Quest for the Holy Grail represents the spiritual side of chivalry.
grail itself, even as it appears in fiction, is not easy to define.
Its roots are found in many different cultures and from many different
places. This makes it a universal archetype, underscoring its universal
relevance. It is worth the trouble of discovering.
has been portrayed as a platter, a stone, a jewel, but most often
as a cup. The Christian version asserts that it is the cup of the
Last Supper, brought to either England or France by Joseph of
Arimethea. Legend has it, that this cup preserved the actual
blood of Jesus.
another rendition claims it was not the blood of Jesus, but his
bloodline that the grail carried, the grail being Jesus' supposed
wife, Mary of Magdalene.
power of the grail, even today, comes from its obscurity. Not clearly
defined, yet drawing its appeal from scores of ancient references,
it is capable of symbolizing the very real mystery of life, and
of existence itself.
details of the stories cannot be recounted in a short article like
this. For one thing, they differ from one another significantly.
of the more popular renditions has the Holy Grail appearing before
the Knights of the Round Table one Pentecost. It appears
in a beam of light but is covered by a veil. It rewards the brave
knights with the food of their preference, and then disappears.
knights are amazed, but realize that the vision was veiled because
they were not worthy to see it directly. Almost to a man, they commit
themselves to a quest to find the Holy Grail and see it unveiled.
It was during this quest that they would have to prove themselves
spiritually worthy. The next day, each of them took leave of his
mistress or wife and headed out alone to face the wild forest of
three achieved their goal, they being Sirs Galahad, Perceval
and Bors. Lancelot did his best, but was allowed only
to approach the door to the room where the Holy Grail was being
of these "grail knights" had to face serious challenges
during their quest. Demons tempted them. Deciding the right action
under duress challenged their chivalry. Dreams haunted their sleep
with lessons they had to learn. Hermits guided them through spiritual
dilemmas. Many met and fought among themselves. A number of them
story represents our own encounter with the mystery of life that
usually occurs during our teenage years. We might see its suggestion
of timelessness in a beautiful scene of nature. It moves us to the
core. Unfortunately, we cannot understand it. Our understanding
is veiled. We may be frightened enough to turn away from the memory.
Or we might appreciate it, and then place it aside as too indefinable
to have significant meaning. Or, if we are fortunate, we accept
its significance, and like the grail knights, dedicate our lives
to finding it again again, only this time unveiled, to understand
its profound mystery. From that point on, our experiences in life
contribute to our quest.
popular version describes the quest of a young knight named Perceval.
He was a guest of the Grail King, a man who had long suffered from
a serious injury to his manhood. During feast, Perceval witnesses
a strange procession walk through the hall, young virgins holding
such implements as candelabras, a platter, a spear the bled of its
own accord, and a cup that glowed with light.
the situation was that the Grail King would be healed if Perceval
asked a certain question. Trying not to be rude, Perceval held back
his natural curiosity, and said nothing.
time later, he learned what had been expected of his, and realized
that he had failed the Grail King, whose serious wound might have
been healed. Feeling terrible, he dedicated himself to finding the
Grail Castle again and asking the right question. After a number
of adventures, he does just that and the Grail King is healed.
are a number of lessons to be learned from this story that I will
not get into here. One of the most interesting, however, is that
the hero (Perceval) achieves his final quest not by answering a
riddle or performing some great deed, but by asking a question.
questions are either a simple "What ails thee, Uncle?"
or "What is the secret of the grail? Whom does it serve?"
answer is not as important as the inquiring mind that asks the question.
Here we find the central element of Western philosophy, encompassing
individuality, freedom, compassion, curiosity, and good will. It
defines the personal goal of who we are as men. The ultimate achievement
of life has nothing to do with power or riches or prestige. It has
to do with the quality of who we are as people.
what of the grail itself?
Removing it from its several religious
connotations, the grail represents the visible manifestation of
the emptiness which it contains. This emptiness, in fact, is the
mystery of existence: that all the universe and the life within
it came from nothingwhich we are all still part of. This is
the essence of the mystical experience which we all partake in at
some point or points in our lives. This is the religious experience
which enthralled the prophets and the saints; the nirvana of the
Buddhist; the Valley Spirit of the Taoist; the Suni's whispering
of the reeds; and yes, the existential fascination of the philosopher
and scientist. It is real, but elusive. It offers true answers to
the mysteries of life, but not with words. We are connected to it
through the grail inside us, the conscious emptiness which flows
beneath our thinking minds, making thought and self-awareness possible.
we find the grail and see it for what it is (as much as possible,
we become reconnected to the source of our own being. We uncover
the most sublime spiritual attribute there is: an affirmation of
self from outside ourselvesand from inside as well.
final lesson of the grail is this: there is a grand mystery to life
that calls for our awareness and participation, and therein lies
our fulfillment of life. We are part of it, and should live our
lives accordingly. There are special moments when this mystery confronts
us directly. Instead of turning away, we should embrace these experiences
as something meaningful and apply them to our understanding of life.
is then that life expresses itself as a Quest for the Holy Grail.
Our every experience, no matter how mundane, becomes a spiritual
lesson. In such a quest, our every action is judged by our dedication
to truth, either adding to or subtracting from our spiritual growth.
experience does not have to be seen as something religious. We all
experience it. As a matter of fact, those who see the mystery but
do not describe it in religious terms probably gain a more disciplined
understanding than those who do.
questions then change to the more practical:
do you do with the secret of the grail?
Whom do you serve?
also: Grail Consciousness