NOTES ON MALORY’S VERSION OF THE QUEST FOR THE HOLY GRAIL
“LE MORTE D’ARTUR”
(All page references to the two-volume Everyman edition.)
Where to begin? Perhaps with a disclaimer that these notes are in any way an exhaustive exegesis of the Quest of the Holy Grail. Indeed, the more I read it the more I wonder if any system of notes could ever contain it; but as for myself, I have not even tried.
What I do claim is that , such as the notes are, I feel them to be in essential harmony with the spirit of the Quest; however faulty they may be in detail. All, I believe, came out of the Quest itself; none, I hope is a forcing of the Quest to suit a theory; none, I am sure, for all that they are often distinctly different from the opinions of earlier commentators, is an invention or an imposition.
One difficulty in annotating such a text is that it is a patch-work, within which two spirits are warring; that of ethical, world-improving, orthodox Christianity, which speaks openly; and that other voice to this day mysterious, which is a unique syncretic blend of pre-Christian teaching …chiefly Celtic, but in one very important aspect at least, Germanic … and the Gnostic-mystic teaching within Christianity itself. How this blend came about we do not yet know; but we do know that whoever the men were who first wrote of the Quest, they knew whereof they spoke. Of this the Quest; as we have it today, is itself an eloquent witness. For, despite the interwoven monkish commentary and the distortions and inconsistencies throughout, producing an extraordinary amalgam of intuition, remembrance, aspiration, orthodox belief and rationalisation, the miracle is that the primary theme of the Way by which the seeking soul may transcend the warring polarities of this world irradiates all the tales and confusion and explanations with one inexplicable healing light.
The symbolism by which this Light is conveyed to the mind is, as we shall see, elusive and extremely complex. And yet, if we forget what we ‘know’ of the social and religious and intellectual climate of the time when it was forming, and read the Quest in its own terms, what it is saying is abundantly and exhilaratingly clear. The Quest cannot be dealt with apart from the Arthurian cycle as a whole, for it is presaged throughout the earlier books, and it is posited as the prime cause of the Round Table’s dissolution. For the ‘Quest’ and the ‘Round Table’ are, as it were, opposite sides of the same coin. As illustration of this, let us consider the beginning of events which are said to lead towards the Enchantment of Britain and the Quest which will lift it.
These begin in Malory’s Book II, Chapter I, with the relating of the adventures of the brothers Balin (who struck the ‘dolorous stroke’ which caused the enchantment) and Balan. The sequence of events is as follows:
A maid loved a knight; the maid’s brother killed the knight; the maid sought help from Lady Lisle of Avalon, who gave her a sword in a scabbard, to be pulled out by the knight who, as her champion would slay her brother; the sword is pulled out by Balin in Arthur’s court, after all others have failed; The Lady of the Lake arrives in Arthur’s court and claims the head of Balin because he ‘slew her brother.’ Balin slays her in the middle of the court because she ‘had caused the death’ of his mother. Arthur feels dishonoured by the slaying in his court, buries the lady honourably, and banishes Balin. Sir Lanceor, envious of Balin’s success with the sword, professes to wish to avenge Arthur’s dishonour; He meets Balin in the field, fights with him, and is slain by him; Lanceor’s beloved appears and kills herself for grief on Lanceor’s sword; Balin laments and meets his brother Balan and tells him what has happened: the deaths he has caused and Arthur’s displeasure. And is grieved. His brother says: “So (am I). But ye must take the adventure which God will ordain you.”
The unique beauty of the Arthurian Cycle is contained in this phrase (which is what Balin himself had said upon withdrawing the sword from the maiden’s scabbard and then refusing her request that he sheath it again. For ‘adventure’ comes only when the sword is unsheathed…(as we shall see clearly when we examine the Quest.) From the moment that the ‘adventure’ begins, which is to say, when the world moves from Rest to Action, every man must accept the pains and perils of its course. The sequence of events of Balin’s ‘adventure’, listed above, are in fact a paradigm of all Arthurian adventure: all action breeds counter-action, and even ‘good’ action breeds death. Indeed we are a far cry here from the world of the fairy tale, where the poles of good and evil are established and clear. It is true that throughout the cycle ‘good’ and ‘evil’ people exist. But time and again these are seen to be but relative terms, depending upon the circumstances of another character-narrator. The particular beauty of Arthur himself is that, although he too must, since he too is part of the world, make moral choices, these are usually restricted to outrages upon the honour of the court; which is to say, to oppose those who would bring Action within the precincts of the court. Thus, no matter what the Lady of the Lake may have done, it was a grave offence to strike off her head in the court. The court thereby is ‘dishonoured’, for it exists as the hub, turning on itself, of the wheel of ‘adventure’ turning around it, and it must not be drawn out into this world, for if it does it will be destroyed.
Indeed, the seeds of its destruction are already within it for just this reason. Before the action of the cycle proper, before Arthur became the perfectly balanced symbol-king, in whom all conflicts are resolved (of whose loving behaviour the extreme example is his complaisance towards the allure of Lancelot and Guenevere; reconciling that polarity too in himself.) he has taken part in Action, which has necessarily bred Re-action
One such action is told, parenthetically, early in the story of the adventure of Balin: (p.58) “Alas.. that so worthy a knight as (King Lot) was one should be overmatched, that of late time afore had been a knight of King Arthur’s, and wedded the sister of King Arthur; and for King Arthur lay with King Lot’s wife, the which was Arthur’s sister, and gat on her Mordred, therefore King Lot held against Arthur.” Even incest is not condemned; it is only stated that the ‘injured party’ didn’t like it. And so waged war. And the result of this action was that King Pellinore killed King Lot; and so Gawaine, ten years after he was made knight, revenged his father King Lot by killing King Pellinore. And so it continues, action breeding counter action. And already the seed of ultimate destruction has been planted in King Lot’s wife, for Mordred becomes such a polarised antagonist that Arthur is at last driven from his central position into one of Action. And death, and resolution in the Lake, follows after.
While the Round Table lasts it is the hub of the wheel of Action; knights in quest of adventure set out from it like the spokes of a wheel, and the fruits of their action on the rim of the wheel .. knights defeated in combat…are sent back to the court; or, more exactly, the fruits of withdrawal from action are sent to the court, for it is when the defeated knight asks and is given quarter that he is sent to the Court to honour it, and is himself honoured there, however black he has appeared to be in the outer world. Indeed, even in the outer world there is only one form of evil at last, which is self-seeking. The noble knights are those who ride abroad for the glory of the Court (i.e. the Whole) and not for their own.
The nature of this world then is the millennia-old conception of the hero. .the individual.. proceeding out from the Centre, the point of Rest, into the Outer world of opposites in search of experience, returning time and again to this centre of Rest, bringing with him his experience and renewing his strength through surrendering himself to the Awareness of the Whole. Why then the Quest? which has been felt always to be both part of the Arthurian cycle and opposed to it; the way of the Round Table is the Way of World-embracing, and the Way of the Quest is the Way of World-denying.
The Quest seems to have come about, (to have been necessitated) because of the feeling on the part of some that the Way of the Round Table has declined into a mere round of worldly adventure, that the world is loved not as a Way beyond or through, but for itself. As if the knights had become totally enthralled in Maya, so that, in Yeats’ words ‘the centre will not hold.’ Hence the need for the stricter discipline of the Quest. Of this division of mind and soul the western world is only too painfully conscious. We have struggled for centuries at least between on the one hand a love for the round of the world in all its variety, sensing the divine immanent in it, and refreshing the spirit by a regular return to the centre, and on the other the equally strong sense that it is only by rejecting the enchantments of the world that true wisdom and surrender of self may be achieved.
It would appear that an overemphasis of either of these ways damages the other; so that from the point of view of the Quest the land is ‘waste’ and ‘enchanted’; whereas from the point of view of the Round Table, it is the Quest itself which will destroy the wheel of which the Round Table is the centre. And both points of view are correct, for it is the Implicit conclusion in all the Arthurian tales that both ways must be pursued at once, not one to the detriment of the other; for Love of the World vs. Love of the Void is the ultimate pair of opposites to be overcome.
Arthur has sailed to Avalon. The Grail has been removed to ‘some place in the west’. Unless they reappear together they will not reappear at all.
After the victory over King Lot and eleven other kings, (p.59) “Arthur let make twelve images of laton and copper, and overgilt it with gold, in the sign of twelve kings and each of them held a taper of wax that burned night and day; and King Arthur was made in sign of a figure standing above them with a sword drawn in his hand and all the twelve men had countenance like unto men that were overcome. And all this made Merlin by his subtle craft.” That is to say, the king…the centre of the turning wheel, which is manifest only while his sword is drawn… is lord of all twelve spokes, or kings, who represent the twelve months of the wheeling year. The ‘signs’ of the kings suggest the signs of the zodiac. So they wheel round Glastonbury Tor. “then (Merlin said) when I am dead these tapers shall burn no longer, and soon after the adventures of the Sangreal shall come among you and be achieved.” The resonance of this statement is difficult to write out in lines. Firstly, the withdrawal of Merlin (‘dweller in the sea’) back into the ocean of un-differentiation will mean the death of the Arthurian cycle.. the twelve tapers extinguished. Arthur’s sword will then be sheathed, in the lake, and Arthur himself will withdraw within. And the world will be ‘enchanted’, which is to say, bereft of its revivifying centre. Arthur and Merlin are, in fact, a double king, a king without and a king within…such as we find in nearly every description of the Grail castle. Arthur is the outward shape, Merlin the inner coherence (“for the most part of the days of his life Arthur was ruled much by the counsel of Merlin” p.71). When Merlin withdraws…or because of the maid Nimue is unable to reach Arthur, the ‘outer king’… the society crumbles; Arthur takes sides;- And then, since the centre no longer holds, all is action, which is to say: chaos; whereas harmony is action suffused with a sense of stillness. And so ‘ the adventures of the Sangreal shall come among you and be achieved” because the Way within is no longer communal but solitary. The land is seen to be Waste, because there is no relief from action, and all action ends in grief and death. As the Buddha saw. And so there is a solitary turning inwards in quest of the-Grail Castle; and whatever one enabled to see of the Grail, one brings back to the outer world, which is then ‘reborn’; i.e. it is seen afresh. Those four knights who achieve the Grail, in whole or in part, are in fact but the four aspects, the quaternity, of every questing soul.
Galahad, the paragon, remains within. Like the Buddha. Perceval remains without, a witness. And Bors and Lancelot, bodhisattvas, manifest the light to the world. But all are one, as they were one where the holy ship touched the shore; for none can return to the outer world unless he has remained, at the same time, within.
This, indeed, is the central teaching of the Quest: achievement of the union of the world within and the world without, and a dwelling in them both. Otherwise, the Grail King is ‘maimed’ and the Land is ‘waste’, for they have fallen apart.
NOTES ON THE QUEST FOR THE HOLY GRAIL
(all page references to the Everyman version)
Book XIII p.163 “At the vigil of Pentecost”… This feast, now of so little moment, is perhaps the most important in the Arthurian Cycle; and is the time, above any other, when the knights are called out to adventure. The reason for this appears to be that Pentecost, falling seven weeks after Easter, has the significance both of the apostles going forth after they have been filled with the Holy Spirit (the number seven representing as always a stage of spiritual growth), and the coming to an end, year after year, or the perfect state or ‘many in one’, of Christ in the midst of the world, which has been achieved at Easter, which is symbolized by the May-wreath (the flowering perfect circle) and by the knights gathered round the Round Table, and of which the human state is strict chastity (the unbroken circle); a state, that is to say, of awareness of the world yet of withholding from it, of remaining within. After Pentecost the circle breaks apart and the world flowers and mates and bears. The round of Action, of Adventure, has begun.
p.164 “therein came twelve nuns that brought with them Galahad..’ He is then surrendered by the inner world of patterns to the outer world of full manifestation. He is surrendered to Lancelot, his father; into whose image he must grow and then transcend; for he is his father reborn.
p.164 “we pray you to make him a knight.. Then said Sir Lancelot: Cometh this desire of himself? He and all they said yea. Then shall he, said Sir Lancelot, receive the high order of knighthood as tomorn at the reverence of the high feast.” Galahad must of his own will proceed into the world as a knight, and not upon the vigil of Pentecost, for then the circle yet obtains, but at the first moment (“the hour of prime”) when the flowers may be scattered abroad. Reborn as a knight (which recalls the scene on the Gundestrup cauldron where the footmen, the once-born, are dipped in the cauldron by a God-figure …probably Teutates, identified with Hermes…and are re-born, and ride away as knights on a higher plane) he must live in the world of Adventure and gain its experience so that he may return at last within, bringing back to Being the energy of Becoming.
p.165 “..the Siege Perilous, where they found letters newly written of gold, which said: four hundred winters and four and fifty accomplished after our Lord Jesu Christ ought this siege to be fulfilled. It seemeth me, said Sir Lancelot, this siege ought to be fulfilled this same day, for this is the feast of Pentecost after the four hundred and four and fifty year. The time of the Quest is thus not in historical time. And the number 454 suggests that what may have been indicated was the number 432 plus 22. Twenty-two being the age of Galahad when he is knighted (corresponding to the 22 major trumps in the Tarot,. with which much of the symbolism in the Quest is linked) the remaining 432 represents the number of winters until his birth 432 being the ever-recurring number (see Campbell: Oriental Mythology, p.116) in traditions from India westwards, apparently emanating from Sumer, used to denote the length of an aeon.
p.166 “..when (the king and all the knights) came to the river, they found a stone fleeting, as it were of red marble, and therein stuck a fair rich sword..”
