From Ritual to Romance
by Jessie L. Weston
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Medieval and Modern Forms of Nature Ritual

Readers of the foregoing pages may, not improbably, object that, while we have instanced certain curious and isolated parallels from early Aryan literature and tradition, and, what, from the point of view of declared intention, appears to be a kindred group of religious belief and practice in pre-Historic and Classical times, the two, so far, show no direct signs of affiliation, while both may be held to be far removed, in point of date, alike from one another, and from the romantic literature of the twelfth century.

This objection is sound in itself, but if we can show by modern parallels that the ideas which took form and shape in early Aryan Drama, and Babylonian and Classic Ritual, not only survive to our day, but are found in combination with features corresponding minutely with details recorded in early Aryan literature, we may hold the gulf to be bridged, and the common origin, and close relationship, of the different stages to be an ascertained fact. At the outset, and before examining the evidence collected by scholars, I would remind my readers that the modern Greeks have retained, in many instances under changed names, no inconsiderable portion of their ancient mythological beliefs, among them the 'Adonis' celebrations; the 'Gardens of Adonis' blossom and fade to-day, as they did many centuries ago, and I have myself spoken with a scholar who has seen 'women, at the door of their houses, weeping for Adonis.'[1]

For evidence of the widespread character of Medieval and Modern survivals we have only to consult the epoch-making works of Mannhardt, Wald und Feld-Kulte, and Frazer, The Golden Bough;[2] in the pages of these volumes we shall find more than sufficient for our purpose. From the wealth of illustration with which these works abound I have selected merely such instances as seem to apply more directly to the subject of our investigation.[3]

Thus, in many places, it is still the custom to carry a figure representing the Vegetation Spirit on a bier, attended by mourning women, and either bury the figure, throw it into water (as a rain charm), or, after a mock death, carry the revivified Deity, with rejoicing, back to the town. Thus in the Lechrain a man in black women's clothes is borne on a bier, followed by men dressed as professional women mourners making lamentation, thrown on the village dung-heap, drenched with water, and buried in straw.[4]

In Russia the Vegetation or Year Spirit is known as Yarilo,[5] and is represented by a doll with phallic attributes, which is enclosed in a coffin, and carried through the streets to the accompaniment of lamentation by women whose emotions have been excited by drink. Mannhardt gives the lament as follows: "Wessen war Er schuldig? Er war so gut! Er wird nicht mehr aufstehen! O! Wie sollen wir uns von Dir trennen? Was ist das Leben wenn Du nicht mehr da bist? Erhebe Dich, wenn auch nur auf ein Stundchen! Aber Er steht nicht auf, Er steht nicht auf!"[6]

In other forms of the ritual, we find distinct traces of the resuscitation of the Vegetation Deity, occasionally accompanied by evidence of rejuvenation. Thus, in Lausitz, on Laetare Sunday (the 4th Sunday in Lent), women with mourning veils carry a straw figure, dressed in a man's shirt, to the bounds of the next village, where they tear the effigy to pieces, hang the shirt on a young and flourishing tree, "schone Wald-Baum," which they proceed to cut down, and carry home with every sign of rejoicing. Here evidently the young tree is regarded as a rejuvenation of the person represented in the first instance by the straw figure.[7]

In many parts of Europe to-day the corresponding ceremonies, very generally held at Whitsuntide, include the mock execution of the individual representing the Vegetation Spirit, frequently known as the King of the May. In Bohemia the person playing the role of the King is, with his attendants, dressed in bark, and decked with garlands of flowers; at the conclusion of the ceremonies the King is allowed a short start, and is then pursued by the armed attendants. If he is not overtaken he holds office for a year, but if overtaken, he suffers a mock decapitation, head-dress, or crown, being struck off, and the pretended corpse is then borne on a bier to the next village.[8]

Mannhardt, discussing this point, remarks that in the mock execution we must recognize "Ein verbreiteter und jedenfalls uralter Gebrauch." He enumerates the various modes of death, shooting, stabbing (in the latter case a bladder filled with blood, and concealed under the clothes, is pierced); in Bohemia, decapitation, occasionally drowning (which primarily represents a rain charm), is the form adopted.[9] He then goes on to remark that this ceremonial death must have been generally followed by resuscitation, as in Thuringia, where the 'Wild Man,' as the central figure is there named, is brought to life again by the Doctor, while the survival, in the more elaborate Spring processions of this latter character, even where he plays no special role, points to the fact that his part in the proceedings was originally a more important one.

That Mannhardt was not mistaken is proved by the evidence of the kindred Dances, a subject we shall consider later; there we shall find the Doctor playing his old-time role, and restoring to life the slain representative of the Vegetation Spirit.[10] The character of the Doctor, or Medicine Man, formed, as I believe, at one time, no unimportant link in the chain which connects these practices with the Grail tradition.

The signification of the resuscitation ceremony is obscured in cases where the same figure undergoes death and revival without any corresponding change of form. This point did not escape Mannhardt's acute critical eye; he remarks that, in cases where, e.g., in Swabia, the 'King' is described as "ein armer alter Mann," who has lived seven years in the woods (the seven winter months), a scene of rejuvenation should follow—"diese scheint meistenteils verloren gegangen; doch vielleicht scheint es nur so." He goes on to draw attention to the practice in Reideberg, bei Halle, where, after burying a straw figure, called the Old Man, the villagers dance round the May-Pole, and he suggests that the 'Old Man' represents the defunct Vegetation Spirit, the May Tree, that Spirit resuscitated, and refers in this connection to the "durchaus verwandten Asiatischen Gebrauchen des Attis, und Adonis-Kultus."[11]

The foregoing evidence offers, I think, sufficient proof of the, now generally admitted, relationship between Classical, Medieval, and Modern forms of Nature ritual.

But what of the relation to early Aryan practice? Can that, also, be proved?

In this connection I would draw attention to Chapter 17 of Mysterium und Mimus, entitled, Ein Volkstumlicher Umzug beim Soma-Fest. Here Professor von Schroeder discusses the real meaning and significance of a very curious little poem (Rig-Veda, 9. 112); the title by which it is generally known, Alles lauft nach Geld, does not, at first sight, fit the content of the verse, and the suggestion of scholars who have seen in it a humorous enumeration of different trades and handicrafts does not explain the fact that the Frog and the Horse appear in it.

To Professor von Schroeder belongs the credit of having discovered that the personnel of the poem corresponds with extraordinary exactitude to the Figures of the Spring and Summer 'Fertility-exciting' processions, described with such fulness of detail by Mannhardt. Especially is this the case with the Whitsuntide procession at Vardegotzen, in Hanover, where we find the group of phallic and fertility demons, who, on Prof. von Schroeder's hypothesis, figure in the song, in concrete, and actual form.[12] The Vegetation Spirit appears in the song as an Old Man, while his female counterpart, an Old Woman, is described as 'filling the hand-mill.' Prof. von Schroeder points out that in some parts of Russia the 'Baba-jaga' as the Corn Mother is called, is an Old Woman, who flies through the air in a hand-mill. The Doctor, to whom we have referred above, is mentioned twice in the four verses composing the song; he was evidently regarded as an important figure; while the whole is put into the mouth of a 'Singer' evidently the Spokesman of the party, who proclaims their object, "Verschiednes konnend suchen wir Gute Dinge," i.e., gifts in money and kind, as such folk processions do to-day.

The whole study is of extraordinary interest for Folk-lore students, and so far as our especial investigation is concerned it seems to me to supply the necessary proof of the identity, and persistence, of Aryan folk-custom and tradition.

A very important modification of the root idea, and one which appears to have a direct bearing on the sources of the Grail tradition, was that by which, among certain peoples, the role of the god, his responsibility for providing the requisite rain upon which the fertility of the land, and the life of the folk, depended, was combined with that of the King.

This was the case among the Celts; McCulloch, in The Religion of the Celts, discussing the question of the early Irish geasa or taboo, explains the geasa of the Irish kings as designed to promote the welfare of the tribe, the making of rain and sunshine on which their prosperity depended. "Their observance made the earth fruitful, produced abundance and prosperity, and kept both the king and his land from misfortune. The Kings were divinities on whom depended fruitfulness and plenty, and who must therefore submit to obey their 'geasa.'[13]

The same idea seems to have prevailed in early Greece; Mr A. B. Cook, in his studies on The European Sky-God, remarks that the king in early Greece was regarded as the representative of Zeus: his duties could be satisfactorily discharged only by a man who was perfect, and without blemish, i.e., by a man in the prime of life, suffering from no defect of body, or mind; he quotes in illustration the speech of Odysseus (Od. 19. 109 ff.). "'Even as a king without blemish, who ruleth god-fearing over many mighty men, and maintaineth justice, while the black earth beareth wheat and barley, and the trees are laden with fruit, and the flocks bring forth without fail, and the sea yieldeth fish by reason of his good rule, and the folk prosper beneath him.' The king who is without blemish has a flourishing kingdom, the king who is maimed has a kingdom diseased like himself, thus the Spartans were warned by an oracle to beware of a 'lame reign.'"[14]

A most remarkable modern survival of this idea is recorded by Dr Frazer in the latest edition of The Golden Bough,[15] and is so complete and suggestive that I make no apology for transcribing it at some length. The Shilluk, an African tribe, inhabit the banks of the White Nile, their territory extending on the west bank from Kaka in the north, to Lake No in the south, on the east bank from Fashoda to Taufikia, and some 35 miles up the Sohat river. Numbering some 40,000 in all, they are a pastoral people, their wealth consisting in flocks and herds, grain and millet. The King resides at Fashoda, and is regarded with extreme reverence, as being a re-incarnation of Nyakang, the semi-divine hero who settled the tribe in their present territory. Nyakang is the rain-giver, on whom their life and prosperity depend; there are several shrines in which sacred Spears, now kept for sacrificial purposes, are preserved, the originals, which were the property of Nyakang, having disappeared.

