Sacred Texts  Legends/Sagas  Arthur  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 107



The gradual process of our investigation has led us to the conclusion that the elements forming the existing Grail legend--the setting of the story, the nature of the task which awaits the hero, the symbols and their significance--one and all, while finding their counterpart in prehistoric record, present remarkable parallels to the extant practice and belief of countries so widely separate as the British Isles, Russia, and Central Africa.

The explanation of so curious a fact, for it is a fact, and not a mere hypothesis, may, it was suggested, most probably be found in the theory that in this fascinating literature we have the, sometimes partially understood, sometimes wholly misinterpreted, record of a ritual, originally presumed to exercise a life-giving potency, which, at one time of universal observance, has, even in its decay, shown itself possessed of elements of the most persistent vitality.

That if the ritual, which according to our theory lies at the root of the Grail story, be indeed the ritual of a Life Cult, it should, in and per se, possess precisely these characteristics, will, I think, be admitted by any fair-minded critic; the point of course is, can we definitely prove our theory, i.e., not merely point to striking parallels, but select, from the figures and incidents composing our story, some one element, which, by showing itself capable of explanation on this theory, and on this theory alone, may be held to afford decisive proof of the soundness of our hypothesis?

p. 108

It seems to me that there is one such element in the bewildering complex, by which the theory can be thus definitely tested, that is the personality of the central figure and the title by which he is known. If we can prove that the Fisher King, qua Fisher King, is an integral part of the ritual, and can be satisfactorily explained alike by its intention, and inherent symbolism, we shall, I think, have taken the final step which will establish our theory upon a sure basis. On the other hand, if the Fisher King, qua Fisher King, does not fit into our framework we shall be forced to conclude that, while the provenance of certain elements of the Grail literature is practically assured, the ensemble has been complicated by the introduction of a terminology, which, whether the outcome of serious intention, or of mere literary caprice, was foreign to the original source, and so far, defies explanation. In this latter case our theory would not necessarily be manqué, but would certainly be seriously incomplete.

We have already seen that the personality of the King, the nature of the disability under which he is suffering, and the reflex effect exercised upon his folk and his land, correspond, in a most striking manner, to the intimate relation at one time held to exist between the ruler and his land; a relation mainly dependent upon the identification of the King with the Divine principle of Life and Fertility.

This relation, as we have seen above, exists to-day among certain African tribes.

If we examine more closely into the existing variants of our romances, we shall find that those very variants are not only thoroughly dans le cadre of our proposed solution, but also afford a valuable, and hitherto unsuspected, indication of the relative priority of the versions.

In Chapter I, I discussed the task of the hero in general, here I propose to focus attention upon his host, and while

p. 109

in a measure traversing the same ground, to do so with a view to determining the true character of this enigmatic personage.

In the Bleheris version 1, the lord of the castle is suffering under no disability whatever; he is described as "tall, and strong of limb, of no great age, but somewhat bald." Besides the King there is a Dead Knight upon a bier, over whose body Vespers for the Dead are solemnly sung. The wasting of the land, partially restored by Gawain's question concerning the Lance, has been caused by the 'Dolorous Stroke,' i.e., the stroke which brought about the death of the Knight, whose identity is here never revealed. Certain versions which interpolate the account of Joseph of Arimathea and the Grail, allude to 'Le riche Pescheur' and his heirs as Joseph's descendants, and, presumably, for it is not directly stated, guardians of the Grail 2, but the King himself is here never called by that title. From his connection with the Waste Land it seems more probable that it was the Dead Knight who filled that rôle.

In the second version of which Gawain is the hero, that of Diû Crône 3, the Host is an old and infirm man. After Gawain has asked the question we learn that he is really dead, and only compelled to retain the semblance of life till the task of the Quester be achieved. Here, again, he is not called the Fisher King.

In the Perceval versions, on the contrary, we find the name invariably associated with him, but he is not always directly connected with the misfortunes which have fallen upon his land. Thus, while the Wauchier texts are incomplete, breaking off at the critical moment of asking the

p. 110

question, Manessier who continues, and ostensibly completes, Wauchier, introduces the Dead Knight, here Goondesert, or Gondefer (which I suspect is the more correct form), brother of the King, whose death by treachery has plunged the land in misery, and been the direct cause of the self-wounding of the King 1. The healing of the King and the restoration of the land depend upon Perceval's slaying the murderer Partinal. These two versions show a combination of Perceval and Gawain themes, such as their respective dates might lead us to expect.

Robert de Borron is the only writer who gives a clear, and tolerably reasonable, account of why the guardian of the Grail bears the title of Fisher King; in other cases, such as the poems of Chrétien and Wolfram, the name is connected with his partiality for fishing, an obviously post hoc addition.

