Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The London Obelisk: Cleopatra's Ghosts

The next time you visit London, walk from the Houses of Parliament and
Big Ben along the Thames Embankment until you are next to the seventy foot long Cleopatra's Needle.

At 186 tons, it weighs about ten times as much as the largest stone in Stonehenge, and was already 1500 years old before Stonehenge was built.

Eight feet at the base, it is five feet wide at the top, before its seven foot high pyramidion starts.

London Obelisk from the Millenium Wheel

Take a moment to admire the two bronze sphinxes that stand guard over her. 

Your question to the Obelisk:

Then turn your eyes to the small pyramidion on the very top of the giant obelisk, and say out loud:
"I call spirits from the vasty deep!"
 Listen carefully for an answer.

Before we tell you what you might hear, we need to touch on a fascinating tapestry of history and legend.

The tapestry thread:

This thread of mystery, and of ghosts, runs through and joins together Braveheart; the Gunpowder Plot; Thutmose III and his son, Thutmose IV; a stone slab between the giant paws of the Great Sphinx in Egypt; Cleopatra; the London obelisk; and a noble family we can call the Fighting Percy's, whose swords were ever close to hand throughout the centuries.

Knowing this thread of wonder that joins these people, events and times, you will never look on this wonderful obelisk the same way again.

Thutmose IV:

Let's start with Pharaoh Thutmose III, the maker of the Cleopatra's Needles which were moved from Egypt by Freemasons and are now found in  London and Central Park in New York.
Sphinx by David Roberts

In Egypt these two obelisks had stood together.

Gradually the restless sea closed in on the shore where they stood, and the obelisk which one day would grace London, teetered under the waves washing ashore, and about three hundred years ago it fell. 

It served for a while as a bridge over a small ravine it had fallen over, while its twin – destined to be moved to Central Park - stayed upright.

When Thutmose III died, he left several sons including one who became known as Thutmose IV when he became pharaoh.

The Great Sphinx:

When we visited Egypt as part of  our research for our thriller, Obelisk Seven, we paid a visit to the magnificent Great Sphinx.

The biggest monument in a land of big monuments, the sphinx has a human head on the body of a lion.

Nestling between the huge paws of the Sphinx is a stone tablet, called the Dream Stela, placed there by Thutmose IV.

The tablet tells the story of the younger son of Thutmose III who was hunting in the desert, and stopped to rest at the Sphinx, which was covered in sand up to its head.

The prince fell asleep between the paws, and in his dream the sphinx spoke to him, promising him the throne of Egypt if he would clear the sand covering it:
The kingdom shall be given to you ... The world shall be yours in its length and in its breadth, as far as the light of the eye of the lord of the universe shines... My countenance is gracious towards you, and my heart clings to you.
Thutmose IV cleared the sand, became Pharaoh when his older brother – who was first in line for the throne – died before he could inherit it, and ruled for just under ten years.

Glenn & one London Obelisk Sphinx

Now let's make the connection between Thutmose IV and the Great Sphinx, and the London obelisk.

Look to her left and her right.

Two seven ton bronze guardian sphinxes, nineteen feet long, six feet wide and nine feet tall, flank her, for her protection.

There are shrapnel wounds in the body and paw of the sphinx to her right, from a German bombing raid during the First World War.

These two guardian sphinxes are copies of a small foot-long sphinx of Thutmose IV,  in the collection of the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle (pronounced Annick). The Alnwick Castle sphinx has the face of Thutmose IV, on a lion's body, with the tail curling around the right hind leg.

Alnwick Castle:

Alnwick Castle was used for interior and exterior shots of the Hogwarts Castle in the Harry Potter films.

The castle is the second largest inhabited castle in England, and since 1309 – for 700 years - has belonged to the powerful Percy family.

The Percys have had a long history of intrigue and warring for centuries, fighting their own king as well as the Scots.

A cousin of the earl of Percy played a part in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, commemorated on Guy Fawkes Day each year. In 1297 Braveheart – William Wallace – launched an unsuccessful attack on the castle.

Alnwick, and Alnwick Castle itself, have links to ghosts.

Sphinx of Thutmose IV at Alnwick Castle
From the eleventh century A.D., the castle was famous for a vampire – known locally as the Creature from the Tomb, and formerly a lord of the estate – that lived beneath the castle, coming out at night to attack the villagers.

The vampire caused an outbreak of plague, and the angry villagers dug it up from its shallow grave and burned its body.

In the village of Alnwick, the public house known as Ye Olde Cross has its own ghosts: a collection of bottles that are cursed.

Touch them and you die.

The bottles are now apparently covered up to prevent further deaths.

Enter Sir Lancelot:

Lancelot, the famous Knight of the Round Castle, lover of King Arthur's wife, Guinevere, and searcher for the Holy Grail, was sent to King Arthur's court by the Lady of the Lake.

As a young man, Lancelot, then known as the White Knight, came across a castle called the Dolorous Guard, guarded by the Copper Knight, ten knights at the first wall, ten at the second wall, and then the Copper Knight  himself.

