay captures only the face value presentation of Dan Brown's novel, while the novel weaves in knowledge and history behind its many details.

"How do we sift truth from belief?" Together they tell one story from slightly different perspectives that bring meaning neither could have accomplished on their own.

"How do we write our own histories, personally or culturally . . . and thereby define ourselves?"

The novel leaves the story in the hands of a curious professor; the movie hints that there is something of great significance on the horizon waiting for the appropriate time for it to be revealed.

"How do we penetrate years, centuries, of historical find original truth?" "Tonight this will be our quest."

In both the film and the novel Saunière is a Frenchman living in Paris who uses English to write his last words on the floor at the Louvre: "O, Draconian devil! Oh, lame saint!"

The scrambled Fibonacci sequence is a clue that the letters in the above words are also scrambled, but arriving at the names Leonardo Da Vinci and The Mona Lisa is only possible when the scrambled lines are written in English. If the curator had written the words in French they would have appeared "O, Draconian diable! Ah, saint boiteux!" Or in Spanish, "O, Dracon! Oh, santo cojo!"

It would seem that the novel is telling us that something of great importance can be lost in translation.

Words are used to describe the brass strip that marks the Rose Line inside Saint-Sulpice. It's slanted in an awkward angle at odds with the symmetry of the church. The scene asks us to look upon it from a different angle to understand the larger role Saunière plays in the story. Further on, Langdon and Sophie cross the nave at Westminster Abbey on a diagonal as they're approaching Newton's tomb looking for the orb that isn't there.

As it turns out, the apple is the missing orb which happens to be a detail with a little story of its own; an apple falling from a tree supposedly inspired Newton to explore the phenomenon of gravity. With respect to the larger story of the novel, the apple serves as a double entendre.

"Fifteen thousand feet in the air, Robert Langdon felt the physical world fade away as all of his thoughts converged on Saunière’s mirror image poem . . . ."

An ancient word of wisdom frees this scroll and helps to keep her scatter'd family whole. A headstone praised by Templars is the key and atbash will reveal the truth to thee.

The poem is written in metered words, in English, that require a Hebrew cipher to decode it. Langdon takes a few moments to reflect on his knowledge and experience with iambic pentameter. We're told that the Priory, as well as many European secret societies, considered English to be the only pure language because it wasn't rooted in Latin—"the tongue of the Vatican."

When it comes to the Atbash Cipher, Langdon knows its history and uses, Teabing knows the Hebrew alphabet, and Sophie shares how to facilitate the substitution of letters in the process of decoding words. Each area of expertise is needed.

The answer to the riddle for the first cryptex—which is included in the novel but doesn't appear in the movie—begins in English with the "head of stone" identified as BAPHOMET. When vowels are removed and BAPHOMET is written as it might appear in Hebrew, it becomes BPVMTh. When worked through the Atbash Cipher, BPVMTh becomes ShVPYA and translated back to English becomes SOFIA, a word which represents Wisdom.

At the end of the movie, Robert Langdon returns to the glass pyramid outside the Louvre. In the novel we're told the pyramid is constructed of 666 panes of glass, a number which fed conspiracy buffs because it was the number of Satan. Actually, the number 666 is derived using Gematria, which is another tool used to decode Hebrew writings. Langdon doesn't explain how the number is derived, but in its most basic usage, Gematria assigns a numeric value to each letter in the Hebrew alphabet. When the numeric values of letters in a word are added together, their sum provides the numeric equivalent for the word. Numeric equivalents shared by different words or phrases can be compared to extract a deeper meaning as well as authenticate the Divine origin of writings included in the Bible.

In the novel, Sophie described a time when her grandfather wrote the word planets in English and told her that 92 other words of varying lengths could be formed with its letters . . . though their meanings were likely quite varied.

Using Gematria, many words or phrases can have the same numeric equivalent even through they are spelled with different letters. Typically words whose numeric equivalents are the same have a relationship; sometimes they can be interchanged, other times they enhance meaning and understanding, enriching the context in which each is used.

For example, in Hebrew the word echad or "one" has a numerical value of 13 and is equivalent to the word ahava or "love".

Erev, translated as "evening or sunset" has a numerical value of 272 and is equivalent to eber which means "to the other side".

Tahe'r translated "pure or clean" has a numeric value of 214 and is equivalent to ruach meaning "breath, wind, spirit".

As I mentioned previously, numbers are important to this story and it should come as no surprise that numbers are used in multiple ways to gain understanding. My search for words and their numeric equivalents led me to an on-line version of The Holy Bible, organized as wheels within a wheel—with English and Hebrew or Greek side by side, along with numeric equivalents for all. The presentation of this particular bible is grouped according to the Hebrew letters which are identified on its outer rim, strikingly similar to the cryptex found in the novel if it were looked upon from a slightly different vantage point.