The story in question is found in Borron's Joseph of Arimathea 2. Here we are told how, during the wanderings of that holy man and his companions in the wilderness, certain of the company fell into sin. By the command of God, Brons, Joseph's brother-in-law, caught a Fish, which, with the Grail, provided a mystic meal of which the unworthy cannot partake; thus the sinners were separated from the righteous. Henceforward Brons was known as 'The Rich Fisher.' It is noteworthy, however, that in the Perceval romance, ascribed to Borron, the title is as a rule, Roi Pescheur, not Riche Pescheur 3.

In this romance the King is not suffering from any special malady, but is the victim of extreme old age;

p. 111

not surprising, as he is Brons himself, who has survived from the dawn of Christianity to the days of King Arthur. We are told that the effect of asking the question will be to restore him to youth 1; as a matter of fact it appears to bring about his death, as he only lives three days after his restoration 2.

When we come to Chrétien's poem we find ourselves confronted with a striking alteration in the presentment. There are, not one, but two, disabled kings; one suffering from the effects of a wound, the other in extreme old age. Chrétien's poem being incomplete we do not know what he intended to be the result of the achieved Quest, but we may I think reasonably conclude that the wounded King at least was healed 3.

The Parzival of von Eschenbach follows the same tradition, but is happily complete. Here we find the wounded King was healed, but what becomes of the aged man (here the grandfather, not as in Chrétien the father, of the Fisher King) we are not told 4.

The Perlesvaus is, as I have noted above 5, very unsatisfactory. The illness of the King is badly motivated, and he dies before the achievement of the Quest. This romance, while retaining certain interesting, and undoubtedly primitive features, is, as a whole, too late, and remaniée a redaction to be of much use in determining the question of origins.

The same may be said of the Grand Saint Graal and Queste versions, both of which are too closely connected with

p. 112

the prose Lancelot, and too obviously intended to develope and complete the données of that romance to be relied upon as evidence for the original form of the Grail legend 1. The version of the Queste is very confused: there are two kings at the Grail castle, Pelles, and his father; sometimes the one, sometimes the other, bears the title of Roi Pescheur 2. There is besides, an extremely old, and desperately wounded, king, Mordrains, a contemporary of Joseph, who practically belongs, not to the Grail tradition, but to a Conversion legend embodied in the Grand Saint Graal 3. Finally, in the latest cyclic texts, we have three Kings, all of whom are wounded 4.

The above will show that the presentment of this central figure is much confused; generally termed Le Roi Pescheur, he is sometimes described as in middle life, and in full possession of his bodily powers. Sometimes while still comparatively young he is incapacitated by the effects of a wound, and is known also by the title of Roi Mehaigné, or Maimed King. Sometimes he is in extreme old age, and in certain closely connected versions the two ideas are combined, and we have a wounded Fisher King, and an aged father, or grandfather. But I would draw attention to the significant fact that in no case is the Fisher King a youthful character; that distinction is reserved for his Healer, and successor.

p. 113

Now is it possible to arrive at any conclusion as to the relative value and probable order of these conflicting variants? I think that if we admit that they do, in all probability, represent a more or less coherent survival of the Nature ritual previously discussed, we may, by help of what we know as to the varying forms of that ritual, be enabled to bring some order out of this confusion.

If we turn back to Chapters 4, 5, and 7, and consult the evidence there given as to the Adonis cults, the Spring Festivals of European Folk, the Mumming Plays of the British Isles, the main fact that emerges is that in the great majority of these cases the representative of the Spirit of Vegetation is considered as dead, and the object of these ceremonies is to restore him to life. This I hold to be the primary form.

This section had already been written when I came across the important article by Dr Jevons, referred to in a previous chapter 1. Certain of his remarks are here so much to the point that I cannot refrain from quoting them. Speaking of the Mumming Plays, the writer says: "The one point in which there is no variation is that--the character is killed and brought to life again. The play is a ceremonial performance, or rather it is the development in dramatic form of what was originally a religious or magical rite, representing or realizing the revivification of the character slain. This revivification is the one essential and invariable feature of all the Mummer's plays in England 2."

In certain cases, e.g., the famous Roman Spring festival of Mamurius Veturius and the Swabian ceremony referred to above 3, the central figure is an old man. In no case do I find that the representative of Vegetation is merely

p. 114

wounded, although the nature of the ritual would obviously admit of such a variant.

Thus, taking the extant and recognized forms of the ritual into consideration, we might expect to find that in the earliest, and least contaminated, version of the Grail story the central figure would be dead, and the task of the Quester that of restoring him to life. Viewed from this standpoint the Gawain versions (the priority of which is maintainable upon strictly literary grounds, Gawain being the original Arthurian romantic hero) are of extraordinary interest. In the one form we find a Dead Knight, whose fate is distinctly stated to have involved his land in desolation, in the other, an aged man who, while preserving the semblance of life, is in reality dead.

