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Legend Quest Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

This is an Interview from June 30, 2011 with Ashley Cowie from the television series (Legend Quest.

Ashley Cowie

Question:
How did the idea for the show originally come about? Did they approach you or did you go to them?

Ashley Cowie:
I was approached about two years ago by a casting agent in Los Angeles. And of course they had a rough idea for a show so I met one of the network execs in LA as I was out doing and interview, and we through some ideas together and the show's mutated so much since the original idea which was an artifacts show. But the way it's actually changed and developed over the last two years that there's no relevance to how it was in the beginning. But let's be honest, it was a network exec and Syfy's idea for the show. But we've worked together developing it since.

Question:
How much input do you have in choosing where you're going to go and what artifacts you're going to look for?

Ashley Cowie:
That's 100% input there. Basically since they chose me to lead the show up, I've developed all of the artifacts. I would go searching for all of the clues and the symbols that we find along the way and the methods that we get from one place to the next is completely my own work and research, and it's pretty much a case of me out there looking for artifacts that we've established and the team's sorting of along recording it as it goes. So, pretty much 100% input for myself working with the development team at Syfy.

Question:
What artifact is out there that you've not had a chance to go and search for that you personally would want to?

Ashley Cowie:
I have a list of artifacts that I've been looking for all my days and I hopefully will next year, but I will tell you there's one in particular it's called the Flying Dagger of Japan. I want to get to Japan and film that and film me looking for it because I've got a good idea of where to start looking. However, we haven't got that in series. But yes, there's a number of artifacts in Japan and in China that I would really like to go looking for. But the Flying Dagger is sort of localized. An artifact in the southern part of Japan not very well know, but it's got some fascinating temples and places to go to especially using TV as a media of getting this out there. So yes, Japan and Flying Daggers we're going to have to do that.

Question:
Since there are so many theories surrounding the Ark of the Covenant, can you talk about how you find the right road to follow to know that you have the best possible location?

Ashley Cowie:
It's been done so many times, people looking for the Ark. So what my methodology is to take everything that's been written so far, I research everything that it cannot be and like Sherlock Holmes says, "Hopefully end up with what can only be." I'll be honest when you see the show; we've a number of dead ends along the way for the Ark of Covenant.

But when I find a clue, see a symbol or something that's absolutely indicative of where the Ark was taken next, we follow that and when in the show we've hit a dead end with the first to see we've hit a dead end we'll go back to the last stage and then take it forward again. But that's methodology. It's really following your nose as we go. Rather than making up history, if we find something that doesn't work we back track ourselves and then go forward which is a nightmare production who have half an hour to cover an artifact. But I insisted the whole way along, we cannot make anything up with this. It's got to be there or else we're going backwards and there's a number of occasions where we go backwards.

Question:
From what you know and have investigated how is it possible that the Ark could still be out there somewhere?

Ashley Cowie:
The Ark existed. As far as we know the Ark actually existed. We know that it appeared in 556 BC when the Babylonians invaded the Temple of Solomon. So many other relics fro that time that were taken from the Temple have turned up in the last 40 or 50 years since archaeology started using technology. We're going on the premise that the Ark is out there somewhere and there are lots of clues and legends within medieval text from everywhere from Africa all the way through to Northern Europe.

To be absolutely honest with you, we have to go on the same assumption that everybody else from Indiana Jones to a professor from London did and that is that it exist and therefore if it exists where would it be. The only way we can prove it is out there is we actually find it and we've done pretty well with the show I must add.

Question:
What does it mean to be a Templar Knight today as compared to what's been written? Can you demystify that for me?

Ashley Cowie:
So many modern orders have sprung up since the Da Vinci Code was released, modern Knights Templars, and in Scotland and about 10 to 12 years ago I was approached by not a secret order but an order with secrets who asked me to put some of my research work into the order, come along and meet them. So what I'm involved in is a bunch of guys whose average age is about 75.

They are keepers of historical knowledge. They protect certain sacred sights and certain churches and chapels in the UK, they fundraise for charity. So a modern knight templar is somebody that tries to live by the virtues of the old order, but we live in 2011. So we do not run about on clandestine orders with super secrets. We do not have the Holy Grail, but we have a bunch of like minded guys who's involved in historical study and the protection of the heritage of Scotland. So that's pretty much what I'm involved in and I could answer any question you want about modern Knights Templar as we do not have secrets. We always believe that if somebody has the ability to ask a question, they deserve an answer.