* Source for Gematria numeric equivalents: Walter Vaughn

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Monday, October 19, 2009

The Spirit of Jacques Saunière

In the opening scene of The Da Vinci Code, Jacques Saunière is critically wounded and trapped within iron security gates at the Louvre. He is the only person remaining with knowledge of a truth that must be passed on and there is only one person on earth to whom he can pass the torch. He gazes up at the walls of his opulent prison and "the world's most famous paintings seemed to smile down on him like old friends."

I imagine Saunière and Eleanor of Aquitaine could chat into the wee hours of the night about being in possession of a secret of untold significance. Saunière figured he had fifteen minutes with which to lay out a path of clues to pass the secret on before his death; Eleanor lived through moments while she was imprisoned when she would have preferred to die, but the secret she carried forced her to continue living. Coincidentally, after she decided to use her old friends—the imaginary King Arthur and his knights—to carry her secret into the world, Henry II eased up on the rules governing her confinement. After ten years of being locked away, she was permitted to live under house arrest.

Fueled by the urgency of Saunière's final moments, Dan Brown didn't waste a minute before he began weaving threads of the 12th century players into his 21st century novel.

In the Prologue of The Story of the Grail, Chrétien de Troyes says:

The man who wants good harvests strows
his seeds on such a kind of field,
God grants a hundredfold in yield;
on barren ground good seeds but lie
until they shrivel up and die.

The Da Vinci Code tells us Robert Langdon's popularity had increased a hundredfold after an incident at the Vatican. And just like the individual characters in The Story of the Grail are a collage of many people, Robert Langdon is little bit of Chrétien, a little bit of Abelard—he refused to speak publicly about his role in the prior year's Vatican conclave—and a little bit of Forrest Gump. As Chapter 1 is getting underway, Langdon is looking at his tousled self in a mirror before thinking "You need a vacation, Robert." Forrest made the cover of Fortune while Langdon is captured in an article in Boston Magazine that's used to introduce him in Paris. Before a crowd of people, the hostess at The American University of Paris quotes "he has a voice that his female students describe as 'chocolate for the ears.'"

Bezu Fache is called "the Bull"; Abelard was called "the rhinoceros." Fache lost his shirt investing in technology stocks; Forrest Gump made a fortune with an investment in Apple, Inc. Fache paces like a caged lion, probably not unlike the lion at the Wondrous Palace.

Sophie has red hair and green eyes, presumably the same as Eleanor. The young cryptologist never told her boss that she was related to Jacques Saunière. He thought this was because she didn't want preferential treatment for having a famous grandfather. Eleanor's grandfather was William IX, a powerful, wealthy, cultured individual who wrote music and poetry and is considered to be one of the first great troubadours. He died when Eleanor was quite young, but left a lasting impression on his granddaughter.

Actually, Jacques Saunière makes quite an impression on The Da Vinci Code. Despite the fact that he dies before the first chapter even gets underway, he influences the path the story takes from beginning to end. We gain a better understanding of Saunière the night that Silas enters the Church of Saint-Sulpice. Sister Sandrine watches silently from the balcony as the monk disrobes and begins striking the floor to break a tile in search of the Priory keystone supposedly hidden beneath it. This is the silent alarm she hoped would never happen. The upper echelon has been compromised. In a sealed enveloped she tucked beneath her bed years ago is a piece of paper with four telephone numbers. Her instructions are to call and warn the others. The fourth number is to be called only if the other three cannot be reached.

The first three phone numbers Sister Sandrine calls leave her terrified as she comes upon a hysterical widow, a somber priest, and a detective working late at a murder scene.

The last number on the list connects her to an answering machine and she cries, "The floor panel has been broken! The other three are dead!"

Thinking outside the novel and reaching back in time, Heloise was a widowed lady known to occasionally have a hysterical outburst. Abelard was a somber priest. And I suspect Eleanor worked late quite often doing detective work that had something to do with a bloody lance. All three indeed are dead!

Who is the Grand Master in this novel, the guardian of the legend of the grail...the keeper? In the church, Silas has found a stone under the tile with the inscription Job 38:11. In the biblical story, Job practices a speech he would give before God...if only he knew where to find Him. For Sister Sandrine, the recipient of the fourth phone call, Jacques Saunière, is nowhere to be found.

Soon afterward, Sophie reflects upon the time she had left school a few days early before spring break and hoped to surprise her grandfather. He wasn't at their Paris home when she arrived. For a moment she considered that he might be working at the Louvre, but then changed her mind when she remembered it was Saturday (the 7th day), a day he rarely worked. "On weekends, he usually—"

An unfinished sentence, clues that complete the picture, riddles, and codes all work to engage the reader's imagination. Saunière's primary concern in the Prologue was, "If I die, the truth will be lost forever." Transposed into reality, no truer statement has ever been said.

Robert Langdon was on the right path but at some point he was bound to realize it wasn't the relics of Mary Magdalene he was in search of. The five letter words that opened each cryptex were related and S-O-F-I-A was properly positioned above A-P-P-L-E. Where do an ancient word for wisdom and apple fit into the story of Mary Magdalene?

