Tintagel to Avalon
The Sword & The Grail
The Grail is a sacred vessel as old as creation. A rounded container, it belongs to the family of symbols – bowl, cauldron, vat, well, cup or crucible – which are all images of the divine feminine, the Mother Goddess whose womb holds the waters of life, found as far back as the Neolithic era and in cultures from ancient India to classical Greece. In Celtic myth and legend, this hallowed icon of Western spirituality has its origins in the magical cups which have life-giving and protective properties and more often than not, these cups belong to goddesses or female spirits.
In the tales of King Arthur, the first part of his kingship deals with the triumph of the Sword as he and his knights successfully subdue the warring factions and achieve law and order throughout the realm. But when the Sword has fulfilled its function in the outer world, it must be balanced by the Grail. This sacred vessel lies hidden in a castle surrounded by a Wasteland: a barren and blighted country which can only be restored to life when a worthy knight discovers the castle of the Grail, asks a ritual question, and heals the wounded king of this land.
But the struggle to find a balance between Cup and Sword plays out constantly without resolution. In the end, not one of the knights is able to bring back the Grail to Camelot, which represents the everyday world we live in. And because this conflict remains unresolved within the psyche of both individuals and culture as a whole, the perennial fascination with this myth has continued unabated down the centuries.
On the deepest, archetypal level, the Grail is a symbol of the soul, which is a feminine word in many languages: for example, the Latin anima, which gives the Gaelic, anam, the Greek psyche and German Seele. The Soul, like the Grail, is hidden away in the dimly-lit, tangled forest of the everyday self, sometimes glimpsed only like a gleam of light as in the far-off window of a castle. Like the Grail Knight’s initiatory adventures, the Quest for the soul entails many of life’s challenges and rites of passage, yet the discovery of Grail or soul is only half the story.
For the soul is a receptacle for Spirit, a chalice which must be filled from the highest spiritual influences if it is to be of any value.
When the Light descends into the feminine (yin) Grail, the ultimate goal of the spiritual seeker has been achieved. It is the supreme union of Soul and Spirit, known variously as the Divine Marriage, the Union of Opposites.
For those who follow the inner Quest of the Grail, the goal is to quieten the everyday self enough so that the soul opens to allow the Living Light of Spirit to pour in, flooding us with bliss and peace.
Then when the Grail of the soul is filled with divine energies, it can be offered to the world for healing the wastelands both within and without.