Previous articles in this series
Here is the book of thy descent,
Here is the book of the Sangreal,
Here begin the terrors,
Here begin the miracles
The History of the Grail – 12th Century, Anonymous
In last month’s article, after a discussion regarding dragons and other symbols employed by ancient peoples to represent celestial objects, I wrote: “Literacy in this language of cosmic symbolism opens up a whole new domain of understanding about our human past on this planet . . .” In that article and in the two preceding I discussed close encounters between these celestial objects and Earth, emphasizing the destructive potential inherent in such occurrences. While there is a great deal more that could, and should be said about the role of cosmically triggered catastrophes throughout both planetary and human history, in this article I will call attention to the other side of the equation, and hopefully, in the process, shed some light upon one of the most enigmatic and powerful of all esoteric symbols—the Holy Grail.
In the late 1970s there emerged a compelling hypothesis regarding the emergence and evolution of life on Earth. Formulated by Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, it proposed that life did not first begin on Earth but originated in the astronomical realm and was delivered to Earth via celestial objects, primarily comets. This idea necessarily supposed the origin and existence of life, or at least the biochemical precursors to life, to be somewhere else in the universe. The term now used to designate study of this scenario in all its ramifications is Exobiology. To be sure, others had proposed theories promoting the extraterrestrial origins of life. In the 19th century Flammarion, Lord Kelvin and Herman von Helmholtz all suggested that terrestrial life was not a home grown phenomenon but originated outside the planet, elsewhere in the universe.
At a meeting of the British Society for the Advancement of Science in 1871, Lord Kelvin speculated on the possibility that meteorites had brought life to Earth. In 1908 (the same year as the Tunguska event) the Swedish Scientist Svante August Arrhenius wrote on the feasibility of life migrating through space. He coined the term ‘Panspermia’ (‘seeds everywhere’) to describe this process and is now considered the founding father of the field of exobiology. However, science, at that stage of development, was not capable of providing actual evidence that could confirm or refute the notion of a cosmic origin to life, so for most of the 20th century nearly all scientists viewed the Earth as a closed system until the aforementioned revival by Hoyle and Wickramasinghe.
Since they first published, our understanding of cosmic processes has evolved. We now know that prebiotic material is exceedingly robust, making it more likely that it could survive an interplanetary, or even interstellar journey. In 1986 a flyby of Halley’s Comet detected the presence of organic materials. In 2004 a close fly-by of comet P/Wild registered the spectral signature of organic material present in the dust being ejected from the cometary nucleus. Cosmic dust has been collected directly from the atmosphere by airplanes and balloons.
Samples captured at an altitude of about 25 miles showed the presence of biologically active materials of an indeterminate nature. An extremely important advance in evolving models of exobiological processes came with the fall to Earth and swift recovery of the Murchison meteorite in 1968. An analysis of meteoritic material revealed the presence of 74 amino acids of which 55 had no known counterpart on Earth. This find confirms conclusively that pre-biotic chemistry has an extraterrestrial existence and that there exists a mechanism for the delivery of this material to Earth.
The concept of Panspermia underwent a noteworthy mutation through the work of Francis Crick, Nobel Prize winning discoverer of the molecular structure of DNA. After considering the difficulties inherent in achieving an interstellar transfer of organic matter through random processes alone, he was led to propose a startling and controversial idea—that the process of Panspermia was intelligently guided! He coined the term ‘Directed Panspermia’ to express the idea.
With this important amplification Exobiology came full circle, arriving at a concept of Cosmic Evolution that has a precedent in the Hermetic wisdom of ancient Egypt, and has maintained an ongoing, but intermittent existence through a variety of sacred and arcane traditions since that time. It shows up in the sacred writings of ancient Vedic Hinduism. It shows up in fragments of the writings of the pre-Socratic philosophers of pre-classical Greece, and in the beliefs of the early Gnostics of both Jewish and Christian incarnations. It reappears in Medieval to late Renaissance alchemy and Freemasonry. Finally, germane to the topic of this article, exobiological concepts lie at the core of the Medieval stories about the loss and recovery of that mysterious object of adoration and restoration—Sangreal, the Holy Grail.
The Grail symbol first emerges in history in a series of remarkable writings that appear in France over a span of about half a century between the years 1180 and 1230 AD. This is the same prolific and fertile time period that saw the peak of the great cathedral building era; the rise to power of the Templar Knights; the rise and fall of Catharism in southern France; the formation of Kabbalistic and mystical schools in Spain in which Jews, Christians and Muslims all participated in relative harmony; the emergence of the Troubadours as channels for the diffusion and circulation of sacred knowledge; the rise of Sufism and the transmission of Hermetic knowledge to Europe via Islamic scholars and mystics.
It was out of this potent milieu of spiritual and creative activity that the Holy Grail first materializes as a symbol to exert a profound influence upon European consciousness. The Grail Romances, as they were and are called, were translated into German, Irish, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Norse, Welsh and English, testifying to their universal appeal.
It is difficult if not impossible to attribute to the Holy Grail a single meaning. Like all powerful occult symbols it is multilayered and multi-dimensional. It has an inner, psycho- spiritual meaning that has been written and commented upon quite extensively. The usual attribution of meaning is that the Grail was the cup, or Chalice, the supreme Eucharistic vessel from which Christ drank at the last supper. In this context it takes on a deep, occult significance connecting it with the ritual of the Passover and the shedding of royal blood, an attribution further reinforced by the legend of Joseph of Arimathea using it to catch the blood of Christ as it dripped from his wounded side during the Crucifixion. (see The Conte del Graal or Perceval, composed by Chrétien de Troyes, 1180 AD)
However, a survey of the Grail literature reveals an astonishing diversity and complexity of meaning. The prevailing academic literature and commentary on the Grail reveals the following meanings and associated cast of characters, all derived from the great variety, and oft times contradictory descriptions, found within the texts themselves: A chalice, cup, cauldron or platter; holy or sacred blood; a man’s head on a platter; a quest for something hidden or lost; King Arthur, the Round Table, the Templar Knights; Eye of Thoth; a bleeding Lance; fertility of the landscape; Joseph of Arimathea; Angels; rejuvenation, the universal medicine; the Divine Feminine; dragons; and finally, a stone fallen from heaven.
In the part two of this article on the Holy Grail I will attempt to draw out a consistent interpretation from the welter of assorted and confusing imagery. In the meantime keep this in mind: That the Grail has a cosmic dimension of meaning is indicated unequivocally by the texts themselves. Up to now this layer of meaning has remained hidden, primarily because the majority of Grail scholars lacked both the requisite scientific background and the basic understanding of occult and metaphysical systems necessary to bring order out of the confusion of symbols, images, characters and events that make up the Holy Grail narrative.
I suggest the time has come to unveil a new level of meaning to one of the most powerful, potent and evocative symbols in the whole corpus of the Western Mystery Tradition, one that demonstrates that ancient adepts had a highly sophisticated concept of Exobiology and the Grail as a symbol was a repository of this knowledge.