Previous articles in this series
In the previous two months articles I discussed the remarkable phenomenon of red rain. I quoted chemical engineer and archaeologist Patrick McCafferty who concluded in The International Journal of Astrobiology that the red rain particles were both extraterrestrial and biological in nature and that their source was the interior of comets, but, as he comments, “such an image of a comet, containing a liquid interior teeming with red cells, is difficult to imagine and even harder to accept.” Yet, as difficult as it may be to accept, it appears that a considerable amount evidence, both historical and empirical as well as mythical and anecdotal, leads to such a conclusion. I followed this discussion by suggesting that such a scenario was symbolized by one part of the strange and marvelous vision of the Grail Procession passing through the great hall of the Fisher King, as described in the writings of Chretien de Troyes, ca. 1200 AD, and others. In Perceval: The Story of the Grail, Chretien describes the scene
Then Perceval sat back down beside the lord,
who paid him every honor.
Within that hall of light
from the burning candles was as bright
as one could find in any castle.
As they were speaking of one thing and another,
a squire came forth from a chamber
gripping a white lance
by the middle of its shaft;
he passed between the fire
and those seated upon the bed,
and everyone in the hall saw
the white lance with its white point,
from whose tip there oozed
a drop of blood,
and this red drop flowed down to the squires hand.
(trans. by William W. Kibler. Garland Publishing, 1990)
We have seen that the lance was a typical symbol frequently employed by ancient people to represent comets. One can see that this association is actually strengthened in Chretien’s account where the lance is described as being white. We saw that the Great Hall itself, like so many other lodges, halls and temples of old represented the celestial vault, the half-dome of the sky. The lance was followed by two young squires bearing candelabra, each with at least ten candles burning. The grail itself, emanating brilliant light, is next borne into the hall by a maiden.
“After she had entered the hall
carrying the grail,
the room was so brightly illuminated
that the candles lost
their brilliance like stars
when the sun rises, or the moon.”
If all this is an accurate interpretation of the Grail symbolism, it would be fair to ask why comets were so important to the authors of the Grail literature. To try and arrive at an answer to this question let’s consider the setting of the stories. They generally revolve around the exploits of various knights of King Arthur’s round table such as Perceval, Gawain, Galahad and Lancelot. Now it is accepted by many scholars that the round table itself is an astronomical allegory, representing the zodiacal circle and the plane of the ecliptic with the twelve seats standing for the twelve signs of the zodiac. The quest for the Grail was the quest to restore the debilitated kingdom to fertility and productiveness by healing the wounded Grail King.
Confusingly, however, this king is given various names throughout the stories. In Chretien’s Perceval he is called simply the Fisher King. In Robert de Boron’s Joseph of Arimathea he is called Bron. This is significant in that it invokes the figure of Bran the Blessed from the medieval Welsh prose tales called the Mabinogion. Bran the Blessed has a magical cauldron that has the power of restoring life to the dead. In a war against Ireland he is wounded in the leg and the cauldron comes to ruin. In the tale his head is severed, returned to Britain and buried in London.
The quest for the Grail was the quest to restore the debilitated kingdom to fertility and productiveness by healing the wounded Grail King.
In one Welsh Romance associated with the Mabinogian there is told a tale similar in many respects to Chretien’s Perceval, with some notable differences, including one that clearly echoes the story of Bran the Blessed. When in the castle of the Fisher King, instead of a Grail, Perceval is presented with a severed head on a platter drenched in blood. Here is the blood motif again, and the severed head. We will have more to say on this graphic image in another article wherein we will delve into the concealed astronomical meaning. In Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival the Fisher King is named Anfortas and in the Lancelot-Grail cycle the Wounded, or Maimed King is called Pellas, or Pellam who, as keeper of the Grail resides in the Castle Corbenic. The Lancelot-Grail cycle is a series of five prose volumes written in the early part of the 13th century that served as the principle source for Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (The Death of Arthur). In these tales Pellas’ wound comes at the hand of Sir Balin le Savage, or the Knight with Two Swords. Balin slays the brother of Pellam for some misdeeds which incites Pellam to seek revenge. During the ensuing fight Balin grabs for a weapon and unwittingly takes up the Spear (or Lance) of Longinus, which is none other than the very spear used to pierce the side of Jesus as he hung upon the cross, and with it stabs Pellas in the thighs. This deed was referred to as the Dolorous Stroke and it has exceedingly harsh consequences. The Grail King is severely maimed, the castle is destroyed and comes crashing down upon the heads of both Balin and Pellas, and the kingdom is transformed into a wasteland. After three days Balin is resurrected by being pulled out of the rubble by Merlin.
