The Holy Grail legends written during the Middle Ages in Europe were the first to reveal that the Knights Templar were the true and eternal Guardians of the Holy Grail. This notion was initially popularized by a knight, Wolfram von Eschenbach, who in A.D. 1200 made it public record in Parzival, the most comprehensive and compelling rendition of the grail legend ever written. In addition to this revelation regarding the Templars, Eschenbach also proclaimed in his magnum opus that the Holy Grail could be something other than a chalice or platter (he claimed it was a stone), and that the original legend of the Holy Grail came not from the West but from the East. Eschenbach was explicit on this latter point, stating that the incipient author of the grail legend was Flegetanis, an astrologer from the ancient Middle East, perhaps Babylonia, who “found it in the stars.”
Thus, with Knight Eschenbach the world became suddenly well-informed that the Knights Templar were guardians of a Holy Grail, although their grail may or may not have been a chalice. The world also learned that the Templars apparently acquired their Holy Grail during their two hundred years in the East because that is the direction of the incipient Holy Grail mysteries. Eschenbach’s insightful revelations proved to be fodder for a host of other grail questions that have emerged since the publication of Parzival, including: “Who were the Templars’ Holy Grail teachers and benefactors in the Middle East?” Although the answer to this question has always been known in certain occult circles, it was not until very recently that the Sufi Idries Shah made it public knowledge.
In The Sufis, published in the 1960s, Shah disclosed that many of the Templars’ early mentors were the Sufis, the enlightened adepts of Islam who had previously accompanied the Moslem juggernaut in its march to eastern Asia and then returned to the Middle East with hundreds of exotic scrolls and mysteries related to alchemy and the Holy Grail mysteries. Apparently, from the moment King Baldwin II gave the Templars the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount to reside within and administer, the knights had been in frequent contact with Sufi adepts, including many members of the Al-banna, the Masonic Sufi Order that built the nearby Dome of the Rock. Shah’s information has since been found to be supported by credible historical sources, such as signed treaties, that indicate that the knights were indeed allied with many fringe Sufi sects, some of which are known to have taught occult alchemy and the Holy Grail mysteries.
One such “Holy Grail” sect was the Assassins, a mystery order founded by the Sufi Hasan-i-Sabah, a renowned alchemist from Persia. The Persian Assassins, who often allied with the Templars against a common foe, such as Saladin, acquired the Holy Grail mysteries from Cairo’s “House of Wisdom,” a Sufi mystery academy of which Hasan had been an initiate, as well as from their Persian forebears. For thousands of years, a tradition had existed in Persia regarding ancient alchemists and Narts, or “Knights,” who had dedicated their lives to finding the Nartmongue, or Holy Grail, while in the service of certain Persian kings, such as King Key-Khosrow of the 19th century B.C. The Templars no doubt learned much from the Assassins and other Sufis, but we also know that there was at least one important non-Sufi “Holy Grail” influence that influenced the Templars.
In the 19th century, it became public record through the works of various European Knights and occultists, such as Eliphas Levi, that while in the Middle East the Knights Templar had been initiated into a Johannite or Holy Grail lineage of spiritual adepts that originated in the East and included in its ranks such illustrious spiritual giants as John the Baptist, Jesus, and John the Apostle. When the Templars were formed, the first Templar Grand Master, Hughes de Payen, was initiated into this Holy Grail lineage as its sixty-eighth Grand Master. Then, from that time onward, the ancient Holy Grail lineage became synonymous with the Templars and each Templar Grand Master became the principal patron and Guardian of the Holy Grail. Thus, if the Templars were indeed in the possession of a Holy Grail it was no doubt acquired from this ancient lineage. But what form did their Holy Grail take? Was it a secret, a power, or an object? And from where in the East did it and the Holy Grail mysteries originate?
In order to trace the roots of the Holy Grail mysteries to their source we must begin with John the Baptist, the Western founder of the Holy Grail lineage that the Templars inherited, and then move backwards in time. Records show that John the Baptist was part of a lineage of Holy Grail masters known as the Mandean Nasurai that did indeed originate in the East. This lineage began its journey on the paradisaical island of Sri Lanka before traveling west and eventually settling on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in southern Iraq. Thus, for the Mandeans, Sri Lanka was the Garden of Eden, a notion that has also been promoted by certain world religions, such as Islam, which in addition recognizes the island as the home of the Water of Life or Fountain of Youth.
