The Grail Code 

Archive for the 'Conspiracies' Category

Maybe the Grail isn’t in Iceland after all

Monday, October 6th, 2008

Shhh! Be vewwy, vewwy quiet! I’m hunting Gwails!

I’m still going to talk more about Mrs. Lennox and the romances of Mlle de Scudery, but first a brief diversion.
Mr. Adrian Murdoch points us to the news of the latest Grail hunt, this time led by a cryptographer named Giancarlo Gianazza. He’s hunting Grails in Iceland, although so far without success.

Why Iceland?  Well, because the clues all point there.

In Botticelli’s “Primavera” a series of numeric symbols form the date March 14, 1319, which somehow supports Gianazza’s theory, and in da Vinci’s “Last Supper” Gianazza believes to have found outlines matching the landscape at Kjölur.

Further clues were found in Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy” and an ancient Icelandic script states that poet and politician Snorri Sturluson was accompanied by “eighty armored Eastmen” at the Althingi parliament in 1217, who could have been the Knights Templars.

So, to sum up the evidence: A painting by Botticelli gives us a date, which of course means Iceland, and Da Vinci’s Last Supper, which we rather naively thought was a picture of the Last Supper, is actually a map of part of Iceland, and–here’s the clincher–the Knights Templars actually went to Iceland. Because who else would be both armed and from the “east”?

I must confess that, to my non-cryptographically-trained eye, this looks like a bunch of conspiracy-theory nonsense. Conspiracy theories work by confirmation bias. You get an idea in your head, and you start looking for evidence to support it. And sure enough it’s everywhere! Of course, your brain, rejoicing immoderately over the molehills of evidence you’ve dug up with such labor, ignores the mountains of evidence on the opposite side.

I think the Holy Grail is hidden in Pittsburgh. Why? Consider the evidence:

1. The city of Pittsburgh just celebrated its 250th anniversary this past weekend. 250 is a big, round number.

2. Leonardo’s Last Supper uses many triangular elements in its composition. Downtown Pittsburgh is built on the “Golden Triangle.” Coincidence? That’s what they’d like you to believe!

3.  St. Anthony’s Chapel in Troy Hill has the largest collection of relics in the world. Frankly, if you were looking for the Holy Grail, it would be hard to think of a better place to start.

4. The Knights of Columbus have a chapter in Pittsburgh. I always get the Knights of Columbus and the Knights Templars mixed up.

I see only one reasonable course of action: some Grail-lover with deep pockets needs to give me a grant to look for the Grail in Pittsburgh. Just make the check payable to Christopher Bailey. I’ll keep an eye out as I wander around here and there, and if I happen to see any Grails, I’ll let you know.

The Nazis’ Grail Wrangler

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

Here is a very interesting article on Otto Rahn, the Grail-obsessed archaeologist who became Heinrich Himmler’s pet in the Nazi search for the Holy Grail. It portrays him as a kind of German Indiana Jones–except that, instead of fighting the Nazis, he was working for them, and instead of being a two-fisted he-man, he was a shy scholarly type, and instead of being a ladies’ man with a roving eye, his eye roved in the other direction. Otherwise it’s hard to tell him apart from Harrison Ford.

The article shows us how easy it is for simple studious types to be seduced by the lure of extravagant funding. Fortunately no one ever dangles extravagant funding in front of me, so I can confidently say that I have not fallen prey to that temptation.

Chalices everywhere!

Monday, January 28th, 2008

I’ve had a couple of comments on this story that may be borderline spam, but since they have to do with chalices they’re certainly right up our alley.

They point to this site, which is peddling a theory that Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings are full of hidden images.

Briefly, the argument is this: that when you flip one of Leonardo’s paintings, and place the reversed image next to the original, you see shapes. Especially you see chalices, or closely related forms of stemware.

“We asked a probability expert [to] form a proper hypothesis and to do a calculation relative to the probability of the discoveries being random or coincidental based on these facts.” Not surprisingly, the probability expert decided that there was no possibility that the discoveries were random.

I think the probability expert is all wrong.

First of all, let me say that I know very little about statistics. Let me also say that, for the purposes of this argument, I don’t have to know a whole lot about statistics. No complicated mathematics will be involved. A bit of multiplication, but we have calculators for that.

So, first, what’s the probability of finding a random image (not stated beforehand) in a rich and complex painting flipped and set beside the original? About 1 in 1, I’d say. You will find something if you keep looking. You will also find an image in the wood grain on your desk if you keep staring at it, or in a marble floor.

Now, on to the probability of finding a particular image at random. Here is where it gets a little more complicated, because there’s an enormous difference between declaring what the image will be before you find it and declaring what it was after you’ve found it.

Suppose I have a room ten feet long by ten feet wide, and suppose I have the floor marked in one-inch squares. That makes 14,400 squares, which we’ll number according to their positions along the length and width of the room. For example, one corner will be square L=1, W=1; the square next to it will be L=2, W=1; and so on.

Now, if I close my eyes, spin around three times, and throw a penny into the air, the odds of its landing on any particular square are 1 in 14,400—a pretty high number. So if I tell you that the penny is going to land on square L=83, W=29, and then it does land on that square, you’ll be suitably amazed. I must be psychic, you’ll say. If I can do it again and again, I’ll be rushing to apply for the Amazing Randi’s million-dollar prize before it’s too late.

