Tales of the grail

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The Holy Grail by Richard Wagner

„In far’way lands
unyielding to your steps  
castle Monsalvat finds its reside.

A temple lightful stands  
amidst such precious show  
like no where else on earth’s abide.

 Of  miraculous conduct  
a vessel sacred ‘s set  
faithfully guarded as blessings highest prize.

Of angel crowd  
brought down below  
to be cared for in devotionally purest pride.

From heaven nears  
each year a dove  
to renew the cups replenishing powers.

History claims  
that holy grail and blessed pure faith  
call at heart the consecrated valour.

Supernatural powers  
the chalice provides  
to whom who is chosen to serve the grail.

All deceptive evils  
are forsaken on him,  
at sight in vain death’s darkest night evades.

Sent by it to countries even far  
appointed defender of virtue’s rights,  
his dedication unknown he will not be ridden of his might.

Of such proficient appeal  
the grail’s gifts are  
yet its endorsements revealed must scorn the layman’s eye;

The noble knights doubts  
you shall not share  
found out that doubt must escape away.

Now hark, how I reward forbidden quest!  
From the grail sent forward therefore I was:  
Crowned Fathers’ Parcifal’s knight I am - Lohengrin by name.



 This narrative of the Holy Grail summarizes in short core and substance of the medieval legends of the Holy Grail and its Knighthood. Emma Jung in her book „Die Gralslegende“ (The Legend of the Holy Grail) writes: 

„...As if a subterranean string of water had been tapped in, towards the end of the 12th and 13th century developed shortly after one another a whole number of various treatments on the same subject - not only in French, but also in German, English, Spanish and Nordic. Many of these stories though are based on Chrétien, but yet again many differ in quite important aspects and point towards another origin.“ 

An idea that the tale of the grail is older than the versions passed down to us could be attained by a passage from a chronicle of a monk from Frodmont named Heliandus, which closes with the year of 1204. Heliandus:

 „...At this time (717 -719) a hermit in Britain had an apparition of an angel who blessed him with a miraculous vision of Joseph the noble decurion, who took the Body of Christ off the cross, and of the cup the Lord used with his disciples at the last supper. A description of the vision was written by the hermit himself, which came down as „the tale of the gradale“. In French „gradalis“ or „gradale“ means a wide and somewhat deepened bowl...“ 

This commentary shows us also how „grail“ derives from „gradale“, an definition which is  generally considered valid.

 The tale of the Britannic hermit is sustained by other sources as well.

 The most well-known accounts of the grail are those of Chrétien de Troyes and those of Wolfram von Eschenbach. The latter refers to a certain Kyot (Guyot), of which he claims to have heard the fable, and his version of the legend clearly shows oriental traits.  

Also other poets works relating to the grail indicate an even older, especially more Easterly orientated model, which points at a pre-Christian origin of these legends.


The Grail

Most authors describe the grail as bowl or chalice. Wolfram von Eschenbach though refers to it as a stone, rsp. a precious jewel.

In some variations of the tale, besides the grail a wand or a sword is mentioned, some mention both. 

The wand, the grail and the other objects are carried around in a ritual procession. 

This ceremonial showing around of the holy items reminds a lot of classical ancient mysteries. At the mystery cult of Eleusys e.g. magic-sacred objects were solemnly carried around and exposed to the people. 

In Celtic mythology sword as well as wand or javelin play an important role. We find there the four divine rsp. magic jewels: 

the stone of fate or crowning  
the invincible sword  
the magical wand  
the cauldron of Dagda.

These four items can be found in the mythologies of all people of all times and cultures. They are the four colors of the Tarot: clubs, hearts, spades and diamonds, rsp. wand, cup, sword, coin or pentacle.

Certain legendary variations make reference to the grail as being cut from an emerald, which originated from Lucifer’s crown. Here the grail is thus stone and cup in one. 

Another version again speaks of a relic shrine or box. In any case however, the grail possesses vast powers of benediction and is of inconceivable value.

It is so precious that, especially on its behalf, a temple and a fortress have been built on a big mountain range.

For its protection and to his service a knighthood of the grail has been called to life, whose members are chosen by the grail itself, an inscription appearing on the chalice naming the preferred devotee.

 Other people cannot gain access to the Gralsburg, even the territory surrounding the fortress is inaccessible.

 The myths of the grail were soon interwoven with another old belief of Celtic tradition, that is with the one of King Arthur and his knights of the round table.