It's kind of like Freemason. However, we do not stipulate that you have to be a Freemason to be a Knights Templar. We're not a Masonic order. There is a Masonic Knights Templar order, but that is not ours. We are from the original order that strand)through Scotland so certainly not freemasonry.

Question:
How did you decide that this is what you wanted to do?

Ashley Cowie:
Syfy decided that. I always wanted to be an archaeologist. It was photography I qualified in and at the age of 18, I figured out I had a pretty good eye for observing. I see things and I did lots of studies with photography on churches, chapels, symbols, architecture and started to pretty much teach myself about the history of these places and what not and became a kind of authority on Scottish history to begin with. But then always into medieval history and eventually became very much a specialist in pre-history. You know, everything before 2000 BC. I've always had it in me. And what's really funny? My mother sent me a painting that I drew in school when I was 5 years old recently and it's a picture of me holding a book with the word ancient history written up the spine. So from 5 years old I had visions of myself doing this.

For the last ten years I've been commissioned by a number of private collectors and historical bodies to get out there solve historical problems/mysteries to figure out lost histories, and I've made a living from it for about the last decade. I've been on various quests around Europe for the last ten years and it was through these quests and through my experience there that I really got into the hands of Syfy to develop this show out.

To be honest with you a number of the artifacts research in the show, I've been researching all my days for the 15/20 years, but let's be honest never had the funds or the support to actually go out there and search for these things. So yes ten years I've been out searching for artifacts, but pretty much over the last two years since developing this I've actually got to go to the ends of the earth looking for them.

Question:
Of all the places you've been what's your favorite?

Ashley Cowie:
My favorite place must be Edinburgh in Scotland. No not at all. My favorite place was the Philippines. We searched for this amazing artifact that Cintamani stole in the Philippines and we didn't just go to the tourist Philippines. We were 15 hours in a car, sat 4 hours in a flight, we explored on volcanoes and amongst rainforests. We were like a kilometer deep in a cave at one stage diving. I mean the Philippines blew me away. It was the biggest contrast from the North of Scotland where I'm from and I must say the Philippines is unquestionably the Philippines.

Question:
How does the addition of the cameras and doing this for TV affect your methodologies and your approach to going after things?

Ashley Cowie:
Yes and to be frank with you, a number of occasions it really pissed me off and gotten away. Excuse the terminology. But I need time to think, I need space to operate, and sometimes the penny doesn't drop immediately. You see something and you think something, but you need time to ruminate. But you've got a production crew, you've got cameras guys there, safety guys there, organizers who need you to be moving on quickly. So there's a constant battle between TV and artifact hunting, but it's collaborative.

We worked it out and because I knew what I was going looking for, I had a good idea and the possible locations to go next before I went out on the road. What I needed to do was to get to location to establish where it was we were going to go next, but there was a running battle. When I'm out doing one job that's got nothing to do with television, it really has to do with history, and you've got a bunch of people educated in TV that don't really care what I'm doing, they've got a box to take.

It brought up conflicts and also some differences and changes and of course ticking behind it all is a budget. But I must say Syfy were absolutely brilliant as far as budget was concerned. They literally told me we will follow you wherever we have to go. Please behave yourself. Don't make a fool of us, but get out there and find it. So I found a lot of latitude on the time I could spend at any one place.

Question:
Can you talk about the background of I guess the team that you've assembled? What kind of educational or history backgrounds do they have?

Ashley Cowie:
Pretty much if you're looking at the history and educational side, myself I'm the specialist on the show but Kenya Phillips is a very well respected show host in her own right, but very much a film producer. She's traveled the world with different shows. She knows international travel; she was excellent at getting translators for me, getting historical specialists ahead of time. If I told her we're off to France tomorrow, she would be up all night finding specialists in the area, people to get me into different places. So I had those things.

But on the actual historical side of things, I was depending on my own work, my own research, my own contacts in the Knights Templars, and in historical societies who we even involved in the show. I would say in at least every second episode we have one of my own contacts, people I know around the world, that are helping iron things out. And when there's something they know more about than I do, we've been right there and they're giving the information out to the audience and I'm using it. So quite a big mix, but as far as making the staff, and taking the box to go to the next location it's pretty much my own work there.

Question:
Of the six episodes that we're getting on Syfy is there one in particular that stands out for you?

Ashley Cowie:
Yes. The final episode. The one hour special, it's a search of the Holy Grail. That is riveting in the sense that being involved in Knights Templar and having such a close association to these types of artifacts especially the biblical artifacts that was just like being dropped off in a sweet shop for me. I mean to go out in a modern day quest for the Holy Grail considering the success of Indiana Jones and the Da Vinci Code machines was pretty much everybody's dream and we really did go for it.

