Blog: Lara Croft and the search for the Holy Grail

Blog: Lara Croft and the search for the Holy Grail

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutras community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


 

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS!

1. Introduction and Rise of the Tomb Raider

Whilst playing Rise of the Tomb Raider I became aware of Christian symbolism permeating the game. A second look at the game reveals a mystic narrative: a Messiah, a secret society, an initiation ceremony, and the Holy Grail. But which (if any) of these elements are emphasised? What is Rise of the Tomb Raider really about? In this article I will discuss and theorise on the secretive elements named above, unravelling the secrets of the Prophet and the Divine Source.

My interpretation of the game will be through esoteric- and Christian viewpoints. Religious interpretations of digital media should usually be avoided since authors often see the devil behind every bush and add spiritual connections to plot elements that are secular. I will avoid ludicrous interpretations and only make theological commentary where applicable (for example Jacob’s sermon). Furthermore, I will only look at gameplay- and narrative elements from Rise of the Tomb Raider without added DLC (DownLoadable Content) elements. DLC (such as Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch) does not fit into the Holy Grail storyline and should be studied separately. 

 

2. Plotline

Entering her London apartment, Lara discovers an intruder, who escapes through the window. The late Richard Croft’s lover, Ana, enters Lara’s apartment as the second visitor. Lara informs Ana that she is leaving London for Syria where she will seek out the Prophet’s tomb that contains some secrets to immortality. Ana tries to discourage Lara from going since public newspapers already hail Lara as “another crazy Croft, a daughter just like her father”. Lara’s supernatural encounters on Yamatai (in the previous Tomb Raider game) motivates her to seek out the Prophet’s tomb in the hopes of finding the Divine Source.

In Syria, Lara finds the Prophet’s tomb to be empty. Murals in the tomb showed that a group called the Order of Trinity was persecuting the Prophet and his followers. A group of armed forces enters the tomb, led by a man named Konstantin who is after the Divine Source himself. Before leaving the area, Lara finds the Prophet’s cross (Greek cross) engraved on the floor (figure 1). Back in London, Lara re-examines her father’s research notes on the Prophet’s cross. Richard Croft’s notes suggest that the Divine Source might be located in the lost city of Kitezh in Siberia. Another intruder breaks into Lara’s apartment, stealing Richard’s research. With the help of her friend, Jonah, Lara leaves for Russia, determined to find the Divine Source.

Figure 1: The Prophet’s cross.

 

The rest of the game is set in North-Eastern Siberia. The game follows Lara on her quest to Kitezh but also features memory flashbacks of Lara’s memory of her father who committed suicide. Lara is taken prisoner by Konstantin and escapes an abandoned Gulag jail with the help of another inmate named Jacob. A resistance group who are descendants of the Prophet’s followers (called the Remnant) guard the secrets of the Divine Source, led by Jacob and his daughter Sophia. Various cutscenes reveal that Ana and Konstantin are siblings working for Trinity; Ana seeks the Source to cure her terminal illness whilst Konstantin seeks the Source for his own gain, not for Trinity. Ana also informs Lara that her father did not commit suicide, but was murdered by Trinity (figure 2). Lara later discovers that Jacob is the Prophet. The game ends with Konstantin dying and Lara destroying the Divine Source (a glowing rock) (figure 3) before Ana can use it. Jacob loses his immortality and disintegrates into dust. A Trinity sniper kills Ana a short while later, sparing Lara’s life on command of a Trinity leader. Jacob’s daughter, Sophia, continues to lead the Remnant who survives off the land in Siberia.

Figure 2: Ana first hints at Richard’s death: “Another Croft doesn’t have to die for this”.

Figure 3: Lara destroying the Divine Source.

 

2. Christian ethos in Rise of the Tomb Raider
Rise of the Tomb Raider is saturated with religious symbolism associated with Christianity. Depictions of the Prophet resembles Christian portrayals of Jesus (figure 4). The Prophet is also featured on murals and mosaics surrounded by a halo, an illustrative representation of holiness in Christian art (figure 5).

Figure 4: A wooden icon of the Prophet.

Figure 5: A mural illustrating the Prophet (surrounded by a halo) doing a miracle.