This then is a nodal point (expressed later in the quest by the chapels throughout the landscape) wherein the waters which bear up the manifest world solidify into red rock (red the colour of action, as of death, of the philosopher’s stone, of all change) out of which Galahad draws the sword… thus initiating the ‘adventure’ of the Quest…as an earnest of his being in harmony with the ever-living waters. whereas, as Lancelot says: “Who that assayeth to take the sword and faileth of it, he shall receive a wound by that sword that he shall not be whole for long after.” This is a strain of thought which we encounter throughout the Arthurian cycle: a warning against the pride which will take on any quest, unquestioning whether or not it is within his destiny. In this particular instance, the warning is against any man, unready, unprepared, unchosen, presuming that he can bear the strain of holding the two worlds together, that he can, in Buddhist terms, dwell both on the make-believe land and in the Shining Sea.
p.168 “(Galahad said) recommend me unto my Grandsire, King Pelles…and say(him) on my behalf, I shall come and see him as soon as ever I may.”
Born (as Heinrich Zimmer says, in ‘The King and the Corpse) of the lineage of the Keepers of the Grail, he is enabled therefore, by his living awareness of its existence, to sustain action in the outer world of Cause and Effect without being enmeshed therein.
p.169 “(said Galahad) now have I that sword which sometime was the good knight’s Balin le Savage…and with this sword he slew his brother Balan, and that was great pity, for he was a good knight, and either slew other through a dolorous stroke that Balin gave unto my grandfather, King Pelles. The which is not yet whole nor not shall be until I heal him.”
The question of the sword and the ‘dolorous stroke’ are central to the whole myth, and are extremely difficult of elucidation. The sword, firstly, is fundamentally the same as the two-edged sword in Revelation 1:16, that is to say, the Logos, the Word made Flesh, dividing the Whole into polarized halves.
Balin and Balan are symbolic of these ‘halves’, which are yet One. As halves they have ‘adventures’ in the world from the moment Balin draws the sword from the scabbard. Balin’s adventures culminate in his sword breaking in the castle of King Pellam (Pelles) after he has killed King Pellam’s brother, and piercing King Pellam with a spear he finds in an inner room where an old man is lying on a bed. King Pellam is immobilized by the wound, and there are then two kings dwelling Within, that is, in the Castle, and none Without, in the world. The sword of manifestation is therefore broken. Here, as so often in the Quest, there is a sense of something eluding me, of much of the radiant life slipping away; but the intimation seems to be that Balin assaulted the Grail Castle as it were physically, the result of which was to maim the king who maintained the balance between the inner and outer worlds, and the resultant splitting apart of these two worlds.
Balin’s own ceasing comes soon after, in a mistaken battle to the death with Balan; for the natural end of action without radiance from the Centre is brother against brother. And these brothers being but aspects of the same soul (Balin is called the knight of the two swords) that soul has wrought its own destruction, being ignorant of its own nature. And so the King waits within and the world waits without, both waste, until Galahad shall come.
p.171 “supper…Then anon they heard cracking and crying of thunder, that then thought the place should all to drive. In the midst of this blast entered a sunbeam more clear by seven times than ever they saw day, and all they were alighted of the grace of the Holy Ghost. Then began every knight to behold other, and either saw other, by their seeming, fairer than ever they saw before. Not for then there was no knight might speak one word a great while and so they looked every man on other as they had been dumb.”
This then is the communion of Pentecost, when (to quote Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology, p.549) ‘the Grail, the summoning angel of this hermetic quest, appeared in Arthur’s banquet hall, (and) the time of historic deeds and aims.. abruptly ended. The moment was apocalyptic. The age of the Holy Spirit had begun.’ The great occasion is symbolized by the ray of light in their midst seven times as bright as day, which is to say their spirit is collectively raised to the seventh power, the plane of the thrice-born (for as knights of the Round Table they are already twice-born),. and they are struck dumb: which is to say they have been drawn within, beyond the separative realm of thoughts and words. They live for the moment of the Grail’s presence in the inner world of undifferentiation, where each is more beautiful in his ‘seeming’ or ‘appearance’ precisely because the Light of the Unmanifest is lighting them all. Then, when the Grail departed, “had they all breath to speak.” And time and place are again time and place; but in all the knights now remains the longing, first expressed by Gawaine, to behold the Grail perpetually,. which is to say, to live in the state, briefly experienced, of the eternal present.
p.172 “Alas, said Arthur…ye have bereft me of the fairest fellowship…in the world, for they shall die many in the quest…and therewith the tears filled in his eyes.”
The mourning is not his alone but of all the women, and “among all other Queen Guenever made a great sorrow.” For the women, and particularly the queen, are symbolic of the world in which, until now, all quests had been undertaken; but in their seeking for the Grail, the knights turn their backs on the world and pursue the Way of Renunciation. The nature of Arthur’s lament is that but very few of the knights will be equal to this Quest and that the others, the great majority, will perish in the attempt; for such a quest he sees as mistaken for the majority, who are seeking above their present capacity in wishing, like Gawaine, to behold the Grail perpetually. Their proper destiny is to continue in the everyday world of adventure, refreshing themselves at need by periodic, seasonal gatherings-in at the Round Table.
p.174 “And then they put on their helms and departed, and recommended them wholly unto the queen.’
Even in pursuing the Way of Renunciation, they express their love of the world. If one does not love the world, how can one love that from which the world proceeds?
p.174 “They departed on the morrow (from the castle that hight Vagon)..and every knight took the way that him best liked.” The meaning of “Vagon” eludes me, but it suggests ‘wandering’ and ‘wave’, so that the sense would appear to be a castle on the back of the Ocean. The knights wander out on this Ocean, each on his own way, each perceiving it as land unknown, land unfamiliar but not altogether unlike land they have already known. And the less ‘worthy’ or able for the quest they are, the less strange will it appear. Cf. for example p.213 where Gawaine is weary of the Quest for ‘he found not the tenth part of adventure as he was wont to do’, which is to say he finds himself in a kind of limbo where his old life is gone…his ‘adventures’…but because he still casts his thought back to it, and them, he is unable to proceed with the new life he professes to have chosen, which new life is precisely to transcend such ‘adventures.’
The strange, unknown land therefore is perceived as the bound-less ocean only by Galahad, Perceval and Bors (p.235, 239) when they have achieved the necessary state of mind to permit their perceiving it so.
p.178 “..in the abbey lieth Nacien the hermit.”
Who has been dead many years, even centuries, but whose body is waiting with Galahad’s shield. And who is yet alive (or another of the same name, which amounts to the same thing) and has counselled the knights (p.173) against women accompanying them on the Quest. For time in the Arthurian Cycle is mythic time, happening now and always, circling as the year circles; the time not of history…as Christianity claims to be historical, to its own detriment…but of poetry, which is to say, of life.
p. 180 “Sir Melias beheld (many delicious meats)…and thought it marvellous, but he had no hunger, but of the crown of gold he took much keep; and therewith he stooped down and took it up and rode his way with it.”
Until a knight accosted him and claimed the crown and overthrew him. For Melias, a new-made knight, though no longer subject to indulgent physical desires, is still subject to spiritual pride and ambition; and it is this self, being still clung to, which is assaulted and overthrown. Galahad then carries him back to the abbey where a monk says that he will cure him in seven weeks; for the cure is spiritual as well as physical. And the lesson is that he who seeks adventure above his capabilities or preparation courts death; from which only a higher soul can save him. What is said again and again, both in the ‘Quest and throughout the Cycle, is that the great sin is pride.. of which the symbol is often the castle standing alone…pride of spirit which isolates the ego in a dead, destructive round of self-seeking; a round into which everyone passing near is drawn. Until a knight in the service of the Round Table, that is, of the Whole, overthrows him, and sends him for penance to the Round Table; where, in his new humility, he finds honour. Galahad has said to Melias that the adventure is greater than his strength; but he gives way to Melias’ desires, for every man must discover such things for himself.
p.182 “Galahad came unto a mountain where he found an old chapel. .”
The landscape is dotted with chapels and abbeys and castles which are places of rest, not of trial; which are points, that is to say, where the world of manifestation is open to the Shining Sea which underlies it. The knight repairing thither is refreshed for his further trials, which are intended so to ripen his mind that he need at last no longer seek the Sea through its veiled appearance in the abbeys and chapels, but may enter the ship floating openly on the Sea itself.
p.190 Sir Lancelot is shriven by a hermit, and what he has experienced is explained in terms of the life of Christ and there is no life in the explanation. The moralizing of the holy men lies like a grey hand on the radiance of the legend, but is yet unable to obscure it.
So, despite his great sin in the eyes of the orthodox church, Lancelot is able to continue on the Quest because his life, for all the honour he has found in the world, has been humble; and his love for Guenever, the symbol of the world, has been true and transcendent and never self-regarding.
By contrast, Gawaine doesn’t thrive in the Quest for he is so without humility that he will not be shriven (p.186). It is not that he will not turn away from the world, but rather that he is unable to see any other way to turn. For he sees the Quest of the Grail only as Without.
Book XIV p.192 “..he knocked at her window and the recluse opened it and asked Sir Percevale what he would.”
The recluses, monks and hermits, as the nodal points in the world, know what is happening everywhere in the world, for they are of the Ocean of which the world is waves, and know it. The knights, not knowing that they too are waves, wander over the surface of the Ocean, thinking its fleeting forms to be fixed. Yet they know where to ask for guidance. So the recluse ‘opened her window’ to Percevale that he might perceive something of the truth through her.
p.193 “Fair nephew, said (the recluse), your mother is dead, for after your parting from her she took such a sorrow that anon, after she was confessed, she died. Now God have mercy on her soul, said Sir Percevale, it sore forethinketh me; but all we must change the life.”
As his personal mother, as a human being, his mother must die as everyone must die. But as a symbol of the world to be won she is ever alive in him (“I dream of her much in my sleep.”) and is carried with him wherever he goes, in all his worldly adventures. But now, as he is learning to forsake the world in the Quest of the Grail, he learns that his mother, its symbol, is dead. “All we must change the life.”
Aunt’s and ‘uncles’ are frequently guides, because they are close in spirit to the hero but are yet bystanders, whereas his parents are directly in his path: his mother as his image of the world, his father as his image of himself. Both of these must be overpassed.
p.193 “Also Merlin made the Round Table….(etc. until)..for since ye have departed from your mother ye would never see her, ye found such fellowship at the Round Table.”
There is here none of the exclusivity of orthodox Christianity, since ‘heathen’ as well as Christians repair to the Round Table, and this sense of its being open to noble men of all races and beliefs is present throughout the Cycle. For Merlin, the Dweller in the Sea, created the Round Table that men ‘might refresh their spirits again and again by communion there between worldly ‘adventures’, where they function as individuals. Knowing themselves always to be of’ ‘one fellowship’, which is to say of one nature, they may do battle with one another in the world, yet remain always aware that each is also a ‘fellow’; for in the world of Action each is polarized into opposition towards other, but after every battle, unless one of the knights is locked in dark egotism, there is reconciliation; and all opposition is dissolved in the currents running round the Round Table, where polarity ceases to exist.
