Sunday, October 17, 2010

Relics: Perplexing Objects of the Past

Relics: Perplexing Objects of the Past
By Scott Corrales

Few people outside of South America have ever heard of this most mysterious and controversial emblem of power, which according to some sources, may be the ultimate source of mysteries.

Tradition holds that the Baton of Command (a direct translation of its Spanish name, Bastón de Mando, which in turn translates as Simihuinqui -- the name given to it by the South American tribesmen) was crafted some eight thousand years ago by Multán (also known as Voltán), a mighty chieftain of the Comechingones tribe, from a piece of black basalt. The occult powers of this ancient artifact were legendary among the tribes of the modern Argentinean Chaco and the Bolivian lowlands, and in the 1830's, an Araucanian warlord named Calfucurá--well steeped in his people's traditions--led a massive search for the object in the mountain ranges of Tandil, Balrcarce, San Luis and Córdoba which did not turn up the Baton of Command.

It is at this point that we must delve into the other esoteric tradition linked to this black basalt wand: students of the occult believe that aside from its neolithic age, the Baton of Command is tied in to the European tradition of the Holy Grail, which has been handed down to us through Arthurian legend and Wagnerian opera and is far removed from fiction.

These esoterics, like the late Argentinean scholar Guillermo Terrera, believe that the 12th century chansons de geste of Chretien de Troyes and Wolfram Von Eschenbach make allusions to the Baton of Command and to the existence of South America--a landmass whose existence Medieval man could not have suspected.

While these allegations would quite rightly be dismissed as crankery in the hallowed halls of academe, Terrera and his followers nevertheless make an intriguing case for their beliefs. According to these esoteric revisionists, mythological sources in Central and Eastern Asia make reference to a mysterious character entrusted with the custody of two sacred items: one of them the so-called Holy Grail o Sangraal, and the other being "the Stone of Wisdom", which they identify as the Baton of Command.

The enigmatic custodian of these items would have begun his career thousands of years ago, and is only known as the "Man from Persia" -- the Parsifal of Eschenbach's songs, and the Sir Perceval of the Arthurian Cycle. According to the German minstrel's epic, the enigmatic Parsifal travelled to the land of Argentum ("...the secret gates of a silent land named Argentum and will always be...") to lay the objects under his care in the sacred hill known as Vlarava. Extrapolating from the epic poem, these esotericists have identified Argentum with Argentina and the sacred mount Vlarava with Mount Uritorco in the country's northern reaches.

Putting aside their reliance on late Medieval epic for a moment, Terrera and his colleagues further noted that the knighthood of the Grail mentioned in the songs is none other than that of the Knights Templar, about whom much has already been written. Their belief is borne out by the fact that the Templars seemed obsessed with recovering a holy relic which was variously known as the "Stone of Wisdom" or the "Talking Stone" -- could this have been the Baton of Command?

In 1934, a mystic named Orfelio Ulises, who had just returned to Argentina after having spent eight years in Tibet as an adept of lamaism, came across upon the mysterious Baton of Command, allegedly "guided" by the mental powers of his Tibetan masters, and dug the object out of the slopes of Mount Uritorco in Capilla del Monte. While all of this smacks of Madame Blavatsky in all her glory, other more credible events would also come to pass.

Much like Spielberg's Indiana Jones, Ulises would come to realize that other parties were interested in his discovery: The Nazi Ahnenerbe ("Ancestral Heritage Society"), founded by Heinrich Himmler in 1935 with the aim of supporting the theories put forth by the notorious Thule Society, had already secured paranormal objects like the Spear of Longinus--also known as the Spear of Destiny--in 1938, and a year earlier had started to send out worldwide expeditions in search of Noah's Ark, Atlantis, and bizarre medicines used by South American natives. It was only a matter of time before these twisted forces had fixed their predatory gaze on the Baton of Command. To their aid came then-colonel Juan Domingo Perón--Argentina's future dictator. Perón spent the late 1930's as a military observer in Italy and Germany and was also fascinated by the occult.

Orfelio Ulises and a number of "hermetic scholars" managed to conceal the periapt from the Nazis and keep in Argentina, where it remained under Ulises' care until his death, and then passed on to Professor Guillermo Terrera in 1948. It is currently in the custody of Dr. Fernando Fluguerto Martí and his Delphos Group.

