The Grail

Aug 27

There are times in our lives when we cross over boundaries and migrate into new parts of the world. This may or may not be apparent in our outer life, but whether we will it or no, such movements are the dynamics of our inner being. If we are engaged in life, then its nature is to change us. To be able to change is to be alive. Such changes are more acute at some times than others, and accompany dramatic events involving loss or gain. The kingdom is besieged, it falls under an enchantment. We quest for the sacred through the wilds of other lands and in laying forth upon the unknown world explore whole dark continents of ourselves, unmapped places filled with lost civilizations and faerie castles.

When I was in my early twenties I entered into a dark time I jokingly refer to today as my quarter life crisis. As many who undergo the melding from childhood freedom to adult responsibility, I came to an understanding of the world that held frightening implications. We are free to make our own choices, and with that freedom comes a terrible knowledge that the world is our fault. It is what we make it. But how do we know what to make the world? Where do we obtain the source of that knowledge?

There was a lot of pressure, at that time, to graduate from college, and, upon graduation, to get a job and enter into the mainstream workforce. Not to do so was also an option, but this invariably meant dropping out altogether as a rejection of society’s conventions. Or did it? Perhaps it was really an admission to failure-a failure to find another way. Certainly, following the herd into the morning traffic was also an admission to failure, a surrender, a falling into a deep sleep.

I was fortunate enough to take a class studying Joseph Campbell, a man perhaps best known for having written The Hero With a Thousand Faces. In that class, Mr. Campbell went from being the subject of academic inquiry to a sort of shaman, a guide to my soul, as it went through the dark spiritual voids of a society that does not acknowledge the existence of such things. We were each required to hold a lecture on the source material, and to draw upon specific mythic cycles. I chose the Holy Grail.

In my work for class, I immersed myself in the Grail mythos. I read Parzival, I read L’Morte D’Arthur. I read the Mabinogion. I read Tennyson. I saw Galahad obtain the grail, as well as Perceval, Bors, Gawain, Peredur. The knights rode across the Wasteland, searching for the sacred item that could heal the Fisher King’s grievous wound. Perceval witnessed the holy procession of the grail and forgot to ask the Question. The Fisher King’s battle cry is “Amor!” The grail was the cup Christ drank from at the last supper, the cup that caught his blood-brought to England by Joseph of Arimathea, whose staff budded when he planted it in the earth…

These stories and their innumerable variations washed over me, fed and sustained me, kept me going. Somehow, contained within them was an experience that was bigger than life, its measure in fact, defined life while transcending its limitations.

And then, as I studied, something interesting happened. One night, I came upon the Castle Munsalvach, a dark bricked fortress on a windswept promontory. Below the cliffs was crashing sea. I entered the demense and found myself racing down the halls and through the chambers of a vast estate. Labyrinthine, I could have wandered through the estate forever. And then, I stopped myself. With different eyes, I looked closer at things and saw a door with a golden chain. Somehow, I knew this was my chance. With an urgency borne from my most deep seated need, I burst into the room.

There, I met the Grail Keeper. I asked him if I could see the Grail. Without demanding the passage of a test, or the levying of some great price, he happily complied. A procession with the Cross went before us. Then, the Grail was unveiled. He poured water and wine into four vessels: two were earthen ware and two were glass. I drank from them. The Grail Keeper replaced the Grail to its cabinet.

Then, with a supreme effort, I asked if I could see the Grail again. With a smile, the Grail Keeper allowed me to do so. I reached into the cabinet and held the Grail in my hands. The stories say that the Grail is a changing thing-it is, at times, a cup, a dish, a bowl, sometimes it is a stone. This is true: the Grail shifted and reformed in my hands, ultimately revealing a set of symbols and imagery that etched themselves like carvings onto cavern walls in the deepest part of my being. I put the Grail back. I don’t remember what happened after that.

Later, I tried to relate what happened to my friends, my family, to anyone who would listen, really. I was convinced that it was more than just some strange dream, that somehow, my deeper working with mythology had uncovered profound truths, and in some sense, the experience really happened. Life is vast, beyond the experience of any single person. Within life are all things, all experiences, all ideas. Actively undertaken, its stories, the myths and archetypes common to all humanity, intersect with our own, and make us a part of the greater tapestry that is immortal and transpersonal.

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