This last version appears to me, in view of our present knowledge, to be of extreme critical value. There can, I think, be little doubt that in the primary form underlying our extant versions the King was dead, and restored to life; at first, I strongly suspect, by the agency of some mysterious herb, or herbs, a feature retained in certain forms of the Mumming play.

In the next stage, that represented by Borron, he is suffering from extreme old age, and the task of the Quester is to restore him to youth. This version is again supported by extant parallels. In each of these cases it seems most probable that the original ritual (I should wish it to be clearly understood that I hold the Grail story to have been primarily dramatic, and actually performed) involved an act of substitution. The Dead King in the first case being probably represented by a mere effigy, in the second being an old man, his place was, at a given moment of the ritual, taken by the youth who played the rôle of the Quester. It is noteworthy that, while both Perceval and Galahad are represented as mere lads, Gawain, whatever his age at the

p. 115

moment of the Grail quest, was, as we learn from Diû Crône, dowered by his fairy Mistress with the gift of eternal youth 1.

The versions of Chrétien and Wolfram, which present us with a wounded Fisher King, and a father, or grandfather 2, in extreme old age, are due in my opinion to a literary device, intended to combine two existing variants. That the subject matter was well understood by the original redactor of the common source is proved by the nature of the injury 3, but I hold that in these versions we have passed from the domain of ritual to that of literature. Still, we have a curious indication that the Wounding variant may have had its place in the former. The suggestion made above as to the probable existence in the primitive ritual of a substitution ceremony, seems to me to provide a possible explanation of the feature found alike in Wolfram, and in the closely allied Grail section of Sone de Nansai; i.e., that the wound of the King was a punishment for sin, he had conceived a passion for a Pagan princess 4. Now there would be no incongruity in representing the Dead King as reborn in youthful form, the aged King as revenu dans sa juvence, but when the central figure was a man in the prime of life some reason had to be found, his strength and vitality being restored, for his supersession by the appointed Healer. This supersession was adequately motivated by the supposed transgression of a fundamental Christian law, entailing as consequence the forfeiture of his crown.

I would thus separate the doubling theme, as found in Chrétien and Wolfram, from the wounded theme, equally

p. 116

common to these poets. This latter might possibly be accounted for on the ground of a ritual variant; the first is purely literary, explicable neither on the exoteric, nor the esoteric, aspect of the ceremony. From the exoteric point of view there are not, and there cannot be, two Kings suffering from parallel disability; the ritual knows one Principle of Life, and one alone. Equally from the esoteric standpoint Fisher King, and Maimed King, representing two different aspects of the same personality, may, and probably were, represented as two individuals, but one alone is disabled. Further, as the two are, in very truth, one, they should be equals in age, not of different generations. Thus the Bleheris version which gives us a Dead Knight, presumably, from his having been slain in battle, still in vigorous manhood, and a hale King is, ritually, the more correct. The original of Manessier's version must have been similar, but the fact that by the time it was compiled the Fisher King was generally accepted as being also the Maimed King led to the introduction of the very awkward, and poorly motivated, self-wounding incident. It will be noted that in this case the King is not healed either at the moment of the slaying of his brother's murderer (which would be the logical result of the données of the tale), nor at the moment of contact with the successful Quester, but at the mere announcement of his approach 1.

Thus, if we consider the King, apart from his title, we find that alike from his position in the story, his close connection with the fortunes of his land and people, and the varying forms of the disability of which he is the victim,

p. 117

he corresponds with remarkable exactitude to the central figure of a well-recognized Nature ritual, and may therefore justly be claimed to belong ab origine to such a hypothetical source.

But what about his title, why should he be called the Fisher King?

Here we strike what I hold to be the main crux of the problem, a feature upon which scholars have expended much thought and ingenuity, a feature which the authors of the romances themselves either did not always understand, or were at pains to obscure by the introduction of the obviously post hoc "motif" above referred to, i.e., that he was called the Fisher King because of his devotion to the pastime of fishing: à-propos of which Heinzel sensibly remarks, that the story of the Fisher King "presupposes a legend of this personage only vaguely known and remembered by Chrétien 1."