The King, though regarded with reverence, must not be allowed to become old or feeble, lest, with the diminishing vigour of the ruler, the cattle should sicken, and fail to bear increase, the crops should rot in the field and men die in ever growing numbers. One of the signs of failing energy is the King's inability to fulfil the desires of his wives, of whom he has a large number. When this occurs the wives report the fact to the chiefs, who condemn the King to death forthwith, communicating the sentence to him by spreading a white cloth over his face and knees during his mid-day slumber. Formerly the King was starved to death in a hut, in company with a young maiden but (in consequence, it is said, of the great vitality and protracted suffering of one King) this is no longer done; the precise manner of death is difficult to ascertain; Dr Seligmann, who was Sir J. G. Frazer's authority, thinks that he is now strangled in a hut, especially erected for that purpose.

At one time he might be attacked and slain by a rival, either of his own family, or of that of one of the previous Kings, of whom there are many, but this has long been superseded by the ceremonial slaying of the monarch who after his death is revered as Nyakang.[16]

This survival is of extraordinary interest; it presents us with a curiously close parallel to the situation which, on the evidence of the texts, we have postulated as forming the basic idea of the Grail tradition—the position of a people whose prosperity, and the fertility of their land, are closely bound up with the life and virility of their King, who is not a mere man, but a Divine re-incarnation. If he 'falls into languishment,' as does the Fisher King in Perlesvaus, the land and its inhabitants will suffer correspondingly; not only will the country suffer from drought, "Nus pres n'i raverdia," but the men will die in numbers:

"Dames en perdront lor maris"

we may say; the cattle will cease to bear increase:

"Ne se n'i ot beste faon,"

and the people take drastic steps to bring about a rejuvenation; the old King dies, to be replaced by a young and vigorous successor, even as Brons was replaced by Perceval.

Let us now turn back to the preceding chapter, and compare the position of the people of the Shilluk tribe, and the subjects of the Grail King, with that of the ancient Babylonians, as set forth in their Lamentations for Tammuz.

There we find that the absence of the Life-giving deity was followed by precisely the same disastrous consequences;

Vegetation fails—

"The wailing is for the plants; the first lament is they grow not. The wailing is for the barley; the ears grow not."

The reproductive energies of the animal kingdom are suspended—

"For the habitation of flocks it is; they produce not. For the perishing wedded ones, for perishing children it is; the dark-headed people create not."

Nor can we evade the full force of the parallel by objecting that we are here dealing with a god, not with a man; we possess the recorded names of 'kings who played the role of Tammuz,' thus even for that early period the commingling of the two conceptions, god and king, is definitely established.

Now in face of this group of parallels, whose close correspondence, if we consider their separation in point of time (3000 B.C.; 1200 A.D.; and the present day), is nothing short of astonishing, is it not absolutely and utterly unreasonable to admit (as scholars no longer hesitate to do) the relationship between the first and last, and exclude, as a mere literary invention, the intermediate parallel?

The ground for such a denial may be mere prejudice, a reluctance to renounce a long cherished critical prepossession, but in the face of this new evidence does it not come perilously close to scientific dishonesty, to a disregard for that respect for truth in research the imperative duty of which has been so finely expressed by the late M. Gaston Paris.—"Je professe absolument et sans reserve cette doctrine, que la science n'a d'autre objet que la verite, et la verite pour elle-meme, sans aucun souci des consequences, bonnes ou mauvaises, regrettables ou heureuses, que cette verite pourrait avoir dans la pratique."[17] When we further consider that behind these three main parallels, linking them together, there lies a continuous chain of evidence, expressed alike in classical literature, and surviving Folk practice, I would submit that there is no longer any shadow of a doubt that in the Grail King we have a romantic literary version of that strange mysterious figure whose presence hovers in the shadowy background of the history of our Aryan race; the figure of a divine or semi-divine ruler, at once god and king, upon whose life, and unimpaired vitality, the existence of his land and people directly depends.

And if we once grant this initial fact, and resolve that we will no longer, in the interests of an outworn critical tradition, deny the weight of scientific evidence in determining the real significance of the story, does it not inevitably follow, as a logical sequence, that such versions as fail to connect the misfortunes of the land directly with the disability of the king, but make them dependent upon the failure of the Quester, are, by that very fact, stamped as secondary versions. That by this one detail, of capital importance, they approve themselves as literary treatments of a traditional theme, the true meaning of which was unknown to the author?

Let us for a moment consider what the opposite view would entail; that a story which was originally the outcome of pure literary invention should in the course of re-modelling have been accidentally brought into close and detailed correspondence with a deeply rooted sequence of popular faith and practice is simply inconceivable, the re-modelling, if re-modelling there were, must have been intentional, the men whose handiwork it was were in possession of the requisite knowledge.

But how did they possess that knowledge, and why should they undertake such a task? Surely not from the point of view of antiquarian interest, as might be done to-day; they were no twelfth century Frazers and Mannhardts; the subject must have had for them a more living, a more intimate, interest. And if, in face of the evidence we now possess, we feel bound to admit the existence of such knowledge, is it not more reasonable to suppose that the men who first told the story were the men who knew, and that the confusion was due to those who, with more literary skill, but less first-hand information, re-modelled the original theme?

In view of the present facts I would submit that the problem posed in our first chapter may be held to be solved; that we accept as a fait acquis the conclusion that the woes of the land are directly dependent upon the sickness, or maiming, of the King, and in no wise caused by the failure of the Quester. The 'Wasting of the land' must be held to have been antecedent to that failure, and the Gawain versions in which we find this condition fulfilled are, therefore, prior in origin to the Perceval, in which the 'Wasting' is brought about by the action of the hero; in some versions, indeed, has altogether disappeared from the story.

Thus the position assigned in the versions to this feature of the Waste Land becomes one of capital importance as a critical factor. This is a point which has hitherto escaped the attention of scholars; the misfortunes of the land have been treated rather as an accident, than as an essential, of the Grail story, entirely subordinate in interest to the dramatis personae of the tale, or the objects, Lance and Grail, round which the action revolves. As a matter of fact I believe that the 'Waste Land' is really the very heart of our problem; a rightful appreciation of its position and significance will place us in possession of the clue which will lead us safely through the most bewildering mazes of the fully developed tale.

Since the above pages were written Dr Frazer has notified the discovery of a second African parallel, equally complete, and striking. In Folk-Lore (Vol. XXVI.) he prints, under the title A Priest-King in Nigeria, a communication received from Mr P. A. Talbot, District Commissioner in S. Nigeria. The writer states that the dominant Ju-Ju of Elele, a town in the N.W. of the Degema district, is a Priest-King, elected for a term of seven years. "The whole prosperity of the town, especially the fruitfulness of farm, byre, and marriage-bed, was linked with his life. Should he fall sick it entailed famine and grave disaster upon the inhabitants." So soon as a successor is appointed the former holder of the dignity is reported to 'die for himself.' Previous to the introduction of ordered government it is admitted that at any time during his seven years' term of office the Priest might be put to death by any man sufficiently strong and resourceful, consequently it is only on the rarest occasions (in fact only one such is recorded) that the Ju-Ju ventures to leave his compound. At the same time the riches derived from the offerings of the people are so considerable that there is never a lack of candidates for the office.

From this and the evidence cited above it would appear that the institution was widely spread in Africa, and at the same time it affords a striking proof in support of the essential soundness of Dr Frazer's interpretation of the Priest of Nemi, an interpretation which has been violently attacked in certain quarters, very largely on the ground that no one would be found willing to accept an office involving such direct danger to life. The above evidence shows clearly that not only does such an office exist, but that it is by no means an unpopular post.


The Symbols

In the previous chapters we have discussed the Grail Legend from a general, rather than a specific, point of view; i.e., we have endeavoured to ascertain what was the real character of the task imposed upon the hero, and what the nature and value of his achievement.

We have been led to the conclusion that that achievement was, in the first instance, of an altruistic character—it was no question of advantages, temporal or spiritual, which should accrue to the Quester himself, but rather of definite benefits to be won for others, the freeing of a ruler and his land from the dire results of a punishment which, falling upon the King, was fraught with the most disastrous consequences for his kingdom.

We have found, further, that this close relation between the ruler and his land, which resulted in the ill of one becoming the calamity of all, is no mere literary invention, proceeding from the fertile imagination of a twelfth century court poet, but a deeply rooted popular belief, of practically immemorial antiquity and inexhaustible vitality; we can trace it back thousands of years before the Christian era, we find it fraught with decisions of life and death to-day.