Naturally, for this, knights abandon everything personal, even parents and beloved; if they didn’t, they could not join in this holy company, where there is no one to follow, no spirit to become an idol, only a gathering round a circle, like flowers in a May wreath. And in the centre of the circle, or Round Table: nothing. For it is the union of men which creates the circle; without their forming it there is no circle, no Round Table; just as there is no wreath except if the flowers form it. For the empty circle is but a symbol in manifestation of the Unmanifest which yet supports all.
p194 “..evensong time. And then he (Percevale) heard a clock smite; and then he was ware of an house closed well with walls and deep ditches..”
Time and again it happens thus: a knight does not so much come to a place as become aware that it is there, near him. (This is much more true of Malory than of his source the (‘Queste del Saint Graal’). So that the feeling of a dream landscape is very strong: a landscape both general, so that all may wander therein, as in the ‘collective unconscious’, and yet particular, for each has in it the adventures proper and necessary to his own soul.
p. 195 Percevale sees King Evelake of the city of Sarras..(of which Galahad in his turn becomes king just before achieving the Quest)..who has been alive since the time of Christ, thus contributing to the sense in the myth of the ‘ever-present’. He had been always “busy to be where the Sangreal was; and on a time he nighed it so nigh that Our Lord was displeased with him, but ever he followed it more and more, till God struck him almost blind.”
This appears to suggest again the danger in the pride of one to reach where he is not prepared to reach (even though he be king of Sarras, the holy city)…and so he is struck ‘nearly blind’, not by God’s displeasure, but by the nature of God, for if one is unready the light is greater than the eye or the frame can bear.
“Then the king cried mercy and said: Fair Lord, let me never die until the good knight of my blood of the ninth degree be come, that I may see him openly that he shall achieve the Sangreal, that I may kiss him.”
Evelake then, like the knights who are seeking to find Galahad that they may accompany him in the Quest for the Grail, for they think themselves unworthy to achieve it on their own, is waiting to experience the Grail through Galahad and be released from his fixed shape, his body, (in which he has been fixed by his awe of the Grail, his incapacity to bridge the chasm between what he experiences as It and what he experiences as himself) through the intermediary of Galahad’s body…”that I may kiss him”…; which is to say, the form which is perceptible to the outer mind, and so subsumed, through him, into the otherwise incomprehensibly awful Grail. Which is the purpose of all religious ritual and symbol, to carry the soul out of himself and into the All.
As to the ‘ninth degree’, what is begun at one comes to completion: at nine. Odin, whose mythic life appears to be in part the life of the Grail King, hung on the World Tree, the Ash, nine days and nights, self-wounded in the thighs…that is, withdrawing inwards from the world of polarity…and is then, by his own efforts, reborn in higher wisdom. So now the knight of ninth degree, who is Galahad, is King Evelake himself reborn in the fullness of wisdom. As the voice spoke in the Quest: “When that knight shall come the clearness of your eyes shall come again and thou shalt see openly and thy wounds shall be healed.”
Ch. IV and V: Percevale loses his horse in battle, is saved by Galahad, runs after him on foot, fruitlessly, comes upon a yeoman on a hackney, leading a fine black horse, which Percevale asks for, but the yeoman mayn’t yield it and Percevale will not seize it, so continues on his. way. He is then passed by a knight on the horse, and the yeoman comes up soon after, saying that the knight has stolen the horse by force, and offers the hackney to Percevale to do battle. Percevale accepts, but the knight spears through the hackney and rides off, while Percevale is left shouting after him to stay and fight on foot.
p.197 “When Sir Percevale saw he would not turn he cast away his helm and sword, and said ‘now am I a very wretch, cursed and most unhappy above all other knights.’ So in this sorrow he bode all that day until it was night.”
Not realizing that he was passing through the darkness wherein some part of himself dies, so that he becomes more fit for the Quest. If he were aware that he was passing through a trial of spirit, it would diminish the nature of the trial. But in refusing to steal the black horse and in accepting to ride on the hackney he has brought upon himself what he construes to be humiliation; for even while his higher instincts are carrying him surely through this dark trial., his mind is still attached to the values of the knightly world.
p.197 “And then he awaked and saw afore him a woman which said unto him right fiercely: Sir Percevale, what doest thou here? He answered, I do neither good nor great ill. If thou wilt ensure me, said she, that thou wilt fulfil my will when I summon thee, I shall lend thee mine own horse which shall bear thee whither thou wilt. Sir Percevale was glad of her proffer, and ensured her to fulfil her desire.”
The woman appears to be the world, fierce because he is not active in it; for he has withdrawn…against the opinion of his mind…into a state of doing neither good nor ill, which is to say, inwards, into stillness. But because his mind is still bound to the outer world, he accepts its offer to return to its service, not realizing that it is no longer the neutral field of action which it is for most men and had been for him; for his destiny lies no longer in the world, and so the world for him has become dangerous and fierce and black.
p.198 “And so anon he was upon (the horse that was inky black) and…he rode by a forest and the moon shone clear. And within an hour and less he bare him four days journey thence, until he came to a rough water the which roared, and his horse would have borne him into it.
“And when Sir Percevale came nigh the brim, and saw the water so boisterous, he doubted to overpass it. And then he made a sign of the cross on his forehead.”
Paradoxically, what Life has now to offer Percevale is Death; together, balancing in the void. To save himself therefore, he makes the sign of the cross, which is to say in accepting the first he nearly brings the second upon him-self. Whereas his true course is. not to experience these opposites alternately, but both he invokes the creation of forms, the marriage of Heaven and Earth, the world of primal patterns, to defeat the actual world in which he has become enmeshed. Which is to say, he clears his own mind of the illusion of created forms and so they have no further power over him.
p.198 “then he saw that he was in a wild mountain the which was closed with the sea nigh all about..”
The turbulent Ocean into which he was so nearly cast, all unready, is still around him, for his mind now is able to accept that it is so near. But he is still not ready to venture upon it. In token of his greater understanding, the landscape is yet more stylised than it was, more a pattern for land than land itself, more a symbol than literal ‘fact’. And in it there are only wild animals, which is to say beings beyond cognitive thought, towards which state he is himself proceeding. But because his mind is still making shapes on the ocean, shapes to conform to the view of the world which he has been taught, he must undergo another, most important ‘adventure’
“He saw a young serpent bring a young lion by the neck… With that came a great lion crying and roaring after the serpent. Sir Percevale marvelled and hied him thither…the lion began battle with the serpent. And then Sir Percevale thought to help the lion for he was the more natural beast of the two.” (He wounds and kills the serpent and the lion fawns on him like a dog, and sleeps that night at his feet) “And when Sir Percevale slept he dreamt a marvellous dream, that there two ladies met with him, and that one sat upon a lion and that other sat upon a serpent, and that one of them was young and that other was old.” (The lion-woman praises and thanks him, but the serpent-woman says:) “I complain me of you that ye have done unto me, and have not offended unto you… Say me for what cause ye slew (my serpent), for the lion was not yours.”
This is astonishing. The monkish glosses have interpreted Percevale’s action as right action in the name of Christ vs. Satan, but the true meaning clearly far transcends this. Equally clearly the monks had no conception of the purport of the event, since they didn’t suppress it, but merely contented themselves with the comment of the ‘good old man’. interpreting the dream: “And why she blamed thee that thou slewest her servant, it betokeneth nothing.”
But it betokeneth everything.. For Percevale has still refused to pass beyond the world of action. He is still taking sides, both physically and emotionally (for he sees the lion as the more natural beast), still refusing to see that the lion is not his; which is to say, that his youthful, knightly self is not his true self, but only a part of it, as the lion is an emblem only of the first half of life, of the young year, of birth and growth. He still will not identify himself with the dying, old year, or with the dark aspects of life… and then beyond that, to see that growing and dying are all one, and that it is his particular destiny, of which his Quest for the Grail is a symbol, not to involve himself further on one side or the other, but only to observe and so be wise.
p.200 “ I would, said ( the lady on the serpent), for the amends of my beast that ye become my man.”
The monks have been busy altering and interpreting these pages,. to the glory of Christ and the confounding of Satan, but they have left sufficient for the higher claims of the Quest still to be clear. Percivale refuses to become the servant of the lady on the serpent. If he had not refused, having seen the error of his earlier action, he would have been granted the wisdom of the serpent and, his trials completed, would have been ready to embark in the ship when it first touched the shore of the desert island. But since he refused, he must face ‘the strongest champion of the world’ as promised him by the lady of the lion, whose praise and gratitude were but mockery. For the ‘champion’ is the World itself in all its beauty; which he still will not recognise is but Illusion. So he waits the arrival of the champion, caressing the while the (apparently) tame lion; living, in fact, in a fool’s paradise. And so the world he so loves nearly brings about his destruction for a second time. For he had not mastered the lion at all; only the serpent can master the lion.
p.203 “And anon she was unclothed and laid (in the bed). And then Sir Percevale laid him down by her naked; and by adventure and grace he saw his sword lie on the ground naked…and bethought him…and made a sign of the cross in his forehead.”
So he survives his second trial as he survived his first, by calling to mind in the sign of the cross, the world of patterns underlying the world of forms, and so the forms are seen to be arbitrary and illusive, and cease. He is saved ‘by adventure and grace’, which is. to say his high spirit has projected into phenomena the symbol which will withdraw him out of its toils and into his true self. If the soul is high enough, Grace always supervenes, for it flows through the open Soul from the All into the Many.
“..and therewith the pavilion turned up so down, and then it changed unto a smoke..” So in eastern tales shapes and events vanish in smoke and the sleeper awakes. Only here the sleeper, Percevale, doesn’t awake; nor will he until he has seen the Grail. But he has passed into a new life, of which the symbols are two: Firstly “he rove himself through the thigh.” Which, as symbolic castration, is a sign of his abandonment of the deceptive world of the senses. This particular symbolic act however is so central to the Quest, as it is indeed to mythology generally, that further discussion of it is better suited to our later general consideration of the symbol of the Grail King.
Suffice it to say now that the wounding is a sheathing in one–self of the double-edged sword of manifestation. Or, if it is preferred, the phallus turned in upon itself. The result is the same: energy, the energy of Becoming, fertilizes the stillness of Being.
The second symbol of Percevale’s passage to a new life, a higher plane, is his entering into “a ship, and so departed from thence.’ He has embarked upon the Ocean of potential form. But not, like the head of Orpheus or of Bran, floating and singing on the ocean itself; for Percevale there is a ship in between, which would seem to symbolize a church. not the orthodox Christian church, but a church in the sense that a body of symbolic form is necessary to carry the spirit of man on the boundless ocean. For the meaning of the Quest seems to lie in its being a Way for men; it is not the account of the superhuman, but of the human. Even Galahad, high though he is, and born ‘within’, is but the highest aspect of the quaternal questing soul. Even Galahad rides in the ship over the Ocean. And not alone; for although the 0uest could not be accomplished without him, he could not accomplish it alone. For he is only the highest aspect of every one of us. And so our guide in our own Quest is the Quest itself, and its elaborate and radiant symbolism is the white-sailed ship for bearing us out on the Ocean.
Book XV p.207 So, (Sir Lancelot) took the hair (shirt) and put it upon him and .so departed at evensong time.”
Much more than the other knights on the Quest, Lancelot is given moral instruction. Doubtless this is in part because the monks who glossed the legend were uneasy about his fitness for the Quest in view of his liaison with the queen. But it is suitable to his character as the aspect of the quaternal questing soul which is most deeply rooted in the world; like the body he is a part of the created world…and necessarily in love with the world…more completely than Percevale or Bors; and like the body he is more individualized than they and so, in our humanistic tradition, more ‘lovable’. Which is exactly his symbolic purpose in the Quest: to draw towards it the minds of those men for whom Bors and Percevale are hardly more than ciphers, and for whom Galahad is so spiritual as to be quite without reference in the created world. Lancelot therefore, the most ‘human’ aspect of the questing soul, draws the minds of men upwards, or inwards; at this stage what must be overcome is the overwhelming sense of the actuality of the world. For until this is overcome, as in the case of Gawain it is not over-come, the soul can have no sense of the Reality which infuses the world of forms. At this stage therefore, the disengagement, moral precepts and a narrow way are appropriate.
The trials of Bors and Percevale, by contrast, are not to teach them how to withdraw their senses from intimate involvement in the world, (for their virginity is symbolic of this having already been achieved…virginity being not necessarily of the body, but indicative of the state of drawing inwards beyond the multiplying demands of the senses); their trials are to enable them to transcend their limited understanding of the world, so that moral guidance which is helpful to Lancelot, teaching him which side to cleave to if he would pursue the Quest, must in their case be abandoned as an illusion of duality if they are to progress; they must see that ‘good’ and ‘evil1 are but one of the myriad pairs of opposites which create the world, and cease to partake in them.
