Review: THE SERPENT GRAIL
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By PHILIP GARDINER
Photographs & Graphics
© 2005 Gardiner & Osborn
FROM THE PUBLISHER: The quest for the meaning of the Holy Grail has been one of those great open questions of history. By using the most current historical and scientific research, THE SERPENT GRAIL by Philip Gardiner and Gary Osborn untangles the truth behind the origins of the Grail—a truth far removed from both received Christian beliefs and alternative interpretations made popular by Dan Brown.
According to Gardiner and Osborn, the origin of the grail legend has roots centuries before Parsifal, King Arthur, Christ’s passion and even the Genesis story. Their account begins in Sumer (3500BCE-2000BCE)—located at the southern tip of modern Iraq. This cult both worshipped the serpent as a deity with awesome powers and drank a mixture of its venom and blood from a ‘sacred’ ceremonial chalice. By drinking this mixture the cult’s initiates were cured of disease and, it is claimed, their lives were prolonged. In this highly readable argument with enormous implications, THE SERPENT GRAIL links all three of these enigmatic symbols to the same ancient which spread from Sumer to the West and beyond. Indeed, the authors believe that this is the source not only of the Holy Grail, but the Elixir of Life and the legend of the Philosopher’s stone.
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Recently we reviewed Philip Gardiner’s GNOSIS: THE SECRETS OF KING SOLOMON’S TEMPLE.
In that review we chose to focus on the fact that Gardiner’s legitimate historical/mythic images of “The Shining Ones” and the “Holy Grail” were abused and misused by the German National Socialists as well as by “New Age” commercialists and others like the various cults centered around the mythical St. Germaine and the so-called “Ascended Masters.” This commercialist and propagandistic and deliberate twisting of esoteric/occult philosophy was not a product of Philip Gardiner and it was not our intention to imply that it had anything to do with his commendable work. Rather our review represented a concern for the degrading by others of the sacred images Gardiner utilized in order to explain their ancient and contemporary wisdom.
Fortunately in this current work co-authored by Gary Osborn we have no need to politically clarify anything—the authors have made their positions clear from the onset in Chapter One, The Alpha-Omega. They distance their research from vulgarized sources and do not identify with any bias be it scientific or theosophical. Gardiner’s GNOSIS can be seen as primer logically leading up to THE SERPENT GRAIL: The Truth Behind The Holy Grail, The Philosopher’s Stone & The Elixir of Life.
THE SERPENT GRAIL is akin to the translation of the Bible into the vernacular. In the latter case the Bible in the West had only been copied in Latin, a language the common person could not understand. Its seventeenth century translation fueled the Protestant Revolution. THE SERPENT GRAIL makes the deepest levels of occult lore accessible to people today who possess a sincere desire to delve into their innermost Self & ancestral roots. Together Gardiner and Osborn have created their own unique individual and collective version of THE GREAT WORK.
The authors present their insights within the framework of interconnected triads such as general chapter series and triad subsections within chapters. The relevance of this approach can be seen in its unification of body-mind/psyche-spirit philosophy (Grail-Philosopher’s Stone-Elixir of Life), a form of self-initiation for the reader. Within this framework they lucidly address such diverse issues as the actual ingredients of the fabled Elixir of Life to Jungian psychology and zero-point theory. It is an effective presentation—and a very enjoyable book to just curl up with and let the imagination soar.
The day following reading page 13 where the author’s describe the serpent Ouroboros and the Egyptian Shen Ring, I visited a shop that specialized in Egyptian art. I was immediately attracted to a statue of the god Set. In all other representations of this god I’ve seen he holds a staff in his right hand and an ankh in his left. On a closer examination of this particular statue I noticed that it depicted a representation of the god I had never observed before. In place of the ankh, the god was holding the Shen Ring in his left hand. The ring was knotted and looked very much like a coiled serpent eating its tail. After researching this further I learned that at a time when the veneration of Set had fallen into disrepute with the elevation of his vanquisher Horus, a new myth evolved that claimed Set had protected the sun god Atum-Re by striking a hole through the serpent Apophis or Apep (The authors discuss Apophis on Pgs. 61, 110, 117.) According to the mythology, the hole struck by Set allowed the Boat of the Sun to pass through the underworld (night) into heaven (day.) This myth was a form of theological “rehabilitation” of Set and regenerated his cult.