 

The cross is a central symbol in Christianity, representing the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, according to the four gospels in the Bible. Although the Greek cross is depicted all over the game (figure 6), the Orthodox cross (also known as the Byzantine-, Russian-, and Suppedaneum cross) can be seen on Remnant graves (figure 7). The Greek cross is reminiscent of the Cathar cross since all the cross arms in both crosses are of equal length. This connection is with the Cathars (Medival Gnostics) might be coincidental. 

Figure 6: The Greek cross.

Figure 7: Orthodox crosses on graves.

 

Onion-shaped domes typical of Russian-Orthodox churches can be seen on a building known as ‘The Cathedral’ (figure 8). Stained glass windows often featuring in Christian- churches and cathedrals can also be seen in the game (figure 9). Gold-covered lecterns are also found in tombs (figure 10) and angels make appearances on murals (figure 11). Various Christian ceremonial objects can be found in the game, such as clerical cloths (figure 12). Collectively these elements reference to the Christian religious tradition.

Figure 8: The Cathedral.

Figure 9: A stained glass window.

Figure 10: A lectern found in a tomb.

Figure 11: Angels in Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Figure 12: Clerical cloths in Rise of the Tomb Raider.


 

4. Jacob, the gnostic Jesus

Jacob is a fictional representative figure of the Christian Jesus: both perform miracles, inspire religious followers, and have empty tombs signifying resurrection. Jacob’s portrayal of Jesus as a religious leader is not allegorical but moulded according to the Gnostic tradition.

Between the second and fourth centuries A.D. a schismatic group of Christians flourished known as the Gnostics. As indicated by their name (Greek: ‘gnosis’, meaning knowledge), the group believed that salvation came through secret knowledge instead of Jesus’ atonement and resurrection. The Gospel of Judas (a Gnostic gospel not associated with the Biblical canon) conveyed this concept of private information, reading: “The secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot”. (Strathearn 2006: 27-28.) In various Gnostic gospels, Jesus is regarded as a mortal human being, instead of the Son of God (with a divine conception) according to the Christian tradition.

According to documents discovered throughout the game, Decius was the first apostle of the Prophet. In 970 A.D. he described a sermon presented by the Prophet:

For a month I have gone to the Forum to hear the Prophet speak. I wear robes of common folk, it would not do for a son of a great house to be seen here. There are rumblings that the patricians and men from the Church in the West seek to silence the Prophet. I can only listen, and reproduce the great man’s words…

No man has ever told the truth about God, for no man can ever know.

There is more sacred in the heart of a farmer or a soldier, than in the hearts of lords and emperors.

We are all of us deceived by those that claim to speak on behalf fo the creator.

No man speaks for Him, for His voice is the sky, the water, and the flow of the world.


This extract from the Prophet’s sermon makes three theological claims:

1. No man can know God or the truth about him.

2. The heart of men (notably the “commoners”) contains sacredness (holiness).

3. The voice of God is the sky, water, and the flow of the world.

The theology of Jacob is clearly Gnostic in comparison with Biblical accounts of Jesus. In Matthew 7:8-11 Jesus expounds on the relationship between God and Man through prayer. These verses not only propose a theological truth about God, but also that man can have a relationship with Him:

For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

(Matthew 7:8-11 – King James translation [KJV])


The second claim is that “common folk” (as opposed to lords and emperors) contains sacredness. This statement is contrary to Biblical theology, which states that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 – KJV). According to the Bible, the hearts (and by implication, deeds) of all people (nobility and commoners) are equally evil without sacredness: “They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Psalm 143 – KJV).

The third claim that the Prophet makes is that the voice of God is a natural experience in “the sky, the water, and the flow of the world.”. Together with the claim that no man can know the truth about God, the Prophet’s description of God is quasi-pantheistic [1]. According to the Bible, Jesus is the word of God and the Son of God. By implication of the Gospel of John, Jesus (as man) speaks on behalf of God, being the Word of God:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. […] The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

(John 1:1, 14 – KJV)


Although Jacob did healing miracles, he was not known for his divine powers but for his oration skills. In the document “Prophet’s Arrival” Decius describes the wisdom of the Prophet:

But then we heard him speak, heard the liquid truth of his words roll across the Forum of Constantine. He claimed not to speak for God, claimed that no man could. But his wisdom was plain, and not a one of us in that Forum could deny that he spoke the truth. I must know more about him. I must hear him again.