But suppose I don’t tell you before I throw the penny. Instead, I wait till it lands and then announce that it fell on square L=14, W=111. Amazing! The odds of its hitting that one particular square were 1 in 14,400! That can’t possibly be chance! Well, now you think I’m not really the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. You patiently explain to me that the penny had to land somewhere, and although it’s true that there was a 1 in 14,400 chance of its landing on any particular square, it’s only amazing if I called L=14, W=111 before I tossed it.

You’re perfectly right, of course. Yet this basic error in statistics underlies more than half the conspiracy theories and supposed amazing discoveries you read about on the wonderfully weird web. It underlies the statistical argument against evolution.

The question gets more complicated when you start to have sequences of events—more complicated in the sense that the numbers get bigger. That’s really all.

Here’s an example: five random lines of text. I generated them at, so they should be random enough for our purposes.






Now, the odds of finding any one letter in any particular position are 1 in 26, since there are 26 letters in the alphabet. So, right off the bat, there’s only a 1 in 26 chance that the first line would begin with i, which it does.

The odds of finding any particular two-letter sequence in a particular position are 1 in (26 x 26), or 1 in 676, so it’s beginning to look extremely unlikely that the first two letters would be ic, and yet there they are.

Looking at the third line, I can see that the word “bunk” is spelled out at the end. What are the odds of that? The odds of finding any four letter sequence in any particular spot are 1 in (26 x 26 x 26 x 26), or 1 in 456,976. It simply can’t be random chance. Some invisible hand must have written that word as some sort of message to me.

Once again, if you thought I was serious, you’d be either amused or dismayed, depending on how well you liked me. Yet this is the sort of argument we’re facing in this comment.

Here is a general rule of statistical interpretation: whenever someone tells you that something can’t be random chance because the odds against it are astronomical, suspect a misunderstanding of statistics. The higher the stated odds, the more you should suspect a misunderstanding. Pretty much every event is extraordinarily unlikely if you use the ex-post-facto method of applying statistics, but that’s what we expect in a rich and varied universe.

All right, now for some fun. Part of our correspondent’s argument from probability hinges on this statement: “We searched a minimum of over 5000 paintings of the period and were unable to locate any use of the Perpendicular Mirror Process outside Leonardo da Vinci’s works.” In other words, 5000 paintings and no mirror chalices.

So I went to the wonderful Web Gallery of Art and looked at paintings of the Renaissance period. I picked the paintings as randomly as I could, which is to say I just started at the beginning of the As. Then I took a few paintings and subjected them to the Perpendicular Mirror Process. I didn’t look at 5000 paintings. More like a few dozen.

Here are some images I came up with. Note the prominent chalice shape in the center of each picture.

Andrea del Sarto: Portrait of His Wife

Andrea Del Sarto: St. John the Baptist

Bergognone, St. Agnes

(in this one, note also what appears to be the ghostly outline of a smiling mask!)

So I had no trouble finding chalice shapes. They’re all over the place.

After a while, I began to wonder just how easy it is to find chalices this way in pictures where human bodies are concerned. So I tried the same technique on a photograph of me, because I’m the only one I know who doesn’t object to being manipulated this way.

Christopher Bailey: Self-Portrait

Wow! Spooky, huh? This is starting to freak me out.

Mary Magdalene again

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

We’re celebrating Mary Magdalene today, who’s certainly worth celebrating. More than a dozen people are counted as “apostles” in the Bible, but there’s only one “apostle to the apostles”: the woman Christ chose out of all his followers to carry the message that he had risen.

Of course, Mary Magdalene has a big place in revisionist Grail-as-bloodline lore as the wife of Christ who bore his son, and thus was the real Holy Grail. The people who hold this theory, like Dan Brown for instance (one of the wonderful things about all this Harry Potter hoopla is that nobody has to talk about Dan Brown anymore), tell us that the evil Church establishment slandered Mary Magdalene by calling her a former prostitute and so on. It certainly is true that tradition identified–and perhaps misidentified–her as a former prostitute, but was that a slander? If you think it was, you don’t understand much about Christianity, and especially early Christianity.

If the early Christians allowed themselves any pride at all, it was usually in the contrast between their former lives and the lives they led as Christians. Paul called himself the greatest of sinners, and he had some right to the title. There were plenty of murderers walking around, but Paul had made it his business to murder people specifically because they were followers of Christ. He still carried with him the memory of watching Stephen die–Stephen the first martyr, whose death Paul had specifically approved of.

So if Mary Magdalene escaped from sin to become a saint, that was no slander: it was the highest possible praise one Christian could give another. As for the supposed attempt of the Church to suppress the memory of Mary Magdalene, a brief survey of the enormous number of medieval churches dedicated to her quickly pops that balloon. After Mary the Mother of Jesus, it would be hard to find a more popular saint, or one whose cult was more enthusiastically encouraged by that nasty old patriarchal establishment. (We talked a little about that more than a year ago.)

So happy Mary Magdalene day, everyone, and don’t be afraid to celebrate it in a perfectly orthodox way. How should we celebrate? Oh, I know: we could imitate her example and bring the good news of Christ’s resurrection to tired old Christians who are sinking into despair! Or we could have cookies.

(C) 2006 Mike Aquilina and Christopher Bailey