If you missed Part I of this series click here.

Several other unusual features in this short story serve to bear out our above theory about its hidden meaning.

Perhaps the most pertinent of these is its very opening words – “an anomaly which often struck me”. An opening sentence which drops a hint to the Intrepid Seeker, is an established trick in occult literature. The mention of an “anomaly” is used to make the reader aware that something out of the ordinary will be told. It also refers to the mentioned disappointment at the useless nature of the found treasure – because despite its apparent irrelevance today, this treasure is in actuality a vital symbol for something most important. That’s part of “the anomaly” – that something apparently useless, in fact is the most important thing of all.

The wording of the ritual itself also strongly supports the Broken Grail Succession theory, in Doyle’s choice to use particularly the oak and the elm tree as the starting markers from from which to determine the location of the hidden trove. Both trees have traditionally been deeply associated with Grail lore.

The Oak was an ancient symbol of the House of Stewart, and earlier was the symbol of the House of king David from the Bible. The Mediterranean Oak (a slightly different and “scrawnier” variety than the lofty European one) was the largest shade-giving tree in old Palestine and was justly considered the King of the Trees there. Thus the Oak became a symbol for the Holy Bloodline itself, which bloodline was shown by the above writers and others to have gone from King David to Jesus, and then, through the Merovingians in France, to the Stewart line in Scotland.

“Sun over the Oak” would then be Doyle’s way of telling us that despite the unsuccessfully passed heritage of Charles II, the ancient guardianship of the Grail somehow continued. But like the English Crown in the story, it was hidden away, with the hiding place and its meaning forgotten by subsequent generations. Yet the Old Oak still stands to guide one’s way, as it guided Holmes to make his find.

An interesting aspect of “The Musgrave Ritual”, is that by the time Holmes arrived on the scene at the Musgrave estate, the elm was already cut down and Holmes (as did the missing butler before him) had only the place where it stood and its known old height to work with. This did not prevent either of them from performing a relatively simple calculation, and locating the spot which the shadow of the elm would’ve pointed to at a certain time of day.

The cut-down elm here undoubtedly refers to the famous event in the history of the Knights Templar, known as “the Cutting of the Gisors Elm“. That momentous occasion ties into the Grail Legend in many more ways than can be readily enumerated in a short essay, but basically it signified an ideological split within the Templar Order and the Merovingian Bloodline, and also the split between France and Plantagenet England (which later led to such things as the Hundred-year War between the two countries.)

The Cutting of the Elm took place near the Castle of Gisors in France in the year 1188 CE. That same year the Rosicrucian Order was founded by none other that Jean de Gisors, also founder of the Priory of Sion, the organization said to be in charge of guarding the Grail Bloodline. (See the excellent article by Steven Mizrach on the subject.)

The word for “elm” in French is “orme”, which is related to Ormus, the 1st Century Gnostic who’s considered the “spiritual father” of the Rosicrucians and is also found in some histories of the origins of Modern Freemasonry. More fascinating notions about this can be found at the above links.

It is very likely therefore, in light of what we have found in this short-story so far, that “Shadow under the Elm” was Doyle’s way of saying that the traces of that old Templar Split still weigh heavy, like a shadow, over the guardianship of the Grail. But this does not prevent Holmes from solving the puzzle – because after all, the Sun is still “over the Oak”. That would then be akin to the Biblical expression “the hand is still upraised”, meaning that despite the split, the broken succession, the lost treasure, and all the other problems acquired over the years – the old Grail Legacy *still* stands to be discovered, if one merely looks in the right place.

What one has to do then, presumably, is find the right starting place from which to apply Doyle’s triangulation and step measurements, to find the actual location of the Grail in his day, which he may have even known due to his many associations with mystics and Freemasons, or had simply guessed. He gives a hint as to the general geographical location in the very closing words of the story, which are perhaps even more significant than its opening ones.

As he’s talking about the missing maid (who, significantly, is the only feature of the mystery which he failed to physically locate and could only forward a logical theory about), Holmes says that “she carried herself and the memory of her crime to some land beyond the seas”. This is undoubtedly a reference to the United States, where many sources claim that the Grail itself was carried to. The idea of the Grail in America was well-known in Doyle’s time and was later popularized yet more by people like the mystic Manly Hall.

The “missing woman” would then obviously symbolize the Lost Sacred Feminine, which according to many researchers constitutes the nature of the Grail. Like the “treasure” itself, which was buried and lost in the story, this is another very poignant symbol for that broken succession.

The meaning of the second-to-last question of the ritual is not entirely clear at this time – “What shall we give for it/All that is ours”. This evidently refers to some sort of self-sacrifice, because “all” would presumably include one’s life as well. Obviously implying the personal sacrifice of people like the Musgrave ancestor in the story, who did give his life in support of his charge, this phrase must also refer to something which Doyle thought was still very pertinent to the Grail in his day and probably in the future.

An additional hint in this story as to the possible modern location of the Grail could be the fictitious location where Doyle places the Musgrave manor – in a town of “Hurlstone” in western Sussex. The name is suggestive of “a stone’s throw”, which is a familiar relative measure of distance when describing major landmarks. And though the figures in the Ritual could be interpreted in different ways – for example, “ten and by ten” could refer to multiplication, and not taking ten steps with each foot as Holmes had surmised – Conan Doyle is basically telling us how the measurement should be done, once we find the starting point.