I must of necessity omit many of the sometimes conflicting details in the stories. However, the overarching themes remain consistent. The idea of grievous wound inflicted upon the Grail guardian, his decline into impotence, the concomitant deterioration of the land and the quest by the Arthurian knights for the instrument of restoration that can heal both the king and the land. In discussing these themes and their probable origin in Celtic traditions, Andrew Sinclair remarks in The Discovery of the Grail (1998):
“There was a strong Celtic influence in the legends of the Grail, particularly about an otherworld to which the dying heroes went – Arthur to Avalon, Bran to the blessed isles of the west rather than to Munsalvaesche or Mount of Salvation, on which the Grail Castle was built. All the marvels of that castle of the Fisher King were further to be found in the castle of the divine Lug, which had held the treasures of the Celtic gods, including a bleeding lance – this was also possessed by the Welsh Grail knight Peredur – a bottomless drinking vessel, a cauldron that could feed an army, an unconquerable sword, and a stone fallen from heaven as in Parzival – a Stone of Destiny . . .”
Lug was an Irish deity/king whose exploits were recounted in various ancient Celtic legends. He had many similarities to King Arthur and the symbolism in his tales is quite startling in light of all of the matters being explored in this series of articles. Regrettably, however, an in depth examination of Lug must be postponed for the time being.
Let us recall the ‘secret’ of the Grail: “The King and the Land are one.”
Now the death of Arthur is placed by various historical writings in the period from 537 to 542 AD at the Battle of Camlann. It turns out that this date is very interesting for it gives us a temporal context for thinking about the peculiar events of the Grail quest and whether or not we can ascribe actual historicity to them. When we turn to the relatively sparse historical record from these times we come across some truly astonishing accounts. In The Syriac Chronicle Known as That of Zacharias the Mytilene, a work probably written down about A.D. 569, we read:
“In the eleventh year of Justinian, which is the year eight hundred and fifty of the Greeks (538/539 AD), in the month of December, a great and terrible comet appeared in the sky at evening-time for one hundred days . . .”
And in Geophysical Memoirs No. 70 for 1937 C.E. Britton publishes of compilation of various meteorological and astronomical events in the British Isles entitled A Meteorological Chronology to AD 1450. For the year 541 A.D. we find this remarkable entry:
“In the year of grace AD 541, there appeared a comet in Gaul, so vast that the whole sky seemed to be on fire. In the same year, there dropped red blood from the clouds, and a dreadful mortality ensued.”
These reports are not isolated but are a part of a growing mass of evidence that extraordinary things were going on in the sky at the very time the Holy Grail was being sought as the cure for the Wasteland and for the debilitated king. Let us recall the ‘secret’ of the Grail: “The King and the Land are one.” It sounds innocuous enough until you consider the Fisher King being maimed by the white lance. With the realization that the white lance is an image of a comet, exuding bloodlike organic material, the secret of the Grail begins to make scientific sense, for the king has become a proxy for the land itself, blighted and maimed by the incursion of something from the sky, whose restoration, however, involves drawing upon the very same extraterrestrial forces.
The Grail appears to play a dual role, both as the agency for provoking the devastation in the first place, as well as providing the means of healing and restoring the Wasteland to wholeness.
We will leave this month’s offering with these concluding thoughts: The Grail appears to play a dual role, both as the agency for provoking the devastation in the first place, as well as providing the means of healing and restoring the Wasteland to wholeness. It points us to the realization that events in the sky have, at times, played a much more profound role in the affairs of the world than previously recognized by modern scholarship, as Comet Ison has come to provide us with yet another reminder.
Next month: More strange and extraordinary events in the sky and on the Earth in the days of the Grail Quest, the onset of the Dark Ages, and the forgotten science of healing the Wasteland.