Practically the interpretations already attempted fall into two main groups, which we may designate as the Christian-Legendary, and the Celtic-Folk-lore interpretations. For those who hold that the Grail story is essentially, and fundamentally, Christian, finding its root in Eucharistic symbolism, the title is naturally connected with the use of the Fish symbol in early Christianity: the Icthys anagram, as applied to Christ, the title 'Fishers of Men,' bestowed upon the Apostles, the Papal ring of the Fisherman--though it must be noted that no manipulation of the Christian symbolism avails satisfactorily to account for the lamentable condition into which the bearer of the title has fallen 2

p. 118

The advocates of the Folk-lore theory, on the other hand, practically evade this main difficulty, by basing their interpretation upon Borron's story of the catching of the Fish by Brons, equating this character with the Bran of Welsh tradition, and pointing to the existence, in Irish and Welsh legend, of a Salmon of Wisdom, the tasting of whose flesh confers all knowledge. Hertz acutely remarks that the incident, as related by Borron, is not of such importance as to justify the stress laid upon the name, Rich Fisher, by later writers 1. We may also note in this connection that the Grail romances never employ the form 'Wise Fisher,' which, if the origin of the name were that proposed above, we might reasonably expect to find. It is obvious that a satisfactory solution of the problem must be sought elsewhere.

In my opinion the key to the puzzle is to be found in the rightful understanding of the Fish-Fisher symbolism. Students of the Grail literature have been too prone to treat the question on the Christian basis alone, oblivious of the fact that Christianity did no more than take over, and adapt to its own use, a symbolism already endowed with a deeply rooted prestige and importance.

So far the subject cannot be said to have received adequate treatment; certain of its aspects have been more or less fully discussed in monographs and isolated articles, but we still await a comprehensive study on this most important question 2.

p. 119

So far as the present state of our knowledge goes we can affirm with certainty that the Fish is a Life symbol of immemorial antiquity, and that the title of Fisher has, from the earliest ages, been associated with Deities who were held to be specially connected with the origin and preservation of Life.

In Indian cosmogony Manu finds a little fish in the water in which he would wash his hands; it asks, and receives, his protection, asserting that when grown to full size it will save Manu from the universal deluge. This is Jhasa, the greatest of all fish 1.

The first Avatar of Vishnu the Creator is a Fish. At the great feast in honour of this god, held on the twelfth day of the first month of the Indian year, Vishnu is represented under the form of a golden Fish, and addressed in the following terms: "Wie Du, O Gott, in Gestalt eines Fisches die in der Unterwelt befindlichen Veden gerettet hast, so rette auch mich 2." The Fish Avatar was afterwards transferred to Buddha.

In Buddhist religion the symbols of the Fish and Fisher are freely employed. Thus in Buddhist monasteries we find drums and gongs in the shape of a fish, but the true meaning of the symbol, while still regarded as sacred, has been lost, and the explanations, like the explanations of the Grail romances, are often fantastic afterthoughts.

In the Māhāyana scriptures Buddha is referred to as the Fisherman who draws fish from the ocean of Samsara to

p. 120

the light of Salvation. There are figures and pictures which represent Buddha in the act of fishing, an attitude which, unless interpreted in a symbolic sense, would be utterly at variance with the tenets of the Buddhist religion 1.

This also holds good for Chinese Buddhism. The goddess Kwanyin (= Avalokiteśvara), the female Deity of Mercy and Salvation, is depicted either on, or holding, a Fish. In the Han palace of Kun-Ming-Ch'ih there was a Fish carved in jade to which in time of drought sacrifices were offered, the prayers being always answered.

Both in India and China the Fish is employed in funeral rites. In India a crystal bowl with Fish handles was found in a reputed tomb of Buddha. In China the symbol is found on stone slabs enclosing the coffin, on bronze urns, vases, etc. Even as the Babylonians had the Fish, or Fisher, god, Oannes who revealed to them the arts of Writing, Agriculture, etc., and was, as Eisler puts it, 'teacher and lord of all wisdom,' so the Chinese Fu-Hi, who is pictured with the mystic tablets containing the mysteries of Heaven and Earth, is, with his consort and retinue, represented as having a fish's tail 2.

The writer of the article in The Open Court asserts that "the Fish was sacred to those deities who were supposed to lead men back from the shadows of death to life 3." If this be really the case we can understand the connection of the symbol first with Orpheus, later with Christ, as Eisler remarks: "Orpheus is connected with nearly all the mystery, and a great many of the ordinary chthonic, cults in Greece and Italy. Christianity took its first tentative steps into

p. 121

the reluctant world of Graeco-Roman Paganism under the benevolent patronage of Orpheus 1."

There is thus little reason to doubt that, if we regard the Fish as a Divine Life symbol, of immemorial antiquity, we shall not go very far astray.

We may note here that there was a fish known to the Semites by the name of Adonis, although as the title signifies 'Lord,' and is generic rather than specific, too much stress cannot be laid upon it. It is more interesting to know that in Babylonian cosmology Adapa the Wise, the son of Ea, is represented as a Fisher 2. In the ancient Sumerian laments for Tammuz, previously referred to, that god is frequently addressed as Divine Lamgar, Lord of the Net, the nearest equivalent I have so far found to our 'Fisher King 3.' Whether the phrase is here used in an actual or a symbolic sense the connection of idea is sufficiently striking.

