I am what you might call an ‘Old School’ Rennie. Like most of my fellow Old School Rennies, my interest in Rennes-le-Chateau (RLC) began with Holy Blood, Holy Grail (HBHG). The idea that there might be a hidden, alternative history to explain the mystery of RLC, and perhaps even the arc of European history in general, captured the imaginations of many readers. What attracted us to this book was that its speculative hypotheses purported to be real history, not historical fiction.
Certainly, the rigorous historian can find many poorly supported and implausible claims in HBHG. As well, HBHG is selective in its history. In this respect, it inaugurated that unfortunate Rennie tradition of gazing into the Rorschach Test of art-history, esoterica, symbolism, and lore, and then connecting whatever factoids resonated with one’s desire for mystery, conspiracy, and/or spirituality. Nonetheless, HBHG could, at least, claim to be doing history in that it stayed within the bounds of possibility. HBHG does not rely upon reincarnation, mystical energy, numerology, remote viewing, psychic powers, spiritual intercessions, past life regression, astrology, alchemy, divination, Clau, Hieros Gamos, telluric currents, quantum woo, aliens, God, etc. Are its hypotheses implausible? Maybe. But are they impossible? No. HBHG, for all its faults, can at least claim to be doing history.
However, the RLC genre and the region have both undergone a major cultural shift over the decades. When I first visited RLC, my fellow Rennies were mostly history buffs with a bent for conspiracy. Many of these Old School Rennies, frustrated by the lack of progress or of any sort of historical corroboration to the RLC mystery, have since lost interest in the genre. Some still visit the region for its natural beauty and fascinating history. Some even enjoy the new-age culture that has colonized the region. Some occasionally lurk in internet forums and discussion groups watching for anything besides the usual re-hash of suggestive stories, tenuous connections, and remote historical possibilities. For the most part, however, Old School Rennies like myself are on the wane. These days the genre and the region are overrun with a new breed of Rennie who do not aspire to the standards of mainstream academic research. Often, they do not aspire even to the dictates of historical, logical, or metaphysical possibility.
This new wave of Rennie believe that when they are visiting RLC they are visiting a wellspring of Magdalenic tradition and spiritual wisdom replete with mystical ‘energy’. Unfortunately though, there is little evidence of a tradition of ‘mystical energy’ or of the ‘Divine Feminine’ specific to RLC before the arrival of these non-indigenous, new-age spiritualists. Yes, locals wondered at how Berenger Sauniere became moderately wealthy but no one ever felt the need to invoke ‘mystical energies’. Even HBHG did not invoke this mumbo-jumbo. That was left to the mystical, spiritualist Rennies who, facing a complete and utter lack of real evidence for what they wanted to believe, retreated to that realm of self-gratifying delusion known as ‘spiritual intuition’. These Rennies come to RLC looking for mystical experiences and for confirmation of whatever Magdalene-inspired intuitions they already have. ‘Truth’ is more often measured by whether something ‘resonates with their soul’ than whether it is historically plausible.
Yes, HBHG is guilty of triggering and legitimizing the historically implausible notion that Mary Magdalene lived in or near RLC. Yes, Henry Lincoln panders to the summer invasion of ladies eager to hear any pseudo-fact and anecdote relating to Mary Magdalene’s alleged presence (spiritual or physical) in RLC. However, this does not, by itself, explain what the RLC genre has become. To explain the demise of the Old School Rennie and the rise of the New-Age Rennie, I will make a series of points on the nature of history, truth, and RLC research.
1. I suspect that the authors of HBHG were being disingenuous when they wrote their book and that they didn’t really believe their own bloodline hypothesis. Nonetheless, the basic idea behind HBHG is quite plausible. In fact, it is generally accepted that the history told to us by the church, and by tradition, is largely a fabrication. Academic historians are no longer intimidated by the religious establishment and, as a result, they have done a thorough job of overturning Biblical history and of exposing the self-serving attempts by the Vatican to rewrite or obscure the actual history of the church. The problem for credulous Old School Rennies like myself, however, is that there is very little in the way of compelling evidence of anything particularly radical or conspiratorial having occurred regarding Mary Magdalene, Jesus, and/or RLC. Either the evidence has long since been destroyed or nothing like the hypotheses of HBHG ever happened. Either way, at this point nothing new is being uncovered, nor is it likely to be uncovered. This has left the Old School Rennie disheartened. Many, like myself, have even questioned what got them so excited in the first place. This brings me to my second point…
2. So what if Christianity has a secret history? We already know that the story they gave us could not be true. So what if Jesus didn’t die on the cross? We all know he wasn’t actually a god or the son of a God. So what if Jesus had children with Mary Magdalene? So what if there exist today descendents of this union? Metaphysically, biologically, and statistically speaking, there would be nothing special, different, or unique about their DNA. So what if Mary Magdalene moved to the south of France? Lots of people move to the south of France. It’s a nice place. The impact that these revelations might have is greatly over-estimated. None but the most backward of religious reactionary clings literally and dogmatically to the stories in the Bible and those who do are immune to facts, evidence, and logical argumentation anyway. They believe what they want to believe. Which brings us to point 3, the key point in the RLC culture shift…
3. People believe what they want to believe. At one time educated people respected the idea that there was Truth — that there was a ‘fact of the matter’, one true historical account — that we could arrive at (or close to it) if we proceeded in a logical, rational manner and allowed only verifiable facts and evidence into the discussion. This is what the academic historian does and this is what Old School Rennies aspired to — we thought we might find a surprising and culturally disruptive ‘fact of the matter’ behind the mystery of RLC.
