Searching for the holy grail
Searching for the holy grail

Our journey throu life presents each of us with paradoxes, and sometimes the only reward for solving one is to see that it masked a larger one. Recognising this, the ancient spiritual traditions of the Eastern Mediterranean have sought to tempt people along the path to self-realisation by tantalising them with metaphors and riddles, whose purpose was not so much to give a direct answer as to educate the enquirer in subtle thought-patterns of perennial wisdom. The Grail legend appears to come from this source. However it arrived, it quickly took root in European thought and for nearly a millennium has continued to fascinate successive generations – surfacing yet again this year in the form of Spamalot!

The Grail Legend was written by Emma Jung & Marie-Louise von Franz in the first half of the 20thC is a dense yet exciting analysis of the psychology and symbolism of the differing versions. Wishing to absorb its message more deeply myself as well as explore its relevance to the present era I’ve selected a few passages and amplified some of the ideas in way that I hope makes its insights clearer to those without a Jungian background.

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John Berger says that story-telling opens up an alternate reality beyond the physical circumstances shared by the audience – in a future, or in a past ‘that is still attentive, or maybe somewhere over the hill, where the day’s luck has changed […] so that the last have become first.’ In an article Poetry Review he writes: ‘The time within a story is not linear. The living and the dead meet as listeners and judges within this time, and the greater the number of listeners felt to be there, the more intimate the story becomes to each listener. Stories are one way of sharing the belief that justice is imminent.’ [1]

Berger could be describing the perennial appeal of Robin Hood … or the Grail legend which has come down to us from around the same time. In the former the issue is Justice, while in the latter it is more the search for integration. What do these both signify? Perhaps we mean ‘circularity’, traveling around the ellipse or broken circle of in-justice to restore unity, the equilibrium of wholeness? As a one-time Marxist Berger might not like the word God – but to an age before the miracles of mass-production dulled our sense of the miraculous, ‘God’ was the portmanteau word in which everyone dumped their ‘belief that justice is imminent.’

Less-technological cultures find it easier to stay in contact with the idea of an ultimate rightness, the metaphysical equivalent as-it-were of an underground current which guides each individual on an optimal life path. Nowadays, in the absence (or corruption) of the word God, Westerners are left with a void where previous ages have seemed to possess a ‘true north’. Yet a fundamental distinction still exists between a person of faith and a person without faith. Faith offers a counter-weight not just to balance the flakier aspects of life experience but also a transpersonal perspective for weighing these against an experiential record that has stood the test of time. Ultimately, with faith we affirm that universe is not a neutral environment, but one which responds to observation, as subatomic physics confirms. Whether we call this ‘circularity’, a ‘belief that justice is imminent’ or ‘God’ matters less than the use we make of its capacity to propagate virtuous spirals.

The Grail Legend [published in German in 1960[2]] was the lifelong study of CG Jung’s wife Emma. For 40 years she assiduously assembled reference material and alternative versions of the text, but died with the manuscript in its infancy. Editing and completing The Grail Legend fell to the ever-insightful Marie-Louise von Franz. The book is an exploration of the psychological meaning of the mythology surrounding the idea of ‘the holy grail’, the reasons why it exerted such a tremendous power over mediæval Christendom, and why its resonances remain powerful even today.

The authors believe that, like the Masonic ‘craft’ or the non-sectarian traditions of perennial wisdom, the Grail legend speaks of a supplementary aspect of spirituality which is suppressed by orthodox Christianity – one which needs to be integrated for the achievement of personal and collective wholeness, which Jungians call ‘individuation’. Most of the narrative focuses on Perceval as the questor – his name perhaps signifying one acquiring perception – but, confusingly, it also features his alter ego Gauvain /Gawain, as here:

In the chapter Gauvain’s Adventures we encounter a situation where a … ‘brother of Christ’ has been murdered by the destructive shadow of Christian consciousness, that is, by the materialistic rationalism engendered by this consciousness and its wrongly directed thinking. The bewitched land is the realm of the soul, which suffers under this event and impatiently looks for redemption.
[Gauvain’s Adventures, p249]

The whole book is an attempt to decode the underlying riddle. What is the murderous shadow of Christian consciousness – how has it arisen, what does it signify, and what is required for its resolution? That is to say, how is this shadow to be understood and integrated into collective consciousness, so that its psycho-dynamic no longer declares war on us; and so that it, and we, are healed? Von Franz introduces the subject:

THE GRAIL LEGEND … is known to everyone, at least in its general outlines. A mysterious, life-preserving and sustenance-dispensing object or vessel is guarded by a King[3] in a castle that is difficult to find. The King is either lame or sick and the surrounding country is devastated. The King can only be restored to health if a knight of conspicuous excellence finds the castle and at the first sight of what he sees there asks a certain question. Should he neglect to put this question, then everything will remain as before, the castle will vanish and the knight will have to set out once more upon the search.

It often happens that a window opens in the searcher’s world, in response to the energy s/he puts into the search, throu which s/he may, if s/he has the courage, step and experience profound change. But, as each of us instinctively knows, this will involve an exchange where we surrender much of our ego-identity and that is not only scary, it demands real faith that what we profoundly desire does indeed await us on the other side. And we can fumble the catch: hesitate too long, allow our fears of dis-integration to overwhelm us, cling to people /jobs /status –or simply fail to see what is offered– so that the window clicks shut, and we’re left still where we no longer wished to be.

Should [the knight] finally succeed, after much wandering and many adventures, in finding the Grail Castle again, and should he then ask the question, the King will be restored to health, the land will begin to grow green, and the hero will become the guardian of the Grail from that time on.