In the opinion of the most recent writers on the subject the Christian Fish symbolism derives directly from the Jewish, the Jews, on their side having borrowed freely from Syrian belief and practice 4.

What may be regarded as the central point of Jewish Fish symbolism is the tradition that, at the end of the world, Messias will catch the great Fish Leviathan, and divide its flesh as food among the faithful. As a foreshadowing of this Messianic Feast the Jews were in the habit of eating fish upon the Sabbath. During the Captivity,

p. 122

under the influence of the worship of the goddess Atargatis, they transferred the ceremony to the Friday, the eve of the Sabbath, a position which it has retained to the present day. Eisler remarks that "in Galicia one can see Israelite families in spite of their being reduced to the extremest misery, procuring on Fridays a single gudgeon, to eat, divided into fragments, at night-fall. In the 16th century Rabbi Solomon Luria protested strongly against this practice. Fish, he declared, should be eaten on the Sabbath itself, not on the Eve 1."

This Jewish custom appears to have been adopted by the primitive Church, and early Christians, on their side, celebrated a Sacramental Fish-meal. The Catacombs supply us with numerous illustrations, fully described by the two writers referred to. The elements of this mystic meal were Fish, Bread, and Wine, the last being represented in the Messianic tradition: "At the end of the meal God will give to the most worthy, i.e., to King David, the Cup of Blessing--one of fabulous dimensions 2."

Fish play an important part in Mystery Cults, as being the 'holy' food. Upon a tablet dedicated to the Phrygian Mater Magna we find Fish and Cup; and Dölger, speaking of a votive tablet discovered in the Balkans, says, "Hier ist der Fisch immer und immer wieder allzu deutlich als die heilige Speise eines Mysterien-Kultes hervorgehoben 3."

Now I would submit that here, and not in Celtic Folk-lore, is to be found the source of Borron's Fish-meal. Let us consider the circumstances. Joseph and his followers, in the course of their wanderings, find themselves in danger of famine. The position is somewhat curious, as apparently

p. 123

the leaders have no idea of the condition of their followers till the latter appeal to Brons 1.

Brons informs Joseph, who prays for aid and counsel from the Grail. A Voice from Heaven bids him send his brother-in-law, Brons, to catch a fish. Meanwhile he, Joseph, is to prepare a table, set the Grail, covered with a cloth, in the centre opposite his own seat, and the fish which Brons shall catch, on the other side. He does this, and the seats are filled--"Si s'i asieent une grant partie et plus i ot de cels qui n'i sistrent mie, que de cels qui sistrent." Those who are seated at the table are conscious of a great "douceur," and "l'accomplissement de lor cuers," the rest feel nothing.

Now compare this with the Irish story of the Salmon of Wisdom 2.

Finn Mac Cumhail enters the service of his namesake, Finn Eger, who for seven years had remained by the Boyne watching the Salmon of Lynn Feic, which it had been foretold Finn should catch. The younger lad, who conceals his name, catches the fish. He is set to watch it while it roasts but is warned not to eat it. Touching it with his thumb he is burned, and puts his thumb in his mouth to cool it. Immediately he becomes possessed of all knowledge, and thereafter has only to chew his thumb to obtain wisdom. Mr Nutt remarks: "The incident in Borron's poem has been recast in the mould of mediaeval Christian Symbolism, but I think the older myth can still be clearly discerned, and is wholly responsible for the incident as found in the Conte du Graal."

But when these words were written we were in ignorance of the Sacramental Fish-meal, common alike to Jewish, Christian, and Mystery Cults, a meal which offers a far closer parallel to Borron's romance than does the Finn story, in

p. 124

which, beyond the catching of a fish, there is absolutely no point of contact with our romance, neither Joseph nor Brons derives wisdom from the eating thereof; it is not they who detect the sinners, the severance between the good and the evil is brought about automatically. The Finn story has no common meal, and no idea of spiritual blessings such as are connected therewith.

In the case of the Messianic Fish-meal, on the other hand, the parallel is striking; in both cases it is a communal meal, in both cases the privilege of sharing it is the reward of the faithful, in both cases it is a foretaste of the bliss of Paradise.

Furthermore, as remarked above, the practice was at one time of very widespread prevalence.

Now whence did Borron derive his knowledge, from Jewish, Christian or Mystery sources?

This is a question not very easy to decide. In view of the pronounced Christian tone of Borron's romance I should feel inclined to exclude the first, also the Jewish Fish-meal seems to have been of a more open, general and less symbolic character than the Christian; it was frankly an anticipation of a promised future bliss, obtainable by all.

