History: Holy Grail
“The Grail may be described as the dish from which Christ ate the Passover lamb at the Last Supper; or as the chalice of the first sacrament, in which later the savior’s blood was caught as it flowed from His wounded body; or as a stone with miraculous feeding and youth-preserving virtues; or as a salver containing a man’s head, swimming in blood. It may be borne through a castle hall by a beautiful damsel; or it may float through the air in Arthur’s palace, veiled in white samite; or it may be placed on a table in the East, together with a freshly caught fish, and serve as a talisman to distinguish the chaste from the unchaste. Its custodian may be called Bron or Anfortas or Pelles or Joseph of Arimathea or simply ‘the Fisher King’. He may be sound of wind and limb or pierced through the thighs or wounded in the genitals. The hero who achieves the quest may be the notoriously amorous Gawain or the virgin Galahad.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“Something produced a great change in the literature of France in the twelfth century, - that is to say, in the literature of the western world, for at no assignable time could French literature have been charged with more momentous consequences to the course of European literary history. That something professes to be the emptying into French literature of a large body of Celtic material, - not a little leaven, but a huge mass, operating with extraordinary rapidity and with an effect still traceable not only in subtle ways, but even in such obvious phenomena as the externals of plot and dramatis personae.” - G. L. Kittredge, Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature, viii
“...In the twelfth and in the early thirteenth centuries there was a class of professional story-tellers [conteurs] who entertained kings, counts, and lesser nobles with a repertory of romantic tales about Arthur and his knights. And we have testimony that by 1180 Arthur’s fame had spread to the Crusader states of Antioch and Palestine.” The episodic structure and lack of consistency between events and characters in different versions of the Grail story “is a natural consequence of the origin of the romances in separate and more or less independent contes, each contrived to hold the interest of the courtly listeners for a single sitting of an hour or two.”
“Evidence, both external and internal, combines to show that the conteurs of the twelfth and early thirteenth century were in the main Bretons, descendants of those Britons who in the fifth and sixth century, as a result of the Anglo-Saxon invasion, had emigrated to Armorica, which we now know as Brittany. Through intercourse with their continental neighbors they had become largely bilingual, and had added French to their native speech, which was akin to Welsh; today their descendants in western Brittany remain largely bilingual. The Norman poet Wace in 1155 said that the Bretons of his time told many tales of the Round Table.”
“Even after the lapse of six hundred years, the Bretons still cherished the hope that he [King Arthur] was alive and would return, as a Messiah, to win back their ancentral home: in Brittany anyone who disputed this belief was in danger of stoning.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“Contacts between the two nations [Ireland and Wales] in the early centuries of our era down to the twelfth century were many and close. Irish tales were borrowed and retold in Welsh with minor modifications.” - Sir Ifor Williams, Lectures on Early Welsh Poetry
“The Celtic origin of the motifs of the Arthurian cycle appears to be accepted today by the majority of scholars.” - Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation
“...We find in Celtic literature and Arthurian romance an atmosphere of wonder and supernatural paraphernalia such as are characteristic of mythology - revolving castles, sword-like bridges, springs haunted by fays, isles inhabited only by women, enchantresses who take the form of birds, hags changed by a kiss into damsels of peerless beauty, vessels of inexhaustible plenty, vessels moved by no visible agency, banqueters who preserve a youthful appearance in spite of their many years.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“Throughout Celtic mythology, there are examples of sacred cups and cauldrons imbued with magical powers to heal and feed. Such a cauldron is included in the seven gifts given by the Tuatha de Dannans, a family of early Irish god- heroes, to Ireland. The most obvious example of these vessel, however, is the cauldron of Brân the Blessed. This cauldron would resurrect dead warrior thrown into it. It also, by some tellings, provided an endless supply of food. And the Grail King is, by Chrétien, called Bron or Brons [Welsh for Brân].”
The Celts, however, “are far from unique in their use of sacred vessels with rejuvenative powers. Such vessels can be found in Greece, e.g. the Cornucopia, the horn of the goat that nursed Zeus that gives endless food, in India as the sacred Yoni, in Egypt, in Russia, in almost all cultures. To Hermitics and Alchemists, the cup is symbolic of the element of Water, and specifically, of the pure, receptive female principle....A cup, in shape and function, resembles the vagina. It is a receptacle for the man’s seed. It is woman, the source of new life. Thus, the cup, the vessel, the grail, has become a symbol of fertility, of the renewal of life.” - J.J. Collins, “Sangraal, The Mystery of the Holy Grail”
“The Grail itself made its debut in a long narrative poem entitled ‘Le Conte du Graal’ by Chrétien de Troyes, writing in the last quarter of the twelfth century [left unfinished in 1182].” - Baigent & Leigh, The Temple and the Lodge
“We can assume that Chrétien was born in Troyes, a town east of Paris, France, as he used the surname de Troies in his earliest work, the Erec, that is, at a time when he was not yet well-known. The dialect which he used, that of western Champagne province, also indicates this. We do not know where it was that he spent his early years, but his high education shows that he must have been well brought up. He was already a poet when he came to the court of Henry I, Count of Champagne, where between 1164 and 1173 he wrote his Lancelot for the Countess Marie. Later, he left his home town and entered the service of Count Philip of Flanders, for whom he wrote Perceval. That would have been later than 1174. In 1190, he died without completing the Conte du Graal.”. - Johannes and Peter Fiebag, The Discovery of the Grail, translated from the German by George Sassoon
Le Conte du Graal is an Arthurian romance that relates the story of a young knight, Perceval or Parzival.
“Perceval’s earlier history, beginning with his father’s wounding in battle and including Perceval’s upbringing by a woman in a forest, his skill with javelins, and his departure to a king’s court, presents a striking similarity...to the enfances of Finn, son of Cumal, the hero of a saga cycle which is still remembered by the peasantry of Ireland.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
Journeying home to see his mother, Perceval happens upon a splendid castle. There he is ushered in by a retinue of servants and greeted by a handsome but infirm nobleman who rises with difficulty. He presents Perceval with a richly mounted sword and treats him with great honor.
“While they were talking of this and that, a squire entered from a chamber, grasping by the middle a white lance, and passed between the fire and those seated on the couch. All present beheld the white lance and the white point, from which a drop of red blood ran down to the squire’s hand.”
“Lug’s spear was one of the four chief treasures of the Tuatha De Danann, the Irish gods....Later Chrétien informs us that it will destroy the whole realm of Logres (England) - a prophecy which accords with the origin of the lance in the spear of Lug, noted for its destructiveness. We read that, when it passed into the possession of Celtchar, it would ‘kill nine men at every cast, and one of the nine will be a king or crown prince or chieftain’.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
Though curious, the youth withholds any questioning about the lance because his lord and teacher, Gornemant, had forbade him from talking too much. At this point two squires bearing candelabra come in, followed by a beautiful damsel holding a grail (graal) between her hands.
“Once she had entered with this grail that she held, so great a radiance appeared that the candles lost their brilliance just as the stars do at the rising of the sun and the moon...The grail...was of pure refined gold [and] was set with many kind so precious stones, the richest and most costly in sea or earth.”
“...The very word ‘grail’ was itself derived from the Old French gradale (Latin gradalis) meaning ‘a wide and somewhat hollowed-out vessel in which delicious food is served’. In the colloquial parlance of Chrétien’s day gradale was often pronounced greal.” - Graham Hancock, The Sign and the Seal
“Helinand, abbot of Froidmont, whose life overlapped the poet’s, writing about 1215, defined the word [grail] as ‘scutella lata et aliquantulum profunda, in qua preciosae dapes divitibus solent apponi...’, that is, ‘a wide and slightly deep dish, in which costly viands are customarily placed for rich people’.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“Gradalis vel gradale gallice dicitur scutella tata et aliquantulum profunda, in qua preciosae dapes divitibus solent apponi gradatim, unus morsellus post alium in diversis ordinibus. Dicitur et vulgari nominale graalz, quia grata et acceptabilis est in ea comedenti tum propter contines, quia forte argenta est vel de alia preciosa materia, tum propter contentum, i.e. ordinem multiplicem dapium preciosarum.”
“In French, gradalis or also gradale means a broad and shallow bowl, in which sumptuous foods together with their sauces are served to the rich, gradually, one piece after the other,in various arrangements. It is also known by the name graalz in common speech, because it is pleasing (grata) to those who eat out of it, either for its attractive appearance, for it is of silver or other precious material, or because of its contents, i.e. the manifold arrangement of delicious foods.” - Helinandus
“The first continuator of Chrétien’s poem mentioned a hundred boar’s heads on grails - an impossibility if the grails were chalices.”
“...One should envisage the Grail Bearer, not with a chalice between her hands, but with a somewhat deep platter, big enough to hold a salmon yet holding merely a single wafer...” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“One of the pagan motifs is the question Perceval should have asked, ‘Who is served with the Grail?’ A similar question is asked in an Irish story known as The Phantom’s Frenzy, existing only in a 16th century manuscript but possibly dating from the 11th.” - Richard Cavendish, “Grail”, Man, Myth & Magic, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Vol. 9
In the Irish saga, King Conn of the Hundred Battles (who reigned in the second century) becomes lost in a mist. Invited into a house, he meets his enthroned host, the sun god Lug and sees a vessel of gold, a vat of silver and a goden cup.
“A young woman, who wore a golden crown and who was called the Sovranty of Ireland, served Conn with huge ribs of meat. Then, filing a golden cup with ale, she asked Lug, ‘To whom shall this cup be given?’ ‘Pour it’, said Lug, ‘for Conn.’ When she repeated the question, Lug prophetically named each of Conn’s royal descendants. Finally, the phantom and his house vanished, but the cup remained with Conn.”
“...Irish literature presents us with several stories of a roughly similar type, the echtra, in which the mortal hero visits a supernatural palace, is hospitably entertained, witnesses strange happenings, and sometimes wakes in the morning to find that his host and his dwellings have disappeared.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
Returning to Chrétien’s account, a great feast starting with a haunch of peppered venison is set in front of Perceval.
“...As each course was served, he saw the grail pass before him in plain view, and did not learn whom one served with it, though he would have liked much to know....In no stingy fashion were the delicious viands and wines brought to the table. The food was excellent; indeed, all the courses that king or count or emperor are wont to have were served to that noble and the youth that night.”
“Now this is precisely the magic virtue ascribed in the list of talismans to the dish of Rhydderch [the Dysgl], an historic king of Strathclyde in the sixth century: ‘whatever food one wished thereon was instantly obtained’.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
Perceval keeps his vow to his teacher and refrains from asking about the grail throughout the meal. Later he is escorted to a bed chamber where he sleeps soundly until the break of day. Upon awakening Perceval discovers that, except for himself and his horse, the castle is deserted. Perceval gallops away through the forest and comes upon a maiden mourning over “the headless body of a knight which she clasps.”. It is from her that Perceval learns the identity of his mysterious host in the castle - the Fisher King.
“The immediate prototype of Chrétien’s Fisher King has been recognized by a long line of scholars as Brân the Blessed, son of Llyr, the principal figure in the mahinogi of Branwen, named after his sister and composed probably about 1060. Brân seems to have originated as a god of the pagan Britons...Apparently he reminded the Welsh of the Irish deity of the sea, Manannan mac Lir, and like him was believed to dwell on an elysian isle, where old age was unknown and where his company of immortals banqueted without stint and without end.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“Good sir, he is a king, I assure you, but he was wounded and maimed in a battle, so that he cannot move himself, for a javelin wounded him through the two thighs.” - Chrétien de Troyes, Le Conte du Graal
“I was with Brân in Ireland; I saw when ‘the Pierced (Thick) Thigh’ was slain (wounded).” - Old poem in the Book of Taliesin
Questioning Perceval further, she berates him for not inquiring about the bleeding lance and the grail.
“Ah, unfortunate Perceval, how unlucky it was that you did not ask all those things! For you would have cured the maimed king, so that he would have recovered the use of his limbs and would have ruled his lands and great good would have come of it! but now you must know that much misery will come upon you and others.”
The maiden reveals that she is Perceval’s cousin and enlists his aid in vanquishing the knight who killed her lover. Perceval later defeats the knight in combat and sends him to surrender at King Arthur’s court. Perceval’s exploits precede him and he is given a warm welcome when he arrives in Camelot.
“Great was the joy which the King, the Queen, and the barons made over Perceval of Wales. They returned that evening with him to Caerleon, and the rejoicing lasted that night and through the morrow. On the third day they saw a damsel come riding on a tawny mule, with a scourge in her right hand. Her hair hung in two black twisted braids, and, if the book describes her truly, never was there a creature so loathly save in hell. Her neck and hands were blacker than any iron ever seen, yet these were less ugly than the rest of her. Her eyes were two holes, as small as those of a rat; her nose was like that of a monkey or a cat; her lips were like those of an ass or an ox; her teeth resembled in color the yolk of an egg; she had a beard like a goat. In the middle of her chest rose a hump; her backbone was crooked; her hips and shoulders were well shaped for dancing! Her back was hunched, and her legs were twisted like two willow wands. Her figure was perfect for leading a dance!
“Two romances, Peredur and Perlesvaus, assure us that the bearer of the dish or salver who passed before the hero in [the Fisher King’s] castle was identical with the ugly damsel...”
