Letters of Light: The Magical Letters of William G. Gray to Alan Richardson

LettersofLight300“When it comes to that curmudgeonly mage William G. Gray, put aside what you may have plucked from a less-than-accurate, holier-than-thou, insufferably superior but dried-up grapevine. Whatever his faults – and he had many – he never stinted on passing on his knowledge to genuine enquirers. In many ways, through his correspondence, I saw the very best of the man

I was 17 when I first wrote to him: omniscient, quietly obnoxious. I knew everything; I knew nothing. I really needed putting in my place. And I couldn’t have picked anyone better to do this than Bill Gray.

Some of you out there may think that your own magical teachings came from the temples of Greece or Khem, from the vaults of the Rosicrucians, the lodges of the Golden Dawn, or the pagan-haunted glades of the ancient Wildwood. They did not. They came from 14 Bennington Street, Cheltenham…”

This is how Alan Richardson summarises this new book, a compilation of letters from William G. Gray to an aspiring acolyte. Rather surprisingly, it works on a number of levels depending on the approach a particular reader might take. It’s a post-modern Bildungsroman (and Bill certainly flings dung in places) where the reader constructs a narrative plot from various fragments – not having the younger man’s replies to work with. Of course, the letters also provides a riveting and provocative treatise for those interested in ceremonial magic and group dynamics. Also a fascinating social study, Gray continually prods an insecure youth towards the value of solitary practice and the DIY ethic.

As an “omniscient and obnoxious” teenager in 1969, Richardson first wrote to the occult author and teacher in pursuit of instant magical enlightenment. While he didn’t quite get that, it was the beginning of a correspondence lasting many years in which Gray generously shared his magical knowledge and experience. Gray’s letters, witty, acerbic and blunt, contain a wealth of hints and tips on working with Qabalah, his views on Dion Fortune, sex magic, initiation, joining magical groups, and how to stay on the straight and true path to Light regardless of what life flings at you.

The topicality of the letters provides an incredible range and depth, with commentary to continually delight, chafe or probe. How does free-will relate to Destiny? Why do many great Adepts behave like idiots if they’re in contact with Higher Powers? Is sex incompatible with a spiritual path? He addresses the questions which weigh on the mind of every magical seeker – always with the proviso that true wisdom can only be reached from within oneself. The letters are a delight to read and show the humour and understanding which shine through Gray’s famously unsentimental character. The highly personable nature of the book will help to cast the oft-maligned Gray in a new light – as the reader becomes very conscious of the growing warmth and care the old Magus develops for his pupil. The lessons contained within the letters be of direct practical value to anyone pursuing a magical path of any kind, Qabalistic or otherwise, and his advice to his young apprentice is every bit as pertinent today as it was back then.

Skylight Press, also of Cheltenham, is thrilled to offer this valuable and enlightening collection to the world for the first time. We are committed to the legacy of William G. Gray and look forward to publishing many more of his works.

Letters of Light: The Magical Letters of W.G. Gray to Alan Richardson is now available from various retail outlets such as Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk or direct from the Skylight Press website.

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The Fairy Realm by Ronan Coghlan

FairyRealm300“…Some folklorists contend that even in pagan times a fairy host was believed in alongside the gods and, when Christianity became prevalent, their numbers were buttressed by an influx of gods; but they were always believed to be there. An alternative explanation is that there may once have been, and possibly still are, powerful psychic entities of whom science knows nothing, but who were assumed to be gods by our remote ancestors, and fairies by our more proximate ones…”

While examining various belief traditions across Europe and the United States, The Fairy Realm consults an assemblage of anecdotal evidence as to the existence of fairies and other creatures that appear in fairy tales – giants, ogres, trolls, mermaids, brownies, wildmen, kelpie, puca and other mythological beings. Ronan Coghlan, provides yet another encyclopaedic gem after such works as Dictionary of Irish Myth and Legend, Encyclopaedia of Arthurian Legends, The Robin Hood Companion, Dictionary of Cryptozoology, and Companion to Atlantis and Other Mystery Lands. In this new broad-ranging compendium Coghlan examines an array of alleged fairy sightings in a bold endeavour to find where fairies fit into the modern scientific concepts of the universe. Unlike myriad books churned out on ghosts and extraterrestrials, this book rigorously tackles the possibility of fairy existence, and in doing so dares to approach all manner of sceptical argument and ‘borderline science.’

Keen to get to the root of fey existence on earth, Coghlan explores the various origins of Fairy and the Faery realm. He begins with accounts from ancient history, various mythic and folkloric sources, as well as fascinating and bold connections to the pre-monotheist pantheons of fallen gods. More surprising perhaps is his impressive catalogue of modern sightings, from the famous Cottingley photographs to the very recent Mothman and Sasquatch phenomena. Unlike other such books, each sighting is sourced with searchable references and the author takes great care in considering the creditability of every eyewitness account. The book then provides a thorough classification of fairies by type and genus, ranging from the more conventional fairies of literature and folklore to an impressive collection of crossover creatures and cryptids that could possibly qualify as being part of the fairy realm. Coghlan discusses their traits and personalities, their possible functions, and whether they exist on the physical or ethereal planes. The work concludes with a marvellous glossary, which will be of great value to explorers of the fey kingdom.

Far from sensationalist, this is the work of a seasoned scholar and experienced academic. Skylight Press is thrilled to publish The Fairy Realm as a serious and genuine primer for all those interested in the world of Fairy.

 The Fairy Realm is now available from various retail outlets such as Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk or direct from the Skylight Press website.

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A Writer’s Day: Working on the Lost Book of the Grail (Part VII)

Skylight Press will be publishing The Lost Book of the Grail: Restoring the Voices of the Wells, Gareth Knight’s new translation of the 13th century Elucidation of the Grail with commentary by much respected Arthurian scholars and teachers, Caitlín Matthews and John Matthews. The Elucidation is a 13th century French poem that has lain virtually forgotten since its discovery in the mid19th century. It contains some of the most powerful and revealing clues to the nature of the Grail to be found in any of the many texts relating to this most mysterious of sacred objects.  While working on the book Caitlin decided to keep a diary of her thoughts and impressions, which we will present in weekly sections on this blog.  This is a new idea and we hope you enjoy her fresh insights on preparing an ancient manuscript for publication.  You can find out more about the Matthews’ work here.  

Caitlin
A WRITER’S DAY – WORKING ON THE LOST BOOK OF THE GRAIL

By Caitlín Matthews

5 March  VIOLENCE TO WOMEN

A writer’s day 43  on Lost Book of the Grail 

International Women’s Day is later this week. The pages of newspapers are full of items about both casual and premeditated violence to women. Unfortunately, neither is a new phenomenon, if the medieval texts were anything to go by.  The Arthurian legends are full of black-hearted knights who imprison ladies for their pleasure or pull maidens by their hair along the ground, fathers who slap their daughters bloody, partners who make their wives run around in a tatty frock and refuse to speak to them, and brothers who sleep with their sisters –  because it isn’t just archetypally nasty black knights who do all these things, but family members too!  A woman was always someone’s responsibility in medieval history: she was her father’s daughter, her brother’s sister, her husband’s wife or widow but never her own person, unless she was able to retain her dower and not get remarried off by another male relative desirous of getting his hands on her property by retiring her into a monastery. Being either an independent widow or an abbess was probably the most powerful thing to be.