So runs the story in its barest outline. It is one of those fairy-tales of which there are many, in which the search for a ‘treasure hard to attain’ and deliverance from a magic spell form the principal themes. What is of special interest about the Grail story, however, is that the fairy-tale is interwoven with a Christian legend. and the treasure that must be sought for is thought to be the vessel in which Joseph of Arimathea received the blood of Christ at the Descent from the Cross. This blend of fairy-tale and legend gives the Grail stories their peculiar character, for through these stories the ‘eternal’ fairy-tale enters, as it were, the realm of the temporal drama of the Christian æon and thus reflects not only fundamental human problems but also the dramatic psychic events which form the background of our Christian culture.

… Remember the opening point made by John Berger that time is not linear? We all know, at some level or another, that the itinerant mystic Joshua (Yossi in Hebrew, Jesus to us) exists in contra-distinction to The Church which claims his patronage. He is the authentic green man,[4] who can never be trapped by stone, nor fettered by iron … and yet whose absent image is everywhere imprisoned in buildings designed to assert his presence … and that the proprietors of these buildings, by virtue of their ‘establishment’, have at some time or other partnered almost every action he explicitly condemned.[5] The non-linearity of time manifests here in that if Christ’s energy is to be accessed personally it has to be in the teeth of an institution which claims to perpetuate his memory. This central paradox of the Western world must already have been visible at some level to those who first saw the numen latent in the Grail legend as the Church Militant was entering its heyday.

We are indebted to the poet of northern France, Chretien de Troyes, for one of the oldest literary compilations known to us today, which he may have begun about 1180. […] As if a subterranean watercourse had been tapped […] a great number of different adaptations of the same material was produced in quick succession, not only in French but in German, English, Welsh, Spanish and the northern languages. [Yet] After the first two decades of the 13thC scarcely any new versions of note were produced …    

As the influence of the Renaissance and the later rise of The Enlightenment progressively weakened The Church’s asserted monopoly over superstition, so the power of the Grail legend faltered. Yet in the late 18thC, as early-modern scientific consciousness was forming, it is fascinating to find the gothick shadow world reasserting itself in contradistinction to the rationalistic age of Kant and scientific experimentation.[6] Visiting the Gothic Nightmares exhibition (2006) I was intrigued that as early as 1783 the progenitor of gothick art Henry Fuseli was explicitly painting the Grail legend. The gathering pace of interest in the succeeding century giving rise to Wagner’s Parsifal, the investment of sacredness in the Isle of Avalon by Dion Fortune and others in the early 20thC. In the present day we have the phenomenon of The Da Vinci Code – and now, Spamalot, the musical!

As I was concluding this writing I became aware of Julia Kristeva’s idea of abjection, that we all are in some way attracted to what repels us. It offers a useful shorthand for some of these concepts & seems (to me) to follow the (unacknowledged) lead of Georges Bataille (1897-1962) who described himself as a mystic in exploring the experiential links between ideas of sexuality and ideas of death.[7]


To follow the twists of the narrative, or summarise the complexity of von Franz’s exegesis, is impossible. What I am seeking to do, by way of personal appreciation, is to outline a picture of the psychological significance of the story in the hope that non-specialist readers will see how the interplay of ideas is as relevant to the evolution of our post-Christian culture today as it was to the heyday of mediæval Christendom. For the central problem remains that we are no better than our forefathers at seeing the destructive shadow aspects of our noble ideals. Perhaps it always was /always will be true that finding the way to the heart of our personal labyrinth/s,[8] to that integrated wisdom we all contain, involves challenging the conventional wisdom of the age. What is different about the present day as that since the 1970s we Westerners no longer configure that search within the ‘Christian’ parameters which were still part of the subconscious ‘furniture’ even for Marie-Louise von Franz’s generation. But, and here we are brought back to the Grail, we have yet to evolve an effective alternative language for this search. Consider this parallel with the present day:

Psychologically, the dead man [in the story] can be looked upon as the part of psychic life which is not taken into consideration in the Christian collective attitude of consciousness and which has therefore been weakened and is attacked by a ‘traitor.’ The manner in which the knight is laid out, between four gold and silver pillars, with four censers, marks the dead man as an aspect of the [ideal] Self. […] The dead knight is the object on which the sword of traditional thinking is shattered. He is therefore the paradoxical Anthropos [earthy man] which one-sided Christian thinking, by granting reality only to the light aspect of the Self in Christ, cannot understand. The ‘traitor’, however, is the person who, for the sake of this incomplete aspect of the Christian symbol of totality, is willing to murder the essentially paradoxical personification of wholeness, the [earthy] brother of the Christian attitude – just as today materialists and apostles of enlightenment jettison the whole soul of man and its living possibility of development along with the symbol of Christ.
[Gauvain’s Adventures, p247]

Essentially the narrative is about our unrecognized ‘other’, the search for inner balance &/or the source of our blindness. What that is, who that is is itself part of the tension of the narrative as it slowly unravels. The main protagonist Perceval [Parsifal] is refered to as a ‘holy fool’ or honourable dunderhead.[9] He e–presses the consciousness of someone beginning to strive for self-realisation, who is at that stage where he is still unaware of the ultimate character of his search. Much of the central section of the narrative concerns the fact that after starting out on his quest Perceval[10] has beginners’ luck in discovering The Grail Castle and being allowed to enter and be served by the mysterious cornucopia which is the Grail.

A relationship with this unfailing inner resource is, as he will later discover, one of the goals of his quest. But it has fallen into his lap prematurely, and thus is not valued by him, since he has not yet been given the conte–tual awareness by his life lessons, ie suffering, for perceiving its true value. Failing to enquire into the nature of the Grail when it was present -which, he later discovers, is everyonelse’s key question to him- Perceval is taught that taking anything for granted is synonymous with failing to perceive the latency of (its) numen – conversely, the perception of numinosity in (all) created matter is itself the mysterious cornucopia symbolized by the Grail.


