The Holy Grail Part One
What is the Holy Grail in reality? What is it about it that is able to hold people’s imagination with so much force and persistence? What is it about it that is able to induce men to abandon all else in its quest? The idea of a chalice is not new to humanity and it was to be found in the folklore of the peoples of Europe even before they were converted to Christianity. The Grail itself only became a Christian symbol as a result of a conscious attempt by some medieval writers as mentioned above. Drawings of the chalice have been found in the caves of early man and it is also an important symbol in Greek philosophy where it was considered to be a bowl in which the Creator mixed the elements of life. The symbol of the cup was therefore, known to many races but why was this symbol so universal? Could this vessel be something that exists independently in Creation, to which each tribe had access? In almost every tribe it has been associated with power, with knowledge, with cosmology and even with the origin of life. Could this symbol be universal just like the stories about the fairies has been universal? Through studying the legends we get a picture of the characteristics of the Grail.
It was associated with purity and required that its guardians be the purest of men. Failures in the ranks of its guardians led to catastrophes as we see in the picture of the Waste land. It was also associated with blessings. It brought undreamed-of blessings to those who served it as portrayed in the peace and happiness that characterised the land when its service was pure. It was also an object of worship as many came from distant lands to worship through it. In fact in one of the legends it was during this time that the high priest failed when he happened to have looked lustfully at a maiden whose dress was torn when she came to worship. The lance fell on him as a result giving him the wound.
The Grail was therefore considered to be a spiritual object more so as it had the power to veil itself from humanity’s gaze when there was no longer purity among the people. It was also an object that had the power to impart youth and even eternal life as long as one was able to eat of the wafer that came from it and as long as one was able to gaze into it. Because of these qualities, its withdrawal or the inability of its guardians to perform its service led to widespread disaster. Its blessings no longer flowed, the knights grew old, some died and the land became a desert thereby specifying also its effects on Nature. The natural harmony in everything, even family life was disrupted as we see in the work of Chrétien when he said that ladies would lose their husbands and so on. To uphold its service was therefore, of the greatest importance if there was to be peace and plenty.