As well as being a representation of the Shen Ring, the coiled rope could also represent Set’s hold on the forces of Darkness & Chaos.
The fact that people would worship a “god of evil” is not any more surprising than the fact that millions of people today are dedicated to the blood goddess Kali. Both deities provide a connection with universal or natural forces that in reality are neither “good” nor “bad.” In this aspect Set can be viewed as a form of Shiva, the Hindu deity of creation and destruction.
Set was also a morphed form of the Mesopotamian (present day Iraq) Shaitain, later degraded into Satan. He was also the prototype of the Hebrew Yahweh or Jehovah, a sky thunder god (Gardiner and Osborn claim that Yahweh was originally a volcano deity—certainly this god”s allegorical manifestations on Mt. Sinai would support this contention.)
Also in Chapter 2 the authors introduce their of neutral or neural (zero) point theory based on spiral wave lengths of positive and negative energy that meet at the neural point.
The neural point or Transliminal Phase is crossed over twice, where each half of the cycle crosses over into the other, and therefore the point at which both opposites are momentarily united or cancelled out—that is, they are neutralized.
This theory is fundamental to the author’s spiral (serpent) imagery as it appears in world mythology. Later they invoke this theory as a reason to maintain total detachment from the temporal, political world. The Gnostic Pagan School sees in this idea an expression of the Hegelian/Marxist theory of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. We derive inspiration from The Bhagavad-Gita wherein Krishna (The Perfected Self) teaches Arjuna (The Everyman) that one is in existence not to repudiate involvement on the temporal plane. The text suggests that a person should be actively involved on the social plane—even to extent of engaging in political warfare—but with an attitude of inner detachment and devotion.
In Chapter 3 THE MIXING OF OPPOSITES, Gardiner and Osborn focus on the alchemical image of the Androgyny, or the Hermaphrodite and the three cosmic zones: The Underworld, The Middleworld (earth), and the Heavenly Sphere symbolized by the branches of the World Tree. (Pgs. 29-30).
Today the realm of the Underworld is often linked with the unconscious mind or with the collective unconscious, but because of the subjective nature of these we would rather describe them as the ‘subconscious’, a realm that lies just beneath the surface of everybody consciousness. What we would call the ‘collective unconscious’ lies at the center of the whole sphere of conscious, being the ‘source-centre’ or ‘life-force’ of everything in existence. As such, it contains all the energy-information which is spread out and stored in both the subconscious and conscious levels of the human psyche.
This is a definite improvement over Jung’s term “collective unconscious”—a term that has fallen into wide disrepute among most psychiatrists.
However, the above quoted material does go a long way in supporting Jung’s theory of synchronicity and the process of forging both an individual and collective consciousness—and the forces opposing harmonious individuation or collective integration.
Division/sectarianism = conscious repression
Unconscious suppression = world conflict
In Chapter 3 THE MIXING BOWL the authors describe various interpretations of the Grail’s physical aspects and the nature of the Elixir mixed in it. They also expand on the idea of the fusion of opposites or male and female energy.
The feminine principle is the healing element here in that the feminine-related subconscious contains the meaning behind the seemingly random process observed by the masculine-related conscious mind. This is why the Grail is also associated with romance, chivalry and a moral code of conduct in which respect for the feminine principle is not only paramount, but is also essential for the initiate. The reintegration of the psyche is really only the first step in the Grail quest, however, since the goal of the quest is the transcendence of duality.
St. Brigid (formerly a Celtic Fire Goddess)
holding the Grail
Chapter 4 THE SEED AT THE CENTER raises the question does the mind have an independent existence apart from the brain?
But how can we look upon something that is within ourselves? Clearly, we are not meant to take this literally. As Petrus Bonus, the fourteenth century writer of the alchemical treatise The True Pearl of Great Price, says, “The ferment may be invisible to the eye but it can be seen by the mind.”
As the late philosopher Krishnamurti noted, the dichotomy ceases when the Observer and the Observed become One.
Gardiner and Osborn relate this integration as the neutral points of consciousness.
…we are usually ‘unconscious’ of and at these neutral points in the cycle, and this extends to the high-frequency rapid wave-oscillations of the brain, the mind and consciousness, whose patterns are recurring and repeating many times a second. Because we are unconscious of the neutral point or third force we are unconsciously perceiving the world in terms of division and duality. We thus remain trapped in a series of patterns that we ourselves have created.
