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The Holy Grail

According to some traditions the Holy Grail was the cup from which Jesus and his disciples drank at the Last Supper.  According to other traditions, it was the cup in which Joseph of Arimathea caught Jesus' blood as he hung on the cross.  Some traditions might even assume that the Grail was both of these.  And yet, despite the apparent value of such a relic, there is no reference to it whatever from the time of Jesus until the height of the crusades, a period of more than a thousand years.  In fact, the earliest references to the Holy Grail coincide with the Frankish kingdom of Jerusalem in its full glory, when the Templars were at the apex of their overt power, and when the Cathar heresy was gaining a momentum that actually threatened to displace the creed of Rome.*

Much of what we know about the Holy Grail comes from the Grail romances, which appeared out of the area of the Lorraine (formerly associated with the Merovingian dynasty) in the early twelfth century.  In fact, Godfroi de Bouillon, our consummate leader of the first crusade, was according to medieval legend and folklore, descended from Lohengrin, the Knight of the Swan; and Lohengrin, in the Grail romances was the son of Perceval or Parzival, the chief protagonist of all the early Grail stories.           

Initially the Grail romances rested heavily on a pagan foundation -- a ritual connected with the cycle of the seasons, the Death and Rebirth of the year.  (Recall the spring equinox ritual the Cathars followed during the critical two week truce before capitulation from the Siege of Montsegur? -- and the subsequent escape of four parfaits with the "treasure" of the Templars?)  In its most primordial origins the pagan rituals would appear to involve a vegetation cult, closely related in form to, if not directly derived from, those of Tammuz (aka Dumuzi -- the consort of Inanna), Attis, Adonis, and Osiris in the Middle East.  However, during the mid to late twelfth century, the originally pagan foundation for the Grail romances underwent a curious and extremely important transformation.  At that time, the Grail became specifically associated with Christianity.           

In 1470, Sir Thomas Malory brought the question up again in his famous La Morte d'Arthur.  In Malory's time, the Holy Grail was alleged to be the cup of the Last Supper, in which Joseph of Arimathea later caught Jesus' blood.  According to some accounts, the Grail was brought by Mary Magdalen to France!  As early as the fourth century legends described the Magdalen fleeing the Hold Land and being set ashore near Marseilles -- where, for that matter, her relics are still venerated.  According to medieval legends she carried with her to Marseilles the Holy Grail.  But the early legends say that the Magdalen did bring the Grail into France, but not in the form of a cup.  The simple association of Grail and cup was, in fact, a relatively late development.  Malory perpetuated this facile association, and it has been a truism ever since.           

In Chretien de Troyes Le Roman de Perceval or Le Conte du Graal, written around 1188, the chief protagonist is named Perceval, who is described as the "Son of the Widow Lady".  [As will be seen, the “Widow Lady” refers to Mary Magdalen!]   

According to the romance, Perceval leaves his widowed mother and sallies forth to win his knighthood.  During his travels he comes upon an enigmatic fisherman -- the famous "Fisher King" -- in whose castle Perceval is offered refuge for the night.  That evening the Grail appears, carried by a damsel.  Perceval does not know that he is expected to ask the question: "Whom does one serve with it."  By not asking the correct question, Perceval awakes the next morning to discover the castle is empty and that his omission has caused a disastrous blight on the land.  Later still he learns that he himself is one of the "Grail family" and that the mysterious Fisher King who was "sustained" by the Grail was in fact his own uncle.  The poem ends, in part, apparently, due to Chretien's mysterious death in 1188, and a fire at Troyes at the same time.           

Subsequent versions refer to the Grail as a stone, which provides its keeper with eternal life:  "There never was a human so ill but that, if he one day sees that stone, he cannot die within the week that follows.  And in looks he will not fade.  His appearance will stay the same, be it maid or man, as on the day he saw the stone, the same as when the best years of his life began, and though he should see the stone for two hundred years, it will never change, save that his hair might perhaps turn gray.  Such power does the stone give a man that flesh and bones are at once made young again.  The stone is also called the Grail."   

This has the appearances of The Philosopher’s Stone, the basis for Alchemy.  One might also recall that it was Peter (the rock or stone) on which Jesus established his church.  And in this version of the Grail romance, the Grail is specifically linked with the Crucifixion and the Magdalen.  But don’t leap to any conclusions, just yet.           

Throughout the various versions, one common factor seems to be the apparent crucial importance placed on lineage and genealogy, pedigree, heritage, and inheritance.  Which raises another point.  In many of the earliest manuscripts the Grail is called the Sangraal.  In effect, instead of San Graal, it may be that the word should have been written Sang Raal -- or to employ the modern spelling, Sang Royal, i.e. Royal blood.  The Grail is thus associate more with blood or bloodline than with a simple cup.           

Another connection is the legends of King Arthur, who appears to have lived in the late fifth and/or early sixth century -- corresponding to the peak of Merovingian ascendancy in Gaul.  In fact, the term Ursus -- "bear" -- applied to the Merovingian royal line, may have been borrowed in an attempt to confer a special dignity on a British chieftain, i.e. Arthur (whose name also means "bear").  The implication is that the Grail itself, the "blood royal", refers to the blood royal of the Merovingian dynasty -- a blood that was deemed to be sacred and invested with magical or miraculous properties.           

Only it is not quite that simple.  

Consolidating all of these seemingly disjointed and sometimes conflicting stories, we come to a series of conclusions.  One, Clearly the Grail is closely associated with Jesus, and may well relate to a bloodline or lineage.   

Two, the Grail romances are for the most part, set in Merovingian times, but none were composed until after Godfroi de Bouillon -- fictional scion of the Grail family and actual scion of the Merovingians -- was installed, in everything but name, as King of Jerusalem.   

Finally, the Magdalen figures prominently in that it was she who brought the Holy Grail -- the "Blood Royal" -- into France!  

The royal blood -- the “blue bloods” -- may be less tied with a lineage, than with a blood type.  As previously suggested, any strict adherence to a specific blood line is dependent upon the royalists not spreading their seed elsewhere -- or for the female side, in accepting seed from less than royal subjects.  Basically, in-breeding would do little for the lineage, and new blood, while potentially genetically beneficial, would not carry the same power -- supposedly.  But perhaps, it is not purely the blood of royal folk -- even when related by direct descent to Jesus Christ, King David, or other celebrated patriarch.  

There is, in fact, much to recommend the concept that it is the matrilineal line which is really the important line.  It is possibly the mitochondria DNA that only the mother can pass to her daughter.  And thus, with the patriarchal insistence on following the lines from father to son, the basic, true lineage of power might have been missed!  Wouldn’t that have been a bummer for the male-chauvinist pigs!?  

There is also a possible final connection -- the one between the mothers, daughters, and the Star Fire of the Goddess, aka the Anunnaki females.

[11/04/06] Another discussion on this topic which is well worth the reading is The Nature of the Holy Grail by Sol. There is a certain degree of overlap with the above, but Sol's site is worth some time as well.

As we ponder these thoughts, we also need to consider just  exactly who Mary Magdalen was.  There is just entirely too much attention being devoted to her.  


John XXIII        History 009

Forward to:

Mary Magdalen

*This very abbreviated historical perspective is taken from numerous sources, including specifically, the excellent book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln [Dell Publishing, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, 1983].   


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