“Celtic scholars recognize that this allegorical figure originated as a personification of the land of Ireland itself, and under the name of Ériu (Ireland) she was thus described: ‘One time she is a broad-faced beautiful queen and another time a horrible fierce-faced sorceress, a sharp whitey-gray bloated thick-lipped pale-eyed battle-fiend’.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“As it were a flash (?) from a mountain-side in the month of March, even so blazed her bitter eyes.” - Ériu, iv (11th C.)
“But after her transformation, her countenance bloomed like the crimson lichen of Leinster crags, her locks were like Bregon’s buttercups. Her mantle was a matchless green.” Clearly springtime has arrived and had not Ériu in her loathly and monstrous form “been transformed by the caresses of the sun? Though in all these transformation stories the miracle is caused by union with a destined King of Ireland, her rightful husband was one of the early fabulous Kings of Ireland, called Mac Grene, meaning ‘son of the Sun’. Many authorities have recognized in him a sun-god, and Joseph Loch suggested that Mac Grene was simply another name of Lug.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
Continuing with Chrétien’s account, the Loathly Damsel rebukes Perceval for being so reticent to inquire about the lance or grail and so cure the Fisher King. As a result, she say, Perceval is responsible for the continuing misfortune.
“Do you not know what will happen if the King does not hold his land and is not healed of his wound? Ladies will lose their husbands, lands will be laid waste, maidens, helpless, will remain orphans, and many knights will die. All these calamities will befall because of you!”
The Loathly Damsel then tells the King how a knight may “have the supreme glory of the world” by delivering a besieged damsel. The Loathly Damsel departs and Sir Gawain and fellow knights vow that they will do anything in their power to rescue the lady.
“But Perceval spoke otherwise, and vowed that henceforth he would not lie two nights in the same lodging, nor avoid any strange passage of which he might hear, nor fail to engage in combat with any knight who claimed to be superior to every other, or even two other knights, until he could learn whom one served with the grail, and until he had found the lance that bleeds, and had heard the true reason why it bled. He would not give up the quest for any suffering. Thus as many as fifty arose and swore, one to another, that they would not fail to pursue any adventure or seek any marvel of which they heard, even though it were in the most perilous land.”
As the years pass Perceval “had so lost his memory that he had forgotten God”, but continues his chivalrous quest and sends “sixty knights of fame to Arthur’s court as prisoners.” Percival learns of the saving grace of Christ and seeks out a holy hermit to confess his sins. When he finds him, the hermit reveals that the Fisher King is actually Perceval’s uncle. The hermit then explains the cause of Perceval’s failure to ask about the miracles at the castle.
“Brother, a sin of which you know nothing has wrought this harm. It was the sorrow you caused your mother when you left her, for she fell swooning to the earth at the end of the bridge before her gate, and died of that grief.”
It was her prayers, the hermit explains, that has preserved Perceval “from death and from prison.”
“Sin cut off your tongue when you saw the bleeding point [of the lance] which never has been staunched, and did not ask the reason. And great was your folly when you did not learn whom one served with the grail. It was my brother; and his sister and mine was your mother. And believe me that the rich Fisher is the son of the King who causes himself to be served with the grail. But do not think that he [the father] takes from it a pike, a lamprey, or a salmon. The holy man sustains and refreshes his life with a single mass-wafer. So sacred a thing is the grail, and he himself is so spiritual, that he needs no more for his sustenance than the mass-wafer which comes in the grail. Fifteen years he has been thus without issuing from the chamber where you saw the grail enter.”
“Now the very list that contains the dish of Rhydderch, close prototype of the Grail, contains also a drinking vessel, the Horn of Brân: ‘the drink and the food that one asked for one received in it when one desired’. If one looks for any obvious traces of this miraculous horn in the Grail romances, one is disappointed; instead one finds the wonder-working mass-wafer, the Corpus Christi, in intimate association with the dish...In Old French the nominative case for the words ‘horn’ and ‘body’ was identical, li cors. The First Continuation of the Conte del Graal illustrates the use of cors in both senses; in one instance it refers to a magic horn which, according to the manuscripts, bore the name of Beneïz or Beneoiz, meaning ‘Blessed’.
“Now the French were not too familiar with sacred drinking-horns, but they were familiar in Chrétien’s day with the Corpus Christi as a sacred miraculous food. Caesarius of Heisterback gives an instance of a woman who was sustained solely by the Body of Christ. Under the date 1180 the chronicler Guillaume de Nangis told of a paralytic young herdswoman of the diocese of Sens who, unable to take other food, was likewise kept alive by the Host; the rumor of this could easily have reached Chrétien if he was living in or near Troyes. In the Quest del Saint Graal we read that Perceval saw in an abbey King Mordrain, who had lived for four hundred years so saintly a life that he had tasted no earthly viand but that which the priest elevates in the mass; ‘that is, the body (cors) of Jesus Christ’.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
Perceval stays two days with the hermit and the two men pray together as Perceval rediscovers his Christian faith. This is the last mention of either Perceval or the Grail by Chrétien in his unfinished poem. Perceval’s grandson was identifed by Wolfram as the Knight of the Swan, Loherangrin, the subject of Wagner’s opera Lohengrin. According to legend, Loherangrin was the grandfather of Godfroi de Bouillon, leader of the First Crusade.
“...Chrétien worked under the tutelage and sponsorship of aristocratic courts - namely the courts of the counts of Champagne and of Flanders. These courts were closely associated with each other, and were also associated with heterodox religious attitudes, including a skein of Cathare thought. Both courts were also closely associated with the Templars.” - Baigent & Leigh, The Temple and the Lodge
Chrétien, as well as several other Grail poets, wrote with the Count of Champagne as their patron. Not only was the founder of the Templars [Hugh de Payens] a vassal of Champagne, but the count himself became a Templar in 1124. The Count of Flanders, the supposed source of Chrétien’s story, had close ties to Champagne and the Templars, and the count of Anjou, who, according to Wolfram, was the holder of the secret of the Grail, was also a Templar.”
“By Chrétien’s own account, the Grail story was first presented to him by the Count of Flanders, who asked Chrétien to write a poetic version. It is possible that the story presented to him was taken from ‘The Isis Book’, part of Apuleius’s Metamorphoses. It is the story of the initiation of a young man into a mystery school. The ‘Isis Book’ contains numerous parallels to Chrétien’s Grail story, including a feeble king, a procession containing a spear and a cup that rejuvenates the old king.” - J.J. Collins, “Sangraal, The Mystery of the Holy Grail”
“...There exists a similar, much older, but Celtic tradition which is well worth consideration as one of the sources for the later Parsifal legend. The hero of this tale is called Peronik: he is a poor boy, who hears from a passing knight that in the castle of Ker Glas there are two miraculous objects. The first is a diamond lance, which destroys everything that it strikes, and the second is a golden basin, the contents of which will cure all ills. These things are the properties of a magician called Rogear, who lives in Ker Glas. The knight had also learnt from a hermit that to reach Ker Glas, one must first pass through a phantom forest [Trugwald], then pluck an apple from a tree guarded by a dwarf with a fiery sword, and then find a laughing flower protected by a lion. The road then leads through a dragon lake, through the Valley of Joy, and finally to a river where the seeker is expected by a black-clad woman at the only ford. The woman must be taken up onto the seeker’s horse, for only she knows the way beyond. All of those who have so far undertaken this venture, said the knight in conclusion, have died in the process. Of course, none of this deterred Peronik from setting forth. He passed through the phantom forest, plucked the apple, found the laughing flower, and finally, accompanied by the black woman, arrived at Ker Glas. The hero defeats the magician when he gives him the apple to eat and the black woman touches him. In the underground vaults of the castle Peronik discovers the lance and the basin. At that instant, the castle disappears in a clap of thunder and Peronik finds himself back in the forest. He makes his way to the king’s court, where he is showered with gifts and made supreme commander of the royal army.
“The parallels with the later Parsifal saga are distinct: like Parsifal, Peronik grew up apart from and in isolation from the world, he meets a knight who induces him to break out, he experiences many adventures, he finally reaches the magic castle, where there is a miraculous diamond spear and a vessel.” - Johannes and Peter Fiebag, The Discovery of the Grail, translated from the German by George Sassoon
“Chrétien’s poems bear a clear resemblance to the medieval Welsh tale Kulhwch and Olwen composed sixty years earlier. “That the transmitters were Bretons is suggested, at least, by the fact that the meeting of Calogrenant [in Chrétien’s tale Ivain with the herdsman is localized in the forest of Broceliande in Brittany. Add to these resemblances the fact that other figures mentioned in Kulhwch - Bedwyr, Llenlleawc. Edern, and Gwenhwyvar - reappear in Chrétien’s work as Beduiier, Lancelot, Ider, and Guenievre.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“...It is in Chrétien that Arthur’s capital is named for the first time as Camelot. And Chrétien repeatedly designates Percival by a formula that will later be adopted by Wolfram and other romanciers, and will eventually come to figure prominently in later Freemasonry - ‘the Son of the Widow’.” - Baigent & Leigh, The Temple and the Lodge
“The Cathari, like their Manichaean predecessors, believed in a ‘perfect man’, a sort of illuminated savior, whom they called ‘The Widow’s Son’, a term applied to Perceval in all of the Grail romances.” - J.J. Collins, “Sangraal, The Mystery of the Holy Grail”
“...The very first mention in literature of the Grail hero Parzival had described him in almost exactly the same words as ‘the son of the widowed lady’. Indeed, both Chrétien de Troyes, the founder of the genre, and his successor Wolfram von Eshenback, had gone to great lengths to make it clear that Parzival’s mother had been a widow.”
“Other than the mention of ‘a consecrated wafer’, however, Chrétien’s treatment offered no unequivocal connections with Christianity (not even in the notion of the Grail being a ‘holy thing’ - which could as easily have been inspired by; the Old Testament as by the New). Like Wolfram, the French poet did not mention Christ’s blood at all and certainly did not suggest that the relic was a container for it.” - Graham Hancock, The Sign and the Seal
“After Chrétien’s death, other authors turned their attention to the Grail legends, and the old pagan themes were increasingly Christianized. Chrétien’s Conte itself was continued in four different sequels. In the First Continuation (probably before 1200) Gawain sees the ‘rich grail’, which moves about by itself at the feast, serving each course and filling the wine-cups. The lord of the castle explains that the lance which bleeds is the Holy Lance with which a Roman soldier pierced Christ on the cross, ‘ and at once there came out blood and water’ (John 19:34). “ Gawain is also told that the broken sword he had earlier seen in the castle is the one which destroyed the whole realm of Logres (Britain).” - Richard Cavendish, “Grail”, Man, Myth & Magic, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Vol. 9
“Parsifal entered the fortress and was welcomed by a page. When he had washed himself and changed his clothes, he was led into a great hall. A fire was burning, and a hundred tables were set up, each for four knights. Parsifal encountered the old, sickly lord of the castle, wrapped in furs despite the heat, and was invited to take place beside him. At that moment, a strange scene unfolded.
“Next, something extraordinary happened. A pageboy leapt in through the door carrying a lance - an act which evoked a scream of agony. Its sheath was dripping blood, which ran down the shaft to the boy’s hand, finally oozing into his sleeve. A great moaning and screaming arose in the broad hall. The population of thirty countries could not have screamed louder than those knights.
“He carried the lance in his hands right round the four walls, back to the door, and then went out again. The howling ended.
“A remarkable procession then entered: young girls, marching in pairs with candles, ivory stools, a platter made of precious stones, and silver knives. And finally came the queen herself:
“A glow came from her countenance, like the break of day. The Lady was clothed in Pfellel of Arabia. On a green Achmardi she bore the fruits of paradise, roots too, and rice. It was the thing that was called the Grail, overflowing with all that man could desire. She who was worthy to carry the Grail was called Repanse de Schoye [spreading of joy]. The Grail could only be entrusted to pure hands; they who would have care of the Grail, they must be without guile.” - Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival
The poem Parzival “was composed between 1200 and 1210...The poet was a Bavarian knight, well known in his day for his lyrics and his redaction of a chanson de geste about Guillaume d’Orange, Wilehalm. He professed himself unable to read, and his acquaintance with the French language was surely defective, but a man who invented anagrams and quoted Latin with understanding, even if only tow words, was certainly no illiterate.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“Rather, he took an almost childish pleasure in foreign-sounding names, especially oriental ones, which he preferred to use in his work. He enjoyed using and playing with them, when dealing with people, countries, races, and magical devices, giving them extraordinary-sounding names. He knew German literature very well, particularly anything to do with heroic tales and legends.”
