Thursday, March 24, 2016
The Legend of the Holy Grail by Manly Palmer Hall 1928
The Legend of the Holy Grail by Manly Palmer Hall 1928
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According to legend, the body of the Christos was given into the keeping of two men, of whom the Gospels make but brief mention. These were Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, both devout men who, though not listed among the disciples or apostles of the Christos, were of all men chosen to be custodians of His sacred remains. Joseph of Arimathea was one of the initiated brethren and is called by A. E. Waite, in his A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, “the first bishop of Christendom.” just as the temporal power of the Holy See was established by St. Peter, so the spiritual body of the faith was entrusted to the “Secret Church of the Holy Grail” through apostolic succession from Joseph of Arimathea, into whose keeping had been given the perpetual symbols of the covenant–the ever-flowing cup and the bleeding spear.
Presumably obeying instructions of St. Philip, Joseph of Arimathea, carrying the sacred relics, reached Britain after passing through many and varied hardships. Here a site was allotted to him for the erection of a church, and in this manner Glastonbury Abbey was founded. Joseph planted his staff in the earth and it took root, becoming a miraculous thorn bush which blossomed twice a year and which is now called the Glastonbury thorn. The end of the life of Joseph of Arimathea is unknown. By some it is believed that, like Enoch, he was translated; by others, that he was buried in Glastonbury Abbey. Repeated attempts have been made to find the Holy Grail, which many believe to have been hidden in a crypt beneath the ancient abbey. The Glastonbury chalice recently discovered and by the devout supposed to be the original Sang real can scarcely be accepted as genuine by the critical investigator. Beyond its inherent interest as a relic, like the famous Antioch chalice it actually proves nothing when it is realized that practically little more was known about the Christian Mysteries eighteen centuries ago than can be discovered today.
The origin of the Grail myth, as of nearly every other element in the great drama, is curiously elusive. Sufficient foundation for it may be found in the folklore of the British Isles, which contains many accounts of magic cauldrons, kettles, cups, and drinking horns. The earliest Grail legends describe the cup as a veritable horn of plenty. Its contents were inexhaustible and those who served it never hungered or thirsted. One account states that no matter how desperately ill a person might be he could not die within eight days of beholding the cup. Some authorities believe the Holy Grail to be the perpetuation of the holy cup used in the rites of Adonis and Atys. A communion cup or chalice was used in several of the ancient Mysteries, and the god Bacchus is frequently symbolized in the form of a vase, cup, or urn. In Nature worship the ever-flowing Grail signifies the bounty of the harvest by which the life of man is sustained; like Mercury’s bottomless pitcher, it is the inexhaustible fountain of natural re source. From the evidence at hand it would indeed be erroneous to ascribe a purely Christian origin to the Grail symbolism.
In the Arthurian Cycle appears a strange and mysterious figure–Merlin, the magician. In one of the legends concerning him it is declared that when Jesus was sent to liberate the world from the bondage of evil, the Adversary determined to send an Antichrist to undo His labors. The Devil therefore in the form of a horrible dragon overshadowed a young woman who had taken refuge in sanctuary to escape the evil which had destroyed her family. When Merlin, her child, was born he partook of the characteristics of his human mother and demon father. Merlin, however, did not serve the powers of darkness but, being converted to the true light, retained only two of the supernatural powers inherited from his father: prophecy and miracle working. The story of Merlin’s infernal father must really be considered as an allegorical allusion to the fact that he was a “philosophical son” of the serpent or dragon, a title applied to all initiates of the Mysteries, who thus acknowledge Nature as their mortal mother and wisdom in the form of the serpent or dragon as their immortal Father. Confusion of the dragon and serpent with the powers of evil has resulted as an inevitable consequence from misinterpretation of the early chapters of Genesis.
Arthur while an infant was given into the keeping of Merlin, the Mage, and in his youth instructed by him in the secret doctrine and probably initiated into the deepest secrets of natural magic. With Merlin’s assistance, Arthur became the leading general of Britain, a degree of dignity which has been confused with kingship. After Arthur had drawn the sword of Branstock from the anvil and thus established his divine right to leadership, Merlin further assisted him to secure from the Lady of the Lake the sacred sword Excalibur. After the establishment of the Round Table, having fulfilled his duty, Merlin disappeared, according to one account vanishing into the air, where he still exists as a shadow communicating at will with mortals; according to another, retiring of his own accord into a great stone vault which he sealed from within.
It is reasonably certain that many legends regarding Charlemagne were later associated with Arthur, who is most famous for establishing the Order of the Round Table at Winchester. Reliable information is not to be had concerning the ceremonies and initiatory rituals of the “Table Round.” In one story the Table was endowed with the powers of expansion and contraction so that fifteen or fifteen hundred could be seated around it, according to whatever need might arise. The most common accounts fix the number of knights who could be seated at one time at the Round Table at either twelve or twenty-four. The twelve signified the signs of the zodiac and also the apostles of Jesus. The knights’ names and also their heraldic arms were emblazoned upon their chairs. When twenty-four are shown seated at the Table, each of the twelve signs of the zodiac is divided into two parts–a light and a dark half–to signify the nocturnal and diurnal phases of each sign. As each sign of the zodiac is ascending for two hours every day, so the twenty-four knights represent the hours, the twenty-four elders before the throne in Revelation, and twenty-four Persian deities who represent the spirits of the divisions of the day. In the center of the Table was the symbolic rose of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the symbol of resurrection in that He “rose” from the dead. There was also a mysterious empty seat called the Siege Perilous in which none might sit except he who was successful in his quest for the Holy Grad.
In the personality of Arthur is to be found a new form of the ever-recurrent cosmic myth. The prince of Britain is the sun, his knights are the zodiac, and his flashing sword may be the sun’s ray with which he fights and vanquishes the dragons of darkness or it may represent the earth’s axis. Arthur’s Round Table is the universe; the Siege Perilous the throne of the perfect man. In its terrestrial sense, Arthur was the Grand Master of a secret Christian-Masonic brotherhood of philosophic mystics who termed themselves Knights. Arthur received the exalted position of Grand Master of these Knights because he had faithfully accomplished the withdrawal of the sword from the anvil of the base metals. As invariably happens, the historical Arthur soon was confused with the allegories and myths of his order until now the two are inseparable. After Arthur’s death on the field of Kamblan his Mysteries ceased, and esoterically he was borne away on a black barge, as is so beautifully described by Tennyson in his Morte d’Arthur. The great sword Excalibur was also cast back into the waters of eternity–all of which is a vivid portrayal of the descent of cosmic night at the end of the Day of Universal Manifestation. The body of the historical Arthur was probably interred at Glastonbury Abbey, a building closely identified with the mystic rites of both the Grail and the Arthurian Cycle.
The medieval Rosicrucians were undoubtedly in possession of the true secret of the Arthurian Cycle and the Grail legend, much of their symbolism having been incorporated into that order. Though the most obvious of all keys to the Christos mystery, the Grail legend has received the least consideration.