Like many Americans, I first became aware of the mysterious Priory of Sion by reading about them in the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail around 1987 or so. Although the organization had gotten quite a bit of European attention in the 60s and 70s, authors Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh first brought it to U.S. awareness with their bestselling book in the early 1980s. The book caused a firestorm of controversy, especially among the clergy, not so much for its discussion of secret societies and medieval history as for its frank assertion that Jesus Christ might have had children and might not have died on the cross. I was interested in the book for two reasons: the first was that, as a Fortean, I thought it detailed an interesting alternative (and somewhat conspiratorial) look at history which was worth considering and investigating.
The second requires some degree of confession. I don't wish to offend people's religious beliefs by stating my own. I am essentially a secular Jew that distrusts most forms of organized religion. I long believed that the essential narrative of Christ's life as given in the New Testament was inaccurate, and the way it was given was especially redacted to place blame and guilt on Jewish people for his death. Thus, HBHG (how I shall heretofore abbreviate the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail) suggested to me a possible explanation of the life of Christ and the origins of Christianity that I found more plausible that Christianity really began among a sect of Jews (known as the Nasoreans or Ebionites) who saw Jesus as a Messianic figure, but did not deify him.
I first wrote about HBHG around 1990, focusing on the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau as described in that book and in Lionel Fanthorpe's book (Secrets of Rennes-Le-Chateau), and only tangentially mentioning the Priory of Sion. Here, I will not repeat what I wrote, which was essentially a summary of the mystery of that village along with what I saw as some bizarre tangential leads in Fanthorpe's books. Those interested in the basic outlines of the mystery are directed toward reading those two books. What I intend to do here is to explain what new directions the authors have taken since then, as well as what new books have been released on the subject, and what some of the threads were that emerged while I was on the Priory-of-Sion (abbreviated as PoS) discussion list in Fall of 1998. In many ways, the mystery has become even more curious, encapsulating (like Danny Casolaro's Octopus) increasing amounts of time and space within its tentacles. Some PoS listmembers insisted that the bloodline' of the Priory went back millennia.
Baigent, Lincoln, and Leigh wrote a sequel to HBHG entitled the The Messianic Legacy. This book goes into further detail about early Christian heresy, and suggests that the true heretics' (that is, those who deviated from the original message or mission) may have actually been the orthodox' and catholic' Church Fathers like Iraneus, whereas the people who held the actual truth of Christ's life were the persecuted Gnostics, Ebionites, and Desposyni'. In the second section, it examines the Messianic ideal throughout history, and some of its negative and positive impacts, especially in European history. The third section examines some of the PoS' curious entanglements with modern crypto-political forces, such as the Knights of Malta, P2 Masonic lodge, Kreisau Circle, Swiss Grand Loge Alpina, and various advocates of Pan-European Union. The Messianic Legacy contains some hints that the trio were beginning to become skeptical of the Priory, while continuing to believe there was "foo" in the fire it had started over the village of Rennes-le-Chateau. Afterwards, they divided paths, with Henry Lincoln joining in a geomantic quest with David Wood, and Baigent and Leigh writing books on the Dead Sea Scrolls and Freemasonry.
Lincoln's books, The Holy Place: Saunière and the Decoding of the Mystery of Rennes-le-Château and its sequel Key to the Sacred Pattern: The Untold Story of Rennes-le-Chateau, pick up where David Wood's GENISIS: The First Book of Revelations and Geneset: Target Earth leave off. Although Wood goes into the far more bizarre territory of goddesses, sexual magick, alien origins for humankind, and planetary-destroying comets whose arrival was predicted in ancient monuments, he was the first to suggest that the "treasure" of Rennes-le-Chateau might consist of a network of ley-lines in the area forming a massive geomantic cosmic diagram in essence a "temple" writ large on the entire landscape. Lincoln follows his lead, discarding some of his more bizarre ideas, and actually produces a diagram of what the Temple' might look like a sort of pentagram-hexagram combination whose points seem to include many of the major towns, sacred sites, and natural features of the area.
Esperaza Circle of Churches
A listmember on the PoS' list brought something to my attention which was fairly significant: this diagram's nodes actually form the Qabalistic Tree of Life when connected.
