Thursday, July 14, 2011

Legend Quest Secrets with Symbologist Ashley Cowie

Symbologist Ashley Cowie makes his debut in the new Syfy series Legend Quest on July 13 at 10pm, as Cowie goes on the hunt for the notoriously elusive Ark of the Covenant and the mysterious Mayan Talking Cross. In Legend Quest, Ashley Cowie heads to Africa in search of the Ark of the Covenant before his quest leads him to the Order of the Knights Templar and various locations in Europe to learn where the Ark could possibly be after centuries of hidden secrets surrounding the box that once contained the biblical Ten Commandments.
Ahead of the series debut of Legend Quest on Syfy, TheDeadbolt went on a symbolic phone journey with Ashley Cowie to uncover the secrets within the new Syfy show, his research into the Ark of the Covenant, Cowie's own involvement inthe Knights Templar and what fans can expect from Legend Quest on July 13.

THE DEADBOLT: Since there are so many theories surrounding the Ark of the Covenant, can you talk about how you find the right road to follow to know that you have the best possible location?

ASHLEY COWIE: Yes, and that’s a great observation. I mean, it’s been done so many times - people looking for the Ark. My methodology is to take everything that’s been written so far, I research everything that it cannot be and, like Sherlock Holmes says, “hopefully end up with what can only be.” I’ll be honest, when you see the show; we’ve [encountered] a number of dead ends along the way for the Ark of Covenant. But when I find a clue, see a symbol or something that’s absolutely indicative of where the Ark was taken next, we follow that.
When in the show we’ve hit a dead end, we’ll go back to the last stage and then take it forward again. But that’s methodology. It’s really following your nose as we go. Rather than making up history, if we find something that doesn’t work, we backtrack ourselves and then go forward, which is a nightmare for production who have half an hour to cover an artifact. But I insisted the whole way along, we cannot make anything up with this. It’s got to be there or else we’re going backwards. And there are a number of occasions where we go backwards.

THE DEADBOLT: From what you know and have investigated, how is it possible that the Ark could still be out there somewhere?

COWIE: The Ark existed. As far as we know the Ark actually existed. We know that it appeared in 556 BC when the Babylonians invaded the Temple of Solomon. So many other relics from that time that were taken from the Temple have turned up in the last 40 or 50 years since archaeology started using technology. We’re going on the premise that the Ark is out there somewhere and there are lots of clues and legends within medieval text from everywhere from Africa all the way through to Northern Europe.
So, you know what? To be absolutely honest with you, we have to go on the same assumption that everybody else from Indiana Jones to a professor from London did and that is that it exists. Therefore, if it exists, where would it be? The only way we can prove it is out there is we actually find it. And we’ve done pretty well with the show, I must add.

THE DEADBOLT: In the episode, you mention that you are a Templar Knight.

COWIE: Indeed.

THE DEADBOLT: What does it mean to be a templar today as compared to what’s been written? Can you demystify that for me?

COWIE: Yes, I would love to. So many modern orders have sprung up since the Da Vinci Code was released, modern Knights Templar, and in Scotland. About 10 to 12 years ago I was approached by not a secret order but an order with secrets who asked me to put some of my research work into the order, come along and meet them. So what I’m involved in is a bunch of guys whose average age is about 75.
They are keepers of historical knowledge. They protect certain sacred sights and certain churches and chapels in the UK, they fundraise for charity. So a modern Knight Templar is somebody that tries to live by the virtues of the old order. But we live in 2011, so we do not run about on clandestine orders with super secrets. We do not have the Holy Grail, but we have a bunch of like-minded guys who are involved in historical study and the protection of the heritage of Scotland. So that’s pretty much what I’m involved in and I could answer any question you want about modernKnights Templar, as we do not have secrets. We always believe that if somebody has the ability to ask a question, they deserve an answer.

THE DEADBOLT: Sounds like Freemason.
COWIE: It’s kind of like Freemason. However, we do not stipulate that you have to be a Freemason to be a Knights Templar. We’re not a Masonic order. There is a Masonic Knights Templar order, but that is not ours. We are from the original order that through Scotland, so certainly not freemasonry.

THE DEADBOLT: Even though you’re a Templar yourself, why was it so hard to get answers about the Ark from your own brotherhood?