A concept which appears a lot in this book is that of enantiodromia, the process by which something turns into its opposite – as per the mainstream churches, or the instance of someone who has been a victim acquiring power and turning into a persecutor. Thus …

When consciousness is incapable either of grasping or knowingly integrating a spontaneously emerging impulse (a lance) or content (the enemy throwing it), the individual will instead be unconsciously possessed by it. This e–plains the demonic nature of the wounded [Fisher] King hinted at in many versions,[11] which is also e–pressed in his role of ‘Lord of the Fairies & Magicians.’ At the same time it should not be overlooked that in germanic mythology, Wotan is the Lord of Love and of all swan maidens and water ni–ies. He is a dark ‘father of the anima,’ ie a spirit that rules over the world of Eros and seeks his positive & negative expression in ecstasy, demonism & the dark compulsiveness of the instincts. This the dark spirit of nature, standing in opposition to the one-sidedness of Christianity, has assailed and crippled the King.
[The Suffering Grail King, p210]

This seems to me to be the heart of the teaching in the book, an instinctive perception, dramatised in a circuitous and dreamlike narrative, that indviduation demands the embrace of opposites: not merely the reconciliation of sexuality and spirituality (challenging as these issues are for the heirs of the christian West), but the fusion of what is most antithetical with what is most cherished. The titular claim of Roman Christianity to ‘catholicism’, ie being all-embracing, was approaching the zenith of its power in the 12thC – yet as von Franz makes clear it could only do this by demonising not just Eros, but all womankind to whom that is a natural arena within which to encounter wholeness throu (internalised) union – as opposed to the masculine attitudes to Eros where (e–ternalised) projection of & onto the beloved are also characteristic of the Church’s perception of a relationship with the (inner) divine. She writes:

Psychologically [the ass] is connected with the demon of sexuality in which the shadow and the dark and animal side of the divine are especially conspicuous. This dark background to Eros was, however, very largely repressed by Christian man and for those reasons, […] turned into a dangerous opponent.
[The Suffering Grail King, p206]

History, as we know, is written by the victors. But the evidence of this battle is not in the official phallocratic language of Church and Court but in narratives such as the Grail legend, which clearly show the forces being repressed. The extraordinary success of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code indicates, amongst other things, not just the hunger for an ‘explanation’ (however far-fetched) of the stern-faced repression of the feminine which remains integral to orthodo– Christian thinking, but perhaps also an instinctive response to the mystery of fundamentalist faith, which is at once so present within, and yet so alien to, consumerist culture.


Observe the parallels with the contemporary demonisation of pædophiles:

That the witch-madness should have begun precisely at the height of the Christian Middle Ages is certainly not without significance […] A too intense and one-sided spiritualization and the fact that only the collective and light aspects of the feminine found e–pression the Cult of the Virgin animated a dark feminine side and endowed it with a dangerously demonic quality …
[The Suffering Grail King, p201]

The difference today is that the dichotomy is not between spiritualization and its antithesis, but between ‘mentalization’ (the power of the masculine mind-set to project and control by artificial intelligence systems, mass production and state economic power) versus the emotional needs of balanced human beings. And what is consumer pornography e–cept an e–tension of this concept of the projection and control of women by men – even when, increasingly today, women are the producers?[12] In this conte–t pædophiles are a convenient tabloid scapegoat for precisely those goatish aspects of male libido which they make their living by arousing.

Today the narrative of post-Christian society’s unresolved conflict with Eros is also visible, by a bizarre similarity, not in any public discussion in the contemporary media but in the attempt to maintain puritanical attitudes of ‘public taste’ in tv and advertising and in the e–pectations placed on public figures, school teachers in particular, while the parado– of pornography via the internet and elsewhere (whose estimated GDP in the US has overtaken that of Hollywood) is evidently enjoyed on a daily basis by billions of men. This has created a political reality in the UK where a porn baron, Richard Desmond, can acquire The Daily Express … and with it access to the upper reaches of New Labour.[13]

Perhaps you think the comparisons I’m drawing are too far-fetched? Then consider the parallel issue of what ‘the death of God’ symbolises in human experience:

The death of the mother [in the narrative] could therefore be interpreted symbolically as the ‘death of the soul',[14] ie, as a total loss of contact with the unconscious. But when the soul is dead, then ‘God is dead’ too, since it is only in the vessel of the soul that God's activity becomes perceptible to man. Because he did not ask about the Grail, Perceval no longer understands himself and is cut off from the source of his own inner being. The hermit who helps him on his way therefore personifies a tendency towards introversion and towards a renunciation of the world as a first e–ercise preparatory to solving the Grail problem. […] an extremely important step on the path towards spiritual development is accomplished: the transition from the natural-magical to a spiritual or mystical Weltanschauung. […]

The difference between the magical and the mystical mentality may perhaps be characterized by the fact that in the magical attitude of mind the ego is very much to the fore, in the sense that either it is affected by unknown powers or else tries itself to work upon those powers. In any event, the aim of magic is for the ego to obtain mastery over these unknown forces and, through them, over men and things. The mystical attitude, on the other hand, sets no store by the ego but strives to reach above and beyond it and even reaches its own culmination in the ego's dissolution. It might possibly be said, therefore, that the magical attitude of mind corresponds to a level of development or of consciousness in which the ego is not yet sufficiently conscious or consolidated, for which reason it has to be forcefully emphasized.

