Where we attempt to fill you in on everything they forgot to teach you at school

Dan Brown Pries Open Vatican Archives

Okay, so it's not like Robert Langdon cracked a code and found the secret passageway into the Vatican Archives...but it's interesting to note the indirect influence that may apply here. So go easy on me for the headline.

After centuries of being kept under lock and key, the Vatican has started opening its Secret Archives to outsiders in a bid to dispel the myths and mystique Angels and Demonscreated by works of fiction such as Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. The archives, until now jealously guarded from prying eyes, provide one of the key settings in Brown's thriller, in which Harvard "symbologist" Robert Langdon, played in the 2009 film by Tom Hanks, races against time to stop a secret religious order, the Illuminati, from destroying Vatican City. ...They have been open to carefully vetted academic researchers for more than 100 years, but in the last few months the Vatican has granted tours to select groups of journalists and members of the public, allowing a glimpse into one of its inner most sanctums.

Note though that the 'secret' archives remain off-limits; so hardly the Vatican's dirty laundry laid out for all to see. Full story here.

Occult Messages in Art

Interesting to see two separate stories late this week suggesting that Renaissance masters hid secret 'messages' in their art. The Times mentions that a new analysis of Botticelli's Venus and Mars has raised the possibility that one element of the image may reference a known hallucinogen:

Venus and Mars by Botticelli

A fruit held by a satyr in the bottom right of the painting has been identified as belonging to Datura stramonium, a plant with a history of sending people mad and making them want to strip off their clothes. Its hallucinogenic effects were recorded in Ancient Greek texts and it has since been used as an aphrodisiac and a poison.

The fruit was overlooked by art historians until David Bellingham, a programme director at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, showed it to experts at Kew Gardens, where they have a specimen of the plant, which is also known as thorn apple and Devil’s trumpet.

Use of Datura for shamanic/magical purposes is a fascinating topic in itself, and I highly recommend Paul Devereux's book The Long Trip (Amazon US and UK) to explore the 'history of psychedelia' in more depth (I liked it so much, I republished the book).

Meanwhile, Scientific American shares the (possible) revelation that Michelangelo hid anatomical references in his paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel:

Art critics and historians have long puzzled over the odd anatomical irregularities in Michelangelo’s depiction of God’s neck... How does one reconcile such clumsiness by the world’s master of human anatomy and skilled portrayer of light with bungling the image of God above the altar? Suk and Tamargo propose that the hideous goiter-disfigured neck of God is not a mistake, but rather a hidden message. They argue that nowhere else in any of the other figures did Michelangelo foul up his anatomically correct rendering of the human neck. They show that if one superimposes a detail of God’s odd lumpy neck in the Separation of Light and Darkness on a photograph of the human brain as seen from below, the lines of God’s neck trace precisely the features of the human brain

Interesting enough, but when do we find a secret map showing the location of the Holy Grail!?

The Real Face of Jesus?

The news always turns topical around the big holidays during the year, and with Easter sneaking up you just know who the centre of attention is right now. That's right: the J-Man, the S.o.G., or as I like to call him, 'that dude who may or may not have existed some 2000 years ago'. This year the best effort comes from the History Channel, which will air "The Real Face of Jesus?" tomorrow night:

For the devout and curious alike, this documentary feature may bring us the closest we have ever come to seeing what Jesus actually looked like.

Science and religion join together, bringing cutting-edge computer technology to an ancient stretch of fabric, and creating a living, moving 3D image of the man many believe to be Jesus Christ.

The starting point of this journey is an ancient 14-foot linen cloth known as the Shroud of Turin, believed by millions to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. Imprinted on the fabric is a faint, ghostly image of a crucified man. The question of whether this man is or is not Jesus has been debated for centuries. But when 3D computer graphics artist Ray Downing decided to use today’s most sophisticated electronic tools and software to recreate the face of Jesus, the Shroud of Turin is the first place he turned.

