Esoteric Quest Plenaries

Prehistoric Iberia


Traces of the Quest in Prehistoric Iberia

Leonard George, Ph.D.

The Esoteric Quest began in Iberia long before the arrival of the first modern humans. Nearly a half-million years ago, bodies of 30 Homo Heidelbergensis were dropped into the Pit of Bones in northern Spain – the oldest sign in the world of an interest in the underworld. Sites like the Côa Valley in Portugal feature vast fields of petroglyphs, and Iberia has seen waves of megalith-building starting with the dolmens of southern Portugal. We also find stone circles and beehive tombs, and later mysterious massive sculptures of animals in granite. And before Rome’s conquest of the region, Phoenician, Celtic and Greek contacts gave rise to hybrid cultures and spiritualities.


Saudade and Fado:

The Spirit/Breath of Portugal in Pursuit of the Beyond

Paulo Borges, Ph.D.

Saudade is the way the Portuguese soul resonates with the longing for Infinity, and Fado expresses the feeling of the tragedy of an existence lived in the illusion of separation. Saudade pre-exists in the names of what we were before history, and suggests the Finisterrean rapture, at the “end of the world”, towards the Ocean, – the image of the limitless – of what exists beyond opposites: it is the realm of Oestrymnis, the Extreme West, also known as Ophyussae, the Land of Serpents, and Lusitania, the land of Lusus, son of Dionysus and god of liberation. Fado, first danced and then sung, is the catharsis of the passions tying the soul in space and time. If it seems to feed and exacerbate them, it is to go into the depths of their suffering and take whomever sings and listens to it into a rebirth from the living-death of conventional life. In this way, Fado/Saudade is the spirit/breath of Portugal in its pursuit of the beyond.

Amalia Rodriguez


Priscillian of Spain:

A Last Stronghold of Gnostic Christianity

Paul Bembridge, M.Phil.

With the adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire in the fourth century, some bishops used the power of the state to suppress unorthodox forms of the faith. Thus, Priscillian of Spain (d. 385), a charismatic leader teaching a Gnostic form of Christianity that accepted the equality of women, became the first Christian to be executed for heresy, on trumped-up charges of sorcery. But Priscillianism itself lived on until at least the sixth century in Galicia, the last stronghold of a faith that some say crossed the Pyrenees to form a precursor of Catharism.



Europe’s Hidden Visage

Manuel Gandra

Geography, along with consciousness, plays a vital role in world history. For many centuries, Europe was depicted as a human body with all its organs and features. The Iberian Peninsula appeared as its head and Portugal, the oldest country of all on the  continent (founded in 1128), was described as its face. Yet this superficial image can be seen as pointing to a very deep mystery. According to esoteric tradition, the eyes on that face are those of God. Through them, the world was created and awareness of it could be brought to mankind.

Portugal Map


The Mystical Trilogy:

Nuno Ferreira Gonçalves

The Grail, the Templars and Portugal have been described as forming a mystical trilogy of an esoteric nature – something which has inspired countless authors and continues to arouse fascination among the general public. From this perspective, various prospects arise: Did the Templars help Afonso Henriques found the kingdom of Portugal, on the western confines of the Old Continent, with a view to providing for a redoubt able to protect the Grail mystery, of which they were guardians? Did the naval cavalry of the Order of Christ develop a secret project of the Templars when carrying out the Portuguese maritime expansion? And could the Templars, often considered guardians of the Grail, have dreamed of a new land that could come to embody an ecumenical embrace between all peoples, creeds and cultures under the banner of Universal Fraternity? Portuguese writer and researcher, Nuno Goncalves, invites us to explore these possibilities.

Chateau de Peyrepertuse


The grail sagas and castles, catharism and hermeticism:

The Iberian Background and Connections

Yuri Stoyanov, Ph.D.

The origins and spread of the Holy Grail romances and traditions pose some of the most intricate and enigmatic questions arising from the religious and cultural history of medieval Europe. A variety of new approaches to the age-old riddles and controversies posed by the foundational works of Chrétien de Troyes’ Perceval ou le Conte du Graal (c. 1181-1190) and Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival (c. 1200-1210) have opened novel, intriguing vistas for their investigation and understanding, ones especially concerned with the existence of Gnostic-related and Hermetic layers in these works. These strata highlight the derivation of some of the core themes of the Grail sagas, from the high and late medieval Iberian adoption of ancient Hermetic and alchemical treatises via Arabic and Jewish channels, to their embellishment under the impact of the dramatic spiritual rivalry between Catholicism and the Cathar “heresy” in Languedoc and the northern Iberian regions.


The Knights Templar:

Reality and Legend

Christopher McIntosh, D.Phil.

The name of the Knights Templar carries a powerful resonance. After they were violently dissolved in the early 14th century, their legend lived on and many intriguing questions about them remained. What were the strange, heretical rites that they were said to have practiced? What was the fabled Templar treasure? How did they manage to survive in certain places, such as Scotland, and most notably Portugal, where they re-emerged as the Knights of Christ? Equally fascinating is the growth of the Templar myth and the way in which it has spawned numerous chivalric and esoteric orders invoking the Templar name. In this illustrated talk, we will examine the actual history of Templars, including the Portuguese connection, their enduring mystique, and some of the exotic fruits that it has borne.

Templar Castle


the harmony of the stars:

Music on the Pilgrim’s Road to Compostela

Marjorie Roth, DMA, Ph.D.

Pilgrimage to the shrine of St. James at Compostela (the Field of Stars), known as the Camino or The Way of St. James, represents one of the oldest opportunities for an individual to pursue personal transformation in Western culture. For over 1,000 years people have undertaken this arduous journey, risking much, physically and materially, in hope of attaining inner peace and harmony. Music has always been part of this quest. We will sample the music and the miracles of the Camino from the earliest chants contained in the medieval Codex Calixtinus to the 21st century.


From the Legacy of Al-Andalus to Pessoa’s Neo-Templarism

Fabrizio Boscaglia, Ph.D.

This presentation introduces some of the most significant legacies of Esotericism in Portugal, through references taken from the works of Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935). Pessoa, who was one of the most important Portuguese contemporary writers and intellectuals, had a special interest in Esotericism, Mysticism and Spirituality. We will see how he developed an original and complex esoteric view of history, culture and spirituality through his reinterpretation of both universal and Portuguese spiritual legacies, especially their Jewish, Templar and Islamic aspects. Materials from Pessoa’s estate and private library will be shown and commented upon.

Andalusian Portugal
Lima de Freitas


Lima de Freitas and the Soul of Portugal

Joscelyn Godwin, Ph.D.

As a painter, book illustrator, writer, and arts administrator, Lima de Freitas (1927-1998) was a dominant figure of Portuguese culture.  He painted in a Magical Realist style, illustrated fine editions of many English classics, co-founded the Porches Pottery, and wrote books on art and numerology. His ceramic panels at Rossio Station, Lisbon, depicting the mystic history of Portugal, are without parallel as a public display of esoteric imagery. In no other country has a person of such declared interests risen to national eminence. What does this say about Portugal?

Quest Newsletter

Esoteric Quest Portugal

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