Jesus, Freemasons, Extraterrestrials, The Gnomes of Zurich,
Black Israelites and Noon Blue Apples

Robert Anton Wilson

The Priory of Sion first came to the attention of Americans with the publication in 1981 of Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh, a book so sensational and wildly speculative that many readers decided to believe nothing in it. Some even doubted the existence of the Priory of Sion, the alleged 800-year old secret society which is the main topic of the book. Other, of course, were eager to swallow everything in Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and there is now a wide subculture, mostly in occult and witchy circles, who fervently believe that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and their descendents are alive and well in various royal families of Europe; the allies or supporters of this "holy bloodline" make up the backbone of the elusive Priory of Sion, according to Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh.

Personally, I did not have an immediate yes-or-no reaction to this new Christian "heresy." I have long believed that Aristotelian either/or logic is inadequate to deal with the "real," or sensory, or existential, world (since such logic only applies to the abstractions or fictions created by Jesuits, Randroids, Marxists and other metaphysicians). I therefore did not believe or reject all of Holy Biood, Holy Grail as a lump or package deal. I wondered how much of it could be verified and how much of it could be refuted and how much would remain at least temporarily in the "maybe" state of quantum particles — like a coin tossed in the air and tumbling about before coming down to rest in a definitive Heads or Tails position.

In checking out the historical scenario of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, I found that the largest part of it belongs in the Maybe category. That is, most of it is speculation that can neither be proven or disproven by any of the techniques recognized by historians who attempt to practice scientific method. Of course, there are "high Maybes" and "low Maybes." The genealogies relating the von Hapsburgs or Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands to the Merovingian kings of the dark ages seem to be high Maybes; although there is a certain degree of uncertainty in all gene pools, the intermarriages of European royalty have been zealously documented for many centuries (since property and inheritance are involved in determining who was the son of which royal house). Dozens and scores of other matters — such as the membership of Sir Isaac Newton in the alleged Priory — are very low Maybes; the arguments cited by Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh are neither conclusive nor even plausible, and amount to what the chaps at M.I.T. call "hand waving." The attempted genealogical links further back, from the Merovingians to Jesus of Nazareth, are even lower Maybes and without exaggeration can be called wild guessing.

I decided to investigate other books on the Priory of Sion mystery in search of further data, if there was any to be found and if the whole saga was not made up almost entirely of "hand waving." Since I have dozens of other interests, I have not devoted the whole of the past six years to studying this question, but I have done a lot of reading, much of it in books not available in the United States (since I live in Europe). I can begin stating my conclusions by saying, like a famous editor, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Priory of Sion." Whether the Priory is 800 years old or has any link to Jesus, however, are still questions that remain in the the quantum "maybe" state; the coins in that case have not landed yet, or have not landed where I can see them.

The Gnomes of Zurich and the Priory

The European literature on the Priory of Sion is much more voluminous than is realized by those who have only read Holy Blood, Holy Grail. It is also much more diverse and, as you will shortly see, various authors have attempted to expose or explain the Priory with a variety of theories, some of which make the Jesus/Madalene bloodline story rather tame by comparison.

To begin with a source that is merely speculative, mysterious, and a bit sinister, but at least makes sense — before plunging into the books that are very, very, very mysterious wildly speculative and make no sense at all — in 1973 there appeared in Basel, Switzerland, Les Dessous d'une Ambition Politique by a Swiss journalist named Mattieu Paoli. The thesis of this book was fairly mundane, with only a few eldritch touches. Paoli had discovered the existence of a secret Freemasonic society of some sort made up of French intellectuals and aristocrats, because some of the literature of this secretive group was being distributed within Switzerland in a very restricted way. This literature, in fact, was circulated only to members of the Grand Loge Alpina, the largest and most influential Freemasonic group in the Swiss cantons. Of course, European ears prick up with curiosity at the first mention of the Grand Loge Alpina. Among Continental conspiracy buffs, the Grand Loge Alpina has a reputation for unspecified mischief rather akin to that of the Bohemian Club in America. That is, although not even the most avid critic has ever clearly demonstrated that the Grand Loge Alpina engages in criminal or even unethical behavior, it is known to include some of the richest men in Switzerland and the genera] assumption is that, like the Bohemian Club, it is some sort of "invisible government," or at least a place where the Power Elite meet to discuss their common interests. In a general sort of way, the GLA (an abbreviation for the Grand Loge Alpina which I shall use occasionally to avoid monotony) is more or less the group that English Prime Minister Harold Wilson once characterized as "the Gnomes of Zurich" — the cabal of bankers and financiers who, Wilson claimed, have more power than any rival coalition in Europe.

Another shady rumor about the Grand Loge Alpina — which is worth pursuing a bit, since Paoli first discovered the French secret society through its connection with the GLA — is that the GLA has heavily infiltrated the Vatican Bank, in collaboration with the definitely criminal and conspiratorial P2 (or Propaganda Due), the Italian "Freemasonic" group which controlled the Italian secret police in the 1970s, took money from both the CIA and KGB (and apparently double-crossed both), had over 900 agents in other branches of the Italian government and has been accused of every possible felony from massive bank fraud to assassination and terrorism, to laundering Mafia drug money through the Vatican Bank and its affiliates, to plotting a fascist coup. The source of the claim that the Grand Loge Alpina infiltrated the Vatican Bank and aided or abetted the dirty dealings of P2 is David Yallop's sensational book, In God's Name, which is accurate as far as I have been able to check it but contains literally hundreds of assertions which cannot be checked because Yallop claims he cannot divulge his sources without risking their lives. A large part of Yallop's book, therefore, also remains, for non-Aristotelians like me, in the quantum "maybe" state. (For the curious: two books dealing with the frauds and felonies of the Vatican Bank and their links with P2 and the Mafia, which document all their claims and do not quote unidentified sources, are Richard Hammer's The Vatican Connection and Penny Lernoux's In Banks We Trust.)