In Chrétien’s Perceval, we are told that the safeguarding of women was a point of honour, ‘in King Arthur’s land girls are protected; the king has given them a safeguard, and watches over them and ensures their safe conduct.’ Indeed, it was the measure of a civilization in medieval times that a woman could travel the whole country from end to end with treasure about her person and not be molested.

I already see that this fact doesn’t impress many women, who would probably lump King Arthur’s Britain in with UAE and its anti-feminist stance.  At best it seems paternalistic and at worst manipulative. But stop! Who was reading or hearing these stories?  The Arthurian legends were the pulp fiction of their day. Women were at least half of the audience and, though the art of chivalry is well represented with tournaments for the sports-mad men of the day (Malory’s Book of Tristan is entirely full of what T.H.White called ‘the batting averages’ of more jousts that an entire month of sporting Saturdays could yield), the other half of the stories were about love and the deeds we do or suffer for love. 

The measure of civilization is still the same today: that anyone should be able to travel the length and breadth of the land without being attacked, raped or robbed.  But we are wiser today in knowing that violence starts and continues in the home, the place where women and children should feel safest. 

It is not all bad news, there are also those who are aware of the problem. As one of the many nameless hermits advizes the headstrong Perceval, ‘A man without gentleness and kindness in his heart cannot last long.’ He is speaking to a man who, inadvertently, kills his own mother, for she falls down dead with grief at losing him at the outset of the quest. It changes Perceval’s outlook. 

The Arthurian legends played their part in revealing the notion that, casual or premeditated, violence to women was unacceptable.  In 1371 Geoffrey de la Tour Landry wrote a book for his three motherless daughters, being fully aware that ‘ther be suche felawes now or worse, and there be still men’ of violence and lords who ‘wolde have a gentil-woman, bi faire or be force, for to do his foule lust with her.’ Caxton printed a copy of this book in June 1483, the month that Richard III was crowned, but it was a popular book throughout Europe for a century before that.  As Geoffrey wrote, ‘it is a good, noble and a faire thinge for a man or a woman to see and beholde hemself in the mirror of stories, the which hath been written by oure aunsetters forto they give us good ensaumples that they dide, to live and to eschewe the evil.’  As it says in Gerbert de Montreuil’s Grail Continuation: ‘Blessed be the man who cares for his wife or  his sweetheart, and loves her dearly, and can call himself a loyal friend; blessed be that kind of loving.’ 

6 March  GRAIL MAGIC AND BOUNDARIES

A writer’s day  44 on Lost Book of the Grail 

Is there such a thing as Grail magic? Well, the only instance I have come across that might merit the definition is an incident in one of the Continuations where Perceval is beset up a series of demonic happenings.  The usual and standard method of clearing the atmosphere is to sign oneself with the cross in the Grail legends which causes castles to melt, beautiful maidens to dissolve into nasty hags and phantom horses to revert to vapour.  Perceval resorts just the once to a magic circle before sleeping. He draws a circle in the ground with his sword around where he and his horse have encamped, whereon he lies down, fearing nothing and sleeps securely till dawn.

All Perceval has done here is create a proper boundary and reinforce it with prayer.  The breaking of boundaries is what most people suffer from: that or their neglect of boundaries that should be kept firm. If I could have a five pound note for everyone who’s told me that they are ‘under psychic attack,’ I would be a rich woman.  When I first started to see clients in my shamanic healing practice, I was initially cautious about endorsing such fearful diagnoses lest I be encouraging paranoia, for the people who complained of psychic attack would be in a state bordering panic when they phoned me. Over time, I’ve learned that what most people call ‘psychic attack’ is actually psychic disruption: the disturbance of the soul. * Psychic disruption is the displacement or loss of soul or else an invasion taking place in the soul. We experience a sense of abnormality in which something is either missing from our being, or something alien has become part of it. Something essential has gone or something unwelcome has come. This may be accompanied by feelings of intense unease, self-doubt, fear or panic.  Psychic disruption is about change or confusion in the soul: it may originate from without or from within ourselves.  

Our world needs a whole new look at spiritual health for, unless we look after our souls as much as we look after our bodies, we will be ruled by fear and suspicion rather than living with confidence and strength.  Being clear with our boundaries for ourselves and for others is the best preventative, as Perceval clearly realises.

(*My book, Psychic Protection Handbook (Little Brown) looks at how we can bring our lives into better array from the point of prevention – how we cause it – as well as defence – how we suffer from it.  It’s no 53 on this list if you want a copy.

7 March  WHEN IS BREAD NOT BREAD?

A writer’s day  45 on Lost Book of the Grail

I ask this question as someone who’s tried to be gluten free in periods over the last few months. The thing that never works, try as we might look for it, is bread. I’ve been keeping up a campaign around the major supermarkets for in-store bakeries to make fresh gluten-free bread, because I think they would clean up – so many people have wheat allergy or other problems which are probably not unrelated to the amount of insecticide and other nasty things that get sprayed on grain these days.  Nothing is like bread but real bread, sorry! It seems I am not the only one who complains.

When Perceval comes to stay at a hermitage where a reserve* of hermits live very frugally, they cut the loaf made for dinner into thirteen pieces, but we are told that the bread isn’t made of wheat. Perceval joins them but eats little, ‘for he had nothing to his liking and didn’t relish the bread.’ When you’re on quest some food is better than no food, I would agree, but you cannot substitute anything for real bread.  

Now very poor people make bread out of all kinds of substances: during a famine, acorn flour is highly esteemed, for example. For the people of besieged Leningrad, a siege lasted for a total of 900 days  from September 8 1941 until January 27 1944, anything and everything became edible, including bread made of boiled up book pages or scrapings of furniture, or things we don’t want to imagine here.

Three millennia of grain production have rendered us partial to a good loaf, but what passes for bread isn’t always real bread, in my book: the packet, sliced loaf isn’t really bread, is it?  A few years ago, I was interviewed ahead of a writer’s conference so that the answers might be printed in the conference brochure; among the many amusing and hypothetical questions, one of which was ‘what would be your first act on becoming prime minister?’ No contest for me, ‘A loaf of freshly baked bread delivered  everyone’s doorstep,’ to remind people what bread really was.  (They would have to obtain their own circuses, mind you!) My sympathies are entirely with Perceval.  

(* What do  you call a collection of hermits? A reserve of hermits is my suggestion, but do add your own!)

Grail 6

8 March   THE FIVE STREAMS OF THE SENSES

A writer’s day 46 on Lost Book of the Grail

While driving today, I caught the announcement of the BBC’s ‘Get Creative’ challenge, to get people using their creative skills: this is in the face of the many governmental cut-backs that are happening all over the country, as funding for the arts is withdrawn and basic survival takes over.  The impoverishment that faces those who run opera houses and art galleries is truly frightening, but what the local drama groups, outreach centres and small arts projects suffer is just as awful. On the radio they were asking, ‘what have the arts done for you? The immediate answer for me is ‘nourish my soul,’ without doubt. 

