Whatever our chosen paths, we are all
on a quest for Truth…
History is not only in the past — but alive, now.
We are all part of the unfolding global dynamism of our time…’history in the making’.
What will your Quest reveal?
Welcome to the website of medieval historian and spirituality author Dr Karen Ralls – conference speaker; international lecturer, historical sites tour guide, and workshop presenter; former Deputy Curator of the Rosslyn Chapel Museum Art exhibition, and the author of Gothic Cathedrals: History, Art, Places and Symbolism, (Ibis Press/ RedWheelWeiser books US, 2015), an illustrated work exploring the many wonders of medieval Gothic buildings and sacred journeys; Medieval Mysteries: History, Places, and Symbolism, an illustrated book examining the history, places, and symbolism of twelve key medieval history topics relating to the High Middle Ages (Ibis Press/distr RedWheelWeiser books USA, 2014); The Templars and the Grail (Quest Books, US), The Knights Templar Encyclopedia (Career Press, US), The Quest for the Celtic Key (Luath, Edinburgh, UK), Music and the Celtic Otherworld (Edinburgh University Press, Palgrave/Macmillan, US), Indigenous Religious Music (Ashgate UK) and others forthcoming from 2016 onwards.
- What historical places are near you?
- Has visiting an ancient site ever interested you?
- What do certain symbols and carvings mean?
- Where are the major Gothic cathedrals? Ancient forests and temples?
- Are there connections between world spiritual traditions and music?
- Why are symbolism and consciousness increasingly important?
Certain symbols, sounds and places have long been considered to be sacred in many traditions, both east and west.
Many today seek energy, transformation, power and healing. Our Quest is about asking the right questions as much as seeking answers…
The pioneering work of author Dr Karen Ralls, makes the scholarly accessible and seeks to bring historical knowledge into our lives today – whether from books and archives, music, symbolism or historic sites.
Conferences, tours, lectures, films/documentaries, seminars, and publications are an important part of the outreach of Ancient Quest, as are travel and intercultural dialogue. This includes collaborative ventures such as tours (Malta, Chartres, Egypt, Britain, North America, Greece).
Based in Oxford, England, Dr Ralls is also a member of the American Academy of Religion, The Gatekeeper Pilgrimage Trust, The Chalice Well Trust, the Rosslyn Chapel Trust (UK), and has been a Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley (USA). Dr Ralls serves as professional Historical Consultant and Advisor for film / TV projects and documentaries (Discovery, The History Channel, National Geographic, BBC, etc), and also for relevant travel, charity and heritage-related projects. Having lectured at the University of Edinburgh, Oxford, and other universities, Dr Ralls was also the Deputy Director and Curator of the Rosslyn Chapel Museum Art exhibition (1995-2001) for six years, and also completed a specialist Medieval and Renaissance Art History course at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum in London. [For more info, see Biography page]
She is also Guest Presenter/ Guide for tours, workshops, retreats, and journeys to historical/sacred sites; e.g. e.g. with various tours in preceding years to sites in Chartres/Paris/Brittany; Tour of the British Isles (Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Isle of Man); Celtic tour of Scottish Highlands & Ireland; Tour to Durham, York, Edinburgh and Rosslyn Chapel; Tour to Paris / Laon / Chartres/Languedoc; Tour to Glastonbury, Wells, Avebury, and Stonehenge; Tour to Greece and Malta; Tour to Tuscany/Rome/Sicily; Tour of western USA, etc. From ancient sites, stone circles, hillforts, historical pubs and houses to nature reserves, castles or medieval and Renaissance sites, future tours to similar and new areas with Dr Karen Ralls as a presenter/guide featuring music, special events, and optional meditations are being arranged, as well as collaborative workshops on tours. (Contact).
History comes alive through visual, digital, or musical ways, too; local/regional communities, places and people are often a key part of this. The ‘Vision’ for your project(s), tours, and workshops is important. Dr Ralls has been historical consultant to various leading TV documentary/ media/film projects (History Channel, Discovery, National Geographic, USA/ UK/ Europe; see Media and consultancy.) To contact Dr Ralls to mutually explore an idea regarding Karen’s possible participation in your event, conference talk, tour, workshop, film/music project, pls contact at email@example.com
Karen obtained her PhD from the University of Edinburgh (see Biography) and now lives and works in Oxford, England.