A digression about Freemasonry itself is probably obligatory at this time. Contrary to popular impressions, Freemasons do not belong to one global brotherhood with a unified system of dogma and ritual. The world is, in fact, full of Freemasonic lodges that do not recognize other Freemasonic lodges as "Fellow Craft" or "real Freemasons" at all.

There are two types of split within the Freemasonic brotherhood — political and metaphysical. The political split dates back to the French Revolution, when all Freemasonic groups were anti-Papist and "radical" (inclined to replace absolute monarchy with either Constitutional monarchy or with a Republican or even Democratic form of government). This radical spirit began to splinter when British Freemasons saw the Continental lodges moving too far to the Left, and arranged that, in the U.K. at least, the Grand Master of all Craft lodges would always be a member of the Royal Family, thereby guaranteeing a conservative flavor to the Grand Lodge and other Anglo-dominated Craft groups such as Scottish Rite and the Royal Arch. Most Continental lodges, however, are still basically radical (e.g. the Grand Orient Lodge in France and Italy).

The metaphysical split occurs within both the conservative and radical Craft groups. It divides Freemasons into those who, on one hand, joined Freemasonry for practical purposes (business contacts or covert political action) and only give lip service to the "mystical" goals of Freemasonry without knowing or caring much about what those "mystical" goals are; and, on the other hand, the "occult" lodges which practice Freemasonry quite consciously as a system of initiation similar to the ancient Mystery schools, Gnosticism or Sufism. To make things more complicated, some see the initiatory rituals of the Craft leading to pantheism or even a kind of transcendental humanism, while others see the rituals as leading back to a more traditional theism or even theocracy. To know that the Priory of Sion is Freemasonic or an offshoot of Freemasonry is not really to know much about its actual inner tradition.

Freemasonry has been repeatedly condenmed by the Vatican, and all Freemasons are officially excommunicated. The Presbyterian Church of Scotland also recently announced that no man can be a Freemason and a Christian at the same time. This hostility from the ultra-orthodox is justified (in its own internal logic) because Freemsonry was based, originally, on the rather Sufic doctrine that all religions are somewhat distored renmants of a true Revelation that can only be rediscovered through gnosis (inner experience) by one person at a time. (It is the purpose of Freemasonic ritual to convey this gnosis by techniques of drama and shock somewhat similar to those of shamanism, Sufism, the Gurdjieff schools or Tibetan Buddhism.) Conservative lodges in Christian countries, however, still use the Bible as centerpiece of the Craft altar. (Moslem Freemasons use the Koran.) The Orleanist lodges have reversed the gnostic tradition and are totally agnostic; they use a book of blank pages on their altar, and seem to share the Firesign Theatre's celebrated doctrine, "We're all Bozos on this bus."

The Rights and Privileges of Low-Cost Housing

Returning to Mattieu Paoli and his discovery of the links between the Grand Loge Alpina and the unknown French Freemasons: M. Paoli's attempts to learn more about the latter group read like comic opera — but so does much of this epic. The French group had a magazine (limited in circulation only to its own members and those of the Grand Loge Alpina.) It was called Circuit, and, although Paoli does not make much of this, the cover of the first issue he saw depicted a map of France with a Jewish Star of David superimposed upon it and something that looks much like a spaceship or UFO hovering above. (I know that I am pushing the paranoia buttons of both anti-semites and the more demoniac UFO theorists, but I also believe that this is precisely the intent of the Priory of Sion, which seems to have a flair for gallows humor.) This strange magazine, Circuit, was devoted entirely to astrology and other "occult" subjects but was attributed to the Committee to Secure the Rights and Privileges of Low Cost Housing — a group which Paoli was unable to locate anywhere and which nobody else has ever been able to track down either.

At this point readers of normal skepticism will begin to share my suspicion that the Priory of Sion at least has its own brand of humor. In fact, the very name Priory of Sion may be intended to spread panic among those weird people who still believe in the Elders of Zion conspiriacy.

Paoli eventually tracked down the publication offices of Circuit. It was produced, not at the fictitious Committee to Secure the Rights and Privileges of Low Cost Housing, but at the very real and powerful Committee for Public Safety of the de Gaulle government in Paris. The Committee for Public Safety, named after the similar group during the French Revolution, was managed by two close friends of President de Gaulle — Andre Malraux, novelist, art critic and Nobel prizewinner in literature; and one Pierre Plantard de Saint Clair, about whom we will shortly learn more and understand less.

Paoli, who had noted that de Gaulle had contributed an article to Circuit, found other reasons to suspect that the de Gaulle government was aware of, and sympathetic to, the goals of a shadowy Freemasonic lodge called the Priory of Sion — which, by then, he had determined was the real group behind the masquerade of the Committee to Secure the Rights and Privileges of Low Cost Housing. The rest of Paoli's book is devoted to demonstrating that the Priory wielded considerable power in Gaullist and conservative circles; Paoli speculates, backed by fairly plausible evidence and inference, that the Priory intends some major shift to the Right in French and possibly European politics, or some form of Christian Socialssim to rival and undermine the spread of Marxism.

