From Ritual to Romance
by Jessie L. Weston
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Finally, Mithraism taught the resurrection of the body—Mithra will descend upon earth, and will revive all men. All will issue from their graves, resume their former appearance and recognize each other. All will be united in one great assembly, and the good will be separated from the evil. Then in one supreme sacrifice Mithra will immolate the divine bull, and mixing its fat with the consecrated wine will offer to the righteous the cup of Eternal Life.[5]

The final parallel with the Messianic Feast described in Chapter 9 is too striking to be overlooked.

The celestial nature of the deity is also well brought out in the curious text edited by Dieterich from the great Magic Papyrus of the Bibliotheque Nationale, and referred to in a previous chapter. This text purports to be a formula of initiation, and we find the aspirant ascending through the Seven Heavenly Spheres, to be finally met by Mithra who brings him to the presence of God. So in the Mithraic temples we find seven ladders, the ascent of which by the Initiate typified his passage to the seventh and supreme Heaven.[6]

Bousset points out that the original idea was that of three Heavens above which was Paradise; the conception of Seven Heavens, ruled by the seven Planets, which we find in Mithraism, is due to the influence of Babylonian sidereal cults.[7]

There is thus a marked difference between the two initiations; the Attis initiate dies, is possibly buried, and revives with his god; the Mithra initiate rises direct to the celestial sphere, where he is met and welcomed by his god. There is here no evidence of the death and resurrection of the deity.

What then is the point of contact between the cults that brought them into such close and intimate relationship?

I think it must be sought in the higher teaching, which, under widely differing external mediums, included elements common to both. In both cults the final aim was the attainment of spiritual and eternal life. Moreover, both possessed essential features which admitted, if they did not encourage, an assimilation with Christianity. Both of them, if forced to yield ground to their powerful rival, could, with a fair show of reason, claim that they had been not vanquished, but fulfilled, that their teaching had, in Christianity, attained its normal term.

The extracts given above will show the striking analogy between the higher doctrine of Mithraism, and the fundamental teaching of its great rival, a resemblance that was fully admitted, and which became the subject of heated polemic. Greek philosophers did not hesitate to establish a parallel entirely favourable to Mithraism, while Christian apologists insisted that such resemblances were the work of the Devil, a line of argument which, as we have seen above, they had already adopted with regard to the older Mysteries. It is a matter of historical fact that at one moment the religious fate of the West hung in the balance, and it was an open question whether Mithraism or Christianity would be the dominant Creed.[8]

On the other hand we have also seen that certainly one early Christian sect, the Naassenes, while equally regarding the Logos as the centre of their belief, held the equivalent deity to be Attis, and frequented the Phrygian Mysteries as the most direct source of spiritual enlightenment, while the teaching as to the Death and Resurrection of the god, and the celebration of a Mystic Feast, in which the worshippers partook of the Food and Drink of Eternal Life, offered parallels to Christian doctrine and practice to the full as striking as any to be found in the Persian faith.

I would therefore submit that it was rather through the medium of their inner, Esoteric, teaching, that the two faiths, so different in their external practice, preserved so close and intimate a connection and that, by the medium of that same Esoteric teaching, both alike came into contact with Christianity, and, in the case of the Phrygian cult, could, and actually did, claim identity with it.

Baudissin in his work above referred to suggests that the Adonis cult owed its popularity to its higher, rather than to its lower, elements, to its suggestion of ever-renewing life, rather than to the satisfaction of physical desire to be found in it.[9] Later evidence seems to prove that he judged correctly.

We may also note that the Attis Mysteries were utilized by the priests of Mithra for the initiation of women who were originally excluded from the cult of the Persian god. Cumont remarks that this, an absolute rule in the Western communities, seems to have had exceptions in the Eastern.[10] Is it possible that the passage quoted in the previous chapter, in which Perceval is informed that no woman may speak of the Grail, is due to contamination with the Mithra worship? It does not appear to be in harmony with the prominent position assigned to women in the Grail ritual, the introduction of a female Grail messenger, or the fact that (with the exception of Merlin in the Borron text) it is invariably a maiden who directs the hero on his road to the Grail castle, or reproaches him for his failure there.

But there is little doubt that, separately, or in conjunction, both cults travelled to the furthest borders of the Roman Empire. The medium of transmission is very fully discussed by Cumont in both of the works referred to. The channel appears to have been three-fold. First, commercial, through the medium of Syrian merchants. As ardently religious as practically business-like, the Syrians introduced their native deities wherever they penetrated, "founding their chapels at the same time as their counting-houses."[11]

Secondly, there was social penetration—by means of the Asiatic slaves, who formed a part of most Roman households, and the State employes, such as officers of customs, army paymasters, etc., largely recruited from Oriental sources.

Thirdly, and most important, were the soldiers, the foreign legions, who, drawn mostly from the Eastern parts of the Empire, brought their native deities with them. Cumont signalizes as the most active agents of the dispersion of the cult of Mithra, Soldiers, Slaves, and Merchants.[12]

As far North as Hadrian's Dyke there has been found an inscription in verse in honour of the goddess of Hierapolis, the author a prefect, probably, Cumont remarks, the officer of a cohort of Hamii, stationed in this distant spot. Dedications to Melkart and Astarte have been found at Corbridge near Newcastle. The Mithraic remains are practically confined to garrison centres, London, York, Chester, Caerleon-on-Usk, and along Hadrian's Dyke.[13] From the highly interesting map attached to the Study, giving the sites of ascertained Mithraic remains, there seems to have been such a centre in Pembrokeshire.

Now in view of all this evidence is it not at least possible that the higher form of the Attis cult, that in which it was known and practised by early Gnostic Christians, may have been known in Great Britain? Scholars have been struck by the curiously unorthodox tone of the Grail romances, their apparent insistence on a succession quite other than the accredited Apostolic tradition, and yet, according to the writers, directly received from Christ Himself. The late M. Paulin Paris believed that the source of this peculiar feature was to be found in the struggle for independence of the early British Church; but, after all, the differences of that Church with Rome affected only minor points of discipline: the date of Easter, the fashion of tonsure of the clergy, nothing which touched vital doctrines of the Faith. Certainly the British Church never claimed the possession of a revelation a part. But if the theory based upon the evidence of the Naassene document be accepted such a presentation can be well accounted for. According to Hippolytus the doctrines of the sect were derived from James, the brother of Our Lord, and Clement of Alexandria asserts that "The Lord imparted the Gnosis to James the Just, to John and to Peter, after His Resurrection; these delivered it to the rest of the Apostles, and they to the Seventy."[14] Thus the theory proposed in these pages will account not only for the undeniable parallels existing between the Vegetation cults and the Grail romances, but also for the Heterodox colouring of the latter, two elements which at first sight would appear to be wholly unconnected, and quite incapable of relation to a common source.

Nor in view of the persistent vitality and survival, even to our own day, of the Exoteric practices can there be anything improbable in the hypothesis of a late survival of the Esoteric side of the ritual. Cumont points out that the worship of Mithra was practised in the fifth century in certain remote cantons of the Alps and the Vosges—i.e., at the date historically assigned to King Arthur. Thus it would not be in any way surprising if a tradition of the survival of these semi-Christian rites at this period also existed.[15] In my opinion it is the tradition of such a survival which lies at the root, and explains the confused imagery, of the text we know as the Elucidation. I have already, in my short study of the subject, set forth my views; as I have since found further reasons for maintaining the correctness of the solution proposed, I will repeat it here.[16]

The text in question is found in three of our existing Grail versions: in the MS. of Mons; in the printed edition of 1530; and in the German translation of Wisse-Colin. It is now prefixed to the poem of Chretien de Troyes, but obviously, from the content, had originally nothing to do with that version.

It opens with the passage quoted above (p. 130) in which Master Blihis utters his solemn warning against revealing the secret of the Grail. It goes on to tell how aforetime there were maidens dwelling in the hills[17] who brought forth to the passing traveller food and drink. But King Amangons outraged one of these maidens, and took away from her her golden Cup:

"Des puceles une esforcha Et la coupe d'or li toli—[4]."

His knights, when they saw their lord act thus, followed his evil example, forced the fairest of the maidens, and robbed them of their cups of gold. As a result the springs dried up, the land became waste, and the court of the Rich Fisher, which had filled the land with plenty, could no longer be found.

For 1000 years the land lies waste, till, in the days of King Arthur, his knights find maidens wandering in the woods, each with her attendant knight. They joust, and one, Blihos-Bliheris, vanquished by Gawain, comes to court and tells how these maidens are the descendants of those ravished by King Amangons and his men, and how, could the court of the Fisher King, and the Grail, once more be found, the land would again become fertile. Blihos-Bliheris is, we are told, so entrancing a story-teller that none at court could ever weary of listening to his words.

The natural result, which here does not immediately concern us, was that Arthur's knights undertook the quest, and Gawain achieved it. Now at first sight this account appears to be nothing but a fantastic fairy-tale (as such Professor Brown obviously regarded it), and although the late Dr Sebastian Evans attempted in all seriousness to find a historical basis for the story in the events which provoked the pronouncement of the Papal Interdict upon the realm of King John, and the consequent deprivation of the Sacraments, I am not aware that anyone took the solution seriously. Yet, on the basis of the theory now set forth, is it not possible that there may be a real foundation of historical fact at the root of this wildly picturesque tale? May it not be simply a poetical version of the disappearance from the land of Britain of the open performance of an ancient Nature ritual? A ritual that lingered on in the hills and mountains of Wales as the Mithra worship did in the Alps and Vosges, celebrated as that cult habitually was, in natural caverns, and mountain hollows? That it records the outrage offered by some, probably local, chieftain to a priestess of the cult, an evil example followed by his men, and the subsequent cessation of the public celebration of the rites, a cessation which in the folk-belief would certainly be held sufficient to account for any subsequent drought that might affect the land? But the ritual, in its higher, esoteric, form was still secretly observed, and the tradition, alike of its disappearance as a public cult, and of its persistence in some carefully hidden strong-hold, was handed on in the families of those who had been, perhaps still were, officiants of these rites.

