The Grail Mysteries

The Grail Mysteries

Reblogged from my channel at SageWoman: My latest blog post for SageWoman…

These past few months I have been delving into Grail stories and mythology, looking for their inner messages and healing stories. I have been working with Jenah Telyndru’s Avalon Within: A Sacred Journey of Myth, Mystery and Inner Wisdom since September, and have just finished reading Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Crossing to Avalon: A Woman’s Midlife Pilgrimage.  There is a lot of resonance and wisdom in both these books, that has opened up my eyes to the Grail stories and also the wisdom of Avalon in ways I never could have dreamt of.

I had always been fascinated by the tales of Arthur and Morgan le Fey since I was a child. Stories of knights riding out on quest, of otherworldly women bestowing kingship, of wizards and wisemen, chivalry and courage and love all held a special place in my heart.  I had always wanted to visit Britain, to see the land that these stories contained – I never thought I would end up living there, but life has its twists and turns.

The Grail Mysteries are utterly fascinating.  What I am currently exploring is the figure of the Grail Maiden, the only one able to handle the blessed object.  Whether she is Pagan or Christian is of little consequence – what matters is that she is the one who is carrying it forth into the world.

The Knights of King Arthur’s court see a vision of the Grail, carried through his Great Hall by a Great Lady – some say Morgan herself, others the Lady of the Lake, or an angel.  This sends them into a frenzied search for the Grail – most of his knights take it upon themselves to find this holy object, winning it for themselves, for salvation or fame, freedom or a connection with the divine feminine. Little is said of the Grail Maiden after this – the attention is all bestowed upon the knights and their quests.

The Grail Maiden appears once again in the tales, when Perceval reaches the Fisher King.  This wounded king is reflected in his kingdom, which is barren wasteland.  Until the King is healed, the land cannot be healed.  What is most interesting is that the Grail is carried through his Court each and every day, and yet he cannot receive its healing properties. Two questions must be asked first in order for the King to be healed – “What ails thee?” and “Whom does the Grail serve?”.  Perceval, in an attempt to appear grand and unaffected, being now a ‘famous Knight of King Arthur’s Court on Quest’, does not question the wound on the King when he sees it, though he does notice it and wonder.  When the Grail is brought through the Court time and again in a repetitive procession throughout dinner, again Perceval ignores it, trying to appear nonchalant. In his refusal to show empathy or compassion, curiosity or care he loses his chance to heal the kingdom and also his chance at the Grail and the Divine Feminine. The Grail and castle disappear the next morning.

So, back to the Grail Maiden – why is it that a woman can only carry this vessel? Many will say that women are natural vessels of the Goddess, and this rings true enough.  In Arthurian tales, women are also the bearers of Sovereignty, also reflected in other tales from the land, such as the Welsh Mabinogian. The vessel is the source of the Divine Feminine, therefore it is fitting that is it borne by a woman. Women bear children, bringing new life into the world (with the help of men, of course). There are certain things that only women can understand through shared stories and life experiences – moon bleedings, bearing children, social and cultural successes and struggles.  The knights on quest are seeking this source of the Divine Feminine, lacking it in their own souls, longing to reach out to the Goddess but unable within the constraints of their religion and their faith.

The quest for the Grail is also an inner quest – it is not all about externally seeking something that is outside our selves. Often the Divine Feminine can be missing from a woman’s life as well.  For reasons too legion to go into here, seeking out a female goddess can be a deep and meaningful way to connect with our own self and, in doing so, other women, humanity and the world at large.

What the knights seems to miss, on the whole, is that the Grail is Woman.  Through honouring Woman as well as Man he can come to bridge the gap, come to know the divine.  It is right there in front of their eyes, but they choose not to see it.  For women, coming to understand our own selves is the forerunner to compassion and empathy not only for our sisters, but everything. In seeing and seeking the Grail within, we can heal our own wounds.  We must also ask ourselves the questions that Perceval did not.

By asking our selves (the separation of the words, instead of writing ourselves is intentional here) “What ails thee?” we take the time to look within, to perhaps explore shadow aspects of ourselves.  Within many Eastern traditions, it is through meditation that we understand our selves better, and also understand and redirect our reactions to the world – ie. instead of simply reacting to an event, we act with intention, with mindfulness and awareness. With the Grail question, we can ask this of our selves as well as others in pretty much any situation, therefore eliminating a reactionary response to a more intentional approach. In doing so, we may just find the healing for our selves and the world that is so needed.

The second Grail question, “Whom does the Grail serve?” invites us to question our intention.  Whether we are experiencing pleasant or unpleasant aspects in our lives, we can ask our selves “who does this serve?”, thereby eliminating that which is no longer necessary, and bringing joy, awe and wonder back into our lives.  With old habits and patterns of behaviour that we wish to be freed from, we can simply ask this question over and over again until we have the answer that is required for spiritual growth.  We can ask this question in every aspect of our lives, from our weekly shopping (in order to make better choices not only for ourselves, but the planet) to our everyday interactions with other people.  If we are making a positive change instead of falling into negative, but comfortable patterns then we are on the road to spiritual progress. Reminding our selves of the Grail questions has been integral to my learning these past few months, becoming a mantra for everyday life.

In a patriarchal culture and society, the loss of the feminine can be devastating, as it was to the knights of the Round Table.  In our quest for wholeness, we can either run around in circles, questing after the Grail through established means, or we can simply look within to gain a better perspective on compassion and the divine, whether it be male or female, or even genderless.  It is the deep exploration within that allows us to bring that knowledge out into the world – we cannot simply spend our lives gazing at our own navels – we must bring the Grail out for the benefit of others. We must offer the gifts of compassion and self-awareness. In this, the Grail Mysteries are best served.

