…But You Have Made it a Den of Thieves
Oct 24, 2004
Author: Blair MacKenzie Blake and Danny Carey
Like many people, we were first introduced to the mysteries of Rennes-le-Chateau after acquiring a copy of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the international bestseller in which the authors presented their controversial hypothesis of a secret bloodline descended from Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Although we subsequently read everything we could find on the subject, it wasn’t until early in March of 1994 that one of us (Danny Carey) had an opportunity to visit the tiny Pyrenean village that has become the focal point of the mystery - a mystery which also involved the apparent discovery by an impoverished though flamboyant priest of a fabulous treasure connected with the Visigoths, Merovingians, and medieval Knights Templar.
On a day off in the midst of a European tour, he and the other members of his band, Tool, had decided to make the two hour-plus drive from the venue in the South of France to check out for themselves the place that so intrigued their drummer. Arriving on a gray afternoon they found the narrow streets empty of its few dozen residents, save for a single inhabitant whose silent scrutiny made them feel more like trespassers than welcome tourists. Undaunted, they proceeded towards the church (with its now familiar devil that greets visitors to what Robert Anton Wilson has called the priest’s “theological funhouse”) only to find, much to their disappointment, that it was closed on this particular day. Was this due to the “occult” graffiti that had been crudely spray-painted in black on its ornate wooden door they wondered? Wandering around the grounds they soon saw further evidence of this vandalism, the same “visiting card” defacing a statue of the crucified Jesus as well as the entrance to the churchyard cemetery. Besides a possible cryptic allusion to January 17 (5+6=11+7, or 1, 17), a recurrent date in the Rennes puzzle, this offered no additional clues as to the nature or whereabouts of the treasure. So without a ticket to the domaine de l’abbe Sauniere or any shovels in the trunk of the rental car for illegal excavating, Danny and his band mates just looked around, content for the time being with the spectacular view of the green valleys below.
During a summer vacation in France the following year, Danny made another reconnaissance trip to the hilltop village, but it wasn’t until March of 1999 that I, along with a couple of friends, accompanied him to this place of such mystery.
On this trip there would be plenty of time to explore, not only the church’s eccentric decorations, but also the surrounding countryside with its ruined chateaux, structured landscape and pentagonal geometry which is considered of great import for hopeful treasure hunters.
Each morning we would drive the 25 miles from our “base” in Carcassonne before going off in search of places on our list of priorities: those associated with the Rennes affair such as “The Poussin Tomb”, “The Black Spot” and “The Devil’s Armchair”, all of which we were to find with relative ease, including the ancient ruins of researcher David Wood’s (Genisis) “Place of the Seed.” After hiking for the better part of the day, we would return to the village for tea at the Blue Apple Cafe, during which time we noticed that there was quite a bit of activity around the church. Evidently it was undergoing major repairs, and outside there were deep, open trenches with workers replacing the existing sewer lines. Or were they? One of our friends is a building contractor with a great deal of knowledge and experience with such projects. (Note: He was there to take precise measurements of the neo-Gothic tower featured on the best-selling postcards of the village.) On afternoons as he watched the work crew, being as inconspicuous as possible, he began to have some doubts as to what they were really doing. Yet, in this place where one’s suspicions are no doubt magnified, we were never able to determine whether or not the workers were merely repairing sewer pipes or if, in fact, they were looking for something, perhaps digging for the entrance to a tunnel complex under the church.
Over tea (or wine) we speculated on the various possible solutions to Abbe Sauniere’s inexplicable wealth. For us, the idea of a legendary treasure undisturbed for over a thousand years even though its secret location was known by select individuals and chivalric organizations entrusted to guard it didn’t seem a likely candidate (although, admittedly, an abandoned mine - that is, one long depleted of its mineral riches, did seem like a good place to deposit something of value.) This, we felt, went against human nature. For instance, although most people today associate pirates with buried treasure, the historical reality paints a different picture. In fact, to your average pirate, the idea of burying their share of the loot would have seemed utterly insane. Yet, there was evidence that the priest did find something of considerable value. It has been well-documented that shortly after making his fateful discovery, he began to spend considerable sums while enjoying a life of luxury.
