Brian Cleeve 1987
Originally published as part of: At the Table of the Grail
There are as many arguments about the nature of the Grail as there are about the nature of God: and none are conclusive. Here Brian Cleeve offers a new approach. There are many grails, vessels of grace, both physical and spiritual; but the most important aspect of the matter is not ‘What is the Grail?’, nor even ‘Does it exist?’. The heart of the matter is the responsibility placed upon each of us, to protect the world from the evil we bring to it. In so doing we protect ourselves, as well as our world: both are equally in peril. And if we perform our task as protectors, even while we search for the Grail, then sooner or later it will reveal its most potent message: that the Grail serves us as we serve the Grail. To receive this message we must learn the true meaning of service: a task no more easy than learning and performing the will of God.
The World’s Need
The question which I wish to ask, and attempt to answer in this essay, is whether the Grail has any importance for our everyday lives, and in order to do this I want first to consider it as an object, rather than as the subject of various legends. Did it ever have, does it still have, any material existence, and if so, what was it, or what is it? And if it ever existed materially, did it also have any spiritual significance? Finally, most vital of all aspects of the question – does it still have any significance? And not to be mysterious about it, my submission will be – with various qualifications that will become apparent as I continue – that it did exist, it still does exist, and that it has an immense, an immeasurable importance for everyone.
However, it would be foolish to pretend that anything in the nature of proof could be offered, even on the historical level. Even if perfect evidence existed, if, for example, one could produce a terracotta cup with irrefutable ‘provenance’, as art dealers express it, tracing it to the Last Supper beyond all shadow of doubt, this would not ‘prove’ it to be that Grail which by definition has a spiritual significance. All that we can hope to do, if our inclinations lie in that direction, is to examine the idea of the Grail from various angles, and make up our minds as to whether such a possibility seems at all likely. Does it fit in with other things about which we already feel greater certainty? And would it fit in with the general pattern of existence, like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle, or would it create new difficulties if we were to try to accept it, by making other desirable ideas seem impossible?
This last question can be quickly answered. The idea of the Grail fits in very well with the general run of mankind’s ideas. Most cultures have had some notion of a source of all fertility, of renewal and rebirth, whether it is a fountain of youth, or the Islands of the Blest, or a magic cauldron, or a Horn of Plenty, or a mysterious, symbolic object only to be revealed to initiates, or the potency of the king, to offer some examples out of many.
Moreover, these beliefs do not merely parallel those connected with the Grail, they sometimes converge on them, and even seem intimately connected with them, as in the case of the king’s potency as a prerequisite for the land’s fertility. Also, the relationship between the king and a magical object, essential to the Grail legends, is a widespread belief, to be found in periods and places untouched by ‘our’ Grail legends. For example, the pharaoh’s divine good fortune was considered to be intimately connected with his afterbirth, always carefully preserved at the birth of a royal prince.
Indeed, the pharaoh’s afterbirth was considered to be his ‘other self’, and was so charged with royal virtue that a mere representation of it in a piece of cloth could convey this virtue elsewhere. Such pieces of cloth were sent by the pharaoh to his distant army commanders to convey his virtue, his good fortune, to them, and bring them success in war. From which practice, so it is claimed, arose the tradition of carrying the royal standard into battle, and the mystical attachment of soldiers and sailors and even civilians to ‘the flag’. The king, the monarchy, the state – even if it is a republic – are in some inexplicable, spiritual way not only represented by the flag, but identified with it.
So to think of ‘the Grail’ as an object charged with magical, mystical significance, with the essence of royalty, and with all that royalty means in the sense of ‘right order’, of natural and spiritual well being and fertility, and as an object intimately connected, or identified, with a particular king, is not at all strange or inconsonant with the general run of human belief.
Which, of itself, proves nothing, of course, except that the Grail legend or its central idea at least, is compatible with the whole idea of kingship. Perhaps ‘the Grail’ represents for the world what the royal standard did for armies – a purveyor of good, of virtue, of strength, of Grace. Or rather, not a purveyor, for that would suggest a degree of independence, of separation between king and standard, God and Grail – but a channel, a physical means by which the royal or divine virtue might flow from its source to its desired destination.