That among the handers on of the torch would be the descendants of the outraged maidens, is most probable.

The sense of mystery, of a real danger to be faced, of an overwhelming Spiritual gain to be won, were of the essential nature of the tale. It was the very mystery of Life which lay beneath the picturesque wrappings; small wonder that the Quest of the Grail became the synonym for the highest achievement that could be set before men, and that when the romantic evolution of the Arthurian tradition reached its term, this supreme adventure was swept within the magic circle. The knowledge of the Grail was the utmost man could achieve, Arthur's knights were the very flower of manhood, it was fitting that to them the supreme test be offered. That the man who first told the story, and boldly, as befitted a born teller of tales, wedded it the Arthurian legend, was himself connected by descent with the ancient Faith, himself actually held the Secret of the Grail, and told, in purposely romantic form, that of which he knew, I am firmly convinced, nor do I think that the time is far distant when the missing links will be in our hand, and we shall be able to weld once more the golden chain which connects Ancient Ritual with Medieval Romance.


The Perilous Chapel

Students of the Grail romances will remember that in many of the versions the hero—sometimes it is a heroine—meets with a strange and terrifying adventure in a mysterious Chapel, an adventure which, we are given to understand, is fraught with extreme peril to life. The details vary: sometimes there is a Dead Body laid on the altar; sometimes a Black Hand extinguishes the tapers; there are strange and threatening voices, and the general impression is that this is an adventure in which supernatural, and evil, forces are engaged.

Such an adventure befalls Gawain on his way to the Grail Castle.[1] He is overtaken by a terrible storm, and coming to a Chapel, standing at a crossways in the middle of a forest, enters for shelter. The altar is bare, with no cloth, or covering, nothing is thereon but a great golden candlestick with a tall taper burning within it. Behind the altar is a window, and as Gawain looks a Hand, black and hideous, comes through the window, and extinguishes the taper, while a voice makes lamentation loud and dire, beneath which the very building rocks. Gawain's horse shies for terror, and the knight, making the sign of the Cross, rides out of the Chapel, to find the storm abated, and the great wind fallen. Thereafter the night was calm and clear.

In the Perceval section of Wauchier and Manessier we find the same adventure in a dislocated form.[2]

Perceval, seeking the Grail Castle, rides all day through a heavy storm, which passes off at night-fall, leaving the weather calm and clear. He rides by moonlight through the forest, till he sees before him a great oak, on the branches of which are lighted candles, ten, fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five. The knight rides quickly towards it, but as he comes near the lights vanish, and he only sees before him a fair little Chapel, with a candle shining through the open door. He enters, and finds on the altar the body of a dead knight, covered with a rich samite, a candle burning at his feet.

Perceval remains some time, but nothing happens. At midnight he departs; scarcely has he left the Chapel when, to his great surprise, the light is extinguished.

The next day he reaches the castle of the Fisher King, who asks him where he passed the preceding night. Perceval tells him of the Chapel; the King sighs deeply, but makes no comment.

Wauchier's section breaks off abruptly in the middle of this episode; when Manessier takes up the story he gives explanations of the Grail, etc., at great length, explanations which do not at all agree with the indications of his predecessor. When Perceval asks of the Chapel he is told it was built by Queen Brangemore of Cornwall, who was later murdered by her son Espinogres, and buried beneath the altar. Many knights have since been slain there, none know by whom, save it be by the Black Hand which appeared and put out the light. (As we saw above it had not appeared.) The enchantment can only be put an end to if a valiant knight will fight the Black Hand, and, taking a veil kept in the Chapel, will dip it in holy water, and sprinkle the walls, after which the enchantment will cease.

At a much later point Manessier tells how Perceval, riding through the forest, is overtaken by a terrible storm. He takes refuge in a Chapel which he recognizes as that of the Black Hand. The Hand appears, Perceval fights against and wounds it; then appears a Head; finally the Devil in full form who seizes Perceval as he is about to seek the veil of which he has been told. Perceval makes the sign of the Cross, on which the Devil vanishes, and the knight falls insensible before the altar. On reviving he takes the veil, dips it in holy water, and sprinkles the walls within and without. He sleeps there that night, and the next morning, on waking, sees a belfry. He rings the bell, upon which an old man, followed by two others, appears. He tells Perceval he is a priest, and has buried 3000 knights slain by the Black Hand; every day a knight has been slain, and every day a marble tomb stands ready with the name of the victim upon it. Queen Brangemore founded the cemetery, and was the first to be buried within it. (But according to the version given earlier she was buried beneath the altar.) We have here evidently a combination of two themes, Perilous Chapel and Perilous Cemetery, originally independent of each other. In other MSS. the Wauchier adventure agrees much more closely with the Manessier sequel, the Hand appearing, and extinguishing the light. Sometimes the Hand holds a bridle, a feature probably due to contamination with a Celtic Folk-tale, in which a mysterious Hand (here that of a giant) steals on their birth-night a Child, and a foal.[3] These Perceval versions are manifestly confused and dislocated, and are probably drawn from more than one source.

In the Queste Gawain and Hector de Maris come to an old and ruined Chapel where they pass the night. Each has a marvellous dream. The next morning, as they are telling each other their respective visions, they see, "a Hand, showing unto the elbow, and was covered with red samite, and upon that hung a bridle, not rich, and held within the fist a great candle that burnt right clear, and so passed afore them, and entered into the Chapel, and then vanished away, and they wist not where."[4] This seems to be an unintelligent borrowing from the Perceval version.

We have, also, a group of visits to the Perilous Chapel, or Perilous Cemetery, which appear to be closely connected with each other. In each case the object of the visit is to obtain a portion of the cloth which covers the altar, or a dead body lying upon the altar. The romances in question are the Perlesvaus, the prose Lancelot, and the Chevalier a deux Espees.[5] The respective protagonists being Perceval's sister, Sir Lancelot, and the young Queen of Garadigan, whose city has been taken by King Ris and who dares the venture to win her freedom.

In the first case the peril appears to lie in the Cemetery, which is surrounded by the ghosts of knights slain in the forest, and buried in unconsecrated ground. The Lancelot version is similar, but here the title is definitely Perilous Chapel. In the last version there is no hint of a Cemetery.

In the Lancelot version there is a dead knight on the altar, whose sword Lancelot takes in addition to the piece of cloth. In the poem a knight is brought in, and buried before the altar; the young queen, after cutting off a piece of the altar cloth, uncovers the body, and buckles on the sword. There is no mention of a Hand in any of the three versions, which appear to be late and emasculated forms of the theme.

The earliest mention of a Perilous Cemetery, as distinct from a Chapel, appears to be in the Chastel Orguellous section of the Perceval, a section probably derived from a very early stratum of Arthurian romantic tradition. Here Arthur and his knights, on their way to the siege of Chastel Orguellous, come to the Vergier des Sepoltures, where they eat with the Hermits, of whom there are a hundred and more.

"ne me l'oist or pas chi dire Les merveilles del chimetire car si sont diverses et grans qu'il n'est hom terriens vivans qui poist pas quidier ne croire que ce fust onques chose voire."[6]

But there is no hint of a Perilous Chapel here.

The adventures of Gawain in the Atre Perilleus,[7] and of Gawain and Hector in the Lancelot of the final cyclic prose version, are of the most banal description; the theme, originally vivid and picturesque, has become watered down into a meaningless adventure of the most conventional type.

But originally a high importance seems to have been attached to it. If we turn back to the first version given, that of which Gawain is the hero, we shall find that special stress is laid on this adventure, as being part of 'the Secret of the Grail,' of which no man may speak without grave danger.[8] We are told that, but for Gawain's loyalty and courtesy, he would not have survived the perils of that night. In the same way Perceval, before reaching the Fisher King's castle, meets a maiden, of whom he asks the meaning of the lighted tree, Chapel, etc. She tells him it is all part of the saint secret of the Grail.[9] Now what does this mean? Unless I am much mistaken the key is to be found in a very curious story related in the Perlesvaus, which is twice referred to in texts of a professedly historical character. The tale runs thus. King Arthur has fallen into slothful and faineant ways, much to the grief of Guenevere, who sees her lord's fame and prestige waning day by day. In this crisis she urges him to visit the Chapel of Saint Austin, a perilous adventure, but one that may well restore his reputation. Arthur agrees; he will take with him only one squire; the place is too dangerous. He calls a youth named Chaus, the son of Yvain the Bastard, and bids him be ready to ride with him at dawn. The lad, fearful of over-sleeping, does not undress, but lies down as he is in the hall. He falls asleep—and it seems to him that the King has wakened and gone without him. He rises in haste, mounts and rides after Arthur, following, as he thinks, the track of his steed. Thus he comes to a forest glade, where he sees a Chapel, set in the midst of a grave-yard. He enters, but the King is not there; there is no living thing, only the body of a knight on a bier, with tapers burning in golden candlesticks at head and foot. Chaus takes out one of the tapers, and thrusting the golden candlestick betwixt hose and thigh, remounts and rides back in search of the King. Before he has gone far he meets a man, black, and foul-favoured, armed with a large two-edged knife. He asks, has he met King Arthur? The man answers, No, but he has met him, Chaus; he is a thief and a traitor; he has stolen the golden candlestick; unless he gives it up he shall pay for it dearly. Chaus refuses, and the man smites him in the side with the knife. With a loud cry the lad awakes, he is lying in the hall at Cardoil, wounded to death, the knife in his side and the golden candlestick still in his hose.