In order to prove their assertion that Sri Lanka was indeed the Garden of Eden and the original land of immortality, both Sufis and Mandeans maintain that Adam’s footprint can still be found on the summit of Adam’s Peak, the second highest mountain on the island. Here, after a very arduous climb, one can find a small temple enclosing Adam’s five-foot-long footprint set in stone, which according to local legend was exactly where God placed him before Adam descended the mountain and walked eastward in the direction of the Water of Life. Adam’s journey eventually took him to a place now known as Kataragama, which became his home. Thus, Kataragama can be considered a possibility for being the location of the Eden scenario described in Genesis that involved Adam, Eve, and the wily Serpent on the tree. Such a radical notion is, surprisingly, supported by a growing body of evidence, not the least of which is that Kataragama is today an international holy temple shrine where Moslems, Hindus, and Buddhists all worship a deity whose forms include that of a snake or serpent. Was this deity the original serpent on the tree?
Today, a visitor to Kataragama can find its principal deity addressed by many names, some of which ostensibly identify it as being the serpent on the tree. Such names include the Hindu Skanda, a “snake” epithet that wraps itself around the root word Can or Kan, the universal sound syllable for “serpent.” The Hindus also invoke the Kataragama deity as Jnana Pandita, meaning the “Instructor” or “Teacher of Jnana” (gnostic wisdom). This, of course, was certainly not the function of the serpent on the tree according to the standard Christian or Jewish interpretation of Genesis, but it was definitely an understanding promulgated within the early heretical Gnostic sects that populated the Middle East and Egypt during the first centuries after Christ. These mystics claimed that the Serpent on the Tree had been sent down to Eden by his mother, the beneficent Goddess Sophia, to teach all humans gnosis, i.e., the truth of their divine nature. Because of his pivotal service of revealing gnostic truth to humanity the Gnostics were known to refer to the serpent on the tree as humankind’s original “Instructor” of truth and “Savior.” If not for him, the path to enlightenment would not exist for us today.
Were the Gnostics right? Did the serpent on the tree really reveal to Adam and Eve their divine natures? Perhaps another branch of gnostics, the gnostic yogis of India, can shed some light on this mystery. They maintain that the serpent on the tree in the Garden of Eden was both an actual human entity of ancient times who taught the secrets of the Holy Grail to humanity, but it was also a metaphorical symbol for the Kundalini serpent that coils upon a human’s spine, the “Tree of Life,” while bestowing upon him or her both immortality and gnosis. As it ascends the spine, state the yogis, the Kundalini serpent “teaches” a human gnosis by activating certain psychic centers or chakras that are positioned along it. Once the Kundalini serpent reaches the head it precipitates complete gnosis or intuitive understanding of a person’s true, divine nature.
When speaking of him as an ancient human entity, the yogis identify the serpent on the tree as the Kataragama deity himself, whom they venerate as the first teacher of the “Siddha Marga,” the path of enlightenment. To them, he was the first Kundalini Master, the first teacher of Yoga, and the first Instructor of Gnosis. In order to perpetuate his work and enable future generations of humans to achieve gnosis and immortality, the yogis contend that the ancient Kataragama deity founded numerous lineages of Kundalini masters, most of which went north into India and continue to exist there today within a multitude of yoga sects. But, as previously mentioned, he also founded an alternate Kundalini lineage that was taken west by the Nasurai Mandeans and gave rise to the Western Holy Grail tradition. According to E. S. Lady Drower, a British woman who lived for years among the Mandeans in their current settlements in southern Iraq during the early decades of the 20th century, after leaving the island of Sri Lanka the sect of Man-deans traveled west and became sequentially assimilated into the Sumerian, Egyptian, and Persian cultures, before finally merging with the highly spiritual Jewish Essene tradition. Within this branch of Judaism the Mandeans formed a sect of adepts known as the Nasoreans or Nazarenes, a term which according to the Gnostic Gospels denoted “those of true wisdom.” It was within this sect that the Mandean prophet John the Baptist and his cousin Jesus Christ were born. The Nasurai Baptist, who preceded Jesus and served as his teacher, went on to become the official founder of the Gnostic tradition and Holy Grail lineage in the west. His transference of Kundalini, the Holy Grail power of the lineage, to his disciple Jesus occurred during his student’s baptism in the River Jordan when the white dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit (a Western term for Kundalini), descended on Jesus with “lightning upon it.”