As to Lancelot, his disqualifications are not what they seem: indeed he is’ chosen’ for the Quest precisely because his love of the world has been so great (in the symbol of Queen Guenever) The worship of the holy world has been the manner of worship of all the knights of the round table. This worship is personified by women in general, and by the Queen in particular; and so the greatest knight is he who loves most greatly, he who loves the Queen herself (who never has a child, for she is the World as beloved, not as mother). And so, as Lancelot has been most wholehearted in his love of the (holy) world, his love. never declining into mere pretence and appearances, but always in awe and humility before the beloved queen, so he is, of all the ‘worldly’ knights, the most worthy and single-minded in quest of the Grail. For giving oneself to the world is the first giving, and in this he is supreme. And so, once he learns the necessity of re-orienting his giving of himself, and his longing corresponds to his giving, which is a time of humiliation and sitting still and suiting his will to the will of ‘God’, he is worthy and able to come near to the Grail.
And because of his ‘worship’ in the world (and of it), Lancelot is best fitted, once the Grail has been ‘achieved’, to convey an outer sense of it to the world, because better than any other he moves in both worlds. What Galahad experiences is not communicable, except to Perceval and Bors insofar as they witness and partially share the experience. Perceval can communicate little, except to those who can reach his cloister. Bors, going back into the world, communicates something of this highest experience, but, as it were, without imagery; so that the less evolved can grasp but little. So Lancelot.. the loins of all.. remains to convey less of the highest experience, but in such colour and imagery that the world can perceive the presence and beauty of the Inexpressible, and be drawn to the Quest in its turn. And all four knights are aspects of the single questing soul.
p.213 “(Sir Lancelot) rode into a deep valley, and there he saw a river and a high mountain. And through the water he must needs pass, the which was hideous; and then in the name of God he took it in good heart. And when he came over he saw an armed knight, horse and man black as any bear; without any word he smote Lancelot’s horse to the earth; and so he passed on, he wist not where he was become. And then he took his helm and shield, and thanked God of his adventure.”
Having humbled himself and followed the directions of ‘holy’ men and women, and lain all night in the open, away from any shelter but a cross, which betokens a withdrawal inwards of his spirit from the world of forms to the world of patterns, he finds himself caught between a high mountain and turbulent water…(the setting is more clearly stated in the Quest from which Malory. has drawn his translation), and ‘through the water he must needs pass’. Which he does by surrendering himself to ‘God’, and having passed to the ‘further shore’, a symbolical higher plane of life, his horse, emblematic of his lower self, is killed, now that it is necessary or possible. Of which he is aware, and of the black knight as a symbol of death, of transition, for he ‘thanked God’.. for enabling him to die.
Book XVI p.213 “(Gawaine) rode long without any adventure. For he found not the tenth part of adventure as he was wont to do. For Sir Gawaine rode from Whitsuntide until Michaelmas and found none adventure that pleased him.”
Nor old Sir Ector de Maris, nor some twenty other knights each had encountered. For all are seeking adventure within the terms of the world, as was their habit; which seemed to them the way to seek the Grail. So they neither progress on the Quest, nor thrive in their old worldly manner, since they give themselves wholly to neither. For either world is but the world within them, and since neither now is living within them, but only dry thoughts and vows on the one hand and half-hearted backward looks on the other, so the land around them is seen as a land without life. For the Divine can be found by diving into the world or by holding back from the world. And the two, despite appearances, are not mutually exclusive: each is ultimately the other. But one or the other must be pursued with fervour, for the divine must be experienced, not posited. When at last both sides are known, both the lion and the serpent, both served and lived, then the hero may sail freely on the Shining Sea.
p.2l3-4 “I cannot hear of (Sir Lancelot) nor of Sir Galahad, Percevale, nor Sir Bors, said Sir Ector. Let them be, said Sir Gawaine, for they have no peers…an these four be met together they will be loth that any man meet with them.”
This is a casual statement of great truth; for the four knights represent, as stated above, the quaternity of the archetypal questing soul:
Such a quaternity is, as. Jung has demonstrated; an image of wholeness. Naturally, then, if these four knights be gathered together they will be ‘loth’ for another to join them, for another, by raising the figure from four to five, changes it from a symbol of wholeness to a symbol simply of man. And so the soul falls from its attempt to contain the world, and is instead contained by it.
p.220 The trials of Sir Bors. These are a degree less stylised, more of the normal Arthurian world, than are those of Perceval; for the role of Bors in the quaternity is to be nearer the outer world, for he is to be the witness to the world of the achieving of the Grail. Therefore he must always maintain a clear vision of the world, else what he has experienced and witnessed he will be unable to communicate in terms which it will be able to comprehend.
p.220 “Sir, said Sir Bors, I am a knight that fain would be counselled in the quest of the Sangreal, for he shall have much earthly worship that shall bring it to an end.”
It is with this mind that even the best of the knights, except Galahad, begin. For they must seek within terms which their lives have taught them to understand. But as they seek so their reasons for seeking cease to be mirrors set round themselves, and become the Thing itself. Concerning which the old man counsels Bors: “Certes, said the good man, that is sooth, for he shall be the best knight of the world, and the fairest of all the fellowship. But wit you well there shall be none attain it but by cleanness, that is pure confession.”
Which is to say purity of heart and motive. These being established in Sir Bors, so that he needs no further moral guidance, his trials are a teaching of the snares of the illusive world, in which it is impossible to do only good; for each act of participation only ensnares a man the deeper. So, having been shrived and put on bread and water until he achieve the Grail, (but the good man finds in him ‘so marvellous a life and so stable” that all he is made to wear in token of his Quest is a scarlet coat; whereas Lancelot, for his correction, is given a hair shirt) Bors rides abroad. And he begins the Quest by making the same mistake that each of the knights makes, for it is the nature of their training: he takes sides. As did Perceval between the lion and the serpent; as did Lancelot between the black warriors and the white. In the first case the monkish glosses praise the action as being right action; in the second they blame it as being wrong action. As to Lancelot, the lesson is perhaps proper to his state of evolution; but in the higher states the lesson to be learned is that all such action is in error, for the time has come for the knight to transcend the polarity of Right and Wrong. In the case of Sir Bors the lesson, despite the glosses, remains very clear:
p222-3 He, takes the side of the young lady of the tower against the old lady whose champion is Pridam le Noire This appears a good and generous action. And in performing it he keeps to his diet of bread and water and sleeps on the floor; which is to say, he participates in the world of manifestation without committing himself to it.
But he dreams a warning dream: “..there came to him two birds, the one as white as a swan, and the other was marvellous black; but it was not so great as the other, but in the likeness of a raven.” Each woos him, the swan promising all the riches of the world, the raven claiming that he would do well to realize that “more availeth my blackness than the other’s whiteness.” Both the Swan and the Raven were important symbols in Celtic myth; the one of ‘God’ seen through the world, the other of ‘God’ seen through dying to the world. Both are therefore to be honoured, not one against the other. The monkish gloss is particularly confused at this point, for it favours the young woman against the old woman, but, evidently failing to see the relationship between the old woman and the raven, favours the raven over the swan; and justifies favouring black over white by saying that the swan is ‘black within’.
In any event, Bors ignores the warning not understanding it. Equally he fails. to. understand the meaning of his second dream, which is a more general statement of the nature of the world, and a guide as to how it may be transcended:
“he came to a great place which seemed a chapel, and there he found a chair set on the left side, which was worm-eaten and feeble. And on the right hand were two flowers like a lily, and…a good man departed them that the one touched not the other; and then out of every flower came out many flowers, and fruit great plenty.” (even the dream itself is glossed, but this is its simple and radiant core.) The Queste of the Sainte Graal, from which Malory drew his version, states this dream with greater clarity. The rotten ‘chair’ to the left is a rotten tree (which is indeed how it is referred to later in Malory by an interpreting ‘good man’) and between the tree and the flowers sits a holy man in a chair who is holding the flowers apart. This is, of course, more exact symbolically; but the Malory version has the truer ‘feeling’, which is so not only here, but throughout. For although Malory follows his source very closely, the differences are two and important. Firstly, the didactic, glossing passages are much shorter, and feel much more part of the fabric of the legend and landscape; and secondly, the landscape itself in Malory, so like a dream that the visions are but natural intensifications of the ‘feel’ of the whole world, is much more straightforward and factual in his source.
As to the particular dream quoted above the importance of the Malory version is that the Way between the parted lilies of birth and growth (flowers shaped like horns, and behaving like horns of plenty when parted; symbols of creative polarity like all pairs of horns, which was one reason why horned animals were anciently sacred, and why the ‘god’ or evolved man who contained this polarity was depicted as horned…in Celtic imagery, of seven tines….and why the unicorn, having but one horn, was a fabulous beast by definition, for where there is but one horn there is no polarity and hence no manifest world. Except within the unicorn.) and the rotting tree of earthly decline and death leads not to the anthropomorphic god-figure on a throne, but to the altar which is a threshold of the void.
Sir Bors, failing to see that the Way lies between to right hand of creation and the left hand of destruction, chooses the right hand and is supported in this by the ‘good men’, as representatives of polarized Christianity. But even as his conscious mind remains within the rules of polarity, his unconscious, which has brought him the truth from the void in images, is slowly infusing his spirit with this truth. At a conscious level all he need do, despite his mistaken action, is to maintain his purity of motive. So that at last he may pass beyond not only Action but the ‘good men’ who would forever bind him there as they themselves are bound. To this extent the ‘good men’ and their guidance, for it is guidance to be transcended, are an integral part of the teaching of the Quest for the Holy Grail.
p.224-6 Sir Bors is asked to take sides again, but now it is no longer an easy choice; for it lies between succouring his brother Sir Lionel, who is being beaten to death, and a maiden who is about to be ravished. He does choose again, between what may be seen indeed as projections of two aspects of himself, for in entering upon the world of action he begins to tear himself apart, and so sinks deeper into the toils of ‘Maya’. In choosing the maiden, which appears at first to entail the death of his brother, he is upbraided by a ‘good man’ who turns out to be a false ‘good man’: and indeed, in choosing the maiden he chose that aspect of himself which dwells within his purity. And so his decision is, since he has entered upon the field of action, ‘correct’; but if he had not entered upon it there would have been no need to do violence to his brother, his outer self, for his inner and outer self would have been in harmony.
He is assured by the maiden that he chose rightly, “else five hundred men should have died.”
p.225-6 “then twelve knights came seeking after her.. and besought him to come to her father, a great lord, and he should be right welcome.”
But he does not follow her back into the world, where she would give him everything…as symbolized in the twelve knights, or months, at her command…but leaves her still a maiden, and remains himself in the ‘fairy’ land, the half-way land, trying still to maintain his quest for the Grail without abandoning his power of choice.
p.227-9 He is taken by the apparent man of God to a castle where he has yet a more difficult decision. If he will not love the lady of the castle she will kill herself. And further, that Lancelot too will die. (Since she is the symbol of the world, Lancelot her lover will die at her death.) Sir Bors is much weakened by all that he has passed through; he has been much drawn out of himself. And so, at the banquet, he partakes of all the ‘dainties’, forgetting his bread-and-water vow.
But he holds to his chastity. Which is to say he maintains the circle of his consciousness aloof from the world And so “(the lady) departed and went up into an high battlement and led with her twelve gentlewomen.” For if he abandons the world, the world, as symbolized in the lady (seen as the queen of the year with her twelve months…time and space being equal measures of creation within the 360 degrees of the circle) who is the natural result of his succouring her in the forest as a maiden, the world must, of course, cease to exist.
