The Quest for the Holy Grail
Throughout Norman and Christian Arthurian legend, “The Quest for the Holy Grail,” or “The Grail,” is presented as a search for a magical cup that brings enlightenment. It is only by finding this sacred vessel that the blighted land of those searching for it can be restored and the “golden ages of past” renewed.
The legend of the Holy Grail is one of the most enduring in Western European literature and art. Perhaps because the Grail represents the universal, eternal saga of the human race’s struggle to achieve its full the creative potential put forth in very real though esoteric terms; the power to recreate the Golden Age.
The origin of the “Legend of The Holy Grail” is believed to lie with the ancient Britons, probably those of Welsh or Celtic heritage as it is known in Goidelic and Brythonic myths, both of which have mystical traditions at their cores. The term “Grail” itself is believed to originate from the Latin “gradale” meaning a dish used during a meal. Chrétien de Troyes is known to have referred to such an object -- whereas Wolfram von Eschenbach refers to a Grail made of stone -- which protected the beholder from death during the ensuing week and provided sustenance. In the poem “The Spoils of Annwn,” credited to the Welsh bard Taliesin of the sixth-century, is a description of a sacred vessel that is sought in the “Annwn,” the Underworld, by a group of learned mystics. This vessel’s symbolism is believed to be analogous to that of the Grail. The mystics were believed to have entered Annwn in order to find the “Cauldron of Pwyll” reputed to be a vessel that, “by the breath of nine damsels it is gently warmed.” The Cauldron possessed many magical powers including speech, its appearance being noted as, “with a ridge round its edge of pearls.” The three properties of the cauldron are: inexhaustibility, inspiration and regeneration. Pwyll, the father of “Pryderi,” was “Lord of Annwn” and lame. He has often been equated with the Ruler of Hades or Satan, and later still to the Fisher King in Norman Grail legends. Pwyll was believed to have kept the Cauldron at the “Four-cornered Castle” in the “Isle of the Active Door.”
The Grail was said to be the cup used by Jesus and his Apostles at the Last Supper and received blood flowing from Christ's side at his Crucifixion. In fact, one of the meanings of the word “Saint Graal” is Blood Royal. This would naturally refer to the blood of Christ, but also on a universal level it would refer to the “alchemical marriage”. It was believed that the Graal possessed the ability to heal the sick or mortally wounded. It was also attributed with the power to ensure that all who are worthy to approach it remain youthful and to eternally provide sumptuous food of any type for all except for those are not yet worthy to eat from it or approach it.
Legend has it that it was brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea, the pious Jew who had received permission from Pontius Pilate to take the body of the Christ to his own tomb for burial, after a short stay in southern France with the rest of his family. It is well known that Mary of Magdelene taught in the region. The cup that held Jesus’ blood was in Joseph’s possession until he died then was handed down through succeeding generations of his family. According to legend, one of Joseph's descendants became the Fisher King and another became a hermit. Exactly at what point in time the Knights Templar acquired possession of the Holy Grail and its final resting-place can only be speculated on, as there are various paths the Grail could have taken. Some believe it’s in the Chalice Well in Glastonbury, placed there by Joseph of Arimathea before his death. Others claim it was taken to Nova Scotia in 1398. Glastonbury would, in fact, be an ideal hiding place. It was miraculously preserved for the wars that plagued the rest of the Celtic lands and was known to be a sacred druid spot. Glastonbury is in fact situated on two ley lines of two distinctly different energies. One ley line is considered masculine energy and is called “Michael”, the other is distinctly feminine in nature, and is called “Mary”. The ancient Celts believed that the Faerie King, Nudd, lived beneath the Tor. The Tor itself is a masculine symbol of the Sun and sits in the center of five manmade hills forming a pentagon. Between the Tor and the town lies Chalice Hill at the base of which is the “holy well”, sacred since before the druids. The Well, of course, is the feminine counterpart to the Phallic Tor. It is at Glastonbury where the legends of King Arthur and the twelve Knights of the Round Table originate.
Prior to his journey to Glastonbury, Joseph remained in the mysterious region of Languedoc in the valley of Rennes-le-Chateau in southern France. This region was populated with Catharists and Templars and was a focal point of persecution by the Roman Church. It is believed that a local priest there, Berenger, Sauniere, appointed in 1885, found a priceless treasure of great symbolic value. Sauniere procceeded to purchase land all around the church in the name of his housekeeper and build interestingly named structures such as Magdelene Tower and Villa Bethania. When Sauniere died in 1917, the priest who received his last confession was so stunned than he fell ill for months. It is indicated that the secrets he confessed had to do with the true history of the Holy Family contained in the coded parchments he found.
