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Q: The Ark of the Covenant is obviously central to your book, in both a literal and symbolic way. What is your theory about what originally happened to the Ark of the Covenant?
A: The finer details will probably forever remain hidden. What I'm saying is that there may well be a logical explanation of what people at present regard as the Ark mystery. Moreover it does not of necessity require belief in any supernatural events. Of course, some people may look upon the survival of such a relic as being miraculous in itself. Beliefs about the Ark are a question of faith, for each individual to decide upon. Belief in whether a physical Ark did survive, on the other hand, is a matter of weighing the verifiable facts. If you accept that a physical Ark artefact was captured in Ethiopia in 1868 then you have to make a judgement about whether it was genuine, or on the contrary what is known as a "pious fraud." If you decide that it was a genuine article, then you have to account for its provenance, in other words explain where it has been all these years. However, it is unlikely that you will be able to prove such a provenance conclusively, even if you have the relic to hand. So all I can say is that after years of following up various clues I have been able to pierce together a possible history of what may have originally happened to the Ark relic, and those hypotheses are revealed in The Lion and the Covenant.
Q: How could it have been possible to hide the Ark, though?
A: You know it's not very big really, so hiding it would have been quite easy. All you need is a very small room that you can lock securely, and just a very few trustworthy people to ensure it stays locked and its location is protected. In the longer term, you also need to be able to move it swiftly to somewhere else secure if detection seems a possibility. So that requires some organisation, and people who will obey that organisation without asking awkward questions. If you can tap members of an organisation that is not only secretive in nature but also regards secrecy as both moral and essential to its ends, then that's not too difficult to arrange.
Q: Why would "they", the top level Freemasons, hide the Ark in Australia?
A: In fact Australia was the perfect place to hide such an artefact. Firstly, it was an intensely loyal British colony -or rather group of colonies - at that time. To quote from a paean written to welcome Prince Alfred to Melbourne, (clears throat):
Thrice welcome gallant sailor Prince
To our Victorian shore
No loyal hearts in British homes
Will hail thy presence more.
Secondly, Australia was a location they believed no one would ever suspect. It was huge and it was safely far away from both where the Ark relic had been taken from and from where anyone who learned about it would think to look for it.
Q: Tell me more about the so-called physical clues to the Ark in Australia?
A: Well you'd need to read my book for the detail, but they exist to the extent that it would even be possible to establish a "tourist trail" in three Australian states to look at all the evidence that is revealed in stone, brick, metal and glass. There's more, it's in street and place names too, in numbers and associations, and in other symbols. That's not surprising, because the Freemasons are into symbols more than perhaps any other group on Earth. By the way, most of the locations I'm speaking of are revealed in the novel, so I'm not keeping any big secrets here. Unlike the 'top tier toffs" of the worshipful brethren, if you catch my drift.
Q: Have you seen this claimed Ark yourself?
A: No, not at all. I might get much bigger headlines if I said I had of course, but it would a dishonest statement. However I have been inside several buildings where it may well have been concealed for some time, and seen other such buildings close up. But in fact, anyone will be able to do that for themselves by following the "Ark trail" in Australia from the information in The Lion and the Covenant.
Q: I understand that the original title of your book was The Ethiopian Manuscript. There's mention of a certain remote manuscript repository in Ethiopia in your book, and the description tallies with information in a 1928 National Geographic. Do you give the correct location of that repository in your book?
A: No, I fudge that a bit. My view is that it's strictly the business of the people who live around there, unless they choose to disclose it. I have no further comment on that.
Q; If the alleged Ark was stolen from Magdala by the British expeditionary force during their 1868 invasion, along with all that other admitted loot, why was there no complaint from Ethiopia about it?
A; The reasons are fairly plain if you look closely at the actual events. Emperor Theodore quite ruthlessly gathered the religious and cultural treasures of Ethiopia together at his fortress at Magdala in order to cement his grip on power, and anyone who tried to stop him was dealt with severely. He was an usurper, and he needed all the symbols of legitimacy he could get his hands on. But as for the Ark relic held at Axum, to avoid religious unpopularity he never publicly admitted taking it, and the Ethiopian church never acknowledged he had. Which suited both sides very well.
At the same time the priests at Axum, who traditionally were involved in crowning any new Emperor, could not defy Theodore while he held "their" Ark. Both parties knew that. Axum was in a province, Tigré, that was often in rebellion, and Theodore wanted any leverage he could get. Actually it did him no good in the long run, because his behaviour was so brutal and erratic that the Tigreans really hated him and threw in their lot with the invading British anyhow. But Theodore didn't allow for that outcome until too late.