 

This description of the Prophet is in line with the Gnostic accounts of Jesus, focusing on knowledge and wisdom instead of practical deeds and miracles. Besides healing miracles, the Bible describes Jesus turning water into wine (John 2), exorcising demons (Matthew 8), multiplying food (Matthew 14), resurrecting the dead (Luke 7), commanding the forces of nature (Mark 4), and others. Although Rise of the Tomb Raider paints Jacob as a religious leader likened to Jesus, Jacob admits that he is not divine. Including lust as a weakness, Jacob accounts his own life in documents throughout the game:

I made a mistake today, one that threatens to lead to more mistakes. I spent time alone with Alya – something I have avoided until now. […] God help me. I am a fool. […] It has been so long and I am still human.


Jesus as the Son of God is described in the Bible to be without sin: “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:21-22 – KJV). Speaking about Jesus, the Bible accounts that Jesus knew temptation but did not give in to it: “For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 – KJV).

Since Jacob is a prophet of wisdom instead of a prophet of Salvation (after the Christian tradition), Jacob is a representation of the Gnostic Jesus. The purpose of Jacob as a fictional character is not to represent the historical Jesus but possibly alludes to the legend of the Holy Grail.

 

3. The Croft quest for the Holy Grail

The Holy Grail has many interpretations including objects like a jewelled dish, a head floating in blood on a salver, a stone, or a ciborium containing bread (Wood 2000: 174). According to the King Arthur legends [2] the Grail is a chalice that Christ used during a ritual called the Last Supper, also used to catch the blood of Jesus during his crucifixion; whosoever drank from the Grail was granted immortality. The first interpretation of the Holy Grail in this article is a literal object, i.e. a chalice.

The second interpretation of the Holy Grail is a bloodline. In the 1982 book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln suggested that the Grail is a bloodline originating with Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene. The Merovingian dynasty [3] is speculated to come from this bloodline, but historical evidence proves otherwise. The historical Jesus never married, although the Gnostic gospels suggested a union with Mary Magdalene. The third interpretation of the Grail is a quest for wisdom or knowledge. Alfred Nutt interpreted the Holy Grail as a symbolic experience in the late 19th century, whilst Rudolph Steiner suggested a personal initiation experience in the 1960s (Wood 2000: 183).

In Rise of the Tomb Raider all three interpretations of the Holy Grail is presented. In the first instance, the Divine Source is the Grail, granting immortality to Jacob. A goblet similar to a ciborium can also be found in the game (figure 13) [4]. In the second instance, Jacob marries a woman named Alya from which Sophie is born. Sophie as the offspring of the Prophet becomes the new leader of the Remnant after Jacob dies. In the third instance, the Grail is interpreted as Lara’s search for wisdom and knowledge, a continuation of her father’s research. Only after destroying the Divine Source does Ana reveal to Lara that her father was murdered by Trinity. Lara’s quest for the Divine Source is therefore linked with the death of her father; Lara wanted to know if her father’s theories about the Divine Source were correct. By justifying his research, Lara can come to peace with his death.

Figure 13: A goblet similar to a ciborium.

 

4. Christ, Anti-Christ

Konstantin, the chief antagonist in the game, is a Messiah figure in himself. Bearing the stigmata (figure 14) [5], Konstantin can be seen praying to God for guidance. He also believes himself to be chosen by Trinity and by God to find the Holy Grail. Diary entries by Ana reveal that she made the stigmata on Konstantin’s hands to deepen his devotion to God and Trinity. The Order of Trinity had Bishops in Rome that ordered the execution of the Prophet. Along with Rosaries used by Konstantin’s forces (figure 15), Trinity represents a religious following similar to Christianity. If both the Prophet and Trinity alludes to Christianity, are the Prophet and Konstantin representative figures of a Christ and an Anti-Christ? The historical Roman emperor Constantine ‘The Great’ was a notable figure in church history: he stopped Roman persecution of the Christians and became a patron of the church. Constantine persecuted non-Christian (pagan) religious groups towards the end of his reign, which links with Konstantin’s pursuit of the Remnant in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Since Jacob only appears in 970 A.D. (that is, after the birth of Jesus), I propose that Trinity is linked with the church, seeking to eradicate false prophets.