It is likely that “The Chalice” was the same sacred vessel as “The Holy Grail” brought to the West by “Bran the Blessed,” also known as “Bron” or “Brons.” The figure of Bron does feature in pre-Christian Welsh literature, but it appears that he and his exploits were interwoven with traditions of early Christianity. Many of the aspects and adventures attributed to Bron were also credited to Joseph of Arimathea. Bron is described as having come to the West from Palestine, “floating on a shirt belonging to Joseph's son”. In later variations of the legend of Bron, who evolved into Bran the Blessed, said that Bran “came to Ireland.” In this account, instead of a sacred cup we have the head of Bran, also referred to as “the mystical head.” After Bran the Blessed’s funeral, there was said to have been eight years of happiness with no shortage of food and drink for all that had known him, especially for his pallbearers. During the mid to late twelfth century the original pagan foundation for the Grail myth underwent an interesting transformation and became specifically Christian in the Gnostic tradition.
The search for this mystical vessel became the principal quest of the knights of King Arthur. It was believed, the Grail was kept in a mysterious castle surrounded by a wasteland and guarded by a custodian called the “Fisher King,” who suffered from a wound that would not heal. His recovery and the renewal of the ruined lands of his kingdom depended upon the successful completion of the quest. Equally, the questing knight was assured the self-realization by his finding the Grail. The magical properties attributed to the Holy Grail have been plausibly traced to the magic vessels of Celtic myth that satisfied the tastes and needs of all whom ate and drank from them. 
The Holy Grail first appears in a written text in Chrétien de Troyes's Old French verse romance, the Le Conte du Graal, or Le Roman de Perceval, circa 1180. During the next 50 years, several works were produced on this theme in verse and in prose although the story and the principal character vary from one work to another. In France this process culminated in a cycle of five prose romances telling the history of the Grail from the Crucifixion to the death of Arthur. Following Chretien’s version of the Grail Robert de Boron wrote Roman de l’Estoire dou Saint Graal circa 1190. Boron is often credited with making the Grail a specifically Christian symbol. Boron admits that his work was based from on earlier works, one much older than Chretien. He alludes to a “great book” and secrets imparted to him thereby. It is Boron who gave the first historical account of the Grail and furnished the story that the Grail was the cup of the Last Supper brought to Europe by Joseph of Arimathea.
About the same time Robert de Boron wrote his Grail romance, an anonymous author wrote another version entitled Perlesvaus. The fact that the author chose to remain anonymous is itself rather strange because at that period in history such a thing was not done. Poets were highly esteemed and handsomely paid in that day, so his remaining anonymous indicates that he had extenuating circumstances such as membership in a secret order. According to at least one modern expert the author of Perlesvaus may have been a Templar. They are definitely referred to in the images of the myth. For example the Castle houses a group of initiates who know of the Grail. Perceval is met there by two masters who clap their hands and thirty-three other men appear clad in white tunics emblazoned with a red cross. In this version of the Grail are several allusions to both pagan and/or heretical doctrines including ritual sacrifice of the king, roasting and devouring children (a crime which the Templars were often accused), and desecration of the cross (also a crime of which the Templars were accused). The rejection of the cross is common to Gnostic and Catharic sects because they did not believe that Christ was crucified. The Grail in Perlesvaus becomes symbolic of a great secret, which in some way is related to Jesus. When Gawain finally sees the Grail he experiences a series of visions until finally a chalice manifests. This suggests that the Grail is several different things simultaneously.
Wolfram von Eschenbach gave the story more precise form in his epic poem Parzival. He claimed that his version was the only accurate one and that it was in truth an “initiation document”. Wolfram emphasizes the guardians of the Grail were Templars and that the Grail was a means of concealing something of immense importance. His poem is full of alchemical and qabalistic symbolism and the suggestion that the Grail is in fact the experience of “Gnosis”. German composer Richard Wagner based his opera Parsifal on Wolfram's version. In his Le mortem d'Arthur, English writer Sir Thomas Mallory depicts Percival as a knight who, with fellow knights Galahad and Bors, finds the Grail.
Perceval has a central role in the tale of the Holy Grail. As a young man, he leaves home to travel to King Arthur’s Court. Before he reaches his destination, he stops at the castle of the Fisher King who, because of his sinful ways, was struck dumb when he came into the sacred chalice’s presence. During his stay at the castle, Perceval witnesses a procession of the bleeding spear of Christ and the Holy Grail passing before the mute king. Perceval doesn’t question this strange scene but later learns that if he, a pure and guileless soul, had spoken, the king would have been healed. After many wanderings, Perceval returns to the castle and, in one version, welds together a broken sword. In another he restores the king’s power of speech and succeeds him on the throne.