 I was immediately remembering the Irish text, Cormac’s Adventures in the Otherworld where King Cormac, in search of his lost family, enters the otherworld and sees many wondrous things, including:

in the enclosure a shining fountain, with five streams flowing out of it, and the hosts in turn drinking the water. Nine hazels of Búan grew over the well. The purple hazels dropped their nuts into the fountain and sent their husks floating down the streams. Now the sound of the falling of those streams was more melodious than any music that men sing

Later on, he is told the meaning of these are ‘the five streams of the senses,’ by which inspiration flows out into the world. They are also the five senses by which we understand and appreciate inspiration which can be woven into many forms: the textures of plastic arts, the taste and smell of the edible arts, the sound of the oral arts and  the sight of their appearance and shape.  There is no art that does not partake of these.  Our five senses take inspiration into every pore.

So who is the Búan of the nine hazels of Búan? Búan in Old Irish means ‘lasting, enduring, constant, firm, persevering,’ which is how the arts appear to us. This ancient figure is beyond mythology, so ancient we have no deeds. She is known as  the mother of Baile Binnbérlach, a name which means ‘vision of the clear voice.’  When Baile died, a yew tree grew from his grave and poets and seers cut slips of the tree to make tablets for writing.  If you live in the country, you know that hazel is a renewal resource, however many times you cut it down for coppicing withies, it grows back, and this is what we all hope will be so with the arts in this country.

As someone whose Grail dreams are scrambling in through every possible gap, I hardly need to be challenged right now. From 2-7am, I am getting solutions to the wasteland on all channels, which is wonderful, but hardly conducive to deep sleep, as it’s too exciting.  But as long as the inspirational waters flow, I will be listening.

9 March STORIES SET ASIDE

A writer’s day  47 on Lost Book of the Grail

Listening the other day to the novelist, *Kazuo Ishiguro,  I was heartened to hear him speak quite normally about stories that we set aside when we’re writing them, because we cannot find solutions to the dilemmas and scenarios that  the characters are in at the present time.  Writers often set stories aside for years, well,  I know I do.  A window opens, you take notes, you research the background and observe how characters seem to arrive, then suddenly, when everything gets into motion, you find the next bit isn’t there, like being in a department store where the escalators suddenly stop and there is no way to get to the floor you wish to visit: no stairs, no lift, nothing.

This is a process that we see at work throughout the Grail Continuations which, if you remember, continue where another writer left off – each obviously marooned in a place where the story had stuck.  The Third Continuation is the one that has least plotting and most explanation, where we get to hear the solutions to the mysterious parts of the legend that previous authors couldn’t quite reach.  Rather like the dénouement of a detective novel, where the Inspector corrals the inhabitants and guests at big country house, we hear the back story of why the sword was broken, how the chapel came to be so perilous, why the Fisher King is in a bad way and a host of other unravellings.  In fact, the Third Continuation is like the last act of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, which has the longest unravelling of any of his plays.

I have lots of novels in development and novel-stubs that have been set aside for the same reason. I cannot yet see the way through to plotting difficulties and I know that these will resolve another time. If it takes a few years, so be it. This will stagger non-writers and those who work out plots ahead of time, but I am listening to the characters when I plot and they know what needs to happen, not I.  In the early Grail legends, I believe that this is why the plotting is episodically loose, because the main Grail seeker is Perceval, an unformed, uneducated and so tabula rasa youth who meanders through his quest without much forethought. Leaving things be and returning periodically to them is the state of play. When we have lived a little more life, we can return via a different approach and see what, a few years earlier was impossible to discern. It just takes an accepting patience.

*Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel, The Buried Giant, is set in an Arthurian world. John is currently finishing it and finding it awfully odd, suggesting that it should have been set aside a while longer, perhaps?

10 March  CHANGING OUR NAMES

A writer’s day  48 on Lost Book of the Grail

In Chrétien’s Perceval, we hear how Perceval, failing to ask the Grail Question, meets with a young woman who rigorously puts him through a catechism of what he saw and remembered from the Grail procession. The results, like those of a spot test at school, are unpromising. The young woman finally asks him his name. On this point, Perceval is so flummoxed, he can barely get it out: ‘Perceval the Welshman.’ The young woman immediately proclaims angrily, ‘Well, your name is changed!’ ‘What to?’ he asks. ‘Perceval the wretched, luckless Perceval!’  She then proceeds to tell him that, had he had his wits about him, he would have healed the wounded king and what else is wrong with him while she is about it.  Up till this point, he has just been plain Perceval, but now?

(In another later Grail texts, Perceval will become known as Perlesvaux or ‘He who loses the Valley,’ but that’s a story for another time.)

We all remember how our name can become a term of reproof – it is one of the reasons lots of people hate their birth name, as it was used throughout their childhood in this way.  Others are simply called bad names that become reflections of a reputation they are supposed to possess. Some people can stand it no longer or, on adulthood, change their names by deed poll, so that their new identity expunges that reproof.  Recognising who we each really are is a skill, just as naming a child appropriately to their nature.  We all know people whom we repeatedly call by the wrong name because they ‘look like’ a name. I know a Paul who is definitely a Peter in demeanour, for example. No matter how many years I’ve known him, the other name still comes to my lips.

Changing your name is a perilous occupation because it has to recognize who you really are.  It must be said that there are some aspirational name-changings that are frankly embarrassing: how do we deal with a friend called Laura who decides that she is now going to be known as ‘Daisy Moon-Flower,’ for example? Hope that it is just a phase she is going through and that this, too, will change?

Perceval’s name change to ‘Perceval the wretch’ is likewise not a permanent one. Although it remains the thing everyone remembers about him for quite a bit, at the other end of the Grail Continuations, someone recognizes Perceval in quite another way. The ugliest woman in the world, an unnamed hag who seems quite deformed and loathsome to Perceval, knows immediately who is: ‘Your name is Perceval.’ She also reminds him of his undone task of asking the right questions about the Grail procession and then, because he has discovered the secret balm that she carries in two casks, says.’ You are rightly called Perceval, for you have pierced the vale and plundered the place where the balm is kept.’  She also swears never to reveal one piece of information about the Grail to him, ever.

But this literal rendition of Perceval as ‘Pierce-the-vale’ does him justice; it truly discerns who he really is. And when someone sees who you are, it can have another result: for you are now someone who can achieve something everyone said you wouldn’t.  Which is precisely what happens. 

11 March  BECOMING THE BOOK

A writer’s day 49 on Lost Book of the Grail

In the course of writing a book, one’s mind continually seeks the support of other books that nourish that journey. Like the clothes we put on in the morning, these books proclaim our mood on that trek. Of course, there are some books that become us better than others.  On this journey most of the books are in French, although one or two are Welsh: all medieval. We travel well together.

‘Becoming the book’ has another resonance for me, brought sharply into focus by certain images in the news. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 presented a world where all books were banned, and so subversives had to ‘become the book’ they loved best by memorising it. When together, the book memorizers would introduce themselves as ‘War and Peace’ or ‘Alice in Wonderland’. If that time came again, as is even now happening in Syria and places where ISIL are confiscating and burning the books (as well as people), which book would you choose to be? I would be happy to be the Elucidation, personally, and maybe The Eagle of the Ninth or Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff, which are books I read again and again. 

