Why do you come here, reader? Do you expect to find another review of The Da Vinci Code? The hassle and hubbub that book has brought us, you can't imagine. Perhaps you expect to read here once again that Brown's book is an accomplished thriller, but that the author got half his historical facts wrong and sketched out a huge and absurd conspiracy where none was to be found. Is this what you're looking for? How many articles and books have gone over this same ground? Or is it maybe a movie review you expect?
In any case reviews are not what I'm going to offer. What I will write here is far more momentous. I'm going to uncover a secret in the real world--a secret I've kept for years but have finally tired of keeping. With this brief declaration I intend to tell the truth as it is. And so. . . .
I am the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion.
There--I've come out with it. You may have a hard time believing me, but your skepticism won't change the fact. I am the current Grand Master of the Priory and have been so for nearly a decade.
The truth is I've intended to tell about the Priory ever since they inducted me as an undergraduate. I first encountered and joined the Priory during my junior year abroad in France. That was in the late 1980s. But regardless of my ideas on what Priory secrecy ought to be and on how it should work in the organization, they insisted I not think of reform but should rather keep my mouth shut, both there at the meeting house off the Rue de la Violette in Aix, and then back in the States as I finished my degree and moved up the ranks. I was a newcomer after all, and as such I was persuaded to keep quiet and was even threatened.
"It's an ancient secret we protect," they'd tell me. "Any breach of the secret by a member will be punished with expulsion--or worse."
Back there in Aix and during the years following I had no choice but to listen. Besides which, there was some justice in their point, as my ideas would have meant a quite radical change in the organization as it related to the outside. Still, even then I suspected the worst punishment those pseudo-aristocrats could dole out would be forcing me to reread their "mystical" poems. But that generation of the Priory is now gone. Now that I am Grand Master, I intend to reform according to my original plans. Of the three sŽnŽchaux, I know that two are in agreement with me. This declaration is the first step.
The Grand Master is I. I'm the man that leads the Priory. You wouldn't know it on the surface--actually I hold down a pretty normal job--but then that's just how it should be. We've always insisted on discretion, and will continue to do so, albeit in a different way.
But enough of my own story. My personal history is not my purpose here. There are other issues that need to be addressed, and I will first get to some of the more tiresome ones. I mean the questions that keep people up at night reading guides to Dan Brown's book--as if a thriller needs a guide!--those questions animating dinner parties and echoing round chat rooms. And so: Is there reason to believe that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus Christ? Did the Knights Templar uncover the Temple Treasure in Jerusalem at the time of the First Crusade? Do we Priory members really worship the sacred feminine and engage in ritual sex? Do we know where the Holy Grail is? Is there a "sacred bloodline" running from Jesus through the Merovingian kings and Pierre Plantard?
Many of these questions are in fact laughable, and do not really relate to the Priory in any case.
As for Mary Magdalene and Jesus, the truth is that not even I, the Grand Master, can tell you reliably about that. And the reason is simple. The Priory of Sion doesn't go back that far, nor did our founders (rest their maligned souls) ever come upon any secret gospels relative to this question or any Temple Treasure either. So you will have to go to scholars if you want answers about Mary Magdalene--you will have to rest content with informed speculation, because nobody has concrete answers. And what did you expect?
As for the ritual sex, that part of Brown's book is mostly true, at least in terms of the Hieros Gamos being part of Priory tradition. Brown's presentation of the ritual is not quite correct however. During the Hieros Gamos the dancers do not hold "golden orbs," but orbs of moist clay. And the Grand Master does not engage in intercourse with any silver-haired matron, but rather with one of the younger Priory initiates, selected during an earlier Priory ritual by the body of participants.
I will tell you about the Holy Grail too, at least in terms of the material Grail, the Grail as object.
The Holy Grail is not Mary Magdalene or some cryptic scion of the Lord like you read in Holy Blood, Holy Grail or Brown's book. Nothing of the sort. Instead it's a silver and gold chalice about five inches tall with a few of the precious gems missing from the rim. Though I saw photos of the Grail while in France, I didn't see the actual object until later in England, when I was made a sŽnŽchal.
The Grail chalice is indeed a symbolic object that holds its place in our doctrine and ritual. I am certain that this object in our possession has a history of many hundreds of years.