This is significant because the Qabalah is thought to be, at its oldest, only 2 millennia old; whereas some of the sites in the temple' of the Rennes region appear to be of the megalithic era, and should thus be twice as old
One author that seems to have been inspired by Henry Lincoln is British Mason Patrick Byrne, who offers his theory through an e-book' which can solely be downloaded through the Internet. Byrne believes that the key to the mystery may lie in the Masonic Degree of the Holy Royal Arch. Suffice to say, in the interests of brevity, Byrne believes that Masonic symbolism seems to also link up to a geomantic diagram in the area, and that in essence the root of the story seems to be that the Templars found the Ark of the Covenant underneath Solomon's Temple and brought it to the mountain known as Pech Cardou in the Languedoc as a hiding place. Pech Cardou seems to be pointed to as the key node of this geomantic network, however, Byrne thinks that the Ark might no longer be there since some Allied Masons may have moved it to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Nazis. He seems to suggest that the French national cartographic authority the IGN is in some way descended from the Knights Hospitaller and is further (aren't they always?) blocking further inquiry into this area.
Baigent and Leigh's research has been to further probe the history of early Christianity and specifically the controversy surrounding academic censorship of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Dead Sea Scrolls Deception. They have helped a mass audience appreciate the work of maverick Biblical scholar Robert Eisenman, who has suggested that Jesus' brother James may have led his Nasorean' sect after his death, that the Essenes, Zadokites, and "Nasoreans" may have been different labels for the same 1st century Judaic nationalist movement, and that Paul of Tarsus (yep, that Paul) may have been the Liar and persecutor of the Qumran community referred to in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In The Temple and the Lodge, they probe the possible origins of Freemasonry in fugitive Knights Templar fleeing to Scotland and creating their new rituals of secrecy and mutual protection in the Rosslyn Chapel of the Sinclair Family, and they even allude to curious legends that the Sinclairs and the Templars may have brought the Grail (although whether this is a bloodline or an artefact is not specified) to the New World prior to Columbus in the 13th century (a la Michael Bradley). Those interested in more of these New World connections should check out Bradley's book Holy Grail Across the Atlantic: The Secret History of Canadian Discovery and Exploration, or Andrew Sinclair's The Sword And the Grail.
Some other recent books on this subject have been Picknett and Prince's The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ and a duo of books by Masons Knight and Lomas. TR deals with Picknett and Prince's theory that the Shroud of Turin was created by Leonardo de Vinci as a quasi-photostatic self-portrait, and they link the so-called "Shroud Mafia" (the Lirey family and others who possessed the Shroud) to the Priory of Sion, which they see as ultimately being a "Johannite" organization which venerates John the Baptist as a superior figure to Jesus and has its roots in Egyptian religion. Knight and Lomas' first book (The Hiram Key: Pharaohs, Freemasonry, and the Discovery of the Secret Scrolls of Jesus) suggests that the origins of Freemasonry lie in the ancient Egyptian ritual of phaoronic resurrection, and that the murder of Hiram of Abiff is actually a mask for the historically documented murder of phaoroh Seqenenre Tao. Their second book (Second Messiah: Templars, the Turin Shroud and the Great Secret of Freemasonry) offers their own unique take on the Shroud of Turin that it is in fact the shroud in which Jacques de Molay, the final Grand Master of the Knights Templar, was wrapped when he was tortured (in a mock re-enactment of the crucifixion) by the French royal torturer; and that the Shroud was seen as affirming deMolay's Messianic status to followers of Joachim of Fiora (who proclaimed a third age of the Holy Spirit was immanent) in the 13th century (hence the Church's decision to distance itself from the relic.)
Laurence Gardner's Bloodline of the Holy Grail: The Hidden Lineage of Jesus Revealed recapitulates some of Barbara Thiering's "barking mad" theories of New Testament interpretation (she believes that scions of the Judaic royal houses had to abstain from having sex with their spouses for six years between each conception) with efforts to track the Grail lineage in British (as opposed to French) history. Gardner seems to have the strange dual goals of anointing Prince Michael of Albany the current Stewart (and hence Grail-Messianic) king, and to convince Americans that they were once (and probably should thus be again) willing to accept a Stewart constitutional monarchy as a viable form of government. Gardner's motives seem tied up with the mysterious Dragon Order which he is a member of a chivalric group which may or may not be in some way allied or tied into the PoS. In recent articles in Nexus magazine, Gardner has suggested the secret of the Grail bloodline may be some sort of mysterious elixir, "StarFire," which provides immortality and the ability to travel through space and time. He has also hinted that the Grail bloodline' may, in fact, consist of albinistic elflike extraterrestrial beings that feast in a vampiric fashion on pineal glands. Gardner's writings seem to be getting stranger and stranger I wish I was making that last sentence up.