It is probably only a coincidence, but I cannot resist adding that Paoli was later shot as a spy in Israel.

Extraterretrials and Rains Of Frogs

Also in 1973 appeared La Race Fabuleuse by Gerard de Sede — a book which, if you are willing to believe it, explains the Star of David and the spaceship which Paoli had noted on the cover of Circuit. In a word, La Race Fabuleuse is the kind of book loved by those who are wild about von Daniken and Velikovsky. It deals with a secret society — never called the Priory of Sion explicitly, although de Sede later admitted to Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh (the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail) that he was indeed writing about the Priory in La Race Fabuleuse. By and large, the book deals with unsolved mysteries of French history and is full of intriguing puzzles and novel ideas.

For instance, the town of Stenay has the Devil's head on its coat of arms, and frogs are often reported falling from the sky there. If that's the kind of thing that turns you on, de Sede is your main man in the Priory mystery. Other strange data in La Race Fabuleuse include stuff like this: The last Merovingian king, Dagobert II, was murdered by persons unknown on December 23, 689, in the Ardennes forest, which is named after a Stone Age bear-goddess. Arcadia in ancient Greece was named after a bear-goddess, too, and Nostradamus is a pen-name which means one devoted to "Our Lady" — a term which usually, in France, refers to the Virgin Mary. One whole chapter argues that the "prophecies" of Nostradamus are not predictions about the future at all (that was a mask to slip his quatrains past the censors) but coded revelations about what really happened in the past and was excluded from official history. We are offered a new theory about the Man in the Iron Mask, but that is left unfinished and we are led instead into the mystery of why Louis VX was obsessed with Poussin's painting. The Shepards of Arcadia, which brings us back to that bear goddess again. After a while, one realizes that de Sede is not explaining anything but dropping hints that lead in dozens of directions and one suspects the whole book may be a complicated hoax.

Then de Sede does explain; alas, his source cannot be revealed and is hidden behind the title and initial, "Marquis de B." Marquis de B can neither confirm nor deny that de Sede is quoting him correctly because he (the Marquis) was murdered in the Ardennes forest, just like Dagobert II, and on the anniversary of Dagobert's death — December 23, 1971. Anyway, if you are still with me, the reason Dagobert and the mysterious Marquis were murdered is that they both belonged to a secret Society made up of persons descended from the Tribe of Benjamin in ancient Judea; and the Tribe of Benjamin was not exactly like the orthodox Hebrews at all. In fact, the Tribe of Benjamin intermarried with extraterrestrials from Sirius, became superhuman due to this exotic genetic strain, and then migrated to Greece, and then to France….

Whether or not one is inclined to believe a yarn like that on the basis of the weird data offered, what is even more intriguing about La Race Fabuleuse is that, even if one believes in these Jewish-extraterrestrial French nobles, that theory only explains some of the historical enigmas de Sede has presented to us. What about those frogs falling out of the sky at Stenay, and why are two forests named after bear goddesses made part of de Sede's narrative, and who the help are the gang that keeps murdering off these Supermen, and why can't the Supermen protect themselves better? (For that matter, the head of Satan on the coat of arms of Stenay, with which the book begins, is never explained either.)

As the French themselves say, it gives one ferociously to think.

Treasure, Codes and Noon Blue Apples

In a later book, L'Or de Rennes-le-Chateau, de Sede does not answer any of these questions, but provides us with more wild theories and even more strange data. Briefly, a priest manuscripts in an old church in the Provencal town of Rennes-le-Chateau. (Like Stenay, the town with the head of Satan on its coat of arms, Rennes-le-Chateau was the home of a castle of the Merovingian dynasty, to which the murdered Dagobert II belonged.) You are going to love this if you have any sense of humor at all. De Sede does not decode the Sauniere parchments, but the code is so simple a child might guess it. The manuscripts have some letters raised above the others. Read these letters only and get the message found by the ingenious authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail.


The conjunction of Dagobert and Sion, of course, seems to authenticate the medieval origin the Priory claims for itself (although nobody, to my knowledge, has carbon-dated the Sauniere parchment, which might be a late forgery.) I cordially invite you make what you can of the rest of the secret message. Cabalists are especially likely to find something of interest in the 681. Others will be emotionally drawn to conjecture about the "daemon" and the "horse" (not house) of God. Personally, I am aesthetically fond of the noon blue apples as a topic for speculation when I can't get to sleep at night.....

The damned thing about this is that there may indeed have the priest who found the parchment, Father Sauniere, became quite wealthy by unknown means, and that has kept "the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau" a topic of keen interest among French conspiracy buffs and puzzle addicts for nearly a hundred years now.

Later, however, Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh were to offer another explanation of Father Sauniere's wealth. But I will come to that….

Surrealism and Catholic Traditionalism

This is as good a place as any to mention the short and undated Le Cercle d' Ulysse by Jean Delaude. This pamphlet does not bother us with demons, horses of God or frogs falling from the sky, and doesn't have a single noon blue apple. It states bluntly that the Priory of Sion is a conservative Catholic secret society devoted principally to the cause of making Archbishop Lefebvre the next Pope. Delaude also claims that the Grandmaster of the Priory is the Abbe Ducaud-Bourget (Lefebvre's leading disciple), who succeeded the surrealist poet Jean Cocteau, who had been Grandmaster until 1963. (Holy Blood, Holy Grail produces documentary evidence that Cocteau was indeed a Grandmaster of the Priory or, at least — one suspects everything at this point — that somebody did a good job of forging Cocteau's name on a Priory document.)

