Quest for the Holy Grail
Quest for the Holy Grail
by Jack Courtis
Twelve are the knights who sit at the Table Round, 12 are the signs of the Zodiac, 12 are Christ's disciples and there are 12 Single letters and associated paths on the Tree of Life. The principle of the operation of the 12 letters is on/off. This compares with the positive/negative of the 7 Double letters and the simultaneous two way flow of the 3 Mothers. Note the duality in 3 different forms. This duality points to the reconciliation of opposites as the fundamental technique of the Quest. Hence for every knight, there is a lady. For Nasciens there is Kundry, for Uther there is Igraine.
The most famous pair is Launcelot and Guinevere. It is they who by their illicit love destroy the Round Table fellowship. The Grail demands more than love. It requires wisdom, knowledge and understanding, the fruits of the Tree of Life.
Let us now ride on and seek the 12 aspects of the Table. Although we are in a dark forest, and our guides are yet to be seen, we have come to realize that there is order implied in the wild and gloomy places all around us. We have not yet experienced all the adventures of the Quest, but a pattern is beginning to emerge in the inner landscape, an implicate order. Let us begin with the overall scheme.
|20||Hermit||Joseph of Arimathea||Flowering Staff|
|24||Death||Green Knight||Waste Land|
|25||Temperance||Galahad||Sword in Stone|
Uther is the dragon king as his surname suggests. He is the last pagan king and the father of Arthur. His, is the old religion of the Goddess. He establishes the kingdom that Arthur is to inherit.
The emperor's rod is his symbol - law and order. But the rod is also the outward symbol of Merlin's rod of power. Since Merlin stands behind Uther to arrange matters, Uther is the outward form of Merlin. Uther is temporal power and Merlin is spiritual power.
Blaise is Merlin's master. His origins are obscure, but in one of the Grail writings he is a guardian of the Grail. In a sense, Blaise is the inner self of Merlin. When the mysteries are complete, Merlin reports to Blaise, who then records the details of the Quest. Truly he is the Hierophant of the mysteries of the Grail and the triple crown belongs to him.
Launcelot and Guinevere immediately bring to mind romantic notions and images of winged hearts. They are the classic lovers, doomed for their love. We have a sentimental notion of them that is misleading. Projected outwards, they are the stuff of popular culture, TV culture. Seen inwards, they are principles of our own beingness that we have failed to reconcile.
Launcelot is a descendant of Joseph of Arimathea and is intended to achieve the Grail. That is why he is given into the care of the Lady of the Lake, to be trained as the greatest of the knights of the Round Table. He is to reconcile Christianity (symbolised as the Grail) with the old religion of the Goddess (symbolised as the cauldron). Launcelot fails in all of this because of his adulterous love for Guinevere. That is why Merlin arranges for him to father Galahad.
In one of the Grail writings, there is a tragic scene when Launcelot comes to the door of the chapel where the Grail Mass is being celebrated. He tries to enter but the Grail rejects him and he is temporarily blinded and paralysed. This is a symbol of our own experience when the true nature of our conduct is realised by us, consciously or sub-consciously.
Launcelot is a "fallen" man. He has become very deeply enmeshed in the illusions of the world. He has allowed an image of human perfection (Guinevere) to replace the image of God.
Guinevere and Launcelot vow not to see each other alone again. They break their vow and release the forces that destroy the Round Table fellowship. They destroy the outer kingdom of Arthur and the inner kingdom of Blaise and Merlin.
The importance of the lovers cannot be over-emphasised, precisely because we misunderstand them so badly. It is Guinevere's power over Launcelot that causes him to fail in the Quest. It is the feminine principle that determines success or failure. This is a mystery.
Taliesin is the poet who (under another name) obtains knowledge, wisdom and inspiration by drinking 3 drops of the draught brewed by the Goddess in her cauldron (a symbol of the Grail). In her anger she pursues him and they both change their shapes until at last she as a hen, swallows him, as a grain of wheat. She bears him in her womb for 9 months until he is reborn. She throws him into the sea but he is rescued and receives his new name - Taliesin. This is a clear allusion to the whole process of initiation and to its results. The maze and chariot are other symbols for this process.
Arthur is never expressly identified as the wounded king, but in truth, that is who he is. The Waste Land is Arthur's Britain grown sick, in its inner aspect. The outer symbol of Arthur's inner wound, is the relationship of Launcelot and Guinevere. In a sense, Arthur personifies Britain and all the characters and places mentioned in the Quest, are the inner aspects of Arthur's being. It is for his benefit that the Quest is pursued. It is Arthur's failure to love Guinevere that brings disaster to the Round Table fellowship and death to those he loves. And yet, this is justice.