It often happens that people who behave in a markedly ego-centric way are basically in constant danger of being absorbed by other people or situations, so that in such cases the egocentricity may be looked upon as a kind of bulwark against this tendency.[15] It is of course essential that an ego should be present, otherwise there could be neither growth of consciousness nor any other spiritual development, and even a self is not thinkable without the preliminary stage of the ego. The mystical attitude, on the other hand, accords with a stage or phase in which the ego is already sufficiently consolidated and in which the task of reaching out beyond the ego to an ‘other self’ or to something lying beyond. It is not a question, then, of a stage of development reached by mankind or a nation for all time; in single instances this gradual transition can also still take place in the life of the individual today. Moreover, the two phases often subsist side by side in a complementary relationship. By and large, it can well be said that the nature religions, or even pagan antiquity, exhibit more of a magico-egotistical character, while Christianity, with its otherworldly orientation, corresponds to the mystical outlook. A union of these two attitudes is to be found in alchemy where, on a higher level, the two aspects of archaic magic are purely spiritual mysticism are reunited.
[The Figure of Gauvain; Perceval's Return to Christianity, p222]


These issues are further illuminated by recalling that the central concept of Hinduism e–ists as an amalgam of the two e–tremes of spirituality: one is the upward e–pression of earth /nature energy in the phallic symbolism of Shiva, the other the descending ‘blue sky’ energy of Vishnu [/Krishna] who ‘fishes’ for souls with his symbol, the trident, which spears the heart and engages the mind in spiritual reflection. These two ‘gods’ (and myriad demi-gods in between) represent the gamut of e–perience and, taken together, point towards Brahma, the universal or ultimate perceptual reality which lies (like the Jews’ YHVH) beyond human capacity to conceptualise, let alone verbalise.

Christianity, a supremely Vishnavaite religion, has ruled the (Western) roost for a millennium or so but due to the enantiodromia of allowing itself to become predominantly identified with material rather than spiritual pursuits it has, like The Grail King, become old and enfeebled.[16] The paradox not just of Christianity but of all faith, is that almost every apparently-contradictory statement is true at some level – like the poignant mixture of joy and grief that coexist at the end of a war, for instance.

Who has not experienced a moment of extreme exaltation or depression when they felt themselves either at one with, or utterly alienated from, the human race? These express of our feelings /projections about our relationship/s with our psychic environment at that moment. Thus sensing the ‘person’ of Christ, ie the psychological archetype adherents sense as being ‘Christian’,[17] becomes a parallel circuit throu which devotees process experience, an altered ‘reality,’ like looking throu a diamond, whose perspective is as meaning-full /translucent or opaque /meaning-less as the individual’s personal development allows. The point being that, unlike science, we are not making a statement of objective fact but of subjectively-truthful ‘probability’, like politics. Thus, in religious terms, nearly all statements are true since the gamut of experience is accessible by these differing states of mind – the ‘reality’ being defined by the preponderant emotion at any given point.

However, in contradistinction this attitude which projects godhead outside ourselves, the 20thC has seen the exponential rise of essentially-Shivaite life choices (generally not seen as religious in Vishnavaite terms) such as sexual liberation, notably gay lifestyles, The Green Movement, paganism (the word paganus merely meaning a country person) where ‘reality’ is seen as arising from a different sense of alignment. So, here we see another whole raft of issues demanding integration in contemporary e–perience. Yet, so often, it is an understanding of the past that holds the key to the future.

As a theriomorphic symbol [spirit animal] of Mercurius, the stag … represents the urge towards individuation and contains everything of which consciousness is deficient. In it lies the mystery of a constant self-renewal on the part of the Self. Because Perceval too much ignored feeling and feeling relationships, he had to become conscious of the shadow, of the nature-destroying superbia [pride] of Christian humanity which identifies itself one-sidedly with the Logos principle.

If a man becomes identified in an unbalanced way with his intellect and the fictions of his ego, he loses his relation to the anima [his feminine aspect], for which reason the unconscious torments him with emotions, irritations, lack of self-control, moods and depressions. This one-sided masculinity threatens to sever the connection with reality and to become ruthless, arrogant and tyrannical. These displeasing shadow qualities are e–pressed in the theriomorphic symbol, and the red-robed (therefore emotional) anima figure demands that the hero should become conscious of this shadow. She gives him her white dog as a guide. Like the stag it is also an animal, but, in contrast to the stag, it attaches itself to man.                                     
[Perceval’s Further Adventures p261]

We have now reached the crux of the perceived imbalance between masculine powers of projection (with their ‘advantages of ignorance’) and the female capacity of holistic perception (with its attendant ‘disadvantages of knowledge’), which -then as now- was circumscribed by a social /cultural /linguistic /economic framework evolved by men for men. Today we might express this imbalance in the shorthand terms of yang and yin, tho such occidental concepts were, and are, anathema to the one-sided culture/s of monotheism, Christian and Moslem. Nevertheless, slowly and grudgingly, between the 12th & 21stC male ‘puissance’ has yielded to the beginnings of a bisexual and multicultural consensus.

The central problem therefore now is how to construct a linguistic /economic framework which values the yin on its own terms, and not merely as a negative value of the yang – truly, a Holy Grail in itself! Despite the ‘overthrow’ of Christianity, and with it the ‘permission’ of Genesis to e–ploit the natural world for human advantage, we are no nearer a social model for coexisting on the planet with our own species, let alone the myriad other life-forms which our legitimized heedlessness condemns to exist, very literally, in our shadow.

In a certain sense, Perceval cannot meet with the Star Woman until he has become to the fullest e–tent conscious of the problem of Christianity. Otherwise, swinging from one opposite to the other, he could easily fall into the power of the nature goddess and lose touch with reality[18] […] For this reason, according to the curious logic of psychic events, …   
[Perceval’s Further Adventures p264/5]

Perceval then encounters his youthful persona as a lance-bearing squire, whom he fights and kills – symbolising the sacrifice of his earlier naive attitude which had hitherto prevented his seeing the parado–ical problems between the anima and the Christian god-image.