Despite our initial doubts of the priest’s discovery being something akin to the lost treasure of Jerusalem, there is some evidence that individuals in the past have been the benefactors of a great quantity of gold deposited in the Languedoc. In their book, Web of Gold, the authors describe a medieval counterfeiting operation that was carried out near Rennes-le-Chateau. It is perhaps significant in connection with Sauniere that the counterfeit coins contained a higher content of gold than those minted by the king’s treasury.
After an investigation it turned out that the perpetrators were members of the local nobility. Therefore it seems likely that at least someone had discovered and was melting down, if not pecuniam infinitam (unlimited wealth), an amble supply of gold, minting coins as a way of laundering a treasure, the nature of which they couldn’t reveal.
The authors of the same book also examine the alchemical transmutation performed by Nicholas Flamel in 1382. After coming into possession of a mysterious book, Flamel was supposedly able to turn baser metals into gold, becoming extremely wealthy shortly afterwards. However, as the authors point out, it was only after journeying to Spain (once a Visigoth kingdom) that he was able to successfully decode the text he had studied in vain for over twenty years. Also, it may be no coincidence that Flamel achieved the Great Work on January 17, that recurring date in the Rennes tableau, perhaps being a code-word of sorts among those privy to a secret that makes one phenomenally wealthy. (Interestingly enough, the date January 17 can be found in a diary entry of an alchemical operation by the Elizabethan magus John Dee).
We also ruled out on our list of suspects the idea that Sauniere was trafficking in Masses of Vain Observance, whether amatory or of a more sinister nature, like those presided over by priests in 17th-century Paris. Similarly, we eliminated sex-magick, the so-called “Convocation of Venus” rituals that some occultists believe Sauniere performed with the assistance of his young housekeeper Marie Deneraud in order to more accurately predict the future for those wealthy clients who visited him. We rejected the sexual component despite the research of André Douzet and others who have traced the priest’s activities when away from his domain at Rennes-le-Chateau. This research confirms that Sauniere attended a Martinist Lodge in Lyon. It, therefore, seems possible that he traveled in the same esoteric circles as those initiated into the Rite of Memphis-Mizraim, the French O.T.O. and Gnostic Church - quasi-Masonic Orders whose rituals of the higher degrees involved sacred sexuality (a Western version of Tantra) as the preferred sacrament (ala Reuss and Crowley.) Yet, despite this decidedly unorthodox form of Christianity, many Catholic priests embraced the philosophies of Martinism whose founder, Martinez de Pasqually (born 1710) was heavily influenced by the occult schools of Gnosticism, Cabala, and Hermeticism.
Although we filed these various “solutions” away, at the time the most likely explanation for Sauniere’s good turn was that he had chanced upon the heirlooms of a noble family whose remains were interred in a crypt beneath the centuries-old church. Like most people who live with the limitations of poverty, the temptation was too great, knowing that as he walked about penniless, beneath his feet lay the bejeweled dead. Thus, he found himself systematically plundering the tombs of the Lords of Rennes and selling the valuables to others on his secret rendezvous. But what of the parchments he allegedly discovered, two of which were comprised of genealogical tables that attested to the survival of the ancient royal Merovingian bloodline? Also there was the enigma of the bizarre decorations that adorned his church. Account receipts show that Sauniere spared no expense when remodeling the church, which he filled with cryptic clues - a treasure map of sorts, perhaps as a way of finally divulging the source of his wealth. Were all these curiosities merely a smoke screen to make others believe that he had unearthed something more palatable than the precious jewels of dead nobility - something like the Holy Grail or the legendary Treasure of Jerusalem?