Outside of academia, however, this idea of Truth has been displaced by a ‘democratic’ skepticism. I call it ‘democratic’ because there is now a plurality of ‘truths’. We often hear people saying things like “I have my own truth” and “I can believe whatever I want”. In this day and age, we don’t even blink at this sort of crazy declaration but think about it: would a scientist ever say this kind of thing? A doctor? A judge? Your psychiatrist? I hope not. We might all have the right to express our beliefs, but Truth is not amenable to this sort of libertarianism. A rational person knows that one cannot choose to believe what is true and what is not true. Either one commits to weighing the real observable evidence and thinking logically and rationally or one has forfeited the right to speak of Truth. However, in this day and age, (and particularly in proudly uneducated, anti-intellectual, conservative America) this way of speaking of Truth — a truth accessible only through rational, logical investigation — sounds like educated liberal elitism. As a result, truth has — ‘democratically’ — become whatever one wants to believe: We now all have our own ‘truth’.
4. A basic problem makes it difficult to resist this ‘democratization’ of truth: We can never know Truth absolutely. This problem allows for all types of skeptical argumentation, particularly in the fields of history and religion, the two fields that come together in the RLC genre. For examples, we can never know for certain what happened in the time of Jesus or, for that matter, in the times of Plantard, Sauniere or, my personal RLC hero, Ben Hammott. This lack of certainty allows for a radical kind of skepticism to creep into every historical discussion. As a result, the conspiracy theorist or the religious dogmatist or the wishful thinker can always reply to rigorous, documented, logical argumentation with the following unassailable retort: “yes, that is what the evidence suggests but we don’t know for certain. Maybe that version of events was a fabrication. Maybe what we believe to be real is actually an illusion. Maybe it was all a hoax.” Maybe. Even though the probability is infinitesimal, even metaphysically impossible, there is always a conceptual possibility that things happened some radically other way. There is always that ineradicable possibility that the laws of physics did not hold, that the law of non-contradiction was breached, that reality as we know it is an illusion, etc., etc. Maybe Mary Magdalene really did move to France. Maybe Pierre Plantard really did serve a holy bloodline. Maybe Ben Hammott really did find the tomb of Mary Magdalene. (see Gus Stiver’s The Truth Behind the Ben Hammott Confession-Hoax on this point) Interestingly, this type of radical skepticism used to be the enemy of religion. Now it is its last and only hope: Maybe God really did create our world. Maybe Jesus really did turn water into wine instead of eradicating suffering and disease. (stupid twat!) And maybe up is really down. Who knows for sure? Even science ultimately must admit that it deals with hypotheses, not facts. As a result, anti-academics and wishful thinkers can always exploit the gap between hypothesis and absolute certainty. Ultimately, anything is possible.
5. Add to this a deep wish, a spiritual need, for life be more than just the satisfaction of material needs. Who doesn’t wish that there were some deeper spiritual dimension to existence? Who doesn’t wish that their personal relationships were more like some Magdalenic ideal of ‘Hieros Gamos’? Well, there is no absolute proof against it and, besides, it’s a free country. Therefore, Mary Magdalene once lived in a cave near RLC. Therefore, the spiritual energy of Mary Magdalene pervades RLC. Therefore, I am the reincarnation of Mary Magdalene and I’m going to organize a tour group to the south of France. Woe onto the Old School Rennie who thought that there might be some plausible, historical ‘fact of the matter’ behind the RLC mystery.
Maybe the authors of HBHG thought that they were doing legitimate history. Unwittingly though, they legitimated a whole tradition of New-Age intuitionism centered upon RLC. As a result, many Old School Rennies have left the genre. Some even blame HBHG for turning RLC into a circus and for turning the genre into prime hoax-mongering territory. I am not one of them however. Yes, the RLC mystery is, sometimes, laughably absurd. But I don’t think that we should blame the authors of HBHG. I think that we should blame points 3, 4, and 5. That is to say, I think that we should blame the ‘democratic’ skeptical approach to ‘truth’ that pervades modernity. And I think we should blame a modern, materialist lifestyle that leaves so many of us feeling empty and yearning for the Magdalene. In other words, if it wasn’t RLC and the Priory of Sion, it would have been (and is) some other place and some other secret organization. HBHG has its faults. Unlike many New-Age Rennies however, Henry Lincoln, HBHG, and the Old School Rennie were, at least, trying to do actual history.
If you would like more information or to purchase this book from AMAZON.COM click on its title: Holy Blood, Holy Grail: The Secret History of Christ & The Shocking Legacy of the Grail
(Contact me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cameron.g.clayton and join your fellow Rennies, both old-school and new-school, in our RLC discussion group, The New Arcadia, here: www.facebook.com/groups/231057640407974/)