Figure 14: Konstantin and his stigmata.

Figure 15: A rosary.

 

Dan Brown’s book The Da Vinci Code provides us with hints about the nature of Trinity. Although Brown’s book has been debunked by scholars as a work of fiction (Lacy 2004), The Da Vinci code is a contemporary illustration of the power struggle between the church and monarchy. Pope and principalities contested control, especially with regard to the Holy Roman Empire. If Jacob and Sophia represents a bloodline (Priory of Sion alla Dan Brown), then Konstantin and Ana are the religious forces (Opus Dei) trying to gain control of the Holy Grail, thereby gaining the power to control and manipulate the world. Rise of the Tomb Raider could be interpreted as a power struggle between spiritual leaders (Trinity) and bloodlines (the Prophet). Eventually, the power of dominion belongs to neither. The closing scene illustrates this:

 

Ana: I have no intention of giving it [The Divine Source] to Trinity. What about your Father? You’re dooming him to be mocked by history. How can you let this go when you’re so close?

Lara: I’m willing to make that sacrifice. I can’t let you take it.

Ana: Think of the millions suffering and dying. We can save them. We can change the world. Together.

Lara: The cost is too high, Ana. We aren’t meant to live forever. Death is a part of life.

Ana: That’s easy for you to say. You’re not the one who’s dying. 

Lara: But this isn’t about you. This is about humanity. About protecting what it means to be human.

[…]

Jacob: The source is not meant for the world!

Ana: This is your chance Lara. Everything I’ve done. Everything you’ve done. Another Croft doesn’t have to die for this.

Lara: But I’m willing to.

Video 1: Closing scene in Rise of the Tomb Raider


Death is a natural part of life, and the control of life and death is not meant for the world. Lara is willing to die for the Divine Source, making her the only candidate worthy of deciding the fate of the object; Lara will not use the Divine Source for her own interest. By destroying the Source Lara ends Jacob’s immortality and ends Trinity’s pursuit of the Source. Although the power to control the world is destroyed, the bloodline continues through Jacob’s daughter, Sophia.

 

5. The third Messiah

Contemporary narratives (such as Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings) expounds on the idea of a global power-struggle. Just as the One Ring is destroyed in Tolkien’s novel, the Divine Source as an agent of international control is destroyed in Rise of the Tomb Raider. I have introduced two Messianic figures thus far: Jacob and Konstantin. But there is a third, namely Lara Croft herself.

According to Christian prophecies (with reference to the book of Revelation), Jesus will return to earth to destroy the anti-Christ and unify authority under his kingship. With this tradition in mind, Lara destroys the Divine Source, freeing the world from the tyranny of oppression. Although Trinity did not control the source (yet), their agenda was in their own interest. Lara’s sacrificial attitude is also reminiscent of a Messianic figure.

6. The initiation of the Order of Trinity

Ana was always close to the Croft family, particularly to Richard Croft. As a member of Trinity her work was to infiltrate the Croft family in order to access Richard’s research about the Prophet and the Divine Source. Although Ana was later instructed to kill Richard, her personal attachment to him made it impossible for Ana to perform the task. After Richard’s death, Ana spied on Lara, even stealing voice recordings between Lara and her psychologist. Ana’s purpose was to be a mentor whilst manipulating Lara, as one of the recordings in the game indicate: “Perhaps we’re pushing her [Lara] too hard. I will reach out to her and test the waters. If she is ready to open up to someone… it needs to be me.”

Another document notes that Ana wants to “break” Lara. In light of Ana’s involvement with Trinity, I suggest that Ana was sent to initiate Lara into the organisation. Members of secret organisations are often initiated through hardships, and Lara succeeded by killing the Prophet (indirectly) as well as Konstantin. Although the sniper at the end of the game killed Ana, his instructions not to kill Lara indicates that she might have usage to the organisation. Although it is not clear whether Lara will join the forces of Trinity (since the games in the future might explore this avenue), hardship, psychological manipulation, and the murder of organisational members are steps towards initiation.