Those Pulling the Strings
So, we wondered, was that all there was to it - the priest had committed the sacrilegious crime of desecrating graves and was now trying to cover his tracks? Quite possibly, yet, there was still the nagging suspicion of another player here - some unseen hand pulling the strings while pursuing their own hidden agenda? From books like The Messianic Legacy and Web of Gold we knew about Sauniere’s right-wing anti-Republican sermons, and that he was a devoted monarchist. After the initial find of the coded parchments, was some secret society like the oft-mentioned Priory of Sion privately funding the priest to continue his excavations with hopes of finding an even bigger prize which they now had reason to believe had been deposited in the region? And if this prize was something on the magnitude of the lost Treasure of Jerusalem, then was the Priory of Sion deliberately creating false pedigrees as a way of trying to establish a legitimate claim to the treasure? If so, then the seigneur of Rennes, despite all his extravagances, was merely a pawn, with the treasure story serving to shine the spotlight on his other find, namely the survival of a royal bloodline.
It even occurred to us that this whole business of “lost kings” might have been staged by one of these nebulous organizations or even by operatives within the Vatican’s own intelligence network, who had infiltrated or were conspiring with one or more of the various Masonic lodges active in Europe at the time. Grand Masters of a Masonic lodge and dignitaries of the Church of Rome may make for strange bedfellows, but it wouldn’t be the first time that the Vatican forged a temporary alliance with the enemy to advance its own long-term interests, in this case the restoration of the monarchy in France, giving the church (in this age of the “democratic” republic) more control - and wealth. (Note: this stratagem may have backfired with the publication of Holy Blood, Holy Grail.)
There was yet another scenario we had to consider: Did the Vatican (or Priory of Sion for that matter) hijack the treasure story, not only as part of the monarchist cause, but also simply to stir the pot? Might it have lost something from its secret archives that it desperately wanted back? The authors of Web of Gold believe that Sauniere’s brother, Alfred, a Jesuit priest, may have obtained via his aristocratic connections certain unpublished heretical documents from an old Dominican family, those who were originally responsible for over-seeing the Inquisition.
These missing documents may have contained the secret knowledge of the Knights Templar that was extracted during the unimaginable torture they were subjected to by their interrogators. Of the numerous charges leveled against the Order, the most mysterious (and perhaps significant) was that they worshipped an idol (or head) known as Baphomet. This obscure object has been described as a gilded reliquary that contained a preserved head or skeletal remains that, itself, pertained to a specific stage in the alchemical process known as “Caput Mortuum” (Dead Head).
Earlier we speculated that Sauniere may have been a simple grave robber, acquiring his wealth from pillaging the Hautpoul family burial vault. But was he allowed to fill his pockets, unaware that the precious heirlooms that ornamented the sepulchers weren’t the true treasure - that it was the bodies themselves, either the preserved corpses or the skeletal remains shrouded in their purple garments, that others sought? Among the various theories bandied about with regards to the ultimate secret of Rennes-le-Chateau is the existence of a great necropolis in the region, possibly Merovingian catacombs, making Rennes and its environs in many ways similar to Egypt’s “Valley of Kings” whose mummified royalty were systematically plundered of their glittering finery by a dynasty of tomb robbers passed down from father to son over many generations.
Enigmatic as the mystery was with its seemingly endless clues, there was, we came to believe, a common thread running through the Rennes tapestry. This involves the memento mori of skulls and bones, of death and Arcadia. Might a simple grave inscription conceal (and reveal) one of the most closely guarded secrets of alchemy? One which, like the gold of Rennes, “is reserved for the priesthood (or the shadowy elite).” One which “will give those advantages which even kings would have pains to draw from them”; with “things so difficult to discover that nothing now on this earth can prove of better fortune nor be their equal”?