We've gone to places that no one would ever think. I'd love to tell you where we end up looking or indeed establishing where the Grail was probably and I think our record would step and stand on me if I did, but definitely the Holy Grail though. That was my favorite.

Question:
Your investigation techniques seem to be quite intense and exhaustive especially when things get difficult. What would you say is in your motivation to really see things through?

Ashley Cowie:
I'll answer that question totally personally and honestly. The biggest hardest I found on the road was not so much the historical side of things or not so much figuring things out, I know my subject matter so very much I was getting to see things and I would just know immediately. I'm a Type 1 diabetic. That takes an awful lot of management and time on an everyday basis. Never mind traveling the world, not sleeping times, and everything else. That was the biggest challenge on the road.

The motivation was to get up and get out of the places we were in to get moving forward because a camera guy has just hiked up a mountain for a day, everybody's exhausted, I'm personally exhausted most days out there doing it. The motivation is to keep a momentum going forward so the entire team and all the people there supporting you aren't getting downhearted. Although we're out looking for clues, and mysteries, and things to move us forward I felt personally responsible for making sure that team were enjoying the quest. Three months on the road, heads go down and I took the full responsibility for making sure we're moving onward. So it was a very personal thing that kept me going and driving all the way through this quest.

Question:
What do you think it is about this show and the subject matter that will really hook viewers?

Ashley Cowie:
It's going to absolutely be me. I joke with you. No. You know what it is? It's like shaking the best out of the Da Vinci Code, shaking the best out of Indiana Jones series but replacing all of the fiction and myth that's in there with absolutely fact and logic. So I think what viewers will find is a kind of satisfaction from now just being dealt more rubbish, but actually given an alternative view and these histories or these mysteries which have almost become histories now that's actually a breath of fresh air because it does not require a leap of faith. It's logic in the place of meth, and I think that's what a viewer will find refreshing.

It's time for us to become beyond the Da Vinci Code and just ask for a little bit more. And I think it's time TV gave an audience something to ruminate on that actually is worth something. It's not just something to spit out the next day because you hear it's rubbish. It's fact and I think that's kind of cool to be involved in an original show that isn't ScyFy channel, but it's fact and that's what I think the audience will appreciate.

Question:
You have the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail. What else can you tell us that you'll be looking for this year?

Ashley Cowie:
We have two segments in each show. It's an hour show with two artifacts per show. So we kick off with a Talking Cross in Mexico which is a cross that appeared before the cast were. It was hidden in a cave, so we're going searching for the Talking Cross in Mexico. One of the most interesting relics takes us all the way through Europe and elsewhere. It's the Holy Lance. This is the spear that pierced the side of Christ when he was on the cross otherwise known as the Spear of Longinus or the Spear of Destiny. That's a great fun relic to go searching for. There's a lot of fiction written about that, but we really come up with some cool stuff for that one.

The Stone of Destiny which is the coronation stone of the royal family. It's been used for 800 years by the royals in London there. We're looking for Excalibur, King Arthur's famous sword. That's one of the better ones as well. But also, we're down there in Purdue looking for the Golden Sun Disc. It was a large sun disc that was moved when Spanish invaded. We're looking for Merlin's Magic Treasures that's known as the 13 Treasures of Great Britain. They're hidden in a cave somewhere where we're searching for those. And others like Solomon's ring. King Solomon had a ring that he lost sometime before the birth of Christ. We're looking for that. The staff of Moses. So I've pretty much given you a run through of most of the shows and of course the last one - the Holy Grail which is the best.

Question:
It would seem to me that when you're doing the research end of it, you really have to separate the myth part of it from the history part of it. Is that a major challenge for you?

Ashley Cowie:
Yes, it is a major challenge. And what it takes is an element of bravery because what they say about science. And a good scientist would be prepared to do 40 years work to have somebody disprove something and he has to stand up and say well everything I've done has been absolute rubbish. I thought it was true, but it's not. And I as a person am quite prepared to stand up to any of you guys out there who can say but about this Ashley. You got this wrong or this isn't right. But to my knowledge where we are today everything I've done has been based on fact to the best of my knowledge. And if someone disproves it or say look Ashley, the reason you didn't find this there was because of this, then that is absolutely wonderful and we'll address it on syfy.com.