Langdon repeated sentiments we've all heard, that partaking of the apple incurred the wrath of God, Original Sin, the fall of the sacred feminine. The middle clue described "Rosy flesh and seeded womb." If you slice an apple horizontally, it bears the signature of the sacred feminine as the seeds appear as a five pointed star; the symbol for the sacred feminine is found in the core of an apple.

Photo by permission: / CC BY-ND 2.0

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Gawain's arrival to the story, aligned with the heavens...

A couple of months ago, when I started connecting the lives of Eleanor, Abelard, and Heloise with The Story of the Grail, I recognized that The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury was part of the entourage. While Forrest Gump predominantly captures the layer of the story belonging to the imaginary knights and The Da Vinci Code is given to Eleanor, The Last Templar highlights Heloise's role (Tess Chaykin) and her relationship with Abelard (Sean Reilly).

It should come as no surprise that Khoury's novel and the screen adaptation of The Last Templar by Suzette Couture provide different contributions to the aggregate gemstone that's being formed. But The Last Templar also differed from the other two novels in that its screen adaptation became a television mini-series rather than premiering in movie theaters. The television broadcast was also immediately available on-demand via the Internet, seemingly allowing for the greatest possible viewing audience. And for good reason. The final night of the television presentation provided the last clue needed to bring closure to the story in the same moment it turned the audience back to the medieval tale.

The first time I sat down to write about this night, I wanted to create a special aura for the moment and thought that a full moon shining down on the world, with a subtle illuminating quality would be the perfect addition. It looked wonderful on paper. But I was struck by a thought that I should verify whether or not a full moon actually occurred on January 26th, 2009. Initially, I was disappointed that the date coincided with a new moon; no light at all. Then I had a second urging that hinted I should find out the meaning of a new moon and within a short period of time I discovered this particular night was significant from multiple vantage points.

The new moon by itself represents an opportunity for new beginnings; like a blank sheet of paper that gets written from right to left, it's a time for dreams and intentions to take root. But on this particular date, the new moon was also part of an annular solar eclipse, which so happened to be the longest annular solar eclipse in duration in a family of eclipses known as Saros 131. A cycle that began in the year 1125, when Eleanor of Aquitaine was 3 years old.

I'm not an astrologist, but I grasped the notion that this event was meaningful to the story given Eleanor's role and an article I came upon by Robert Wilkinson which said, "We find 8 Aquarius rising in London, putting the Aquarius stellium and the Eclipse directly on the Ascendant, sure to be of major significance in shutting things down and opening things up in merry Old England!" (full article)

Much of what needs to be accomplished in deciphering The Story of the Grail requires our ability to mine words and images to extract information and meaning. While I was chasing after threads concerning this particular new moon, I arrived at astrologer Lynda Hill's website. She is the author of 360 Degrees of Wisdom:Charting Your Destiny with the Sabian Symbols. In brief, the Sabian Oracle provides an intuitive guide to the energies that influence our lives. It builds upon what the ancient astrologers accomplished when they divided the sky into 360 degrees and then distributed them equally between the twelve constellations. In the early part of the 20th century, a clairvoyant named Elsie Wheeler randomly assigned images to each of the degrees; each image is a phrase that holds a story and brings meaning and energy to moments where their arrival and presence is noted.

When the mini-series for The Last Templar began on January 25th, 2009, the degree of the Sun was Aquarius 7 with a corresponding Sabian Symbol, "A Child Born of an Eggshell." Lynda Hill's commentary on this Oracle suggests a new emergence or urge to give birth to creative and spiritual ideas, it could also imply "the gestation of an idea, process or project that's outside one's direct influence." Jupiter, sitting on Aquarius 5 was at our backs and pushing us forward influenced by the Sabian Symbol "A Council of Ancestors Has Been Called to Guide a Man." This Oracle speaks of inner knowledge, instruction, family lineage, memories of those who have gone before us. Venus on Pisces 24 "An Inhabited Island," is about living with and getting along with others. In all, Jupiter, Moon, Sun, the Moon's north node, Chiron, and Neptune were all positioned in degrees of Aquarius...and generating very Aquarian energy. Follow the link to read her complete write-up on the Sabian Symbols influencing January 25-26th.

With the recent discovery of the many synchronicities in Forrest Gump, I didn't fail to recognize that the Sabian Symbol for January 25th "A Child Born of an Eggshell" was very similar to the name of the band, The Cracked Eggs, that Jenny Curran and Forrest performed with in the novel. Actually, the budding gemstone and the heavens provided an interesting combination with Forrest Gump's initial work connected to the energy of the Sun and the final clue to a very old story provided in the final presentation of The Last Templar connecting to Jupiter. With the Aquarius stellium and eclipse on the Antecedent over London, the legend was seemingly being ushered in by the heavens.

Last week, as I was wrapping up my blog, I had an urge to send a note to Lynda Hill—a person I'd never met, who lived on the other side of the world—about the coincidence of The Cracked Eggs and the Sabian Symbol. She kindly responded by forwarding me the commentary she had just posted on her own blog concerning the upcoming Harvest Moon. While sharing emails of synchronicities, we experienced yet another one. While I was commenting about the arrival of Gawain, Lynda Hill's commentary on the upcoming full Moon, was filled with images of a flock of wild geese flying, miners emerging from the depths with dirt smugged faces set against white snow, and the karmic condition of the full Moon tapping "ideas out of the past for the future." (Read the full commentary)

It seemed to me that a subtle hint had been made known for an opportunity to keep the story aligned with the heavens.