While there have been many documentaries about the shroud, most have centered on the shroud’s authenticity. HISTORY’s THE REAL FACE OF JESUS? presents something very different: an attempt to reveal the image embedded in the fibers of the fabric, to turn the faint, unfocused, two-dimensional image into a living, moving, 3D creation – if they are successful, this may be the most accurate depiction ever made of the man many believe to be Jesus Christ.

You can view the trailer for the History Channel feature here (it's too short to be worth embedding here). While there's plenty of controversy over the credentials of the Shroud of Turin - in a poll here on TDG last year ("What do you think of the Turin Shroud?"), a substantial majority of TDG readers said they think the religious artefact is not the burial shroud of Jesus Christ - it certainly looks like a bit of fun and puts a new spin on the old "what did Jesus look like?" question (e.g. in this Popular Mechanics feature from 2002).

Why Ancient Wisdom Matters

Perhaps one of the most eloquent expositions ever of the beauty of ancient cultures and the debate over 'progress' versus so-called 'primitive' thought. In this recent lecture, anthropologist Wade Davis takes you on a non-stop, two hour journey, taking in the shamanic cultures of the Amazon, Voodoo rituals of Haiti, the aboriginal culture of Australia, the bodhisattvas of Tibet, and the resilient Inuit cultures of the north, amongst others. Enjoy:

Davis's new book The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World is available from Amazon US and UK (great cover image).

Travel Egypt with Bauval

For those that have always wanted to visit the pyramids, here's a tour that might be right up your alley. 'Alternative Egypt' author Robert Bauval (The Orion Mystery) will be hosting the All Pyramids Tour of Egypt this coming equinox (19 to 27 March 2010), staying at the world-famous Sphinx Guesthouse (which is just 300 metres in front of the Sphinx). Co-host on the tour is well-known author on 2012-related subjects, John Major Jenkins. The tour will concentrate on Giza and other pyramids close to Cairo, and will feature evening lectures from the two hosts:

Together they will host a special once-in-a-lifetime tour in Cairo, Egypt, in intellectual and spiritual preparation for the coming of 21 December 2012. Don't miss this unique event when we will visit and perform ancient rituals of rejuvenation at pyramid sites. In addition to sight seeing there will be be lectures, workshops, and round-table talks...

Note that bookings and passport details must be received before 5 March 2010 if you want to take part in this tour (and if you're keen, remember that there is a $US100 discount if you book before February 15). Full details at Robert's website.

Pyramid Scheme

Over on the Daily Grail's User-contributed News Stream, TDG member zsitchin has linked to a news item on the construction of the pyramids at Giza. In the story, Dr Zahi Hawass says that new evidence - in the form of the tombs of those who worked on the huge structures - confirms the theory that slaves did not build the pyramids; instead the workforce was made up of willing Egyptians.

"These tombs were built beside the king's pyramid, which indicates that these people were not by any means slaves," Zahi Hawass, the chief archaeologist heading the Egyptian excavation team, said in a statement.

"If they were slaves, they would not have been able to build their tombs beside their king's." He said the collection of workers' tombs, some of which were found in the 1990s, were among the most significant finds in the 20th and 21st centuries. They belonged to workers who built the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre.

Hawass had earlier found graffiti on the walls from workers calling themselves "friends of Khufu" -- another sign that they were not slaves.

There have been plenty of theories thrown around over the years about the construction of these massive edifices, ranging from orthodox to off-the-planet (literally). So I've added a new poll (on the right-side of the front page) asking who you think built them.

Voynich Manuscript Dated?

According to TDG reader Nick Pelling, an Austrian documentary due to air on Thursday, 10th December 2009 (on ORF2) has had four samples of the Voynich Manuscript's vellum dated, with very interesting results. The likely date range is 1404 to 1438 at 95% confidence, and apparently have found evidence that the ink was added in the same period. As Nick says, "that pretty much rules out Roger Bacon, Francis Bacon, the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucians, Leonardo da Vinci, and indeed more or less everything pre-1400 or post-Columbus." That is, pretty much every theory ever offered on the origin of the mysterious manuscript!