After the successful British attack, which looted absolutely everything of value from Magdala, the Ethiopian church and the new Emperor and his followers were placed in a very difficult position. They already had to admit to losing most of their greatest national treasures. Or to be more precise, those people who had allied themselves with the British to get rid of Theodore and gain power, now had to admit that those same British they had befriended had stolen most of their national heritage. To admit to losing the Ark too would have been suicidal. Heads would have rolled, quite literally. Probably the priests and local governors in Axum and Tigré would have been made the scapegoats, and executed. And they knew it, because the Ark was never supposed to be moved from its home at Axum under normal circumstances. So any priest or governor who could be shown to have failed to resist that confiscation by Theodore would have been regarded as a vile traitor if that fact had got out. In fact, the whole of the new elite were hopelessly compromised over this issue.
Q: So what was the effect of that?
A: Well, the Ethiopian hierarchy were very lucky, because those who took the Ark artefact had no intention of disclosing the fact. So one side chose not to claim something for their own good reasons - they didn't want the British public or anyone else to find out - and those who had lost the artefact decidedly did not want to have to admit to that. This opened up the opportunity for a perfect conspiracy of silence. When you add that the Ark relic, genuine or otherwise, was always kept shrouded under a thick cloth and never exposed to public view, it was a dream come true in terms of a wonderful opportunity to perpetrate a cover-up. An opportunity no bureaucrat with his head literally on the block could have resisted. But later on, how can you eventually reveal such a deception? You can't, so you have to keep it going.
You know, the usual instinct of bureaucracies is to cover losses up if they possibly can, but in very many cases that's extremely difficult to do. In this case it was uniquely possible. However, there are intriguing later aspects to this story, and if you read my book carefully you'll learn what they are.
Q: Even if we accept that a purported Ark relic was stolen in 1868 and hidden in Australia, what evidence is there that it was returned to Ethiopia on the orders of King George the Sixth, in the early 1950s, as your book suggests?
A: The evidence is on display in Axum. There have only been four churches of our Lady of Mary of Zion on this site, in Axum, the spiritual capital of Ethiopia, over some 17 centuries. So let's look at their history. The first was apparently built in the fourth century AD during the reign of the first Christian ruler of Axum, Ezana. Its ruins are still visible near the present cathedral. This first one was, it appears, demolished during the eleventh century; allegedly by the legendary evil Queen Gudit. However, as there is no reliable evidence for her existence in real life, we're on firmer ground in saying say it was more than likely destroyed by whoever caused the final downfall of the original Axumite state.
The second Church of Mariam (Mary) of Zion was destroyed in the 16th century by the forces of Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi, better known as Ahmad Gran. He was supported and armed by the Ottoman Turks and came close to completely overrunning the medieval Ethiopian state. Indeed he might well have succeeded in doing that if it were not for the Portuguese intervention. The upshot, a new cathedral there was then rebuilt by the Emperor Gelawdiwos, with improvements by the Emperor Fasilides, in that same 16th century.
So, obviously, building a new Cathedral in Axum is a very rare event, a very big deal. There were only three between 300 and something AD and the twentieth century. It only ever happened when the old one was destroyed. This is the premier, the mother church of Ethiopia. It's of huge symbolic significance as the home of the Ark relic, the cornerstone of the Ethiopian religious system. Yet the last Emperor Haile Selassie built a new, fourth cathedral there in the 1950s although the old one was still functional, and indeed is still in use today. Then, quite soon after, the Ark artefact was allegedly moved from the old cathedral to its present claimed location, the Chapel of the Tablet. Supposedly, because a "divine heat" from the Tablets of Moses had cracked the stones supporting the Ark.
Now that's a great story, but here's a more likely one. Haile Selassie built a new Cathedral as a celebration and thanksgiving for the biggest event possible in Ethiopian religion, namely the return of the presumed Ark to Ethiopia. But because the loss of the artefact had never been admitted to, its return could never be openly celebrated either. So the story about the move of the Ark artefact is a cover story for its return to Axum and its reinstatement in a 'sacred" location. Otherwise those "building and moving" events make little or no sense in context.
On the subject of King George the Sixth, who you may know was at one time Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, there is a major avenue named after him in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. They have several reasons to be grateful to him there.
Q: OK, let's move on to the subject of the high-degree British Freemasons who are alleged to have been behind the claimed 1868 "heist" of this possible Ark relic. When you wrote your book did you have any, as it were, inside information on Freemasonry?
Q: Would you care to elaborate on that?
Q: Right so, do you think there may be some Freemasons who are pretty upset with you about the revelations in The Lion and the Covenant?