In The Story of the Grail, Gawain makes his first appearance in a seat to the right of King Arthur just as the Proud Knight of the Moor arrives with a message that he has been sent as a prisoner by the knight in red.

"In God's name, sire, who is this knight
who vanquished, by his arms alone,
so fine a knight? I've never known
or seen or ever heard the name
of any warrior who came
from all the isles of the sea,
whose feats of arms and chivalry
could rank with any he can claim."
"Dear nephew, I don't know his name.
I saw him, but did not see fit
to question him or ask him it."

King Arthur proclaimed he would not lie in the same place two nights in a row before he knew where the knight in red could be found. Immediately everyone began packing to go in search of Perceval. That night, King Arthur's court camped in a field next to a wood and when the sun rose in the morning, it revealed that snow had fallen.

On that same morning, Perceval woke up early and set out to find adventure when he came upon the field and observed the snow. He saw the tents across the way but before he could reach the royal camp, he heard a flock of wild geese flying low, honking loudly, bedazzled by the snow while trying to keep a distance between themselves and a falcon which was sweeping upon them at tremendous speed. The falcon swooped upon the flock and struck a single goose who'd been isolated from the rest, knocking her to the ground. It was still early in the day and the falcon continued on, leaving behind his prey.

The young knight saw the goose had been left behind and galloped toward where she had landed. Hurt in the neck, the goose had left three drops of blood on the snow. The goose could still rise above the ground and by the time Perceval arrived, she had flown away again. Perceval was mesmerized by the blood which spread like blushes into the soft whiteness reminding him of Blancheflor, the beautiful maiden he had left behind.

At camp, King Arthur's watch took notice of the knight who appeared from a distance to be sleeping on his horse. First Sagremore, nicknamed "Hothead" was sent to retrieve him. But Sagremore rudely intruded with shouts before spurring his war horse...and was knocked flat to the ground. Kay the seneschal suited up next but came back to camp with a dislocated collar bone and broken arm.

Gawain suggested to King Arthur that it was wrong to jar another's train of thought. "Perhaps he was thinking of some loss or plight that he had undergone, or maybe somebody stole away his lady, and he was downcast, ill at ease." So Gawain ventured across the field at an easy pace and in a friendly manner introduced himself as the king's messenger. Before long, the two knights vowed to be best friends and returned to the king's court together, hand in hand. For three days and three nights everybody celebrated.

The arrival of Gawain to the story is captured in the imagery of this scene. Not only does he have a seat to the right of the king, he was given the name Gawain when he was baptized. We're privy to the knowledge that he stands beneath an oak tree later in the tale, and that his name means the white falcon. The falcon is the solar emblem for success, victory, and rising above a situation and symbolizes spirit, light, freedom, and aspirations. It brings visionary power and wisdom as it leads to an understanding of one's life purpose. Falcons encourage us to calculate risks and strategize our moves. Perhaps more importantly for our present task, the falcon asks us to do whatever is necessary to bring goals and desires into reality.

Wild geese fly at a speed of 30 miles per hour. When they're migrating they fly at 40 miles per hour. And if they need to get someplace in a hurry, they can fly as fast as 60 miles per hour. They honk to encourage each other in their flight as each flap of one bird's wings creates an uplift for the birds that follow; flying in a "V" formation, a flock of geese can experience 71% more distance than if they flew alone. Geese are more than willing to accept the help of others and equally willing to provide what they can to the benefit of the flock. They share leadership, falling back and letting another take the lead. When a goose is injured or ill, two geese stay with it until it heals or dies. Every summer, geese molt and grow new feathers. The path they follow is a learned process that they cling to; they follow that same migration year after year. And every spring wild geese return home to the place where they hatched.

Photo by permission: / CC BY-SA 2.0

Thursday, October 1, 2009

There's something happenin' here...

Just out of curiosity, I searched my incoming emails this morning to locate the one that confirmed my purchase of Ruth Harwood Cline's translation of The Story of the Grail. It was shipped to me on June 25, 2008. So probably exactly fifteen months ago today, I began this odyssey into the medieval tale.

Somehow, the number of months doesn't surprise me. It's been fifteen years since the movie Forrest Gump was released in 1994. Fifteen is a number that appears multiple times in Eleanor of Aquitaine's life. Her father died when she was fifteen which resulted in her coming under the guardianship of Louis the Fat, King of France, who immediately arranged for her marriage to his son. She was married to Louis VII for fifteen years before the union was dissolved. She was imprisoned by her second husband, Henry II, for fifteen years. Eleanor died in 1204, fifteen years after she had regained her freedom.