New book alert!
Gothic Cathedrals: History, Art, Places and Symbolism by Karen Ralls, PhD
History, symbolism, and ancient and historic places continue to fascinate all over the world today. Anyone – spiritually inclined or not – can appreciate the art, beauty, and craftsmanship of ancient, historical, or sacred sites and their surrounding landscapes and gardens, those of an era gone by.
Enter the world of the High Middle Ages and explore the beauty, art, and intricate carvings of the Gothic cathedrals, stunning artistic achievements from medieval times for all to still see today. From bejewelled stained glass windows, stone and wood carvings, labyrinths and gardens, to journeys “on the road” to Compostela, the aesthetic wonders of Gothic architecture continue to inspire many worldwide.
From the 12th century, the dramatic new, cutting edge Gothic architectural style – originally, often strongly disparaged by critics – emphasized incoming light and continued to spread like wildfire throughout Europe, so great were its effects. Noted medievalist Dr. Karen Ralls explores the legacy of this exquisite architectural period, whose artistic beauty and expert craftsmanship have served for centuries to inspire feelings of joy and/or aesthetic wonder for many today from all walks of life, whether spiritually inclined or not.
Chapters address topics relating to Gothic architecture, geometry, and music; the Feast of Fools and other festivals; music; the daily uses, both secular and religious, of a medieval cathedral by all in the community; the importance of craft guilds and those who built the cathedrals; gardens, labyrinths and mazes; pilgrimages – secular and sacred; Black Madonnas; astronomical calculations; East-West travels; stone and wood carvings, gargoyles and grotesques; the Green Man; the seven Liberal Arts and sciences, debates about the philosophies of Pythagoras, Aristotle, the later Neo-Platonists, Heraclitus, and others; the decline of the era of pilgrimage, and visiting Gothic sites today.
For the general reader and specialist alike, the author guides the reader through the history, places, art, and symbolism of these unique ‘stories in stone’, providing a lively portal and essential resource for all readers. Lavishly illustrated with color photographs throughout, Gothic Cathedrals includes appendices of the major European cathedral building dates and sites, major Black Madonna shrines and pilgrimage sites, and an extensive Bibliography. It showcases the art, beauty, and symbolism found in Gothic cathedrals and Gothic secular buildings, many of which were often built upon earlier, sacred sites, and with a wealth of information about all of these related topics that will help readers today better understand, visit, and explore the history, art and symbolism of these Gothic-related sites and gardens, reconnect with the ancient past, and help foster more Interfaith and greater cross-cultural and multifaith understanding.
Anyone – spiritually inclined or not – can go ‘on the road’ and visit and appreciate the art, architecture, beauty, and cultural significance of these places in their time, and their related topics, further enhancing their own Quest in some way. But most of all – enjoy the Journey!
Publisher: Ibis Press /RedWheelWeiser Books, USA
Release date: spring 2015, in both print and e-book formats
373 pages, lavishly illustrated w/colour photos throughout
UK amazon link here: (avail. in both print and e-book formats)
Medieval Mysteries: History, Places and Symbolism; by Karen Ralls, PhD
Journey into twelve of the world’s favourite medieval mysteries and cross the threshold into the world of the High Middle Ages. From Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, the medieval period continues to intrigue, inspire, and fascinate many today.
For the general reader and specialist alike, medieval expert, former Rosslyn Chapel museum art exhibition curator and bestselling author Dr. Karen Ralls guides the reader through the major historical facts, legends and lore, affiliated places, and key symbolism of each of these 12 popular medieval enigmas, providing a lively introductory portal which includes some of the lesser-known, sidelined or unacknowledged aspects of each of these enduring topics. The story of each subject comes alive, providing a solid introduction for all readers as well as resources for teachers, researchers, workshop presenters and medieval history and travel buffs. Also included are photographs, a recommended reading section, a list of the key major sites associated with each topic, and a full Bibliography.