But certainly myself in my personal research over the years, I've been credited on sticking ??? or being almost dry. Taking things down to the primal level of insult. How do people survive, why would they do this? And I don't look for super powers and supernatural things. I'm a skeptic. So it's nice to tackle supernatural objects from a skeptical point of view. That's refreshing and that's what I do.

Question:
Even though you're a templar yourself, why was it so hard to get answers about the Ark from your own brotherhood?

Ashley Cowie:
The Knights Templar today, there are two or three different embodies out there. The modern Catholic Church have their own Knights Templar order. You have to be an ordained Catholic, you have to be a member of the Catholic Church, and answer to Supreme Grand Master within the Vatican. Those are the people that have the history of the Ark. The order I belong to is a Scottish-based order. We have membership in affiliate countries, but each order and each Knight Templar depending on his pedigree has different histories. Each person within each order has different knowledge and different information depending where they are within the order.

I can't send like a group email out going hey guys where the Ark of the Covenant is. What I can do is sit down and peel, ask questions, and converse with them and that's we do in the show. We meet various Knights Templar in the show. Some of them have information; some of them don't know what the last person was talking about. But I've got to try and piece that all together.

Unfortunately history is made with up with points of view and perspectives and everyone has their own. So what I have to do is kind of see if I can move through that end, tremulous rhetoric so to speak. And then that's why I can't go to any one person with a Knight Templar order because there are three separate orders and each person knows different things.

Question:
Well how much does the Vatican factor into the past and current status of these religious artifacts? And why are these things being kept secret?

Ashley Cowie:
If you go on the Da Vinci Code, the Vatican is holding secrets that could cripple the world, take it to its knees, are holding everything. But it's not all together true. These are sectionalized versions of what the Vatican do. The Vatican do have 76 kilometers of secret archive underneath their building there in Italy. What they say are documents and historical papers, but very few actual artifacts.

They are not going to claim to own the Ark of the Covenant. They will not claim to have the Holy Grail or any one of these artifacts. It's just not good business practice to do that. Plus they've stripped so many countries of artifacts over the last 400 years that they cannot say we have any one thing. They just have to blanket and canvas deny having anything that's of any value. I think there's just good business practices. The same way as Coca-Cola, I will not give out their ingredients today. Just have the public enjoy the drink.

Question:
During World War II the Germans also searched for these artifacts. Did you factor that into your research? And if so, what did you learn from Hitler's search?

Ashley Cowie:
You're going to love the Holy Lance. It takes me to the heart of the SS cult movement in Germany and I interview Germans. I go to one of the most sinister places I have ever been to in the world. I realized when I was there that I did not know a thing about the pain of World War II until I stood in that building where the 12 generals of the SS gathered to put together their different occult ideas and practices and whatnot. And we interviewed a lot of the people about that and had to be very, very careful doing it. But the Nazis did go searching for two of the relics indeed that we're looking for.

The Holy Lance, Hitler was obsessed with the Holy Lance. General George Patton got a hold of it. Hitler was obsessed with it and he seized it from Vienna. First act of oppression when he came into power was to seize the Hofburg Museum, the treasury in Vienna, and seize the lance that pierced the site of Christ. He got that artifact. He also sent people looking for the Cintamani Stone in the Philippines. He sent people looking for the Talking Cross in Peru. There was searches done in the Antarctic for different relics. And of course the Grail itself. He sent Hess over to Scotland in the early part of the 20th Century looking for the Holy Grail. So he had a big involvement and at all corners I was looking over my shoulder not for modern day Nazis, but just to make sure I wasn't offending people by asking them really searching hard questions.

Question:
You're saying Hitler did find the Lance?

Ashley Cowie:
It's believed he certainly did. He seized it from Vienna and he took the Lance to Nuremburg. That's historical fact and General Patton seized the Lance in '45. I think it was September '45 and he gave it back to Austria. He give the Holy Lance back to Austria after the war. And so Hitler certainly got a hold of the Lance and I mean there was a book written whether it's credible or not is always argued. Trevor Ravenscroft I believe wrote a book called The Spear of Destiny in '73 which later the story of Hitler seeing the Lance, grabbing the Lance of what he did with the Lance.

Because of course the Holy Lance is said to have the power to control the destiny of the world for good or evil. Forty-seven generations of holy Roman empires had it and Charlemagne had it. Napoleon drove his forces into Northern Europe looking for it, one of the most powerful artifacts in the history of mankind. Now whether it hold supernatural powers or whether it generates the beliefs within the holder to actually go out and do these things, it certainly has had a huge influence on European history and Hitler did have that one artifact.