A writer becomes the book she is writing, imperceptibly at first and then more and more obviously: you see it in the turns of speech, the mode of approach, the steadily growing obsession with all things to do with its topic.  In the past, especially with fiction, I’ve found that this obsession becomes distilled by the characters who dictate the book: like an actor taking on a part, I find that the main or guiding character leads the way and I am subsumed in him or her. I start wearing garments that he or she wears, and the mannerisms and turns of speech also subtly elide with mine. With non-fiction it is not so obvious, perhaps, but nevertheless there.   

I’ve been teaching or with clients for the last few days and so I now happily re-assume the colouration of Lost Book of the Grail, back in the battered garments that belong to questing, alert once again to the signs that take me along the way.  I can become this book in uninterrupted mode for the rest of the month now.

many blessings

Caitlín Matthews
Courses, books and events: www.hallowquest.org.uk
Divination blog: http://caitlin-matthews.blogspot.co.uk/

Posted in British History, British Literature, Esoteric, Literary Criticism, Literature, New books, Recommended reads, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

To Think Without Fear by Anthony Duncan

ToThinkWithoutFear300“To think without fear is to occupy a position from which the mind can be led into an ever more profound participation in Mind Itself. This is the quest, not for Knowledge, or even for Understanding, but for Wisdom. Wisdom carries with it a sublime and all-transcending contentment, not necessarily to know, nor even necessarily to understand, but to accept joyfully, with an unconditional love…”

To Think without Fear is a new and previously unpublished book by the late Reverend Anthony Duncan, author of The Christ, Psychotherapy and Magic and many other wonderful titles. It might be more accurate to describe this ground-breaking work as ‘previously unpublishable’ but thankfully it has now come to light in a more open age.

The author, although a Christian cleric, openly and frankly examines the experience of communication with “extra-terrestrial” contacts, and the leaps of faith and mutual acceptance on which such contact depends. He considers that many reported experiences of the extra-terrestrial are essentially objective and real, and that there is a common, underlying dynamic which is prompting an increasing – and increasingly varied – pattern of visitations. But who or what are these visitors? Do they come from elsewhere in our Universe or from another Universe altogether? Do they travel here across space or by a shift of wavelength? And how do they fit into the pattern set by the Incarnation of Christ? Duncan suggests that the first step towards an answer is to simply let go of our fear.

It is fair to say that there has been a plethora of books on alien visitations, abductions, ancient architectures, etc., but few from this particular vantage point. In stripping away all the normal prejudices and fears Duncan willingly wrestles with challenges to what we know of science, religion, psychology and philosophy. Far from being yet another stock collection of alien sightings and spooky phenomena this work really questions what it is to be humanoid, to be fallen, to be dependent upon states of grace. He traverses the idea of folk memory just as willingly as the vistas of space in search of cosmic companionship. The notion that humans are ‘recreated,’ constantly modifying each other, becomes a unique demarcation in the face of all possible parallels and pluralisms. Perhaps the greatest gift of the book is the author’s willingness to try and inhabit the mind of other, how they may be guided by scarcely fathomable structures and processes, and what it means for them to confront both the ‘atmosphere’ and the ‘aura’ of the human realm.

Although presented from a Christian perspective, the book offers a sane and sensible discussion of a controversial subject by a priest and mystic who has never been afraid to think and minister beyond conventional boundaries. Indeed he anticipates quantum theory in his redefinitions of space and time, which allows for the possibility of visitations on other planes and realms. What happens to our archetypal notions and avataristic experiences when the life of the mind and the soul are stretched beyond earthly constraints? The book concludes with the author’s personal encounters – not just with the alien other but with the mechanisms of fear that hold us all back. Skylight Press is thrilled to publish this little treasure and present more works of Anthony Duncan to the world.

To Think Without Fear: The Challenge of the Extra Terrestrial is now available from various retail outlets such as Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk or direct from the Skylight Press website.

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A Writer’s Day: Working on the Lost Book of the Grail (Part VI)

Skylight Press will be publishing The Lost Book of the Grail: Restoring the Voices of the Wells, Gareth Knight’s new translation of the 13th century Elucidation of the Grail with commentary by much respected Arthurian scholars and teachers, Caitlín Matthews and John Matthews. The Elucidation is a 13th century French poem that has lain virtually forgotten since its discovery in the mid19th century. It contains some of the most powerful and revealing clues to the nature of the Grail to be found in any of the many texts relating to this most mysterious of sacred objects.  While working on the book Caitlin decided to keep a diary of her thoughts and impressions, which we will present in weekly sections on this blog.  This is a new idea and we hope you enjoy her fresh insights on preparing an ancient manuscript for publication.  You can find out more about the Matthews’ work here.  

Caitlin
A WRITER’S DAY – WORKING ON THE LOST BOOK OF THE GRAIL

By Caitlín Matthews

26 February  THE LENGTH OF THE QUEST

A writer’s day 36 on Lost Book of the Grail 

When you are questing, the time passes without notice. Perceval, who is much given to falling into a revery, wherein time stops, is jolted out of his long quest when he meets a procession of pilgrims coming from confession. 

‘The source book’ tells us that Perceval had lost his memory to such an extent that he no longer remember God, and that April and May had gone round five times, without him entering a church or praying that whole time. In Perceval’s case, this is not to wondered at, since his mother neglected to give him any kind of education in the first place, so it wasn’t like he was inured or accustomed to  the habit of prayer in the first place, but this encounter brings him to realization just how long he has been out of time.

Stepping out of time is what happens when you quest. Whether you are making a garment with your knitting needles, or reading a book, or enjoying a deep conversation with friends, time stops running for that space. While children are playing, they are deep into the timeless zones where clocks don’t work.

So should some Office of National Statistics type people ask you, how long is an average quest? You should respond, ‘as long as it takes.’

27 February  THE HOLY GRAIL OF THE HOLY GRAIL?

A writer’s day 37 on Lost Book of the Grail 

Chrétien teases us with an allusion to the fact that Count Philip gave him the book which caused the Grail story to be told.  In a sense, this is ‘the holy grail of the Holy Grail,’ in the journalistic sense.  We don’t know whether it is a real book or just a literary device. Heaven knows that there are numerous such devices in this medieval tradition of tale-telling.  These supposed source books figure like a relic sought by Indiana Jones and some even appear in an archaeological or antiquarian way within the story, as one does in the little-known Perceforest:  ‘The kindly abbot showed the count around the abbey, leading him to a tower where, some years before, hidden within a wall full fourteen feet in depth, workmen had discovered a hidden cupboard….It contained a book….’

This is the stuff of legends indeed, some nicely plausible workmen who crack through the immensely thick walls and find a cavity wherein the wisdom of ages is houses.  We all enjoy these kinds of mysteries. Who knows what will be dug up?  In my lifetime, we have had reports of the recovery of the Lupercalia in Rome (not, unfortunately so), the antikythara device from the deep seas (which is a very complex calendar for reckoning sacred games like the Olympics), and the finding of the body of Richard III (whose memorial I shall be attending next month.)  Since my first visit to Orkney in 1977, a whole Neolithic temple and village have been found at the Ness of Brodgar. I go back very often, always astonished at what comes out of the ground. The fizzle of excitement never fails me. 

