Merlin’s Cave below Tintagel Castle
Excerpt from Article: Three Currents from the Grail
The First Grail Question
Let’s return to the climactic moment of the Grail Legend, when Parzival asks the question. Although it is not clear from Wolfram’s version alone, there are two questions involved in the Legend.
The first one, “Humanity, what ails thee?”, directs us to the suffering inflicted on the world by those who are themselves deeply wounded.
In other words, those who are wounded in their sense of humanity, wound and afflict the rest of humanity, physically, karmically, and otherwise. Parzival addresses this question to the wounded Grail king, Amfortas, the key patriarchal figure of the Grail Quest.
It is crucial to understand that Parzival directs the question about suffering to the one who suffers. but who can neither die of the affliction, nor be permanently cured of it. Doing so, he confronts the pathological evil of the Paternal Lie at its source.
The Grail Legend is a family affair, but not exclusively so. For Parzival, knowing his personal history and the source of the paternal affliction freed him from family conditioning.
Parzival’s action is paradigmatic, as Mircea Eliade would say. It sets the example for all of us. The Quest teaches that in order to face the suffering of humanity at large, we each must address the wounds carried by people in our personal lives, especially parental figures.
This is not to say that we reconcile with patriarchy or submit to parental authority and its codes and imperatives. Not at all. The Quest does not teach us to honor parental conditioning, but how to transcend it. To go beyond familial conditioning, we must look deeply into what it is, where it originates, and how it harbors a self-perpetuating pathology (codependency, in pop psych jargon). We must talk directly to the wounded paternal forebear about his suffering, for what he suffers is paradigmatic of the human species.
In asking his uncle the first question, Parzival confronted the suffering inherent to his family situation. Through that confrontation, he came to terms with universal suffering.
We are all deeply implicated in the wound of the Fisher King, the fatal affliction of patriarchal society. As long as the Grail family was isolated in the Wasteland, and the knight destined to ask the question had not yet done so, the family could continue to live from the rich resources of the Grail, but Amfortas could not be healed by the Grail, and those who were served by it could not offer its service to others.
All this changed with the passing of the Grail to Lohengrin. What does this narrative tell us about the alternative history of the West?
It indicates that at some time in the 10th century, a shift in the social life of feudal Europe allowed the noble intention of altruism to emerge in the privileged classes, and this shift led eventually to the birth of humanism in the 15th century. During those five centuries of transition, historical events reflecting the Grail Legend transpired in the Lowlands where the Lohengrin story is set.
In fact, several late medieval sources relate that the Grail, considered as a physical relic, was taken to Bruges in central Belgium. There it was kept, preciously guarded, during the Flemish Renaissance.
Humanism dawned in the Lowlands where the Grail was guarded at Bruges, the Venice of the North.
Today Bruges is little more than a Disneyesque tourist trap, but this medieval city with its charming canals populated with wild swans still exudes a mysterious aura that does not go unnoticed even to the unenlightened tourist.
Like other cities in Belgium, Alsace and Germany, the town of Bruges traditionally celebrates the metiers or trades, such as shoemaking, tannery, tapestry, beer-making, iron-mongering, and so forth. The trades were occupied by working class people whose employment and rights depended on the privileged classes, consistent with the Lohengrin principle.
Each trade had its heraldic emblem, imitating the heraldry of the Nobility. The point was so show that the nobility of decent labor was complementary to blood-based nobility. The medieval trade-guilds inspired the original trade unions or syndicats of Europe.
True European socialism grew from the humanistic legacy of the Grail, reflected in the guild system. The system depended on a contract of honor and trust between the privileged classes and the common people who worked for them…
Visiting the places associated with magical locales, such as Kangtega in Asia or Tintagel in England, tunes the mind to the constant frequencies of the Legend. Parallel history is best remembered in these places, preserved in the memoria naturae, the memory of the earth itself.
The alternative history of humanity is a kind of planetary folklore, a narrative of immense participatory appeal, not excluding touristic appeal. Its power does not reside in the predetermined certainty of the unfolding of God’s plan in historical time, but in our intimate and voluntary participation in the self-actualization of the human species, defined and developed exclusively on human terms.
For humanity there is no divine plan, but there is a process of self-direction that surpasses any plan. However, it takes a master narrative to engage the human imagination with the self-directional skills inherent to our species.
The Second Question
Once Parzival had asked the question that addressed his familial karmic link to universal suffering, another question came to his mind. This one concerned his own spontaneous enlightenment and deep inner understanding of the moral-creative magic of the Grail.
To capture the sense of the second question, imagine that you are seated in the company of the Grail with Parzival standing right beside you. Before him, set on an ornate table, is the sumptuous wonder of the Grail — like a huge mound of gleaming, pearl-white ice cream. Parzival, holding an ice cream scoop, is about to dip into the mound. He stands right before you, and the Grail gleams within your reach. As Parzival leans forward with the scoop, he asks the second question, “How do I serve thee?” He puts the question, not to you, but to the mound of ice cream. He asks the Grail itself how it wants to be served, to be dished out.
Imagine a substance or supernatural source of power that communicates with those who are inwardly awakened to its presence. A substance that can tell those who encouter it how to transmit it, how to serve it up to others. What manner of miraculous substance is this?
Wolfram said that the Gral was a stone. Not a chalice or cup, such as occurs in Christian cooptations of the Legend. Not even a wide serving dish, as some versions of the Legend describe it. Yet in Wolfram’s version the numinous Stone does act like a serving dish. It is a virtual cornucopia that pours forth healing serum and all manner of delicious food and drink. Wolfram did not invent this artifact, nor did he add the special effects.
The Gral-Stone is a late medieval epiphany of the cauldron of Keridwen, the White Goddess of the pan-European Celts. It is an image of the suprabiological source of life on earth.
In some way it is, not just the magical vessel of the Goddess, but the body of Goddess herself.
The unimaginable has to be richly imagined. Pre-Christian traditions of a Grail stone that doubled as a serving dish were drawn from Celtic artifacts such as the Belenus “offering table.” Like Wolfram’s Gral, it comes complete with writing around the rim.
From the nature of the second question, we can infer that Parzival had a genuine mystical awakening in the presence of the Gral-Stone, whatever it was, but the Lohengrin sequel does not derive from this aspect of the Legend.
Of the three currents that proceed from the Grail, one goes outward into the world, in the direction of social enlightenment, after the model of Lohengrin. This leads to Renaissance humanism. This is the noble philanthropic current, the path of service through privilege, with the Buddhist option of renouncing merit. It is the mundane, pragmatic, socially oriented expression of indigenous magic — the exoterically manifesting current from the Grail.
With Parzival’s mystical realization, allowing him to pose a question to the Gral-Stone itself, other developments arise.
Two other currents proceed from direct encounter with the supreme numen of indigenous magic. They are both deeply mystical and do not find expression in social life, but rather in anti-social trends, in esotericism, counterculture, and underground movements that tend to assume a cryptic and cultic character.
Both of these currents deeply inform the plot of alternative history. They emerge through historical events from the 10th century onward, but they originate in earlier times.
Unlike the social activist initiative represented by Lohengrin, which did not exist before the 10th century, the other two currents have an ancient provenance. But they come to a thriving expression in a unique manner after the pivotal moment when Parzival attained the Grail: 968 CE.
In parallel history, the reflections of these two currents are the European cult of Amor and the Great Work, the art of alchemy.
jll: Flanders March 2006
Excerpt for Article: Three Currents from the Grail
THANK YOU JOHN LASH!!!