An interesting twist to the Grail legend is the less well known legend of Judas Grail or “Lapis Judaicus,” supposedly one of the main components of the Philosopher's Stone, and so was heavily sought during the Middle Ages. The Judas Grail is said to have formed from one of the stones in Lucifer's Crown that was dislodged and fell to earth when the Prince of Light was cast out of Heaven and into the darkness of Hell, thus its name, “The Stone of the Traitor” (it has nothing to do with Judas Iscariot or the Last Supper). It was said that when a substance was placed in the plain gray cup, it would be endowed with the breath of life. “The Judas Grail was a cup of transformation; one bit of substance added to the proper mixture would become the lost catalyst to transform one substance into another, leading to a deeper understanding of the universe. In fact, the Judas Grail is the opposite of the Holy Grail or “Lapis Exillis,” which was claimed to be held first by the Templars, later the Freemasons, and finally buried in a church in Scotland.” In von Eschenbach’s Parzifal, a hermit describes the Grail castle to the main character mentioning that the Grail is guarded by the Templars: "I will tell you how they are nourished. They live from a Stone whose essence is most pure. If you have never heard of it I shall name it for you here. It is called `Lapis Exillis'." Whomever drank from the Lapis Exillis would be returned to robust health and “have their color restored and not die for a week” (de Troyes). It was also considered a particular facet of the Philosopher's Stone, in some texts, appearing with a lance, sword, or disk. In various alchemical texts, the Lapis Exillis is not a cup but a stone that could be used in a process to create potions that would affect life. Lapis Judaicus then may be seen as the Adversary that plays the role of initiator (the sting of the scorpion or bite of the serpent) that brings the initiate through death to new life. Before one can come to the Holy Grail, one must face the Adversary and unite the forces within him or herself. We must be transformed through the process of initiation i.e. the Judas Grail in order to drink from the Holy Grail.
The Grail, whatever form it takes, is the symbol of enlightenment. It is the “key” to heaven. Henrietta Bernstein in her book Ark of the Covenant, Holy Grail, purports that the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail are one and the same. She then traces the path of the Ark from Noah all the way to Francis Bacon who brought the Grail to Virginia. Moses, of course, received the Emerald Tablet from Noah. Moses, as I have mentioned previously, was an Egyptian initiate and taught the secret doctrines he learned there to the Hebrew people. After Moses died, King David came into its possession, and he, in turn passed it on to his son Solomon. It remained safe from war and disaster, which plagued Israel, in Solomon’s Temple for 300 years. Solomon, foreseeing the fall of Jerusalem, passed the Ark on to his son by Queen Sheba, Menelik who was the King of Ethiopia. It remained safe in Ethiopa for hundreds of years until falls into the hands of Alexander the Great who conquered Ethiopia. Alexander then founded the city of Alexandria in 332 BC, but eventually gives up the Ark, returning it to Jerusalem, perhaps because he perceives his inadequacy to use its power.  When the Romans captured Jerusalem they did not know what the Ark of the Covenant or Holy Graal really was, so it remained protected until Joseph of Arimethea safely smuggled it out of Jerusalem to France. It has been suggested that the legend of Joseph taking the Graal to France (and then England) really refers to the Royal Bloodline of Jesus. This is very likely true, but the Graal itself while referring to one thing in the physical world, refers to quite another in the spiritual world. The Gnostic point of view would be that the Blood of the Royal Family is symbolic of the Blood of Life, the spiritual gift of the Divine hidden within Man.
The Quest for the Grail is as much a personal Quest as a Universal one and vice versa. The goal of every mystic and magician is or should be to attain enlightenment in other that he or she can help others do the same. Only then may Earth be restored and become Heaven. This is the Great Work of the Alchemists and of many other societies including the Masons, Rosicrucians, the Golden Dawn, and the OTO.
The Formula of the Holy Graal
(Aleister Crowley, Magick, Book 4)
The formula of the Holy Graal is signified by the hieroglyph of the seventh key of the Tarot, which is the Charioteer of Babalon, who bears her cup. This cup is said to be full of the blood of the saints meaning that all who seek magickal power must sacrifice their own blood to the very last drop. This formula is actually a sacrifice of virginity in the sense that it is the accomplishment of the “sacred marriage”. Thus the man sacrifices his seed into the “cup” or “woman’s vagina” thereby transferring his life to his descendents. The woman then must carry this new life to give it form. Thus we have the enactment of the first triad of the Qabalah. The first gives impetus to the dynamic who emanates to the third (he sacrifices his seed) and through the “graal” birth is given to a new form. To attain the sacred union the magician must give his whole life over to the Lady Babalon and through this he attains knowledge and new life. Through self-sacrifice the soul blooms.