But will we ever have an excavation of the Holy Grail? – No, for the simple reason that it is one of the adamantine Hallows or holy things which appear in ways that are not susceptible to archaeology or museum curation.  The Hallows come and they go, but no-one will ever find them in the way the abbot finds the book.  So erase from your minds the Indiana Jones scene of the FBI warehouse full of stored treasures: this is never going to happen.

28 February  HOW TO MOCK A KNIGHT

A writer’s day 38  on Lost Book of the Grail 

We all know the scene: naughty French knights stand tauntingly upon the battlements and mock the Grail seekers with inventive insults, while asserting that they already have a Grail, which is ‘vairy naice.’  Dignity is offended and, after offering to taunt them more, the French knights propel cows and their products via the mangonel onto the heads of the Grail seekers, who ride away, somewhat dirty and diminished.

In Chrétien’s Perceval, the art of mockery is refined in the case of Gawain who comes to Tintagel to help Tybalt, who is besieged by Meliant de Lis.  Ladies and girls come swarming around Gawain at a tournament, wondering why he doesn’t arm. They call him a pacifist, a tradesman and a money-changer: low charges indeed! For reasons of his own, Gawain is not intending to play at tournaments that day.  But when he finally gets his armour on, it takes the insults out of the ladies’ mouths, for he entirely trounces Meliant de Lis, whom the ladies have been supported, and everyone sees how Gawain’s opponent ended up on his back, with his legs in the air.

Chrétien was first class at showing how to strip a knight down to size. In his early story of The Knight of the Cart, the unhorsed Lancelot (in his full and heavy armour) has to take a lift in a dung cart in order to reach Guinevere and rescue her.  Carts, of course, were also the mode of transport taken by criminals on their way to the scaffold, so double shame is in order!

1 March  A GORMLESS WELSHMAN AND THE STATE OF EUROPE

A writer’s day 39 on Lost Book of the Grail 

Today is St David’s Day, the patron saint of Wales, and it’s led me to thinking that, throughout medieval Europe, you could well be forgiven for imagining that the Welsh didn’t rate very highly on the international stage, although they had enormous influence at another. Chrétien’s description of Perceval as a gormless Welshman is repeated throughout the text of Perceval. From the moment that his mother attires him in a kind of canvas onesie, with a hooded deerskin as overcoat, and cowhide shoes, to the moment when he finally snaps out of his dream to realize it is Good Friday, Perceval is cast as the essentially daft, rustic Welshman who doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on.

Perceval’s mother attempts to reduce his obvious Welshness by making him take only one javelin and not three ‘because he would have looked too Welsh.’ But having neglected to bring him in up in anything like a chivalric manner, because she has retired to the woods where no-one can involve her son in conflict or war – the way she has already lost her husband and other sons –  she does nothing to improve his manners by a series of last-minute pieces of advice: to help women in distress, to accept a kiss from a lady but no more, to accept a ring should a lady give one to him, to ask the name of anyone he lodges with, to seek out worthy men and to pray in churches. Unfortunately, Perceval remembers all this advice in a jumbled and literal way, snatching kisses that are not offered and stealing a lady’s ring, trying to get armour off injured knights like a man boiling a lobster and a series of other unfortunate antics, all very laughable.

At Arthur’s court, when it is clear that the rustic Perceval has never been instructed in courtly manners, one of the knights remarks that, ‘the Welsh are all by nature more stupid than the beasts in pasture.’ This casual racism doesn’t just arise in isolation, for Chrétien is just as rude about Lombards who are a byword in his mind for cowardice. During an all-out riot where townspeople are picking up sticks, clubs and farm implements, we are told, ‘even Lombards couldn’t make so much commotion should they be out to kill a slug.’

These kinds of assumptions are not new. Racist invective arises from the partiality of one people, who think themselves great, against a different people who are assumed to have all the worst traits. On one level it works as a convenient method of distancing belittlement, just as Irishman jokes work in England. But, even in Ireland, the Irish joke about Kerrymen. (Who the Kerrymen make jokes about has never been enquired – the only land to the left of Kerry would be the monks on Skellig Michael!) At the other end of the scale, this same mindset leads to zenophobia, assault and mistreatment, as we can see from the state of Europe today.

Chrétien, in writing about a comedic Welshman, conveniently forgot that the story by which his name is best remembered had its roots in Britain, and that the Cymru were the oral storytellers from whom he first heard about the Grail.  And there we have a lesson in itself: ‘Welsh’ (from wealhas, meaning ‘stranger’) was what the Saxons called the British when they invaded. The British, however, called themselves Cymru (pronounced cum’ree) which means ‘companions.’ So that then is the challenge: you treat zenophobia by changing strangers into companions – let’s start the process.  

2 March  ADAPTATIONS AND RETELLINGS

A writer’s day 40 on Lost Book of the Grail 

In the Second Continuation of the Grail stories, we hit upon a passage where the narrator’s voice leaps up out of the story: ‘there are now many worthy fellows going around these courts as story-tellers, who are twisting the good stories, distancing them from their sources and adding so many lies that the stories are killed and the good books are dishonoured. And those who hear and listen to them don’t know what good stories are; no, when those minstrels sit in their houses for the night and they get them to relate some adventure – unrhymed – they think they’ve heard the whole story; but they’ll never hear it in their lives. They make them believe a pack of lies; and they’re good at padding and stringing them out.’ 

What makes this statement somewhat hypocritical is the fact that the narrator of the Second Continuation is himself another tale-spinner; alright, he did his in rhyme, unlike those whom he castigates, but his own efforts show all the signs of twisting, working up and other tricks that he inveighs against.

However, we still know what he is talking about. When a much-loved story gets a make-over or, even worse, ends up in a mash-up, you cannot help feeling betrayed. A storyteller’s job is to tell the story and, as any parent will tell you, try telling the story just one detail differently from the way it was first told and hear your child complain bitterly.  Laying down a story is a delicate business and its central skeleton should not be messed with, lest we create a deformity.

For example, about ten years ago, I was at a conference where a woman of about my own age or a little older told the story of Persephone as if it was a myth all about being a post-menopausal woman. How I stayed in my seat was entirely due to my friends who physically held me down, I was so incensed. Persephone’s story has aspects of many elements that can be brought into closer focus, but this is not one of them! It might have been better to look at the characters of either Demeter or Hecate within that myth, but Persephone, the Kore, as a post-menopausal woman? Rubbish!

Gerbert de Montreuil makes a prayer, ‘May God who made the earth and sea grant honour to those who honour minstrels!’ (p. 258) I will join him in that prayer  – as long as they take care with the story telling!

