If you search deeply enough into the heart of chivalry, you will find the spiritual essence of the warrior and the poet merged into something unique.
This combination has a long history in the chivalric tradition. Wandering troubadours sang the praises of knightly exploits. Writers made those tales permanent, fashioning an imaginary world where chivalry reigned with courtesy, grace and justice, so that people, ever after, would be inspired to create such a world.
Whereas heroic tales from prior ages illustrated two-dimensional deeds of courage and revenge, the introduction of chivalry applied rules of conscience to awaken higher expectations. The characters were more real. They had flaws. They resembled us, yet reached far greater heights as they sought to right all wrongs.
Even the casual observer senses the poet’s influence on chivalry. It entices the soul’s readiness for civility, reliably heroic virtue and romantic love. Today’s aspiring Knights understand this, as their quests lead them on their journeys of self-discovery and development.
Poets articulated what the warrior would experience in dealing with life and death situations, along with the requirements of justice and self-control. On top of this, they acknowledged the profound Mystery surrounding our existence. That Mystery is embedded in our conscience as well. For some this leads to religious conclusions. For others, it is a phenomenon we experience and honor but have yet to explain. That we live in this Mystery, and are therefore part of it, unites us all when we let it.
The ancient image of the Grail symbolizes both these perspectives. What Chivalry-Now calls “Grail Consciousness” is the awareness of life’s Mystery that safeguards us from complacency. The true Knight not only revels in this awareness. He or she gains strength from it as well. As every poet knows, Mystery provides an abundant reservoir of inspiration—to the soul’s delight.
Chivalry not only affirms this, it opens the door for us to experience it as well. In the distant past, this took the form of questing knights and warrior-monks, seeped in their religious context. Today, Mystery’s door waits for each of us cross to its threshold. As the Grail legends tell us, we must quest to find it first, beckoned by the call of a higher truth that we may never understand, yet always respect and seek to attain in earnest.
This is the poetry of the chivalric tradition, an essential part of what makes chivalry most human and inspiring. It comes from discovering that the paths on which we find ourselves are part of the quest already. All we need do is recognize that and participate bravely with an open heart. Failing to do so, our personal quests become sadly wasted, running their course with a lack of purpose and meaning. And deep inside, we sense that.
There is nothing mystical or magical about any of this—and yet, paradoxically, here is where we find the mysticism and magic that underlies the chivalric impulse. We need poetry’s ability to express the ineffable in order to understand that. For example:
The “Grail” represents the Mystery of existence that encapsulates truth and compassion.
The “quest” means participating in life as a learning experience directed to the development of virtue—which should be every person’s goal.
Metaphorical “dragons” exist within us as psychological impediments that must be placated or destroyed.
“Defending those in need” is the exercise of those qualities that make us most humane.
“Courteous behavior” is the natural expression of the knightly impulse.
“Humility” opens our minds to truth—and “truth” is all there is.
“Romantic love” is the reward and test of our knightly virtues.
The 12 Trusts can serve as our guide, but it is up to each of us, as warrior and poet, to bring it all to life in serving the greater good.
Remember, Knighthood is not so much a thing as an ideal worth striving for. There are no perfect Knights, just people inspired to become them. Failures come, as they always do, but for the Knight they lead away from despair to further commitment. That is what really makes them heroes, especially if no one recognizes them as such.