Also in 1948, Baron Georg Von Hauenschild, an archaeologist and Grail scholar, prepared an exhaustive report on the Baton of Command for the Institute of Archaeology, Linguistics and Folklore of the University of Cordoba, showing that the object's estimated age was indeed 8000 years and of clearly neolithic manufacture. Great care was taken by prehistoric craftsmen in polishing the object, rounding off its base and tapering its head into a soft conical shape. The volcanic basalt that it is made of gives it a metallic look, and when struck, the Baton of Command makes a ringing sound. Subsequent electromagnetic and spectroscopic analyses proved that the Baton emits an electromagnetic field; students of the occult have construed this to mean that a properly trained adept, under the right conditions, might be able to establish a paraphysical link to other realities or unlock the wand's secrets.

This is where the Baton of Command's powers apparently lie: it was designed, according to Professor Terrera, as a means of regenerating humanity and patiently awaits the right person to come and make use of it. As of this writing, that person has apparently not come.

Author Luis Alberto Vence makes the following curious note. According to historical sources and the beliefs of contemporary smiths and armorers, the mythical blade Excalibur would have measured approximately 1.10 meters -- the exact length of the Simihuinqui or Baton of Command.

Metaphysical claptrap or occult truth? You be the judge. In his book El Valle de los Espíritus (Buenos Aires, Kier, 1989) Terrera sums up the situation thus: "We must bear in mind that all that science has discovered up until yesterday as an absolute truth could be corrected either today or tomorrow, since all human knowledge is subject to change, as part of the dynamic process that accompanies it."

Rings of Power and Other Finery

In 1997, moviegoers were treated to John Cameron's Titanic and its subplot concerning an intriguing blue diamond. Jewels such as the one shown in the film have often been ascribed remarkable talismanic powers, and in other cases, qualities that make them lethal to the user, much like the One Ring in J.R.R. Tolkien's saga.

Not many of these items have survived down to our time, but we know that Alexander the Great was particularly fond of an unusual opal which kept him from being wounded in battle. Upon embarking on his conquest of the Persian Empire, the Macedonian king (whose own armor would become talismanic over the centuries, as mentioned earlier) made a quick stop at the ruins of Troy to secure a sacred shield, which had belonged to one of the heroes of Homeric legend, in an effort to bolster his invulnerability an extra notch. But neither the exotic opal nor the ancient shield were much help when an arrow pierced Alexander's lungs while storming the walls of a city in the Punjab.

Rings occupy a privileged position among all articles of jewelry: Apollonius of Tyana received a ring of amber from one of the initiates in the fabled city of Iarchas somewhere in Central Asia (or another dimension?). The amber stone allegedly kept its wearer from harm and enabled him or her to have foreknowledge of any dangers ahead--a faculty that the legendary Apollonius employed more than once. Charlemagne possessed an unusual ring whose stone was supposed to preserve all of a warlord's conquests. Naturally, this amulet quickly taken by the Frankish monarch's son Lewis and in turn squabbled over by Charlemagne's nephews, who divided up their grandfather's empire.

But the powers ascribed to these adornments mainly reflect the wishes of the human wearer rather than any true supernatural powers. However, what are we to make of the ring worn by Charles XII of Sweden? This Scandinavian monarch ruled an empire built around the Baltic Sea and was one of Russia's most implacable foes. Author Brad Steiger notes in his book Atlantis Rising (Dell, 1976) that the Swedish king's rise to power had apparently been aided an abetted by his dealings with a "little grey man" who had given him a ring that would vanish on the day of Charles' death. The monarch appears to have gladly accepted this gift and embarked on his military career. In the heat of battle, shortly after one of his officers noted that the ring had vanished from his fingers, the monarch received a mortal wound.

Emeralds held a particular fascination for the infamous Emperor Nero, according to the historian Pliny, who wrote that the lyre-strumming despot owned a flat, nameless specimen imbued with supernatural powers, which he even used as a magnifying glass. While antiquity was fascinated by colored stones like sapphires and rubies, diamonds acquired importance in more recent centuries--some of them having names and histories as bizarre as any fictional object, and the Hope, Star of India and Kolhinoor diamonds have been featured on silver screen.

The Regent diamond is one of the more fascinating ones. A slave in an Indian mine found the precious stone sometime during the 1600's and escaped bondage, only to be slain by a sailor to whom he had shown the diamond. The sailor took the stone to France, where he died a suicide. The Regent changed hands from one French aristocrat to the next, bringing misfortune to all of them. Napoleon Bonaparte had the Regent embedded in the pommel of his sword, which he later surrendered upon being exiled to Elba in 1814.

The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Thrice Great

God or human wizard? All books of esoteric lore speak reverently of Hermes Trismegistus or Hermes Thrice Great and his coveted "Emerald Tablet". Worshipped by the Greek residents of the Egyptian city of Alexandria, and identified with the ancient deity Thoth, the scribe of the underworld, Hermes Trismegistus was believed to have been a human monarch who ruled for three thousand years and wrote an amazing thirty-five thousand books -- a useful way of filling up three millennia. Yet only fragments of this mythic figure's writings have been handed down from hoary antiquity, ironically through the works of Christian authors.