He lives long enough to tell the story, confess, and be shriven, and then dies. Arthur, with the consent of his father, gives the candlestick to the church of Saint Paul, then newly founded, "for he would that this marvellous adventure should everywhere be known, and that prayer should be made for the soul of the squire."[10]

The pious wish of the King seems to have been fulfilled, as the story was certainly well known, and appears to have been accepted as a genuine tradition. Thus the author of the Histoire de Fulk Fitz-Warin gives a resume of the adventure, and asserts that the Chapel of Saint Austin referred to was situated in Fulk's patrimony, i.e., in the tract known as the Blaunche Launde, situated in Shropshire, on the border of North Wales. As source for the tale he refers to Le Graal, le lyvre de le Seint Vassal, and goes on to state that here King Arthur recovered sa bounte et sa valur when he had lost his knighthood and fame. This obviously refers to the Perlesvaus romance, though whether in its present, or in an earlier form, it is impossible to say. In any case the author of the Histoire evidently thought that the Chapel in question really existed, and was to be located in Shropshire.[11] But John of Glastonbury also refers to the story, and he connects it with Glastonbury.[12]

Now how can we account for so wild, and at first sight so improbable, a tale assuming what we may term a semi-historical character, and becoming connected with a definite and precise locality?—a feature which is, as a rule, absent from the Grail stories.

At the risk of startling my readers I must express my opinion that it was because the incidents recorded were a reminiscence of something which had actually happened, and which, owing to the youth, and possible social position, of the victim, had made a profound impression upon the popular imagination.

For this is the story of an initiation (or perhaps it would be more correct to say the test of fitness for an initiation) carried out on the astral plane, and reacting with fatal results upon the physical.

We have already seen in the Naassene document that the Mystery ritual comprised a double initiation, the Lower, into the mysteries of generation, i.e., of physical Life; the higher, into the Spiritual Divine Life, where man is made one with God.[13]

Some years ago I offered the suggestion that the test for the primary initiation, that into the sources of physical life, would probably consist in a contact with the horrors of physical death, and that the tradition of the Perilous Chapel, which survives in the Grail romances in confused and contaminated form, was a reminiscence of the test for this lower initiation.[14] This would fully account for the importance ascribed to it in the Bleheris-Gawain form, and for the asserted connection with the Grail. It was not till I came to study the version of the Perlesvaus, with a view to determining its original provenance, that I recognized its extreme importance for critical purposes. The more one studies this wonderful legend the more one discovers significance in what seem at first to be entirely independent and unrelated details. If the reader will refer to my Notes on the Perlesvaus, above referred to, he will find that the result of an investigation into the evidence for locale pointed to the conclusion that the author of the Histoire de Fulk Fitz-Warin and most probably also the author of the Perlesvaus before him, were mistaken in their identification, that there was no tradition of any such Chapel in Shropshire, and consequently no tale of its foundation, such as the author of the Histoire relates. But I was also able to show that further north, in Northumberland, there was also a Blanchland, connected with the memory of King Arthur, numerous dedications to Saint Austin, and a tradition of that Saint driving out the local demons closely analogous to the tale told of the presumed Shropshire site. I therefore suggested that inasmuch as the Perlesvaus represented Arthur as holding his court at Cardoil (Carlisle), the Northern Blanchland, which possessed a Chapel of Saint Austin, and lay within easy reach, was probably the original site rather than the Shropshire Blaunche Launde, which had no Chapel, and was much further away.

Now in view of the evidence set forth in the last chapter, is it not clear that this was a locality in which these semi-Pagan, semi-Christian, rites, might, prima facie, be expected to linger on? It is up here, along the Northern border, that the Roman legionaries were stationed; it is here that we find monuments and memorials of their heathen cults; obviously this was a locality where the demon-hunting activities of the Saint might find full scope for action. I would submit that there is at least presumptive evidence that we may here be dealing with the survival of a genuine tradition.

And should any of my readers find it difficult to believe that, even did initiations take place, and even were they of a character that involved a stern test of mental and physical endurance—and I imagine most scholars would admit that there was, possibly, more in the original institutions, than, let us say, in a modern admission to Free-Masonry—yet it is 'a far cry' from pre-Christian initiations to Medieval Romance, and a connection between the two is a rash postulate, I would draw their attention to the fact that, quite apart from our Grail texts, we possess a romance which is, plainly, and blatantly, nothing more or less than such a record. I refer, of course, to Owain Miles, or The Purgatory of Saint Patrick, where we have an account of the hero, after purification by fasting and prayer, descending into the Nether World, passing through the abodes of the Lost, finally reaching Paradise, and returning to earth after Three Days, a reformed and regenerated character.[15]

"Then with his monks the Prior anon, With Crosses and with Gonfanon Went to that hole forthright, Thro' which Knight Owain went below, There, as of burning fire the glow, They saw a gleam of light; And right amidst that beam of light He came up, Owain, God's own knight, By this knew every man That he in Paradise had been, And Purgatory's pains had seen, And was a holy man."

Now if we turn to Bousset's article Himmelfahrt der Seele, to which I have previously referred (p. —-), we shall find abundant evidence that such a journey to the Worlds beyond was held to be a high spiritual adventure of actual possibility—a venture to be undertaken by those who, greatly daring, felt that the attainment of actual knowledge of the Future Life was worth all the risks, and they were great and terrible, which such an enterprise involved.

Bousset comments fully on Saint Paul's claim to have been 'caught up into the Third Heaven' and points out that such an experience was the property of the Rabbinical school to which Saul of Tarsus had belonged, and was brought over by him from his Jewish past; such experiences were rare in Orthodox Christianity.[16] According to Jewish classical tradition but one Rabbi had successfully passed the test, other aspirants either failing at a preliminary stage, or, if they persevered, losing their senses permanently. The practice of this ecstatic ascent ceased among Jews in the second century A.D.

Bousset also gives instances of the soul leaving the body for three days, and wandering through other worlds, both good and evil, and also discusses the origin of the bridge which must be crossed to reach Paradise, both features characteristic of the Owain poem.[17] In fact the whole study is of immense importance for a critical analysis of the sources of the romance in question.

And here I would venture to beg the adherents of the 'Celtic' school to use a little more judgment in their attribution of sources. Visits to the Otherworld are not always derivations from Celtic Fairy-lore. Unless I am mistaken the root of this theme is far more deeply imbedded than in the shifting sands of Folk and Fairy tale. I believe it to be essentially a Mystery tradition; the Otherworld is not a myth, but a reality, and in all ages there have been souls who have been willing to brave the great adventure, and to risk all for the chance of bringing back with them some assurance of the future life. Naturally these ventures passed into tradition with the men who risked them. The early races of men became semi-mythic, their beliefs, their experiences, receded into a land of mist, where their figures assumed fantastic outlines, and the record of their deeds departed more and more widely from historic accuracy.

The poets and dreamers wove their magic webs, and a world apart from the world of actual experience came to life. But it was not all myth, nor all fantasy; there was a basis of truth and reality at the foundation of the mystic growth, and a true criticism will not rest content with wandering in these enchanted lands, and holding all it meets with for the outcome of human imagination.

The truth may lie very deep down, but it is there, and it is worth seeking, and Celtic fairy-tales, charming as they are, can never afford a satisfactory, or abiding, resting place. I, for one, utterly refuse to accept such as an adequate goal for a life's research. A path that leads but into a Celtic Twilight can only be a by-path, and not the King's Highway!

The Grail romances repose eventually, not upon a poet's imagination, but upon the ruins of an august and ancient ritual, a ritual which once claimed to be the accredited guardian of the deepest secrets of Life. Driven from its high estate by the relentless force of religious evolution—for after all Adonis, Attis, and their congeners, were but the 'half-gods' who must needs yield place when 'the Gods' themselves arrive—it yet lingered on; openly, in Folk practice, in Fast and Feast, whereby the well-being of the land might be assured; secretly, in cave or mountain-fastness, or island isolation, where those who craved for a more sensible (not necessarily sensuous) contact with the unseen Spiritual forces of Life than the orthodox development of Christianity afforded, might, and did, find satisfaction.

Were the Templars such? Had they, when in the East, come into touch with a survival of the Naassene, or some kindred sect? It seems exceedingly probable. If it were so we could understand at once the puzzling connection of the Order with the Knights of the Grail, and the doom which fell upon them. That they were held to be Heretics is very generally admitted, but in what their Heresy consisted no one really knows; little credence can be attached to the stories of idol worship often repeated. If their Heresy, however, were such as indicated above, a Creed which struck at the very root and vitals of Christianity, we can understand at once the reason for punishment, and the necessity for secrecy. In the same way we can now understand why the Church knows nothing of the Grail; why that Vessel, surrounded as it is with an atmosphere of reverence and awe, equated with the central Sacrament of the Christian Faith, yet appears in no Legendary, is figured in no picture, comes on the scene in no Passion Play. The Church of the eleventh and twelfth centuries knew well what the Grail was, and we, when we realize its genesis and true lineage, need no longer wonder why a theme, for some short space so famous and so fruitful a source of literary inspiration, vanished utterly and completely from the world of literature.

