Essay Preview: King Authur
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Since the time of King Arthur, the Quest for the Holy Grail has been a a tale of grandeur in Western esoteric tradition. The Quest for the Grail represents a flawless mixture of early Christian elements, French imagination, and Welch oral tradition. Some collective patterns from the various perspectives of the story associated with the grail from ChrÐ”©tien de Troyes, Wolfram von Eschenbach, The Mabinogion and others include some magic castle, inhabited by a Ð²Ð‚ÑšFisher KingÐ²Ð‚Ñœ, a virgin who serves as the Grail bearer, and a male hero on the Grail quest. Now while there is a shared element in all the works listed, the element of the grail it self has evolved from the early Welsh stories of the Mabinogion.
Holy Grail was introduced into Arthurian literature in ChrÐ”©tiens unfinished Ð²Ð‚ÑšStory of the GrailÐ²Ð‚Ñœ as a simple dish or platter used to carry a communion wafer to an old man. In the Vulgate Cycle and MaloryÐ²Ð‚™s work, however, it is developed into a holy relic, seen as both the cup used by Jesus to drink wine at the Last Supper and a cup used to catch some of Christs blood during the Crucifixion. It was said to have been brought from Jerusalem to England by Joseph of Arimathea, a direct ancestor of Lancelot and his son Galahad. Galahad has all of Lancelots knightly perfection but lacks his sins. Stories of the grail first started reaching the between the 1lth and l3th centuries, in the form of a series of writings of different styles and interpretations based on oral traditions from Welsh and other sources .The main sources for the Holy grail are: “Le Conte del Graal” by Chretien de Troyes, The Mabinogion, Le Morte Darthur and “Parzival” by Wolfram von Eschenbach. Now while there are certainly overlaps in stories, there was never the intention for there to be repeats any of the Grail stories. When Sir Thomas Malory work Le Morte Darthur was published it contained many of the stories of the Grail Knights. Malorys work is not a poem it is a lengthy prose narrative, based on even lengthier French prose works, telling the “whole” story of the rise and fall of King Arthurs kingdom. Due to its great length, it is a much less unified work than The Knight of the Cart or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In the Morte, the focus has broadened to include not one but many of Arthurs knights even though Lancelot is still a very central figure. The adventures of these various knights are intertwined using a technique known as “interlace.” Although the stories are very much alike, Wolfram does differ from Chretien in many areas, the most important being that Wolfram sees the Grail as a Stone or an emerald. This is not unusual because it is a platter in many other sources. This can just be the evolution of the myth.
The castle of the Fisher King is seen as a place of mystery and worship. While it is not seen as a church or a temple, it is on the other hand obviously of high religious meaning to the author of the story. Just as in many Hollywood versions that depict the grail, the people of the Castle of the Fisher King seem to have something of great value. Like a religious ceremony the pure women posses Grail mystery and the men are charged with its protection. Again, just as the Nazis wanted its power, the grail must be protected because not only does it give life it gives great power.
One of the reasons that the Grail Quest is held in such high regard in the context of the western Church is because this object personifies the expiation of sins through the sacrificial death of Christ. It is the mascot for the price that Jesus paid on the cross for all of us. This is to be contrasted with the eastern Orthodox Church that emphasises the restoration of man to divine life. The quest for the Holy Grail can be seen as a corrective to the western over-emphasis on sin by introducing the eastern concept of “theosis” (God-becoming). This union with God is precisely the point of the Quest.
Let us visualise the Grail Temple. It is the inner aspect of the Grail Castle. The Temple stands at the top of a mountain surrounded by impenetrable forest. Access is by way of a razor sharp ridge. The Temple is capped by a great dome. It has 22 chapels in an octagonal form. Over every pair of chapels stands an octagonal bell tower. At the summit of each tower is a ruby surmounted by a cross of white crystal, to which a golden eagle is affixed. Two doors lead into each of the chapels. Each chapel contains an altar of sapphire and faces east. The main chapel itself stands in the east and is twice as large as the others. It is dedicated to the Holy Spirit who is the patron of the Temple. The chapels to either side of it are dedicated to the Holy Virgin and St. John.
The main element of the Quest for the Grail tradition is that each of us can take the initial step forward towards our own adventure. As Joseph Campbell illustrated in the video lectures, that need to go out and find something that our heart yearns for is the driving force behind the Quest for the Grail. It was only after the power of the grail is seen and the mystery is sampled by the knights of King Arthur that the quest begins. Ironically in the quest for the Grail when you set out on your quest, full battle rattle with the iconic trusty steed, broad sword but no matter how hard you search and battles you have the Grail only finds you when it is appropriate. Like the Israelites in the desert, they only found the Promised Land when the people that God saw fit were left. This element of the heroic drive that Mr. Campbell is talking about is unmistakably intertwined with our idea of god.
GRAIL KNIGHT It is important to mention at the outset, that the effect of attaining the Grail is identical to the intended effect of Holy Communion. The paradox is to explain why the Grail Knight finds it necessary to go on a quest for something that he or she can presumably obtain in any church at any time. The answer to this paradox, is that the Grail Knight is looking for a level of mystical experience that cannot be found in the Church. That the grail knight is looking for something that will elevate him from the earthly knight; something that every knight should strive for.
The French title of the work (which translates as “Death of Arthur” — although only a very small portion concerns Arthurs death) indicates its primary source: Malory was working from the French prose romances of the Vulgate cycle, the last of which is called La Mort le Roi Artu (“The Death of King Arthur”). As a result, Malory incorporates the biases found in that cycle, a Cistercian reworking of the original