Although some modern scholars agree that Hermes Thrice Great was in fact the title given to the proto-chemist in charge of refining gold--a seemingly "magical" process to the ancients--medieval alchemists and thinkers considered Trismegistus to have handed down secrets preserved by the aptly-named "hermetic" schools of knowledge.

The most significant of these works was a document referred to as the Emerald Tablet, which was supposedly buried along with Trismegistus's mummy under the Great Pyramid of Gizeh. The Tablet allegedly reveals the secrets of alchemy. Although the Hermes Thrice Great's mummy still waits patiently for archaeologists to find it (although the "Tomb of Osiris" discovered in 1998 does offer fascinating possibilities), part of the Emerald Tablet's metallurgical secrets can be found in the Leyden Papyrus--brought back to Europe in the 1820's by Johann d'Anastasi--which escaped the destruction of alchemical texts mandated by the Emperor Diocletian in 298 A.D..
Based on this historical assessment, one could hardly consider the Emerald Table a holy relic...unless the theories of Argentinean author Fabio Zerpa are taken into consideration.

Zerpa, better known for his work in ufology, cites the Count de Gebélin's belief that the Emerald Tablet is merely another name for the legendary Book of Thoth -- a forbidden book some ten thousand years old which would have been the basis of Egyptian civilization and occultism, as well as the key to "mastering the secrets of the air, the sea, the earth and the heavenly bodies". In Primitive World, his treatise on Egypt, de Gebélin remarks that the Book of Thoth survived destruction because it was cleverly disguised as a game, as we shall see below.

An Egyptian priest, Nefer-Ka-Ptah, retrieved the book, which had been sealed in a series of nested sarcophagi and kept in the bottom of Nile. Upon studying it, the priest was able to learn the art of numerology, communication with entities living across space and time, clairvoyance, and the art of building "magic mirrors" which do not reflect the viewer's countenance, but rather other worlds inhabited by loathsome beings.

Nefer-Ka-Ptah died a suicide, according to the story, and the Book of Thoth was spirited out of Egypt. Its magical powers and hidden knowledge would spread around the world in the form of the Minor and Major Arcana of the Tarot, which first appeared around 1200 A.D. in Italy as carticellas ("little cards") and were banned in 1240 and 1329 by bishops across Europe as malign. In his book The Black Art (Paperback Library, 1968) Rollo Ahmed, notes that the High Priestess card represents the Egyptian goddess Isis--perhaps the most tangible link to its Egyptian origin.

So, if Zerpa is right, the Tarot deck in your drawer could harken back to mythological times, placing it among the oldest relics known to mankind.

Magic Mirrors and Scrying Stones

Mathematician, astrologer, alchemist, spy, close advisor to queens and emperors: these are the impressive credentials of Dr. John Dee, one of the 16th century's most influential personages. Although he is best remembered for his work in the esoteric arts, mainly the development of the Enochian language employed in magical rituals, it is possible to find endless references to Dee's importance as political and scientific figure without a single mention of the aspects which have made him a household name in occult circles.

John Dee's achievements in esoterica--alleged communication with an order of angelic beings--were achieved through the technique known as "scrying", looking into mirrors or similar reflective surfaces such as bowls filled with water, mercury or oil, in order to have clairvoyant experiences. Dr. Dee himself lacked this ability, and depended on his assistant Edward Kelley to do the viewing (a technique very similar to a modern-day Remote Viewer and his handler). The techniques involved in the process of speaking to otherworldly entities are contained in Dee's Libri Mysteriorum.

The reflective surfaces employed in the scrying were a globe of rock crystal--a precursor of the "crystal ball"--and a flat surface which Dee referred to as his "jet shewstone". These items are important relics of the paranormal tradition and survive to this very day, currently displayed in the British Museum.

Where Dr. Dee acquired his objects of power is a mystery. Nevertheless, there has been the suggestion--posited by paranormal researcher and playwright Eugenia Macer-Story--that the good doctor may have obtained them, by means of the activities of English "seadogs" raiding Spanish galleons, from the place they were most available at the time: Aztec Mexico, only recently conquered by Spain.The Aztec priesthood had fashioned a great many magic mirrors out of obsidian, and some of them are in museums, like the legendary black mirror of the evil deity Tezcatlipoca, on display in the Mexico City's Instituto Nacional de Antropología.