When Maiden, Mother, Crone isn’t right…

My latest blog for SageWoman…

After having spent a lovely weekend in Glastonbury with a dear friend, I noticed that there is a lot of focus on the triumvirate of Maiden, Mother and Crone. Walk into any shop and you will find this triple goddess littering shelves, books about these aspects and people talking about where they are in relation to Her.

This triple goddess, however, leaves me a bit cold. Childless by choice, I have no relationship with the Mother aspect of Her, and absolutely no desire for one.  Yet is seemed to be constantly thrown in front of me – at a certain age, we should be entering our Mother phase. My little inner anarchist said bollocks to that.

Firstly, I’ve always had difficulty with a triple goddess, reflected in the phases of the moon for, as everyone knows, there are four phases – waxing, full, waning and new or dark moon.  So, a triple goddess of the moon makes no sense for me personally, though it may work for others.

Secondly, there are many women out there who can identify with my choice of not bearing any children and for whom the phase of motherhood may seem out of place.  I understand that the term motherhood may have many different meanings – you can give birth to ideas, or nurture your own environment. However, to me the term mother has always been a literal one. It is partly why I don’t believe in an all-loving Mother Goddess.  I have a physical mother and no need for a metaphysical one.  My deities of nature do not have the usual aspects of motherhood instilled within them. They simply are what they are, whether that is wind and rain, fog or mist, love, anger and fear, time and tides, floods and drought.

So what is a person to do when bombarded by this triple goddess? It seems taken for granted that everyone identifies with such, especially women. This is not the case. Perhaps we need to find something else that works for us individually.

I considered over the weekend how to change the triumvirate of Maiden, Mother and Crone.  Some ideas that I have considered are Maiden, Priestess, Queen and Crone – and the aspect of Mother could easily fit into one of two categories there should the need arise.  This would also seem to fit in with the phases of the moon – Maiden as the growing, waxing moon, Priestess in the fullness of her power, Queen as we journey into the wisdom of sovereignty with our maturation, and Crone as we delve deep into the darkness and journey towards the winter of our lives.  This feels easier for me, without adding pressure of having to procreate to fit into one of her aspects.

I have heard of people replacing the Mother with Warrior, or Amazon, but this does not sit right with me.  As a Druid I am dedicated to peace, working to create peace in the world through empathy and compassion, using the Bardic arts that I am graced with, as well as the Ovatic gift of vision.

Perhaps I take this just a little too literally, a little too seriously.  As a woman who has made the decision not to have children however, I feel that it is sometimes necessary to redefine the boundaries of what we currently hold to be our personal truths in our ever-changing society.  I feel this is even more necessary in our spiritual worldviews. For me, religion should be an ever-evolving thing, growing with the person and with the society, holding a sacred relationship to our past while looking towards our ancestors of the future.

The Maiden

I have always loved The Maiden Goddess, in her many forms.  When I first started learning other mythologies from around the world as a child, it was the image of Artemis that struck me the most – a glorious, strong young woman with her bow, surrounded by animals under a waxing crescent moon.  Someone who knows what they want and yet keeps it to themselves, guarding their bodies and sense of self and opening only to those they choose to love – the Maiden’s love was not unconditional.  She ran through the forest with muddy feet and wild hair, in skins and with fetishes dangling in the breeze.  She still does.

As I near 40, the sensible part of me tells me that I should at least be looking into the Mother Goddesses, before I turn to face the Crone. The Maiden in me tells her to bog off.

It’s in the waxing time that I long to dance and sing, that the energy is rising, when my blood stirs with passion.  I love that crescent that hangs in the sky, a silver arc of glory and strength, bending but not breaking, supple and strong.  The full moon does, of course, sing to me as well, as does the waning and new moon – I honour all the tides and times as they flow through this life and through me, connecting me with everything.  Autumn is my favourite season – not a time of the Maiden, you might say – but the Maiden would say otherwise, for this is hunting season for us humans, where she and the Lord of the Wildwood watch over both predator and prey.

I suppose that being childless by choice has much to do with my perspective on the Maiden.  She is free, unburdened, yet still carrying great responsibility.  She is not naïve, she is not immature – for me she is strong-willed and determined.  She is not innocence and unknowing – she IS a goddess after all, remember.  She likes children but sees no need to have her own, for it does not fit in with her plans.

I don’t seek a Mother Goddess, perhaps because I have never felt the need for one.  My own physical mother provides me with that love that only a mother can.  I personally don’t believe in an all-loving Mother Goddess anyway – the Goddess as nature for me could never be so. Nature doesn’t give two hoots about humanity.

Even my Lady Nemetona, the goddess of sanctuary, is not a Mother-type figure.  She provides us with that space where we can be, where our soul truth can sing, however she is not motherly in the way that she provides it.  She allows for that space to be – like a priest, she facilitates the power within and without to allow that time for growth, or reflection, or whatever it is that you seek. It is up to you to use it correctly.  She watches over sacred sites, stone circles and deep lakes, mountaintops and dark caves where people have come for millennia, or for a season, to make ritual and connect with that which the Druids call awen.  She holds a space, indeed she may hold us for a time, but it is so that we can better understand ourselves and the world, rather than out of any love. She is a Maiden goddess to me, true to herself, aware of her boundaries and setting them clearly.

The Crone awaits me in the dark depths of winter, and perhaps one day I will seek her out. However, I have a feeling that the Maiden will still be at my side, forever and always running with me through forest and field under the bright sunshine, shooting our bows deep into the heart of consciousness and forever singing under the light of the waxing moon.