When last we left our hero, William F. “Bill” Mann, he had explained that thanks to a childhood obsession with midcentury fringe history books and close friendships with current Holy Bloodline conspiracy theorists, he had convinced himself that he was the last descendant of the Templar Grail Guardians who colonized America under Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, charged with protecting the descendants of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene from villainous agents of the Catholic Church seeking to suppress the truth about Jesus and the divine. This took up the first chapter of the book, leaving around 300 more pages of largely fact-free speculation, drawn primarily from earlier fringe history books. Along the way, our author reveals more and more about his psychology: At one point, he says that life “has been playing little tricks” on him since birth, and he doesn’t seem to be speaking figuratively.
You will forgive me if I point to a few of the highlights rather than trying to outline a digressive, aggressively nonlinear argument. Due to the book’s extreme length and the density of its claims, I think it will take me two blog posts to complete my review.
In Mann’s fantasy world, the Holy Grail, being the secret knowledge of the Holy Bloodline, had a very real history told in epic fantasy and myth, going back to the Neolithic period, where it began among worshipers of a mother goddess. Thus, British myths about Joseph of Arimathea taking the Grail to Glastonbury represent a reflection of reality, and King Arthur, whom Mann believes to be the god Artios, symbolically bequeathed the Grail to the Merovingians. This is because Arthur’s name means “bear” in Welsh, which ties his myth cycle in to a European mythology of bears and sleeping kings, which he likens to the movies The 13th Warrior and Brave, which featured totemic bears. You see, for him, hibernating bears symbolize death and resurrection, like Jesus or the once and future king, Arthur, and is represented in Artemis, whom he declares a bear goddess. (At Brauron, Artemis worshipers played the part of bears in honor of Athens.) He derives these claims from Marija Gimbutas, the Gaia theorist, whose discredited views proposed prehistoric matriarchal societies of feminine equality, and he take a big assist from Holy Blood, Holy Grail, another of his cited sources.
He devotes another section to mermaid myths, which he says were well illustrated by Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and The Little Mermaid. Taking Christian glosses on old Irish myths at face value, he proposes that mermaids lack souls, and he suggests that they symbolized the Merovingians’ “perfect” union of wisdom and revelation because Ariel the mermaid carries a mirror (symbol of earth wisdom) and a book (symbol of divine revelation). At one point he even states that Freemasons have secret knowledge that Solomon’s Temple was built by descendants of Cain, the “superior” race of pre-Flood giants created by “serpent people.” This is conflation of the Watchers-Nephilim myth with the so-called “serpent seed” myth (Satan impregnating Eve with Cain), popular among anti-Christian fringe writers. He implies that, following Cathar beliefs, Lucifer-Satan might be the truth path to enlightenment by standing against the repressive patriarchal Christian God. Mann believes that the Templars owned a cache of writings “from a time before the Great Flood,” though he doesn’t say whether these are the wisdom tablets or scrolls of Enoch from Jewish and Masonic lore, or the actual writings of the Watchers, the older form of the story.
All of this is in service of proposing a millennial bear cult behind Grail lore, which helps him to provide what he says is the correct reading of the painting Et in Arcadia Ego (i.e. The Arcadian Shepherds) by Nicolas Poussin. Mann, like all conspiracy theorists, doubts that it is what it appears to be, an illustration of Pliny’s Natural History 35.5.1, where tracing a shadow creates the first work of art. Instead, he thinks it’s a map pointing to a Templar settlement at Green Oaks, Nova Scotia, along with a representation of bear worshipers from the Neolithic to the present and Knights Templar guarding the Scion of Christ.
This painting, made in France for the king, is for Mann the key to understanding that the seventeenth century French, in league with the Protestants, were the Grail Heroes, bravely opposing the Habsburgs, avatars of Catholic evil, who wanted “to obliterated all signs of earlier Grail occupation of the New World.” Yes, that’s why those evil Catholics and Habsburg agents collected most of the primary sources that stories of white people in the ancient Americas rely upon: to make sure they weren’t recorded. That makes perfect sense. According to Mann, anti-Grail secret agents infiltrated colonial expeditions to ensure that Grail Towers were built over with new material or misinterpreted as colonial windmills to keep the TRUTH hidden. This justifies spending enormous numbers of pages analyzing Et in Arcadia Ego.
He brings in the medieval legend that Mary Magdalene was buried at St. Maximin (which inspired Louis Martin’s original flavor Holy Bloodline myth in the 1880s) and ties all of this to alchemy, citing Zosimus of Panoplis, the same fellow who (yes, again) cited the myth of the Watchers as the origins of secret knowledge (Syncellus, Chronicle 14)! (The Watchers keep coming up, indirectly, but persistently!) He identifies the alchemist “Mary the Jewess” in Zosimus with Mary Magdalene, but it is obvious he has never read the primary sources from Antiquity on the issue. This builds into the Rennes-le-Château “mystery” and the author’s acceptance of the ancient reality of the fictitious Priory of Sion, invented by a fraud in the 1960s. The author admits that most of this material is regurgitated without question from Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which ought to tell you how useful it is. He adds one caveat: He thinks that the Grail Guardians invented the Rennes-le-Château “mystery” to keep Grail seekers from realizing the true descendants of Christ fled to Canada, giving rise to William F. Mann himself.
An unduly large portion of the book is given over to various genealogies of supposed Holy Bloodline royals, and timelines of popes and kings, taken from earlier fringe books, and a number of paintings are said to be full of secret Bloodline maps of America, if one measures the angles selected arbitrarily within them, or other Freemasonic or goddess symbolism.
If you take Poussin’s Et in Arcadia Ego and combine it, he says, with David Teniers’s St. Anthony and St. Paul, one might abstract from it a grid map of North America in the 1600s. At best he proved that maps and paintings used grids for their layout, but for him this becomes a magical key to locating Templar settlements if one uses the grid to locate settlements that have names vaguely related to Templar conspiracy fantasies. For example, he identifies Sault Sainte Marie as secretly named for Mary Magdalene, and towns in Oklahoma called Bearden and Castle as part of a mapped message relating back to that bear deity from earlier. Mann confesses that he was unable to find an instance where his system did not turn up “some sort of quirky coincidence.” However, he recognizes that me might be imagining things. That moment of clarity didn’t last long.
Sadly, this marks only the halfway point in the book, but since after this point he changes topics and tactics rather markedly, it seems a good place to stop. I’ll conclude my review of the book tomorrow, for whatever it’s worth.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.