“Wolfram von Eschenbach became a legendary figure even in his own middle age. He was seen to be one of the founders of the mastersingers, was acclaimed as a poet who had taken part in a singing contest at Wartburg castle, and it was believed that he had been knighted by one of the Counts von Henneberg at Massfeld near Meiningen.” - Johannes and Peter Fiebag, The Discovery of the Grail, translated from the German by George Sassoon
“...Wolfram concludes his poem with the statement that, Chrétien de Troys having told the tale amiss, he has chosen to follow Kyot the Provençal....In Toledo, Kyot chanced on a book in heathen characters, written by a Saracen named Flegetanis, who had read about the Grail in the stars!” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“There was a heathen named Flegetanis who was highly renowned for his acquirements. This same physicus was descended from Solomon, begotten of Isrealitish kin all the way down from ancient times...He wrote of the marvels of the Grail. Flegetanis, who worshipped a calf as though it were his god, was a heathen by his father....With his own eyes the heathen Flegetanis saw - and he spoke of it reverentially - hidden secrets in the constellations. He declared there was a thing called the Grail, whose name he read in the stars without more ad[?]. ‘A troop [of Angels] left it on earth and then rose high above the stars, as if their innocence drew them back again’.” - Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival
“This imperfect record Kyot had supplemented by research in French and Latin tomes and in the chronicles of Ireland, Britain, and Anjou. The composite work, we are asked to believe, was Wolfram’s source.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“...There are certain strongly marked points in which Wolfram’s account of the Grail, and of all connected with it, coincided with that of later French version impossible for him to have known. The two most significant are the idea of an organized community, the center of whose life is the Grail (the Axum clergy), and the idea of a hereditary line of guardians (the Solomonic kings of Ethiopia). Both are absent from Chrétien’s story. But Wolfram’s order is an order of knighthood, the Templiesen, modeled on that of the Knights Templar...” - Noel Currer-Briggs, Shroud Mafia - The Creation of a Relic? (1995)
“It is well known to me that many formidable fighting men dwell at Munsalvaeshe [the Grail Castle] with the Grail. They are continually riding out on sorties in quest of adventure. Whether these same Templeisen [Wolfram uses the term derived from Tempelritter, whose generic meaning indicates a member of any military order of monks, and not exclusively the Templars] reap trouble or renown, they bear it for their sins. A warlike company lives there.” - Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival
Wolfram “evidently thought of the guardians as forming an order like that of the Knights Templars, dedicated to the defenses of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem. The Grail knights, like the Templars, were vowed to celibacy, while the Grail Kings, like the Kings of Jerusalem, were not.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“The Templars have many obvious similarities with the Grail Knights described by the romanciers. They were a religious order of warrior, who dressed in white mantles blazoned with a red cross. They called their initiates from select families and seemed to have some sort of ritualized initiation. They swore total allegiance to their Grand-Master, as the Grail Knights did to the Fisher King. Wolfram, of course, even calls them Templars by name, but there are deeper similarities. In Perlesvaus, Perceval comes upon a wooden cross in a forest. When he bends to kiss it, he is pushed aside by some Grail Knights who proceed to spit on and defame the cross. This sort of activity is precisely what the Templars were accused of in their persecution. In both Perlesvaus and Parzival, there are allusions to infanticide and homosexuality, two other supposed crimes of the Templars. “ - J.J. Collins, “Sangraal, The Mystery of the Holy Grail”
“I will tell you how they are fed: they live from a stone whose Essence is pure...It is called lapis exilis [small, or paltry, stone]. By virtue of this stone the Phoenix is burned to ashes, in which she is reborn. Thus does the Phoenix molt her feathers, after which she shines dazzling and bright, and as lovely as before. However ill a mortal man may be, from the day on which he sees the Stone, he cannot die for that week, nor does he lose his color. For if anyone, maid or man, were to look at the Grail for two hundred years, you would have to admit that his color was as fresh as in his early prime...Such powers does the Stone confer on mortal men that their flesh and bones are soon made young again. This stone is also called the Grail.” - Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival
One possibility for the origin of lapis exilis “is regarded by many researchers as the most probably correct one. This is the derivation of lapsit exillis from lapis ex coelis or lapis de coelis, both of which mean: the stone from the heavens. Bodo Mergell even suggests that lapsit exillis might be a contraction of lapis lapsus ex illis stellis, which translates as: ‘the stone which came down from the stars’. Bodo Mergell even suggests that lapsit exillis might be a contraction of lapis lapsus ex illis stellis, which translates as: ‘the stone which came down from the stars’.”
“An interpretation of the grail as a simple meteorite is alluringly simple, but unfortunately it does not explain how this heavenly stone should be able to provide food, and why it was, as described by Chrétien, decorated with jewels, made of gold, and emitted a bright light. Furthermore, to the people of the middle ages, the idea that stones could fall from heaven to earth was totally alien.
“The same difficulty arises if one takes the grail to be the mythical jewel which fell to earth from the rebelious Lucifer’s crown - according to legend - during his battle with the angels of God. This interpretation first appears in a mediaeval version of the Wartburg War, strophe 143:” - Johannes and Peter Fiebag, The Discovery of the Grail, translated from the German by George Sassoon
“Shall I then bring the crown,
that was made by 60,000 angels?
Who wished to force God out of the Kingdom of Heaven.
See! Lucifer, there he is!
If there are still master-priests,
Then you know well that I am singing the truth.
Saint Michael saw God’s anger, plagued by this insolence.
He took (Lucifer’s) crown from his head,
In such a way that a stone jumped out of it,
Which on earth became Parsifal’s stone.
The stone which sprang out of it,
he found it, he who had struggled for honour at such high cost.”
- Wartburg War, strophe 143
“Another suggestion is one made by Bodo Mergell (1952), which is that when describing the grail, Wolfram may have had an altar-stone in mind. Mergell writes: ‘Relatively small altar-stones (altare portatile) without any wood or metal casing had already appeared in the 12th century. A small stone such as this could be therefore taken for an altar-stone. This is supported by the evidence that the altare portatile or viaticum is described in an 11th century list of donations from Freising as a ëlapisi’.
“Regarding the grail as an altar-stone has caused some analysts to think of it as a kind of portable altar, or even an altar-slab, which again is then linked with the stone used to close Christ’s grave, and which according to oriental legend was the same stone that the Children of Israel took with them through the desert and which gave them water (Emma Jung, 1960).” - Johannes and Peter Fiebag, The Discovery of the Grail, translated from the German by George Sassoon
“...The Grail castle recalls the pagan otherworld, where there is no aging and no disease, and where the immortals feast on whatever they like best. But the Grail is now a stone which resembles the Philosopher’s Stone of the alchemists. It too surpassed all earthly perfection, cured disease, and kept its possessor forever young.” - Richard Cavendish, “Grail”, Man, Myth & Magic, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Vol. 9
“This miraculous immunity from physical decay...was ascribed to the followers of Brân the Blessed as they spent eighty years on the island of Grassholm, and has been carried down into the Arthurian romances and applied to those who formed the household of the Fisher King.”
Wolfram’s “originality and genius also appear in his statement that the stone owed its powers to a mass-wafer deposited on it every Good Friday by a dove descending from heaven. This, we may well believe, is a deliberate alteration of Chrétien’s concept of the Grail as a receptacle for the Host - a concept first set forth by the hermit on Good Friday. It also embodies a eucharistic doctrine which can be traced back to the fourth century, namely that it is the Third Member of the Trinity [the Holy Spirit] who descends on the bread and wine at the celebration of the mass and changes them into the body and blood of the Second Member [the Son].” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“Interestingly, there is a Eucharist Legend dating from the 11th century which shows great similarity with the accounts of Anfortas [confined to sitting in a chair in the Grail castle] and his daily feeding with the Host: a man was trapped in a cave near Clavennas. After a prolonged search, all attempts to rescue him were abandoned. It was not until a year later that another attempt was made, to look for his bones, and the man was found alive. He told his astonished friends that every day, a dove-like bird had brought him a small offering of white bread, which had refreshed and strengthened him through its delicious taste. The bird had missed only one day, and on that occasion he had suffered dreadfully from hunger. In fact, his wife, believing him dead, had a Mass said for him every day. Only once was she unable to go to church, due to the winter cold, and that was the very day that the prisoner had gone hungry.
“It is not difficult to imagine that legends like these might have inspired Wolfram to write of the white dove that brought a Host to the grail every Good Friday.” - Johannes and Peter Fiebag, The Discovery of the Grail, translated from the German by George Sassoon
“‘The noble and worthy angels who took neither side when Lucifer warred with the Trinity were sent down to earth as custodians of this stone, which is forever pure. I know not whether God forgave them or destroyed them; if His justice so ordained, He recalled them to Himself. Since that time, those whom He has called and to whom He sent His angel guard the stone. Sir, such is the nature of the Grail.” - Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival
“That was the object called the Grail. It was beyond all earthly joy, and such that its bearer was required to preserve her purity, cultivate virtue, and spurn falsity.”
“Taken together with the general atmosphere of wonder, mystery, quest, and initiation that pervades the Grail tradition, these two lines would therefore seem to indicate a relationship of some kind between the enigmatic symbols displayed in the Castle of the Grail and the rites of the late classical mystery sects. In these latter...the earlier field-cult symbols of vegetal fertility were turned to the ends of inward spiritual fructification, wakening, and rebirth.” - Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology
“...Whatever one reached one’s hand to take, it was found there before the Grail: food warm and cold, foods new and old, both cultivated and wild...For the Grail was beatitude’s own fruit and provided such abundance of the world’s sweetness that its delights were very like what we are told of the kingdom of heaven...And for whatever drink one held one’s cup, that was the drink that flowed by the power of the Grail - white wine, mulberry, or red.” - Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival
“In a brilliant book, From Ritual to Romance (1920) which was influenced by Frazer’s Golden Bough and which in turn influenced T. S. Eliot’s poem ‘The Waste Land’, Jessie L. Weston argued that the central themes of the Grail legends were connected with pagan fertility ritual, the restoration to vigorous life of the dying god of vegetation; that the Fisher King was so named because the fish is a symbol of swarming life; and that beneath the surface of the legends can be discerned the rites and symbols of a secret cult, which had transmuted primitive fertility ritual into an ‘initiation into the secret of Life, physical and spiritual’.”
“The more determinedly Christian the intentions of the author, the more the Waste Land theme is thrust into the background, presumably because of it obvious pagan connotations.” - Richard Cavendish, “Grail”, Man, Myth & Magic, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Vol. 9
“...The symbols of the Bleeding Lance borne by a squire and the Grail carried by a maiden must have been originally sexual emblems in some classical mystery rite.” A Greek vase painting of a Dionysian scene from the mid-5th century B.C. “attests to the antiquity of such symbols in the context of initiation rites. The flaming staff and empty pitcher in the hands of the young girl are matched by the sprouting thyrus, running with living sap, and the proffered wine cup of the god.”
“The Castle of the Grail, like the bowl of a baptismal font for the sanctuary of the winged serpent, is the place - the vas the temenos - of regeneration...” - Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology
“My prayers and entreaties will I now send forth heart and hands aloft to Helicon, to that ninefold throne whence the fountains spring from which the gift of words and meaning flow. Its host and its nine hostesses are Apollo and the Camenae....And could I obtain of it but a single drop, my words would be dipped in the glowing crucible of Camenian inspiration, to be there transmuted into something strangely wonderful, make to order, like Arabian gold.” - Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival
“...The theme of the Waste Land preserves the ancient belief that the fertility of the land depended on the life, vigor and sexual potency of the ruler. In Chrétien the Fisher King is wounded in both thighs, which is thought to be a euphemism for the genitals. In Wolfram’s Parzival: there is no euphemism: the Maimed King was pierced through the testicles by a poisoned spear.”
“In the Suite du Merlin, of c. 1230, it is the lance of the Grail castle which deals what Malory later called ‘the dolorous stroke’. The hero Balaain (Balin in Malroy) came to the castle of King Pellehan. Attacked by the king and searching hurriedly for a weapon with which to defend himself, he found a lance standing point downwards in a vessel of silver and gold. He snatched up the lance and drove it through Pellehan’s thighs. Instantly the walls of the castle collapsed. Outside, Balaain found that the trees had fallen, the crops were destroyed and the inhabitants were all dead. From that time on the land came to be called the Waste Land.” - Richard Cavendish, “Grail”,” Man, Myth & Magic, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Vol. 9
Regarding Wolfram’s Parzival:
“In the rules for admission into the company lead by Arthur, we can decipher certain ordeals for entrance into a secret society of the Männerbund type.”