Topics covered include:
- The Knights Templar
- Rosslyn Chapel
- The Grail Quest
- The Cathars
- Heresy and Heretics
- Mary Magdalene
- The Black Madonnas
- King Arthur
- Medieval Guilds
Let this book serve as your personal pilgrimage back to the High Middle Ages – a time of potent symbolism, and spiritual questing.
Publisher: Ibis Press / distributed by RedWheelWeiser Books, USA
Release date: March 2014, in both print and e-book formats
Order from amazon com now! (also available on amazon UK)
292 pages, lavishly illustrated w/colour photos throughout Further details about future related launch talks, tours, or music events, etc., will be posted on the ‘News’ page and on the ‘Karen Ralls Author’ Facebook page (Events).
Karen’s book — The Knights Templar Encyclopedia — (Career Press, NJ) is now available… the product of years of detailed research, this is an essential guide to the People, Places, Events and Symbols of the Order of the Temple (1119-1312). Scholarly, yet accessible, this key reference work is in convenient A-to-Z format – an important addition to any library. Includes 5 appendices, extensive Bibliography, a special ‘Recommended Reading’ section, a list of major European Templar sites, Grand Masters, chronology, photos and more. Explore the fascinating world of the medieval Templars.
“The The Knights Templar Encyclopedia offers both general readers and specialists alike a remarkable source work on the famous medieval military Order. Scholarly and authoritative, Dr. Ralls’ treasury…is highly recommended”. —Professor Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, University of Exeter (UK).
It is now available for orders from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk (click title for further details and direct links)
Karen’s book, The Templars and the Grail, is now on its 6th printing and available from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk
(click title for details and a link)
“Fascinating! Karen Ralls steers a middle course between dry scholarship and extravagant speculation, with real insights into the Templar and Grail traditions…”
-David Lorimer, Director, Scientific and Medical Network
“…Here is the book about the Knights Templar we have been waiting for… Now, in one readable book, the kind you can’t lay down, Karen Ralls gives us the basic known facts about Templar history, and also deals with the colorful speculations in a fair, open-minded, yet responsible way. If you’re looking for the one indispensable book about the Knights Templar, this is it.”
-Robert Ellwood, Professor of Religion Emeritus, University of Southern California
“…a Templar tour de force… Karen Ralls’s meticulously researched book is a significant addition both to the history and myths surrounding the Templars and to the highly esoteric literature of the Grail. In this work, Dr. Ralls has created an important bridge between these two extraordinary and long-lived themes.”
-John Matthews, author
“In the Grail romances the question is asked, “Whom does the Grail serve?” In the case of this work, the Grail serves the reader of Dr. Karen Ralls’ ‘The Templars and the Grail’… a book that is full of factual history and yet explores the many speculations… a book as richly decorated and elegantly crafted as the many stone carvings that adorn Rosslyn Chapel herself.”
-Stephen Dafoe, publisher, Templar History Magazine
“In presenting a practical history of the Templars interwoven with the secrets of the Age of Chivalry, this book is a ‘must’ for those interested in the Western Mysteries.”
-Robert Brydon, FSA Scot., Templar historian and owner of The Brydon Collection
Media commentary to date on The Quest for the Celtic Key (2002), has included
“…This book takes us on a fascinating journey through the mystery and magic of Scotland’s past. Along the way, the authors describe the people, places and traditions associated with Scotland’s legends and history….the Declaration of Arbroath, the Stone of Destiny, the ‘missing library’ of Iona, Arthurian traditions, the Holy Grail, the Picts, the Druids..Celtic saints…Robert the Bruce…Rosslyn Chapel…the Knights Templar, and much more…”
-The Watkins Review, London, Autumn/Winter 2002, Issue No. 4
“Anyone who likes to turn over questions and then take the opportunity to visit the many charismatic places mentioned will be entertained by this book. Without resorting to colourful conjecture and wild surmising, it nevertheless adds its own voice to the enduring, and probably unsolvable, mysteries of Scotland’s Celtic heritage.”