While the noon blue apples have a Cocteauean or surrealist flavor to them, it does appear that the Sauniere parchment really did exist at least as early as the 1890s, so I reject the theory proposed by my wife at this point, which is that the Priory is the last and greatest of all surrealist pranks. No: Cocteau may have given his own flavor to the enterprise, but the Priory clearly has a pre-Cocteau origin, even if it doesn't necessarily date back to copulation between ancient Benjaminites and UFOnauts from Sirius. (Still: it was Cocteau who said "The poet must always be a shady character" and "One must run faster than beauty, even if it seems one is running away from it." I find these remarks helpful in trying to intuit what the hell the Priory is really all about.)

As for Archbishop Lefebvre and the Abbe Ducaud-Bourget — linked to the Priory by Delaude, remember? — these are two extremely right-wing gentlemen indeed, leaders of what is called the Catholic Traditionalist movement, and many have not been shy about hurling the word "fascist" at them (Oddly, Lefebvre was a member of the pro-fascist Action Francaise group in the 1930s, but Ducaud-Bourget was part of the anti-Nazi resistance in the 1940s.) For our purposes Lefebvre and Ducaud-Bourget can be characterized as the leaders of that very conservative faction of the Catholic church, not yet excommunicated, which is in such total rebellion against the "Liberalism" (as they see it) of the Vatican that their lack of excommunication may be the most interesting (and enigmatic) thing about them.

Archbishop Lefebvre has long proclaimed that "Freemasons and Satanists" have taken over the Vatican, although that expression is a bit redundant in his case, since Catholic Traditionalism regards all Freemasons as Satanists (an opinion shared by some Protestant Fundamentalists). Abbe Ducaud-Bourget was the first of the many speculators to claim that the sudden death of Pope John Paul I (JP-I) was murder. Still, the Vatican tolerates these heretics within the Church. One of their British supporters told The Guardian newspaper that Lefebvre holds a "weapon" over the Vatican, but declined to say what the "weapon" was. Naturally, Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh think it has something to do with the sex life of Jesus.

Father Juan Krolm, the chap who tried to kill Pope John Paul II (JP-II) at Fatima a few years ago, was ordained and trained by Archbishop Lefebvre, but later became even more of an extremist. Amusingly, at his trial, Father Krohn said he had no guilt about trying to kill "the Antichrist" — his name for JP-II — and that the only shame in his life was what he called "sins of the flesh."

According to Father Malachi Martin, S.J. — another heretic — Archbishop Lefebvre was responsible for sending inflammatory documents to the previous Pope, JP-I (the one whose death has aroused more conspiracy theories than anybody's since that of John F. Kennedy). In The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church, Father Martin says this Lefebvre material included documentation of Freemasonic affiliations of various Cardinals, together with sexual scandal, including photos of some Vatican officials with their girl friends and others with their boy friends. Unless I misread him, Father Martin seems to imply that it is a strange coincidence that Pope John Paul I's death followed so quickly upon his receipt of this expose material from Archbishop Lefebvre.

Whatever one thinks of that speculation, and the claims about the "murder" of JP-I attributed to unnamed sources in Yallop's In God's Name, there is no doubt that Mino Pecorelli, editor of the expose newspaper L'Osservatore Politico, did send JP-I a list of P2 and Grand Loge Alpina members on the the staff of the Vatican Bank just before that Pontiff's sudden demise. What happened to Pecorelli leaves little room for speculation. He was shot dead on a street in Rome, quite definitely by professional assassins. If you must speculate, Signor Pecorelli was shot through the mouth — the sasso in bocca, traditional Mafia punishment for informers.

The Sex Life of the Late Redeemer

For the sake of the few who haven't read the much-discussed Holy Blood, Holy Grail, it is well to review a few of the counter-claims of the egregious work. The authors, Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh, argue that, while Paoli may have been an independent investigator, de Sede and Delaude appear to be members of the Priory of Sion and that their works are not intended to reveal much of the truth but just to arouse curiosity, controversy and mystery, and also to prepare the intellectual climate in France for whatever astounding political or religious revolution the Priory intends in the near future. Specifically, Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh claim there is no evidence that Archbishop Lefebvre and his right-wing crowd have any link with the Priory; they assert that that asserted linkage is a Priory joke at Lefebvre's expense. They also reject the extraterrestrial yarn, and replace it with their own lovely yarn that the Priory is descended from Jesus and his unacknowledged bride, Mary Magdalene.

It is worth mentioning at this point that the alleged romantic alliance between Jesus and Magdalene is not the invention of Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh. The Gnostic gospels — all as early and historically as plausible as the orthodox gospels — imply such a relationship several times, and Jesus is described as kissing Magdalene romantically in one celebrated text. It is also true that celibacy was regarded by orthodox Jews of Jesus's time much as it is regarded in the post-Freudian world of today : namely, as a rather kinky, unmanly and somewhat reverse life-style. Finally, Jesus is called "Rabbi" even in the orthodox gospels and no man could be a rabbi in orthodox Judea at that time who was not married. These facts are well known to occultists and freethinkers and have even been discussed, albeit gingerly, by a few liberal Christian theologians. What is unique about Holy Blood, Holy Grail is the claim that the offspring of Jesus and his bride are alive and among us today; but even that has a kind of precedent. That odd little cult, the British Israelites, have always claimed that the royal family of England is descended from the House of David — although they never claimed the descent was by way of Jesus, of course.

