>Sword in The Stone

For a noble beginning A romance can begin worthily With the most enjoyable tale there is:

That is, the Grail, whose secret No one should ever reveal or recount;

For the story might reveal so much Before it's recited to the end That someone could suffer for it Who had not violated the secret;

The wise thing, then, is to leave it And simply pass it by;

-- The Elucidation


illustration: Matthew Lopz

The Holy Grail

The Grail to the best of our knowledge first appeared in Percival Ou Le Conte Graal by Chrétien de Troyes, in around 1190.

Percival is raised by his mother in the forests of Wales, away from anything relating to knights or combat because his father and all his brothers had been knights who were slain.

But by chance he meets some knights of King Arthur and resolves to join them.

During his consequent search for Arthur's court he is advised not to talk too much, so when he is dining at the court of the permanently wounded Fisher King he does not comment on the strange procession passing in front those assembled before the commencement of every course, this procession carrying a bleeding spear, a graal (meaning either a cup or bowl) and a silver platter.

The next day after he parts from the Fisher King he is reprimanded for abandoning his mother and not enquiring about the graal by a maiden greiving over the corpse of a headless knight, for if he had enquired the Fisher King would have been healed and a great disater averted.

Percival is reprimanded for the same reason again at the court of King Arthur by a hideous woman, later he is told that the graal contained communion bread that sustained the life of the father of the Fisher King.

The work was never finished and the full story of the graal remained a mystery and despite the completions added on by later authors which never enjoyed the same influence, still does.

The concept of the Grail is thought to be derived from Celtic stories involving magical vessels such as cauldrons or drinking horns, the story of the court of the Fisher king may have been influenced by the legendary king Brân the Blessed, the key elements may also be derivative of Historia regum Britanniae a largely fictional history of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, for instance the name 'Percival' may be a gallicisation of the name Peredur(us) a legendary British king and the Fisher king may have been based on Peredurus's older brother Elidure, who feigned sickness while hiding another brother, Arthgallo in his court.

In the proceeding nine centuries, to various people it has become along with many other things, the bowl from which Jesus dines, the Philosophers Stone, the vessel holding the head of Percival/Peredur's uncle, the bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the path of righteousness itself, the need for repentance and a basin belonging to King Edwin of Northumbria.

However much more famously it is the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper and may have been used to catch some of his blood while he hung dying on the cross.

It is by far the most romantic, popular and esoteric aspect of Arthurian legend, the locations of the grail are diverse and innumerable so are it's guardians, powers and possessors.

The beauty of the story is not the location or the nature of the grail, but the fact that it is mysterious, hidden and must be ceaselessly and bravely sought, the journey is more important than the destination.

This cuts very deeply into the human psyche.

The need to wander is innate to humans, our bodies and instincts are that of a nomadic hunter-gatherer, moving from hunting ground to hunting ground, facing savage beasts and hostile tribes.

It is also in our nature to seek and to be curious, our survival rests on our ability to find and invent new tools and weapons, new methods of hunting and farming, new types of crop, breeds of livestock, methods of building, etc... always we are driven to find something new, the indefinable essence and unattainable nature of the grail plays heavily upon this.

However if the grail should be found it is widely said to empart eternal life, it is always something deeply fundamental and powerful, it is usually holy, it is hidden from us and can only be found by the truely righteous, in these ways in is analogous to the Tree Of Life; finding it is the same as passing by the guarding cherubim and flaming sword to the east of Eden and eating the fruit forbidden to Adam... something only those tested and not found wanting are allowed to do.

The tree of life is a leitmotif in the world's myths and religions; imparting life, but also supporting life with the world held up in it's branches, connecting everything together in a way that stories of the Grail seem to do...


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