COWIE: Yes, that’s interesting. The Knights Templar today, there are two or three different embodies out there. You have the modern Catholic Church, they have their own Knights Templar order. You have to be an ordained Catholic, you have to be a member of the Catholic Church, and answer to Supreme Grand Master within the Vatican. Those are the people that have the history of the Ark.
The order I belong to is a Scottish-based order. We have membership in affiliate countries. But each order and each Knight Templar, depending on his pedigree, has different histories. Each person within each order has different knowledge and different information depending where they are within the order. So I can’t send a group e-mail out going, "Hey guys, where is the Ark of the Covenant?" What I can do is sit down and peel, ask questions, and converse with them. That’s we do in the show. We meet variousKnights Templar in the show. Some of them have information; some of them don’t know what the last person was talking about. But I’ve got to try and piece that all together.
Unfortunately, history is made with up with points of view and perspectives and everyone has their own. So what I have to do is kind of move through that, tremulous rhetoric, so to speak. Then that’s why I can’t go to any one person within aKnights Templar order, because there are three separate orders and each person knows different things.

THE DEADBOLT: How much does the Vatican factor into the past and current status of these religious artifacts? Why are these things being kept secret?
COWIE: If you go on the Da Vinci Code, the Vatican are holding secrets that could cripple the world, take it to its knees, are holding everything. But it’s not altogether true. These are [sectionalized] versions - The Vatican does have 76 kilometers of secret archive underneath their building there in Italy, what they say are documents and historical papers but very few actual artifacts.
They are not going to claim to own the Ark of the Covenant. They will not claim to have the Holy Grail or any one of these artifacts. It’s just not good business practice to do that. Plus they’ve stripped so many countries of artifacts over the last 400 years that they cannot say we have any one thing. They just have to blanket and canvas deny having anything that’s of any value. I don’t think that conspiracies [are going on] up there. I think there are just good business practices in the same way as Coca-Cola. I will not give out their ingredients, just have the public enjoy the drink.

THE DEADBOLT: During World War II, the Germans also searched for these artifacts.

COWIE: Yes, indeed.

THE DEADBOLT: Did you factor that into your research? If so, what did you learn from Hitler’s search?

COWIE: You’re going to love the Holy Lance [episode]. It takes me to the heart of the SS cult movement in Germany and I interview Germans. I go to one of the most sinister places I have ever been to in the world. I realized when I was there that I did not know a thing about the pain of World War II until I stood in that building where the 12 generals of the SS gathered to put together their different occult ideas and practices and whatnot. We interviewed a lot of the people about that and had to be very, very careful doing it.
But the Nazis did go searching for two of the relics indeed that we’re looking for. The Holy Lance, Hitler was obsessed with the Holy Lance. General George Patton got a hold of it. Hitler was obsessed with it and he seized it from Viennas. First act of oppression when he came into [power] was to seize the Hofburg Museum, the treasury in Vienna, and seize the lance that pierced the site of Christ. He got that artifact.
He also sent people looking for the Cintamani Stone in the Philippines. He sent people looking for the Talking Cross in Peru. There were searches done in the Antarctic for different relics. And of course, the Grail itself. He sent [Rudolph] Hess over to Scotland in the early part of the 20th Century looking for the Holy Grail. So he had a big involvement. At all corners I was looking over my shoulder, not for modern day Nazis but just to make sure I wasn’t offending people by asking them and really searching with hard questions.

THE DEADBOLT: So you’re saying Hitler did find the Lance?

COWIE: It’s believed he certainly did. He seized it from Vienna and he took the Lance to Nuremburg. That’s historical fact. And General Patton seized the Lance in 1945 - I think it was September '45 - and he gave it back to Austria. He give the Holy Lance back to Austria after the war. So Hitler certainly got a hold of the Lance. I mean, there was a book written. Whether it’s credible or not is always argued. Trevor Ravenscroft, I believe, wrote a book called The Spear of Destiny in ’73, later the story of Hitler seeing the Lance, grabbing the Lance, what he did with the Lance.
Of course the Holy Lance is said to have the power to control the destiny of the world for good or evil. 47 generations of holy Roman empires had it and Charlemagne had it. Napoleon drove his forces into Northern Europe looking for it. It's one of the most powerful artifacts in the history of mankind. Now, whether it holds supernatural powers or whether it generates the beliefs within the holder to actually go out and do these things, it certainly has had a huge influence on European history, and Hitler did have that one artifact.

Vatican paper set to clear Knights Templar

The mysteries of the Order of the Knights Templar could soon be laid bare after the Vatican announced the release of a crucial document which has not been seen for almost 700 years.