“In the Grail castle, Percival has to spend the night in a chapel in which lies a dead knight; thunder rolls, and he sees a black hand extinguishing the only lighted candle. This is the very type of the initiatory night watch. The ordeals that the Heroes undergo are innumerable - they have to cross a bridge that sinks under water or is made of a sharp sward or is guarded by lions and monsters. In addition, the gates to castles are guarded by animated automatons, fairies, or demons. All these scenarios suggest passage to the beyond, the perilous descents to hell; and when such journeys are undertaken by living beings, they always form part of an initiation. By assuming the risks of such a descent to Hell, the Hero pursues the conquest of immortality or some other equally extraordinary end. The countless ordeals undergone by the personages of the Arthurian cycle fall in the same category; at the end of their quest, the Heroes cure the king’s mysterious malady and thereby regenerate the ‘Waste Land’, or even themselves attain sovereignty.” - Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology
“...The behavior of the Indo-European warrior bands offers certain points of resemblance to the secret fraternities of primitive societies. In both alike, the members of the group terrorize women and noninitiates and in some sort exercise a ‘right of rapine’, a custom which, in diluted form, is still found in the popular traditions of Europe and the Caucuses. Rapine, and cattle stealing, assimilate the members of the warrior band to carnivora. In the Germanic Wütende Heer, or in similar ritual organizations, the barking of dogs (equals wolves) forms part of an indescribable uproar into which all sorts of strange sounds enter, for example, bells and trumpets. These sound play an important ritual role; they help prepare for the frenzied ecstasy of the members of the group....In the Germanic or Japanese men’s secret societies the strange sounds, like the masks, attest the presence of the Ancestors, the return of the souls of the dead. The fundamental experience is provoked by the initiates’ meeting with the dead, who return to earth more especially about the winter solstice. Winter is also the season when the initiates change into wolves. In other words, during the winter the members of the band are able to transmute their profane conditions and attain to a superhuman existence, whether by consorting with the Ancestors or by appropriating the behavior, that is the magic, of the carnivora.” - Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation
“Another word for the frenzy associated with combat is furor. It has been reported both in legends and in historical accounts that in the heat of battle certain warriors enter into a delirious fury, attacking anyone in their reach. For example....Cu Chulainn, the hero of the Ulster legend, while still a boy vanquished the three sons of Nechta, the enemy of his people, and returned to his home still in a frenzy. He was seized and thrown into a vat of cold water to cool him down. The frenzy of the warriors associated with Odin thus expresses the power of ecstasy in battle.” - An Encyclopedia of Archetypal Symbolism
“They went without shields, and were mad as dogs or wolves, and bit on their shields, and were as strong as bears or bulls; men they slew, and neither fire nor steel would deal with them; and this is what is called the fury of the berserker.” - Ynglingasaga
“This mythical picture has been rightly identified as a description of real men’s societies the famous Männerbund of the ancient Germanic civilization. The berserkers were, literally, the ‘warriors in shirts (serkr) of bear’. This is as much as to way hat they were magically identified with the bear. In addition they could sometimes change themselves into wolves and bears. A man became a berserker as the result of an initiation that included specifically martial ordeals. So, for example, Tacitus tells us that among the Chati the candidate cut neither his hair nor is beard until he head killed an enemy. Among the Taifali, the youth had to bring down a boar or a wolf; among the Heruli, he had to flight unarmed. Through these ordeals, the candidate took to himself a wild-animal mode of being; he became a dreaded warrior in the measure in which he behaved like a beast of prey. He metamorphosed himself into a superman because he succeeded in assimilating the magic or religious force proper to the carnivora.”
“A youth did not become a berserker simply through courage, physical strength, endurance, but as the result of a magico-religious experience that radically changed his mode of being. The young warrior must transmute his humanity by a fit of aggressive and terror-striking fury, which assimilated him to the raging heat of prey. He became ‘heated’ to an extreme degree, flooded by a mysterious, nonhuman, and irresistible force that his fighting effort and vigor summoned from the utmost depths of his being. The ancient Germans called this sacred force wut, a term that Adam von Bremen translated by furor; it was a sort of demonic frenzy, which filled the warrior’s adversary with terror and finally paralyzed him. The Irish ferg (literally ‘anger’), the Homeric menos, are almost exact equivalents of this same terrifying sacred experience peculiar to heroic combats.”
“The ‘wrath’ and the heat induced by a violent and excessive access of sacred power are feared by the majority of mankind. The term shanti, which in Sanskrit designates tranquillity, peace of soul, freedom from the passions, relief from suffering, derives from the root sham, which originally had the meaning of extinguishing the fire, the anger, the fever, in short the heat, provided by demonic powers.” - Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology
During the Middle ages “we witness, if not the total disappearance of initiation, at least their almost final eclipse. All the more interesting, then, I think, is the presence of a considerable number of initiatory motifs in the literature that, from the twelfth century, grew up around the ‘Matiere de Betagne’, especially in the romance giving a leading role to Arthur, the Fisher King, Percival, and other Heroes pursuing the Grail quest.” - Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation
“In Wolfram’s Parzival, the boon [won by the hero] is the inauguration of a new age of the human spirit: of secular spirituality, sustained by self-responsible individuals acting not in terms of general laws supposed to represent the will or way of some personal god or impersonal eternity, but each in terms of his own developing realization of worth. Such an idea is distinctly - and uniquely - European.” - Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology
Peredur, a “Welsh romance, written down about 1200, is so very confused that it must be based on mere memories of various French or Anglo-Norman romances.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
The hero of the quest, Peredur, becomes the guest of a nobleman in a large castle. After Peredur severs a huge iron column with a sword (both of which are magically restored two out of three times), the nobleman reveals that he is Peredur’s uncle.
“Then Peredur and his uncle discoursed together, and he beheld two youths enter the hall and proceed up to the chamber, bearing a spear of mighty size, with three streams of blood flowing from the point to the ground. When all the company saw this, they began wailing and lamenting. But for all that the man did not break off his discourse with Peredur. As he did not tell Peredur the meaning of what he saw, he forbore to ask him concerning it. When the clamor had a little subsided, behold, two maidens entered, with a large salver (dyscyl) between them, in which was a man’s head, surrounded by a profusion of blood.” - Peredur
The head, which replaced the grail in Chrétien’s account, belonged to a cousin of Peredur’s, as he later learns. The cousin was “killed by the sorceresses of Gloucester, who also lamed thine uncle”. Peredur then fulfills a prophesy, kills the sorceresses and avenges his cousin.
Transplanted from his pagan Irish origin, Brân “ has become King of the island of Britain, crowned in London and has acquired the Christian epithet bendigeid, ‘Blessed’....He led an expedition to a foreign land and was victorious. Nevertheless, he was wounded in the foot with a poisoned javelin, and, though no causal nexus is mentioned, the islands of Ireland and Britain were rendered desolate. Brân commanded his followers to cut off his head and to travel with it, first to Harlech and then to the island of Grassholm. Obeying his commands, they spent seven years at Harlech, regaling themselves with meat and drink. Then, setting out for Grassholm, they found there a fair royal place, a great hall, overlooking the sea. That night they spent there without stint, and we may infer that they continued to feast, as they had at Harlech, for eighty years, in the company of the uncorrupted head of Brân. This was called the Hospitality of the Wondrous Head.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“Amongst the Celts the human head was venerated above all else, since the head was to the Celt the soul, center of the emotions as well as of life itself, a symbol of divinity and of the powers of the other-world.” - Paul Jacobsthal, Early Celtic Art
In the cult of the severed head the ancient Celts believed “that the heads of vanquished adversaries should therefore be severed and preserved.” - Baigent & Leigh, The Temple and the Lodge
“When their enemies fall, they cut off their heads and fasten them about the necks of their horses...and carry them off as booty, singing a paean over them and striking up a song of victory, and these first fruits of battle they fasten by nails upon their houses...The heads of their most distinguished enemies they embalm in cedar oil and carefully preserve in a chest, and these they exhibit to strangers, gravely maintaining that in exchange for this head someone among their ancestors, or the speaker himself, refused the offer of a great sum of money. And some men among them, we are told, boast that they have not accepted an equal weight of gold for the head they show...” - Diordus Sciculus (1st Century AD)
After killing the Roman consul-elect, the Boii (a Celtic tribe occupying part of the Po valley) “...stripped his body, cut off the head, and carried their spoils in triumph to the most hallowed of their temples. There they cleaned out the head, as is their custom, and guilded the skull, which thereafter served them as a holy vessel to pour libations from and as a drinking cup for the priest and the temple attendants.” - Livy, Historae (3rd Century BC)
“In Britain human skulls were found in the fortifications at Bredon Hill and at Stanwick, and their position suggests that they had either been attached to poles beside the gateway or nailed onto the structure of the gate itself. Heads feature a great deal on native Celtic coins, being treated with typical Celtic fantasy, having distorted or non-natural features, huge eyes, and wild hair, and often showing tattooing on the cheeks and bearing, or being associated with, cult symbols such as the boar. Sometimes smaller heads are chained to a larger central head; some have horns, others are janiform (two-faced) or in triplicate.” - Ann Ross, “Head”, Man, Myth & Magic, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural
The severed head “figures perhaps most prominently in the myth of Brân the Blessed, whose head, according to tradition, was buried as a protective talisman outside London [White Hill], face turned towards France. Not only did it protect the city from attack. It also ensured the fertility of the surrounding countryside and warded off plague from England as a whole.” - Baigent & Leigh, The Temple and the Lodge
“All the evidence for Celtic religion emphasizes the fundamental importance of the human head to early Celtic society. It was a prized trophy in battle; but much more than this it was a potent symbol of the total religious attitudes of the Celtic peoples. The head stood for divinity. It was the supreme conveyer of hospitality, the distributor of the divine feast. It had powers of prophecy, healing, fertility, speech, independent movement and incorruptible life. If was regarded as the essence of being, the seat of the soul, the symbol of evil-averting divine power. Its meaning for the early Celtic peoples is clear throughout their history - it can truly be said to contain the essence of their religious philosophy and to be the most distinctive and powerful of all their cults.” - Ann Ross, “Head”, Man, Myth & Magic, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural
“The next major Grail story, and one of the most striking, is the anonymous Perlesvaus [c. 1220-30]. Here, Perceval encounters the Grail Knights, who appear like some sort of monastic brotherhood. They dressed in a white raiment with a red cross on the breast. Throughout this story there are strong allusions to alchemy and mysticism. It’s tone and content differ greatly from it predecessors, but the basic facts of the story remain the same.” - J.J. Collins, “Sangraal, The Mystery of the Holy Grail”
“Lo, two damsels issue from a chapel, and one holds in her two hands the most holy Grail, and the other the lance of which the point bleeds into it, and they walk side by side and come into the hall where the knights and Sir Gawain are eating. So sweet and so holy an odor accompanies the relics that they forget to eat. Sir Gawain gazes at the Grail and it seems to him that there is a chalice within it, albeit there was none at the time. And he sees the point of the lance from which the red blood drops, and he seems to behold two angels who bear two candelabra of gold with lighted candles.”
The damsels go into another chapel, then reappear. Sir Gawain “seems to behold three angels where before he had beheld but two, and he seems to behold in the midst of the Grail the form of a child.” On the third pass Sir Gawain “looks up, and it seems to him that the Grail is wholly in the air. He looks and there appears aloft a man nailed to a cross, and the spear was fixed in his side.”
“...This continental romance reflects with extraordinary clearness archaic Welsh traditions which can hardly be detected at all in any other Grail text.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
Such traditions are obvious when Perceval sails across the sea to the isle of the ageless elders.
“The ship has sped so far by day and by night, as it pleased God, that they saw a castle on an island of the sea....They came near the castle and heard four trumpets sound at the four corners of the walls very sweetly....They issued from the ship and went by the seaside to the castle, and within there were the fairest halls and the fairest mansions that one has ever seen. Perceval looks beneath a very fair tree, which was tall and broad, and sees the fairest and clearest fountain that anyone could describe, and it was all set about with rich golden pillars, and the gravel seemed to be of precious stones.” - Perlesvaus
Once an island in a marsh sea, Glastonbury Tor, a conspicuous hill in Somerset, England, was reputedly the site of Caer Siddi, the Celtic Fairy Fortress.
“Perfect is my seat in the Faery Fortress (Caer Siddi).
Neither plague nor age harms him who dwells therein.
Manawydan and Pryderi know it...
And around its corners are ocean’s currents.
And the fructifying spring is above it.
Sweeter than white wine is the drink in it.”
- Taliesin, Mabinogion
At the castle is a great hall filled with riches - cloths of silk, a depiction of the Savior, tables of gold and ivory and folk “full of great joy and seemed to be of great holiness.” Thirty three men in white garments with red crosses on their breasts washed at a rich golden laver before sitting down to feast.
“While he was thus looking, he perceived above him a golden chain descending, adorned with precious stones; and in the midst was a crown of gold. The chain descended with great precision, and it held on to nothing but the will of Our Lord. As soon as the masters saw it being lowered, they opened a large, wide pit which was in the midst of the hall, so that one could see the hole plainly. As soon as the entrance of this pit was uncovered, there issued the greatest and most dolorous cries that anyone ever heard.” - Perlesvaus
Compare with the account in the following archaic poem:
“Perfect was the prison of Gweir in the Faery Fortress (Caer Siddi);
Before the spoils of Annwn dolefully he chanted...
In the Four-cornered Fortress, the isle of the strong door,...
Bright wine was their drink before their retinue...
It was difficult to converse with their sentinel.
- Taliesin, The Spoils of Annwn
One of the masters inquires about the Holy Grail and Perceval verifies that it is in the Fisher King’s chapel. (In this account Perceval conquers the Grail Castle after his uncle dies.)
“I saw the Grail’, says the master, ‘before the Fisher King. Joseph [of Arimathea], who was his uncle, collected in it the blood which flowed from the wounds of the Savior of the World. Know well all your lineage and from what folk you are descended.” - Perlesvaus
A consequence occured during “the transition from the early to the high middle ages, when an innovation was introduced to the liturgy: the Host - the bread transformed into the body of Christ, according to Christian belief - was no longer kept hidden from the believers, as had been done previously, but was shown to them openly. With this, the people were robbed of an illusion - that of the supernatural, the mysterious.”