The shock that orthodox Christians feel at the concept of Jesus as husband and father is distinctly odd in historical perspective. The leaders of the other major patriarchal religions — Zoroaster, Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius — were all family men. As for the pagan gods: some were family men, but some were also notorious fornicators. Christian sex-denial is a very strange and eccentric departure from the norms of world religion, in which fertility is generally considered sacred and venerated as one of the main manifestations of divine grace and beauty.

Be that as it may, at this point two suspicions cross a mind as baroque as mine. First, if certain books in French may be Priory propaganda disguised to look like outside investigations, as Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh claim, could their own Holy Blood, Holy Grail be more such propaganda, similarly disguised? And second, why do the authors, like de Sede, drag in many subjects which do not fit their own solution to the mysteries? Are they hinting or blandly raising smoke screens or are they just disorganized in their thinking? (For instance, they spend almost as much space as de Sede on the bear-goddesses of Greece and France, but this has no logical connection with their Jesus/Magdalene theory any more than it has with de Sede's Sirius theory. They also spend a lot of time on Poussin's painting, The Shepherds of Arcadia, without ever really explaining its importance, although I think perhaps they are hinting that the grave in the painting is that of the son of Jesus and Magdalene, who evidently died in Rennes-le-Chateau in southern France. )

Concretely, at least Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh did manage to get an interview with a member of the Priory of Sion, and one who even admitted he was the Grandmaster of the whole lodge. This was the shadowy Pierre Plantard de Saint-Clair whom some of you may remember co-managed the Committee for Public Safety (under de Gaulle) from the office where the Priory's magazine, Circuit, was published. M. Plantard was marvelously esoteric in his conversation with Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh. He neither confirmed nor denied their theory that he is descended from Jesus and Magdalene. He explained that the "treasure" in the Father Sauniere parchment was "spiritual" rather than "material" and added the helpful (or deliberately obscure) comment that this spiritual treasure "belongs to Israel" and will be returned there "at the proper time."

Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh think the "treasure" is the royal bloodline of David and Jesus, which flows in the veins of M. Plantard and his young son….

Bankers, Anarchists and the Hollow Earth

Since Holy Blood, Holy Grail appeared in 1981, Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh brought forth in England, in 1986, The Messianic Legacy, a book which attempts to support their Jesus/Magdalene bloodline theory with more evidence, most of it speculative. (As I was about to mail this off to the editors of GNOSIS, I learned that this book has just been published in the U.S. by Henry Holt & Co.) Naturally, some further tidbits come to light. Pierre Plantard de Saint-Clair gave these intrepid researchers several more interviews, all hermetic at best and downright dishonest at worst; then he abruptly announced that he had resigned as Grandmaster of the Priory and was not allowed to inform them of the name of his successor.

The door, in short, was closed in the faces of the investigators and they were left out in the cold trying to make what they could out of the gnomic utterances M. Plantard had granted them. Some of his leads, however, did allow them to document, rather convincingly, that the Priory of Sion is not an exclusively French/Swiss product but has powerful branches in England and the U.S., seemingly linked to parts of the banking industry…which reminds one of Paoli's linkage between the Priory and Swiss banking, leading to grubby and sordid notions of what sort of mystery we are actually exploring here.

For those who find International Banking Conspiracies too corny (or too right wing), there is always the alternative of Michael Lamy's Jules Verne: Initiate et Initateur (1984). According to M. Lamy, Verne was not only an initiate of the Priory of Sion but of the Bavarian Illuminati as well, and the Priory itself is, in many respects, a regrouping and a new false front for the Illuminati. The Priory's politics are Orleanist, which Lamy clarifies as "aristocratic-anarchistic" — i.e. Nietzschean. (Think of Verne's characteristic heroes.) The real delight, however, is the secret of Rennes-le-Chateau, the mysterious town where Father Sauniere found the parchment about Dagobert, Sion, the treasure and those noon blue apples, and where there is a grave that looks like the one in Poussin's enigmatic painting.

The secret is — ready? — that the earth is hollow, of course, (didn't you always suspect it?) and that in a Church at Rennes-le-Chateau is a secret door leading down to the underworld, which is inhabited by a race of immortal superhumans. You see? Verne hinted at this, various times, in several of his novels.

Actually, the church mentioned by Lamy really exists and even if nobody else has found the hidden door leading down to the hollow earth, it is certainly one of the weirdest churches in Christendom. Among other things, it has a motto over the door saying "THIS PLACE IS TERRIBLE." It also has, among the Stations of the Cross, one showing a child clad in what might be Scottish plaid among the crowd watching Jesus carry his cross. Another Station can be interpreted as showing conspirators removing the late Redeemer from the grave during the night, as if to fake the Resurrection. You will be delighted to know that this church is officially dedicated to Mary Magdalene.

Father Sauniere, who was responsible for these un-Papist details of decor, was a member of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light in Paris, a group which at various times also included Gerard Encausse and Aleister Crowley. Encausse, under the pen-name "Papus," wrote one of the most influential modern books on Tarot; he later went to Russia and became involved with the mystic Rasputin who wielded considerable influence on the Czar and his family before the Russian Revolution. Crowley wrote another influential book on Tarot and became Outer Head of the Ordo Templi Orientis, a secret society almost as inexplicable (to outsiders) as the Priory of Sion. Curiously, both the Priory and the O.T.O. are linked, by various commentators, with the Knights Templar, the medieval secret society which is also claimed to be the origin of Freemasonry by many Masonic historians.