But, from where did kings obtain their authority, their store of virtue? Only from God. The whole essence of kingship is its divine connection. The king is God’s representative, chosen by God, anointed as a sign of God’s approval and of the delegation of God’s authority. The crown itself represents a divine halo. It is therefore easy to visualize the king and his standard, or any other symbol of his royal authority, as a reflection, or a microcosm, of the relationship between God and Grail.
In the legends, the wounded Fisher King stands for no less a person than God Himself. For the traffic between king and standard is not a one-way affair. The king sends his virtue through and with the standard, but if the standard falls to the enemy, it is not simply the standard that is lost; the king himself is injured – in his authority, in his power to govern. His ‘luck’, his ‘fortune’, his kingship itself, have been injured and even crippled. Only the recovery of the standard can cure the king’s wounded majesty. Is it therefore too fanciful to suggest that if the Grail is somehow injured by opponents of God, that God may be injured? If you are a Christian this idea will not be difficult to accept, for it is part of basic Christian doctrine that when Christ, God’s representative and true self, was crucified, God was crucified in and with Him.
At which point, someone may object that it is the very existence of Christ that makes the idea of the Grail as a source of Grace unthinkable, and unnecessary. Christ, says the Christian, brought infinite Grace into the world, and was all-sufficient in this matter for ever and for everyone. There should be no need of a Grail to do the same work.
The idea that Christ brought Grace into the world for the first time – that until He came no human being could receive the Grace necessary to enter Heaven, is contradicted by the Bible itself.: Enoch ‘walked with God’ and did not ‘know death’. Elijah was taken up into Heaven and equally seems not to have tasted death. Abraham, and the Patriarchs, all knew and pleased God. Moses talked with God ‘as a man talks to a friend’. Isaiah was accepted by God as His messenger. St John the Baptist, who announced Christ’s arrival, died before the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Is one to suppose that these men, not to speak of Samuel, of Solomon, of Joseph, of Gideon, Joshua, Deborah, Heber, Ruth, Naomi, Sarah, and all the other heroes and heroines of the Old Testament, having been approved of and loved by God in their lives, were not welcomed into heaven by Him at their deaths?
If one is to believe in the concept of Divine Grace as the only means of salvation one must believe that it existed before Christ’s birth, and not simply after his death, when he ‘descended into hell’ to liberate the good men and women of the Old Testament.
What Christ did was not to bring a new thing into the world – He did not claim that He was doing so – but to bring a great increase of what already existed, which He makes clear more than once.
Allow then that Grace existed before Christ came, just as it continued to exist after He ascended into Heaven. Was there any need for a physical channel of such Grace? If there was, what was it? And did Christ’s coming do away forever with the need for it?
There are only two ways in which Grace might reach a human being: either directly from God, the source of all Grace, or indirectly through some intermediary person or means. And the almost universal opinion of Christians is that we receive Grace through some intermediary; through water at baptism, and the performance of a ceremony by a priest; through the Host at communion and the priest’s consecration of the sacrifice; through the laying on of hands at a priest’s ordination and so on. Above all, through Christ’s physical self-sacrifice on the Cross. Not that He gave each of us Grace, but that He made it available for us to receive, if in some way we are made worthy to receive it, through our own efforts or those of others, the saints, who are said to earn a surplus of Grace which can be distributed to the weaker, but still deserving, brethren.
That there is still one, central source of Grace is suggested also by the example of Nature. All energy for life on earth derives from the sun – which in turn depends on a long-ago, unimaginable cosmic event. What the sun is to material life, I beg to suggest the Grail is to spiritual life. Or else one might prefer a more homely image, and compare the Grail to a spring of water in the desert, and our world as the oasis around that spring. Grace is the ‘living water’ of that spring, and the material Grail is the basin, rocky hollow or stone fountain in which the water rises and lies waiting for us to draw from it. God has made the spring itself inexhaustible: but if the desert is to be irrigated we must make the effort to fetch the water. Which, of course, few of us are willing to do.
