A year ago I embarked on a magical mystery tour of sacred sites scattered (or rather strategically placed) throughout the mysterious region of southern France known as Occitania. The article I penned upon my return from those adventures swiftly became my most widely viewed blog to date (Holy Grail - The Mysterious Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau), and such was the level of interest provoked by its esoteric themes that I promised to return to them. It's taken rather longer than expected, thanks in no small measure to the crazy rollercoaster ride that 2020 has unexpectedly become. Who could have predicted twelve months ago that the entire globe would be thrown into such chaos and turmoil as we've experienced throughout the Coronavirus pandemic? If there's one thing life has taught me though, it's that chaos and destruction are usually a necessary precursor to new growth and new ways of thinking and acting. In a sense we've already witnessed examples of this in the way people have found alternative methods of coming together and working during lockdown. Skype, Zoom and other forms of video-conferencing have kept people in contact during the long months when physical interaction was no longer possible. Meanwhile, selfless keyworkers have gone the extra mile to treat the sick, protect the vulnerable and keep our shop shelves stocked and vital services running. Amidst the chaos and disruption, we've seen the first seeds sown of a new and more caring society. We could have seen this coming. The Phoenix will always rise from the ashes. Why? Because creation conforms to a pattern and a template... which brings me back full-circle to the ancient secrets encoded in the magical landscape of the Languedoc.
My guides throughout last summer's adventures in France were Allysha Lavino, founder of Sacred Mystery Tours, and her charismatic Merlin-esque mentor Henry Lincoln, renowned as the co-author of the famous (some might say infamous) book The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail. Allysha's own debut novel, The Heretic, based on the mysteries of the Languedoc region and funded through a massively successful Kickstarter campaign, has just recently hit the shelves, making this the ideal time to revisit a hot topic. The Heretic is a multi-layered mystery adventure, rich in hidden gems and Easter Eggs for those with eyes to See. It has everything you could wish for from a fast-paced thriller - car chases, clifftop peril, romance, treachery and intrigue. But it's much more than just a novel - it's a tool for stimulating spiritual advancement, a guide, a map, a compass, an initiation. Its treasures are priceless and it has something to offer everyone, no matter on what level they choose to read it.
The hero of the story, Lily Ann Harper, is a cultural anthropologist whose research into sacred sites around the world leads her to the Pyrenean village of Rennes-le-Chateau, famous for the enduring mystery of its 19th Century parish priest, Bérenger Saunière, who somehow become an overnight millionaire whilst renovating the village church in 1887. Once in the Razès Valley, a meeting with the mysterious Sir Anthony Leclair sees Lily sucked into an ancient mystery involving the geometry of key landmarks in the region, and before long she finds her very life under threat from shadowy operators who want to keep the secrets of the Languedoc to themselves. At the outset of the novel, Lily is burdened with a near paralysing level of grief following the assassination a year earlier of her beloved grandmother, international peace worker Helena Clary, and this trauma provides a powerful emotional backdrop to her subsequent adventures, during which she undergoes a journey of healing, awakening and self-discovery with which many readers will be able to identify. The narrative switches seamlessly between time periods, with Lily's contemporary investigations punctuated by dramatic historical flashbacks highlighting the region's rich backstory involving the Knights Templar and the brutal massacre of the Cathars during the Albigensian Crusades, all of which are key ingredients of the over-arching mystery.
The Heretic marks the culmination of decades of research by Henry Lincoln and Allysha into the awe-inspiring natural phenomena laced throughout Old Occitania. Anyone who's ever investigated these mysteries for themselves will know just how easy it can be to become lost down an esoteric rabbit warren in which history, fact, fiction and mythology become so intermingled that the truth is increasingly obscured by tangled layers of disinformation, conspiracy theories and fantastic conjecture. Lincoln found this out for himself the hard way and was determined not to repeat the same mistake, which is why he tasked his protégé with bringing their research back to provable and demonstrable facts, backed by indisputable hard science. Allysha has done exactly that. In fact, she has achieved the near impossible by conveying profound spiritual and esoteric truths in a clear and accessible manner, grounded in both science and historical fact whilst also telling a rollicking good adventure yarn along the way and studiously avoiding the sensationalist flights of fancy which spawned such works as Dan Brown's best-seller The Da Vinci Code.