The Host, the ‘Body of Christ’, was now shown openly and lost all the mystery which had previously surrounded it. The result was that the mystique, the secrecy, was transferred to another object: to the Grail. A description such as that which Robert de Boron [below] gave of the Grail filled the gap exactly, even though, from the church’s point of view, the Grail was in no way an object worthy of sanctity or veneration.” - Johannes and Peter Fiebag, The Discovery of the Grail, translated from the German by George Sassoon
“There was...a legend of Joseph of Arimathea centuries before he was associated with the Grail. It started with historic fact, vouched for by the four gospels, namely, that after Christ died on the cross, a rich disciple of Arimathea named Joseph begged the holy body from Pilate, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and placed it in a new tomb. St. John’s gospel adds that Nicodemus brought spices for the burial, and that is all we learn from the Scriptures. “But in the large body of New Testament apocrypha which grew up one of the most widely know was the Evangelium Nicodemi. Here we read that during the trail of Christ before Pilate, Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, testified in His favor infuriated the accusers. After Joseph had deposited the body of the Crucified in the sepulcher, the Jews imprisoned him, but when on Easter day the door was opened, he was not to be found . Search was made at Nicodemus’s advice, and Joseph was discovered at his home in Arimathea. Brought to Jerusalem he testified that at midnight of the Sabbath day, the prison in which he was confined rose into the air, and fell to the earth. The risen Christ appeared to him, lifted him up, and brought him to his house.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“The so-called Evangelium Nicodemi (Gospel of Nicodemus) had been in use in England as a basis for various Christian poems since the 8th century, and Joseph of Arimathea, who plays a leading role in it, became a favorite figure in the Passion Plays. Then about the beginning of the 11th century another apocryphon was translated into Old English: the Vindicta Salvatoris. Joseph of Arimathea then became a figure in western literature for the second time. Joseph always stood in close relationship with the apostle Philip and the evangelisation of England. Whether or not such a connection is justified or not is hard to judge. It is however conspicuous that 10th and 11th century manuscripts in the Georgian (or Gruzinian) language, originating in Palestine, translated into Greek, and probably based on a Syrian original, yet again characterize Joseph as the protagonist. Here, the story is told by Joseph himself, which is almost identical with Robert’s: Christ’s burial, Joseph’s captivity, the appearance of the risen Jesus, and the collection of Jesus’ blood. In this originally Syrian version, a sort of grail-slab [Grals-Tafel] is erected - as was done by a man named Petrus in Robert’s version - and also a special sacrament was introduced. In 1974 Burdach came to the conclusion that a comparison of the two texts compels one ‘to assume that the Joseph-legend known and loved in England in early times derives from a Syrian source, or at least partially through Syrian traditions’. In this Syrian version, however, there is no vessel resembling the grail. Therefore the essential grail part of the legend, deriving as has been shown from Celtic origins, should be considered separate from the Christian components such as Joseph of Arimathea and the collection of the blood.” - Johannes and Peter Fiebag, The Discovery of the Grail, translated from the German by George Sassoon
The story of Joseph and Nicodemus is recounted in the Interpolation in the First Continuation of Chrétien’s Perceval which Loomis calls “the shortest and simplest account of Joseph’s connection with the Grail and his voyage to Britain.”
“Joseph caused the grail to be made and took it to Calvary, where he caught in it the blood that flowed down over the feet of the crucifed Jesus.” - Richard Cavendish, “Grail”, Man, Myth & Magic, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Vol. 9
“The keeping of the soul-substance of God in a sepulchral vessel corresponds to a particular archetypical idea, which goes back to ancient oriental roots. She [Emma Jung] draws attention to the burials of African chieftains, at which bodily secretions from the corpse are collected and venerated as holy. Similar procedures took place at Ancient Egyptian burials, in which certain parts of the body were removed and put aside in special vessels. These vessels then contained the magical soul-substance of God, and it is not improbable that similar ideas were later carried over to the grail.” - Johannes and Peter Fiebag, The Discovery of the Grail, translated from the German by George Sassoon
The text continues as Joseph of Aramathea takes custody of the Grail.
“But rumor, which is swifter than the wind, swiftly brought the news to the Jews, who were by no means delighted but rather were deeply dejected. Among themselves they held a council in order to banish Joseph and expel him from the land, and they informed him at once that he must depart because of his crime, he and all his friends, and also Nicodemus, who was a marvelously wise man, and a sister of his.”
“Joseph and his company prepared their fleet and entered without delay, and did not end their voyage till they reached the land which God had promised to Joseph. The name of the country was the White Isle; well I know that thus it was called. One part belongs to England, which is enclosed and locked by the sea. There they made port and went ashore, built lodges there and whatever else they needed. Two whole years they were there before anyone made war on them or seized a foot of land. But in the third year the people of the country gathered together and made war and often wrought harm. Often they fought and either won or lost. When Joseph was defeated and there was a famine, he prayed to God, his creator, that He would lend him, by His favor, that Grail of which I tell you and in which he had collected the blood. Then he caused a horn to be blown and all went to wash their hands, and seated themselves ceremoniously at the tables. The Grail came at once and served the wine to all and other dishes in great plenty. Thus Joseph preserved the land against his enemies as long as he has life and health.
“At the end of his life he prayed God sweetly that He would consent that Joseph’s lineage would be rendered illustrious by the Grail. And thus it befell; it is the pure truth. For after his death no man in the world of any age had possession of it unless he was of Joseph’s lineage. In truth the Rich Fisher descended from him, and all his heirs and, they say, Guellans Guenelaus and his son Perceval.” - Perceval
“One of the most important and most puzzling texts about Joseph is the poem written by Robert de Boron, a Burgundian from near the modern Swiss border. Boron, which may have been his birthplace or his property, is a village near Montbéliard, and he tells us that he wrote under the patronage of a certain lord known to history, Gautier de Montbéliard, who departed for Italy in 1199, took part in the Fourth Crusade, and never returned.”
“Most scholars have been inclined to accept Robert’s claim to originality, in the sense that he was the first to combine the already existing apocryphal legends of Joseph of Arimathea, St. Veronica, and the destruction of Jerusalem with selected elements from the literary tradition of the Grail.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“The first writer to make serious use of Christian legend in connection with the Grail was Robert de Boron, author of the metrical poem Joseph d’Arimathie.” - Noel Currer-Briggs, Shroud Mafia - The Creation of a Relic? (1995)
“Many people believe that he [Robert] began his work before Chrétien, but only finished it after Perceval. Other authorities differ, holding that the entire body of Robert’s work was written after Chrestian’s.” - Johannes and Peter Fiebag, The Discovery of the Grail, translated from the German by George Sassoon
“Robert introduces an entirely new group of persons, headed by one Brons, who is to be keeper of the Grail after Joseph’s death and, springing out of this, in the introduction of a mission of conversion.
“The legend, mysteriously hint[s] at a sacred object which was carried away by a holy man [Jeremiah] before the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC...and which then became the heart of a blessed community in a distant land...” - Noel Currer-Briggs, Shroud Mafia - The Creation of a Relic? (1995)
According Robert’s Joseph d’Arimathie, “When on the third day, the Jews discovered that the body was missing, they accused Joseph of stealing it and threw him into a dungeon. They Crucified appeared to the prisoner in a blaze of light, presented him with the same vessel in which he had collected the holy blood, and told him that he was to have the guardianship of the vessel and would have only three successors, in token of the Trinity. Christ also instructed Joseph in the symbolism of the mass, and informed him that the vessel containing the divine blood was to be called ‘calice’. Then the visitant departed.” “According to the Vindicta Salvatoris Vespasian, son of the Roman emperor, was converted as a result of the miraculous cure effected by the sight of Veronica’s veil, in which was imprinted the face of Christ. [This would have been after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.] He promptly set out to avenge the death of Jesus, assembled the Jews, and, learning from their own lips their responsibility for the Crucifixion, caused a number of them to be executed. One, however, tried to save his life by revealing where Joseph was incarcerated. Vespasian had himself lowered into the dungeon and found him still alive. When Joseph expounded the doctrines of the Fall and the Redemption, Vespasian was convinced and delivered the prisoner.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“With his brother-in-law, Hebron or Bron, Joseph left Palestine for foreign lands. He founded the table and service of the Grail, which only those who believe in the Trinity and lead clean lives may attend, and there they have everything their hearts desire. An empty seat at the table, corresponding to the seat of Judas at the Last Supper, is reserved for a descendant of Bron (this is the Siege Perilous which Galahad would later fill). On the Grail table in a fish, the symbol of Christ, placed there by Bron, who in consequence is called the Rich Fisher.” - Richard Cavendish, “Grail”, Man, Myth & Magic, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Vol. 9
Robert de Boron dispatched Petrus (one of the sons of Bron) to the quot;vales of Avaron” - or Avalon, the low lying marshlands which surround Glastonbury Tor, England. Tradition states that the Tor is the entrance to Annwn, the Celtic underworld. In Arthur’s time the Tor was an island unconnected by dry land - and strategically important because of its natural spring water. Boron, however, does not specifically mention Glastonbury.
Other authors which emphasize the Christian-religious aspect of the Grail include “Gautier de Dourdan (writing between 1190 and 1200), Manessier (1214-1220), Herbert von Mostreuil (before 1225), Perceval li Galios (around 1225), and the unknown author of the Grand St. Graal (after 1220). They all either continue Chrétien, or else adhere to Robert de Boron’s version, adorning it with additional detail, and particularly emphasising the Christian elements of the grail story: that is, the grail as a chalice, and as the bowl with the blood of Christ.” - Johannes and Peter Fiebag, The Discovery of the Grail, translated from the German by George Sassoon
The Estoire del Saint Graal is a long prose romance, which forms “the first member of the Vulgate cycle, but probably composed after the Lancelot and the Queste.
The Estoire “adds to the story of Joseph, bringing him to Britain as an evangelist, and carries the history of the vessel and its successive keepers almost down to Arthur’s time, has often been thought to be an elaboration of Robert’s poem, since it was composed later and the manuscripts attribute it to Robert de Boron.”
“ The Estoire remained more faithful to tradition than the Joseph.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
The current Christian version of the Grail states that Joseph of Arimathea brought the Last Supper chalice used to catch Christ’s blood to Glastonbury, England. There the Grail was hidden at the bottom of Chalice Well. The Glastonbury Tor, a natural hill which rises high above the surrounding landscape, has a terraced double maze sculpted around it that leads to the top. The original meaning of “grail” is “saucer” and the root of “grail” is derived from “crater”. - from “In Search Of the Holy Grail” (the TV series)
“...A riddling medieval Welsh poem entitled ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ tells how some of Arthur’s men entered an enchanted fortress, Caer Sidi, the Spiral or Revolving Castle. Only seven returned; the number is reiterated and stressed. Some Celtic ritual at a maze shrine could underlie this poem.” - Geoffrey Ashe, The Ancient Wisdom
The authors of the Estoire del Saint Graal and Perlesvaus both “dealt very freely with their traditional material and indulged in much pure fabrication, at the same time that they pretended to have the highest sanction for their veracity. Perhaps the author of Perlesvaus was...a mild case of schizophrenia, and so cannot be held to strict standards. As for the Estoire, its author, if sane, must have been aware that the Lord Jesus Christ had nothing to do with the story he himself told, and must be classed with Geoffrey of Monmouth and Baron Munchausen as the conscious purveyor of fiction under the guise of solemn truth.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
The Charter of St. Patrick, believed to have been forged about 1220 with official sanction of the Abbey at Glastonbury, gives a fabricated first hand account of St. Patrick finding a Christian community at the Tor. While St. Philip and St. James, the Apostles to Gaul and Spain, are mentioned as introducing Christianity to Britain, the name of Joseph of Arimathea is conspiculously absent.
“...The brothers showed me writing of St. Phagan and St. Deruvian, wherein it was contained that twelve disciples of St. Philip and St. James had built that old church in honor of our Patroness aforesaid [the Virgin Mary], instructed thereto by the blessed archangel Gabriel.” - “Charter of St. Patrick”
“Since the legend of Joseph of Arimathea “was a continental product and was totally unknown to the monks of the abbey...we may imagine the surprise and bewilderment of these tonsured worthies when, say about 1240, a manuscript of the Estoire Del Saint Graal came into their hands, and they read an elaborately detailed rival account of the evangelization of Britain, which failed to give credit to St. Philip and St. James, mentioned neither Ynyswytrin [Glass Isle] nor Avalon, and which silenced all skepticism by the claim to be a faithful transcript of a work written by Christ’s own hand and delivered by him to the author!” The result was “the insertion into a copy of William of Malmebury’s book on Glastonbury of a passage about the evangelists sent to Ynyswytrin by St. Philip, which contains the statement that ‘over them he [St. Philip] appointed, it is said, his dearest friend, Joseph of Arimathea, who buried the Lord’. Soon after, a scribe made bold to write in the margin:
‘That Joseph of Arimathea, the noble counselor, with his son Josephes and many others, came to Greater Britain (which is now called Anglia) and there ended his life is attested by the book of The Deeds of the Famous King Arthur’
- a plain reference to the Estoire del Saint Graal. Thus began the process of interweaving the two variant versions, insular and continental, of the first mission to Britain. But many decades were to pass before the officials of the abbey began to take Joseph’s coming to the Isle of Avalon seriously.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
Glastonbury traditions which appear to be of relatively recent invention include:
The miraculous thorn trees which blossomed at Christmas time:
The first reference is a crude poem - c.1520
The first testimony that Joseph planted the tree - 1677
The Chalice Well where Joseph buried the Grail:
The legend appears to be unknown until the early 1800’s
The Nanteos Mansion near Aberystwyth, Wales, has also laid claim to the Grail Cup for over 300 years “The Cup which was the same one used in the Last Supper, made of olive wood. Joseph of Arimathea brought the Cup to Glastonbury where it remained until the 16th century when the seven Monks of Glastonbury in the Dissolution escaped with it and left it in the safe keeping of the Cistercian Monks of Strata, Florida. It was then given to the Stedman Family by the last remaining monk when they escaped to the original house, Nanteos, and were looked after until, one by one, they died.” - Adrian Wagner
Richard Wagner reportedly visited Nanteos Mansion just before starting his opera ‘Parsifal’.