Further, we find in that belief a tendency to express itself in certain ceremonial practices, which retain in a greater or less degree the character of the ritual observances of which they are the survival. Mr E. K. Chambers, in The Mediaeval Stage, remarks: "If the comparative study of Religion proves anything it is, that the traditional beliefs and customs of the mediaeval or modern peasant are in nine cases out of ten but the detritus of heathen mythology and heathen worship, enduring with but little external change in the shadow of a hostile faith. This is notably true of the village festivals and their ludi. Their full significance only appears when they are regarded as fragments of forgotten cults, the naive cults addressed by a primitive folk to the beneficent deities of field and wood and river, or the shadowy populace of its own dreams."[1] We may, I think, take it that we have established at least the possibility that in the Grail romances we possess, in literary form, an example of the detritus above referred to, the fragmentary record of the secret ritual of a Fertility cult.

Having reached this hypothetical conclusion, our next step must be to examine the Symbols of this cult, the group of mysterious objects which forms the central point of the action, a true understanding of the nature of these objects being as essential for our success as interpreters of the story as it was for the success of the Quester in days of old. We must ask whether these objects, the Grail itself, whether Cup or Dish; the Lance; the Sword; the Stone—one and all invested with a certain atmosphere of awe, credited with strange virtues, with sanctity itself, will harmonize with the proposed solution, will range themselves fitly and fairly within the framework of this hypothetical ritual.

That they should do so is a matter of capital importance; were it otherwise the theory advanced might well, as some of my critics have maintained, 'never get beyond the region of ingenious speculation,' but it is precisely upon the fact that this theory of origin, and so far as criticism has gone, this theory alone, does permit of a natural and unforced interpretation of these related symbols that I rely as one of the most convincing proofs of the correctness of my hypothesis.

Before commencing the investigation there is one point which I would desire to emphasize, viz., the imperative necessity for treating the Symbols or Talismans, call them what we will, on the same principle as we have treated the incidents of the story, i.e., as a connected whole. That they be not separated the one from the other, and made the subject of independent treatment, but that they be regarded in their relation the one to the other, and that no theory of origin be held admissible which does not allow for that relation as a primitive and indispensable factor. It may be the modern tendency to specialize which is apt to blind scholars to the essential importance of regarding their object of study as a whole, that fosters in them a habit of focussing their attention upon that one point or incident of the story which lends itself to treatment in their special line of study, and which induces them to minimize, or ignore, those elements which lie outside their particular range. But, whatever the cause, it is indubitable that this method of 'criticism by isolation' has been, and is, one of the main factors which have operated in retarding the solution of the Grail problem.

So long as critics of the story will insist on pulling it into little pieces, selecting one detail here, another there, for study and elucidation, so long will the ensemble result be chaotic and unsatisfactory. We shall continue to have a number of monographs, more or less scholarly in treatment—one dealing with the Grail as a Food-providing talisman, and that alone; another with the Grail as a vehicle of spiritual sustenance. One that treats of the Lance as a Pagan weapon, and nothing more; another that regards it as a Christian relic, and nothing less. At one moment the object of the study will be the Fisher King, without any relation to the symbols he guards, or the land he rules; at the next it will be the relation of the Quester to the Fisher King, without any explanation of the tasks assigned to him by the story. The result obtained is always quite satisfactory to the writer, often plausible, sometimes in a measure sound, but it would defy the skill of the most synthetic genius to co-ordinate the results thus obtained, and combine them in one harmonious whole. They are like pieces of a puzzle, each of which has been symmetrically cut and trimmed, till they lie side by side, un-fitting, and un-related.

And we have been pursuing this method for over fifty years, and are still, apparently, content to go on, each devoting attention to the symmetrical perfection of his own little section of the puzzle, quite indifferent to the fact that our neighbour is in possession of an equally neatly trimmed fragment, which entirely refuses to fit in with our own!

Is it not time that we should frankly admit the unsatisfactory results of these years of labour, and honestly face the fact that while we now have at our disposal an immense mass of interesting and suggestive material often of high value, we have failed, so far, to formulate a conclusion which, by embracing and satisfying the manifold conditions of the problem, will command general acceptance? And if this failure be admitted, may not its cause be sought in the faulty method which has failed to recognize in the Grail story an original whole, in which the parts—the action, the actors, the Symbols, the result to be obtained, incident, and intention—stood from the very first in intimate relation the one to the other? That while in process of utilization as a literary theme these various parts have suffered modification and accretion from this, or that, side, the problem of the ultimate source remains thereby unaffected?

Such a reversal of method as I suggest will, I submit, not only provide us with a critical solution capable of general acceptance, but it will also enable us to utilize, and appreciate at their due value, the result of researches which at the present moment appear to be mutually destructive the one of the other. Thus, while the purely Folk-lore interpretation of the Grail and Lance excludes the Christian origin, and the theory of the exclusively Christian origin negatives the Folk-lore, the pre-existence of these symbols in a popular ritual setting would admit, indeed would invite, later accretion alike from folk belief and ecclesiastical legend.

We are the gainers by any light that can possibly be thrown upon the process of development of the story, but studies of the separate symbols while they may, and do, afford valuable data for determining the character and period of certain accretions, should not be regarded as supplying proof of the origin of the related group.

Reference to some recent studies in the Legend will make my meaning clear. A reviewer of my small Quest of the Holy Grail volume remarked that I appeared to be ignorant of Miss Peebles's study The Legend of Longinus "which materially strengthens the evidence for the Christian origin."[2] Now this is precisely what, in my view, the study in question, which I knew and possessed, does not do. As evidence for the fact that the Grail legend has taken over certain features derived from the popular 'Longinus' story (which, incidentally, no one disputed), the essay is, I hold, sound, and valuable; as affording material for determining the source of the Grail story, it is, on the other hand, entirely without value.

On the principle laid down above no theory which purports to be explanatory of the source of one symbol can be held satisfactory in a case where that symbol does not stand alone. We cannot accept for the Grail story a theory of origin which concerns itself with the Lance, as independent of the Grail. In the study referred to the author has been at immense pains to examine the different versions of the 'Longinus' legend, and to trace its development in literature; in no single instance do we find Longinus and his Lance associated with a Cup or Vase, receptacle of the Sacred Blood.

The plain fact is that in Christian art and tradition Lance and Cup are not associated symbols. The Lance or Spear, as an instrument of the Passion, is found in conjunction with the Cross, Nails, Sponge, and Crown of Thorns, (anyone familiar with the wayside Crosses of Catholic Europe will recognize this), not with the Chalice of the Mass.[3] This latter is associated with the Host, or Agnus Dei. Still less is the Spear to be found in connection with the Grail in its Food-providing form of a Dish.

No doubt to this, critics who share the views of Golther and Burdach will object, "but what of the Byzantine Mass? Do we not there find a Spear connected with the Chalice?"[4]

I very much doubt whether we do—the so-called 'Holy Spear' of the Byzantine, and present Greek, liturgy is simply a small silver spear-shaped knife, nor can I discover that it was ever anything else. I have made careful enquiries of liturgical scholars, and consulted editions of Oriental liturgies, but I can find no evidence that the knife (the use of which is to divide the Loaf which, in the Oriental rite, corresponds to the Wafer of the Occidental, in a manner symbolically corresponding to the Wounds actually inflicted on the Divine Victim) was ever other than what it is to-day. It seems obvious, from the method of employment, that an actual Spear could hardly have been used, it would have been an impossibly unwieldy instrument for the purpose.

Nor is the 'procession' in which the elements are carried from the Chapel of the Prothesis to the Sanctuary of a public character comparable with that of the Grail castle; the actual ceremony of the Greek Mass takes place, of course, behind a veil. A point of considerable interest, however, is, what caused this difference in the Byzantine liturgy? What were the influences which led to the introduction of a feature unknown to the Western rite? If, as the result of the evidence set forth in these pages, the ultimate origin of the Grail story be finally accepted as deriving from a prehistoric ritual possessing elements of extraordinary persistence and vitality, then the mise-en-scene of that story is older than the Byzantine ritual. Students of the subject are well aware that the tradition of ancient pre-Christian rites and ceremonies lingered on in the East long after they had been banished by the more practical genius of the West. It may well prove that so far from the Grail story being a reminiscence of the Byzantine rite, that rite itself has been affected by a ritual of which the Grail legend preserves a fragmentary record.

In my view a Christian origin for Lance and Cup, as associated symbols, has not been made out; still less can it be postulated for Lance and Cup as members of an extended group, including Dish, Sword, and Stone.

On this point Professor Brown's attempt to find in Irish tradition the origin of the Grail symbols is distinctly more satisfactory.[5]

I cannot accept as decisive the solution proposed, which seems to me to be open to much the same criticism as that which would find in the Lance the Lance of Longinus—both are occupied with details, rather than with ensemble; both would find their justification as offering evidence of accretion, rather than of origin; neither can provide us with the required mise-en-scene.

But Professor Brown's theory is the more sound in that he is really dealing with a group of associated symbols; in his view Lance and Grail alike belong to the treasures of the Tuatha de Danann (that legendary race of Irish ancestors, who were at once gods and kings), and therefore ab initio belong together. But while I should, on the whole, accept the affiliation of the two groups, and believe that the treasures of the Tuatha de Danann really correspond to the symbols displayed in the hall of the Grail castle, I cannot consider that the one is the origin of the other. There is one very fundamental difference, the importance of which I cannot ignore, but which, I believe, has hitherto escaped Professor Brown's attention.