Christ was the chief ‘material’ intermediary between us and God during His life and at His death. He was God in the world. Would it be absurd to regard Him as a living Grail for that time? A channel through which all Divine Grace entered the world? And if that was so, might there not have been a single intermediary before He arrived to transcend it? And might He not have chosen to leave behind another such intermediary when He returned to be with God and to be God?
Indeed He tells us Himself that this was to be so. The ‘Comforter’, the Holy Spirit, was to be sent to replace Him, to remain with us always. And before you object that the Holy Spirit is not an object, is utterly immaterial, remember that Christ too was immaterial, as well as material. He was God as well as man, spirit as well as body. Is it possible that in sending the Holy Spirit, God provided It with a material body, or symbol? Just as the royal standard symbolizes the royal authority? And not only to represent it, but in a real sense to be what it symbolizes? To be the physical channel by which the Holy Spirit, God’s Grace and Life, should enter the world, as during the lifetime of Jesus it entered the world through Him? (See Ch. 6, pp. 111-28.)
In the history of God’s dealings with us, is there any object which could be regarded as performing the functions of the Grail before the birth of Christ? One object which immediately comes to mind is The Ark of the Covenant. And following the Ark of the Covenant, there is the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple, or possibly some object within the Holy of Holies, such as the altar stone. (And it will not escape anyone that in some of the legends we are concerned with the Grail is described as a stone.)
The Grail legends themselves offer no single image of the Grail; it is dish, cup, stone, mysterious, unidentifiable abstraction – with pagan echoes of magic cauldrons and even of severed heads that talk and feast with the living. Or else it is the cup of the Last Supper, or Christ’s blood in the cup, or in a phial.
Either the various legends have no real connection one with another, or they do indeed refer to the same ‘reality’ but for some reason disagree about its description. Or else that ‘reality’ varies, so that now the Grail is one object and now another. For our present purpose I suggest that ‘our’ material Grail was indeed the cup of the Last Supper, and that the confusion about its nature in the various poems and legends concerning it and its story arose in the main from the secrecy that surrounded it. I suggest too, as I have written elsewhere,that the cup was brought to England, not by the Joseph of Arimathea who helped to bury Jesus, but by his son, also called Joseph, who was a companion of John the Evangelist on Patmos, and to whom John gave the cup.
The cup was eventually brought to Wales, and guarded there by an Order of Knights, whose initiation rituals and ordeals underlie the legends of the ‘Grail Quest’. When this Order disbanded, some account of its existence, and of the Grail, found its way into European poetry through the work of the Normanized Welsh poet and prince, Bledri ap Cadivor, identified by J. L. Weston and others with the Bleheris of Wauchier de Denain’s continuation of Perceval and with Master Blihis of the Elucidation etc., who had been a member of the Order. The Grail itself survived, still in secret, and guarded not by a new Order of Knights but by a single family, whose descendants kept it safe from discovery or injury until recent times.
Once in every succeeding century the Grail was removed from its hiding place for a few hours, to be used in a centennial Mass, whose purpose was to release into the world that store of Grace which had been accumulated by the efforts of the good. Otherwise it remained hidden. The actual cup of the Last Supper was not an expensive or luxurious object. It was a cheap terracotta krater of what we think of as Greek design, more like a deep saucer with two handles than our conception of a cup; coarsely decorated, bought in a bazaar in Capernaum for a few coppers. But for such an object to survive unbroken for almost two thousand years, unless it was safely buried for almost all of them, would be next to impossible. So that at the end of its stay in Glastonbury it was encased in gold, as the precious relic it was, and the form the golden reliquary took was that of a chalice. Thereafter, in order to use it there was no need to take it out of its reliquary. It remained like that, hidden from view in its sheath of heavy gold, from that day until early in this century.
Yet if it was physically hidden, its spiritual reality still needed protection. Just as each of us must earn our Grace, so all of us must protect our source of Grace – by the volume and intensity of our united efforts to obtain it.
