by Merlin Emrys
The Grail Legends continue to be a source of wonderment and inspiration. The themes of self-transformation and development of one’s connection with spirit are as potent today as when the tales were first spun. The adventures of the Knights of the Round Table and their companions still retain an aura of mystery and magic, and serve as rich metaphors of the path of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. In the frenetic and chaotic current scene, these stories evoke images of a time when life had deep meaning and purpose, great deeds and people of integrity were commonplace, and the mysteries that lie beneath the surface of all things could be readily experienced. The legends, as all things, have both exoteric and esoteric significance. Taken literally they are stories of heroism, chivalry, allegiance to a cause. The adventures are always interesting, the cast of characters fascinating. Yet were this all, they would not continue to capture the modern imagination.
Thinly veiled beneath the exterior events is the symbolism of the Ageless Wisdom, the Mystery Tradition that has abided with humankind since the dawn of creation. Through symbol, myth, and metaphor, spiritual realities are revealed to those who read with open heart and mind. Within the descriptions and experiences, and the very nature of the quest itself, lie those truths that have always sought to inspire and guide individuals along the path of transformation toward wholeness and harmony.
The Round Table is clearly a symbol of completeness and integration, an all-encompassing reality whose central tenets were allegiance to a compassionate life and fulfillment of individual destiny within a framework of love and service. It also refers to the zodiac, another metaphor for the cyclical dance of light and dark within the human experience. Each of the twelve seats represented one of the signs, and the knights took on and acted out the associated qualities and traits. Arthur, as king, embodied the principles of coherence and centering, authority and stability, inspiration and leadership, traits often associated with Leo and its ruling planet, the Sun.
The particular coat-of-arms, shield, and armor of each of the knights richly portrayed the aspects of each astrological sign. Lancelot, for example, is strongly linked with Capricorn. The conflicts inherent in this stage of unfoldment center upon service and selflessness opposing individual egoism and earthly desires. Torn between his love for both Arthur and Guinevere, he goes mad. He is unable to reconcile these dualities, yet in the end his loyalty to Arthur wins out. Galahad is in many ways the archetypical Aries. Although headstrong and brash, he is totally motivated by purity of purpose, and thus he alone achieves the Grail. He is fully an agent of the cosmos, allowing himself to be guided by intuition and inner knowing. He avoids the rational conflicts and endless agonizing that proved to be the downfall of Lancelot. Through the synthesis of yin and yang qualities, he is able to fulfill the Quest.
The pursuit of the Grail, after all, is the deep and enduring search for selfhood. Each of us is charged, upon incarnating, to discover who and what we are, and then to use that in the service of earth and humanity. Initially the path centers upon outer events and circumstances, as one grapples to give enduring meaning and significance to experiences. Through pain and suffering, the ego becomes more flexible and permeable, and the inner realm competes with the outer for attention. Events are seen as learning situations, with every circumstance and person a teacher come to help us learn about ourselves. Coming to terms with one’s demons and unresolved patterns is the ultimate challenge. As fears and limitations are faced with courage, perseverance, and resiliency, the walls separating one from the presence of spirit dissolve, and the Grail is revealed in all its splendor.
In the legends, these inner daimons and ghosts take human form, and the battles are fought with sword, lance, and cunning. Symbolically, the sword represents the power of intellect to cut away illusion and reveal truth; the lance is the power of fire that purges the old and creates space for new life. The Grail is the chalice of the Goddess, the qualities of love and redemption that complete the transformational process. The physical element is the earth itself, the questing ground, for here not only are one’s lessons learned, but also where spirit is served.
In the waning of the present age, as fear, greed, equivocation, and mediocrity run rampant in the land, it is of great importance that the balance be tilted firmly in the direction of grace, honor, courage, and integrity. As the questers of old, we too are charged with the grave yet joyful responsibility of being cup-bearers, keepers of the flame of love and truth. For it is through us that the redemption of earth and humanity can be achieved.
To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, the end of our wanderings are but to return to the place where we began, and know it for the first time. With wisdom as our gift, the blessings of spirit allow each of us to begin the fulfillment of that promise made long ago — to be truly ourselves, fulfill our destiny, and play our part in the transforming of our earth.
© 1988-2015 by Merlin Emrys. All Rights Reserved.