Orthodox Christianity, on the other hand, knows nothing of the Sacred Fish-meal, so far as I am aware it forms no part of any Apocalyptic expectation, and where this special symbolism does occur it is often under conditions which place its interpretation outside the recognized category of Christian belief.

A noted instance in point is the famous epitaph of Bishop Aberkios, over the correct interpretation of which scholars have spent much time and ingenuity 1. In this curious text Aberkios, after mentioning his journeys, says:

p. 125

     "Paul I had as my guide,
Faith however always went ahead and set before me as food a Fish from a Fountain, a huge one, a clean one,
Which a Holy Virgin has caught.
This she gave to the friends ever to eat as food,
Having good Wine, and offering it watered together with Bread.
Aberkios had this engraved when 72 years of age in truth.
Whoever can understand this let him pray for Aberkios."

Eisler (I am here quoting from the Quest article) remarks, "As the last line of our quotation gives us quite plainly to understand, a number of words which we have italicized are obviously used in an unusual, metaphorical, sense, that is to say as terms of the Christian Mystery language." While Harnack, admitting that the Christian character of the text is indisputable, adds significantly: "aber das Christentum der Grosskirche ist es nicht."

Thus it is possible that, to the various points of doubtful orthodoxy which scholars have noted as characteristic of the Grail romances, Borron's Fish-meal should also be added.

Should it be objected that the dependence of a medieval romance upon a Jewish tradition of such antiquity is scarcely probable, I would draw attention to the Voyage of Saint Brandan, where the monks, during their prolonged wanderings, annually 'kept their Resurrection,' i.e., celebrate their Easter Mass, on the back of a great Fish 1. On their first meeting with this monster Saint Brandan tells them it is the greatest of all fishes, and is named Jastoni, a name which bears a curious resemblance to the Jhasa of the Indian tradition cited above 2. In this last instance the connection of the Fish with life, renewed and sustained, is undeniable.

p. 126

The original source of such a symbol is most probably to be found in the belief, referred to in a previous chapter 1, that all life comes from the water, but that a more sensual and less abstract idea was also operative appears from the close connection of the Fish with the goddess Astarte or Atargatis, a connection here shared by the Dove. Cumont, in his Les Religions Orientales dans le Paganisme Romain, says: "Two animals were held in general reverence, namely, Dove and Fish. Countless flocks of Doves greeted the traveller when he stepped on shore at Askalon, and in the outer courts of all the temples of Astarte one might see the flutter of their white wings. The Fish were preserved in ponds near to the Temple, and superstitious dread forbade their capture, for the goddess punished such sacrilege, smiting the offender with ulcers and tumours 2."

But at certain mystic banquets priests and initiates partook of this otherwise forbidden food, in the belief that they thus partook of the flesh of the goddess. Eisler and other scholars are of the opinion that it was the familiarity with this ritual gained by the Jews during the Captivity that led to the adoption of the Friday Fish-meal, already referred to, Friday being the day dedicated to the goddess and, later, to her equivalent, Venus. From the Jews the custom spread to the Christian Church, where it still flourishes, its true origin, it is needless to say, being wholly unsuspected 3.

Dove and Fish also appear together in ancient iconography. In Comte Goblet d'Alviella's work The Migration of Symbols there is an illustration of a coin of Cyzicus, on which is represented an Omphalus, flanked by two Doves, with a Fish beneath 4; and a whole section is devoted to the discussion of the representations of two Doves on either side of a Temple entrance, or of an Omphalus. In the

p. 127

author's opinion the origin of the symbol may be found in the sacred dove-cotes of Phoenicia, referred to by Cumont.

Scheftelowitz instances the combination of Fish-meal and Dove, found on a Jewish tomb of the first century at Syracuse, and remarks that the two are frequently found in combination on Christian tombstones 1

Students of the Grail romances will not need to be reminded that the Dove makes its appearance in certain of our texts. In the Parzival it plays a somewhat important rôle; every Good Friday a Dove brings from Heaven a Host, which it lays upon the Grail; and the Dove is the badge of the Grail Knights 2. In the prose Lancelot the coming of the Grail procession is heralded by the entrance through the window of a Dove, bearing a censer in its beak 3. Is it not possible that it was the already existing connection in Nature ritual of these two, Dove and Fish, which led to the introduction of the former into our romances, where its rôle is never really adequately motivated? It is further to be noted that besides Dove and Fish the Syrians reverenced Stones, more especially meteoric Stones, which they held to be endowed with life potency, another point of contact with our romances 4.

That the Fish was considered a potent factor in ensuring fruitfulness is proved by certain prehistoric tablets described by Scheftelowitz, where Fish, Horse, and Swastika, or in another instance Fish and Reindeer, are found in a combination which unmistakeably denotes that the object of the

p. 128

votive tablet was to ensure the fruitfulness of flocks and herds 1.