3 March  WORSE THAN GANELON

Ganelon

The Torture of Ganelon from the 14th century Grandes Chroniques de France

A writer’s day  41 on Lost Book of the Grail 

Enemies of King Arthur are called ‘worse than Ganelon’ in one of the Continuations.  Not many people remember who Ganelon was today but, back in the day, everyone knew the Song of Roland and how vilely he betrayed his brother in law, Charlemagne,  by showing the Moors the way through the Passof Roncevaux where Roland held the pass alone. Ganelon’s  name is said to derive from the Italian word inganno, meaning deception, but he is probably based on the historical Wenilo, the archbishop of Sens who betrayed King Charles the Bald in 858.  Dante banished Ganelon to the depths of Cocytus in hell for his betrayal. Chaucer has the Nun’s Priest’s tale say,  ‘O false assassin, lurking in thy den! O new Iscariot, new Ganelon!’

It is my belief that Tolkien based his Gollum upon Ganelon, but then his Gríma would also serve in that place. Both are betrayers: Gollum betrays Frodo into Shelob’s lair in a pretty much parallel incident of a narrow pass, while Gríma betrays Theoden and the Rohirrim to Saruman and his mutant orcs.

Without traitors and betrayers, stories wouldn’t have much purchase.  The role of the anti-hero is essential grist to the mill of the story’s turning, and he is the miller – also a deeply unpopular figure in medieval lore.

Gerbert de Montreuil’s Continuation has an incident where Perceval releases a man trapped in a tomb, in a compassionate gesture, only to discover that it is a deceiving demon who has been secured there by Merlin to stop him halting the Grail seeker in his tracks.  Despite his pleading, Perceval gets him back under the stone and thrusts back the spike that held him there once more. Somehow this incident doesn’t upset or dismay us at all: a stock character who is bent on deceiving is all we have here, but when the deceiver is a human being, it is another matter.

4 March  HAUNTING AT THE PERILOUS CHAPEL

A writer’s day  42 on Lost Book of the Grail 

Lost Book

The Chapel in the Park by David Jones

Medieval audiences enjoy a horror story as much as we do. The Perilous Chapel of the Grail legends is typical of the genre, with just a little touch of M.R.James. This one begins in the First Continuation and ends in the Third Continuation.

It is a dark and stormy night, lightning bolts strike on all sides as Gawain approaches a chapel at a great crossroads in the middle of the forest. Still on horseback, he goes in to shelter and finds a bare altar with a candlestick upon it which sheds a brilliant light. Through the window behind the altar comes a black and ghastly hand which clasps the candle and snuffs it out. A groaning voice  shakes the whole chapel. Gawain’s horse reads and throws him and he crosses himself, mounts awkwardly and rides swiftly away.

Much later on, Perceval has a similar visit to the Perilous Chapel and encounters the phantom black hand which comes out and extinguishes the candle in the chapel. He also escapes. On coming to a hermitage, he enquires of the hermit what this is all about. The hermit relates how, once upon a time, Queen Brangemor of Cornwall was the mother of cruel King Pinogres.  In reparation for this, she served as a nun between the hours of 6am-3pm every day at a chapel until her evil son beheaded her, burying her there. Subsequently, every day, any passing knight who goes into the Perilous Chapel is killed there: a phantom black hand comes out to extinguish the candle in the chapel, whereupon the thunderous noise kills them.  

But, says the hermit, in the chapel is a cupboard, wherein is a white veil that can stop this haunting. If it can be seized, plunged into holy water and the water sprinkled over the chapel, this will cease. Perceval bravely returns there and exorcises the chapel with the veil.  He also removes a dead and blackened corpse and returns to the hermit to have it buried. He is led to a cemetery where stand thousands of graves and the trees over them bearing the arms of those buried therein. The cemetery was made by Queen Brangemore before her son killed her, and every day a new knight has been buried in this place, all victims of the perilous chapel.

Perceval says he will read all the names on the marble slabs that miraculously cover the bodies of these knights. The hermit remarks that that will take him till midday, but Perceval is a slow reader, evidently, and remains reading the names until evening. But at least he can report back to the court of King Arthur, which of the Round Table knights have been killed there.

I own a print of the David Jones’ picture of the Chapel in the Park which in my shamanic studio, which I regard as a suitable image for the work that I do there: dealing with the ancestral trauma of things that repeat down the generations until they are put to bed. We also say the names of the dead aloud, like a medieval reader of tombs. Sleep well!

Many blessings

Caitlín Matthews
Courses, books and events: www.hallowquest.org.uk
Divination blog: http://caitlin-matthews.blogspot.co.uk/

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The Curve of the Land by Diana Durham

CurveoftheLand300“The small crevice that formed the only entrance showed no evidence of the light which must be entering through the other gaps in the stones.  It was black as if opening directly into the depths of the earth; an entrance to the underworld, curiously still and silent, as though condensed with age into a heavier mass from its surroundings, looking as though one might cross the threshold of ordinary matter by going through it.  If she stared at it long enough she would never be able to go in, or it would never lead into the small space inside the Quoit, but would give way beneath her and leave her falling into blackness, into a kind of frozen inertia, pressured as if by prehistoric earth shifts and lava bubbles …
 …  The light of the flash bounced on and off the stones, as Jessica forced herself to climb in.  …”

The Curve of the Land, the first novel of poet and author of The Return of King Arthur, Diana Durham, follows the journey of a woman in contemporary society seeking to reconnect to an ancient land and share in its spiritual topography. In that sense the reader will encounter a sort of cartographic fiction, a map with ley lines of stones that present a yet-to-be-writ scroll to the mysteries. Indeed, Durham serves up something of her intent in the novel’s introduction:

“All down the western flank of Britain, where the land branches and frays out into the sea as if trying to blend with the salty waves, are found large numbers of ancient megaliths. In the Highlands and Lake District, down the rocky backbone of the Pennines, across the Border Country, Wales and the south west peninsula, standing stones, stone circles and dolmen survive from a time before record. Though the grandest structures of Stonehenge, Avebury, the Rollrights are found in the plains and meadow lands of the west country, nowhere is there a greater concentration or variety of megaliths than in the furthest western tip of Cornwall…”

Set in 1980s Britain against the backdrop of ecological crisis, The Curve of the Land is a circumspect fiction about our modern relationship with the Earth, which in this case is experienced through the landscapes of western Britain. A 2015 Reader approaches through the lens of yet new environmental crises – not just the changing physical conditions of the Earth but also the shifting priorities of its politicians and educators. Thus, the stones are root-points of history – megaliths to mark something primal and ancient – even though surrounded by the trappings of modern civilization. The novel’s main protagonist is one of us – well intentioned, origin-seeking, yet slightly at odds with environmental flux and a landscape of shifting secrets. An ardent but unfulfilled activist, she joins a tour of megalithic sites hoping to find renewal from relationship burn-out and a sterile work environment. The encounter is deeply personal, as again proposed in the book’s opening:

“Legends and rumours about these megaliths are as plentiful as the stones themselves. The giants built them, some of the stone circles are maidens turned to stone for dancing on a Sunday, many sites are entrances to the underworld, they are the haunt of spirits or ghosts or worse, lights can often be seen around them, from the faery folk, or the dead. Most of these stories are embedded in the distorting amber of folklore. Any strange encounters or experiences at these places are ephemeral – they exist only as one person’s story, non-verifiable, nonrecordable. Occasionally an account is collected in a book, even reported in a local newspaper, especially if the eye-witness is deemed reliable…”

Readers will find that the characters on the tour are a good cross-section of the way ‘new age’, occult and mystical threads got grafted on to the more intellectual or ‘respectable’ British stock, and Durham pens eccentric cameos of people and comic situations that will ring familiar. The action of the novel then oscillates between this clever assortment of legitimate as well as faux or contrived personalities. As with any community people are differently acclimatised – much like old stones in a circle.