“Professor Loomis, in his authoritative work, The Grail, makes it evident beyond question that the matière of La Queste del Saint Graal was derived in the main from Celtic myths, largely of Manannan Mac Lir and his Welsh counterpart, Brân; the Blessed: the ‘Rich Fisher’, Bron, with his ‘blessed horn of plenty’, cors-benoiz (corbenic); his boat, the moon that rides celestial seas; and his whirling castle of mist and dream from the fairyland ‘below waves’.” - Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology
La Queste del Saint Graal, compiled by Cistercian monks in the thirteenth century, “is first and foremost a Christian book, and nothing in it suggests a conscious use of any pagan mythology, ritual, or folklore in their primitive forms....Once the pre-Christian elements had been appropriated, they became thoroughly Christianized and entered completely into the symbolic structure of the new religion. They had, in fact, been chosen for their insight value and as a means of illuminating the context of the new gnosis.” - Frederick Locke
“The Queste is part of the compilation called the Prose Lancelot (1215-1230), which deals with the adventures of Lancelot and his love affair with Guinevere. There are warnings in the Lancelot that his adultery with Guinevere will debar him from achieving the Grail, and the author of the Queste invented a new character as the Grail-winner, Galahad, who was ‘so grounded in the love of Christ that no adventure could tempt him into sin.” - Richard Cavendish, “Grail”, Man, Myth & Magic, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Vol. 9
“For the Christian medieval world the Holy Grail (the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper) symbolized the truth and knowledge needed to achieve the experience of salvation. Led in search of the Grail by divine grace, the naive hero Perceval inquired directly about the Grail, a question other knights had failed to ask. His simplistic question, put to the ailing Fisher King, revitalized not only the royal body but the entire drooping cosmos. The human condition is rejuvenated by the graceful quest for the truth of salvation. Perceval was superseded by Galahad [son of Lancelot] as the winner of the Holy Grail in later variations, Galahad being viewed as a descendant of Joseph of Arimathea (the member of the Jerusalem council in whose tomb the body of Jesus was laid), who was believed to have gone to Glastonbury, Eng., with the Holy Grail.” - Encyclopaedia Britannica
“The castle of the Grail is no longer the setting for obscurely motivated combats and nightmarish sounds and spectacles, but rather for meaningful sacramental mysteries. The adventures, the visions are interpreted with conscientious precision, morally or typologically or mystically, by hermit or monk or anchoress. At times this tale of knight-errantry rises to a level of solemn beauty comparable to that of the Holy Scriptures. The author has left on his work the stamp of his highly individual genius.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“In the Queste the Grail is the dish from which Christ ate the Passover lamb with his disciples. It was brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea and was guarded by his descendants at their castle of Corbenic. It retains some of its earlier functions, for the sight of it heals the sick and when it appears at King Arthur’s court it provides each person with the food he desires. But Arthur and his knights are told that the quest of the Grail ‘ is no search for earthly things but a seeking out of the mysteries and hidden sweets of our Lord, the divine secrets which the most high Master will disclose...’” - Richard Cavendish, “Grail”, Man, Myth & Magic, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Vol. 9
“And then the King and all estates went home unto Camelot, and so went to evensong to the great minster, and so after upon that to supper, and every knight sat in his own place as they were toforehand. Then anon they heard cracking and crying of thunder, that them thought the place should all to-drive. In the midst of this blast entered a sunbeam more clearer by seven times than ever they saw day, and all they were alighted of the grace of the Holy Ghost. Then began every knight to behold other, and either saw other, by their seeming, fairer than ever they saw afore. Not for then there was no knight might speak one word a great while, and so they looked every man on other as they had been dumb.
Then there entered into the hall the Holy Grail, covered with white samite, but there was none might see it nor who have it. And there was all the hall fulfilled with good odors, and every knight had such meats and drinks as he best loved in this world. And when the Holy Grail had been borne through the hall, then the holy vessel departed suddenly, that they wist not where it became. Then had they all breath to speak. And then the King yielded thankings to God, of his good grace that he had sent them” - La Queste del Saint Graal (Translated by Sir Thomas Malory)
“When his knights swore the quest of the Grail, King Arthur lamented that this meant the end of the fellowship of the Round Table. He was right, for the Queste’s author intended Galahad’s success to be a demonstration of the superiority of Christian ideals and the inadequacy of the worldly ideals of romantic chivalry. The one knight who is utterly dedicated to God and entirely free from any contamination of worldliness is the only one who fully achieves the quest. “Galahad, Perceval and Bors receive Mass from the Grail at the hands of the crucified Christ himself and ‘it seemed as though the essence of all sweetness was housed within their bodies’.” - Richard Cavendish, “Grail”, Man, Myth & Magic, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Vol. 9
At that moment, however, only to Galahad was revealed:
“...those things that the heart of mortal man cannot conceive nor tongue relate, my heart was ravished with such joy and bliss...for so great a host of angels was before me and such a multitude of heavenly beings, that I was translated in that moment from the earthly plane to the celestial.” - La Queste del Saint Graal (Translated by Sir Thomas Malory)
“It is certain that the Cistercian monk who was the author of the Queste had been greatly inspired by the confirmation at the Fourth Lateran Council, in the year 1215, of the Catholic dogma of the Real Presence of Christ’s body in the sacrament of the altar (the Host in the ciborium).” - Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology
“A brief passage in the French text, which Malory omitted, makes the messianic role of Galahad quite clear. The venerable man in white who brought the youth to Camelot, addressing Arthur, said: ‘I bring thee the desired knight (le chevalier desiré), who is descended from the high lineage of king David,’”
“Indeed the very name Galahad was chosen to carry out this concept. Its biblical origin has long been known, since it occurs in the Vulgate Old Testament, the standard text of the Middle Ages, in the form Galaad. sometimes it refers to a place, sometimes to a person. It remained for Pauphilet [Études] to discover its astonishing fitness for the messianic hero of the Queste. He showed that, according to Genesis 31:47-52, Galaad meant ‘heap of testimony’, and that Isidore of Seville, Walafrid, Strabo, and the Venerable Bede construed this etymology as a reference to Christ.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“Who is this heap of testimony but Christ, on whom all the testimonies of the prophets are piled, to whom the prophets, John [the Baptist], the Heavenly Father, and His own works bear witness?” - Gilbert of Holland, Sermons on the Canticles (Cistercian)
“If one may sum up the essential doctrine of the Queste, it is this. The Grail is a symbol of grace, and grace is God’s love for man. One of the supreme manifestations of that love was the descent of the Holy Ghost in the form of fire [the first Pentecost]; thus the entrance of the Grail in the hall at Camelot was preceded by a dazzling ray, and all were at once illumined of the Holy Ghost. Through grace all man’s spiritual desires may be satisfied, thus the Grail dispensed to every knight such meats and drinks as he best loved in the world. God’s love begets a response in the hearts of men and draws them to Him; thus the knights of the Round Table were moved to seek the Grail.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“And therewithal beseemed them that there came an old man and four angels from heaven, clothed in likeness of a bishop, and had a cross in his hand; and these four angels bare him in a chair, and set him down before the table of silver whereupon the Sankgreal [Holy Grail] was; and it seemed that he had in middes of his forehead letters the which said’ ‘See ye here Joseph(se) [son of Joseph of Arimathea], the first bishop of Christendom, the same which Our Lord sacred in the city of Sarras in the spiritual palace’. Then the Knights marveled, for that bishop was dead more than three hundred year tofore.”
Angels appear bearing candles, a towel and the bleeding spear. The bishop performs a mass in which a fiery childlike figure smites the bread and transforms it into a fleshy man.
“Then looked they and saw a man come out of the holy vessel, that had all the signs of the passion of Jesu Christ, bleeding all openly, and said: ‘My knights and my servants and my true children, which be come out of deadly life into spiritual life, I will now no longer hide me from you, but ye shall see now a part of my secrets and of my hidden things; now hold and receive the high meat which ye have so much desired.”
Christ reveals the identity of the holy vessel, the Sankgreal, to Galahad.
“‘This is,’ said He, ‘the holy dish wherein I ate the lamb on Sher-Thursday [the Last Supper before Christ’s crucifixion].’” - La Queste del Saint Graal (Translated by Sir Thomas Malory)
“Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, a much later epic, dated to the mid-fifteenth Century. As in The Arabian Nights, “the battle scenes might comfortably appear in the Morte D’Arthur; the tales of enchanted castles, miraculous swords, talismanic trophies, and quest in the realms of the ‘Jinn’, are reminiscent, in numerous features, of the favorites of Arthurian romance; the pattern of romantic love is in essence identical with that of twelfth-century Provence...” - Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology
“Malory took the bulk of the Grail material for the Morte D’Arthur from the Queste. The Grail is taken away from Britain because of the sinfulness of the inhabitants. Galahad dies and the Grail is carried up into heaven. This is immediately followed by Lancelot’s return to Guinevere and the public denunciation of the lovers. The knights divide into warring factions, the fellowship of the Round Table is destroyed and Arthur’s reign comes to its bitter close.” - Richard Cavendish, “Grail”, Man, Myth & Magic, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Vol. 9
“Readers of Malory may well have been puzzled by the fact that, though he sometimes refers to the sacred vessel as ‘the Holy Grayle’, a correct translation of the French words ‘le saint graal’, he also refers to it as ‘the Sankgreal’ and takes it to signify ‘the blyssed bloode of our Lorde Jhesu Cryste’, evidently because of a confused notion that ‘Sankgreal’ contained the element sang, ‘blood’.” - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol
“Sangreal” can also be interpreted as “sang real” or ‘royal blood’. It has been hypothesized that the Holy Grail represents not an object but the blood-line of Christ - a secret protected throughout the ages by a hidden group called the Prieure de Sion.
“The Grail (according to the Queste and other later recensions of the legend) contained the holy blood of Christ; before she gave birth to him, Mary had contained Christ himself within her womb; therefore, QED, the Grail was - and always had been - a symbol for Mary.
“According to this logic, Mary Theotokos, the ‘God Bearer’, was the sacred vessel who had contained the Spirit made flesh. Thus, in the sixteenth-century Litany of Loretto, she was the vas spirtuale (spiritual vessel), the vas honorabile (vessel of honor), and the vas insigne devationis (singular vessel of devotion).”
“The Litany of Loretto had also referred to the Blessed Virgin as arca foederis - which...was Latin for ‘the Ark of the Covenant’....In the twelfth century, the redoubtable Saint Bernard of Clairvaux had also explicitly compared Mary to the Ark of the Covenant - indeed he had done so in a number of his writings.” - Graham Hancock, The Sign and the Seal
This article is a collection of theories concerning the Holy Grail and what it could be. The confusion arises because the word Grail is derived from the word graal which first appeared in turn of the first millenium (A.D.) prose and poetry. There is no confusion over the meaning of the word Graal, which was a dish or platter brought to the table at various stages during a meal. However, the things that the graal or grail has come to represent has changed from story to story throughout the words history.
The first story in which the word appears was written by Chretien de Troyes - “Le Conte del Graal”. Chretiens story was almost certainly based on an earlier one, but it is unknown what his actual source was or his meaning of the word Graal. Chretien did not finish his story and continuations and rewrites of the story are then free to embellish and invent as much as the authors saw fit.
Now the Grail represents many different things to many different people. No one meaning seems to explain all the strange events in the Grail stories.
The reader will not find a definitive answer. Nor will he read all theories as some are obscure and not yet encountered in detail by the author.
It is fair to say that to most people in the western world the Holy Grail is a cup or goblet associated in some way with Jesus Christ. This image was popularised by such writers as Sir Thomas Malory in his “Morte D’Arthur”. It is however not the only object that has been linked to the Grail. Indeed, it has been claimed that the Grail is not a physical object of any type but is a blood line or even a spiritual ideal presented in metaphor. One thing is certain, despite (or perhaps because of) its elusive qualities, the Grail has held and continues to hold a great fascination. The Grail promises mystery, secrecy, adventure and the obtaining of a prize or knowledge available to all but found only by a few
When Indiana Jones III: The Last Crusade opened to packed houses, it was apparent that the legend of the Grail was not dead. The film on the surface perpetuates the Grail in the Cup of Christ image. If we examine the script a little closer some evidence of the Grail as knowledge or a path to God can be seen. Note in particular Professor Jones reply to the question “What did you find ?” ---”Enlightenment” and Professor Brodies line “The search for the Cup of Christ is the search for the Divine in all of us. Nonetheless, the film is a good example of how most people see the Grail as the Cup of Christ.
The Cup was the cup used at the last supper from which wine was drunk as a symbol of Jesus’ blood. It is also the cup which Joseph of Arimathea used to collect the actual blood of Jesus after his crucifixion while preparing the body for burial. The legend then follows many differing stories about Joseph and the Cup. The most well known is that Joseph and his sister and her husband left Jerusalem and sailed to France. Here Joseph left his sister and his brother-in-law and sailed to England where he set up the first Christian church at Glastonbury. Some legends claim that he left the cup in the care of his brother-in-law in France while most stories tell of him bringing the Cup to Glastonbury which to this day is still associated with the Grail legends.
