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Sir Galahad, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (detail) [1864] (Public Domain Image)

The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal

by Arthur Edward Waite


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In the 13th century, over a few decades, a huge literature emerged around an unlikely tale. Survivors of the core of early Christianity make a perilous journey to Western Europe. They begin a hidden bloodline, preserve immensely powerful relics of the crucifixion, and carry a secret which, if revealed, would turn the established church on its head. If this seems like déjà vu, it is.

A.E. Waite gets to the core of the Grail legend, an interwoven mass of narratives which started with seeds of pagan folklore and grew into a massive allegorical Christian epic. This 700 page book will satisfy both the academic reader who wants a survey of the Grail literature, and the more mystically inclined who seek the Grail itself. Waite examines in great detail every known source text for the Grail legend. His literate style makes interesting reading for well-educated readers, despite the repeating themes and story lines. Unlike some of the other writers on this topic, Waite is organized, focused, and not hesitant to turn a critical eye on half-baked theories.

In the last two hundred pages, he attempts to make some sense of it all. He examines and dismisses 19th century theories which linked the Grail to the Templars, or Masons, as well as the unorthodox Cathars, Albigensians and Waldensians of Southern France. His conclusion is that there is an 'inner church' in Christianity: not a conspiracy or a subterranean sect, but a mystical core. Instead, Waite's concept of the hidden church is based on a deep comprehension of the sacrament of communion, and the Holy Grail is symbolic of this.

Waite published this magnum opus about the time that he (with Pamela Smith) was putting the finishing touches on his Tarot deck. A close read of this book will illuminate much of the Waite Tarot deck symbolism.

Title Page and Front Matter

Book I

The Argument
I. Some Aspects of the Graal Legend
II. Epochs of the Legend
III. The Environment of the Graal Literature
IV. The Literature of the Cycle
V. The Implicits of the Mystery

Book II

The Argument
I. A Preliminary Account of Certain Root-Secrets Included in the Whole Subject
II. The Institution of the Hallows, and in the First Place General Introduction Concerning Them
III. The Institution of the Hallows, and, Secondly, the Variations of the Cup Legend
IV. The Graal Vessel Considered as a Bowl of Plenty

V. The Lesser Hallows of the Legend

§ A.--The Summary of These Matters
§ B.--Legends of the Sacred Lance
§ C.--The Broken Sword
§ D.--The Dish


VI. The Castle of the Holy Graal
VII. The Keepers of the Hallows
VIII. The Pageants in the Quests
IX. The Enchantments of Britain, the Times Called Adventurous and the Wounding of the King
X. The Suppressed Word and the Mystic Question
XI. The Healing of the King
XII. The Removal of the Hallows

Book III

I. The Antecedents of the Legend in Folk-Lore
II. The Welsh Perceval
III. The English Metrical Romance of Syr Percyvelle

IV. The Conte del Graal

§ A.--Preliminary to the Whole Subject
§ B.--The Poem of Chrétien De Troyes
§ C.--The Extension of Gautier
§ D.--The Conclusion of Manessier
§ E.--The Alternative Sequel of Gerbert
§ F.--In Which Sir Gawain is Considered Briefly as a Companion of the Holy Quest

Book IV

I. The Metrical Romance of Joseph of Arimathæa
II. The Lesser Holy Graal
III. The Early History of Merlin
IV. The Didot Perceval

Book V

The Argument
I. The Book of the Holy Graal and, in the First Place, the Prologue Thereto Belonging
II. New Consideration Concerning the Branches of the Chronicle
III. The Minor Branches of the Book of the Holy Graal

IV. Some Later Merlin Legends

§ A.--The Vulgate Merlin
§ B.--The Huth Merlin


V. The Great Prose Lancelot
VI. A Preface or Introductory Portion Appertaining to All The Quests
VII. The Longer Prose Perceval
VIII. The Quest of the High Prince
IX. The Welsh Quest of Galahad

Book VI

I. The Parsifal of Wolfram Von Eschenbach
II. Gleanings Concerning the Lost Quest of Guiot de Provence
III. Sidelights From the Spanish and Portuguese Quests
IV. The Crown of All Adventures
V. The Titurel of Albrecht Von Scharfenberg
VI. The Dutch Lancelot

Book VII

I. Statement of a Possible Implicit Accounting for All Claims
II. The Formulæ of the Hypothesis Scheduled
III. In What Sense the Plea Must be Held to Fail
IV. The Victory of the Latin Rite


I. The Introductory Words
II. The Position of the Literature Defined
III. Concerning the Great Experiment
IV. The Mystery of Initiation
V. The Mystery of Faith
VI. The Lost Book of the Graal
VII. The Declared Mystery of Quest

Book IX

The Argument
I. Preliminary to the Whole Subject
II. Some Alleged Secret Schools of the Middle Ages
III. The Latin Literature of Alchemy and the Hermetic Secret in the Light of the Eucharistic Mystery
IV. The Kabalistic Academies
V. The Claim in Respect of Templar Influence
VI. The Graal Formula in the Light of Other Gleanings from the Catholic Sacramentary
VII. The Lapis Exilis

VIII. The Analogies of Masonry

§ A. The Assumption of the Building Guild
§ B. Masonry and Moral Science
§ C. A Theory of Hermetic Interference
§ D. One Key to the Sanctuary


IX. The Hallows of the Graal Mystery Rediscovered in the Talismans of the Tarot

Book X

The Argument
I. The Hermeneutics of the Holy Graal
II. The Good Husbandman
III. The Catholic Secret of the Literature
IV. The Mystery Which Is Within
V. The Secluded and Unknown Sanctuary
VI. The Tradition of St. John the Divine and Other Traces of a Higher Mind of the Church
VII. The Conclusion of This Holy Quest


Appendix: Bibliography

Part I. The Texts
Part II. Some Critical Works
Part III. Phases of Interpretation