Numbers take on increasing importance as this tale comes into its own. Both the novel and the movie Forrest Gump use numbers to mark the progress of the tale. The number 8 gains importance as the larger story we're working on finds closure. In the novel, the number 8 is also the square upon which Honest Ivan drops his chess piece when Forrest "cuts a humongous baked-bean fart that sound like somebody is rippin a bedsheet in haf!"

On September 15th, I wrote about the world of stories and mentioned the meaning that the oak tree brought to the medieval tale as well as where I came upon it in the biblical story of Gideon. In Judges 6, an angel of the Lord appears beneath an oak tree and strikes up a conversation with Gideon, saying "I am with you, mighty warrior." The youth struggles to believe it really is the Lord talking and asks Him to prove it. On three occassions God provides signs to Gideon, that it really is Him.

The detail of the oak tree is what led me to Forrest Gump and when I returned to the movie and read the novel with a new mindset, I was surprised by what was discovered when I began working through their details.

In the novel, which was published in 1986, Forrest reflects more than once on his first win in college football against the University of Georgia Dogs. The University of Georgia Press published the translation of The Story of the Grail by Chrétien de Troyes that I embraced. But there are numerous versions of the tale . . . so how could Winston Groom have known in 1985 or whenever he was writing the novel, that the version published by the University of Georgia Press would be the one used for finding closure to the grail legend in the year 2009?

I also found details in the novel that were familiar to details of my life. When Forrest takes a role in the King Lear play and sets the ceiling of the hovel on fire, I was reminded of an incident in which my former husband, who also happens to be 6'6" just like Forrest, accidentally set a ceiling on fire with a floor lamp that was secretly harboring stuffed animals. I also connected to Winston Groom's comment that Forrest used a few moves he learned from Big Sam in the jungle, that "weren't in the book," during his championship game against Honest Ivan. Forrest used the "queen as bait." My first blog, "The Story behind the Story" proposes that Eleanor of Aquitaine wrote The Story of the Grail while she was Queen of England and used Chrétien de Troyes as her pseudonym.

The movie Forrest Gump shared a connection with my mother and lessons delivered with a box of chocolates as well as the fact that Forrest's momma and my mother both died of cancer on a Tuesday. My mother died on June 11th. In the screenplay, Eric Roth uses the date 06/11/1963 to mark the day when Forrest Gump picks up a book dropped by Vivian Malone on the first day of desegregation. June 11th 1963 was also a Tuesday, but it wasn't the day my mother died. At my mother's funeral, a gentleman told me he thought she was like an angel, just like Forrest describes Jenny after his first encounter with her. In the movie, Forrest's grandpa's grandpa's grandpa came across the ocean a thousand years ago. My father's father's mother's ancestors left Wales and sailed across the ocean in 1635 and settled in Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The synchronicities are even greater when details from the external stories are woven together. The movie Forrest Gump effectively brings the novel to life. In a scene toward the end, Jenny asks Forrest if he was ever afraid when he was in Vietnam. The question launches a series of recollections that move from one memory to another. Forrest remembers what it was like in Vietnam when the rain stopped and the stars were coming out . . . it was just like when the sun set on the bayou. In the bayou there would be a million sparkles glimmering on top of the water . . . just like the mountain lake he saw while he was running across the country. When he recalls the lake reflecting the mountain, he says it was like there were two skies, one on top of the other . . . just like in the desert when the sun came up. The sunrise that marked a new day in the desert cast a glow across the land and you couldn't tell where the heavens stopped and the earth began.

Details that roll from one scene to another can also be found in the stories we've encountered. In both the novel and the movie, the shrimpin' business marks a turning point in Forrest's life that lasts forever. In the novel, Forrest learns how to lay his nets right on the edge of where the ocean tide rolls in and laps over a mound of earth that sets the boundary for the shrimp ponds. The biblical verse Job 38:11 captures the moment when God is recounting his Omnipotence and how He controls the ocean tides: "This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt." It is the verse inscribed on the stone tablet that Silas discovers beneath the floor panel in the Church of Saint-Sulpice in the novel The Da Vinci Code. When Robert Langdon arrives at the Louvre and Bezu Fache introduces himself, Langdon observes, "His tone was fitting--a guttural rumble . . . like a gathering storm." Fache's hair accentuates a widow's peak that precedes him like the prow of a battleship and as they move down the staircase into the sunken atrium, "the message was clear." When Silas enters the Church of Saint-Sulpice he imagines he is standing beneath the hull of an overturned ship. "A fitting image," he thought, because the "brotherhood's ship was about to be capsized forever." The descriptions combine to form the vision that is taken up with the sunken ship called the Falcon Temple in the novel The Last Templar. After hundreds of years at the bottom of the sea, the falcon head washes ashore with the tide. The white falcon is the meaning of the name Gawain in The Story of the Grail which holds the key that unlocks the message of The Holy Bible.

Even more mysterious is that Winston Groom described each of the modern novels in appropriately marked chapters in his book, nearly twenty years before each was written.