The Illuminati and the Knights of Malta

I'm sorry, but at this point I cannot resist throwing in one of those odd coincidences that I keep stumbling upon in researching secret societies. Holy Blood, Holy Grail claims, with some evidence, that Father Saunier's weird church in Rennes-le Chateau (near an old Knights Templar fortification, by the way) was built with monies the eccentric priest received from the Archduke Ferdinand von Hapsburg (who, they also claim, gave the other money that led the town to believe Sauniere had found a treasure). A hundred years earlier, the Emperor Joseph von Hapsburg legalized Freemasonry in Austria, abolished Catholic schools which he replaced with modern secular (or non-denominational) schools and was the hero of Beethoven's first major work, the Emperor Joeseph Cantata, in which he is hailed as "bringer of light" and "foe of darkness and superstition." According to Maynard Solomon's biography, Beethoven, the Illuminati paid Ludwig to write that bit of music propaganda for the von Hapsburg "Illuminated Monarch" (as he was often called). It almost makes one wonder if the von Hapsburgs are kingpins in some occult group at least two centuries old, as the Priorty books imply.

Of course, Holy Blood, Holy Grail includes genealogies which allege that the von Hapsburgs are descended from Jesus and Mary Magdalene. However, the connection is through Dagobert and the Merovingians, so if you would rather believe de Sede's thesis, the von Hapsburgs are actually descended from ancient Hebrews and extraterrestrials from Sirius. Whichever theory you prefer, or even if you doubt both of them, it is interesting that the von Hapsburgs have held the honorary title of Kings of Jerusalem for nearly 800 years.

The current scion of the clan, Dr. Otto von Hapsburg, is President of the League for the United States of Europe, a group which has played a large role in creating the European parliament and is steadily working toward greater unity between the European nations. He is also a member of — hold your breath — the Bilderbergers, which gives him two odd links with Bernhard of the Netherlands. Prince Bernhard was the founder and prime mover behind the Bilderberger society, and the same Prince Bernhard is, according to the Baigent-Lincoln-Leigh genealogies, descended from Merovingian kings and hence from either Jesus or those ancient astronauts from Sirius.

On the other hand, Dr. von Hapsburg is known as a fervent anti-Conununist and is a Knight of Malta — i.e. an officer of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM), the most right-wing of all Catholic secret societies.

Other known members of SMOM have included Franz von Papen (the man who persuaded President von Hindenberg to make Hitler the Chancellor of Germany), William Casey (the CIA chief who died during the Irangate hearings), General Richard Gehlen (Hitler's Chief of Intelligence who later became director of covert operations in Soviet Russia for the CIA), General Alexander Haig, Alexandre de Marenches (former chief of French intelligence), William F. Buckley Jr., Clare Booth Luce (who was, of course, a Dame, rather than a Knight, of Malta), Licio Gelli (founder of the P2 conspiracy which laundered cocaine money for the CIA's favorite Latin American dictators by way of the Cisalpine Overseas Bank whose board of directors included Vatican bank chief Bishop Paul Marcinkus), the late Roberto Calvi of Banco Ambrosiano, who co-owned the Cisalpine Bank and was so mysteriously found hanging from a bridge in London on June 18, 1982, and the late Michele Sindona, lawyer for the Mafia and manager of Vatican financial affairs in the U.S., who was convicted of 65 counts of bank fraud in New York, convicted of murdering a bank examiner in Rome, and died in prison while awaiting trial on further charges relating to the P2 bombings in Italy in the 1970s. (See Lernoux's In Banks We Trust for details on P2, the CIA and the banking industry. See Covert Action Information Bulletin No. 25, Winter 1986 for more on SMOM and its role as Vatican secret police.) English journalist Gordon Thomas claims, in The Year of Armageddon, that the Knights of Malta serve as couriers between the Vatican and the CIA.

Lest the naive begin to think all this makes some kind of sense in terms of a rational paradigm involving Catholic and other conservative interests plotting to accomplish rational political-economic goals that seem desirable to them, every part of this jigsaw except the Knights of Malta is hostile to the Vatican and has often been officially condenmed by the Vatican. The Illuminati, the Ordo Templi Orientis, the Hermetic Botherhood of Light, P2, and the Priory of Sion are all included in the Vatican's general condemnation (reiterated for over 200 years now) against all Freemasonic lodges. All of these occult offshoots of Masonry seem to include in their systems certain Hermetic and Sufic ideas that have been condemned as heresy by the Vatican, and the books I have summarized seem to demonstrate that all these secret societies wish to replace the Vatican with some form of mystic Christianity with distinctly gnostic overtones.

Jungian and Rastafarian Connections?

The Cult of the Black Virgin, by Ean Begg, leads us further from clarity and deeper, much deeper, into the murk. To begin with, Begg's biography on the back of the book informs us that he is a former Dominican monk and currently a Jungian psychotherapist — a suggestive background for a man who has written the most philosophically dense Priory of Sion book to appear thus far. Basically, Begg deals with one of the great unsolved mysteries in European archaeology and in Catholic history — the existence of well over 400 statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary in European churches, in which "the Mother of God" (as Catholics call her) is clearly and unambigously depicted as Black or Negroid.

