Rob Howells’ curiosity knows no bounds, and his passion for uncovering the unusual and esoteric has taken him on many a wonderful journey. A gifted writer, Rob’s early creativity was, in part, spawned by childhood out-of-body experiences and lucid dreams which he worked hard to make sense of. He said: “They were very memorable and clear and I had experiences of things that I discovered later were called astral projections, out-of-body experiences where I could see myself from across the room. I began writing these down as dream journals over a couple of years. I discovered that they formed parts of an internal landscape where they all fit together. “
His creativity and curiosity, particularly around the bizarre and occult developed further in his early teens, when he heard David Bowie for the very first time: “I was drawn to David Bowie as he celebrated difference, he was singing about Alistair Crowley and the occult and things like that, so I started to get into these alternative ideas.
I liked myths and legends, and ancient mysteries too. Bowie in particular is full of esoteric references and creative ideas. His was the first band that came along when everyone was just writing about themselves he was writing about everything. Lots of cultural ideas are in there and he was very good at absorbing things from the arts and translating for other people to hear. What I took from him is that there is no point in doing the same thing twice, and pushing the boundaries as far as anything will go, especially in creativity.” He said.
Rob, left school with few qualifications, but he was a deep thinker and had begun writing and amassing ideas, before leaving his parents’ home in South East London to rent a tiny studio flat in Bowie’s stomping ground Beckenham. At this time Rob had started writing his own short stories and had been heavily inspired by the horror genre.
Over time though, except for Stephen King, he felt he’d outgrown horror and the classic horror writers weren’t inspiring him the way they once had. But a spooky coincidence would set him on a path that would open up new doors, and a new life as a prolific writer and investigator. He explained: “I was interested in writing something new and original, and there was a horror magazine that came out called Fear and they accepted short stories so I was thinking of writing to them. In the back of one of the copies was advertised a writer’s workshop and I thought that would be a great thing to be part of, where I could see if I was any good! Bearing in mind this magazine was countrywide, the writer’s workshop was around the corner from where I lived! It was run by a writer called Scott Dorward who I am still friends with today.
So I went along and everyone was giving out their short stories, and people were really honest and blunt so it was the first time I got proper feedback on my writing. I discovered that I needed to learn more about the craft of writing, but in terms of ideas, nobody had seen what I was coming up with before. What I was keen on was being original, I didn’t see any point in writing something or a version of something that had gone before.”
Rob carried on writing fiction for a few years and had some short stories published. While he had moved away from the horror genre, he was still interested in hidden worlds, and the mysteries of life. He built up a knowledge of esoteric symbolism and the occult, and then, unlike other authors applied a rationale to it: “I didn’t go into it thinking, this is all magic and fantasy and wonder, I went in looking at it thinking ‘is there anything to this?” He added.
In particular, Rob applied this to secret societies, aiming to discover whether these societies have secrets worth knowing and whether the ritual and regalia add up to anything. He started to investigate secret societies and the Priory of Sion, The Templars and the Freemasons. Rob said: “I was reading all that kind of stuff and I started to research this mystery in the South of France where at Rennes-le-Chateau a Catholic priest got immensely rich at the start of the 20th century. He was paid about £6 a year, but then he appears to have discovered something and then spent a fortune, the equivalent of millions, decorating his church and rebuilding the whole place and putting in loads of this esoteric symbolism.
The mystery has remained unsolved and every writer that goes to it has come away with a completely different view. Some say it has to do with the apocalypse, some say it’s the bloodline of Jesus and some say to do with standing stones or the Egyptians. It’s a mystery where what you bring to it you tend to find evidence for, which is interesting in itself.”
He started writing a book based on his investigation in France, and also travelled extensively, spending a lot of time at the sites he would mention in the work. In around 1995, Rob was living in Covent Garden, a stone’s throw from Watkins bookshop, a treasure trove of mind body and spirit literature. And it wasn’t long before Rob secured a position at the shop as manager. “I was in there quite a lot, and I ended up talking to the manager who said ‘Well we stock all these different subjects, what have you read?’ They stock books on all religions and esoterica and I literally went through the shop and had read so many of the subjects already!” He said.
