Picture: Doug Forbes

Picture: Doug Forbes

Ancient Quest Seminars are examples of topics on which Dr Karen Ralls has given talks with visual presentations for various organizations and tour groups, at conferences, and in academic settings.

Here, they start with these short introductions to major medieval topics, including suggestions for further reading to get you started. Expand your horizons…

The Spiritual Dimension of Music, Arthurian Traditions and The Celtic Church, several expanded seminars, can also be found in the Ancient Quest Articles section. Other seminars will also be expanded in more detail, as we build a carefully selected online resource of articles by guest authors as well as Dr Karen Ralls.

The menu on the left may sometime include pages which are currently under development. Click on the coloured ones to see those that are completed and already on the site.



Background to Seminars


rosslyn-gm-bullWhy Ancient Quest?

All of us are on a quest, and that includes academics! It is still often regarded as self-evident that western culture is based on either Greek rationality on the one hand, or, biblical faith on the other. But, as more scholars and scientists are beginning to acknowledge, there has always existed a third currentin western culture, characterized by a resistance to the dominance of either pure rationality or doctrinal faith. As Emeritus Professor R. Van der Broek and Dr. W.J. Hanegraaf put it in their well-regarded book about this third component of western culture, there have been a variety of interconnected traditions:

hermetic2In antiquity, one finds the gnostics and hermetics; in the Middle Ages, several Christian sects. The medieval Cathars, can, to a certain extent, be considered part of the same tradition. Starting with the… Renaissance, of the late fifteenth century, the newly discovered ‘Hermetic Philosophy’ rapidly spread all over Europe. It found many adherents, in particular during the sixteenth and the first half of the seventeenth century. This so-called Hermeticist tradition and its later developments – the whole of of which may be referred to as ‘western esotericism’ – was characterized by an organic view of the world that assumed a strong internal coherence of the whole universe, including an intimate relationship between both its spiritual and its material elements. *


rosslyn-gm-bullSo there’s always been this “third current” in the west, in Christian and secular writings?

Yes, but it’s been somehow neglected or ignored. So like an increasing number of academics in various disciplines today, Dr. Ralls felt that more in-depth research was needed into these often neglected areas of study. Again, to quote from the same authors:

baconpillarsThe academic study of these developments is a comparatively recent phenomenon. Most literature about the various aspects of `western esotericism’ has…been of an apologetic or polemic nature: a debate, basically, among believers and their opponents. Academic researchers generally tended to avoid an area of cultural expression that was widely regarded as inherently suspect….[But] during the last few decades, the realization has been growing that this attitude has little to commend it from a scholarly point of view, and may on the contrary have blinded us to important aspects of our cultural past. Even more importantly, it has become increasingly clear that the scholarly recovery of `esoteric’ traditions may force us to question basic received opinions about the foundations of our present culture…. it is clear that the optimistic self-confidence of Enlightenment thinking is no longer widely shared…..we witness a new interest…..*


rosslyn-gm-bullTo recover what has been neglected or lost…

That, in part, is why Ancient Quest was started, to help recover much of what has been previously ignored, neglected, or lost, for whatever reasons. Indeed, the search for something that has been lost, and needs to be recovered, has been an archetypal theme underlying many traditions.

rosicruc2Whether you call it the search for the Golden Fleece, the Holy Grail, or finally cracking the genetic code with the Genome Project, the basic intent is the same. (Indeed, one key scientist called his research on the Genome Project “the search for the Holy Grail of science”…an interesting choice of words.) Even the personal experiences of Luke Skywalker, and his training by Yoda, in Star Wars, are illustrative of someone on a personal Quest.

Many dusty archives and library shelves are full of important material that is relevant to history, but has been neglected or ignored, simply because it did not fit into the belief system of the time. This is also true in some areas of scientific enquiry. But we ignore such information at our peril, for we often end up with an incomplete view of history, however inadvertent. To put it more simply, we are missing “the full story”…



A case in point…

hermetic3For example, it is widely known that Sir Isaac Newton was a genius, a brilliant physicist and mathematician, had a job at the Royal Mint, and left us many writings about his amazing experiments. But it is not widely known that Newton was also seriously interested in the study of alchemy or that he subscribed to Arianism – the doctrine of a heretical sect which denied the Holy Trinity. When early biographers went through Newton’s vast library and papers, they were stunned to find that the most respected scientist in history, the model for the scientific method, actually spent more of his time involved with alchemy than delving into pure science. Perhaps privately he would not even have made the distinction.

But, they “left out” this information, for obvious reasons at the time. But the study of something like Alchemy – however seemingly unusual – is nonetheless highly relevant to a proper study of Newton’s life and ideology. It wasn’t until fairly recently that a more complete picture of Newton has emerged, as things are more open now than they were in previous years. But scholars believe that more, and equally fascinating cases exist.

* van der Broek, R., and Hanegraaff, W., (Ed.) Gnosticism and Hermeticism: from Antiquity to Modern Times, SUNY: NY, 1998, p. viii.

For information and bookings, please see Calendar page or contact Ancient Quest for details.

Disclaimer: Ancient Quest, and Dr. Karen Ralls, do not necessarily agree with, or endorse, material in the publications listed or referred to on these pages, but provide each list as a general introduction to learning more about the topic.