Were Grail romances forbidden? Or were they merely discouraged? Probably we shall never know, but of this one thing we may be sure, the Grail is a living force, it will never die; it may indeed sink out of sight, and, for centuries even, disappear from the field of literature, but it will rise to the surface again, and become once more a theme of vital inspiration even as, after slumbering from the days of Malory, it woke to new life in the nineteenth century, making its fresh appeal through the genius of Tennyson and Wagner.


The Author

Having now completed our survey of the various elements which have entered into the composite fabric of the Grail Legend, the question naturally arises where, and when, did that legend assume romantic form, and to whom should we ascribe its literary origin?

On these crucial points the evidence at our disposal is far from complete, and we can do little more than offer suggestions towards the solution of the problem.

With regard to the first point, that of locality, the evidence is unmistakably in favour of a Celtic, specifically a Welsh, source. As a literary theme the Grail is closely connected with the Arthurian tradition. The protagonist is one of Arthur's knights, and the hero of the earlier version, Gawain, is more closely connected with Arthur than are his successors, Perceval and Galahad. The Celtic origin of both Gawain and Perceval is beyond doubt; and the latter is not merely a Celt, but is definitely Welsh; he is always 'li Gallois.' Galahad I hold to be a literary, and not a traditional, hero; he is the product of deliberate literary invention, and has no existence outside the frame of the later cyclic redactions. It is not possible at the present moment to say whether the Queste was composed in the British Isles, or on the continent, but we may safely lay it down as a basic principle that the original Grail heroes are of insular origin, and that the Grail legend, in its romantic, and literary, form is closely connected with British pseudo-historical tradition.

The beliefs and practices of which, if the theory maintained in these pages be correct, the Grail stories offer a more or less coherent survival can be shown, on the evidence of historic monuments, and surviving Folk-customs, to have been popular throughout the area of the British Isles; while, with regard to the higher teaching of which I hold these practices to have been the vehicle, Pliny comments upon the similarity existing between the ancient Magian Gnosis and the Druidical Gnosis of Gaul and Britain, an indication which, in the dearth of accurate information concerning the teaching of the Druids, is of considerable value.[1]

As we noted in the previous chapter, an interesting parallel exists between Wales, and localities, such as the Alps, and the Vosges, where we have definite proof that these Mystery cults lingered on after they had disappeared from public celebration. The Chart appended to Cumont's Monuments de Mithra shows Mithraic remains in precisely the locality where we have reason to believe certain of the Gawain and Perceval stories to have originated.

As to the date of origin, that, of course, is closely connected with the problem of authorship; if we can, with any possibility, identify the author we can approximately fix the date. So far as the literary evidence is concerned, we have no trace of the story before the twelfth century, but when we do meet with it, it is already in complete, and crystallized, form. More, there is already evidence of competing versions; we have no existing Grail romance which we can claim to be free from contamination, and representing in all respects the original form.

There is no need here to go over old, and well-trodden, ground; in my studies of the Perceval Legend, and in the later popular resume of the evidence,[2] The Quest of the Holy Grail, I have analysed the texts, and shown that, while the poem of Chretien de Troyes is our earliest surviving literary version, there is the strongest possible evidence that Chretien, as he himself admits, was not inventing, but re-telling, an already popular tale.[3] The Grail Quest was a theme which had been treated not once nor twice, but of which numerous, and conflicting, versions were already current, and, when Wauchier de Denain undertook to complete Chretien's unfinished work, he drew largely upon these already existing forms, regardless of the fact that they not only contradicted the version they were ostensibly completing, but were impossible to harmonize with each other.

It is of importance for our investigation, however, to note that where Wauchier does refer to a definite source, it is to an evidently important and already famous collection of tales, Le Grant Conte, comprising several 'Branches,' the hero of the collection being not Chretien's hero, Perceval, but Gawain, who, both in pseudo-historic and romantic tradition, is far more closely connected with the Arthurian legend, occupying, as he does, the traditional position of nephew, Sister's Son, to the monarch who is the centre of the cycle; even as Cuchullinn is sister's son to Conchobar, Diarmid to Finn, Tristan to Mark, and Roland to Charlemagne. In fact this relationship was so obviously required by tradition that we find Perceval figuring now as sister's son to Arthur, now to the Grail King, according as the Arthurian, or the Grail, tradition dominates the story.[4]

The actual existence of such a group of tales as those referred to by Wauchier derives confirmation from our surviving Gawain poems, as well as from the references in the Elucidation, and on the evidence at our disposal I have ventured to suggest the hypothesis of a group of poems, dealing with the adventures of Gawain, his son, and brother, the ensemble being originally known as The Geste of Syr Gawayne, a title which, in the inappropriate form The Jest of Sir Gawain, is preserved in the English version of that hero's adventure with the sister of Brandelis.[5] So keen a critic as Dr Brugger has not hesitated to accept the theory of the existence of this Geste, and is of opinion that the German poem Diu Crone may, in part at least, be derived from this source.

The central adventure ascribed to Gawain in this group of tales is precisely the visit to the Grail Castle to which we have already referred, and we have pointed out that the manner in which it is related, its directness, simplicity, and conformity with what we know of the Mystery teaching presumably involved, taken in connection with the personality of the hero, and his position in Arthurian romantic tradition, appear to warrant us in assigning to it the position of priority among the conflicting versions we possess.

At two points in the re-telling of these Gawain tales Wauchier definitely refers to the author by name, Bleheris. On the second occasion he states categorically that this Bleheris was of Welsh birth and origin, ne et engenuis en Galles, and that he told the tale in connection with which the statement is made to a certain Comte de Poitiers, whose favourite story it was, he loved it above all others, which would imply that it was not the only tale Bleheris had told him.[6]

As we have seen in a previous chapter, the Elucidation prefaces its account of the Grail Quest by a solemn statement of the gravity of the subject to be treated, and a warning of the penalties which would follow on a careless revelation of the secret. These warnings are put into the mouth of a certain Master Blihis, concerning whom we hear no more. A little further on in the poem we meet with a knight, Blihos-Bliheris, who, made prisoner by Gawain, reveals to Arthur and his court the identity of the maidens wandering in the woods, of the Fisher King, and the Grail, and is so good a story-teller that none can weary of listening to his tales.[7]

Again, in the fragmentary remains of Thomas's Tristan we have a passage in which the poet refers, as source, to a certain Breri, who knew "all the feats, and all the tales, of all the kings, and all the counts who had lived in Britain."[8]

Finally, Giraldus Cambrensis refers to famosus ille fabulator, Bledhericus, who had lived "shortly before our time" and whose renown he evidently takes for granted was familiar to his readers.

Now are we to hold that the Bleheris who, according to Wauchier, had told tales concerning Gawain, and Arthur's court, one of whic tales was certainly the Grail adventure; the Master Blihis, who knew the Grail mystery, and gave solemn warning against its revelation; the Blihos-Bliheris, who knew the Grail, and many other tales; the Breri, who knew all the legendary tales concerning the princes of Britain; and the famous story-teller Bledhericus, of whom Giraldus speaks, are distinct and separate personages, or mere inventions of the separate writers, or do all these passages refer to one and the same individual, who, in that case, may well have deserved the title famosus ille fabulator?

With regard to the attitude taken up by certain critics, that no evidential value can be attached to these references, I would point out that when Medieval writers quote an authority for their statements they, as a rule, refer to a writer whose name carries weight, and will impress their readers; they are offering a guarantee for the authenticity of their statements. The special attribution may be purely fictitious but the individual referred to enjoys an established reputation. Thus, the later cyclic redactions of the Arthurian romances are largely attributed to Walter Map, who, in view of his public position, and political activities, could certainly never have had the leisure to compose one half of the literature with which he is credited! In the same way Robert de Borron, Chretien de Troyes, Wolfram von Eschenbach, are all referred to as sources without any justification in fact. Nor is it probable that Wauchier, who wrote on the continent, and who, if he be really Wauchier de Denain, was under the patronage of the Count of Flanders, would have gone out of his way to invent a Welsh source.

Judging from analogy, the actual existence of a personage named Bleheris, who enjoyed a remarkable reputation as a story-teller, is, prima facie, extremely probable.[9]

But are these references independent, was there more than one Bleheris? I think not. The name is a proper, and not a family, name. In the latter case it might be possible to argue that we were dealing with separate members of a family, or group, of bardic poets, whose office it was to preserve, and relate, the national legends. But we are dealing with variants of a proper name, and that of distinctly insular, and Welsh origin.[10]

The original form, Bledri, was by no means uncommon in Wales: from that point of view there might well have been four or five, or even more, of that name, but that each and all of these should have possessed the same qualifications, should have been equally well versed in popular traditions, equally dowered with the gift of story-telling, on equally friendly terms with the Norman invaders, and equally possessed of such a knowledge of the French language as should permit them to tell their stories in that tongue, is, I submit, highly improbable. This latter point, i.e., the knowledge of French, seems to me to be of crucial importance. Given the relations between conqueror and conquered, and the intransigeant character of Welsh patriotism, the men who were on sufficiently friendly terms with the invaders to be willing to relate the national legends, with an assurance of finding a sympathetic hearing, must have been few and far between. I do not think the importance of this point has been sufficiently grasped by critics.