In Wagner’s play “Parsifal” we witness this formula in dramatic form. Parsifal, a naïve virgin youth, reaches the region of the Graal where he kills a white swan with his “arrow”. The white swan is in Germanic esoteric tradition a symbol of ecstasy and permanent spiritual delight. The swan who had been flying over the water (the symbol of the female principle) to meet his mate, is shot by Parsifal’s arrow, the swan’s white breast, now covered in crimson blood. Thus we have the naïve youth with his unnatural (sexual) act (arrow) of commanding “holy ecstasy” wounding the territory of the Graal. Thus Parsifal is now obliged to make amends. To this end Gurnemanz leads Parsifal to the Graal hoping that Parsifal is truly pure and the one destined to be the savior foreseen by the wounded King, Amfortas. Upon arriving at the Graal Castle Gurnemanz says, “Now let me lead you to the devout meal, then if you are pure, you will now eat and drink the Graal.” Parsifal, however, does not do this presumably because he is still not quite pure and is still just a foolish boy.
Gurnemanz then tells Parsifal, “You are still only just a fool. In the future leave the swans in peace here, but seek thou a gander for the goose!” What he means is in the future don’t seek ecstasy inciting unnatural acts, but seek a woman of your own kind and pursue natural sex acts with her. The sexual act even to the basest of mankind is the “agent which dissipates the fog of self for one ecstatic moment.” The wounds of Amfortas do not symbolize divine punishment for the practice of sex, which is a common misconception. The wound is punishment for having sex in a vain manner with a woman of pleasure outside the bond of the Graal-rite. Thus sex without love despoils the sacred act of union. Every act must be taken as a sacrament. Pasifal thus attempted to steal fire from heaven in his naivete. Amfortas, having sinned against the Graal, was deeply wounded and tormented. His suffering is caused by his feeling of unworthiness to carry out the sacred duties entrusted to him.
The plot of Wagner’s play revolves around the winning back of the “sacred lance”. It is obvious to everyone, I’m sure, that the “sacred lance” in a symbol of the Phallus. Thus Parsifal begins his pilgrimage “with lance in hand”. This symbolized the act of renouncing something that one sees as pleasurable of his own free will in order to obtain something higher. His journey is thus analogous to Jesus’s 40 days and nights of fasting in the desert. This is the test all candidates must undergo in order to be admitted into the higher mysteries. Parsifal finally arrives in Graal territory “in sombre black armament” with “sunken lance”. Kundry also passes through the 40 days and upon Parsifal’s arrival in Graal territory she is shown as “almost starved” in “brown penitential robe” under a shrub found at the border of Graal territory. Upon Parsifal’s arrival he “sets his lance up”, lays the: black shield” in front and prays, his gaze unmoved, his eyes locked in ecstasy on the “lance point”. Kundry’s only words are “to serve, to serve”.
The woman is to serve the virile world –goal of preserving the world by receiving the seed of the “primal lance” and by means of the “primal spindle” (uterus) spins out the “life colors of the primal lance”, thus preserving the fabric of the world. Kundry then sinks down and dies before the Graal altar symbolizing her “dying to herself”, i.e., submitting her soul to the will of the Graal. She then serves the Graal-King for the rest of her time.
It is the customary practice of the Jewish people to hang their meat for bloodletting before consumption in accordance with Jehovah’s injunction to Noah, “Flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, ye shall not eat” (Gen 9:4). Why should Jehovah forbid the ingestion of blood? And why did the later Christians readapt the practice symbolically with the Eucharist in which the blood of Christ is drunk from the sacred chalice? The ingestion of certain mysterious substances in a practice of extreme antiquity, and the adoption of the Eucharist from pagan rites is obviously a throwback. The chalice, traditionally, is a symbol of the female womb. It is probable that the blood within the chalice was an extract from the divine menstrual blood as was the practice in ancient times. Menstrual blood contains the most beneficial endocrine secretions of the pineal and pituitary glands. The brain's pineal gland in associated with the Tree of Life as is said to secrete “the nectar of supreme excellence”; the same substance that confers longevity called soma among the Greeks. Liber AL tells us “The best blood is of the moon monthly”. In his secret celebration of the Mass, the Gnostic father, Marcus taught that the wine symbolized the blood of the Mother. As the wine is offered he prayed, “Grace may flow” into all to drank of it.