It should be noted that in the film version of this story made in 1986, available today on DVD as “The Return of Sherlock Holmes, Vol. 5 – The Musgrave Ritual & The Man with the Twisted Lip” the steps in the ritual are given differently: “West 8 by 8, South 7 by 7, West 6 by 6, South 5 by 5 plus 2 by 2 and then under.”

One has to wonder why the film writer Jeremy Paul, who won an Edgar Award for this script, changed the original wording. He may have thought that his new figures carry an additional numerological significance, or perhaps for some reason, this was actually meant to hide the numbers given by Doyle. But could also be that the new sequence simply looked better on film, or just happened to be the best fit for the layout of the set location. Another interesting coincidence about that DVD, is that the hero of the second story on it “The Man with the Twisted Lip” is called “St. Clair” – which name is intimately associated with the Holy Grail, the Templars, and Freemasonry.

Lastly, “the Musgrave Ritual” is considered an unusual Holmes adventure, because it does not involve Dr. Watson in any way – the incident took place when Holmes “was in college” long before he met Watson, and he tells the whole thing in the first person to the good doctor in their study, many years later, and showing him some of the recovered coins from the find. This uncommon feature (although present in several other Holmes tales) is another pointer at the importance of this otherwise relatively unknown and overlooked story.  

2. The Valley of Fear

To conclude our account, lets take a short look at a much better known Holmes and Watson adventures, which is described in the novel “The Valley of Fear”, written by Doyle in 1914, long after the Musgrave Ritual came out in 1893.

This work is also considered an unusual Holmes escapade, because the entire second half of the novel does not take place in England. The scene there is set in an imaginary “Vermissa Valley, Pennsylvania”, and describes the earlier American history of the client on whose case Holmes was working on in the first half. Furthermore, neither Holmes nor Watson are mentioned in the second half at all. The complete absence of our usual heroes from the lengthy narrative also makes this novel stand out on its own among Holmes’ more familiar stories and investigations.

Holmes’ client, the hero of the second part of the novel, was at one time a Pinkerton agent in the US, where he served as an instrument of the Law and brought to justice what we would call today “a protection racket”. It was run by the Vermissa Valley chapter of “The Ancient Order of Freemen”, supposedly a national organization with a chapter in every major US city. In Vermissa Valley they were called “the Scrowers”, and assumed a very sinister role of a violent organized crime ring, who charged “protection-dues” from legitimate businesses, enforcing this policy with mayhem and murder. Doyle takes pains to point out that this is only one renegade lodge of the large organization, the rest of which is law-abiding and philanthropic.

It has been pointed out by many researchers that this description is Doyle’s “thinly veiled” criticism of Freemasonry, not so thinly veiled at all, of course. But most likely it carries an additional important message as well.

First, the fact that the action is set in America – strengthens our earlier supposition that Doyle believed the “Holy Grail” to have been taken to that land across the sea – because Freemasons were named by some researchers of his day as the modern Guardians of the Grail. (Though Doyle may have merely meant to disassociate the criminal group from his home in England, and place them in distant violent America instead.)

Doyle likely wishes to show us here how certain factions of Freemasonry had perverted the Original Precepts for personal gain, while trying to fool others that they were only doing it for everyone’s “protection”. This idea goes back further than modern Freemasonry to factions of the Knights Templar, who had started doing the same thing many centuries earlier when the Grail was in their charge. This gave birth to such legends as the Templars having a book called “the Key of Solomon”, containing instructions on raising demons.

Doyle is also making an important statement about how members of a “select brotherhood” are forced to do things which may oppose their own personal morality. They dare not go against their brethren in the organization, either out of loyalty or for fear of reprisals. This is an open statement about how the “bad Freemasons” keep their members in line. The criminal behavior of the “brethren” could be a reference to some actual known murders from 19th Century America, which are seen today as having been committed and later covered up by Freemasons – such as the death of Captain William Morgan in 1826.

The moral dilemmas posed by an adherence to the Rules of Brotherhood rather than one’s conscience, is a theme that has been endlessly explored in subsequent books and films. Doyle was possibly the first to popularize it for a wide audience – though of course the tale of a band of criminals controlling a frontier town, which we have seen in so many Western movies, hails back to the legends of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin of Locksley, and in fact much further back to the Book of Judges in the Bible, and before.

Lastly, researchers have concluded that Doyle’s “Order of Freemen” is based on a sordid episode of an actual organization named “the Molly Maguires“. This group had also ended up as a violent ring who subjugated a peaceful working valley to their vices in a big protection racket. They had split off from the “Ancient Order of Hibernians”, an Irish Catholic society which was set up in the 16th Century to oppose Henry the Eighth’s persecution of Catholicism.

This is an important bit of fact, because “persecution of Catholicism” is considered to be one of the causes of the political upheavals in England and Scotland during the 17th Century, which had led to the execution of Charles I and the physical removal of the Grail from the Stewart charge. With his “Ancient order of Fremen of Vermissa Valley” Doyle is likely to have been satirizing conflicting factions of Freemasonry, seeking to regain control of the Grail.

It would seem then, that Conan Doyle was trying to tell us something with all this symbolism. Whether he was actually privy to information regarding the Grail, or had made a good educated guess about it, which is far more likely, or had merely pulled the whole thing out of the Collective Subconscious – is not really important. But there is no doubt, that in addition to everything else he was famous for, this man should also get credit for giving subsequent generations of intrepid researchers a good clear trail to follow in the Grail Quest.

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