A noted actor, screenwriter and documentary filmmaker, Lincoln was responsible for introducing the local mysteries of Rennes-le-Chateau to the wider world through a trilogy of documentaries he produced for the BBC in the 1970s and 80s. Explaining why he recruited Allysha to continue his lifelong mission, Lincoln writes in his foreword to the novel: "For decades I'd been trying to convey my discoveries, and the modern world was shockingly indifferent. Only Allysha saw with clarity - and immediately - that this information should change the way we see everything. I knew that I was burdening her with a tremendous task - it would be for her to tell this story. But, praise be, she already understood it on a level which I had never seen - and as a writer, she knew the truth must not be lost in translation. How were we going to convey so dense a subject in a way that was entertaining enough to reach the modern mind - but absolutely true to the facts? In the simplest of terms, this complex tale was a thrilling story. But to tell it as it should be told - to do full justice to the amazing saga - we needed to create a context for understanding the story as we understood it. We needed to put back the history, the places, the characters, so that the world in which they lived might become our world. Without this, the importance of the secret passed down through the ages would be lost once again."
Allysha has done the old man proud. Forget any preconceptions you might have involving hypothetical bloodlines descended from Jesus and Mary Magdalene - there's none of that to be found here. Instead what we have is a classic adventure tale involving coded parchments, Cathars and Templars, history and geometry, science and spirituality, light and dark, good and evil, and - perhaps most importantly - the mystical significance of male and female polarity. When I first learned of the ancient secrets which Lincoln had discovered in the region, my jaw pretty much hit the floor, such was the truly mind-blowing import of the revelations. Why doesn't everybody know this?, I asked myself. This is huge! It ought to be on the news! His findings may seem incredible to some, but make no mistake about it - once you start to spot the patterns, you'll be seeing them everywhere and your scepticism will swiftly dissipate much like the Pyrenean mists in the full glare of the summer sun. This is a secret with the potential to change the way we view creation and which has profound importance for each and every one of us in terms of understanding our own place in the grand design of the universe. As Allysha says: "When Henry Lincoln shared what he'd found, I dropped everything. After six years of research and writing, I have written a book to tell the world about an ancient secret that's been lost in time, buried in code, hidden through history. It can change the way we see everything."
Some people will no doubt find the revelations challenging and perhaps that's why Lincoln has found it so hard to interest the world at large in his staggering discoveries until now. In my own experience, people tend to encounter these mysteries at the time that's right for them. When you're ready to awake, you'll start to see things which have been right under your nose the whole time, but until you're ready you'll continue to live in blissfully blind ignorance as your conscious mind unwittingly filters out anything that doesn't conform to its expectations. The Heretic has the potential to change all that by stimulating a much wider awakening of human consciousness. As Allysha is at pains to point out, the word heretic simply means "Able to Choose" and those branded heretics in the past, such as the peace-loving Cathars and the Knights Templar, were simply those who committed the cardinal sin of choosing to maintain an open mind, rather than blindly adopting the narrow version of reality being peddled by the authorities of the day. Crucially, neither Allysha nor Lincoln ask their readers to believe in anything. They don't want a fresh cult or religion to be formed around their work but rather for readers to use their discoveries as a springboard in their own personal quests for knowledge. They urge people to approach life with an open mind. Once you do so, the magic speaks for itself. To quote a character from the book: "You can't just believe in this, Lily. You can't take my word for it. You can't puzzle it out with your mind and figure out the answer. You have to experience it for yourself."
California-born Allysha is a self-confessed history geek, spiritual seeker, writer and world traveller born to a long line of adventurers. Studies in psychology taught her to apply the scientific method to reveal patterns in culture and human behaviour. The Heretic is a triumph on every level because Allysha has taken her time to get the nuts and bolts correct. For all its layers of mystery and mysticism, the story is firmly grounded in reality, laced with delightful authentic everyday touches including references to the local cheeses, wines and natural springs and charming continental customs such as les bises and aperitif. Allysha has immersed herself fully in the life, landscape and culture of Old Occitania. She's lived the experiences of Lily Ann Harper... and it shows. All the best fiction contains autobiographical elements and anyone who knows Allysha will recognise a lot of her in the multi-lingual, adventurous Lily, meaning that her novel breaths the very spirit of authenticity. Sir Anthony Leclair meanwhile is a fabulously well-rounded and perfectly nuanced character, clearly based on Lincoln himself, with every foible, mannerism and theatrical vocal inflection captured to endearing perfection.