And then Sir Bors, having implacably endured their death: “lever he had that they had all lost their souls than he his.”…though in sorrow, discovers the castle and all in it to be but illusion (of the devil, since the colouring is Christian), a magic-lantern life.
p.230 And yet his trials are not done. The ‘good abbot’ interpreting his dreams and actions, blackens his brother Lionel in order to make them have some meaning within polarized Christianity, but the truth, and meaning of the trials, is otherwise. Lionel is ‘black’ only in so far as Bors is ‘white’; which is to say that Lionel is that aspect of’ himself which he has not integrated into his Quest, and which has therefore come to stand against him as his own greatest enemy, and with which at last he must come to terms.
p.231 “..he found there Sir Lionel, his brother, which sat all armed at the entry of the chapel door.” Bors, seeing him, is overjoyed and seeks reconciliation. But this has become impossible. For although he always acted for the best he has come face to face with the fact that to act at all provokes re-action, just as light produces dark, and he has produced Lionel, who is now come between him and the symbolic chapel door.. so his choice of action now is to kill his brother or to cause his brother to kill him; which is to say, whichever way he turns is death. For death is the result of action, as the rotting tree is the result of the pair of parted lilies.
p.234 At last, when the two would-be mediators are dead, men of good will who are powerless in the highly-charged atmosphere which Bors has created, and so bring. about their own death through the presumption of their intervention, Sir Bors “that was full of humility prayed Sir Lionel for God’s love to leave this battle: for an it befell, fair brother that I slew you or ye me, we should be dead of that sin.” But Lionel will not. “Then drew Bors his sword, all weeping, and said: Fair brother, God knoweth mine intent…And well wot ye that I am not afeared of you greatly, but I dread the wrath of God, and this is an unkindly war, therefore God show miracle upon us both.” In such extremis a man may no longer help himself; he is a victim of circumstance, which is to say of past action. All then that may save him is the Divine Grace bursting through worldly laws and forms like a thunderbolt of illumination; which occurs if the man, like Bors, feeling himself pushed ineluctably against the unyielding wall of circumstance, yet holds to his faith that the wall in some higher sense is not there. And it is not.
p.234-5 “Alit a cloud between them in likeness of a fire and a marvellous flame, that both their two shields burnt.” As if, indeed, electricity shot between them, cancelling their polarity. Unlike Perceval, Bors does not invoke the miracle; that is, he does not, like Perceval, recollect himself. Rather, he is saved by his own pure nature irrupting into his conscious mind and bursting the illusive barriers which his mind had made and which had held him in thrall.
So he and his brother “fell both to the earth, and lay there a great while in a swoon.” And are reconciled to each other, and part in mutual forgiveness and love, for a voice said; “Bors, go hence, and bear thy brother no longer fellowship, but take thy way anon right to the sea.” For his trials are over.
p.235 “Sir Bors by fortune…came to an abbey which was nigh the sea. That night Bors rested him there; and in his sleep a voice came to him there and bad him go to the sea. Then he started up and made a sign of the cross in the middes of his forehead…and at a broken wall he rode out and rode so long that he came to the sea.”
Thus he passes, through the precincts of the church, out of the walls of the manifest world; making his last preparation by the sign of the cross, in token of his understanding and holding within him the primal creation; making his way out not through any door or gate of the Church’s making, but through ‘a broken wall’, which has been of his own making.
p.235 “And on the strand he found a ship covered all with white samite, and he alit…and as soon as he entered into the ship the ship departed into the sea.”
Leaving his horse on the strand, in token of his parting from the outer world. Perceval is already within the ship, lying still, armed but unhelmeted. Bors now takes off his helmet and is recognized.
“And either made great joy of other”, recognizing each the true face of the other once its worldly mask had been removed. “So they went downward in the sea, one while backward another while forward.” For Action now, on the Ocean where creation is reduced to essentials, is reduced to the merest movements and counter movements, a simple going out and coming back.
“And every each comforted other, and oft were in their prayers.” By both means seeking to reduce polarity to its very least. “Then said Sir Percevale: we lack nothing but Galahad, the good knight.” Which is to say the supraordinate third in which the remaining pulse of polarity will be reduced to pure radiance. Which state of three-in-one is the state of the questing soul, the twice-born soul, in his higher adventures towards the achieving of the Holy Grail. Where the three dissolves in the One.
Book XVII p.236 The adventures of Sir Galahad. “..he found many adventures the which he brought to an end.. Then he took his way to the sea.”
And came upon a tournament outside a castle, and took the side of those losing, and enabled them to win. But there is no question of one side being good and the other evil, for the knights of the side he takes were “good knights enough”; and on the other side fight Gawain and Ector de Mans, equally “good knights enough”. The purpose of Galahad’s participation is rather that he involve himself in the world, for the experience of’ it, before ‘going to the Sea’; but always with the Sea at the centre of his consciousness, so that he is aware that the clashing opposites are opposites only as in chess: mirror images of each other. Hence his involvement is physical but not emotional. He strikes down Gawain (in fulfilment of the prediction of Lancelot…see p.166 above) not even knowing who he is, acting indeed throughout without personality or self; but wielding with great vigour and strength the sword of the Logos, the symbol of the dividing power which creates. And in token of’ his remaining always beyond divided creation, when the battle is over he disappears, “so that none wist where he was become.”
p.237 “till that she (and Galahad) came to the sea, the which was called Collibe.”
This appears to be something of a mistranslation, for the Queste of the Saint Graal reads: “They were still riding when dawn began to break, and the sky was fully light when they entered a forest known as the forest of Celibe which stretched as far as the sea.” That is to say, they have reached the penumbra of the Sea; but it must be reached by passing through the Maiden’s castle, which is to say, Galahad accompanies the World as she withdraws from her fullness as mother and queen into the strict castle of maidenhood, of potential, “closed with a running water.” It is comparable to Caer Sidi, the revolving castle at the axis of the world, to which Celtic heroes had always, in symbol, to journey. Interestingly, there is no question of Galahad being guided by the church, nor of entering upon the Ocean from a church. He is guided solely by the maiden, the world withdrawn into itself.
In her castle “he ate and slept a while till that the maid called him, and armed him by torchlight.” Then they ride out together into the night, unto the sea; and leave their horses on the shore and board the ship where Perceval and Bors are already. “And so the wind arose, and drove them through the sea in a marvellous pace. And within a while it dawned.”
Thus Galahad has passed through a form of death to reach the Shining Sea, but he has so entirely surrendered himself that death and darkness are quite without terror for him. Indeed, he has not withdrawn from the world, which implies continuing polarity, but with the world, with the world’s own withdrawing; for he has totally trusted in the guidance of the Maiden, and is at one with her will. So that, as he says to the other knights:
“Had not the gentlewoman been, I had not come here.” (Malory) “So it can be said that my coming was more her doing than my own.” (Quest of the Saint Graal)
p.238 “By then the ship went from the land of Logris, and by adventure it arrived up betwixt two rocks passing great and marvellous. But there they might not land, for there was a swallow of the sea, save there was another ship, and upon it they might go without danger.”
So they pass between the pillars of Hercules (in other myths symbolised as clashing rocks) which mark the extreme limits of the known, polarised world, beyond which is only a whirl-pool. And perpetually balanced on its rim, a ship; which is to say, the church; which is to say, any system of symbols which enables the questing soul to evolve towards the unknown, the whirlpool. And there they ‘might go without danger.’ And yet not everyman might, for although it is a ship of forms, they are primal forms, symbols of primal patterns, too highly charged for a man unprepared to bear.
p239 “And in the middes of the ship was a fair bed, and Galahad went thereto, and found there a crown of silk.” (‘of gold’.. Queste). “And at the feet was a sword, rich and fair, and it was drawn out of the sheath half a foot and more.”
Here the symbols become so many and so dense with meaning that nearly every sentence needs glossing; and still they elude linear explanation, slipping past the mind into the soul. The bed, which recalls the passage in the (Gnostic) Acts of John: “In your drive towards wisdom you have me for a bed: rest upon me.” (condemned by the Church at the Council of Nicaea), appears to be comparable to the World Tree, hanging from which the hero, in the name of Odin, falls asleep to the manifest world and lives in the Whole. In so doing, he rests between the golden crown and the sword; which is to say, between gold…the symbol, as in alchemy, of wholeness beyond differentiation…and the sword, the Logos, the symbol of division and therefore of division, of birth and death. Which sword is partly drawn from its scabbard because, presumably, if it were not, even the ship perched on the rim of the whirlpool would not be manifest nor the whirlpool itself; for symbols too at last are but things.
The hero therefore, crowned like king, is the archetype, like the sacred king who must balance ever between the world of One and the world of Many, reconciling and containing all in himself.
First the sword is examined.
p.239 “the pommel was of stone, and there was in him all manner of colours that any man might find.” Which is to say it represents, like the rainbow, wholeness in diversity.
“the scales of the haft were of two ribs of divers beasts..” One from a serpent found in Caledonia. “and the bone of him is such that there is no hand that handleth him that shall never be weary nor hurt.” (Queste: “and if a man has hold of one of his ribs it renders him insensible to heat.”) Which seems to say that the wielder of the sword, however much he may take part in the action of the manifest world, will himself not be involved in the consequences of Action. The bones of the other ‘beast’ forming the heft of the sword carry this claim to its logical conclusion:
“Who that handleth (this bone) shall have so much will that he shall never be weary, and he shall not think on joy nor sorrow that he hath had, but only that thing that he holdeth before him” (Queste: “Directly he puts it down again he starts to think once more as he was wont, after the fashion of a normal man.”) This is an exact description of the state of mind to which Zen training was able to bring the Samurai; that is, the state of pure perception where the warrior lives only in the moment, for if he thinks of past and future, or even what he is at that moment doing, he will be overtaken by the event and lost. Thus the knight grasping the heft is balanced between the Whole in manifestation (the pommel) and the Many in manifestation (the blade). The heft, therefore, by definition is not to be grasped by any except him who can sustain this position.
“As for this sword there shall never man begrip him at the handles but one, but he shall pass all other.” Since the sword is but a symbol of the spiritual state of the wielder. When a man is able to encompass time and space, therefore being the point of time and space which is ever living, then will the sword be within his grasp, for all size and shape will be contained in him. Of this spiritual state Galahad is the symbol.
p.240-43 The maiden relates three varying histories of the ship being boarded in times past, and of the drawing of the sword, and of the wounding which followed. Each is a way of saying how the world in duality has fallen into two uncomunicating parts; each, also, seems partly corrupt through transmission through many hands and years. But their purport is still clear enough.
p.240 The story of King Labor and King Hurlame. “This ship (said the maiden) arrived in the realm of Logris; and that time was deadly war between King Labor, which was father unto the maimed king, and King Hurlame, which was a Saracen. But then was he newly christened, so that men beheld him afterward one of the wyttyest men of the world.” This whole episode is extremely complex. Firstly, the names of the two kings are given in the Queste as Lambar (Labor) and Varlan (Hurlame), which appear to be but anagrams of each other; which suggests that they are, like Balin-Balan, the two halves of the same soul. Or, in terms of the symbolic world, the king and tanist who fight in order that the world may be ever in balanced flux. That Hurlame-Varlan has been baptized and is hence one of the ‘wyttyest’ or wisest of men is evidently a way of saying that although he expressed the ‘dark’ side of life, he was not therefore to be despised and denied. (The Queste also gives the name Pelles as ‘Parlan’; which suggests that whatever the names, or Name, mean, they must consist of two syllables: ‘var-bar-par’ and ‘lan-lam’.)
The arrival of the ship at the shores of Logris in the midst of this everlasting battle suggests that some intimation had come of a means of transcending the battle. But that its nature was misunderstood. For:
“It befel that King Labor (Lambar) and King Hurlame (Varlan) had assembled their folk upon the sea where this ship was arrived; and there King Hurlame was discomfit and his men slain; and he was afeared to be dead, and fled to his ship, and there found this sword and drew it, and came out and found King Labor…and smote him upon the helm so hard that he clave him and his horse to the earth with the first stroke of his sword. And it was in the realm of Logris; and so befel great pestilence…wherefore men call it.. .the waste land, for that dolorous stroke”
In one sense this reads almost as an allegory of the persecution and rise of the Christian Church from a Gnostic point of view:. Hurlame, denoting that aspect of man which seeks withdrawal from the world as his ‘salvation’, is nearly overpowered by Labor, who like the lion, represents the world in all its glory. To defend himself, Hurlame seizes the sword without knowing its nature, and strikes down his opposite king not realizing that he is not only opposite but complementary. Just so had the early Church, fearing for its very life, narrowed that life into a weapon for striking down all that it chose to see as ‘profane’. And so ‘spirit’ and ‘body’ are seen as separate; and ‘God’ and ‘Man’ are seen as separate; and so the World, the circumference of the Circle, is cut off from its centre, and is Waste.
Hurlame, in fact, cannot in a true sense grasp the sword at all; what he has grasped is but a simulacrum. For he is but half of the whole; and the wound he has caused will bleed either until it is healed by a spirit able to encompass the Whole, or until the world era ends. In fact, both happen. For Galahad is the high spirit and he represents, as indicated by the writing on the Siege Perilous (p.165 above), the dawn of a new age, where opposites will be reconciled and transcended.
