"Legend Quest" Joins the Syfy Lineup on Wednesdays

By Jamie Ruby

Ashley CowieLegend Quest is the newest unscripted reality show on Syfy. The action-adventure series follows archaeologist Ashley Cowie as he searches the world for strange artifacts, such as the Holy Grail.

In the pilot episode Cowie and his team search for the Ark of the Covenant and the Talking Cross.

Cowie recently talked to the media about his exploits and his new series, which airs Wednesdays nights on Syfy.

Syfy Conference Call
Legend Quest
Ashley Cowie

June 30, 2011
12:00 pm CT

Ashley CowieQUESTION: How did the idea for the show originally come about? Did they approach you or did you go to them, or what happened?

ASHLEY COWIE: I can answer that question. 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 L.A. as I was out doing an interview, and we threw 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, 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: And how much input do you actually have in choosing where you're going to go and what artifacts you're going to look for?

ASHLEY COWIE: Well 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 sort 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: So you're asking me to tell you the premier for series 2. Come on.

QUESTION: No, I actually was curious about you personally. What artifact you hadn't looked for.

ASHLEY COWIE: Do you know what? We 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 Slime 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 one - it's sort of localized. An artifact in the southern part of Japan not very well known, but it's got some fascinating temples and, you know, 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: Yes, and that's a great observation. I mean it's been done so many times - people looking for the Ark. So what I do, 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 from 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 texts from everywhere from Africa all the way through to Northern Europe.

So, you know what? 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 exists 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: In the episode you mention that you are a templar knight...


QUESTION: What does it mean to be a templar today as compared to what's been written? Can you demystify?

ASHLEY COWIE: Yes, I would love to. So many modern orders have sprung up since the Da Vinci Code was released, modern Knights Templars, and in Scotland 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 sites 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.

QUESTION: Sounds like Freemason.

ASHLEY COWIE: 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 (ran) through Scotland so certainly not Freemasonry.

SCIFI VISION: You talked about how you became involved in creating the show, but growing up, 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 whatnot and became a kind of authority on Scottish history to begin with. But then [I was] 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 five years old I had visions of myself doing this.

SCIFI VISION: So the actual search part is fairly new. You haven't been doing this all your life.

ASHLEY COWIE: 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 [and] 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. So yes for about the last ten years I've been doing this and, you know what?

To be honest with you a number of the artifacts researched in the show, I've been researching all my days for the [last] 15, 20 years. But let's be honest, [I've] 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.

Ashley CowieSCIFI VISION: 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, you know, 15 hours in a car, sat four 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 absolutely - unquestionably the Philippines.

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

ASHLEY COWIE: Yes and to be frank with you, [on] a number of occasions it really pissed me off. 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 a little bit about the background of the team that you've assembled? What kind of educational or history backgrounds do they have?

ASHLEY COWIE: Yes. Well 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, logistics things handled.

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 definitely 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...stand...but definitely the Holy Grail though - the (penultimate) episode. That was my favorite.

QUESTION: Your investigation techniques seem to be quite intense and exhaustive. When things get difficult, what is your motivation to really see things through?

ASHLEY COWIE: To really see things through, I'll answer that question totally personally and honestly. The biggest, hardest [thing] 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, you know, I think what viewers will find is a kind of satisfaction from not just being dealt more rubbish, but actually given an alternative view of 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 myth, 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: So 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: Yes. Well, the Ark of the Covenant and I mean the first series; 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 fantastic Mexican - it's like a cross that appeared before the cast. 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.

So 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 Peru looking for the Golden Sun Disc. It was a large sun disc that was moved when the 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: When you're doing your research, you have to separate the myth from the history. Is that would 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 says 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 in my personal research over the years, I've been credited on sticking – or being almost dry. Taking things down to the primal level...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.

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

ASHLEY COWIE: Yes that's interesting. The Knights Templar today, there are two or three different bodies out there. You have 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.

So for me to start - I can't send a group email out going "Hey guys, where [is the] Ark of the Covenant?" 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.

You know, 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: I was going to ask you about the Vatican, but instead...

ASHLEY COWIE: Please do. I can answer anything I know about it.

QUESTION: How much do they factor into the past and current status of these religious artifacts? And why are these things being kept secret?

ASHLEY COWIE: Okay. If you go on the Da Vinci Code, the Vatican are holding secrets, you know, that could cripple the world, take it to its knees, [they] are holding everything.

But it's not altogether 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 don't think that conspiracy's (been) up there. I think there's just good business practices. The same way as Coca-Cola 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 - I'm going to spoil it by telling you the interview but 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 - 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 (Austria) was to seize the Hofburg Museum, the treasury in Vienna, and seize the lance that pierced the side 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 were 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: So 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 gave 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 [told] the story of Hitler seeing the Lance, grabbing the Lance [and] 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 holds 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: And now you're searching for it again?

ASHLEY COWIE: Hey, you're presuming I didn't find it.

QUESTION: What happened to it? If Patton had it where did it go?

ASHLEY COWIE: But you know what? You're making me feel - I don't know if I can use the word. Let me just say this, you're pulling me to give you the revealed crux of our story...I just can't do that. I can't answer your last question. But I told you that Hitler seized that Lance and Patton returned a Lance. So let's just see what happens in our show from there.

SCIFI VISION: When you find the artifacts, what do you do with them? Do you take them to the Knights or what happens to them?

ASHLEY COWIE: The first call [is to] 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.

SCIFI VISION: Other than your diabetes, what are some of the roadblocks that usually come up? Like maybe other people that try to stop you if they don't agree?

ASHLEY COWIE: Yes. That is a major roadblock. What you've got are people living where we hear about artifacts through movies and through popular culture. However, if you go 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 [the artifacts' llocations], 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 clam up. So, one of my jobs is to spend a bit of time before we even start recording 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.

Ashley CowieQUESTION: You said people are usually the biggest roadblock. Is there ever any danger of 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 (bull).

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, you know, 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 [to be] on TV so on. 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?

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.

Yes, there we go. 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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