Reading The Heretic was like holding a mirror up to my own soul. In the course of its 400 breath-taking pages, I went through the entire gamut of human emotions, experiencing laughter, tears, grief, fear, hope, despair, nail-biting suspense and the warmth of human connection and companionship. Characters are painted vividly and jump off the page, drawing the reader effortlessly into their mesmerising world. I felt as though I knew many of them intimately, from charismatic hotel owner Madeleine to the sinister Alaric DeGoth. Having visited many of the sites and landmarks featured in the novel during my tour last year, including the splendid medieval city of Carcassonne, the Cathar fortress of Montségur and the derelict hotel in Alet-les-Bains where Lily resides, I was able to absorb myself completely in the vivid descriptions of the landscape and local culture, with all of its unique quirks and customs. I had some profound personal experiences at many of these very sites, which were too deep to describe in any detail here, but suffice to say I can speak to the veracity of the region's remarkable mystical power as described in the novel. If you ever get a chance to go there, then do check out the sites out for yourself. You won't be disappointed.
The Heretic is a masterpiece of visionary fiction. Intoxicating and immersive, it stirs the waters of the reader's subconscious in a way which encourages you to delve within yourself in search of the answers to life's great mysteries. Every word and syllable has been crafted with meticulous precision like the engravings of a master builder. Every emphasis and italicisation has meaning. If some detail seems incongruous then it's designed to draw your attention like a flagpole on top of a castle. Nothing is left to chance. Throughout history, each generation has found a new way to encode this secret within some form of contemporary art. Seventeenth Century painter Nicholas Poussin encoded it within his painting Et in Arcadia Ego and Bérenger Saunière did so through the architectural modifications he made to the church at Rennes-le-Chateau. In the 20th Century, French author Gérard de Sède conveyed the message through hidden codes in his book The Accursed Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, which in turn were found and deciphered by Henry Lincoln and led him to produce a series of television documentaries on the subject before going on to co-author The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail with Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. The Heretic is the 21st Century equivalent of those earlier artistic endeavours... and it's on a par with them all. I found the book to be an invaluable roadmap for helping to make sense of some of my own spiritual and metaphysical experiences, enabling me to marshal abstract concepts into a tangible and coherent form with real-world applications. It has remotivated and revitalised me following the period of stagnation and inertia imposed by Covid, shaking me out of my lockdown malaise and shining fresh light upon my path. As Lily Ann Harper gradually emerged from grief and pain and reached back towards the light, she carried me with her in her slipstream. By using the medium of fiction to convey facts in story form, Allysha has herself stepped into the role of Hermetic initiator, following in the footsteps of our ancestors who used storytelling as a powerful tool for teaching eternal truths through allegory. I've avoided any major plot spoilers here because this is a book you really need to read and experience for yourself. Without giving too much away, there are hidden codes laced throughout the novel and the fun is in finding them for yourself. Don't look too hard though. They'll appear to you when you're ready... and when you have eyes to See. Everyone will take from this book whatever is right for them at the time.
Lockdown unfortunately resulted in the scrapping of Allysha's eagerly-anticipated author's tour but she remains undaunted and has instead put the time to excellent use to create online courses to serve as a companion to the novel, helping readers to decode its secrets and stimulate their own spiritual awakenings in the process. There's much more to come too. The Heretic is the first in a trilogy and its sequel, The Martyr, is in the works. Check out Allysha's website for all the latest news and details - you'll find all the relevant links listed at the foot of this blog, along with links for own Phoenix Store where you'll find a wide range of further esoteric and personal development products available for instant download. I also recommend checking out the YouTube channel Henry Lincoln Speaks, where you'll find the original BBC Chronicle documentaries which launched Lincoln's own investigations into the mysteries of the Languedoc.
The Heretic offers a tantalising insight into an alternative way of living and looking at the world. It was the outlook adopted by the Cathars and later the Templars; a way of life lost in the sands of history, save for a few brave torchbearers who have kept the light burning, waiting for a time when humanity might be ready to embrace such an alternative path once again. That time is surely now. As I touched upon in my opening remarks, the world is changing. The extraordinary events of 2020, the restrictions imposed upon us by Covid-19, along with unparalleled political and economic turmoil, will surely force us to re-evaluate our way of life and search for ways to build a new, more caring and inclusive society, free from the selfishness and narrow prejudices of the past. The old order is breaking down before our eyes. People are waking up. The age of the heretic - those who are able to choose - is upon us.