The sword, in fact, is like the mind of the Buddha, who, as he neared his Enlightenment, caused the world to tip this way and that by the least flicker of his mind from perfect balance. Similarly, the Sword mayn’t be wielded by any but the Perfect Knight without causing maiming and death, because a man of imperfect nature is an unbalanced man who, if given such power, will unbalance the world.
Therefore: “when King Hurlame put up the sword in the sheath… he fell down dead afore the bed… So lay he there until a maiden came into the ship and cast him out.”
This is very elliptically said. Without his opposite, King Hurlame himself cannot long live. Upon his death, the world is left outwards in the person of the maimed king. Left desolate, with only a dry pretence of spirit. And the true spirit of the world draws within, into the symbol of the maiden, into potentiality from manifestation. The sword is sheathed, the ship sails from the shores of Logres, (where one might say it had been openly manifest) back beyond the pillars of Hercules to the very edge of the whirlpool which spins out, or in, to the Unmanifest; and waits.
It is in effect the same Maiden, the world in potential, who guides Galahad now out to the sword so that he may bring it into the world again and so re-unite the Centre to the circumference. So he must return once more into the world.
p.241 The second story, of Nacien; which has in extreme that quality present throughout the Quest of being both resonant of truth and nearly inaccessible to rational explanation. The story begins with the scabbard, which is of snakeskin, and is over-written with warnings; one of which: “He that shall praise me most, most shall he find me to blame at great need; and to whom I should be most debonair, shall I be most felon, and that at one time.” is illustrated by the maiden in her story of Nacien. Which appears to be another story of the world in polarity, for Nacien comes to the ship beside one great rock, near an island “clepyd the isle of Turnance” (which is to say, the turning island; a symbol comparable to the whirlpool, and so used in the Queste); and then “departed him out of the isle, and brought him to another isle by a rock.” And there, because he has not realized that the two rocks are essentially one rock, “he found the greatest giant that ever man might see.” Which giant is ‘horrible’ and has to be fought.
What follows is rather obscure: he praises the sword and it breaks in his hand. (In the Queste, it snaps when he flourishes it round his head in a circle. Which would seem to suggest that the straight line of division is reabsorbed back into the unmanifest upon turning round upon itself…like the serpent eating its own tail. The I and the 0 are united; which are the two primary letters in the old Celtic alphabet…gifts of the sun; and which correspond visually to the lingam and yoni, the union of which is symbolic of the transcendence of polarity.) Nacien slays the giant anyway; which may be part of a series of misunderstandings, for if the sword of differentiation is broken, the giant would cease to exist. It would be exactly as though Nacien had destroyed him by making the sign of the cross. And, in fact, the lingam-yoni sign observed from the side is identical with the sign of the cross.
Nacien then is driven away over the ocean, and encounters King Mordrains “which had been tempted full evil with the fiend in the port of perilous rock”. So it appears that his adventure has been like that of Nacien: half of the whole. For Nacien is usually referred to as the hermit, the one who withdraws from the world. Of which the symbol is the breaking of the sword. But Mordrains is a king, the complement in the world of Nacien; and so he mends the sword. Then, together, the halves of a whole, they leave it sheathed in the ship.
Nacien’s wounding, which is minor and heals, appears to be the result of his abandoning the way of the hermit, which is suitable to him, and taking on that of the king. Conversely, King Mordrain’s blindness (p.261 below, and p.195 above, as ‘King Evelake’) is a result of his presumption in attempting to encompass the role of the ‘holy man’ as well as his own.
p.242 The third story. “There was a king that hight Pelles. Upon a day he hunted in a wood of his which lasted unto the sea; and at the last he lost his hounds and his knights save only one: and there he and his knight went till that they came toward Ireland, and there he found the ship…and (within it) this sword, and he drew it out as much as ye may see. So therewith entered a spear wherewith he was smitten through both the thighs, and never sith might he be healed, nor nought shall tofore we come to him.”
In riding through the “wood that lasted unto the sea”, King Pelles is making his way through the uncharted land of the spirit. He is able to reach the “sea”, and even to board the ship, because he was “right perfect of his life”, but in his attempt to draw the sword he overreaches himself. As did King Mordrains, and Nacien; and King Hurlame: each of them ‘halves’ attempting to encompass the Whole. And so, like Gawain in other versions of the Quest, each for his presumption is spiritually immobilized.
As to the ‘Maimed King’ particularly, symbolized here by King Pelles, he is of course. central to the Quest. Under whatever variation of the name, and by what manner he has come to this state (for the explanations are many; and all symbolically true), the state itself is the same: he is wounded through the thighs (sometimes one thigh, sometimes, as here, two) and the wound will not heal. He is immobilized in his castle, and the land is therefore ‘enchanted’ or ‘waste’.
This is the ‘negative’ centre of the Quest: that the Maimed King be healed. And although recounted separately from the ‘positive’ centre, the achieving of the Grail, the two of course are one. The piercing through the thighs has been variously understood. Of recent years the consensus appears to be that it symbolizes castration. Which it does; but in a spiritual sense: it symbolizes a short-circuiting of the spiritual current flowing back and forth between the realm of the one and the realm or the many. Of this flow the clearest diagram is that of two equal intersecting circles, the circumference of each passing through the centre of the other.
The shape in the centre is called the vesica piscis, and is evidently the ultimate source of the name “The Fisher King” (not greatly mentioned in Malory, but frequent and evocative throughout the Cycle generally). For he is the symbol, in health, of the two worlds simultaneously one. The Maimed King is the maimed Fisher King, through whom the currents no longer flow freely.
Of which his wounding is both a symbol and, seen in diagram, an explanation. For the diagram is: ++. Which seems to indicate a neutralizing of polarity, of electric flow. The proper relationship between two vertical lines if one is to have electrical action is: I\I or I/I. Which is the manner of decoration on old Celtic torcs and which, further, is a visual representation of the three rays of light which form the three primal letters of the Celtic alphabet: I, 0, V. Turned on their side, the diagrams I\I and I/I become Z and S, which are symbols of electricity; Z being its form in the popular mind, the symbol of the thunderbolt; and also the letter of death (‘straith’ the blackthorn, according to Graves’ White Goddess).
Whereas S, representing the spiral, is, according to science, nearer the ‘true’ shape of lightning; and is the letter of ‘Saile’, the willow, the tree of the waxing and waning moon, of life and death and life again.
So, in the diagram ++ all this ceases. That is experienced then is not the balance in the midst of flow, but a ceasing of flow: the world within and the world without no longer enrich each other, and therefore both are waste.
And this came about, all the varied tales of explanation agree, because a ‘king’, or other archetypal figure, attempted to assume a role for which he was spiritually unfitted, which he didn’t properly comprehend, which was therefore not within him but without. And so the heir to the Fisher King, in whom both worlds are alive and radiant, is but a simulacrum.
And yet, in another sense, (for the resonance of the Quest is inexhaustible) King Pelles, as the Grail Keeper of the seventh degree, is only fulfilling his role His attempt to draw out the sword and his subsequent immobilization are functions of his position in the numerical sequence; for at seven, the number of achievement, he partially draws the sword and is then caught between heaven and earth, unable to move, which is the state of number eight. Just so did Odin, piercing himself through his thighs, immobilize himself on the World Tree…to increase his wisdom. His difficulty and pain then are identical with that of the Maimed King: how to restore the eternal flow without falling back into experience of only one half of it. For he is at the point of the ultimate opposites, of the Nothing against the All. The symbol of Odin’s transcendence of these is his effort of extreme pain in gathering runes which he sees at the foot of the world tree; which is to say, primal shapes or patterns which enable one to experience the Manifest and Unmanifest at once. And so he falls free of the Tree, and his state of wholeness is represented by the number nine. He has returned, and the universe flows through him.
In the quest, the chief difference is simply that the Maimed Grail King and Galahad are pictured as different people, as seventh and ninth in the same line. The ‘healing’ of the Maimed King, therefore, consists in ‘his’ (or Galahad’s) living both in the ‘Grail’ and in the world. And this is why four knights succeed in some manner in achieving the Quest, for it is as the quaternity, of which they are the symbol, that the questing soul may achieve the Grail and return. Which the diagram of the vesica pisces exemplifies, for within the shape of the fish, touching both circles at their centres and where they intersect, is the rhombus:
p.243 “So they went toward the bed to behold all about it..” The description in the Queste is substantially the same as in Malory, but is clearer as to detail, so I shall quote it and follow it: “(They) saw that it was made from timber hewn from the living tree. In the centre of the side that faced them there was a post let into the wooden beam that extended the length of the bed, in such a way that it was perpendicular to the frame. And in the far side in the other truss there was another post, exactly opposite the first. These posts were separated by the width of the bed, and on them lay a slender cross-piece, squared and bolted to the two uprights. The post on the nearer side was whiter than fallen snow; while the further one was red as drops of bright red blood; and the one which joined them overhead was bright emerald green;.. these were natural colours, not painted on, for they owed naught to any human hand.”
The white and red (opposites too in chess) are bound together; above, by the living green. (which enables the flow from one to the other. As an illustration of what happens when red and white touch each other, Perceval, in one version of the Quest, is cast into a trance…at seeing fresh blood on fresh snow…and while in it performs knightly deeds, unknowing that he even moves. So that he is momentarily in that state of ‘All-in-One’, of which ‘living in the Grail’ is the steady symbol. He is said while gazing at the snow to be thinking of his beloved; which is to say the world, the green which keeps the red and white apart; if he had not, he would not have been merely ‘entranced’; he would have ceased to exist.)
The shape of the structure over the bed is that of a dolmen; which too is a symbol of inception-continuance-decay, representing the consonants on an implicit ground of vowels (cf. Graves- The White Goddess pp245.), the symbols of the potential out of which all forms rise. So this dolmen rises over the ocean, over the bed on the ocean, where the hero is to lie asleep. It is therefore a symbol, as the dolmens are, and as is the Hebrew letter ‘than’ or ‘T’’, of the World Tree. (From a branch of the Tree of Knowledge, as the maiden explains in Malory, taken by Eve out of Eden).
“T” in the Hebrew alphabet corresponds to the Tarot card XXII, the hermaphroditic dancing figure ‘World’ or ‘Cosmos’; and from this letter the ‘Hanged Man’, in Tarot card XII, is suspended in trance. His head is in a golden halo (cf. the golden crown at the head of the bed), his legs are crossed, as the sword at the foot of the bed is a cross, symbolizing the interaction of opposites; thus he is suspended between the two, between the red of his legs and the white of his hair, suspended by the green World Tree. (It will be noticed that the values of the symbols, as of numbers and colours, are ever changing, ever elusive; which is a measure of their resonance and their necessity. For no clear statement can stand for long.)
p.241 “The girdle was but poorly come to, and not able to sustain such a rich sword.”
p245. “And (King Solomon saw) the girdles were of hemp, and therewith the king was angry. Sir, wit ye well, said his wife, that I have none so high a thing which were worthy to sustain so high a sword, and a maid shall bring other knights thereto, but I wot not when it shall be.”
p246 “(The maiden) opened a box, and took out girdles which were seemly wrought with golden threads, and upon that were set full precious stones, and a rich buckle of gold. Lo, lords said she, here is a girdle that ought to be set about the sword. And wit ye well the greatest part of this girdle was made of my hair, which I loved well while I was a woman of the world. But as soon as I wist that this adventure was ordained me I clipped off my hair, and made this girdle in the name of God.”
The meaning of this appears to be that the sword may not be taken from the world of patterns to the world of manifestation except with the will of the world itself. The Maiden was a Woman, and as such the symbol of the growing and dying world; but in accord with the need of the universe that Galahad find his way within, she sheared off her hair, in token, like that of a monk or nun, that she withdrew from the earthly round of birth and death; and then, as the Maiden, the world in potential, having brought Galahad within, to the sword of the Logos, she girt it upon him with the girdle made of her own hair. Which is equivalent to the Virgin Mary saying: “Be it unto me according to thy word.” Which is to say that in order for the redeemer to be born in the world…or to manifest in the world as the Logos or sword…the world must be willing.
The act of knighting, the accolade…which was originally, as the name suggests, an embracing round the neck of the knighted by the knighter…is here performed by the arms of the maiden as she “girt him about the middle with the sword.” And the figure which at that moment they make together is the figure of the lingam-yoni; which is to say, the Holy Marriage.
p.246-7 “Now (she said) reck I not though I die, for now I hold me one of the blessed maidens of the world, which hath made the worthiest knight in the world. Damosel, said Galahad, ye have done so much that I shall be your knight all the days of my life.”