… the ‘Wise Old Man’ now appears, […] who, in the knightly calling itself, has matured to a certain superiority and detachment from affect. He points out the way to Perceval who soon loses it again, which is not surprising, since the old man … was riding a mule. He has that particular theriomorphic attribute … which proves the unconsciousness and sterility of any premature union of the opposites. The reconciling symbol is still on the animal level, ie, in the condition of the animal instincts. This would mean that Perceval has indeed attained to a certain insight and maturity which do not, however, suffice for the achievement of the task set him, for which reason fate puts further hardships in his path.


When I refused to go to university I was constantly advised of the importance of having a teaching qualification ‘to fall back on.’ Had I had anything ‘to fall back on’ in difficult times I would have; so at a soul level I was evidently already conscious of the need to burn my bridges. This illustrates another powerful antithesis, the conflict between the importance of having an effective social safety-net and fostering a dynamic society where people can e–cel – and I don’t just mean making money, I’m talking about the encounter with real danger /failure /psychosis whose resolution initiates an integration leading ultimately to individuation.

As a result of my unusual background, being a person no paper qualifications who nevertheless succeeded in penetrating to the heart of certain Establishment institutions, I have been an outsider on the inside. Because I now use these insights as an insider on the outside I see, from both perspectives, the importance of maintaining a faith dynamic in one’s life so that being up /down /inside /outside /rich /poor doesn’t distract from ‘sequere deum’ [Casanova’s motto, ‘follow the energy’] of testing experience/s against a sense of whether it is taking us towards or away from integration.

If we use the term number-crunching to indicate the process of calculation leading to a solution, then I would use the term soul-crunching to indicate the process by which I have achieved a degree of personal re-solution. Earlier attempts to achieve the ‘union of the opposites’ in my own life were indeed sterile because of the wide-ranging parameters I had (un-?)wittingly set myself to resolve. But the benefit of a long and winding road is that you get to see the reality of the country throu which you pass a lot more you do on a main highway.

… in the Queste, Perceval succeeds in winning the stag's head and the hound for the water-woman in the red star-covered dress. He finds the object of his search in the domain of an enraged fairy[!], where the stag's head is fastened to a gigantic oak tree. The oak refers to Wotan and the pre-Christian tree worship in the groves of the sacred oaks; [However] A mere regression into paganism would be equally meaningless, so that this state of suspension, this crucifi–ion of the animal soul and the agonizing conflict bound up with it, must be maintained until the growth of consciousness striven for by the unconscious, namely the question concerning the Grail, has been achieved.  
[Perceval’s Further Adventures p274/5]

The natural world suffers because we think our headlong pursuit of pleasure gives us a divine right to disregard any form of suffering e–cept our own and that in our milieu. When will we see not just that the suffering of one is the suffering of all, but that time invested in finding our own answers is an investment for the whole planet? Provided we can thereafter surrender ‘ownership’.

In itself, deliverance as the result of the right … question is a universal, ie an archetypal, motif. Indeed, in fairy-tales it is usual for the hero who wishes to acquire the treasure to have to fulfil one or more special conditions, on the correct e–ecution of which the result depends. […] in Chretien and the others it runs: ‘Who is served from the Grail?’ or ‘To whom is the Grail brought?’ This is the question through which redemption comes about.

This seems very peculiar. He who is served from the Grail is the old, not the ailing, king [who turns out to be] Perceval's grandfather or uncle. By means of the question, Perceval reveals himself to be a descendant and establishes the connection with his ancestors. This again is an important feature in the initiation dreams and ceremonies of primitive peoples. [Perceval’s Further Adventures p294-6]

In other words, throu an arduous and, at times, apparently pointless quest the searcher discovers not just hir lineage, but hir place within it – thus acquires a ‘belongingness’, a sense of identity; a place which Robert Frost put his finger on with the line ‘Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in.’ And even more touchingly as ‘Home is somewhere you somehow haven’t to deserve.’ What is more energizing in the journey towards mental well-being /wholeness than the knowledge that we are where we should be, that we are ‘where everybody knows my name’?

A certain Judaic custom forms a very interesting parallel to this motif. At the Passover, after the first cup has been drunk, the youngest son must ask the father about the meaning of the observance, whereupon the latter recounts the story of the E–odus from Egypt. […] The Grail question is: ‘Who is served from it?’ and the e–pression le service del Graal (the service of the Grail) is used again and again. The Israelites' memorial of their e–ile in Egypt … is the closest parallel to the Grail question we have been able to find. In our story, the old King can die only when he is able to recognize his descendant as such and can hand his property -in this case the Grail- over to him. […] This taking over of the treasure, together with the mystery of the ancestors is actually, therefore, the redeeming factor. […] The Grail King says to Gauvain, who has asked the question, that by doing so he has redeemed many souls, both of the living and of the dead.                                                                                                                                     [ibid]

We might compare this to a parliamentarian or tv interviewer who, by asking the right question at the right time in the right arena e–presses what everyone is thinking but noone has yet successfully been able to articulate. The burst of psychic energy that is released in a society where someone emerges as a champion might be compared the sudden emergence of a popular songwriter or politician who ‘speaks everyone’s mind.’

… the King, together with the court, are among the latter; they only appear to be living, whereas the Grail Bearer and her companions are really alive. This is especially noteworthy. It means, apparently, that in the world of collective consciousness an old king (the king corresponds to a dominant attitude), who has already lived too long, must continue to lead a semblance of life until the new life is so far advanced that it can take the place of the old.  

I believe this speaks particularly to our era. The english Establishment reeks of this sclerosis – tho like all institutions that have outlived their time, it’s not without charm. Whether we shall succeed in discriminating between the essential ‘baby’ and its attendant ‘bathwater’ when the time comes for change is anybody’s guess.

This concept of handing over and taking over has something very archaic about it. It suggests a time before there was any writing by which knowledge could be preserved; knowledge had to be transmitted orally from father to son, carefully guarded by the father and received by the son only when he reached maturity. The almost ritual significance with which this event is invested e–presses the enormous importance for man at a primitive level of culture of the fact that he can remember and transmit knowledge. The continuity of consciousness is, in point of fact, the conditio sine qua non of human mental and cultural development. The reason the redemption depends on the ‘question’ concerning a knowledge of the ancestors is thus easily e–plained. It must be remembered that at that time consciousness was very much less developed than it is today.