Rob worked at Watkins for around five years, and it proved to be a hotbed of interesting sources for his research. During his time at the shop, he encountered several groups and secret societies firsthand, including magical orders, Knights Templars and the Priory of Sion. He said: “I’m not a joiner but I enjoyed investigating them, and I came across a producer who was doing a documentary on the bloodline of Jesus, this idea that was later covered by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code, and he asked me to be the lead researcher. “So I got in touch with the Priory of Sion and said ‘This is an opportunity, I have no agenda other than to find the truth and would you like to talk?’ And they sent me hundreds of emails, information, documents and paintings. They sent incredible information and I distilled it into my first book and the documentary, Bloodline.” At the time of the Da Vinci Code Rob already had ten years of research. On the themes of the book. He added: “I could understand a lot of what was in that church, I don’t have any notion that there is royalty that dates back to Jesus that is any different from anyone else in the world, we are all the same. But I was interested and it did create a furore.
After that, I continued my conversations with the Priory of Sion for several years, and put together my book Inside The Priory of Sion.” It was at this time that Rob also came into contact with Doctor Grant Beardmore, a former Catholic Priest and researcher whom he would collaborate with. Rob said: “He was a theologian and claimed he had studied at the Vatican, he was a serious theologian.
He talked about the third secret of Fatima, this was one of the visions of the Virgin Mary where she would impart secrets and prophecies. This happened at the beginning of the 20th century to three women, and the third secret of Fatima was never released. The Vatican was supposed to release it in 1963 but held it back. When they finally released it it was not what had been said, because the girl that had received it had written the first line in her journal and it didn’t match. So when Doctor Grant Beardmore was at the Vatican he learned that the third secret of Fatima was the actual date of the apocalypse which was taken to the then Pope’s grave. That it was somehow linked to Rennes-Le-Chateau and that it would be preceded by a worldwide pandemic!”
After this encounter Rob moved into writing about prophecy: “I had also encountered the prophecies for St Malachi, who listed every Pope, and according to St Malachi this is the last Pope, the one we have now, the one that will oversee the fall of the Vatican. When looking at alternative history and prophecy I don’t subscribe to anything as fact, it’s interesting, that I take it on board, it’s a possibility, but I have no fixed belief in anything. I don’t think you can read the breadth of the things I have read and come to one conclusion. I have also done psychotherapy and counselling, and that has helped me to understand the need in people for things like this to come out. It doesn’t have to be true, it could be tradition, psychological or symbolic. The apocalypse could be something only relevant to one person, or it could be World War Two, we just don’t know. I was interested more in how predictions can work, it may be that consciousness can move into the future as it doesn’t appear bound by time or visions come back to us, but it has been really interesting breaking down the different ways that this might be possible.”
And Rob suggests that his early experiences of lucid dreaming could explain some of his fascination with these topics, and also the topics themselves. He added: “That’s kind of what set me off, when I got flu I would jump out of my body and see myself from across the room, this carried on until I learned what it was and learned how to do it and practised it. Unfortunately, it wore off in my mid-twenties. That experience of being beyond the physical needs, desires and concerns completely dissolved the notion of religion for me immediately, everything from then on became a direct experience. I think it also protected me from a lot of heaven and hell nonsense that is put on children.”
Rob believes that his extensive research and unique perspective have allowed him to look at these topics uniquely. He described how there is a repetition in sacred and historical texts throughout history: “For example, the third degree of Freemasons looks like the raising of Lazarus but done as a ritual. In the Bible, we have Jesus son of God raising Lazarus from the dead in the town of Bethany, but in ancient Egypt you had Horus son of the god Ra raising Osiris from the dead in the town of Bethanu too. At this point, you realise that a lot of things are stolen from earlier cultures. Then you begin to recognise that there is a body of knowledge that comes from the Middle East which informs the Freemasons who also recognise this as a ritual. Alternative histories are coming out, and you have to dig but I love it, it is my passion. I go out and gather all this knowledge and look for the wisdom behind it.”
After years as a researcher and writer of non-fiction works, Rob has returned to fiction. In the creative Days of Odd, which in some ways pays homage to his early life as a writer, and has given him complete creative freedom. The book has been compared by some in the know to Douglas Adams and is not short on jokes, as well as references to some of the topics that Rob is so passionate about.
Speaking about writing the book Rob said: “It’s based around an archetypal figure Patricia who is not based on a real person but it is part of my psyche, there is this idea that men have a female soul and women have a male soul and if I have a female soul that’s how it manifests. She is in her early teens in the book. The point in life when all the magic starts to disappear from the world and I wanted to capture it and write before then. I wanted to write about people that can have absurd ideas that are meaningful, ideas that are quite wise and quite abstract.”