The object corresponding to the Grail itself is the cauldron of the Dagda, "No company ever went from it unthankful" (or 'unsatisfied').[6]

Now this can in no sense be considered as a Cup, or Vase, nor is it the true parallel to a Dish. The connection with the Grail is to be found solely and exclusively in the food-providing properties ascribed to both. But even here the position is radically different; the impression we derive from the Irish text and its analogous parallels is that of size (it is also called a 'tub'), and inexhaustible content, it is a cauldron of plenty.[7] Now, neither of these qualities can be postulated of the Grail; whatever its form, Cup or Dish, it can easily be borne (in uplifted hands, entre ses mains hautement porte) by a maiden, which certainly could not be postulated of a cauldron! Nor is there any proof that the Vessel itself contained the food with which the folk of the Grail castle were regaled; the texts rather point to the conclusion that the appearance of the Grail synchronized with a mysterious supply of food of a choice and varied character. There is never any hint that the folk feed from the Grail; the only suggestion of such feeding is in the 'Oiste,' by which the father of the Fisher King (or the King himself) is nourished.

In certain texts the separation of the two is clearly brought out; in Joseph of Arimathea, for instance, the Fish caught by Brons is to be placed at one end of the table, the Grail at the other. In Gawain's adventure at the Grail castle, in the prose Lancelot, as the Grail is carried through the hall "forthwith were the tables replenished with the choicest meats in the world," but the table before Gawain remains void and bare.[8] I submit that while the Grail is in certain phases a food-supplying talisman it is not one of the same character as the cauldrons of plenty; also while the food supply of these latter has the marked characteristic of quantity, that of the Grail is remarkable rather for quality, its choice character is always insisted upon.

The perusal of Professor Brown's subsequent study, Notes on Celtic Cauldrons of Plenty and The Land-Beneath-the-Waves, has confirmed me in my view that these special objects belong to another line of tradition altogether; that which deals with an inexhaustible submarine source of life, examples of which will be found in the 'Sampo' of the Finnish Kalewala, and the ever-grinding mills of popular folk-tale.[9] The fundamental idea here seems to be that of the origin of all Life from Water, a very ancient idea, but one which, though akin to the Grail tradition, is yet quite distinct therefrom. The study of this special theme would, I believe, produce valuable results.[10]

On the whole, I am of the opinion that the treasures of the Tuatha de Danann and the symbols of the Grail castle go back to a common original, but that they have developed on different lines; in the process of this development one 'Life' symbol has been exchanged for another.

But Lance and Cup (or Vase) were in truth connected together in a symbolic relation long ages before the institution of Christianity, or the birth of Celtic tradition. They are sex symbols of immemorial antiquity and world-wide diffusion, the Lance, or Spear, representing the Male, the Cup, or Vase, the Female, reproductive energy.[12]

Found in juxtaposition, the Spear upright in the Vase, as in the Bleheris and Balin (both, be it noted, Gawain) forms, their signification is admitted by all familiar with 'Life' symbolism, and they are absolutely in place as forming part of a ritual dealing with the processes of life and reproductive vitality.[13]

A most remarkable and significant use of these symbols is found in the ceremonies of the Samurai, the noble warrior caste of Japan. The aspirant was (I am told still is) admitted into the caste at the age of fourteen, when he was given over to the care of a guardian at least fifteen years his senior, to whom he took an oath of obedience, which was sworn upon the Spear. He remained celibate during the period covered by the oath. When the Samurai was held to have attained the degree of responsibility which would fit him for the full duties of a citizen, a second solemn ceremony was held, at which he was released from his previous vows, and presented with the Cup; he was henceforth free to marry, but intercourse with women previous to this ceremony was at one time punishable with death.[14]

That Lance and Cup are, outside the Grail story, 'Life' symbols, and have been such from time immemorial, is a fact; why, then should they not retain that character inside the framework of that story? An acceptance of this interpretation will not only be in harmony with the general mise-en-scene, but it will also explain finally and satisfactorily, (a) the dominant position frequently assigned to the Lance; (b) the fact that, while the Lance is borne in procession by a youth, the Grail is carried by a maiden—the sex of the bearer corresponds with the symbol borne.[15]

But Lance and Cup, though the most prominent of the Symbols, do not always appear alone, but are associated with other objects, the significance of which is not always apparent. Thus the Dish, which is sometimes the form assumed by the Grail itself, at other times appears as a tailleor, or carving platter of silver, carried in the same procession as the Grail; or there may be two small tailleors; finally, a Sword appears in varying roles in the story.

I have already referred to the fact, first pointed out by the late Mr Alfred Nutt,[16] that the four treasures of the Tuatha de Danann correspond generally with the group of symbols found in the Grail romances; this correspondence becomes the more interesting in view of the fact that these mysterious Beings are now recognized as alike Demons of Fertility and Lords of Life. As Mr Nutt subsequently pointed out, the 'Treasures' may well be, Sword and Cauldron certainly are, 'Life' symbols.

Of direct connection between these Celtic objects and the Grail story there is no trace; as remarked above, we have no Irish Folk or Hero tale at all corresponding to the Legend; the relation must, therefore, go back beyond the date of formation of these tales, i.e., it must be considered as one of origin rather than of dependence.

But we have further evidence that these four objects do, in fact, form a special group entirely independent of any appearance in Folk-lore or Romance. They exist to-day as the four suits of the Tarot.

Students of the Grail texts, whose attention is mainly occupied with Medieval Literature, may not be familiar with the word Tarot, or aware of its meaning. It is the name given to a pack of cards, seventy-eight in number, of which twenty-two are designated as the 'Keys.'

These cards are divided into four suits, which correspond with those of the ordinary cards; they are: Cup (Chalice, or Goblet)—Hearts. Lance (Wand, or Sceptre)—Diamonds. Sword—Spades. Dish (Circles, or Pentangles, the form varies)—Clubs.

To-day the Tarot has fallen somewhat into disrepute, being principally used for purposes of divination, but its origin, and precise relation to our present playing-cards, are questions of considerable antiquarian interest. Were these cards the direct parents of our modern pack, or are they entirely distinct therefrom?[17]

Some writers are disposed to assign a very high antiquity to the Tarot. Traditionally, it is said to have been brought from Egypt; there is no doubt that parallel designs and combinations are to be found in the surviving decorations of Egyptian temples, notably in the astronomic designs on the ceiling of one of the halls of the palace of Medinet Abou, which is supported on twenty-two columns (a number corresponding to the 'keys' of the Tarot), and also repeated in a calendar sculptured on the southern facade of the same building, under a sovereign of the XXIII dynasty. This calendar is supposed to have been connected with the periodic rise and fall of the waters of the Nile.[18]

The Tarot has also been connected with an ancient Chinese monument, traditionally erected in commemoration of the drying up of the waters of the Deluge by Yao. The face of this monument is divided up into small sections corresponding in size and number with the cards of the Tarot, and bearing characters which have, so far, not been deciphered.

What is certain is that these cards are used to-day by the Gipsies for purposes of divination, and the opinion of those who have studied the subject is that there is some real ground for the popular tradition that they were introduced into Europe by this mysterious people.

In a very interesting article on the subject in The Journal of the Gipsy-Lore Society,[19] Mr De la Hoste Ranking examines closely into the figures depicted on the various cards, and the names attached to the suits by the Gipsies. He comes to the conclusion that many of the words are of Sanskrit, or Hindustani, origin, and sums up the result of the internal evidence as follows: "The Tarot was introduced by a race speaking an Indian dialect. The figure known as 'The Pope' shows the influence of the Orthodox Eastern Faith; he is bearded, and carries the Triple Cross. The card called 'The King' represents a figure with the head-dress of a Russian Grand-Duke, and a shield bearing the Polish eagle. Thus the people who used the Tarot must have been familiar with a country where the Orthodox Faith prevailed, and which was ruled by princes of the status of Grand-Dukes. The general result seems to point to a genuine basis for the belief that the Tarot was introduced into Europe from the East."

As regards the group of symbols in general, Mr W. B. Yeats, whose practical acquaintance with Medieval and Modern Magic is well known, writes: "(1) Cup, Lance, Dish, Sword, in slightly varying forms, have never lost their mystic significance, and are to-day a part of magical operations. (2) The memory kept by the four suits of the Tarot, Cup, Lance, Sword, Pentangle (Dish), is an esoterical notation for fortune-telling purposes."[20]

But if the connection with the Egyptian and Chinese monuments, referred to above, is genuine, the original use of the 'Tarot' would seem to have been, not to foretell the Future in general, but to predict the rise and fall of the waters which brought fertility to the land.

Such use would bring the 'Suits' into line with the analogous symbols of the Grail castle and the treasures of the Tuatha de Danann, both of which we have seen to be connected with the embodiment of the reproductive forces of Nature.

If it is difficult to establish a direct connection between these two latter, it is practically impossible to argue any connection between either group and the 'Tarot'; no one has as yet ventured to suggest the popularity of the works of Chretien de Troyes among the Gipsies! Yet the correspondence can hardly be fortuitous. I would suggest that, while Lance and Cup, in their associated form, are primarily symbols of Human Life energy, in conjunction with others they formed a group of 'Fertility' symbols, connected with a very ancient ritual, of which fragmentary survivals alone have been preserved to us.