The problem then is to find a Welshman who, living at the end of the eleventh and commencement of the twelfth centuries, was well versed in the legendary lore of Britain; was of sufficiently good social status to be well received at court; possessed a good knowledge of the French tongue; and can be shown to have been on friendly terms with the Norman nobles.

Mr Edward Owen, of the Cymmrodorion Society, has suggested that a certain Welsh noble, Bledri ap Cadivor, fulfils, in a large measure, the conditions required. Some years ago I published in the Revue Celtique a letter in which Mr Owen summarized the evidence at his disposal. As the review in question may not be easily accessible to some of my readers I will recapitulate the principal points.[11]

The father of Bledri, Cadivor, was a great personage in West Wales, and is looked upon as the ancestor of the most important families in the ancient Dyfed, a division now represented by Pembrokeshire, and the Western portion of Carmarthen. (We may note here that the traditional tomb of Gawain is at Ross in Pembrokeshire, and that there is reason to believe that the Perceval story, in its earliest form, was connected with that locality.)

Cadivor had three sons, of whom Bledri was the eldest; thus, at his father's death, he would be head of this ancient and distinguished family. At the division of the paternal estates Bledri inherited, as his share, lands ranging along the right bank of the lower Towey, and the coast of South Pembrokeshire, extending as far as Manorbeer, the birthplace of Giraldus Cambrensis. (This is again a geographical indication which should be borne in mind.) Cadivor himself appears to have been on friendly terms with the Normans; he is said to have entertained William the Conqueror on his visit to St David's in 1080, while every reference we have to Bledri shows him in close connection with the invaders.

Thus, in 1113 the Brut-y-Tywysogion mentions his name as ally of the Norman knights in their struggle to maintain their ground in, and around, Carmarthen. In 1125 we find his name as donor of lands to the Augustinian Church of St John the Evangelist, and St Theuloc of Carmarthen, newly founded by Henry I. Here his name appears with the significant title Latinarius (The Interpreter), a qualification repeated in subsequent charters of the same collection. In one of these we find Griffith, the son of Bledri, confirming his father's gift. Professor Lloyd, in an article in Archaeologia Cambrensis, July 1907, has examined these charters, and considers the grant to have been made between 1129 and 1134, the charter itself being of the reign of Henry I, 1101-1135.[12]

In the Pipe Roll of Henry I, 1131, Bledri's name is entered as debtor for a fine incurred by the killing of a Fleming by his men; while a highly significant entry records the fine of 7 marks imposed upon a certain Bleddyn of Mabedrud and his brothers for outraging Bledri's daughter. When we take into consideration the rank of Bledri, this insult to his family by a fellow Welshman would seem to indicate that his relations with his compatriots were not of a specially friendly character.

Mr Owen also points out that portion of the Brut-y-Tywysogion which covers the years 1101-20 (especially the events of the year 1113, where we find Bledri, and other friendly Welsh nobles, holding the castle of Carmarthen for the Normans against the Welsh), is related at an altogether disproportionate length, and displays a strong bias in favour of the invaders. The year just referred to, for instance, occupies more than twice the space assigned to any other year. Mr Owen suggests that here Bledri himself may well have been the chronicler; a hypothesis which, if he really be the author we are seeking, is quite admissible.

So far as indications of date are concerned, Bledri probably lived between the years 1070-1150. His father Cadivor died in 1089, and his lands were divided between his sons of whom Bledri, as we have seen, was the eldest. Thus they cannot have been children at that date; Bledri, at least, would have been born before 1080. From the evidence of the Pipe Roll we know that he was living in 1131. The charter signed by his son, confirmatory of his grant, must have been subsequent to 1148, as it was executed during the Episcopate of David, Bishop of St David's 1148-1176. Thus the period of 80 years suggested above (1070-1150) may be taken as covering the extreme limit to be assigned to his life, and activity.

The passage in which Giraldus Cambrensis refers to Bledhericus, famosus ille fabulator who tempora nostra paulo praevenit, was written about 1194; thus it might well refer to a man who had died some 40 or 50 years previously. As we have noted above, Giraldus was born upon ground forming a part of Bledri's ancestral heritage, and thus might well be familiar with his fame.

The evidence is of course incomplete, but it does provide us with a personality fulfilling the main conditions of a complex problem. Thus, we have a man of the required name, and nationality; living at an appropriate date; of the requisite social position; on excellent terms with the French nobles, and so well acquainted with their language as to sign himself officially 'The Interpreter.' We have no direct evidence of his literary skill, or knowledge of the traditional history of his country, but a man of his birth could scarcely have failed to possess the latter, while certain peculiarities in that section of the national Chronicle which deals with the aid given by him to the Norman invaders would seem to indicate that Bledri himself may well have been responsible for the record. Again, we know him to have been closely connected with the locality from which came the writer who refers to the famous story-teller of the same name. I would submit that we have here quite sufficient evidence to warrant us in accepting Bledri ap Cadivor as, at least, the possible author of the romantic Grail tradition. In any case, so far, there is no other candidate in the field.[13]

Shortly after the publication of the second volume of my Perceval studies, I received a letter from Professor Singer, in which, after expressing his general acceptance of the theories there advanced, in especial of the suggested date and relation of the different versions, which he characterized as "sehr gelungen, und zu meiner Alffassung der Entwickelung der Altfranzosischen Literatur sehr zu stimmen," he proceeded to comment upon the probable character of the literary activity of Bleheris. His remarks are so interesting and suggestive that I venture to submit them for the consideration of my readers.

Professor Singer points out that in Eilhart von Oberge's Tristan we find the name in the form of Pleherin attached to a knight of Mark's court. The same name in a slightly varied form, Pfelerin, occurs in the Tristan of Heinrich von Freiberg; both poems, Professor Singer considers, are derived from a French original. Under a compound form, Blihos, (or Blio)-Bliheris, he appears, in the Gawain-Grail compilation, as a knight at Arthur's court. Now Breri-Blihis-Bleheris is referred to as authority alike in the Tristan, Grail and Gawain tradition, and Professor Singer makes the interesting suggestion that these references are originally due to Bleheris himself, who not only told the stories in the third person (a common device at that period, v. Chretien's Erec, and Gerbert's continuation of the Perceval), but also introduced himself as eye-witness of, and actor, in a subordinate role, in, the incidents he recorded. Thus in the Tristan he is a knight of Mark's, in the Elucidation and the Gawain stories a knight of Arthur's, court. Professor Singer instances the case of Dares in the De exidio Trojae, and Bishop Pilgrim of Passau in the lost Nibelungias of his secretary Konrad, as illustrations of the theory.

If this be the case such a statement as that which we find in Wauchier, regarding Bleheris's birth and origin, would have emanated from Bleheris himself, and simply been taken over by the later writer from his source; he incorporated the whole tale of the shield as it stood, a quite natural and normal proceeding.[14] Again, this suggestion would do away with the necessity for postulating a certain lapse of time before the story-teller Bleheris could be converted into an Arthurian knight—the two roles, Gewahrsmann und Mithandelnden, as Professor Singer expresses it, are coincident in date. I would also suggest that the double form, Blihos-Bliheris, would have been adopted by the author himself, to indicate the identity of the two, Blihis, and Bleheris. It is worthy of note that, when dealing directly with the Grail, he assumes the title of Master, which would seem to indicate that here he claimed to speak with special authority.

I sent the letter in question to the late Mr Alfred Nutt, who was forcibly struck with the possibilities involved in the suggestion, the full application of which he thought the writer had not grasped. I quote the following passages from the long letter I received from him in return.

"Briefly put we presuppose the existence of a set of semi-dramatic, semi-narrative, poems, in which a Bledri figures as an active, and at the same time a recording, personage. Now that such a body of literature may have existed we are entitled to assume from the fact that two such have survived, one from Wales, in the Llywarch Hen cycle, the other from Ireland, in the Finn Saga. In both cases, the fact that the descriptive poems are put in the mouth, in Wales of Llywarch, in Ireland largely of Oisin, led to the ascription at an early date of the whole literature to Llywarch and Oisin. It is therefore conceivable that a Welsh 'litterateur,' familiar as he must have been with the Llywarch, and as he quite possibly was with the Oisin, instance, should cast his version of the Arthurian stories in a similar form, and that the facts noted by you and Singer may be thus explained."

Now that both Professor Singer (who has an exceptionally wide knowledge of Medieval literature), and the late Mr Alfred Nutt, knew what they were talking about, does not need to be emphasized, and the fact that two such competent authorities should agree upon a possible solution of a puzzling literary problem, makes that solution worthy of careful consideration; it would certainly have the merit of simplifying the question and deserves to be placed upon record.

But while it would of course be far more satisfactory could one definitely place, and label, the man to whom we owe the original conception which gave birth and impetus to this immortal body of literature, yet the precise identity of the author of the earliest Grail romance is of the accident, rather than the essence, of our problem. Whether Bleheris the Welshman be, or be not, identical with Bledri ap Cadivor, Interpreter, and friend of the Norman nobles, the general hypothesis remains unaffected and may be thus summarized—

The Grail story is not du fond en comble the product of imagination, literary or popular. At its root lies the record, more or less distorted, of an ancient Ritual, having for its ultimate object the initiation into the secret of the sources of Life, physical and spiritual. This ritual, in its lower, exoteric, form, as affecting the processes of Nature, and physical life, survives to-day, and can be traced all over the world, in Folk ceremonies, which, however widely separated the countries in which they are found, show a surprising identity of detail and intention. In its esoteric 'Mystery' form it was freely utilized for the imparting of high spiritual teaching concerning the relation of Man to the Divine Source of his being, and the possibility of a sensible union between Man, and God. The recognition of the cosmic activities of the Logos appears to have been a characteristic feature of this teaching, and when Christianity came upon the scene it did not hesitate to utilize the already existing medium of instruction, but boldly identified the Deity of Vegetation, regarded as Life Principle, with the God of the Christian Faith. Thus, to certain of the early Christians, Attis was but an earlier manifestation of the Logos, Whom they held identical with Christ. The evidence of the Naassene document places this beyond any shadow of doubt, and is of inestimable value as establishing a link between pre-Christian, and Christian, Mystery tradition.

