A lesson that I keep on learning in life is that even the worst things usually have some sort of benefit to be wrestled from them with skill, patience, grace, or often luck. One such blessing was my ability to fulfill an adulthood-long dream to attend some of the Glastonbury Goddess Conference this year. Due to social distancing and travel restrictions and all, this was one of many annual events that transitioned to fully virtual. Sure, not everything works as well. Yet, some things work even better. I sat in (zoom) circles with women and men from Germany, Sweden, Portugal, Belgium, Australia, England (of course) and more to discuss everything from the loss of children to owning our power--writing sacred stories and manifesting peace. Of course, it awakened my own past meanderings through my internal isle of Avalon, where (doubly of course) everything is vegan like me! Here's the apple isle as I see it. If you read to the end, you will see that I've solved the riddle of that infamous quest, "Who does the Grail serve, and what is its purpose?" Read ahead at your peril. (JK there's no peril).

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When thinking about a story with the potential to inform Vegan Paganism, I thought almost immediately of Avalon. This legend combines several touchstones (and swords in stones) that have potential for our tradition.

This does not mean I think Vegan Paganism should deal only with Celtic myths. I am simply sharing some storytelling work that has been personally meaningful to me. I look forward to seeing how Vegan Pagans adapt other cultural traditions and tales.

Avalon reflects the golden age mythos that our vegetarian ancestors so revered amidst a backdrop of dragons, goddesses, and faeries. The legend of Arthur and his knights carries the old ways of British Paganism into the Christian world. Avalon reputedly becoming the refuge of Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Grail is a perfect example.

In a work called Vita Merlini (The Life of Merlin), Monmouth described Avalon as a “fortunate isle” that grew apples, grapes, and grains without any need for human cultivation. This hearkens back to the stories of the golden age where human kind could exist without toil and without killing. As such, Avalon is in the same company as paradisiacal lands like Eden and Arcadia.   

Most of the stories that give us hints about the Pagan roots of Arthurian tales seem to come to us from Welsh culture. Nonetheless, even the oldest materials that remain have survived because they were adapted and redacted by Christians.

Studying Avalon, Arthur, or ancient British Paganism will always call for a fair amount of imagination. Paganism has always been an oracular and highly localized religion that is created and passed along by spiritually-inspired storytellers. Personally, I find this exciting. Taking wisdom from the old to build the new is what Neo-paganism is all about.

It helps when thinking about Avalon to remember how localized ancient Paganism was. For instance, Irish tradition had a similar “apple island” mythology set around Emhain Abhlach. There are cultural variations of the tale throughout the British Isles.

Remember, there was no internet. There weren’t rapid methods of travel and communication. The people of one village, or even one household, would develop their own stories and practices.

Even within one culture, versions of a story would vary. Remembering this helps to contextualize all the seemingly contradictory bits of information that we modern Neo-pagans will encounter in our studies of ancient resources. I think it is helpful to take all these little details with a grain of salt. Let’s just look for underlying themes and spiritual truths that make sense to us.

According to the ancient Welsh Llyfr Taliesin, or Book of Taliesin, Avalon is basically a liminal land that links the everyday world of the Celts with the Otherworld, (Annwn). This mystical island amid the waters represents a midway point between realms of reality. Living people sometimes go there to quest for spiritual wisdom.

The afterlife is not normally accessible to us until we have died. Luckily, sacred stories tell us that liminal worlds like Avalon can be accessed by seekers who figure out how. 

Entry into these metaphysical waystations has become more and more difficult the less spiritual human cultures have become. As the stories put it, Avalon has drifted farther and farther “into the mist.” Yet, it’s still possible to reach sacred spaces and to access their wisdom.

Avalon has long been revered as a place of healing. King Arthur was taken there for healing after being dealt a dire wound in battle. Healing is something that most Vegan Pagans would emphasize for our ecosystem and for our relationships with (and toward) other beings. Therefore, Healers may benefit from working with this sacred tale.

The name Avalon derives from the Welsh for “Ynys Afallon,” or “the Island of Apples.” Geoffrey of Monmouth put in on the map, so to speak, in 1136 when he wrote about the magical land in Historia Regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain). He put forth the legend of King Arthur that most of us have heard since childhood.

The goddesses associated with Avalon and other apple islands tend to have similar traits, though local groups have given them different names. Goddesses associated with Avalon include Modron, Morrighan, Morgen, Arianrhod, and Cerridwen. In all cases, the goddess of Avalon is the mother earth. She is the British Isles and she represents the interests of all life therein.

The apples of Avalon were tended by nine women, either priestesses or goddesses. These apples, like so many others in mythology, could impart healing and immortality. It may have been through the administration of such an apple that King Arthur was healed from his wounds.

The elements of Avalon that I think are wonderful mythology for Vegan Paganism include:

•           The apple as a sacred symbol (which is also one of the most perfect vegan foods).

•           A metaphor for spiritual wisdom.

•           A metaphor for communication with the other realms and for magical work.

•           An archetype of healing.

•           Goddess-centered mythology (to balance all the patriarchal religious stories out there).

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King Arthur:

With Avalon comes the legend of Arthur. Arthur begins as a student of the goddess and her servants. As he becomes a powerful ruler in the patriarchy of his time, he loses touch with the lessons of his youth. When he returns to Avalon, he is returning to the religion of his ancestors. His story is that of a human being who becomes unmoored from the lessons of the goddess but returns later to make amends.

The stories of King Arthur and his court become the source material for grail lore. In the grail story of the Fisher King, both the monarch and his land are injured and diminished. The king is lame. The land is in a condition of draught. Only when someone successfully completes the quest can both king and land be restored to health.

The famous question from the Arthurian quest for the Holy Grail is, “Who does the grail serve, and what is its purpose?” The story of the Fisher King suggests that the king (humanity) and the land (the planet) will be healed if someone will only show up and ask this question. That’s it. Just ask the question.

To me, the lesson of this story is that human beings must quest for wisdom and ask the important questions. When we do, the hope is that we will act on our new wisdom and will stop causing so much destruction across the planet. If humans take up the lessons of oneness, harmlessness, and magic, the land (meaning all of us) can be healed.

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Who do I think the grail serves, and what is its purpose? I think that the grail serves the One, or the Entirety. Its purpose is to teach us the truth of oneness and unite us in the practice of harmlessness. Where you take this idea, fellow seeker, is up to you.