The Arthurian stories now include stories of the Cup of Christ. It was not always so. Something called the Graal was in early Arthurian stories but it wasn’t until later that this was Christianised and became the Cup of Christ. The Graal was a mysterious object which was not described in detail. The earliest story, to mention the Grail in some form, by Chretien de Troyes was left incomplete, enabling many writers since to place their own interpretation on the story.
It ought to be pointed out that these legends are considered by historians to be, at best pseudo-history, and at worst complete romantic fabrications.
The cup has certain powers associated with it. These are :
• Healing and restorative ability.
• Communication with God or knowledge of God.
• Invisibility to evil or unworthy eyes.
• Ability to feed those present.
• Ability to call those to it who were worthy.
Lady Flavia Anderson presented a totally new theory about the Grail in her book ‘The Ancient Secret’. In this book she claims that the Grail is a round ball of glass filled with water. This is held in a tree like stand. These she claims are the Jewish objects the Thummim and the Urim. These objects were made to light fires from the light of the sun.
Her book shows how man has revered light in religion and fire made from direct sunlight, through a crystal or glass ball or the like, has long thought to be holy in some sense. Often perpetual fires were kept alight in Holy places by virgins using such methods. She also demonstrates how many metaphors for light and rays of light (such as the spear and the sword) appear time and again in Arthurian legend. Not only this but the Grail is often depicted as a stone and there is constant reference to a Grail tree. Further it was often women who were in charge of fires created from objects such as these and it is women who are depicted as Grail guardians in Arthurian legend.
Undoubtedly such objects existed and it is likely that the Jews at the time of Solomon used such objects. The theory goes on to state that these objects were buried along with the Ark of the Covenant in a cave system somewhere in Jordan. Interestingly, the final sequences of Indiana Jones III are filmed in the ancient ruined city of Petra in Jordan and not in Egypt as is claimed in the film itself.
The word used for the Grail changed subtley many times. One of these words is sangreal. The word sangreal has been split to mean Holy Grail (San Greal). However, some theories have been put forward which support a different splitting of the word : Sang Real (Royal blood). The reasoning behind this theory is that Jesus Christ had a child (or children) by Mary Magdalene. The lineage of the Royal Blood was thus continued and in some theories exists to the present day. Most notable recently, this Royal Blood theory has been presented in a book called ‘Holy Blood - Holy Grail’.
In this book it is claimed that Christ was married to Mary Magdalene and that Christ did not die on the cross. The authors present much historical evidence to support their claim and try to show how several secret societies have guarded the secret of this blood line down the ages to the present day. They associate historical characters and places with those found in the earliest Medieval Grail texts and demonstrate how the blood line from Christ has been involved in world affairs.
Another notable Grail seeker, Walter Stein, also investigated this theory for some time. His theories were discredited because of his one time association with the Nazis. He was, however not a Nazi himself and indeed was Sir Winston Churchills advisor on Nazi occult activity for a time.
Many notable writers have shown the similarity between the Celtic folklore tales and the stories of King Arthur. There were many cauldrons in Celtic tales and some had very similar properties to the Grail as described in the Arthurian tales.
A famous welsh poem, The Preiddeu Annwn, describes Arthur and his men venturing into the Celtic underworld to steal the Cauldron of Annwn which had pearls and is blown on by nine maidens. It has the ability to restore life to dead warriors. Note that in the Christian tradition, the Cup is always carried or guarded by women and that it has life restoring capabilities.
Another cauldron, the Cauldron of Awen had a potion brewed in it which could bestow all knowledge. A youth, Gwion, was set to stir this by the goddess Ceridwen. He spilled three drops onto his fingers and put them into his mouth. He gained all knowledge. Note too that the Grail in Arthurian legend could bestow knowledge.
Many authors have thus tried to show that the celtic cauldrons are in some sense a forerunner to the modern Grail image. This, together, with the derivation of some Arthurian heros, such as Kay and Bedivere, from celtic ones has been explored in many texts. The author wishes to point out that although the celtic derivations are popular in theory, they by no means explain all events and descriptions within the cycles. Nor, do they explain the sudden interest at the time of Chretien in the Grail. Although the celtic cauldron derivation theory has good grounds it is by no means a complete explanation for the Grail cycles. The author states this in order to warn against the plethora of purely celtic origin based texts.
The story of the angels fighting in heaven gives us yet another theory about the Grail. The story tells how Lucifer (although this name is commonly used to represent the Devil now, at one time it had no such association and meant simply ‘The Light Bringer’) lead one third of the heavenly host in a revolt against God but that he was defeated. As Lucifer was cast down out of heaven, a large emerald fell from his crown. This emerald is said to have been the source of his power. It is interesting to note that the Grail has been depicted as a stone in the early Arthurian legends. It is this stone, fallen to earth, which has been suggested is the Grail.
Alchemy was long thought of as false science. The basis of alchemy was to create a stone which would turn all base metals to gold. It is now often said that alchemy was a code for spiritual teachings that were considered heretical. Due to the Witch Hunts it was necessary to write in code of some form.
The ‘gold’ in alchemy is presented as being ‘enlightenment’ or spiritual oneness with God. The base metal is what each man is before the process of alchemy, and that alchemy is a spiritual path to God. The philosophers stone has thus been associated with the Grail as it has the same property of imbuing oneness with God. It should be stressed that the philosophers stone is not considered to be a real stone of any sort but that the Grail in this case is a metaphor for the final stage of enlightenment.
Sometimes this theory is tied to the Emerald of Lucifer theory in suggesting that a real stone may exist.
In his book ‘The Spear of Destiny’, Trevor Ravenscroft tells the history of the Lance of Longinus, the spear that pierced the side of Christ as he hung on the cross. He traces this spear through history and shows it to have been in the possession of some of the most influencial people in history. His teacher was Walter Stein (see above) and so much of the book concentrates on Hitler and his obsession with this object.
In this book the Grail is presented as the knowledge to use this spear in some supernatural way. No evidence is presented and no cross referencing of any of the other literature available. It is simply stated. Ravenscroft claims that there are two ways to achieve this knowledge. Either through the use of “black arts” or by a much harder route of “learning the abcs of magic”. These particular quotes are from the introduction to Wolfram Von Eschenbachs ‘Parzival’.
Once this knowledge is obtained some power that is present in the spear can be used for good or evil. The use is determined by the method that the user gained the knowledge of the Grail. If he used “black arts” then he must wield the spear for evil, if not then he is free to chose.
One growing source of publications about the Grail is the New Age theory (or Aquarian Grail). This sees the Arthurian legends as somehow allegorical of spiritual paths to God. The belief is that the Grail is not a real object but union with God whilst still on Earth. Thus a grail seeker attempts through study of the legends and personal search, to find the Grail internally. Many books have been written about this, one notable writer being John Matthews. The Aquarian Grail theory says that all religions have a fundamental core of common truth and that this is best represented by the symbol of the Grail.
It is part of the theories of the Grail as a mystical concept or level of achievement spiritually and not a real object at all. It should be remembered that the stories of Arthur which include the Grail (after Chretien de Troyes) were written in a time when many of the hidden ideas that this theory presents would have been considered heretical and dangerous.
At the time the first mix in cultures of the far east and the west was happening through such groups as the Knights Templar. In fact, Wolfram Von Eschenbach in his Grail epic ‘Parzival’ describes a group of knights who are the guardians of the grail. The reader is left in no doubt that he is alluding to the Templars. The trouveres and troubadors (story tellers) of the time would undoubtedly have had contact with stories and legends from eastern religions aswell as western ones for the first time. Similarly to alchemy, it would have been heresy to combine these openly but expression of this union of religions through story would be a natural and acceptable outlet.
Nearly everywhere in the world, but especially in the West there are local legends of Grails. Nearly all these legends take the Christian Cup principle as a basis. This is not surprising as people now associate the Grail with this Cup and thus might claim legends relating to cups to be Grail legends. Here are three Grail legends:
The famous Grail Seeker Trevor Ravenscroft claimed in 1962 that he had finished a twenty year quest in search of the Grail at Roslin chapel. There appears to be a contradiction in that Ravenscroft claims the Grail to be a form of knowledge and also to be a real object (Christs Cup). This is simply explained by the fact that many people now use Grail to refer to the Cup of Christ while he himself may have felt this to not be the case. He would still have called this cup the Grail in order to communicate what he meant. There are quite a few people looking for the Grail who do not know what it actually is. They thus follow up many different theories. Ravenscroft may have believed in more than one theory. His claim was that the Grail was inside the Prentice Pillar (as it is known) in this chapel. The chapel is often visited now by Grail Seekers and many references to the Grail can be found in its stone work and windows. Metal detectors have been used on the pillar and an object of the appropriate size is indeed buried in the middle. Lord Roslin adamantly refuses to have the pillar x-rayed.
It is said that there was a community in Wales who existed to guard a terracota cup which was inside a gold chalice. It was able to heal and was a powerful tool for good in the right hands. In 1880 a group of individuals was set up with the declared intention of studying esoteric things such as the Qabalah and Tarot divination. Their real intention was to find and destroy the Holy Grail. Over the next ten years the Grail was moved and hidden, finally finding a safe place. However, one of the guardians betrayed the others and the Grail was taken. A black mass was said over the Grail to detroy its power and then it was smashed into pieces and the pieces scattered.
Most legends of Grails have many inconsequential details added to them in order to give a false authenticity. Names, dates, places and even historical figures are scattered in the legends. This is not true in this case and makes the legend unique and interesting because of this.
In the Caucasus Mountains in Russia is a small group of people who have stories of a magical cauldron called the Amonga. This chalice has properties in common with the Grail of early Arthurian stories of serving food, giving knowledge and being able to chose those worthy to serve it. The Narts were the heroic race of these Osettes. The stories of them bare a striking resemblance to Arthurian legend.
Joseph of Arimathea, so legend tells us, came to England, to Glastonbury, after the death of Jesus. With him he brought the Cup of Christ. Local legend now says that the Cup is buried somewhere under a hill called The Tor at Glastonbury. The Tor is an ancient site of ritual and religion and is still a place of pilgrimage today, standing high out of the Somerset countryside. A well, which is now a quiet place of sanctuary with surrounding gardens, flows with water from deep under The Tor. The rocks covered by the spring water are reddy in colour, representing the Blood of Christ, and the water itself leaves an aftertaste in the mouth much like blood. The Tor may have a network of underground tunnels, long ago sealed, and the Grail is supposed to be buried in one of these.
Some religions have built up around the Grail considered as a spiritual ideal. The author has encountered two of these in some detail. These religions seem to draw heavily on Christianity as a basis for moral and historical teaching, however they do not hold to the Christian idea of ‘one true path’.
An international charity with bases in Australia, Britain and America amongst others. The followers have books written by a man they hold in very high regard, Abd Ru Shin. He lived in Germany and died in the 1950s. They believe that he was the Grail but the author was unable to exact any reasoning for this claim. They wear a special symbol, half covered by the mens lapels in order to signify that men are less able to reach a spiritually high level than are women. The women wear the symbol openly. They hold public lectures and their books can be bought in most major bookstores.
A small group of people who gather regularly in Edinburgh claim that the stories of Arthur and his knights are about a people who tapped into energies around us all but that only a few find. Each energy has a colour and the colour of the Grail energy is silver. The ‘silver chalice’ as they refer to it is the set of blood vessels in the neck and the base of the skull which feed the brain. The silver energy can be used to increase the usefulness of the brain thus giving people able to tap into this energy almost super-human power. They claim to have documented proof of strange silver deposits on the insides of human skulls but the author was not shown these.
C.G. Jung was fascinated by the Grail and alchemy. Although he did not write on the Grail himself, his wife and one of his close friends did. Jung approaches the Grail legend as a story with many symbols from the unconcious mind used to express the religious attitude of the people at the time. He treats the main characters such as Merlin and Arthur as archetypes of the collective unconcious and the Grail Hallows (that is : spear, sword, cup and stone) as very potent symbols of religion from the collective unconcious. Jung believed that something fundamental was missing from Christianity as a world religion and that the Christianised versions of the Grail stories filled this gap. To him the Grail in the form of the Cup of Christ was a psychological progression in the completion of the development of Christianity. He also shows that alchemy and the Grail legends which developed around the same time had many symbols, colours , and spiritual teachings in common.
Further to this, many events in the Grail cycles have been closely analysed in terms of Jungian psychology. Jung showed that the writers understood or at least unconciously expressed many fundamental elements of his psychology in the events they placed in the stories.
And so on ...
There are many more theories. Some of these are presented in short here :
The vegetation theory was put forward in 1906 by J.L. Weston. She showed similarities between eastern vegetation rituals and stories in Arthurian legend.
Onomastic theories are concerned with showing the derivation of the word Grail in history. Most of these are unsuccessful and very unconvincing.
The Shroud of Turin may have been guarded by the Templars. They are also associated by implication with the Grail through ‘Parzival’. It has been suggested that the Shroud is the Grail.
The tree of life is a Qabbalists way of depicting the spiritual universe. On this tree are ten spheres which have certain values or traits associated with them. A few authors have attempted to place Arthurian places and people onto this tree, most notably, Gareth Knight in his book ‘The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend’.
A few people such as Mary Caine and Katherine Maltwood have used zodiacal theories about the Grail. They place Arthurian characters and places on the Zodiac and have even placed characters from the zodiac and legend on ordinance survey maps of the south of Britain, particularly around Glastonbury.
