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Thursday 13 May 2010

Interview with Kristen Owenby - on Temple of the Grail 2006

1. Your book, “Temple of the Grail,” takes place within a mountain monastery in 13th century France. What attracted you to this historical setting?

Writing can be a strangely wonderful and mysterious process and it is really difficult to pin point how ideas form themselves and gather together around a central theme from the myriad of nebulous possibilities. It requires a certain amount of rigorous conscious reflection. I guess the physical and historical setting for Temple of the Grail were the first pieces belonging to one very complicated puzzle that began to come together after I had been reading history, philosophy and esoteric texts, in particular the works of Rudolf Steiner, for a long time. In my studies I found myself particularly drawn to the Rosicrucians, the Templars, Cathars and all aspects of the Grail legend, and when I realized I was going to write a book it seemed to me that destiny had inspired these years of study for that purpose. I felt that I was finally bringing to fruition something that I had started many lives before this one.

During the first tentative beginnings I formed imaginations of where I would set the book. I knew that time and again when legends spoke of the Grail they spoke of it being kept in a secluded place, difficult to access, guarded from all sides, a mountainous region away from the cares of everyday life. Because I am an artist at heart I began to draw. I drew and painted what seemed to me like a monastery. I knew its environs and could see it from all angles. In time I came to devise a detailed plan to the point where I could walk around the monastery blindfolded, without going over the edge of a parapet, or without thinking I was in the garden when I was in the graveyard. This was a profound experience, I could see everything very clearly, the vegetation, the trees, the clouds, the mists. I knew there was a connection between Christian Rozencreutz and the Grail but I did not realize until I started writing that there was a connection between Christian Rozenkreutz, the Grail, the Cathars and the Templars until the book developed. I knew then where the monastery had to be situated, in the South of France in a fiercely independent region, whose language, culture and more importantly whose religion, had brought it into conflict with the king of France and Holy Inquisition. Only here in the mid 13th century could the events of Temple of the Grail have transpired. It was at this time around 1250 that Rudolf Steiner states human beings had reached their darkest spiritual hour – the lowest point in their ability to communicate with spiritual worlds.

2. Did you have any concerns going into the project? Were your goals the same throughout the writing process or did you find yourself being “led” by the story?

I have always been led by the story and by my characters who are usually very strong and obstinate and quite uncompromising. They always tell me what they want to do or say. The fact is that in the beginning I had no intention of writing a murder mystery. I would never have thought myself capable of writing in this very difficult genre. I only knew it around seventy pages into the book when Eisik announced that someone would die that night! I resisted it because I was concerned about juxtaposing the Grail with anything as evil as murder, but in the end I was unable to do otherwise - it was what was required of me - and when I finally allowed it to happen the pieces of puzzle fell into place. Now that I can look at Temple of the Grail more objectively I see that it could never have been written any other way. Good can’t exist without Evil; knowledge without ignorance; darkness without light. And interestingly, it is this duality that became a central motif of the book. Now I am always careful not to let my intellect drive the story – anyway, when it begins to creep in I know it because the book doesn’t come together!

3. Which books, in terms of spiritual research, did you glean the most from for this book?

There were so many! I had to read, over time, an entire library of Anthroposophical texts! – I’m really not kidding! But if I must narrow it down to spiritual texts I would have to say, I relied heavily on the works of Rudolf Steiner: Knowledge of Higher Worlds, Occult Science an Outline, Rosicrucianism and Modern Initiation and Esoteric Christianity and the Mission of Christian Rozenkreutz, as well as Rudolf Steiner’s lectures on the Templars in particular the Inner Impulses of Evolution. These were my primary books and lectures.

4. “Temple of the Grail” is a book which many might say would make an intriguing film. Would you ever be open to a cinematic adaptation?

This is an interesting question. It was important to me when I began to write Temple of the Grail that it not be an easy put down, pick up read, because a book that depicts spiritual truths has to be consciously received by the soul, it has to be ‘digested’, the imagination has to be engaged, only through such a conscious effort is the reader left free to take it or leave it depending on his or her readiness to know these truths. If there were a way of achieving something similar through the medium of film it would be a wonderful way of reaching more people.

5. Could you tell us a little about your introduction to Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy?

I came to Anthroposophy eighteen years ago. I was holidaying with my family at my mother’s house and I picked up a book that was sitting casually on her coffee table, it was called The Four Mystery Dramas. I didn’t understand anything in it, though something told me that I had to find out more about its author and because my mother had already been reading Rudolf Steiner’s works for a few months she had some books that she could lend me. To this day I wonder if she didn’t plan the whole thing! I read book after book and I haven’t stopped since. It is only recently that I allowed myself to pick up The Four Mystery Dramas again, and now I discover that I have some understanding of it.

6. Which of Steiner’s books are your favorites?

It is always the book I’m reading at any particular time. They are all my favourites! The book I consult the most, however, would have to be Knowledge of Higher Worlds. My old copy was covered in sticky tape until if finally fell to pieces. Each time I read it I understand something new.

7. What books and writers do you enjoy outside the realm of Anthroposophy?

I loved reading Plato’s dialogues and the works of Aristotle for Temple of the Grail but when it comes to modern day writers Margaret Mitchell was a foremost influence in my teens - after I read Gone with the Wind I knew that one day I would become a writer of historic fiction. Herman Hesse is another favorite, Narcissus and Goldmund in particular. I love the way he can see beauty in the most unexpected things, even in a corpse, which shows me he knows something about positivity. These days I have been enjoying Gabriel Garcia Marquez because in his work all is possible – he has a wonderful ability to suspend disbelief. A Hundred Years of Solitude has set me free.

8. Could you tell us about any upcoming projects?

My second book The Seal has been released here in Australia and is doing very well. It is a very loose sequel to Temple of the Grail and it continues to explore the destiny of the Templars, this time at the hands of Philip the Fair and Clement V. The Seal is a very different book, in that it is not narrated by one character but explores many perspectives. Moving backwards and forwards like a time traveller it opens and ends in the present day but the main body of the book is set in the past and the action begins in 1291 at the fall of Acre in the Holy Land. It follows the Templars as they retreat firstly to Cyprus and then to France where they are arrested. Switching in viewpoints, it climbs into the heads and hearts of the knights, and explores their struggle to cut a path through the ruination of a spiritual ideal in order to safeguard the realisation of a higher task, whose symbolic representation is engraved on the Grand Master’s secret seal. It enters also, conversely, into the tangled darkness of Philip the Fair’s soul, into the scheming minds of his lawyers, into the heart of a torturer - the Inquisitor of France, and into the doubts and fears of the morally corrupt Pope Clement V. The most surprising part for me was realising that Christian de St Armand of Temple of the Grail wanted to make a cameo appearance in it – perfect!

These days I am in the process of writing a third book, which looks like being another loose sequel – but then I’ll just have to see what my characters have to say about it.

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