Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Holy Blood, the Holy Grail, and all That

On Sunday I gave a talk for the Sauniere Society at their Spring Symposium at Carberry Tower, near Edinburgh. My chosen subject, if I can coin a phrase from Mastermind, was the Cathars. I shuffled on at the ungodly hour of 0930 and proceeded to speak until 1115, far longer than I expected, but I lost track of time! Anyway, I had a number of people thank me afterwards, which was nice, as I was totally unsure of what I had let myself in for when I agreed to give the talk while I was in Los Angeles.

And that leads me on to something else... Alchemy, Elias, the great work of what I am still slaving over, thinking about much of the time, and generally procrastinating over whenever I have the opportunity (which is frequently). Alchemy had been on my mind anyway, as Carberry is not so far from Port Seton, the home of Alexander Seton and the location of his rescue of Jacob Haussen and his crew in the Firth of Forth on that fateful day in 1601.

I arrived in Edinburgh at 0830 or so on Friday morning. It was my first visit since the EIFF 2002. I usually go to the Film Festival every year - an act of religious observance, almost, since 1997 and all that - but had been unable to go in 2003 (due to shooting Crow) and in 2004 (due to editing it). But here I was, back in the Holy City, and facing not just a chilling wind, but also nerves about how to talk about something which I have difficulty in talking about. The difficulty is not in ineptitude in terms of speaking, but in terms of emotion. How do you talk about atrocity? How can you talk about the death of people you feel close to? And not just the death, but the murder? The mass murder?

And, moreover, who the hell was I going to give this talk to? I'd heard all about Berenger Sauniere from The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail - a required text if you ask me, not only for what it says, but also for the extraordinary backlash that it continues to provoke - but not the Society named after him. I feared a colloquy of conspiracy theorists who would rebuke me for not labouring the more esoteric points of the Cathar story (that they possessed the Holy Grail etc).

It was with these trepidations that I got a taxi out to Carberry on Friday afternoon. In the lobby, I met Joy, the co-chair of the society, and also Lynne Picknett and Clive Prince, whose book on the Turin Shroud helped me with my research when I was doing my first book, the one on alchemy. I also credit Lynne with re-igniting my interest in the Royal Art when I went to see a talk she gave at BUFORA in September 1996. She claimed that she was 3 at the time. She doesn't look a day over 7 now.

And banter like that - frequently over red wine - proved to be the gel that brought the weekend and its disparate participants together. I felt very much on my own that first evening when Henry Lincoln - peace be upon him - spoke, but this feeling of isolation diminished with each breakfast, lunch and coffee break. To say nothing of the afterhours wine...

So, by the end of the weekend, I had not only spoken for nearly two hours about The Good Christians, but had also heard a former Sinn Fein activist turned Celtic Bard sing Walter Scott and had chewed the cud with punk legend and all round decent bloke Rat Scabies.

The mysteries of the transmutatations of every day life will never cease to amaze me.

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