“She gazed around at the ring of broken stones. They were uneven in height, some almost seven foot high, others barely grass-covered mounds. The limestone, gnarled and holed by age and weather, formed easily into grotesque features and twisted expressions as she ran her eyes over their pock-marked surfaces…”

Stones themselves are often seen as mute, lifeless, even representative of a cold and immovable heart. But standing stones, mysteriously compiled by the ancients, would seem to offer a script – something like Shakespeare’s “sermon in stones.” They are our most durable monument, often marking life’s enduring rituals as well as lives passing. A saying attributed to Pericles states – “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” Jessica, as all those that dare heed the whispers of the past, must confront the mysterious atmosphere of the stones and embrace the book’s final shamanic climax in the wilds of West Penwith, Cornwall. Skylight Press is thrilled to publish The Curve of the Land in hopes that many will embark on such a journey.

The Curve of the Land is now available from various retail outlets such as Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk or direct from the Skylight Press website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in British History, British Literature, Esoteric, Literature, New authors, New books, Recommended reads | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Writer’s Day: Working on the Lost Book of the Grail (Part V)

Skylight Press will be publishing The Lost Book of the Grail: Restoring the Voices of the Wells, Gareth Knight’s new translation of the 13th century Elucidation of the Grail with commentary by much respected Arthurian scholars and teachers, Caitlín Matthews and John Matthews. The Elucidation is a 13th century French poem that has lain virtually forgotten since its discovery in the mid19th century. It contains some of the most powerful and revealing clues to the nature of the Grail to be found in any of the many texts relating to this most mysterious of sacred objects.  While working on the book Caitlin decided to keep a diary of her thoughts and impressions, which we will present in weekly sections on this blog.  This is a new idea and we hope you enjoy her fresh insights on preparing an ancient manuscript for publication.  You can find out more about the Matthews’ work here.  

Caitlin
A WRITER’S DAY – WORKING ON THE LOST BOOK OF THE GRAIL

By Caitlín Matthews

19 February  THE GREAT VANISHMENT

A writer’s day 29 on Lost Book of the Grail

Over the last few days I’ve been dreaming serially of finding the Grail and then immediately losing it again. Sometimes I’m looking through books and there it is, and when I look back, I can’t find the reference again.  Several nights of frustration have ensued, but this is on track for the quest, since it is precisely what the knights do again and again.  They visit the Grail castle, see the procession of hallows (holy things) and then fail to ask the all important question. They go to bed in the castle and find themselves awake the next day ‘on the bare hillside’ – most definitely not inside anymore.  They try to find the castle again, but it is not a known location on a fixed map.

The great vanishment is one of the mysteries about which the Grail seekers fail to ask. We are told that after the procession of the hallows, the great lamentation that is being made ceases and then everyone vanishes, leaving a vast, empty hall. Neglecting to ask the question is like looking a gift-horse in the mouth.  In Classical times, the instruction on being offered some great fortune is to ‘seize it with both hands,’ in other words, not to refuse it or lose the opportunity. ‘When Fortune comes, seize her in front with a sure hand, because behind she is bald,’ said Leonardo da Vinci, drawing on this tradition.  Within the Grail legends, there are plenty appearances of a bald maiden, who is a kind of walking representation of the wasteland: a reproach to the questers who don’t get it.

When faced with holy things of great moment, the human ability to cope with multiple realities at the same time is somewhat circumscribed.  In the Grail legends, the knights generally fall asleep – exactly the same thing that happens to Gilgamesh in the Mesopotamian epic: when confronted with the possibility of immortality, he dozes off and cannot stay wakeful.  When the sacred moment of realization is upon us, we shy away, lose focus or just become sleepy. Something in us isn’t ready for it.  Like children confronted with the prospect of visiting Father Christmas in a store, we become excited at the notion, but when reality brings the child face to face with such an embodied being, the reaction is fear, aversion or shyness.  Like Gerontius in Elgar’s oratorio, The Dream of Gerontius, who asks to see the ‘face of God,’ but when presented with the prospect by his guardian angel, sings ‘Take me away, and in the lowest deep/There let me be,/ And there in hope the lone night-watches keep, /Told out for me.’

When the sacred vanishes you could say that it is our consciousness of it that is withdrawn, rather than the hallow itself that vanishes. Whenever we are in the right mode of consciousness, we can tune in and be present to it, but if we are out of tune then it isn’t possible to view it.  This out-of-tuneness is categorized as a sense of sinfulness in medieval terms, and many of the knights who career about without a thought for the consequences of their actions are invariably brought up short by two kinds of beings: maidens who harangue their lack of ability to act sensibly and practically, and hermits who kindly explain where sinfulness has entered into things and who offer confession and absolution, so that they can begin again. Fortunately, the vision comes round again, if we are lucky.

20 February  THE FOOD YOU MOST DESIRE

A writer’s day 30 on Lost Book of the Grail

Merton Great Hall.

Merton

Last night we ate in hall in Merton College. At the high table sat the Master and the Dons, while we sat with our friend at one of the long tables that run the length of the hall, like the elongated strokes of an E. The hall was noisy with the hum of many student conversations, while the portraits of past masters and notables peered down upon us, including  Walter de Merton, who founded the college in 1264.  It is about the only time in my life when dining resonates with the medieval experience of eating in King Arthur’s court. 

For those who’ve never visited a medieval university great hall (think Hogwarts, which is really Christchurch College’s great hall) the one thing you cannot prepare for is the totally ingrained odour of 7-800 years of cooked dinners. Yes, the great hall smells of gravy, custard and roasting meats.  There is a formality that we don’t often have at home, of course. No-one even so much as touches the bread on the side plate until Merton’s grace before dining is said:

Oculi omnium in te respiciunt, Domine. Tu das escam illis tempore opportuno.

Aperis manum tuam, et imples omne animal benedictione tua.

Benedicas nobis, Deus, omnibus donis quae de tua beneficentia accepturi simus.

Per Jesum Christum dominum nostrum, Amen.

(or ‘The eyes of the world look up to thee, O Lord. Thou givest them food in due season.

Thou openest thy hand and fillest every creature with thy blessing.

Bless us, O God, with all the gifts which by thy good works we are about to receive. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord, Amen.’)

One of the main features of the Grail is that it goes round the great hall serving everyone, individually, the food that you most desire.  We are sometimes told what kinds of foodstuffs are available, as here where Chrétien (obviously a pudding man) homed in on the afters: ‘dates, figs, nutmegs, cloves and pomegranates, and to finish, electuaries and ginger from Alexandria, with sweet, aromatic wine, mulberry wine and clear syrup.’ And sometimes it is left to the imagination: 

‘And never were such marvellous

Meals as were taken to them

And the food that they were given.’

Our food last night was in Lenten season and brought to us by servers rather than Grail: vegetable soup and black bread, fish with vegetable terrine and rice, and caramel apple tart. It was very good indeed.