The novel Forrest Gump uses Chapters 1-3 to weave in threads of Perceval's story. Forrest Gump was in the Fourth Platoon. Chapter 4 lays out the novel's own contribution to the legend and discusses it as if it were a football game. The chapter opens with Forrest saying, "Now there is a secret thing that Coach Bryant an them done figgered out, an nobody sposed to mention it, even to ourselfs."

The Da Vinci Code focuses on the pentacle, the number 5, and its association with the Sacred Feminine as well as the "End of Days." Chapter 5 of Forrest Gump spoofs Dan Brown's novel seventeen years before it was published. Coach Bryant tells Forrest he will be mystified till the end of his days how Forrest could get an A in Intermediate Light and then receive an F in phys-ed. Forrest says he didn't understand why it was important to know the distance between goal posts in the game of soccer. If you're familiar with The Da Vinci Code, you might recall Robert Langdon's lectures on PHI, the Divine Proportion. Coach Bryant pats Forrest on the back and admits he expected something like this would happen. But he told everyone, "just give me that boy for one season." And they had one heck of a season.

In Chapter 6, Forrest has arrived in Vietnam and his group is positioned in a saddle between two ridges. While caught in cross-fire, Forrest is told to move the machine gun 50 yards to the left of a big tree in the middle of the saddle and then find a safe place for himself. It's a scene that is reminiscent of the willow tree at Fonsalis in The Last Templar. Forrest gets shot in the butt though he doesn't have a strong recollection of when it happened.

Forrest Gump, Chapter 8, weaves a thread to The Story of the Grail and ushers in Gawain's arrival, like the feather on the wind in the movie.

The novel Forrest Gump is the story crystal upon which the remaining four books will attach and grow into the multi-faceted gemstone.

Maybe this is what people have been hoping to find when they searched for the grail that was "a stone from the stars."

For a more extensive comparison of details visit

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The art of deciphering a box of chocolates...

I can remember seeing my mother standing in the kitchen, holding the lid to a box of chocolates in her hand and calling out, "Who's been poking holes in the bottoms of all the chocolates and then returning them to their little brown cups in the box?"

At that moment, every sound in the house fell into abeyance allowing for a clear path for her words to travel from one room to the next. That is, except for my heartbeat which, if it couldn't be heard in the kitchen, would have been visually apparent to anyone looking at me. My heart knew I was guilty of a crime far worse than getting my hands caught in the cookie jar. As much as I wanted at that moment to suggest that a stranger had entered our home and poked holes in the bottoms of the chocolates, leaving behind violated orange and maple creme squares, I remained silent. My face went flush. My head dropped in order to conceal it. My mother's words were echoing in my mind and there was no need for her to repeat them. But it wasn't the best time to share that bit of wisdom with her.

Again, her voice rang from room to room: "I said, who is poking holes in the bottoms of the chocolates and then returning them to their little brown cups in the box?" When I lifted my hand to push the long strands of hair that had fallen forward to wrap them behind my ears, I ever so slowly peeked from the corner of my eye. My brother had stopped snapping pieces of Lego together and my sister had quit watching the television and both were frozen in position staring at me.

Guilt and paranoia combine to produce a reflex with the neck that's very similar to what a hammer does when lightly tapped below one's knee. When my eyes met with my siblings' eyes, my head immediately lifted and turned toward where my mother was standing. Of course, if I wasn't totally innocent by nature, I wouldn't have felt so guilty. But it wasn't the best time to share that bit of wisdom with her. There I was, red-handed and eye-to-eye with my mother who was still holding the lid to the chocolates with one hand while motioning for me to approach the kitchen counter. My mother asked, "Why did you do this?" And then she taught me something I have never forgotten.

She told me I didn't need to damage the chocolates in order to find out what was inside them. All I needed to learn was the art of observing each piece of chocolate's characteristics and become acquainted with the patterns that were visible on their surface. Chocolate covered nuts are pretty easy to find, caramels are usually square versus rectangular, coconut filled are frequently round, mint cremes are round and flat, and covered toffee is square and flat. When I was younger, my mother told me about the squiggles that identified each piece of chocolate in a box that could be used to distinguish orange cremes from the nougats. Industry-wide standardized squiggles have gone with the wind, but every chocolate maker today uses their own consistent patterns of squiggles and drizzles. True and loyal connoisseurs of a chocolate maker know what they're going to get in their box of chocolates.

Something tells me that Forrest Gump's momma knew this because her wisdom about chocolate arrived in two separate sentences. "My momma always said, 'Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.'"

So maybe the question Forrest raises as he stands over Jenny's grave about whether we each have a destiny or are instead floating around accidental-like on a breeze is really about whether we're floating around accidental-like...or instead are moved by something that influences the direction our life takes, while we're fulfilling our destiny.

Forrest Gump, the movie, reveals patterns and storytelling strategies similar, but not identical, to what Chrétien de Troyes used in The Story of the Grail. If Eric Roth was true to Chrétien's work, which emulated Abelard's writing, any questions that are raised should find food for thought within the story that's been provided.

Photo by Danny

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mirrored stories...