The heart of the problem is that there is a causal relationship between the well-being and health of the king on the one part and the fertility of the land on the other. In legal/political terms, this relationship is called sovereignty. In the case of the Quest, the wounded king is not fit to rule. He has lost sovereignty. Since Guinevere is the earthly representative of the divine feminine, Arthur's failure to unite with his queen means that he has failed to exercise sovereignty and has caused the land to become waste.
Mortally wounded, he is taken onto a ship (a variant of the Ship of Solomon) and accompanied by 3 queens (hope, faith and love), passes into Avalon, where he still waits for the healing of the land and his own healing. He is the once and future king. Only Galahad, who claims the Siege Perilous, can heal Arthur and restore the Waste Land.
As the ship carries Arthur away, his sword Excalibur is returned to the Lady of the Lake, thus ending his claim to the realm and to his right to sovereignty. The importance of this sword is that his claim to the throne, to kingship, to marriage with Guinevere (the representative of sovereignty) and the land, rests upon his success in pulling another sword from the stone. Yet that original sword is not Excalibur. The Lady of the Lake gave Excalibur to him in token of his right to sovereignty. Having failed, Excalibur must be returned.
Sovereignty appears throughout the Quest personified in different guises but especially in three fundamental forms: virgin, mother and hag. This is a mystery. Because of his failure to achieve sovereignty, Arthur's land is waste yet paradoxically, he is guardian to the source of inexhaustible abundance and everlasting life. This would have healed him except for his failure. Note well, Arthur's failure is our failure.
Who is Arthur? Who is Galahad? Who are we?
We have already met Joseph of Arimathea. It is only necessary to emphasise that he is the supreme guardian of the Grail. He planted his staff at Glastonbury and it flowered on Christmas day. His 12 disciples each received a piece of land around the chapel he established. Note the symbolism -12 seats around the Table, 12 signs of the zodiac around the Sun, 12 disciples around Christ. Joseph is the archetypal hermit.
Bors is known to us as the ordinary man who wins the Grail. He tries and perseveres, but is somewhat surprised by his success. His basic strength is his humanity and decency, well symbolised by his sword.
The Green Knight is Klingsor's agent in the Waste Land. He is a form of "dark" guardian and a bringer of death. In many different forms, he is the opponent of all Grail seekers. He is also within each of us and we know his presence with each hurtful word we utter and every destructive act we commit.
Galahad stands between Klingsor and the Green Knight and restores the Waste Land by winning the Grail. We know him already as the knight who draws the Sword from the red stone. He has attained two aspects of the Grail. Only he can claim the Siege Perilous at the Round Table and redeem the place of Judas at Christ's table. He transforms the Path of Blame to the Path of Love.
Klingsor is the dark magus who emasculates himself in order to gain greater power. Truly an aspect of the Devil, the skull is his symbol. He is pledged to the destruction of the Grail or the misuse of its powers. He sends forth the Green Knight to roam the Waste Land and defeat the seekers on the Quest. Beware, for Klingsor lurks in our hearts.
All seekers must meet him in his lair and overcome him. He is the dark side of our being, thus we cannot destroy him without destroying ourselves. We can only transcend him by reconciling the opposites within us. He is the Terror on the Threshold of the inner Temple. We cannot reach the salvation the Temple offers us, unless we also save Klingsor.
We have met Dindraine and know that she is the way-shower of the path of self-sacrifice. The Sword which is an aspect or form of the Grail, is the sword used to kill John the Baptist. When she accompanies the 3 Grail winners in the Ship of Solomon, she makes a new belt for the Sword from her own hair. This is an aspect of service by giving another part of her substance, hair as well as her blood.
She embodies feminine wisdom. In a sense, she is also a Grail winner. By self-sacrifice she creates a new life and points to the kabalistic mystery of the relationship of the three Mothers to the ineffable name of God - YHVH.
Nimue is the fairy who enchants Merlin. The spindle is the symbol of the spinning of fate and the Moon creates the right conditions for enchantment. She is glamour personified. bewitching, alluring, diverting the Seeker from the path that is straight and narrow. It is easy to believe that we seek the Grail, when in fact we have lost our way. She spins 9 rings around Merlin and imprisons him in a crystal tower overgrown with hawthorn. On the Tree, she leads to Yesod, the 9th Sefira and the sub-conscious. This shows where the tower is built. In the depths of Merlin's mind - our mind.
Merlin fails but it is not Merlin's failure that destroys the Round Table fellowship. It is the failure of Arthur and of the knight of the heart, Launcelot. This is a mystery.
Like Parsifal, we have followed many paths, for many years. We have stumbled and fallen but have never given up. The Grail Castle is now in sight. Let us seek admittance from the gatekeeper.