A. Possibly. Probably, even. However it would be quite wrong to consider my book as some sort of attack on Freemasonry in general. Firstly, very few if any ordinary or "Craft" Masons would have known anything about the Ark intrigue. A few of them may have been asked to do certain things without the real reasons being explained to them. That's all.
Secondly, what you might call "the Ark plot" was very much a "British ruling class at the height of Empire" kind of thing. At that particular point in history, you could say that to a significant degree the higher levels of British Empire Freemasonry and the group you could identify as the most powerful people in that Empire were - not exactly one and the same, but there was a large degree of crossover. From the top of the royal family down, the Freemasons in Victorian England were the in crowd, the larger part of the A list, call it what you will. In Britain they used to use the term "the Establishment", and the Establishment - the top people in politics, the military, the professions, the police, the judiciary and so on - were Masonic to a degree that it's difficult to imagine now. And they could cover for each other, and they frequently did so. But at the same time, the "craft degrees" were also full of very many ordinary, salt of the earth kind of people. So it's a complex picture.
Q: Do you have a personal antipathy to Freemasonry?
A: No (pause). It's complicated. There are aspects of it I don't like at all, and aspects I actually find quite appealing. There have been a number of Freemasons in my own family. Also, my paternal grandfather's name was William Preston, and that was a very famous Masonic name back in the eighteenth century. The eighteenth century William Preston wrote their most important handbook at that time. Overall, I think that many Freemasons are very worthy individuals, and they do contribute quite a bit to charity without boasting about it and so on, there's a lot to admire in some of them. I just think that the top levels went quite a bit off the rails at that point in history, and because they were very influential back then, too powerful really, they were perfectly placed to cover it all up.
Q: Do you think any senior Freemasons will ever admit to any of the claims you make?
A: No I don't. That culture of secrecy is too deeply ingrained, they takes oaths about it and so on, and they very strongly adhere to a "never admit anything to outsiders " ethos. An attitude that is not confined to them of course. But I could spread a table full of documents proving some of my points, and on principle they would still never make any admissions. In fact, I expect them to simply retreat into silence if some of the things I say are generally accepted. And that's sad really, because there's no "OK our ancestors did some rum stuff, we accept that, we have a different attitude now" about them, unfortunately. I don't think they'll ever admit to anything irregular about their past. Which if you think about it is a liability to the future of their movement, to the young ones coming on, and especially to the ordinary craft masons, who are often very honourable and conscientious people.
Q: I see. Could your book, then, actually be described as pro-Masonic in any way?
A: That's an interesting point. That's an issue that individual Freemasons need to decide for themselves. To read the book and say, well, first there are the headlions. Ha, sorry, Freudian slip, the headlines. By which I mean those claims that seem outrageous but then turn out to have a huge amount of evidence to back them up when you look into it. And then there's all this other stuff. Certainly there are portions, levels of my book that will have particular resonance for most Freemasons. So there are meanings there that are Masonic meanings, yes. If I was a Mason I'd read my book, and get quite a bit out of it. I'd be pleasantly surprised in some ways. But then if I was a Mason I wouldn't have written it either, for fear of being accused of blabbing and letting the side down. So there you have it, its a paradox. In a way I say for them what they could never say for themselves, but whether after the brouhaha they'll ultimately thank or curse me for it remains to be seen.
Q: Will you have more to say about the claims in the book in future?
A: It depends on who asks. I'd like to see a lot of wider debate first, though. Most historians run a mile when Freemasonry is mentioned. Which is a shame. It's wrong to put any subjects off limits, in my view. In the old days they often feared the so-called "hidden hand". By which I mean, not knowing who among their superiors might be Masons, fearing that their career prospects might be damaged if they discussed the topic critically. So they avoided it. I don't think that applies much now, it's more the frustration that it's very hard to deal in a subject so surrounded by secrecy, and where they can't get at the documents they need. Which indeed were often not even committed to paper. But they need to persevere. There are a few, just a very few, faculties in a handful of universities that do study these subjects. So I hope they and a lot of independent scholars will join in a debate about all this. Perhaps the media can even promote that?
Q: What do you most hope for from your book?
A: I guess, in my vanity as a writer, that people will enjoy it as a novel, as a mystery thriller and romance, whatever they decide about the issues it encompasses. Beyond that, that it might make a few people at least think a bit more about a few things.
Q: Encompasses? Was that particular word deliberate as a Masonic reference, or another Freudian slip?
A: Ha, it was accidental. Probably the latter (laughs). So let's square this all off and put a rule under it, shall we? (grins). So to speak.
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The Lion and the Covenant 2009
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