That said, some things become obvious to some, but need to be pointed out to others. The late medieval design of the Grail chalice held by the Priory argues strongly against its having been used at the Last Supper. Certainly no established Priory members actually believe this object dates from ancient times.
And so: the Holy Grail remains an idea, a focus of faith. The object held by the Priory of Sion is a late medieval work of art and a part of certain of our rituals.
Given what has been said above regarding Mary Magdalene, it should be clear that the story of the sacred bloodline running through the Merovingians cannot be verified. Nonetheless this story certainly does predate Pierre Plantard. But once again: Priory members consider the story a legend, a metaphor rather than actual history.
Pierre Plantard himself was not a full Priory of Sion member. He came to the Priory as a clown and was allowed to set up shop with his greasepaint intact. The Priory encouraged him into action with the idea that he would do just what he did: discredit the Priory. Word of the actual organization had sparked too much interest among people the Priory wanted nothing to do with: anti-Semitic cranks, leftovers of the Vichy intelligentsia. There were people with clout that the Priory wanted to keep out, people pressing to find out more, to become members. One of the current sŽnŽchaux was responsible for rumors of the Priory making the rounds in this group. Though his indiscretions ultimately led to his being demoted, the damage had already been done. The growing interest of these new would-be members--this and their correct suppositions as to the identity of various high-ranking Priory figures--had to be diverted with a ruse. And so Plantard was brought in. He was encouraged to develop a cell of the Priory according to his own ideas, among which was the assertion that any viable spiritual organization needed to seek power in the political realm as well: that a political wing was necessary to continue the Priory's work. Of course it was suspected, given his character and concerns, that Plantard would soon be turning this new Priory cell into his own mythomaniacal fiefdom. In fact this is just what was wanted. His plans for maintaining the Priory's secret character while at the same time gaining new members were insincerely applauded by the actual Priory members he knew. The idea to claim his branch was named after the Mont Sion in Haute-Savoie was Plantard's. Although much of Plantard's correspondence hasn't been saved, the proud letter in which he announces this plan is still in the Priory archives.
Plantard was dealt with according to schedule. Eventually his Priory connections claimed the original organization was going defunct, that in fact his branch was the more vibrant and what was still held by the Priory would be transferred to him later. This was told to the busybodies too. For years they had taken Plantard as their connection, and it had been hinted to them that he was the man to watch. Then, finally, he was cut loose: the Priory didn't communicate with him any more.
Many of the best-known stories relating to the Priory come straight from Plantard and his desire for self-aggrandizement. Though the story of a sacred bloodline in Europe is part of Priory lore, in fact it is not a bloodline the Priory protects but a text and the teachings in that text. Or rather: It is not an actual bloodline we protect but a text and the teachings embodied in that text.
An interesting aside: The writer Dan Brown does seem to have at least a fleeting connection to the real modern history of the Priory, though I don't know where he got it. I knew Sophie Neveu when a student in Aix. She worked at the cafŽ on the Cours Mirabeau where most of us Priory members would meet for drinks. She even became a member eventually. She had long red hair just like in Brown's book. The last I saw her was in New York in 1998.
Now I've told you all the secrets I can tell you without really telling the secrets I can tell you. It's like with Strauss' Persecution and the Art of Writing. It's like with the purloined letter: sometimes the only safe place to hide things is out in the open. And what could be more out in the open than this declaration? Can you separate the Priory from the myriad fictions it has spawned? Can you find out the third?
If you're an attentive reader and have gotten this far, you can begin on a more diligent track by reading the following:
Where Harvey stopp'd there rises Babel's Doom,
Its mossy stones a Ziggurat entomb.
Where he left off, there seek our scattered Keys;
The Doors to open up in just degrees.
The title, as you see, poem is missing. You must figure it out from the clues available. This, I know, is rather like in the book: that world-shaking thriller in which most people first learned of the Priory. But be warned: If you get the title and finally interpret my poem, then your real difficulties begin. Which should be no surprise. It isn't easy being a knight, not even in this belated age. And what did you expect? To find [ ] revealed in pulp thrillers and pseudo-histories?
Grand Master of the Priory of Sion