A few days ago I mentioned that the boy of the forest in The Story of the Grail could have been, for a brief moment, Abelard and Heloise's son Astrolabe. There's a glimmer of something that appears in certain scenes that resonates with the kind of love that exists only between parent and child, where Astrolabe's name is inseparable and permanently etched.

Astrolabe's presence is made more prominent when the scenes of the two knights in the story are mirrored, one against the other; a scene with Perceval is matched to a similar scene with Gawain as the prominent knight. From this perspective, the two scenes are both similar and in many ways opposite to each other, but in combination they become multi-faceted—like a gemstone.

Mirroring is a story writer's technique that Chrétien de Troyes was particularly gifted in projecting. Sometimes he wrote two separate stories to be read in tandem. In The Story of the Grail the mirroring occurs scene by scene and they don't necessarily occur in the same order within the two knights' exploits.

While Perceval is battling hardships at Belrepeire, Gawain is surrounded by abundance in Escavalon. When the two knights arrive in the same scene they are like best friends and engage in a celebration. While Perceval is wandering aimlessly and not pursuing his destiny, Gawain encounters the Evil Maiden possessed by the devil...who follows him everywhere he goes.

At the end of the story, Gawain learns that the queen of the Wondrous Palace is actually his mother who died twenty years before. In real life, Heloise had died twenty years before this tale was written. The scene that most closely resembles the Wondrous Palace within Perceval's adventures is his encounter with the wounded Fisher King at the nobleman's majestic manor house. When we know that Gawain has found his deceased mother in his scene, it allows for the possibility that Perceval was meeting his deceased father at the manor house...who had been wounded between the thighs, just like Abelard had been in real life. This ever so subtle glimmer that Astrolabe is among the knight's many identities only occurs in the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the story.

However...there is always another way to gaze upon scenes in this tale. Imagine rotating the tale ever so slightly and seeing it from a different angle. When Perceval arrives at the Fisher King's manor house and gets situated in the grand hall, a squire enters with a sword and delivers it to the Fisher King who examines it in detail. Then the nobleman hands the sword to Perceval, saying, "This sword, dear brother, was destined for you and none other." Only later in the tale does Perceval find out that this sword doesn't hold up in life and death flies to pieces. It is the kind of sword that only a dialectic warrior would carry; a knight whose words provide the edge that wins a different kind of battle.

In real life and according to Abelard's own words in the story of his misfortunes his father bestowed upon him the opportunity to pursue battles of the mind in disputation and take as his armory, logical reasoning. Abelard left his home in Le Pallet as a youth to follow his passion. Now with a little imagination we can further combine the multiple aspects of the scene and see that Perceval is a little bit of the father and the son...all in the same moment.

Enter the 20th century. Almost exactly eight hundred years after The Story of the Grail premiered Winston Groom wrote the novel Forrest Gump. If cussing doesn't offend you, the novel is laugh-out-loud funny but there's a layer underneath the laughs that captures a glimpse of real life that is brutally honest. It shines a light on how our exploits on earth might appear to someone up above looking down upon us and observing our actions while having an inside line to the intentions behind them. We're seen killing each other over dirt, dressing like turds and vegetables for money, betting everything we have on a thrown match, basically doing anything for a buck including skewing peoples' perceptions of reality to grab a headline, without regard to who is hurt or suffers as a consequence. In the novel, Lt. Dan is the saving grace who seems to grasp the possibility that there is meaning behind the madness.

As Groom's portrayal draws to a close, Forrest is seen taking a look in the mirror while commenting that he's getting on in life. He's has wrinkles and gray hair and not nearly as much energy as he used to have. The shrimp company was his first honest living and has provided more than he and Bubba ever dreamed it would. But Forrest starts thinking that life is just "spinnin in place." Things are "slippin by." There's something missing and he supposes that Jenny Curran has something to do with it. But there isn't anything that anybody can do about it.

One day Forrest decides that he has to get away. Mama starts weeping and bawling and wringing her handkerchief while Mister Tribble says he completely understands.

"Why don't we jus tell everbody you are taking a long vacation, Forrest," he say. "An of course your share of the bidness will be here, whenever you want it."

So Forrest and Sue the orangutan get in a little row boat and travel up to Bayou La Batre and then to the bus station in Mobile. When the lady in the ticket window asks where they're headed, Forrest can't decide so the lady suggests they go to Savannah. And that's what they do.

Who should they find there, but Lt. Dan who's shining shoes from under a garbage bag and living on the street. Forrest starts performing as a one-man band as Dan polishes shoes and Sue collects quarters in a cup. One day they get their picture in the newspaper under the headline "Derelicts Loitering in Public Park." Not long after, while Forrest is playing the song "Ridin on the City of New Orleans" a little boy comes up to him and the next thing you know Forrest glances across the crowd and sees Jenny standing there.

Jenny is married. Forrest is introduced to the little boy who has the same name as him, and who happens to be named after his daddy. While Forrest and Jenny talk and catch up with each others' lives, Forrest senses something...a heartbeat between them. Jenny is on the verge of tears, but she doesn't let herself cry. She just keeps saying "I can't believe it all." According to the novel, Jenny leans over to kiss Forrest on his forehead. Her lips are trembling as she says "Idiots. Who ain't an idiot?"