And soon she does die (see below, p.250-52), in what is in effect a transformation from Maiden to Queen of the World; but her spirit, the world-in-potential, rests in Galahad, as he says, always.
p.247 “Then went they from that ship, and went to the other. And anon the sea drove them into the sea at a great pace, but they had no victuals; but it befell that they came on the morn to a castle that men call Carteloise, that was in the marches of Scotland.”
The moment they leave the ship at the World-axis, wind, the breath of life, rises and blows them into the world of becoming. They become aware that they require food and have none. (As did the warriors with the head of Bendigeidfran when, after timeless joy in the castle at Owales, one of them opened the door to the south. (Mabinogion: Branwen, daughter of Llyr)).
Their return to the world of becoming is abrupt. Carteloise, ‘in the marches’ is conceived as far removed from Camelot, and therefore as being without any intimation of the spirit. Locked within its sense of its own existence, it is like the ego locked in itself. Naturally, feeling itself threatened, it fights the Light which comes suddenly upon it in the figures of the three holy knights and the maiden.
“And therewith.. Sir Percevale smote the foremost to the earth, and took his horse, and mounted thereupon, and the same did Galahad. Also Bors…, for they had no horses in that country.” Thus they reassume bodies for the world, and clash with their opposites…who, as three brothers forcing their will on their sister, are symbolic of the self-willed opposed to the will of ‘God’…, and easily overcome, being ‘twice-born’; so easily indeed that they are astonished, as though one part of them accepted the world as ‘real’, where opposition was always difficult and painful, while the core of them, filled with the sense of the spirit moving on the waters, knows that all is illusion and so destroys it like a mirage. For, as ‘twice born’ knights they are in both the world of Becoming and the world of Being; but the two are as yet unfused, which is why these further trials are necessary, and why, in the castle of Carbonek Galahad sees the Grail but partially. For he has not yet slept on the bed on the ship on the Ocean.
“Then when they beheld the great multitude of people they had slain, they held themselves great sinners.”
And sinners they are (though. the monks may deny it) in the sense that they are disruptive of the harmony. For what has happened in fact is that White has clashed immediately with Red; which is a short-circuiting of the universal current. White must meet Red through Green, as they have been told, symbolically, by the World Tree over the bed; and this, full as they are now of the sense of the world of the spirit, they are unwilling to accept. In this they are, for the moment, in tune with the teachings of the orthodox Church. But the Maiden is to teach them better.
p.250 “So there a knight armed came after them….and said: By the Holy Cross, ye shall not escape me tofore ye have yolden the custom of this castle….(which is) what maid passeth hereby shall give this dish full of blood of her right arm.”
Although in the forest where they. have just been they have been shown a vision symbolic of Christ coming into the world through the womb of the Virgin Mary (like light through the rose window which allows it to pass and is unchanged, into the body of the church) the knights are unable to see that the passing of the maiden’s blood into the body of’ the sick lady of the castle is but another symbol of the Spirit passing from the world of potential to the world of full manifestation; and that nothing in passing is ever lost. But they are still bound in their ‘conception’ of the inner world, of whom the maiden is now their only external symbol; and they fear to lose her. (This is another aspect of their clash with the knights of Corteloise: their holding to their conception of the world of the spirit within so polarized them that they themselves ‘created’ or projected their opposites: the knights holding tightly to the ‘world’ without.)
Balin, by contrast, when in the course of his adventures he is similarly stopped and the maiden with him asked to give her blood (vol.1, p.62), is quite willing; and the blood doing the lady no good, the maid remains healthy.
So that here it seems that the knights in their hearts know that the maiden’s blood will heal the lady of the castle, and that their resistance therefore is the resistance of Innocence to taking part in the world. But it must take part to gain the experience which leads to Wholeness.
So they fight and they destroy. Until at last the maiden, against their will…”Certes, said Galahad, an ye bleed so much ye may die”…declares that “I shall yield you your custom of this castle.” And gives her blood from her right arm (right being the side of the creation of forms) and dies, and “the same day was the lady healed.” Which is to say, the Empress (of the Tarot) succeeds to the High Priestess, the nymph succeeds to the virgin, and the world of bare opposites becomes the labyrinthine green world of inextricably entangled good and evil, life and death, joy and pain.
This is the first healing, a necessary prelude to the healing of the Maimed King.
But the three knights, so sorrowing at the loss of the Maiden, their Innocence, see only darkness and death in the new world. But only half the castle was turned ‘up so down’, and the castle itself, in which the world of forms was locked away, is broken open, and behind it lay a garden,”(or ‘churchyard’; this whole passage is so heavily glossed by world-denying monks that its original sense has been deeply buried) “so fair and so delectable that it seemed them there had been none tempest.” And there buried were sixty maidens, “and all were of king’s blood, and twelve of them were kings’ daughters.” Which sixty and twelve are the numbers of time, of minutes and of months, which have descended from the world of patterns to give birth to the world of forms.
There is no understanding of this event in the minds of the knights, for the mode of the Quest throughout is not to persuade the mind, but to reach the soul; for which purpose the experience of adventures is sufficient, however strange and meaningless they may appear to the mind, for they slowly ripen in the willing soul.
Chapter XIII p.254 “when Lancelot was come to the water of Mortoise, as it is rehearsed before, he was in great peril and so he laid him down and slept, and took the adventure that God would send him.” (see p.213 above) His surrender of himself at finding that he is inescapably bound in by the three dimensions of the external world has allowed him to pass beyond them; so that now he woke and “saw great clereness about him”. And he is able to pass into the ship, miraculously appearing, wherein he feels surpassing joy.
“And when he awoke, he found there a fair bed, and therein lying a gentlewoman dead..” Which would appear to symbolize the world withdrawn to its potential, so that it can be seen, through veils, as whole. But it is a cold experience, his “month and more” with her for she is dead. So that at last he was ‘somewhat weary of the ship.’
He is not, that is to say, so evolved in spirit that he can receive openly of the radiance of the Ocean which it is in the power of the ‘ship’ to give. He can experience it only through another. And the ‘other’ comes in the person of Galahad. ” And there was great joy between them, for there is no tongue can tell the joy that they made either of other..”
For each has to learn of the other: Lancelot of the radiance within, Galahad of the richness of the world without; for they are opposite aspect of one soul.
p255 “So dwelt Lancelot and Galahad within that ship half a year…and often they arrived in isles…where there repaired none but wild beasts.”
Where they experience the world in its elemental form, acting as its natural laws require, beyond conceptions of right and wrong, partaking of the pure perceptual world of the beast.
“So after, on a Monday, it befell that they arrived in the edge of a forest tofore a crosse.”
On a Monday, because it initiates a new week, a new cycle, for every week the world is newly created, they come to the forest which is the tangled world, and a white horse and his Way are waiting for Galahad, who is now full of experience of the world, and he must depart. At the symbol of the cross, standing between the Ocean and the created world.
“And the wind rose, and drove Lancelot more than a month through out the sea..(and) it befell on a night, at midnight, he arrived afore a castle, on the back side, which was rich and fair, and there was a postern opened toward the sea, and was open without any keeping, save two lions kept the entry; and the moon shone clear.”
This part of the Quest, relating Lancelot’s near vision of the Grail is unusually clear in its imagery, for the claims of the Quest here are not at great variance with those of orthodox teaching. Approaching from the Sea, he naturally finds the castle wide open, for it is to the Outer World that it is closed. Insofar as he approaches as an undifferentiated soul, there is no let to his entry; but when he acts as ‘Lancelot’ in drawing his sword against the lions, the sword is smitten from his hand by ‘a dwarf’. Which would suggest that, powerful as Lancelot is in the world, the least man in the Grail castle can subdue him.
Recalled to his true self, that is keeping bright within him the sense of the Divine which he has learned on the Ocean, he passes the lions freely and enters the castle “for he found no gate nor door but it was 0pen.”
Except the door to the Grail Chamber itself.
p.257 “Then he enforced him mickle to undo the door.”
Which avails him nothing, though he be the ‘knight of most worship in the world’
And so he surrenders himself in humility and longing, and the door is open “and there came out a great clearness, that the house was as bright as all the torches of the world had been there.”
But this is the extreme of what is allowed him: to be present, without, while the Grail is served within.
“And it seemed to Lancelot that above the priest’s hands were three men, whereof the two put the youngest by likeness between the priest’s hands..” And to these three, Lancelot adds a fourth, creating the quaternity of wholeness, linking the centre of the circle of Being (Galahad), through the two intersecting points of that circle with the circle of Becoming (Percevale and Bors) to the centre of the circle of Becoming (cf. Notes, p.50, above: diagram).
But then “him thought the priest was so greatly charged of the figure that him seemed that he should fall to the earth.” And so, ‘Lancelot’, his idea of himself, rises up in him; and not content at being part of the holy quaternity, he conceives a reason for pushing his single self forward: a ‘good, helpful’ action; and the delicate balance is shattered, and he is thrown into a swoon, and his mind and his body live in worlds apart.
“..four and twenty days…he lay still as a dead man; and at the twenty-fifth day befell him after midday that he opened his eyes.” He spends these days in a bed in the castle, which is reminiscent of the bed on the ship, and is essentially that bed, for Lancelot is entranced for a revolution of the world. And it is a measure of his evolution that when he awakes he is able to remember his ‘dreaming’, and so to integrate it into his life.
p.259 “And when he was.. arrayed they marvelled all, for they knew him that he was Lancelot, the good knight.”
So he returns to the outer world, re-assuming his normal outer shape. And after a communion meal in the castle, representing the outward aspect of the Grail, of which all worthy men may partake…as of the communion of the orthodox Church, he makes his way back to the heart of the outer world (Camelot) by way of a “white abbey” and then an ordinary abbey; a gradual progress through symbols from Within to Without.
Chapter XVIII p. 261
“Galahad.. at the last.. came to the Abbey where King Mordrains was…which had lain blind a long time.”
This appears to be another identification of King Evelake (see notes to p.195 above) who has been waiting throughout time for the coming of the knight so evolved that he may pass through him out of his distinct form (by which he is in the constant pain of separation) and be assumed into the whole. This is possible through Galahad, for he is now, after his time with Lancelot and his adventures in the world, both “the flower of the lily in whom virginity is signified, and…the rose, the which is the flower of all good virtues, and in colour of fire.” Which is to say that he contains within himself the White and the Red at once: the lily, the single horn beyond fruitfulness, and the rose, the exfoliation of the world from a single centre.
After this manifestation of his wholeness, Galahad has but two more highly symbolic ‘adventures’ to perform:
p262 “he found the great well the which boileth with great waves…and as soon as (he) set his hand thereto it ceased… for that it brent was a sign of lechery..”
Not precisely ‘lechery’, but involvement through the senses in the world; his quelling of the well seems to be equivalent to the sage’s stilling of the waters of his mind so that it is a mirror reflecting the unmanifest, which is to say that all manifestation is seen to be one. And water, which has been a symbol for ‘passage’, is seen as a symbol for ‘dwelling’.
Secondly “he saw a tomb which burnt full marvellously….And he went down upon gretys, and came nigh the tomb. And then the flaming failed and the fire stanched, the which many a day had been great.”
This second and more fearful symbol of transition, the violent red which destroys all forms is equally stilled by and in Galahad; for through him, the inheritor of the role of Fisher King, all souls who seek it may come to dwell in the knowledge of the ‘outer’ world and the ‘inner’ world at once.
And so he takes the body, which for all the years of the authoritarian dispensation has been burning in fire and yet unconsumed …for some ‘wrong’… “in his arms and bare it into the Minster …and put him in the earth afore the high altar.”
For his is the new era, foretold by the Gnostics, when the polarizing authoritarian church will be succeeded by the church of the Whole. But it didn’t come to pass. Not then.
p.263 “So on a day it befell that they came out of a great forest and there they met at traverse with Sir Bors…” “Then rode they three a great while till that they came to the castle of Carbonek.”
Out of the forest where each is alone in his ‘adventures’ they ride now in renewed triad toward Carbonek, with the necessary experience of the manifest world.
“Then Eliazar, King Pelles’ son, brought tofore them the broken sword.. And then (Galahad) took the pieces and set them together, and it seemed that they had never been broken..”
