Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by John Michael Greer, author of several titles, including the new Ceremony of the Grail.
What is the Holy Grail? In some versions of the legend, that was the question that had to be asked by the questing knight to awaken the powers of the Grail and free the Waste Land from its curse. It remains an important question today among students of Grail lore. The standard claim in popular culture—the belief that the Grail was the cup Jesus of Nazareth used at the Last Supper—isn’t the oldest version, or even the most likely.
More than a century ago, British folklorist Dr. Jessie Weston found what may be crucial clues to the origins and meaning of the Grail legend. A pioneering scholar of Arthurian legend, Weston paid attention to the parallels between details of the oldest Grail stories and Pagan fertility rites. She also noticed subtle connections between the early Grail romances and the teachings of the Gnostics. Over the course of her career, piecing together clues from many sources, she came to see the Grail legend as the key to a forgotten chapter in the spiritual history of the Western world.
During the last years of the ancient world, surviving records show, certain Gnostic sects made common cause with Pagan mystery cults against their common persecutor, the militant Christian church. One such sect, the Naassenes, made participation in certain Pagan mysteries part of its path toward gnosis, the personal knowledge of spiritual realities that all the Gnostics sought. That was where Weston’s theory started.
With the help of the Naassenes, she argued, a few archaic mystery rites survived in an unexpected corner of the Roman world. Over centuries, the old ceremonies blurred and changed as ceremonies do, giving rise to the ritual dimly recalled in the Grail legend. Nor was that ritual lost afterwards. In her final book, From Ritual to Romance, and in a few other places, she hinted that it had survived in some form and was being practiced in her own time.
Weston’s theory was widely accepted in the first half of the twentieth century. The hardening of prejudices against occultism that did so much damage in the second half of that century, however, saw her contributions to Arthurian studies erased and her theory of the Grail abandoned even by those who had praised it earlier. Yet her insights were never disproved—and her vision of the Grail has tremendous value today.
The Grail legend, after all, is the story of how healing came to a barren and damaged land. The entire world today more and more resembles the Waste Land of the old story. Can we afford to neglect any key to its healing?
Our thanks to John for his guest post! For more from John Michael Greer, head over to his author page for articles, books, and more.