For those who insist on the all-sufficiency of Christ in this regard there is an answer in the Gospels. He did not say, ‘I have done all that is necessary, take your ease.’ He said ‘Take up your Cross.’ He said ‘Hard is the way’ and ‘Many are called but few are chosen.’ He made it abundantly clear that we must make tremendous efforts if we are to reach God. But for His intercession, but for God’s mercy, even those efforts would be unavailing. But without those efforts, we are warned specifically that the Gates of Heaven will be closed against us. Therefore the concept that we must ourselves protect the Grail, protect our own source or channel of Grace should offend no one.
And, of course, the Grail is not solely a Christian reality. It serves the whole of humanity, and its protection is the duty of all that part of humanity that desires to obey and serve God. The good Moslem, the good Hindu, the good Jew, the good agnostic – for that matter the good atheist, however unwittingly – are among the protectors of the Grail. Just as the bad Christians are among its enemies.
Accepting that goodness in Christ’s sense of the word is a rare thing, requiring a life of self-sacrifice, but that it is essential if the Grail is to be protected, the Grail’s situation becomes precarious. I suggested just now that it could be compared to a spring of water and the stone fountain in which the water gathers. The oasis that surrounds it depends for its existence on the spring. But the spring in turn depends on the oasis for its protection. If the oasis were to be neglected, if its trees were not watered and its grass tended, they would die. The desert would take over, the sand would invade the fountain and choke the spring.
Imagine now that that oasis was first created by a king, who had the well dug, the basin made out of marble, the trees and grass planted, all for the benefit of a tribe of desert nomads whose lives were in peril for lack of water. ‘Here’, said the king, ‘is life for you. Without me, you could not have created this oasis, because you did not know how. Now it exists, look after it. There is all the water here you can possibly desire. All you need do is come with your water skins to collect it and carry it away, the stronger collecting more to help the weaker and the helpless. And of course you must not pollute the spring with filth, nor allow anyone to cut down the trees for firewood. And you must water the trees and the grass, and maintain the stone wall round the oasis to keep out the sand. Now be happy.’
Unfortunately, being human, most of the tribesmen did nothing of the kind. Few of them would do anything but what was essential for their own survival. So that the oasis grew more and more neglected, the surrounding wall crumbled, the outermost trees withered, the grass grew trampled and brown, filth littered the approaches to the spring, and only the heroic efforts of a few kept things from catastrophe. Day by day the possibility increased that even their efforts would fail, while the many shrugged their shoulders and laughed, saying, ‘If this oasis fails, the king will dig us another well and plant more trees for us. It’s his job.’ But it is not His job. It is ours.
And this is our situation now. The threat has always been there, from the beginning, but it is in the last two centuries that the threat has become mortal. Evil has always existed in the world, and obtained entry for more evil, but in these last centuries the river of evil has become a flood. And just as the source of our Grace, the channel and means of it entering our world is the Grail, so the physical means of evil entering our world is the Black Grail, the Grail’s counterpart.
To describe the Black Grail, its origin and management, the people who control it and are controlled by it, and the exact use they make of it, would require another essay as long as this one. Here I can only say that it exists. Those who control it are far more numerous and in a worldly sense far more powerful than those concerned with the True Grail – as one might expect. And for the past hundred years, once their power had grown sufficient, their main concern has been to obtain control over the True Grail, and destroy it.
Evil, you may say, cannot destroy good. Indeed. But good must be created. As has been said, goodness, true, real goodness, is a rare commodity. If we do not create enough of it to protect the Grail, the Grail, as an object, can be approached and captured by evil. The spirit that gives the Grail its meaning would simply withdraw, as the water withdraws from a choked well. The Grail, from the world’s point of view, would cease to exist. And that is the purpose and hope of the evil men who desire to destroy it.