In 1992 I had an intuitive insight into this process at the Grotte de Rouffignac in the Dordogne, and into Berger’s idea of ‘The living and the dead meet[ing] as listeners and judges [with] the greater the number of listeners felt to be there’ making the story more intimate to each. This is a cave which descends slowly over about a kilometer, like a 'throat' opening from the underworld. The floor is formed of petrified mud from the first ice age, & is cratered by mammoth hibernation pods. In 1956 animal carvings were discovered at the e–tremity of the cave in a space where the 'tongue' of rock-like mud almost reaches the roof. Now, after substantial e–cavation one can stand & view these carvings spread out randomly all over the roof. Parties descend in a little electric train, which takes about 20'. Banal as this might seem, nothing can detract from the numen of the place. For me, alone in a throng of holiday-makers, this was as profound a spiritual e–perience as it must have been for those who made the perilous descent over the vertiginous floor in total darkness millennia previously. It must then have taken a good day each way & I cannot believe they would have had a means of sustaining light. My sense was that the descent & carving could have been a rite of passage for young men in which they attuned to /at-one-d with the spirit of their prey. Led by elders, whose knowledge of a safe route over the pothole-strewn floor must have been a source of authority, they would have arrived at the end & as part of some arduous ceremony someone would have created one of these e–traordinarily realistic images of their 'life source' lying flat on his back in a claustrophobic opening barely large enough to wield the graving tool – which, the ‘graduates’ would have been invited in singly to trace with their fingers & engage with some mystical act of union before returning to the light as 'made men' of the tribe.

The motif of the old king is duplicated; psychologically speaking, this indicates uncertainty in most cases, as if it could signify both this and that. This dual motif must be e–amined more closely. Certain scholars have compared the old king who cannot die with the Greek Kronos who, after his overthrow by Zeus, was confined, asleep, on an island in England.
(Wherelse to go for a quiet doze?)   [ibid]

This importance of lineage is greatly underestimated in the acquisition of knowledge &/or education. What is transmitted throu a personal relationship between guru and chela (teacher /student) is the specific awareness /perspective that turns inert information into coherent knowledge. By imparting knowledge with a specific ‘feeling tone’ the teacher in fact provides the student with an implicit overview of the whole field, thereby instantly defining the moral significance and relative importance of the component information as well as offering the sense of identification spoken of above.

… the King immediately becomes healthy and is quite transformed. [He leads Perceval] to the Grail and says, ‘This is the lance with which Christ was wounded on the Cross, and this is the vessel in which Joseph of Arimathea collected the blood and which is called the Grail.’ He then tells Perceval about Christ, about Joseph and about the Grail, and imparts secret words to him, of which the author emphasizes once again that he cannot and dare not speak. The vessel, which radiates a wonderful melody and a heavenly perfume, is then handed over to Perceval. […] and the spell that lay over Britain and the world was broken.’ 

If only …


In reading Jung & Von Franz’s The Grail Legend I feel that I am already a double beneficiary of just such a spiral: the starting point being the several 12thC authors who captured the oral legend: with the next turn of the spiral being the extraordinary lengths to which these two women went nearly a millennium later to excavate the palæo-psychology encoded in this writing for the illumination of 21stC readers.

We shall never really know what went on ‘underground’ in the middle ages, the subtleties of informal thought and mythology are (mostly) buried under a clod-hopping orthodoxy and emerge only in counterpoint to it; but whereas the robust nature of Robin Hood arises from that inextinguishable source of popular ‘belief that justice is imminent’ which has latterly given us the derring-do of Superman & other righters of wrongs, that of the Grail is much more refined and esoteric – and had it, like Catharism, appeared to pose a threat to Roman Christianity could as easily have been extirpated.

The authors suggest Persian origins for the ambiguous narrative, which adds further richness to the already-dense Christian layers of the story. The polymorphous character of the ‘grail’, which is assigned four distinct shapes /functions by different parts of the narrative, is certainly symmetrical with the Persian tradition of parables laden with mysterious symbolism. Yet even attributing a derivation of the word itself is a speculative enterprise!

Von Franz considers that the raw form of the legend may have entered Europe from the same Arab /Templar links as the knowledge of sacred geometry which informed the gothic cathedral-building. However I myself wonder whether a plausible provenance might not be provençal? It is generally accepted that the original troubadour Duc Guillaume IX d’Aquitaine (1071-1126) acquired the concept of courtly love[19] from the Islamic civilization of Spain. At that time, the creative fertility of Provence was at its height and, partly due to geography, a closer relationship existed between Languedoc culture and Moorish Catalonia than with the Languedoil culture of northern France. 100 years later the savage Albigensian Crusade against Catharism was to extinguish the energy and feudal networks of provençal culture and bring the region fully under the control of Paris.

A final passage which requires comment. Here Von Franz speaks of the archetypal imagery by which we project or ‘constellate’ images of our deities. She offers some identifying characteristics differentiating pagan and christian ideas of god.