John the Apostle and Mary Magdalene became Jesus’ successors in the ancient Holy Grail lineage, and afterwards they served as patron and patroness of many fledgling Gnostic sects. John’s symbol, a chalice from which emerges a snake or dragon, symbolized his exalted position as a Holy Grail Grand Master. He was the chalice full of serpentine Kundalini power, i.e., a human Holy Grail. Mary’s distinguishing symbol became a human skull, the gnostic symbol of the death and spiritual rebirth one experiences on the Kundalini or Holy Grail path to immortality.
After John the Divine the Holy Grail lineage continued for another thousand years until the time of the Templars. When it finally passed to Hughes de Payen, the first Templar Grand Master, the Templar Knights became the eternal Guardians of the Holy Grail. This transformative power, they learned, was the true Holy Grail. It can surround and interpenetrate an object, thus making it a “Holy Grail,” but the true Holy Grail is the Kundalini/Holy Spirit power an object or person possesses, not the object itself. In most cases, the Holy Grail power of a recognized Holy Grail object had been infused into it by a human Holy Grail, like Jesus, who had touched it or somehow transferred his or her spiritual power into it.
When the Templars returned to Europe they began authoring numerous renditions of the Holy Grail legend within which they discreetly inserted the Holy Grail mysteries. Their texts proved that any object could be a Holy Grail, and they enumerated a few of its forms, including a stone, a spear, a platter, a book, a cup, etc. They also referred to the founder of the Holy Grail path, the ancient Kataragama deity, as both the first Fisher King and as the primal knight, St. George, the patron of the Templars. The Kundalini power was often identified in the texts as the Holy Spirit dove, but it was also personified as the demonic-looking Kundry, who assisted in the transformation of Percival during his quest to find the Holy Grail.
The Templars’ gnostic practices eventually led to their mass arrest and torture on Friday 13, 1307. But unbeknownst to their persecutors, most Templars escaped from France and continued the observance of their Holy Grail mysteries in other European countries. In Britain, for example, they incorporated many of their gnostic rites and secrets into fledgling Freemasonry while placing the craft under the patronage of the Holy Grail masters John the Baptist and John the Apostle. In England, the Templar ritual of drinking wine from a human skull while toasting to their patron John the Baptist was incorporated into the rite of the 13th and final degree of the York Rite of Freemasonry, the Knight Templar degree. In Scotland, the Templars’ gnostic and alchemical rites were infused into the 17th and 18th degrees of the Scottish Rite. In the 17th degree, the degree of the Knight of East and West, the initiation ceremony was conducted by a “warden” acting the role of John the Baptist, while entrance into the 18th degree, the Knight of the Rose Croix, involved a rite that mirrored one the Templars themselves had undergone when they anciently became “Knights of the Rose Cross.” The fiery red rose, which denoted the fiery kundalini and the alchemical unfoldment that occurs under its inspiration, was the symbol of not only the Templars but many Holy Grail sects of Europe that evolved from or were influenced by the knights, including the Rosicrucians, the Illuminati, the Royal Order of Heredom, the Order of the Garter, and the OTO.
But while much of the Templars’ gnostic wisdom has been either lost or disguised since 1307, many researchers currently believe that their Holy Grail wisdom exists in its purity as an abundance of priceless texts hidden deep within certain Templar chapels and crypts, such as Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, which they refer to as the Chapel of the Holy Grail. The Sinclair builders of Rosslyn were intimately associated with the Templars from the order’s beginning, and they became the preservers of its gnostic wisdom. Thus, as we decipher the images lining the walls of Rosslyn Chapel and eventually open its crypt, perhaps the true wisdom and power of the Holy Grail mysteries from the East will again emerge.
Mark Amaru Pinkham is the author of Guardians of the Holy Grail: The Knights Templar, John the Baptist and The Water of Life. Mark currently serves as the North American Grand Prior of the International Order of Gnostic Templars (www.GnosticTemplars.org), a division of the Scottish Knight Templars dedicated to reviving the Goddess and Gnostic rites and wisdom of the original Knights Templar. Mark and the IOGT will be hosting a Holy Grail conference in Glastonbury and tours to both England and Scotland in July, 2007. Visit www.HolyGrailConference.com for more information.