 Keep in mind that the Christian archetype (the circle around Jesus and his disciples) as well as the number of Arthur’s knights at the round table count 12 rsp.13 persons.  


The Legend of Shambhalah

Now, before we turn to the question if and if yes which kind of reality stands behind this myth of the Holy Grail, we would like to inquire about similar fiction also outside Christian belief. 

As already mentioned, the medieval grail poets very often claim to cite older, mainly oriental sources. So in the Orient there should identical legends be still alive today. 

If we put our attention particularly to the Sanctuary, the fortress rsp. the temple and the knighthood, and not so much to the grail for once, we find such tales greatly present in the East. They are even extremely numerous and popular.

 The most widespread and famous one is the one about Shambhalah.

 First implications of Shambhalah can be found in the holy books of Tibetan Buddhism. We detect them in the „Kangyur“ and the „Tengyur“, the Tibetan Buddhist canon covering more than 300 volumes.

 Nevertheless, about the most secret aspects of Shambhalah nothing has ever been brought down on paper. They are passed on from teacher to pupil only by word of mouth.

 Interesting is that the oldest volumes referring to Shambhalah have been translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan in approximately the 11th century; interesting because of the Western trend in grail poetry soon after that time.

 According to the oldest scriptures Shambhalah is situated in the region of the Himalayas or north of them. It is completely surrounded by a ring of snow-covered mountains, whose glaciers shimmer and sparkle. Nobody not belonging to this place can pass them. The texts indicate that one can pass these mountains only on the wing, but it emphasizes that this is a kind of flight stemming from spiritual powers. A picture shows e.g. a couple of travelers wandering on a rainbow bridge to Shambhalah. Shambhalah is divided into eight regions with twelve principalities each.

 In the center of the kingdom lies Kalapa, main city of Shambhalah. East and West, flanking Kalapa, crescent shaped and filled up with diamonds, two beautiful lakes are located.

 South of Kalapa is a holy wood called „Malaya“, the cool grove. Here the first king of Shambhalah built a giant Mandala, a mystical circle which embodies the essences of the secret teachings, a symbol for the transcendent unity of spirit and universe. To the North, ten cleft mountain ranges arise, which harbor shrines of important deities.

 The jewel palace of the king in the center of Shambhalah shines and radiates so brightly, that night becomes day and the moon deteriorates to a dull celestial body.

 Diverse crystals set into floor and ceiling regulate room temperature by either cooling or warming. In the understanding of the Tibetan people, the Sanskrit word „Shambhalah“ means „out spring of joy“. Each king of Shambhalah is a Bodhisattwa, this means a human being who has reached Nirvana and stays in the earthly realms of mankind only out of love for those left behind.

 All these wonderful descriptions could lead to the conclusion that Shambhalah is wishful thinking or a kind of heavenly hereafter.

 But Bernwald, who suggested this towards the Dalai Lama, received a decisive answer: „This... (notion about Shambhalah as a kind of hereafter)... is most certainly wrong. Shambhalah is of material existence and is on this Earth.“

 All other Lamas, to whom Bernwald was able to speak about Shambhalah, emphasized that Shambhalah was existent since the beginning of the world, but that about its early history little is known. 

It is of interest that also the Bön-pos (=“supremes“ in Tibetan), the followers of the old, pre-Buddhist religion, have a similar tradition. They call Shambhalah „Olmolungring“, and it is a immaterial kingdom surrounded by snowy mountains Northwest of Tibet. Their textbooks relate to customs 18'000 years old handed down by word of mouth.

Considering age and geographical spread of this legend, it can certainly be regarded as „blueprint“ of  all other analogue myths thus including the tale of the grail.

 In the East, the legend of Shambhalah is linked with the one of the Kalachakra. This is a kind of Eastern version of the Revelation of John, and, as the latter, at the same time a very efficient practice of spiritual development, and conjunct with an account of mankind’s spiritual path of evolution. The Kalachakra is the most complex and the most secret system of spiritual apprenticeship in Tibetan Buddhism. The Lamas stress that only few people who are not  inhabitants of Shambhalah are capable of understanding the symbols of the scriptures and the meditations of the Kalachakra.

The Kalachakra speaks of a future respectively imminent  Buddha and Saver of mankind, of a final decisive combat and a peaceful new Planetary Age.

In the East, the legend of Shambhalah and the one of the Kalachakra fused, whereas in our hemisphere the according revelation of John and the tale of the grail remained two separate cultural myths.    


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