There exist other objects allegedly employed for the purpose of communication with other levels of existence. One of them leads us into a discussion of the ever-controversial Knights Templar, the monastic order of warriors whose activities had a major impact on Europe and the Mediterranean Basin during almost two centuries. The Templars are perhaps better known for their activities during the Crusades and the tragic end of their order at the hands of the kings of France, but a number of scholars have focussed on the occult aspects of their work. George Andrews cites French paranormalist Guy Tarade's research into a document dating back to the year 1310, which contains the "transcript" of the torture of knight Templar by Church authorities. The tormented warrior-monk speaks of time travel, fiery chariots, wells of darkness in the heavens and realms of existence around unknown stars. Logically, this can be dismissed as pain-induced delirium, but the transcript hints at these things being seen through a "chest made of an unknown metal" tentatively identified with the Ark of the Covenant.

Here we take another flying leap into speculation: aside from all the powers ascribed to it over the millennia, could the Ark have been a means of seeing into other places and times? Andrews suggests that the "well of darkness in the heavens" is an unspecialized description of the astronomical phenomenon our scientists term a Black Hole--something utterly unknown in the 14th century.

Mysterium Tremendum: The Ark of the Covenant

It is with some trepidation that any writer approaches the subject of the Ark, since theories about its nature branch out like the leaves of a tree into unsuspected directions, making a cursory examination nearly impossible. In the limited space available to us here, we shall try to examine some of the most provocative thoughts on this, the most spoken-of relic that is out of our hands.

Viewers of Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark already know the basics: the Ark was a transportable device given by Yahweh to the ancient Israelites as a means of communication and occasionally as a weapon. The holy object was stored in the Temple of Jerusalem where presumably only members of the priesthood had access to it, and was kept safe from capture during the various invasions of Palestine by foreign powers (Egyptians, Assyrians and Hellenic Syrians). Although the Emperor Titus successfully conquered Jerusalem in 70 A.D., his triumphal arch in Rome, which shows Roman legionaries on parade with their captured booty from the temple (the Menorah, sacred trumpets and tables), does not include the Ark--a sculptor's oversight, perhaps? These objects remained in Rome until the city was sacked by the marauding Vandals in the 5th century and taken to their capital, Carthage. The Byzantine armies of Belisarius shipped the objects to Constantinople after the conquest of the Vandal kingdom, but the superstitious emperor Justinian, fearing that the captured "treasure of the Jews" would spell the ruin of Constantinople, had it objects sent to Jerusalem in 555 A.D.

Modern writers of occult history suggest that the Knights Templar discovered the Ark in the ruins of Solomon's temple and took custody of it, eventually shipping it back to Europe. A number of hiding places have been suggested for it:one of them is Rennes le Chateau in France, certain European forests and even remote Abyssinia. Some authors have raised the possibility that before reaching its ultimate resting place, the Ark may have been guarded in a very unusual location: the fortress known as Castel del Monte, located in the "heel" of the boot-shaped Italian peninsula.

Castel del Monte was built in 1240 A.D. at the command of the Frederick II, holder of an impressive number of titles, including Holy Roman Emperor and King of Jerusalem. A patron and ally of the Knights Templar, the emperor decreed that his strange, octagonal castle be built to precise measurements having magical significance and enclosing a main hall known, suggestively, as the Master's Chamber. The late Robert Charroux suggested that Castel del Monte was meant to be "a castle of Templar alchemists, governed by the figure 8, which when written horizontally, is the symbol of infinity and universal domination." (Charroux, Legacy of the Gods, NY: Berkeley, 1974).

Lacking all the typical inner structures of a castle, such as armories, refectories and living quarters, this octagonal fortress was not meant to repel invaders or serve as a garrison. In the light of all of its mystical associations, could we not speculate that this, in fact, was the special place built to receive the ultimate relic--the Ark of the Covenant? Under the protection of the powerful German emperor and the Knights Templar, it is hard to conceive of a safer location, or as Charroux points out, a more symbolic one, since Castel del Monte is located halfway from the greatest points of pilgrimage in the Mediterranean world: Santiago de Compostela in the west and Jerusalem in the east.


Objects of such mystical prowess often conferred legitimacy upon the wearer: the crown of Constantine hung in full view above the altar of Constantinople's Hagia Sophia church, from where it was taken many times by anyone inclined to make a bid for the Byzantine throne. The successful coup-de-etat was seen as a sign of divine favor and the crown returned to its proper place.

Humanity has certainly shown a flair for imbuing physical objects with unsuspected magical or supernatural powers, but can we casually dismiss their existence as flights of fancy? Certainly some of them existed, and some of them have astonishing stories to tell.