Jessie Weston showed the Grail Hallows (these are sword, spear, stone and cauldron or cup) to be similar to the suits in Tarot cards. Today a few decks exist such as The Arthurian Tarot and the Merlin Tarot which associate Tarot directly with the Grail legends.
There can be little doubt that the Grail is an elusive idea. It has taken, and will continue to take, many different forms in peoples minds. No one theory as yet has been able to explain all the details in the Grail mystery. Now, when we say “Grail”, we need to clarify what we mean in detail to avoid the question “But which Grail do you mean ?”. It seems that each idea has merits and problems. Perhaps all are true in some sense. There is no reason why the Aquarian Grail and The Urim and Thummim theories are incompatible. The use of the word “Grail” to describe these very different concepts does not invalidate the concepts themselves.
“...Above all (the Grail) is a symbol of symbolism itself. It represents the very potency by which a symbol symbolizes.” - P.L. Wilson : “Angels”
Perhaps though we should ask what Chretien de Troyes meant by the “Graal”. Unfortunately this question appears unanswerable as we only have one document, and that unfinished, to study. It would be foolish to hope that an ending be found. Documents from that time were often destroyed. What of Chretiens source ? Many writers have claimed a source for their stories on the Grail. None have been produced. Again the same fate may have befallen such documents or perhaps the writers of ancient literature knew the value of a mystery source as much as todays journalists.
The legend of the Holy Grail has always held a place of fascination in the minds of medievalists. This legend has a unique quality which has kept it active and alive since the late 12th century. Most who pursue Grail Lore have a creeping curiosity whether there might actually be a Grail. While few dispute the Grail story’s pagan origins, a devotee also realizes that there is no good reason why there can’t be, (its magical powers aside.) Considering the validity of the Shroud of Turin is still debated, the existence of a two thousand year old cup is not that hard to swallow. Therefore, unlike most treatments of the Grail legend, I will examine the possibility of a true Grail; a cup used by Christ at the Last Supper, and possibly used to collect His blood after the crucifixion.
To understand the historical aspect of this legend, a series of relative events must be established. The following is taken from The Grail; quest for the Eternal, by John Matthews.
“The story begins with Joseph of Arimathaea, a wealthy Jew to whose care Christ’s body is given for burial and who, according to some stories, also obtains the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper. While he is washing the body to prepare it for the tomb, some blood flows from the wounds which he catches in this vessel. After the disappearance of the body, Joseph is accused of stealing it, is thrown into prison and deprived of food. Here Christ appears to him in a blaze of light and entrusts the cup to his care. He then instructs Joseph in the mystery of the Mass and, it is said, certain other secrets, before vanishing, Joseph is miraculously kept alive by a dove which enters his cell every day and deposits a wafer in the cup. He is released in A.D. 70 and, joined by his sister and her husband Bron, goes into exile overseas with a small group of followers. A table called the First Table of the Grail is constructed to represent the Table of the Last Supper (a fish is laid in Christ’s place) at which twelve may sit down. A thirteenth seat, representing the place of Judas, remains empty after one of the company tries to sit in it and is swallowed up. (This seat is thereafter referred to as the Siege Perilous.)
According to some versions, Joseph then sails to Britain, where he sets up the first Christian church at Glastonbury, dedicating it to the Mother of Christ. Here the Grail is housed, and serves as a chalice at the celebration of the Mass in which the whole company participate, and which becomes known as the Mass of the Grail.
In other versions Joseph goes no further than Europe, and the guardianship of the cup passes to Bron, who becomes known as the Rich Fisher after he miraculously feeds the company from it with a single fish, echoing Christ’s feeding of the five thousand. The company settles at a place called Avaron (perhaps the same as Avalon, the Celtic name for the Otherworld, also identified with Glastonbury) to await the coming of the third Grail Keeper, Alain.
A temple is built on Muntsalvach, the Mountain of Salvation, to house the vessel, and an Order of Grail Knights comes into being. They sit at a Second Table, and partake of a sacred feast provided by the Grail; a form of Mass also takes place at which the Grail Keeper, now called King, serves as priest. Shortly after, he receives a mysterious wound, variously said to be in the thighs or the genitals, caused by a spear and attributed to one of several different causes among which are the loss of faith, the love of a woman against a vow of chastity, or an accidental blow struck by a stranger in self-defense. Hereafter the guardian is known as the Maimed or Wounded King, and the country around the Grail castle becomes barren and is called the Waste Land - a state explicitly connected with the Grail King’s wound. The spear with which he is struck becomes identified with the Lance of Longinus, the Roman soldier who in Biblical tradition pierced the side of Christ on the cross. This spear, the Grail, a sword and a dish-shaped platter (which in more primitive versions of the story may have borne a human head, and which later becomes confused with the Grail itself) constitute the objects, called Hallows, to be found in the Grail castle.
By this time we have reached the age of Arthur, and the scene is set for the beginning of the quest. The Round Table is established by Merlin the enchanter as the Third Table (from which the Grail itself is, however, absent) and a fellowship of knights led by Arthur meet around it, bound by the rules of chivalry. At Pentecost the Grail makes an appearance, floating veiled in a beam of sunlight, and the knights pledge themselves to go in search of it. There follow a series of initiatory adventures involving most of the fellowship, especially Lancelot, Gawaine and Bors. Two others - Perceval (Parzival or Parsifal), nicknamed the Perfect Fool in token of his innocence, and Lancelot’s son Galahad, who is from the beginning singled out for special significance by being permitted to sit unscathed in the Siege Perilous - are given particular emphasis, their adventures forming the greater part of the narrative from this point.
Of the many who set out from the Arthurian court at Camelot, few catch more than a glimpse of the elusive Grail. A series of tests are set for each knight, and their nature explained by a succession of hermit figures who are always at hand in the deep wood where the questers often find themselves. Lancelot comes agonizingly close to the holy vessel, but is turned away, temporarily blinded, because of his adulterous love for Arthur’s queen. Gawaine reaches the Grail castle, but fails as it is his nature to fail, being too much in the world and without the simplicity or the spiritual qualities required of the true quester.
Only three succeed in finding the Grail and participating, to varying degrees, in its mystery. They are Galahad, the stainless, virgin knight, Perceval, the holy fool, and Bors, the humble, ‘ordinary’ man, who is the only one of the three to return to Camelot with news of the quest. Perceval, after first failing and wandering for five years in the wilderness, finds his way again to the castle of the Wounded King (who is sometimes his uncle, as well as the Fisher King, the guardian of the way to the Waste Land) and by asking a ritual question - usually, ‘Whom does the Grail serve?’ - brings about his healing. (The answer, never explicitly stated, is the King himself, who is kept alive, though in torment from his wound, beyond his normal life-span.) Once healed, the King is permitted to die, and the waters of the Waste Land flow again, making it flower, Galahad, Perceval and Bors continue their journey, eventually reaching Sarras (perhaps a corruption of Muntsalvach) the Heavenly City in the east, where the final mysteries of the Grail are celebrated and where the three knights take part in a Mass in which the vessel is again used as the chalice; Christ appears first as celebrant and then as a radiant child and finally, in the Host, as a crucified man. After this, Galahad dies in an odour of sanctity and the Grail is taken up into heaven: Perceval goes back to the Fisher King’s castle to rule in his place, leaving Bors to return alone to Camelot.”
This time line traces the Grail’s existence from its origin to its disappearance from the classic body of Grail literature. Now we must turn to the hints and legends found in the history of the Crusades. You will recall from the above quotation that the Grail ended up in a land called “Sarras.” This is thought to be located on the border of Egypt. Assuming this land “Sarras” came from the same origin as the people “Saracens,” this would place the Grail in the area near Israel, modern day Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. Here enters another important place in the Grail story. Albrecht von Scharffenberg, the 13th c. poet, wrote Der jungere Titurel, in which he describes a “Turning Castle” where the Grail is housed. This castle bears a striking resemblance to a building in Persia called the Takt-I-Taqdis, or Throne of Arches, built in the 7th c. ad., which was found to have turned on large, wooden rollers. While most agree Albrecht based his castle on the Takt, this location in Persia also has with it a legend that another Christian artifact, the True Cross, was once there. King Chosroes II, builder of the Takt, pillaged Jerusalem in 614 ad, reputedly taking the Cross to the Takt, which was said to also contain the Grail.
Here, it is to be noted that in 629 ad., the Byzantine emperor Heraclius marched on and destroyed the Takt, returning with the Cross. It is therefore possible that, if the Grail was there, it was also taken. Now, if we turn to another alleged relic, the Shroud of Turin, we discover another interesting lead in the Grail story. The Shroud of Turin was said to have been kept in the city of Edessa, curing King Abgar of leprosy in the 4th c. ad., until August 15, 944 ad. At that time, the Byzantine emperor sent his army to Edessa to claim it. The story of the Shroud states that the Knights Templar took it from Constantinople in 1204. Now, if we assume the leadership of Byzantium had not misplaced all these Holy Relics, we find in one place the True Cross, the Shroud of Turin, (or Mandilion,) and possibly the Holy Grail. It is therefore possible that the Grail could have been taken at some point during the Crusades. If not, and we assume these other stories are true, where was the Grail at the time of the Crusades, and who removed it?
Here we are left with three possibilities. First, the Grail was taken from Constantinople before the Crusades. This is hardly likely since if the emperor sought out these relics, he would probably not part with them willingly, and certainly not without historical documentation for his legacy. Second, the Templars, Cathars, etc. claimed the Grail and returned with it to France. This also is not likely. As we can see with the story of the Shroud, such things kept near a great number of inquisitive people are difficult to keep secret. Also, the Grail, seen as somewhat heretical, would not have been welcomed back among the Catholic church leaders considering there were all sorts of “Marian” sects, (groups worshiping the virgin Mary, instead of Christ,) springing up. Thirdly, and most likely, the Templars or other crusaders who discovered the Grail took it to religious zealots in the East for safe keeping, choosing to spread the relics out for safety rather than hazard them all by public scrutiny. This may sound familiar to anyone who has read The Sign and The Seal. Many Templar/Cathar temples can be found throughout the middle eastern world.
So now we are left back where we began. Is the Grail reality or fiction. No one truly knows. Most say no. However, realizing that nothing really disproves its existence, (and, if you are a Christian, you don’t discount the entirety of God or Christ,) it is equally likely that there is a cup, out there somewhere, which could have been used by Christ; a real life Holy Grail. That is the true quest. The possibility of the Grail, and the interest in it which makes some search it out, whether in literature or in history, makes it real. You, in reading this, and possibly in searching out other sources of information, are the questers, looking for a sacred thing, asking, “What is the Grail?” and in asking the question, achieving the Grail.
AN AMERICAN Bible scholar yesterday concluded that the Holy Grail was probably a simple clay cup rather than the much more elaborate traditional creations of artistic imagination.
The findings of Stephen Pfann, head of the respected Centre for the Study of Early Christianity, about the wine cup that Christians believe was used by Jesus at the Last Supper and invested with miraculous powers, echo a scene in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The hero stands before rows of goblets and, in a life-or-death moment, has to decide which one is the Holy Grail. Ignoring richly adorned chalices, he lifts a plain vessel and says: “That is the cup of a carpenter.”
Mr Pfann’s theory about the nature of the vessel arises from his study of the pottery of the Essenes, a Jewish sect who lived in isolation in cliffs above the Dead Sea. Mr Pfann said he had found similarities between the Essenes’ ritual meals and the Last Supper, and concluded that the common wine cup used by the Essenes was probably similar to the sacred vessel of Jesus.
The Essenes’ communal cup, made of wafer-thin clay and just a little taller than an ordinary coffee cup, is “the only parallel we have for a communal cup contemporary with the time of the Last Supper”, he said.
His theory has drawn mixed responses from rival experts in the Holy Land. Joe Zias, a former curator of the Israel Antiquities Authority, argued that the Last Supper was a Jewish Passover seder at which the finest tableware would have been used. “A clay cup is such a pedestrian piece of pottery that you definitely would not use it for any type of ceremonial function,” he said.
However, support for the theory came from Jerome Murphy-O’Connor of Jerusalem’s Ecole Biblique, the archaeological institute that excavated Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls -written by the Essenes -were found by a Bedu shepherd boy. While wealthy Jews might have used more ornate tableware, perhaps made of glass or metal, Father Murphy-O’Connor said Jesus and His followers were poor, and in nine out of ten cases, pottery would have been used by the poor.
The Holy Grail has always fascinated Christians. According to legend, it was taken to England by Joseph of Arimathea, a follower of Jesus, in AD63. In stories about King Arthur and his knights, the search for the lost grail became a haunting central theme. The crusaders were among many Christians down the ages who dreamed of finding the real Holy Grail. Despite the wealth of stories, little was said about what the Holy Grail looked like.
While working on an English translation and classification of the Qumran pottery, Mr Pfann studied the excavation notes of Roland de Vaux, the French archaeologist, and concluded that each sect member had a bowl, while three or four shared a plate and nine or ten shared a wine cup. Mr Pfann claimed that wine cups were easily distinguishable because of their thin rims. His interpretation matches accounts by Josephus, the Jewish historian, indicating that the Essenes’ meals were the focus of their sacred rituals.
In the musty pottery room of the Ecole Biblique in east Jerusalem, two reddish-brown clay cups stand on a shelf in a corner. “If we were to search for an image of the Holy Grail, this simple cup is probably as close as we will get,” Mr Pfann said.