7. The House of Ana

A French village called Rennes-le-Château is connected with conspiracy theories regarding Pierre Plantard and the Priory of Sion. McLoud (2015) connects the ‘House of Ané’ (‘Chez Ané’ in French) with Villa Bethania (‘House of Ania’) in Rennes-le-Château. It seems that these locations were meeting places for luminaries of the occult (including Rosicrusians and members of the Priory), with Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton mentioning a group called ‘Anas’; this group is said to “live ‘under’ the ground and are spiritually and technologically ahead of their time”. McLoud also speculates that this group might be connected to the Prieuré de Sion tradition with the association to the ‘underground stream’ of Arcadia. Anas also bears similarities with the so-called Angelic Society (a group who associates themselves with spirits/gods/angels/descendants of fallen angels) which is linked to French artists like Delacroix and Poussin. Although it is uncertain if Ana in Rise of the Tomb Raiser is a reference to the Priory, the interplay between the name ‘Ana’ and the French occult is certain. I recommend the reader investigates McLoud’s blog for a fuller understanding of the Priory of Sion and the mysteries of Rennes-le-Château (link to the article here).

 

8. Conclusion
Rise of the Tomb Raider is not the franchise’ first encounter with Arthurian legends; Tomb Raider: Legend and Tomb Raider: Underworld both featured references to these legends including Excalibur and Avalon. Legend and Underworld should be considered preludes to Rise of the Tomb Raider since this game has the most complex connection to the esoteric mysteries of the Arthurian legends of the Holy Grail. With this level of narrative complexity, there are multiple interpretations of Rise of the Tomb Raider. The plausibility of these interpretations does not mean that they are all correct, but they present the reader the opportunity to come to conclusions of their own. Ultimately, the Holy Grail can never be obtained. John Matthews’ (2006: 7) commentary about the Grail captures an attitude of perishability that is refleced in Rise of the Tomb Raider:

[…] the mystery of the Grail remains impenetrable as it always has and probably always will, as indeed it should. I can think of no more terrible event than the discovery of an object that could somehow be proved, beyond all doubt, to be the Grail. This may seem an odd statement to make after spending so much of my life in search of the truth about this mystical vessel. But the fact is that the Grail remains always just out of reach, teasing us with rumours of its existence or its meaning. To discover it in actuality would be to destroy much of what it represents, which, by its very nature can never be wholly uncovered or understood.


I would like to thank Dr. Willie McLoud for his guidance and supervision of this article.

 

Notes

1. Pantheism is a religious system that identifies God as the universe and/or the universe as the manifestation of God.

2. The King Arthur legends are probably the most well-known representation of the Holy Grail.

3. The Merovingian dynasty ruled large parts of central Europe for a few hundred years.

4. This specific goblet alludes to the idea of the False Grail.

5. Here the stigmata are blood-stains on Konstantin’s hands corresponding with the crucifixion of Jesus.

 

Sources

Baigent, M; Leigh, R; Lincoln, H. 1982. The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. London: Jonathan Cape.

Lacy, N.J. 2004. “The Da Vinci Code”: Dan Brown and The Grail That Never Was. Arthuriana. (14:3, 81-93).

Matthews, J. 2006. The Grail, A Secret History. Hauppauge: Barron’s.

McLoud, W. 2015. Life in the Universe: 1. The Manuscripts. [Online] Available at: http://wmcloud.blogspot.co.za/2015/01/1-manuscripts.html [Accessed 1 June 16].

Perkins, P. 1981. Gnostic Christologies and the New Testament. The Catholic Biblical Quarterly. (42:4, 590-606).

Strathearn, G. 2006. The Gnostic Context of the Gospel of Judas. The Gnostic Context of the Gospel of Judas. Bringham Young University Studies (45:2, 26-34).

Wood, J. 2000. The Holy Grail: From Romance Motif to Modern Genre. Folklore. (111:2, 169-190).


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