-Barbara Fraser, Historic Scotland magazine, Winter 2002/03
(the official magazine of the government department responsible for Scotland’s built heritage)
“…in The Quest for the Celtic Key….their sources are well documented at the end of each chapter and the result is an enthralling and informative journey through time which deserves a place on every Scottish bookshelf. Most importantly, the result of bringing together our history, folklore and legends, gives us, I believe, a unique and valuable insight into the nation we are today”
-Margaret Graeme, Scots magazine, February 2003, Vol. 158, No. 2
“The reader who travels with Karen Ralls and Ian Robertson…will find a travelogue which enriches the histories and mythologies so beautifully told, with many newly wrought connections to places, buildings, stones and other remains which may still be viewed in the landscape and historic monuments of modern Scotland…””
-Rev. Dr. Michael Northcott, Faculty of Divinity, University of Edinburgh
Media commentary on Music and the Celtic Otherworld (2000):
“This is a fascinating study of an important and neglected theme in Celtic literature and religion. Meticulously researched and sensitively written, it highlights the importance attached to music in both pre-Christian and early Christian Ireland and Scotland and its particular association with the Otherworld”.
-Dr. Ian Bradley, St. Andrews University, back cover of book
“….an authoritative and accessible book on the spiritual dimension of music.”
-The Scotsman, Mar.2000
“a fascinating topic that Ralls-MacLeod (Celtic and Religious Studies, University of Edinburgh) succeeds in introducing through various source texts… this study provides a solid introduction to an interdisciplinary topic that will be of interest to scholars of Celtic culture and folklore as well as medieval Irish music. Recommended…”
Teresa M. Neff, Boston University
-Library Journal (USA), May 2000
“this book really is a must.”
“carefully and skillfully highlights the spiritual dimension of music from both a Christian and pre Christian perspective … the bibliography at the end of the book is substantial.”
-Dalriada magazine, May 2000
“The influence of music in the Celtic world is paramount… Dr Ralls methodically explores the tradition…
“There are many interesting side-lights… and the bibliography ensures that the reader has access to an extensive source”
– RILKO Journal, Spring 2000
And, of Indigenous Religious Musics (2001), co-edited with Dr.Graham Harvey, Professor James Cox of Edinburgh University said in a review in the Journal of Contemporary Religion (vol. 17:1, 2002):
“This book marks a welcome and innovative addition to a growing list of publications on indigenous religions…..a genuinely multi-disciplinary study….a creative supplement to the book is a CD…which contains five examples of indigenous music.”
Research areas of Interest
In-depth historical research on medieval topics such as the the Grail, symbolism, the Knights Templar, Gothic cathedrals, Richard the Lionheart, Courts of Love, Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Cathars, the Inquisition, witchcraft trials, the roots of Rosicrucianism, medieval Kabbala, medieval Guilds, Chivalry, Troubadours, Arthurian romances, Heraldry, Rosslyn Chapel, medieval pageants, the Crusades, pilgrimage, Knights Hospitaller, the Black Virgin and Madonna, Music, Gnosticism and the Renaissance Hermetic revival for further details see seminars).
Aspects of these derive from the philosophical traditions of the ancient world, introducing cross-cultural themes of comparative mythology and awareness of symbolism and archetypes.
Celtic topics include King Arthur, the Holy Grail, Merlin, the sidhe (fairy) tradition, the Celtic Otherworld, Iona, the Stone of Destiny, the bards, Green Man, Celtic gods and goddesses, Robin Hood, the Picts and the Druids (for example, see Music & the Celtic Otherworld – synopsis).
Christian subjects include the Celtic church, the Culdees, the Transfiguration, St. John the Baptist, ‘the Word’, angels, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Knights Templar, saints, the Book of Kells, Dead Sea Scrolls, Nazarenes, the Gospel of John and St. Columba of Iona (for example see Articles: The Celtic Church).
Transpersonal psychology topics include consciousness research, Jungian theory, archetypes, comparative mythology, transcendence, dreams, shamanism, intuition, creativity, science and spirituality, and so on (for examples see Workshops).
“Knowledge comes, but Wisdom lingers….”
– Alfred Lord Tennyson