In so mending the sword, Galahad gives evidence that, like King Mordrains earlier (p.242), he has all the qualities of the outward sacred king; which is to say that from a position of aware-ness of the inner world he is able to wield the sword of outward manifestation. (Whereas Mordrains himself, having sought beyond his strength within, had become blind, and so was no longer fit to be sacred king; no more was Oedipus when blind; both are them too much withdrawn Within. And so the Sword of Manifestation, linking the outer world to the inner world is broken..
p.263 All are told to leave the chamber except those worthy to stay. This episode is greatly clouded by overlays of orthodox Christian ritual, but some at least of its original sense is still apparent.
“So they went hence, all save King Pelles and Eliazar, his son, the which were holy men, and a maid which was his niece. And so these three fellows and they three were there, no more.” Pelles, through scribal confusion, is no longer the maimed king, but the outward king; the maimed king is his inward aspect, and their being portrayed as two is a measure of the two worlds broken apart.
p.264 Nine knights enter the chamber, of whom three “said they were of Gaul, and other three said they were of Ireland, and the other three said they were of Denmark.”
It has been said that this is to bring the numbers at the ceremony up to twelve as there were twelve apostles. And that may be. But there are further intimations: the Quest began at Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost came to the twelve apostles and they went from the room their twelve ways, bearing the One spirit out into the many; ‘and the twelve there and the twelve here are also the twelve parts of Time, the twelve months into which the One Year is broken; and their gathering together here, the parts returning to the whole, and their dispersal again thereafter, each part containing the One, is the meaning of the healing of the Maimed King.
And the fact that the other knights are from Gaul, Ireland and Denmark is interesting in that the first two are the other Celtic homelands and the third, with whom there seems to have been great cultural interchange (viz. the Gundestrup cauldron found in Denmark), is the homeland of Odin, the spiritual father of both Galahad and the Grail King. The Quest in fact takes place in a spiritual landscape which for both Celtic and Germanic peoples in Europe is ‘home’. Of which its widespread and long-lived popularity is abundant evidence.
p.264 “..there came out a bed of tree, of a chamber, and in the bed lay a good man sick, and a crown of gold upon his head. But no sword at his feet. For Galahad bears the sword which was at the foot of the bed…the bed in the ship, but ultimately the same bed. The ‘good man’ then, the Maimed King, is likened to the centre of the circle unable to reach the circumference; unable, that is, to participate in the world of growth and decay and hence, as the thigh-wounding suggests, spiritually impotent. The thighs are the part of the body associated with Sagittarius of which the symbol is archer-centaur; if the thighs are then wounded, the ‘horse-body’ ceases to function, and the ‘archer’, the spiritual aspect of man, is immobilized in an inaccessible castle, invisible to the world and unable to vivify it, so that it is spiritually ‘waste’: a circumference without a centre. In contrast to, and illuminative of, this state is the condition of King Math, son of Mathonwy, in the fourth branch of the Mabinogion: “And at that time Math son of Mathonwy might not live save while his two feet were in the fold of a maiden’s lap, unless the turmoil of war prevented him.” Which is to say that, as a sacred king, he lived always in the realm of the unbroken One, except when he took part in the clashes of the world of opposites, when he rode on his horse. The horse was then and was still in the time of the Arthurian Cycle the means by which a high spirit was able to move about the world and gain experience of it, as ‘adventures’; a man on a horse was a symbol in itself of a man who was ‘twice-born’, aware of the world within and the world without. To be thrown from his horse was, for a knight, dangerous and humiliating; and only in exceptional circumstances of a higher quest, where what has always been ‘bad’ must be seen to be ‘good’ as a prelude to the transcending of such distinctions, only then does a knight part from his horse.
For the ‘thrice born’, the initiates of the Greater Mysteries, on the other hand, the horse is no longer necessary. Merlin always walks. And according to Bede, if a Druid priest did ride a horse, it was always a mare; to indicate that, as an hermaphroditic figure, he had wholly encompassed the world of opposites.
p.264 “Therewith a voice said: There be two among you that be not in the quest of the Sangreal, and therefore depart ye. Then King Pelles and his son departed.”
But the maid, ‘Pelles’ niece’, is not said to depart. This may be an oversight of Malory’s, for in the Queste she does depart, but on the other hand it is significant that she is there at all. In all versions of the earlier ‘pageant of the Grail’, with either Perceval or Gawain as witness, the chalice of healing blood is carried by a maiden. This blood has become ‘Christ’s blood’, but it may have been other earlier; it may indeed help us to understand why Caesar spoke of the Druidic sacrifices of blood.
For the bowl of blood which the maiden carries in the pageant is strongly reminiscent of the bowl of blood of which the Maiden (‘Perceval’s sister’) is bled so that the Lady of the Castle may be healed, and the world reborn.
Now this bowl of blood is the centre of the ceremony, which seen in diagram is the centre of five groups of three: the four groups of three knights, and the fifth: “angels; two bare candles of wax, and the third a towel and the fourth a spear which bled marvellously, that three drops fell within a box which he held in his other hand.” These, then are two pairs: the clear light of the One, and against it the weapon and container of blood, the lingam-yoni, the One-in-Many; and between these pairs: the priest.
Just as he ‘bridges’ the gap between the two worlds, so we have intimations that each of the other groups consists of three of which one is the ‘crown’ (When Lancelot had his glimpse of the Grail, it seemed to him “that above the priest’s hands were three men, whereof the two put the youngest by likeness between the priest’s hands). Of another group, “the three knights of Gaul, one of them hight Claudine, King Claudas’ son, and the other two were great gentlemen.”
What I suggest with great hesitancy, for the evidence is very scanty, is that there remains in this Grail ceremony some faint hints of the earlier ceremonies of the Druids; which is important to note only insofar as the ceremonies appear to have been not mere fertility rites nor barbaric sacrifices, but a ritualization of mythic truths, through which man may experience these truths with his whole being, and so maintain, while living a separated life on the circumference of the circle, an inexplicable awareness of its centre, where all lives are One. The pattern, then, of the Grail ceremony seems to shadow the pattern of the five great dolmens of Stonehenge; each of the four lesser ones representing each of the triad of knights, and the fifth, greatest dolmen standing for the ultimate polarities and the officiating priest astride them. And in the centre, on the altar stone, the blood of the Maiden (taken from her right arm), the World in potential, waiting for the sun to rise, for the light of the universe to penetrate the bowl of earthly blood, so that the Queen of the World of Becoming may be reborn. At which moment the five great dolmens supported by the Light are illustrative of the Tree of Life, with the greatest dolmen, pierced by the light itself, on the World-axis and the four lesser dolmens representing the Four Branches, the four directions into the world of ‘adventures’ where the four triads of knights will carry the sense of the Whole.
It will be thought by many that this correspondence is forced and even absurd. Doubtless it is greatly in error. But it seems to contain some resonance of truth, and if it helps others to pursue and even discover that truth, or other aspects of truth, then it will have done its work well.
p.266 “And Galahad went anon to the spear…and touched the blood with his fingers, and came after to the maimed king and anointed his legs..(and healed him)”
The wounds whereby the current which should flow between the outer and inner worlds had been short-circuited are thus healed by him who is able to dwell in both worlds and wield the Sword which is One within and Two without.
Being healed, the king “yielded him to a place of religion of white monks, and was a full holy man.”
which indicates that he becomes an intermediary, within a recognized system of symbols, between the circumference of the circle and its centre.
p.266 “Right so departed Galahad, Percivale and Bors with him and so they rode three days and then they came to a rivage, and found the ship whereof the tale speaketh of tofore.” Having completed the trials of their second life, they are translated back to the sea, to be carried to Sarras, the Holy City, where, ‘thrice-born’…for this time on the Sea is their second ‘death’…they will see the Grail openly.
“And they found in the middes of the table of silver which they had left with the Maimed King, and the Sangreal which was covered with red samite.”
Henceforth the Grail, though still covered, is always with them, as an outward sign of the ever-present living in them… the trinity…of the two worlds.
p.267 “And so (Galahad) laid him down (in the bed) and slept a great while; and when he awaked he looked afore him and saw the city of Sarras.”
Which is to say that he hangs in trance upon the world tree while he passes from West to East, so uniting them. (The Hanged Man in the Tarot is associated with the direction West to East on the Cube of Space, and with the letter ‘Mem’ in the Hebrew alphabet, which means ‘seas’ or ‘water’.) Time ceases and he awakes in Sarras. Here, ‘thrice born’, he passes through his third life, an archetypal life, a paradigm, before being brought into the presence of and assumed into the Grail.
“Then took they out of the ship the table of silver, and he took it to Percevale and to Bors, to go before, and Galahad came behind.
Of which the diagram is:
Illustrating the trinity, or the three highest aspects of the quaternal soul of each and every man, proceeding from the waters of potential into the created world, with the symbol of eternity in their midst.
“so went they to the city, and at the gate of the city they saw an old man crooked. Then Galahad called him and bad him help… He found himself as whole as ever he was. Then ran he to the table and took one part against Galahad.”
Thus they enter into the city:
For as the trinity, they may not; to them must be added the fourth from the world, else they would not be comprehensible in the world, which is to say they simply would not be seen. The cripple, taking the part in the holy city which is the part of Lancelot in the world, here represents the ‘crippled’ sacred king, who is “at the gate of the city”, being the intermediary between it and the life beyond (or within). As a single figure he is a cripple: only as part of the quaternity is he whole.
“the three knights went to the water, and brought up into the palace Percivale’s sister, and buried her as richly as a king’s daughter ought to be.”
As Sarras, the Holy City, is the world in paradigm, so it is the natural resting place of the Maiden, the symbol of the world-in-potential. But this is no more her ‘final resting place’ than it is Galahad’s or than the Maimed King’s healing is ‘final’. The legend is told and retold and retold, and time flows round and round, and every moment the world is born and the world dies, and the purpose of the Quest is to help us all to be in the living and dying at once.
“Then the king was a tyrant…and put them in prison in a deep hole.”
A tyrant in the sense that he attempts to rule for himself alone and not as the representative of the law of the universe; he is the ego who, fearful that the Light will destroy it (as, in a sense, it will) thrusts the light into darkness.
At the same time, for Galahad the meaning is that he must for the third time experience the world; and as the city of Sarras is a paradigm, so his experience of it is of polar extremes: the lowest and then the highest.
p.268 “Our Lord sent them the Sangreal, through whose grace they were always fulfilled while that they were in prison.” Which is to say that the sense of the Whole was ever within them while they were in the midst of transitory suffering; by which therefore, seeing it as illusory, they were not bound. Then, “at the year’s end”, the tyrant-king dies, and Galahad is chosen to succeed him; indeed forced to succeed him.. “and else they would have slain him”, for he must now experience the opposite pole of ‘life’, -its active, bright side. Which, for the contemplative spirit is often the most difficult of all to accept. But accept it he must, for he, like everyone, is responsible for the world, and must play his allotted role therein.
And so “at the year’s end” he ceases to be king, and is allowed to cease; and, having experienced one revolution of the world in each of its halves, he is able at last to behold the Grail openly, “that hath been my desire many a day. now…would I not longer live.”
“(Then he) went to Percivale and kissed him, and commended him to God; and so he went to Sir Bors and kissed him and commended him to God, and said: Fair lord, salute me to my lord, Sir Launcelot, my father..”
Before being assumed into the Grail, he, binds himself afresh to the two other members of the quaternity who are present, and, through Bors, to the one who is not; for it is only, through
the holding together of these four that the Grail and the World can be known to each other. A diagram of this last paradigmatic experience might be drawn thus:
Then ” when Percivale and Bors saw Galahad dead, they made as much sorrow as ever did two men. And if they had not been good men, they might lightly have fallen in despair.”
That is, if they saw only the body of Galahad, the wrack left behind, and were unable to maintain in themselves any sense of the transition, or of the Light into which he had been assumed. But, being ‘good men’, which is to say, men of evolved spirit, they are aware of the Light even within themselves.
And so Percivale retires to a hermitage, and becomes a holy man, an inward witness for those nearing the end of their Quest; and Bors departs again “into the realm of Logris; and he rode so fast till he come to Camelot. And bears outer witness.
“Then Launcelot took Sir Bors in his arms, and said: Gentle cousin, ye are right welcome to me…And wit ye well, gentle cousin, Sir Bors, that ye and I will never depart in sunder whilst our lives may last. Sir, said he, I will as ye will.” And so Within and Without are bound together in the quaternity of wholeness, through which all men may at last achieve the Grail. For the quaternity is within all men.
* * *