In recent years several writers of the occult (Laurence Gardner and Peter Moon among them) have alluded to a mysterious powdery substance that was known to the ancient metallurgical adepts. When ingested, this alchemical “powder of projection” has a profound effect upon the endocrine glands. The result of these abnormally-high levels of hormonal secretions is, they say, heightened awareness, opening in essence a gateway to other realms or dimensions of consciousness. Over a period of time, minute particles of these noble elements that had entered the bloodstream would eventually become embedded in the bone structure. It has therefore been suggested that within the sarcophagi and reliquaries containing such remains can be found trace amounts of arrested hormonal cascades of the master gland known variously as “white rainbow”, “the prismatic (or golden) tear of the Eye of Horus”, and “occultum of harlequin.” When reduced to a fine powder, this true mummia was called “the elegant dust of death.” Due to their inherent (or altered) biochemistry, could the remains of these “high personages” interred at Rennes possess special properties - properties which could be utilized by the living in a deeply esoteric ceremony or mystical feast that involved a form of ritual cannibalism?
The residue of the opened (activated) chakras of our occult anatomy is the holy gold of shadow-chemistry (al-Khemy), that which contains ultra-medicinal properties and is, itself, capable of superconductivity with regards to our neural circuitry. One has to ask, then, were the legendary mines of Solomon located within his own skeletal structure which was rich in these elements?
Gilded Flourishes and Death Skulls
With this is mind, consider the priest’s “treasure map”, the grandest of puzzles with its cryptic imagery and arcane symbolism that greets visitors at every turn inside the church. For example, the Stations of the Cross that run counter-clockwise along the walls, starting with the body of Jesus being removed from the tomb at night and ending with a figure showing us a piece of gold. Also, there is the message of the coded parchment: “To Dagobert II and to Sion belongs this treasure and he is there dead.” Perhaps now we can take this more literally. Finally, might the phrase, “Et In Arcadia Ego” refer, not to the inevitability of death, but to knowledge that the paradise of Arcadia can be found in the mortal remains of death (with the bee on the skull in the variation of Poussin’s painting being symbolic of the “honey” secreted by pineal-pituitary hypothalamic complex)?
Incised on the lintel of the porch above the church entrance is the Latin inscription: “Terribilis Est Locus Iste” (“Terrible Is This Place”), a possible reference to a necropolis which contains the ritually trepanned skulls of a long-forgotten priesthood or of Merovingian royalty. The rest of the Biblical quote is: “This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate to heaven.” Is this the gateway to the ethereal realms which the Martinists were attempting to contact via their magical operations? Another inscription on the church reads: “Mea Domus Orationis Vocatibur” (“My House is Called the House of Prayer.”) The words that follow are: “But you have made it a den of thieves.” The reason that the preserved or skeletal remains of this “royalty” have been so jealously guarded and sought after is, no doubt, due to the rarity of the hormonal residue secreted by such a bio-chemical process and/or the veins of precious ore (platinum group metals or gold projected into a certain state) contained within the bone structure. As for the scientific basis of the efficacy of such a substance as occultum of harlequin: to us, this wasn’t really a determining factor with regards to it being a possible solution to the mystery. The only important thing is that there are those who believe this “manna from heaven” possesses magical qualities. And for this, there is plenty of evidence. Like Umberto Eco says in Foucault’s Pendulum, “Try telling them...”
As a final thought: in today’s political climate (the crisis in the Middle-East, etc.), if a symbolic treasure such as that pillaged from the Temple of Jerusalem were to be found, try to imagine (as the authors of Web of Gold did) the consequences if Orthodox Jews attempted to rebuild a new temple at the site where today stands one of the holiest shrines of Islam.
If a secret society such as the Priory of Sion were the guardians of a legendary treasure of this nature, then, today more than ever, their true task might be to see that it remains undiscovered at all costs; forever lost, or at least until some future date when its symbolic value might not have disastrous results for all those involved. With this in mind it may not be a coincidence that the authors of Foucault’s Pendulum and Web of Gold, two books that deal with the guardians of a sacred and powerful treasure, end their story by diverting the reader’s attention from the treasure trail, asking us instead to pause momentarily and admire the beautiful scenery - the “true richness” of this mysterious region, just like Danny and his band mates did the first time they visited Rennes-le-Chateau.