Some say the light goes on to another plane; others say when it’s gone…it’s gone.
Chapter 5 THE HIDDEN WISDOM IN ARTHUR’S GRAIL contains a wealth of information and correspondences regarding the complex subject.
In the case of the quote below, the author’s present an inner alchemical interpretation that is lucidly explained to the novice reader.
Arthur’s journey into the Underworld to find the cauldron of rebirth would…seem to be connected with the Latin alchemical phrase Visita Interiora Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem. The phrase translates as: ‘Visit the interior of the Earth and by purifying, you will find the secret stone, the true medicine’ and its initial letters produce the word ‘vitriol.’
The only conclusion that seemed to make sense of this was that saying that one’s head was the centre of the Earth…That is, the two centres could be superimposed to become one.
And of special interest to our School:
Arthur is the Celtic version of Horus, the reincarnated Osiris, and so both are the same soul being reincarnated over and over again.
To this we add that during the current Aeon of Horus we are ALL potential incarnations of the god in that he represents the root source of our collective Inner Self.
In the subject THE GRAIL CASTLE we find:
…this magical place where sparkling wine is taken, represents either the human head or something important within the head. We suggest this is the activation of the ‘third-eye’ trance state and enlightenment experience.
…However, we are dealing with multiple meanings here, and with information that seems to be arranged on several levels. Each becomes more meaningful the closer we get to the truth. Like climbing the sacred mountain, we ascend until we reach the apex.
This brings to mind dramatist August Strindberg (1849-1912) considered to be the founder of the modern theatre. The playwright often utilized the images of The Lovers, The Hermit, the purified air of The Mountain and The Castle motif in his works. The Castle is of particular significance in A DREAM PLAY and later in THE GHOST SONATA. In A DREAM PLAY the castle is remote, empty and unobtainable until the liberation of Death. In THE GHOST SONATA the castle is closer and can be clear seen through an open window. At the end of the play the castle blooms into a heliotrope (Flower of The Sun.) Strindberg was no stranger to alchemy and, in fact, severely burned his hands with sulphur in misguided attempts to perform The Great Work.
From subsection OMPHALOS: NAVEL AND AXIS OF THE UNIVERSE we find:
Caer Sidi has been related etymologically to the “revolving castle; with arrows of poison shooting from many holes. This is a clear allusion to the poisonous venom of the snake and reveals that Stonehenge too could very well contain, or even be, a real rendition of the ‘serpents head’. But what profound truth lies behind the strange metaphor?
Like many other places around the world, Stonehenge was called the Omphalos, suggesting Om Phallus, the ever-enkindling (immortal) Light, the Zodiac, Axis or Elixir, and the spores of the mighty Hueel (hu = ‘light’, eel = ‘snake’). So Stonehenge, the mythical Temple of Apollo, is not only linked with serpents via mythology, but also linked with ‘poison’ and is an ‘elixir’ in etymology. And, as we have just seen, it is etymologically, astronomically and architecturally linked with the snake or serpent in that it was referred to as the ‘serpent’s head’.
Chapter 6 THE CAULDRON OF THE HEAD OF THE UNDERWORLD contains two mythological images we could find no historical reference to. For example, on page 88 the author’s claim that the god Thoth has been depicted with a dog’s head. There is no evidence for this—he has always been depicted with the head of an Ibis bird or as a sacred Baboon and, as such, is associated with the element of Air or Thought. On page 97 the authors speculate that the mythical Golden Calf could be a representation of the Falcon god Horus. There is no evidence for this either.
They would be closer to their own perspective if they identified the Golden Calf with the Apis Bull crowned with the Solar Disc and Uraeus (serpent.) The other most logical interpretation would be that the goddess Hathor was implied as she represented love, pleasure, music, dancing and singing—all joyous and healthy human actions that were apparently highly so highly offensive to the egomaniacal Demiurge, Jehovah.
Regarding the various meanings and symbolisms various contemporary writers bestow upon Mary Magdalene, the authors note:
…some researchers and writers have recently been saying that the rather ambiguous male figure of John the Evangelist was really Mary Magdalene. It is said that Leonardo da Vinci alluded to this secret…especially in The Last Supper…this would also mean that the Gospel of John could be attributed to Mary Magdalene. However…the characters of John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene are really based on opposites of the Janus image…they were…molded into the internal process of the human psyche. John and Mary can…be equated with…Osiris and Isis, and Jesus with Horus. All three members of this Triad symbolize the three forces of consciousness known as the ‘Secret Combination’ in Masonic lore…
Eliphas Levi, a great exponent of magical rites, translated ‘Baphomet’ as a reversed composition of three abbreviations—Tem. Oph. Ab.—which stand for Templi omnium hominum pacis abhas (The God of the Temple of Peace Among All Men). Levi believed this to be a reference to the Temple of Solomon.