This view will, I believe, receive support from the evidence of the ceremonial Dances which formed so important a part of 'Fertility' ritual, and which survive in so many places to this day. If we find these symbols reappearing as a part of these dances, their real significance can hardly be disputed.


The Sword Dance

The subject we are now about to consider is one which of late years has attracted considerable attention, and much acute criticism has been expended on the question of its origin and significance. Valuable material has been collected, but the studies, so far, have been individual, and independent, the much needed travail d'ensemble has not yet appeared.

One definite result has, however, been obtained; it is now generally admitted that the so-called Sword Dances, with the closely related Morris Dances, and Mumming Plays, are not mere survivals of martial exercises, an inherited tradition from our warrior ancestors, but were solemn, ceremonial (in some cases there is reason to believe, Initiatory) dances, performed at stated seasons of the year, and directly and intimately connected with the ritual of which we have treated in previous chapters, a ritual designed to preserve and promote the regular and ordered sequence of the processes of Nature. And here, again, our enquiry must begin with the very earliest records of our race, with the traditions of our Aryan forefathers.

The earliest recorded Sword Dancers are undoubtedly the Maruts, those swift-footed youths in gleaming armour who are the faithful attendants on the great god, Indra. Professor von Schroeder, in Mysterium und Mimus, describes them thus:[1] they are a group of youths of equal age and identical parentage, they are always depicted as attired in the same manner, "Sie sind reich und prachtig geschmuckt, mit Goldschmuck auf der Brust, mit Spangen an den Handen, Hirschfelle tragen sie auf den Schultern. Vor allem aber sind sie kriegerisch gerustet, funkelnde Speere tragen sie in den Handen, oder auch goldene Axte. Goldene Harnische oder Mantel umhullen sie, goldene Helme schimmern auf ihren Hauptern. Nie erscheinen sie ohne Wehr und Waffen. Es scheint dass diese ganz und gar zu ihren Wesen gehoren."

The writer goes on to remark that when such a band of armed youths, all of the same age, always closely associated with each other, are represented as Dancers, and always as Dancers—"dann haben wir unabweislich das Bild eines Waffentanzes vor unseren Augen"—and Professor von Schroeder is undoubtedly right.

Constantly throughout the Rig-Veda the Maruts are referred to as Dancers, "gold-bedecked Dancers," "with songs of praise they danced round the spring," "When ye Maruts spear-armed dance, they (i.e., the Heavens) stream together like waves of water."[2]

And a special moment for the dance of these glorious youths "ever young brothers of whom none is elder, none younger"[3] is that of the ceremonial sacrifice, "sie tanzen auf ihren himmlischen Bahnen, sie springen und tanzen auch bei den Opferfesten der Menschen."[4]

The Maruts, as said above, were conceived of as the companions of Indra, and helpers in his fight against his monstrous adversaries; thus they were included in the sacrifices offered in honour of that Deity.

One of the most striking of the ritual Dramas reconstructed by Professor von Schroeder is that which represents Indra as indignantly rejecting the claim of the Maruts to share in such a sacrifice; they had failed to support him in his conflict with the dragon, Vritra, when by his might he loosed the waters, 'neither to-day, nor to-morrow' will he accept a sacrifice of which they share the honour; it requires all the tact of the Offerer, Agastya, and of the leader of the Maruts to soothe the offended Deity.[5]

Here I would draw attention to the significant fact that the feat celebrated is that to which I have previously referred as the most famous of all the deeds attributed to Indra, the 'Freeing of the Waters,' and here the Maruts are associated with the god.

But they were also the objects of independent worship. They were specially honoured at the Caturmasya, the feasts which heralded the commencement of the three seasons of four months each into which the Indian year was divided, a division corresponding respectively to the hot, the cool, and the wet, season. The advantages to be derived from the worship of the Maruts may be deduced from the following extracts from the Rig-Veda, which devotes more than thirty hymns to their praise. "The adorable Maruts, armed with bright lances, and cuirassed with golden breastplates, enjoy vigorous existence; may the cars of the quick-moving Maruts arrive for our good." "Bringers of rain and fertility, shedding water, augmenting food." "Givers of abundant food." "Your milchkine are never dry." "We invoke the food-laden chariots of the Maruts."[6] Nothing can be clearer than this; the Maruts are 'daimons' of fertility, the worship of whom will secure the necessary supply of the fruits of the earth.

The close association of the Maruts with Indra, the great Nature god, has led some scholars to regard them as personifications of a special manifestation of Nature, as Wind-gods. Professor von Schroeder points out that their father was the god Rudra, later known as Civa, the god of departed souls, and of fruitfulness, i.e., a Chthonian deity, and suggests that the Maruts represent the "in Wind und Sturm dahinjagende Seelenschar."[7] He points out that the belief in a troop of departed souls is an integral part of Aryan tradition, and classifies such belief under four main headings.

1. Under the form of a spectral Hunt, the Wild Huntsman well known in European Folk-lore. He equates this with Dionysus Zagreus, and the Hunt of Artemis-Hekate.

2. That of a spectral Army, the souls of warriors slain in fight. The Northern Einherier belong to this class, and the many traditions of spectral combats, and ghostly battles, heard, but not seen.

3. The conception of a host of women in a condition of ecstatic exaltation bordering on madness, who appear girdled with snakes, or hissing like snakes, tear living animals to pieces, and devour the flesh. The classic examples here are the Greek Maenads, and the Indian Senas, who accompany Rudra.

4. The conception of a train of theriomorphic, phallic, demons of fertility, with their companion group of fair women. Such are the Satyrs and Nymphs of Greek, the Gandharvas and Apsaras of Indian, Mythology.

To these four main groups may be added the belief among Germanic peoples, also among the Letts, in a troop of Child Souls.

These four groups, in more or less modified forms, appear closely connected with the dominant Spirit of Vegetation, by whatever name that spirit may be known.

According to von Schroeder there was, among the Aryan peoples generally, a tendency to regard the dead as assuming the character of daimons of fertility. This view the learned Professor considers to be at the root of the annual celebrations in honour of the Departed, the 'Feast of Souls,' which characterized the commencement of the winter season, and is retained in the Catholic conception of November as the month of the Dead.[8]

In any case we may safely conclude that the Maruts, represented as armed youths, were worshipped as deities of fruitfulness; that their dances were of a ceremonial character; and that they were, by nature and origin, closely connected with spirits of fertility of a lower order, such as the Gandharvas. It also appears probable that, if the Dramas of which traces have been preserved in the Rig-Veda, were, as scholars are now of opinion, once actually represented, the mythological conception of the Maruts must have found its embodiment in youths, most probably of the priestly caste, who played their role, and actually danced the ceremonial Sword Dance. As von Schroeder says, "Kein Zweifel dass sie dabei von menschlichen, resp. priesterlichen Personen dargestellt wurden.[9]

When we turn from the early Aryan to the classic Greek period we find in the Kouretes, and in a minor degree in the Korybantes, a parallel so extraordinarily complete, alike in action and significance, that an essential identity of origin appears to be beyond doubt.

The Kouretes were, as their name indicates, a band of armed youths, of semi-divine origin, "Kureten sind von Haus aus halb-gottlich damonische Wesen nicht nur menschliche Priester, oder deren mythische Vertreter."[10] Again, they are to be considered as "elementare Urwesen," and as such of "Gottliche Abkunft."[11] Preller regards them as "Damonen des Gebirgs,"[12] while a passage from Hesiod, quoted by Strabo, equates them with nymphs and satyrs, i.e., fertility demons.[13]

When we remember that the Gandharvas are the Indian equivalent of the Satyrs the close parallel between the Maruts and the Kouretes, both alike bands of armed youths, of elementary origin, and connected with beings of a lower grade, is striking.

The home of the Kouretes was in Crete, where they were closely associated with the worship of the goddess Rhea. The traditional story held that, in order to preserve the infant Zeus from destruction by his father Kronos, they danced their famous Sword Dance round the babe, overpowering his cries by the clash of their weapons.

Their dance was by some writers identified with the Pyrrhic dance, first performed by Athene, in honour of her victory over the Giants, and taught by her to the Kouretes. It had however, as we shall see, a very distinct aim and purpose, and one in no way connected with warlike ends.

In Miss J. E. Harrison's deeply interesting volume, Themis,[14] she gives the translation of a fragmentary Hymn of the Kouretes, discovered among the ruins of a temple in Crete, a text which places beyond all doubt the fact that, however mythical in origin, the Kouretes, certainly, had actual human representatives, and that while in the case of the Maruts there may be a question as to whether their dance actually took place, or not, so far as the Kouretes are concerned there can be no such doubt.

The following is the text as preserved to us; the slabs on which it is inscribed are broken, and there are consequent lacunae.

"Io, Kouros most great, I give thee hail, Kronian, lord of all that is wet and gleaming, thou art come at the head of thy Daimones. To Dikte for the year, Oh march, and rejoice in the dance and song,

"That we make to thee with harps and pipes mingled together, and sing as we come to a stand at thy well-fenced altar.

"Io, &c.

