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TRACY R. TWYMAN | What the Hell is the Holy Grail?

By Tracy R. Twyman

Originally written for Dagobert’s Revenge Magazine, Copyright 1998
(Does not necessarily represent author’s current viewpoint.)

The cup of the Last Supper

It is the editorial position of Dagobert’s Revenge that the “Sangreal,” or “Holy Grail,” as described in the stories that emerged from the courts of Europe in the early part of this millennium, is actually a veiled reference to the bloodline of David, a play on the words “Sang real,” meaning “royal blood.” In the stories, the custodians of the Grail are the “Grail family,” headed by the Fisher King. They trace their lineage back to Joseph of Arimathea, who, along with Mary Magdalene, was supposed to have brought the Grail (often a cup filled with the “blood” of Jesus) from Jerusalem after the crucifixion. The Grail family is romanticized as being chosen directly by God, just as King David was chosen for Israel, and one of its members, Sir Galahad, is described as “a scion of the House of David.” Galahad was also considered by tradition to be the grandfather of a real-life character, Godfroi de Bouillon, who led the First Crusade for the Holy Land, and in 1118 founded the Order of Sion, an organization dedicated to bringing back the lost Merovingian dynasty. The Grail guardians are described in the romances as “Templars,” and the Knights Templar were, when first chartered, the military wing of the Order of Sion. The Templars were also at that time very influential in the French royal courts that commissioned most of the Grail romances, so it is possible that the Templars might have had an indirect effect on the contents of the stories. As if that weren’t enough, Wolfram von Eschenbach states explicitly in the story Parzival that the Grail is the source of kingship. He writes: “And if anywhere a land loses its lord, if the people there acknowledge the Hand of God, and seek a new lord, they are granted one from the company of the Grail.” However, the subtle political inferences about “royal blood” in these romances were merely grafted onto a much older tradition, and one cannot ignore the alternate interpretations of just what the Holy Grail might have been.

A Stone

Mohammed with the Kaaba stone

In Eschenbach’s Parzival, the Grail is a magic stone that can create stuff out of nothing, bring the dead back to life and cause those who looked upon it to never age another day. It also communicates. Written messages appear on its surface detailing the names and lineages of those chosen to seek the Grail, and Parzival actually talked to it. It is called “lapsit exillis,” which some scholars consider to be a corruption of “lapis excaelis,” meaning “stone from the heavens.” Indeed, in the story it states that angels had “left it on earth and then rose high above the stars, as if their innocence drew them back.”

There are those who identify the Grail as a “stone of light” knocked from Lucifer’s crown during the war in Heaven. It supposedly made its way into human hands at some point, and some have suggested that it might be analogous to the capstone (perhaps a crystal) which used to top off the Great Pyramid. Certainly it makes sense to think of the Grail stone as a crystal, since crystals have been associated throughout history with a number of fantastic phenomena, believed to possess electromagnetic properties capable of healing and facilitating psychic communication. Others have claimed that the stone from Lucifer’s crown was actually a meteorite, perhaps the “Kaaba” revered by the Muslims at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, a sacred black stone which they believe “fell from Heaven” as well. (In fact, The Koran says that Muhammad stood upon this stone when he was taken to Heaven on a “ladder of light” by the angel Gabriel.) Of course, meteorites also have strong magnetic properties. One cannot help but be reminded of the “monolith” in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was a black rock with amazing magnetic powers anonymously donated by a superior race to bring humanity into the next phase of evolutionary development.

A Cup

The Nanteos Cup

As previously mentioned, the Grail is traditionally thought of as the cup that caught Jesus Christ’s blood as it dribbled out of the stab wound that the Roman soldier Longinus had given him while he hung on the cross. This legend was started by Chretien de Troyes’ Perceval, written in 1182. It is also said to be the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper. One popular candidate for this artifact is a crumbling hunk of olive wood which rests at the Nanteos Mansion in Aberystwyth, Wales. (Richard Wagner visited the mansion once and there conceived the idea for his opera Parsifal.) But there are many other stories surrounding the Grail. Some versions state that this is the same cup used by the priest Melchizedek to serve Abraham bread and wine on Mount Moriah. From the Grail cup, sometimes described as more of a bowl or a serving dish, one could supposedly obtain whatever kind of food one wished, in limitless abundance, and in this way its legend is obviously based on ancient Celtic myths about Bran the Blessed’s “cauldron of rebirth” and the magical “Horn of Plenty.” When not filled with blood or food made from thin air, the Grail was empty, and its emptiness was heavily stressed, perhaps because emptiness is the supreme state of being and enlightenment: the annihilation of the ego.