This curious synthetic belief, united as it was with the highly popular cult of Mithra, travelled with the foreign legionaries, adherents of that cult, to the furthest bounds of the Roman Empire, and when the struggle between Mithraism and Christianity ended in the definite triumph of the latter, by virtue of that dual synthetic nature, the higher ritual still survived, and was celebrated in sites removed from the centres of population—in caves, and mountain fastnesses; in islands, and on desolate sea-coasts.

The earliest version of the Grail story, represented by our Bleheris form, relates the visit of a wandering knight to one of these hidden temples; his successful passing of the test into the lower grade of Life initiation, his failure to attain to the highest degree. It matters little whether it were the record of an actual, or of a possible, experience; the casting into romantic form of an event which the story-teller knew to have happened, had, perchance, actually witnessed; or the objective recital of what he knew might have occurred; the essential fact is that the mise-en-scene of the story, the nomenclature, the march of incident, the character of the tests, correspond to what we know from independent sources of the details of this Nature Ritual. The Grail Quest was actually possible then, it is actually possible to-day, for the indication of two of our romances as to the final location of the Grail is not imagination, but the record of actual fact.

As first told the story preserved its primal character of a composite between Christianity and the Nature Ritual, as witnessed by the ceremony over the bier of the Dead Knight, the procession with Cross and incense, and the solemn Vespers for the Dead. This, I suspect, correctly represents the final stage of the process by which Attis-Adonis was identified with Christ. Thus, in its first form the story was the product of conscious intention.

But when the tale was once fairly launched as a romantic tale, and came into the hands of those unfamiliar with its Ritual origin (though the fact that it had such an origin was probably well understood), the influence of the period came into play. The Crusades, and the consequent traffic in relics, especially in relics of the Passion, caused the identification of the sex Symbols, Lance and Cup, with the Weapon of the Crucifixion, and the Cup of the Last Supper; but the Christianization was merely external, the tale, as a whole, retaining its pre-Christian character.

The conversion into a definitely Christian romance seems to have been due to two causes. First, the rivalry between the two great monastic houses of Glastonbury and Fescamp, the latter of which was already in possession of a genuine Saint-Sang relic, and fully developed tradition. There is reason to suppose that the initial combination of the Grail and Saint-Sang traditions took place at Fescamp, and was the work of some member of the minstrel Guild attached to that Abbey. But the Grail tradition was originally British; Glastonbury was from time immemorial a British sanctuary; it was the reputed burial place of Arthur, of whose court the Grail Quest was the crowning adventure; the story must be identified with British soil. Consequently a version was composed, now represented by our Perlesvaus text, in which the union of Nicodemus of Fescamp, and Joseph of Glastonbury, fame, as ancestors of the Grail hero, offers a significant hint of the provenance of the version.

Secondly, a no less important element in the process was due to the conscious action of Robert de Borron, who well understood the character of his material, and radically remodelled the whole on the basis of the triple Mystery tradition translated into terms of high Christian Mysticism. A notable feature of Borron's version is his utilization of the tradition of the final Messianic Feast, in combination with his Eucharistic symbolism, a combination thoroughly familiar to early Christian Mystics.

Once started on a definitely romantic career, the Grail story rapidly became a complex of originally divergent themes, the most important stage in its development being the incorporation of the popular tale of the Widow's Son, brought up in the wilderness, and launched into the world in a condition of absolute ignorance of men, and manners. The Perceval story is a charming story, but it has originally nothing whatever to do with the Grail. The original tale, now best represented by our English Syr Percyvelle of Galles, has no trace of Mystery element; it is Folk-lore, pure and simple. I believe the connection with the Grail legend to be purely fortuitous, and due to the fact that the hero of the Folk-tale was known as 'The Widow's Son,' which he actually was, while this title represented in Mystery terminology a certain grade of Initiation, and as such is preserved to-day in Masonic ritual.[15]

Finally the rising tide of dogmatic Medievalism, with its crassly materialistic view of the Eucharist; its insistence on the saving grace of asceticism and celibacy; and its scarcely veiled contempt for women, overwhelmed the original conception. Certain of the features of the ancient ritual indeed survive, but they are factors of confusion, rather than clues to enlightenment. Thus, while the Grail still retains its character of a Feeding Vessel, comes and goes without visible agency, and supplies each knight with 'such food and drink as he best loved in the world,' it is none the less the Chalice of the Sacred Blood, and critics are sorely put to it to harmonize these conflicting aspects. In the same way Galahad's grandfather still bears the title of the Rich Fisher, and there are confused references to a Land laid Waste as the result of a Dolorous Stroke.

But while the terminology lingers on to our perplexity the characters involved lie outside the march of the story; practically no trace of the old Nature Ritual survives in the final Queste form. The remodelling is so radical that it seems most reasonable to conclude that it was purposeful, that the original author of the Queste had a very clear idea of the real nature of the Grail, and was bent upon a complete restatement in terms of current orthodoxy. I advisedly use this term, as I see no trace in the Queste of a genuine Mystic conception, such as that of Borron. So far as criticism of the literature is concerned I adhere to my previously expressed opinion that the Queste should be treated rather as a Lancelot than as a Grail romance. It is of real importance in the evolution of the Arthurian romantic cycle; as a factor in determining the true character and origins of the Grail legend it is worse than useless; what remains of the original features is so fragmentary, and so distorted, that any attempt to use the version as basis for argument, or comparison, can only introduce a further element of confusion into an already more than sufficiently involved problem.

I am also still of opinion that the table of descent given on p. 283 of Volume II. of my Perceval studies, represents the most probable evolution of the literature; at the same time, in the light of further research, I should feel inclined to add the Grail section of Sone de Nansai as deriving from the same source which gave us Kiot's poem, and the Perlesvaus.[16] As evidence for a French original combining important features of these two versions, and at the same time retaining unmistakably archaic elements which have disappeared from both, I hold this section of the poem to be of extreme value for the criticism of the cycle.

While there are still missing links in the chain of descent, versions to be reconstructed, writers to be identified, I believe that in its ensemble the theory set forth in these pages will be found to be the only one which will satisfactorily meet all the conditions of the problem; which will cover the whole ground of investigation, omitting no element, evading no difficulty; which will harmonize apparently hopeless contradictions, explain apparently meaningless terminology, and thus provide a secure foundation for the criticism of a body of literature as important as it is fascinating.

The study and the criticism of the Grail literature will possess an even deeper interest, a more absorbing fascination, when it is definitely recognized that we possess in that literature a unique example of the restatement of an ancient and august Ritual in terms of imperishable Romance.



[1] MS. Bibl. Nat., f. Franc. 12576 fo. 90. [2] Ibid. fo. 90vo, 91. [3] Diu Crone (ed. Stoll, Stuttgart, 1852). Cf. Sir Gawain of the Grail Castle for both versions. [4] Cf. MS. B.N. 12576, fo. 154. [5] Perceval, ed. Hucher, p. 466; Modena, p. 61. [6] Cf. Hucher, p. 482; Modena, p. 82. [7] Percevel li Gallois, ed. Potvin, ll. 6048-52. [8] Ib. ll. 6056-60. [9] Potvin, Vol. I. p. 15. [10] Ib. p. 26. [11] Ib. p. 86. [12] Ib. pp. 176, 178. [13] MS. B.N. 12576, ff. 221-222vo. [14] Mabinogion, ed. Nutt, p. 282. [15] Cf. Peredur (ed. Nutt), pp. 282, 291-92. [16] Parzival, Book v. ll. 947-50. [17] Ib. Book VI. ll. 1078-80. [18] Parzival, Book XVI, ll 275-86. [19] Cf. Morte Arthure, Malory, Book XVII. Chap. 18. Note the remark of Mordrains that his flesh which has waxen old shall become young again. [20] Parzival, Bk. IX. ll. 1388-92. [21] Sone de Nansai (ed. Goldschmidt, Stuttgart, 1899), ll 4775-76. [22] Sone de Nansai, ll. 4841-56. [23] It is evidently such a version as that of Sone de Nansai, and Parzival, which underlies the curious statement of the Merlin MS. B.N. f. Fr. 337, where the wife of the Fisher King is known as 'la Veve Dame,' while her husband is yet in life, though sorely wounded.


