Sacred Texts  Sub Rosa  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at



The Longer Prose Perceval says that the great and secret sanctuary gives upon the Earthly Paradise, even as the visible world may be said to give upon the world unseen--a comparison which would signify for us--or at least by a suggestion to the mind--that the Temple of the Hallows and all its external splendour are the adornment of the soul which is within. Even apart from such a reading, we can understand that the manner of doctrine put forward evasively in story-books by the Graal literature, was sufficient to make the orthodox church stand aloof, but vigilant and dubious. We have

p. 145

now to consider how a horror fell upon the Secret House of God and a subtle work of sorcery on the world which encompassed it. All texts indifferently of the Northern French cycles say that, as a consequence of certain events connected with the Castle of the Graal, there fell an interdiction upon Logres. In the Lesser Chronicles it is termed an Enchantment, while in the Greater Chronicles it is characterised as Adventurous Times, but the distinctions dissolve into one another; there is not less adventure, nor is it less hazardous, in the texts of enchantment, while in the adventurous texts the graces and terrors of sorcery abound on every side. We can therefore consider them together, as aspects of the same subject which are scarcely so much as alternative, and, in fact, on the study of the documents it will be found that the adventurous times are almost too vague by themselves to admit of being specified separately. As regards the enchantments, they are a consequence which works outward from within--that is to say, directly or indirectly, something which has transpired within is responsible for the inhibition without. The enchantments are the result of an evil which has fallen on the keeper for the time being of the Holy Graal. They are the exteriorised sorrow of the king. The action is, however, reciprocal, for in some instances that sorrow has reached him by an intrusion of the external order, though in certain other cases it has arisen in his own house or in his own person. It remains that as enchantment fell upon Merlin, so also it has fallen about the Secret House and has entered into the Holy of Holies. Now, the places of enchantment are also places of sadness, and the nature of the horror within, abiding as a certain cloud upon the sanctuary, is described after several manners. In one story, the flesh, which at no time profits anything, has smitten deeply into the life of the Keeper, who has been a victim of earthly passion. In another, he is unable to die till he has seen the last scion of his

p. 146

house, and because of the protraction of the centuries, he is suffering, in the meantime, the heavy burden of his great age. He has alternatively received a dolorous stroke, reacting on him from the person of one of his relatives; and as a final explanation he is afflicted by the failure of a knight to ask the conventional question, which is at once vital and mystic. These things are reflected upon the order without, sometimes, as it would seem, only in the immediate neighbourhood of the Castle; more generally through the whole of Logres; while in rare instances the world itself is involved, at least by imputation.

The Perceval Quests turn entirely on the asking of that question which I have specified in the previous enumeration, and the pivot of the question itself is the failure to perform what is expected in this respect--namely, to ask and to receive. In the Chrétien section of the Conte del Graal the explanation of the king's sickness is that he was wounded by a spear in battle and hence is carried by four sergeants because he has no strength. in his bones. In the Didot Perceval Brons, the Rich Fisherman, is said to be in great infirmity, an old man and full of maladies, nor will his health be restored until the office of the question has been fulfilled in all perfection. But this is not ordinary old age; rather--as I have just intimated--it is the oppression of many centuries. It is clear, however, that Brons was not suffering from any curse or enchantment; he cannot depart from this life until he has communicated to Perceval the secret words pronounced at the sacrament of the Graal, which he himself learned from Joseph. This and the instruction which will follow the question asked by the hero shall put a period to the enchantments of Britain. There is a failure in the first instance, as in the poem of Chrétien, and the Quest in the Conte del Graal is to some extent assumed by Gawain, who visits the Graal Castle in the continuation of Gautier; he does ask, and thereupon the king promises

p. 147

him that, subject to one other condition, he shall hear the great story of the Broken  Sword and of the woe which it brought upon the kingdom of Logres--but Gawain fails and falls asleep. The failure of Perceval has worked the destruction of kingdoms, which may mean certain petty principalities of Britain passing under this name--otherwise they cannot have been of this world, as the prophecy does not come to pass here. On the occasion of Perceval's second visit, the king is seated on a couch as before, and the discourse is not closed in the section of Gautier. The conclusion of Manessier recounts how the Broken Sword dealt that stroke which, prior to the voided question, has destroyed the realm of Logres and all the surrounding country. The unfinished inquiry of Gawain, before he fell into slumber, restored verdure to the land about the Graal Castle and the waters found their course. It was not, however, the keeper but his brother who received the Dolorous Stroke, being slain treacherously in a battle. The sword, which broke in the act, was placed upon the bier when the body was brought to the Castle; it was taken up incautiously by the king and in some undeclared manner it wounded him in both thighs; this wound could not be healed till the death of his brother was avenged. For these events the late prologue to the Conte del Graal substitutes a desolation which fell upon Logres prior to the coming of King Arthur. There were certain maidens who kept the wells and ministered refreshment to travellers out of golden cups. So admirable as was this custom, an evil king despoiled the maidens and scattered them, after which the service ceased. The elements of the prologue stand apart from the rest of the literature, like an allegory in another tongue; and though it is very curious in itself, it connects with nothing which follows in the texts that it is supposed to introduce.

The Book of the Holy Graal, like the metrical romance of De Borron, antecedes the period alike of enchantments

p. 148

and quests; but as, in its present form, it is later in fact than the chronicles which it is supposed to precede, so, as a part of its warrants, it forestalls many of their characteristics by a kind of spurious prophecy. It tells how the younger Joseph, the second keeper of the Graal, was smitten in the thighs by an angel for aiding certain people who did not embrace Christianity, and it testifies that the avenging spear with which the wounds were inflicted will be heard of again at the beginning of those marvels that shall occur in the land of Britain. In this manner it foreshadows the particular Dolorous Stroke of which we have a full account in the Huth Merlin and all the sorrowful adventures which follow therein. These are destined to continue for twenty-two years, corresponding to the twenty-two days during which the head of the Lance was embedded in the flesh of Joseph.

The Vulgate Merlin has nothing to say concerning the enchantments of Britain, except that the prophet's skill and discretion were gifts vouchsafed by God so that he might accomplish the adventures of the Seynt Graal. That it was the rumour of the Sacred Vessel which inaugurated the time of adventure is clear from this passage, as it is also from the Huth Merlin, which speaks of a prophecy written by the enchanter on parchment and concerned with those marvels which would characterise the Quest, encompassing in fine the destruction of the marvellous lion--that is to say, the overthrow of King Arthur. The implicits of this statement are one crux of the Merlin cycle. It is also, as I have intimated, to the Huth Merlin that we owe our acquaintance with the beautiful story of Balyn and Balan, the two brethren born in Northumberland, who were good knights, according to Malory. Balyn was destined to inflict the Dolorous Stroke, which during the allotted period of twenty-two years would cause dire distress throughout three kingdoms, for by this stroke he would pierce the most holy man in the world, and inaugurate the marvels of the Graal in Great Britain.

p. 149

[paragraph continues] There can be no doubt that the Warden of the Sacred Vessel is here the intended victim, and that the stroke is actually given in the Graal Castle, with the hallowed spear of the legend. Balyn himself nearly loses his life in the cataclysm which follows, and is informed by Merlin that he has deserved the hatred of the whole world, the obvious reason being that he has desecrated the sanctuary. The recipient of the wound is, however, said to be King Pellehan, who is the brother of King Pelles the Keeper. In any chronological tabulation this event would most likely precede the visit of Gawain to the Graal Castle and indubitably the first arrival of Lancelot therein. These occurrences are related in the prose Lancelot, but in this romance the Keeper of the Sacred Vessel is, as I have said, King Pelles, and he is not wounded. Pellehan reappears in the Quest of Galahad not only as the Maimed King, but as he who bears the title of the Rich Fisher, which is reserved to the royalty of the Graal wardens. It will be seen, therefore, that a certain confusion has arisen, owing to continuous editing, and it may follow that there was originally but one King in the Castle, that his name was Pelles, that he was wounded by the Dolorous Stroke, and was destined to be healed by Galahad at the term of the Quest. As it is, there is actually a dual healing--that of the King Pellehan and that of another personage whose sin dates back to the first times of the legend, being one of unprepared intrusion into the most secret mysteries of the Graal. In the Quest of Galahad the confusion which I have noticed is made greater by the story of Sir Perceval's sister concerning the maiming of King Pelles, who found the ship of Solomon towards the coast of Ireland. He entered therein and drew the sword of David about half-way from its scabbard. In punishment of this rashness a spear smote him through both thighs, and never since might he be healed, says she, "to fore we come to hym." None of this takes place actually, but it goes to show that the original

p. 150

intention of the story was the intention of the Perceval quests--namely, to wound the keeper of the Graal. Speaking otherwise of this great romance, the whole process of the Quest is lifted into a high spiritual region, the implicits of which will provide us at a later stage with one key of the mystery.

In the Longer Prose Perceval it is said that there shall be no rest in the land till the Graal has been achieved. But here the horror of the house was the failure of Perceval to ask that question the simplicity of which is the seal of the whole enigma. As a consequence, the shepherd has been smitten and the sheep have been scattered. Those who ministered in the Castle were sent out by the general fatality beyond the sacred precincts, for no other reason apparently than to act as witnesses of the woe abroad before the face of the world; and so, therefore, in place of ceremonial pageants within, there are strange processions without.

In the German cycle, the adequate consideration of which must be referred as before to a later stage, the Parsifal of Wolfram sets a blot on the scutcheon by showing that sin entered the sanctuary, and in this, as in other respects, the story is set apart from all else in the general pageant of the literature. On the other hand, the poem of Heinrich, though its root-matter is almost out of knowledge, conforms, as it does usually, to the more normal tradition in points of detail, saying that the doom of the king was the outcome of war between brothers. With this, in other connections and a far other sense, we have some analogy in the Longer Prose Perceval.

I believe that the implicits of the Graal keepers must rank among the most important of those which remain for consideration in their place. While they are connected more especially with the headship in the persons of the successive Wardens, there are also subsidiary matters which will arise in their proper order. Woe has fallen on the Wardens, though, speaking symbolically, they abide in the place of life. Not only is the hereditary

p. 151

custodian of the secrets that person in most of the romances on whom comes the symbolic grief, but he is dependent peculiarly on help expected from without, and although his sustenance is within his healing is beyond the sanctuary. Even such a sinner as Gawain can bring him a partial consolation. He receives a nondescript savage like Perceval, as he is depicted in the more primitive stories, within the fold of election, for doing something after a clownish failure which any child might have been expected to perform at once. All this is so out of reason on the surface that a meaning in concealment seems inevitable. Its investigation is reserved of necessity, but as something consistent with the subject down the first vistas of which we are looking only, it may be said, as the characteristic of every initiation, that the candidate does not ask questions; it is he who is catechised and must answer. One key from one point of view might again be the counsel: Ask, and ye shall receive. But the Graal quester is to bestow before he receives. The suggestion seems that if we are dealing with a rite which follows a certain procedure, it is one which works rather the reverse way, so far as other mysteries are concerned. That rite has been going on for generations, inviting and accepting no candidate, for it is perpetuated by hereditary transmission, though its treasury has been a heritage of woe. There is no symbolical object in all the literature of romance to compare with the secret guardianship, whether the keeper is wounded for his own, or another's, and even for our transgressions; whether also the consideration of his mystery arises from the texts themselves or from suggestions belonging thereto and admitted from a very high standpoint. No one could find the Castle, or come into the presence of the king, except by a special warrant and sometimes by a congenital election. The Castle was hidden from the world, like the analogous House of the Holy Ghost in the Rosicrucian Mystery, and he who entered therein had somehow to awaken the oracle. The

p. 152

hidden life of the keepers passed in the Castle, but not in the visionary rapture of those who go into Avalon and other isles of the blessed. Now, there are two palmary mysteries connected with two divisions of the Chronicles of Quest--one is the silence of Perceval and the other is the conception of Galahad. By the way of anticipation something more will be said of the first in the next section.

Next: X. The Suppressed Word and the Mystic Question