Mystical Union

King Arthurs Grail Vision, 1903

This brings us to another point of view on the Grail: that it is a spiritual experience. The Grail is described as the most worthy thing that one can seek, and those who embark upon the quest for the Grail must be completely pure of heart. One does not merely “find” the Grail; one “achieves” it, and at that point is initiated into its secrets. Just seeing it causes an overwhelming, trance-like state of awe and reverence, and the experience causes a complete transformation of the soul. “Upon a green achmardi she bore the consummation of heart’s desire, its root and its blossoming — a thing called “˜The Gral’, paradisal, transcending all earthly perfection!,” writes Wolfram von Eschenbach. In the story of Parzival, the Grail has been lost, causing a state of infertility called “the Wasteland.” The Fisher King, Parzival’s uncle, is wounded in the crotch, and the festering sore, along with The Wasteland, cannot be cured until the Grail is found — an obvious metaphor for redemption. This is the redemption that occurs when one’s polarities (male/female, light/dark, etc.) are aligned, equalized, and transcended, creating a feeling of sublime nothingness that leaves one receptive to divine influence. It is union with God, the Great Void, that state of “Samadhi” that is the goal of yogic meditation. It is written that, “In Samadhi the Many and the One are united in a union of Existence with Non-existence,” and that is exactly what’s being alluded to in the Grail myths. Perhaps that is why the metaphor of the cup was used. The heart chakra is often described as a cup — one that must be emptied of all its mundane contents to make way for the Water of Life. This water, in turn, must be perfectly stilled so as to reflect a gaze downward from the face of the Most High.

Bodily Secretions

Sex Magick

Famed magician Aleister Crowley had quite a different take on the meaning of the Grail. Noted for his work in the field of sex magick, he combined Tantric theory learned in India with methodology learned in the German Ordo Templi Orientis. He believed that sex performed ritually could result in transcendence of the ego and union with the Godhead. This was possible if one was “in conversation with the Holy Guardian Angel” at the moment of orgasm, and the process for reaching that state is detailed in The Book of the Unveiling of the Sangraal. Afterwards, all fluids created during sex must be consumed in full by the participants, so as to retain their potency (in the same way that Tantrics retain their semen so as to prevent a loss of energy). Crowley referred to semen as “red tincture,” vaginal secretions as “white tincture,” and the mix of the two, the Elixir of Life. He also called it the “Magnum Opus” or “Philosopher’s Stone,” in reference to the universal solvent long sought by alchemists. The holy vessel (vagina) from which one drinks the Elixir of Life he called “the Sangraal.” Interestingly, when Crowley wrote about his own sex magic rituals he referred to himself as “The Great Beast” and his consort as “Babalon the Great.” I am reminded of a passage in St. John the Divine’s Revelation describing her thusly:

“And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication. And upon her forehead was a name written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. (Revelation, 17:4-5.)”

The Ark

The Ark of the Covenant

In his book The Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant, Graham Hancock argues that the Grail might have actually been the Ark of the Covenant, the revered Judaic relic designed by Yahweh and built by the Israelites to absolute geometric perfection. This was the 1 cubit x 1 cubit x 2 cubit wooden cedar box into which Moses placed the Tablets of the Testimony: tablets of stone written with the “Finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). The Ark was overlaid with the purest of gold, one of the most electrically conductive element known to man, and crowned with two mysterious winged objects called “cherubim” who each had two faces, of a lion and eagle, a man and an ox, respectively. Between their outstretched wings stood the Mercy Seat, where the priest could literally talk to God. In fact, God was referred to as actually living in the Ark. “The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble: he sitteth between the cherubim; let the earth be moved.” (Psalm 99.) The prophet Samuel was said to have seen and conversed with a “form,” which he took to be God, in the vicinity of the Ark. Later, King Solomon had a temple built for the Ark, in which he used it to conjure up not only Yahweh, but a host “false gods” and “demons,” “angels” and “archangels.” The Ark “smote” those who touched it, move objects at will and produced “manna” for the Israelites to eat while they were starving in the desert — all attributes shared by the Grail. The Ark had to be obscured by a veil at all times, lest those who looked upon be killed, and, only the sons of the High Priest Aaron were allowed to actually see it, protected by a “breastplate of judgment” made from gold and precious stones.

Graham Hancock bases his argument on the fact that the Knights Templar, called “guardians of the Grail,” were known to have excavated a treasure from the caverns underneath Solomon’s Temple which made them extremely rich and powerful. They were rumored to have taken this treasure to Montsegur in the Languedoc region of the French Pyrenees, which seems to be the same mountain as the setting of most of the Grail romances, “Montsalvat” (“Mount of Salvation”). It is also quite close to the Rennes-le-Chateau, a location tied in local legend to the Holy Grail. If this is correct, then the Grail might really be a combination of all the phenomena listed above: a “sacred vessel” housing a “stone from God” — the tablets — with intense electromagnetic properties, which, when combined with the electro-conductive properties of the Ark, created a device capable of transmitting audio-visual signals, mortally “zapping” people and changing physical reality. Such a device would certainly be able to produce the transcendental experience associated with the Grail, by means of aligning electromagnetic polarities within the brain and body. As the Ark and its contents were basically the foundation upon which the Kingdom of Judah was built, the “sign and the seal” of Yahweh’s covenant with His chosen people, it would by right be under the custodianship of the Kings of Judah, the “blood royale” of the House of David, and the Templars would indeed be its guardians. However, at this point such a conclusion is still theoretical, and the keepers of the secret do not intend to clear up the mysteries any time soon.

The Knights of the Grail