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The Grail Mysteries

These past few months I have been delving into Grail stories and mythology, looking for their inner messages and healing stories. I have been working with Jenah Telyndru’s Avalon Within: A Sacred Journey of Myth, Mystery and Inner Wisdom since September, and have just finished reading Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Crossing to Avalon: A Woman’s Midlife Pilgrimage.  There is a lot of resonance and wisdom in both these books, that has opened up my eyes to the Grail stories and also the wisdom of Avalon in ways I never could have dreamt of.

I had always been fascinated by the tales of Arthur and Morgan le Fey since I was a child. Stories of knights riding out on quest, of otherworldly women bestowing kingship, of wizards and wisemen, chivalry and courage and love all held a special place in my heart.  I had always wanted to visit Britain, to see the land that these stories contained – I never thought I would end up living there, but life has its twists and turns.

The Grail Mysteries are utterly fascinating.  What I am currently exploring is the figure of the Grail Maiden, the only one able to handle the blessed object.  Whether she is Pagan or Christian is of little consequence – what matters is that she is the one who is carrying it forth into the world.

The Knights of King Arthur’s court see a vision of the Grail, carried through his Great Hall by a Great Lady – some say Morgan herself, others the Lady of the Lake, or an angel.  This sends them into a frenzied search for the Grail – most of his knights take it upon themselves to find this holy object, winning it for themselves, for salvation or fame, freedom or a connection with the divine feminine. Little is said of the Grail Maiden after this – the attention is all bestowed upon the knights and their quests.

The Grail Maiden appears once again in the tales, when Perceval reaches the Fisher King.  This wounded king is reflected in his kingdom, which is barren wasteland.  Until the King is healed, the land cannot be healed.  What is most interesting is that the Grail is carried through his Court each and every day, and yet he cannot receive its healing properties. Two questions must be asked first in order for the King to be healed – “What ails thee?” and “Whom does the Grail serve?”.  Perceval, in an attempt to appear grand and unaffected, being now a ‘famous Knight of King Arthur’s Court on Quest’, does not question the wound on the King when he sees it, though he does notice it and wonder.  When the Grail is brought through the Court time and again in a repetitive procession throughout dinner, again Perceval ignores it, trying to appear nonchalant. In his refusal to show empathy or compassion, curiosity or care he loses his chance to heal the kingdom and also his chance at the Grail and the Divine Feminine. The Grail and castle disappear the next morning.

So, back to the Grail Maiden – why is it that a woman can only carry this vessel? Many will say that women are natural vessels of the Goddess, and this rings true enough.  In Arthurian tales, women are also the bearers of Sovereignty, also reflected in other tales from the land, such as the Welsh Mabinogian. The vessel is the source of the Divine Feminine, therefore it is fitting that is it borne by a woman. Women bear children, bringing new life into the world (with the help of men, of course). There are certain things that only women can understand through shared stories and life experiences – moon bleedings, bearing children, social and cultural successes and struggles.  The knights on quest are seeking this source of the Divine Feminine, lacking it in their own souls, longing to reach out to the Goddess but unable within the constraints of their religion and their faith. 

The quest for the Grail is also an inner quest – it is not all about externally seeking something that is outside our selves. Often the Divine Feminine can be missing from a woman’s life as well.  For reasons too legion to go into here, seeking out a female goddess can be a deep and meaningful way to connect with our own self and, in doing so, other women, humanity and the world at large.

What the knights seems to miss, on the whole, is that the Grail is Woman.  Through honouring Woman as well as Man he can come to bridge the gap, come to know the divine.  It is right there in front of their eyes, but they choose not to see it.  For women, coming to understand our own selves is the forerunner to compassion and empathy not only for our sisters, but everything. In seeing and seeking the Grail within, we can heal our own wounds.  We must also ask ourselves the questions that Perceval did not.

By asking our selves (the separation of the words, instead of writing ourselves is intentional here) “What ails thee?” we take the time to look within, to perhaps explore shadow aspects of ourselves.  Within many Eastern traditions, it is through meditation that we understand our selves better, and also understand and redirect our reactions to the world – ie. instead of simply reacting to an event, we act with intention, with mindfulness and awareness. With the Grail question, we can ask this of our selves as well as others in pretty much any situation, therefore eliminating a reactionary response to a more intentional approach. In doing so, we may just find the healing for our selves and the world that is so needed.

The second Grail question, “Whom does the Grail serve?” invites us to question our intention.  Whether we are experiencing pleasant or unpleasant aspects in our lives, we can ask our selves “who does this serve?”, thereby eliminating that which is no longer necessary, and bringing joy, awe and wonder back into our lives.  With old habits and patterns of behaviour that we wish to be freed from, we can simply ask this question over and over again until we have the answer that is required for spiritual growth.  We can ask this question in every aspect of our lives, from our weekly shopping (in order to make better choices not only for ourselves, but the planet) to our everyday interactions with other people.  If we are making a positive change instead of falling into negative, but comfortable patterns then we are on the road to spiritual progress. Reminding our selves of the Grail questions has been integral to my learning these past few months, becoming a mantra for everyday life.

In a patriarchal culture and society, the loss of the feminine can be devastating, as it was to the knights of the Round Table.  In our quest for wholeness, we can either run around in circles, questing after the Grail through established means, or we can simply look within to gain a better perspective on compassion and the divine, whether it be male or female, or even genderless.  It is the deep exploration within that allows us to bring that knowledge out into the world – we cannot simply spend our lives gazing at our own navels – we must bring the Grail out for the benefit of others. We must offer the gifts of compassion and self-awareness. In this, the Grail Mysteries are best served.

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Author, poet, singer and dancer, Joanna van der Hoeven (Autumn Song) is a Druid Priestess and Animist who honours the natural world around her and seeks to live with awareness and compassion. She has released three books, her latest being Zen Druidry and is currently writing two more for release in 2014. She writes the main blog for Moon Books, as well as having her own blog channel at Wordpress, called Down the Forest Path.

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