"For here the shielded Nurturers took thee, a child immortal, from Rhea, and with noise of beating feet hid thee away.

"Io, &c.

"And the Horai began to be fruitful year by year, and Dike to possess mankind and all wild living things were held about by wealth-loving Peace.

"Io, &c.

"And the Horai began to be fruitful year by year, and Dike to possess mankind and all wild living things were held about by wealth-loving Peace.

"Io, &c.

"To us also leap for full jars, and leap for fleecy flocks, and leap for fields of fruit, and for hives to bring increase.

"Io, &c.

"Leap for our cities, and leap for our sea-borne ships, and leap for our young citizens, and for goodly Themis."

This hymn is most extraordinarily interesting; it places beyond all doubt what was the root intention of this ceremonial dance; it was designed to stimulate the reproductive energies of Nature, to bring into being fruitful fields, and vineyards, plenteous increase in the flocks and herds, and to people the cities with youthful citizens; and the god is entreated not merely to accept the worship offered, but himself to join in the action which shall produce such fair results, to leap for full jars, and fleecy flocks, and for youthful citizens.

The importance of movement, notably of what we may call group movement, as a stimulant to natural energies, is thoroughly recognized among primitive peoples; with them Dance holds a position equivalent to that which, in more advanced communities, is assigned to Prayer. Professor von Schroeder comments on this, "Es ist merkwurdig genug zu sehen wie das Tanzen nach dem Glauben primitiver Volker eine ahnliche Kraft und Bedeutung zu haben scheint wie man sie auf hoheren Kulturstufen dem inbrunstigen Gebete zuschreibt."[15] He cites the case of the Tarahumara Indians of Central America; while the family as a whole are labouring in the fields it is the office of one man to dance uninterruptedly on the dance place of the house; if he fails in his office the labour of the others will be unsuccessful. The one sin of which a Tarahumara Indian is conscious is that of not having danced enough. Miss Harrison, in commenting on the dance of the Kouretes, remarks that among certain savage tribes when a man is too old to dance he hands on his dance to another. He then ceases to exist socially; when he dies his funeral is celebrated with scanty rites; having 'lost his dance' he has ceased to count as a social unit.[16]

With regard to the connection of the Kouretes with the infant Zeus, Miss Harrison makes the interesting suggestion that we have here a trace of an Initiation Dance, analogous to those discussed by M. Van Gennep in his Rites du Passage, that the original form was Titan, 'White-clay men,' which later became Titan, 'Giants,' and she draws attention to the fact that daubing the skin with white clay is a frequent practice in these primitive rituals. To this I would add that it is a noteworthy fact that in our modern survivals of these dances the performers are, as a rule, dressed in white. [*** Note: Weston's first "Titan" above had schwa accents over the vowels, the second "Titan" had macron accents over the vowels. ***]

The above suggestion is of extreme significance, as it brings out the possibility that these celebrations were not only concerned with the prosperity of the community, as a whole, but may also have borne a special, and individual, aspect, and that the idea of Initiation into the group is closely connected with the ceremonial exercise of group functions.

To sum up, there is direct proof that the classic Greeks, in common with their Aryan forefathers, held the conception of a group of Beings, of mythic origin, represented under the form of armed youths, who were noted dancers, and whose activities were closely connected with the processes of Nature. They recognized a relation between these beings, and others of a less highly developed aspect, phallic demons, often of theriomorphic form. Thus the dance of the Kouretes should be considered as a ceremonial ritual action, rather than as a warlike exercise; it was designed to promote the fruitfulness of the earth, not to display the skill of the dancers in the handling of weapons. When we turn to an analogous group, that of the Korybantes, we find that, while presenting a general parallel to the Kouretes (with whom they are often coupled in mythologies), they also possess certain distinct characteristics, which form a connecting link with other, and later, groups.

The Korybantes were of Phrygian origin, attached to the worship of the goddess Kybele, and Attis, the well-known Phrygian counterpart to the Phoenician Adonis, and originally the most important embodiment of the Vegetation Spirit. Roscher considers them to be of identical origin with the Kouretes, i.e., as elementary 'daimons,' but the Korybantes of Classic art and tradition are undoubtedly human beings. Priests of Kybele, they appear in surviving bas-reliefs in company with that goddess, and with Attis.

The dance of the Korybantes is distinguished from that of the Kouretes by its less restrained, and more orgiastic character; it was a wild and whirling dance resembling that of the modern Dervishes, accompanied by self-mutilation and an unrhythmic clashing of weapons, designed, some writers think, to overpower the cries of the victims.

If this suggestion be correct it would seem to indicate that, if the Dance of the Kouretes was originally an Initiation Dance, that of the Korybantes was Sacrificial in character. We shall see later that certain features in the surviving forms of the Sword Dance also point in this direction.

The interest of the Korybantes for our investigation lies in the fact that here again we have the Sword Dance in close and intimate connection with the worship of the Vegetation Spirit, and there can be no doubt that here, as elsewhere, it was held to possess a stimulating virtue.

A noticeable point in the modern survivals of these Dances is that the Dance proper is combined with a more or less coherent dramatic action. The Sword Dance originally did not stand alone, but formed part of a Drama, to the action of which it may be held to have given a cumulative force.

On this point I would refer the reader to Professor von Schroeder's book, where this aspect of the Dance is fully discussed.[17]

We have already spoken of the Maruts, and their dramatic connection with Indra; the Greek Dancers offer us no direct parallel, though the connection of the Kouretes with the infant Zeus may quite possibly indicate the existence in the original form of the Dance, of a more distinctly dramatic element.

We have, however, in the Roman Salii a connecting link which proves beyond all doubt that our modern dances, and analogous representations, are in fact genuine survivals of primitive ceremonies, and in no way a mere fortuitous combination of originally independent elements.

The Salii formed a college of priests, twelve in number, dedicated to the service of Mars, who, it is important to remember, was originally a god of growth and vegetation, a Spring Deity, who bestowed his name on the vernal month of March; only by degrees did the activities of the god become specially connected with the domain of War.[18]

There seem to have been two groups of Salii, one having their college on the Palatine, the other on the Quirinal; the first were the more important. The Quirinal group shared in the celebrations of the latter part of the month only.

The first of March was the traditional birthday of Mars, and from that date, during the whole of the month, the Salii offered sacrifices and performed dances in his honour. They wore pointed caps, or helmets, on their head, were girt with swords, and carried on the left arm shields, copied from the 'ancilia' or traditional shield of Mars, fabled to have fallen from heaven. In their right hand they bore a small lance.

Dionysus of Halicarnassus, in a passage describing the Salii, says, "they carried in their right hand a spear, or staff, or something of that sort." Miss Harrison, quoting this passage, gives a reproduction of a bas-relief representing the Salii carrying what she says "are clearly drumsticks." (As a matter of fact they very closely resemble the 'Wands' which in the Tarot cards sometimes represent the 'Lance' suit.)

Miss Harrison suggests that the original shields were made of skins, stretched upon a frame, and beaten by these 'drumsticks.' This may quite well have been the case, and it would bear out my contention that the original contact of weapon and shield was designed rather as a rhythmic accompaniment to the Dance, than as a display of skill in handling sword and lance, i.e., that these dances were not primarily warlike exercises.

At the conclusion of their songs the Salii invoked Mamurius Veturius, the smith who was fabled to have executed the copies of the original shield, while on the 14th of March, a man, dressed in skins, and supposed to represent the aforesaid smith, was led through the streets, beaten by the Salii with rods, and thrust out of the city.

The following day, the 15th, was the feast of Anna Perenna, fabled to be an old woman, to whom Mars had confided the tale of his love for Nerio, and who, disguising herself as the maiden, had gone through the ceremony of marriage with the god. This feast was held outside the gates. On the 23rd the combined feast of Mars and Nerio was held with great rejoicing throughout the city. Modern scholars have unanimously recognized in Mamurius Veturius and Anna Perenna the representatives of the Old Year, the Vegetation Spirit, and his female counterpart, who, grown old, must yield place to the young god and his correspondingly youthful bride. Reference to Chapter 5, where the medieval and modern forms of this Nature ritual are discussed, and instances of the carrying out of Winter, and ceremonial bringing in of Spring, are given, will suffice to show how vital and enduring an element in Folk-lore is this idea of driving out the Old Year, while celebrating the birth of the New. Here then, again, we have a ritual Sword Dance closely associated with the practice of a Nature cult; there can, I think, be no doubt that ab initio the two were connected with each other.

But the dance of the Salii with its dramatic Folk-play features forms an interesting link between the classic Dance of the Kouretes, and the modern English survivals, in which the dramatic element is strongly marked. These English forms may be divided into three related groups, the Sword Dance, the Morris Dance, and the Mumming Play. Of these the Morris Dance stands somewhat apart; of identical origin, it has discarded the dramatic element, and now survives simply as a Dance, whereas the Sword Dance is always dramatic in form, and the Mumming Play, acted by characters appearing also in the Sword Dance, invariably contains a more or less elaborate fight.[19]

The Sword Dance proper appears to have been preserved mostly in the North of England, and in Scotland. Mr Cecil Sharp has found four distinct varieties in Yorkshire alone. At one time there existed a special variant known as the Giants' Dance, in which the leading characters were known by the names of Wotan, and Frau Frigg; one figure of this dance consisted in making a ring of swords round the neck of a lad, without wounding him.