The ailing Grail King corresponds to an imago Dei that is suspended, suffering, on the problem of the opposites; he is thus essentially the image of the Christian age and more especially of its second half. Over against him, the apparently living Grail King must have personified a still older god-image; actually, the pre-Christian, Old Testament or pagan imago Dei, a father figure, that is, in which the opposites were not consciously united but were, rather, still unconsciously combined. This more unconscious, archaic father-imago possesses some advantages over the god-image of the Christian age, namely its unity, but at the same time it reflects an obsolete, more unconscious condition of human consciousness. For this reason, his survival is not represented in the Grail legend as a fortunate circumstance and his being enabled to die signifies a redemption.
[Perceval’s Further Adventures p298]

The authors’ lives were lived within the 20thC and both were deeply and intuitively aware of the roots of Christianity within German-speaking culture. Now, 50 years on, the landscape of spirituality is utterly altered. For us, the issue is to decode what follows Church-Christianity not what preceded it. And here another outline of the grail imagery is faintly seen, because to be released from our shadow we have to find its palimpsest or mirror; each of us has fully to touch the form before we can be released from it. By this I mean that we have to embrace the void of otherness. If we wish to become Christian we must touch within ourselves what is pagan – to become fully Pagan (at this point in time) we must touch what is, or has been, fully Christian. There is no other way. It is only by the sympathetic engagement of the psyche (sub+/consciousness) that we can release the shadow symmetry that holds us in thrall. Whatelse is the Grail Legend about but this marriage of opposites, the mysterium conjunctionis as CG Jung calls it?

I hope you have found that some thoughts here offer insights into the interplay of processes which bring about cultural movements and thus create the world/s we experience. Why does this matter? Because until we penetrate the surface levels of consciousness it is hard to acquire any ‘traction’ in our lives, to feel we’re ‘coming to grips’ with things, which in turn helps us build a sense of a personal ‘reality’ which transcends what materialists call The Real World.

The difference between this process and clinical psychosis -both of which represent deviations from bourgeois norms- and a reality constructed on a confident understanding of perennial wisdom is that the latter is not built on the sand of personal emotion, but on the rock of archetypal awareness of history and psychological process. The farther back we see, the more confidently we can predict the future, based not on transient fashion/s but on deep perception of what makes human-beings whole. I know of no writer who equals the breadth and depth of Marie-Louise von Franz mah’atma, great heartedness; and this is my tribute.


But there's one more issue to wrap up: ‘circularity’: bringing us back to Berger’s remark about ‘The living and the dead meet[ing and] the number of listeners felt to be there,’ He titled his essay That Have Not Been Asked. ‘Whom had not been asked’ I wondered – the poor – their persecutors? Only now as I come to the end of this piece do I realise that it is Questions That Have Not Been Asked. These philosophical issues about ‘circularity’, about the resolution of injustice, about what I’ve called ‘the equilibrium of wholeness’ are those gut feelings that everyone instinctively recognizes but few are able to e–press. They ‘Have Not Been Asked’ due to the supreme difficulty of formulating them – but what the Grail legend seems to tell us is that there is a symbiosis between question and answer. Pose the question, spell the feelings e–actly (words are merely a storage mechanism, when will we learn?) and in miraculous alignment the answer appears shadowed behind the question. This really takes us into occult territory, that is to say territory hidden from ordinary people – simply and largely because they do not ask -or do not know how to ask- those questions about e–istence that actually yield answers.

There's a significant word connecting with Questions That Have Not Been Asked and that is supererogatory – it means going beyond what is asked. If you merely do what is asked, you remain in ‘slave’ mode, like an e–am candidate you are responding at a surface level to satisfy a specific aspect of dualistic thinking. And this approach has been much pioneered by Educrats with the (admirable?) intention of delivering more fact-based education to a wider social mi– – but the disastrous (and, I believe, by-them-unanticipated) side-effect has been to create a situation where morons simply clone morons. We are now in a situation where ‘those who qualify the qualified’ are not so much incapable of recognizing that quality of supererogatory enquiry which should be at the heart of scholarship, but are actually indifferent to it – because it doesn’t fit into any category their political masters have predefined for them. If you doubt this, ask those who work in education or medicine!

The abstract questions upon which the life of the soul depends – about e–istence, about the nature of meaning, about gratitude – cannot be answered truthfully, or indeed at all, at a superficial level. One has to travel deep into territory which excavates the deeper psychological connections linking motivation/s and result/s before any kind of answer emerges. For this we must profoundly thank those who preceded us on for the light they shed on this journey, as expressed in this remarkable poem The Angels by John Updike:

They are above us all the time,
the good gentlemen, Mozart and Bach,
Scarlatti and Handel and Brahms,
lavishing measures of light down upon us,
telling us, over and over, there is a realm
above this plane of silent compromise.


They are behind us, beneath us,
the abysmal books, Shakespeare and Tolstoy,
the Bible and Proust and Cervantes,
burning in memory like leaky furnace doors,
minepits of honesty from which we escaped
with dilated suspicions. Love us, dead thrones,
sing us to sleep, awaken our eyes,
comfort with terror our mortal afternoons.[20]

I live with questions That Have Not Been Asked because I write music that has not been asked for. My psyche is constantly engaged with questions that mean nothing whatever to ‘normal’ people. This brings up profound questions within me not just about ‘the number of listeners’[21] – but also the difference/s between what music is and what it can be – which in turn feeds into what life is and what it can be. As a composer, I deal with worlds before they e–ist, and thus latency and conceptual plasticity are real considerations as ideas take form. The use of a dualistic medium, literacy, in order to achieve an e–perientially-unified result also poses fascinating questions around perception. I think, without any particular evidence to back it up, that it is a willingness to endure the psychic isolation of finding personal answers to universal questions ‘That Have Not Been Asked’, the search for archetypal patterns in sound, that encodes durability into music … and indeed anything else.

The fact that there are no fi–ed answers to the questions depicted Gauguin’s Fa Iheihe: ‘Where have we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going to? … does not mean that there aren't dynamic answers – and these answers are e–pressed in riddles, parables or archetypal symbolism – of e–actly the kind we have been discussing here. They don’t tell us everything we want to know – we'd like it all given to us on a menu so that we could choose what appeals to us – but they do tell us everything we need to know for our integration, because if we trust the dynamic in our own lives, like Percival /Gauvain /Robin à Wood /Jack i’the green we encounter or provoke a reciprocal dynamic. The more we plumb these realities the more we participate in the realisation, the making real of Christ’s /Buddha’s /whoever-else’s energy in the actual e–perience of those who are asking questions and struggling to find meaning in their lives. A process confirming the irrelevance of creeds that simply mummify a once-lively corpse.