With this intention its influence was also invoked in marriage ceremonies. The same writer points out that the Jews in Poland were accustomed to hold a Fish feast immediately on the conclusion of the marriage ceremony and that a similar practice can be prove for the ancient Greeks 2. At the present day the Jews of Tunis exhibit a Fish's tail on a cushion at their weddings 3. In some parts of India the newly-wedded pair waded knee-deep into the water, and caught fish in a new garment. During the ceremony a Brahmin student, from the shore, asked solemnly, "What seest thou?" to which the answer was returned, "Sons and Cattle 4." In all these cases there can be no doubt that it was the prolific nature of the Fish, a feature which it shares in common with the Dove, which inspired practice and intention.

Surely the effect of this cumulative body of evidence is to justify us in the belief that Fish and Fisher, being, as they undoubtedly are, Life symbols of immemorial antiquity, are, by virtue of their origin, entirely in their place in a sequence of incidents which there is solid ground for believing derive ultimately from a Cult of this nature. That Borron's Fish-meal, that the title of Fisher King, are not accidents of literary invention but genuine and integral parts of the common body of tradition which has furnished the incidents and mise-en-scène of the Grail drama. Can it be denied that, while from the standpoint of a Christian interpretation the character of the Fisher King is simply incomprehensible, from the standpoint of Folk-tale inadequately explained, from that of a Ritual survival it assumes a profound meaning and significance? He is not merely a deeply symbolic

p. 129

figure, but the essential centre of the whole cult, a being semi-divine, semi-human, standing between his people and land, and the unseen forces which control their destiny. If the Grail story be based upon a Life ritual the character of the Fisher King is of the very essence of the tale, and his title, so far from being meaningless, expresses, for those who are at pains to seek, the intention and object of the perplexing whole. The Fisher King is, as I suggested above, the very heart and centre of the whole mystery, and I contend that with an adequate interpretation of this enigmatic character the soundness of the theory providing such an interpretation may be held to be definitely proved.


109:1 Cf. my Sir Gawain and the Grail Castle, pp. 3-30. The best text is that of MS. B.N., fonds Franç. 12576, ff. 87vo-91. The above remarks apply also to the Elucidation, which is using a version of the Bleheris form.

109:2 B.N. 12577, fo. 136vo.

109:3 Cf. Sir Gawain at the Grail Castle, pp. 33-46.

110:1 Cf. B.N. 12576, ff. 220-222vo and fo. 258.

110:2 Hucher, Le Saint Graal, Vol. I. pp. 251 et seq., 315 et seq.

110:3 Cf. Modena MS. pp. 11, 12, 21, etc.; Dr Nitze, The Fisher-King in the Grail Romances, p. 373, says Borron uses the term Rice Pescheur, as opposed to the Roi Pescheur of Chrétien. This remark is only correct as applied to the Joseph.

111:1 Modena MS p. 61 and note.

111:2 Ibid. p. 63.

111:3 The evidence of the Parzival and the parallel Grail sections of Sone de Nansai, which appear to repose ultimately on a source common to all three authors, makes this practically certain.

111:4 This is surely a curious omission, if the second King were as essential a part of the scheme as Dr Nitze supposes.

111:5 Cf. Chapter 2, p. 15.

112:1 I cannot agree with Dr Nitze's remark (op. cit. p. 374) that "in most versions the Fisher King has a mysterious double." I hold that feature to be a peculiarity of the Chrétien-Wolfram group. It is not found in the Gawain versions, in Wauchier, nor in Manessier. Gerbert is using the Queste in the passage relative to Mordrains, and for the reason stated above I hold that neither Queste nor Grand Saint Graal should be cited when we are dealing, as Dr Nitze is here dealing, with questions of ultimate origin.

112:2 Cf. my Legend of Sir Lancelot, pp. 167 and 168.

112:3 Cf. Heinzel, Ueber die Alt-Franz. Gral-Romanen, pp. 136 and 137.

112:4 Cf. Legend of Sir Perceval, Vol. II. p. 343, note. These three kings are found in the curious Merlin MS. B.N., f. Franç. 337, fo. 249 et seq.

113:1 Vide supra, pp. 91. 92.

113:2 Op. cit. p. 184.

113:3 Cf. Chapter 5, p. 52, Chap. 7, p. 88.

115:1 Diû Crone, ll. 17329 et seq.

115:2 In the Parzival Titurel is grandfather to Anfortas, Frimutel intervening; critics of the poem are apt to overlook this difference between the German and French versions.

115:3 Cf. Chapter 2, p. 20.

115:4 Cf. here my notes on Sone de Nansai (Romania, Vol. XLIII. p. 412).