Mr E. K. Chambers has commented on this as the survival of a sacrificial origin.[20] The remarks of this writer on the Sword Dance in its dramatic aspect are so much to the point that I quote them here. "The Sword Dance makes its appearance, not like heroic poetry in general, as part of the minstrel repertory, but as a purely popular thing at the agricultural festivals. To these festivals we may therefore suppose it to have originally belonged." Mr Chambers goes on to remark that the dance of the Salii discussed above, was clearly agricultural, "and belongs to Mars not as War god, but in his more primitive quality of a fertilization Spirit."

In an Appendix to his most valuable book the same writer gives a full description, with text, of the most famous surviving form of the Sword Dance, that of Papa Stour (old Norwegian Papey in Stora), one of the Shetland Islands.

The dance was performed at Christmas (Yule-tide). The dancers, seven in number, represented the seven champions of Christendom; the leader, Saint George, after an introductory speech, performed a solo dance, to the music of an accompanying minstrel. He then presented his comrades, one by one, each in turn going through the same performance. Finally the seven together performed an elaborate dance. The complete text of the speeches is given in the Appendix referred to.[21]

The close connection between the English Sword Dance, and the Mumming Play, is indicated by the fact that the chief character in these plays is, generally speaking, Saint George. (The title has in some cases become corrupted into King George.) In Professor von Schroeder's opinion this is due to Saint George's legendary role as Dragon slayer, and he sees in the importance assigned to this hero an argument in favour of his theory that the "Slaying of the Dragon" was the earliest Aryan Folk-Drama.

In Folk-Lore, Vol. X., a fully illustrated description of the Mumming Play, as performed at Newbold, a village near Rugby, is given.[22] Here the characters are Father Christmas, Saint George, a Turkish Knight, Doctor, Moll Finney (mother of the Knight), Humpty Jack, Beelzebub, and 'Big-Head-and-Little-Wit.' These last three have no share in the action proper, but appear in a kind of Epilogue, accompanying a collection made by Beelzebub.

The Play is always performed at Christmas time, consequently Father Christmas appears as stage-manager, and introduces the characters. The action consists in a general challenge issued by Saint George, and accepted by the Turkish Knight. A combat follows, in which the Turk is slain. His mother rushes in, weeps over the body, and demands the services of a Doctor, who appears accordingly, vaunts his skill in lines interspersed with unintelligible gibberish, and restores the Turk to life. In the version which used to be played throughout Scotland at Hogmanay (New-Year-tide), the characters are Bol Bendo, the King of France, the King of Spain, Doctor Beelzebub, Golishan, and Sir Alexander.[23] The fight is between Bol Bendo (who represents the Saint George of the English version), and Golishan. The latter is killed, and, on the demand of Sir Alexander (who acts as stage-manager), revived by the doctor, this character, as in the English version, interlarding the recital of his feats of healing skill with unintelligible phrases.[24] There is a general consensus of opinion among Folk-lore authorities that in this rough drama, which we find played in slightly modified form all over Europe (in Scandinavia it is the Julbock, a man dressed in skins, who, after a dramatic dance, is killed and revived),[25] we have a symbolic representation of the death and re-birth of the year; a counterpart to those ceremonies of driving out Winter, and bringing in Spring, which we have already described.

This chapter had already been written when an important article, by Dr Jevons, entitled Masks and the Origin of the Greek Drama appeared in Folk-Lore (Vol. XXVII.) The author, having discussed the different forms of Greek Drama, and the variety of masks employed, decides that "Greek Comedy originated in Harvest Festivals, in some ceremony in which the Harvesters went about in procession wearing masks." This ceremony he connects directly with the English Mumming Plays, suggesting that "the characters represented on this occasion were the Vegetation Spirit, and those who were concerned in bringing about his revivification—in fine, Greek Comedy and the Mumming Play both sprang from the rite of revivification." At a later stage of our enquiry we shall have occasion to return to this point, and realize its great importance for our theory.

The Morris Dances differ somewhat from the Sword, and Mumming Dances. The performances as a rule take place in the Spring, or early Summer, chiefly May, and Whitsuntide. The dances retain little or no trace of dramatic action but are dances pure and simple. The performers, generally six in number, are attired in white elaborately-pleated shirts, decked with ribbons, white mole-skin trousers, with bells at the knee, and beaver hats adorned with ribbons and flowers. The leader carries a sword, on the point of which is generally impaled a cake; during the dancing slices of this cake are distributed to the lookers on, who are supposed to make a contribution to the 'Treasury,' a money-box carried by an individual called the Squire, or Clown, dressed in motley, and bearing in the other hand a stick with a bladder at one end, and a cow's tail at the other.

In some forms of the dance there is a 'Lord' and a 'Lady,' who carry 'Maces' of office; these maces are short staves, with a transverse piece at the top, and a hoop over it. The whole is decorated with ribbons and flowers, and bears a curious resemblance to the Crux Ansata.[26] In certain figures of the dance the performers carry handkerchiefs, in others, wands, painted with the colours of the village to which they belong; the dances are always more or less elaborate in form.

The costume of the 'Clown' (an animal's skin, or cap of skin with tail pendant) and the special character assumed by the Maytide celebrations in certain parts of England, e.g., Cornwall and Staffordshire,[27] would seem to indicate that, while the English Morris Dance has dropped the dramatic action, the dancers not being designated by name, and playing no special role, it has, on the other hand, retained the theriomorphic features so closely associated with Aryan ritual, which the Sword Dance, and Mumming Play, on their side, have lost.[28]

A special note of these English survivals, and one to which I would now draw attention, is the very elaborate character of the figures, and the existence of a distinct symbolic element. I am informed that the Sword dancers of to-day always, at the conclusion of a series of elaborate sword-lacing figures, form the Pentangle; as they hold up the sign they cry, triumphantly, "A Nut! A Nut!" The word Nut==Knot (as in the game of 'Nuts, i.e., breast-knots, nosegays, in May'). They do this often even when performing a later form of the Mumming Play.

I have already drawn attention to the fact that in Gawain and the Green Knight the hero's badge is the Pentangle (or Pentacle), there explained as called by the English 'the Endless Knot.'[29] In the previous chapter I have noted that the Pentangle frequently in the Tarot suits replaces the Dish; in Mr Yeats's remarks, cited above, the two are held to be interchangeable, one or the other always forms one of the group of symbols.

In one form of the Morris Dance, that performed in Berkshire, the leader, or 'Squire' of the Morris carries a Chalice! At the same time he bears a Sword, and a bull's head at the end of a long pole. This figure is illustrated in Miss Mary Neal's Esperance Morris Book.[30]

Thus our English survivals of these early Vegetation ceremonies preserve, in a more or less detached form, the four symbols discussed in the preceding chapter, Grail, Sword, Lance, and Pentangle, or Dish. It seems to me that, in view of the evidence thus offered, it is not a very hazardous, or far-fetched hypothesis to suggest that these symbols, the exact value of which, as a group, we cannot clearly determine, but of which we know the two most prominent, Cup and Lance, to be sex symbols, were originally 'Fertility' emblems, and as such employed in a ritual designed to promote, or restore, the activity of the reproductive energies of Nature.

As I have pointed out above an obvious dislocation has taken place in our English survivals. Sword Dance, Mumming Play, and Morris Dance, no longer form part of one ceremony, but have become separated, and connected, on the one hand with the Winter, on the other with the early Summer, Nature celebrations; it is thus not surprising that the symbols should also have become detached. The fact that the three groups manifestly form part of an original whole is an argument in favour of the view that at one moment all the symbols were used together, and the Grail chalice carried in a ceremony in which Sword, Lance, and Pentangle, were also displayed.

But there is another point I would suggest. Is it not possible that, in these armed youths, who were in some cases, notably in that of the Salii, at once warriors and priests, we have the real origin of the Grail Knights? We know now, absolutely, and indubitably, that these Sword Dances formed an important part of the Vegetation ritual; is it not easily within the bounds of possibility that, as the general ceremonial became elevated, first to the rank of a Mystery Cult, and then used as a vehicle for symbolic Christian teaching, the figures of the attendant warrior-priests underwent a corresponding change? From Salii to Templars is not after all so 'far a cry' as from the glittering golden-armed Maruts, and the youthful leaping Kouretes, to the grotesque tatterdemalion personages of the Christmas Mumming Play. We have learnt to acknowledge the common origin of these two latter groups; may we not reasonably contemplate a possible relation existing between the two first named?


The Medicine Man

In previous chapters I have referred to the part played by the Doctor in a large number of the surviving 'Fertility' ceremonies, and to the fact, noted by other writers, that even where an active share is no longer assigned to the character, he still appears among the dramatis personae of these Folk-plays and processions.[1] We will now examine more closely the role allotted to this mysterious personage; we shall find it to be of extreme antiquity and remarkable significance.

In the interesting and important work by Professor von Schroeder, to which I have already often referred, we find the translation of a curious poem (Rig-Veda, 10. 97), a monologue placed in the mouth of a Doctor, or Medicine Man, who vaunts the virtue of his herbs, and their power to cure human ills.[2] From the references made to a special sick man von Schroeder infers that this poem, like others in the collection, was intended to be acted, as well as recited, and that the personage to be healed, evidently present on the scene, was probably represented by a dummy, as no speeches are allotted to the character.

