Monday, January 16, 2012

The Holy Grail (Book Review)

I have just finished reading The Holy Grail, Its Origins, Secrets, & Meaning Revealed, by Malcolm Godwin.  The version that I have was published in 1994.  How I have not come across this book sooner is a mystery to me.  Since I was a teenager, I have read and researched the Arthurian legends, the Knights Templar, mysticism, and the early origins of the three ‘major’ religions.  I guess some things happen when the time is right.  Godwin explains the legend of the Grail by separating its mythical origins into three “Branches;” the Celtic Branch, the Christian Branch, and the Chymical (Alchemical) Branch. 

Godwin starts with the Celtic Branch, which he explains as the origin of the myth.  Godwin sets the original stories from Irish echtrai, or adventures, and the Welsh Mabinogion legends.  He takes the story back to a mythical time when the peoples of the earth lived in harmony with the land.  Maidens lived by sacred groves and springs and were the connection for humans to the ‘other world.’  These Maidens of the Sacred Wells provided food and drink to travelers with golden vessels.  These magical women represented the Goddess of the Earth.  This Goddess would appear throughout the land as either a maiden, a nymph, of a crone.  She was the Sovranty [sic] of the Land.  No man could rule the land without a sacred bond with this Goddess through the Maiden of the Well that sourced his land.  As these stories go, the greed and treachery of an evil king severs the connection between the other world and this world resulting in a wasteland.  This is the point of the quest.  The questing knight must find the sacred vessel and heal the bond between both worlds bringing prosperity and peace to the land again.  Godwin walks us through the tale of this legend through the adventure of the questing knight Peredur from the Welsh romance Peredur.  This story follows the pagan elements of myths of its time such as the Four Hallow from the Mabinogion that later become the Four Hallows of the Grail. 

The second part of the book focuses on the new Christian Church’s struggle to Christianize the overly popular legend and draw parallels to Jesus.  This is the Christian Branch.  Here the connection between the heretical Knights Templar and the Cathari are made to the Celtic Pagan mythology.  The mythical Caldron and Hallows get redesigned as Jesus’ cup at the last supper and other Christian relics; the Spear of Longinus, the Disk or Paten, and finally, the Sword (Excalibur/Sword of David).  The Church attempted the use of sacred symbology to change the pagan story to that of a christian one:  the life long quest for redemption.  The hero of this story is Perceval from the Didot-Perceval.  The story ends with Perceval, Galahad, and Bors retrieving the Grail.

The final branch is Chymical.  This version weaves the symbolism of the pagan sacred feminine with the near-east mysticism which would eventually become Alchemy.  The story is a vehicle for relating the concept of cycles; a concept which was contrary to the linear history of the Church.  The Church leaders did not want lay-peoples to think that it was possible to fix their own mistakes or that their relationship to the divine was in their own hands.  Almost every aspect of the story was a signpost for the seeker on his/her fool’s journey to learn about themselves and their relation to God.  Godwin also illustrates a connection with the Chymical Branch of the Grail story to the Tarot.  He brings us full circle with the sacred feminine and the Earth Goddess, but this time not just the Celtic pagan Goddess but the Gnostic Goddess of Wisdom: Sophia; the sister of Christ: Achmoth; Mary Magdalene; Helen, consort of Simon Magus, etc…

The last few pages of the book, Godwin explains his interpretation of the story and how it is still relevant to us in this modern age.  His warning is that we have not yet found the balance that humans once lost.  We are still living in that proverbial wasteland and we, as a people, need to seek that bridge with the other world to find our sacred feminine nature.  The only way to find the other world is to allow our inner nature to take the lead and for us to stop trying to force the result.  As Godwin puts it, “The legend of the Grail is a myth of Paradise Regained.  But the message behind the legend shows that the paradise was never really lost.  It was only forgotten.”

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