In the late 1880s a number of relevant events were occurring. Various powerful movements dedicated to evil were taking shape and gaining influence. Among them was an apparently insignificant one in London whose declared object was to study mystical systems and practise them. Its true purpose was to obtain and destroy the Grail, at that time hidden in a castle in Wales and guarded by the descendant of the original family of guardians. But this ‘guardianship’ was of the most nominal kind, mere physical ownership and responsibility. An elderly gentleman who owns a precious object must be said to be its ‘guardian’, but he cannot hope to guard it in fact against determined enemies. For that he must have help.
Therefore a small company of individuals was formed to give the Grail physical protection, a thing not thought necessary before that moment for several centuries. Secrecy had been regarded as a better protection, for among a number of protectors there is always the danger of including a fool or a betrayer. But in 1889 the matter was urgent. The moment was almost due when the centennial Mass needed to be enacted, the Grail would have to be taken from its hiding place and used. It would be at its most vulnerable. A castle in Wales is not impregnable in the absence of a permanent garrison. The decision was taken to remove the Grail to London, where its protectors could come and go without causing local comment as they could not hope to do in a remote corner of Wales.
In London the essential Mass was celebrated, and there the Grail remained for several years. But eventually the new hiding place of the Grail was betrayed. The Grail, the physical object, of gold and terracotta, was stolen, together with two other chalices, one of silver gilt, the other of silver, a large ceremonial cross for carrying in procession, and three silver book covers for copies of the Gospels. All these dated from the third to the seventh centuries, and had been accumulated at Glastonbury, or in Wales after the Grail’s removal there. They were used in ceremonies in conjunction with the Grail, and had received some of its virtue, so that it is proper to speak of them as subsidiary Grails. (Indeed, there are a number of subsidiary Grails elsewhere in the world, under appropriate guardianship, a matter needing further discussion in a moment.)
These particular subsidiary Grails were brought to London by their guardian, with the True Grail, and stolen with it by the Grail’s enemies in 1908. Having been desecrated, all the secondary objects were brought to Syria by their new owner, and there they were re-stolen and appeared on the antiquities market in 1910. One of the chalices, now known as the Antioch Chalice, may be seen in the Cloisters Collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. What had been the True Grail, or rather its gold reliquary, was melted down, and the Cup smashed, in a final act of desecration.
The purpose of the men who stole the physical Grail was to say a Black Mass with it, and obtain by that means the immense, the incontestable power in the world that they sought. The First World War was approaching. Hitler, born in 1889, not by any coincidence, was growing to manhood, and to an age when he could be of use to those determined to control him. Many other factors calculated to give ultimate power to evil were coinciding. The desecration, the destruction of the Grail by means of a Black Mass, the accompanying and consequent triumph of the Black Grail, would set the seal on these events and on the total victory of evil. And much of what the new possessors of the Grail – or of its physical symbol rather- hoped would happen did happen and has continued to happen, and anyone who reads the newspapers can judge the results, whether or not he agrees with this brief summary of the causes.
But the achievement of those who obtained the Grail was not as complete as they had imagined it would be, for the ‘flow’ of evil into the world cannot be stimulated by mechanical means, any more than the flow of Grace. Both must be earned, Grace by serving God, evil by serving Satan. To imagine that conjuring tricks and magical formulae, however blasphemous, can ‘summon’ evil spirits, or control them when they appear, is simply naive. Nothing that the members of the group of ‘magical adepts’ could do with the Grail would have much positive effect on the flow of evil into our world. Their real effect was negative, or threatened to be so, in cutting off the source of Grace from those who desired it and could earn it. And this, of course, was the sole expectation of the much greater servants of evil who had inspired and directed the group of magicians, allowing its members to delude themselves with dreams of immediate sinister glory.
But even this expectation was not completely fulfilled, for God’s mercy is infinite, and while He allowed the physical Grail to be misused and desecrated, He allowed the spiritual Grail, the reality of the Grail to remain, and even to return to its place of safe-keeping in Wales. For a spiritual reality, lacking a physical body, can be absolutely without form, mass or appearance, absolutely independent of place and time, as God is. Equally it can, and often must, assume some degree of corporeality, if it is to serve God in time and space. A great example is the series of apparitions of the Virgin at Fatima, in 1917. There, She not only took on a visible form and appearance, that three children could see and two could hear, but She clearly had some degree of physicality for the time of the apparitions. The pressure of Her feet, for example, bent the topmost twigs of the small oak tree above which She appeared, and although She Herself remained invisible to all except the three children, the crowds saw the twigs bending under Her slight weight.
