The Grail

Jan 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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Hope

Jan 17

My family is from Lipari, a volcanic island in the Mediterranean. Lipari lies between Sicily and Southern Italy, and is part of the Aeolian Archipelago. It is perhaps best known  today from Classical reference in the Odyssey. It is here that Odysseus stops and obtains the Four Winds from the god Aeolus. Lipari is a small island, with a total surface area of only 14.3 square miles (37 km2) and a permanent modern population of eleven thousand. The primary crops are capers and wine grapes. The main industry is tourism.

The Turkish pirate Hayreddin Barbarossa attacked and ransacked Lipari in 1544. He kidnapped the entire population of the island, appropriating them as slaves forthe Ottoman Empire. The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, incensed at this attack on his empire’s sovereignty, ordered soldiers from Aragon (a province in Northeastern Spain, near the Pyrenees mountains and the border with France) to re-settle the island. They built fortifications to repulse future attacks-the walls stand to this day. These men intermarried with the nearby local Sicilian population. These people were my ancestors.

There is a restaurant near where I work that I frequent. It’s called Antalya. I’ll go there and get kofteis, kebap, dolmasi. I’ll chat with the waiter/owner about things, sometimes world events, sometimes small-talk anecdotes. I always make sure to get the coffee-spiked with a little cardamom, it’s the best damn cup of joe you’ve ever had. The tea is good too. I’ll have to work my way to Ayran, though. Sometimes, after work, and with nothing pressing, I’ll sit back and watch some of the soccer on the big screen TV.

My Dad went to Turkey recently on business. During his visit he was fortunate enough to be shown the sights and sounds of Istanbul. Dad loved it, related to me all about the food, how good the people were, what a fascinating country Turkey is. I agreed. I told Dad that the tomb of Saint John is in Anatolia, as is the site where Mary ascended into Heaven. Of course, there is much more history than that, layers and layers of civilization all placed on each other like plates of gold, so much so that it is impossible to encompass it all in words.

No one in my family today recalled the events of 1544. Barbarossa was forgotten, a name that is only familiar to us because it was the code word of a Third Reich military operation. Always interested in history, I was the first one to read about it and tell the others. The fate of the former Liparians, and the fear our ancestors no doubt lived in afterwards, are, for us, anecdotes. They are interesting yes, but not a part of our living present. We do not  hate and fear the Turks; if anything, we like the food, the literature and find the culture fascinating. There is, I think, a lesson here.

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Three Bad Wolves

Jan 03

The three little pigs were holed up in the brickhouse and no matter how hard Big Bad blew, it wasn’t coming down. Big Bad figured that was the way it was going to be-but he had to try anyway and give compulsory effort. He trudged away, head hung low and belly empty.

The pigs mocked him from within the brick house: “Maybe you need to hit the gym more, Big Bad!” the Brick Pig called. It was an intentionally ironic comment, of course. Brick Pig and his brothers Straw and Stick were notorious consumers of junk food and-strangely enough-diet cola. They spent long hours reclined on Lay Z boys watching-again, strangely enough-sports television.

Big Bad made no reply. The words stung his ears. However, despite the pride he took in being Big Bad, the wolf wasn’t too full of himself to not seek assistance. As long as it was from his own family. Big Bad made his way to the pool hall where Mid Bad sharked it with foxes, badgers and other unsavory types.

“Man, I’m game.” Mid Bad said when informed of the situation. He packed his Baretta and a stilletto and the two wolves went back to the Brick House. The candor of football blazzed out of the house. Within, the three pigs sat in a stupor, glutted on cola and video.

“Little pig, little pig, let me in!” Mid Bad intoned-it was an age old refrain. Silence followed. Mid Bad looked to Big Bad, wondering what to do or say next.

For lack of a better idea, Mid Bad repeated, “Little pig, little pig let me in!”

“Huh?” one of the pigs-it was hard to say just who-responded. There was a loud belch. “What? Are you kidding me? Jesus Christ, give me a break!”

The reply was non-traditonal and very disrespectful. Enraged, Mid Bad roared, “Then I’ll shoot you full of holes!” and he opened fire with the Baretta.  The bullets made pock marks in the brick, but could not penetrate the walls. Mid Bad, in his rage, emptied the entire clip. Disenhartened, the two wolves left the premises.

They agreed to go to Little Bad Wolf, who was at that time, engaged in a debate about supply side economics with a squirrel at a local pub. Little bad agreed to assist his brothers and the Three Bad Wolves went to the Brick House.

“Little pig, little pig, hey-we just want to talk.” Little Bad said. The TV inside was booming, but suddenly turned down and the rapping of cloven hooves on the floor drew close to the door.

“What? Talk? About what? You ready to come to terms?” it was Straw Pig speaking.

“Well, sort of.” Little Bad said.

“What do you mean?”

“Here’s the thing-we’re wolves, right?” silence followed. Little Bad continued, “we’re apex predators. That means we have to prey on you-you’re our game. Without you, we couldn’t exist.”

“Yeah? Well, I guess we just out-Darwined your ass!” Stick Pig broke in.

Little Bad chuckled and waved down Mid and Big, who were both incensed at these words. “You have and you haven’t.”

“What do you mean?” Brick Pig asked.

“Think about it. We’re apex predators, we need you to survive. But you see, you need us too. Without us to cull your ranks, you’ll overpopulate, consume all available resources and the next thing you know, instead of one of you dying, you all die. And a slow death too, as opposed to what we offer. You’ll starve to death. Just think, no potato chips, no diet soda…hell, I bet the way things go, you’ll lose TV too.”

This was unthinkable to the Pigs. But Little Bad’s words added up, they made sense. “Wh-what should we do?” Brick Pig asked.

“I’d kick the other pigs out, Brick. You’re obviously the fittest. You’re the one who built a house out of bricks while these losers were lazy andwent for straw and sticks. Kick ’em out. We’ll sort out the rest.” Little Bad replied. The sounds of a scuffle and squealing followed, and momentarily, the door popped open and Straw and Stick came flying out.

“Let’s get ’em!” Big Bad said hungrily as the Little Pigs dashed about madly looking for refuge.

“No, wait, wait.” Little Bad said and held his borthers back. When Straw and Stick exhausted themselves and waited for the end to come, Little Bad approached them.

“Are-are you going to eat us now?’ Straw asked.

“No-no. Look, this is an opprotunity for you to learn new behavior, adapt, evolve. We could enter into a enw partnership, inter-species cooperation, you know, symbiosis.”

“Okay, what do we have to do?” Stick Pig asked. Little Bad got the Baretta from Mid Bad and handed it to Straw Pig.

“Plug Brick Pg and you’re in.” Little Bad said. Straw Pig took the gun and went to the Brick House. He knocked on the door.

“Straw?”

“Yeah, quick, let me in. I got away from the wolves. I was too fast for them, so much for all that apex predator stuff.” Straw said. Lonely and guilty, Brick let his brother in. Within minutes the flash of igniting gunpowder lit the TV dark room.

The wolves went in, taking Stick with them. They made short work of Brick’s body, and it was soon roasting on a spit in the hearth. Straw and Stick were made to wait outside.

At one point, Little Bad, in between mouthfuls of roast pork said, “Thing is, fellas, you got to let the Pig let you in. Do that and you got it made.”

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