Of course, at the Grail feast, you needed to keep your wits about you quite as much as in Merton, where the most academic of conversations goes on. It is no good getting caught up in the food and forgetting to ask about all the strange things that you see. In fact, it is the one essential of the feast. Well we did our best last night. The after-dinner grace at Merton is much shorter: Benedictus benedicat (Let him who has been blessed, give blessing); after which we repaired to the recreation room where good, mythic conversation was to be had until a late hour.  It was good to relax a little as I have finished my peregrinations to form chapter 3 which is now printed out. I now await John’s pronouncements upon the same.

21 February  HERMITS – THE WAYSIDE ANALYSTS

A writer’s day  31 on Lost Book of the Grail 

Hermits

Hermits are to the Grail quest what Jungian analysts are to the spiritual quest, I suppose. In the Grail legends, the hermits are gravely monitory presences who show up along the way periodically, usually after some strange happening, to explain what has gone on. These chaps would seriously consider questions like ‘who was that masked man?’ and ‘what’s with the mysterious candlestick in the perilous chapel?’ 

Without hermits, the Grail legends would have no means of explication, because they perform the same role as Dr Who does to his assistants. A roving Grail seeker is, by virtue of his solitary quest, a traveller alone, equipped to deal with armed assault but completely at sea when it comes to weird stuff.  Knights don’t exactly go around saying, ‘Wow, dude,’ but almost!  They are usually on safe ground if they cross themselves on viewing the weird stuff, but mostly they forget.

Hermits are also on hand for heart-felt confession, comfortable absolution and hospitality.  Their daily fare, however humble is up for sharing, so the benighted Grail seeker might find himself being given a hermit’s robe for the night and sit down to a plate of barley bread, cabbage and plain water, so he doesn’t go hungry to bed.  As constants throughout the deserted places of the quest, they act as social companions who put the knights back on the oath of the quest.

22 February  A YARD OF ALE AND OTHER TESTS 

A writer’s day  32 on Lost Book of the Grail 

We are white-hot and ablaze with research as we crack through even more corridors to the Grail Castle.  After reading a little-read Breton lay, we have the core of our book and the means to restore what the Elucidation doesn’t tell us so clearly.  There is much girning over the Old French as comparisons race between Welsh and Middle High German for verification. Books pile up on desks and the postman is urgently and impatiently besought since he brings yet more texts for our perusal or translation.

Vessels old and new come into focus and fade out again: it is like the test of the drinking horn. A messenger comes to court bringing an ivory horn to Arthur’s court. Anyone may drink from it if their sweetheart is of the faithful kind but, if she is not, woe betide.  Like the British test of drinking a yard of ale, it isn’t an easy task. 

For those not so inducted, a yard of ale is a long, hunting-horn shaped length of glass from which manly men attempt to drink – it holds rather a lot of ale – at one swallow. That is 2.5pints or 1.4 litres.  Some say that this practice arose in 17th Cambridge with ‘the long glass’ as recorded by John Evelyn in his diary, when men made a yard of ale toast to King James II at Bromley in 1685.

However, this drinking test goes back further, we feel. While an ivory drinking horn isn’t the same as a glass yard of ale, the effects are clearly similar. No sooner has the drinker raised the horn to his lips when he finds himself covered from head to foot in wine. Only the man with a virtuous sweetheart can do the deed without embarrassment at Arthur’s court, just as only the manliest of men can drain the yard of ale.

As the texts drip from our lips and fingers, we know how the knights and ladies of the court felt – saturated!

23 February  KNUCKLE CAKES

A writer’s day  33 on Lost Book of the Grail 

What did knights eat on quest? Well, yes, they do get invited into castles and hermitages a lot, and no, I’ve not discovered even one instance of a Grail knight preparing food for himself.  They don’t seem to have pages to run errands and cook for them but, just supposing they were on the road with a few ingredients, these Knuckle Cakes could be cooked over an open fire on a griddle pan or even a flat stone. They also make good offering cakes to the faeries if you should be on quest. Since we are in the faery part of our Grail quest, it seems good to pass on this information.

Ingredients:  

1½ cups of self raising flour

3 oz butter

pinch salt

½ cup currants or other dried fruit

1 large egg

½ cup runny honey

a little milk for binding

Rub fat into the flour, add salt and currants. Bind together with honey, egg and enough milk to make a soft dough – it will be dough, not batter, mark you!  Heat a griddle on top of stove or use a large frying pan to medium heat, with a little fat for each batch of cakes.  Flour both hands and lift one dessert spoon of mixture onto one palm, shaping between palms to a rough oval. Punch the top of each cake with floured knuckles and cook in small batches on griddle until cakes set and rise, turning them once.  Warning: faeries hate burned cakes!

If, like Gawain, you squint down out of your castle window and can’t tell the difference at distance as what kind of guests you have arriving: ‘Are those ladies or faeries by the riverbank?’ then you could either leave a batch out on the bankside, or else invite them in for tea, depending.

25 February  FRAMING THE MYTHIC VIEW

A writer’s day  35 on Lost Book of the Grail 

When we dined at Merton the other night, we had the opportunity to discuss myth with our friend in a wide and sweeping way, about what it was and how we understood it. We came to the conclusion that there is a commonality to myth which is experienced by everyone, wherever they live. It is not the same as Jung’s collective unconsciousness, or even his sense of archetype, but it comes to us through metaphor, which is experienced in your body.  Metaphor is the universal language, a pre-linguistic language, that we share. Here myth is always true or, as Sallustius, the philosopher who had the job of helping the Emperor Julian reframe the world as Pagan, said, ‘Myth is something that has never happened and is always happening.’

The stories of the Grail legends are stories that have never happened and yet they are always happening.  The story happens to all of us, in every generation, over and over.  We just need to frame the view.  We got to talking about the aperture required for getting this view, and so naturally, as we’d been roaming about Roman religion quite a bit, we brought up the lituus or divining rod of the ancient Etruscans. Because we’d also been eating foil-wrapped cherry chocolates with our rosé wine, I made a couple of visual aids to the conversation: here are the Grail and Lituus – symbols from very different eras, you might think, but right on the money when it comes to framing the Grail.

The lituus was used to help make a templation of the sky: this was the viewing field for augurs looking at bird-flight, lightning and other phenomena in the different quarters of the field. A lituus looks a little like a bishop’s crook, which is what it’s evolved into, many think. However we frame our vision, we need to examine the field to discover what is coming and how we ourselves experience it within our metaphor’s understanding.  We agreed that this is not something that many people do today or, at least, it is what many diviners call ‘intuition.’  

When we abandon our metaphor, we can no longer understand anything mythic however it shows itself to us. We can easily see why, in our society, myth is understood as ‘an untruth:’ this is the view of people who have closed off to what  the metaphor in their own frame of reference is telling them.  In our conversation we agreed that we must have the greatest possible respect for the myth: it is what informs us completely and without it we are steering blind.  Get a lituus, folks!

Many blessings

Caitlín Matthews
Courses, books and events: www.hallowquest.org.uk
Divination blog: http://caitlin-matthews.blogspot.co.uk/

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