In the 4th century BC Herophilus described the pineal gland as the organ that controlled the flow of thought. The pineal gland, until recently, has been referred to as the mystery gland, since its functions were largely unknown. The pineal is now recognized as a key element in the maintenance of the body's endocrine regulation (hormone balance), immune system integrity, and daily metabolic cycles. The pineal galnd produces melatonin, which is activated by serotonin. Pine resin was associated with the pineal gland in ancient times, and it is from pine-resin that frankincense is made. Thus we have the gift of frankincense and gold, which is associated with kingship. Myrrh, the third gift of the magi is a gum resin with sedative properties and is symbolic of death. Yogis associate the pineal gland with the Anja Chakra, which is the sender and receiver of subtle vibrations. It is also called the “Eye of Wisdom”. The activities of the pineal gland are directly related to those of the pituitary gland, which stimulates the frontal lobe of the intellect. After Jehovah forbade the practice of drinking blood, life spans went down considerably. No such injunction however was placed on the sons of Jehovah-Enlil’s brother, Enkil.
The Star Fire was the lunar essence of the Goddess. In Egypt and Mediterranea menstruum was ritually collected from the sacred priestesses, called Scarlet Women. The very word ritual stems from this custom and comes from the Sanskrit word rit and means “red gold” (sometimes called “black gold”). In alchemy the color red is associated with gold and in the Indian tantras red (or black) is associated with the goddess Kali. The word secret has its origin in the hidden knowledge of the secretions.
In Tantra the sacred priestesses are trained so that they produce a 15th and 16th secretion (there are normally 14). According to the Lalitasahasranama “the moon shows fifteen phases in its waxing and waning. He sixteenth part, when Time stands still is when and where Divinity incarnates”. These secretions are called kalas and mean medicines. Time is the 15th and is the goddess Kali and the 16th is the kala that transcends time.  The loss of the knowledge of the Star Fire tradition occurred with the suppression of Gnosticism and other Mystery Schools by the orthodoxy. It was superficially adapted in Rome in the guise of the six Vestal Virgins, but the true purpose was lost. Kundalini, the vehicle of light, is awakened by will, and blood is the vehicle of the spirit. The “nectar of Supreme excellence” later became the Graal.
By the time of Abraham, Star Fire was scarce and a substitute had to be found. In discussing the Ark of the Covenant and the Graal, it is necessary to mention the mysterious substance called manna. Exodus 16:15 states that “When the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, It is manna, for they wist not what it was, And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat”. Still the people asked, “What is it?” The passage goes on to describe a sweet white substance resembling seed. The manna which normally fell from heaven was actually a resinous secretion of the tamaris plant; it’s falling from the sky was a common phenomenon in that region. It was this white manna, the manna of gold that was used in the making of shewbread. Shewbread is referred to in Exodus as well in reference to the building of the Ark of the Covenant. It is also referred to in Hebrews 9:1-2, which states that at the first Covenant there were, within the confines of the tabernacle, a candlestick and a table with shewbread.  Exodus 32:20 describes the act of Moses when he found the people worshipping the “golden calf”. He threw it down ‘and burnt it in fire, and ground it to a powder, and strewed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it’. The manna of gold was the food of priests. According to the Egyptian Book of the Dead, white powder extracted from gold was fed to the pharaohs from at least 3000 BC.  This white powder from gold was used to make shewbread so important in the rituals of Judaism. Rev 2:17 states, “To him that overcometh I will give to eat the hidden manna and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it.”
We see this same theme presented in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzifal, which reads:
The concept of a stone refers to the alchemical tradition of the Philosopher’s Stone, which is said to transmute base metals into gold, both in the metallurgical sense and in the spiritual sense. Lapis exilis is the marriage of two elements. Lapis ex caelis, ‘stone from the heavens, (the emerald gem of Venus) – and lapis elixir or lapis philosophorum, the Philosopher’s Stone. Thus we have the conjoining of love and wisdom (Chokmah and Binah). This union results in the Shem-an-na of the ‘highward fire-stone’, the shew-manna of the Star Fire substitute.
The image of a stone leads the mind back to the legendary Emerald Tablet discussed earlier. The sacred tablet which possessed all the secrets of the universe, including the alchemical arts. The cup is the repository for the manna, which falls from heaven. To drink from the Grail is to drink the Star Fire or the Manna of gold, and thus be filled with the power of the Spirit.
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