But that knight fled; Lancelot is taken to a cemetery and shown a metal slab with writing on it.

Only one knight, says the writing, can lift this weighty slab, and his name is written on the other side of it.

Lancelot flips over the slab and finds his name: Lancelot.

Lancelot then took the Dolorous Guard as his home, changing it to Joyous Guard; on his death, he was buried there.

Legend has it that Alnwick Castle is Joyous Guard, home and burial site of Lancelot.

So: Alnwick Castle is home to ghosts, and to Sir Lancelot.

Hotspur in Alnwick Castle

Young Prince Hotspur:

And it was home to the famous Harry Hotspur. 

A statue of Hotspur astride his horse is found inside the castle. 

In 1403 Hotspur tried to depose Henry IV and was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury when he raised his visor and an arrow penetrated his mouth. 

His body was shown to King Henry IV, who wept.

After his burial, rumors spread that he was still alive, so Henry IV had his body dug up, impaled on a spear, displayed in public, then cut into four pieces and sent around all of England; his head was then  stuck on a pole at the gates of the city of York.

In Shakespeare's Henry IV Part I, Hotspur and his the Welsh rebel Glendower plot together against King Henry IV, and Hotspur mocks Glendower for his outrageous claims to control the devil and his spirits in the underworld.

And this brings us to the question you are to ask the London obelisk.
Glendower, in Henry IV, says:
I can call the spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur replies:
Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them?
If you listen carefully, you just might – if your quest is pure and the water of the Thames runs clean that day or night – hear a soft voice, seeming to come from one of the two bronze sphinxes, or perhaps from the obelisk itself, repeating what Shakespeare recorded that Hotspur had said.

Cleopatra's Needle Ghosts:

But look around carefully when you ask the question and wait for an answer, for there are legends of ghosts at the obelisk.

The London  obelisk is called Cleopatra's Needle, even though she had nothing to do with it. The iron cylinder which carried the obelisk from Egypt to London, and was lost at sea for a while at the cost of the lives of six sailors, was named the Cleopatra by the engineer who moved it, John Dixon.

Could it have been this association with Cleopatra's name that lead to the obelisk being called Cleopatra's Needle? Mythology is full of stories of the pwoer of names:
Ancient Egyptians associated the name with the soul. It was believed that knowledge of a god or spirit’s name gave one complete power over that deity, and knowledge of a man’s name provided the power to do that man good or ill. A person could not exist without his name.
Perhaps this association with Cleopatra contributed to the legends about ghosts at the obelisk.

Some say that a curse fell upon this obelisk when Cleopatra, then only thirty nine, committed suicide, clasping an asp to her chest after the death of her lover, Mark Antony. Her love affairs with both Caesar and Antony ended in tragedy, when both of them lost power.

Cleopatra and the Asp

When Otavian took Antony's will from the temple of the Vestal Virgins, where it had been stored for safekeeping, he found out that Antony had planned to move the capital from Rome to the magnificent city of Alexandria in Egypt, to be closer to Cleopatra, and to found a new dynasty there with her; Octavian published the will, and the Romans turned against Antony.

Cleopatra persuaded Antony to commit suicide, which he did, falling upon his sword.

When she tried to captivate Octavian, and failed, she realized that she would be paraded through the streets of Rome in chains, as part of Octavian's triumphal return to the capital city, so she chose death over such dishonor.

She was found dead on a bed of gold, dressed in all her royal ornaments.

Even today, there are more suicides near the obelisk than at any other point on the Thames River.

There have been claims that strange, mocking  laughter is heard nearby, and some have mentioned seeing a naked man rush up to the obelisk, leap upon its base, and then into the water, without any splash being heard.

Cleopatra's Needle in London - with boats

Sphinx guarding Cleopatra's Needle in London

Second World War monument close to the London obelisk

Guard at Aswan quarry showing how obelisks were cut out of granite using dolorite stone hammer

And the band played on ... with the London obelisk in the background

Cleopatra's Needle in London at dusk

Sphinx of London obelisk in summer greenery

Iron cylinder named Cleopatra with London obelisk inside leaves Egypt for London

Statue of Thutmose III - maker of the London obelisk

Sir Erasmus Wilson - the Freemason who bankrolled the move of the London obelisk from Egypt

The Vatican obelisk - one of the seven obelisks featured in the thriller, Obelisk Seven

Alnwick Castle - where the small sphinx of Thutmose IV is kept

Front view of sphinx of Thutmose IV in Alnwick Castle

Back view of sphinx of Thutmose IV in Alnwick Castle

HarryPotter and Hogswart Castle

Hotspur's Death

Strapped up London Obelisk - 2009

Hole in granite bedrock of Aswan quarry where an obelisk was cut out

Pink granite of Aswan quarry in Egypt that obelisks were made from

Victorian tourists and the Great Sphinx in Egypt

London obelisk being prepared for move from Egypt to London in the iron cylinder named Cleopatra

London obelisk in its iron container being rolled into the sea for move from Egypt

One of the two sphinxes guarding the London obelisk - from the Thames

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