One has in these apparitions parallels to the nature of the Grail that are very instructive. First of all, Her visibility was conditional on the state of mind and spirit of those to whom She appeared. At first the little boy Francisco was unable to see or hear Her, and was mystified by the actions of his sister and his cousin. When he obeyed the instruction to recite his Rosary he was able to see Her, but still unable to hear Her. Later, those who came to the Cova da Iria on the appropriate days saw the effects of Our Lady’s presence, without being able to see Her. They could also hear the sound of Her speaking without being able to distinguish the words, which the two little girls heard very clearly.
We therefore have the concept of a spirit capable of being visible to some onlookers, yet invisible to others; audible to some, inaudible to others, and barely audible, ‘like the sound of insects buzzing’ to yet others. And all the time detectably there by the physical effects of Her presence, in much the same way that a breeze is invisible yet detectable by its physical effects.
The parallels with some descriptions of the Grail are too obvious to need underlining. And it is clear that even before the theft of the physical Grail, its effect on those who sought it and found it varied enormously according to their spiritual state. While some would have seen merely an antique gold cup, others would have been blinded by its reality and carried up to a spiritual level where its physical appearance was irrelevant. Those who saw it would have seen what they were fit to see, and of course not many people saw it at all, in any form.
One can pursue this idea of the dual or multiple nature of the Grail in many ways, as I have already attempted to do throughout this essay. Just as abstract monarchy has its physical representative in the king, and the king can be represented by his royal standard, so the papacy has its representative in the living pope. The pope can be represented by his ring, his tiara, or by the granting of papal indulgence, These things can, under certain circumstances, convey his intentions, bring Grace from him to the receiver. In the same manner the devout Moslem, who believes that there is only one God, who is everywhere, also believes that Makkah (Mecca), the physical city, has an especial Grace about it. And within Makkah (Mecca) for the Moslem, the Kaaba, the sacred black stone, is the Grail. Allah’s virtue dwells in it, and flows from it. Yet a well-instructed Moslem would no more believe that Allah’s virtue in the world, Allah’s Grace, depended on the continued existence of a black stone, than we need to believe that God’s continued Grace in the world depends on the existence of a terracotta cup within a gold chalice. At the same time, we are physical beings, as well as spiritual ones, and we are not capable of receiving Grace directly from God, any more than we are capable of looking at God’s glory with our physical eyes, or withstanding the fire of God’s love with our physical bodies. Just as the force of electricity needs a transformer before it can be harnessed for domestic use, so the power of God needs to be diminished and in some way ‘insulated’, before we can benefit from it. Without that insulation, that physical transformer, we would receive death rather than life from the impact of God’s Grace. We are fallen creatures, and need protection even from God’s mercy. As was said earlier, we need the water of baptism, the oil of Chrism, the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Even the apostles needed tongues of fire to convey the Holy Spirit to them. Christ Himself needed the water of baptism and the dove. And, as we needed Christ, God become the living man, so we need the Grail, His representative, in its two forms, spiritual reality and physical embodiment.
But, as I have said, that physical embodiment is gone, although the spiritual reality is still localized in a non-physical ‘psychical’ form. It is as if, to return to our image of the spring and fountain in the oasis, the stone basin had been broken and destroyed. In such a case it would clearly be much harder to gather water from the spring. The oasis would be far more at risk. The spring far easier to choke with debris and filth and sand. One might easily judge the days of the oasis, and of those who depend on it, to be numbered. Evil is very close to a final triumph as far as this world is concerned. The most commonsensible materialist would agree that the risks to our planet and our existence on it are now so great that our chances of long survival are slender. Over-population, pollution, chemical poisoning, nuclear poisoning, not to speak of nuclear warfare, famine, climate changes, the exhaustion of essential resources, and a dozen other global threats, have become familiar to everyone. And familiarity has bred, if not contempt, a resigned indifference.