Andrews and Schellenberger's book The Tomb of God: Unlocking the Code to a 2000-Year-Old Mystery returns to the mysterious mount of Pech Cardou and offers a different suggestion as to what might be found underneath. (Considering how many people think something is buried under this mountain, I don't know why anyone has yet to excavate there unlike Rosslyn Chapel, the mountain is not private property.) The Tomb of God hints that Jesus was not in fact resurrected and that his body was mummified and entombed beneath Pech Cardou and remains there to this day it was the "treasure" discovered by Abbe Sauniere through the parchments he found and his knowledge of its existence (which led to a concomitant renunciation of his faith) was one of the reasons he was denied absolution by his superiors on his deathbed. (They hint that the other tomb which is in Poussin's painting and was, until recently, part of the real Rennes landscape before being dynamited is a red herring.) Along more bizarre lines, Laidler's book The Head of God: The Lost Treasure of the Templars suggests that Jesus' body was lost but his head was embalmed and preserved and buried beneath Rosslyn Chapel. (It apparently had a short stint as the totemic "Baphomet" head of the Templars.)
Ean Begg's The Cult of the Black Virgin is mostly about the origins of the mysterious Black Virgins of Europe and their connections to esoteric saints, goddess traditions, the Cathars and other heretical sects, and Jungian depth psychology. However, Begg also discusses the Priory of Sion and notes that in most records, the full name of the organization is the Order of Our Lady of Sion. He hints that that Lady might not be the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, or even Isis, but instead the goddess Rosmerthe, associated with the Mount Sion found in Switzerland, and the female embodiment for the Celts of their ideal of sovereignty. Two other interesting (if dubious) books (which I have not read) include Elizabeth Van Buren's Refuge of the Apocalypse: Doorway into other Dimensions (which hits hard on the Merovingians-as-extraterrestrials theory) and Martha Neyman's the Horse of God, which seems to investigate more deeply the symbolism of Sauniere's exceedingly bizarre Church, and suggests the Ark is buried beneath the Church. Also worth noting is Robinson's Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry, Graham Hancock's Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant, and Wallace-Murphy's Rosslyn: Guardian of the Secrets of the Holy Grail, which also deal with Masonic-Templar links.
The indefatigable Robert Anton Wilson weighs in on the mystery of the Priory in Cosmic Trigger III: My Life After Death (which is not the first time he has written about them in Gnosis magazine and elsewhere.) Wilson is fascinated by the Priory's claim to be descended from beings from Sirius which ties in to his work, as well as that of Robert K. Temple and the hallucinations (visions?) of late sci-fi author Philip K. Dick. However, one of the overarching meta-themes of CT III seems to be the borderlands where truth and fiction overpower each other (such as the possibility that one man, "Elmyr," may have painted most of the masterpieces' currently hanging in European galleries supposedly created by old masters'), and Wilson gives strong play to his wife Arlen's theory that the Priory is really a pataphysical conspiracy initiated by grand master' Jean Cocteau. (Pataphysique, an art movement created by Alfred Jarry at the beginning of the 20th century, had strong links to Surrealism, Dadaism, and Concrete Poetry; in essence, it postulated that the main mission for art was to bullshit people.) In essence, a massive hoax pulled off as sort of a giant work of performance art.
Tired of theories from authors testing the limits of human imagination? Well, you've yet to meet the unpublished Sion wonks' that populate the Priory of Sion mailing list. During my brief time on the list, I met "Idris," who suggested the conspiracy hid an ancient malevolent Sumerian extraterrestrial virus and the search for an antidote, "Fastcat," who asserted that the Merovingians were alive and well in California and were also part of the foundation for Mormonism, and "Online.Design," who thought that the PoS hid secret geometry in the Great Pyramid which could predict any event which had happened in human history. "DasGoat" (aka Hawthorne Abendsen) saw the PoS at the heart of patriarchal, Catholico-fascist, cryptopolitical P2/Opus Dei/Knights of Malta-style conspiracies. "Stella Maris" described harassment at the hands of rogue elements from the Dragon Order because her abilities of psycho-navigation' helped her unlock the puzzles sponsored by their website, Entropic Arts. And then there was "Queribus," who took her name from the last stronghold of the Cathars in France, who was ever so interested in Begg's Black Virgins. (Although deeply mystical, she also had a great deal more sense than some of the others.)