Forrest calls Mister Tribble and makes sure that eighty percent of the shrimp company's earnings find their way to Jenny and little Forrest. Meanwhile, he starts to wonder if it would be possible to fix things up between them and after a whole night of thinking he decides that things are probably best the way they are. "Little Forrest doesn't need a peabrain for a daddy." In a turn of the page, Forrest, Sue, and Dan are packed for traveling and are last seen in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

As Winston Groom brought his novel to a close, Forrest is looking up to the stars, taking in the whole sky above him...contemplating and talking to nobody in particular, "...don't you think I ain't rememberin it all. I still got dreams like anybody else, an ever so often, I am thinkin' about how things might of been."

Eight years later Forrest Gump came to life on the big screen. The screenplay written by Eric Roth was a mirrored reflection of the novel: similar, opposite, and providing that multi-faceted quality that neither could achieve individually. And who said that nothing could be done about fixing Forrest and Jenny up?

While Forrest, in the novel, claimed his son deserved more than a peabrain for a daddy, in the movie Forrest keeps repeating that he and Jenny go together like peas and carrots.

Forrest Gump, the movie, begins where the novel left off, a few steps backward, and provides a more realistic view. The movie begins with Forrest sitting at the bus stop in Savannah. Sue the orangutan is captured in the child's book Curious George. Forrest is looking back upon his life and remembering it all. In the movie, his daddy isn't dead...mama tells the school principal that daddy's on vacation. In the movie, Forrest doesn't cuss anywhere near as much. The movie trades laughs for sincerity.

Lt. Dan has become the cynical one, but still manages to provide a bit of wisdom. He complains about the chaplains at the VA hospital: "Jesus this and Jesus that. Have I found Jesus? They even had a priest come and talk to me. He said God is listening, but I still have to help myself...."

Jenny is still singing in the movie, but her nice melodic love song from the novel that was called "Give it to Me Hard and Fast" is replaced with songs with lyrics that suggest the answers are blowing in the wind and that we should smile on our brother while trying to love one another, right now.

In the novel, Forrest thinks the awful pink sky makes faces look like death. In the movie, the sunrise across the desert makes it impossible to tell where heaven ends or earth begins. And it’s beautiful.

In the novel, Mama is working for the shrimp company as the last page is turned. In the movie, Mama dies. Jenny and Forrest acknowledge they love each other and finally get married. And then Jenny dies.

Forrest stands by the oak tree and talks to Jenny's grave, "Mama always said dyin' was a part of life."

"I sure wish it wasn't"

When I think about all the ways that Forrest Gump could be mirrored against The Story of the Grail, the novel by itself teaches us how to find similarities between what initially appear as vastly different stories with different casts of characters among totally new settings. The movie captures Chrétien’s writing strategies by repeating words and phrases two and three times: "Our house has been in Mama's family since her grandpa's grandpa's grandpa had come across the ocean about a thousand years ago…."

While the motion picture reveals Chrétien’s strategies with words, the novel reveals the final move necessary to bring closure to The Story of the Grail through action. And the scene that captures it is when Forrest is a player in the championship game at the "Grandmaster's Invitational Chess Tournament." Grand Master Ivan Petrokivitch, a.k.a. Honest Ivan, is his competitor. During the match Forrest uses a few moves he learned in the jungle from Big Sam that "weren't in the book," one of which uses the queen as bait, while trying to get Honest Ivan to risk his knight to take her.

If I remember how Winston Groom told this, it went something like this:
When the moment arrived for the last move, the crowd got so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. Forrest was so excited and nervous he thought he would bust. Honest Ivan moved his piece to square eight two or three times, but then always moved it back to square five. When it looked like he was going to make a different move while the piece was hovering over square eight, Forrest was holding his breath while his heart was beating so hard he could feel it. The room was as quiet as a tomb and suddenly Forrest "cut a humongous baked-bean fart that sounded like someone was rippin a bedsheet in half." At that moment, Honest Ivan dropped his piece on square eight and then flailed his hands in the air and cried, "Uggh!" as he fanned the space around him and tried to plug his nose. Forrest turned red in the face. But then he looked at the chessboard and saw that Honest Ivan's piece was perfectly set on square eight. In a series of swift moves he snapped up the piece with his knight, grabbed two of Ivan's pawns, then his queen, and finally the king and captured the moment with one word: "Checkmate!"

Honest Ivan wasn't too pleased about the way things turned out and filed a formal complaint against Forrest. The guy in charge of the tournament started thumbing thru the rule book to determine if a transgression had occurred. Mr. Tribble claimed it was an involuntary thing, everyone breaks wind from time to time. The tournament director said, "I don't know, I think on the face of it I'm going to have to disqualify him." But after giving it a little more consideration he was willing to give Forrest another chance. And then Sue came swinging into the ballroom on a chandelier.

Feather photo by Jim Champion, Permission has been granted to use photo, it does not include endorsement of the content of this blog.