Of course, the disciples of Marcus Garvey in general, and the Rastafarians in particular, argue that Jesus and his family (and the ancient Israelites in general) were Black; but these statues are not a Rastafarian propaganda project. Most of the Black Virgins in European churches have existed for several hundred years and some seemingly have been around since at least the birth of Christianity. You will not be surprised to learn that Ean Begg atributes them to the Priory of Sion, which he holds is at least as old as the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail claimed in their wildest passages.

Why did the Priory go around planting evidence that Jesus's mother was Black? If they wanted to implant some proto-Rastafarian racial doctrines about "God's chosen people" being Black, why didn't they make Jesus and Joseph and the disciples Black, too, while they were about it? Begg does not answer these questions. In fact, he does not answer any questions, but raises more questions instead. He spends a lot of time quoting familiar arguments that the Black Virgins were originally idols of the Egyptian goddess, Isis, which the Christians co-opted; but he shows that this doesn't explain all the Black Virgins, many of which were created in recent centuries and not imported from Egypt.

Begg goes on to give us an especially tender version of Jung's theory of the Anima — the Ideal Female image in every male psyche — and tells us legends in which Isis and Mary Magdalene function as incarnations of the Anima. He seems to be hinting at the theory that Magdalene was the wife of Jesus, but he never states that explicitly. He also implies, repeatedly, that the Black Virgins are not Virgins at all but portray Magdalene, an aspect of the Anima which he suggests a more important to Western man than the Virgin archetype. Many digressions deal with the Tarot, which Begg tries to persuade us is chiefly a guide to the inner mysteries of the Priory of Sion. (Encausse and Crowley, members of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light which included Father Sauniere, were also authorities on the Tarot.)

After taking us all around Robin Hood's barn, Begg leaves us with two strong impressions or hints: we need to understand Jung and we need to understand Sufism. Somehow, Jung, who considered himself a Gnostic, and Sufism, which some claim is an Eastern branch of Gnosticism, are the true keys to the Black Virgins and to the Priory of Sion's ultimate mission on this planet. Many hints seem to imply broadly that Begg writes not as an outsider but as an initiate of the Priory's mysteries.

It is of some interest that Begg confirms the claim of the new book by Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh (The Messianic Legacy) that M. Plantard de Saint-Clair is no longer the Grandmaster of the Priory of Sion and that the identity of the current Grandmaster is not to be revealed to the profane.

Atlantis and the Vagina of Nuit

The latest and most remarkable book in this whole bizarre area is Genisis by David Wood. That is not a misprint but a Joycean or hermetic pun; we are back again to the Magdalene-Isis connection. Wood is the kind of writer who usually deals with ley lines, and he has gone over the area around Rennes-le-Chateau drawing lines and making diagrams like a pixillated Pythagoras. What he has found is that the Church of Mary Magdalene is connected in a complex pattern with every other major church or primitive megalith in the area and the lines connecting them make up a pattern which Mr. Wood calls "the vagina of Nuit." It looks about as much like a vagina to me as Ronald Reagan looks like the Guggenheim Museum in New York; but I am of the cynical school of cartographers who believe any seven spots can be connected into a ley-line pattern if you use a small enough map and a thick enough pencil. Mr. Wood, however finds staggering revelations in the genitalia of this early Egyptian sky-goddess.

It is impossible to give a coherent account of the argument of Genisis for the same reason it is hopeless to try to explain Dali's Debris of on Automobile Giving Birth to a Blind Horse Biting a Telephone a Rationalist. Isis is one aspect of the Earth Mother, and Nuit is another aspect, and for some reason the Knights Templar, who were accused of sodomy by the Church, did not really commit sodomy but instead cut off their penises and saved them in special chalices (for reasons that make sense to Mr. Wood but not to me), and this somehow or other proves that France was originally colonized from Atlantis, and the human race as a whole (not just some royal families) is of partly extraterrestrial origin, having been the product of interbreeding between proto-humans and the Space Brothers who appear as the sons of God in Genesis, and the genetic engineer who raised us above the animal to the human level got himself included in the Bible, much maligned, as Satan, and…well, it gets wilder and hairier as it goes along.

For what it is worth, I can comment that Aleister Crowley — once a member of the same Hermetic Brotherhood of Light that included Father Sauniere — believed that the world was astrologically predestined to experience a revival of the worship of Nuit. Crowley also believed any vagina was the vagina of Nuit to a Tantric magician who knew how to turn his beloved into an incarnation of the goddess. Crowley's sexmagick, however, did not involve amputating the penis but rather prolonging coitus to the state of hypnoidal trance. Nuit was also Black, like the mysterious "Virgins" in Ean Begg's book. And de Sede hinted, way back in La Race Fabuleuse, that the head of Satan on the coat of arms of Stenay is somehow crucial to the Priory of Sion mystery.

And the Beat Goes on…

Before attempting to conclude or summarize all this, I have two personal anecdotes to add to the tale. The first is a report from Frederic Lehrman, the dean of Nomad University in Seattle, who visited Rennes-le-Chateau a year ago and looked over some of the sites mentioned in the Priory literature. Lehrman met a young man who was also interested in the whole mystery and who had made a major discovery. He had actually found a hidden sheaf of papers, inside a hollow statue in the Temple of Magdalene (or so he said.)

The papers were not in code, like those found by Fathe Sauniere in the 1890s and they did not deal with Merovingian kings or noon blue apples. They were stories from a German newspaper dated 1904 and did not refer in any way to any of the subjects connected to the Priory in any previous literature.