The entire poem consists of 23 verses of four lines each, and is divided by the translator into three distinct sections; the first is devoted to the praise of herbs in general, their power to cure the sick man before them, and at the same time to bring riches to the Healer—the opening verses run:

"Die Krauter alt, entsprossen einst Drei Alter vor den Gottern noch, Die braunen will Ich preisen jetzt! Hundert und sieben Arten sinds.

"Ja, hundert Arten, Mutterlein, Und tausend Zweige habt ihr auch, Ihr, die ihr hundert Krafte habt, Macht diesen Menschen mir gesund.

"Ihr Krauter hort, ihr Mutterchen, Ihr gottlichen, das sag ich euch: Ross, Rind und Kleid gewann' ich gern Und auch dein Leben, lieber Mann!


Furwahr ihr bringt mir Rinder ein, Wenn ihr ihn rettet diesen Mann."

He then praises the power of all herbs:

"Vom Himmel kam der Krauter Schar Geflogen, und da sprechen sie; Wen wir noch lebend treffen an Der Mann soll frei von Schaden sein."

Finally the speaker singles out one herb as superior to all others:

"Die Krauter viel in Soma's Reich Die hundertfach verstandigen, Von denen bist das beste du Erfullst den Wunsch, und heilst das Herz."

He conjures all other herbs to lend their virtue to this special remedy:

"Ihr Krauter all' in Soma's Reich Verbreitet auf der Erde hin, Ihr, von Brihaspati erzeugt, Gebt diesem Kraute eure Kraft!

"Nicht nehme Schaden, der euch grabt, Noch der, fur Welchen Ich euch grub! Bei uns soll Alles, Mensch, und Vieh, Gesund und ohne Schaden sein.

"Ihr, die ihr horet dies mein Wort, Ihr, die ihr in der Ferne seid, Ihr Pflanzen all', vereignet euch, Gebt diesem Kraute eure Kraft!"

And the herbs, taking counsel together with Soma their king, answer:

"Fur Wen uns ein Brahmane braucht Den, Konig, wollen retten wir,"

a line which throws a light upon the personality of the speaker; he is obviously a Brahmin, and the Medicine Man here, as elsewhere, unites the functions of Priest and Healer.

Professor von Schroeder suggests that this Dramatic Monologue formed part of the ceremonies of a Soma feast, that it is the Soma plant from which the heavenly drink is brewed which is to be understood as the first of all herbs and the curer of all ills, and the reference to Soma as King of the herbs seems to bear out this suggestion.

In a previous chapter[3] I have referred to a curious little poem, also found in the Rig-Veda, and translated by von Schroeder under the title A Folk-Procession at a Soma-Feast, the dramatis personae of the poem offering, as I pointed out, a most striking and significant parallel to certain surviving Fertility processions, notably that of Vardegotzen in Hanover. In this little song which von Schroeder places in the mouth of the leader of the band of maskers, the Doctor is twice referred to; in the opening lines we have the Brahmin, the Doctor, the Carpenter, the Smith, given as men plying different trades, and each and all in search of gain; in the final verse the speaker announces, "I am a Poet (or Singer), my father a Doctor." Thus of the various trades and personages enumerated the Doctor alone appears twice over, an indication of the importance attached to this character.

Unfortunately, in view of the fragmentary condition of the survivals of early Aryan literature, and the lack of explanatory material at our disposal, it is impossible to decide what was the precise role assigned to the 'Medicine Man'; judging from the general character of the surviving dramatic fragments and the close parallel which exists between these fragments and the Medieval and Modern Fertility ceremonies, it seems extremely probable that his original role was identical with that assigned to his modern counterpart, i.e., that of restoring to life or health the slain, or suffering, representative of the Vegetation Spirit.

This presumption gains additional support from the fact that it is in this character that the Doctor appears in Greek Classical Drama. Von Schroeder refers to the fact that the Doctor was a stock figure in the Greek 'Mimus'[4] and in Mr Cornford's interesting volume entitled The Origin of Attic Comedy, the author reckons the Doctor among the stock Masks of the early Greek Theatre, and assigns to this character the precise role which later survivals have led us to attribute to him.

The significance of Mr Cornford's work lies in the fact that, while he accepts Sir Gilbert Murray's deeply interesting and suggestive theory that the origins of Greek Tragedy are to be sought in "the Agon of the Fertility Spirit, his Pathos, and Theophany," he contends that a similar origin may be postulated for Attic Comedy—that the stock Masks (characters) agree with a theory of derivation of such Comedy from a ritual performance celebrating the renewal of the seasons.[5] "They were at first serious, and even awful, figures in a Religious Mystery, the God who every year is born, and dies, and rises again; his Mother and his Bride; the Antagonist who kills him; the Medicine Man who restores him to life."[6]

I would submit that the presence of such a character in the original ritual drama of Revival which, on my theory, underlies the romantic form of the Grail legend, may, in view of the above evidence, and of that brought forward in the previous chapters, be accepted as at least a probable hypothesis.

But, it may be objected, granting that the Doctor in these Fertility processions and dramas represents a genuine survival of a feature of immemorial antiquity, a survival to be traced alike in Aryan remains, in Greek literature, and in Medieval ceremony, what is the precise bearing upon the special subject of our investigations? There is no Doctor in the Grail legend, although there is certainly abundant scope for his activities!

There may be no Doctor in the Grail legend to-day, but was there never such a character? How if this be the key to explain the curious and persistent attribution of healing skill to so apparently unsuitable a personage as Sir Gawain? I would draw the attention of my readers to a passage in the Perceval of Chretien de Troyes, where Gawain, finding a wounded knight by the roadside, proceeds to treat him:

"Et Mesire Gauvain savoit Plus que nuls homs de garir plaie; Une herbe voit en une haie Trop bonne pour douleur tolir De plaie, et il la va cueillir."[7]

Other MSS. are rather fuller:

"Et Messires Gauvain savoit Plus que nus hons vivant de plaies, Unes herbe voit les une haies Qu'il connoissoit lonc temps avoit Que son mestre apris li avoit Enseigniee et bien moustree, Et il l'avoit bien esgardee Si l'a molt bien reconneue."[8]

We find reference to Gawain's possession of medical knowledge elsewhere. In the poem entitled Lancelot et le cerf au pied blanc, Gawain, finding his friend desperately wounded, carries him to a physician whom he instructs as to the proper treatment.[9]

"Ende Walewein wiesde den Ersatere mere Ene const, die daertoe halp wel sere."[10]

In the parallel adventure related in Morien Gawain heals Lancelot without the aid of any physician:[11]

"Doe was Walewein harde blide Ende bant hem sine wonden ten tide Met selken crude die daer dochten Dat si niet bloden mochten."[12]

They ride to an anchorite's cell:

"Si waren doe in dire gedochten Mochten sie daer comen tier stont Datten Walewein soude maken gesont."[13]

The Dutch Lancelot has numerous references to Gawain's skill in healing. Of course the advocates of the originality of Chretien de Troyes will object that these references, though found in poems which have no connection with Chretien, and which are translations from lost French originals of an undetermined date, are one and all loans from the more famous poem. This, however, can hardly be contended of the Welsh Triads; there we find Gwalchmai, the Welsh Gawain, cited as one of the three men "To whom the nature of every object was known,"[14] an accomplishment exceedingly necessary for a 'Medicine Man,' but not at first sight especially needful for the equipment of a knight.[15] This persistent attribution of healing skill is not, so far as my acquaintance with medieval Romance goes, paralleled in the case of any other knight; even Tristan, who is probably the most accomplished of heroes of romance, the most thoroughly trained in all branches of knightly education, is not credited with any such knowledge. No other knight, save Gawain, has the reputation of a Healer, yet Gawain, the Maidens' Knight, the 'fair Father of Nurture' is, at first sight, hardly the personage one might expect to possess such skill. Why he should be so persistently connected with healing was for long a problem to me; recently, however, I have begun to suspect that we have in this apparently motiveless attribution the survival of an early stage of tradition in which not only did Gawain cure the Grail King, but he did so, not by means of a question, or by the welding of a broken sword, but by more obvious and natural means, the administration of a healing herb. Gawain's character of Healer belongs to him in his role of Grail Winner.

Some years ago, in the course of my reading, I came across a passage in which certain knights of Arthur's court, riding through a forest, come upon a herb 'which belonged to the Grail.' Unfortunately the reference, at the time I met with it, though it struck me as curious, did not possess any special significance, and either I omitted to make a note of it, or entered it in a book which, with sundry others, went mysteriously astray in the process of moving furniture. In any case, though I have searched diligently I have failed to recover the passage, but I note it here in the hope that one of my reader may be more fortunate.

It is perhaps not without significance that a mention of Peredur (Perceval) in Welsh poetry may also possibly contain a reference to his healing office. I refer to the well-known Song of the Graves in the Black Book of Carmarthen where the grave of Mor, son of Peredur Penwetic, is referred to. According to Dr G. Evans the word penwedic, or perfeddyg, as it may also be read, means chief Healer. Peredur, it is needless to say, is the Welsh equivalent of Perceval, Gawain's successor and supplanter in the role of Grail hero.

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