Map-making uses coordinates from three points to plot terrain accurately. To understand the moral journey that faith demands, the journey of intention /motivation, requires access to non-physical triangulation points to enable us accurately to decode the meta-physical path/s to be taken, combing as they do both practical and supererogatory considerations. Thus it is that millions of pilgrims over the centuries have found both the allure and the elusiveness of this ideal admirably captured in the metaphor which is ‘the holy grail’.

[1] 95:4, That Have Not Been Asked (10 stories in the face of walls)

[2] Princeton UP, Mythos, 1970, brilliantly translated by Andrea Dykes

[3] The ‘Fisher’ King’s activities hunting his prey in the murky waters symbolise his search for that most elusive of organs, his soul.

[4] Semitic peoples also have an equivalent belief in a Robin Hood: the Arabs naming him Khidr, and the Jews seeing him in Elijah, who did not die but was ‘swept up into heaven’ (2K2). Hence the demands from the crowd that Christ be left on the cross ‘to see if Elijah would come to save him.’ (Mt27:49, Mk15:36)

[5] And you could argue that one of the ways those proprietors have ‘turned this trick’ is by selling us the idea that we’re sinners, and thus incapable of understanding what is, in fact, perfectly obvious – namely that the universe is not a neutral or hostile space!

[6] That the 19thC gothick movement was largely the brain-child of two antagonistic homose–uals, Walpole and Beckford, adds another richly symbolic layer to the dichotomy which the Grail legend epigrammatises.

[7] Kristeva’s key work, a study of Paul C...line, is Powers of Horror: an Essay on Abjection (1980, US 1982): Bataille’s are many, including Literature & Evil (1957, UK 1973), Erotism, death & sensuality (1957, UK 1986)

[8] The pioneer musicologist and Franco-Hindu mystic Alain Daniélou’s autobiography The Way to the Labyrinth is much recommended in this connection.

[9] An ideal of ‘Christian knighthood’ which still informs the British Army today!

[10] Perceval perceiving what lies outside his consciousness to demand a physical rather than meta-physical search symbolises the projective nature of the male mind-set, its potentialities, and also its imperceptiveness.

[11] An enantiodromia of his role as a benign monarch similar to that of The Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte.

[12] In The Religious Background of Puer Æternus Problems (in Psychotherapy, Shambhala) von Franz deals brilliantly with the phenomenon of female se– symbols /stars which she describes as ‘gangster animus.’ If a girl is trapt in certain childhood patterns by the infantilising se–ual projection of a father figure (often because she’s pretty), she may thereby learn how to ‘hold men to ransom’ and seek to replicate the attention by be(com)ing a se– object. However the downside is that she disables herself from moving beyond this into the true freedom of womanhood unless she relin-quishes her ‘power’ (which to her may seem synonymous with femininity). And few who have tasted it seem able to.

[13] This schizophrenia in Western culture is admirably e–press by Robert Jensen, writing on Znet about the Adult Entertainment E–po in Las Vegas, January 2006 [ZNet Commentary: The Parado– Of Pornography February 23, 2006:]

At the same time that the pornography industry and its products are more normalized than ever in the United States, the images they produce are more brutal and degrading toward women than ever. How can it be that a once-underground industry that lived at the margins of society has become mainstream, at precisely the same time that its se–ual cruelty toward women is most pronounced? […]

In Las Vegas, no one was discussing the social implications of the commodification of se–uality and intimacy in the 13,000 new pornographic videos and DVDs released in 2005. Questions about the effects of se–ualizing male dominance in a $12-billion a year business were not on the table. […]

Pornography – though still resisted by some, from either a conservative/religious position or, on very different grounds, from a feminist point of view – has become just one more form of mass entertainment in a culture obsessively dedicated to the pleasure-without-thought-about-the-consequences principle. Not everyone likes it, but few see it as worth debating.

[14] Regarding the image of the mother as a personification of the un-conscious in a man, cf. Jung, Aion, ¶20-42

[15] This offers a convincing e–planation of the phenomenon where certain entertainers are ‘permitted’ to act as a surrogate challengers to the status quo, eg The Rolling Stones, and thus to personify the bourgeois fantasy of rebelling against conformity. [Arise, Sir Mick!] However, the art here appears to be to push the moral envelope only as far as is required to impact on a stupefied populace without actually alarming them with a genuine alternative lifestyle – there being a clear understanding that if they make any serious attempt to question the status quo, ie get too big for their boots, the moral guardians of the tabloid press which elevated them will have unfettered liberty to assassinate them.

[16] This is relatively true even of the more vigorous evangelical churches since, culturally, they remain wedded to a philosophical /linguistic framework which has already been drained of faith /numen since the literalism of science became the dominant thought-form of the West – which is one reason why so much of today’s imaginative developments spring the duende of gothick shadows or shivaite earth energies.

[17] This would be equally true of Buddha or any other projection of ‘go(o)dness’. We cannot know who /what these historical figures actually were: all that we can know of them is what chimes with our own conception of integrity – which may or may not coincide with what the lineage(/s) of the specific tradition maintain.

[18] By this, I think she means with the background from which he is evolving.

[19] Tho he was no stranger to the other kind of love – he was e–communicated (for a second time!) for abducting a courtier’s wife, the deliciously named Dangereuse.

[20] The Angels from Midpoint & Other Pœms, US/UK 1969.

[21] Perhaps symbolically, my earliest song setting was of Walter de la Mare’s ‘”Is there anybody there?” said the listeners.”

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