A new book, Processus contra Templarios, will be published by the Vatican's Secret Archive on Oct 25, and promises to restore the reputation of the Templars, whose leaders were burned as heretics when the order was dissolved in 1314.

The Knights Templar were a powerful and secretive group of warrior monks during the Middle Ages. Their secrecy has given birth to endless legends, including one that they guard the Holy Grail.
Recently, they have been featured in films including The Da Vinci Code and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The Order was founded by Hugues de Payns, a French knight, after the First Crusade of 1099 to protect pilgrims on the road to Jerusalem. Its headquarters was the captured Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, which lent the Templars their name.

But when Jerusalem fell to Muslim rule in 1244, rumours surfaced that the knights were heretics who worshipped idols in a secret initiation ceremony.
In 1307, King Philip IV "the Fair" of France, in desperate need of funds, ordered the arrest and torture of all Templars. After confessing various sins their leader, Jacques de Molay, was burnt at the stake.
Pope Clement V then dissolved the order and issued arrest warrants for all remaining members. Ever since, the Templars have been thought of as heretics.
The new book is based on a scrap of parchment discovered in the Vatican's secret archives in 2001 by Professor Barbara Frale. The long-lost document is a record of the trial of the Templars before Pope Clement, and ends with a papal absolution from all heresies.
Prof Frale said: "I could not believe it when I found it. The paper was put in the wrong archive in the 17th century."
The document, known as the Chinon parchment, reveals that the Templars had an initiation ceremony which involved "spitting on the cross", "denying Jesus" and kissing the lower back, navel and mouth of the man proposing them.
The Templars explained to Pope Clement that the initiation mimicked the humiliation that knights could suffer if they fell into the hands of the Saracens, while the kissing ceremony was a sign of their total obedience.
The Pope concluded that the entrance ritual was not truly blasphemous, as alleged by King Philip when he had the knights arrested. However, he was forced to dissolve the Order to keep peace with France and prevent a schism in the church.
"This is proof that the Templars were not heretics," said Prof Frale. "The Pope was obliged to ask pardon from the knights.
"For 700 years we have believed that the Templars died as cursed men, and this absolves them."

Rights Groups Say Burma Army Using Prison Labor on Front Lines

Rights groups say they have new details about how Burma’s military forces prisoners to work as laborers and human shields on the front lines of its battles against ethnic militias.

Human Rights Watch and the Karen Human Rights Group say Burma’s military is forcing hundreds of convicts to work as porters, mine sweepers and human shields as it battles ethnic militias.

In a joint report released Wednesday in Bangkok, the rights groups detailed the abuses through interviews with 58 escaped prisoners.

The convicts say they were used in military operations from 2010 to 2011 against ethnic militias in eastern Burma’s Karen state and Pegu (Bago) region.

All say they were forced to work without pay and described slave-like conditions including inadequate medical care, food and shelter, as well as beatings, torture, and summary executions.

David Mathieson, a Burma researcher with Human Rights Watch, told the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand that the abuse of prison labor is systematic and widespread.

“This is not just something that happens in Karen state and a local rogue commander decides to be brutal. This was something that someone senior in the military instructed the Ministry of Home Affairs to assemble numbers of men from different facilities and then transport them through the country. And, it’s quite chilling how well organized it is,” Mathieson said.

The Karen Human Rights Group has documented the use of convict porters in Burma since 1992 but authorities have denied prisoners are exposed to fighting.

Rights groups say the mistreatment of convict porters on the front lines is one of many ongoing war crimes in Burma and the United Nations should be investigating through a commission of inquiry.

Human Rights Watch cites attacks on civilians, extrajudicial killings, forced relocations, torture, rape, and the use of child soldiers.

The New York-based group says Burma’s armed ethnic groups are also committing abuses including forced labor, indiscriminate use of land mines, and child soldiers.

Elaine Pearson is deputy Asia director for the group. She says there were hopes that Burma’s election last year would lead to a gradual improvement in human rights. “But, since the elections, the fighting has actually intensified in northern ethnic areas. And, there really hasn’t been any change in the army’s brutal behavior against civilians,” she stated.

Since gaining independence from Britain in 1948, Burma has fought sporadic battles against ethnic militias seeking autonomy.

The internal conflict is one of the world’s longest running and is a major reason authorities cite for decades of military rule.

Burma in November held its first election in 20 years, replacing a military government with a nominally civilian one led by former military leaders.

The election was widely condemned as a sham designed to keep the military in power.