Not everyone used the ubiquitous pseudonyms. (As always, I went by "Seeker1".) Alan Harmony (who as far as I know used his own name) suggested that the true basis of Jesus' teaching was the prophetic power of dreams, and that his own dreams led him to believe (like David Wood and Ian Campbell) that a disastrous comet was heading to strike the Earth which could only be deflected by the Ark of the Covenant, which he asserted was hidden from the Priory in Canada. We even had posters claiming that the PoS had hidden treasure troves buried in the U.S., that Jesus was actually a Celtic Druid, that the PoS "bloodline" originated with the godlike Nephilim' of Andrew Collins' book From the Ashes of Angels: The Forbidden Legacy of a Fallen Race, and that the PoS had been taken over (at least in Europe) by the Sicilian Mafia (themselves descended from the Carbonari and the Risorgimiento.) And, to no one's surprise, we entertained two people who claimed to be members of the Priory of Sion "Daemon Magus" (an occultist who wrote for a magazine for homeless people) and "Count Roman Alexandre Umberto Guelfi," a neo-Templar Knight who seems to actually go by (in everyday life) the name "Roman A. Gibbs."
Both were, not surprisingly, cryptic and unforthcoming about the organization, although Guelfi indicated that the wellspring' of the Priory's bloodline began (long before David, Jesus, Merovech, or Godfroi de Bouillion) in the Middle East around 3500 BCE, and hinted but never verified that the source of the wellspring' was extraterrestrial. Daemon Magus asserted that the successor to the Grand Mastership of the PoS, which was held until 1984 by Pierre Plantard, was a Canadian, Carl LaFleur. Msr. LaFleur, claimed Daemon Magus, made him head of the Gnostic Patriarchate of North America (and he showed me a letter verifying this), which, he indicated, was really the "front" for the secondary' order of the Priory (which, with some deliberateness, he called "P2") in North America. However, LaFleur was driven out, he claimed, by more sinister elements within the Priory (people more interested in power and wealth than esotericism), and Magus thought he could have been kidnapped or even murdered. At this point, he really didn't know who was in charge of "P1" (the European Priory.) Is any of this true? I have no way of knowing. If anyone can verify the identity of this individual (LaFleur) for me, it might go a long way. I can't find a biography or anything about him.
Although I was skeptical of both, I still had the strange dilemma of facing the fact that they seemed to know too much to be trolls. I told both of them I thought they were either frauds or disinformers, but for all I know we on the list may have entertained Sionites' unawares. Perennial topics of discussion on the PoS listserve were, not surprisingly and in no particular order, the authenticity of the Shroud, the origins of Gnosticism, early Christianity, whether the PoS had a New World or American "branch" operating in the U.S., the fate of the Templars after their dissolution, the validity of Merovingian' origins for modern European royal houses (such as the Stuarts and Hapsburgs), the role of Freemasonry in Europe and the U.S., and the location of the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail. (At least one poster thought the two artefacts were, in fact, one and the same.) One thread that seems to stick in my mind is the mysterious survival throughout history of skull and crossbones symbolism, and what it might or might not have to do with the PoS.
The skull and crossbones seems to have been used as an emblem first and foremost by esoteric and heretical groups as a symbol of rebirth. It later became the battle flag of the Knights Templar (and a nasty rumor about the Templars claimed they chose it because of a horrific necromantic ritual) and, in the 17th century, the "Jolly Roger" flag of British and French pirates. Most mysteriously, it is the emblem of the secret society Scull N' Bones at Yale, which George Bush and so many other members of the American elite have been initiated into. (Yale's graduating classes, according to some authors, seem to have provided the rich white young men of distinction which formed the early OSS and, later, the CIA.) What are the connections here? Did some of the post-dissolution Templars eventually turn their naval skills toward the service of pirate fleets? (We know many in Portugal eventually joined the Knights of Christ who, with Prince Henry the Navigator, circumnavigated the world's oceans.) Why does the secret society S & B use a skull in its ceremonies which supposedly belongs to, of all people, the Native American Geronimo? Is it to commemorate, in some sinister ritualistic way, the "piracy" and plunder of Native lands in the U.S.? Is there a link between Scull N' Bones and the (less secretive) academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa?
And, of course, there was the lingering doubt that behind all of this might be nothing. There is no definitive proof that the PoS existed prior to 1956, when an organization by that name appeared in French official records, although it claims (through its secretly deposited documents in the French national library) to have originated from an earlier organization, the Ordre du Sion, founded by Godfroi de Bouillion, Hugh de Payns, and a Calabrian monk named Ursus in 1099. And there has been at least one book suggesting that all of Father Sauniere's illicit wealth came from selling masses (simony) thus, he may have made up all the business about parchments and hidden treasure in Rennes-le-Chateau to cover up his ill-gotten gains. Other authors insist that Sauniere found a Visigothic gold stash or a gold mine belonging to the Dagobert family (take your pick); end of story. So ask yourself this. Why would Sauniere have redecorated his church with such garish and odd symbolism? Why do the families that seem to comprise the PoS seem to have acted against the French monarchy earlier in history? And, according to Ted Cranshaw, even if Sion forged the Rennes parchments in the 1950s, the "code" contained therein must date back to the 18th century. Is the PoS just a modern artwork' tying together disparate figures in history (Poussin, Lord Shugborough, etc.) or are their paintings and monuments really part of a mystery which goes back (at least) several centuries?
For people interested in pursuing further leads on the Prieure du Sion/ Rennes-le-Chateau mystery, I think there are several directions that could use more research. There seems to have been a veritable explosion of neo-Templar organizations within the last decade one of the most famous may have been the Order of the Solar Temple, whose members committed mass suicide shortly before the Heaven's Gate sect did (promptly attracting far more media attention.) As one listmember put it, Templar organizations are "popping up out of the woodwork." While there have been chivalric societies claiming (however falsely) Templar pedigrees in the past 500 years, they seem to be sprouting up like mushrooms now. One of the notions that is alluded to in The Messianic Legacy is that there may some sort of conflict between the Priory of Sion and the Knights of Malta a conflict thought to originate from the original rivalry between the Hospitallers and the Templars during the Crusades. Conspiracy watchers will note that the Knights have a number of interesting honorary American members, such as Alexander Haig.
Another interesting question is whether or not the Templars and/or Sion and/or the Sinclair family of Rosslyn may have established some sort of presence in the New World prior to Columbus. Does Sion's grasp extend to the New World? Bradley thinks they may have sequestered the Grail or something else of value in the famous "Money Pit" of Oak Island near Nova Scotia whereas Fanthorpe thinks there is some sort of mysterious link between the Cajuns of Louisiana and "Arcadia" (as opposed to Accadia). (There is a curious Cajun folk song about Good King Dagobert sort of an unusual ballad.) Fastcat' thinks that some of Mormon doctrine (although, he suggested, the majority is erroneous) arose out of Templar Masonry'. And of course there are the curious hints of Masonic influence in both the creation of the American government as well as even the layout of the streets of its Capitol. Is it possible the more "left wing" of Sion may have committed itself to republicanism (as opposed to the monarchist goals of the other wing) and sought to realize it through the American experiment?
There is the curious question as to whether Chris Carter's mysterious Millennium Group from his TV show Millennium is based on the Priory of Sion. In one episode, it was revealed that the group controlled (or protected) a bloodline' which according to DNA schematics' was proven' to be the offspring of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. There seems to be some hints that if Sion has some sort of plan' for European unification under Merovingian rulership, that it is about to pass one of its major milestones around the turn of the millennium. There are hints that one or more republican countries in Europe may be restoring their monarchies soon (although only for ceremonial purposes, as Spain did with King Juan Carlos I) with Merovingians' at the throne? Of course, the riddle of Sion already had Christian eschatologists going apeshit, since they see the whole scenario as coming straight out of the Book of Revelations (although others think it more closely follows the prophecies of Nostradamus, who may have been a Priory agent.) If the group exists, and it has connections to the existing power structure in the French government, some of the things going on in connection with France's Millennial plans (which include highlighting the Paris Meridian, something Lincoln and Byrne find highly significant) may need to be examined more closely.
If the PoS is a hoax, it is one of the best orchestrated ones of all time. If it really exists, it may be one of the most powerful secret societies of all time. Sion's goals may include a reunification of the world's major monotheistic faiths and/or a unification of all of Europe. On the other hand, this all-powerful secret society according to its own documents never once managed, through the course of several centuries, to topple a single French king and put one of their bloodline' on the throne. So we should be cautious. "Members" of Sion such as Pierre Plantard and the Marquis de Cherisey have already admitted that they rely on disinformation to accomplish their objectives. Any strategy of that kind always tries first and foremost to make a group appear more all-powerful than it really is. Also, there is the possibility that the PoS is a fraud exploiting a nonetheless genuine mystery at Rennes-le-Chateau. Whichever the case may be, the mystery deserves closer scrutiny by people of a Fortean persuasion, for as far as I can see, it remains "case not closed."