Question:
Now you're searching for it again?

Ashley Cowie:
Hey, you're presuming I didn't find it.

Question:
When you find the artifacts what do you do with them?

Ashley Cowie:
The first call, the local authorities historical association's bodies, we contact the governments of each country when we come across anything that we've - not just the artifact that we're searching for. But we're getting into sorts of places, for example when we were in Mexico we were looking in a cave that hadn't been explored for goodness knows how long. I found a human bone in there. I found a human skull when I was diving. We also found tools that dated to maybe 1600 years ago, ancient Mayan tools. So we're turning up artifacts the whole way along looking for the main artifacts. So we're constantly contacting historical bodies and governmental bodies in each country. We go giving them over what we found.

Question:
What are some of the roadblocks that usually come up when you're searching for items?

Ashley Cowie:
What you've got are people living where we live we hear about artifacts through movies and through popular culture. However, if you to the back wash in Mexico, Peru, Ethiopia, wherever we've been these people truly believe in the power of these artifacts and the importance of them to their culture. When I turn up and start asking them searching questions about their location and who had them, where they may have been very often you find them backing off and you'll see it in the show. They will back off and literally clamp up. So, one of my jobs is to spend a bit of time before we even start recording and just winning them over and softening the whole thing up for them to actually want to talk to us and give us something.

But I would say the people are the biggest roadblock in any quest like this. It's really a case of winning people over so they can give you information. And so many times we've hit blank walls because people will just not tell us what we need and we've been put on the wrong directions as well. People will deliberately give you a bum steer and not answer phones and all the rest of it. And of course when you do deal with some of these Knights Templar, there are people who will not give you what you want because they don't want their stuff broadcast on a cable network all over the Western world. They'd just rather secrets were left alone and I think people create the biggest hurdles.

Question:
You said people are usually the biggest roadblock. Is there ever an danger of like physical confrontations with these people?

Ashley Cowie:
We have a number of stories from the road where curious things happened to transportation we're in. We had all sorts of intimidation on the road. We did find a point where we were in Mexico; it wasn't really so much really the artifact. But we were in a small town in Mexico and seven or eight of us turning up with all of our equipment and whatnot with a diving and a caving expert to get me down to this cave we had to go to, we saw a lot of local resistance. A lot of teenagers gathering around and we could just feel things heating up and we did feel unsafe. We had certain objects stolen from the kit and whatnot, but I wouldn't say so much as in physical threat for us looking for the artifact itself.

I certainly met walls and people just absolutely lying to me. I can smell a lie a mile off and it happened to me a number of times. I wouldn't be rude enough to expose them on national TV for having done so, but you'll see it on the show. There's a few times where I pretty much shake a hand and walk away without even saying thank you because they've just given me a little boo. But I can't make something up and say that people actually went out and tried to shoot us. There was no Nazis on our shoulder at every turn. However, there was certain people keeping an eye when we were in these local situations.

I wish I could tell you that people tried to poison us and stuff. I wish I can, but I can't. That's pretty much what we were receiving. The smaller the town we were in, the bigger a presence we were and you could just see the tension from time to time - boys wanting to make an impression on their friends. But I don't think we were actually under any physical threat. I must say as well most people in anything outside a small town are quite welcoming for a team like us to be in there and the chance for their little town on TV so. But we're always aware and we had security with us in a number of countries because we were delving into questions in countries that we predicted may raise a bit of eyebrow or receive some resentment. But it didn't actually come direct to me.

Question:
You mentioned that people would clam up and they believed in the power of these things. Did they think you were going to steal them or something?

Ashley Cowie:
Oh no. As far as that clamming up is concerned, I mean we were in Ethiopia there we were following the trail back to the Covenant and I was interviewing high priests which I must add was a great honor to be able to speak to these people who have been keeping the secrets of the Ark for some 7800 years. And I was asking these people direct questions through a translator and getting absolute mumbo jumbo back and I would do it so many times, I was almost embarrassed asking the same question again. And it was just so obvious they were totally resisting. It's funny how people can speak English when they want to ask for something, but when they have to answer they have language problems.

But there was lot of resistance like that. You could see especially churchmen and holy men as you'll see in the Ark of the Covenant. There was one high priest in particular who just did not want me there and I knew certain historical facts and I knew he knew them, but nope damned if he would say them. Because of course he's got to get up tomorrow morning and go and answer to his high legion or his boss and they just didn't give up everything.

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