116:1 In connection with my previous remarks on the subject (p. 112) I would point out that the Queste and Grand Sainte Graal versions repeat the Maimed King motif in the most unintelligent manner. The element of old age, inherent in the Evalach-Mordrains incident, is complicated and practically obscured, by an absurdly exaggerated wounding element, here devoid of its original significance.

117:1 Heinzel, op. cit. p. 13.

117:2 For an instance of the extravagances to which a strictly Christian interpretation can lead, cf. Dr Sebastian Evans's theories set forth in his translation of the Perlesvaus (The High History of the Holy Grail) and in his The Quest of the Holy Grail. The author places the origin of the cycle in the first quarter of the thirteenth century, and treats it as an allegory of the position in England during p. 118 the Interdict pronounced against King John, and the consequent withholding of the Sacraments. His identification of the character with historical originals is most ingenious, an extraordinary example of misapplied learning.

118:1 For a general discussion of the conflicting views cf. Dr Nitze's study, referred to above. The writer devotes special attention to the works of the late Prof. Heinzel and Mr Alfred Nutt as leading representatives of their respective schools.

118:2 R. Pischel's Ueber die Ursprung des Christlichen Fisch-Symbols is specifically devoted to the possible derivation from Indian sources. Scheftelowitz, Das p. 119 Fischsymbolik in Judentem und Christentum (Archiv für Religionswissenschaft, Vol. XIV.), contains a great deal of valuable material. R. Eisler, Orpheus the Fisher (The Quest, Vols. I and II.), John, Jonas, Oannes (ibid. Vol. III.), The Messianic Fish-meal of the Primitive Church (ibid. Vol. IV.), are isolated studies, forming part of a comprehensive work on the subject, the publication of which has unfortunately been prevented by the War.

119:1 Mahâbhârata, Bk. III.

119:2 Cf. Scheftelowitz, op. cit. p. 51.

120:1 Cf. The Open Court, June and July, 1911, where reproductions of these figures will be found.

120:2 Op. cit. p. 403. Cf. here an illustration in Miss Harrison's Themis (p. 262), which shows Cecrops, who played the same rôle with regard to the Greeks, with a serpent's tail.

120:3 Ibid. p. 168. In this connection note the prayer to Vishnu, quoted above.

121:1 Cf. Eisler, Orpheus the Fisher (The Quest, Vol. I. p. 126).

121:2 Cf. W. Staerk, Ueber den Ursprung der Gral-Legende, pp. 55, 56.

121:3 Cf. S. Langdon, Sumerian and Babylonian Psalms, pp. 301, 305, 307, 313.

121:4 Cf. Eisler, The Messianic Fish-meal of the Primitive Church (The Quest, Vol. IV.), where the various frescoes are described; also the article by Scheftelowitz, already referred to. While mainly devoted to Jewish beliefs and practices, this study contains much material derived from other sources. So far it is the fullest and most thoroughly documenté treatment of the subject I have met with.

122:1 Cf. Eisler, op. cit. and Scheftelowitz, pp. 19. 20.

122:2 Cf. Eisler, op. cit. p. 508.

122:3 Cf. Scheftelowitz, op. cit. pp. 337, 338, and note 4.

123:1 Hucher, Le Saint Graal, Vol. I. pp. 251 et seq., 315 et seq.

123:2 Cf. A. Nutt, Studies in the Legend of the Holy Grail, p. 209.

124:1 Cf. Eisler, The Mystic Epitaph of Bishop Aberkios (The Quest, Vol. V. pp. 302-312); Scheftelowitz, op. cit. p. 8.

125:1 Cf. The Voyage of Saint Brandan, ll. 372, et seq., 660 et seq.

125:2 Op. cit. ll. 170 et seq., and supra, p. 119.

126:1 Vide supra, p. 70.

126:2 Op. cit. p. 168.

126:3 Cf. The Messianic Fish-meal.

126:4 Op. cit. p. 92, fig. 42 a.

127:1 Op. cit. p. 23, and note, p. 29.

127:2 Parzival, Bk. IX. ll., 1109 et seq., Bk. XVI. ll. 175 et seq.

127:3 Cf. Sir Gawain at the Grail Castle, p. 55. Certain of the Lancelot MSS., e.g., B.N., f. Fr. 123, give two doves.

127:4 Cf. Scheftelowitz, p. 338. Haven, Der Gral, has argued that Wolfram's stone is such a meteoric stone, a Boetylus. I am not prepared to take up any position as to the exact nature of the stone itself, whether precious stone or meteor; the real point of importance being its Life-giving potency.

128:1 Op. cit. p. 381.

128:2 Ibid. p. 376 et seq.

128:3 Ibid. p. 20.

128:4 Ibid. p. 377.

Next: Chapter X. The Secret of the Grail (1): The Mysteries