Perhaps some joker placed those old German news clippings in the statue to bewilder the next researcher. (But how would a casual joker guess that a statue was hollow?) Perhaps the Priory did it as another of their merry pranks. Perhaps there really is some deep code in those news stories and the young man will find it reveals the secret of the Alchemical Furnace or who shot Kennedy, or where Moses was when the light went out, or something like that.

My second anecdote is even more ambiguous. At a seminar in Hof-am-Frankenwald in Bavaria — the old stomping grounds of the Illuminati — I actually met a man who I'll call Fritz, who was a member of the Priory of Sion (or so he alleged). He came from Holland and was very much the Amsterdam New Age type, which is not unlike the Marin County New Age type. He told me that all the books on the Priory were inaccurate and that the true initiates of the Prior found them all hilariously silly.

On the grounds that maybe Fritz really was a member of the Priory of Sion and not a put-on artist, I paid very close attention to everything he said during the seminar week-end. He was pro-Green (in Europe that means ecological, decentralist and anti-Marxist radical.) He was keen on space colonies, negative on life extension, shared the Bucky Fuller-Werner Erhard-Bob Geldorf vision that we can abolish starvation in this generation, and seemed unconvincing (to me) when agreeing with some local Theosophists about the evils of psychedelic drugs. He used the word "pneumocracy" to describe his ideal society and explained that this means "rule by the Spirit." (That we are entering the age of rule by the Spirit was the "heresy" of Joachim of Fiore, 13th century founder of a stream of radical millenarianism in Europe.) All of Fritz's attitudes would seem to be typical of what I know of left-wing occult Freemasonry in Continental Europe.

Due to my unfortunate sense of humor and my inclination to mischief, I tried a little test on Fritz when the weekend was over. When I shook his hand, I formed a certain series of grips and whispered a formula I shall here hide behind the metathesis, "Bob Saw Jupiter's Moons." He looked startled and responded with the correct counter-sign and the words I shall disguise as "Tuba Concerto." I cannot say more about this for reasons of discretion, but I can vouch for Fritz's initiation into one of the higher levels of orthodox Freemasonry or else into one of the "occult" Freemasonic lodges that share these grips and magick formulae. This adds some credibility to his claim of membership in the Priory of Sion, or at least to some personal knowledge of the Priory. (Even if he belonged to a different occult lodge, those grips would entitle him to visit in any occult Freemasonic lodge on the Continent, and would probably get him into Priory meetings.)

In conclusion, I think we have a high B.S. factor in all the public revelations about the Priory of Sion. I offer five alternative theories which all make sense to me at various times, although I am far from totally convinced by any of them.

  1. The Priory is a left-wing occult group in the tradition of the Grand Orient lodge and the Illuminati. Its intent is to overthrow the political power of the Vatican and recreate Gnostic Christianity. Its long-range politics (within this model) are still mysterious. Gnostic cults have varied from theocratic autocracy and downright tyranny to Dionysian and or Discordian anarchism.
  2. The Priory is, like P2 in Italy, actually a front for the Sovereign Military order of Malta (SMOM). Its function is to serve as another Vatican secret police organization and pretend to be Freemasonic, so that if the members are caught in any high crimes the Freemasons will be blamed instead of the Knights of Malta. (This actually seems to have worked in Italy. Although the ringleaders of P2 — Gelli, Calvi, Sindona — were all Knights of Malta, hardly anybody knows that who hasn't researched P2 thoroughly, and most people think of P2 as "a Freemasonic conspiracy.")
  3. The Priory really is a front for Archbishop Lefebvre and Catholic Traditionalism. It intends to abolish Liberalism, Rationalism, Socialism and Modernism in general, and usher us back into the medieval world of an absolute Papacy and no more danmed heretics anywhere. All the seeming evidence that appears to contradict this is part of a smoke screen and intended to dupe those who would not otherwise cooperate in such a reactionary program.
  4. The Priory is made up of Totally Enlightened Beings who happen to be very rich bankers and love art and artists. They enjoy playing mindfuck games on other, un-Enlightened financiers and on groups that imagine they are Enlightened but aren't.
  5. What we have here is just another commercial "conspiracy," or "affinity group," with an unusually Continental flavor of art and culture about it. Cocteau's membership seems well documented; almost as well documented is that of Claude Debussy, the composer; Malraux could hardly have been ignorant of what was going on in the office he shared with Pierre Plantard de Saint-Clair. By and large, Continental politicians and businessmen are more "cultured" and "intellectual" than their American counterparts, and think it prestigious rather than "queer" to have artists among their friends: Europe does not share the American delusion that artistic/philosophical interests are unmasculine and make one unfit for positions of power. The Priory of Sion might be what the Bohemian Club could have become if America's ruling class were not terrified that any intellectual interests on their part would make them look like "sissies." In short, the Priory could be a club of rich and powerful men who also enjoy occult and historical romanticizing: the aristocratic equivalent of the Society for Creative Anachronism or Dungeons and Dragons.

Whichever theory you prefer, or if you like a sixth theory of your own, the whole Priory of Sion saga seems to shed a new and (I would say) surrealist or psychedelic light on the famous remark by Ishmael Reed: "The history of the world is the history of the warfare between secret societies."

Robert Anton Wilson is the author of numerous books including the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, The New Inquisition, and Cosmic Trigger (Falcon Press, Los Angeles CA).