The programme teaser is here (German language). The first English site to run a story following the press conference was Earthtimes.org, while Nick was the first to post and discuss the news at his own Voynich-related research site (more on the story here).

Maybe XKCD got it right. Thanks to Nick for the heads-up.

Previously on TDG:

Zahi Forever

For those that thought that Egypt's ancient history would soon be loosed from the iron grip of Dr Zahi Hawass (with his mandatory retirement from his position in May 2010), think again:

This past week the President of Egypt signed a decree naming me the Vice Minister of Culture. I was very honoured by his decision, as it shows his continuing support of my work to preserve the monuments of Egypt.

There is a rule in Egypt that when a government official reaches a certain age, they retire. Therefore I was planning to retire next May. There are many good people at the Supreme Council of Antiquities who have experience and whom I hope could do a good job protecting Egypt’s history. However, I was concerned that the government would decide to appoint someone from the University to fill my position, who did not have experience in archaeology. Such a person might be impressed by the glory of the job and not focus on the monuments, and all the projects I have initiated would be abandoned.

Although this worried me, I was planning my life after the SCA. I was planning to have a new office with all of my books, where I could continue writing. I would continue to give lectures and travel all over the world, and also continue my excavations at Saqqara and the Valley of the Kings. But then President Mubarak called me on the phone to ask me when I am really retiring. He said he would appoint me the Vice Minister of Culture, which would mean that I would not have to retire next year, as Ministers and Vice Ministers in Egypt have no set age for retirement.

Yes, it's a very good thing that we didn't end up with someone who "might be impressed by the glory of the job", and abandon all the projects you initiated Zahi...

I get the feeling that this has been in the pipeline for some time. A no-brainer really, given Dr Hawass' work in conserving the monuments, as well as his pursuit of stolen artefacts, watchfulness against Zionist conspirators, and creation of New World Orders.

Lost Symbol Conference

While I'm stuck here in Australia, the 'Decoding the Lost Symbol' conference will be taking place next weekend in Los Angeles, California. Speakers include Michael Cremo, John Major Jenkins, and William Henry:

Join your fellow travelers Sunday, November 8, for a day-long exploration of hidden history, signs, symbols, and secrets hosted by international best-selling author, Simon Cox.

Beginning at 10:00am, we will present a series of talks featuring cutting edge speakers from the United States and Great Britain, a musical interlude from world-renowned artists and multimedia presentations highlighting the latest research. It promises to be a day to remember.

Details available from the website.

My Guide to Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol

As mentioned last week, I've just published my revised version of The Guide to Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, and it's available from Amazon.com for just $9.95 (or alternatively, Amazon UK for £7.99). As many of you know, I first published a guide to the sequel to The Da Vinci Code five years ago, in 2004. Much of what I predicted to be in The Lost Symbol turned out to be spot-on, so a number of chapters have just been reworked a little, while there are completely new chapters on Noetic Science (the inclusion of which surprised me somewhat), the 'Lost Word', and the cipher techniques discussed and utilised by Dan Brown. So, as a heads-up: if you bought the original guide you will not get a lot of extra material if you buy the updated version. If you don't have it though, there's plenty of fun and informative reading in there which I'm sure you'll enjoy.

I posted a chapter excerpt last week here on the Grail, titled "Dan Brown and the Lost Word". Over at The Cryptex you can also read a full chapter on the sacred landscape of Washington, D.C. in its original format as a PDF download (see the link in the left-hand column at the site). For the full rundown on the impact of Masonry on the Founding Fathers, the hidden history of America, the sacred landscape of Washington, D.C., Noetic Science, and the secret traditions which are at the heart of Robert Langdon's journey in The Lost Symbol, pick up a copy of the book. Or the Baby Jesus will cry: