Having passed through many initiations, I can say with the sincerity which comes of full knowledge that the Graal legend, ritually and ceremonially presented, is the greatest of all which lies beyond the known borders of the instituted mysteries. But it is exalted in a place of understanding of which no one can speak in public, not only because of certain seals placed upon the sanctuary, but more especially, in the last resource, because there are no listeners. I know, however, and can say that the Cup appears; I know that it is the Graal cup; and the wonders of its manifestation in romance are not so far removed from the high things which it symbolises,
whence it follows that the same story is told everywhere. It is in this way that on these subjects we may make up our minds to say new things, but we say only those which are old, because it would seem that there are no others. If Guiot de Provence ever affirmed that the Graal legend was first written in the starry heavens, he testified to that which is the shadow of the truth, or more properly its bright reflection.
Let us now set before our minds the image of the Graal Castle, having a local habitation and a name on the mountain-side of Corbenic. The inhabitant-in-chief of this sanctuary is the Keeper of the Hallows, holding by lineal descent from the first times of the mystery. This is the noble King Pelles, behind whom is that undeclared type of the consecrated royalty which was--the maimed King Pellehan, whose hurt has to be healed by Galahad. The maiden who carries the Sacred Vessel in the pageant of the ceremonial rite is the reigning king's daughter, the virgo intacta Helayne. To the Castle on a certain occasion there comes the Knight Lancelot, who is the son of King Ban of Benoic, while his mother Helen is issued from the race of Joseph of Arimathæa, and through him is of the line of King David. It is known by the Keeper Pelles that to bring to its final term the mystery of the Holy Graal, his daughter must bear a child to Lancelot, and this is accomplished under circumstances of enchantment which seem to have eliminated from the maiden all sense of earthly passion. It cannot be said that this was the state of Lancelot, who believed that his partner in the mystery of union was the consort of Arthur the King, and to this extent the sacramental imagery offers the signs of failure. In the case of Helayne the symbolism only deflects from perfection at a single point, which is that of a second meeting with Lancelot under almost similar circumstances. I must not specify them here, except in so far as to say that there was a certain incursion of common motive into that which belonged otherwise to the sacramental side of things, so far as she
was concerned. I can imagine nothing in the whole course of literature to compare with the renunciation of this maiden, on whom the pure light of the Graal had fallen for seasons and years, and who was called upon by the exigencies of the Quest to make that sacrifice which is indicated by the great romance. It is at this point that the Book of the Knight Lancelot sets aside finally all sense of triviality and is assumed into the Kingdom of the Mysteries.
The motherhood of King Pelles' daughter, because of her consanguinity with the mysteries, of which she is an assistant-guardian under the Hereditary Keeper, occurs as the result of an intercourse which has some aspects of a magical marriage, and, considering all its circumstances, it is difficult at this stage to speculate about all that which lies behind it. We may almost say that the Lesser Mysteries took flesh for a period under an ordained enchantment and were ill at ease in their envelope. Having regard to Galahad's election, the response which he made thereto, and the achievement which in fine crowned it, the manner of his birth is no longer even a stain; it is a triviality, the sufficing cause of which removes the suggestion of profanation in respect of the Holy Place which by that unusual conception drew to the term of its ministry. I can understand that the mind unversed in the harmony of the whole scheme may think that the generation of Galahad should have been left in a cloud of uncertainty and himself without declared father or mother, like the mystic King of Salem. We have, however, to remember that what we now term bastardy does not rank in the romances exactly as a stain upon origin; it is almost a conventional mode of begetting heroes-in-chief, and that which obtains for Galahad obtains for the ideal hero and king who was the son according to the flesh of Uther Pendragon. As no romances ascribe a higher importance to chastity, and even to virginity, than the Graal legends, so--antecedently at least--their writers had every reason to attach its proper degree of value to the pre-eminence
and sanctity of the nuptial bond; but there was that in the antecedents of Lancelot which made him the only possible father for the most exotic flower of chivalry who was the predestined Graal winner, but at the same time nothing could insure that possibility, except in the absence of his marriage.
So, therefore, Galahad is begotten in the fulness of time, and over all connected therewith falls suddenly the veil of concealment. Though on one occasion he was seen as a babe by Sir Bors in the Holy Place, we do not know certainly where he was born or by whom nurtured; but if we are guided by the sequel, as it follows in the Great Quest, it was probably away from the Graal Castle and with mystic nurses. When we first meet him he is among the pageants and holy places of the mysteries of official religion. Subsequently he is led towards his term by one who seems a steward of other mysteries, and when the quest begins he passes at once into the world of parable and symbol, having firstly been consecrated as a knight by his own father, who does not apparently know him, who acts under the direction of the stewards, while Galahad dissembles any knowledge that he might be assumed to possess. He has come, so far as we can say, out of the hidden places of the King. He bears the outward signs of the Mysteries, and has an imputed prescience of events in a certain chain of cause and effect. He passes through adventures as a man passes through visions, and he has many combats, but they are chiefly of such an order that the alternative title of the Great Quest might well be the Spiritual Combat. In the quests which he undertakes, although there is nominally one castle in which the Graal has its normal abode, it is yet a moving wonder, and a studied comparison might show that it is more closely connected with the Eucharistic mystery than it is according to the other romances, the Longer Prose Perceval excepted. Still, an efficacious mass is being said everywhere in the world. The Graal is more especially the secret of high sanctity. Galahad himself is the
mystery of spiritual chivalry exemplified in human form; his history is one of initiation, and his term is to see God. As compared with the rest of the literature, we enter in his legend upon new ground, and are on the eminence of Mont Salvatch rather than among the normal offices of chivalry. It is more especially this legend which is regarded by scholarship as the last outcome of the ascetic element introduced into the Graal cycle; but it is not understood that throughout the period of the middle ages the mystic life manifested only under an ascetic aspect, or with an environment of that kind. The Galahad romance is not ascetic after the ordinary way, or as the term is commonly accepted; it has an interior quality which places it above that degree, and this quality is the open sense of the mystic life. But the gate of the mystic life is assuredly the ascetic gate, in the same manner that the normal life of religion has morality as the door thereof. Those who have talked of asceticism meant in reality to speak of the supernatural life, of which the Galahad romance is a kind of archetypal picture. Though Wolfram, on the authority of Guiot, may have told what he called the true story, that story was never recited till the creation of the Galahad legend. The atmosphere of the romance gives up Galahad as the natural air gives up the vision from beyond. It is the story of the arch-natural man who comes to those who will receive him. He issues from the place of the mystery as Lancelot came from fairyland, or at least a world of enchantment. The atmosphere is that of great mysteries, the odour that of the sanctuary withdrawn behind the Hallows of the outward Holy Places. Galahad's entire life is bound up so completely with the Quest to which he is dedicated that apart therefrom he can scarcely be said to live. The desire of a certain house not made with hands has so eaten him up that he has never entered the precincts of the halls of passion. He is indeed faithful and true, but earthly attraction is foreign to him, even in its exaltation. Even
his meetings with his father are shadowy and not of this world--a characteristic which seems the more prominent when he is the better fulfilling what would be understood by his filial duty. It is not that he is explicitly outside the sphere of sense and its temptations, but that his actuating motives are of the transmuted kind. In proportion, his quest is of the unrealised order; it is the working of a mystery within the place of a mystery; and it is in comparison therewith that we may understand the deep foreboding which fell upon the heart of Arthur when the flower of his wonderful court went forth to seek the Graal. In this respect the old legend illustrates the fact that many are called but few are chosen; and even in the latter class it is only the rarest flower of the mystic chivalry which can be thought of as chosen among thousands. Of the Perceval Quest there are many versions, but of Galahad there is one story only. So are the peers of the Round Table a great company, but Galahad is one. So also, of the high kings and princes, there are some who come again, and of such is the royal Arthur; but there are some who return no more, and of these is Galahad. He has not been understood even by great poets, for there could be scarcely a worse interpretation of his position than a poem, like that of Tennyson, in which he celebrates his strength on the ground that his heart is pure. Let me add, in conclusion of this part, that at the time of his coming the Graal went about in the land, looking for those it belonged to, and that in this respect Galahad had the true secret of Le Moyen de parvenir. It has its secret place of abiding, its altar of repose, at Corbenic, the Graal Castle, but it appears at the King's court--and this is exclusive to the story. The voice of the Quest passed through all Britain, in part by common report--because all the Arthurian knighthood bound itself to assume the task--but in part also by the miracle of unknown voices and of holy fore-knowledge. The Graal itself is not the official sacrament, or it is that and something which exceeds it. If it were otherwise
there would be no sense in the declaration made by a hermit that certain knights may seek but shall never find it. On the Eucharistic side, it is the vision of Christ Himself, and the mystery of Divine Providence is manifested strangely therein; it works through faith, represented as the way of vision and the gate of things unseen. In the poem of De Borron and other early versions, the Sacred Vessel is invisible--and that utterly--to persons of evil life; but, though still under its due veils, it is shown in the Quest more openly, and on one occasion even to all who are present--good knights and indifferent. The vision imposes silence, and this seems to have been always its office, but it is that kind of silence which comes about by the mode of ecstasy, and in the case of Lancelot it is described rather fully, as if there were a particular intention discernible in his advancement through those grades of his partial initiation, when he sees without participating. One form of this ecstasy seems to be connected with the working of the Holy Spirit. But there is no assurance to be inferred from favour to further favour, since, on another occasion, the Graal is invisible to Lancelot when it is seen at the same time and in the same place by a company of white knights.
Of such is the Vessel of the legend and as regards the search after it, the elect knight is told that God entered into this world to free men from the wearisome adventures which were on them and from the evil belief. A close parallel is instituted between the Knight and Christ, since Galahad came to terminate the adventurous and evil destinies in this island of Britain. For this reason he is likened to the Son of the High Father, who brought souls out of thrall, and even a demon confesses to him as the way of truth.
I conceive that there is little occasion to recite the story of the Quest which is available after so many manners of English vesture to young and old alike. At the Vigil of Pentecost, Lancelot was carried by a gentlewoman to a Holy House, where he was required to
knight the son of his own body, but, as we have seen, without learning his name or recognising him after any manner. Galahad, who "was semely and demure as a dove, with all maner of good features," was acquainted, undoubtedly, with his geniture, but he made no claim on his father. After this mode, at the beginning of his progress, was he consecrated by the secular order and received into the degree of chivalry. He came forth from the sacred precincts, being a convent of white nuns, wherein it is said that he had been nourished, and was brought to the Court of King Arthur by "a good old man and an auncyent clothed al in whyte," who saluted the company at table with words of peace. Against this arrival the palace had been prepared strangely by the emblazonment of letters of gold on the Siege Perilous--testifying that the time had come when it should be at length occupied--and by the appearance of a great stone in the river outside, with a sword embedded therein, which none present could withdraw. The ancient man uplifted the draperies of the chair, and there was found a new emblazonment: "this is the Sege of Galahalt the haute prynce." The youth is seated accordingly, as a prince who was not of this world, and it was seen that he was clothed in red arms, though without sword or shield. But he had begun to move amidst enchantments; the sword implanted in the stone was to him predestined, and by him it was withdrawn, after which he revealed by the word of his own mouth that it was that weapon wherewith the good Knight Balyn had slain Balan, his brother. At the festival which followed this episode the Graal, under its proper veils, appeared in the hall, illuminating all things by the grace of the Holy Ghost and imposing that sacred silence--already mentioned--in the presence of the Great Mysteries. As the light enlightened them spiritually, and to each uplifted the countenance of each in beauty? so the sacred vision fed them abundantly in their bodies; but because of those draperies which shrouded the vessel; the great
chivalry vowed to go in quest thereof, that they might see it more openly. After this manner began the mystic inquisition which, by a messenger from Nascien the Hermit--who was the early Keeper of Galahad according to the Vulgate Merlin and the recipient of those revelations contained in the Book of the Holy Graal--was forbidden to natural women, like that of Masonry, though the ministers of the Graal were maidens, and if Masonry had retained its secrets in conscious memory they would be served by women who were virgins.
The first adventures of Galahad were those which befell him at an Abbey of white monks, when he who was as yet without shield received that which Joseph II. gave in the far past to Evalach that he might prevail against the King of Egypt--that also which Joseph crossed with his blood on his death-bed. It was a sign that the evil adventures would be ended by Galahad. Previously, it had been a shield perilous to all who used it, because it was predestined to one, but I do not find that it had a special office in the later part of the legend.
Of the Graal and the other Hallows, of their ministry and mystery, and of all things connected therewith, we have heard in their proper sections otherwise. After what manner Lancelot, Perceval and Bors passed through worlds of parable as through places of purification--I do not speak here, and even in respect of the High Prince, I am concerned only in so far as his story completes the things which were left over from other branches of the Greater Chronicles; the healing of Mordrains, the King--penitent of all the centuries; the release of Simeon; and the manumission of the unfaithful Moses. But of this last I find nothing in the Quest. As regards Simeon, the abbey which was visited by Lancelot was reached by Galahad towards the close of his time of quest, and there he beheld a burning wood in a croft under the minster, but the "flammynge faylled, and the fyre staunched" as he drew thereto, and there paused for a space. The
voice of Simeon from within greeted him in a good hour when he was to draw a soul out of earthly pain into the joy of Paradise. It said also that he who spoke was of his kindred, and that for three hundred and fifty-four years he had been thus purged of the sin which he had done against Joseph of Arimathæa. Galahad took the body in his arms, bore it into the minster, had service said over it, and interred it before the high altar. Of such was the rest of Simeon.
It was at another abbey that he came upon the age-long vigil of King Mordrains. Galahad had the hands of healing, and seeing that he was born in the sanctuary, it may be said that in this romance the healing comes from within. These were the words of the King: "Galahad the seruant of Jhesu Cryst whos comynge I haue abyden soo longe, now enbrace me & lete me reste on thy breste, so that I may reste bitwene thine armes, for thou art a clene vyrgyn aboue all Knyghtes as the floure of the lely, in whome vyrgynyte is sygnefyed, & thou art the rose the whiche is the floure of all good vertues, & in coloure of fyre. For the fyre of the holy ghoost is taken so in thee that my flesshe which was of dede oldnesse, is become yong ageyne." When Galahad heard his words, he covered his whole body in a close embrace, in which position the King prays Christ to visit him, wherein and whereafter the soul departed from his body. So was the curious impertinent, who had been called but not chosen at that time, after his long penance, at length forgiven the offence, and was taken into the great peace, fortified with all Rites of the most secret and Holy Church of the Hidden Graal.
The Ship of Solomon had, prior to these episodes, conveyed the questing knights--Galahad, Perceval and Bors--from point to point of their progress; it had taken Lancelot a certain distance in his son's company, till they commended each other to God for the rest of their mortal life; it had borne the sister of Perceval,
who of her own hair and of silk, combined with precious stones, had braided the true and proper girdle for the Sword of David, to replace the mean girdle attached to it by the wife of Solomon. But she had yielded her life before the healing and passing in God of Mordrains, and had been placed by her proper desire in another ship, with a covenant on her part that it should meet the questers at Sarras, when the Ship of Solomon brought them to that bourne of their voyaging. It remained only that those three should now gather at Corbenic for the healing of the maimed King Pellehan, about whose place and identity we have seen that the text offers some elements of minor confusion. This is he whom we must suppose to have received the Dolorous Stroke at the hands of Balyn.
As the path of quest drew towards its central point, the three, who had traversed various converging roads, met, as it is said, at travers, knowing that the adventures of Logres were at last achieved. They entered within the Castle, and King Pelles greeted them with great joy. In this as in some other romances grave importance is attached to resoldering the Broken Sword, and that which was brought by Eleazer, the King's son, was that with which Joseph II. was once stricken through the thighs. It was set perfectly by Galahad when the others had essayed in vain, and was then given to Bors, as a good knight and a worthy man. What followed thereon was the sustenance of the elect Graal knights after a spiritual manner, to the exclusion of the general assembly, who were dismissed from the presence. Those who remained were three and three, namely, Galahad, Perceval and Bors, for the first triad; King Pelles, his son Eleazar, and a maiden who was the King's niece, for the second triad. To these were joined certain pilgrims who were knights also, namely, three of Gaul, three of Ireland, and three of Denmark. Finally, there was brought in the maimed King, and thereon a voice said that two of those who were present did not belong to the Quest,
at which words King Pelles--although he was the Keeper--rose up with his son and departed. They were, therefore, thirteen in all, and one of these was a woman, who was present with them when Joseph of Arimathæa, the first Bishop of Christendom, came down with angels from heaven, and celebrated an arch-natural Mass in the Holy Place. After the Kiss of Peace given to Galahad, and communicated by him to his fellows, the celebrants dissolved, but out of the Graal itself there came the Saviour of all, with the signs of His passion upon Him, and communicated to them all in the Eucharist. He also vanished, and Galahad, who had received his instructions, went up to the maimed King and anointed him with the blood flowing from the Hallowed Spear. Thereupon, he, being healed, rose up and gave thanks to God. It is said that, in the sequel of time, he united himself to a company of white monks.
"Sir," said Galahad to the Great Master at the close of the Mysteries, "why shalle not these other felawes goo with us?"--that is to say, unto Sarras, the reference being to the nine mysterious knights. The answer hereto was significant: "For this cause: for ryght as I departed my postels, one here and another there soo I will that ye departe, and two of yow shall dye in my servyse, but one of you shal come ageyne and telle tydynges." So, therefore, the company of the adepts dissevered; but we have seen how Galahad, Perceval and Bors were carried by the Ship of Solomon to Sarras, "in the partyes of Babylone," called an island in the Quest. There met them, in accordance with her covenant, that other vessel, which carried the body of Perceval's most holy sister. We have seen also how the soul of Galahad departed, and it rests only to say that Perceval died in a hermitage, but Sir Bors returned to Logres, bearing the messages of his brethren, but especially of Galahad to his father: "And whanne he had said these wordes Galahad went to Percyual and kyssed hym & commaunded hym to God, and soo he
went to sire Bors, & kyssed hym, and commaunded hym to God, and sayde: Fayre lord, salewe me to my lord syr launcelot my fader. And as soone as ye see hym, byd hym remember of this unstable world."
The bodies of Perceval and Galahad were buried in the spiritualities of Sarras, which may have been in some sense a city of initiation, though until their coming it was ruled by evil rather than good. It was not the abiding place, but that of the final trial for the stewards of the Mystery, and at first they were imprisoned therein; but Galahad was afterwards made King. The Spear was taken into heaven, together with the Holy Vessel, but Bors returned--as it has been intimated--carrying the re-soldered Broken Sword, as if grace had been removed, but not that which now may have symbolised the coming destruction of the Round Table. Of the Sword of David we hear nothing further, nor do we know what became of the Ship of Solomon. As the symbol of Faith, it may have continued voyaging, but on other considerations it had done its work: there was no reason why it should remain when Galahad had gone.
But perhaps the saddest mystery of all is the end of King Pelles himself, and how it fared with him after the departure of the Graal. It will be seen that the Quest versions offer many alternatives, but there is one text only which says that the Hereditary Keeper was dispossessed utterly and left in an empty sanctuary.
We have now, and in fine, to account as we can for the great disaster of the whole experiment. The earthly knighthood undertakes, in despite of the high earthly king, a quest to which it is in a sense perhaps called but for which it is in no sense chosen. The result, as I have said, is that the chivalry of the world is broken and the kingdom is destroyed, while the object of all research is said to be taken away. It was not, therefore, the concealment of the Sacred Vessel, but its manifestation rather, which brought ruin to the Round Table. It went about in the world of Logres, and the ruin followed, because the
world was not worthy. In a certain manner it is the mystery of the Graal itself which gives forth Galahad as its own manifestation, in the order of the visible body, and sends him on designed offices of healing, with a warrant to close a specific cycle of times. When the Graal romances say that the Sacred Vessel was seen no more, or was carried up to heaven, they do not mean that it was taken away, in the sense that it had become unattainable, but that it was--as some of them say also--in concealment. It is certain that the great things are always in concealment, and are perhaps the more hidden in proportion to their more apparently open manifestation. In this respect, the distinction between the natural and supernatural Graal, which is made by the prose Lancelot, has a side of highest value. Let us reserve for a moment the consideration of the Hallows as mere relics, and in so far as the Cup is concerned, let us remember the two forms of sustenance which it offered--in correspondence closely enough with the ideas of Nature and Grace. It should be understood, however, that between the mysteries themselves there is a certain superincession, and so also there is in the romances what the light heart of criticism regards as un peu confus, namely, some disposition to talk of the one office in the terms of the other. At the same time certain romances give prominence to the greater and others to the lesser office.