Taking the word ‘Baphomet’ backwards…we get Tem, Oph (ohp), Ab. ‘Tem’ could come from the root word for ‘time,’ or it could mean ‘to proclaim.’ ‘Ohp’ or ‘Oph’ is ‘winged serpent’ or dragon of the Ophites. ‘Ab’ means ‘father,’ ‘the Creator’ or ‘Great One’. It also means ‘wisdom’, ‘intelligence’ or will…If we turn ‘Ab” back we get ‘Ba’, the soul…We also find…’Abzu’, the Sumerian name for the Underworld…We also have ‘Abraham’,…’abbot’ and ‘abbey’, all of which were associated with wisdom and the serpent.
On pages 105-106 the authors discuss the fourteenth century skull of gilded silver supposedly associated with the Templars and labeled ‘CAPUT (HEAD) LVIII M’.
As the authors indicate the letter M stands for Virgo.
We interpret the numbers this way:
LVIII = 58 = 5+8 = 13 = 1+3 = 4 = FOUNDATION = HEAD.
At the beginning of Chapter 7 THE SERPENT IN CLASSICAL MYTH the authors assert that the Zoroastrian religion may be 10,000 years old! This almost akin to those Discovery Channel “archaeologists” who claim the Great Sphinx is over 15,000 years old—which is clearly ridiculous. We fear that Osborn and Gardiner are falling into a symbolic labyrinth with little or no escape in order to prove the global historical existence of a group Gardiner calls ‘The Shining Ones’ and their universal application of serpent mythology. They hammer in this ‘Shining Ones’ and attendant serpent mythology so repetitively that one wants to scream, ‘Enough already—we get it!’ It’s like the idea of the collective unconscious, just because similar patterns appear at different times in different places, does not prove its biological existence—it merely signifies that certain patterns repeat in nature, just as they may do in the human psyche.
In Voodoo this serpent is the male Damballah Wedo, curled around the World Tree or Axis Mundi, and the female Ayida Wedo curled around the World Egg, looking very much like Ouroboros.
Every Voodoo temple has a central single pillar to represent the World Tree—and the use of serpentine metaphor plays a prominent role in Voodoo ritual.
[For more on this subject refer to THE NEW ORLEANS VOODOO TAROT by Louis Mastinié and Sallie Ann Glassman.]
Also in Chapter 7 the author’s mention the Golden Fleece. To supplement their discussion we can add that according to the Euripides play, Medea, the Fleece’s high priestess stole it because the gods drove her to fall hopelessly in love with Jason. One of her exploits to protect him was to tell his enemy that she held the secret to the Elixir of Life. Upon her instructions a bath was made by the king’s daughter and had them cut him to pieces and tossed in before his resurrection. Needless to say Medea left an ingredient of the Elixir out. She also poisoned the wedding gown of her rival and the girl burst into flame. After murdering her own sons she flies away in a chariot drawn by fire-breathing dragons. Medea made Betty Broderick look like a Guardian Angel.
According to the author Adolf Erman, the Egyptians believed that ‘if the soul comes to Nut…She has pity on him and offers him her breast that he may suck, and thus he lives and is once more made a child. This is a perfect example of how the serpent god or goddess was believed to…give ‘new life’…It also indicates that the ancient Egyptians knew about the Elixir of Life.
The image of Nut or Nuit suckling vegetation is an even more ancient image than that of Isis engaged in the same behavior with Horus and lies at the center of the Egyptian religion and rites of Thelema.