[1] Cf. Rig-Veda Sanhita, trans. H. H. Wilson, 6 vols. 1854-1888. Vol. I. p. 88, v. 12. 172, v. 8 206, v. 10 Vol. III. p. 157, vv. 2, 5, 7, 8. [2] Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Geschichte, Vols. XXXVII. and XXXIX. [3] Cf. Le Theatre Indien, Paris, 1890. [4] Cf. Wiener Zeitsch, fur die Kunde des Morgenlandes, Vol. XVIII. 1904. [5] Leipzig, 1908. [6] Op. cit. p. 105. [7] Ib. p. 230. [8] Ib. p. 292, for sources, and variants of tale. [9] On this point cf. Cornford, Origin of Attic Comedy, pp. 8, 78, for importance of this feature. [10] Op. cit. pp. 161-170, for general discussion of question, and summary of authorities. Also pp. 297 et seq. [11] Cf. Legend of Sir Peceval, Vol. I. Chapter 3. [12] MS. Bibl. Nat., f. Fr. 12576, fo. 173. Cf. also Legend of Sir Perceval, I. Chap. 4. [13] Malory, Le Morte Arthure, Book XIV. Chaps. 8 and 9. Potvin, ll. 40420 et seq.


[1] Cf. Frazer, Adonis, Attis, Osiris, p. 5. [2] In this connection not only the epoch-making works of Mannhardt and Frazer, which are more specifically devoted to an examination of Folk-belief and practice should be studied, but also works such as The Mediaeval Stage, E. K. Chambers; Themis, J. E. Harrison; The Origin of Attic Comedy, F. Cornford; and Sir Gilbert Murray's essay on the evolution of the Greek Drama, published in Miss Harrison's Themis. The cumulative evidence is most striking. [3] A full study of this evolutionary process will be found in Miss Harrison's Themis, A Study of Greek Social Origins, referred to above. [4] Baudissin, in his exhaustive study of these cults, Adonis und Esmun, comes to the conclusion that Tammuz and Adonis are different gods, owing their origin to a common parent deity. Where the original conception arose is doubtful; whether in Babylon, in Canaan, or in a land where the common ancestors of Phoenicians and Babylonian Semites formed an original unit. [5] Cf. Tammuz and Ishtar, S. Langdon, p. 5. [6] It may be well to note here the the 'Life' deity has no proper name; he is only known by an appellative; Damu-zi, Damu, 'faithful son,' or 'son and consort,' is only a general epithet, which designates the dying god in a theological aspect, just as the name Adoni, 'my lord,' certainly replaced a more specific name for the god of Byblos. Esmun of Sidon, another type of Adonis, is a title only, and means simply, 'the name.' Cf. Langdon, op. cit. p. 7. Cf. this with previous passages on the evolution of the Greek idea from a nameless entity to a definite god. Mr Langdon's remarks on the evolution of the Tammuz cult should be carefully studied in view of the theory maintained by Sir W. Ridgeway—that the Vegetation deities were all of them originally men. [7] From a liturgy employed at Nippur in the period of the Isin dynasty. Langdon, op. cit. p. 11. Also, Sumerian and Babylonian Psalms, p. 338. [8] Cf. Langdon, Tammuz and Ishtar, p. 23. [9] What we have been able to ascertain of the Sumerian-Babylonian religion points to it rather as a religion of mourning and supplication, than of joy and thanksgiving. The people seem to have been in perpetual dread of their gods, who require to be appeased by continual acts of humiliation. Thus the 9th, 15th, 19th, 28th, and 29th of the month were all days of sack-cloth and ashes, days of wailing; the 19th especially was 'the day of the wrath of Gulu.' [10] Cf. Langdon, op. cit. p. 24. [11] Cf. Langdon, op. cit. p. 26. [12] The most complete enquiry into the nature of the god is to be found in Baudissin, Adonis und Esmun. For the details of the cult cf. Farnell, Cults of the Greek States, Vol. II.; Vellay, Adonis (Annales du Musee Guimet). For the Folk-lore evidence cf. Mannhardt, Wald un Feld-Kulte; Frazer, The Golden Bough, and Adonis, Attis and Osiris. These remarks apply also to the kindred cult of Attis, which as we shall see later forms an important link in our chain of evidence. The two cults are practically identical and scholars are frequently at a loss to which group surviving fragments of the ritual should be assigned. [13] In this connection note the extremely instructive remarks of Miss Harrison in the chapter on Herakles in the work referred to above. She points out that the Eniautos Daimon never becomes entirely and Olympian, but always retains traces of his 'Earth' origin. This principle is particularly well illustrated by Adonis, who, though, admitted to Olympus as the lover of Aphrodite, is yet by this very nature forced to return to the earth, and descend to the realm of Persephone. This agrees well with the conclusion reached by Baudissin (Adonis und Esmun, p. 71) that Adonis belongs to "einer Klasse von Wesen sehr unbestimmter Art, die wohl uber den Menschen aber unter den grossen Gottern stehen." [14] Cf. Vellay, op. cit. p. 93. Dulaure, Des Divinites Generatrices. If Baudissin is correct, and the introduction of the Boar a later addition to the story, it would seem to indicate the intrusion of a phallic element into ritual which at first, like that of Tammuz, dealt merely with the death of the god. The Attis form, on the contrary, appears to have been phallic from the first. Cf. Baudissin, Adonis und Esmun, p. 160. [15] Op. cit. p. 83. [16] Cf. L. von Schroeder, Vollendung den Arischen Mysterium, p. 14. [17] It may be well to explain the exact meaning attached to these terms by the author. In Professor von Schroeder's view Mysterium may be held to connote a drama in which the gods themselves are actors; Mimus on the contrary, is the term applied to a drama which treats of the doings of mortals. [18] Op. cit. Vol. II. p. 647. [19] Op. cit. p. 115. Much of the uncertainty as to date is doubtless due to the reflective influence of other forms of the cult; the Tammuz celebrations were held from June 20th, to July 20th, when the Dog-star Sirius was in the ascendant, and vegetation failed beneath the heat of the summer sun. In other, and more temperate, climates the date would fall later. Where, however, the cult was an off-shoot of a Tammuz original (as might be the case through emigration) the tendency would be to retain the original date. [20] Cf. Vellay, op. cit. p. 55; Mannhardt, Vol. II. pp. 277-78, for a description of the feast. With regard to the order and sequence of the celebration cf. Miss Harrison's remark, Themis, p. 415: "In the cyclic monotony of the Eniautos Daimon it matters little whether Death follows Resurrection, or Resurrection, Death." [21] Cf. Mannhardt, supra, p. —-. [22] Cf. Vellay, op. cit. p. 103. This seems also to have been the case with Tammuz, cf. Ezekiel, Chap. viii. v. 14. [23] Cf. Frazer, The Golden Bough, under heading Adonis. [24] Vellay, p. 130, Mannahrdt, Vol. II. p. 287; note the writer's suggestion that the women here represent the goddess, the stranger, the risen Adonis. [25] Cf. Vellay, p. 93. [26] Vide supra, pp. —-. —-. [27] Supra, p. —-. [28] Cf. Potvin, appendix to Vol. III.; Sir Gawain and the Grail Castle, pp. 41, 44, and note. [29] My use of this parallel has been objected to on the ground that the prose Lancelot is a late text, and therefore cannot be appealed to as evidence for original incidents. But the Lancelot in its original form was held by so competent an authority as the late M. Gaston Paris to have been one of the earliest, if not the very earliest, of French prose texts. (Cf. M. Paris's review of Suchier and Birch-Hirschfield's Geschichte der Franz. Litt.) The adventure in question is a 'Gawain' adventure; we do not know whence it was derived, and it may well have been included in an early version of the romance. Apart from the purely literary question, from the strictly critical point of view the adventure is here obviously out of place, and entirely devoid of raison d'etre. If the origins of the Grail legend is really to be found in these cults, which are not a dead but a living tradition (how truly living, the exclusively literary critic has little idea), we are surely entitled to draw attention to the obvious parallels, no matter in which text they appear. I am not engaged in reconstructing the original form of the Grail story, but in endeavoring to ascertain the ultimate source, and it is surely justifiable to point out that, in effect, no matter what version we take, we find in that version points of contact with one special group of popular belief and practice. If I be wrong in my conclusions my critics have only to suggest another origin for this particular feature of the romance—as a matter of fact, they have failed to do so. [30] Cf. Perlesvaus, Branch II. Chap. I. [31] Throwing into, or drenching with, water is a well known part of the 'Fertility' ritual; it is a case of sympathetic magic, acting as a rain charm.


[1] Ancient Greek Religion, and Modern Greek Folk-Lore, J. C. Lawson, gives some most interesting evidence as to modern survivals of mythological beliefs. [2] Wald und Feld-Kulte, 2nd edition, 2 vols., Berlin, 1904. Cf. Vol. II. p. 286. The Golden Bough, 3rd edition, 5 vols. [3] I cite from Mannhardt, as the two works overlap in the particular line of research we are following: the same instances are given in both, buyt the honour of priority belongs to the German scholar. [4] Op. cit. Vol. I. p. 411. [5] See G. Calderon, 'Slavonic Elements in Greek religion,' Classical Review, 1918, p. 79. [6] Op. cit. p. 416. [7] Op. cit. pp. 155 and 312. [8] Op. cit. p. 353. [9] Op. cit. p. 358. [10] Op. cit. p. 358. [11] Op. cit. p. 359. Cf. the Lausitz custom given supra, which Mannhardt seems to have overlooked. [12] In the poem, besides the ordinary figures of the Vegetation Deity, his female counterpart, and the Doctor, common to all such processions, Laubfrosch, combining the two first, and Horse. Cf. Mannhardt, Mythol. Forsch. pp. 142-43; Mysterium und Mimus, pp. 408 et seq.; also, pp. 443-44. Sir W. Ridgeway (op. cit. p. 156) refers slightingly to this interpretation of a 'harmless little hymn'—doubless the poem is harmless; until Prof. von Schroeder pointed out its close affinity with the Fertility processions it was also meaningless. [13] Op. cit. Chap. 17, p. 253. [14] Cf. Folk-Lore, Vol. XV. p. 374. [15] Op. cit. Vol. V. The Dying God, pp. 17 et seq. [16] See Dr Seligmann's study, The Cult of Nyakang and the Divine Kings of the Shilluk in the Fourth Report of the Wellcome Research Laboratories, Kkartum, 1911, Vol. B. [17] Cf. Address on reception into the Academy when M. Paris succeeded to Pasteur's fauteuil.