But for the spiritually minded the threats go far beyond physical destruction. Every man and woman must die, and whether one does so in a day of general holocaust accompanied in death by billions, or alone in bed, the result is the same – one’s individual judgment, condemnation or salvation. The real triumph of evil consists not in bringing the world’s billions to the point where all of them may die within a brief period – but in bringing them to that brink unrepentant, uncaring about God, disbelieving in the necessity of salvation, or of any effort to obey God, and worse still, utterly complacent in their mortal danger. Even among those comparative few who believe in God, the comfortable certainty has been instilled by false teachers that no effort is required from them, no sacrifice, no devotion, no attempt at sanctity.
We have been allowed to believe that Heaven is like the National Health Service; that everyone has a right to it. That God is like an overworked National Health Doctor, obliged to give us ‘sick notes’, to let us off work, and to excuse us for everything. And it is in this complacency that the most exquisite triumph of evil exists. We have reached such a pass that the very word evil is taboo, the idea of Hell is laughed at as medieval superstition, the existence of evil spirits is considered unworthy of discussion. Progressing still further in the search for ecumenism, tolerance, broad-mindedness, an accommodation with non-believers, a theology ‘acceptable to modern man’, many priests have abandoned belief in the Resurrection. Some have even abandoned belief in God. They cough apologetically when obliged to mention such words and look knowingly superior. To talk to them of the war between good and evil would be to bewilder them. They would explain patiently that such subjective terms have no meaning; that for post-Freudian man…
But the war between good and evil exists, and the Grail is at its centre. One might visualize it in medieval, heroic terms, a standard set on a little hill, defended by a battered and wounded few, thick beset by a swarming, ever reinforced and superbly equipped enemy. The danger of such William Morris word pictures is that they make the reality seem unreal. The true picture is in the newspapers and on our television screens every day, in our own lives every day. And we are not bystanders. We are part of the battle, however unwillingly, however unknowingly. Everything we do, everything we say, every thought we dwell on, plays its part in the warfare, on one side or the other. And all too often the side on which we find ourselves, however unwittingly, however little we might believe it, is that of evil. It is not only the Hitlers and Stalins, the Idi Amins and Pol Pots and Somozas who serve evil. It may be you and I.
And the Grail? That is what each one of us must find. And when we have found it, we must defend it, to the death, and beyond.
How? By being good. By becoming perfect, as the Gospels command us to do. Be ye perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect. It is not a question of doing good. Few of us know how to. Before one can do, one must become. Really to do good is to affect others by one’s own goodness. To act as a lit candle in a dark place. A lamp does not do anything. Yet without it, no one else can see to do anything at all in the darkness. And this type of radiant goodness is so rare as to be rightly called sanctity, holiness.
The Jews have a belief in ten just men, whose holiness protects the world. Mohammedans believe in the hidden Imam. Our ancestors believed that Arthur and his knights lay sleeping in a cave, ready to save the world in a crisis. And these legends contain a truth. The world needs its hidden holy ones, to save it from itself, and never more than now. They draw their strength from what is left of the Grail, and give their strength to us. In a true sense they are one with the Grail. For as I said earlier, the Grail has its subsidiaries, as a spring may have many outlets for its water. Some of those subsidiaries are physical. Some are human. And no one could have a higher earthly ambition than to become one of these Holy Ones; to find the Grail, to enter into it, to serve it, and by serving it to serve mankind, and God. The quest leads to what St Teresa of Avila called the Interior Castle, at whose heart the Grail lies.
1 In The Seven Mansions, London and Dulverton, Watkins, 1980.
2 Edward Owen, Cymmrodorion Society, in papers for the Society, and in Revue Celtique, 1911, ‘A note on the identificahon of Bleheris’. Also J. L. Weston, The Quest of the Holy Grud, G. Bell & Sons, 1913, and From Ritual to Romance, Cambridge University Press, and New York, Doubleday/Anchor Books, 1957.