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23 Nov

Arcadia is a region of Greece: in ancient times, it occupied the highlands of the central Pelopponese, a secluded and largely mountainous district. Its remoteness may have contributed to the symbolic role it was to hold in literature, of an unspoiled wilderness where humans still lived in a state of idyllic innocence (or more negatively of  primitive backwardness).

Arcadia on a map of ancient Greece

The River Alpheus has its source in the highlands of Arcadia, and is said to flow partly underground until it resurfaces at the Fountain of Arethusa, in Sicily. In the 15th century, this quality of Alpheus as an `underground stream’ made it popular as a metaphor for an underground tradition of esoteric knowledge, which had supposedly survived from antiquity. Schools of thought and spiritual movements such asPythagoreanism, Gnosticism and Hermeticism, which had seemed to vanish during the Middle Ages only to resurface in the 15th century, were-according to `underground stream’ thinking- in fact clandestinely transmitted through the generations. The authors of Holy Blood,Holy Grail also think that `underground stream’ might connote a `subterranean’ bloodline, which had preserved the esoteric tradition when it was driven underground.

It could connote that: the Eumolpids were the hereditary priests and keepers of the shrine at Eleusis, the most important  shrine in Greece and devoted to the cult of Demeter, one of the incarnations of the archaic mother goddess Cybele.  What happened to them and the primordial traditions they had faithfully preserved at the coming of Christianity? It is not inconceivable that they met up with other fugitive pagans and devised a means of preserving their religion in the face of persecution. These surviving remnants could very well constitute a bloodline- or several- which preserved, in clandestine fashion, the ancient religion of the Goddess.

The writers of Holy Blood,Holy Grail believe the bloodline is the bloodline of Jesus, who had married and had children with Mary Magdalene. After his death, Mary Magdalene moved to the south of France with the children. The art historian Peter Blake, in his The Arcadian Cipher, apparently agrees with this story, going so far as to claim that he discovered the tomb of Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the vicinity of Rennes-le-Chateau, on a hill called Estagnol. These stories have gained such popularity that no one has thought to ask why Mary Magdalene, or even Jesus, should have moved to the south of France, nor why the theme of Arcadia, which symbolizes a return to a lost primordial innocence, should be used in the telling of the story. What, after all, does Arcadia have to do with Jesus?

But it makes more sense if we realize that the south of France was a particularly thriving centre for the cult of Cybele until the fall of the Roman Empire, and that the prehistoric matriarchal religion of the Mediterranean might indeed be described as a time of lost primordial innocence, destroyed by the Indo-european invasions. According to this interpretation of the Arcadian myth, the `underground stream’ represents a hidden current of knowledge dating back to matriarchal times, preserved in secret by ancient bloodlines who can trace their ancestry back to the priesthood of the matriarchal religion, and eventually transported to the south of France, which had long had a favourable climate for goddess worship. The Priory of Sion is the modern incarnation of these bloodlines, grouped now into a secret society for the preservation of the ancient religion.

ruins at Eleusis