[1] Op. cit. Vol. I. p. 94. [2] The Legend of Longinus, R. J. Peebles (Bryn Mawr College monographs, Vol. IX.). [3] I discussed this point with Miss Lucy Broadwood, Secretary of the Folk-Song Society, who has made sketches of these Crosses, and she entirely agrees with me. In my Quest of the Holy Grail, pp. 54 et seq., I have pointed out the absolute dearth of ecclesiastical tradition with regard to the story of Joseph and the Grail. [4] Cf. Littaturzeitung, XXIV. (1903), p. 2821. [5] Cf. The Bleeding Lance, A. C. L. Brown. [6] Cf. Brown, op. cit. p. 35; also A. Nutt, Studies in the Legend of the Holy Grail, p. 184. [7] Cf. Brown, Notes on Celtic Cauldrons of Plenty, p. 237. [8] Cf. Queste, Malory, Book XIII. Chap. 7, where the effect is the same. [9] Cf. Germanische Elben und Gotter beim Estenvolker, L. von Schroeder (Wien, 1906). [10] I suggested this point in corrspondence with Dr Brugger, who agreed with me that it was worth working out. [11] Before leaving the discussion of Professor Brown's theory, I would draw attention to a serious error made by the author of The Legend of Longinus. On p. 191, she blames Professor Brown for postulating the destructive qualities of the Lance, on the strength of 'an unsupported passage' in the 'Mons' MS., whereas the Montpellier text says that the Lance shall bring peace. Unfortunately, it is this latter version which is unsupported, all the MSS., without even excepting B.N. 1429, which as a rule agrees with Montpellier, give the 'destructive' version. [12] Cf. Dulaure, Des Divinites Generatrices, p. 77. Also additional chapter to last edition by Van Gennep, p. 333; L. von Schroeder, Mysterium und Mimus, pp. 279-80, for symbolic use of the Spear. McCulloch, Religion of the Celts, p. 302, suggests that it is not impossible that the cauldron==Hindu yoni, which of course would bring it into line with the above suggested meaning of the Grail. I think however that the real significance of the cauldron is that previously indicated. [13] It is interesting to note that this relative position of Lance and Grail lingers on in late and fully Christianized versions; cf. Sommer, The Quest of the Holy Grail, Romainia, XXXVI. p. 575. [14] My informant on this point was a scholar, resident in Japan, who gave me the facts within his personal knowledge. I referred the question to Prof. Basil Hall Chamberlain, who wrote in answer that he had not himself met with the practice but that the Samurai ceremonies differed in different provinces, and my informant might well be correct. [15] This explanation has at least the merit of simplicity as compared with that proposed by the author of The Legend of Longinus, pp. 209 et seq., which would connect the feature with an obscure heretical practice of the early Irish church. It would also meet Professor Brown's very reasonable objections, The Bleeding Lance, p. 8; cf. also remarks by Baist quoted in the foot-note above. [16] Cf. my Legend of Sir Perceval, Vol. II. pp. 314-315, note. [17] Mr A. E. Waite, who has published a book on the subject, informs me that the 17 cards preserved in the Bibliotheque du Roi (Bibl. Nationale?) as specimens of the work of the painter Charles Gringonneur, are really Tarots. [18] Falconnier, in a brochure on Les XXII Lames Hermetiques du Tarot, gives reproductions of these Egyptian paintings. [19] Journal of the Gipsy-Lore Society, Vol. II. New Series, pp. 14-37. [20] From a private letter. The ultimate object of Magic in all ages was, and is, to obtain control of the sources of Life. Hence, whatever was the use of these objects (of which I know nothing), their appearance in this connection is significant.


[1] Mysterium und Mimus, p. 50. This work contains a most valuable and interesting study of the Maruts, and the kindred groups of Sword Dancers. [2] Op. cit. pp. 47 et seq. [3] Rig-Veda, Vol. III. p. 337. [4] Mysterium und Mimus, p. 48. [5] Op. cit., Indra, die Maruts, und Agastya, pp. 91 et seq. [6] Rig-Veda, Vol. III. pp. 331, 334, 335, 337. [7] Mysterium un Mimus, p. 121. [8] Vollendung des Arische Mysterium, p. 13. The introductory section of this book, containing a study of early Aryan belief, and numerous references to modern survivals, is both interesting and valuable. The latter part, a panegyric on the Wagnerian drama, is of little importance. [9] Mysterium und Mimus, p. 131. [10] Cf. Roscher's Lexikon, under heading Kureten. [11] Op. cit. [12] Cf. Preller, Graechishe Mythologie, p. 134. [13] Quoted by Preller, p. 654. [14] Themis, A Study in Greek Social Origins (Cambridge, 1912), pp. 6 et seq. [15] Mysterium un Mimus, p. 23. [16] Themis, p. 24. [17] Cf. Mysterium und Mimus, section Indra, die Maruts, und Agastya specially pp. 151 et seq. [18] Cf. von Schroeder, op. cit. pp. 141 et seq. for a very full account of the ceremonies; also, Themis, p. 194; Mannhardt, Wald und Feld-Kulte, and Roscher's Lexikon, under heading Mars, for various reasons. [19] Folk-Lore, Vols. VII., X., and XVI. contain interesting and fully illustrated accounts of some of these dances and plays. [20] The Mediaeval Stage, Vol. III. p. 202. It would be interesting to know the precise form of this ring; was it the Pentangle? [21] Cf. also Mysterium und Mimus, pp. 110, 111, for a general description of the dance, minus the text of the speeches. [22] Pp. 186-194. [23] Cf. Folk-Lore, Vol. XVI. pp. 212 et seq. [24] I would draw attention to the curious name of the adversary, Golisham; it is noteworthy that in one Arthurian romance Gawain has for adversary Golagros, in another Percival fights against Golerotheram. Are these all reminiscences of the giant Goliath, who became the synonym for a dangerous, preferably heathen, adversary, even as Mahomet became the synonym for an idol? [25] Cf. Mannhardt, Wald und Feld-Kulte, Vol. II. pp. 191 et seq. for a very full account of the Julbock (Yule Buck). [26] Cf. Folk-Lore, Vol. VIII. 'Some Oxfordshire Seasonal Festivals,' where full illustrations of the Bampton Morris Dancers and their equipment will be found. [27] Cf. The Padstow Hobby-Horse, F.-L. Vol. XVI. p. 56; The Staffordshire Horn-Dance, Ib. Vol. VII. p. 382, and VIII. p. 70. [28] Cf. supra, pp. —-, —-, —-. [29] Cf. Legend of Sir Perceval, Vol. II. p. 264. [30] See English Folk-Song and Dance by Frank Kidson and Mary Neal, Cambridge, 1915, plate facing p. 104. A curious point in connection with the illustration is that the Chalice is surmounted by a Heart, and in the Tarot suits Cups are the equivalent of our Hearts. The combination has now become identified with the cult of the Sacred Heart, but is undoubtedly much older.


[1] Cf. supra, Chap. 5, pp. —- —-; Chap. 7, pp. —-, —-. [2] Mysterium und Mimus, p. 369, Der Mimus des Medizinmannes. [3] Cf. Chap. 5, pp. —-, —-. [4] Op. cit. p. 371 [5] Op. cit. pp. 78 et seq. [6] I would draw attention to the fact that while scholars are now coming to the conclusion that Classic Drama, whether Tragedy or Comedy, reposes for its origin upon this ancient ritual, others have pointed out that Modern Drama derives from the ritual Play of the Church, the first recorded medieval drama being the Easter Quem Quaeritis? the dramatic celebration of Our Lord's Resurrection. Cf. Chambers, The Mediaeval Stage, where this thesis is elaborately developed and illustrated. It is a curious fact that certain texts of this, the 'Classical' Passion Play, contain a scene between the Maries and the 'Unguentarius' from whom they purchase spices for the embalmment of Our Lord. Can this be a survival of the Medicine Man? (Cf. op. cit. Vol. ii. p. 33.) [7] Bibl. Nat., fonds Francais, 12577, fo. 40 [8] Bibl. Nat., f. F. 1453, fo. 49. Parzival, Bk. x. ll, 413-22. [9] Lanceloet, Jonckbloet, Vol.II. ll. 22271-23126. [10] Op. cit. ll. 22825-26. [11] Op. cit. Vol. 1. ll. 42540-47262. [12] Op. cit. ll. 46671-74. [13] Op. cit. ll. 46678-80. [14] Cf. Loth, Les Mabinogion, Vol. ii. p. 230, and note. The other two are Riwallawn Walth Banhadlen, and Llacheu son of Arthur. [15] The only instance in which I have found medicine directly connected with the knightly order is in the case of the warrior clan of the Samurai, in Japan, where members, physically unfitted for the task of a warrior, were trained as Royal Doctors, the Folk Doctors being recruited from a class below the Samurai. Cf. Medizin der Natur-Volker, Bartels, p. 65.

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