On page 117 the death of Cleopatra is mentioned. It is generally accepted today that the queen did NOT commit suicide by the bite of an asp or any other serpent indigenous to Egypt. The site of Cleopatra’s mausoleum was a matter of yards from the main palace where her archenemy Octavian had taken over & set-up camp. Cleopatra had written him a suicide note that was delivered from the mausoleum by a servant. Within a matter of minutes Octavian would have broken into the chamber to find the queen and her servants dead. This would have taken a faster acting poison than a snakebite —and Cleopatra was skilled in the use of fast acting, nearly painless poisons—so why suffer unnecessarily? An asp or cobra bite would have taken over an hour to kill. It is possible that she allowed an asp to be found in her death chamber as a symbol of her identification with Isis, but she would have had to be suicidally-challenged to have chosen to die by snakebite when she had so many more sophisticated means at her disposal. Whatever the actual cause of death, when Octavian returned to Rome in triumph he brought, not Cleopatra in gold chains, but rather a “poster” of her as a corpse with a serpent. Tricking her enemy may have been Cleopatra’s final joke at his expense. As with the other momentous events of her life, Cleopatra’s death was a carefully stage-managed production by the most famous woman in history and the last of the great pharaohs.
In Chapter 8 ASIAN MYTHS we find,
The Chinese date their dragons/serpents back to around 5000 BC and believe strongly that they are descended from them. The goddess Nu Kua, like Fuxi, her male consort, was half-mortal and half-dragon. Also referred to as a ‘water being’, she gave birth to shape shifting human dragons from which the Chinese emperors were said to descend. As in Korea and Japan, Chinese dragons were generally beneficent and were held in the highest esteem…Why is the serpent/dragon always perceived as the giver and taker of life? Why is the dragon in the bloodline of the Chinese royal family, as in Egypt, Europe and elsewhere. The ‘blood’ of the serpent simply must be symbolic of something greater. That ‘something greater’ is immortality.
It may be appropriate to mention here that recent excavations in China have uncovered “natural” mummies of obvious Caucasian—even possible Celtic—origin. Many have red hair and intertwined symbols long associated with the Celts.
In Mesopotamia, the early Sumerians described themselves as being constantly nourished by the milk of Ninkhursag, the great mother goddess who was also known…as Ki or Ninti/Nintu…She has been linked with Ashtoreth (Asherah)..In Egypt, Ninkhursag was called Isis, the ultimate mother of the messianic line.
Chapter 10 AMERICAN MYTHS deals with correspondences with serpents in pre-Columbian S. America regarding the featured serpent god, etc. Today in the backwoods of the United States there are fundamentalist Christians who handle snakes, drink their venom & strychnine. Their rituals are not pagan, of course, but based on the bible. They are a mixture of religion, rock-a-billy, faith healing & good ol’ American bunkum.
Speaking of bunkum, we were really disappointed to find in Chapter 11 THE SERPENT IN RELIGION, the passage below:
Since Egyptian times there has been a group known as the Great White Brotherhood, who are said to have founded many mystery schools and who emerge today as the Masons. But before reaching our doorsteps in their modern guise they first founded the mystery schools of Thoth…
Says who? Eccentric Madame Blavatsky? The sinister Elizabeth Clare Prophet and her Church Universal & Triumphant cult with their “Ascended Masters”, Spirit Guides and decrepit spiritualists? Or shall we look to egomaniacal Aleister Crowley for an objective, historical documentation of the Great White Brotherhood?
In the United States they have been the initial inspiration for the most reactionary secret societies of the Capitalist Oligarchy such as Skull & Bones, Bohemian Grove and many, many others. No. The Great White Brotherhood is a fraud and frankly we were amazed to find this reference to it in an otherwise intelligible book.
As we said before, occult symbolism can be a trap leading to the most backward and unverifiable concepts that can prevent—rather than enhance—spiritual progression.
The “Great White Brotherhood” is just such a trap.
In Chapter 13 SERPENT ALCHEMY the authors state,
The real secret of alchemy has always been the search for the Elixir of Life, the Philosopher’s Stone. Indeed, the followers of the Eastern tradition…have always maintained that alchemy is the search for eternal life, which is symbolized by gold and is interlinked with the quest for the Holy Grail…the search for the Holy Grail, the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixir of Life are simply different ways of looking for the same thing.
And so the search goes on, only today the work is done by chemists and for the consumer the quest is for the ultimate cosmetic that will bring eternal youth.
Of course those of us on the spiritual path know that The Great Work has nothing to do with converting base metal into gold—or with the search for eternal youth on the physical plane. Alchemy was the mother of chemistry and the knowledge of herbs, including psychoactive substances that can lead to a direct experience of divinity.
The reader will find the author’s suggested version of the ancient occult ingredients in THE SERPENT GRAIL.